On January 4, 2021, 1,000 Hong Kong police went out to arrest fifty-three democratic lawmakers, politicians, and activists. The event was as much a demonstration of unrestrained police power as an actual police operation. The arrested were, moreover, charged with a strange crime, namely “trying to use strategic voting to secure a legislative majority, with an ultimate goal of shutting down the government.” They had organized a primary election to produce a slate of democratic candidates for the then upcoming election to Hong Kong’s legislature. 600,000 Hong Kongers had cast their vote on that occasion. The democrats had also expressed hope that their united front might gain a majority of the seats in the new legislature. Benny Tai, one of the initiators of the event, had, moreover, suggested in a newspaper op-ed that such a majority might eventually be able to veto the city’s budget and, perhaps, even push its unloved Chief Executive to resign.
Power is constantly transferred in political system. What happens when the transfer of power changes the political system?
Democracy in China. The Coming Crisis is a tightly argued new book by Ci Jiwei that sets itself the dual task of analyzing China's democratic deficit while doing so in a genuinely philosophical manner.
What follows is a short first stab at an assessment of this book.
A month ago I attended the fourth International Wittgenstein Symposium in Xi’an. I gave a lecture on the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations and a talk at Northwest University on “Wittgenstein and the Decline of the West.”
Almost everyone in Berkeley said: “Xi’an. Where is that?” It tells you how ignorant we are about the country. It is a city of some 7 million people (and perhaps unofficially even of 10 million). The first capital of China lone before Beijing and as such full of antiquities. It was also the end of the Silk Road, the place where Buddhism entered China and it has, till today, a thriving Muslim quarter. A modern city but one with a history.
A few weeks ago, I met up with a number of local activists in Hong Kong. I wanted to know how much support they still had from the general public and what their chances were for asserting any political influence, given that their leaders were under attack and their elected representatives had been disbarred.
When I arrived in Hong Kong a month ago it was already clear that a political crisis was brewing. The HK administration had tabled a new extradition law and opposition to it was growing by the day. Now the issue has come to a boil.
A week ago, I saw Bi Gan’s movie The End of Eternity (《地球最后的夜晚》)-- called In English Long Day’s Journey into the Night -- on a Cathay Pacific flight. I came away thinking that this must be one of the great movies of all times. The next day I discovered that it was also playing at a neighboring movie house and so went to see it again. I couldn’t sleep after that as the images, words, and sounds of the movie were hauntingly coming back to me again and again in the middle of the night. Dark, mysterious, and melancholy, Bi Gan’s work is, in fact, a piece of the most sublime Chinese poetry and utterly captivating as this poetry can be.
The European elections on May 23 mark a point of transition in European politics. More than 50 % of Europeans eligible to vote took the opportunity to do so. For the first time in its history, the parliament has come to be recognized by a large number of Europeans as an integral component of the political structure of the EU. The EU has thereby undoubtedly gained in democratic legitimacy.
On my current visit to Hong Kong I am once again trying to talk to some of the activists in order to get a better understanding of the shifting political territory. When I contacted Joshua Wong, one of the most dedicated pro-democracy campaigners, he wrote back to me: “I might not able to meet you since my court case sentencing is scheduled on Thursday afternoon. I need to prepare before being locked up in prison.” This will be the third time he is sent there for his political engagement.
Saturday May 11, 2019 There was heavy fighting yesterday in the Hong Kong legislature over a newly proposed extradition law. Legislators were injured in the melee. The previous day had seen demonstrations in the street.
In the face of relentless change, we are losing the past. Customs, traditions, religion, and established institutions are going overboard. We are losing, perhaps, even a sense of ourselves as beings with a history, Universities cease to be "universities" and become institutes with "career-focused programs." The liberal arts are a luxury to be dispensed with. Who needs educated citizens? Who needs human beings with a rich inner life?
A follow-up to the previous post of Dec. 21, 2018: The Enemy-in-Chief
Since its foundation the US has always had an enemy in-chief. First it was the British who helped to solder the nation together. Then came the extermination of the American Indians extending the American territories “from sea to shining sea.”. Then the civil war when the Americans made mortal enemies of each other with wounds that are still not fully healed. Then came the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Russians, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq,
A cartoon series about the life and times of Karl Marx is set to be shown on a Chinese video streaming website with the full backing of Beijing, according to the host company. The Leader, which recounts the story of the German philosopher and socialist revolutionary, will be broadcast by Bilibili.com “soon”, the company said on Tuesday. The production was commissioned by the central government’s Marxism office, in cooperation with authorities in Inner Mongolia; Weiming Culture Media, which is based in the region; and animation company Dongmantang, Bilibili said on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. (South China Morning Post, Dec. 19, 2018)
"Can Democracy Work?" is James Miller's sequel to his book of thirty years ago, "Democracy Is in the Streets." In the intervening years he seems to have become less certain of the answer.
I have been re-reading James Miller's 1987 "Democracy is in the Streets" since he was in Oakland a month ago. The book provides a richly detailed account of the short life of the "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS) from their beginnings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 through their being a major driving force behind the protests against the Vietnam war to their collapse in 1969.
The Trump administration has been worried about China turning itself into a leading economic power. Its current trade war with China is officially aimed at bringing about relatively small changes in China’s economic policies but its real aim is to constrain China’s long-term development. We can be sure that China would be willing to adjust its trade policies but it will certainly not abandon its overall development plans. There is no reason to think that the Chinese would ever consent to being in a permanently inferior economic position. And it is not obvious that the US can keep it there.
The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.
Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.