Posts Tagged ‘ccp’

Congratulations to the CCP

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Among those congratulating the Chinese Communist Party on reaching the grand old age of 90 years old was one Boris Gryzlov, who remarked that the CCP had ” weathered war flames and various hardships and led the Chinese people on the road toward peace and prosperity”.  Conicidentally, he’s also the very same Boris Gryzlov who was quoted in Time  saying “Parliament isn’t a place for political discussions”.  He’s also the same Boris Gryzlov who defended electoral violations in the 2007 Russian election by saying “They in no way put in doubt the final result. The fact that these violations have been registered shows that we have a transparent ballot.”

Mwai Kibaki sent in his congratulations, and he should know all about poltical reform since he was…er… accused of electoral fraud in the 2007/8 Kenyan elections.  The Independent Reviews Commission noted that during the Kenyan elections ” there were too many electoral malpractices from several regions perpetrated by all the contesting parties to conclusively establish which candidate won the December 2007 Presidential elections. Such malpractices included widespread bribery, vote buying, intimidation and ballot-stuffing by both sides, as well as incompetence from the Electoral Commission of Kenya”.  The head of a local democracy watchdog,  the Institute of Education in Democracy, said on the day of Kibaki’s swearing-ine that “This is the saddest day in the history of democracy in this country. It is a coup d’etat,”

Projects that were supposed to highlight the technical achievements of the CCP completed in time for the celebrations have included:

  • A new high speed rail link connecting Beijing and Shanghai which has suffered three malfunctions in two days that resulted in scores of late arrivals.  When asked if the trains used any Japanese technology, Wang Yong Ping, the spokesman for China’s Ministry of Railways scoffed at the suggestion, saying  “the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway and Japan’s Shinkansen can’t even be raised in the same breath, because many of the technologies employed by China’s high-speed rail are far superior to those used in Japan’s Shinkansen.”
  • Finally, the chief engineer, Shao Xin Peng, has reassured everyone (including the BBC ) that the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is safe for traffic.  Construction workers had told CCTV that the bridge was at least 2 months away from being completed, and reporters found missing bolts, missing safety barriers and even missing lighting.  Thankfully Xin Peng pointed out that “The status of secondary features does not affect the main project or the opening of the bridge.”  So that’s all right then.  Locals have pointed out that the  $US2.3 billion bridge has resulted in only a 10 minute reduction in travel time – compared to the highway that runs parallel to it -and  thanks to the fact that there are only 3 toll booths installed, a 1.5 hour journey is now compressed into a 3 hour wait in the queue at the exit of the bridge.

The Little Chinatown That Could

January 9, 2010 1 comment

There are few pleasures in life that come close to having a meal with Chinese people.  The beer, tea, cigarettes and conversation flow freely, and for a couple of hours on a snowy London afternoon, you can sit islanded from the rest of the world.

London’s Chinatown – which will be of particular interest to any fan of Pirates of the Caribbean in that it was originally founded by Chinese employees of the East India Trading Company – is like most other Chinatowns.  It offers a kind of Disneyfied version of China,  but it does offer to a pleasant stopgap to those who are suffering extreme MSG withdrawal.  In Kobe, Chinatown is rather distastefully known as Nakin-machi – literally Nanjing-town – where I was offered Chinese food – fried rice and chicken.  In my home city of Manchester (at one time the largest Chinese community in Europe before), Chinatown shares a street (and restaurants) with Korean and Thai entrepreneurs.  Well, foreigners I guess they all look the same.

Things hadn’t been going too well for China at the turn of the century during the Qing dynasty.  The country had suffered humiliation after humiliation – The Japanese had invaded and the only thing that had quelled the Boxer Rebellion was another war against the Eight Nation Alliance.

The Chinese were used extensively and abusively by both the French and the British.  The then Chinese government had forbidden Chinese nationals from fighting (it later declared war in 1917), so, especially for the French, they were a source of cheap, desperately needed labour.  Field-Marshall Haig requested an initial 21,000 men, but in an agreement engineered by the French war cabinet, 50,000 ended up being shipped to Dagu and Marseille.

