Politburo member? No better than your typical Chinese bureaucrat

Posted: December 5th, 2010 | Tags: , | No Comments »

News that China would be amenable to a reunification of the Korean peninsula was one of the surprise revelations this week from WikiLeak’s so-called #cablegate – the release of 250,000 confidential dispatches from American embassies worldwide. Likewise, the absurd story that a Politburo member ordered the Google China hacking after finding personal criticism of him available from the company. I suspect the average person would get on with their life. This man – one of nine responsible for governing 1.3 billion people – instead orders state apparatus to break into Google. Read the rest of this entry »

How to bring 3D into your living room

Posted: November 18th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The following guide was written while on a work placement in Guardian Money. It was spiked but some of the information might come in handy in the run-up to Christmas so I have reposted it here. All information and prices were correct at the time of this blog post.

Thanks to 3dstereopics of Flickr

The UK faces another telly revolution as the 3D bandwagon begins to pick up speed. Content in the new format is already available by satellite, cable or disc and the BBC has plans to film parts of the 2012 London Olympics in 3D for future airing. And for budding James Camerons, digital camcorders capable of capturing 3D film are now on the market. Getting your living room ready for 3D is not cheap though and there are myriad options so here is our guide to what you need and the costs involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Social media helps chart China’s land violence

Posted: October 30th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In the absence of an independent media, citizen journalism and social media have thrived in China largely out of necessity. Chinese people have used the internet to report on civil and human rights abuses ignored by mainstream media. Now an anonymous Chinese blogger called Bloody Map has collated incidents of illegal land grabs and property demolitions and plotted them on Google Maps.

The project, called 血房地图 (xuefang ditu or “Bloody Map”), charts often-violent evictions and demolitions throughout China. Read the rest of this entry »

People’s protest a sad reminder of what China lacks

Posted: October 10th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Ties between China and Japan wax and wane like the course of the sun during the day. Brief spats end as quickly as they begin and promises of better cooperation espoused by both parties leave everyone wondering what the fuss was about anyway. But the current bitterness over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands puts the relationship perilously close to a sunset.

Hysteria – almost all from the Chinese side – shows little sign of abating. The official rancour though masks an ugly side to the dispute. Anti-Japanese protests are sweeping Chinese cities, fuelled by ordinary citizens proud of their country’s achievements and still resentful of Japan’s wartime past. Read the rest of this entry »

What does Liu Xiaobo’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize mean for China?

Posted: October 8th, 2010 | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Nobel Committee in Oslo today awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). Previous winners from Asia have included Burma political activist Aung San Suu Kyi and South Korea president Kim Dae-jung.

Liu was favourite to receive the award ever since an Irish bookmaker began paying out on him days before the announcement. The human rights activist has served two out of an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring Charter 08, a petition that called for sweeping political reform. When Liu’s odds-on status emerged, the Chinese government began applying pressure on the Nobel organisation by accusing it of hypocrisy. Awarding the prize to Liu would contravene Alfred Nobel’s founding principles, it argued. But as time ticked down towards the announcement, the government’s tone became aggressive. It warned Norway that their thriving relationship would be threatened if Liu won the prize. Read the rest of this entry »

Not dead

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | | No Comments »

My blog is on hiatus for a while as I am working on my dissertation. I plan to spruce up this website and start writing again in early September.

Xinhua official lays bare agency’s journalism as PR

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

The New York Times has a story up about China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua and its careful management of media. The story provides context for two important but disparate moments in China’s recent history: the launching of a man into space in 2003 and the violent riots that gripped Xinjiang in 2009.

It’s been well established that the Chinese government takes an extremely considered approach in cultivating its image. It manipulates outside perceptions through carefully choreographed news events. For instance, when Yang Liwei blasted off in the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft in 2003 on his way to becoming China’s first man in space, the government imposed a news blackout to ensure it controlled media coverage of the event. Nothing would be allowed to derail the government’s intended message of a monumental mission executed flawlessly, including a little blood:

In a lecture he gave to a group of journalism students last month, a top official at Xinhua, the state news agency, said that the mission was not so picture-perfect. The official, Xia Lin, described how a design flaw had exposed the astronaut to excessive G-force pressure during re-entry, splitting his lip and drenching his face in blood. Startled but undaunted by Mr. Yang’s appearance, the workers quickly mopped up the blood, strapped him back in his seat and shut the door. Then, with the cameras rolling, the cabin door swung open again, revealing an unblemished moment of triumph for all the world to see.

