September 14th, 2012
Prompted by the disappearance from public view in recent weeks of China's president-to-be Xi Jinping, Jeremiah Jenne takes the opportunity to remind us that China has a long history of absentee leaders:
Before China watchers get their tweed in a twist, it's worth noting that Xi's only been MIA for a little over a week. Mao took naps that lasted longer than that.
Sure it's a different era with Weibo and an active foreign press corps speculating wildly about everything from an infected hang nail to alien abduction, but in the pantheon of Chinese leaders going AWOL, Xi blowing off the Prime Minister of Denmark isn't even top ten. In the early 1990s Premier Li Peng went missing for months on account of the sniffles (Read: "heart attack") and it barely registered. Of course, that may have been because Li Peng is a douche. [...]
Nor are missing leaders a purely 20th century phenomenon. Zhu Qizhen (1427-1464) was a young monarch who came under the influence of the eunuch Wang Zhen. When a group of Mongols threatened Beijing, Wang Zhen convinced Zhu Qizhen to personally lead his troops against the enemy. Despite outnumbering the Mongols by something like 50-1, the Ming armies were completely routed after a series of strategic blunders so impossibly stupid they make General Custer look like Sun Bin. When the survivors finally bled their way back to Beijing, they looked around and noticed they were short an emperor.
The Mongols kept him around for fourteen years until they finally got sick of him and booted him back to China. Meanwhile the Ming court had gone ahead and enthroned Zhu Qizhen's cousin as the new emperor which made his homecoming … a little awkward. [...]
July 5th, 2012
After a mini-marathon of Godzilla movies, William Moss puts forward the theory that Godzilla has finally encountered a nigh on invincible foe:
[No city...] has ascended the Olympian heights of popular culture until it has been ravaged by a giant monster. Tokyo is clearly way out in front in this regard. It's taken for granted that monsters are drawn to Tokyo like frat boys to Jaeger shots. Monsters have also afflicted New York, London, San Francisco, Seoul, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles and even Bangkok (look it up). But as far as I can tell, Beijing has been blissfully free of giant monsters. Mothra was reported to be attacking Beijing in "Destroy All Monsters," but it was never shown on screen, so it doesn't count. Neither does "Mighty Peking Man," which was made by the Shaw Brothers while Hong Kong was still British and, despite the name, had no action in Peking (the Chinese name was "Gorilla King").
Why hasn't there been a Chinese giant-monster film with a Chinese giant monster? While armies, police forces and parliaments have crumbled before Godzilla and his brethren, there is one bureaucracy that is apparently entirely impervious to giant monsters: the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television. SARFT has apparently erected a monster-proof shield around Beijing and indeed around all Chinese cities. This is not because giant monsters are particularly scary, obscene or conducive to social unrest. It is because they are politically unacceptable. [...]
June 7th, 2012
How much would you like to bet that within the next five years some junior minister – be they Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour – will be announcing that they want to explore the possibility of introducing a 'voluntary' system modelled after the one currently being adopted by China's domestic equivalent of Twitter to deal with antisocial behaviour online:
Sina Weibo users each will now receive 80 points to begin with, and this can be boosted to a full 100 points by those who provide their official government-issued identification numbers (like Social Security numbers in the U.S.) and link to a cellphone account.
Spreading falsehoods will lead to deductions in points, among other penalties. Spreading an untruth to 100 other users will result in a deduction of two points. Spreading it to 100-1,000 other users will result in a deduction of five points, as well as a week's suspension of the account. Spreading it to more than 1,000 other users will result in a deduction of 10 points, as well as a 15-day suspension of the account.
Once the point total falls below 60, the user is flagged as "low-credit." A loss of all points will result in an account's closure.
Be sure to read the full linked article, so you can understand how slippery the concept of a 'falsehood' is.
[Via The Null Device]
July 2nd, 2011
The Mad Men guide to 90 years of the Chinese Communist Party:
"I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system. The universe is indifferent."
For all the Marxist educational materials and classes foisted upon China's students plus forests of trees felled to supply the paper for endless government reports on socialist theory and scientific development, the real secret of the CCP is this: There is no plan and there never was. For the last 90 years, the Party has lurched from one big idea to another without really ever stopping to think about what might happen next: Join the KMT, work with the urban proletariat, get purged by the KMT, work with the peasants, work with the KMT again, fight the Japanese, carry out land reform sometimes but not if it pisses people off, take over the country, reform the land again only this time you mean it, then take the land back, ask for help from the Soviets, piss off Khrushchev and watch the Soviets leave, fight the US "invaders' in Korea, invite Nixon to China, 100 Flowers and Anti-Rightist movements, communes and SEZs. Four Modernizations, Two Whatevers, Three Represents and still no plan. Why do so many foreign pundits argue about the future of the CCP? Because the CCP itself has no clue where it's going to be in 10 years. It's going to continue to react to whatever is immediately threatening its hold on power and go from there.
