Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 3 March 2012

Will Chinese nationalists support Scottish independence?

Four years ago, online Chinese nationalists promised they would come to the London Olympics with slogans supporting Scottish independence in retaliation for the “Free Tibet” demonstrators who protested against the Peking Olympcs.

Now Scotland is poised to hold a referendum on independence, and there are massive anti-government demonstrations in London. I am curious to see whether Chinese students will in fact show up at the Olympics with Free Scotland slogans!

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 23 January 2012

Hungary can say no

Yesterday, the largest demonstration since 1989 took place in Hungary. At least one hundred thousand people joined what the organisers called a “March of Peace” to support the nationalist government, which the European Commission and especially Western media rightly criticize as taking steps to undermine democracy and the rule of law. A revision of some laws is a condition for a new loan from the IMF and the EU, which the government has requested after having previously terminated its relationship with the IMF and suggested that it might prefer China as a lender.

The demonstrators, carrying slogans (also in English) like “European Union: 55 Years Old; United States: 236 Years Old; Hungary: 1116 Years Old,” “Let Us Decide,””We Will Not Be a Colony.One poster, with the English words “Hands Off Hungary! EU & IMF Get Out of Hungary,” showed a man with a heart on his sleeve throwing a flag of the European Union, a Communist red star, and Star of David into a wastebasket.

The demonstration was organised by two nationalistic media outlets and their leading lights (known, among others, for their anti-Semitism). It was the owner of one of the media groups, who is also one of Hungary’s richest men, who asked that demonstrators to bring English slogans, lest “Western media lie that this was an anti-government demonstration.”

The Ministry of the Interior, unprecedentedly, issued a statement that praised the demonstration as orderly and good-humoured and noted as the largest ever since the collapse of state socialism (it put the number of participants at 400 thousand).

I have been writing for some time about the similarities between Chinese and Hungarian nationalism and its use by the government, but this is just extraordinary. The rhetoric, down to the name of the demonstration; the intertextuality between government and demonstrators’ rhetoric and the complicity of large media and government; at the same time, the genuine emotions and extraordinary scale that can in no way be dismissed as government-organised: all of this is just like the 2008 demonstrations of Chinese students in support of the government and denouncing the Western press.

The Hungarian government has been emulating their Chinese colleagues, mostly unconsciously but partly consciously. (The ruling party sent a delegation to China’s State Administration of Film, Radio and Television before passing its own restrictive media law.) But more importantly, it combined the discourse of Hungarian nationalism (laboriously built up in the last twenty years and by now nearly hegemonic) with the symbols and language of parternalistic authoritarianism in which those who disagree are suspected of not being genuine members of the nation. And it clearly has struck a cord with many Hungarians.

One or two years ago I thought that the similarities between Hungarian and Chinese nationalism are a cautionary tale of what might happen, but I did not actually believe it would. Now it has happened, I think research on China might actually illuminate what is taking place in Hungary.

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 8 December 2011

New CCTV director on what is false news

Hu Zhanfan 胡占凡, the former editor-in-chief of Guangming Daily, the rather quaint ideological paper of the Communist Party, has been promoted to director of China Central Television.

In May, Hu gave a long speech on eliminating “false news.” In the speech, he defined various categories of “false news,” against which the authorities were launching a campaign and issuing new regulations.

In addition to the first category of false news — made-up ones — he identified two more. The second category is 以偏概全 (“using one side to cover the whole”), in other words, where, “even though a particular fact is true, it is not the whole truth, not the overall truth, not the general truth, and certainly not the essential truth” (不是总体的真实,不是宏观的真实,不是普遍的真实,更不是本质的真实). So, for instance, it may be true that my wife is pregnant, but since I am not, this is basically false news.

The third category — though it is not clear why it is different from the above — is news that are “irresponsibly” reproduced from websites, freelancers, or “internal-circulation periodicals.”

The second part of the speech deals extensively with the reasons behind the spread of false news. Interestingly, the interests of foreign anti-Chinese forces are not mentioned.

