Egypt, China, and Revolution

For the past three hours or so, I have been captivated by the situation in Egypt, where it appears at this time (about 6 A.M. China time) that the Egyptian president Mubarak may already have been overthrown, or at the very least faces a dire threat to his legitimacy from the massive protests that have resulted in, among other things, the burning and looting of his political party’s official headquarters.

(EDIT: Or maybe not? Mubarak finally showed up at 6:20 and made a speech on Egyptian TV, so he’s at least still in the country. I am now going to sleep.)

Of course, this is an extremely sensitive issue for China, given that the protests in Egypt are motivated primarily by factors that exist in China, too: wealth disparity, corruption, censorship, etc. Of course, China is not Egypt. But the spin machine is still running.

Xinhua’s Chinese site doesn’t feature the Egypt story prominently. At present, the big headline story is about Wen Jiabao calling the German Prime Minister. The only headline on the site that mentions Egypt is this short blurb about Hong Kong officials announcing a travel warning for Egypt. There are Xinhua stories about the riots, but they are clearly being buried, none of them appear on Xinhua’s crowded front page.

Xinhua’s English site does mention the protests on the front page, in this story, which describes the protests but makes no attempt to explain why they are occurring.

Word of the revolutionary protests is spreading on Weibo and through BBS forums, but appears to be being scrubbed just as quickly. Attempts to link to Al-Jazeera’s live coverage of the story resulted repeatedly in Sina’s Weibo service displaying an error message about “forbidden” content. Some Weibo messages have mentioned Egypt, but the topic appears to have been scrubbed from the trending topics on Weibo, where it hasn’t appeared in the top 50 all night.

Now, of course, all of these could just be because it’s late at night, and news reporters are, by and large, asleep. But netizens discussing the issue on BBS forums are reporting threads on this topic are being deleted rapidly, so it seems likely Xinhua’s omissions and Weibo’s squeaky-clean trending topics are not coincidental.

One wonders what the Chinese government is thinking about all this revolution in the Middle East. I feel quite certain they are not amused. As it’s now 6 A.M., I’m not going to take much more of an analytical leap than that right now, but feel free to discuss it in the comments. Below, I’ve translated some of a post and some comments about the Egypt protests from Mop.

Netizen Comments

From this story about the protests on Mop.com. First, an excerpt from the original post, written before things exploded on Friday:

“What’s regrettable is that while China and Egypt have the same political system, China has devoted itself entirely to pursuing “harmony”, whereas Egypt has broken out in large scale protests and threats, directly calling for the president to step down. This is very difficult for Chinese people to understand. According to reports, the demonstrators were able to get together all at once because of communication through the internet. The incident exploded beyond the expectations of authorities, which is also something that couldn’t happen in China. From this, we can tell that Egypt’s system of information and internet management lags behind China’s

[…]

After [the first] protests were suppressed, the government quickly announced that these activities were illegal; as for what laws specifically were violated, that’s decided by the people holding the guns. I think in the future they will ban protesting, and ban speaking about “sensitive” things like “black jails”, “mental hospitals”, “death by being crushed under a wheel” ((These are all unsubtle references to things in China that have happened recently)). So I think the Egyptian people will continue to live in a monarchy for a long time, safe and content in paradise.”


Comments
:

“The original poster of this story has already been judged [by authorities] to be a counterrevolutionary.”

“I doubt this post will last a day [before being deleted].”

“Fuck, not having a government is the true “kingly way” [a reference to the title of the post, means not having a government is the best form or goverment]”

“Leaving my name before this gets harmonized.”

“Confucianism is slavery, the most useful narcotic of China’s feudal rulers.”

“Who’s name are you promoting this in? In the name of the people? At the very least, what you’ve said doesn’t represent my opinion.”

“In the Heavenly Kingdom [China] people are happy to sit around and watch rather than taking a stand.”

“I think the Egyptian political system is very similar to the “Heavenly Kingdom”, it’s just that the people are different…”

“The authorities in Egypt aren’t as experienced as the Heavenly Kingdom, start brainwashing in middle school, watch over the internet, if there’s a sign of trouble just arrest it ((literally, trans-province it, referring to police pursuing criminals across provincial borders)), break the backbone of the people, ensure they can never straighten or harden up, so they won’t dare to oppose, turning the Heavenly Kingdom into a police state.”

“Little Rabbit, Be Good” A Subversive New Years’ Video Card

If you haven’t seen the video yet, here’s a copy via Tudou. That will probably be blocked soon, so here’s a Youtube link as well.
http://www.tudou.com/v/PRunrM4l5rI/v.swf

Translation

It’s a little tough to translate a video, so we’ll go by time code here.

