Category Archives: propaganda

“China to NY Times: Plagiarise this!”

FT has a piece on the continuing fallout from NYT’s expose on Wen Jiabao’s family wealth:

The People’s Daily made a crude attempt at a hatchet job on the New York Times in a lengthy opinion piece on its website on Monday. The immediate prompt was clearly the New York Times account published last Friday of how Premier Wen Jiabao’s family has accumulated “hidden riches” of about $2.7bn, though the People’s Daily refrained from mentioning that specific article.

Instead, it chose to rehash the New York Times’ two biggest reporting debacles of the past decade and various laments about how it has lost its way under the headline, “New York Times: Scandals multiply and reputation deteriorates”.

Apart from the obvious irony in the fact that the People’s Daily is trying to pass judgment about reporting standards, there is another, even more basic problem with its criticism of the Times: its words appear to have been almost entirely plagiarised.

What the People’s Daily failed to mention was that virtually every last sentence in its opinion piece had previously been published. A quick search revealed the following:

1. The opening criticism of the Times’ fallen standards and the description of the Kouwe case? From a 2010 report by China News Agency.

2. The description of the Blair case? Lifted straight from two People’s Daily articles in 2003 (at least it is copying itself).

3. The account of “Journalistic Fraud”, the book? From a 2003 article by China News Agency.

4. And that final quote from the once-loyal reader? A translation by Dongxi (a now-defunct translation website) of a 2011 article that appeared on Splicetoday.com.

Even by the standards of plagiarism-prone Chinese media, it takes a certain brazenness to perpetrate such an extensive copy-and-paste job when preaching about journalistic integrity.

Par for the course, perhaps, but still pretty embarrassing.

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“China’s art world does not exist”

Another piece from an old standby- Ai Weiwei, who writes about art in China on pfsk.com:

What are we to make of a show that calls itself Art of Change: New Directions from China? I don’t think it’s worth discussing new directions in the context of Chinese art – there were no old directions, either. Chinese art has never had any clear orientation. Yes, the artists in this exhibition, which opened at the Hayward gallery in London last week, have struggled against the limitations imposed by the Chinese state more stridently than others. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is just another attempt to introduce western audiences to so-called “contemporary Chinese art”. How can you have a show of “contemporary Chinese art” that doesn’t address a single one of the country’s most pressing contemporary issues?

I am very familiar with the work of most of the artists in the show. Their work is certainly Chinese but, overall, the show casts no critical eye. It is like a restaurant in Chinatown that sells all the standard dishes, such as kung pao chicken and sweet and sour pork. People will eat it and say it is Chinese, but it is simply a consumerist offering, providing little in the way of a genuine experience of life in China today.

Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.

Last year, we saw China bringing its propaganda right into New York’s Times Square. In an advertising push that the state news agency Xinhua described as a “public diplomacy campaign”, billboard-size screens played videos that featured martial-arts movie star Jackie Chan, basketball player Yao Ming, astronaut Yang Liwei, and pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi. Meanwhile Confucius Institutes, promoting Chinese culture, are spreading all over the world, as are Chinese traveling acrobatic troupes. To me, these are an insult to human intelligence and a ridicule of the concept of culture – vehicles of propaganda that showcase skills with no substance, and crafts with no meaning.

Although Chinese art is heavily influenced by contemporary western culture, it rejects the essential human values that underpin it. The Chinese Communist party claims to deliver socialism with Chinese characteristics, but nobody understands what this means – including the people of China.

Sounds like Ai is asking for another visit from the friendly folks at the local PSB…

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“Why China Is Weak on Soft Power”

Joseph Nye, the man behind the term ‘soft power,’ explains why China just can’t seem to build any in an NYT piece here. His conclusion:

But for all its efforts, China has had a limited return on its investment. A recent BBC poll shows that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America, but predominantly negative in the United States and Europe, as well as in India, Japan and South Korea. A poll taken in Asia after the Beijing Olympics found that China’s charm offensive had been ineffective.

What China seems not to appreciate is that using culture and narrative to create soft power is not easy when they are inconsistent with domestic realities.

The 2008 Olympics were a success, but shortly afterwards, China’s domestic crackdown in Tibet and Xianjiang, and on human rights activists, undercut its soft power gains. The Shanghai Expo was also a great success, but was followed by the jailing of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and the artist Ai Weiwei. And for all the efforts to turn Xinhua and China Central Television into competitors for CNN and the BBC, there is little international audience for brittle propaganda.

Now, in the aftermath of the Middle East revolutions, China is clamping down on the Internet and jailing human rights lawyers, once again torpedoing its soft power campaign.

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“Hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people”

There’s a funny post here from Language Log, which investigates the most widely-used phrase in the Chinese Foreign Ministry: “The President of [country X] has gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people by meeting with [person X].

