Saturday, 27 September 2008


The following article was written by a chief executive in a Chinese publishing company and published in the New York Times:

I always used to hate it when foreigners focused on censorship of the media in China. I think foreigners have this image of a Fu Manchu-like Chinaman, sitting in a dark corner trying to censor everything. I often wanted to say: “It is not like that. We don’t really feel that much censorship.”

Take my job as a lifestyle magazine editor and publisher. We have not been censored for the last four years, and we have had pretty aggressive (i.e., very sexy) fashion shoots, etc. I mean, FHM is the
most popular men’s magazine here.

Clearly we have liberalized.

However, during the current milk powder crisis, I realized censorship is actually pretty strong. Yes, Fu Manchu as Big Brother is among us. There is a lot of open debate about the milk powder crisis on the Internet. People are questioning the news, and everyone suspects a massive government cover-up job. However, all this debate is banned on state-owned media, particularly television.

Another prime example of censorship during the Olympics happened when the Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang dropped out of the race. There was a lot of speculation as to how long his coach, the government, his sponsors and even Liu himself had known that he could not compete. The public felt that they were given a song and dance at the last minute. Again, state-owned traditional media were not allowed to talk about it.

I must say I find it very difficult in some ways to understand the comment “It is not like that. We don't really feel that much censorship.” Really? Is that a willfull myopia?

As part of my general reading after this article, I googled "China press freedom." To get to the first few documents listed I had to use a proxy server. (Incidentally, according to Freedom House in 2008 China ranks equal 181st out of 195 countries in terms of freedom of the press - North Korea is last.)

However, although it is easy to be sarcastic about and critical of comments like the ones made in the article above, it is neither constructive nor useful. The fact is, many Chinese people (though by no means all) feel the same way. It could be argued, for example, that this is a cultural difference, and how Chinese respect for authority and supposedly raging hunger for harmony are simply at odds with western liberal ideas of freedom of speech.

But there is another take on this article. The writer is a chief executive at a Chinese publishing company. She KNOWS how much censorship affects what can be published, and she KNOWS that is she is too harsh in her comments written in a neo-imperialistic capitalist mouthpiece like the New York Times it is going to seriously disrupt her guanxi with the powers that be. That's why, of all the corrupt and non-harmonious events that happen in China on a daily basis, she chooses Liu Xiang's freakin' achilles heel (gossip, not harmful) the melamine scandal (already out of the bag) and nudity and sex (as if any China watcher really considers that as important) as examples of censorship. One comment on the original article calls this "complicit ignorance" and I have to say I agree.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The funniest news this week

China posts fake rocket launch story

CHINA'S leading Xinhua news agency reported the successful flight of the Shenzhou VII - complete with detailed dialogue between the
astronauts - hours before the nation's third-ever manned space mission had even lifted off. On Thursday morning, Xinhua posted a story on its website saying the Shenzhou capsule had been successfully tracked flying over the Pacific Ocean even though the rocket and its three astronauts had not yet been launched. The article, dated September 27, described the rocket in flight, complete with a sharply detailed dialogue between the three astronauts. Excerpts are below: "After this order, signal lights all were switched on, various data show up on rows of screens, hundreds of technicians staring at the screens, without
missing any slightest changes ... "One minute to go!' 'Changjiang No.1 found the target! ... "The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time ... "The air pressure in the cabin is normal!"Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean." An editor at Xinhau told AFP that the story had been posted due to a technical problem. "We dealt with it after we had found it," the editor said.
I love those last two lines. No explanations as to why they were writing stories in advance of them happening, but an assurance that it was dealt with, whatever that means. In other news, Shenzhou did succesfully take off. However whether the mission will be succesful is another question. This from the Guardian:
The state media said investigations showed that most of those taken ill had consumed milk labelled with the Sanlu brand. The company is China's biggest milk powder producer, with almost a fifth of the market, and is the dairy supplier to the country's space programme.
Will this mission end in melamine-inspired failure? Only time will tell. Stay tuned, my fellow taikonauts.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

One reason why Kevin Rudd is a better PM than John Howard

In his eleven years of being Australian prime minister, I don't think I once heard John Howard articulate any vision of how he wanted to make Australia a better place. As a prime minister, the man was a manager rather than a leader. A product of the World War II generation, it seemed he was unable to move on from the post-war view that because America joined the war just before Australia was invaded, Australia holds an eternal and unquestioning allegiance to support the US in any and all conflicts it places itself in. (Previous to that war many Australians felt that way about Britain.) As such, his attitude to the rest of the world lacked nuance, substance and vision. Rudd, on the other hand, is a product of the diplomatic service, speaks a good standard of Chinese, and has a clearly articulated, if highly ambitious, vision for Australia and Asia in the coming century. This is what he said at today's OzAsia symposium, according to WA Today:
"Our challenge in the future is not to retreat to any view of Australia which is a small Australia, but instead to ensure a vision for Australia which is wide and open to the world and region," he told an OzAsia symposium in Adelaide today.

