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Sunday, June 13, 2021

An Interview with Deng


Photo: Wikimedia

When I visited Huangshan in Anhui province, my guide showed me the place where Mister Deng often sit during his leisure time to enjoy the scenery of the magnificent mountains, floating above the clouds. This place seemed to be Mister Deng favorite spot and he chose this mountain area to deliver his 'Huang Shan Speech' to promote this place as a key site to revitalize the tourism industry, and to address the future direction of Chinese tourism. Years later, the Chinese tourism market has transformed into one of the world's most-watched tourist markets, the number of domestic trips reached six billion in 2019, indicating an exponential increase compared to the number of trips made in China ten years ago. 

Known as China’s “father of reforms” Mister Deng in 1978 announced a new policy, the “Open Door Policy”, to open the door to foreign businesses that wanted to set up in China. The policy of “reform and openness” (gaige kaifang) laid the foundation for a successful transition from a planned economy to a market economy, achieving unprecedented high growth rates. Average annual growth rates of 9.7 percent pulled hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. The policy of reform and openness also led to a fundamental departure from norms in Mao’s China, replacing collectivism and group conformity with individual performance and diversity. 

Enough said about him, I desperately wanted to interview this man and made an application through the CPC (Communist Party of China) office in Beijing. Knowing the tight bureaucracy of this office I wasn’t expecting approval soon and might be never ever get the approval, I was just trying my luck. I knew there were not many foreign journalists that got the chance to interview him personally, Mike Wallace, Oriana Fallaci, Ezra Vogel to name a few, who else? 

Then after 4 months, I found a red envelope in my apartment letter box, it was from the CPC office indicating an appointment in the next month meeting Mister Deng. Wow , really? It made my day!  It was my first interview with a political leader, and from China! 

So on a Saturday, at the CPC Office at Chang’an Avenue in Beijing, I met a small man in a gray Mao suit, white socks and black Neiliansheng shoes. I didn’t expect that he was Mister Deng, he looked so humble for such a paramount leader. For sure, he didn’t look like as what once pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a ''nasty little man''.


I said:

“Good afternoon Mister Deng, you are known to be the de facto leader of China, in the way that although you are not the chairman of the CPC and neither are you the President of China, but you are the chief policy maker and reformer of China throughout the decades leading to China’s great development. You are a member of Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, and the chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, but it seems you avoid to be the top leader of China.”


Mister Deng:

“See, we must remember that chairman Mao for most of his life, he did very good things to China. Many times he united China and saved the party and the state from various crises. Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution and it will continue to be a treasured possession of the our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our party and state. 

Because of his leadership he was treated like an emperor reminiscent of the country’s imperial past. The people created Mao Zedong’s cult of personality, fueled by fanatics, mass media, propaganda and books, elevating his status to that of an infallible heroic leader. The whole nation mimicked his style of drab clothing, memorizing his quotations from the little Red Book and living under the gaze of his imposing portraits. 

He then became authoritarian and led the country in patriarchal ways, one-man rule, which are feudal in nature. He became unwilling to listen to other comrades, did not listen to differing opinions. We can’t say that all criticisms were right, but neither was he ready to listen to many right opinions put forward not only by me but by other party members. At this time, he increasingly lost touch with reality. For instance, he did not consistently practice democratic centralism and the mass line, and he failed to institutionalize them during his lifetime. Democratic centralism was impaired and so was collective leadership. 

I opposed the notion of lifelong terms, of personality cult, and of one-man rule and desired to prevent the emergence of a Mao-like strongman. I promoted ideological pragmatism and emphasized above all the necessity of a fundamental reform of the party, especially by reviving the inner-party discussion and decision-making processes, known as collective leadership.”


I said:

“The world can observe the great progress that China achieved in economic development in past decades, but many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernization, with no significant progress in political democratization. Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernization was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms.”


Mister Deng:

“In this century China has been a land of warlords, invading armies, floods, famines and revolution. Tens of millions have died violently, or wretchedly from starvation. I told President Bush in 1989 that if all one billion of us undertake multiparty elections, we will certainly run into a full-scale civil war. Taking precedence over all China's problems is stability, therefore to avoid disorder and the violence we  opposed political pluralism. 

