April 2008 Archives

The Olympics and You

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Come tomorrow we're going to be inundated with all things Olympics here in China yet again. Big celebrations are being set up here in the capital and in other parts of this country as well to mark the 100 day countdown to the Games. As such, the media organs are going to be going non-stop trying to show what a glorious set of Games China is going to be putting on. And it's through the lead up to this media blitz that I got thinking about what the impending Games are going to be all about for people on a personal level.

I was asked by a friend of a friend to be interviewed by the People's Daily last week, because the paper wanted to get some foreigner's reactions 'in the can' about the 100 day countdown and the Olympics themselves for tomorrow's edition. The questions, which were emailed to me, were fairly generic in nature, but one of them did force me to think for a bit. The People's Daily wanted to know what the Olympic Games mean to me on a personal level. It is an interesting notion. We're consistently bombarded on the web and through the Chinese media about just how much these Olympic Games this summer mean to China and the Chinese people. And the foreigners living here and abroad all like to speculate about just what the Games will do as far as China's public image is concerned. But I have to admit I've never really given any thought to what the Games mean to me. I've never attended an Olympics before. Sure I've watched them on television and have rooted for my own country, even though Canada never really does very well in the Summer Games. I even have a bit of a personal, albeit very minor, connection to the Olympics, given that my sister narrowly missed out representing Canada in the Olympic Marathon in Seoul in '88. But the more I thought about the People's Daily question, the more I realized that I don't care about the Olympics at all. At worst for me, this summer's Games will mean thousands of people jamming up the subway system and my neighborhood, along with inflated prices for all things laowai as the local retailers do their best to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners. At best, I'll be able to look back afterward and say that I was in Beijing when the Games took place. But as far as any sort of soulful connection to the Olympics in one form or another, it's just not there for me. But, in the end, that's me. As for the answer I gave the People's Daily, you'll just have to buy a paper (though I don't really know if it was for the print or online version, or both).

He Zhenliang.jpg On the opposite side of the coin, I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with China's Mr. Olympics, He Zhenliang. He's the guy that most people credit for getting the Olympics here to China. He's a very amiable and accommodating fellow, and an interesting guy to chat with, given that he was - in his early years - a translator on numerous occasions for Premier Zhou Enlai. But if anyone out there in China had an excuse to wash his hands of all things Olympics, it would be him, given all the crap that he had to deal with in trying to actually get the games here to Beijing. He Zhenliang Headshot.jpg But in chatting with him, you couldn't help but realize that this guy really, really thinks the Olympics are going to change this country. Sure, he's a diplomat and gave all the 'correct' answers, but still, you could tell that he believes in these Games to the very core of his soul. To me, it sort of epitomizes the feeling I get from most Chinese people whenever they talk about the Olympics. For whatever reason, there seems to be some sort of collective agreement that these Olympics are going to kick ass and prove to the world that China and the Chinese people aren't getting the respect they deserve. As such, Chinese people have really taken these Games to heart and have developed an almost intimate and personal connection to them. Hence the anger surrounding the torch protests and the like. But the one thing I can't really put my finger on is whether it's the actual Olympics themselves that the Chinese have come to love or whether it's the Games' ability to put China under the global spotlight. A term I hear being kicked out a lot is that these are 'China's Olympics.' You hear it so often that you almost tend to forget that the Olympics are 'the world's' Games and that China just happens to be the host this year. So what will be interesting to see is just how much the Olympics mean to Chinese people 4 years down the road when London is the host. Are the Chinese people having a May-December romance with the Games or are they willing to take the five rings and put them on their fingers and commit for the long-haul? Olympic Rings.png
Who loves ya, baby...

My father is a former airline employee, so it's odd that I've developed a healthy skepticism about flying. Given the choice, I feel much safer on China's vast railway system; not to mention that sitting and having a beer and some dinner in the dining car is better than the slop hurled from airline waitresses.

But anyone will tell you that traveling by train is much more dangerous, and today we were sadly reminded of that truth. The New York Times picks it up from here:

A predawn collision between two passenger trains in Eastern China on Monday has killed at least 70 people and injured around 250, according to Xinhua, the state news agency, making it one of the deadliest rail accidents in recent years.
The two trains, one heading from Beijing to Qingdao and the other traveling between Yantai and Xuzhou, collided at 4:40 a.m. in the town of Zibo, Shandong Province.
Witnesses said one train derailed at a bend and then struck the other, throwing at least ten cars into a ditch. Wire reports quoted a rail official saying that a new timetable introduced on Monday might have contributed to the crash.

This is a tragedy on a very large scale. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims.

At the Danwei Plenary Session last month, moderator Jeremy Goldkorn issued a proviso before the discussion began: he would be referring to the western media and the Chinese media, even though "western media" is not, by any stretch, a homogeneous creature. One of my good friends, and sometimes contributor to this blog, has complained vociferiously that "the west" doesn't exist and should, at the very least, be defined before discussion can continue.

Traditionally I have overlooked this. To me, "the west" means white, English-speaking countries: Europe, the UK, Ireland, Australia, United States, Canada. Perhaps it's also a code-word for "colonial" powers (although it doesn't fit each of the countries I listed). Chinese people I have met have told me that media from these countries - and the power they hold as a collective - is unduly influential on a global scale; thus the campaigns against networks such as CNN over their news coverage.

"The West" is now the bogeyman to the Chinese: "The west" was responsible for past humiliations, "the west" is ruining the torch relay, "the west" doesn't understand Chinese culture. In fact, in a previous post, we get a psycho-analysis of a western mind.

This is all fine and good, but overlooks some glaring omissions which came to light this week. First, to blame "the west" for the FT movement is ridiculous; the Tibetan Government-in-Exile is based in India, for starters, and last I checked it wasn't a card-carrying member of the west. Nor is Japan part of the definition of "the west" that I offered above, and look how they handled this past weekend's torch relay stop in Nagano:

Protesters hurled rubbish and flares Saturday at the Beijing Olympic torch and brawled with Chinese supporters in a chaotic Japanese leg of the troubled round-the-world relay.
At least four people were injured in the scuffles in the mountain resort of Nagano, where more than 85,000 people packed the streets including Chinese students who turned the town into a sea of red national flags.
After relative calm elsewhere in Asia, the torch met at least hundreds of protesters here ranging from Buddhist monks and pro-Tibet demonstrators to nationalists, who provocatively waved Japan's old imperial flag.
Protesters threw trash, an egg, a tomato and flares as the torch was paraded through the streets despite more than 3,000 police guarding the route, who had raised security to a level usually accorded to Emperor Akihito.

The torch, which was run through Seoul on Sunday, didn't fare much better:

The Olympic torch relay has met with more protests and scuffles on its latest leg in Seoul, the capital of South Korea....
...One human rights demonstrator tried to rush at the torch shortly after the run began from Seoul's Olympic Park, in an attempt to hinder the relay.
South Korean policemen rescued a man after Chinese students attacked him during the torch relay.

To be fair, the report from Al Jazeera says that pro-China demonstrators vastly outnumbered the people protesting Chinese government policy. But the conclusion remains the same: people feel angry enough about China's policies that they are compelled to turn out and protest the torch relay.

There will be conspiracy theorists, probably in this comments section, that will say India, South Korea, Japan, et al have all been influenced by the west, are "slaves of the west", or whatever convenient excuse people choose to create. But the bottom line is the FT movement - and the backlash against the Chinese government (not the people, I'm at pains to add) - is far from a western phenomenon.

My colleague at Tianjin Television asked me over the weekend why "westerners" like the Dalai Lama so much. My response was that the Dalai Lama is, largely, respected by people in countries all over the world. China is the lone country which continues to demonize him. I suppose there is a possibility that China's assessment of the Dalai Lama is correct, but I doubt it.

What I'd like to know is how "the west" is defined in China, and how China feels about fellow Asian countries also protesting the torch. Because this time, France had nothing to do with it.

Mind you, neither did Carrefour.

Jim Yardley of the New York Times writes:

China appeared to bend to international pressure on Friday as the government announced it would meet with envoys of the Dalai Lama, an unexpected shift that comes as violent Tibetan demonstrations in western China have threatened to cast a pall over the Beijing Olympics in August.
China's announcement, made through the country's official news agency, provided few details about the shape or substance of the talks but said the new discussions would commence "in the coming days." The breakthrough comes as Chinese officials have pivoted this week and moved to tamp down the domestic nationalist anger unleashed by the Tibetan crisis and by the protests at the international Olympic torch relay.

This blog has been calling for renewed talks with the Dalai Lama from the beginning. It is a smart PR move which diffuses international criticism over Beijing's policy in Tibet, and undermines western arguments. Many are questioning whether China is serious about the discussions; from a PR perspective, this is irrelevant. Only the appearance of engaging in substantive talks is important, and may help salvage the Olympic games from being overshadowed by the Tibet issue.

What will be interesting to see is how China's state-run media, after demonizing the Dalai Lama in recent weeks, will pivot 180 degrees. I'm also curious to know how many Chinese people - who also passionately dislike the Dalai Lama - feel about these talks.

I think this is a good move for China. While the government should be applauded for taking the first steps towards reconciliation, there remains much work to be done.

I have spent the past few days in Canada, and everywhere I go people ask me about how China is reacting to the torch protests. I was a guest on the Al Ferraby show in Victoria this morning, and he too admitted that there is not enough information in Canada from China's point of view.

I'll be on a flight to Hong Kong in a few hours, so thought I'd pass this along in the meantime: A good friend has sent me a Tianya post which summarizes, in the author's view, why the west (and United States in particular) is protesting China. This student goes by the online name of 仁者无敌, which roughly translates into "The Benevolent Have No Enemy". He is a Chinese overseas student in Germany who recently attended a seminar called "Human Rights in Asia". (The full Tianya post - in Chinese - can be found here. The author provided the translation.)

1. Historic review

Human right problem of China became a focal point to criticize China only after the foundation of PRC. This was based on severe ideological conflict. When china became a rising power, the western countries consider China as a strong potential enemy. Human right becomes an important civil weapon against China.

2. Malicious strategy of the US

Since the iron curtain was established after the Second World War, the US started to lead the western party, fighting for its own global strategic profit against the communistic world. After the disassembly of USSR, China became the only remaining potential enemy power against American global supremacy. The US established a malicious strategy, putting china into a dilemma.

