Monthly Archives: September 2013

Translation: New Round of Reforms has Already Begun with PetroChina Corruption Crackdown

天则经济研究所理事长秋风

Below is my translation of an article by Qiu Feng, the head of research at the Unirule Institute of Economics. The article appeared in the Economic Observer (H/T Sinocism), and discusses how the recent corruption crackdown on PetroChina is really the first move in major economic reforms to come. Qiu gives a very harsh judgment on economic reforms under Hu-Wen (saying they stalled and then even regressed), but he seems optimistic about what Xi and Li will push at the 3rd Plenum and beyond.

As always, corrections and suggestions on the translation welcome (especially for 政商___).

New Round of Reforms has Already Begun with PetroChina Corruption Crackdown

In terms of scope and depth, the storm surrounding PetroChina has been a rare sight, and one that is not only about fighting corruption. The PetroChina storm also has a deeper political significance: it’s clearing the way for reform, or at least economic reform.

Since around the time that China entered the WTO, reform has stagnated and even been reversed. This has been most famously characterized by the widely-recognized phenomenon of “the state advances, the private sector retreats.” Taking some of the major examples, we’ve seen private oil producers in northern Shaanxi driven out by the government, and private coal producers in Shanxi forced into mergers by state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Land that originally belonged to urban residents and farmers has become a government asset operated by municipal investment corporations. In all this we see the broadened scope of “the state advances, the private sector retreats”.

In general, for the past ten years SOEs have established, consolidated and even expanded their monopoly position in the crucial areas of the national economy. These SOEs have worked closely with foreign capital and seriously squeezed the space in which private enterprises can exist. On the whole, for the past ten years China’s private sector has been going through tough times, and scope has been shrinking. This is all to say that China hasn’t just failed to make progress on marketization, it’s actually been regressing.

The example of PetroChina has shown that these monopoly SOEs have sufficient strength to block any reforms to the system. For example, in these past ten years the oil industry has completely ossified and no progress has been made on marketization. Monopoly enterprises like PetroChina can even block industrial restructuring. Looking at the development of shale gas, PetroChina has adopted a strategy of obstruction and become a major roadblock to the industry’s development.

The current system allows PetroChina to have this kind of strength. It is a corporation, but one enormous in scale and with deep pockets. It can wantonly use it’s financial power to pursue the economic goals it sets as well as political goals. PetroChina is also a quasi-political organization: it’s top management either were once officials, will go on to become officials or have close relationships with officials. Because of this, the organization is half-political. In the current political structure, there isn’t anyone who is able to supervise it. Having Jiang Jiemin serve as the director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) means that SASAC will act as the protector, not regulator, of these SOEs. One can imagine, if Jiang Jiemin hadn’t been unmasked, PetroChina’s monopoly position would have continued to grow stronger.

This is all to say that PetroChina and other monopoly SOEs are still a kind of business-government hybrid super corporation. It enjoys government powers but has the flexibility of a corporation. In the economic realm it can do what it wants, and it can pin down government departments such that they can only protect its interests and are powerless to regulate it. It rides atop the government and runs free in the markets (它凌驾于政府之上,活跃于市场之中), feasting on market profits and government privileges. The environment that these enterprises operate in is different from the pre-reform environment for SOEs in the 1990s. At that time, SOEs were central to economic activity and economic plans were the main mechanism driving the economy. These enterprises couldn’t avoid falling on hard times. But after undergoing the SOE reform in the 1990s, the whole economic environment experienced major changes: the market became the mechanism driving the economy and private enterprises were central to economic activity. The remaining SOEs like PetroChina were concentrated in resource industries, and there they enjoyed the surplus from private enterprises and obtained monopoly profits (通过分享民营企业的剩余而获得垄断利润). The good days for these companies derive from market mechanisms, but their super-sized scope seriously hinders marketization.

If China wants to take the next steps for reform and to push forward marketization, it must break the stronghold of these super corporations. The storm surrounding the corruption crackdown at PetroChina is different from the Chen Tonghai case of years past: the ripples are wider and the digging deeper. The Chen Tonghai case was merely an anti-corruption effort, but the meaning of the PetroChina case is clearly not limited to anti-corruption. Of course it’s important to catch a few corrupt officials, but the deeper meaning lies in striking these monopoly enterprises, in clearing the way for systemic reforms. Included in this is destroying the monopolies in related industries.

After the storm had passed, on September 6th Premier Li Keqiang chaired an executive meeting of the State Council in order to hear a third party report on the implementation of policies regarding private investment. The research discussed measures to effectively guide and stimulate dynamic and healthy development. Li Keqiang pointed out that the primary task in stimulating dynamic private investment is the deepening of reform. This requires eliminating the systemic conditions and obstacles that shackle private capital and limit its dynamism. Reform has two dimensions: first is the effective breaking of monopolized industries, second is the creation of an environment that allows for fair competition by private capital.

However, at the present moment the difficulty in breaking these monopolies will be extremely difficult. First, the benefits enjoyed by these monopolies are huge, and every monopolized state industry has a firmly established political network. During the systemic reforms of the 1980s that broke up monopolies, the main obstacles came from outdated ideologies. From the 1990s through today, opposition to reforms is completely based in entrenched interests. Corruption and other economic crimes are the produced by these entrenched interests (就是利益生产、输送和转移的表征).

Because of this, anti-corruption efforts are a necessary prerequisite to pushing forward reform. Corruption is abhorrent in itself, but behind corruption lie greedy desires and business-government networks that seek to grab these benefits and to protect their monopolies (腐败的背后则是为了攫取利益而维护垄断的贪婪欲望和政商网络). Only high-intensity anti-corruption efforts have a chance of tearing down these enmeshed business-government networks, and thus creating an opening for reforms.

