Tuesday, December 29, 2009

China's Online Crime Gangs: the debate

After CCTC's revelation that the Chinese Internet is infested with "Online Hitmen" and "Crime Gangs" trying to manipulate public opinion through blogs and BBS (See ESWN), a heated debate has started on the definition of "Online Organized Crime" and the reasons behind this sudden government witch hunt. This week, the Market Section of the Shanghai Business Daily was completely consumed by the matter. Columnist Chen Yongdong, associate professor in New Media at Shanghai Drama College, explains why it is useless to call companies who specialize in Viral campaigns "Crime Gangs". He mentions some famous Chinese Internet Memes and Virals, and ends with a suggestion for China's Central Television.

“Online Crime Gangs” are exaggerated

By Chen Yongdong

Recently, a CCTC program used words like “Online Underworld” (wangluo heishehui 网络黑社会), “Online Thugs” and other screaming words to describe the phenomenon of IT-companies using the Internet to defame and attack (dihui daji 诋毁打击) the competition. Even though it should be noted that the practices the television program described are in fact real, and have been common practice for some time now, I feel using terms like “Online Crime Gangs” are somewhat overtly critical. It almost reeks of ‘signal posting’ (biaotidang 标题党)(giving an alarming and unrelated title to a piece in order to attract more attention, haodalong).
First of all, online defamation is indeed very serious, but there is no need to make it into a grave danger. I should concede that there are in fact companies whose core business is to influence online opinion (wangluo yulun 网络舆论). Their web posting is endless, and their sphere of influence enormous (saodang fanwei 扫荡范围 lit. mopping reach, haodalong). Just look at last year’s “Master Kang’s mineral water sources” incident(see Danwei), or this year’s “Wanglaoji Herbal Tea additives” (see ChinaCSR) incident. These ‘scandals’ show on what scale the defamation tactics can be used. Actually, Central Television wasn’t even the first to discover these practices. Defamation tactics have been around for quite a while, and known by many netizens. The concept is very simple, just look at the hype started by the “Jia Junpeng, your mom wants you to go home to eat!” post(see ChinaSmack). Nonetheless, even though many netizens feel this online defamation is a bad thing and creates confusion, there is no need to make it into a grave and monstrous danger. After all, netizens have a pretty good sense of judgement. It is just like when we encounter a street vendor, most people do not believe him, and we definitely don’t call street vendors “organized crime”.
Second of all, “Online Crime Gangs” is not an appropriate term, because it doesn’t cover the diversity of online misbehaviour. Maybe Central Television only used this term to attract attention, to make people notice the program. But this seems too hungry for attention. Anyhow, “Online Crime Gangs” seems to me like a very unclear concept. Among many types of online behaviour, we find posts online, meticulously crafted to be a guaranteed hype, but also posts that praise a certain product in a refined and subtle way, there are the famous ‘Human Flesh Searches” that violate privacy rights, there is slandering and swearing, and then there is also the defamation of business competition through web posts. Of all these different types, at least the first two can hardly be grouped together under the flag of ‘online crime’. Even the privacy violating ‘Human Flesh Searches’ are instigated by individual netizens. So we can conclude that only the last two categories effectively qualify for the term. And these forms of slander, name-calling and defamation are already illegal in the ‘offline world’, they are no different online. Even these forms of lawbreaking do not really qualify to be called “Organized Crime”.
China doesn’t have Organized Crime. Interestingly, back in August we were debating whether or not China had a criminal underworld. Back then it was said that, under Chinese law and in legal terms, we didn’t really have organized crime gangs, just “Mafia-style organizations”. If you look at it this way, how is it possible that China suddenly has “online crime gangs”? With regard to “organizations with a mafia-nature”, our penal code does not really have what it takes to tackle this online defamatory behaviour either. Domestic legal experts say “mafia style organizations” are recognized by having a clear degree of violence, in pursuit of financial gain, and handle in corrupt ways. Its members must be numerous, its internal organizational structure must be intimate and intricate. Their actions must always focus around some illegal way of making money, vainly maintaining a sphere of influence and to have domination as a goal. So clearly, online defamation does not qualify for it is not violent, corrupt or pursuing domination in any form.
Concluding, even as online defamatory behaviour is rampant, and as a business model of competition it is quite suspect, it does not rise up to the definition of “organized crime gangs”. So I would suggest Central Television to withdraw the term, to replace it with the much more appropriate and accurate term “Online Grey (huise 灰色)Industry”.

