Sunday, 5 December 2010

The fight against censorship takes a hit because diplomats don't have the good sense to self-censor.

I wonder if Animal Farm is still on the High School syllabus in Australia. If not then it should be! I remember reading it in ... It must have been in Year 9 or 10. It was one of the books that I found quite easy to read and very entertaining at that age but certainly that and the other compulsory reading material Lord of the Flies have shaped the way I see the world. That might seem a little disturbing but the fact of the matter is that power corrupts regardless of how good the intentions are and to begin with. 

Bringing this back to living in China for the last decade, I have learned to accept certain things. Freedom of speech is something that (at least in today's China) is contained within your circle of friends. You can say anything to people you trust but as the occasional blogger, anything that goes into the public domain must be controlled. The rule of thumb that I go by is that the internet is forever and you can't take back what you put out there. So only post up what you would want your children, your wife, your parents, your grandparents or your colleagues to hear.

Not everybody knows this though. They put things online that are embarrassing to themselves as well as to the people around them and this provides an endless stream of entertainment for me. Opening up an internet browser for me is like having my own personal interactive version of Candid Camera. I learned this lesson of self-censorship a long time ago that extends to my work and personal life. Never put in writing anything that you don't want on your permanent record.

What has this got to do with Animal Farm? When you mix a destructive sense of superiority with a an inability to self-censor, you have some of the current problems the US and other nations are facing with the ongoing Wikileaks situation. Blame is being directed at Julian Assange for leaking private cables from consulate staff about other nations and leaders. Great conversation for the pub, for a private meeting, for Jon Stewart but in an official cable to the US Department of State? Show some self control. I hate to tell you but you have been called out. Your girlfriend has just been through your mobile phone and found SMS messages to your friends telling them how much of a pig she is and no amount of finger pointing, begging and lying on the floor between the aisles of Walmart and stomping your feet is going to mask the fact that you told your friends that your girlfriend is a pig and was stupid enough to leave evidence. This stupidity is not born of a lack of intellect but a misplaced sense of superiority that the World's Superpower should be making these judgemental remarks about another nation in official diplomatic communications.

In the word's of George Orwell, "Four legs good. Two legs BETTER." is what you were thinking.

A  final note before I get back to keeping my mouth shut is that irony is a wonderful and powerful thing. More powerful than all of us and I hope that more than just I see the irony in that the nation that has criticised internet censorship in the media is now systematically shutting down wikileaks. No doubt they will success but at the price of looking like a complete bunch of hypocrites the next time the Chinese decide to block another site like Facebook or Youtube. Good work guys! You've hobbled yourself against the war against free speech by not having the good sense to self-censor.

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Not enough Social and too much Media in Social Media

Not much more than a couple of years ago I discovered the joys of social media. Facebook, Twitter and a host of other social networking sites became my link to the world outside my study. I read blogs and participated in discussion but I have recently found this dissatisfying. To the point where I have been asking myself the eternal question. Why is it so?

At first I thought it was because we grew apart. "It's not you, it's me." I said to my computer, not wanting to hurts its feelings but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the demise of my relationship with the avatarred masses was not just me. The very nature of social media has changed and, in my opinion, it is not unlike being trapped in a loveless relationship. At first it was exploratory. Everything was exciting and new. We were open and sharing information about each other. I found out about the single mothers and their lives, I learned about students and scholars both in China and around the world. I watch as journalists became social media evangelists and heavy metal guitarists become web entrepreneurs. We held hands, we shared experiences and took long leisurely strolls along moonlit beaches and listens to the waves crash against the rocks as the cool ocean breeze blew past our semi-naked bodies like long endless scarves of silk. We met whenever we could, via my browser, via Twhirl, via Orsiso, via Tweetdeck with each new upgrade getting easier to use and more intuitive. In the meantime, SNS's became mainstream. Celebrities, politicians, media groups, even Presidents and Princesses joined in this wonderful new world of connectivity.

But as time went on, we not only grew up but we grew apart. More distant. You no longer told me what you loved, what you felt, what you had for lunch. You just told me the news. Our conversations ceased to be personal and intimate but have become about what is in the newspaper. We used to snuggle up in bed all day and just chat about whatever was on our mind whilst looking deeply into each others eyes. Now we just talk about the weather, the latest cause, the plight of bonusless investment bankers. It has reached the point where I might as well just pick up a newspaper or download the FT app on my iPad because there is nothing social about social networks.
I don't need you to keep in touch with my real friends, I have their email addresses and phone numbers. I don't need a relationship with CNN, I can just turn on the TV. The reason I need you is to have faux friendships with perfect strangers and to have intellectual relationships with people from different walks of life.

