Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seeking the Soul of China: "The Ants Tribe," by XYZ

January 11: Benjamin Harris to XYZ.

This is very important what you have written. You have a keen eye for social issues and that is what I observed in the short time we conversed in Beijing. I remember our conversation in the cafe vividly and wrote about it in "Beijing Diary" as one of the most memorable conversations I had in China. Your writing is very good. This in no way beyond your English ability.

I will summarize my understanding of what you have written:

The majority view is that more jobs and more paths to more jobs are what are needed. And you see that too: bored and restless post-graduates with no jobs or unrewarding jobs, and most tragically, suicide among young people. But even with the evidence of what material success in the new economy can bring--residence in one of the exclusive downtown Beijing high-rises, etc.--you see a "spiritual" problem: the powerful and the modest no longer walk the same streets (or "rub shoulders" in the English saying), economic power means political power and vice versa. And, there is what you mentioned in your earlier email: "I am chilled by the real capitalism that my father and grandfather fought in their daydreams."

How would you explain the spiritual situation that you refer to, and how does the experience of the revolutionary generation--your father and grandfather--effect the spirit?

January 25: XYZ to Benjamin Harris.

Hi, Benjamin,
Students in China are on their winter vacation now. Last week we finished all the works in the painting studio before leaving Beijing. Then I went to my hometown to take some photos of desolate factories built after 1949 and before 1979, which can be recognized from the exposed structures that show architecture of the period. They carried the memories of the old generation and represented the change of life style. Just think that once in China it was the world of blue work clothes, and the factory are holy place.
I found I touched a complex issue in my email, Benjamin, and I am surprised you can understand as a foreigner and you are always interested in China’s occurrences, while the old residents in the old country neglect or cannot seize the essence. To begin, I try to explain the ambiguous places in the article.
First, for the case of WWW, she grew up in a poor, single-parent family in country, and enrolled in a university located in city. Two reasons accounted for her suicide. The direct one was the university authority ruthlessly refused to help accommodate her mother according to their regulation, which led to her desperation, as she cannot let her mother sleep on the streets. All the money the daughter and mother earned by part-time jobs was not enough to rent a room in the city. And the deep reason lied in her inability to find a job. As a child, she dreamed to be a lawyer and believed in justice, but she could do nothing but suicide when she was thirty years old.
Second, the Ant Tribe emerges in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, but it is composed of students from all over China. They leave their hometowns as migrant workers do. The difference is, migrant workers are from undeveloped villages, while these students from ordinary families in towns and counties.
Third, for your question “what is this spiritual situation”, I think the spiritual situation can be described as a dilemma. That is, the young people no longer believe what they do is worth their lifetime. From the surface, they are fixed up in the society, just as screws in the machine. But unlike their father and grandfather, they generally consider the collectivism as political rhetoric. Deep in their mind is to realize their individual value. However, they must surrender to the pretended dominate ideology if they intend to find a job supplied by the government (good jobs are monopolized by government). Ironically, that job failed to supply them a meaning.
Finally, I translate the “Dignitary Capitalism” directly from Chinese. It refers to a form of combination of political power and capital.Different from the bribery and corruption, the owner of capital and governor of political power now share the same interests or they even belong to one family. It is not strange that public policy always take sides with certain powerful interest group, such as state-owned companies in various areas.
So in comparison with the experience of revolutionary generation, they thought they served their country and their ideal, which disillusioned them, the young generation does not have the illusion. One of my friends tells me his parents, who usually complained their lives because they underwent political movements during the Cultural Revolution, now admit that the road of their son is tough too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seeking the Soul of China.

Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit, was the first person from the west to be allowed inside the many, many walls of ancient Peking, in 1601. Eventually he insinuated himself into the Forbidden City and the imperial court.

At the request of his patron, Emperor Wanli, Father Ricci drew a world map, a big world map, twelve and one-half feet long by five and one-half feet tall, and put the Middle Kingdom in the middle just as Wanli would have had it.

