Category Archives: Uncategorized

PSA: Beware the Impostor

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

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

Hey, Speaking of Soft Power Fails…

A couple days ago we looked at one way to fail at soft power, but while we were doing that, China’s highest levels of leadership were working on a way to fail way, way harder. In case any of you have been living under a rock, Xi Jinping — China’s presumptive next president — is M.I.A.

Now, before things get all Jiang Zemin-y up in here, plenty of sources seem to be suggesting that Xi has been out with minor injury and will likely be back in the public eye soon. But no one knows for sure because no one has actually seen Xi since September 1, and China’s government has refused to explain where Xi is.

Let’s just pause for a minute and think about the message this sends to the world. China is saying, “Trust us. Make the RMB your reserve currency. We are a stable, peaceful economic powerhouse and you have nothing to fear from investing in us. Oh, by the way, the guy who’s running our country may periodically just disappear for extended periods of time and no one will explain why. Don’t worry about it!”

I’m no economist, but I believe the sudden, unexplained disappearance of someone in charge of the world’s second largest economy is going to have an impact on the markets. It certainly doesn’t instill confidence. And things don’t improve when that disappearance drags on for weeks. Whether or not Xi was seriously ill or injured is almost beside the point now. What the hell did Chinese officials have to gain from all this? Because they sure lost a lot of points internationally, and having your impending next president disappear doesn’t play too well domestically either, no matter how hard you scrub the weibos.

I suppose whenever Xi reemerges from his cucoon underground bunker sex palace marble boat whatever, it may become clear what happened to him. If he had some sort of horrific visually-evident disease — flesh-eating bacteria or something? — then I could see why the government might want to hide him from the world. But short of that, I’m seriously at a loss for what the upside of “the president-to-be has disappeared” approach to governance is. I welcome your explanations in the comments.

Anyway, this is probably a good enough reason for plenty of countries to stick with the US dollar for now. Sure, our jackass bankers may have ruined the world economy, and sure, it turns out our strategy of invading random middle eastern countries, destroying them, and then leaving hasn’t been hugely popular with the locals. But say what you will about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — it’s hard to imagine either one of them vanishing without a trace just a few months before the all-important power transition (or the all-important lack thereof).

The economic numbers aren’t everything, and even if China’s economy was looking as rosy as it was a few years ago, trust matters. It is time for China to start trusting its own people and the world to be able to handle news like “Xi Jinping has hurt his back and is going to skip some meetings on doctor’s orders.” Perhaps I’m off here, but I think most people’s response to that would be something like: “Oh. Hmm, I’ve got to remember to pick up some milk on the way home from work” and not “OMG, anarchy in the PRC!”

Leave it to China to take what seems like a pretty innocuous incident — an old guy hurting his back a bit — and turning it into one of this year’s more epic propaganda/soft power own goals.

‘Village Democracy Spreads the Wealth’: Interviewing Yale Researcher Nancy Qian

Does village democracy in China bring greater income parity to poorer populations along with feelings of satisfaction and empowerment?

When I reported last month on the release of an American-funded, multi-university study examining the effects of village democracy on public goods expenditures in China (see “Village Democracy Spreads the Wealth” (07/01/2012), I had not yet been able to reach any of the study authors for a direct interview.

Naturally, many questions remained unanswered, particularly those related to the limitations of the research and the caveats that always underlie good news.

To recap briefly:  The international study, jointly undertaken by academic researchers at The London School of Economics, Yale University,  Johns Hopkins, and Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research, concluded that local elections and village democracy in China are actually increasing prosperity and local villager “buy in” to better governance.

Measuring both economic and social effects of local elections in 217 Chinese villages randomly selected from 29 Chinese provinces, the study’s major finding is that village democracy increases local expenditures for public projects by as much as 27%. Examples include irrigation for poorer village farms and more spending for public schools.  Moreover, villagers themselves are willing to part with money to invest in these projects through increased taxes; virtually none of the expenditure increases come from regional or central government coffers.

Another major finding of the study is that village elections — which have been rolling out in China since 1982 — actually results in redistribution of land and agricultural income to poorer families. “Elections increased the ratio of the income of the households that were in the poorest 10 percent over the households that were in the top ten percent by 21 percentage points,”  the authors stated. How? Elected village officials are empowered to redistribute farmland originally leased to enterprises (which disproportionately benefits village elites), thus boosting agricultural income among the poor.

Why, then, does China continue to report an escalating number of “mass incidents”  — riots, demonstrations, uprisings — as many as 127,000 a year (New York Times), with land disputes accounting for 65 percent of rural “mass conflicts” (China Academy of Social Sciences). If village elections are working so well to redistribute wealth, why is the income gap between richer and poorer in China growing ever wider?

Obviously these questions are complex. “Democracy doesn’t guarantee happiness; we also have protests in fully democratic countries,” observed Nancy Qian, one of the study co-authors, an assistant professor of Economics at Yale University.  “Just because things are better in the villages doesn’t mean it’s enough,” she continued. “We don’t have the data over time to find out whether elections have increased or decreased local protests.”

