Monday, October 12, 2009

Elephants at a Soiree

Elephants don't belong at soirees - not even when dressed in their best!

But for the new wealthy class in China, soirees come with a whole host of elephants ready to appear at any time.

(photo credit)

Ian Buruma, in his article "China's class ceiling" in the LATimes,
writes about the new wealthy class in China and the price it must pay for its continuing privilege.

Invited to the country home of Hong Huang, "daughter of Communist aristocracy...expensively dressed media mogul," were Buruma and "the avant-garde poet Yang Lian, who lives in London with his wife, Yo Yo, a authors who chose not to put up with the restrictions of an authoritarian society."

The soiree went off track when Hong Huang began giving advice to the ex-pat authors about returning to China to live:
A certain edginess crept into the bracing mountain air. Hong's advice began to sound more like bullying. Tiananmen had not been mentioned, but it was the elephant in the room. It was one of the reasons Yang and Yo Yo opted for residence abroad. Suddenly, Hong brought it up, turning to me as well. "Tiananmen, Tiananmen," she said, "foreign journalists are always going on about Tiananmen. I think it's time to forget about all that. We should move on and feel proud of our country. Foreigners just use it to bad-mouth China."

The newly wealthy in China must constantly compromise and navigate around many unruly elephants  - peasants, school children dead because of substandard buildings that didn't hold up in an earthquake, and any mention of  the 1989 Tianamen Square Massacre, democracy, and human and individual rights.

"To justify its monopoly on power, the Chinese technocracy relies on the promise of order and constant economic growth, and the claim of patriotism." The problem is not with order, economic growth, and patriotism; the problem is that the government is unchecked in its power. Buruma believes a "messy democracy" like India's is better.

How many elephants does it take to...?

Buruma is professor of democracy, human rights, and journalism at Bard college NY. He is the author of The China Lover (2008).

I would like to invite Ian Buruma to my soiree.

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