Wait, so Porn is Unblocked in China?

Very, very surprising news, but also very confirmed. Apparently, a large number of pornographic sites have been accessible in China for days now with no need for a VPN. Daily Telegraph correspondent Malcolm Moore tweeted this in response to my query earlier this morning:

I’ve heard a huge number of sites now unblocked. Reason unclear.

Unclear indeed! I’m not sure I buy the “let’s appease horny men” explanation, or even the idea that it’s intentional, but it’s been true for long enough now, apparently, that it’s seeming less and less likely that it’s a mistake. What the hell is going on here, and why is no one talking about it?

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TV Review: CNNGo Episode 1

Full disclosure: The following is a review of the first episode of CNN International’s new show, CNNGo. This episode premiered on May 20th, but I haven’t had a chance to watch the review copy they sent until now. However, you can view the episode in two parts, here and here. In the interest of full disclosure, readers should be aware that I recieved a review copy of the DVD, as well as a press release, a note, and a keychain with plastic steamed buns on it for free.

CNN’s press release describes CNN go as “a new monthly show featuring a unique take on global destinations, bringing views from genuine insiders of what gives dynamic cities in Asia and beyond their distinctive buzz.” Although it might seem it, it isn’t really a travel show; rather it’s more a collection of interviews with local insiders spliced with some local music and various shots of city locales.

The premier episode attracts some heavy hitters. Photographer Tang Tang, comedian Zhou Libo, and the now-ubiquitous Han Han all make appearances, as do a couple musicians and food critic Shen Hongfei.

Because it attempts to address art, architecture, music, food, and culture all within a very brief span of time, it feels a bit frantic. The cuts are frenetic , and the snippets of interviews are very short and generally lack much context. The overarching theme is that Shanghai is a vibrant place where the past and present collide in sometimes-interesting ways (heard that story before?) but the show bounces from person to person so fast that it leaves something to be desired even for those of us who know enough to fill in a few of the blanks on our own. Couldn’t we hear a bit more about Tang Tang’s work in the city, or Shanghainese chefs’ efforts to modernize Shanghai cuisine?

The issue of brevity aside, however, there’s plenty worth seeing here. The show’s soundtrack comes exclusively from Shanghai bands, and song titles and artist names are displayed prominently as the songs play, which is helpful. Subtitles generally appear on the bottom left on the screen, but in one shot, they are arranged to the left of the subject, following the architectural lines of the background he’s being interviewed against, which is interesting. This is something I’d like to see more of: subtitle placement that frees us from the tyranny of the bottom of the screen and instead is used to draw the viewers’ eyes to something interesting. Pity in only happens once in this episode.

And, of course, Han Han fails to disappoint, even though the snippets of his interview we see are quite short. He introduces himself by saying, “if you spoke Chinese, you’d know who I am”, and at one point seems to suggest that there’s only so much he can do to help develop Chinese culture without “being disappeared” by the police. He also says, “I think Shanghai could be better, and that’s why I hate it.” Of course, he goes on to say he also loves it.

Certainly, the show gives viewers a taste of what makes Shanghai special to its most famous and influential denizens, and takes them to some places they may not know along the way. But its so short that it comes off something like a lot of the fancy cuisine that critic Shen Hongfei introduces in the middle of the episode: good, but not enough to leave you feeling full after its over.

It’s worth watching, though, and it’s not going to take up a lot of your time, so if you’re interested in Shanghai at all, why not check it out?

Notes:

  • Apologies for the recent radio silence. My younger brother just graduated from high school, so the past few days have been full of ceremonies and family gatherings.
  • ChinaGeeks Chinese has a new post: 泰国骚乱在中国引起了共鸣!? You should check it out if you haven’t already.

The Wu-Tang Clan and China’s (Unintentional) Soft Power

In early 1992, over a decade of Beijing’s soft power aspirations led to the founding of the first Confucius Institute, traditional Chinese culture found unintentional ambassadors (of a sort) in the unlikeliest of places. In the slums of Staten Island, a young Robert Diggs was forming hip-hop’s first real super-group, and he was using a Chinese aesthetic to help brand it.

