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Changing China through Mandarin

By Teng Biao, translated by Rogier Creemers

Teng Biao (滕彪) is a well-known legal scholar and rights lawyer in China. Read the original here 


Even in Robinson’s world of one man, his life required information, reflection and memory. Human society not having information is even more impossible to imagine. It may be said that a person is moulded by the information he or she comes into contact with and masters; a society is the same.

Thinking and memory cannot be separated from language. Modern philosophers have paid more and more attention to the extreme importance of language in human societies. The thinking human (homo sapiens) exists first and foremost as a language human (homo loquens). Society and language have not stopped interacting for a blink: regardless of whether philosophy is concerned, or whether politics or society is concerned, language not only is a tool for expression and memory – language itself has a huge capacity to create reality.

Because of this, all systems that want to control and transform society attempt to control and transform language. (Do you remember “Newspeak” from Oceania?) Movements to transform thinking are at the same time movements to transform language; the education to keep people in ignorance is at the same time an education that promotes a language system designed to keep people in ignorance. The highest effect of controlling language is ensuring that a person cannot produce heterodox thinking, and to ensure that persons cannot become their true selves. Because totalitarian ambitions are not only to transform public politics and transform private lives, but also to transform spirits (“Wreak revolution in your innermost soul”); they are surely aware of the deep effects of this revolutionary tool, language, and know how to achieve the greatest effect.

In the various Spring and Autumn thinkers, Han prose and Tang poetry, Song verse and Yuan drama, Ming and Qing novels, the Book of Odes and the Historical Records, essays and letters, plays and storytelling, calligraphy and couples, Mandarin art has extraordinarily enriched the spiritual world of Chinese, and has made immortal contributions to the culture of humankind. But its fate is similar to that of Russian, and the Mandarin that once created outstanding culture was unable to escape the ravages of totalitarianism in the 20th century. From character reform to revolutionary slogans, from applications to join the party to ideological reports, from the Little Red Book to poetry contests, from model plays to the Three Old Articles, from eight-legged Party writing to language and literature course, from letters to diaries, from film and television to comic dialogue: Mandarin has met with complete abuse and pollution. Totalitarian politics are a politics “without laughter” (dixit Zizek); totalitarian language must be a language lacking in humor, mechanical and insipid. Bloody and hypocritical politics have led to the withering of Mandarin; dull Mandarin has led to the desertification of the minds of the Chinese.

The editorials of the People’s Daily and the CCTV Evening News once were an important part of Chinese people’s lives and, for some, it is still their “compulsory course” every day.  As soon as it turns seven in the evening, some people concentrate their attention on the television to watch the Evening News with the piety of apostles. If they watch a sports program at that time, they feel they have let down the benevolence of the Party, the country, heaven and earth. Every day, people see or hear these phrases in newspapers, magazines or the television:

“The Party’s strong leadership is the basic guarantee for doing good in everything. ……The Party cadres and State personnel across the board must persist in seeking truth from facts, progressing with the times, and maintaining a good spiritual outlook and work style, persist in using their powers for the good of the people, showing concern for them and working for their benefit, so as to better unite and lead the masses to base themselves on scientific development, strive for indigenous innovation, perfect structures and mechanisms, and stimulate social harmony.” (People’s Daily, January 1, 2006)

“Let us raise high the magnificent banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory, completely implement the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, closely unite around the Party Center with Comrade Hu Jintao as General Secretary, carry forward the cause into the future, progress with the times, work diligently in spite of difficulty, pioneer and innovate, and wrest new and even greater victories in the cause of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, imbued with confidence.” (People’s Daily, March 19, 2003)

“Carrying forward Lei Feng’s spirit is consistent with the basic requirement of completely implementing the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, and is a concrete reflection of practicing the important ‘Three Represents’ thought. Launching activities to learn from Lei Feng under new circumstances, we must closely grasp this topic of the times that is to study and practice the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, and we must persist in making the important ‘Three Represents’ thought into a mandatory course for young officers and soldiers to grow and establish themselves, a mandatory course for Communist Party members’ to train them about the nature of the Party, and a mandatory course for leading cadres to govern and use power. The broad officers and soldiers must carry forward the Lei Feng Spirit, earnestly comprehend and deeply grasp the scientific connotations and spiritual essence of the important ‘Three Represents’ thought, persist in using revolutionary theory to guide lives, consciously make the important ‘Three Represents’ thought into ‘nourishment,’ ‘weapons’ and ‘the steering wheel’, ensure that it becomes a formidable spiritual pillar for strengthening political convictions, hold high the magnificent banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory throughout, and determinedly obey the commands of the Party Center, the Central Military Commission and Chairman Jiang.” (PLA Daily, March 5, 2003)