陈永东 Chen Yongdong 29-12-2009

translated by Haodalong
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Remarrying , the best scheme for retirement?

From Southern Weekly's review section page F 30, 17.12.2009.

A few days ago when I returned home to my village to visit relatives, I heard that my widowed aunt was planning to remarry, her husband being a 70 year old worker from our village. People in the village talk about this with great envy; my 52 year old aunt is in good health and can work in the fields of our village for another 10 years without having to save money for retirement, now she relies on her husband's pension, and with health insurance she can live a life of ease --- It really is “the best scheme for retirement”. My aunt also told me, this kind of remarrying is already becoming more and more common, some marriage recommendation companies have even opened up shops in the village in order to promote this kind of “retirement scheme” service.

Supervisor of a private enterprise, Zibo, Shandong province

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crazy Garlic

Southern Weekly's homepage of today features a Xinhua article on this years garlic prices.

In 2009, garlic farmers and traders in Zhongmu county, Henan province, the home of garlic production in China, experienced radical changes in garlic prices. In just a half year garlic export prices surged from 100 Yuan per ton to several thousand Yuan per ton, and retail price also increased tenfold.

According to news reports, garlic prices dropped steadily after this years Spring Festival, the value of some garlic traders inventory was at this point not even enough to cover the cost of refrigerating the storage. In May during harvest season, the price of fresh garlic was not more than 0.2-0.3 Yuan per half kilo, and a majority of garlic farmers didn’t make a profit when the prices suddenly increased, yet a lot of traders made fortunes. According to analysis, a sharp reduction in the number of planting areas, reduced production amounts, and speculation all lead to this crazy increase in garlic prices. To local garlic farmers, this years crazy garlic prices might be a mixed blessing, and they can just hope that next years crop will be bought at a stable and fair price.

Picture: President of Zhongmu county storage association and general manager of Heng Da storage Liu Shaochen shows Zhongmu garlic that's ready for sale.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

British people's view on China

From Southern Weekly's review section 09.12.2009, a part of their "Watching China" series.

Author: Southern Weekly's editorial department

The independent British research company Populus recently conducted a survey which found that 41 % of British parliament members believe that over the next 50 years China will become Britain's largest trade partner. The data presented in this survey is undoubtedly good news for Chinese companies planning to enter the British market.

But it also includes news that are not that encouraging: 45 % of ordinary people believe that the quality of Chinese products is inferior to British products, which is three times the number of people with the opposite view (14 %). Is this really a fact? Certainly there are some Chinese products of bad quality, but there are also many Chinese products that are not only cheap, but also of superior quality. Even so Chinese companies should not ignore public opinion, no matter if this view surely differs from reality.

The basic solution to this problem is of course to improve product quality, create one's own brands, and gradually change the West's prejudices against "Chinese manufacturing". The survey discovered that young British consumers understand more about the new generation of imported Chinese products and their view on "Chinese manufacturing" is also more positive: 60 % of people between the age of 55 and 64 and 56 % of people above the age 64 believe the quality of Chinese products are worse than British, while only 33 % of people between 18 and 24 and 32 % of people between 35 and 34 are of the same view.

Young British people and “Chinese manufacturing” put together is an extremely good opportunity, but the opportunity is only there for those who are prepared, if only this time we do not once again ruin our reputation by going the way of Russia “using chicken feathers as eiderdown”.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Residence permit

From Southern Weekly's review section page F 29, 03.12.2009.

Residence permit! Residence permit!