0:00: Disclaimer: 1) This film may make people uncomfortable, and children are forbidden to watch it. 2) This film is meant as an adult fairy tale, and has no connection to real life. 3) This film is only meant to be shared during the 2011 New Years’ (Spring Festival) Greetings period, so please don’t pass it around after that.
0:00-0:06: Opening titles: A 2011 Spring Festival Greetings Card
0:14: Kuang Kuang: Wishing you a happy Spring Festival, from Xiao Hong.
0:17: Book cover: “Little Rabbit Kuang Kuang”
0:21: Text in book: Far far in the future, there was a beautiful forest…
0:21-0:26: Singing: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two ears standing upright”
0:27-0:29: Side of truck reads: “Three Tiger Milk ((This name sounds very similar in Chinese to Sanlu, the name of the company that made the tainted milk powder.)). Good tiger milk so rabbit moms can relax.”
0:27-0:36: Singing: “They jump and bounce around, so cute, they like eating carrots and vegetables, they like eating vegetables.”
0:42-0:50: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, open your mouth, open it up quickly, and drink up your happy future.”
0:52: Text on cave wall: Big Tiger Cave. Serve the rabbits. Build a harmonious forest.
0:55: Text on red banner: Build a Harmonious Forest ((Slightly different wording from the previous one, but same meaning.)).
1:00-1:03: “No one move. Let the leaders go first!” ((This is a reference to the Xinjiang fire.))
1:05-1:13: Singing: “Little rabbits, be good, get out of the road, quickly get out of the way, the leaders will exit first.”
1:10: Speech bubble text: “Help!”
1:15: Text on buildings: “Demolish.”
1:17: Text on slot machine: “Demolish.”
1:19: Text on TV screen: Tiger leader: “Condolences” Rabbit: “Thanks”
1:20: Text on house: “Demolish.” ((These are all references to the many instances of illegal demolition that have occurred recently, as well as several self-immolations in protest. See this report for more info.))
1:25: Text on old rabbit’s face: “Protest”
1:27-1:35: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, quickly demolish the house, demolish it faster, we must put the new one up.”
1:47: Speech: “My Dad is Tiger Gang!
1:49: Text on rabbit in car’s face: “Son, drive!”
1:49-1:55: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, get out of the way, get off the road, Gang’s son wants to drive over here.”
2:02-2:10: Singing: “Little rabbit. Be good. Listen! Be good. Don’t just say whatever you want.” ((The image of the rabbit crushed under a truck at the end of this segment is a reference to the Qian Yunhui incident.))
2:15: Growling: “Be careful or accidents will happen.”
2:30: Text on rabbit’s face: “Kill”
2:30-2:54: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two fangs standing upright. Don’t make me angry, when I’m pushed ((i.e., forced into doing something, forced into a position)) I can bite hard, too. When I’m pushed I can bite hard too.”
3:00: Speech: Kuang Kuang, Kuang Kuang!
3:07-3:14: Singing: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two ears standing upright”
3:15: Kuang Kuang: This is a really meaningful year!
3:18: Kuang Kuang, come help your mom make dumplings!
3:22-3:25: The song is ending: “…like eating carrots and vegetables. They like eating vegetables ((This is a bit of a double entendre, as 吃菜 can also just mean to eat a meal or eat a prepared “dish” of any kind. Given the red background, it seems to also imply that the rabbits like eating tigers, too.)).”
3:28: Text: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

Anaylsis

This video has been being passed around today on Twitter, Weibo, and other Chinese social networking sites. Most of my Chinese friends have seen it, although they almost all also work in media. Still, it’s fair to say the video is pretty widespread.

Regardless of what the disclaimer says ((Presumably, it’s just there for the sake of plausible deniability, although I can’t imagine it will save them.)), it is probably obvious even to those who don’t speak Chinese that this video makes repeated and explicit reference to real life events. The milk powder death, the fire, the illegal demolitions, the beating of protesters, the self-immolation, the “Tiger Gang” car accident, etc. are all references to real-life events that any Chinese viewer would be immediately and intimately familiar with.

Of course, sarcastic animations and other web jokes about these incidents are common. What is not common is the end of the video, which depicts a rabbit rebellion where masses of rabbits storm the castle of the tigers and eat them alive. For viewers who have already gathered that in this picture, rabbits represent ordinary Chinese people and the tigers represent the government/the powerful, this is a revolutionary–literally–statement. The clip ends with what seems almost like a call to arms for the new year, with Kuang Kuang saying it will be a meaningful (有意义, could also be translated as “important”) year and then the end title reading: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

This isn’t the bullshit so-called “inciting to subvert state power” that Liu Xiaobo was given eleven years for. This video is actually inciting people to subvert state power. I don’t know whether the animation studio is foreign or domestic, but if they’re in China, I imagine they’ll be hearing from the local PSB very, very soon. [And with that said, I urge readers to be extremely cautious in spreading this around on domestic websites, and even foreign ones. Remember that person who was arrested for a (sarcastically) subversive tweet a couple months ago.]

