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Forum: Our World The World RSS
(Now the Official China thread)
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Subject: China: The little kids on the world stage
I don't envy China.  I've said for a long time that they've got a hard job, shepherding the people from mud huts to steel-and-glass towers.  It can't be easy keeping a lid on a billion people who are coming to grips with massive social change and rapid expansions on their personal spheres of influence.  But this censorship shit is silly.  During Obama's inauguration speech, they cut out the middle of a live broadcast 'cause he <gasp!> mentioned communism <shock!>:

Quote by Obama:
“Recall that earlier generations faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Chinese newspapers excised the word 'communism' or even the entire paragraph.  China's government, though, doesn't really suffer the public outrage you might expect from such ridiculous attempts to pretend everything's cool.  They've spent so long fomenting a nationalistic attitude in its citizenry that Chinese netizens are, by and large, completely unwilling to brook any suggestion that their government is not acting properly.  Just like complaining about freedoms in America, any suggestion that ChinGov should knock this censorship stuff off is met with "Fuck off, we're China, and your country's not so great!"

Hrm, yes, very mature.

I love China, I love watching the Chinese story as it unfolds before us all, but man, this head-in-the-sand stuff realy annoys me.
BLEARGH
This post was edited on 2009-02-02, 11:45 by NFG.
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Subject: Obama says US 'to ensure China plays by international rules'
Font on Mutant Palm: How cool is this?  Only a day or two in office and the official whitehouse.gov stance on China is:

Quote by Whitehouse.gov:
Seek New Partnerships in Asia: Obama and Biden will forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. They will maintain strong ties with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia; work to build an infrastructure with countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity; and work to ensure that China plays by international rules.

Wow, pretty strong words.  Mutant Palm goes on to include this quote from the incoming Treasury Secretary:

Quote by Timothy Geithner:
“President Obama — backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists — believes that China is manipulating its currency,”

This is a serious thing to consider, and over on The Atlantic, James Fallows  puts it in perspective, explaining essentially that the accusation is sort of true, and so what?

Quote by James Fallows:
...to boil it down to the bald assertion that "China is manipulating its currency" ignores, vulgarizes, and misconstrues a lot more than it clarifies.

His article is short, powerful, and worth a read.

Bonus quote, James Fallows' explanation of what journalism is:

Quote by James Fallows:
Usually journalists are in the position of being told that they have lamentably "oversimplified" or "hyped" their discussion of topics -- and told this by the real policy experts in academia or think tanks or specialized government agencies. Often enough, the accusation is true. Part of journalism's basic function is to explain, in simpler (and often necessarily less nuanced) terms, what the real experts are trying to say. If they do that well enough, they can reach people who would never sit still for the full, rococo, expert version and give them a better understanding of important ideas and problems than they would otherwise have.

I'd have highlighted the important bit, but really, it's all good.
BLEARGH
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Subject: CCTV: China's state-run TV network
I found a great article recently that discusses some very interesting stuff about the new CCTV building in China.  While there, it mentions briefly how CCTV is, in fact, the government's voice of propoganda.  Well, ALL media is state-run, but CCTV is the TV station that hits 660 million viewers every night.

One quote in particular highlighted the particularly interesting problem ChinGov faces: shepharding the people from mud hits to international citizens.  It's hard to change a mindset that has been part of the culture for thousands of years, and if they're going to make the good people of China become good global citizens, they have to teach them:

Though in recent years CCTV has sought to compete with grittier programming from local stations, with shows that forgo nationalist themes (one runaway hit was Divorce, Chinese Style), network executives are also obligated to abide by China’s rigid propaganda rules. In 2007, the main television regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, instructed CCTV and other networks to limit prime-time programming to “ethically inspiring TV series” that could “reflect the reality of China in a positive way.”

Give them role models and examples to follow, positive messages and stories.  Set their sights up high, and hopefully they'll stop poisoning their own people, and killing their kids with schools made from inadequate materials.

Of course, the other side is that by enforcing a message, they open themselves to criticism about what messages they present.  For every heart-warming ethically-positive police drama, there's this:

The network’s flagship evening news programme, Xinwen Lianbao, or “Network News”, is carried on every local news channel across the country, by orders of the government, and has an estimated nightly viewership of more than 660 million. But rather than Who, What, Where and When, the programme concentrates on Hu and Wen – China’s president and premier – with lavish coverage of their every statement and gesture

Sounds a lot like North Korea to me.