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 2 December 2011

The newspaper burning

Various sites have been reporting — although the Tianya thread was quickly deleted — on the open burning of newspapers belonging to the Southern Media Group on 17 November in Taiyuan and 18 November in Shijiazhuang. According to an article published in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily,”some leftist netizens” bought up copies of Southern Weekend and other papers and burned them in public while displaying slogans like “For the Chinese Nation, Burn Traitor Southern Media” 为了中华民族火烧汉奸南方报系.

A “leftist” website called 乌有之乡 has, according to the article, accused Southern Media for “doing the bidding of anti-Chinese forces, emphasizing the dark sides of China under the guise of attacking the CCP, correcting history, [and] peddling universal values” and, “with the pretext of opposing corruption, conspiring to subvert the Party and destroy the state and plotting to lead China into collapse and colonization. The site endorsed the burning as just. So did Peking University professor Kong Qingdong 孔庆东 (“Confucius-Celebrate-the-East”).

(A couple of days later, Southern Metropolis published an interview with an unusually nationalistic heading: “To change Western demonising propaganda in a way Africans understand” 已飞走听得懂的方式改变西方妖魔化宣传. True, the title is a quote from the official who was interviewed, but perhaps this is a cautious hedging strategy nonetheless, or even a shift.)

The burning of literature seems once again to be trendy; for example, members of the Hungarian National Front organised the burning of “Zionist” and “globalist” literature, including Marx, earlier this year. The fact that well-known academic endorse this act (others, of course, have condemned it) has been interpreted in Chinese commentary as an escalation of the war of words between the “new left” and “neo/liberals” in the Chinese intelligentsia. But I think it is indicative, rather, of the moving of violent nationalism closer to the mainstream.

At the same time, it is remarkable that some liberal intellectuals who responded by asking whether they should now burn People’s Daily used the term 北系 (Northern papers). Southern papers are, of course, called Southern. But I wonder if perceived political position somehow halos into a geographical division and vice versa. Is this an indication of an emering geographical opposition along political lines?

It is hard to say to what extent this attack is related to the hard times Southern is currently experiencing, what with the recent firing of the editor of its Internet portal, 南风窗, allegedly for an editorial he wrote. It is also hard to say whether this reflect Guangdong Party secretary Wang Yang’s falling out of grace and whether that in turn is related to Jiang Zemin’s ill health or the imminent change of Party leadership. But it is remarkable how different provinces can look politically, what with Bo Xilai’s “leftist” experimentation in Chongqing and the association of Guangdong with liberal treason. It is perhaps not that hard to imagine China falling apart, just as the accusers say.

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 13 November 2011

Burma: China’s latest bully

On MqVU, I write about the mixed reactions to the suspension of the Chinese-invested Myitsone Dam megaproject by the Burmese government. While some liberal commentators see in it a failure of China’s foreign investment policies, a range of voices — from a Phoenix TV host to a Chinese worker on the site — call for retaliation for this newest national humiliation. But if this is an aid project, why should it be defended as national interest?

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 4 November 2011

Who speaks for the West in Chinese media?

A recent issue of the Chinese edition of Global Times — a nationalistic offshoot of the People’s Dailyquoted the “famous geopolitics expert and petroleum scientist” F. William Engdahl as saying that America may instigate more civil wars in Africa to contain China’s influence. Three days later, the Africa bureau chief of the People’s Daily responded, calling this scaremongering.

Engdahl is one of the four contributors to the website of the Centre for Research on Globalization, which according to Wikipedia “publishes news articles, analysis and intelligence on New World Order conspiracy theories” (and which — along with the English edition of Pravda, the newspaper of the Russian Communist Party — is a regular source of articles reproduced in the newsletter of the Centre for African Studies at Peking University). Engdahl believes in “global cooling” and thinks that petroleum does not have biological origins. He is a supporter  of “perennial presidential candidate” Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. He thinks the Egyptian uprising — or coup — was engineered by Barack Obama.

Yet such thinkers, who in mainstream Western media are seen as loonies, can be presented as authoritative spokesmen of Western thought in China — along with those at the other extreme, who serve to demonstrate anti-China sentiments.

