Archive for April, 2009

Cyber Spies and Heinous Lies

April 23, 2009 Leave a comment

“I could hardly stop It was so exciting,” the boy mumbled. “I went to the Internet cafe almost every day, and was dreaming of making girlfriends.” Half drunk one night, Xiao Yi sneaked into the student dormitory and raped a 15-year-old girl. “If I had not seen the porn websites, I would not have done such a thing,” the teenager says wistfully. Sadly, Xiao Yi is not an exception. Jin Hua, deputy director of the Beijing juvenile facility, said about 20 percent of the offenders last year committed rape, and almost all of them said porn websites were to blame.

In 2006, an article appeared in the China Daily (and subsequently on the China Daily website) that told the story of Xiao Yi, a seventeen year old who had been jailed for 10 years for raping a fifteen year old girl. “If I had not seen the porn websites, I would not have done such a thing,” he told a reporter.

The CCP began its campaign to “purify the internet environment” with a crackdown on porn sites in April 2007. As AP reported, Zhang Xinfeng, deputy public security minister, was under no allusions as to where the roots of the darker side of the Internet reside. “The boom of pornographic content on the internet has contaminated cyberspace and perverted China’s young minds. The inflow of pornographic materials from abroad and lax domestic control are to blame for the existing problems in China’s cyberspace.” What followed were a few arrests for hosting “cyber strip shows” and a major clampdown on the myriad blogs and search engines hosting in China. Cai Wu, director of the Information Office of China’s Cabinet, told Xinhua that as more and more illegal and unhealthy information spreads through the blog and search engine, we will take effective measures to put the BBS, blog and search engine under control.”

Throughout the year, the government produces a list of guidelines for ISPs and Internet companies to follow. China Digital Times publishes translations of the latest set of rules, which says that posts the criticize the Chinese political system should be “absolutely blocked or deleted” – information about the tiger being skinned and beheaded should be deleted, and all sorts of other rather distasteful stuff, including the rather chilling “Strengthen positive guidance. Web sites should proactively guide public opinion in a positive way, highlight positive voices and create a pro-NPC online environment.”

The technological savvy of the CCP is its strength. While the Soviet Politburo aged into a distant and disconnected leadership, the CCP has not only seen how technology can be of benefit to the country’s economy, but they are also very aware of how a technology could be subverted into a tool that, in a worst case scenario, could lead to them losing power. The Party has long since acknowledged that controlling the Internet is crucial to maintaining their political supremacy. Western investments and web companies therefore face something of a dilemma – they must fall in line with the draconian censorship laws that exist in mainland China in order to capitalize on the largest market in the world. Fortunately, the American companies that supply hardware to the Chinese government to facilitate censoring have already made their decision, as well as Yahoo, and now, Google – the company that once prided itself on not being evil – is now under the thumb of a totalitarian dictatorship.

The initial motivations of preventing the perversion of political ideals have been the basis of the argument in favor of policing and restricting activities on the Internet. That’s what some people would argue. Other people make a slightly more convincing argument, and it has nothing to do with keeping the people pure of thought. The pervasive theory is that while media websites such as Youtube and Flickr have captured a large portion of worldwide users, Chinese copycat start ups have been having a hard time establishing a user base. The answer was fairly obvious – block access to the foreign sites which would force users to use the Chinese sites, and essentially poach business from existing companies.

The motivation for blocking access are therefore little to do with politics and more to do with commercial concerns, after all, Yahoo has helped to track down and jail online dissidents by handing over emails that were held on their servers in mainland China. Since Flickr is owned by Yahoo, it seems unlikely that the Chinese authorities would block a site that is owned by a long time collaborator of the Chinese regime. Flickr had plans to establish version of it’s photo hosting site specifically for Chinese users, but this would be based in Taipei, something of a smart move to evade the CCP’s demands for Internet censorship in the mainland. In the case of Victor Koo’s Youku service, a copy of Youtube’s video hosting site with the added advantage that due to China’s lax enforcement of copyright laws it hosts full length movies and TV shows.

Far from being terrified into not using the Internet, Chinese internet users have taken over the medium. Today, there are more Internet users in China than in any other country. How Chinese people use the Internet is much different from the way that westerners use the Internet. Instant messaging and streaming online music and video are the most popular pastimes for Chinese netizens.

Cyberspace is also where you can find the worst side of Chinese mob mentality. Incensed by the poor design of the Chinese Olympic Team’s official uniform, Internet users swore to hunt down the designer and ruin his career, and the online reports of Chinabounder, who wrote about his casual sexual encounters with Chinese girls, most of whom where his students, caused a national outrage – the protest was led through an article posted on a weblog. The online voices are the most extreme, and sadly, the ones that always seem to make the headlines, it appears that while no one seems to put much stock in the online opinions of Americans or British ‘net users, people are quite ready to accept the online comments of Chinese people to be something of a barometer of public feeling in China. The Chinese press has certainly leapt on the helpfully nationalistic outrage that seems to stream constantly from Chinese netizens.

Stories of Chinese hackers breaking into US computer systems are nothing new. The Chinese have taken the blame for everything from stealing World of Warcraft passwords to the numerous zero-day vulnerabilities in Windows Vista and Office 2007. A recent CNN story detailed one particular hacker team that claimed to have gained access to the Pentagon’s internal networks, more tellingly, they said that they were hired by the Chinese government to penetrate secure networks in America. Rather than being hired electronic terrorists, the Chinese government might just be protected its own networks – if the security at the Pentagon can be breached, then surely the software that runs the Great Firewall of China wouldn’t present much of a challenge – by giving encouraging overseas targets, attention is deflected from Chinese Internet infrastructure.

So what of the discovery of Ghost Net? The covert network was discovered by a Canadian research team called InfoWar that was asked to investigate suspected breaches in the security of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Over a period of 10 months, InfoWar uncovered a large-scale cyber-spying organization based on the worm Gh0st Rat. The Gh0st Rat Trojan enables, amongst other things, a hacker to control the sound and webcams of a remote computer. Although the network was mostly based in Hainan, China, there was no conclusive proof that the Chinese government was directly involved, independent research has shown that the Chinese government made decisions that could only have been influenced by information gathered by the network.

Using unique IP addresses, information was traced back to government servers that were owned and operated by the People’s Liberation Army intelligence arm. The Chinese embassy in London countered the cyber-spying allegations, saying that “China is opposed to and would seriously deter hacking activities, and had enacted clear laws against hacking. Rumors about Chinese cyber-espionage are completely unfounded, and those attempting to smear China in this way would not succeed.” This comment was made despite 300 businesses being alerted to Chinese infiltration by the Director-General of MI5, Jonathon Evans.

According to the results of the investigation, published in the InfoWar Monitor, embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Cyprus, Malta, Thailand, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan and the office of the Prime Minister of Laos had been penetrated and the foreign ministries of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan were also targeted.

While the vehement denials of any involvement with any kind of cyber-espionage have poured forth from both Beijing and Chinese embassies, the truth is that the Chinese government is probably as involved with country-to-country hacking as any other government is. The report from the investigative team itself says “Attributing all Chinese malware to deliberate or targeted intelligence gathering operations by the Chinese state is wrong and misleading… The most significant actors in cyberspace are not states…. In China, the authorities most likely perceive individual attackers [ie, teenagers in internet cafes] as convenient instruments of national power.” It’s just fashionable to accuse the Chinese of secretly and stealthily taking over the world one computer at a time, and the delicious irony that a country synonymous with Internet censorship should be famous for using it as a tool for world domination is just too hard for western hacks to ignore.


See No Evil, Hear No Evil…?