I reached Qian while she was taking a speeding Amtrak in New England.  She added a number of qualifiers about the democracy study.  First,  study data did not touch at all on civil rights.  The researchers did not interview or collect survey data from villages in ethnic minority regions, such as Tibet or Xinjiang.  They did not collect or collate data on democracy protests or any other kind of Chinese protest, whether local, county, or provincial.  So there is an apparent gap in knowledge about democracy, public money and satisfaction. Not only is it tough to get reliable data on the numbers of [village] protests (“You know you’re not getting a random sample,” Qian said, since both Chinese media and government tend to suppress reports of protests). “As researchers, you’d be worried about protests you’re hearing about and what you’re not hearing about,” she added.  Available data may be unreliable.  But the relationship between local democracy and the freedom to protest is one that Qian would like to explore.

Further, the democracy study did not look at whether greater democracy at a local level promoted richer and more elite folk to elected positions. Qian acknowledges “there is a lot of turnover [in elections]; and the people who enter office today will be very different from people who were in office before.  They are younger and more educated; and they may not have been from the Party before. They’re not part of the original elite.”

Such issues as localized corruption, black jails, forced abortions in the countryside, and the relationship between village governments and the prosecution of crimes by police were subjects untouched in this broad-based study. These real-world factors are like commas in a long embedded sentence with the main idea at the end — and that idea, according to Qian, is that village democracy in China apparently improves public life overall and helps to redistribute both land and income from the richest families to the poorest ones.  However, the question of how democracy actually shapes the lives, thoughts, and options of people in specific villages, in specific regions of China, remains open.

In the near term, Qian and her colleagues will add further dimensions to their study. “We want to understand whether elections work to benefit people with higher social capital, and also to look at the role of religion and how that affects how elections really work,” she said.


Village Democracy Actually Spreads the Wealth (Did Anyone Ever Doubt it?)

Last December’s spectacular ten-day confrontation between Wukan villagers and local CCP riot police in Guangdong amply demonstrated how organized grassroots protest can morph quickly into organized electoral politics.

Three months after the rioting, in which villagers drove out authorities and barricaded themselves against police, villagers went to the polls to elect a new seven-member village governing committee hailed by Al Jazeera “as a model for greater democracy in China following an uncompromising confrontation over land grabs and abuse of power.

In foreign media, Wukan was quickly held up as a village template for civic activism and democratic reforms. But though this Guangdong fishing village might be considered one of the exceptional models of rural rebellion —  villagers won unusual freedoms to hold new elections, install a respected rebel leader as the new Party secretary and reclaim portions of sold-off land –in actuality village elections in China have been going on for decades.

Since 1982, in fact, when the Communist Party began allowing local elections, villages throughout China have implemented polling in stages, then in waves. Timing of the first village elections was staggered over years and then decades, determined by local town, city, or county CCP officials who assessed the comparative “readiness” of the village to democratically elect its local leadership.

Today, though, village democracy in China seems to be working effectively — surprisingly so. In the largest study ever undertaken on rural village elections and their impact on local economies, a cooperative research team at The London School of Economics, Yale University,  Johns Hopkins, and Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research jointly concludes that local elections and village democracy are actually increasing public prosperity and “buy in” to better governance.

“We find that elections significantly increase public goods expenditure [and] the increase corresponds to [local village] demand and is paralleled by an increase in public goods provision and local taxes,” wrote Monica Martinez-Bravo (Johns Hopkins), Gerard Padro i Miquel (London School of Economics), Nancy Qian (Yale University), and Yang Yao (Peking University).  “We also find the elections cause significant income redistribution in the villages,” they continued.  “We show that the main mechanism underlying the effect of elections is increased leader incentives.”

Based on 2006 and 2011 surveys conducted by the authors along with economic and election data collected between 1982 to 2005, the study was published in May as a working (not yet peer-reviewed) paper of the National Bureau of Economic Research (Washington DC), a private, non-profit organization.  Funded by grants from Harvard University, Brown, Stanford, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the study can hardly be called “transnational” at its source, but the authors claim independence from the opinions of NBER, or presumably, any other institution, whether Chinese or American.

Measuring both economic and social effects of local elections in 217 Chinese villages randomly selected from 29 Chinese provinces, the study’s major finding is that village democracy not only increases public expenditures for worthwhile projects  — examples include irrigation for poorer village farms or more spending for public school teachers — but that villagers themselves are willing to part with money to invest in these projects.

In fact, virtually none of the increases in public expenditure came from regional or central governments, the study found.  Instead, village residents “bought into” the projects and paid increased local taxes and fees, strongly suggesting that leadership and constituents were “aligned” in supporting the projects.

The numbers are also dramatic. Public goods expenditures increased by as much as 27% in the “democracy villages,” according to the study.  Moreover, the research confirms earlier studies suggesting that village elections, albeit in a fledgling state, actually reduce corruption because elected officials are held more accountable by villagers than appointed ones.

Spreading the Wealth in Farmland

The second major finding of the study is that elections result in redistribution of land and agricultural income to poorer families. “Elections increased the ratio of the income of the households that were in the poorest 10 percent over the households that were in the top ten percent by 21 percentage points,”  the authors stated. How? Elected village officials are prohibited from imposing recurring taxes on income and production. But they are empowered to redistribute farmland originally leased to enterprises (which disproportionately benefits village elites). Redistribution in turn affects agricultural income, helping the poor increase their share.

