Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lacking Common Sense when the Wind Blows

Tracking Map from Weather Underground
Having been roundly excoriated by Taiwan’s media for attending a wedding reception on the eve of Typhoon Morakot over two years ago, Ma Ying-jeou should have learned a bit about what is expected of a leader when disaster strikes. Yes, he should have learned… but then again, this is Ma Ying-jeou after all. 

This glibly dismissive explanation (Ma doesn’t learn because he is Ma) may be unappealing to some readers. But as the gaffes of gaffe-prone leaders pile up, one tends to stop wondering why they can't seem to keep their hands out of the fire. If he wasn't capable of learning from his Panglossian Provence comment three weeks ago, for example, why should we expect him to have learned from his Morakot experience by the eve of Typhoon Nanmadol’s landfall in southern Taiwan? 

The new gaffe to which I am referring is Ma’s decision to call a press conference on the afternoon of August 28 (TVBS article in Chinese, Taipei Times coverage in English) to roundly criticize the rejection of the “1992 Consensus” by Tsai Ying-wen, his opponent in the upcoming presidential election. The consensus, supposedly agreed to by representatives of the PRC and the ROC in 1992, claims that both governments believe that there is only one China and that both sides have their own interpretation of what that China is. Despite the fact that former KMT legislator Su Chi says he made up the term in 2000, that nobody outside of the KMT was involved in its formulation, and that no Chinese leader has ever really endorsed the “different interpretations” of the "one China, different interpretations" idea, the so-called consensus continues to be the basis of the KMTs cross-strait policymaking.

As an election tactic, Ma’s criticism of the cross-strait relations plank of Tsai’s platform makes sense. The Chinese have already firmly rejected anything but the “92 Consensus” as a basis for cross-strait relations. Therefore, Ma can legitimately claim that a "President Tsai" would not make any more headway with Beijing than he has

On the other hand, Ma’s choice of the eve of a typhoon landfall to go on the attack is really astonishing, mainly because it undermines the force of his argument by opening him to allegations of insensitivity. As DPP Spokesman Chuang Rui-hsiung responded to Ma’s press conference in a statement (see the TVBS article above):
To convene a press conference at this critical moment to talk of highly ideological matters[!] We can’t help but ask whether strong wind and rain aren’t [more important than] the 92 Consensus?
Even more astonishing is the fact that Ma apparently knew he should stay away from campaigning on this day. As the TVBS piece notes, he had already canceled his other campaign events. The press conference was a hasty afternoon affair, one that probably did not sit very well in the minds of those for whom the memory of Morakot was fresh. 

Interestingly enough, TVBS, which typically supports pan-Blue politicians, seemingly strayed into the realm of sarcasm when reporting on the press conference. Although the piece avoids direct criticism, the headline says “Responding to the 92 Consensus on a Typhoon Day! (exclamation mark included). Additionally, the article reminds us twice that it is a typhoon day, while the first paragraph says Ma “persisted” in calling a press conference despite his other event cancellations, and the last paragraph seemingly chortles, “In the afternoon he cannot resist personally rising to the line of fire. Even the arrival of the fierce Typhoon Nanmadol can’t stay his determination to defend the 92 Consensus.” I doubt that this was the type of coverage Ma was hoping for. 

Ma’s choice of this moment to attack Tsai was all the more bizarre since the typhoon in question was projected to affect mainly DPP-voting southwestern Taiwan, which, incidentally, was hit hard by Morakot. Faced with what could be a close election, the KMT has been trying to increase its support in that part of the country. This typhoon should present Ma with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that he cares about the concerns of southern voters. If Nanmadol causes significant damage and the government mounts an effective response, he might still have that opportunity. However, thanks to Ma's press conference, if the damage is minimal, the South will be left with the image of an uncaring leader who couldn’t resist the urge to take up electioneering in their hour of need.

National leaders are valued for their ability to put the good of the country above their own needs. Yet, strangely enough, it seems that this realization has not yet sunk in for Ma.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Handicapped Reporting: Are Foreign Enterprises any Less Accessible than Chinese Ones?

Wheelchair-bound Confucius with His Students
I’m certainly no fan of KFC and McDonalds. Their high-fat, high-sodium menus, whether consumed by Americans or Chinese, take years off of lives as they add inches to waistlines. However, while I don't approve of their food offerings, I am not above defending the Colonel and the Golden Arches from unfair criticism.