Year in year out I've been a migrant worker, and after a while my wife joined me, while my parents were looking after our 6 year old daughter, making her a stay behind child. When our child entered kindergarten, I planned to settle down in this alien land and then for her to attend school here, but because we are not "locals", not having a "residence permit", not included the costs of transfer her to another school , but just the normal fees for one school term was more than 1000 Yuan. At the time me and my wife had just found work and we were short of money, so we had no choice but to temporarily drop our plan. Later when we got a small raise, we once again started considering bringing our daugther over to study. But when we went to the local primary school to seek advice I once again felt dejected, again because we do not have a "residence permit". If our daugther was to attend school here, she wouldn't be able to take the required entrance exams for middel school and university because the local school won't let people without "residence permit" take the test. Finally, I abandoned the plan of bringing our daughter over for study, and my wife returned home to accompany her to study.

Sunweiguo, farmer Quanjiao county, Anhui province
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A cab driver's confession

From Southern Weekly’s review section page F 29, 26.11.2009

Saturday around noon, when taking a cab to take care of some stuff, I discovered that there were traffic jams everywhere. The driver said that you can’t make a living on driving nowadays: Every day he has to turn over 160 Yuan to the taxi company and pay more than 100 for gas, so when traffic is like this it’s equal to not taking on passengers at all. Looking around there were cars waiting all over the place, we just sat in the car dawdling the time away.

The driver was more than 50 years old and seemed very kind, yet his face was brimmed with helplessness, worry and apathy. As the road was jammed, he put his hands on the steering wheel and said to me (in an old Guiyang accent): “Miss, sometimes, when there’re no passengers, sitting in this car, looking at the traffic jam, I really feel like ending this life”. He often felt like there wasn’t any hope in his life…

The ride, which originally would have been around 10 minutes, ended up being more than 40 minutes long. I thought the fare would be crazy, but when I got off, I realized, to my surprise, that it was only 20 Yuan.

Gao Dongmei – Manager in a bookstore in Guiyang

This translation was made for information purposes only. The views expressed in the article are that of the author and her alone.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

A poisonous thorn

To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries.

Author: Hefan

Link to original essay:
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_489808d20100fr1w.html (Chinese)

This essay is taken from this year’s eight issue of the magazine “the Soho tabloid” (SOHO 小报), named “The balance between profit and soul”(利润与心灵的平衡).

This translation was made for information purposes only. The views expressed in the article are that of the author and him alone.

A poisonous thorn

To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries.

Something that has restricted the people of China (in terms of nationalism, translator's note), and strengthened its ideology, is “the idea of community”.

More than 10 years ago, I had just arrived the US to study. It was the first day of school. The school held an orientation for all the exchange students from “ethnic minorities”. What left a profound impression on me was that the teacher speaking, partly serious, partly joking, told us that upon arriving in America we needed to learn an important word: The powerful D. She said that if we ever run into trouble, e.g. getting a ticket for double-parking, we could just say “D…D..D…”, and before we had even finished our sentence, the police would meekly walk away. What kind of word possess such powers? Well, it is Discrimination, in Chinese qíshì (歧视). What Americans really fear the most is being labelled a racist.

Hearing this, I just dismissed it with a laugh. However, gradually getting to know the Americans more, I discovered that being a racist is America’s biggest taboo. White Caucasians love to make friends with African Americans, are very fond of the black culture, like adopting children from abroad, enjoy eating at foreign restaurants, believe in religions from other countries, and no matter if they’ve been to Tibet or not, they all put a sticker saying “Free Tibet” on their car bumper, all because they wanna prove they’re not racist. In America, if you’re not cautious about what you say, you will easily end up being labelled a racist. On one occasion, I sat in on an econometrics class. The teacher wrote the symbol “∧” on the black board, stopped cold turkey and made a joke: “This looks like a small Chinese hat”. Before he could even finish his sentence, an American Chinese cried out: “Teacher, what did you just say?”. The teacher’s face went blanch with fear, hasten to explain, he spent about five minutes repeating over and over again that he did not intend to mock neither Chinese or Asian people. He really loved Chinese culture, and explained that his child even was learning Chinese in kindergarten. I was sitting there, both laughing and sighing: Not even Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution behaved like this.

