Censors’ new trick: revealing users’ locations

Source: NYT (5/18/22)
China’s Internet Censors Try a New Trick: Revealing Users’ Locations
The rapidly expanding practice, which authorities say helps combat disinformation from abroad, has fueled a whole new type of online battle.
By Joy Dong

A view of apartments in the Jing’an district of Shanghai last month, amid the enforced lockdown.

A view of apartments in the Jing’an district of Shanghai last month, amid the enforced lockdown. Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For years China’s censors have relied on a trusted tool kit to control the country’s internet. They have deleted posts, suspended accounts, blocked keywords, and arrested the most outspoken.

Now they are trying a new trick: displaying social media users’ locations beneath posts.

Authorities say the location tags, which are displayed automatically, will help unearth overseas disinformation campaigns intended to destabilize China. In practice, they have offered new fuel for pitched online battles that increasingly link Chinese citizens’ locations with their national loyalty. Chinese people posting from overseas, and even from provinces deemed insufficiently patriotic, are now easily targeted by nationalist influencers, whose fans harass them or report their accounts.

The tags, based on a user’s Internet Protocol, or I.P., address that can reveal where a person is located, were first applied to posts that mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a topic authorities said was being manipulated with foreign propaganda. Now they are being expanded to most social media content, further chilling speech on a Chinese internet dominated by censorship and isolated from the world. Continue reading

Additions to Unofficial Poetry Journals from China

Front page of The Battler Poet (打工诗人) no 2 (2002), featuring Zheng Xiaoqiong’s famous early poem “On this word dagong.”

It is our pleasure to announce the next upgrade of the digital collection of China’s unofficial poetry journals at Leiden University Libraries. Key agents of cultural renewal after the Mao era, these journals are hugely influential but hard to find. The Leiden digital collection makes them freely accessible online, for viewing and downloading. (Click here for a web lecture on unofficial poetry publishing in China, with abundant visuals.)

We’d like to draw attention to two highlights. The first is the 1985 two-volume New Tide Poetry (新诗潮诗集), edited by Lao Mu 老木,a key advocate of poetic innovation in the roaring 80s. This groundbreaking book showed avant-garde poetry right when it began to diversify after Obscure poetry (朦胧诗, aka Misty Poetry), years before this was recognized in official publications.

The second highlight is subaltern writing, variously referred to in English as migrant worker poetry, (new) worker poetry, and battler poetry. The journals in question include The Battler Poet (打工诗人), Worker Poetry (工人诗歌), The New Worker (新工人) and The New Worker Quarterly (新工人季刊), and the Migrant Workers Home Picun Literature Group Series (工友之家皮村文学小组作品集).

The collection as a whole now contains a variety of works from across four decades of unofficial poetry publishing in the PRC, of diverse poetical persuasion and regional provenance (click here and sort by “title” for the full list). It shows how the practice of unofficial publishing—aka self-publishing, publishing outside the system, underground publishing, etc—connects marginalized groups such as politically disenfranchised “avant-garde” (先锋) poets, advocates of feminist and queer emancipation, ethnic “minorities” (少数民族), and precarious workers. Continue reading

New Era Civilization Practice Centers

This piece is a few months old, but I find it important and post-worthy.–Kirk

Source: China File (1/31/22)
A Vast Network of ‘New Era Civilization Practice Centers’ Is Beijing’s Latest Bid to Reclaim Hearts and Minds
By Jessica Batke

Steven Weinberg for ChinaFile

Primary Sources:
New Era Civilization Practice Centers Infographic
Haiwan Town New Era Civilization Practice Volunteer Service Activity List
Guiding Opinion on the Work of Constructing New Era Civilization Practice Centers Pilot Project” (Chinese)
Implementation Plan to Deepen and Expand the Pilot Project of Constructing New Era Civilization Practice Centers” (English and Chinese)
Implementation Plan for Constructing New Era Civilization Practice Volunteer Service Mechanisms” (Chinese)

Translation of Selected Terms
New Era Civilization Practice Center (county level) 新时代文明实践中心
New Era Civilization Practice Institute (township level) 新时代文明实践所
New Era Civilization Practice Station (village level) 新时代文明实践站
Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization 中央精神文明建设指导委员会
Volunteer service with Chinese characteristics 中国特色志愿服务
Propagandize to the masses, educate the masses, lead the masses, serve the masses 宣传群众、教育群众、 引领群众、服务群众

In a rural county in southern China, more than ten thousand volunteers, scattered across mountain villages and rice paddies, are out gathering local folk songs. Their charge: to bring back paeans to “the new era and new thought” at the heart of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s vision for China’s political future.

