Category Archives: News and politics

Poor Little Glen Beck: Liberation Theology Bites Back

Poor Glen Beck, he gets it from all sides.  But then, he must enjoy it since he keeps asking for it. 

(This video shows Beck receiving an application of Vics Vapo Rub to help him “cry” for a photo shoot …  Not that this kind of thing is new, it reminds me of the old trick putting an onion in a hankie … )

Why is Beck catching it from all sides?  Well, first he tried to marginalize the “social justice” Christians, then he caught it for calling Obama a racist.  Reclaiming the moral high ground, he has now retracted the racist accusation.  Beck regrets calling President Obama a "racist" a few months ago.  What he should have said, he now realizes, was that he didn’t agree with Obama’s "theology."

And what is Obama’s theology, according to Beck?  Liberation theology.

And what’s so bad about that?  Well, according to Beck it’s almost the worst form of anti-American evil.  Here’s Beck’s definition of Liberation Theology:  “I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim….That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about…It’s Marxism disguised as religion.”


Is it, really?  A classic logical fallacy is called that of “straw man” (a version of argumentum ad logicam).  The technique for this faulty method of argumentation is to set up a false position for one’s opponent that does not represent the truth of what that opponent stands for.  The fallacious position is easily rebutted and theoretically this dispatches with one’s opponent.  The problem, however, that the false target was what was dispatched, not the true position of the opponent.  Has Obama’s position, and Liberation Theology itself, been mischaracterized?  Is Liberation Theology really “Marxism disguised as religion”?  Is  it really as anti-motherhood and apple pie as Beck claims? 

It goes without saying that Glen Beck wants to catch it from all sides:  The more sensational he is, the more people will talk.  The   more people talk about him, the better his ratings will be.  The better his ratings, the more money his broadcast employer makes.  So why are we surprised that he, with encouragement from the corporation that supports him, pursues sensational positions?  The problem is that people are confusing entertainment, (i.e. the “sensational”) with what is “real”.  Is Beck telling the truth?


Not to get too sidetracked, but the issue of how Jesus’s teachings may or may not resemble Marxism don’t seem particularly relevant to whether Jesus’s teachings are worthy of paying attention to.  I don’t actually remember Jesus carrying American flags and talking about the personhood of corporations, either.  Corporations, Marxism, the Cleaver family of 1960’s American television, even apple pie — these are all 20th Century social constructs.  A return to an historically accurate interpretation of Biblical events would necessitate a return to a world of Roman occupation, a world of fishing with nets, drawing of water from a common well, and the washing of dusty feet. 

Of course, even if apple pie is a relatively new invention, motherhood is not.  Some things do still translate from the gospel directly to our daily moral lives.  With regard to this, I distinctly remember a story in the Gospel of Luke 8, when Jesus’s mommy bade him come to her, and he refused, saying that his true family were the people who “hear God’s word and obey it” (ouch!).  And in Matthew 10:37, Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”  Wow.  So, maybe Jesus … But, let’s not go there.  It’s actually a fact that Jesus’s teachings were not always easy, even for those closest to him, who lived right when he did.


Is it possible that the reason comfortable, Middle Class Americans find themselves so threatened by Liberation Theology that it actually hits something of a raw nerve concerning our responsibility for the poor and for social justice?  Is Liberation Theology evil and anti-American, or is it just uncomfortable for rich Americans who would rather have the security of a plentiful bank account, never mind that the poor are just outside the door?  

(The bigger, more important, question in this public debate is probably “who ‘owns’ public policy”?  I know many atheists and people of other religions who would object to the idea of Christians defining “Americana” according to their own theology.  But recognizing that public policy is about morality, and that Christian people have a vital interest in shaping public policy according to generally accepted moral standards, what can we learn from the Gospel about what morality is authentic to Christianity?  For it is only when we’ve discovered what morality is authentic to Christianity that we can then discuss how that morality ought to inform public policy decisions.) 


Is Christian morality represented by patriotism, motherhood, apple pie, and the Cleaver family of 1960’s TV, or is it something else?  For now, let’s stick with the issue that Beck uses against Obama, that’ Obama must be one of those … ahem …  Liberation Theology Christians.   If Obama is influenced by Liberation Theology in the morality that he brings to bear on public policy issues, does this make him anti-American, a Marxist in disguise?  This, then, leads to the question, “Just how anti-American is Liberation Theology”? 