Spokespersons for the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) often complain that the words or actions of individuals or groups from other nations “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”. This is true even when those individuals or groups are speaking or acting on behalf of some segment of the Chinese population (e.g., political prisoners, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong adherents, people whose houses have been forcibly demolished, farmers, and so forth). A typical cause for invoking the “hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people” circumlocution would be for the head of state of a country to meet with the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer. A good example is Mexican President Calderon’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, which the PRC government denounced in extremely harsh terms. The vitriolic rebuke led one commentator to refer to the PRC denunciation of the Mexican President as a kind of “bullying”.

I should note that the “hurt feelings” meme usually occurs in tandem with other standard kvetching: “grossly interfered with China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and harmed Chinese-XYZ relations.” Clearly, this is formulaic language. What is more, because it is used with such frequency in China’s dealing with other nations, it quickly begins to lose force and meaning, but amounts to mere blather and cannot be taken all that seriously. Still, its sheer ubiquity makes one wonder: why this obsession with damaged sensitivity?

Finding this expression — “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” — so omnipresent in statements emanating from the PRC government, I wondered how it compares with the usage of analogous statements by representatives of other nations.

Here are Google hits for some comparable phrases involving other nations:

“hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” 17,000
“hurts the feelings of the Japanese people” 178
“hurts the feelings of the American people” 5
“hurts the feelings of the German people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Jewish people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Indian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Russian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Italian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the British people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Swedish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the French people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Spanish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Turkish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Greek people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Israeli people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Vietnamese people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Thai people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Egyptian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Tibetan people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uighur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uyghur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Mongolian people” 0

As ICT’s Todd Stein pointed out on twitter, how are these meetings hurting the feelings of the Chinese people? The state media is censoring the news, the vast majority of China won’t know about it unless Xinhua kicks up a stink about it. Realistically, we can see that it’s just a useful phrase to use- a specific yet intangible harm caused by the meeting, when pointing out something more real would be impossible. When the head of any state meets with the Dalai Lama, they normally just discuss preservation of Tibetan culture and whatnot, none of the separatism of which Beijing hysterically accuses them of engaging in. “Hurt feelings” then offer an excuse for the Foreign Ministry to be indignant, when they haven’t really suffered any harm.

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“China’s Tibetan Theme Park”

A month or two ago I had a post about Tibetan writer Woeser visiting Chengde, a city in northern China where a large-scale model of the Potala is a huge tourist draw. Woeser slammed the entire thing, noting the inauthentic aspects of the presentation and the highly inaccurate history being related by Han tour guides. Richard Bernstein has an article up in the New York Review of Books about the same subject, and slams it as well. Describing a ‘historical’ performance shown to tourists, he says:

In one scene, accompanied by a revolving, luminous model of the solar system, Kangxi learns astronomy from the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. In another scene, one of the show’s most lavishly produced, a huge procession of Tibetan lamas, marching to the music of rumbling bass horns and headed by the Dalai Lama, arrives to demonstrate their fealty to the Chinese emperor. Did these events actually take place?

The Matteo Ricci episode reflects the historical presence of the Jesuits at the court in Beijing at the time. But Western historians of the Qing and the Qing’s complicated relations with Tibet make no mention of such a visit by the Dalai Lama during Kangxi’s reign, although the 3rd Panchen Lama, the number two Tibetan spiritual leader and an ally of the Qing, did visit Chengde in 1779—shortly after the Little Potala was built—to help celebrate the 60th birthday of Qianlong. During that visit, Qianlong famously treated the visitor as an equal. The Panchen Lama did not, for example, perform the kowtow, which was required of other visitors from the “outer lands,” and he was recognized as a spiritual authority for China proper, the “inner lands,” as well Tibet. As the late historian of imperial China Frederick W. Mote concluded, “Tibet remained wholly independent of Qing China in all aspects of its domestic governing….Chinese control, something previously found not feasible, perhaps traditionally not held to be highly desirable, was in the end accomplished by modern military force”—led not by Kangxi or any other Manchu emperor but under Mao.

Both the [Tibetan-style temples in Chengde] were crowded with thousands and thousands of Chinese tourists, led by Chinese guides with loudspeakers, turning large bronze Tibetan prayer wheels, burning incense sticks sold to them by Chinese men and women wearing period costumes, and receiving instruction from Chinese temple staff in the proper prayer gestures to make before the Buddha images by Chinese functionaries. The tone is respectful, conveying the sense that the Tibetan culture, part of the great Chinese multi-ethnic family, is deeply respected in China and has always been deeply respected.

There is nothing heavy-handed in these messages—none of the ritual denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a “jackel” and a “splittist” that regularly appear in the Chinese press, no overt praise of China for having liberated Tibet from serfdom and slavery—and, of course, no mention of the bloody suppression of the 1959 rebellion in Tibet, one result of which was the flight of the present Dalai Lama to India. Yet the Chengde sights are a bit like exhibits in a Tibetan theme park devoid of actual Tibetans. In one room in the sprawling Puning Temple, several photographs of a handsome young man in safran robes were on display. This is Gyaltsen Norbu, now twenty-two years old, who was selected in 1995 by the Chinese Communist Party to be the authentic reincarnation of the Panchen lama, after the Chinese police took into “protective custody” the boy whose selection was approved by the Dalai Lama.

