Shanghai’s Bund

The Lehmann Letter (SM) We strolled old Shanghai’s Bund before returning home. Yuan-li Wu, a long-departed colleague, was from Shanghai. His family were bankers and he told me their bank was the tallest on the Bund before WWII. Now, as we walked along, these art-deco structures reminded us of Miami’s South Beach. Vestiges of a bygone day. Yuan-li was a fine economist and served as a deputy-assistant secretary of defense in the Nixon administration. But Chairman Mao looked upon him and his family as representatives of the hated comprador class: Native Chinese merchants and bankers who served China’s foreign exploiters. Continue reading

Terracotta Warriors

The Lehmann Letter (SM)   About 220BC China’s first unifier and emperor created a terracotta bodyguard of thousands of life-size figures – foot soldiers, officers, generals, horses, chariots – to accompany him into the afterlife. It remained buried and hidden from view for thousands of years until it was discovered 40 years ago by a farmer digging a well outside the city of Xi’an. Now that site is a huge attraction, covered by pyramid-sized buildings to protect the excavation and archeological site. Experts continue to discover new wonders and it remains a working dig even as mobs of sightseers circulate Continue reading

Hieronymus Bosch in China

The Lehmann Letter (SM)   If memory serves, Hieronymus Bosch was an early-modern Flemish painter.  In the late 1400s and early 1500s he followed the great Jan Van Eyck, who pioneered the transition from medieval caricature to realism. But Hieronymus appears to have been a troubled man. He painted ghastly scenes of hell on earth: Fantastic demons who snatched sinners and tore them limb from limb before casting them into the fire below. The drive from the city of Luoyang to the mountainside temples of Shaolin and its world-renowned Kung Fu Academy would have pleased Hieronymus. Forget your preconceived notions Continue reading

Bullet Train to Luoyang

The Lehmann Letter (SM)   Recently a delegation of Chinese engineers visited California – at California’s request – to consult with California officials on California’s plans for a high-speed rail connection between southern and northern California. In the 1860s California’s railroad barons – the Big Four – recruited Chinese laborers to help construct the Big Four’s segment of our first transcontinental railway from Sacramento, California to Promontory Point, Utah. Now we are asking China’s assistance in building high-speed rail. That irony could not have been lost on the Chinese engineers who recently journeyed to California. We traveled on a segment Continue reading

The Great Leap Forward

The Lehmann Letter (SM) Mao Tse Tung’s Great Leap Forward was a failure. The costs far outweighed the benefits. But as we stood in Tiananmen Square, listening to our guide connect the First Opium War of the 1840s to the Communist triumph in 1949, we began to understand our guide’s point of view. The Chairman is the greatest of many dots, capping the struggle over past humiliations with today’s success. China and its civilization are the issue, not the ideology and practice of communism. There is no other civilization that has survived intact. China stands alone. Ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Continue reading

God and Man in Beijing

The Lehmann Letter (SM) “God and Man at Yale” was the title of William F Buckley’s first book, written over 60 years ago about his experience as a student at Yale. Mr. Buckley was unhappy with secular humanism in the Ivy League. He was even less happy about the 1949 Communist triumph in China. But we had no difficulty finding evidence of religious practice in Beijing. More about that in a moment but first – parenthetically – we had some favorable impressions. (It was beautiful shirtsleeve weather, warm and sunny. No smog. Air-quality seemed fine. Not a great deal of Continue reading

China: Getting Started

The Lehmann Letter (SM) Here are some initial impressions and surprises from our visit to China. Obtaining a visa is not easy if you are not traveling with a tour group. The government wants to know your plans from start to finish: Hotels with arrival and departure dates as well as hotel addresses plus a copy of each document confirming your reservation. You must also supply a passport photo (the one in your passport is insufficient) plus a copy of your driver’s license. Then there is the long form to be completed by typewriter or printer (no handwritten documents accepted). Continue reading

Building Permits vs. Housing Starts

The Lehmann Letter (SM) There were 1.0 million building permits issued in February and 907 thousand construction-starts according to this morning’s release from the Census Bureau: One million generates more enthusiasm than 907 thousand, but both numbers are flat in comparison with data for the past year. Housing Starts Recessions shaded Too bad. This figure is, as your eyes reveal, a sensitive leading indicator. We want “up,” not “sideways.” A hopeful possibility: The jump in permits is an omen while lackluster starts reflects harsh weather. We’ll see as the months pass. (To be fully informed visit © 2014 Continue reading

America’s Individualism vs. China’s Statism

The Lehmann Letter (SM) Americans love their freedom. We despise statism. That’s why fascism and communism could never gain a foothold here. It’s all wrapped up in our frontier heritage. We are resourceful individualists. We will do it ourselves. We don’t need help. But we are also outliers that grafted our frontier heritage on to an Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberty, democracy, civil rights and due process. The traditions at the other end of the globe are very different. China has had a history of empire and emperor. Centuries of stability have, on occasion, been interrupted by periods of chaos. The Continue reading