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Rhapsody in Beijing

“Rhapsody in Beijing” is my video tribute to the city I love. It was inspired by the people who live here and the song Rhapsody in Blue, a piece that perfectly captures a city on the verge of something big. You can watch the video below (I recommend full screen), and read my (somewhat gushing and often cheesy) write-up below that.

Here is a link to the same video on Youku.

Beijing is a city with a public relations problem. It’s plagued by all manner of 21st-century urban maladies: clogged streets, packed public transit, an astounding wealth gap and the occasional “Airpocalypse.” Those are real problems with real consequences for real people.

But beyond the banner headlines there is another Beijing that’s rarely seen in the international press. The city is home to millions of human beings trying to make a life in one of the fastest-changing societies on the planet. They grind away at offices, schools and construction sites with a patience and a tolerance for drudgery (the Chinese call it “eating bitterness”) that astounds foreign eyes. Many of Beijing’s newly arrived urban workers — called “Beijing floaters” — are one generation away from tilling rice paddies, and the sacrifices that brought them to this metropolis aren’t easily forgotten.

Each city block or packed bus is a human medley of class and culture: migrant workers fresh off the train from China’s poorer interior provinces, first-generation college students getting a taste of international lifestyles, and multi-generational families whose roots in the city date back to China’s dynastic era. It’s a bubbling and sometimes volatile mix that turns an ethnically homogenous city into a stunningly diverse human cityscape. For its many problems, Beijing is a city with a pulse, a place that is changing the world as it constantly reinvents itself.

I made the short film “Rhapsody in Beijing” because I wanted to capture the city in all of its grit and glory. One video in itself could never encapsulate Beijing’s manifold lifestyles and characters, but my hope is that this brings the city to life by zooming in on the people and places that drive it.

Privacy is rare in China, as few Beijing residents are blessed with spacious living rooms or solitary studio apartments. As a result, private lives — the romantic courtships, conversations between old friends and instrumental jam sessions — unfold in the most public of spaces. Many Chinese parks are packed at sundown from March through November. Three generations are often interacting in the same space, doing everything from singing Mao-era “red songs” to taking cheesy group selfies.

For a culture often derided as clan-like and a political system averse to crowd-sourced anything, Chinese urban life is a miracle of spontaneous organization. There’s no app or listserv needed to create and sustain the daily badminton games that endure for years, and the line-dancing grandmothers aren’t part of any Facebook groups (not that they could be if they wanted to). What brings them together is a desire for connection and ritual, something most Chinese don’t have the luxury of finding in their crammed apartments.

At the 2:15 mark of the video you’ll see Beijingers rallying for deceased Chairman Mao Zedong in the city’s central Jingshan Park. Thirty-five seconds later, you’ll see a woman from China’s Uyghur minority dancing in the same park despite ethnic tensions in the city running high; one day before, an Uyghur man had killed two people while speeding through crowded Tiananmen Square in a car, just a mile and a half from where the woman danced.

For all the bustle, pressure, tension, pollution and poverty at play, Beijing still manages to chug along. In that way it bears a resemblance to the New York that George Gershwin had in mind when he composed “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1924: a city that combines exorbitant wealth with widespread injustice, and harsh realities with almost limitless possibility.


The piece below documents my thirty-nine hour hard seat train ride from Beijing to Urumqi at the height of the 2015 Chinese New Year migration. All photos by my partner in crime, Matjaž TančičYou can read the original piece on The Huffington/World Post by following this link:


39 Hours Inside The Biggest Human Migration on Earth

large crowd

Looking across this sea of anxious faces, it’s easy to forget this is a holiday. Knotted brows frame weary eyes in a crowd as deep as a football field, all of them waiting to catch a train out of Beijing.

The mass exodus from China’s cities is the roaring crescendo leading up to Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s known in the country. On paper the holiday can be equated to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one, but on the ground the holiday unfolds on an entirely different scale.

Spring Festival is a crater in the middle of China’s calendar, a multi-week event when factories, schools and offices are shut down, and the country’s 30-year urbanization drive is jolted into reverse. Tradition dictates that all Chinese return to their hometowns during Spring Festival, spurring the largest human migration on Earth. Chinese New Year is the chance for migrant workers who have been grinding out 60-hour weeks in the city to show off their earnings at home, and for grandparents still tilling the soil to size up their collegiate grandchildren.

On Monday alone, two days before New Year’s Eve, China saw roughly 80 million departures by train, bus, boat and plane. That’s equivalent to every single resident of California, New York and Florida skipping town on the same day.


Slow train to Xinjiang

For this crowd pressing up against Beijing’s ticket windows, those numbers are just an abstraction of the very real crush of humanity they will soon be inhabiting. Trains are swamped, with the unfortunate holders of standing-room-only tickets setting up shop in the aisles, stairwells and sinks.

Seating stakes are highest on long-haul routes, and the T177 is about as long as they come. This hulking vehicle will take 39 hours and 25 minutes to traverse the 1,998 miles from Beijing to Urumqi in northwest Xinjiang Province.


Xinjiang is home to the bulk of China’s Uyghur population, a Turkic and central Asian ethnicgroup that practices Islam and maintains a culture and language indecipherable to members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group. Tensions between Uyghurs and Han have boiled over in recent years, with deadly riots and terrorist attacks sparking state-mandated bans on Islamic hijabs and long beards. Chinese police say that foreign-trained jihadist cells operate throughout the province, while Uyghur activists decry what they call discriminatory treatment on jobs and religion.

Passengers on the train T177 hail from Han, Uyghur, Kazakh and Mongol ethnic groups, but during boarding they all share a common goal: locking down a (relatively) comfortable surface for the ride ahead. Chinese train cars have a clear hierarchy of accommodations, with the “hard seat” compartment at the bottom of the totem poll. Those sitting in the stiff seats share their floor, bathroom and luggage space with the standing passengers, making for compulsory coziness.