So I am giving this relationship another chance, because I believe in commitment, but for this relationship to work we must open up. Tell me what you really feel, not just what is fit to print. I want to know you and in return, I will let you know me. I will tell you my deepest darkest fears and in the end we will all be better for it because we will learn again that we are not that unalike.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

An Incomplete Book Review: My Favourite Wife by Tony Parsons

I am not a big reader and most of the books that I am currently reading are next to the toilet in my ensuite. At the moment, next to my throne is a Fredrick Forsyth paperback, a half read sermon by Richard Dawkins and half a dozen copies of That's Shanghai that serves as a reference library whenever my wife asks me what we are doing for dinner.

The depicted red paperback however is with me at all times. It is rare that I get long stretches time to read so I read on the Metro or walking home because I literally cannot put it down. This is not my first experience with Tony Parsons. A couple of years back I read One For My Baby which I barely recall. What I did recall was that it was that I did actually finish reading it. For someone with an attention span as short as mine, it means that it was good enough to keep me interested for the duration of the book.

I picked up My Favourite Wife at Changi Airport on the way home after a two week business trip and I was at that stage eager to get home to see my wife and kids. I troll through the usual suspense and spy novels that I usually read but I settled on this one for two reasons. The first reason was that it had something to do with China and was written by someone whom I already knew and secondly it was just a little more expensive than the usual paperbacks. I figured there must be a reason this book cost SGD3.00 more than the other books.

When I opened the book and started reading, I was hooked. It described the first impressions of Shanghai and I could immediately relate. Ten years ago I arrived in Shanghai with one suitcase, was picked up by a limo and taken to the Grand Hyatt and the impressions of what I saw almost matched exactly Tony's words. The Flash-Gordonesque skyline of Pudong juxtaposed against the colonial architecture of the western bank of the Huangpu River equally left me in a confused and awestricken state that the protagonist Bill Holden must have felt.

My impressions of many of the descriptions of Shanghai also caused me to flash back to my first impressions of well know places in Shanghai. His reference to M on the Bund, the now quiet Maoming Lu and the reference to fictional bars BB's and Suzy Too that made me immediately think of Malones and Judy's Too. Even down to the apartment complex Paradise Mansion where Bill lived which reminds me of Ambassy Court (to be honest it could be one of many apartment complexes that are actually in Gubei but Ambassy Court was the first one that came to mind first) to the International Family Hospital on Xianxia Lu (actually called United Family Hospital in reality) I get the feeling that the book was written from experience rather than just observation. The descriptions actually feel like it was written by someone who had been shadowing me for the last ten years and decided to dramatise my own experiences.

The story itself explores something that I can imagine would have weighed on the mind of many an expat that may have spent time away from their family. Through stories told to me by other expatriate friends and from my own observations, the angst that is experienced by Bill having his wife and child back at home while he was carving out his future in the wild wild East was written in such as way that allows you to see Shanghai in the light of someone who actually acted on his temptations and impulses.

The book also provides an accurate depiction of other parts of China including Shenzhen and Guilin that I had also visited in the past so overall as a great story about the expatriate experience but also an insight into the perception of China and Shanghai from a local perspective. One of the memorable parts was from another character in the book Nancy Deng, a local Chinese lawyer working in Bill's firm over dinner on the streets of Shenzhen where she says two things that I find very insightful about China:

"In China the important men hate everyone's corruption but their own."

and referring to herself;

"I have no big dreams... I know I am unimportant. But I think perhaps my country's future is yet to be decided. It doesn't matter what anyone says. Nothing is inevitable in China."

So for anyone who is a foreigner living in China, or Chinese who have experienced the rest of the world, Tony Parsons' My Favourite Wife is recommended reading. A recommendation from someone who usually has a hard time finishing a book.

Another review I found about the book can be found here and provides a bit more about the plot.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Letter from a Chinese netizen to US President Barack Obama

starI know I have been just reposting other peoples stuff but I think this is worth putting into the blogospheric echo chamber. 

