Confucius on SARFT

We haven’t heard from this blogger for a long time. His new post reminds us what he’s been depriving us of. A taste:

A number of Western media outlets — including many that should really know better – have speculated that the decision was motivated by “fears of unrest,” pointing to a few people online who have compared the plight of the furries in Avatar to that of Chinese being forcibly evicted from their homes. This is unlikely, if only because SARFT is just not all that clued-in: they approved District 9 last year even though it was obviously all about Kashgar, and it looks like the remaining installments of the Harry Potter series will continue to be screened in China, despite their scathing critique of the national gaokao college entrance examinations.

The real reason for the move is plain old petty protectionism, pure and simple: Confucius, which stars Chow Yun-fat as the eponymous sage, opens on Friday, and the China Film Group wants to make sure that it does at least respectable business over the Chinese New Year holiday, despite the lackluster reviews it got at advance screenings.

And then it gets really funny. Go there now.



Mark Anthony Jones is dead

This is a sad post to write. Mark Anthony Jones died of cancer last November, according to a knowledgable friend. My guess is that he was in his mid-30s [update: someone has written to me was closer to 40].

As long-time readers know, Jones, or “Madge,” as we often called him, was my bete-noire for years. He posted here for the first time in this thread, which was one of my favorites for a long time. Until I learned that those erudite comments Jones was posting weren’t written by him, but were copied from articles and other blogs.

When I learned what he was doing, I put up the post that resulted in the most remarkable comment thread I’ve ever seen, anywhere. This set in motion a feud that included Jones writing two separate articles for China Daily attacking The Peking Duck as a “hate site.”

But that was a long time ago. I can never say that I liked Madge. I did at first, until then things got strange. But I certainly didn’t want him to die. When I heard he had cancer last spring, I wished him a speedy recovery, through my friend Lisa.

Madge was obviously intelligent, and I believe he was a good person underneath it all. He simply needed constant attention, and if all eyes weren’t focused on him he seemed to lose control of himself. He sent me literally hundreds of emails, most of which I never answered, and I got the impression that he was kind and compassionate, if self-centered. The ironic thing is that he really was smart, and if he’d directed all that energy to creating instead of copying I have no doubt he could have made a name for himself.

It’s odd. The two people who outed my last name (I used to blog anonymously) both died at an early age of lymphoma a few years later. Madge’s predecessor died in 2006. No, I am not saying this is karma or just retribution or anything else aside from an eerie coincidence. It means nothing at all; people die. It’s just strange, and sad.

I had guessed some months ago that Madge had died. Last June he said he was going into the hospital for treatment of lymphoma and then he vanished – and it was not at all like him to remain silent. I had to conclude the worst, but it was only today that I received confirmation of his passing. I feel nothing but sadness. He wasn’t a bad person, and he was much too young to die.

Post edited at 11:09am.

Comments closed – please email me if you’d like to submit a comment.


CNReviews contra Chinayouren

A fascinating debate.

Kudos to Kai Pan for all the work he did in laying out his argument. The winner, however, is Chinayouren.

“Freedom of choice” sounds wonderful. It sounds a little less wonderful when it’s “freedom of manipulated choice.”

Update: I’d like to point out a new comment in an earlier thread that includes the commenter’s 2002 dissertation on the GFW (PDF file). Very interesting, especially the opening quote by Bill Clinton. Boy, was he wrong.


The Google-Clinton-China circus?

In a typically excellent column, Gady Epstein, the good Forbes columnist (and Beijing bureau chief), looks at Hillary Clinton’s remarks yesterday on Internet freedom, China’s predictably prickly reaction to them, and the effect this all might have on the future of Google in China (as well as the broader issue of Internet freedom in China). I like the way he frames the issue:

Authoritarian regimes have adapted to the Internet, giving people enough freedom online that most have not resisted censorship and controls. was, insidiously, a part of that success in China, stamping an authoritarian system of self-censorship with the Google brand of legitimacy.

Google wants to grab that brand back. Having the U.S. on its side may not help the company’s short-term commercial interests, and it may well embolden hard-liners in China’s government. But as Clinton alluded to Thursday, the U.S. has a brand to protect as well. Many in the world still look to the U.S. for leadership on principles, and the Internet needs it.

“On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress,” Clinton said. “But the United States does.”

Of course this fight is about much more than China vs. the U.S, or even China vs. Google. It is about a future of nation-states, corporations and other nonstate actors struggling to define liberty on the Internet. The U.S. and Google being on the same side of that struggle? I see that as a good thing.