In addition, elected village officials have power of management over certain village enterprises which allows them to redistribute wage income.  This can directly benefit poorer village families — and apparently does.

Not that all elections (or elected officials) are alike.  According to the researchers, many first-time village elections generally have few candidates willing to run.  Some villages are run by rich families — clans and village chiefs sharing power.  It’s difficult to break their grip. In several cases, elections have been delayed because regional officials were dissatisfied with certain villages’ responses to centralized policy (i.e., One-Child policy).  And in others cases, local officials’ collusion with police and large land owners delayed or hampered the electoral process.

In addition, before the late 1990s, only the local CCP branch was allowed to nominate candidates for village elections.  Residents had little power of choice, and could only vote bad performers out of office.

In 1998, however, open nominations became national law. Villages were able to choose their own candidates, and many did — by the thousands. The more progressive CCP leadership believed that village democracy would actually promote public welfare. Further, elite power holders might be persuaded to relax their grip somewhat if local elections resulted in continued stability and economic prosperity.

So much for ideals.  How then, does this village democracy study square with the thousands of local “anti-corruption” cases and periodic sweeps of rapacious officials in local and regional government? If village democracy is working, how come so many Chinese towns like Wukan periodically erupt into demonstrations or even rioting? If village elections appear responsible for redistributing income with greater parity among rich and poor, why is China’s rural vs. urban income gap growing ever wider?

The authors haven’t addressed these questions.  But if elected officials indeed perform better for their constituents than appointed ones, the lessons of village democracy might certainly apply to larger government bodies in China.

We’ll wait and see.


A.Emmett is a Beijing-based professor of journalism.  Her personal blog, “China Through Blue Eyes,” can be found at



The Tea Drinkers’ Guide

Human rights activists in China would not be strange to “tea drinking”, which means an interrogation summoned by the state security police. Various acts of citizenship could trigger “tea drinking” – it could be writing a blog about freedom and democracy, attending political gatherings, signing online appeals for certain demands, or merely expressing interests in protests. It can be said that “tea drinking” is something that you need to go through if you aspire to become a citizen in China through acts of public defiance.

In an article written at the Human Rights in China Biweekly (translated below), Wu Gan (twitter: @tufuwugan, “Super Vulgar Butcher”) extensively analyses “tea drinking” and suggests strategies on dealing with it for aspiring citizens. Wu is a prominent Chinese rights activist and netizen reporter, well known for his sense of justice, enthusiasm and resourcefulness. He actively supported Deng Yujiao and the Three Netizens of Fujian, and was involved in the citizenship investigation into the death of Zhejiang village head Qian Yunhui.

Translation: The Tea Drinkers’ Guide

In a land without freedom, “tea drinking” is the only way to become a real citizen. “Tea drinking” usually refers to interviews by the police because of your civic actions or speeches. In fact, no tea or even no water is served for most of the time. I think that overcoming the fear over “tea drinking” is very important in the process of fighting against the dictatorship machine in China. Personally, I’ve been through the evolution from being fearful of to being accustomed to “tea drinking”. I intend to share this guideline to other people who will soon face “tea drinking”. Of course, this is only my personal opinion. Personal experience and the specific circumstance will make each case unique.

In “tea drinking”, the public security agents you face will be from either the Bureau of Internal Security Protection (guobao) or the National Security Bureau (guoan). Guoan will be involved in cases linked to foreign countries, while guobao deal with internal affairs. Guobao are usually more visible, while guoan maintain a low profile. While they execute orders from the dictatorship machine, they are all human beings, and we can classify them into three types:

(1)The brutal type: Such kind of people are of low quality and may have psychological problems. They abuse their power to sustain violence and have no respect for human nature. They use persecution and violence to prove their existence and authority, and derive pleasure and satisfaction from it.

(2)The understanding type: They know their work is disgraceful, and understand the nature of the dictatorship machine, and that the machine will not last long. Therefore, they will not take the initiative to do evil, but will only execute orders, just for a living.

(3)The robotic type: They are hopelessly brainwashed, and have thinking no different from that of the dictatorship machine. They think what they are doing is right, and even consider their work as honorable.

In “tea drinking”, it is either they visit you or they force you to their place. The main objectives are to warn you and create fear, forcing you to abandon your civic actions. They will also teach you political lessons and brainwash you with ideas they think are correct, such as “you live your own life, why are you doing these things?”, “now the country is rising, you need to trust the government and the party”, “these social problems are very normal during reforms, the party will be able to resolve them”, “so and so is an enemy of the party, you need to be aware, don’t be close to him”, “there is deep water behind that event, foreign elements are out there, don’t be utilized by them”, “if you don’t listen, we will not be so kind next time”, “you need to think for your family”, etc. Sometimes, notes will be taken and detailed questions will be asked about the ins and outs of a case. You may even be asked to sign a confession.

I’ve talked about what “tea drinking” is and the types of people you may face. Now I turn to things you need to be aware of.

As you cannot escape from the dictatorship machine, all you can do is to dance with the wolves. You need to go through “tea drinking” before you can become a real citizen, and that takes wisdom and preparations. I advise you to do the following:

(1)Make sure you can afford what you are doing, and be prepared for harassment, house arrest, “tea drinking”, labor camp or even imprisonment.

