Category Archives: Translations

Translation: Guixi Orphanage Implicated in Re-Selling of Babies

The following is a translation of this article from Rights-Defender Online and republished on Shenzhen Information Online (as well as elsewhere). This obviously relates somewhat to our film (which you’ll get to see sometime this year), but it also relates to a long-form article I’m working on about how child trafficking in China relates to international adoption that should be available sometime later this month.

Jiangxi, Guixi Orphanage Revealed to Be Suspected of Infant Trafficking

Recently there have been many reported leads, indicating that specific leaders at the Jiangxi Province Guixi Social Welfare Institute and the local Ministry of Civil Affairs have conspired to falsify [records] and are involved in corruption. Even more serious, the social welfare institute [hereafter, SWI] has sold a number of adoptive children at high prices for profit.

Our source reports that the Guixi SWI divides its income into [donations from] infant adoptions, donations from society, government funding, etc., but the income and expenditures reported obviously do not match up. Beginning in 1995 some overseas families began adopting children from this SWI, and each adoption requires a donation of 30,000 to 40,000 RMB. Each year at least 50-60 and sometimes 70-80 children were adopted but the money from these adoptions is nowhere to be found.

From a report titled “Guixi SWI Infant Fostering Situation” it is clear that each year dozens of children were adopted, most of them by parents from outside China, and this report details the names, nannies’ names, birthdates, and adoption dates of these children.

This material shows that the SWI’s “infant director” Hou Shuying is the sister-in-law of the former Guixi Ministry of Civil Affairs director Wu Xiaojing. In 2001, after Director Wu Xiaojing had placed Hou Shuying in an administrative position at the SWI, whenever Hou Shuying picked up an infant from the hospital to bring to the SWI she would demand 1000 RMB, a sum that was later raised to 7000 RMB. Our source explains that most of these babies were not actually found by Hou Shuying, but rather brought to her by an SWI medical office worker named Peng Haiju. Peng’s husband was the director of the medical accident department of the Guixi department of sanitation […] Our source suspects that they were all communicating with each other and collaborating in order to sell children.

According to documents provided by the source, in 1996 the SWI built a “recovery center,” a 2,300 square meter building that actually cost 1 million RMB to build, but was reported by the SWI as having cost nearly 3 million RMB. In 1997, renovations on the “infant department” […] that should have cost about 100,000 RMB were falsely reported by the SWI as costing 400,000 RMB. In 2002, a Canadian philathropic organization built a new infant department of 400 square meters, which cost more than 400,000 RMB but was reported as costing more than 800,000 RMB by the SWI. In 2003, apartments for the elderly were renovated at a cost of around 800,000 RMB, but the SWI reported the cost as 1.5 million RMB.

A knowledgable source who did not wish to reveal his/her name said that the Guixi SWI does so much falsification and fraud that even the cafeteria’s books aren’t clean. According to a cafeteria report document provided by the source, “public recruitment/holiday extra meals” were reported repeatedly, “other fees” were directly falsified, and thousands of RMB were being spend each month on “buying beer.”

The source says that the workers at the SWI are not only involved in corruption, they are also abusing the handicapped children. In order to reduce the SWI’s workload, the orphanage only kept two special needs children, so if additional handicapped children arrived, they would place the more deformed ones in a corner to starve to death, and then call the coroner to cremate the body. If this source is accurate, this behavior is truly horrifying.

The Guixi SWI’s first director Wang Qing and second director Lv Jianming are both employees of the Guixi civil affairs office, along with the current SWI vice-director Yang Dong.Our source says that Yang Dong has also simultaneously held the position of office administrator for the past decade, is responsible for all kinds of [the Guixi SWI’s] services, and is very clear on the SWI’s finances, because each expense report check requires the signature of the director and vice-director.

After these allegations were first reported, investigator Yao Zhengyi [the author of this article] once called together media reporters and legal experts to investigate the issue, and on January 9, 2013 called the Guixi SWI vice-director Yang Dong to confirm the details. Yang Dong said that he was in Nanchang for professional development and that he would pass the report along to his boss. But our source reveals that actually vice-director Yang was not in Nanchang, but rather, was at a friend’s house drinking beer, and he had never gone to Nanchang in the first place.

On Jan 16, 2013, this reporter called the Guixi Civil Affairs bureau, and workers there said they didn’t know abything about the situation, and further said that [Civil Affairs] director Li Xinwen was out at a meeting.

This investigator’s report has already been submitted to the Jiangxi province Ministry of Civil Affairs. As if this writing, the Ministry has not given any response.

