Will China Make Friends in Pakistan?

Earlier this week, the Asia Times Online reported that China is planning on setting up military bases in northern Pakistan. Yes, the country in that sentence was China not the US.

While I grasp the real politik of the situation, I have to say this might not be a good idea. The motivations are obvious: bolster Pakistan to counterbalance a rising India (who China still has border disputes with) and rein in extremism that might spill over the border (or already has).

But I really don’t think China has any idea whatsoever what kind of shitstorm it’s getting itself into.

Autonomous Regions

First, let’s just look at the names of the provinces China wants to set up there  their base(s) in: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). That’s a mouthful, ain’t it? (Although certainly not as much as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.)

FATA and FANA are as federally administered as Xinjiang is autonomous. Since the partition, they’ve existed essentially beyond Islamabad’s jurisdiction, governed by tribal leaders, much as had been done during the Raj, when the British gave up on the region after failing to take complete control. Basically China will be moving next door to the Graveyard of Empires, into a place that seems equally inhospitable.

As such, it appears that Pakistani President Zardari may be hoping China will help bring these restive regions into the fold (while also giving the middle finger to India).

Recipe for Disaster

Here are just the first things possible downsides that came to my find:

  • NIMBY Radical Islam Style. We know that Osama bin Laden’s original animus against the US was driven partially by the existence of American bases on Saudi soil. Pakistan might not be home to Mecca and Medina, but it is nonetheless home to 160+ million Muslims and the law of percentages says there should be enough extremists among them to be perturbed at Chinese military bases in their backyard.
  • Radical Islamic terrorists hate the US, if not just for supporting Israel, but because it represents the major force behind globalization, a phenomenon they ferociously oppose. China’s projection of its power (which, it actually could do more often. See, DPRK, Burma, etc) could make it lose the veneer of being eastern and different. Throw in the frequently reported news that China oppresses its Muslim minorities ((There are 30 million of them constituting ten separate groups, my favorite of which being the 保安族 because, yes, their name does translate to the Security Guard People, which would be a great name for a Village People cover band.)), and you have a nasty recipe for radical Islam’s newest bete noire.
  • Pakistan is duplicitous. The Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s CIA) probably knew about Osama bin Laden’s residence for years. There are links between the ISI and the Taliban. ((This shouldn’t be surprising. Since the 80s, the ISI has been involved in promoting Muslim extremism in Afghanistan as a way to overcome the lack of inter-tribal cohesion among the Afghan peoples in the fight against the USSR.)) And the ISI has been training and arming (some of the guns probably initially came from the US) terrorists to carry out attacks in India and Kashmir. The ISI has been increasingly independent since Zardari, who has no military cred, took over after Gen. Musharraff stepped down.
  • This will piss off India. Okay, so we know India and China don’t exactly get along. But it’d probably be best for the world if they at least tried. Some Indian reports say there are already Chinese troops in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. I’m sure setting up bases isn’t going to win the hearts and minds of the Indian people.
  • Unpopular wars can take down governments. This isn’t a full-blown war, and may never be, but there is a possibility of escalation. If it does, and things fall apart, the CCP could be in trouble. There are countless examples of this happening in democracies. Here’s one from an authoritarian government. ((Now that I think about it, this might actually be a good thing; if the next government we get is better than what we have now.))
I’m sure there are plenty other reasons why this is a bad idea (this, for example), which doesn’t necessarily mean the effort will fail. But I’d hope China would learn from America’s mistakes, rather than repeat them.

Related Reading

This piece on Wired is pretty solid.
Advertisements

An Open Letter to Relativity Media

These people aren't allowed to leave their house. Hilarious!
Dear Relativity Media,

Let me start by saying that I have no grudge against your company. You guys have made some great movies! Blood Diamond? I enjoyed that. The Social Network was great. Granted, you also made Doom, but everybody makes mistakes. So I want you to know it’s not about the movies.

It’s not even about 21 and Over, although let’s face it, if I wanted to watch The Hangover again, I could just watch The Hangover, and if I wanted to watch a shitty version of it, I could watch The Hangover II, so I’m not sure what market you’re shooting for with this film. But hey, that’s why I don’t work in the film business.