(2)When you fight for civil rights, it is important to be transparent, open and just.

(3)Be prepared in case you lose your freedom after “tea drinking”. Think about ways you can release information, seek legal assistance, and keep in touch with your family and the outside world.

Things to note during “tea drinking”:

(1)Be well mannered. Don’t show your fear. Don’t fall into their trap and be agitated in face of violence and insults.

(2)When asked about yourself, only tell your own part and not someone else’s. Act as if you are a fool. “Couldn’t remember clearly”, “I forgot”, “not sure about that” and “don’t understand” are all good excuses.

(3)Tell them what you are doing is open, just, and for all to see, and that you have made preparation for possible consequences.

(4)Try not to form personal enmity. Tell them that you have decided to go ahead and will bear the consequences, and ask them not to confuse public and private matters. Some sort of contract spirit is needed.

(5)Don’t insult, confront or humiliate them, online or otherwise, unless they did the same to you.

(6)If you form a personal enmity, you might want to investigate him privately. I personally have no objection to righteous blood revenge.

(7)Don’t believe what they say, and don’t try to convince them. And, very importantly, bear in mind that there is nothing they cannot do.

(8)Whether or not to sign a confession depends on the situation. Sometimes, you can sign it to end all the unnecessary entanglements. These confessions are for them to please their bosses. Confessions signed under threat are not binding and there is no need to comply with them.

(9)The best way to interfere in public affairs is to do so from another place in order to avoid troubles caused by local interests.

(10)Sometimes they will contact your employers, relatives and friends to create pressure on you. This is the most difficult thing to deal with and you have to face it. Let the people around you know what you are doing, and let them know you are doing something open and righteous. It is difficult to get their support, but you have to fight for their understanding and respect. This can ease the pressure on you.

When you are on the path to citizenship, you are either “drinking tea”, or on the way to it. When everyone is not afraid of “tea drinking” but treats it as an honor, we can say our society is progressing.

Discussion Section: Cultural Warfare, Cultural Weapons

You may have seen in the news recently reflections on Hu Jintao’s essay in official Party gibberish ((Honestly, this is more a dig at the intentionally vague and hard-to-understand writing style than it is the ideology, though I don’t agree with much of that either)) theory magazine Qiushi. Here’s a good piece on it, but if you’re too lazy to click, the general gist is this: the West ((because that’s a real thing…)) is waging cultural warfare against China to Westernize and divide it.

I don’t have much interest in discussing that argument, but rather, let’s talk about how — or with what — China might respond in a cultural war. I must admit here that some of my thoughts here are essentially stolen from the folks I did the Sinica podcast with last week, as this is something we discussed over dinner after recording the show. I don’t recall exactly who said what, but to be safe, just assume anything smart I say came from one or all of them, and anything dumb I say is something I came up with myself ((almost certainly the truth)).

So, what would China bring to a theoretical cultural war? It strikes me that especially if you interpret China as the mainland, it has very little to offer. (Of course, Chinese people tend to consider anything remotely connected to someone of Chinese descent to be “Chinese” — including but not limited to the current American ambassador — but for our purposes here, let’s assume by China I mean the PRC and by Chinese culture I mean mainland culture, i.e., the culture that exists under the laws and regulations of the CCP.)

Take, for example, literature. Can you think of any really great Chinese literature from the past five years? I can think of a couple books by mainland authors, but one of them was only published outside of the mainland, and the other was published domestically but in an inferior (read: censored) form.

Admittedly though, literature is an unfair category for expats and non-native speakers, since people tend to read books in their native languages and aren’t necessarily going to be aware of what’s great in Chinese even if they read Chinese.

So fine, let’s move on to films. Can you think of any really great films China has produced in the past five years? Note that by great, I don’t just mean cool martial arts flicks, but a film that has some sort of lasting artistic value. Again, I can think of a couple that sort of fit the bill, but it’s an awfully short list unless you count independent productions which aren’t allowed to be screened in theaters in China.

TV is even more of a disaster. Chinese TV is bad and, by and large, getting worse. The only real exceptions to this that I’m aware of are some of the online TV shows that exist outside the regular system (like the wonderful and occasionally crazy Kuang Kuang animated series).

This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with Chinese culture from the perspective of the producers of culture. In contrast, the work of authors outside (or published outside) of China can be incredible, and Chinese indie film directors in both narrative and documentary fields have made some films that are goddamn amazing. In TV, there’s shows like Kuang Kuang.

It’s not always about politics, either. Plenty of indie Chinese films have little to do with politics except that the filmmakers’ creativity has essentially forced them to become outsiders because SARFT doesn’t want to take any risks when it comes to cultural output. There’s nothing “political” about time-travel TV shows (which SARFT banned last year). It’s just about control. The CCP clearly feels that a lack of control will inevitably lead to political and social problems, so they grasp the reins as tightly as they can.

Unfortunately, that means that in any kind of cultural competition with the West, they’re going to be bringing a fist to a bazooka fight. And the worst thing is that it’s a fight China probably could compete in, to the benefit of everyone (the West could use some competition) if it wasn’t forcing all its best players to sit on the bench.


