Rescuing China’s muzzled past

Source: NYT (7/25/21)
Rescuing China’s Muzzled Past, One Footnote at a Time
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In a two-volume tome, the independent historian Yu Ruxin explains the crucial role of the military in Mao’s stormy Cultural Revolution.
By Chris Buckely

The historian Yu Ruxin, in Hong Kong in May. His book, “Through the Storm,” sheds new light on the central role of the military during the Cultural Revolution. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

For decades, Yu Ruxin, a businessman turned independent historian, scoured used book stalls across China for frayed, yellowing documents about the Cultural Revolution, a decade of mass political upheaval unleashed by Mao Zedong.

The fruit of his long quest was published in Hong Kong this month, a 1,354-page history that sheds new light on the central role of the military during the Cultural Revolution. The People’s Liberation Army is widely known to have been called in to impose order, but Mr. Yu also documents in meticulous detail how the military was also involved in purges and political persecution.

“Through the Storm,” a two-volume Chinese-language book buttressed with 2,421 footnotes, stands out all the more these days, when the Chinese authorities are determined to erase the darkest chapters of the party’s history.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, this month celebrated 100 years since the founding of the country’s Communist Party. The centenary has skipped over the political upheavals and mass suffering that characterized the party’s earlier decades in power. Continue reading

Foreign journalists harassed over floods coverage

Source: The Guardian (7/26/21)
Foreign journalists harassed in China over floods coverage
Reporters confronted in street and accused of ‘smearing China’ amid increasing sensitivity to any negative portrayals of China
By  in Taipei @heldavidson

People wade across a flooded street in the city of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province.

People wade across a flooded street in the city of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province. The official death toll from the floods is at least 63, with five missing, but Chinese media have identified at least 22 people who have not been heard from since Tuesday afternoon. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign journalists reporting on the aftermath of China’s flooding disaster have faced hostile confrontations in the street and been subjected to “vicious campaigns”, amid increasing nationalistic sensitivity to any negative portrayals of China.

Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and German outlet Deutsche Welle were confronted by an angry crowd in Zhengzhou on Saturday, who filmed and questioned them, and accused them of “rumour mongering” and slandering China. Other journalists have also been targeted, with a specific focus on the BBC.

The journalists Alice Su and Mathias Boelinger, were on the ground in Zhengzhou, covering the aftermath of last week’s deadly floods, after almost a year’s worth of rain dropped around Zhengzhou in three days, overwhelming streets and subway tunnels. The rains then moved north, further devastating major cities and rural areas. Continue reading

Seeking China’s new narratives

Source: China Media Project (7/16/21)
Seeking China’s New Narratives
The views put forth by a range of Chinese scholars at a recent discussion forum in Beijing hosted by the Center on China and Globalization offer a glimpse into strategic discussions of public diplomacy and propaganda in the country’s think-tank sector.
By David Bandurski

Wang Guiyao, the founder of the Center for China and Globalization, appears at the Munich Security Conference in 2019. Image Press / MSC available under CC license at Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier this week, the Center for China and Globalization (全球化智库), which has advertised itself as a “leading non-governmental think-tank in China,” held an event in Beijing to discuss “new narratives on China” (中国新叙事), and to launch a new book on external communication called I Talk About China to the World (我向世界说中国). A summary of the event released by CCG through its official WeChat public account provides an interesting glimpse into discussions in China’s think-tank sector on what Xi Jinping has called “telling China’s story well.”

The Center for China and Globalization, often referred to as “CCG,” was founded in Beijing in 2008 by Wang Huiyao (王辉耀), an economist and State Council advisor who is currently the organization’s president, and Mabel Miao (苗绿), the current vice-president and secretary-general. They are the authors of the new CCG book, which deals with the question of “how to create new narrative methods and models” (如何打造新的叙事方式和模式) for China. Continue reading

Jin Xing, transgender star

Source: NYT (7/16/21)
She’s One of China’s Biggest Stars. She’s Also Transgender.
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Jin Xing, the first person in China to openly undergo transition surgery, is a household name. But she says she’s no standard-bearer for the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
By Vivian Wang and Joy Dong

“Stick whatever label on me, male or female, I’m still a very luminous person,” says Jin Xing, a well-known Chinese television personality. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Jin Xing, a 53-year-old television host often called China’s Oprah Winfrey, holds strong views about what it means to be a woman. She has hounded female guests to hurry up and get married, and she has pressed others to give birth. When it comes to men, she has recommended that women act helpless to get their way.