The Chinese men, mostly between the age of 19 and 25 were put to work unloading ships and refueling bombers.  After the fighting ended they were used to clear the bodies of dead servicemen from the battlefields.  The young men that had been drafted from Jiangsu, Heibei  and Shandog soon had their ideals of western life shattered under the harsh, unforgiving work conditions they found themselves in.  By the end of 1917, 54,000 Chinese men were employed by the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) in France and Belgium, and by the time of the Armistice that number had ballooned to 96,000.

Eager to bolster their “common man” image during the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese intellectuals looked back on their time in the CLC with a certain pride.  Chen Du Xiu, the first Chairman and General Secretary of the CCP, wrote that “while the sun does not set on the British Empire, neither does it set on Chinese workers abroad.”

The town of Montargis has been most kindly described as “an inconsequential backwater”, and it hides the secret of being the ultimate Chinatown.  Few Chinese actually live there, but this unremarkable town, about 100km south of Paris has a unique and revered place in modern Chinese history.  Deng Xiao Ping, then aged 16, worked in the Hutchinson rubber factory there (and was consequently fired for refusing to work) and he later found work in the Renault factory in Paris.  Such was his naivety that he Deng gave his birthday as calculated by the Chinese lunar calendar, rather than the western Gregorian calendar.  According to Wang Yi, the first secretary of the Chinese embassy in Paris, all Chinese know Montargis (or they should know Montargis), and it’s where a lot of the revolutionaries where “inspired” to revolutionize China

It all started with Li Shi Zen who was the son of an empirical councilor.  It was thanks to the connections he made while studying at an agricultural college that students would visit as part of the Work-Studies Movement in 1912.  Amongst these students were to go on to be the stars of the embryonic Chinese Communist Party.  Almost 2000 students made the three month journey by ship to France.  Zhou En Lai wrote a poem about the journey, reflecting his hopes of what the modern west could offer him: “Go abroad through the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Waves are surging forward, carrying you to the coast of France, the homeland of freedom.”

A series of plaques now mark points of historical interest in Montargis – a town of 15,000 inhabitants that now has to cope with a deluge of Chinese tourists every year.  The Chinese trail winds through the streets, over the bridges and along the canals.  A propaganda official from Guangdong says that the town was “our teacher, and a cradle of our revolution.”  It’s a testament to unpredictable nature of the country that I’ve made my second home in that, on a day trip in France, you can end up knee deep in Chinese history.

Hot, Flat and Repressed

September 10, 2009 Leave a comment

China, in its present state of government will never be the global power that it wants to be.  The reign of the ruling Chinese Communist Party will only last so long as they have the energy for the Chinese people.

The unprecedented growth and industrialization of China is, by any measure, remarkable, and fuelling this growth is, well, fuel.  Specifically, oil.  China has little in the way of its own oil reserves – optimistic estimates say that there’s about 14 years of oil left given the trend of growth and consumption.  The government needs to import oil.  A lot of it.  The problem was that most developed countries that were willing to sell oil to the Chinese would always add the condition that one of the situations, be they the human rights situation, organ harvesting, censorship or any other of the distasteful activities that the CCP indulges in should stop.  The rather inventive solution to the problem was to invest in countries that didn’t have the money or the resources to drill for their own oil, and these are usually the countries that don’t have the best human rights situations themselves, so they’re in no place to pile criticism on the Chinese government.  The upshot is that the Chinese are ruffling more feathers in the human rights community, signing million dollar deals with countries that White House hawks would consider rogue states.

The big question that is asked by most young Chinese is: “When America and Europe were industrializing, they didn’t have anyone telling them they should use less coal or burn less oil, or pipe less gas.  They polluted with wild abandon and everyone in the west is rich and fat because of it.  Why can’t we do the same?”  The answer is: China can. Not only “China can”, but “China can and I want it to do so”.  Why?  Because the interest in renewable energy sources is gathering more and more momentum every day.  More tax dollars and more private companies are pouring money into solving the world’s energy crisis.  They’re not doing this in order to save the world, they’re spending money because they know that renewable energy will become, in the very near future, the next global market.  Holland exports its wind turbine technology, and Holland has 2% unemployment.  It’s no coincidence that they were one of the first countries to reduce their dependence on Middle Eastern oil to zero, while also becoming one of the first countries to seriously invest in renewable energy technology.  The more time that China wastes arguing with Japan about where it can drill for oil, the more time Europe, America and Japan (Japan, being the most energy efficient developed country, which will be able to exploit a market of 1.6billion people in China) have to be the first to make a product that everyone will be relying on.  Of course, I want this product to be designed and patented by a British firm, rather than a Chinese firm.

