James Fallows’ China Airborne

Let me admit it up front: Few topics could bore me as much as avionics and the aerospace industry. I only want to know that my pilot can take off, get me to where I want to go and land the plane safely. I don’t really know the difference between the words “avionics” and “aerospace.” So I approached China Airborne with a touch of trepidation: How could I possibly enjoy a book about a topic I find dryer than dust?

Leave it to James Fallows to take a subject to which I am indifferent (if not downright hostile) and turn it into a story of suspense and adventure, human and technological, and to delight me with every page. Yes, China Airborne is about aviation in China, how it started, how it has evolved and where it’s heading, yet the book transcends its ostensible subject, which Fallows uses as a metaphor for China’s evolution in general, for its advancement into the modern era, and all the challenges it faces as it seeks to break away from its role as the maker of goods designed by others to a nation that actually pioneers new technologies.

Before the 1990s China’s aviation industry lagged drastically behind that of the developed world, to say the least. Most of the planes were Russian made, the airports were primitive and few, and its safety record atrocious. Now China is home to some of the world’s most impressive airports, its aviation industry is growing at breakneck speed with billions of dollars in government funding, and it boasts one of the highest air safety records in the world.

How China got here is a breathtaking story, a story of China’s famous “can-do” attitude and willingness to throw itself into the projects it sets its sights on. An important part of this story and one the Chinese are less likely to talk about is the role of US entities, especially companies like Boeing and engineers and contractors from US agencies, which guided China along the way over the decades. Fallows charts China’s progress during these years and introduces us to the cast of characters who possessed the vision, the skills and the sheer bravura to move China’s aviation industry into the modern age.

Fallows’ description of the proposed development of an avionics research center in a remote area outside of Xi’An immediately brought to mind a chapter in Peter Hessler’s Country Driving, where he describes the building of a factory in China that plans to manufacture the little metal rings that hold brassieres together. They have no customers, no plans for sales or marketing, no business infrastructure, yet they pour money into building the factory, get it going into full swing and hire a complete staff. Eventually, after several months, they begin to get customers. Build it, and they will come. The same, it seems, with this aviation center and its grandiose plans to transform the region to attract tourists and become China’s center for aviation research.

Fallows describes how projects like these begin at the local level in China, the first step being winning the blessing of local officials and convincing them of the financial rewards to their region. A lot of guanxi is expended along the way. The dreamers will worry about getting the central government involved later. The avionics center project was immense, and Fallows’ descriptions of the building of runways in what was essentially the wilderness are amusing but also so quintessentially Chinese — we can do this, and we can do it on a grand scale! The obstacles they face — and there will be many — can be dealt with later.

A pilot himself (the book begins with his preparation to co-pilot the first Cirrus jetplane in China), Fallows obviously loves this topic. The breadth of his knowledge is sweeping and I closed the book rather amazed at all I had learned about what it takes to manage international flight, how today’s jets are built, how new GPS systems are changing how pilots take off and land and making it possible to put up runways even in remote rugged mountain terrain in Tibet. As I started the book I didn’t really want to know about these things, but I was quickly engrossed.

To a large extent this book is about China’s efforts to adapt to an age when leading an industry means opening up your people’s minds to new ideas, to new ways of thinking, to sharing knowledge and information. The last quarter of the book is less about flight and more about the Chinese government’s conflicting interests, ones we’ve discussed so many times here: retaining control and directing people’s thoughts vs. opening up and encouraging talent to blossom. If China wants to be on the frontier of the aerospace industry it needs to draw talent from all over the world. It will have to loosen the military’s grip on who controls the skies so the industry can operate without ridiculous and irrational restrictions. Fallows makes the point more than once that China has the hardware, the money and the facilities

but it lacks the “soft” ingredients necessary for a fully functioning, world-leading aerospace establishment. These include standards that apply consistently across the country rather than depending on the whim and favor of local potentates. Or smooth, quick coordination among civil, military and commercial organizations. Or sustaining the conditions — intellectual property protection, reliable contract enforcement and rule of law, freedom of inquiry and expression — that allow first-rate research-and-developments institutions to thrive and attract talent from around the world.