Hard seat compartments present a cross-section of middle-class Chinese society. Here in carriage 17, migrant workers rub shoulders with bubbly university students eager to show off their big-city styles to high school classmates. Policemen, noodle chefs and white collar workers face each other across cramped booths, and the combination of card games, grain alcohol and forced cohabitation nudges most people into conversation.

cell phones

Cigarettes and Instant Noodles

“Is it easy to find work in Urumqi?” asks 42-year-old Liu Changbao, looking up from a sturdy squat in the linkage car.

Beside his feet lies all the luggage he’s bringing for the train ride and the year of manual labor ahead of him: a plastic bag holding two cups of instant noodles and a pack of cigarettes.

Liu is unusual in that this train is taking him away from home rather than back there. He says he doesn’t care about the Spring Festival family gathering –- a sacrilegious sentiment in China’s Confucian culture -– and that he’s trying to get a jump on the job rush that kicks into gear after the holiday. Liu has worked as a farmer, welder and driver across China, and he picked Urumqi after seeing a television segment about Xinjiang.

After the 39-hour ride, Liu plans to find a flophouse near the station and immediately commence his job hunt. He doesn’t know how to use a computer or a cellphone, but remains confident that once he hits the streets he’ll be back at work in a matter or days. For now his main concerns are whether it’s cold in Xinjiang and whether locals will speak Mandarin.


“We welcome you to Urumqi”

Back in carriage 17, a young train attendant named Zulpikhar is checking tickets against IDs. He makes small talk while squeezing past people huddled in the aisles, commenting on the passengers’ hometowns.

“It says here you’re a journalist,” Zulpikhar says while scanning a visa. “We welcome you to come to Urumqi. I’m a Uyghur.”

He holds the glance for a moment and flashes a smile before winding his way down the crowded car. Once Zulpikhar is out of earshot Wang Xin, a 32-year-old dentist standing over my seat, leans in with a worried look on his face.

“You’re not afraid of going to Urumqi?” he asks.

The city has seen knife and bomb attacks on local Han, and that has scared many Chinese tourists away from the province’s gorgeous landscapes.

“If you stay in the city it should be OK, but don’t go out to the villages on the outskirts,” Wang continues. “The Kazakhs are alright, but the Uyghurs … it’s hard to say.”

Wang’s unease is partially rooted in fear of Uyghurs’ foreign customs and religion, but he echoes a common Han refrain about the superiority of his culture’s business acumen.

“When Han businessmen arrive [Uyghurs] just can’t compete,” Wang claims, “so they turn to violence.”

guitar sleepers

Li Xin dropped out of middle school and has been playing music on the road since he was 17.

As the sun tucks itself in behind rolling hills, Li Xin unpacks his acoustic guitar. The initial rounds of small talk have died down, and 26-year-old Li feels out the mood as he picks a few gentle chords. His first Chinese love ballad receives approving applause from the carriage, and he transitions into a smokey-voiced tribute to his adopted home of Beijing.

Li grew up on a grape farm outside of Urumqi, and he dropped out of middle school to apprentice as a welder. At age 17 he joined a traveling song-and-dance troupe that tricked him out of a year’s worth of wages. After singing folk ballads on the streets of Urumqi for a couple years, he headed to Beijing and found good work performing at a local bar.

After a couple of songs, Zulpikhar steps in and asks to borrow the guitar and a seat, quickly launching into flamenco-infused Uyghur folk songs. Syncopated rhythms and pleading vocals fill the carriage, captivating the surrounding booths and drawing shouts of encouragement. After a couple songs and a crooning duet with Li Xin, Zulpikhar makes his way back down the aisle, blushing at the compliments as he heads to his booth.

Half an hour later, Zulpikhar’s manager marches him back into the car, this time with her video camera in tow. When she hits record, Zulpikhar introduces himself, offers to play his culture’s traditional music for weary travelers, and launches into a reprise of his earlier performance. While Zulpikhar plays a song called “White Rabbit,” a middle-aged Uyghur woman is summoned from an adjoining car to perform a traditional dance to the music. The orchestrated curtain call makes for a well-documented display of ethnic unity and social harmony, slogans the Chinese government has plastered throughout Urumqi and backed up with heavily armed military police on street corners.

After the performance, passengers return to their phones, blasting out the videos they just took across Chinese social media. Minutes later Zulpikhar walks back down the aisle, this time with a large black bag in hand.

“Trash, trash, anybody have trash?”

guitar dancer

Zulpikhar entertaining carriage 17.

Pompeii on a Train

Once the card games, drinking games and cell phone games have shut down for the evening, the people of carriage 17 shift and wriggle uncomfortably toward sleep.

Even in the dead of night, fluorescent lights in the hard seat compartment never shut off. It’s a policy with a purpose — total darkness in a packed car would be an invitation to mayhem — but the unceasing illumination presents passengers waking at 4 a.m. with a Pompeii-esque tableau: hundreds of men, women and children slumped unconscious across the booths, sinks and stairwells.

At 5:30 a.m. one chipper passenger signals the start of the day by blasting local music out of a tinny radio. For most of the day ahead, the carriage exists in the throes of a collective hangover, never fully awake and nowhere close to comfortable.

sleeping legs

Consolation comes in the form of a steady thinning out of the train. The western half of China’s landmass is home to just one-twentieth of the Chinese population, and by the time train T177 has entered the deserts of Ningxia province, empty seats begin to open up.

In the dining car, young couples snap selfies and tease each other as they prepare to meet the parents. Bringing a partner home during Spring Festival can be a nerve-wracking experience, with parental judgment often coming swift and harsh. But for now the train is spacious and the scenery is gorgeous. T177’s entrance to Gansu Province is marked by the appearance of camels set against snow-capped mountains.