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 19 March 2011

Chinese reactions to earthquake in Japan

Predictably, there is quite a bit of schadenfreude on the Chinese Internet about the earthquake in Japan. One e-mail from a student in Shanghai, circulated on the Minjian International mailing list, speculates that part of the reason might be the tortuous logic that if parts of Japan’s east coast will become uninhabitable, then Japan will be “even more” covetous of Chinese land, so that “if we show them sympathy now, it will be too late to cry in the event of a war.”

A longer discussion on Minjian International shed light on the entanglements between Phoenix TV, the main Chinese-language news channel, and the higher echelons of Chinese cadredom, which make the uniformity of the political discourse on the station more understandable. The discussion focused on Qin Feng, a Japan-based reporter for Phoenix TV, who emphasised in a blog post that she had “no feelings whatsover” for Japan and therefore was able to observe the unfolding events at a distance. Before returning to China — as she wrote, out of a desire to see the 60th anniversary festivities of the PRC — and joining Phoenix, Qin was in the Chinese foreign service. Qin writes that she began wearing red “for China” at that time, although she had always preferred black and white.

According to a biographic sketch circulated on Minjian International, Qin’s father and grandfather — an “old revolutionary” — were both high-ranking cadres. Qin was awarded Phoenix’s Reporter of the Year award in 2008, after a report in which showed EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson drinking Chinese milk earned Premier Wen Jiabao’s personal commendation. She also reported on the Wenchuan earthquake, and said that she found Chairman Hu Jintao’s “grief-stricken face unforgettable.”

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 22 December 2010

Little uproar about death of fishermen rammed by Korean boat

The BBC and Financial Times reported on 20 December that a Korean patrol boat rammed a Chinese fishing boat in Korean territorial waters, causing the death of two fishermen. The FT said the incident has not been reported in Chinese media, perhaps because the government does not want to antagonize Korea further at a time of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

A cursory look at Chinese online forums reveals less uproar than I would have expected. The nationalistic-militaristic website Iron Blood has, after an initial report, a relatively short and, by the standards of the site, definitely subdued comment on the issue, saying that the Chinese government is not speaking out because it doesn’t want to anger America and claiming that the waters in which the incident took place are actually Chinese, but not calling for any action against South Korea. Response to the post appears limited.

But another website has what it says is a repost of a Peking Morning News article, which provides a report on the incident, referring in turn to China’s Central People’s Radio Broadcasting. This is a rather factual report, with the only question raised being whether the incident really took place in Korea’s territorial waters. There are no comments.

A post on the Global Times’ blog platform, calling for justice for the fishermen, got no comments either. Nor did another on the People’s Daily’s server.

Mystifying! For one thing, why can’t Chinese posters agree on whether the news were reported in official media or not? For another, why is the response so lukewarm, when in fact two people are dead? Is it because, as one poster wrote, “there are no heroes” in this incident, and posters are less concerned with death than with heroism? Or is it because an increasingly capricious and rhapsodic censorship is in action?

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 11 December 2010

News of the Nobel night

Thanks to the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony this evening, in which Liu Xiaobo is being honoured, the campaign of the Chinese government to condemn the prize as an anti-China, and indeed an anti-peace, plot and to enlist the support of other states in doing so has been given wide coverage, including in yesterday’s New York Times. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu — who looks like a female kapo in films about Nazi concentration camps and is the one who seems to be preferred by the ministry to deliver insults — reported that the members of the Nobel Committee were criminals and clowns, and that over 100 “countries and organisations” agreed with China in condemning the award, which, according to her, demonstrated that the “overwhelming majority” of the world’s people were against it.

The committee, for its part, found it necessary to emphasise that the award was not intended to impose Western values on China.

I am not providing any links here because these comments have been widely reported in English-language media and can be easily found online.

Rather, here are some first-hand news from a restaurant owner in Peking’s Dongcheng district. Yesterday he, along with other restaurant owners, was summoned to the police and asked not to let anyone planning to celebrate Liu’s award into his restaurant. He was to report any praise of Liu to the police, and warned that undercover police would be dispatched and would initiate a process against him if he did not do so.

This particular restaurant owner is involved in the so-called underground art scene (which is not underground at all), so it could be suspected that he was singled out for his suspect sympathies. But according to him, all restaurants in Dongcheng got the same summons.

Then later, the police called the restaurant and said forget it. No need to report after all.

Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 30 November 2010

Ma Licheng on the Say No Club

A long essay by Ma Licheng, a former senior editor of the People’s Daily‘s commentary page, has been circulating on the Chinese Internet. I received it via the mailing list Minjian International.

The essay, entitled “Yawan de shuzhi” (A tree branch pressed into a bough) starts with the mention of two wallets for sale in the fashionable boutiques of Peking’s Shichahai area, with the text “Chinese people must lead everything” (Zhongguoren bixu lingdao yiqie) and “The whole world must speak Chinese” (Quanshijie bixu shuo Zhongwen). The author then lists four articles published in major Chinese newspapers and magazines, from the highbrow Dushu to the popular Xinjing bao  in July-September 2010 warning of the dangers of the current wave of nationalism. It seems that these warnings are sharper and franker than before, and talk critically about anti-Westernism, “anti-Enlightenment” sentiments, “worship of the state,” and even Fascism. The well-known philosophers Yi Zhongtian and Li Zehou warn of a emerging “national socialism” (guojia shehuizhuyi) that risks to result in warmongering abroad and dictatorship at home.

Much of the essay is taken up by tracing the lineage of the Say No books, of which he reviews eight, along with the responses they elicited. He notes that China’s Not Happy (2009) was met with more ridicule than enthusiasm, and concludes that “Chinese society has begun to mature.”

Ma also reviews two 2010 publications. Zhongguomeng (The Chinese Dream) was written by Liu Mingfu, head of the Institute of Army Construction (budui jianshe, meaning organisational build-up) at the University of National Defense. Liu takes explicit issue with the idea of “peaceful rise” and suggests that China’s rise may have to be accompanied by warfare, a point advocated by other Say No writers (who, however, are not active military officers). He also claims that “China has the cultural gene for being the leader of the world,” a particulary ingenious alloy of social Darwinism, cultural nationalism, and violence-mongering.

The second 2010 book is Zhongguo zhanqilai (China stands up) by former liberal Moluo, who similarly prophesies that “in the future, the world will be politically united by the Chinese people” and described “Western civilization” as diseased cells.  Moluo reserves the brunt of his invective for the May 4 movement’s leading intellectuals: Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu (a founding father of Chinese Communism), Lu Xun, and Hu Shi. In contrast, he gives Hitler and even Japanese militarism some credit for their willingness to stand up to Anglo-American hegemony. In a Nietzschean vein (which also echoes the Leninist approach to ethics, albeit from the perspective of nation rather than class), Moluo states that “the difference between saint and devil has nothing to do with personal morality; rather, it depends entirely on which country’s interests he serves [and] which country’s lives he harms.”

I have not tried to trace Ma’s intellectual background, but it seems reminiscent of a 1980s “reform socialist” who has some sympathy for liberal ideals but not for cultural relativism or for the post-1990 New Left, and remains rooted in an earlier CCP rhetoric (he quotes Deng Xiaoping to support his arguments). Ma states squarely that there are “two types of nationalism: one is healthy nationalism,” like that of Sun Yat-sen, Kemal Atatürk, or Gandhi (?!), and “perverted nationalism,” like that of Napoleon, Mussolini, or Hitler — and that of the Chinese nationalists he criticizes. (Where would Ma put Stalin?)

Ma suggests that Chinese nationalist thinkers generally come from the “left,” and indeed that “in Chinese conditions, the ‘left’ and nationalism are blood brothers.” This seems to be a simplification, as until the 1999 book China’s Road in the Shadow of Globalization, Chinese nationalists were not antiglobalist, and even since then, only some of them show concern for social justice. Moluo is no leftist by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, there might indeed be a growing coalescence between nationalist and labour or rural concerns, which could either be a decisive setback for the identification of these concerns with the liberal human-rights set, or eventually turn them into a battleground between the two, not unlike in pre-1949 China. Indeed, as I recently heard in a presentation by David Palmer, the conservative grassroots charity Yidan Xuetang in Peking, whose main activity is reciting Confucian scriptures in public, is encouraging its members to go to villages and reconnoitre local conditions; it also publishes works by 1940s Confucian rural-betterment activists such as Liang Shuming.

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