How to: Post to Twitter via SMS in China

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally post here at ChinaGeeks, but I figured this was useful enough to be worth sharing with everyone.

What we’re doing: Setting it up so that when you send text messages to a specific number in China, those messages are automatically posted to your Twitter account (note: this will only work from the specific mobile phone you set it up with).

Why do this:

  • Because it’s cool to be able to update your Twitter without needing to get around the GFW or having wifi or 3G access.
  • Because it’s good to be able to easily inform people of your whereabouts in case of emergency. If you’re in a rural area and get into some kind of trouble, you likely won’t have any net access, but you may still have mobile service, and this will allow you to inform all your followers of your situation.

So, how can you update your Twitter account quickly via SMS (text messages) from China? At present, Twitter doesn’t support SMS updating in China, although I’ve heard that some people did set this up years ago and appear to be “grandfathered in”, so some people may have this capability. But if you haven’t already set it up, you can’t now.

There are a number of other ways floating around the net. The upside to this one is that it is easy and doesn’t require any tech saavy, or really even much knowledge of Chinese. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step One: Register for a Fanfou Account

You’ve probably heard of Weibo, but you may not remember Fanfou, the original Chinese microblogging service. It got axed in the wake of the Lhasa riots ((Or maybe the Urumqi riots, I don’t recall which it was…)), and by the time it was allowed back into the market again, Sina had a big head start.

Anyway, click here to visit Fanfou and then click the register button, as illustrated below:


Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll be taken to the registration page. Fill in the info as indicated:


When you’re done, click that big green arrow button on the bottom. The next screen invites you to search for your friends on Fanfou. Probably, you don’t care about this, so click the skip button down on the bottom:


Unless you want to follow people on Fanfou, click skip again on the next screen as well:


Congrats! You’re now a registered Fanfou user!

Step 2: Connect Your Fanfou Account to Your Twitter Account

First, be sure you’re properly logged into Twitter with the account you want to connect. Then click the settings button (as illustrated below) to head into your control panel, which is where we’ll be doing the rest of the work.


Then you’ll need to click on the “sync” section to connect other accounts to your Fanfou account:


From there, you’ll want to click on the Twitter section, as illustrated below:


This will take you to Twitter, where you’ll want to authorize the app connection. You should then be forwarded back to Fanfou, where you’ll want to re-enter the control panel (if you aren’t taken directly there) for your next step.

If you have successfully synced Fanfou to your Twitter account, your “Sync” screen will now look like what you see below. Do not click the button next to the Twitter logo again; if you do, it will cancel the Twitter connection and you’ll have to restart this step.


Step 3: Connect your mobile phone to Fanfou

In the control panel, click on the “mobile phone” button to begin setting up your mobile connection. Be sure you have your phone handy, as you’ll need it in a second.


Then, fill in your phone number and click save, as illustrated below:


Then follow the directions below; send the authentication code (four english letters) to the number provided (1069 0029 3152) from the phone number you entered previously.


If you’ve done this right, you’ll get a text message from that number. The message basically says that you’ve set things up correctly and in the future, anything you text to that number will be automatically posted to your Fanfou account. Since you’ve already connected your Fanfou account to your Twitter account, it will automatically update your Twitter account as well.

Save the number you got the text from in your contacts. In the future, as long as you’ve got cell service you can update your Fanfou/Twitter by texting messages less than 160 characters to that number.

Step 4: Secure your Fanfou Account (optional)

So, at this point you’re all set, but if you want to be extra careful, you can take some steps to lock down your Fanfou account so as not to attract unwanted attention. This is probably unnecessary, but personally I opted to take this step anyway because I didn’t want to attract attention to my Fanfou account, which I’ll never actually be checking. If you want to do the same, click this button from the control panel to tweak your privacy settings:


Then, tweak your privacy settings as you see fit:


Click that blue button at the bottom to save whatever settings you’ve chosen.

You’re done!

Fire some test messages to be sure, but your accounts should now be connected and any texts you send to the Fanfou number should appear on your Twitter quite quickly (in my tests, most appeared within a minute or two).

Based on my tests, hashtags seem to work OK, so it seems you can use those if you’d like.

A few downsides:

  • Messages with @ don’t work: At least based on my tests, it doesn’t seem to support any messages directed at other users, so if you put @username into your text, that won’t go through. Perhaps there’s a workaround for this, or it’s just delayed, but I haven’t been able to get a text with @ in it to go through as yet.
  • You can’t see your stream or replies. Obviously, this is a very one way system. It will help you post to Twitter but you won’t be able to see any replies or anyone else’s Tweets without a Twitter app and a VPN, or some other kind of setup. Still, it’s better than nothing.
  • No character counter. This is also obvious, but with texts you don’t have any obvious indicator of how many characters you’ve entered. The Twitter limit is 140. So if you’re not sure play it safe and keep messages short.

So, that’s basically it! This is intended to be a step-by-step guide, but I’ve had quite a bit more scotch this evening than I usually partake in when blogging, so it’s possible I’ve skipped a step in here somewhere. If so, please let me know. If not, happy tweeting!