If China can succeed fully in aerospace, then in principle there is very little it cannot do.

Fallows doesn’t pretend to be a prophet and he leaves this question open. But he is clear about one thing: without the requirements he lists, without greater rule of law and respect for contracts, without protection of intellectual property, China will surely fail to meet its objective. It will not lead the world in technology and innovation. The book is all about China’s dreamers and their dreams. It would be such a pity to see China’s inflexibility and insecurities hold its people’s dreams back.

Boeing and Airbus see China as its most promising market and have agreed to joint ventures that involve the sharing of technology, despite the risks, because they know this is where the customers of the future are. China will play a huge role in the assembly of today’s incredibly complex jetliners, just as it does with iPhones. It will be buying more aircraft than any other nation. But can China design the next jetliner or iPhone?

It cannot, Fallows argues, unless it embraces “the openness and experimentation that world leadership in fields like aerospace would demand.” China now shields its people, protects them from “harmful content” on the Internet, which Fallows says makes many Chinese feel “infantilized and diminished by this reminder that they’re not quite part of the modern world.” China has to deal, too, with its paranoia and prickly sensitivities, its inability to deflect incidents like Liu Xiaobo’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize instead of being thrown off balance and revealing its insecurities to the world. There’s a lot about China’s thirst for soft power, and how it always gets put onto the back burner behind China’s No. 1 priority, internal stability and complete power of the party.

I bookmarked so many passages in this wonderful book, and I can’t go into every aspect of it that I enjoyed. It is about so much more than I can say here. It’s worth reading just for Fallows’ description of how he and his wife were bullied by plainclothes police at Tiananmen Square on the 20-year anniversary of the June 4th crackdown (an incident he blogged about at the time).

You come away from this book so impressed with what China has done and can do, with just how extraordinary its progress has been and how its authoritarian system has, so far, worked well enough that most people in China would say their lives are better off today than they were twenty or thirty years ago. But you also come away with strong doubts about China’s ability to rise to the next stage of power, where its people’s creativity and imaginations are unleashed, and where universal laws are respected. Where China becomes a true global citizen, concerned not so much with the specialness of China but with China’s role as a world leader. (This discussion of how China fosters the notion of its own uniqueness, with 5,000 years of history, as opposed to its place within the world community as a nation that cares — or at least pretends to care — about other nations aside from itself is one of the most fascinating in the book.)

All readers of this blog will enjoy China Airborne. Fallows’ accumulated wisdom of living in China, starting with his first visit there in 1986, pervades every page, and you will be thinking about where China is heading for a long time after you put it down. I can’t recommend China Airborne highly enough.


The Great Leap Forward on film

Not sure how long this video has been around, but I’ve never seen anything like it before and want to recommend it to everyone. I’ve read about every aspect of the GLF but never saw so much of the story captured on film. Don’t watch it if you have high blood pressure.

“It is better to let half the people die so the other half can eat their fill.”

Mao Zedong, 1959. Seventy percent good, indeed.


Soft Power

I’ve already posted about how much I love this new blog. Go now and read their ominously hilarious post about how China manages to shoot itself in the foot whenever it comes to its neverending quest for soft power. An example is a business conference in the city of Leeds that gave a speaking slot to the king of jackals, the Dalai Lama. China’s leader were not amused. As is so often the case, they resort to threats, a very poor strategy in the quest for soft power around the world. They did the same with Norway after Liu Xiaobao won the Nobel Peace Prize and they still do). Rectified.Name comments:

But today an op-ed appeared in the nationalist rag The Global Times which made it quite clear that anybody who messes with China’s dignity should expect a flaming bag of cat hurled in the general direction of their front door sometime in the very near future:

“They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision.”

You get the idea.

This is China at its soft power worst, scoring goals in its own net and making it exponentially harder to convince the rest of the world that the country is being run by grown-ups.