In the end, the underlying assumptions of the Chengde presentation are unmistakable: that Tibet has been governed by China since at least the time of the Kangxi emperor, that this had the ready consent of Tibet’s highest spiritual authorities at the time, and that the current Chinese government honors Tibet’s religious traditions—that reminder in the photographs of the “Chinese” Panchen Lama of the Communist Party’s intrusion into Tibet’s religious traditions notwithstanding.

The real story of Chinese-Tibetan relations would of course be vastly more interesting than Beijing’s version, but the narrative implied by the Kanxi Ceremony seems widely accepted by Chinese who in many other respects are skeptical of official Chinese history. In August in Beijing, I had a talk on this subject with a small group of journalists and academics of the sort who chafe under censorship restrictions and who are fully aware that on sensitive subjects the truth is what is dictated by the Communist Party. But they seem to feel that Chinese rule, especially in the past couple of decades, has greatly benefitted Tibetans, who show an annoying lack of appreciation.

When I brought up the case of the Panchen Lama to illustrate the harshness of Chinese control, the response generally was that, yes, that was a bit heavy-handed, but the government supervises the appointment of all senior religious figures in China, including, of course, Catholic bishops, and therefore the Panchen Lama incident was not discriminatory against Tibetans. As for the Dalai Lama, the general position during my conversation was that he is a socially retrograde figure who would restore the feudal system that Chinese rule has ended, such as requiring that 30 percent of all income go to the Buddhist establishment and that lamas have to provide permission for people to marry.

Such assumptions, which are contradicted by widely available facts, may seem all the more surprising since it is very easy to find a meeting of minds with Chinese journalists and academics on other subjects, including the notion that the ruling party has become a conspicuously corrupt oligarchy and is increasingly unpopular. But on Tibet, the version of truth that prevails is the version to be found in Chengde.

I’ve noticed the same thing in conversations with Chinese- even people who are at least vaguely aware of Tiananmen and the extent of censorship, for example, are still unlikely to realize that the history they’ve been taught about Tibet is completely inaccurate. The propaganda even primes them to ignore foreigners on that subject, because Xinhua claims that all problems in Tibet are caused by the Dalai Lama and by foreigners who have been ‘tricked’ by the ‘splittist’ Dalai Clique. The way this turns Han and Tibetan against each other is really poisonous, but that’s the only way Beijing can keep the majority on their side.

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Filed under history, propaganda, Tibet

“What happens when China’s president comes to dinner?”

The BBC has an interesting report today about the stage-managing of official visits, with details revealed by the wikileaks cable dump:

Communist party officials wanted the country’s top leader to meet the “epitome of a weathered Gansu farmer”.

Mr Hu offered a potato to the farmer’s grand-daughter, who told the leader of 1.3bn people that she was sick of eating them”

Seventy-year-old Li Cai was chosen – and told not to shave.

Local officials were instructed not to make improvements to his home by adding such things as electronic appliances or furniture.

Despite the warning, Mr Shi told US diplomats he had a stove and chimney installed in the famer’s house to cook the local delicacy – Dingxi potatoes, named after the local city.

He thought that TV footage showing Hu Jintao eating one of the potatoes was an advertising opportunity not to be missed.

Unfortunately, things did not go to plan. According to the cable, Mr Hu offered a potato to the farmer’s grand-daughter, who told the leader of 1.3bn people that she was “sick of eating them”.

In a recent publicity campaign, one local official said he wanted to turn the area into “China’s potato capital” because the root vegetable offered them “a more prosperous future”.

Fortunately, Li Cai’s grandchild was eventually persuaded to eat a potato, a scene that featured in the CCTV report of the visit.

But there was another food-related problem to overcome.

The Chinese president was to make twisted dough sticks, which are cooked by plunging them into a pan of boiling oil.

What would happen if the oil splashed Mr Hu and burned him?

“The solution… was to heat the oil to 70% of the normal temperature and give Hu an extra-long set of chopsticks,” says the cable.

The Chinese president was given another, already prepared, dough stick to eat.

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“China’s ‘Peaceful’ White Paper”

Trefor Moss at The Diplomat critiques the new Chinese white paper- here’s the introduction. The entire thing is worth a quick read:

China’s white papers are typically policy monologues in which the country’s leaders offer an air-brushed account of their intentions and practices, while studiously avoiding any mention of the many nuances, contradictions and zero-sum decisions that inevitably result from having to implement those policies, however well meaning, in the often cut-throat global arena.

The latest white paper on China’s Peaceful Development, released today by the Information Office of the State Council, provides the usual, pristine account of China’s international role. China aims to ‘develop itself through upholding world peace,’ the document says. ‘It never engages in aggression or expansion.’ The country always plays ‘a constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot problems.’ And it pursues ‘a defence policy which is defensive in nature.’

