Do Chinese People Only Listen to Foreigners?

Wang Hongzhe thinks so. The Chinese netizen (going online by the name RNAmonkey) recently conducted a little experiment to see whether Chinese people would pay more attention to a foreign critical voice than a domestic one, and subsequently discussed his results with The New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos. His conclusion? Yes.

Wang wrote an article about Chinese culture called “All of China is a Knock-off (山寨 shanzhai)”, criticizing the proliferation and popularity of imitations rather than genuine innovation. But rather than sign it himself, he published the piece online under a pseudonym: Steven Zuckerberg. Chinese news media picked up the piece and it circulated the internet as a translation of an essay written by an American who had spent part of his youth in China. Osnos writes, “The piece was polarizing, drawing criticism from China’s patriots and praise from liberal Chinese writers who credited a foreign writer with an astute observation.”

This wasn’t Wang’s first foray into cultural criticism. He told Osnos:

Before this little trick, I wrote some sincere essays about the Chinese Internet and pop culture to express my thinking…But Chinese netizens always regarded my essays as bullshit. They did not understand them, and, more importantly, they were not willing to understand them, because of my identity as a Chinese guy.

So Wang decided to write another piece and post it under a foreign name as a deliberate experiment. After seeing the essay copied by several news portals and comments pile up, Wang spoke with Osnos about the potential reason for his findings:

As Wang sees it, people gave more credence to “Zuckerberg”’s appraisal than to “Wang”’s because China spends too much of its time on the hunt for prejudice, only to “find out what this prejudice is based on and give one’s own response or counterattack.” They “feel some kind of invisible threat—that a foreigner might understand China more deeply than ourselves.”

The original piece can be found here (Chinese), along with tons of comments, some of which we have translated below:

Too long.

Fuck, I didn’t read the essay.

This essay is really “knock-off” (山寨)

An American, just jealous…If you wanted to use Knock-off products you couldn’t.

This has made him think of the Chinese restuarants taking root all over America, the Chinese-made products in supermarkets, and the industrious Chinese immigrants, he feels the difficult-to-articulate resistance of a juggernaut that’s rolling over and changing the world.

Those who didn’t read it all support it. Those who read it all oppose it. Those who read none of it report it to the authorities. Me, I only persisted through 2/3.

Someone who doesn’t even understand “knock-off” (山寨), trying to write about “knock-offs”, I feel it’s actually quite “knock-off”.

What’s so great about America, this proves that whatever you can make we can make too.

[In response to the previous comment] Aren’t all American things made in China anyway? Retard.

Very deep, this [the author] is a master/expert on China.

There were also a large number of comments with variations on either “Well-written!” or “Too long”.

Also see: Danwei’s coverage.

Barbie Spotted in Shanghai

As an economic crisis rocks the world and life in Tibet carries on as “normal,” an American corporation has just the thing to spruce up life in Shanghai. Beijing has an Apple store, why can’t Shanghai have a Barbie store? The new Barbie store will open Friday, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the doll next week.

Complete with a late-night diner, Mattel (the company that produces Barbie dolls) hopes that China will become the number one market for Barbie within 10 years. The store itself looks to be quite a sprawling complex, containing over 900 display cases of various Barbie models, a nail and hair salon, as well as a sort of memory lane to view Barbies of a by-gone era.

We here at ChinaGeeks have to snicker a bit at the appropriateness of placing the store in Shanghai, the Chinese city with the biggest reputation for being snobby and superficial (and not just according to foreigners). One would assume Mattel has done their own market research and sees fertile ground for Barbie products in Shanghai and China in general. Seeing if they’re right is going to be an excellent view into the psychology of the middle-class in China; this can be good or bad depending on one’s original opinion on Barbie in the first place.

Whatever the outcome, somehow it seems doubtful that Mattel’s classic “Chinese Barbie” will be a mainland hit. According to the official description, Chinese Barbie is…

“…a living muse of Chinese beauty and cultural tradition. Dressed in a rich pink chrysanthemum print guazi (robe) over a slim skirt of the same design, Chinese Barbie® exudes the simplistic grace of the Chinese culture. Her gorgeous costume is accented by intricate black and golden bordering, with black slippers covering her feet.”

Then again, Barbie as a vehicle of traditional Chinese dress style might be just the daring marketing trip the brand needs to succeed in this turbulent economy. China and Barbie enthusiasts will be watching.

Note: The author’s favorite Barbie he came across while browsing is Canadian Barbie. “Hello and bonjour!”