Mr Rudd said his government's mission was "for Australia to be the most Asian literate nation in the western world".

He said the future of Australia was "tied to the most dynamic region in the world".

"The 21st century will be the Asia Pacific century ... so we need to make sure that in decades ahead we are fully engaged with the region," he said.
After more than a decade of dreary conservative attitudes to Australia's place in the world, this is like watching an episode of South Park after 10 episodes of the Brady Bunch. It's like listening to the party mix after 10 hours of country music. It's like drinking a mocha double frappuchino whip with a shot of vodka after 10 soy lattes. Next stop.... an Australian republic.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The whacko from Wasilla

With the gathering storm clouds portending a giant shit-storm of fiscal misfortune the world over, I am now cautiously predicting an Obama win in the US election. Of the two candidates, I think he is better positioned to claim authentically strong financial credentials. However, the sick and twisted voyeur in me is still somewhat curious to see what a McCain, and potentially Palin, presidency would bring, particularly in light of this story from the Alaska Daily News:
In June, long before she was selected as the Republican nominee for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attended a religious gathering at the Wasilla Assembly of God, her former church.

Standing there on stage and speaking to the college-aged graduates of the church's Master's Commission ministry, the governor reminisced about growing up in the fellowship -- "getting saved here, getting baptized by Pastor Riley in Little Beaver Lake Camp" -- while urging the new disciples to help fulfill the church's mission, as well as certain destinies for America and Alaska.

Pray for the construction of the $30 billion natural gas pipeline, Palin told them. Pray for the military men and women overseas, "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending (U.S. soldiers) out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for -- that there is a plan and it's God's plan." Later, senior pastor Ed Kalnins -- with Palin standing at his side -- spoke about tapping into Alaska's natural resource wealth in order to fulfill the state's destiny of serving as a shelter for Christians at the end of the world.

"I believe that Alaska is one of the 'refuge states' -- come on you guys -- in the Last Days," Kalnins said, raising his arm to underscore his point. "And hundreds of thousands of people are going to come to this state to seek refuge. And the church has to be ready to minister to them."

Now that she's been selected as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, such comments raise questions: What are Sarah Palin's religious beliefs? What churches does she attend and who are her pastors? How have her beliefs played out in her public life in Alaska? What do they portend for a possible vice president?
This is the million dollar question: What does this portend for a possible vice-president? Hopefully, not a lot.

But for a President, which is definitely on the cards if McCain doesn't make it through the next four years, I think we know. A gun totin', god fearin', bible thumpin', abortion hatin', abstinence teachin', military promotin', oil guzzlin', environment trashin' George Bush Jr II, except with big hair and from Alaska. YEEEHAAW, let's go shoot ourselves some non-believers!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Green China

Ask any expat or traveller to this country about what they first notice when they arrive, and if it's a major city, they will most likely answer pollution. As far as I'm concerned, pollution may be what ultimately drives me home to the fresh clean air in southwest Aus. The pollution in Chinese cities regularly gets discussed in overseas press, but less often does the investment in green technology. This is from the Telegraph.

China is on the verge of becoming the world's largest investor in green energy as it struggles to reverse the catastrophic effect its industry has wreaked on the environment. Last year, China spent £6 billion on renewable energy projects, just slightly short of Germany, the world leader. This year, the Communist Party has vowed to redouble its efforts.Li Junfeng, an energy expert at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said that in terms of the "overall scale of renewable energy development", China already leads the way.

Greenpeace believes China can shortly produce half of its energy from renewable sources.
That last sentence is particularly startling. Greenpeace is not the kind of organisation to overstate how well nations do in taking care of their environments.
Tens of thousands of pollution-inspired riots every year have helped drill home the message. The Ministry of Public Security has listed pollution among the top five threats to China's peace and stability. Two years ago, the government publicly admitted that the Chinese landscape was "chu mu jing xin" or "whatever meets the eye is shocking".
When you also factor in the one-child policy, which had already resulted in hundreds of millions less consumers being born, one would suggest that China does in fact punch above its weight in terms of developing long-term sustainable energy consumption practices. That's not to say it's above robust criticism at times, but it's definitely a poignant implied critique of developed democratic energy hogs like the good ole US of A.

Taikonauts about to taik off

This from the AFP:
BEIJING (AFP) — A 42-year-old fighter pilot has been chosen to become the first Chinese person to walk in space, with the historic mission set for September 25, the government said Tuesday.