The result of these sentences is not only that they strangle our thinking, but that they also strangle the delight and aesthetics of our language, so much so that chewing wax is more interesting than reading these sentences. If I am required to choose between ignorance and insipidness, I would rather select the former. But totalitarianism requires that we are insensitive towards language, that our souls become numb, and that we are both ignorant and insipid.

Through the round-the-clock and repeated clamor and unobtrusive influence of public language (newspapers, radio, television, plenary reports, red-headed documents, news bulletins, textbooks of history), the flavor of our writing, reading, lecturing and even daily speech is molded. When picking up a pen, we come up with nothing but clichés and hackneyed expressions. When we talk, there are either lies and double talk, or boasts and idle talk. Regardless of whether it is an official, an actor, a professor or a journalist, as soon as someone gets on the stage to speak, they all become prigs as if by appointment. The haughty official’s tune, the hypocrite’s tune, the revolutionary tune, in short, people just cannot talk like normal human beings. A few years ago, someone criticized the television drama “Grand Justice” for not speaking “the people’s language”, and I shared the same feeling deeply. In real life, people who talk like that are either lunatics or political counselors at Tsinghua University. It isn’t just in “Grand Justice”; in all the works with officially-promoted themes, few people speak the people’s language. The characters are either tall, grand and perfect, or false, ugly and vicious. How can they speak the authentic language of humanity when what they do is deceive by either dressing up as gods or playing devils?

“The style of Party newspaper editorials” and “the tune of the news broadcast” indicate that totalitarianism dominates our thinking habits and our aesthetic habits as a dominant grammar and as an official aesthetics. “Wolf’s milk” has become “wolf’s blood” in our veins through language, thinking and unconsciousness. Are there more “microscopic” or more profound “techniques of power” than these?

The governance of writing and speaking is realized through governing language users’ flesh as well as their minds. In order to transform memories, inject ideas into people’s minds and prevent independent writing, a formidable, comprehensive governance project to purge language is required: the work unit system of intellectuals, the prior censorship system, prototypical literature, the officially-promoted themes, language textbooks, political exams, the “five one project,” the writers’ associations, the literary inquisition as well as writers and speakers’ self-censorship. Furthermore, Mandarin has also been trampled beyond recognition by all sorts of banning and filtering technologies. Under so many taboos and restrictions, people can only say one thing and mean another, hold their tongue, make oblique accusations, beat about the bush, and perfect the art of being indistinct and ambiguous. The Mandarin world after passing through the filter is a harmonious society that is beautiful without parallel: “there is no speech that isn’t important; there is no applause that isn’t enthusiastic; there is no policymaking that isn’t wise; there is no path that isn’t correct; there are no popular feelings that aren’t inspired; there is no progress that isn’t smooth; there are no ranks that aren’t united; there are no masses that aren’t satisfied”. Thanks to our wise leaders, life has climbed another step up, enemies have made asses of themselves again, and the situation is excellent everywhere we look.

Because of this, apart from the fact that today’s Mandarin overflows with politicized clichés and prudery, it is also congested with naked lies and shameless perversions: “the Chinese Communist Party has first and foremost rushed into the forefront of the anti-Japanese war, the Communist Party is the mainstay of the nation’s united anti-Japanese resistance”, “the masses enthusiastically welcome delegates of the Two Meetings”, “our country’s human rights situation is at the best period in history”, “there is no conflict between peasants and the police in China”, “There is no one in China who has been arrested for speech online.” Such lies can be found everywhere. In totalitarian ideological language, there is a “class struggle” without “class enemies”, a “democracy” in which the people cannot make decisions, “constitutionalism” in which the Constitution is willfully trampled underfoot, “freedom of speech” that doesn’t let people speak freely, “citizens” who have no power and also aren’t protected by the law, “public servants” who are always higher than the “people” in power and position, “the representatives of the proletarian class interests” who care more for capitalists than workers”, etc. (Xu Ben). Through forced and deliberate misrepresentation, the CCP has changed China.

