Tag Archives: Censorship

Ai Weiwei: “Your silence and ignorance have already become the price for your safety”

The following is a translation of an essay posted to Ai Weiwei’s blog today. There is no specific author attributed, which leads us to believe the author may be Ai himself. The essay is vague, perhaps vague enough to slip through the censors, but also damning and bitter in a way we haven’t seen on Ai’s site in the past.

Translation

Such arrogance, believing stolen power could change reality, could change people’s wills. Such weakness, believing that a different voice could destroy a vast army.

Because they don’t believe, when people really do have the power to vote they’ll still write their unglorious names on the ballots.

They have already lost hope for themselves. They don’t want the people’s voices heard, don’t want the people to hear each other or realize that other people like them exist.

You can think, but you can’t speak. No one else knows your thoughts, so your suffering and hopelessness are yours alone and there’s no way to compose a threat. Of course, it’s best if you don’t have the ability to think for yourself; that will be safer and more harmonious.

If there’s no way for you to improve your own reality, you can only destroy the reality of others so as to maintain balance. If we didn’t know about Sanlu, didn’t know about Weng’an, Longnan, Tibet, Beichuan, of course we would be even more tranquil. Suppose we don’t understand the world, the world then becomes a lot smaller […] If we don’t understand our rights, we’ll just believe our “liberators”: death comes, as it ought to, and we should be just be grateful for life, CCTV isn’t low-down and none of these things are crimes. If we did understand, we would imagine the world could be another way and then it might be possible for some people who were not evil to hold power.

Think, you don’t know anything, the world is however they tell you the world is. This way is like selling you; you won’t suffer and perhaps it helps with money a bit. Indifferent to pain, happiness, and gloom, without imagination or sympathy, without the desire or possibility for change, you are a perfect supporter, bearing the weight, an excellent modern slave. You won’t make inquiries about the world. You can eat and drink, bear and raise children, obey the law and pay taxes. Nourishing those who look at use as useless, their main task is to squander your wealth while sternly ordering you to keep secrets and misleading you to preserve your unhappiness. Because your misfortune is their great fortune, well, this question’s a bit complicated and it’s better if you don’t know.

Without your own voice and the free interchange of information, the people, the working class does not exist, the common interests of humanity do not exist, you do not exist. We’ll never have real social change, the first step of real social change must be the right to freedom of speech. A society without freedom of speech is a dark society whose underbelly cannot be seen, so dark that everything actually appears bright.

Selected Comments

Teacher Ai, you’re still online this late? Take care of your health!

I support you, you are my single thread of hope in the darkness.

The country is everyone’s country, and people have the right to make others hear their views, even if they are views I don’t agree with.

I not only believe them telling me the world is this way, I work hard to safeguard everything I believe. Moreover, I’m still totally willing to put myself under pressure, and I despise and disdain those who overrate their abilities trying to stir up thoughts in my brain. This way, I am safe, and I feel comfortable with things, I feel full of justice and confidence.

Who dares to say I’m not free?

The soul of the Grass Mud Horse must reawaken!

Our Thoughts

Hopefully it comes through in the translation as well, but the frustration and bitterness in the original is palpable. One can’t help but wonder if this isn’t somehow related to the government’s recent release of an official number of deaths for students in the Sichuan earthquake, which may have been intended primarily to undercut Ai’s project.

What may be more interesting to watch is whether or not there is any response to this. On the one hand, it’s vague enough that were government attention to fall on it, Ai might attempt to plead that he was talking about the whole world and not just China, but it seems unlikely many officials would buy that line. If they don’t, can they really let someone as prominent as Ai Weiwei get away with public saying things as harsh as this?

Update: Further Censorship of Ai Weiwei’s Project

Recently, we wrote a piece about how people attempting to collect names and information about students who died in the Wenchuan earthquake are meeting some resistance from police and officials. In the past few days, Ai Weiwei’s project has seen even more harassment.

Yesterday, he posted a timeline of official messages from the last few days, informing him that his posts have been deleted. The messages appear to be automated, but the speed and thoroughness with which things are deleted is intimidating. There’s no point in translating it — it’s just a list of article titles with generic messages like “Your post has already been deleted by the moderator. We apologize for the inconvenience” — but we’re copy pasted the whole thing below just in case someone takes the same censorship knife to Ai Weiwei’s blog.

More disturbing still is today’s post, which includes photos. Here’s a translation:

Citizen’s Investigation Diary (12)
[Photos have since been blocked. We should have preserved them here but didn’t. Apologies.]
The names of these students who died were crudely scratched out right in front of my eyes.

