The 200th Post!

It seems like it hasn’t been that long since our 100th post, but here we are. This may be a rather long post, as I’ve been saving up a lot of nuts-and-bolts type stuff for this post rather than clogging up content posts with it, but please do take the time to read it. I think you’ll find most of it interesting, and you may even find a way to get yourself more involved. I really would like to get more people involved, and there are going to be a number of NEW ways to do that, so focus, people!

The Present: ChinaGeeks through today

To date, the website has gotten over 80,000 unique visitors. We also have around 630 RSS subscribers according to Feedburner, a number that’s been steadily climbing since we started tracking it a few months ago. In addition to the major China blogs, our posts and translations have been linked by major media websites like the Wall Street Journal (US), Le Monde (France), the Telegraph (UK), BusinessWeek (US), and Harper’s Magazine (US). These statistics are, I assume, paltry compared to the traffic ChinaSMACK, Danwei, the CDT, or ESWN sees in a day, but things are going well (thanks in part to links from all of those websites!).

Our community, too, is growing. At the time of our hundredth post we had just under a thousand comments; as of this writing we have 2,473 (probably more by the time this gets posted). What’s even more impressive is that, while the debate here isn’t always as reasoned or as polite as we would like, we’ve thus far managed to maintain our no-moderation commenting system without having our comments reduced to ChinaSMACK-esque racist arguments and shouting. Hats off to everyone who comments here, I hope we can continue to maintain the current level of discourse here, and perhaps even elevate it.

The Future: Where ChinaGeeks is Headed

One of my main concerns with this blog, and “bridge-blogging” about China in general is that it tends to be a bit one-way. (On the subject of bridge-blogging, check out this Global Voices Online article that I, along with Fauna of ChinaSMACK and Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei, was interviewed for). We take things in Chinese and translate them into English, but there’s not a lot of opportunity to connect with the Chinese community as many Chinese don’t speak English well enough to read this blog. We hope to change that with the introduction of a Chinese language version of this blog. What we need is someone willing to edit it. Specifically, I’m looking for someone who is…

  • a citizen of Mainland China. You don’t have to be currently living there, but we’re looking for someone born and ideally raised in Mainland China, someone who can write well (in Chinese, obviously) and is familiar with PRC politics, culture, and especially the blogging scene, as well as Western takes on Chinese issues.
  • Reliable. You won’t be expected to update as frequently as ChinaGeeks English does, but you will be expected to post something of substance once a week (bare minimum). Occasional breaks are OK with advance warning, but no long unexplained absences.
  • Moderate and Open-Minded. Your political views don’t need to mesh exactly with mine, but you need to be someone who is willing to consider alternate points of view and doesn’t consider the West (or the PRC government) to be completely evil. We try to subvert “black and white” here and we’re hoping the Chinese version will do the same.
  • Can read and understand English. You won’t be needing to write in English but you would be expected to read the English blog (just as I will be reading the Chinese blog), so you need to be capable of doing that.

You should know, this is not a “translation” job; the curator of the Chinese-language blog would be expected to write unique posts, although if they chose to translate or comment on an English ChinaGeeks post or some of the comments therein, that would be great.

So why would anyone be interested in this? Well, for one, it’s a fairly unique endeavor (as far as I know). May be there’s a good reason for that but we won’t know until we try! Anyway, if you’re the sort of person who is inclined to blog anyway, this would offer you the chance to do so with a guaranteed audience, free hosting for the blog on a server outside China (host fees will be paid by me, still), and the chance to be in on the ground floor if we ever start making money (that’s the long-term plan.)

Interested? Email custerc at gmail dot com for details. Readers, don’t expect ChinaGeeks Chinese to pop up tomorrow or anything. We’ll wait for the right person to come along, which may take a while.

I’m also looking for some new contributing writers for the English blog, as my old ones seem to have vanished. If you’re interested send an email with your prospective first post to custerc at gmail dot com. Your first post cannot be an opinion piece.

