Tag Archives: China

Erhu, Zhonghu, Pipa, and Guzheng

There are three traditional chinese instruments that I find fascinating: Erhu, Pipa, and Guzheng.

ErhuThe Erhu (二胡) is a two stringed bowed instrument that is played like a viola da gamba, resting the instrument on a leg and bowing with a loosely-haired bow that is situated between the two strings and pulled in a similar style as a German bass bow or gamba bow.

(Incidentally, the chinese word for “to play a stringed instrument” is “l��,” (���) or “to pull.” For example, a literal translation inquiring about one’s violin-playing capabilities might be phrased as “n�� hu√� l�� xi��o t√≠ q√≠n ma?” (�Ω��������∞���������?) Or: “Can you pull the violin?”)

This afternoon as I was hanging out in my parents-in-law’s house, I noticed two erhu’s sitting in the corner, and Yingwen’s dad said he had been learning the instrument over the past year or so. I asked him to show me how it was done and he obliged, demonstrating the basics of bowing and fingering technique.

The two strings are tuned a fifth apart, and they are close enough so that both strings are fingered at the same time. But you don’t bow both strings at the same time. The bow hair runs between the two strings and you change the direction of force in or out to alternate which string you are hitting. To increase bow hair tension, you have to use your fingers to pull the hair out away from the stick, similar to many historic western string instruments.

Fingering is also slightly different than your traditional western string instrument, in that there is no fingerboard. You simply lay the finger at the point where you want to stop the string and out comes the note.

Other than all that, it feels very much like playing a very tiny bass with a German bow. Not too bad at all. I noodled around until I found a decent rendition of the melody from Dvo≈�√�k’s 9th Symphony, 2nd movement – pentatonic scale, common to both American spirituals, the blues, and traditional Chinese music.

The zh≈�ngh√∫ (�∏≠�ɰ) is a deeper-pitched version of the erhu. I would seriously like to pick one of these types of instruments up, and figured I’d go for zhonghu since I tend toward the lower-pitched spectrum of instruments.

The p√≠p√� (����∂) is a kind of Chinese plucked string instrument similar to a guitar or lute. This instrument is even more interesting to me than the pipa. I have one recording of solo pipa performance and it is quite an interesting style. From what I can tell, the right hand technique is pretty challenging with it’s sustained tremolos. I’m hoping we can swing by a music instrument shop sometime while we’re here so I can take a look and possibly try one out.

Guzheng PlayerFinally, the g��zh��ng (�����) is another Chinese plucked string instrument, but this one sits on a table and is rather long at about one meter long. It is like a harp or a zither, with moveable independent bridges underneath each string.

If I had free time (ha ha ha ha ha), I’d try learning each one of these instruments. This is the great thing about vacations when you’re an over-busy person: being able to try out something new and different.

Only one thing left to do.

Last night we were up late watching the live satellite feed of the massive demonstrations just now getting underway in Taipei to attempt to depose Taiwan’s current president of ineffectiveness: Chen Shui-Bian.

The issues at hand are numerous real and alleged scandals that have touched far too close to Chen, coupled with complete dissatisfaction from his support base on pushing forward Taiwan’s sovereignty and violent opposition to sovereignty from the KMT and other pro-China parties. It’s a no-win, thankless job, and getting stuck in the controversy of corruption has tipped the scales way over. Everybody wants him out.

Chen had long been a proponent of Taiwan’s sovereignty and standing up to China’s aggression. If he was still true to that agenda, it occurs to me that there is one thing he could do, right now, that would propel Taiwan’s bid further along than anything anyone has done before: Resign.

If he made the smart move to sacrifice his own position and resign, two things would happen. One is that the outspoken nutcase Annette Lu would then become president. She would probably take Taiwan’s bid a hell of a lot farther in two years than Chen has done in six, and the PRC would be up a creek again. The other thing that would happen is that Taiwan would be showing the people across the strait what a real people’s government does when there is dissent. The protests in Taipei remind me of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, except what if the result here was actual real reform? No tanks, no deaths, just the people demanding change and a president stepping down. What message would that send to China, eh? Rise up.

Anyway, my opinion is that a resignation would be an absolutely brilliant final move by Chen, if he was smart enough to do so. My suspicion though is that his pride is going to get in the way and he won’t be able to see the forest for all the trees, and he’ll try to ride out the protests. That would be sad – it’s time for him to move on.

Exporting Censorship

I’ve never been one to believe it’s better to do business in China or anywhere else by bowing to their demands for censorship and oppression than to not do so at all. Apparently many in the UK’s Parliment agree:

UK MPs slam ‘immoral’ Microsoft, Google, Yahoo stance

THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS committee in the UK House of Commons has laid into Google, Microsoft and Yahoo for collaborating with Chinese authorities to censor and police the Internet.

