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Heard on Weibo: 12/04-12/11

This week has seen renewed effort by netizens to visit Linyi, on what they call “group dating”, and instead of Dong Shi Gu, the destination was the People’s Square downtown. Three visitors were charged of “illegal gathering” and detained; a few more have been reported missing. And more are going. As for this week’s Weibo translation, we offer items about the citizen humanitarian effort in Beijing, the still unseen report about the high-speed train collision, what judiciary with Chinese character is like, Taiwan’s presidential debate, and more. Links to a couple of the items have been severed since I culled them, and you can join me to wonder why, but otherwise, click on date below item for link to the original.

  • 翁涛yt:/Weng Tao/(investment executive associated with Chinese Red Cross)/: As snow fell in Beijing, hundreds of petitioners who had been sleeping on street found themselves cold and hungary. The government acted as though they didn’t exist; and major charities were silent as rock.  Fortunately Mr. Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), who has always been something of a spokesman for many ordinary people, called citizens for humanitarian assistance, and the netizens responded warmly. Together they headed off a humanitarian disaster.

Dec.6 14:12  From Sina Weibo  Repost(493) Comment(151)

Volunteers in Beijing distribute clothes to the homeless

  • 五岳散人/ the idle man of the Five Mountains/Wu Yue San Ren/(a well-known web commentator)/: According to someone close to the investigation team, the reason the investigation report about the high-speed train collision has still not been issued is because high-level leaders have a hard time to choose what to blame. If they single out the suppliers of signaling equipment, it would hurt the international image of China’s high-speed train as well as its export; if they blame the railway dispatchers, it would compromise many people. What this means is very simple—the real cause is not important; what matters is how to minimalize the government’s responsibility and loss. I have two words [for them]: F@#k you!
  • 南方人物周刊 /Nanfang People Weekly/: In a society that worships power, power is the Viagra that gives the powerful their daily high. On every level, leaders by instinct mimic the bureaucratic rituals where, even though on smaller scales, they want to build their own little Tiananmen (天安门),they want to have their local militia, such as chengguan (城管), parading for them, and they find satisfaction in watching children cheering them and dancing for their pleasure. (Issue 280, “Political Exploitation of Children” a Dangerous Game http://t.cn/SqPPaf )

Dec.6 00:02 From Sina Weibo Repost(1391)  Comment(347)

Children performing for officials

  • 胡锡进 /Hu Xijin/(Editor-in-chief of 《环球时报》, Global Times)/: Imperialism is once again raising its head. China should re-evaluate its attitude in conflicts between a small country and the west. In the past, even when China didn’t cooperate with the west, it did not spoil either. From now on, even if China does not help these small countries, it should never chorus with the west. Depending on the situation, China should encourage a small country threatened by the west by providing moral and material support. We should do so to the same extent the west supports the anti-China element inside China.
  • 青岛都市报/Metropolitan Qingdao Post/: The day before yesterday Russian embassy opened a Weibo account. Many people made similar comments on it: Take the communist party back and return our land!

Matthew Ng (吴植辉), an Australian businessman in Guangzhou, was sentenced to 13 years in jail for embezzlement and bribery this week, a case highlighting the shadiness of Chinese judiciary, according to his defense lawyer Chen Youxi (陈有西) and Chen Yong (陈勇)

  • The basic events of the case established during the first trial are a violation of the truth; evidence for the court’s decision is non-existant, and has been refuted as being invalid during the court investigation; the criminal charges [against Ng] are in violation of Chinese statute, and do not meet the defining criteria of the crimes. The verdict reached at the end of the first trial is completely wrong. At the same time, with regard to the investigation, the filing and the trial of the case, none has been carried out in accordance with the limitation of action stipulated by the Chinese law, therefore illegal in terms of procedures. It is regrettable that such decision could have been made by the Intermediate Court in Guangzhou, the very frontier for China’s opening-up and reform. We will assist Matthew Ng to appeal according to the law, petitioning the Supreme Court of Guangzhou Province to conduct an open trial, and to dismiss the current verdict and hand out a non-guilty one.

