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Shanghai Oriental Post editors are High

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

First day of opening 200,000 people all High

A little update on the Oriental Morning Post. I know nobody is interested because nobody actually reads this paper (not even its editors), but for the sake of consistency I have to inform of their new exploits. Follow me in this new chapter of their fascinating spiral to hell.

The weekend’s Oriental had the following breakthroughs:

A front page headline stating that the “200,000 people at the EXPO opening day were all high”. I have no idea why they wrote that “high” in English, but it looks like a silly eye-catcher in the wake of the English Letters debate. I suspect the editor didn’t intend any double meaning, in spite of the photograph. Click to continue »

The Time of Han Han (2) +Ulterior Rant

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Uterior Motives

Here is an update to yesterday’s review of Han Han, with some additional info about the Time nomination, which might be more important than it appears at first sight.

Then, if you stay till the end of this chapter, we will put on the yellow socks to analyze a bit more that terrible scourge of our times: the Ulterior Motives. This is for the benefit of all the puppet journalists and researchers who enjoy using that phrase, please pay attention.

The comments today come in the form of title-paragraphs, to allow for easy skimming:

1- The rules of the Time 100 are often misunderstood and heavily criticized, especially after internet star moot hacked the online poll last year and turned it into a joke. However, what you should keep in mind is that the internet poll only selects one of the members of the Time 100 list. That is, only the top person in the online poll makes it into the final official list, and in the position that Time editors decide. To be fair, it does make sense to include at least this one person from the poll, as it is representative of online mobilization power (when it is not hacked). Click to continue »

Caonima! The Double Meeting is here again!

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Oriental Morning post

The Oriental Morning Post of Shanghai is doing a nice coverage of the annual NPC-CPPCC meetings. I liked today’s paper edition, which carries a couple of cute alpacas right next to a picture of Hu and the boys walking down the aisle from the CPPCC they’ve just inaugurated.

It is a long story for those that haven’t been watching, but these lovely animals on the top left have come to mean a rude invective in Chinese, and one wonders if there is not a young malicious editor in the paper doing the front page layout. Because I mean, the news that “Alpacas cost  5,000 EUR in the animal fair” is hardly top front page material today, is it?

Anyway, this time of the year has come again and here is the Double Rubber Stamps Fair, or 两会, invading all the Chinese media. Yesterday I even watched the inauguration on CCTV, heroically exercising my listening skills with what is arguably the most boring political event of the year. In case you missed it, imagine a massive Madame Tussauds with thousands of figures where every one of them looks exactly the same as the next and sits in the same position. Add to this a brief performance of the national hymn and there you go,  开幕了!

Even if it is widely recognized that the 两会 has little political power, and that important decisions are taken beforehand by other organs, the show is still important for China watchers, as many policies are announced at this time. In theory this is an act in which the People (through the regional representatives that attend the meetings) propose new ideas to the Government. In this spirit, other channels have been opened recently, like the internet chats of Wen Jiabao.

This year we even have what looks like an independent initiative by private newspapers and websites to change the hukou system. Although I am skeptical that the proposal will fly (some of the articles have already been censored) it is good to see that private initiative is alive and that there is still some bit left of independent journalism in China bold enough to unite and propose policy changes.

The Oriental Post also carries a little interview with one of the most thundering delegates of the 两会, Ms. Zhang Xiaomei. This delegate was very popular on the internet last year as an ultraprolific drafter of astounding proposals. Some netizens worry that this year, as all the delegates have been equipped with free laptops (with taxpayer money!) Zhang’s performance will be enhanced, and the number of thunders may even exceed that of the previous years.

Here are some of the famous proposals of Ms. Zhang, many of them look like what left wing, feminist groups would propose in Europe. It is understandable that many netizens are skeptical: it is all a show giving a fake impression of political freedom that is in fact inexistent. But my personal opinion is that, whatever the real intentions of Ms. Zhang and the thunder delegates, it is always positive that there are people with the initiative to propose different views. Absurd or not, this activity is certainly a more positive image than the submissive wax figures of the inaugural sessions.

As Xu Zhiyong stated yesterday, the Chinese people have a mission to accomplish. When the time comes, the existence of an active civil society will be precious for China, and initiatives like mentioned above are a good sign that the spirit is alive under the surface.