The name “Wu-Tang Clan” itself is, obviously, Chinese, originating from a kung fu film called Shaolin vs. Wu Tang. The group peppered their first album with audio clips from dubbed Chinese films (especially the aforementioned film), samples from traditional Chinese musical instruments, and esoteric references to kung fu legends — amidst, of course, the braggadocio battle-style rhyming that has been popular in one form or another since rap was invented.

The final product might have left something to be desired, from a Chinese perspective. Probably, this was not exactly the image of China they wanted presented to the public ((Although one wonders if perhaps in private moments Hu Jintao doesn’t occasionally say to himself, “Zhongnanhai ain’t nothing to fuck wit!”)):

Still, the Wu-Tang Clan spread Chinese kung fu and the Shaolin name — which they adopted to refer to their Staten Island home — to a whole audience that didn’t really know anything about China.

Of course, they still don’t. Nearly two decades later, kung fu is one of the few things most Americans associate with China. The Shaolin temple is a household name, or close to one, which certainly puts it ahead of every other Buddhist temple on the face of the planet. Of course, not all — not even most — of the credit for this belongs to Wu-Tang. But Wu-Tang’s influence in spreading Chinese kung fu and even traditional Chinese music indicates something about soft power that Beijing may have missed; namely, that it is most effective when it is derivative and not directly controlled.

By derivative, what I mean is that when one culture (for clarity, we’ll call it C1) interacts with something from another culture (C2), people are inevitably going to take parts of that culture (C2) and assimilate them into something that already exists in their own (C1). RZA and the Wu-Tang took Chinese kung fu and the Hong Kong kung fu flick aesthetic, mixed it with hip hop, and the results were explosive. They weren’t Chinese, of course, but they were a gateway into things that really were Chinese — like actual Kung Fu.

This method seems to be more effective than the more direct (and thus more easily controlled) soft power attempts we see from Beijing. CCTV International and Confucius Institutes, to be frank, are probably too Chinese for mainstream consumption. They are, of course, easily controlled by the government. But they haven’t been as effective in spreading Chinese culture throughout the US as a group of black guys from Staten Island. Which is to say, of course, they haven’t been effective at all.

America’s soft power, on the other hand, is pretty undeniable, and I would submit that this is in large part because it comes mostly from non-government organizations, and thus is much more flexible. It can be changed and adapted to fit local cultures while still representing the “American way” (as KFC and McDonalds, for example, adopt their menus to fit local tastes). It can lead to derivative work that outpaces the original while still retaining some of its cultural influence (as in Jay Chou’s fusion of elements of American hip-hop and dance with C-pop to create something much more marketable to a Chinese audience than, say, 2pac).

Of course, there are also dangers in this approach. Precisely because American soft power output cannot be controlled, the image of America that is presented is not wholly positive, or even accurate. Americans who’ve been in China more than a few second are probably familiar with the question “How many guns do you have?” (because we all own guns, thanks Hollywood!), and may have heard terrible things about American cities (one of my Chinese teachers in Harbin once told me she didn’t dare travel to the US for fear of being killed in a gun battle on the streets).

Still, the sooner Beijing can get over the idea that it’s possible to present China without exposing some of the less perfect bits, the better. In fact, the sooner it accepts the fact that it cannot really effectively control soft power at all, the better. Soft power is a cultural export, and as much as Beijing likes to think it controls Chinese culture, we need look no further than the Wu-Tang Clan to see that the idea of “Chinese culture” is far too amorphous to be defined by a cabal of old men.

Han Han has suggested in speeches that China cannot be a cultural power while its culture is being controlled, and he’s right. Obviously, cultural censorship inhibits domestic development as well, but internationally speaking, government control is the ultimate mood-killer. No part of Chinese culture will spread through the US like wildfire because of the Confucius Institutes — this is not to say that they’re totally useless, of course, but they’re not nearly as effective real cultural exports could be.

If RZA can spread the word about the Shaolin temple through a Christian country via dubbed kung fu tapes funneled into hip-hop albums and music videos, imagine what China’s vast army of creative people if they were unmuzzled and unleashed.

See this article I translated a while ago for CNReviews for an interesting discussion of China’s soft power tactics. (Or, alternatively, click the link for pretty photos of Zhang Ziyi).