First, the US wanted to repeat the victory against the USSR - to force China racing on armament. To achieve this, they apply deterrent (threatening) against China with extensive military pressure. China was forced to develop its economy and military force as fast as possible. China made his best to make economic and military wonder, but the price for this ultimate efficiency was the depression of social morality, unjust and severe environmental pollution.

Then, the US used the human rights as a moral weapon. In one aspect, the human right was an effective factor to establish solidarity all over the world against China. In western world, the mentality was similar. Western people tend to pay more attention on individual rights. With this method, the whole western world, from government to people, can be united against Chinese government. In another aspect, the overflow of the criticism against human rights in china can provoke the attention of the Chinese people on the accumulating unjust. This decreases the trust of people to the government, accumulating the anti-governmental force.

The power of China is based on its united reign and stable social community. In Chinese history, none of the dynasties died because of being invaded. They died because of the unstable society, and the invasions were just catalyst. If the anti-governmental force is strong enough, the current Chinese government will be undermined, and this biggest potential enemy will be turned into a new colony of western countries. This is proven by the history.

3. Popular psychology of western people

Western culture was based on nomad culture. A very dominant feature of nomad culture is that when a tribe is strong enough, he will definitely invade other tribes to control more territories and more resources, because they will soon deplete their own resources in a limited time. This means that every rising power will be a future enemy. Actually, the history of China proved that china, based on agricultural culture, has never invaded other countries for more territories or resources. But as western people don't understand this because of the different basis of culture, severe misunderstanding exists.

Nomad cultures believe in jungle rule, while agricultural cultures don't. Based on this, the colonization history provides the western people an important mentality: superiority over Chinese people (as well as almost all the Asian people). Because of this superiority and arrogance, they don't want to make effort to understand Asian cultures.

But the rapid development of China challenges the superiority of western people. The daily life of western people is largely dependent on China. The economy of western countries (especially Europe) is closely connected with China. Nowadays, China is independent of western countries on most high technologies. If you don't sell a product to China, Chinese people will make it (even better ones) in a short time. If you don't sell are source to China, we can find enough in our huge territory. This kind of asymmetrical dependence, i.e. western countries depend on China while China is relatively independent on western countries, raised huge panic of western people.

Because of the misunderstanding of Chinese culture, western people believe that china is no more a potential enemy, but a practical enemy, an enemy against their superiority. No one wants his enemy to live happily. However, the life of western people is highly dependent on China. They don't have enough ability to change the situation in the near future. So they dare not to see that China is already strong and prominent. They dare not to confess that they are being exceeded by China. They dare not to confess that any change on Chinese policy will deeply affect their life. They dare not to see that China is developing. In a word, they dare not to admit the fact that the former "lower class" China, is defeating them. So they have to filter out all the positive facts in China. They want to collect all the dark side of China to persuade themselves that "China is still very bad". This ostrich psychology can only relieve themselves from panic for a short while.

The best proof is that in the 1980s, when China is still very poor, and the ideological conflict was largely relieved, there were very less criticism on human rights problems in China. When the time flies, in 1990s, there were more and more criticisms on human right problems.

4. Globalization: strike to the self-confidence of western people

It seems unbelievable, but it's true.

A couple of years ago, Hamburg lowered the salary standard of workers. The reason was that some big companies wanted to move their factories to China, resulting tens of thousands of unemployment in Hamburg. Everyone knows that China is the world factory because we have cheaper workers. The Hamburg workers have to lower their salary in order to keep their job. This is just an example of the general lowering of salaries in all western countries. This is a natural result of globalization, because globalization makes the whole world as an entire market. But lowering the salary means lowering the living standards. Of course the western people complain. It's very likely that they believe that China is the reason why they live worse than before.

Actually, the western companies in China make many serious human rights problems:

  • They force Chinese workers to work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • They pollute the environment in China.
  • They give extremely less salary to the workers, without paying any social insurance.
  • They lower the protection of the workers, resulting many irreversible industrial diseases, but the companies refuse to be responsible for that.

Obviously, these problems are based on the greedy western capitalists, not China. They want to make more money, but they cause serious human rights in China, and also cause problems in western countries. Of course, these greedy capitalists won't confess that they are guilty for that. In their own country, they mislead the public opinion against China.

Since they have caused a lot of human rights problems in China, this is a good excuse to blame China.

Because of the historic and practical reasons, the western world, from government to people, would like to criticize China, especially on the human rights problems. Their aim of criticism is not to help Chinese people to live happier, but to try to make China poorer, less stable, less efficient, less developed, less challenging, less competent, and so on.  

5. Sovereignty is the basis of human rights

The very basic human rights are the rights of survive, the right of development, and the right to keep his own dignity. The first line of German constitution is "The dignity of human beings is protected."

Without these very basic human rights, the other human rights are just Utopia.

In a country without its own sovereignty, the people there don't have those very basic human rights. We see the real examples in the history:

The US said that they wanted to bring human rights to Kosovo and Iraq. The US defeated their government and controlled those areas. But in those areas, do the inhabitants get more rights? They worry if they will be robbed or killed tomorrow. The US soldiers can torture man freely, rape women freely. That is the life without sovereignty.

If these areas are so far away from us, let's see the history of Germany in 1949-1950. An old German lady told me a story. After Germany was defeated, the French soldiers controlled her hometown. The Germans didn't have any rights. If the French soldiers were unhappy, they can catch any German freely and torture him or her, just for fun. The French soldiers lived in their beautiful house, and her family was driven into the small, cold and humid basement. She got serious problems in all of her joints - arthritis, till now. The French soldiers robbed her food. So her family was very often starved. Her neighbor was even starved to death. No one cares. Till now, this lady is still afraid of fireworks, because this will revoke her tragic memory. That is the life without sovereignty.

Besides the French soldiers, the Soviet soldiers raped over 2 million German women, according to the incomplete statistics. That is the life without sovereignty.

China suffered this kind of tragedy 70 years ago. We never forget that miserable history, and we don't want that this tragedy happens again to us. We don't want to be the second Kosovo, the second Iraq, or the second Germany, because we don't want a life without our own sovereignty.

Yes, you can write a long list, listing huge amount of cases that the individual human rights were broken in China. But this is much better than the semi-colony period. At least, now we have our very basic rights. Our rights to survive and rights of dignity are secured by our military force. 

6. Force is everything

Basically; Chinese culture is based on agricultural culture. This basis determines that China won't be an invading country; China won't be an enemy against anyone, even when it's strong. But the western countries forced us to join the game of their jungle rule. Just like Napoleon's famous sentence "China is a sleeping lion. Don't wake him up." The western countries forced us to wake up. And this lion roars.

In this world, if we come to the international affairs, we clearly see that there is no virtue and morality. The only determinant is the force. Of course, this force includes military, economy and culture. Now China is accumulating strong force, and the other Asian countries are also developing. The Asian power is rising in the world.

The US also has many serious human rights problems. They might be just a little bit better than in China - if at all. Why the criticism against American human rights problems is so less in the world, comparing to the criticisms against China? Very simple, because the US is very powerful, much more powerful than any other current power in the world. So, according to the western philosophy and history, the best way of China to get rid of the criticism is that we develop our country until we are much stronger than any western country. At that time, it's our turn to criticize the western countries on the human rights, and no one dares to criticize us

Yes, we have problems. But we develop. Not like the western countries, we don't have colonies all over the world. We have to accumulate every single cent by our effort. We will solve these problems, but not immediately, not under the pressure of western countries. We will solve these problems by ourselves.

We live happily in Asia. We live happily without you western countries. We welcome the communication with good will, of course. But we have to keep our sovereignty, because this is the basis of all the other human rights. We have our own culture and we have our own standards. We don't have to accept your standards. We have our own way to develop. We don't have to follow your way. The history has proven many times: China is a very good friend to the friendly people, but will be definitely a nightmare to hostility.

If you really want to do something to help China to improve the human rights, please do three things:

  1. Stop your prejudice and hostility. Throw away your arrogance.
  2. Come to respect, understand and experience our culture deeply.
  3. Make the US less hostile to China.

If you can't do these, you, the western countries, should better shut up. You won't make things better. This is none of your business.

Human right is not an issue to discuss. Human right is an issue to fight for.

Well, the Olympic torch has now made its triumphant arrival in the Australian capital of Canberra ahead of tomorrow's Auzzie leg. So it got me thinking about what the 'patriotic' Chinese out there are going to protest against here in China if s*#t hits the fan in Australia. Where to focus that anger... hmmm... Well, let's take a look at some of the options available for our enthusiastic patriots:

Well, let's look at it from the business angle first. China is really keen on importing a lot of Australian uranium. Power Plant.jpg So, I guess the protesters could rally around missile silos or nuclear power plants. Or maybe... here's a thought... they can boycott nuclear generated electricity! Oh, but wait... no one really knows whether their power comes from a coal-fired power plant or a nuclear one. So I guess, unless they want to do a candle-light protest (which would sort of take away from the drama of it all, and make it more like a love-in) the whole idea of protesting uranium is kind of out. DOUGH! Oh well... moving on...

vegemite.jpg Alright, where to next? Well, let's examine what kind of products Australia is famous for on a consumer level. Hmmm... Well, I guess there's Foster's Beer. That's Australian. But come to think of it... I don't think I've ever actually seen a can or bottle of it here in China. Ok then... how about Vegemite, the beloved yeast-based spread that many an Auzzie has grown up on! That'd get'em... except for one small problem... I'm sure the Chinese are much like the rest of the world when it comes to the fact that they'd rather spread the stuff that hit the fan on their crackers rather than Vegemite. So I don't think an anti-Vegemite campaign is going to break Australia's back.

OK... got it... how about Australian film stars! Ya! That'd work... I mean nothing would slap Australia back in the face harder than boycotting the latest Mel Gibson movie! Tsss... oh... forgot. He's only doing religious movies these days it seems... and those don't make it onto the screens here in China. Oh well. Oh...Oh...Oh... got it! Nicole and Keith.jpg Australian actress Nicole Kidman! Ummm... except she hasn't done a heck of a lot recently. So maybe her New Zealand-born country music-singing husband Keith Urban. I mean, Australia... New Zealand, pretty much the same thing, right??? But come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen a country music CD here in China. They must be buried behind the Best of Yanni albums that are littering the racks here in the Middle Kingdom.

