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The state that ate itself

By Tom Chatfield  

A few years ago, I travelled around China and Tibet with a friend who had lived there for a few years. Like me, he’s an obviously western male; unlike me, he has taught himself both to read and to speak Mandarin fluently—something that offered us many uneasy delights in terms of understanding rather more of what people were saying around us than they thought we could. Being called a big-nosed monkey by every other person on a street was one thing, as was the unquenchable hilarity that tended to follow a hairy Englishman speaking fluent Chinese; but the politics was…

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