Li Yinhe: “Things are Getting More and More Astonishing”

Sexologist Li Yinhe has been very vocal recently about her dissatisfaction with China’s pornography law. In her latest blog post, Li uses pretty rousing language to encourage readers to rebel against what she sees as improper enforcement of the law.

Translation

From the ‘Taiyuan porn site’ case [9 individuals were jailed for running pornographic websites] to the ‘Sichuan man Yang Huajun fined for downloading obscene video’ case [where a young man was fined 3000 RMB for downloading porn to his personal computer], things have been getting more and more astonishing. In the beginning, it was [only those who were] making profit that were being punished, [but] then those not making a profit were punished too, and now they’re even punishing people inside their own homes. I think that if we quiet down and stop rebelling, it will progress to a stage where everyone who peeks at a pretty girl on the street will have their eyes gouged out.

In my opinion, citizens watching pornography in their homes and online is fairly equal to looking at pretty girls on the street: the degree of harm it causes to society and to other people is similar [to that caused by looking at girls on the street]. It isn’t necessary to see this as being like confronting a mortal enemy; the heavens will not collapse, there will not be chaos in society, and the stability of the regime and of society will not be threatened. Who knows, maybe it could make society more stable – if everyone was to concentrate their desires and passions into sexual happiness, they wouldn’t be going out on the streets causing trouble, let alone thinking about overthrowing the regime. This [would be] a shared victory for the common people and the government.

The ‘Shaanxi porn DVD’ case ([in 2002, police officers burst into the house of a young husband and wife and violently arrested the husband for watching an erotic DVD, summary in Chinese here] provoked nationwide debate, and in the end it was the police who put an end to the matter with an apology. However, some people have short memories, and are committing the same mistakes. Recent internet obscenity clean-ups have been increasingly astonishing, we should all come out and yell “stop”. I’ve noticed that there’s a very [fresh] phrase in legal circles, that ‘lower-level law’ must obey ‘upper-level law’. [Law enforcers] say that being a fining guideline, the lower-level law “Measures for the Security, Protection and Administration of the International Networking of Computer Information Networks” should abide by the upper-level “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Public Security Administration Punishments”. To use their own words, the lower-level “Obscene Goods Law” must also abide by the article about free speech in the upper-level law “The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China”.

For more debate on this topic, read this post over on china/divide, written by the ChinaGeeks editor.

Li Yinhe: “Who Will Protect Prof. Wang’s Sexual Rights?”

Sexologist and social commentator Li Yinhe, long one of my favorite Chinese bloggers, is finally back. After months of just posting Nietzsche translations, she’s finally posting original stuff again, faster than we can translate it.

Recently, she called for an end to China’s now-outdated “Group Licentiousness” laws — laws that banned any and all group sex acts, even when they were conducted in private and involving only consenting adults (see our translation here). These laws are infrequently used, but Li argued there was no reason for them to stay on the books at all. A few days ago, we found out why.

Translation

Recently, associate professor Wang of a Nanjing college [she is being intentionally vague to protect the man’s privacy] was charged for particpating in a “wife-swapping” activity. If convicted, under the group licentiousness laws, he could be taken into custody to serve a prison sentence. His college has already suspended his employment and the dispensing of his salary.

Originally, I thought there weren’t cases of people being sentenced under the group licentiousness laws in the past twenty years, but it looks like I was too optimistic about China’s progress. If [Wang] is actually convicted, it will be a great leap backward for China’s human rights situation.

Group licentiousness laws violate the constitution; the conflict between the two appears on the front of “respecting and protecting human rights”. These laws infringe on the basic rights of citizens: the constitution (section 33) reads, “All those holding P.R.C. nationality are citizens of the People’s Republic of China. The nation respects and protects [their] human rights.”

What citizens choose to do in private in terms of consensual sexual activity should be protected under the constitution. Just as the constitution doesn’t have a provision that “Chinese citizens have the right to eat food”, it doesn’t have a provision saying “Chinese citizens have a right to participate in [private, consensual] sexual activity” because these two rights are part of the ‘fundamental human rights’ the constitution protects. For the same reason, just as we cannot use the penal code to forbid people from eating, we [should not be able to] use the penal code to prevent people from engaging in consensual sexual activity in private. Additionally, it’s worth reminding everyone: just as eating food isn’t fundamentally harmful to people, neither is sexual activity fundamentally harmful to people.