More Security Tightening in Tibet

It appears the Chinese government is taking no chances with the upcoming anniversary of last year’s unrest in Tibet and other Tibetan ethnic regions. The New York Times is reporting that

the authorities have imposed an unofficial state of martial law on the vast highlands where ethnic Tibetans live, with thousands of troops occupying areas they fear could erupt in renewed rioting on a momentous anniversary next week. And Beijing is determined to keep foreigners from seeing the mass deployment.


Tibetan regions, a sprawling, lightly populated swath of western China that measures about one-quarter of the country’s total territory, have become militarized zones. Sandbag outposts have been set up in the middle of towns, army convoys rumble along highways, and paramilitary officers search civilian cars. A curfew has been imposed on Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

The reporter, Edward Wong, says he got a look at the situation firsthand while being driven through some of the areas during the 20 hours he was held — with no explanation given — in police custody.

As we reported yesterday, the propaganda machine is already firing on all cylinders to put China’s side of the Tibetan story out to the world at large. Now it seems extra security is being rolled in to be sure nothing that could embarrass the government happens, and foreigners are being kept out in case it does.

Nepal, too, is concerned about the anniversary (there was some unrest there as well) and has banned all protesting around the Chinese embassy.

Perhaps related, perhaps coincidental, is that popular video-sharing site Youtube has very recently been blocked in China (h/t Danwei), or at least, there are reports from various parts of the country that the site is blocked. ChinaGeeks can confirm that the site is currently inaccessible in Harbin. Mutant Palm has a more detailed breakdown of the blockage reports for those interested.

UPDATE: As of March 6 at 12:45 Beijing time, Youtube access was back (at least in Harbin). A search for “Tibet Protest” in English revealed no censorship, but a search using the same keywords in Chinese appeared similarly uncensored at first glance.

Let’s All Argue About Tibet

Last Thursday, the US State Department published its annual report on global human rights which, as one might expect, included a hefty 44-page section on China’s various (alleged) misdeeds. Also unsurprisingly, human rights violations in Tibet featured heavily, earning their own section and the following condemnation in summary:

The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. Official repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement increased significantly following the outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau in the spring. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage continued to be of concern.

The report is harshly critical, although it does note that many of the alleged abuses violate Chinese law and that, for the record, the United States officially considers Tibet a part of China. Needless to say, Chinese officials were less than amused, and responded with a their own report about human rights violations in the United States (something they’ve been doing in time with the US State Department’s annual report since 2001), “to help people around the world understand the real situation of human rights in the United States, and as a reminder for the United States to reflect upon it’s own issues.”

Chief among their complaints: the serious threat posed by (comparably) high levels of violent crime in America; civil rights violations including internet monitoring, illegal wiretaps, police brutality, and unacceptable prisoner’s rights protection; economic and social rights violations including the gap between the wealthy and the poor; racial discrimination (which apparently “prevails in every aspect of social life”) against African-americans, Hispanic people, immigrants, Native Americans, and the general threat of Americans’ “serious racial hostility”; a variety of violations of the rights of women and children ranging from workplace inequality to gun violence in schools; and, of course, the United States’ various transgressions in other nations, primarily Iraq.

The report cites statistics from American government reports as well as the reports of internationally recognized human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International (whose website, ironically, is blocked in China).

While there may not be much interest in watching two countries hypocritically accuse each other of being hypocritical (especially in what has come to resemble a yearly spat between a grumpy married couple), China also took further steps to support its case in Tibet this year, publishing a white paper two days ago called “Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet” that attempts to lay out the government’s official history, highlighting successes and progress in the region to counterbalance the constant negative press coming from, well, everywhere else.

Although it doesn’t explicitly say so, the paper seems to be aimed at least partially at a Western audience, in keeping some other recent government activities that indicate a new willingness to communicate with the West about Tibet, if only to get their own point across. The section on feudal Tibet is especially telling, as nearly all of its supporting evidence comes from the travel accounts of a variety of Westerners who visited the region in the early 1900s, or from Tibetan laws themselves. (For those interested in reading it, be advised it’s fairly grisly stuff, with eye-gougings and whatnot).

The section on post-1951 Tibet reads as one would expect, nevertheless, it does cite some fairly powerful statistics. For example, on education in Tibet, they report:

[In old Tibet,] the enrollment rate for school-age children was less than two percent, while the illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent. During the past 50 years, the central government has invested a huge amount of funds in education in Tibet, making Tibet the first place in China to enjoy free compulsory education in both urban and rural areas. Since 1985, the state has set up boarding primary and high schools in farming and pastoral areas, and covered all tuition as well as food and lodging expenses for students at the stage of compulsory education from Tibet’s farming and pastoral families. In 2008, all 73 counties (cities and districts) in Tibet realized six-year compulsory education and basically wiped out illiteracy; in 70 counties of which, nine-year compulsory education is being practiced, and the illiteracy rate has fallen to 2.4 percent overall. The enrollment rate for primary school-age children has reached 98.5 percent, that for junior high school 92.2 percent, and that for senior high school 51.2 percent.