Ok, ok...we're kind of running out of options here me thinks. Wait...hang on... think I've got something here... ummm.... YES! Here's the nail in the coffin and the ultimate revenge here in China should these nasty ol' protesters mess with China's flame: A boycott on kangaroo and koala-based flare hanging off cell phones!!! Ureeka!!! The straw that breaks the camel's back!!

Stuffed Kangaroo.jpg

All kidding around aside, I actually do hope the Australian leg of the Torch relay does go off smoothly. I mean... I think we all need a break for a little while before the damn thing hits Japan, don't we!

Below is a video that was submitted in the comments section of Paul's previous post. It is a video that aims to raise awareness of aboriginal issues in light of Vancouver hosting the Olympic games in 2010:

Now, part of me is quite tickled that somebody did this, because it gives Canadians a chance to really draw a line in the sand over how to handle protests and concerns over human rights.

As readers of this blog will be aware, I am a Canadian citizen. I am from Victoria, which is just outside of Vancouver, another city I lived in for many years. I'm obviously extremely proud that Vancouver will host the world in 2010, and feel fortunate that my two hometowns, Vancouver and Beijing, have both been bestowed with this honor.

That being said, Canada is not perfect; far from it, in fact. Does the Canadian government have problems in the way it has historically dealt with the aboriginal issue? Absolutely. In the past, aboriginal children were forced to abandon their own traditions and attend Catholic schools. Many of these children were sexually abused. This just scratches the surface of the atrocious way aboriginals were treated by our forefathers. It is Canada's original sin, and remains a divisive issue today.

Over the years, Canada has drastically changed its aboriginal policy. However many would argue it is still not successful. Many aboriginal people live on reserves and the rates of alcoholism are unacceptably high; so are high school drop out rates. This is, I would submit, an embarassment for all Canadians.

But let me point out a couple of things:

  1. Aboriginal Canadians have a free right to protest
  2. Concerns of aboriginal Canadians are freely aired in Canadian media directly and through representative groups
  3. Aboriginal Canadians have unfettered and free access to practise whatever religion they choose, without state interference
Now, these are all rights and freedoms that Tibetans don't currently have, so comparing the two doesn't really work. But let's continue anyway. Whereas Chinese people are offended that people would dare criticize its policy, Canada is open to having this discussion. I'm not angry about this Youtube video, because I agree something needs to be done. But even if I disagreed with it, people have a right to raise the issues they are concerned about. This is the bedrock foundation of free speech.

Canada has matured over the years, and has now granted aboriginal Canadians all the rights, freedoms, and equality of all other Canadians. Despite this, the problem hasn't been solved. So you know what? I'm open to hearing what China thinks we should do, or anybody else for that matter. And if a country wants to boycott the Vancouver Olympics, I disagree with it; but I respect that decision.

The United States, too, is often the target of international protests and outrage. Think back to the lead-up to the Iraq invasion when millions of people protested US policy in cities all over the world. Did Americans lash out? Only to the degree they wanted to call "French fries" "freedom fries". Really, Americans don't care what other people think of them. Stable, successful countries can handle criticism in a mature way. That's part of the reason that I'm proud to be a Canadian.

Problems are solved through open and free discussion; this is not something to be scared or ashamed of. Airing concerns openly - with the possibility of some hurt feelings - is much more desirable than the mirage of glory and patriotism.

A somewhat disturbing manifestation of what we were trying to outline in our previous post here on Zhongnanhai about foreigner's personal security here in China at the moment. I direct you to The Shanghaiist post today about a weekend Carrefour protest in Zhuzhou.

Couple of things I would like to note about this incident. First off, as was pointed out in the Field Director's follow-up email to his charges, the US Embassy here in Beijing notes that there have been cases 'in the past' of protesters targeting foreigners. This, for me, denotes that the US Embassy, at least, has not received other reports of violence against US nationals during these recent protests. That's a good sign. The other thing of note from the post on Shanghaiist is - as was rightly outlined by the Field Director - that people who are foreign residents here in China have to use their heads. I'm not condoning what the protesters in Zhuzhou did to the poor volunteer, but common sense should dictate that you should avoid putting yourself in harms way. Mob mentality is a dangerous thing. Ask anyone who's been to an important sporting event where tensions and animosity run high. soccer riot.jpg When groups get together under a common purpose, psychology changes and things can get out of hand in a hurry. (Ironically, it was a pair of French psychologists who came up with this theory of mob mentality in the late 19th century) So if you have lived here in China as a foreigner for any length of time, you should realize that tensions are running high right now. But where the wild-card factor comes into play, and could create significant problems for BOCOG officials ahead of the Games, is if unwitting tourists get caught up in something like this. Where an expat might recognize a potentially dangerous situation when he or she sees one, a tourist might not be so savvy. And what a PR nightmare that would be if someone who has come to visit China relates back stories to their country of origin about getting roughed up by angry Chinese protesters.

Under Chinese law, spontaneous gatherings or protests are illegal. If you want to hold a demonstration here, you have to get permission. Now I can't say for sure if the government has granted permission for these Carrefour protests or not. But regardless, they're letting them take place. But from a PR perspective, Beijing is dancing on a tightrope right now. Because if a tourist who comes here to explore and discover China gets injured or worse in one of these demonstrations, the ramifications are going to reverberate across the globe.

china-anti-french.jpg Chinese protesters are turning up the heat on France over the torch protests which happened in Paris. As the picture to the right shows, protesters painted a swastika on the French flag, and wrote that Joan of Arc was a prostitute.

The bezdomy ex patria blog writes:

Perhaps not the best way of communicating your ideas to the French people. It's not hard to imagine how Chinese people would react to having symbols of their World War 2 occupier added to China's national flag or the moral integrity of China's national heros slandered. Somebody needs to relearn that "do unto others" principle- and no, it does not end with "....before they do unto you".

A commenter on the previous blog pointed us to the photo (from Japan Probe) and this article in the Daily Yomiuri, which claims torch protests in Japan could draw even a more vile response from China:

"Reaction [in China to protests in Japan] would be huge in comparison to the reaction against protests in France," in which Web sites called for a boycott of French products sold at Carrefour stores, an international issue expert said, pointing out that negative feelings toward Japan remain strong in China due to historical issues.
A man in his 30s who runs a Web site that is popular with many Chinese "patriots," told The Yomiuri Shimbun, "Chinese people won't forgive [Japan] if the Japanese do the same things as the Americans and Europeans, such as making distorted reports about the Tibet issue."

With Japan and China's conflicts in the recent past, no doubt protests along the Japanese torch route would lessen the attention paid to France.

In between the site being up and down in a kind of ongoing ping-pong game - I managed to grab a screen grab. And here it is.

Picture 1.png

It may seem an obscure point to 'attack' - but one thing is for sure, it's certainly drawing attention.

Well, it appears the latest salvo in the CNN bunfight has been launched. It appears that a website affiliated with the Cable News Network (http://sports.si.cnn.com/) has become the victim of frustrated Chinese hackers.

The Sports Network.jpg

The Sports Network, which provides sports content to various newspapers and other media sources has been shut down (at the time of this posting) and now only contains this message:

Please Note

The Sports Network website and other major news sites have been hacked by a political entity from China, and as a result are temporarily unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to be back up and running as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Sports Network Management

It's unclear at this point what they mean by the term 'political entity,' but third-hand reports have suggested the site was hacked by someone who wrote: "Tibet was, is and will always be part of China."

This is not going to help matters at all. All this will do is inflame an American public which, I would argue, is growing more and more suspicious of China. And, while I can say with almost 100 percent certainty that the Chinese government has nothing to do with this hack, the fact that The Sports Network people are using the term 'political entity,' it will certainly resonate as a state-sponsored hack in American's minds. Wow, are things getting heated!

It's amazing how things can shift from sublime to concerning in a matter of hours. Saturday afternoon marked a curious shift in my mindset when it comes to personal safety here in this country.

A friend who has lived here for years suggested to me at one point that I should actually register with the Canadian embassy. He is a Chinese-Canadian and was living here in 1989, and says the registration was very handy at that point, because the embassy was able to transmit information about where and when it was safe to walk around the streets, given what was happening. (One has to remember that the protests that summer were not isolated to Tian'anmen Square) I never gave much thought to registration for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the gigantic headache that dealing with the bureaucracy would cause, but mainly because it seemed a bit melodramatic, given that I've never really had any inkling of concern for my own safety in this country. However, this weekend did make me take stock of the realities of the situation foreigners face in this country.

We are guests in this country. Though we may have residence and can live and work legally, we are foreigners. Unlike other countries in North America or Europe, where you can hold dual citizenship, China is - for lack of a better term - for Chinese. If one wants to obtain a Chinese passport, one has to either be born in this country or give up your own citizenship in your country of origin. As such, it gives China a somewhat homogeneous distinction and creates a natural divide between the Chinese and laowai. And so when my friend received a troubling SMS on Saturday, one couldn't help but be a bit concerned.

The SMS my friend - a French-Canadian - received was a warning that an angry protest was taking place outside a French-language school in Sanlitun, and that he should stay away from the area because the demonstrators were chanting 'kill foreigners.' My friend, being a professional photographer, couldn't pass up the opportunity to see what was happening and hustled down to the area. Upon arrival, he got back in touch with another friend to relay that there was little in the way of protest left. But still, the dye had been cast. The information was in the wind that an anti-foreigner protest, with violent underpinnings, had taken place. It wasn't long afterward that another friend of mine, who has been in this country about as long as I have, asked me, in all honesty, if I thought this anti-foreigner mentality was going to spread. And the only response I could think of was, 'ya.'