From this angle, we can better understand the agenda of the late August meeting of the Party’s political bureau. The meeting considered and approved “Building a robust corruption prevention and punishment system, work plan for 2013-2017”. At the same time it decided that at the 18th session’s third plenum the main agenda item would be researching the far-reaching deepening of reform. That is to say, this round of anti-corruption efforts will keep the pressure on over the ong term, and will also open the way for long-term, far-reaching and deep reforms. You could say that the anti-corruption storm surround PetroChina has already pulled open the curtain on a new round of systemic reform.

(The author is Chairman of research at the Unirule Institute of Economics)

Matricide and the Cultural Revolution: the story of Zhang Hongbing

Photo Credit: Duowei News
Photo Credit: Duowei News

“I’m proud of having a mother with the spirit of independent thought. I’m willing to dissect my own humble soul out in the open in front of everyone, and to openly repent for my mother, who I denounced and sent to her wrongful death.” – Zhang Hongbing

This is the story of Zhang Hongbing, a man who turned his own mother over to the authorities to be shot for her counter-revolutionary ideas. It’s a story of collective madness, family betrayal and individual repentance. The post below is largely paraphrased and in some places translated (denoted in block quotes) from interviews Zhang has given to Chinese media outlets, particularly 新民周刊. I give the outline of events below and a brief comment of my own at the end.

Zhang Tiefu (张铁夫) was born in Anhui Province in 1953, making him 13 at the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution. He became one of Mao’s infamous Red Guards and decided to change his name to Zhang Hongbing (张红兵,one syllable short of 红卫兵, Red Guards). His mother was named Fang Zhongmou. She was an independent-minded woman who worked in the leadership of the Guzhen County People’s Hospital in Anhui Province.

In 1970, a debate about the Cultural Revolution between Zhang, his mother and his father turned into an argument about several beloved leaders purged by Mao:

“It happened on the night January 13th, 1970. My family was debating the The Great Cultural Revolution when my mother said ‘I want to overturn the Liu Shaoqi verdict! Why is Mao Zedong creating a cult of personality? Everywhere you look are his portraits.’

As an upstanding Red Guard I immediately launched into a criticism of my mother. My dad spoke up and said ‘From this moment forth, we are drawing a clear line between ourselves and your counter-revolutionary behavior. You are the enemy and we’re going to struggle against you! Take the poison that you just spewed and right it all out!’ When my mother had finished writing on the piece of paper, my father took it and left the house. He didn’t say what he was going to do but I realized that he might be going to the county government to report the case.”

Worried that his father wasn’t going to follow through, Zhong Hongbing himself wrote a letter denouncing his mother and delivered it to the local authorities. The letter was titled “Exposing the heinous crimes of counter-revolutionary Fang Zhongmou and it concluded with these sentences:

“Down with counter-revolutionary Fang Zhongmou! Shoot Fang Zhongmou!”

Zhang told the Xinmin Weekly that after his father left, his mother went around the house collecting pictures of Mao and burning them. The police and local military leaders came to their home, kicking his mother until she fell to her knees, and then tying her four limbs together. Zhang remembers hearing a crunching sound when they wrenched her shoulder.

Weeks later Zhang Hongbing watched as his mother was hauled up on a public stage and ordered to confess her crime. She held her head high in silence, and was then dragged across the stage and shot.

Zhang Hongbing second from the right, his father third from the right and his mother third from the left.
Zhang Hongbing second from the right, his father third from the right and his mother third from the left.

Zhang described how he felt in the aftermath:

“My head was filled with a ‘boom’ sound, as if it were exploding. I felt like I’d been hollowed out, like my whole body wasn’t my own. This was the first time in my life I’d felt this bizarre and extreme pain, the kind of feeling you just can’t bear. These feelings lasted about a month. It was the worst and most unbearable feeling, and it made me want to die.”

To honor Zhang Hongbing’s revolutionary zeal, his school ordered the painting of a portrait showing Zhang Hongbing holding Mao’s little red book and pointing at the viewer. The school posted the portrait on the wall for education and inspiration. He and his father asked local authorities to write them a letter affirming their revolutionary activities and guaranteeing that their past association with a counter-revolutionary would not harm them in any future political movements. Later on, Zhang Hongbing would go on to post a “Big Character Poster” accusing his father of misdeeds. In 1980, four years after Mao’s death, Fang Zhongmou’s judgment was officially overturned and the label of counterrevolutionary was revoked.

Beginning in 1979 Zhang Hongbing began having recurring dreams about his mother:

“There were many many times when I dreamed that I was searching, not knowing why my mother left home. Then she’d suddenly arrive home from I don’t know where — she hadn’t died, she still looked as young as before she was arrested. I get down on knees and clutch her two hands. I’m full of things I want to say but I’m afraid she’ll disappear again. I can only say the most important things: ‘Mom! This unfilial child is on his knees to apologize to you! I was really terrible to you! Don’t leave! This house can’t go on without you!’ But she never says anything back. I’ve met her in so many dreams but she’s never said anything to me. I believe this is her way of punishing me. Then, I don’t know when, but she quietly disappears again. I’m left isolated and helpless and all I can do is sob and hit myself. It’s at that point that I realize I’m lying in bed, choking back sobs with my face covered in tears.”