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment

China doesn’t like non-Chinese poking their noses into Chinese business. To their credit, they don’t poke their noses into other people’s business, either. Andreas Ni calls it “see no evil” diplomacy, and as China expands its international presence, coupled with support for oppressive regimes likes Burma, Sudan and North Korea, it might an policy that is ripe for an overhaul.

The problem is that by supporting these dictatorships, China sends the message to the international community that it’s not serious about being a world power to be reckoned with. The idea of non interference is commendable, but when innocents are being slaughtered by the own governments, most leaders would actually think that doing something to encourage freedom growth would be a good thing. Perhaps Beijing is all too aware of how the international community sees it – with the ghost of Tiananmen still haunting the movers and shakers in the Great Hall of the People, would it really be a good idea to criticize other countries that are doing the same? Is it really because of one embarrassing incident handled badly that Beijing throws a deaf ear and turns a blind eye to similar atrocities in other countries?

China’s rocky relationship with African nations is a curious one. The Chinese themselves haven’t made a secret of the apparent dislike of black people, and it has less to do with the violent images of blacks that have been imported from the US than you might think. During the height of the Cold War, Mao linked the idea of class struggle with the struggle against western imperialists. Third World countries were obvious victims of the imperialists, despite the best efforts of Bob Geldof, and China cemented the brotherly relationship with stipends and special dispensation for African students who wanted to study in the People’s Republic.

The idea didn’t turn out to be as good as expected. In 1979, a fight broke out between African students and Chinese locals in Shanghai, things had come to a head as the central government donated ever increasing amounts to African countries. The situation didn’t improve – differences in attitudes towards dating and the realization by the Chinese locals that the African guests had more rights that they did escalated tensions. More and more African students found themselves being arrested and deported from whence they came.

The Nanjing riots broke out in December 1988. A brawl that broke out on the campus of Hehai University during a Christmas Eve party eventually led to some 300 students chanting “kill the black devils”. Fearing for their lives, anyone who wasn’t Chinese ended up knocking on the doors of their respective embassies begging for protection. The numbers of Chinese protestors swelled to 3000 as they converged on the local rail station demanding more rights for Chinese, and that the African students be booted out of the country.

The attitude of the Chinese towards blacks hasn’t improved, and a wave of anti-Chinese protests broke out across Africa in 2007. Zambians have been especially unimpressed by the treatment of workers and their families when several miners died in yet another accident at a Chinese owned mine. In order to maintain access to the mine, China threatened to pull out of the country, taking its money with it, abandoning the sacred idea of non-interference for its own economic gain. It seems that in the pursuit of control over natural resources, China might have more in common with America that it’s cares to admit to.

Much spin can be put on the specific reasons as to why the Chinese administration continues to support one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. In their defense, they can claim that they are helping a starving nation where no one else lifted a finger, a cynic might suggest that they are simply eyeing up the mineral wealth that lies above the DMZ, while others might point out that having a buffer between the world’s largest army and the 29,000 troops stationed in South Korea.

As North Korea headed towards the launch of its Taepodong-2 missile, it seemed that the international community was turning to China in an effort to convince the DPRK’s administration that a launch would be a Very Bad Idea. When communism first swept through China and Korea, it did so with the backing of the USSR. As the launch date approached, the US and UN asked Russia and China to try to convince North Korea to step down from the launchpad. I guess the reasoning behind the request was that China is communist (and so is North Korea) and that Russia was communist, so a somewhat friendlier face was presented to try to dissuade the North from launching its rocket/missile.

Which goes to show how far the US and the rest of the international community has come in the years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Korean War.

When communism swept through Asia, it did so on the back of military and financial help from the USSR, they gave both the Chinese and the Koreans weapons, tanks, farming equipment, machines for their factories, essentially everything that an up and coming communist state should have. Unfortunately, since most of communist leaders since and including Stalin have been megalomaniacal dictators, the political capital that the USSR invested in states like the PRC and the DPRK quickly withered. Mao turned on the Soviets by encouraging skirmishes along the China/Russia border and developing his Mao Zedong Thought, while later, Kim Jong-il locked almost everyone out of the picture completely with the consolidation of his juche ideology.

There are only two connections between the PRC and the DPRK. One is the historical fact that Chinese soldiers were sent to fight alongside the North Koreans during the (as yet unfinished) Korean War and the other one is that China is probably the only country that hasn’t established any kind of trade sanctions on the hermit kingdom. They’re not only refusing not to trade with them, they’re actually increasing their trade – goods to the the tune of $1billion crossed the Yalu River in the first half of 2008. The figures don’t include the illegal drug trade that border guards on both sides take part in, or the odd homeless North Korean child that manages to slip across to sell puppies and sing songs for spare change.

The successive Chinese governments have lambasted the two Kims since the Korean peninsula was bisected across the 38th Parallel. First, the elder Kim was criticized for looking too fat, less like a proletarian leader, and more like a czar. Then there was the matter of Kim il-Sung’s massive statue in Kim il-Sung Square that the whole thing had been clad in gold didn’t sit well with the Chinese Politburo. When Kim il-Sung died in 1994, the Chinese media didn’t even mention Kim Jong-il in the official news reports.

So the question is, why is everyone asking China to tell Kim Jong-il what to do? The man clearly doesn’t listen to any of his own advisors, and they’re not shy about not paying back any debts they might owe (a grand total of $10-12billion, Japan has declared the entire country in default on what it owes to the Japanese), and the whole idea of juche means that the North Koreans should rebuild Korea by themselves. True enough that the major player in the continents 6-party talks was China – they’ve managed to repeatedly bring the North Koreans to the discussions – but after Korea’s nuclear test, and Beijing’s approval of the UN resolution 1718, the relationship has become more and more strained, and the government eyes China’s apparent closeness with the US with increasing distrust.

While diplomatic decisions are fairly easy to influence, military decisions are much more difficult. China does has the proper expertise in this area, understanding that public humiliation of North Korea won’t work, and has openly commented that this kind of pressuring diplomacy is counterproductive. The simple fact of the matter is that Americans massively overestimate China’s influence on North Korea.

Money for Old Hope

April 10, 2009 2 comments

February 14, 2003 – A small notice in the Weekly Epidemiological Record reports 305 cases and 5 deaths from an unknown acute respiratory syndrome which occurred between 16 November and 9 February 2003 in the Guangdong Province, China. (WHO WER 7/2003) The illness is spread to household members and healthcare workers. The Chinese Ministry of Health informs the WHO that the outbreak in Guangdong is clinically consistent with atypical pneumonia. Further investigations rule out anthrax, pulmonary plague, leptospirosis, and hemorrhagic fever.

Two weeks later, at the end of February, the Chinese Ministry of Health reports that the infective agent causing the outbreak of the atypical pneumonia was probably Chlamydia pneumoniae. (WHO WER 9/2003)

March 12 – The WHO issues a global alert about cases of severe atypical pneumonia following mounting reports of cases among staff in the Hanoi and Hong Kong hospitals.

March 24 – Scientists at the CDC and in Hong Kong announce that a new coronavirus has been isolated from patients with SARS.

March 30 – In Hong Kong, a steep rise in the number of SARS cases is detected in Amoy Garden, a large housing estate consisting of ten 35-storey blocks, which are home to around 15,000 persons. The Hong Kong Department of Health issues an isolation order to prevent the further spread of SARS.

April 2 – The WHO recommends that persons traveling to Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province of China consider postponing all but essential travel

April 16 – The WHO announces that a new pathogen, a member of the coronavirus family never before seen in humans, is the cause of SARS.

