Olympics’ water diversion threatens millions

In trying to make it look good to the world in August 2008, it appears China is willing to make itself look like an utter jackass in the here and now.

The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in China’s north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.

In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.

Predicted water shortages in China by 2010

In a critical tone seldom heard from Chinese officials, Mr An called on Beijing to provide compensation to the provinces that have been told to pump their cleanest water to the capital in order to ensure potable supplies during the Olympics.

Beijing will need an estimated 300m cubic metres of additional water just to flush out the polluted and stagnant rivers, canals and lakes in its central areas to put on a clean, environmentally-friendly face for Olympic visitors, according to municipal officials.

“In order to preserve the quality of Beijing’s water we have to close all our factories. But we still need to live. So I say the government needs to compensate Shaanxi,” Mr An said. “If you don’t compensate the masses then how can they survive?”

Will anyone really be fooled in August? Will anyone believe they are seeing “the real China,” with potable tap water, blue skies, no traffic and lots of happy smiling volunteers?

Another quickie with no time for depth. Apologies.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 99 Comments

The Potemkin Olympics?

February 27, 2008 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

One resource that is getting scarce globally is fresh water. Sudan’s humanitarian disaster started from water shortage. Many places in the old continents are getting drier, especially in densely populated countries. If you look at mankind as a whole, the best solution is open-border immigration policies. But it is not gonna happen…

So people will have to learn to cope. Some of the old farming techniques people have used in Northern China for millennium will have to be changed. Case in point, they can learn a lot from Israel in dry farming to better conserve fresh water.

February 27, 2008 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

People will be fooled. Just as people go to Shanghai and think they know China, people will go to Beijing during the Olympics and think it is Beijing year round.

February 27, 2008 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

Sad but probably true. I’m just thinking, there’s so much advance publicity about how China is creating a mirage, a Potemkin Village, how can anyone with half a brain be fooled? But then again, everything George Bush ever did was in the newspapers and people still voted for him twice, so I guess it’s entirely possible.

February 27, 2008 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Hospitality requires sacrifice!

February 27, 2008 @ 2:09 pm | Comment

There is a shortage of truth, not just fresh water, in China. It is difficult to have enough water, but faking it, like tigers and stuff, is easy. Will people be fooled ? Not all, just some. But that’s better than no one.

February 27, 2008 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

My profession is going to make so much money!!!!!….,

oh, anyway, um, all of you are missing the hidden message. This kind of outburst is rare for a provincial level official. He is basically throwing stones at Zhongnanhai. He should be seen as a canary in the mine of angry and thirsty provincial and local officials as well as the angry and thirsty people under their rule.

China’s dynastic turnovers are not led by citizens (save Sun Zhong Shan), they are led by officials and generals from the hinterlands and those who are threatened with severe thirst have little or nothing to lose by lashing out in armed anger.

I’m going to have a glass of fresh tap water now.
I live in the US and you guys don’t.

February 27, 2008 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

An Qiyuan is 75 years old, which means he long ago reached the coveted status of a retired “old comrade”. Retired “old comrades” in the Communist Party are provided access to regular government briefings, and continue to play a meaningful, but unofficial, role in advising government policies. And anyone who had any interaction with these “old comrades” would realize they have plenty of opinion and plenty of advice for the younger generations carrying on the torch.

So, his opinion does matter… but he’s not in government, so it doesn’t count that much.

As far as whether the Beijing Olympics are giving the world a “real look” at China… folks, it’s an international sporting event of great significance, not an anthropological dig visiting a distant society. Beijing should be cleaned up the same way all of you (I hope) clean up yourself + your homes before your parents/friends/future spouses come to visit; it may not be a reflection of day-to-day events, but it’s at least a reflection of what you hope to one day achieve.

As far as those in the outside world who want a “real look” at China… buy a plane ticket. There are 50 other weeks of the year, and 99 other years of the century available for anyone to get a look at the “real” China. It was never in Beijing’s application to the IOC that it would guarantee international athletes the “authentic” experience of a squat stall and a crowded bus.

February 27, 2008 @ 3:37 pm | Comment

CLB, I disagree. Those that are interested in China will probably know the score. Those that go for the cutesy-cutesy tourism and sport won’t care either way.

February 27, 2008 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

“Another quickie with no time for depth. Apologies.”
Richard, please stop apologizing. You keep the blog going despite appearing really really busy with a job that doesn’t allow time for blogging. There is really no need to apologize.

February 27, 2008 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

Lu, it’s just that I feel bad about putting up posts with almost no commentary.

Soon I am going to put up a post about why I am so crazed. I am under a lot of pressure at the moment.

February 27, 2008 @ 5:44 pm | Comment

You’d be surprised Richard. I know a well respected Scientist in his field who visited the main tourist cities in China on a guided visit with his fellow colleagues and he left believing that China was one of the most modern countries in the world.

Paint a pretty picture and make sure the blinders are securely fastened and the people will see exactly what you want them to.

February 27, 2008 @ 7:39 pm | Comment

Ugh. This is the stuff that really worries me. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get the reasoning behind pissing off an already disgruntled peasant base for the benefit of tourists who are going to be in town for two-three weeks (and who are probably all going to drink bottled water anyways because of all the environmental horror stories they’ve heard).

Like CCT said, the usual cleaning up for a major international gathering like the Olympics is to be expected. It’s the modus operandi of all host cities: spruce up your streets, sort out your traffic and transportation, relocate your homeless. As people we’ve all got a certain amount of pride, and we want to look good to guests.

When I read articles like this, however, I think Beijing is going a bit beyond cleaning up its house before the guests arrive.

It’s more like it has cordoned off the whole block, rebuilt the street and its underground pipe network, added ten floors to the house, sent the ugly kid to stay with grandma and parked an expensive rented sports car in the driveway. It has also banned cars from its street for the duration of the dinner. Oh, and hired security to tussle with any neighbour who dares ask just what the heck is going on. Oh, and freakin’ engineered the weather!

“As far as those in the outside world who want a “real look” at China… buy a plane ticket. There are 50 other weeks of the year, and 99 other years of the century available for anyone to get a look at the “real” China. It was never in Beijing’s application to the IOC that it would guarantee international athletes the “authentic” experience of a squat stall and a crowded bus.”

Hehe, good one CCT. I’ve been thinking about going back to China this summer for a visit (despite all the tough love I throw its way, I have some great friends there and am utterly fascinated with the place), but to be honest all this hoopla surrounding the Olympics makes me want to be nowhere near the place until all the dust has settled post-August.

So perhaps my opinions are tainted by a personal bias against the Olympics: you’ve screwed up my travel plans! :-)

February 27, 2008 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

Patrick, good to see you back. Great, great comment.

February 27, 2008 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

Related/unrelated, CCPs massive spy effort, new book.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hSuJT_RZ2q_TfVyBZ9s4YYZSlVAQ

February 28, 2008 @ 12:28 am | Comment

@PB,

China is re-engineering everything. This isn’t limited to Beijing and the Olympics. Focusing on what’s happening in Beijing and insisting the Olympics is somehow responsible for false change… well, it’s simply not true.

Think about the huge projects happening in every other corner of the country every other month of the year.

This year will see the opening of the 35 km bridge across Hangzhou bay. This follows the opening of a 32 km bridge outside of Hong Kong, last year. Last year saw the accelerated completion of the train system to Tibet.

I don’t know how many new subway lines will be completed this year, but I’d venture to guess… 10? 20? I know Nanjing’s number 2/number 3 lines are scheduled for completion shortly, as is Shenzhen. How many airports will be built in China this year?

How many rural peasants will leave the farm, and move into a city for the first time this year? Since we’re talking about 30% every 20 years… I’ll venture to say about 1.5% of the Chinese population, or approximately 20 million people.

The Olympics are only accelerating the work that would and should have been done, inevitably. I don’t see the negative in that. Hell, everything you folks take for granted today is probably unbelievably new and the product of an organized effort similar to the Olympics. (How quickly did Beijing build 3-huan, 4-huan, 5-huan… roads? How did the homes in Shanghai/Zhejiang get natural gas…? Via cross-country pipeline built at unbelievable expense and efficiency only 3-4 years ago.)

China is a social, physical, and economic re-engineering project of never-before-seen scale. What’s happening today *will* be talked about in history books 50-100 years from now, every bit as significant as the original European Industrial Revolution.

