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FFS, Now Lionel Shriver is Doing It

2 min read

I'm fairly certain that beginning your speech by describing yourself as a "renowned iconoclast" is a trigger warning that the following content is by someone with a dangerously inflated sense of self.

Starting your argument with "Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all" is also a pretty naked declaration that you're about to deploy the appeal to extremes fallacy. Never mind that the sombrero controversy, which is the anchor of Shriver's entire claim that "cultural appropriation" is on the verge of becoming an existential threat to a free society, is not about the sombreros, one of a string of various trumped-up kerfuffles about the threat of political correctness and safe spaces on college campuses, where, shockingly, immature young adults are sometimes debating issues immaturely. As they always have. Arguing that because some students on some campuses have protested, and in some cases attempted to leverage student government and university policy to combat what they perceive as discrimination, real or imagined, means we're a short step from no one publishing or selling books where authors imagine characters from other cultural backgrounds is utter nonsense. Likewise that somehow the brave craft of making up imaginary people for entertainment is under threat because a reviewer thought you were kinda racist, as Shriver does.

Having lived for over a decade in a country with actual oppression of free speech, I find the slippery slope hand-wringing of cosseted elite writers like Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Chait, and Lionel Shriver maddening, tiresome, and ignorant. They wrap themselves in a long tradition of authors standing up against actual tyranny - by oppressive governments and institutions, where silence is codified in law and policy - in defense against those who have no actual power, namely passionate youth and nasty book reviewers. It's pathetic.


Beijing Bikeshare

2 min read

The old website died, but its in the Internet Archive so I'm pasting the How To page as a PSA. As for the now-dead bike station map, the official Beijing government map is here.


Bring the following:

  1. Passport
  2. Beijing public transport IC card (it needs to be the newer version with a "C" on the top right corner of its back side) with more than 30 RMB on the balance

To one of the following offices (these are not the subway stations, the offices are usually small huts outside) where you must fill out a form (some Chinese language ability will be helpful):

  1. Line 5: Tiantan Dongmen, exit A2
  2. Line 2: Dongzhimen, exit A
  3. Line 2: Chaoyangmen (line 2),exit A
  4. Beisanli residential district, 100m to the north along Xindong rd. from intersection between Xindong rd. and Gongtibei rd.
  5. 250m to the east along Nongzhanguan north rd. from the intersection between Nongzhanguan north rd. and Chaoyang Park rd.

Office Hours

Monday to Friday, 9:30 to 11:30, 13:30 to 16:00

The deposit for a bike is 400 RMB. The first hour is free, subsequent hours are 1 RMB/hour, maximum 10 RMB/day. If a bike is not returned to station in three days, 20 RMB will be deducted each day from your deposit.

Please be advised that you need to retrieve the bike from the docking station within 30 seconds after you have swiped the card, otherwise the bike will be locked again and you need to call the hotline for assistance actually, if there's an error in either checking a bike in or out, simply go to the kiosk at the end of the station, place your card on the machine and wait for it to reset your card status (it will change to read "正常").


Chaoyang District: 400887806 Dongcheng District: 4001577157


Beijing Traffic Objects Ranked by Velocity, Maneuverability, & Sense of Entitlement

1 min read

  1. Delivery scooters
  2. Sanlunche taxis
  3. Pedestrians
  4. Civilian scooters and bicycles
  5. Civilian automobiles
  6. Buses
  7. Overloaded trucks
  8. Police
  9. Fire
  10. Ambulance


Badly Written Laws Mean Local Officials Make Policy

2 min read

The full text of the amendment reads: “Where methods such as violence or coercion are used to compel others to wear or adorn themselves with apparel or emblems promoting terrorism or extremism, it is punished by up to three years imprisonment, short-term detention or controlled release, and a concurrent fine.”

This highlights a much bigger problem in the Chinese government, namely that so many laws are drafted in extremely vague language ("extremist" and "coercion" here; another example is the "picking quarrels" criminal law amendment) due to pressures of time, resources, and consensus building, as well as a tendency to dismiss concerns about creative abuse. The result is that local officials and police are put in the position of determining actual, on-the-ground policy by choosing their own definitions for vague terminology. In this case, the law says nothing about burqas but certainly allows officials to label virtually any clothing as "extremist" and a wide variety of personal interactions as "coercion" and in doing so deploy violence and/or coercion under cover of "law."

To see how ludicrous the situation can get, look at Professor Chen Zhonglin arguing that the "picking quarrels" law not only is a catch-all that allows law enforcement to label activities as crimes where no specific law applies, but that this is needed in order to prevent police hands from being tied by existing criminal law that very clearly says they cannot make up new crimes on their own:


Down with America, The Greatest Place on Earth

3 min read

For many Chinese people, the depth of their admiration for the American system and way of life is matched only by their animosity toward the country.

Murong Xuecun, A Land China Loves and Hates

In 2013, two movies were released that teach you almost everything you need to know about China's conflicting feelings towards the United States: Finding Mr. Right (北京遇上西雅图), and American Dreams in China (中国合伙人).

Finding Mr. Right is on the surface an homage to Sleepless in Seattle (the original Chinese title is "From Beijing to Seattle"), and clearly borrows heavily from both upper-middle class aspirational rom-coms of Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. But (spoiler alert) unlike in those films, they don't live happily ever after in their home country, but rather the United States. The entire story kicks off because single motherhood is effectively illegal in China, hence the maternity home includes a lesbian couple as well. China is not really a location in the film as an allegory for unchecked, hollow materialism - most scenes in Beijing center on the main character, a pregnant mistress, being emotionally neglected in rather nightmarish Louis XIV luxury by her married lover who then vanishes due to a corruption probe. While the film's criticism of material greed and corruption tied perfectly into the political climate, this resulted in a story that portrayed China as something to run from and the United States as something to run to, a shining city on a hill. I challenge anyone to find a more pro-United States Chinese film, ever.

The characters in American Dreams in China start off gazing longingly at the United States through rose-colored lenses, but the film catalogs all the disillusionment and heartbreak that follows. While some reviews have described it as a Chinese counterpart to "The Social Network" or "Pirates of Silicon Valley", I don't remember either of those films having this much crying, from any characters, let alone three male leads. One of New Oriental's founders, upon whom the film is based, protested “I am not that lame in real life!” and I sympathize.

The three leads take their obsession with learning English and travelling to the United States and channel it into building a massive language training and test prep company that eventually IPOs in the United States. Along the way they grow bitter and disillusioned with their American dreams as they are dumped by American girlfriends, treated poorly by customers while busing tables in a New York restaurant, mobbed by protesters after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and sued for copyright infringement by a cinematic stand-in for the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Rather than fairy tales realized, in this film the United States is a vessel for all the characters' pain, resentment, and disappointment, which they cathartically vent to their American legal opponents in a painfully contrived climax that is only partially saved by the delicious irony that none of the three Chinese leads can speak English intelligibly and the non-Chinese actors have clearly been instructed by Director Peter Chan to imitate store mannequins.