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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.

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.

Stab in my back: TV Serials and Communist Ethics

Friday, November 13th, 2009

I have realized lately that, due to a certain unbalance in my training methods, my Chinese reading skills might be running ahead of my speech, and I have been forced to take severe corrective measures. At the risk of turning this into an SM blog, I am going to speak today of the terrible penance I imposed on myself to make up for that error. Brace yourself: I watched a whole 22+ hours communist TV serial on CCTV, all in a single week and pausing to understand every word and chengyu.

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It is the latest super production of the “Red Army against Capitalists” kind, called 冷箭, or “Stab in the back”. The first chapter was launched the day of the 60th Anniversary, on CCTV 1 prime time, proving that it was born to be big. Even if it didn’t live up to expectations (it was switched later to CCTV 8 nights), I am guessing that more people have watched this than the “Foundation of the Republic” film that so excited Western minds. Admittedly, there is little buzz on the internet about 冷箭, but that is just because the target audience is a different (and much larger) group than the internet community. My own investigations with taxi drivers indicate that it had a very strong following, at least in the first weeks.

For all those who complained about political propaganda in the “Foundation of the Republic” (or in Independence Day, for that matter), those are just amateur efforts next to this “Stab in the Back”. Because the Stab is not concerned with distorting facts, but with edifying and providing a complete moral system for the people. And like most of these widely watched Chinese TV serials, it still follows loyally in the spirit of the first moralizing plays organized by the 1930s partisans in Shaanxi.

A Little Critique

Regarding artistic merit, I will just briefly say that, although this looks like one of the highest budget “Red Army” serials to date, an improvement in quality does not follow. The main problem is the visible incompetence of its producers and actors almost without exception. Knowing that Chinese are very well capable of doing good films when they are given some freedom, I can only suppose this is the result of dead imaginations bureaucratically selected and nurtured by CCTV mummy-cadres.

In this case the main story is about — surprise- a Long March towards the West, where the Captain discovers that there is a Capitalist enemy spy infiltrated in the team. In fact not only one, but two, and three, and more are found in every chapter, until by the end of the serial the largest part of the brigade are actually undercover agents. This gives the poor captain played by borderline Huang Zhizhong countless occasions to run his fits of histrionic paranoia, apparently a main selling point. One can’t help wondering why all those spies don’t just get together to kill their clownish captain, rename their brigade with the KMT star, and get on with their counter-revolutionary business.

I don’t know if you have experienced this before when watching a film, but it is one of those instances when deplorable script and performance manage to kill the suspension of disbelief right from the first sequence. Then, suddenly, you find yourself watching a bunch of adult people walking around in funny clothes and uttering pointless nonsense. The result is embarrassing.

I have never been much of a TV watcher, but I do understand that TV films are substandard anywhere in the World, and nonsensical plots or braindead dialogs are by no means exclusive of China. Even the fixation with the deeds of the Red Army marching West is not necessarily more ridiculous than, say, the fixation with illiterate cow herders during the golden age of Westerns. But there is something in these Chinese serials that makes them unique beyond the obvious propaganda and quality issues, and that is the complete set of values that they embody for the edification of the masses.

Edifying the Masses: A Communist Catechism

This is the first time, (and most surely the last) that I watch a complete Chinese propaganda serial, but I believe that the effort is not wasted. Because only getting inside these long works one can appreciate that deeper level that flows underneath, the construction of  a public moral system that is very much akin to Religious Instruction.

Here are a few of the points I noted while watching the Stab, for the benefit of those who want to understand these works without throwing 22+ hours of their life down the drain:

