The 100th Post!

Yes, that’s right, there are now officially 100 posts under ChinaGeeks’ collective belt. Here’s hoping we make it to 1,000! It feels a little strange celebrating this even as the situation of Ai Weiwei, a man I’ve come to feel somewhat strongly about after spending so much time reading and translating his work, is unknown. I hope deeply that he is both safe and free, but I fear he may be neither. Anyway, in the absence of any real news about that, I thought I’d take this opportunity to do a couple things.

Thanks

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who has ever linked to a post on this site, and also encourage you to keep doing it! Special thanks are in order to The Peking Duck, EastSouthWestNorth, and Danwei, who have all linked us repeatedly and sent a fair amount of traffic in our direction. A special thanks also to CNReviews, who went to far as to interview me about the blog.

Of course, I also want to thank our contributors, Chris Hearne and Michele Scrimenti, who have thusfar done an excellent job and made my life much easier. And, as always, if you’re interested in becoming a contributor, we’re always looking.

Next, I’d like to call everyone’s attention to our ever-growing blogroll, which is here. There are a ton of great sites on there, both in English and Chinese, and this site wouldn’t exist without them. They all deserve my heartfelt thanks, and your attention if you aren’t reading them already.

Thanks, too, to the creators of all the tools we use. Personally, I find Wenlin an indispensable tool for translating, especially when coupled with dict.cn and other online dictionaries for more modern stuff and some slang.

Some Cool Stats

I also thought I’d share some information with you about the blog. First of all, were you aware that we are ChinaGeeks.org? For some reason the redirect doesn’t seem to work in China — at least it never worked for me — but it does everywhere else. Anyway, ChinaGeeks was born in January of 2009, and spent the first two months in relative obscurity. Thanks in large part to certain posts, traffic picked up significantly in March and has remained higher. To date, we’ve logged nearly 35,000 unique visitors, who have posted nearly 1,000 comments and clicked on the advertisements enough to earn us a solid $7.98. (Thankfully, that number is offset by the massive quantity we’ve raked in from t-shirt sales thusfar: $0.00). Our rating system hasn’t been in place for more than a few months, but so far our posts average a rating of 4.6/5, and comments have an average rating of 3.8. Interestingly, no one has ever rated a post as 2/5. (Who is going to be the funny guy to rate this one 2/5? Eh? Eh?)

As far as contributors go, Chris Hearne has 11 posts, Michele Scrimenti has two, and yours truly is responsible for the remaining 87.

The Future of ChinaGeeks

We hope you enjoy this blog, because we aren’t planning on going anywhere, or changing the formula all that much. We do hope to add to the variety of posts a bit, mixing in more cultural stuff with the politics, and also including relevant book and film reviews. I’d love to increase the frequency of posts as well, but that largely depends on our contributors schedules and whether or not qualified new people show up to help out!

Lastly, we plan to get better. Anyone who has been reading the blog from day one is probably acutely aware (and deeply grateful) for the small improvements in my translation skills, and I hope that will only continue to improve (in terms of translation, I owe a lot to Sinosplice’s excellent translator interview series, which really made me reevaluate the way I was approaching the text). Our understanding of China, too, grows a little deeper with every post we write and every piece we read about China. If you’re thinking about contributing, do it! It may not pay well (OK, it doesn’t pay at all yet), but it’s a great way to force yourself to learn more about China, if that’s something you’re into (and if it isn’t, why are you here?)

With any luck, see you at post 1,000!

-Charlie Custer, Editor-in-Chief

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Ai Weiwei Finally Harmonized

As you may have already seen elsewhere, Ai Weiweis blog has been closed. Well, the one hosted on Sina, anyway. His bullogger blog is still up, but it doesn’t contain some of the most recent posts everyone else is translating.

As previously mentioned, Danwei and the China Digital Times have done the translation legwork here, we’d recommend reading both of their translations if you’re interested. (And you really, really should be interested.) A preview from the CDT translation, written by Ai himself, brazenly addressing the agents who came to find him and have a “chat”:

Reject cynicism, reject cooperation, reject threats, reject “drinking tea“. In regards to these questions, there is nothing to discuss. Here’s a few words: Don’t come again to find me, I will not cooperate. If you must come, then bring your instrument of punishment.

Strong stuff, indeed. TIME’s China blog writes,

So far, the score seems to be: Ai 1-Huge State Security Machine 0, although if his blogs stay shut hat could tie things up. Further down the road it’s hard to see the Ai holding his own but you never know. People like him can be game changers.

