Tag Archives: Weibo

The Wukan Elections on Social Media

Just in case you’re out of the loop: villagers in Wukan hit the polls today. Although there are elections in villages all over China, this one is especially significant given what led up to it and the extent to which it has got people elsewhere in China thinking about democracy.

For on the ground information, you should look to Tom Lasseter and Louisa Lim, who are actually in Wukan and have been tweeting updates and photos all day. As I’m not in Wukan, I thought I’d take a look at what’s on Weibo instead. (Sure it’s lazy and overdone, but Weibo will probably be dead soon, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is still hot).

With regards to censorship, searches for the “Wukan” are no longer blocked, but it does appear that Sina is at least downplaying the interest in the elections by keeping it off of the trending topics list. As of Saturday evening at around 8:00, Wukan posts were coming in at a rate of several (1-3 on average) per minute, significantly faster than some of the topics that were trending at the same time (average of less than 1 new post per minute). Now, this wasn’t exactly a scientific study or anything, but it does appear that from a posts-per-minute perspective, the Wukan elections should appear on the national trending topics list. That it doesn’t may be a result of the fact that the list is handpicked, not automatic.

But, like I said, searches for “Wukan” are still allowed and posts about the elections don’t seem to be getting deleted. The Chinese media is also covering and discussing the elections, so it’s clearly getting more play than it was back when the town was a rebel village under siege (no surprise there).

As you might expect, the Weibo messages from Wukan residents themselves today are mostly about the election, and from the accounts I’ve looked out there seems to be more-or-less universal satisfaction and pride. They’re sharing stories about old people voting for the first time and kindhearted volunteers helping keep the voting area clean. They’ve also been passing around this comparison photo made by a Beijing netizen that compares the scene today in Beijing (left), Wukan (center), and Hong Kong (right):

(The idea here is that the dog-and-pony-show “two meetings” in Beijing doesn’t compare favorably to the democracy in Wukan or the free criticism of political leaders in Hong Kong.)

Many others outside Wukan are also comparing the elections there to the CPPCC/NPC meetings in Beijing. In one popular post from earlier tonight, a netizen wrote, that the consciousness of the Chinese people is “reduced” by the CPPCC/NPC meetings but is “awakened” by the elections in Wukan.

Among intellectuals, there’s also the expected discussion and qualifying of this “victory” for Wukan’s system, as expressed (among other places) in this comment by a fairly popular independent scholar:

I’ve never been opposed to one-person-one-vote, what I’m opposed to is the worship of one-person-one-vote. It’s just the most shallow layer of democracy. If that’s all you have, and you don’t have any of the deeper layers that separate and restrict the powers [of government institutions] then there’s no way to prevent autocracy.

Most people seem to be happy for and/or jealous of Wukan, and many also see it as a sign of impending reforms or, for some, more sweeping changes:

Wukan is the beginning of Chinese democracy, a single spark can ignite a prairie fire.

We’ll see. As of now, I don’t believe they’re even finished counting the votes. But how things will look in a year is even less clear. Still, it’s hard not to feel good about what’s happening there right now, for me personally and, it appears, for an awful lot of Sina Weibo users, too.

High-Level Defection or Convenient Vacation?

UPDATE 7: For an alternative theory, check out this post on Inside-out China.

UPDATE 6: The Chinese government has now announced that Wang Lijun did enter the US consulate and that they are “investigating.” Of course, we knew all that, but this announcement was — like the last one — posted to Weibo, where it immediately spread like wildfire. It seems quite obvious now that the authorities are letting this story spread on purpose.

The reason for this that we have been talking about is that it weakens Bo Xilai, something that some within the Party very much want to see happen. Alternatively, though, allowing this news to spread could be an attempt to “soften the blow” when Wang is almost inevitably branded corrupt and a traitor. Because he played a leading role in the anti-corruption campaigns in Chongqing, Wang is quite popular with average Chinese people, and much more widely known than the average vice-mayor. Perhaps the rumors and these announcements of things we already know are being intentionally spread to incept ((OK, that’s hyperbolic, but when else am I going to get to use this word?)) the idea that Wang, who we previously thought was good, is now bad.

Of course, there were already plenty of questions about the way the Chongqing anti-crime campaigns were conducted. If nothing else, these updates just continue to underscore that we still really have no idea what’s actually happening.