April 20 – The Chinese government discloses that the number of SARS cases is many times higher than previously reported. Beijing now has 339 confirmed cases of SARS and an additional 402 suspected cases. Ten days earlier, Health Minister Zhang Wenkang had admitted to only 22 confirmed SARS cases in Beijing.

The city closes down schools and imposes strict quarantine measures. Most worrying is the evidence that the virus is spreading in the Chinese interior, where medical resources might be inadequate.

– SARS Timeline

Hu Jintao officially assumed power as the President of the People’s Republic of China on 1st November, 2002. At around the same same time, a farmer in Shunde, Foshan, Guangdong was being treated for a mystery illness in the First People’s Hospital of Foshan. He was never conclusively diagnosed, and soon died as a result of the severity of his symptoms.

The disease quickly spread, and quickly claimed more lives, although the Chinese government was aware of what was happening, and knew that because of the flu-like symptoms, they should report the cases the World Health Organization. Through it’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network, WHO had picked up reports of several cases involving “flu-like symptoms” on the 27th November, but it wasn’t until February 2003 that the Chinese central government officially reported the outbreaks, after they had realised that a national health crisis was brewing in the south of China.

China apologized for delay in reporting the SARS outbreaks two months later, claiming that Chinese citizens had been fully informed about what was happening. “China has given public notices of this epidemic to Chinese people and to the world at appropriate times, in light of our national conditions and our law,” so said China’s health minister, Zeng Wen Kang. What had in fact happened was that Beijing media had been ordered not to mention the SARS outbreak, or to downplay it as much as possible. Two months later, in April, the very same health minister had said that it was completely safe for people to travel around China, contradicting the WHO, who had said that some parts of China still weren’t safe enough for foreigners. Or for Chinese people.

On April 4th, the lid on the whole thing was blown off by one of the most senior doctors and party members in the country, Jiang Yanyong, who risked both his career and life by writing an 800 word letter to two local TV stations – Pheonix TV and China Central Television (CCTV) 4. The letter was never reproduced in it’s entirely in China, but it was leaked to foreign journalists, and ended up being printed in Time magazine. Unbeknownst to the central government of China, the World Health Organization had known that there was a burgeoning healthy crisis in the country because the WHO routinely monitored radio and television broadcasts in China.

The Mayor of Beijing resigned, Wen Kang was fired, and, five months later, the Chinese government began to fully co-operate with the efforts to bring SARS under control. No one admitted, or has ever admitted, to distorting or covering up the full extent of the damage that SARS had caused.

Jiang Yanyong was a hero, when he bravely decided to go against the party line and email local TV stations, he saved the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. In 2003, he would write another letter to China’s newly elected leaders, asking the CCP to re-evaluate the Tienanmen Square crackdown:

“I was chief of the department of general surgery on June 4, 1989. On the night of June 3, I heard repeated broadcasts urging people to stay off the streets. At about 10 p.m., I was in my apartment when I heard the sound of continuous gunfire from the north. Several minutes later, my pager beeped. It was the emergency room calling me, and I rushed over. What I found was unimaginable–on the floor and the tables of the emergency room were seven young people, their faces and bodies covered with blood. Two of them were later confirmed dead by EKG. My head buzzed and I nearly passed out. I had been a surgeon for more than 30 years. I had treated wounded soldiers before, while on the medical team of the PLA railway corps that built the Chengdu-Kunming Railway. But their injuries resulted from unavoidable accidents during the construction process, while before my eyes, in Beijing, the magnificent capital of China, lying in front of me, were our own people, killed by our people’s army, with weapons supplied by the people.”

Although awarded a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, which recognised “his brave stand for truth in China, spurring life-saving measures to confront and contain the deadly threat of SARS,” after sending these letters, Jiang was arrested in June and spent seven weeks under arrest. The Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Jiang Zemin, ordered the arrest of Jiang Yanyong on the grounds of violating military discipline. In a public statement to the Washington Post, the government said, rather ominously, that “the military has been helping and educating him.”

The scab of inner secrecy was lifted off the event again by the good doctor, when he posted an open letter to Hu Jintao demanding an apology for the way that he and his wife had been treated by CCP henchmen. He quoted the PLA General Logistics Department’s CCP Commission press release that supposedly explained why he’d be arrested:

According to the CCP disciplinary rules, article 58: “For creating rumors that demonize the Party and the State, for mild offenses, a warning or a serious warning shall be issued; for serious offenses, probation or a change of position within the Party organization shall be issued; for extremely serious offenses, expulsion from the Party shall be issued.” The case of Jiang Yanyong should be considered an extremely serious offense. However, because Jiang has admitted to his mistakes and provided a written letter of repentance and a wish for redemption, we hereby issue, with the approval of the Central Military Commission, a two year internal Party probation for Jiang Yanyong.

The disciplinary rules, or Guiding Principles for Inner-Party Political Life, were adopted in February 1980 during the Fifth Plenary Session of 11th CPC Central Committee. A paragraph later, Yanyoung lambasted the Communist Party leadership:

I believe the “administrative detention” issued by the former Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Jiang Zemin, against me starting on June 1, 2004 was in violation of the Constitution, the Party Charter and army disciplinary rules. The “administrative investigation” starting June 16, 2004 was also without grounds and a complete mistake. Furthermore, it is really outrageous that I have continued to be restricted from visiting family members overseas. I believe all restrictions on me should be removed and the relevant departments should correct their mistakes and issue an apology. Only then will they be in compliance with the ideals of the Party’s fourth generation leadership: “rule by law,” “the people first” and “harmonious society.”

On May 19th, 2008, a three day period of mourning was officially announced for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake that had hit the province a week earlier. During these three days, China saw it’s biggest out pouring of grief in China since the death of Chairman Mao in 1979. In Tiananmen Square, after the moments silence, crowds erupted into cheers of “long live China”, casinos in Macau were closed, as were servers for online games. Jackie Chan told reporters “I want to make a movie about the earthquake because there were so many touching stories; through this movie, we will be able to show the whole world what happened

The speed at which the Chinese moved to get the army and rescue workers into Weichan impressed many, and it did much to silence those who had be bold enough to ask the question that mattered – why exactly had so many schools collapsed so easily when the earthquake hit?

Seven thousand schoolrooms folded under the stress of the shaking ground, and, thanks to the one child policy, many families lost an only child. The response was that the law was to accommodate those who had lost a child in the disaster, which wasn’t really much use since many parents had themselves sterilized or were too old to conceive another child. The local government had promised to investigate why the buildings collapsed as they did, but as of July 2008, no official report has been published, and no investigations have been knowingly carried out by either local or the central government. Stories about the investigation that had been demanded were swept under the carpet, and parents were at first discouraged from protesting, and later, when they did protest, they were dispersed by police.

As usually happens in these kinds of situations, the parents were offered cash payments, offered on the provisio that they never complain or protest about the alleged building faults. Undeterred by the pressure from both the government and local Sichuan officials, a Sichuanese schoolteacher, Liu Shaokun traveled to Shifang to take photos of the destroyed buildings. In one interview he expressed his outrage at the poor quality construction quality of the schools (calling them “tofu buildings”), and was arrested in June 2008 for disseminating rumors and destroying social order”. He was sentenced to one year of severe Re-Education through Hard Labor, although, thanks to the media attention focused on him, he served this sentence outside of a labor camp.

While self criticism, is a cornerstone of the Maoism, the only problem is that when the CCP is criticized, or even worse, thinks it’s being criticized, they don’t take too kindly to it. What the CCP is most worried about, and most anxious to remove is not just direct criticism, but the implication that there is a problem that isn’t being addressed. Sweeping the issues into prison is not going to make the issues vanish, and it’s clear from the protests that something isn’t being done through the “proper channels”. Chinese people are no strangers to protest and getting their voices heard. The CCP must learn that protest and dissent are not signs of a weak leadership or symbolic of the decline of society, but they are part and parcel of a modern, prosperous country in the 21st Century.