Articulation remains Beijing’s weakest suit. By papering over the little cracks in its foreign policy approach, and by pretending that tensions with other countries don’t exist or are at least not of China’s making, the government undermines the honest and positive messages that 99 percent of the white paper conveys. A warts-and-all critique of China’s actions, trumpeting the successes while owning up to a few failures, would be far more convincing.

He goes on to detail five of the biggest omissions of the paper- check it out.

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“Attacks thwarted in Xinjiang; few details”

Call me extremely skeptical about this one: Beijing says it prevented a terrorist attack in Xinjiang! One which would have disrupted the Trade Expo! Evidence? Well there isn’t much of that, but you’ll have to take their word for it. It isn’t like they’ve frequently abused claims of terrorism in the past, right?

From MSNBC:

A Chinese official said security forces defused several plots to sabotage an international trade fair in the turbulent region of Xinjiang, though he provided few details.

The first China-Eurasia Expo opened in the regional capital Urumqi on Thursday, and attendees include Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Kyrgyzstan’s caretaker President Roza Otunbayeva. The expo is aimed at cementing Urumqi’s place as Central Asia’s business center for trade and industry, despite a sometimes violent insurgency among its native Muslim population.

Urumqi’s Communist Party boss Zhu Hailun, the city’s most powerful official, said police had defused a number of threats to public safety in recent weeks, though he mentioned only one case. He said a man attempted to take a knife on board a flight departing from Urumqi airport and is now being held on suspicion of planning to carry out an attack during the flight, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency appearing in Thursday’s China Daily newspaper.

“There have been many similar cases of attacks being blocked by police,” said Zhu.

He said “separatists, religious extremists and terrorists have been plotting to sabotage the expo,” without elaborating.

No group has claimed responsibility and Beijing has provided no direct evidence to back its claims.

Separatists, religious extremists and terrorists? Where have I heard those three lumped in together before… oh right, any time anything happens or, alternately, doesn’t happen in a minority area here. Apparently here the Three Evils got together and conspired on one attack, which China just happened to nip in the bud without so much as a peep making it out to the public and leaving not so much as a strand of evidence to show off.

Skeptical might not be a strong enough word. I’m going to label this story as presented now ‘preposterous’ and call it a day.

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“China’s ‘Liberation’ of Tibet: Rules of the Game”

Robbie Barnett is on a roll, following up his bit yesterday with an article in the NYRoB about Xi Jinping in Lhasa. Some highlights:

Banners above the stage show that the speech was part of the ceremonies marking what China calls “the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Tibet,” a reference to China’s assumption of sovereignty over Tibet in 1951 following its invasion a year earlier. There are frequent shots of the audience in the square, which included, according to the official Chinese media, “more than 20,000 Tibetans of all walks of life.”

But the footage does not support this claim. For one thing, only two monks are shown among the 20,000 people in the audience—one of them is shown repeatedly—suggesting that Tibetans from a “walk of life” that is integral to Tibetan society were not invited. As for women, there are many in the audience, but among the 200 or so senior Chinese and Tibetan officials who are shown seated on the viewing platform, all but five are men.

Another detail stands out too: No one in the audience has a chair.

According to China Daily, Xi Jinping had brought with him 300,000 cold-proof stainless kettles, 710,000 stainless pressure cookers, 60,000 quilts, and 150 computers as gifts for the Tibetans. But, apparently, not chairs.

It must have been quite hot or tiring because some Tibetans in the square can be seen holding their heads in their hands and being comforted by other members of the audience. Occasionally one or two people get up and move, but for the most part, no one leaves his or her assigned spot. At the back of the crowd one can even see synchronized displays—words spelled out by rows of people holding up different characters that form huge slogans saying “We thank the Chinese People” and “Tibet’s Future Will be Better.” One could be forgiven at times for thinking that Lhasa had been taken over not by Beijing but by Pyongyang.

After the ceremony in 2005, we were all allowed out on the streets once the formal events had ended, and so I went to the Post Office, near the exit of the square, and joined a vast crowd of curious Tibetans to watch the participants as they left. But what we saw coming out of the square had not been visible on the television screen: hundreds of armed troops followed by armored personnel carriers, riot control vehicles, water-cannon trucks, barbed-wire laying machines, vehicles with gun turrets and other forms of military hardware.

The military vehicles and the troops were not visible in the footage of the ceremony this year either, but they were surely there again. Perhaps there is an underlying view that all Tibetans are rebels thirsting for a war. If so, it would explain why the head of China’s army had been sent to sit next to Xi Jinping on the stage during the ceremony. It would also explain why there were no chairs: presumably they are seen as potential weapons in the hands of imagined Tibetan rioters, more threatening than plastic stools.

Everyone can understand why China is proud of improving Tibetan infrastructure and wants to maintain its rule over Tibet, but it is not clear why its leaders, or even ordinary Chinese, expect forcing Tibetans to stage rituals of mass gratitude to Xi Jinping and the Chinese government not to fuel resentment. In any event, resentment seems to be spreading among Tibetans: last week on August 15 another Tibetan burnt himself to death, others say they have been tortured after staging minor protests, at least three of the 13 Tibetan areas in China remain closed to foreigners, and the state’s officially selected Panchen Lama cannot visit a monastery without a major security operation to prevent unrest.