Two notes

1. Obviously, I am not the first person to figure this out, nor is this a new method. However, I haven’t seen it discussed in many places and it would be a bit tough to navigate without basic Chinese reading skills, so I thought I’d throw this guide together anyway. If you already knew about this method, good for you!

2. I am indebted to @melissakchan for both illustrating why this sort of functionality is useful (follow her for a few weeks, you’ll see what I mean) and for inspiring me to sit down and figure this out. This isn’t the way that she tweets her updates, but if we hadn’t been discussing it the other night I would never have thought to sit down and search for alternative methods, so all props to her for the inspiration!

Wen Yunchao: An Open Letter to the Investors of Sina

Note: Below is a translation of an open letter written by Wen Yunchao (twitter: @wenyunchao), an outspoken blogger and free speech activist on the Chinese Internet. It is addressed to the investors of Sina Corp, and explores the censorship practices and implications of the corporate structure of the company, which runs the most popular microblogging service in China. If you are not familiar with Wen Yunchao, the recent New York Times feature about him, Where an Internet Joke is Not Just a Joke, is strongly recommended. For an extensive discussion of the methods used by Sina to censor its micro-blogging service, be sure to read the blog post by Jason Ng at Kenengba. The post is in Chinese, but William Farris has provided a helpful English summary.

Update: If you would like to sign the letter, you can send your name, country and occupation to

Wen Yunchao: An Open Letter to the Investors of Sina

Dear Investors of Sina Corp,

We issue this open letter because Chinese Internet company Sina and its microblogging service, Sina Weibo, fully cooperate with the Chinese government to censor and suppress the free speech of online citizens, without regard to any principle. Their behavior is disgusting.

The blog “Kenengba”, which received the Best Chinese Blog award in the 6th Deutsche Welle Best of the Blogs (BOBs) competition in 2010, once published the article “Ten Impressions I’ve gotten from Sina Weibo”. The article summarizes the censorship tactics of Sina Weibo, including keyword screening and post deletion, unidirectional blocking, screening of posts, banning of speech, “The Little Secretary Helps You”, account deletion, blocking of re-registration, and blocking of IP. The article also uses the case of Sina’s plagiarism from the Google-focused website Guao ( to illustrate how Sina Weibo not only cooperates with the government on censorship, but also deletes users’ information on its free will. ((可能吧:新浪微博给我印象最深刻的10件事,

Beifeng, well-known Chinese blogger and winner of the 2010 annual award of the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, writes: “Sina not only cooperates with the authority to impose censorship, it also conforms to their requests to frame certain people.” The article highlights the practice of Sina to change the account name of a user so that others can use the original name to publish contents which can endanger that user with legal liabilities. ((北风:新浪配合“他们”作恶的明确证据,

Xiao Han, associate professor at the China University of Politics and Law, “protests against Sina’s account deletion through reincarnation.” In his article “Why I leave Sina Weibo”, he writes, “the outrageous behavior of the administrators (the banning of unused ID intended for reincarnation) is for all to see. They abuse their power to destroy other people. Although they only destroy IDs, their way of thinking is the same as the Communist Party.” Xiao Han’s blog, on which the article was published, has also been removed by Sina. ((萧瀚:我为什么离开新浪微博?

Furthermore, a video on YouTube entitled “How Sina Weibo deceives its users” clearly shows how Sina Weibo limits the number of followers of some accounts. Ms Liu Ping is an indepedent candidate for the local people’s congress of Jiangxi province. Because of her candidateship, over 30,000 people follow her on Sina Weibo at some point. But then Sina Weibo uses deception to reduce her followings. When other users click to follow her on Weibo, the system will send a message showing that the operation is successful, when in fact it is not. Now, the number of followers of Liu Ping’s account has dropped to 20,000. ((Youtube:新浪微博是如何故意欺骗用户的?

Chinese internet users cannot count on any legal remedies against the actions of Sina which go beyond the bottom line.

Chinese netizens have previously tried to sue Chinese Internet companies for their censorship practices. But none of the cases have ever received a trial. On 16 August 2007, Chinese human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan went to the Beijing Haidian court to sue Internet services provider Sohu for hiding blog posts. The court accepted and filed the case on the same day. But on 12 September, the same court refused to accept the case, which was assigned the civil case number 23191. Liu appealed to no avail.

Some suggest to sue Sina in its place of registration or listing. However, according to publicly available information, what we normally refer to as the Sina portal is different from and has no subordinate relationship with the NASDAQ-listed Sina Corp.

The NASDAQ-listed Sina Corp is a holding company registered in the Cayman Islands. It has four subsidiaries, namely the Hong Kong Sina Co. Ltd. (which operates the Hong Kong Sina portal), Lifang (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., the California-registered Sina Online (which includes two Sina portals in North America and Taiwan), and the British Virgin Islands-registered Sina Limited.

In mainland China, Sina has registered several companies using the variable interest entities (VIEs) structure, including Beijing Sina Information Technology Co. Ltd., Sina Interactive Corp, Sitonglifang Software Corp, and Beijing MicroDream Creation Internet Technology Co. Ltd. Sina Information Technology operates the content part of the Sina portal, and holds the ICP, news publishing permit and other relevant licenses; MicroDream operates Sina Weibo and independently holds the ICP and other licenses.

