chit chatting corruption in tangshan

If you’ve been following Chinese social media these past few days, you are well aware that in Tangshan nine men brutally beat four women, while bystanders watched. Chinese social media has questioned police response, the bystander mentality of Chinese public culture, and the lack of media reporting on the event. One of the more interesting responses to the event is a chat transcript from some anonymous and unidentified chat group currently circulating. The main speaker is a man posting under the avatar song sir, interacting with several other group members. In the transcript, song sir analyzes what the attack and how it was handled tells us about Mafia activities in Tangshan. And yes, by implication, the scandal goes all the way to Beijing, which is actually just next door. The story is soapy and distressing and rings true. Or at least the story hits the right notes in the build-up to the 20th National Congress. And also yes, as you read the transcript, you can’t help but wonder: what’s song sir’s stake in this drama? Who’s side is he on? Anyway, more to the point (and in keeping with song sir’s use of rhetorical questions to make nasty insinuations); who would know so much about the case and talk about it in a group chat that can be saved and circulated as a chat transcript? Seriously, who does this?

I’m calling my translation of the transcript, “Everybody Understands…”

Everybody Understands
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wtf shatou?

Shenzhen’s citywide lockdown has come to an end. Kind of. Last night, there were countdowns to midnight, firecrackers set off at village gates, and then people charging out. I’m not sure where they were going at midnight, in a city that was still primarily closed. But there were thousands celebrating in the streets outside their gates. The expression for this rush is ‘冲鸭,’ which literally translates as ‘charging ducks,’ but translates as ‘go for it.’ In fact, it has been a week of poultry metaphors, as a new phrase on the web is 叮咚鸡 (dingdong ji), which is a pun for the expression ‘wait for further notification’ that ended ever. single. covid announcement. I’m not sure where the expression came from (I’ve seen debates that the original is Cantonese, but no confirmations), however, chickens are running rampant through Shenzhen memes.

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jokes in the time of covid…

A covid worker walks into a wet market…

signs of conflicted times

Borders are breached, daily. Breached despite guards, despite fences, despite and through raging anger, which accumulates like garbage, no longer hidden from sight. Stupid plastic bottles, we scream, 打!As if the bottle we threw away yesterday was the cause of our suffering.

Anyway, images from a Shenzhen, where some imagine themselves as under siege, and others find themselves working even harder (yes, the city is involuted) to keep the boat steady.

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where’s your battle?

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have come and gone with neither a bang, nor even a whisper. Whatever officials hoped to gain from the spectacle of Chinese athletes winning gold on snow and ice didn’t manifest. Even in my more nationalistic we chat groups, I saw few posts about the Olympics even during the games, and now that they’re over, no one has mentioned them. Instead, three topics obsess people across my we chat groups–the upsurge of Covid in Shenzhen, the Xuzhou mother, and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Moreover, as the above cartoon illustrates, how these issues are stitched together reveals social fault lines.

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the center besieged…

In several of my WeChat circles, an excerpt from the snarky classic, Fortress Besieged (围城) by Qian Zhongshu has been activated by those sympathetic to the Hong Kong students. It is however not unequivocal support, after all Fang Hongjian was not so much a hero, as a first generation off the farm urbanite caught between competing value systems, not quite at home in either China or the West. Conflicted and going about causing conflicts, intentionally and not, as he tries to live his life in Republican Shanghai. I have roughly translated the passage below: Continue reading

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.

the u.s. election and the 18th npc

I have recently hooked into “we chat (微信)”, Tencent’s latest social networking app. Point du jour is simple: Tencent regularly bleeps me news updates, so I can follow world headlines at a glance. These past few days, the juxtaposition of the US election and the 18th National People’s Congress has offered lessons in misreading and irony.

For example: On the eve of the US election, I received the following three headlines:

  1. Today’s topic: does the election divide or unite Americans? to be followed by
  2. The 38 delegations arrived for the 18th NPC and first in line were the farmer-workers (meaning farmers who are migrant workers) delegation, and then, just so you don’t forget that the US and China are not two sides of the same coin
  3. Microsoft will use Skype instead of MSN everywhere but the Mainland.

Now, I’m not sure how direct the comparison between the US election and the 18th NPC were to be. Clearly, while both are domestic rituals, they will impact people through out the world. After all, international chains of production and consumption (of say computers and software) have made the US and PRC not only important trade partners, but also jointly influential over the global distribution of production and consumption in disturbing ways. However, that direction of thought was not picked up by the news editors at Tencent. Instead, the implicit comparison was between the “divisiveness” of the US election system and the “harmony” of the NPC.

Here’s the telling moment: this series of headlines could as easily fit into a Fox Network summary as an explicit (and self-congratulatory) comparison between the “democratic” structure of American politics in contrast to the “homogenized” politics of China.

As any structural anthropologist could tell you, when symbolic systems are this easily converted, there’s a good chance we’re talking about moieties, a form of unilineal descent that involves the occurrence of descent groups in linked pairs which assume complementary positions and functions. In more traditional moieties, marriage is exogamous and involves women and men marrying exclusively from the matching group. However, moieties also engage in trade and other activities, providing the larger social context of extra- and intra-moiety relations.

This is me thinking about the growing interdependence, not simply material, but also ideological between the US and PRC. Our co-dependence is deep and worrisome because we’ve yet to see any evidence that we do anything but reinforce our own and each other’s blind spots.

Sigh.