thinking about the possibility of non-state communities

For the third year, Group+ has ranked its top-30 online communities, which is interesting as it is part of a model of disseminating information about not-for-profit, non-governmental organizing. Over 1,500 groups use Group+, a Shenzhen-based online platform to organize real time “community” events. Fat Bird ranked 3rd, even above the Shenzhen Reading Federation (#5) and Green Mango (#13), which have much broader audiences than does experimental theater. What do these rankings tell us about the possibilities of imagining outside the state in Shenzhen specifically and China more generally? Continue reading

handshake 302: WeChat connections

Handshake 302 has been we-chatting in Chinese for half a year now. We are now starting to offer updates in English as well. If you scan our barcode (above), you will receive updates in English and Chinese about one of Shenzhen’s most vibrant public arts projects. The updates also include information about upcoming events and instructions about how to join our events. Welcome to the conversation!

model minority with chinese characteristics

As China recovers from what General Secretary Xi Jinping has called a terrorist attack in Kunming, just a note on the weixin posts that have been forwarded within my circle. Much fear of Muslims and people from Xinjiang, even as stories of happy Tibetans also circulate. The discourse is distressing not only for its stereotypes, but also for its identification of China with Han people. There is no place for China’s ethnic minorities within the Han nation, but there is no place outside either. The have been included in the state so as to be more effectively excluded from the nation. Sigh.

weixin etiquette

Who knew? It’s possible to not view someone’s general weixin posts and to block them from seeing your posts. This way one can accept friend requests, engage in one-to-one texts, and keep a definite distance. This discovery led to a discussion of all the kindly people who are spending too much time forwarding “must reads” and cluttering up virtual space. The conclusion? Don’t become one of those people who get passively blocked by limiting the number of cat photos you upload.

who else has insomnia?

I aspire to a life of early to bed and early to rise. When I do rise early, I find my cellphone blinking with weixin alerts — throughout the night, friends have been pinging bursts of characters at each other, usually concluding with some clear indication that they are going to sleep. Weixin goes quiet until someone asks, “Who else has insomnia?”

According to Wikipedia, there are there kinds of insomnia — transient, acute, and chronic, which are defined in temporal terms. Transient insomnia lasts less than a week, acute lasts longer than a week but less than a month; chronic insomnia stretches beyond the limits of monthly endurance — “maybe I’ll go to work in a bit,” another blurts, “who wants to sleep anyway?”

I have read literary insomniacs most of my life and enjoyed the hardboiled insomnia of noir films — will there ever be a morning? But I have understood Emily Dickinson’s lament as metaphor for a more general human condition, rather than an explicit 3:24 a.m. call for help. Even Sylvia Plath seems — on printed page — to have come to a tentative understanding with sleeplessness:

She married the prince
and all went well
except for the fear —
the fear of sleep.

Briar Rose
was an insomniac…
She could not nap
or lie in sleep
without the court chemist
mixing her some knock-out drops
and never in the prince’s presence.

Nevertheless, weixin insomnia haunts me because I am unsure of the etiquette surrounding these direct glimpses into someone else’s pain. Do I acknowledge the call when I wake up? Do I ask how they’ve been sleeping next time we meet? Or do I just ignore the messages, as if I never saw them, and let the sarcasm and loneliness linger?

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.