Sina Interactive is fully in charge of the advertising business on the Sina portal and Weibo, while Sitonglifang provides technical support to Sina Information Technology and MicroDream. Advertising and gaming revenues from the Sina portal and Weibo are shared to Sina Interactive through an agreement. For Sifanglitong, it receives revenues in the form of fees for technical support. In turn, profits from these two companies are transferred to a subsidiary fully owned by the listed Sina Corp through other agreements.

The Sina portal and Weibo cooperate with the Chinese government on censorship, and they are respectively operated by Beijing Sina Information Technology Co. Ltd. and Beijing MicroDream Creation Internet Technology Co. Ltd. These are purely Chinese entities which only have business and contract relationships but no direct affiliation with the listed Sina Corp. Therefore, it is impossible to force them to stop censorship by taking action in the place of registration or listing of Sina Corp.

In 2011, several New York residents tried to sue Baidu Corp in a US district court for “shielding” the information they published online. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that China’s management of the Internet is in line with international practices. This is an act of sovereignty which foreign courts have no jurisdiction under international law.

We know that China has severe restriction on public speech, and it is not realistic to request Sina to completely abandon censorship. However, in view of the reality that Chinese netizens have no effective channels to limit the behaviors of Sina, we believe that appealing to the investors of Sina Corp to reduce their shareholding could weaken Sina’s efforts in censorship. This can force Sina to follow clear censorship rules and ensure that users can seek judicial relief in China or third places.

According to Sina Corp’s 2011 second quarter financial report, although revenue has increased year on year, the net profit is down 60.3% to US$10 million. “The operating expense of the second quarter of 2011 is US$59.7 million, compared with US$32 million for the same period last year. The increase in operating expense is mainly related to Weibo marketing and human resources.” According to outside estimates, Sina employs nearly 1,000 people to censor Weibo. For some time in future, Sina Corp will continue to increase spending on marketing and staffing related to Weibo. We think that it is feasible to pressure Sina to reduce its censorship efforts by dumping Sina’s stocks.

The Chinese government’s policy on Weibo has a significant effect on the prospects of Sina. Holding the shares of Sina Corp entails tremendous uncertainty. On 20 September 2011, the share price of Sina dropped by 15.17% to US$92.76, the greatest daily drop since December 2008. Sina’s market capitalization has shrinked by US$1 billion to US$6 billion. Market commentators attribute this drop to concerns over regulatory risks. ((第一财经日报:微博监管风险重挫新浪股价

On 17 October 2011, Beijing Daily published an anonymous op-ed titled “Lack of credibility will mean the end of Weibo”, which calls for a real-name registration system for Weibo. ((北京日报:网络微博诚信缺失将无以立足, The article criticizes the serious shortcomings which come with the rapid growth of Weibo. If left unchecked, these problems will threaten the society. It urges the government to purify the Internet through more comprehensive and targeted measures so that new media will be responsible for ensuring integrity. It suggests that the government should fully implement a real-name registration system for Weibo and an accountability system for online media. Guangdong’s Southern Metropolitan Daily thinks that “a strict real-name system may drive away users.” ((南方都市报:微博要搞实名制?

In a recent interview with CCTV’s program Economic Half-hour, Sina CEO Charles Chao commented that Weibo will be the future driving force of Sina. ((曹国伟:微博将是新浪未来驱动力, China’s regulatory policy towards Weibo will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the prospect of Sina. As social conflicts are becoming more acute, the government’s control on the society will tighten, and the space for free speech will shrink. In this context, Internet censorship will undoubtedly be strengthened, and the possibility of the Chinese government shutting down the microblogging services will always be with us.

Perpetrators and their collaborators should be punished. We hereby urge investors to reduce their shareholding in Sina based on both moral and rational judgments, thereby indirectly applying pressure to Sina and its microblogging service to get them onto censorship practices based on clear and transparent principles.


Written by: Beifeng
November 2011

Liu Xiaoyuan on Residential Surveillance and its Pitfalls

In light of the ongoing disappearances and reappearances of lawyers, intellectuals and activists the legality [or lack thereof] of house arrest repeatedly came up in the news coverage, although not much explanation was given on one of the Chinese governments more peculiar measures in dealing with its subjects. Just as I was wondering where I could find further information I stumbled over a series of posts on Liu Xiaoyuan’s blog, who went into great detail to discuss what it’s all about. Obviously he had gotten a whole bunch of emails from people for whom the legal intricacies of house arrest or—in proper terminology—residential surveillance were equally hazy.

I guess most of these requests were related to Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts (as he is also believed to be under RS),considering that Liu might take over his defense. ((Unless he disappears into said legal limbo himself that is.)) For two interesting posts on the legality of Ai’s situation, albeit from opposite perspectives, check here and here.

In the first post Liu gives a detailed overview of the relevant laws and regulations, in the second post (translated below) he discusses legal ambiguities and cases of abuse of RS. In the third post (which I’ll try and post soon), he argues for an abolition of said measure due to the widespread problems arising in its implementation.


A further discussion of residential surveillance

Posted on May 26, 2011 by Liu Xiaoyuan

Residential surveillance is defined as a coercive measure that can be imposed on a suspect by the People’s Courts, the People’s Procuratorate and public security organs. In accordance with the Criminal Procedure Law a suspect can be ordered not to leave his home or designated residence for a certain amount of time, during which his actions can be monitored and his personal freedom restricted.