Mandarin under totalitarianism is brimming with tautologies, self-aggrandizement and gangster logic, it has no use, no mercy, no reason, no fun, and no taste; it is reduced to a language game that has no connection with reality. China’s “fault lines” are first and foremost the fault lines between the signified and the signifier in Mandarin, and the fault lines between Mandarin and Chinese reality. Mandarin is the home of every Chinese person, but nowadays it is as if all Chinese people are living under an enemy occupation.

Under the mirages constituted by false, aggrandizement and empty Mandarin, another, real world of Mandarin has been growing arduously on the solid ground. Behind a world that “puts up a false show of peace and prosperity,” ordinary people’s anxiety and difficulties are hidden; behind forced collective forgetting, there are tenacious individual memories; behind the grand lies and narratives, there is resistance against slavery as well as an incessant thirst for freedom. Public language and official language, often rigid, affected, ugly, dull, overbearing and coarse, has become the target of ridicule, sarcasm and disdain in private conversations.

Browsing some independent Chinese-language media or websites, you see a different world: “United Nations Special Envoy for Torture Novak says China’s use of torture is still broad”, “blind rights defender Chen Guangcheng has been arrested for 58 days without any whereabouts”, “Election results of Dashi Village Challenged”, “Yahoo Company has been exposed again as allegedly providing evidence to the Chinese police, resulting in a prison sentence of 10 years for Beijing online dissident Wang Xiaoning”, “‘Freezing Point’ weekly refuses to publish the reply article of Yuan Weishi”, “After a secret visit and investigation, rights defenders refute the official statement about  the shooting incident in Shanwei,” “On the eve of the Two Meetings, the appropriate authorities have again been searching and arresting petitioners, and a petitioner was struck and killed by a train during pursuit.”

Through folk poetry, underground publications, individual blogs, network periodicals and free media, Mandarin begins to recover its vitality. Ever more people begin to write honestly from their heart; ever more people hope to read truthful, idiosyncratic writing; ever more people begin to think independently and speak the truth. In order to clean out the poison of totalitarian language, and in order to save Mandarin, individual writers, citizen journalists, liberal intellectuals, poets, directors, teachers, students, network writers as well as all conscientious Mandarin users have sprung into action. They do not want Mandarin to become a series of mechanical and dogmatic words devoid of imagination, to become a yoke that confines thinking and suppresses the individual, or to become a writing game of altering history and glossing over reality. Among the writers and journalists locked up across the whole world, the absolute majority are writers and journalist who write in Mandarin. This fact indicates the brave exploration and struggle of Mandarin speakers under grim circumstances.

They are creating a new Mandarin world. This new Mandarin world is continuously vying for members with the old Mandarin world. This process of competition and its results will decide what China looks like in the future. And every person is able to influence this process by answering the following questions: What sort of writing do we read? What sort of Chinese do we use?

The first step in rebuilding civil society is to build ourselves up; building ourselves up needs to begin with re-building our own language. “Power is the language of the powerful, language is the power of the powerless” (Hu Ping). Tyranny has occupied and continues to occupy our homes, bodies and language, and one of the easiest and the most basic works perhaps is to drive away the tyranny of Mandarin from our writing and speech.

May 6, 2006

Dinosaurs and indoor pools – the lighter side of childhood in China

A few weeks ago I witnessed something that warmed the cockles of my typically icy heart.

In China, when one pictures a middle school student, they picture a small child diligently studying behind a great wall of books. Outside of the classroom they are spotted in their uniforms around 5pm being brought back from school for several more hours of homework. These few minutes on the bus in Nanjing were almost always filled with a few rounds of Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds on their smart phones. In rural China, the students were boarded, and so had no chance of furtive gaming between school and study.

In my two years at the hospital, I sat through dozens of chats between co-workers that focused on their children’s progress in school, but I never heard them discuss other aspects of their children’s lives with each other. Questions from them about life in America also focused on the scholarly instead of  the fun. This reinforces the stereotype that Asians are more studious than their American counterparts. For me this was confirmed a few weeks ago when I visited the Stanford campus and saw a handful of Chinese tour groups wandering the campus with their toddlers in tow (you can’t plan too far ahead).

