We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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“If you respect the host you will get better interviews next time.”

Gary Rosen has been out in China, burning his boats, the ones that might ever take him back to China in the foreseeable future. Good for him. My thanks to the ever useful Arts & Letters Daily for the link.

I particularly liked the bit about how the Chinese regime censors the awkward stuff, and I offer no apology for quoting it at some length:

Someone asked (well, it was me again) how Mr. Liu could reconcile his presentation of China’s peace-loving ways with Beijing’s clear position that, if Taiwan were to declare independence, the mainland would invade – a threat made more credible by its arms build-up across the Taiwan Strait and its provocative military exercises in recent years. Mr. Liu did not like my use of the word “provocative.” In the first place, he said, “You should phrase your questions with more respect.” More to the point, he rejected the underlying premise: “China has a population of 1.3 billion people, including the 23 million people of Taiwan. It is not for them to decide their own status.”

Which is about as excellent an exposition of the imperfect correspondence between the ideals of democracy and of liberty as you could ever hope to encounter, don’t you think?

Rosen continues:

None of this was exactly surprising, since it adhered closely to long-standing Chinese policy. What was surprising, as we shook hands and prepared to leave, was Mr. Liu’s insistence that his remarks were entirely off the record. This was news to us. All of our sessions, unless restricted in some way beforehand, were explicitly on the record, and we had been busily taking notes, with our tape recorders in plain sight. Liu Jieyi, in all his worldliness, was perfectly aware of what we were doing. Out of pique at my impertinence or perhaps because he did not like having lost his cool, he wanted the interview to go away.

This task fell to Mr. Huang, who called us together in the lobby once we were back at the hotel. “I need you to tell me that you won’t report about this,” he said. “It is best to respect the host; that is the international practice.” Pressure had plainly been brought to bear on him, and several in the group, feeling that they had no particular use for Mr. Liu’s words (and not wishing to jeopardize our sponsors or future trips), said they were unlikely to write about the session. Others, myself included, were less accommodating. One member of the group explained that she would find it hard to continue with the tour if the rules were continually changed after interviews. “We are not Chinese journalists,” she told Mr. Huang, “and this smacks of censorship.”

Knowing that I considered the material from the session valuable and might well use it, Mr. Huang pulled me aside several more times the next day to ask again that I “respect the host,” adding that if I did, “I would get better interviews the next time.” The threat in this, as reporters who cover China informed me, was that my future access might be limited; denying visas is a favorite tactic for punishing Western journalists who upset the authorities. But as I said to Mr. Huang, I was unsure that I would ever again report from China, and I could not relent on a key journalistic principle. Moreover, I felt obliged to tell him, his effort to suppress the story had become the story.

You seldom read reportage like that from China, or from any other efficiently administered despotism with a definite future, do you? And the reportage itself explains why. The exception that explains the rule, you might say.

15 comments to “If you respect the host you will get better interviews next time.”

  • Lascaille

    It’s not too dissimilar here – as the increasing levels of abstraction between the real officials and the public serve to make investigative journalism obsolete, journalists who want hard data are tacitly forced to cooperate and praise officials who may well in the future throw them bones (or not.)

    It’s only when all the knives come out and figures start actually talking to distance themselves from the crime (Watergate being a good example) that any real journalism takes place.

    With regard to this though, it is odd that he (Mr Liu) seeks to cover it up – he has stated China’s official policy which any minor functionary could repeat safely.

  • Paul Marks

    It is not really numbers Brian – it is strength.

    If if was Taiwan that had more people the regime in charge of the People’s Republic of China would still be plotting against it, if the regime was stong enough to do so.

    Way back in 1962 the P.R.C. invaded and took over part of India – there were hundreds of millions of Indians, but the military position was in favour of China, and that was all that mattered.

    “But we believe in peace” – did not matter.

    “But we are also socialists” – did not matter.

    “But we also hate the United States” – did not matter.

    Of course the modern P.R.C. regime rejects Mao’s economics, but this is a bad thing as well as a good thing.

    It is a good thing because tens of millions of Chinese are no longer being killed by the policies of Mao.

    But it is a bad thing because allowing private industry (indeed grating very favouable terms, compared to Britain and the United States, to private industry in terms of taxation and regulation) has given China the strength for its military build up.