No, my concern is not with your terrible-sounding movie, which I’m sure will gross a bazillion dollars. It’s with the place you’ve chosen to shoot it: Linyi, Shandong, China.

Now, I suspect you had reasons for choosing this location. Probably even a lot of reasons. And it certainly seems like you’ve made good friends with the local authorities, who are more than happy to have you visiting Linyi:

The Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Linyi’s Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, who ranks above the local mayor, issued a statement welcoming the production to his city and adding that he “particularly welcome(s) my good friend (Relativity CEO) Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company” to his “historic city,” adding: “We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”

And you guys are excited too, clearly:

Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s co-President said the Sky land partners love this “hysterical film and it’s gratifying they want to build a foundation immediately alongside our cast and crew. We are very much looking forward to shooting in China, especially in a place as amazing as Linyi.”

Linyi is an amazing place, and what’s more, it makes total sense to shoot an American buddy-comedy there, especially these days when the US is full of icky poor people whining about how they don’t have jobs because American companies have taken all the work overseas.

I wonder, though: do you guys know who you’ve hopped in bed with?

It’s a rhetorical question; even if you didn’t know before, after yesterday’s media firestorm you certainly do. So you know that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent ((Convicted of a crime, yes, but served his time and was released; by Chinese law he should be free)) man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings.

Until recently, your Linyi government pals were the same ones preventing Chen’s six-year-old daughter from attending school. But hey, good news on that front! They’re letting her go to school now, as long as she never leaves the sight of a couple of their agents. After all, you never know what kind of trouble a six-year-old could get up to! In fact, that sounds like it could make a hilarious movie! Six and Over! There you go, guys, that one’s a freebie. Use it for the prequel.

So anyway, yes, Linyi is an “amazing” place, in that it’s currently at the center of a human rights firestorm, and its government is clearly complicit in something that’s completely indefensible even by the sometimes-Orwellian laws of China. Sounds like a great place to film a comedy. And I’m sure all the money you’re paying those Linyi officials is being used only for, you know, tourism or something. I’m sure none of it goes to paying the thug army they’ve got surrounding Chen’s village.

Now, to be fair, you probably didn’t get yourselves into this on purpose. My guess — and this is just pure speculation — is that you were offered a ridiculously cheap place to shoot with some extra perks and you said yes without looking into it. And yes, in doing that, you placed your foot squarely into the PR bear trap that you’re in right now.

Because now, you’re kinda fucked. If you stay in Linyi, it’s a PR nightmare. My little blog is one thing, but I have a feeling we’ll see this story in some Western papers come Monday.
My guess? That’s just the beginning.

But if you leave Linyi, you’re definitely going to piss off local and perhaps national government officials. My guess is you’d be giving up any chance to shoot in China again for a long time. These guys don’t like being criticized, and they don’t like being embarrassed by Western companies that grow a conscience.

So, what should you do? I’m no expert, but let me help you weigh the options here. You can either piss off the American media and whatever percentage of your audience chooses to pay attention, or you can piss off some government leaders who are giving you a great deal on shooting your hilarious movie so long as you keep quiet about how they’re using your money to hold a blind man hostage.

Personally, I’d say leave Linyi. Like, tomorrow. Or hey, even today! It certainly seems like the moral choice, and I don’t understand why you’d want to shoot an American buddy comedy in China anyway (well, except for because of this).

no-commentWe know you’re aware of the issue (see image). And while I understand the “no comment” response — you probably need some time to get your ducks in a row — please be aware that people are not just going to forget about this if you choose to do nothing. People haven’t forgotten about Chen and his family, and even though they’re beaten and robbed, people keep trying to visit him. Relativity Media needs to seriously consider which side of that equation it wants to be on.

Because maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy. And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.

Do the right thing here.

Sincerely,

C. Custer

Update: Who to Send This To

If you’d like to send this letter to Relativity Media or people associated with the film, Artists Speak Out has collected a good list of people and ways to contact them.