April 8th, we were at the Jinhua Elementary school, preparing to leave after having gathered the names of students there who were killed, when police suddenly rushed over and intercepted us, confiscated and crudely destroyed the list of names we had collected, then forcibly took us towards Guanghan [a nearby city].

Here’s Ai Weiwei’s record of the recent deletions, as posted on his blog here:

您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(一…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:51
您的文章《被删文章 “愚人节公民调查日…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:51
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:50
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(五…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:50
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(六…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:49
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记 (…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:48
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(九…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-09 03:47
您的文章《被删文章 “公民调查日记(七…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 23:33
您的文章《公民调查日记(一) 09.04.01》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:58
您的文章《公民调查日记(三) ” 非哪条…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:58
您的文章《公民调查日记(四) 09.04.05》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:57
您的文章《公民调查日记(五) 09.04.06》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:57
您的文章《公民调查日记(九)何洪春事件的…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:56
您的文章《公民调查日记(六) 被流产的遇难学…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:56
您的文章《公民调查日记(八) 09.04.07》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:56
您的文章《公民调查日记(七) 09.04.07》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-08 16:55
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十六)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 22:39
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十七)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 22:34
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十六)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 21:52
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十二)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《被删文章”5.12遇难学生名单…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十八)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《七、北川县城关小学截止09.03.3…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《六、北川中学(二) 截止09.03.31》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《四、北川县茅坝中学 截止09.03….》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《一、都江堰聚源中学截止2009.03…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十二)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十) …》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十九)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (五十) 2…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十七)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十六)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十五)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十五)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十三)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (五十一)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《被删文章”5.12遇难学生名单…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《被删文章”5.12遇难学生名单…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十二)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《三、都江堰新建小学名单截止09….》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十九)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十一)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (四十) 2…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《八、北川县陈家坝中学 截止09.0…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《五、北川中学(一) 09.04.01》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《蜡烛一百二十六 09.04.02》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十八)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十三)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十四)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十一)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十四)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十八)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:23
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (十七) …》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:22
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (十六) …》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:22
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十二)…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:22
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:22
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:22
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:21
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查(…》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:20
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查 …》已被管理员删除。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-07 16:20
您的文章《被删文章 “5.12遇难学生名单…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-06 07:15
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (四十) 2…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-06 01:21
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十一)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-06 01:21
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十八)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-06 00:09
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十一)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-05 04:58
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (四十) 2…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-05 04:58
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (四十) 2…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-05 02:45
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十一)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-05 02:44
您的文章《三、都江堰新建小学名单截止09….》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 03:33
您的文章《五、北川中学(一) 09.04.01》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 03:33
您的文章《六、北川中学(二) 截止09.03.31》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 03:33
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十六)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《一、都江堰聚源中学截止2009.03…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《六、北川中学(二) 截止09.03.31》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《五、北川中学(一) 09.04.01》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《三、都江堰新建小学名单截止09….》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (十六) …》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十五)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:10
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:07
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:07
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (四十) 2…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:07
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十一)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:07
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十二)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:07
您的文章《“5.12汶川地震死亡学生”调查 …》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:06
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十三)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:06
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十四)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:06
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单补充 (四十五)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:05
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:05
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (二十六)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:04
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:04
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (十九) …》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:04
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十二)…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:04
您的文章《5.12遇难学生名单 补充 (三十) …》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 02:04
您的文章《被删除文章 5.12遇难学生名单补…》已被管理员转移到回收站。给您带来的不便,深表歉意。
2009-04-04 01:44

Grass Mud Horses

As you can read in today’s New York Times, fascination with a “mythical” creature is the latest internet meme to go mainstream in China. That creature? The Grass Mud Horse.

Ostensibly, the Grass Mud Horse is an alpaca-like creature that lives in the Ma Le Desert and fights River Crabs. In actuality, though, the horse’s name is a pun for a vulgar Chinese curse, and symbol of the difficulty Chinese netizens can create for the PRCs internet censors.

Yes, we’re aware that we’re late to this party. However, we bring you something that some other websites won’t: a willingness to publish vulgar curse words (in English, anyway) so as to fully explain the puns.

Perhaps among the most popular “Grass Mud Horse” internet attractions is the tongue-in-cheek children’s’ song created for it, “Song of the Grass Mud Horse”. China Digital Times has translated it already, but we’ve translated it more vulgarly! For you, the reader!