And that is all for the inauguration of the 两会 this year. More coverage if necessary after the final conclusive session.

CLARIFICATION: The inauguration I watched yesterday was only that of the CPPCC, the NPC has a separate inauguration on Friday which will be even more grandiose, as it is the largest one with all the regional delegations.  Don’t not miss that one!

Google vs. China: some Funny Stuff

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Some images of the battle of the decade, the non-evil corporation Google against the dark forces of the commy government of China. Below the logo on Google.cn today. Clearly, the big G is sending a message to the Chinese: we respect you, we dig your ancient culture, it is just the disgusting authorities of your country that we don’t like. Those of our own country, on the other hand, are pretty cool…

image

But even more wierd is the logo appeared on Google.com: Happy holidays. It is 14 January today, still one month to go for the holidays in China. And I don’t know of any other place where it is holidays today. Does this mean: happy holidays to the GFW and the Net Nanny? A very very long holiday is what those 2 deserve, and to never come back: NO, I get it now, it is Happy Holidays to the employees, G has sent all its Chinese employees on leave and dedicates the logo to them. Sweet!

image

But the funniest thing by far I have seen today is this video that was circulating on twitter (thanks Tom!). This is China humour, I will explain it for those who don’t live here: Baidu is the only successful Chinese website that is not completely cluttered with the Wall of Characters and intrusive adverts in the style of the Chinese internet. Why is that? Because Baidu itself is from the start an obvious imitation of Google. The title of the video is: What will happen to Baidu when Google leaves China?

And the quote of the day:

Baidu it and you’ll know, Google it and you’ll know too much…

(from a Chinese tweet, translated by a commentator on the CMD)

UPDATE: another funny article here:

The last great battle of our time was underway last night as Google and China began fighting for control of every living thing on the face of the Earth. A fragile truce between the world’s two biggest powers collapsed as Google accused China of reneging on a deal which would see the search giant control North and South America and those parts of Africa where people can afford netbooks…

Google and China (3): Some updates

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

imageThere has been very little new information today and most of the media and the blogosphere is turning around the same ideas, many of them mentioned already in the previous 2 posts of the series.

Here are a few interesting new points I have gathered that I think are worth commenting:

  • There has been a call by H. Clinton to China to explain the hacking claims of Google. And in the same interesting article we read that Eric Schmidt participated last week in a dinner with her to discuss how technology can be used to promote democracy.
  • Google has now started taking measures, and already all the Gmail accounts are encrypted, as far as I know in the whole world, you can check your account and see the address bar now starts with https.
  • However, as of my own tests 5 minutes ago, there is no evidence that the search service in Google.cn has changed. I have a good point of comparison because I did similar searches in an experiment last year. You can look up things like 08宪章 (political document charter 08) and you will see the Manipulated Results, exactly like last year, with the FM message and all.
  • In the only article that Xinhua has published about this, there is one quotation by a professor Guo of a Shanghai university: “the Google case was a reminder to the government that Internet supervision could be more moderate and smarter”. Never thought I would read that in Xinhua. (thanks to kaplanpop for the tip)
  • The actions of Google have gathered a lot of support from Chinese netizens. However, this must not be taken at face value for a survey of Chinese opinion. The large majority of Chinese of course have not even heard about this, and if they have, they have no idea why it is a big deal that foreign company Google may leave China.
  • The stock market still has not decided if the PR points gained in the West are worth the business lost in China. The G shares are down  just 1.4% right now. On the other hand, investors have little doubts about Baidu who is up 13,5%. I bet some copycat in the B offices is already starting to plot how to offer an online BDocs, BMaps, BCalendar, Bmail, Bwave and even Bphone to the Chinese…

    What is going on with Google (2): consequences

    Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

    images_thumb[11]Following the previous post about Google and China, here are my reflections regarding the foreseeable consequences of all this. First of all, an important clarification: I don’t think fighting against censorship is bad. Censorship in China is very real, it is a disgrace not only for activists but for most honest Chinese, and it only serves the purpose of self-preservation of the CCP.