The Store

You may have noticed that our t-shirt store has grown a bit more robust. We’ve switched to CafePress, because (1) we’ve purchased several shirts from them before and know the quality is great and (2) they allow you (the customer?) a ton of choice — you can get one design on dozens of different colors and materials, on everything from t-shirts to sweatshirts and underwear.

Lu Xun on hope.
Lu Xun on hope.
It’s meant to attract what may be a wider clientele than just the people who read this blog. China geeks will find plenty to their liking. Fans of the blog can sport our logo in a variety of colors and styles, as well as enjoy shirts inspired by specific posts. Travelers to China who speak Chinese can ward off incoming harassment (note: this shirt is likely to attract lots of people, actually). And for fans of non-sequiturs, well, we’ve got those too:

Tuojiangosaurus! (Yes, thats its real name)
Tuojiangosaurus! (Yes, that's its real name)

The other great thing about CafePress is that we can update it whenever something new comes to mind. Got requests? Send them our way. Even if you don’t, if you like wearing clothing with characters on it, check back frequently as there’s bound to be something you like sooner or later, and when you buy something, you’re doing a kindness and supporting a (very) poor blogger.

Thanks

Thank you to everyone reading this for continuing to support the blog and post comments. I love you all like my own family (who don’t comment on here at all, the bastards). See you at 300!

Oh, and happy Halloween!

How to Deal With Violence in Schools?

Anyone who follows the Chinese internet is bound to feel that stories like this (or this, if you prefer ChinaHush) are getting more common (also see this, this, etc.). Author Wang Xiaofeng posted about the topic on his blog today, asking commenters for suggestions on how to handle a situation one of his readers asked him about.

Translation

Yesterday I received a mail from a stranger*, the main idea was this:

Recently, the video of the Shanghai schoolgirl beating one of her classmates has become very hot on the internet, I don’t know whether you have seen it. Coincidentally, my cousin’s child, a very well-behaved child, was also beaten a few days ago. The reason was that he didn’t let another student with worse grades cheat off his paper, this became an excuse to beat him. The first time after being beaten, the child was scared and so just endured it [without saying anything], but now the beating is even more ferocious. Is the only option just calling the police? Generally, after the police have come and criticized the education [there], the child will be beaten worse, and the teacher won’t intervene. I want to seek advice, in this situation what should we do?

This one has me really stumped. First, I don’t have kids so I definitely haven’t run into this problem; second, back when I was studying, although there are bad kids in every generation, it certainly wouldn’t have gone so far as this. Can it really be true that the criminal underworld has already penetrated primary and middle schools? Additionally, I really don’t understand the chaos happening in middle and primary schools today, is it already so bad that when someone is being beaten, [everyone] wants to record it and use it to flaunt their strength in numbers? Therefore, I can’t give this classmate any good advice. What I can think of is, perhaps we get a group of people together to beat up the animal who beat up your cousin’s kid? After beating him senseless, he will only know “sitting on the sofa” and won’t know about picking on people [anymore]. But this is not a good idea. As there’s already no way of speaking to teachers or the police about it, I feel there’s still one road to take, but it may well be the last [option]. Use the teacher’s ambivalence as grounds to lodge a complaint against the teacher. However, this may lead to more savagery, [in which case] your cousin’s child would need to change schools. But if you can get this kind of teacher out of the education system, that’s a kind of contribution.

Or, how about this, let’s see how people reading my blog will respond. Number one, if you’ve picked on people like this before, what did you fear the most? Number two, if you or your child has been picked on like this before, how did you deal with it?

Additionally, does this type of thing happen everywhere (big cities, small cities, towns, and villages)? I hope everyone can help find a better way of dealing with this.

[*群众来信, literally, “letter from the masses”. Is there a better way to translate this? -ed.]

Comments

First, I never picked on anyone and don’t know what I’d fear.
Second, when I was picked on like this, I often endured it. My parents said to hit the other kid, better to go down fighting. After getting a few savage punches in, the students around me didn’t dare to pick on me anymore.

