Human Rights

...now browsing by tag

 
 

What is going on with Google in China?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

images First of all, read this article posted on the Google official blog. It is all you need to read for the moment because there is no more first hand info out there yet.

It was published some 5 hours ago. What it says in a rather muddled way is essentially:

  1. That Google has detected attacks resulting in the theft of intellectual property, in particular on Gmail accounts in China, not through Google servers but just hacking users computers.
  2. That Google has evidence that similar attacks happened also to other major Western companies in various industries.
  3. That the information targeted was related to advocates of human rights in China.
  4. That because of all this, Google is not willing to continue censoring results on Google.cn and that “we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

This is very surprising news and it is quickly making the rounds of the World Media. Here are some preliminary midday break thoughts. Excuse the Bullet points but I am too excited to do real prose:

Regarding the message and intentions

  • The message sounds inconsistent, because it is complaining against 2 completely different problems. 1- The email hacks affects many companies and it is not necessarily done by the Chinese authorities, neither it is directly related to Google. 2- The Google.cn Search Engine manipulation or SEM that we already saw here.
  • By involving other Western companies Google is apparently sending a signal to them that either they support Google in its plight or else they will be mentioned by name and bear with the PR consequences of that (G is dreaming if it thinks they will follow, as if Chemical companies have much left to loose in this department already)
  • Nowhere in the message it says there is evidence that Chinese authorities are responsible for the email hacks. While this might seem obvious, in Western culture there is a presumption of innocence to apply. The normal sequence is first to seek justice, and only when the authorities refuse justice then complain.
  • You may believe or not in the “non evilness” of Google, but for a company that is handling so much of our personal information, this is not completely disinterested. Non-evilness is Gold for the G, and the minute the World stops trusting Google, the whole expansion plan of of Google apps+phones goes down the drain.
  • It is not impossible then that a calculation is involved: by standing up to China, Google can gain more credit points Worldwide than what it loses leaving China, where its operations are probably not very profitable today. With the new Google phone, the battle to rule the Tech World is at its peak, and goodwill is going to be an important weapon against Apple and Microsoft.
  • Is Google essentially Non-evil, or is it Non-evil just because it suits its business? Is a lion evil because it eats a gazelle, is an oil company evil because it gives you products you want to buy? Such philosophical questions people will be asking today, but I think there is no point in going down that way. Google is a corporation, not a charity, and we should judge its actions first from that perspective.
  • For a company to try to “change the World” on its own is completely out of scope, it is pointless, it leads to its ruin, and it amounts to pursuing political objectives for which it has no legitimacy. If Google doesn’t want to have Google.cn censored, then they are right to force this, but coming up now with a sort of “retaliation” to the Chinese government for hacking activist emails is a different thing altogether.
  • In conclusion, the message sounds inconsistent and improvised, it is difficult to believe that it comes from a careful calculation.  I wonder who really writes that blog, but if this really comes from Google executives it is scary, especially from the shareholders POV. Regardless of the real intentions of Google, my first assessment is that the post is a BAD decision.

Some more thoughts on the consequences coming in my next post.

Happy Christmas. Liu Xiao Bo got 11 years.

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Happy Christmas everyone. Sad Christmas for China, and for all of us who love that country and who believe in freedom, dignity and truth.

Exactly one year ago, on Christmas Day, I published this post about Liu’s Charter. I was critical with the initiative for many reasons: it contained contradictions, it was reactive rather than active, and it was not a Charter to unite all the Chinese. But most importantly, the way the document was drafted ensured that it had not a chance to fly.

The initiative was practically born dead, Charter was never a big subject in China even in early 09, it was the crisis and the stimulus that we watched at the time. The party had won the game from day one, so what point in bullying Liu now, one year later? Clearly, just to set an example to ensure that the rest of the signers will shut up, and to avoid new initiatives in the coming years. “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey”, the Chinese tradition says. And that is NOT justice, but a disgusting mafia trick.

Even if you don’t believe in democracy for China—even if you think (like I do) that the hypocritical governments of the West have no lessons to give here—even if the Charter was probably not the best way to attain the noble principles it professed. Even so, any decent person can see that a document like this should never be a reason for a man to be deprived of his freedom.

The party knows this, and it is again censoring and lying on the internet to hide its dirty deed from the people of China.

Now the story has been picked up by the CNN and it is making some noise. If we are lucky and it goes far enough, maybe even Obama will give us a memorable line. But it will not change anything, because all this is part of the deal with China. And the sentence is nothing more or less than what could be expected of the Chinese government today.

Liu knew this well, and he decided to go on in spite of it. That is because he is an idealist and a hero. He will be remembered.

More on this case here. Also, from my own blog: here, here and here.

