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Dissident author Ma Jian: “We used all our strength to tell Hongkongers what loomed ahead”

The Chinese author and activist on living with hope, surveillance and repression.

I'm standin..



The Chinese author and activist on living with hope, surveillance and repression.

I'm standing in a mid-summer downpour in northwest London interpreting for a Chinese dissident novelist and the lorry driver charged with delivering a skip on to the Ma household driveway.

“Tell im Im worried Ill knock his fence over mate,” yells the bear-sized man from the trucks cabin.

The 65-year-old writer responds and I translate: “Ma Jian says not to worry, theres plenty of room and you need to make space for his wifes car.”

The driver nods and proceeds to manoeuvre the vehicle, eventually lowering the skip into roughly the correct place, leaving the garden fence intact.

Ma Jian gestures for me to follow him through the back garden. “Sorry about that. We moved in last year and are still trying to get the house in order.”

He leads me towards his self-designed shed or “book room”, as he prefers. “Come in, quickly. Honestly, Ill never get used to this weather.”

Twenty years of exile in the UK might not have endeared Ma Jian to the damp climate, nor prompted him to learn English with any fluency, yet there has been a measure of integration. He serves me coffee with milk and biscuits, not the green tea and sunflower seeds I might have expected from a man whose attention remains firmly fixed on the happenings in his homeland.

Ma quizzes me about the country hes been forbidden from visiting for the last seven years, asking about the wellbeing of mutual writer friends or if you still see Uighurs barbequing lamb on Beijing street corners.

“Im terribly worried about whats happening in Xinjiang,” he says of the crackdown in the predominantly Muslim region where up to a million Uighurs and other minorities have been interned in so-called re-education centres. “I visit Uighur friends in London. They cry but they dont dare call their family members for fear of making them a target.”

Ma is referring to Chinas amped-up cybersecurity, whereby officially sanctioned, heavily monitored social media apps enable the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to eavesdrop on the conversations of anyone they suspect of sedition.

Mass state surveillance is the core theme permeating China Dream, the novelists 2018 dystopia, what Ma describes as “a China-specific 1984 […] an Orwellian fable for the Internet age.”

The book tells the story of a corrupt party official, also surnamed Ma, who has been made the director of President Xi Jinpings China Dream Bureau. Though the bureau is work of fiction, it represents what Ma terms Xis “vague and nebulous” dream of national rejuvenation in a country where “tyrants have never limited themselves to controlling peoples lives: they have always sought to enter peoples brains and remould them from the inside.”

Lead protagonist Ma Daode is haunted by memories of the Cultural Revolution, himself drifting from youthful nightmares to the duplicity of his corrupt existence and the bizarre pursuit of a totalitarian mandate. Awakening from a horror-filled flashback, Ma Daode tries to focus on his arty duty: “We must conquer the fortress of dreams, eradicate all past dreams and promote the new national dream…”

Despite his gloomy forecast Ma Jian dreamily reminisces about better time when the fragile freedoms of the early reform-era prompted Chinese people to “imagine what China could become.”

Born in 1953 in Shandong Province, north China, Ma Jian's formal education was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution. Despite the tumult of the times, Ma showed early promise in the arts, first as painter and then as a photographer. In the days before market reforms, Ma was assigned to be a propaganda photographer at a petrochemical plant outside of Beijing, a position he held until his photographs won an award and he was transferred to Beijing. In the capital Ma fell in with an underground group of poets, philosophers, painters and the generally discontented. They held secret art exhibitions and met privately to discuss politics or literature, often at Ma's courtyard house.

“In China in the early 80s it felt like a desert where it suddenly rained," he says. "We learned about Faulkner and Hemingway, we read until sunrise, we read while we peed, we read in work. Three or four of us would share a book. It was a time of ideas and optimism.

“But there was a contradiction at the heart of the reforms. Capital and liberty are intrinsically linked. The UK is this way, the US is this way. But the Communist Party wanted to curtail freedom and develop capitalism at the same time. To do this they made some concessions to the West, giving China a veneer of openness so that money and machines would flow in.”

By the late 1980s this paradox was veering towards the bloody showdown that would play out in Tiananmen Square. Yet rabble-rousing Ma would not witness the fallout first hand. Already a known dissenter hed been arrested twice in 1983 for his artistic and intellectual activities as part of Deng Xiaopings Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign. This triggered three years of “long-haired travel” that would provide the inspiration for his award-winning travelogue Red Dust, which was eventually published in 2001.