I don’t recognize a city if I’ve been away from it for more than 3-4 years. (I didn’t have an excuse to go to Nanjing for 2 years; busy getting married and having a baby… and I again didn’t recognize half the city.)

There are plenty of issues for specific concern, during this huge transition. How are resources being allocated; how are projects being decided; how are differing interests being balanced… feel free to analyze them in detail.

But a general sense of unease at the fact that China is re-making itself? Folks, if you wanted anything that looks remotely static, then you should’ve stay out of China circa 1990-2010.

February 28, 2008 @ 1:30 am | Comment

Bah. Keyboard diarrhea.

This year will see the opening of the 35 km bridge across Hangzhou bay. This follows the opening of a 32 km bridge outside of Hong Kong, last year.

I actually was referring to the 32 km bridge leading from Shanghai to its deep-water port. But my mistype does remind me that Hong Kong/Shenzhen opened up a new bridge last year as well; saves me 30 minutes every trip.

February 28, 2008 @ 1:32 am | Comment

By the way, who out there is also offended by the Beijing Olympics campaign to:

- reduce spitting,
- encourage forming of lines,
- wearing shirts during the summer?

Do those campaigns also represent a Potemkin lie?

February 28, 2008 @ 2:40 am | Comment

CCT,

Are we not allowed to post with any sort of humorous tone on this website? :-) . Of course I know that all the change going on in China is way deeper and broader than the Olympics, give me that much credit at least. I lived in Shandong and Zhejiang 2002-2004 (and went back for a while in 2005), travelled extensively across the mainland and saw more than my fair share of immense infrastructural projects and cities remaking themselves practically overnight. China’s grand project utterly fascinates me, and it can be exhilarating even though I worry of the toll on its own people.

But this post, and the article it references, are talking specifically about some massive water diversion for the Olympics. And let’s be honest with ourselves here- regardless of the change going on in all of China, Beijing as a specific city is probably going beyond any previous Olympics host in trying to engineer a ‘perfect’ experience.

My hometown of Montreal went through its own small-scale version of an “Olympics frenzy” back in the 1960s and 1970s for the 1976 summer event. And what do we have to show for it today? A ‘modern’ expressway system of elevated roads and tangled junctions which is now being dismantled at huge cost because it destroyed life in swaths of the city and is now falling apart, and a gargantuan white elephant in the Olympic Stadium which, will aesthetically interesting from a distance, has been condemned to oblivion by faults in its radical-for-the-time tower and roof design.

Combined with the World Expo in 1967, Montreal was in some ways “remade” over those two decades (more so the 60s), in no small part thanks to an autocratic mayor who had grand plans and a taste for monumental infrastructure and architecture. It helped that things got done on the cheap and at a speed which made the quality of construction inherently questionable. Sound familiar? Obviously, though, the scale of what is going on in Beijing dwarfs Montreal in comparison.

Of course in 2008, a lot of the Montreal’s energy is going into undoing as much of this legacy as it can. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say.

Alright, I’m getting way off on a tangent here. CCT, I agree with you 1000% that the China story is way, way, way bigger than anything to do with the Olympics and, one way or the other, is shaping the long-term world to come. The scale of it all makes that inevitable.

But that still doesn’t change my opinion that Beijing, as a city and a host, is going way overboard in its Olympics plans. C’mon, controlling the weather? Diverting huge amounts of water? That’s a bit different than paving some new boulevards or installing a light-rail line.

The strangest thing about this whole discussion is that no one would even be arguing whether the Olympics ‘represent’ China or not (does a two-week sporting event ever represent ANY country?) if the event had not been place at the heart of the Party’ propaganda story in the first place.

I question the long-term effects of hosting an event like the Olympics for ANY city, not just Beijing (look at Montreal, the example closest to home for me). Sometimes those of us with critical opinions are coming from other mindframes than mindless China-bashing.

February 28, 2008 @ 2:50 am | Comment

Not sure which project this guy is talking about. I thought the “South-to-North Water Diversion” project is not Olympics related, it was planned in the 1950′s.

http://www.nsbd.gov.cn/zx/english/english.htm

February 28, 2008 @ 3:06 am | Comment

@AC,

This isn’t *that* water diversion project, which is truly of huge scale. The project in this particular case is just a small engineering effort bringing drinkable water to specific regions of Beijing. I don’t know what the budget for this project is, but I doubt its more than a few million dollars.

@PB,

We can agree that it is possible to “do too much”. But what’s the problem with being prepared with weather engineering? This isn’t new technology developed exclusively for the Olympics; cloud seeding has been used for decades for all kinds of purposes.

It’s absolutely possible that many of the construction projects in China today will eventually end up being white elephants. No, I’ll actually say it’s inevitable. You can’t put up this many projects this quickly and hope for a 100% success rate; some forecasts justifying this construction will absolutely be wrong.

So, that’s certainly a reason for China to tread carefully. But treading carefully is not necessarily the same thing as treading slowly, or not moving at all. We have to accept in advance that some things simply can’t be known in advance, that some decisions will be wrong… but we can’t afford to be paralyzed by indecision.

February 28, 2008 @ 3:22 am | Comment

CCT, your points are well taken.

China today is about as far as you can get from being “paralyzed by indecision”, I certainly wouldn’t worry about that.

Treading carefully is not the same thing as treading slowly or not moving, sure, but the argument can be made that change in China is not treading very carefully either.

Its reform policies have often been careful, measured and based on localized experimentation, sure, and this can be exhibited as a cautious and sensible approach to change in a massive and diverse country (at least at the national level).

But on the ground, things are certainly quite different, I would argue due to rampant corruption, mixed political signals from above, fierce local interests and a real estate boom which, for the past decade if not more, has been for all intents and purposes completely out of control.

The speed and scale of so much change in China is exhilarating. As an avid urbanist and an amateur architectural photographer, I always have a field day on the mainland. As a mere human, I am also impressed by grandeur despite myself.

But no matter what it is, change in China is certainly is not careful. Things are just done way too fast, too brash and too big.

And that’s why so many Western engineers/architects/planners/real estate people positively drool at the very mention of the PRC. In such a context, they get away with projects they couldn’t even dream of implementing back home.

I’m sure you could find many who secretly dream of bulldozing swathes of major Western cities for fun, condos and profit. The only problem is that, for various political and cultural reasons, they can’t get away with it anymore.

And you know what? I’m rather happy they can’t. I live in a great neighbourhood in Montreal, a central location of small-scale homes and narrow streets. The sort of place that would be wiped off the map in a second if unfettered real estate interests had their way.

I don’t mind if some projects are paralyzed by indecision, or if some developer can’t build a warehouse-style mall on top of my home in the space of 5 months.

Citizen rights can be a bitch for efficiency, but I for one accept the trade-off gladly.

Anyways, thanks for debating the issues CCT. Richard probably appreciates that we haven’t degenerated into name-calling. :)

February 28, 2008 @ 4:07 am | Comment

@PB,

I think I’m of an age where name-calling lost its pull long ago. Not that I don’t have a temper, but I know there’s little satisfaction to gain from unleashing it randomly.

As far as construction and China’s rebuild… I visited Europe for the first time last year, and it gave me some insight into what Chinese cities *could* have been. Paris especially impressed me with its ability to preserve its historical heritage while engaging all of the nice luxuries of modern life. It was remarkable, inspiring.

But as I talked about in one of the other threads on this forum… I don’t think China has the option of taking it slow now. It’s simply unfair and cruel, because it implies intentionally leaving hundreds of millions of people in homes that aren’t habitable. I don’t know what your home in Montreal is like, but I’d assume it’s more than 100 sq ft large, has indoor plumbing, and safe electrical wiring. And if it didn’t, would you still call for loving preservation?

The home I grew up in was torn down in 1994. It was a lovely, lovely home close to the Drum Tower in Nanjing. It was really the home of an aristocrat; my grandfather was a traditional Confucian scholar and a senior member of the ROC foreign ministry. It was three stories tall, built in the early 20th century, had a lovely backyard, and a graceful wall. You would’ve loved it from an architectural point of view, I’m sure.

But by the time I grew up on it, the main house was being shared by 4 nuclear families. My grandmother; my parents and I; one uncle’s family with two sons; another uncle’s family with a son and a daughter. My immediate family’s living space consisted of the 3rd floor attic (about 200 sq ft for 3 people), and a divided kitchen. The early 20th century wiring was exposed and completely unsafe. We didn’t have working indoor plumbing. We cooked with coal. The backyard had a small home built onto it, in which another (unrelated) family now lived. Everyone had to walk by an exposed sewage pit (I still don’t know where the cover was) entering/leaving the house.

