China Bound — meeting and eating

A Heritage Year

Today, the 15th of December 2017, is the first anniversary of China Heritage. This publication and the enterprise it represents — The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology 白水書院 — is a continuation, in a post-institutional environment, of our advocacy of New Sinology 後漢學 from 2005 and the creation of China Heritage Quarterly.

China Heritage was launched during a lecture titled Living with Xi Dada’s China — Making Choices and Cutting Deals. In marking this anniversary, and in keeping with the spirit of our Academy, we offer a column by Lee Yee, ‘Let’s Meet in China’ 到中國開會去, published in Hong Kong yesterday (it is one of three interconnected pieces, for the others, see Related Essays below). This is the fifth essay by Lee Yee that we have featured in China Heritage and it is the latest addition to our project The Best China.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
15 December 2017


Related Essays

He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon

The Best China was launched by China Heritage on 1 July 2017, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of 1 July 1997, the day when the People’s Republic of China formally subsumed the territory of Hong Kong, Kowloon and The New Territories. We marked that anniversary this year by publishing Cauldron 鼎 by Leung Ping-kwan 梁秉钧 in which the poet asks:

May I abstain from the rich banquet menu,
eat my simple fare, my gruel, my wild vegetables,
cook them, share them with you?

Is there a chance
your pomp and circumstance could ever change,
into a new motif,
some new arabesque
of beauty?

We also drew on the essayist Lu Xun’s comments regarding the ‘banquet of China’:

Our vaunted Chinese civilisation is only a feast of human flesh prepared for the rich and mighty. And China is only the kitchen where these feasts are prepared. Those who praise China because they do not know this are excusable, but the rest deserve to be condemned forever! 所謂中國的文明者,其實不過是安排給闊人享用的人肉的筵宴。所謂中國者,其實不過是安排這人肉的筵宴的廚房。不知道而讚頌者是可恕的,否則,此輩當得永遠的詛咒!… …

Foreigners are not the only ones to be intoxicated by this civilisation: every Chinese too is smiling in intoxication. Because the hierarchy handed down since ancient times has estranged them from each other, they cannot feel each other’s pain; and because each can hope to enslave and eat other men, he forgets that he may be enslaved and eaten himself. Thus since the dawn of civilisation countless feasts — large and small‚ of human flesh have been spread, and those at these feasts eat others and are eaten themselves; by the anguished cries of the weak, to say nothing of the women and the children, are drowned in the senseless clamour of the murderers. 這文明,不但使外國人陶醉,也早使中國一切人們無不陶醉而且至於含笑。因為古代傳來而至今還在的許多差別,使人們各各分離,遂不能再感到別人的痛苦;並且因為自己各有奴使別人,吃掉別人的希望,便也就忘卻自己同有被奴使被吃掉的將來。於是大小無數的人肉的筵宴,即從有文明以來一直排到現在,人們就在這會場中吃人,被吃,以凶人的愚妄的歡呼,將悲慘的弱者的呼號遮掩,更不消說女人和小兒。

P.K.’s questions and Lu Xun’s words offer a fitting introduction to Lee Yee’s meditation.

Let’s Meet in China

Lee Yee 李怡

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


Among the comments appended to the blogpost It’s Not Narayama, It’s Worse one reader asks: ‘Isn’t China supposed to be enjoying an unprecedented Prosperous Age? Isn’t China a socialist country? Doesn’t China have reserves of some US$15.1 trillion? Isn’t China supposed to be the most generous donor nation in the world?’ [See Lee Yee, Worse than Narayama, 13 December 2017 — trans.] 《不是楢山勝似楢山》的網文,有人留言說:「中國不是正處於前所未有的偉大盛世麽?中國不是社會主義麼?國家凈資產不是100多萬億麼?政府每年不是在全世界大撒幣援助麼?」

The Ballad of Narayama (1983), poster

Behind these questions lurks a fundamental issue about China’s aging rural population, one that suffers a fate worse than [that depicted in the Japanese film about] Narayama. China boasts the second largest GDP of any country and in this vaunted ‘New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ the country has supposedly stood up, become wealthier and stronger. Yet, suicide among elderly people in the countryside has somehow been ‘normalised’. This is not a something happening in an impoverished environment like that depicted in The Ballad of Narayama [楢山節考, a 1983 film by Imamura Shōhei 今村昌平 — trans.]; it’s the on-ground discovered by field studies in eleven provinces undertaken by the sociologist Liu Yanwu. [See Liu’s Research into Rural Suicide; and, Liu Yanwu and Fu Qiang, Changing demographic characteristics and motives for suicide in rural China, 1980-2009, Chinese Sociological Dialogue, vol. 2, Issue 3-4 (2017). — trans.] 這幾個提問,正問出了中國農村老人「勝似楢山」的底因。中國經濟總值居世界第二,習近平的「中國特色的社會主義新時代」不僅站起來,更富起來,強起來,而農村老人的自殺「正常化」並不是像《楢山節考》所說的發生在自然環境極為惡劣的地方,而是發生在社會學講師劉燕舞考察的11個省份。