[Further research seems to indicate that they’re a domestic group. Their website is registered in China with the requisite ICP number and contact info that includes Beijing phone and fax numbers.]

On that note, I should make it clear that while I find this video fascinating, I deeply hope it is not an omen. Obviously, I have many issues with the Chinese government, but I think there is still a chance for a peaceful path to reform, and open rebellion would be a disaster for ordinary Chinese people and the government alike. So, to the Chinese censors reading this, for once I’m on your side. Let’s not have a rebellion. That is a decidedly bad idea.

Speaking of censors, I feel certain this video will be erased from all domestic websites within 24 hours, probably much less. To suppress discussion of it, though, censors will have a very difficult time. Will “rabbit” become a “sensitive word” that returns zero search results just as the Year of the Rabbit is upon us? Perhaps. That would be a serious embarrassment for the government, but they may calculate that the alternative is even worse.

Netizen Comments

Here are some comments translated from Baidu Tieba threads like this, this and this. In all likelihood, these threads will have been deleted by the time I finish translating them.

Chinese forum users love to use animated gifs, but I found them especially prevalent in these threads. Very few people, it seemed, wanted to say much of anything about the video, and many of the comments were just animations of a rabbit that says “ding” (i.e., vote up, support, etc.)

I fear this will be harmonized soon…

It really is a meaningful year….ding….

In response to a question about why the video was deleted, one netizen posted this picture, which reads: “1+1=??” “It’s…it equals 2.” “Bang! You knew too much.”

Gun in hand……

How frightening…ding.

The moderator will delete this, it’s already been deleted once.

A single spark…..

Totally covers most of last year’s “sensitive words”

I’ve really been bitten by a rabbit before…so, don’t push them.

I watched the whole thing in silence.

I’m suddenly so angry! That last part really helps let off steam!

The person who posted this has been “trans-provinced” [refers to police traveling across provincial borders to arrest someone].

We are all rabbit people.

[In response to the above comment] You’ve typed it wrong, you mean “wronged” peoples. [The character 冤, which means “wronged” and is often written on signs by protesters, is very similar to the character for rabbit, which is 兔]

The rabbits’ weary howls are truly painfully moving, those who watch can’t help but cry…a howl, a soft howl….What is posted here is not a video, it’s anger.

It’s so satisfying….

Looks like this is the last episode for Kuang Kuang [this studio has produced a series of animated shorts before under the Kuang Kuang name, but nothing openly subversive like this.]

This needs to be spread [around]

This is already beyond anger…

Well, that got deleted fast…

Chinese Overseas Students, Then and Now

The first Chinese overseas student is Rong Hong, who went to the US to study in 1847, first at Monson Academy, then at Yale. Since then, more Chinese gradually studied abroad, with the first surge appearing at the turn of the 20th century. Back then, China was in a difficult transition period from the late Qing Dynasty to the republican period, marked by foreign humiliation and domestic suffering. But it was also an age of awakening. Hundreds and thousands of Chinese students went to advanced countries like Great Britain, Germany, France, America and Japan to study all sorts of matters. They brought back visions of modernity, which included not only Western technical knowledge, but also society, politics, laws and culture, bestowing great hopes on the modernization of China. They acted like a bridge which connected China to the outside world, and made important contributions in arousing Chinese people’s wake to overthrow the corrupt Qing Dynasty, establish a republic, abolish obsolete traditions, and modernize and strengthen China.

Today, it is fashionable to talk of China as the next superpower. With the shift of power from the West to the East, the special position of Chinese overseas students has also eroded. Perhaps they are no longer needed as saviours of China. They might even need to rely on China’s glories. But beyond China’s economic rise lies authoritarian politics, rampant corruption and mounting social problems. However, the current generation of Chinese overseas students see little interests in making things better. In a few recent articles, Beijing writer and FT Chinese columnist Xu Zhiyuan, and prominent Hong Kong writer Tao Kit, have portrayed them as a confined community, predominately interested in enhancing their personal careers while showing little interests in Western ideas and cultures. In other words, they fail to act as agents of change in China, quite unlike their predecessors.

A confined community

Drawing on his exchange experience at Cambridge University during 2009-2010, Xu Zhiyuan described in FT Chinese how Chinese students in Cambridge live in their own confined world, showing little interests in things around them:

The largest overseas student community in Cambridge is Chinese. Counting in the sixth formers and visiting scholars, it includes nearly 1,500 people. They are numerous and everywhere, but are invisible in Cambridge’s public life. In Varsity, the largest student-run paper in Cambridge, I seldom see their news. I am not familiar with the overly-rich student activity scene, but I rarely see a Chinese face, whether in the theatre showing the tragic life of Alan Turing, in bookshops, or in the cinema screening the great famine of Ukraine. It is also apparent that Chinese students here are not interested in making their voices heard, even when the world media is hotly debating about China.