One such unmerited attack was featured in the August 18 edition of Caijing. Although I have a great deal of respect for Caijing – a paper that has built a reputation for pushing the limits of investigative reporting within China – I question the paper’s reporting of the findings of a study by the Beijing Yineng Yixing Handicapped Research Institute in addition to the nature of the study itself. (Note: I could not find an original copy of the institute’s report online, therefore, my interpretation of that report might be slightly colored by Caijing’s reporting.)

According to the study, KFC and McDonalds, both of which are required to provide handicapped-accessible facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, are guilty of failing to respect the standards of Chinese laws for the accommodation of handicapped people. Of the 128 stores located in Beijing, over 90 percent have restrictions for the handicapped.

What sort of restrictions? Only 29 stores have ramps that allow wheelchairs to enter, while only 16 stores have ramps with platforms at the top that are roomy enough to allow a wheelchair-bound person to operate the door without backing onto the ramp. Additionally, almost half of the stores have thresholds that are over 1.9 centimeters high, making wheelchair access difficult. Furthermore, only 13 of the stores are one-story facilities. Of those that are not one-story, only 27 offer service on the ground level, and only six have elevators. These elevators either lack braille writing or they feature buttons that are too high for people in wheelchairs to reach.

Restrooms in the stores are also hard for handicapped people to use. In 80 stores, the path to the restroom is not handicapped-accessible, while the restrooms themselves have restrictions in 103 stores. The dining areas are also problematic. While most stores have tables that are high enough for wheelchairs, many of the tables to not have enough space for the knees.

These findings sound pretty damning. One might think that KFC and McDonalds are really dropping the ball in China, especially after reading Caijing’s introduction to the study at the top of the piece:

Although, in the US, the two big fast food chains must strictly follow laws requiring the provision of handicapped-accessible facilities, the environment for the handicapped that they provide to Chinese customers is a mess.
Caijing frankly tells us that the two chains treat American consumers and Chinese consumers differently – a claim that fits nicely into local stereotypes of multinationals as foreign predators seeking only profit as they exploit the Chinese masses.

This presentation is simply unfair. Anyone who is handicapped, or has had experience living or working with the handicapped, and has spent some time in China can recognize what an inhospitable environment the country as a whole presents to those with disabilities. Even Beijing, which hosted the Paralympics in 2008, is still a difficult place for the handicapped to navigate. This piece from the Washington Post, composed after the Paralympics prompted improvements to facilities in the capital, explains some of the problems that remain.

One of the main conclusions of the WaPo article is that enforcement of Chinese laws that protect the handicapped is spotty, while public awareness of the needs of handicapped people is low. Meanwhile, facilities are still lacking. For example, one blind interviewee says that sidewalks with raised tiles that have been installed throughout Beijing in order to guide the blind are of little use to him. As someone who has seen such tiles laid in irregular or broken formations in cities throughout China, I can personally understand his point.

Even if laws protecting the handicapped were strictly enforced, they might not be comprehensive. For example, the WaPo article also notes that, as of 2008, only six people and an arts association owned guide dogs in the whole country since no law allowed guide dogs to enter public places. In light of such facts, it is hard to imagine that the Beijing Yineng Yixing Handicapped Research Institute is justified in singling out two foreign-owned fast food chains for not installing braille writing in elevators, among other sins. Clearly the problem is China-wide and not limited to a few nefarious foreign enterprises.

In fairness, the institute does seem to understand the national nature of the problem. According to Caijing, the introduction of the institute’s report claims that KFC and McDonalds were chosen precisely because they are multinationals that strictly follow laws that require handicapped-accessibility in their home countries. The institute claims that these restaurants' ability to get away with different behavior in China demonstrates the failings of enforcement of Chinese laws for the handicapped. In other words, the institute doesn’t seem to place all of the blame on the shoulders of the two fast food chains.

However, I still see very little utility in singling out these two enterprises. KFC and McDonalds may be multinationals with headquarters in the US, but the store managers and staff members in China are local. Even the senior managers for China operations of the two chains are not American. KFC’s mother company, Yum brands, recruited a management team from Taiwan at the start of KFC’s entry into China in order to ensure that the company would be guided by those who were familiar with the Chinese cultural milieu. As for McDonalds, the current chief of its China operations is from Singapore. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the corporate culture of either company’s Asian operations would be more inclined to be handicapped friendly than that of any other Asian multinational, from China, Taiwan, Singapore or elsewhere.

