Lying down or impossible to get ahead

Source: China Digital Times (6/10/24)
Quote of the Day: “Not So Much ‘Lying Down’ as Finding It Impossible to Get Ahead”
By 

Today’s quote of the day derives from netizen backlash to the Communist Youth League’s (CYL) recent video broadside against “lying down”—referring to the much-discussed phenomenon of people slacking off, quietly giving up, or dropping out of the rat race as a means of coping with a hyper-competitive society that treats workers as “huminerals” to be relentlessly exploited and ultimately discarded.

The video, widely circulated on the Chinese internet, was titled “CYL Central Committee: ‘Only a Tiny Minority Are Truly Lying Down, While the Vast Majority Are Working Tirelessly.’” This was followed by an online survey that asked viewers to choose whether they were among the “tiny majority who lie down” or “the vast majority who work tirelessly.” To the amusement of many online observers, and at odds with the propagandistic tone and intent of the video, fully 93 percent of respondents confessed to being among that “tiny majority” of slackers, while only seven percent identified themselves as card-carrying members of the “vast majority” of indefatigable workers.

Columnist, pop psychologist, and WeChat blogger Tang Yinghong (唐映红, Táng Yìnghóng) put an interesting spin on the survey, cautioning that while most of the respondents were probably jesting, the CYL was likely correct in declaring that only a tiny minority were inclined to “lie down” because slacking off is a luxury that only the privileged few can afford. The vast majority of Chinese young people, Tang wrote, are simply too busy struggling to make a living to even contemplate dropping out or slowing down: Continue reading

Taiwan factcheckers

Source: The Guardian (6/4/24)
From beef noodles to bots: Taiwan’s factcheckers on fighting Chinese disinformation and ‘unstoppable’ AI
Taiwan is the target of more disinformation from abroad than any other democracy, according to University of Gothenburg study
By Elaine Chan

A person uses her mobile phone outside a restaurant in Taipei. Experts blame China for much of the disinformation aimed at Taiwan. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Charles Yeh’s battle with disinformation in Taiwan began with a bowl of beef noodles. Nine years ago, the Taiwanese engineer was at a restaurant with his family when his mother-in-law started picking the green onions out of her food. Asked what she was doing, she explained that onions can harm your liver. She knew this, she said, because she had received text messages telling her so.

Yeh was puzzled by this. His family had always happily eaten green onions. So he decided to set the record straight.

He put the truth in a blog post and circulated it among family and friends through the messaging app Line. They shared it more broadly, and soon he received requests from strangers asking to be connected to his personal Line account.

“There wasn’t much of a factchecking concept in Taiwan then, but I realised there was a demand. I could also help resolve people’s problems,” Yeh said. So he continued, and in 2015 launched the website MyGoPen, which means, “don’t be fooled again” in Taiwanese.

Within two years, MyGoPen had 50,000 subscribers. Today, it has more than 400,000. In 2023, it received 1.3m fact check requests and has debunked disinformation on everything from carcinogens in bananas to the false claim that Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, had a child out of marriage. Continue reading

‘We Lose Parts of Our Collective Identity’

Source: NYT (6/4/24)
As China’s Internet Disappears, ‘We Lose Parts of Our Collective Memory’
The number of Chinese websites is shrinking and posts are being removed and censored, stoking fears about what happens when history is erased.
By Li Yuan

An illustration of a large creature with glowing red eyes. Its paws are on stacks of paper, which are also in its mouth, in between its baring fangs. Nearby, people are holding documents, two of them holding up one that says “404.”

Credit…Yifan Wu

Chinese people know their country’s internet is different. There is no Google, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. They use euphemisms online to communicate the things they are not supposed to mention. When their posts and accounts are censored, they accept it with resignation.

They live in a parallel online universe. They know it and even joke about it.

Now they are discovering that, beneath a facade bustling with short videos, livestreaming and e-commerce, their internet — and collective online memory — is disappearing in chunks.

post on WeChat on May 22 that was widely shared reported that nearly all information posted on Chinese news portals, blogs, forums, social media sites between 1995 and 2005 was no longer available.

“The Chinese internet is collapsing at an accelerating pace,” the headline said. Predictably, the post itself was soon censored.