The wrongful conviction of Matthew Ng prompts us to think about a more important issue: It is as easy to create a wrongful case as flipping one’s palm in a judiciary structure where the police, the prosecutor and the court collaborate with each other and engage in repeated inside consultation to demand for more supplementary materials, where there is no check from an independent and objective jury, where the outcome of a trial is coordinated behind door among the power players. One after another, such cases demonstrate to us what is wrong with the Chinese judiciary. (Link to original)

China has seen steady dropping in recent years in the percentage of criminal cases participated by defense lawyer[s], because, for the lawyers, it not only pays less, but also increasingly poses danger as many of them have been threatened, harassed, beaten or even charged.

  • 韩嘉毅律师/Lawyer Han Jiayi/(secretary general of criminal defense committee of the National Association of Attorneys)/: What is the national rate of criminal cases with the participation of defense lawyers? I did some research in one province and the results are as follows: The courts across the province handled 12235, 12887 and 13544 cases respectively in 2008, 2009 and 2010. During the same period, the number of lawyers in the province was 1679, 1945 and 2179 respectively, and the number of cases defended by lawyers was 1863, 1828 and 1441 respectively.

Dec. 2  17:44  From Sina Weibo  Repost(34)|Comment(11)

On Saturday, December 3, Taiwan held a round of 2012 presidential debate. Many mainland Chinese watched—not on the state-owned TV though—with fascination and envy.

  • 石讷/Shi Na/(a netizen in Shanghai)/: Merely aesthetically speaking, the Taiwan politicians look like real people with feelings, whose words are comprehensible, and whose expressions are that of normal people. At the least, they are not repulsive.

Dec. 3, 17 minutes earlier  From SinaWeibo  Repost(14) Comment(8)

  • 雷颐/Lei Yi/(historian)/: Watched the debate of Taiwan’s three presidential candidates last night. Next year, both mainland China and Taiwan are changing leaders, but in such divergent manners. Hard to sort out my thoughts and sentiments on this.

Dec. 4 08:19  From Sina Weibo  Repost(595) Comment(175)

Taiwan presidential debate

  • 许小年/Xu Xiaonian/(Economist)/:  A friend of mine sent me a link to a collage of People’s Daily of the same day, same month but two different years. I thought it was a prank, but it is real upon close examination. No more talk about innovation, no more talk about so-called cultural endeavor, in this bureaucratic system.

People's Daily on the same day, but published in different years.

Heard on Weibo: 11/20-11/26

There have been fewer reports on netizens attempting to visit Chen Guangcheng, but there are signs of the campaign taking a different direction, which we illustrate for you in a group of pictures. Starting this week, Ai Weiwei will be sending to his 30,000 “creditors” an exquisite, hand-written IOU. We also offer items about the secret of Huaxi village, the national shame of China, and how good the Beijing subway security check is. Click on date below item for link to the original.

  • Is this the beginning of a guerrilla campaign?

A group of men carrying out what they call the first installation of “Veteran Military Doctor Program”(“老军医项目”):

A group of four men planted “Free Guangcheng” balloons in various sites of Linyi:

T-shirt, car stickers, and more:

  • 胡锡进/Hu Xijin/(Editor-in-Chief of Global Times)/:  The editorial of tomorrow’s Global Times will talk about the “sense of pain” of the current Chinese society. It can be said that the average “sense of pain” of the Chinese people is on the rise. But it is inaccurate to say their “sense of pain” is extraordinary, on the verge of being “unbearable.” Surveys by Pew and domestic organizations show that China is among nations where people enjoy the highest optimism. China is not an “angry” country “on the eve of a revolution.”

Nov 22 09:06  From Sina Weibo  Repost(2148) Comment(966)

韩志国/Han Zhiguo/(Economist)/: …..The strange structure of Huaxi village is made of the central village, and peripheral villages and the outside labors, and they are like the three worlds of Huaxi, each with its own goals and concerns. A helicopter ride [for the villagers] costs 1,000 yuan, and it is deducted from pay regardless if you ride it or not. The four sons of Wu Renbao [吴仁宝, the party secretary of Huaxi] control 90.7% of Huaxi’s disposable fund.  However, such rule of family dynasty has become a role model for rural China.

