Bo Xilai Expelled from the Party

Posted on September 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

On Monday, I wrote the following regarding the fate of Bo Xilai:

Most likely, the Party will wait until after the conclusion of the 18th Party Congress- expected to be held next month- to deal with Bo. Even then, Bo may remain in limbo since Beijing will have its hands full with the political transition, a process fraught with tension in China even in the best of times. The Party may prefer to keep the status quo until the issue recedes from public memory. If there’s one thing China does well, it’s disappearing inconvenient personnel.

Hopefully nobody put any money on my prediction. This morning, the Communist Party leadership took action:

China’s rulers have made a forceful show of unity after the country’s biggest political scandal in decades, kicking Bo Xilai out of the Communist party on myriad charges that could lead to the death penalty for the disgraced former high-flying politician.

The announcement that the former party secretary of Chongqing has been accused of taking bribes, improper sexual relations with multiple women and other unspecified crimes comes six months after he was purged following revelations that his wife had murdered a British businessman.

We also learned that the 18th Party Congress will begin on November 8th, not in October as I had previously speculated. It’s quite unusual for the two largest economies in the world, with vastly different political systems, to be planning political transitions in the same week.



Housekeeping Notes

Posted on September 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

Some recent changes to the site, which is still very much a work-in-progress…

  • I’ve added a section to the top called “recommended reads”, which lists all the China-related blogs and Twitter feeds that I pay attention to. This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you think of any that I should add please send me an e-mail at matthew.schiavenza (at) A section for Chinese-language bloggers is forthcoming but recommendations more than welcome!
  • Back in 2011, I interviewed several of my friends about the cities they called home. These results, which I posted serially on the blog, are now located under “city series” on the front page. More of these to come, by the way!
  • A link to my resume is now available next to the “about” on the front page.

Weibo Not Decisive in China- Yet

Posted on September 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

Amy Qin has an excellent piece at ChinaFile explaining why we shouldn’t think Weibo will be affecting real social change anytime soon.  Qin lays out statistics on current internet usage in China:

In the absence of detailed information about the demographics of Weibo’s user base, looking at the makeup of China’s netizen population as a whole serves as a useful reminder of just how skewed the Chinese netizenry still remains. According to the 29th Statistical Report on International Development in China [PDF], released by the China Internet Network Information Center earlier this year, at the end of 2011, the overall Internet penetration rate in China still hovers around 40 percent, or 513 million netizens in a population of 1.3 billion. The netizen base is dominated by city-dwellers, with rural users making up only 26.5 percent of the total Internet population. A mere 7 percent of the population of people age fifty and above and 25 percent of people in their forties are online, compared to 73 percent of citizens in their twenties and 70 percent in their teens. As far as education goes, 96 percent of the population of college-educated citizens are online, whereas fewer than 10 percent of those who have received only primary school education or not even that have access to the Internet. The netizenry is also heavily skewed toward the eastern, more economically developed provinces. In Beijing, the Internet penetration rate is 70 percent, whereas in Yunnan, Jiangxi, and Guizhou it is less than 25 percent. And of this 513 million strong population of netizens, only about half, or 48.7 percent, use the Internet to access microblogs.

Everyone already knew China’s Internet population was overwhelmingly young, urban, and educated, but these numbers are still striking for two reasons. First, statistical trends in the country suggest that China is only becoming more urban and more educated. And while the country is becoming older in the aggregate, as time passes a larger percentage of the population will have experience using the Internet.  It’s safe to assume, therefore, that Weibo will increasingly be the vanguard of grassroots public opinion in China in the coming years.

Second, the micro-blog penetration rate of 48.7 percent is really high. By contrast, only 15 percent of American Internet users now use Twitter. That’s a significant difference. Far more Americans use Facebook, but Twitter is much more analogous to Chinese micro-blogs.

It’s interesting to think about where the political center of gravity lies in China. Right now, it may be a recent internal migrant from Sichuan or Henan working at a Foxconn plant. In ten years, it may be a young- and still struggling- urban resident with a college degree and a Weibo account. That has to be a nagging thought in the back of Xi Jinping’s mind.




Too Many Chinese Students?

Posted on September 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

The Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of San Francisco School of Management has quit for an unusual reason: there are too many Chinese students there with poor English, so the school has to go to unreasonable lengths to accommodate them:

Some of the new students’ language skills, however, were so poor that they were given headsets for English-to-Mandarin translation during orientation.

Business school Dean Mike Webber said in his Sept. 8 letter to staffers announcing Smith’s exit that the “considerable increase” in foreign students this year is not in and of itself a cause for concern.

“But given that so many of these students have weak English skills and are disproportionately from one country, we are going to be faced with some unique pedagogical and cultural challenges,” he wrote.