Fool's Mountain: Blogging for China
11 March 2010 2:55 AM
by Bill

Letter from a Chinese netizen to US President Barack Obama

(Bi Yantao’s Note: Massive thanks to Dr. Sheng-Wei Wang, President of China-U.S. Friendship Exchange, Inc., for guiding me to this letter. In fact, this is the second letter I have came across from Chinese citizens to US President Barack Obama on US’s arms sale to Taiwan. Another letter is written by Mr. Tian Zhongguo, a Chinese veteran. I will not feel surprised if some Western people brush aside this letter by asserting it is masterminded by the Chinese authorities. )

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve heard that you care for the voices of web users. I’ve also noticed that you requested a direct dialogue with web users to answer their questions and concerns during your visit to China last November. Your attention to web users has encouraged me to write to you. I am an ordinary web user from China. What I want to talk to you about is the US’ arms sale to Taiwan, which has raised a heated discussion on the Internet in China. I sincerely hope this letter reaches you, and that you would be able to hear the voice of an ordinary Chinese web user and his wishes for reunification and peace and his nation.

In your speech to Chinese youth in Shanghai you said, “the strength of the 21st century is not a zero-sum game, the success of a country to another country should not sacrifice the cost. This is why we do not seek to contain China’s rise. On the contrary, we welcome to the international community, China, as a strong, prosperous and successful member.” You have called for “changes” during your election campaign; so I think your words on “not seek to contain China’s rise” shows your sincerity in making some “changes” in Sino-US relations. The first thing that comes to mind is that the US government under you, unlike your predecessors, will not annoy China on China’s reunification and the Taiwan Question, as the Chinese nationals really appreciate the current peaceful cross-Straits relationship.

However, two months after you left Shanghai, your promise “not seek to contain China’s rise” and “my administration fully supports a one-China policy” is weirdly mingled with your decision to sell arms to Taiwan. I am not sure if I have interpreted you wrongly. Either you have not changed, or you have changed so fast that I do not even have the time to picture what great peace and happiness your promise would bring to the people across the Taiwan Straits. Of course, I hope I am not wrong in understanding your promise, and you are not changing fast. Because a president who brings hope into the White House, is not expected to “change nothing” or “change too fast”.

I enjoyed your speech and admired your speaking skills. I really wish you could meet the Chinese youth and the Chinese web users, and explain whether your promise to them or to China has changed. But I’d like to add a note here. We do not need lame explanations like “arms sale to Taiwan is good for security across the Taiwan Straits”, because it is an insult to our intelligence if we believe in such excuses. It is a simple fact that for the separatists, the more advanced their equipments is, the more they would want to split from the nation. In the American Civil War, the southern rebels were even crazier in their fight with the Federal government under Abraham Lincoln after they received military support from Britain.

Mr President, when you first put your hands on the Bible that Abraham Lincoln once used and vowed to be the 44th president of the United States, many people called you “Lincoln the second”. There are even people in media counting the similarities between you and Lincoln: you are both from an ordinary family, and both have brilliant talent and eloquence. You also said you are a fan of Lincoln in your autobiography, The Audacity of Hope. But no matter how many similarities you and Abraham Lincoln might have, I, as an ordinary Chinese, think you have one deep-rooted difference. The difference is that President Lincoln had suffered from the splitting pains of his nation, and bore hatred for the external power that intervened to split his nation; but you did not.

Mr President, you are a knowledgeable man. You must have remembered the Trent Affair during the American Civil War, where President Lincoln bit the bullet and met the unreasonable demands of the British to release the special envoys the southern rebels sent to Britain. However, during that time, Lincoln told his people “that was a pretty bitter pill to swallow, but I contented myself with believing that England’s triumph in the matter would be short-lived, and that after ending our war successfully we could if we wished call England to account for the embarrassments she had inflicted upon us.”

Mr. President, do you know that you are compelling Chinese people to swallow a bitter pill by selling arms to Taiwan and interfering in the reunification of China? Has it occurred to you that the leaders in China might have spoken the same words your idol, Abraham Lincoln once said, that “we wished (to) call America to account for the embarrassments she had inflicted upon us”?

Yours sincerely,
A Chinese web user from
Feb. 2, 2010

Chinese Edition:
English Edition:

This post was submitted by Bill.

Letters Opinion

m:+86 13816698728

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

ChinaDaily News: Hackers harass government sites

Hackers harass government sites

(Li Xinzhu)
Updated: 2010-01-21 10:04

SHANGHAI: Government websites have seen a dramatic spike in hacking attacks, a report by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology shows.

At least 178 government websites had their content modified by hackers between Jan 4 and Jan 10, five times more than the previous week, the ministry said on its website.