Follow-up Post

A follow-up post written by the same author as the article above and posted to a Chinese BBS forum reports that provincial authorities had visited the orphanage to investigate. However:

Last night at 10 PM I got another call from the anonymous source, saying that after the working groups from the Guixi civil affairs bureau and the SWI had been investigated, the evidence of baby-selling was to be burned.

Translation: ‘How to Break the Cycle of Black Jails’

Caixin’s recent package of stories (which I came across via the indispensable Sinocism) includes this opinion piece by professor Yu Jianrong. He’s a bit light on actual solutions aside from the usual (totally reform everything), but if nothing else, the piece is an excellent exposition of exactly why the petition system “works” the way it does.

How to Break the Vicious Cycle of ‘Intercepting Petitioners’

“Intercepting petitioners” refers to local officials using various measures to intercept people attempting to petition at the [provincial] or central offices and forcibly taking them back to their hometowns. In China’s current political climate, the intercepting of petitioners has long been an open secret, an “unwritten rule” of petition office stability management work, an uncivilized but tacitly accepted rule for government work, and an important part of the job of those who “greet petitioners.” Whenever the two congresses or National Day or some other “sensitive” time rolls around, many additional ‘petitioner interception’ workers come to Beijing to intercept petitioners from their local area to prevent petitioners from staying in Beijing and increasing the number of complaints about their locale on the record.

Reality shows us that there are three main downsides to these petitioner-intercepting activities: first, there is a high economic cost, and this has already become a heavy burden on some local governments, especially lower-level governments. Sometimes, the money it takes to intercept a petitioner would be enough money to actually solve the petitioner’s problem.

The second is that intercepting petitioners has serious political consequences; it violates the petitioners’ basic rights, directly cuts out the petitioning system, and has a definite draining effect on national legitimacy. What’s even more serious is that some local governments have made the ‘petitioner intercepting’ system even more effective by giving “perks” to provincial and central petition office authorities in return for information about local petitioners that makes it easier to intercept them. So, even if a petitioner has entered the petition office and registered their complaint, it’s possible to change what’s on the register by spending money. This is not only brazenly preventing information from reaching the highest-level authorities and deceiving the central [government], it is also creating a new source of corruption within the system itself.

The third is that because of petitioner-intercepting activities, the rulers’ attempts to eliminate social conflicts via the petitioning system are ineffective, and [petitioner-intercepting] can even become a source of new social conflicts. Petitioners are the ones who most directly bear the consequences of petitioner-intercepting; in their attempts to evade the pursuit of local government interceptors, some are ruined in the process, and when they finally reach Beijing or the provincial capital and then [still] get intercepted, they have no one left to turn to. And more horribly, some petitioners are beaten, detained, or even sent to reeducation through labor (劳教). For this reason, although intercepting petitioners temporarily reduces the number of petitioners in Beijing or at provincial petition offices, protecting the “social stability” of the capital or provincial cities, but it cannot address the roots of the problem, and instead it just creates more conflict.

‘Meeting petitioners’ and ‘intercepting petitioners’ ((“Meeting” and “Intercepting” are both pronounced “jie” so this is sort of a play on words)) are both important reflections of the variation in today’s national petitioning system. Petition officers and officials, local governments, and the central government all participate, using the system as a platform for a kind of game in which they attempt to maximize their own interests. But because of this they have fallen into problems [like the three Yu just listed and those below], this can be called the ‘petitioning paradox.’

First of all, there are the many predicaments the central government level [authorities] have already run into. When the CCP first established its regime, the highest-level policymakers created the petition system, with many political goals including deepening the regime’s legal legitimacy, resolving severe social problems, implementing policy and social mobilization, and also controlling lower-level officials in an unconventional way. However, after its establishment, a serious consequence was that problems began to pile up at the central level. In 1963, the Central Committee and the State Council admitted this problem in “Announcement regarding strengthening petitioning work,” and called on provincial level political and Party organs to strengthen their guidance, saying that local level organizations should do their best to resolve problems locally. From then on, methods for investigating responsibility for petition complaints became more and more complex, and more and more severe. The central government was trying to use pressure on local political and party organizations to stem the flow of petitioners coming to Beijing and increase the effectiveness and realize the goals of the petition system.

However, for the sake of their own political interests, local governments used all kinds of methods to alleviate the pressure coming from the central government, which created a shift away from the actual goals of the petitioning system and which has ultimately resulted in a shift of the pressure back to central authorities. The central government wants problems resolved at the grassroots level, meaning that it hopes the local government will actually solve the petitioner’s complaint, but after levels and levels of pressure, the biggest result is that the local government wants to use whatever methods it can to prevent petitioners from registering in Beijing.