For expats living in China, the conversation turns toward a concern over whether or not Chinese children ever actually get to enjoy their childhood. After all when a friend asked his students to recount their happiest memory, he was met with tales of passing tests, dog bites, and child abuse.

So when I saw two boys, about 12 years old, roaring and running about like dinosaurs, I couldn’t have been happier. It was wonderful to see them lost in their own world, completely ignoring the stares of working folks headed home.

It’s important to remember that even after years in China, there are large parts of people’s lives you have simply missed. So much happens within the home or behind the walls of their apartment compound and if you live in the wrong neighborhood you may miss it all.

It reminded me of a story one of my college students told me. He said that one night in the dormitory, when it was too hot to sleep, his roommates and him decided the only way to cool down was to go for a swim. The problem was they couldn’t leave their room. So they came up with a way of converting their tiny bathroom into a pool. All it took were a few towels stuffed into the squat toilet and under the door and their shower turned on full blast for about thirty minutes. Somehow all eight of them fit in there, and splashed away in their “pool.” The student, and his classmates hearing of it for the first time, giggled through the entire story, even though they had nearly destroyed their dorm room.

With what feels like an unending stream of depressing news about China’s human rights, food safety, and environment, it is easier to forget that more often than not it is a place of loving families and enduring friendships.

The case of the PHD cheat – guest post

The following is a guest post from a friend who writes on her blog

My Chinese friend turned to me the other day and said “What time is it? I got a plane to Shenzhen to catch.”

“Shenzhen? What are you doing going there on a Sunday night?”

She looked suddenly embarrassed and told me quietly that she was taking a PhD qualifying exam for someone. The first question that came to mind was why?; why this thirty-some-year-old was being flown out to Shenzhen to take a PhD exam. I have known her for two years, and she is a very kind and curious woman, but by no means a mover and shaker. Her English is pretty good, and if she had any other hidden talents, she kept them very well hidden.

“There is an English part to the exam, but it’s on a couple of different subjects. The girl I’m taking it for is overseas at grad school and can’t come back to China just for the test. My company [a study abroad facilitator who sends Chinese students overseas] helped her get into grad school, so her father asked my boss if he had any employees who could take the PhD test for her. I look the most like her, so he interviewed me then said I could do it.”

Moral quandary aside, I was a bit worried for both parties. Could she pass the test? What if she didn’t?

“He’s already paying for my flight and giving me 5000 RMB.”

Well, that’s not a little money.

She flushed in embarrassment again. “My father’s giving me a lot of pressure to make money, he says I’m underpaid and I need to step up, so whenever I can find a side gig, I take it.”

I smiled to show I wasn’t judging her. She is beyond the reasonable marriageable age (after 27 in China you’re “leftover,” not to mention 30). She worked overtime regularly to get Chinese students into schools in America, Australia, and England, but had never left the country herself.

“He also said if it goes well, his company could use an English interpreter when they go overseas. They’re going to Germany in the fall and I’d love to go.”

In America, there is a direct correlation between a student’s SAT score and his/her father’s income. It is undeniable that the top SAT scorers tend to come from environments that speak standard English, promote intellectualism and hard work, and/or have enough money to hire a tutor. So the US has its own set of systematic pulleys and levers that propel some while restraining others. For China, this system is also true, and then some. After living through a turbulent modern history, surviving famines, political crusades, and the destruction of religion, there is little platform for anti-cheating ethics. Many Chinese would not even call this a case of cheating, but rather a case of someone being well-off enough to afford a good education.

And as for my friend, I sincerely hope she does pass the test and get to go to Germany. It is hard to hold her morally accountable when, as she said, “If I don’t do it, he’ll find someone else who can.” Her saying no to the job would have caused more trouble than taking it on; her boss would have been angry, possibly lost face and business, and the possibility of strong connections and future opportunities would have been nixed. From her point of view, there is nothing to be gained by turning down the offer.

