Heading to China

It’s business, and unfortunately the project has forced me to literally ignore this blog. If I have any readers left when I get back around March 12 maybe I’ll start posting again. Until then it’ll be pretty dark here.



I’ll be away on business for the rest of the week. If your comments don’t appear, be patient. It may take me an entire day to get to anything held up in the spam filter. Feel free to use this as an open thread.


“Explosions rock Beijing”

It’s that time of year again.

Let’s hope nothing goes wrong, like last year.


Google, China and Taiwan

Below is a guest post by my friend in Taiwan Bill Stimson. This post doesn’t necessarily reflect my own viewpoint on the subject. There are a few points, in fact, that I’d take issue with, though I agree with the piece in spirit.

Information Imperialism?

by William R. Stimson

What if the Chinese government stopped lying to its people and admitted inconvenient truths? What if some in power were swept away as a result and others arose to take their place? Would this be the end of China as we know it? Would this spell the defeat of Chinese culture at the hands of the West?

Look at Taiwan. An opposition party, free elections, an uncensored Internet – still the environment is one every Chinese would recognize and feel at home in. These necessary modern developments are not a threat to China or its culture. The only ones they might threaten are those who grab for themselves a bit too much of what belongs to all. To preserve their prerogative to do this, and pass this on to their children, though it be at the expense of their culture, their nation, their people, and even their Communist ideology – this tiny percentage of the population in the People’s Republic strives at all cost to cover up what it is doing. It’s dishonest to its own people. It does everything in its power to prevent embarrassing truths from reaching them from foreign sources.

This latest bundle of untruths – that the Chinese Internet is open, the United States uses the Internet to dominate the world, and Western insistence on an uncensored Internet amounts to “information imperialism” because less-developed nations like China cannot possibly compete when it comes to information flow – contains one very interesting admission that has curiously not received the attention it deserves. Lies cannot stand, they’re not convincing, unless bundled with truths. The truth in all these falsehoods is that to the extent China continues to shackle itself by dominating the flow of information to its people, then no matter what impressive external manifestations of progress and prosperity it manages to feather itself with, in substance it remains, in the most important respect, a less-developed country and one that can never catch up.

The Chinese government’s cyber attack on Google is telling. A system that is closed, controlled, and dominated by a small minority – which is not the most creative or innovative segment of the society – can only progress by stealing or grabbing what does not belong to it. China’s whole foreign policy seems to boil down to grabbing Taiwan and preventing any discussion of how it grabbed Tibet. It unconscionably befriends whatever unsavory regime it needs to in order to grab resources. It’s even intent on grabbing tiny little islands way out at sea from neighboring countries all around. China is already big enough. What it has of most value is already inside it – it’s people and their superior creative potential. It needs to grab nothing. It needs instead to release its people’s vast potential so that it can stop being wasted; and the world needs this too of China.

Nobody knows from what tiny point in China’s vast society its most creative and innovative element might spring. It can come from anywhere, so everywhere needs to be free. Who could have predicted, for example, that a particular little Jewish boy brought by his father from Communist Russia to America would grow up to drop out of Stanford and become the co-founder of Google. Sergey Brin was a wonder who came, like true creative innovation always does, out of the blue.

How different is Google’s view of information to that of the Chinese government. It’s not about domination at all – but freedom and empowerment of the disenfranchised and downtrodden. How ironic that a Communist regime views information as a means to dominate while Google, an American company, views it as a means to liberate. Things are not what they seem. The consensus that China, in its present form, is the future begins to look wrong. The future may actually be Google, or some combination of China and Google. The company has hit upon a new way to do business that’s not the tired old exploitative American capitalism, which fits in so well with Beijing’s schemes – but that’s not Communism either. Rather it falls somewhere in between. This business organization has found a way to earn money by benefiting the collective, and doing it in a way that enables and develops the creative vision of its employees. Google does business in a different way. There is no end of riches in the direction it’s taken and no end of business niches where its ideas can be replicated and further developed. More profit can be made by cultivating than by exploiting people and the planet. It’s that simple. Compare this to Chinese companies that put poison in toys and fake protein in baby formulas.

This venture that Google has started out on in the end can’t help but make China and the U.S. partners rather than adversaries. It behooves the Chinese government to rise to the occasion and let Google come through unfettered to the Chinese people. Whatever destabilizing effects this may have on China’s corrupt bosses will be offset a million times over by the deeper stabilization that can’t help but arise as thousands of Chinese Sergey Brins are empowered to surface from the most marginal and unlikely spots all over China’s vast map with innovations that make China’s glitzy prosperity and progress not just a surface phenomenon based on what has been grabbed, stolen, or diverted from the West – but a true manifestation of China’s underlying cultural greatness and the genius of its people.