Nov. 23 19:46 From iPhone client   Repost (3901) Comment (713)

[Note: It seems that the Nandu Weekly link has been severed since I last looked at it. But repost of the article abounds, and you should be able to find it easily if you are interested.]

  • 吴祚来/Wu Zuolai/(art critic)/: The idea that the Old Summer Palace (圆明园) is a great national shame is a result of years of sensationalism in school textbooks. It wasn’t a shame that the Qing rulers fleeced the people to build the palace, but it is such a shame that it was burned [by the foreigners]. ….What is China’s national shame today? It is when you can’t participate in the election of people’s representatives as an independent candidate; when you live in your own house and, all of a sudden, it is being violently demolished; when you want to find a way to lodge a complaint but end up being thrown into a secret prison; when the Constitution gives you rights but the administrative orders prohibit them. What are you going to do?

Nov. 20  17:53  From Tencent Weibo  Repost and comment (362)

  • 雷颐/Lei Yi/(Historian)/:  Somebody said, “[These people] criticize the country all the time, yet they demand to be protected by the country’s law. Shameless!”  Obviously, the speaker really doesn’t know that one of the important things the law does is to protect the citizens’ rights to criticize, and even lambaste, the country. It’s a long way to go… to eliminate legal illiteracy.

Nov. 25 09:15 From Sina Weibo  Repost (75) Comment (36)

  • prozaco/ (Netizen)/: Today I rode subway home with a kitchen knife with me. Not that I had to do this: the Party doesn’t allow supermarkets to sell kitchen knife so I had to buy online. Since I worked during the day, I had to have it delivered to my workplace. Then, instead of taking a taxi home just for the sake of the knife, I decided to be frugal and challenge the public security of Beijing subway. I got home without a hitch. And I cut meat with my knife. All I want to say is: security check at the subway is a pile of shit, a waste of taxpayers’ money!
  • The IOU that’s causing a lot netizens regretting not having lent money to the man and others pining for a second chance:

Materialism in modern China

If you have spent much time in China’s major cities, you have no doubt seen a few hundred new luxury cars, up and coming urbanites clutching Louis Vuitton bags or sporting a new Rolex watch, and more than a few people talking loudly on their iPhones. This rampant materialism even seems to surpass what I saw in the US a few years back.

As I’ve mentioned before, when co-workers return from overseas trips, more often than not, I hear about what they bought rather than what they saw. One friend told me he had spent over $25,000 on watches during a brief trip to Taiwan. Another said she had bought 4 new designer bags on a trip to Hong Kong. This binge shopping is shrugged off when people discuss how much they “saved” by avoiding China’s high taxes on these products.

The Party has realized the value in promoting the pursuit of material goods, as it bolsters the economy and maintains the status quo. The other day, the People’s Daily approved the idea that gov’t officials shouldn’t spend more than 180,000RMB on a car, which is more than most Chinese farmers make in 30 years, as if this was a reasonable way to spend public funds (they were heralding the Gov’t’s responsible nature in lowering the limit from 200,000RMB).

This growth of materialism in China’s more affluent areas surprised me when I arrived in Chengdu from the countryside of Guangxi. I actually experienced culture shock the first time I visited one of the large foreign supermarkets (Metro). My Chinese co-worker laughed at me as I marveled at all of the choices while slowly wandering down each and every aisle. To her, I was another country bumpkin (she actually used 土包子 tubaozi) exploring China’s big cities for the first time.

In some ways I was.

When I was in Guangxi, I tried my best to live simply. Students were either given a little pocket money from their parents who made much less than $1,000/year, or worked part time jobs that paid about 2-3RMB/hour ($.25-.37 at the time). Nobody had much money to spend, so it was pointless to dream of things they could never afford.