The same sort of choreography took place five years later when Zhai Zigang performed the country’s first spacewalk. “I’m feeling quite well,” he said as he clambered out of Shenzhou 7. He then waved a little Chinese flag around in a show of outer space patriotism. To be fair, every country with a space program uses it as a source of national pride and achievement, and China is no different.

The Xinhua official also discussed the riots that erupted in Ürümqi, capital of north-western province Xinjiang. When the riots took place in July 2009, very little information left Ürümqi. During the rioting and days after, the government locked down the city and its internet access has only recently been fully restored.

Mr. Xia’s journalism lecture, accompanied by a PowerPoint demonstration, included other examples of Xinhua’s handiwork, most notably coverage of ethnic rioting in the far west of China last summer that left nearly 200 people dead.

According to the transcript, Mr. Xia explained how Xinhua concealed the true horror of the unrest, during which the victims were mostly Han Chinese, for fear that it would set off violence beyond Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region. Uighur rioters burned bus passengers alive, he told the class, and they raped women and decapitated children.

“Under those circumstances, it would have exacerbated ethnic conflicts if more photos were released,” he said.

That last point is particularly interesting because China’s international image was pummelled by media coverage during the riots. Given what I wrote above about the government’s obsession with its image at home and abroad, it could have easily released or leaked the photos as a propaganda tool. But it realised their publication would probably inflame anti-Ugyhr sentiments among Han Chinese in Ürümqi and worsen the rioting. Consequently Xinhua chose discretion to maintain the status quo. A University of California professor quoted by the Times sums up this choice the best:

“He’s basically telling these students that journalism in China is a big show, it’s fabricated, but in the end it’s all justified for the higher purpose of stability,” Mr. Xiao said.

Sichuan chef survives live eel lodged in rectum

Posted: May 1st, 2010 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Sichuan Province is famous for its hot and spicy cuisine so it is probably normal for diners with delicate palates to have sudden bowel movement. But what you don’t expect is bowel movement caused by something else inside your body. A 59-year-old chef from Zigong City had to have emergency surgery after friends inserted a live eel into his rectum while he was passed out drunk. Shanghaiist has the disturbing story:

The 59-year-old man, a chef, was reportedly taken to a Sichuan hospital complaining of abdominal pain, dehydration and a great deal of anal bleeding. He was soon diagnosed as being in a severe state of shock.

Doctors were mystified as to the cause, and obtained permission from his family to undertake an exploratory laparotomy. Cutting open his innards, they discovered a 50cm long Asian swamp eel lodged in his rectum.

Though dead, the eel had apparently already wrought havoc on his innards, biting its way through his intestines prior to dying. Internal bleeding and infection rapidly set in.

He was reported to have eaten a lot of eel the previous day, but otherwise doctors had no idea how the creature had got there. His condition quickly worsened.

He lingered for 10 days in intensive care but eventually succumbed to the injuries and sepsis.

The likely cause was eventually established – he had apparently been drinking with friends, and had passed out. His friends had decided it would be amusing to insert a live eel into his anus whilst he was comatose.

Police have reportedly begun an investigation.

The translation from the original article has some errors. The chef survived and spent ten days recovering after surgery to remove the dead eel. There’s a quote from presumably hospital staff that states: “If nothing else, in another two or three days, the patient can be transferred to general ward from the ICU.” What is crazier is the chef waited five ways before going to hospital. Asian swamp eels are not exactly small – here’s a video of one feeding.

David Cameron: we need nukes because of China

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

They steal our jobs, hack our computers and pollute the atmosphere. Now the Chinese are going to nuke us. That’s according to Conservative Party leader David Cameron who implied China could be a nuclear threat to the UK in the future.

Let me answer that directly because I think it’s important. I think the most important duty of any government, anyone who wants to be Prime Minister of this country, is to protect and defend our United Kingdom. And are we really happy to say that we’d give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran, we can’t be certain of the future in China, we don’t know exactly what our world will look like? I say we should always have the ultimate protection of our independent nuclear deterrent. That’s why we voted to make sure that happened.