Ricci's is the earliest surviving map to alert Chinese that there was a world far beyond theirs. Chinese are still struggling with how to deal with that. This is Public Occurrences.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Cambria Freeman 
Ebensburg, Pa.
Friday, 13 Apr 1906
Death of Dr. J. Ross Garman

At the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Garman (near North Barnesboro) the immortal spirit of J. Ross Garman passed from time into eternity. Dr. Garman was a young man, being only 23 years, 4 months and 23 days of age and until overtaken by his last illness had every reason to look forward to a bright and successful future.

On February 28th he was compelled to return home, owing to an attack of typhoid fever, which developed into the most virulent type. Although everything in medical skill was resorted to and every loving attention lavished upon him, he was forced to give up his brave battle against the angel of death and on Saturday, March 31st, surrounded by his loved ones, calmly bade farewell and peacefully passed to that other shore, where we hope and believe he was received and welcomed by the host of redeemed ones.
Surviving him are his parents, five sisters and three brothers.

When he died one of those five sisters was fifteen years old, a particularly vulnerable age for a girl to lose an older brother, and she had idolized him. For the next seventy-four years she would describe the feeling she had that day the same way, how her heart felt like a "cold rock" and every time she talked about it she would have the same pained, quizzical look on her face. I can see that face now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Politics and Justice in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. Reefer Madness

One evening one of Katherine Fernandez-Rundle's prosecutors, assigned to a specialized unit, walked into the vacant office of a friend, another prosecutor, to look for a file. In the bottom drawer of a file cabinet, among common personal effects, was the unsmoked remnant of a marijuana cigarette, commonly called a "roach."

The startled discoverer immediately informed his supervisor. The supervisor listened to the report and responded, "Just flush it down the toilet." In disbelief, the discoverer paused, not saying anything. "It's just a joint," the supervisor continued. "Just get rid of it."

The prosecutor who found the roach left his supervisor's office. Later, after the supervisor had gone home, he picked up the roach with a piece of paper, walked back into the supervisor's office and put it on her desk. He then turned, shut off the lights, locked the supervisor's door, and left for the day himself.

The supervisor never confronted the prosecutor in whose office and among whose personal effects the roach was found, nor did she tell anyone else in the administration. The incident was just covered up and forgotten.

-David Ranck

The Haitian Earthquake

"The U.S. military aimed to have about 1,000 troops on the ground in Haiti on Friday, and thousands more in ships off shore. The total will reach 9,000-10,000 troops by Monday."
-Reuters, January 15, 2010

Haiti is in dire need of humanitarian aid and also of civil security. Relief agencies from the United States and from around the world are, and should be, responding to the need for the former. International organizations such as the United Nations, should be responding to the need for the latter. The United States military should not be among those entities providing either, whether in Haiti or elsewhere.

The armed forces of the United States should be deployed by their commander in chief when it becomes regrettably necessary to kill or threaten to kill other people who, or whose government, threaten the security of the United States. An American citizen-soldier's life should not be put at risk to provide humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in another country or to provide civil security in such a country. Any American soldier's life lost in such a well-intentioned mission is a life that should not be lost and the good intentions of the mission do not mitigate. This is Public Occurrences.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Haitian Earthquake

If the reach implied by the grandiose name of this blog wildly exceeds its grasp it is at least required that we acknowledge that yesterday a devastating earthquake hit the perpetually devastated country of Haiti. Tens of thousands are reported to have been killed at the time of this writing. If there is a god his opposite number bested him again today and numberless children of the former are tormented once more by the latter. This is Public Occurrences.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seeking the Soul of China

A prominent Chinese-born author writes,

Dear Benjamin,
Thank you so much for your greetings, which I just saw...Have read your piece in the Open with - what can I say, gratefulness and a heavy heart.

