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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