Zhang Hongbing went on to become a prominent lawyer, starting a blog in 2005 to discuss legal cases. In 2009 he began the process of openly confessing what he and his father did to his mother, and using the media and the tools of the legal profession to try to make amends. Along with giving numerous interviews laying bare his own guilt, Zhang has also applied and even sued the local authorities to have his mother’s grave site listed as a historical relic. At a public hearing on the matter, he proclaimed, “I should become an example of what not to do. I hope that this historical tragedy won’t be forgotten.”

Looking at what he did and what he’s doing to right that wrong, Zhang Hongbing described it this way:

“I’m proud of having a mother with the spirit of independent thought. I’m willing to dissect my own humble soul out in the open in front of everyone, and to openly repent for my mother who I denounced and sent to her wrongful death. At the same time I want to declare: the responsibility borne by me and my family members rests with us, and society’s responsibility rests with society (属于包括我在内的家庭成员的责任归我们自己,属于社会的责任归社会). The two can’t be discussed as one, and we especially can’t use the former to replace the latter. I hope to draw society’s attention and to start a discussion and debate. I want to make people reflect: why is it that on mainland China we saw the tragedy of husbands denouncing their wives, of children turning their mothers in to die horrible deaths? How can we make sure this tragedy never happens again?”

A brief note from Matt:

Some might be asking what this kind of story is doing on a site calling itself “An Optimist’s Guide to China”. I found this story really shook me on first read, with parts of it bringing me to tears. In a lot of ways it’s showcasing some of the ugliest and most horrific moments in modern Chinese history. Personally, I’m utterly fascinated and horrified by the Cultural Revolution. Recently I’ve been doing lots of reflection on what role the collective memory of the event should play in China today, and I’ve been really inspired by the recent wave of people coming forward to apologize and repent. Zhang Hongbing is the most extreme example of that trend. I can’t help but be moved by watching an older Chinese man lay bare his deepest regrets. It runs counter to so much of the culture of saving face, eating bitterness and avoiding sensitive topics. These people could have laid low and rode out their old age, but instead they took action to clear their own conscience and to challenge society to look at it’s conscience. To me, that’s reason enough for optimism.

Selections from the Chinese:

One interesting section that I didn’t include:

张 红兵回忆说,当时听到母亲说这样的话,他非常震惊。“在我的印象中,一贯紧跟党走、工作积极、待人亲切的母亲竟能说出这些话!顿时,她在我心目中的形象 完全改变——她不是我的母亲,而是一个张着血盆大口、青面獠牙的阶级敌人!”张红兵说,“在我的脑海里、融化到我的血液中、落实到我的行动上的是红歌—— ‘爹亲娘亲不如毛主席亲’、‘毛泽东思想是革命的宝,谁要是反对它,谁就是我们的敌人’,这是一种条件反射。我担心父亲没有真的去报案,作为毛泽东的一名 忠实的红卫兵,为了证明自己在与母亲这个‘阶级敌人’进行斗争的过程中‘站稳了无产阶级革命立场’,我马上写了封检举信,当晚就把信和我的红卫兵胸章一 起,塞进和我家同住县卫生科大院的军代表宿舍的门缝里。”

Denouncing his mother:

“事 情发生在1970年2月13日夜晚,我们家人在一块辩论‘文化大革命’,母亲说:‘我就是要为刘少奇翻案!毛泽东为什么搞个人崇拜,到处都是他的 像!’作为毛泽东的忠实红卫兵,我立即投入了对母亲的批判斗争,这个时候我父亲张月升说:‘从现在起,我们就坚决和你这个坚持反动立场的现行反革命分子划 清界线,你就是敌人,我们斗争你!你把你刚放的毒,全部写出来!’母亲写完一张纸以后,父亲就拿着这张纸,出了家门,他没有告诉我出去干什么,我意识到: 父亲可能去县有关部门报案。”

The dream:

1979年11月开始,张红 兵常常梦到母亲。他告诉《新民周刊》:“有很多、很多次,在睡梦中,经过我在无数次寻觅,在不知道母亲为了 什么原因离家多年以后,她忽然从我不知道的一个地方回到家里——她没有死,还像临刑前那样年轻。我跪在地上,紧紧地拉着母亲的双手,有一肚子的话想述说, 但又害怕她再次消失,只能说出最要紧的几句话。我大声地说,妈妈!不孝儿我给您下跪道歉了!儿子我真的对不起您!您别走,我们这个家庭真的离不开您啊!但 是,妈妈没有回答我。在与母亲相会的许多梦境里,她从来不和我说话。我相信,这是她对我的一种惩罚。不知什么时候,她真的又悄然离我而去;我所能做的,只 是孤立无援、绝望无助地捶胸顿足、嚎啕大哭。这时,我才发现自己躺在床上哽咽,泪流满面……”

Translation: an apology by Chen Xiaolu for events during the Cultural Revolution

Apology group picChen Xiaolu (center, standing) w/ classmates and teachers to whom he apologized

Below is my translation of a blog post by Chen Xiaolu(陈小鲁) for his actions at Beijing Number Eight Middle School during the Cultural Revolution. Chen Xiaolu is a retired princeling diplomat and son of Chen Yi (陈毅), a decorated military leader and diplomat during the revolution and the early years of the Communist government.

The blog post itself isn’t so much a direct apology, but actually Chen Xiaolu asking his classmates from that era if he can represent them in apologizing to teachers, school administrators and students who were persecuted during that era. It was originally posted on a small blog run by and for classmates from that year at Beijing Number Eight Middle School (北京八中老三届). His request was widely supported by classmates and he made the apology in person to teachers (see picture above).

That request for permission and the subsequent meeting drew media attention because of Chen Xiaolu’s princeling status. The original post has more than 90,000 reads and elicited thousands of comments on the site and on Sina Weibo.