That might not be so unusual in China, where traditional gender norms are still deeply embedded, especially among older people. Except Ms. Jin is no typical Chinese star.

As China’s first — and even today, only — major transgender celebrity, Ms. Jin is in many ways regarded as a progressive icon. She underwent transition surgery in 1995, the first person in the country to do so openly. She went on to host one of China’s most popular talk shows, even as stigmas against L.G.B.T.Q. people remained — and still remain — widespread.

China’s best-known personalities appeared on her program, “The Jin Xing Show.” Brad Pitt once bumbled through some Mandarin with her to promote a film. Continue reading

China’s bitter youths embrace Mao

Source: NYT (7/8/21)
‘Who Are Our Enemies?’ China’s Bitter Youths Embrace Mao.
The chairman’s call for struggle and violence against capitalists is winning over a new audience of young people frustrated with long work hours and dwindling opportunities.
By Li Yuan

Credit…Xinmei Liu

They read him in libraries and on subways. They organized online book clubs devoted to his works. They uploaded hours of audio and video, spreading the gospel of his revolutionary thinking.

Chairman Mao is making a comeback among China’s Generation Z. The Communist Party’s supreme leader, whose decades of nonstop political campaigns cost millions of lives, is inspiring and comforting disaffected people born long after his death in 1976. To them, Mao Zedong is a hero who speaks to their despair as struggling nobodies.

In a modern China grappling with widening social inequality, Mao’s words provide justification for the anger many young people feel toward a business class they see as exploitative. They want to follow in his footsteps and change Chinese society — and some have even talked about violence against the capitalist class if necessary.

The Mao fad lays bare the paradoxical reality facing the party, which celebrated the centenary of its founding last week. Under President Xi Jinping, the party has made itself central to nearly every aspect of Chinese life. It claims credit for the economic progress the country has made and tells the Chinese people to be grateful. Continue reading

The man behind China’s aggressive new voice

Source: NYT (7/7/21)
The Man Behind China’s Aggressive New Voice
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How one bureaucrat, armed with just a Twitter account, remade Beijing’s diplomacy for a nationalistic era.
By Alex W. Palmer

Credit…Illustration by Olivier Bonhomme

On the morning of Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was working from his official residence when an aide alerted him to a tweet by a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman. Morrison was about to finish a two-week quarantine after returning from a brief diplomatic visit to Japan, and he had spent most of the morning on the phone with Australian wine exporters, discussing Chinese tariffs that had just taken effect — some as high as 212 percent — the latest in an escalating string of punitive economic measures imposed on Australia by Beijing.

But the tweet, posted by a diplomat named Zhao Lijian, represented a different kind of aggression. “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” he wrote. “We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.” Attached was a digital illustration of an Australian soldier restraining an Afghan child with a large Australian flag while preparing to slit the boy’s throat. “Don’t be afraid,” the caption read, “we are coming to bring you peace!” When the tweet appeared online that morning, there were audible gasps in Australia’s Parliament House.

Earlier that month, the inspector general of the Australian Defense Force had released the results of a four-year investigation into alleged war crimes committed by elite Australian troops in Afghanistan. The investigation, which described a systemic culture of brutality and lawlessness, implicated 25 soldiers in the unlawful killing of 39 civilians and prisoners, with most of the incidents taking place in 2012. The report dominated news headlines for weeks and sparked a torturous national reckoning in Australia. To then see the country’s most grievous sins — already documented by its own government — weaponized in a sarcastic tweet from a foreign official was an almost incomprehensible insult. “I don’t think you could imagine a communication that could’ve been more perfectly shaped to be inflammatory in Australia, and so perfectly insensitive,” a former senior Australian government official said. Continue reading

Decoding China Tech Corporate Gibberish

Source: China Narrative 52 (7/5/21)
Trained, Tamed, Coined: Decoding China Tech Corporate Gibberish

Photo by Akson on Unsplash.

