Comments Closed

I have closed all comments on the last two posts, and will also disallow comments on new posts for at least the next week.

This is, in a sense, my fault; the tone of commenting on this site had grown progressively less productive and I have not been able to moderate things as closely as I should. As a result, several commenters recently were involved in an exchange that involved the threat of a violent interaction in real life.

While I suspect these threats were merely posturing, readers surely understand that these kind of comments pose a potential legal liability for me as the owner of the website. I have no money for a lawyer, no interest in returning to the US to sit through a lawsuit, and no reason to undertake that kind of risk. There is no payoff for me in enabling anyone to publish threats.

The offending commenters have been blocked, and when comments return to this site in a couple weeks, they will not. But please be aware that I’m not only turning comments off because of that incident. Lately, there have been many comments that violate our comments policy.

From the beginning, I had hoped this could be a site where reasonable, respectful debate could occur. Obviously, we’re a good ways away from that, so let’s all just take a deep breath.

Below, in case you’re unaware, is our comments policy. Since comments are temporarily disallowed, it’s currently irrelevant, but it will be relevant again soon enough:

Comments Policy

You have the right to express any opinion you like, as long as you express it in a civil manner. I can’t believe I have to explain what that means, but apparently I do, so here goes:

  • Name calling, ad-hominem attacks, excessive cursing, or any other sort of violent, threatening language will result in your comment being “disemvoweled” (all the vowels in your post will be removed) or deleted entirely.
  • Speculation or comments about any commenter’s personal life, and/or posting of someone else’s personal data (such as a phone number), is prohibited.
  • Racist remarks (and other sweeping generalizations) are not allowed.
  • Comments should be relevant to the post they’re attached to or another comment on that post, repeatedly posting the same thing across posts or repeatedly posting off-topic comments will be considered spamming. Obviously, spam is also not tolerated.
  • You may post comments anonymously, but pretending to be someone you are not is not permitted, and should you be discovered doing this, your posts will be deleted and you will be banned from making future comments.
  • If you put too many links in a comment, it will be held up in moderation or marked as spam automatically by our system.

If you need help figuring out whether your comment is inappropriate, try asking yourself one of the following questions:

  • Does my comment make a sweeping, unfounded generalization about a race or nationality?
  • Does my comment address the personal life of another commenter?
  • Does my comment contain the phrase “Suck it, fuckwad!”?
  • Could my comment be confused for an advertisement?
  • Does my comment make its point in a way that is uncivil?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your comment is going to get deleted.

To the commenters who have kept things respectful and civil, I’m very sorry that this is necessary, but I think it is. I hope you’ll keep sharing your thoughts with us a few posts from now, when comments are unblocked again.

Zhang Wen on Yang Hengjun’s Disappearance

UPDATE: A friend of Yang Hengjun’s is suggesting that he’s now free. Where he’s been is unclear, but I expect we’ll hear in detail from Yang himself sooner or later.

The following is a translation of this post from journalist Zhang Wen’s popular blog.


Yang Hengjun disappeared on March 27, and there has been no news from him since ((Actually, he called a relative and told her that he was “chatting with old friends,” which she says is a code for “arrested.”)) According to his blog manager, that night he received a call from Yang saying that three people were following him. After that he never got back in touch.

On March 28, when I saw this news on the net, I was shocked; I truly couldn’t believe my eyes. On the 26th, I had met up with him and had a chat. In the past, I recommended his book “Jiaguo Tianxia”, and he had agreed to give me a signed copy and present it to me when he got to Beijing this trip.

During the meal [on the 26th], Dr. Xu Zhiyong, mentioned lawyer Teng Biao had been taken away [by police], and everyone felt very sad. Only brother [Yang] Hengjun was still smiling and trying to console us. Who could have known that just the next day, it would be his turn to “have an accident.”

Thinking about that now, it’s really hard to focus. After the lunch ended, we all went our separate ways. I went to Houhai to meet up with some family and have a little fun. In the warm afternoon sun and spring breeze, I flipped idly through “Jiaguo Tianxia,” and I was moved again by the warm, loving, sincere, and powerful words.

Honestly, I didn’t understand brother [Yang] Hengjun’s complex background until now; I first learned that he had become an Australian citizen from the BBC News report. But that’s not important to me, I could feel his love for his homeland even years ago, reading his doctoral thesis. His complaints and criticisms aren’t “griping without cause”, they’re not “willfully stirring up trouble”, they’re always very pointedly looking forward to reforms and the end of officials’ malpractice.

What was Brother Hengjun’s crime? At the moment, we do not know, and no one is coming forward to explain it. But I think that if a person disappears, whether they’re a foreigner or they’re Chinese, there should at least be an explanation provided. I’ve heard that Yang Hengjun’s friends and family have filed a report with the police station at the Guangzhou airport, and are asking us all to pay attention to this case.