I recommend you check out their whole post, which also includes sample messages to send, but excerpted below are a bunch of contact details from their post:

Send Tweets to the Lead Actors in 21 and Over

Miles Teller
@miles_teller

Justin Chon
@justinchon

Skylar Astin
@SkylarAstin

[…]

Call, Fax or Email Relativity Media

Phn: +1 310 859 1250
Fax: +1 310 859 1254
pressrequests@relativitymedia.com

Greg Forston
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
greg.forston@relativitymedia.com

Matt Garelick
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
matt.garelick@relativitymedia.com

Wendy Merry
Vice President, Field Marketing
wendy.merry@relativitymedia.com

Jernei Razen
Director of Development
jernejr@relativitymedia.com

John Sinayi
SPV, Theatrical Distribution
john.sinayi@relativitymedia.com

Rob Springer
Senior Vice-President, Sales & Operations
rob.springer@relativitymedia.com

UPDATE: Relativity Media Responds:

Their official statement:

“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”

In Brief: Things Going Crazy in Linyi

First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently. As you might imagine, I’ve been busy with this and the guest posts and other features associated with that.

But, I’ve also been following the Chen Guangcheng case, which I wrote about somewhat recently here. Since then, there have been three major developments in Chen’s case: one positive, one negative, and one weird.

First, the good news: thanks to increasing pressure from netizens and “adventure tourists” (more on that in a moment), Chen’s daughter is now being allowed to attend school, although she will be trailed by guards at all times. That’s understandable, I suppose. If she were to attend school unsupervised, she might cause all sorts of trouble for the establishment. After all, she’s a full six years old now, and kindergartens have always been the fertile bed in which the seeds of revolution are sewn….OK, I’ll stop. At least the poor girl will get an education of some sort. That’s a victory, albeit a small one.

Second, the bad news: as netizens have ramped up the pressure on Chen’s case, local officials in Linyi seem to have doubled down. Chen’s village is full of thugs who beat anyone trying to enter it, and even the local police are smacking people around (and telling them the thugs who beat them and rob them are just in their imagination). More and more people have been attempting to visit Chen in what netizens are cheekily calling “Adventure tourism to Shandong,” but thusfar they’re not getting much more than bruises for their troubles. See this post for photographic evidence that some of these “adventure tourists” have received harsh beatings.

Finally, the weird: Amidst all this madness, the folks at Relativity Media (an American film company) have decided now’s a great time to film a raucous buddy comedy in Linyi. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up. Here’s Tom Lasseter of McClatchy on his blog:

Hollywood Reporter has an item that caught me by … surprise. Apparently, the U.S. film company Relativity Media is shooting part of a movie in Linyi under a partnership called Sky Land.

This is the Linyi in Shandong Province. The same place where blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng is being held under extra-judicial house arrest in a local village. He was placed under detention after being released from prison — the consequence of his trying to lead a class action lawsuit against local officials’ campaign of forced sterilization and abortions. Chen and his wife were reportedly badly beaten at the behest of local officials earlier this year.

You can read more about the film here.

In a fit of quasi-journalism, we’ve reached out to Relativity Media and a couple of the film’s stars for comment. I expect we’ll hear back roughly never, but in the event we do, I’ll certainly post whatever we get. In the interim, we have the comments thread.

China’s aircraft carriers: an interactive guide

See end of this post for an interactive guide to China’s aircraft carriers.

Varyag in Dalian

In August this year, the world’s attention was caught up in the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier, a refitted former Soviet vessel Varyag which China purchased from Ukraine. A few months further back in March, the UK Ministry of Defense put its decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal up for bidding. Not surprisingly, it attracted a few Chinese buyers. James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of Jane’s Defense Weeklytold Reuters:

It is very difficult to gauge what is going on here. The links between Chinese businessmen and the Communist Party are always somewhat ambiguous. The Chinese have a reputation for playing a long game, as well as for reverse engineering.

China has in fact played a long game in terms of foreign carrier acquisition. China has been enhancing its carrier technology for the past three decades. During this period, it has acquired four carriers, starting with HMAS Melbourne, a former British-designed Australian aircraft carrier which China purchased in 1985. The remaining three, Minsk, Kiev and Varyag, are all former Soviet vessels.

Melbourne, Minsk and Kiev had all been purchased as scraps, with all the sensitive kits removed. Furthermore, the purchases of Minsk and Kiev were made by businessmen intended to convert them into casinos or theme parks (this is in fact what they are now). However, it is reasonable to assume that they have all been thoroughly surveyed by the Chinese military for naval construction designs, as they sit for years in the dockyards before being transformed into something else.