[Disclaimer: This entry contains some very vulgar words in English, and if you were to do the translation you could learn some pretty vulgar Chinese words too. If that’s the sort of thing you’re offended by, or that could get you in trouble at work, don’t read further]

Translation:
In the vast and desolate beauty of the Ma Le Desert (1),
There is a group of Grass Mud Horses (2),
They are lively and intelligent,
They are mischievous and agile,
They live freely and easily in the Grass Mud Horse Desert (3)
Their indomitable courageousness conquers the difficult environment,
Oh, lying down (4) Grass Mud Horse,
Oh, running wild (5) Grass Mud Horse,
To keep their grasslands (6) from being eaten off, they defeated the River Crabs (7),
After this, River Crabs disappeared from the Grass Mud Horse Desert

The Puns:
(1) Sounds like “your mother’s cunt”
(2) Sounds like “Fuck your mother”
(3) Sounds like “Fuck your mother’s cunt”
(4) Sounds like “Fuck!”
(5) Sounds like “Fucking crazy”, sort of.
(6) Sounds like “Fuck!”
(7) Sounds like “harmony”, which is a reference to internet censorship. Since the government professes to do what it does for the sake of a “harmonious society”, Chinese netizens have been using “harmonized” as a verb to describe what happened to blocked websites for a while. The River Crab/Harmony pun goes back much further than the Grass Mud Horse pun.

It’s a vulgar song, to be sure, but barely noteworthy on the internet, that vast storehouse of vulgarity, were it not for the fact that it’s also a tongue-in-cheek jab at internet censorship (through the River Crab/Harmony pun explained above). What’s brilliant is that the message is so clear, yet technically, there aren’t even any obscenities in the song. Anyone hearing it would instantly recognize it for exactly what it is, yet it violates no laws because the message is conveyed entirely through puns. From the NY Times article:

To Chinese intellectuals, the songs’ message is clearly subversive, a lesson that citizens can flout authority even as they appear to follow the rules. “Its underlying tone is: I know you do not allow me to say certain things. See, I am completely cooperative, right?” the Beijing Film Academy professor and social critic Cui Weiping wrote in her own blog. “I am singing a cute children’s song — I am a grass-mud horse! Even though it is heard by the entire world, you can’t say I’ve broken the law.”

And indeed, this is just the latest indication that CCP censors face an almost insurmountable task in trying to “harmonize” the internet. It’s one thing to filter out sensitive search terms, but quite another to attempt to filter out clever puns and hidden meanings that, while clear to any human, are a bit beyond the capabilities of any computer filtering program. Of course, Chinese authorities could start filtering out “Grass Mud Horse” and “River Crab”, but they seem doomed to remain several steps behind the ingenuity of Chinese netizens.

Additionally, the Chinese language has so many homophones and near-homophones that censoring them all would be impossible. Were “Grass Mud Horse” censored, for example, netizens could pick from around 25 homophones for “grass”, over 60 homophones for “mud”, and around 30 for “horse”. Given that they would probably just need to change one character at a time, there are literally thousands of terms the censors would have to block — and that’s just to block homophones for one way to say “Fuck your mother”. Censoring “River Crab” would be even more problematic since River Crabs are, of course, real animals and there are plenty to legitimate reasons to discuss them online.

Chinayouren reported a while back on a blogger suggesting netizens start referring to Charter 08 as “Wang” to prevent censorship (the name Wang is the Chinese equivalent of Smith, and would be impossible to censor). It didn’t catch on, but it certainly could have, and that general approach to discussing “forbidden” topics seems to be catching on fast.

Increasingly, it appears the PRC may be forced to ease up on its ideological controls for fear of appearing irrelevant. Faced with the choice of claiming to control internet political content when such control is clearly impossible or painting themselves as the good guys by “granting” increased freedom of speech, they would certainly be better off taking the latter road. Whether they will, and how much they care about Grass Mud Horses, and the phenomenon they represent, remains to be seen.

Also of interest, in depressing economy news the job market has gotten so bad for college graduates that they are literally selling their free time as errand boys (or, in this case, girls).

Why Isn’t Hip-Hop Popular in China?

Today the New York Times published a piece called Now Hip-Hop, Too, Is Made In China about the emerging Chinese hip-hop scene. It asserts that hip-hop’s popularity is growing fast in China among young and working class people despite the fact that rappers cannot broadcast their music through mainstream channels. As the Times points out, you won’t hear any hip-hop in tomorrow’s Lunar New Years gala TV special.

The Times writes,

Over the last decade many students and working-class Chinese have been writing rap as a form of self-expression. Rougher and more rebellious than the well-scrubbed pop that floods the airwaves here, this kind of hip-hop is not sanctioned by broadcast media producers or state censors but has managed to attract a grass-roots fan base.