However, as I told Oriana Fallaci of the Washington Post, I can tell you that after the overthrow of the Gang of Four we emphasized very much the promotion of the socialist democracy. Without giving up, of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat are the two aspects of one antithesis, and I should add that proletarian democracy is far superior to capitalistic democracy.”


I said:

“I guess with proletarian democracy you mean the key concept of democracy held by the Chinese elites who sought to combine democracy with authority, dictatorship and centralism. “


Mister Deng:

“The essence and the core of socialist democracy is that the people are the masters of the country, and it is the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CCP. We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole, and immediate to long-term interests.”


I said:

“ John Naisbitt, a well-known American scholar of future studies, predicts that a new ‘vertical democracy’, which combines the bottom-up mass participation with the top-down central command, emerging in China, and is likely to become an alternative to the Western style of ‘horizontal democracy’.

We can observe that this ‘vertical democracy’ worked well in achieving fast economic development in China.  The world is impressed by the striking economic reform under your leadership, but through the eyes of many Western observers there has been slow progress toward political reform. Despite some random democratic free speech, as in the ‘Democracy Wall’ period during the late seventies, political freedom has shown almost no progress.”


Mister Deng:

“I deeply understand this point. If we fail to do political reform, we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform. Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.

We do allow political reform, but on condition that the three elements of China’s socialist democracy are upheld:  first, the people’s rule over the government, which is the main principle of democracy; second, the CCP’s leadership and centralism, which are necessary for democracy; and third, collectivism, which is also the major principle for resolving the conflicts of different interests in practice.”


I said:

“I think while there is general agreement that democracy literally means ‘rule by the people’ the Communist Party concept of ‘the people’ differs from the Western concept. The Western liberal view of ‘the people’ is all-inclusive, referring to all members of society and viewing society as an aggregation of individuals and a plurality of diversified social groups and interests. By contrast, in the Communist Party view, ‘the people’ is a collectivist concept. The emphasis was on the pursuit of collective interests, rather than being based upon, or even recognising, individual autonomy and expression of interests.” 


Mister Deng:

“What China needed is socialist democracy, for this is people’s democracy, and not bourgeois democracy, individual democracy.  We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole. The purpose of socialist democracy is not, after all, to validate individualism or pluralism, but to unify the people for the pursuit of common interests and objectives. “


I said:

“According to Western media, you ordered to use military force through martial law in order to squash the protests that had erupted in the Tiananmen Square in 1989, despite resistance from some leaders. The result was bloodshed and within 48 hours Tiananmen Square was cleared. According to intelligence estimate about 1,000 people died and several dozen of soldiers and police were killed by protesters. Did you order the bloodshed or was it a military blunder, Mister Deng?”


Mister Deng:

“I praised the army as ‘the bastion of iron of the state’ and stressed that China would continue the basic policies of economic reform and openness to the outside world. This incident has impelled us to think over the future as well as the past sober-mindedly. It will enable us to carry forward our cause more steadily, better and even faster and correct our mistakes faster. 

We cannot tolerate turmoil. We will impose martial law again if turmoil appears again. Our purpose is to maintain stability so that we can work on construction, and our logic is simple: with so many people and so few resources, China can accomplish nothing without peace and unity in politics and a stable social order. Stability must take precedence over everything. 

We can't handle chaos while we're busy with construction. If today we have a big demonstration and tomorrow we have a great airing of views and a bunch of wall posts, we won't have any energy left to get anything done. That's why we have to insist on clearing the square.” 


I said:

“There was a dramatic incident during the Tiananmen Square crackdown that captured the whole world attention. The Western media called it ‘The Tank Man’ incident, a lone man holding a grocery bag was photographed and videoed standing in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square via Chang'an Avenue. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the ‘Tank Man’ moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. The fate of "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known and for the world the ‘Tank Man’ remained faceless and nameless. 

May I ask you Mister Deng, who is this man that stopped the tanks, and what happened to him?” 


