Category Archives: Politics

In Brief: Who’s Really Disappearing Reporters

At this point probably everyone is familiar with the “Bijie Boys” and most of you are probably also aware of how that turned out for the reporter who broke the story. The fact that a reporter would be held for reporting a story no one disputes the veracity of should surprise exactly no one, but there is one aspect of this story I’d like to explore a little bit.

Now, before I start, I want to say that I love Beijing Cream. I find the site both informative and funny and it has been one of my favorite China blogs for a while now. Moreover, I think every writer there is probably at least familiar with the argument I’m about to make, so I’m really just using the Beijing Cream article as an example here. In fact, I suspect Anthony Tao might actually agree with what I’m about to write, but going into all this was rather outside the scope of his article, so he understandably didn’t. Anyway, my point here is that this article shouldn’t be taken as a critique of Tao or Beijing Cream in general.

That said, this section of Tao’s take on the Li Yuanlong’s arrest jumped out at me:

What we shouldn’t assume is that higher levels of government had anything to do with this, considering no one — and I mean no one — would be dumb enough to think punishing a journalist here would be a good idea. If there’s one thing we know about how business is done in these fourth-tier, hinterland-type counties, it’s that the powerful can do whatever the fuck they want, and someone with some power in this case must have decided to act out on his vendetta.

While the latter half of this paragraph is undoubtedly true, I do disagree to a certain extent with the first half. On the face of it, of course, it is quite true: I’d bet an awful lot of money that the decision to detain Li was made and executed by local officials who were not in any contact with higher authorities.

But I wouldn’t say it’s really true that higher authorities had nothing to do with it. The central government’s inability to control, or perhaps lack of interest in controlling, local governments fosters and facilitates an I-am-king-around-here attitude in local officials, and that inevitably leads to stories like this. Central authorities didn’t order the arrest of Li, no, but they have for decades presided over and molded a system that allows local authorities to do things like arrest reporters with minimal consequences, and often no consequences at all.

In fact, the system often offers de-facto rewards to local officials who keep their regions quiet by quieting anyone publicizing negative stories, because the officials that get promoted are often the ones who come from the most “stable,” “harmonious” districts. Officials have long-since learned that the surest route to apparent “harmony” is threatening, arresting, coercing, and censoring the people who would spread negative stories about their districts — reporters, petitioners, protesters, bloggers, etc. This way, higher authorities don’t often have to order the detention of people like Li — they have set the system up in such a way that people like Li can be silenced without anyone in the central government getting their hands dirty.

Moreover, if I — some random dude living halfway across the world — am aware that Li Yuanlong has been detained and “vactioned” at this point, certainly the authorities theoretically responsible for overseeing this sort of thing should be aware of this particular case by now. If they disapproved, undoing it shouldn’t take more than a phone call — the story could have been killed before I even woke up this morning, probably — and yet something tells me that phone call isn’t coming. Even if this case requires a few extra days to work its way through the bureaucracy, I’d be willing to bet it won’t; come Monday, I’d bet Li will still be on vacation. (Though I hope I’m wrong; something tells me this “vacation” isn’t all that pleasant).

(It didn’t take the authorities long to respond to this local problem by sacking the creepy official in question. Somehow, though, I doubt that will happen to the men behind Li’s detention).

I’ve written about the this-is-a-local-issue argument before, because it’s something you hear quite frequently when discussing injustices in China. And while it is, to an extent, true, I think it’s also important to elucidate the higher-level indifference and the systemic structures that makes these kind of local injustices possible year in and year out.

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“If You’re Not Dead By Tonight, I Joined the Party For Nothing!”

