AIDS Patient Held Without Access to Meds in Henan

The following is a translation of this post from Wang Keqin’s blog. It concerns Tian Xi, an AIDS patient and a friend of Wang Keqin’s who we have written about before on this site.


On August 18, my friend Tian Xi, an AIDS patient from Xincai, Henan, was detained by police there for “destruction of commercial property”. He is currently being kept in the county jail. When he was detained, he wasn’t carrying his AIDS medication on his person, so his mother and family are very concerned about the danger to his life.

The basic information above comes from a fax that Tian Xi’s mother Chen Minggui sent me on August 24. In the days since then, I’ve been calling the cell phone number his mother provided [as a way to contact Tian Xi] but have not been able to get through. Because of this, as of the moment I am still not clear on the details of the situation.

Tian Xi is a 23-year-old friend of mine. In 1996, when he was nine, he suffered a concussion and needed a blood transfusion as part of his treatment. He contracted HIV from the blood transfusion and in 2004 he was officially diagnosed as having AIDS. He was also diagnosed with hepatitis B and C.

After learning of his diagnosis, Tian Xi persisted in completing college. He graduated from the Beijing City Academy last year with a degree in software engineering.

When demanding compensation for his medical bills and filing lawsuits became hopeless, Tian Xi and his family took the route of petitioning higher authorities to defend their rights. After graduating, Tian Xi has payed very close attention to the cases of all those who were similarly infected with HIV.

Tian Xi is a great kid. When he was in Beijing, he came frequently to my office. He is a volunteer defender of the rights of the weak, and would often bring petitioners from all over to my office. He put all the effort and energy a young person can into providing for and helping petitioners from all over the country.

Occasionally, I would treat everyone to a lunch or a dinner together. He always carefully used the public chopsticks to get food, and then ate it quietly off of his own plate. ((Meaning the chopsticks that touched the food everyone was eating were never chopsticks that had come near his mouth.))


For the moment, there’s no real information on exactly what Tian Xi did, if anything, to get arrested. But regardless of his crime, if he’s being held without access to treatment, the adverse affects to his health could be severe.

Even more concerning, keeping people from getting the treatment they need while they’re in police custody seems to be a fairly common practice. After all, it happened to Tian Xi at least once before, and it happened to others, too.

Discussion Section: Thoughts on Balance

Like all China bloggers, I have been accused of being many things. Depending on the day and the post in question, I am supposedly both a “fifty cents Party” government shill and a Western anti-China propagandist. This is not surprising. I have been a bit baffled, though, by the repeated complaints that this blog isn’t “balanced.”

What I want to discuss here is (1) what “balance” actually is and (2) whether it is worth pursuing in this context.

Defining Balance

Defining balance is actually harder than you’d think. Journalists in the mainstream media are expected to be neutral and ensure that when they write about controversial issues (or any issues, really) they address any and all viewpoints related to that issue in a relatively fair and equal manner. Perhaps, then, balance refers to giving equal emphasis to both sides of a critical divide when one exists. Certainly, within the American media, balance is often assessed on this kind of binary scale, and debate about whether certain media outlets are “balanced” often has a lot to do with how much time they spend covering specific issues, and how they cover them. But giving both “sides” equal access does not, by itself, ensure that a media outlet is balanced. The television program Hannity & Colmes, for example, routinely pitted one conservative and one liberal anchor in debate over political issues, but was roundly criticized by liberals who felt that Colmes (the show’s liberal) was not as forceful an advocate of liberalism as Shaun Hannity was for conservatism.

I would suggest, then, that balance is extremely difficult to measure, but it refers to a media outlet’s neutrality, largely as measured by the perceptions of its audience. Indeed, the evidence routinely cited to support theories of media bias tends to be poll results suggesting that a media outlet’s readership (or viewership) perceives it as biased or unbalanced.

I am inclined to suggest that in this context, “biased” and “unbalanced” are relatively synonymous. The difference is that balance may suggest what percentage of coverage is dedicated to a specific viewpoint, whereas bias may suggest ideological slanting within the coverage itself that favors one side over another, even when both are granted equal time.

Balance and the “China Blog”

When discussing balance in the context of blogs, I think it’s important to note that the conception of media balance has been constructed on the assumption that readers may be getting all their information about a given topic from a single source; namely, the newspaper. For decades, this was absolutely true. It is still true, to a lesser extent, for some newspapers, and it makes balance important because if the reporter ignores one side of the story, most people will never hear it.

But that same assumption does not hold true for blogs, least of all China blogs. Blog readers tend to get information from a variety of sources, not just one.

In fact, if our reader survey is any indication, there is almost no one who uses this blog (for example) as their sole source of information about China. 94% of respondents said they read other China blogs, and the 6% who don’t read other blogs may well get additional information from newspapers, magazines, or twitter, all of which I didn’t think to ask about in the survey.

In any event, what this means is that whatever readers are learning about China from this site, it is only part — very probably, only a small part — of the China-related information they intake. The same is likely true for most other China blogs. Whether the picture of China they receive is “balanced”, then, has more to do with the different blogs and media outlets they’ve selected to read than it does with what any individual blog posts.

Of course, any blog that claims impartiality while advancing an agenda of one sort or another is still being misleading. But the effect of that in practice is greatly diminished by the fact that almost no one on the internet reads just one blog.

Most bloggers are acutely aware that their readership is not only their readership, and that it is often shared with many of their so-called competitors. Our posts at ChinaGeeks would probably look different if I thought that this blog was most readers’ sole window into the world of China, but I know that it isn’t. This gives me and my staff the freedom to invest time in topics that interest us — and let’s face it, as this is still a volunteer gig ((Although, joining the staff now means you get a free VPN! Join us!)), the blog wouldn’t exist at all if we couldn’t report what we found interesting.

