Showing posts with label communism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label communism. Show all posts

21 October 2021

Lungo il Mekong: Incontri e riscontri in Cambogia e Laos (2021) di Marco Carnovale

Un viaggio compiuto nel 2022, quando, a seguito di alcune disavventure professionali e sentimentali, decisi di cambiar vita. Un punto e a capo definitivo. Uno stacco sabbatico che diventa uno stile di vita.

Dallo splendore di Angkor alle tribù della giungla nel nord del Laos, un viaggio con veloci aliscafi, furgoni traballanti, esili piroghe e robusti scarponi. Un viaggio per assaporare, e non divorare, natura e cultura dei popoli di questo affascinante angolo del mondo, che risorge dopo aver subito innumerevoli conflitti.

L'autore ci conduce ai siti archeologici dell'UNESCO, si perde tra la gente del posto, mangia il loro cibo e dorme in improbabili villaggi che difficilmente vedono un volto straniero. Per diverse settimane scatta foto e prende appunti, sempre rispettoso delle usanze locali, tranne una volta, e paga il suo errore!

Il libro contiene oltre 25 fotografie, in bianco e nero nelle versioni cartacee e a colori nella versione kindle.

Acquistabile su tutti i siti Amazon.

02 April 2021

A conversation about China

- Hi I am from Indochina. I'd like to think what you think of China.

- Hi I'm from Europe, I'd be interested in your views too, wanna start? 

- China has traded with Indochina for thousands of years. Several times over those centuries, it was the world’s most powerful empire. Never once they sent troops to take our land. Admiral Zhenghe came to Malacca five times, in gigantic fleets, and a flagship eight times the size of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, Santa Maria. He could have seized Malacca easily, but he did not. 

- True he did not, but not because he was an especially nice guy, it was not his order from the emperor. He was to explore. Many Chinese emperors did not want much contact with the outside world. They wanted isolation.

- In 1511, the Portuguese came. In 1642, the Dutch came. In the 18th century, the British came. We were colonized by each, one after another. When China wanted spices from India, it traded with the Indians. When they wanted gems, they traded with the Persians. They didn’t take lands. 

- True they didn't invade India or Persia but they did at various times invade parts of Siberia (later lost to Russia), Korea, Vietnam, Turkish central Asia, and of course Tibet. The last two they are still holding on to. 

- The only time China expanded beyond its current borders was during the Yuan dynasty, when Genghis and his descendants Ogedei Khan, Guyuk Khan & Kublai Khan conquered China, Mid Asia and Eastern Europe. But Yuan Dynasty, although being based in China, was actually a part of the Mongol Empire. 

- I'm glad you brought up Mongolia. Here either you argue Mongolians are really Chinese, then "China" invaded central Asia and eastern Europe. Or you argue Mongolians are not Chinese, then China is now occupying half the country, which explains why the other half (the independent Republic of Mongolia, called in China "outer Mongolia") is always staunchly pro Russian, whether it's the Soviet Union or capitalist Russia. They want Russian protection against a potential Chinese threat. You can't have your Mongolian cake and eat it too! 

You also forget that The Chinese empire under the Mongols tried to conquer Japan, but failed because their fleet was destroyed by typhoons, the "kamikaze" or divine winds. That saved Japan, but China did try to invade, a couple of times actually.

And now China is slowly occupying the South China Sea on no internationally recognized legal basis. 

- Then came the "Century of Humiliation". Britain smuggled opium into China to dope the population, a strategy to turn the trade deficit around after the British could not find enough silver to pay the Qing Dynasty in their tea and porcelain trades. After the opium warehouses were burned down and ports were closed by the Chinese in ordered to curb opium, the British started the Opium War I, which China lost. Hong Kong was forced to be surrendered to the British in a peace talk (Nanjing Treaty in 1842). The British owned 90% of the opium market in China, during that time, Queen Victoria was the world’s biggest drug baron. The remaining 10% was owned by American merchants from Boston. Many of Boston’s institutions were built with profit from opium. 

- I agree with you on this point completely. The British conquest of Hong Kong and its opium trade was disgraceful and ought to be remembered as such. 

- Eighteen years after the Nanjing Treaty, in 1860, the West started getting really really greedy. The British expected the Qing government: 1. To open the borders of China to allow goods coming in and out freely, and tax-free. 2. To make opium legal in China.

Insane requests, the Qing government said no. The British and French, started Opium War II with China, which again, China lost. The Anglo-French military threatened to burn down the Imperial Palace, the Qing government was forced to pay with ports, free business zones, 300,000 kilograms of silver, and Kowloon was taken. Since then, China’s resources flowed out freely through these business zones and ports. In the subsequent amendment to the treaties, Chinese people were sold overseas to serve as labor. 

- Sadly this is true as well, shame on the French as well as on the British. 

- In 1900, China suffered attacks by the 8-National Alliance(Japan, Russia, Britain, France, USA, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary). Innocent Chinese civilians in Peking (Beijing now) were murdered, buildings were destroyed & women were raped. The Imperial Palace was raided, and treasures ended up in museums like the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. 

- Again I agree and am ashamed my country was part of this shameful attack. 

- In the late 1930s China was occupied by the Japanese. Millions of Chinese died during the occupation. 300,000 Chinese died in Nanjing Massacre alone. 