This story represents the combination of two seemingly unrelated trends. First, wealthy Chinese people are obsessed with American higher education, since the prestige gap between U.S. and Chinese universities remains very high in China. Second, American universities are too expensive for most American people, so in order to avoid dispensing huge sums in financial aid, universities must turn to foreign students who are willing and able to pay full fare. Many of these are, of course, in China.

The arrangement seems to benefit everyone, so much so that it doesn’t even really matter that many of these students can’t speak English well and thus can’t actually complete their degrees. If this sounds like a farce, well, it is!

Unfortunately, these stories are only going to become more common. Even with the economic slowdown in China, the country is growing at a fast clip and will continue to produce wealthy people with big ambitions for their children. Secondly, university tuition costs seem poised to rise well in excess of actual U.S. economic growth- not to mention middle-class wage growth- so a smaller proportion of Americans will be able to afford college tuition without aid. Barring a sudden and unexpected improvement in the quality and prestige of Chinese universities, more Chinese students will be turning up at Americans schools with gobs of cash…and not much English.



Is Bo Xilai Next?

Posted on September 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

A Chinese court sentenced Wang Lijun to 15 years in prison today, which, when you think about it, is a relatively light sentence for a high-ranking official who attempted to defect to the United States. No doubt Wang provided an enormous amount of information to the government in exchange for leniency, and it’s anyone’s guess how much of his sentence he actually will serve.

With Wang- and Gu Kailai- out of the picture, the only issue left to be resolved is the fate of Bo Xilai, from whom we’ve heard absolutely nothing since his ouster from the Politburo some months ago. Most likely, the Party will wait until after the conclusion of the 18th Party Congress- expected to be held next month- to deal with Bo. Even then, Bo may remain in limbo since Beijing will have its hands full with the political transition, a process fraught with tension in China even in the best of times. The Party may prefer to keep the status quo until the issue recedes from public memory. If there’s one thing China does well, it’s disappearing inconvenient personnel.

If this really is the last we’ve seen of Bo Xilai, I wonder whether another Bo-like figure will emerge in the normally staid world of Chinese politics. What made Bo unusual wasn’t his revival of “red” campaigns, but rather his ability to channel popular energy into promoting his policies and personal ambitions. The vast majority of Chinese officials are mere functionaries, tapped to inhabit a particular role and little else. Bo’s downfall may force other politicians to rein in their ambitions and keep a low profile, at least in the short term. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if in some years a new type of Chinese populism might emerge.…

Matt Around Town

Posted on September 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

I’ve written a short op-ed about Mitt Romney and wealth for The Morningside Post. Have a look!…

Obama and China

Posted on September 22nd, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

The New York Times has a long piece today documenting the evolution of President Obama’s approach to China. These two paragraphs jumped out at me:

America’s eastward shift has left the Chinese deeply suspicious of American motives, with some analysts in China arguing that the United States is trying to encircle the country. For all the talk of give-and-take, the Chinese rebuffed Mrs. Clinton during her recent visit to Beijing when she raised the disputes over the South China Sea.

“The Chinese feel a bit whiplashed,” said Michael J. Green, an Asia policy maker in the administration of George W. Bush who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The hope and change of the first year, followed by the sharp-edged push-back of the second year, all of this, to the Chinese, looks like gross inconsistency and unpredictability.”

Well, the United States is trying to encircle the country, a fact that the Chinese aren’t foolish enough to ignore. In recent years the U.S. has strengthened its partnership with India, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, countries that form a neat perimeter around China. Washington isn’t doing this in order to embarrass or upset China, but rather to protect what it views are its strategic interests in the region. China knows this, of course, but still find it useful to complain about.

What’s usually lost in analyses of US-China relations is how large a role domestic politics- in both countries- plays. Elected in part to remove the toxicity surrounding the Bush years, President Obama pledged that his less confrontational foreign policy approach would pay dividends. In respect to China, Obama refused to meet with the Dalai Lama had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton downplay the importance of human rights in the Sino-American relationship. Four years into his presidency, his domestic calculus is different and he now gains from being tougher on China. As a result, his rhetoric has become far more combative.

Likewise, Beijing knows that the long-term strategy in the Pacific is to contain Chinese influence, particularly over the vital sea lanes that regulate commerce. However, the Communist Party gains legitimacy by playing on the nationalist feelings of the population, and as a result they frequently issue public complaints of American meddling in their affairs.

For all the commentary that Obama, who grew up partially in Indonesia, somehow lacks sufficient reverence for China, Sino-American affairs have largely remained constant under his watch and in all respects are likely to do so in the coming years.


What if the NFL ran China?