This isn’t a good method? The good is that at such a young age, one can cause pain but not serious injury with punches. Kids have their own solutions to problems amongst themselves, and while death or injury from beating are possible, they’re very improbable.

In life, many things are chance.

When I was in middle school there was a classmate who was always being picked on by a few others, beaten at the end of class every day. Of course, it wasn’t going to kill him, but it definitely wasn’t soft either, because I occasionally hit him a few times myself (sorry).
One day, his father came to school furious and demanded his son point out the classmates who were picking on him, then scolded them ferociously. At the time, we were in self-study class, so there was no teacher, and all the students were so scared that no one dared speak, we all put our heads down. Later, the teacher was really annoyed with this parent, so the dad came again and apologized to those students. But after that, that student was never bullied again.

Of course, this is far from being a good method, as it might well scar younger students, but it did get a definite result. Also, that school was in a big city, a provincial “focus school”.

One must understand how this world works, the law of the jungle is very simple. Aside from opening more reform schools, what can be done? On perhaps finding a conscientious gangster to serve as vice-principal. In truth, kids are liable to beat each other, it’s very common. In that video, it was mostly humiliation rather than beating. There’s nothing that can be resolved, so look at it like an art film, Shanghainese is very warm [sounding].

At our school, if someone wanted to beat someone else, they’d let out a rumor that there was a group of little hooligans waiting at the school gates. The person who was to be beaten would get scared, a mediator would come forward, and eventually the one who was going to be beaten would treat the would-be beater to a meal. Things were resolved in this way, I never saw any real fighting.

Send him to study Korean boxing or something like that. It’s not about being able to fight back, it’s about not wanting to be scarred by violence and become a loaf. Don’t send him to study wushu or something like that; there are lots of scoundrels there too.

I have a lot of experience with this kind of thing.

Number one: In primary school I rarely picked on other kids because they were all my neighbors and we often played together.
What was I most afraid of? My father beating me…whether or not I did anything wrong, he always hit me first…anyway
After the schools were combined and there were many classmates who were strangers, bullying was very common. 6th graders demanded money and cigarettes from those younger than them, it was very common.

Number two: If it was my child, I would seek out the kid who was beating them and take them out to dinner, take the two of them for a stroll together, children don’t bear grudges!
When I come across really bad things, I’d just hit him directly. Use evil to control evil!
Supplement: My family is in a middle-sized city in Jiangsu.

Of course there are several more comments already and probably bound to be a lot more by the time anyone reads this, so if you can read Chinese, check it out. Anyway, thoughts? Are things actually changing or is the only difference that now kids in China have cell phone cameras? And what, if anything, should be done when this kind of stuff occurs?

“Attack those who seek audience with higher-ups”

Wang Keqin recently posted many photos from his trip to a rural Henan town. He was there investigating the AIDS situation, but found these slogans posted all over the town and thought they were interesting. He posted them, in his words, “so that people can understand the relationship between China and seeking audience with higher-ups [上访]”. For those who haven’t seen it before, the term “seeking audience with higher-ups” refers to traveling to Beijing or larger cities to report local government misdeeds to higher authorities. Here are some of Wang’s photos, with translations in the captions:

Attack illegal reporting to higher-ups, defend social stability
"Attack illegal reporting to higher-ups, defend social stability"
Complainants should report all problems directly to the assigned place.
"Complainants should report all problems directly to the assigned place.
Those with complaints shouldnt entrap and attack administrative units of the govt and Party
"Those with complaints shouldn't entrap and attack administrative units of the gov't and Party"
Those with complaints mustnt obstruct traffic/communication.
"Those with complaints mustn't obstruct traffic/communication."

There are several other photos, as well as photos of these same slogans in different spots, at Wang Keqin’s site.