Greetings from Chinarrative!

Our previous newsletters featured the stories of employees trapped in the grueling “996” work culture of China’s booming tech industry. In this issue, we learn about a common gripe of newcomers to the sector — its overwhelming tide of meaningless corporate jargon, known in Chinese as heihua (“黑话”).

While the topic is lighthearted, it illuminates important ways that the Asian nation’s tech giants operate. In recent years, these firms have increasingly used their dominant market positions to project their corporate values, invoking their supposedly unique ways of thinking to justify their supremacy.

Like their counterparts in Silicon Valley, the ideological posturing of Chinese internet firms serves several purposes. It buttresses their claims of working for the greater social good and dilutes their reputation for ruthless profit-seeking. It helps them to attract employees seeking meaningful work, not just a salary. And it strengthens ties within the organizations by popularizing language that outsiders can’t understand.

But the strategy has a darker side as well. It can be used to justify long hours and inefficient work practices. It reflects the rising cognitive barriers to entry in China’s tech industry. And it popularizes empty, vague or counterintuitive terminology.

The story below, which originally appeared on the Chinese nonfiction platform Renwu, shows how Chinese tech firms have become hotbeds of gibberish. Some of the terms they use are made up and lack clear definitions; others imbue existing words with new meanings. Don’t worry if the corporate dialect leaves you scratching your head; in most cases, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. Continue reading

China remakes HK

Source: NYT (6/29/21)
‘A Form of Brainwashing’: China Remakes Hong Kong
Neighbors are urged to report on one another. Children are taught to look for traitors. Officials are pressed to pledge their loyalty.
By Vivian Wang and Alexandra Stevenson; Photographs by Lam Yik Fei

One year after it imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, Beijing is pushing to make Hong Kong more like a mainland city.

One year after it imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, Beijing is pushing to make Hong Kong more like a mainland city.

HONG KONG — With each passing day, the boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of China fades faster.

The Chinese Communist Party is remaking this city, permeating its once vibrant, irreverent character with ever more overt signs of its authoritarian will. The very texture of daily life is under assault as Beijing molds Hong Kong into something more familiar, more docile.

Residents now swarm police hotlines with reports about disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers have been told to imbue students with patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home Is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Continue reading

Apple Daily, ‘the four noes’ and the end of media independence

Source: China Heritage (June 24, 2021)
Apple Daily, ‘The Four Noes’ & the End of Chinese Media Independence
By Lee Yee; introduced, translated, and annotated by Geremie R. Barmé

Hong Kong Apostasy

This is the second part of an envoi written for Apple Daily, until this day, 24 April 2021, the leading independent media outlet in Hong Kong, by Lee Yee, a renowned essayist, editor and journalist. In the conclusion to the first part of his farewell, published in China Heritage under the title ‘Lee Yee on the Demise of Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily, Lee wrote:

Regardless of how it has all ended up, there is no doubt that the advent of Apple Daily in Hong Kong represented something significant in the history of Chinese newspaper publishing. It showed that a businessman could actually run a news enterprise more successfully than the usual kind of literati figure. Perhaps, I dare say, its success could be compared to the glory days enjoyed by L’Impartial [aka, Ta Kung Pao] under the editorship of Zhang Jiluan [張季鸞, 1888-1941] from 1926. ‘The Four Noes’ editorial principle that Zhang championed — no to giving in to unquestioning political bias; no to accepting government money or patronage; no to serving narrow vested interests instead of the broader society; and, no to giving in to fashion, conspiracies, mass sentiment and popular prejudice  — became a model and guide for Chinese media.