The crux of this [the Prof. Wang case] is that it hasn’t hurt anyone. Wife-swapping is a sexual activity enjoyed by an extremely small minority. It does violate [social] conventions, and the vast majority of people will not participate in it or approve of it. But just violating social convention isn’t violating the law. As long as activities that violate convention don’t harm anyone else, one has a right to participate in them. This right should not be stripped away in the name of protecting “morality” or “convention”.

I call on those people who are still rational, raise the voices of justice and mercy to protect the rights of Professor Wang. Improving the human rights situation in China isn’t just saving Professor Wang, it’s saving ourselves. Worsening the human rights situation isn’t just hurting Professor Wang, it’s hurting every single one of us. I hope everyone will raise their voice, and strongly oppose and obstruct Prof. Wang’s conviction.

Dear New York Times: WTF?

I have criticized the New York Times before, but generally, I find their writing on China to be pretty balanced, especially once you read beyond the headlines. So it was particular dismay that I read this piece, which starts poorly in the headline department and then goes south from there.

“Stance by China to Limit Google Is Risk by Beijing.” That’s the headline, and it would make sense if Beijing’s stance had somehow changed, but it hasn’t. As always, Beijing requires domestic search engines to provide filtered search results. Google and other search engines have been doing this in China for years. Google’s pullout is in no way a reflection of any kind of change in Chinese government policy, but that headline sure implies it is, and a “risky” one at that.

But, that’s just the headline, and as we’ve established, headlines are written to grab attention, not necessarily to indiciate the true content of the story (perhaps that’s what happened to Wired, too?). So is the content of Michael Wines’s piece any better? Sadly, it is not.

Now China has tightened its grip on the much more variegated world of online information, effectively forcing Google Inc., the world’s premier information provider, to choose between submitting to Chinese censorship and leaving the world’s largest community of Internet users to its rivals. It chose to leave.

If by “now”, he means “four years ago” then this paragraph would be sort of accurate. I say “sort of accurate” because it implies that this was something the Chinese government selectively forced on Google. It was not. All companies operating within any country must obey that country’s laws; filtering search results was something Google agreed to do when they first entered.

Chinese police shut down Google!

After some quotes from experts, including Bill Bishop of Digicha and Sinocism, Wines continues:

The conclusion of Google’s four-year Internet experiment in China — an effort to transplant Western free-speech norms here — was anything but smooth. On Monday, it effectively shut down the search engine it hosted inside China, after declaring in January that it would stop cooperating with Chinese censors.

Well at least now we’re admitting that Google entered China four years ago rather than yesterday. But was Google really conducting an “internet experiment” that was “attempting to transplant Western free-speech norms”? Lets see — they agreed to filter their own search results. That doesn’t seem very free-speech friendly. Then they kept doing that, with no change, for four years. Then, after being hacked, they yelled “Enough!” and pulled out entirely, having changed absolutely nothing about what Chinese people can access on the internet. Forgive me if I fail to see how that counts as an attempt to transplant “Western free-speech norms”. Perhaps someone could explain?

Then, Wines moves to broader generalizations about the nature of internet access in China:

But China also does not acknowledge to its own people that it censors the Internet to exclude a wide range of political and social topics that its leaders believe could lead to instability. It does not release information on the number of censors it employs or the technology it uses for the world’s most sophisticated Internet firewall. Its 350 million Internet users, many with fast broadband connections, are assured they have the same effectively limitless access to information and communications that the rest of the world enjoys.

Certainly, China doesn’t run PSAs informing the populace that the internet is censored for political content, but this paragraph is still pretty damn misleading. There is no attempt to hide the censorship of anything deemed “inharmonious”, and every netizen in China knows that means political and social content. Chinese people are not idiots, there are very few that really believe they “have the same effectively limitless access to information and communications that the rest of the world enjoys” (because the rest of the world doesn’t censor anything, of course). The Chinese have been willing to accept internet censorship not because they don’t know it exists but because, by and large, they buy into the argument that total free speech is damaging to social stability. That is the argument that the Chinese government has always advanced and continues to advancenot that censorship isn’t happening at all.

