who upholds the peace?

You may be aware that many in China are protesting Christmas because the country has its own traditions. In turn, the nativist logic behind the protests has shown up all sorts of contradictions. Exhibit A is an image and commentary from we chat: Continue reading

just what aren’t we seeing?

Currently circulating on WeChat news that apparently on May 20, 2015 China blocked Chinese Wikipedia, begging question du jour: just what triggered the block? (This is a serious question, if you know, please share). To date, 16 of the top 30 English language websites have been blocked.  Continue reading

identity card politics

So today a return to a theme near and dear to my heart: satirical text messages, or as we have now stopped texting and use WeChat, satirical blog posts that are forwarded via WeChat. This time, the Op-Ed piece, “We were never Chinese citizens, just Chinese people who live on the Mainland (原来我们都不是中国国民!只是居住在大陆的中国人!) has caught my attention. Inquiring minds want to know, what’s up with that? Continue reading

updates…

Yesterday, Baishizhou Superhero opened at Handshake 302. Impressions from the opening, below:

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Also, the latest weixin meme: the next US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus is looking for a Chinese name. On offer: 没咳死-包咳死, or “Have not yet coughed to death, but coughing to death guaranteed”! — hee.

And an interview with moi at the Nanfang daily.

as chongqing turns: the trial of bo xilai (abridged)

Bo Xilai. Gu Kailai. Wang Lijun. These are the main characters in China’s ongoing soap opera As Chongqing Turns or “The Bo Drama (薄剧)” as it is known in Mandarin. Bo Xilai, of course is the disgraced former Party Secretary of Chongqing. Gu Kailai is his lawyer possibly crazy wife, who confessed to killing businessman, Niel Heywood and is now in prison after her death sentence was suspended. Wang Lijun was his head of security, who was in charge of Chongqing’s anti-mafia campaign and convicted of all sorts of corruption charges.

The main event trial of Bo ended yesterday. The best part? Bo Xilai was his own lawyer and so interjected throughout the prosecution’s presentation of its case. Below, a translation of the Abridged Bo Trial (审薄精简版) and yes, although fictionalized, the account rings so true. Also, I’ve tried to find online links to the Chinese text, but they seem to have been blocked:

Day 1
Prosecution: Your wife accepted money.
Defendant grunts.
Prosecution: The person who gave the money is known to you.
Defendant: Known but not really close.
Prosecution: Did you give favors to this person?
Defendant: Business is business (公事公办 literally: business done according to business principles).
Prosecution: Did you know your wife and son took people’s money?
Defendant: No.
Prosecution: She never mentioned it?
Defendant: People with taste like ours would get together and talk about money?
Prosecution: Xu Ming, Did you give the Party Secretary’s wife and son money?
Xu Ming: Yes.
Prosecution: Did he know?
Xu Ming: No.
Defendant (interrupts and says to prosecution): What did I tell you?
Prosecution: You mother-fu… Court recess!

Day 2
Prosecution: This is the evidence… (closing testimony of 10,000 characters).
Defendant: Have you closed your arguments?
Prosecution: Yes.
Defendant: Where’s the evidence?
Prosecution: Mother fucker, this isn’t evidence?!
Defendant: This is just testimony. This is what they said. Is there actual proof that I knew about the villa in France? That my son was playing around?
Prosecution: … Legal testimony that has been confirmed and supported!!! This is not enough?
Defendant: Is it? Enough? (Defendant laughs).

Day 3, morning
Prosecution to Wang: Wang, you tell us. Did he incite you to give money to his wife.
Wang: It seems that maybe…yes!
Defendant: Did I ever call my wife while you were there?
Prosecution: Yes.
Defendant: Did I ever try to find out if anyone else knew?
Wang: No.
Defendant: Mother fucker, am I a stupid cunt? Would I really not know who knew I was on the take? Who are you? Are we so intimate that I would call my wife while you were there and tell her to take a bribe?
Prosecution: If you hadn’t told your wife to take the money, how did it end up in her account? You definitely told her to do so! You said so!
Defendant: You think this investor is so poor? That the investor’s wife isn’t talented and rich? That we actually need your 5 million?
Prosecution: You definitely took bribes!
Judge: Prosecution, please remember your role…