The idea of “Liberation Theology” comes from the New Testament, particularly Romans 8, in which Paul proclaims that Jesus came to “liberate” the Believer. (“[T]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”) This thinking about “liberation” leads not only to the larger question, “liberated from what,” but also to questions about the mechanism by which that liberation occurs and our responsibility in the present world.  The answer to these questions forms the crux of the debates concerning liberation theology.


An article by the Jesuit Priest, Rev. James Martin,* entitled “Glen Beck vs. Christ the Liberator,” posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post (and cross posted on the blog God’s Politics by Beck’s “Social Justice” nemesis Christian Jim Wallis), contains a rebuttal of Beck’s claim that Liberation Theology is evil.

Martin says Liberation Theology was a “lifeline” for him and the the refugees he worked among in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1992 to 1994.  He concisely explains what Liberation Theology is and why he views it as completely consistent with the Gospel.   Rather than repeat any explanations, I quote him as follows:

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn’t see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more–uh oh–social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It’s not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It’s the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that’s disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God’s grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That’s pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

But that’s not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus. The poor, the sick and the outcast "got" him better than the wealthy did. Perhaps because there was less standing between the poor and God. Less stuff. Maybe that’s why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me." Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now. It’s hardly "the opposite of the Gospel," as Beck said. The opposite of the Gospel would be to acquire wealth and fail to work on behalf of the poor.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some thought its emphasis on political advocacy skirted too close to Marxism–including Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, John Paul didn’t shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland. It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more. But even John Paul affirmed the notion of "preferential option for the poor." "When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration," he wrote, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrating 100 years of–uh oh–Catholic social teaching.

Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. It’s also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help "the least of my brothers and sisters," i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles "sharing everything in common." Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama espouses liberation theology. But I do. And for me it’s personal. Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all of them) reflect on their daily struggles through lens of the Gospel. And the Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked. Oh, and it’s not only Jesus. His mother had something to say about all that, too. "He has filled the hungry with good things," says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, "and sent the rich away empty."

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our time. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989 by Salvadoran death squads, precisely for their work with the poor, as Jesus had encouraged them to do. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the redoubtable archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980 after standing for the marginalized, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator. So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year for their work in El Salvador.

These are my heroes. These are the ones who truly "restore honor."

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck’s opposition to "social justice" and "liberation theology" is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of devout believer. "Look to God and make your choice," he said during his rally on Sunday.

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.


Martin says it well enough.  Liberation Theology is not Marxist.  It’s not American.  It’s not Un-American, either.  It’s a response to the gospel.  Where does that put Beck, with regard to Christianity?   To the extent that Liberation Theology represents the gospel or provides a gauge of how we are doing as a Christian nation, what does it say about, and to, those who make and who debate policy in the United States?   

*James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything&lta target="_blank" href=";tag=xaspl-20&ampamp;link_code=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969"&gtThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life</a>&ltimg src=";l=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969&ampamp;o=1&ampamp;a=0061432687&quot; alt="" style="border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;" border="0" width="1" height="1">. This essay is adapted from a post on America’s In All Things.  And again, this post quotes verbatim from the article posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post, HERE


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H Rights in Myanmar

I am publishing a duplicate copy of this report by Amnesty International because it likely will be blocked on many servers. 

End repression of ethnic minorities before Myanmar elections

February 2010, 03:33PM

Myanmar’s government must halt its repression of ethnic minority
activists before forthcoming national and local elections, Amnesty
International has warned.

A 58-page report, The Repression of ethnic minority activists in
Myanmar, draws on accounts from more than 700 activists from the seven
largest ethnic minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, and
Chin, covering a two-year period from August 2007.

The authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases
tortured or even killed ethnic minority activists. Minority groups have
also faced extensive surveillance, harassment and discrimination when
trying to carry out their legitimate activities.

“Ethnic minorities play an important but seldom acknowledged role in
Myanmar’s political opposition,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty
International’s Myanmar expert. “The government has responded to this
activism in a heavy-handed manner, raising fears that repression will
intensify before the elections.”

Many activists told Amnesty International that they faced repression
as part of a larger movement, as in Rakhine and Kachin States during the
2007 Buddhist monk-led ‘Saffron Revolution’. Witnesses described the
killings and torture of monks and others by the security forces during
its violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in those states.

