Newspapers and journals, political pundits and economists, textbooks and in short everyone who wants to appear informed about China have long since raised the refrain that China's modernization makes the country ever more familiar to Western eyes. This view is correct enough, even if it's obvious, but there are a few areas in which it is the West that lags behind. When the Twelve Tables were first being scratched out in Italy, the Chinese states had already devised a bureaucratic system to make any libertarian weep.
The well-developed offspring of this system was on display on Monday, when I visited the 中华人民共合国驻纽约总领事馆 (at left) to arrange for my visa for this summer. I had a few fairly impressive-looking letters of invitation, and I had taken care to write "耶鲁大学" in large, legible characters anywhere I could find an excuse to put it on the application. The clerk at the visa desk was unwilling to speak Chinese, for some reason, and quite unable to speak English, but if several hours of waiting and copying out forms in an overcrowded and under-air-conditioned room can be considered good fortune, I had the good fortune to get a Chinese visa. Some of my friends were not so lucky; this year it's especially hard to get one.
The consulate, at 42nd and 12th, doesn't draw much attention to itself--there's only a small sign next to the door, and no Chinese flags or any other insignia. I found the building by the line forming outside the door, already fairly long when I showed up an hour and a half before opening. Falun Gong was out in force, with banners informing the gathering crowd that "Falun Dafa is Good" and calling for legal action against Jiang Zemin and a few other characters. Their protest was a quiet one: a group of a dozen or so mostly elderly Chinese meditated and performed what seemed to be a sort of simplified Tai-Ch`i, while some Chinese music played almost inaudibly. I managed to get a picture of this protest on my cell phone, as well as of the Tibetan protest I encountered when I returned to pick up my visa after grabbing lunch with my brother uptown.
Unlike the Falun Gong practitioners, the Tibetans (and the one or two white persons protesting with them) were accompanied by policemen. Most of them carried Tibetan flags or placards, which they waved as they shouted slogans in Tibetan, or in what I think was Tibetan. I couldn't tell if they were agitating for Tibet's independence or merely protesting China's actions there. The protest seemed well-organized, and had drawn many more people than Falun Gong's protest had, but it only passed by the consulate briefly once, at least as far as I saw. In any event, this protest, like the other one, drew no response from the consulate or from the many Chinese nationals waiting in line outside.
After I returned to New Haven, several interesting things happened, but I don't have time now to post on the Chamber of Secrets and the dangerous and quite illegal Rooftop Romp.