These are the principles that 303 brave men published in China in 2008:

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

The “Demise of the Media” seen from China

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

There’s been a lot of things coming up lately in the field of “demise of the media“. In particular in China we have seen the spectacular series of posts by James Fallows and others, casting some light on the results of Obama’s visit to China. For the Old vs. New media debate this cannot count as a hit, because both sides in the discussion were newspaper people. But China has a way of making things more interesting, and here we see the whole thing from a different perspective.

Nobody really cares about the “demise of the media” in the country of People’s Daily, instead the media debate here is framed in terms of pro-China vs. anti-China. Obama’s visit is a great case for analysis, because this time the controversy is too obscure to excite the masses, and we can look at it without the polarizing effects of the West-nut and Fenqing friends.

In all the discussions about the bias of Western Media, I have always stood in an uncomfortable middle ground: I do not agree that there is a World conspiracy to damage China’s image, but I see there is some serious bias in many of the news items, and I try to understand the reasons for this. This is my attempt to offer an explanation: it has to do with the three main powers that, in different proportions, influence all mass media: The States, Business and the Readers.

  • Media predominantly controlled by The State. This includes some of the main Western players like BBC or NPR, together with the bulk of the Chinese media. The key for them to work is the existence of credible mechanisms to ensure their independence from the governing party, which is impossible in countries where party and State are not distinct. In some cases, like the BBC, they can produce quality results, but the system is not scalable: if ALL media was controlled by States, credibility would be seriously compromised.
  • Media predominantly controlled by Business, whether it is the media corporations themselves or their major advertisers. This can include papers like the WSJ and News Corp, and also many local newspapers whose readership is (was) secured for geographical reasons, and whose main challenge was not really to get more readers (the population in their territory was limited) but to obtain the best advertising deals with the local business establishment.
  • Media predominantly controlled by Readers is the one that strives to please as many readers as possible to increase its circulation. Examples include the British tabloids and a large part of the Internet Media. The fight to obtain more Readers has always been important from the times of Pulitzer, but with the  new technologies and the crisis of the newspapers, it has become vital. On the internet, nobody cares for Corporate opinions, or even for the laws of a State. The only valid parameter is clicks-per-month, and as long as you deliver, advertisers don’t ask questions.

All these three powers affect all media in different degrees, and none of them is conductive to unbiased reporting. But little is written about this, because most of us have come to terms with the harsh reality: whether good or bad, these influences are inevitable. Therefore, the debate is not about how to obtain a completely impartial newspaper, but rather how to preserve the many imperfect ones that already exist, whose bias go in different directions and impose “checks and balances” on each other, allowing the critical reader to draw some conclusions.

This diversity is essential, and what we are seeing nowadays in the West is a growing uniformity that comes from the eagerness to please readers. Ironically, by freeing itself from the first two powers, the media is falling prisoner of the third one. The internet has turned information into a perfect competition market where the consumer is king, but as we saw here, the invisible hand is not all that good at objective reporting.

When readers demand independence of the press, they rarely mean independence from themselves. But in fact they can be the most damaging influence: not only they are apt to delude themselves in droves, but also they lack a counterbalancing view to put the information in perspective. When the Media tells the readers what they want to hear, it closes a feedback loop of partisanship and preconceived ideas that it is difficult to escape, and the investigation of an outside truth becomes secondary. This is one of the main dangers of the media today, old and new alike.

Conclusion Seen from China

I don’t know to what extent this Reader factor is responsible for the bad quality of the Media, but I am convinced it plays a main role in the perceived anti-China bias. As we saw in Xinjiang, many Western journalists were there to witness The Cruelties of the Chinese system, just like Washington journalists followed Obama to witness The Censorship and Emerging Power of China. In both cases the stories were pre-written by the expectations of Western readers, and most media Old and New followed the script obediently.

I am convinced Reader bias is at the root of the problem because I simply can’t find any other explanation. It cannot be the interests of Big Business, when most corporations have big stakes in China, and a rise of nationalism or trade wars can only bring them losses. It cannot be the interests of governments like the US, which would have nothing to gain from a rise in Chinese nationalism and militarization. It has to be that Media bias is just a reflection of the image of China in Western societies, and that both Image and Reflection are constantly feeding each other.

The World needs well grounded, reasoned critiques of the CPP policies, and particularly of its disastrous records in Human Rights. But sadly, by focusing on wrong targets and wrong timing (for example, when hundreds of Chinese were being murdered in Urumqi) the Western media only manages to alienate itself from its Chinese followers, and create even more misunderstandings between China and the West. By doing this, they are are unwittingly providing the nationalist fuel that the CPP needs to survive, and further delaying the freedom that most of us honestly wish for the Chinese.

Supposing the Media really cared about fair reporting, they could try to get more PRC journalists and readers, and listen to their opinions to introduce a counterbalance in their closed loop with Western Readers.  Supposing the CCP really cared about the image of China, they could go a long way to improve it without necessarily giving up their authoritarian power.

