A Migrant Worker Strikes Back

Thanks to Jenny Zhu of Chinesepod, we’ve been made aware of an interesting migrant worker blog.  Migrant workers coming from the countryside fill construction sites in every major city.  They face poor working conditions, low wages (although considerably higher than in the rural areas where they come from) and urban residents’ discrimination.  Locals here in Beijing blame them for everything from the piles of trash that fill hutongs to spitting (as if Beijingers don’t hock their fair share of loogies).

Here is an excerpt from a post by Wan Xiaodao, a migrant worker in his 20s, who defends the migrant workers’ profession.


Many people don’t believe that I’m a migrant worker.  A few people have even taken to calling me names.  Someone said: “Don’t fear bullies and don’t fear landlords.  Only fear an educated migrant worker 不怕地主和恶霸,就怕民工有文化.”  As far as they know, migrant workers are supposed to be ignorant and easy to control.  Even if I became president like Obama, I would still consider myself a migrant worker.  These words might sound tragic to some.  But we migrant workers shouldn’t be ashamed of ourselves.  We should be proud of who we are.

I became a migrant worker because I didn’t want to do anything against my conscience.  I’ve worked plenty of jobs that city folk think are respectable (or at least jobs they think are more respectable than being a migrant worker).  But none of these jobs gave me the peace of mind that being a migrant worker does.  Coming from a farming family, I don’t want to do bad things that will harm other people’s image of farmers.  Now I’m going to talk about the experiences I’ve had working so-called “respectable” jobs.

After dropping out of college, I was a small-time manager at a factory in Jiangsu.  Everyday I dealt with bringing in goods and sending out the finished products.  I filled out forms and wrote up bills.  In my spare time, I cleaned up the factory house and wrote some pretty crappy fiction.  This job was actually quite enjoyable.  My three managers, however, made the job miserable.  These three managers were all very close with the the heads of the factory.  They were always trying to outmaneuver each other to get promotions and would constantly cause problems for each other.  In the beginning, I really liked it.  It was like getting to read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms for free.  These three managers each tried to get me to take his side.  The productions manager was always trying to make me write bad things about the business manager.  The assistant manager was no slouch either.  He would try to get me to go over my other two managers’ heads and say bad things about them to the general manager.  The assistant manager said that if I helped him out, after we squeezed out the other two managers, I would get promoted.  I don’t know what kind of person this job was turning me into.  I decided I didn’t want to be a manager at all.  Even though my managers weren’t very old, you could already see their heads full of white hair.  They were working themselves to death every day.  They had to defend themselves from attack while launching their own assaults on other people at the same time.  After I had worked there six months, they all got fired.  

[Ed. Note: The post goes on to detail two other experiences that we don’t have room for here.}

After all this, I reached a conclusion: if you want to survive in the immoral (丑陋) city, you have to become a scheming immoral person.  My mother used to say, “You have to be a good person.  If you can’t help people, at least don’t hurt them.”  So I’m perfectly content with being a migrant worker.  We shower together from the same pipe in unfinished apartment buildings.  We drink and play cards in smelly migrant worker camps.  We risk our lives dozens of storeys above ground working on skyscrapers. 

But I still think it’s a happy, full life.

Priorities FAIL

Rachel over at Bendi Laowai puts it nicer than I am going to. Simply put: people — and by people, I mean “the media” — are writing more about China’s blocking Google for an hour than they are about arrests of important folks, mass incidents, etc. Bloggers aren’t off the hook for this either, although we’re not calling anyone out here in particular. Day in and day out I try to keep this blog professional(ish), but there are times when it just has to be said: what the fuck?

I wonder if we aren’t, in some ways, limited by this vast resource called the internet (or perhaps the interwebs). The blogging process, when you think about it, is pretty damn incestuous. This blog is as guilty of that as any other. We translate other blogs, we link to other blogs, and we rarely go outside. When Google goes down, we know. When Liu Xiaobo gets arrested, well…we’ll hear about it sooner or later on a blog, I suppose.

