3rd December Highlights

Brzezinski, brothel turned retirement home, Beijing migrants, and Xi’s big bet.


Beijing Worker on the Move
Photo Credit: ImagineChina

Reconnecting Asia: Launch

Okay, so CSIS’s Reconnecting Asia launched in 2016, but I’d somehow missed this recording of the event that marked the occasion.

The project itself, which endeavours to map infrastructure projects across the continent, is well worth an explore if you haven’t already. And if you haven’t already, then this recording is a good introduction to what Reconnecting Asia is about.

If you haven’t got two hours to spare, skip to 1:27:10, where the late, great Zbigniew K. Brzezinski starts spinning his wisdom. The Polish-American diplomat was a realist of the old school. Not in the annoying, ‘political science is a real science, let’s calculate the likelihood of country x attacking country y’ sense, but in the more romantic classical realist, ‘geopolitics and national character are important’ sense. In his late 80s and still incredibly articulate, Brzezinski oozes perspective and experience in this discussion.

Here’s another good panel discussion from CSIS about Reconnecting Asia.

Red Lights Go Gray

This here is your nice, long Sunday read. An excellent multimedia piece that charts the decline of Dongguan’s sex industry through the history of one peculiar building. Like all good Sunday reads, it seamlessly intertwines politics, narrative, local flavour, and human interest.

The Versailles Hotel used to be one of the most popular nightclubs in Changping Town on the outskirts of Dongguan, a city known for its booming sex trade. According to the owner, at the hotel’s peak, more than 800 sex workers and 500 clients would pass through the doors on any given weekend evening. But a tough government crackdown on sex work in 2014 compelled the business to turn to a different market.

Spoiler: now it’s a retirement home. Excellent.

ChinaFile: The Beijing Migrants Crackdown

This is the important story of the week, and ChinaFile “conversation” always provide nice, balanced summaries of important stories.

This migrants thing is everywhere and has even hit the airwaves on the BBC’s Today Programme. That’s not always an indication of political importance, of course. Without wanting to sound brutal, the important thing isn’t that people are being shat on, but that people, ordinary people within China, seems to care so much. This crackdown, along with the recent kindergarten child abuse revelations, represent an unprecedented spike of impetus for outrage against the government in the Xi era.

The Big Bet at the Heart of Xi Jinping’s New Deal

And relating these stories to the wider picture is Evan A. Feigenbaum, with this great explanation of Xi’s “New Deal”.

This deal is not so entirely new, but it is certainly a new incarnation of the social contract drawn up between the Chinese people and their unelected Party leaders. If you cast your mind back to the 19th Party Congress, you’ll remember that the thing about Xi’s “New Era”, is that the “principle contradiction” has evolved. Before it used to be about getting rich, now Xi recognises, it is about having “better lives”.

So that’s the context for the migrant and kindergarten scandals – do these events signal better lives for the people?


So that defines the “big bet” at the heart of Xi’s “new deal.” He aims to pursue the new principal contradiction but within the context of a more statist, more Party-centric, more disciplined, more self-regulating, and ultimately more Leninist political system.

Can that be done? I’m skeptical.

And the early signs are not good. For example, China’s urban middle class demands safe and excellent schools. But this week’s headlines in China are all about an abuse scandal in a Beijing middle school that has rocked the city and angered parents nationwide. And that is just one example.

Chinese citizens don’t choose their representatives through democratic election. So feedback mechanisms between the ruled and the rulers must operate within the context of a Leninist political system run by a Communist Party in a one-Party state.


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