Strict pursuit of the responsibility for petition complaints has forced local governments at all levels to make the number of petitioners into an important indicator of performance, so the blame is passed downwards, so local authorities intercept petitioners and bribe officials to reduce the number of petitions on file, and even detain petitioners and sentence them or their associates to forced labor or even jail time to suppress the number of petitioners. It’s not that the local government doesn’t want to resolve the actual problem; some problems are caused by the local government’s poor conduct or lack of action, and others are caused by central government policies that really can’t be controlled by the local government. Illogical power structures and twisted mechanisms of reward encourage local officials to choose the simple and crude methods of enforcement, often creating greater resentment [in the process] and even giving some irrational petitioners a real reason to complain after they have been beaten up.

Petition officials can completely recognize the conflicts and pressures between local and central authorities described above; they use these pressures and conflicts to protect their own interests, even gaining benefits outside of the system, that becomes a rational choice. Because of this, the more oppressive local governments are towards petitioners, the greater the power of the petitioners is. Many people believe the logic of this industry is whatever the opponent (the local government) fears is what you should do. They not only persist in going to Beijing to petition, they endeavor to use all sorts of unusual methods to petition, for example going to embassies and consulates, visiting the housing of government leaders, and even extreme methods like jumping into rivers or self-immolating, creating more political pressure.

The result is that as local governments use even more severe methods to deal with petitioners, the complaints of petitioners become more extreme, creating a vicious cycle.Because of this, the petitioning system has gone from useless to harmful; from reducing pressure to actively increasing it.

If you want to completely resolve the mess of petitioner-intercepting and break the vicious cycle described above, the short-term solution is to give party and government departments at every level less pressure and to untie the petition system. After that, legal reforms would need to strengthen the emergency powers granted to judicial authorities and use the judicial system to clear up old cases. In the long-term, there will need to be radical political changes that completely reform the petition system.

Specifically, it would be possible to collect the currently scattered resources of the petition system under the auspices of all levels of the People’s Congress and use that to oversee things. This would not only give the petition office a new body of authority, it would also give it the necessary accountability, and at the same time help move People’s Congress delegates towards full-time duties and create a new substantial condition [for being an NPC delegate].

Fundamentally, only with political reform and establishing a government with powers that are weighed and controlled, with an independent and fair judiciary, with mechanisms for the democratic election of representatives, and with organizations and channels for all levels of society to voice their interests can there arise an equal and harmonious modern society.

The Struggle of 15-Year-Old Hukou Protester Zhan Haite

A 15-year-old girl has made waves in the Chinese press recently for her fight against Shanghai authorities after she was banned from taking the high-school entrance examination because she does not hold a Shanghai hukou (household registration). She and her family have experienced harassment from locals and authorities as a result of their advocacy.

From Zhan Haite’s op-ed in the China Daily:

I’d been preparing for the high school entrance exam on June 16 and, although we didn’t have much hope, my parents and I never gave up talking to Shanghai’s education commission. I wanted to take that exam, same as my classmates at junior high and thousands of other Shanghai students.

I wasn’t doing badly at junior high, and I believed I could get into a good high school in Shanghai if I was able to take the exam.

All hope disappeared on June 7, coincidently the first day of this year’s gaokao (national college entrance exam). We were told I was not able to take the exam this year by the education commission.

I was desperate and I wanted to seek help from the public, so the week before the exam I set up an account on Sina Weibo using my real name.

The Internet is an efficient platform to speak out and gain support. My mother was against it, as she was worried I might be attacked by malicious netizens. But our family is open-minded and she respected my decision.

I started telling my story on Sina Weibo and received many words of support that encouraged me in my fight to defend my rights.

It was inspiring when celebrities such as Yuan Weishi and Shi Shusi forwarded my posts. They backed me up. I was not alone.

There were many disagreements, and I’ve received many comments from Beijing and Shanghai residents against the children of migrant workers taking the exam with their children. Some talked in a disrespectful way, which I was not happy about, but I tried to talk to them and persuade them to think about equality.

“Disagreements” is a mild way of putting it. Zhan and her family have been beng harassed. From an article about her in the Economic Observer:

15-year-old Zhan Haite has already been out of school for half a year, but in addition to studying English and Math on her own, she has been keeping busy helping her parents deal with all kinds of harassment. Recently, on November 28, an official from the local family planning commission came to the family’s home; “Someone called and complained that [the Zhan family] was preparing to have another child, so [the official] came to investigate whether we really were planning another birth,” Zhan Haite recalled.

Zhan says that this kind of baseless complaint is common harassment from locals who dislike that the family is ‘stirring up trouble’ by advocating that migrants be allowed to attend Shanghai schools. And the harassment directed at her isn’t just coming from locals. The official response to Zhan’s case hasn’t been much warmer.

