the wuhan 8: whistle blowers with chinese characteristics

One of the major complaints that I am hearing in Shenzhen is the lack of transparency about information about the new coronavirus; most of the information we are hearing isn’t coming from official sources. Indeed, the first announcement of the Wuhan coronavirus came from eight unnamed, unofficial sources, which announced that a new virus had been discovered. The Wuhan police “handled them according to law” for spreading rumors and reminded the public that “the net isn’t outside the law.”


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what kind of pig are you?

This is one of those unscientific “he said, she said” illustrations of just how difficult it is to know what’s happening in China, or anywhere for that matter. The story also indicates that the US and Chinese social media are not as autonomous as we might think. Indeed, anonymous sourced information that circulates in either the US or Chinese social media seems to increasingly show up in other networks, much like pig carcasses that wash up on unexpected shores. More to the point, the chronology through which we experience the overlaps between US and Chinese social media networks creates stories that read as magic realism in which you, gentle reader, must ask yourself, “what kind of a pig am I?”

Here is the timeline through which I have experienced the pig story.

Two weeks ago, several hundred dead pigs were found floating in the Jiaxing River, a tributary of Shanghai’s Huangpu River.

Last week, an American friend uploaded this photo Pigs Swimming in Mud Cake to Facebook.pigs swimming in mudcake

Yesterday, a friend in Hong Kong, uploaded the same picture and what followed were a series of jokes about not eating pigs and pork products. The apparent prompt for forwarding the picture was another message that was also circulating:

 I don’t know if this is true or false, but it must be forwarded: eat less pork! Shanghai has claimed that over 8,000 pigs froze to death! In the middle of a bright South China Spring! I’m begging the relevant ministries – can’t you exert your brains and come up with a more believable reason? Don’t treat the people as if we were three year olds. One dead pig is a random occurrence. Two dead pigs is a random occurrence. But over 8,000 pigs dead is random? There must be a reason! Today, the truth has finally been revealed! – Where is the future of the Chinese People? We’re digging our own graves and anhilating our people! [Forwarded message: according to a pig farmer, there’s a chemical called 机砷. In ordinary language that’s 砒霜 or arsenic! This chemical is used in pig feed like “四月肥” [literally “Fat in April”- MA] that accelerate the maturation of pig and make their skin shiny, increasing profits from selling pigs. The downside to the process is that the arsenic accumulates in the pigs’ bodies, which have no way of breaking down the poison. The poison causes the pigs’ internal organs to rot, and after four or five months eating this pig feed, most pigs die. Consequently, farmers only use this pig feed three or four months before bringing their pigs to market. As long as the pigs are slaughtered immediately, there’s no problem. But this Chinese New Year’s season, it was mandated that there could be no more government feasting and banqueting. Suddenly, the bottom dropped out of the pork market. Pig farmers were forced to continue raising pigs that had already been eating contaminated pig feed for four months. A month or two later, a massive die-off of the pigs that had been prepared to sell during the New Year’s season started. This story couldn’t be revealed. However, no one dared to bring already dead pig meat to market [instead of living pigs that would be slaughtered onsite to guarantee freshness – MA]. Consequently, the pig carcasses were tossed into tributaries of the Huangpu River. Clearly, the problem was caused because on the one hand, too many pig farmers are using pig feed to accelerate maturation and on the other hand, the banquet ban was too effective. The floating carcasses were discovered by the media. So maybe a thousand, maybe more pig carcasses are drifting silently in the Huangpu River. This is the horrific story that they are telling.

In contrast, yesterday The Guardian posted an article that mentioned that the pig carcass total had breached 16,000, and attributed the reason to a crackdown on selling dead pig meat in markets. In turn, The Guardian was citing (circulating?) a story from Southern Weekly (of the China Dream censorship fiasco):

The state-controlled Southern Weekly newspaper, citing court documents, said three men were sentenced to life in prison in Jiaxing last November for procuring dead pigs to sell their meat. It says the men and their group bought 77,000 dead pigs in a period of more than two years.

So, reflective moment du jour: Who are you? A pig happily swimming in a mud cake, anticipating sugar highs? Or a pig drifiting in dark waters, fearful about what the Chinese government might be hiding and how this silence kills? Of course, it’s all evidence that China and the US are the same country. After all, processed white sugar may also be toxic.