“We used to believe that the internet had a memory,” He Jiayan, a blogger who writes about successful businesspeople, wrote in the post. “But we didn’t realize that this memory is like that of a goldfish.” Continue reading

Goldfish Memories

Source: China Media Project (5/27/24)
Goldfish Memories
In a post to China’s popular WeChat platform last week, one writer bemoaned the shocking loss of nearly a full decade of information from the early days of the country’s domestic internet. Within hours the writer’s reflections had vanished too.
By David Bandurski

In a fitting illustration last week of the Chinese leadership’s unrelenting efforts to manipulate collective memory, an online essay with a shocking revelation about the wholesale disappearance of Chinese internet content spanning the 2000s was deleted by content monitors. But the post, quickly archived and shared, reverberated in platforms beyond PRC-managed cyberspace.

Written by He Jiayan (何加盐), an internet influencer active since 2018, the essay concluded, based on a wide range of searches of various entertainment and cultural figures from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, that nearly 100 percent of content from major internet portals and private websites from the first decade of China’s internet has now been obliterated. “No one has recognized a serious problem,” wrote He. “The Chinese-language internet is rapidly collapsing, and Chinese-language internet content predating the emergence of the mobile internet has almost entirely disappeared.”

Simple searches through the Baidu search engine for public figures such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun (雷军), who would have yielded perhaps millions of unique posts during the period of the “traditional internet” from the late 1990s through the end of the 2000s, turned up few if any results, He Jiayan revealed. These wholesale absences in Chinese-language content from inside China were repeated when He used non-Chinese search engines, including Google and Bing. Continue reading

Sparking Compliant AI

Source: China Media Project (5/24/24)
Sparking Compliant AI
China is eager to show the world that it can lead in generative AI technology. But one of its first challenges is chillingly unique — how to make its industry-leading chatbots speak like the Communist Party.
By Alex Colville

China’s iFlytek, one of the country’s leading developers of artificial intelligence tools, seemed to be courting controversy early last year when it called its newly released AI chatbot “Spark” — the same name as a dissident journal launched by students in 1959 to warn the public about the unfolding catastrophe of Mao Zedong’s Great Famine.

Several months later, as the state-linked company released “Spark 3.0,” these guileless undertones rushed to the surface. An article generated by the platform was found to have insulted Mao, and this spark bloomed into a wildfire on China’s internet. The chatbot was accused of “disparaging the great man” (诋毁伟人). iFlytek shares plummeted, erasing 1.6 billion dollars in market value.

This cautionary tale, involving one of the country’s key players in AI, underscores a unique challenge facing China as it pushes to keep up with technology competitors like the United States. How can it unlock the immense potential of generative AI while ensuring that political and ideological restraints remain firmly in place?

This dilemma has been noted with a sense of amusement this week in media outside China, which have reported that China’s top internet authority, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), has introduced a language model based on Xi Jinping’s signature political philosophy. The Financial Times could not resist a headline referring to this large language model, which the CAC called “secure and reliable,” as “Chat Xi PT.” Continue reading

TV song contest inspires nationalist angst

Source: China Digital Times (5/17/24)
TV Song Contest Inspires Nationalist Angst
By 

“I want the foreigners dead.” A still of Na Ying watching other performers on Singer 2024, photoshopped to resemble Empress Dowager Cixi in “Towards the Republic.”

China’s hottest television show, HunanTV’s “Singer 2024,” has inspired nationalist angst after two foreign contestants took first and second place—easily besting a field that included legendary Chinese pop star Na Ying. The show is wildly popular in part because it requires live singing without autotune or post-production touch-ups, common features of most Chinese variety television. The victory of relative unknowns Chanté Moore, an American, and Faouzia, a Moroccan-Canadian, has been called a “wakeup call for China’s music industry” by state-media tabloid Global Times. After the foreigners’ victory, a small subset of nationalist singers asked to be added to the show in order to defend China’s honor. The Tibetan-Han singer Han Hong took to Weibo to declare: “I am Chinese singer Han Hong and I ask permission to go to war!” Others followed suit.

To many, however, the nationalist outbursts were indications of deep national insecurity, as reflected in this partial translation of an essay posted by the WeChat public account 亮见 (liàngjiàn), run by a Nanjing University master’s student:

The writer Xiang Dongliang said, “Behind this wave of sentiment that ‘music is our national salvation’ lies a deep-seated inferiority complex.” Thinking that Chinese singers winning a competition is proof of China’s cultural superiority is a notion that only deeply insecure people would hold.

There may be some people who have never been personally “insulted” by foreigners, or who don’t feel much connection to grandiose terms such as “the Chinese nation” or “the Chinese people.”. Some sensitive souls need an intermediary to help connect them to these grand and lofty concepts. Continue reading

‘Russian’ woman who loves China is a deepfake

Source: NYT (5/20/24)
This ‘Russian’ Woman Loves China. Too Bad She’s a Deepfake.
A.I.-manipulated videos on Chinese sites use young, supposedly Russian women to promote China-Russia ties, stoke patriotism — and make money.
By Vivian Wang and 

A grid of six images of the same woman, with a variety of hairstyles and backdrops, some looking more fake than others.

