Stories from the New China (and beyond)

Why eastofethan?

About six years ago, when I was in the middle of writing “Losing the New China,” my friend Terry Halsey called me and asked how I was doing. “Slow” I said. “I’m a slow writer. And when I’m done, no one will care. It’s about China, Terry. Americans like to read books about themselves.”

In fact, Terry doesn’t really like to read about China either. He’s a typical trendy New Yorker (with an atypically large brain, one that is always chafing against the conventional cage that he has erected for himself—which his large brain tells him it is futile to resist). Anyway, Terry had a high-tech promotion idea. We would place webcam cameras all over my house, in the backwoods mountains of Vermont—and the video would stream into a website called “THE MAKING OF Losing the New China.”

I told Terry that all it would capture was me padding around in a bathrobe, scratching myself, smoking, and then going into the badly lit kitchen to make myself a snack. What a freaking stupid idea.

This blog is an admission that Terry was, in some way, right.

No writer is as simple, or as focused as the book he writes. At the same time, if we are writing about a serious topic, as I am now, I feel the weight of dead bodies on my shoulders. I cannot ignore that weight or throw it off. Nor can I inject myself—too much—into a story that is not my own.

The book that I am writing is about the history of the clash between Falun Gong and the Chinese state. It’s a terrible, terrible story, a mini-genocide redeemed only through the blind stubbornness—or perhaps, some would say heroism—of the Falun Gong practitioners themselves. The problem is that the type of person who can resist torture often isn’t a good storyteller.

I’m a decent storyteller, and I have a responsibility, as a non-practitioner who has been given an unparalleled look behind the curtain, to say what I saw. To make it useful, I have to tell the story objectively: the reader has to be able to judge Falun Gong and the Chinese state by their actions, not by my words, not by my opinions. I have to both guide the reader in and then get out of the way. I believe in this approach. It took me several years to grasp that this was the only way to do it.

Well, I told you I was slow.

Yet I am also some other things: an activist, a satirist, a lover of things, a hater of things. This blog is a chance to express all that publicly, while still preserving the vision of the book. In addition, I have research notes, little points that don’t fit in to the book, but are still worth saying. This blog will be a combination of those things: my point of view, particularly regarding China policy, some research points on Falun Gong’s struggle with the Chinese Communist Party, and the occasional wildly off-topic diatribe.

For those flipping through the web for straight partisan ballast: move along, nothing to see here. As the only person who can claim to have worked at both the Brookings Institution and the Free Congress Foundation, I insinctively sense both sides of an argument. Yet what actually interests me are facts that challenge conventional wisdom. So stay if you like, but you might want to slow down–way down–and consider.

I don’t offer a comprehensive site with all the major news items of the day—shamefully, I don’t truly care about all the little news items of the day. I offer a voice, a hybrid of passion and irreverence. That voice will be shrill from time to time, pissed-off, reckless, but if you call me on it, I’ll listen.

So let’s begin.

Written by eastofethan

March 14, 2009 at 1:05 am

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