Unravelling the Melamine Milk Scam

April 6, 2009 Leave a comment

In 2007, the FDA discovered that high levels of melamine were found in pet food, and many dogs and cats across America had become ill after eating the contaminated feed. At first, the CCP had denied that the food had been exported at all from China saying, going as far to say that no wheat gluten products had been exported from China to the US.

The Las Vegas company, ChemNutra that imported and subsequently resold the pet food from from the Chinese company Xuzhou said that the Chinese company had presented itself as the sole manufacturer, but investigation by the Chinese authorities revealed that the company may have had as many as 25 different suppliers. Xuzhou had failed to declare that it was exported food or animal feed to the Chinese export regulators and therefore circumvented the checks that are usually carried out on products intended for animal or human consumption.

Months before the pet poisoning case came to light, Xuzhou had posted on Internet bulletin board soliciting melamine scrap. Why exactly a food company was asking for large amounts of melamine scrap was not investigated by the Chinese, even though a ban currently exists on using melamine in vegetable protein. Despite being illegal, chemical producers admit they have supplied food companies with melamine – “Melamine is mainly used in the chemical industry, but it can also be used in making cakes”, said Li Xiuping, a manager at Henan Xinxiang Huaxing Chemical in Henan Province.

The US immediately banned imported wheat gluten products from China, mainly because the idea that the chemical had been deliberately introduced into animal food, and that the same might be true for products intended for human consumption.

If poisoning pets wasn’t bad enough, in December 2007, a baby milk manufacturer started to receive complaints from parents that their baby formula was making their babies sick.

The Sanlu Baby Milk poisoning crisis hit shortly after the Olympics closed, but what most people don’t know is that accusations that the company had been supplying tainted, possibly life threatening baby formula as early as December 2007, and the company wrote to local CCP officers in June 2008 to assist them in covering up the scandal to avoid “whipping up the issue and creating a negative influence in society.” Even as late as August 6th, two days before the start of the Olympic Games, the company had pulled it’s products from manufacturers, but had not issued a public recall. A public statement was not issued until September 9th, by which time dozens of babies had developed life threatening kidney stones, and at least one baby had died. A recall of 700 tons of baby formula followed on September 11th. Ten days later, fifty-three thousand babies were reported as being sick, and just under thirteen thousand Chinese babies had been hospitalized, with over 100 listed as being in serious condition.

Because of the apparent safety inspections that Sanlu were supposed to have performed on their own products, they were granted an exemption from the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, who also awarded Sanlu a State Science and Technology Award, which is the highest accolade that can be awarded to a Chinese company. When the company first revealed that contaminants were being found in their baby milk, the Olympic Games was incentive enough for the government to “increase control and coordination of the media, to create a good environment for the recall of the company’s problem products,” this was essentially a concerted effort from local and central government cadres to hush-up the fact that poisonous melamine had been added routinely to milk to artificially increase the protein content.

Mass confusion followed, as babies were rushed to hospital with critical kidney complaints, and testing of imported Chinese food products revealed that melamine had been added to many more products than previously thought. Even though four babies died, and some fifty thousand children were hospitalized as a direct result of ingesting the plastic resin, the government felt that the Olympic Games were more important to China that Chinese babies were.

The reason why the so many dairy products have been tainted with melamine is quite simple: China is still a nation of farmers, and cows are expensive, they can buy cheaper cows, but they invariably produce milk which has a lower protein yield. If melamine is added to the milk, then the protein yield, when tested, will be much higher and the milk won’t be refused by a bottling factory, the return on the farmer’s investment is higher too – when added to cottonseed meal, the falsified protein yields can mean an extra one thousand Yuan per ton of meal. The farmers don’t know what melamine is, they just know that if they add it to their milk, or to their animal feed, they’ll get more money for it. Since melamine was added to what the cows eat, and then that milk was polluted even further by milk dealers and at milk collecting stations, the amount of melamine that was found in some milk products was thirty-six-times higher than US FDA regulations permit. Even if a farmer, or a feedmill owner wanted to test the what they were feeding to their animals, the testing kits cost $145 each (about 1,000RMB), it’s too expensive, so no one performs any tests.

The whole sorry tale has come out into the open, but it’s not just that fact that Sanlu and many others were adding poisonous chemicals to their products, it’s the idea the companies tried to cover-up what happened, and that various government departments were complicit in making the situation much worse that it should’ve been.

Sanlu initially denied the allegations that it’s products were linked with the rise in admissions of infants with kidney problems. They tried to buy off critics and gave free milk to the parents who were kicking up the most fuss. Wang Yuanping wrote an Internet post about the problems that his child was having, Sanlu dutifully offered him $400 worth of free milk to take the Internet post down, he complied and gave the milk to his friends. On the advice of a Beijing based PR firm, Teller International, Sanlu turned their attention to Internet search engines.

Teller and International advised Sanlu to co-operate with companies like Baidu, one of the largest Chinese Internet search websites. Sanlu’s interpretation of the “co-operation” was to offer Baidu a $440,000 (three million RMB) “budget” to screen all the negative press from the search engine indices. To date, 32 countries have withdrawn dairy-based products from their supermarket shelves, and the stock price of Sanlu has plummeted by 40%. The World Health Organization was particularly harsh in it’s criticism of the crisis, saying, that this was “clearly not an isolated accident, [but] a large-scale intentional activity to deceive consumers for simple, basic, short-term profits.”

Anger has grown in the Chinese populous too, with many people wondering why the government is so unmoved by the death of Chinese babies. Wen Jaibao apologized, eventually, but his requests for forgiveness sound awfully similar to the way he asked for the people’s pardon for the deaths of coal miners, contaminated drinking water, and the slow reaction to the 2007 snow storms that plagued southern China:

“This incident made me feel sad, though many Chinese have been understanding. It disclosed many problems for government and company supervision of the milk sources, quality and marketing administration… The government will put more efforts into food security, taking the incident as a warning.

What we are trying to do is to ensure no such event happens in future by punishing those leaders as well as enterprises responsible. None of those companies without professional ethics or social morals will be let off.”

-Wen Jiabao, China’s Premier (21 September 2008)

The apologies were well intentioned, but the Chinese went a little too far at a meeting at the WHO when they claimed that the melamine had been, in fact, added accidentally, directly contradicting the WHO’s own observations that the contamination had been deliberate. The CCP also began denying that certain things or people even existed.

When Zhu Yonglan, the Director of the State Council Central Government Offices Special Food Supply Center, revealed in a speech in August 2008, that her firm had worked to supply party members, retired cadres and their families with dairy food that was organically produced and of the highest quality, as she said herself,

“We all know that average production facilities use large quantities of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Antibiotics and hormones are commonly used in raising livestock and poultry. Farmed aquatic products are contaminated by various kinds of water pollution. It goes without saying that these are harmful when consumed by humans,”

In a Xinhua press release on September 26th, the CCP denied the existence, not only of the food supply centre, but also the fact that Zhu Yonglan had been awarded the contract, and that Zhu Yonglan didn’t actually exist at all.