Welcome to Urumqi

The final 16 hours of the train ride practically fly by. At each stop in the Gansu corridor passengers step out to breathe the crisp mountain air they’ve sorely missed in Beijing. As night falls for the second time, carriage 17 breaks into several games of the “Struggle the Landlord,” the official card game of long-distance train rides.

lone house

T177 crosses into Xinjiang Province around midnight, but it’s another six and a half hours to the provincial capital of Urumqi. For Zhao Xiaohui, an economics master’s student in Beijing, Urumqi isn’t even the final destination — he’s got another 12-hour train ride to the village where his parents grow peppers, wheat and the occasional batch of watermelons. He’ll stay there for seven days before making another 50-hour hard-seat journey back to Beijing.

But is it worth it?

“It’s all right,” Zhao shrugs. “When I was an undergrad I would ride this same train but I wouldn’t even have a seat. I’d just lie on the ground at night.”

The sky is a deep purple as T177 pulls into Urumqi station at 6:40 a.m. It’s been 39 hours since these passengers left Beijing Railway Station, and in another 41 hours they’ll ring in the year of the sheep. They grab the bundles, buckets and suitcases stocked for celebration and set off into the Urumqi dawn.

night boarding All photos by Matjaž Tančič.

Translation: “Protect the lifeline of the people and the Party” People’s Daily, 10/14/13

Below I’ve translated a very long front page People’s Daily editorial (written under the pen name 任忠平) on the Communist Party’s mass line education campaign. This article was suggested to me by Bill Bishop, who featured it in Sinocism’s Esssential Eight and said it was an important piece in terms of political significance. The state media isn’t solely a propaganda machine: it’s both outward facing (toward the people) and also acts as a way for Party leaders to communicate with each other and with lower level cadres. In reading the state media I find it very difficult to sort out empty rhetoric from the truly important stuff. I won’t do any analysis here, but I’d challenge readers to try and make that distinction, to sort out what is being signaled with this kind of editorial. I’d love to hear any thoughts in the comments section.

On the translation: this was by far the longest and most difficult piece of writing I’ve ever tried to translate. The language was often complex, full of 成语 and references to Party concepts and historical events. I’ve inserted clarifications and the original Chinese where I found difficulties. As always, suggestions for improvement are much appreciated. Also, to anyone looking for an informed analysis of the mass line campaign I’d recommend Alice Miller’s China Leadership Monitor article.

The People’s Daily: Protect the lifeline of the people and the Party

1. The political line is the key choice in determining one’s fate

In October of 2013, the APEC summit returned to Indonesia after 19 years. Amidst hopes that “resilient Asia” can serve as a “global engine,” the choices of the twenty-one members will decide success or failure. With America’s Democratic and Republican parties still unable to overcome their differences on health care reform, the federal government’s non-essential departments have been forced to close and the debt-limit crisis presses close. As the special group of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria, opposition forces and the Syrian Army remained locked in a stalemate… the world’s future remains shrouded under a cloud of uncertainty. The parting message from the Voyager II as it left the solar system carried a deep meaning: “Goodbye, humankind. You guys can figure it out.”

In China, the long National day holiday just ended and curbs on public spending made for a notable highlight. The leading group for Central Party’s Mass Line Education and Implementation Campaign (from here on out, “mass line campaign”) met urgently, and the Politburo Standing Committee attended meetings throughout focusing on “democratic life meetings.” (“民主生活会”) At the meetings, the criticism and self-criticism by leaders and cadres made for a refreshing change of pace.

Looking ahead, the coming of the 18th Party Congress’s third plenum has received plenty of attention. Thirty-five years after marching out into the currents, the great ship of Chinese reform and opening faces these questions: how to upgrade development? how to deepen reforms? how to expand opening up? 1.3 billion people are waiting. It almost seemed like a metaphor when on the morning of October 1st the five-star flag was raised amidst pouring rain and wind on Tiananmen Square. Opportunities and challenges both lie ahead for this country.

What flag to raise and what road to take? The Party’s 18th Congress once again came out with a resolute reply. But how to turn the announcement of the “five integrated” (五位一体, Economic, political, social, cultural and ecological construction) into specific tasks, how to turn the blueprint of the “two one-hundred years” (两个百年, 100 years after the founding of the party create a well-off society, 100 years after the founding of the PRC create a strong, rich, democratic, harmonious and civilized modern socialist society) into a beautiful reality, behind each step up toward the peak lie hidden dangers and even crises. Faced with such a large chessboard, such a large responsibility, such a large China, we must find a sturdy starting point in order to complete this perilous climb.

“If the Party is strong and remains linked by flesh and blood to the people, the country will be prosperous and stable, and the people will be happy and healthy.” The 18th Party Congress’s report revealed the key to revival. To forge iron one must be strong oneself. The entire Party must be vigilant, resolve outstanding problems within itself in a practical manner, and give both history and the people solutions that are up to standard. The announcement of Xi Jinping as General Secretary placed Party-building and relations between the Party and the masses at the center of the grand and lengthy project of revival.

In this way, the Mass Line Campaign was launched throughout the entire Party.

2. Reform and Opening has pushed China to unprecedented heights. With continuing success come serious difficulties.

If the break in the ice 35 years ago was a return to humanity, common sense and welfare, if liberating one’s thinking was a blade that could everywhere open new horizons (如果说35年前的破冰,是向人性、向常识、向利益的回归,思想解放的刀锋所向,处处都能打开一片新天地), then the current deepening must smash conceptual obstacles in ideology and break down the barriers of entrenched interests. It seems that the contradictions and problems that a developing China now faces are sharper and more complicated.

On the macro-level, structural transformation is met with major structural inertia. Altering the development path faces a rock-hard bottleneck in innovative abilities and personnel training. Transforming government functions doesn’t just require heroic courage, it also takes the meticulousness and care of walking atop an iced-over pond. (也不能没有临渊履冰的精细 和严谨) The growth of democracy requires accompaniment by the rule of law. If one departs from democracy, the sanctity of the law can easily turn into arbitrary decisions (民主的发育,要有法治护航;法治的尊严,离开民主又极易专断. Need help on this one). It’s already clear that the “GDP-ism” that overlooks equal enjoyment of the fruits of development is unsustainable. If expectations are too high then the measures taken will be too drastic, and they may even warm the bed for the kind of “welfare-ism” that ties down development… Faced with so many dilemmas, one hesitates, afraid to make a move in this game of chess.