The committee pointed to Microsoft’s portal which blocks the use of the word “freedom”, Yahoo for fingering journo Shi Tao, who was then arrested and thrown into a Chinese clink, and to Google for introducing a “self censoring” version of its website in the country.

Turning a blind eye to evil only creates more evil. Pretending like this is going to get better over time is like pretending your kid is going to stop throwing temper tantrums by rewarding them with the toy that they are screaming over. It doesn’t work that way.

Our chief exports should not be the tools that enable censorship. How do you want to be remembered in history books? Do you want to be the guy who sold censorship to China, or do you want to be the guy that stood up and said “No”?

Response from Sen. Feinstein on Taiwan

After reading the sfgate.com article “Feinstein rips Taiwan while urging Chinas to cooperate / Senator uses Committee of 100 meeting to promote more business between foes,” I wrote a letter to Senator Feinstein that was critical of her support for small democratic nations such as Taiwan that face oppression and agression from states such as China, and asked where we as Americans were with respect to our core national values. I received this response from the Senator, along with the text of her speech. This does clarify a few things, and I’m thankful for the response, but I still think the spirit of the speech is a little bit contrary to what she said to me in the reply:

Dear Mr. Lewis:

Thank you for writing to me about my remarks regarding the issue of Taiwan and U.S.-China relations before the Committee of 100 in San Francisco in April 2006. I appreciate the time you took to write.

I am aware that several local newspapers, in addition to some Chinese-language periodicals, focused their reporting on my criticism of Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian. Some also even insinuated that I do not support the U.S. coming to the Island’s aid if the mainland were to attack. I am happy to respond to your concerns and clear up the picture.

Let me first say that the central theme of my speech was that the U.S. will not “tolerate actions by either side” that would unilaterally change the “status quo,” and that any future resolution of Taiwan’s status must be peaceful, and supported by the people on both sides of the Strait. To reiterate, I fully support a democratic Taiwan and the absolute necessity of a peaceful resolution of its differences with China.

I also wish to point out that I raised a number of concerns in my speech regarding the Mainland’s cross-Strait policies including: its deployment of some 800 missiles targeting Taiwan, its recent attempts to influence the Island’s domestic politics by exploiting rifts between the ruling and opposition parties, and finally, the inflexibility in its demands that Taiwan accept the “One-China Principle” before talks can resume.

Furthermore, while I alluded to the fact that the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) does not “specifically” require the U.S. to become involved militarily in a cross-Strait conflict, I also unequivocally stated that we would “adhere to our commitments” in the TRA. Moreover, in my speech, I quoted the TRA at length, making it quite clear that the U.S. would consider any attempt “to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means . . . of grave concern” and that we would retain the right to respond in whatever manner we deem appropriate should the Mainland use “force” or “coercion” against Taiwan. While I am a strong proponent of improving U.S.-China relations, I do not believe this needs be a zero-sum equation. In my view, we can both support Taiwan’s democratic development and maintain close “unofficial” ties, while also pursuing better relations with the Mainland. This should be our goal. Please know that I read your comments with interest and will certainly keep them in mind in the future. For your information, I have attached a copy of the full text of my speech before the Committee of 100 on April 20, 2006.

Again, thank you for writing. If you have any more comments, feel free to visit my website at http://feinstein.senate.gov, or contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

“Taiwan and the Sino-American Relationship: Thoughtful Management, Consistent Attention”

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein Committee of 100 15th Annual Conference April 20, 2006

It is an honor to appear before you today at this seminal moment in U.S.-China relations. As we are gathering, Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Washington on his first official visit.

While it is not clear if any major breakthroughs ensued from this morning’s meeting between President Hu and President Bush, this was another important opportunity for both sides to communicate their broader intentions and look for areas of cooperation based on mutual interests.

The “rise” of modern China is one of the most remarkable transformations the world has ever seen. It is truly a testament to Chinese history, Chinese culture, and the Chinese people themselves.

I remember well my first visit 27 years ago, when, as the Mayor of San Francisco, I traveled with my husband and a small delegation to Shanghai to establish the first Sister City of its kind between the U.S. and China.

Everywhere we looked, the poverty and debilitation from the Cultural Revolution and the machinations of the Gang of Four were evident.

A great pall hung over the nation. The quantity of goods and food previously available to one had to be shared by five people. The atmosphere was gray and fearful. Conversations were difficult. Infrastructure was debilitated. Art and culture was sublimated to political philosophy.