Here’s another one for the annals of Party members being assholes in their cars. This story is being passed around on Weibo and other social media like Tianya right now, though it appears to have happened a couple weeks ago. Here’s the text of the post:

“Fuck your mom! You dare to inspect my car? If you’re not dead by tonight, I joined the Party for nothing!” Kangping, Liaoning [Party] disciplinary secretary Dai Guobin was driving his personal car at an intersection when he violated traffic laws and was blocked by traffic police officer Chen Dong for an inspection. Secretary Dai got out of the car and, without a word, punched Chen in the face, and then hit him in the leg…his mouth was full of curses like ‘I’ll kill you! I’ll kill whoever comes close! I just need to make a couple phone calls and a few thousand people will be here, even if the Central [government] leaders come here it won’t help you.’

Based on the photos being circulated with this post, it appears passers-by were not particularly happy about Dai’s attitude.

There’s no way to confirm exactly what happened with this incident, so take all this with a grain of salt. But the weibo post about it has already been forwarded nearly 100,000 times and has nearly 15,000 comments. If it continues to go viral I imagine we’ll learn the full truth of this sooner or later, but “I joined the Party for nothing!” already sounds like the Chinese internet’s next snarky slang term, following past hits like “Whether or not you do, I believe it” and “My dad is Li Gang.” And of course, with regard to the incident itself, I can’t imagine anyone is surprised to learn this happened. This is the kind of behavior most of China expects from its local Party officials.

But this case may be especially damaging to the Party’s reputation because Mr. Dai mentioned it explicitly and implied that the purpose joining the Party is just to obtain special treatment and a platform from which to oppress one’s enemies. This, of course, is something that everyone already knows. But there’s a difference between that cynical knowledge and hearing a government official actually say it out loud. My guess is that by the time this is over, Dai will be wishing he kept his mouth shut.

That is, assuming that this is an accurate report and not just a rumor gone wild. The fact that after several weeks the story is still spreading would indicate it’s probably true, though.

On Wang Wen’s HuffPo Essay

Oh boy. Take a look at this essay by Wang Wen that appears in Eric X. Li’s column in the Global Times Huffington Post.

Before we begin, it’s worth noting that the HuffPo piece fails to mention that Wang Wen is an editor for the Global Times. It does specify that he’s an editor for a major paper, but conspicuously fails to mention that the paper in question is the State-owned Global Times. That seems questionable — doesn’t someone working for the government have a vested interest in its perpetuation, and isn’t that a conflict of interest worth noting? — but let’s move on.

The piece begins with a rundown of the recent coup rumors and a regurgitation of the Party line: China is not the Middle East, there will be no Chinese Arab Spring, the Chinese people want stability, etc. Nothing you haven’t read before a hundred times. But then there’s this:

In my discussions with those in Beijing’s elite circles I find a wide range of opinions. Some are resentful of Bo’s removal and even feel betrayed. Some are euphoric as they see the central government has finally made the right decision. Regardless of the seeming intensity of their views, no one wants to take to the streets. On the contrary, they seem all worried that such a controversial event might drive others onto the streets. In China, without the instigation of the elites, it is impossible for ordinary people to have the channel and willingness for meaningful political protests. As for the Chinese elites, the memory of the Tiananmen Square incident 22 years ago is still fresh in their minds. Radicalism, in the name of any political ideal, has no appeal in reality.

You may want to stop and read this sentence again: “In China, without the instigation of the elites, it is impossible for ordinary people to have the channel and willingness for meaningful political protests.” Absurd classism aside, apparently Wang didn’t get the memo about the protests in Wukan, which were sustained and quite successful despite the lack of patronage from any of Beijing’s elites, or any elites at all. Yet I feel certain they would consider their protests — and the outcome — quite meaningful.

I think Wang is right that intellectuals ((It’s worth noting that the Global Times and other Party-line folks frequently disparage China’s intellectual elite as being out-of-touch with the common people precisely because they DO express interest in fairly radical political change, but Wang seems to have flipped that on its head here because it fits his argument better.)), at least, might be necessary at some point for another Tiananmen-like massive-scale protest to occur. And he’s right that ideals alone aren’t going to get people on the streets. That said, what has that got to do with anything? It wasn’t ideals that sparked the protests in ’89 either, it was the death of Hu Yaobang. By all accounts, the actual protests started rather organically among students ((students attending elite universities, yes, but that doesn’t make them elites)), not as the result of some call to arms from elites. In fact, the strongest early call-to-arms came from the Party itself in the form of the April 26 People’s Daily editorial, which paradoxically attracted more people (including elites) to the cause. The idea that large-scale protests must be organized and channeled by China’s elites is absurd.