Need further proof? Take the case of the new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, produced by Alison Klayman. It’s gotten some decent buzz at Sundance and other stops on the festival circuit, but that wasn’t sufficient for the Chinese government who apparently want EVERYBODY to go see this movie.

Faced with the possibility of appearing at the same film festival as Klayman’s documentary, a Chinese delegation, including representatives from CCTV, pulled out of a planned appearance rather than validate the promoter’s decision to…I don’t know, show films. Anybody not high from inhaling industrial solvents could have predicted what happened next, because as sure as cows shit hay the festival organizers then called a press conference, chastised the Chinese delegation, and reaped a bonanza of free publicity for their festival, Ai Weiwei, Klayman and her film.

Seriously, if the powers that be really wanted to kill this film they’d have SARFT publicly give the documentary its seal of approval.

“Many options.” That is really scary.

I really would like to write a post praising the CCP for its soft policy efforts. They seem to try so hard, but then they seem to try even harder to offend just about everyone. I see so many glimmers of hope, and then they just switch the lights off. There’s a way to express your dissatisfaction without sounding like a snarling bully. Why do they keep getting soft power all wrong? It’s not just that they fail at establishing soft power, it’s that they create exactly the opposite effect from what they set out to achieve.

For bloggers on China, this is a gift that keeps on giving. Same story over and over again, each time with some added bells and whistles. This is supposed to be a government run by engineers employing scientific methods to solve the country’s myriad problems, and in many ways they’ve done a damn good job. Why can’t they apply this scientific approach to the pursuit of soft power instead of setting the laboratory on fire everytime they try?

Update: Be sure to read this one, too!


Censorship Directives from the “Ministry of Truth”

China Digital Times has collected a series of directives from what Chinese journalists, in true Orwellian fashion, have dubbed the “Ministry of Truth.” These guideline start with the death of Chinese activist Li Wangyang who recently “died” in police custody and has made international headlines. This and other topics are off limits in China:

Regarding the news of Li Wangyang’s death in Shaoyang, Hunan and the foreign media reaction: all media outlets must without exception refrain from granting interviews, reporting or commenting, and must not reprint relevant information from foreign media and websites….

Central Propaganda Department: Yili Milk Powder and Shaanxi Forced Abortion

Regarding heavy metals found in certain batches of Yili Brand milk powder and the seven-month pregnant women in Yuping Village, Cengjia Town, Zhenping County, Ankang City, Shaanxi Province who underwent forced labor: if any media outlet reports on these stories, only Xinhua News Agency’s wire copy may be used. Do not hype these stories, do not exaggerate them, and do not offer in-house reporting or commentary….

Central Propaganda Department: India Arrests Eight Chinese Citizens

According to the Indian media, on June 12 Indian police arrested eight Chinese nationals. No media outlet may report or comment on either this or related incidents, nor may any reprint relevant information or commentary from foreign media and websites.

Back and forth, A freer press, a more restricted press. Nothing new. It even reminds me of some memos I’ve seen distributed by the masters at Fox News telling their “journalists” to cover Republican-related scandals with kid gloves while going after Democrats with everything they’ve got, slanderous or not. The difference is Fox News is not America’s monolithic overseer of the media and cannot dictate what all media in the country can and cannot cover.


What constitutes a police state?

There have been moments when I wondered whether the US was creeping toward becoming a police state. For many minorities in poor neighborhoods, America is a police state, where they can be pulled over and searched at random and then thrown into jail for years for possessing a little pot. For innocent detainees at Gitmo whose “crime” was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, America must indeed look like a police state.

A key difference between the US and certain other candidates for the dubious title is that the victims often get to tell their story and in some instances justice is served. Not always. Not even usually. And that in no way exonerates the fucked-up system that allowed such abuses to happen in the first place. But people’s voices can be heard, and we can debate openly, as I’m doing now, whether something is just or unjust, and we can donate money to the victim’s cause and lobby for justice. The most harrowing descriptions of Gitmo’s victims, such as the brutal treatment of Jose Padilla, can be told on the front page of our newspapers, not that that is much consolation to the permanently traumatized Mr. Padilla.