Others said they were pursued for specific actions, such as
organising an anti-dam signature campaign in Kachin State.

Even relatively simple expressions of political dissent were met with
punishment as when Karenni youths were detained for floating small
boats on a river with “No” (to the 2008 draft Constitution) written on

“Activism in Myanmar is not confined to the central regions and urban
centres. Any resolution of the country’s deeply troubling human rights
record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the
country’s large population of ethnic minorities,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

More than 2,100 political prisoners, including many from ethnic
minorities, languish in Myanmar’s jails in deplorable conditions. Most
are prisoners of conscience who have expressed their beliefs peacefully.

Amnesty International urged the government to lift restrictions on
freedom of association, assembly, and religion in the run-up to the
elections; to release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of
conscience; and to remove restrictions on independent media to cover the
campaigning and election process.

Amnesty International called on Myanmar’s neighbours in the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China,
Myanmar’s biggest international supporter, to push the government to
ensure that the people of Myanmar will be able to freely express their
opinions, gather peacefully, and participate openly in the political

“The government of Myanmar should use the elections as an opportunity
to improve its human rights record, not as a spur to increase
repression of dissenting voices, especially those from the ethnic
minorities,” said Benjamin Zawacki.


In 2010, Myanmar will hold its first national and local elections in
two decades.

In 1990, two years after mostly peaceful anti-government protests
resulted in the deaths of at least 3,000 demonstrators, the National
League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of ethnic minority parties
resoundingly won national elections.

The military government ignored the results, however, and continued
their long-standing campaign against the political opposition.

Myanmar’s most well-known human rights defender, Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi, leader of the NLD, has been under some form of detention for over
15 of the last 20 years.

In 2007, monks from ethnic minority Rakhine State initiated
country-wide demonstrations against the government’s economic and
political policies, in what has become known as the Saffron Revolution.

In May 2008, a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country, the
government insisted on holding a referendum on the draft constitution.
The official results were that 99% of the electorate had gone to the
polls, 92.4% of whom had voted in favour. While the 2008 Constitution
potentially allows for greater representation in local government, it
ensures that the military will continue to dominate the national

Ethnic minorities constitute some 35-40 percent of the country’s
population, and form the majority in the seven ethnic minority states.
Each of the country’s largest seven ethnic minorities has engaged in
armed insurgencies against the government, some of which continue to

Amnesty International has documented serious human rights violations
and crimes against humanity by the government in the context of the
Myanmar army’s campaigns against ethnic minority insurgent groups and

Read the full report The
Repression of Ethnic Minority Activists in Myanmar
(pdf 800kb)

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Hell in Haiti

25 January 2010

I received an email purporting to be circulating a letter from a woman working as a first responder in Haiti, written to her parents in Australia.  The letter, below, is quite moving.  After investigating the authenticity of the letter, I decided to reproduce it on my blog.

The author’s name is Alison Thompson.  An Australia native, Thompson first went to New York City as an investment banker, but then went to film school at NYU and became an independent film maker.  





Alison Thompson

LA Splash
(below, at link for  The Third Wave)


Thompson first became involved in relief work after the 9-11 attacks in New York City. According to Huffington Post, on September 11, 2001, she rollerbladed to the World Trade Center with a paramedic kit and became a first responder rescue worker.

Then, in 2004 as she was watching news footage of the aftermath of the Tsunami, she felt compelled to go and help in Sri Lanka. 

Established Relief agencies were not interested in people without special skills or training, so Ms. Thompson showed up and just started to help on her own.

She and her team became go-to persons for others who also showed up to help.  The site where she began her work became Peraliya refugee camp.  She and a team of four others stayed and ran it for fifteen months. 

She filmed an independent documentary about her experience in Sri Lanka, entitled The Third Wave.  For her work in Sri Lanka, she is scheduled to be the recipient of a 2010 Medal of the Order of Australia award, for her "service to humanitarian aid, particularly the people of the Peraliya region of Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami."


The letter she writes on 24 January 2010 reveals some of the horror as well as the hope of what is happening in Haiti.  It reminds us to pray not only for the people of Haiti, for also the rescue workers and others who are helping the people, and for the future for all of them.

