At first, I resisted.
I told Fuller prof Tim Kelly that I didn’t really think going out to lunch with government types from the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles was a good idea.
On the surface, it was an opportunity for dialogue about the Beijing Olympics Rose Parade float issue.
But I told Tim that it reminded me of when our reporter Gene Maddaus outed KTLA staffers staying for free at the Huntington Hotel, which resulted in the renaming of the gabfest from “Morning News” to “Morning Show” and in a memo from the Chicago head office to thousands of Tribune Company employees reminding them of journalistic ethical standards. After we ran Gene’s column, the KTLA news director — er, show director — asked me over to the newsroom for a tour. No thanks, I said.
But Tuesday Editorial Page Editor Steve Scauzillo and I went to lunch anyway with Tim and Yue Chen and Ingrid Luo Wang of the consulate’s Political and Press Section.
I used the opportunity to get extra high and mighty about freedom, democracy and the like. In fact, I’d been ginned up in the car by listening to a radio report on the BBC’s “The World” about the asinine, ass-covering answers Yahoo execs gave Congress Tuesday about their complicity in helping hunt down Chinese dissidents who soon thereafter were imprisoned for a decade for “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.”
What did Chinese citizens Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao really do? Forwarded an e-mail to the West from Chinese authorities demanding that the press ignore the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
So I ranted and raved, and we ate our McCormick & Schmick’s fish.
When I was done, Wang, the boss, after listening politely, said: “Trade is a better way to expose us to democracy.” She excused crackdowns by adding: “We attach a great deal of importance to political stability.” You surely do.
Kelly, who teaches every year in Shanghai, and who has been retained by Avery Dennison to help the company with its PR problems over the float issue, said that his friends in China say China needs to go slow when it comes to lifting censorship because its people are worried — get this — about allowing another Cultural Revolution to reverse the relative openness now enjoyed.
Wang, naturally, concurred: “In 20 years, China has changed into another political animal entirely” compared to the years of Mao, she said, not without validity.
But in the end, nonsense. It’s not the Chinese left-wingers who are censorious now — it’s the right-wingers who want business stability. Our corporations probably think that the autocratic system — no Environmental Impact Reports here, guys! — run out of Beijing looks pretty good. American CEOS would happily join the Communist Party if it meant a slightly better bottom line.
But Wang and Chen insisted reports that the Chinese government put any money at all into the Olympics float are wrong. The government-associated group in the San Gabriel Valley that has contributed has received no money from the mainland, they say.
Anyway, nice folks, just doing their political jobs. We told them that some kind of protest would likely go on during the parade. And that if the Chinese government had just ignored Falun Gong, the movement would barely ever have been heard of in the West. Wang agreed. She wondered about whether if there are human rights panels held in the area between now and New Year’s, if participating would imply that the government rather than the Olympics types had something to do with the float. I said that was a good question but encouraged her to participate anyway. I hope there are such panels.
They must be pretty well thought of back home to get the L.A. posting. Wang tried to show me she’s cool with the openness bit by saying she’s been to underground Christian church services with a friend in Beijing, and lived to tell the tale. Chen uses the name Isadora in the West. Both come from near Shanghai and have been speaking English since elementary school.
I told them I hoped we could talk again before the parade. Next time we’ll take them to Yujean Kang’s on Raymond in Old Pas for Yujean’s untraditional take on traditional Chinese food.
If the boys in Beijing are picking up Public Eye from Pasadena on the Venus line: Censor this, Politburo! You’ve got nothing to lose but fear itself for a billion Chinese.