The report also denies that are no ethnic, religious, or human rights issues in Tibet, and that the so-called “Tibet issue” is “the Western anti-China forces’ attempt to restrain, split, and demonize China.”

Perhaps more importantly, the conclusion notes that “history has also convincingly proved that there is no way to restore the old order, and there is no prospect for the success of any separatist attempt.” That may well be more true, and more relevant than any political arguments made by one side or the other; at any rate, the sentiment fits in pretty well with some of my own observations as posted on this blog earlier.

In an effort to further promote the image of a peaceful, developed, and unified Tibet, the government has supposedly been bribing local Tibetans to throw lavish, televisable celebrations for Losar, the traditional Tibetan New Year. Some Tibetans can be seen dancing jubliantly on CCTV; others are having none of it. The New York Times quotes one Tibetan monk: “There is no Losar […] They killed so many people last year.”

In much, much stupider Tibet related news, music fans are all agog about two Oasis shows being cancelled. Originally, word on the street was that the show was cancelled because Noel Gallagher appeared at a Free Tibet benefit concert in New York in 1997, but Reuters reported yesterday that the Chinese promoters are saying the gig was cancelled due to lack of funds (you know, there’s some kind of economic crisis going on). Net rag Pitchfork snarkily doubts that’s the real reason though:

Unsurprisingly, Reuters reports that China’s Foreign Ministry is backing the mysterious Luo…who probably wasn’t forced by the government to give an ulterior motive for the quashed gigs or anything. That would never happen.

Come on, folks. I can understand the skepticism, but since when has China ever backed down or tried to hide their Tibet position, especially in their own country? They just released a lengthy white paper detailing their successes in the region and supporting their cause, but they’re not willing to admit they canceled a rock concert because they’re afraid of…who, exactly? Angry Oasis fans? (No offense, Oasis fans, but I don’t think you scare Hu Jintao).

For those of you really into Oasis, though, Shanghaiist has been following the story closely; most recently reporting on the BBC’s repeated failure to fact check their Bjork-related information.

Breaking with Tradition

Hillary Clinton is back from China and in some ways things haven’t looked rosier for US – China relations in the entirety of the CCP’s rule over the mainland. Questions about human rights in China are out of fashion in Washington and other, seemingly-less controversial issues that both parties are keen to cooperate on are on the table.

In the spirit of mutual cooperation, the US conducted a round of military talks with China, which a top US representative said were the best he’d ever seen. Topics of mutual interest like anti-piracy took center stage. At this rate, a truly peaceful rise for China may just be in the cards.

China Daily has reported that “whether it is in methods of contact or how issues are formulated, everything is very different from before….On a diplomatic level, China and the United States are becoming quite balanced.” This is, of course, what China has always yearned for – the diplomatic respect and international political clout that one would expect from a country as large and populous as China.

Of course, no discussion of US—China relations are complete without mentioning Taiwan, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Taiwan is the 800 pound gorilla in the room whenever officials from either side of the Pacific meet – especially, one would imagine, military officials, and US has recently confirmed it will continue to sell arms to Taiwan in accordance with its longstanding stated defense obligations to said gorilla. This anachronistic policy goes beyond new attitudes towards China and strikes a deep nerve in both Washington and Beijing, going back farther than the Obama Administration and the Hu regime. This is tradition and tradition can admittedly be hard to break.

Relations between the US and China have shifted dramatically in the last decade. With the reality of cross-straits flights, relations between the mainland and Taiwan have never been better since Manchu emperors ruled the island from afar. While no one is suggesting that the US should withdraw its commitment to aid and defend Taiwan, there is wisdom in changing the tone and intensity of American cross-straits involvement. The United States cannot play referee forever.

While this idea may sound like it came from the mouth of a CCP spokesman denouncing American meddling in internal-Chinese affairs, a US shift away from focusing on Taiwan in cross-straits relations brings as much responsibility as breathing room to the mainland government. Should the US take a smaller and smaller role in cross-strait affairs, Beijing would be forced to learn to grow into its new role as a supposedly-responsible global power and throw out the on-again-off-again saber rattling that has become characteristic of cross-straits tensions. This includes curbing excessive and dangerous rhetoric regarding Taiwan that inflames local political opposition on the island and makes the job of moderates in Taipei just that much more difficult.

The Sino-American feud over Taiwan is a tradition as old as the PRC itself. Now that there has finally been some real progress made between Taiwan and the mainland and the US has room to step down, China must carefully consider its next move. The world is watching to see what a “peaceful rise” really looks like.