On the micro level, local government debt is high and not falling, and housing prices continue their ups and downs. “The visible hand” is caught between advance and retreat, while “the invisible hand” rarely displays itself. An aging society is swallowing the “demographic dividend” and creating the difficulty of “growing old before growing rich.” On one side it’s hard to find a job, and elsewhere there’s a shortage of workers. On one side the urbanization fire rages on, while you still have have towering city gates and empty highrises. Here we’ve seen great strides in moral education, but outside the campus high-end cram schools cater to the elite. On the one hand doctors working overtime lament their low salaries, while at the same time patients complain that it’s difficult to see a doctor, expensive to see a doctor, and after all that you still have to give a red envelope. With so much conflict, the unhappy, unharmonious and unstable emotions are piling up.

After continued price unification, SOE reform, and government-SOE separation, China’s development has once again entered a period of growing pains. There’s no doubt that in recent years as China became the world’s second largest economy and countless people’s livelihood underwent huge changes, foreign media proclaimed “The Chinese Communist Party is to date the most successful people’s party.” But needless to say, the shaping of this diverse system has made reform backed by “the masses united as one” into a luxury. The wind of corruption has majorly worn away at government departments’ and government employees’ credibility with the people. The rustic innocence of the ordinary people has in some cases given way to unrelenting suspicions.

As the rulers of a rising power, one faces a constantly changing international landscape and the increasingly diverse demands of the people. Faced with this era’s major task of broadly deepening reform and opening, one must continue toward victory in this “great struggle defined by historically new characteristics.” (要在这场“具有许多新的历史特点 的伟大斗争”中继续取得胜利) In the ongoing struggle to realize the Chinese dream and charge through the deep-water rapids that lie ahead, we must: constantly refresh our image with high expectations for ourselves; use sincere interactions based on equality to interact with and soothe the emotions of the masses; fulfill the aspirations of the masses and consolidate their trust; and win the support of the masses and bring together their wisdom.

This is the real background for the current Mass Line Campaign.

3. Looking at the thousands of political parties across the world, on cohesion and strength, none can compare to the Chinese Communist Party (遍观当今世界数以千计的政党,若论凝聚力和战斗力,无出中国共产党其右者)

[Translator’s note: I will summarize rather than translate this third section because I think the jist of the argument is far more important than the details and language]

In this section the author lays out some of the historic examples of famous Chinese Communist revolutionaries and the way they stayed close to the people. First he gives the example of how in the early 1960s the Party downsized the number of officials and their salaries in order to alleviate food shortages [my note: likely caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward, let’s remember]. It ends by quoting Mao saying “If the Communist Party weren’t in power, what Party could handle this?” and then the author asks “Why could it (the Party) handle this?”

It then relays how when Edgar Snow visited the Communist base in Yanan in the 1930’s, he was impressed by the simplicity with which leaders like Mao, Zhou Enlai and Peng Dehuai lived, and how students at the Red Army’s school would use the back of the enemy’s propaganda flyers for taking notes.

Peng Dehuai

It then goes on with a long quote from Zhu De about how his mother was an ordinary person, and how he is sure that the Communist Party can make a better life for his mother and people like her. Next is an anecdote about how Zhou Enlai demanded relief for drought-stricken Gansu province in 1973. There is also an anecdote about Deng Xiaoping reminding local cadres that they have to look out for small farmers because the people need to eat.

[back to translation]

“Everything is for the masses, and everything relies on the masses.” The mass line is our Party’s value and our political line. Facing the masses, the Party shouldn’t have it’s own special benefits or any special privileges. The people’s happiness has always been the Party’s root and the fountainhead of its strength. Scholars have a concluded: other ruling parties failed to complete “the historic task of building modern China” because they “all lacked a connection to the people and became like rootless algae on water.” From the beginning the Communist Party has been “the Party connected to the people.” Because of this, the Party was able to travel the perilous route of revolution, construction and reform, and now to stride toward revival and glory.

“To come from the masses, and to go toward the masses.” Stick to the purpose of serving the people and follow the mass line. Our Party has displayed “that kind of spirit, that kind of strength, that kind of desire, that kind of passion … It’s the diverse and brilliant essence of human history.” It’s this “Eastern Magic” that has drawn western people’s eyes like a magnet. It’s this “light of national rejuvenation” that illuminates the journey, and it’s the source of strength as we today struggle against difficulties and follow dreams.

4. From a revolutionary party to a ruling party, the conditions have changed and the environment has changed. The Party’s Mass Line will have to face severe tests. This is especially the case for large party ruling for a long time.

In times of war, the Party’s existence was directly dependent on the attitudes of the masses toward the Party. After taking over governance, the Party’s political position has changed. With all the country’s apparatus under its control, the Party has an unprecedented richness of resources. On many levels, whether or not the lives of the masses can be improved, and whether or not productive forces can smoothly develop, now this instead depends on the line policies of the Party, on the work attitude of Party organs of all levels, on the work style of Party cadres. This kind of reversal in dependent relationships has often been the breeding ground for bureaucratism.

When a party’s cadres wield great public power and also lack corresponding constraints, the malicious wind of “bureaucratism” can take hold and even spread. When the Party pays attention to the construction of good work styles, leading cadres will consciously connect with the masses and help the masses resolve difficulties. On the other hand, when the Party’s work style is off, that’s when “officials’ power stands out and the people’s power disappears, when officials are the master and the people are the servants, when officials are central and all starts with them, when their is grave opposition between the Party and the people.” In this situation, officials’ self-centered thinking will spread like a virus in all directions and Party members’ lives will become more relaxed, their behavior more vulgar. Liberalism and “making nice” will be in vogue (党内自由主义与好人主义盛行), and some Party members won’t be able to resist the temptations, they’ll know no bottom line, and the distance will grow between the powerful cadres and the masses.