But let’s not dream too much, neither the CCP’s nor the mainstream media have such priorities. They are old structures coming from a different World, and they share a single common objective: to survive in times of fast change.

Han Han and the Big Misunderstanding

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I saw on ESWN this Time magazine interview of Han Han, and since I have written before about him, I think it is worth a comment. It is also interesting because it illustrates the scary misunderstandings between East and West that Kaiser Kuo warned against recently. This is, in my opinion, the key passage:

…despite his youthful bravado, Han, who has published 14 books and anthologies, generally stays away from sensitive issues such as democracy and human rights. His calculated rebelliousness, says Lydia Liu, a professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, exemplifies the unspoken compact his generation has forged with the ruling Communist Party: Leave us alone to have fun and we won’t challenge your right to run the country. "He is known for being a sharp critic of the government and the Establishment but he isn’t really," says Liu. Instead, she says, Han is a willing participant in a process that channels the disaffected energy of youth into consumerism. "The language in his novels and the narrative strategies are very easy to read," says Liu. "Basically it’s all the same book."

Before judging the literary value of the writer, Mrs. Liu makes a moral judgment of his rebelliousness: It is not intense enough to her taste, the issues he deals with are not sensitive enough. I think I’m not too far from the truth if I say that this summarizes the opinion of  a large part of the academic community, and by extension of mainstream Western opinion. You may have noted that Ms. Liu is an expert in literature, not in politics. But when it comes to Chinese politics, we ALL know better than them.

Hecaitou’s blog also posted the interview and we can see some Chinese discuss it among themselves. Allowing for the odd troll, it is a fairly balanced discussion, as expected from an intelligent Chinese forum when they don’t feel observed by Western eyes. Perhaps the 2 most significant comments, that give an idea of the atmosphere, are:

- Compared to those who were criminalized for speaking, Han Han has no courage. He only teases, doesn’t dare to speak about the system.

- You mean, he needs to be a martyr? To fight for your rights, even if it is just a bit, to obtain awareness of citizen dignity, all these are matters that require someone to capture them. To be able to speak from within and disintegrate this system, that is the real master.

A large part of the misunderstandings between East and West come from the unreasonable expectations we have of each other. In particular, Western opinion expects of Chinese public figures to fight heroically and even suicidally against their own government. The Chinese political system is so evil, the logic goes, that any public person worthy of our attention should be dedicated to fighting it.

Now, I am the first who thinks China needs political change and respect of human rights, and I greatly admire the courage of some dissidents. But real heroes should be voluntary, like Mother Theresa, and no amount of public pressure can ever create one. Even less foreign public pressure.

In case I have some naïf reader, it is just as well to inform you here that Western policies are as arbitrary and cruel in the international scene as the CCP’s are accused of being in China. And both are equally full of good intentions. Why don’t we apply the same standards with our own public figures?  Do we require of our writers to fight the system? Have they signed a compact to drive us into a consumerist slumber instead of protesting against injustice in the World?

We don’t do that. We act just like the Chinese, satisfying ourselves with he thought that “The World is unfair, but with a bit of patience and faith in the system, it will eventually become a better place”. Substitute “The World” with “China” and you have the mainstream Chinese thought.

“Hypocrisy”, I was going to write. But I don’t think it’s even that. It is simple closed-mindedness,  the inability to see things from the other side.

Euro-Obama in China

Monday, November 16th, 2009

barack_obama_the_french_sun_king So Obama is in China, and even if he is not my president he is still my favourite president. Here is my first-hand analysis of the visit.

The most important news, surprisingly gone unnoticed by all observers, is that Obama wants to become Euro-bama in Chinese. That is how I read the new spelling of his name in characters, as proposed by the website of the white house :

欧巴马 (oubama) will replace 奥巴马, where 欧 is the Chinese character for Europe, making the name sound in Chinese like Euro-Bama.

Some might say that the new spelling is chosen for greater phonetic similarity, or because it is standard in Taiwan, but when have politicians listened to the linguists? There is a clear political motivation in the naming of Euro-Obama, and I see a bright future in the project.

I think I speak for a large number of Europeans when I say we are very happy to see this plan finally in execution. Mr. Obama, please sweep away all our bunch of incompetent presidents and prime ministers, and become King of the European Union. Then, perhaps, in the next meeting with China you can represent our united interests, instead of having each European tribe sending its little pathetic chief for the CCP to cleverly divide and manipulate a la Sun Tzu.

One of the things I like of being European is that you can be thoroughly unpatriotic against the UE, and nobody cares. Dear commentators of the Washington Post, please do not worry anymore. America is not in decline yet, and it will not be for a long time. Among other reasons because it is needed by European countries that are too incompetent to unite in international politics. And indeed, when the Chinese people see Obama, they see a leader of the West as much as they see a leader of America. Because seen from here, the concepts of West, Europe, America, or Euramerica (欧美)have never been all that distinct.

