Panda Slugger

PANDA SLUGGER….It sometimes seems as if right-wing hawks in America must get together every few years to assign each country in the world its own personal Chicken Little, someone to consistently make the maximal case for that country’s danger to American security. Iraq, for example, had Ahmed Chalabi. Iran has Michael Ledeen.

For China, that person is Michael Pillsbury, a Mandarin-speaking scholar who can be relied on to provide the most nerve-wracking possible view of China’s future military capability to anyone willing to listen. And needless to say, he has the ear of Donald Rumsfeld. After all, China hawkery is the ultimate trump card when budget season rolls around and it’s time to justify yet another carrier group.

There’s only one problem: it turns out that Pillsbury plays a little fast and loose when he explains China’s alleged future plans to American audiences. Soyoung Ho provides chapter and verse this month in “Panda Slugger,” a profile of Pillsbury that includes the following explanation of one particular future terror that he warns about relentlessly:

And what about the “Assassin’s Mace,” one of Pillsbury’s major preoccupations? Here, Pillsbury appears to have taken a common Chinese term, shashoujian, and decided, based on his own unfamiliarity with it (“I first saw this unusual term in…1995,” he writes in a 2003 article) that it indicates what he calls a “secret project.”

In fact, though, the term has been around for centuries and has been revived in contemporary Chinese pop culture, a slangy phrase that appears in articles about everything from soccer to romance. Pillsbury cites public speeches by Chinese leaders and articles in Chinese newspapers that speak of developing “shashoujian” weapons, but he never explains how this adds up to evidence of a secret program. It’s as if a Chinese researcher, hearing a U.S. official speaking of a need for “kick-ass weapons,” were to become confused by the term “kick-ass” and conclude that there must be a secret “kick-ass weapons” program. In short, Pillsbury has identified a secret program that, by all indications, is literally no more than a figure of speech.

There’s much more than this, though. You can read the whole story here.