So, if measured by the topics we choose to post about, it’s undeniable that ChinaGeeks is unbalanced. One look at our tag cloud makes it clear that we often focus on controversy, and are inclined to write about the exploits of dissidents more than we are inclined to write about, say, the exploits of conservative Party members. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest by far is that we generally write about what interests us, and the “Party line” often doesn’t. This seems to be true for a significant percentage of China blogs in English. Perhaps our interests naturally gravitate toward the same things, or perhaps it’s a response to China’s domestic media, which has the opposite problem and which most “China bloggers” read frequently.

If we measure balance by the way we treat the topics we do write about, whether or not we’re balanced becomes fuzzier, and, I would argue, at least somewhat irrelevant. Even within the mainstream media, there are legitimate criticisms of the quest for objectivity and balance. Historically, the quest for objectivity led to reporters giving equal play to two sides of a “debate” that, with the benefit of hindsight, ought not to have been juxtaposed as equals (for example, giving equal play to the “reasoning” of lynch mobs killing blacks in the United States). Moreover, some modern journalists have suggested that balance in reporting leads to reporters recycling spin and PR platitudes rather than assessing and reporting the situation itself. Ken Silverstein, an editor at Harper’s Magazine, reportedly once said:

“‘Balanced’ coverage […] plagues American journalism and […] leads to utterly spineless reporting with no edge. The idea seems to be that journalists are allowed to go out to report, but when it comes time to write, we are expected to turn our brains off and repeat the spin from both sides. God forbid we should attempt fairly assess what we see with our own eyes. “Balanced” is not fair, it’s just an easy way of avoiding real reporting…and shirking our responsibility to inform readers.

I am inclined to agree with Silverstein. My ideal standard for this blog is one of “fair assessment” rather than one of “balance”.

There is more to be said on this topic, much more, but this post has gone on far longer than I intended already. Rather than continuing to preach, then, I’m hoping we can continue this discussion on the comments. How important is it to you that this blog, or any China blog, be “balanced”?

Thoughts on Patriotism, Old and New

The other day, my fiancee asked me — rather out of the blue — if I was proud to be an American. The question caught me off guard. Pressed for an answer, I suggested that I was sometimes proud to be American, and by way of example noted the recent “terror mosque” controversy that’s happening in the US right now as something I am not proud of ((because the people opposed to this “terror mosque”, which is actually a muslim community center, should be an embarrassment to any American who has read (or even just glanced at) the Constitution.)). (As a side note, Jon Stewart and the folks at the Daily Show have, as ever, been doing an amazing job skewering the idiots opposed to the community center and I highly recommend watching their coverage if you aren’t already).

In any event, such questions always make me think about patriotism, and in this case caused me to search for a famous essay of Chen Duxiu’s I read and translated back when I was working on my undergraduate thesis. Unfortunately, I didnt end up using the translation in the thesis, and have since lost it. It has been translated many times before, but a quick Google search didn’t immediately turn up a translation, and I discovered the Chinese original text isn’t that easy to find either (though I did find it). So, though it’s been done earlier and better elsewhere, here’s a quick translation of Chen Duxiu’s famous “Should be be patriotic?” essay. If you’re looking for a copy of the original text in simplified characters, mouseover my translation for that (or use this cool mirror site).

Chen Duxiu: “Should we be patriotic?”

“Be patriotic! Be patriotic! These days, this call permeates even the furthest reaches of our society. It is on the lips of corrupt officials and barbaric soldiers; even the traitorous don’t dare say unpatriotic things in public. Since the Shandong incident [in which parts of Shandong province were ceded to Germany in 1897], the patriotic clamor has risen to a roar. It is as if the word patriotism [爱国] itself has been ordained by heaven, no discussion is permitted.

Emotions and reason are two important parts of the human spirit, but there are times when the two conflict. Patriotism is mostly emotion, and reason plays a relatively minor role. At times, reason plays no role whatsoever (German and Japanese soldiers are like this). Human behavior is the natural result of impulsiveness. I think if reason could be used as the foundation of this ‘impulsiveness’, only then could emotions be solid and unchangeable. In society, when emotions are running high, people think that their rashness is righteous, and blindly forgetting about reason, they do evil things their rational selves never would (the murder of civilians in England and France during the first World War is an example of this). This is because in large groups, people cannot use reason as the foundation of their emotions, so a mass of people is blind. Sometimes, they do good, other times, they do evil. Because of this, I’d like to raise a rational discussion from the word that everyone so blindly follows, “patriotism”, and ask everyone: should we be patriotic?

If we don’t found our discussion in reason, then patriotism won’t be able to be any kind of lasting motivating force for our behavior, whether the impetus for it is that the masses are blindly following the call for “patriotism”, the officials are ordering us not to be patriotic, or the government is telling us to be patriotic.

If you’re going to ask whether or not we should love our country, you must first ask what our country is. Originally, countries were just groups of people who banded together to resist oppressive forces from outsiders, and a way of managing travel and interpersonal disputes. The good could use the idea of “country” to repel outside forces and pacify internal disputes. The evil could use it to repress outside forces and oppress their own people.

We Chinese were closed off from the world, and before the domination of Japan and the commencement of trade relations with the West, we had only the concept of Tianxia [天下, literally “all under heaven”], there was no concept of a nation-state [国家]. So among the common people, the idea of “patriotic thought” hasn’t penetrated very deeply. If you want to make it long-lasting like it is among the peoples of Europe where multiple nations have coexisted since ancient times, rather than just temporary, I fear that will not be easy.