Moreover, I’m not sure what the fact that China isn’t about to see large-scale political protests is meant to prove. It’s as much a reflection of the effectiveness of China’s authoritarian controls as it is a reflection of the national mood.

However divisive people’s opinions are, there is one thing they have in common: they all put their hope in the Party to solve problems facing Chinese society. China’s one-party governance structure has matured to a state in which groups with intensely opposing views and interests fight to influence the Party, not to subvert its rule. What they all want is reform that would favor their positions, not revolution that could overturn the entire system. Many aggressively vent their dissatisfaction and satirize the government. There are even many incidents of mass clashes. Yet even the most dissatisfied take their grievances to the authority of the central leadership for redress. It is a reality that can be counterintuitive to the eyes of an outside observer.

What a shock — the people in power don’t want to destroy the system! If Li bothered to talk to any of the non-elite regular people, he might have discovered a different story. In most cases, he certainly wouldn’t have found that the common people are on the verge of overthrowing the government — that’s not what I’m suggesting. But for everyone I’ve talked to who puts all their hope in the Party to solve China’s problems, there’s someone who has completely lost hope in the Party to do anything other than bulldoze houses and drink baijiu. And, of course, most people lie somewhere in between those two extremes. The idea that all Chinese people put all their hope in the Party to solve China’s problems is an absurd fantasy.

Wang is right that the Party is not facing an imminent physical threat of overthrow — there is no mass movement or revolt coming. What it is facing is increasing cynicism, dissatisfaction, and despair. Wang writes, “…yet even the most dissatisfied take their grievances to the authority of the central leadership for redress,” but he wisely leaves it at that. This is probably because he knows discussing the results of that process wouldn’t help his argument much. Yes, almost anyone in China with a serious grievance will attempt to bring it to the central leadership for redress, and when they do, they tend to be met with utter indifference, if not violent repression (see: black jails, etc.).

Based on the parents we’ve spoken to for our film, as well as other former petitioners I’ve spoken with for other projects, the process of petitioning is precisely how faith in the central leadership gets killed. People go into the process thinking theirs is a local injustice the central government is unaware of and doesn’t allow. Generally speaking, they come away with the knowledge that what happened to them is happening in many other places, and that the central government is not at all interested in hearing what they have to say.

Moving on, Wang’s essay seems to alternate between what I’d consider to be a few pretty reasonable points and bizarre lapses into near self-parody.

China in the early 21st century is not dissimilar to the U.S. during its Progressive era of the early 20th century. We see a society frequently plagued by chaos and bad news, which has the effect of making people feel hopeless. Yet reality prevails just like it did in America then. Just like the young and growing America weathered its ills 100 years ago and developed, China will, too, enter a new period of long-term prosperity and stability.

Yes, because if there’s anything the Progressive Era in the US is famous for, it’s being followed by long-term prosperity and stability (You know, except for the Great Depression and those two World Wars).

As a matter of fact, those who are familiar with Chinese history might have noticed that political struggles, even at the highest-level, have become increasingly less a matter of “life and death.” Compared with what befell losers in previous political struggles, such as Lin Biao, whose forced defection resulted in a plane crash that killed him and his family 41 years ago, today’s political infighting is much more moderate. Chinese people, as all peoples, like honest and upright officials. They hope that good political leaders end well, and even the not so good ones do not get destroyed completely. I’d like to wish the same for contemporary China that has created the miracle of leading 1.3 billion people out of poverty in one generation.