And if you think that this is all just prevarication, the bad news that this has already happened.  Pennsylvania train maker GE Transportation is selling energy efficient, eco-friendly train locomotives to Chinese rail and freight companies.  The American trains last longer, don’t use as much fuel (they have 10-cylinder engines instead of the Chinese 12-cylinder) and don’t break down as much as the older, more inefficient engines that China has been using for years.  Already an American company has a foothold in the Chinese economy.  All of this has been done while the Chinese are partying hard, singing Hu Jintao’s praises and raising a glass to Wen Jiabao.  While the officials are taking bribes and looking after their own, the Americans are starting to take over major Chinese industries, thanks to their clear regulation and inventive innovation.  Some money is going to the Chinese, it’s true, but the big money is going to the US.

How does innovation follow on from regulation?   When the auto industry in American was told that they must install all their cars with catalytic converters, only one company looked at how it could get around these rules that were, on average, adding $1300 to the production cost of every car.  The chairman of Honda told its engineers that they must look at how to reduce emissions before they got anywhere near the tailpipe.  The result was a new engine with a pre-burn chamber that reduced the toxicity of the gas/air mix before it went into the piston chamber to be ignited.  Honda not only created a solution that saved their company millions of dollars and helped to combat climate change, they also started licensing the technology to other automakers.

When the movie Kung-fu Panda was released worldwide, there were two camps in China that were critical.  The first crackpot camp claimed that the move exploited the memories of those who had died in the Sichuan earthquake.  The second group asked the rather more valid question of why hadn’t the Chinese movie makers themselves been able to produce a smash hit animated comedy set in ancient China?   Americans were selling Chinese to the Chinese.  With the government still in control of the TV and of movie production, this is the way that it’s always going to be.  China will always be the one picking up the crumbs, living off the pale imitations and pirate copies of things that other people produce.   Americans make movies that sell, the Chinese have to make movies that conform to a haphazardly enforced political and moral agenda.

There’s regulation in America, but there’s little in the way of censorship.  And look what has happened there – there are hundreds of companies now that actually sell people software that will censor the Internet for them.  Worried parents don’t want their kids to be able to access, so they pay companies to give them software that will block pornographic websites or websites that can teach teenagers how to make pipebombs.  If the Great Firewall was removed, then it would free up a monopoly that Chinese companies would be able to take advantage of.  If there was an open list available and updated reguluarly by the government, then companies would be able to take that list and create filtering software around it.  Laws could be passed that made sure that whichever institutions the government wanted these filters to be installed at had the software properly set up.  It’s still censorship, but it’s honest censorship, the criteria would be in the open, and everyone would know where they stood.

What’s happened is that people are scared to develop and innovate, because there are no clear guidelines telling people what they can and can’t do.  Copies of existing works are being made because they’ve been around for a while and haven’t caused trouble in other countries.  What the Chinese Internet needs isn’t censorship and prison terms, it’s stable, reliable, open regulation.  With the regulation will come innovation, Chinese software engineers will be able to clearly see what they can’t and can do, and soon they’ll start creating rather than copying.  Copying is only a short-term stop-gap solution, sooner or later, foreign companies will get tired of having their products pirated, and they’ll start coming down hard on the Chinese manufacturers by imposing hefty taxes on Chinese imports.

