PSA: Beware the Impostor

Just a very quick thing: it has come to my attention that someone is using my name (Charles Custer) to comment on China articles at various news sites (see this and this for examples). This person is not me.

For the record, any comment you see on any news site using my name is not by me. I don’t comment on news articles like that. If I had a comment, it would be posted as a blog post here, or it would be something I posted to Twitter. I do not comment on news sites, so any comments like this that you see are not by me. It’s just someone using my name because they’re too cowardly to use their own.

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(Finally) Announcing My New Project: 2Non.org

Longtime readers will know that I have been alluding to a “big project” on this site for quite some time. In fact, it has taken long enough to get here that you would be forgiven for thinking this “big project” was actually just an excuse to not update this site much. Today, my friends, I announce that it is real.

Click here to go to 2Non.org. Our first article is about the nightmare of red tape that victims of forced demolitions often remain trapped in long, long after the actual demolition of their house has concluded. I think you’ll enjoy it:

“After Forced Evictions, a Nightmare of Red Tape”

You can even listen to an audio recording of the article if that’s your kind of thing, although for now it’s just a simple reading of the article. (Future articles will feature more fully produced audio versions).

What is this?

2Non is a non-profit media organization that produces documentary films and shorts as well as written reportage on issues of social justice. Although I hope someday to expand its focus, for the moment our work is focused entirely on China because that’s what I know. Basically, it’s a nonprofit platform through which we’ll be making and distributing our films (starting with Living with Dead Hearts) as well as posting original reporting like the article above on a regular basis.

Why?

After seeing such a strong response to both rounds of fundraising for our film, I began to think about ways in which we might be able to work on projects like that on a more full-time basis instead of having to squeeze it in around work schedules. I also lamented that our many generous donors still had to pay taxes on their donations.

So you want us to give you money?

Don’t I always? Yes. Well, if you like the work we’re doing, then yes. But the good news is that if you’re American, your donations will now be tax-deductible! And, as with the film fundraising, we’ve set up a tiered rewards system so that everyone who donates gets something awesome in return (if they want it, it’s not mandatory).

What does this mean for ChinaGeeks?

Well, any story that has the potential to be a longer-form written piece is probably going to end up on 2Non. But as you can tell if you’ve read our first article, I really never wrote articles like that on ChinaGeeks to begin with anyway. So not much will change. Translations and analysis pieces will still be posted here; 2Non will be for long-form reported pieces. Obviously my posting here has slowed down over the past year and that’s not likely about to change, but it shouldn’t get any worse, either.

What does this mean for the film? And hey, how’s that coming along, anyway?

Barring some kind of deal from a major distributor that’s just too awesome to refuse, the film will be distributed through 2Non, as will our subsequent films. We may still work to place modified versions on television or elsewhere, but ultimately, all films should end up on the site where we’ll be able to offer them at lower prices and without crap like DRM restrictions for digital downloads or wasteful packaging for DVD/Blu-Ray orders.

And the film is going well, thanks for asking! It is done and we’ve applied to 12 film festivals so far, with more planned as we can afford to pay for them (so help us out with a donation).


Well, that’s it. Please go check out 2Non.org and tell your friends to help us out by donating if they like what they see. Thanks!

Translation: “Looking Forward to When Anti-Corruption Has Some Culture”

I came across this short piece by Wang Gengxing in Southern Weekend today; I think it’s quite worthy of discussion. (All the links were added by me for the purposes of providing extra context; none of them are in the original piece).

Recently officials have been falling one after another: “Watch brother” Yang Dacai, Guangzhou former PSB chief He Jing, Yibin deputy mayor Chen Guangli…we can see that the government is resolute in opposing corruption and that the anti-corruption system is gradually improving. But even the most perfect system will not easily show results without corresponding cultural support. Taichung (Taiwan) mayor Hu Zhiqiang once dressed up as a beardless “modern-day Zhong Kui” and beheaded four kinds of green “corruption demons” with a group of children to plant the seed of opposing corruption in their hearts. Hong Kong’s ICAC uses many approaches to plant the seed of “clean governance” in the people’s hearts: they used the cartoon “Zhi Duo Duo” to communicate with children, set up an interactive website to communicate with young people, sent “clean government ambassadors” to colleges, held anti-corruption activities…Central Commission for Discipline Inspection secretary He Guoqiang recently emphasized that we must give prominence to the special characteristics of clean government culture, “in improving writing styles from top to bottom, in innovating new measures from top to bottom, ceaselessly raising the level of anti-corruption/pro-clean government education and propaganda work.” Why can’t you and I also put forward plans and make anti-corruption even more cultured?