You should be reading People’s Daily – The Party’s paper is the best tool for activists

English: Logo of the People's Daily 中文: 人民日报题字

People's Daily

I think to many observers of China, People’s Daily (PD) has little worth outside of restating the Party line. They pretend that it is a reconstruction of the Ministry of Truth from 1984, whose only purpose lies in creating “truth.” Some even go so far as to argue that reading and quoting such a paper does nothing but affirm the Party’s leadership. In fact, bloggers, activists, and dissidents should be reading the People’s Daily, and, as I’ll show, often the most damning evidence against the Party’s rule can be found within its pages.

Initially, I too was skeptical of the integrity of People’s Daily, but linked to it regularly, assuming that even the strongest proponents of China would find it difficult to argue with facts and figures from the Party mouth piece. After all, PD would have little interest in overstating China’s problems.

Overtime I started to realize that stories were usually innocent on their own, but when taken with the bigger picture often portrayed a hypocritical and unjust state. The strongest example of this comes from two stories that seem at first glance to be completely unrelated; a female teacher burning seven kindergartners with a hot iron, and a man smashing the windows of two Mercedes-Benz. However on closer reading, one sees the vastly different values placed on the children of the poor and the possessions of the rich; the woman was held by police for 10 days, while the man was sentenced for 20 months.

Intrigued by this discovery, I started combing the China Society page daily. The home page of the site interests me due to importance put on certain articles, but I have found the other sections reveal far fewer interesting stories. This is not to say that it is void of blatantly rosy accounts of China. The Politics section, is usually just pronouncements, where words like “urge” and “inspect” fill the headlines with little discussion of action (official reports appear here from time to time, which can be useful). Additionally, Foreign Affairs, rarely strays from the Party line, and replays the same few points ad nauseum (sovereignty, peaceful development, harmony…). At times though, the Foreign Affairs section fails to convey the Party line in a convincing fashion, like the infamous one sentence article, “No beating of foreign journalists by police: Chinese FM,” in response to an incident that took place during the Jasmine Protests.

Despite some sensational stories that argue otherwise, the Party doesn’t actually inspect every article prior to publication. PD however does know that their role is to support the Party. They offer the clearest view of what the Party line is, and therefore serve as a useful window to China. The benefit of this to activists is that it is not always clear how one should support the Party.

What many people are not aware of is that within the paper there is a great deal of latitude given to each author and each department. It is not uncommon for there to be contradictory headlines appearing within a day of each other. For example: “China to reduce rare earth export quotas” published Oct. 19, 2010 followed by “China denies reports of rare earth export quota cut” on Oct. 20, 2010. Both used quotes from the Ministry of Commerce and appeared prominently on the front page of the People’s Daily’s website. These contradictions show a clear lack of gov’t oversight, and that the editors are sometimes left guessing where the Party line is.

Surprisingly, People’s Daily actually gives activists the tools to easily track down related stories that expose the paper’s previous position.

This appeared with the article "China denies reports of rare earth export quota cut".

Unlike the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s distopia, the People’s Daily only produces new material, but doesn’t bother to delete the existing content. Even as Chinese censors scrub weibo of “sensitive words,” PD seems to be unaffected by these emergency efforts.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t attempts to obscure the past. The search feature of the People’s Daily website does seem to employ keyword blocking.

A search for “Falun Gong” results in this:

While a Google search of People’s Daily reveals over 1,350 articles related to the same topic. One finds that even though you can no longer access this information through People’s Daily itself, all of the articles still exist in their original form, even the initial article stating the practice has been banned is easily found.

The People’s Daily also tries to maintain its relevance in society by reporting, often obliquely, on hot topics. Using the Google site search, I tested nearly 50 terms and found that People’s Daily seems at least to be discussing some of the most sensitive topics (Full results at end).

A Google site search is performed by searching: “X” site: I further limited the search using Google’s tools that narrow the search by date of publication.

The biggest gains in frequency are in line with which topics were most widely discussed in other major overseas newspapers. Unsurprisingly, “Weibo” went from just three mentions to 2,520 in 2011. Bo Xilai also experienced a massive jump in frequency from just seven mentions in 2010 to 253 mentions in 2011 as a result of his Red Songs campaign and political posturing. (Wang Yang of Guangdong, who was seen as Bo’s competitor, had 7 and 10 mentions respectively).

