Saving Shangri-La

By Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

The invaluable Three Gorges Probe, a news service/website originally reporting on the infamous Three Gorges Dam, has for some time expanded its focus to deal with other hydroelectric projects in China and their environmental and cultural consequences. They continue their excellent coverage with this translation of a CCTV documentary about local people in one of China’s most beautiful natural attractions, Tiger Leaping Gorge, whose ancestral lands may be flooded by future dam building projects on the upper Yangtze (Jinsha) River. Here’s an excerpt:

1. Who is going to break the villagers’ rice bowl?

Legend has it that Shangri-La is heaven on earth, a mythical, exotic, dreamy landscape. In Lost Horizon, American novelist James Hilton depicted Shangri-La as a wonderland in which people live in harmony with nature and each other.

Late last century, people found a real Shangri-La in the Hengduan mountain range, where the Jinsha [upper Yangtze] flows in southwest China. Jinjiang town in Diqing Zang autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, is the real Shangri-La in many people’s minds, where a multitude of minority groups, including Yi, Tibetan, Bai, Naxi, Lisu and Miao, have lived together for generations in peace and harmony.

Recently, however, local people have begun to feel uneasy, upset by a piece of news. They have heard that a big dam is to be built on the Jinsha River so that water can be diverted to central Yunnan province and, in particular, to the provincial capital of Kunming. Roughly 100,000 people will have to move if the project goes ahead.

Engineers are conducting surveys of the proposed dam site, and red marks [indicating the future water level of the dam’s reservoir] have already been painted on some walls, despite the fact that the central government has not yet approved the project. Although the scheme is still at the feasibility-study stage, everybody here is extremely worried, particularly because they have been given so little information about the project.

Chezhou village, part of Jinjiang town, is one of the places that will be affected if the dam is built. Villagers set off together for the village office, hoping to learn more from village leaders. One of the villagers is 67-year-old Ding Changxiu. Her children are grown now, and have left the village for jobs in the county seat. It would be better for her and her husband to move there to live with their children, but Ding would rather stay put because she loves her native place so much.

Villager: We know nothing about the project. I’m wondering if the village leaders know anything about it. We old peasants deserve to know something about it, don’t you think?

Ding Changxiu: I feel as if there’s a stone weighing down my heart. I was told we’d have to leave tomorrow! The whole village is on tenterhooks. I just met an elderly woman in the village who swore she’d rather die at home than be driven away.

Village leader: Calm down, folks! It’s true that the province has proposed building a dam here to move water to central Yunnan. But whether we’ll have to move is not clear, because the project hasn’t been formally approved, and the experts haven’t even finished the feasibility study yet.

The village leader’s comments did nothing to ease the villagers’ anxiety. The local people love dropping in on one another to chat about all manner of things, but now there is only one topic of conversation: the dam.

Villager: We ordinary people know nothing about it. And we have absolutely no way of leaving even if we are forced to move.

Villager: There are four people in my family. Now we have grain that’s surplus to our own needs that we can sell for cash, and I have chickens and pigs that I could kill right now to offer you. We lead a comfortable life, but the good life will be gone forever if we have to move.

Villager: We old people don’t care about ourselves any more; we’re too old now. But we do care very much about our children, and the younger generations are in for a very hard time if we’re moved far away.

This reluctance to move stems not only from local people’s deep attachment to the ancestral land on which they have lived for centuries, but also from their awareness of the special nature of the magnificent place they call home. They live at the famous “first bend of the Yangtze” in the Tiger Leaping Gorge area, and they know the value of this spot.

The section of the Jinsha River in front of their houses, together with two other great rivers Ð the Lancang (Mekong) and Nu (Salween) Ð form the Three Parallel Rivers National Park, which UNESCO has designated a world heritage site. Local people are not only tremendously proud of that, but also genuinely seek to safeguard the environment of their native area.

In March of this year, a work team was sent to the village from Xianggelila county to meet with village leaders. The villagers guessed that the work team’s arrival had something to do with dam-building, but they had been given no real information, so rumours swirled.

Villager: Somebody told me they’ll be paying compensation of 10,000 yuan [US$1,200] per mu [one-fifteenth of a hectare or one-sixth of an acre] of farmland flooded by the dam. The person who told me that said he got the information in a phone call from one of his friends in the county seat. I’m not really sure about it, but in any case I’ll never move. You see, we’re treated like nothing!

Ding Changxiu: Oh dear! Only 10,000 yuan for a mu of land! We can feed ourselves for 10,000 generations by farming our land. Can 10,000 yuan provide the younger generations with enough to eat and wear?

Villager: It’s easier to destroy than to build!

