When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit northeastern Japan one year ago, triggering a massive tsunami that claimed close to 20,000 lives and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the government, relief agencies, and people around the world were quick to offer their support and aid. Many hoped for speedy rebuilding of the devastated region, while others saw the catastrophes as proof that Japan needed to rethink its energy policy.
Last week, on the same day that Hu Jintao was dining with Barbra Streisand and Jackie Chan at the White House, there was another piece of less welcome news about China: According to a statement issued by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a network of activists, Hu’s government had recently disseminated a list of “requirements and prohibitions” for journalists during the coming year. The rules included a ban on the use of the phrase “civil society.” This revelation was not front-page news, of course—and, in the sense that it represented nothing out of the ordinary, it shouldn’t have been.
I was interviewing Hong Kong tycoon Albert Yeung in his office on a recent afternoon when he suddenly changed the subject to ask whether I knew that his forebears had come from Chiu Chow, a region in south China famous for breeding tough guys. A Chiu Chow is the Chinese equivalent of a Sicilian. I took the bait, and told Yeung that some people had advised me to stay away from him because he was reputed to be a dangerous man. He did not even try to conceal his delight.