Note: As the situation is not yet clear, please exercise restraint in your comments. We already enjoy our socialist rule of law, we must trust that our nation’s legal system is a shield to protect its citizens.

If there is time, I may come back to this post later today and add some translated comments from Zhang Wen’s post


…for both the pro-China lobby and the army of expats (myself included) whining about how mistreated we are because our VPNs aren’t working right anymore. Here’s an incomplete list of people who have disappeared in the last month or so ((based primarily on these three tweets and various reports throughout the past month confirming many of these names)):

People who we know have been arrested:

  1. Ran Yunfei 冉云飞 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Ding Mao 丁茅 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  3. Chen Wei 陈卫 (inciting to subvert state authority)

People we know have been detained ((Note that this refers to long term detention, as many of these people have been missing for weeks)):

  1. Quan Lianzhao 全连昭 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Liang Haiyi 梁海怡 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  3. Zhu Yufu 朱虞夫 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  4. Guo Weidong 郭卫东 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  5. Sun Desheng 孙德胜 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  6. Liu Huiping 刘慧萍 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  7. Wei Qiang 魏强 (illegal assembly)
  8. Zhang Jiannan 张健男 (illegal assembly)
  9. Yang Qiuyu 杨秋雨 (illegal assembly)
  10. Hua Chunhui 华春辉 (endangering national security)
  11. Li Hai 李海 (inciting disturbance)
  12. Li Yongsheng 李永生 (inciting disturbance)
  13. Wang Lihong 王荔蕻 (inciting disturbance)
  14. Ma He 马贺 (inciting disturbance)
  15. Wei Shuishan 魏水山 (unknown)
  16. Bi Mingkai 薜明凯 (unknown)
  17. Huang Xiang 黄香 (unknown)
  18. Ai Weiwei 艾未未 (unknown)
  19. Wen Tao 文涛 (unknown)

People under house arrest:

  1. Tang Jingling 唐荆陵 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Ye Du 野渡 (inciting to subvert state authority)

People being held in mental institutions:

  1. Qian Jin 钱进

People who are missing (an incomplete list):

  1. Liu Guohui 刘国慧
  2. Li Tiantian 李天天
  3. Jiang Tianyong 江天勇
  4. Teng Biao 滕彪
  5. Zhang Shanguang 张善光
  6. Qi Zhiyong 齐志勇
  7. Gu Chuan 古川
  8. Liu Shihui 刘士辉 and his wife
  9. Yuan Xinting 袁新亭
  10. Zhang Tao 张涛 (aka 呆麻雀张)
  11. Zhang Xianle 张献乐
  12. Cheng Wanyun 程婉芸
  13. Liu Dejun 刘德军
  14. Liu Anjun 刘安军
  15. Zhang Haibo 张海波
  16. Lan Ruoyu 蓝若宇
  17. Hu Di 胡荻
  18. Zhang Jingpeng 张敬朋
  19. Li Shuangde 李双德
  20. E Laoda 鹅老大
  21. Peng Xinzhong 彭新忠
  22. Yang Hengjun 杨恒均
  23. Zhou Li 周莉
  24. Wang Yanfen 汪燕芬
  25. Ni Yulan
  26. Ding Jiqin
  27. Zhang Dajun

Many of these people are writers, and on this list longtime readers will recognize several names of people we’ve translated, including Yang Hengjun, who is the most recent disappearance (for now). Update: reports on Twitter indicate Yang Hengjun has been released, see Update #2 below.

Whatever these men have done — and knowing some of them personally, I have good reason to believe at least a couple haven’t done anything — do so many really need to be held indefinitely, pending charges, just to keep the country from falling apart?

CLARIFICATION: I mentioned this in the footnote, but it’s worth stating more clearly that I personally can only confirm one of these cases (Zhang Jiannan) but many others have been reported in the Western media, or confirmed by friends and family of the missing. This is a list that I’m passing along, not one that I created myself. However, I believe it to be relatively accurate.

It’s also worth noting that this is just a list of the recent detainees and disappearances, so it doesn’t include any of the older cases, like Gao Zhisheng’s. But Gao, and others, are missing too, they’ve just been missing for a lot longer.

UPDATE 1: Moved Chen Wei to the confirmed arrested section after seeing this.

UPDATE 2: Yang Hengjun removed from “disappeared” list after Twitter reports that he is now safe.

UPDATE 3: Ai Weiwei added to the detained list.

UPDATE 4: Added Wen Tao (Ai Weiwei’s assistant) to the list as he, unlike Ai’s other assistants, is still missing.

UPDATE 5: Zhang Jiannan apparently released. He and his wife have asked that everyone please just forget about the whole thing, and about his past actions, so media friends, please don’t contact them about this.

