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I’m Swiss. I live here now, but I’m actually a Swiss… nationally.

June 16, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been kinda difficult to be British in Beijing lately- first there was the spectacular Youku implosion of a video of drunken/stoned/retarded/possibly-all-three Briton attempting to rape a Chinese woman in Xidan.  Now we’re even more in hock with the CCP because David Cameron met up with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

With panther-like reactions, the Global Times churned out an op-ed that lambasted the UK and Norway for their arrogance (yes, that’s Chinese men calling other countries arrogant, just in case you didn’t get it first time around.  Incredible I know).  Like a lot of Chinese tub thumping, the actual content is questionable, and the article is one of those paper-rattling nationalist things that Chinese people like so much.

The speculation is probably correct. In both cases China’s core interests have been offended. Proper countermeasures are necessary for a big country. If China takes no action, it would be tantamount to tolerating a vicious provocation. This indifference would be despised at home and in the world.

Er.  No.  Just at home, as it happens.  No one else cares.  Ok, so the anonymous author doesn’t really point out why China has the right not to be offended.  Lots of countries and lots of governments are attacked by media outlets everyday.  China’s just going to have to grow up and learn to take it’s knocks like everyone else.

Since its reform, China has accepted some political concepts of the West, but that is not the same as unconditionally following orders from the West. Studying the West has to take place under the condition of resisting its pressure, otherwise, it is to accept being conquered by the West.

As I commented on the story itself, China didn’t really “reform and open up”, the government just stopped interfering with people’s lives so much after Mao died.  A classic CCP maneovre of waiting and seeing and then taking credit for what happens next.  As far as anyone knows, the political system that China did take from the west was one of the worst political ideologies created that China’s inept leaders of the time thought they needed in a deperate bid to modernise the country.  Almost every country that embraced communism (and most have subsequently discarded it) ain’t exactly the type of place that you’d want to retire in.  With the exception of Cuba, but they’ve actually got a decent health system.

The UK and Norway are developed countries with relatively small populations. China is aware of their political advantages. However, governing a country of 1.3 billion people is beyond their imagination. It is naïve and arrogant to try and teach China what to do. 

It was only a matter of time before one of the Holy Trinity of Chinese excuses was trotted out.  Chinese people are immensely proud of their immense population, and their apparent inability to manage it properly.  Corruption running rampant?  Well, China has a large population.  Poison in your milk?  Well, China is a developing country, you know. 1.3billion people isn’t beyond our imagination, it’s just that the systems that the corrupt morons that run China can’t scale up beyond the neighbourhoods of the politicians that dream them up over a baijiu soaked dinner.

 They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision. 

The way to build authority in an international arena is to stop personalising every little slight and stop making overblown puff pieces about how sensitive you all are and how we should treat you all with respect.  If Chinese politicians actually just stopped brown-nosing the CCP machine for just five minutes, and started doing things for the good of the people, rather than saying that they’re doing stuff for the good of the people, we might be able to make some progress.

Spending thousands of RMB on banners saying that Chinese people are 文明 doesn’t actually do anything to change people’s minds.  Becoming civilised and not acting like a dick in public is not something that people can osmotically achieve simply by being bombarded with thinly veiled propaganda day and night.

Oh, and by the way, outside of Bond villians, no one “must pay the price” for shit these days.

China-UK cooperation will have to be slowed down. Free trade agreement talks between China and Norway have also been upset. The ensuing loss is a small one for China. 

Free trade won’t be upset, the sky will not fall, and the worst that would happen is that China goes a sulks in the corner for a while.  No one likes a cry baby and you have to stop playing the victim.

It’s not easy to have Chinese society’s sympathy on China’s sovereignty issues. The West has presented various honors to Chinese dissidents, and Chinese people won’t be fooled into believing it is a simple coincidence.

Shockingly, what happens in “the West” is that people that try and change things actually get recognised for trying to change things.  We don’t give out random gongs to people just because we want their job when they retire (with the obviously exception of the British Civil Service, naturally).  To get a pat on the back, you need to do something other than get fat and smoke cigarettes and retire to go die of cancer, it’s just doesn’t work like that.  The Chinese government has to stop looking at everything as though governance is one long gaokao.  There are certain things that you can’t be taught, and as long as current status quo exists, it never will be.

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Microwaves Make Headline News

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

When Attaturk wanted to modernize Turkey, he wanted to ban the use of the veil by women. He didn’t ban the veil outright, as a boring, conventional thinker might have – he made the veil compulsory for prostitutes. Since China can’t really avoid the encroachment of the Internet and social media, some lateral thinking will be needed if the CCP wants it’s citizens to toe the line online.

China has embraced capitalism in all it’s glory, unfortunately, in their scramble to get their hands on as much money as possible as soon as possible, they tend to clone what they deem to be successful in another country (usually America) and set it loose on an unsuspecting population. A false sense of “if you build it they will come” is the chronic mindset, Chinese English school owners despair that people aren’t falling over themselves to throw buckets of cash at them and shameless clones of western websites get themselves into endless amounts of trouble with their user bases because they delete messages and search results from their databases.