The blast-off will occur after the staging of a successful Olympics and Paralympics -- events that helped boost national pride and thus the popularity of the leadership -- and ahead of China's National Day on October 1. China has even greater space ambitions, with an eventual plan to put a man on the moon by about 2020, according to some sections of China's state-run press.
This reminds me of a curious incident that happened several years ago when I was discussing travel plans with an Australian and a Chinese friend in Sichuan. The Chinese girl was heading north into Xinjiang (or maybe Gansu), where we had just come from, so we were giving her tips on what we thought were the best places to visit. However there was one town she mentioned wanting to go to that we had never heard of, so I got out the good ole' Lonely Planet and tried to find it. It was nowhere to be seen. After I showed her the empty space, she realised why it had not appeared. It was because it was a centre for China's space program and foreigners were not permitted into the area. I can't remember what is was called. However this flight is being launched from Jiuquan in Gansu, so I presume it's the same place.

Doubt there will be many foreign tourists there to gawp at the event, though.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Is the end of anonymous internet nigh?

This article from Cnet:

A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous.

The U.S. National Security Agency is also participating in the "IP Traceback" drafting group, named Q6/17, which is meeting next week in Geneva to work on the traceback proposal. Members of Q6/17 have declined to release key documents, and meetings are closed to the public.

The potential for eroding Internet users' right to remain anonymous, which is protected by law in the United States and recognized in international law by groups such as the Council of Europe, has alarmed some technologists and privacy advocates. Also affected may be services such as the Tor anonymizing network.

At Slashdot, where I first found the link to this story, there was also this insightful comment from a poster:
"When anonymous internet is a crime, only criminals will have anonymous internet. As usual, this would be a law that will almost exclusively affect the law abiding."
Although I am no tech whiz (just look at the layout of my blog) or activist, my initial impression of this kind of thing is that it will end up something like the war on drugs - costly, time-consuming, and ultimately unwinnable. At this point I could go on a rant about the meddling Chinese government, the hypocrisy of the American government,or general outrage against the powers that be, but I also think this kind of plan may have some positives. After all, the internet offers an effective medium through which criminals can interact with one another. I'm sure the best of these will be able to continue to do so no matter what, but this may help in cutting out the less sophisticated stuff.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Is this the end for Kim Jong-Il?

In the marvellous documentary "Team America," investigative journalists Matt Stone and Trey Parker go undercover into North Korea and gain unprecedented access to one of the most fascinating political figures of our time. Long derided in the biased western media as a "despot" "tyrant" and "jackass," the real Kim Jong-Il reveals himself as a deeply complex, and touchingly flawed figure. In one scene, he sings revealingly to the camera of the tortured poignance of his existence. Here's a flashback:
I'm so Ronery / So ronery / So ronery and sadry arone / There's no one / Just me onry / Sitting on my rittle throne / I work very hard to be number one guy / but, stiwr there's no one to right up my rife / Seems rike no one takes me serirousry / And so, I'm ronery / A rittle ronery / Poor rittle me / There's no one I can rerate to / Feewr rike a biwd in a cage / It's kinda siwry / but, not reawry / because, it's fiwring my body with rage / I'm the smartest, most crever, most physicawry fit / but, none of the women seem to give a shit / Maybe someday, they'wr awr notice me / And untiwr then, I'wr be ronery / Yeah, a rittle ronery / Poor rittle me...
I think we'll all agree this kind of stuff can really tug at the heart strings. But rather than eliciting sympathy from the axis of countries bent on the destruction of North Korea, the western press continues to spread falsehoods and falsity about the dear leader, using such awful puns as "Is Kim Jong Ill?" This from the Australian newspaper The Australian (newspaper).
NORTH Korea's No.2 has denied reports that leader Kim Jong-il is ill, which a Pyongyang diplomat called a Western "conspiracy"."There are no problems," Kim yong-Nam, the regime's de facto head of state, told Kyodo news agency in Pyongyang. He confirmed that Kim Jong-il, 66, did not show up at a major parade yesterday marking North Korea's 60th anniversary. "While we wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country with General Secretary Kim Jong-il, we celebrated on our own," Kim yong-Nam was quoted as saying. A US intelligence official said yesterday that Kim had apparently suffered a "health setback", possibly a stroke. "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot," Song il-Ho, North Korea's ambassador handling relations with Japan, told Kyodo separately. "I believe the aim is to form a public opinion on something that is not true," Mr Song was quoted as saying. "Western media have reported falsehood before."
Not content with just spreading rumours about Kim Jong's ill-health, some propaganda outlets, I mean western newspapers, have gone so far as to claim the Dear Leader is dead.
IS Kim Jong-il for real?
The question has baffled foreign intelligence agencies for years but now a veteran Japanese expert on North Korea says the "dear leader" is actually dead - and his role is played by a double.The expert says Kim died of diabetes in 2003 and world leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hu Jintao of China, have been negotiating with an impostor.
Well I have one question for these punks. Answer me this. If Kim Jong-Il died in 2003, then how on earth could he have appeared in Team America in 2004?! Fuck yeah!