In Europe, multiple countries have coexisted since time immemorial, so patriotic thought has become a deeply-rooted part of their natural characters. Recently [in China], some lofty thinkers, individualists, and cosmopolitanists have not only suggested that the idea of a nation is artificial rather than natural; moreover they’ve seen and heard about dark and evil things done at home and abroad, all in the name of the nation. Since they oppose the nation, it’s natural they aren’t advocates of patriotism. In their minds, patriotism is another name for something that hurts people. They view patriotic martyrs as confused lunatics.

We are uneducated, unknowledgeable, disunited Chinese, our lack of patriotism is not the same as the lack of patriotism practiced by that group of lofty idealists. And officials preventing the people from engaging in patriotic activities is also, needless to say, very different from what those people are saying. Although at present I cannot dare to hope that we uneducated, unknowledgeable, and disunited Chinese could have lofty ideals, I don’t want Chinese to be uneducated, unknowledgeable, and disunited for long. Even if our countrymen were to suddenly be educated, knowledgeable, and united, only later could they be qualified to unite with lofty idealists the world over and unify the world.

Our China is weak and oppressed, and there are of course also still many internal evils being committed. Patriotism can be used as a tool to extort the people and repress individuality, but China does not at the moment have the ability to use it to oppress outsiders. To even suggest that China could use nationalism and the people’s patriotic spirit to oppress someone else [at the present time] is preposterous.

Lofty thinkers oppose patriotism, hateful opportunists use it to repress others. Although China can’t use patriotism to repress anyone else, we’ve already been oppressed by others nearly to our breaking point. Unlike oppressing others, being patriotic for the sake of resisting oppression and surviving is not something that should be opposed, no matter how lofty a thinker you are. A person’s self-respect, regardless of how it develops, is not a bad thing so long as it does not have a negative effect on others.

So, in accordance with the discussion above, if someone asks whether or not we should be patriotic, we should shout: What we love is the nation of people using patriotism to resist oppressors, not the government using patriotism to oppress other countries! What we love is the country that exists for the happiness of its people, not the country that people must sacrifice themselves for! ((In my translation here I referred several times to one I found rendered in Striving Toward a Lovable Nation: Nationalism and Individual Agency in the Writings of Chen Duxiu, an undergraduate thesis by Wesleyan 2010 graduate (one hopes) Antoine Cadot-Wood. I came across it only by chance, but its focus is quite similar to that of my own undergraduate thesis, which is interesting.))

Just a few months ago, Southern Metropolis Daily published a modern take on Chen Duxiu’s classic essay by historian Hong Zhenkuai, which was translated in full by the wonderful but distressingly inactive CHINAYOUREN blog. We suggest you click through for the full piece, but here is a relevant excerpt [I have made some minor changes for grammar]:

The functions of a State should be performed by the government. If the government can do these functions, then the State is “seeking happiness for the people”; if not, then it becomes “the State for which the people sacrifice”. In human history the most common in practice is that the government cannot fulfill the State’s functions, or else it does them poorly. In this case it can appear that government equals no government. Or that government is even worse than no government.


In any society there are some large tasks that involve many people, and there is no way any organization can do them other than the government. If the government cannot perform its responsibilities, the society becomes unruly, and public interests suffer. For example, food safety, public health, protection of the environment; these kind of affairs need to be taken charge of by the government.

In the development of human societies, this problem has been encountered for a long time: the people need the government but the government cannot live up to their expectations, protect them against outside menaces or provide internal services. In many cases it even evolves into an organization that infringes on the people’s rights.

To make the government do its task diligently, the people need to have the right to supervise the government, and the most effective way is to elect the government by voting. The people need to understand what is common sense – that is, as Liang Qichao said, that the State is not the dynasty (government). The dynasty can be changed for the survival of the State. What the people should love is their country, and not the dynasty.

As Chen Duxiu points out, however, this modern conception of patriotism is not something that’s existed in Chinese culture for long. In my own research for my undergraduate thesis, which involved May Fourth-era patriotism among other things, I found that overwhelmingly, “patriots” from traditional times were people who sacrificed themselves for the government, often in cases when it was painfully clear that the government was in the wrong (see, for example, Qu Yuan, Yue Fei, etc.). And, of course, the whole question is also mucked up by the fact that it’s difficult to trace terms like “patriot” across linguistic and cultural barriers and through history without sacrificing some accuracy. Thus, I wrote,

It is difficult to trace exactly when the term aiguo first came into use and when it was applied to figures like Qu Yuan. It seems likely that in traditional China, there was no differentiation between patriotism and political loyalty, and appeals to any kind of patriotic or loyalist sentiment based on China as a cultural entity came only in times of external threat. Still, Giles’s A Chinese Biographical Dictionary (published in 1898) specifically mentions that figures like Wen Tianxiang were patriotic. This indicates that, at the very least, these figures were understood widely as patriots at least two decades before the May Fourth movement began. Those who would argue that patriotism is an entirely modern concept that did not exist in traditional China must at least admit that the actions and writings of Qu Yuan, Yue Fei, and Wen Tianxiang were considered patriotic in pre-May Fourth China. Whether one understands them as loyalists who were later redefined as patriots when the term was introduced or not, the effect is the same. They indicate what was considered love of one’s country in traditional China and how that love was primarily expressed: through loyalty to one’s superiors.

The idea of patriotism meaning loyalty to the dynasty, it seems, has fairly deep roots. This is not, of course, altogether untrue outside of China’s borders. Certainly in the US, morons on both sides of the party lines routinely accuse their critics of being unpatriotic because they oppose something an incumbent official has done.

In any event, rereading Chen Duxiu’s essay in 2010 is interesting because China’s situation has changed radically. It is now very much in a position to use patriotism as a force to oppress others, should it wish to. In fact, China’s more technically apt netizens fire off a volley or two of just that sort of nationalism from time to time. Oscar Wilde called patriotism “the virtue of the vicious.” Was he wrong?