UPDATE 6: Rights lawyer Ni Yulan and husband Ding Jiqin added to list of unknown disappeared people, via this tweet.

UPDATE 7: Added Zhang Dajun in accordance with this tweet.

Zhang Wen: “Those Disappointing American Devils…”

The following is a translation of part of this post from Zhang Wen’s blog. It begins with a conversation he is having with an older friend of his who is interested in international affairs and watches CCTV’s nightly news program daily.


Uncle: You’re experienced in the news business ((Zhang Wen is a journalist and social commentator)), give me your opinion, why are the American devils attacking Gaddafi?

Me: Uncle, Gaddafi was using planes to kill the common people who opposed him, he killed a lot of people!

Uncle: That’s Gaddafi’s personal business, what right do foreigners have to interfere? Our foreign ministry spokesperson, Yu-whatever-her-name-is, said that Libya’s affairs should be decided by the Libyan people.

Me: This isn’t a private matter. If the ruler of a country is massacring his own people, international society needs to step in. The U.N. has already passed two resolutions on this.

Uncle: Then why aren’t other countries sending troops? It’s just the American devils, the French devils, and the British devils, it’s like the Eight Nation Alliance ((This comparison is everywhere, and it strikes me as really odd. Have these people forgotten how to count?)) all over again.

Me: Well, somebody had to do something, and it’s not like China was going to send any troops. Moreover, America, France, and England are democratic countries, they have a deeper understanding of human rights. In their eyes, human rights are more important than national sovereignty.

Oh shut up about human rights and sovereignty, and don’t bring up democracy either. Let me ask you, why is no one paying any attention to Bahrain? The American devils haven’t sent troops, but aren’t there many common people being killed there as well?

Me: ……………..

Uncle: Hah, you’re speechless! I’m saying, if the American devils were also helping in Bahrain, I’d have no leg to stand on, I’d really believe that American devils were actually the masters of justice in the world.

When he asked me that question I was furious, argh, these American devils are really disappointing. They’re just doing things as they please, interfering with this hoodlum but ignoring that one, and people are saying it’s a “double standard”, hypocrisy.

They ought to be like the Roman Empire, bulking up and eliminating anyone who looks like trouble, let’s see who dares to fart then?

But if they really are worthless, and they don’t bother meddling in others’ affairs, and instead learn from one of the great eastern powers to “not interfere in other nations’ internal affairs,” then who will take care of the gangsters [despots] that haven’t yet been dealt with?

Selected comments

“It isn’t America’s job to provide free human rights to the entire world. They can only do what’s in their power to help protect human rights. 5,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and they have spent a ton of money there, but the benefits were reaped by those shameless special interests. As far as Libya, who knows whether America is making a grand chess maneuver or not, but they should really pull out and pay more attention to the Pacific. There are three bigger hoodlums there [for them to deal with.] “

“The American devils really don’t dare to act recklessly against the big hoodlums of the Pacific.”

“Zhang Wen: Uncle, if the neighbors start fighting, and the husband grabs a knife and kills his wife, should the police interfere?
Uncle: Of course, the law was broken, if they didn’t it would be chaos.
Zhang Wen: What law?
Uncle: The criminal law of the People’s Republic of China. But as for Gaddafi’s personal problems, he is the law, what law did he break?
Zhang Wen: International law.
Uncle: You mean there’s such a thing as international law?!”

“I want to ask another question: How much does a rightist, West-serving, motherland-hating media entity like yourself get paid by the US each month?”

“Gaddafi is reasonable. The West is banding together, coveting the resources of others. Only the government of China is honest and aboveboard.”

In Defense of the NY Times and Paranoia

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the increasingly tight controls over everything from the internet to the media in China. It starts with this anecdote:

If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Everyone likes a good censorship test, so it’s easy to understand why people started piling on. Shanghaiist and Shanghai Scrap ran tests to see if they could duplicate the effect, and both found they couldn’t. ChinaHush also noted this, and on other blogs and Twitter the response has been kind of harsh, calling the story “false” and attacking the credibility of its authors.

Now, I love a good Western media thrashing as much as anyone. And a Western media blooper that allows us to shout “protest” into our phones? Now that’s good times.

These “experiments” are all predicated, though, on the assumption that the NY Times article is talking about automated censorship. You say “protest”, and presto, the phone magically hangs up on you. And yes, if the New York Times had reported China was doing that, it would be a load of crap. But that’s not what the story says.

Let’s take a look at the sentence that immediately follows that opening anecdote:

A host of evidence over the past several weeks shows that Chinese authorities are more determined than ever to police cellphone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet in order to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment.

It seems clear to me that the anecdote was meant to be understood in the context of “authorities [being] determined […] to police cellphone calls,” which is probably exactly what was happening. The anecdote isn’t meant to be evidence of voice-recognizing censorship software, it’s evidence of increased police surveillance of the phone calls of anyone they consider suspicious.

