Animal Rights in China

Did you know that when you search Google images for “lion”, the image on the left is the first one that comes up? It is. I didn’t know this either until I stumbled upon it yesterday while watching Penny Arcade‘s new episode of PATV. What, I wondered, was the context for this photo, a shot of a lion riding a horse? I shouldn’t have wondered. Of course it’s from a Chinese zoo.

In fact, the photo is from a Daily Mail article that’s sort of about animal abuse in China. The article’s lede is actually rather interesting:

Just when it seemed that the Chinese had plumbed the depths of animal humiliation, along comes something even worse.

The country which gave you bears riding bikes now proudly presents … lions and tigers on horseback.

Although I understand its value as shorthand in a media where space is limited, isn’t it a bit misleading to blame this on “the Chinese” and “the country” rather than the people who run that particular zoo? Not all zoos in China are so twisted, nor are Chinese people as a nationality cruel to animals (though, certainly, some Chinese individuals are). It’s a small distinction, perhaps, but one whose effects can be seen in some of the comments on the story in question, many of which call for boycotts of Chinese products or of the “disgusting, barbaric, and revolting country” itself.

On the one hand, bigots are everywhere and more precise news reporting isn’t going to stop some people from reading “Chinese zoo” and extrapolating to “all Chinese are like this”. With that said, isn’t implying that this show reflects “Chinese” as a whole misleading? I highly doubt that, were they reporting on animal abuse in the US (which is as rampant if not as blatant as in China), their story would start with something like”Just when it seemed that the Americans had plumbed the depths of animal humiliation.” (And as a side note, aren’t we anthropomorphizing a bit with the “humiliation”, Daily Mail? I’m all for animal rights, but let’s veer away from ascribing human emotions to animals without any kind of evidence).

In any event, animal rights is something that’s been on the mind of Chinese lawmakers, too. Recently, an animal protection law that could ban the eating of dog and cat meat has attracted a lot of controversy. Dog is a part of Korean cuisine popular in Northeastern China, and people in Southern China eat both dog and cat meat. However, it appears much of the fervor may have sprung from a misunderstanding. From the Oriental Morning Post (via Danwei):

What does it mean to ban “the illegal consumption or sale of the meat of dogs or cats”? Chang Jiwen explained things to this paper: “The media has misunderstood. What is ‘illegal consumption’? For example, if Beijing has a rule banning consumption, and other areas have their own rules, then it is illegal to consume it in those places. But in the northeast, there are many ethnic Koreans, for whom eating dog meat is a folk custom, so the northeast need not ban it, and eating dog meat would be legal.” Chang said, “the Animal Cruelty Law needs local governments to issue corresponding regulations.”

So eating dog and cat meat would be illegal except in places where they eat dog and cat meat? That strikes me as rather useless (and I’m not the only one). Of course, the food restrictions are just article nine of a larger draft bill, one I have (as yet) been unable to find a complete copy of.

Anyway, although the draft law has drawn criticism — “According to a poll reproduced in today’s Information Times, 64% of more than 37,000 respondents to an online poll were dubious about the appropriateness and enforceability of the provisions,” reports Danwei — there’s also plenty of support, which lends credence to the idea that blaming “the Chinese” for animal cruelty is, well, stupid. In an online forum for cat owners (granted, a self-selecting group), there was much rejoicing over the announcement of the draft law, and widespread hope that it would become a real law. Said one netizen,

Amitabha [the name of a widely-worshipped bodhisattva], [I hope the law] is quickly presented [to the legislature] and confirmed. There’s enough dog’s blood on the hands of Han [people].

Another wrote:

Go, go, give those people who play with animals’ lives a wake up call!

Of course, much of the controversy over the law comes not from Chinese people’s love for eating dogs so much as it comes from the widespread belief that the legislature should be spending their time passing laws that protect the rights of people before they worry about the rights of animals.

What do you think?

