Tag Archives: Southern Metropolis Daily

Nanjing Publishes Real Pollution Data on Weibo, Then Deletes It

Beijing residents are probably familiar with the Twitter account @BeijingAir, which is run by the US Embassy and runs real-time updates on the air quality in Beijing. The reason this is necessary is that Beijing — and indeed China as a whole — does not publish data about PM2.5 particles in the air.

PM — which stands for Particulate Matter — is a way of measuring the amount of particles in the air. The number after PM indicates the size of the particles in micrometers. From the EPA’s official site:

Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

The Chinese government doesn’t publish PM2.5 numbers because they are pretty horrific, as Beijing residents who recall the #crazybad incident (or this year’s “beyond index” postings) are well aware. In fact, the US Embassy’s real-time posting of PM2.5 data so irked the Chinese government that they requested the Embassy find some way to ensure only Americans could see the tweets, according to Wikileaks cables. (The Embassy declined, and soon after Twitter was blocked in China and it became something of a moot point).

Anyway, earlier this week, a Chinese city did publish PM2.5 data publicly on it’s official Sina Weibo account. It just wasn’t on purpose. (Thanks to @kinablog for finding this link). The following is a partial translation of this article from Southern Metropolis Daily. I’ve left out bits that are non-essential or redundant given the explanation above.

Translation

At 7 AM on 11/14, the official Nanjing Weather microblog account posted a weather forecast as it always does, but this time for the first time ever they included PM2.5 [pollution] data from the day before. This is the first time PM2.5 data has ever been published by a city on the mainland. Shortly after, the microblog post was reposted by the Nanjing City Propaganda Committee official microblog account, but right after that the post was deleted, and the person who made the “Nanjing Weather” account post was sought for investigation. A representative for the Nanjing Meteorological Office [which runs the Nanjing Weather microblog] said that the Nanjing Meteorological Department does not have the right to publish PM2.5 data, and should not be tweeting it on microblogs.

That day, the Nanjing Weather tweet with the weather forecast said this:

In recent days, the atmosphere has been stable, but although the weather is clear, the air has been murky. A city probe found that visibility was under 8km and that PM2.5 levels were above 75ug/m^3, which is higher than usual.

When reposting this message, the Nanjing Propaganda Committee’s microblog account specifically added the warning “Please pay attention and protect yourself [i.e. protect your health].”

[…]

In accordance with the measuring standards of the US Embassy in Beijing [which uses the EPA standards used in the US], Nanjing’s 75ug/m^3 reading for PM2.5 corresponds to 156 on the Air Pollution Index, which is classified as Unhealthy. This level of pollution carries the warning: “individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.” [Although it’s worth noting that in Hong Kong, the same exact level of pollution is classified as “Very High” and the warning notes that healthy people may also experience discomfort].

After Nanjing Weather posted the PM2.5 data, it was rapidly reposted and noticed by netizens […] but the post in question was soon deleted from the Nanjing Weather and Nanjing Announcements accounts.

A spokesperson for the Nanjing Meteorological Department said that they do not have the right to post PM2.5 numbers publicly, according to a Nanjing Longhu Net report. The spokesman said that the microblog post should have have been sent out, and that they quickly handled the situation by deleting the post and finding the person responsible. The spokesman also confirmed that the Nanjing Meteorological Department does have two instruments that monitor PM2.5 levels, but that data is not public, and is only used for research. The spokesman said that as far as publishing PM2.5 levels goes, “that would be a good thing for most of the common people but from the Meteorological Department’s perspective it’s an instance of breaking a regulation, and that now is not the right time to publish these numbers. In the future, we will work together with the environmental protection bureau to publish them.”

The vice-department head of Beijing’s Environmental Protection Department was asked in an interview on ChinaNews on November 11 whether China had plans to begin publishing PM2.5 data, and he responded that Beijing would take the lead on this front, saying “Beijing is the capital, so perhaps it will move a bit faster [than other cities].”