Ding Changxiu: How many days can 10,000 yuan keep us fed? How many years can 10,000 yuan keep us fed?

It’s a measure of the complexity of contemporary China and, I suspect, the factionalization of the Central and Provincial governments, that amidst increasing media and internet censorship, a documentary of this sort can be produced and shown on national television. One hopes that this kind of publicity and the increasing grassroots activism of China’s environmentalists and the local people who stand to lose the most from these ill thought-out projects will be enough to preserve these national treasures for future generations. Right now, however, the decision could go either way. Past reports from Three Gorges Probe have detailed the pressure on local governments to approve such projects as spurs to development and the role of corruption and kickbacks in the decision-making process. It’s still an open question if the government regulations that exist on paper to properly review and prohibit these projects have sufficient teeth to fight this powerful nexis of money and greed.

On the other hand, I’ve often thought that China’s environmental movement contains within it the seeds of greater dem0cracy for China. As unmoored as China has become from much of its traditional culture, the ideas of balance and unity contained in Daoism, that man is a part of nature rather than its detached overlord, still has some potency.

You can find a series of photos of Tiger Leaping Gorge here


Taiwan TV ‘cool’ provokes new restrictions in China

Posted by Martyn

Taiwan TV is the new China cool. Mainland cable TV offers several Taiwanese TV channels and the programmes have proved extremely popular in China. Taiwan’s freer society influences the TV programmes made there and these influences, in turn, have now caught on to dreary Mainland TV. Not surprisingly, therefore, Beijing’s puritanical officials want to put a stop to it. In September, yet another new set of rules were handed down by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, China’s broadcasting authority, to halt the ‘creep of vulgarity and non-Chinese influences’ into the programs offered up by the 3,000 national, provincial, city and county stations in Mainland China:

Masters of ceremony on state television’s seemingly endless roster of variety shows, the regulations said, should avoid vulgarity, dress modestly and uplift their young viewers. “Hosts and hostesses represent the image of radio and TV stations and therefore have an unshakable responsibility to spread advanced culture and national virtue and to safeguard the country’s interests and avoid unhealthy news stories that will mislead the public” the authorities decreed.

I try to avoid CCTV and the other state-controlled channels at all costs. Unfortunately, however, I don’t live alone. When flicking through the TV channels in China it’s fairly easy to spot which programmes are from the Mainland and which are from Taiwan or Hong Kong. Mainland programmes are a bit, er, dull. Horribly conformist presenters and their vacuous, stiff and dreary guests battle it out over who’s haircut is the most uninspiring and vapid and who’s clothes are the most instantly forgettable dark shades of gray and blue. Their staid performances also reek of mind-numbingly dull respectability.

Taiwan TV, in comparison, is an orgy of outrageous individualism, unpredictability and vibrancy. Sexy, flirtatious, wildly-dressed, extroverted and highly-opinionated men and women provide hours of amusing and provocative banter. One of the most popular Taiwanese shows in China is Kangxi lai le (康熙来了), an entertainment talk show hosted by former pop starlet turned TV presenter Ms. Xu Xidi (徐熙娣) and her outrageously camp co-presenter Mr. Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). Ms Xu has extremely short-cropped hair, wears very flamboyant outfits and has a tongue like a whip. Mr. Cai, with his bouffant hair do, outrageous clothes and iniquitous style is a well-known and openly gay TV star. There are no Mainland equivalents of Xu and Cai.

However, one less obvious stipulation in the rules regards the use of standard Mandarin Chinese. Presenters must stop using “cool” Taiwanese and Hong Kong slang and accents:

To millions of Chinese, particularly boys and girls in the provinces who constitute the main audience for pop-oriented variety shows, Hong Kong and Taiwanese speech has come to mean being cool. As a result, some hosts and hostesses of mainland variety shows have taken to throwing Taiwanese slang words and Hong Kong tones into their on-air speech, associating themselves with the cool radiating from those two centers of the Chinese-language pop industry.


Blogspot, Blog-City China blogs: Move!

Posted by Martyn

Or at least set up a mirror site! For those who don’t live in Mainland China, it’s easy to forget about blocked sites. True, unlike sites such as the BBC, Blogspot and Blog-City sites are relatively easy to access via use of certain servers. However, the truth is that many people either don’t know how to get around the block or simply don’t bother.

If I were a Chinese censor gazing at the list of all the China-related blogs hosted on Blogspot and Blog-City then I would, without a doubt, have a huge smile on my face. Mission accomplished. Job well done. China’s Internet users are effectively denied access to these sites, all 100+ million of them. Why, therefore, do China bloggers choose to remain in a place where their largest captive audience cannot access their sites? Most TPD readers reside in China. The number of daily hits would be slashed if, for example, TPD moved back to Blogspot.

