Feed on Posts or Comments 03 June 2023

Media &Society newlight on 01 Aug 2011

The empire strikes back

Last week I wrote here that China’s twitter equivalent, Weiboc.om, won a small victory over the censors in reporting the high speed train crash at Wenzhou, Zhejiang. Many factors such as the location and time of the crash contributed to the fast-moving reporting from eyewitnesses and the slow response of the censors. In the process Weibo.com became the media of choice for eyewitnesses as well as journalists. One statistics says in the six and half hours after the train crash, over one million mini-posts related to the accident had been posted to Weibo.com. That’s over forty mini-posts every second.

The attention was quickly moved on to the rescue mission. The crash site is in a reasonably populated area, only about 4 kilometres outside the Wenzhou South train station. Besides rescue workers, local residents (many joined the initial rescue) and journalists reached the site fairly quickly. The fiasco of the rescue operation was on full view, live to many eyewitnesses and many many more Weibo users sitting in front of the screen waiting for latest update.

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Society newlight on 25 Jul 2011

A small victory for weibo

I learned in Saturday afternoon the news of a train crash in China’s Zhejiang province from weibo.com, China’s equivalent of Twitter. There are quite a few twitter copycats in China but Sina’s Weibo, literally means ‘min-blogging’ is the most influential one. It’s since became the primary source for me to follow the development.

Suddenly the crash became the most discussed subject, and weibo.com added a special section for the discussion of this accident. It does not escape censorship though. Many tweets have since been deleted ‘by the original poster’, so the site claims. But it helps that this happened in a Saturday evening when perhaps the censor’s response wasn’t fast enough. According to China Digital Times, a directive was indeed sent to various news organisations later, stopping them from reporting anything out of the official line. But it was too late to stop this accident became the hottest discussion on weibo.com.

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Media newlight on 13 Jan 2010

Will google.cn die?

On Twitter many people dismissed Global Times’s survey that 70% of its visitors support Chinese government against Google, who had just abandoned the self-imposed censorship on Google.cn and threated to close its business in China altogether.

The sad truth is that those who have made the effort of climbing over the GFW in order to access Twitter and like are belong to the 30%. In the same survey, over half the participants said their online activity won’t be affected by Google’s leave. This figure looks to increase if nothing happens.

Shanghaiist’s has a good summary of the Google v. China standoff. On the Guardian website, Tania Branigan has canvassed the opinions of some bloggers and media insiders. Whether Google decided to end its self-censorship purely out of moral reasons I’m not sure. I agree with some of Evgeny Morozov’s analysis. I guess it’s more likely they are fed up with the restraint and criticism while not seeing much gains in Chinese market.

Anyway, what Google has done is to blow it into the open, burn the bridge, making the stakes incredibly high. Now Google.cn is not censored, will the servers be forced to shut down, or moved out of China? And then what? Will Chinese government have to block Google.com as well?

Among the multinationals in China, Google is the one who has the power, influence and resources to make a clear stand on censorship. And now it has the will too. For that it should be praised.

Society newlight on 30 Dec 2009

Don’t mention the war

One of the unexpected consequences of the sorry story of Akmal Shaikh’s execution is ‘Opium War’ suddenly being mentioned again in the British media. Judging from the posted comments, some seem very surprised to hear that the Chinese still remember the Opium War, which after all happened 170 years ago.

Well the victims’ memories tend to be longer. For many Chinese the Opium War was the turning point of China’s recent history, when a weak and inward looking empire started to crumble, facing a new kind of foreign aggression coming over the sea. Twice under the threat of British warships, China was forced to open ports, sanction opium trade, accept the cession of Hong Kong, and pay a huge indemnity. Many years of humiliation followed.

A few days ago, when the British government went public to ask Chinese government to save Akmal Shaikh’s life, I was worried that his fate had already been sealed. Chinese authorities, even if they were prepared to show clemency, won’t be able to do so in public. Not mention that this was a case that has little sympathy from Chinese public opinions. I don’t know what efforts being made by the British government to save Akmal Shaikh’s life, but going public would certainly push China into an unchangeable position.

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Environment newlight on 21 Dec 2009

Don’t blame it on China

After the chaos of Copenhagen climate change summit, UK’s climate change minister Ed Miliband, proud of his ‘last minute rescue’ of the summit, launched an attack on China, suggesting it’s China’s refusal of giving way that caused the summit’s near collapse. It may seems out of frustration, but blaming China for the failure of Copenhagen is not only unfair, but also missing the point.

What the Copenhagen shows us is that this kind of summit doesn’t work when facing such a complicated and pressing issue. Many were over-optimistic before the summit, hyped by Miliband himself, to expect the countries would smooth over their huge difference and work out a treaty with binding targets that will affect all involved. The summit now looks ill prepared, badly organised, without a solid foundation and well communicated understanding. Trying to knock out a deal while all the participants having their own interests to protect, was not realistic.

All major players came to Copenhagen with their own baggage. China, along with India, Brazil and Russia, doesn’t want the binding carbon emission cutting targets to straightjacket its economic growth. Developing countries like China and African countries rightly feel the injustice of taking the burden of emission cut while the industrialized countries who had burned a large amount of fossil fuels now washed their hands by passing the manufactory to developing countries.

The fatal flaw is that the world leaders failed to bring their people with them. There is no real public pressure for the leaders to do something racial now. President Obama arrived Copenhagen empty handed, and then diverted to attack China for not agreeing an international inspection system. (Do we really like WMD style inspectors jetting around the world searching for secret carbon emission?) He went back to the States somehow claiming victory over China. Yes we know his hands are tied, with a resisting domestic opposition to pacify. But that just illustrates how unhelpful and hollow that Ed Miliband decided to single out China.