The problem is, even if the score right now is 1-0, Huge State Security Machine is pretty much undefeated in the last half century. (Also, some people might suggest that offhanded sports metaphors might be a little causal for describing a situation where a man’s life hangs in the balance…)

American Moron Throws Money; Bring Out Your Misconceptions!

Moron.
By now you have probably seen this story already. In case you missed it, there’s basically nothing more to it than this: An American basketball player, apparently the guy in the picture below, threw money out of the bus as his team was leaving a game in China on May 23. Many of the Chinese high school students around scrambled for the money. The story has since popped up on the Chinese internet, provoking heated debate, mostly about whether or not the Chinese students embarrassed themselves and their country by picking up the money.

What the story has also brought to light, though, is a bunch of ugly cultural misunderstandings. First and foremost, let’s address the American who threw the money to begin with. I’m assuming that he’s a high school student as they were playing in a high school gym and none of the articles have indicated otherwise. Anyway, what the hell was he thinking? I’ve taught enough high school students in my day to know that most of them have very poor decision making skills, but this is really a bit ridiculous, and whether or not the event has embarrassed the Chinese, there’s no doubt this guy’s behavior is an embarrassment to Americans (and a source of frustration for the American expats struggling every day to correct misconceptions about how Americans are all rich, arrogant pricks).

It’s impossible to say for sure what his motivations were, but I’d guess it was a combination of “my American money turned into so much Chinese money!” and a common American misconception that Chinese people are all dirt poor. Whatever his reasons, shame on him. (For the record: he is probably not “makin’ it rain”, as one ChinaSMACK commenter suggested, as that generally term refers to throwing a bunch of money at women, often strippers or other women who one expects might take their clothes off when presented with large sums of money falling from the sky).

Of course, the Chinese commenters on this issue brought some pretty good prejudices to bear as well. We’ve got xenophobia (“American devil” 美国鬼子), racism (“Fuck, American black donkey” 妈的,美国黑驴), classic misunderstandings about gun ownership (“If this incident happened in an American campus, maybe the students there would have a gun battle!”, via ChinaSMACK), and of course, inexplicable animated gifs. The original Chinese story translated by ESWN even used “Laowai” in the title, which is at best a term that’s controversial among expats, and at worst a derogatory slur.

The sad thing is, no one learns from this kind of incident. The Chinese commenters fume on their forums, westerners act bemused and/or troll on ours, and the idiot throwing the money probably won’t ever know it became such a big deal. There is still far too little interaction between Chinese people and Americans, and far too little cultural education in both countries (although America is much, much further behind). As long as things stay like this, things like this are going to keep happening. Was this a disaster? No, it wasn’t, but it has proved embarrassing for almost everyone involved, and brought out some pretty nasty prejudices (on both sides) too. I think this Chinese commenter’s animated gif sums the whole thing up pretty well:

“Who Lives in This Room?”

Today is another translated quickie from one of Ai Weiwei’s volunteers about a near miss with police who were searching for him. I wonder if sometimes the eternal anticipation and impossibility of finding a totally safe place to stay isn’t more draining than the moments when people actually do get arrested and have the names they collected destroyed in one way or another before they’re thrown back on the street. Anyway, the original post is here.

I came home from writing my diary at the net cafe around 11:00 at night, and the door of the guest house was already closed. I gave the landlady a call and she opened it for me, then I watched a little TV, washed my face and fell asleep.

I sleep very lightly, so if there’s any noise at night I can hear it. Probably around 3:00 A.M., I heard loud footsteps outside the door. At first my response was that it must be travelers getting into the guest house late, then I faintly heard:

“Whose lives in this room?”

The landlady said, “That is a husband and wife, they just got in.”

“And that one?”

This building was built facing the street, with the back facing a mountain; I was staying in one of three apartments on the third floor. Mine was the one facing the mountain.

At this time I started to feel something wasn’t right, I got up quickly and stood behind the door.

The landlady pointed to my room and said, “This is a man who has been here a long time helping us rebuild [the town after the earthquake last year], an engineer from Hebei.”

There was a loud noise, the people who lived across were unhappy: “What gives you the right to be checking rooms in the middle of the night? We obey the laws!” A group of people went back down the stairs without having opened my door, but for those few minutes, I was really nervous.

I didn’t know who it was outside, I just felt that it was dangerous and guessed that they had been looking for me. Before, I was continuously switching hotels, but this landlady was the one who I was most comfortable with, who I had the best relationship with. If my clothes were dirty I could take them to her place to wash them, and after they dried she would bring them back for me and lay them out on my bed. When I [first] met her, I told her, “If people come asking for information about me, such as my ID card number, you have the right to not show them.” She also knew that I had come for something being withheld [from the public] by the local police substation; she said “I know.”

