Category Archives: Science and Technology

QQ vs. 360 vs. the Media vs. Common Sense

The media has been all in a tizzy about the latest example of terrible, terrible PR in China (and for once, it isn’t coming from the government). For those who haven’t been following, here’s the short version: 360, a popular Chinese internet security company, accused Tencent QQ, the world’s most popular instant messaging service, of serious security vulnerabilities including the ability to secretly scan the hard drives of users. What followed has been a great example of how not to conduct PR on both sides of the divide.

But in the scrum to cover the PR and the potential business implications, everyone seems to be ignoring the most obvious question, which is: does QQ really contain such serious security flaws?

No one seems to care! This question is at the crux of this disagreement, and the answer to it has gigantic ramifications given the ridiculously huge nature of QQ’s user base. But no one is reporting on it.

For example: this, this, this, this, this, this etc. There are lots of angles, but none that address whether any of the claims being thrown back and forth are true or not.

In fact, the only thing I could find that addresses the issue is this (via @klukoff), an unofficial test that claims to affirm at least some of 360’s accusations about QQ by using a Microsoft product that monitors what other software is doing. But that was posted nearly a week ago. Why is no one else addressing the veracity of these claims? True, the PR angle is interesting, but what about the is-the-most-popular-IM-software-in-the-world-secretly-spying-on-all-its-users angle?

Admittedly, I don’t know how easy this stuff is to test, but I get the impression no one has called any experts and tried, otherwise we’d at least see sentences like “experts were unable to immediately confirm 360’s allegations” popping up in a couple articles, right? Also admittedly, I haven’t had time to do a very thorough search of Chinese-language reporting on the topic yet, so I’m not sure whether the Chinese media is having a similar problem, although I suspect they are.

Seriously, this is kind of ridiculous. Would it be “unbalanced” to get an independent evaluation that supported one side or the other? Is it to difficult to find capable tech experts willing to talk to the media? Or am I just alone in caring more about whether or not QQ is actually spying than I care about whether or not 360 and QQ are acting in their users’ best interests?

They probably aren’t. I just wonder if the media is really doing any better.

Beheading Freedom

Poor Chinese gamers. Between the censorship, the prejudices, and the weird boot camps, they’ve never had it easy. The latest blow? A fresh helping of censorship just in time for the (long overdue) release of World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King official release in China (elsewhere, it has been out for a long time).

We first heard from Corndog–the man who made this incredible anti-censorship bit of machinima–that WoW players were logging into WotLK and discovering that certain terms were now “sensitive words” and could no longer be used inside the game. According to this WoW fan site (our translation):

Players overjoyed at the release of the expansion quickly discovered that words like “freedom”, “sexy”, and “passion” were no longer allowed in-game, and players whose account names included these characters were being forced to change their names.

This phenomenon has left many players perplexed, and some are calling for a boycott of the game until the terms are permitted again.

Supposedly, Netease is working to find the “cause” of this, and will promptly fix it when they find it. Whether that’s true or not, the whole thing certainly is perplexing. “Sexy” and “passionate”, perhaps, could be the result of an overzealous censor getting hyped about the “three vulgarities” campaign that’s ramping up. But freedom? Really?

Not to be outdone by censors, Chinese netizens had come up with a solution within hours that is both serviceable and symbolic. They took the word for freedom (自由 zìyóu) and “beheaded” both characters, resulting in a new coinage: 目田 (mùtián).

The brilliance of this is that the characters themselves are a reflection of the ridiculous, neutering censorship policy. They are a visual expression of gamers’ perceptions that censorship has left their experience as something less than whole. At the same time, just like earlier internet slang terms, it allows people to keep using the word “freedom” without actually setting off the automatic filter that blocks the two character term 自由 zìyóu. 目田 Mùtián is not an actual word in Chinese, so there’s not much confusion about what anyone means when they type it. And both characters have existed for millennia, so the new term is as easy to type as any other Chinese word. ((Chinese net users do, on occasion, invent entirely new characters, but they can’t be typed as they aren’t included in the character sets that come with computers.))