What should the role of patriotism be in modern China? Or to put it in Chen Duxiu’s words, should we be patriotic?

Li Yinhe: Should University Student Mistresses be Punished?

Li Yinhe’s latest blog post is about her position on the introduction of rules at Chongqing Normal University and Southwest Normal University that ban students from having one-night stands and being mistresses, an issue that has provoked a debate on sexual freedom, human rights, and the involvement of the authorities in people’s private lives. She argues that whilst from a legal standpoint people’s extra-marital affairs are their own dirty business, Chinese people should use the power of shame to prevent people from having affairs.


Recently, a certain university learned that a female student was a mistress, and planned to take disciplinary action, provoking much debate.

If a female student becomes someone’s mistress, it is certainly wrong on a moral level. Even if she is not a mistress, and just a normal lover, it’s still morally wrong, because she has ruined someone else’s family and marriage. This is essentially different to her having a relationship with and living with a single person; pre-marital cohabitation may contravene normal societal conventions, but on a moral level, it is not much of a problem.

The question is whether or not the university should take disciplinary action. The issue of how to deal with the violation of marital morality has been a focal point of debate in recent decades. Before Reform and Opening, extra-marital sex was punished quite severely, with administrative demerits and punishments that would [negatively] affect promotions and pay rises. It is said that during the Cultural Revolution there existed the crime of ‘breaking a family’, which specifically punished extra-marital sex. Since Reform and Opening, this crime no longer exists, work units no longer control the private lives of their workers, and the administrative punishment of this sort of immoral behaviour is no longer carried out. In 2000, when marriage law was amended, there were still those who strongly advocated the use of judicial powers to control extra-marital sex, but after the issue was debated in legal and social scientific circles, they ultimately abandoned this attempt. One reason for this was that studies conducted in Western countries showed an extra-marital sex rate of around 40 per cent. The proportion of extra-marital sex in China was a little lower, but it was still at roughly 16 per cent. If the target of a law renders 16 per cent of the population guilty, then even if it does become legislation, it will exist in name only; there is not enough police power to investigate these kinds of cases and to carry out this kind of punishment.

Aside from this, when we look at the extent to which the powers (judicial and administrative) should control the private morality of citizens, punishing extra-marital sexual activity also becomes a problem. If we are to punish this mistress, then are we also to punish the person who was keeping her (some say that his mistake was even greater, this mistress was, after all, single)? If we are to punish extra-marital sex, then are we also to punish pre-marital sex? Because, although there is no moral problem with pre-marital sex, it is certainly a contravention of traditional norms. If we are to punish this heterosexual activity that violates traditional norms, then are we also to punish homosexual activity, which violates traditional norms even further? The list goes on. This brings us back to the previous question: to what extent should [government] powers control citizens’ private lives, which [aspects] should they control, and which should they not.

My position on this is: the border of control should be whether or not there is personal harm. To put it differently, if someone’s behaviour causes personal harm (such as rape, seduction, obscenity), then punishment should be administered; if it has only violated morality and traditional norms, then criminal and administrative punishment should not be given.

So, how should we deal with behaviour such as keeping a mistress or having an affair? Just let things slide? No. This type of behaviour, we should correct with educational criticism methods. Our culture is often categorised as “shame culture” (as opposed to Western “guilt culture”), and the issue of extra-marital sex is exactly where we should allow this culture to show its strength. We should create a strong public consensus (in fact, this public consensus is and always has been strong), and disgrace those who have affairs and keep mistresses, and let those involved know that to have a mistress is shameful and devious. […]

This way, we can regulate immoral behaviour without having to use (judicial and administrative) powers, [which would] impose upon and control the private lives of citizens; we can both keep an orderly society and protect personal rights, prevent the abuse of common rights and the abuse of private rights, putting public and private rights into equilibrium.


Keeping administrative interference to a minimum? Cool. Doing away with the destructive and often exploitative culture of extra-marital affairs? Awesome. Doing it all the Chinese way? Right on. But whilst the proposed disciplinary policy is ill-conceived and unworkable, that doesn’t change the fact that thousands of female university students feel that their best chance of getting ahead in life is to go and ruin someone else’s marriage. Li is dead right that the problem is cultural rather than legal but, as she says herself, this type of behaviour is already publically deplored in China; when someone is caught having an affair, the media is very quick to shame them. Meanwhile, the practice is still rife in private. This would seem to be the result of a combination of a perceived lack of better options amongst female students (as pointed out by Shanghaiist), a swelling demographic of moneyed pervs, and a relationship culture that often places more importance on how much money your partner makes than on whether or not they’re already married. Whilst Li’s suggested course of action is probably the most rational, the roots of the problem could be far deeper than can be reached by simple “shaming”.

Who Decides How Hot it is?

This summer seems to have been a hot one all over. Certainly, in China, the heat has been a popular topic of conversation the past few months. How hot is it really? Well, interestingly, it very much depends who you ask.

In Beijing, at least, there’s plenty of skepticism about the official temperatures that are reported. It’s a commonly-held belief that because the government and other employers are required to give some types of workers the day off or pay them extra if the temperature breaches 40 degrees Celsius (i.e., 104 degrees Fahrenheit), the officially reported temperature will never break 40℃, regardless of how hot it actually is.

This week’s issue of Southern Weekend has a cover story about the heat and how it’s reported:

On July 5th, a Beijing TV placed an uncooked egg on top of a manhole in the street. Three minutes later, it was fully cooked. On August 13th in Hangzhou, an alcohol thermometer was only on the street for a moment before it shot up beyond its highest marked temperature: 50℃.