UPDATE 5: At the moment, Wang is back on the Sina Weibo trending topics list twice. “王力军” (an intentional mistyping of his name is #2 on the trending topics list, and the phrase “vacation-style medical treatment” is #7. Searches for “Wang Lijun” (typed correctly) remain uncensored. It’s quite clear that Sina is not trying to suppress this story at all, which begs the question: is someone at Sina trying to damage Bo Xilai?

UPDATE 4: The US State Department has confirmed that Wang Lijun was at the US consulate and that he left of his own volition, although they won’t talk about whether or not he asked for asylum. Very interesting. Here’s the relevant bit of the transcript from the State Department press briefing:

QUESTION: — specifically these reports coming out of China that a deputy mayor of Chongqing had sought refuge at the consulate in Chengdu and that there had been an unexpected increase in security personnel around the consulate for a while. What can you tell us about any of this?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you’re referring to reports about the vice mayor of Chongqing – right – City. So his name is Wang Lijun. Wang Lijun did request a meeting at the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu earlier this week in his capacity as vice mayor. The meeting was scheduled, our folks met with him, he did visit the consulate and he later left the consulate of his own volition. So – and obviously, we don’t talk about issues having to do with refugee status, asylum, et cetera.

QUESTION: Okay. But – so can you tell us exactly when that meeting took place?

MS. NULAND: I believe – we’re here on Wednesday – I believe it was Monday, but if that is not right, we will get back to you.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about what – have you had any subsequent contact with him? Because there’s some questions about his whereabouts.

MS. NULAND: Yeah. To my knowledge, we have not.

QUESTION: And aside from any possible thing that you couldn’t talk about on asylum can you tell us what he did talk about there? What was the purpose of this meeting?

MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t have anything at the moment on the substance of the meeting.

QUESTION: Can you say why you said he used – why you used the term, “he left the consulate of his – on his own volition”?

MS. NULAND: Well again, there has been some reporting to indicate that that might not have been the case, but it was the case.

QUESTION: Okay. The reporting being that he had been forced to leave or that had been dragged out, or —

MS. NULAND: There’s been unusual reporting about all of this. So just to reaffirm for you, that he walked out, it was his choice.

UPDATE 3: Ai Weiwei has tweeted that according to a reliable American lawyer, Wang Lijun once asked the US consulate for asylum. However, he doesn’t name the source, and the word “once” makes it unclear when this happened. Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily News is reporting the rumors are true and that Wang asked for and was denied asylum, after which he was arrested, but who knows how accurate that is.

Meanwhile, McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter (@TomLasseter) is in Chengdu checking things out and finding things seem more or less normal.

UPDATE 2: Added a bit to the rumor section about Wang allegedly divulging information to the US.

UPDATE 1: See also this excellent piece by Tania Branigan in the Guardian with additional information.

Weibo and Twitter are buzzing today about an incident that apparently took place at the US consulate in Chengdu last night (thanks to @niubi for first bringing it to my attention). As far as I am aware, at the moment there are only a few real facts connected to this situation, and they are these:

  • Last night, the US Embassy consulate in Chengdu was surrounded by a large number of cars from the People’s Armed Police and other security organizations.
  • The US Embassy is not commenting on the situation, at least for the time being. Update: Still no comment, but this article confirms that the US had not requested the police presence outside the consulate.
  • The Chongqing Press Office announced this morning that Chongqing vice-mayor Wang Lijun is on “vacation-style medical leave” for “nerves”. (Reportedly, Wang’s mobile phone is switched off).
  • Sina has been censoring searches for “Wang Lijun” on and off throughout the day. ((at the moment I write this, it appears to be uncensored again, but I have seen it blocked and unblocked again twice this morning.))

So those are the facts as we know them. Here’s the narrative that’s been circulating which, for the moment, should be taken as very much still a rumor: Wang Lijun approached the US consulate in Chengdu last night to request political asylum. At present, he is either still inside the consulate, or has been refused and handed over to Chinese national security police. Update: According to some versions of the story, he was in the consulate for quite some time, and may have divulged significant amounts of privileged information to US diplomats.

What the hell is going on? I’m not at all sure. Making things especially weird is the fact that these topics quickly shot to the top of Sina Weibo’s trending topics list, but then disappeared. Searches for “Wang Lijun” were blocked, then unblocked, then blocked again, and now appear to be unblocked again. For reference, below is a screenshot I took of the search page during the first round of blocking (that I noticed, it may have been blocked and unblocked before this).

What’s really interesting about this — aside from the fact that I’ve never seen a search term blocked and unblocked so quickly before — is that whatever the truth behind the consulate kerfuffle and Wang Lijun’s involvement, this incident has two major potential political ramifications.

