Uh…What?

Hat tip to Richard from Peking Duck for pointing us to this, perhaps the worst article I have ever seen about China in a respected Western news source. It should be noted that even before this, Richard noted that Shaun Rein’s column is often terrible, but this one really takes the cake. His greatest accomplishment: Rein comes off both as a government apologist and as an extremely pedantic Western lecturer. Impressive! The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some hits:

But life is getting better for the average Chinese. Much better. Real poverty is pretty much gone.

It’s certainly true that life has improved over the last thirty years for most Chinese, but poverty is gone? Really? Because according to an article in the Journal of Development Economics on China, about 10% of Chinese people still live in poverty, and poverty is technically defined in terms of living on 900RMB/year or less. My guess is that most people, including Shaun Rein, would be hard pressed to stomach living in China on 900RMB/month without calling it ‘living in poverty’.

The Internet is far freer than ever before […] Seven years ago Chinese citizens couldn’t access The New York Times. A year ago Wikipedia, the Huffington Post and WordPress were all blocked. All are accessible now. China’s government fears content less than it used to. It fears technology, like Twitter or Facebook, that it believes dangerous elements can use to band together for protests like those that have occurred in Iran.

What? First of all, why is Twitter “technology” but Wikipedia “content”? Both are user-driven web 2.0 concept sites. Second of all, how relevant is it to most Chinese that the Huffington Post or the New York Times or WordPress is now unblocked? At the same time, Chinese have lost several popular Chinese blogging sites like Bullogger, and increasingly popular microblogging sites like Fanfou and Twitter. These sites were important sources of Chinese language content; neither the NYTimes nor the HP offers any Chinese language content at all. There’s also talk of new censorship systems including a whitelist that would require any website that wanted to be visible in China to first register with the government. The Internet is far freer than ever before? Perhaps if you’re browsing primarily in English (or you work for the Chinese government).

His column isn’t just full of misleading things (and I should note I don’t disagree with everything he says), it is also terribly written. Consider his extremely awkward wielding of the China-as-teenager metaphor below:

Conversely, many in the world still look at China as a youngster playing with toy soldiers and cartoon characters. They don’t understand how it has grown, and they’re unsure how to deal with it. They blame it for things that happened decades ago, which is like yelling at an 18-year-old for having spilled milk when he was 4. So they treat it pedantically and get pushback. Yet they criticize it for not stepping up enough in multilateral situations.

Yes, it’s so frustrating when adults treat teenagers like children, but at the same time criticize them for not stepping up in multilateral situations. (Yes, I know what he meant, but he conveyed it very poorly).

There’s also the constant self-advertisement going on; according to Richard he almost always plugs his market research firm, and this column is no exception. Weak.

If Shuan Rein ever decides to move on to other opportunities, I have an empty beer bottle on my desk. Perhaps that could write columns for Forbes.

(The good news in all of this is that Forbes readers don’t seem to be being fooled. The comments on this column include allegations that perhaps Mr. Rein is blind, that he was under the influence of hallucinogens while writing, that he seems to have been living on another planet, that he lacks common sense and/or the ability to reason logically, etc.)

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0 thoughts on “Uh…What?”

  1. When I read this last night, I honestly thought to myself that this man is the truest definition of a tool there is. Honestly, I got to the third or fourth paragraph of this piece of shit article and couldn’t stand it anymore.

    You mentioned it briefly, but one of the commenters at TPD spells it out more clearly: Not only does he constantly plug himself, there’s also the issue that every “fact” or statistic he quotes either comes from his own company or from an article he previously wrote. Honestly, how did this get in Forbes? What a farce.

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  2. I actually see what he’s getting at by his distinction between “content” and “technology,” however inelegantly he may have made it. It’s true that some years ago the focus of Internet filtering — the usual suspects of human rights sites like Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, or from groups promoting Tibetan independence aside — were mainstream, Web 1.0 media sites. Today, the hammer falls hardest on sites that enable many-to-many communication, like Twitter or Fanfou. The Web 1.0 sites — again, the “usual suspects” aside — are all available from within China. (Blogs Rein places wrongly in his “content” category and leaving aside the fact that Bullogger’s gone and that Blogbus just suffered a prolonged block, he also fails to mention that Blogger/Blogspot, Tumblr, LiveJournal, and Typepad are either blocked or have been until quite recently). So there has been a shift in the sorts of filtering and in the focus of concern; Beijing seems to have recognized that they have much less to fear from the New York Times or CNN than they do from Twitter or Fanfou, which can be used for rapid dissemination of information and, more to the point, for organization. This doesn’t make the claim that the Internet is “far freer than ever before” any less absurd. If anything, the focus on social media strikes me as much more onerous.