I was thinking about this as I read this shocking (but not surprising) article in today’s NYT on just how dire the consequences can be for officials in China who win the negative attention of those above them, as Bo Xilai did. I urge you all to read it.

We’ve heard the stories of China’s black prisons and decades of solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful rule of law to make appeals. (At least the Gitmo inmates managed to get their case heard by the Supreme Court — and by all the major media — though that didn’t help very much.) This article is a grim reminder of just how brutal China can be to detainees who in at least some instances have committed no crime other than to “violate Party rules.

Few who have been dragged into the detention system emerge unscathed, if they emerge at all. Over the last decade, hundreds of officials have committed suicide, according to accounts in the state news media, or died under mysterious circumstances during months of harsh confinement in secret locations. Once interrogators obtain a satisfactory confession, experts say, detainees are often stripped of their party membership and wealth. Select cases are handed over to government prosecutors for summary trials that are closed to the public.

“The word shuanggui alone is enough to make officials shake with fear,” said Ding Xikui, a prominent defense lawyer here….

Shuanggui (pronounced shwang-gwei) is rooted in the ancient imperial justice system and was used by the Red Army to punish wayward soldiers during the civil war. Over the past decade, it has become increasingly institutionalized through party-issued guidelines that have scaled back some of its excesses.

Nonetheless, secrecy, isolation and harsh interrogation techniques remain hallmarks of the system, according to Flora Sapio, a visiting scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Unchanged as well are the main objectives: to extract confessions from those accused of violating party rules, most often through financial corruption.

The secrecy, Ms. Sapio said, is intended to shield the public from details that might harm the party’s image and to limit any collateral damage to those higher up the food chain. If history is any guide, many of the accusations against Mr. Bo are unlikely to be made public or lead to formal charges.

“It’s as if you’ve fallen into a legal black hole,” Ms. Sapio said, noting that those in custody are not allowed to see family members and do not have access to a lawyer. “Once you are called in, you almost never walk out a free man.”

The Dui Hua Foundation, an organization in San Francisco that promotes changes to the Chinese prison system, says simulated drowning, cigarette burns and beatings are common tactics for getting detainees to talk. “The system is just Kafkaesque,” said John Kamm, the group’s executive director.

One former propaganda bureau official from Zhejiang Province who was subjected to interrogation a decade ago said he spent nearly two months confined to a series of hotel rooms. He was whipped with a TV antenna and kept awake for 12 days until he began to hallucinate. The windows were papered over and a red light bulb was kept on 24 hours a day, heightening the disorientation.

And it goes on. I was careful to point out the atrocities in the US penal system and places like Gitmo. A national disgrace. Inexcusable. But I at least understand why monsters like Cheney and John Yoo rationalized torture and barbarism: they felt they were fighting a righteous war against terrorism. They were/are depraved, but at least they can say why they did it (not that I’d ever believe a word of it).

These instances in China are so troubling because they represent a widespread pattern of breaking down perceived enemies, torturing and driving them mad, and leaving them with no recourse such as access to an attorney or even with contact with their family. Their cases will never be on the front page of the People’s Daily, their appeals to the courts will never be covered on television and radio (that is, if there actually were such appeals), their attorneys will never appear on 60 Minutes.

The article points out that many of those interrogated and kept in secret jails were indeed found to be guilty of graft and corruption, and there is little pubic sympathy for them. It also points out how ineffective shuanggui is in deterring corruption: “Shuanggui is useless because corruption is everywhere,” a young official said. “They might shuanggui some leaders, but the new leaders will be as corrupt as the old ones.”

Corrupt officials should be exposed and punished. None should go through prolonged periods of torture and misery to extract confessions. I condemn it in the US and I have for years, just as I do in China.

Read the whole article.


Sinica Podcast: “Morally Adrift”

All of the Sinica podcasts are outstanding, but the latest is one where you want to stop what you’re doing and listen to it with your complete attention.