The Beijing Yineng Yixing Handicapped Research Institute could have made its point just as easily by analyzing a cross section of enterprises, both foreign-owned and domestic, in China. And, it would have made its point without seeming to play to local stereotypes of foreign exploitation. As for Caijing, the paper might have recognized this failing from the start and acknowledged the flaws in the institute’s methodology. China’s handicapped deserve better than biased and limited reporting of the troubles they face.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ma Channels His Inner Pangloss

"I have seen the worst," Candide replied. "But a wise man, who since has had the misfortune to be hanged, taught me that all is marvelously well; these are but the shadows on a beautiful picture." – Voltaire, Candide

The “wise man” in question is Dr. Pangloss, the fictional philosopher who has had the greatest effect on the hero of the eponymous Candide. Armed with Pangloss’ assertion that “All is for the best in the best of all worlds”, the unfortunate young man, with his head held high, braves persecution by the Inquisition, earthquakes, slavery and more while seeing his friends touched by rape, murder, gambling, mutilation, syphilis, and, in the case of his beloved Dr. Pangloss, hanging. After all, how could any of these troubles really be bad if they happen in our world - the world our God has created for us?

Of course, the character of Pangloss is Voltaire’s creation - the ideal vessel for ridiculing the optimism of German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). Leibniz believed that our universe was the best one that God could have created because God could not create a universe that is less than perfect. He IS the Supreme Being indeed!

We shouldn’t misinterpret Voltaire’s ridicule. The Frenchman is merely criticizing excessive optimism, not all optimism. However, this distinction raises an important question: Under what situations does one's optimism (or pessimism, or any other sentiment) become excessive? Since, depending on the situation, everyone has a different opinion, there is no correct answer. A good rule of thumb: When in doubt about the excessiveness of your emotional expression, err on the side of caution. If you fear that telling the man who has lost his whole family that "every dark cloud has a silver lining" might not be appreciated, just don't go there.

Politicians who owe their careers to the votes of the masses, and who therefore know how to play a crowd, should know this better than anyone. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou should be no exception. Alas, Ma is gaffe-prone. During an August 7 visit  to Majia Township, a village reconstructed following the catastrophic destruction of Typhoon Morakot, he said:

Last night was cool. I didn’t need to cover up. I didn’t feel hot at all. I was very comfortable. It was also very peaceful. I very rarely have this experience. It was like the feeling of being in Provence.
In this election year, Ma’s detractors were quick to jump on this statement as evidence that Ma was out of touch. "How could he make light of such a bad situation?" they wondered.

Not everyone shared this concern, as a news report about the controversy surrounding his Provence statement shows. Neither of the interviewed villagers in the report seems outraged by Ma’s comment. The first doesn’t really know what Provence is like. The second gives the government mixed marks on reconstruction, claiming that the reconstruction itself is ok but wishing the government would provide work opportunities. This is not explosive stuff. Furthermore, we might forgive Ma by imagining that he was perhaps merely commenting on the natural surroundings. The controversy sounds more like a storm in a teacup rather than an indicator of Ma's poorly placed optimism.

So it is all the more mystifying that, having been slightly burned by his word choice last week, Ma chose to put his hand back in the fire on August 15 by likening another rebuilt village to Peach Blossom Spring, a pastoral utopia that is described in a fifth-century fable by the Han poet Tao Qian.

Now, I don’t think that Ma, channeling some inner Pangloss, really believes that the rebuilt villages are like Provence and Peach Blossom Spring. Despite criticism from the opposition, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in this regard. I think it is more likely that Ma feels compelled to say something positive to the media about his experiences in the villages, just like any politician in his situation would, but lacks the rhetorical finesse to import the expected touch of gravity into his sound bites.