After ‘dropping out’ of school, in addition to studying high school content on her own, Zhan Haite has sometimes gone along with her father to petition [the government]. The more they went, the more hopeless she became. Every time the answer was the same, and later after writing several letters to Shanghai authorities and having [the case] transferred to the education committee, the official response was just as cold.

(In fact, Zhan Haite’s father was even detained by the Shanghai police recently, although it appears that as of this morning he has been released or at least has come to an agreement of some kind with them).

So Zhan has been pleading her case on Weibo. She now has nearly 10,000 followers on Sina Weibo, and she and her family were even invited to do a Q&A session on Tencent Weibo. Unfortunately, before the Q&A took place, someone decided it wasn’t a good idea and shut it down. One of Zhan’s most recent Weibo posts reads, “The authorities have ordered us to shut down [the Q&A], I’m sorry.” The text is followed by the image of a heart breaking.

To [Zhan Haite], being blocked on Weibo is a common occurrence. “Either they say I have touched on sensitive topics of they say I have been reported, and there are too many complaints about me,” she said. As she sees it, all of this is done by the “skinheads,” a name she has used to refer to [anti-migrant Shanghainese] since a group of Shanghinese youngsters posing as maintenance staff came to Zhan’s apartment and threatened [the family].

Zhan’s weibo has also attracted some harsh comments from locals, some of whom present arguments about her family’s legal status and others of whom just sling violent slurs like “stupid cunt” at her.

Still, it may be telling that this incident has gotten so much attention in the Chinese press. Experts seem to agree that the hukou system has outstayed its welcome, and the media’s fixation on Zhan may help to push for reforms. Of course, it also helps that Zhan Haite seems to be quite an articulate girl; her case is not at all unique but it isn’t too difficult to understand why the media has fixated on her for the moment.

Additionally, though, Zhan may be an interesting example of what I might term the “dissidentification” of Chinese protesters. I have noticed and mentioned before how people frustrated with a specific issue in China seem to eventually become protesters and advocates in a more broad sense. Six months ago, Zhan was just a student, and shortly after that, she was just an opponent of Shanghai’s hukou policy. Now, though, her self-description on Sina Weibo beginss thusly:

A young citizen, a warrior for freedom, on the vanguard for democracy.

True, Zhan’s focus of discussion has remained mostly on hukou-related issues. But that language — and the fact that she chose to put all of that before mentioning hukous specifically when describing herself — is definitely interesting. I’m now following her on Weibo and will be interested to see if she becomes an advocate in other arenas as well as time goes on (that is, if she can keep her weibo account from getting blocked).

Translation: “Inexplicably Made Happy”

Here are the results of a recent survey that has been passed around in China; “The Happiest Professions in the Eyes of the People.” (It’s not clear how many people participated.)

  1. Public servants
  2. Government officials
  3. Teachers
  4. Artists
  5. Executives
  6. Self-employed
  7. Bankers
  8. Actors
  9. Pilots
  10. Entrepreneurs

(The list goes on from there, but the first couple are really all that’s relevant here).

From Southern Weekend, “Inexplicably Made Happy” ((This title uses a Chinese construction that’s tough to translate sometimes; the use of 被 in front of a verb to indicate someone is being forced to do something, or that the government is saying someone is doing something they actually aren’t. Here, it’s 被幸福, the implication being that the subject has been decreed to be happy even though they actually aren’t.)):

Recently a survey called “The Happiest Professions in the Eyes of the People” has been being passed around. I couldn’t help but feel curious when I saw it. Government officials are public servants, so how did “public servants” and “government officials” get the number one and number two spots on the list?

I also couldn’t help but think of my classmate Ah Fan, who holds a provincial-level official position making 2,600 RMB a month [$412]. Ah Fan hasn’t experienced the so-called high life [of officials]. High housing prices have forced his whole family to squeeze into a shantytown. The guy renting the place next door dropped out of middle school and went to work making doors and windows of aluminim alloy; he makes 8,000 RMB a month [$1,269]. The comparison horrifies Ah Fan, but the neighbor is very respectful of Ah Fan and often tells his children that Ah Fan is a role model. This only deepens Ah Fan’s sense of guilt; he doesn’t dare admit his real salary to the neighbor.

What is happiness? Some say it’s having enough not to worry about material life, and lacking burdens so you can enjoy a spiritual life. How can Ah Fan, who hasn’t achieved either of these, become a happy person?


Housekeeping announcement: I’m getting sick of my own opinions, and I get the impression some of you are getting sick of reading them too, so no more. We’re going back to basics; from now on ChinaGeeks will just be translations, with maybe a little analysis from time to time. I will also be cross-posting future 2Non.org articles here so that people have a place to comment on them if they want.