Jin Jing Paris.jpg Right now, for reasons that still sort of boggle my mind, Chinese anger is being focused on the French. Sure, the images of the protester trying to grab the torch out of a disabled Chinese girl's hands in Paris are disturbing and can easily generate anger, even among non-Han Chinese (I am amongst those who was appalled by that). But to blame an entire ethnicity and nation, the French and France, for the actions of one man or group doesn't make much sense in my mind. But it sort of typifies what has been brewing here in China for the last month or so. And, in some respects, I can understand it. For more than 150 years, foreigners have been screwing with China. From the Opium Wars to the Japanese invasion to the Cold War, foreigners have been poking China with a stick, trying to either dominate, subjugate or dictate to its people. So when the latest finger, AKA: the torch protests, gets stuck in China's eye, it's bound to conjure up anger. But what I fear is happening is a transmutation from understandable 'patriotism' to blind rage aimed at anything that even smacks of the perception of anti-China.

I'm not French. I'm Canadian. But, at the best of times, the Chinese have difficulty distinguishing one 'Western' nationality from another. As such, while the French may be the target, I fear anyone who might be deemed by an angry Chinese population as French, could become a target for frustration ventilation. Fall of Saigon.jpg Do I envision being whisked out of the capital al-la Saigon, 1975? No. However, part of me is now wondering if heeding my friends advice about registration isn't such as bad idea after all. And if I'm thinking like this, I have to wonder just how many other people around the world are pondering the same thing, particularly when it comes to possibly travelling here for the Olympics.

In the latest article filed to the Victoria Times Colonist, "Rising anger as Chinese feel under attack," I take a look at how far apart the pro-Tibet and pro-China sides are, and how this divide (and lack of understanding) has played into the anger surrounding CNN pundit Jack Cafferty's remarks:

On Tibet, both sides have completely different narratives. Westerners generally believe the Chinese military invaded sovereign territory in 1950, forced the Dalai Lama into exile, began a system of "cultural genocide" and eliminated religious freedom and human rights. To many westerners, this is black and white.
The Chinese see it in black and white too. They believe they liberated Tibet from a backward feudal system and have invested in economic development to lift many Tibetans from poverty. They also believe Tibet has historically been a part of Chinese territory and that foreigners have caused China endless suffering (the Opium Wars, annexation of Hong Kong, foreign settlements in Shanghai, Tianjin and elsewhere; burning and looting historical sites in Beijing).
And they believe that as China's one moment to shine -- the Olympics -- approaches, foreign powers are again trying to rip the country apart and keep it from succeeding.
China has a victim complex. Talk about severing part of its territory is like ripping open a still-bleeding wound.

The article was published in the Times Colonist on Sunday April 20. If you are having trouble with that link, it was also posted on the Puget Sound Radio Guide.

09_krispykreme_lg_l.jpgThe blogger at Silicon Hutong doesn't think so.

Krispy Kreme has announced it has plans to expand from it's Hong Kong location into mainland China, with Shenzhen being the first mainland city to host the rich donut-maker. The China Economic Review reports:

"We are negotiating with the franchisor but nothing has materialized yet," said Jim (Krispy Kreme's Hong Kong CEO). "Shenzhen is a migrant city, many are from the north, and the people are more receptive to fried products."

Silicon Hutong, a well-respected blog which follows Chinese business news, thinks the move into Shenzhen shows that Krispy Kreme isn't serious about expanding into the mainland Chinese market:

...if Krispy Kreme really understood the way into China, they would start someplace where there are a lot of people who already like donuts, can't get them, and will form long, slavering lines outside their door each morning. If you're afraid of Shanghai, go with Beijing. Call me crazy, but tens of thousands of American and Canadian businesspeople, students, diplomats, and families seem like a built-in market for a store or ten, better (especially initially) than a million or two migrant workers and their factory bosses.

Silicon Hutong, which is an excellent business blog, shows a misunderstanding of Shenzhen when it characterizes it as home only to "a million or two migrant workers and their factory bosses." While there's no doubt the foreign market is larger in Beijing and Shanghai, China's expat and thriving business communities are no longer located solely in these two locales.

Shenzhen is home to millions of dollars in foreign exhibitions and trade fairs each year, has one of China's most thriving and prestigious sailing clubs, some of the highest real estate prices in China, and is home to one of the country's major stock markets. Its proximity to Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, and Zhuhai, which are overflowing with the kind of expats Silicon Hutong talks about, makes it just as logical as a place to begin as Beijing or Shanghai.

The blogger also writes that KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut are all examples of foreign brands that did it right. It's ironic that each of these brands are already located in Shenzhen, and are thriving. In addition, Shenzhen supports luxury malls along the lines of Shanghai's Plaza 66 and Beijing's Shin Kong Place with Armani, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton stores.

To be fair, "the Hutong" notes that there are things that Krispy Kreme could do better, such as put people on the ground in mainland China and develop relationships with local governments, rather than run their franchises from Hong Kong. But the argument against opening first in Shenzhen is another example of the tunnel vision that seems to affect expat residents of Beijing and Shanghai. People in these two cities seem to assume that the rest of China remains backwards and undeveloped, and are unworthy or unsuitable for high-level foreign brands. This shows a lack of understanding of the development that has been occurring in China's second tier cities, and is unworthy of an otherwise excellent business blog.

sleeping anchors.jpg This is a nice break from the back-and-forth on Tibet.

CCTV 1 anchor Wen Jing was caught by a sharp netizen yawning on air, obviously not aware the camera was focused on her. The netizen also posted a second photo, which appeared to show the anchor shortly after she realized the camera was on.

The photos have drawn a number of comments online, with many people blaming the director. This is the second CCTV mix-up recently, as the state-run network accidentally broadcast an anchor having her make-up applied.

CCTV spokesperson Mrs. Liang lept to her producers - and Wen Jing's - defense, saying, "This is an obvious mistake. But we want the audience to understand these anchors are tired, and have to arrive at the station at 3am. Maybe she was too tired."

She said fines for these kinds of mistakes range from 50 to 200 RMB.

The original story was published in Xiandai Kuai Bao, a newspaper owned by Xinhua that is published in Jiangsu Province. It can be found here.

sleeping anchors2.jpg
Well, at least she wasn't blushing....

The always excellent Imagethief has pointed us to an interesting article written by James Millward on OpenDemocracy.net called "China's story: Putting the PR in the PRC". Millward examines six areas in which China can improve it's PR. These include:

▪ Remember that what you say to a Chinese audience is heard by the world audience
Until recently, Chinese authorities viewed even local Chinese newspapers as "internal circulation" media which a billion-plus Chinese, but not foreigners, were allowed to read. Those days are over. Since broadcasts, newspapers and everything else are now online, and lots of foreigners understand Chinese, Chinese domestic news gets out. Even stories that are squelched in China get out. It is a cliché, but true, that we live in one media universe.
▪ Consider how your statements sound in English
Diatribes by hardline leaders may be aimed to satisfy a domestic Chinese audience, but such rhetoric sounds violent, even hysterical, when translated and broadcast in English. Zhang Qingli, first party secretary in Tibet, infamously called the Dalai Lama a "terrorist"; Xinjiang's first secretary Wang Lequan shouted at a press conference on 9 March 2008 that "those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter who they are!" It would have worked better if he simply said "stopped," or "apprehended": words like "battered" or "crushed" merely contribute to the impression that the Chinese government is inherently violent. (True, President Bush often sounds the same way, with his cowboy swagger - but here I rest my case. His world image is nothing to emulate.)
Also, be aware that many Chinese slogans sound quaint, or worse, in English. "The Three Evil Forces" is one example, "the Dalai Lama Clique," another. And don't call it "splittism"! That word, probably originating in a poor translation, is used only in the Chinese context, mainly by the Chinese government's English-language media. "Separatism" means the same thing, but is the term used when similar situations plague other nations.

The other ones are great, as well. Millward's last point is for Beijing to act with more confidence. Even if Beijing is telling the truth on issues like the arrest in Xinjiang over an apparent terrorist plot, westerners are skeptical because they aren't given the freedom to investigate for themselves.

One of the fundamental differences between the west and China is that people who grow up in western nations don't automatically trust their own governments. They are taught a healthy sense of skepticism; so when governments make claims, reporters need to check it. When they introduce a new policy, reporters and pundits often examine it and even criticize it. Westerners don't automatically assume the government is doing the right thing.

As Millward suggests, keeping one message that works for domestic consumption and a different one for overseas consumption may work. Because the domestic and overseas audiences are so profoundly different, this isn't a case of one size fits all.

The rest of Millward's suggestions can be found here.

Some interesting comments coming out of Xinhua today, and an even more interesting interpretation by Agence France-Presse:

China urges control of 'patriotic fervour' over Tibet

BEIJING (AFP) -- China has urged its people to contain their patriotism, in the first sign Beijing may be growing uncomfortable with a nationalist outburst over the Tibet issue that it has tacitly supported. A dispatch issued late Thursday by state-controlled Xinhua news agency railed against "despicable" Western media coverage of the unrest in Tibet and said resulting Chinese indignation should be "cherished." But it also said nationalist energies should be expressed in a "rational" way and focussed on building the nation. "Patriotic fervour should be channeled into a rational track and must be transformed into real action toward doing our work well," said the report. China's government and state media have repeatedly condemned what they call bias in foreign coverage of China's crackdown on Tibetan riots, which erupted in Lhasa on March 14 and spilled over into other Tibetan-populated regions. The government's stance appears to have helped fuel attacks on the Chinese Internet directed at foreign media. A number of online campaigns have been launched, including one calling for a boycott of French goods due to protests against China's Tibet policies that threw the Beijing Olympic torch relay's Paris leg into chaos last week. Web users also have set up the website www.anti-cnn.com that criticises the US-based news network's alleged anti-China bias. On Friday, the email boxes of major news organisations in Beijing, including AFP, were flooded with emails furious over "vicious distortions" in Tibet coverage. China's Communist Party government, which swiftly quashes any expressions of public opinion it does not like, has so far allowed the attacks. Xinhua's report appears to fit a pattern in which the control-conscious government has given free rein to such sentiments when it serves party interests, but curb them when they appear to be spiralling out of control. After US forces mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, large anti-US protests were allowed in China before the government put an end to them. In 2005, protesters were allowed to throw rocks and eggs at Japan's embassy in Beijing, among other anti-Japanese actions, triggered by a range of grievances between the two Asian rivals.