I am more troubled by what this double gaffe says about the president’s ability to learn from his mistakes. After all, what makes Pangloss (and, by extension, Candide) so ridiculous is not his initial optimism but his incapability to adjust his worldview, and the naive behavior that results from this worldview, in the face of overwhelming evidence that his optimism is excessive. If invoking picturesque Provence earns you jeers of ridicule, why switch to the utopian Peach Blossom Spring? Why not show you identify with your audience instead by adjusting your rhetoric with care?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Incredible Disappearing Corruption Case of Lee Teng-hui

It has now been almost a month and a half since former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui was indicted for embezzling NT$238 million from a secret National Security Bureau account during his time in office (1988-2000). In the intervening period, judges have been chosen to hear the case, but the hearing itself has not yet begun. The flurry of media attention that followed the June 30 indictment has died down. In fact, the Lee case has pretty much dropped out of the papers entirely, although this situation will undoubtedly change once the hearing begins.

The media's sudden lack of interest would not be astonishing if we didn't have another corruption indictment of a former president to compare the Lee case to. Of course, I am referring to the corruption indictment of Chen Shui-bian and the subsequent media pandemonium.

The difference is really remarkable, and easily observable for those who wish to spend a few minutes of their time checking out the archives of English and Chinese language online dailies in Taiwan. I did a quick search myself of the archives of the China Post, the Taipei Times, the United Daily, and the Liberty Times.

Before I go further, I must offer some disclaimers. My search was cursory and not at all scientific. But I will explain my "method" anyway so that those who wish to replicate this mini experiment can do so. 

Operating under the assumption that the media would be very interested in any case in the period immediately following the indictment, I specifically excluded the two weeks following Lee's indictment and Chen's formal indictment from consideration. After all, I was interested in comparing the durability of the media's coverage of the two cases, not the degree of its immediate coverage. More specifically, I searched for all news articles bearing the name “Lee Teng-hui” in a period beginning two weeks after the June 30 indictment and ending on August 11. I did the same for Chen, searching for all news articles bearing the name “Chen Shui-bian” starting two weeks after his December 12, 2008 formal indictment and ending on January 24, 2009. I then marked down the number of articles that seemed to focus exclusively on the corruption cases of the former presidents and their confidants.

This method of searching was problematic for several reasons. First, the Chen corruption saga began long before his first formal indictment. The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office declared him a defendant immediately after he stepped down as President in May of 2008, and by the time of the formal indictment, the Chen affair had already become a tabloid-style drama. Allegations against Lee have never attracted this type of attention. Nevertheless, the Lee case is a reheated and repackaged controversy. According to a spokesperson of the Special Investigation Panel of the Supreme Prosecutor's Office, Chen Shui-bian accused Lee of money laundering in the days following Chen's indictment. The SIP claimed it would investigate Lee as a result. Additionally, Wellington Koo, Lee’s lawyer, has indicated that, in his opinion, the prosecution's current allegations against Lee contain no new evidence from the 2004 trial of Hsu Ping-chiang, the former Major General and Director of the NSB Accounting Office. That trial resulted in Hsu's acquittal. This digression therefore shows that my choice of dates was, to a large degree, arbitrary. Absent a clear "starting date" for either controversy, I chose the periods following the two formal indictments.

There is also the possibility that I overlooked some Chinese-language stories about the cases. After all, my Chinese reading skills are not perfect, and I was scanning headlines and summaries rapidly. A third problem was the necessity to make arbitrary decisions at times as to whether an article was really about a trial or whether the article simply referred to the trial in passing. For example, I tried not to count articles that were primarily general criticisms of Ma or the KMT and that happened to briefly mention one of the trials as a supporting detail. Finally, I did not separate editorials out from harder news stories. Therefore, please look at the large picture behind the below numbers as opposed to taking the numbers as exact. You might find different specific numbers depending on how you search, although you will surely see the pattern to which I am referring.

With these disclaimers out of the way, I'll note that what I found corresponded to my initial suspicions. Chen Shui-bian’s indictment was a media circus, while media coverage of the Lee event has been deafening by its relative silence.

For the Chen period in question, the China Post published over 25 case-related articles. For the corresponding Lee period, the China Post published none.

For the Chen period in question, the Taipei Times published about 25 case-related stories. For the Lee period, the Taipei Times published five. With the exception of two articles covering the Open Letter to Ma that foreign academics composed to protest the Lee indictment, the articles were all reactive commentaries to old news as opposed to being based on new information.