Early the next morning, I went out for breakfast. Nanba Street is very short, around 100 meters in all, so when a stranger is on the street it is easily noticeable. When I had finished my meal and was heading home, the landlady came over anxiously and said, “Last night seven police officers came looking for you, they said they were looking for someone from Beijing who spoke Mandarin; they are checking all the guesthouses in Nanba. They were pianjing [片警, a common nickname for community police responsible for public order and security], I think they were looking for you.”

I said to the landlady, “It’s OK, I haven’t committed murder or arson or anything like that, moreover I speak Sichuanhua [Sichuan’s regional dialect]. Moreover, I’m not the same ‘me’ that I was last time I came here*, and this time I have a completely legitimate reason to be here, so ‘they’ won’t do anything to me.”

The landlady said, “You should still go, don’t put me in a difficult situation. I’ve already told the police you don’t live here.”

I thought that was true, I couldn’t implicate her, and more over she had already “saved” me once. Soon afterwards, I saw a bus out the window, quickly got my things together, and went to a place not too far from Nanba.

That night, the landlady sent me a text saying I had forgotten to bring my towel, and that in the afternoon men from the local police substation had come looking for me again, so it was fortunate that I left so fast.

5/25/2009
Guo Ke

*Although I understand the Chinese, I have no idea what he means by this. Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, or perhaps it requires some background information I’m not privy to. In any event, if anyone wants to take a stab at it, the original sentence is “因为我已经不是上次来南坝的我了…”

Also of Interest:

-Finally Mutant Palm updates! And it’s about a conference that looks pretty interesting.
Thoughts on Being Gay in China.

A Brief Note on Democracy

China Daily today has a headline that’s too hilarious in its understatement to keep from sharing with you: “Experts: US, China democracy different”. Wow, who would have thought? Thank God we consulted “experts”.

Anyway, the New York Times also ran an opinion piece today by Roger Cohen about the potential for democracy emerging in China and Vietnam through peaceful evolution. Cohen writes,

The looming danger [to the CCP] is called “peaceful evolution.” […] That may sound like the weatherman warning of the menace of clear, sunlit skies. But the architects of Market-Leninism, who have delivered fast-growth capitalism to one-party Asian states, are in earnest. The nightmares they have are not about revolutionary upheaval, but the drip, drip, drip of liberal democracy.

[…]

The rapid rise of China and Vietnam, accounting between them for some 20 percent of humanity, has ushered hundreds of millions of people from poverty since totalitarian Communism fell. The West is in no position to say it knows better.

Something there is about a single doctrine that rubs humanity the wrong way. For a brief moment, after the Berlin Wall fell, free-market, multiparty liberal systems seemed set to sweep everything in their triumphant path. But from Moscow to Beijing to Hanoi, reaction came. Markets and nationalism trumped freedom and the vote; the noble spirit of Tiananmen and Berlin faded.

America, born as a liberating idea, must be true to that and promote its values. But, sobered and broke, it must be patient. As the emergent middle classes of Vietnam and China become more demanding of what they consume, they will also be more demanding consumers of government.

They will want more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines.

One-party states will be hard pressed to provide that. Another quarter-century down the road, I’d bet on more democracy and liberty in Beijing and Hanoi, achieved through peaceful evolution, no less.

It’s an interesting point, but my first response to “one-party states will be hard pressed to provide [more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines]” is: why is that? Zhao Ziyang’s memoir is just the latest reminder that while the CCP may be monolithic it is not ideologically homologous. If, within the CCP, there are liberal and conservative elements competing with each other on matters of ideology and policy, then at some point, couldn’t the difference between “multi-party” and “one party” really be a semantic one?

Now, before everyone explodes and starts typing angry comments, please read this paragraph several times: I am not arguing that the CCP, as it currently exists, offers the same spectrum of opinion and policy that would be offered by a multi-party system. I’m only wondering why “more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines” couldn’t, theoretically, be accomplished by a single political party.

Frankly, I suspect the kind of “peaceful evolution” Cohen is talking about is, in China, about as likely to evolve within the Party itself as it is outside it. As Cohen notes, there’s a widespread perception in China that undermining Party authority would lead to instability. Given that there’s also widespread dissatisfaction with a number of issues, most especially corruption, the logical solution seems to be to reform the extant system.