The folk song compilers are just one of “seven detachments in the mountains,” teams of volunteers throughout Longli County in China’s Guizhou province working to “forge mass solidarity, guide the masses, inculcate a correct cultural disposition in individuals, improve social mores, and adjust people’s behavior.” Members of the “Pure Folkways” detachment go door to door to urge thrift and discourage lavish spending on events like weddings and New Year’s banquets. The “Grateful to the Party” detachment’s formerly poverty-stricken households work to assist their less fortunate neighbors. Other detachments mediate disputes, organize neighborhood clean-up, and tend to children and elderly relatives left behind when working-age adults in their households seek employment elsewhere. Continue reading

Honoring China’s heroes

Source: China Media Project (5/10/22)
Honoring China’s Heroes
Last week veteran journalist Luo Changping was given a seven-month jail sentence for defaming the country’s martyrs and heroes. The harsh penalty for the former senior editor of Caijing magazine, who in the past has been hailed in China for his heroic journalism, reveals how profoundly the values in Chinese society have shifted under Xi Jinping.
By David Bandurski

Just over a decade ago, veteran journalist Luo Changping (罗昌平), then deputy editor-in-chief of one of China’s most influential magazines, was a stand-out example of the best in Chinese journalism – a professional dedicated to the facts and to the hard-nosed techniques needed to ferret them out in a challenging environment. In November 2013, his work exposing official corruption earned him back-to-back international and domestic honors, first the “Integrity Award” from Transparency International, and later the China Hero Award from NetEase.

But the days are long gone when journalists in China can be openly lauded as heroes for asking hard questions about those in positions of power. On May 5, Luo Changping was sentenced to a seven-month prison term for “infringing the reputation and honor of national heroes and martyrs.” His punishment is a potent illustration of how profoundly values have shifted in Chinese media and society under the iron-fisted rule of Xi Jinping.

Luo’s sentencing comes almost exactly seven months after he was summoned by police on October 7, 2021, after making several posts to Weibo in which he questioned China’s role in the Korean War as depicted in a blockbuster propaganda film called The Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖). Commissioned by the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, the film is a cloying war epic glorifying the deeds of the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) at the outset of the Korean War in 1950, as they faced off against an American-led United Nations force near at the Chosin Reservoir, about 100 kilometers south of the current border of China and North Korea along the Yalu River. Continue reading

Digital Identities in China–cfp

CFP: Digital Identities in China, a special issue of Chinese Literature and Thought Today (CLTT)*
Guest-edited by Dr. Paul J. D’Ambrosio

From award winning science fiction writers to the most unified social credit system in the world and from expansive use of digital identification cards to pervasive applications of artificial intelligence in everyday life, China is at the forefront of many digital frontiers. As ever increasing reliance on digital technologies shape our experiences and mediate our interactions, reflections on how our ways of understanding ourselves, others, and the world need to transform accordingly.

Many Western analyses criticize shifts to profile-based conceptions and frameworks as lacking “authenticity.” Digitalized identities—including those curated on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok—are appallingly antithetical to the self-narratives that appeal to creating or discovering an inner self.

Chinese literature and philosophy offer rich resources for questioning the absolute centrality of authenticity when reflecting on digital identities. They thus provide exciting resources for and examples of how shifts to digital identities can be engaged with, reflected on, and theorized about. In this special issue we invite authors to explore digital identities in China from the perspective of Chinese literature, philosophy, or other related avenues. Comparative or more Chinese centered approaches are equally welcome, as are new research proposals or English translations of previously published papers (in Chinese). Continue reading

Media, Power, Technological Determinism–cfp

We are looking for proposals in China studies. 

Deadline Extended–May 1st.

Call For Papers: Media, Power, Technological Determinism
University of Washington Graduate Conference
June 4th, 2022, Seattle and Online
Paper Proposal Submission Deadline: May 1st, 2022

Keynote Speaker (Online): Nicole Starosielski (NYU)
Guest Panel Respondent (Online): Weixian Pan (NYU Shanghai)

Does the modern office floor plan of the skyscrapers redefine the division of labor? Does the thermostat in a documents archive secretly manipulate what we can read? We have little doubt in that Google shapes how we search for information, but does Google shape how we think too?

