China frees 3 cyber-dissidents including “Stainless Steel Mouse” Liu Di

It’s a week or two later than I expected, but at least it’s finally happened.

Liu Di, 23, a former psychology major at Beijing Normal University who wrote under the computer name “Stainless Steel Mouse”, was freed from Beijing’s Qincheng prison on Friday, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said on Sunday.

Two other “cyber dissidents”, Wu Yiran, 34, and Li Yibin, 29, also were freed from a jail for political detainees on Friday, it said in a statement.

The release came just over a week ahead of a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao to the United States. China frequently times releases of dissidents to coincide with important trips abroad or visits by world leaders.

This was predictable. The case was simply too controversial, too shocking for China’s trading partners (and everyone else) to just accept with a shrug. She was just a kid, and her arrest sparked a well-deserved international outcry.

So should we break out the Champagne and celebrate? Afraid not. From the same article:

Police also detained at least two people for organising online petitions for Liu’s release. Du Daobin, a civil servant, was detained in October, while Luo Changfu, a 39-year-old laid-off worker, was sentenced to three years in prison.

China has been cracking down on Internet content — from politics to pornography — as the government struggles to gain control over the new and popular medium.

I hope that ‘s clear to everyone. By releasing Liu Di, they’re admitting they didn’t have enough evidence to indict her. But the petitioners, who we now all know were correct in claiming her imprisonment was unjustified, they are now in jail! There’s a twisted irony here.

So as crackdowns on cyber-dissidents increase, this happy ending to one of the more outrageous cases should not be any reason to celebrate or let down our guard. To the contrary; all the recent news indicates the problem is getting much worse, not better.

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AIDS outbreak in Jilin Province confirmed

If you remember, when this story broke a week or so ago, all the honorable officials would say was, “There is no AIDS here!” and refuse to give their names to the reporters.

Oh, what a difference a week can make. Now the government is confirming that there is indeed an AIDS breakkout in the region, brought about by the government’s blood-donation business that started in 1984 and was closed a decade later:

A new outbreak of HIV/AIDS has surfaced in northeastern China’s Jilin province where up to 300 villagers could be infected with AIDS after donating blood at government blood stations, villagers and a rights group said.

“Right now there are three or four villages that have AIDS,” an official at the Soudeng township in Jilin city told AFP by phone.

He refused to estimate how many people in the area had been infected by the virus that causes AIDS, but the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said that up to 300 people could be infected.

“My uncle was infected with AIDS and died yesterday morning. My mother and father also have AIDS,” Huang Rui, a villager in Liujiatun village told AFP.

China is opening up about AIDS and they are finally showing signs of dealing with the catastrophe, or at least of doing more than nothing. Maybe it’s time they do away with their knee-jerk reaction of lies and denials everytime AIDS appears someplace new.

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Clinton gets plastered on Chinese Budweiser

That is to say, his face gets plastered on the Chinese Budweiser bottles. Go take a look – it is absolutely hilarious.

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More on The Cultural Revolution in Pictures

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1980: Soldiers prepare party official Wang Shouxin for a public execution by dislocating her jaw so she can’t proclaim her innocence. Charming.

This is a remarkable review of a book I wrote about earlier, Red-Color News Soldier by Li Zhengsheng, full of previously unpublished photographs of the Cultural Revolution and the years following

What makes this review special is that the reporter and his wife actually lived in Beijing throughout the Cultural Revolution and the review is infused with the passion of an eyewitness.

You had to be there – and, 30-odd years ago, we were, a Canadian foreign correspondent and family living in Beijing, bullied by the loudspeakers that poured forth Mao worship, day and night, to hundreds of millions of Chinese. It was laughable, and it almost drove us crazy.

Those mad times came flooding back the other day when leafing through Red-Color News Soldier, an extraordinary book of images by Li Zhengsheng (Phaidon Press).
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The photos can be startling. Monks stand in embarrassment, forced to hold up a banner reading: “To hell with the Buddhist scriptures. They are full of dog farts.” Softcover books litter the floor of a ransacked library; Li notes all the hardcover books had been taken by rival groups for use as projectiles.

One which brings back memories shows a parade in which wax mangoes are carried reverently in glass cases behind a statue of Mao. This commemorated the great man’s gift of real mangoes to worker-peasant propaganda teams. I saw one of the originals when I visited a factory in Beijing; it was preserved in formaldehyde and exhibited like a sliver of the true cross.

This is one book I want to own. Maybe I can pick up a copy when I’m in Beijing next week…?

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New York Times interviews Muzimei

Amazing. A big fat article in the NY Times about the Guangzhou sex kitten. Everything you ever wanted to know about her is here.

For the past month, as China’s propaganda machine has promoted the nation’s new space hero or the latest pronouncements from Communist Party leaders, the Chinese public has seemed more interested in a 25-year-old sex columnist whose beat is her own bedroom.

“I think my private life is very interesting,” said the columnist, Mu Zimei, arching an eyebrow and tapping a Marlboro Light into an ashtray. She added: “I do not oppose love, but I oppose loyalty. If love has to be based on loyalty, I will not choose love.”

Mu Zimei is both reviled and admired, but she is not ignored. The country’s most popular Internet site, Sina.com, credits her with attracting 10 million daily visitors. Another site, Sohu.com, says Mu Zimei is the name most often typed into its Internet search engine, surpassing one occasional runner-up, Mao Zedong.