    This distinction, though, does give me a glimmer of hope, however faint, that Beijing will recognize Internet search as belonging much more to the first category than to the second, and may come to see that a less draconian approach to censoring search results (say, using the same approach with Google.cn that they do with Google.com, and allowing results to appear but still timing out the pages they link to) won’t bring about the social instability Beijing so fears.

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  3. I think this article may over-exaggerate a little about some of the conditions in China, such as the lack of “real” poverty. Is analogies may be a little over simplified as well but I feel he makes good points. Self-criticism served Zhou Enlai well; I don’t see why it’s a bad thing that he criticized China and praised it at the same time.

    The only thing jaw-dropping about this Shaun’s article is that fact that is making excuses for China’s actions and that he’s particularity positive about China’s future. Definitely one of the more “positive” articles from a Western Press.

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  4. as another commenter has already mentioned. shaun is one few if not only who’s writes with more ‘positive’ from a western press, though I wouldn’t use that word but I know what you mean. If you really want to spot a tool who doesn’t understand the psyche from a non-western/colonial turned treehugging finger-wagging hipster perspective, you’ve got your pick from any number of new york times pamphleteers.

    shaun’s perspective (albeit from the top) is more in perspective than most, at least from a distance. This analogy about china being a person in developmental stages (AKA A CHILD) is succinctly true but hardly new or shocking. he’s often criticized for his non pro-west views, so it’s nothing new. i think gordon chang’s more of chinageek’s taste, no?

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  5. My issue with Mr. Rein has nothing to do with his “non pro-West” views. It has more to do with the fact that he supports his views with “facts” that are misleading or downright untrue, and that his writing is quite poor. Also, that he blatantly advertises his own firm in every column he writes.

    In fact, I think in some ways the China-as-adolescent metaphor is pretty apt, but the way Mr. Rein used it was incompetent, and the facts he used to support it were pretty much not true. (Even Chinese government sources wouldn’t try to claim there was no poverty in China…)

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  6. “My issue with Mr. Rein has nothing to do with his “non pro-West” views. It has more to do with the fact that he supports his views with “facts” that are misleading or downright untrue, and that his writing is quite poor. Also, that he blatantly advertises his own firm in every column he writes.”

    But that’s how the CCP gets to be the master of the universe. What’s wrong with following your master’s foot steps. One must not bite the hand that feeds you.

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  7. @Kaiser,

    No offense or anything, but I think it’s a bit naive to believe that the reason Beijing blocks stuff on the internet is truly in the name of social stability. Crimes of the CCP, be them large or small — ranging from black jail cells, an illegitimate judicial system, shackled media, and internet censorship, on to the CCP leaders of the past who crushed the Tiananmen uprising, purged “rightists,” and (currently) employ a personal (not a national) army — all of it is in an effort to protect the CCP’s own stranglehold on power. They may want the good of the people while they’re at it, but make no mistake in remembering that priority one is enforcing the law that only the Communist Party of China is fit to rule China.

    Also, Custer, if you have a moment, you should check out this one that compares China more to a fat, unhealthy kid. I’ll admit that I didn’t bother to check the guy’s sources, but I should also note that it’s a bit old:

    http://www(.)drorism(.)com/blog/2009/05/slanted-eyes-and-chinese-statistics.html

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  8. The spam filter seems to be undergoing its own 改革开放 at the moment. Previously it was pretty conservative, but an actual spam comment got through and was posted on the site yesterday, plus it’s starting to allow links.

    *waits for the inevitable Akimset spam filter 扫黄 crackdown*

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  9. @ Josh –

    I don’t think we’re saying anything different; you’re just being more explicit and honest about the Party’s equation of “social stability” with “us staying in power.” I fully agree that priority one for them is remaining in power; they just believe that that’s a necessary condition (and possibly even a sufficient one!) for achieving “social stability.”

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  10. Had to laugh at the China-as-teenager idea. This is the same we-have-a-history-of 5000-years China. I think a more appropriate analogy is a wily old grandad who has been pulling a fast one on the locals for many years but who is now having to re-adjust to the wider world. China has long portrayed itself as the victim of US hegemony and champion of the developing world. After Copenhagen and as Africa wakes up to the reality of being China’s n*****s instead of America’s n*****s … there’s going to be a bit of re-thinking.

    [racial slurs — not OK -ed.]

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  11. Sean is a huge tool…all the way to the bank. He is not writing to contribute to dialogue about China but to plug his marketing firm. WE, ie: China-literate people with real academic or business experience, are not his audience. Rather, he is writing for a hypothetical Forbes reader–an executive perhaps–with some interest in doing business in China who is looking for a “go-to” expert on the Chinese market. These columns are clearly not intended to help anyone but CMR, by positioning Sean as a supposed “China expert” for China neophytes.

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