    A military build up in everything from long range missiles for nukes, and space war weapons (do destroy satellites, incomming missiles and so on) – all the way to cyber warfare (the probing attacks on computer systems started a long time ago – they are feeling their way).

    “But economic liberalization will lead to political liberalization”.

    If has not yet. What we have now is similar to Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.

    It does not murder millions (but then Nazis did not do that – in the 1930’s), although there are still very many political murders. But the desire for ever more power (the desire to dominate the world) is very real.

    The difference is in our position:

    Contrary to what is often said Britain in the 1930’s still had strong manufacturing industry – we no longer do (we are a credit bubble economy).

    Even the United States under the New Deal actually had lower taxes and government spending and, in some ways, less regulations than Nazi Germany.

    The modern Welfare States (and the United States is one of them if one looks at the size of the entitlement programs) find it much harder to compete with a modern Nazi Germany that did Britain and the United States in the 1930’s.

    Oh and, of course, the P.R.C. is simply much bigger than Nazi Germany.

    So in this, yes, numbers matter.

    How to deal with all this is simple to say but hard to do.

    The entitlement programs (the Welfare State) must be rolled back, so that industry can compete.

    Otherwise the burden of taxes and regulations on Western industry will just mean that China gets stronger and stronger (releative to us) over time.

    Again – simple to say, hard to do.

    Of course there is another possiblity:

    China becomes fluffy – a giant Taiwan.

    An advanced economy with no interest in dominating the world in a military way. If Taiwan had a billion people it would dominate the world economy (because its basic taxes and regulations are also less bad than ours), but this would NOT mean that we were under a military threat, because the ideology (the thoughts in the heads) of the political types in Taiwan are totally different (to put it in blunt terms – although they have many faults they are not actually evil).

    However, I see no sign of such a political transformation in China.

    The present regime bases its right to rule on its unfluffyness.

    Being evil is not just about what they do – it is about what they are (it is a classic “Dr Evil” situtation). Otherwise they would see themselves as having no right to be in power.

    Yes they would actually have a moral problem with not being evil – plotting world domination is part of their sense-of-self.

  • Being evil is not just about what they do – it is about what they are (it is a classic “Dr Evil” situtation). Otherwise they would see themselves as having no right to be in power.

    Yes the Chinese gov’t does nasty things, but in their own eyes they are not evil. Evil is such a difficult word to pin down in politics, especially when one culture uses it to describe another which has a completely different value system. I would define a government as ‘evil’ if it did things that it knows are wrong according to its own moral and ethical history, not merely that it knows are wrong in other’s eyes.

    My wife has applied for a job with an international company with offices in Shanghai, Atlanta and Reykjavik. Much as admire the company and what it does, I’ve told her that in no uncertain terms will I relocate and bring up my son in China, and even the US is a second choice to Iceland. Just so we’re clear, I have no sympathy for China’s regime and would rather have no dealings with it at all (quite difficult if you think about it) but I think that branding them as evil according to our standards is misguided and makes an enemy of a culture that needn’t be. (Unlike Islam which, while I also wouldn’t call it evil as a whole, is completely barmy and needs either the cultural equivalent of electro-shock therapy or a lobotomy)

  • I had the opportunity to visit Beijing on business a couple of months ago and I must say I loved the place. It was so exotically foreign that it was endlessly fascinating. One of my chief complaints with current journalism and such is getting a practical read on what life in China REALLY is like. We know they aren’t politically free. And we also know they are economically more free than they were. And how does this translate to their day to day lives.

    I gather that the people in the rural areas probably still live under a more communist communal fashion. But, the cities seem to be where the action is and people do have a growing list of freedoms. The Tiananmen Square massacre kind of told the people what lines not to cross. But, the by-product of that was they did get more freedom, if not political freedom. People buy cars, cell phones and what not. Preventing them from being exposed to western ideas is darn near impossible, though I no doubt think they try. But it was the little things they could not prevent. I stayed at a western hotel that provided free copies of the Wall Street Journal Asia. And in it, it painted some unflattering pictures of China, one article I read while over there was what an environmental travesty the Three Gorges Dam is. The employees could easily pick that up and read it. That sort of thing would be nearly impossible to police. And I say I saw more police on the streets of Seoul South Korea than I did in Beijing, so it certainly doesn’t “feel” like a police state.