Varyag is a little bit different. It started life as an unfinished Soviet carrier which was later transferred to Ukraine. It was also the largest and the newest among the four, with technologies from the 1980s. When Ukraine tried to sell it to China in the 1990s, the US pressured Ukraine to remove all the sensitive equipment before doing so. Nonetheless, it was chosen to be transformed into China’s first operational aircraft carrier, after spending years in the naval dockyards in Dalian. Interestingly, like the cases of Minsk and Kiev, Varyag was also intended to be used for entertainment.

With three out of the four aircraft carriers that China purchased being Soviet-designed, it is reasonable for China to refit an ex-Soviet carrier as its first functional aircraft carrier. This brings us to the question of why China is now bidding for a British Ark Royal design. Is it really for a purely business purpose, or is China switching models?

The answer could perhaps be found in China’s purchase history. Its very first purchase of HMAS Melbourne is a Majestic class British light aircraft carrier design dating back to 1942, and has been in use by eight other naval forces until 2001. HMS Ark Royal is also a light aircraft carrier, belonging to the Invincible class which was developed in the 1970s with the successful vertical landing technology.

The other three larger, ex-Soviet vessels variously belonged to the Kiev and Admiral Gorshkov classes, which were both a combination of a carrier and a cruiser, capable of engaging in anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and surface warfare. They thus represent a different design philosophy from that of the British carriers, which are more intended for the projection of air power than providing an air support platform for other guided missile cruisers and submarines, as in the Russian Navy.

Thus, China’s bidding for HMS Ark Royal might signal that it wants to pick up from where it left off at HMAS Melbourne. Perhaps mastering two design philosophies would be the way to go in the complex maritime geographies surrounding China. But another equally plausible reason is that, given that China is far behind in carrier technologies, and the difficulties of purchasing a foreign craft due to the world’s distrust in China’s rise, it has to jump at every bidding opportunities. Only after getting as much on the table as possible can it decide which way to go.

Click here to access an interactive guide to the four aircraft carriers which China purchased from abroad. This is based on two Chinese reports from the Southern Weekend (16 September 2011) and the Caing Magazine (18 July 2011). For optimal viewing, you may need to reset your browser’s zoom setting.

In Brief: Why People Become Officials

I came across this poll on Sina Weibo today and couldn’t help but be amused by the responses to it. This year’s Civil Service Exam is kicking off, and millions of budding officials the nation over are putting pens to paper — or at least talking about doing it on Weibo. Buy why do they want to take the test and become government officials? Let’s find out!

Disclaimer: Blah blah online poll, low sample size, skewed demographics, got it.

You can check out the poll here, but you’ll need a Weibo account to vote, and you’ll need to vote yourself before you can view the results. Of course it’s highly unscientific, but can anyone say they’re really surprised to see this? It goes a long way towards explaining why Chinese officials are often so terrible at serving the people — apparently only 19% of them were interested in doing that in the first place!

Everybody else is apparently just in it for the perks (or because their moms told them they had to).

(Note for the tonedeaf, because I have a feeling the disclaimer isn’t going to be obvious enough for some of you: this is being posted mostly for the purposes of humor and yes, obviously, a Weibo poll with a few thousand results doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of China about the civil service exam or the service that comes after it.)

Reminder: We’re making a movie about kidnapped kids in China and we kind of need your help. Please check out our official site, or the special section we’ve created on ChinaGeeks. Or just check out the trailer below. You can make a donation via that Paypal button over there on the right hand side of the page, you’ll get cool rewards, and 20% of your donation goes to help the Xinxing center, so you can help them and us at the same time!

For more info on kidnapped children in China you can also check out my article in Foreign Policy on the subject.

Announcing “Living with Dead Hearts”

UPDATE: I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, but Foreign Policy has published a freelance article I wrote on the problem of kidnapped children in China. I think it’s a good primer on the issue in general and some of our subjects in specific. You can check it out here.

Longtime readers of the site have probably been aware for some time that some of the folks behind ChinaGeeks have also been working on a documentary for the past year or so. Today, I want to share with you a bunch of new information about that work.