I understand these things need to get reported. I understand how the system works, it’s unavoidable, etc. etc. Still, I can’t shake the idea that our priorities are off when significant mass protests get no attention because a pop singer died. I guess Tu Yuangao should have picked a more timely moment to die mysteriously.

Michael Jackson’s death is not a tragedy. Neither is the temporary blocking of Google. But could you say the same thing of Tu Yuangao’s death? Of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest?

Call for Submissions!

So, as you have probably noticed, this blog has been rather empty these past few days. I am in the middle of training at my new job, and extremely busy (like, 8am-11pm busy). So I thought I’d take the opportunity to turn this failure into a win: write something for us!

We’re looking for guest posts of any sort, and also always looking for new writers. You can write a guest post about anything you want (so long as it is China related) and email it to me at custerc at gmail dot com. All we require is that it be well-written. I’m willing to correct a few mistakes in a piece but at some point it would be quicker for me to just write my own, and, as covered, I don’t have a ton of time for that.

Hopefully we’ll get back to a regular posting schedule soon; in the meantime, discuss whatever you like in the comments.

Discussion Section: Gay Rights in China

A recent post by Li Yinhe has got us thinking about gay rights in China. Li herself doesn’t have much to say about it (her post is focused on recent developments), but she expresses support for the idea of gay marriage, and suggests that she thinks there ought to be less opposition for it in China than in the US because there isn’t really a “religious right” in China.

Some recent polls also indicate that Chinese people are comparatively open-minded about the subject. 91% of Chinese are apparently “happy to work with gay colleagues” and 30% even support gay marriage, according to the Guardian. Given that gay marriage isn’t currently a hot topic in China, and given that homosexuality was considered a mental illness in China earlier this decade, those numbers are pretty impressive.

So what do you think? Will we see gay marriage in China, and if so, when? Should this be a hot topic of discussion in China?

Warning: While you’re welcome to express any opinion on gay marriage and gay rights, hate speech will not be tolerated. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me (or get your comment deleted).

Curse You, Roland Soong!

Having freshly cleaned off the screen of our sexy MacBook Pro at the ChinaGeeks temporary HQ, we were all set to fire off a fascinating new post translating this. It’s got everything: sex, internet technology, government heavy-handedness and the Chinese media embarrassing themselves. Too bad, then, that ESWN has already done it, better than we would have. (In case you haven’t figured out, the title of this post is meant to be taken in jest. We love ESWN, and I suspect that being preemptively outdone by Roland is something that’s happened to almost any China blogger who has ever touched their finger to a key).

This, then, is doomed to become a rare “links” post. Lazy as it is, we — read: I, who knows where my contributors have been of late — are packing and preparing for some summer employment and haven’t time to be wandering through the Chinese internets. However, there are several things you should read, if you haven’t yet.

First is the ESWN post mentioned above, and maybe this NY Times piece for context. James Fallows’s most recent update contains an anecdote that will be funny in an “Oh, China…” sort of way for anyone who has lived there (see number 4 in the post). And finally, the China Media Project has translated summaries of the “Six Whys” idea the Chinese government has recently been stressing (the “Six Whys” are an ideological foundation for continued one-party socialist rule in China).

So check those out, and in case you want something discuss, I’ve been wondering about this ever since I translated it for our last post:

Yes, while this person’s words are the worst sort of treason, they’re also all true.

It’s certainly not the first time I’ve come across this kind of logic, but, being American, it always strikes me as interesting. What are your thoughts — can the truth ever be treason? (Yes, obviously it can if you are telling some other country the truth about your country’s nuclear program or whatever, I mean in the context of social or political criticism). ChinaSMACK’s story about Jet Li taking Singaporean citizenship also plays with ideas about what treason is, if you haven’t seen it already.

Netizen Thoughts on Ai Weiwei

Since we translate Ai so frequently, and since there’s been such discussion about him in the comments as of late, we thought it might be useful to offer a little perspective. For comparison, we’ll translate the some of the comments on Ai’s blog as well as some of the comments on an Anti-CNN post. Both commenters are responding to Ai’s recent essay, “All That’s Left is a Grass Mud Horse.” (Click that link if you haven’t read our translation of it already).