Text of the Chinese weixin that I received:

不知是真是假,但是不得不转: 少吃猪肉吧】上海8千多头死猪死因公布了一一居然是冻死的! 在春花灿烂的江南三月! 拜托了有关部门,能否多动动脑子找个更可信点的理由,不要把民众当三岁小孩哄。一头死了是偶然,二头死了是偶然,8千多头是偶然事件?一定有其必然的原 因! 现在,真相终于大白天下了! 一一一中国人的未来在哪里??我们在自掘坟墓,灭绝民族! 【转:据猪农说,有种制剂叫有机砷,砷就是砒霜啦,用在四月肥之类的猪饲料添加剂里,可以促进猪性腺发育和毛皮红亮,改进卖相有利于卖个好价钱。 但副作用是有 机砷蓄积在猪体内会部分分解为无机砷,喂食四五个月后会大幅增加猪的内脏腐蚀、大批死亡的概率。所以一般是在预备出栏前三四个月开始用,反正负作用还没出 来猪就宰了出栏,规避了有机砷的风险。 然而熹兴年底眼看通胀要升腾,赶紧猛刹车大力禁绝国企和机关摆酒席过年,导致大量酒席突然被取消,相应 地酒席用肉也大幅低于预期。猪农已经喂好四月肥准备出栏宰杀的猪也被迫继续在栏里养着。可是有机砷已经用了,本来马上宰杀负作用还不会出来,现在拖了一两 个月还没卖出去,有机砷的副作用 上来了,猪们纷纷内脏腐烂而死。这死因见不得光,又不敢拿去市场上卖这样的死猪肉,养殖户只好打落牙往肚里咽,抛到河里了 事。孰料这么投有机砷的养猪户太多,年末禁酒席的影响又太普遍,大家都往河里一丢,猪尸们就在黄浦江大游行了,被媒体发现了。 成千上万的猪尸在阴冷的黄浦江上默默地飘荡,它们在讲述着这样一个可怕的故事。

top ten concepts of shenzhen

On November 28, I participated in a symposium to celebrate the English language edition of Top Ten Concepts of Shenzhen (深圳十大观念 for Chinese i-pad version).

The production, organization and publication of the Top Ten have been very Shenzhen, so to speak. The Publishing House of Shenzhen Press Group (深圳报业集团出版社) created an online website, where people could vote for the slogans and campaigns that they though best represent the city’s history. These slogans and campaigns were then re-presented (re-issued?) as concepts that epitomize Shenzhen’s values and way of thinking. Thus, in his preface, Guangdong Provincial Committee Standing Member and Shenzhen Party Secretary, Wang Rong, “[T]he top 10 concepts are the concrete manifestation of the era’s zeitgeist and a vivid imprint of the reform and opening-up program.”

The ideological slippage from political slogans and campaigns to civic values and zeitgeist interests me because it points to Shenzhen’s simultaneously fraught and co-dependent relationship with Beijing. On the one hand, experimentation in Shekou and early Shenzhen legitimated ongoing policy debates in the Chinese capital. On the other hand, the Shenzhen model, specifically and the Guangdong model more generally continue to be at slight odds with the rest of the country. Specifically, Shenzhen continues to advocate a managerial approach to governance, promoting not simply business, but also entrepreneurship and a vibrant grassroots economy.

Two of the slogans did, in fact, challenge prevailing political currents and concomitant power structure. Yuan Geng provided the two most obvious examples — “Time is money, efficiency is life” (1981) and “Empty talk endangers the nation, practical work brings prosperity” (1992). The first was a clear challenge to the Maoist planned economy. The second not only expressed Shekou’s ongoing support of Reform policies, but also the industrial zone’s continued advocacy of talented young people with alternative ideas. The Top Ten discussion of “Empty talk” introduces the history of the Shekou Storm. At the time, Yuan Geng emphasized that while Beijing officials blathered on about ideology, Shekou youth were building the future. The decision to erect the “Empty talk” billboard in the aftermath of the June 4th Incident was especially telling because Shekou actively hired transferred hukou of intellectuals who had been sidelined for their support of students.

Nevertheless, thirty years later, those same slogans uncannily echo neo-liberal values throughout the world. “Time is money” quickly looses its oppositional potential when we remember that in Shenzhen, workers’ wages have not kept up with the price of housing; many white-collar workers are also unable to purchase homes. Likewise, “Empty talk” no longer seems  an effort to protect those with alternative ideas as it does the instruction to “suck it up”. It is therefore unsurprising that concepts 3-10 express the municipality’s ongoing efforts to promote neo-liberal neo-confucianism. More to the point, these concepts clearly resonate with Wang Yang’s call to deepen and extend neo-liberalism not only in Guangdong, but also throughout the rest of China.

I’m thinking that it is thus best to read the Top Ten as a list of double-edged swords. As political campaigns and slogans, the concepts reflect contemporaneous power games. “Shenzhen embraces the world”, for example, was a blatant attempt to justify outrageous spending on the 2011 Universiade, while “You’re a Shenzhener once you come” is the self-serving motto of the Shenzhen Volunteer Association; what exactly does it mean that everyone is a Shenzhener when less than 1/5 of the population has a Shenzhen hukou? However, when understood as exemplars of civic values and a city’s zeitgeist, the concepts illuminate cracks within the power structure and spaces for alternative practices, both in business and everyday life. Indeed, it would be wonderful if these slogans/values might in turn reshape Shenzhen’s neo-liberal juggernaut, creating spaces for legitimate political opposition and open debate on whither the next thirty years of reform.

