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The Global Handshake

I just got an email from Paul Hilder of about a Global Handshake for the China Olympics:

As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world looks on with mixed emotions. It’s a moment which should bring us closer together, and Chinese citizens deserve their excitement — but the Chinese government still hasn’t opened meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or changed its stance on Burma, Darfur and other pressing issues.

Even worse, extremists in China are promoting the view that Olympic activism like ours is anti-Chinese. We can’t stay silent, but we also can’t let our efforts be abused to divide people. So what can we do? The answer comes from the Dalai Lama himself, in an unambiguous gesture of Olympic spirit and friendship: a handshake.

It began in London, passed hand to hand by thousands of us — now the handshake has gone online, and is criss-crossing the globe on its way to Beijing. All of us can join, Chinese and non-Chinese, and it comes with a promise: to hold ALL our governments accountable where they fall short, in Tibet, Iraq, Burma or beyond. We’ll deliver our message in a bold media campaign in Hong Kong and around the world: Click below to see how the Olympic handshake started, sign up to join in, and watch it circle the globe —

The handshake idea is nice (with all of the banality of that word fully intended), but let’s not forget to extend the dialogue to the Uighurs or with Taiwan.  Ok, I concede, the “round-the-world” map animation showing virtual handshakes is pretty rad, but I digress.

There’s not a lot of hope for the kind of openness that allows for fruitful dialogue on the Chinese side when they beat up and harass foreign journalists trying to cover the attack in Kashgar.  Then there is the systematic internet censorship.  The guarantee of press freedoms for foreign journalists was part of the contract that the Chinese government agreed to in order to host the Games.  The Chinese government isn’t living up to their side of the bargain.

And those missiles aimed at Taiwan aren’t too friendly or conducive to dialogue either, are they?  Or how about that attempted Chinese weapon shipment to Zimbabwe?  Not very peaceful either.

And then there are those Beijingers who were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from their homes without proper compensation to make way for the Olympics.  And the peaceful Chinese civil society activists (and regular residents of Beijing) who are living under lockdown as a result of the games.  Their grievances can hardly be considered anti-Chinese; since they ARE Chinese.  Same goes for the repression of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups.

Ok, so I’ve given a handshake for peace, but what is the Chinese government going to give its own citizens and the international community in return?  Do Chinese leaders and hardline nationalists even want a handshake?  Or do they want the world to kowtow in reverence and awe at the “new” China’s coming-out party?  As much as we all wished that the Olympics were about sports and international goodwill, the truth is, they are also about state-sponsored political propaganda (and uncomfortable displays of nationalism if you ask me) as well as corporate bottom lines.

Blog Fun Links Sweden Writing

White people like Sweden and Sweden likes White People

Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper, came out with an article yesterday about the internet phenomenon (and now book) Stuff White People Like.  It’s got some great commentary and a precious interview with the SWPL author Christian Lander.  Here is the original article (in Swedish) My rough translation below:

Photo caption: Christian Lander makes fun of white people’s desire to recycle, eat healthy, like “indie” and to do things outdoors.

The White Will to be Unique

The well-educated, liberal and self-righteous upper-middleclass are the subject of ridicule in the successful blog “Stuff White People Like,” which is also now in book form.  Author Christian Lander explains for DN (Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper) why this group is so fun to make fun of.

People seem to have always liked to put each over into categories.  “Us and them,” is probably the most basic of these.  If we break things down in more detail, not only are there groupings based on socio-economic class (upper class, working class, etc.) but also groupings based on appearance and interests (stekare [preppies], Emo, kulturtante [women of a certain age who like the theatre and culture], hipsters).  Charles Dickens did just this in 1836, when he published a collection of essays under the title, Sketches by Boz.”  The book begins with a rather dry and ironic description of a number of characters in Victorian London.

One-hundred and seventy-two years later, Christian Lander started his blog, “Stuff White People Like,” mostly as a joke after a discussion about how he would like more white people to watch the TV show “The Wire.”  On the 18th of January this year, he posted the first entry, “Coffee.”  After six weeks, the visits counter had reached 300,000 visitors a day, and was up to a million earlier this summer.  The latest entry on the list was number 106, and is about Facebook.

“The growing popularity of the blog was totally viral,” explains Christian Lander by telephone from Los Angeles.  “People told their friends about it, posted links on their own sites, and spread the word more widely.  If I had understood the fully [how big it would become] I would have sold my work for a lot of money to a marketing company, but unfortunately I didn’t do that.”

The white people that Lander caricaturizes belong to a well-educated American upper-middle class.  They lean towards the left and concern themselves with the environment, culture and the world around them.

“One thing that sets them apart the most is perhaps organic food.  They are out for recognition that what they are doing is right.  There is definitely a certain measure of self-hate there; as if they have to undo all of the evil that white people have done historically.  But at the same time, they also look down on other people who don’t do as much good as they do.”

The blog’s popularity led to publisher taking notice, and last spring Lander landed himself a contract that allowed him to quit his job as a “kind of copywriter.”  For the last few weeks, the book version has been number 17 on the American bestsellers list.

Christian Lander is himself guilty of many of the descriptions in the book, which he believes to be one of the reasons for his success.  He is obviously white, with an unfinished doctorate in literature (#81) and has studied abroad (#72), has a beard (#95), glasses (#140), and a nice bicycle (#61).

“I know that I am pretentious and silly with a lot of those things, but I can’t help it.  I am in fact looking out for myself for the most part.  If I can’t make fun of myself, then it wouldn’t have been all that funny.”

Lander’s book is an heir both to Dickens and to earlier classics in the genre.  Lisa Birnbach’s “The Official Preppy Handbook” in 1980 dealt with the dresscodes, drinking habits and mating rituals of the American northeastern upperclass.  Three years later, literature professor Paul Fussel put out “Class. A Guide Through the American Status System,” which investigates, among other things, why the upperclasses prefer small balls and the lowerclasses big ones.

In recent years, we have been able to read the same kind of comic anthropology applied to hipsters in “The Hipster Handbook,” and the filthy rich in “The Filthy Rich Handbook.”  And now we can read about the group Lander caricaturizes with the subtitle, “The unique taste of millions.”  For one example of this, one only need to go to the side, which is search function linked to the popular internet service Mutape, where users upload songs to their own “personal” mixtapes.  One quickly realizes that there are extremely few users that get even close to being original.

“Yup, that’s a good example,” says Christian Lander

“The funny things is that the people I talk about think that they belong to a awfully special minority.  They forget in fact that there are actually millions of people out there that also have that ‘alternative taste,’like ‘indie,’ read books and watch movies.”

You’ve studied in Copenhagen.  Do you have anything in particular to say about Scandinavian white people?

“They are what all American white people aspire to be.  You are fantastically socially progressive, you are physically fit, you speak several languages.  Yes, you are the ideal.”

But is the book meant to be a guide for becoming a white person?

“No, no, no, it is a guide for how to take advantage of white people.  What you want to do is to use their weakness to get them to do favors for you.”

What can one get them to do then?

“You can get them to paint your house, give you a lift to the airport, cook you dinner.”

And if they cook dinner for you, will that be a good dinner?

“Absolutely.  As long as they stay away from trying to do your national cuisine.  In that case, there is a risk that they will fuck it all up.”

By Agnes af Geijerstam

Translation by Lee-Sean