  • Love: The scenes of love are tacky to nauseate an armored brigade, with perhaps the best example in this scene in minute 40 chapter 4, when the captain “falls in love”. In general, love among the communists is virtuous and innocent, and always secondary to the interests of the organization. There is not the slightest romantic indulgence, no concessions to passion other than for the party. When the communist lover is told that her beloved is a Capitalist spy, she abandons him on the spot, and volunteers to kill him if necessary.
  • Sex: Of course, this puritanism does not stop the young lieutenant from having proper sex (under the sheets) starting chapter 25, in a clear effort by the authors to attract more audience. “乱搞男女关系!” (disorderly do man-woman relations!!) chastely exclaims the captain when he gets the news through a disgustingly virtuous informer. But worry not, the ethical purity is safeguarded. These two sinners have betrayed the higher cause, and they receive their deserved punishment without further delay: death at the hands of some brigands.
  • Violence: We have  seen enough of the likes of Eastwood in Alcatraz to have some expectations about the frightful fate of new prison inmates (especially if they are male!). I don’t know to what extent this violence is consistent with reality, but what I am pretty sure is that prison wardens do not tell off the inmates screaming “don’t be naughty”, and major disputes in the common cells are not settled through pillow fights. This is exactly how things are done in 冷箭, making the whole experience for the high level KMT prisoners like a children’s Summer Camp. This is one of the most puzzling parts of the communist ethics, and the most difficult to grasp in a movement that was imposed largely through violent revolution. It seems to come from a belief in molding mentalities through peaceful labour, but, as we will see below, it has little to do with the Christian notion of “turning your other cheek”.
  • Class virtue: Virtue is presented as a characteristic of the proletarian class, and salvation must necessarily follow. Like the ancient Christians looking for consolation in the Bible before they were thrown to the lions, so the Chinese Laobaixing today seem to find solace in these serials, while they wait for the next corrupt CCP cadre to come and tear their homes to serve a rich developer. The notion of a Final Judgment that accompanies this kind of teaching is represented through the iconic verses of the Internationale, sung at several points in the serial, with the main theme conspicuously inspired in the melody of the first verse.
  • Forgiveness and Revenge: There is an appalling scene of revenge (ch 31 38:00) when the main spies are apprehended, that completely shocked me after 20 hours of mellow bloodless harmony. The righteous blows of the officers are completely devoid of mercy, enjoying the raw pleasure of revenge. In my observation of the Chinese, this represents very well the paradox of their ethical system: Chinese are by nature far more tolerant than any Western people, but –perhaps as a necessary consequence – once a certain level of crime is attained, this sets off a mechanism of ruthless punishment where the object ceases to be seen as human. This is perhaps the most important difference with Christian influenced ethics, where our less tolerant natures were softened by the love doctrines of the New Testament. The whole discussion of death penalty in China vs. Europe is an interesting modern development of this difference in outlooks.

Some Conclusions

There are many ideas here worth commenting further, perhaps one of the most interesting would be to see how this communist system of ethics is working (or failing) to keep the always delicate balance between 道德 (virtue) and Deng Xiaoping’s 致富 (getting rich).

Clearly, Chinese are not the only ones to introduce ethics into their TV serials. Popular Western serials have long been educating us with teachings as varied as respect for minorities, tolerance of homosexuality, patriotism or democracy. But crucially, while the Western system of moral instruction has evolved with the times and deals with problems facing today’s society, the Chinese system has remained stuck in the 1930s, with the characteristic rigidity of Religious ethics. As a consequence, there is a growing, insurmountable gap in China between the ideas preached and the real needs of the ordinary citizens. This may be having the catastrophic effect of eliminating all ethics from mainland Chinese life.

When we speak of problems like perceived racism, corruption, lack of respect for the public goods or environment, how much of these are related to a lack of a realistic, up-to-date moral support, or to the hijacking of ethics to serve the single interests of the CCP power elite?

I would like to say more about this, but unfortunately this post has got out of control already, and I know nobody reads past the first 1000 words. Write your ideas below about any particular point and if we get some interesting discussion going on we can try to expand the subject in a new post.

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.

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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.

Motherland, I love You!

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

xin_412100601194387584036I was pleasantly surprised when I booked my last minute flight to Japan, I got a very reasonable price for the 1st October National Day. When I went to Pudong airport I understood why: the streets were empty in Shanghai, nobody flew at that time because they were all at home with the eyes glued to the TV set, watching as thousands of men and women, looking silly in their flowery dresses, marched on Beijing’s Chang An Avenue.

I had the chance to watch the parade for 30 minutes as I waited to board my plane. I have to say it was beautiful. Sure enough there were  cringeworthy moments, like when the TV showed the communist model peasants, workers and miners, shining like Mario Bros in 256 colours. But of course, a good deal of hypocrisy is always mandatory in these State events, in China and elsewhere. And regarding the execution, I have watched quite a few of the famous mass events in Pyongyang, and I am pretty sure North Koreans are white with envy watching this one, if their state channel even cared to broadcast it.