    Having said this, in the previous post I criticized Google for this decision because I think the form is wrong, and the method chosen for this fight is wrong, and more importantly: the Leader of this fight should not be a corporation, much less a Western corporation going solo into politics.

    On the other hand, if it was a pure business calculation I think it is wrong as well,  in the long term it does not make business sense, and the growing Chinese market is likely to live much longer than any goodwill earned for this.

    The more I look at the message, the more it looks like a mistake, a young idealist Googler that has escaped the supervision of his boss. What authority does this blog really have to speak for the company? the message is legit, as commentators have proven below.

    In any case, here are some consequences I foresee, again in fast bullet points:

    • The way the message has been drafted, chances for Google.cn to remain are slim. It will be very difficult for Google to step back from this, the whole tech World is going nuts about it. On the other hand, it is even more difficult for the Chinese authorities: even if they were willing to accept Google’s conditions (which they are not) they could never allow a Western company to publicly force their policies. Unless there is some kind of recanting, Google.cn is doomed.
    • The Chinese authorities can do more than forcing Google.cn out. If things go sour they are also very likely to GFW block* the whole Google.com, in which case the situation would be even worse than pre-Google.cn in 2006. Google could totally disappear from China and say goodbye to a fast growing 20% of the World’s internet users. This includes the phones and any other Google product.
    • I maintain that the decision is BAD in business because consumers have very bad memories, and the goodwill gained in one day, however massive, does not last. How many companies go bust for accusations of child labor? In a few months nobody will remember this move, and Google will find itself down 20% potential market and with nothing in exchange.
    • Baidu is going to go up even more, and some other Western opportunists as well.  The search service of Baidu is demonstrably worse than Google, and the Chinese internet users will be the first victims of an impoverished service. The already noted Divide between China and the West will be further increased, and this can only be bad for the Chinese, and bad for Human Rights, and bad for the World.
    • Regarding the bigger political picture, all this is unlikely to have any effect on American or Chinese policies unless there are many more Western companies that join Google. But no other company is going to join a crusade to bring goodwill to Google, and the move will just leave superficial scars in the CCPs internet reputation, which they will be able to heal in no time with some little doses of nationalist balm.
    • Regarding the stock market, the media has noted that Google is down 1.77%, but that is not significant in a day when the whole Nasdaq was down 1.35%. Note that Baidu fell 3.51% after my yesterday’s post, and probably the impact on Google will be seen today when the market opens. I am quite happy that I got rid of my Bs yesterday to buy some Gs, and today I am getting rid of the Gs again to get back the Bs. This has to be a winner move!

    *Note: Servers outside of China (google.com) get blocked by the GFW, servers within China get bullied by the Nanny. Two completely different processes with a similar result. More here.

    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.

    Year End Edition (2): The Chinese Decade

    Monday, January 4th, 2010

    tiget The Tiger is coming to the surface. The New decade has already come in the West, and in China we are again in this no man’s land between the Solar and the Lunar New Year, between the Bull and the Tiger. It is time to look back and see where we stand.

    In World politics time is measured in decades, and many will call the 00s the decade of China. It is just a simplification, these 10 years are nothing but part of a longer process started in 78, and probably still ongoing for another decade more. And yet, if we have to choose one event that marked the decade in World politics, like the end of the Cold War marked the 90s, the rise of China is the most reasonable choice. No other event is likely to be be more decisive in the history of the World.

    In the first post of this Year End edition we proved that, within the general growing trend of the decade, 2008 was a peak for China’s presence in the World media, and 2009 has gone back to relatively normal levels. This peak cannot hide the general trend: that China is growing inexorably to become a World superpower and that it is already changing the power balance of humanity.

    Measuring the Chinese decade

    If we have to chose one single parameter to measure this rise, it is the economy that can give us the best clue. There is no point in going to the decimals when analyzing decade trends, so the calculation is simple: China has grown roughly 7% faster than Western countries in the last decade, and all seems to indicate that this will continue into the 10s.

    The calculation* is straightforward:  1.07^10 = 2

    At a rate of 7% differential a year, the size of China’s economy relative to the Western economies is doubling every decade. Today most estimates of GDP place China between 1/4 and 1/2 of the USA economy, depending if it is measured in nominal GDP or in PPP. This means that, if nothing else changes in the next decade, Chinese economy will be the biggest in the World anytime between 2020 and 2030.

