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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why are the Chinese unhappy?

I've had some time to ponder about this for a while before I came across the following article (thanks Michelle) on why the Chinese are unhappy.

Perhaps before we even decide for ourselves the state of how things are now, and can be, we should all take time off to be grateful for how we got here. We're all sums of parts of long lines of survivors who made it through all manner of adversity, and what more the Chinese who are alive and thriving today? We just have to ponder the few thousand years of top-down imperial rule with the figurehead of the son of heaven determining outcomes of so many lives, all the famines and floods, the cultural revolution, the civil war, the century of Western penetration, World War II, the list is quite intense. We made it this far, and have plenty to be grateful for, for we are new in the line of amazing survivors.

With that view of things, perhaps we will refind what we truly need to be happy. Courage, and strength. Like our ancestors did.

"If I don't see that I am strong, then I won't be." is an inspired line from One Giant Leap. I think if we are all brave and very courageous, we'll spend less time being unhappy, and more time doing, and thus, be happy. I may be broadly myopic and dismissive of all the pragmatic details, but again, allow me a disclaimer that this is not a critique, it's a suggestion.


Why are the Chinese unhappy?
By Wang Shichuan
Published: July 27, 2009
Source - UPI Asia

Beijing, China — Beijing has come out on top among Chinese cities in a national poll measuring the “happiness index” of their residents. With 56 percent of its residents saying they are happy, the capital city beat runner-up Shanghai by 0.5 percent, according to Chinese media.

One may ask, what was the purpose of such a time- and energy-consuming survey aimed at measuring people’s happiness? Was it to provide policymakers with supporting data to laud their vanity projects, or just another boring game of producing figures? It’s puzzling.

Personally, the results of this investigation made me feel more worried than happy, as it exposed the numbers of people who are unhappy. Even in the country’s “happiest” city, Beijing, the survey shows that nearly half of the citizens describe themselves as not happy. Those who are happy only slightly exceed those who are unhappy; this is nothing to be thrilled about.

Actually, rather than focusing on those who feel happy, it would be better to research what makes people unhappy. If Beijing is the happiest city in China, then which city is the unhappiest? And why do the people living in the unhappy cities feel that way? All of this requires further examination.

Not long ago a Chinese book came out with the title, “China is unhappy.” It drew a lot of attention. Some claimed that in truth it was not China, but the Chinese people who are unhappy, which I consider correct.

I have read that among Chinese who travel abroad, the smiles and relaxed attitude of people in other countries often make the biggest impression on them. Chinese who travel often find that various people with different skin colors, languages and occupations have one thing in common – they smile and appear relaxed. Especially when making eye contact with foreigners, they tend to smile as a form of politeness and to show their sincerity, one article said.

In China, however, people rarely smile. When we walk on the street we tend to encounter gloomy, listless and apathetic faces. Also, in an international study of 20,000 people from 22 countries, only 9 percent of the Chinese surveyed said they were happy. The figure was 36 percent for the British, 37 percent for Indians and 46 percent for Americans.

Why aren’t Chinese people happy? This is surely a big issue that cannot be explained in a few words. It varies with each individual, also.

Roughly speaking, the main points are the high pressure of daily life; the huge gap between rich and poor; inadequate social security; difficulties in obtaining education, housing and medical care; poor quality food and environment; lack of respect for civil rights; serious corruption; and no outlet for injustice and resentment. These are the reality for most of the population. Facing these problems, it’s not easy for Chinese people to be happy.

Although China’s economy is booming in recent years and material life is improving, the people’s happiness is not guaranteed. Is this because of their insatiable desires, or because of their growing awareness of their rights?

In fact, if economic development cannot bring about social security, and if the problems of corruption and the gap between rich and poor cannot be solved, then becoming happy will remain only a wild wish.

Those people who do feel happy under such circumstances will be only the few who have vested interests in the state’s reforms. For example, the public servants who enjoy abundant social security and the senior executives who receive yearly salaries of several million yuan from the state’s monopoly enterprises – they are certainly happy.

One study has shown that among all professions in China, those who work for the government and state-owned enterprises as well as the leading cadres of the state monopolies have the highest happiness rating, at 66 percent.

If there are many external factors that contribute to the people’s feelings of unhappiness, this is abnormal and should be pondered. Perhaps now making efforts to let the Chinese people afford a comfortable life is the most fundamental condition to enhance the happiness index.
(Wang Shichuan is a media critic based in Beijing. This article is translated and edited from the Chinese by UPI; the original can be found at ©Copyright Wang Shichuan.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ties to shape 21st century

Seeking a middle path is crucial for the world's future. It is timely and heartening that the shakened status quo (the US) and the rising (arisen, some would aruge, save for its growing domestic issues) power have come to this realisation, thought one may argue it's all just political rhetoric. They meet July 27th and 28th for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) - a result of an agreement reached between the United States and China by President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao. Of course, it's always easy to focus on the major powers and forget the other elements that make up the rest of the differences on our planet. We're all on the same boat, really. The more we rock it, the more we're going to end up sinking. What we really need is to, if I may be allowed a simple analogy, build a great dragon boat team to steer us away from this spate of problems. Two sides to the boat, but all heading in the same way with the same heart.

The U.S. were quick to pick up on this famous Chinese analogy. I found this press release in the US Department of the Treasury website by Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner -

"...But having these strategic-level discussions with our Chinese counterparts will help build the trust and relationships to tackle the most vexing global challenges of today-and of the coming generation. The Chinese have a wise aphorism: "When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully together." Today, we will join our Chinese counterparts in grabbing an oar and starting to row."

So. Here's the headline story from today's Straits Times. There is also coverage from Yahoo here, that had this very apt para - "Obama said that bridging the divides between the two powers - the world's first and third-largest economies - was now often a 'prerequisite' for finding global agreements." I recall a quote I enjoyed much when I was little. When given stones, build bridges, not walls. Well, there is some work to be done on China's end too, especially having emerged from millennia of wall-building (both physically and literally). We are, after all, the sum of all our parts.


Ties to shape 21st century
July 27 2009
Source - the Straits Times

WASHINGTON - US PRESIDENT Barack Obama on Monday called for broad cooperation with China to set the course of the 21st century, saying the relationship between the Pacific powers was 'as important as any' in the world.

Kicking off two days of in-depth talks in Washington, Mr Obama appealed for cooperation on a broad range of issues from reviving the global economy to fighting climate change, while also nudging Beijing on human rights.

'The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world,' Mr Obama said.

'That reality must underpin our partnership. That is the responsibility we bear,' he said.

In what appeared to be a coordinated new slogan, both Mr Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, who sent a message to the meeting, said they sought a 'positive, constructive, and comprehensive relationship'.

'Our two countries should endeavor to expand common ground, reduce differences, enhance mutual trust and strengthen cooperation,' Mr Hu said.

Mr Obama, who is expected to travel to China later this year, has sought to broaden the relationship with Beijing which is now the largest creditor to the heavily indebted United States.

The dialogue revamps an earlier set of talks launched under former US president George W. Bush in 2006 that focused solely on economic issues.

But China, whose delegation is led by State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, said it would press the United States on concerns including over the safety of its more than US$750 billion (S$1.08 trillion) invested in US Treasury bonds. -- AFP

also -

TREASURY Secretary Timothy Geithner and Mr Wang both spoke of hopeful signs that the global economy was beginning to emerge from its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Mr Geithner said that the so far successful efforts of the two economic superpowers to move quickly to deal with the downturns with massive stimulus programs marked a historic turning point in the relationship of the two nations.

Mr Wang said that 'at present the world economy is at a critical moment of moving out of crisis and toward recovery.' State Councilor Dai Bingguo said the countries cannot solve the world's problems alone.

'We are actually all in the same big boat that has been hit by fierce wind and huge waves,' he said of the global economic and other crises. China and the United States, he said, must 'try to cross the stormy water together as passengers of this boat.'

Mr Dai, speaking through an interpreter, noted that the countries are trying to build better relations despite their very different social systems, cultures and histories.

'Can we manage to do that? My answer is, we must work hard to make it happen, and, yes, we can - that is borrowed from President Obama.' He added in English: 'Yes, we can!' -- AP

Friday, July 17, 2009

9,000 officials guilty of graft

Apologies for the delay in updates. Have been on a spurt of gallivanting around Australia's great wide open. In any case, here's an instance of China moving forward and removing the scars of some really bad habits. Corruption has been synonymous with the party for the longest time, let's see how this illuminates a clearer path towards good progress. Widening income gaps and corruption have been the seed for unrest for a while now as China rushes headlong into a stage of heightened competitiveness within its populace. Come on China, a great opportunity to set another good example beckons.

It is pertinent to note though, that "government rhetoric does not ease the antipathy." Great line from an AP article found off Yahoo news. Read about it here. Also, a short piece by the BBC on how a Chinese website set up so people can inform on corrupt officials crashed after it was inundated with too many visitors is worth a browse. Apparently it was developed to handle 'just' 1000 complaints at a time.


9,000 officials guilty of graft: SPP
By Xie Chuanjiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-17 07:45
Source - China Daily

CHANGCHUN: The Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) revealed yesterday that more than 9,000 officials were found guilty of corruption in the first six months of the year and said it had investigated 6,277 industrial bribery cases.

Qiu Xueqiang, SPP deputy procurator general, told a conference of procuratorate chiefs that the industrial bribery cases involved 6,842 people.

In the second half of the year, he said, prosecutors plan to crack down on commercial bribery, dereliction of duty in large, national and local investment projects, and target misconduct that damages energy resources and the environment.
Qiu said the 9,158 corrupt officials were found guilty of offences including embezzlement, bribery, dereliction of duty and rights violations in the first half of the year.

They were among more than 24,000 officials investigated by the SPP in connection with 20,000 cases.

Some 1,679 cases of dereliction of duty leading to harm to energy resources and the ecological environment were filed and investigated in the first half of the year. They involved 1,949 people.

In future, prosecutors also plan to target officials who bend the law for the benefit of relatives or friends and will attempt to uncover negligence, the abuse of judicial power and the shielding of mafia-like gangs, as well as the covering up of serious crimes and infringements upon human rights.
Overall, the quantity of job-related crimes fell by 14 percent in April, May and June compared to the same period last year. Qiu said that was due, in part, to the global financial crisis.

Cao Jianming, SPP procurator general, vowed that all prosecutors nationwide would receive training aimed at improving their political, professional and moral capacity.

"To intensify prosecution education and training is an urgent demand for comprehensively improving prosecutors' capacity," Cao told the conference.

All procuratorate chiefs at county- and district-level, as well as middle-level officials of higher-level procuratorates, will received at least 110 class-hours of training every year, Cao said. Other procuratorial staff will get at least 100 class-hours. The work conference on prosecution education and training yesterday also heard that procuratorates at the provincial level must ensure at least one-quarter of their staff receive training each year.

Because western Chinese provinces are short of prosecutorial professionals, SPP also plans to offer more training support to professionals in Tibet and Xinjiang, in part by fostering the development of bilingual Uygur-Chinese and Mongolian-Chinese procuratorial staff, said Cao.

He added that some prosecutors need to improve their knowledge of law enforcement, legal concepts, occupation morality and disciplinary style.

Awareness of law and policy among some staff members remains low, he said, and professional knowledge is at times outdated.

"Procuratoral staff are facing more risks of all kinds of temptation and erosion, and the public is also looking for higher standards of prosecutors' morality level," Cao added.

Mu Xincheng, deputy attorney general and secretary of the anti-corruption bureau of Fanzhi county, Shanxi Province, was detained in May for alleged financial impropriety, China Youth Daily reported last week.

His assets exceeded 100 million yuan ($14.6 million), the report said. Five of his cars were said to be worth 1 million yuan each. The case is still under investigation.

Friday, July 10, 2009

China's ethnic tinderbox

As said before, one can say 1000 right things about China, and 1000 wrong things about China all at once. The Middle Kingdom (that's what China means in Chinese) really is a result of the confluence of many cultures, peoples, and beliefs systematically over almost 3 millennia brought together by the construct of the 'Son of Heaven', aka emperors who believe that by uniting the lands, peace will abound. Their measures of course, ranged from 'just wars' to downright conquest.

One particular ethnicity (the Hans, very broadly, assimilated its way to dominance, much like the Borg of Star Trek) found its way to the top, and this Middle Kingdom has for sure, lost its way from the middle path. I've highlighted this potential problem before, and it really looks like now it's coming to light with the masses, triggered by the recent unrest in Xinjiang.

Those of us fans of the Romance of Three Kingdoms - yup that's where it started, the Hans got their name from the Han dynasty, although studies claim the ancestors of the Han emerged earlier in 2698BC. Fast forward to when they officially became the Han about two hundred years BC - Two thousand odd years of resilience and evolution have made the Hans a tough breed. The Hans now make up 91% of China and 20% of the entire human race. Polarities have often questionable intentions, and dominance through polarity, worse. The result is this, though it could have been questionably made worse by the CCP in pushing the ethnicity to the forefront of its ideology. But politics and ideology aside, the Han people have to learn to live with the other 55 ethnicities, and them, with the Hans too. Even the Hans themselves (ourselves) have to learn and realise, most of us weren't even Han to begin with (at least for the sake of discourse. Culture really is in a constant state of flux, confluence and cross-pollination isn't it). I'm teochew and technically (at least linguistically and culturally), I belong to the people of the Tang (in reference to the Tang dynasty), not Han. I digress. Let's move away from 'us and them'. Let's hope things do not get worse.

Click here to read about how Chinese authorities has decided to ban Friday mosque prayers in the troubled region of Xinjiang. A tad hard-handed? Definitely, maybe. Handled with finesse this time? I'm not sure.

China's ethnic tinderbox
Dru Gladney 9 July 2009
Source - the BBC News - Asia Pacific

The recent Urumqi and Lhasa riots have shattered the myth of a monolithic China, writes China and Uighur expert Professor Dru Gladney.

Foreigners and the Chinese themselves typically picture China's population as a vast homogeneous Han majority with a sprinkling of exotic minorities living along the country's borders.

This understates China's tremendous cultural, geographic, and linguistic diversity - in particular the important cultural differences within the Han population. More importantly, recent events suggest that China may well be increasingly insecure regarding not only these nationalities, but also its own national integration.

The unprecedented early departure of President Hu Jintao from the G8 meetings in Italy to attend to the ethnic problems in Xinjiang is an indication of the seriousness with which China regards this issue.

Across the country, China is seeing a resurgence of local ethnicity and culture, most notably among southerners such as the Cantonese and Hakka, who are now classified as Han.

For centuries, China has held together a vast multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation despite alternating periods of political centralization and fragmentation. But cultural and linguistic cleavages could worsen in a China weakened by internal strife, an economic downturn, uneven growth, or a struggle over future political succession.

The initial brawl between workers in a Guangdong toy factory, that left at least two Uighur dead on 25 June, prompted the mass unrest in Xinjiang on 5 July, that ended with 156 dead, thousands injured, and 1500 arrested, with on-going violence spreading throughout the region.

The National Day celebrations scheduled for October 2009, seeks to highlight 60 years of the "harmonious" leadership of the Communist Party in China, and like the 2008 Olympics, its enormous success. The rioting threatens to de-rail these these celebrations.

Officially, China is made up of 56 nationalities: one majority nationality, the Han, and 55 minority groups. The 2000 census revealed a total official minority population of nearly 104m, or approximately 9% of the total population.

The peoples identified as Han comprise 91% of the population from Beijing in the north to Canton in the south, and include the Hakka, Fujianese, Cantonese, and other groups. These Han are thought to be united by a common history, culture, and written language; differences in language, dress, diet, and customs are regarded as minor and superficial. An active state-sponsored programme assists these official minority cultures and promotes their economic development (with mixed results).

The recognition of minorities, however, also helped the Communists' long-term goal of forging a united Chinese nation by solidifying the recognition of the Han as a unified "majority". Emphasizing the difference between Han and minorities helped to de-emphasize the differences within the Han community.

The Communists incorporated the idea of Han unity into a Marxist ideology of progress, with the Han in the forefront of development and civilization. The more "backward" or "primitive" the minorities were, the more "advanced" and "civilized" the so-called Han seemed, and the greater the need for a unified national identity.celebrations.

Minorities who do not support development policies are thought to be "backward" and anti-modern, holding themselves and the country back.

The supposedly homogenous Han speak eight mutually unintelligible languages. Even these sub-groups show marked linguistic and cultural diversity.

China's policy toward minorities involves official recognition, limited autonomy, and unofficial efforts at control. Although totalling only 9% of the population, they are concentrated in resource-rich areas spanning nearly 60% of the country's landmass and exceed 90% of the population in counties and villages along many border areas of Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Yunnan.

Xinjiang occupies one-sixth of China's landmass, with Tibet the second-largest province.

Indeed, one might even say it has become popular to be "ethnic" in today's China. Mongolian hot pot, Muslim noodle, and Korean barbecue restaurants proliferate in every city, while minority clothing, artistic motifs, and cultural styles adorn Chinese bodies and private homes.

This rise of "ethnic chic" is in dramatic contrast to the anti-ethnic homogenizing policies of the late 1950s anti-Rightist period, the Cultural Revolution, the late-1980s "spiritual pollution" campaigns, and now the ethnic riots in the west.
While ethnic separatism on its own will never be a serious threat to a strong China, a China weakened by internal strife, inflation, uneven economic growth, or the struggle for political succession could become further divided along cultural and linguistic lines.

China's separatists, such as they are, could never mount such a co-ordinated attack as was seen on 11 September, 2001 in the United States, and China's more closed society lacks the openness that has allowed terrorists to move so freely in the West.
China's threats will most likely come from civil unrest, and perhaps internal ethnic unrest from within the so-called Han majority. We should recall that it was a southerner, born and educated abroad, who led the revolution that ended China's last dynasty.

Moreover, the Taiping Rebellion that nearly brought down the Qing dynasty also had its origins in the southern border region of Guangxi among so-called marginal Yao and Hakka peoples.

These events are being remembered as the generally well-hidden and overlooked "Others" within Chinese society begin to reassert their own identities, in addition to the official nationalities.

Dru Gladney is a China expert and president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College in California.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

China tries new openness

Related story to an earlier post on the riots in Xinjiang. And...China learns fast. That's really the true 'threat' of rising China isn't it? Problem is many of us still hold an aged, if not 'medieval' impression that China's a lumbering authority. But that much is false. What we have is a very sophisticated, determined and perceptive leadership that maneuvers the countries in a fashion that few can predict.


China tries new openness
The Straits Times July 9 2009

BEIJING - WHEN riots broke out in the restive west this week, China took a different tack with foreign journalists: Instead of being barred, reporters were invited on an official tour of Xinjiang's capital.

The approach, a stark reversal from last year's handling of Tibetan unrest, suggests Chinese authorities have learned that providing access to information means they can get their own message out, experts said.

'They are getting more sophisticated in how they're handling foreign and domestic media coverage of a crisis. It used to be in a time of major crisis, you get a blackout... Now the approach is to get the government's viewpoint out there,' said Ms Rebecca MacKinnon, a journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong.

The State Council Information Office, the government's main public relations arm, extended their highly unusual invitation to the foreign media on Monday, just one day after the worst ethnic violence in decades left 156 dead and 1,100 injured in the regional capital of Urumqi.

Their goal? 'To help foreign media to do mor objective, fair and friendly reports,' the agency said in a statement.

Journalists from 60 different foreign media organisations travelled to Urumqi on Monday. They were taken to the largest hotel in town where the government had set up a media center. Special reporting passes were issued and press conferences were arranged.

The hotel was the only place in town where Internet service was not cut, which helped ensure that reporters stayed close.

Still, not everything stayed within the government's control. On Tuesday, as reporters were escorted around town to see the damage from Sunday's rioting, a group of some 200 Uighur women, wailing and shouting, appeared to protest the arrests of their husbands and sons in the ensuing crackdown.

For the government guides, who tried to herd reporters on buses as TV cameras rolled, it was a totally unscripted moment. -- AP

1st Chinese woman in space

Amidst the madness in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, some good news. Public relations vehicle or not, surely, this can only be good for the human race as women and men continue to learn to seek that middle path with each other.


1st Chinese woman in space
Source - The Straits Times 9 July 2009

BEIJING - CHINA could launch its first woman into space as early as 2012, state media reported on Thursday.
Yang Liwei, who in 2003 became China's first astronaut and is now in charge of new recruits for the space programme, said the search for the first woman in space was under way, the China Daily said.

'I believe Chinese women will soon be seen in space,' said Mr Yang during a webchat, the paper reported.

Sui Guosheng, an officer in charge of recruitment with the Chinese Air Force, said the female 'taikonaut,' China's word for astronauts, was expected to blast off in 2012.

The potential female astronauts would be recruited from among 16 female fighter pilots who graduated in April, Sui told the Nanfang Weekly, according to the China Daily report.

The pilots, who were chosen from 150,000 high school graduates, were the first batch of Chinese women qualified to fly fighter jets, the report said.

China became the third nation to put a man in space when Mr Yang piloted the one-man Shenzhou-5 space mission in 2003, part of the country's rising space ambitions.

The Chang'e-1 probe was launched in 2007 and is the first stage of China's lunar programme, which includes landing an unmanned rover on the surface by 2012 and a manned mission by around 2020.

The world's first female astronaut was the Soviet Union's Valentina Tereshkova, who stayed in space for three days in 1963. -- AFP

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

China riots: 156 dead in ethnic unrest

It might be too simplistic to say that China (as a political body, and/or nation) is at fault for this. I've shared this before, and it probably holds water that the problem really lies in the overdominance of the Han majority that like a tidal river, consumes and assimilates all around it. In a time of global convergence (though how much of it is by choice?), cultures with strong identities grow stronger in an effort to resist losing their cultural 'center'. This I guess, is a time when someone basically said, ok hang on, this erosion of who we are has to stop. Now.

My condolences to all the lives so wastefully lost. Surely a middle path must be found.

This just in, sad news indeed if the Hans do decide to gang up against the minority.


China riots: 156 dead in ethnic unrest
AFP 7 July 2009
Source - The Age

July 7, 2009 - 5:53AM
China said on Tuesday at least 156 people were killed when Muslim Uighurs rioted in the restive region of Xinjiang in some of the deadliest ethnic unrest to hit the country in decades.

The violence in the regional capital Urumqi on Sunday involved thousands of people and triggered an enormous security crackdown across Xinjiang, where Uighurs have long complained of repressive Chinese rule.

In a sign tensions were still running high, state media reported that police had dispersed more than 200 rioters on Monday evening as they gathered at the main mosque in Kashgar, a city in western Xinjiang on the ancient Silk Road.

Police believed people were "trying to organise more unrest" in other cities in the vast mountainous and desert region that borders Central Asia, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua said more than 700 people had been arrested for involvement in Sunday's riots, which authorities blamed on Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who have closer cultural links to regional neighbours than the Han Chinese.

Exiled Uighur groups accused Chinese security forces of over-reacting to peaceful protests and firing indiscriminately on crowds.

The deadly unrest drew attention around the world, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon leading international calls for restraint, a sentiment echoed by Britain and the United States.

"We deeply regret the loss of life" in Urumqi, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "We call on all sides for calm and restraint."

Citing police, Xinhua said early Tuesday the death toll had risen to 156, up from the previous figure of at least 140 dead and 828 injured.

"This seriously violent and criminal incident led to the injury and death to nearly 1,000 innocent people," China News Service quoted Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang region, as saying earlier.

The government and state-run media have not given a full breakdown of the dead and injured.

Dramatic footage broadcast of the unrest by the state-run CCTV network showed men turning over a police car and smashing its windows, a woman being kicked as she lay on the ground and buses and other vehicles aflame.

Han Chinese businesspeople told AFP there were around 3000 Uighur protesters, a figure repeated by exiled Uighur groups.

The Xinjiang regional government blamed Rebiya Kadeer, the Uighurs' leader living in exile in the United States, for orchestrating the unrest.

But Kadeer and other Uighur exiles blamed the Chinese authorities.

"They randomly fired on men and women," Asgar Can, vice-president of the World Uighur Congress - the main international organisation representing the minority -- told AFP in Berlin.

"In addition, the police pooled their vehicles together in certain parts of the city and then began to run demonstrators over," Can said.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

China backs down from requirement for Web filter

It looks like the people have won. About 3 weeks ago I highlighted the reality of China's Great Firewall coming into absolute effect. China has backed down from its stance of compulsory internet filters on all personal computers (for now?). The imagination of China certainly isn't easy to comprehend, I suppose even the greatest political systems can not withstand the might of 1.3 billion people in solidarity (well, not all of them of course, this is a far stretch, but written to stir imagination). But here's one for the Chinese people power (with a little help from supposed trade embargoes from the US) who show in some way, critical mass can be really really critical, even in an authoritarian body.

More significant than the internet filter itself, is the reflection of the growing presence of a new dynamic (and hence, a new collaborative culture) between the Chinese populace and their government. As much as the politicians and leaders have emerged from the shell of the Great Wall of China, so have its people. This new dynamism can only be good in the long run for civil society, but one might argue, would slow down China's progress (in economic and political terms) in the coming years.


China backs down from requirement for Web filter
Source - Associated Press via Google
1 July 2009

BEIJING (AP) — In a rare reversal, China's government gave in to domestic and international pressure and backed down Tuesday from a rule that would have required personal computers sold in the country to have Internet-filtering software.

Just hours before the rule was to have taken effect, the government said it would postpone the requirement for the "Green Dam" software. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it made the decision partly because some PC manufacturers were having difficulty meeting the deadline. It did not say whether the plan might be revived.

The change of course averted a possible scuffle with Washington. Top U.S. officials had protested the plan after it was imposed abruptly in May, calling it a barrier to trade. Angry Web users circulated online petitions protesting Green Dam, while industry groups warned the software might create computer security problems.

The controversy reflected the conflict between the communist government's desire to control information and China's high-tech ambitions. The country has an increasingly informed, vocal public and tighter links to companies that create urgently needed jobs and tax revenue.

The decision was a "victory for China's civil society," said Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who had demanded a public hearing on the plan.

"Many citizens worked together and voiced their opposition to the forced installation of this filtering software and forced the government to at least think more deeply about it," Li said. "We hope now that they will go ahead and completely drop this order."

News of the announcement spread in China quickly via Twitter and the Chinese mini-blogging site Fanfou. Some bloggers said they expect the government to look for a way to carry out Green Dam that attracts less attention.

"They are using the word `delay,' instead of saying they stopped the plan," said Wen Yunchao, a Chinese blogger who has been among the most vocal critics of Green Dam. "I think that it's possible that at some point in the future the government could still enforce their policy and install software on personal computers that filters the information people are able to look at. So, I am calling this an intermediary victory."

China's communist government encourages Internet use for education and business, and the country has the biggest population of Web users, with more than 298 million. But authorities try to block access to material deemed obscene or subversive, and Beijing operates the world's most sweeping system of Internet filtering. U.S. companies such as Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. have cooperated in way or another with government requests to tamp down criticism.

The Green Dam software would raise China's controls to a new level by putting a filter inside each PC. Chinese authorities said it would be needed to shield children from violent and obscene material online.

Analysts who have reviewed the program say it also contains code to filter material the government considers politically objectionable. Separately, a California company claimed Green Dam contained stolen programming code.

Chinese Web surfers ridiculed Green Dam by saying it would block access to photos of animals and other innocuous subjects. State media reported extensively on the complaints, a rare move. Chinese media usually uncritically support government policy.

Green Dam already is in use in Internet cafes in China and has been installed since the start of this year in PCs sold under a government program that subsidizes appliance sales in the countryside.

China accounted for 14 percent of the 63.5 million PCs shipped worldwide in the first quarter, according to the research group IDC. Beijing-based Lenovo makes the most computers for China, capturing nearly 27 percent of the market in the first three months of the year. It is followed by Hewlett-Packard Co., whose laptops and desktops make up about 14 percent of shipments.

Other large PC makers such as Toshiba Corp. and Taiwan's Acer Inc. said they were ready to provide Green Dam on disks beginning Wednesday. Worldwide industry leaders HP and Dell Inc. had declined to discuss their plans, possibly waiting for a diplomatic settlement.

Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn said the PC maker was happy with the Green Dam delay. He would not say what Dell had done to prepare for China's deadline.

"We respect the Chinese government's stated goal of protecting children by filtering access to pornography through the Internet," Blackburn said in a statement.

Representatives from U.S.-based technology groups, including the Information Technology Industry Council and the Software & Information Industry Association, were in Beijing trying to stop Green Dam.

"We welcome the delay in implementation of the Green Dam mandate, and we look forward to working closely with the U.S. government to find market-based solutions that enable consumer choice and protect children on the Internet," said John Neuffer, vice president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents companies including Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Inc.

The Green Dam initiative coincided with a tightening of government controls on Internet use. Last week, China's Health Ministry ordered health-related Web sites that carry research on sexually oriented topics to allow access only to medical professionals.

Also last week, the government issued new rules on "virtual currency" used by some game Web sites, saying it cannot be used to purchase real goods.

On Green Dam, the industry ministry sounded a conciliatory note. It promised to "solicit opinions from all parties" in an effort to improve its work.

"I think the cost of the move from trade friction and generally a public relations black eye was becoming pretty clear to the government," said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China Ltd., a Beijing research firm. Postponing the filtering rule "gets them out of the scrutiny of the international media and business."

Associated Press Writer Alexa Olesen and Associated Press researcher Bonnie Cao in Beijing and AP Technology Writer Jessica Mintz in Seattle contributed to this report.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

China wields 'soft power' with English TV broadcasts in Europe

The empire strikes back would be a suitable succinct way to describe this measure to tilt the balance of global favoritism determined by the flows and owners of global media (very broadly, all the transnational media corporations (like Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, et al. are all Western owned, who in turn run most of the world's media, save but one, i.e. Sony from Japan which one might figure, not desire to tilt in China's favour much), once a domain so well played out by the U.S. Like China's aspirations to build an aircraft carrier to find a stable middle path between east and west, China's quite had enough of one-sided press reports for some time now, and is more than eager to be heard by the English-speaking world. The global power shift has not just begun. We're right in the thick of it.


China wields 'soft power' with English TV broadcasts in Europe
Source - the Straits Times 30 June 2009

BEIJING: China's official news agency will begin providing English-language television broadcasts on screens in European supermarkets this week, in Beijing's latest move to expose Western audiences to its view of world events.

The Xinhua news agency, in partnership with about a dozen European broadcast partners, will show 90 minutes of news daily on TV screens in supermarkets and outside Chinese embassies across Europe starting tomorrow, Mr Chen Yue, a spokesman for Xinhua's English news department, said yesterday.

'China has recognised the importance of soft power, and through the medium of television and the Internet, the Chinese government aims to strengthen its influence internationally,' he added.

He did not give details on which supermarkets would carry the broadcasts, or in which countries. The Financial Times cited an editorial staff member of Xinhua, however, as saying that the broadcasts would be aired in Brussels and other cities.

It is not known what benefit the stores would gain from showing broadcasts from an agency that is seen as the propaganda arm of the Chinese government.

The announcement comes after the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, announced plans to expand its coverage. It also comes after state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said it would revamp its news broadcasts for the first time in a decade to combat a sharp decline in viewership.

The People's Daily launched an English-language edition of its popular Global Times earlier this year.

The moves are believed to be part of a government plan to fund a major international expansion of CCTV, the People's Daily and Xinhua.

Academics with an advisory role in the plan have said the government would hand out 30 billion yuan to 45 billion yuan (S$6.4 billion to S$9.6 billion) to the media groups, the Financial Times said, though it added that the Chinese government has denied the numbers.

The Xinhua broadcasts in Europe will consist mostly of 10- to 15-minute news briefs plus a 30-minute feature and lifestyles segment, Mr Chen said. All shows are recorded in Xinhua's Beijing studio.

The Chinese media drive reflects steps already taken by Russia and Qatar to influence international news coverage through their state-funded Russia Today and Al-Jazeera channels. Those attempts to challenge the BBC and CNN have scored some success.