The rest of the article devolves into an even more ridiculous assertion: that Google is somehow innately better at innovating than domestic companies, and thus, the internet market will stagnate as domestic companies sit around copying each other’s old technologies rather than moving forward. Google does have a history of innovation, of course, but are Chinese companies really fundamentally incapable of this? I reject that notion as stupid — and probably also a bit racist — but I suppose we’ll see for sure in the long run.

The real tragedy is that Mr. Wines clearly spoke to some smart people. Xiao Qiang, the editor of the invaluable China Digital Times is also quoted in the piece, as are several presumably knowledgeable professors (and the aforementioned Bishop), but I find it hard to believe any of them would agree with how the final draft came out. Shame on you, New York Times, and shame on Michael Wines.

(As a sidenote, if you want to know what I think about Google pulling out of China, you can read this, or this — smarter men who’ve said it better than I. If you want the short version: it’s a selfish move that does nothing whatsoever to help Chinese people or the spread of freedom of speech.)

Before you argue in the comments that mistakes like the ones pointed out in this post are irrelevant, or say “Yeah, well the Chinese media is way worse, so what?”, please read this post.

The Trials of Being a Chinese Reporter

As if being a reporter in China weren’t hard enough already, the government is planning to enforce more stringent requirements to ensure that journalists “learn socialist and Marxist theories of journalism and media ethics.” But even when you do become a reporter, the path is not an easy one. Getting comments or even information at all for stories can be difficult, as evidenced by this recording of a Hong Kong reporter trying to confirm Google’s retreat from China with Chinese government officials.

The recording comes with a hat tip to the Twitter of Jeremy Goldkorn (of Danwei). The recording can also be streamed here. What follows is a rough translation of the phone conversation.

Translation

[Note: for obvious reasons, translating spoken speech is harder than translating something written. This is my first time attempting this sort of translation, and while I believe it reflects quite accurately the conversation as it was recorded, I have left a few small parts out and can’t be sure I haven’t made some mistakes.]
Reporter: May I ask, is this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: Oh, it’s like this, I’d like to ask whether Google is leaving the Chinese market or not.
S.C. Worker 1: Oh, this… […] we still don’t have that…we’re still not very clear on it.
Reporter: Why?
S.C. Worker 1: So you’ll have to ask another department, this office hasn’t received any news.
Reporter: You haven’t recieved any news. But isn’t this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes. But we have many offices.
Reporter: Oh. Then what office should I ask? What office is this?
S.C. Worker 1: This is the news office.
Reporter: The news office, yes?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: And at the news office you haven’t heard anything relating to [this piece of news]?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh, this, perhaps it is not our office that is responsible for this [piece of news].
Reporter: In that case, what office is responsible for it?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh [long pause] it’s…the propaganda office.
Reporter: Oh, the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes, maybe it’s the propaganda office.
Reporter: But have you heard the news that Google is going to leave China?
S.C. Worker 1: I saw it on the internet, but this office isn’t responsible for it.
[…]
Reporter: OK, so can you tell me the phone number for the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: You could send a memo over and I could pass it along to them, how’s that?
Reporter: Oh, that might not be convenient, could you just directly tell me the propaganda office’s number?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh…I don’t have it now, wait a minute, I will ask [pause] OK, call 65226165 and ask.
Reporter: 65226165, and what office is that?
S.C. Worker 1: It’s an office responsible for dealing with reporters
Reporter: Oh, OK. Thank you.
S.C. Worker 1: Bye bye.

[Reporter calls that number]

Reporter: Is this the State Council news bureau office responsible for dealing with questions from reporters?
S.C. Worker 2: Yes, who is this?
Reporter: It’s like this, we saw that Google is going to leave the Mainland and wanted to ask about this news.
S.C. Worker 2: That…is it convenient if…which media outlet are you from?
Reporter: I’m a reporter with Radio Free Asia.
S.C. Worker 2: Oh, why don’t you send a fax, OK, send it to 65226115.
Reporter: 65226115?
S.C. Worker 2: Yes. Write your question on the fax, OK?
Reporter: Is this news real or not?
S.C. Worker 2: Uh, because I’m just the person who answers the phones, personally, I don’t have any way of responding to your question. We prefer to receive faxes.
Reporter: So do you have any information at all [about the news Google is leaving China]?
S.C. Worker 2: If you want to ask me this in detail, because I only answer the phones, I personally…you probably can understand, there are different jobs within an office. How about this, going by the normal system, you should send a fax to the number I just told you
Reporter: And then?
S.C. Worker 2: And write your question and your name and how to get in touch with you on the fax. Then on this end we will deal with it according to the system. We will get in touch with you.