Am I really supposed to be disappointed at the replacement of that house (and neighboring houses), with a 4 story apartment block? Made of concrete and very ugly… very typical of mid-1990s Chinese construction. But at least it had sealed windows, flushable toilets, and electric outlets.

I believe China had an opportunity to preserve its cultural heritage, perhaps in the early years of the Republican era. If China had a strong government capable of keeping the country from descending into civil war, chaos, and foreign invasion from 1910-1950, I believe Chinese cities could have possibly matched what Paris looks like today.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. And you just can’t leave generations growing up in filth and disease just to preserve a romantic notion of how cities should develop.

February 28, 2008 @ 5:02 am | Comment

PB, went to Montreal the past summer, and saw first-handed the tear-down of some old elevated bypasses. After Montreal, hosting the Olympics has become quite profitable to a city.

Your lifestyle of living in a small-scaled home, essentially rob the opportunities of some tens, if not hundreds of Chinese or Sudanese immigrants living in a comfortable high-rise building. What Chinese or Sudanese immigrants, you may ask? Exactly the point. Canada is a vast and scarcely populated country, and your desired lifestyle can, should, and will be preserved. On the other hand, let those Sudanese compete the dwindling fresh water supply and living space. The whole point of the Sudan topic in the West isn’t about making Sudanese’ lives better, but rather making those activists feel good about themselves — not you personally, PB. But I digress.

In China though, you are talking about urbanization at an unheard of scale. Each year, Chinese peasants at the number of near half of the total Canadian population, permanently move to urban areas. And existing urban dwellers also want larger and more comfortable home. I don’t think they have the luxury as you enjoy.

February 28, 2008 @ 5:19 am | Comment

CCT,

Well I certainly agree with your points- I am no romantic regarding conservation or urban change.

I completely disagree with people who believe cities are museum artifacts to be frozen in time. They are living, organic, evolving places, and people forget that everything that is now considered worth preserving was once new at one point in time.

I completely agree that generations cannot be left in filth and disease so there are a few nice buildings around to look at.

But this is not really where I’m coming from. Contemplating what sort of city you want to live in, what shape you want it to be, is not the same as advocating the preservation of poverty. Planning for a liveable city is very different from historical conservation for its own sake.

But you’ll probably agree that WAY more consideration could be going into how Chinese cities are being re-shaped and re-imagined.
And I’m not talking about architecture or aesthetics: I’m talking about planning, transportation, land-use and property issues.

China’s immense population makes all of this a huge and daunting challenge to be sure, but there are still some glaringly short-sighted decisions. Unfortunately, it seems that up until now corruption and fast real estate money have been some of the main drivers of urban change.

Born into 1980 Canada, I did not experience the same hardship as you in the past. I readily admit that indoor plumbing, electricity and home comfort have been a given my whole life. But I think I am still allowed to recognize that the development ethic of so many industrialized cities, Western or otherwise, is deeply flawed and ultimately unhealthy and unsustainable.

And so when I stop to think about what is in China’s massive urban change that I find unsettling, it comes down to this: it frustrates the hell out of me.

Why is this? Because I think of a society on the rise, in this day and age, with the future before it. It has glaring examples of false paths taken in other parts of the world (automobile-centered urban growth, overconsumption of power and water) available through hindsight. In terms of so much infrastructure, it could have effectively started from scratch. Given that the state has little hesitation demolishing large parts of cities, it had the power to try something completely new. As a massive market, it has the weight to force change on multinational corporations.

And yet it seems intent- hellbent even- on repeating the same mistakes made elsewhere, only on a much larger scale. With the 21st century ahead of it, for some reason China seems intent on turning itself into 20th century America. And that makes me fear for our planet a bit. Maybe I’m just expecting some vision from the world’s rising power, something different, I don’t know if that is too much to ask.

This argumentation might well be unfair, I know, but opinions and gut feelings are more often than not irrational.

On a side note, you might be pleasantly surprised by my neighbourhood in Montreal. The housing is old-stock working class/gentrified (quite old), small-scale and supported by a tangle of wires and leaning utility poles. Your average Chinese person wouldn’t find it very “modern” looking at all. And I don’t spend half my day in a car- in fact, I don’t even own one.

February 28, 2008 @ 6:09 am | Comment

Jxie,

Of course you are right. Comparisons are always so difficult because everything in China is on such an immense, even unfathomable, population scale. In that sense, I know how lucky I am to enjoy a lifestyle that most in China could only dream of. Canada is an quite an exceptional place. And that’s why I try to not be too unfair in my argumentation- I’ve also lived in China for a little while, and have seen the tremendous challenges and limitations the country faces. There are no easy answers, that’s for sure.

February 28, 2008 @ 6:18 am | Comment

@PB,

Everyone on this planet has an opinion, and you’re certainly entitled to yours. And to your credit, you’ve clearly put some thought into formulating your opinion.

I understand you’re frustrated, but I’m afraid I can’t agree with most of the causes for that frustration. (Again, IMO: tearing down buildings and rebuilding with new as quickly as possible = a good thing.)

Note that China’s pollution standard for cars is more restrictive than the United States; note, also, that free plastic bags have been banned entirely in China. (I haven’t had a chance to see this for myself, since its very new policy… but I hear it’s quite a change.) The government is sensitive to this issue, and will adopt the “obvious” policy changes whenever the costs are not too high.

But I do share your concern on one issue: cars. I think a car culture is unnecessary (in China), it’s expensive, and it negatively effects social development + city planning in a thousand different ways. I strongly hope this is a genie Beijing finds a way to stick back in the bottle, before car ownership becomes even more widespread than it is today.

The advantage of having a strong auto industry (which, after all, had been the backbone of US/Japanese/South Korean industry for decades) doesn’t out-weigh the long-term disadvantages, in my opinion.

February 28, 2008 @ 6:36 am | Comment

About that plastic bag thing; anybody in China notice if its being enforced? I’m not in China at the moment, but thinking back to every little ma and pa street vendor selling barbequed who-knows-what and giving it to you in a little crummy plastic bag, and remembering how fond of dead letters the government seemed, I’m having a very hard time imagining that being taken seriously at all. I suppose in the Wal-Marts and the other tiny minority of retail outlets that would take a bank card might be complying, but every where else?

February 28, 2008 @ 7:21 am | Comment

My understanding is that it’s effective as of June 1 and it’s not a complete ban. Certain types of bags will be banned outright, other bags will still be available at stores for a small surcharge per bag.

But I’ve noticed that many foreigners here, and not a few Chinese as well, have already switched to cloth or canvas bags for their shopping trips, which I think is great. And of course a lot of the older Chinese never gave up the ecologically friendly habit of using baskets when going to the market.

Jenny Lou’s was giving away green cloth shopping bags as a premium last year and that’s the one that we use.

February 28, 2008 @ 7:45 am | Comment

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-02/26/content_7673149.htm

BEIJING, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) — Huaqiang, China’s largest plastic bag manufacturer, has shut because of a national environmental drive that will impose limits on their use starting on June 1, a local source said Tuesday.

The Henan Province-based factory stopped production in mid January and its 20,000 employees were awaiting their fate, said Liu Henglie, the commerce bureau director in Suiping County where the plant is located.


“Our factory stopped production on Jan. 18,” said Chen Suhong, a veteran worker at the Luohe factory. “The electricity was cut off when I was on the afternoon shift. Later, our head gave us several days off because of output reduction.”

….

Many of the province’s companies are now focusing on recyclable plastics. Henan Tianguan Group, another major plastic producer, has built a product line of degradable plastic with an annual production of 500,000 tons.

February 28, 2008 @ 7:51 am | Comment

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120363429707884255.html?mod=yhoofront

Potemkin Railway?

If those elk had not been pregnant, we might never have known this scandal, and we not have known FOR SURE without loopholes in the firewall.

February 28, 2008 @ 8:00 am | Comment

I love the story of the elk, as well as related stories that have come out since. (An award winning photograph showing a house-fire also proven to be doctored.) All of this comes out of the South China Tiger story, of course. I assume that’s been covered here, although I don’t really know for sure.