There is a saying, that some people are born a little bit sad and some people are born a little bit happy. Maybe it is with feeling as it is with eyesight that sunlight that is too bright can blind us and that sorrow is more clearly seen when the disposition is slightly overcast.

I did ruin XYZ's email; it was short and poignant, my "introduction" was too long and strident but those feelings are at least on the same side of the divide.

Of course we cannot truly feel XYZ's "sadness" about the country she loves, nor the "heavy heart" of the author above, nor the pain of Dr. Wang Yi and his wife, a pain over the Cultural Revolution that is so deep that thirty years later husband and wife cannot talk about it.

But to acknowledge that one cannot truly feel what another feels is to make too technical a point. Human similarities are by a magnitude of a thousand more significant than the differences, and that is so too when the feelings are downcast and one is used to looking down when walking anyway. I am Benjamin Harris.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seeking the Soul of China: "The Ants Tribe," by XYZ

I asked XYZ to expand on her Christmas email (December 29 post). Her response, slightly edited, is reprinted below.


I feel happy to exchange my ideas with you and tell the main concern of mine. Maybe you are interested in some facts.

Do you still remember I was proud of my country when we talked in the cafe? You wanted to know why. I explained, then, unlike in India, the poor and the rich in China were not separated distinctly. As in Beijing, the residential districts of high class adjoin the old apartments in bad conditions. Therefore, imagining that people might meet every morning on the same road, it helps creat a sense of mutual life. And the crucial is the possibility for ordinary people to become rich or improve their livings. The ladder, such as education and good jobs in the traditional way, seems always there. That means a lot. Owing to this social mechanism, my boyfriend makes his way to fulfil himself.

But things now are different. An increasing public begins to question the deeply believed wisdom going that knowledge changes fortune, because they have witnessed so many college graduates and post-graduates failed in the job seeking. The significance can be tesitified in two aspects. First, when I went to the countrysides to teach, I found the school dropouts due to lack of belief in education prevalent over the villages and towns where poverty has been beated. Secondly, as was frequently reported, another suicide committed by a post-graduate student shocked me extremely. In this year, the students with high education and low revenue are formally named as the Ants Tribe, denoting that they are smart, gregarious and powerless, just as ants.

I always focus on the young people in China. I follow them from campuses to workplaces, and wonder how their energies die out in society after a short brilliance in their twenties. Then I detect that they are more depressed than ever. The majority view attributes it to the depreciation of diploma, as a result of expanding enrollment of colleges and universities, and to solve the problem, the only thing needed is to supply more jobs. Undoubtedly, Chinese government is competent in producing jobs from the internal, for example, village officials, a solution to unemployment supported by public finances. But does it ease the spiritial situation of young people? There is something beyond the obvious.

We all know that Chinese government has put a 4 thousand billion plan to stimulate the economy, mainly concentrating on investments in infrastructures. Consequently, the state-owned companies and local governments benefit from projects and budgets, while the overflowed money makes the price of real estate rocket. Some scholars observed the tendency toward combination of political power and capital in economical realm. Wu Jinglian, a well-known economist, called on the public to caution against the Dignitary Capitalism. Given the context that the whole country lays full emphasis on nationalized businesses, every small enterprise and every single person know they could never profit if they were not relying on the government.

To most graduates, civil service examination has been indispensable, because if one intends to pursue a comfortable life, secure himself/herself in finacial crisis or afford to an apartment in big cities, there are only three desirable choices, the public servants, the state-owned huge companies, and famous foreign companies.

The question is, how can we expect independent thoughts if we all live a dependent life in one form or another at the mercy of power and system much more overwhelming us? How does the society support the individual values and dreams? That is why I say our young generation is materially spoiled, socially fixed and spiritually desolate. Fortunately, we are able to contemplate our confusion.
ps:If you are interested in some cases, the bad things I mentioned, maybe I can find some next time.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

It becomes our disagreeable duty to report on another outrage perpetrated in loathsome Scandinavia, this time by Denmark. I do not know if Denmark has a king.

