No words by Mo Yan?

Finally! That must have been the word on many Chinese lips this evening as the Swedish Academy (瑞典学院) announced that Mo Yan (莫言, real name Guan Moye 管谟业) would be given the Nobel prize in literature 2012. Almost instantaneously some Chinese voices got overexcited, and professor Zhang Yiwu (张颐武) from Peking University claimed that ”Mo Yan getting the prize is really an outcome of China’s rise and development, and Chinese civilization can no more be neglected” (莫言的得奖其实是中国的崛起和发展带来的结果,中国文明已经不能被忽视). Zhang is a professor at the Chinese Department and Vice Director of Peking University Centre for Research on Cultural Resources (北京大学文化资源研究中心). Is Mo Yan now a ”cultural resource”?

Apparently people still read – and like – his books. This evening I was giving a lecture on ”Sinology, literature and translation”. As the prize announcement coincided with the start of my lecture I put on the webcast from Stockholm, and to all our surprise ”Mo Yan” were the words pronounced. The students, all except two Mainland Chinese in their 20s, were laughing and clapping hands, and they had all read Red Sorghum (红高粱) – or at least seen the film, some has also read Big Breasts and Wide Hips (丰乳肥臀) and Frog (蛙).

Despite the Nobel Prize, this year has not only been positive for Mo Yan. Earlier this year he was severely criticized for taking part in copying by hand a part of Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yan’an Forum for Literature and Art (在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话). 99 other writers and artists did the same. One wonders why. One can also wonder if his choice of pen name may have gone too far – Mo Yan means ”no words” or ”no speech”. He has claimed that it was taken to remind himself not to speak too much, as he was earlier known for his outspokenness. Being a Nobel laureate will give him time and space to reconsider and maybe start speaking again. He could start by mentioning the other Chinese citizen who has won the Nobel prize, Liu Xiaobo.

Sensitive politics? Culture, weibo and 9 September

Today is a special day, 9 September. Here in Hong Kong elections are under way, and the  government yesterday backed down from the idea of introducing compulsory ”moral and national education” (德育及國民教育科). Massive demonstrations and today’s elections were probably the main factors behind this decision. Perhaps also concerns from Beijing about possible unrest in Hong Kong so close in time to the upcoming Communist party congress in October? It will be interesting to see election results.

Today is also the anniversary of Mao Zedong’s death. People’s Daily (人民日报) does not promote it at all, but interestingly a People’s Daily affiliated blog yesterday had a post about ”Mao Zedong’s six most beautiful dance partners” (毛泽东一生中最漂亮的六个舞伴) ! Ironic and strange, and not quite a ”harmonious” topic on the anniversary of Mao’s death.

It is also a little strange that Weibo, the Chinese micro blog, seems to be very picky with words today. Probably not because of Mao Zedong, but more likely because of Hong Kong and the elections. This morning I wrote a short Weibo on the somewhat tragic but fascinating story of artist Sun Guojuan (Son Kok Gyon 孙国娟), and how she was denied visa to exhibit in Sweden, most likely because she has North Korean citizenship.

Dangerous words?

When I published, it came out as of above, ”limited to private viewing” (仅自己可见)! I have had Weibo post censored before, but then they were published first and then erased. I immediately republished, but this time without the words ”citizenship” (国籍) and ”political” (政治) and it came out normal (as you can see in the Weibo feed on the right). Do they censor the words ”political” or ”politics”? The ways of Weibo and Chinese Internet censorship are truly mysterious.

Elections, brainwashing and hunger strike – Hong Kong thoughts

Arriving in Hong Kong to work a year at City University of Hong Kong (香港城市大學), it is definitely time to start blogging again. The first week has been full of practical things, but also many thoughts on Hong Kong society as I and my family face the various bureaucratic and other obstacles to overcome before a more ordinary life can start.

One major event these days is the election to the Legislative Council  (香港立法會) taking place on 9 September.

Hong Kong voters can cast two votes, for geographical and functional constituencies. Will that give them more influence?

