Tsinghua U. Celebrates 100 Years, Pokes Net Nanny in the Eye

It’s been a busy week for ChinaGeeks and ChinaTrolls alike, what with the revolution that wasn’t and its raft of associated questions (inquiring minds want to know: Is Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of U.S. ambassador John Huntsman and notorious McFlurry addict, the foxiest spouse in the 2012 republican presidential field? We say yes yes and yes!). Safely ensconced in ChinaGeek HQ (read: C. Custer’s private room at Latte) the day of the hullaboxun, we picked up on an interesting tidbit that has, up to this point, flown largely under everyone’s radar. As part of ChinaGeeks’ ongoing commitment to public service and the promotion of Western information imperialism, we thought we would share it with you.

The day it all didn’t go down, we tracked down a good friend at Tsinghua university to ask how the whole thing was playing out on the campus of China’s most wired university. Knowing now how the events of the day unfolded, it will probably come as no surprise to the reader that even to this fully bilingual, painfully tech-savvy friend of ours the news that the Big Mac revolution was underway came as a somewhat of a shock.

(Random tangent: Seriously, whose idea was it to meet at McDonald’s? Is this a revolution or a fifth grade field trip? Somewhere–probably the girls’ locker room at Beijing No. 4 High School–the ghost of Chairman Mao is facepalming)

With that bit of non-news confirmed, our conversation drifted into other topics. Several minutes and several changes of subject later, Tsinghua Friend said:

“I heard Tsinghua developed a new browser that can access facebook and twitter”

Huh? What was that?

HM: so you mean it’s got a built-in proxy?

THF: not sure, it’s built on ipv6

This was news to us. Also, what’s “ipv6”? Sounds shiny.

HM: doesn’t sound like something that would be politically possible

THF: i was surprised too
but tsinghua wants to launch it for the 100th anniversary i think

Now that is indeed interesting news. Our curiosity piqued, we followed the link Tsinghua Friend sent us. Here’s a screenshot for the lazy and the Chinese-illiterate out there:

At first glance, it all seems to fit with Tsinghua Friend’s description. We’ve got the Centenary Celebration logo, the browser name (a combination of Tsinghua’s official school color–purple–and the browser’s Firefox foundation), and an option to download the sucker. Being the curious critters we are, we clicked the download link.

17 hours left . . .

Yikes, looks like that’s not an option. So where else can we find this thing? Sina.com to the rescue!

(Interesting side note: Purplefox is now at #7 on sina’s list of most downloaded browsers this week. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but still one spot ahead of the China version of Firefox itself, and definitely enough to confirm that we’re not the only ones taking notice.)

Firing up the browser, we’re greeted with what looks like a slightly stripped-down Firefox interface, done up in a tasteful shade of light purple.

Default page is the download page of the browser itself, no shock there.

More interesting are the three links in the bookmarks bar: Youtube, Blogger, and Facebook. Blogger, we could care less about (Blogs are dead, you see . . .), but those other two rank pretty high on our list of frequently visited sites.

So does it work?

Short answer is, “results may vary”.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a Tsinghua student to download and use the browser, nor do you need to be on campus at the university. Anyone can download and use the browser anywhere they want.

In our tests both at home and in various locations around Sanlitun, we found that sometimes Youtube or Facebook were accessible (always one or the other. We never got both to work at the same time.), sometimes timed out. When we were able to access Facebook, we weren’t always able to log in successfully. Speeds were significantly slower than with a VPN. But the bottom line is, the thing works. Check the screenshot:

It appears that the browser is, for the most part, as advertised, which immediately raises all kinds of questions. Let’s tick through some of the most obvious ones, shall we?

Q: How does this thing work?

Tsinghua Friend is not a computer science major, and we’re more of a China geek than an actual geek, so unfortunately (mercifully?), we can’t go into great detail on all the technical wizardry going on in the back end. Our first instinct was to say “fairy magic”, actually.

A little googling brought us up to speed, though. The key lies in in the browser being built to access, by default, the ipv6 version of a web page.

In a very brief nutshell (and with apologies in advance to all the techies out there to whom this explanation is painfully simplistic. Feel free to chime in in the comments on all the places we’ve gotten this wrong), ipv6 is a system by which web sites are assigned the actual physical address that a browser directs itself to when you request, for example, that it show you “facebook.com”. It’s the successor to a previous standard known as ipv4, upon which almost all of the internet as we know it was built.

The switchover is necessary because, as you might have heard, someday very soon ipv4 will run out of addresses. Ivp6, on the other hand, was built with something on the order of a few hundred billion addresses per person on planet Earth, so it’s probably fair to say that once the transition to ipv6 is complete, space will no longer be an issue.

The numerical addresses behind the web addresses we type into our browsers are, almost without exception, ipv4. However, some of the more tech-forward outfits out there have already started the migration to ipv6. As you might imagine, prominent among these are Google and Facebook. As far as we were able to find in limited, desultory googling, Twitter does not yet have an ipv6 address (once again, if we’re wrong on this, feel free to correct us).

Purplefox comes with a built-in list of ipv6 addresses for major sites that have already made the switch. So when you type in one of those sites, it automatically directs your page request to the ipv6 version of the site.