    But, getting the points mentioned here, the idea that they don’t THINK they are evil is absolutely correct. I read an article in the China Daily (the English version, which obviously was meant for foreign consumption) about the Chinese Complaints Department. This was a classic example of “hey, look liberal westerner at how much we listen to our citizens.” It was a fascinating read because it was put forth as such a puff piece of their attempts at helping common citizens get their complaints heard, but to my American eye, it was exhibit A about how they JUST DON’T GET IT. It was wrong on so many levels. We also had our tour guide to the Great Wall try to rationalize the 1 child policy to us. Her basic gist was, see how big this city is and how many people their are? How do you possibly expect us to deliver all the services to these people if we let them grow at will. I was quiet and didn’t tell her that having offspring is one the most fundamental human rights there are. But, it was a classic example of “we’re not evil, we are very rational.”

    The Communist Party are clearly more of a power structure than any real idealogically driven party. I’d bet that you could make the argument they are even less idealogical than the Nazi’s (playing on the earlier poster’s example). But they are definitely power hungry. I’m surprised no one has put forth the argument that modern China is actually just another example of how the Laffer curve is a great fiscal policy tool. Deregulation and lower taxes have lead to a boom that is filling the government coffers. And that money is going for typical government boondoggles like infrastructure to be sure, but it also clearly going to a Reaganesque military build up (i.e. bigger and technologically better). This is a serious concern for all of us.

    But, its important to remember that socialism, even “market socialism” has a shelf life. China still has a lot of room to grow, but it will start to cap out eventually once people realize that they are still just pawns in a pseudo-centrally planned economy. There incomes are growing rapidly as is their appetite for better toys (They are adding 1100 cars a DAY to Beijing’s roads). Eventually, those desires WILL run counter to the power structure’s goals. Then the gig will be up. Unfortunately, that will probably a full generation from now. Lots of good and bad can happen before then.

    Lastly, mandrill is right, calling China evil is not helpful (God, I sound like a diplomat!). As good libertarians, we should always note that its their GOVERNMENT that is evil, even if its less evil that it was. The people are great. The culture is fascinating and is far older and more pervasive than their relatively recent communist heritage. Hopefully, one day they’ll repudiate Mao AND Deng, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon, alas.

    And hopefully this post won’t prevent me from getting a Chinese visa in the future should I get to make a trip back :-). Because, when I was over there, believe me, I kept my mouth shut despite many temptations to rant. But, I’m not a journalist, so I don’t think I was violating any grand principle. I respected my host because I also respect my employer who sent me over there.

  • Russ, Paul wrote:

    The present regime bases its right to rule on its unfluffyness.

    Being evil is not just about what they do – it is about what they are (it is a classic “Dr Evil” situation). Otherwise they would see themselves as having no right to be in power.

    I think it is clear that he was referring to the government, not the people.

  • Paul Marks

    I was indeed Alisa.


    “By our standards” – I am not a relativist.

    As for the P.R.C. regime – I believe that, in a way, they believe the stuff they come out with in times and places like the Communist Party Congress (yes I was one of the very few people watching – via Chinese English language television).

    Of course they do not believe in the finer points of Marxist “economics” (they know that Karl Marx was hopeless on the subject) – but they believe in the power stuff.

    The build up, in everything from cyber warfare to space weapons, is not a game – nor is about “balancing” the United States.

    They see their right to rule as based upon their will to power – and not just a will to power over China.

    “But how would this benefit them?”

    It does not – that is why I called it a “Dr Evil type situation” after the fictional comic character.

    Dr Evil’s corporation made him vast sums of money – he had not need to do anything evil.

    But he did anyway – for the sake of it.

    Just as the P.R.C. regime does – and will do much more, as the economy gives them the wealth to use for their various schemes.

    One can rationalize if you like.

    One can say that they need to be tough and to show that they are big boys on the world stage or they will be overthrown (as they almost were in 1989).

    But really they are evil because they are evil.

    “No, no, no they do not use such words about themselves”.

    Quite true – they consider themselves to be beyond good and evil, for power is beyond such silly ideas……

    But this amounts to the same thing.

