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To love the Country is not to love the Dynasty

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Very sorry, this document has been erased!

This little piece by historian Hong Zhenkuai has been taken down from the Southern Metropolis, but it has managed to escape the censors on some other sites. I liked the subtle way Hong criticizes the reigning CCP dynasty, and the cool Chinese rendering of “L’Etat c’est moi” as “朕即国家“.

Since I don’t have the time for Language Thursdays today, I have done this bit of translation work:

The French Bourbon king Louis XIV reportedly said “L’etat c’est moi” [1]. Even if all the World’s sovereigns love autocracy, few of them would say it so openly. Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715, the same period as China’s Kangxi. Kangxi’s thought was probably not unlike “L’etat c’est moi”, but clearly he had more “wisdom with Chinese characteristics” than Louis XIV – he did a lot of “humane actions”, thus earning a reputation of humane Lord while still ruling as a dictator.

In the ideas of the Sovereign People, the sovereignty belongs to the people and it is not “L’Etat c’est moi” but rather “L’Etat is us“. Of course this kind of ideas only appeared after Louis XIV’s death. In his age there were not many in the World who could tell the difference between the notions of sovereign, government and State. In China, even if the pre-Qin philosopher Mencius said: “first the people, then the State then the  monarch”, in fact in the 2000+ years since the Qin and the Han, Patriotism has meant Loyalty to the Monarch, and these two concepts are muddled. Click to continue »


NOTES:
  1. meaning the State is me []

The Pioneering Demise of the Chinese Press

Friday, March 26th, 2010

The debate about the New Media and the Death of the Newspapers has been raging for years on the free internet. In the Chinese intranet [1], however, this question doesn’t raise so much interest, because journalism here was already murdered long ago by the hideous hand of the censors. It is for this reason that Chinese papers are today at the forefront of the media’s demise.

Without any more preambles, let me introduce you to the Oriental Morning Post, one of the two big morning papers in Shanghai. Here are some of their front pages this week:

19th to 26th March

Look at these front pages carefully, have you noticed there are adverts? Yes. I buy this paper every morning and I was very excited to see they have found an innovative way to face the crisis: just get rid of the news and replace them with ads. Gray Lady, Mr. Murdoch, are you paying attention? Herein lies perchance the salvation of the press. Click to continue »


NOTES:
  1. Yes, intranet, from now on I refuse to refer to this joke as the internet until the retards controlling the GFW understand the meaning of World Wide Web []

Google vs China: The Soft A-bomb

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

images3How many times have we seen the discussion on China forums about what exactly is Soft Power? That mysterious force of the white side that the Jedi use in international politics, turning all arguments to their advantage? China has coveted this weapon for years and spent many a valuable resource in its quest, but all to no avail, to the point that some have started to doubt the very existence of the Force.

Well, for those who doubted, here you have the proof. Get the solid worldwide reputation of Google Inc. for non-evilness, add an American president that enjoys public support in almost every corner of the World, and you can assemble a Megaton soft bomb with the power to break through all the conventions of international politics. That is exactly what Google’s actions represent today, and for the time being they are obtaining the expected support outside of China. Click to continue »

Google vs China: It’s all in the form

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

imagesSo Google has done it finally. My worst predictions have turned out to be right, and Google.cn is living on in exile, challenging the authority of the Chinese government from Hong Kong. Speak of burning the bridges.

Like usual, most of the commentators our there got it all wrong. This is not about Google offering an open service to the Chinese from outside. If Google wanted to do that, they would quietly close down Google.cn and continue with their HK search site as they were already doing before. There is nothing new on this Google HK except the translation of the interface to simplified mandarin, a simple tweak that has little impact on usability for mainland netizens.

If Google really wanted the Chinese to enjoy free search, they could have tried to give some face to the Chinese government, instead of literally forcing it to retaliation.

But Google HK is obviously not a sustainable plan, it is just a gesture, an open challenge to the authority of the CCP. The redirection to this site and the welcoming message in simplified is clear enough in this respect: “welcome to the New page of Google search in China”. Take that, Beijing, we don’t give a damn what you say, anti-democratic freak. Click to continue »

Ant Tribe: Sociology with Chinese characteristics

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

yizuI just finished reading that book 蚁族 (Ant Tribe) that is all over the place on the Chinese internet. I was curious why it was becoming so hot here while Western media covered it only briefly. I think I know the answer now, but let me introduce the book first and more on this later.