Knowing the (very different) demographics that populate those sites, you would think the comments would be polar opposites, but they aren’t always. In amongst the yelling is some really fascinating stuff. We’ve also translated some of the yelling.

Comments from Ai Weiwei’s blog

Well said!

What should we do so that the Grass Mud Horses can finally defeat the River Crabs?

There is not a single untrue sentence in this essay! Since people became civilized, who has ever seen this kind of government? Are these things that humans do?

Old Mr. Ai, it’s time. First, I learned that “making art” was nonsense. Then I learned that writing essays was even more useless. In this hoodlum country, “art” and “writing” are powerless to shake the system. So: the best way to deal with hoodlums is through force.
Deal with them one by one, all people must go into battle, then there will be hope for this country.

We definitely must go to Tiananmen and demand the Party reorganize into the old imperial system, this will make “managing” and “harmonizing” more convenient.
Demand the Party reorganize into the old imperial system!
Demand the Party reorganize into the old imperial system!
Demand the Party reorganize into the old imperial system!

Once we’ve got the Green Dam, even the Grass Mud Horses will be gone.

Old society accommodated Lu Xun, can’t new society accommodate an Ai Weiwei?

Strongly support!

If you don’t “ding” [support, “up”] this, then you’re anti-China.

In China we’re always confusing “anti-Party” and “anti-China”.

Correct! Correct! Grass Mud Horse Party [i.e., f*ck your mother, Party]

Comments from Anti-CNN

This Ai Weiwei really is a stupid cunt. Using this same pattern, you could totally write an essay about America. It’s just taking a bunch of negative problems and saying them all at once, try asking if there’s a perfect society [out there]! Aren’t there problems in America?
Simply impervious to reason!

I’m ashamed on behalf of Ai Weiwei.

If these are Ai Weiwei’s original words, I express my extreme anger!

We must not vacillate, must not be sluggish, must not toss and turn! We must unflinchingly push forward the reforms and opening up, unflinchingly move down the road towards socialism with Chinese characteristics, only then can we victoriously realize this great blueprint [and] outline for struggle!

“Anti-Party anti-China, loving the UK and worshipping America, betraying the people’s position”! Traitor! Running dog! Cruel and evil.

The essence of Western education and the sorrow of the Chinese people. If you’ve lost the Chinese national spirit, are you still a person?

There’s no way [to change], the world is dangerous like that. I invite Mr. Ai Weiwei to move to Pluto to construct his perfect society.

Yes, this while this person’s words are the worst sort of treason, they’re also all true.

I ask that the original poster please not post such disgusting stuff as this in the future, thanks.

That Chinese society can accommodate a person such as this proves our society has already improved. Those of you perverts flaunting how “correct” and “red” you are, do you want China to return to the days when people were punished for things they said?

[In response to the above comment] What you said makes sense. But I think our country isn’t necessarily accommodating him, he has protection — is it a Green Card or is he an American citizen?

This is an evildoer. That he exists is proof that we’re in his so-called “troubled times”, ha ha…

[In response to the above comment] Trouble times I agree with. As for calling him an evildoer, it would be better to call you a demon. There is not even a tiny bubble of the courage to resist power within you.

Of course, you have the courage to oppose America. It’s just like the old soviet joke:

American: In front of the White House, we dare to curse our President!
Soviet: In front of the Kremlin, we dare to curse your President!

Review: “Prisoner of the State”

This is a review of the book Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, written by Zhao Ziyang and translated/edited by Bao Pu, Renee Chiang, and Adi Ignatius. It is published by Simon and Schuster and is available on Amazon in hardback for $16.56 USD. A Chinese version is also available in Hong Kong.

TIME wrote of Prisoner of the State: “Zhao might be more dangerous in death than he is in life.” It is, in fact, the power quotation, lying neatly atop the inside fold of the front cover, prefacing the summary — and indeed the book itself — with a promise of power. Whether this is the work of savvy advertisers or naive dreamers is unclear, but after reading Prisoner of the State one thing seems clear: Zhao isn’t any more of a threat to the Party now than he was before his death in 2005.