Judge: Please continue.
Prosecution: Your wife already testified that you knew. And now you’re denying it!
Defendant: My wife… (sighs) I’ll admit to you all that… well, I stepped out of line once, so you understand that my wife took our son and went to England. what happened after that, how could I know? What’s more, my wife committed murder, if she had economic troubles, of course she’d be up shit creek. So her saying that I incited corruption is a normal response (很正常). We still care about each other and I don’t blame her for any of this…
Prosecution: What the fuck does that mean? Earlier you testified that your wife was mentally unstable. Now this?!
Defendant: I don’t mean anything by it. I’m just speaking the truth for the judge’s consideration.
Judge: (speechless)

Day 3, afternoon
Prosecution: We call General Wang Lijun.
Prosecution: General Wang, what do you have to say?
General Wang: I have so much to say! How could I not? How many years were we sworn buddies? I protected his son when he went abroad. When his wife committed murder, I was the first to tell him. I gave my life and bled for him. Him. Him. Him. And then he actually hit me on behalf of his wife! He slugged me! I bled! I’m broken hearted!
Prosecution: See! Do you see?
Defendant: You’re talking out your ass. Mother fucker, I thought you were a bosom buddy, and if my wife wanted to kill someone, you should have either stopped her or helped her. But you did nothing and let her royally fuck up. And then, you let the investigation go forward, only telling me two weeks later, “I’m a Police Chief and I have to investigate crime, your wife murdered someone. Leader, you must face reality… Sheesh… You tell me, do you deserve a beating or not?!
General Wang: I took responsibility for you!
Defendant: Your character is questionable. You’re two-faced! You directed your subordinates to go after her and then you come to me and pretend to be a loyal official!
General Wang: You! (10,000 characters deleted).
Defendant: I have nothing more to say to you. Judge, I have only one statement, everything he said is bullshit. I hit him and he hates me, so then he muddies the water. You do what you have to.
Judge: Court recessed.

how chinese is weixin?

This past year, I have noticed that the age of text messages seems already over. Instead, the sarcastic couplets and stories that used to come by text, now come by weixin groups. On the face of it, it seems a case of new technology beating out a less convenient model. Afterall, weixin groups allow senders to conveniently send out targeted mass mailings.

Interestingly, Tricia Wang has suggested that their are cultural reasons for the popularity of weixin. Specifically, the “shake” and “nearby” functions, which allow young people to meet strangers through a virtual introduction. Indeed, Tricia has also translated rules for using weixin to set up a one-night stand. Tricia makes the point that

One of the most important things to understand about Chinese apps is that the successful ones make serendipitous communication with strangers really easy.

I’m wondering, however, if the cultural gap is as much generational than cultural? After all, young people who spend a great deal of time online are already habituated to virtual introductions. Moreover, I’ve seen groups of teenagers in both the United States and China, hanging out together while they chat and go through messages received on their smartphones. That said, I highly recommend visiting Tricia’s blog, Bytes of China to explore the ways in which social media and new technologies are shaping and being shaped by China.

gentle reminder from the folks at tencent

Like many population questions in China, the actual population of We Chat users is guestimated but unconfirmed. According to its app page, We Chat boasts over 300 million users or the population of the United States and growing. In news reports, the population has been posted at 200 million users.

Throughout this trip to the US, I have maintained my links with Shenzhen friends via We Chat. This makes me one of a fast growing — what? — group? Community? Chinese speaking chatty Kathies? If it were a country, the We Chat app population would be the 6th most populous country in the world (population clock). The app would have 2/3 the population of the United States, 1/6 the population of India, and 1/7 the population of China. And here’s the rub: the We Chat population is mediated by one company in Shenzhen.

All this information came to a head because yesterday the We Chat Product Team at Tencent gently reminded me and over  that:

Recently, the message that “We Chat will charge its users” has circulated on weibo. This is malicious gossip. We ask everyone not to believe these rumors. The We Chat Product Team states that it will not charge users, more we are currently developing new functions, hoping that We Chat will be more user-friendly and more fun.