Thoughts

Obviously, this kind of thing happens to reporters everywhere from time to time, but the fact that the government department responsible for dealing with reporters and news couldn’t answer a simple question is sort of concerning even when one doesn’t take into account their rather antiquated “system” of responding to questions (I would love to hear if this reporter ever heard back from them). Why, for that matter, is the person who answers the phones at the office for responding to requests from reporters not capable of answering a simple “is this true or not” question?

Guest Translation: Li Yinhe on Porn and the Law

The following is a guest post written by Alex Taggart.

It seems Li Yinhe, one of China’s most prominent sexologists, is on a roll. Following her recent call for an end to ‘group licentiousness laws’, Li is now proposing that Chinese law on ‘obscene goods’ should also be reformed.

According to the CCP Customs Bureau’s explanation of its smuggling law, ‘obscene goods’ (淫秽品) include but are not limited to “obscene films, videotapes, audiotapes, pictures and publications”.

Li argues that the current law is unconstitutional, first citing the right to free speech:

The 35th article of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China states: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Obscene goods are the product of human imagination, [so] they are speech [expression] and not action, therefore the obscene goods law and the ‘freedom’ article of the constitution contradict each other […] I propose to preserve the freedom article of the constitution, and the logical result of this is to change the obscene goods law.

…then on the grounds of the right to personal freedom:

Just as the constitution doesn’t contain the likes of “Citizens of the PRC have the right to eat”, neither does it contain “Citizens of the PRC have the right to have sex”, because these two rights should be provided for in the [constitutional] article protecting the right to personal freedom. In the same way, just as we cannot use criminal law to prohibit eating, we cannot use criminal law to prevent people from taking part in sex acts and consuming sex-related goods.

Similar to her criticism of group licentiousness laws, Li then gives a clear example of an instance where the law has failed:

There was once a failed experiment: in the early 80s, the Beijing police department ambitiously began [an action of] seizing all propagators of obscene goods. Before long, all prisons and detention centres were bursting at the seams, and they had no choice but to hurriedly outsource hotels and reception centres as ‘instant detention centres’.

Given that the CCP tends to defend obscenity laws on an “If you had kids, you’d understand” tack, Li Yinhe points out that it could be possible to protect the nation’s children whilst allowing free speech and ensuring sexual openness for adults:

We should think of a way to prevent adolescents from coming into contact with obscene goods […] Every country has measures to protect adolescents, such as film classification, age restrictions on erotic websites, and so on. However, there’s an important proviso: we must also protect the right of adults to consume obscene goods.

Finally, Li warns of potential consequences should the law remain:

The current obscene goods law’s biggest malady is that it has set a precedent for using criminal law to punish free speech. Since this special type of speech has become a crime, other types of speech can too. If we continue like this, we could once again end up with the disastrous policies of ‘literary imprisonment’, punishment on the basis of speech, and cultural absolutism.

This is not the first time that Li Yinhe has criticised obscene goods law. In a blog post in 2006, Li gave outlines of individuals who had fallen foul of the same law. As in her most recent post, Li’s 2006 post explained the absurdity of a law that effectively criminalises a very large portion of the population simply for having “crude tastes”.

Translation

The current obscene goods law is an unconstitutional law that encroaches on basic citizen’s rights. It is a draconian law, left behind by the age of cultural autocracy.

1) The issue of being unconstitutional. The 35th article of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China states: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Obscene goods are the product of human imagination, [so] they are speech [expression] and not action, therefore the obscene goods law and the ‘freedom’ article of the constitution contradict each other. In order to defend the rigorousness and authoritativeness of the constitution, we should either alter it, or alter the obscene goods law. I propose to preserve the freedom article of the constitution, and the logical result of this is to change the obscene goods law.