Formalism and bureaucratism are twin brothers. The similarity lies in the inversion of responsibility between those above and below. Those below are submissive, always staring intently to see if the bosses are happy or not, satisfied or not. It gets to the point where they don’t hesitate to lie and deceive, where they’ll drain the pond to get the fish, where they’ll eat next year’s harvest this year, all in order to rack up “political achievements.” As to the feelings of the masses they aren’t sensitive in the least; they don’t pay attention and just don’t care. Towards higher-ups they “check the weather” and towards those below they rain down hail. In the office they’re always looking for that magical wind, while the masses are trying to capture the dew on the ground. (note: this is all a tricky play on words in Chinese that I tried to capture, check the original 对上“看天气”,对下“耍霸气”,办公室里“找灵气”,却 唯独不到群众中“接地气”). If you want them to take a principled stand for the sake of the people you’re going to offend somebody, move your own cheese.

For the rulers, the corrosion caused by power can be fatal. When one has been in power for a long time, it’s all too easy to blur the line between public power and private interests. The seizing of political power was the people seizing power, but in the ruling through political power it’s easy to fall victim to the illusion that one is the father of the country. (”打江山”是人民的江山,“坐江山”却可能有“家天下”的错 觉. Tricky to translate, check links for Chinese explanation of these rhetorical concepts). When faced with the steady flow of wealth and resources into one’s hands, it takes only the slightest loosening up before subjective consciousness and objective oversight are blurred. At that point resisting the temptations of hedonism and wastefulness becomes harder and harder.

It’s not that we lack examples to learn from. The most shocking disintegration occurred in the place that once struck terror into the hearts of imperialist countries: the socialist Soviet Union. During the time of the grain crisis that followed the October Revolution, Commisar Qu Luba (Soviet official, can’t find Russian name), who had the right to allocate billions of tons of food collapsed from hunger during a meeting. Lenin had to propose the creation of a “recuperation cafeterias,” forcing high level party cadres to go there and “eat for the sake of the people.”

But by the end of Kruschev’s time these “recuperation cafeterias” had spread to the whole country and changed into “little white birch” shops (“小白桦”商店). They offered up all kinds of rare imported products for close to a million people with special privileges. “Special hospitals, special recovery homes, beautiful restaurants and feasts with special delicacies. Also, comfortable transportation options,” Boris Yeltsin remembered. As an alternate to the Politburo, he had three chefs, three waitresses, one cleaner and one gardener. “If you climbed to the peak of the Party’s pyramid of power, you can enjoy everything — you’ve arrived at communism! At the time we’d think, what world revolution? What peak labor efficiency? And that national people’s harmony? We don’t need all that.”

Today, the Soviet Union with its 74 years of history has been broken up for 22 years. With these past 20 years to reflect on the death of the Soviet Union’s communist party and the country, Chinese socialism has never stopped. We’ve been faced with the danger of spiritual slackening, abilities weakening, and corruption growing. We’ve been put to the test of governance, of reform and opening, of the market economy, and of the external environment. And we’ve remained through it all, passing through the gates of fire and realizing the goal of long-term order and lasting peace. (Difficult section, I got a bit creative at points. 精神懈怠、能力不足、脱离群众、消极腐败 的危险,执政考验、改革开放考验、市场经济考验、外部环境考验,防住了经得起,我们就能涉险过关,实现长治久安.) If we can’t stand our guard against the spread formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance, it won’t just bring about the “capsizing of the boat” that we’ve been warned about for ages. It could be the disaster that brings about the death of the Party and the death of the country. (所带来的不仅是“载舟覆舟”的千古警思,更有亡党亡国的灭顶之灾).

Now standing at these heights, Secretary Xi Jinping has solemnly emphasized: the problems with “work styles” are absolutely no trifling matter. If one doesn’t resolutely correct bad work styles, if these developments go unchecked, it will be like an invisible wall that divides the Party from the masses. Our Party will lose its roots, lose its lifeblood, lose its strength. It might turn into what Comrade Mao Zedong described with the metaphor “Farewell My Concubine.”

5. Wavering in beliefs and ideals is the root of the departure from the masses. The barriers that lie between the Party and the masses are more complex than those described in any of the classic works.

The older generation that made revolution and seized power was made of many people from the lower, oppressed classes, and also quite a few “rebels” from important families. There feelings toward ordinary people were truly sincere; they knew the sufferings of the people like the back of their hand, and they were as one big family with ordinary people (与平民大众“天生就是一家人”).

When Zhou Enlai arrived in the Hebei countryside to conduct investigations, he sat his butt right down on the threshold of a farmer’s house. Sitting next to him was farmer Zhang Ermin, telling him what was in his heart. From that time onwards, Zhou Enlai, the man willing to listen to the truth, promised that every year he would send someone to that village to represent him in listening to his farming friend who dared to speak the truth. When Peng Dehuai went back home to conduct surveys, the cadres at the evening discussions told him how high the grain yields were stacked. He grabbed a flashlight and headed out to the grain fields, feeling the grain himself. He wanted to see it with his own eyes.

Today, the style of the older generation has already become a memory. Many Party leaders that have grown up in these peaceful and prosperous times lack that immediate sense of the Party and the masses mutual reliance, of the flesh and blood, life and death connection between the two. Some people only emphasize “leadership by elites,” “leadership by experts,” and forget this root in the masses. Even more common are the “three gate cadres”: when they leave the gates of their home they enter the gates of the school, and when they leave school they enter the gates of a government department. They lack work experience and they lack an understanding of things at the bottom level of society. Some Party leaders see the ordinary people as the object from their studies in management; they don’t have any deep feelings for the masses and they’re just not sufficiently concerned about them. Sometimes they lack the ability to resolve difficult problems at the bottom levels of society: there’s an awkward juxtaposition as some are afraid to go down to those levels of society and others want to go down but they just can’t make it happen.