    I have no doubt at all that if (for example) they ever found a way to reduce most American cities to radioactive slag, without having the same thing done to them, they would do it.

    “But that would mean killing off the customers of Chinese private companies and people who owe the Chinese lots of money”.

    Yes – but they would not care.

    They would do it because they could.

    However, I expect them to engage in rather smaller scale naughtyness for the present.

  • Paul Marks

    Oh by the way.

    I forgot to mention in the comment I have just sent in, that my father visited Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. He liked the country and the people.

    However, he has no illusions about the nature of the government. Perhaps being Jewish helped him see it better.

    The P.R.C. regime lacks the antisemitism – but the will to power is the same.

    It is already irritating (in lots of ways) and does as many wicked things as it can without seriously hurting itself (for the sake of being wicked).

    As time goes in so the situation will become more irritating – unless the regime falls.

  • Sorry, Paul, I have botched your quote. Here goes again:

    The present regime bases its right to rule on its unfluffyness. Being evil is not just about what they do – it is about what they are (it is a classic “Dr Evil” situation). Otherwise they would see themselves as having no right to be in power.

  • Sorry Paul, I wasn’t really trying to say you were, I was just trying to split hairs I suppose. And mainly I was just trying to express the conflicting feelings of getting to visit China after being initially a little concerned about it and then absolutely loving the place. I know that, as a Westerner there on business, my perspective is skewed because surely they wish for me to see it as something other than it is. (though, honestly, “they” couldn’t have done a whole lot to control what I saw. I walked the streets without problems and mingled with the people and talked business free and openly)

    And I did want to make the point that the communist are, as you say, all about power. I got a couple of days to be a tourist and went to the Forbidden city and Tianemen. The south wall of the Forbidden City is the place where the famous mug shot of Mao over looking the square hangs. As that palace structure was the seat of Chinese government for centuries, the message is clear: Mao and his followers are the power around the parts. But, inside that same palace structure has hundreds of buildings and each one has a Chinese and an English explanation of its history. The English translation has a tag line that says “Made possible by the American Express Corporation” complete with the logo. The AmEx logo is plastered all over the structure that has Mao’s face planted on it. Clearly the ideology is 2nd fiddle.

    But, once the class I was there to train started (I was a guest of rather large software corporation you all have heard of and probably deal with and curse at every day), that was when I really got to deal with the Chinese people and its new urban white collar class. And getting to see the Chinese in a fashion that is all business, its clear that they would hate to see an aggressive military campaign by the Chinese, particularly if it risks war with the U.S. and puts the Taiwanese economy at risk. Everything they’ve gained over the last two decades would go down the crapper and they have got to know that.

    And they are gradually opening things up to their own citizens. I had questions about religion asked more than once (sadly, as an agnostic, they weren’t satisfied with my discussion). One guy asked me about my house and we actually got into a discussion of mortgages, which it seems aren’t exactly common over there. I even had two girls who were walking with me through Tianemen (I don’t think they were trying to sell me anything) ask me about how popular Mao is in the states. I managed not to answer anything more than “we know who he is” (without adding “one of the greatest mass murderers ever) but they actually laughed when I asked if we were allowed to talk about this. Very strange, but not indicative of a people living in genuine fear. Of course, I didn’t ask them say a prayer while we were standing there for all the people killed their by their government 17 years prior. Point being, I they are more free than at least I thought they would be, though its possible and ignorant dipsh*t.

    I’m trying to be optimistic about China, because the alternative is too grim. Its willful naivety I admit. But I’d hate to become enemies of the people I met (even if I know some of them probably support their evil government).

    As I said before, socialism has a shelf life, let’s hope it expires in China far sooner than I think it will. Until then, vigilance is important, though difficult. Believe me, I know I should ditch Yahoo as my email and not use their services, but my other options tend to be folks equally compromised by their relationship with China. No easy choices and right now, at least, not worth changing an email address I’ve had for something like eight years.

    China, can’t live with ’em, damn hard to live without ’em.

  • Sunfish

    To be respected, authority has to be respectable.

    Amanda Ziller, who does not actually exist, said that.

  • Paul Marks

    “We do not care about being respected – as long as we are feared” might be a possible reply Sunfish.

    But like you I hope that such a reply will not work.

