China Walking on Air

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So the taikonauuts as some someone branded them (a bizarre formulation; hangtianyuan is the usual word) made it home safely yesterday. Watching China’s first space walk live on television the previous day was fascinating. It is a tremendous breakthrough, as President Hu Jintao told one of he astronauts, considerably more important in terms of testifying to China’s increasingly sophisticated space program than just throwing a man up into orbit and bringing him back down. Hu had a conversation with the captain (there were three crewmembers, for those who didn’t catch the broadcast) that was stilted even by his standards, speaking in those high-pitched, declarative tones cadres always revert to for such occasions and sounding as though he was reading from a script. He told them that the Communist Party and the Chinese people (note the order) congratulated them on their achievement and asked how there work was going and whether they felt ok (phrased a lot more formally than that of course). He did also ask what the newscaster described as a “romantic” question: “ How did it feel to be floating out in space? But as with their American colleagues, they don’t pick these guys for their poetic natures, and the answer was basically, “fine.” (The astronaut also seemed to be reading from prepared script. this time a real one attached to a clipboard he was holding) Still, it is great to see a nation take pride in this sort of accomplishment. Even for a non-Chinese it was hard not to feel an uplift of the heart as he emerged from the hatch and floated there for a while waving a small Chinese flag that shone bright in the celestial sunlight. After Hu had finished talking with the astronauts, he shook the hands of the entire staff at the Beijing Space Center—at least 100 by my guesstimate. Many of them grabbed Hu’s hand with both of theirs, which I thought was interesting, some even clasping him by the elbow, which seemed a lot of contact; usually it’s the politicians who do the grab you with both hands and look you in the eye stuff, but emotions were high. Now on to the Party Plenum next week. Ex China (Sina?) semper aliquid novi.

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