These perennial debates can be traced to Marshall McLuhan’s claims about the unstoppable force of media technologies in shaping our mind, body, and environment. Raymond Williams labels McLuhan as a “technological determinist”, condemning his disregard for the historical development of technology. But does this label of “technological determinist” give the right to abolish the way McLuhan understands media technologies? Indeed, like Williams, many have pointed out that technological objects do not independently exist among us, but are embedded in a cultural and political network. However, when we open the socially constructed “black box”, as Pinch and Bijker described, what is revealed may only be what Langdon Winner calls a “hollow inside”—void of power relations. Continue reading

Lockdown outrage tests limits

Source: NYT (4/27/22)
China’s Covid Lockdown Outrage Tests Limits of Triumphant Propaganda
Public anger and grief over the bungled lockdown in Shanghai is creating a credibility crisis for the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, and his zero Covid policies.
By Vivian WangPaul Mozur and Isabelle Qian

A banner reading “Persistence is victory!” at a makeshift hospital and quarantine facility in Shanghai earlier this month.

A banner reading “Persistence is victory!” at a makeshift hospital and quarantine facility in Shanghai earlier this month. Credit…Ding Ting/Xinhua, via Associated Press

Immediately after Beijing said it had detected a new coronavirus outbreak, officials hurried to assure residents there was no reason to panic. Food was plentiful, they said, and any lockdown measures would be smooth. But Evelyn Zheng, a freelance writer in the city, was not taking any chances.

Her relatives, who lived in Shanghai, were urging her to leave or stock up on food. She had spent weeks poring over social media posts from that city, which documented the chaos and anguish of the monthlong lockdown there. And when she went out to buy more food, it was clear many of her neighbors had the same idea: Some shelves were already cleaned out.

“At first, I was worried about Shanghai, because my family is there, and there was no good news from any of my friends,” Ms. Zheng said. “Now, Beijing is starting, too, and I don’t know when it will land on my head.”

Anger and anxiety over the Shanghai lockdown, now in its fourth week, has posed a rare challenge for China’s powerful propaganda apparatus, which is central to the Communist Party’s ability to stifle dissent. As the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country, officials have defended their use of widespread, heavy-handed lockdowns. They have pushed a triumphalist narrative of their Covid response, which says that only the Chinese government had the will to confront, and hold back, the virus. Continue reading

Clickbait nationalism

Source: China Media Project (4/11/22)
Clickbait Nationalism Misses the Mark
The serious failings of Covid-19 responses in major cities like Changchun and Shanghai have deepened frustration online with influencers who continue, in the face of real suffering, to pander to China-can-do-no-wrong nationalism.
By Stella Chen

Image by Dan Nguyen available at Flickr.com under CC license.

As the lockdown in Shanghai enters its third week, first-hand accounts of the misery suffered by many of the city’s 26 million residents have fired across Chinese cyberspace. For many, the failings of the government response in China’s financial hub have called into question the country’s vaunted successes in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The failings have also deepened frustration online with those who continue, in the face of real suffering, to pander to China-can-do-no-wrong nationalism.

Two weeks ago, “Sai Lei Three Minutes” (赛雷三分钟), a popular Chinese blogger known for his mission to expose the alleged activities of “foreign hostile forces” working to smear China, posted to his 2.6 million followers on Weibo that he planned to release a video clip in which he had “baited” a journalist working for foreign media in China with a fake interview about conditions under Covid lockdown in the northern city of Changchun.

Sai Lei’s provocative Weibo post on March 29 included an image of his chat history on the WeChat messaging platform with a correspondent from Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s publicly funded radio broadcaster. The conversation showed Sai Lei impersonating a resident under lockdown in the city of Changchun, claiming to be unable to buy groceries. The Sveriges Radio journalist, understandably interested in the account of a source in the locked-down city, inquired about the situation and subsequently had a 24-minute conversation with Sai Lei, as shown by a “call duration” (童话时长) marker in the chat thread. Continue reading

China rallies domestic sympathy for Russia

Source: NYT (4/4/22)
Bristling Against the West, China Rallies Domestic Sympathy for Russia
China’s Communist Party is mounting an ideological campaign aimed at officials and students. The message: The country will not turn its back on Russia.
By Chris Buckley

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in 2015 at a parade in Moscow commemorating the end of World War II. 