When Censorship Has the Opposite Effect

Han Han — writer, blogger, race car driver, and media darling — has updated his blog again, but I suspect fewer people will be translating this post than have translated the last few, as it’s mostly an update on what he’s been up to recently. However, there is something of interest:

“Because I’ve had some articles deleted [from the blog] recently, it has occurred to some products and programs to use this as a way of advertising […] they all use “A deleted article from Han Han’s blog” as a way of promoting their own products…”

Now, if we assume — perhaps erroneously — that multiple advertisers ((We’re also assuming here that Han Han isn’t lying when he says this has happened more than once.)) would not adopt strategies that are ineffective at attracting attention, then we can assume that saying something you wrote is actually “a deleted article from Han Han’s blog” is an effective way of attracting attention.

This means there must be an awful lot of people who are just searching for deleted articles from Han Han’s blog. And, of course, this is the internet — nothing can really be deleted once it’s been posted — so they generally find them. These days, Han Han’s posts are reposted on dozens, perhaps hundreds of other blogs, forums, and other websites within hours. Hell, his last few posts have been translated into English within a few hours. If I — a foreigner with limited Chinese skills and even more limited patience for poorly-designed Chinese websites — can find Han’s deleted posts without any trouble at all, how easy must it be for the average Chinese reader?

This all begs the question of what the point of this censorship is in the first place. If “articles deleted from Han Han’s blog” are, in and of themselves, valuable enough that advertisers are using that phrase to sell things, what is the use in censoring Han’s posts to begin with? Deleting a post only makes it more attractive to many of his readers, it seems. If it’s been deleted, there must a (juicy) reason, n’est-ce pas? In Han Han’s case, it seems censorship is having the opposite of the intended effect; it is causing people — probably large numbers of people — to actively search out censored material.

In the internet age, Chinese censors have mostly counted on the fact that netizens are not willing to invest the time or effort to find deleted or inappropriate material. Pornography and unapproved political content have always been available on the internet to anyone in China with access and enough time and interest to figure out how to skirt blocks or search for reposted content. But the number of these wall-jumpers has always been comparatively small.

Han Han could change all that. His posts average around 1.5 million viewers each on his Sina blog alone (not counting any of the hundreds of places his writings are reposted, including all the country’s top BBS forums). When a post is deleted, it is likely that several million people take to the internet to search for a repost. And while these are often found easily enough within the confines of the Great Firewall, a large concentration of netizens actively seeking out censored material is not what the government wants.

Now, it’s important to note that Han Han’s posts are censored by Sina, the web portal his blog is on. Obviously, the government has directives as to what can and cannot be posted, and Han Han is famous enough that there might be direct government involvement in the case of some of his posts. But most web portals self-censor, so we can’t necessarily say the government has any direct control over what is allowed to go up and what isn’t.

Still, in Han Han’s case, censoring his posts seems a bit self-defeating. If, out of necessity real or perceived, his readers have to venture outside the GFW some day, they will find a community that is not exactly pro-establishment. And even if they don’t hop the Wall, forcing them to search for things that have been “deleted” from the web seems foolish. After all, what else might come up in their search results? On the pages where they find Han Han’s deleted posts? As far as high-profile bloggers like Han Han are concerned, it may be time for the government to cut bait, and stop censoring, or at least shift tactics.

Perhaps the extreme heat — it’s nearly 35 C here and I don’t even have a fan — has gone to my head, but I think China’s attempts to censor the internet are ultimately doomed to fail if they continue pursuing the same policies. As long as it is possible to evade the GFW, it seems probable that people will do so, they just need to be given a reason. The dissident community is relatively small, but Han Han’s readership is gigantic. Giving that community a good reason to hop the wall could be the beginning of the end for the GFW, at least as we currently know it.

Thoughts?

CYOL Survey: China Lacks World-Class University

Below is a translation of this recent article from China Youth Online. The article discusses a recent survey on the topic China’s university education system. The survey was conducted in response to Quacquarelli Symonds’ recent 2010 ranking of Asia’s top 200 universities.

Translation

The World News Report reported on May 18 that Britain’s Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a company specializing in education and study abroad, had just released its ranking of Asia’s top 200 universities. Of the top 200, both BeiDa and Qinghua failed to get into the top 10. At the same time, these two universities have been crowned by some media outlets as “second-class universities”.