It will be interesting to see if Netease ultimately changes anything. It’s hard to believe that a bug could result in such selective censorship; the real question is whether Netease will back down or hide behind their own incompetence by claiming they can’t find the “bug”. A third, infinitely less likely possibility is that they could directly finger the government. Recently, a number of foreign and domestic companies have complained or commented about what censorship policies cost them from a financial perspective. But it’s hard to believe the central government would tell Netease to ban the word freedom.

My guess is it’s another example of Blizzard’s domestic partner’s getting overexcited and censoring more than they are told to.

We’ll update if/when anything actually changes. Until then, long live 目田 Mùtián!

Who Decides How Hot it is?

This summer seems to have been a hot one all over. Certainly, in China, the heat has been a popular topic of conversation the past few months. How hot is it really? Well, interestingly, it very much depends who you ask.

In Beijing, at least, there’s plenty of skepticism about the official temperatures that are reported. It’s a commonly-held belief that because the government and other employers are required to give some types of workers the day off or pay them extra if the temperature breaches 40 degrees Celsius (i.e., 104 degrees Fahrenheit), the officially reported temperature will never break 40℃, regardless of how hot it actually is.

This week’s issue of Southern Weekend has a cover story about the heat and how it’s reported:

On July 5th, a Beijing TV placed an uncooked egg on top of a manhole in the street. Three minutes later, it was fully cooked. On August 13th in Hangzhou, an alcohol thermometer was only on the street for a moment before it shot up beyond its highest marked temperature: 50℃.

The weather reports for those places from the day before suggested that the highest possible temperatures would be 32℃ and 37℃. The actual temperatures on that day were measured at 39.5℃ and 40.6℃ (respectively).

There have already been 23 heat-related sudden deaths in Beijing, Jinan, Wuxi, Hefei, etc.; half of these deaths were people working in outdoor trades [who can’t legally be made to work if the temperature is above 40℃] like construction or cleaning the outsides of buildings.

However, at the times these deaths occurred, none of the “highs” in these cities weather reports were as high as 40℃.

Needless to say, this has been a contentious issue online for some time. The Southern Weekend report quotes one netizen as asking, “So is whether or not it’s over 40℃ a science question or a political question?”

According to the report, China’s official temperature readings come from a thermometer suspended 1.5m off the ground in a wooden, ventilated box. Each city has one. Most countries use a similar system, which allows Chinese meteorologists to easy compare their numbers to others around the globe. However, the temperature on the ground can be much hotter than what these official thermometers register. For example, on August 5th in Guangzhou, the official thermometer never got above 37.1℃, but the ground temperature on the same day got as high as 51.8℃.

Another reason for the disparity is that these temperature measurements aren’t actually being taken in the city. While each city has one, according to the report many of them are not recording temperatures in the city proper, where a variety of factors from the prevalence of buildings to the increased amount of pollution combine to make the temperature rise. So when the Beijing weather report says 37℃, that means it’s 37℃ inside a ventilated wooden box 1.5 meters off the ground, somewhere outside (but near, presumably) the city itself.

Moreover, these temperature readings are just one factor that goes into producing the numbers you seen in weather forecasts, which are apparently hotly debated by teams of meteorologists. “The ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the daily weather forecasts are not the result of direct mathematical equation,” said expert Li Kaile, “they’re the result of a discussion between the meteorologists on duty at the time.”

Also, the numbers are not calculated to factor in the influence of humidity, wind speed, or relative solar radiation. To get a real idea of what the temperature the next day will be like, Southern Weekend says, you’d need to collect all of this information, and you’d also need a bit of meteorological expertise.

The article’s authors wondered: “Isn’t that a little bit difficult for common folks?”

All the experts Southern Weekend spoke to denied that there was any kind of threshold they weren’t allowed to pass at 40℃.