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in 2015 at a parade in Moscow commemorating the end of World War II. Credit…Host photo agency/RIA Novosti, via Getty Images

While Russian troops have battered Ukraine, officials in China have been meeting behind closed doors to study a Communist Party-produced documentary that extols President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a hero.

The humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, the video says, was the result of efforts by the United States to destroy its legitimacy. With swelling music and sunny scenes of present-day Moscow, the documentary praises Mr. Putin for restoring Stalin’s standing as a great wartime leader and for renewing patriotic pride in Russia’s past.

To the world, China casts itself as a principled onlooker of the war in Ukraine, not picking sides, simply seeking peace. At home, though, the Chinese Communist Party is pushing a campaign that paints Russia as a long-suffering victim rather than an aggressor and defends China’s strong ties with Moscow as vital.

Chinese universities have organized classes to give students a “correct understanding” of the war, often highlighting Russia’s grievances with the West. Party newspapers have run series of commentaries blaming the United States for the conflict. Continue reading

Article urging China to cut ties with Putin gets 1m views

Source: The Guardian (3/20/22)
Chinese article urging country to cut ties with Putin gets 1m views
Essay on US site republished in China before being censored, reflecting balancing act between Russia and west
By Helen Davidson in Taipei

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing on 4 February

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Beijing on 4 February. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP

When an essay from a prominent Shanghai scholar suggested China needed to cut ties with Vladimir Putin as soon as possible over the Ukraine war, the online reaction was swift.

Despite being published late on a Friday evening in the Carter Center’s US-China Perception Monitor, Hu Wei’s essay soon gained a million views in and outside China, and was republished into Chinese blogs, non-official media sites and social media accounts.

Then came the backlash, as the article was criticised for being “reckless and dangerous” vitriol. Personal attacks on Hu and the USCPM followed. By Sunday morning, their websites were blocked in China.

“Usually when the government or the censors don’t like a particular article – like [something published by] FT Chinese – they’ll just block that particular article, they don’t block the website,” said Liu Yawei, the director of the China programme at the US-based Carter Center. Continue reading

Defying censors to denounce war

Source: NYT (3/18/22)
Defying China’s Censors to Urge Beijing to Denounce Russia’s War
A persistent minority of Chinese scholars, journalists and citizens is warning Beijing against the risks of supporting the invasion of Ukraine.
By Chris Buckley

Outside the Russian Embassy in Beijing, in February.

Outside the Russian Embassy in Beijing, in February. Credit…Andy Wong/Associated Press

When Hu Wei, a politically well-connected scholar in Shanghai, warned that China risked becoming a pariah if it didn’t denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he ignited a war of words on China’s internet.

Some readers praised Mr. Hu’s article, which spread online last week, seeing its gloomy prognosis about China becoming isolated behind a new Iron Curtain of hostility from Western countries as a welcome challenge to official Chinese soft-pedaling of President Vladimir V. Putin’s aggression. Many others denounced him as a stooge of Washington, unduly critical of Russia’s war aims and prospects. Chinese authorities blocked the website of U.S.-China Perception Monitor, where his article first appeared, and tried to censor it on social media.

Inside China, the war in Ukraine “has ignited enormous disagreements, setting supporters and opponents at polar extremes,” Mr. Hu wrote. His own stance was clear: “China should not be yoked to Putin and must sever itself from him as soon as it can.”

Mr. Hu’s article has been the most striking instance of rising opposition to Russia’s assault on an independent neighbor, and rebukes of Beijing for its reluctance to criticize Moscow. Continue reading

Beating Japan at its own (video) game

Source: NYT (3/16/22)
Beating Japan at Its Own (Video) Game: A Smash Hit From China
Genshin Impact, a nearly picture-perfect reproduction of Japanese fantasy role-playing games, has raked in billions of dollars and sent shock waves through the world’s aging video game superpower
By Ben Dooley and Paul Mozur

An advertisement for Genshin Impact in the Akihabara district of Tokyo.

An advertisement for Genshin Impact in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

TOKYO — Genshin Impact, one of the world’s hottest mobile video games, has all the characteristics of a Japanese invention: giant robots; human-size swords; characters with huge eyes and spiky, rainbow-colored hair; and a puzzling fixation on women in maid outfits.

There’s just one catch: It’s Chinese.