Hi mum and dad –

I won’t be around when they announce my award on January 26th. I am with Sean Penn, diana jenkins, Oscar and 15 doctors embedded in the 82 airbourne ( USA) Dante would describe it as hell here. There is no food and wAter and hundreds dying daily. The aid is all bottlenecked and not reaching here . The other day i assisted with amputation ( holding them down) while they used a saw to cut a young boys leg off with no pain killers. Today I went with a strike force and army patrol in hummers into the streets and walked 5 miles through the camps set up on every street corner ..sewage and bodies stench is everywhere. As i attend to a patient 30 people crowd around me and it’s hard to breath. I nearly fainted today as the sewage smell went straight down my throat. I went white and dizzy but couldn’t sit down as sewage is running through the streets. There is much infection and it feels like the job is too big. No antibiotics anywhere. Good news, today our new york doctors evacuated 18 patients with spinal injuries out to miami and we’re all so excited. Our mash unit is in the 82 air base overlooking a refugee camp of over 50000 people. The refugees start singing Christian songs at 4 am and line up for food until the army hands it out at 8 am ( thats if there is any food) On the first night I was in the nearby jungle camping under the stars with my team and woke up to the beautiful music drawing me to them. I thought it was a church and we went to find it and came across the 82 airbourne camp and the refugee camp.( that’s how we ended up here) as it wasn’t safe to stay where we were even though we had our own security force. We are totally self suffient with food gas and medicines and have a private donor (Diana Jenkins who was a refugee in camps in Bosnia as a child – her family died of starvation in the camps. ) Sean Penn is here purely as a volunteer and is cutting through bureaucracy to get aid moving and food water and medicines to the people. There is no agenda but to save lives. Helicopters fly over head and it feels like vietnam. That night 50,000 people sung me to sleep and they sing every night for the world to save them. There is always hope but she’s not here right now.

Alison xxx

My writing is a mess as it’s on iPhone and keeps changing my words and the generator is on for a few hours but I know it’s important to tell the world. Please send to any press who may call or family and friends.

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The Internet and My Blog

24 January 2010

Wow, I think January 31st marks the fourth year of my writing in this blog!  It’s amazing how I have changed, and also how my writing has changed. Now I have three other blogs that I am responsible for, as well.  Now that I am no longer living in China, I only write in this blog when I am writing about things pertaining to China or that I think will be of interest to my Chinese friends.  And recipes.  😀 

For a link to my very first blog entry ever, click HERE.  In those days, I could not yet put the pictures inside the copy of the blog, I could only attach them all at the end.  I think it’s much better when I include the photos inside the story. 

Well, the hot news these days is all about Google. 

I wonder about the sanity last week of Google’s throwing down the gauntlet.  I think it was a very American thing to do, and not necessarily the right thing to do. Given the cultural requirement of saving face, Google has virtually ensured the ending of its courtship with China. 

The de facto escalation of conflict by figuratively speaking throwing water in the face of powerful leaders can lead to nothing but rebuke, face saving bluster, and corresponding "I win/you lose" posturing.  Surely Google knew this.  Or were the Americans so ethnocentric in their self righteousness that they failed to consult their Chinese brothers?

Too bad.  I believe that complete withdrawal will cause significant hardship for ordinary citizens who rely on Google as an information source.  Google’s search results are so much more comprehensive since its crawlers go all over the world.  Better than other sources of information even if imperfect. 

But sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. 

For another interesting and more culturally sensitive treatment, check out this great film, Fighting the War of Internet Addiction (Wang Yin Zhan Zheng, 网瘾战争). 

Here’s link to Tudou (no subtitles):

The YouTube version, which has English language subtitles, is here: 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 Part 4

 Part 5

Part 6 

Part 7


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Free Majid Tavakoli, Iranian Student Democracy Activist

Be a witness to stand in support of democracy in Iran and, in so doing, let the oppressors know that power acquired through violence is no match for the power of peace.  Please learn about the issue from this blog post, then copy the links and forward them to your friends! 

Let’s help the video go viral worldwide! 

On December 7th, 2009, Iranian Ph.D. student Majid Tavakoli was arrested after speaking to a group at his school, the Amirkabir University of Technology.  He was severely beaten at the time of his arrest, and it is reported that he has also been tortured.  It is reported that he was made to dress in women’s clothing so that he could be photographed.  An effort was made to use the photos to humiliate him.  The effort backlashed: 

A movement has now begun for men to dress in hijab (a headscarf which is mandatory dress for women in Iran) and publish photographs of themselves on the internet, to express their solidarity with Majid. 