Indeed, government authorities can pose a problem, especially for live performances. The so-called “Godfather of Chinese Hip-Hop”, Dana Burton, told Foreign Policy, “We’ve had police shut our parties down, take the turntables out of the clubs. We’ve had police arrest our MCs. They say that we don’t have a permit, or that the words that we say are offensive.”

But, although it’s difficult to provide concrete numbers, the Times is likely overstating hip-hop’s widespread popularity among Chinese youth. Many of China’s most popular hip-hop groups were started by or are composed primarily of foreigners (Redstar, Yin T’sang, etc.). And outside of highly internationalized cities like Beijing and Shanghai, there seem to be few hip-hop acts and even less interest.

Censorship may be one reason, but another may be that, much like American audiences thirty years ago when hip-hop was being born in the Bronx, Chinese audiences generally don’t see the appeal of hip-hop yet. The Times quotes a Jay Chou fan as saying (about “real” hip-hop acts):

“I don’t know what groups like Yin Tsar are trying to do,” said Hua Lina, 35, an accountant. “They dress like bums, and sometimes they take off their shirts at performances, screaming like animals. Their lyrics are dirty — why would I want to pay to see that?”

The Times notes:

While Beijing’s underground music scene is generally under the authorities’ radar — hip-hop, indie rock and reggae groups perform regularly at nightclubs here — the producers representing broadcast media in China avoid musicians perceived as threatening.

Another reason hip-hop has failed to take off in China is that many hip-hop groups, probably as a result of being criticized for their lyrics and performances, have taken the same elitist and exclusivist tone that is evident in some American “underground” acts as well. Wang Liang, a hip-hop DJ, is quoted as saying artists like Jay Chou rap about love “and call it hip-hop when it isn’t.” Although its unclear what, if any, effect this has in China, in American it can often have the effect of turning fans away from artists they might otherwise like because they are told they can’t understand.

Chinese hip-hop’s biggest problem may be just that — understanding. If groups like Yin T’sang were being played on mainstream radio in China right now, the backlash would be enormous. Most people simply don’t understand where they are coming from, or the feelings they are expressing. Dana Burton notes, “A couple times I’ve wondered, ‘Are they going too far? Am I getting too conservative?’ They’re rapping about being involved with the mafia, or being underground, or doing drugs,” adding, “They don’t really rap about the government.” Most Chinese people just can’t understand that point of view. That will change, just as it has changed in America, but time is definitely needed.

Yet another obstacle is piracy. The Times article notes that corporate support is one of the few ways for artists to be successful financially in China, and that corporations would never put money behind “dirty” hip-hop groups like Yin T’sang, but it’s also worth noting that the vast majority of successful musical artists in China are not from mainland China and/or have support and international followings outside of the mainland. (Although the Times article paints Jay Chou as basically a CCP propagandist-cum-singer, it’s worth nothing that he is actually from Taiwan).

UPDATE: For an analysis of this article much harsher than my own, check out Bokane. For an analysis much deeper and better than my own, check out this blog (blocked in Mainland China).

Further Reading on Chinese Hip-Hop
Underground Hip-Hop in Shanghai (Asia Scout Network)
How a Muslim Convert from Detroit Became the Godfather of Chinese Hip-Hop (Foreign Policy)

[Note: The author of this article has been making hip-hop music for over a decade and currently resides in Harbin (China’s tenth largest city) where there is no hip-hop scene to speak of.]

Obama Censored in China

Yesterday, Obama was sworn in and became the 44th President of the United States of America, but the speech he gave was a little bit shorter for those that happened to be watching along on CCTV or following up later on the internet.

Specifically, when Obama mentioned America facing down communism, the CCTV anchor scrambled to cover it and then the coverage cut away entirely. And apparently after-the-fact translations and videos from various Chinese sources omit the line altogether.

This story has already been covered by a variety of other fine China websites, so rather than rehashing — and really there isn’t much to cover beyond the obvious anyway — here are some links:
China Censors Obama’s Reference to Communism (Reuters)
References to communism, dissent in Obama speech censored by Chinese media (Shanghaiist)
Obama’s inaguration speech slightly abridged for Chinese audiences (Imagethief)
Obama Speech Censored in China (Lost Laowai)
CCTV cuts broadcast of Obama address (Danwei)
The First Lies About President Obama (Chinayouren)

Here’s the video of CCTV’s broadcast of the speech:

Youku Buzz also has the full video of the speech with Chinese subtitles and the censored part left in.

Also of interest
2009, A Time to Remember? (Asia Sentinel): A great essay about history and memory translated by Alice Poon.
“Human Flesh Search Engines” banned in Xuzhou: stories in the Straits Times and on ChinaSMACK.
Third Confirmed Death from Bird Flu in a Month (Shanghaiist)