Cheng Li on China, and DC statehood

Let me just start this off by admitting I have a nerd-crush on Cheng Li, so my bias is on the table. I recently read this interview of him ("The Bo Xilai Crisis: a Curse or a Blessing for China?" from 04/18) in which he talks about how Bo Xilai's exit from the political scene might affect China's future. It's almost 2 months old now, but what strikes me isn't any particular aspect of his analysis, it's his optimism about the future. 

It may be that this optimism is intentional -- he could be espousing optimism in order to affect public discourse somehow -- but for no particular reason I get the impression that Cheng Li is unlikely to say something he doesn't mean. He is optimistic that this series of events could turn out for the better -- that it could be a chance for the government to become more democratic and more stable at the same time.


This all got me thinking about US politics and what could be done to make America more democratic and stable. Stability is not much of an issue, but democracy could be improved. DC, where I live, does not even have voting representation in Congress, and I've been told that there's no political will for this to be changed. It's a Catch 22 -- there's no one willing to support the change because no one represents us in Congress. Still, there are hundreds of thousands of people living in the District -- surely that is will enough?


I suppose my wildly optimistic hope is that I'll see true democracy in DC in my lifetime. It'll be interesting to see whether democracy in China comes first.


Section 6 of China's new internet law (draft)

Edit: full translation - here.


Section 6 Addendum 

Article 38: The “services provided to help internet users disseminate information to the public on the internet” referred to in these methods are services that make it possible for internet users to disseminate information, including what are commonly referred to as forums, blogs, microblogs, etc.

Article 39: Those which, prior to the implementation of these methods, are already engaged in providing services for internet users disseminate information to the public, or providing internet information search services, must obtain permits according to the regulations of these methods. Those which do not completely meet the criteria established in these methods must meet them within 6 months of the date these methods become effective; those that fail to meet the criteria within the appointed time will be banned by the Internet Information Content Management Department.


Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

When posts are banned or blocked on social media in China, a notice is often given: "In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, some results have not been displayed." On and around June 4, when censorship was at its highest, some Twitter users marked the occasion by mocking the censors' heavy-handedness: 

@8r8c : "Yesterday," "today," and "tomorrow" have all become "sensitive words." At last, "according to relevant laws and policies," Sina has entered the fourth dimension.

  9:24 PM - 4 Jun 12 [translation my own]

Some twitter users also joked that calls to Sina to complain about the censorship had been answered by employees in tears, perhaps unable to withstand the deluge of discontent. Whether or not this is the case, there's no denying Sina employees and government censors had it rough for a couple of days. But while Sina Weibo, a microblog platform with more registered users than there are people in the US, experienced heavy censorship, Twitter carried on as usual (to my knowledge). Many Chinese users accessed the site through VPNs and posted Tiananmen-related content, honoring those who died and criticizing those who had a hand in it. One user wrote:

@xiasinet : My dad went on a month-long business trip to Beijing from May to June of 1989, and my mom, back home, spent the whole time worrying. He told me it was popular at that time to make the peace sign. He would often get students on bicycles to give him a ride, and when they said goodbye to each other, they would give each other the peace sign. Eleven years later I was going off to Beijing for college. He had one warning: don’t get involved in political movements. #MyMemoryofTiananmen

3:11 AM - 1 Jun 12 [translation my own]

Remembering Tiananmen involves, at its core, thinking about yesterday, today, and tomorrow: how the past shapes the future, and how the future shapes the present. The protesters that year had goals they wanted realized, goals largely abandoned for decades out of disillusionment and taken up only by those whom society at large deemed out of touch with reality. 

Activist Chen Guangcheng said last week that he believed the coming of democracy in China was "slow but irreversible," and that he was confident it would arrive during his lifetime. Personally, I know little and understand less. I cannot say what I believe to be likely, only what I would like to believe. It seems to me, though, that whether change comes in 5 years or 500, the best way to honor the memory of those who held such hope in their hearts is to cultivate hope in our own.


What is censored and why?

 It would take more than a blog post to explain censorship in China but it is, in a word, pervasive. Today, June 4th, was the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, in which soldiers fired on pro-democracy protesters and ended a weeks-long series of demonstrations. Censorship was at full-force: the China Digital Times published a list of words that were banned on Sina Weibo (China's version of Twitter) leading up to and on June 4th, and various other terms were censored or blocked in other corners of the internet. 

Earlier today I read a paper on censorship in China that really changed how I thought about it - the main points of it are:


  1. The Chinese government censors content in order to "reduce the probability of collective action by clipping social ties whenever any localized social movements are in evidence or expected" (and not, as widely thought, to suppress any content critical of the government).
  2. An analysis of censorship patterns can reveal the "interests, intentions, and goals" of the government" AND:
  3. Further research and analysis along these lines might result in the ability to predict government actions.


Of course, this isn't all the paper said, but these points were significant. All of this has caused me to view censorship and deletions from a different perspective, especially when it comes quickly, as with the rapid deletion of a post that was simply a totally black image, by the world's most popular blogger, Han Han. What for instance, caused the deletion of the highly popular Sina Weibo account @作业本?According to @idzhang3, this picture of the Tiananmen candle-light memorial in Victoria Park was the post that the user made 30 seconds before it occurred: 



This is an image of the vigil taken from farther away:



What interests me most: 

  • How likely does the Chinese government think such content is to lead to "collective action"? Is censorship like this mainly undertaken to prevent such action in the short, medium or long term?
  • How could recent research on censorship, such as the article linked above, impact the censorship program, if at all?
  • How sustainable is this program of censorship? How successful has it been at achieving its goals in the past few decades since the invention of the internet? And somewhat more pointlessly,
  • What would the world have been like in the absence of this censorship?



Bo Xilai: the Latest Rumors

If you're already familiar with the Bo Xilai chain of events, beginning back in February when his police chief Wang Lijun took a trip to the US consulate in Chengdu, you can skip to the bulleted updates. If "Bo" brings to mind the Obama family dog before a formerly prominent Chongqing politician, it may be worthwhile to check out the BBC's excellent timeline of the matter. In short, it's a story of political intrigue, wrapped in just enough mystery to be interesting and just enough truth to be believable (but it certainly is as much lies as truth). The latest developments, according to US-based Chinese-language news and speculation website, Boxun, are:

  • Ling Jihua, a member of the Politburo, had a hand in Bo's downfall.
  • Ling Jihua made a deal with Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang that would help them both, in which:
    • Zhou would make certain that news of a high-profile car crash that supposedly killed Ling Jihua's son would disappear, so that it would not influence his rise to power, and would also help Ling Jihua join the Politburo Standing Committee and replace Xi Jinping, so that the two could work together to seize total control by 2014, and
    • Ling would ensure that Hu Jintao would not conduct any further investigation into Zhou's "crimes" related to the Bo Xilai incident, and try to lessen the impact of it and separate the case against Bo from the murder case against his wife, Gu Kailai, whom he would protect from the death penalty. 

All of this is unverified and extremely dubious, especially bits about young Ling's car crash (a naked Tibetan girl on his lap, a half-naked Han girl in the backseat, a sex game and drunken speeding) -- one netizen noting that that model of Ferrari doesn't even have a backseat. Another remarked all of this should be read as one would read a novel -- not the news. The powers that be, though, are silent, creating a vacuum that rumors rise to fill.


Why would these rumors would circulate now, why would Boxun publish them, and whose purposes do they serve? Could they have anything to do with the equally sordid rumors that Zhang Ziyi had sex with Bo Xilai (and others) for money? Will China's censors and the lovely committee of helpful regulators at Weibo be able to keep up with it all?

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