Interestingly, my new colleagues and other local friends have yet to mention the elections in our conversations. Newspapers and other media, however, are full of interesting stories. Just a few days ago several people were sentenced for election fraud, in regard to district elections in 2011. Reports specially pointed out one woman as having a PRC background, and speculated that she was ”brainwashed” as a child in mainland China. She described herself as a ”Post-80 refusing to be brainwashed” (拒絕被洗腦的80後), but acknowledging her father’s ”patriotism and love of the party” (愛國愛黨).

”Be on guard against pickpockets” 提防扒手 (grabbing ”freedom” 自由) and ”beware of brainwashing” 小心洗腦 – poster for the Civic Party (公民黨)

”Brainwashing” has become an issue after the government proposal for revision of the compulsory ”moral, civic and national education” course (德育及國民教育科) for primary and middle schools. One proposed teaching material is called The China Model: Handbook for Teaching National Conditions [Sentiments] (《中國模式》國情專題教學手冊), which, among other things, describes the Communist Party of China (CPC) in very positive terms.

This led to huge demonstrations in July, and recently – ahead of term start – protests outside the government buildings. A couple of middle school students even started a hunger strike (絕食). The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (香港教育專業人員協會) has also been especially outspoken on this issue, which has led to very harsh, but revealing comments from Beijing, voiced through Ta Kung Pao (大公報) and relayed by China Daily. It will be interesting to follow developments on-the-spot!

Det kinesiska välfärdssamhället…

Idag skriver socialförsäkringsminister Ulf Kristersson på DN Debatt om hur det ska bli ”enklare för oss att bo och arbeta i Asien”. Det är bra. Fler behöver åka till Kina, Korea, Indien och andra asiatiska länder, lära sig språk och gärna arbeta en period. Men hur tänker regeringen när man ger sig in i förhandlingar med Kina om avtal inom socialförsäkringar? Vet man vad man förhandlar om? 2009 tog Kina beslut om en långsiktig satsning på ett sammanhållet system till 2020. Detaljerna och genomförandet är långt ifrån färdiga och genomförande av centrala beslut på lokal nivå är ett av Kinas stora problem. Läs mera t.ex. i Constructing a Social Welfare System for All in China, skriven av en kinesisk statlig think-tank men publicerad av Routledge.

Kina införde 2003 ”Nya kooperativa vårdsystemet för landsbygden” (新型农村合作医疗制度) vilket idag, nio år senare, täcker de flesta på landsbygden. Detta system innebär att kostnaderna för sjukvård täcks till mellan 30 och 70%, den högre andelen vid enklare sjukvård på en mindre klinik, den lägre andelen vid dyr sjukvård på ett stort sjukhus. För stadsbor infördes redan 1998 ett separat system. Fortfarande drabbas dock många av att vård bara ges om man kan betala. Onödiga och dyra mediciner skrivs ut för att ge extra inkomster till läkare. Fortfarande finns tiotals miljoner fattiga som är utanför systemen.

När det gäller pensioner är läget också oklart. Under Zhu Rongjis (朱镕基) tid som premiärminister på 1990-talet påbörjades pensionsreformer i städerna och här finns ett rudimentärt system. På landsbygden har pilotprojekt genomförts i vissa provinser men på alltför låga nivåer. Det rör sig ibland om något hundratal yuan per år (lika mycket i kronor) och det är svårt att leva på. Andelen som deltar i systemet har också minskat de senaste åren.

Enligt officiella uppgifter behöver Kina 5,7 biljoner yuan för att genomföra satsningen till 2020. Ett samlat och enhetligt socialförsäkringssystem för hela Kina framstår som en utopisk tanke inom överskådlig tid. Förmodligen kommer system på provinsiell nivå och samarbete mellan stat, NGOs och privata aktörer att vara nödvändigt. I Kina är pensionsåldern 60 för män, 55 för kvinnliga tjänstemän och 50 för kvinnliga arbetare, men tankar finns nu på att höja gränsen. Ulf Kristersson och de svenska förhandlarna borde dela erfarenheter, ta upp frågor om pensionsålder och systemens uppbyggnad och inte diskutera förmåner för ett fåtal svenskar som jobbar i Kina.

Some thoughts on welfare systems in China (and Sweden), what is possible and what we prioritize.

关于中国(和瑞典)社会福利系统的建成,如何发展,优先在哪里。