The top ten concepts are: Time is money, efficiency is life; Empty talk endangers the nation, practical work brings prosperity; Dare to become the world’s first; Reform and innovation are the root and soul of Shenzhen; Let Shenzhen be respected for its enthusiasm for reading; Innovation encouraged and failure tolerated; Fulfilling the cultural rights of citizens; The fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that gives; Shenzhen embraces the world; and You’re a Shenzhener once you come here.

China Daily and Shenzhen Daily coverage of the symposium online.

demise of the shenzhen youth herald

In April this year, Cao Changqing (曹长青 who now operates an influential Chinese language news source) posted “Bo Xilai’s Father Destroyed the Shenzhen Youth Herald (薄熙来父亲灭掉《深圳青年报》)” to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the closing of the Shenzhen newspaper, where he began his career in journalism. The post was prompted by a conversations with Yan Jiaqi (严家其), who had been the Head of the Politics Department, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社科院政治所长) during the 1986-87 student movement and was an advisor to both Hu Yaobang and his successor, Zhao Ziyang. Indeed, Yan Jiaqi himself would flee to Paris after his support of student protests in the 1989 democracy movement.

In the early years of reform, the Shenzhen Youth Herald was, along with Shanghai’s World Economic Herald (世界经济导报), one of the two most independent newspapers in China. Consequently, despite being a small newspaper, the Youth Herald had a national subscription base, providing Chinese intellectuals a platform for debating progressive ideas and evaluating ongoing experiments in reform Chinese society. On October 21, 1986, for example, the newspaper printed Qian Chaoying (钱超英)’s contraversial opinion piece, “I Support Commerade Xiaoping’s Decision to Retire (我赞成小平同志退休)”.

In the manner of traditional intellectuals, Shenzhen University professor of literature, Qian Chaoying’s writing style was sincere and humble, but the content was unmistakably radical. Moreover, the piece drew directly on and from Shenzhen’s experience, asking: Why must the People show our sincere and deep feelings for Deng Xiaoping by sacrificing further reform of the political system (为什么表达人民对小平同志纯朴深挚的普遍感情,就非要以延缓政治体制改革的进程为代价不可呢)? On Qian’s reading, Deng’s retirement would allow China to reflect on and establish a more just political system, a system that was more in keeping with the needs of reform, rather than a return to the cult politics, which had characterized the Cultural Revolution glorification of Mao Zedong.

Yan told Cao that Bo Yibo (薄一波, Bo Xilai’s father and one of the Eight Elders of the CCP) was not only furious about the opinion piece, but had also approached it as an attack the power of older and already retired leaders. During a meeting on political reform, Bo Yibo participated as a consultant. Zhao Ziyang was talking about the opinion piece with Peng Chong (彭冲). Upon overhearing the conversation, Bo Yibo became livid and is reported to have screamed at the younger leaders, “You are already fifty, sixty and seventy years old. We won’t die and you won’t rise (你们也五十六、七岁了吧?我们不死,你们也上不来).” Hu Qili (胡启立) was apparently so frightened that he immediately showed his support for the elders, wishing that the the old leaders of the proletarian revolution would live to a healthy old age (我们希望老一代的无产阶级革命家健康长寿). Importantly, at that closed meeting, Bo Yibo called for the Party to investigate who had written and the newspaper that had published the opinion piece. The word used, zhuicha (追查) meant to find out who Qian Chaoying was speaking for. Bo Yibo assumed that neither Qian Chaoying, nor the Youth Herald was acting as an independent voice, but rather was acting on behalf of one of the young reformers, most likely Hu Yaobang.

The opinion piece was published at a critical time in Central politics. Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, Deng Xiaoping’s “right and left hands” were pushing for further political liberalization. Less, than two months after the letter was published, students organized public protests across over a dozen cities in support of political and economic liberalization. Astrophysicist, Fang Lizhi (方励之) led the protests, calling for introducing political reforms that would ultimately end the one-Party system and the continuing use of government as an instrument of Party policy. Two other intellectuals, Wang Ruowang (王若望) and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) also led the intellectuals. It is said that Deng disliked Fang, Wang, and Liu, directing Hu to dismiss them from the Party, but Hu refused. In the fallout, Hu was forced into retirement because it was said he had been too lenient with student protestors. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was also one of the victims of the 1987 crackdown. The Shenzhen Youth Herald was closed and Cao Changqing banned for life from working in journalism at the same time that Hu Yaobang was forced into retirement. Two years later, the Tian’anmen protests would begin when students gathered to eulogize Hu Yaobang. The now defunct World Economic Herald published an article supporting the students’ call to re-evaluate Hu’s legacy.