We’re still in the process of shooting it, but we’re a lot further on than we were the last time I updated you here. The film now has an official title — Living with Dead Hearts: The Search for China’s Kidnapped Children — and we’ve even put together an early trailer which you can watch below to get more of a feel for what it’s going to be like when it’s finished (the trailer starts at about 0:30).

As you can see, we’re raising money again to help us continue production, and also to help out our friends at the Xinxing Aid center. We’re raising the money ourselves this time through Paypal so that we can give 20% of it to Xinxing rather than using Kickstarter and having to fork over a percentage to them and to Amazon payments. We’re looking to raise about $4,000.

We’ve got a new website for the film set up at www.livingwithdeadhearts.com but I thought I’d also lay out a little but of information for you here. We may not be using Kickstarter, but we will be running things the same way they do, in that donors can choose how much they donate and are eligible for rewards based on their donation (you can also opt out if you don’t want the rewards).

    • Donate $1 or more: Your name goes in the end credits of the film and you get access to exclusive donor-only content like desktop wallpapers.
    • Donate $15 or more: All the above, plus access to our monthly production updates via email.
    • Donate $30 or more: All the above, plus access to production stills.
    • Donate $50 or more: All the above, plus access to exclusive video clips and a DVD copy of the finished film once it’s done.
    • Donate $100 or more: All the above but now the DVD is signed and accompanied by a personal thank you letter from the director.
    • Donate $250 or more: All the above, plus contact our producers to ask your own questions to our interview subjects and get their responses translated for you.
    • Donate $500 or more: All the above, plus you’re listed as an Executive Producer and an invitation to one free dinner with the director the next time you’re in Beijing.
    • Donate $750 or more: All the above, plus personalized updates on the film’s progress straight from the director, who you can also chat with on Skype about the film’s progress.
    • Donate $1000 or more: All the above, plus exclusive early access to the finished film and the chance to record an audio commentary for the soundtrack.
    • Donate $2000 or more: You are incredible. You get everything listed above, and anything else you can think of that we can feasibly provide. Talk to us about how we can make you a part of the film.

    Some pretty cool stuff, no? Hey, how did this button get here…

    You may recall we did this last year, and were pretty successful, so it’s quite reasonable to be wondering why we have to do it again. The main reason is that my computer simply isn’t going to be able up to the task of editing hours and hours of HD video. A dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM would be pretty suspect specs under the best of circumstances, but of late it’s also been corrupting files and has outright stopped recognizing the AVCHD files that make up about half of our footage. Probably there is some kind of software fix for that, but given that the battery, power cord and optical drive are all broken, it seems like a better idea to buy a new computer so we can do our work on a system that’s reliable.

    Additionally, we’re having to travel quite a bit more than we originally expected, and travel is costing more because in several cities we’re being forced to stay in three-star hotels because the cheaper hotels aren’t willing to book a foreigner, which we hadn’t anticipated because it’s never been an issue for me before.

    Of course, there’s much more to say, and you may have questions; there are lots more details on the official site so go check that out. I’ve also created a special section of ChinaGeeks dedicated to the film and the problem of kidnapped children; you can check that out here.

    Anyway, if you enjoy ChinaGeeks I hope you’ll consider making a donation. If you can’t make a donation, I hope you’ll at least consider passing the link around to your friends and family or tweeting it to your followers on Twitter and Weibo. Even if you’re not willing to do any of that, keep an eye out for the film which we’re hoping to have finished by late 2012.

The Utterly Indefensible

We engage in a lot of debate on this blog, and anyone who reads it knows that I personally have some pretty strong opinions. Even so, most of the issues that we debate do have shades of gray, and there are reasons — sometimes logical ones — for many of the things the Chinese government does.

But not everything. We rarely talk about the things the government does that are utterly indefensible, completely cruel, and entirely black-and-white full-on evil.

So we debate about Liu Xiaobo, his “crimes” — were they crimes? — and his NED connections — do they matter — but we rarely talk about his wife, Liu Xia. For those who aren’t aware, Liu Xia has been under house arrest since the day after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Xiaobo last fall. She has been denied access to friends, family ((for the most part; supposedly she has had a few family visits, although it’s difficult to be sure since she herself is incommunicado)), phones and the internet. She has managed to get online once, though (from The Guardian):

Her only known contact with the outside world came in February, when she managed to get online briefly and told a friend that she was miserable, that no one could help her, and that “my whole family are hostages”.