Students at BeiDa

Since 1998, when BeiDa celebrated its 100th anniversary, there has been no lack of discussion domestically regarding [this issue]. Not long after [the QS ranking was published], Xu Zhihong, scholar at BeiDa’s Chinese Academy of Sciences was quoted saying, “Presently, China has no world-class universities”.

How far apart do Chinese universities stand from world-class ones? Over the past few days, China Youth Online’s Survey Center polling of 4,488 China Public Opinion Network and Tencent [netizens] reveals that 58.8% believe that China lacks a world-class university, 18.8% believe China does have world-class universities, and 21.6% were unable to make a fair judgment. Of the respondents, 25.9% were enrolled at a key university, 45.4% enrolled under a regular Bachelors Degree program, and 18.4% enrolled in a top-level university.

At a Henan province teacher’s college […] most first-year students begin with a good first impression of their school. “The campus environment is very clean, and the facilities are excellent. The classroom buildings and dormitories are all brand new,” says Zhao Jie, a local student. However, since she started her classes, Zhao Jie has only become more and more depressed as time has gone on. “Many teachers [do their jobs] half-heartedly, they rarely interact with us. They don’t have any personal charm or charisma […] My classmates are drowsy in class, and often fall asleep en masse. We’ve gradually stopped going to class as we feel it’s a waste of our time. We’re better off finding an internship.”

“Some teachers are too occupied with finding money-making opportunities [outside of school]. [As a result], they don’t seriously pursue [continuing education in] their field of expertise […] Many students get together and compare the salaries of their internships. They’re too concerned with how much money they’ll make in the future, and very few put any heart at all into their studies,” said Renmin University of China student Tu Lingbo. “The impetuous and rash spirit of the whole of society and utilitarianism has long spread into [the university system].”

75.0% Believe utilitarianism is domestic universities’ most serious problem.

Yang Deguang, former headmaster at Shanghai Teacher’s College, and current Vice President of China’s Committee on Higher Education, was recently interviewed by China Youth Online. During the interview, Yang explained the government’s absolute administrative rule over the university system. [According to Yang,] the Communist Party has absolute authority over the management, economics and evaluation of schools, nominating school administrators, assigning budgets and expenditures, opening classes, and conferring degrees [….]

BeiDa (Beijing University)

The survey also revealed that 72.2% of respondents believe that higher education’s [bias to Party political lines] is obvious. These respondents believed this to be the university education system’s second biggest problem.

Other problems university students feel exist are: ignoring the implementation of well-rounded education focused on building character (70.9%), plagiarism and other acts of academic dishonesty (61.0%), lacking creative genius (55.8%), lack of academic standards (53.2%), shortage of top-quality educators (50.2%), and management transparency (48.6%).

In the eyes of the public, what are the standards for a world-class university? The survey revealed the following: 71.4% of respondents say a cultural environment of independent thinking, 70.2% say a [system which] fosters a fondness of looking forward to [improving] one’s society, 61.5% chose teachers with a high level of character, and 53.8% say producing prominent intellectuals.

Yang Deguang believes that the current plan for education reform and development [can be affective]. [He says it] embodies the government’s attempt to encourage institutions of higher education to develop an approach to running schools where independent thinking is promoted. The key to this is continuing to oversee the reforms implementation [….]

Qinghua University

How can the university education system be improved? Survey respondents: 69.9% believe that universities should concentrate on providing well-rounded education that builds character, 61.5% believe a great emphasis should be paid to university culture, 58.8% supported removing current university administrators, 36.2% say that schools should focus on attracting talent from across the world, 36.3% support the establishment of a university council, 32.7% believe an increase in funding, 20.5% say universities should improve their facilities.

[Finally], the survey also asked the public what they believe university students should get out of their education. First is the ability to think independently (78.2%). Second, learning fundamentals (58.1%). Third, knowledge specific to their major (54.6%). Other important traits to be learned include: building strong character (49.2%), the ability to live on one’s own (36.9%), professionalism (37.0%), meet friends (22.1%), earning a degree (14.8%), and prospects for a good future (14.8%).

How Officials are Transferred and Promoted (Part I)

The following is the first part of our translation of Southern Weekend‘s very in-depth look into the way that government officials are moved around and what causes one official to be promoted over another one. It is not, perhaps, as “edgy” as some of the things we post here, but it’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look for those who are wondering how some of the current leaders got where they are.