Whether the 40℃ rule is real or not, it seems clear that the weather forecasts here are totally useless for city dwellers. After all, very few of us spend our days in ventilated wooden boxes outside the city. But at least now we know if we ever want to, it will be easy to find out what the weather there is like…

The Jilin Floods and Web 2.0 Video as Journalism

If you, like I, have been reading about the flooding that’s been happening this summer, but have been fortunate enough not to have to witness it firsthand, you may not be aware of just how devastating it’s been. Have a look for yourself at this video of the flooding in Jilin:

http://player.youku.com/player.php/Type/Folder/Fid/4856669/Ob/1/Pt/5/sid/XMTkzNTc5NTI4/v.swf
Link to video

If you can’t understand the Chinese, that’s OK, its pretty much what you’d expect. As the first person in the river grabs onto the pole, the camera operator shouts “Grab it, grab it Beautifully done, come on! Come on, come on!” etc. And then, as the first man makes it into the window and the second person approaches, “There’s another one! Grab it, grab it! Good! Uh oh, he didn’t grab it. Fuck. He didn’t grab it. He’s done.”

In this video, also from Jilin, a man attempts to pull himself out of the swift current and only a pile of debris that is growing in size rather rapidly. If you’re wondering why it takes him so long, you probably haven’t been swimming in a powerful one-way current like this one. The force of the water, esppecially below the surface, is extremely strong, and it’s simultaneously pushing his body against the trash pile and also sucking it downwards with tremendous force ((In river sports, this kind of hazard is referred to as a “strainer”, and there is not much that’s more dangerous. Having coached a whitewater kayaking team for a season, I have limited experience, but enough to be quite sure that being in this guy’s position is not at all fun.)).

http://player.youku.com/player.php/Type/Folder/Fid/4856669/Ob/1/Pt/2/sid/XMTk1MTg2MjQ4/v.swf
Link to video

This video, which features what appears to be children being swept away in the same flood, has also appeared:
http://player.youku.com/player.php/Type/Folder/Fid/4354554/Ob/1/Pt/7/sid/XMTkzNTYxNjQ4/v.swf

In fact, Youku is full of videos from the front lines. There’s the rescue of a pig from the bloated Songhua River to reports on the color of drinking water in Jilin (brown!). It’s compelling, if terrifying, viewing that really brings home what flooding really means to those of us who’ve never lived through one.

Additionally, though, these videos might also be symbolic of something larger. As the Global Times pointed out yesterday, Chinese video sites have been cracking down on IP theft, and many video sites are going to be left with the question of what new content they can bring in to replace pirated stuff. One wonders if homemade video isn’t the answer in China, just as it was for Youtube.

Of course, there’s more at stake in a country where the official media doesn’t always report the truth. In a nation full of people with cell phones — which, increasingly, have photo and video capabilities — the number of Chinese people capable of recording footage like this is going up by the day. Imagine how much more we would know about what really happened on June 4th, for example, if just every 10th person in Beijing had had a cell phone that could shoot video.

These are not new revelations, of course, but what has changed is the sheer number and speed with which videos like these appear online. Of course, these videos, too, are subject to censorship (apparently searching for chengguan, for example, isn’t allowed). But if Chinese censors are already getting headaches trying to censor tweets, one can only imagine the kind of headache they’re going to develop as the influx of homemade videos increases. Tweets, after all, can be scanned by computers for sensitive terms. But videos? To censor them properly, every single second of every video uploaded would need to be watched. At the moment, I suspect that would be extremely difficult. If it isn’t already, I’m certain that within a few years it will be utterly impossible.

What are the implications for that for freedom of information and accurate journalism within the infrastructure of an authoritarian state? It’s hard to say, as it’s difficult to predict how the government will react. But if nothing else, China’s censors are in for a gigantic challenge.

As a sidenote, I’d like to apologize for the recent lack of updates. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, I am a geek in many way, and occasionally I discover something else that demands an unfair portion of my leisure time.

The More Things Change on the Chinese Internet…

…the more they stay the same. This has been an interesting week for the internet in China. First came the news — not surprising to anyone, probably — that China’s internet user base continues to grow, and reached 420 million in June. Then came the Beijing Daily report sounding the death-knell for Green Dam censorship and monitoring software that was going to be required on all computers sold in China before netizen complaints forced Beijing to back down. The news that the company behind Green Dam is belly-up (and that the government is no longer supporting it) might seem like cause for a little celebratory grave-dancing, if some less terrible things hadn’t also happened this week.