Wikipedia states: 

[Men who dress in hijab in protest to Majid’s imprisonment] are calling for an end to Iran’s mistreatment of prisoners including Tavakoli. At the same time they are also sending a strong a message of solidarity with women in their fights for equal rights. One message echoed by many Iranian men was "until Iranian women are free, Iran will not be free. Iranian men: let’s begin wearing the chador in solidarity with Majid AND the WOMEN of Iran".

One woman writes in commentary to the YouTube video (above): 

Never been this proud of our men. You guys define the word Ma’arefat. You proved that in this world it is possible to be manlier by dressing up as women. Our values have made a huge heap into the future and we are all riding the waves of this amazing cultural revolution, thanks to Majid and thanks to all these brave, honorable men.

Another person writes,

man ham majid tavakoli hastam, ich bin auch ein majid tawakoli, i am majid tavakoli, hameye mardome iran majide tawakoli hastan, drod be majide gahreman, nango nefrin bar welayate jahlo siyahiye waghih dar tamamiyatash az khomeiniye dajal ta khameneiye shirei, jawido sarboland irano irani

Join me in affirming, with the cloud of witnesses, "I am Majid".  Please forward this link to your friends. 

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Lawyer Who Helped Families Still Facing Charges

but China Releases Prominent Human Rights Lawyer on Bail

I am re-printing this for information’s sake.  The original source is HERE

By VOA News
23 August 2009

A leading Chinese human rights lawyer says he was released from detention Sunday, but still might face prosecution on charges of tax evasion.

Legal scholar Xu Zhiyong is seen at a meeting in Beijing, China (File Photo – 17 Jul 2009)

Xu Zhiyong, co-founder of a legal-aid group known as the Open Constitution Initiative or Gongmeng, had been out of contact since security officials seized him from his home on July 29. He was formally arrested last Tuesday on charges of tax evasion.
Xu said Sunday he was released on bail pending trial.
Chinese authorities shut down the legal rights center more than a month ago for alleged nonpayment of taxes. Members of the group reported nearly two weeks later that Xu had been detained by police, and that they could not contact him.
The group has helped victims of China’s tainted-milk scandal and offered assistance in human-rights cases. It also has issued a report criticizing the Chinese government’s policies toward Tibet.
Rights groups say the latest developments are part of a widening crackdown on lawyers, rights activists and non-governmental organizations ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Chinese communist state.
Preparations are under way for a huge official celebration of the anniversary on October 1. Rights activists expect the government will try to prevent any public demonstration of dissent during the festivities.
China recently revoked the licenses of 53 Beijing lawyers, most of them prominent human-rights advocates. Amnesty International has condemned the crackdown on lawyers as a major blow to the human-rights defense movement in China.
In a widely quoted statement earlier this year, Xu said his Gongmeng group aims to help build the rule of law and advance Chinese society by objectively and independently studying human-rights protections, the situation in Tibet and other issues.
One of the government’s main charges against Xu’s group alleges that no taxes were paid on a $100,000 grant the Open Constitution Initiative received from Yale University. Xu has been a visiting scholar at Yale Law School on several occasions.

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The Rule of Law in China? Not looking too hopeful.

9 August 2009

Another prominent lawyer has been detained in China in a movement designed to repress those who fight for rule of law. 

To read the article reporting on  the detention, click HERE

I agree with this quote from the article, by another human rights advocate:  “What the authorities don’t appreciate . . . is that lawyers are leading these people to the courts, where their complaints can be resolved by rule of law. . . . People like Xu Zhiyong can only help the government solve some of the problems it faces.”


*If the web site is blocked, please send me a message so that I will know. 



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The Wrong Direction

20 July 2009

The N.Y. Times reports today that hundreds of ethnic Uighurs in Urumchi (in the Xinjiang Province of China) have been arrested and held for days now without being allowed to communicate with lawyers or family.  For full text click here

The Times reports:  "In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the unrest, the Bureau for Legal Affairs in Beijing has warned lawyers to stay away from cases in Xinjiang, suggesting that those who assist anyone accused of rioting pose a threat to national unity. Officials on Friday shut down the Open Constitution Initiative, a consortium of volunteer lawyers who have taken on cases that challenge the government and other powerful interests. Separately, the bureau canceled the licenses of 53 lawyers, some of whom had offered to help Tibetans accused of rioting last year in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet."*

In my last entry in this blog just a few weeks ago, I suggested that the mob violence results from frustration over lack of legal means for redress.  When people cannot rely on the justice system for justice, then they feel they must take matters into their own hands.  On the other hand, if people knew they could rely on the legal system for justice, they would do so. 