Four years ago cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, now 74 years old, created a drawing for a Danish publication that purported to depict the Prophet Mohammad wearing a turban-bomb with lit fuse.

Any depiction...


of the Prophet...

(That's Mohammed's face right there.)

violates sharia and constitutes a capital offense. Since 2005 Denmark has harbored this war criminal and refused to turn him over to the Islamic civilization for beheading followed by fair trial. Yesterday a Somali lamb of Islam defended himself by breaking into Westergaard’s home with a hatchet and knife in order to carry out the sentence. The aged wretch, assisted by his five-year old granddaughter, continued his aggression by activating an alarm and secreting himself in a room previously made secure from Islamic justice. The alarm was fiendishly rigged so as to bring the Danish police mushing through the snow to his aid.

These confederates of Westergaard had “guns” with which to shoot Lamb with “bullets.” These weapons of mass destruction are specifically banned by sharia because Muslims have not learned how to make them because their technology is stuck in the tenth century as is their law, concepts of personal hygiene and whole culture so they have to use hatchets and knives and throw rocks. Lamb’s body was penetrated twice by these bullets which is twice more than Lamb’s wife’s body was penetrated by Lamb’s man-weapon in the last year owing to its own insufficient firepower.

In the last year Scandinavia has increased its threat to world peace from insulting Islam to insulting President Obama, first by not awarding Chicago the Olympic Games and then by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize. This page has been critical of the president for not recognizing that the Clash of Civilizations with Scandinavia is real. We call upon him now to cancel his trip to Oslo, Minnesota for the Nobel award ceremony. We also urge the president to convene the United Nations Security Council to formally consider sanctions against Denmark and all of Scandinavia. This is Public Occurrences.

Friday, January 01, 2010

"We Rise with Our Dreams."

Below is an email, slightly edited, from John Jarvis, singer and composer of the melody to We Rise with Our Dreams, which provides some background to the song. It is reprinted with his permission. Joe Henry wrote the lyrics.

Hi Ben

The song was written for a show called Mutual of Omaha's Spirit of Adventure...the episode was about a SinoAmerican attempt to navigate the Yangtze River from one end to the other (which ultimately failed)

[One of the questions I asked Mr. Jarvis was if the song went through any re-writes. That is the context for the next paragraph.]

It's hard to remember...but I believe Joe handed me something close to a finished poem..I wrote the music..he may have then fine tuned it...I ended up singing it (with a horrible cold) in the documentary.

Subsequently...it got picked up for a ski show on ESPN called Suburu Ski World...and has been used in some NASA films...it actually works amazingly well in those.

I have no idea how Marty Balin* got ahold of it. I have played piano on some of Marty's records...but I didn't give it to him. Probably Joe. I've only heard about 20 seconds of his version.


We wrote several other songs for Spirit of Adventure...and we wrote a song called the Flower That Shattered the Stone...which was recorded by Olivia Newton John on a lullaby record...as well as John Denver.

Hope that helps!

I was surprised to read that John had a severe cold when he recorded the song because his voice is one of the things that makes the song so powerful. When I have listened to his voice on this song I have had the word "prayerful" come to mind more than once. Or "whisper" (maybe because of his cold). It is not really a whisper, he is after all singing, but there is still that same understated quality. The way that he sings makes the lyrics, the words of the "poem," as he perfectly characterizes it, clear and distinct, unlike so many other songs. And like so much serious poetry, this poem doubles as philosophy.

John also chose the perfect melody to accompany the poem. It is a beautiful, singable tune and its pace and the rises and falls, enhance the beauty and power of the message.

I asked John if there was a copy of his original recording available somewhere. Alas, he said there was not. What a disappointment. We Rise with Our Dreams as sung by John Jarvis should be widely available.
*Marty Balin, former lead singer for Jefferson Airplane/Starship, re-recorded the song a few years ago.