Prisoner of the State is not a revolution, nor will it cause one. Once you get that expectation out of your head, though, it’s a fascinating look into the inner workings of the CCP. This is not just Zhao’s diary of the Tiananmen crisis; in fact, Zhao’s account of that incident is a scant forty-five pages, after which he delves into other matters including his house arrest and his history within the Party fighting to advance economic reforms. He also offers his thoughts on how China should change, but there’s little of interest to see there. Zhao dictated the contents of Prisoner of the State onto audio tapes in the early 1990s; his analysis of what future-China needs isn’t particularly deep and parts of it are already outdated.

What it comes down to, then, is whether or not you’re interested in the back-room dealings that seem to have governed nearly every aspect of the CCP decision-making process. There’s backstabbing and intrigue aplenty, most interestingly during 1989, when every word of Zhao’s speeches was carefully scrutinized by opponents eager to see him fall. There’s the not-so-surprising revelation that Deng Xiaoping’s word was more or less law; once Deng’s opinion turned against Zhao, Zhao implies, there was nothing for him to do. By the time he appeared in the Square and made his famous speech (pictured above), his career was already dead.

Most of the book is focused on the economic development of the 1980s, and the various forces within the Party that were working for (or against that). Factions under the banners of Party elders, who had few official titles but massive influence, clash repeatedly, though Zhao is mostly shielded from the fray by Deng and Hu Yaobang until 1989. Though technically he was one of the most important people in China, one sometimes gets the impression that Zhao is a bit like Calvin and Hobbes barreling down tree-lined slopes in their red wagon: he isn’t so much driving as throwing his weight around trying to prevent narrow misses and put off the inevitable moment when the thing plows into a tree and he’s thrown clear. That’s right, China is a wagon in this metaphor!

Anyway, for me the most telling portion of the book was the chapter on Zhao’s house arrest, when the topic turns abruptly from the life-and-death political games of the leaders of one of the world’s largest countries to Zhao’s struggle to get his captors to let him play golf. Zhao loved golf, and repeatedly threatened to walk out his door and “take the bus” to the course, a threat which he reports often got them to send over a car and let him play a few rounds. When he’s not playing golf, or trying to play golf, he’s working on the minutia of his case, pointing out Party rule infractions that made his dismissal illegal. Of course, no one is listening — generally, no one even responds.

And that, I think, will likely be the effect of Prisoner of the State. It’s a fascinating resource for scholars, but it’s about as “dangerous” as Zhao’s letters to his old colleagues in the Party: no one [in China] is listening, and even if they were, the time has passed. Zhao, Deng, Hu Yaobang, Chen Yun, and most of the other major players in Zhao’s memoir are dead. Those that are still alive (most notably Wen Jiabao, China’s current Premier and Zhao’s chief assistant in 1989) are surprisingly absent from the text, perhaps by design.

Another June 4th has passed, and it seems unlikely that Prisoner of the State will be the thing that finally gets the government to admit its mistake. Still, the book offers a deeper understanding of that night to those seeking it, and perhaps more valuable, a deeper understanding of the progresses and setbacks that led up to it. Zhao may not be dangerous in death, but that doesn’t mean he’s boring.

Crappy China Travel Advice

From time to time, ChinaGeeks gets requests from readers or whoever that we link a blog post of theirs. Generally, we do check out these links, although we don’t often end up linking them. Today, we will be linking one, although I fear it’s not the kind of endorsement the woman who emailed us was hoping for.

The post in question is called Travel China Like a Pro: 7 Tips from Expert Travelers. Most of the tips are pretty run of the mill, but two of them immediately jumped out at us as misleading. The first:

3. Beware of What You Blog […] Beware of subversive blogging from Shanghai: censure is common practice!”

Where to begin? First of all, censure is not common. Censure means a formal, often written, expression of disapproval. What the author probably meant was censorship, which, of course, is also misleading. Censorship of travel blogs by foreigners is common? Hardly. In fact, as this and many other English China blogs prove, the Chinese government doesn’t particularly care what we write, as long as it’s not in Chinese.