(Full disclosure: Your correspondent has eaten dog meat soup at a Korean restaurant in Harbin, but found it impossible to enjoy. I kept picturing my parents’ dog.)

…Brother is Only Legend

Perhaps you’ve already seen this. Still, we’re going to add to the madness because it’s fun, and because sometimes even very serious China watchers like us enjoy watching videos about crazy men with knives wearing underwear and threatening their bosses.

First, the video (h/t to Ryan of Lost Laowai, click the link if the embed doesn’t work for you). It is quite entertaining, and tells the story pretty simply. Our translation of the video and the lyrics in the background music are below:

Main Title: Double Swordsman in Crowded Shopping Area Seeks Money, Police Use Special Techniques to Subdue Him.

Scrolling subtitles (loosely translated): On the 26th, a Guangzhou man took his pants off and attacked the door of his company with “pig-killing knives” after being denied workers compensation for an injury he suffered. He said: “I have no clothes, no food to eat, I can only steal [to survive]. It’s not that I don’t want to be a good person, it’s that my family environment and the reality of society today haven’t given me an opportunity. Rich people have everything, I don’t even have cigarettes to smoke. Rather than resigning myself to living like this, it’s better to use this method [i.e., taking to the road in one’s underpants and a butcher’s knife] to change my destiny.” The police used special methods to subdue him, and no one was injured. According to the man’s former boss and work friends, he was willfully causing trouble and [trying to] blackmail [them].

Song in the Background:Don’t Be Infatuated With Brother” (click to download MP3 version)

This song is one of many, many jokes to come of the popular 2009 internet meme, see this for more details. Here are the lyrics, translated:

Chorus: Please don’t be infatuated with brother anymore, brother is only a legend,
Although I hate to leave [you], I still must say it,
Please don’t be infatuated with me, I am only a legend,
I’m never lonely because you were once with me

Rap Verse (in English): Rap:When everybody says someone is a hero
No one really knows the truth about an idol
Whose inside is pretty lonely n vulnerable
Wishing therell be someone who do know
One time, he set himself a high goal
He wants to be there as a role model
Ever since then life becomes a live show
Real time show without any rehearsal

Verse: Every legend fades with time,
Every strong person has setbacks and hardships,
The reason they live free is because they understand what to accept and reject,
The reason they are aloof is that they can see through everything
Please don’t be infatuated with brother anymore, brother is only a legend,
Although I hate to leave [you], I still must say it,
You must remember me, I will always be drifting aimlessly,
Brother will not be lonely because brother has loneliness accompanying him,
Don’t be infatuated with me, I am only a legend,
Although I feign cold detachment, it’s because I don’t want to be sad again,
Please don’t be infatuated with brother anymore, brother is only a legend,
I’m never lonely because you were once with me.

(Verse and chorus repeat)

Coda: The reason love also must be given up is because it’s led to nothing,
If I say it you won’t understand, so let’s sing this song together,
Please don’t be infatuated with brother anymore, brother is only a legend,
Although I hate to leave [you], I still must say it,
Please don’t be infatuated with me, I am only a legend,
I’m never lonely because you were once with me

Fun times! But seriously, is it just me, or does this kind of thing seem to happen a lot? There’s the Chunxi Road Swordsman (pictured), crazy brick-throwing man, and I could swear I remember a story of another pantsless man taking to the streets with weaponry on ChinaSMACK, but I can’t find it anymore.

Anyway, what’s actually interesting about all this is the comments netizens have been making about it, with many expressing some sympathy for the man. One commenter wrote (translation by Fauna of ChinaSMACK):

With so many bitter/long-suffering people in society, he is just a relatively extreme one, and I sympathize.

Those people laughing, imagine for a moment if that person was your guys’ father. Would you still be able to laugh?

Clearly, netizens are quite conscious of the tension and frustration that can exist on the lower rungs of Chinese society. It is a tension that, if the number of armed, pants-less men on the street is any indication, seems to be building. It’s probably something we should take seriously. Or maybe not:

So what do you think? Serious social problem, hilarious photoshop material, or both?