- Japan's horrific occupation is well known and should be remembered as such. The Nanjing massacre too, though the numbers you mention are probably too high. One sad problem is that Mao and Chiang were too busy fighting each other instead of joining forces against Japan. 

- Mao brought China together again from the shambles. There were peace and unity for some time. But Mao’s later reign saw sufferings and deaths from famine and power struggles. 

- Be serious: yes Mao won the civil war, but then he brought unprecedented misery to China. More innocent people died at his hand than did in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags combined. Mao destroyed the economy, the cultural revolution destroyed more of the country's cultural heritage than all foreign invasions. Luckily Chiang, for all his crimes and corruption, took Some 7000 crates of artifacts to Taiwan, now preserved in a museum in Taipei. 

- Then came Deng Xiaoping and his famous “black-cat and white-cat” story. His preference for pragmatism over ideology has transformed China. This thinking allowed China to evolve all the time to adapt to the actual needs in the country, instead of rigidly bound to ideologies. It also signified the death of Communism in actual practice in China. The current Socialism + Meritocracy + Market Economy model fits the Chinese like gloves, and it propels the rise of China.

- There is no socialism in China except for one-party rule. Education is not free nor is housing or health care. As for meritocracy, yes there are many opportunities for capable people to emerge, but still, China is very corrupted, ask any Chinese in private (they won't say it in public or post it online). 

- Singapore has a similar model and has been arguably more successful than Hong Kong because Hong Kong is the gateway to China, was riding on the economic boom in China, while Singapore had no one to gain from.

- To compare Hong Kong and Singapore is difficult, too many differences. Both have been successful, but Singapore has been free for half a century, Hong Kong was never free: not under the British, not under China. 

A comparison of China and Singapore is even more of a far-fetched proposition. There is minimal corruption in Singapore and much more meritocracy. Hong Kong was successful because of its market economy and free trade, both of which are now in question. 

- In just 30 years, the CCP has moved 800 million people out of poverty. The rate of growth is unprecedented in human history. They have built the biggest mobile network, by far the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, and they have become a behemoth in infrastructure.

- Indeed, when China jettisoned socialism in all but name and embraced capitalism the economy predictably took off. 

- They made a fishing village called Shenzhen into the world’s second-largest technological center after the Silicon Valley. They are growing into a technological powerhouse. It has the most elaborate e-commerce and cashless payment system in the world. They have launched exploration to Mars. 

- Indeed huge progress in all of this, though Shenzhen was more than a fishing village, and I am not sure about the second-in-the-world, still, it is now an amazing XXI century city. 

- The Chinese are living a good life and China has become one of the safest countries in the world. The level of patriotism in the country has reached an unprecedented height.

- Sadly not all Chinese have a good life, far from it, much the countryside is still poor, inequalities are huge and many workers have no holidays, no pension plan, no insurance, in other words: no rights. 

- For all of the achievements, the West has nothing good to say about it. China suffers from intense anti-China propaganda from the West. Western Media used the keyword “Communist” to instill fear and hatred towards China. Everything China does is negatively reported. 

- Obviously, there are different views about China in the west, this is the nature of democracies. Many, like me, admire China's achievements and think we can all learn from them, but that does not hide its faults and shortcomings. 

- Westerners claimed China used slave labor in making iPhones. The truth was, Apple was the most profitable company in the world, it took most of the profit, leaving some to Foxconn (a Taiwanese company) and little for the workers. 

- Indeed it is not difficult to find many western companies which profited from China's labor laws, which give little protection to workers. That western companies make money in China does not make these laws good. I believe things are changing, as Chinese workers claim more rights, the way their colleagues in the west did decades ago.

They claimed China was inhuman with the one-child policy. At the same time, they accused China of polluting the earth with its huge population. The fact is the Chinese consume just 30% of energy per capita compared to the US. 

- The one-child policy was Deng Xiaoping's overreacting response to Mao's push to have as many children as possible. Both policies were wrong. Now China has a demographic time bomb waiting to go off as not enough young people will be there to support an aging population.

- Western countries claim China underwent ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang. The fact is China has a policy that prioritizes ethnic minorities. For a long time, the ethnic minorities were allowed to have two children and the majority Han only allowed one. The minorities are allowed a lower score for university intakes. 

- True indeed that minorities have enjoyed some privileges for a long time, but again that does not mean they are not repressing the Xingjian culture. Some in the West claim it is genocide, which it is not, but it is still a massive form of human rights violation.

- There are 39,000 mosques in China, and 2100 in the US. China has about 3 times more mosques per Muslim than the US. 

- I don't know where you got that number. The point is that in China all religions must submit to the central government, which is why the Vatican still does not recognize Beijing. China argues that its minorities are Chinese and is working to sinify them. 

- When terrorist attacks happened in Xinjiang, China had two choices: 1. Re-educate the Uighur extremists before they turned terrorists. 2. Let them be, after they launch attacks and killed innocent people, bomb their homes. China chose 1 to solve problem from the root and not to do killing. How the US solve terrorism? Fire missiles from battleships, drop bombs from the sky. 

- I agree the American response to Islamic fundamentalism has long been flawed and has failed. But China is trying to erase Turkic culture, not just Islamic extremism. 

- During the pandemic, when China took extreme measures to lock down the people, they were accused of being inhuman. When China recovered swiftly because of the extreme measures, they were accused of lying about the actual numbers. When China’s cases became so low that they could provide medical support to other countries, they were accused of politically motivated. 