These Chinese youth live in a new kind of confined life. New technologies and open information have liberated but also destroyed them. Armed with Skype, emails, MSN, Facebook and Youtube, they live a tribal life. Even though they are in Cambridge, they will not miss any popular TV series in China, or the latest film If You Are The One. For them, Britain is just a temporary background. They neither have the ability nor the interests to express their views on Britain or the world. Meanwhile, the rise of China affects them in another way. They no longer view themselves as a progressive force which will improve China. Conversely, they strive to integrate themselves into the current Chinese order. The internal logic of the rise of China has also forced its way into their lives. Three decades of successful commercialism and consumerism is accompanied by political stagnation and incompetence, and a noisy and coarse culture.

Narrow visions

In addition to a lack of interests in the world outside, Tao Kit also pointed out in Hong Kong’s Next Magazine the narrow visions of Chinese overseas students, who are only interested in pragmatic subjects like engineering, finance and commerce, rather than the arts and humanities:

The scope of subjects studied is narrower. Late Qing scholar Shen Jiaben studied law in Britain. He returned to China and tried to reform the legal system based on the British model. At least, he abolished many inhumane corporal punishments. Zhu Guangqian of the republican era went all the way to Edinburgh to study aesthetics, and became a great master after returning to China. While Jeme Tien Yow studied engineering in America, Sun Yat-sen read medicine in Britain, and Liang Ssu-ch’eng studied architecture in the US, at least, there were those who chose to study law and aesthetics in order to enlighten the minds of Chinese.

Today, business administration, finance and technologies are the hottest choices among Chinese overseas students. Who would choose to read Latin or arts history? […] A century ago, Chinese decided to study overseas so that they can contribute to the nation, akin to the spirit of Fukuzawa Yukichi [one of the founders of modern Japan]. Today, Chinese overseas students only care about finding a good job, while the Chinese Communist Party only believes in GDP. […] How can Westerners not view them merely as a group of consumers?

The US public believes that young Chinese students are particularly good at maths. This is a prejudice brought about by the bias in subject selections. Westerners only know that the Chinese are good at engineering and sciences, but not arts and humanities. This is just like how Hollywood views Chinese movies – it is Chinese kungfu rather than romance that is recognized. This is because Western audiences don’t believe that Chinese can be romantic.

Blurred identities

Overseas Chinese students are well placed to bridge the ideological divides between China and the West, and lead social progress in China. But, unlike their counterparts a century ago, they have failed to do so. In another article on FT Chinese, Xu Zhiyuan explained why, and set out the political implications:

When Hu Shih returned to China in 1917, he said to his friend who welcomed him in Shanghai, ‘now that we are back, everything will be different.’ He was referencing Erasmus Darwin’s famous sentence. This was the confidence of Chinese overseas student at its height. They acted as a bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations, shouldering the responsibility to introduce new ideas, technologies and organizations into the Chinese society. In one of his later articles, Hu Shih wrote, ‘we always carry with us new insights and a critical spirit. They could not be found in a race so indifferent and used to the existing order, but are absolutely essential for any reform movements.

Those ‘new insights’ and ‘critical spirit’ often enjoy bad luck. They are swamped by the inertia of Chinese people. Their ambitions, anxiety and constraints are exactly the characters of China itself. But no one can deny their importance. In between the enormous gaps between China and the West in terms of power, wealth and knowledge, they act like transmission belts. However, the tragedy lies here – they are just that. Facing external pressures and internal weaknesses, they never develop their self-determination and value. Their roles are functional – they can build railways, chemical factories or new buildings. But their influence is only limited to the surface of the Chinese society. They are too eager to be useful. They may be noble hearted, aspiring to save the motherland; they may also be calculating, seeking personal successes.

20th century China was just like the Soviet Union criticized by Andrei Sakharov: ‘our society must gradually find its way out from the dead end of non-spirituality. This non-spirituality is killing the possibility of development, not only spiritual, but also material.’

Generations after generations of Chinese overseas students rushed in to join the rank. They helped new China to acquire missiles and hydrogen and atomic bombs, and were recognized as national heroes. But how many of them have followed the line of Andrei Sakharov to question the meaning and value of these actions, and their relationship with the profound suffering of this race? The ability and knowledge they learned from the West turn out to be tools of oppression and illusion directed toward their fellow countrymen.

China’s Latest PR Fail?

You may recall last year, it was announced that China was spending bundles of money to create an advertisement designed to appeal to US audiences and turn the tide of US public opinion. All of China’s shiniest celebrities were called in, and then it all disappeared from the news.