It’s sad that after all the efforts of scientists and environmental campaigners, the world population are largely not convinced that they have to do something themselves. But all is not lost. The bright side is that the political will does not seem to diminish despite all the disappointment. I believe China is committed to cut carbon emission because for China there is an opportunity to catch up or even lead the green technologies and low carbon industry, and the leadership sees that.

Post-Copenhagen, people are desperate to find a way forward. But playing the blame game isn’t the way.

Media newlight on 04 Dec 2009

Close of Yeeyan would be our loss

Yeeyan, a community-based translation website, has been suspended for several days. When the website contents became inaccessible at the beginning of this month, an apology was posted on its homepage, citing ‘technical problems’. Rumours started to circulate on Twitter that Yeeyan was suspended by the authorities because of some contents seen as ‘improper’. A couple of days later one the founders of Yeeyan Zhao Jiamin confirmed the suspension. There are little details about the reason, and the future of Yeeyan is in doubt.

Valued itself as a website through which its members can ‘discover, translate and read the best internet contents not in Chinese’, Yeeyan has been doing a valuable work of introducing foreign language (mostly English) news and stories to the Chinese readers through an unofficial channel. It ran like a social network. Members of shared interest congregated around specific topics or particular publications before picking up pieces from foreign news sites and translate them into Chinese.

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Media newlight on 01 Dec 2009

“Made In China” ad on US TV networks

The 30 seconds ad, which is being shown on major US TV networks, looks to elevate the “Made In China” image. It is said to be commissioned by China’s Ministry of Commerce and sponsored by 4 industry bodies, made by DDB Beijing Guoan Advertising Corp.

Media newlight on 18 Nov 2009

Obama left China with a new name

I was a bit surprised to learn that US embassy in China is working to ‘standardize the translation of common vocabulary in Chinese.’ They want White House to be translated as Bai Wu (白屋), instead of Bai Gong (白宫, meaning white palace), and Obama to be Oubama (欧巴马) instead of Aobama (奥巴马).

Well they are fighting a losing battle. Bai Gong has been commonly used to call the White House for many years (I doubt it has ever been called anything else). Bai Wu is plainly ridicules. I’m not sure whether this is political correctness or purely bureaucratic – in order for Chinese not to confuse President Obama with a monarch?

Washington Post also managed to read into the choice of Aobama and Oubama as a political gesture. Aobama is used in China mainland, while Oubama is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan. So Beijing’s insistence of using Aobama in the face of American ‘standardization’ must have some political undercurrent? It even suggests Ao (奥) in Chinese could mean ‘difficult to understand’, ‘abstruse’ and ‘obscure’, as if using Aobama is Beijing’s way of subtly demeaning Obama. I have to say this is fanciful over-reading. The simple fact is Aobama or Oubama doesn’t have much difference. Aobama, if you read aloud in Mandarin Chinese, sounds better, more masculine I would say, than Oubama. The character Ao itself, meanwhile, belongs to a pool of Chinese characters often used to translate foreign names, not associated with ‘difficult to understand’ etc. in such case.

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Media newlight on 30 Sep 2009

Dan Chung’s Another Night in Beijing

News photographer Dan Chung used his new Canon Eos 7D to shoot this video Another Night in Beijing under low light. The place is Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷). His blog DSRL News Shooter has some fascinating topics and stunning photos and videos, contributed by news photographers working in China.

Society newlight on 26 Jan 2009

Chinese New Year

So, here we are. If you like a pun, then Happy Niu Year! If you prefer irony, then good luck in the Year of Bull.

It looks even the noise from all the unauthorized firecrackers in China couldn’t make us not hearing the gloomy news. Guardian’s Tania Branigan did a video reporting piece from Beijing’s main railway station before the Chinese new year to interview the migrant workers, part of the great annual people movement. They were worried about whether they can get their job back when they come back to the city after the festival. At least this year they didn’t have to get stuck in the station for days like last year. A Chinese blogger, after went to the same station, suggested that this year the Chinese new year rush is actually much smoother than previous years. The suspicion is that many migrant workers had already left for home, being laid off at the end of last year.

The worry is always that when the migrant workers come back to the city after Chinese new year, and couldn’t find a job, what will happen? An often quoted figure is 8%, the GDP growth China must achieve to provide enough jobs for the labour market. The forecast for 2009 by various organizations seems all below that, thus the prediction of widely spread social unrest in China this year due to the mass unemployment. However in my opinion more social unrest there may be, but they are unlikely going to distablise the Chinese society in large scale. Chinese government do realize the seriousness of the economic downturn and high unemployment, and have been quick to disperse measures to stimulate economy and provide new jobs. There may be nothing imaginative in Chinese government’s approaches, but they do have the crucial ammunition – plenty of cash in hand.

Meanwhile the government also hope that establishing a civil society with more citizen participation may help to resolve some of the social issues. The year 2009 is called Civil Society Year Zero by the official media. That will be a constant struggle, and bound to be going forwards and backwards in unpredictable fashion. The detention of 08 Charter’s initiator Liu Xiaobo, harassment of its signatories, censoring influential websites including the recent closing down of bullog.cn are all seen as part of the government’s attempt to silence their critics. However the founder of bullog.cn, Luo Yonghao, is surprisingly optimistic about the website’s possible re-opening in the future. In no time a list of where to find the bullog.cn blogs from alternative places started to circulate around internet. And now a “ghetto version” (shanzai) of bullog.cn, operated by one of the famouse citizen journalist, Zola, is online. Willingly or not, the Chinese government are giving their critics space, and sometimes even use the online opinions to counter corrupted local officials. The critics themselves, while stressing they are not dissidents, have also learned to operate in this environment.

It’s safe to bet the Year of Ox won’t be a bull year. The road ahead is bumpy to say the least, but Chinese people have gone through time tougher than this.

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