At the beginning of his post he references the posting of pictures from their school during the Cultural Revolution, many showing teachers being struggled against. He later said the posting of those pictures is what caused him to come forward and offer to apologize. I’ve pasted some of those pictures below the text.

Below is my translation. As always, comments and suggestions for improvement welcome.

Alumni Association President Chen Xiaolu: Feedback on “Painful memories of events at Beijing Number Eight Middle School”

    I want to thank our classmate for preserving these precious photographs, and thank Huang Jian for putting them out in public. That period is difficult to look back upon, but those are days that we’ll have to face our whole lives. As a student leader at number eight middle school and the director of the school’s Revolutionary Committee, I bear direct responsibility for the denouncing and criticism of school leaders, some teachers and students. In the early stages of the movement, I actively rebelled and organized the denouncements of school leaders. Later on when I served as the director of the school’s Revolutionary Committee, I wasn’t brave enough to stop the inhumane persecutions, because I feared I would be accused of protecting the old ways and being counter-revolutionary. It was a terrifying time.

Today I want to use the internet to express my sincere apology to these people. Number Eight Middle School’s third session student union is currently organizing a party for school leaders and teachers. I hope I can represent those who have hurt these school leaders, teachers and students in expressing our deepest apologies to them. I want to ask, will our classmates authorize me to make this kind of apology?

    Recently you’ve seen in society a trend of trying to reverse the verdict on the Cultural Revolution. I believe that how one interprets the Cultural Revolution is matter of individual freedom, but unconstitutional and inhumane violations of human rights shouldn’t be repeated in any form in China! If it is repeated, we can’t even begin to speak of the happiness of the people, the strengthening of the nation, or the Chinese Dream! My official apology comes too late, but for the purification of the soul, the progress of society, the future of the nation, one must make this kind of apology. Without reflection, how can we speak of progress!

-Chen Xiaolu

School Assembly

陈小鲁会长对《发生在北京八中不堪回首的一幕》的反馈

   感谢这位同学保存了这些珍贵的照片,感谢黄坚在8月18日将这些照片公布于众,那是一段不堪回首,但要终身面对的日子。我作为当时八中学生领袖和校革委会 主任,对校领导和一些老师、同学被批斗,被劳改负有直接责任。在运动初期我积极造反,组织批斗过校领导,后来作为校革委会主任,又没有勇气制止违反人道主 义的迫害行为,因为害怕被人说成老保,说成反对文革,那是个令人恐惧的年代。今天我想借网络向他们表达我真诚的道歉,八中老三届同学会正在安排一次与老校领导和老师的聚会,我希望能代表曾经伤害过老校领导、老师和同学的老三届校友向他们郑重道歉,不知道校友们是否授权我做这样一个道歉?目前社会上出现了一股为文革翻案的思潮,我认为如何解读文革是个人的自由,但是违反宪法,侵犯人权的非人道主义行为不应该以任何形式在中国重演!否则谈不上人民幸福,民族富强和中国梦!我的正式道歉太迟了,但是为了灵魂的净化,为了社会的进步,为了民族的未来,必须做这样道歉,没有反思,谈何进步!

        陈小鲁

teacher dig

Teachers digging

teacher buckets

Expat Blues and its Musical Cure: Frank Turner

FrankTurnerReadingSunPA280811

Below I’m pasting a piece I wrote a few months back on expat attitudes and the joy of seizing China by the _____. I originally posted it on Beijing Cream back in March in anticipation of a coming Frank Turner concert, and now as I get back into a Frank Turner vibe I found myself looking back and seeing that it’s right in line with the mission of this blog. Hope you enjoy.

Expat Blues and its Musical Cure

Normal expat whining is grating and graceless, but let’s face it: it has its roots in something that we can all identify with.

China takes a lot out of you, demands a lot of you at times. Sure, there are those skating by with an absurd income-to-work ratio, people to whom China is a paid vacation punctuated by occasional encounters with the indigenous people who for some reason haven’t learned to speak English. But in any expat experience, there are certain unavoidable facts of life: you’re often out of your comfort zone, ostracized or just generally unable to make things happen. If the cultural chasm doesn’t get you, it’s virtually guaranteed that the crush of 19 million people out to get theirs will. It’s that post-Line-1-at-6-pm decompression, or the why-can’t-they-understand-my-broken-ass-Mandarin desperation. Having just been told that the document you absolute need stamped is 办不了, having been unceremoniously spit out of a bus operating as a human flesh compactor, you’re faced with a choice: retreat or charge ahead?

The retreat is easy: curse the infuriating illogic, the unspeakable injustice, the utter total bullshit of this subway/government department/taxi driver. Go home to a spacious apartment equipped with filters for both pollution and unfamiliar culture. Send out a status update so all your friends in America will see how totally crazy your life in China is, pop in a pirated DVD and call it a night.

That’s an understandable response to a frustrating situation, but it’s not the only one.

Instead, you can choose to charge. Embrace the crowd, wallow in the chaos and say yes to everything around you. That rush hour subway ride transforms itself into a sea-of-humanity surf session when you just let go and roll with it. The cab driver isn’t your enemy, he’s actually a normal dude, and one who can tell you a little about what it’s like to work 12 hours a day, 350 days a year. Even trips into the belly of the bureaucratic beast are more satire than tragedy if you take that second to retell the story to yourself in the right way.

It takes more physical and emotional energy, but when you throw yourself into this madhouse, the rewards start rolling in. Smiles get returned, seats are given up, aunties stuff an extra piece of chicken into your jidan guanbing, and you’re making friends, really wonderful friends. When you open yourself up to China, this country does the same to you.