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Filed under 17 Point Agreement, propaganda, Tibet

“All Your Facts Are Belong to Us”

George Ding at ChinaGeeks has a funny post here about new memes on the Chinese internet. His examples both come from Wang Yongping, a Railway Ministry spokesman whose ludicrous answers following the Wenzhou crash have earned him the derision of millions. His most famous line followed a question asking why the government literally buried several of the crashed cars before thoroughly checking them for survivors. After detailing the long and nonsensical excuse provided by a Ministry chief, he concludes his answer with:

“Right now, this is his explanation. Whether or not you believe it; either way, I believe it.”

It’s a thing of beauty, a self-satisfied bureaucrat nodding to himself while openly giving the game away. That’s the whole point of having ministry of _____ spokespeople here, to lend authority to whatever ridiculous line the government is selling today. If you call it into doubt and make it clear that the explanation is still up for debate, you might as well get off the podium.

As Ding says:

These cultural memes show that although the government is monitoring the Internet more and more carefully—blocking websites, deleting posts and reposts—they cannot stop their infamies from seeping into the culture itself. Perhaps the only way citizens can remind themselves of the tragedies that are whitewashed, rewritten, or otherwise brushed aside, is to make them a part of the underground lexicon.

Shortly after the accident, a user on Tencent’s microblogging service started a “High-speed Rail Style Sentence Making Competition,” which challenged users to make sentences using Wang’s, “Regarding ___, whether or not you believe it; either way, I believe it.” Though I cannot locate the thread (it may have been harmonized), the competition had over 7,000 replies by the evening of the 27th.

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“Propaganda bureau starts strangling media coverage of Wenzhou train crash”

It seems that enough has finally been declared enough. Via Shanghaiist:

According to leaked directives from the propaganda department on Friday: “All articles on the Wenzhou train collision are to be put off the homepage with immediate effect. None are to be put on the homepage itself. In the news section, only one article may be placed there, but no commentaries are allowed. Promoting the discussion of related topics on forums, blogs and microblogs are not allowed. Forum sites are to remove all previously promoted articles and blogposts off from the frontpage and mini-sites immediately. All posts, blogposts and microblog posts that do not meet with the requirements of this afternoon’s orders are to be resolutely deleted. All sites are to implement this order with immediate effect, and to complete execution within half an hour. Checks will begin within half an hour.”

All major web portals have already duly complied with the orders, and mini sites specially created earlier for the Wenzhou train collision have all but disappeared.

In a related development, the producer of the CCTV programme 24 Hours, Wang Qinglei (王青雷) is said to have been sacked after the airing of the July 25 show.

As for print media, the Economic Observer was praised yesterday for its bold (defiant?) feature entitled “Is there a miracle in Wenzhou?” even as other newspapers began consciously cutting back on coverage. The ten-page feature included such provocative articles as “What is the Ministry of Railways hiding?”, “Please respect life”, “Where the Ministry of Railways went wrong” and “The Ministry of Railways has a cold steely heart”.

Even so, coverage of the Wenzhou train collision is expected to decline significantly in the print media from now, as the propaganda department cracks its whip and demands stricter toeing of the line.

As news of the media crackdown sparked fury and incredulity, some have called for the media to jointly defy the orders of the propaganda bureau. Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), lecturer at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, called on the Chinese media to close ranks and work together to “open a window in the sky” (开天窗) and defend its dignity. He said, that if the media could join forces to act in accordance with their conscience, they might very well be changing the course of history.

Obviously they weren’t going to let that go on forever. We’ll see if their attacks on microblog comments inspire any backlash.

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Filed under China, disasters, media, propaganda

“Death on the High Speed Rail”

Custer from ChinaGeeks is going nuts and doing an incredible job bringing together different aspects of the Wenzhou crash story. Some of the most interesting parts:

Other high speed rail lines don’t seem to have these problems. France’s TGV, for example, has not suffered a single fatality since it began operation in 1981. Japan’s Shinkansen, which has been in operation since 1964, has also never had a death with the exception of one passenger who got caught in the train’s closing doors2. Of course, China is a much larger country than Japan or France, but China’s rail lines are also much newer.

This is accident is a tragedy, and yet I find that my primary response to it is anger. Accidents in general are unavoidable, and they happen everywhere. But this accident was entirely avoidable, and in fact, railway authorities were given ample warning that something like this could happen over the last several weeks. Ultimately, poor design and construction mixed with bureaucratic lethargy and stupidity has murdered thirty-five people. This is an “accident” in only the loosest sense of the word. Those people would still be alive if railway authorities had taken the design and construction of the trains more seriously, or alternately, if they had listened to the warnings coming from all areas of society over the past few weeks and stopped the operation of high speed trains until the obviously serious problems could be fixed.

