“BEIJING — One day last winter my mother sent me an odd message over WeChat. “Has Laolao said anything strange to you today?” she asked.
I immediately sensed that something was amiss. My mother is a typical Chinese parent. She always feels obliged to withhold bad news from me until she has no other choice. Why was she worried about my grandmother?
I thought back to my most recent visit to Laolao’s shabby apartment here. She had just turned 88, and other than the usual age-related forgetfulness and grumbling about kids these days, she was her usual self.
My mother’s next message unnerved me even more. “Was she of sound mind?”
“You have to tell me what’s going on,” I messaged back.
I fought the urge to berate her and began to scour the internet for information on bank scams that involved sworn secrecy. My heart sank when results filled my screen, describing our situation exactly. I was in an airport, on a business trip, so I messaged Laolao’s assistant at her office and told her to freeze all my grandmother’s bank accounts. But it turned out the bank couldn’t do anything unless Laolao herself requested it.”
Posts Tagged China
“A Chinese banquet can be many things, but it is never a gastronomic occasion.
It is more like a sport, one in which the primary goal is to drink a toast with each individual sitting around the table, in a rigid successive order, starting with the most prominent and proceeding clockwise. If that sounds straightforward, it isn’t: Bear in mind that everyone at the table is playing the same game simultaneously, which means just as you’ve homed in on your target and are ready to make your move, he could be raising a toast to another guest, who could very well be looking to drink with someone else.
Other rules: Make sure to turn the shot of baijiu bottoms up with every encounter; say flattering words in your toast, but nothing too flowery; appear cordial and personable; smile, but avoid inappropriate body contact. Finally, while you’re busy circling the table, don’t forget to eat.
At a Chinese banquet, the eating is the least important part. The problem, though, is that Chinese food is irresistibly delicious, especially if you’re someone who’s lived outside China for the last four years. And so this summer, when I returned to my home city of Chengdu for a visit, and a friend called to ask me to meet up at a local restaurant, I said yes without any hesitation.
On the day of, I arrived late. The restaurant had been revamped since the last time I’d visited, six years ago. A slim hostess in a red qipao welcomed me while I stood dazzled by the colossal crystal chandelier suspended from the high ceiling. I told her my friend’s name and was escorted to a private dining room at the end of the hall.”
“What does it take to intern half a million members of one ethnic group in just a year? Enormous resources and elaborate organization, but the Chinese authorities aren’t stingy. Vast swathes of the Uighur population in China’s western region of Xinjiang — as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities — are being detained to undergo what the state calls “transformation through education.” Many tens of thousands of them have been locked up in new thought-control camps with barbed wire, bombproof surfaces, reinforced doors and guard rooms.
The Chinese authorities are cagey and evasive, if not downright dismissive, about reports concerning such camps. But now they will have to explain away their own eloquent trail of evidence: an online public bidding system set up by the government inviting tenders from contractors to help build and run the camps.
Uighurs have more in common, culturally and linguistically, with Turks than Han Chinese, and many Uighurs are Muslim. Resentful of China’s heavy-handed rule in the region, some have resisted it, usually through peaceful means, but on occasion violently, by attacking government officials and, exceptionally, civilians. The state, for its part, fuels Islamophobia by labeling ordinary Muslim traditions as the manifestation of religious “extremism.””