Now, there’s no way to know whether the Times’s contacts would fit this description, because both of the sources mentioned are anonymous. Still, other journalists on Twitter confirmed that the authorities are definitely listening in on some phones. So why is everyone assuming the reporters are just making this whole thing up?

The fact is, we’re all testing for an automated system, but that makes no sense. I can’t even imagine the kind of resources bringing such a system to bear on all mobile phone lines would require, and even if they could, how could it possibly work? Given the diversity of accents and dialects throughout China, not to mention the diversity of “sensitive” words, my guess is such a system would be more or less impossible to make effective. Text filtration is one thing — and we already know for a fact that China Mobile filters texts for sensitive keywords from time to time ((I learned that myself the Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)) — but voice filtration is another one entirely. Why bother? The PSB already has lists of their “people of interest”, it’s probably a lot cheaper to monitor their phones manually than it would be to monitor the phones of the entire nation via some crazy software.

Now, is this the clearest New York Times story ever? No. The fact that so many people assumed they meant automatic filtration software is testament to that. Moreover, there’s no real way to be sure it’s true because the sources are anonymous. Probably, there was a better way to start that article.

But with that said, is it fair to call the article “false” or accuse them of poor fact checking because yelling “PROTEST!” into your phone didn’t get you disconnected? No. We’ve all had fun playing with our phones. But let’s call off the witch hunt until we have some actual evidence that they’re making things up.

Discussion Section: Han Han (and China) on Libya

I was about to translate this post when I discovered that Global Voices beat me to the punch. I guess some people are still paying attention to Han Han, even if the domestic media isn’t allowed to mention him anymore.

Hit the link above for Han Han’s take on Libya, but here’s the money quote (from the Global Voices translation):

My view is very simple: dictators have no internal affairs, and slaughterers ought to be invaded and eliminated. Yesterday just happened to be the brightest moon in 19 years. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter why; in the name of the moon, annihilate him.

The moon bit is just a joke; “In the name of the moon, I’ll annihilate you!” is a quote that’s been bouncing around the net for a couple years. But the rest of it seems to be genuine, and it’s interesting because there is a lot of debate happening on the Chinese net right now about Libya.

It’s not hard to guess where the Chinese government — which abstained on the vote to enforce a no fly zone — falls on this issue. I’m just waiting for Li Hongmei to write one of her classic columns on it.

More than a few Chinese netizens have a similar take. Comparisons to the Iraq war and condemnations of “the West” are already flying around Chinese social networking sites and microblogs like Sina, where “Iraq” has been a trending topic for the past couple days mostly because of that comparison.

As I understand it — and I haven’t had time to follow it too closely — there are a couple issues at play here. First, people are concerned about “the West’s” incursion being a violation of Libyan sovereignty. In China, of course, any incursion into another country’s “domestic affairs” is always a hot topic and a point of pride for the Chinese government, an opportunity to take the moral high ground because China doesn’t interfere in other countries’ affairs unless those countries are Taiwan, Japan, India, any African country with useful resources, etc….

With regards to that argument, I’m with Han Han. And in an age of instant international communication, I’m not sure what the value of national sovereignty is when (1) the “domestic issues” of any given country inevitably affect things in other countries ((Just look at the wave of protests that continues to sweep through the middle east; somehow, Tunisian internal affairs managed to affect Egypt…)) and (2) there are civilian lives hanging in the balance. As a government, I think you probably forfeit your sovereignty right about the time you start using fighter jets to bomb peaceful protesters. And from the perspective of a Libyan protester, I suspect I’d prefer the French violating our national airspace to being killed by my own military ((even though it would mean I could die happy in the knowledge that Libyan sovereignty was secure!)).

The second issue is that the UN forces have allegedly also killed civilians, although for the moment, those claims appear to be a your-word-versus-mine situation, with Gaddafi and supporters claiming several dozen citizens killed, and allied military leaders denying any civilian casualties ((Obviously, both of those groups have reasons to potentially “massage” the truth)). Personally, even if the UN has killed 40-something civilians ((I believe that was the number Gaddafi was claiming yesterday; I haven’t seen more recent figures)), I suspect that’s preferable to what would have happened without UN intervention (to wit: more civilian deaths, and not accidental ones).

What’s interesting — if predictable — is that in the discussions I’ve seen on Weibo and other Chinese sites thusfar, tend to focus on the former issue rather than the latter. Even to regular Chinese people, it seems, Libya’s sovereignty is a more pressing issue than whether or not its citizens are being killed.

And, of course, most of the discussion isn’t really about Libya at all, it’s the same China-versus-the-West narrative of Western arrogance and imperialism that we hear every day. Libya is a bit player, and the eventual outcome there probably doesn’t matter much to the people discussing its fate.