Whether or not that will happen, of course, is another question entirely, as is whether or not it’s what’s really best for China. But what do you think? Is a single-party system like China’s theoretically capable of providing “more transparency, predictable laws, better health care, less corruption, broader education, freer speech and fewer red lines”? Is it capable of satisfying the demands of a modern, educated middle class?

“In the Name of Human Rights, Set Free All Tibetan Political Prisoners”

This is an original translation of this post from Tibetan blogger Woeser’s site. The site is currently blocked in Mainland China. Please note that I have no expertise in Tibetan, so I’ve just rendered the names in pinyin based on their Chinese characters.

Translation

Since the release of the National Human Rights Action Plan, the internal response in China has been large. It’s rare for a newspaper to dare to publish something like Nandu Daily’s [南方都市报] “In the Name of Human Rights, Make Public the Names of Those Killed in the Beichuan Earthquake” [“以人权的名义,公开汶川大地震震亡者大名单”], making reference to the clause in the plan that touches on the reestablishment of human rights in the wake of the quake, demanding the names be made public. In his article “Release Liu Xiaobo in the Name of Human Rights”, intellectual Ran Yunfei wrote: “…without action, only stopping for a second on the concept and doing nothing, well then ‘human rights’ can only remain a concept [in our minds, rather than a reality]…all those who have been locked up for something they said, all those who have been arrested and harmed even though their rights are protected under the constitution, including all those who [are arrested/beaten] while attempting to report [the crimes of officials] to higher authorities, officials should apologize to them, and set them free without condition. Like this we can put the Human Rights Plan into practice, turn it from conception into reality and, practically speaking, keep it from becoming another one of those often-heard-but-rarely-seen buzzwords on the tongues of fraudulent officials.”

So I will imitate; my main point here is to appeal: set free all those Tibetans who have been locked up for something they said, all those who have been arrested and harmed even though their rights are protected under the constitution. For example, there’s Zhuo Majia, sentenced to ten years for writing Disturbance in the Himalayas and a new book on the history of Tibetan geography in 2005, or Rongjie Azha, who was arrested on August 1, 2007 for calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, or Dangzhi Xiangqian, arrested in March 2008 for filming the documentary No Longer Afraid and showing the world the Tibetan people’s attitude towards the Beijing Olympics, or Longzhen Wangmu, sentenced to five years for sending emails about Tibet’s geographical situation in April 2008, etc. etc. And this year, once again, many Tibetan authors were jailed for writing articles promulgating the truth, they are: Gengga Cangying, Gongque Caipei, Zhuo Ri, Ci Cheng, etc. The list I’ve provided here is very short, very short indeed, but the actual list of names is very long, very long indeed.

International human rights group Reporters Without Borders said, in terms of reporters, dissidents, netizens, and activists jailed for fighting for freedom of speech, China is far, far ahead of other countries. And it seems as though from China’s large population and 56 minority groups, Tibetans seem to be far, far ahead of everyone else as well. Chinese intellectuals appeal to the authorities: “For the future of the nation, for the happiness of the people, for the image of the ruler, please quickly set free all political prisoners!” “Human Rights don’t just need to be promoted, they also need to be practiced, and be practically implemented!” “Merely saying good things is useless, human rights without action are just words on a piece of paper, a plan without action is just a piece of wastepaper!” Moreover, if they don’t respect their own National Human Rights Action Plan and arrest people who are putting the human rights plan into practice, isn’t that just deceiving oneself along with others, and going back on one’s word to feather one’s own nest?

Ronggyal Adrag
Early the year before last, Rongjie Azha was accused of “being involved in inciting [people] to overthrow the State” and sent to prison for merely attempting to speak his mind for a few minutes. Commenting on it on Radio Free Asia, I said that as far as Tibetans who are in jail because of so-called “political problems” are concerned, whether you just look at the numbers or other aspects of the problem, there has never been a half century like this one, with so many arrested, or with the arrests so widespread and endless. It’s all Tibetans that are filling the prisons being continuously built around the province. As for the tough response of unyeilding, exasperated authorities, on the surface it looks effective but it can’t last; rushing undercurrents always eventually break free and burst through the dyke. There’s concrete proof, this is not sensationalizing, last year and this year how many “Protecting Tibet” protest incidents have occurred, it proves the state of human rights in Tibet is truly grim, it certainly isn’t what officials at all levels brazenly describe as “the best time for human rights in Tibetan history.” If it were, how could it give rise to such widespread indignation and discontent? Only when there is practical improvement in the human rights situation across Tibet can a better age for human rights be realized.

2009-5-6, Beijing.