A.I.-generated versions of Olga Loiek, a Ukrainian college student at the University of Pennsylvania, appeared on the Chinese social media site Xiaohongshu.Credit…Xiaohongshu

The woman declares, in Mandarin inflected with a slight accent, that Chinese men should marry “us Russian women.” In other videos on the Chinese short video platform Douyin, she describes how much she loves Chinese food, and hawks salt and soap from her country. “Russian people don’t trick Chinese people,” she promises.

But her lip movements don’t quite match the audio of the videos, which were posted recently to an account using the name “Ladina.” That is because it is footage of Shadé Zahrai, an Australian career strategist with more than 1.7 million TikTok followers, that has been modified using artificial intelligence. Someone dubbed Ms. Zahrai’s video clips with a voice speaking Mandarin Chinese to make it seem that she was peddling Russian products.

Welcome to a flourishing genre on Chinese social media: A.I.-manipulated videos that use young, purportedly Russian, women to rally support for China-Russia ties, stoke patriotic fervor or make money — and sometimes all three at once.

It is unclear who is behind many of the videos, but most eventually direct viewers to a product link, suggesting that the primary aim is commercial. And the main target audience seems to be nationalist Chinese men.

The videos are often labeled with hash tags such as “Russian wife” and “Russian beauty.” The women featured describe how accomplished Chinese men are, or plead to be rescued by them from poverty or their own less idyllic country. Continue reading

New Technologies of Gender webinar

SOAS webinar on ‘New Technologies of Gender in Chinese Digital Entertainment: How Algorithms Rewrite History‘ with Professor Geng Song (Hong Kong University)
Date: Monday, 13 May 2024
Time: 8am to 9.30am, EDT / 1pm to 2.30pm, BST
All welcome, but registration required.

Abstract

In this talk, inspired by Teresa de Lauretis’ Technologies of Gender, Professor Geng Song explores the role of new gender technologies, in both the literal and Foucauldian sense, in Chinese digital entertainment.

Enabled by the democratization of narration, ordinary individuals create online fiction that transforms into various digital formats, such as short videos, TV/web dramas, animations, and games. These creative works not only express the desires, fantasies, and frustrations of ordinary people, but their popularity has also been capitalized upon by platforms and entertainment production companies.

A common thread in these productions is the incorporation of affective technological innovations, including affective computing, mood tracking, sentiment analysis, and social robotics. In the era of the “algorithmic turn,” platforms utilize automated systems to analyze users’ emotional expressions and encourage specific behaviors, leading to the regulation of emotions.

In light of this, this talk delves into the flattening of history and re-adaptation of long-standing Chinese literary and cultural tropes in digital narratives and how new meanings and emotional transformations are created. For example, the matrilocal husband, once seen as a threat to masculinity, now represents neoliberal manhood.

Online stories address the crisis of masculinity by emphasizing the “pleasure point” and offering emotional outlets for male readers, serving as an escape from societal anxiety about success. The narrative pattern is intensified by algorithms on online literature and entertainment platforms. This talk thus explores, from a gendered perspective, the interplay between subjectivity, neoliberalism, and AI technology in the context of contemporary China. Continue reading

Number of writers jailed in China exceeds 100

Source: The Guardian (5/1/24)
Number of writers jailed in China exceeds 100 for first time, says report
Freedom to Write index says there are 107 people in prison for published content in China, with many accused of ‘picking quarrels’
By Senior China correspondent

A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong holds up signs in support of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who has been in prison since 2020. Photograph: Miguel Candela/EPA

The number of writers jailed in China has surpassed 100, with nearly half imprisoned for online expression.

The grim milestone is revealed in the 2023 Freedom to Write index, a report compiled by Pen America, published on Wednesday.

With the total number of people imprisoned globally for exercising their freedom of expression estimated to be at least 339, China accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s jailed writers. There are 107 people behind bars because of their published statements in China, more than any other country on the index.

It is the first time that Pen America’s count of writers jailed in China has surpassed 100. Other databases, such as the Reporters Without Borders’ tally of journalists and media workers detained in China, passed that milestone in 2020.