A few comments from the post:

Very harmonious

Using public opinion to put pressure on those who report [things to higher authorities]

As soon as you see this you know it is very corrupt there…

Henan’s bad practices are shocking, and [it] has the habit of blowing [things] out of proportion, really needs reform…

If the people and those who report [to higher authorities] were allowed to make slogan posters, I would make these:
Attack illegal [handling of] complaints/reports, protect the interests of the people complaining!
Complaint departments mustn’t dispute over trifles, shift responsibility, or respond slowly!
Complaint departments must always have someone answering the phone, and that guy can’t say “the person responsible for this isn’t here”!
It’s forbidden to beat, threaten, or arrest those reporting complaints!
Realistically safeguard complainants physical safety and interests!
Respect those reporting complaints, protect social stability!
It’s forbidden for officials to cover up for each other or ignore the appeals of those reporting complaints!
Covering up for one another, responding slowly, and responding irrationally, will invariably result in removal from office!

Why Western Media Mistakes Matter

DISCLAIMER: Please read every word of this post carefully before commenting. Also, be aware that the post may be edited to address criticisms posed in the comments. Our hope is that this post will serve as our default explanation for any further questions on the topic, and as such, want to address any criticisms you might have.

Every time we post something critical of a story in the Western media — which, for the record, isn’t that often, about 20 posts of our total 197 — this question gets asked. Yesterday it was commenter Hemulen, who phrased it thusly:

I don’t understand why you spend so much time criticizing Western media for not getting everything exactly right and being 100 per cent accurate.

It’s a valid question, or at least, one to which the answer might not be readily apparent. After all, the Chinese media routinely commits graver ethical sins as a matter of policy. Shouldn’t we be going after them, instead?

Why not attack the Chinese media?

I believe we don’t need to. First of all, the Chinese media “bias” is generally the result of institutional (government mandated or suggested) restrictions. Thus, criticizing Chinese journalists doesn’t serve a lot of purpose. Their mistakes, inaccuracies, etc. are often unavoidable because of the political system they work within. It’s no coincidence that many of us get our Chinese-language China news from blogs rather than the mainstream Chinese media; bloggers are capable of operating outside that system.

That brings us to the second reason why criticizing the Chinese domestic media is pointless: everyone already knows the Chinese media is biased in favor of China. Most people — even Western laypeople — know why, too, so pointing out errors in Xinhua reports is, we feel, a waste of our time. It’s sort of like seeing a horse then writing a blog post about how horses have four legs. True, yes, undeniably true, but does anyone care? No, because everyone already knows that.

Do Western media mistakes on China really matter?

Of course, none of that fully explains why we should care about the mistakes the so-called “Western media” (a ridiculous term that we‘re using here only for the sake of convenience) makes when they’re reporting on China. Does it really matter whether or not the Guardian, for example, tacks a misleading headline onto what looks like a fairly poorly-researched story?

We believe it does, assuming that you agree with the idea that mutual understanding between the West and China is good for the world and is something both countries should be actively pursuing. We hold that lazy, sensationalist, or just plain bad journalism in the West serves to further alienate both sides.

First, it negatively affects Western readers who aren’t inclined to dig deeper into Chinese issues than reading the occasional headline in the daily paper or online. At best, it leads them to infer things that are incorrect, at worst, it presents lies to them as fact. Taking the Guardian article as an example, most people who read that headline are going to picture Chinese secret police bursting into a monastery and shooting four monks. That image is partially a result of stereotypes, and partially a result of the Guardian’s poor choice of wording. They can’t be blamed for the stereotypes, but they could certainly have worded their headline more accurately. The New York Times’ headline for their story on the same piece of news was far more nuanced and, as a result, isn’t likely to deepen people’s convictions that China is an evil country.

But these misleading articles, headlines, captions, etc., harm international relations and understanding in another way. They provide fuel for CCP propagandists, fenqing, and anyone with a patriotic streak and a modem to argue that the West is a monolithic entity with a vested interest in seeing China fail. These stories are used as evidence that Western freedom of speech doesn’t lead to more capable reporting. That isn’t true, of course, but if you’re a Chinese person who doesn’t read English and you see new posts on Anti-CNN every day that are full of reports of the Western media lying about China, what conclusion are you going to come to?