蚁族 (Ant Tribe) is a term coined by the authors to refer to the masses of young university graduates from the provinces that struggle to survive in the Chinese big cities, living in cramped “Ant nests” in the outskirts, and taking unstable and underpaid jobs that are often not related to their studies.

This social group has sometimes caught international attention, especially during the 2009 crisis, when many papers sent their correspondents to interview jobless students, and pundits even saw there the seeds of a new Tiananmen. But it is Beijing Uni doctorate Lian Si who directed in 2008/09 the first comprehensive study, and “Ant Tribe” is a collection of some of his most interesting results, repackaged for the big public. Click to continue »

Will Google.cn continue in exile?

Monday, March 15th, 2010

This morning I was doing some tests on Google to see if there was any change in the search results, and I noticed one detail I had not thought of before: although everyone is describing Google.cn as “hosted in China”, the IP is American, as you can see on whois.

In fact, other than the deals with advertisers (the revenue-generating part of the business), there is little of Google.cn that is really in China. The data collected by Google.cn is a valuable asset for the company and it is kept in the US databanks, together with all the other Google countries indexes. Among other reasons, because Google.cn is nothing more than Google.com translated and censored for the Chinese.

This made me think of a possible outcome I hadn’t thought of before: that Google.cn may uncensor its content completely and continue to function normally served from the US, hosted under a different domain (since .cn extensions are controlled by China). From a practical point of view this wouldn’t make any big difference, as it would just be a copy of Google.com in simplified Chinese. But from a political and “face” perspective, it could be extremely damaging for Google relations with China, and probably lead to GFW of all Google services. Click to continue »

Sex and Conservatives in China (2) [NSFW]

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

SP32-20100312-192923Disclaimer: In the interest of science, this post contains sexually explicit material. If you are underage and/or a sensitive person you are advised not to scroll down. If you don’t read Chinese it’s OK.

This is the continuation of the previous post in the series, where we ended up rambling off the main topic and into a thick soup of political terms. Today I am back to impose some discipline. The article was meant to be about sex, and sex we will do. Just stick around for a few paragraphs of theory, or scroll right down to the examples if you prefer.

The question we considered last time was: why communist regimes, most of which have abolished religion at some point, are in fact among the most puritan countries regarding porn? Which can be otherwise formulated: why are Chinese commies so prudish? With the ever growing impulse of the porn censoring machine, this may well become one of the fundamental questions to understand modern China. Click to continue »

A Blue Spring is coming to Shanghai

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Finally, after a long week of intense NPC-CPPCC coverage, the first signs of the spring are starting to bloom in the press of Shanghai. The Oriental Morning Post opens with a picture of the large billboards promoting the EXPO on New York’s Times square, while its archrival, the more conservative Shanghai Morning Post, shows the two Big Bosses of the city speaking to a congress of Haibaos.

shang morn post 81921267980983312

The Shanghai Morning Post has the most interesting headlines, both coming from the press conference given yesterday by the Shanghai delegation in the NPC. Both statements are of interest: Click to continue »

Sex and Conservatives in China

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Sexy_Costumes_Classic_Officer_Fr_RU888501_7496

It looks like Charles over at the new China Divide blog has found a new source of clicks to revive the China blogging scene: debating the crackdown on pornography in China.

While I don’t usually support any kind of censorship, I have to say I couldn’t care less for the cause of porn in China. From what I have seen, sex peddlers are the most disgraceful, spammy, virus-ridden and generally useless sites of the internet, and they distract netizens from doing more important things like reading my blog. You can be sure that you won’t find me in the ranks of the protesters when those websites get banned.

There is however a more important problem with banning porn, and it is that the definition of the Chinese authorities goes way further than what we usually understand as pornography. It applies to some wonderful works of art, including films such as An Lee’s Lust and Caution, or this great TV serial and book by Liu Liu. It is used to marginalize some excellent artists like Tang Wei, and in general it contributes to further stifle the creativity of the Chinese literary and artistic scene.