Luckily, to draw attention from the fact that the Chinese government was aware of the damaging effects of melamine and that it was in the national food chain, and that they had set up a special company in order to insulate Party leaders from the poisons, the launch of the Shenzhou VII rocket was a nice little distraction for Xinhua to play up, while it played down anther disastrous health scare in China.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

April 6, 2009 1 comment

“We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China…We are confident that the Games coming to China not only promote our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health and human rights.”
– Wang Wei, Executive Vice President and Secretary General of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, speaking in 2001

“The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics. There has been no progress towards fulfilling these promises, only continued deterioration. Unless the authorities make a swift change of direction, the legacy of the Beijing Olympics will not be positive for human rights in China.”

– Amnesty International statement 10 days before the the start of the 2008 Olmypic Games.

Many different people wanted many different things from the Olympic Games. The Chinese Communist Party wanted international recognition of their legitimacy, the Chinese people wanted the tourist dollars, human rights activists wanted better human rights, and almost everyone wanted to see more porn and uncensored Internet access.

In the 7 years that Beijing had time to prepare for the Olympiad, the pipe dream of improved human rights had pretty much evaporated. Amnesty International had been monitoring the situation, and in 2008 conclusively reported that “in the run-up to the Olympics, the Chinese authorities have locked up, put under house arrest and forcibly removed individuals they believe may threaten the image of “stability” and “harmony” they want to present to the world.”

The Chinese government will have people believe that the games had been nothing less than “16 glorious days which we will cherish forever.” In truth, the whole thing had been astonishingly mismanaged from start to finish. The Chinese government lied to the people of China, and managed to tarnish it’s image on the international stage even further – if you believe that could even be possible.

The first problem that Beijing mandarins faced was the appalling level of air pollution that blighted the city. With American medical experts like Bob Lanier, who works as a doctor at Fort Worth said that “It’s like living in the middle of a construction zone,” and the marathon runners that had tried the damnedest to run through the city’s most beautiful and most breathtaking construction sites in the 2007 Beijing Marathon had promised that “we won’t be coming back.” The solution to this was to ban odd and even numbered cars from the roads on alternating days and to shut any and all factories that were belching out offending fumes that would push the air quality index of the city down. Of course, these rules were both dissolved soon after the games, and the fumes were once again merrily pumped in to the air. The effect was, as Will Moss put it, that being in Beijing was like being with “a kid holding in a giant fart”

Months before the Games started, hotels were feeling the pinch of the new, draconian visa rules that had been introduced. In June, the Kerry Center Hotel was only 63% full, 37% down on bookings the previous year. According to the Beijing Tourist Bureau, 44 percent of four-star and about 77 percent of five-star hotel rooms were booked in the city.

Insisting that the new visa rules were in place to tighten security ahead of the games, the government was cracking down on illegal F (business) visas that had been issued to foreigners who didn’t have a work visa, but wanted to stay and work in the city. The F visas allowed people to visit factories, take part in meetings, etc, and could be valid for up to six months. Since the tourist, or L visa, only gave a maximum of three months, the F visa was the visa of choice for people who worked on the sidelines in Beijing. Unfortunately, the influx of African expats who funded themselves mostly through prostitution and drug trafficking in the Sanlitun bar area were resident on F visas. Since a bar street riddled with drug dealers wouldn’t give the image that the CCP were hoping for in August, the drug dealers had to go.

Once the dealers found themselves unable to get a visa, they would, in theory, leave the country (and they did, flooding into Hong Kong). In order to send the right message that drugs were not welcome in Beijing, the police raided several bars one night, arresting and beating any and all black men, regardless of whether they were African drug dealers, or African-American teachers working legitimately, unfortunately for the Beijing police, the son of an African ambassador was caught up in the violence and was beaten on the streets before being arrested.

Other business interests were being damaged too. In one case two businessmen who needed to visit Beijing were given visas. The German got a 30 day F visa, and the Swiss businessman got a 10 day visa. Something was clearly wrong with the interpretation and application of the new rules, but since Beijing had not even acknowledged that there had been a change in visa policy, there was little that anyone could do. Even business reps from Hong Kong who often took a trip to nearby Shenzhen were being denied visas, and thus entry into the mainland. While the visa rules had done good job of getting rid of the riff-raff that would tarnish the pristine presentation of Beijing during the Olympics, businesses were being oxygen-starved three months before any athletes had touched down at Beijing Airport.

Well before the Olympics had started, Chinese people, especially those who felt that they had been wronged in some way, took advantage of the interest that the Games had generated outside of China. In one incident, Hu Ziwei took revenge on her philandering husband, Bo Zhang and told everyone about his extramarital affair at a press conference that had been called to mark the renaming of CCTV 5 to The Olympic Channel.

No stranger to controversy, Hu Ziwei had previously attacked the ping pong player, He Zili, who competes on the Japanese national team because her former husband was Japanese. At the press conference in 2007, she appeared alongside Zhang Bin, over three long minutes, exposed the adulterous affair:

“As the wife of Mr Zhang Bin, rather than in my normal capacity as a TV announcer, I would like all of you to spare me a minute. Today is a special day for The Olympic Channel, and it’s a special day for Mr Zhang Bin, and for me it’s a special day, too. Because just two hours ago I found out that, besides me, Mr Zhang Bin has been maintaining an improper relationship with another woman.”

“Next year is an Olympic year, and all eyes will be watching China. But as a French diplomat once pointed out, if Chinese people don’t have any humane values to present to the world … then what does all the [Olympic] fuss mean?”

She was escorted off-stage and the press conference continued. Unfortunately, one attendee filmed the whole thing with his camera phone, and the video was soon uploaded, first to Chinese sites like Youku and Tudou, and then to Youtube. Chinese webmasters were ordered to delete the video, but it still remains alive on the American owned Youtube.

When nearly ten thousand journalists descended on the capital in summer 2008, the CCP had promised that unfettered Internet access would be available – the games were supposed to be “Free and open”. Initially, it seemed like a good idea, China was showing that it was able to accommodate foreigners reporting during the time that Beijing was hosting the most famous of all sporting events. Of course, when the journalists arrived, they found that Internet sites that had been fine when they left their home countries where now completely inaccessible.

They complained and the complaints where initially met with the tired old excuse of “this is China” or “it’s a cultural difference”, once again, the CCP went on the offensive-defensive, and ultimately blamed the journalists for not accommodating themselves to China’s laws. After some confabulation, some restrictions were lifted. What’s astonishing is the idea that people wouldn’t notice that the CCP had not even tried to fulfill their promise of opening the up the Great Firewall.

Another Olympic elephant was the laughable creation of “protest zones” in the ridiculously named Ethnic Minorities Park. In an attempt to show how diverse and accepting the CCP was in the wake of the riots in Tibet, the opening ceremony had included a show of the traditonal costumes worn by the many ethnic minorities of China, sadly, as many pointed out, the children modelling the clothes were all majority Han Chinese. The idea was that the zones would a kind of sandbox for people to protest about. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible just to show up and protest about freeing Tibet – an application had be submitted and approved beforehand. 77 applications were made by 149 people:

-74 where rejected because the issues “were properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations”.

– 2 were rejected because they didn’t provide sufficient information.

– 1 was rejected because it violated Chinese laws governing protests and demonstrations.

When a protest did eventually take place, instead of arresting the protesters, the police arrested an British ITN news reporter. He was filmed repeatedly showing his press ID to the gathered police, but when he was released a few hours later, the police claimed that they had mistaken him for a protester. Since the reporter had a camera crew with him and a legit press ID, the arresting officers were either blind, stupid or lying.

In trying to deal with international problems with domestic solutions, the image that is projected by the officials who get quoted in the newspapers is almost always much poorer than the real experience of living in the place. CCP officials must learn that it’s not enough to answer a question bluntly, because foreigner journalists are not going to accept was they think is a transparent lie, and will push further for more information. This happened at an official Olympic press conference where a British reporter, Alex Thompson, who works for Channel 4 news repeatedly asked the same question both of Giselle Davies and Wei Wang, the secretary general of the Beijing organizing committee.