The weather reports for those places from the day before suggested that the highest possible temperatures would be 32℃ and 37℃. The actual temperatures on that day were measured at 39.5℃ and 40.6℃ (respectively).

There have already been 23 heat-related sudden deaths in Beijing, Jinan, Wuxi, Hefei, etc.; half of these deaths were people working in outdoor trades [who can’t legally be made to work if the temperature is above 40℃] like construction or cleaning the outsides of buildings.

However, at the times these deaths occurred, none of the “highs” in these cities weather reports were as high as 40℃.

Needless to say, this has been a contentious issue online for some time. The Southern Weekend report quotes one netizen as asking, “So is whether or not it’s over 40℃ a science question or a political question?”

According to the report, China’s official temperature readings come from a thermometer suspended 1.5m off the ground in a wooden, ventilated box. Each city has one. Most countries use a similar system, which allows Chinese meteorologists to easy compare their numbers to others around the globe. However, the temperature on the ground can be much hotter than what these official thermometers register. For example, on August 5th in Guangzhou, the official thermometer never got above 37.1℃, but the ground temperature on the same day got as high as 51.8℃.

Another reason for the disparity is that these temperature measurements aren’t actually being taken in the city. While each city has one, according to the report many of them are not recording temperatures in the city proper, where a variety of factors from the prevalence of buildings to the increased amount of pollution combine to make the temperature rise. So when the Beijing weather report says 37℃, that means it’s 37℃ inside a ventilated wooden box 1.5 meters off the ground, somewhere outside (but near, presumably) the city itself.

Moreover, these temperature readings are just one factor that goes into producing the numbers you seen in weather forecasts, which are apparently hotly debated by teams of meteorologists. “The ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the daily weather forecasts are not the result of direct mathematical equation,” said expert Li Kaile, “they’re the result of a discussion between the meteorologists on duty at the time.”

Also, the numbers are not calculated to factor in the influence of humidity, wind speed, or relative solar radiation. To get a real idea of what the temperature the next day will be like, Southern Weekend says, you’d need to collect all of this information, and you’d also need a bit of meteorological expertise.

The article’s authors wondered: “Isn’t that a little bit difficult for common folks?”

All the experts Southern Weekend spoke to denied that there was any kind of threshold they weren’t allowed to pass at 40℃.

Whether the 40℃ rule is real or not, it seems clear that the weather forecasts here are totally useless for city dwellers. After all, very few of us spend our days in ventilated wooden boxes outside the city. But at least now we know if we ever want to, it will be easy to find out what the weather there is like…

Discussion of the Zhouqu Landslide on

In the wake of a day of mourning this Sunday that everyone — well, almost everyone ((How fired do you think the People’s Daily editor responsible for that front page is right now? Our guess: very fired.)) — observed, a heated discussion of the mudslide has broken out on, of all places, As several people reported on Twitter yesterday, the comments thread of the site’s remarkable photo gallery has been essentially taken over by Chinese, who are using it as a public (uncensored) forum to discuss the disaster.

If you need it, check this post out (or this one) for a quick review of what the “Fifty Cents Party” [aka wu mao dang] is. As you will see, this is a very important term to understand when approaching this discussion.

We have translated some of their comments (a fair number of the comments are also written in English, so feel free to check those out as well):


Commenter 四川:

“A heavy rain was the cause of this disaster, so why are there once again so many fake foreign devils [Chinese acting like foreigners] cursing the government. You are not patriotic, you’re just speaking in farts.”

Commenter Anonymous:

“Some disasters are unavoidable; others are avoidable. In the eternal struggle between humans and nature, we must also protect ourselves against the kinds of officials who sit on high positions but do not look after the safety of the people. These kind of officials are monsters who create disasters themselves.”

Commenter Lesley Liu:

“As a Chinese, I cry for those who have died, and at the same time as I pray for blessings, I also very much admire our nation’s ruling Party. Really! Perhaps in the eyes of foreigners who don’t understand China, China is a one-Party authoritarian state, but aside from the CCP, who else could have helped us develop so quickly and shake off poverty and deliver such unprecedented growth? Who else can respond so quickly and throughly when their people are suffering? Also, the Chinese Communist Party really protects the rights and dignity of the Chinese people, and doesn’t allow any unfriendly forces to threaten its people. I’m so thankful and proud. My home province of Jilin was one of eight provinces hit by flooding, and our school was in a difficult spot by the riverside. I want to tell you that we are all fine, we have not been affected at all, we lack nothing, and many of our classmates have gone to the disaster areas to volunteer. China is not like you think she is. Only after coming here will you understand her.”

Commenter Anonymous:

“I’m a Party member, so what? Only the Party can put the entire force of the nation in motion to aid the victims; as for those thug traitors yelling here [on this website], you really make people angry, we must stand firm against these kinds of turncoat running dogs!!!”

Commenter kit:

“Are there people who organized to come here and say good things about the CCP? That’s very weird, this is an English website, what’s the point of saying this stuff in Chinese? If you want to compliment [the CCP] go back to the Strong Nation forums. You guys like having “lots of disasters” to reinvigorate the country, right, so there must be lots of hotheads at Strong Nation responding to this…”

Commenter china:

“Stupid cunt Fifty Cents Party members, take a break. And don’t try to connect everything with “the wheel” ((Slang for a certain cult that’s banned in China.)). You’re dogs the CCP raised, and would risk your lives to rush to their defense. It’s a shame netizens aren’t stupid, looking back on the history of extensive deforestation during the Great Leap Forward, it’s very easy to see that this disaster was caused by people. Lastly, I hope you Fifty Centers’ families get vaccinated, drink poison milk, eat sewage oil, and die playing hide-and-go-seek.”

Commenter 淡蓝色冰箱:

“In the face of disaster, let us be hand-in-hand, and share the same heart!”