Conclusion

This matters because, unpleasant smell aside, PM pollution is no joke. Check it:

The results of the 2002 follow-up study showed significant associations between PM2.5 and elevated risks for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality. The study found that each 10-microgram per-cubic-meter increase in long-term average PM2.5 concentrations was associated with approximately a 4% increased risk of death from all natural causes, a 6% increased risk of death from cardiopulmonary disease, and an 8% increased risk of death from lung cancer. Associations were also found with sulfur-containing air pollution but not other gaseous pollutants. On the other hand, measures of coarse particles were not consistently associated with mortality.

As the study researchers indicated in the press release for this study, the lung cancer risk associated with exposure to fine particulate matter is comparable to that faced by nonsmokers who live with smokers, and are exposed long term to secondhand cigarette smoke.

So, if each 10 ug/m^3 results in a 6% increased risk for cardiopulmonary disease and an 8% increased risk for cancer, then Nanjing’s 75 ug/m^3 air means that (assuming the air remained around that level most of the time) long term exposure would give Nanjing denizens a 45% increased risk of dying from cardiopulmonary disease and a 60% increased risk of dying from lung cancer, compared to a person who’s breathing clean air.

I don’t even want to think about what those numbers might look like for Beijing.

In the midst of China’s political problems, it’s good to remember that although the oppression is cruel and frustrating, pollution is an equally dire threat that affects literally everyone with functional lungs.

Well, everyone except government officials, who get access to special purified air along with their special organic food.

Photoshopped Pants and Why “Face” is a Poison

UPDATE: The nice folks over at 译者 have seen fit to translate this into Chinese. Check it out!

Warning: If you don’t like bitter rants, you may want to stop reading this after the first couple paragraphs. And if you don’t like sarcasm, you probably should never have come to this site in the first place.

Well, if you were wondering whether or not the “new masters” at the Beijing News (新京报) were going to exert control over the paper, wonder no longer. Behold:

You may already have heard about the tourist from Luoyang who came to see Beijing and got sent home and beaten because he was mistaken for a petitioner (keep in mind, it is not illegal to come to Beijing and petition the government anyway).

The image above is of said petitioner, passed out in the street after being beaten by police. The top photo was posted by Southern Metropolis Daily (as you can see by the watermark), one of the relatively independent newspapers in the Southern Media Group. The bottom one was posted to Weibo by — you guessed it! — the Beijing News.

Facepalm. Now, mix that with the revelation that national security police detained harassed and threatened a reporter for “revealing state secrets” because he reported on a former official’s sex dungeon murders. That’s right. The fact that a former firefighter was keeping six KTV hostesses in a sex dungeon — well, until he killed at least one of them, possibly two — that’s a “state secret.”

Of course, what they actually meant by “revealing state secrets” is ‘causing the local police force to lose face’. You may be wondering how trying to conceal sex slavery, kidnapping, and double homicide isn’t somehow a bigger loss of face. By all accounts the criminal here was not some high-level official…anyway, we’re getting sidetracked.

In both instances, the issue is face. Of course, in these cases, the “face-saving” effort was completely botched, but the principle is the same. Truth doesn’t enter into the equation, it’s all about polishing that turd and hoping someone — anyone — is fooled.

Time and time again, Chinese officials use this approach to take a real problem, an embarrassment, or, in some cases, nothing at all and turn it into a disaster (or a bigger disaster). Off the top of my head, here are a few examples:

  • The “Jasmine Revolution Protests” — Protests “organized” by a handful of overseas Chinese no one had ever heard of attracted almost no one save a few curious onlookers and a bunch of bemused journalists. Bemused, at least, until the cops showed up and started pushing people around trying to shut down a protest that wasn’t actually happening. They eventually locked up half ((Yes, I’m being hyperbolic. It’s a rhetorical strategy; shut up.)) of Beijing’s intelligentsia — none of whom had any connection to the calls for protest, of course ((If they have, we’ve seen no evidence of it)) — and beat up a couple Western journalists just to ensure what would have been the year’s biggest non-story would become a smoldering embarrassment that managed to garner international criticism even when half the Arab world was on fire.
  • The Wenzhou Train Crash — The crash was a disaster in and of itself, and one that was getting more embarrassing for China as each new detail emerged. But somehow, officials managed to make a horrible situation even worse by bungling rescue efforts, burying train cars, and then playing down these mistakes in what has got to be the most inept press conference in world history. When people started criticizing them, they tried to cover that up by deleting posts, then tried to un-cover-up the cover-up by letting people speak freely for a while, then went back to covering-up by deleting posts when it seemed things were getting out of hand. In doing so, they took what was a disaster for the nation’s high speed rail and turned it into a disaster for the nation, but most especially, for themselves and their own legitimacy.
  • The Sichuan Earthquake — Another disaster, this one was made worse by the fact that when people attempted to investigate the cause of collapsed buildings — or even just collect the names of the dead — they were harried, bullied, and harassed at every turn. This, of course, served to convince everyone the government was hiding something and by the time they finally released their own list of names, most people had already made up their minds about what had happened. As a result, the original story (gov’t built shoddy buildings, kids died as a result) — which was already pretty bad — got worse: gov’t built shoddy buildings, kids died as a result, gov’t tried to hide this even though it was plainly evident, gov’t probably now rebuilding things with same shoddy practices.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Whatever the situation, it can — and often will — be made worse by official attempts to save face.

Saving face is a universal desire — after all, who wants to look bad? — but given that “face” is essentially pure vanity with another name, some people are remarkably shameless about it here.

China is, as its “defenders” will point out to you endlessly, a developing country. Despite the shiny facades in Shanghai and Beijing ((not that you can see the shiny facades in Beijing for all the pollution…)), anyone who’s been to the countryside knows that this is still a third world country in many respects. I certainly don’t envy the people charged with running it.

But I have no sympathy or forgiveness for their perpetual desire to hide the truth — from the rest of the world ((a.k.a. that one country called 外国 where everyone eats 西餐 and has really cute babies.)) and from their own people and (probably) even themselves.

The story, of course, is that this is all in the name of national stability. If the people were allowed to see that man with his pants ripped, things could go bad. So they’ll get part of the truth — a watered down, photoshopped Truth Substitute (TM) that tastes almost like the real thing. See? Stability!

But even a little lie is still a lie. And though I’m still young, I’m old enough at least to have learned that the lie that stabilizes things in the short term (“No, I didn’t put that ding in your car!”) can be destabilizing and downright destructive in the long term. Especially when, day after day, you’re adding little lies on top of yesterday’s lies in an attempt to maintain the facade (“No really, I can’t even drive stick!”). Sooner or later, the whole thing is going to crumble.

The train crash, shoddy building practices, etc. — it’s very obvious that Chinese leaders, most of them anyway, are playing the short term game, so it’s no surprise they don’t care what their truth-massaging might lead to down the road. But for their sake, and for ours, I hope someone up there realizes this before they make whatever the next disaster is worse, too. Or, god forbid, the whole tower of lies comes crashing down on top of them.

That might seem like poetic justice. But of course, if the tower does collapse, it’s the people under them who will ultimately get crushed.

Thoughts on Patriotism, Old and New

The other day, my fiancee asked me — rather out of the blue — if I was proud to be an American. The question caught me off guard. Pressed for an answer, I suggested that I was sometimes proud to be American, and by way of example noted the recent “terror mosque” controversy that’s happening in the US right now as something I am not proud of ((because the people opposed to this “terror mosque”, which is actually a muslim community center, should be an embarrassment to any American who has read (or even just glanced at) the Constitution.)). (As a side note, Jon Stewart and the folks at the Daily Show have, as ever, been doing an amazing job skewering the idiots opposed to the community center and I highly recommend watching their coverage if you aren’t already).