As the original piece is quite long and our time rather limited, we’ll have to break the piece up into several parts. Below is the first:

How Officials are Transferred and Promoted: A Beijing Case Study

How does an official go from a local government worker to a provincial cadre? What are the crucial reasons for this elevation? What aspects are most important? What kind of officials can most easily be groomed for elevation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of “experienced” officials vs. “specialist” officials? What are the similarities and differences in the paths of elevation for officials who work within government offices vs. members of a local government?

Southern Weekend will attempt to outline the pattern of advancement for Beijing-region officials, and then, using this as a representative sample for local officials in other cities as well, show what this reflects about the standards for the promotion and transfer of officials nationwide.

Beijing is presently engaged in the most large-scale election of departmental and local officials in its history. Over two hundred posts are at stake. What’s especially notable is that three hundred people are competing for one of them: the deputy director of the development and reform committee.

In the last four months, Beijing has appointed and dismissed nearly four hundred officials, the largest restructuring of Beijing government personnel in the last two years. In less than half a year, nearly a thousand officials in Beijing’s political circles have heard the good or bad news [that they’re being removed or transferred/promoted].

“The personnel adjustment and large-scale elections reflect the actual demands the capital has for the development and transformation of government officialdom,” said Beijing MPC School professor Zhang Qin, who has been training and connecting with Beijing officials for more than thirty years. Behind the dazzle of the movement of officials lies a longstanding doubt: what rules are there that govern the transfer and promotion of Chinese officials?

[…] ((This paragraph has been omitted because it is nearly identical to the first paragraph of the introduction, italicized at the beginning of this translation.))

A Southern Weekend reporter has investigated and analyzed the credentials of nearly 400 Beijing officials, interviewed longtime officials [for information on] quality and ability, and paid close attention to MPC School experts on the rules that govern advancement. Southern Weekend will attempt to outline the pattern of advancement for Beijing-region officials, and then, using this as a representative sample for local officials in other cities as well, show what this reflects about the standards for the promotion and transfer of officials nationwide.

First: What kind of officials are considered best?

Beijing MPC School professor Shan Aihong has been paying attention to this issue for a long time. In her opinion, the advancement of officials is mostly controlled by organizational factors (organization department cadres’ training mechanisms and cadre policies), social contexts (for example, the demands placed on officials were different during the Cultural Revolution vs. during the Reforms and Opening Up period), and three more personal factors: morality, ability, and age. “In all elections before this, the deputy director position was restricted to those 45 [or younger], but this year the requirement has been relaxed to 48. Regardless, though, [age] is an important condition.”

Zhang Qin said: “From the C.V.s of officials we can see that a Beijing official in at the department level [both in the municipal government or the county-level Party administration ((Not being an expert in the way Chinese internal politics work, it is difficult to translate these positions accurately. Any help with more precise translations would be appreciated.)) ] is around 45 years old, and the average time it takes to reach this level from the position of a common government employee is a little over 25 years.”

In truth, within this twenty-five year period, most outstanding department officials are able to accomplish the necessary leaps at each stage of the process — for example, they strive to move from a vice-director [of an office] position to a director position in a reduced period of time.

According to the rules for the appointment of cadres, moving from a general government employee to a vice-director [of an office] position should take around 12 years. Mr. Shan said that after this there was a divide — whether or not one could go from a vice-director position to a director position in a shortened period of time is extremely crucial, because this often suggests whether or not an official is capable of ensuring that their age isn’t beyond the cutoff for future advancement. In general, if an official can go from vice-director to director of an office within 3-4 years, then they have more time to be advanced to a vice- or director position at the departmental level. If advancement to director at the office level takes too long, then officials may encounter an “age bottleneck” when trying to advance to the next level.

Obviously, within the current system of “gradual promotion”, “running in short steps” is the only way to advance to high-level positions. From public data, Southern Weekend has learned that the current CPC Secretary in Jilin province, new political star Sun Zhengcai, came to the forefront by “running in short steps” in Beijing. It took him only fifteen years to go from a vice-department head at the Beijing Agricultural Academy of Science to vice-[government] Department head (a member and secretary-general of the Beijing CPC standing committee), moving up seven levels in rank.

Obviously, most Beijing officials will need a bit more patience for their political careers.