Looking on it from the point of progress, to oppose racial discrimination, is Western people’s reaction to their own wrongs of the past. An American friend once told me, the reason why white Caucasians have a guilty conscience about African Americans, is that the ancestors of African Americans were abducted and sold as slaves by white Europeans, clearly not emigrating out of own free will. Therefore today’s white Caucasians feel that they should atone for their ancestor’s sins. Frankly speaking, what white Caucasians in America really should bear the cross of guilt for is their crimes against Native Americans; killing their people, stealing their land. Unfortunately, it seems as though Americans are reluctant to reflect on their maltreatment of Native Americans. I am eager to continue exploring this topic with Americans, but they completely lack interest.

This can hardly be considered thorough rethinking, it doesn’t help solving problems of ethnic minorities, it doesn’t raise the moral standard of the West, is also makes the West weak and helpless. Nationalism is the demon the West got after opening Pandora’s Box, this special treatment of ethnic minorities as well as the popular culture pluralism being the angel flying out from the bottom of the box. Regrettably, this feeble angel cannot recall the demon, on the contrary, she has agreed to marry him. The result is that not only won't the demon go away, but instead it continues to multiply.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was left with many small countries, and entered a time of tangled warfare. Originally, the poison of nationalism grew out of this political chaos. To a large extent, nationalism isn’t natural, but merely a product of power struggle among countries and the desire to control a countries population, on the contrary, what strengthens one’s ideology is “the idea of community”. Nationalism increases the differences between communities and leads to hatred and killing. As a quote from Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” goes: “Unless we hate others, we can not love ourselves”. This is exactly what after many years of warfare, ultimately evolved into the national state and capitalism. In the rest of the world nationalism didn’t exist. The West conquered the world and spread their poison all over the place. The Balkans are called “The powder barrel of Europe”, where you have numerous ethnic groups and religions. However, before the Western powers arrived, the local ethnic groups were getting along just fine, everyone living in peace with each other. But after nationalism spread to this area, it exploded into constant warfare. The African country of Rwanda was originally home of many different tribes. In the 1930, the Belgium rulers decided to split the country in two, one called Hutu, one called Tutsi. In the movie “Hotel Rwanda” a Western journalist asks the locals what the difference between the two ethnic groups really is, and the answer is that they have different noses and styles of walking! The conflict that broke out in the 1990’s and ended in genocide, was directly causes by the nationalism introduced by the West.

Today's culture pluralism is still causing differences among rigid communities. Despite not being as aggressive as nationalism of the past, forbore and yielded by the West, but the gene is the same. This concept requires differential treatment by ethnic minorities, giving them more compensations and liberties (than the majority, translator's note). Yet, this kind-hearted aspiration have not resulted in satisfaction. The black and white boundaries of the American society are still very distinct, black people are not only unsatisfied, on contrary they are getting more and more indignant. Where's the problem? I'm afraid it's a sidetrack. A long time ago the founders of the United States warned reminded the people to be "United as One". America has always claimed to be "a big melting pot", and what's the outcome, the melting pot has turned into a separator. The situation in Europe is even worse then in America. America is the country in the world most open to immigration, in a steady stream new immigrants bring fresh blood to the country, while Europe has already entered a stage where the population is aging, step by step nearing death. Aging of the population raises immigration issues, but Europe is doing bad job with aspect. On the one hand, Europe's nationalism is even stronger, especially as the racists who make up the drags of society once again gain the upper hand, on the other hand in order to restrain the domestic extreme nationalists, Europe's culture pluralism gets more pacified and weak. In the light of the speed of today's population changes, in 50 years, Europe might be a Muslim world. If Europe doesn't seriously reflect on how to mix and unite different crowds, how to handle the ongoing withering Anglo-Saxon population and differences between the tidal wave of people coming from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, then sometime in the near future Europe will disintegrate.