In any event, such questions always make me think about patriotism, and in this case caused me to search for a famous essay of Chen Duxiu’s I read and translated back when I was working on my undergraduate thesis. Unfortunately, I didnt end up using the translation in the thesis, and have since lost it. It has been translated many times before, but a quick Google search didn’t immediately turn up a translation, and I discovered the Chinese original text isn’t that easy to find either (though I did find it). So, though it’s been done earlier and better elsewhere, here’s a quick translation of Chen Duxiu’s famous “Should be be patriotic?” essay. If you’re looking for a copy of the original text in simplified characters, mouseover my translation for that (or use this cool mirror site).

Chen Duxiu: “Should we be patriotic?”

“Be patriotic! Be patriotic! These days, this call permeates even the furthest reaches of our society. It is on the lips of corrupt officials and barbaric soldiers; even the traitorous don’t dare say unpatriotic things in public. Since the Shandong incident [in which parts of Shandong province were ceded to Germany in 1897], the patriotic clamor has risen to a roar. It is as if the word patriotism [爱国] itself has been ordained by heaven, no discussion is permitted.

Emotions and reason are two important parts of the human spirit, but there are times when the two conflict. Patriotism is mostly emotion, and reason plays a relatively minor role. At times, reason plays no role whatsoever (German and Japanese soldiers are like this). Human behavior is the natural result of impulsiveness. I think if reason could be used as the foundation of this ‘impulsiveness’, only then could emotions be solid and unchangeable. In society, when emotions are running high, people think that their rashness is righteous, and blindly forgetting about reason, they do evil things their rational selves never would (the murder of civilians in England and France during the first World War is an example of this). This is because in large groups, people cannot use reason as the foundation of their emotions, so a mass of people is blind. Sometimes, they do good, other times, they do evil. Because of this, I’d like to raise a rational discussion from the word that everyone so blindly follows, “patriotism”, and ask everyone: should we be patriotic?

If we don’t found our discussion in reason, then patriotism won’t be able to be any kind of lasting motivating force for our behavior, whether the impetus for it is that the masses are blindly following the call for “patriotism”, the officials are ordering us not to be patriotic, or the government is telling us to be patriotic.

If you’re going to ask whether or not we should love our country, you must first ask what our country is. Originally, countries were just groups of people who banded together to resist oppressive forces from outsiders, and a way of managing travel and interpersonal disputes. The good could use the idea of “country” to repel outside forces and pacify internal disputes. The evil could use it to repress outside forces and oppress their own people.

We Chinese were closed off from the world, and before the domination of Japan and the commencement of trade relations with the West, we had only the concept of Tianxia [天下, literally “all under heaven”], there was no concept of a nation-state [国家]. So among the common people, the idea of “patriotic thought” hasn’t penetrated very deeply. If you want to make it long-lasting like it is among the peoples of Europe where multiple nations have coexisted since ancient times, rather than just temporary, I fear that will not be easy.

In Europe, multiple countries have coexisted since time immemorial, so patriotic thought has become a deeply-rooted part of their natural characters. Recently [in China], some lofty thinkers, individualists, and cosmopolitanists have not only suggested that the idea of a nation is artificial rather than natural; moreover they’ve seen and heard about dark and evil things done at home and abroad, all in the name of the nation. Since they oppose the nation, it’s natural they aren’t advocates of patriotism. In their minds, patriotism is another name for something that hurts people. They view patriotic martyrs as confused lunatics.

We are uneducated, unknowledgeable, disunited Chinese, our lack of patriotism is not the same as the lack of patriotism practiced by that group of lofty idealists. And officials preventing the people from engaging in patriotic activities is also, needless to say, very different from what those people are saying. Although at present I cannot dare to hope that we uneducated, unknowledgeable, and disunited Chinese could have lofty ideals, I don’t want Chinese to be uneducated, unknowledgeable, and disunited for long. Even if our countrymen were to suddenly be educated, knowledgeable, and united, only later could they be qualified to unite with lofty idealists the world over and unify the world.