After this important geostrategic consideration, you can continue to read what else is to read about the visit. Essentially nothing, because no real news have emerged yet, and most journalists and bloggers alike do their best to fill in their columns with China generalities. Apart from the links above, interesting questions are:

  • Will Obama comment on the Human Rights Watch report about black jails and other human rights issues? Of course this will not happen, no more than Hu will elaborate on the new theories of the Liberation of Tibet. But it is interesting for the sake of debating.
  • Perhaps more likely is that he mentions the environment, as this blog suggests. I am pretty sure the two leaders will mention it, actually, a different thing is how much of a commitment will come from the meeting. From the voiceless rest of the World we will be watching to see if the 2 giants finally decide to make a move and quit sending their fumes to our back yard.
  • Finally, a lot of articles out there speak of Obama-mania and make a big deal of the Obamao icon, which has been circulating in China since before the election. My view is that young modern Chinese tend to like Obama, and he is marginally more popular than Bush was. But there is no such thing as the Obamania we saw in Europe, and most people here adopt a cold stance of “wait and see”. The minute 欧 mentions some delicate issue or  meets some old lama, it will take no more than a minute of well phrased CCTV news to wipe the Obamania into thin air.

So already, quit the Obamaos and give me some Eurobamas, we are growing tired of politics over at the other side of this continent.

Mao, Jiang and the importance of Ideals

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

jianguodayeNow that I am in a free internet country, I have taken the chance to look at the CDT website, and I have found this interesting question coming from al Jazira: what would have happened if Mao had lost?

I am not in principle against counterfactual history,  it can be useful in many cases to see the events from a different point of view. It also makes for lively pub conversations and blog comments. But the basic condition for this kind of exercise to make sense is, in my opinion, that the chain of events analyzed had any chance to have actually happened.

For example: it might be interesting to imagine how the world would have been if Hitler was killed in the 1944 assassination attempt, or what would have happened if Mao died before the Great Leap Forward.  In a similar way to an experiment in physics, by isolating later factors, we try to  analyze the effects of their policies up to that point. But there is little interest in analyzing the outcome of impossible or even absurd events, other than for humorous purposes. What if Hitler had suddenly become a pacifist in 1941?

Back to the point: “What if Mao had lost?” This question treats the defeat of Jiang Jie Shi as a mere accident of history,  a question of luck in which the outcome, like Hitler and the bomb, could have been decided by fluke.

But the defeat (or rather the retreat) of Jiang was not the outcome of a single battle. People asking this question forget that Jiang had the power for many years, with all the instruments of the State, the largest part of the population and territory under his control, and military and economic aid from other countries. For years, all the odds were on his side. The opportunity implied in the  question “what if Mao had lost?” was already given to Jiang. And the best answer to the question is:

If Mao had lost, Jiang  lost anyway

There were profound reasons that made Jiang’s system impossible. His ideology-or  lack thereof-was not appealing enough at a moment when China needed a catalyzer for all its unleashed energy. Something was needed to rally the people against the oppression of the foreigners and of the local tyrants, and Jiang was not delivering in any of the two fronts. China needed something to believe in.  If Mao hadn’t been there, another leader would have sold the idea, or other worse ideas, and who knows the frightful regime that might have resulted.

This failure of Jiang to inspire, together with the corruption inherent to his regime, condemned him to impose power by raw force.  A scheme that worked well when he moved over to Taiwan with supporters and soldiers in large number relative to the local population, but it simply could not have worked in mainland China. It would have required a level of organized brutality that only a fanatic could accept.

So Mao won, and then what?

So back to reality: Mao won. He played his cards much better and he won by a mile. Then some years later he proved to be less gifted as a politician than as a revolutionary. Worse still-and this is really his worst sin-he fell in love with himself and with power, and he didn’t have the good sense to listen to capable advisers, nor the dignity to retire when he was still in time. The “70% good/30% bad” judgement passed by Deng was probably too generous, but inevitable: to condemn Mao was to condemn the work of his life. Deng could not do more than he did, and of those who came after him, not a single one had what it takes to even dare touch this question.

sense1

And here is, in my opinion, the heart of the matter: why is Mao still so present in the Chinese psychology? When are we going to move on? The Chairman is not just stuck on a wall, he is imprinted very deeply in the collective mind of the Chinese, and through compulsory education, propaganda and parades like last week’s, he holds to his place and no amount of economic progress can sweep him away.

Here is an example of what I mean : Recently I lent the book “Mao: The Unknown Story”, by Chang Jung -a book that is very critical of Mao- to a Chinese friend. This friend is young, and liberal to the point that he believes Dalai Lama is a good man. And yet, when two weeks later I asked him about the book, I got a  reaction that shocked me. “This woman is not really Chinese” ,  “You cannot understand”, were among the broken phrases that he grumbled. I know this book is surely not the most balanced biography of Mao,  and I was open to accept many of his arguments. But I saw there was no point in discussing further, because somehow we had landed in the territory of hurt feelings.