Perhaps an archaic state is able to provide the West with some wisdom. Since ancient times China hasn't had a concept of ethnic groups, the Han population include people who in an anthropologic sense are of completely different races, including different religious beliefs, the radiant splendour of various languages, customs and cultures. Actually this is the true melting pot. I once read a book called "Jewish history". The book mentions Jewish people wandering all over the world, encountering supercilious looks from locals, and therefore they chose to preserve their own customs and traditions while being in alien land. One branch of Jews arrived in Henan, China, and was assimilated by the good-hearted peasants. This is the greatest success of ethnic policy.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Han Chauvinism

Does Han Chauvinism exist in China? This is indeed a controversial topic.

A lot of Han Chinese friends of mine say: How can there be Han chauvinism in China? China only has reverse discrimination. The government has implemented quite a few policies favoring ethnic minorities, e.g. extra points on college entrance exams, reserving local government positions etc. This is all disguised discrimination of the Han; especially in criminal cases, where ethnic minorities less often are arrested, executed and in general get handled leniently, which surely gives the Han a feeling of being treated unfair. Needless to say, the dissatisfaction is justifiable and quite understandable. Even so we have to keep in mind that this so-called big-nationality chauvinism is a typical example of forced assimilation of ethnic minorities. On the basis of this criterion we have to acknowledge that China actually has Han chauvinism.

As everyone knows, in China, regional national autonomy is nothing but an empty title. The CCP continue to carry out compulsory Han assimilation policies, policies which have been further intensified in recent years. In Xinjiang, almost all the leading positions with real power (meaning Party power) are in the hands of the Han. Previously there was a Mr. Sai Fuding who served as CP committee secretary, but after him there has never again been an Uyghur serving as first in command in the autonomous region. In the course of 60 years of CCP rule, CCP has trained numerous of Uyghur cadres, how can it be that they are unable to find a single one capable of serving as CP committee secretary. This indicates that the concerned authorities still are anxious about "If they're not cut from the same cloth, their mindset must be different". How can the Uyghurs just let this go? Since Wang Lequan assumed office they have strengthened restrictions on Uyghur culture and religion, demolishing the old town of Kashgar and other traditional buildings of great historic significance, stipulating for the use of Mandarin Chinese instead of Uyghur language in primary schools, and banning or restricting government personnel right to believe in Islam, including not being allowed to grow a beard, wear a turban or fasting and praying at work. Uyghurs celebrating their own traditional holidays are also being restricted, and son and so forth. This cannot but cause Uyghurs with national consciousness and distinctive ethnic features a strong feeling of being discriminated and repressed. In fact, the policies of the authorities towards Uyghurs are: crack down more often than you relax restrictions. The authorities use a high pressure approach and do not tolerate that ethnic minorities have any kind of emotions. If at a meeting an ethnic minority cadre as much as tries to raise a complaint, he is not going to get promoted, maybe even expelled. To ethnic minorities, if this is not Han chauvinism, then what is?

Let's take the language issue as an example. That the function of language in everyday life is significant, goes without saying. The so-called Chinese language, as a matter of fact, refers to Han Chinese language. Of course, the Han Chinese make up for more than 90% of China's population, so making Han Chinese language the official language is reasonable. But this also leads to disadvantages for other languages, thereby creating unfavorable conditions for ethnic minorities who have other mother tongues. A speaker of Han Chinese language can travel throughout China without any inconvenience (except for only a handful of remote and underdeveloped areas), yet a speaker of Uyghur language or Tibetan will face difficulties as soon as he leaves his hometown. Actually, if Uyghurs go to inland China without being able to speak Han Chinese language they will be very unpopular. Uyghurs perfectly understand this, and will by no means complain. But the problem today is that because of large numbers of Han Chinese people immigrating to Xinjiang, holding dominant positions in an absolute majority of all fields, it has come to such an extent that even in their own hometowns, the Uyghurs are likely to get turned down when applying for jobs if they do not speak Han Chinese language, and even if they do speak it, there may still not be working opportunities for them, because a lot recruitment ads require people to be Han Chinese. From a Uyghur’s point of view, is this not indeed Han chauvinism?