[Via Blood & Treasure]
May 4th, 2011
A little bit of black humour that was reportedly circulating in China on Monday:
Al Qaeda once sent five terrorists to China: One was sent to blow up a bus, but he wasn't able to squeeze onto it; one was sent to blow up a supermarket, but the bomb was stolen from his basket; one was sent to blow up a train, but tickets were sold-out; finally, one succeeded in bombing a coal mine, and hundreds of workers died. He returned to Al Qaeda's headquarters to await the headlines about his success, but it was never reported by the Chinese press. Al Qaeda executed him for lying.
[Via Blood & Treasure]
August 9th, 2010
I wonder whether the term human-flesh search engine sounds as creepy in Mandarin as it does in English:
The short video made its way around China's Web in early 2006, passed on through file sharing and recommended in chat rooms. It opens with a middle-aged Asian woman dressed in a leopard-print blouse, knee-length black skirt, stockings and silver stilettos standing next to a riverbank. She smiles, holding a small brown and white kitten in her hands. She gently places the cat on the tiled pavement and proceeds to stomp it to death with the sharp point of her high heel.
"This is not a human," wrote BrokenGlasses, a user on Mop, a Chinese online forum. "I have no interest in spreading this video nor can I remain silent. I just hope justice can be done." That first post elicited thousands of responses. "Find her and kick her to death like she did to the kitten," one user wrote. Then the inquiries started to become more practical: "Is there a front-facing photo so we can see her more clearly?" The human-flesh search had begun. [...]
[Via Long Form]
October 17th, 2009
Chinese photographer Lu Guang depicts the grimy side of the workshop of the world quite beautifully.
August 5th, 2009
In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics has invited staff to write pieces celebrating the anniversary. One statistician submitted this paean to the power of numbers:
Some mock me for doing statistics
Some loathe me and statistics
Some don't understand what statistics are
Why is it that statistics
Put a calm smile on my face?
Because of statistics
I can solve the deepest mysteries
Because of statistics
I will not be lonely again, playing in the data
Because of statistics
I can rearrange the stars in the skies above
Because of statistics
My life is different, more meaningful
I love my life, my statistics
A little corner of my Excel geek's soul stirred when I read that. Sad, but true.
June 13th, 2009
I've never heard the term 'nail house' before, though as it turns out I have seen photographs of a couple of them.
The house in Changsha, China looks especially surreal, not least because in one of the pictures it looks as if there's another remnant of the original street a couple of hundred yards down the road.
April 27th, 2009
Militant vegetarians aren't what they used to be:
From the "Official Account of the Military Operations in China, 1900-1901" (PRO WO 33/284) compiled by Major E.W.M. Norie, Middlesex Regiment, page 113:
Between the 21st and 23rd July eleven English and American members of the China Inland Mission were murdered at Ch'u-chou by the local train-bands, which had been organized to defend the town against a rising of the secret society of Vegetarians.
Disappointingly, it turns out that the term 'vegetarian' was probably just a shorthand term for various Buddhist groups associated with the Boxer Rebellions.
March 24th, 2009
Let nation speak clearly unto nation, for all our sakes:
At the height of the Cold War, American and Soviet scientists wrote handbooks for each other that attempted to bridge their language gap. Helping to explain some of the era's more arcane nuclear terminology, these handbooks were a crucial diplomatic tool that helped prevent potentially disastrous misunderstandings.
Take American nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis's 2007 book,
The Minimum Means of Reprisalâ€‰ – â€‰a title lifted from a Chinese official's description of his government's nuclear stance. When the book was translated into Chinese, its title became
The Minimum Means of Revenge.
In a slightly different context, Atlantic journalist Jim Fallows, who has been living in China for the last few years, has written about the apparent inability of Chinese officialdom to communicate effectively in English:
My job is not to help Chinese organizations advance their intended causes. But it doesn't help anybody [...] if China's clumsy public diplomacy makes the country seem more menacing, opaque, hyper-controlled, and overall bad than it really is.
June 28th, 2008
Coco Wang's series of Earthquake Strips tells stories of the reactions of ordinary Chinese people to the 12th May earthquake.
Panda Panda is my favourite of the ones I've read so far, closely followed by Getting A Refund.
[Via James Fallows]
April 3rd, 2008
James Fallows provides a useful corrective to the notion that the Chinese government's number one aim is world domination:
I had traveled in China in the mid-1980s, when virtually everyone was poor and the "rich" people were farmers with their own pigs. To be in the middle of the Chinese phenomenon now is to be respectful of and, yes, occasionally awe-struck by what China has achieved. But I think any visitor here has to notice how many, many challenges China has to deal with — and how preoccupying those internal challenges are to almost everyone in the country.
My impression is that outsiders think Chinese officials really are sitting around mainly thinking about their ever-improving place in the world. I'm sure they spend some time on such thoughts. But I am saying that, if you were here, you would probably feel as I do that China's officials and people spend 90 per cent of their time thinking about the next 99 problems the country faces, and how they can deal with them.