“Without the GFW, Could China Win Western Public Opinion?”

This forum post on Anti-CNN asks the question of netizens: “Without the Great Firewall, would China be able to occupy the battlefield of the Western public discourse?” Here is a sampling of some of the responses by Chinese netizens:

1) China lacks language skills. You should know most people only study foreign languages to pass tests.
2) [Chinese] lack the necessary knowledge, they can only understand the sciences [not the humanities].
3) They lack the historical common knowledge, language background, and cultural background. They’re only willing to study the sciences

It can’t, the power to take the initiative is in the hands of others.

I feel it can’t. I once read a media studies professor’s analysis of Western media [idea] dissemination strategies; I feel that we’re really behind in this aspect. As far as regular netizens are concerned, our national education doesn’t teach these kind of techniques, so [common people] probably couldn’t out debate Westerners. Most importantly, at the present the platforms for international exchange were all created by Westerners.

[In response to the above comment] It’s not a matter of being out-debated, it’s that Chinese are taught to love the nation and the Party from when they’re young; Westerners learn freedom, equality, and universal love. With totally different liquids used in the brainwashing, could there be a common language?

Definitely not, even if we had the truth, we would be drowned by all sorts of their strategic moves.

I feel it can, justice eventually defeating evil is a historical trend!

If you judge it, we haven’t even started debating it yet and we’ve already lost! So what is there to debate about? My answer is that it can’t.

It can’t. Many Chinese have already “climbed the wall”, but the information outside it is fundamentally biased towards the West, so they [the Chinese outside the GFW] naturally believe that what the West says is correct and objective. If we were to get rid of the wall, these people would join the West in a battle for public opinion.

Completely impossible. Only when our actual physical power outpaces that of the West could our values win superiority. Value systems are propped up by “hard power”, not by the gift of gab.

It can.

Definitely not. They don’t communicate in Chinese, and if we communicate with them in English we’ll definitely be no match!

At the moment, no…but we must continue and improve!

Although I haven’t made a formal count and there’s no official poll, from scanning the first few pages of comments it seems that most people agree China could not win the battle for public opinion with the West, at least not at the moment.

Sexism in Han Han’s Film Review?

Yesterday I translated this Han Han post for ChinaSMACK. In the process, I came across this passage, which I found rather interesting. Han Han is saying that he is willing to give Confucius (the recent Chow Yun-fat film) only two “points”, the second of which is thusly explained:

Also, because the director is female, I will encourage her with a point. But it must be said, that whether it’s this female director’s Confucius or another female director’s I am Liu Yuejin, their grasp of non-emotional films, especially the more complex/intricate ones, is rather weak. I don’t understand why they don’t make films about love or life [instead], which is what female directors are good at. Zhang Aijia’s Heartbeat or Xu Anhua’s Day and Night in Tianshui are good movies by female directors. Why should women embarrass themselves?

This passage hasn’t, as yet, jumped out at many of the ChinaSMACK commenters, and neither did it appear to leave a deep impression on Han Han’s commenters from what I can tell (though I confess a deep disinterest in wading very far into the thousands of comments, which are 90-95% just “Han Han I love you”, “I will always support Han Han”, “Wow, first page!”, etc.).

Nevertheless, the passage bothers me. What Han Han seems to be suggesting is that women are inherently better at making one type of movie than another; that they’re not fully capable of creating a complex dramatic epic like a man can. Furthermore, the sentence “why should women embarrass themselves?” suggests that the failure of one female director, is, somehow, reflected on all other female directors.

Granted, there is a great disproportion in the ratio of male to female film directors. But does that justify judging female directors collectively, or deciding based on the works of a few what they can or can’t do? When Zhang Yimou makes a mess of a complex martial arts/”historical”/character drama (as he has repeatedly in the past decade), I haven’t seen anyone calling that an embarrassment to male directors. So why the special treatment for women? Are they really less capable of making films than men because of their gender?