    The consequences of this calculation are enormous, and they are already operating today. That is because in politics we behave like in the stock market: decisions are made taking into account the foreseeable future rather than the present. China is already displacing the EU in World politics, even if it is a fraction of the European economy, even if it doesn’t want to be the protagonist. The media and the politicians are betting on the future value of China.

    The Question of the Decade

    Of course, nothing guarantees that the growth patterns of the 00s will continue in the 10s. There is one important school of thought that insists on the unsustainability of the Chinese system. They mention corruption, growing inequality, lack of civil rights and a civil society, repression of creativity and free market, the inability to build World class brands and a financial system in disarray, among other problems, to justify their prediction that sooner or later the Chinese economy is bound to crumble.

    Those of us who live and work in China know that these problems are serious and very real, and that somewhere down the line there is bound to be a serious readjustment. And yet, the same predictions have been made regularly almost every year in the last three decades, and the collapse has not materialized.

    The real question of this decade is When?

    Will the Chinese economy stop growing before or after it has become a superpower as large as the USA? Will the Chinese seriously demand more rights and liberties before or after China has become a developed country? Will the economic and political readjustments be done progressively with the new generation of Chinese leaders, or will there be a dangerous explosion in this decade?

    We don’t have the answers to this today, and you should not believe any China expert who claims to have them. All we can do is frame the question above, and watch out for early signs to answer it in the coming years.

    There is however one statement we can make today. Looking at the World, it is obvious that many important players are already betting on the rise of China, and this view is gathering more support every year. As we have seen above, to the extent that the majority in the World believes in the superpower scenario, China is ALREADY a superpower. The political power comes years in advance of the GDP, and the new World order is already a fact today.

    Photo: Eric Risberg

    *This is an engineer’s calculation, the nightmare of any serious mathematician. And yet, most bridges we do are still standing, and when we speak of decade trends anything more accurate than this is a joke.

    Year-End Edition 2009 (1): Measuring "China"

    Thursday, December 31st, 2009

    Goodbye 2009. Here is another Year-End Special of Chinayouren, the first after a full year of operation. Thanks all for sticking around.

    As usual we will start with the popularity of China in the news. This year it is more interesting than ever, because 2010 is a round number, and the early-birds of the China Experts are already chanting the Chinese decade.

    As we predicted last time, 2008 was a peak for China related news in the World, and it was going to be difficult to beat that in the short term. Within the general rising trend, 2009 has gone back to reasonable levels of media attention, partly because Xinjiang and the Tiananmen anniversary were no match for Tibet, Sichuan and the Olympics; partly because the US Obamania has stolen the show from the Middle kingdom.

    In the first months of the year the crisis did bring some attention to China, but as soon as it became clear that the stimulus package was working and damage was under control, the journalists’ interest waned. Here are the results of my Chinanews-meter, the high precision tracking device I purchased from the Uni of East Anglia:

    image

    Occurrences of "China" in LaVanguardia 1881-2009

    This year I want to go a bit further, so I add below the statistics from Google Trends for the News references of the term “China”. Note that Google Trends is not more precise than my own original method, because the number of news sources that Google references always grows. To recalibrate the scale we must try neutral words like “when” or “he” and take them as visual zero axis, leaning the whole curve to the right. The result confirms clearly the peak of 08.

    image

    Google Trend News for "China" (axis not corrected)

    Still, this system is not very accurate, and I would like to find a more reliable way to estimate the impact of China.  I guess the old Chinanews-meter above is as good as I can get for now. As a random mainstream newspaper in Barcelona without any special connection with China, there is no reason why La Vanguardia  shouldn’t replicate roughly the general trend in the West.

    Another possible solution (albeit without numbers) is to use the tool “Google Timeline” to compare some occurrences of “China” within particular newspapers. Interestingly, I have seen that the “highbrow” newspapers, such as the NYT or WAPO, tend to have a more stable coverage of China, as they usually have staff dedicated fulltime to this subject:

    image

    New York Times occurrences of "China"

    Whereas more “lowbrow” papers like USAToday tend to show more the peaks and the valleys, as they follow more closely the trends of popular interest (see the massive peak in 2008 Tibet+Sichuan+Olympics):

    image

    USAToday occurrences of "China"

    As a temporary conclusion I would say the results from USAToday and similar papers are more significant, because by far that kind of media have the largest number of readers in the World. This confirms again the trend seen in my old Chinanews-meter, and it also confirms the impression of most China bloggers I have spoken to: 2009 was not as hot as 2008.