Sadly, this action by the Chinese government in favor of repression is a step in the opposite direction.  It reminds me of the quotation from Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers."  The surest way to tyranny is to eliminate those sentinels in society who guard against it.  Rather than strengthen the legal system so that citizens can rely on it for redress (and hence reducing the actual need for "self help justice"), it appears the Chinese government simply intends to snuff out all outward signs of unrest. 

That’s like putting a lid on a pressure cooker, instead of turning off the heat.  Repressing evidence of unrest does nothing to address the underlying causes.  Instead, it foments more discontent and future riots, resulting eventually in the need for even more repression and a government that is so weak it cannot stand without military intervention.     


*Facebook continues to be blocked, as well. 

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Mob Violence and the Rule of Law in Urumchi

A blog entry to do justice to this story would take more time than I have available.  However, I want to help bring attention to the present situation in Urumchi.  This area  is inhabited by nomadic, Muslim peoples  who are not ethnically Han Chinese but rather of Turkic descent.  China incorporates this territory, which is south of Russia and west of Mongolia, as part of its Xinjiang Province (which roughly translates from Mandarin as "new frontier".) 

Just as in another high plateau location, ethnic peoples feel their culture is being systematically eliminated.  Most recently, Chinese announced plans to demolish the old town of Kashgar, which is a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site and a hub of the overland silk road.  Kashgar was a filming location for The Kite Runner.   Ethnic Uyghur receive special privileges from the government, but they are also restricted in the practice of their religion, and the central government encourages Han Chinese to relocate to Xinjiang.  Just as in other places which have not traditionally been dominated by Han Chinese, the Han are resented by locals and at the same time the Han resent the locals for their special privileges.  To make matters worse, any time the local / indigenous people express discontent and / or riot, rather than acknowledge the kernel of truth that seeds their discontent, the government portrays them as irrational, ungrateful, violent separatists intent on damaging innocent Han.  This further fuels the seeds of hatred by Han against the ethnic group.  In China, hatred easily leads to mob violence. 

Mob violence is a chronic issue.  When citizens are angry, they often react violently.  For instance, in Guanxxi Province a few years ago, police cars were overturned, public officials assaulted, and offices burned, by people angry over enforcement of China’s one child policy.  In another incident, widespread violence directed against Japanese broke out after a Japanese exchange student at a university jokingly performed a dance which  Han Chinese found insulting.  When factory workers are disgruntled, they often turn to violence against management.  In part, this is due to lack of legal remedies for redress of grievances. 

The human tendency toward mob behavior is not limited to China.  One of my first cases as a criminal lawyer had to do with "lynching".  While the average American associates "lynching" with racial violence in the American deep South, this is a misconception.  Lynching, in fact, is the legal term which refers to any violence by a mob.  The first legal cases involving lynching arose out of the English War of the Roses.  The Anglo-American legal response to this natural, human tendency is to use a carrot and stick approach to build public reliance on legal mechanisms for redress of grievances.  Participation in lynching (mob violence) is a serious crime in and of itself, but from the time of the Anglo Saxon kings, every effort has been made to persuade the public that it can rely on the legal system for redress of wrongs.  Fundamentally, when the public is persuaded that it can rely on the legal system for justice, then the public will accept that avenue and forgo the natural impulse toward immediate and more or less indiscriminate violence. 

That same level of trust of the government systems of redress seem to be lacking in China.  Last week, it was rumored in a distant province (Guangdong) that ethnic Uyghurs had raped two Han Chinese women with impunity.  I am not aware of all the details of the tit-for-tat blow by blow events, but violence ensued.  At some point, a photo was circulated showing a pile of bodies of ethnic Ughyurs surrounded by police.   Violence begets violence.  This was the spark which was then fanned by rumors, distrust, lack of legal means of redress for wrongs, years of misleading news information into a conflagration. 