The index defined “online commentator” as bloggers and people who used social media as their main platform for expression. Continue reading

Shades of Yellow

Source: China Media Project (4/24/24)
Shades of Yellow
In its latest two-month campaign against public accounts on domestic social media platforms, China’s cyberspace control body is targeting falsehood and sensationalism. The ugly truth is that the country’s state-run media, which are not to be touched by the purge, are some of the worst culprits.
By David Bandurski

Another day, another campaign. On Tuesday, China’s top internet control body announced that it was launching a two-month crackdown on “self-media” (自媒体), referring to social media accounts that are generally operated by members of the public. The action focuses on five categories of self-media content and calls on social media platforms to strengthen controls across the board.

At the top of the list of violations released by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is “self-directed fakery” (自导自演式造假), an unmistakable reference to an online scandal that unfolded earlier this month when an internet influencer was found to have fabricated a video claiming to have located the homework book of a Chinese student that had been lost on winter vacation in Paris. The emotional story had gone viral across the country before its exposure, and the authorities followed by banning the influencer’s account, which they said had “damaged the online ecosystem and wasted public resources.”

Next on the CAC’s list of no-noes is the “no-holds-barred hyping of social hot points” (不择手段蹭炒社会热点), which points broadly to the use of spurious techniques such as fictionalizing events or spreading conspiracy theories to take advantage of trending topics. The CAC reiterates the point that such online stories result in the “waste of public resources” (浪费公共资源).

The hyping of hot points is followed on the CAC list by the “use of generalizations to set the topic” (以偏概全设置话题). This includes the use of controversial or negative terms to create attention-grabbing headlines, and exaggerating negative narratives or making “extreme statements” (偏激言论), which the CAC says is damaging to social consensus. Continue reading

Taiwanese drag queen victory sparks quiet joy

Source: China Digital Times (4/24/24)
Taiwanese Drag Queen’s Victory Sparks Quiet Joy Among Fans in China
Byy 

Nymphia Wind, a Taiwanese drag queen, has won the 16th season of the American reality TV competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her victory has been cause for quiet celebration in China, where drag is in the ascendant despite increased state repression of the LGBTQ+ community. Nymphia Wind is the drag persona of Leo Tsao, a 28-year-old Taiwanese American fashion designer. Wind’s outspoken pride in both her Asian and Taiwanese heritage has made her a complex figure in China. At The Washington Post, Vic Chiang interviewed Nymphia Wind and wrote that Chinese netizens are keeping quiet on her victory:

“Yellow represents the color of my skin,” she said in an interview ahead of the finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Friday, preferring to let her outfits rather than her words remind viewers that she’s the only Asian contestant in the season. “By wearing yellow, I hope to raise more Asian awareness and appreciation.”

[…] “Even politicians who work hard abroad may not gain this kind of exposure for Taiwan,” said Lawrence Jheng, 32, part of a cheerful crowd gathered at a Taipei club for the airing of the episode in which Nymphia Wind declared she was “very proud to call myself Taiwanese.”

[…] In fact, Chinese fans of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” seem to be going out of their way to avoid talking about Nymphia Wind’s success, apparently afraid of being caught up in the escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait. “Drag Race” fan accounts on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo said they would minimize discussions about Nymphia to “protect their nascent drag scene.” [Source] Continue reading

The Oscars of archaeology

Source: SCMP (4/17/24)
The Oscars of Archaeology: China unveils its top 10 discoveries of 2023
One discovery unearthed some of the oldest people to ever live in China. While another used extremely modern technology to create a breakthrough
By Kevin McSpadden

The Oscars of Archaeology: China unveils its top 10 discoveries of 2023. Photo: SCMP composite/National Cultural Heritage Administration

Every industry has that one annual event that stands apart as the premier award ceremony. For Chinese archaeologists, the best discoveries of the year awarded by China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration is the industry’s Oscars.

The agency says it looks for revelations that “inspire important discussions, offer new perspectives, and take archaeology in a novel direction.”

“The projects selected as the ‘top 10 new archaeological discoveries’ in 2023 are outstanding representatives of field archaeological work from the past year. These new archaeological discoveries vividly demonstrate China’s long history and vast civilisation and are the foundation of self-confidence and a source of strength,” the agency said in its announcement.

The projects range from uncovering prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies to surveying beautiful porcelain cerematics work, and even include a great achievement in China’s burgeoning industry of underwater archaeology. This year’s crop also happens to be a particularly old set of sites, with only two coming from after the BC-AD timeline shift.

It is important to note that many of the recipients were rewarded for the artefacts discovered over the course of years-long excavation projects, and most of the sites were first discovered prior to 2023.