Mister Deng sat motionless on his overstuffed chair, his feet barely touch the floor. Suddenly an officer came approaching him and whispered something in his ear, Mister Deng nodded and then declared that he had other appointment in his schedule and must go now. So the meeting was over….



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Deng Xiaoping



Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tokyo, at Omotesando


Walking the one kilometer Omotesando street is a great experience. Known as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees, it is a zelkova tree lined avenue,  featuring numerous fashion flagship stores. Omote being ‘frontal’ and Sando being ‘approach’, it has been serving as the main approach to Meiji shrine since the Taisho era. Nowadays the broad avenue stretching from the Meiji shrine entrance all the way to Aoyama Street sees millions walking its pavements to shop at the luxury brand stores. 

The narrower, winding back streets of Ura-Harajuku on either side of Omotesando are also interesting. In these streets, we find many not so branded stores yet charming clothing stores, themed cafes, and some of the best Japanese restaurants in Tokyo. 

But even if we are not in Tokyo to shop, just walking along Omotesando is refreshing, enjoying the atmosphere, and observing the distinct architecture of the buildings designed by Japan superstar architects such as Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Jun Aoki, Hiroshi Nakamura and Norihiko Dan. 

Tadao Ando designed the shopping mall Omotesando Hills, with 250m facade made along the street, each floor was built along a slope to create a continuation from the street, giving additional public space. A garden was made on the rooftop, to continue the atmosphere from the zelkova trees along the street.

Photo: Wikimedia

Toyo Ito designed the building especially for Tod’s, famous Italian shoe and handbag brand. With the L-shaped and  a narrow frontage, the concrete wall gives the impression of a row of zelkova trees in relation to environment in Omotesando.  Where many luxury brand boutiques have been built, by selecting concrete as a material the designer daringly proposed a substance and strength in contract with the surrounding glass buildings.

Photo: Wikimedia

Jun Aoki designed the Louis Vuitton building in the image of a stack of trunks, as Louis Vuitton is famous for its luggages and bags . The trunks, each representing a unique room, are connected with corridors between trunks. The building with the soft texture of the metal fabric on the facade representing fallen leaves from the zelkova trees in front of the building.

Photo: Wikimedia

Norihiko Dan’s Hugo Boss eight-story building is surrounded by Tod’s L-shaped building. Thus, he designed it trying to loosen the influence of the Tod’s building by creating vertical shapes combined with circular floors. This seems to accentuate the adjacent Tod’s building, and creates a symbiotic harmony. The building’s structure is composed of columns made from steel with a wood-like texture.

Photo: Wikimedia

Another shopping mall, Tokyu Plaza, has emerged as a fortress of fashion. The unique structure was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura, an award-winning architect. It officially becoming the home base for big fashion retailers, as well as a host of smaller domestic Japanese brands. The front elevator walled with mirrors looks attractive from far, but when we climb the elevator it is quite dizzying to see all the reflections on the mirrors. It is like walking inside a tunnel with walls of discotheque glittering ball. Fancy, but not something for the minimalists.

Photo: Wikimedia




Saturday, April 24, 2021

Verona, at the Cathedral


The cathedral, at the banks of Fiume Adige in the northernmost point of Verona, is just a short walk from the Ponte Pietra bridge. It is actually a cathedral complex, since it includes the San Giovanni in Fronte baptistery, the church of Santa Elena, the remains of the first paleo-Christian basilica built, the Cloister of the Canons, and the Capitoline Library.

The cathedral Santa Maria Matricolare, is a fantastic mix of Veronese Romanesque with Gothic elements. The interior of the cathedral mainly represents a Romanesque church, divided into three naves by pilasters from red Veronese marble supporting Gothic arches.

When we enter the cathedral, the first thing to strike you are the richly decorated side chapels, featuring works of art produced over several centuries of Venetian control. In the first chapel to the left hung a picture by Titian of the Assumption. It is a grand painting, showing the apostles kneeling and staring at Santa Maria floating in towering clouds. This painting was taken off to Paris by Napoleon I during his reign, but restored to Verona after he had left Europe.