(Worth noting is that you can actually do this trick in most standard browsers, but since they don’t do the routing automatically, you have to enter the actual numerical ipv6 address into your address bar with brackets around it. To access Facebook, for example, you enter “[2620:0:1cfe:face:b00c::3]”. When we tried this using Chrome, we were able to open Facebook’s front page, but we weren’t able to log in. Your mileage may vary.)

For whatever reason, the Great Firewall is not currently set up to block on a consistent basis the ipv6 versions of sites whose ipv4 versions are on the banlist.

Q: Why not?

A: Didn’t you see where we wrote “for whatever reason?”. Do we look like Li Changchun to you? On second thought, don’t answer that (he looks much better in red than we do) . . .

If we had to speculate (and since saying something on the internet automatically makes it true, that’s just what we’re going to do), we would guess that the answer is “because they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Ipv6 is coming, make no mistake about that. At some point, if they want to maintain the integrity of their reality distortion field, the Infocops here are going to have to get around to addressing ipv6. But it may still be awhile before that day arrives.

With everything else that’s on their plates, it’s probably no surprise that ipv6 isn’t very high on the priority list. So until they get the hole patched, this whole Purplefox thing will make a pretty neat little party trick (assuming you go to the same kind of parties we do. Pi recitation throwdown, anyone?).


A: Hold your horses there, Sparky! Remember, this only works for websites that have a ipv6 version. Right now, that’s not a huge list. The one site that would make this whole thing really interesting–Twitter–is not on the list, at least as far as we’ve been able to find. And anyway, the only person in China who uses Twitter is Ai Weiwei (or maybe it just seems like it . . .).

Don’t believe us, ask your Chinese girlfriend. No really, go ask her. We’ll wait . . .

See? We told you.

The clincher on the whole thing is that there’s no mobile version of the browser, so all those millions of folks out in the hinterlands just getting on the mobile web, the folks who wouldn’t know a VPN if it bit them on the pigu, won’t be able to bask in Purplefox’s jasmine-scented glory.

Besides, if Tsinghua is at the cutting edge of ipv6 in China, then you’d better believe they’re at the cutting edge of how to block ipv6, whether they like it or not.

Q: Wait, what do you mean, “whether they like it or not?”

A: Well, it’s not exactly a secret that a lot of the bright young things out at Tsinghua aren’t exactly fans of the GFW. Actually, it might be more accurate to say “hold it in open contempt”.

QHF: a lot of tsinghua geeks make fun of the GFW
i saw an ad recruiting interns for the internet center
they used a tinyurl link
which is blocked
the ad says “链接在墙外,非诚勿扰“

HM: haha
so it’s basically like “if you’re not smart enough to figure out how to see this, don’t even bother applying”?

QHF: exactly
they put up 2 huge ad boards in our dorm area
which made me laugh

Which brings us to the most interesting question. Why wou . . .


A: Right, that’s what we were going to say. You’re quite the eager beaver, aren’t you?

Short answer is: your guess is as good as ours.

A quick spin through the internets (Google, Baidu, and Weibo) for information on how this browser got the green light or interviews with the people involved in building it came up empty. Then again, we’re lazy, and our head is starting to hurt. Commenters who can dig up more solid information, 欢迎你们!

Since the internet’s primary purpose is uniformed speculation, you better believe that we and  Tsinghua Friend have our own theories. There’s the “geeks hate the firewall theory”, there’s the “100th anniversary celebration theory”, there’s the “look, China can build an ipv6 browser too!” theory, and there’s the “2000 words into this post I’m too tired to make up another theory” theory.

It’s actually not too far-fetched that China’s premier technical university would try to build a browser around ipv6. Tsinghua has aggressively rolled out ipv6 connectivity out across its own campus, and ipv6 is at the heart of the government’s efforts to vault China ahead in the race for next-generation internet predominance.

But considering that the three links preinstalled in the browser’s bookmarks bar are three sites that, technically speaking, are illegal to view inside China, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the people who put this together didn’t have other things in mind besides the technological arms race.

Citing national prestige as the ostensible rationale for developing a browser that undermines what the Chinese government sees as a crucial weapon in the fight to protect that prestige.

Now that’s cheeky.

Q: So what’s it all mean?

A: You know what, we’re tired of all your questions (actually, after all this typing, we’re just tired generally). That’s what the comments section is for! You’ve got the basics, go figure it out for yourself!

. . .

. . .

Go on, get out of here! Get off my lawn!

. . .

No, seriously. Get off my lawn.

Update: And we didn’t even start on the question of whether there’s some kind of black magic GFW tracking software built into the back end of Purplefox. Download at your own risk!

The Bizarre Backlash Against Yu Jianrong’s Child Beggar Campaign

Kinda recently, we (and every other news source on the face of the earth) posted about Sina microblogging account Prof. Yu Jianrong set up for reposting photos of beggar children. At the time, the campaign was rapidly gaining momentum, the Chinese media was all over it, and Sina was making special efforts to build up followers on Yu Jianrong’s account.

Then, perhaps inevitably, came the backlash. A number of prominent Chinese bloggers (i.e. hecaitou) and writers published pieces condemning, in one way or another, Yu’s campaign. The hype and the Sina promotion stopped. His followers started to come more slowly. Now, there are even rumors that he’s been told not to accept interviews or talk to the media (multiple calls to his office to request an interview with him for our film have thus far been fruitless).