To be sure, many times the banning of “unhealthy” content is just an excuse to get rid of dissidents or to justify protectionist policies. But generally speaking, when Chinese authorities act against porn it is out of a genuine ethical concern. And here is where I see a more interesting angle to the discussion, linking up to the question I asked last year in the post about TV serials and communist ethics: why are the commies so prudish?

From my experience living in various communist and ex-communist countries, I conclude that this is not a strictly Chinese phenomenon. In fact, it is not even a communist phenomenon, but rather a common characteristic of conservative people everywhere. I maintain that the reason why erotic content is banned in China is just that the CCP is an extremely conservative organization, and as all conservatives everywhere they abhor public displays of sex, even if in private they might think nothing of going to the brothel 5 times a week.

Why then, do conservatives tend to have this particular attitude in common towards sex? And in particular, why are communist regimes, all of which abolished religion, at the forefront of sex related puritanism?

The Red Conservatives

First of all, I want to add here a definition of conservatives, just to avoid having the whole discussion turn around the meaning of a word. Like most political terms, this one can have different meanings in different places. The meaning I use for this post is one that I think is most intuitive and understood internationally. From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Political attitude or ideology denoting a preference for institutions and practices that have evolved historically and are thus manifestations of continuity and stability. It was first expressed in the modern era through the works of Edmund Burke in reaction to the French Revolution, which Burke believed tarnished its ideals through its excesses. Conservatives believe that the implementation of change should be minimal and gradual; they appreciate history and are more realistic than idealistic.

In the case of communist countries like China it is always complicated to use the normal political terms of conservative/progressive, or right/left. The reason is that during 1949-1978 the paradigm was changed, and the old conservatives were exterminated. As a consequence, a  “new country” was created from zero, so for the purpose of Chinese political life, the “institutions and practices that have evolved historically” only count as defined in the history of the Communist Party. And the conservatives in China tend to be communist.

This phenomenon is hardly unique. It follows the logic of revolutionary movements everywhere obtaining mainstream power: their focus suddenly shifts from “changing the world” to “maintaining the status quo”, and conservative mindsets normally take control.

It is hardly necessary to explain this to anyone who has lived in China, but I have the feeling that some Americans still find it strange to call a communist regime “conservative”. If you think all this is just intellectual blabber, you are missing the point. The supporters of the CCP are genuinely conservative people and they behave exactly as you would expect from a conservative elsewhere.

From my conversations with some passionate young men in the CCP, and my long chats in the internet-less nights of North Korea, I have a reasonable understanding of what moves those convinced “communists”: they dislike foreign influence and they attach an absurd importance to nationality and ethnicity; they are averse to anything that sounds like free thinking or questioning of the old ideas; they like to marry traditional girls, pretty by the old canons, who don’t wear mini-skirts or speak too much in public; they don’t like homosexual people and they are quick to call “whore” when a girl behaves exactly like many men do.

The tragedy is that these conservative people will never be able to connect with their counterparts in America, because both sides are still bound by their own religious and Cold War rethoric. Someone should invent a party with the slogan like: Conservatives of the World, unite!

A soup of political terms

I am going to have to cut this here for today, because my new blogging policies don’t let me do more than 1000 words per post. We will continue in the next one, but before I finish I want to mention the very interesting problem of political terms in China.

Due to the reversal of paradigms mentioned above, there is still a good deal of confusion in the West about which English words should be used to name the different ideologies in a communist country. I am no scholar in Chinese politics, but from the books I have read on the subject (including academic works like Victor Shih’s) I get the impression that the terms are not standardized. The only book I have seen that attempts to do a taxonomy is the little manual: “What does China Think” by Mark Leonard.

I am hoping that someone will lend me a hand here and point me to some other resource where I can look this up. In the meantime, from what I remember of that book and my own initiative, the main denominations go as below:

Old Left: Hardliners in the CPP who want to revive Maoism. Contrary to the West, these lefties are actually very conservative people.