But the interesting discussion today  is not whether Mao was 70% right or 17.5%. The past is past, and there is no use in digging up the skeletons again, except for specialists in history. The key is the present, and the reason why Mao still holds his place should be searched in the leaders of today.

The answer is simple:  Mao is there because he is still needed. No matter how terrible his failures and how cruel the consequences-and most Chinese know them well-Mao is still the only one that gives some ideological content to the system. He provides the meaning to the colourful parade of  last week, and to the other parade of black suited mummies that is “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”.  And that is the reason why most Chinese are so quick to excuse him: “He was good man used by his wife”, they say, or “it was not his fault, he was senile”.

Ideals are important for a society to believe in itself. In the West we have democracy, human rights, religion, a whole range of them to suit all the sensibilities. As often as not, they are utilized by politicians for their own selfish goals and devoided of any real meaning. But at least they are  ideals, and they give us the illusion that our struggle is worth fighting. I see people discussing Obama or Bush, and whatever the real effect of their policies might be, it is obvious that they give a meaning to politcs in America.

In China, on the contrary, the only ideal since Mao died has been Deng’s “Get Rich”.  Many theories have been published since, filling thick books with party rhetoric, but not a single one of them contained anything  that the people could  believe in, or even understand. Once and again, the actions of the party have shown that above any other consideration, the only important objective is GDP, and the maintenace of the status quo.

There is a serious lack of leadership in the communist party of China, partly due to the internal mechanisms of the party itself . Strictly materialistic objectives are quickly dissapointing,  for those that achieve them as much as for those left behind, and the people naturally turn for inspiration to the only ideals available:  nationalism and Mao. And so it happens that the old  portrait  cannot be taken down, because it is there to cover a hole. The black hole of Chinese politics.

Why have they taken citizen Xu?

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Many blogs have written about this already, but I still want to do my own post for Xu Zhiyong, who was arrested 3 weeks ago. I have no new information to offer here – info will be forthcoming only when the police decides it – but if you are reading this please do not let the case be buried in the stream of your newsreader. Instead, take this chance to catch up with some background on this extraordinary person.

If anyone still harboured doubts as to the integrity and dedication of Xu, here is a new series of posts by Wang Jianshuo, a non-political Chinese blogger known for years for his honest writing, who happens to know Xu personally from the Young Leaders Forum. Xu is one of the rare cases of activists taken seriously by both Western media and the party’s mouthpieces. The last article quoting him on the People’s Daily came out just one week before his office was stormed by the police, and ironically it was about how government information should be disclosed.

There has been some speculation on the net – especially on Chinese official media – about whether Xu’s NGO really had taxes unpaid and why. This discussion is completely beside the point, unless the Global Times explains that it is normal to be abducted 3 weeks for a first-time, minor tax offense. No, the real reason why Xu has been arrested can be understood in this Xinhua article issued last week:

In the national Justice conference the Minister of Justice Wu Aiying required:  […] lawyers in our country must support the party leaders, adhere to the scientific development concept as a guide, uphold socialism with Chinese characteristics,  ensure the correct political direction in lawyer’s work.

The message is simple, you do things with the party or against the party. There is no middle ground, and trying to find it by studying hard and following the law simply will not do. Because the party leaders are above the law.

I am sure many high placed within the party are against this arrest, and I am sure many dare not speak for fear of losing their own position. It is not the first time I get to this conclusion: we will see real change in China the day there is some real leader with enough cojones to change things. Deng said “Reform” and reform it was, these ones say “rule of law”, and what a joke for the World. Bad times for the honest Chinese people.

Obama’s speech seen from China

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

The guests just left, what a night! The tense atmosphere of a final match in my Shanghai apartment; high expectations and a sense of History. Friends, all of different nationalities, sharing my wine and watching the first speech of President Obama. The silence during the 18 minutes was complete.

Is it only me, or the first half was more intense than the second? The former was full of the brave ideals we wanted to hear; the latter, more martial and patriotic, containing the obvious honesty, courage and loyalty, together with the reference to race.

It is 3am in China. I will leave it to American experts to analyze more deeply, I just want to highlight this passage which stands out from the rest:

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our Ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the Rule of Law and the Rights of Man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

“Rule of Law and Rights of Man”. Yes. And how to achieve them in the World? By the “justness of our cause, the force of our example”. That is exactly what we wished to hear. It has become true in the speech, and I sincerely hope it will become true in real life.

Many things can change in the World if our most powerful country -our 老大, or “eldest”, as many Chinese humbly refer to America- conducts itself according to these principles, abiding by those same laws that it proposed and signed, and creating new ones as its Ideals may require.

For, though the oath forgets to mention it, the responsibility of the highest political power on Earth is towards the whole of Humanity. And only a great man can be up to that position.

