Ideas for Olympic protest on Tibet.

The latest round in China’s colonial rape of Tibet.

What’s to say? Online petition here if you feel inclined: I’ve signed it without illusions.

The Dalai Lama (bless him) has sensibly not called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese authorities will try to avoid nasty headlines during the Games, but that effect will be temporary. What can the athletes and the foreign spectators do in Beijing? Not keep mum, a line the British Olympic Committee shamefully tried to force on British athletes. But isolated protests from the podium will never reach Chinese TV screens. You need some simple, and in themselves unobjectionable, symbols to be used en masse in the streets and subways of the city. We need better ideas.

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HRC on China trade

HRC robo-calls attack John Edwards for voting for “permanent trade relations with China.”
Does the Senator *oppose* permanent trade relations with China?

This is part of the text of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s anti-Edwards robo-calls in South Carolina.

Before you vote on Saturday, you should know that John Edwards voted for permanent trade relations with China. That’s right, John Edwards voted for the bill that cost thousands of jobs. Like the ones in the textile mills he talks about so much down here.

OK, Sen. Clinton, are you opposed to having permanent trade relations with China?

Just askin’.

Development through a train window (Trans-Sib 3)

Some Chinese peasants are doing better.

The CW has it that Chinese peasants, still the majority of the population, have been left behind by the heady urban boom, on display here in central Changchun, an ordinary industrial city in Manchuria. Maybe so, but here’s a datum to the contrary: an unexciting snap, taken from the Chengde train, of a village in Hebei province, about 250 km NE of Beijing.

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Lao Tze Pew (Trans-Sib 2)

Taoist ex-votos as indicators of Chinese popular concerns.

One of the sights of Beijing is the curious Dongyue Taoist temple, just outside the ruins of the Ming wall. Around a large courtyard are twenty or so chapels, representing “departments” of the pantheon. Unlike Dante’s afterlife, which like feudal society had very low administrative overheads – a handful of judges, clerks, and executioners – this folk Taoist cosmology was build on the analogy of the massive Chinese imperial bureaucracy. So you have a full array of offices for health, wandering ghosts, inflicting painful death, reincarnation, and so on, each presided over by two divine judges, with realistic and sometimes grisly statues exhibiting the relevant human destinies.

The mandate of the judges seems to extend to intervention in this life as well as the next. So believers hang red prayer tablets on the railings in front of each department. Because these are anonymous, standardised, and presumably cost something, the relative number of ex-votos provides an unusual insight into the current values and concerns of ordinary Chinese.

The reddest railings were, as you would expect, those for justified prosperity and health. The more metaphysical departments – reincarnation, wandering ghosts, hell – were neglected. Only three were in a sense political. The environment scored a few prayers; a harbinger of a greener sensibility, one hopes. The department for redistributing unjustly acquired wealth was ignored – there seems little envy of nouveaux riches. But the department for punishing corrupt officials was awash in red. It’s not enrichment as such, but insider enrichment that worries the people. The Chinese leadership hasn’t got a free pass.

Trans-Sib 1: Ch’in Homeland Security

The Great Wall of China as another false promise of “homeland security”.

Tourist snap here on Flickr of a lightly restored backpacker section of the Great Wall of China. This is near but not at Badaling, where the package tours go, the heavily-restored section nearest to Beijing. Here, and everywhere else I’ve seen photos of, the Wall follows the crests of mountain ridges, with steep slopes not only either side but along its length – the only way the soldiers could use to move along it. It’s of course hugely impressive, but I couldn’t help thinking of the Maginot Line. The Great Wall had no military value against a determined enemy with a real army like Genghis Khan.

Compare Hadrian’s Wall, a barrier of similar function built by the Romans across northern England. It’s less impressive at half the height, and also because the Romans built it on the flattest traverse they could find, not the highest ground. There is a flat valley only a few kilometres further north of my section of Great Wall, spurned by the Chinese builders. Why the difference?

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