Below, in part two of Lee Yee’s memoir the writer elaborates on what he meant when he said:

‘The owner of Apple Daily might not have known about the “Four Noes” but, then again, he only ever managed to put some of them into practice.’


The second part of Lee Yee’s essay on Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily was published in the print and electronic versions of the last edition of Apple Daily, one million copies of which were printed in the early hours of 24 June 2021. Copies of the paper were soon snapped up by readers in one of the city’s final acts of collective civil protest against Beijing and its Hong Kong puppet regime.

I am, as ever, grateful to Lao Lee for permission to translate his work. Continue reading

The Web of Meaning

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book: The Web of Meaning: The Internet in a Changing Chinese Society (University of Toronto Press, 2021).


Taking off at the height of China’s socio-economic reforms in the mid-1990s, the Internet developed alongside the twists and turns of the country’s rapid transformation. Central to many aspects of social change, the Internet has played an indispensable role in the decentralization of political communication, the expansion of the market, and the stratification of society in China.

Through three empirical cases – online privacy, cyber-nationalism, and the network market – this book traces how different social actors engage in negotiation of the practices, social relations, and power structures that define these evolving institutions in Chinese society. Examining rich user-generated social media data with innovative methods such as semantic network analysis and topic modelling, The Web of Meaning provides a solid empirical base to critique for critiquing the power relationships that are embedded in the very fabric of Chinese society. Continue reading

Apple Daily to close

Source: NYT (6/23/21)
Apple Daily, Pro-Democracy Newspaper in Hong Kong, Says It Will Close
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The police also arrested an editorial writer as part of an expanding national security investigation into the newspaper that has triggered concerns about free speech.
By Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May

Employees preparing stacks of freshly printed editions of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong last Friday, a day after police arrested the editor in chief and other executives of the newspaper. Credit…Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — Apple Daily, a defiantly pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday that it would cease operations, in the face of a pressure campaign by authorities that has eroded media freedoms in the city.

The newspaper said it would stop publishing in print and online by Thursday, less than a week after the police froze its accounts, raided its offices and arrested top editors.

The closure will silence one of the biggest and most aggressive media outlets in the city, reinforcing the vast reach of the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing. Since its passage nearly a year ago, the law has sent a chill through Hong Kong’s once freewheeling news media as they navigate a treacherous environment where speech can be a potential crime.

In recent months, the authorities have moved to overhaul RTHK, a public broadcaster with a history of hard-hitting journalism. Police officials have warned against media outlets spreading “fake news.” And in April, a court convicted a journalist, who was critical of the police, for making false statements. Continue reading

How China spreads Xinjiang propaganda

To see the many videos referenced in this piece, go to the NYT link below.–Kirk

Source: NYT (6/22/21)
‘We Are Very Free’: How China Spreads Its Propaganda Version of Life in Xinjiang
By Jeff KaoRaymond ZhongPaul MozurAliza AufrichtigNailah Morgan and Aaron Krolik
This article is published with ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom.

Recently, the owner of a small store in western China came across some remarks by Mike Pompeo, the former U.S. secretary of state. What he heard made him angry.

A worker in a textile company had the same reaction. So did a retiree in her 80s. And a taxi driver.

Mr. Pompeo had routinely accused China of committing human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, and these four people made videos to express their outrage. They did so in oddly similar ways.

“Pompeo said that we Uyghurs are locked up and have no freedom,” the store owner said.

“There’s nothing like that at all in our Xinjiang,” said the taxi driver.

“We are very free,” the retiree said.

“We are very free now,” the store owner said.

“We are very, very free here,” the taxi driver said.

“Our lives are very happy and very free now,” the textile company worker said.