2) The right of citizens to consume obscene goods is protected by the constitution. Just as the constitution doesn’t contain the likes of “Citizens of the PRC have the right to eat”, neither does it contain “Citizens of the PRC have the right to have sex”, because these two rights should be provided for in the [constitutional] article protecting the right to personal freedom. In the same way, just as we cannot use criminal law to prohibit eating, we cannot use criminal law to prevent people from taking part in sex acts and consuming sex-related goods. Aside from this, it’s worth reminding people to bear in mind: just as eating is fundamentally harmless to people, so is sex, as are its related goods.

3) Obscene goods are considered to be part of vulgar culture, a crude interest. We should vigorously promote the consumption of elegant consumerism, whilst resisting the consumption of obscene goods using the full extent of the greatest societal powers. But, we cannot use criminal law to penalise people’s crude tastes, because if we do, those imprisoned would number in the tens of millions. This is unrealistic. There was once a failed experiment: in the early 80s, the Beijing police department ambitiously began [an action of] seizing all propagators of obscene goods. Before long, all prisons and detention centres were fit to bust, and they had no choice but to hurriedly outsource hotels and reception centres as ‘instant detention centres’. The folly of this activity gradually became obvious, and finally, an order was passed down from the upper echelons that it should stop, and the entire activity left behind the result of ‘the head of a tiger, the tail of a snake’ [a strong start but a weak finish], and the matter was ‘settled by being left unsettled’.

4) We should think of a way to prevent adolescents from coming into contact with obscene goods. This is a commonly-faced problem by all countries that protect the citizen’s right to freedom of speech (most of them don’t have an obscene goods law). Every country has measures to protect adolescents, such as film classification, age restrictions on erotic websites, and so on. However, there’s an important proviso: we must also protect the right of adults to consume obscene goods.

5) The current obscene good law’s biggest malady is that it has set a precedent for using criminal law to punish free speech. Since this special type of speech has become a crime, other types of speech can too. If it continues like this, we could once again end up with the disastrous policies of ‘literary imprisonment’, punishment on the basis of speech, and cultural absolutism.

In order to ensure the citizen’s right to free speech, I propose to get rid of the unconstitutional obscene goods law that encroaches on the basic rights of the citizen.

Hiatus Over, Thoughts on New Oriental

I have returned from China, freshly jet-lagged and also — congratulations, stalkers, here’s your newest piece of personal information to twist — engaged. Yes!

Anyway, there will be more substantive posts later, obviously, but as I shake off the throes of jet lag and prepare to plunge into what promises to be a much busier spring work schedule (fair warning — I probably won’t be able to update as much), I wanted to link to this piece on Jenny Zhu’s blog because I find it pretty fascinating. Talking about the massive training school New Oriental [新东方], she writes,

Speaking of jokes, New Oriental is famous for its team of ‘edutainers’ who have mastered the art of engaging students. It is even said that the school partly evaluates teachers on the number of times they make students laugh during a class. Funny as it was, what really resonated with me is the teacher’s point of the lasting effect of GMAT prep, or in his words ‘America’s silent revolution in China’. He said that to do well in GMAT, Chinese students need to reverse their ways of thinking, namely to learn to think critically. To question, to reason and to separate facts from opinions are counter-intuitive for a Chinese student. But when they are exposed to these skills as young adults, there is no going back. According to the teacher, during his 10 years at New Oriental, only 10% of students end up going to business schools in the U.S. But regardless of the path they choose, the way they see the world is changed. They are not easily fooled anymore. That’s America’s silent revolution in China.

I find this interesting because it very much flies in the face of what I heard from a close friend who was employed as a New Oriental teacher for a brief time last year before quitting out of frustration. I can’t quote her directly as I have discovered recently that some readers of this site are attempting to use details from it to sabotage my personal life (incompetently!) and I don’t want to bring any friends into that; suffice it to say that the picture of New Oriental she painted was not one of free-wheeling “edu-tainers” engaged in teaching critical thinking skills. I’m curious, then, as to whether anyone else here has experience with New Oriental as a teacher or a student, and if so, what their experiences were.

(Apologies for the short and informal post. More coming soon, but there are some things I need to take care of and a lot of news I need to catch up on before I can dig into something more juicy than this…)