Like any good reporter, Thompson didn’t mince his words. He asked if Davies or the Olympic organization as a whole was “in any way embarrassed” by the Chinese government “lying through its teeth” about keeping its promises to improve human rights and press freedom. After she refused to answer the question, and while Thompson was having his microphone forced from him by two Olympic volunteers, a senior Chinese official attacked the foreigner journalists, saying it was unsuitable for foreigners “to peek, to be critical, to dig into the small details and find fault”.

The government was desperate to educate Beijingers on how to act when the world came to visit the capital. Several thousand leaflets telling people what not to do were distributed and on the 11th day of each month, people practiced queuing up politely for things, instead of the usual “every man woman and child for himself” spectacle. Several important etiquette rules for governing public behavior were covered in the leaflets. Central to this co-ordinated charm offensive were the 8 don’t asks:

“Don’t ask about income or expenses, don’t ask about age, don’t ask about love life or marriage, don’t ask about health, don’t ask about someone’s home or address, don’t ask about personal experience, don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views, don’t ask what someone does.”

The rules admittedly don’t leave a lot of scope for what Chinese people can ask foreigners about, but maybe limited contact with the foreigners was exactly what the CCP wanted. Everything seemed to be going well, Chinese people were slowly getting out of the habit of clearing their throats and noses like European soccer players out on streets, smoking had been banned in the more high class establishment, rules governing small talk had been established, and people were learning that people outside China actually stand in line for things.

Everything fell apart when the government tackled the thorny issue of how people should act around disabled people. The manual printed in both Chinese and English (and is still available for download from the website) issues several guidelines on how the volunteers should act and speak. The section dealing with physically and mentally disabled people caused international outrage:

On dealing with optically disabled people, the manual advises, in Chapter 6, page 161:

“Often the optically disabled are introverted. They have deep and implicit feelings and seldom show strong emotions. Comparatively they have more sensitive auditory abilities. Because they touch to connect with the outside world instead of using their eyes, they have very sensitive hands. Most visually disabled people rely on their memories to locate furniture and daily utensils. To set up a good relationship with them you need to establish trust. Help familiarize them with their surroundings and serve them with respect. Remember: When you communicate with optically disabled people, try not to use the word”blind” when you meet them for the first time. You can tell them about yourself as much as possible so they can trust you and feel safe, and when you come up to them or leave, be sure to let them know by language or actions. And when you put the glass in front show directions, try to be accurate and clear (for example: say “It is about 1 meter ahead from your left,” not “It is there” It will also help if you try to tell them what’s going on around them. ”

Not intending to leave anyone out of this train wreck, the physically disabled were dealt with the next subsection (Chapter 6, page 161/2):

“Physically disabled people are often mentally healthy. They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorization and thinking mechanism from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability. For example, some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called”crippled” or “paralyzed” It is not acceptable for others to hurt their dignity, so volunteers should make extra efforts to assist with due respect.”

The section finished with the words:

“When you make eye contact with them, do not fuss or show unusual curiosity, and never stare at their disfigurement. A patronizing or condescending attitude will be easily sensed by them, even for a brain damaged patient (though he cannot control his limbs, he is able to see and understand like other people). Like most, he can read your body language. Do not use “cripple” “lame”even if you are just joking. Be friendly, kind and patient. ”

This manual was printed and distributed to 100,000 Olympic volunteers citywide. People rightly launched outright attacks on the insensitivity that the the Chinese government could even begin to think that this was an acceptable way to talk about disabled people visiting their city. Simone Aspis, a parliamentary campaigner at the UK Disabled People’s Council, said, “It’s not just the language but the perception that in 2008 we are considered a race apart. Disabled people are introverted and stubborn the same way anyone else is.”

The CCP found itself in a tricky situation, and managed not only to draw fire on it’s hamfisted attempts to educate people, but for it’s attitude towards it’s own 83 million disabled people. Instead of assimilating them into society, the desire of a genetically pure and healthy nation has led to forced sterilization, bans on marriages between disabled people, and the routine abortions of what are determined to be abnormal or fetuses. The Chinese word for disabled is can fei, according to Everybody Belongs by Dr. Arthur Shapiro, this means “useless cripple” (efforts have been made to get people to use the more politically acceptable ji ren instead). Many of Beijing’s 3 million disabled are unemployed, and the only work that a blind person can get is in a specialist “blind massage” parlour. Speaking in the UK Independent newspaper, Chinese disabled commentator, Ai Na, says that “Once a family has a disabled person, many people presume this family must have done bad things, that it is a kind of karma. When I was a little girl, if my brother brought friends home, I had to stay in my room and lock the door. This behavior came to be normal some time later. Every time friends or relatives come by, I get nervous. Playing outside for me is like entering a strange and frightening world.”

It was hoped that the Paralympics would change people’s attitude towards disabled people, but the basic policies that are in place to “deal” with unborn babies who are “diagnosed” with physical abnormalities. As for the offensive training manual that was created for the volunteers, a redraft was hastily written and distributed with the offending sections reworded. Zhang Qiuping, director of the Paralympic Games in Beijing, did not offer an apology, dismissing the problems as “cultural difference and mistranslation.” When inspected, the Chinese version was found to be almost identical to the English version, and both “offensive” versions of the manuals were available for download from the Beijing Olympics website for several weeks after the story broke.

The Golden Shield

April 5, 2009 Leave a comment

The CCP began it’s campaign to “purify the internet environment” with a crackdown on porn sites in April 2007.  As AP reported, Zhang Xinfeng, deputy public security minister, was under no allusions as to where the roots of the darker side of the Internet reside, “The boom of pornographic content on the internet has contaminated cyberspace and perverted China’s young minds. The inflow of pornographic materials from abroad and lax domestic control are to blame for the existing problems in China’s cyberspace.”.  What followed was a few arrests for hosting “cyber strip shows” and a major clampdown on the myriad blogs and search engines hosting in China.  Cai Wu, director of the Information Office of China’s Cabinet, told Xinhua that “As more and more illegal and unhealthy information spreads through the blog and search engine, we will take effective measures to put the BBS, blog and search engine under control.”

Throughout the year, the government produces a list of guidelines for ISPs and Internet companies to follow.  Most recently, China Digital Times published a translation of the latest set of rules, which said that posts the criticise the Chinese political system should be “absolutely blocked or deleted”, information about the tiger being skinned and beheaded should be deleted, and all sorts of other rather distasteful stuff, including the rather chilling “Strengthen positive guidance. Web sites should proactively guide public opinion in a positive way, highlight positive voices and create a pro-NPC online environment.”.

Blogging is huge in China, it’s a problem for the government which has blocked most overseas weblog hosting sites, but now it’s cracking down on Chinese blogs, especially those who don’t have nice things to say about China.  For example, take the story of AIDS-activist Hu Jia, his wife Zeng Jinyan and her 2-month old baby Hu Qianci, all of whom are currently under house arrest.  What’s interesting about this guy is that while under the eyes of the police and other public security officials, he’s managed to blog, post photos, make podcasts and even make a documentary film about his family’s life in “Bo Bo Freedom City”.

Their story is intertwined with the internet, Hu was actually arrested while in the middle of a Skype conversation, and the film he made is distributed (albeit without his permission) on Youtube, and the last of his podcasts have been uploaded to the internet.  His blog was blocked, but another websites (subsequently blocked) appeared, his wife’s website was filtered, and then another fansite appeared.  Since Hu’s arrest on subversion charges, although it’s blocked, Zeng’s blog somehow, magically keeps updating itself.