Frankly, I think this all bodes well for China. It reflects the constructive role that “the masses” can have in providing oversight of government in China. If you combine this sort of investigative spirit with greater government transparency (transparency in hiring/bidding/budgeting is growing), there’s hope.

That said, I hope Beijing gets ahead of the curve and manages this new media before it totally runs out of control. There have also been 1000 mistakes made by the Internet mob, and real people are getting very hurt. (Recently, a fake story circulated involving a well-known Chinese journalist, a rape victim, and a suicide.)

I’ll say it again: shimingzhi. 实名制 实名制 实名制. It means tying real people to their online activities, and punishing those who perpetuate fraud. I personally think this is a critical, and missing, piece of the online universe in China.

February 28, 2008 @ 8:32 am | Comment

@snow,

By the way, what do “holes” in the great firewall have to do with the elk?

All of this discussion, discovery, subsequent campaign for firing/consequences happened on Chinese servers courtesy of Chinese netizens. As did the South China Tiger.

February 28, 2008 @ 8:46 am | Comment

sometimes I just dont know what these stupid Chinese officials are thinking.
http://2008.163.com/08/0128/22/43B2D83N007424PJ.html

Dressing code for Shenyang residents during Olympic period.

Dont show lower leg, use light makeups.
Seriously WTF

February 28, 2008 @ 9:32 am | Comment

“I hope Beijing gets ahead of the curve and manages this new media before it totally runs out of control……shimingzhi … It means tying real people to their online activities…”

Wow, CCT. Just when the door of free expression is beginning to open, you want to slam it shut again. Do you seriously think Beijing should ‘manage’ the media even more than it already does?

February 28, 2008 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

CCT – I’m going to have to call “foul” on that statement you made about emission standards being tougher in China than in the US.

The emission standards you speak of are for NEW light duty and heavy duty vehicles. Here is how they break-down and when they went/go into effect:

Light Duty Vehicles
Euro 1 2000.01 Nationwide
Euro 2 2002.08 Beijing
2003.03 Shanghai
petrol: 2004.07/diesel: 2003.09 Nationwide
Euro 3 2005.01 Beijing
2007.07 Nationwide
Euro 4 2008.01 Beijing
2010.07 Nationwide

Heavy Duty
Euro I 2000
Euro II 2002
Euro III 2007
Euro IV 2010

Sources: http://www.dieselnet.com/standards/cn/

“Currently, vehicles sold in the United States must meet “Tier II” standards that went into effect in 2004. “Tier II” standards are currently being phased in¡ªa process that should be complete by 2009. Within the Tier II ranking, there is a subranking ranging from BIN 1-10, with 1 being the cleanest (Zero Emission vehicle) and 10 being the dirtiest. The former Tier 1 standards that were effective from 1994 until 2003 were different between automobiles and light trucks (SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans), but Tier II standards are the same for both types.”

Furthermore, “some of the strictest standards in the world are enforced in California by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), following the 2002 enactment of California AB 1493, which includes regulation of greenhouse gases.”

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emission_standard

If you want to see how the Tier II standards break down into particulate matter, CO, and NOx, you can check it out for yourself here:
http://www.dieselnet.com/standards/us/ld_t2.php

Just doing a quick comparison between the US vs. Euro III

Euro III Tier II (@BIN 5)
CO – 0.64 3.4
NOx – 0.50 0.05
HC – 0.56 0.015
PM – 0.05 -

At BIN 4 and lower all emissions must drop to nil.

February 28, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

China can’t re-engineer air pollution, and as I recall from being there last year on the ’100 day countdown’ when I could not see across the 3rd ring road, some of the bad acne of China are going to come through no matter how much of that pancake makeup China puts on.

February 28, 2008 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

Yes, CCT, I couldn’t think of anything better than tying people to their online activities… it is the next great step for Chinese society! As if Chinese Internet control wasn’t tight enough already… we really need to close these loopholes where people could possibly log on to the Internet without the Chinese government knowing exactly who they are and what they are writing!
In case you didn’t notice, I’m being ironic… as I hope that you were when you mentioned emissions standards… or perhaps you just haven’t been to China recently? Perhaps it is a fantasy world to you… because, if you had been to China recently, you might have noticed the massive black clouds of smoke that shoot out of almost all public buses, taxis, etc…
Or perhaps you were just being disingenuous, which I could understand.

February 28, 2008 @ 2:42 pm | Comment

Sorry Richard and other Mods if I hammered my post a few times. I was having internet issues… I guess the number of links I included in the last post sent the spam filter screaming…

Yes, it was a l lot of numbers, but it’s not as pretty a picture as you’d like to paint, CCT.

Furthermore, in regards to the plastic bags, that rule does not go into effect until 1 June as others have pointed out. However, as I recall, the price of disposable chopsticks was also supposed to go up with an increase in tax on those as well as styrofoam containers… Wasn’t that around the 1st of June 2006?

And, yes, I read the story you quoted from CD. That’s a wonderful piece of propaganda… I almost cried for lost jobs. However, I don’t buy it one bit. I’ll bet you a kuai to a baozi (dollar to a donut) that the owner was just using that a nice little cover for something else. Hmm… workers show up and the power is off? The power was cut off and given several days off?

February 28, 2008 @ 3:49 pm | Comment

i’ve read the debate between pb and cct with interest. cct, you might be interested in a book called “wild grass” by ian johnson. one chapter is about the renewal of beijing and cover much of what you have both just said. one of the arguments given by the chinese who are opposed to the demolition of the old areas (and, often, their homes) is that the old structures are actually much stronger than the new cheap stuff which will have to come down again in another 20-30 years. they argue it would be better to renovate – the structure of the buildings are often actually fine.

the answer to the whole water thing is simple – china the country does not have the natural resources to support the lives of 1.3bn ppl. this is an issue with or without the olympics. barring a major breakthrough in energy and desalination technology china is going to have a huge problem in the not too distant future.

February 28, 2008 @ 9:34 pm | Comment

@Heiney,

I don’t mind your numbers. And I’m glad you filled in a few details. I just have no idea what your point is.

- all countries: EU, United States, and China are phasing in their emission standards by applying them only to new vehicles.

- China’s current III standards are significantly tighter than current American standards on the headline issues: CO2 and particulate matter. China’s IV standards to be phased in 2 years will be tighter than the American standards phased in over the same time.

- As far as disposable chopsticks… again, what’s your point exactly? Are you sure that their price haven’t gone up, and that their usage hasn’t dropped relative to 2005?

- (On styrofoam… I don’t study the topic, but my impression is that the typical take-out boxes I’ve seen recently are using paper-like material.)

China isn’t San Francisco. It clearly isn’t leading the environmental movement… nor should it, as a developing nation of 1.3 billion. But she’s already done more when compared to many of her developed peers.

February 29, 2008 @ 12:21 am | Comment

@kevin,

I’m probably wasting my breath discussing facts with you, but see above discussion for details on emission standards.

Air pollution in China is a huge issue, and it’s continued to worsen on a daily basis. But that’s what happens when a city like Shenzhen adds a few thousand vehicles every single day… and as I said above, I think emphasizing the car culture is a tremendous mistake by the Chinese government.

As far as taxi/buses, last few times I was in Shanghai, all the taxis I took seemed to be powered by natural gas. FYI.

@Stuart/Kevin,
I don’t believe for a second that openness and responsibility are mutually exclusive.

With shimingzhi, what I call for is very specific: a way for online netizens to be held responsible for their online speech. In other words, the same way anyone would be held responsible if they were to publish a printed newspaper in *any* society.

I believe once that’s in place, a healthier, more open online society can exist. I believe that the censorship of online posts can be dramatically reduced.

February 29, 2008 @ 1:53 am | Comment

best solution is open-border immigration policies

How would this help?

People will be fooled.

I doubt it. I think the only people that will be fooled are peasants coming in to Beijing who do not have internet access.

February 29, 2008 @ 1:58 am | Comment

@ferin,

> best solution is open-border immigration policies
> How would this help?

Let the Chinese freely immigrate to Australia, the United States, and Canada. These countries don’t even have to provide buy-in public services (like social security/insurance)… so that there’s no danger of bankrupting these nations.

Just let the Chinese (and Darfuris) work. And the over-population, dwindling water supply problem will be solved. The advantages are huge: the global environment may very well be saved, billions will be lifted out of suffering, and perhaps we’ll see an end to many of these conflicts.

The price of such a policy? It’ll probably depress wages in many of these countries. No democracy will ever let *that* happen… the environment be damned.