“I wanted to leave Beijing for a break. I had a relative in Hong Kong and was able to get a single entrance pass from some connections Id made in the Beijing Public Security Bureau. I left in late 1986. But not long after I crossed the border friends would call me and tell me the police were looking for me.”

Ma was denounced as a “bourgeoisie liberal” after the publication of his novella Stick out Your Tongue in early 1987.

“While in Hong Kong I heard on the news copies of Peoples Literature journal with my story in it had to be destroyed.”

Unable to return to Mainland China, Ma was sustained by friends in Hong Kong, a city where he would remain for the next decade. This lesser-known chapter in his lifes journey had a galvanising effect on the authors outlook.

“People generally view Hong Kong as a commercial place. At the time I arrived it was a British colony. But for someone like me it was a free port. After arriving I had the greatest sense of freedom. Let me tell you, freedom is more important than anything else. Within half a year Id read every book Id never read in China. I learned of Taiwanese magazines and Hong Kong newspapers. I began to uncover so many things Id never known about. It was a special time.”

With the support of his literati circle, Ma eventually found humble dwellings on a small fishing island where he pinched fruit from the temple to feed himself.

“I wrote a great deal. I was very happy. I made great friends, all of them writers, artists and university teachers. We made political performance art together.”

As the spectre of the 1997 handover drew near, however, Ma grew worried, adding urgency to his activism. As he looks back on this time today he considers his worst nightmares prophetic given Hong Kongs current state of unrest.

“How could we not see how things would develop? We used all our strength to tell Hongkongers what loomed ahead. I envisioned a child born of a British mother and bestowed to Chinese cadre. Thats this generation. Theyve grown up between these two poles and now look at them. Do you think theyre happy? Do you think theyre fortunate? Hong Kong was long considered a politically apathetic place of business yet now it has become somewhere highly politicised. Nobody raises an old colonial flag unless they hate the alternative. This hatred is palpable, you can feel it.”

In the mid-90s Ma and friends published articles and conducted anti-China protests, even going so far as to encircle the LegCo building that has been the focal point of soRead More – Source

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Burkina Faso military says it has seized power



The military in Burkina Faso says it has seized power and overthrown President Roch Kaboré.

The announcement was made on state television by an army officer, who cited the deteriorating security situation for the military takeover.

Mr Kaboré had faced growing discontent over his failure to stem an Islamist insurgency.

His whereabouts are unclear, but the officer said that all those detained were in a secure location.

The coup comes a day after troops seized barracks, and gunshots were heard in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Earlier, the ruling People’s Movement for Progress (PMP) party said that both Mr Kaboré and a government minister had survived an assassination attempt.

On Sunday, mutinying troops demanded the sacking of military chiefs and more resources to fight militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda.

The army statement said Mr Kaboré had failed to unite the nation and to deal effectively with the security crisis which “threatens the very foundations of our nation”.

The statement was issued in the name of a group not heard of previously, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration or MPSR, its French acronym.

Although read out by another officer, the statement was signed by Lt-Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who is believed to be the coup leader and a senior commander with years of experience fighting the Islamist militants.

The statement said that parliament and the government had been dissolved, and the constitution suspended, but promised a “return to constitutional order” within a “reasonable time”.

The military also announced the closure of Burkina Faso’s borders.

UN chief António Guterres condemned the coup and called on the military to “ensure the protection and the physical integrity” of Mr Kaboré.

The African Union and regional bloc, Ecowas, have also condemned the forceful takeover of power, with Ecowas saying it holds the soldiers responsible for the deposed president’s well-being.

Earlier, the news of his detention was received with cheers and celebrations in Ouagadougou, reports the BBC’s senior Africa correspondent Anne Soy.

Earlier video footage from the capital appeared to show armoured vehicles – reportedly used by the presidency – peppered with bullet holes and abandoned in the street.

Mobile internet services have been disrupted, though fixed-line internet and domestic wi-fi are working.

Mr Kaboré has not been seen in public since the crisis began, but two posts appeared on his Twitter account before the officer announced he had been toppled.

The later one called on those who had taken up arms to lay them down “in the higher interest of the nation”. Earlier, Mr Kaboré congratulated the national football team on their win in an Africa Cup of Nations match.