Other words that have become more common in the last year include: “Stability” gaining 344% to 5,820 mentions; “Pollution” went up 1,094% from 355 mentions to 4,240, which shows the greater debate of the topic in the last year; “Food Safety” increased 3,083% going from 104 mentions to 3,310; and “Gutter Oil,” which was not mentioned a single time in 2010, was discussed 1,410 times in 2011. Any China hand would agree that these increases reflect the changes in the conversations we hear on a daily basis with our Chinese friends. I would argue that it is the result of a greater openness in People’s Daily to report on issues without waiting for official permission (in addition to the more obvious propaganda pieces).

These shifts in reporting also reflect changes in gov’t campaigns. For example the period from January 1 – March 19, 2010 and 2011 only yielded 1 article related to Lei Feng; the same period in 2012 has resulted in 117. When you read People’s Daily everyday, you can start to intuit these shifts, but a Google site search allows you to quantify such changes.

Thanks to the administrators of the People’s Daily website, information is no longer a tool that only the Party can wield.

Sorted by Topic

Sorted by % change

Sorted by times mentioned in 2011

Important Notes: Google site search is not perfect. 3 page articles are counted as 3 separate mentions. While this skews data some, it is also representative of the importance attached to each topic. Recent photo pages also skew results, as an unrelated article may appear in the results due to the photo page being mentioned on the side bar. Data sets for Wukan and Muammar Gaddafi were strongly affected by this, which is why I placed an x in their columns for 2010. Additionally, mentions of “Democracy” may be pro-democracy or anti-democracy, but the value lies in the fact that it is increasingly being discussed.

China’s Silent Spring


It would be easy to write a post about the difference between Malaysia and China and point to the joys of multiculturalism and  democracy. However it wasn’t these things that jumped out most at me during my travels, instead it was the simple joy of being reminded of the abundance of life outside of the human race.

Even though Malaysian Borneo is home to orangutans, sea turtles, and hosts of other intriguing creatures, it was the little birds that could be heard in every city that made me saddest to leave. China’s urban areas have stray cats and dogs, rats, and surprisingly large cockroaches, but very few birds (outside of the ones old men bring to the parks in cages).

Even though my apartment exits onto a small wooded lot, I am more frequently awoken by the warbling of aspiring opera singers and fireworks than by our feathered friends. In Nanjing birds are so rare, that the sighting of a magpie is considered a sign of good luck. I learned of this last Spring when one landed near my office window and immediately drew a crowd.

The year before that, when I was living in Chengdu, I started noticing just how precious little wildlife survived China’s move toward modernization (in rural Guangxi we did have a few more birds, but still so few that you noticed each one). This was on my mind as I began a three-day cruise through the Three Gorges. In that whole time, I counted no more than 10 birds along one of China’s most important rivers.

This memory came back to me as I stood on a street at dusk in Malaysia and saw that the telephone wires were sagging under the weight of all the tiny birds (my wife was more reminded of a certain Hitchcock film). For the rest of the trip I bothered my traveling companions with comments about how great it was to hear birds singing and how much I preferred that to the perpetual honking of car horns in China.

It was a solemn reminder of the fact that China’s ecological devastation effects far more than just the health of its people and goes beyond polluting factories.

The sparrows I had seen throughout Malaysia had been virtually exterminated in China as the result of one of the Party’s misguided campaigns. The aptly named “Kill a Sparrow Campaign” (消灭麻雀运动 xiaomie maque yundong) encouraged peasants to beat pots and pans until the sparrows died of exhaustion. This was part of a larger effort to rid China of traditional pests.

The sparrows were targeted because it was thought that they were eating the crops, but in fact they were eating the insects, this further exacerbated the great famine that killed nearly 45 million Chinese. The famine also lead to a desperate search for food of any kind which effected many other species.

These campaigns also targeted the South China tiger, which had a population of over 4,000 in the 1950’s. By the 1982 there were fewer than 200 left, and at present they are thought to be extinct in the wild, with about 50 surviving in captivity (which are already showing effects of inbreeding). The arguments made for the tiger being extinct in the wild highlight the fact that its traditional range has been shrunk by urbanization and that little prey inhabits that area.

There are starting to be conservation efforts in China to reintroduce tigers, pandas, and even dolphins (assuming they can catch a pair and successfully mate them, this creature is likely already extinct due to increased traffic along the Yangtze and the Three Gorges Dam), but it may already be too little too late for the wild populations.