It looks like for the first time in many, many years, we have found our Man.

Chrter 08: Found an Open Link!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

For those who are following the developments around Chrter 08:

I have discovered a website containing the full original Chinese Charter (+ translations) that is still not blocked by the censors. It is also open to comments, apparently not manipulated:

https://knol.google.com/k/-/-/3jhi1zdzvxj3f/9

Thanks to heroic advocate of freedom of speech David Ferguson who, by introducing himself as an editor in a Chinese goverment news portal (china.org) and then pretending to be a detractor of the Charter, has obtained the insider information. And what is more, he has the guts to publicize this link right in the Opinion section of their website. Respect!

Re the link. It is a website at knol.google apparently set up by blogger Zuola. It is very surprising that it has escaped the censorship (Zuola’s blog itself is censored) and I can only think it is because:

  1. It uses https connection and the quick “Charter patch” has somehow missed it, or else,
  2. Advocate Ferguson has asked his bosses at the State Council to unblock it.

Please pass this link to anyone you know in China. Let’s get the document finally circulated, and send your thanks to the China Internet Information Center at china.org.cn

https://knol.google.com/k/-/-/3jhi1zdzvxj3f/9

A little Study of the Internet Censorship in China

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Last Sunday I did a post on internet censorship in China where I mixed in various different ideas and I’m afraid the final result regarding Search Engine Censorship didn’t come out as clear as I would have liked. I think it is an important subject, so here are the complete results:

We will be looking at Google.cn, Google.com and Baidu.com, and we will try in each of them 3 different kind of search terms.

A- Chrter 08: In all its combinations, which are 08宪章 and 零八宪章
B- Political Terms: Tiananmen incidents (天安门六四事件), FLG.
C- Vulgar words: Sex. I will employ the “blog job” and the “chicken bar”.

It is understood that in all cases the search terms are in Simplified Chinese. The browser is Firefox 3.0.5. and the connection is a normal home DSL by China Telecom. The possible results are:

  • Free Search - Results look consistent and realistic, like the ones obtained in the West.
  • Reset Connection (RC) - This can only be seen in Mainland China. The result is an image like the one below and the search engine cannot open anymore for a while (I estimate 30 seconds). RC is not directly done by the Search Engine. Wikipedia internal search also gives RCs for B Terms.
  • Forbidden Message (FM)  - This is the forbidden Message that, with slight variations, is the same as shown below. It says something in the lines of: “Some results are not displayed according to the local laws, regulations and policies”.
  • Manipulated Results (MR)- This is the case where the results are obviously manipulated, for example in the search of 天安门六四事件 (Tiananmen incident) on Baidu, where all the results are official newspapers such as People’s Daily, etc. Sometimes it can also carry on top of the page a FM.

Google.com
A -Free Search.   (But click some individual results gives RC).
B- Reset Connection
C- Manipulated Results.

Google.cn
A- Forbidden Message and (sometimes *) Manipulated Results
B- Reset Connection.
C- Forbidden Message. When used “” gives Manipulated Results.

Baidu.com
A- Manipulated Results. When used “” gives Forbidden Message.
B- FM and Manipulated results.
C-FM and Manipulated Results.

Conclusions

1- The results are somewhat erratic and it is difficult to see a pattern: it all looks like a series of patches on top of each other rather than a systematic implementation. Also, things change in time, as in *, where the Manipulated Result I saw Sunday cannot be seen anymore.

2- Baidu has a different system from Google: it has no Reset Connections. This is very advantageous for Baidu and I understand it is unfair competition, as a RC is one of the worst experiences while surfing.

3- This might be due to Google’s own preference server location: the involvement of the Search Engines in the RC is unclear no direct involvement (even Wikipedia has RCs!) whereas Manipulated Results obviously requires their action, and can more easily attract attention from Advocacy Groups. Of course, in the case of sexual terms (C), this is not a problem as the Manipulated Results can just be called “Safe Search”.

4- The Chrter 08 has different treatment than other political terms, but it might just be because it was banned urgently and suddenly, so it is only a quick fix added to existing structure. It does not provoke RC in any case. It looks like they have decided to leave it alone on Google.com to avoid attention from Western advocacy groups, but in exchange Google has had to give up Google.cn and apply the infamous “porn block” to it which is active censorship by SE. Why the FM and not RC? Who knows, I am guessing perhaps RC is more complicated to implement.

5- In any case, and however negative, I understand it is always better to show FM than Manipulated Results, because the former is openly admitting censorship, whereas the latter is a lie and a distortion of reality. Forbidden Message does increase transparency, yet does not justify involvement in political censorship. From this perspective, Google is closer to the truth than Baidu. Baidu seems indeed a more active participant in the government’s information control schemes, and Chinese users of Baidu are clearly the most exposed to Search Engine brainwash.