The number of other domestic websites having content altered by hackers rose 30 percent during the same period.

The report was compiled by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team, which warned of the "serious situation".

An insecure Internet environment could bring enormous risk to the online community, and website maintenance should be carried out frequently, said Shi Xiaohong, an engineer with Qihu360 security center, a popular domestic network security company.

The website of the Center of Agri-food Quality & Safety was attacked on Jan 3 when an advertisement was inserted, Qihu360 reported on its website.

An employee of the website who did not want to be named confirmed the attack, and told China Daily they were not sure when they were hacked.

"Our website server is already out of date, that's why we are upgrading it and we assume that the hacking happened at the same time," the employee said.

"We cleared the malicious plug-in immediately after we discovered it."

Compared with commercial websites, government portals often do not have enough security capacity to protect themselves from the attack, said Shi.

"Security checks as well as maintenance of government websites are not carried out in time in most cases, and they often do not install the latest patches immediately after system bugs have been discovered" Shi added.

"Many small government websites were constructed by external Web design companies and many of these don't carry out any maintenance afterwards. Hackers don't have to attack the government's server but they can use bugs in the system to hack into the websites."

IT giant Microsoft also released a security advisory on its website on Jan 14, claiming that there is a bug called 0day for its Internet Explorer users and attacks utilizing this bug have already spread online.

Network experts have advised users to install the latest patches to avoid possible attacks.

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Friday, 8 January 2010

ChinaDaily News: Edited out

Edited out

(By Hu Yongqi and Wang Shanshan)
Updated: 2010-01-07 11:48

The 21 reporters and editors who say they are owed six months' pay by News Magazine pose with copies in their office on Dec 31, the day they were sacked.Staff at a Beijing labor bureau received some unexpected visitors on Tuesday. Alongside the migrant workers who converge daily at the offices in Dongcheng district in the run-up to Spring Festival was a newsroom of journalists all protesting their dismissals and demanding withheld wages.

All 21 disgruntled reporters and editors were half way through an editorial brainstorm at News Magazine, a Beijing-based current affairs publication, on Dec 31 when their boss suddenly entered and told them their services would not be required after the New Year holidays.

The newsroom was to be taken over by Hu Shuli, former editor-in-chief of Caijing Magazine, and more than 70 journalists who also quit the reputed publication on Nov 9, staff was told.

Hu is credited with building Caijing into a massively successful financial news journal but walked out after allegedly arguing with the magazine's investors.

She agreed to take over editorial control of News Magazine, known to Chinese readers as Xin Shiji Zhoukan, on Dec 29. But it means that as one group of journalists finds a new home, another is now at the center of a labor dispute.

Industry insiders say the move came after Hu's company, Caixin Media, which she set up in early December, failed to get approval to start a new magazine due to China's "difficult" licensing process.

"We were all excited Hu would be our new editor-in-chief, but we didn't know we would be tossed out two days later without prior warning," said news editor Tang Yong, 28. "We will do everything to defend our legal rights."

Most of the 21 journalists dismissed have not received their basic salaries for two months or payments for stories they wrote in the last six months, he said.

Miao Shubin, former editor-in-chief of News Magazine and the man who told staff about the changes on Dec 31, is now the publication's deputy editor-in-chief under Hu.

Tang said all 21 journalists were told to stop discussing potential topics for the next issue. What followed was 14 hours of negotiations over defaulted wages, story payments, social security funds and housing allowances. The staff demanded compensation but Miao refused to sign any proposal, said Tang.

The magazine is published three times a month - 1st, 11th and 21st - but this month an extra issue produced by Hu's team was released on Monday. It was rebranded as Century Weekly and it did not carry the names of the 21 editorial members sacked.

Miao and Caixin Media said reporters could keep working at the magazine if they agreed to serve a three-month probation, according to Tang. All refused and instead posted a joint press release on a blog on Jan 3 to "claim their justified rights".

Tang said the magazine owes them two months' wages and story payments for the last six to eight months. He revealed he alone was owed more than 20,000 yuan ($3,000) in story payments. "My colleagues and I just want what we rightfully deserve," he said.

News Magazine was founded in 1988 and earned a reputation for hard-hitting reporting after it covered China's first AIDS case. It has an average readership of about 150,000 nationwide.

However, in recent years the business has struggled, and as it already has a license with the China Institute for Reform and Development in Haikou, capital of Hainan province, it was a prime target for anyone looking to take over a magazine, said industry insiders.