So why have people soured on this campaign, and why are some so against it? It is deeply unclear. Let us examine, for example, a Global Times editorial on the subject.

The recent successful rescue of a kidnapped child has sparked a nationwide netizens-led campaign to crack down on the trafficking of children. However, despite its lofty goal, the campaign has unexpectedly resulted in many homeless families being wrongfully targeted, or family members being separated.

This is an interesting claim, and it seems to be as dubious as the claims that the campaign has rescued six children so far ((There seem to only be specific reports about two children, and Peng Gaofeng’s reunion with his son was not directly related to the campaign)). To date, I have seen one example in the news of a parent who was forced to take a DNA test to prove their child was theirs as a result of the campaign. I have not seen a single report of families being “separated.” Moreover, “wrongfully targeted” is a needlessly loaded phrase.

The article goes on to make some good points; namely that netizens cannot resolve this issue, and that the serious police work should be left to the police. No argument there. But:

The real side effects of the online campaign against child abductions have barely been mentioned in the media, which is overwhelmingly applauding the effectiveness of the blog-based effort. A few well-known scholars have actually privately voiced their concerns of this campaign, but they seem reluctant to openly express their views.

This is remarkably vague. Apparently, the “real side effects” of the campaign really aren’t being reported in the media, because it seems even the Global Times editors aren’t willing to actually say what they are.

Then, the article takes an especially weird turn:

The Internet has played an irreplaceable role in advancing political democracy in China, but its negative aspects should also be noted. The Internet campaign against child abductions has illustrated the “autocracy” of the online opinion, which tends to mute any dissident voices. Quite contrary to the diversified viewpoints in the traditional media, it seems that online media has adopted the old-style censorship by the media of the past. A few activists have now dominated the public opinion seen online. And to some extent, freedom of speech has been suppressed online.

For the healthy development of China’s Internet, a rational and tolerant atmosphere of public opinion is needed. Emotional and moody expressions ought not to become the mainstream on the Internet. The supervision of online public figures is as necessary as in the real world.

Again, there is no actual indication of how the internet campaign has “muted” dissident voices. Given that noted bloggers have come out against the campaign, and that most major mainstream papers have run pieces similar to this piece in the GT, it is utterly ridiculous to suggest that dissident voices are being “censored”.

(As a side note, I find it amusing that the Global Times editors apparently don’t know the difference between “censored” and “drowned out”. Just because a lot of people on the net agree about something doesn’t mean those who oppose it are being “censored”.)

And of course, for those who are feeling this still sounds overly reasonable for a Global Times editorial, there’s this kicker:

Chinese society has paid heavily for lessons over ideological clashes. Similar tragedies must be prevented in the cyber world.

Subtle! “If you people don’t stop taking photos of child beggars you’re going to make the Cultural Revolution happen again!”

Anyway, mocking a GT editorial is admittedly the low-hanging fruit on the saggiest branch of the shortest tree in the forest, so lets get down to business.

The main reason people seem to oppose the campaign is that it has resulted in the “harassment” of beggars and their children. While I agree that people don’t have a right to harass beggars, I disagree that being photographed and very, very rarely being subjected to DNA testing once qualifies as “harassment.”

As far as being photographed, that could certainly get annoying, but it’s not harassment, and it’s something anyone has to be willing to accept if they’re going to spend time in public places in China. Personally, I get photographed without permission by random strangers from time to time when I visit more far-flung places in China where foreigners don’t often go. Yes, it is slightly irksome. But it’s not a huge problem. When you’re in a public place, being photographed is always a possibility, and in China, it’s an absolute inevitability given the millions of surveillance cameras that cover cities from every imaginable angle. In any event, the slight annoyance of being photographed in public ought to be more than offset by the possibility that that photograph could potentially help unite a parent with their stolen child.

More understandable are concerns that beggars are being wrongfully dragged into police stations for interrogations and DNA testing. If beggars with children found themselves being dragged down to the station once a week and held there for hours, I would understand this concern. But that isn’t what’s happening. A small minority of beggars have been tested, and I haven’t heard of a single case of anyone being tested twice. Moreover, DNA tests can be done with simple swabs, so there’s no reason the tests should take up more than 10-15 seconds of a beggar’s time.

Now, in all likelihood, some police are arresting beggars and dragging them into police stations for extensive questioning because that’s how Chinese police tend to operate. But that has nothing to do with the “rescue child beggars” campaign, it’s an enforcement issue. Condemning the campaign because the police’s methods of dealing with it are inefficient and unjust is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. If the enforcement of DNA testing is harassment, that means they’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. Of course, let’s continue to keep in mind that DNA testing has been forced on a tiny, tiny, tiny minority of beggar families.

Moreover, the whole argument implies that adult beggars who are the legitimate blood parents of the children they beg with have an inalienable right to beg with their children. That strikes me as kind of nuts.

To be fair, the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child is fairly vague. And given Chinese culture’s long emphasis on the deep and important bond between parents and their sons children, I can understand why people would be uncomfortable with the idea of the State confiscating people’s children. Frankly, the idea of the State doing just about anything makes me uncomfortable.

But there’s this:

Article 27

1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

2. The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s development.

3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.

It seems to me that if parents are begging with their children, they cannot possibly be providing “a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” And in many cases, of course, the kids’ presence on the streets is also proof that they’re being deprived of their right to a proper education.