In fact, Chinese female directors can and have made films every bit as complex and character-driven as men. Huang Shuqin‘s Woman Demon Human [人鬼情] springs to mind immediately as a cinematic work by a female director that is moving, emotional, and quite complex in its meditations on the nature of gender and performance. It is not about “love” or “life” (at least, not any more than any film is about “life”), and yet a female director managed to pull it off. Of course, I doubt Han Han has seen this film as it came out in 1987. But there are other examples.

A scene from Woman Demon Human (1987)

Do Han Han’s comments constitute sexism? Furthermore, how do Chinese people define sexism? There seem to be two terms, 性别主义 (“sexism”) and 性别歧视 (“sexual discrimination”), with the former just being a sort of ideology and the latter often implying some kind of discriminatory action. If we take Han Han’s words at face value, it seems to be a clear cut case of 性别主义 (“sexism”), as Han Han implies that men are inherently better at making certain kinds of films than women.

Whether or not Han Han’s comments constitute 性别歧视 (“sexual discrimination”) is probably more controversial. On the one hand, these are his own thoughts posted on a blog. On the other hand, by expressing them in a place where literally thousands of women are going to read them, his words are bound to leave some kind of impression on his many adoring followers, male and female both.

Is it the same as beating a woman, or paying her less than a man? Certainly not. But this kind of mindset is exactly what leads to those more extreme behaviors. After all, if women are inherently worse at making certain types of movies, they must also be inherently worse at other things too, right? Unless there’s some kind of adverse reaction that happens between film cameras and the female gender, we can assume Han Han also believes women are less capable of writing great works of dramatic literature, for example. The supposed existence of these shortcomings in the female gender suggests to readers that there might be more ways in which women are incapable of measuring up to men.

I do not mean to suggest that Han Han is a male chauvinist. I’ve never met the man, and though I read his blog fairly frequently this is the first time I can remember running across something like this, so I am not attacking Han Han as a person. But I do believe that what he suggested in this essay was fundamentally sexist. Confucius may have sucked, but that doesn’t mean no women are capable of making that kind of film, it just means that one woman wasn’t. To paraphrase a favorite line from the film Gettysburg, ‘anyone who judges by the group is a pee-wit. You take people one at a time.’

What do you think? Was Han Han being a bit sexist or are we making mountains out of molehills?

The Future of ChinaGeeks

Listen up, folks, we’ve got some news!

First of all, I’m happy to announce something you may have already noticed: that Max R. (a.k.a. maxiewawa from ChinaSMACK) has joined ChinaGeeks as a translator! I’m excited to have him on board and look forward to reading his translations! Please remember we’d love to have you on the team, too, so think about joining us.

Secondly, you’ll be seeing my name around the internet a bit more in the coming weeks and months. Provisionally, I will be translating blog posts of young opinion leaders once a week for CNReviews. I will also be translating some of Han Han‘s blog posts for ChinaSMACK at Fauna’s request (the first is already up), although obviously how frequently that happens depends on how frequently Han Han writes something interesting.

In short, it’s going to be a bad year for people who don’t like me (and you haven’t even heard all of it yet!). I will likely be posting links to my posts on other sites here, as well as via Twitter, which I still dislike but will use anyway.

Edit: The first translation for CNReviews is up now, too.

“Hillary Talks About the Problem of the Chinese Internet, China Unhappy”

The following is an original translation of a post by lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan. Ironically, the post was quickly deleted from his blog (see the delete notification he got here), but the essay has been reposted here.


On January 21 Hilary Clinton made a speech at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington about the freedom of the internet.

Clinton made reference to China’s censorship of the internet. In parts she criticised China, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry has responded.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu was asked “In her speech on internet freedom on January 21, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on China’s internet policy, accusing China of restricting internet freedom. How do you comment?”.

Ma Zhaoxu responded: “The US attacks China’s internet policy, indicating that China has been restricting internet freedom. We resolutely oppose such remarks and practices that contravene facts and undermine China-US relations.