The AFP's interpretation of the Xinhua comments is interesting. On the one hand I can't really disagree with the AFP's contention that the authorities might be getting worried about the anti-Western media campaigns spilling over into something more embarrassing or dangerous. But in the same respect, if it were really overly concerned, the government wouldn't be using terms like 'cherished' to describe Chinese people's anger and frustrations. Jiang Yu.jpg It also wouldn't be fanning the flames by having its Foreign Ministry spokesperson repeatedly going to the podium to demand a 'better' apology from CNN over Jack Cafferty's comments. The comments from Xinhua, in my estimation, are a preemptive way to cover its ass in case things do get out of hand. It can point to its comments and say to whomever: "look, we didn't sponsor these protests, and we told folks to be rational."

What will truly be telling is what the government line will be in the coming week. Emotions are running high right now amongst the Chinese population given what has been going on this week on the internet and in the media. If the government - AKA Xinhua - continues to report and write about the Chinese people's 'indignation' toward the western media next week, it will be clear to me that the authorities are in no way interested in keeping things in check. But, if this be the case, the larger question is what the motivation behind it is?

The New York Times has published an article today telling the story of a 20 year old girl at Duke University who tried to mediate between the Tibetan and Chinese protesters on campus:

Ms. Wang, who had friends on both sides, tried to get the two groups to talk, participants said. She began traversing what she called "the middle ground," asking the groups' leaders to meet and making bargains. She said she agreed to write "Free Tibet, Save Tibet" on one student's back only if he would speak with pro-Chinese demonstrators. She pleaded and lectured. In one photo, she is walking toward a phalanx of Chinese flags and banners, her arms overhead in a "timeout" T.
But the would-be referee went unheeded. With Chinese anger stoked by disruption of the Olympic torch relays and criticism of government policy toward Tibet, what was once a favorite campus cause -- the Dalai Lama's people -- had become a dangerous flash point, as Ms. Wang was soon to find out.
The next day, a photo appeared on an Internet forum for Chinese students with a photo of Ms. Wang and the words "traitor to your country" emblazoned in Chinese across her forehead. Ms. Wang's Chinese name, identification number and contact information were posted, along with directions to her parents' apartment in Qingdao, a Chinese port city.
Salted with ugly rumors and manipulated photographs, the story of the young woman who was said to have taken sides with Tibet spread through China's most popular Web sites, at each stop generating hundreds or thousands of raging, derogatory posts, some even suggesting that Ms. Wang -- a slight, rosy 20-year-old -- be burned in oil. Someone posted a photo of what was purported to be a bucket of feces emptied on the doorstep of her parents, who had gone into hiding.

We know a conflict has gone too far when even the mediators are demonized.

Rewriting history

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17tibet_450.jpgIt was only a couple of short years ago that Chinese people smashed Japanese businesses in Shanghai and marched on the embassy in Beijing over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and the use of school history textbooks that Chinese people felt washed over Japanese atrocities during World War II.

Well, how the tables have turned. While we know certain facets of Chinese history (ahem... like a little demonstration in a big square in 1989) are omitted from local history textbooks, the Chinese government is taking it one step further.

China is getting ready to open a museum on Tibetan history, and one in which the Dalai Lama will be edited out:

"He will not appear after 1959," said Lian Xiangmin, a Chinese scholar involved in the museum, referring to the year the Tibetan spiritual leader fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. "This is a Tibet museum, and we don't recognize him as part of Tibet anymore."

The problem with this, of course, is China's version of "history" and "reality" are becoming far more distant and isolated from the rest of the world. And that leads to misunderstandings like we're witnessing now.

(Photo of Chairman Mao with the Dalai Lama (right) and Panchen Lama from the New York Times)

An interesting new development in the internet world when it comes to Chinese nationalism and the anti-Western media campaign that seems to be growing.

msn名字后面请加(L)CHINA 代表一个中国 让全世界看看华人团结。请发给您msn的朋友。

Heart China MSN Pages.jpg

This message has been making the rounds today via MSN. The basic translation is: "Behind your MSN name, put (L)China. It will show the world that the Chinese people are united. Please forward this to your friends' MSN."

Basically this is the Chinese netizens response to the comments by Jack Cafferty on CNN about China from April 10th seen here:

It's an interesting scenario that seems to show no signs of abating. Because CNN is prevalent here in China, being the major foreign media source available on the television, anything that is said on that particular network related to China comes under intense scrutiny. As such, many Chinese seem to be keying on CNN as the benchmark for Western media coverage. And it's somewhat understandable, given that basically the average Chinese person has most likely grown up hearing from only one basic source for their information, Xinhua, and is not accustomed to having someone on television have an opinion that goes beyond the government line. As such, when an 'influential' television personality like Jack Cafferty makes comments against China, the Chinese people are going to take notice. Is it wrong for Cafferty to make those comments? No. That's his right as a television personality in the West. As for the substance of his comments, I'll leave that debate for the blogosphere. Anti Japanese protest.jpg But what is interesting is how these types of comments seem to galvanize the Chinese people. There's been endless discussion on the internet about the 'Western media bias.' But this latest MSN campaign, while unobtrusive on the surface, disturbingly smacks of the nationalistic SMS campaign that swept across the capital in 2005 that launched the anti-Japanese protests at the embassy here in Beijing. The question to ponder now is just how much more fuel can be added to the fire before we see an explosion?

Well, we called it. As anticipated when the new 'rules' were first announced, Beijing Municipal Authorities have backed off their original plan to implement new, strict smoking restrictions in bars and restaurants here in the capital.

Smoking Area.jpg

Restaurants exempt from smoking ban
By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)

Beijing restaurants, bars and Internet cafes have been exempted from a proposed smoking ban at public venues in response to concerns expressed by business owners. The venues will only be asked to separate smoking and non-smoking areas from May 1 as part of the new regulation. Zhang Peili, an official with the municipal government's legislative affairs office who is supervising the promulgation of the rule, said the changes were approved last week. Lawmakers and health experts said the difficulty in introducing a carpet smoking ban underlines the grave challenges faced in a country with the highest number of smokers. "Originally, we wanted restaurants to keep 70 percent of their areas smoke-free, but owners of Chinese restaurants - both big and small - worried the plan would hut their business," Zhang told China Daily. "It is difficult for us to control smoking in restaurants. It's just part of the culture." It was reported on March 29 that a strict smoking ban from May 1 would expand to bars, restaurants and Internet cafes. But the amended rule means only government offices, schools, museums, hospitals and sports venues will be designated smoke-free areas. Despite the setback, health experts said Beijing has made a breakthrough in tobacco control. "I think it is the right approach to go step by step. It is a brave move to ban smoking in government offices," said Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the national tobacco control office. Major cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao are also mulling amending laws on public smoking as part of a nationwide campaign in the run-up to the Olympics. Health experts in Beijing said they hope the city is used as a springboard for drafting a national tobacco control law.
The Breakfast Club.jpg

What I find interesting is not the fact that Beijing Municipal Authorities waffled, but that they would even consider floating out a blanket smoking ban in this city in the first place. China is a place where change is glacial at best. And to thrust the news of a New York-style smoking ban on the populous here in Beijing mere weeks before said implementation must go against every fiber in the government's being. So, in the immortal words of John Bender in the 80's John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club": 'Smoke up, Johnny!'

pasport1.gif My local police detachment is getting quite familiar with me. After each step in the visa renewal process, I've had to pop in there to re-register. Once, I had to register twice in the same week (to get the necessary documents for the next step in the procedure).

It has always been standard for foreign residents of China to register with their local police station. But now it appears that tourists have to as well. This email was sent out by the Canadian Embassy in Beijing:

Anecdotal reports indicate that frequent travellers to China and foreign residents in the country have perceived a change in the visa administration and issuance process. Official sources advise that there is an ongoing effort to strengthen enforcement of existing rules and regulations. Foreign nationals travelling to or residing in China are recommended to thoroughly review all relevant information available regarding the visa issuance process, consult the local visa issuing offices and plan accordingly.
All foreigners (tourists, visitors, and long-term residents) must register their place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Foreign nationals with resident permits are reminded to register after every re-entry into China from abroad as they are not exempted from this regulation which is now being more strictly enforced. If you are in a hotel, registration is done as part of the check-in process. Those staying with family or friends in a private home must also observe this requirement. Failure to do so can result in fines and/or detention.

I've had many visitors, both family and friends, stay with me here in Beijing. Sometimes, they are only here for a short time or stopover; standing in line at the police station isn't my idea of a good use of time, especially when tourists need to write where they intend to stay on their customs form upon entering China anyway.

I'd be surprised if many people actually followed through with this regulation.

Events on Hainan Island this past weekend have created a potentially interesting international PR situation when it comes to Beijing's stance on its 'internal affairs of state.'

At this weekend's Boao Forum for Asia, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Taiwan's Vice-President-elect Vincent Siew. Siew-Hu.jpg Both agreed that Beijing and Taipei would restart official dialogue when the new administration in Taiwan takes over at the end of May. These talks have been frozen since 1999.

But what I find interesting, and something that the anti-Beijing establishment might be able to key on, is Beijing's willingness to open up political discussions with the leadership in Taiwan, while at the same time refusing to meet with the spiritual leadership of the Tibetans. Why has Beijing become so steadfast in its unwillingness to sit down with the DL, while at the same time enter into talks with the same political organization, the KMT, which was bent on destroying the CPC until it was chased off the mainland in 1949? I'm looking forward to hearing some of the arguments on this question. And, just for fun, I'm going to try to presume and respond to the one I think would be the CPC's argument to this point:

  • The Dalai Lama is a 'splitist,' bent on Tibetan independence. So why should Beijing negotiate with someone who wants to break up the country. The people of Taiwan want to reunite with the mainland, so we're willing to talk with them.

Here's my two cents on this one: The Dalai Lama has been on record numerous times as saying that he just wants more autonomy for Tibet, not independence. Perhaps this is just a nefarious attempt to subvert Beijing's authority to the point where eventually independence will be reached for the Tibetan people. Who knows? But on the surface, the DL seems to be willing to make concessions to Beijing, so why not sit down with the guy and hammer some things out. And if it turns out that he was lying - and Beijing can prove it - then it's won. It's got its PR victory, and can just throw that in the face of anyone who says otherwise. And if it turns out the DL is as good as his word, then Beijing has still won, because it will likely quell any sort of complete independence movement within its borders, and can use the good will gesture to the Tibetan people as a PR victory to the world. But by not meeting with the DL and stoking up talks with Taipei, the anti-China establishment can use any forthcoming negotiations between Taipei and Beijing as a way to point out that Beijing says one thing and does another when it comes to its 'internal matters.'