I don’t believe that beggars should be harassed. But at the same time, I don’t believe that there is anything about the Weibo campaign that constitutes harassment. I also don’t believe that many of these commentators actually give a damn about the comfort or rights of beggars, a group of people that none of them were talking about a month ago.

So what’s going on? A couple things. First, there’s the natural, contrarian reaction that some people often have when something becomes popular overnight. But the bigger theme, I think, plays out pretty clearly in the Global Times article I quoted from above. The government — and its army of media spin artists — have realized the dangerous precedent this campaign sets. People are completely circumventing all State authority and addressing a social problem directly. I think someone up top realized that while it may be good in this case, that’s not a model for social change that the government can afford to let become popular. They can’t just shut down the campaign, of course — I think even the tonedeaf PR folks at the PRC know that would be a disaster — but they can chip away at it in the media, raising doubts.

And, of course, it’s good for people to be raising questions; no movement like this should be allowed to go unquestioned or unchecked. But the questions some people are asking aren’t productive, logical, or really grounded in any kind of fact.

Speaking of not grounded in fact, another big argument against the campaign is that in reality, there are very few child beggars who were kidnapped because kidnapping a child, crippling them, and forcing them to beg offers high risk and low rewards; it would be easier just to sell the child you kidnapped directly to a family, which net you an immediate lump of cash.

While no one knows the exact percentage of street kids that are kidnapped, suggesting that there aren’t any — or that that isn’t a lucrative business — simply is not true. Consider, for example, this story from the SCMP ((Sorry I don’t have a link, I’m not a subscriber, someone emailed me the text of the story.)):

China National Radio reported early this week that begging had been treated as a profitable business in Gongxiao and nearby villages for decades, and that farmers had begun to seek healthy young children in other areas as potential beggars from 1993.

Elderly villagers told the radio network that children either kidnapped or deceived away from their parents would be abused and disabled before being taken to big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to beg.

The children would be maltreated during a fortnight to a month’s training at ringleaders’ homes.

“Kids will be locked in cages like animals at night, in order to make them obey their ringleaders. They will be beaten cruelly if they resist,” the report said, citing villagers.

“To make these child beggars look more pitiful so they’ll be able to beg for more money, kids will be forced to hang their legs around their necks. Many children couldn’t do that, and ringleaders will pull and twist kids’ legs to their necks, making them disabled.”

Villagers said many ringleaders cut the children’s faces and limbs, or used sulphuric acid to disfigure their faces and make them look more pitiful.

“Child beggars will be fed in the morning and left on streets to beg, while ringleaders will wait and watch secretly nearby. Child beggars will be beaten up and not given any food if they cannot beg enough to satisfy their ringleaders, who can make good money by controlling several child beggars,” villagers said.

Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post cited the village’s former party boss [as saying] that a ringleader could earn up to 200,000 yuan (HK$236,000) a year by forcing disabled children to beg, and some village cadres were also involved. A farmer in Fuyang, by contrast, earns about 1,500 yuan a year.

Another worthwhile comparison to make would be that a kidnapped child, when directly sold to a new family, brings in around 5,000-15,000 RMB, part of which the kidnapper must give to the middlemen who make such arrangements and find families looking to buy. Younger, healthier boys obviously go for more than older boys or girls of any age, but a trafficker making more than 15,000 selling a child is, according to my understanding, rare. It’s not difficult to see how the appeal of making 200,000 a year would lead some traffickers to consider alternatives.

Moreover, the people on the ground — the ones who deal with street kids every day, the ones who cared about this issue before one month ago — are telling us that the majority of the street kids they see have been kidnapped. In the absence of hard numbers on either side, I’m inclined to trust the seasoned professionals over these columnists and bloggers who don’t interact with street kids on a daily basis.

Months of research for our film has led me to one conclusion: there are children who have been kidnapped and forced into begging. Period. Exactly what percent of child beggars they make up is unclear. They’re not a huge majority, but they are not insignificant, either.

If rescuing kidnapped kids requires inconveniencing a few beggars with DNA tests when parents think they recognize their lost loved ones, that’s a sacrifice society should be willing to make. And if the beggars affected really are parents, I suspect they will understand that there is no length a parent won’t go to to rescue their child.

There’s more to say on this issue, but this post is already way, way too long, so I’ll leave the rest out for now.

The Revolution That Wasn’t

Late last night, I noticed that calls for large protests in several major Chinese cities were circulating on Twitter. Using the hashtag #cn220, users were reposting information from the overseas Chinese website Boxun, where an anonymous user had called for a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution.” This morning, those reports were mixed with reports that police and the military had already begun to form up in the locations designated for protest around the country. Naturally, I decided it would be a good idea to grab a camera and head to the Wangfujing area, where Beijing’s protest was supposed to happen.

I should note that I didn’t actually expect to find much. This news was being passed around almost exclusively on websites blocked in China, and many of the people making tweets seemed to be making them from outside China. There were people announcing that China’s jasmine revolution had begun at 11 in the morning, three hours before the protests were even supposed to start. But very few Chinese people had even heard about it, and many of the Chinese twitter users I follow said they had already been threatened, detained, or otherwise instructed not to go by police or Party authorities.