February 29, 2008 @ 2:33 am | Comment

“…the same way anyone would be held responsible if they were to publish a printed newspaper in *any* society. ”

CCT you’re joking, right?

February 29, 2008 @ 2:51 am | Comment

An inherent flaw in democracy shows up when you realize mass immigration or overbreeding will significantly change the political position of a nation.

February 29, 2008 @ 3:04 am | Comment

@Rich,

No, I’m not kidding. The United States might not be a good example, but are you familiar with the British case of Abu Hamza al-Masri?

February 29, 2008 @ 5:37 am | Comment

Sorry, CCT, but it is quite a stretch of the imagination to compare people harassed for their Internet use in China (e.g. Hu Jia) to Abu Hamza al-Masri. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

February 29, 2008 @ 6:07 am | Comment

@kevin,

No need to apologize. My point isn’t to draw an equivalency, or make any sort of value judgment on Hu Jia or his subsequent arrest.

Frankly, and I’ll just lay this out there: I don’t care all that much about Hu Jia.

If there’s only one thing I’m remotely upset about involving Hu Jia, it’s the allegation that his lawyer hasn’t been able to visit him. But really, the allegation comes from less than dependable sources anyways.

What I’m talking about here is the development of a healthy, constructive internet culture in China as a whole. I don’t believe the interests of all 1.3 billion of us are best served by “defending” Hu Jia’s right to do whatever it is he wants to do; I’d rather see constructive policy that helps regulate this growing social force.

February 29, 2008 @ 6:30 am | Comment

I swear this is just a coincidence… but feel free to assume I’m some how connected to the highest level of the Beijing government.

Beijing releases a white paper discussing development of the Chinese legal system. Good read, and matches some of my conclusions from before.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-02/28/content_7687418_15.htm

China is the largest developing country in the world. It is, and will be, in the primary stage of socialism for a long time to come. China’s legal construction is still facing some problems: The development of democracy and the rule of law still falls short of the needs of economic and social development; the legal framework shows certain characteristics of the current stage and calls for further improvement; in some regions and departments, laws are not observed, or strictly enforced, violators are not brought to justice; local protectionism, departmental protectionism and difficulties in law enforcement occur from time to time; some government functionaries take bribes and bend the law, abuse their power when executing the law, abuse their authority to override the law, and substitute their words for the law, thus bringing damage to the socialist rule of law; and the task still remains onerous to strengthen education in the rule of law, and enhance the awareness of law and the concept of the rule of law among the public.

Exactly.

The next paragraph does contain a bunch of nonsense about the “principal” that the CPC must remain the leader for all such reforms, which most Chinese couldn’t care less about.

February 29, 2008 @ 6:48 am | Comment

The water problem is surely a story to watch for the next years. I read an interview with the investor Jim Rogers recently who is a big China fan and sees a great future for the country, but the water crisis China faces, he said, is the one big thing that poses a real danger to the further developement of the country. You not only need water to grow stuff and for people to drink, but also for all kinds of industries.

That the government is making huge efforts to make Beijing look nice and clean in August should surprise nobody, and that it doesn’t care too much about the details (i.e. couple of 100 k or perhaps some mio. people having problems to get fresh water) shouldn’t surprise neither.
I espacially loved the comment of CCT when he compared the cleaning of Beijing, with cleaning your house before visitors come. I can reassure you, CCT, I do clean before visitors come, but I don’t suck my neighbours water tap dry to do that.

February 29, 2008 @ 9:22 am | Comment

Shulan,

It’s actually not that bad. The lowest published cost of desalinated water worldwide, is roughly the same as water price in Beijing now. Granted tagging on transportation and distribution costs, likely desalinated water in Beijing will cost maybe twice as much. But anyway water shortage itself won’t be that devastating for China.

Globally though, if the more pessimistic peak oil theorists are correct, the disallocation will be very painful, very soon.

February 29, 2008 @ 10:08 am | Comment

“… but feel free to assume I’m some how connected to the highest level of the Beijing government.”

Are you the reason I need a proxy to access this site right now? If so, nice try; but I got here anyway!

“I don’t care all that much about Hu Jia.”

Interesting. I understand he speaks very highly of you.

February 29, 2008 @ 11:01 am | Comment

CCT, you have moved from one subject to another with the only logic tying your arguments together being a systematic and utter lack of logic. From praising emissions standards in China to comparing Olympic cleanup to “cleaning house,” from calling for the implementation of “shimingzhi” to comparing China’s ruthless Internet censorship to the British prosecution of “Captain Hook,” all the way to showing your true colors by saying “I don’t care about Hu Jia:” what a patriot you are! The real citizens of your nation don’t matter! All that matters is a false impression presented to the world.
It is for this reason that I’m clearly “‘wasting my breath discussing facts with you.” Try again when you evolve beyond your current stage of state-ist narcissism. Until then, no one besides the gang of fenqing who troll around here could take you seriously.

February 29, 2008 @ 1:06 pm | Comment

@shulan,

> I can reassure you, CCT, I do clean before
> visitors come, but I don’t suck my neighbours
> water tap dry to do that.

Uh, okay.

@kevin,

Perhaps you don’t recognize the logic of my “arguments” because you’re sunk so deeply in your simplistic black/white world, you’re only capable of debating Beijing’s morality and little else.

This isn’t a theoretical debate for me; I have informed opinions on specific policies that impact my life, my family, and my country. And I don’t have any interest in little-minded idealists like you.

February 29, 2008 @ 2:21 pm | Comment

Some of CCT comments about housing reminds me of the situation of Germany after the war.
Cities were greatly destroyed and there was a need to provide housing as fast as possible to the greatest number of people. Esthetically the results were… ugly and disrupted the old architecture of beautiful old cities. The results can still be seen today.

City crowding, massive immigration, low quality of available housing may leave no other option for the same path to be followed in China, still much has been lost. Hope some real state developers see the value of keeping some old quarters (after being rehabilitated) I suppose some upper class people would pay premium prices for a nice house there.

Agree with the car issue, but I do not see how they are going to prevent some parts of China to turn into a huge traffic jam.
A backfire of the police to heavily promote auto industry in China?

At least big subway and high speed problem would keep people moving. Impressive big subway project in Shanghai by the way.

Curious. In Madrid the local government is trying to move people from cars to motorbikes, with lukewarm success in spite of the advantages it provides (easier parking, permission to use bus ways)
How about bikes? Any provision for bikes lanes in Chinese cities? A pity that that culture is being lost.
Although with current high contamination levels it may be no longer so good for ones health…

February 29, 2008 @ 3:48 pm | Comment

That looks interesting!

http://cities.media.mit.edu/projects/scooter.html

Who said Chinese were not inventive?

February 29, 2008 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

@shulan

Wife looking worried:
Dear. What is that shucking sound coming out of the bathroom!?
………
……..
Husband:
Dam! Our neighbor is celebrating the olympic games again!!!
;-)

February 29, 2008 @ 4:22 pm | Comment

Despite your dismissal of Hu Jia, might not his imprisonment have an effect upon his life, his family, and even his country? He never did anything to your life and your family, so what right do you have to be so nonchalant about his illegal detention.

I appreciate your attempt to paint me as black/ white debater… I have to be doing somethign right if I am rubbing you the wrong way. Considering your approach (ignoring my points and painting me as somehow “detachedly biased”- although you did not put it so eloquently), you might wanna apply for a job at Fox news, or, perhaps, CCTV (just add a “v”)! However, might not this be an utterly black/ white exchange for you (considering your ability to support current chinese policy on a number of seemingly contradictory fronts- “anyway, i know, gov always right!”). In the end, you’re making the same mistake that many Japanese citizens did during WWII!
While you claim that it is not a theoretical debate for you, you blatantly refuse real-world facts, which makes it very falsely theoretical (as it is certainly not grounded in reality). While calling me an “idealist,” you are the one who is caught up in a romanticized ideal of a thoroughly corrupted Communist Party that should be disposed of as soon as possible. Obviously, I can’t talk you out of your ball-fondling of the Party, so it’s best to just leave you in your nationalist diaper.
Have a good day, and try applying a more critical perspective on the events around you.

February 29, 2008 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

whilst of course there is a housing shortage in china, it is a bit disingeneous to say that the current knock it down, build them high and cheap is solely motivated by this. a lot of it is about money and corrupt kickbacks and moving five families into a house together back in the fifties and sixties was about humiliating the landlords.