China’s internet is open. China is a country with the most vibrant internet development. By the end of last year, China had 384 million internet users, 3.68 million websites and 180 million blogs. China’s Constitution guarantees people’s freedom of speech. It is China’s consistent policy to promote the development of internet. China has its own national conditions and cultural traditions. It supervises internet according to law, which is in parallel with the international paractice.

Hacking in whatever form and offence of others’ privacy is prohibited by law in China. As a major victim of hacking in the world, China believes that the international community should intensify the cooperaion in jointly combating internet hacking so as to safeguard internet security and protect the privacy of citizens in accordance with law.

We urge the US to respect facts and stop attacking China under the excuse of the so-called freedom of internet. We hope that the US side can work with China to earnestly implement the consensus between leaders of both countries on developing bilateral relationship in the new era by strengthening dialogue, exchanges and cooperation, respecting each other’s core interest and major concerns and properly handling differences and sensitive issues so as to ensure the healthy and stable development of China-US relationship.”

I have seen a transcript of Clinton’s speech, and she makes six references to China.

  1. When she makes references to the audience, she mentions Chinese participants. “Also, I’m told here as well are Senator Sam Brownback, Senator Ted Kaufman, Representative Loretta Sanchez, many representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, ambassadors, chargés, participants in our International Visitor Leadership Program on internet freedom from China, Colombia, Iran, and Lebanon, and Moldova.”
  2. When talking about Obama’s dialogue with university students, she also mentions China. “During his visit to China in November, for example, President Obama held a town hall meeting with an online component to highlight the importance of the internet.”
  3. When she talks about the issue of internet censorship, China is mentioned. “In the last year, we’ve seen a spike in threats to the free flow of information. China, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan have stepped up their censorship of the internet.”
  4. She mentions China again when speaking about how the internet is used to crackdown and suppress religious groups. “Some nations, however, have co-opted the internet as a tool to target and silence people of faith. Last year, for example, in Saudi Arabia, a man spent months in prison for blogging about Christianity. And a Harvard study found that the Saudi Government blocked many web pages about Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam. Countries including Vietnam and China employed similar tactics to restrict access to religious information.”
  5. She mentions China when speaking of the attack on Google. “The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. And we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.
  6. When speaking of Sino-American views on the internet, she mentions China once more.

    “The internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century. Now, the United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.”

Although Clinton had some criticisms of China, her stance wasn’t rigid.

If our internet has any problems, I think that 3 hundred million netizens have the most right to speak out on it. If a fellow countrymen spoke up about the internet, those that supervise it wouldn’t react. But as soon as these words are on the lips of an outsider, it embarrasses them.

Our spokesperson even remembered that “China’s Constitution guarantees people’s freedom of speech.” This made me feel gratified. Internet censors, don’t delete netizens’ posts lightly, or you’ll be infringing on a basic constitutional right.

“[China] supervises the internet according to law, which is in parallel with the international paractice.”

I totally support the spokesperson’s point of view. But I think we need to apply this lawful supervision not only to obscene sexual material, but also to the restrictions placed on citizens’ expression of their views. Even more so, those that misuse public office to stop netizens’ expression of their views should be supervised according to the law.

On the afternoon of the 22nd, the American Embassy in Beijing, along with the American Consulate in Shanghai and the Consulate in Guangzhou, invited netizens to discuss their views on Clinton’s address. I really would like to understand what the situation is like in America with regard to lawful supervision of the internet. It’s a shame that there isn’t time for me to have a turn to ask these of questions.

Chinese Video Games in America

In terms of video games, there has long been a divide between East and West. Even in the current climate, dominated by American and Japanese developers and publishers, there isn’t as much integration as one might expect. And Chinese games have, historically, failed to find much of a market outside the PRC’s borders. Still, the success of FarmVille in the United States (a clone of the extremely popular Chinese social networking game “Happy Farm”) has shown that there’s potential there. Many Chinese developers have already expressed interest in expanding their market into the US. But they still have a long way to go.