So, let’s assume that there’s a rising middle class in China, and that incomes, on average, are going up too.  The money that’s generated from taxes collected from the wealthy middle class give the government a huge pool of money with which to effect massive social improvement.  There’s more money to get the best doctors in better hospitals which now have the best equipment.  The parks are clean, as is the water that’s piped into the apartments.  On sunny days, lovers may stroll in the many clean, quiet parks dotted around the city.  The public transport system is being overhauled with new subway lines and cleaner buses being introduced.  In short, there’s enough money going spare to pour into big, flashy projects that do two important things: they keep people happy, and they keep people from asking questions.  If you’re happy and you know it, then you’re less likely to demand accountability and transparency from your government. The CCP is still able to bank on the growing economy to keep people happy because the famines and the hardships that were endured during the Chinese civil war are remembered by people who are still alive, so it’s easy now to sing the praises of the CCP and the apparent economic wonder that they’ve orchestrated.   The trick of politics isn’t to make people happy, it’s to keep people happy.  In order to keep the Chinese people happy, and to keep the lucrative manufacturing contracts China now finds itself reliant on an unsteady foreign oil supply, and oil is a resource that is definitely close to extinction.

The fact that the CCP can so effectively crush opposition shows that the government has enough money to not only to keep the people happy on a superficial level, but they’re also able to spend large amounts of cash developing sophisticated internal intelligence services, and preventing groups that have an agenda different to that of the ruling political party from forming.  The rise of China’s middle class and the migration of ethnically Han Chinese to remote areas of the country has made it easier than ever for people to compare their economic status with that of others.  Needless to say, these people at the losing end of the equation are not happy.  Thousands found solace in the sword verses of the Koran, not because they found Allah, but because they were sick and tired of being the losers all the time.  The Muslim men that were unemployed and destitute in their home countries are the ones that migrated to the terror training camps, and they turned that dissatisfaction into a hatred so directed and so pure that they were willing to commit acts of mass murder.  There’s no billionaire oil sheik on the planet who feels he needs to sacrifice his life and kill countless others in order to enter paradise.  Wherever there are have and have-nots, there’s always terrorism.

The creation of a Chinese middle class has given the Chinese government access to a money pot deeper than it could possibly fantasize of, and so long as people are getting richer and are paying their bills, the more money the government has to strengthen its grip on dissidents.  The problem that comes is when the energy that is needed to finance the business ventures that enables the rich to get richer runs out, there’s going to be a problem.  More than likely, the CCP will be forced to do as Bahrain had to do – reform its basic, fundamental ideas of how society is supposed to be run.  People are not likely to give it all up and go through another North Korea-style great struggle; they aren’t going to trek for miles on the second Long March and dig for coal with their bare hands.  They’re much more likely to riot in the streets, and demand that the government fulfill their half of the bargain.

The balancing act that Beijing is faced with in unenviable.  While their yearly 8%/9% growth is spectacular, and the effect that this has on the nation’s millions that live on $1 a day has been a phenomenal achievement for a country that started its days 60 years ago bankrupt with no gold supplies, there is no question that this growth has to be sustained.  Or else.   What has been created now is a strange economic cycle where the economy grows, and must keep growing to satisfy the general population (and to help secure to continued governance from the CCP), in order to keep the economy growing, the country needs oil.  The country doesn’t have oil so it has to import from rogue states and at some point, that’s definitely going to come up at the next WTO meeting.  If you think this is a big problem, I haven’t even mentioned that America is going after the same oil supplies in order to sustain its own addiction to the black stuff.

After all the fear-mongering and doomsaying, for the first time in a long time, I have hope for China.  To put it more accurately, I have a little more hope than I did.  The hope comes in the form of the members of the very same middle class that are, according to one economic theory, helping the CCP stay in power, the ones who own the massive Chinese companies, and the ones who protested so vehemently about the absurd idea to install the Green Dam/Youth Escort software on all the computers that were to be sold in China this year.  It’s the biggest victory that the Chinese people have scored over their government in a long time.  One thing that is apparent after spending so much time in China is that people are able to tell you how great the country is, but the list of achievements is always in the past tense. China and it’s people must look to the longer term, they’ve got to turn their “did”s into “will”s, and the one thing that they can’t afford to do is to wait till later to clean up the mess, once they’ve become rich; they’ve got to clean up to become rich.

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.

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.”.