    Ross Goble – I hope you are right. And Mao was the greatest mass murderer in history. An even bigger one than Stalin.

    I hope the Chinese people, or rather most of them, are as you say – and that the get the drop on the regime sometime soon.

    Perhaps the regime will try and whip up extreme nationalism (with a racialist edge?) to try and avoid this.

    It has been done before.

  • mike

    “Quite true – they consider themselves to be beyond good and evil, for power is beyond such silly ideas……”

    As you yourself are no doubt beyond the silly ideas of a chap whose work was posthumously manipulated…

    Objections to crude derogatory references aside, I agree with you Mr Marks – the P.R.C is evil, even if they do not see themselves as such.

  • Sunfish

    Paul Marks

    “We do not care about being respected – as long as we are feared” might be a possible reply Sunfish.

    And when they talk tough they say such things. However, I get the sense of a massive inferiority complex from them. Hence the flack in the OP whining about the lack of respect. If they didn’t have this pathological desire to be liked and respected by the West, then why put so much effort into the dog-and-pony shows they keep giving us?

    When I was in school, there were a few kids from the PRC there. To hear them talk, they sounded like junior assistant party flunkies who wanted to become senior assistant party wannabes.[1]

    [1] Confusion: watching three guys from collectivist societies try to decide what to get on a pizza. Nobody wanted to make a simple decision. Maybe they have the oldest syphilization with the biggest body count, but at least we can order a pizza in under ten minutes.

  • Paul Marks


    I am sorry to have used words that were from Friedrich Nietzsche – I was certainly NOT making any claim about him. I therefore I apologize.

    As for my opinion of Nietzsche – I wish he had wrote more about that conception he associated with Athena.


    They can order pizza in ten minutes also (should they want to) – at least in the big cities.

    However, the inferiority complex does seem to exist in the powers-that-be.

    For example, why spend time and energy making sure you win the Miss World contest? Winning when the contest is being held on your terrority screams”fix”.

    Still I have some respect for a regime that can get things done (even silly things like fixing the Miss World Contest).

    The American government, Federal State and local, is like the Byzantine Empire bound up in endless rules (“Byzantine bureacracy” in fact) even building ships seems to take years and years (in World War II it took a day for a small ship and a few months for the largest aircraft carriers).

    For example the G.W. Bush was ordered in 2001 and it is still not ready – it is to be commissioned in 2009.

    And this is when everything goes according to plan.

    For six years the 9/11 site was not even cleared (a damaged building still stood near by the subject of a legal case). However, the building did not obstuct the site of the twin towers themselves – that site could have been developed and still had not been.

    Building the Empire State Building (with the primimite technoloy of the time) only took 18 months – when will the new building on the site of the twin towers be ready?

    Why was it not ready years ago?

    It is not even clear whether it is a private or a government enterprise – the whole thing seems to be a mad mixture of the two.

    The government can not even secure the borders – or prevent millions of people crossing them illegally (whether one thinks it should do this is another argument – it is its impotence that is noteworthy).

    Ike had no great problem in finding illegals and sending them home.

    The Civil Service rules mean that Presidents have no real control over the Executive – officials can often do as they please in both domestic and even intelligence matters.

    Presidents (and other polticians at Federal, State and local leve) go around frantically pulling levers – not understanding that they are not attached to anything.

    In China if an order is not obeyed the person who did not obey is exectuted. This includes someone who failed to achieve X if they are told to achieve X – saying that the task was very difficult, or even impossible, is not a defence. And fear for themselves and their familes means that Chinese officials (including in the intelligence services) achive very difficult tasks indeed.

    Ayn Rand was right to attack the notion that things should be orgainzed by fear – but in the United States government nothing seems to happen at all if people fail.

    After all who was fired after 9/11?

    And who has been fired for more than six years of failing to get O.B.L.?

    The bureacracy rules everthing and there is (can be?) no leadership.

    The very structure of the system does not look fit to deal with a dictatorship.

    In the past the United States has relied upon its economic strength to compensate for its political confusion.

    But that confusion is much worse than it used to be (for example in World War II the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives did not want the United States to lose – now they DO and many powerful people in such organizations as the C.I.A. also want the United States to lose).