- China initially denied there was a virus and repressed whistle-blowing doctors who flagged the problem back in late 2019. Time was lost and the problem got worse before they started doing something about it. 

- Western Media always have reasons to bash China. 

-I agree with you, it is always easier to blame others for one own mistakes. 

- Just like any country, there are irresponsible individuals from China who do bad and dirty things, but the China government overall has done very well. But I hear this comment over and over by people from the West: I like Chinese people, but the CCP is evil. What they really want is the Chinese to change the government, because the current one is too good. 

Fortunately, China is not a multi-party democratic country, otherwise, the opposition party in China will be supported by notorious NGOs (Non-Government Organization) of the USA, like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), to topple the ruling party. The US and the British couldn’t crack Mainland China, so they work in Hong Kong. Of all the ex-British colonial countries, only the Hong Kongers were offered BNOs by the British. 

 Indeed it is hypocritical of the British to offer BNO just to Hong Kong, but any county is free to offer its citizenship to whoever they want. 

Because the UK would like the Hong Kongers to think they are British citizens, not Chinese. A divide-and-conquer strategy, which they often used in Color Revolutions around the world. 

They resort to low dirty tricks like detaining Huawei’s CFO & banning Huawei. They raised a silly trade war which benefits no one. Trade deficit always exist between a developing and a developed country. USA is like a luxury car seller who asks a farmer: why am I always buying your vegetables and you haven’t bought any of my cars? 

-I agree China is beating the old capitalist world at its own game though there are serious issues with intellectual property theft, cheating on licences, fakes etc. On the other hand I sympathize with China when it is requesting technology transfer from investors. Too many times in the past western multinationals made money in the developing world by localizing only cheap labor-intensive activities there while keeping all the high-tech for themselves.

When the Chinese were making socks for the world 30 years ago, the world let it be. But when the Chinese started to make high technology products, like Huawei and DJI, it caused red-alert. Because when Western and Japanese products are equal to Chinese in technologies, they could never match the Chinese in prices. First-world countries want China to continue in making socks. Instead of stepping up themselves, they want to pull China down. 

The recent movement by the US against China has a very important background. When Libya, Iran, and China decided to ditch the US dollar in oil trades, Gaddafi was killed by the US, Iran was being sanctioned by the US, and now it’s China’s turn. The US has been printing money out of nothing. The only reason why the US Dollar is still widely accepted is that it’s the only currency with which oil is allowed to be traded with. Without the petrol-dollar status, the US dollars will sink, and America will fall. China will soon use a gold-backed crypto-currency, the alarm in the White House go off like mad.

- China is playing this game as I understand it it is the largest holder of USD bonds in the world. Gold-backed cryptocurrency is a joke. But they could make the Renminbi convertible, it would be a strong currency, but the government in Beijing would lose control which is likely not acceptable.  Also, China is developing electronic money, not cryptocurrency, just e-Renminbi, this is a good model for others.

China’s achievement has been by hard work. Not by raiding other countries. 

- I would agree with you and admire post-Mao China a lot because of this.

I have deep sympathy for China for all the suffering, but now I feel happy for them. China is not rising, they are going back to where they belong. Good luck China.

- Yes China was a world leader several times in the past and it looks poised to become one again soon. Indeed good luck to China, it's going to need it. And the world needs a strong stable China integrated into the world economy.

29 January 2021

Book review: The Gate, by François Bizot (2004), *****


In 1971, on a routine outing through the Cambodian countryside, the young French scholar Francois Bizot was captured by the Khmer Rouge. Accused of being an agent of American imperialism, he was chained and imprisoned. His captor, Duch, later responsible for tens of thousands of deaths at the Tuol Sleng prison, interviewed him at length; after three months of torturous deliberation, during which his every word was weighed and his life hung in the balance, he was released. No other Western prisoner survived. Four years later, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Francois Bizot became the official intermediary between the ruthless conqueror and the terrified refugees behind the gate of the French embassy: a ringside seat to one of history's most appalling genocides.


Bizot was incredibly lucky to see what he saw and come out alive, then move on to survive in Phnom Penh for several more years and write a harrowing and unique account of the Khmer Rouge rule. The gate of the French embassy, where many notables of the old regime had found refuge, and through which they will have to walk to their fate in the hands of the communists. A unique first-hand experience that very few western writers have been able to share so much in detail. He talks to many revolutionary soldiers and discusses politics as well as the details of day-to-day existence, the next harvest, education. Reading him is almost as good as having been there, without the dangers and the discomfort!

Read about my trip to Cambodia here.

See my reviews of other books on Cambodia here in this blog.

28 December 2020

Recensione libro: Caduti dal Muro (2009) di Paolo Ciampi e Tito Barbini, *****


C'era una volta il Muro e sembrava dovesse esarci per sempre. Poi però il Muro si sbriciolò e con esso crollò un impero che da Berlino arrivava al Pacifico. Di colpo tramontò il "sole dell'avvenire", sparirono mappe geografiche, bandiere, nomenclature. Ma cosa ne è stato di quei paesi? Per capirlo serve un viaggio lento, zaino in spalla e treno attraverso due continenti, dall'Europa orientale alla Russia, dalla Cina al Vietnam, dalla Cambogia ai Tibet. Un viaggio e un dialogo tra due scrittori divisi dall'anagrafe e dalle parabole della politica ma uniti dalla leggerezza e dalla fame di nuovi orizzonti. 