More leaked propaganda directives relating to the crash, as sent to reporters and shared on Sina Weibo:

To Central Media: Regarding the Wenzhou crash, the newest requirements: 1) Use the deaths and casualty numbers reported by authorities; they are correct 2) Do not report too frequently 3) Report more moving stories, such as people donating blood or taxi drivers not taking fares from victims, etc. 4) Do not investigate the cause of the accident, use the information reported by authorities 5) Do not do “re-thinking” or commentary.

Propaganda Notice: The name of the Wenzhou accident will be the “The 7.23 Wenzhou Line Railway Accident”. From now on, use the headline “Great love in the face of great tragedy” to report on this incident. Do not doubt, reveal, or make associations, and to not retweet things on your personal Weibo accounts. In [TV] programs you can provide the relevant information, but be careful of the music.

This is how stories get spun. At the same time, Chinese netizens seem overwhelmingly unanimous in their outrage towards the government on this one. We’ll see if the eunuch press can tamp that down or not.

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“A city ruled by fear and silence: Urumchi, two years on”

The Uyghur Human Rights Project has released their report on the second anniversary of the July 5th Xinjiang protests. As they say in their introduction:

On the eve of the PRC‟s 60th National Day in October 2009, hundreds of soldiers patrolled the streets of Urumchi and other major cities in East Turkestan, while slogans promoting “ethnic unity” blanketed the streets. Nearly two years later, “ethnic unity” still only exists in official propaganda, and a heavy police presence continues to ensure that Uyghur residents in Urumchi will remain quiet.

Violence that was perpetrated by Uyghurs, Chinese and Chinese security forces in July and September 2009 in Urumchi should be condemned. However, Chinese officials have aggressively portrayed the unrest in Urumchi solely as an episode of “smashing, looting and burning” carried out by Uyghur rioters who attacked Chinese residents of the city. Missing from Chinese official narratives have been accounts of a terrifying police crackdown on peaceful Uyghur demonstrators on July 5, resulting in an untold number of dead; the indiscriminate nature of detentions and forcible disappearances that were carried out beginning that evening; and the attacks that were carried out on members of the Uyghur community by Chinese residents of the city in July and September of 2009.

I’ve seen this propaganda myself, and also seen its effects on the opinions of many Han Chinese: they characterize Xinjiang as a dangerous place, and the Uyghur as a dangerous and violent people. To date I’ve never heard any mention of how the initial protests transformed into a riot, or the reprisal attacks by Han citizens, from a Han Chinese. Obviously, this isn’t good for ethnic relations… which is probably one of the intended effects, a cynical observer might say.

From their conclusion:

A group of Uyghur women gathered on the streets of Urumchi on July 7, 2009 to ask Chinese security forces what had happened to their husbands, fathers and brothers. Without the actions of these women, the international community may not have known about the mass detentions and forcible disappearances that were taking place in the city, since the Chinese government had used intimidation, detention and even beatings in an attempt to manage the actions of foreign reporters who had come to Urumchi.

Video footage and Uyghur accounts that have come to light in the two years since July 5, 2009 have also demonstrated that the Chinese government’s version of events is not credible. And while Chinese officials continue to fend off calls for an open inquiry into what happened in Urumchi, Uyghurs have suffered ever more repressive measures on their language, religion, cultural practices, movement, and economic opportunities. Restrictions on Uyghurs’ freedom of speech, including restrictions on Uyghur bloggers and journalists, have meant that this repression has continued with impunity. Uyghurs who express an opinion that is not in line with government policy face imprisonment. This is not constructive to the resolution of issues in East Turkestan.

UHRP urges Chinese judicial authorities to conduct trials and other criminal procedures in a fair and transparent manner, as stipulated by both Chinese and international law. In particular, UHRP urges Chinese authorities to fully investigate claims of torture and lack of due process such as those outlined in the appeal of Alimjan Musajan. UHRP calls on Chinese authorities to make public the total number of individuals detained and/or formally arrested in the wake of July 5, 2009, and to fully publicize information about all individuals charged with crimes related to July 5.

Chinese officials must also take active steps to acknowledge that there are serious problems in the ethnic relations between Han Chinese and Uyghurs. The state should create a space for inter-ethnic dialogue, and facilitate a process through which both Uyghurs and Han Chinese may express their legitimate grievances.

It is also vital that the international community press for a future for Uyghurs that is free of repression. As news of violations of Uyghur human rights increasingly emerges, international observers have a responsibility to acknowledge the deterioration of conditions in East Turkestan. The future of Uyghurs in East Turkestan depends on a critical review of Chinese responses to developments in the region. If this is not undertaken, it is ever more likely that China will solidify its non-democratic approach to handling Uyghur issues.

This all sounds right to me. And to think that a group calling for fair trials, rule of law, and inter-ethnic dialogue has been branded a terrorist organization by Beijing… evidence of this claim hasn’t been provided, naturally.