    Your call

    I am still not entirely satisfied with these measurements and I am looking to find a better way to estimate “China” and follow it over time. If you have any idea please let me know in comments. Any suggestion welcome.

    In the meantime, the bets are open for 2010 predictions, closest guess gets a beer.  Remember there is the Shanghai Expo and the end of the stimulus package, plus the novelty of Obama will be worn out. I go for a safe 4,000 this time (we have to use the Chinanews-meter again as it is the only chart with numbers in it).

    In the next part we will see the results of this blog in 09, and I will inflict you with the best of the 2009 collection. While I get that ready, to follow the year end tradition, here’s the green pastures of the Biscay coast:

    DSC_1034 (1280x857)_thumb[4][4]

    .

    UPDATE: This morning I did a “callibrated” Google trend, taking the word “when” as horizontal reference. “The lower curve is the one representing “China”. The results are far from precise, but they do confirm a strong peak in 08 and return to normal in 09:

    Occurrences of "when" (up) and "China"(down) in Google Trends News

    UPDATE2: I have found out these days one reason why the Chinanews-meter shows such a sharp fall in 2009: in the beginning of the year the popular correspondent of La Vanguardia, Rafael Poch, was demobilised from Beijing. It is very possible that a few hundred of the articles missing in 09  can be explained by his absence.  Of the charts above, probably the general reality of Western media is somewhere between the USAToday and the NYT charts. I am still looking for a way to put numbers to that, any idea would be welcome.

    Did China wreck the Copenhagen deal?

    Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

    The summit of Copenhagen has inspired some hot debate on the media, for the most part more related to international politics than to climate change. Some spectacular pieces like Mark Lynas’ on the Guardian have been followed by more moderate opinions, like those appeared on Danwei and Inside Out, trying to understand the roles of China and US in this affair.

    But of all I have read on the subject, the best information around is still to be found on the Shanghai Scrap blog. He reminds us that climate change is not and cannot be the first priority for the government and the people of China today. It is an "uptown" concern, completely foreign to those who are still worrying whether their drinking water contains lead, or whether they will need a gas mask to breathe the Beijing air tomorrow.

    But back to the question: Did China really wreck the Copenhagen deal? In other words, was there really a deal ready to be signed and China unexpectedly rejected it, ruining the heroic efforts of the Western World led by president Obama?

    What the hell happened in Copenhagen

    Have you noticed that, when there is something really important in stake, governments organize summits as small as possible to get a meaningful deal, and only reluctantly they accept new participants in the G groups? The climate summits are just the opposite, everyone is invited, carbon footprint and all, the more the merrier. The World has become so multilateral today… especially when multilateralism is in our own interest.

    Climate change is always a great subject for politicking, because the success in the negotiations or the problems arising from the failures will not be felt during the political life of the protagonists. It is one of those subjects where the only real measure of success is the perception of the home public immediately after the meeting. And clever politicians don’t let the opportunity pass to fabricate a good story.

    For the Obama administration the objective of the negotiations can be summarized as: ensuring a deal is signed sufficiently meaningless to cause little problems with the industrial lobbies, and sufficiently powerful that the climate change enthusiasts are satisfied. Since this is obviously impossible, there is a plan B: ensure that whatever happens, it is somebody else’s fault. This is where China makes an excellent partner.

    Partly for the reasons given in the Shanghai Scrap posts, and partly because it is not a democracy and it can control the information circulating internally, China is much less worried about the Copenhagen game than Obama. Free of internal pressure and faced with very mild international pressure, Chinese leaders will logically reject any deal that involves a sacrifice for their country. They will also neglect to give a coherent explanation in the language of the international media, offering a great target for post-Copenhagen accusations.