Commenter zhao:

“If you call this a ‘natural disaster’, old man Nature is going to feel like he’s been wronged.”

Commenter Anonymous:

“Taiwanese people: fuck off.”

Commenter JOHN:

“The tragedy of China does not lie in government corruption. It lies in the way that Chinese look down on other Chinese! It lies in the fact that Chinese people do not trust in their own Party! Be a Chinese person, be a CCP member! I am very proud! I pride myself on [being a Party member]! I experienced the 5.12 earthquake! When you were eating and drinking happily! Who was it that led China through this disaster? Please do not say bad things about the CCP! I know how much the CCP cares for us, the masses! I hope the people of Zhouqu can rise up and create a beautiful hometown again. And I hope the dead rest in peace!”

Commenter weigan:

“There are many Fifty Cents Party members here, please pay attention to this.”

Commenter dgadga:

“What a bunch of stupid cunts, on here making a racket, you guys are the ones who should have been killed in a mudslide.”

Commenter athony lee:

“Notification to the “wheel” ((See the footnote above.)) members and overseas Chinese reactionaries here: If you did not cry on the memorial day, you are definitely not Chinese. I think those of you attacking the Party are definitely not Chinese. Why don’t you all get the fuck out of China, you aren’t Chinese. The process of China strengthening does not require non-Chinese people like you.”

Commenter 不是lun子:

“I came here to ask, didn’t the government know that there was the threat of mudslides here?”

Commenter jomi:

“The real Party members are on the scene in Gansu helping the relief effort. The people yelling here are just shameless idiots who think they’re Party bosses, scheming troublemakers, and disruptive FLG members.”

Clearly, Chinese netizens know how to make themselves right at home on American BBS servers. This is a good reminder that not all the political discourse on the internet is as intelligent and rational as most of the stuff we post.

The main question here, really, is whether this was a “man-made” disaster or not. I tend to believe massive deforestation could certainly be dangerous, but I am not an expert on mudslides, so we welcome your comments. Man-made, natural, or both?

Zhang Wen: “The Freedom to Come and Go is Normal”

This is a post by Zhang Wen regarding problems of Party membership.


World media outlets converged their reports on 11 CCP spokespeople that came together on June 30th. Public opinion was key here, since this after all does represent the 89th anniversary of the creation of the Chinese Communist Party. After [more than] 60 years in power, the Party has come out and is subjecting itself to the supervision of the outside.

What we need to make clear before all this is that these Communist Party organizations don’t even make their telephone numbers public. Even if the media and the public wanted to ask a question or lodge a complain, they wouldn’t know where to start.

But I’m even more interested in is Deng Shengming, spokesperson for the Central Organization Department, responding to a CNN reporter:

CNN: How many Chinese Communist Party members really join the Party purely out of faith? How is the CCP dealing with the crisis of faith [in the Party]?

Deng Shengming: 99% of Party members are all from front lines of production, work and management: all are ordinary workers. They join the party because they support its platforms, have faith it its theories, identify with its purpose, and strive for modernization along with the Party.

Deng stated frankly that there exist Party members whose “motivations for entering the Party are not upright and proper.” There needs to be “a mechanism we can use to expel and deal with unqualified people in the Party.”

Deng Shengming touched on a sensitive topic: a mechanism for expelling Party members. It is well-known that, in general, foreign political parties freely allow members to come and go….

Of course, the CCP has always had ways of dealing with scum that violate Party discipline and the law of the land: first, a warning from inside the Party. Second, a serious warning from inside the Party. Third, a black mark from the Party. Fourth, a very big black mark from the Party. Fifth, probation. Finally, expulsion from the Party.

However, there are currently no measures used to punish “unacceptable Party members”, those who’s reasons for entering the Party aren’t pure, don’t have faith in Communism, and don’t, in fact, plan on serving the people. This is to say nothing of any mechanism to expel such people from the Party.

From this we can infer that quite a few of the nearly 78 million Party members are simply muddling along, not serious about their roles. It’s time to clean up this group of deadweights (or worse, corrupt Party members). They are a hidden weakness of the Party.

In addition to expelling these poor Party members, allowing those members who, for whatever reason, want to voluntarily leave the Party is the next step that needs to be considered.

In short, a healthy, open and confidence political party should have a broad and expansive heart, and should allow its members to undergo certain processes which allow them to freely come and go. A political party that forcefully limits the freedom of its members is not a normal political party.

‘State Capitalism’ and Murdoch’s retreat from China

Ian Bremmer, political scientist and president of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, defines emerging market as ‘a country where politics matters at least as much as economics to the market.’ His new book, The End of the Free Market, singles out states such as China and Russia which practice ‘state capitalism’, a system in which governments use markets to create wealth that can be directed for political ends. The ultimate motive is not economic but political, i.e. ‘maximizing the state’s power and the leadership’s chances of survival.’

This week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp announced that it would sell a controlling stake in three Chinese TV channels to a fund backed by China’s state-owned Shanghai Media Group and China Development Bank. This marked a major retreat by the media giant from China after years of difficulties. As to why Mr Murdoch’s love affair with China ended, the Financial Times traced the answer to his speech in 1993 after taking over British Sky Broadcasting:

Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere. Fax machines enable dissidents to bypass state-controlled print media. Direct-dial telephony makes it difficult for a state to control interpersonal voice communications. And satellite broadcasting makes it possible for information-hungry residents of many closed societies to bypass state-controlled television channels.