We're exploring the possibilities of doing a regular podcast here on ZHN, like other ones we've worked on in the past. Until then, this will have to do.

I've been getting an increasing number of requests to appear on radio shows in Canada to discuss China's reaction to the Tibet mess, torch protests, and looming Olympic games. I appeared on the nationally-syndicated Adler Online during Friday's program, and will guest on Hamilton and Toronto's Ben Guyatt Show and Victoria's Al Ferraby show this week.

You can download the mp3 for the Adler spot below (13 MB). As you'll hear in the interview, Charles Adler, the host, says that the west sorely lacks information on how the Chinese people feel, and more importantly, why they feel that way. It's a substantive interview, one of the longest segments on the program I've done.

The torch relay mess is also having an impact on the Vancouver Olympic Games, scheduled for 2010. VANOC, the organizing committee, has announced it will have an extremely short torch relay or none at all. Right now, it is considering going to London, Paris, and Vimy Ridge (where Canadian soldiers were instrumental in a World War I battle). It may also tour the United States. Canadian Olympic officials are seeking to avoid the fiasco China now finds itself a part of.

The Adler interview, however, focuses mostly on China. He asks genuine questions in trying to understand why China feels the way it does. I think many in the west are perplexed with China's reaction to concerns about Tibet. He asks whether the protests have prompted the Chinese people to put pressure on their own government for policy changes in Tibet. The question is completely understandable from a western perspective, but completely absurd if one has spent any time in China. It's this kind of information - and culture - gap that needs to be bridged. But I feel like many (not all) western media outlets are making a genuine effort. At the very least, reportage of China's point of view has increased. Conversely, China still refuses to report on any of the reasons why Tibetans may be unhappy.

I often feel like the Chinese press criticizing western media on bias is like a 400 pound man telling a 250 pound man to lose weight. Sure, the guy needs to shed a few. But the criticism is coming from an odd source.

You can download the Adler interview here:

Adler Online - Cam MacMurchy - April 11 2008.mp3

By Hugh Jorgen

I just returned from a short trip to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The trip down there was routine a flight out of the Capital Airport. The return home, however, was not nearly so straight forward. For starters, my friend and I would be landing at Beijing's south airport. Nan Yuan is located just south of 4th ring road, in some farmer's field I believe. Secondly, we didn't actually know what airline we were taking back since the tickets were booked for us by a friend and the name of the company was not printed on the tickets. All we had to go by was a flight number.

Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was the booze and fatigue, but as we waited in line to check in at the Guangzhou airport, we started to muse and about this mysterious airline. We dubbed it "Crazy Mike's Discount Air" and we were soon imagining all kinds of ridiculous scenarios.

Pete the Pilot: (prior to take off, walking through the cabin, wearing a pilot's cap and a T-shirt) Hey does anybody here know how to hot wire a car... or, you know... a plane?

Passenger: (during flight knocking on cockpit door) Ah excuse me, but I noticed out the left window that the landing gear just fell off.

Pete the Pilot: (visibly disinterested) Yeah... look I'm kinda busy right now. Unless it's something reeeally urgent, I would prefer you stay back behind this yellow line (pointing to the floor) and try not to distract me. I've got enough to deal with right now. This gauge isn't working, the steering wheel keeps sticking and I can't find my parachute. But hey, since you're here, take a look out the window... do those street lights down there look like Beijing?

As it turned out, the flight was fairly pleasant, despite my overwhelming fatigue. The plane was old - it still had cigarette trays in the arm rests, but it was well maintained. The crew was friendly, professional and well-dressed, though I decided to avoid the bun that was waved at me as the in-flight meal.

The real surprise - and it was a nasty one - came shortly after landing. Allow me to sketch a quick image of Nan Yuan: four planes (including ours), one very small terminal, one bathroom, one luggage carousel. Walking from entrance to exit takes about 13 seconds. As we disembarked the plane just after midnight, we walked across the tarmac in the rain, (no bus) and into a terminal that looked more like a garage (I could have sworn I heard something moo along the way). We hoped there would be taxis waiting outside the opposite door. There were, but our relief was premature. Although there were two dozen drivers waiting dutifully next to their cars, something was not right. After getting into a cab, we were informed by the driver that his meter was not working. We promptly got out, but soon realized none of the meters in any of the cars were working (re: turned off). We had walked straight into an illegal taxi nightmare. Within moments, a dozen drivers had surrounded us yelling that they would take us into town for a mere 120 kuai. We felt like two sheep that took a wrong turn and walked into a wolf convention. Then we noticed a bus waiting nearby that was taking travelers to Xidan - for free. We fought our way through the gauntlet of ravenous cabbies who did everything they could to prevent us from getting on the bus. Once the bus got rolling, I peered out the window and for several blocks continued to see illegal cabs swarming around the streets of this district.

As a resident of Beijing for almost four years now, this is just another day in the capital as far as I'm concerned. But the incident got me thinking about what kinds of experiences are in store for the legions of foreign travelers that will visit Beijing over the next several months. The government has been thumping its chest over the brand new Terminal 3 at Beijing's Capital Airport. I was there and it is impressive and world class - at least the building is. The service, from my experience, is another story. For frequent travelers who are used to airport employees speaking English and smiling occasionally, it might be a bit of a letdown. Shiny new buildings are one thing, but if the weary traveler gets poor service, I can guarantee that is all they are going to remember from their airport experience.

Of course, the vast majority of first-time travelers to Beijing will be entering the city through the Capital airport and not the one we had the misfortune of landing at the other night. I've had plenty of experiences with illegal cabs in Beijing. What's surprising is that they are still so prevalent on the streets of the capital four months away from the big dance. The summer Olympics in Beijing is all about image for China and if the authorities don't feel compelled to clean up street level scams like this soon, plenty of foreign travelers are going to be taken for a ride - and there will be lots more stories like this one.

Probably worse than anything that could happen aboard Crazy Mike's.

Ol' Crazy Mike is looking for a new plane...

Hugh Jorgen works in Chinese state-run media. Zhongnanhai welcomes submissions at cam@zhongnanhaiblog.com.

gzsz.jpg As a regular commuter between Beijing and Tianjin, I'm surprised there is not a much easier way to get between the two closely-linked economic hubs in northern China. Right now, to get to Tianjin one must either drive, catch a taxi (which I've once sadly had to do - it costs around RMB 400), or take the train. The problem is buying a train ticket to Tianjin is no different than if you were going to Shanghai; long line-ups, buying the ticket in advance, and going through the general inconvenience of train travel.

The good news is this will be changing, which I will touch on shortly. And if it changes the way the commuter trains work between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, I will have a smile on my face each time I make the trek.

A friend and I just wrapped up a two-day mini-holiday down in southern China, where many readers of this blog know I like to spend my free time. While I've caught the trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the past, I haven't sampled the new bullet trains since they were unveiled last spring. And what a delight. We arrived at Guangzhou East Station at about 12:50pm and wanted the next train to Shenzhen. Well, the next train was 12:58. Should we rush, we wondered? When is the next one? 1:03pm. Then 1:10pm. Yes, the trains depart that frequently -- almost as frequent as Beijing's subway cars. By selecting the 1:10pm train, we had enough time to pop into Starbucks - conveniently located inside the Guangzhou train station - for a quick brew prior to the trip.

Like on a subway system, we pressed "Shenzhen" on an automated machine, popped in our cash, and out came the tickets. They are coded electronically, so we swiped them at the turnstiles and walked down a hallway and onto the train. It left one minute early, and arrived one minute early. We didn't talk to a ticket seller (although they are available if need be) and spent precisely zero minutes waiting for anything. It was a pleasure, reminiscent of Hong Kong's public transportation system (which, in my travels, is the best I have used).

Guangzhou, as the capital of Guangdong, and Shenzhen, which anchors many of the factories in Guangdong, are closely linked. Both cities are economic giants, and the traffic between them -- both commercial and private -- is substantial. Which is why the parallels can be drawn between those two cities, and the two in northern China: Beijing and Tianjin.

So my question is this: Why must it be so difficult to get around up here? Beijing has opened subway line 5, and more are in the works to be opened soon. I've caught line 5 once, and it is a pleasure. But I avoid lines 1 and 2 as much as possible. The dreary stations, the Soviet-era cars, the smells, the crowds, and the lack of ammenities is often even less appealing than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic sucking back exhaust on second ring road.

But back to the Beijing-Tianjin commute. Unlike the high frequency of trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the Beijing-Tianjin trains leave, I would say, on average about once every hour and 45 minutes. To me, that's not good enough: Tianjin is home to an increasing number of residents who work in Beijing, Tianjin's new TEDA zone is designed as the north's answer to Shanghai's Pudong, and, according to real estate agents in Tianjin, more and more Beijing residents are showing an inclination to relocate to Tianjin because of its (slightly) cleaner air and slower lifestyle.

The future portends that both Beijing and Tianjin will be developing a much closer relationship. And the good news (at least for me, and other commuters) is a new uber-fast train between the two remains on schedule to open in August of this year. This, from a website called Railway Technology:

The link between Beijing and Tianjin will establish a fast corridor between the two major centres, which currently suffer from major road congestion and a slow railway service. The new railway, 115km (72 miles) long, will cut journey times to just 30 minutes, although at the same time the main express road is also being improved.

The new trains will, apparently, travel at speeds of up to 300 km/hr. Count me as one who's excited about this development. When I used to live in the Guomao area in Beijing, and commuted to Shijingshan, where China Radio International is located, it took me about an hour from door to door. Now I could be looking at the same length of a commute going all the way to Tianjin.

While I like the idea of a fast train, that is only half the battle; the ticket-buying process must be simple, the trains must leave frequently, the stations must have ammenities. Perhaps this seems like petty nagging from a spoiled foreigner, but they are important in the development of world-class transportation services.

They got it right down in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Let's hope they get it right here, too.