It is unclear who posted the tweets.

Some security sources say the president and other government ministers are being held at the Sangoulé Lamizana barracks in the capital.

On Sunday, hundreds of people came out in support of the soldiers and some of them set fire to the ruling party’s headquarters.

The coup comes a week after 11 soldiers were arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mr Kaboré.

But discontent has been growing in Burkina Faso over the government’s failure to defeat an Islamist insurgency in the country since 2015.

That escalated in November, when 53 people, mainly members of the security forces, were killed by suspected jihadists. And on Saturday, a banned rally to protest against the government’s perceived failure led to dozens of arrests.

Mutinying soldiers made several demands, including: the removal of the army’s chief of staff and the head of the intelligence service; more troops to be deployed to the front line; and better conditions for the wounded and soldiers’ families.

Similar troubles in neighbouring Mali led to a military coup in May 2021 – one that was broadly welcomed by the public.

Burkina Faso is now the third West African country to witness a military takeover in recent years. Guinea and Mali have had sanctions imposed on them by Ecowas to press them to return to constitutional order.


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India Covid: Booster shots start for priority groups as cases surge



India has begun giving booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to priority groups amid a surge in infections.

Health and frontline workers and people above 60 years old with comorbidities are currently eligible to take the jab.

The drive began as India battles a spike in Covid cases fuelled by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Early studies from other countries have suggested that a booster vaccine may provide more protection against Omicron.

The highly transmissive Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa in November.

Since then, several countries have expanded their booster programmes or shortened the gap between jabs to shore up protection against the variant.

In India, the booster shot – dubbed a “precaution dose” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – will be the same vaccine that was given to a person for their first and second doses.

India has been mainly administering two locally-manufactured vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, since its vaccination drive began in January 2021.

On Sunday, India reported more than 179,000 new infections for the past 24 hours, driven by a steep rise in cases in big cities such as the national capital Delhi and financial centre Mumbai.

On the same day, Mr Modi chaired a review meeting with top officials, and asked for “technical support” to be provided to states reporting more cases.

The government had begun administering vaccines to 15-18-year-olds last week – it has said that 31% of Indians in this age group have been given the first dose so far.

More than 91% adults have been partially vaccinated so far, while 66% have received both doses.

But experts say that still leaves millions of unvaccinated people – many with underlying health problems that could increase the severity of the infection – at risk.

The spread of Omicron has also increased worries – India has confirmed a total of 4,003 cases of Omicron, with Maharashtra state reporting the highest (1,126), followed by Rajasthan (529) and Delhi (513).

The country has so far recorded more than 35 million Covid cases and about 483,000 deaths from the virus.

Last year, a devastating second wave overwhelmed the country’s health system, leading to a shortage in oxygen, hospital beds and critical drugs.


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Emily in Paris Fans Think Kim Cattrall Will Make an Appearance in Season 3



instyle– Fans are speculating a major pop-culture crossover in season 3 of Emily in Paris. After Kim Cattrall infamously turned down the chance to revive her Sex and the City character, Samantha Jones, for the rebootfans couldn’t help but wonder if Jones could make an appearance in the next season of the cult-favorite Netflix show.

If you’re watching And Just Like That … (and even if you’re not), you know that Cattrall’s character is supposedly off working her public relationships magic in London, England, just a quick trip from Emily (Lily Collins) and her booming marketing firm, Savoir.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Emily in Paris Season 2

Fans noticed major parallels between the characters, from their location to their sex positivity to their career in communications. Plus, both series were created by big-time Hollywood producer Darren Star — with SATC costume designer Patricia Field now responsible for Emily’s kitschy, Parisian looks — making a collab that much more believable.

One Twitter user wrote, “Current theory: Samantha has supposedly moved overseas, hence her lack of presence in the new SATC TV series. Then she shows up by total surprise in a crossover episode of EMILY IN PARIS. I would watch Samantha try to tolerate Emily, 100 percent.”

Collins fueled the flames by teasing a possible season 3. The actress posted photographs from her Vogue Hong Kong cover featuring a jet-black shag haircut and dark makeup writing, “Season 3 pivot?? Who’s with me? …” Collins used the same caption when reposting a fan’s Tweet with the magazine images that read, “Emily in Berlin.”

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