Speaking of 2Non, we need your help to and support to continue producing these articles and to continue paying for film festival applications for Living with Dead Hearts. Everybody says they want content like this, so if you like what we’re doing, please show your support with a tax-deductible donation.

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.)

“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.

Leaking State Secrets is Way Easier Than You Think

In the midst of the Chen Guangcheng story exploding, I came across this story ((Apologies, I don’t remember where I first saw it, probably via someone on Twitter)). It is not related to Chen Guangcheng, but it is so absurd that I thought it was worth sharing (and it’s been too long since we ran a translation anyway).

Translation: Fujian Man Sentenced for Filming Secret Military Plane

Mr. Huang, a disabled man from Yongtai, didn’t listen to the warnings of passers-by, and filmed and uploaded video of a military aircraft at the Jixu airport. Little did he know he was violating the law. Several days ago, the Yongtai Country Court found Huang guilty of intentionally leaking national secrets and sentenced him to one year and two months in prison, with a suspended sentence of 1.5 years.

In August of 2009, Huang was driving his cart to Cangshan district, to visit his son who was working in Huangshan. As he drove past Yixu airfield, he got curious, and used a digital camera to film an Yixu road sign, the airfield, and several military planes. As he was filming, a pedestrian warned him: “You can’t film that, they’ll arrest you,” but Huang didn’t care, and kept filming, in total filming for over one minute.

After he returned to Yongtai, he put the video onto his public [QQ, probably] space online, and titled the video: “On the way to Huangshan, Fuzhou, I passed Yixu airport military planes, and got very excited seeing them up close, because it was my first time seeing a plane, so I filmed them…” He also wrote: “I am not a spy!” Before it was deleted by the relevant organs, this video was viewed more than 15,000 times.

This video was appraised by the Air Force’s Fuzhou secrecy committee, and found three classified items and three secret items, constituting serious breaches of national and military security.

The Yongtai Court held that the accused Mr. Huang had violated regulations in the Protecting National Secrets Law, as he clearly knew that his video of Yixu airport related to classified military secrets, yet he still distributed it via the internet, which is serious enough to be considered intentional dissemination of state secrets. In light of his confession, his expression of regret, and his disability, the court handed down the aforementioned sentence.

Comments

Now, it goes without saying that Mr. Huang certainly had some opportunities to avoid his predicament here, but I still find it ridiculous. Warnings from a random pedestrian or no, was it so irrational for Huang to assume that secret military vehicles might be kept somewhere that isn’t visible to anyone passing by on the road? Might the authorities at least have posted a sign that said “No Photography” or something? Railroading some poor farmer who got excited at seeing army planes seems like a poor way to protect national security. I’m not a general ((Yes, my name is Custer, har har shut up.)) or anything, but if those planes were important military secrets, maybe they should be hidden? If a disabled man can stumble across them on his way to somewhere totally different, how secret could they really be?

The story reminds me of my own most recent brush with this kind of illogical mentality. Several weeks ago, I went to one of the Beijing offices that deals with petitioners to get a pickup shot for our film. It’s totally tangential, and I just needed a shot of the building, from the street, for a couple seconds — just enough to show that the place exists. Predictably, though, my footage was spiced up by a plainclothes officer who came running over and explained to me that I couldn’t take any pictures of the building because it was a national organ, and therefore a secret.

Of course I’m grateful that he was kind enough to turn that boring footage into something a bit more interesting, but the logic behind this baffles me. We’re talking about a gigantic building with a clear sign labeling what it is in the middle of one of the most populous cities on earth. It’s clearly labeled in online maps. It has its own official website. What damage could an exterior photograph of the building possibly do?

That’s not the point, of course. It’s all about control, not logic.

Chen Guangcheng Escapes, But Chilling Signs for His Family

For those of you who live in the wrong hemisphere or don’t have a Twitter account, here’s the big news: Chen Guangcheng has escaped. According to activists, he is now somewhere “100% safe” in Beijing, though it’s not clear where. There has been some speculation that he might be inside some embassy; so far, the US Embassy has declined to comment and as far as I’m aware no one else has been asked.

The news of Chen’s escape is fantastic, and it’s important to note here that since Chen was released from prison years ago, there’s nothing illegal about this “escape”. The fact is that Chen and his family were being held illegally, and talk of Chen’s “escape” implies he’s guilty of some crime or evading the law in a way that might be misleading. But Chen is free, reportedly, and that’s a good thing. It should have been true years ago.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Chen’s family, who are mostly incommunicado. Most concerning is the story of Chen Kegui, Guangcheng’s nephew. Yaxue Cao has written an excellent post and interviewed Chen for Seeing Red in China, so I highly recommend you read his full remarks there, but the short version of the story is this: Last night, thugs who did not identify themselves as police burst into Kegui’s home and began beating people. Kegui grabbed two kitchen knives to defend himself with, and probably after slashing some of them, scared the assailants away. Then, terrified, he called the police to turn himself in. While he was waiting for the police, he spoke with Yaxue Cao, and described his situation as clear-cut self defense. (If you speak Chinese, I highly recommend listening to the audio recording of this conversation).