This past November, I had the opportunity to travel to China and participate in celebrations marking the 25th Anniversary of the San Francisco-Shanghai Sister City relationship.

And while I have visited every few years since I was Mayor of San Francisco – the ongoing development and modernization never cease to amaze me. No large country on earth has changed more than China in the last 30 years.

Shanghai, for example, is now a world-class metropolis, with architecture rivaling any city in the West. On the east side of the Huangpu River, where I remember seeing dilapidated factories and small farms, the Pudong Financial District has sprung up in just 15 years.

There you will find the Jinmao Tower, the world’s 5th tallest building. An empty lot next to it will someday hold the Shanghai World Financial Center – which at a planned 1,614 ft. will lay claim to the title of the world’s tallest building, surpassing the current leader, “Taipei 101,” by nearly 150 ft.

Pudong also contains Shanghai’s new Stock Exchange, which from its genesis in the dingy Pujiang Hotel in the 1980s, has become a symbol of China’s financial reformation. My husband actually participated in the original discussions with former Mayor Wang Daohan about creating this stock exchange.

And, nearby, you can conveniently access Shanghai’s new airport by jumping aboard the first-commercial high-speed Maglev train in the world, which travels a max speed of 440 km (267 miles) per hour along the 30 km (19 mile) track between the Pudong Financial District and the Shanghai Int’l Airport. As I recall, it is a seven minute trip.

The new Shanghai-Hangzhou line, which was just approved in February 2006, will run 170 km (106 miles) in about 27 minutes.

I was amazed when Shanghai’s Party Secretary, Chen Liangyu, told us last November that the city would add 300 km of subway track, along with 3 new lines and 209 stations by 2010, in preparation for hosting the World Expo. We could not complete that sort of project here in the U.S. in 75 years.

And yet, as President Hu Jintao visits Washington today, he is, in many ways, the leader of two very different countries. On one hand, there is China’s east coast region, where 26 cities, including Shanghai, now account for over 80 percent of the nation’s import-export and trade- led growth.

Conversely, the rest of China – some 1 billion people – receives just 20 percent of the benefits of China’s booming economic growth. And, as Central and Western China are experiencing economic decline, the nation’s income gap is growing at alarming rates. Statistics suggest that the top 1/5 of the population earns over 50 percent of the total income, while the bottom 1/5 bring in less than 5 percent of the nation’s wealth. Political corruption is believed to be siphoning off nearly $85 billion annually, or about 5 percent of China’s GDP.

Together with Premier Wen Jiabao, President Hu Jintao and this fourth-generation leadership face much greater challenges than any of their predecessors. For many of us who watch China there is both a sense of awe at what China has accomplished, as well as a sense that it could all unravel overnight.

In terms of the U.S.-China relationship, I believe it is critical that we embrace opportunities to help China successfully transition into a major and responsible world power.

We have nothing to gain through a policy of “isolation,” or containment. An unstable China would surely present a greater threat to the U.S. than a confident China, willing to partner with us on mutual interests throughout the globe.

Key bilateral disagreements remain – from Taiwan, to trade, to military modernization – requiring continual communication and skilled diplomacy on both sides. Today, in the interests of time, I will focus on one of these issues.

Even though trade may be higher on the Bush-Hu agenda today, it is clear to me that nothing has the inherent potential to disrupt our relationship with China like Taiwan.

When taking into consideration the fact that China’s foreign policy is calibrated primarily with the goal of maintaining domestic stability and ruling legitimacy, it is easy to understand how differences over the “Taiwan Question” – as it’s called in Chinese – could be the catalyst for sparking a military confrontation.

Certainly, no issue mobilizes nationalism or elicits as intense and virulent feelings among the Chinese people. Taiwan galvanizes and unites the Mainland.

Moreover, few Americans appreciate the historical backdrop against which the Chinese people view Taiwan’s status.

With Hong Kong and Macao now in the fold, Taiwan remains the one outstanding issue to be resolved from the so-called “Century of Humiliation,” (1842-1942) when China was dominated by foreign powers.

As belief in ideology has waned, the protection of “territorial integrity” is used to substantiate the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling mandate. Consequently, many analysts believe the regime will do anything – including going to war with the United States over Taiwan – to preserve its power.

The recent decision by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to shut down the National Unification Council – an advisory body set up in the early 1990s to look at possible reunification options – has once again stoked tension across the Taiwan Strait.

With Chen’s ruling party losing two consecutive elections, and approval ratings for the President at record lows, he now seems to believe in taking an aggressive, confrontational posture toward the Mainland.