近期在微博上流传的“微信要对用户收费”,纯属有人恶意造谣,请大家不要相信谣言。微信产品团队表示,微信绝不会对用户收费,并称正在开发下一版本的新功能,希望可以让微信更好用,也更好玩。

The team sent the message to me via the We Chat app. I also receive news casts via We Chat. Each message includes a main article with a large image, and three small articles with a thumbnail. Headlines du moment are:

  1. A Bali Plane with 101 passengers sinks into the sea;
  2. Xi Jinping will see American Secretary of State, John Kerry, the Americans call the North Korean question the key issue;
  3. The husband of a Shanghai woman with Avian flu catches it, however its still not clear if people can transmit the disease to each other;
  4. Geng Yanbo was selected Mayor of Taiyuan City, Shandong, he was once known unofficially as “the Mayor who builds cities”.

Now We Chat has a smaller population than Microsoftlandia, which has boasted 750 million users worldwide. However, unlike Mircrosoft, We Chat as actual access to every user through their phones. Mine chimes and I know I have received a message. Moreover, this app is being used to feed me information and news. Thus, today, I’m wondering what it means that (a) I received this message while traveling in the States — indeed, these few weeks We Chat has my primary form of communication with Chinese friends, and (b) given the number of users, the message is itself news — in other words, We Chat has a “private” line to its 300 million users that sidesteps Government oversight.

carry the purse, gentlemen!

5198cc4ejw1e326t05m2gjMeme du jour: Even the most impressive have to carry their wife’s purse (在牛逼的爷们也得帮媳妇拎包).

Yes, it’s true. Xi Jinping carryies wife, Peng Liyuan (彭丽媛)’s purse and the Chinese internet is gleefully sharing the news. I know that many westerners-in-China have been disconcerted by the fact during a Chinese courtship, men carry their girlfriend’s purse. After marriage,  many men — especially those “caring alpha” types — carry their wife’s purse. And now Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan have brought this bit of intimacy to the international scene.

My friends have been thrilled by Peng Liyuan’s performance as China’s First Lady. Now, they’re ecstatic that she’s reminding their menfolk about what it means to be a gentleman.

winners of the “dare to upset” china prize

Today, I received a list of 10 winners for the “dares to upset China (敢动中国)” Awards. The Awards are a snarky spoof on the Annual “Touches China’s Heart Awards (感动中国奖)”, punning the words “dares to upset” and “touches the heart”. Heart awards are presented at the Spring Festival and given to persons whose heroic actions inspire us to be more than we think we are. A pervasive and not unimportant bit of contemporary propaganda, heart award presentations are highly stylized performances and broadcast nationally. To get a sense of the ideological packaging, view the tribute and award presentation to Liu Jinguo for his courage during a fire.

The dares to upset awards point to the emergence of China as a global player and public reception of that process in vaguely hawkish terms. Notably, the dare to upset awards have been presented Asian countries that involved in maritime disputes with China, especially in the mineral rich South China Sea. Of note, the word “dares” points to the point that the winners are “small’ countries that should not be giving China problems. The fact that so many little nations dare to upset China is consequently interpreted as a sign of national weakness and the snarky commentary on the list states, “China has used habitual responses: the enemy invades, I endure; the enemy retreats, I endure; the enemy is exhausted, I endure; the enemy occupies, I endure… this is called pretending to use Sun Tze’s Art of War (敌进我忍,敌退我忍,敌疲我忍,敌驻我忍。。。装孙子兵法).”

According to the latest text message, the 10 winners for the 2012 Dares to Upset China Awards are:

1. Japan (for the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands Dispute);

2. The Philippines (for the Huangyan Island or Panatag Shoal dispute);

3. North Korea (for holding Chinese fishermen in a dispute over fishing rights, although there is no dispute over North Korean refugees in China because the PRC regularly repatriates them);

4. South Korea (for demanding that Beijing release a South Korean activist who has been detained in the PRC without legal representation. The activist works for democracy in North Korea);

5. Thailand (is the new coordinating country for ASEAN – China relations, inheriting the three-year term from the Philippines)

6. Palau (the location of another disputed island, Okinotorishima);

7. Indonesia (has persecuted Overseas Chinese, but in April signed a cooperation agreement with China);

8. Myanmar (is opening its economy and China and the US are rushing in, however, last year the Myanmar government halted Chinese construction of a dam because locals felt that Chinese petroleum interests were too hardnosed);