There’s a reluctance to embrace new ideas here. The people have a strange way of making one feel that they’ve made an important contribution to a discussion, or proposed an effective solution to a problem, but at the same time, there’s a lurking sense the idea has been pretty much instantly dismissed in favor of what you might term an old school solution. The closed-shop boys club of the government departments doesn’t really help, and the yes-man mentality compounds matters, all you can really do is sit back and watch them fail, hoping against hoping that someone somewhere learns their lesson.

The Chinese people have figured out one pretty safe rule in life: if it gets blocked on the Internet, it’s probably worth gossiping about. This week, quite a few things, despite the hugely popular microblog service instituting it’s real-name registration, have been blocked: A mysterious crashed Ferrari, the fate of politician Bo Xi Lai, and now, images of tanks rolling down Chang’an Avenue as an alleged military coup gets underway.

Of course there was no such thing as a coup d’tat in Beijing – surely a Beijing correspondents wet dream – and the whole thing started with a single tweet.

Pan Shi Yi, a property magnate with 9.2 million followers has garnered a reputation for posting cryptic messages on his Weibo account. On Monday night, he posted “This evening Weibo was strange indeed, there were some words that could not be sent out on Weibo. I saw a line of commentary dropped several times from Weibo, but what I saw made my scalp tingle; was it gremlins? Better to turn off the computer and go to sleep.”. Over 3,000 users commented on the post, some trying to figure out what exactly Pan was getting at, and others simply advising him to get some sleep.

On Tuesday morning, someone posted a message claiming that “According to reports, Beijing people said that last night the 38th Army was seen on Chang’an Avenue [which runs in front of Zhongnanhai] and an accumulation of police and military vehicles were in front of the Diayoutai State Guesthouse, signaling there will be big changes soon in our government.”. The Epoch Times, a Chinese news portal with Falun Gong (a banned Chinese spiritual movement) published a photo that supposedly showed that there was indeed military action taking place in the capital. Research by Chinese netizens finally debunked the photos, showing them to be nothing more than night rehersals for the 2010 National Day celebrations.

Of course all this rational thinking didn’t do much to stop the single tweet snowballing, turning it from a paranoid delusion limited to a small number of online freaks into stuff that people were gossiping about around the water cooler. One SMS message that I received about the strange case of the black Ferrari suddenly had two naked girls in it. Aside from the fact that the night the accident happened was so cold that snow fell in Beijing, the only details given to the press about the two female passengers were about their injuries and their ages, and since the crash happened at 4am in the morning in the northern part of Beijing, it’s unlikely that there were many eyewitnesses. But we never let the facts – or lack thereof- get in the way of a good story

Rumors, gossip and unhelpful stories fanned by text messaging and microblogging are pretty much part and parcel of life in a country where government departments and spokesmen live in a walled garden sheilded from the people that they’re actually supposed to be interacting with, and simply blocking out stuff that you don’t want people to talk about isn’t the best way to enforce any kind of rumor control, transparency and accessibility is the best way to go because even if you pull the wool over the eyes of the Chinese people, western audiences are much more sophisticated and cynical enough to flatly reject the “because we say so” attitude towards governace.

It’s Been a Funny Old National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

The Internet is almost inaccessible, dissidents, writers, bloggers and activists are “disappeared” – bundled off to black jails to be tortured, and an apparently unending stream of armed troops descend on restive regions of the country.  No, it’s not a dystopian vision of the future, it just means that the NPC/CPPCC is in town.  Referred to as The Two Meetings, this the place were Five Year Plans are approved, the Beijing Police do their best to outwit foreigners and prevent them from getting up to anything subversive, like filming and taking photos.  And of course, there was the Bo Xi Lai Thing.

The drama that has been playing out since February starring Bo Xi Lai and Wng Li Jun was never really going to end happily.  Something of a mix between Nero and Warren G. Harding, Bo managed to economically cripple Chongqing, spending huge amounts of money importing ginkgo trees, and supporting the local satellite TV station.  Subsidizing the TV shows took at least 50% of the budget, and importing the ginkgoes (and watching them promptly die off in the unsuitable soil and climate) cost something in the region of 10% of the annual government budget.  Things came to boil when the head of the local PSB, Wang Li Jun spent the night at the local US Embassy, sparking rumours that he was ready to defect, and had amassed a documents that proved the connection between Bo and his dodgy deals with a local property tycoon Weng Zhenjie.

About a month later, The Two Meetings hit full tilt boogie, but Bo Xi Lai was the only member of the 25-strong ruling Politburo not to attend one of the first high-level sit-downs.  Later, towards the end of the gathering, Wen Jia Bao roundly rejected Bo Maoist efforts to force people to sing “Red Songs”, saying that “Reform has reached a critical stage. Without successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and the gains we have made in this area may be lost.  The new problems that have cropped up in China’s society will not be fundamentally resolved, and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again.”