Source: The National
BLEARGH
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Our very own Kendrick makes an interesting point on his blog about China's 'Mandate of Heaven' which they claim to adhere to, but basically ignore.

Quote by Wikipedia:
The concept of the Mandate of Heaven was often invoked in ancient China as a way to curtail the abuse of power by the political rulers. The Mandate of Heaven was a well-accepted idea among the common people of China, as it allows the removal of incompetent or despotic rulers, and provided an incentive for rulers to rule well and justly.

Quote by Kendrick:
Charter 08 calls for, among other radical changes, freedom of speech and more than one political party. And the Communist Party's response so far has been enacted in predictable fashion, with censorship and arrests. Someone needs to tell China that this is not the behavior of a government to which the Heavenly Mandate still applies.

Very true.
BLEARGH
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Subject: ChinGov to Western media: Stick to the Official Facts.
Mutant Palm (A blog I recommend if you're into China-watching) reports some of the Chinese media coverage of the foreign media coverage about the massive and terrible Sichuan earthquake a few months back.

Quote by Chinese Media ():
Gao Jianguo, Vice Secretary General of the China Association for Disaster Prevention said the Zipingpu reservoir couldn’t have brought about so large an earthquake, as a reservoir has never created an earthquake registering over 7.0 in modern history. Experts believe that in covering China’s natural disasters, Western media should use a more objective and scientific approach.
(Translated by Mutant Palm, original from shxb.net)

Mutant Palm adds "I don’t know anything about geology or climate science, but saying that a reservoir has never caused an earthquake over 7.0 sounds like weak sauce. Doesn’t that mean Gao Jianguo is agreeing that it might have, just as the Western media is saying?"

You know what?  It does.

The thing that strikes me most here is the typical Chinese line, pure spin designed to keep the people at home quiet and foment a little anti-foreigner opinion: Western media should use a more objective and scientific approach.  Right, we should be more willing to accept the party line, keep quiet and maintain the peace.

ChinGov still doesn't get the power of the truth, or indeed the power of the mob (though the mob is hardly a strong power of truth so much as fads).

James Fallows (Another source I recommend) says "The idea that the disaster could somehow have been induced, invited, or worsened by governmental action -- well, no one knows how this idea will be debated or allowed to spread in China, but the consequences could be profound. This is a placeholder note to say: watch this story carefully."

Other coverage (English):
Wired News
New York Times
The Atlantic (James Fallows)
BLEARGH
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From the LA Times, courtesy of Danwei:

By Rodman's calculations, 500 million square feet of commercial real estate has been developed in Beijing since 2006, more than all the office space in Manhattan. And that doesn't include huge projects developed by the government. He says 100 million square feet of office space is vacant -- a 14-year supply if it filled up at the same rate as in the best years, 2004 through '06, when about 7 million square feet a year was leased.

That just makes me laugh.  Fourteen years of real estate, built in advance?  That's either some remarkable confidence, or an astonishing failure to do the math.

"The scale of development was unprecedented anywhere in the world," said Rodman, a Los Angeles native who lives in Beijing, running a firm called Global Distressed Solutions. "It defied logic. It just doesn't make sense."

HAHAHAHAHA!!  This just gets better:

The National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, has only one event scheduled for this year: a performance of the opera "Turandot" on Aug. 8, the one-year anniversary of the Olympic opening ceremony. China's leading soccer club backed out of a deal to play there, saying it would be an embarrassment to use a 91,000-seat stadium for games that ordinarily attract only 10,000 spectators.

The venue, which costs $9 million a year to maintain, is expected to be turned into a shopping mall in several years, its owners announced last month.

[Image: /grafx/throwaway/beijing.jpg]
CC Image from Jonas in China.
BLEARGH
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Subject: China's gonna kill us all!
Big scary news from Der Spiegel:

China opened 47 new airports between 1990 and 2002, and its highway network grew by 800,000 kilometers (500,000 miles) from 1981 to 2002. By 2030, China's population is expected to have grown from 1.3 to 1.5 billion people. More and more urban households will adopt a Western lifestyle by then, complete with air-conditioning, refrigerators, television sets, computers and other appliances.
That's ten times the current population of Australia added to China's already mammoth population in ~20 years.  Like, seriously, that's such a massive number I can barely comprehend it.  No wonder they're maintaining that iron-clad grip on Tibet: by hook or crook that land has to remain theirs if they're to have anywhere to shove their new citizens.