We did the math in class one day, at 3RMB/hour it would take over a year of working 40 hour weeks to earn enough to buy an iPhone, making it an extremely luxurious item to my students. Yet they seemed proud of the fact that some Chinese were able to afford these goods now, even if they couldn’t. They accepted that some people had money to spend, but realized they probably never would.

In the present, they felt fortunate for the little they had. They wore additional fabric sleeves to protect their jackets and sweaters in the winter, they moved carefully through the rain for the sake of their shoes, and almost never left a scrap of food behind during a meal. I greatly admired their sense of thrift, and I think my grandparents, who grew up in the Great Depression, would too.

After a few months, spending more than 100RMB on anything became a “major purchase,” even though it was well within my budget. My wife and I both became extremely frugal, and our definitions of “need” and “want” became much clearer (My “itoos®” Mp3 player still works occasionally, so I don’t “need” an iPod ).

This absence of materialism in the Chinese countryside was one of the things I most frequently praised China for. Now, living in Nanjing, the never ending pursuit of material goods that I see around me is one of the things that bothers me most. Possibly because just as Guangxi made me thankful for what I had, Nanjing just makes me want more.

Western companies should be blamed for China’s pollution

When talking with Chinese friends and co-workers about the pollution levels in Nanjing (awful compared to developed countries, but decent for Chinese cities), they are quick to point out that foreign companies in China are the ones that should be blamed for the filthy air. While it is absolutely true that foreign companies are adding to China’s environmental woes, I’m not convinced they should shoulder all the blame.

Today, I’d like to start by discussing three points related to this statement, and I hope you’ll continue the discussion in the comment section below.

Production for the West

This factor is undeniable. Western consumers have benefited from the destruction of China’s environment by purchasing cheap goods. If all of our environmental standards were enforced globally (and corporations actually complied), then the price of goods would be higher.

The latest example of this can be seen in the fact that Apple’s production facilities in China have created many environmental problems while making goods far out of reach for most Chinese consumers.

The problem I have with this argument, is that the destruction of China’s environment for the sake of producing goods for the West has also benefited many Chinese by creating jobs (from migrant workers to factory owners). The pollution has been seen as a by-product of development, without questioning how it could have been avoided.

However with the slow down in the global economy, one would expect that declining demand overseas would correlate to China’s yearly carbon dioxide emissions. Instead we see China’s emissions have continued to grow during this time, as there have been massive pushes to increase domestic consumption. It turns out cheap Chinese products made in polluting factories aren’t any less attractive in Chinese Walmarts than they are in the West.

While consumers in ALL countries have a responsibility to choose environmentally responsible products, due to the explosive growth of Chinese manufacturing, it would be very difficult to buy only “green” products.

Chinese Companies

Another important point against this argument, is that China was polluted before foreign companies arrived in the late 70’s. Foreign companies work largely through or with Chinese factories, and Chinese companies are among the world’s least environmentally conscious. The idea that western corporations are doing something different than Chinese companies is ridiculous.

Let’s take a quick look at two companies operating in China that have been attacked in the Chinese press:

In Apple’s case, Foxconn is their major supplier and also their major polluter. Apple clearly should be making greater efforts to practice corporate responsibility, but Foxconn should not be absolved of wrongdoing simply because it is working with a foreign company. Yet in Chinese papers you will always see Apple taking the majority of the blame.

The same is true of the recent oil spill involving ConocoPhilips. Both Global Times and People’s Daily railed against their environmental destruction, and both failed to mention that a state owned company owned the majority share of the project.

While blaming foreign companies might be more politically palatable, it does little to address the underlying problem.

Lax Regulations

Let’s be honest, when it comes to corporations, do we really expect them to take any actions that don’t add to their bottom line?

Corporations have a responsibility to their share holders to maximize profits, and few legal responsibilities to communities beyond paying taxes. This might be a fairly negative view of corporations, but it is not surprising that companies will dump as much toxic waste into rivers, and spew as much carbon into the air as governments will allow (if it is profitable).