Old Right: Admirers of Taiwan and the KMT, practically invisible in the mainland today. I never met one, so not sure if they are conservative characters or not. I assume many members of the FLG would respond to this description.

New Left: Politicians like the Prime Minister Wen, who push for more social policies, equal distribution of the wealth, etc, within the rule of the CCP. The mindset is still conservative, but less than the Old Left.

New Right: Politicians, thinkers and some business sharks inspired in Deng Xiaoping’s “get rich first” who want to give priority to the coastal regions and build a ruthless capitalist system. They don’t have any mindset because they are too busy getting rich first, and they don’t care about political ideology as long as their cats catch mice.

Right Left: This is my own dysfunctional term to include people like Xu Zhiyong or Liu Xiaobo, as well as some within the CCP who call for political reform, democracy and civil rights. Many of them are not dissidents, but just brave party members who dare to raise their voice. These are the only ones that respond to the idea I have of “progressive” mindset.

What do you think of this terminology?

NOTE: This list is not meant to be taken as reference, but rather to invite participation, please do propose any term you want, or point me to some good read about modern Chinese politics. For those who came here to find some sex, please come back tomorrow when I will continue with the main subject of the post and I will attach SEXUALLY EXPLICIT IMAGES of Chinese. Have a nice day.

Google Buzz blocked in China!

Friday, February 12th, 2010

SP32-20100211-184445

NOTE: For those readers who’ve been offline for the past 3 days, this is a post about Google Buzz, the new Google service that has invaded the World’s mailboxes this week.

But take it easy, hold on a sec, don’t rush to your GFW test tools, this has not happened yet. I just want to be the first to announce it and get all the credit, since I am 90% certain that Google Buzz will be blocked within a week. The remaining 10% I am hedging in case the GFW censors get too high on Baiju over the New Years and their reactions are a bit slower than expected.

Look, I hate playing blogger of doom, but this is just how China works today. I’ve heard a few opposed opinions from bloggers I respect, and I am ascribing that to wishful thinking. There is no way Google Buzz is going to continue open, here is why:

  • Gbuzz is attracting very fast a larger number of users than Twitter or Facebook in China, due to its use of Gmail, a relatively popular email service here.
  • The viral transmission potential of Google Buzz is extraordinary, and very appealing for the Chinese way of using the internet. In the first 24 hours of GBuzz in China the popular Chinese bloggers where getting far more comments than pioneers like Robert Scoble.
  • After their recent controversy with the Chinese authorities, Google put Gmail (and now GBuzz) on HTTPS, which means that the GFW cannot  see the content flowing inside China. They cannot block particular users or keywords, and neither can they force a self-censorship of Google as they did with the Google.cn, for reasons both technical and political for the Google company.

So what we have here is a means of massive viral communication, completely out of control and with a potential to piss off the Chinese authorities that may be second only to the Epoch Times.

A Real-time Simulation

For those who still don’t agree with me, I have used my old engineering supercomputer to do a real-time simulation of the upcoming events, starting from yesterday, when most Chinese Gmail users got access to GBuzz. The first 4 steps have already happened as of February 12:

Step1: GBuzz is rolled out in China and within hours the popular bloggers are getting streams of comments in the few hundreds. One of the first subjects of discussion is whether the Buzz will be blocked or not.

Step2: Some Chinese users start timidly testing the system with unmodified swearwords and taboos, such as Caonima and Malagebi. Euphoria: no comments are deleted or blocked!

Step3: - After 12h some Chinese users are already sending pictures of beautiful ladies with a peculiar tendency to wear less and less clothes even as the winter is hitting back hard on the mainland.

Step 4: Bloggers like Han Han or AiWeiwei discover GBuzz and start broadcasting there. Not only their posts, but worst still, the flow of comments is out of reach of the Chinese authorities. Comment threads are by now in the tens of thousands.

Step 5: The next big viral event hits the Chinese internet, and seeing that all comments get erased on the other blogs and microblogs, even more people starts flocking to GBuzz.

Step 6: By now most netizens have understood that GBuzz is their GFW free day out. Uncensored photos of Edison Chen or drunken party cadres recirculate widely, people even write appraisals of the performances. More than 50% of the words on GBuzz worldwide are in mandarin characters, and about 10% of them are some form of 妈/逼 word construction (mother /cunt).