Regardless of your political bent, mutual alienation is unproductive. Most foreign critics of the Chinese government are, at this point, aware that things in China probably aren’t going to change until Chinese people want them to change, no matter how many protests foreigners hold on foreign soil. Many Chinese people are annoyed enough by the things they see on Anti-CNN or reported in the mainstream Chinese media to ignore any criticism that comes from the West, even those that have legitimate factual basis (and such criticisms are many). Thus, Western media mistakes on China hurt the credibility of Western critics and journalists generally. It may not be fair that that’s the way things are, but make no mistake — that is the effect it has. Isn’t that an effect we, as Westerners with a vested interest in mutual understanding, want to prevent?

It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf. If we write stories implying the Chinese government has executed innocent protesters, and don’t even include the Chinese perspective (i.e., that the people executed were rioters, and possibly murders themselves), then, in the future, if the government actually does execute innocent protesters — and who’s to say they won’t — foreign media reports of the incident will be ridiculed as biased lies and ignored. What’s more, past reports of government malfeasance are also undermined. A Chinese reader who sees the Western media lying about the Tibetan riots in 2008 isn’t going to be very likely to believe Western reports about Tiananmen in 1989, despite the fact that those reports are, by and large, wholly accurate.

Aren’t there much bigger problems?

Some might argue that it is Chinese people’s attitudes that need to change; they should forgive the occasional journalistic error, especially given that foreigners are often given even less access that their Chinese colleagues. Others would argue that the elephant in the room — the Chinese government — is the ultimate cause of all of these problems and that their past mistakes are often the original source of Western biases and inaccuracies. Those things are true, but they aren’t things that we in the West can control. We give them plenty of coverage on this blog, but every now and then, we like to criticize Western mistakes too.

Flagrant Misrepresentation in the Guardian

Lets say you’re a journalist. You’ve got a story about how the Chinese government recently executed several Tibetans who were arrested in connection with the riots that happened last year. Your lede reads thusly: “Chinese authorities have carried out their first executions of Tibetans in connection with the deadly riots that swept Lhasa last year, according to exile groups.”

You’ve checked Xinhua for a story on it, but they don’t have one. There’s no need to actually speak to anyone in TIbet or China — after all, what would they know about it — and you’ve already called several Free Tibet groups for comment, so it doesn’t look like you favor one Free Tibet group over another (got to keep that article bias-free!). All that’s left to do? Slap a headline on that sucker and ship it off to the presses.

Now, you could title it something like “China executes Tibetan rioters” or “First Tibetan riot suspects executed”, but that makes it like the people who were executed might have done something wrong, and we all know that Tibetans are incapable of committing crimes because they are peaceful Buddhists. You need something sexy. Something that screams “Evil empire murders innocent people,” but slightly — only slightly — subtler.

If you’re a journalist for the Guardian (not sure we can blame Jonathan Watts for this as he may well not have written the headline), you would apparently go with this: China executes Tibetan protesters. Period.

Honestly, it’s not even necessary to explain why that headline is irresponsible and, frankly, appalling, so we won’t bother. Nor is it productive to speculate on the particular motives of the headline writer. The headline is grossly misleading, and serves no one. Shame on whoever wrote it, and shame on the Guardian for seeing fit to print it.

UPDATE: For some perspective, the New York Times wrote a similar story. The headline is: Group Says China Has Executed 4 for Roles in Tibet Riots.

Discussion Section: Illegal China Metaphors

The China Digital Times pointed us in the direction of this BBC article: “African view: China’s New Long March“. Sigh. Is commercial practice and Chinese diplomacy in Africa really that similar to the actual Long March? No, it isn’t, but we can’t blame the BBC. They’re not exactly alone. Have a look:

Etc. (Keep in mind that’s just articles with that metaphor in the title). To be fair, this is not a Western-media thing; Chinese sources also use the phrase quite frequently and it was even an official policy title in the 1970s. Still, it’s tired, and often wildly inappropriate. Just because something is challenging, time-consuming, or happens over great distances doesn’t make it a “new Long March”. We move that the phrase be made illegal, and journalists who use it be fined 50,000 RMB.