On the international side, the implications of a high-level official defecting or attempting to defect just before soon-to-be-president Xi Jinping makes his visit to the US could be huge. If the US were to grant Wang asylum, that would be….well, awkward probably doesn’t even begin to cover it.

On the domestic side, with China’s leadership transition fast approaching and Wang being high in Bo Xilai’s Chongqing administration, a defection or even just a rumored defection on Wang’s part could seriously damage Bo’s position. Certainly, there are forces within the Party who are very opposed to Bo’s rise, and it’s hard to think of what better ammunition they could have against him than something like this. On Twitter, @niubi theorized that Sina could be allowing some of the posts about Wang Lijun to go through on purpose to damage Bo Xilai’s reputation, and that certainly seems possible.

Assessing the likelihood that any of this (beyond the facts) is real is very difficult. On the one hand, the US generally doesn’t grant asylum from in-country embassies, precisely because those embassies are easy to surround with police. A year or so ago, I was asked by a Chinese friend to research this process, and found that generally speaking, it’s much easier to be granted political asylum if you’re outside the country you want asylum from. It strikes me that if Wang Lijun really did flee to the Chengdu consulate to request asylum, he must have been in a rather desperate situation. Otherwise, presumably, he could have waited for an opportunity to travel abroad and had a much greater chance of success.

Then again, a high-level official like Wang might be just the sort of person the US is willing to take that risk for. But it’s an awfully big risk, and the diplomatic fallout if the US granted Wang asylum would be massive. Still, if word of the incident gets out — and it certainly seems that’s happening — rejecting Wang’s application would be a PR loss internationally.

Anyway, it’s not at all clear what the heck is going on here, but whatever it is, it’s definitely interesting. We’ll keep an eye on it, but interested parties should pay special attention to Weibo, where there’s a lot of chatter about Wang and his “vacation-style medical leave” that is getting through the on-again off-again censorship.

The Siege of Wukan, Part III: Making Martyrs

(See Part I, Part II)

UPDATE 3: With regard to the video links below, my connection to the first file was dropped, but I was able to watch the first few minutes. It appears to be a documentary of sorts on Wukan; however, my file ended while the film was still introducing the town’s history. I’m now trying to download both files again.

UPDATE 2: Just spotted the following weibo post from one of the Wukan connections. Not sure exactly what it’s referring to, but it was just posted a few minutes ago:

Just now a person [or people ((Chinese doesn’t always distinguish between singular and plural, and there’s not enough context here to know which was meant))] from the government came to our school and forced students to sign something pertaining to the selling off of the Biguiyuan land. When the villagers learned of it they became agitated and sprayed them [the government person or people] with urine. Running dogs!

UPDATE 1: Information in the first paragraph corrected. Additionally, I have downloaded the second video file linked below, but get an error with any software I try to open it with. The first file is still downloading. Also of note: Malcolm Moore’s explanation of why they opted to leave Wukan (again, I think you probably need a G+ account to see that).

Malcolm Moore has left Wukan. To my knowledge, there are now no reporters in the village. Based on Weibo posts from Wukan residents, it appears there is at least one Hong Kong reporter still in Wukan.

Surprisingly, though, many of the Weibo accounts I found yesterday remain open. I suspect this is in large part because their networks are quite small. None of them are verified users, and most have only a few dozen or a couple hundred followers. It may be difficult for Sina to find them.

In any event, their posts over the past few days have elucidated what a crucial error the government made in detaining five of the villagers’ leaders and in likely killing ((According to two Chinese media reports I spotted yesterday, the government claims two different parties have examined the body and determined he wasn’t beaten to death, but they have failed to determine why he did die, which makes me quite suspicious. Meanwhile, Xue’s family — who was needed to identify the body — says his body was covered with wounds)) Xue Jinbo.

It’s no secret that Xue has become a martyr in the village, and in almost all the Weibo posts I’ve seen, he and the others who were arrested are being referred to as heroes [英雄]. Moreover, the government’s attempts to propagandize their detention and use them to quell the villagers is, if Weibo is any indication, a complete failure.