Who is Frank Turner and what does he have to do with any of this? He’s a musician, a guy from England, and his music is pure unadulterated fuel for this charge. He usually gets categorized as something ranging from post-punk to (insert qualifying adjective)-folk, but the theme that runs through it all is one giant YES to life. He’ll get pretty literal and explicit with his lyrical message, but it’s done in such unabashed, no-nonsense earnestness that you’re on his side from the very beginning.

When you’re teetering on that edge between charge and retreat, wandering dangerously close to just saying “fuck this” and climbing back into your shell, he’s there to kick you off your ass and say, “Go do something worth remembering!”

Frank’s music is about embracing this world, this place, these people. And most of all it’s a reminder of a life lesson that China reaffirms every day: you get back exactly what you put out.

Translation: “Clear up the Atmosphere in Cyberspace”, Seeking Truth

This translation takes on an interesting piece in Seeking Truth (求是). I enjoyed reading it because it because it presents a challenge to foreign observers: how can one seriously analyze arguments about the need for social control in China while still taking into account the duplicitous motivations behind the argument? Essentially, can you engage an argument seriously when you believe that it was made by someone with ulterior motives? I think this piece is a good example because it raises many valid points about the dangers of rumor-mongering on the Chinese internet, but at the same time you can see a certain political correctness that makes you doubt the motivations. Give it a read and tell me what you think. As always comments and suggestions on the translation are appreciated.

                Clear up the Atmosphere in Cyberspace

                                                by Wang Shi (石平, pseudonym?)

    The other day, the Supreme People’s Court and the the Supreme People’s Procuratorate published “Explanation of certain questions related to the suitable legal punishments for using information networks to carry out slander”. This is an important initiative to perfect our country’s laws and regulations for managing information networks. It means relying on the law to mete out punishment for criminals on these networks and protecting citizens’ legal rights and interests. It’s an important initiative for safeguarding social order and the national interest, and it’s in accordance with the will of the people!

    We are currently in the “internet age”. The breakneck development of the internet has brought with it revolutionary changes to the methods of generating and spreading public opinion. It has reshaped the nature of public opinion and the media ecosystem, and influenced every aspect of society to a surprising breadth and depth.

      The Chinese internet is the world’s most bustling and noisy network, and the network most dominated by public opinion (最舆论化的网络). As a platform for public opinion, the internet clearly has positive and productive uses. First, it reflects social sentiment and public opinion. The Party and the government can use the information and discussion on the internet to understand the situation in society, the sentiments of the masses, and netizens’ take on public events. The second use is to initiate supervision through public opinion. Some corruption cases are first exposed on the internet and the inappropriate action and behavior of some government officials is subjected to searing criticism on the net. Some policies and initiatives take a beating from netizens, and many a domineering and high and mighty bully of the people is pulled down and swept away by online criticism. Caught in this awkward spot, officials of all levels have been taught to respect the will of the people and take public opinion seriously. The third use is greater participation in public affairs. Netizens use the internet to follow major national issues, to discuss national plans and the people’s livelihood, to participate in politics, and to cultivate the consciousness of citizens. The fourth use is the soothing of negative sentiment. Every society will have a portion of its people dissatisfied with things. These feelings of dissatisfaction need to be vented through some outlet, and in terms of social stability venting these feelings is always better than repressing them. In reality, venting these feelings is a way of soothing them and the internet offers an avenue for this venting.

    Following along with the development of our country, society’s capacity for accepting diverse opinions and ideologies has grown a great deal. Allowing a comparatively free and open environment for public opinion on the internet helps it act as a supplement to mainstream public opinion, and this is both beneficial and constructive. But internet rumors have become very popular, and chaotic phenomena like infringing on people’s rights is seriously damaging this constructive aspect (网络侵权等乱象纷呈,严重损害了这种建设性). Based on a study of 1,000 popular discussions on Weibo, the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s “2013 Report on the Development of Chinese New Media”  found that over ⅓ of the discussion was rumors.

    The 2009 “7-5” incident in Urumqi, Xinjiang was caused by foreign ethnic separatist forces who used the internet to create and spread false information. They first obtained foreign media footage of a 17-year-old girl who had been stoned to death in Iraq for violating religious rules, then said it was a Uyghur girl in Guangdong who had been beaten to death by Han Chinese. They then disseminated the video on the Chinese internet and through their comments incited fanatical ethnic hatreds. In the end, it lead to violent criminal activity that killed 197 people, injured 1,803 people and created vast economic and property damage. From this event you can see the threat to social stability and national security created by online rumors.

    Some people have compared today’s internet to the “big character posters” from the time of the Cultural Revolution. Those who experienced the Cultural Revolution will remember the big character posters: the confusion of right and wrong, the framing of innocent people, the besieging of people with hate-filled words, the tearing down and the invectives (批倒批臭)… these were truly what the big character posters were about. Now the initiation of human flesh searches, the spreading of untrue information and the creation of rumors that slander someone’s reputation, these are already all too common sights. On top of this, the “internet big character posters” are created by anonymous posters, blown up by groups, disseminated quickly and gain wider coverage. They are undoubtedly a lethal force (让人百口莫辩的杀伤力).The National People’s Congress and members of the Political Consultative Congress have cried out: “Don’t let the big character posters be revived on the internet!”

    In recent years the use of the internet for improper commercial competition has aroused people’s interest. In this area we’ve seen the creation of false information to defame competitors and the phony promotion of one’s own products for online sales. We’ve even seen the emergence of hired guns, companies or individuals that will conduct an “online waterwar”, or “internet public relations companies” that specialize in the business of creating or deleting posts (甚至出现 了受雇于商家或个人专司宣传造势以牟利的“网络水军”、“网络公关公司”,专做收费发帖或删帖的生意). “Online corruption” has floated up to the surface. It floods the internet with fake commercial propaganda, disturbs the market order and harms consumer rights and interests.