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“New developments at Kirti Monastery; crackdown shows no sign of easing”

People who have an interest in Tibet will remember the odd Tibetan New Year of 2009. In 2008 a series of protests rocked Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu, and in retaliation Chinese police beat, kidnapped, and killed a vast number of Tibetans. In accordance with Tibetan tradition, many Tibetans then chose not to celebrate the New Year of 2009, and instead dedicated it to remembrance of what had happened. This led to a panicked reaction from the Chinese government, which had spent the last few months saying that the 2008 protests had actually been supported by a few individuals, and therefore couldn’t explain why such a large percentage of the Tibetan population chose not to observe the New Year. Their solution? Distribute food and fireworks, and tell everyone to act like nothing had happened. “Have fun, or else!”

It looks like they’re back up to their old tricks. The ongoing situation in Ngaba (Chinese: 阿坝藏族羌族自治州) has now seen the ultimate in absurdity: government forces trying to create a propaganda film showing how normal everything is in Kirti Monastery, which has been essentially closed by the government. From ICT:

On June 15, during the important month-long religious observance of Saga Dawa, Chinese authorities attempted to compel the monks to hold a Lha-tse ceremony, a Tibetan Buddhist healing ritual, to show the situation at Kirti monastery had returned to normal. According to the Kirti monks in India, the authorities suddenly announced that a Lha-tse rite would be observed and that members of the public would be allowed to attend.

Two of the monks in India told ICT: “Early that morning, many TV cameras were set up on the approaches to the chapel waiting for the monks to arrive, but when only about 40 elderly monks showed up, a group of government officials went to the dormitories and told the other monks to come out. The monks replied that the event was being staged for false propaganda purposes, so they could not comply. About 100 soldiers wearing plain clothes were deployed in and around the chapel. The cameras filmed laypeople making incense offerings and so on, and even interviewed a few of them, but as there were few monks there, the laypeople said how sad they were that since March 18 they had not seen the monks assemble, and had returned home with tears in their eyes.”

Two days earlier, on June 13, paramilitary police reportedly beat a Tibetan boy and girl so severely that they had to be hospitalized. The children are the son and daughter in a family who have a guest-house at the crossroads on the main road near Kirti monastery. According to exile Tibetans in touch with people in Ngaba, the police beat the two children because they refused to obey an order to accommodate soldiers in the guest-house.

International pressure has been growing on China in regards to the Ngaba situation, with the EU, US, and various European governments routinely asking Chinese leaders to end their occupation of the monastery and martial law in the prefecture. This video certainly would have been used to claim that the situation is normal- and if they can re-dub the voices of the Tibetans on camera, it still might.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, propaganda, protests, Tibet

“The Founding of a Party as it enters week three”

Shanghaiist has a funny update about The Founding of a Party, a goofy exercise in propaganda the CCP gave itself for its birthday. Apparently people here really aren’t going for it:

Before even hitting theaters, authorities announced a box office goal of 1 billion yuan. In order to reach that number, they have employed all manner of tactics, including but not limited to: pre-selling-out theaters for the debut week; mandatory attendance by businesses, schools, and government employees; voluntary field trips (something like “okay, if you don’t want the day off work, that’s up to you”); the release of the film in IMAX, and removal of Kung Fu Panda from many 3D, IMAX, and regular screens, and even reducing ticket prices of competing movies to lower profits; the pushing back of other foreign summer blockbusters such as Transformers 3 and Harry Potter in order to reduce competition.

It’s impossible to say just how many actual viewers have seen the film, considering anecdotes like this one, where an unsuspecting movie goer found herself in an entirely empty theater. Recommended reading, as she also mentions the funny practice of Chinese going to these star-studded films only the spend the entire two hours waiting for a celebrity, and then screaming their name. Wait, scream, wait, scream, wait, scream.

Microbloggers were all a-flutter when various screenshots of Founding’s Douban page were circulated on Sina Weibo showing low or rapidly dropping ratings, and then a removal of the reviews entirely. The reviews and ratings functions remain absent from both the Douban and Mtime pages for the film.

The ratings page is a good metaphor for the Party itself these days: so poorly rated that the ability to give ratings has been removed.

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“Think twice, we have the guns”

China Media Project has another update, this one analyzing a huge piece in the People’s Daily:

Over the weekend, we had another hawkish surprise on the front page of the People’s Daily, a piece framed as a lengthy history of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) called, “The Party Commands the Gun, A Fundamental Guarantee of Moving From Victory to Victory.”

The piece covers a lot of territory, from the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927, which marked the start of China’s civil war and the organization of the Red Army (later the PLA), to the Long March, and up to the present day and the PLA’s role, for example, in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. But the basic message of the piece is unmistakable: the Chinese Communist Party controls China’s military, and this is a fact that will never be compromised.

There are a couple of possible meanings, or readings, that can be gleaned from the People’s Daily piece as we approach the 90th anniversary of the CCP:

1. The Party is flaunting is military strength before the people, saying, essentially, “Look, the weapons are in our hands.” We will preserve stability, and we have the means.
2. Top Party leaders are sending a warning to military brass — we are your masters and you had better listen.