@jxie

“It’s actually not that bad. The lowest published cost of desalinated water worldwide, is roughly the same as water price in Beijing now. Granted tagging on transportation and distribution costs, likely desalinated water in Beijing will cost maybe twice as much. But anyway water shortage itself won’t be that devastating for China.”

i’d be interested in knowing where you got those statistics from. my understanding of the situation was that china is overall a very dry country and the low water prices are due to govt subsidy.

@cct

i enjoy reading what you say, but comparing hu jia to a hate mongering terrorist aide is somewhat ridiculous.

February 29, 2008 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

Si, yes, Northern China is very dry, especially considered the population it supports. Desalination isn’t a major water source in China yet but it can be, without being devastatingly costly. There have been some investments in China to increase desalination capacities.

Water for residential usage in Beijing sells for over 3 yuans per cubic meter now, much the same as many other Northern Chinese. Worldwide, the lowest desalination production cost reported is in Singapore, US$0.49 per cubic meter. (You can google it)

February 29, 2008 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

@Si,

> i enjoy reading what you say, but comparing hu jia to a hate mongering terrorist aide is somewhat ridiculous.

I can see now that my post could be read that way, but that wasn’t my intent. As I said, I don’t really care about Hu Jia. I don’t know much about him beyond what I’ve read online, and I can see little that he’s done that has helped me, my family, or my country. It seems obvious to me that Hu Jia wasn’t arrested because he was a symbol; he became a symbol because he was arrested.

My original point was that in the UK, there are legal consequences even for those who “speak” irresponsibly… recognizing that irresponsible speech can indeed be dangerous.

I believe that the Chinese internet needs to be managed in a similar way. Quite frankly, the Chinese internet in this day and age is 1000x more effective in transmitting a message and making a social impact than an extremist Imam in a mosque. So, from a hardware point of view, I absolutely see the need for shimingzhi.

While calling me an “idealist,” you are the one who is caught up in a romanticized ideal of a thoroughly corrupted Communist Party that should be disposed of as soon as possible.

Kevin, it was obvious from line 1 of your first posting that this was the rockbed of your entire philosophical outlook. Your priority is in “disposing of the thoroughly corrupted Communist Party”.

And you know what the difference is between you and me? I don’t care about the Communist Party any more than I care about Hu Jia. The Communist Party can disappear tomorrow, and I for one wouldn’t shed a tear. You, apparently, are filled with overwhelming emotion for these two entities that you can’t possibly justify logically.

I get it. You’re a barking puppy. This online posting thing is a hobby for you, and gnawing on the Communist Party is your pet bone of the week. I’m going to keep calling you an idealist, although the term is rather generous for what you are.

I, on the other hand, believe I’m just a selfish, barely informed, average guy. I want the best for myself, my immediate family, my extended family, and my country… and in that order. All of what I said above comes out of those priorities.

March 1, 2008 @ 12:46 am | Comment

“My original point was that in the UK, there are legal consequences even for those who “speak” irresponsibly… recognizing that irresponsible speech can indeed be dangerous. ”

CCT, it is not irresponsible speech. Not checking facts, sloppy research etc may be irresponsible but inciting violence and destruction is something else.

March 1, 2008 @ 1:49 am | Comment

@Rich,

I’m not particularly looking to get involved in debating the specifics of this… but in the US, his speech would be morally irresponsible, but not at all criminal. His speech would be protected under American law.

March 1, 2008 @ 2:29 am | Comment

just to say hi,

I’ve got too much to do right now, but I still read a bit and wish I had more time to talk to you all…

I was really weirded out that someone implied that having water to drink and air to breath is not as important as ‘materialism’, here in the West we are learning that that is not the way, and in China, you want “catch up”!!?

Personally I prioritize soul, and babies born with the normal amount of limbs and stuff like that,………anyway,

cheers and all (-:

March 1, 2008 @ 2:20 pm | Comment

Yahoo sued again for being…. bad…

http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9881042-7.html

March 1, 2008 @ 3:49 pm | Comment

Too bad the newest thread got shut down so soon, the Waynester sent me the nicest email.

March 1, 2008 @ 4:14 pm | Comment

What did he say? We’re all curious!

March 1, 2008 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

“having water to drink and air to breath is not as important as ‘materialism’, here in the West we are learning that that is not the way, and in China, you want “catch up”!!?”

I think the solution is for China to ban luxury goods from Europe, and in turn people in developed countries can give up porn, fatty food, expensive chocolates, luxury cars, huge houses, and the 90th toy for their ugly brat and send the money they save to the third world.

March 1, 2008 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

ferin,

I dont think banning stuff will solve the religious materialism issue. The communist party is an atheist church and tells people that the only point of living is to struggle for material well being. They have called the conscience and the Chinese virtues ‘feudal superstitions” and told people that they are from monkeys which is not the Chinese culture….. So in order to have people be able to be satisfied with less material greed, I think culture will have to be reintroduced… I really do not think the CCP is in any position to bring that back after all the evil they have committed….

But really, if you dont believe in the value of virtues and conscience and all that traditional Chinese custom stuff, then why shouldnt the Chinese people be the most currupt, backstabbing social darwinists on the planet? What would it all matter anyway? atheist Communism is really an ugly religion…. If we are all just monkeys with no reason to be kind and no afterlife, and only struggle for materials, then, there is no limit to the ugliness people can unleash, which is what is being played out in China now.

March 2, 2008 @ 12:47 am | Comment

You mean being played out by the CCP? The average Chinese person is still less greedy and criminal than the average Canadian or French or American.

They should reintroduce their own culture, not Falun Gong, Christianity and American mercantilism.

March 2, 2008 @ 12:59 am | Comment

China is still “third world”.

March 2, 2008 @ 1:56 am | Comment

“The average Chinese person is still less greedy and criminal than the average Canadian or French or American.”

Good one, Ferin. I would say, the average person on this planet has far more common sense than a little racist troll like you. And by the way, I still want to know, if the USA is so bad, why don’t you just leave?

March 2, 2008 @ 8:41 am | Comment

ferin. “”"”The average Chinese person is still less greedy and criminal than the average Canadian or French or American.”"”"

disagree. What makes you think that?

March 2, 2008 @ 11:11 am | Comment

I don’t know much about him beyond what I’ve read online, and I can see little that he’s done that has helped me, my family, or my country. It seems obvious to me that Hu Jia wasn’t arrested because he was a symbol; he became a symbol because he was arrested.

So what? People said similar things about suffragettes like Emily Pankhurst in the 19th century or about the defiant Rosa Parks in the 1950s.

March 2, 2008 @ 11:19 pm | Comment

“disagree. What makes you think that?”

Crime rates, track record. Chinese people might spit all over the place but they’re unlikely to murder or rape someone. This is true outside of China and in, regardless of how harsh the laws are.

March 2, 2008 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

“Crime rates, track record.”

I guess the Peking Duck’s most beloved troll is talking about those 1993 FBI statistics that supposedly prove whatever he is saying.

“Chinese people might spit all over the place but they’re unlikely to murder or rape someone.”

Sure, nobody in China ever gets murdered or raped. Just doesn’t happen. The Peking Duck’s favorite troll obviously doesn’t know the least bit about China.

“This is true outside of China and in, regardless of how harsh the laws are.”

The Peking Duck’s most favored troll, for some reason, I can’t work out yet, has chosen to reside outside of China, and guess what, of all the countries in the world, the one he’s chosen to live in is the evil US of A.

March 3, 2008 @ 5:09 am | Comment

@cct

you should really just admit that jailing someone for advocating terrorism and mass murder is one thing, jailing someone for exposing corruption and lies another. most of the time i respect what you are saying, but that line of argument is risible.

March 3, 2008 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

@CCT

Fair enough, no specifics. Just thinking that your belief in accountability online is incongruous given that it is almost certain that you are not using your real name.

Also, online is vastly different from preaching to a crowd of followers who are aware of the identity of the preacher. Online opinion should be treated with care precisely because it is possible to be anonymous.

I’ve heard that some blogs or sites require verifiable email addresses, identification etc. Good. However, in general, what purpose is served by holding people to account online? To garner evidence for a charge of sedition or the like? It is apparent that people rant or vent their feelings and prejudices online. Why not leave it at that and take care to assess the weight yourself.