    Now, I know Obama’s ambassador is not not an expert in China, but I can’t believe he was so incompetent to ignore the facts above. Obama himself was in China a month ago, and it is impossible that he didn’t know the obvious: that China was never going to sign an agreement forcing her to accept international inspectors with access to virtually every strategic industry, and with the power to expose to the World and to the Chinese public all the weaknesses of the Chinese system.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say that China and US position was pre-arranged between Obama and Hu, but I think the American delegation, during and after the visit to China have been more intelligent than what most observers imagine.

    Ever since the times of Kyoto, the US was at the head of the evil carbon emitters. Obama had to make a difference with his predecessor, and for the moment he has already worked a miracle: without making any major concession, the US have now become the World Champions of climate change policies.

    In the meantime, the EU countries, the only ones that take this climate change thing seriously, are again pushed into the background because of their lack of credible leadership… and Obama, the clever American, has made the most of it for himself and for his country.

    And in the meantime, the climate is changing…

    One of the funniest accusations I have read in the media after the Copenhagen summit is that China has prevented the developed countries from signing a deal to limit their own emissions. This is so stupid that it could make it into a China Daily headline. How can China prevent the US/EU/Japan from signing a deal among themselves to reduce their own emissions?

    No, seriously, if we are going to act against climate change, I would propose: what about reaching an agreement among the developed countries first, like we did for so many things before, and put it into practice even without China?

    Yes, I know, to make a carbon reduction effective, all countries should participate. But the same could be said of the GATT/WTO and many other deals at the time, and this didn’t stop us from signing it and push China into it much later. Once the developed World is united, it is always much easier to lobby together for the respect of some standards, or to impose sanctions to non compliant countries.

    But why do all that, when it is easy to content the public with less?

    More on Han Han and post 80s isolationism

    Monday, December 7th, 2009

    Read this rant against Han Han on the China Daily. I have to say I didn’t like the tone, it reads like it’s written by an envious loser. But it is the intelligent kind of loser, and he hits the nail on the head several times.

    He is absolutely right in the main thesis of the article, as copied below from the lede. And he is also right to say that Han Han messed it up in the interview with Time, and his reaction to that in the Youth Weekend was an embarrassing tantrum that didn’t fix the situation at all.

    image

    Frankly speaking, I was not surprised by the article, Han Han has made many enemies in China over the years, and he should expect them to come at him with the axe the minute he has a faux pas. But he continues to be as arrogant as usual. He knows that inside China, with his post 80s public, he is still invulnerable. Which is probably why Mr. Zhou writes this in English in a paper for foreigners, where he is safe from the Han Han fans.

    But back to the point that interests us: the image of Chinese writers in the West. We have already criticized the part of Western opinion in this affair, but I think there is a lot to be said about Han Han as well. He acts like he couldn’t care less how the Media sees him. If he was a teenage punk I wouldn’t be surprised, but he is already pushing thirty and judging by his writing, he is not “without a cause”. On the contrary, he has a clear notion of justice and he uses his pen to hit where it hurts in the powers that be.

    So WHY doesn’t he give a damn? Any foreign writer, no matter how successful at home, knows that an interview on Time is pure gold to project an image outside the country. It is many $$$ that Han Han could make outside China, many race cars he could pay for, way more than in the Chinese market where he is selling books at 20RMB, and even then losing business to pirates. No, I can’t believe he doesn’t give a damn. He does, and at this moment he is still regretting the day he met Time.

    And that’s where I wanted to get. It’s hard to believe that Han Han isn’t smart enough to give the Time journalists the meat they are hungry for. He could have prepared a couple of slogans, some Polar bears and Justice in the World, without necessarily going into details. But he is suffering from the same problem as most Chinese at all levels, from Hu JinTao to the last of the provincial spokesmen: they do not understand how to use Western media. They consistently lose at this game, they don’t even want to learn it, and then they turn into a matter of national pride what was just a matter of technique.

    It has to be a consequence of living so long with Xinhua and the People’s Daily, the Chinese were not bad at it before.

    Or do you have another explanation?

    UPDATE:  See comments below for the reaction on Hecaitou blog (h/t FOARP)

    UPDATE2: I just find that the whole thing was translated yesterday by ESWN. There is also some more material, including an interview in 1510, check it out.

    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.