That said, I haven’t had enough time to properly follow all the news on Libya or to research this post — as many of you probably noticed, things have been busy lately. So I’ll leave it at that for now, the comments thread wide open below, waiting excitedly for you to condemn me.

Have You Seen These Children?

As many of you know, we’re working on a documentary about kidnapped children in China. It’s part of the reason this blog is updated less frequently than it used to be. It’s also part of the reason I’m really poor, so feel free to help us out with a donation ((Money donated goes to funding the filming of the documentary, primarily covering our travel and lodging costs, which are higher than we expected. Donations also come with special benefits for the donors, see our “Finding Home” page for more info.)) if there’s money burning a hole in your pocket.

Anyway, in connection with that project, we will be helping some parents publicize their photos and information, in the hopes that someone somewhere out there has seen their children. If you have any information about the children in the photos below or if you think you may have seen one of them, please either contact the parents directly (if you speak Chinese) or contact us and we will get in touch with the parents ASAP. Please feel free to share these photos with others via Twitter, Weibo, your own blogs or websites, etc.

I’m not going to bother with translating the names, stories, and details at the moment; what’s important is the faces. But if it helps, several of these children were definitely kidnapped, possibly by the same gang, as more than one set of parents said that neighbors reported seeing their children being snatched and loaded into a white van.

Please click on the thumbnails to view full size images:

Posters from Taiyuan Street Event:

Posters from our interviews:

We will have more details on these cases in the future, and their information is already posted on all the Chinese sites (Baobeihuijia, Baidu Xunren, etc.). But getting more eyes on these photographs can’t possibly hurt. So take a look, and if you happen to have seen any of these kids before, tell us, or tell the parents directly. Thank you!

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Oddly, on our trip to Taiyuan, we got kicked out of multiple hotels that refused to book foreigners at all. I know hotels have to provide a copy of foreigners’ passports to the local PSB, but I’ve never heard of there being rules against allowing foreigners to stay anywhere at all. But in Taiyuan, we were forced to stay in a three-star hotel, no place cheaper would take foreigners. Nice, but it cost about four times what we’d planned to spend on lodging for the trip. And it was a pain in the ass (somewhat literally) to have to drag ourselves and our mountain of gear up and down the streets of Taiyuan from hotel to hotel. The whole thing was strange, thought it worth remarking here to see if anyone else has had similar experiences recently. I’ve traveled in China plenty, but never run into this issue before.
  • We (ChinaGeeks the blog) are always looking for writers, but we’re also looking for someone to help out with tech stuff, if there’s anyone out there interested. Specifically, I have a couple ideas for features to the site I couldn’t implement myself; they require someone familiar with WordPress development and probably some knowledge of a couple different coding languages. If that’s you, and you’re interested in helping out, let me know.
  • This may be redundant at this point, but for more frequent updates on China stuff, as well as more bitterness and occasional cursing, you can follow me on Twitter (@ChinaGeeks), and several of the other contributors are on Twitter as well (for example, @AlexSTaggart and @ahkyee, and very occasionally 三水 uses @ChinaGeeksCN…did I forget anyone who’s on Twitter?) So, if you use Twitter (and you should), follow us!

In Brief: Behind the Crackdown on Foreign Journalists

Members of international media in China have been intimidated, detained and beaten while reporting on the ‘strolling protests’, inspired by revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, in major Chinese cities over the past few weekends. The current crackdown draws criticisms from the international community, including the US, European Union and Amnesty International, and is an abrupt departure from the friendly climate during and after the 2008 Olympics, when regulations on foreign reporters were relaxed.

What makes China so bold as to taint its international image? A recent piece from Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, translated in full below, explains.


To foreign journalists in China, the difference between Spring 2008 and Spring 2011 is great. In mainland parlance, the former is ‘as warm as Spring’, while the latter is ‘as cold and ruthless as the winter.’

The honeymoon period between Beijing and foreign journalists is short. Now is the most tense period since 1989. If Beijing was humble and sincere toward foreign journalists during the Olympics, then today it is angry and disturbed. Judging from the Foreign Ministry spokenswoman Jiang Yu arguing with Western journalists, official mouthpieces’ open accusation of foreign media’s ‘false reporting’, to Beijing Information Office Director-General Wang Hui’s mocking of foreign journalists looking for Jasmine as ‘drawing water with a bamboo basket’ – all in vain – we can see that the Chinese government is unflinchingly merciless.

According to Beijing standard, that the Western media vilifying and demonizing China has been true for years. How come Beijing is so angry this time round?

First, China has become stronger. Those in charge think that they don’t need to consider China’s international image any more. ‘Go our way, whatever the others may say.’ Nationalism is especially strong in recent years, with ‘angry youths’ demonstrating a louder and tougher voice toward ‘foreign devils’.