Take, for example, the video below. In it, Zhang Jiancheng (one of the five village leaders arrested) meets with his sister (according to the video’s timestamp, this happened on Tuesday afternoon). In the video, after a strange moment when the audio completely drops out, Zhang tells his sister he’s being treated well, he hasn’t been beaten, the food is great, the government is good, and that the village should “trust the leaders” to resolve this problem. In short, he says exactly what the government would want him to say.

http://www.tudou.com/v/mRU9K4Vxyqc/v.swf

So, how is this video being interpreted by folks in Wukan? Here’s a quote from one Wukan user I’ve also seen retweeted by several others. ((To make finding these people more difficult for Sina’s censors, I will not provide the original Chinese text))

Ruichao, Jiancheng, and Liehong [three of the arrested “heroes”] have given us words with hidden meanings, and teach us that in a time of crisis you must be clever. Some of our Wukan heroes have been arrested and treated maliciously by the government; from their words we can tell that the government is treating them ‘specially’, and is also telling them to memorize lines [to recite on camera] but they have a secret understanding with us, [so] they speak calmly. The clothes they’re wearing cover up the cuts and bruises all over their bodies.

Although personally I found Jiancheng’s performance suspicious myself — his “lines” were a little too perfect, and why did the sound drop out when his sister first arrived — I’m inclined to suspect that at this point, there’s nothing any of these men could say while in police custody that would lead the villagers to surrender. There is simply zero trust in the government there, and that people are being tortured and beaten by the police seems to be a baseline assumption.

So, even as the government attempts to use the arrestees for propaganda purposes within the village (see the video above) and outside it (see the news stories about the “five criminal suspects” arrested in Wukan), Wukan villagers are hailing the men as heroes.

I will update this story or post additional stories as the situation warrants. One of the Wukan users has posted two video download links to his Weibo account, and I am currently attempting to download them, but given the speed of my internet, it may be some time before I can properly see what they are.

If you have a faster connection than I and would like to download the videos for yourself, here at the links. I suspect they’ll be deleted soon. I have no idea what they contain, but the user who posted them requested that they be spread and reposted. His weibo post with that request has since been deleted, so the links will likely follow soon.
Part 1 1.1 GB (appears to be a documentary of sorts on Wukan)
Part 2 213 MB (content unclear, file wouldn’t open)

The Siege of Wukan, Part II: Weibo Impressions

(This post will likely be updated repeatedly throughout the day tomorrow, so do check back frequently or follow @ChinaGeeks on Twitter for notifications about updates.)

UPDATE 1: Added video (h/t to CDT), see bottom of post.

Earlier today I wrote a long post about the Wukan protests and siege, which was based primarily on these two articles by Malcolm Moore. If you haven’t already, please read them both now:

Inside Wukan: the Chinese village that fought back

Rebel Chinese village of Wukan ‘has food for ten days’

As I have no way of getting to, let alone into, Wukan, I began to search Sina Weibo for updates from people in that area. Unsurprisingly for a town of more than 10,000 people, there are plenty of them on Weibo. As discusses yesterday, some of their accounts have been deleted, and specific posts about the protests and the siege are being deleted rapidly. But there’s still plenty of interesting stuff worth pointing out.

First, as to how we got here, one user posted this image from earlier in the year, before police had been driven out of the village. In it, you can clearly see (despite the regrettably small size limitation imposed by Weibo) several different instances of uniformed police and what appear to be soldiers beating citizens on the streets, in broad daylight.

Another thing that has struck me reading through these accounts ((I’m not going to link any of them as I don’t want to tip off Sina’s censors, but they’re really not too difficult to find if you want to check for yourself.)) is that these people are not dissidents, at least not in the same sense as someone like Liu Xiaobo or Ai Weiwei. Most of the Weibo accounts I found belonged to young people, and interspersed with the political messages about their hometown and what’s happening there, there are normal posts about all the things you would expect: the weather, school, cute girls (or boys), funny animations, etc.

I feel certain that somewhere after this is over, there will be people who will be looking to write these people off the way they write off any dissident activity in China. But these are not, by and large, dissidents, or even people who seem to be particularly politically inclined, from what I can tell of their Weibo histories. They’re just people who’ve been forced into an extreme political situation and have chosen to stand up for themselves rather than backing down. Good for them. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re being funded by the NED or being misled by Western propagandists. That’s bullshit.

They also are very aware of the thin ice they’re walking on. It seems clear the decision to rise up was not one they came to lightly. Rather, they were pushed to it, it seems, by the wanton greed and utter stupidity of the local authorities.

Being particularly frightened by how that stupidity might well play out as this situation moves toward some kind of resolution, I was moved by this weibo post from one young man in Wukan. He wrote:

It’s dangerous here. I want to get out.

Still, their collective spirit appears to still be strong. Here’s a video from a few days ago; according to the description it says that the same video was also uploaded to Sina and deleted in less than an hour.

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.