But to what extent can the personal freedom of a person under RS be restricted? How big a range of movement or action should people under RS still be entitled to? In regard to these questions the relevant laws and regulations, the interpretations by the judicature as well as further regulations by different departments [involved in its execution] are far from clear.

Article 57 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that criminal suspects or defendants under residential surveillance should not leave their domicile [or home residence] without permission of the executing organ, or, if the person in question has no fixed domicile, not to leave a designated residence without prior permission. Thus, without obtaining prior permission stating otherwise, their freedom of movement is limited to those places.

But it is not further elaborated what a home or designated residence exactly is.

Article 98 of the “Provisions on the Procedures for Handling Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs” defines the home residence as the legitimate residence the suspect holds in the city or county where the case is handled. The designated residence is defined as the residence a suspect is appointed, due to case-specific circumstances, by the PSB in the city or county where the case is handled. The police is not allowed to set up a special place for residential surveillance, in order to avoid that the suspect is actually put under a disguised form of detention. Furthermore, it can not be carried out in detention facilities or any kind of designated PSB work place.

But these explanations also lack clarity.

If a suspect under RS has an apartment in a residential compound, should his movements be restricted only to his apartment or should the residential compound be included? In other words, can he exit the door of his apartment and move around in his compound? The same question can be asked in regard to an assigned place of residence.

One reading of the law is, that “home residence” in rural areas should be understood as the entire village in which the home of the person in question is located or, in cities, should be interpreted as the entire compound surrounding the house. The assigned place of residence should be understood as the house or courtyard in which the living quarters are located.

Another interpretation is that while the requirements of an ongoing investigation and trial have to be met in order to guarantee that further steps can be executed swiftly, consideration should also be paid to enabling a suspect to lead a regular life and resume his work or study, when he is not demanded in court.

In my personal opinion, [the definition of] home or assigned residence should not be interpreted in a narrow and limiting sense. A person under RS can hardly remain in the confinement of his living quarters all day, without ever leaving the apartment. There should be some space and range for movement. Because if a suspect’s or defendant’s range of movement is limited to residential quarters alone, then he is de facto deprived of his personal freedom.

The longest duration of RS allowed by law is six months. If the suspect isn’t even allowed to step out of the door in such a long period of time, the severity of this measure would be so grave that there is virtually no difference to official custody or detention. The original intent of the RS legislation was to define a coercive measure that would only partially restrict a suspect’s or defendant’s personal freedom, and not another form of detention or arrest.

When put into practice, a multitude of problems arise:

1. Abuse of the measure as intended by law. The boundaries, subjects and conditions of RS are clearly defined, but some investigative organs severely breach the relevant laws and regulations in its implementation. This has for example happened in cases where the prosecution has decided against raising charges and authorizing an arrest, but instead of dropping the proceedings, as it should be done, the persons in question were subjected to RS. In other cases the relevant departments used RS as an alternative to conducting a proper investigation and thus put people in RS who shouldn’t be subjected to this coercive measure under the legal framework. In some cases RS was used as a means of resolving cases in which civil disputes had led to minor injuries. In all these particular cases RS was used due to intervention or under influence from forces outside the legal institutions, leading to a much higher amount of RS cases than would have been allowed by law.

2. RS is executed in locations that are in breach of the law and regulations. In these cases the suspect or defendant is subjected to a disguised form of detention, as intended for a criminal offense. Article 57 of the Criminal Procedure Law defines the locations where RS can be implemented as the home residence of a suspect or defendant or —if this is not possible— as a designated residence. But some of the departments entrusted with carrying out RS used some form of hotel, hostel, guesthouse or basement accommodation instead. In other cases the suspects where held at places meant for handling cases and carrying out administrative detention as well as property of security companies. In addition, some of the investigative organs denied the person under RS any direct contact with other people and even installed surveillance technology to keep constant watch. Others ordered that even people also living in the residence and appointed lawyers needed to obtain permission to gain access.

In cases where the suspects or defendants did not have a place of residence or their home residence was relatively far away from the place the case is handled, the investigative organs routinely put people in preinstalled “surveillance houses.” But bringing a suspect to a fixed location for the purpose of carrying out surveillance is nothing but taking someone into custody or putting him in detention. If the place where RS in carried out is illegal, resulting in a situation of disguised detention, it constitutes a serious violation of a suspects human rights.

3. The choice of the executing organ is illegal. Article 51 of the Criminal Procedure Law states that RS has to be carried out by public security organs. But PSBs, in whose jurisdiction the suspect or defendant falls, often hand the implementation out to “hired cops” or local public security defense forces, due to a lack of resources or other reasons. Situations where the number of PSB personnel is not sufficient and additional manpower is contracted from the civil sector certainly exist. Furthermore, some investigative organs authorize other departments or subordinate private security companies entirely with the implementation. Others hand the management of RS into the hands of local village committees and thereby turn [the legal intend of] RS into a mere formality. Because all these actors haven’t obtained the formal approval by the relevant body responsible for law enforcement, they don’t have the legal power to carry out RS and thus their actions are illegal.