I do, too. He also links to a must-read column in the Global Times (which he refers to, not without some justification, as “the Communist Party’s new McPaper aimed at foreigners”) that shows us where this is heading – the usual accusations and counter-accusations between the US and China, which threaten to drownout the actual issue of cyberfreedom. I found the GT piece disappointing considering how well the McPaper started off when this issue arose last week:

Google’s “New approach to China,” as spelled out in the title of its recent statement, would do no good to China, either. Should the world’s most populous nation fail to provide a foothold to the world’s top search engine, it would imply a setback to China and serious loss to China’s Net culture. The information highway demands not only safe driving but also free flow of traffic. And, in the interests of the majority’s right to know, free flow of information should take precedence in a civil society.

n a transitional society like China, the existence of censorship can be justified as allowing full play to multifarious and disorderly search results poses unprecedented risks to vulnerable netizens and social stability.

But the government must face up to the challenge of where and how to put the checkpoints on the highway. A sensitive and shrewd government should have the vision and savvy to place the right kind of checkpoints at the right place and at the right time for ensuring the free flow of highway traffic as much as possible in the public.

It almost sounds like a non-Chinese paper! Well, that relatively restrained and objective approach was nice while it lasted. The column Epstein points to today is somewhat less open-minded.

Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder.

Western countries have long indoctrinated non-Western nations on the issue of freedom of speech. It is an aggressive political and diplomatic strategy, rather than a desire for moral values, that has led them to do so.

The free flow of information is an universal value treasured in all nations, including China, but the US government’s ideological imposition is unacceptable and, for that reason, will not be allowed to succeed. China’s real stake in the “free flow of information” is evident in its refusal to be victimized by information imperialism.

Oy. Information imperialism indeed. Anybody can put anything they want up on the Internet. The only ones who get hysterical about it are those who are insecure and frightened. You know, sticks and stones….

I loved Hillary’s line, “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does.” I thought she could have gone further in her speech, but then again, diplomacy is what she’s there for, and that she went as far as she did was enough to whip the CCP into its signature apoplexy. Let’s hope the back-and-forth is short-lived, and that it helps lead to at least some improvement of cyberfreedom in countries that fear it. As Epstein eloquently noted,

The world’s leading superpower and the world’s leading Internet company have made a clear statement that fundamental freedoms–of expression, of assembly–must apply in cyberspace. They have taken note that, as Clinton said Thursday, these freedoms won’t flourish on their own, despite techno-Utopian predictions to the contrary.

So this dialogue is a good thing. The Great Firewall isn’t coming down, not anytime soon, but this adds to the pressure that one day might lead to its long-awaited passing.


Censor me

Chinayouren has a delightful new post that reminded me yet again of how much the outside world still doesn’t understand China. It’s a great post on a couple of levels, but this section, written in response to readers outside of China who wrote to Chinayouren “proposing ideas to help ‘free the Chinese’ from the claws of the GFW,” really jumped out at me:

But listen, the sad reality is, the CCP’s systems of censorship are so effective not because they are diabolically sophisticated, but because… because the Chinese netizens can’t give a damn if they are being censored by their government or not.

You don’t believe me? Then perhaps you have a better theory to explain why nobody uses the widely available, free web proxies to surf the internet. Or why the majority of Chinese netizens still use when they have an identical search engine that is not manipulated on

Shocking, right? But not so much. The truth is that, in spite of popular funny memes and the occasional juvenile rant, the majority of Chinese who are rich enough to use the internet are happy with the status quo. They do find it mildly annoying to be treated like children by the CCP, but as long as the bills are paid, they don’t think so much of it.

And this is also why, if someone wants to create a device against the GFW, the user activated systems like proxies or Tor are not effective, because people simply don’t use them.

I’ve written about this before more than a year ago, when I said Westerners need to understand that what seems awful to us doesn’t seem nearly so awful to those we are trying to “protect.”

[W]e can’t distort what the actual situation is in China. 99.9 out of 100 people here will tell you this [Internet censorship] is not a problem to them, and even to those who see it as such, it does not rank high on their list of urgent needs.

Most Chinese aren’t trying to circumvent the Great Firewall. Those who want to look at blocked sites know how to do it, and they are, I believe, a very small minority.

Chinayouren then rails against another shibboleth, and what he says here is far more controversial. He shatters – to his own satisfaction, at least – the widely held belief (shall we call it a “meme”?) of many English-language China bloggers that a censored was far better than no A belief, I have to admit, I’ve held myself, though maybe I’m not so sure after reading this. He points out what should be an obvious fact, but one that we may tend to overlook, namely that the very essence of a censored is, after all, SEM (search engine manipulation).

The most amusing thing in the Google crisis is all the commentators crying about the loss of and its negative consequences for the freedom of the Chinese. In fact, I maintain that is the most evil product to ever have existed in the Chinese internet, and the World will be a better place without it.