These and thousands of other videos are meant to look like unfiltered glimpses of life in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region where the Communist Party has carried out repressive policies against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

Most of the clips carry no logos or other signs that they are official propaganda. But taken together, the videos begin to reveal clues of broader coordination — such as the English subtitles in clips posted to YouTube and other Western platforms. A monthslong analysis of more than 3,000 of the videos by The New York Times and ProPublica found evidence of an influence campaign orchestrated by the Chinese government. Continue reading

Digital art or visual propaganda

Source: What’s on Weibo (6/19/21)
Digital Art or Visual Propaganda? China’s New Wave of Online Political Satire
Political, patriotic art mocking Western leaders is welcomed by social media users and propagated by Chinese officials.
By Manya Koetse

Image by What’s on Weibo, highlighting various digital artworks by @五合麒麟, @半桶老阿汤.

A specific genre of political satire has been gaining popularity on Chinese social media lately, with some images even making international headlines. While political satire mocking Chinese authorities is generally soon taken offline, these online works are brought to the limelight by Chinese official channels. Is it grassroots digital art? Or is it official visual propaganda?

When the parody image ‘The Last G7’ went viral on Chinese social media in June of 2021, it made international headlines for insulting the G7 summit, the West and Christianity, ridiculing ‘double-faced’ Australia, bashing Japan over Fukushima water, and offending India’s COVID19 situation. There was enough satirical symbolism and detail in the image to offend virtually any country that was -implicitly- portrayed in it.

Some media headers suggested the image was created by Chinese state media, others said it was done by ‘Chinese trolls’ or Chinese authorities.

The image was actually created by a Chinese computer graphics illustrator from Beijing who is active on social media, where he also sells his digital art online.

Online political satire in China has been around since the early start of social media in China and is often seen as a form of online activism. In media articles and academic literature focused on online political satire in China, the phenomenon is often discussed within the framework of censorship and dissidence, as a practice of resistance against Chinese authorities. Political satire can exist in many forms, from funny word jokes to catchy songs, from viral gifs to sophisticated cartoons. . . . [continue reading on the What’s on Weibo site]

Gallery removes exhibit ranking women ‘prettiest to ugliest’

Source: BBC News (6/18/21)
Shanghai gallery removes exhibit ranking women ‘prettiest to ugliest’

Images of women in the Uglier and Uglier artwork by Song Ta

The anonymous women were numbered according to how attractive the artist Song Ta found them. Copyright Song Ta

An art gallery in the Chinese city of Shanghai has apologised for promoting an exhibit that ranked images of women from “prettiest to ugliest”.

The video artwork “Uglier and Uglier”, by male artist Song Ta, featured about 5,000 images and videos of women in real life on a university campus. The artist then ranked them according to how attractive he found them.

After an outcry on social media, the OCAT Shanghai gallery said it had removed the exhibit.

“After receiving criticism, we re-evaluated the content of this artwork and the artist’s explanation, we found it disrespected women, and the way it was shot has copyright infringement issues,” the museum said on China’s Weibo social media platform. Continue reading

HK cracks down on pro-democracy newspaper

Source: NYT (6/16/21)
Hong Kong Cracks Down on a Pro-Democracy Newspaper
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Police arrested the top editors of Apple Daily, froze its assets and raided its newsroom, in a sharp escalation of the government’s campaign against dissent.
By Austin Ramzy and 

Hong Kong police officers entering the headquarters of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital, on Thursday. Credit…Apple Daily, via Associated Press

HONG KONG — When the Hong Kong police last year arrested Jimmy Lai, a pugnacious newspaper publisher, they seemed to be going after a longtime government critic. On Thursday, the city’s authorities sent a message to the rest of the media industry: Be careful what you write.

Hundreds of police officers raided the newsroom of Mr. Lai’s defiantly pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily; scrutinized journalists’ computers; arrested top editors; froze company accounts; and warned readers not to repost some of its articles online.

The raid and new restrictions were the most aggressive use yet of Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law, imposed last year by Beijing, against a media outlet, and could put the newspaper’s survival in question. The operation was a sharp escalation in the authorities’ intensifying frontal assault on media outlets in Hong Kong, a former British colony once known for its vibrant media scene and broad free-speech protections. Continue reading