On the web there is circulating an essay called “I’ll tell you about the real Urumqi” by an author which calls himself “Second generation army”. This essay discusses a very interesting phenomenon: In Xinjiang, on Han Chinese holidays, the Uyghurs also get off work. On Uyghur holidays, the Han Chinese go to work as normal. It looks as if the Han Chinese are treated unfair, “but if you think carefully, you’ll discover an unexpected secret. Because of this illustration… In Xinjiang, everything can be done without any concern for Uyghur participation or normal regulations." Thus it can be seen that in their own hometowns Uyghurs are already left behind. A lot of Uyghurs already feel that they have become minorities in their own hometowns; they are marginalized culturally, and are an economically underprivileged group. They feel as if their own home is on the brink of being lost. What’s even worse is that Uyghurs have no channels of communications as to express their dissatisfaction and suffering. If they turn to the authorities, the authorities will often just ignore them, if they publish something online the authorities will simply just charge them with “violation of national unity, and an attempt to split the nation” and take them into custody.

Here, most average Han Chinese are not getting any special treatment, but Uyghurs on the other hand cannot but feel their interests are being violated. A lot of Uyghurs are not jut dissatisfied with the authorities, but also with Han Chinese people. Ethnic relations have become very tense. What really has created this situation is the authorities not paying attention to the needs of the ethnic minorities and carrying out policies of mandatory Sinicism. On the other hand this tells us that we can not solve these problem until we have implemented real minority autonomy.

Author: Hu Ping, editor of Beijing Spring

Link to original essay: http://www.rfa.org/mandarin/pinglun/huping-08312009100006.html

This translation was made for information purposes only. The views expressed in the article are that of the author and him alone.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Central Military Comission calls for armed forces' obedience

An interesting press release from the Central Military Commision (CMC) yesterday calling for all military forces to stay loyal to the chain of command raises a lot of question.

The essence of the statement is very much summarized in the following sentence:

"All military forces should unify their will to the decision and deployment of the CPC Central Committee to ensure that they "uncompromisingly obey the Party and Central Military Commission's command at any time and under any circumstances"

There is no doubt that this year will be a challenging one for the Communist Party. The economic downturn has already resulted in 20 million migrant workers losing their jobs, it's 20 years since the Tiananmen incident (that's the term used by Chinese officals, but most of us would probably agree that "massacre" might be a better word to describe it), and it's 50 years since Dalai Lama fleed to India.

The central goverment seems anxious about the possibility of massive civil unrest. All criticism a side, you have to give them credit for taking the situation serious. The way I see it, this press release is not meant as a threat or an ultimatum to the public,but is a result of a typical Chinese way of thinking: plan for the worst. The Chinese communist party seems much more adaptable now than just a few years back. They are starting to realize that without economic stability (in China, that means massive GDP growth) people might really start to question their rulers.

To me as an economic 外行 it seems like the Chinese government is the only government so far that has taken the financial crises serious. Maybe that's because they know what's at stake, but nevertheless, they seem very aware of the challenges their facing, and more important, ready to deal with them.

A year ago people were talking about the possibility of the Chinese economy getting too hot, and we should remember that even though the so-called experts might be right when they say that China seeds an annual growth around 10 % in order to keep the public on their side, we are not talking about a situation like the one we're facing in the western world, but merely an annual GDP growth around 8 %.

Looks like it's gonna be (another) interesting year for China.

Photo: Flag ceremony at 天安门, 1. May 2008
Photographer: André Holthe
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Charter 08 – The aftermath

For quite some time I’ve wanted to write an update of the reactions following Charter 08. But then I read this great post over at Inside-Out China, which pretty much gives you everything you need to know about the topic.

Go ahead and read it. It’s truly a great and informative summary of the events so far. Read More..