On the morning of July 6th, I was informed by a friend that due to riots in Xinjiang Province, Google and much of the internet had been shut down.  Clamping down on information makes it much easier to control the news.  By doing so, witnesses are prevented from reporting, images don’t get circulated, and popular opinion is much easier to control.   Then I noticed more specific reporting by the N.Y. Times ( to read article click here  )  that riots had broken out in Urumchi.   That afternoon, I read FB status update from ethic U friend sent via cell phone: "UYGHURLAR, stay inside, lock your doors!! Uyghur girls killed with their heads hung on the streets. Mass killings happening outside–let’s all pray for this t[ ]".  The message ends there.  I understand that at this time cell phone service as well as internet has been knocked out.  Indeed, most forms of communication are now blocked in an effort to reduce the ability of the mob to organize as well as to stop the spread of information generally.  New York Times and Al Jazeera English are both reporting that government riot troops are having to cordon off the Ughyr areas of the city Urumchi in order to prevent Han Chinese from going in to sack that area of the city.  It’s reported that the Han Chinese are armed with batons and clubs. 

Much is made by westerners, including myself, over relative lack of freedom of the press in China.  The Chinese response to this criticism, generally speaking, is that information must be controlled in order to prevent the type of mob violence we see in this instance.  I believe I have written earlier entries in my blog about the fact that Chinese students are not taught how to sift, decipher, and evaluate the credibility of news as gleaned from various sources.  (Unfortunately, this critique is not limited to non-Western countries, as any look at the "Fox News" channel and the popularity of Rush Limbaugh among uneducated Americans attests.)  The Chinese viewpoint is reinforced by instances of mass mob violence, as here. 

On the other hand, this mob violence has been fueled by years of government response to the Ughyur situation which oversimplifies and justifies a predetermined, governmental policy which does not take into account or adequately address the conflicting and real reasons for ethnic tension.  Further, governmental controlled media has oversimplified and vilified, thus adding to the well of anger and feeling that grievances are not adequately addressed. 

The real solution, I propose, would be rule of law, without propaganda, without oversimplification, without generalization, and without corruption.  And with adequate means of redress for injustice.  Only then, will the population be willing to accept legal redress in place of do-it-yourself "justice". 

*Update:  Today (July 18 2009) I read in the NY Times  (  "’The absence of an independent legal system is the party’s biggest
mistake, because when people can’t take their grievances to the courts,
they take them to the streets,’ said Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia
researcher for Human Rights Watch."  I’m glad to see someone agrees with me!  🙂  


Filed under News and politics

Translation of Guantanamera from Spanish to English to Chinese

30 March 2009

The song Guantanamera is a Cuban folk song.  It is based on the poem Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca by the poet and hero of the Cuban revolution, .  It’s a song of revolution, as well as a song of peace.  Marti wrote:  "Life on earth is a hand-to-hand mortal combat… between the law of love and the law of hate" (letter dated 1881). 

I created this hermeneutic translation a year ago.  I re-post it now for benefit of my Chinese friends who would like a translation of the song from Spanish to Chinese (Zhongwen).  On this 50th anniversary of Chinese rule of Tibet, I post it as a reminder that Revolution can come in many ways, sometimes through cultivation of a white rose.  



Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

[Guantanamera means a song of Guantanamo

Guantanamo is a town on the Eastern coast of Cuba

Guajira is slang for a peasant from the countryside





Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

I am a sincere man from where the palm trees grow
I am a simple man
from the land of palm trees.
And before I die,
I want to pour out these verses that flow from my soul








Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido
Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo

My verses are brilliant green, and also fiery crimson; my poems are clear green, and also flaming carmine; My poems are like a wounded fawn seeking refuge in the forested mountains;







Cultivo la rosa blanca
En junio como en enero
Qultivo la rosa blanca
En junio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca


I cultivate a white rose in June and in January; I cultivate a white rose, in June and in January, for my true friend who lends me his steady hand


我耕种白色 玫瑰花


我耕种白色 玫瑰花



Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo
Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo
Cultivo la rosa Blanca


And for the cruel one who would break my heart; And for the cruel one who would pluck out my living heart, I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles; I cultivate a white rose







Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace mas que el mar

With the poor people of this earth, I cast my lot; With the poor people of this earth, I throw my fate, for the brooks of the mountains please me more than the sea




我一起安置我的命运, 因为







For more, see my Original Post




Filed under News and politics