There's been a lot of discussion on this blog and around the blogosphere in general about the protests surrounding the torch relay. And I have noticed an increasing amount of comments from people (mostly Chinese I'm presuming) who are now starting to contend more and more that there is some sort of larger-scale conspiracy taking place to sully China's image ahead of the games, and that it's the 'West' that is trying to hold back China as a rising global power. And, to a very small degree, there may be some validity to part of this contention. Allow me to give you a thumb-nail sketch of what is most likely happening on the ground in San Francisco in advance of the torch relay there as an example of how this could be argued.

First off, let me point out that there is no sort of broader-scale Western government conspiracy taking place to darken China's image. Unlike here in China, the Western media is not controlled by the government. Media outlets in the West are free to report on anything they wish. And in fact, if any government organization even hinted to the media that it should be covering these protests, it would be a way bigger story than the actual protests themselves. Where the conspiracy aspect comes in is from the very small minority of people who have an axe to grind against China, or are - what I would deem -- 'professional protesters' who feel obligated to get behind a cause because they think it's the right thing to do and the media that covers the events.

When I use the term conspiracy, I use it in this dictionary-based context:

Conspiracy: The act of conspiring.
Conspiring: To act or work together toward the same results or goal.

Other definitions of conspiracy include the terms 'evil,' 'illegal,' or 'wrong.' I'm not going get into the debate of whether or not the torch protests are any of the adjectives listed. But I will say that these protests are - in effect - a conspiracy, as in the fact that it's more than two people or groups getting together to push or be involved in a cause.

Activist groups in the West have learned how to use the media very well over the years. Unlike in the 1960's in the West, where groups of people would use grassroots methods like posters and word-of-mouth to tell people about some type of protest or march, today activist groups are experts when it comes to public relations. GG Bridge banners.jpg I can guarantee that the media outlets in San Francisco have already received dozens of news releases from various organizations, telling the media that they will be at location X at time Y, and spokesperson Z will be available for interviews. These groups will also have set up transportation strategies to bring as many people as possible to the protest, and will have worked days in advance to create signs and banners. They will also have outlined a strategy to create the greatest amount of media coverage possible for themselves, by putting their most colorful and boisterous members in the direct line of the cameras, and will generally throw their full support behind the most militant in the group who are willing to even break the law to get the media to cover their protest. Anyone who thinks these protests are spontaneous events is truly naive.

As for the media's coverage of the events, here's what's likely happening. Depending on the resources that any given media outlet has available (AKA: reporters, cameras, etc) they will likely be at the locations designated by the protest organizations an hour to two hours in advance, and may have pre-planned coverage mapped out. media scrum.jpg Many reporters, during this time, may also be engaging in 'off-the-record' discussions with protest organizers about what their plans are, in an effort to maximize their coverage and get the best possible sound and video. This is not to say that the media agrees or disagrees with the message the protesters are putting out. For the media, its contact with the protesters is merely a way of getting the job done more efficiently. Because of the competitive nature of the media industry in the West, there is intense pressure on reporters to get the best possible coverage to try to 'one-up' the competition. And it's because of this media culture in the West that the minority gets the majority coverage. If there were no protests surrounding the torch relay, the media coverage of the event would be much more minimal. Resources would likely be reallocated elsewhere to other more interesting and attention-grabbing stories. Activist groups have learned this, and have tailored their efforts accordingly.

Noting all this, one could argue that a conspiracy of sorts is taking place: A conspiracy by the protesters to get their message across, and a conspiracy by the media to get the best story possible.

But the one thing that I hope the Chinese understand is that the people protesting the torch relay represent a narrow minority in Western society. I'm using my own figures here, but I would presume that of the 7.2 million people who live in the San Francisco Bay area, about one percent - at most - of the population will turn out to protest the torch relay. Of the remaining 99 percent, I would say that 95 percent have no or little interest, one way or the other, in Tibet, the torch or the Olympics in general. So while the concept of a conspiracy may be in play in a dictionary-based form, the notion of a broader anti-China campaign is simply just not the reality.

GOOD is a Los Angeles-based magazine geared towards people that "give a damn." Their latest issue is dedicated to China and features a series of articles on issues of import in and outside the Middle Kingdom. One of them lists ten reasons why China matters. Top ten lists make me cringe, especially when they choose to lead the story with a poorly chosen image. But they get things started a little differently than I expected:

Don't be scared of China--the country is perfectly positioned to be our most powerful ally (lack of democracy notwithstanding, of course). But if there is anything to worry about, it's not China's massive military; it's the economy, stupid.

What's this!? No mention of the--gasp!--Olympics? And--my goodness!--it's the country's economy that's a major concern?


Given GOOD's choice of a list format, I also expected little would be offered in way of explanation. I was again surprised: each reason links to more text, offering fairly concise backup. Let's take #10 as an example:

Why China Matters #10

Because Nixon went to China and your world was born.

Words By Thomas P.M. Barnett

When President Richard Nixon reopened diplomatic ties with Mao Zedong's communist China in 1972, he enabled the most profound global economic dynamic of the last half century: China's historic reemergence as a worldwide market force. Nothing shapes your world today more than China's rise, and nothing will shape our planet's future more--for good or ill--than China's ongoing trajectory.

After centuries of relative isolation, China's rapid reintegration into the global economy transformed globalization from its narrow Cold War-era base (the West) to its current "majority" status, whereby two-thirds of humanity now enjoys deep and growing connectivity with inter-national markets and the remaining third works toward it. China's decision to rejoin the world was globalization's tipping point, meaning--absent global war--there's no turning back now, only adaptation.

If Nixon opened the door, then Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping led the Chinese people through it. Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng chose wisely: By tackling economic freedom before political liberalization, Deng kept China stable during its tenuous first years of market reform. Although Deng is correctly labeled an autocrat (he ordered the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989), he is also correctly identified as a modernizer who unleashed a generation's immense creativity.

A grand bargain was struck: Deng won military support for further market reforms so long as a lid was kept on political change, and the army was afforded enough of a budget to modernize. The Party would remain supreme, but state involvement in the economy would shrink and private business would be encouraged along with investment from, and trade with, the outside world.

Read the rest of the entry here. Link to the list of ten reasons here.

You can read more of Thomas PM Barnett's opinions here. Thank you for calling them jackasses, Mr. Barnett.

Tomorrow marks a very interesting time politically for one of China's most important regional partners. Australian President Kevin Rudd will arrive here tomorrow to meet with his Chinese counterparts, the last leg of his first major international tour. Rudd and Hu.jpg And while the western media here is going to be focused on Rudd's thoughts on the torch relay and the situation in Tibet and the Chinese media is going to be focused on Rudd's support for the Olympics in China and his reiteration of support for the 'one-China policy,' one of the key challenges for the new Prime Minister, which is highly likely to go untalked about, is going to be the unsexy, but highly critical issue of Chinese investment in his country's resource sector.

I suspect that politically speaking, Mr. Rudd finds himself in a somewhat precarious situation when it comes to China right now thanks to natural resources. As most people are quite likely aware, Mr. Rudd - though new on the international political stage - is considered to be an old China hand. Given that he was a former diplomat here in China and speaks fluent Mandarin, there was quite a bit of buzz in China surrounding his election. As such, I suspect many people inside and out of government here in China are expecting Mr. Rudd to be somewhat pan-sympathetic to China's concerns on both a political and business front. And while he'll undoubtedly put on an impressive display in front of the cameras, say the right things and wow the Chinese media with his ability to take questions in Mandarin, behind the scenes is going to be a different story.

One must not forget that first and foremost, Mr. Rudd is an Australian politician that has to put both his country's interests, and his supporter's interests, ahead of what the Chinese government may be expecting of him. Though Mr. Rudd is considered somewhat on the right-side of the spectrum when it comes to his political leanings within his own party, Mr. Rudd was elected as the leader of a party which has strong union support within Australia, and is generally left-of-center. As such, if he wants to maintain his core support in Australia through his term in office, he's going to have to be cognizant of their concerns. And, undoubtedly, one of the issues concerning the union movement in Australia has to be China's recent moves toward acquiring more interests in Australian-based resource firms.

Mining.jpg The most recent example is Chinalco's February move to acquire a 9-percent stake in mining giant Rio Tinto. While 9-perecent might not seem like much, Chinalco has been making rumblings about acquiring more stake in the company. Perhaps this is why Australia's Resource Minister was quoted earlier this week as saying that his government had a responsibility "to maximize returns for Australia as a nation."

Everyone knows that China is sucking up energy and natural resources faster than an Auzzie can go through a jar of Vegemite. But if Beijing is expecting Mr. Rudd to open the flood gates when it comes to plucking his country's natural resources because he knows China, it may be in for a bit of a rude awakening.

I'm not a huge CNN fan, although I think some of the over-the-top criticism of the network recently was unfair. I've also written many times in this space defending western media from Chinese critics, mainly because the situation appears black and white to this writer: a monopolistic state-run media machine has very little credibility in critiquing the journalistic values of a free-market, free-press journalism environment in the west.

Despite this, there are problems with corporate ownership and consolidation of media properties in western countries. I am a firm believer that the more voices, opinions, and points of view that can be aired, the better. So I was saddened - although not totally shocked - when I read that the venerable CBS News may contract out its news gathering operations to CNN:

Over the last decade, CNN has held intermittent talks with both ABC News and CBS News about various joint ventures. But during the last several months, talks with CBS have been revived and lately intensified, according to the executives who asked for anonymity because of the confidential nature of the negotiations.
Broadly speaking, the executives described conversations about reducing CBS's news-gathering capacity while keeping its frontline personalities, like Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchor, and paying a fee to CNN to buy the cable network's news feeds.

This would be a sad development. While CBS News lags behind the two other major networks, ABC and NBC, in the nightly news ratings, millions of people continue to tune in. It's always better to have more voices than fewer ones, so here's hoping CBS decides to maintain its independent news coverage - and its integrity.

1parisEPA_468x311.jpg One of my good friends, a Chinese girl, just told me that she wants "to cry". This, following the revelation that the IOC is considering suspending or cancelling the international leg of the torch relay (h/t to the Absurdity, Allegory, and China blog). Already, after the protests in London and Paris, this Olympic torch relay will go down in history as one of the most contentious. It's too late to change it now.