    What’s more, some people use the openness and freedom of cyberspace to wantonly defame and attack the Party and the government. The internet is filled with all kinds of negative news and critical voices: whatever the government does is bad, whatever it says is wrong. One item of negative news will be hot for a few days, or it might keep coming back again and again. But with positive news, it’ll either never make it up there or it’ll flash for a moment and be gone, disappearing like smoke and clouds. The more anti-mainstream, anti-authority, anti-tradition a voice is, the more easily it will win acclaim. Rational, gentle, positive voices are quickly shouted down and bombed into submission. Actually, in reality the performance of the Chinese government has won widespread acclaim; even western public opinion finds it hard to deny this. This is the ultimate truth, and overzealous criticism of the government violates this truth.

    All of this has turned the internet into a dirty and chaotic place. All sectors of society have made their distaste for the chaos on the internet known: governance according to law is the wish of the people!

    It must be pointed out, some of Weibo’s “Big V’s” cannot disclaim responsibility for the chaos on the net. Weibo’s transmission mechanism has a very noteworthy characteristic: while the right to disseminate information is dispersed, this also intensifies the centralization of dissemination (就是在分散传播权利的同时,也在加剧传播的集权化).

One’s fan-count and repost-count decide one’s influence on Weibo. In theory, every weibo user has the right to speak out and the right to spread information, but in reality this right is extremely unequal. The Big V’s with their many fans spread their message like the splitting of an atom: one spreads it to ten, ten spread it to 100, 100 spread it to a trillion. In a short period of time it can create a cluster propagation effect (集群传播效应). Weibo fans also display a very strong “Matthew Effect”: the more fans someone has the more quickly their fan base will grow. In contrast, an independent Weibo user without fans to repost their material will see their words quickly evaporate without a trace, like a drop of water falling into the ocean. You can easily imagine the danger if the internet’s Big V’s become rumor mongers.

    Even greater responsibility for the chaos on the internet has to be borne by websites, especially the main portal websites. Commercial websites have taken up the “traffic is king” operating concept. Some websites rely on news that diverges from the official discourse to increase traffic to their site. Going beyond a website’s media function has caused some commercial portal sites to in fact become information portal sites. Actually, offering up e-commerce and practical information services is the correct business of commercial portal web sites. Over-developing their media functions is a misallocation of resources. Compared with English-language web sites, the development of Chinese-language sites offering practical information has been very weak. Lots of people searching for practical information either won’t find it or will find low-quality information. There is still plenty of room for development and display of one’s skills in offering up high-quality usefull information. The great success of Taobao and other e-commerce sites gives a great example. We hope that commercial sites develop well, but they need to choose the correct road. The internet’s media value and public opinion functions will need to rely more on specialized news sites.

At the national publicity and ideology work conference, Secretary Xi’s important remarks pointed out: “We are in the midst of a great struggle that contains many new historical characteristics. The challenges and difficulties we face are unprecedented. We must persevere in consolidating public opinion in line with mainstream ideology, we must carry forward the main melody (坚持巩固壮大主流思想舆论,弘扬主旋律), spread positive energy, and arouse the great strength of a whole society forging ahead in unity.” Bringing the chaos of the internet under control, restraining the negative energy, clearing up the atmosphere of cyberspace and filling the internet with positive energy, are all connected to the struggle in the ideological arena, connected to the consolidation of public opinion in line with mainstream ideology, connected to stable national reform and development; it’s something that we must do correctly. The internet isn’t outside the law. Our country already has more than forty standardized documents explaining the laws and regulations of internet management. The existing problems are of not following the law, of not enforcing the law strictly. In dealing with new developments on the internet, it’s also necessary to strengthen internet law, perfect internet regulations, and make legal management of the internet the new norm.

The whole Party and all of society should take very seriously the struggle over public opinion on the net, and steadfastly take up position on the battlefield of internet public opinion. We will not sit idly and watch as hostile forces use the internet to “topple China”. We don’t fear what others will say about us. To put it plainly, if the negative comments on the internet can be reduced, if the cyberspace atmosphere can be cleared up, this can only be good for our country’s social development, social stability, and the people’s happiness.

Translation: “Eradicate the Breeding Ground of Rumors” by Wang Erping

Below is my translation of an article published by Wang Erping in “Seeking Truth” titled “Eradicate the Breeding Ground of Rumors”. The author is a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Psychology. It’s a refreshing look at what really leads to the spread of rumors online: lack of information about events and lack of credibility for the government. It’s good to hear one Chinese academic standing up and talking sense while the crackdown on Big V’s continues online. The piece isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s sound and I think somewhat brave in these times.

As always, I appreciate any comments on the translation (the link to the original is above).

Eradicate the Breeding Ground of Rumors

by Wang Erping (王二平, Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Psychology)

Rumors are an ancient social-psychological phenomenon. From ancient times to the present day, regardless of whether it was in the midst of a struggle for power or a war, rumors have always been a low-cost and high-casualty weapon. Rumors are often seen in social life, where they’re aimed at public individuals and public incidents; those resulting from public emergencies are especially common. How are rumors born and spread? How can we eradicate the breeding ground of rumors? This is a new topic worth our attention.