The day after, news broke that Bo Xi Lai has been removed of his government post.  But it didn’t end there.  The week after his removal from the Politburo, unconfirmed reports now suggest that Bo has been placed under house arrest, and that he attempt to block a criminal investigation centered on his wife.

Little more than a rubber stamp parliament, the 2012 NPC saw several new toothless laws were passed, including one that addressed the problem of illegal detentions by the police.  Reforms to the Criminal Procedure Law were, at least on paper, intended to give citizens more protection and reduce the powers of the police.  That was the theory anyway, closer inspection reveals that while the law requires the police to notify the detainee’s relatives, it doesn’t require them to tell the relatives where the detainee is being held, as well as giving the police powers to deny the suspect access to a lawyer, and if the police deem that informing relatives of the arrest could impede the investigation, then they don’t need to do it.

It was only 50 years ago that the first few National People’s Congress was performed to a select few, and behind closed doors.  In 2012, enterprising young Weibo members are combing through hi-res images taken in the conference hall to find out who’s sleeping, texting and gaming their way through the proceedings. This year’s NPC/CPPCC has been particularly entertaining, if not for the fact the while The Two Meetings were going on, air quality improved as clampdowns on car usage and making sure that while the politicians were in town, the factories toed the pollution line. This year we’ve had Tibetan representatives fleeing in terror at the sight of a foreign correspondent, the ongoing, epic saga charting the eventual downfall of Bo Xi Lai and Wang Li Jun that made Dr. Zhivago pale in comparison.

Nailing Jello to the Wall: What’s Weibo Up To?

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The much vaunted Weibo real name registration kicked in today, leaving pretty much everyone confused as to what the bloody hell people at Sina.com are playing at.

This morning, many users were reporting that even though they hadn’t actually filled out their info – giving their state issued ID number and real name – were greeted with a thank you message informing them that they had indeed given their state issued ID number and real name.

Since I hadn’t registered my ID number (I’m not Chinese, and don’t have an ID card) I was pretty much locked out of the web interface.  I’d bought my phone pre-pay SIM card from an anonymous vendor in Dazhalan (which causes its own problems because the SIM card is tied to Hebei province and not Beijing) and Weibo steadfastly refused to send a confirmation SMS to my phone.   Whenever I tried to post a message, an alert box popped up over the text box informing me that I had to register to post.

Fortunately, both the Android client and my iPad client were working fine, and I could quite easily reply to threads started on Weibo, I just couldn’t start any of my own.  For all its security theatre, the real-name registration hasn’t actually prevented those who want to post subversive stuff anonymously.  In fact, they’ve probably compounded the issue, since mobile devices and tablets that are much easier to carry around and photograph Chinese policemen beating the hell out of a disabled beggar on the street than a laptop.

It’s difficult to figure what’s going on.  Most of the whistleblowers, commentators and dissenters who currently use Weibo  are usually the relatively well off middle class, most of whom can quite easily afford a smartphone or even an iPad, which currently allows you to circumvent the registration process. The other group of users are those who are reliant on using smokey Internet cafes that are routinely checked by the police, and you need to present your ID card in order to buy time on the computers anyway.

And how did I eventually register?  I used a false name and corresponding number that I found on an MMORPG forum.

Merkel’s China Gaffe

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Democracy in China

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve often said that the Chinese people wouldn’t know what to do with a vote, since the vast majority of them (in Beijing, at least) seem to have problems operating a subway ticket machine, but the news wires are abuzz with a village election in…Wukan.

Malcolm Moore at The Telegraph, as well as China Digital Times have weighed in with coverage of the first free and open democratic election in China since, er, forever.

Even though the elections were only a prelimiary round of voting ahead of the main even in March, everything – bar a “scuffle” between reporters from Hong Kong – went as smoothing as could have been expected.

“We had to make a big thing, a big show, out of it to underline its importance and to guarantee that it was all fair and transparent,” said Yang Semao, one of the chief organisers.

“Wukan has been in the dark for so many years; its elections always manipulated. It is the first time we have done this so we want to do a good job,” he added. In the past few days, several academics and students have also arrived in Wukan, partly to observe the proceedings, and partly to offer advice to the villagers.

“This is very meaningful,” said Chen Liangshan, 61, who used to work in one of the village’s temples. “I have already got the list of people I will vote for in my mind. I am glad to get the chance to choose people who will actually do something. This is the first time we have ever seen a ballot and we are excited about it.”

Mr Chen filled in his ballot, a sheet of A4 paper, at a table covered by a bright red tablecloth and deposited it in one of seven shiny aluminium ballot boxes. According to an official press release, he was one of 7688 eligible voters, with 1043 voting by proxy.

The BBC has a short photostory on voting in the village, and blogosphere analysis from the WSJ.

Categories: Politics

We Hope For a Miracle

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

A cartoon currently doing the rounds on Weibo (thanks to Emma Lau for the link and the translation) – the last frame says “we can only hope for a miracle!” showing Ministry of Railways spokesman Wang Yong Ping tied to the train tracks as an out of control train hurtles towards him.