Chillingly, the local government has since released this short news bulletin on the incident, via the Yi’nan County People’s Government Public Information Net:

On April 26, Dongshigu village resident Chen Kegui injured local government officials and staff workers with knives. At present, Chen Kegui has fled, the injured parties are being treated, and the local public security organs are on the hunt for Chen Kegui. The relevant parties will be dealt with according to the law.

That’s the entire report. Unsurprisingly, it mentions nothing of Chen Kegui’s motivations, or that the incident occurred within Chen’s home, which the cadres had entered violently and without warrants. Mentions of this report seem to be being deleted from Sina Weibo, but that likely doesn’t mean much. These will likely be deleted soon, but comments are pouring in on Sohu’s reposting of this story, and they seem overwhelmingly skeptical of the government’s official story, and very supportive of Chen Kegui:

Why would he stab them, why would a commoner want to go stab them, release the facts.

How can you not mention Chen Guangcheng? Please release the location and motive for this incident.

Why would he stab them? Please reveal the truth….

Too bad he didn’t stab them to death.

News items need to have some key elements. A news story like this, without head or tail [missing important details], is obviously covering something up, there’s no way for people to believe it. Does everyone believe in rumors? Because from the completeness of this story, it looks like most rumors are much more thorough than the official reports.

Sohu, please leave the comments up so that the officials in Shandong can see: the people [Chinese people] aren’t that easy to trick.

You’d better release the truth soon, or everyone will just hop the wall [circumvent the GFW] and find out even more truth, and that would be bad!

Is this [Chen Kegui] the hero of legend?

Good, stab these dogfucking rural cadres to death.

Well done citizen, I support you.

You [Chen Kegui] must stay safe. The common people won’t rat you out. These cadres are a band of tyrant thugs.

This is a true hero! The people support you!

Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, it’s clear from the report that the local government has already deemed that Chen’s actions were not in self-defense. It’s also probable that they’re lying about Chen Kegui having fled, as Chen himself says he called the police and was waiting for them while talking to Yaxue Cao. (And, indeed, fugitives intending to flee arrest don’t generally stop for half an hour to give phone interviews).

So, help from the local government is out of the question. Without intervention by some higher authority, Chen Kegui has no hope for justice. And Chen Guangcheng’s other family members may not be much better off, as they remain in Dongshigu village and reporters and activists haven’t been able to get in touch with them.

Will a higher authority intervene? Chen Guangcheng has already posted a video appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao on Youtube, and it has even been making the rounds on Chinese social media sites, although copies of the video are deleted swiftly when they’re discovered. But if the past ten years have taught us anything, it’s that Wen Jiabao talks a good game when it comes to political and legal reform, but he doesn’t do much of anything.

I will be following this situation as closely as possible in the coming days and weeks, and I strongly urge members of the foreign press as well as foreign diplomats to look into the case of Chen Kegui and find out what is happening to the other members of Chen Guangcheng’s family. The media spotlight will not necessarily help, but if the Linyi government is allowed to pursue its own interests in the Chen Kegui case without any sort of oversight, Chen is well and truly screwed.

(Side note: Now might be as good a time as any to remind readers that American film company Relativity Media has cooperated with Linyi officials, despite full knowledge of Chen Guangcheng’s situation, to film the buddy comedy 21 and Over in Linyi. Relativity Media should absolutely be held accountable for its cooperation with these people.)

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.

Han Han and the “Suzhi” Argument

You may have missed it with the holidays, but Han Han celebrated with a trio of essays (“On Revolution”, “On Democracy”, and “On Freedom”) that got lots of people talking. Certainly, you should check out ESWN’s translations of all three essays; John Kennedy’s translations of various comments from Chinese thought leaders for Global Voices is also very worth a read. Finally, if you’re the podcast-listening sort, you can listen to me discussing these essays with Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn, Gady Epstein, and Edward Wong in the latest episode of the Sinica podcast.

Here, I want to ignore most of Han Han’s essay and focus on the germ of one particular argument that he uses which I find to be particularly unconvincing. But first, the obligatory disclaimers: I agree with Han Han in his general assertion that a violent revolution tomorrow would be a disaster for China. His arguments beyond that are harder for me to get on board with, but I want to discuss only one here and now, the suzhi [素质] argument.

