It’s amazing how fast China blogs grow old. ChinaGeeks is over half a year old now, and still the Western media hasn’t sat us down to have “the talk” about where quotations come from. Maybe it’s time they did.
See, the New York Times recently reported on the mandatory patriotic touch China Mobile has added to cell phone calls pre-Oct 1st. According to “Chinese Pride, at the Touch of a Cellphone Button,” China Mobile has changed everyone’s ringback tones — the tone that plays while someone’s phone is ringing when you call them — to ”国家“，a famous patriotic song sung by the famous actor Jackie Chan and the female singer Liu Yuanyuan.
The change is effective for all China Mobile users, but anyone who doesn’t like it can change it back to something else at no cost, and it seems as though it will be automatically deactivated at some point in the future, anyway.
We first suspected something was a bit off with the article when we read that the NY Times credited the song to “the actor Jackie Chan and a female vocalist.” A female vocalist? We found her name through a Google search in two seconds, and as far as patriotic songs go, she’s got a few under her belt. A quick perusal of her personal site reveals songs like “The Five-Starred Red Flag”, “China Has Chosen You”, “China is My Home”, etc. Was it a conscious decision — the NY Times figures their readers don’t care about a singer they’ve probably never heard of — or laziness? Who knows.
Anyway, at the end of this article came this little tidbit:
But Hu Xingdou, a reform-minded economics professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, said China Mobile went overboard in tinkering with its customers’ phones.
“The current efforts to instill ideology makes me feel that the authorities consider ordinary Chinese people to be unpatriotic or even mentally challenged,” he said. “So they enforce this patriotic education on people.”
Huh? What exactly do the “authorities” have to do with this? For that matter, what does this have to do with “patriotic education”? As far as we can tell, it’s just an example of a company from China doing something small to celebrate a national holiday. Nearly all American companies do similar things for the Fourth of July. Given that China Mobile has given users the option of disabling the tone if they so choose, and that there’s nothing in the article that indicates this decision was mandated by the government.
EDIT: We forgot China Mobile was state-owned, which does explain the connection to authorities, although we still think that terminology is a bit misleading. State-owned and state-run are two different things, and whether or not any real “authorities had anything to do with the ringback tone change is still up for grabs.
One wonders whether this is a question of the Chinese source overreacting (Hu Xingdou is a self-proclaimed “student of China’s problems”), of the New York Times putting a quotation out of context, or if there’s something more to this whole thing they somehow left out. Hu’s point isn’t necessarily even something we disagree with, but there isn’t a lot of connection between the problems of patriotic education and a mobile phone company changing people’s ringback tones to a patriotic song for a few days. The way the article reads now is misleading, at least barring the Times revealing some evidence that the government is actually connected to this move in some way.
Rather than speculating on motives, we’ve emailed the reporter herself. We don’t expect a reply, but if we get one we’ll post it here. In the interim, discuss your thoughts about the article in the comments.