Our China is weak and oppressed, and there are of course also still many internal evils being committed. Patriotism can be used as a tool to extort the people and repress individuality, but China does not at the moment have the ability to use it to oppress outsiders. To even suggest that China could use nationalism and the people’s patriotic spirit to oppress someone else [at the present time] is preposterous.

Lofty thinkers oppose patriotism, hateful opportunists use it to repress others. Although China can’t use patriotism to repress anyone else, we’ve already been oppressed by others nearly to our breaking point. Unlike oppressing others, being patriotic for the sake of resisting oppression and surviving is not something that should be opposed, no matter how lofty a thinker you are. A person’s self-respect, regardless of how it develops, is not a bad thing so long as it does not have a negative effect on others.

So, in accordance with the discussion above, if someone asks whether or not we should be patriotic, we should shout: What we love is the nation of people using patriotism to resist oppressors, not the government using patriotism to oppress other countries! What we love is the country that exists for the happiness of its people, not the country that people must sacrifice themselves for! ((In my translation here I referred several times to one I found rendered in Striving Toward a Lovable Nation: Nationalism and Individual Agency in the Writings of Chen Duxiu, an undergraduate thesis by Wesleyan 2010 graduate (one hopes) Antoine Cadot-Wood. I came across it only by chance, but its focus is quite similar to that of my own undergraduate thesis, which is interesting.))

Just a few months ago, Southern Metropolis Daily published a modern take on Chen Duxiu’s classic essay by historian Hong Zhenkuai, which was translated in full by the wonderful but distressingly inactive CHINAYOUREN blog. We suggest you click through for the full piece, but here is a relevant excerpt [I have made some minor changes for grammar]:

The functions of a State should be performed by the government. If the government can do these functions, then the State is “seeking happiness for the people”; if not, then it becomes “the State for which the people sacrifice”. In human history the most common in practice is that the government cannot fulfill the State’s functions, or else it does them poorly. In this case it can appear that government equals no government. Or that government is even worse than no government.

[…]

In any society there are some large tasks that involve many people, and there is no way any organization can do them other than the government. If the government cannot perform its responsibilities, the society becomes unruly, and public interests suffer. For example, food safety, public health, protection of the environment; these kind of affairs need to be taken charge of by the government.

In the development of human societies, this problem has been encountered for a long time: the people need the government but the government cannot live up to their expectations, protect them against outside menaces or provide internal services. In many cases it even evolves into an organization that infringes on the people’s rights.

To make the government do its task diligently, the people need to have the right to supervise the government, and the most effective way is to elect the government by voting. The people need to understand what is common sense – that is, as Liang Qichao said, that the State is not the dynasty (government). The dynasty can be changed for the survival of the State. What the people should love is their country, and not the dynasty.

As Chen Duxiu points out, however, this modern conception of patriotism is not something that’s existed in Chinese culture for long. In my own research for my undergraduate thesis, which involved May Fourth-era patriotism among other things, I found that overwhelmingly, “patriots” from traditional times were people who sacrificed themselves for the government, often in cases when it was painfully clear that the government was in the wrong (see, for example, Qu Yuan, Yue Fei, etc.). And, of course, the whole question is also mucked up by the fact that it’s difficult to trace terms like “patriot” across linguistic and cultural barriers and through history without sacrificing some accuracy. Thus, I wrote,

It is difficult to trace exactly when the term aiguo first came into use and when it was applied to figures like Qu Yuan. It seems likely that in traditional China, there was no differentiation between patriotism and political loyalty, and appeals to any kind of patriotic or loyalist sentiment based on China as a cultural entity came only in times of external threat. Still, Giles’s A Chinese Biographical Dictionary (published in 1898) specifically mentions that figures like Wen Tianxiang were patriotic. This indicates that, at the very least, these figures were understood widely as patriots at least two decades before the May Fourth movement began. Those who would argue that patriotism is an entirely modern concept that did not exist in traditional China must at least admit that the actions and writings of Qu Yuan, Yue Fei, and Wen Tianxiang were considered patriotic in pre-May Fourth China. Whether one understands them as loyalists who were later redefined as patriots when the term was introduced or not, the effect is the same. They indicate what was considered love of one’s country in traditional China and how that love was primarily expressed: through loyalty to one’s superiors.