Microblogs nationwide went down, and when they came back up, they had all slapped “Beta” on to their logos. Slowly, netizens are discovering what that means. We reported yesterday that Sina’s weibo service no longer allows links to any foreign websites (blocked or not). Danwei reported ((Can’t load Danwei because of the effin’ GFW? Try Freedur.)) today that at least one person has discovered his name is now a “sensitive word” on Sina. What’s worse, the stepped-up censorship doesn’t seem limited to blogs.

Renowned lawyer and blogger Liu Xiaoyuan posted his own story of Sohu’s censorship to his Sohu and Sina blogs today:

In March of 2007, Sohu started to block and hide some of my blog posts. I got fed up with it and on August 16, 2007, filed a lawsuit with the Haidian district People’s Court. After nearly a year and two trials, both of my suits ((The second, presumably, was an appeal of the decision on the first suit; Liu does not go into any detail about this though.)) were rejected. If even the People’s Court sees but does not care about the violation of a citizen’s right to free speech, what could I do?

My blog posts continued to be blocked and hidden. Especially during the period of Yang Jia‘s case, a large number of posts were “purged”, but I had already become numb to it.

On July 28, 2009, I had been writing on my Sohu blog for more than three years. That day was the first time my blog was forcibly closed. They didn’t tell me anything [about why the blog was suddenly closed]. So fine, if you won’t tell me anything, then I will tell you something! I immediately registered another Sohu blog and gave Sohu a piece of my mind.

I never thought that this blog would be killed on July 12, 2010, before it had even reached one year of age. On the 13th, I opened another Sohu blog, but it only lived for a single day and was “assassinated” on the 14th.

I’ve said before, the best wat to protest when they close your blog is to open another. [I’ve opened another blog,] I really don’t know how long this one will survive.

Open your own blogs, let other people worry about closing them!

Within a few minutes, that post had been deleted from his Sohu blog, although it remains on his Sina blog, at least for the time being ((Although Sina also deletes specific posts of Liu’s on a fairly regular basis, as Liu often posts lists of the titles of recent posts of his that have been deleted.)). His Sohu blog now consists of a single brief post, entitled “Sohu moves so fast”:

Today, I opened a new Sohu blog and my first post [the post translated above] was deleted within five minutes. Sohu, Sohu, when did you become such cowards?

Green Dam may be dead, but censorship is clearly alive and well on the Chinese internet. Stepped up censorship from domestic portals (both microblogging and real blogging portals) is definitely a grave sign. On the other hand, there’s a chance the push could trigger a push back from netizens, just as the Green Dam software initiative did. Only time will tell, but feel free to speculate with me in the comments in the meantime.

You can also follow Liu Xiaoyuan via his Twitter.

Domestic Microblogs Cut Off from the Outside World

First there was what seemed to be a surprising amount of freedom on the Chinese microblogging sites that leapt up in the absence of Twitter and Fanfou. Then, this week ((Can’t see this story? Break through the GFW with a VPN from Freedur)), the four biggest microblogging services suddenly added “beta” tags to their logos, prompting Chinese users to collectively groan and brace for impact.

That impact has come, at least on Sina’s Weibo service. Links to any website outside China are now blocked. Reports of this new policy spread this afternoon via Twitter, and having tested it ourselves, we can confirm that it is true. As you can see from our Sina Weibo, we attempted to post five links. The first four were to innocuous and unblocked websites outside China, including a New York Times article and the Geico Insurance Company website. All four were converted into shortened links automatically, and when clicked, they returned only an error message. However, when we tested a fifth time using a domestic link (youku.com), the shortened URL worked fine and we were directed to the Youku.

So anything — anything — that isn’t on a Chinese website can no longer be linked via Sina Weibo. I’m not even going to comment on this one. Will it push more Chinese internet users outside the GFW in search of a microblogging experience that doesn’t pretend half of the internet doesn’t exist? Who knows.