9. Nigeria (is host to one of the largest Chinese presence in Africa. More than 200 Chinese companies operate in Nigeria, more than 40,000 Chinese nationals live in Nigeria, and total Chinese investment in Nigeria is close to $US 8 billion);

10. Somalia pirates (have been targeting Chinese vessels since 2008 and there have been calls for Chinese military intervention);

the 5.12 beichuan incident, nuclear war games, and why the party fears religious organizations

The Party’s refusal to either share power or make political decision making transparent and open to public debate creates mistrust: just what have they got to hide anyway, inquiring minds want to know. In addition, through its control of cultural resources, including the arts and the right to convene, the Party has demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge any viewpoints other than those that shore up the influence of high-ranking officials.

Neitizens and western journalists have responded to Party control over and access to information with reports that (more often than not) conflate conspiracy theories with the “truth”. Not unexpectedly, citizens spend an inordinate of time trying to piece together a big picture out of rumors, veiled allusions and gut feelings. Sadly, the more the Party doesn’t say about Beichuan or Bo Xilai or Chen Guangchen, for example, the more accusatory rumors circulate via the net, weibo, and text messages and with them the festering anxiety that no one can be trusted to speak truthfully. Thus, in today’s China, common sense has it that Party members don’t tell the truth because the truth would harm them politically, while the rest of us are incapable of telling the truth because we don’t know it.

Keywords of the day – trust (信任), good faith (诚意), and loyalty (忠诚) – pivot on the relationship between a healthy society and how good our word might be. The characters for person (人) and word (言), for example constitute 信, the first character in the compound for trust. The character word (言) also appears in sincerity (诚, literally “word” “is realized”), which is an element of the expression good faith (literally “sincere meaning”) and loyalty (faithful sincerity). Moreover, the question of belief (信仰, literally a person who trusted and admired) resonates throughout all levels of society and the most trusted forms of organized alternative to Party disinformation and rumor mongering tend to be religious – Tibetan Buddhism, Xinjiang Islam, and popular Buddhism, Falungong, Christianity in Han communities.

“A Report on and Lessons from the 5.12 Underground Nuclear Explosion at Longmen Mountain, Beichuan,” a recent Epoch Times (大纪元) article illustrates the co-dependent relationship between belief, opposition, and efforts to figure out the truth. The Epoch Times, of course, is the official Falungong news outlet and the article author Lu Deng is the spokesperson for the Chinese Christian Democratic Party. The gist of the article is that the Party used the 5.12 Wenchuan earthquake to cover-up the fact that on the same day, it detonated a nuclear devise at Beichuan, destroying an entire region. Based on a few facts, knowledge of how the Party operates, and deductive reasoning, the argument is compelling and compellingly legal:

The article reconstructs the events of May 12, 2008 by giving a quote from Feng Xiang’s decidedly poetic and vague blog and then re-interpreting it in terms of a nuclear blast. For example, in February 6, 2009 post, Feng Xiang wrote, “In 80 seconds, the mountain collapsed, the ground split open, the mountains shook and the earth moved, the river changed its course. The green mountain lost its color, and all I see is disaster. This was Beichuan’s most devastating moment. A level 8 earthquake, with level 11 destruction”. According to Lu Dong, the phrase “the green mountain lost its color” refers to the fact that all the mountain foliage was burned. Lu Deng also analyzes sections where he asserts that Feng Xiang’s original text, including references to a Chief Pan of the Anti-Chemical Corps of the Second Artillery (二炮防防化部隊隊長番号) have been changed.

As an opening witness, Feng Xiang  (冯翔) is a compelling figure because his position within the Party hierarchy placed in a position to learn the truth, while his loss as a father and a teacher gave him moral authority. Feng Xiang was a teacher and then a vice minister in the Qiang Minority Autonomous County, Beichuan Ministry of Information (北川羌族自治县宣传部). His eight-year old daughter died in the Wenchuan earthquake. Subsequently, his efforts to uncover the truth about her death led to charges that an underground nuclear explosion rather than the Wenchuan earthquake caused the Beichuan disaster. The truth of his position was confirmed through allegations that Feng Xiang was harassed into committing suicide when he attempted to bring this story to the public.