The sanctuary is enclosed by a curved choir screen made by Sanmicheli and decorated with a Crucifixion by Giambattista da Verona. The sanctuary itself has frescoes by Francesco Torbido, based on drawings by Guilio Romano.

From the back of the cathedral we pass into the adjoining small church of S. Giovanni in Fonte, which served in past times as the Baptistery. The baptismal octagonal font located in the middle of the church was carved from a single block of marble. It was created by the Veronese sculptor Brioloto.

Next to the baptistery we will find the church of Santa Elena. On the facade of the church of Santa Elena a Latin tablet indicates the poet Dante Alighieri who here in 1320 presented his "Quaestio de Aqua et Terra", an important issue in medieval cosmology.

In the altar of this church there is a painting by Felice Brusasorzi depicting the Madonna on the throne with Child, St. Stephen, St. Zeno, St. Giorgio and St. Elena.

A church dedicated to Saints George and Zeno was built on the site and consecrated between 842 and 847, but was destroyed in the earthquake of 1117. The current church is the result of the reconstruction of the destroyed church, which was completed in 1140.



Saturday, April 3, 2021

An Interview with Fyodor


Photo: Wikimedia

The title of his famous book is Crime and Punishment does not suggest that this book is a novel, rather it sounds like a philosophical or social political book. So, at first it did not interest me as there are already so many books written about this topic. But as I read a review about this book it looked interesting and compelling to read it, although I expected philosophical discussions about this topic in the book.  Indeed, there are some discussions like that, but it is written like ordinary discussions between students. It is not hard to digest. 

So, after reading such an exciting book, I took a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg in winter to meet this great writer. We met at the apartment in the corner of 19 Grazhdanskaya Street  where Raskolnikov used to stay. At first glance, Fyodor looked like a timid, pale, introverted writer, and he moved so clumsily and jerkily. But his sharp grey-blue eyes gave the impression of a strong character, looking at me intensely as if trying to look into my soul and judge me. 

Actually, this man is known for his bravery and strong sense of justice, criticized corruption among officers and helped poor farmers.  I would spare asking him though about a traumatic incident in his life, as many people might had asked about that already.  Many people knew about what happened on December 22, 1849, as the young Fyodor was sent to Semyonov Square to meet his fate – to face the firing squad, as a punishment for his engagement with Petrashevsky Circle a literary group considered subversive by the Tsar and the Church. When the firing squad started pointing their rifles to this group, a messenger came into the square waving a white flag at the very last minute. He declared a pardon from the Tsar Nicholas I, in a “show of mercy.” But, this was not a show of mercy, but rather a staged way of terrorizing the group, a twisted form of psychological torture. He wrote about this experience in his novel The Idiot. In fact, his whole life story by itself can be written into a novel, a great novel it would be. 

But this time I rather talk with him about the criminal in Crime and Punishment, so, wasting no time I started asking him: 

“The protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a 23-year-old man, a former law student murdered an old woman for her money, by two blows of the blunt side of an axe.  Listen: ‘He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head.’

 It was a contemplated, planned, bloody murder, yet he thought it was not a crime, listen to this: ‘When he reached these conclusions, he decided that in his own case there could not be such a morbid reaction, that his reason and will would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design, for the simple reason that his design was ‘not a crime….’

 How on earth he thought his horrific murder of a helpless old woman was not a crime? “



“The old woman, Alyona Ivanovna, was a pawn broker, who sucked the blood of poor people such that she was described as ‘No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others.’

 While Raskolnikov lived in extreme poverty in a tiny rented room in Saint Petersburg. ‘It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls, and it was so low-pitched that a man of more than average height was ill at ease in it and felt every moment that he would knock his head against the ceiling. He was crushed by poverty.”


I said:

“When Raskolnikov was a student he wrote an article titled ‘On Crime’, which in the words of his best friend Razumihin: ’There is a suggestion that there are certain persons who can … that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them. A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?”


Fyodor said:

“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. But, Raskolnikov did not contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, he doubted whether such an argument could be published. He hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right … that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea, sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity.”