* * *


John and Doris Naisbitt: “China’s Megatrends”

On January 5 I started to write a post about an interview I heard on NPR’s always excellent Diane Rehm show with John Naisbitt, the author of the famous book Megatrends, and his wife Doris, who were there to plug their new book, China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society. (You can listen to the entire interview here; scroll down a bit).

I never finished that post. I put it aside because John and Doris got me so incensed I decided it would be better to leave it alone than to write in the heat of passion and regret it later. (And I was not the only one to find this interview shocking for its unabashed brown-nosing and apologism.)

Then today I saw another interview with the two self-proclaimed China gurus and this time I decided to finish the post.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying this: I try to give China credit for its accomplishments. Several posts down you’ll find a piece about this being “China’s century.” But I also can’t ignore the bad, and thus below you’ll also find a post on the censorship of China’s Internet. I’m a big believer in trying to see beyond the box each of us has has created for himself, the one with all our assumptions and prejudices and beliefs, etc. I really do want to see the whole picture, and longtime readers know I’ve been willing to question my own POV in order to give China a fair chance. It’s absolutes about China (and the US) that make me cringe: “good,” “evil,” etc.

The Naisbitts’ creds sound good. They’ve lived in China for a decade. Doris Naisbitt is a professor at Yunnan University. Her husband was assistant secretary of education under JFK and is definitely a “futurist” of vast influence, Megatrends being one of the business bibles of the 1980s.

During the Diane Rehm interview, the first alarm sounded when Doris tried to argue that a key reason for China’s blocked web sites was pornography, the implication being the GFW is actually a good thing, supported by China’s citizens. John chimes in about how censorship is used to ensure “harmony,” something he seems to see as benign paternalism. Doris also argues that we hear negative things about China mainly because the Western media can’t resist “gossiping” about China because it is doing so well. Jealous neighbors.

This was just the start of a string of sugar-coated excuses for Chinese repression. Did you know Liu Xiaobo was arrested not for speaking out but for “organizing an alternative government”? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Okay, so on to their more recent interview in The Spiegel. It starts with a question about the Google controversy and whether Google’s doing the right thing by considering leaving China.

John Naisbitt: They’ve broken a contract. In order to get a license, they agreed not to allow searches on certain subjects. And now, four years later, they say ‘we won’t do this anymore because we’ve been hacked.’ In Russia, hackers are much more vigorous and plentiful, but Google has said nothing. The company has a big market share there whereas in China it doesn’t. Google is breaking the contract and it’s blaming it on something else.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you think it’s a PR stunt?

Doris Naisbitt: We cannot say that, but it’s a gift! Look what a wonderful marketing effect this has for Google — being the David fighting Goliath.

John Naisbitt: Say it’s a PR stunt — it couldn’t have succeeded any better. Because here you have US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton getting on Google’s side, not understanding the contractual situation, and making the Internet one of the foreign policy planks of the administration. That’s not a bad thing. But it went from a contractual disagreement to the secretary of state becoming a spokesperson for Google.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Chinese government respond to external pressure, whether from a company like Google or the US government?

John Naisbitt: They are built to resist outside pressure. They really resent being jerked around. They resent Google putting them in a position where it looks like it’s their fault when Google is the one that initiated this challenge. I think they’re really pissed off. In China, when you make a deal, you never sign anything, you just shake hands. It’s all based on trust. But if you break that, you’re dead in the water. This breaking of trust is a really big deal for the Chinese.

This is thoroughly in line with the NPR interview. It is China that’s under assault from ungrateful multinationals, pesky activists and others who refuse to respect the status quo, despite its inherent repressive tendencies. Google’s motivations are self-aggrandizement and a desire to get out of a contract they didn’t like. Slimeballs, that Brin and Page! And “we can’t say it was a PR stunt, but…” Slick, very slick. I half-expected them to say Google launched the cyber-attacks on itself. Not a word about the hacked gmail accounts of human rights activists, whom the Naisbitts most likely see as ungrateful vermin.

Some of the points they go on to make are true. China’s system does allow its rulers to move ahead and get things done, and they have made enormous progress. Yes, we all know that. What bugged me, however, is their fawning, China-can-do-no-wrong attitude, wherein Google and Liu Xiaobo and the Western media are the only bad guys, while poor misunderstood China nobly moves forward, transcending the noise and the attempts to bring her down.

The earlier link I gave is a must-read to see what these two are up to and to see just how cozy they are with China’s top brass, especially in the State Council Information Office (i.e., propaganda department). And don’t miss the quote from the Guangzhou author who notes that nearly all of their sources are CCP reports and party-line-toeing Chinese newspaper articles, with next to no first-hand observations or original research.