Of course, China claims that it is a socialist country. Article One of the Chinese Constitution even declares that: ‘The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.’ The workers are now the ‘low-end population’ in the country’s urban centres, and the leadership alliance under the peasants is made up of the tragic dregs. State capital and its global philanthropy may well add lustre to the party-state of the People’s Republic but the masses, in particular farmers are living in a state of anxiety ‘is worse than Narayama’. 中國當然是自稱社會主義。中國憲法第一條是:「中華人民共和國是工人階級領導的、以工農聯盟為基礎的人民民主專政的社會主義國家。」工人階級,現在變成了城市的「低端人口」,領導聯盟的農民,成為了的悲劇賤民。政府資產和外援,給黨、國家、政府帶來風光,但老百姓特別是農民,卻過着「勝似楢山」的惶惶不可終日的生活。

In a 2011 CCTV report, Wang Xixin, a researcher with the Office of the National People’s Congress, revealed that the annual cost of official banqueting, international travel and the purchase and use of official vehicles totaled some 1.9 trillion Renminbi. The interviewer Chai Jing was so taken aback that she asked him to repeat the figure; Wang obliged and added that these ‘Three Public Expenditures’ amounted to no less than sixty percent of the government’s annual operating budget. 2011年,人大常委辦公廳研究員王錫鋅在央視新聞節目中透露:國家公款吃喝、公費出國、公車開支一年達一萬九千億(人民幣)。這數字讓主持人柴靜吃驚,重複地問:「您再說一遍,是多少?」王再次肯定地說了這「三公」的數字,並指佔了行政開支的60%。

That revelation possibly led to a ban on any future leaks; since that time no more up-to-date figures have become available. In the intervening years the situation probably hasn’t fundamentally changed. At around that time the Party controlled media excoriated the exorbitant cost of the 2008 US election, which it decried ‘burned through three billion US dollars’. In response to the revelation of these two figures, Chinese Netizens calculated that China’s annual ‘Three Public Expenditures’ budget was the equivalent of 97.44 US presidential elections, that’s enough to pay for elections for the next 390 years! 很可能那次透露之後就被禁止透露了,因此最新的數字不得而知,但基本情況應該沒有改變。那時,中共官媒剛批評美國2008年的總統選舉「燒錢30億美元」,大陸網民就算出來:中國一年多「三公」開支大約相當於97.44次即390年的美國大選費用。

In the wake of the Nineteenth Communist Party Congress in October 2017, the Chinese party-state has held three major international conferences. These were: the inaugural World Political Parties Dialogue, the Fourth World Internet Conference, Wuzhen Summit and the 2017 South-South Human Rights Forum. The irony is that:

      1. The Chinese Communist Party has never registered itself as a lawful political association in China;
      2. In the annual Freedom on the Net Index China ranks as being the country with the least Internet freedom; and,
      3. China has consistently ranked as one of the countries with the least respect for human rights according to human rights indices. In 2015, it was second from the bottom.


‘The Night of Wuzhen’ banquet setting

Given all of this, why do so many people beat a path to China to attend such absurd meetings? A mainland Chinese Internet commentator observes that ‘Meeting in China’ has become a proverbial expression among foreign political worthies, business leaders and various academic specialists. It gives concrete expression to the sense that China is a place ‘full of clods, with money to burn and worth a trip’. When ‘Meeting in China’ these people enjoy a level of largesse, luxury even, that is not matched by other international gatherings. Officiating Chinese organisations and their operatives also profit from the meetings; they take advantage of these gatherings to acquire various electronic gadgets, get discounts at participating hotels budgets and enjoy various other kickbacks. 那麼為甚麼又有許多人到中國開這些荒謬會議呢?有一篇大陸帖文說,「到中國開會去」幾乎成了外國政要、商界領袖和專家學者的口頭禪,「人儍、錢多、速去」是具體描述。到中國開會,可以享受頭等艙、五星級酒店、美食、高出場費、高規格接待。同樣一場會議,中國支出的費用是外國的好幾倍,甚至上十倍。會議的舉辦單位和人員可以從中得到各種好處,如以會議的名義購買電子產品、私自賺取酒店的差價以及收取各種回佣等。

The masses are the suckers. It goes without saying that the misused public funds all come from the hard-earned taxes of normal people; and adding insult to injury its the commoners who, during the conferences themselves, also have to put up with such things as traffic restrictions, although in some case for security reasons people are removed from the scene entirely. 吃虧的是老百姓。公費開支都來自百姓的血汗稅款,這且不說;一碰到開會,就交通管制,有時甚至把老百姓趕走,給老百姓的生活帶來許多干擾。

Holding international gabfests allows Chinese officialdom to boast, like the old imperial rulers, that ‘all nations must come to us to pay court’. The slavish Chinese attendees who have grown up under Communism invariably enjoy a sense of participation, as though they really are the hosts. Their excitement is real during such events such as the Olympics or the World Expo, but during these international conferences it is bewildering to witness their misplaced pride. Ah Q, the hapless anti-hero of Lu Xun’s ‘The True Story of Ah Q’, tries to improve his station in life by associating himself with the prominent Zhao Family. But he is called to account by the head of the Zhao clan:

‘Ah Q, you miserable wretch! Did you say I belonged to the same clan as you?’

Ah Q didn’t reply. …

‘How could someone like you ever be named Zhao! — Do you think you’re worthy of that surname Zhao?’ [Member of the Zhao Family 趙家人 is a contemporary expression meaning ‘The Rulers’ — trans.]


— 李怡, 到中國開會去, 2017年12月14日

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