One wonders whether Cameron relaxed before the debate by watching Tomorrow Never Dies – a James Bond flick about war brewing between the UK and China. This isn’t the first time Cameron has characterised China as a danger either – his debate remark was a repeat of what was said at a London brewery on April 12:

Iran? Sure. But China? Someone’s been reading Tom Clancy novels before bedtime. The UK’s relationship with China has admittedly been tense since the Copenhagen summit ended in ignominy last year but there is little to substantiate Cameron’s worry that China could threaten the UK in the future. Perhaps he believes that China will undergo a USSR-style disintegration, leading to the theft and trade of its nuclear arsenal. But if so, how will nuclear missiles on submarines act as a deterrent against bombs being smuggled into the country – surely the only way to use an illicitly acquired warhead? Whatever Cameron’s reasoning, opposition parties were quick to condemn his remark. British foreign secretary David Miliband tweeted afterwards:

For DC to lump China in same bracket as Iran re deterrent is an insult to fellow member of the UNSC. He shd withdraw.

He also felt sufficiently outraged by Cameron’s Yellow Peril fear to write a blog post:

For David Cameron to put China in the same bracket as Iran is completely irresponsible. China is our partner in tackling nuclear proliferation, and as their role at President Obama’s nuclear summit this week shows, in assuring nuclear security.

If this was a slip of the tongue then this is bad enough but David Cameron should apologise to China immediately.

Alistair Campbell, former government press secretary and now Gordon Brown’s debate coach, was a little less concerned about placating China:

William Hague will need to calm down the Chinese after Cameron put them into answer to a question about using nukes

@JamesDunningGeo Chinese don’t like Opposition parties so they were listening!

Best not to gloat too much Campbell – there are prominent Labour politicians who have cultivated relationships with the Chinese too.

But Cameron’s remark is odd in light of the 30-year history between the Conservative Party and China. It was during Margaret Thatcher’s government that the UK negotiated and formalised the agreement to hand Hong Kong back to the mainland in 1997. Consequently, Thatcher and by association the Tories are well-regarded in China. In fact, Thatcher was the only woman to appear in a newspaper poll of influential foreigners that helped shape China during 60 years of Communist Party rule.

South China Morning Post confuses jailed activist for China’s leader

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Bilingual readers of the South China Morning Post might have raised an eyebrow or two at its front page story yesterday. The English language newspaper splashed on the presence of China President Hu Jintao at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, which begins tomorrow. Chinese officials confirmed their participation only a week before the event but securing their visit was seen as crucial by the US. Relations between the two countries have been cold in recent months so the visit was an opportunity for the White House to both re-engage the Chinese leadership and present a multilateral front against the Iranian nuclear programme. The story clearly merited its front page placement.

All well and good then – except the SCMP mistakenly referred to Hu Jintao as a well-known Chinese dissident. In this picture (click it for a zoom in), the Chinese characters next to Hu’s name on the first line are 胡佳. This is the Chinese name for Hu Jia, an award-winning pro-democracy activist currently serving a three-and-a-half jail sentence.

Hu Jia’s Wikipedia entry states:

Hu Jia is an activist and dissident in the People’s Republic of China. His work has focused on the Chinese democracy movement, Chinese environmentalist movement, and HIV/AIDS in the People’s Republic of China.

The paper took the unusual step of recalling that day’s copies and blacked out Hu Jia in copies sold in Beijing. It issued a terse front page correction the next day, saying:

“The South China Morning Post sincerely apologizes for the Chinese name translation error for President Hu Jintao in yesterday’s newspaper.”

A spokesperson later blamed foreign staff for the mistake, stating that copy was read by a proof-reader who did not understand Chinese.

Hong Kong and international media immediately highlighted the SCMP’s gaffe. But I doubt there will be any reaction from the mainland government. It is unlikely the mistake was intentional – unless the paper’s editorial staff were railing against their owner’s perceived pro-Beijing stance. And any comment about standards slipping might also be premature. After all, this is a paper won eight of 16 categories at the 2009 Society of Publishers in Asia Awards for local newspapers, including investigative journalism, newspaper design and best journalist.