UPDATE: Following corrections by international expert Nart Villeneuve below: I have introduced a few changes of my own (in blue). In any case, this post is just a very basic review of the SE Censorship system from the perspective of a normal user. If you really want to understand how the GFW works, you should read proper research papers like this one, or this one.

.

IMAGES:

1- FORBIDDEN MESSAGE (FM)

2- RESET CONNECTION (RC)

NOTE: If someone is interested in this or has some more information to share please put it in comments. Unfortunately my time is very limited so I only ran 2 or 3 terms for each of the classes A, B and C above. There might be things I overlooked and I would be grateful if you can point them out.


Chаrter 08: Why it should be called Wang

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

When I started my article about the Chrter 08 last month I couldn’t help wondering if it was well worth the effort. Most of the English speaking blogs and media had been very quiet about this issue, and in China nobody seemed to know anything about it.  Two weeks after the Charter’s publication, I thought perhaps that was all we were going to hear of it.

I am pleased to see after all that the Chrter 08, in spite of the weaknesses I noted, is indeed slowly “flying into 2009″. From the English language blogs, it has since got more attention, with featured posts by Xujun Eberlein, Peking Duck, FM, and now also ESWN. Most importantly, in the Chinese speaking circles it is slowly gaining momentum, as is proven by the fact that the government is getting nervous and has closed down the whole site bullog.

ESWN and the CSM have written about this rather optimistically in my opinion. CSM quotes :

Zhang says more than 300,000 websites now link to the charter, and it’s being discussed on blogs, QQ groups, and other chat rooms. “It’s impossible to block information in society now,” he says.

I am afraid this statement has yet to be proved. Like ESWN’s Roland Soong notes, this number 300,000 is taken from the number of Google.com results. It is a relatively large number and it indicates that the subject has become popular in the Chinese internet forums.  But little more than that. Of these results, only 1/3 come from mainland China, and 100,000 is attained easily by many of the hot topics coming up regularly on Chinese BBS (see ChinaSMACK).

The fact is that Chrter 08 is still an unknown movement in mainland China. Out of 5 local friends I asked, all with university degrees and fluent English, even today only one of them had heard the term (but knew no details). As for the majority of Chinese who live out of the cities and don’t use the internet, there is no way they can have heard about it. I don’t know who is the “peasant” that CSM mentions as a signer, but until I get  some tangible evidence otherwise, I maintain that China doesn’t know about the Charter.

This is a very important point because, of the difficult path that Chrter 08 will need to run to achieve its goals, the first unavoidable condition is to become known to the public by beating the censors at their own game. As I said in my previous posts, the government has done an impressive job of silencing Chrter 08, but it is a sign of hope to see it little by little creeping back into the mainstream.

As I see it, the 3 phases and 3 main difficulties that the Charter will have to face to grow into a real mass movement are, in this order:

1-To be Known vs.  internet censorship and lack of freedom of speech

2-To be Trusted vs. weaknesses that make it easy to manipulate against

3-To be Loved vs.   lack of a spark, a leader, a name: the material of which Change is made

.

Charter Step 1 and the Internet Underworld

We will leave point 3 for a post in the future, supposing we ever get there. For the moment we are still stuck in phase 1, and it is far from clear that the Charter will make it past this point. We know  that the Chinese government  has developed a very sophisticated system to control information on the internet. But how does it work? What are its strengths and weaknesses to oppose the Charter? Following ESWN, I have conducted some research on Google and found the curious results below.

First, as Roland points out, if you search for Chrter 08 in Chinese, Google.cn is sending back this message:

“Some results are not displayed according to local laws, regulations and policies.”

This has made me think that indeed, when it comes to fighting censorship, the Charter has an insurmountable flaw: it is a document. Therefore, its title and content are fixed and it is extremely easy to locate by a bot. Worse even, in this era of internet search engines, nobody has still given the  Charter a better nickname than that easily searchable title 08宪章. Any internet conversation where the Charter comes up, even if the contents are not copied, is sure to attract the Censor’s eye.

It might sound ridiculous at this point, but I’m serious: The Chrter 08 should be named Wang.  Or Zhang or Liu, any other term that is not exclusively related to it and therefore cannot be banned. Two centuries ago, the first Spanish constitution of 1812 was nicknamed by the people “La Pepa”, a popular name for a girl that many intellectuals scorned at the time. Two years later, during the reign of autocrat Fernando VII, this name became extremely useful to dissidents to acclaim the Constitution without risk to their lifes, with the famous slogan “Viva la Pepa!!”