When we arrived, around 1:40, there was already a small group of people clustered around the entrance to McDonalds, the area designated online as the center of the protest. Most of them were carrying expensive photo or video cameras, and it was clear that a good percentage of the crowd was journalists.

I met up with a couple foreign correspondents I happen to know who had arrived slightly before me. We joked for a little whole about the “revolutionary” atmosphere, or lack thereof, and the ridiculousness of the growing crowd of people, photographing itself. Of course, we were also participants.

A little after 2pm, the crowd reached its largest, perhaps two or three hundred people, although there were people coming and leaving all the time because Wangfujing is naturally a fairly busy place. Aside from one moment, where we could see a bouquet of flowers fly above the heads of the center of the crowd–perhaps they were jasmine flowers?–I saw nothing at any point that could be considered protesting. No one shouted slogans, no one held signs, it was just a group of people standing around photographing each other.

Of course, the crowd drew an increasingly heavy police presence, and they herded people around the area for more than an hour before managing to more or less clear the place out. At one point, they drove everyone from in front of the McDonalds, so the crowd moved along the building’s side, blocking the road there, at which point the police herded everyone back in front of the McDonalds.

For the most part, the police showed surprising restraint, at least for Chinese cops. I saw no incidents of violence, although I did overhear an argument between a citizen and a police officer who had confiscated the man’s cell phone, and I did personally get into a shouting match with a police officer who shoved me. There were other reports of roughhousing, but nothing more than a bit of shoving and pushing.

After an hour or so, we left. There were still some people hanging around, but it was clear that everyone was waiting to see what would happen and no one was going to actually do anything. Even the police were getting bored. As we left, we passed a large group of them and overheard their commander say “Back to normal!” As we walked down the stairs and into the subway station, they piled into their vans and began to drive away.

It’s clear that if change will come to China, it will come from within. A revolution cannot be hoped or tweeted into existence by overseas Chinese, or overzealous Twitter fans drunk off their so-called victories in North Africa.

As a side note, I continue to marvel at the Beijing police’s ability to take nothing and turn it into an incident. Had they not come out in such large numbers and not tried to force people to leave, I suspect this would have been an even smaller “protest”.

Mo Zhixu on the Crackdown of the Southern Media Group

On 27 January, Chang Ping, one of the most respected and independent-minded journalist in China, was sacked from his job at the Southern Media Group. He was not alone. Two other prominent journalists, Li Wenkai, opinion page editor at the Southern Metropolis Daily, and Peng Xiaoyun, chief editor of Time Weekly’s opinion section, respectively faced involuntary transfer and leave. As a recent report at Asia Sentinel put it, it may signal a new round of crackdown on liberal forces in China’s media.

In a recent blog post, prominent writer Mo Zhixu examined the political context behind the crackdown, specifically focusing on the Southern Media Group. The so-called Southern family of papers usually refers to papers under the group, which include the Southern Weekend, Southern Metropolis Daily, 21st Century Business Herald and Southern People Weekly. The group, which originates from Guangzhou, then at the forefront of reform, is known for its liberal stance even though it is an official Communist Party newspaper group. But apart from this core group of papers, Mo pointed to the wider significance of the Southern Media Group:

More broadly speaking, the Southern Media Group is the result of recent years of expansion. Because of Southern Media’s collaborations with Beijing News (新京报) and Yunnan’s Information Times (信息时报), these newspapers’ ideological missions are close to that of Southern Media. Perhaps there exists a more abstract ‘Southern family’. Because of the group’s success, its former professionals are targets of recruitment by other new media. These people are now widely scattered in various new ventures, and carry with them the same spiritual consensus.

It is difficult to define the spirits and values of the South Media Group and its professionals. But generally speaking, it includes: affirmation of market economy, globalization, rule of law, human rights and universal values, and the promotion of political reforms. In essence, there are two main points: political reforms, and responding to the demand of rights by the newly emerging social class.

His key thesis was that it was not the Southern Media Group becoming more aggressive, but the diminishing space of political reform which makes the group more conspicuous as a dissenting force within the system:

We should say that most of the opinions [from the Southern Media Group] do not exceed the official stance or touch the red line. In fact, for a time these opinions were promoted officially in order to effect political reforms and to respond to the demands of the emerging social class. Recognizing that the South Media Group is part of the system, the objective of advocating reforms and responding to new demands is in fact to inject new energies and to prolong the life of the current system.

However, the Southern Media Group is increasingly seen as a dissenting force within the system. Deng Xiaoping’s ‘two basic points’ are upheld, and China’s economic development is not accompanied by corresponding political change. In this context, the fruits of economic development are transferred by the system to vested interests. This creates a symbiotic relationship between the system and the vested interests, and develops a trend of conservative thoughts. The goal of this conservatism is to maintain the current network of interests though the rejection of any fundamental changes.

It is the strengthening of this network of vested interests and the natural ideological alliance of the Southern Media Group with the emerging social class which makes the group an obvious target of suppression:

China’s economic and social developments lead to the emergence of a new social class, which is demanding their fair share of rights and interests, and a change to the current establishment. The onset of marketization, globalization and informatization also bestows them with new tools to challenge the system. This is shown by the increasingly numerous rights defense and protest actions, and the demanding of rights in the media and internet. Although these challenges still cannot effect any fundamental change in the system, they are picking up steam.