So here they are, the “Oscars of Archaeology” – the National Cultural Heritage Administration’s top 10 most important excavations of 2023. Continue reading

NUS media studies position

FACULTY POSITION IN MEDIA AND FILM STUDIES, DEPARTMENT OF CHINESE STUDIES AND DEPARTMENT OF JAPANESE STUDIES, NUS

The Department of Chinese Studies and the Department of Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore jointly invite applications for the post of Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) in East Asian Media and Film Studies. Two positions are available for this appointment. The successful candidates will be jointly appointed in both departments, with a higher weightage in the department their research focuses more on.

Applicants for this position should have a PhD in East Asian Studies, Film Studies, Media Studies, Comparative Literature, or any other relevant discipline. Successful applicants should be able to conduct research and teaching on China (including the Chinese diaspora) and Japan. Their research must cover either the modern or contemporary periods (from 1900s onwards). Scholars who can contribute to further interdisciplinarity in research or teaching are particularly encouraged to apply.

The successful applicant will be expected to have a strong commitment to a) teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels; b) providing supervision to undergraduate and graduate students and c) undertaking research in East Asian Media and Film Studies and other related fields; as well as d) playing an active role in both Departments’ curriculum and development. They should possess native-speaking, or near native-speaking, competence in English, Mandarin and Japanese. Continue reading

Journalists document decline in media freedom

Source: China Digital Times (4/9/24)
Journalists Document Decline of Media Freedom in China, Hong Kong
By Arthur Kaufman

In its annual report on the state of media freedom in China last year, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) described how authorities used COVID prevention measures to “strangle” foreign news bureaus’ China coverage. This year’s edition of the report, released on Monday and titled “Masks Off, Barriers Remain,” demonstrates that while conditions over the past year have improved slightly due to the lifting of China’s zero-COVID policies, the government has continued to engage in heavy-handed surveillance, obstruction, and intimidation of foreign correspondents:

  • No respondents said reporting conditions surpassed pre-pandemic conditions.
  • Almost all respondents (99%) said reporting conditions in China rarely or never met international reporting standards.

[…] • Four out of five (81%) respondents said they had experienced interference, harassment, or violence.

  • 54% of respondents were obstructed at least once by police or other officials (2022: 56%), 45% encountered obstruction at least once by persons unknown (2022: 36%).

[..] Technology plays an increasingly important role in the surveillance toolkit deployed by the Chinese authorities to monitor and interfere in the work of the foreign journalist community. For the first time, respondents told the FCCC of authorities using drones to monitor them in the field.

  • A majority of respondents had reason to believe the authorities had possibly or definitely compromised their WeChat (81%), their phone (72%), and/or placed audio recording bugs in their office or home (55%).

[…] • Almost a third (32%) of respondents said their bureau was understaffed because they have been unable to bring in the required number of new reporters.

[…] • 49% of respondents indicated their Chinese colleague(s) had been pressured, harassed, or intimidated at least once (2022: 45%; 2021: 40%) [Source] Continue reading

Self-kidnappings

Source: The Diplomat (4/8/24)
Self-kidnappings by Chinese Students Abroad: Mystery Solved
The puzzle presented by these incidents can only be understood in the context of China’s police brutality and growing transnational repression.
By Magnus Fiskesjö

Self-kidnappings by Chinese Students Abroad: Mystery Solved

Credit: Depositphotos.

One of the most baffling news items in recent years has been the cases of Chinese students abroad who effectively kidnap themselves for ransom. They leave home, even tie themselves up with ropes, all on the orders of Chinese cyber-criminals – who are not even there with them.

They may be asked to put bags on their heads, or to cry on camera. They are invariably made to take kidnapping selfie pictures or videos of their suffering. The criminals then use these to blackmail their parents into depositing ransom money to bank accounts in China. Occasionally, the criminals mix in threats of pending arrest, or extradition back to China, as would-be punishment for alleged fraud or other crime said to have been committed by the students or their families. Invariably, the victims are told to cut off all contact with their family and the outside world, and to perform for the camera. Sometimes this is framed as necessary to help the consulate or the police with their “investigations.” There is no logic – except that of perceived power.

During the last few years, a long series of incidents along these lines have involved Chinese students in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States – all destinations where Chinese parents with a lot of money send their children to study.

It’s easy to see that this creates an opportunity for criminal fraudsters. The basic scheme of the student kidnappings forms part of a wider array of phone scams, and the peculiar niche of student scams seem to have perpetrators moving from country to country, perhaps as media attention disrupts their chances of success.

But why do all these Chinese students allow themselves to be kidnapped by telephone, and even go on to stage the crime themselves? How should we understand this phenomenon? Continue reading