All this display of patriotism reminded me of the conversation I had last week with little Yi. It was after we watched an advert on TV, the one where the little girl stands on Tiananmen Square squeaking in that ghastly toddler tone: “妈妈我爱你!” (mum, I love you), and a similar girl says the same in Tibetan in front of the Potala temple of  Lhasa. The screen then goes white, and a message comes up: “祖国我爱你”.  Motherland, I love you. I don’t remember which was the company announced, but the advert has been showing continuously for months, and it was the eleventh time I watched it.

I had a delicate stomach that day, and pushed to the limits of resistance, I couldnt help bringing up the subject:

“This is ridiculous,” I said bluntly, “you can’t love a country like you love your mother!”

“Of course you can,” said little Yi, “you don’t understand the feelings of the Chinese!”

“Yeah, right.”

Babbling toddlers and feelings of the people. That was about as much as I could take before lunch. I regretted I’d spoken at all.

“Our country is like a mother for all the Chinese, ” she continued, “that is what they mean.”

“Yeah, OK, except that it is NOT the same. A mother gives you life, she will always love you and no matter what happens, no matter what mistakes you do or how stupid you behave, she will be there for you. A country, if you fail to comply, will just abandon you or even put you to death ”

“Well, it is a different kind of mother. If you fail, the punishment is terrible. If you work hard and succeed, the prize is much greater. It is a mighty mother with higher stakes, what is wrong with that?’

“Nothing wrong, just that that is not Love”

“It is,” she insisted. “Or don’t Christians teach love of God, and isn’t He much more terrible, that if you fail to behave even your life is not enough, and you get an eternity of pain?”

“I…,”

I shut up. She had some point there. I don’t particularly believe in the Christian god, and besides, 2000 years ago they invented a mother Mary precisely to deal with the rough edges of the Old Testament. But it is true that, in religion and in politics, many people in the West feel that same kind of loving feelings as the Chinese. So this was not really a discussion about China, but a more general one on patriotism.

My problem is that I do not accept the word love to refer to a country. For one reason, because I understand love as a feeling that can only happen between persons, perhaps sometimes with animals, but not with things. And definitely not with abstract and easy manipulable concepts like “nation”. But granted, this is merely a problem of language, and I don’t have the authority to prescribe how the word “love” should be used, even less how “爱” is employed in Chinese. Still, there is a more compelling argument against love for the motherland:  I think it is not in the best interest of the “loving” party.

Let’s look at the facts. Human society has to be organized some way, and the power needs to be held by someone. In the past it was the tribe, the emperor or the feudal lord. Now it is the nation-state, nothing particularly wrong with that.  All forms of organization require the respect and participation of the citizens to work, and it is in the interest of everyone to treat them accordingly, once their legitimacy has been established. Therefore, I understand it is important to respect and work for the improvement of one’s country, and I try to do it, just like I do for my company or for my university. But love them like a mother?

It might be that I am speaking from a very European perspective-though by no means mainstream even there. Perhaps I am failing to take into account the particular circumstances of countries like China. Europeans used to be the haughtiest and most virulent motherland lovers, until their excessive feelings brought about ruin and destruction. Patriotism in China never caused any catastrophe of even comparable magnitude, and instead worked well to save the people from foreign-imposed sufferings. So the feelings of many Chinese are understandable, if not necessarily beneficial today.

And still, the key question we have to ask ourselves is: are these feelings in the interest of the citizen, and in the interest of mankind as a whole? Can the World really be in peace if the relation between citizens and their countries is one of blind love, like child to mother? When there is a conflict of interests, is the loving child not forced to fight for his beloved to the last consequences? Since conflicts of interests and greedy rulers are facts of life that will not disappear, is not the love doctrine in contradiction with the ideal of World Peace that most of us profess?

I would like to hear opinions about this. Of course, I understand that for many sentimental people the feeling of love for their country is very much alive, and there is little to explain since it is just a feeling . But Chinese tend to be very rational and in control of their feelings, and when they choose to love it is rarely out of blind passion, but rather because they consider it a good option.  I suspect their patriotism is in most cases the result of a prisoner’s dilemma: if other countries act patriotic, the only rational attitude is to do the same.

But I wonder if people are actually following this logic (ultimately a defensive attitude) or are really so in love with their country and their flag that they don’t even think much about it. And if you do think about it, do you actually believe that a peaceful World is possible in the long term?

Perhaps I think too much sometimes. Perhaps the fact that I am writing from Nagasaki, where I have just seen one of the most chilling exhibitions of human-caused horrors, might have some impact on my thoughts today. And still, I stand by all I write here.

What are your views?

(PS. On the same subject, also see this post just published on Chinageeks)

GFW 1st July: Waiting for my Anonymous saviours

Monday, June 29th, 2009

So OK, I am censored, but why NOW?

I mean, I haven’t been writing anything for ages, is the Propaganda Department punishing me for being lazy? Has some big Chinese BBS  linked to me recently, is Uln hot now? As I was looking around for an answer, I found out that the Peking Duck blog was blocked more or less at the same time as mine, and it was asking the same kind of questions.

That is when I got this idea of the LIST, which I wrote on their comments. Everyone knows that GFW is unpredictable, it starts and stops and nobody ever knows why, if you don’t believe me look at this funny chronology. But this random behaviour usually affects only some websites, and never touches others. So necessarily, the guys at the GFW Control Deck are working with a number of websites that have been shortlisted beforehand.

I am quite sure of the existence of this LIST, because I noticed very precisely the moment my blog was shortlisted. It happened earlier this year with that political post that was picked by the New York Times. Since then I had strange things happening, with miniblocks now and then, a perceived slower speed loading in China, and, of course that particular Chаrter 08 post has been blocked ever since (even as the rest of the blog remained open). Also, look at that weird comment in Chinese in that post, where the guy says I am interfering in China’s internal affairs… could be a troll. Or could be not.

Anyway, my guess is that this blog and the PKD’s block have probably nothing to do with our recent activity, but rather with the tense atmosphere in the censors office these last weeks, after the Green Dam fiasco and the Google affair. At some point someone must have said: “hey, let’s block some more sites”, and we were unfortunately the next names on the LIST. And, unlike Google, I am afraid sites speaking specifically of politics are blocked permanently, such as this one, or this one. I hardly imagine the censors taking the trouble to monitor our blogs every day to see if we are behaving better. So my guess is, both for me and for PKD, that the block is here to stay and there is no solution.

… or perhaps there is?

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Click to continue »

Projections, predictions, oracles

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Yesterday I read the World Bank’s Quarterly Update on China. It is the report where they forecast the 7.5% annual growth for 2009.

First of all, I should thank chinalawblog for showing me the way to it, and also the World Bank itself for doing a very useful report that can be understood by dummies. This makes sense too, since we are paying for it through our taxes.

There has been some discussion on the net about the last 7.5% forecast given by the World Bank. The subject is so hot, and China is so overpopulated by pundits that any kind of statement about the economy can easily get you in trouble.

That was the case of China Herald publishing an 8.94% forecast. It was obviously a joke, but in the heat of the moment it was misunderstood by some readers. The actual message was simple: after many years seeing many crisis forecasted for China, Fons has learnt to be skeptical. Experience makes as good a prediction as anything these days, so at CYR the point is well noted.

Now, back to the WB report. This might sound obvious to many people, but it is just as well to say it: to issue a deterministic prediction of economic developments in China 1 year ahead is only second in difficulty to predicting next’s year weather. Just to give a little insight, the forecast for 2009 is based on dozens of graphs like the one below, where particular aspects of the economy are projected into the future. A single one of these factors that deviates from the projection can completely change the whole picture.

But the comment above could apply to any economic forecast. For the China report in particular we can add the following important points:

  • It assumes that the Chinese government will continue to make good choices in fiscal and monetary policy, as it has done up to now.
  • It assumes that Chinese authorities are transparent, and that they do what they announce. For example, implement the mysterious land reform announced last October, or the famous list of 10 points for the stimulus plan.
  • It assumes no big change in non-economic variables, such as social and political impact of the crisis, i.e. unemployment, social unrest, rise of nationalism and protectionism,  etc.

In the end, a 7.5% or even a 6% during 2009 is only a little break in the race, and in itself is not at all catastrophic. In fact it can be positive for China to allow her to implement the much needed “rebalancing” policies, as David Dollar explains here.

But the question that remains is not whether the growth will be 6, 8 or 9. The question is whether China’s government is clever and flexible enough to adapt to the new situations that will arise, and whether the delicate social and political balance that has been working in China for the last 30 years will resist the impact of a global crisis. Or, as I like to say and link in all my posts, whether the Wall will resist.