But the scary part is this:

This will steeply drive up energy demand in China. The IEA and NBS predict that to satisfy this demand, the country's power plants will have to supply more than 8,600 terawatts of electricity in 2030 -- about three times as much as in 2006.

[...]

The sobering result of this utopian scenario is that even with all new coal power plants equipped with CCS, China's CO2 emissions would increase by 80 percent by 2030.

OMFG.
BLEARGH
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The Chinese government doesn't want the average person in China to buy powerful desktop computers.  Check out this stunning story about a film maker who can't buy a computer to edit his films.  Everything he wants is unavailable to nobodies in China. 

Even though they're made in China.

I find that quite amusing.
BLEARGH
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Subject: Modern Communication in China
Things are different in China.  As seen in this post and this followup by James Fallows, the Chinese have very different ideas about communication than we do in the West.

Most striking is the difference in handling mobile calls.  The Chinese will give the cellphone top priority, typically no matter what else they're doing. 

The Indians do this too:
Quote by The Followup:
I attended a family wedding in New Delhi a couple of years ago, and the priest took several calls during the ceremony.

From the original post, a shortlist of things you might be surprised to learn about China:

  • No one uses voicemail. When some one calls you on your mobile phone, you generally pick it up.
  • China uses SMS more intensively. The first thing Chinese do in the morning is check their IM first, not their email.
  • Only 56% of all Chinese internet users have email addresses.
  • Ownership of PCs is much lower, especially in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, where heavy PC usage is at Internet cafes.
  • Unlike the West, where e-commerce was Web 1.0 and social media is Web 2.0, China's internet usage started as a social phenomenon first and is just now moving to more utilitarian purposes.

It's just not the same over there.
BLEARGH
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I am absolutely fascinated by China.  Everything they do enthralls me.  It'll be a textbook case for the rest of time, I think, for anyone who wants to learn exactly how a country can accelerate from mud huts to skyscrapers in the shortest possible time.  That is, if China can keep their shit under control.  I can't really wrap my head around 1.3b people, you know?  A population count with a rounding error would annihilate or create a population larger than most other countries.

But still, I'm fascinated.  This week of course everyone's talking about the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident.  ChinGov has preemptively blocked all access to countless social, blog and news sites just in case they mention Tiananmen, and I imagine this site will be hard to find because I spelled 'Tiananmen' in actual letters instead of obfuscating it like Tıаnanmen.

Anyway, China still doesn't really get that their attempts to censor and block is mostly going to attract more attention to the things they want hidden.  When everyone in China is suddenly unable to access youtube, they start wondering WHY.  When the BBC goes down, when all your favourite blogs disappear, you start asking questions.  In China of course the answer is 'don't ask'.

Perhaps though some people aren't that curious?  From James Fallows:

And for most of young people, they don't have a lot of grievances against the government. People have lots of personal freedom as long as they don't touch politics. As for those political-minded, the communist party is always eager to recruit them. There are ample economic opportunities to absorb their mind and energy. They don't identify with the students 20 years ago the same way young people in US don't identify themselves with protesters during the Vietnam War.

Also from James Fallows, in 2007:

The Chinese teacher is a woman in her mid-twenties (I'll keep that it present tense as we still have contact with her). She came to Tempe with another teacher from Zhenjiang who had also participated in the exchange. I didn't pass up the chance to have good guest speakers, so both of the Chinese teachers accompanied me to my high school one day. 

They both did a very nice job presenting, but partway through the day, our teacher friend began to dig through all of my own history books any time she had a few minutes. Later in the morning, when I finally didn't have any classes, she approached me. Looking furtively from side to side (literally), she whispered, "What do you know about.... Tiananmen Square?"

I guess it doesn't pay to be curious in a country where even looking the wrong way can get you in trouble:

During my time in Beijing over the past year and a half, I've often seen the square itself totally closed off to visitors, as it is at the moment. There are always plenty of security forces around -- soldiers in green uniforms, various kinds of police in blue uniforms, and "plainclothes" forces who are pretty easy to pick out, like strapping young men in buzz cuts all wearing similar-looking "leisure" clothes. But I have not seen before anything like the situation at the moment.