Released in late 2020, the game is the first bona fide international smash hit for China’s video game industry. In its first year on the market, it raked in $2 billion, a record for mobile games, according to Sensor Tower, a firm that monitors mobile apps. And, unlike other popular Chinese games, it is believed to have generated most of its revenue from overseas.

The game’s success points to a shifting balance of power in the $200 billion-a-year global video game industry, which has long been dominated by Japan and the United States. Continue reading

University press creates political review team

Source: China Media Project (3/8/22)
University Press Creates Political Review Team
In a further sign of political tightening in China ahead of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party this fall, the China Renmin University Press announced on February 23 that it is forming a Political Content Review Committee.
By David Bandurski

In open and democratic societies, the university press serves a special role in publishing academic work that has been reviewed by the scholarly community. Through books, journals and reference materials, university presses often help to ensure that research insights, including those that might be overlooked or underappreciated, are made accessible in order to broaden conversations within and across disciplines.

In China, this role is complicated and interrupted by the demands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is keen to see works reviewed prior to publication not just for their intellectual value but also for their political fitness. As sensitivities in China intensify ahead of the 20th National Congress of the CCP this fall, one university press has announced that it is going the extra mile to ensure its political i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

On February 23, China Renmin University Press, an academic publishing house affiliated with Beijing’s Renmin University of China (RUC), which is known for its relative strength in the humanities and social sciences, announced that it was forming a Political Content Review Committee (政治内容审读委员会). The committee, which held its first training session after the formal inauguration of the group, will be tasked with reviewing the roughly 3,600 titles the press releases each year to ensure that they abide by what the CCP calls “political guidance” (政治导向), or “guidance of public opinion” (舆论导向) – essentially, the enforcement of control over facts and ideas to support the political stability of the regime. Continue reading

When war isn’t war

Source: China Media Project (3/12/22)
When War Isn’t War
While for much of the world the conflict in Ukraine is “Russia’s war,” Chinese media have opted for other terms, including “special military operation.” In this closer look at Chinese media coverage, we document this official framing — but also find some surprising and encouraging exceptions.
By David Bandurski

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks under a camouflage net in a trench as he visits the war-hit Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Dec. 6, 2021. Image by manhhai available at Flickr.com under CC license.

Throughout most of the world, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is “Russia’s war.” But as international media have reported, China has refused to talk about an “invasion” or a “war” in the two weeks since Vladimir Putin launched his military attacks. In its first press conference on February 24, the day attacks began, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs set the tone by saying that China had noted Russia’s “special military operation in eastern Ukraine.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) seemed finally to break the pattern Thursday in a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in which he said that China supports “a ceasefire to stop the war.” Nevertheless, voices critical of Putin, or even calling for peace, continue to be systematically removed from Chinese social media platforms, and content critical of Ukraine and the West, particularly the United States, proliferates.

To examine China’s framing of “Russia’s war” more closely, the China Media Project studied a randomized sample of reports over the past seven days. From among 721 total reports returned in the Wisenews database including the term “Russia-Ukraine” (俄乌) in mainland China, we isolated a subset of these reports including the word “war” (战争), yielding a total of 114 articles (87 print and 27 online). Randomizing these results we focused on just 25 articles for analysis. Continue reading

Why the Chinese internet is cheering Russia’s invasion

Source: NYT (2/27/22)
Why the Chinese Internet Is Cheering Russia’s Invasion
As the world overwhelmingly condemns the assault on Ukraine, online opinion in China is mostly pro-Russia, pro-war and pro-Putin.
By Li Yuan

A bombed Ukrainian home in south Kyiv. Many Chinese social media users have praised President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and accepted his justification for invading Ukraine.

A bombed Ukrainian home in south Kyiv. Many Chinese social media users have praised President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and accepted his justification for invading Ukraine. Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

If President Vladimir V. Putin is looking for international support and approval for his invasion of Ukraine, he can turn to the Chinese internet.

Its users have called him “Putin the Great,” “the best legacy of the former Soviet Union” and “the greatest strategist of this century.” They have chastised Russians who protested against the war, saying they had been brainwashed by the United States.

Mr. Putin’s speech on Thursday, which essentially portrayed the conflict as one waged against the West, won loud cheers on Chinese social media. Many people said they were moved to tears. “If I were Russian, Putin would be my faith, my light,” wrote @jinyujiyiliangxiaokou, a user of the Twitter-like platform Weibo.

As the world overwhelmingly condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese internet, for the most part, is pro-Russia, pro-war and pro-Putin. Continue reading