What’s worse is that there is a useful piece of advice for China travelers that they totally missed: free blogging platforms like blogspot or wordpress are frequently blocked wholesale, so travelers shouldn’t count on being able to keep in touch with those at home through these platforms while in China.

Another tip in the top seven, apparently:

4. Be Respectful if Arrested […] Speak in honorable and deeply respectful prose, especially if you get arrested…

Good advice, I suppose, but (1) how often are foreign tourists arrested and (2) if arrested, how likely is it that any foreign tourists are going to have any idea how to “speak in honorable and deeply respectful prose” in Chinese? More useful tips for tourists would be things like “always carry your passport” and “keep the number of the local US embassy on hand at all times.”

Taken together, these two pieces of advice offer a pretty misleading picture of China to the potential tourist, I think. Travel to China and risk being censored (or censured!) or arrested! Of course those things are possible, but are they likely? Are they likely to happen to travelers? Are they really worthy of inclusion in the top seven travel in China tips?

No, they aren’t. What’s more terrifying is that these tips come from “experts”.

But our intention here is not simply to tear apart a poorly-written blog post. Oh no! We have set our sights higher! For what kind of hypocrites would we be if we could not offer our own, better set of tips for traveling in China? (Answer: the worst kind of hypocrites). So, we put it to you, dear readers, what are your top tips for safe and successful travel in China? If your answers are good enough, we may compile them together to create a guide, which will be permanently available on this site for everyone to see.

Ai Weiwei: “All That’s Left is a Grass Mud Horse”

This is a translation of this post from Ai Weiwei’s blog. If you aren’t familiar with the term Grass Mud Horse, go here. The links in this translation were added by us to provide some context for those that need it. There are no links in the original post.


The Party has limitless tests for people [to endure]: on the internet you’re “Green Dam‘ed”, in education you’re swindled, in news reports you’re deceived, the milk is poisoned, [if you] lose your job you might as well die, public buses are exploding, land is being stolen, houses are being demolished, children are being sold, miners are being buried, young girls are being raped, and whatever’s left gets “Public Safetyed”, “chengguaned”, “Joint Defensed”, “Public Securityed”, “stabilized”, or “mental healthed”.

If the people arrest someone for rape, that’s anti-China [he’s referring here to the Deng Yujiao case]. Children are crushed to death and if you ask about the quality of the buildings, that’s anti-China. Exposing the poison in our foods is anti-China. Common people who’ve been beaten and abused seeking an audience with higher authorities is also anti-China. Selling children, selling AIDS-infected blood, black [corrupt] coal pits, fake news, those who should be administering justice abusing it, widespread corruption, rights violations, internet censorship; all you need to do is ask a question for it to be anti-China. Are the people who aren’t “anti-China” even people?

If it’s something that’s for the sake of the public, it’s a case of “assembling people to cause trouble”. If it’s something for the sake of the country, it’s a storm of political turmoil. If something is obviously wrong, [those against it] have ulterior motives. If there are too many people who are upset, they are being incited and are unaware of the truth. If an international source criticizes [China], then it’s foreign anti-China powers. In sixty years, [I] have never seen a ballot. There isn’t education for everyone, there isn’t medical insurance, there’s no freedom of the press, there’s no freedom of speech, there’s no freedom of information, there’s no freedom to live and move where you choose, there’s no independent judiciary, there’s no one supervising public opinion*, there are no independent trade unions, there’s no armed forces that belongs to the nation**, there’s no protection of the constitution. All that’s left is a Grass Mud Horse.

*I assume that what he means by this is that no one is paying attention to what the public thinks about things and adjusting policy accordingly.
**I think he’s referring to the army being directly affiliated with the Party rather than the nation, but I’m not sure whether or not that’s true, can anyone verify?