The idea of patriotism meaning loyalty to the dynasty, it seems, has fairly deep roots. This is not, of course, altogether untrue outside of China’s borders. Certainly in the US, morons on both sides of the party lines routinely accuse their critics of being unpatriotic because they oppose something an incumbent official has done.

In any event, rereading Chen Duxiu’s essay in 2010 is interesting because China’s situation has changed radically. It is now very much in a position to use patriotism as a force to oppress others, should it wish to. In fact, China’s more technically apt netizens fire off a volley or two of just that sort of nationalism from time to time. Oscar Wilde called patriotism “the virtue of the vicious.” Was he wrong?

What should the role of patriotism be in modern China? Or to put it in Chen Duxiu’s words, should we be patriotic?

Domestic Media Coverage of Xinjiang Riots’ First Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of last year’s deadly July 5th riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang, where 200 people were killed and another 1,700 injured when rioters — mostly Uyghurs — took to the streets in what seems to have been a protest that got way, way, out of hand. Most of the casualties were Han Chinese, increasing ethnic tensions in an already tense region.

The government responded quickly, blaming external separatist forces for organizing the riots, and quickly shut down the internet and telephone services in Xinjiang completely. Social networking sites supposedly used in the organization of the riots, such as Facebook, were also blocked nationwide. Over the past year, the government has slowly returned internet and other telecommunication services to Xinjiang, a process that Josh Summers has chronicled on his excellent Far West China blog.

The government has also been beefing up security significantly in Urumqi, where the police for has swelled and CCTV (closed-circuit) cameras are being installed that will cover the entire city Big Brother-style.

Everyone knows anniversaries are sensitive affairs in China. So what is the Chinese media reporting on the anniversary, if anything? That, it turns out, depends very much on what you read, and in what language.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, this is all based on what was on their websites’ front pages, as of around 10AM July 5. Obviously, there may well be changes later in the day.

China’s major English papers, the China Daily and the Global Times, both have front page stories on the anniversary. The stories contain a basic overview of the riots and ensuing communications blackout juxtaposed with the stories of Han orphans whose parents were killed by Uyghur rioters. The China Daily quotes only one Uyghur source, briefly, and does not speak to the causes of the riots or the motivations of the rioters. The Global Times article does not quote an Uyghur sources at all (Whoops! It actually does quote one Uyghur source, my apologies). Both papers also ran these stories on the front pages of their print editions.

Still, these fare much better than other domestic English news outlets. The People’s Daily does have several pieces on Xinjiang, but the one that really addresses the riots is just a copy of the China Daily’s piece. Xinhua’s English service doesn’t address the anniversary at all; today’s top stories include pieces on the summer heat, Wimbledon, and a piece on “glamorous female bodyguards worldwide.”

The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong paper, is running an article today questioning some evidence against one of the alleged Urumqi rioters; however, Hong Kong papers are obviously not subject to the same scrutiny as mainland media outlets.

Xinhua’s Chinese service doesn’t seem to mention the anniversary on their front page at all. Neither do the front pages of the Southern Metropolis Daily, the Beijing Daily, or the Xinjiang Daily. The Beijing News didn’t address the story on its website or in the print edition (this is the only Chinese print edition I’ve had time to check so far this morning).

Foreign media have had difficulty reporting on the anniversaries too. Al-Jazeera corresponded Melissa Chan was using Twitter to post updates on their attempts to report in Urumqi yesterday, and wrote that in the morning alone, her team was stopped by police on seven different occasions, and that police were present for every interview they conducted. “Thinking I should get t-shirts made with my press card number and passport details for authorities’ convenience,”, she wrote around noon yesterday.

Western media reports marking the anniversary likely won’t be filed until this evening because of the time difference, but I expect a very different tone in their coverage of the anniversary. (Al Jazeera has run a story already, though).

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