The basic social processes for creating and spreading rumors

Uncertainty is the necessary condition for the breeding of rumors. Rumors are always half-connected to some uncertainty surrounding a real situation. For example, information about an incident is incomplete, or there’s no way to predict the impact of the incident or foresee the evolution of events. In short, rumors originate from the importance of and lack of clarity about an event. In the first place, the incident must be connected to the material interests of people, or it must arouse their interest, and as a result it becomes important to understand the incident. Secondly, the available information about the incident is incomplete. People are trying and failing to understand events, so they feel anxiety. This kind of anxiety drives people to speculate and make all kinds of guesses. Some of these guesses will be treated by others as fact, spread further, and thus they become a rumors.

As an example, take a town in which a radiation plant has an accident. After local officials visit the plant for inspections, they decide that because there is no damage to the environment, there’s no need to publicize information about the event. This means that the local people won’t be aware of information related to the incident. One month after the incident, a fire occurs near the radiation plant, and this leads to rumors that the fire was caused by nuclear leakage, or even that there’s been a nuclear explosion. Regardless of what the motives are, these rumors aren’t born simply because people lack scientific knowledge, what’s more important is that they lack relevant information. The result is that the social panic incited by the rumors suddenly explodes and some nearby residents flee their homes to escape danger. What’s intriguing is that some of the plant’s workers and nearby residents didn’t flee, in fact they scoffed at the rumors. Clearly, based on how much information one understands about the event, people’s behavior is completely different.

    Mutation is a classic characteristic of rumors. A notable characteristic of the spreading of rumors is that they don’t remain loyal to the “original”, but instead mutate according to the speculation and attitude of the recipient. As they are further disseminated, modification resulting from transmission further amplifies the uncertainty of the incident, increasing social anxiety and in some cases potentially leading to a social crisis. For incidents in which their exist differing value judgements, there is always the potential for modifications. For example in the case of the abnormal death of a middle school girl, there were at least three “editions” of the rumor: they differed on the identity of those involved, the relationship of those involved and the motives, among other dimensions.

    Value judgements are a crucial element relating to the direction of rumors. People won’t simply accept and preserve hearsay; they will only accept that which fits with their own value judgements. Faced with different types of uncertainty about an incident, people’s speculation will be subject to the influence of their own biased attitudes. Looked at from the other side, convincing statements of fact can also change these biased attitudes. Let’s revisit the above story as an example. After people learn about the radioactive leak, they will ask why the government didn’t publicly report the accident. Some people who are dissatisfied with the government will guess that it’s trying to cover up the truth about the accident. At this time many rumors that fit this kind of judgement will come out of their cages one by one. After people find out the truth about the accident, their skeptical attitude toward the government will naturally change.

    The “sheep herd effect” increases the influence of rumors. When people lack specialized knowledge and access to information, they will always blindly go with the flow. Social psychology has labeled this phenomenon the “sheep herd effect” (羊群效应). In traditional social interactions, people will always hold something back. Rumors relying on traditional social networks of familiar people for transmission will always spread rather slowly and the scope of their influence will be limited. But because of the anonymous nature of actions on the internet, a small number of “opinion leaders” can speak without restraint, launching a naval attack, heating up web sites, and creating the illusion that they represent the opinion of the majority (少数“意见领袖”言论放肆,通过“水军”热捧、网站热炒,造成代表多数人意见的假象). This causes netizens to abandon their independent judgement and to unquestioningly accept all kinds of these opinions. With more and more people engaging in speculation and commentary, rumors will undergo greater changes at greater speeds, making them difficult to control. When you add to this the fact that information isn’t disclosed in a timely manner, that the legal system remains inadequate, and that internet supervision isn’t done well, the breeding grounds for rumors are bound to spread. Research in and outside of China has concluded that on Twitter and Weibo, in discussions of hot topics more than ⅓ of the comments are rumors.

    The intensification of negative sentiment gives rumors the function of mobilizing group behavior. In recent years some mass incidents were intimately connected to the spreading of rumors. Group action often lacks organization and a clear agenda. Instead, it relies on the interaction between group identification, group sentiment, and a sense of group efficacy to mobilize participants toward realizing the group goals through joint action. Rumors will cause people’s originally divergent directions and strengths to converge. This causes rather weak negative sentiments to strengthen and increases the chances of participation in group action.

Rumors end with truth

Philosophers say, “rumors end with wise men”. It’s not a bad phrase, but it looks at the problem from an individual’s perspective, emphasizing the need not to be deceived by baseless rumors. Asking the common people to all become wise men and women is unrealistic, and at the same time it overlooks the responsibility of those tasked with public management. After a public incident occurs, it’s only natural that people will be everything from curious to panicked. Government departments have the obligation and the responsibility to proactively publicize the true information about the event. Spending a ton of energy chasing rumors is far less effective than directly eliminating the social psychological foundation that produces rumors by publicizing truthful information regarding events the people care about. When you eliminate uncertainty surrounding public incidents, you eliminate the source of rumors. Despite the fact that immediately following an event the government doesn’t possess perfect information, even the sporadic publication of information is enough to quell public anxiety stemming from a desire to understand the facts.

Rumors end with credibility

    The large scope for rumor transmission always has its roots in social psychology. Rumors are always the product of information asymmetry, when one side lacks information and the other side lacks credibility. Faced with uncertainty about public events, all kinds of speculation has the chance of spreading, but there’s a phenomenon that’s worth reflecting on: when rumors are at odds with the information given by government bureaus, skepticism about government judgements finds a more receptive audience. Looked at from another angle, these rumors are a catharsis for some people’s disillusionment with government and dissatisfaction with society. Adhering to the Party’s mass line isn’t just an empty slogan; it has to be put into practice throughout one’s work. Faced with the dissatisfaction of the people, even faced with rumors, government departments need to ask themselves: Why are some people so intensely dissatisfied with society? Why isn’t the information released by some departments seen as fully credible? Seriously analyzing these questions will help government departments discover errors in work, and help them see negligence in the handling of public affairs. If facing up to these shortcomings can lead to them candidly admitting and quickly correcting errors, it not only won’t damage their honor, but it will actually sooth the radical sentiments in society. It will make the masses believe in their government, be more understanding of their government and support their government. When a social psychology of credibility constantly grows in strength, the market for rumors will naturally disappear.