But the above-mentioned experts’ research has shown that whether an official’s career will progress smoothly or not can be judged by looking at a few initial standards. For example, starting work early and entering the Party early can be advantageous conditions for future ascension in the ranks. Among the C.V.s of officials that we researched, most of those whose official careers progressed smoothly had already held jobs by the age of twenty, and the time they had been in the Party was comparatively long. And in the early stages, the earlier officials were able to advance to high positions at a young age, the more they were able to separate themselves from others in their positions in the future, using their ages to their advantage and creating positive momentum propelling them into the “running in short steps” fast lane.

Additionally, sufficient education is also necessary. Shan Aihong said, “Compared to ten years ago, the level of intellect and academic records among Beijing officials have risen substantially. Whether they had it already or earned it after becoming an official, officials with Masters degrees or higher hold one half of Beijing municipal department and office-level posts, and among them there is a corresponding group that holds doctorate degrees.

Part II of our translation of this article coming soon!

Anatomy of the CCTV News

UPDATE: It appears the original source of this post is an internal self-parody written by the CCTV News people themselves in 2002. It was translated in part by the China Digital Times in 2007, and is now being passed around again in text form in 2010. The text we’ve translated below includes a few things that were not part of the original, as well as parts that were in the original but went untranslated by CDT in 2007. (Thanks to Joel Martinsen of Danwei for clarifying this).

The following is a translation of this, a joke that’s being passed around and was sent along to me by ChinaGeeks contributor Andy Yee. It is a satirical guide to that outlines the contents of 《新闻联播》, CCTV’s primary news program.

As the original is composed with perfect parallel structure, I have attempted to maintain at least a semblance of parallelism in the translation. However, this makes some notation necessary, so please refer to the footnotes if you don’t understand what something means.

Translation

Plot Structure
1. First ten minutes: the nation’s leaders are very busy, if they aren’t abroad then they’re in the countryside ((In the countryside visiting and/or helping the common people)).
2. Middle ten minutes: Everyone in the nation is very happy, if they aren’t becoming rich then they’re having great harvests.
3. Last ten minutes: Other countries are all very savage, if there aren’t bombings then there is rebellion.

Story Content
There are no meetings that are not grand;
There are no closings ((of meetings/ceremonies)) that aren’t victories;
There are no speeches that are not important;
There is no applause that is not enthusiastic;
There is no leader who is not significant;
There are no visits that are not cordial;
There is no receiving ((of guests)) that is not personal ((i.e., leaders are always there to personally welcome all those who call on them));
There is no progress that is not smooth;

There are no endings that are not satisfactory;
There are no accomplishments that are not huge;
There is no work that is not solid;
There is no productivity that is not outstanding;
There are no resolutions ((i.e., laws)) that do not pass;
There are no hearts that are not stimulated ((i.e. all the people are excited and passionate));
There are no teams that are not united;
The masses are always satisfied ((This line also breaks with the parallel structure in the original piece));

There are no leaders who are not smiling;
There are no problems that are not resolved;
There are no small events that do not attract worldwide attention;
All visitors are ones this station just received ((This line also breaks with the parallel structure in the original piece));
There is no opposition that is not intense;
There is no negotiation that is not principled;
There is no accomplishment that does not exceed its quota;
There is no Sino-Japanese relationship that is not friendly;

There is no Sino-American relationship that is not cooperative;
There is no completion ((of construction, etc.)) that does not happen early;
There are no holidays that are not happy and auspicious;
There is no route that is not correct;
There is no policy that is not wise;
There are no women who are not liberated;
There are no living standards that are not met ((i.e. there is no one in the country living in poverty));
There is no sacrifice that is not solemn and stirring.

Feeling of the masses after watching:
Living in China is truly joyful; life in foreign countries is too horrible!

Netizen Comments

Collected from a variety of sources including the post linked above, this and this.

“Really too spot-on! Generally on CCTV News the people of our country are very happy while people from other countries live in an abyss of suffering.”

“In truth, I’ve never watched CCTV News.”

“Lord! Too accurate!”

“Hypocritical CCAV ((CCAV is a joke play on CCTV, as “AV” is Chinese slang for pornography (“Adult Video”) ))”

“Adding on: […] harmony is absolute.”

Many netizens also commented that the post, or parts of it, was old, but hey, it’s new to us!