But with Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has come news that the advertisement is out, and now it, or at least clips of it, are being played on the giant screens in Times Square! So what did the Chinese government decide was the best way to convince Americans to like China? Observe:

http://www.tudou.com/v/sCuFz9rSQgM/v.swf

OK, maybe we’re not getting the whole picture from that news report, and we also can’t hear whatever audio will go with the ad, but it appears to consist of (1) shots of Chinese celebrities standing around and (2) a big 中国 (which Americans can’t read) next to a very tiny “China”. Um, what?

Actually, on the face of it, I sort of like the principle I imagine they started with: China has some cool, and unique, people, and Americans don’t really know that because China is some faceless “othery” place to them. This is true. However, this approach to introducing Chinese people to the US is, well, dumb.

First of all, regardless of what the audio says, the people are doing absolutely nothing in any of these shots, which makes them unmemorable and pointless. They don’t serve to illustrate anything other than that Chinese people exist, which was something Americans already knew. Seriously, you got together sixty of China’s most beautiful, famous people, and then asked them to stand around for a while?

(If you’re curious who, exactly, is standing around, check out this list the Baidu Beat folks have put together from the footage we have so far.)

Secondly, I wonder about the use of celebrities at all, given that 95% of the people in the video aren’t people Americans know or will be impressed by at all. I don’t think anyone is going to see that video and think, “Wow, Tan Dun is Chinese!” Most people have no clue who Tan Dun is, and those who do know him already know that he’s Chinese. As the one woman they ask about it in the news report above says, “I know Yao Ming, and uh, some of the supermodels…”

It is also worth pointing out that they obviously didn’t attempt to rework the ad at all to make it fit on those Times Square screens, so in many of the shots half of the names are obscured, people are cut out, etc. Bush league.

Maybe the audio somehow turns it into a captivating, mind-blowing coup d’etat somehow. But I highly doubt it.

It’s telling that at the end of that news report, the only American they ask about the ad as a whole says the advertisement is “moving” because it shows “where people work” and “their fields of interest.” Captivating!

I look forward to seeing the full video as it will air (or perhaps is already airing?) on US TV. But based on this quick introduction, this whole thing seems like a colossal waste of time and money. Can’t say that surprises me at all.

UPDATE: We now have the full video. It is even worse than I imagined, and I will write more about it later today or tomorrow, but in the interim, here it is for your (lack of) enjoyment. (Here’s a China-friendly version)

UPDATE 2: The release of the full video obliges me to add a couple things to my original assessment. First, the audio adds absolutely nothing to the video in terms of context, so I was right about that. Second, the design of the video itself is fairly flawed. Granted, we’re watching compressed web videos, so the colors are off and the resolution is low, but even at 420p, the names of the Chinese people in the video above are unreadable, and even the larger white text is very difficult to read when it is against a white backdrop. Presumably, if I were watching this on a large HD TV, these issues would be resolved, but it seems odd to design an advertisement with text too small to read in a web video and (I suspect) also to small to read on a standard-def TV when sitting a reasonable distance away.

There is one angle from which we might consider this ad a win for China, see the comments of Christopher C. Heselton below for more details on that. It’s possible that’s all their goal was with the ad, and if so, they have probably succeeded. But it’s equally clear that this ad is utterly meaningless to foreigners. Hard to know for sure whether or not the government really cares.

Housing Demolition in 2010: A Report (Part 2)

The following is a continuation of our translation of the summary of a report about housing demolition in China in 2010 that was compiled by a team of lawyers and passed to us by an anonymous source in the Chinese media. Our source was told that they were not allowed to report on this topic.

Our translation picks off in the middle of things, so if you haven’t already, please read Part 1 first.

We remind you also, that for Chinese readers, we have made the entire summary of the report available in its original form here, completely unedited.

Also, I want to stress again that this is a rough and rushed translation that inevitably contains errors. Also, where the names of laws and policies are concerned, I’m just translating directly; the names used herein may not be the proper terms for these laws. Please consult the original text for clarification.

Translation (Part 2)

[Picking up where we left off in the “Reasons” section, where the author is listing the causes of the spike in home demolitions that occurred in 2010. The first reason was that land sales make up a huge and growing portion of local government budgets, and the easiest way to get land to sell is to evict tenants, demolish the building, and sell the land.]

2. Control of Responsibility for Problems Has Not Materialized.
Although many towns and counties have published regulations regarding assigning responsibility when problems arise, they are mostly aimed at demolitions that do not begin as scheduled or at government cadres investigating and interfering with the demolition process. In practice, it’s obvious that more people have been investigated because a demolition hasn’t gone smoothly than have been investigated because they might be responsible for a death related to a demolition case ((I am not sure about this translation.)). A Southern Weekend reporter investigating eight cases over the past three years that resulted in self-immolation or someone being buried alive discovered that not a single person had been investigated or punished as a result of the deaths. In the Donghai and Yancheng cases in Jiangsu, the Haidian case in Beijing, the Jiaozhou case in Shandong, the Quanzhou case in Fujian, and the Dongning case in Heilongjiang, all cases of self-immolation, and in the Wuhan, Hubei case where the moving family was buried alive by a bulldozer, not a single local official was deemed responsible. Even in the Tang Fuzhen incident, where an official was suspended and expressed little remorse for what happened, he was later reinstated and it was announced publicly that “he did not feel apologetic towards Tang Fuzhen and that under the law no apology was needed.” It was further announced that “Tang Fuzhen was ignorant of the law” and had a terrible influence on society.