I said:

“Despite his perceptions about crime, Raskolnikov found himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he had done. He struggled with guilt and horror all the time and confronts the consequences of his deed. The psychological conflicts were written very well in the book, I think it is the most interesting part of the novel, as it is very intense, full of suspense, about the murderer’s struggle with his inner thoughts.  You described how Raskolnikov struggled with the crime even from the first time he conceived the idea to murder the old woman.”


Fyodor, citing the first Chapter of Part 1:

“When he was in the street he cried out, ‘Oh, God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly…. No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of. Yes, filthy above all, disgusting, loathsome, loathsome! — and for a whole month I’ve been….’

 And in another moment he cried: ‘Good God!’ Can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open … that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble; hide, all spattered in the blood … with the axe…. Good God, can it be?”


I said:

“And the nightmare he had about him as a young boy witnessing the graphic killing of a little mare was horrific : ‘Take an axe to her! Finish her off fast,’ shouts a third... The nag stretches out her muzzle, heaves a deep sigh, and dies... ‘Papa! What did they...kill...the poor horse for!’ In his dream he sobs, but his breath fails, and the words burst like cries from his straining chest.”



“However, it did not stop him, a trivial conversation he had overheard from a student with an officer strengthen his intention to carry out murder. The student casually said: ‘Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause’... ‘Of course, she doesn’t deserve to be alive. Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence! No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm.’

 Raskolnikov thought about how much similar they thought about this woman and related to his extraordinary man theory, he thought that this all cannot be just co-incidence, why must he listen at this particular moment to that particular talk and those particular ideas. As though there had really been in it something preordained, some guiding hint, it made Raskolnikov think he is the chosen person to kill the woman.”


I said:

“Then you wrote how he planned to murder her, the way and the timing to murder the woman. How he prepared for a noose to hide the axe inside his coat so it could not be seen from outside, how he stole the axe, how he diverted the attention of the old woman for a time, to gain a moment to swing the axe, what was in his mind when he walked from his apartment to the woman’s home, climbing the stairs to the flat. He was out of breath and his face became pale. For one instant at the door the thought floated through his mind ‘Shall I go back?’ ‘Am I not evidently agitated? She is mistrustful…. Had I better wait a little longer … till my heart leaves off thumping?”



“But he did it. He dealt her another and another blow with the blunt side and on the same spot. The blood gushed as from an overturned glass, the body fell back. He stepped back, let it fall, and at once bent over her face; she was dead. Her eyes seemed to be starting out of their sockets, the brow and the whole face were drawn and contorted convulsively.”


I said:

“Then unexpectedly her half sister came home and saw the dead body.’ She was gazing in stupefaction at her murdered sister, white as a sheet and seeming not to have the strength to cry out.”



“He rushed at her with the axe; her mouth twitched piteously, as one sees babies’ mouths, when they begin to be frightened, stare intently at what frightens them and are on the point of screaming. And this hapless Lizaveta was so simple and had been so thoroughly crushed and scared that she did not even raise a hand to guard her face, though that was the most necessary and natural action at the moment, for the axe was raised over her face. She only put up her empty left hand, but not to her face, slowly holding it out before her as though motioning him away. The axe fell with the sharp edge just on the skull and split at one blow all the top of the head. She fell heavily at once. Raskolnikov completely lost his head, snatching up her bundle, dropped it again and ran into the entry.”


I said:

“It was very tragic Fyodor….. I think Raskolnikov punishment started when he had to murder the innocent Lizaveta for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This thought appeared in his mind: ‘It’s strange though, why is it I scarcely ever think of her, as though I hadn’t killed her? Lizaveta! Poor gentle things, with gentle eyes…. Dear women! Why don’t they weep? Why don’t they moan? They give up everything … their eyes are soft and gentle….! Gentle!”  


I saw Fyodor sharp grey-blue eyes softened, he was immobile, silent … his pale, thin, earthen-colored face covered in dark red spots. Then we said “Прощай” (good bye) warmly.



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Source: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky