Tag Archives: sina

Mooning the Party this Mid-Autumn Festival

20 Sep

mooncakeIt’s Mid Autumn festival in China: a lunar holiday where families get together over a healthy dinner of seafood, offal, chickens’ extremities and pig anus to complain why their youngest sons/daughters/nephews/nieces aren’t married yet, while their kids fire up the Galaxy Note for the 71st time that day.

I’m being flippant of course. The lanterns bedecking every house, block of flats and public building in Hong Kong at this time of year are actually quite lovely, especially at night, and the giving of thanks to the moon – in years gone by to celebrate the harvest – is a lot more spiritually nourishing than the veneration of a magic Jewish baby.
It’s also nicknamed the “moon festival” and locals eat mooncakes – a traditional Chinese food (danger team) which usually consists of a round pastry-wrapped pie filled with a disgusting slurry of lotus seed paste, red bean paste, or something equally offensive to my delicate western pallet. Imagine tasting a selection of lovingly prepared mooncakes and you’ve just imagined eating a pack of Revels with all the nice ones taken out.
Still, legend goes that back in the 14th century, the humble mooncake helped China topple the mighty Mongols, after Ming revolutionaries communicated  by baking secret messages In the pastry. Mmm delicious revolution .
Sticking the Vs up to the Party

The festival this year has also coincided with more online unrest in China, this time concerning the so-called the Big Vs. These are weibo’s verified account holders, or at least, some of its most popular users, many of whom have accrued followers in their millions and become pretty influential as opinion movers and shapers online.

The problem is that the Communist Party doesn’t much like it when mere mortals start speaking their brains, especially if their thoughts are at odds with Mao, Deng, Marx et al.

Witness the case of poor old Charles Xue, a Chinese American venture capitalist. Now I don’t have much time for VCs, their over-inflated egos and their massive wallets, but Xue has been a powerful voice on Sina Weibo, usually for social good. His campaign against kidnapping in China, and support for Deng Fei’s clean water campaign managed to effect real change in a country where things usually only get done when palms are greased, guanxi tapped and prostitutes exchanged in luxury 5 star hotels.

Unfortunately, rather than let Mr Xue do his thang, the Party decided in its wisdom to make a scapegoat of him. It has been clamping down of late on any online discussions it doesn’t like the sound of, with the increasingly paranoid air of a meth-addled tramp. The great and good of Zhongnanhai call it a campaign to rid the Chinternet of online “rumours” – there’s even jail time promised for popular tweeters whose messages are deemed to fall in this category – but to be honest, it’s just an excuse. I mean, you don’t see Xinhua hauled over the coals for republishing as fact so many Onion stories by now it’s just embarrassing.

Yup, if the Communist Party of China were a person its family and friends would have staged an intervention long ago.

So Xue was arrested the other week for soliciting prostitutes and banged up at His General Secretary’s pleasure to think on his debauched behaviour. Now if it actually happened, he did break the law, fair and square. But quite tellingly, Xue was then paraded before state-run CCTV apologising, not for his filthy whoreing, but for spreading online rumours. Exactly what does his social media profile have to do with his nightime sojourns with ladies of sexy repute? Exactly.

It was such a blatant stitch up it would be funny, if it wasn’t China. The more troubling back story, of course, is that the whole new online rumour clamp down is already stifling debate on an interweb already patrolled by the formidable censorship apparatus of the Great Firewall.

I’ve said it before but once a government creates this kind of a society they can forget about building any kind of cultural soft power to spread throughout the world. Bland TV, bland state-approved movies, awful music and a culture where no one wants to stick their head above the parapet, start an innovative online business, build the next Google.

Already the Big Vs are rushing to have their verified status removed on the country’s microblogs. The rationale is that without the giant letter next to their name they’ll attract less attention. It’s unlikely to work.

Pretty soon they’ll be forced to rely on mooncakes to spread their message.

Southern Weekly saga: porridge, censorship and hacked off hacks in Xi’s China

10 Jan

chinaflagIt’s been a rather depressing, or optimistic, week in China depending on how you view the Party’s latest not-so-subtle attempts to strangle free speech and the unusually vocal reaction to it.

It all began when propaganda chief of the southern Guandong province, Tuo Zhen, decided he didn’t like an already edited-for-his-pleasure New Year’s message in the liberal-leaning Southern Weekly and decided to re-write it, removing the bits calling for reform and adding his own anodyne intro.

Considering China’s hacks already conform to imposing censorship requirements, the editorial team got rather peeved at this blatant hatchet job and went on strike.

Messages of support from scholars, students – and maybe more importantly, bloggers and celebs with tens of millions of followers on weibo – followed as the stand-off between the hacks and the Party-influenced paper management continued.

An editorial in state-run rag Global Times playing down the dispute was ordered by the Party to be published in papers across the country, forcing the principled Dai Zigeng, editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, to resign after he refused to do so.

Undeterred, the BJ Daily, as it’s called by no-one, ran a fascinating article about porridge in defiance of the Party. Yes. Porridge. Read CMP here for the reason why porridge is now politically dissident (hint: It involves homophones and metaphors).

All of this can be set against the backdrop of incoming Party and national leader Xi Jinping’s crusade for reform and transparency. Xi has made it his mission to root out corruption in the Party and sent some pretty strong signals so far that this isn’t just an attempt to cement his popularity and power base.

So is this a particularly sad day for freedom of speech in China’s admittedly pretty sad history? It depends what you believe is going on here.

To take the pessimistic view one could see the message coming loud and clear from the new administration that no relaxing of the country’s tough censorship laws will be allowed, despite initial hope that the country’s new leaders would be a tad more liberal.

A leaked directive sent to all editors from the Propaganda Department would seem to confirm this depressing take on things, blaming as it did the usual mythical “external hostile forces” for the development of the Southern Weekly situation and stating unequivocally: “Party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle”.

Coming from another angle, however, there are signs of encouragement.

One couldn’t expect Xi to stamp his personal mark too quickly on the presidency and the Party, in fact, he’s not even sworn in as pres until March and Party-wise the incoming leader is usually hidebound for many months and even years before they can really take control.

This whole affair could rather be seen, as Beijing-based scholar Russell Leigh Moses argues, as the result of heavy-handed actions – perhaps even designed to deliberately disrupt Xi’s reformist push – of the old guard of the Party.

In addition, pro-democracy protesters were allowed to gather freely outside the Southern Weeklybuildings – although police took pictures of many in that rather sinister “we’ll be in touch later” way police sometimes do – for several days.

And in defiance of the Party, hugely popular internet portals such as that run by Sina published theGlobal Times editorial with the crucial caveat that it did not represent their views. Acrostics in unrelated headlines were also used ingeniously to spell out messages of support for Southern Weekly.

In short, I’ve absolutely no idea what’s going on in China, as usual, but there are signs, albeit hugely caveated ones, that some things may be changing across the border.

Weibo fisticuffs as govt cheerleader is decked by a girl

12 Jul
man cowering on the ground

Source: cnwest

Pssst. Have you heard the one about the assistant university professor and the Sichuan TV reporter? No? Oh good.

This beautiful tale of censorship, government sycophants and hilarious emasculation comes to you courtesy of a massive weibo (microblogging) row between diminutive reporter Zhou Yan and academic lightweight Wu Danhong.

It all started when Zhou took offence at Wu’s suggestion that her fellow Sichuans were making a lot of fuss about nothing after they mobilised mass protests on the streets of Shifang.

The crowds were protesting – successfully in the end – against the building of a new molybdenum copper plant in the area on environmental and public health grounds. Wu got on his high horse and claimed that a bit of molybdenum never hurt anyone.

So they agreed to settle their differences in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park last Friday.

What ensued, as these images and transcript on Beijing Cream reveal, was a fair bit of shouting, some swearing and an unfathomably pathetic display of capitulation by Wu.

Now I know university professors are not the most athletic bunch of human beings in the world, but quite how Wu managed to end up on the ground at the feet of the sub-five foot Zhou is anyone’s guess.

Mine is that he was trying to use the event, and any ensuing notoriety it managed to attract online, to score a moral victory for the Party and undermine his liberal opponents by making them appear like a crazed mob.

Lending credence to this theory is his attempt in the days since  to exaggerate his injuries from the ‘fight’ and even bizarrely to accuse well-known artist/dissident Ai Weiwei of joining in (Ai was apparently passing by chance at the time).

Wu is often referred to as a member of the “50 cent party”, a pejorative term for online commentators and talking heads who are apparently paid five mao (50 cents) by the authorities per every pro-government post.

They’re cheerleaders for the Communist Party, effectively, and help to sway and manipulate online opinion in usually a very obvious way.

Basically, he’s a right nob and had it coming. It’s just a shame that Zhou – who predictably got banged up soon after – didn’t bring a baseball bat with her.