3. Policy Formulations and Legal Regulations are Unclear
2000’s Legislation Regulations has not been properly enforced. Some places have acted beyond the power they are granted by legislation, seizing and demolishing housing on their own. Not only do the Property Rights Law and the Circular on Economic Acceleration conflict, and limit the rights of those looking to file suit [about wrongful demolition]. For example, the Wuxi, Jiangsu city government has authorized its demolition management office to permit demolitions on all collectively-owned land. When the masses sought redress with the provincial government, their case was ignored. This allowed the government to avoid having to open official organs to manage construction and land use policies.

Another example is the Putian, Fujian case where the district government announced that compensation for demolished homes was not to exceed 600 RMB per square meter ((For all but the humblest houses, there is no way this could be market value)), completely ignoring the market value of the houses being destroyed and whether or not those who lost houses would be able to buy new ones.

The Way Forward

We feel that to address the intensification of conflicts that has arisen from housing demolitions in 2010, not only must the “City Housing Demolition Management Regulations” be revised into the “State-owned Land Seizure and Compensation Regulations”, but that the entire system of housing demolitions must be reformed.

At present, we recommend quickly doing the following four things:

First, abolish the City Housing Demolition Management Regulations and use the State-owned Land Seizure and Compensation Regulations as a start, and work out a set of Real Estate Seizure Regulations that are consistent with the constitution.

With the encouragement of several scholars, we have drafted a proposed “Real Estate Seizure Regulations” manuscript, and have already submitted it to the People’s Congress and the State Council via the Chinese Legal Association. We hope that this will receive an appropriate level of attention, so that land seizures in China have proper legal grounding.

2. Speed up reform of the political system, and push forward democratic politics. If we can truly create a system in which the people have the right to speak on and supervise policies, legal regulations, and the selection of government officials, the power of cadres will be restricted and this will reduce corruption and oppression, and thus reduce the instances in which demolition interferes with the lives of the people. Moreover, law enforcement must embrace scientific development, enforce the laws for the sake of the people, and absolutely not allow so-called “government activity” to harm the public good. Legally protecting the people’s legitimate legal rights will stem the expansion of violent demolition incidents.

3. In planning scientific development, we must grasp reality and completely abolish the theory behind “land financing” and “governments building cities” [i.e., governments that finance their budgets by selling land seized from the people], and bring high management costs back down to earth. Methods: one is to reduce the funding required for management through systemic reforms. Another is to reform taxation systems so that the pressure on basic government units to get funding is reduced (since that pressure often results in governments turning to land seizure, demolition, and land sales), and make government officials be clean (i.e. cut down on corruption). ((These suggestions are overly simplistic, but remember this is just the introduction to the summary of their real report.))

4. We must fix the system of responsibility. Most of the cases where intense conflicts about housing demolition have turned bloody aren’t truly cases of friend vs. enemy, but most of them were unresolvable because law enforcement refused to help the people, and no one felt it was their responsibility to resolve the situation. And the situation in some places, where those responsible for cases where deaths occurred were not punished and were even promoted to more important positions, must be changed.

A Short Review

Because it’s rather long, here are what I think are the important take-away points from this report:

  • Laws about land seizure, housing demolition and compensation are unclear and conflicting, so everyone ignores them.
  • Law enforcement is not particularly inclined to hold anyone responsible when things go wrong (nor do the laws make it clear who is legally responsible in the first place), and local government has not been responsive in addressing grievances.
  • Local government budgets are rising, and money made from land sales has become a huge percentage of the total budget of many local and city governments. This adds pressure each year to acquire and sell more land, whatever the means.
  • The team of lawyers recommendations includes, interestingly enough, the swift transition to a more democratic political system.

Housing Demolition in 2010: A Report (Part 1)

The following report was passed to us by a reporter from a domestic state-owned media outlet who was told that a piece about this report could not be published. Our source sent this report to us because they were concerned that all domestic media had been ordered not to report on this material, but felt that it was important for people to see.

The work is an in-depth report on housing demolition in 2010, and even for those who are aware of the many incidents of conflict, it may contain some surprising conclusions. The full report is some 30,000 characters; our translation is the first part of the introduction of a summary of that report. Time constraints have forced me to leave off rather in the middle of things for the moment, and there are doubtless numerous typos and translation errors in the text, as this was rather rushed. My apologies, but I thought it best not to delay this story any further.