As a result, because of its continuous advocacy on reforms, the Southern Media Group is seen as a dissident force within the system, and a part of the emerging challenge of the new social class. It needs to be suppressed. In a system which emphasizes stability and resists any great change, the Southern Media Group has no choice but to support the status quo and the existing network of interests. Hence the purges.

Therefore, the attacks on the South Media Group come from political reality – defending the existing network of interests and denial of any reforms in the name of stability. From this angle, the firing of Chang Ping and transfer of Li Wenkai are subtle psychological incidents. They indicate that even advocates of reform within the system will not be tolerated.

Child Beggars and a Revolution of Digital Conscience

Any foreigner who has traveled to China has seen its beggar children, often alone, wandering the streets in search of spare change. It is a sad sight, and the unseen background is sadder: most of these children are kidnapped or otherwise forced away from their families. Often their families have no idea where they are. Handlers will even sometimes break healthy children’s legs or arms on the theory that a mutilated child looks sadder, and attracts more money than, a healthy one.

Even going by government figures, which aren’t necessarily reliable ((understatement)), kidnapping is a serious problem. Official figures from 2010 report that there were 9,165 cases of selling women and 5,900 cases of selling children uncovered. 9,388 kidnapped and sold children were rescued, as were 17,746 women. 3,573 criminal kidnapping gangs were destroyed, and 22,511 criminals were sentenced in connection with cases of human trafficking. The true number of children kidnapped each year is unknown, but in all likelihood it is much, much higher than the number of resolved cases. For example, this Baobeihuijia thread that tracks open cases of missing children indicates that of the over 300 missing children on that page (many of those cases are years old), only 17 of them have yet been located, and of those, only 14 were found alive. Of course, that’s a very small sample size, and in all likelihood a decent percentage of these children weren’t kidnapped and sold but are missing for other reasons. Still, it indicates clearly that the rate of success in these cases is not particularly high.

This has been going on for years, and groups like Baobeihuijia have been fighting it by helping parents who have lost their kids post photographs and spread information about their kids online. In a way, it’s remarkable that it never occurred to anyone to go about it the opposite way until a few weeks ago.

Yu Jianrong, a Beijing man, set up a Sina Weibo account and asked people to do something simple: take photos of child beggars, and send them to him to be republished in his feed. This remarkably simple idea has taken the Chinese internet by storm, and brought light to the topic of human trafficking and child exploitation in China. Variations of the terms “help child beggars” and “human traffickers” have been in the top five trending topics on Sina Weibo every day for the past week, and Yu Jianrong’s microblog has accrued nearly 95,000 followers, with no signs of slowing down ((I suspect that by the time most people read this post, he will have passed 100,000)).

The story has been all over the media, and Yu Jianrong was recently interviewed by Southern Metropolis. Thankfully our own K. Drinhuasen has taken the time to translate the interview in full for us.

Interview with Yu Jianrong

Southern Metropolis: When did the idea of a rescue action / help for child beggars first occur to you?

Yu Jianrong: I didn’t have any kind of plan beforehand, it started incidentally when I was discussing things with friends online and everyone had some ideas [concerning this issue]. One thing just led to another. On January 17th I received a notice from a mother from Fujian province asking for help. Her son Yang Weixin had been abducted in 2009. In early 2010 a netizen had taken a picture of a child on a street in Xiamen., the child had been crippled and was begging. So I put her call for help on my micro blog. There was a huge response and a lot of people left messages with suggestions and possible leads. After things calmed down a bit I talked to several netizens that I know quite well to see if there might be something we could do for those kids.

Southern Metropolis: But how did the initiative first get started?

Yu Jianrong: On January 24th I had dinner with a few netizen friends, and when we talked things over we thought: Why not just open a micro blog on Sina that specifically collects and publishes information about child beggars! On the next day we opened our official blog “Help child beggars, take pictures!”. Me and the other netizens involved all use micro blogs, QQ and phones to communicate and keep each other updated on the progress of this project.

Southern Metropolis: Have you run into any difficulties?

Yu Jianrong: There are two challenges we face. We only have been running this micro blog for ten days and a lot of people who have lost their kids don’t know about this initiative yet and haven’t used micro blogs before, so we have to figure out a way to let them know. Here we need the support of the traditional print media to help spread the news. Usually when parents are looking for their child they publish a picture online, but our approach is right the opposite—it is netizens who post the photos they take, thus enabling a wider participation of the public. The second problem is that we need to start setting up a digital database now. We hadn’t even thought about this, since at first we believed that maybe 10 or 20 netizens would post their pictures online. But by now we have already received more than 1.000.

Southern Metropolis: In regard to posting pictures of child beggars online, might this not be interpreted as an infringement of their rights?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t believe that there is an infringement of rights involved. Begging in itself is a public act. But more importantly, letting a child under 14 years beg is illegal, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs are very clear about that in their regulations. Thus taking a picture is merely a way for everyone to step in and offer help.

Southern Metropolis: In your personal opinion, what results has the initiative brought so far?

Yu Jianrong: So far there have been several parents who believe they might have identified their children in those pictures and who have gone to the places where the pictures were taken, although none of them has found their child yet. I think that the greatest achievement is the fact that our society as a whole has realized a very fundamental thing: If you see a child under 14 begging on the street, then you can and should report this! The degree of public participation in this initiative was very high, so I do believe that this general notion has really taken hold in peoples’ minds. Another positive outcome is that the institutions of public security have also actively taken part.