All of this to-ing and fro-ing has managed to catch the attention, not only of English language bloggers and journalists in China, but a writer at the New York Times who has written a two page article about the housebound couple.  Interestingly, the reaction has been one of (natural) condemnation and, well, quite honestly, bemusement.  The charges against Hu are vague – the subversion of state power – and we’ll probably never really know why he’s been arrested.  All we do know is that anyone who causes trouble – and any parent will tell you the amount of political turmoil a 2 month old baby can wreak on your life – is being silenced before the Olympic Games.  When he was dragged away on the 27th December, hu joined the 51 other online dissidents that have been slung into the slammer, and his website joins the 2500 other websites that have also apparently been subverting state power, or criticising, or disagreeing or something.

The one thing that is more annoying that anything else, and which drew me to my previous story about Lou Ye and Fang Li’s entanglements with the government film, TV and radio censor is that no one from the government tells people why they are being arrested.  There’s an assumption by the CCP that everyone on China – all 1.3 billion of them – knows how to behave and what they need to do to toe the government line.  With Hu Jia, it’s got to the point where people don’t believe the authorities anymore, his supporters have asked after his health (his condition is reportedly “normal”), but they want a lawyer to go in a see him to make sure that they are telling the truth.  The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the police have refused to take Hu any of his prescription drugs to him, wherever he’s being held.

The video mobile phone is a big problem for the Chinese government.  As Beijing blogger Imagetheif remarked “no matter how China tries to control Olympic related news and imagery, anyone with a cell-phone will be a journalist come August.”.  The now legendary video of Hu Ziwei splitting up with her husband Zhang Bin at a CCTV5 press conference prompted a rushed law that means any video hosting site in China has to have a special license.  Licensing and blocking can only go so far, however, Frustratingly for the mandarins at The Great Firewall of China, a lot of websites aren’t actually hosted in the country, and are therefore outside the Chinese sphere of influence.  All they can do is block, and even that system looks like it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.

The whole point of the Great Firewall, or the Golden Shield as it’s known on the mainland, is to protect citizens from objectionable international online content.  The project, is of course, shrouded in secrecy, but due to the nature of the internet infrastructure, it’s possible to learn about it through empirical analysis, which basically means poking it with a stick.

ConceptDoppler is a project established by computer scientists at the University of New Mexico, which is essentially looking for what keywords are being blocked by the Golden Shield, using an algorithm called Latent Semantic Analysis, which uses words and related words to test a firewall or filtering system.  The idea is that understanding the how the ideas and the words related to the
ideas are filtered, then there will be a better understanding of how a government filters the Internet for it’s citizens – and let’s face it, the Chinese government isn’t exactly offering white papers on it’s filtering technology.

The initial findings of ConceptDoppler are surprising to say the least.  Along with the normal words that you would expect to find blocked (democracy, massacre, etc) there are some quite unusual ones too.  A search for Hitler’s Mein Kampf is blocked, another search term for “conversion rate” is also blocked.  The other surprise was that the firewall isn’t like a wall, it’s more of a chain-link fence.  A lot of the words managed to get through to the mainland, although these rogue words were trapped by routers deeper in the Chinese Internet.  It seems that bombarding the Shield with terms, especially at time when Internet traffic is at it’s peak allows some search terms to get through, in fact, banned words get through 28% of the time.
The conclusions that the team has come to is that the Chinese government rattles is sabre to keep the masses in line.  The firewall doesn’t need to catch all the search terms entered into Google, just some of them.  Just enough of them need to be caught before people learn that there’s no point searching for them anymore, and stop searching.

Another strategy that researchers discovered was that it’s possible to circumvent the net censor altogether, simply by telling the two computers that want to talk to each other to ignore the messages that they are receiving from the Chinese filters.

When a search term or a page is loaded from a server to your computer, and it passes through the GFW, if there is questionable content in the page, then both your computer and the computer you are connected to will receive “reset packets”, which effectively close your connection for you.  If the two computers are set up to ignore reset packets, then the information will get through, say, from Wikipedia’s server in California to my laptop here in Beijing.  Richard Clayton and his team at the University of Cambridge has done experiments using this theory, and apparently things work pretty well.

For the first time in a long time, Chinese people have a chance to have their voices heard.  Blogging is big in China, well-wishers and supporters gather outside Bo Bo Freedom City, trying to take baby formula into the house, and they wonder what will become of the man who once took part in an EU hearing about human rights.

The Golden Shield is regarded by the CPP as it’s most effective tool in maintaining political power, and repeatedly, it has been shown that it doesn’t work.  When the firewall doesn’t work, they arrest the subversives and tarnish their international image even further.  Given that the CCP has spent an estimated $800 million just to get the thing up and running, and the costs of upgrading and maintaining new hardware and software means that the cost of the biggest white elephant in China will continue to rise, and it’s usefulness will plummet.

Why They Do That Thing They Do

April 5, 2009 Leave a comment

No other country has so many different opinions held about it than China.  You may see a country that is gripped by a lethargic, outdated, backward communist dictatorship, you might see a country with a hideous human rights record, others may see a country steeped in history, now transformed to a commercial dynamo.  One question that many ask is why the Communist Party of China does what it does, punishing apparently minor crimes with obscene penalties, often for the most unfathomable of reasons.  Language complications don’t help much, at best, Mandarin translates badly into English, and the complex, interwoven, multilayered nature of Chinese culture only serves to confuse the layperson even more.

The first thing to remember is that largely communism in China is dead.  The original ideas that fueled the civil war, resulting in the creation of the People’s Republic has been superseded by a rampant free market, and a lust for money.  One of my high level students came to her class one afternoon and showed me her application for membership of the CCP.  I asked if she was a communist, and she said she wasn’t, it’s just that party membership is good when you are trying to find a job.  Rather than being a commitment to a political ideology, the CCP is seen as something of an additional required qualification when job hunting, rather than a overt statement of belief.

It’s here that we find something of a dichotomy.  While the people themselves are probably as interested in politics as the average American or Briton, the Party does have control of all the media in the country, and therefore is able to create the illusion of a China built on a pure political, socialist motivations, and gives the impression that the country is highly politicized.  This, as any long term visitor to the country will testify, is untrue.

A myriad of rules and regulations exist, some them conflicting, and over half of them pointlessly bureaucratic, almost all of them are bent or circumvented in some way.  My experience with the visa agent is one incident: I was able to procure a business visa without having the proper paperwork or intentions.  I then worked illegally at the local police academy.

For the most part, Chinese people see the government as an elderly grandparent.  They tell them they are going to do something one way, and then go off to do it their way.  The government is somewhat embarrassed by the gross liberties that are taken with the supposed law of the land, which explains the often used phrase “in accordance with Chinese law”  – this is nothing more than an attempt to try to improve the image of the Chinese legal system.

The laws have done nothing to deter the determined money makers in China.  Counterfeiting, as we shall examine later, is rife.  A trip to the Silk Market, Pearl Market, or Dazhalan will reveal fake watches, clothes, underwear, consumer electronics, cosmetics, books as well as the perennial favorite, fake DVDs (a market rumored to be controlled by the Chinese army).  Supposedly, since joining the World Trade Organization, China has strengthened it’s intellectual property laws, unfortunately, no one has told the counterfeiters.  There are probably more arrests, and there’s definitely more publicity about the arrests, but the counterfeiters continue to flaunt the rules.  During the Olympic Games, fake Olympic souvenirs were available to buy around Tiananmen Square.