Of course, as it means we can no longer post links to our blog (which is hosted outside China), we will no longer be using the service.

The Trouble with Predicting Earthquakes

A week or so ago, a reader sent us a suggested article for translation. It was an interview with Wang Chengmin, the government scientist who predicted the Tangshan earthquake in 1976. He reported his findings to more than sixty people, but was mostly ignored. One of the officials who did listen was Wang Chunqing, and the preparedness in his county resulted in a much higher survival rate than other counties, according to analyses.

Needless to say, after the Wenchuan earthquake, Wang Chengmin surfaced again, and in 2009, he gave an extensive interview, parts of which we’ve translated below:

Wang Chengmin on Predicting Earthquakes

On officials’ responses to warnings about earthquakes:

“After the Tangshan earthquake, the Director of the State Seismological Bureau Liu Yingyong said, “I should be getting ready to go to prison; I owe a blood debt to the people for this [i.e., failing to properly warn the people].” When he thought on it after the earthquake, he hadn’t supported the good things that could have been done before the quake hit, and that made him act like a responsible Party member and say that sentence. Now it’s worse than [the time of the] Tangshan [earthquake]. All this lot of new officials think about is how to deal with those above and below them [in the government]. So I say something true [about the probability of an earthquake], and eighty thousand people die, but even those lives can’t bring us a word of truth [from the government]. It’s very, very serious. Everywhere [the truth about quake warnings] is being suppressed. We tried to speak a bit, publish some essays, or communicate face to face, but everywhere […] we were refused. You can’t communicate, there’s no way to, they completely dodge everything.”

On talking about “the truth” in China:

“If you dare to persist in talking about the truth, you have to do it exactly right. If you go one step over the line from this “truth”, it becomes unbelievable. If you exaggerate the usefulness of forecasting [earthquakes] at all, it makes things difficult, it creates the opposite reaction [from what you want]. So you have to do it just right.”

Wang Chengmin goes on to stress that predicting earthquakes itself is a tricky business, and says that many of the people gloating about their successful prediction of the Wenchuan earthquake are not mentioning the many times before they have predicted earthquakes and nothing happened. And, he concedes, people don’t tend to be interested in the deeper scientific issues, so when someone correctly predicts an earthquake, they become a hero.

He also talks about the rift between the State Seismological Bureau and earthquake forecasters generally, and suggests there needs to be less hotheadedness about who got what right, and more sharing of experience that could help lower the proportion of false predictions. But he says that there were accurate reports that predicted the Wenchuan earthquake before it happened.

On why some earthquakes are accurately predicted and others aren’t, and why even when they are people sometimes don’t listen:

“Every person has different methods in earthquake prediction, so [if you’re an official looking at all of it], at the end of the day there’s a big pile of data on your table. It’s chaotic and contradictory, but a person or a group of people need to make policy decisions [based on it] […] what’s complex is that using the same methods, means, and instruments, two different people can get different results.”

Wang goes into some depth about the debates that occurred within the scientific community before the Wenchuan earthquake, as well as the Tangshan earthquake, and it’s an interesting read for anyone interested in seismology or earthquake prevention.

Zhao Shilong on the S.S.B. and the Qinghai Earthquake

Meanwhile, the Qinghai earthquake has once again brought attention upon the State Seismological Bureau, and journalist Zhao Shilong noted that their spending record had recently been announced publicly:

  • Earthquake forecasting: 2,700,000 RMB
  • Tracking the earthquake situation ((I’m not sure exactly what this refers to…)): 17,000,000 RMB
  • Supervising transmission of quake information: 50,120,000 RMB
  • Rental subsidies: 5,180,000 RMB
  • Housing fund: 71,660,000 RMB
  • House-purchasing subsidies: 86,780,000 RMB
  • Administration: 180,000,000 RMB
  • Internal functions ((Not 100% sure of this translation, 机构运行)): 2,100,000,000 RMB

Zhao writes,

“Just from this data we can analyize and see that all their expenses come from administration; earthquake prediction only accounts for 2,700,000 RMB out of the total 2,400,000,000 RMB budget [i.e., about 0.1% of their budget – ed.].