March 4, 2008 @ 12:46 am | Comment

The thing is that for better or worse, Red China is a dictatorship, and if you want to maintain a dictatorship you need censorship, it¡Çs as simple as that. Otherwise people start talking to each other about their grievances, the anti-government voices will become louder than the pro-government voices, and then the masses become cynical, stop cooperating, start plotting. Then you have to give up power or things¡Çll probably get bloody. So if you want to tolerate the CCP (and CCT was right in that the CCP has been much more successful in improving quality of life than many democracies, so there is an argument for tolerating them), you have to tolerate their speech/thought laws. Can¡Çt have your cake and eat it too.

I don¡Çt really see the relevance of the British hate crime laws either. They represent a true failure of the system, first by passively inviting in elements that are dedicated to the destruction of that system, losing the argument with a significant minority of the population over whether or not violence is the best way to achieve their aims, and finally by failing to prevent the subsequent violence.

I¡Çll admit that since reading 1984 as a kid, I¡Çve had a strong bias against the idea of a thought crime, and don¡Çt believe it¡Çs excusable in a democracy. In a dictatorship thought laws are absolutely essential, however. I¡Çve been thinking about it, and I think you maybe right that Singapore doesn¡Çt deserve to be called a democracy, CCT.

Whether thought crimes are right or good, is kind of pointless to debate as everyone has already made up their own mind one way or the other. The much more interesting question, to me, is whether or not the CCP will be able to maintain its control over the communications of an increasingly wired and English literate population.

March 4, 2008 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

@lime

confused by your points – i don’t know where you are from, but i take it you would be happy for someone to attempt to persuade people to commit terrorist atrocities in your country? or that you would be happy with a bunch of foreigners walking down the streets in your country calling for you to be killed? or someone working in an airport to be writing about cutting the heads off the unbelievers and assisting someone else in trying to go to a terrorist training camp?

the problem is not what they are thinking – the problem is their attempts to put these thoughts into action.

the terrorists in the uk do not represent a failure of the system. the uk has a population of 1.5m muslims, around two dozen of which have thus far been convicted of terrorist crimes. if that is a significant minority to you i am somewhat surprised. if these million muslims really wanted us dead, the streets would be paved with bodies. they don’t and they aren’t. you simply cannot prevent lunatics with a grudge from killing you if they are willing to die doing it.

neither did we passively invite in people who want to kill us. the july 7 bombers were born and raised in the uk and some of the failed bombers of 21/7 were asylum seekers. the idea that every muslim in this country bears a grudge is crude tabloid talk. it is true that in the past the uk has treated those who have come to live here appalling badly, and some still suffer from discrimination and racism. however the law is on their side now and they have means of remedying the situation. i believe the situation is improving, will continue to improve and that muslims who live here recognise this.

March 4, 2008 @ 4:48 pm | Comment

I’m not suggesting that all 1.5 million Muslims in the UK are dedicated to destroying it. You have the dozen or so convicted terrorists, probably several dozen more that were involved and not convicted and, though it’s really difficult to say for certain how many, a bunch more that think that terrorism is a really good idea and may or may not want to support it directly in the future. I’m guessing that the total is somewhere in the low hundreds out of the 1.5 million. And this group of (I’m guessing) a few hundred people are not lunatics. It�s true that you do get psychotic nut jobs in every society from time, but these are the isolated school shooters, unabomber, serial killers and so forth. A few hundred, even a dozen, is too large a number for mental illness to be the issue here. That’s what I mean by significant minority.

Suggesting they’re dumb, or crazy is basically a head-in-the-sand kind of approach and it belittles their beliefs (and to be clear I want to say again that I’m just talking about the pro-terrorist group, not Muslims in general), which are as objectively justifiable as your own, however appalling they may seem to Anglo-American sensibilities. The fact that there are native born Britons that have been convinced of the rightness of this cause is just further evidence that there is some kind of an argument at work here.

As for the passively inviting people in, a large part of the problem could have been avoided if Mr. Abu Hamza had been given resident status rather than UK citizenship. Then when you found that he was spending most of his time preaching racial hatred, it wouldn’t have been that a big deal just to send him back to Egypt.

But he’s not the real problem. You’re right in saying that the real problem lies with the people who try to put the homicidal thoughts into actions. Buddy says, ‘You should go kill that guy.’ You say, ‘Oaky.’ In a society that respects the individual’s ability to interpret what they perceive in their world and make choices (unlike Red China, or any other communist/theocratic state), you’re the problem.

I don’t have a solution for the problem that’s better than to try to lock up the guy spreading the ideas, but what I’m saying is that it is in essence a form of censorship and an obvious loss of confidence in the ability of the individual to make his or her own decisions, or maybe for the larger society to be more persuasive than a handful of loud angry fundamentalists, depending on how you want to look at it. Hopefully you’re right in that things are improving and we’re winning the argument. I’m Western Canadian, if you’re interested, and I apologise if my comments came off as crude tabloid talk or bigotry.

March 4, 2008 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

@Lime,

It’s not just “a form of censorship”. It is exactly censorship. The same goes for French and German limitations on Nazi-related hate speech. (French rules on limiting everything Nazi-related is especially draconian.)

And what of those sentenced to prison in Austria and Switzerland for the crime of “Holocaust denial”? These people aren’t even accused of irresponsible or negligent speech; they’re accused of a thought-crime. Who here is going to stand up and speak for them? Should the Western world ban Swiss/Austrian exports until these intellectuals are free?

@Rich,

To garner evidence for a charge of sedition or the like? It is apparent that people rant or vent their feelings and prejudices online. Why not leave it at that and take care to assess the weight yourself.

Why should the online world be any different from the offline world?

I do prefer to keep my identity here pseudo-anonymous, because I don’t know the consequences of making my identity public. The last thing I want is Amban picketing outside my home. But if the authorities (or anyone else) needed to get in touch with me for a legitimate reason… criminal investigation or civil lawsuit… I for one would be comfortable giving up my personal details to the moderators, assuming they assured my privacy would be otherwise preserved.

The issue of whether someone should be charged as being seditious for posting (or screaming) “the Communist Party is corrupt” is a different problem, and must be tackled independently. Speech can be dangerous, period. Nearly every country on this planet recognizes this in some form. The Chinese legal system needs to find the balance between free speech and responsible speech; this is a huge gaping hole in Chinese society today, and I absolutely recognizes there are abuses at the hands of the Chinese government.

But online shimingzhi is a different issue. In China at least, online speech is becoming extraordinarily influential and significant… more so than it is in the West. As such, it should be properly regulated and handled.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t accept the explanation that because China doesn’t have a well-defined legal protection for free speech, online speech must be left anonymous and responsibility-free.

Instead, I argue that online speech should be responsible, *and* China must have well-defined legal protection for speech/expression, as guaranteed to me by my constitution.

March 5, 2008 @ 1:46 am | Comment

@CCT
‘Speech can be dangerous.’ ‘Can’ being the operative word here. Free speech would be very dangerous for a society such as China, organised as it is under an authoritarian centralised bureacracy. In a society organised under a different model it can be almost harmless (there are always hurt feelings and offended sensibilities I’ll concede) and often down right beneficial.

I never understood continental Europe’s thought crime laws. Why saying something sympathetic about Hitler fifty years later is enough of a danger to their society’s that it warrants the same kind of punishment that a murderer would get is a mystery to me. Any European’s out there that can up with any kind of defence of those laws?

March 5, 2008 @ 2:18 am | Comment

Sorry;
‘…can come up with any kind of defence of those [thought crime] laws?’
Is what I meant to say.

March 5, 2008 @ 2:22 am | Comment

In defense of the thought crime laws….

I can see how holocaust denial is a crime… I dont think people should have the right to lie… Spreading lies in society is damaging. Inciting hatred against Jews or saying Hitler was correct is dangerous because that is what started the people going along with the holocaust.

If you go around saying that the Jews are lying about the holocaust, then you are calling them liars, when it is you who is the liar and going around spreading lies and confusion, defaming people, and undermining their plight, why shouldnt that be a crime?

March 5, 2008 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

ferin”"”"”"Crime rates, track record. Chinese people might spit all over the place but they’re unlikely to murder or rape someone. This is true outside of China and in, regardless of how harsh the laws are.”"”"”"”"

Track record!!! Who tallies the record? The communist party? Who tracks them???????