Suzhi is a Chinese term that means roughly “quality” or “character” and often refers to people in specific or the characteristics of a type of person in general. In the context of discussions of democracy in China, the “suzhi argument” is essentially this: the Chinese people as a whole are not qualified for democracy; their suzhi level is not high enough, and thus any attempts at democracy would be unsuccessful.

All kinds of evidence has been trotted out in favor of this argument, which is espoused primarily by Chinese pro-government commentators. Most foreigners, even those who agree with the general sentiment about democracy in China, wouldn’t dream of advancing this argument for fear of being labeled racist. Such labels would not be entirely unfair, and in fact, even Chinese purveyors of this viewpoint have often met with a harsh blowback of angry public opinion. Jackie Chan learned this the hard way.

In any event, rather than talking about it in the abstract, let’s look at Han Han’s arguments about suzhi in particular. At the end of his first piece, “On Revolution”, Han Han writes:

Revolution and democracy are two terms. These two terms are completely different. A revolution gives no guarantee for democracy. We proved this already. History gave China an opportunity, and our current situation is the result of the choice of our forebears. Today, China is the least likely nation in the world to have a revolution. At the same time, China is the nation which needs reform the most in the world. If you insist on asking me about the best timing for revolution in China, I can only say that when Chinese car drivers know to turn off their high beam lights when they pass each other, we can safely proceed with the revolution.

Such a country does not need any revolution. When the civic quality [suzhi] and educational level of the citizens reach a certain standard, everything will happen naturally.

Later, in “On Democracy”, he writes:

The poorer the quality [suzhi] of the citizens, the lesser the importance of the intellectuals […] The quality [suzhi] of the citizens will not prevent democracy from arriving, but it can determine its [democracy’s] quality.

In “On Freedom”, the term suzhi does not appear at all.

It’s interesting that in his original essays, Han treats the “poor quality” of Chinese citizens as essentially a given, without offering a whole lot of evidence to back up that claim. Nor does he really support the assertion that a “poor quality” people make for a poor quality democracy.

Perhaps in response to challenges on this issue, after posting it, Han Han actually expanded on his second essay (“On Democracy”) in a paragraph that Soong didn’t translate, presumably because Han Han added it after Soong had already completed his translation and moved on ((that’s just a guess)). We can’t very well proceed without a translation of that section, though, so here you go:

Adding on an additional question, with regards to suzhi and democracy, people say to me: I’ve been to developed countries and beyond the appearance of suzhi on the surface, people’s natures are the same [as Chinese people’s], so only a good system can guarantee a high level of suzhi [for a country’s people].

I answer: I completely agree. But we’re talking about superficial suzhi. Don’t underestimate the importance of superficial suzhi just because the underlying nature of people is whatever it is. The quality of a democracy is determined by the superficial suzhi of its people. When someone turns off their high beams, it may appear that they’re courteous and respect social mores, but then in discussion with them [you may discover] they are weak, greedy, selfish, narrow-minded…so what about that? There’s no meaning in discussing suzhi and human nature together. Of course American and Chinese people have more or less the same essential natures, human nature is more or less the same the world over. So what we have here is a chicken-and-egg question: is it that first a nation’s people have a good suzhi and then comes the good system [of government], or does the system come first? There’s actually no doubt, at times when a good system can be made, it should be guaranteed to be made regardless of [the people’s] suzhi because a good [political] system is long-lasting, wide-spreading, and real, whereas suzhi is empty.

The problem is that during times when a good system can’t be created for whatever reasons, we can’t be waiting around for one to drop from the sky before we start working on anything else, otherwise even a good suzhi isn’t necessary [for democracy], it’s slow-moving and not necessarily effective. There are two ways that good systems and good democracy arise; one is where there is a day of commemoration ((i.e., democracy arrived swiftly and suddenly, likely after the overthrow of the previous system)) and the other is where there’s no specific day but it comes from the hard work of generations. I think we need to be a bit realistic, the reason the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Amendments are as good as they are is that their political parties and people implemented them. Our [Chinese] Constitution is also good, and our ruling Party has declared some things that were as good as the Declaration of Independence, but most of them weren’t implemented. They [Chinese leaders] won’t look at these declarations and reflect on their shortcomings, the cost of revolution is too high and it’s too uncontrollable, reform is slow and [easy to] delay, it really seems like [we’re in] a tight knot. But I still choose to believe in reform. Violent or nonviolent revolution [as ideas] can only serve as a bargaining chip in supervising reform, it can’t actually be put into practice.

I think Han Han is right in distinguishing suzhi here from human nature because what we’re really talking about is civic/social consciousness and education. That said, I think Han Han — and other less eloquent purveyors of the suzhi argument — are completely wrong.

