#MeToo journalist sentenced to 5 years

Source: The Guardian (6/14/24)
China #MeToo journalist sentenced to five years in jail, supporters say
Sophia Huang Xueqin, who reported on #MeToo movement and Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, sentenced along with labour activist Wang Jianbing
By  in Taipei

Sophia Huang Xueqin, a freelance journalist who reported on China’s MeToo movement and the Hong Kong democracy protests, has been sentenced to five years in jail. Photograph: Thomas Yau/SCMP/Getty Images

A Chinese court has sentenced the prominent #MeToo journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin to five years in jail and the labour activist Wang Jianbing to three and a half years, almost 1,000 days after they were detained on allegations of inciting state subversion, according to supporters.

On Friday, supporters of the pair said the court had found them guilty and given Huang the maximum sentence. The jail terms would take into account the time they had already spent in detention. A copy of the verdict said Huang was also deprived of political rights for four years and fined $100,000 RMB (£10,800). Wang faced three years of deprivation of political rights and was fined $50,000 RMB.

Huang told the court she intended to appeal, the supporters said.

“[The sentence] was longer than we expected,” said a spokesperson for the campaign group Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, asking to remain anonymous for safety concerns. “I don’t think it should have been this severe, and it is completely unnecessary. So we support Huang Xueqin’s intention to appeal.”

Just one day’s notice was given of Friday’s hearing, and the public and media were kept away by a heavy police presence of both uniformed and plain clothed officers, as well as court workers and large barriers. The closed-door trial began in September last year, two years after their arrest. Continue reading

Taiwan’s declining birthrate forces schools to close

Source: The Guardian (6/14/24)
Empty classrooms, silent halls: Taiwan’s declining birthrate forces schools to close
Authorities fear looming economic crises caused by an expanding elderly population without enough workers to support them
By and Lin Chi-hui in Taipei

Chung Hsing private high school in Taipei, Taiwan, which closed in 2019 due to low enrolment. Dozens of schools, colleges and universities are closing their doors due to population decline. Photograph: Helen Davidson/The Guardian

In the courtyard of the Chung Hsing private high school, desks and chairs are piled high like a monument or an unlit bonfire. Mounds of debris cover the play area, as two construction workers pull more broken furniture from empty classrooms, throwing them towards a pickup truck.

The central Taipei private school closed in 2019 after failing to reverse financial problems caused by low enrolment, and was sold to developers. The school was an early victim of a problem now sweeping across Taiwan’s educational institutions: decades of declining births mean there are no longer enough students to fill classrooms.

Like much of east Asia, Taiwan is struggling to achieve the “replacement rate” needed to maintain a stable population. That rate is 2.1 babies per woman, but Taiwan hasn’t hit that number since the mid-80s. In 2023, the rate was 0.865.

Demographers and governments fear looming economic crises caused by a growing elderly population without enough working taxpayers to support them. In Taiwan, the impact of shrinking generations has already started affecting military recruitment, and now is flowing on to enrolments at schools and universities. Continue reading

China is testing more driverless cars than any other country

Source: NYT (6/13/24)
China Is Testing More Driverless Cars Than Any Other Country
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Assisted driving systems and robot taxis are becoming more popular with government help, as cities designate large areas for testing on public roads.
By 

A Baidu driverless robot taxi with nobody in the front seats traveling in Wuhan, China, last month.Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

The world’s largest experiment in driverless cars is underway on the busy streets of Wuhan, a city in central China with 11 million people, 4.5 million cars, eight-lane expressways and towering bridges over the muddy waters of the Yangtze River.

A fleet of 500 taxis navigated by computers, often with no safety drivers in them for backup, buzz around. The company that operates them, the tech giant Baidu, said last month that it would add a further 1,000 of the so-called robot taxis in Wuhan.

Across China, 16 or more cities have allowed companies to test driverless vehicles on public roads, and at least 19 Chinese automakers and their suppliers are competing to establish global leadership in the field. No other country is moving as aggressively.

The government is providing the companies significant help. In addition to cities designating on-road testing areas for robot taxis, censors are limiting online discussion of safety incidents and crashes to restrain public fears about the nascent technology.

Surveys by J.D. Power, an automotive consulting firm, found that Chinese drivers are more willing than Americans to trust computers to guide their cars. Continue reading

Gaokao security

Source: SCMP (6/11/24)
Why armed China police and extraordinary security surround key national gaokao exam
Teachers are kept under watch in secure facilities as they draft national test and exam papers are printed in designated prisons
By Alice Yan in Shanghai

China’s most important examination for the future career prospects of students is subject to unprecedented levels of security. The Post explains why. Photo: SCMP composite/Baidu/Sohu

Mainland social media has hailed the fact that test papers for China’s most important examination – known on the mainland as gaokao – are drafted under strict security and printed in designated prisons.

The university entrance examination enjoys the highest security classification in the country to ensure fairness and justice for every person who takes the test, the state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Success or failure in the test is widely recognised as being a key factor in deciding a young person’s future.

More than 13 million people, the majority of whom were secondary school graduates, took the examination this year, the highest number in China’s history, making the competition more intense than before.