There are more representatives in all categories -- soldiers, police, obvious plainclothesmen -- than I recall seeing even during the Tibet violence in early 2008 or through the Olympic games. Also many people whom you would normally classify as fruit vendors, tourists from the Chinese provinces, youngish white collar workers male and female, and skateboarder-looking characters wearing cargo shorts and with fauxhawk haircuts, were last night walking up and down the sidewalks with their eyes constantly on visitors and drifting up next to people who were holding conversations.

[...]

But to point a camera in any direction not shown in these shots is to ask for immediate trouble. In particular if security forces in any of the categories above are in the field of view. I say this with first-hand certainty, based on experiences I will describe later when I am living someplace else.

That's just spooky, and not really any kind of freedom that I recognize.
BLEARGH
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Yesterday I felt a little guilty for this thread's title calling China 'children on the world's stage', but after the latest round of Tiananmen news, I kind of feel like I nailed it.

Chinese agents are blocking foreign news crews with umbrellas.  They don't say anything, they don't try and stop the filming or escort the crews off site, they just get in the way.  The videos are hilarious.

Tiananmen Square itself was packed to the gills with young, nationalist security:

I was really shocked to see the square itself open to the public during the day. Or, as I realized later,  open to the "public". There were thousands of people on the square, but there was something odd about the scene.  I realized by the end of the afternoon that this crowd was deliberate, and the casual afternoon at Tian'anmen was as orchestrated as the Opening Ceremonies.

[...]

I would guess about 85% of people on the square were there officially. You could tell that because the security lines were basically unpopulated, while all the "deputies" just walked around the screeners without being checked. There were very few tourists, foreign or otherwise. There were mostly uniformed and non-uniformed police. Some foreigners were taking pictures, seemingly unmolested. Any footage and photos will be dull-looking; the shots would look "normal". It was just the feeling of intense orchestration and deliberate crowd-building that gave it away. And also a distinct sense of high-tension, which carried around the front of the Forbidden City, but evaporated just around the corners.

The rest of the city was oblivious. Crowds, shopping, shoving, everything perfectly normal, as far as I could see.

Fascinating.
BLEARGH
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ChinGov suggests that there are 330,000,000+ internet users in China, a staggering number, but as Techdirt digs into the numbers the actual amount seems a tiny bit lower.

Quote by Techdirt:
So it was with this skepticism that my friend Gersham viewed the latest piece of propaganda emerging from our friends in China that we have now reached the new height of 338 million Chinese Internet users; a 13 percent increase since the end of 2008, and just about exactly one quarter of the country's population.

[...]

Any way you slice it, if China's internet userbase is as large as Beijing says it is, and if Baidu's market share of that audience is what it's widely purported to be, then both the number of uniques reported by external traffic sites and the revenues reported by the public company that owns Baidu should be exponentially greater.

These stats seem to either indicate that Chinese do not use search very often, or that there just aren't too many of them heading out into the wilds of the Internet. Either way, statistics emanating exclusively from bureaucratic sources within Beijing, particularly those which seem to fly in the face of all other external metrics, are not to be believed.
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China's 60th anniversary of the seizing of power by <whoever's in charge now, it really makes no difference> is to be marked by a fairly massive display of cohesive order.  Precision marching troops, tanks and missiles and other weaponry will be on display in a parade that will likely stretch on for an unbearable time.

Quote by Alistair Thornton:
I have a sinking feeling that this could turn out to be the worst PR stunt of all time. To me, it screams, 'Hey! You in the West! How's the recession? We just nailed 9% growth. Scared of a rising China? Check out all of our tanks and never-seen-before missiles'. It's not really the vibe you want to give off in the midst of unprecedented shifts in geopolitical power.

This is what scares/annoys/fascinates me about China: they just don't care what happens outside their borders. 

Quote by James Fallows:
But the other obvious point is that all politics is local, in China as well as anywhere else, and impressing the home crowd will always outweigh the hand-wringing concerns from the diplomats.

China is big, China is rising, and China doesn't give a shit how we feel about it.  If they loved us like Japan did, great.  If they hated us, fine, we know where we stand.  But they don't care.  That strikes me as far worse.

I don't know exactly what leads to this sort of apathy.  With the Americans, it seemed that they had everything they needed on their own soil, so being insular didn't really hurt them.  The Chinese absolutely must play nice with the rest of the world, they need us as much as we need them.  They are the manufacturing engine of the world, and we fuel their growth with our purchases. 