Riflessioni di viaggio (di Tito) e di storia (di entrambi) nelle terre che erano governate da regimi comunisti fino alla fine degli anni 80 del XX secolo. Il viaggio di Tito è occasione di ricordare un mondo che non esiste più, un mondo nel quale gli autori avevano creduto, assieme a milioni di idealisti in occidente che non avevano visto quello che veramente succedeva al di là del muro. Si impara molto leggendo questo libro, soprattutto chi non è stato in quei luoghi, in quei tempi. Prosa fluida, in certi punti del libro sembra di essere con loro, sia nel luoghi, sia nei tempi storici richiamati alla memoria. Unica piccola pecca: se abbondano le critiche a quei comunisti che hanno perso (URSS, Europa orientale) manca una critica dei crimini commessi da quei comunisti che hanno "vinto"specialmente in Vietnam. Per esempio durante la guerra contro l'invasore americano. Se i crimini americani sono giustamente evidenziati, non altrettanto lo sono quelli commessi dai nord vietnamiti e Viet Cong.

05 October 2019

Partenza in bus per Changsha e arrivo a Chongqing

Partiamo alle 7 di mattina da casa, una rapida corsa in Didi e siamo alla stazione dei bus. Siamo costretti a prendere il bus per Changsha, da cui parte il volo per Chongqing, perché i comodissimi treni veloci sono pieni, è la settimana della festa nazionale, anniversario della fondazione della repubblica popolare, e tanti cinesi ne approfittano per andare a casa o in vacanza, non è restato che qualche posto in bus, e dobbiamo considerardi fortunati, Lifang ha controllato tre giorni fa, quando li abbiamo comprati, e dopo un'ora anche il bus era tutto esaurito!

Stazione nuova di zecca, pulita. Passiamo come di regola i bagagli ad una macchina di raggi X e, come sempre capita, sentiamo un sacco di BEEEEEEP, come quelli prima di noi e come quelli dopo di noi, ma l'impiegato in uniforme addetto al controllo non batte ciglio e fa passare tutti senza controllare nessun bagaglio.

Un passeggero in attesa si mette a fumare nel bel mezzo della sala proprio vicino al cartello che dice che è vietato. Arriva una bigliettaia e lo fa smettere ma altri se ne fregano e contunuano a fumare. A quel punto anche l'impiegata si arrende e nell'ampio salone a comincia a spandersi una lieve cortina fumogena.

Fila per salire sul bus, un vecchietto passa davanti a tutti i passeggeri in attesa di salire e prendere posto sul vecchio bus scalcagnato, Lifang lo ferma e gli intima di aspettare il suo turno ma lui insiste che deve salire perché ha fretta di partire! ... 😁

Anche qui un paio di persone fumano, compreso l'autista, però smettono quando partiamo. Dopo un'ora tra risaie e villaggi il bus scalcagnato ci deposita ad un grande incrocio e l'autista ci rassicura: in mezz'ora arriverà bus per changsha... Speriamo!

Viaggio verso changsha ma hanno annullato corsa diretta, solo 4 passeggeri. Quindi ci tocca andare a Liufengzhen e cambiare. Apettiamo una buona mezz'ora l'arrvo della coincidenza, non c'è niente e nessuno, stiamo al sole, seduti sulle valigie.
Lottare per la felicità del popolo e il risveglio della nazione

Combattere le tenebre per la stabilità

Grande poster davanti a noi: lottare per la felicità del popolo e il risveglio della nazione.

Secondo poster è biblico: "Combattere le tenebre per la stabilità".

La campagna dell'Hunan è tappezzata di piccoli appezzamenti, orti familiari. Nessuna economia di scala pare. Mezzi rudimentali, pochi investimenti in macchine ed infrastrutture.

Casette a due piani ovunque fino ad arrivo a Changsha.

Oggi fa un caldo torrido, i colori cielo e della terra sono sbiaditi.

La strada è buona e il traffico di media intensità fila liscio, l'autista del nostro bus è bravo.

Arriviamo all'aeroporto di Changsha e ci dirigiamo verso il terminal dei voli interni. A parte noto quello per "voli internazionali + Hong Kong + Taiwan + Macau" le parti della Cina che godono di uno status diverso e per andare ai quali occorre passare una vera e propria frontiera, controllo passaporti ecc.

Il volo Chongqing Airlines, parte del gruppo China Southern, niente di speciale. Arrivo a Chongqing in serata, bell'aeroporto, migliaia di taxi ad aspettare. Ne prendiamo uno ma non è molto gentile. Non lo sono mai, non aiutano con le valige, parlano poco, spesso fumano.

A Chongqing aeroporto grande e ordinato, pulito. Centinaia di taxi che aspettano clienti, partiamo e arriviamo a casa, in centro della megalopoli, in poco più di mezz'ora, traffico abbastanza intenso ma scorrevole. Lifang paga con WeChat (Of course, no cash we are Chinese) e siamo a casa.

Sistemati i bagagli scendiamo a cena. Vivremo per un mese in un quartiere abbastanza moderno, con molti negozi e ristoranti. Tra questi innumerevoli hot pot, la specialità del Sichuan di cui Chongqing fa culturalmente parte.