Do you still think this is not relevant? Well, follow me with the next google experiment. If you are in China, try to search Google.cn for sensitive political terms like: Falungong, Tiananmen 89 massacre, Liu Xiaobo, you name it. You might be surprised to find not the message above, but rather a reset connection, which only affects viewers from mainland China and which is easily bypassable with a proxy or VPN.  It looks like this:

So what is that first message that Roland Soong and myself have been obtaining? It is not the political censorship message, but another one with which many Chinese men are acquainted. It is the notice you get when you look for some well defined  terms, like those found in pornography. As an example, I suggest you try a search for the word  “口交”. I will not translate it directly here, but let’s just say it is not a blog job. Run the search, surprised? Try any other “vulgar” word and you will end up with Google’s  Chrter 08 message. This is the first and most basic level of defense in the Great Wall, the porn block !

Pretty annoying for the drafters, I guess. But above all, it is very negative for the transmission of Chrter 08, because by calling it this name, the supporters are giving themselves away directly to the  Censors. And this is before phase  2- direct manipulation- has even kicked in.

So we are back to the basics. Like I already said, this Charter is lacking the popular element, the leadership that succesful movements have had in the past, the brand and name and life that would make a whole people roar “Viva la Pepa!”, or the one that years ago inspired a man to dance with the tanks on Changan Avenue. As it stands, it is the cold work of the intellectuals, and nobody has felt the urge to call it Wang.

.

Note on Censorship

Finally, one more thing I cannot leave unmentioned. It is not news for anyone that Google have a deal with the Chinese government to collaborate in the repression of the internet. What is news to me is that Google is so openly censoring the principles by which all decent democratic countries abide, including the most basic of Human Rights. Google should be careful, they are entering a dangerous area, one which can backfire in a not very far future.

One more final test for the shame of the censors: when you run the Charter o8 search on Google.cn and you get the message screen, go to the number 4 item on the list of results. I just did that tonight and I believe I found out the essence of Google’s repression algorithm: “Ban all except the People’s Daily”. Indeed, this is the only way I can imagine that a People’s Daily article comes up as the single result for the search 零八宪章. It is a random PD article that coincidentially contains separate instances of 宪章 and 零八.

What a shame, Google, what a shame. Watch your steps today, lest you might find tomorrow that the people does not forget.

.

UPDATE: The results on Google change with time, and this last People’s daily result is not on page 4 anymore. In any case, the search for 零八宪章 on Google.cn gives results that have always one thing in common: they are all from websites controlled by the government, like china.com, cctv, etc.  No results from the thousands of forums and blogs that discussed the issue.

UPDATE2: See this post for a more clear explanation of how the internet censorship works in China and this one for the ways in which Google -and many other search engines- collaborate with the Chinese government. I have learned a lot in the year since I wrote this article, and I know now some of the info contained is not technically correct. I am not updating the text above anymore, so if you are interested in the technical part you should absolutely visit these two posts.

Never laugh faster than China laughs

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I got a bit excited last night with my new VPN connection. For a few hours I thought I’d found Democracy in a Box, neatly packaged in a 40$ yearly subscription. I have been since exploring new horizons.

Today, second day using VPN I’ve had 2 surprises, one good and one bad:

  • The good one was to discover that I could finally connect to the Time China Blog.
  • The bad one was the first article I read in this excellent blog, containing the paragraph:

Today a prominent mainland blog site, bullog.cn, was blocked, which may also be connected to Chrter 08. A few of the liberal outlet’s bloggers wrote about the document, and at least four signed it. I spoke briefly with Bullog founder Luo Yonghao this afternoon. He said he wasn’t sure why the site was blocked, and wouldn’t speculate on a Chrter 08 connection. C.A. Yeung of the Under the Jacaranda Tree blog noted in December that Bullog had dropped two of its bloggers, apparently for writing about Chrter 08.

Which means that now I cannot connect anymore to the blogs of Anti and Lianyue, where I used to spend many a nerdy hour trying to decipher their mandarin.

As you see there is a more than possible connection with the Chrter 08. The repression of the Charter movement seems to be gaining momentum as the weeks pass, proving that the government is taking it as a serious menace.  This is sad in itself, but there is even worse.

First of all, I want to clarify one point, lest someone misunderstands Ramzy’s article. Normally when we say a site has been “blocked” in China, what happens is that the site continues operating but it is just not accessible from the mainland due to the censors’ Firewall. This is not the case now, the site has been completely closed down. VPNs, proxies or any other other gadget will not get it open for you anymore.

And this makes me think: How can the Chinese authorities be so disrespectful with their citizens? I mean, even supposing they were right to suppress the Charter. There are millions of Chinese that go into that website every day and run blogs, exchange comments, make friends, speak of anything else but politics. These officials think nothing of closing all the blogs down, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t even give bloggers the time to save their archives (mental note: backup daily, Nanny might show up tomorrow!)

This is not only a political problem. This is a basic problem of decency and respect for the citizenry. Let’s hope at least that, like Figaro said, repression will only make the Charter more prominent, and it will allow all the affected Chinese to open their eyes and see how their harmonious government really cares about them. And perhaps some day those same officials will have to regret this.

Nay, never laugh faster than China laughs.