We won’t speculate any further as to the background of meaning number 2, but the reasons for 1 are clear enough, given successive incidents of violent social unrest in China, such as riots in Zengcheng earlier this month.

Always fun to try and figure out what they’re getting at with these stories. I sometimes wonder if People’s Daily writers might just blast some stuff like this out for fun. No one is really looking towards the Communist Party for ideology anymore, so why not use your soapbox to make people scratch their heads? Write a long series of conflicting articles, and laugh while the rest of the world tries to figure out what’s happening in the editors office.

Or maybe they really felt the need to emphasize their monopoly on force. Either way.

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“Leaked Propaganda Directives”

The Chinese propaganda department seems to have sprung a number of leaks over the last few years, with instructions to media outlets and vast armies of paid internet commentators occasionally making their way to the public. China Digital Times has a new one, with instructions for how to comment on Taiwan:

In order to circumscribe the influence of Taiwanese democracy, in order to progress further in the work of guiding public opinion, and in accordance with the requirements established by higher authorities to “be strategic, be skilled,” we hope that internet commentators conscientiously study the mindset of netizens, grasp international developments, and better perform the work of being an internet commentator. For this purpose, this notice is promulgated as set forth below:

(1) To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan.

(2) Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.”

(3) To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.

(4) Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values.

(5) Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions.

(6) Increase the exposure that positive developments inside China receive; further accommodate the work of maintaining [social] stability.

It’s funny- you can find people posting exactly these things all over the place. It’s also a testament to the odd place Taiwan has found in China- despite Beijing claiming that Chinese people are unsuited to democracy, Taiwan has a thriving democracy just off their coast! And despite Beijing claiming that the Taiwanese people all want to return to China, from the results of Taiwanese democracy we can see that this really isn’t the case. Rather than adjust their propaganda to meet reality, they’ve chosen to just generate a lot of noise and try to confuse Chinese people on the issue.

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Filed under China, media, propaganda, Taiwan

“Chinese Tech CEOs Pledge to Walk ‘Red’ Road”

I’m not sure what to think about this one, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

A tide of “red” pride sweeping through China ahead of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party may have reached a new strandline this week, swallowing up several of the country’s tech industry titans.

More than 60 of the biggest names from China’s high-flying Internet sector gathered recently at a museum marking the site of the CPC’s First National Congress on Xingye Road in Shanghai to sing revolutionary songs and attend a Party lecture, according to reports from the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Among those taking part in the tour were some of the country’s most successful private businessmen, including Baidu founder and CEO Robin Li, Sina CEO Charles Chao and Sohu CEO Charles Zhang.

“Walking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the well-spring of strength that will allow the Chinese Internet to continue its healthy and rapid development,” Mr. Li was quoted as saying on Xinhua’s Sina Weibo microblog feed.

On the one hand, it could just be more silly posturing demanded by a government that absolutely loves silly posturing. On the other hand, there’s been an uncomfortably large number of stories about red pride and revolutionary this and cultural that lately. One isn’t left with much confidence that the new leaders in 2012 actually have many good ideas, if this is their trademark so far.

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“What’s up with the People’s Daily?”

David Bandurski at the China Media Project has a piece up today wondering about the strange goings-on at People’s Daily.  As an official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, PD usually broadcasts the same nonsense you’d expect.  Lately, the paper has developed a strange case of multiply personality disorder, with editorials urging freedom of expression one day and bemoaning all this free expression the next.

An insider at the People’s Daily has emphasized, against suggestions that this series was somehow a cynical propaganda ploy, that these editorials were an “independent” action on the part of the editorial department at the newspaper — meaning that editors at the paper planned and executed the series, but of course had backing from unspecified senior leaders. That doesn’t, of course, mean real and true “independence,” but suggests that these editors (and those supporting them politically) are actively taking advantage of gaps within the Party and the paper.

We’ll see what comes of it.

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“In China, a long path of writing the Communist Party’s history”

Is that a failed Long March reference?  I’m not really sure.  Either way, The Washington Post reports on the Communist Party’s ongoing effort to write an official history of its time in power:

“So touchy is the party about its past that the new history Shi helped edit had to be vetted by 64 different party and state bodies, including the People’s Liberation Army. An initial draft took just four years to finish, but that didn’t pass muster with the leadership. It took another 12 years before the Politburo finally signed off on a finished text. This, according to an editor’s note, followed “clear demands regarding revisions” from party chief Hu Jintao, his heir apparent Xi, and vice president Zeng Qinghong.

The whole process lasted so long that more than a dozen of the scholars involved at the start passed away before publication. Of an original trio of three senior editors, Shi, now 73, is the only one still alive.”

I’d love to see how ludicrously convoluted the entire thing is after being vetted by every agency in the government…  but on second thought, “everything we did was right, or was wrong but has now been corrected” is a lot more concise than whatever they came up with.

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Filed under China, Communist Party, history, propaganda