Grande padellone al centro del tavolo con brodo piccante o no, spesso entrambi in vaschette separate, in cui i commensali mettono pezzi di carne, pesce e verdure per cuocerli a loro piacimento.

01 October 2019

Festa nazionale, 70 anni dalla fondazione della Repubblica Popolare Cinese

La prima cosa che mi ha colpito della grande parata militare organizzata a Pechino, dicono che sia la più imponente della storia della Cinam, non sono stati i missili e i carri armati. È stata una fotografia, anzi una gigantografia posta nel bel mezzo della piazza perché tutti la potessero vedere bene, di persona o alla televisione. Il ritratto a mezzo busto era quello di Sun Yatsen. Sun, il rivoluzionario che depose l'ultimo imperatore e fondò la Repubblica di Cina. Non la Repubblica popolare il cui anniversario si festeggia oggi, fondata da Mao il 1 ottobre 1949, ma la prima repubblica della nazione cinese, fondata nel 1912.

Ovviamente queste cose non sono mai casuali. Sapevo che il PCC aveva sempre rispettato Sun come un padre della patria, come del resto fa Taiwan, ma a Pechino dopo il 1949 lo scranno più alto, l'altare più sacro, sono sempre stati riservati a Mao. 

La mia interpretazione è che con Xi Jinping la Cina stia recuperando un'identità nazionale, di cui Sun è la massima espressione storica contemporanea per tutti i cinesi, anche quelli di Taiwan, che potrebbe prendere il sopravvento sull'identità socialista rappresentata da Mao. Oppure potrebbe essere un tentativo di cooptare il carisma di Sun nell'albero genealogico della Repubblica Popolare.

Il presidente Xi Jinping sta in piedi al centro della tribuna sovrastante la grande piazza Tiananmen (Porta della Pace Celeste), e indossa un vestito sullo stile Sun Yatsen. Invece tutti gli altri alti dirigenti, membri del Comitato Permanente del politburo, indossano un completo nero all'occidentale. Non è un caso neanche questo. Xi si presenta come l'erede di Sun.

Jiang Zemin siede pallido su una carrozzella, e Hu Jintao, capigliatura imbiancata da quando non è più presidente, stanno ai fianchi di Xi, ben distanziati.

A un certo punto Xi si allontana, scende dalla tribuna e prende posto, in piedi, in un'auto aperta, e inizia un lungo giro per passare in rivista missili, cannoni e truppe di esercito, marina e aeronautica.

Ci sono centinaia di migliaia di persone tra militari in parata e civili del pubblico. Non mi sorprenderebbe se si superasse il milione. Carri enormi, ciascuno di ogni provincia della Cina, scorrono festosi in fila indiana. L'occasione è solenne ma i carri assomigliano più a quelli di una festa di carnevale, come ne ho visti a Viareggio, a Nizza, in Belgio. Lo scrivo con rispetto, so che lo spirito è diverso. E poi i carri non sono mascherati, non in modo plateale almeno, anche se molto colorati.

Ogni carro porta una ventina di persone, tranne quello di Hong Kong, su cui salutano sì e no una mezza dozzina di ragazzi.

Scorrono anche carri festosi con grandi immagini di Mao, di Deng Xiaoping e poi di Xi Jinping, sempre un po’ in disparte.

Volano aerei militari in flyby, elicotteri con enormi bandiere appese sotto di loro, tenute dritte da grosse zavorre.

Arei da caccia, da trasporto, da avvistamento (early warning) anche aviocisterne da rifornimento in volo. E poi drones, ma questi ultimi sono mostrati a terra, montati su grandi camion, non in volo.

Passano infine enormi missili intercontinentali, alcuni dei quali mostrati per la prima volta in pubblico.

I soldati marciano al passo dell'oca, hanno un'espressione seria e determinata, alcuni direi minacciosa. Sembrano urlare a squarciagola, forse inni militari o slogan, ma alla televisione non possiamo sentire cosa dicono. Anche migliaia di soldatesse, vestite con giacche rosse e gonne bianche, che però hanno un aspetto più gentile, pur accollandosi pesanti armi automatiche come i colleghi uomini.

Tutta la manifestazione è incentrata sul leader, forse nasce un nuovo culto della personalità? Xi non è ancora un nuovo Mao, ma forse fra qualche tempo... La foto del grande timoniere è ancora lì, sul muro della città proibita, nessuno osa metterlo in discussione anche se oggi la Cina fa quasi tutto il contrario di quello che Mao predicava e faceva.

Ieri Xi è stato il primo presidente a visitare il mausoleo di Mao, dall'altra parte della piazza, non lo aveva mai fatto nessun altro leader il giorno prima della festa nazionale. Queste cose non succedono per caso.

27 December 2018

Beyond the Wall, my book on a Polish and Soviet adventure available on all Amazon sites.

My latest book:

Beyond the Wall:

Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle

Beyond the Iron Curtain

has just been published and is available on all Amazon sites.


1980: the Cold War between capitalist West and socialist East is in full swing. Tensions are high but, at the academic level, some channels of useful exchange remain open. The author and two classmates would join one such program linking a leading American university and its counterpart in Poland. They drive to Warsaw in a bright yellow VW Beetle and, in addition to attending classes, travel far and wide within the country as well as to several of the neighbors in the socialist bloc where the Soviet Union called all the shots. They drive across the USSR and visit the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the division of Europe. Throughout, Marco takes detailed notes of what they see and hear.