One could say that predicting earthquakes is the State Seismological Bureau’s most important job, [so their strategy should be] “using the best steel to make the knife’s blade”. But from their financial report, we can see that earthquake prediction has been marginalized and given an unimportant status, so in the end, the best steel wasn’t used on the blade. This is a corrupt and infringing administrative practice. [China’s] not being able to predict earthquakes doesn’t just come from a lack of technical skills, it comes from corrupt administrative practices that actively hinder the work of earthquake forecasting.

[…]

For example, a worker named Tu in the Shanxi Seismological Bureau predicted the earthquake in Yushu tens of hours before it occurred. But according to the internal operating procedures of the Seismological Bureau, you cannot use the phone or email to report, you must file it on an internal department card, then take a number and wait to mail it to a specialized department. At its fastest, this procedure can be completed in three days, so obviously if you make a report hours before a quake, bringing it into this kind of inefficient system is useless.

This is called “bureaucracy killing people”. If the conditions are right, the bureaucracy can kill people off like flies.

Not being an expert in science or funding scientific departments, I’ll keep my opinion to myself on this one. How likely is it that China can get to a point where earthquakes are consistently and accurately predicted far enough ahead of time that it has an effect on the death toll?

New on ChinaGeeks

  • There is a new post on ChinaGeeks Chinese, a translation of this post of ours. 在Twitter上疯传的白痴老外视频:种族主义和性别歧视? Check it out!
  • I also have an op-ed running in the Global Times today. The version that appears in print is, well, different from the one I submitted (ah, censorship!), and I’m not sure why each sentence is its own paragraph (readers in China, please tell me that’s just a website thing?) but check it out anyway because it’s my first publication in mainstream media thing like this, suckas!

The Fifty Cents Party Training Manual

This post has been making the rounds on the intertubes, the version we’re translating comes from Anti-CNN. It’s a satirical guide for prospective Fifty Cents Party members on the many methods they can use to respond to criticism:

fifty cents

Translation

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: The duck egg next door is even worse tasting, how could you not mention this?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Please make a constructive comment, if you’ve got talent then lay a better tasting egg yourself.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This egg was laid by an industrious, courageous, good, kind, honest, and upright chicken!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: It’s way better than last year’s egg.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: You grew up [by] eating this egg, what right do you have to say it tastes bad?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: What intentions are you harboring to make you say this?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: You criticize the eggs that come from your own chicken, are you or are you not Chinese?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Fuck, I suspect you are a “wheel” [liar, or probably more likely FLG member?].

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Just complaining is useless, if you have extra time you’d be better off working hard to earn money.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Taiwanese netizen, fuck off, we don’t welcome you here.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Aw, Youyou’s mentality is so gloomy, even has to grouse about bad-tasing eggs!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: The egg is bad because the hen who laid this egg was incited by some [bad] hens who can’t lay eggs.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This comment has already been screened by the moderator.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: So China’s eggs all taste bad, and America’s eggs all taste good? Traitor!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Taiwan’s eggs are good, go there why don’t you, see if you don’t get leveled by a nuclear bomb*

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: China’s eggs can already defeat America’s eggs, be proud!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: I won’t avoid eggs from the motherland no matter how bad they are!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: You dare to say the eggs from our chicken farm taste bad? What position are you speaking from?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Carrying a bowl to eat eggs, then putting down the chopsticks to curse, you don’t know what’s good for you, ungrateful, shameless and brazen!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Bad tasting eggs are a tiny minority, the majority of eggs are good, excellent, and stand up to testing!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This is a small group of criminals deceiving the unaware-of-the-truth masses!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This is having an ulterior motive and inciting [others], what are you trying to do?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: That is a rumor, I can responsibly say that all eggs are up to quality standards!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: There is no basis to this, I hope the media can report objectively!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: I think some people’s eggs aren’t that great, our eggs are five times better!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: The correct orientation is the happiness of our chicken farm, the erroneous orientation is the misfortune of our chicken farm.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Our chicken farm is still in the early stages, we must persist [on this course] for the next twenty years without wavering!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: We want to found a chicken farm with our own special characteristics, and have our hens lay eggs with their own special characteristics.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Although the taste is a bit worse, it has benefits for our health, if you import an American egg without authorization, your digestive system and stomach, perhaps even your entire endocrine system, will collapse. –Leftist Scholar of Reason