Then, although mainland media were subject to several purges recently, they still continue to breach the boundary, showing their tendency to defy authority. The recent ‘fight fake news’ campaign represents a tightened grip on the media by the government. Moreover, the government suspects that some mainland journalists have secret communications with their foreign counterparts. Therefore, the crackdown on foreign journalists serves as a warning to mainland ones. Once the red line is drawn, mainland media will voluntarily obey. Amid such stirs, no one would want to stand out.

Since the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo last year, foreign correspondents in Beijing have become more active, which annoys the government. But at the time, they have real targets to go after (Liu Xia and other dissidents). Today, they are randomly stationed at Wangfujing, without any concrete targets. This, coupled with the ambiguous attitude of Western nations toward the Jasmine Revolutions in North Africa, triggers the merciless crackdown on Western journalists.


Surveillance, Stability, and How Everything is Terrible

UPDATE: It’s a burden being right all the time. According to this official government release (via the New York Times), the purpose of the cameras being added in Beijing has nothing to do with safety:

“The goal, the [Beijing government] Web site ((Seriously, New York Times? You’re too cool for AP Style?)) stated, is to “directly and effectively monitor” the content of performances on behalf of various government agencies.”


Amidst the kerfuffle about another Global Times piece from the Beijing Metro section, you’d think more people would be watching their pages from day to day. But since they aren’t, it falls to me to share this really depressing news with you:

The culture industry is the latest to fall under the authorities’ watchful eyes, quite literally, with the debut of yet another surveillance project Wednesday.

The capital is planning to inject 5.57 million yuan ($847,754) to establish a massive remote surveillance system covering all the capital’s entertainment venues, according to the Municipal Bureau of Culture Wednesday.

The bureau is seeking bids this month for a system combining audio and video monitoring and emergency services coordination.

When complete, the bureau will be able to use the system to “directly and effectively monitor” all performances in cinemas, theaters, music clubs and even arcades, store and manage all video materials and share the information they obtain with other government departments as needed, according to the bidding document.

Apparently, the authorities have finally figured out that people are committing thoughtcrime in private and are taking the first steps towards putting a stop to it, which is to put cameras and microphones anywhere people might congregate (that doesn’t already have cameras and microphones).

Actually, no one will clarify the purpose of this surveillance, but I imagine that when the government gets its PR game together, this will be presented as a safety measure. How that would work, I don’t know ((What I mean by “I don’t know” is “It wouldn’t.”)), but that’s not the point. Regardless of what the stated or even intended purpose of this system is, putting surveillance systems inside cultural centers is creepy. And it gets even creepier:

This project is the third surveillance plan announced recently by the city. On Tuesday, State authorities proposed a nationwide database to gather information on the assets, income and families of all individuals in order to curb corruption. And last week, the Municipal Science and Technology Commission announced that China Mobile’s Beijing branch plans to track cell-phone users’ positions to study transportation patterns and in turn combat traffic jams.

So, when you’re in public, cameras and phones track your precise location. When you’re at a bar, nightclub, movie theater, or concert, cameras are watching you. Not a problem, if you trust your privacy, safety, and freedoms to China Mobile and the stability-maintenance arm of the PSB. However, I think many people — myself included — don’t trust them.

But is this really a big deal?

“I think mass surveillance helps deter anti-social behaviors,” Tian Yangang, a Beijing lawyer told the Global Times, adding that one need not worry too much about privacy in a public place like a theater.

Does surveillance help deter anti-social behaviors? Because there are plenty of cameras around Beijing, but people still spit, curse, and push people out of the way when getting on to buses and subways. It probably does deter actual crime, but how often are serious crimes committed in movie theaters or at concerts? Often enough to warrant legally-mandated, government-monitored video and audio 24-hour surveillance?

A theater is not a public place, it is a privately-owned establishment. And I for one have no doubt whatsoever that this initiative is about rooting out and putting a stop to bands, artists, and filmmakers who get away with politically edgy material by performing it in private clubs.

Now, add that development to the recent GFW upgrade that has blocked several VPN services (I know for a fact Freedur and Witopia have been targeted, albeit without total success) and Gmail ((I’m not sure what exactly they’ve done to Gmail. It works sometime, but it’s so slow and unreliable as to make it essentially unusable most of the time.)), the recent beatings and detentions of numerous foreign reporters, the recent declaration that China will under no circumstances do anything that might challenge the Party’s death-grip on power, etc.

I asked way back in December if things were getting worse. It seems pretty clear they are. And for those of you this-is-what-Chinese-people-want advocates, here’s some food for thought. This story was originally reported by the VOA, but its statistics come from a poll conducted by, which is a Chinese government-owned portal):

In a poll of 1,350 netizens, only 6% reported they were “happy”. Only 36% felt their lives had improved over the last five years. Additionally, according to a Gallup poll conducted from 2005-2009, China ranked 125th out of 155 countries in terms of whose people said they were the happiest (Denmark was the happiest country, apparently, with 82% of its people reporting happiness).