Worse, still, is any combination of the words “Red”, “Dragon” and the verb “to rise”, often combined to refer to China’s recent economic development, i.e. books like Red Dragon Rising, Red Dragon Rising, games like Red Dragon Rising, and articles like “Red Dragon Rising“, “Red Dragon Rising“, and “Red Dragon Rising“, among many, many others.

This combination of words is popular because it combines the (only) three things John Q. Public knows about China: it’s communist (“red”), its culture is full of dragons and/or we’re scared of its military (“dragon”), and its economy has improved dramatically (“rising”). It was probably clever the first time it was written — which I assume was probably some time in the 19th century* — but it hasn’t been since then. I suggest that journalists found using this metaphor be punished with a fine of 500,000 RMB. All these fines can be deposited directly into my bank account, by the way.

Anyway, the question we put to you is this: What other tired China tropes would you add to our list? What punishments would you recommend for the offenders? Or alternatively, do you think these overused metaphors are not such a bad thing?

UPDATE: Can’t believe I forgot about this, but a great China blog recently ran a similar rant. Check out Bendi Laowai’s take on the changing-China trope.

*If nothing else, Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “China is like a sleeping giant, and when she awakes, she will astonish the world,” in 1803. Not the exact same metaphor, but a similar idea.

Fanfou is Coming Back

Fanfou is coming back (h/t to He Caitou). According to a post today on the blog of the site’s creators:

[Website service] has stopped for 105 days, two co-workers have left, but we are still here. Fanfou will come back.

Of course, there’s no more detail, so it’s unclear whether it’s an indication that actual change is in progress or whether it’s just a rather hopeful promise. Still, if He Caitou is to be believed, it raises some interesting issues. From his post:

The loyalty of [Fanfou] users is very shocking to me. For any website, when it’s been closed for that long, the users just forget about and start using a substitute service. But Fanfou users, in every place where they can express their feelings, have continued to call for the return of Fanfou. Whether it’s on Douban, Baidu Tieba, or the foreign Twitter, they [the Fanfou users] haven’t ever given up hope, almost clinging to the idea that Fanfou would definitely return.

There are lots of reasons people might like Fanfou better than other equivalent services, but the primary one just seems to be that it was what everyone in China was using. When Fanfou went down, a lot of social connections got severed. He Caitou cites a Twitter post:

…a friend said, “Every day at noon I check to see whether Fanfou is back or not.” Continuing to chat, I learned it that she secretly loved another Fanfou user, but hadn’t had time to reveal herself when Fanfou was closed. As a result, she checks the Fanfou front page every morning to see if it’s back or not. The closing of Fanfou was completely without warning, so there wasn’t time to finish a lot of things.

Regardless of whether or not Fanfou was original and regardless of the reasons people want it back so badly, it is interesting that the users have stuck around this long rather than migrating to something else. And stuck around they have. There are already over a hundred comments on the Fanfou admins blog post about Fanfou coming back, and nearly all of them say something to the effect of “I’m waiting for you!”

If Fanfou does actually come back, it will raise a whole series of new questions. Is the government willing to unblock websites based on public demand? Are blocked websites being given timetables for when — if ever — they will be back online (if not, how do the Fanfou folks know they’ll be back?), and if so, why would the government even bother blocking them in the first place?

He Caitou seems to take it as fact that Fanfou is coming back, but we’re not as convinced based on the Fanfou owners’ blog post, the entirety of which we translated above. “We will be back,” is a bit vague. Give us a date and a time, and if it really happens, well…that would, as previously observed, be interesting.

UPDATE: If you need more convincing, check out this recent 不许联想 post about Fanfou, entitled “I’m waiting for your return.”