Step 7: The early days of FOS were rather hectic, but the people finally realizes the advantages of communicating freely. The divide between the Chinese internet and the rest of the world is disappearing quickly, and Google Buzz has written a page in World history.

… in the meantime, somewhere in the middle kingdom…

the evil 5Mao teams of netizens sold to the the party have caught up with GBuzz and are calling their bosses in the propaganda department to wake up from their baijiu dreams and show up at the GFW headquarters with red tape and pruning shears…

Conclusion

OK, I think you get the gist by now. And the conclusion is this: there is no way GBuzz is going to remain open in China. The only question remaining to answer is what will happen to the rest of the Google services, in particular Gmail and Google.com (G.cn is already doomed in my books).

I see here 2 possibilities:

1- Google Buzz could technically be blocked without blocking GMail, in spite of their integration. The GFW could achieve this by using intelligent URL blocks on the #buzz string that appears on all the buzz URLs. Easier still, since they are in negotiation with Google, they could ask G to facilitate the blocking of GBuzz in exchange for GMail remaining open.

2- GBuzz might go down and take down with it all the Google services in China once and for all. Especially this can be true if the negotiations between Google and the Chinese government are not as smooth as I supposed lately. This has happened already in Iran, and I am certain most leaders in the CCP wouldn’t even  blink. Or does anyone think they care about the outside opinion on China’s freedom of speech?

So this is only a 2-way dilemma, I don’t see any other solution. The final outcome of the Google vs. China affair is coming very soon, precipitated by the unexpected birth of GBuzz. Neither Google nor the CCP can afford to wait much longer, as the pressure is mounting on both sides. The end is near, fasten your belts and turn on your VPNs.

And Happy New Year of the Tiger

And now I am going to close the computer, leave the office and take a flight to a certain tropical destination in South East Asia where I intend to spend my New Year’s Holidays. When I am back to Shanghai on the 22nd, Google Buzz will be over in China, and I will be just in time to pick up the pieces. I look forward to a whole new series of posts on the year of the Tiger.

Happy New Year to all, 恭喜发财!

Google Documents and Groups Open in China!

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

imagesHoly Smokes!

Something is moving in Google China.

I have been working for the last 12 hours with Google docs, and I just realize I was using Yi’s computer, the one that doesn’t have the VPN installed. This means that Google Documents is unblocked since  yesterday evening at least.  And so is Google Groups! Both sites were blocked by the Chinese GFW until recently.

Now I don’t know what to make of this. Is the GFW tinkering with the censorship algorithms as it prepares to include the whole of Google.com in the block and turn off the lights for ever? Or are the negotiations in Beijing going fine, like we were wishfully trying to guess this week from the mini-Youren updates?

For the moment my tests of Google.cn and Google.com show no difference from censorship as usual. More about this coming soon, plus a recap of the situation in advance of possible changes. Stay tuned.

.

Why it’s Good that Google.cn Leaves + SEM (2)

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

GoogleAngel2_thumb3Back on the job. On re-read, I have the feeling that I might have been too optimistic yesterday. Sure, the style of Google’s announcement betrayed personal involvement, and once at the negotiation table it is to be expected that a more businesslike atmosphere will prevail. But even if G shuts up, it is not sure that the CCP will let them get away with it. Depending on who they have at the table, the outcome will be anything between the two extremes we have considered.

But let’s leave our bipolar guesswork aside for a while, so we can concentrate on a more interesting issue. Namely, that it’s great that Google.cn is going to disappear, and that whatever happens to the rest of the Gs, the Chinese internet will be a better place when Google.cn is gone. Let’s start with some crude survey work:

Baidu, Google.cn or Google.com?

I improvised a little survey today in the office, where I asked three of my young Shanghai colleagues which search engines they like to use. Interestingly, the answers were very similar, and all included some form of the following statements:

  • Baidu.com is better for local information and Chinese culture.
  • Google.cn we use sometimes for international information.
  • Google.com? Nah, that’s for foreigners.