One of the most intelligent China blogs around, Sun-Bin, recently set up a mirror site on MSN Spaces. Horse’s Mouth did the same on I hope that the remaining Blogspot/Blog-City China blogs will follow their example. Particularly Asian Security, Those Who Dare, Kevin in Pudong, Public Enemy and Paper Tiger.

For extra encouragement, here is a list of 100+ free blog hosting services.


Karen Hughes, the worst possible choice

One needn’t be a seer to know that Karen Hughes’ diplomatic mission is an absurd waste of taxpayer dollars and yet further proof of our diplomatic ineptitude. Fred Kaplan delivers the goods.

It was strange enough when her longtime friend President George W. Bush named her as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. It’s absolutely mind-numbing to discover that she considers it one of her mandates to be the public diplomat.

The main task of this posting is to improve America’s image in the Muslim world. Let us stipulate for a moment that Hughes is ideally suited for the job—that she can figure out how to spin sheiks, imams, and “the Arab street” as agilely as she spun the White House press corps in her days as Bush’s communications director.

Even if that were so, why would anybody assume that she is the one to do the face-to-face spinning? Wouldn’t it be better to find someone who—oh, I don’t know—speaks the language, knows the culture, lived there for a while, was maybe born there?

Put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans’ image of Islam. It’s doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented “Good morning.” Yet this would be the clueless counterpart to Karen Hughes, with her lame attempts at bonding (“I’m a working mom”) and her tin-eared assurances that President Bush is a man of God (you can almost hear the Muslim women thinking, “Yes, we know, that’s why he’s relaunched the Crusades”).

Hughes is the third person that President Bush has appointed to this admittedly daunting position since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And she’s the third piece of living evidence that he has no idea what “public diplomacy” requires.

I could have told you that. Hughes has done the worst thing for public relations, giving all of us practitioners a bad name (“liar”). That of all the qualified people she was the one chosen to walk the streets trying to generate good will in the Middle East speaks volumes. Your tax dollars at work.


Another People’s Congress


[Edited – the earlier link could cause someone some embarrassment, and we would never want to do that.]


X1jiang 50th anniversary: occupation or liberation?

Posted by Martyn

China’s security forces in X1njiang will be on full alert this weekend as the autonomous region celebrates its 50th anniversary of either occupation or peaceful liberation, depending on whom you ask. Chinese security chief Luo Gan told police in X1njiang to “prepare for danger” ahead of the celebrations after accusing a dissident of plotting to sabotage the festivities. He also urged the armed security forces to crack down on criminals in order to create a “safer environment for economic growth and social progress”, China’s state press reported on Thursday.

Officially, more than 260 terrorist acts have been committed in X1njiang in the past two decades, killing 160 and wounding 440. However, the real figures are rumoured to be much, much higher. Terrorist activity escalated in the late 90s as China prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the PRC. A spate of bombs attacks rocked both Urumqi and even Beijing.

The area officially called X1njiang or “New Frontier” has a long and colourful history. Around 2,000 years ago, control of the area bounced back and forth between the northern Xiongnu tribes and Han China, changing hands several times until it was overrun by tribes like the Tuyuhun and the Rouran at the end of the 5th century. In the 6th century, X1njiang was incorporated into the vast Turk Empire. The Sui Dynasty (581-618AD) drove the Turks back and extended its control into southeast X1njiang. The armies of the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) then took over the entire region. In the 8th century, with the Tang in steep decline, T1bet launched a massive and successful invasion of China with it’s frontline soldiers stretching from northern X1njiang right down to modern day Yunnan reaching (and sacking) the Tang capital in 763.

For the next 100 years, southern X1njiang was a T1betan protectorate and its northern sections ruled by an Uyghur khan. Thereafter followed several hundred years of fragmentation between various Muslim tribes until the Khitan empire unified the region after fleeing the Jurchen onslaught in 1132. Genghis Khan incorporated the area into the Mongol Empire in 1218. After its collapse, the Chagatai Khan ruled until the 15th century when the area again split into separate Muslim states. It was then incorporated into the Mongol Jungar Empire in the 17th century until the Manchus, after more than half a century of incursions, captured Jungar Khan in 1755 and the whole area became part of the Qing Empire.

In the 19th century Russian incursions forced the Qing to cede large tracts of the northwest to Russia and the neighbouring Khanate of Kokand invaded most of the rest, leaving Qing China with only a few fortress towns under its control. This was later reversed when, in 1884, the name “X1njiang” was officially coined and formally incorporated into China proper. The Republic of China inherited the region from the Qing in 1912. During warlord rule, two Ea5t Turk1stan Republics were declared in 1933 and 1944.