Almost four decades later, the East-West division of Europe is gone. Marco recently found his diary and decided to publish an expanded version of it. His written notes from 1980 have been enriched with descriptions and analyses of historical events that will help the reader see his personal experience in a more significant cultural, social, political and economic context.

The author hopes this real life story will help younger generations, who did not live through the Cold War, better appreciate the blessing of living in a European continent that is immensely more open, rich and free than it was then.

10 May 2018

Film review: Youth (2017) by Feng Xiaogang, *****


When Xiaoping joins the military, delicate dreams are dashed by the events of a China undergoing revolution. The devastating Sino-Vietnamese war crashes into 1970s China, changing the lives of the Army's young new recruits forever.

In this epic spanning several decades, Youth shows Comrades of the People's Liberation Army fight amongst themselves as much as on the battlefield – and cause as much damage as the war that tore their lives apart.


Incredibly passionate and captivating historical film about life in China during the huge transformations that took place after Mao's death. A love story starts during the excesses of the cultural revolution with the "great helmsman" still in power, and the trauma of the war against Vietnam in 1979. After that, rapid reforms make many Chinese rich, and many officials corrupt, but the human story of the protagonists carries through the ages. One man's good deeds are taken for granted and not appreciated any more.

The film was supposed to be released just before the 2017 party congress but it was held up until after the congress itself for some reason. Maybe because it contains thinly veiled criticism of Mao and also raises many questions about the new system of the country.

A strongly recommended film about how China became what it is today.

See other film on China reviewed in this blog.

06 December 2017

Book review: Wild Swans (1992), by Jung Chang, *****


Through the lives of three different women - grandmother, mother and daughter - this book tells the story of 20th-century China. At times scarcely credible in the details it reveals of the suffering of millions of ordinary Chinese people, it is an unforgettable record of tyranny, hope and ultimate survival under conditions of extreme harshness.

In 1924, at the age of 15, the author's grandmother became the concubine of a powerful warlord, whom she was seldom to see during the 10 years of their "marriage". Her daughter, born in 1931, experienced the horrors of Japanese occupation in Manchuria as a schoolgirl, and after their surrender joined the Communist-led underground fighting Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang. She rose to be a senior Communist official, but was imprisoned three times. Her husband, also a high official and one of the very first to join the Communists, was relentlessly persecuted, imprisoned and finally sent to a labour camp where, physically broken and disillusioned, he lost his sanity.

The author herself grew up during the Cultural Revolution, at the time of the personality cult of Mao and the worst excesses of the Gang of Four. She joined the Red Guard but after Mao's death she was to become one of the first Chinese students to study abroad.


This is one of the best books I have ever read. It traces a micro-story of a family through three generations of highly motivated women interwoven with the history of China over almost a century. It it meticulous and fastidious about details and context, which allows the reader to immerse himself into the incredible evolution and revolution of this continent/country.

China went from the feudal system of the late Qing dynasty to a modern superpower, passing through two revolutions, civil war, foreign aggression, a world war, economic transformations that took other countries centuries to complete. In the course of these events China was invaded, then locked itself up and isolated its people from the world, then opened up again after Mao's death, and that is roughly where the book ends.

So we don't see the new China in this book, but we can understand how it got there and why the Chinese today are so eager to break with the early period of the People'd republic and open up to the world. Even the Communist Party of China today considers the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, two of the central events in the book, to have been complete mistakes.

Translated in 37 languages and 13 million copies later, this book is banned in China, perhaps because it is very critical of Mao. Even if today the policies of China are the opposite of what Mao preached, the time to criticize the great Chairman too much has not yet arrived. Deng Xiaoping famously said Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. This book would probably reverse those two numbers!

03 December 2014

Book review: River Town (2001), by Peter Hessler, *****


When Peter Hessler went to China as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced -- the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society -- surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of a remote town like Fuling.


This is a superbly written account by one acute observer of one part of China while the country was undergoing tremendous change in the mid-1990s. One view by one person in one small part of this immense country does not allow a reader to draw more general conclusions. However, the many microstories we read here help a lot in understanding the new (then) China rising from the ashes of maoism. Hessler is curious, even a bit nosy, but always respectful. He learns Chinese and always tries to understand. He questions himself but does not fall into the trap of many travelers who always marvel at what they see and whom they meet, no matter what. He does criticize, with strong arguments, people and practices he meets along the way.

The Yangtse near the Three Gorges
Hessler walks on thinner ice when he addresses more academically charged historical, economic or political issues, but this is not meant to be an academic book. His perceptions of the reality around him, and of how he changes over the years while in China, is what makes this an invaluable read for anyone interested in how China changed during the post-Mao "Reform and Opening" period.

Read my other reviews of books on China here in this blog.

18 November 2013

Book Review: The Secret Piano (2012), by Zhu Xiao-Mei, ****


Zhu Xiao-Mei was born to middle-class parents in post WW II China, and her musical proficiency became clear at an early age. Taught to play the piano by her mother, she developed quickly into a prodigy, immersing herself in the work of classical masters like Bach. She was just ten years old when she began a rigorous course of study at the Beijing Conservatory, laying the groundwork for what was sure to be an extraordinary career. But in 1966, when Xiao-Mei was seventeen, the Cultural Revolution began, and life as she knew it changed forever.