To talk about a lack of morality in China that results in people’s driving away from the victim they’ve driven over, or even going back to run them over again so they don’t have to pay the medical bills, is playing with dynamite. Trolls will automatically produce a list of dreadful things Americans have done, leaving scenes of accidents, failing to help a woman, like Kitty Genovese, after she had been stabbed in front of them, etc. But stories like Kitty Genovese are iconic, seared in the public memory and covered in all the media because they are so shocking and outside the norm of the typical response. They are also far less common than those stories of heroism,in which someone risked their life to save another.

The podcast notes wonderful examples of Chinese acting with incredible bravery to save the lives of others, such as a bus driver mortally wounded who “pilots his bus to safety and manages to get everyone off the bus before expiring himself.” And there’s no doubt stories like that abound. But they seem to be outnumbered by stories of extreme selfishness and an unwillingness to come to the aid of others. When I first moved to China, one of the first things my new boss told me was that if I walked down a busy Chinese street and saw someone unconscious on the sidewalk most people would walk right by and offer no assistance.

There could be many reasons for this, as the podcast explains. Maybe China simply has so many people that being a Good Samaritan is impractical. Maybe it harkins back to the brutal nature of the Cultural Revolution, or to the new spirit of selfishness that came with reform and opening up. But it is nothing new. Luxun famously criticized the Chinese for their lack of values and morality 80-some years ago, writing about “the man-eating society where the strong devour the weak.” The Chinese people themselves believe today’s China is in many ways a moral vacuum, and the government in the past has launched campaigns to heighten awareness of adhering to moral values. But the government may also be a source of the problem, with its corruption, where in order to get ahead you often have to be cutthroat. The podcast also looks at the traditional Chinese mindset of caring for one’s family, not for society as a whole.

The point being that many, many Chinese themselves have been critical about their society’s lack of morality. That’s why the recent recent photo of a Westerner sitting down with an old woman beggar and sharing his French fries with her created such a sensation even in the Chinese media, including social media, where he was hailed as a hero, with questions raised about the lack of Chinese who would do the same. Xinhua reported:

In fact, the story of the “French Fry Brother” and the poor granny has not been the first “wake-up call” prompting Chinese to reflect upon a general tendency to be apathetic toward those in need.

A two-year-old girl who was hit by two vehicles on a market street and subsequently ignored by 18 passersby died in hospital in October 2011.

The nineteenth pedestrian, a migrant woman collecting trash, pulled Wang Yue to the side of the street and alerted the girl’s mother.

The death of “Little Yue Yue” triggered a nationwide wave of mourning as well as public outcry for mutual love and concern.

“We should offer our helping hand to those in danger or trouble, and, of course, with less hesitation,” microblogger “Nuannuan” wrote. “Others may give the granny some money, but a foreigner offers respect and warmth.”

Of course, this triggered a wave of counter-arguments about how the media is fawning over examples of foreign kindness and ignoring the virtues of the Chinese. This was, however, Xinhua.

The Sinica roundtable discusses whether religion, like Buddhism or Christianity, might provide a set of guidelines, like the Ten Commandments, that might steer the Chinese in a moral direction. This is a surefire way to infuriate nationalistic Chinese who see Christianity as a tool of imperialism. And of course, at least some branches of Christianity come with their own built-in lack of morality, such as hatred toward gays and denying a woman the right to choose to end a pregnancy, and more.

They also note that social media like Weibo have thrust examples of immorality and selfishness into the public limelight. Perhaps there is no moral vacuum, just a new fixation on high-profile examples that win public attention? (I don’t think so.)

I would step into this minefield and make my own argument, but the podcast does it for me. I have to congratulate the bravery and forthrightness of the panelists, who delve into this incredibly divisive and explosive topic. In no way do they ignore the many acts of courage, selflessness and the willingness of heroes to put themselves in harm’s way to help others. (Many of these Chinese are Christians, for what that’s worth. For the record, I am an atheist and no great champion of Christianity.)

Do not miss this podcast. It touches on a super-charged topic that many of us are unwilling to discuss, and looks at the many possible reasons for why morality in China is where it is today.