While cheap labor is often cited as a reason for companies moving to developing countries, lax environmental standards are another major factor.

For example, in Nanjing there is a large chemical factory owned by a German multi-national that is often blamed for the smog in the air. The question I always pose to my Chinese friends is, “Why didn’t they build this factory in Germany?” The reason being that environmental regulations in Germany would make this kind of processing plant incredibly expensive to run. The Nanjing gov’t invited the company here because it would increase local GDP.

This is the major underlying problem. The pursuit of local GDP development (in return for promotions) has essentially aligned the interests of local government leaders with those of corporations, instead of the people they supposedly represent. While the Central government has created CO2 emissions targets and other environmental incentives, local leaders still recognize the fact that the key to promotion is GDP.

Perhaps the most troubling example is Huaxi (read my series on the richest village in China), instead of being condemned for it’s reliance on dirty industries like fertilizer production and steel, it has been lifted up as a national model of excellence.

Even in cases where factories have been “shut down” for violating the already lax environmental regulations, they are frequently allowed to continue their operations until people end up in the hospital (numerous examples of lead poisoning from “closed” factories have surfaced in the last year).

If local governments encourage the creation of heavily polluting industries, than they too must shoulder some of the blame for the resulting mess.

Ultimately, even if every multinational pulled out of China tomorrow, there is little evidence that this would actually bring an end to China’s pollution problems. Certainly the West is benefiting from this environmental destruction, but to pretend that this disaster is not largely of China’s own making ignores the reality of the situation.

For unbelievable photos of China’s environmental devastation and the toll it takes on China’s people check out this post from ChinaHush.com

Shanzhai – China’s Knock Off Culture

Yesterday we looked briefly at the way copyrights are ignored in China, and today we will be diving deeper into the fascinating world of Chinese knockoffs.

In China these knockoffs are called Shanzhai, and there are even references to a shanzhai culture. Some of the more well-known products are the “blockburry”, the “A-Pad” and the “O-Phone” (just for fun, a website that sells them).

These devices are often a fraction of the price of the originals, and sometimes they will offer more features. For example an O-phone might be able to use many of the I-phone apps as well as Google Android apps. Other times they might add a camera or some flashing lights (sadly not a joke).

The argument for these products is that many foreign goods are much too expensive for the Chinese market, but that Chinese consumers demand access to them.

Shanzhai products are not even sold with the pretense of being the real deal. In the States these would be sold quietly under the counter, but in China there are marketing campaigns for these devices.

 

For some reason I doubt Obama received his check from this photo shoot.

In my experience these fakes often fall apart in a few months, like the I-pood mp3 player I bought for $20 in rural China.

 

Beyond Shanzhai tech there are a huge number of copied clothing brands that copy the original product stitch for stitch. My experience with these is limited to winter jackets (known as NorthFakes) and backpacks. These products are frequently indistinguishable from the original.

I have heard claims that these are sometimes even made in the same factories as the actual product. I’m tempted to believe there is some truth in that, as I have come across jackets with all of the tags you would expect to find, and they are shockingly free of the usual English grammar and spelling mistakes.

Shanzhai can also result in knock off restaurants like those featured in this post on Chinahush. I have eaten at a number of these and they make McDonald’s seem like fine dining.

Recently there have even been complaints of Shanzhai cars. Apparently a few of BYD’s (a Chinese car company) distributors offered a unique service for their customers, replacing all BYD logos with other brand’s logos like Toyota. BYD is trying to downplay this by saying that they don’t control their distributors, but what is surprising is that once the logos are switched it is hard to tell the difference (Several Examples).

Car manufacturers say that the problem is that it is very difficult to copyright every part of every design they make, so legally they can’t do much to stop these Chinese copycats. In the car industry most companies try to make their cars standout in someway, because copying another design would mean admitting someone else is doing a better job than you. In China it means cheap cars for the masses.

Tomorrow look forward to the Nobel Prize winning explanation (unfortunately not mine) that helped me understand the full effects of China’s IPR problems on China’s consumers.