What’s more, sometimes the “close connection to the people” turns into a “close connection to money and power.” Their own interests override the interests of the masses, turning “the relationship between fish and water” into “the relationship between oil and water” or even “the relationship between fire and water.” [reference to Mao’s invocation that the Party/Red Army should move amongst the people like fish in water]. The connection between the cadres and people has been pulled further and further apart.

“Breaking away from the masses” has roots in a lack of personal effort, and also in the real difficulties brought on by changes in the environment.

Following along with the deepening development of the socialist market economy, China’s socialist structures have undergone deep changes. A trend has emerged of increasing competition, movement and division between people. In breaking down the borders between units, regions, and the city-country divide, “fluid/mobile China” (流动中国) has increased the interaction between people, increased society’s vitality, but also increased the scope of conflicts amongst the people.

Just as the children of migrant workers from the countryside hope they’ll be able to enjoy the high-quality education resources of the city, urban parents are afraid that education resources are being diluted and competition to get into good schools will intensify. Just as some people think that small carts lining the sidewalks, with the owners shouting out their wares, makes life more convenient, some people think it disturbs public order. Some people think those clogging up the city streets should be punished, and others think that weaker groups in society need to be protected. When it comes to resolving traffic, congestion bikers fight for their right of way, drivers demand more parking spaces, wealthy families oppose license plate lotteries, and low-income people think collecting congestion fees discriminates against poor people.

These attitudes are completely different, with the demands going off in all different directions, but each person is one part of the masses, and each person should be served by the Party and the government. Faced with this diverse and ever-changing landscape of interests and demands, the difficulties of working for the masses grow each day, and presenting unprecedented challenges.

In recent years there have been sizable crowds of petitioners and we frequently hear of mass incidents. On the one hand, this shows that the masses are always becoming more concerned and more sensitive about their own rights, and thus the difficulty in coordinating and planning one’s work for the masses is growing. It also shows that when working for the masses some Party cadres have lost their words and some methods have lost their effectiveness. In terms of the mass line they’ve lost their place, and their ability to connect with the people has fallen. Taken together, this means the connection Party cadres and the masses now faces an unprecedentedly difficult test of the times.

6. We often say that development is the key to solving all of contemporary China’s problems. This “development” is used in the broad sense of the word, including innovation in the work for the masses and the upgrading of governing abilities.

The Chinese Communist Party of today has kept up fast-paced growth in terms of the number of party members. By the end of 2012 the number of party members broke the 85 million mark, with annual growth of 3%. Based on this rate of growth, members of the Chinese Communist Party will break 100 million within a few years, a number that exceeds the total population of most countries.

Compared with the past, the strength of our Party members has greatly increased and our economic and financial strength has shot up. Today the multi-faceted resources we control has increased and the technological methods at our disposal have been enriched. Still, all comrades must remember: there is no strength on Earth that can replace the strength of the people. If one doesn’t represent the interests of the people, doesn’t adhere to the principles of the masses, no matter how abundant the strength or how numerous the forces, they will be nothing more than a platform without legs, a tree without roots, a stream without a source. All comrades must remember: 64 years after taking over governance, the new resources and avenues we have merely show that we need to have more determination, wisdom and flexibility in grasping the thinking, resolving the problems and fulfilling the desires of the masses.

History has proven this. In 1990 the Soviet Union’s “Siberia Report” gave results from a survey in which people were asked “Who does the Communist Party of the Soviet Union represent?” The results were as follows: 7% believed it represented the workers, 11% believed it represented all Party members, and 85% believed it represented the bureaucracy. If the people believe that a party doesn’t represent their interests, it doesn’t matter how long or glorious of a history it has, in the end its fall is inevitable.

Foreign observers have pointed out that of the many concepts used by the Chinese Communist Party, “the mass line” is the most complex and the most universal. It “contains all the secrets of the CCP” and is “the most important form of soft power.” Truly, the Chinese Communist Party’s biggest political advantage is its close connection to the masses. The mass line is our political party’s lifeline in maintaining our advanced nature, our purity, in consolidating our political position and in pushing forward the work of socialism.

How do we care for this lifeline of the Party and guarantee that cadres are not willing, not able and not daring to break away from the people? How do we safeguard the long-term governance by the Party and enduring peace in the country? These are the big questions of the new age in terms of building a ruling Party, and they are questions that need to be explored and resolved. The mass line campaign is like this era’s test paper that’s been handed out by our Party, and this generation of communists should solemnly ask themselves: “what have we to write?” (群众路线教育实践活动,在这张 我们党交出的时代答卷上,这一代共产党人都应严肃自问:我们该有怎样的书写?)

7. “Looking in the mirror, straightening one’s dress, taking a bath, and curing the disease,” [note: using Alice Miller’s translation for this slogan] the bottom-up mass line campaign has been launched and has already spawned some changes and gained some clear achievements.

But the launch of the campaign  has  also  revealed some problems, namely that some leading cadres still think the “four winds”  [formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance] problem has nothing to do with them. They treat the masses in just the way Deng Xiaoping once criticized: “In difficult times they rely on them, in smooth times they don’t rely on them. When they need them they rely on them, when they don’t need them they don’t rely on them. In their words they rely on them, but in their thinking they don’t.” As a result, they treat study as a mere formality, acting as if it were an extra burden and stopping when they’ve just gotten the general idea.

They’re afraid to listen to complaints will mean losing face and harming their authority. They lack the courage and the mindset to enjoy correcting errors that have been pointed out. In revealing problems, fear is at the front of their mind. “Criticize the higher ups and you fear reprisal; criticize your peers and you fear the fire will spread to you; criticize lower levels and you fear losing support; criticize yourself and you fear you’ll destroy your own image.” These people hesitate when implementing rectification and reform, looking all around them with fear that once these limits on power are institutionalized they will limit their freedom.