My blog has discussed the concept of mamu many times. The phenomenon of Chinese people being so splendid as individuals with their family members and friends, and then becoming quite different people out in public, where it’s purely dog eat dog and where cheating and stepping on others can be the norm. This podcast is the best discussion of the topic I’ve ever heard.


Skritter iPhone App and other Chinese learning tools

I have been using Skritter for years and I totally love it. This interactive online tool teaches you to learn to write Chinese characters, correcting you if you mess up the stroke order and remembering the characters you’re having trouble with. I can’t say strongly enough how much it has improved my reading ability, now that I know so many new characters. I wrote Skritter up some years ago:

Thanks to John over at Sinosplice I’ve started spending a couple of hours each day over at Skritter. If you’re working on improving your hanzi reading and/or writing skills, just go there now, sign up and start practicing. Once you sign up it starts customizing the lesson for you, repeating the characters you’ve had trouble with. Totally addictive. It’s a first: an addictive Web site that actually produces benefits. My reading ability shot up after just a few weeks. It helped me learn to spot the clues that differentiate certain characters that look annoyingly similar. It also drove home to me that memorizing characters by reading and looking at them isn’t enough. You have to write them. Priceless.

John Pasden has called it “the best online resource for practicing writing.”

The good news is that Skritter will soon be available as an iPhone app and it is outstanding. I was lucky enough to get to test it out. As I sat on long subway rides in Beijing last months, I played with the app like an addict, learning through repetition how to draw many dozens of characters, all with the correct stroke order. After a few tries, if you mess up it automatically prompts you with the next stroke. If you need help right away, you just tap the center of the screen and it gives you the prompt. Once you’ve completed the character or word, it speaks it for you. If you want to know more about a character and how it’s used there’s an Info button that shows you its usage, in both traditional and simplified Chinese. You can also import vocabulary lists from a wide variety of textbooks. And there’s lots more, such as quizzes to make sure you’re using the right tones.

If you subscribe long-term to Skritter it only costs $9.99 per month (and I am hoping the soon initiate an annual package rate). Considering the benefits, that’s a real bargain. It should be out soon; I highly recommend it.

While I’m touting Skritter let me also give a brief plug to this flashcard tool. I’ve often been skeptical about flashcards, but Remembr.it is different, helping you remember words that share the same radical and giving you a real sense of the structure of the character, which in turn helps you memorize them better. Check it out. Used together with Skritter, I’m able to keep learning to recognize new words even though I’m not in China anymore.

It’s very difficult for me to maintain my Chinese here in the US. Here in the intellectual wasteland of Phoenix there’s no school anywhere close that teaches Chinese, except to grade-school kids. There is practically no Chinese community withing 20 miles (they all live in far-off Chandler near the Intel headquarters because so many of them are engineers or have PHDs in computer science). To help me at least maintain my Chinese I also use Echinese Learning, which offers private lessons with the same teacher via Skype. (The teachers are all in Xi’An.) It gives me a chance to practice my conversational/listening abilities, and the teachers — I’ve tried four of them — are patient and knowledgeable. The only headache is the time zone difference, which means I can only schedule classes between 4 – 9pm. For maintenance, it’s perfect for me.


June 4th

I’m not going to rehash what happened on that day in 1989, except to repeat my bottom-line belief that there was blame to be shared by all sides, but that the massacre of Beijing citizens in the side streets around Tiananmen Square was an unnecessary and avoidable tragedy that continues to haunt the Chinese government to this day. In some corners of Beijing there were terrible incidents of violence against Chinese soldiers and I can at least understand why shots were fired. But the violence around the Square is a different story. This blog has chronicled all the eyewitness accounts, including Philip Cunningham’s excellent description of what can only be described as a massacre, and we’ve all seen the BBC footage of the shootings and read the reports from demonstrators and bystanders crushed and maimed by tanks or injured by shots, we know all about the Tiananmen Mothers, etc., etc. The students may have been foolish and misguided at times (they were), but the response was not commensurate with the threat posed by the “incident,” to put it mildly. For my complete take on the suppression of the demonstrators and bystanders along with lots of links and first-hand descriptions, go here. No need to repost it.