For the Chen period in question, the United Daily published about 15 case-related stories, several of which covered Chen’s 2008 accusations against Lee. My eyes may have been deceiving me by this point. I was tired of searching (the United Daily search was my last search). I question my eyes only because I find it hard to believe that a Chinese-language paper would publish fewer pieces about the indictment than an English-language paper that targets a foreign audience (such as the China Post). Yet the Chen-Lee discrepancy still held true. For the Lee period, the United Daily published four or five case-related stories only.

Finally, for the Chen period in question, the Liberty Times published far more case-related stories than I was willing to count. Actually, I stopped counting at 33, well before the end of the period. On the other hand, for the Lee period, the Liberty Times published about three pieces, all of them  reacting to old news.

According to the media outlets' ideologies, there seemed to be differences in the types of stories published. The Blue papers seemed to focus more on releasing new tawdry details of the cases, while the Green papers seemed to be more reactive. This might account for the relatively large number of Chen stories in the Liberty Times. Contributors to the Green paper were not only covering the revelations of the Chen and Lee cases, they were also covering what they felt the cases said about Taiwan’s judiciary, about the KMT, and about the Ma administration.

Nevertheless, the overall difference in the quantity of post-indictment Chen articles and post-indictment Lee articles is striking. Unlike the Chen case two weeks after that indictment, the Lee case has, for now, dropped off the map. There are certainly several logical explanations. 

It is possible that the media simply had more to talk about in the case of Chen. Most of the Chen family was on trial in that case as well as several close associates of the president, presenting more targets for the media. Remember all of the stories about Chen Chi-chung, Huang Jui-ching and various Chen confidants? On the contrary, the Lee case has only two defendants: Lee and his aide, Liu Tai-ying.
It is also possible that the evidence against Lee is less convincing or less vulnerable to spin by various parties that might seek to attempt such spin. If Wellington Koo is correct, and Lee’s case really is a mere rehashing of old evidence, then there may be fewer saucy details for case insiders to leak to the media.

There is also the matter of the above-mentioned tabloid-style treatment of the Chen case. Two years ago, media organs might have simply been operating under the assumption that Chen news would sell papers, and then created news accordingly. 

Of course, cynical minds might think of a fourth possibility. If the Lee indictment really was politically motivated, those who pushed for his indictment may have since realized that packaging this indictment in a manner that favors their cause may not be easy. Since Lee was indicted over a decade after stepping down from the presidency and over two years after being allegedly ratted out by Chen, the current charges, introduced just seven months before Taiwan's upcoming presidential election, look a bit suspicious. Therefore, those who pushed for his indictment (I will refrain from speculation as to who "those" could be) may be less inclined to keep the media involved in the Lee case than they were in piquing the media's interest in the Chen case. 

I could be completely wrong on all accounts. I do welcome your speculation. What really accounts for the astonishing difference in media treatment of Chen and Lee?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Forbidden City Cover-Up: The Significance of "Broken Porcelain Gate"

This mallow looks much better than the bowl
The Wenzhou rail crash of July 23 has laid bare the deficit of trust that exists between Chinese people and authority figures within the country. Media attention to that accident has been intense – so intense, in fact, that other significant news items have been given less attention than they should have received. The case of “Broken Porcelain Gate” (think Watergate) is one of those stories.

Unless you are an antiquities enthusiast (and slightly insensitive towards human life), Broken Porcelain Gate is not as tragic as the crash near Wenzhou. Nobody died, and, instead of broken bodies, the main victim was a priceless Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) celadon dish from the famous Ge Kilns in Zhejiang. Perhaps because the destruction of a relatively unknown (from the perspective of Western audiences) cultural relic does not resonate as much as a large scale loss of life does, discussion of this issue outside of China has been slight. The most extensive English-language coverage has actually appeared in English editions of Chinese media sites, such as this one. Chinese-language news sites and blogs have been far more adventurous with their coverage.

It seems that, on July 4, a worker at Beijing’s Forbidden City museum was using a piece of equipment to examine the first-class historical relic, formally known as a “Ge Kiln Celadon Plate with Mouth in the Shape of a Mallow Petal” (哥窯青釉葵瓣口盤). The machine had a platform on which the dish could be set. With the platform adjusted to the proper height, the dish could be safely examined by the machine. Unfortunately, the museum employee misjudged the platform measurements, and the dish rose too far, thereby smashing the plate into six pieces. The Forbidden City kept the matter quiet until 26 days after the incident, when a blogger named Longcan blew the whistle.