Rumors end with the rule of law

Curbing rumors also relies on the rule of law. Looking at the disaster zone of rumors — the internet — as netizens are enjoying their right to freedom of speech, they must at the same time respect the country’s rules and regulations by rationally expressing their opinions and consciously protecting order in the transmission of information. Netizens should not create rumors and they should not transmit rumors. Faced with uncorroborated and fantastical information, they need to be skeptical of what they hear and cautious in what they say. Web sites are a form of mass media and they have the responsibility to transmit truthful information without becoming a platform for publishing rumors. In dealing with the surging momentum of online rumors, the relevant departments must sound the alarm bell. They must strike with a heavy fist, deliver strong medicine and greatly increase the cost of illegally creating or spreading rumors. They must fundamentally eradicate the breeding ground for rumors.

(translators note: doesn’t that final paragraph sound like it was written to appease someone?)

Translation: “Resolutely Curb the Blind Building of Cities”, People’s Daily 9/3/13

People's Daily Blind Building Cities     urbanization digger

Below is my translation of an opinion piece in the People’s Daily “Resolutely Curb the Blind Building of Cities” (or more literally, “Resolutely Curb the Blind ‘Build the City’ Wind”. original piece: 坚决遏制盲目‘造城’之风). It represents a broad condemnation of blind bureaucracy-driven urbanization, arguing that it’s wasteful and out of step with the natural urbanization process. Coming out of the People’s Daily as investors and analysts eagerly anticipate the coming urbanization push, Bill Bishop wrote that the article is “likely another signal that whatever urbanization plan is coming is not going to be the massive infrastructure spend that some local governments are addicted to.” We’ll see how that plays out in the coming months.

My translation is below. I’m not a professional translator and always looking to improve, so comments, criticisms and suggestions welcome.

Resolutely Curb the Blind Building of Cities

Weeds sprouting from industrial parks, residential areas covered in black at night, newly built districts lonely year after year … these scenes tells us the pain inflicted by the “build cities craze”. Investigations have shown that 144 prefectural-level cities intend to build 200 new city districts; enclosing land to build cities, reclaiming waterfronts to build cities, shaving mountains to build cities, together they swarm up into the sky. It’s a waste of manpower and money, leaving behind a range of unfortunate consequences. As the wind for blindly building cities gathers strength, it’s aroused intense dissatisfaction amongst the people.

In tandem with fast-paced economic development, the deepening of urbanization and the appropriate expansion of cities is both inevitable and reasonable. But more deserving of attention is the fact that the construction of cities is an enormous endeavor, and it requires careful treatment and scientific planning. Whether or not to build a new city, how to build it, how big to build it, all these questions require us to be realistic and pragmatic, to respect natural laws, to carefully listen to the will of the people. Only when these are accomplished will we be able to build good cities, to do a good thing well.

The wide build up of new cities, the indiscriminate construction of new districts, not only represents a departure from reality, but also violates natural laws, all while disregarding the voice of the people. In the midst of the collective craze to build cities, some places close deals despite lacking the requisite standards, blindly expand cities without regard for financial fundamentals, and compete in the chase after everything big and foreign. There’s no discussion of how much needs to be invested, how high the standards are, or how fast the speed is. On the surface the frenzy continues to build, but it hides unseen crises and brings with it countless troubles. From frail industrial support to lagging public infrastructure, from the enormous waste of resources to the heavy burden of debt, the artificial building up of cities has long gone contrary to the original intent of developing cities. It’s fallen into the cycle of inputs without outputs, investment without returns, and explosiveness without stamina.

The “building cities” trend is like a mirror, it reflects both the widely used investment-driven development model, and also shows us the disadvantages of some cadres’ work-style, the foulness of their behavior. Some people care about face rather than content, they’re eager to build momentum and make an undeserved reputation for themselves. It takes nothing but the phrase “internationalize the metropolis” to get things going, and it all gives off a whiff of formalism. Some cadres don’t care about the facts on the ground or the wishes of the masses: they smack their foreheads and decide a policy, pound their chests and declare their stance. They’ll blindly scatter newstructures, push forward a project and afterwards just pat each other on the butt and walk away. That’s the classic bureaucratic style. During the process of building cities they’ll spare no expense in the pursuit of extravagance, and when driving off they’ll give a flash of hedonism and cast a shadow of extravagance.

The “building cities” wind is part of the “four winds” problem (formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism, and extravagance). In education and implementation activities some local governments have lots of problems, but they simply don’t see the problems, can’t find the problems, and they end up feeling great about themselves. With deep crises now a reality and public voices growing, the “building cities” wind is a very big problem. Grab hold of the problem, put the brakes on this wind! (此事当抓、此风当刹!)

China is a country with a large population and little land, with a large gap between the countryside and the city, with a natural environment that’s been pushed to the brink. Pushing forward urbanization in this kind of country requires us to choose the right path or risk making a historic mistake. Pushing forward urbanization in an orderly way means summarizing and promoting good methods, strengthening guidance where there are problems, resolutely correcting errors, and resolutely curbing the trend of blindly building cities.