Well, I’m sure Bo Xilai is grateful that he hasn’t been taken for any plane rides (yet). But the piece ends with a ridiculous straw-man implication — that anyone who doesn’t agree with Wang wants to see China destroyed completely — and a dramatic overstatement. China’s economic policy deserves plenty of credit for lifting most of the population from poverty, of course, but it has taken a little more than a generation, and there are still more than 100 million Chinese living in poverty. I doubt Wang ran into any of them on his survey of Beijing elites, but they do exist, and it is troubling that people like this seem so willing to pretend that 100,000,000+ people don’t exist whenever their existence would be inconvenient for the argument.

It’s especially galling because it’s not like anyone could fault China for only raising 1.2 billion people from poverty in the last 30+ years. That’s still pretty good! I’m not sure why it’s necessary to exaggerate or to suggest that anyone who disagrees with you wants to see China “destroyed completely.” This sort of thing is par for the course in the Global Times, but it is sad to see it creeping into the outside world, especially when it’s not disclosed that the author works in an upper-level position at a state-owned company and almost certainly has personal ties to the Party he is so adamantly defending.

The Wukan Elections on Social Media

Just in case you’re out of the loop: villagers in Wukan hit the polls today. Although there are elections in villages all over China, this one is especially significant given what led up to it and the extent to which it has got people elsewhere in China thinking about democracy.

For on the ground information, you should look to Tom Lasseter and Louisa Lim, who are actually in Wukan and have been tweeting updates and photos all day. As I’m not in Wukan, I thought I’d take a look at what’s on Weibo instead. (Sure it’s lazy and overdone, but Weibo will probably be dead soon, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is still hot).

With regards to censorship, searches for the “Wukan” are no longer blocked, but it does appear that Sina is at least downplaying the interest in the elections by keeping it off of the trending topics list. As of Saturday evening at around 8:00, Wukan posts were coming in at a rate of several (1-3 on average) per minute, significantly faster than some of the topics that were trending at the same time (average of less than 1 new post per minute). Now, this wasn’t exactly a scientific study or anything, but it does appear that from a posts-per-minute perspective, the Wukan elections should appear on the national trending topics list. That it doesn’t may be a result of the fact that the list is handpicked, not automatic.

But, like I said, searches for “Wukan” are still allowed and posts about the elections don’t seem to be getting deleted. The Chinese media is also covering and discussing the elections, so it’s clearly getting more play than it was back when the town was a rebel village under siege (no surprise there).

As you might expect, the Weibo messages from Wukan residents themselves today are mostly about the election, and from the accounts I’ve looked out there seems to be more-or-less universal satisfaction and pride. They’re sharing stories about old people voting for the first time and kindhearted volunteers helping keep the voting area clean. They’ve also been passing around this comparison photo made by a Beijing netizen that compares the scene today in Beijing (left), Wukan (center), and Hong Kong (right):

(The idea here is that the dog-and-pony-show “two meetings” in Beijing doesn’t compare favorably to the democracy in Wukan or the free criticism of political leaders in Hong Kong.)

Many others outside Wukan are also comparing the elections there to the CPPCC/NPC meetings in Beijing. In one popular post from earlier tonight, a netizen wrote, that the consciousness of the Chinese people is “reduced” by the CPPCC/NPC meetings but is “awakened” by the elections in Wukan.

Among intellectuals, there’s also the expected discussion and qualifying of this “victory” for Wukan’s system, as expressed (among other places) in this comment by a fairly popular independent scholar:

I’ve never been opposed to one-person-one-vote, what I’m opposed to is the worship of one-person-one-vote. It’s just the most shallow layer of democracy. If that’s all you have, and you don’t have any of the deeper layers that separate and restrict the powers [of government institutions] then there’s no way to prevent autocracy.

Most people seem to be happy for and/or jealous of Wukan, and many also see it as a sign of impending reforms or, for some, more sweeping changes:

Wukan is the beginning of Chinese democracy, a single spark can ignite a prairie fire.