Wang Dan: foreign businesses are misjudging China

As Murdoch would have realized by now, in China, politics matters as much as economics, and the rules are very different from those found in a free market economy. Failure to recognize this would lead to costly mistakes. Wang Dan, a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, made three points regarding Murdoch’s misjudgements:

First, China’s opening is policy-directed. In other words, it is a limited opening. In particular, control over speech and press is the government’s bottom line. It is vital for an authoritarian regime to survive. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is very clear about that. In China, control over thinking reaches virtually every aspect of life. This includes such fields as entertainment, fitness and cosmetology where foreign capitals think that they can have a free hand. If the CCP detects anything that is not under its control, it will not hesitate to interfere. The recent ‘anti-vulgarity campaign’ is a good example. Under this logic, how can foreign capitals occupy a place in China’s media market? For all its efforts, News Corp’s two-decades-long venture in China ended in failure. This shows that without any political changes, China’s media market will be closed for foreigners.

Second, even if we don’t consider political factors, foreign businesses will still face strong competition from local interest groups. The private equity fund which acquires News Corp’s channels is backed by Chinese groups with strong financial and media background. In fields like infrastructure construction and finance, capitals, technologies and management are important. However, media is different. It requires cultural background, guanxi and familiarity with local conditions. On these, foreign companies cannot compete with local groups. In other words, ‘one with great power cannot defeat a local villain.’

Third, many foreign companies have misconceptions about China’s reform and opening. Seeing that China is becoming more market-oriented, they think that the country can be judged by the standards of a market economy. In fact, they fail to see other aspects of China which have changed very little. China’s emphasis on political stability has undermined the development of institutional guarantees. Changes in the general political environment, policies or even key leaders can have massive effects on the market. This is especially so for the media. Simply said, this is an uncertain market. I believe that Murdoch and News Corp must have the same feeling.

In many ways, China now seems to be more hostile toward western multinational corporations. This is a theme expanded upon in The Death of the China lobby? by Daniel W. Drezner in Foreign Policy. Many foreign businesses worry that, after three decades of strong economic growth, China believes that it can now afford to be less welcoming toward foreign investments. This is shown by China’s employment of policies of ignoring intellectual property rights, forced technology transfer and government procurement skewed towards domestic companies. On the other hand, by alienating western companies, China risks weakening the strong pro-China lobbies led by these corporations in Washington and Brussels.

He Qingling: western multinationals will eventually kowtow to China

However, He Qingling, a Chinese author and economist who is critical of the Chinese government, thinks that foreign businesses would eventually kowtow to the CCP because of their profit calculations. Below are a few extracts from her opinion piece in BBC Chinese:

Over the years, foreign businesses have made a lot of investments in China. Now is the time to ripe the profits. Take the examples of Google, Goldman Sachs and General Electric, the three representative US companies in IT, finance and industry. After the announced high-profile retreat from China, Google is now making efforts to get permission to operate in China, as it hurts too much to abandon a market it has nurtured for years. Goldman Sachs, which has long been appeasing the CCP, also keeps quiet on the accusation of its ‘sucking up money everywhere in China’ by the Chinese media. As for General Electric, although its CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt has recently criticized Chinese foreign policies, it is virtually impossible for it to retreat from China.

According to my years of observation, Beijing has mastered the way of dealing with foreign corporations. By employing a ‘divide and rule’ strategy and showing the cake of the Chinese market in front of them, foreign businesses will neither form an alliance in negotiating with China nor pull out from the country. As long as they can stay, the Chinese government does not need to worry that they will not lobby for it in their home countries.

China is a country which worships power to the extreme. There is no exception to any single group. In front of this power, domestic companies are like eggs against a giant stone. As the main force of the pro-China lobbies, multinational corporations are no more than iron-skinned eggs. Their difference with domestic groups is that, when they collide with the Chinese Dragon, they can still preserve the yolk, although their iron skin will inevitably be scarred.

Re-branding China Requires Honesty, Not Propaganda

The following is a completely unedited submission I made to the Global Times’s op-ed department, who I have been writing pieces for for some time now. I was particularly proud of this one, a response to this editorial. Unfortunately, it did not end up getting published.

[I have removed a few sentences from this post on the grounds that they were quite definitely pretty unprofessional. My bad.]

Re-branding China Requires Honesty, Not Propaganda

A few days ago, the Global Times ran an opinion piece called “How can we make the world like us?” That’s an interesting question, and one that China seems to be asking a lot these days. The government has put a lot of money into expanding their media outlets with the hope of gaining global acceptance, and recently announced a plan to create a short film and accompanying thirty-second commercial that will run on TV in various foreign countries. The commercial will feature a fifty Chinese celebrities.

Wednesday’s opinion piece praises this as a big step forward over China’s previous attempts to rebuild its image, which mostly invovled news stories about economic progress. But actually, I think the opposite is true. News stories about China’s economic growth – which were based in undeniable and clearly evident facts – were a remarkably successful way of changing people’s perceptions of China’s development. But neither those stories nor the commercial is going to help much in terms of making people like China. Neither is the Expo, and neither did the Olympics, really. These show a China that is powerful, yes, but not necessarily one that is likeable. So where has China gone wrong?

The original article says “the Chinese people have long regarded national strength as fundamental to winning respect and affection from the rest of the world. Many Chinese people still swallow the bitter memories of past poverty and the humiliation associated with it.” And while strength may be instrumental in winning respect, it has nothing to do with winning affection. Some strong countries are liked internationally, but others are despised, and the tides turn easily. America, for example, has seen its international image go from “the promised land” to “bully imperialist” primairly because it was demonstrating its military strength. Strength does not breed affection. Too often, in fact, what it breeds is fear.

Economic partnership will not save China either. Foreign countries are no morel likely to be friends with China for econimic reasons than you are likely to be friends with the people working the cash register at your local grocery store. Sure, developing countries may toady up to China for a seat at the table, and even other superpowers can’t afford to ignore China, but that is business. And while business relationships are often also friendly relationships in China, they generally aren’t abroad. It’s all economic; China cannot win affection by flaunting economic power.