The 1944 republic is the subject of some controversy. Official Chinese history claims it was part of the communist revolution whereas others claim it was an independent republic. Depending of one’s view of this event, PLA troops either entered or invaded the region in 1949. A formal request by Mao to the CCP’s paymaster Stalin resulted in Soviet jets being used to slaughter the legions of vehemently anti-c0mmunist Muslim cavalry in X1njiang at the time. Finally, in 1955 the province was formerly re-established as an autonomous region of the PRC.


American heroism the way it ought to be

Be sure to read this great post, which includes the complete letter that decorated, West Point-educated officer Ian Fishback wrote to Senator john mcCain. It is truly beyond belief. He has exposed the institutionalization of torture by Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how is he rewarded? He is sequestered, smeared, belittled and threatened with punishment. It’s a shocking story and the lack of outrage is even more shocking. He is defending the “little guys” in the field who are fulfilling policies coming down from the top. In other words, he is trying to protect his fellow soldiers, who end up getting scapegoated and imprisoned because they are doing what they’ve been told to do. And for that, he is portrayed as a traitor.

As Sully says:

The overwhelming majority of our soldiers are as decent and as honest and as moral as this hero. They have been betrayed by incompetence, brutality and treachery at the very top of this administration. And those responsible must be brought to justice. But we also owe them new legislation to draw a line between the stain of the Bush era and the future. We cannot undo the profound damage this president has done to this country’s honor and military. But we can stop it now. And we must.

Thanks God America has a free media where this story can be told, from the newspapers to the blogs. Now, if only the people would listen.


Criminally Stupid

By Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

This is a wretchedly awful move on the part of the Chinese government, if they do in fact go ahead with plans to reopen legal trade in tiger parts:

Tiger organs, teeth, bones and penises fetch high prices on the black market, where they are used in traditional Chinese medicines to treat ailments like rheumatism. In other parts of Asia, the bones are considered an aphrodisiac.

China banned domestic trade in all tigers and tiger parts in 1993, but is considering re-opening the business based on farm-bred, captive animals.

But that would send a signal that it is acceptable to buy tiger parts which would threaten wild tiger populations, experts in the wildlife trade said.

“We’re afraid that poachers living near the world’s last populations of tigers may kill them to supply illegal markets that are likely to develop alongside any new legal ones,” Susan Lieberman, head of WWF’s Global Species Programme, said in a statement.

“This could be the final act that drives the tiger towards extinction.”

I can’t think of any positive spin, any possible excuse for this. What in the world is motivating the government? Surely tiger farmers and traders in animal parts aren’t that powerful a lobby. I can only take cultural relativism so far. Some things are just wrong.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to take action against this disgusting, irresponsible decision, please let me know…


Leaking State Secrets

It’s back, sort of. Don’t miss this post about what happens when an anonymous blogger gets outed. Or his Farewell post, in which he laments the failure of American corporations to live up to their own ethical standards:

What I find most disappointing is the enthusiastic cooperation being shown by western companies like Yahoo and Google in helping the CPC to suppress information. Go to Beijing and watch what happens if you type in something as incuous as “Zhongnanhai” into Google. You get locked out for about half an hour.

Companies like Google say that this is the price of doing business in China. I would say that price is too high. Leave it to the Baidus, Sohus and the Sinas. Haven’t Google got something in their mission statement about “doing good stuff” or some other vaguely benevolent slacker-like intention? Completely meaningless.

Anyway, I return to Australia and find myself glad to live in a society that [so far] treasures freedom of speech.

Having worked briefly at China Daily I find myself seeing it as a bit like the Truman Show. I was one of those workers behind the scenes, trying to keep the 1.3 billion Chinese Trumans living in a fantasy world of sunlight and smiles.

That post is a must-read. Google’s conference room motto he is referring to is “Don’t be evil.” Can you do business in China without involving yourself in evil? Maybe you can’t avoid it anywhere, maybe there’s a degree of evil built into doing business, period. Just wondering.

Anyway, I’m going to miss this site, and am hoping its owner continues to post now and again.


China’s bold vision of a bland, kowtowing, harmonious Internet

This blogger examines the new media/Internet restrictions and gets it right.

So the point of this new policy is not to try to resuscitate the AOL model and create the world’s largest moderated chatroom, with Sohu and Yahoo dutifully pulling at the oars–though that’s going on too.

What we have here is the capitalism-with-Chinese-characteristics side of the manufacturing consent equation.

The Chinese government wants to create nice, meek, risk averse Internet news businesses that will be protected from competition from lively, popular blogs and websites.

Sounds like they want the Internet to emulate CCTV, which causes even the little insects on the wall to tuck in their wings and go to sleep.

Read the whole post.