I Think You Forgot to Mention Tiananmen…

I have always considered it rather unfortunate that the one part of Chinese history most Americans know something about — the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 — happens to be a part that many Chinese know little about. Granted, American knowledge doesn’t tend run very deep, people just know that students were killed, and they recognize the famous “tank man” image. Many of them might call this one of the most iconic “China” images. It’s a pity, then, that most Chinese people have never seen it.

Tiananmen 1989 was, undoubtedly, an important historic event with far-reaching implications. Furthermore, the fact that most Chinese people don’t know what happened there — the fact that there’s no open discussion about what happened there — is a shame. With that said, there’s probably no event in all of Chinese history more overplayed in the Western media, and with the twentieth anniversary right around the corner, people are really ramping things up.

Recently, The Australian ran a piece about some student protests in Nanjing. These protests were the direct result of police abuse of several student vendors who were being forcibly removed from campus grounds. They had nothing to do with democracy, Hu Yaobang, or any kind of dissatisfaction with the central government; all they share in common with the Tiananmen Square protests of ’89 is that both incidents occurred in China and involved students. But is there a connection? See if you can figure out what The Australian writer Michael Sainsbury thinks:

Students protest in lead-up to June 4 Tiananmen anniversary.

FACED with the unexpected prospect of unemployment, China’s students are again getting restless in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Thousands of students are reported to have protested in the streets of Nanjing, in central eastern China – one of the centres of protests in 1989 – following an incident on Monday night in which government security guards enforcing restrictions on peddlers allegedly attacked classmates who had set up footpath stalls.

A bloody clash between thousands of students and riot police reportedly ensued, continuing into Tuesday morning. At least 30 students were injured, and a police car was smashed.

While generally apolitical in nature, such incidents spark deep unease among authorities fearful of a recurrence of campus activism that grew into the massive nationwide 1989 protests, which remain a forbidden topic in official discourse.

Many see the still-nascent student unrest as a result of sharply climbing unemployment for graduates. It is believed half of last year’s six million graduates have not found jobs, a situation likely to be repeated this year, given the global recession. The state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has said the overall number of jobseekers is expected to grow to 48 million this year.

The Chinese Government has been keen to lift the sagging economy with the help of an $800 billion spending plan to halt rising social unrest.

The protests this week come two weeks before the 20th anniversary on June 4 of the bloody suppression of student-led, pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Security forces are on high alert.

Subtle.

What’s especially ridiculous is that it ran on the same day as this NYT piece about how Tiananmen 1989 “seems distant” to Chinese students:

And if a student today proposed a pro-democracy protest?

“People would think he was insane,” said one Peking University history major in a recent interview. “You know where the line is drawn. You can think, maybe talk, think about the events of 1989. You just cannot do something that will have any public influence. Everybody knows that.”

Most students also appear to accept it. For 20 years, China’s government has made it abundantly clear that students and professors should stick to the books and stay out of the streets. Students today describe 1989 as almost a historical blip, a moment too extreme and traumatic ever to repeat.

So why did The Austrialian insist on peppering their story with a hearty dose of Tiananmen when it wasn’t necessary (the China Digital Times was able to report the same story without resorting to such misleading comparisons)? Well, Tiananmen attracts readers because it’s something they know, or think they know. It’s exciting, violent, and lets most Westerners bask in a glow of superiority, shaking their heads as they read and wondering when the Chinese people will “wake up” and overthrown the brutal CCP.

From the perspective of someone trying to sell newspapers, it makes sense. If I were a moneygrubbing editor, I’d be sure a reference to Tiananmen worked its way into every China headline between now and June 4th, but even then, I’d be doing it with a heavy heart. This kind of story does no one any good.

Because the fact is, what those students in Nanjing were protesting, that’s a real problem. The way reports of the protest are being censored is a real problem. These are the issues that Chinese people care about now, but The Austrialian is running them over with a steamroller, shouting about Tiananmen instead. Aside from selling newspapers, what’s the point?

Before I get accused of being an apologist, let me reiterate that I do think Tiananmen 1989 was extremely important. The problem is, this kind of reporting does a disservice to everyone. It does a disservice to the cause of the students now and the cause of the students in 1989 by lumping them roughly together when they are two very different things occurring at two very different times. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that every political event and protest in China is somehow connected directly to the Tiananmen Square Protests.

With 5,000 years of history, you’d think that occasionally, someone might find a different parallel to draw on, or even just report the issue alone and trust their readers to figure things out without directly tying it to the one thing they have heard of that happened in China before. You would think that. Here’s hoping…