This tactic is based on the calculation that Beijing will react excessively to his provocations, thereby eliciting sympathy for Taiwan, while coalescing support around a President who is willing to stand up to “Communist China.” To its credit, the Mainland has so far refused to take the bait.

At the same time, the Chinese leadership – with its focus on domestic matters – is leaning on Washington to control an unpredictable Chen. As a result, both Beijing and Taipei increasingly rely on American diplomatic finesse to manage cross-Strait tensions.

With that in mind, let me talk a little about why many of us in the U.S. Congress, along with the Administration, were disturbed by President Chen’s decision to shut the doors of the National Unification Council.

From a practical standpoint, the action was largely irrelevant as the Council had not met since Chen was first elected president in March 2000. And cutting its pitiful budget of 1000 NT (US$31) certainly made no difference.

What mattered was that President Chen’s actions brought into question his willingness to keep a previous set of commitments that he had negotiated with U.S. officials immediately following his election in 2000.

These commitments, commonly referred to as the “5 Nos,” were intended to mitigate unnecessary cross-Strait tensions resulting from Taiwan’s election of a pro-independence leader.

They include the following promises:

  1. No declaration of independence;
  2. No change in Taiwan’s official title or flag;
  3. No enshrinement of a “two state” or “state-to-state” theory in the constitution;
  4. No holding a referendum on the issue of independence or unification; and
  5. No abolishment of the National Unification Council.

In the end, the U.S was able to dissuade Chen from officially “abolishing” the National Unification Council.

Rather, after pressure from the Bush Administration, Chen ultimately accepted the phrase “cease to operate” to characterize the status of the National Unification Council.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Chen was willing to test the goodwill of the U.S. and stir up tensions with the Mainland for his own political gain at home.

Unfortunately, his actions only solidified Beijing’s view that he’s not trustworthy, and hurt his credibility with Taiwan’s closest ally, the United States.

The rashness of several of Chen’s recent statements has also again raised the question of how the U.S. would respond if the Mainland someday reacted with force to Chen’s provocations.

As you know, our security commitments toward Taiwan are outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) – the foundation of our “unofficial” relationship over the past 27 years.

Yet, I think it is important to point out a common misconception – nowhere does the TRA explicitly require the U.S. to go to war with the Mainland over Taiwan.

Rather, the TRA states that the U.S. would “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, (including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and) of grave concern (to the United States.)”

It also requires us “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” and “to maintain the capacity (of the United States) to resist any resort to force (or other forms of coercion) that would jeopardize (the security, or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan).”

Consequently, while the U.S. will continue to adhere to our commitments under the Act, it is important to reiterate, (as former Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly stated before a Congressional Hearing regarding the 25th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act in April 2004), that we expect Taiwan to “respect our interests in stability embodied in the TRA” and “exercise responsible, democratic, and restrained leadership.”

I believe it is more critical than ever to protect the “status quo.” That is why we must continue to communicate to both Beijing and Taipei on a regular and consistent basis that we will not tolerate actions by either side that would unilaterally alter the status quo.

We must also bring full pressure to bear in emphasizing that any final outcome to Taiwan’s status must come peacefully, and only with the clear support of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In addition, the U.S., in my view, should also make it a central tenet of our relations with both the Mainland and Taiwan to insist on the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue.

The current seven-year hiatus in talks has created a dangerous vacuum which cannot be allowed to continue.

This remains a challenge. The Mainland, for its part, distrusts Chen and has little interest in cooperating with his Administration. It has consistently maintained that Chen must first accept its “One China Principle” before talks can resume.

Beijing has also pursued a “United Front” strategy by co-opting Taiwan’s opposition parties in a joint effort to marginalize Chen.

This began in the spring of 2005 when the leaders of both the KMT and PFP parties were invited to Beijing to hold talks with the Chinese leadership.

These highly-publicized visits to the Mainland have been a boon for the Pan Blue as the people of Taiwan have embraced a more moderate approach toward China.

Yet, while Beijing’s tactics have achieved the desired result of both marginalizing Chen and enhancing the Pan Blue’s support at home, they have also exploited political rifts in Taiwan, increasing governing gridlock and hostility between the opposition-controlled parliament and the Presidential Office.

This use of the “carrot and stick” approach was further demonstrated last week when former Kuomintang chief Lien Chan led a Taiwanese trade delegation to Beijing for party-to-party discussions. Sunday, Lien met with President Hu Jintao, who afterwards called for cross-Strait dialogue based on the “One-China principle” and “equal footing” to resume “as soon as possible.”