We will translate the rest of the introduction and some typical individual cases as soon as possible. In the interim, we have published the full summary, unedited (and in Chinese) here. If anyone is interested in the full, 30,000 character report, I can contact Wang Cailiang, the author of this summary, and ask about providing it.

Part 2 of our translation is here.

Translation (Part 1)

Summary

Because of the implementation of the Property Rights Law three years ago, 2010 was China’s third year in the “post-demolition era.” On August 24th, 2007, then-Construction Department head Wang Guangdao represented the State Council in reporting to the People’s Congress his recommendation that the Urban Real Estate Management Law be revised because to resolve conflicts between the Property Rights Law and the Demolition of Property Regulations. He requested that the Urban Real Estate Management Law be revised and that the State Council be authorized to formulate the State-owned Land Taxation and Demolition Compensation Management Measures. This was the first time that China’s highest demolition management official had publicly admitted that the Demolition Regulations and Property Rights Law were conflicting, and that the Demolition Regulations violated public law. It also made it clear that from that date, all further demolitions (enacted under the Demolition Regulations) were illegal, and that we were now in the “post-demolition age”.

Even so, as we welcome the year 2011, we are still awaiting the new system [that will govern demolitions]. Looking back on the demolitions of 2010, we’ve tried hard, but it appears as though we’re still in a dire predicament. For the sake of 2011, and for the future of the Chinese people, we’re summarizing the demolitions of 2010 in the form of a yearly report.

Special Points

In our analysis of 2010’s demolition events and comparison with previous years’ data, we’ve noticed four special points:

The first is that all people with a conscience admit that nowadays, the harming of the lawful rights of property owners via demolition runs counter to the goal of establishing a harmonious society because demolition is pushed though via public authority but [decisions about whether or not to demolish something] are not made based on whether or not that demolition is for the public good. 2010 was a year in which everyone was waiting and anxiously expecting reform in the demolition system.

The second is that those opening businesses are at the forefront of the group of people who demolishes property. This year there was a change in the pattern of relations between the demolisher and the people whose homes were demolished; because in many places the government has become the demolishing body, relations between the people and the government have become tenser by the minute. Under the banner of their authority to take over land, many local governments have unscrupulously become players [in the demolition game] and numerous demolition “command headquarters” have sprung up as a result. Posters announcing demolition that were placed there by the government are visible all over the country, and public officials are ignoring their jobs and becoming demolition workers. The atmosphere has for some time been even worse than that that surrounded the 2004 Jiahe, Hunan incident. Conflicts between the people who have suffered demolition and local governments or the official body that governs demolition have been constantly increasing.

The third is that the vast majority of locations have not stopped demolitions in response to the existence of the Constitution, the Property Rights Law, etc., and in fact have increased the number of demolitions. From the city to the countryside, all over the nation, the alarms are being raised and the fluttering flags read “Transform the Old City”, “Transform the Village.” Transform has become the new word for “pillage”. Among these cases, there are those with that are objectively requirements for development, and some really are for the public good and are enacted in accordance with the law, but more are counterfeit and fake “public interest” programs. […]

The fourth is that in the work of reconciling [compensation] after demolition, the situation varies widely from location to location. The proportion of cases that are resolved according to the law is decreasing. Whether it’s via administrative redress or lawsuit, the problem of it being difficult to even file a case is becoming more and more serious in places like Beijing and Shanghai. From the cases of [list of numerous violent protest incidents in response to demolition, including self-immolation and violent conflict with demolition teams], it’s clear that in most cases the local government’s inaction or wanton misdeeds have intensified the disagreements. […]

What we must emphasize is that the intensification of these conflicts has already led to some cases of “stability preservation” [workers] acting like organized criminals, and people defending their own rights acting in scary ways.

[Omitted: Section 2, Legal Regulations]

Reasons
In 2010, the intensification of conflicts about demolition came about mostly because the fundamental issues that led to those conflicts have not seen any positive developments.

[…] The problem that lies behind land finance is that increasingly, local governments cannot keep up with rising expenditures using only taxation, so more and more rely on profits from land [sales]. This has become a major conflict in modern society and a huge impediment to the process of implementing a harmonious society.

The total income from all land sales nationwide in 2009 was 1,423,970,000,000 RMB, up 43.2% from 2008. This amounts to about 46% of the total national income for local financial administrations during the same period.
But in 2009, the total spent on land acquisition was 1,232,710,000,000 RMB, up 28.9% from 2008. 498,576,000,000 RMB was spent on land takeovers and demolition compensation, or 40.4% of the total expenditures. 10.7% of total expenditures were spent on land development, 27% on city construction, 3.5% on rural infrastructure, 1.6% to subsidize farmers whose land was seized by the government, 0.7% on professional land sales, 1.5% on low income housing. Land arrangement and basic rural construction got 3.9%, development of farming land 0.9%, disaster relief/reconstruction and bankruptcy bailout 9.7%.