Something about this simply doesn’t smell right. Either they are incredibly naive or incurious, or they’ve been bought and paid for. Just like our friend, they point to the exact same Pew Research poll he does to tell us how happy the Chinese are:

What does democracy mean? Rule of the people. In China, they respond to the people’s wishes. You may not believe that, but a study done by the Pew Research Center found that the Chinese government has an 89 percent approval rating. There is a lot of openness and freedom. The entrepreneurs and the artists, they love it. The energy it releases is palpable in China.

Yes, there’s a lot of energy in China, and some very, very happy artists. Most people in China support their central government. If an election were held today they’d elect the same leaders (though the one-party system has made any alternative an impossibility). China’s doing better, it’s richer, it’s powerful, it’s in many ways the greatest rags to riches story ever told. But looking at geniuses like Naisbitt and Rein you’d never know there was corruption and repression that not infrequently results in violence, and appalling abuse of the disenfranchised. You’d never know of the plight of the truly poor, and of a potential environmental catastrophe that could bring all that progress to its knees. It is so one-sided and so suck-uppish it’s nauseating.

If there is one book I am not going to lay down money for it’s China’s Megatrends. Luckily some customer reviewers over at Amazon are already onto them and call out their one-sidedness.

Keep a watchful eye on the Naisbitts, and take whatever they say in China’s Megatrends with a mega-grain of sea salt.


Xinjiang Internet reforming and opening up?

According to our usual source out west, it just might be:

As of midnight last Friday, February 5th, it was announced that 27 more “outside Xinjiang” websites have been opened in addition to the four sites that were already accessible. After spending this past weekend searching over all these sites I can tell you that progress has been made, although each of them loads quite slowly. What’s more…one of them doesn’t load at all (the China Rail site received a “Connection Interrupted”)….

A Look at What’s New

The sites can be divided into about 9 different categories and although a few of them offer alternative languages like English, none of them represents a foreign-based business. I’ve categorized them as follows:

* 7 News Sites (including China Daily and CCTV)
* 4 Travel Sites (including Ctrip and Air China)
* 3 Business & Finance Sites
* 3 Telecom Sites (all three major Chinese carriers)
* 2 Shopping Sites (including Taobao, China’s version of eBay)
* 2 Computer Service Sites (so you can update your anti-virus)
* 2 Gaming Sites (more flash games…yippee)
* 2 Education Sites (study materials for students and help for teachers)
* 1 Fashion Site

Unlike Sina and Sohu (which underwent heavy censorship), each of these sites when viewed in Xinjiang seems to match those viewed outside. However, as is the rule in Xinjiang for now, all email and forum capabilities are disabled.

(Emphasis added.) What’s odder than the government announcing the formal unblocking of sites are the sites that still aren’t available, such as the central government’s.

The tone of the post is decidedly pessimistic. Xinjiang’s Internet is still tightly controlled, and there is no expectation of an open Internet (i.e., an Internet that’s as open as in the other side of the country) any time soon, if ever.

Right now the difference between internet in Xinjiang and the rest of China is determined by the way we describe the censorship. Throughout most of China people explain the Great Firewall by the number of sites which have been blocked; in Xinjiang we count how many sites have been unblocked. That’s a huge difference.

My sympathies.

I may head back to China for a quick visit, and that’s always the one thing I dread most – getting used to the censorship. I know, I know, Witopia. I’m definitely installing it before I leave.


Han Han: Why China cannot be a “grand culture”

Still busy, but wanted to get this on the record. When will this guy get a knock on the door in the middle of the night? You have to admire his chutzpah:

Do you know why China cannot become a grand cultural nation? It is because most of the time when we speak, we say “Dear leaders” first and those leaders are uncultured. Not only that, for they are also afraid of culture, they censor culture and they control culture. So how can such a nation become a grand cultural nation? Dear leaders, what do you say?

Actually, China has tremendous potential of becoming a grand cultural nation. Let me tell you a story. I am the chief editor of a magazine which has yet to publish. The Constitution states that every citizen has the freedom to publish, but the law also says that the leaders has the freedom not to let you publish. This magazine has run into some problems during the review process. There is a cartoon drawing. In it, there is a man without clothes — of course, this is unacceptable because the law says that we cannot exhibit the private parts in a publicly available magazine. I agree with that and I don’t have a problem with it. Therefore, I intentionally created an extra-large magazine logo that was placed over the illegal spot of the cartoon. But unexpectedly, the publisher and the censor told us that this was unacceptable too — when you cover up the middle part of a person, you are referring to the “Party Central” (note: “party” is a homonym for “block/shield” and “central” is “middle”). My reaction was like yours — I was awed and shocked. I thought to myself, “Buddy, it would be so wonderful if you could put your awe-inspiring imagination into literary creation instead of literary censorship!”




Apologies, it’s deadline time and I can’t post. The pressure should lift in a day or two.

For your amusement: Chinese brands.