The second point to bear in mind is that debate amongst Chinese people about the politics of their country is an exercise in futility.  The two generations of adults that have known nothing but the rule of the CCP now exists in China, and from the complete and total control of the media that the party has, the party’s philosophy, such as it is, is deeply and indelibly ingrained in the hearts of minds of the thirtysomethings and their parents.

When you look at it from their point of view, Chinese people do owe a lot to the CCP.  Less people than ever live in poverty, the country has unparalleled economic growth, and more and more Chinese are studying abroad, taking on new ideas and broadening the horizons.  The young adults in China, to praphrase Harold MacMillan, have never had it so good, and it’s all thanks to the pragmatic and technocratic leadership of the Politburo.

Closer inspection, as always, reveals a somewhat different story.

After the excesses of Mao Zedong led to a paranoid, closed and nose diving Chinese society, the official line is that a policy of “Reform and Opening Up” was initiated by Deng Xiao Ping.  The idea was to create “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.  This in itself has presented a confused view of China.  Essentially, the government maintains that it is essentially Marxist/Maoist, but that it has cherry picked ideas from Western capitalist nations to fit it’s own ends.  This demonstrates the first, most distinct characteristic of the Chinese Communist Party – big, new ideas are trumpeted, but the u-turn performed after the idea fails is kept quiet.  The Chinese took the worst of all Western ideas in an attempt to rapidly modernize and unify the country, and ended up with a communist leadership.

The Chinese government basically rewrote the rules on what exactly they were supposed to be. Communism wasn’t working, the country had been left in chaos after the Cultural Revolution, and China was heading back to where it started.  The CCP would have people believe that this writing and rewriting is all part of the master plan that will create a harmonious, socialist society, but while they’ve acknowledged that the creation of the People’s Republic was an irreversible change from the old feudal capitalist ways to the new socialist ones, they managed to hustle the Chinese people into believing that they’re still dyed-in-the-blood communists, only this time with more money.  Since the Chinese people are living the best lives Chinese people have lived for a long time, it’s hard to disagree with them.

The biggest hustle has been the idea that everything that is happening now is a conscious, premeditated pro-action by the Chinese government, but empirical analysis shows a different truth:  the Chinese government doesn’t start doing things, they stop doing things.  The CCP just stops standing in people’s way, and then takes the credit for making a positive contribution to the lives of 1.3 billion people.  The trend shows that they’re more likely to do this when they’re about to be pushed by the people.

This presents problem for the government.  How to convince over a billion people not to march on Beijing and kick the Politburo out of The Great Hall of the People.  Since communism is no longer a viable option, the powers that be have to find another way of keeping the masses in line.  They had to find a way of convincing people that living in China wasn’t so bad, and that having a military dictatorship/kleptocracy in power was a good thing.  The answer, as it turned out, was fairly obvious: nationalism.

Chinese nationalistic indoctrination begins at an early age for the people of China.  A new song that kindergarten teachers wrote for their students to recite every morning recently turned up translated into English on the Internet.  Entitled Go China!  2009, the song started off in village schools, and has spread to Chinese-only schools in Shanghai (adopted alongside the annual Anti-Japan Day).

It’s been the long time goal of nearly every leader of China from the earliest dynasties to unify China and create a single Chinese country.  Handily, China has had Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang separatists to either create problems to rally proud Chinese into defending the need for a unified China, or present golden opportunities for showcasing the elite Chinese security services.  Ironically, before 1991, both the sides across the Taiwan Strait wanted the same thing – create a unified China – the problem was, of course, which kind of China – a plain old vanilla republic, or a communist people’s republic.

In Taiwan’s case, the general consensus at the moment is to support the status quo, occasional outrage and saber rattling comes from the mainland government to try to remind everyone who’s actually in charge of the place (most recently the $6.5billion weapons deal between the US and Taiwan understandable angered Beijing because the weapons were sold to enable the island to defend itself from China”).  At other times, steps are taken accompanied by typical communist pomp when something actually goes to plan.  The biggest PR coup was the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.  After nearly 800 years, China was finally one nation under Jiang Zemin.

The use of euphemisms when talking about national embarrassments (or what are perceived as national embarrassment) are common in mainland China.  “Mass incidents are protests or demonstrations and one of my students referred to the Cultural Revolution as a period of “silliness”.  Protests and riots are a source of embarrassment to the government because they show a loss of control by the police and party over the people.  When a riot erupts in an already sensitive are of the country, like, say, Tibet, a swift and uncompromising effort to regain control is almost guaranteed.  A media black out, followed by international confusion usually follows.

Immediately after the riots broke out in Tibet and the surrounding areas in Sichuan, the Chinese government locked down Tibet, interested in keeping foreign journalists out while they struggled to regain control over the rioting monks.  The only reporter who was in the Tibetan capital at the time was James Miles, who had planned a trip there, which just happened to coincide with the “mass incident”.

While Wen Jia Bao blamed the Dalai Lama for masterminding the rioting, Miles reported that he saw little in the way of organization, observing an eruption rather than a planned, premeditated protest.  The media blackout included The Guardian website, Youtube, and parts of Yahoo! News.  Footage of Tibetans rioting was playing constantly on new channels, and the People’s Daily demanded that the CCP resolutely crush the ‘Tibet independence’ forces’ conspiracy and sabotaging activities.  When journalists were allowed into Tibet, translators were not provided for western writers, and it was up to the Taiwanese press to report on comments that were made in Chinese and Tibetan by monks.  Premier Wen Jia Bao claimed that “there is ample fact and we also have plenty of evidence proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique although none was ever presented, and none is unlikely ever to be presented.

In it’s current form, the CCP is more similar now to American neo-conservatives, creating and providing solutions to what amount to wildly exaggerated problems.  Wen Jia Bao says that the Dalai Lama masterminded the rioting and violence through a complicated communication system from India (a system that was detailed by the government’s media mouthpiece, Xinhua), while on the other hand, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly called for autonomy rather than independence, and has been jilted at the conference table by the Chinese delegates.

One of the hurdles that both westerners and the Chinese government have to overcome is the idea that there are insurmountable cultural differences between the two that will forever cause friction and misunderstanding.  Where the western media sees a brutal crackdown, the Chinese see the maintenance of law and order.  The big problem comes when Chinese try to sell western media the same thing they’ve already sold to the Chinese people.  For example, the idea that the Dalai Lama is in fact, an international terrorist mastermind is easily assimilated by the local populous, but a more sophisticated audience would and does dismiss the idea as ridiculous.

The CCP is caught in an unenviable situation where it needs to project it’s international image as a modern and progressive country, satisfying the new generation of wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs and taking care of it’s aging population who both fought for a New China, and lived through the worst of Chairman Mao’s excesses.

Criticism is a cornerstone of Maoism.  The only problem is that when the CCP is criticized, or even worse, thinks it’s being criticized, they don’t take too kindly to it.  What the CCP is most worried about, and most anxious to remove is not just direct criticism, but the implication that there is a problem that isn’t being addressed.

There are two important concepts that are difficult to grasp for Westerners living in or visiting China.  The first is the idea of “face”, which equates closely to public appearance.  If one person gets angry with another, then both people lose face, the person who instigated the fight loses out because he is seen as being unable to control his feelings, and the guy being yelled at loses face too as the target of those feelings.  This idea extends into the realm of international politics too.

While the CCP excelled at banning independent media so that it could monopolize images for it’s domestic audience, it’s the lack of independent reporting that has created a credibility gulf between the CCP and western media.  As Beijing based PR guru Will Moss put it, “China is much better at dictating ideas to a captive audience than at selling them to an open one.”.