The importance of the landmark exam is underlined by the measures in place to protect its integrity. Continue reading

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

Chengyu for Xi Jinping’s New Era

Scroll down for Part 2.–Kirk Denton

Source: China Digital Times (5/14/24)
Chengyu for Xi Jinping’s New Era (Part 1)
By 

Xi Jinping’s New Era has inspired the creation of a host of “new chengyu: idiomatic, often four-character, literary expressions that are the kernel of a larger tale. The following New Era chengyu are all references to infamous incidents that have taken place within the last calendar year. Consistent with much of CDT’s 2024 coverage, the chengyu introduced below center on economic pain: impoverished farmers, distressed creditors, penny-pinching landlords—even cash-strapped police departments. Many also focus on official malfeasance: petty despotism, official greed, and wanton enforcement of the law. Without further ado, here are the five entries that make up Part 1 of CDT’s “New Era chengyu” compilation:

Yunhao Blocks the Plow (云浩止耕, Yúnhào zhǐ gēng)

Ji Doesn’t Know the Law (纪不懂法, Jì bù dǒng fǎ)

Repaying Debt With Prison Time (以刑化债, yǐ xíng huà zhài)

Calculating Damages by Lantern-Light (提灯定损, tídēng dìng sǔn)

Fishing the High Seas (远洋捕捞, yuǎnyáng bǔlāo) [Chinese]

Yunhao Blocks the Plow (云浩止耕, Yúnhào zhǐ gēng)

In April of this year, an undercover reporting team captured a shocking incident in Inner Mongolia’s Kailu County: village cadres blocking villagers from plowing fields on the eve of the make-or-break planting season. The reporters were with the state-run outlet Reports on China’s Three Rural Issues (中国三农发布, Zhōngguó sānnóng fābù) and they had traveled to Kailu after receiving a mass of complaints from villagers that officials were prohibiting them from planting—unless the villagers agreed to pay extortionate fees. The provenance of the dispute dates back two decades, when a nearly 1,000 acre (5600 mu) parcel of land was contracted out to villagers on a thirty-year lease. Since then, through diligent irrigation and stewardship, the land has been transformed from a palace where “even rabbits wouldn’t shit” to a viable corn field. But this year, local cadres were demanding that villagers pay an extra 200 yuan per mu tax before being allowed to plant—a fee that villagers insisted was illegal. The undercover state-media reporters captured footage of cadres blocking plows, accusing villagers of illegally occupying public land, and chiding them that calling the police was useless. One official, the village deputy Party secretary Ji Yunhao, was particularly egregious in his conduct, threatening villagers, “So what if 110 [China’s 911 emergency hot-line number] officers arrive? The higher-ups ordered me to collect money, so that’s what I’m going to do.” Ji was relieved of his position after the video attracted public criticism. However, there has been no official statement on Ji’s seemingly falsified resume, which came to light after his bullying behavior went viral. Continue reading

An army of eyes and ears

Source: NYT (5/25/24)
Xi Jinping’s Recipe for Total Control: An Army of Eyes and Ears
Reviving a Mao-era surveillance campaign, the authorities are tracking residents, schoolchildren and businesses to forestall any potential unrest.
By Vivian Wang (Reporting from Beijing)

Two people dressed in black, with red accents like a hat and armband, stand on a sidewalk looking at a city street.

Volunteers from a neighborhood committee keeping watch on a Beijing street in April. “Stability maintenance” — a catchall term for containing social problems and silencing dissent — has increasingly become a preoccupation in China under Xi Jinping. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The wall in the police station was covered in sheets of paper, one for every building in the sprawling Beijing apartment complex. Each sheet was further broken down by unit, with names, phone numbers and other information on the residents.

Perhaps the most important detail, though, was how each unit was color-coded. Green meant trustworthy. Yellow, needing attention. Orange required “strict control.”

A police officer inspected the wall. Then he leaned forward to mark a third-floor apartment in yellow. The residents in that unit changed often, and therefore were “high risk,” his note said. He would follow up on them later.

“I’ve built a system to address hidden dangers in my jurisdiction,” the officer said, in a video by the local government that praised his work as a model of innovative policing.

A police chart showed the details of one building’s residents. The New York Times blurred personal information. Credit…Tongzhou Propaganda Department via Douyin

This is the kind of local governance that China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, wants: more visible, more invasive, always on the lookout for real or perceived threats. Officers patrol apartment buildings listening for feuding neighbors. Officials recruit retirees playing chess outdoors as extra eyes and ears. In the workplace, employers are required to appoint “safety consultants” who report regularly to the police. 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

Women quietly find a powerful voice

Source: NYT (5/6/24)
In China, Ruled by Men, Women Quietly Find a Powerful Voice
Women in Shanghai gather in bars, salons and bookstores to reclaim their identities as the country’s leader calls for China to adopt a “childbearing culture.”
By Alexandra Stevenson

Du Wen sits on a motorbike parked outside a bar at night, with another women sitting on a chair next to her.