Beijing also proposed a series of “goodwill gestures” such as increasing agricultural imports from Taiwan, allowing Taiwanese fishermen to sell their catch in Mainland markets, recognizing the Island’s university degrees, and permitting Taiwanese physicians to practice on the Mainland.

By specifically offering special economic benefits to traditional supporters of the Pan Green’s base like farmers, fishermen, and physicians, the Mainland clearly is attempting to influence Taiwan’s domestic politics.

Chen’s DPP Party, however, would do well to do more than simply brand Beijing’s proposals as “poison coated with sugar.” It is time that the ruling party recognizes that the Taiwanese people overwhelmingly support better ties with the Mainland.

Additionally, the current political environment in Taiwan has deeply weakened the Island’s security apparatus.

While China’s military budget has experienced double digit growth since 1989, Taiwan has done little in recent years to bolster its own defense.

Since 1993, in real GDP terms, Taiwan’s defense budget has fallen by 50 percent. And repeated opposition from the Pan Blue has caused the Legislative Yuan to turn down $10-20 billion worth of U.S. arms sales.

Moreover, the balance of military power in the Strait is shifting rapidly in Beijing’s favor with the Mainland’s accelerated procurement of high-tech Russian weaponry since the late 1990s. According to Taiwanese intelligence estimates, the Mainland now has over 800 ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan and has been increasing stockpiles by about 100 per year.

Today, Taiwan is more vulnerable to Chinese force than ever before and thereby much more reliant on U.S. military support.

Thus, it is more critical than ever that a compromise to be found that would allow both Beijing and Taipei to return to the table. Preconditions have only hindered progress.

At this stage, I believe the most constructive approach to ensuring cross-Strait peace would be for the Mainland and Taiwan to negotiate a “mutually agreed-upon” status quo.

This concept, which has been circulating in academic circles for some time, and was recently endorsed by KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, provides the most realistic and viable opportunity to prevent a cross- Strait conflict and allow for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.

Presumably, this could be based upon promises by Taiwan not to declare independence, while the Mainland would, in turn, foreswear the use of force.

For its part, the U.S. could reduce weapons sales to Taipei if China began dismantling the hundreds of ballistic missiles now threatening Taiwan.

After several decades under this “peace accord,” the political and economic systems of both sides might become more closely aligned so that it would be possible for the Mainland and Taiwan to reach some understanding on the Island’s future status.

In my view, the key to American policy should be to preserve the “status quo” and encourage dialogue, economic integration, and responsible leadership on both sides.

Taiwan has already invested an estimated US$100 billion in the Mainland. Last year, 4 million Taiwanese traveled to China, and it is believed that at least 1 million Taiwanese reside there today. Of this number, 200,000 businessmen now operate 60,000 to 100,000 businesses in China. Notably, the Mainland became Taiwan’s largest trade partner in 2002, and last year cross-Strait trade amounted to about US$80 billion.

These statistics are strong indicators of the influence of economic integration on the cross-Strait relationship. I deeply believe that this will one day lead to political integration and will ultimately provide a lasting solution.

As the U.S. increasingly finds itself in the middle of cross-Strait tensions, we must express in clear terms to both sides where our “redlines” stand: No provocation, coercion, or unilateral actions – only a peaceful solution acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Thank you.

First of all, those “five nos” are a joke. Would we have agreed to those conditions in 1776? And really I have to say, 800 missiles pointed at Taiwan are a lot bigger threat than abolishing some useless council. Come on!

Still, reading the actual text of the speech rather than some filtered press story was enlightening, and I feel about 15% better about what was said. I still feel that the spirit of the speech was more focused on the idea of giving more favors to China at the expense of Taiwan’s freedom and our own core values, but to be fair there were comments in the speech about avoiding provocation or unilateral actions.

Then again, come to think of it, 800 missiles and counting does equal a unilateral stance, doesn’t it?

Censor Stone

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Stones rock full crowd in China

Ahead of the concert on Saturday, the Chinese government asked that the band not play the songs Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Woman, Beast of Burden and Let’s Spend the Night Together because of their suggestive lyrics.

Authorities reportedly later added another track to the list, Rough Justice from the Bigger Bang album.

Lead singer Sir Mick Jagger said the band were not worried by the censorship and had fully expected it.

“Fortunately, we have 400 more songs that we can play so it’s not really an issue,” said Sir Mick.

Wow, check out Sir Mick! What a change in attitude a trip to China makes. Seems like just yesterday they were complaining about the Super Bowl Incident. Even the BBC’s attitude seems more relaxed. What is happening?

Two things:

  1. The USA’s right-wing-controlled media institutions are not that much different from China when it comes to censorship. Land of the free, indeed.
  2. Censorship is ugly, no matter where it occurs.