But the first is an unscientific poll, to be sure, and the second one was probably conducted by wily foreigners bent on using their science to promote anti-China forces! Well, here are some hard numbers for you:

Even though China has a large GDP, this is simply due to the fact that it has a large population. On a per-capita basis, the country ranks 99th out of 183 nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that wages are low.

But salaries in China aren’t just low, they are abnormally low. Typically, a country’s minimum annual wage is 58% of its per capita GDP; in China it is 25% of per capita GDP, good enough for 158th place out of the aforementioned 183 nations.

The gap between the GDP and minimum wage rankings – 99 versus 158 – is perhaps the most telling statistic. For the majority of countries, there is a close correlation between the two rankings; the disparity in China’s case points to grossly inequitable income distribution.

This is borne out by the Gini coefficient numbers, a widely accepted measure of economic disparity. China’s coefficient is 0.47 on a range of 0 (perfectly equal) to 1.0 (perfectly inequal), putting it 83rd out of 134 countries measured.
According to Gini, China’s level of income inequality is higher than in almost every industrialized country in the world.

Past studies have blamed the income disparity on the rural-urban divide, the development divide between coastal and interior regions, and even foreign purchases of Chinese products. These factors may be responsible to some degree, but so too is the government.


Recent studies have shown that:

• Wages of civil servants are abnormally high. The average salary of a civil servant in China is six times the minimum wage, compared to a global average of two times.

• Management level salaries in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are abnormally high. The average SOE manager in China makes 98 times the minimum wage, compared with a global average of five times.

• Within the state sector itself, wage disparity is abnormally high. An SOE banker on average earns 3,000% more than his counterpart at a construction company, compared with a global average disparity of 70%.
The pressure is compounded by costs of necessary items being abnormally high relative to wages.

• The UN recommends that it should be possible for an average worker to purchase a home with three to six years of annual income. In Beijing, it is estimated that the average worker would have to toil for 74 years just to buy a place in a suburban multi-story condo block, unfinished, unfurnished and without any amenities.

• The cost of electricity is a good index of the basic utility costs for urban residents. The average cost of 1,000 kilowatt-hours as a proportion of the average monthly wage in the US, South Korea and Japan is 2.67%, 3.19% and 8.19% respectively. In China, by comparison, it is 30.68%.

• The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average Chinese family spends 28% of its total monthly income on food. While this compares favorably with other developing countries, the number is far higher than America’s 6.1%. Food prices remain the key driver of inflation in China, rising 10.3% year-on-year in January as the newly revised consumer price index rose 4.9%. The figure is well above the traditional central government target of 3%, and even above its revised target of 4% for 2011. This makes wage growth an even more pressing social issue.

So yeah. What was that about how stability makes everyone rich and happy?

“History’s Conclusion: Western Style Democracy is Not for China”

The following is an article from Huanqiu Lianwang by Song Luzheng.


Translated by Tom Martyn

Both Marxism and Western style democracy arrived in China from the West, with the latter arriving first. Not only did democratic theory attract the interest of Chinese political elites, but democracy was attempted on two occasions. One was the constitutional monarchy-orientated 100 Days Reform movement and the reforms of the late Qing dynasty. The other was the American style ‘Constitution of Five Powers’ during Nationalist rule. Marxism only really influenced China after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. However, it was Marxism that gradually emerged victorious amongst the various political movements, including Western style democracy, leading China to a new period. It was Marxism that culminated in the attainment of the long strived for goal of Chinese people of independence and national unity.

Both ideas came from the West, yet one led China to glory, and the other failed despite having first bite of the cherry. Looking back through history, the underlying reasons for this still have a very strong practical significance.

One explanation has been popular recently. It goes that during the 1930s and 40s, the West suffered from economic crises and war, which was in contrast to the successes experienced by the Soviet Union. Add in the necessity of saving the nation, this led Chinese history to choose Marxism. External reasons are indeed important, but they are not defining. The correct explanation comes from an examination of Marxism and China itself.

We know that Marxism is made up of two parts, basic theory and revolutionary strategy. Basic theory includes historical materialism and surplus value. Revolutionary theory includes class struggle and violent revolution. In the opinion of noted philosopher Li Zehou, historical materialism is central. This means that production methods, productivity and science and technology are the foundation of the continuation and development of society. This is a pre-condition of understanding why Marxism succeeded in China.

Before Marxism arrived in China, the theory of evolution had already been accepted by Chinese intellectuals. This is partly connected to the traditional practical and rational Confucian ideal of ‘productive learning’, or ‘learning to benefit the country’. The idea that humans developed from apes was especially able to be accepted by China, as it is not traditionally a religious country, in contrast to Western nations. Intellectuals including Lu Xun, Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu first accepted evolutionary theory, then became believers of Marx.