A company must have a license from the government to print magazines, but as licenses are rare commodities in China they fetch high prices in a fiercely competitive market.

The labor dispute resulting from the editorial takeover at News Magazine is becoming a "normal" occurrence these days due to the high demand for permits, said Hu Yong, a professor of communication at Peking University.

"Anything can happen in such a market. The licensing system lays the foundation for this behavior," he said. "Magazine licenses are issued and required by the government, and they are very difficult to get. The demand is much higher than the supply and those who have them can sell at high prices."

China now has more than 9,500 licensed periodicals, but the authorities seldom issue new permits due to a strict policy employed for the last several years, said a senior magazine editor in Beijing who asked to remain anonymous.

Hu Shuli and her loyal crew have been busily looking for a magazine license since leaving Caijing Magazine. Meanwhile, the owners of News Magazine were reportedly looking to

offload the struggling venture and its valuable publication permit.

"The magazine was negotiating with Caixin Media and other media companies in December. One side was eager to sell its license, the other desperate to get one," said Professor Hu. "In such haste, the rights of the laborers could have been ignored."

The deal between Caixin Media and News Magazine, in cooperation with the China Institute for Reform and Development, was finalized on Dec 29.

Caixin Media was founded on Dec 10 last year with a registered capital of 100 million yuan, according to the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce website, and is involved in production and distribution of advertisements, animation, television programs and documentaries, as well as financial consultancy.

Hu Shuli was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, Zhang Lihui, a spokeswoman for Caixin Media, told China Daily the company has had no involvement in the ongoing labor dispute at News Magazine.

"We are bothered about the criticism but Caixin Media has not invested any money into News Magazine. Hu and our reporters are simply employed to work for the magazine," she said. "We have nothing to do with the magazine's disputes or its decisions."

However, with the arrival of new reporters and editors, the style of the magazine will change from current affairs to financial news, she said. "Caixin Media is willing to employ the magazine's current reporters if both sides can agree on the conditions of employment. Our door is always open. It is still a news magazine but there will be an adjustment in the weight of different kinds of news - financial or social," said Zhang.

She admitted the company had discussed putting the current reporting staff on three-month probation. "We talked about the possibility before but didn't reach a decision. I don't know how word got out," said Zhang.

An anonymous source within Caixin Media told China Daily: "The issue is fairly simple. We would like to hire all 21 but a few of them did not want that and incited the others to push for higher compensation. If still not satisfied, they can appeal to the courts and we will follow the law."

For the 21 reporters and editors axed by News Magazine, Hu Shuli is a hero. Some even credit her with inspiring them to start a career in journalism.

Tang Yong said none of them blame Hu for the labor dispute, but he insisted he would not stay to work with the new editorial crew. "We have different styles. We are too grassroots for them," he said.

The reporters and editors complained in the highly publicized blog post on Jan 3 that leaders of News Magazine did not consider their existing employees in deciding to bring in Hu and her team.

Miao, the former editor-in-chief, did not even bring a seal to sign the compensation agreements when he met with staff and their lawyer, Li Xin, on Jan 4, said Tang. At the time, Miao agreed to pay the delayed money but insisted on signing agreements with employees one by one. The staff refused.

Tang explained that employees usually signed one-year contracts that expired at the end of the year. However, all 21 journalists signed agreements with the magazine on Nov 24 last year stating both sides were willing to renew their contracts, he said. Renewed terms were never offered.

Li, the lawyer acting for the axed staff, said his clients' priority is to claim the defaulted wages. They are also demanding a 25-percent premium on their delayed payments.

However, if they did indeed sign agreements on the intention to renew their contracts, News Magazine will find it hard to get out of them, said Liao Mingtao, a lawyer with M & A Law Firm in Shanghai.

"It may be called an agreement instead of a contract, but it should be looked on as a contract if it had necessary clauses and two sides signed it," he said. "Even when there is a change in the majority stockholder of the company, the enforcement of a labor contract should not be affected."

If agreements are in place, the 21 journalists should not have to go through three-month probation; if not, their employer had no responsibility to inform them beforehand about the layoffs, said Liao.

"Even if they didn't have agreements and their contracts expired, they should be compensated if they wanted new contracts and their employers didn't want to give them," he said. "The compensation is like that. If you have worked somewhere for two years, you receive two times the averaged salary of the last 12 months."

As negotiations are ongoing, though, it looks like Tang and his colleagues will be making the news, rather than reporting it, for some time yet.

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