That is because, unlike the Chinese official sites that practice censorship, what the search engines do is manipulation. Why? Because is not a content site in itself, it is a gateway to the internet. When people type in a keyword into the search field, they are actually trusting it to return a fair picture of what is on the net.

When you type a “sensitive” term and removes all the results except the People’s Daily and Xinhua, Google’s responsibility is double: not only it supports those often objectible views on the first page, but it also implicitly states that it is the ONLY opinion existing in the World.

And the worse is, the Chinese who believed that would be right to do so, because Google’s well known principles clearly specify their commitment to give all the information available in a democratic way. The little warning message that is displayed on SEM searches is meant to avoid this situation, but it is tiny and often placed right at the bottom of the page, so most Chinese users just ignore it.

In the case of, SEM is not about “good” or “evil”. It is about breaking the very principles that give a sense to the Google company, and it is understandable that Google has never been comfortable with it.

I have to give this post, and this blog, very high marks for laying its argument on the line without sentimentality or coddling, even if what he says flies in the face of what a lot of us want to hear. This is just one of many excellent posts on the subject over at Chinayouren.


Good to see I’m not alone

Another blogger shares his thoughts about everyone’s favorite Forbes columnist. Go there.


Xinjiang’s Internet restored! (Not.)


The Far West China blog is wondering why Western media are reporting that the Internet in Xinjiang has been “restored.” Go to his site to see vivid examples of how the blatant censorship continues. (And I’d love to see how my trolls explain the discrepancies as a “server issue” or a “bad IP address.” It’s right here for everyone to see, pure, unashamed censorship.)

Definitely a case of restoration with Chinese characteristics.


And speaking of weird….

I spotted this article earlier today in the Times of London and even tweeted it as one of the oddest stories I’d ever seen in a newspaper. I was debating writing a comic piece about it, but this other blogger beat me to it. I really needed that laugh after the misery of today’s election in our most liberal state.


Holy crap. Shaun Rein does it again.

Words totally fail me. And I won’t say another word. Just go and see for yourself.

Am I really reading this?


If Google stays in China, are they vacillating cowards?

Absolutely not. James Fallows, in another splendid update on the Google drama, notes the various reports coming out that it’s business as usual at Google’s Haidian headquarters – which in no way contradicts anything Google has said about the situation.

{The latest reports] indicate that Google has not pulled up stakes from China and is still operating as if it might have a future there. Is that hypocritical? I don’t think so: I think it’s in keeping with the initial announced intention to reconsider all options. As I mentioned the first time around, I think this situation is likely to turn out either lose-lose-lose — for Google (outside the Chinese market), for the Chinese government (publicly embarrassed, which will bring out worse rather than better tendencies), and for the Chinese public (symbolically cut off that much more from the mainstream of modern development, and with an internet ecology worse than it could be, with the absence of a major innovative competitor) — or win-win-win for the same parties, if the government can address Google’s complaints in a way that allows the company to remain. I assume that off-stage action toward that end is underway now.

My trolls have already started blasting Google as if it suddenly realized it made an awful mistake and is changing its mind. Not true. That may happen; I don’t know. But Google never said they were leaving China.

Fallows also posts a moving letter he was sent from a non-Chinese reader living in China. I just want to paste the powerful closing lines.

I recently showed a friend what it was like to surf the internet on the other side of the chinese firewall (thank you for your long ago recommendation of witopia). After showing sites with pictures and info regarding topics such as Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, etc my friend was in tears. She had been very aware that China was censoring information and putting its own spin on events, but she never grasped its extent. The next day she said to me “I hate what my country has done and feel very sad. But I also still have a love for China. I don’t know what it is I really feel.” I told her that in this case I might be able to appreciate exactly what she was feeling and welcomed her to the world of far from perfect countries.

I remember at my office in Beijing when I showed my Chinese colleagues photos of Tank Man, a photo that practically none had ever seen. They told me the only photos they’d seen of June 4 were of Chinese soldiers murdered and burned by angry workers. They were amazed when I told them about Tank Man and why he captured the imagination of the world outside of China. And I remember one of them arguing with me that he should have conformed and not meddled in affairs that weren’t his business. But hey, at least we were having a dialogue about it.

This all brings back to mind a conversation I had with one of the very first friends I had in China back in 2002. I asked about how she felt about her country, and she said how much she loved China. “I love my country,” she said, “but my country doesn’t love me.” (I think she told me that was a popular saying, but honestly I don’t remember so well.) Very powerful words. The girl referenced in the letter above who suddenly realizes all that her government is hiding from her, she is actually saying the same thing. She loves her country, but her country doesn’t love her. They don’t trust her enough to know and learn and think for herself.

“I love my country, but my country doesn’t love me.”