Of course, many Chinese dissidents experience similar treatment, but here’s the thing: Liu Xia is not a dissident. Her only crime is being Liu Xiaobo’s wife. She’s been under house arrest for nearly a year now, and yet she has never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. She is by all definitions — including that of the Chinese legal system — entirely innocent, and yet her life has been taken away from her because of who she chose to marry.

Another example: Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist and lawyer who remains under house arrest in Linyi. Given that Chen has completed his jail sentence and should legally be a free man, his own detention is indefensible, but Linyi authorities are also holding his entire family under house arrest. This includes his daughter Kesi, who can no longer attend school because she’s not allowed to leave the house. Netizens who have attempted to visit Chen’s family have been harassed, beaten, detained, and threatened. (For frequent updates on these efforts, follow @pearlher, @wlyeung, @bendilaowai etc. on Twitter).

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on Chen’s daughter, Chen Kesi. She’s currently being detained by authorities because of the crimes of her father ((which he has already served time for; according to Chinese law he should be a free man)). More concerning is that she can’t attend school, an injustice that threatens to influence the course of her entire life. Of course, we all know how dangerous students can be, but Chen Kesi isn’t exactly a rebellious college student. No, in fact, she’s barely in primary school. That’s right, the Chinese government is detaining a six-year-old girl.

Detention really isn’t the right word here, though. Perhaps being held hostage is more apropos. Liu Xia and Chen Kesi aren’t being held for any crimes they committed, they’re being held to scare other people into silence. They’re being held hostage, and if one day they’re freed, others will most certainly be held in their place. The faces may someday change, but the song remains the same.

Perhaps we don’t debate these things as much because there is simply nothing to debate. By any reasonable standard, the detention of innocent people is unconscionable and evil. The concept of guilt by association has a long history in China, of course, especially guilt via bloodlines, but this is not the dark ages. Nor are these isolated local incidents; rest assured the central government is fully aware of these detentions, like as not at the highest possible levels.

The fact is, the authorities detain people like Liu Xia or six-year-old Chen Kesi for two reasons:

  1. As a threat to other dissidents. Harassing, threatening, and detaining a dissident’s loved ones sends a pretty strong message: ‘If you follow this path, we will fuck with the people you love. We do not care if they’re innocent or not. We do not care if they’re young or old. Fuck with us and we will fuck you you, and we will not be gentle.’ As reprehensible a strategy as that is, it is quite effective — in fact, I have seen it work firsthand. People may be willing to give up their own lives in the pursuit of justice (or whatever), but how many are willing to give up the lives of their wives? Their parents? Their daughters? Very few, and who can blame them?
  2. Because they can. As effective as it may be in deterring dissent, detaining an innocent child is a strategy that would not play well in public. Luckily, it need not be public in a country where the media — even social media — can be controlled. Regardless of their opinions about Chen himself, can you imagine the reactions on Weibo and elsewhere if it were widely reported that the government was detaining his daughter and preventing her from attending school? It would be a PR nightmare — and anyone who was watching the news this summer knows that the Chinese government is pretty terrible at PR in the face of public dissent. But none of that matters. The news can be blacked out in the mainland, and foreign reporters who discuss it can be painted as anti-China forces who are nitpicking small issues while failing to note how fast China has developed. The few Chinese who know about the issue are welcome to have their discussions on Twitter, where no one else can see. There’s really no risk for the government; why not detain Chen Kesi if it can help keep him and other dissidents in line?

The obvious answer to that would obviously be “because you are a human being with a functional conscience,” but I don’t believe there’s a real human conscience anywhere near either of these cases.

I wanted to write about this not so much because it’s newsworthy ((Although as I type this, word is spreading on Twitter that a netizen group has reached Chen’s village and is being attacked by village thugs, or possibly plainclothes police))as because I rarely do; we rarely do. Perhaps it’s because there’s not much to debate, but personally I think it’s because it’s just too depressing to think that there’s a six-year-old girl being denied an education because some old men are scared of a blind lawyer and a few other critics of the system.