We’ll see. As of now, I don’t believe they’re even finished counting the votes. But how things will look in a year is even less clear. Still, it’s hard not to feel good about what’s happening there right now, for me personally and, it appears, for an awful lot of Sina Weibo users, too.

High-Level Defection or Convenient Vacation?

UPDATE 7: For an alternative theory, check out this post on Inside-out China.

UPDATE 6: The Chinese government has now announced that Wang Lijun did enter the US consulate and that they are “investigating.” Of course, we knew all that, but this announcement was — like the last one — posted to Weibo, where it immediately spread like wildfire. It seems quite obvious now that the authorities are letting this story spread on purpose.

The reason for this that we have been talking about is that it weakens Bo Xilai, something that some within the Party very much want to see happen. Alternatively, though, allowing this news to spread could be an attempt to “soften the blow” when Wang is almost inevitably branded corrupt and a traitor. Because he played a leading role in the anti-corruption campaigns in Chongqing, Wang is quite popular with average Chinese people, and much more widely known than the average vice-mayor. Perhaps the rumors and these announcements of things we already know are being intentionally spread to incept ((OK, that’s hyperbolic, but when else am I going to get to use this word?)) the idea that Wang, who we previously thought was good, is now bad.

Of course, there were already plenty of questions about the way the Chongqing anti-crime campaigns were conducted. If nothing else, these updates just continue to underscore that we still really have no idea what’s actually happening.

UPDATE 5: At the moment, Wang is back on the Sina Weibo trending topics list twice. “王力军” (an intentional mistyping of his name is #2 on the trending topics list, and the phrase “vacation-style medical treatment” is #7. Searches for “Wang Lijun” (typed correctly) remain uncensored. It’s quite clear that Sina is not trying to suppress this story at all, which begs the question: is someone at Sina trying to damage Bo Xilai?

UPDATE 4: The US State Department has confirmed that Wang Lijun was at the US consulate and that he left of his own volition, although they won’t talk about whether or not he asked for asylum. Very interesting. Here’s the relevant bit of the transcript from the State Department press briefing:

QUESTION: — specifically these reports coming out of China that a deputy mayor of Chongqing had sought refuge at the consulate in Chengdu and that there had been an unexpected increase in security personnel around the consulate for a while. What can you tell us about any of this?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re referring to reports about the vice mayor of Chongqing – right – City. So his name is Wang Lijun. Wang Lijun did request a meeting at the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu earlier this week in his capacity as vice mayor. The meeting was scheduled, our folks met with him, he did visit the consulate and he later left the consulate of his own volition. So – and obviously, we don’t talk about issues having to do with refugee status, asylum, et cetera.

QUESTION: Okay. But – so can you tell us exactly when that meeting took place?

MS. NULAND: I believe – we’re here on Wednesday – I believe it was Monday, but if that is not right, we will get back to you.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about what – have you had any subsequent contact with him? Because there’s some questions about his whereabouts.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. To my knowledge, we have not.

QUESTION: And aside from any possible thing that you couldn’t talk about on asylum can you tell us what he did talk about there? What was the purpose of this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t have anything at the moment on the substance of the meeting.

QUESTION: Can you say why you said he used – why you used the term, “he left the consulate of his – on his own volition”?

MS. NULAND: Well again, there has been some reporting to indicate that that might not have been the case, but it was the case.

QUESTION: Okay. The reporting being that he had been forced to leave or that had been dragged out, or —

MS. NULAND: There’s been unusual reporting about all of this. So just to reaffirm for you, that he walked out, it was his choice.

UPDATE 3: Ai Weiwei has tweeted that according to a reliable American lawyer, Wang Lijun once asked the US consulate for asylum. However, he doesn’t name the source, and the word “once” makes it unclear when this happened. Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily News is reporting the rumors are true and that Wang asked for and was denied asylum, after which he was arrested, but who knows how accurate that is.

Meanwhile, McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter (@TomLasseter) is in Chengdu checking things out and finding things seem more or less normal.