    And the economic edge of the United States is much less than it used to be – and it is getting less by the day.

    In the end the combination of a political mess and relative economic decline, is going to have consequences.

    Still some things can be done.

    Economcially my opinions will come as no shock to you – government Welfare State spending must be rolled back, regulations (such as “anti trust” must be repealed) and so on.

    But poltically things must change to.

    Some simple things can be done – for example an non “Evangelical President” (to quote the title of the latest PRO Bush book).

    Even after seven years of having shit tossed at him President Bush still believes that people in government and politics are basically good and that cooperation is possible with them.

    This is a dream world – a fantasy.

    It has no connection to the real political world of destroy or be destroyed.

    There is no point in someone being elected President if he does not understand that the Executive must be grabbed by the throat.

    Even with Civil Service rules there are many ways a President can still be powerful – as long as they have a clear eye and are understand must control the bureacracy or be controlled by it.

    Ditto relations with Congress – hardball is the only game in town. And public relations (making the other side look nasty) is the key to hardball.

    Not endless pathetic statements (from Bush 43 just as from Bush 41) about “they said they were going to do this and they did something else” or “what they are saying about X is nasty”. One should need to do this oneself – one should understand the game well enough to have friendly media outlets spread the message and SHUT OUT unfriendly media outlets (i.e. do not even invite them to briefings or press conferences – F.D.R. never did). They will scream for awhile, but without information their influence will decline.

    Stop thinking of political opponents as fluffy – they are not. One must think of opponents as opponents (and they can be in ones own party), of course be pleasant to them (especially in public) – but do not actually believe the “we can all get along” bullshit.

    Getting things done is quite different from getting elected. One can seem nice, but one must be prepared to play hard. Not depend on the other person being convinced of our point of view for the good of the country.

    Also administrators must be treated as enemies unless proved beyond all reasonable doubt that they are not. One should NOT give the impression that one regards them as enemies (Nixon style absurdities) one should simply only work through administrators that one has personally appointed and trusts – if one can not fire others (because of Civil Service rules) they should be given nonjobs to do.

    They should be paid every penny of their pay (and get their pensions and other benefits) but they must see no information (so they can not leak it). And be given no policy stuff to administer – so they can not sabotage it.

    Let them play video games in their offices all day.

    Then “leaks” and other sabotage will be reduced – and when they do still happen will be less difficult to track down (as far fewer people will see things or administer things – so finding which is the traitor will be less difficult).

    Government is by its very nature nasty – it is not a chararitable or commercial enterprise.

    One need not go around executing people like the Chinese regime – but governing is still about being feared.

    If one is not feared one is not in power, one is just “in office”.

    “You are thinking like Hillary Clinton”.

    I do not deny it. But then this nasty piece of work is a good politician – she is just on the other side.

    Mrs Clinton’s only weakness is that she seems nasty as well as being nasty. Being nasty it is not a weakness (it is a strength), but showing it is a weakness.

    Not even the friendly media seem unable to disguise her fundemental nastyness.

    It is strange that the lady can not fake warm emotions better – she has had good teachers.

  • Sunfish

    They can order pizza in ten minutes also (should they want to) – at least in the big cities.

    Aside from one imporant thing: making a simple decision without seeking consensus. Despite my utter contempt for Dubya[1] he could do one thing right: he could actually make a decision without feeling the need to poll the Congress, the UN, his wife’s astrologer, and the lady who writes the weekly advice column in the Kettering newspaper.

    I don’t favor giving executives broad authority, but in those places where they legitimately have the authority to act, it’s reasonable to allow them the discretion to do so without endless consultation.

    And that’s what a few exchange students couldn’t do. It was almost as if they were afraid to step out in front on a matter as unimportant as “green olives vs. black olives.”

    For example the G.W. Bush was ordered in 2001 and it is still not ready – it is to be commissioned in 2009.

    A Nimitz-class supercarrier is an immensely more-complex project than one of the WWII-area flattops. Also, our national survival may depend on winning the current war, but that win doesn’t require the very latest aircraft carriers.

    The USS GWB is meant for a war that won’t kick off for another decade at least. There’s less tolerance for cutting corners when there’s actually time for nonsense.

    [1] I can insult him all I want. I voted for him, so it’s not really BDS.