Only one thing I’ll add that’s new, and that’s the story of a new book by Beijing’s mayor at the time of the crackdown. The Party is trying to stop the Hong Kong publisher from printing it because it is not in synch with the official story.

A new book that offers a surprising reassessment of the Tiananmen Square crackdown through interviews with a disgraced former Beijing mayor went on sale Friday in Hong Kong despite efforts by Chinese authorities to stop the sale.

“Conversations With Chen Xitong,” which is not available in mainland China, is based on interviews with Chen, who was mayor of Beijing during the 1989 crackdown. Chen has long been portrayed as having supported the military assault, but in the book he says the crackdown was an avoidable tragedy and that he regrets the loss of life, though he denies being directly responsible.

In the book, Chen tells Yao that the Tiananmen crackdown should never have happened and that he hoped the government would formally re-evaluate the event, in which the military crushed weekslong protests, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people….

The book adds to a growing debate ahead of a once-a-decade transfer of power in China later this year from one generation of party leaders to younger successors.

The author said Friday that Chen still considers himself a communist and isn’t trying to be a dissident. Chen believes the protests could have been resolved peacefully by using dialogue, Yao said.

We all have to draw our own conclusions. I know what mine are, and have expressed them many times over the past ten years.


Public Opinion in China Does Not Reflect the Public

A new Global Times editorial expresses deep concern that too much public opinion on the Internet is negative, and fails to reflect how much most of the public actually appreciates the government. (Remember, according to a Pew Research poll some 86 percent of Chinese are happy with the direction their government is taking.)

Opinions expressed on the Internet have shown an increasing tendency of going to the extreme, pressuring those wanting to speak to either criticize the political system or remain silent. The pressure is obvious, given the volume of opinion leaders on the Internet. Dissidents have to be careful in voicing their views.

Freedom of speech has long faced restrictions, first under the powerful control of the government. Now, restrictions from the government are gradually in retreat, especially at where academics gather, such as universities. But pressure from public opinion is rising quickly.

Criticism is seemingly the main tone of cyber opinion. To many, everything in real life is negative, thus every word they utter is full of aggravation. Mainstream society obviously has different opinions of people’s lives since most people have benefited from the country’s progress.

This problem of negative thoughts needs to be addressed. Public opinion needs to be molded by those who know better. Whingers and perennial critics of the government are gaining the upper hand, and they need to be countered. What better way than to form a government-appointed panel of experts with the specific mantra of making sure the Internet reflects how happy the Chinese really are?

It is already hard to speak the truth in China. Now this difficulty is facing new challenges. China needs a group of courageous scholars to speak out against unhealthy public opinion, helping to build a value system in accordance with China’s reality.

Cyber space has come to dominate China’s public opinion, but its value orientation is distanced from real life society. The government needs to reflect. With its influence over public opinion decreasing, certain powerful parts of the public will naturally take up a greater share.

Truth is particularly valuable to today’s country. Truth should be based on facts, and should reflect real diversity. But the truth now is twisted. It needs the participation of a wide scope of scholars to reverse it.

Truth needs to presented within the range of the Party discourse. It’s gotten way out of hand, twisted by dissidents who suddenly have a broad platform to subvert it. Luckily the Party is considering solutions to stem the tide. Luckily, a group of scholars can determine for us what’s true and what isn’t. And lest we forget, “Dissidents have to be careful in voicing their views.”

Let me just add, nearly all the posts about government on Twitter and Facebook, as on Weibo, are critical. That’s what impels most Netizens to speak out. The Internets would be pretty boring if it was stuffed with tweets and posts about how happy people are with their government. It would also not reflect the truth, that people have issues with their government, in China and everywhere else.



Still recovering from the lung infection/flu that hit me on my flight back home from China. I’m curious why nearly every time I go to China I come home with bronchitis and/or the flu. Is it just me?