Southern Metropolis: What effects, do you think, can this initiative have?

Yu Jianrong: The aim of this initiative is to put an end to the practice of child beggars. No matter if the children have been abducted or if it is their own family members who are sending them out to beg—they all require our help. And if there wasn’t a general consensus on this, our initiative might have just gone astray. We want to marginalize and ultimately end the practice of forcing minors into begging by setting up mechanisms and institutions and [encouraging] public participation. We hope that by pushing for legal action and establishing concise procedures for investigating [cases] and helping child beggars, we can ultimately deprive the ones who are in this for personal gain of their market.

A Revolution?

Potentially, especially in combination with a new police initiative that is offering reduced sentencing to human traffickers who turn themselves in by March 31st. It’s way too early to tell, but already there are reportedly several cases that have been solved thanks in part to Weibo, and this is only the very beginning. Of course, to leverage this approach effectively, Yu Jianrong will need to create a database fast, or risk being flooded with data. But as his followers continue to grow (he’s gained more than 300 since about ten minutes ago) it seems clear that even if this doesn’t reunite a lot of families with their children, it is going to become a significant hassle for the criminals who kidnap children and force them to beg.

Why? Ironically enough, they were able to remain relatively anonymous even in the middle of the street when no one was paying attention. But now their children are being documented, along with locations and times. To stay safe, this means they have to move the children frequently, and they face increased risks of police pressure because they not only have to deal with local authorities, but also local media and everyone else who sees their children begging via Weibo. Yu Jianrong tends to tweet the photos of children directly at local officials, media outlets, and other lumunaries to bring as much attention to them as possible. Even if this doesn’t result in the children being rescued, it’s definitely bad for business for kidnappers, and that’s a good thing.

Of course, for this to really matter, the movement will have to sustain its forward momentum. That will not be easy. But it is refreshing to see netizens approaching this issue with such passion, and so wholeheartedly embracing this clever and simple approach to helping with street children.

This is also something foreigners can participate in. There are many people who have already volunteered to help translate information and transmit it to Yu Jianrong and his microblogging account, so if you come across a beggar somewhere, please take a photo, note the time, location, and any other relevant data, and send it to someone. Cell phone images are fine, but remember what’s most important is a clear shot of the face so that people can recognize the child! If you can’t write Chinese or don’t have a Weibo account, you can send this to…

Me: custerc at gmail.com, or twitter @ChinaGeeks and weibo @ChinaGeeks.
@niubi: @niubi on twitter
[I will edit in other volunteers when/if they appear here].

In Brief: Groupon Teaches us How to Please No One

Viewers of this year’s Super Bowl were treated to a special exercise during one of the advertising segments when Groupon, the group purchasing website, ran this advertisement:

UPDATE: There is now a version of this ad on Youku with Chinese subtitles as well. It will be interesting to see whether this takes off on the Chinese net or not.

It is, of course, offensive. But what’s so remarkable about it is that they managed to make something that was simultaneously offensive to both sides of the Tibet debate. Now that takes some doing! How did they pull it off?

They start by going straight for the throat of the Party line folks, by saying, “the people of Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy.” Obviously, this goes against the official line that everything in Tibet is great and anyway you foreigners should mind your own damn business. It’s worth noting that it’s also incredibly vague. What is the point of even mentioning that something is in jeopardy if you’re not going to address what is threatening it or how the problem can be solved?

Ah, but Groupon does offer a solution! Well, a solution for you (assuming you’re American), that is. You see, with Groupon, you can save money on Tibetan food in Chicago, allowing you to feel like you’re supporting another culture and being a “citizen of the world” without actually learning or doing anything. Thanks to Groupon, you can experience wonderful and authentic fish curry that has been “whipped up” for your discount eating pleasure by real-life oppressed minorities! Huzzah!

Of course, your eating cheap food in Chicago does nothing for Tibetan culture, which is in jeopardy from…something unspecified in the advertisement. Nor does it help the apparently-troubled Tibetan people. But it does get you cheap curry, and that’s what counts, n’est-ce pas?

Needless to say, pretty much everyone hates the ad. “Free Tibet” groups are condemning it (as they should), “One China” supporters are condemning it (as they should), and people who have more nuanced opinions on Tibet but aren’t tasteless orientalists are also condemning it (as they should). The ad is racking up condemnations from Youtube to Sina Weibo, where more than a few people have echoed the sentiments of this comment:

“That Groupon ad is really fucking brain-damaged!!!”

There are a series of Groupon ads like this, though I’m not sure if they all ran during the Super Bowl. The video descriptions on Youtube make it sound like by buying the products in the ads, one makes a contribution to the relevant cause, but that’s not at all clear from the advertisements themselves. The whole thing is very vague. If it’s really a charity initiative, it was executed very poorly. If it isn’t, well…that means it’s a joke, which is even more concerning.

Many Chinese netizens are also commenting that this will make it impossible for Groupon to succeed in the Chinese market, although I wouldn’t have held out much hope for that being successful anyway, as there are already several Chinese group buying sites with their roots planted firmly.

For a few netizen translations, check out this post on the Nanfang or just go here to read the comments in real time.

UPDATE: Shanghaiist has a post chock full of info on this, which includes this tidbit from Groupon’s founder:

“The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?”