This reminds us once again: the Party-masses relationship embodied in the mass line campaign must be made more specific, more clear and more standardized. It’s for this very reason that the Party center has emphasized that the mass line campaign must go hand in hand with institution building. The campaign can be used to build lasting attitudes and lasting methods in the system. It must fundamentally resolve the existing “four winds” problem in the Party as well as problems in the Party-masses relationship. “Once the institutions have taken shape, they must be strictly adhered to, ensuring that their are no exceptions in implementation.”

In reality, improving work styles, cleaning up the “four winds” isn’t just a one-time “revolution in thinking”: it’s more of a “exploration of institutions”. “Achieving the macro requires doing the micro” (“天下大事,必作于细”); the small opening created by improved work styles opens up a huge space for work.

On one hand, the question of work styles has a real connection to the desires of the people. Beginning with resolving outstanding problems and the most sensitive issues for the masses, the Party can finally begin building up political credibility. On the other hand, whether it’s reviving the treasured practice of criticism and self-criticism, or “opening the door and doing one’s work,” or holding “democratic life meetings,” these are all expressions of the principles behind our Party building democracy. As political scientists have observed, the mass line campaign is “a kind of reverse mode of public participation.” It emphasizes that policy makers must pro-actively go out into the masses, and that should turn into a determination by the ruling Party to conduct self-purification, self-improvement, and self-renewal.

Transforming work styles is intimately connected to the the masses, and is also a force pushing reform in all sectors. In the economic sector, work-style construction squeezes the bubble of public expenditures and pushes forward healthy and reasonable spending behaviors. This will shape rules about sustainable and efficient use of public money, and will bring together stronger positive energy behind development.

In the political arena, changes to work styles will raise administrative efficiency. By standardizing the operation of power, optimizing the mechanisms, and innovating in institutions, it will plug up the leaks in the operation of government. In the social and cultural sphere, changes to work style will doubtless push a plain and simple style throughout all of society. This will build a strong foundation of values for economic and social development. From here we can see, the mass line campaign that sets correcting work styles as its goal is really like “the wings of a butterfly”: it beats out a breeze that will bring deep and far reaching changes.  And at the center of all these changes is one relationship: the relationship between rights and power. (权利与权力)

One still remembers that during the victory in the war of resistance against Japan, when the American military observer group finished its inspection at Yan’an they praised the new style of the CCP’s administration there to Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Upon hearing this, Madame Chiang Kai-shek disdainfully said that this was because the CCP hadn’t yet truly tasted power. These disdainful doubts were like a mirror, a warning to the communists who were marching toward power. For the past half century, “to serve the people,” these golden words carved above the Xinhua University gate, are further carved into the hearts of tens of millions of Party members. The “Two Musts” of Xibaipo act as a warning that forever resonates. (Xibaipo was the Hebei city where the Communist army stayed in preparation for it’s march on Beijing. The two-musts are roughly: comrades must remain modest, prudent and free from arrogance in work style, comrades must continue to maintain the work style of arduous struggle.)

When our Party does anything, it must first ask: “do the people support it? are the people happy? will the people go along with it?” The Party must “always represent the the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people”, and practice “development for the people, development that relies on the people, development that benefits the people.” “The people’s desire for a good life is the goal of our struggle.” Generation after generation of communists have not for a moment forgotten the exhortations of the people, always strictly governing the Party and diligently practicing that earliest promise made 90 years ago.

“At all times and in all situations, one must never depart from the position of breathing with the people and sharing the people’s fate. Never forget the command to wholeheartedly serve the people. Never lose the principle of materialist philosophy: the masses are the true heroes of history.” “Take the Party’s nature and cultivate it correctly; take Party members responsibilities and understand them thoroughly; take Party discipline and national law and tighten them up.” (“把党性修养正一 正、把党员义务理一理、把党纪国法紧一紧”) “Never loosen your grip on work-style construction, don’t stop even for a moment.” The constantly deepening education activities are crystallizing the political principle of governing for the people, forging the political ethics of people’s democracy, and embodying the historical consciousness of an ever-vigilant Marxist political party. (体现了一个马克思主义政党居安思危的历史自觉.)

8. During the 8th Party Congress of 1956, one poet wrote out these thoughts:

“Don’t forget the mothers in the countryside! Don’t forget the brothers sleeping on their broken kangs! Don’t forget the friendship of the sisters who did the mending! You must deeply reflect on their frustrations and difficulties. This is our fundamental character and our history. Carve them like a monument into your hearts!”

    Ninety years ago, when our Party had 50 members it was able to attract countless people to gather under the same banner. When it had 1.2 million members, it ushered in victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan. When it had 4.5 million members it founded a new socialist China. When it had 35 million members it pushed us on the path toward catching up with the world through reform and opening. When it had 80 million members it led China to becoming the world’s second largest economy. Today, we have 85 million members leading 1.3 billion people toward realizing the Chinese Dream of the great revival of the Chinese people..

During the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the founding of new China, an old revolutionary stood on the Tiananmen gate watching the endless stream of the National Day parade. He spoke this deeply meaningful sentence: “The people are the nation, the nation is the people.” (人民就是江山,江山就是人民. Going out on a limb by translating 江山/”rivers and mountains” as “the nation” but I think it captures the meaning better than “The people are the rivers and mountains.”)

The past, the present and the future, everything originates from this promise:

“Be as one with the people, share their hardships, and unite with them in struggle.”

The People’s Daily, 10/14/2013

Translator’s Note: If you made it his far, congratulations! That was long, dense and often stuffy. I’d love to hear any comments on content of the piece, what it is signalling to the people/cadres, and what your general tolerance is for over-the-top CCP rhetoric.

Translation: “The Deep Significance for Reform in Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone” by Hu Shuli


In last week’s Caixin Hu Shuli (胡舒立) wrote about her belief that the Shanghai FTZ marks a new beginning for economic reforms, potentially marking the “third wave” of reforms (after the SEZ’s of the 80’s and WTO entrance in 2001). She claims that the Shanghai FTZ (technically called the “China (Shanghai) FTZ”) will serve as a gateway and a testing ground for major financial reforms that will then go national. It’s an optimistic take on a policy that has somewhat underwhelmed other commentators, but my understanding is that Hu enjoys strong connections to the new administration. Here’s to hoping she’s right.