In 2010, land sales deals brought in over 2,700,000,000,000 RMB, an increase of 70.4%, and even more worrying, local finance has taken another step further in relying on land sales profits [to function]; the four major cities all relied on land sales for at least 50% of their funding this year, before this, land sales income was only 25% of Beijing’s budget. According to statistics, in China’s ten largest cities, income from land sales hit 875,241,000,000 RMB, an increase of over 54% from 2009.

Because of this, local governments everywhere have pushed through “transform the city” and “transform the village” programs with overwhelming force, for the purposes of tearing down housing and selling the land, which makes the demolition of housing even more prevalent. This movement to increase the income of land finance administrations is currently apparently unconstrained by any restrictions or appropriate guidance. This has become the main new source of the intensification of demolition conflicts, we are very confident in this appraisal.

Continue to Part 2 of our translation

Another Rejected GT Op-ed: “Criticism needed in a rising China”

Our friend Eric Fish has once again been told that they can’t publish his opinion piece, which was written as a sort of reaction to this op-ed they did publish.

It seems to me, and Eric said his experience seemed to match this conclusion, that the Global Times has been cutting down significantly on the critical-of-China content in their editorial pages over the past few months. Here’s Eric’s submission as-is; would you run it if you were the editor?

Criticism needed in a rising China

By Eric Fish

2010 was a rough year for Chinese foreign policy. Numerous events unfolded which laid criticism on China from an American search engine, a Norwegian prize committee, the Japanese coast guard and South Korean leadership…just to name a few. And, as a recent Global Times editorial pointed out, rising China WILL endure more criticism. But as a rising nation, China absolutely should receive it.

As China charges ahead with development and takes a larger role in the world community, it’s inevitable that it will bump elbows harder and more often with other nations. And since the foreign media is gaining more access to China, it’s also inevitable that criticism will continue to pour in for things China considers internal issues. In either case, this criticism is good.

But whenever critical comments come from abroad, the Chinese leadership and media’s first impulse is to go on the defensive. Newspaper headlines are full of angry verbs that “blast, rap, condemn, or reject” the criticism. Government spokesmen and editorials lash out at those critics for not understanding China or interfering with its internal affairs.

Those Chinese leaders and journalists need to realize that criticism is not the same as interference. And not everyone who voices opposition to Chinese policy is interested in seeing the nation’s progress stunted. China can’t be 100% correct in every single action it takes, so having outside voices point out the faults is constructive, not hostile.

Those decision makers sitting in China feel what they’re doing is right, but their scope is unavoidably limited. No matter what country you’re in, it’s hard to see your own big picture when you’re standing in the middle of it.

I remember in 2003 during the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many of us Americans were insulted by the international opposition to the war. At that time, over 70% of Americans supported it. The scar of the 9/11 attacks still hadn’t healed and a sensationalist media left us paranoid and trigger-happy. We were then told that Iraq’s brutal regime illegally harbored stockpiles of horrible weapons…and may have even had a hand in 9/11.

Our scared populace wasn’t able to detach from their emotions and view the situation rationally. Even our leaders seemed to sincerely think the war was necessary and that we’d be greeted as liberators.

So we didn’t listen to the international chorus condemning us for the action. Many Americans even boycotted France for spearheading the UN rejection of the invasion. But if we had listened to the criticism of those who were far enough removed to see the war for the reckless debacle that it would become, things could have been very different.

Heeding, or at least listening to the criticism of those with an outside view can help prevent irresponsible and self-defeating actions. It’s cost the U.S. eight years, a trillion dollars, and over 100,000 American and Iraqi lives to learn that lesson. I hope China too can learn that criticism shouldn’t automatically be viewed as a malicious force to be fought.

China’s at a vulnerable stage as it gets used to its new found power in the world. Abroad, its actions are being felt further away and more intensely than ever before. At home, rapid social and economic changes are forcing leaders to juggle priorities and make tough decisions.

Many of the countries scrutinizing China have lived these problems in their own development and felt their consequences. Still others have active interests in a stable prosperous China and don’t want to see it self-destruct. That’s why it’s so important to listen to these voices of criticism for the sake of China’s and the world’s well-being.

Of course, some of those voices criticizing China are hostile and have no constructive use, but they don’t represent the majority. Those rants should be taken in stride and not empowered with inflammatory responses.

But for the rest, I have some simple advice for China that I wish my own country had heeded. In the coming year when something inevitably happens that leaves you on the receiving end of international criticism, don’t automatically blast or condemn it. Instead, try out a new verb: listen.

The author is a master’s candidate of Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University. His blog: sinostand.com