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: The chicken egg tasting bad is not related to the earthquake. –Earthquake expert

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: There are hostile foreign powers gossiping about our eggs without authorization —Liu Jianchao

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Chinese chickens, come on! –Patriotic youth

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Because of the Beijing customer willfully stirring up trouble and saying the egg is bad, we have gone to the capital twice to mediate, without result. –Shanghai police

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This is a recent rumor started by people on the internet.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: You are part of the small minority who is unaware of the truth, how could the egg taste bad?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: The nation is prosperous and the people are strong, why aren’t you just eating chicken meat?

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: No egg is perfect, so you have no right to gossip about this egg!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Whether eggs from the Qing dynasty tasted good or not, only people from the Qing dynasty know.

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: Think of the old society, poor people didn’t even have rice to eat, every day eating chaff and wild herbs, today’s happy life was paid for with the lives and blood of countless martyrs, you must treasure it!

Comment: This chicken egg tastes disgusting.
Response: This is the first stage of chickens laying eggs, if you want to eat good eggs you must wait until the higher stage, this early stage is a very long process.

*Not sure how to translate the last part of this sentence, “看不核平了你”. And of course, the real harmonious comment would be that the egg tastes yakexi!

Yakexi: The New Year’s Hottest Internet Slang?

Recently, the Chinese internet has been abuzz with the term yakexi [亚克西]. According to a post on Baidu’s Baike, yakexi is the Uyghur word for good. The word has been in general use as a brand name for some time now, but it took on new meaning at this year’s Spring Festival Gala, where one of the performances was a song called “The Party’s Policies are yakexi“. Many netizens, finding the song to be excessive in its praises, have taken to mocking it and the word yakexi itself. More on this below, but first, the source material:

Click here to view a video of the performance on Tudou (now part of it is also on Youtube via Radio Free Asia). Here is a rough translation of the lyrics (the chorus bit in bold):

“The Party’s Policies are yakexi

http://www.tudou.com/v/EoflvnnP1U8

Memet I am happy today,
Overtaking a donkey, heading to the city,
New products on my back,
And money inside,
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.

Farmers work the land their whole lives,
Paying taxes is reasonable,
Nowadays the nation has abolished the agricultural tax,
Sunlight warms the bottom of [our] hearts,
(The nation abolished the agricultural tax, yakexi!)
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.

I have labored from when I was young and can’t read,
I couldn’t raise the money for my children’s tuition,
Nowadays primary and middle schools don’t require tuition,
Children can happily attend school,
(Primary and middle schools don’t require tuition, yakexi!)
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.

All through the year in all kinds of weather,
When you get sick you worry helplessly,
Nowadays cooperative health care has been established in rural areas,
Ensuring health and a sound body,
(Cooperative health care has been established in rural areas, yakexi!)
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.

In the past we built houses with mud-bricks,
And could only raise chickens in bamboo-walled huts,
Nowadays the government provides relief funding,
Quake-proof homes arise from the flat ground,
(The government provides relief funding, yakexi!)
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.

Our uncle Memet,
He is increasingly well-off,
These days things are a little strange,
What to buy with all this money?

[After the song, there was a brief speaking portion, which we won’t translate here. You get the picture.]