Stan Abrams of China Hearsay tackled this very issue in a recent post. I should say up front that while I have nothing against Stan personally, and I like his blog, I think he’s made a few mistakes here. First of all, he continues to make references to American “kids”, but the average age for video game players is already 30, and it is rising. And while I completely agree that, since many Chinese games draw from Chinese history, Chinese developers will need to re-calibrate their narrative style (and the narratives themselves) for an audience that largely isn’t familiar with China, I think saying that “Chinese history is about as well known to most gamers as is regular exercise and a healthy diet” is a little unfair. (Full disclosure: I routinely play video games and subscribe to the notion that they are just as capable of attaining artistic merit and telling a complex, moving story as any other art form).

That said, I think Stan’s analysis is quite apt, but I wanted to expand on one point:

China’s biggest online game companies are increasingly looking to offer games in the U.S., bringing with them a game model where users play for free but must pay to get certain power-ups for their characters.

Sounds like a good idea? Gaming companies here are doing very well, and their business model is very different from that of most U.S. games, which are based on monthly fees. Maybe there is an untapped U.S. market for folks who would be attracted to the “no fee” system.

It seems rather unlikely to me that the Chinese model (at least, the one described here) would be embraced by American gamers, who have historically been very opposed to any model that allows players who pay for something an advantage in PvP (player vs. player) combat. For example, Penny Arcade, an incredibly popular webcomic that has spawned massive gaming conventions on both coasts of the US as well as a multimillion dollar charity, has routinely railed against the idea of having weapons, say, that players could buy to get a leg up on the competition.

Granted, when the idea is mentioned in American gaming circles, it’s often in the context of retail titles that gamers have already paid for. And even so, there are plenty of games that (successfully) sell in-game items and content on top of a preset retail price or monthly subscription fee.

The bigger problem, I think, will be quality and polish. Chinese game consumers, generally speaking, are willing to play games that, graphically, are below the standards of most American gamers, who are already used to games that look great on big-screen HD setups. Most Chinese games simply don’t look good enough to draw American consumers away from American and Japanese triple-A titles.

Another issue Chinese developers will need to consider is context. Aside from cultural context and the relationship it can have with a game’s narrative (see Stan’s point about American gamers’ interest, or lack thereof, in Chinese history), an obvious but important difference exists in where and how Americans and Chinese play their games. In China, PC games rule, and most Chinese play them in marathon gaming sessions at internet bars. MMORPGs and the like are popular in part because there is little alternative — single player games require player progress to be saved to the hard drive of the computer, and since many Chinese gamers don’t own computers of their own, they’re more likely to play massively multiplayer games where progress is saved on game servers via the internet. In the US, however, console games outsell PC games, and fast-paced multiplayer titles with strong single player components like the recent Modern Warfare 2 — which sold 4.7 million copies in 24 hours in the US and UK alone — outsell RPGs.

The glaring exception to all of this, of course, is Activision Blizzard’s behemoth, World of Warcraft, which has millions upon millions of players in both the US and China, despite its five-year-old-and-still-aging graphics and money-draining pay scheme. Bridging the cultural gap, it seems, is possible. But Blizzard is famous for relentlessly vigorous quality control that results in solid, addictive (sometimes quite literally) gameplay. If Chinese game companies want to enter the US market, they’re going to need to beef up their quality standards on pretty much every front. And, as Stan says, they’re going to need to think carefully about the stories they’re telling and the way those stories are presented, because American consumers aren’t going to buy a game just because they can play as Zhuge Liang. (Full disclosure: I would totally buy that game.)

Also of interest but completely unrelated: This post at Inside-Out China is very much worth your time. Especially worth considering is Mrs. Euberlein’s final point:

Meanwhile, another curious question comes to mind: don’t those leftist people have the same human rights as the democratic dissidents do? If so, why haven’t I seen any protests against their arrests from human rights groups?