Posted on September 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

I’ve been watching an obscene amount of football recently, trying to make up for all the seasons I lost while in China. (Though to be fair, those years neatly coincided with the 49ers bleak period, so it wasn’t all bad). So I suppose it’s only natural to wonder what China would look like if it were managed by the National Football League. Could you imagine the Xinhua articles?

After missing the past three weeks with an injury, Vice President Xi Jinping has been ruled “probable” for the 18th Party Congress meetings scheduled in October

Three North Korean defectors were penalized for a “neutral zone infraction” while trying to cross the Yalu River.

Due to a continued strike, the league has announced that replacement judges will preside over the trial of Wang Lijun.

The Standing Committee of the Politburo has contemplating bringing back the “run and shoot” offense, last seen during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Several university students were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during the recent anti-Japan protests.

Following an unsuccessful night on the prowl in Sanlitun, two British expatriates vowed to convert more of their opportunities in the red zone.

Any others?




Site Re-Design

Posted on September 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

Visitors, like fish, start to stink after three days, said Benjamin Franklin. Websites may look fresh awhile longer, but after awhile they start to stink, too. With that in mind, I have unveiled the latest iteration of, the site which- in one shape or form- I have kept as my blogging home for the past eight years. Before I proceed, take note of a few of the changes around here.

  • No comments. This site has received thousands of comments over the years, and I’ve been grateful for all of them. Well, most of them. But these days I’ve found that with Facebook and Twitter, reading and responding to comments here has become more of a chore than I would like, and fending off spammers is an almost-daily annoyance. So I’ve decided to shelve comments for now. However, everything I publish here will be included on the site’s Facebook page as well as on Twitter, so please follow me on both services! You can do so on the right sidebar of the blog’s main page. If you’d like to contact me directly, you can send an e-mail to matthew.schiavenza (at)
  • Published articles. I’ve added a page with a list of articles that have been published elsewhere. If you like to know how I sound when given proper editorial support, have a look!
  • Miscellaneous Marginalia. I have dusted off an old Tumblr that has evolved into a home for non-China commentary as well as random photos I take while walking around New York City. Please follow!
  • Donate! I’m not normally inclined to solicit money for a hobby like  a blog, but if you like what you read and want to contribute a few dollars, please click the “donate” button on the right sidebar. Much appreciated!

I’d love to hear any thoughts about the re-design, as well as any other suggestions for the blog in general. And, in return, I’ll be sure to keep a more active blogging schedule as the fall begins. Thank you, as always, for reading!…

Anti-Japanese Protests in China

Posted on September 18th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

The current anti-Japanese protests that have engulfed China over the past week aren’t unprecedented, but they do appear to be the most serious in the country since the early 1970s. The proximate cause for these protests was the decision of the Japanese government to purchase what it calls the Senkaku Islands, a small archipelago in the South China Sea that both China and Taiwan claim. The underlying causes are of course far more important and will determine how Sino-Japanese relations evolve in the coming years and decades.

What are these underlying causes? First, the Chinese still hold a major historical grievance over Japan’s brutal occupation of their country, a historical experience seared into the collective memory of the country. The degree to which Japan remains distrusted in East Asia often escapes Westerners, in part because our education focuses so much on Nazi Germany’s crimes in Europe. And unlike Germany, Japan has not satisfactorily apologized or atoned for its imperial-era misdeeds.

Secondly, China has in recent years claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, claims it rather fatuously insists are based in long-standing historical record. The diplomacy surrounding maritime law in the Pacific is complicated (to say the least), but it’s safe to assume that countries like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines also have significant interests in the sea and are not prepared to accede to China’s wishes without a fight. The Chinese believe that competing claims to their rightful territory do the bidding of the United States, whom China feels is trying to contain its rise.

Thirdly, the Communist Party derives much of its present legitimacy from nationalism. Many Chinese dislike the Party and chafe at its corruption and repression, but stand lock-step behind their leaders on territorial questions regarding Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and  the South China Sea. The Party knows this, and sees anti-Japan protests as a useful deflection of populist rage away from itself.

Finally, these protests represent a desire for the Chinese people to re-engage with political life, something that the Party has denied them over the past few decades. Following the decade-long experience of the Cultural Revolution, an era in which all aspects of Chinese life were politicized, the Party changed course and essentially stripped politics from society in order to promote economic development. These protests against Japan- like protests against the United States following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999- provide the Chinese public with a sense of solidarity and community that had been absent in the country for many years. These protests allow ordinary Chinese people to strive for something beyond their own material welfare.

Forgive me if this post delves too much into psychological babble, but I do think that these types of protests are symptomatic of authoritarian-led countries. This doesn’t mean that the world shouldn’t take China’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands seriously- far from it. But in assessing the rage of ordinary Chinese over a semi-obscure foreign policy issue, psychological explanations do hold merit.…