Is cultural involvement really necessary to fostering cleaner government? Clearly not everyone thinks so. One commenter on the article above wrote:

Without civic consciousness, without consciousness of civil liberties, without an effective system of checks and balances, all we can do is count on idle talk, what’s the point?

Another wrote:

Culture’s influence is imperceptible [but present], however in today’s society, this road is destined to be long and winding [i.e., eliminating corruption via cultural changes is going to be a very slow and inefficient process]. Returning to the main topic; greed comes from human nature; unless we wait for the arrival of true socialism when there is no more inequality, we’re just treating the symptoms but ignoring the root cause.

Another commenter hit on my own personal reaction to the piece:

The system is useless, it’s all Monday-morning quarterbacking ((The original Chinese here is one of my all time favorite expressions, ‘an after-the-fact Zhuge Liang’)). Mostly it relies on net users, mistresses, and Gan’s daughters.

In other words, the system is often reactive and does nothing to stop corrupt officials who don’t draw attention to themselves. Indeed, one of the examples Wang cites in the original piece, “Watch brother” Yang Dacai, was only brought to justice after internet users uncovered his corruption and started raising a ruckus.

Returning to the original point though, despite the fun-sounding stunts in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I don’t think that corruption can really be regulated through education and culture, and especially not through the PRC government’s propaganda machine, which hasn’t proven to be particularly effective with this sort of thing. (For example, the government has been both promoting and legislating gender equality for years in the hopes that it can stamp out the traditional girl-bad-boy-good mentality; the failed results of that campaign so far are pretty evident in the country’s growing gender gap). As one commenter pointed out, greed seems to be a part of human nature, and it’s not likely to be overcome by a cultural campaign even if Zhongnanhai plasters the walls of the Forbidden City with red banners about fighting corruption.

On the other hand, though, the Chinese school system certainly could be doing more to promote transparency and honesty. At present, many students in Chinese schools are learning (among other things) how to get away with cheating; cheating and plagiarism are (in some schools) basically considered part of the game. I can only assume that attitude does contribute to the idea that it’s OK to cheat in other ways in one’s professional life, including — if one opts to go in that direction — one’s life as a public official.

Moreover, I suspect the larger issue facing China’s anti-corruption drive is the perception that Party membership and officialdom is generally motivated by personal interests rather than ideology or any genuine interest in serving others. For example, a cursory search for “Why Should I Join the Party?” turned up this question on Baidu Knows (What is the best reason why I should join the Communist Party?”). The top answer is exactly what you would expect, but here are snippets from some of the other answers users submitted:

…The best reason to join the Party is that after you commit a crime you’ll become famous. As soon as someone says official so-and-so did it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to become famous…

Of course, joining the Party has advantages for you…

Because you’re a Chinese person and you have to live in China…

Because these days many companies give priority to Party members when hiring.

Entering the Party is not just a reflection of improving your political identity, it is also creating a political foundation for your personal struggles. In a sense this means it will improve your personal value; for example when filling out a resume and putting down that you’re a Party member, the results will be very different [than if you weren’t; in other words, Party members will get jobs and meet other goals more easily.]

My personal opinion…when Party members make mistakes, they take away your Party membership first; if you’re not a member you’re just directly criminally prosecuted. Also I hear that if you’re a Party member and you’re arrested they can’t put handcuffs on you, haha.

There’s plenty more where this came from; the point is that clearly a lot of people feel that joining the Party ((which, granted, isn’t quite the same as public service although it’s generally the first step towards that)) these days is just a way to get ahead in your career or give yourself a little bit of padding in case you ever get caught breaking the law.

That’s a cultural problem of sorts, so could a cultural push really help stem the tide of China’s corruption? And if it could, would the Chinese government actually be able to effectively pull off such a campaign? I have my doubts, but I’m curious to hear what others think.

(Please keep in mind before you comment that we have recently changed the commenting rules. I highly suggest reading that link before commenting if you’re not already aware of the changes.)