OK, yeah, I see what you were going for. However, that’s a highly questionable idea to begin with, and it was especially awfully executed. If you want to know more behind the scenes stuff, you can check out the Groupon blog post on it here. At the moment, there’s only one comment, so I’m assuming they’re not going to post any negative comments about the ads on their own blog.

Egypt, China, and Revolution (Part 2)

I can’t help thinking that some of this is all my fault. You see, having been one of the few people in China who stayed awake all night last Friday, I was (I think) the first person to report that China was censoring the news about the protests in Egypt, kind of. What I said was this:

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.

I believe I beat the AP on this by several hours, in light of the fact that they were probably sleeping, like sane people, at the time I posted it.

In the days since then, of course, the situation in Egypt has worsened, and comparisons to China are becoming rather difficult to avoid. And the springboard from 1989 to now is pretty apparent. If a pro-democracy movement is spreading across North Africa, in this global age, could it spread to China? And what is China doing about that?

“They’re censoring it,” is the obvious answer, and while that’s true, it’s also complicated. Has that complexity been reflected in the coverage?

First, let us start with the Straits Times, whose coverage is (perhaps unsurprisingly) appalling:

China has continued to censor online discussions of the protests in Egypt, wary that images of tanks in Cairo would evoke memories of its own bloody Tiananmen struggle in 1989.

Keyword searches of the word ‘Egypt’ are blocked, and foreign news websites reporting on the ongoing uprising have been disabled and remain inaccessible.

As much as I like to joke, the Tiananmen comparison is entirely apt here. But then things go downhill quickly. First of all, what the hell is a “keyword search”? Is it the same thing as a regular search (yes)? Because searching for “Egypt” isn’t blocked on any Chinese search engine I know. And in fact, Baidu.com’s auto-suggest feature currently suggests “Egypt riots” as soon as you type in Egypt. It’s also the second response on the results page when you search for Egypt.

Searches for the term “Egypt” are blocked on Sina’s Weibo microblogging service. But, as I reported originally, people are still perfectly free to talk about Egypt and the riots on Weibo, “Egypt” just can’t be searched for and is blocked as a trending topic.

Similarly, the Straits Times reports that “foreign news websites reporting on the ongoing uprising have been disabled and remain inaccessible.” I wish this was more specific, because I can’t find a single foreign news website reporting on the uprising that has been disabled. Even Al Jazeera, with its 24-hour live video coverage, is accessible, as it has been since the protests began.

Again, the Straits Times folks may be talking about Sina Weibo, where links to Al Jazeera’s site are currently blocked. But that is absolutely not something that’s true of the Chinese internet as a whole. Moreover, it’s important to remember that private companies like Sina generally censor themselves preemptively. It’s possible the decision to block the Al Jazeera site was made without input from the government itself. In fact, that seems likely, since the Al Jazeera website is still totally unblocked.

Of course, not everyone is doing as terrible as job as the Straits Times. But lots of people have been making this mistake, seen here in TIME’s coverage but widely available in a variety of Western media outlets:

As the unrest in Egypt stretches on, China has blocked the country’s name from micro-blogs and is scrubbing related comments from the web.

No. Sina has blocked searches for Egypt, and disabled it as a trending topic. But the word Egypt is not blocked, as evidenced by this post I made last night. It says the word “Egypt” seventy times. It went through fine and has been there for over a day without being deleted. Note also tweets like these, actual information about the riots in Egypt, that went through without a problem and a day later, still haven’t been deleted. And here are a couple posts I made on Jan 29th about Egypt. Those weren’t deleted either.

This may not be a significant distinction for everyone, but I do think it’s important. Simply saying “China censors news about Egypt!” is easy, but things are not that simple. In fact, China has created a much more elaborate system to deal with the unrest in Egypt, which seems to be focused more on misdirection than direct censorship. Sina and other web portals are scrubbing Egypt-related content from their front pages, search functions, etc., which makes it less likely to become a big story. At the same time, though, people are still allowed to tweet about it, and even read news coverage about it (both foreign and domestic), which decreases frustration.

Of course, Chinese coverage has predictably focused on the destabilizing effect of the protests, the violence, and the heroic government effort to rescue Chinese citizens in Egypt (although there was an ugly rumor going around on Twitter that the first plane they sent left behind a group of schoolchildren so as to ensure that all the “important” government-connected folks could be rescued first). The message is generally: what’s happening in Egypt is bad and no good can come of it. Not a big surprise.

But everyone seems to be ignoring the most significant thing about the Egypt-in-China story: no one cares, because it’s Spring Festival time ((Imagine, for example, that on December 25th, China sentenced a highly visible pro-democracy dissident to a harsh prison term. How many Americans would be paying attention? It’s happening in a far-away country, it doesn’t have immediate ramifications for US foreign policy, and it’s Christmas, goddamn it. No one would care (well, almost no one).)). When the protests got serious on Friday, many people were already on their way home. When things got really violent last night, almost everyone in China was busy either watching the horrible, horrible spectacle that is Chunwan or burning down expensive buildings with fireworks. The government holiday lasts for another week, and most people won’t begin returning to their regular lives until at least a few days after that. If the riots in Egypt are still going by then, it could pose a danger to the Chinese government. But so far, there’s no big threat.