There are four main reasons why evolutionary theory was replaced by Marxism. One, historical materialism more specifically explains human history, and is not a simplistic ‘survival of the fittest’ and species evolution theory. Marxism has a greater rational persuasiveness. This emphasis on history matches closely with China, which itself emphasises history and has a rich historical sentiment.

Two, China has a long and strong Utopian tradition. The Confucian ideal of a stable universe, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan, Qing reformer Kang Youwei’s utopian treatise ‘Book of Great Unity’, and Sun Yatsen’s ‘all under heaven are equal’ concept are progressions of and from each other. Other schools of thought that have influenced Chinese society, such as Taoism, the Mohists and Buddhism, also have Utopian ideals. The Marxist depiction of the future is thus closely aligned with this Chinese tradition.

The third point relates to the moralism present in Chinese traditions and political culture. One of the key values of Marxism is criticism of capitalists, repudiation of exploitation, and sympathy for the proletariat and working class, i.e., it has a strong moral component.

Fourth and finally, Marxism has a strong emphasis on practical application, particularly class conflict and violent revolution. This was suitable to the requirements of the desperate situation China was in at the time.

Thus, the intrinsic reasons the Chinese intellectuals accepted Marxism are the identification and superposition of Marxism with Chinese traditional thinking, sentimental leanings and psychological structure. This in turn led to the swift ‘Sinofication’ of Marxism, i.e., it brought about the rise of Mao Zedong Thought, it united the disparate and individualistic Chinese people and gave rise to a huge revolution in society. The significance of this revolution in Chinese history is particularly special, in that it led to equality in society following the eradication of landlords and the capitalist classes, the improvement of the position of women in society, and land reforms. This energy or potential was evident at the foundation of the PRC. Even though the country was in a mess with much work requiring to be done, China was still able to match up to the most powerful country of the time, America. This changed the 100 year old weak and stagnant international image of China.

In contrast, Western style democracy went from being advocated early on but eventually discarded. It is the ‘practicalness’ of China that accounts for why Western democracy was accepted during the late Qing and Republican era. The systems used by the big powers of Britain, United States and France, as well as the Western system used in Japan, caused people all over the country to believe that only constitutionalism or republicanism could save China. However, the reason for its success was also the reason for its failure. During the Republican era, once these constitutional systems came under the influence of former Qing officials and later warlords like Yuan Shikai and Cao Kun, the ever-practical Chinese intellectuals quickly lost faith in such systems.

There are many reasons why Western democracy failed in China. One is the strictness of conditions required for Western democracy. To implement parliamentary democracy, a census needs to be conducted to determine the size of each province. However, the first census was conducted in 1953, after the establishment of the PRC. During the elections carried out during the late Qing and Republican era, numbers were only estimated, thus there was an innate inadequacy present.

Additionally, democracy requires the establishment of political parties. This runs counter to the Chinese political tradition of eschewing ‘group’ formations. More importantly, a system of competition between parties is not at all suited to China. Chinese traditional political thought holds that if power is held clearly in one place, then society will be stable and in a position to develop. Once the location of power becomes unclear, it will promote factionalism, infighting, open up power struggles and cause chaos. The only thing that competition between political parties brought to China was the assassination of Song Jiaoren, the failed Second Revolution of Sun Yatsen, and warlordism

A lack of moralism is another area where Western democracy is at odds with Chinese traditions. As early reformer Zhang Binglin said, ‘the dynasty changed, but the corrupt officials bandied together’. During the Republican era, bureaucrats and opportunists from the previous administration all remained in their old positions, and there was no shortage of degenerate and morally reprehensible tyrants able to enter Parliament. Zhang Binglin opposed them as enemies of the people. It was democracy of the monied classes and local tyrants. As far as the Chinese people were concerned, it was just yet another group of oppressors. This was the situation in China at the time. A democracy lacking in morals is naturally unable to compete with the collectivism, unity, selflessness, and probity of Marxism.

In conclusion, there are two main reasons for the failure of Western style democracy in China. Western style democracy deviates from Chinese humanist traditions, and it is unable to solve China’s actual problems. In turn, these are also the reasons for the success of Marxism. Without a sufficient societal, economic and thought base, any reform is destined to meet with failure. For a period after 1949, China went through a period that emphasized ideology and subjective initiative. This represented a departure from Marxism. However, since the beginning of Reform and Opening, Deng Xiaoping’s advocacy of ‘science as primary production strength’ is a return to Marxism. The success of China in the last 30 years cannot be explained or expressed by any Western theories. As American historical scientist and scientific philosopher Thomas Kuhn said, it is impossible to use words from an old concept to understand a new concept. China is creating a new path for the development of human society.