As always, comments appreciated on the translation. Link to the original piece here, h/t Sinocism.

The Deep Significance for Reform in Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone

by Hu Shuli

    High-level designs and roadmaps for the new round of reforms remain unclear, but “using opening up to promote reform” has already taken off. On September 29th, half a year after high-level leaders put forward a motion to establish a free trade zone, the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone officially opened. The initial batch of 55 policy trials all came on line, and the remaining 43 policies should come out before year’s end.

    The meaning of this initiative is deep and far-reaching. In the past ten years China has trekked into the deep waters of reform, but interests have solidified, constructing numerous obstacles and clearly slowing the pace of reforms. Over the past year, the new generation of central leaders have together returned to “using opening up to promote reform.” Decision-makers have overridden the objectors and forcefully pushed forward the construction of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, in the process receiving the enthusiastic support of the markets. We can look forward to the founding of the Shanghai pilot free trade zone as a major step in national reform strategies. It seems likely the FTZ could become the third wave of China’s opening up to the outside world, following on the 1980’s special economic zones and the entrance into the WTO at the turn of the century.

    Currently lots of analysis of the FTZ has focused on which stocks or related real estate assets will gain value. The points of interest are what kinds of “policy dividends” might be included in the FTZ’s trials and how much benefit the local economy will derive from the project. The approval of the Shanghai FTZ set off a craze of applications for free trade zones, a phenomenon not unrelated to this expectation of “policy dividends.”

    Actually, the fact that the Shanghai FTZ has been crowned with the word “China” reveals that the focus of experiments in reform isn’t beneficial measures or preferential policies. Instead, the focus is on innovations in the market economy, and is actually a localized test-arrangement with an eye toward the broader situation. This Chinese FTZ located in Shanghai will undertake the mission of the liberalization of trade, the facilitation of investment, the internationalization of finance and the streamlining of administration. The essence of this is using opening up to promote reform, and to use the achievements of experiments in institutional innovation to realize the national strategy. Success or failure is directly connected to the entire situation.

    Let’s take exchange rate liberalization as an example. We can anticipate the prioritization of experiments in innovation of financial market products, offshore operations, financial opening to the outside world, and both domestic investment abroad and foreign investment in China. According to the latest statistics from the Bank for International Settlements, of the $5.3 trillion of daily foreign exchange, the daily RMB exchange has already expanded to $1.2 trillion, representing the first time the RMB has made it into the top ten most used currencies. I believe the FTZ, this bridgehead of opening to the outside world, will become an engine and platform for convertibility of the RMB.

    On the method of opening up, the foreign capital management model of pre-admission national treatment and negative listing (准入前国民待遇和负面清单的外资管理模式, sorry, really don’t understand this jargon) has already become a new trend in the development of international investment rules, one adopted by over seventy countries worldwide. More important is that this model is in step with the direction of reform that China is pushing in its system of administrative approvals. At its essence, it’s a way of creating a fair competitive environment for enterprises under all forms of ownership. However, over the past few decades the complicated “approval system” has already become what economists call “path dependent”: complete reform can only be started with a push from outside, and a fresh start to major changes can only come by way of the experimental zone.

    Looked at from an international perspective, calls for change are already quite urgent. The U.S. and Europe have actively pushed the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP), Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the U.S. Model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT2012). It’s not merely that these agreements cover a wide scope and affect a great deal of economic activity. They use the resolution of issues regarding market access for trade and investment to establish new standards and rules in the areas of the environment, labor, intellectual property, competition, and the transfer of funds. The new situation forces one to either advance or retreat. This means that in exploring new investment management models, the Shanghai FTZ not only benefits internal pushes for reform, but also learns from the experience of the ongoing China-U.S. negotiations over investment agreements. The FTZ will help China win the right to speak on the establishment of new rules, allowing it to play a greater role in global management.

    Of course, the two-track system of policies in and outside the Shanghai FTZ  contains certain dangers and has related supervisory departments worried. The difficulty lies in policy coordination in and outside the FTZ, and the close cooperation of central government departments, especially in terms of integrated supervision and regulation. During the beginning phase of the pilot zone, the strategy of “first line opening up, second line taking control” (“一线放开,二线管住”) will be implemented. This will attempt to both guarantee a localized breakthrough while also strictly controlling the potential for outside risk and preventing the formation of a large shockwave. (力图既保证局部性突破,又严格控制可能的 外部性风险,以防形成过大冲击波)

    The cultivators of the pilot fields must liberate their thought and have the courage to act. Using the courage of reformers and wise, meticulous planning, they must bravely explore and steadily push ahead. They can’t be fettered by the interests of their own departments or their own areas. This requires a rather long process of exploration. The earliest stages of implementation should be a trial-and-error process of relaxing controls and elevating regulatory efficiency. As the FTZ steadily accrues more mature reforms, it will become a “replicable and widely applicable system and regulatory model,” one that can be spread to the whole nation. With that, the reform mission of the China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone will finally truly be realized.

    In any event, this 28.78 square kilometer hotspot is merely a starting point: the opening up of the Shanghai FTZ is just a prelude to future reforms that will be even larger in scope. In the time between planning and opening up the FTZ, public opinion has been strong and the markets have been enthusiastic. One can see that throughout the country people are eagerly anticipating reform. The luck, glory and hardships of reformers don’t merely belong to Shanghai. From now through after the end of the year, we’ll see every locale and every industry gain more of the reformer’s bravery, and wisdom will transform into major action for reform. China will eventually see the emergence of a rolling high tide of reform.

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


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


   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!


teacher dig

Teachers digging

teacher buckets

Expat Blues and its Musical Cure: Frank Turner


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?)