One by one, her family members were scattered, sentenced to prison or labor camps. By 1969, the art schools had closed, and Xiao-Mei was on her way to a work camp in inner Mongolia, where she would spend the next five years. Life in the camp was unbearable, thanks to horrific living conditions and intensive brainwashing campaigns. Yet through it all Xiao-Mei clung to her passion for music and her sense of humor. And when the Revolution ended, it was the piano that helped her to heal.


Compelling story about music, China and love. Music helped the author through terrible times in Mao's re-education camps and somehow kept her sanity in the face of protracted brain washing by the authorities. The figure of her mother is present as a fixed star that helped her steer her way amidst chaos and upheaval.

We learn curious tidbits about how the Chinese Communist musicians at the Conservatory saw Western classical music: Bach was too religious, Chopin a sentimentalist, Debussy an idealist and of course Beethoven was egoist, but somehow Mozart was OK (loc. 739 ebook)

More generally, the author takes us by the hand and shows how the Party saw the role of culture, the relationship of sons and daughters with their own parents, the deep mistrust that was instilled in their brain for anything that was not in Mao's red book.

All of the above takes part in the first part of the book, until the author leaves China. The second part is her life in the US and France as a pianist trying to make a living. This is interesting too, but it is really another book.

This is her recording of the Goldberg variations, which inspired her book more than any other piece of music.

This is where to find the book:

Live recording of Goldberg's variations performed in Leipzig at St Thomas's church, the final resting place of J.S. Bach. The DVD also contains a 1-hour documentary on Zhu's lifelong relationship with music and her special relationship with Bach. She sees Bach as a very Buddhist thinker. The 30 variations begin and end with the same melody, and it is not by chance. (In any case, hardly anything is by chance in Bach's music.) She thinks Bach wanted to indicate that the end is a new beginning. It is Bach's Christian faith about the afterlife, but it is even more so the essence of Buddhist philosophy. It is a similar view to that taken in the book "Goedel Escher Bach", which referred to the musician's work in similar terms twenty years earlier than this recording.

08 June 2012

Book review: The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong, ****

Kim Phuc and others after napalm bombing of Trang Bang. Photo by Nick Ut, AP

Kim Phuc
Today it is forty years since one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam war was taken, by photographer Nick Ut of the Associated Press.


Kim Phuc was nine years old on 8 June 1972. Severely burned by napalm, she ran from her burning village and was captured on film. Denise Chong relates Kim's experience and recovery in this astonishing biography and history of America's shameful war. The photograph of Kim, seen around the world, was one of many to turn public opinion against the war in Vietnam. This is the story of how the picture came to be and also what happened to Kim after it was taken. It provides an insight into the country Vietnam became after the US army left, and explains why Kim finally had to flee to Canada, where she now lives.

You can also visit the site of the Kim Foundation.

28 April 2012

Film Review: Lost City (2005), by Andy Garcia, ****

In 1958 Havana, nightclub owner Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia, who also directed) watches as political upheaval grips Batista-ruled Cuba. While his brothers join Castro's revolution, Fico refuses an offer from American gangster Meyer Lansky (Dustin Hoffman) to help turn his club into a casino and falls in love with his soon widowed sister-in-law (Ines Sastre).

The film was shot in the Dominican Republic, ironically the country batista fled to after his forces capitulated to Castro on new year's day, 1959.

A good historical movie to show how right were many middle class Cubans to despise the Batista dictatorship and how wrong they were to believe that supporting Castro and Guevara would improve things much. Yet, the widespread criticism that Garcia does not show enough of the poor and destitute of pre-revolutionary Cuba is only partially mitigated by his ridicule of Batista in the first part of the movie. The title itself (translated "Adieu Cuba" in the French version) betrays a certain nostalgia by the author for the bygone days. But in the end the viewer is left with a strongly negative view of both Batista and Castro, as well as Guevara. Well deserved.

The movie is a bit long but well worth its time for it allows the viewer to savour the colors, music and atmosphere of Cuba 50 years ago. But this is perhaps due to the long script by Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

14 April 2012

Film review: The Dreamers (2003), by Bernardo Bertolucci, ****


Paris, spring 1968. While most students take the lead in the May 'revolution', a French poet's twin son Theo and daughter Isabelle enjoy the good life in his grand Paris home. As film buffs they meet and 'adopt' modest, conservatively educated Californian student Matthew.

With their parents away for a month, they drag him into an orgy of indulgence of all senses, losing all of his and the last of their innocence. A sexual threesome shakes their rapport, yet only the outside reality will break it up.

27 March 2012

Film Review: Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel (1997) by Christian Frei, ****


Like so many thousands of other Cubans, Miriam Martínez means to emigrate to the United States with her family. The daughter of a man who played a crucial part in the victory of the revolution, she finds that this is far from easy, for her as well as for her father Ricardo.

Almost forty years ago Ricardo quit his job as a journalist and left for the Sierra Maestra to join Fidel Castro's rebels. Under the guidance of Ché Guevara he founded Radio Rebelde. Their nighttime broadcasts became the most efficient means of spreading their revolutionary ideas.

30 November 2011

Book Review: My China Years, by Helen Foster Snow, **

Foster Snow is the wife of Edgar Snow, the author of "Red Star Over China - The Rise Of The Red Army". She actually met "Ed" in China and her book is about her time there, mostly with him. It is an interesting read to grasp the reality of life in China, and especially in Shanghai, in the thirties. She was well introduced in the circles that made things happen then, and had tea with notable Chinese as well as foreign dignitaries. She always was a naive political analyst though, and when she leaves her travelogue mode to draw more general conclusions about politics in China, or her future, it is clear that this was not her cup of tea...

