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Former Chinese official sheds light on dark side of power
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Oct 14, 2012

Dissident Chinese writer brands Mo Yan a 'state poet'
Berlin (AFP) Oct 13, 2012 - Dissident Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, who lives in Germany, on Saturday savaged China's Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan as a "state poet", close to the communist regime.

"I was shocked," Liao told German news magazine Der Spiegel, according to excerpts from an interview published on Saturday.

Mo Yan is "a state poet (who) withdraws to his world of craftsmanhip whenever necessary," added Liao who will receive the peace prize of Germany's book trade during a ceremony in Frankfurt on Sunday.

Mo Yan has been on the defensive against activists who accuse him of being a communist stooge, amid an outpouring of praise from the government in Beijing.

He has also defended Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, who wrote that Chinese art must serve the party.

In his interview Liao told Der Spiegel he had been asked by friends in China whether "the West sees itself as an extension of the Chinese system", after awarding the Nobel Literature Prize to Mo Yan on Thursday.

New Tibetan self-immolation: rights groups
Beijing (AFP) Oct 14, 2012 - The grandfather of a revered Tibetan Buddhist figure has burned to death in northwest China after setting himself on fire in protest at Beijing's rule in the restive region, rights groups said Sunday.

Tamdin Dorjee killed himself near a monastery in China's Gansu province, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and Free Tibet groups, the latest in a series of protests against Beijing's rule in Tibetan areas.

The 52-year-old was said by the ICT to be the grandfather of the seventh Gungthang Rinpoche, who is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the reincarnation of an important religious figure.

The rights group also said an increased military presence had been witnessed around the monastery following the incident on Saturday.

More than 50 ethnic Tibetans, many of them monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in the local area since February 2009 to protest against Beijing's rule.

Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of enacting religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.

But China rejects this, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and pointing to huge ongoing investment, which it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living.

The latest incident comes after the prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile called on the international community to resist growing pressure from China and stand up for human rights in his homeland.

A local official at Hezuo city, which is near the scene of Tamdin Dorjee's death, told AFP: "I can't talk about this kind of thing on the telephone. Please come here if you want to do an interview."

"Politics is an ugly business," says an official in Chinese author Wang Xiaofang's novel, "The Civil Servant's Notebook". "You always need to keep a knife in reserve, even for your own boss."

Delving into the darkness of Chinese bureaucracy, Wang depicts a world of intrigue where those at the top lose sight of their principles in the race for political power.

It's a world that Wang is familiar with, having begun his own career in the civil service and risen through the ranks of officialdom to become private secretary to the deputy mayor of one of China's biggest cities.

But then scandal erupted, and Wang's boss -- Ma Xiangdong, the deputy mayor of the city of Shenyang -- was sentenced to death in 2001 for gambling away more than $3.6 million of embezzled funds in Macau casinos.

Other officials were embroiled in the scandal. Wang was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, quit his job and put pen to paper.

"That was an experience that rattled my entire life," Wang said in an interview last week following a reading at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.

"After that, I didn't want to repeat the same life. I didn't want to become a spiritual eunuch. I realised that to be able to be yourself is real success," he said.

Since then Wang, who is 49, has published 13 novels about corruption and politics in China, selling millions of copies in the process.

"The Civil Servant's Notebook" is his first novel to be translated into English and its September release was particularly timely as the world watches China deal with its biggest political scandal in decades, ahead of a pivotal leadership transition in November.

The book's portrayal of rumour, scandal and subterfuge as candidates scramble to replace a fallen mayor resonates strongly with the fall of Bo Xilai, a former star politician who China says will now "face justice" for a litany of crimes.

With its allegations of graft and other lurid details, the Bo scandal -- which has already seen Bo's wife convicted of murder -- has caused divisions within the secretive party ahead of the creation of a new power elite, analysts say.

Wang compares it to a moment in "The Civil Servant's Notebook", when a character realises just before his execution that he has been made what the author calls "a sacrificial lamb" for a system that is racing to replace him.

"Bo Xilai has fallen, but there are more who will take his place," said Wang. "If one man stumbles, a thousand will be in place behind him."

Wang tends to take a sympathetic view of officials who become ensnared by the evils of the system in which they work. "The system is what created the officials in the first place," he said.

"If there were a good system in place, these very same people would not go down the road of corruption."

One of the contenders in the novel mulls a report on a fallen mayor who "confused the gate of hell with the gate of heaven", and realises that "there's only one door I've been compelled to push open each day, and that's the door to my office.

"Every day when I open this door I am at my most smug and complacent."