However, as China moves to protect threatened creatures at home, as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with development, Chinese tastes for the exotic are threatening wildlife abroad. Just today the People’s Daily reported a raid on ivory traders in Guangxi that resulted in the confiscation of over 700 elephant tusks (meaning at the very least 350 were killed).

Wealthy Chinese around the world are also responsible for the slaughter of over 73 million sharks per year with their consumption of shark fin soup. This nutritionally lacking “delicacy” is not procured solely by Chinese fishermen (although customers are overwhelmingly Chinese), and international hotel chains have taken advantage of this deplorable money maker. The Howard Johnson in Shanghai reportedly denied one man’s request to have it taken off the menu at his wedding reception, insisting that it’s what the guests would expect.

Between past misguided policies, an industrial boom that has soiled fragile habitats, and the  search for dishes made from exotic creatures, China has devastated its animal populations. Hopefully dramatic actions will be taken to improve the protection of what is left, and educate China’s youth on the values of conservation and stewardship.

Take action: You can contact Wyndham Worldwide to call for them to stop serving shark fin soup, I have and am still waiting for a reply. When/if I receive one I will post it on the site.

Lesson Ideas: For all you English teachers, I wanted to link to a pdf of The Lorax (with pics / without pics) as well as a few lesson plans for various ages/levels (here and here). It would also be interesting to use The Truax, which was created by a wood flooring company, to discuss how our values can be effected by corporate interests. If you try any of these in class, please share your experiences below.

Girl criticized for calling it “China”

The following is a guest post from my friend Hannah on the latest story buzzing around the Chinese internet.

Twenty-four-year-old Liu Lili recently appeared on a Chinese job-hunting TV show. She was halfway through saying, “I was in New Zealand for three years. After those three years, I came back home, and realized, ‘Wow, China’s been through a lot of changes!’ Now if it had been New Zealand—”, when the host, Zhang Shaogang,  scolded her for using the word “China” rather than “my country” (我国) or “my ancestral homeland” (祖国). He said that using the word “China” did not convey the warm-hearted feeling that two Chinese people should share when talking about the motherland.

Liu Lili probably did not realize what she was going up against when she was accepted onto the show: China’s state media and popular perception of Chinese who have lived overseas. NY Times recently reported on state media scaling back popular “racy” TV shows, such as “If You Are the One,” due to such programs’ morally ambiguous content. In that case, overt patriotism does not seem to be in the cards, but rather a tension between projected national values and the reality of seductive consumerism. Neither of these issues directly play into this episode, but nevertheless the threat of shut-down still lingers, even looms.

Liu Lili’s status as a “Returned Chinese” (海归女) is pivotal to the debate; she was slotted from the beginning to be attacked for any signs of un-Chineseness. Indeed, living and studying overseas poses a certain soft-power threat to the home state, especially when the home state publicly announces that foreign culture is invading. Had she not been an English major who studied abroad, but rather an engineer from a humble Chinese college, she may not have received such a quick criticism.

What this ultimately suggests is a disappointing albeit unsurprising picture of current media in China. Chinese media is not the freest it ever has been. Since the founding of New China in 1949, that time was probably 1976-1980 — in particular late 1978, when Deng Xiaoping announced that “Democracy Wall is a good thing.” Instances such as this one, however, may work to “invite fire into the home” (or, as is said in English-speaking countries, to cut off one’s nose to spite the face). The reporter’s follow-up analysis and many of the comments on this clip indeed express disapproval of the host, many stating “I don’t see what the problem is.”

And that may be what it boils down to: a host who was just trying to fulfill the censorship rules. But when saying the name of one’s country becomes so sensitive that it cannot be said on that country’s TV, what comes to mind is not pretty: 1984′s Newspeak, Voldemort, and – as one Chinese reporter brought up – the emperor’s new clothes. Instances such as these may be their own undoing, wherein overt patriotism may conceivably and ultimately fall out of fashion. While that may seem like a far-off day from where we are standing, I for one am counting on history’s pendulum to start swinging back.

Hannah Lincoln is a master’s student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and is currently writing her thesis on China’s Misty poets. Previously, she graduated from Middlebury College with a joint degree in Chinese Language and Literature and Religious Studies. She also blogs at