Is this man for real?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Chinese Government soft on smack

If you are a recovering junkie looking to kick a jumbo-sized habit, and feel like a free rehabilitation program on sunny Hainan island, I suggest you get on a plane to China now. This from the NY Times:
An elephant that became addicted to heroin at the hands of illegal traders will return home after three years of rehabilitation, the Chinese state media said Thursday. The elephant, Xiguang, a 4-year-old male, became addicted after the traders captured him on the China-Myanmar border in March 2005. They fed him bananas laced with heroin as bait and to pacify him, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. When he was found two months later in southwest China, he was suffering from withdrawal. He received methadone at a center on Hainan Island and recovered, Xinhua said
I find this article especially fascinating for several reasons. 1) Traders fed an elephant bananas laced with heroin. Besides the fact I thought tranquilisers were all the rage these days, where did these traders get their hands on heroin? Is there a corruption angle there? 2) Since when did the NY Times uncritically reprint a story about somebody "undergoing treatment" with the blessing of the CCP? 3) Where is the political angle? Was the elephant "re-educated" for his political views? Did he "write a letter of self-criticism," in the manner of the Chinese soccer players who went to have a bath in a hotel room with several prostitutes, girlfriends, and groupies because the water in their team hotel was cold? Was the elephant under house arrest? Were his rights violated? Did he have suspected links to the Dalai Lama?

As Alice in Wonderland observed after her own mind-altering experiences, this just gets curiouser and curiouser. There is a big, juicy story under all that Xinhua spin. Slopppy journalism, NYT, sloppy journalism....

Friday, 5 September 2008

The buzz about Beijing

Earlier this year, the Olympics looked in trouble. The protests in France, the US and other places following the riots in Tibet sparked off a wave of nationalistic fury inside the Middle Kingdom that showed the world the ugly side of a country coming to grips with being the centre of the world's attention. For a while, it looked as though nothing would be able to change this perception of China. It seemed this Olympics was destined to go down as one of the more controversial and bitter in history.

Then in a curious twist of fate, the Sichuan earthquake struck with such a blind ferocity that the criticisms, questions, and rage vanished overnight. Questions over the Chinese Government's attitudes to their citizens were quelled by its super-fast reaction to assist the stricken area. The sight of Wen Jiabao on the frontlines of the aid effort earned him the respect of a nation, and the Government a much improved perception in other parts of the world.

Then came the Games themselves. Despite mutterings over the 'protest zones' in which protests were not allowed, the foreign media army seemed to spend more time eating M&Ms than looking for cutting-edge stories. The media were swept up in the ride, and after the initial loud complaints about internet restrictions fell largely in line with the image the Chinese Government was trying to project.

After the Games, the prospect of putting on a show as efficient and impressive as Beijing has seen the British media shaking in their little space boots.

Now the WSJ has just published an article saying that recent survery have found people who watched the Games have this impression:
According to an online survey conducted by the Nielsen Co. of viewers in 16 countries after the closing ceremony, seven in ten said Beijing appeared more modern and high-tech than they had expected. About half of those surveyed by Nielsen also came away with a very good or somewhat good impression of Beijing’s physical environment.
Remembering where we in terms of international perception of China, Beijing, and the Chinese Government in March of this year - six short months ago - and its scarcely believable how much people around the world have changed their views. Of course, part of that changing of perception came at the cost of an enormous human tragedy, but it is nonetheless impressive, and, I think, something that few pundits would have predicted. The Games have unexpectedly and down a very twisted path, achieved an international PR boost for China that would make the Government very satisfied. Overall, (and remembering that ALL host nations get criticised) I would give BOCOG and the Government a B+ for the change in international perceptions they have achieved.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

I want to go to North Korea

One of the downsides of a world where internet makes information and communication instant and aeroplanes make worldwide travel a matter of hours is the fact that there are few places left on the planet that are really, truly foreign. In fact, the only three I can think of off the top of my head are North Korea, Bhutan, and Hollywood. North Korea is accessible for westerners, but expensive, and visits are tightly controlled. So I'm hanging out for the day when the gates inevitably swing open a little wider. And this article gives me reason for hope:
China Confirms N. Korea as Tourist Destination
The Chinese government has designated North Korea a tourist destination, said the Xinhua News agency Wednesday. According to Xinhua, in a recent meeting in Pyongyang, China National Tourism Administration notified North Korean authorities of its decision.

Who knows when North Korea will be properly accessible for westerners. But I look forward to that day.