On Friday afternoon I went to a talk at the University of Michigan International Institute. The title of the talk, given by Professor Fewsmith from Boston University, was “What kind of party is this — the Chinese Communist Party and its reforms.” I actually thought about this a whole lot, and related to this issue in my law school personal statement, so I was curious what would be the point of view of an American scholar.
A few points I recall from the talk:
- He did much of his field work in Zhejiang province: Wenzhou, Taizhou, Hangzhou, etc.
- At the local elvel, democratic experiments are emerging, taking various shapes and forms, although none were legitimized or had enforceable outcomes.
- At the elite level, there is much research and scholarly work taking place among the Chinese think tanks as to whether, when and how to reform the party and democratize China. There is much debate on the “whether” issue.
- China is a “hard sale” in Washington.
A few Michigan professors in the audience raised several interesting questions. One talked about his own research work in the Chinese legal system and its implications on the political reform agenda. Another pointed out that, according to his research, most Chinese people would prefer an “effective” government rather than a “representative” one, that is, as long as the government is effective, most Chinese couldn’t care less about democracy. Very good point. Exactly what I was thinking. One could argue that without democracy a government will inevitably become corrupt and therefore is inherently ineffective, but democracy as a relatively new concept (to China at least) certainly did not contribute to China’s past prosperity.
Later today, I went to a Chinese restaurant with a group of friends and, as I was sitting down, I noticed Professor Fewsmith from this afternoon’s talk sitting by a round table in a corner, introducing Chinese dishes to his friends. What a coincidence. I went up to him, introduced myself and said how much I enjoyed his lecture. “I am glad you came,” he said, “Duo Xie!”
When my friends and I started looking at the menu, Sarah said she wanted “La Zi Ji,” with the most perfect mandarin accent. I didn’t know her well, except that she lived in China for a while and that she spoke some Chinese, but I didn’t expect her Chinese to be this good. She then went on to explain to others that “La Zi Ji” is a typical “Sichuan” dish.
I disagreed. I said “La Zi Ji” could be a Hunan dish as well. I don’t know where I got the impression that “La Zi Ji” was a Hunan dish, but anyhow I just had this concept stuck in my head. Besides, I was one of the only two Chinese at the table, so I was half the authority.
But Sarah wasn’t about to give up. “Are you sure?” she said, “I lived in China for two years and traveled around quite a bit. I am pretty sure La Zi Ji is from Sichuan and not Hunan.” As it turned out, she spent much of the two years in Hunan province, more specifically, teaching English at the Yale Middle School in Changsha. That led me to the suspicion that she went to Yale for undergrad, which turned out to be true. No wonder her Chinese is this good — I guess either Yale students are generally more linguisticly capable, or they must have some really good Chinese instructors…
So finally I conceded that I was wrong, and we all enjoyed our La Zi Ji.