It’s great that the Times is giving this so much space, taking a look not only at who she is but at how this episode has ignited a major nationwide debate in China on women and sex. A debate that’s making the government squirm.

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Photos of Korean Transexuals like Harisu = big site traffic

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Damn. After cresting at more than 1,000 hits on Thursday, traffic’s now returning to normal. With a mere 422 hits yesterday, I hang my head in shame.

It taught me a big lesson: The more photos of gorgeous three-quarters naked Korean transsexuals I post, the more visitors I’ll get.

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Aggregator Gone Awry

Well, it’s not really that bad, but the praise I offered yesterday is a bit more tempered today; at least regarding the technology (not the concept of the meta-blog).

It started when I went online this morning and saw that there were seven posts on the aggregator list by one poster, which might be totally legitmate; he may have posted them one after another all around the same time with no one posting in between. So, no problem. Then I went back about an hour later and saw that all seven posts had been replaced with new posts — so things were working as they were supposed to, right?

But then I returned a minute ago, and lo and behold all of those new posts are gone and all seven of the posts I saw more than two hours earlier were back! That means that some participating blogs could be getting little or no representation while a couple lucky bloggers are featured there for many hours.

This is just a technical glitch and obviously not intentional. But if people keep coming to Living in China and keep seeing the same posts listed, traffic will drop. A key reason for logging on again and again is, after all, to see what’s new in the community’s many blogs.

So I recommend we work this out as soon as possible. What makes Living in China so exciting is its robust, constantly changing nature and instant access to all that is new out there. That’s its “unique value proposition,” as we PR people love to tell our clients. If it doesn’t stay vital, it will rapidly lose its lustre.

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The Great Helmsman goes hip hop

As China becomes ever more capitalistic and obsessed with “hip Western culture,” how can the CCP keep today’s young people interested in stodgy old Mao? Easy! Turn him into a rapper:

In a desperate appeal to China’s fashionable youth, the Chinese Communist Party has approved the repackaging of Mao Tse-tung as a rap artist.

Mao’s favourite exhortation – the Two Musts – is to be set to music and released alongside pop versions of all the Great Helmsman’s old slogans, such as The East is Red and Serve the People.

The rap album to honour the 110th anniversary of Mao’s birth next month follows another record, A Red Sun, released to mark his centenary.

The Beijing Times said yesterday: “Ten years ago, the album A Red Sun brought a crimson tide of songs rushing through our music industry. This year, the China Record Company has finished the production of the powerfully red Mao Tse-tung and Us.”

With Mao’s 100th birthday fast approaching, the CCP is desperate to do whatever it can to rekindle enthusiasm for the Great Helmsman, now regarded by most young people, thank God, as utterly irrelevant.

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AIDS in China: A turning of the tide?

So how did European Union and Chinese delegates meeting on human rights in China wrap up their meeting this week? By visiting an AIDS treatment center in Beijing. And in light of China’s history of not acknowledging its AIDS catastrophe, this is a breakthrough.

Stories like this are suddenly becoming the norm. Bill Clinton’s recent participation in an AIDS conference in Beijing received massive media coverage, despite the CCP chieftains distancing themselves from the event. And China declared November “AIDS Awareness Month” and has plans to further spread the message on Monday, World AIDS Day.

You have to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that the CCP was denying that AIDS existed in China at all. Even after the AIDS-tainted-blood made it into the news.

So what was it that made China finally take on the AIDS issue, speaking in public about it, putting ads about it on TV, making publicized visits to AIDS treatment centers?

I’d guess that it wasn’t one thing, but a confluence of factors, including a huge crescendo over the past 8 weeks or so of international concern over China’s apparent unwillingness or inability to embrace the situation.

It was only a few weeks ago that a whole new angle was added to the media coverage of China’s AIDS crisis — the concern that AIDS was more than a social/medical nightmare for China, but a financial nghtmare with direct and painful ramifications for the economy. If anythings going to perk up the CCP’s ears, it’s that.

It’s hard to say exactly where/when the turning point began (and it may even be too early to call it a turning point at all). I’m going to take an optimistic viewpoint for once, and venture that it’s real, similar in many ways to their sudden enlightenment over SARS: It took all hell breaking loose and a shrill international outcry to get the CCP off their asses in both instances. It was only in the face of chaos and catastrophe that they budged.

But once they crossed that threshold, once they acknowledged they had a crisis that could no longer be brushed aside or covered up, they pulled out the stops and dealt with it. I really think we are seeing that now. It’s only just starting, and there is no excuse for their taking so many years to arrive at this realization. And thanks to their keeping their heads in the sand, its going to be much more difficult and expensive to contain the epidemic.

Still, if they are serious now, if they are actually making a true commitment and not just gesturing, maybe, just maybe they can deal with AIDS while there is still time. If they aren’t serious, then China will almost certainly be the next Africa, and the misery and death will be compounded exponentially.

Related post: The indescribable tragedy of AIDS in China

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AIDS awareness ads on Chinese TV

Adam has an eyewitness account of the latest AIDS awareness ads on CCTV. From what I’ve been reading, there will be a lot more of these. It’s years late, but certainly a step in the right direction.

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