That they continue to believe public opinion outside their borders means so little shocks me.  Is it immaturity, apathy, ignorance or malice?  None of these choices offer comfort to me.  At least America was founded on ideas of freedom and equality, leading to a fair and transparently functioning society (comparatively speaking).  China hasn't yet instilled the value of these things in its people, and a superstar power on the world stage that thinks only of itself scares the shit out of me.

Source 1: Lowy Interpreter
Source 2: James Fallows


As a bit of a followup:

Quote by James Fallows (again):
"China's government at times resembles an exasperated parent trying to rein in a pack of rebellious children. Its edicts are persistently flouted by censor-dodging Internet users, wayward local officials and rioting Uighurs."

This really goes back to what I said in the first post of this thread.

Quote by NFG:
I've said for a long time that they've got a hard job, shepherding the people from mud huts to steel-and-glass towers.  It can't be easy keeping a lid on a billion people who are coming to grips with massive social change and rapid expansions on their personal spheres of influence.

Here's a bit of free NFG advice for ChinGov: Try and keep a little perspective and balance in your actions.  Yes, usher the people into the new world with a little discipline and decorum, education and responsibility, but remember to instill in them a little humility as well.  We've all got to get along, and if you're going to lead by example, you could be doing it a little better.
BLEARGH
This post was edited 2 times, last on 2009-10-01, 09:54 by NFG.
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This is encouraging:

Quote by James Fallows:
For each deployment of tanks, there has been a Farmers' Coop float. For each regiment of goosestepping female soldiers, all exactly the same height and with skirts exactly the same length, there has been a group of Clean Energy workers, accompanying a display of wind turbines and solar panels -- or a group of athletes from the Phys Ed university. Plus some pompom group whose ID on the screen I couldn't understand, and miscellaneous other celebrations. And a float from each province or region, with waving local beauties! This is becoming truer to the randomness of China as I think of it.  Happy 60th birthday.
BLEARGH
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In reply to post #13
Quote by NFG:
This is what scares/annoys/fascinates me about China: they just don't care what happens outside their borders.

It's interesting to look at the etymology of China's various names. Everyone's familiar with China's own Middle Kingdom, or Zhong Guo name for itself. In its own view, China is the center of the world, the center of the universe, and all other nations or peoples are secondary and inferior. It's not improper to conclude that China's view of the world is very lopsided; there's China, and then there's everything else. China doesn't care about the world outside its borders because to them, it's irrelevant. "That's where the westerners, the barbarians live. They never learn, and they always come back to do business with us. Who care what they think?" is a pretty good way of summing it up.

The motion picture 'Hero' starring Jet Li introduced an interesting alternative name. 'Tian Xia' means 'Land of Our People' in a weird, sideways sort of translation. It doesn't seem any less nationalistic, but if you understand that the movie was a statement against militarism towards Taiwan then you get where the filmmakers were going. It's a very modern view to see national borders as something of an outmoded concept, especially when you see concepts like sovereign territory in am embassy or on a ship. 'Tian Xia' suggests that China exists where its people are, and not where a mapmaker draws a border. It was also a subtle comment on Mongolia, Taiwan, and Tibet; get a Chinese geography textbook and compare their maps to ours to see what they think of those regions.

China's current English name comes from the Qin dynasty, the historical era during which China opened its borders encountered European colonialism. What's not generally understood about this time is that China considers it a time of foreign occupation by the Manchurians. The familiar queue braid down the back of a man's head was a weird fashion statement that majority Han Chinese found degrading and humiliating. Manchurian rule ended (see World War II for more details) but still the west calls the place the Land of Qin.

We've been getting the name of the place wrong for thousands of years. Explorers like Marco Polo would visit remote border regions and assume the name of a small town was also the name of the whole country. "Cathay" is probably the one most familiar to people. China just shakes its collective head, too polite to correct us. They really don't care what we think.

There's a thought I want to close with that doesn't really follow logically... Hu Jintao is the current president, and after rising to that role his first speech to the party contained a line that bugged the hell out of me. He introduced the idea of a Chinese diaspora, whereby all ethnically Chinese people were gathering education and wealth for the purpose of bringing it back to China. He declared that the laws and edits of the communist party applied to all ethnically Chinese people, no matter where they lived. I think my grandfather might have had a thing or two to say about that, since he left China at 16 to avoid having to answer to a communist government. I don't consider myself beholden to China, as a national or ethnic entity.
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