These results are surprising, because as we saw yesterday, Google.com and Google.cn are exactly the same engine.  It doesn’t make any sense to search on Google.cn, where anything as innocent as 胡锦涛 (HuJintao) is obviously SEM manipulated. For the first experiment of the day we can see how, using this slightly conflictive term, results start to differ between G.com and G.cn. Try the links, see where there’s a Wikipedia article missing?

But the best of all is the answer given by the sample colleagues when I insist on why they use Google.cn: Oh well, the browsers here  direct you to Google.cn by default. That is probably the main reason why G.cn is ranked 3rd on Alexa for China, while G.com is only ranked 6th.

Hey, wait a second. Are you telling me that all it takes to get an identical, non SEM-ed Google Search in China is to type a “.com”, and 300 million netizens haven’t noticed in the last 4 years? Well, yeah. Kind of. Let me introduce you to:

The Chinese censorship and its peculiar victims

This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Chinese censorship in the West. I realized this with the crazy Wang post, the one that was linked in an article 3 days straight on the Most Read list of the New York Times. I got lots of hits, and also lots of mail from creative Americans proposing ideas to help “free the Chinese” from the claws of the GFW.

But listen, the sad reality is, the CCP’s systems of censorship are so effective not because they are diabolically sophisticated, but because… because the Chinese netizens can’t give a damn if they are being censored by their government or not.

You don’t believe me? Then perhaps you have a better theory to explain why nobody uses the widely available, free web proxies to surf the internet. Or why the majority of Chinese netizens still use Google.cn when they have an identical search engine that is not manipulated on Google.com

Shocking, right? But not so much. The truth is that, in spite of popular funny memes and the occasional juvenile rant, the majority of Chinese who are rich enough to use the internet are happy with the status quo. They do find it mildly annoying to be treated like children by the CCP, but as long as the bills are paid, they don’t think so much of it.

And this is also why, if someone wants to create a device against the GFW, the user activated systems like proxies or Tor are not effective, because people simply don’t use them. The idea of a Server Side Proxy, or the Unblockable Host that would unblock a site WITHOUT action by the end user, was discussed here, and I concluded it was not feasible.

This is also the reason why initiatives like Chrter 08 never make it in China: it is not about users trying to get access to dissident sites, it is about dissidents unable to market their ideas to a general population that is unreceptive.

Advanced SEM for Dummies (Search Engine Manipulation)

The most amusing thing in the Google crisis is all the commentators crying about the loss of Google.cn and its negative consequences for the freedom of the Chinese. In fact, I maintain that Google.cn is the most evil product to ever have existed in the Chinese internet, and the World will be a better place without it.

That is because, unlike the Chinese official sites that practice censorship, what the search engines do is manipulation. Why? Because Google.cn is not a content site in itself, it is a gateway to the internet. When people type in a keyword into the search field, they are actually trusting it to return a fair picture of what is on the net.

When you type a “sensitive” term and G.cn removes all the results except the People’s Daily and Xinhua, Google’s responsibility is double: not only it supports those often objectible views on the first page, but it also implicitly states that it is the ONLY opinion existing in the World.

And the worse is, the Chinese who believed that would be right to do so, because Google’s well known principles clearly specify their commitment to give all the information available  in a democratic way. The little warning message that is displayed on Google.cn SEM searches is meant to avoid this situation, but it is tiny and often placed right at the bottom of the page, so most Chinese users just ignore it.

In the case of Google.cn, SEM is not about “good” or “evil”. It is about breaking the very principles that give a sense to the Google company, and it is understandable that Google has never been comfortable with it.

TEST TRANSLATION GOOGLE.COM GOOGLE.CN
Neutral Word Shoe

Shanghai Pudong

Normal Results

Normal Results

Normal Results

Normal Results

Sensitive
Term
Hu Jing Tao

TNM massaccre

Normal Results

Normal Results

SEM  Results

SEM  Results

RC trigger string chinayouren.com/eng

Fallunggong

RC Block

RC Block

Normal Results

SEM Results

All tests in Chinese, English spelling is on purpose. The anomaly in the chinayouren string proves that in some rare cases G.cn does give better results that G.com, as SEM does not apply to petty disharmony. Click to continue »