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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Earthquake in China
So the recent earthquake in China was interesting.  Beyond the obvious tragedy of it all, there are some great lessons to learn.  The first thing that's surprising to me is how open (relatively speaking) China's been about it.  Unlike the earthquake in 1976 that killed hundreds of thousands but no one - even in China knew about it until years later - word has spread about this one in record time.

Modern internet and mobile phones has made it a lot easier.  Twitter, SMS and other new facilities allowed the people on the ground to get word out far faster than the government could control.  It seems that they have actually learned some important lessons, though there are differing viewpoints regarding the extent of these lessons:

Spiegel.de says "Schools collapsed like houses of cards, apartment blocks were reduced to dust. The horrendous earthquake in China's Suchuan province underscores problems with shoddy construction in the country. State television may be full of images of people in mourning, but any questions of responsibility are taboo."

Contrast their report with Wired News who says "A fast-moving network of text messages, instant messages and blogs has been a powerful source of firsthand accounts of the disaster, as well as pleas for help and even passionate criticism of rescue efforts."

Spiegel is a relatively straight-faced news site, where Wired is definitely a pro-technology news source, so perhaps their perspectives are expected.  The true story, it seems, lies somewhere in the middle: News gets out fast, but is deleted (harmonized as the locals say, referring to the government's claim to be promoting harmony by censoring things they don't want to be heard) soonafter. 

Local media's encouraged to report the news from a specific viewpoint.  Talk about the troops and how they're helping, don't talk about how it took three days to get them into the area.  Talk about the tragedy of being killed by falling buildings, but don't talk about how these gbuildings are part of an endemic quality-control problem in the country.

Still and all, it's a damn sight better than Burma's reaction to their calamity:  "Lol, wut?"

Here are some links to images of the earthquake's aftermath:

http://cryptome.org/cn-quake/cn-quake.htm
http://cryptome.org/cn-quake2/cn-quake2.htm
http://cryptome.org/cn-quake3/cn-quake3.htm
http://cryptome.org/cn-quake4/cn-quake4.htm
http://cryptome.org/cn-quake5/cn-quake5.htm
http://cryptome.org/cn-quake6/cn-quake6.htm
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Some interesting comments in a slashdot thread about a recent Chinese shutdown of entertainments of all kinds:

According to her, right after the quake, the Chinese government banned all reporting in the effected areas. As usual, all the press backed off and went home. Except for two reporters from two papers. These two reporters rapidly reported on the actual situation, and the other newspapers and TV stations saw these competitors getting all the viewers and readers. Nationally, news organizations then defied the government order and reported on the situation openly. (source)

This is no reason to hate China... What did the rest of the US do when Cyclone Katrina hit?
Whatever they wanted, which is the point.
didn't want to know about their fellow citizens people drowning.
Some did, some didn't. Why is it alright for the government to force everyone to know about it?  (source)

A short period of mourning is declared, with very little enforcement, and all you want to do is seize the opportunity to make it look like censorship, in particular censorship of the disaster. It is the exact opposite. Frivolous entertainment is being scaled down a bit for a mere three days, and the TV networks are saturating the public with quake information. Never has the Chinese government been more open. With previous tragedies we saw secrecy and a desire to save face, but this regime is clearly much more modern. The contrast with the terrible Burmese regime is very clear.

I don't actually agree with the declaration of mourning, and I wish that this government could be replaced with one truly chosen by the people, but this doesn't mean that the non-stop stream of slurs and vilification is OK.

In particular, I find the concept of a period of mourning to be much less offensive than Bush's 16 Sept official day of prayer for hurricane Katrina. Separation of church and state, please!   (source)
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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I found a very interesting response to the Chinese blackout controversy.  This guy makes six points regarding China that are definitely worth reading.  I'll summarize:

1. China is changing so fast that most Westerners have a dated point of view about China.
2. For many people in China, the Sichuan Earthquake is being experienced like 9-11 was in the U.S.
3. Criticism of Chinese Government tends to offend as if you'd insulted the Chinese themselves.
4. Chinese Government has moral authority among the people, and people want to follow their lead.
5. Westerners often have a misconception that the Chinese people are controlled (brainwashed? repressed?) by the regime.
6. Chinese society values different things in different measures. For example, prosperity and actual, personal liberty is more important than the abstract and absolute ideas of freedom of speech, religion, and press.

These are very good points, and if #3 is any indication, they're all very true.  I've experienced #3 when talking to a Chinese friend of mine.  His first reaction, when I criticize the Chinese government, is to take offense, as if I've insulted him or his race or country directly.

For better or worse, the Chinese DO think differently, and we're wise to remember this.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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An interesting comment on that six-things post was made.  It echos my own feelings on the matter:

Now, I’d like to propose Numer 7. Chinese people should come to understand that all of the above points 1 through 6 have, in fact, been engineered over years of Communist Party indoctrination where the primary aim was to entwine culture, identity and morality with the apparatus and language of the state to promote complete and utter hegemony.

It seems totally obvious to me that if your government trains people to behave in a certain way then that's how they'll behave - up to a point.  I disagree that it's 'brainwashing' in the classical sense of the word, but it's certainly indoctrination.  They've been taught that this is how it is, so who can blame them for thinking this way?

The fact is I see the Chinese people behaving like children: Ill-considered inappropriate and unfriendly knee-jerk reactions to relatively inoccuous things are de rigeur in China.  Whether by careful education by the government or willful ignorance on the part of the people I don't care.  The bottom line for me is, no matter how you were taught to behave in your own house, you're part of a wider community now and it would behoove you to learn a little more about the rest of the world and how it behaves.

Chinese tourists too, wow, do they ever need a lesson in etiquette!

In fact, China, put ME in charge.  I'll sort you guys out.

He went on to say:

The fact is just no amount of “cultural sensitivity” is going to change wrong things into right things, or stupidity into profound inspiration. It goes both ways, of course, and I regularly cringe for the vomit some foreigners spew forth.
BLEARGH
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