The Opening for Apple in China

If you read any other China Blogs, you’re probably already aware of the Green Dam and Youth Escrot software the Chinese government is now requiring be provided with all new PC purchases in the country. Everyone reads ChinaSMACK, so you know that Chinese people are generally less than thrilled. You might also be aware that the software is set to block some rather odd terms in addition to those you might expect. And of course, you will have guessed on your own even if you didn’t read it in the New York Times: the software itself is crap. From Imagethief:

Green Dam + Youth Escort is a poorly designed rip-off of a foreign nanny-ware product, is unstable, and is riddled with security holes. It is, in short, crapware.

The Times reports the program is “so technically flawed that outsiders can easily infiltrate a user’s machine to monitor Internet activity, steal personal data or plant destructive viruses.”

The sexy manga renderings of Chinese netizens aside (and by “aside”, I mean I’ll be placing Green Dam Girl pictures throughout the rest of this post, thanks Danwei) I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t going to lead a fair number of Chinese computer consumers to consider something the probably hadn’t before: buying a Mac.

Now, before I even begin this, I need to note a couple things for the record. One, I am not in any way an expert on the computer industry, or economics, or anything like that, so this post is pretty much pure speculation. Two, I am myself a Mac user, and one of my best friends works for Apple, so I’m not exactly impartial, which is why this is going to be tagged as an opinion piece.

Anyway, there are a couple reasons why Green Dam might, eventually lead people who hadn’t thought about Apple before to dust off their wallets. First, and most immediately, there are going to be some people who just don’t want this software on their computer. Chinese techies are going to be aware that it’s crap, and will want to avoid it (although they’re also going to be aware of other, cheaper alternatives like Linux), and Chinese dissidents and porn-lovers are going to be interested in any computer that allows them access to a less-censored internet. Since no one really uses Macs in China, I suspect they won’t be required to come pre-installed with Green Dam even if versions of the software are available for Mac, which I highly doubt.

In the longer term, there’s also the potential that people who are tired of their computer being riddled with viruses because of Green Dam’s porous security code might turn to Apple for asylum. I know the feeling, having done so myself after years of PC use finally drove me to Apple’s website five years ago.

Of course, there are also several reasons this won’t happen. First, and most chief among them is the price barrier. Apples are expensive even in the States; in China they seem exorbitant. It’s unlikely Apple will lower their prices for China, so if Apples are going to sell they will need a shrewd marketing campaign. Their American marketing has proved that they’re up to this challenge, but whether or not they will actually bother in China is another story entirely. Plenty of Chinese people buy cars, so it’s certainly possible they could afford to buy Macs if they saw them as a long-term investment (and also, like cars, a status symbol?). But for that to happen, Apple needs to get serious about the Chinese market now and start letting people know what they do and why, exactly, you should pay so much more for a Mac than you’re paying now for PCs.

There are some other obvious issues going against Apple. For one, were Macs to become more popular in China, the Green Dam software would inevitably sooner or later be foisted onto Apples as well, making it less appealing to switch. Furthermore, plenty of programs Chinese people expect to be able to use don’t currently work with Apple. Pirated software is much less readily available for the Mac platform, while pirated PC software is cheap and extremely widespread.

It’s also very possible that Apple simply just doesn’t care about the Chinese market. Foolish as that might seem, their half-assed, way-too-late introduction of the iPhone seems to indicate they may be willing to forgo whatever potential profits they might see, perhaps because they fear losing out to various forms of piracy. They may well be on to something. Microsoft has been unable, despite repeated efforts, to get the Chinese market to adopt Windows legally instead of using the many cracked versions available for 6 RMB (less than $1) in local DVD shops. Their gaming console, the XBox 360, isn’t even available legally in China, and their new search engine Bing hasn’t really caught on, either (has it anywhere?). Perhaps Apple is wise to just avoid China altogether. After all, it’s not like they’re doing badly right now anyway.

But like I said, I know nothing about this stuff, this is all just pure speculation mixed with the feeling that you might know about something that comes from reading lots of news. So I’ll leave it to Green Dam Girl, with Grass Mud Horse in tow, to pose the final and most important question:

What do you think? Is there really an opening for Apple in China’s market? Would Chinese people ever adopt the more-expensive Apple hardware?