Even if that were possible, China certainly isn’t in a position to do so. Whether their complaints are fair or not, an increasing number of foreign CEOs are complaining that foreign companies aren’t treated fairly in the Chinese market and that the government gives unfair advantages to local companies. That kind of approach certainly isn’t going to win China many friends abroad.

Neither is a commerical full of smiling celebrities who quietly “swallow the bitter memories of past poverty and humilation” while presenting a whitewashed image of China to the world. The world knows that China is not a perfect place, so presenting it as one and trying to cover up all of its flaws comes off as dishonest.

It might seem paradoxical that being more honest about flaws will make people more likely to like China, but it makes sense. In interpersonal relationships, people who present themselves publicly as perfect are disliked; they are called arrogant and mocked behind their backs. When they fail, bystanders rejoice. This is essentially what is happening to China now. Foreigners laugh at Xinhua and other domestic media outlets. This isn’t because the people working there aren’t talented – they are – but the limits placed on what they can and cannot say are too great. They are not allowed to be honest. And as a result, the world sees them with suspicion rather than affection.

Returning to the metaphor of interpersonal relations, humble, self-deprecating people generally have little trouble finding friends. People are more likely to trust someone who doesn’t pretend he’s perfect. Why is the US, which is currenly engaged in not one but two unpopular wars on foreign soil, still more popular internationally than China according to a BBC World Service poll from April of this year? I suspect one of the reasons is that the relatively free flow of information into and out of America makes its government seem comparatively honest, even if it is also deeply flawed.

Of course, there’s a difference between admitting one’s faults and advertising them. No one would recommend that China purchase airtime in foreign countries and then run an advertisement about how dangerous Chinese coal mines are, for example. But more honesty would be a good first step.

And if China can’t attract foreign countries by being more honest in its media output, then that’s a clear sign that the government has more important problems to attend to than whether or not foreigners like China. If China wants to be liked, it needs to get honest about its flaws and serious about fixing them.

If it doesn’t it may continue to gain strength and a grudging respect. But it wont gain affection. And it will, almost certainly, gain enemies.

StarCraft 2 in China: “We Gamers Really Suffer”

China may be [insert phrase about economic development here], but in terms of video gaming, it is very much still a third world country, from an official standpoint. A mix of protectionist import regulations and overzealous self-censorship on the part of some gaming companies has given the outside world the impression that Chinese gamers exist in some kind of bizarre gaming hell.

In fact, as anyone who has set foot on the mainland knows, anything available outside China is available here too, and thanks to intellectual property theft, it’s probably cheaper, too. Consoles may be technically illegal, but in actuality, they’re everywhere. The summer’s hottest release, StarCraft 2, was available in China the same day it was available everywhere else, even if it wasn’t officially released here. (In fact, it was even possible to legally purchase the game and download a digital copy from China, which is how I got mine).

Of course, the lack of official support certainly causes frustration. And the perceptions of Chinese gamers outside of China has led to strong prejudices, especially in Taiwan, whose servers are often populated with large numbers of Mainland players looking to get in on the action. One of our commenters was kind enough to point me in the direction of a few BBS posts that discuss these issues; I have translated selected comments below.

Prejudice against Mainland gamers

[A word of explanation: since games are online, Mainland Chinese gamers are usually identified by Taiwanese gamers because they use simplified rather than traditional characters to communicate.]

Original post: “I was cursed at by Taiwanese players for no reason at all! How many others have had similar experiences? For example, being called ‘Mainland dog’ or ‘communist [agongzi] ((阿共仔, which is apparently rude slang for “communist” in this context.))’? And I used to really like Taiwanese people…”

“This happens quite often. Just ignore them, there’s no point in arguing with the brain-damaged. I’ve heard things like ‘Mainland dog’ hundreds of times.”

“There are extremists everywhere; just ignore them, there’s no need to implicate everyone from the same place as the extremist.”

“We go to Taiwanese servers to play games, not to look for people to curse us. And when we get into the games, we don’t talk, because it’s not easy to communicate as you [Taiwanese people] don’t recognize some simplified character forms. PS: I have also been cursed before [on Taiwanese servers].”

“If you’re playing WoW and you go to Taiwanese servers you will definitely be cursed at.”

“As soon as someone Taiwanese spots a simplified character, they just yell ‘Mainland dog’ over and over.”

“Yes, but in someone else’s territory you must swallow your anger, it’s all because we don’t have our own”

“Just use the Sougou pinyin input method to type in traditional characters.”

Many posters also pointed out that most Taiwanese are not so prejudiced, and urged the original poster not to lump them all together with the bad eggs.

Frustration over censorship and slow official releases

Original post: “Starcraft 2 is out. When will Netease release the official version? They won’t make us wait too long, right? Anyway, already requires a monthly fee, so how could they see such a big cake and not feel hungry? [i.e., doesn’t Netease want to make money from people playing Starcraft?]”

“Don’t bother waiting. Even if you manage to wait for it, it will just be river-crabbed [censored].”

“Netease: Don’t ask us, we want to put it up online tonight, please go ask the relevant government departments!”

“This user’s post has already been deleted.”

“In the year 3000-something.”

“[Riffing on the official patch that removed all skeletons from WoW] Look at the zerg and their zombies, our goal is to keep there from being any bones at all in the game, so just imagine the Queen of Blades in the background with two meaty wings [in the game, the Queen of Blades has bones for wings].”

“[The official Chinese version] will be out when Starcraft 3 is released.”

“Don’t even hold out hope, if you want to buy it just buy [an unofficial version].”

“In addition to waiting, we will also have to wait some more. We gamers really suffer.”

New on ChinaGeeks

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