Wang said the consequences of the rule of first emperor Qin Shi Huang more than 2,000 years ago -- in which he moved violently to restrict freedom of thought -- were still being felt.

In the book, he uses an official who has spent his life drinking his own urine as a symbol of "this several thousand years of evil".

"For Chinese people, the obsession with power is in the bones. The only way for China to improve its political system is to choose a democratic and statutory process -- that is how the world is developing."

Wang points out that of his 13 books, 11 have been critical of the officialdom system. He is prone to lofty statements about his work and his literary method but rejects the "absurdist" tag that some have given it (even the stationary talks in "The Civil Servant's Notebook").

"When this book was first published in China in 2009, the media suggested that I had distorted and uglified the image of civil servants, that I had used the absurdist method of writing. But what I've written here is derived completely from true life stories," he said.

Others have suggested that Wang's books serve as guides for advancement among official ranks, labelling him king of the "officialdom" genre. The Chinese version of "The Civil Servant's Notebook" carries quotes of approval from Premier Wen Jiabao.

"That's one way I can protect myself," Wang said with a laugh, stressing that they are not friends. "But officialdom fiction makes no contribution to art or literature," he said.

"I am deeply suspicious of writers who cannot talk about the evil that is surrounding them. The biggest problem with Chinese literature right now is that it's all the same -- everyone is just copying each other. I have created a new style and that is my contribution."

Wang's visit to Hong Kong came ahead of Chinese writer Mo Yan's Nobel literature prize victory on Thursday, a result that provoked some academics and dissidents to accuse the author -- known for exploring the brutality of China's tumultuous 20th century -- of being a stooge for officialdom.

Wang says he has four more books in the pipeline, but that the political environment is "too sensitive" for them at present.

One of them, he says, is called "Oil Painting", which he describes as being about victims of an injustice who go to Beijing to complain but then disappear.

"Perhaps it was God's intention that someone with the ability to write was immersed in this world of power and corruption," said Wang.

"To steal secrets from this hidden world and reveal it through the form of literature."

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Chinese political system could 'blow up', says US academic
Paris (AFP) Oct 13, 2012 - China's top-down political system, under pressure from a growing middle class empowered by wealth and social networks, is likely to "blow up at some point," US academic Francis Fukuyama told AFP in an interview.

"China has always been a country with a big information problem where the emperor can't figure out what's going on" at a grassroots level, said Fukuyama, best known for his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man," which argues that liberal democracy is the fulcrum of social evolution.

"This is in so many respects exactly the Communist Party's problem. Because they don't have a free media, they don't have local elections, they can't really judge what their people are thinking," he said this week, ahead of a conference on geopolitics in Paris.

An isolated central Chinese leadership compensates by gathering information through polling and eavesdropping on the nation's massively used micro-blogging platforms, especially the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, Fukuyama contends.

But these same networks are fueling "the growth of a national consciousness that did not exist under the controlled media setting of the Communist regime," he said.

"That is one of the reasons I think that China's system is going to blow up as some point."

The US academic, based at Stanford University, pointed to the fallout from a crash of China's showcase high-speed trains in July 2011 that left 40 dead and deeply shocked the the nation.

High-level officials sought to bury parts of the twisted wreckage, presumably to impede a thorough investigation as to what caused the accident, but a tsunami of chatter and photos on Weibo forced the government to backtrack.

A historically strong central state held in check neither by organized religion nor by civil society has helped China's leaders engineer spectacular and sustained growth, Fukuyama argues.

"You have to credit them with an amazing performance over the last 30 years."

But the absence of genuine rule by law and mechanisms for holding those in power accountable also leaves he country vulnerable to what he calls "the bad emperor" problem, he added.

"Up to now, their leadership has been composed of people who lived through the Cultural Revolution, and they do not want to see that repeated. But once they die off there's no guarantee you won't get another Mao," he said.

The recent purging of Communist Party boss Bo Xilai on charges of corruption was driven in part by other leaders' fear of his growing popularity, Fukuyama said.

"One of the reasons they felt they had to get rid of him was that he was a charismatic leader... developing a populist base that could blow up the whole system."

The full transcript of the interview can be found at http://blogs.afp.com/geopolitics.


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China Nobel winner defends prize -- and Mao
Gaomi, China (AFP) Oct 12, 2012
Chinese author Mo Yan on Friday defended his Nobel prize from dissidents who accused him of being a communist stooge, and expressed hope for the early release of jailed fellow laureate Liu Xiaobo. Speaking after his Nobel literature prize sparked an outpouring of praise from the government, and sharp condemnation from critics, Mo Yan stood his ground in a press briefing likely to anger both ... read more

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