Since Han Han made the comparison with America’s democracy, and since I’m at least somewhat familiar with American history, let’s take a moment to do something I often try to avoid on this site: compare the US and China. Since we’re talking about the emergence of an operational democratic system, though, we’ll have to compare the China of today with the US of the 1700s.

Immediately, this raises a number of issues, and many of you are no doubt thinking of things like the three-fifths compromise and wondering why China would want that sort of democracy. It’s a fair point, but I’ll argue that slavery is actually an example of how low suzhi doesn’t prevent a real democracy from being implemented. And while admittedly that led to horrible abuses and finally a catastrophic civil war, the fact that the American system of government has lasted and remained firmly grounded ((Though less so in recent years)) by the principles laid out in its founding documents is, I think, evidence that a people’s low level of suzhi is not a disqualifier for a democracy, nor is it a particularly accurate indicator of how that democracy will turn out in the long run.

And it must be said that by nearly every measurable metric I can think of, Chinese people are light-years ahead of eighteenth-century Americans. For example:

  1. Education: It’s difficult to find reliable national statistics for the 1700s, but by all accounts, most Americans at that time weren’t attending much school. A 1773 survey of German immigrants to Pennsylvania, for example, found that only 33% of their children received any education in the two years prior. Education in New England was more widespread, but nowhere near current levels in terms of either implementation or quality. In contrast, according to China’s Ministry of Education, 99% of Chinese children attend primary school and 80% attend both primary and secondary school. Of course, there are significant concerns about the quality of that education, but I think very few people would choose an 18th century American education over a modern Chinese one, especially given that a large part (in many cases, all) of 18th century education in the US was religious education.
  2. Literacy: Literacy rates in colonial America were surprisingly high, apparently: between 70% and 100%, although those numbers come just from New England and the overall number would almost certainly be lower. China’s current literacy rate is about 92%, which, although not comparable to the 21st century US, certainly compares equally or even favorably with literacy rates in colonial and early independent America. Again, it’s also worth mentioning that most American education at the time was religious; people learned to read so that they could read the Bible, not to stay informed on current events.
  3. Social Conscience: This is admittedly an extremely subjective thing to try to assess, but it’s difficult for me to believe that any people could rate below colonial Americans, who by and large believed it was okay to enslave other people, even after it became clear that moral concerns aside, this issue was causing a tremendous rift that threatened to (and nearly did) completely destroy American society. Chinese drivers may leave their high beams on at night — though the fact that Han Han is so convinced this is a Chinese characteristic is only proof he hasn’t spent much time driving at night in America — but it’s hard to believe that betrays a level of social conscience lower than that of Americans who were, at the moment their democracy emerged, engaged in enslaving a race of people (not to mention stealing from and massacring another race of people).

Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, but I don’t think that many people in the 1700s would have been particularly optimistic about the nascent American democracy if they shared Han Han’s belief that its quality would be impacted by the suzhi of its people — a people that were by and large literate but poorly educated, preposterously religious, and dedicated to the belief that owning slaves was totally cool. Certainly, this picture of Americans at the turn of the 19th century makes the complaints most often levied against Chinese people’s suzhi — they spit in public, they can’t queue properly, they only care about watching TV — seem benign in comparison.

The history of other countries could likely provide counter-examples, but that’s not the point. I am not arguing that China could easily implement a democracy; rather, my point is just that the argument that China couldn’t implement democracy because its people still spit on the sidewalk or leave their high beams on at night is total horseshit.

That said, by way of epilogue, I’ll offer a few brief words on Han Han’s implication in his add-on paragraph that China is currently in a period when it’s not possible to implement democracy. He doesn’t really explain specifically why he believes that’s the case, but looking at American history again, there certainly would have been reasons to suggest the same thing about an independent America in the 1700s. The colonists, after all, wanted to challenge the most powerful military and economic power on earth. They ended up succeeding for reasons that might seem obvious in retrospect, but my guess is that many outside observers before the revolution began might have suggested that democracy was “impossible” for America at a time when England was so powerful militarily, especially since the economic losses they stood to suffer if they lost the colonies made it more or less a given that they would resist any efforts at independence quite…robustly.

I’m well aware that there are plenty of issues with any analogy involving the 18th century US and modern China. My point is simply that Han Han’s offhanded dismissal of the possibility of democracy in China perhaps deserves a bit more questioning than it has gotten.

Moreover, I hope we can all agree once and for all that the suzhi argument is a load of crap. If a bunch of uneducated slave-owning religious fundamentalists could take on the world’s greatest power and establish one of its longest-lasting (representative) democratic states, why is it so impossible that Chinese people could do the same thing?

(Whether or not they would is another question, perhaps for a future post. This one is already way, way too long.)