The Big Yakexi Art Competition

Han Han, never one to miss an opportunity to be snarky, has responded to the skit by calling for a competition to commemorate the word he says could replace “Grass Mud Horse” as this year’s internet meme of choice. From his blog:

The rules of the Big Yakexi Art Competition are thus: aside from the “What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah, The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi” part, contestants have free reign to alter the other parts [of the song]. Entrants must register and post their names as a reply to this post. There will be a grand prize (5000 RMB), a second prize (3000 RMB), and a jury prize (2000 RMB). All prizes will be payed by me personally, and the winners will be published on this blog and in [my] magazine Solo Chorus. My blog will also link yours, and establish a formal friendship.

Han Han is also searching for judges. Submissions so far are exactly what you’d expect, with many commenters parroting the chorus and replacing the verses with ones like this one by 龙卷风:

Housing prices are high,
Bad housing [situations] are widespread,
The people’s lives have again become an abyss of suffering,
What is yakexi, what is yakexi, ah
The CPC Central Committee’s policies are yakexi.
Tuition is high,
Studies are wasted,
College students live lives of debauchery…

But, as commenter 兰汐 noted, the contest won’t be easy to win:

As soon as I saw that yakexi means “good”, and the rule that you can’t change the chorus, [I felt] that really raises the difficulty level!

When the contest concludes and the winners are chosen, you’re sure to hear about it: Han Han has an army of hundreds of thousands of readers, so the winners will likely be good. In the meantime, we hope everyone’s New Year was even more yakexi than the Party’s policies!

Twitter: Is it a Trap?

Twitter has been a boon for the Chinese dissident community. It is, in essence, an open forum outside the reach of GFW censorship. It is a place where Tan Zuoren’s sentence can be spread through an entire community within a couple minutes of it being handed down, a place where Ai Weiwei can respond to that sentence by saying “F*ck your mother!” over and over again without fear of being censored. But is it, as the great Admiral Ackbar would say, a trap?

Twitter is outside the Great Firewall, but the fact that authorities cannot censor it does not mean that they cannot see it, monitor it, or use what people say on it as evidence against them. In fact, I think it’s fair to assume Chinese authorities are monitoring Twitter. The fact that it is blocked in the first place means they’re very aware of what it can be used for, and they’re certainly not likely to ignore that.

Furthermore, the very nature of outside-the-GFW micro-blogging (and you can add Google Buzz to the list of services like that Chinese dissidents are using, at least for the moment) provides a pretty unprecedented opportunity for would-be prosecutors to compile evidence of thoughtcrime. Here is a service that suggests you publish your every thought to the public, where it is then preserved forever (nothing is ever really deleted on the internet). At best, it encourages banality en masse, but at worst it’s a huge data aggregator about the opinions and contacts of many of China’s dissidents. If hacking Ai Weiwei’s gmail wasn’t enough, Twitter provides them up-to-the minute updates on Ai’s thoughts, and a tangible list of people whose ideas he finds interesting enough to follow. And to get this information, they don’t need to do anything more than type in a URL. No hacking required.

Some of you, no doubt, are already accusing me of paranoia. After all, Twitter doesn’t publish Ai’s thoughts (or anyone’s thoughts) unless they type them up somewhere and hit send, but I do believe there is still a point to be made. Writing is a process, and even writing something as short as a blog requires sitting down for a moment and, presumably, reflecting a little bit on one’s ideas, how they should be worded, and whether or not they should be published at all. Of course, you can do that with your Twitter, just as you can type and post without any reflection whatsoever on a blog, but Twitter systemically encourages constant updating, which, to my mind, greatly increases the possibility that one posts something stupid, incorrect, or dangerous without giving it the proper reflection first.

We haven’t heard much about tweets used as evidence against dissidents in criminal cases yet, but given Twitter’s popularity in the dissident community, and the other types of electronic evidence cited in recent cases like Tan Zuoren’s, how far away can the day be when someone is convicted of “inciting to subvert state power” for something they said via their Twitter account?

I want to know what you think, though: Is Twitter any more dangerous than blogging, or are we being paranoid technophobes?

(Note, also, that Google Buzz seems to be even more problematic. Absurdity, Allegory, and China wrote a great post about it, and has also noted that given the way it violates all kinds of privacy regulations, Google is probably about to get its face sued off.)