Du Wen at Her, the bar she started last year, in Shanghai. “I think everyone living in this city seems to have reached this stage that they want to explore more about the power of women,” she said. Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

In bars tucked away in alleys and at salons and bookstores around Shanghai, women are debating their place in a country where men make the laws.

Some wore wedding gowns to take public vows of commitment to themselves. Others gathered to watch films made by women about women. The bookish flocked to female bookshops to read titles like “The Woman Destroyed” and “Living a Feminist Life.”

Women in Shanghai, and some of China’s other biggest cities, are negotiating the fragile terms of public expression at a politically precarious moment. China’s ruling Communist Party has identified feminism as a threat to its authority. Female rights activists have been jailed. Concerns about harassment and violence against women are ignored or outright silenced.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has diminished the role of women at work and in public office. There are no female members of Mr. Xi’s inner circle or the Politburo, the executive policymaking body. He has invoked more traditional roles for women, as caretakers and mothers, in planning a new “childbearing culture” to address a shrinking population.

But groups of women around China are quietly reclaiming their own identities. Many are from a generation that grew up with more freedom than their mothers. Women in Shanghai, profoundly shaken by a two-month Covid lockdown in 2022, are being driven by a need to build community. 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

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

Young people are giving up on saving for retirement

Source: NYT (4/5/24)
China’s Young People Are Giving Up on Saving for Retirement
Citing a rapidly aging society, difficult job market and uncertainty about the future, some young people are rejecting the idea of saving for old age.
By Alexandra Stevenson and Siyi Zhao (Alexandra Stevenson reported from Shanghai and Beijing, and Siyi Zhao from Seoul)

A man stretches his legs on a playground exercise ladder as children play nearby next to their parents.

China’s rapidly shifting demographics are adding pressure to its underfunded pension system, a problem made worse because of the country’s low retirement age. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

China wants young people to put money away for retirement. Tao Swift, an unemployed 30-year-old, is not interested in hearing it.

“Retire with a pension?” he asked. “I don’t hold much hope that I can definitely get my hands on it.”

Mr. Tao, who lives in the southern city of Chengdu, is not alone in thinking this way. On social media forums and among friends, young people are questioning whether to save for old age. Some are opting out, citing the shortage of jobs, low pay and their ambivalence about the future.

Their skepticism betrays the enormous challenge for China’s leaders. Over less than three decades, the country has changed from a young society to an aging one. Seven straight years of plummeting births are pushing up the day when there will be fewer people working than retirees.

The fast-changing demographic profile is putting tremendous strain on China’s existing underfunded pension system. An average retirement age of 54, among the lowest in the world, has made this stress more acute. A grinding economic slowdown, the worst since China embraced capitalism four decades ago, is leaving many people out of work or with little room to put money aside.

China has passed a demographic Rubicon just as many other countries have before it. The problem of underfunded retirement programs is not unique to China, either. But China’s demographic and economic troubles are colliding, shaking confidence in the pension system. Continue reading

Murder plot behind Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’

Source: NYT (4/1/24)
The Bizarre Chinese Murder Plot Behind Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Lin Qi, a billionaire who helped produce the science-fiction hit, was poisoned to death by a disgruntled executive. His attacker now faces the death penalty.
By 

A man in a black sweater and white T-shirt sits at a conference room desk behind a silver laptop.

Lin Qi spent millions to buy the rights to a Chinese science-fiction novel called “The Three-Body Problem” but was murdered before it launched as a television series. Credit…Zhang Zhi/Red Star News/Visual China Group, via Getty Images

Lin Qi was a billionaire with a dream. The video game tycoon had wanted to turn one of China’s most famous science-fiction novels, “The Three-Body Problem,” into a global hit. He had started working with Netflix and the creators of the HBO series “Game of Thrones” to bring the alien invasion saga to international audiences.

But Mr. Lin did not live to see “3 Body Problem” premiere on Netflix last month, drawing millions of viewers.

He was poisoned to death in Shanghai in 2020, at age 39, by a disgruntled colleague, in a killing that riveted the country’s tech and video-gaming circles where he had been a prominent rising star. That colleague, Xu Yao, a 43-year-old former executive in Mr. Lin’s company, was last month sentenced to death for murder by a court in Shanghai, which called his actions “extremely despicable.”

The court has made few specific details public, but Mr. Lin’s killing was, as a Chinese news outlet put it, “as bizarre as a Hollywood blockbuster.” Chinese media reports, citing sources in his company and court documents, have described a tale of deadly corporate ambition and rivalry with a macabre edge. Sidelined at work, Mr. Xu reportedly exacted vengeance with meticulous planning, including by testing poisons on small animals in a makeshift lab. (He not only killed Mr. Lin, but also poisoned his own replacement.)

Mr. Lin had spent millions of dollars in 2014 buying up copyrights and licenses connected to the original Chinese science-fiction book, “The Three-Body Problem,” and two others in a trilogy written by the Chinese author Liu Cixin. “The Three-Body Problem” tells the story of an engineer, called upon by the Chinese authorities to look into a spate of suicides by scientists, who discovers an extraterrestrial plot. Mr. Lin had wanted to build a franchise of global television shows and films akin to “Star Wars” and centered on the novels. Continue reading