The revelation that the museum kept the damage a secret for almost a month was bad enough. The museum appeared to care more about covering its tracks than about facilitating an open investigation. Yet Broken Porcelain Gate was about to get a whole lot worse.

On August 1, the Deputy Museum Curator Chen Lihua gave a television interview in which photos of the broken plate were revealed to the public for the first time. Following the interview, Chen’s story immediately came under attack due to the apparent discrepancy in appearance between the artifact in the released images and that in a set of images purporting to show a mallow petal mouth plate released previously by the Forbidden City. The two sets of images showed plates that differed in color and in pattern. Bloggers feared that the smashed plate had actually been a fake, thereby implicating the museum in both a failure to be transparent and in counterfeiting.

The museum’s response to the latter claim was actually quite logical:

對此,記者了解到,此前媒體所展示的葵瓣口盤實乃故宮另一件哥窯瓷盤,名稱與實際損毀的文物相同,但屬於兩個編號。受損瓷盤編號屬於新字號項下,乃 1949年以后收錄的文物,從南京出土。最初圖片所示瓷盤編號屬於故字號項下,乃1949年前就有的故宮舊藏,目前陳列在故宮珍寶館。

Regarding this, the journalist understood that the Plate with Mouth in the Shape of a Mallow Petal that the media had previously displayed was another Ge Kiln porcelain plate with the same name as the plate that was really broken. However, the two plates had different registration numbers. The plate that was damaged was listed under the new lettering. It was recorded after 1949 and was excavated in Nanjing. The porcelain plate in the earlier photo was of the old lettering. It was part of the museum collection before 1949. It is now displayed in the Forbidden City treasure room.
In fact, it seems that many Ge Kiln plates bear the name of Plate with Mouth in the Shape of a Mallow Petal. Since the plates were not machine made, no two plates are alike. Therefore, it makes sense that the plate photos would differ.

This does not absolve the Forbidden City from blame in the incident, for reasons aptly described by antiquities expert and Guanfu Museum Curator Ma Weidu. Ma notes that, according to national regulations, the Forbidden City had a responsibility to promptly inform their supervisory bureau of the mishap. Moreover, he says that any desire for self-protection on the part of the museum is unjustified since the damaging of first-grade antiquities requires an investigation of the incidents under the Antiquities Protection Law. The museum seems to have been in defiance of this law, even if no counterfeiting was committed.

Yet we should not be so quick to set the fakery accusations aside for one key reason – the rapidity with which the words of the museum’s spokespeople have been questioned. For, like the Wenzhou rail tragedy, Broken Porcelain Gate offers us a glimpse of the depths to which the credibility of authority figures in modern China has sunk. Because the masses expect dishonesty in public statements, public statements are often assumed to be dishonest, or at least only partially honest.

Of course, the Forbidden City didn’t have the highest of credibility to begin with thanks to a recent string of negative news stories. In May, an amateur thief made off with some Western-style jewel-encrusted make-up cases from a temporary exhibit. The same month, the museum presented a banner to local police that contained an embarrassing typo: a slogan that should have read “Safeguard the Motherland” in Chinese was printed as “Undermine the Motherland”. And in that very same May, the media presented evidence that the Forbidden City's recently restored Jianfu Hall had been transformed into a private club. The museum had published a denial just two days prior.

As Lu Lixin, Deputy Secretary-General of the Artwork Evaluation Commission of the Ministry of Culture said at the time, this news couldn’t help but draw public attention since the Forbidden City is a Chinese icon. Therefore, Broken Porcelain Gate was the last thing the museum needed right now since it reinforced negative public perceptions. Unfortunately for the museum staff, other embarrassing revelations may follow. In the atmosphere of heightened scrutiny, new allegations have come to light that four other artifacts may have been damaged recently. It seems that not all is well in the management of one of China’s most famous cultural sites.

Herein lies the real significance of Broken Porcelain Gate. Within the space of two weeks, accidents have affected two Chinese symbols – the high-speed rail representing China’s glorious future and the Forbidden City representing China’s glorious past. Since both mishaps have involved icons, media coverage has been intense. Moreover, since both icons are national in scope, both events inspire observers to look toward the nation's center rather than focus on its periphery. Therefore both should inspire introspection on a national level. Hopefully, that introspection will produce results that will influence China's development for the better.