Lu Dong then moves on to analyze corroborating evidence from other sources; it is an “open secret (公开秘密)” that the damage at Wenchuan was minimal and the strength of the quake insufficient to have destroyed Beichuan. In his book “The Epicenter was in Human Hearts (震中在人心)” Mainland author, Li Ming claimed that the Wenchuan quake gave Party officials an excuse to cover-up the real disaster at Beichuan. Web reports suggest the same pattern of information: Wenchuan was serious, but not a disaster and certainly not enough to have decimated Beichuan. Moreover, web posts included reports that indeed anti-chemical corps had gone into the Longmen Mountain Nuclear facility. In addition, local eyewitnesses said that the heat from the blast burned off the skin of water buffalo. Blogger Xiong Furong said, “The geologists may have different explanations for what happened here, but for us ordinary people, we know it was a detonation (熊芙蓉說,“地質專家對此可能有各種不同說法,但對我們普遍人來講,這就是爆炸。)”

Examples from media reports are brought in: a video on youtube; reports from 21st Century Economic Report (21世紀經濟報導) that the mountain continued to reverberate through the night; Southern Weekend (南方週末) reported that the tremors were so strong that villagers clung to each other to keep themselves from falling into the sinkholes; Western China News (華西都市報) reported that in the Green tablets river basin, there were nearly 10 kilometers of cracks in the mountain, some of which were 42 centimeters deep; and even Party media acknowledged the extent and scale of Beichuan exceeded that of Wenchuan. Beichuan TV broadcast, “The entire 2869 km2 County Area was destroyed, 10s of thousands of buildings were destroyed in mudslides. Over one million square meters collapsed and over 100 areas effected by mud. (北川電 「全縣境內2869平方公里受災,出現了數萬處塌方,泥不流和大滑坡。垮塌百萬立方的特大滑坡達100多處.)” A quote from an elderly gentlemen summarizes and ends this section, “The earthquake had the force of the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima (能量相當干400顆廣島原子彈.)”

Lu Dong is relentless in his case. He notes differences between the pattern of damage at Wenchuan, which fell away from an epicenter and Beichuan, which fell in a different pattern, away from Longmen Mountain. Evidence from the Tangshan earthquake is brought in. Even at Tangshan, after the quake subsided there were some buildings and trees standing. In contrast, at Beichuan everything collapsed: 498 kilometers of highway, 6066 kilometers of ordinary roads, 1503 bridges, 131 power stations, 8,944 kilometers of electrical transmission lines, 26,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables, 597 water reservoirs, 9,416 kilometers of channels, 282 broadcast stations, and 2,432 different sites of geological disaster.

Even more disturbingly, after the 5.12 Beichuan disaster, doctors from Sichuan Medical University, the University of Illinois, and Imperial College released studies documenting that many people and animals in the disaster area suffered from radiation poisoning. In addition, specialists suggested that iodine 131 is a radioactive isotope that could have caused spontaneous abortions similar to those seen at Beichuan. However, the Sichuan Party Secretary ordered a blackout on all reports on over 100 fetuses that had died in utero.

If all this wasn’t enough, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reported that an earthquake did not adequately explain the yellow color and condition of vegetation in Beichuan. Lu Dong ominously concludes, however, that these conditions were consistent with the effects of a nuclear blast. And yes, ongoing Party inspection tours and scientific reports from Beichuan seem consistent with the after effects of a nuclear blast and not an area healing from a natural earthquake.

Clearly, Lu Dong believes that there were underground nuclear experiments at the Longmen Mountain Facility and that an accident occurred. He is a compelling rhetorician, concluding his argument with the reminder that Hawkish General Zhu Chenghu (朱成虎) has threatened to use nuclear weapons to destroy the United States if the country should ever help Taiwan and calling for the Party to meet face these accusations in court.

And there it is. The reason that the Party fears religious organizations.  The unstable situation of chronic Party secrecy and corrosive public suspicions has created an environment in which many people “don’t feel safe (没有安全感)”. However, religious groups continue to investigate and make public charges (if even from abroad), rather than hiding behind anonymous weibos and innuendo. The Chinese Christian Democratic Party has thrown down a political gauntlet in a Falungong newspaper, which also publishes pieces that support the Dalai Lama, forcing those of us living in murky half-truths and deliberate cover-ups: when all is said and done, who do you believe?