UPDATE 2: Added a bit to the rumor section about Wang allegedly divulging information to the US.

UPDATE 1: See also this excellent piece by Tania Branigan in the Guardian with additional information.

Weibo and Twitter are buzzing today about an incident that apparently took place at the US consulate in Chengdu last night (thanks to @niubi for first bringing it to my attention). As far as I am aware, at the moment there are only a few real facts connected to this situation, and they are these:

  • Last night, the US Embassy consulate in Chengdu was surrounded by a large number of cars from the People’s Armed Police and other security organizations.
  • The US Embassy is not commenting on the situation, at least for the time being. Update: Still no comment, but this article confirms that the US had not requested the police presence outside the consulate.
  • The Chongqing Press Office announced this morning that Chongqing vice-mayor Wang Lijun is on “vacation-style medical leave” for “nerves”. (Reportedly, Wang’s mobile phone is switched off).
  • Sina has been censoring searches for “Wang Lijun” on and off throughout the day. ((at the moment I write this, it appears to be uncensored again, but I have seen it blocked and unblocked again twice this morning.))

So those are the facts as we know them. Here’s the narrative that’s been circulating which, for the moment, should be taken as very much still a rumor: Wang Lijun approached the US consulate in Chengdu last night to request political asylum. At present, he is either still inside the consulate, or has been refused and handed over to Chinese national security police. Update: According to some versions of the story, he was in the consulate for quite some time, and may have divulged significant amounts of privileged information to US diplomats.

What the hell is going on? I’m not at all sure. Making things especially weird is the fact that these topics quickly shot to the top of Sina Weibo’s trending topics list, but then disappeared. Searches for “Wang Lijun” were blocked, then unblocked, then blocked again, and now appear to be unblocked again. For reference, below is a screenshot I took of the search page during the first round of blocking (that I noticed, it may have been blocked and unblocked before this).

What’s really interesting about this — aside from the fact that I’ve never seen a search term blocked and unblocked so quickly before — is that whatever the truth behind the consulate kerfuffle and Wang Lijun’s involvement, this incident has two major potential political ramifications.

On the international side, the implications of a high-level official defecting or attempting to defect just before soon-to-be-president Xi Jinping makes his visit to the US could be huge. If the US were to grant Wang asylum, that would be….well, awkward probably doesn’t even begin to cover it.

On the domestic side, with China’s leadership transition fast approaching and Wang being high in Bo Xilai’s Chongqing administration, a defection or even just a rumored defection on Wang’s part could seriously damage Bo’s position. Certainly, there are forces within the Party who are very opposed to Bo’s rise, and it’s hard to think of what better ammunition they could have against him than something like this. On Twitter, @niubi theorized that Sina could be allowing some of the posts about Wang Lijun to go through on purpose to damage Bo Xilai’s reputation, and that certainly seems possible.

Assessing the likelihood that any of this (beyond the facts) is real is very difficult. On the one hand, the US generally doesn’t grant asylum from in-country embassies, precisely because those embassies are easy to surround with police. A year or so ago, I was asked by a Chinese friend to research this process, and found that generally speaking, it’s much easier to be granted political asylum if you’re outside the country you want asylum from. It strikes me that if Wang Lijun really did flee to the Chengdu consulate to request asylum, he must have been in a rather desperate situation. Otherwise, presumably, he could have waited for an opportunity to travel abroad and had a much greater chance of success.

Then again, a high-level official like Wang might be just the sort of person the US is willing to take that risk for. But it’s an awfully big risk, and the diplomatic fallout if the US granted Wang asylum would be massive. Still, if word of the incident gets out — and it certainly seems that’s happening — rejecting Wang’s application would be a PR loss internationally.

Anyway, it’s not at all clear what the heck is going on here, but whatever it is, it’s definitely interesting. We’ll keep an eye on it, but interested parties should pay special attention to Weibo, where there’s a lot of chatter about Wang and his “vacation-style medical leave” that is getting through the on-again off-again censorship.

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.

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.