You said that the Chinese people would not likely kill or rape people, that might be true, UNLESS the party line advocates doing so. If the party line advocates for killing, the people are extremely likely to kill and not at all likely to rise above the party. Thats the problem, the Chinese people have no control over their own thoughts and actions, its all controlled by the party line.

I think that by far most crime in China is committed by party members, and I do not think their will be much of a record going around of these inside ‘legal’ crimes. Hey, if you wanna have a low crime rate, make being evil good and being good criminal, that way you will look very good and the good people will be tortured.

How can you claim this stuff when China is run under a gangster regime. Records, hah, right….

March 5, 2008 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

@Snow
First, not all holocaust deniers are necessarily liars; some of them actually believe it. If you send those guys to jail, having really bad information and a skewed world view becomes their crime. This isn’t their fault, they just have bad information and have probably had a rather unusual relationship with society at large from a young age.

Second, for those who are knowingly lying about it, lying, traditionally, is not a crime (except purgury). If you make it a crime in this case, why not others? Buddy is spreading nasty rumours about you, or about a political party, or about Louis XIV. Why shouldn’t those cases be criminally punishable? It’s still spreading hate, isn’t it? It just becomes a bit of a slippery slope. Besides, liars are indistinguishable from the true believers, so this remains a thought crime.

More practically, you’re actually giving credence to these people’s beliefs, and the beliefs of others who may share those beliefs (if more privately). I say, “the holocaust was a big Zionist conspiracy.” Next thing I know, I’m locked up for the next seven years. The very obvious conclusion I’ll come to, considering where I started, is that the Zionists are controlling the legal system and using it to protect their big lie. Ditto for those who privately shared my beliefs and are still outside of jail.

Its also a vote of non-confidence against the intelligence of your population and the efficacy of your education system. I understand that the government paternalistically shielding its people from the nastiness of the real world has become something of a tradition in western Europe compared to America, but what kind of fools do they take their people for? If they think they’re in danger of losing their population to Nazism in the 21st century, they’ve got problems bigger than the liars themselves.

March 5, 2008 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

@Lime,

A case from Australia, then:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/18/news/australia.php

Should Sheik Feiz Mohammed be held criminally liable for his statements? If his actions are criminal… what if his statements/videos are published, anonymously, online?

March 5, 2008 @ 2:16 pm | Comment

@CCT
Legally, I’m afraid I’m not familiar enough with Australian law to know if he should be held criminally liable. If Australia’s laws are similar to Canada’s then its likely to be a really grey area, especially where the internet is concerned.

Personally, I think that in a modern democratic society he should be entitled to his opinions and expression of them, as repugnant as they may be to the rest of the society. In this case, the ‘lying’ part isn’t even an issue. He would be punished simply for hating and expressing it, so its basically an emotion crime in this case. Australia’s government, as I said above, should have a little faith in their population’s intellectual fortitude. Those that are won over by the Sheik’s little rantshave some problem that goes deeper than Mr Mohammed himself.

This case brings up another interesting point. Its all well and good when you can just go round to the local university and round up the rogue professor giving his holocaust denial lecture, but what happens when the hate propaganda machine is moved out of country and online? Then you can either just ignore it and hope that it doesn’t win over your people, or you have to start controlling your people’s access to the internet like China.

March 5, 2008 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

@lime

it is true that the fact that several hundred people would hold their fellow human beings in such contempt as to plot to murder them at the expense of their own lives deeply saddening and troubling. i still would argue several hundred out of 1.5 million is the price you pay for freedom.

nevertheless, for me, freedom of speech ends at the point where you use it to incite racial hatred and murder. before that point anything goes, including holocaust denial. the right to life trumps the right to say what you like.

March 5, 2008 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

I would say that sheik guy is a criminal. A really bad person

March 5, 2008 @ 11:34 pm | Comment

@Lime,

>Then you can either just ignore it and hope that it doesn’t win over your people, or you have to start controlling your people’s access to the internet like China.

Or… like the French? The French judicial forces are notable for forcing E-Bay and Yahoo to remove references to Nazi memorabilia.

My point in all of this is that China is hardly alone. There are numerous countries that implement variants of similar laws. (And I’m not speaking of sedition laws in other areas of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Middle East… I’m talking western Europe, here.)

I understand that Canada has a different policy. It’s possible that Canadians are wiser and more tolerant, but it’s also possible that Canadians have had the luxury of watching the greatest challenges of the 20th century from a distance.

France/Germany, for example, are perhaps more concerned about the Holocaust and Nazi sentiment because of their direct involvement. The UK is more concerned about the speech of Muslim extremists, perhaps, because bombs have gone off in their subways and numerous Britons have gone off to fight for the Taliban. And China is perhaps more concerned about revolution and civil war, because we’ve had at least 2 successful revolutions (unnumbered failed ones), and 40 years of civil war in the last century alone. And China is perhaps more concerned about foreign invasion and manipulation because we’ve been invaded innumerable times in the last century alone.

I think China does need discussion (and reform) in terms of understanding what is legally acceptable speech. But I don’t think China will, or should, adopt the exact definitions that you believe it should.

March 6, 2008 @ 1:24 am | Comment

@Si & Snow
Fair enough. We all have to draw our lines somewhere.

@CCT
You misunderstand me. I don’t think China (or this particular incarnation of China) will, should, or even could adopt the legally allowable level of free speech that I described. I don’t believe that the authoritarian system would be sustainable if they did, and the concern over revolution is perfectly justified. While in China, the idea that my speech was monitored and I could potentially be charged for what I said or wrote grated against my American view of the world, but looking at it more objectively, I think the laws are applied about as leniently and as rationally as they could have been under the circumstances.

In Canada we have hate crime laws too, though they’re still in their infancy and perhaps more irritating that France’s and Germany’s because the human rights charter they’re based on is really vague.

As for France and Germany, I understand that the whole WWII thing continues to be a bigger issue for them than it is in the English world, but they’re both stable liberalish democracies and I don’t understand what threat the odd outspoken anti-semite, Nazi sympathiser, or holocaust denier can really pose to their society in the post-modern world here, and why those same kind of people can be safely ignored in the United States. That’s why I asked if there is anyone who has a more intimate understanding of their cultures and can shed some light on this.
As for the E-Bay thing, I hadn’t heard about that before, but looking into it now, that’s a pretty irritating thing to do. It amounts to an attempt to make the rest of the world conform to their views and sensibilites, which is something even China is not guilty of.

As for Britain, well that’s fucked up. Like I say, there is something wrong in that situation that goes way beyond one raving hook-handed imam, and if I knew how to solve it, I would have a different job right now.

March 6, 2008 @ 4:50 am | Comment

@lime

perhaps you could explain to me in greater detail why you feel it is all “fucked up”. living in britain the picture you paint is unrecognisable to me. i went to school with muslims and work alongside them. never had a problem. i think perhaps you have been reading too much tabloid talk. do you own a copy of “londonistan” by any chance?

March 6, 2008 @ 5:11 pm | Comment

Come on here. I’m not attacking Muslims, I tried to be clear about that. Its fucked up that a tiny, but neither stupid nor crazy, group of people have become convinced that murdering fellow citizens at random is the best way to….? To what? I’m not sure what exactly they’re doing. No, I haven’t read, nor do I own a copy of Londonistan. I don’t think anything I said was critical of Islam, but I’m sorry if that’s how you interpretted it that way.

March 6, 2008 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

@lime

i didn’t mean to imply you are anti-muslim. i just don’t follow the argument that some crazies blew themselves up on the london underground therefore british society is screwed.

“Its fucked up that a tiny, but neither stupid nor crazy, group of people have become convinced that murdering fellow citizens at random is the best way to….? To what? I’m not sure what exactly they’re doing.”

if you don’t know what their aims, perhaps you are not in position to comment on it.

March 7, 2008 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

@Si
Do you think you understand their aims?

March 8, 2008 @ 6:12 am | Comment

@Si
Thinking about this now, I think you may not have understood my terminology. Perhaps you say it differently in Britain, but in America, when we say ‘it’s fucked up’, it can mean that whatever ‘it’ is has been somehow damaged or ruined, but it can also mean that something is fundamentally incomprehendable or bizzare. I was using the phrase in the latter sense, and referring to the terrorism itself, rather than British society in general. I’m still eagerly awaiting your insights into the psychology of the suicide bombers. Feel free not to limit yourself to Britain, as many other country’s are having this problem as well.

March 8, 2008 @ 7:09 am | Comment

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