I read a quote several weeks ago when the Tibetan unrest first began. I have searched for it since, but can't seem to find it. It was from a Chinese government official who claimed that Beijing knew there would be protests during this Olympic year, but they didn't know it would get this bad. If that's the naivete that BOCOG and the Chinese government are working under, I can't possibly fathom how this Olympic games will be a success.

There are such strong emotions on all sides, but I can't help but feel everyone is aiming their grievances in the wrong directions. Chinese people, largely, feel like foreign powers are ganging up on them, once again, to keep them from succeeding. They feel like foreigners are trying to muddy China's image and embarass them in their big moment. Because of this, chanting things like "Shame on China", which occurred in London, is counterproductive and naturally leads Chinese people to become defensive. The more protests and pressure put on China, the more the Chinese people rally around to defend themselves. The more people criticize China, the more China gets its back up, and the more rigid it becomes.

This is a spiralling situation. Protests occur to force China to improve its human rights, but China becomes even more firmly entrenched. Protesters grow weary that they have little effect, and become more violent and vigilant. China becomes even more firmly entrenched. This powder keg will continue until it blows at some point, and probably sometime between August 8th and 24th.

The whole situation is quite sad, and I can't help but feel the Chinese government bears the ultimate responsibility. It asked for the games and promised to improve its human rights in the process. It then ignored its own pledge. It then failed to foresee what a lightening rod the Olympics would become, when evidence of the controversy was right under its nose. It seems unprepared and surprised with what has transpired, and its lack of planning and foresight has tarnished the image of China and hurt the Chinese people. The Chinese government has always been good at dealing with foreign governments on a diplomatic level, but it is a bumbling amateur when winning the people outside of its borders.

Since arriving in China in 2004, my colleagues, friends, visitors, and people living in Canada have all mentioned at some time or another, that 2008 would be the year of the protests. Even people totally unfamiliar with China knew this was coming. So how did China drop the ball?

img.jpg Although this is an isolated case (as far as I know), actions like this affect the reputations of all foreigners living in China.

Xin Kuai Bao (新快报), a newspaper based in Guangzhou, is reporting three drunk foreigners (according to the building's security guard) took a prostitute to their apartment in Yuexiu District around midnight Friday. A man in the building, Mr. Wang, reported hearing loud arguments coming from the suite on the 30th floor around 3am Saturday. Mr. Wang says she was shouting, "There are three people here, how can you pay just for one!"

Her body was found on an outdoor platform near the 11th and 12th floors later on Saturday morning, after she had allegedly been thrown from the 30th floor. Police cordoned off the area, and are now investigating.

The full article in 新快报 can be found here.

Here's hoping so.

There is a big chasm separating China's view of itself, and the way it's viewed outside of its borders. This discrepancy was highlighed recently with the Tibetan dispute, and now the Chinese government appears to be understanding that playing the PR game is important when trying to get its message out.

The Financial Times is reporting the Chinese government has been meeting with international PR agencies to try and repair China's tattered image:

Several British and US agencies were invited to interviews with Chinese officials to discuss a contract, which includes pre-games PR strategies, media training and market research on western perceptions of China. The winner has not yet been announced, said a person familiar with the talks...
..."This is a cry for help," said a Beijing-based PR executive. "They need to understand what people think of them and how they can effectively get their story into the media."

I would love to be in those meetings. While I'm encouraged China is deciding to strengthen its own hand, I'm doubtful (read: cynical) that the Chinese authorities will actually listen to the advice. There is proof of this with BOCOG's continuing PR troubles, despite its relationship with the respected firm Hill & Knowlton. This is from Imagethief:

This is apparently not the fault of their widely respected PR agency (gossip has it that they've been told their job is to take orders, not to tell BOCOG what to do), but simply Chinese bureaucracy doing what it doesn't do best.

I also recall some of my first days as a China Radio International news host. We were told that international reporters, with journalism backgrounds, were being brought in to help improve the station. Similar lines are fed to foreign staff at CCTV 9. The problem is rarely is the advice given actually accepted and used by staff. More frequently, it's frowned upon as the "western way" of doing things or dismissed out-of-hand.

I don't disagree with this position. In the end, the Chinese government and Chinese media can do what they like. That is their right. My point is only to say that claiming to be open to advice, constructive criticism, or critiques is much different than actually implementing changes.

Playing the PR game, and playing it well, will only be to China's advantage. Here's hoping they earnestly listen to the advice they are apparently seeking.

How gay is Shanghai?

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Tongzhi Yi Fanren 同志亦凡人 ("Queer as Folk") is a weekly video podcast that discusses LGBT life in China. Informative and interesting, the video series started it's second season in March 2008. Most episodes are done in Chinese; however, in this English-language special, hosts Steven and Jack introduce all things gay in Shanghai.

The QAF Beijing blog offers a bilingual introduction:



"Queer as Folk Beijing" is a weekly video podcast that provides a forum for wide-ranging and light-hearted discussions on the latest issues affecting LGBT life in China. In each episode we will invite a diverse group of guests from the Chinese LGBT community to share their unique views and intimate stories.

The first season of "Queer as Folk Beijing" debuted in April 2007 and, by the time we aired our last episode in late June, we had won a tremendous amount of support from countless friends worldwide. Eleven episodes shown on three major video-sharing websites (Sina, Tudou and 56.com) have attracted views of one million and counting.

More episodes can be found here.

China Women Curling.jpgThis could well be the sign that the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse are saddling up and getting ready to ride! Well, that might be a bit dramatic. But still, I have to say that I'm rather taken aback by China's latest foray onto the world sporting stage. China took silver this weekend at the Women's World Curling Championships in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. Though the Chinese squad was defeated by Canada 7-4 in the final on Sunday, the Chinese team actually entered into the finals as the top seed, having defeated Canada twice in round robin action. This raises the obvious question: Huh???

I've lived here in China for over 2 1/2 years, and have never once seen a curling rink. Now granted, I've never been to any of the northeastern provinces that might cater to this sport, which is dominated - on the global stage - by Canada, Scotland (the country of origin of said sport) and the Nordic countries, but I'm guessing trying to find a sheet of ice to roll some rocks is about as easy as finding an advocate for western-style democracy on the Politburo. Perhaps this is why the Chinese national women's curling team lives and trains in Canada 8 months out of the year. And it's with this point in mind that I have wonder about the fairness of China's sports development program.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking anything away from the Chinese women's curling squad. Having been a competitive curler myself as a youngster, I can confidently say that it's a sport that requires a surprising amount of finesse and strategy, and is not that easy to master. People can curl all their lives and never come close to achieving any kind of notoriety in the sport. You really have to have a knack for the sport to do well at it. That said, the old adage of "practice makes perfect," does fit into the equation. Unlike the Canadian women's team that defeated the Chinese in Sunday's final, who all maintain full-time jobs and practice during their off hours, the Chinese squad receives enough funding to practice 10 hours a day, everyday, for nearly 8 months out of the year. As far as I am aware, no other international curling team is afforded that luxury. And, of course, the Chinese government's sports funding goes well beyond curling. Every year, millions upon millions of dollars are sunk into Chinese athletes to allow them to train full time to compete on the international level. China's support for its amateur athletes is unprecedented, and in some ways, quite laudable. Support for amateur sports on a global level is rather limp, and really should be a lot better. But that said, I would say that China's sports development program is coming very close to becoming like a pushy mother who forces her daughter into a beauty pageant to live out the glory she never achieved, and will stop at nothing to ensure that. A prime example of what I mean is Yao Ming.

Yao Ming.jpg

According to former Newsweek journalist and author Brook Larmer, who wrote the book Operation Yao Ming, the basketball phenom from Shanghai was the product of a Chinese sports breeding program which paired his 6-foot-9 inch father with his 6-foot-2 inch mother in a somewhat creepy eugenics experiment to create the ultimate basketballer. Larmer's book also claims that Yao was essentially forced to play basketball, even though he hated it.

It's examples like these that make me wonder whether or not China is going too far to create a sense of national pride through sport. And, to be fair, I don't know if there's a right answer. Is China not playing fair when it comes to its athletes? Or is China setting a higher benchmark that other countries should be trying to attain if they want to compete with this country when it comes to athletics? I leave it to the masses to debate. The one thing I do know is that it's nice to see Canada come up against some new competition on the curling sheet! And kudos to the Chinese women's team for putting on an exemplary performance. From all reports, the Chinese women were the stars of the show in Canada this past week and carried themselves (minus one slightly controversial incident, which was highly overblown in my mind) well in what is a somewhat cliquey curling community.

The Beijing municipal authorities may well be acting in the interests of public health (or rather the millions of visitors that will be coming to Beijing before, during and after the Olympic games) by implementing 'smoking restrictions' -- but it seems that another health time-bomb could just be around the corner. And it's one that China knows, and loves all too well.

Amongst the cacophony of noises that contribute to the soundscape that living in a city brings -- there is one thing that is ultimately clear -- cellphones are everywhere in China. From the teenage schoolchildren blaring out the latest pop music as their ring-tone, to the old folks walking along shouting into their handsets in the Beijing hutongs, everyone it seems, has one.

In February alone of this year according to some reports, China's cellphone users grew by a record 9.36 million -- bringing in the total number of cellphone users in China to an estimated 565 million.

While this figure may well see cellphone manufacturers rubbing their hands together with glee as the number of users rise exponentially, it seems that a top neurosurgeon has an entirely different viewpoint. And one that has some startling possibilities.

Brain expert warns of huge rise in tumours and calls on industry to take immediate steps to reduce radiation

Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.'

It draws on growing evidence - exclusively reported in the IoS (Independent On Sunday) in October - that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

This report is not without it's detractors though; unsurprisingly from the Mobile Operators Association.

Late last week, the Mobile Operators Association dismissed Khurana's study as "a selective discussion of scientific literature by one individual". It believes he "does not present a balanced analysis" of the published science, and "reaches opposite conclusions to the WHO and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews".

For many of us, a cellphone is something that we cannot do without -- and messaging at the dinner table is not an uncommon sight here in China. One thing is clear though, cellphones here in China are not going to go away anytime soon, nor are the number of users likely to decline -- with or without this report.

You can read the full article here.

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