14 May 2009

Film review: The Children of the Decree, by Florian Iepan and Razvan Georgescu (2004), *****


“Procreation is the social duty of all fertile women,” was the political thinking during the 1960s and 1970s in Romania. In 1966, Ceaucescu issued Decree 770, in which he forbade abortion for all women unless they were over forty or were already taking care of four children. All forms of contraception were totally banned. The New Romanian Man was born. By 1969, the country had a million babies more than the previous average. Thousands of kindergartens were built overnight. Children had to participate in sports and cultural activities.

Romanian society was rapidly changing. By using very interesting archival footage and excerpts from old fiction films and by interviewing famous personalities from that time – gynaecologists or mothers who were part of the new society – the director revives this period of tremendous oppression of personal freedom. Many deaths were caused by the mere fact that women, including wives of secret Romanian agents, famous TV presenters and actresses, had to undergo illegal abortions. Many women were jailed for having them. Some died by using awkward abortion methods, like injecting mustard or lemon juice into the uterus. Sex life was no fun anymore. But still, Romania had a demographic boom and hosted a world conference on population in 1974.

From 24th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. This site streams the movie in English.

You can watch a trailer of the movie here, and the introduction here.

27 February 2009

Film Review: The Threat (2008), by Silvia Luzi and Luca Bellino, *****


“Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution are the greatest threat since the time of the Soviet Union and communism”. Doctrine for Asymmetric War Against Venezuela,  U.S. Army, 2006

This is the starting point for a journey across the country which gave rise to the “red wave” in Latin America. Does Venezuela represent the dream of a new socialist society or is it just another distortion of populism and dictatorship?
A trip with President Chavez over the largest oil reserve in the world, situated beneath the Orinoco river, becomes the occasion in which to enter into the lives of Venezuelans, nine years after the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution. The government missions to fight illiteracy and hunger, the creation of a public health care system and the development of an economy based on cooperative work are some of the achievements which characterize the Chavez era.

On the other hand are the country’s 60 violent deaths a week and its collapsing hospitals, the closure of the most popular television channel, the old European immigrants in flight, the opposition black list and the ubiquitous government propaganda. Venezuela en route to socialism: is this still possible in our post-ideological times?

Luca and Silvia in Caracas

This is an excellent documentary on Chavez's Venezuela. A couple of young Italian directors went there to see with their own eyes how the Bolivarian revolution ideals were being implemented. They were disappointed but kept a cool balance throughout the making of this film. They went to the roughest neighborhoods of Caracas as well as with the richest elites. They went to see how the much boasted national health policy is implemented in the hospitals. They went to see what is available in the market for normal people. They spoke with immigrants, students and journalists. They also spent a whole day traveling around the country with Chavez himself, asking questions and thus allowing the viewer a chance to come to independent conclusions on the pros and cons of his rule.

Here is a trailer of the documentary in English.

You can buy the DVD here, in original Spanish with English subtitles.

The Cooperative Suttvuess based in Rome has been working in the field of research, audiovisual production and post-production since 2000. It was born as a post-production company for cinema and television. Over the years however, the cooperative has enlarged its field to the production of historical and inventive documentaries as well as commercial and social advertisements.

Or go to La Minaccia's blog.

21 August 2008

Recensione: "L'Ombra di Mao", di Federico Rampini, ****

Mao Tse Tung è un leader che ha lasciato un'impronta indelebile sulla storia del secolo. Sotto Mao e per colpa sua il popolo cinese ha subito tragedie e sofferenze atroci. Oggi il bilancio degli storici è pressoché unanime nel considerarlo responsabile di un numero immane di vittime, probabilmente fino a 70 milioni di morti. Ma nonostante questo dato, nella Cina contemporanea il mito del Grande Timoniere resiste.

14 September 2006

Film Review: The Lives of Others (2006), by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, *****


In the former East Germany, no-one was above suspicion. Like George Orwell's vision of the future come to life, art and people and relationships were monitored obsessively; The Lives Of Others captures not only the paranoia and danger inherent in such a world, but also expresses hope that even in the most desperate situations, people can make a difference.

The story of The Lives Of Others unfolds mostly through the eyes of a secret service agent (Ulrich Mühe)who's been given the task of spying on an artistic couple who've attracted the attention of the Minister of Culture. Little by little, he's drawn into their lives even as we're drawn into his; and as he loses his faith in the government, he must decide whether or not to try to hide the transgressions of those he's watching. As the physical danger and emotional cost mounts, it's impossible not to become utterly engrossed; intelligent and well-written, The Lives Of Others is also deeply moving.


A fictional account of real life under communism in East Germany. I studied pre-1989 Eastern Europe in depth and visited that particular country a number of times. This is really what was going on!

The film is a great mix of fiction (for the love story part) and reality (for the political part). As such, it is a brilliant piece of work that entertains and educates at the same time.

Addendum: Just a few weeks after this film came out, Markus Wolf, the long time chief of Stasi, died in his sleep, a free man. It was 9 November, quite appropriately the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and the national day of the unified Germany he tried to prevent from ever coming into existance.

You can get the DVD here: