Archive for the ‘Chinese blogs’ Category


Back-to-life story

In Chinese blogs on May 11, 2010 by chinascribe Tagged: ,

The post below received 2613 hits and got a ‘thumbs up’ from 169 of these. The case has also been covered in the mainstream press – for example in Peoples Daily.

Zhao Zuohai is alive; the law is dead. Guyun Duqu, May 10, 2010 original post

Zhao Zuohai is alive. That’s not quite right: eleven years ago, he received a death sentence, suspended two years, for murder; after eleven years, the man he was found guilty of murdering came back, and Zhao was released from jail. The details of what followed are familiar: on one hand, his family was pulled apart, and he has lost his wife and child – he has no home and nowhere to go; on the other hand, officials at all levels are paying great attention to the case and considering compensation for him, emphasising that lessons must be learned from this so that it can never happen again.

From Nie Shubin to She Xianglin, and now to Zhao Zuohai, we see these real-life dramas almost every year: the bones of the story are identical, the plot is identical, though the victims and the outcomes are different. Compared to survivors She and Zhao, Nie Shubin is a more tragic figure: found guilty of two unpardonable crimes and shot, he never been exonerated. According to reports on these three cases, many years ago, our police and judicial authorities took the view after tireless and meticulous investigations that these were ‘cast-iron’ cases; whereas in the case of Zhao Zuohai officials have acknowledged that this was a miscarriage of justice, those who handled the cases of Nie and She, resolutely refuse to recognise their errors, even faced with the facts. However…  many years on the spirit of the wrongly executed man is still with us… even though the murderer may already have been executed, or imprisoned for many years.

The most recent issue of Southern Weekend carried an article entitled ‘The case must be cracked: a madman takes the rap’, which set out in detail how police officials, in order to raise clear-up rates, personally directed a colourful series of alleged ‘murders’. The police force of Wei county, Henan, despite many unanswered questions and the absence of corroborative evidence, declared Liu Weizhong to be the culprit purely on the basis of his deluded ravings. After hastily closing the case, they released him, arguing that ‘people with mental illnesses could not be held responsible under the law’.

[more to follow…]



First Lives

In Chinese blogs,Life histories on April 25, 2010 by chinascribe Tagged: , ,

China’s most popular blogs are about politics, showbiz, stockpicking – but there is also a fair amount of auto/biographical writing. We are told that China had, until very recently, no real auto/biographical traditions, but auto/biography is a massive seller in print and self-narration is very much part of the blogosphere. Crossover here, as academic Cai Tianxin posts a review of his recently published memoir.

Everyone wants to write the history of their childhood Cai Tianxin April 25, 2010 original post

‘Everyone wants to write the history of their childhood’ review of Cai Tianxin, Memories of childhood, published March 2010, by Liao Zhongyuan, Guangzhou, (originally published in Southern Reader南方读书报)

If you classify people by decade, it’s fairly crude division, but there’s no doubt that every decade leaves its mark: not many people now talk about a ‘generation gap’, but it really does exist. So in that sense, if we give Memories of childhood to anyone born in the 1980s or 1990s, to get them to understand the experience of those who grew up from the 1960s, they would feel a tremendous distance – and that’s just what Cai Tianxin had in mind when he wrote the book: ‘I worry that young people today understand very little about the childhoods of their parents’ generation, particularly their experiences during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ – often all they see is the images fabricated or imagined by novelists or film directors.’ Reading [Walter] Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 in his forties inspired him to write.

Memories of childhood is chronological, and strings together memories of childhood and growing up – but I would prefer to see it as a poet’s collection of essays, and not as a childhood memoir in the simplest sense: you often see that the writer is weaving childhood memories into the awareness of adulthood and experience of the world. His writing seems to follow the rhythm of the songs of his childhood, as if hoping to trace his own psychological development and the echoes of lost rural life. In the ‘Moonlight’ chapter, Cai Tianxin quotes a poem by Borges […] and in the mirror of that memory, Cai explains to us so much of what he experienced so long ago.

So what do we find in Memories of childhood? We find rural images of wells, ferry crossings, markets, ponds; symbols of childhood, paternal authority, the thrilling experience of learning to ride a bike, the impulsive dreams of escape… Cai Tianxin has looked so far behind every word of each heading that the book becomes much more than just a childhood memoir; it is his poetic reflection on today’s world. Now, of course, Cai Tianxin is a mathematician, poet and traveller, and in his Memories of childhood you can see the foundations of all this. His memories of his childhood are detailed and clear with a mathematician’s rigour; his emotions are delicate and poignant, showing a poet’s sensibility; he still keeps the map he drew of his first journey at the age of ten, foreshadowing his later travels.

Memories of childhood spans the years between 1963 and 1978, from the time Cai was born until he went to university at fifteen, and including the entire ‘Cultural Revolution’. We have already read so much about the political concepts behind the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The influence of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ – a political movement of unprecedented scope, reaching every corner of China – was so profound and brutal that even now its shadows remain. In the midst of a movement of this scope, no-one is more than a helpless speck of grit in the machinery of the state. His entire childhood was steeped in the atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution – logically, this should have been a terrible thing, but this is not how Cai sees it: ‘The generation above me had the fullest experience of the ‘Cultural Revolution’, and many of the things that were previously central to their lives were discarded or destroyed; but writers born in the seventies came at the tail end of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ and had almost no personal experience of it or of hardship.’ Therefore, the generation that includes writers Su Tong, Yu Hua and Cai Tianxin ‘feel that they had no personal experience of the ‘Cultural Revolution’,’ ‘so, if only in terms of our life experiences, we are a fortunate generation.’ Therefore, although Memories of childhood is distinctively marked throughout by the ‘Cultural Revolution’ years, including the misfortunes of his parents and the rustication of his brother. But to be frank, I felt there was much more to Memories of childhood, in the tenderness that survived those turbulent years; that it was a nostalgic and poignant record of a country boy’s growth to maturity.

Although I wouldn’t agree that anyone born in those years was fortunate, the children of the seventies, eighties and even of the nineties have many reasons to feel that they are lucky, and any generation has its own distinct experiences. What I mean is that, if we all have a certain affection for the times we live through, this is a great thing. But I don’t doubt that the emotions that come out of the book are sincere and natural; I believe that although politics in the end is the macroclimate, and that people are so tiny as to be insignificant, but that it is still possible to pursue happiness. Young people, particularly, who were growing to adulthood then, whose understanding of life was still unformed, and who were sheltered from political ups and downs, may look back after several years to their childhood and really feel little pain over the political treacheries of that time. We see this in Wang Shuo’s Wild beasts, and Jiang Wen’s In the heat of the sun… Conversely, against the backdrop of those magnificent and terrible years, individual, private memories may appear more precious, and do more to enrich our understanding of that time. Here, we should probably return to the words of Su Tong, increasingly frequently quoted, ‘I know that the blood of youth is rich and full of literary meaning; I know how the blood of youth flows in times of chaos and any living creature is affected by this. I know that we all have, somewhere hidden deep within us, a desire to write a history of our childhood. Does that mean that we are beginning to get old?’

Cai Tianxin’s Memories of childhood first appeared in Jiangnan journal as Childhood in the Mao years. Each of the thirty-two chapters has a two-character title, and the chapter length is consistent – this presentation makes for uniformity and ease of reading. But on some topics the depth of Cai’s thinking is not sustained, on others he is less than convincing. And he is not the only writer on this topic, Chen Kaige, too, remembers the experience of growing up during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in Kaige’s childhood, which is filled with sorrowful reflections but also shows a powerful sense of form… when it was first published in Japan under the title My years as a Red Guard – as if the publisher wished to emphasise individual fate against that political backdrop. Whether you have fond or fearful memories of that time… it has already passed.


And another thing…

In Chinese blogs,Han Han,Most popular on April 21, 2010 by chinascribe Tagged: , ,

Han Han followed his original posting on Han Feng with this… as of today, 330,429 votes have been cast in Han Feng’s poll, 96% agreeing that Han Feng is a good cadre. Compared to other corruption cases that have recently attracted attention (see the recent anti-corruption campaigns in Chongqing led by Bo Xilai, for example via China Digital Times), Han Feng is a very small fish indeed – but Han Han’s point – that corruption eats away the livelihoods of China’s poorest, even if creates no headlines at all – is an important one.

Where would I find people as good as you? Han Han, March 14, 2010 original post

In my last post but one, I set up a poll, and so far votes have come from a total of 210,000 unique IP addresses. The result is clear: 96% of you – 200,000 people – felt that Han Feng is a good official and should stay in post; only 4% – fewer than 10,000 – felt that he was a bad official who should be severely punished. Of course, I can do many more polls, to make up for everyone’s sense that they have elected so many representatives to the National People’s Congress without ever seeing a ballot paper. From today, I will set up strategic, unilateral co-operation with all major government websites, so that when they set up a votes on some question or other, I will be able to reflect that here; I won’t write anything, so as to avoid influencing the outcome – we will see how the results differ.

Among the voters were people who felt in their hearts that Han Feng was all right that his appetites were rather modest – and others who felt sincerely that he was more civilised than the average official; others who jeered or who mocked him. But everyone was pretty resigned… And we all know now that China has good officials and bad officials. The result of the Han Feng poll shows that we have reached formally a point where almost all our officials are corrupt – the only distinction is between good corrupt officials and bad corrupt officials. Clearly, everyone believes that Han Feng is a good corrupt official.

Although Han Feng has just been arrested for taking a bribe in a land transaction, as we read the press reports we shouldn’t just pay attention to the stuff about his mobile phone, misuse of powers, and petty corruption. In an interview with New Century Weekly, Han Feng’s boss said, “Guangxi’s spending on tobacco is low by national standards, and Laibing district’s spending is lower still. One of Han Feng’s achievements in Laibing is that in 2007 he raised spending on tobacco… above the national average.”

In this fine place, people originally smoked relatively little, but the state set up an organisation in which an official made the local people, who never used to spend much on tobacco, smoke heavily, so that they spent more, and this became the mark of a good leader. Somehow, getting people to smoke became a political or bureaucratic achievement. In any decent country, maybe you don’t ban smoking – but how can you also set up a government department dedicated to making people smoke more? How can you trade people’s health for this minute fraction of your GDP? But when I think about it, it’s quite normal, and this is how it has always been done.

As the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee meet, the media often asks me to suggest proposals for them, or to contribute to documentaries, or even to go to Beijing to be near the congresses, but I always refuse. What would be the point of that? I have my laptop, and I don’t perform like that.

But as the two congresses end, I feel like saying that in fact, our government really is very fortunate. Most people have always believed that the high-ups’ policy is right and only gets distorted when it’s handed down for implementation. After several decades, they still believe that the high-ups’ policy is right – but wonder how it always gets distorted at lower levels. They have never doubted the first proposition, and they still have an instinctive trust in the ‘high-ups’. When they see a problem, they can always, as a last resort, report it to the capital… If they are bullied by the village chief, they think of the township chief; when the township chief turns a blind eye, they turn to the county chief; when the county chief does nothing, they think of the mayor; but they can never get hold of the mayor, so they dream of finding a minister at the centre, or someone even higher up. They think the only problem is that these lower officials have prevented the truth of the injustice being passed on – it never occurs to them that they irritate the hell out of the people they’re trying to see… They just keep chasing their fragile rights, without asking what rights they really have; they remain convinced that it’s no more than a problem with local officials, and if an official in an Audi asks after them at New Year they feel all warm inside. Of course, these people aren’t just poor – they’re the very archetype of poverty. They feel that officials like Han Feng are all right; they have no expectation that officials will serve the people and are happy as long as they don’t make their lives harder. You live in your big house, drive around in your smart car, nurse your petty corruptions – we just don’t care. As long as you don’t trample on the few rights we have, demolish our little houses or mess with our good name, you’re a good official. If netizens despise you, posts can be deleted; if writers despise you, that can be smoothed over; if journalists despise you, all it takes is a word, and nothing untoward need be reported.

So I’d say that this government is lucky – people are so simple and gentle, so easily satisfied – although they have many discontents, they do have a basic trust in the government. They do protest, sometimes, mostly when they get less than they feel they deserve – deal with that, and they will go home happy. With people like that, I would hope that the government could forget the glories of GDP, cut the flowery talk at congress time, take the pressure off people and allow them some dignity – you don’t do that with a Xinhua press release. You can starve, poison or crush these people, let them die of illness, drink or poverty or a hundred other things, but you will find none more honest then they are.


How you get 1,022,191 readers for a blog post

In Chinese blogs,Most popular on March 22, 2010 by chinascribe Tagged:

Han Han post from a couple of weeks ago… This case has been covered elsewhere, but it will bear a fair amount of attention. Official corruption is always a hot topic, but in Han Feng’s case – as Han Han points out – the level of attention goes some way beyond the level of corruption that had been uncovered at the time of this post. If you look at some of the highest profile cases of recent years, even the official accounts point to much more greed and greater harm (embezzlement of pension funds, anyone?) Han Feng, though, had much more modest desires – if you look at young consumers in any eastern Chinese city, they arguably take for granted much of the stuff that Han Feng funded by illegal means (how does that influence the way he is presented?) and in that he resembles an eighteenth-century local official getting by on meltage and wastage, and what we see of his diary makes him appear naive, Pooterish… Is this some of the fascination of the case? So much of the corruption that makes the papers seems to involve harm to vulnerable people, and despite official insistence that a tireless war is being waged against the corrupt it is easy to feel that many more are getting away with serious abuses. Han Feng in himself, though, does not pose a massive threat; it is easy to present him as a bit of a hick; he seems almost to have been begging to get caught – is it a comforting thought that you can sometimes just despise corrupt officials, rather than fearing them?

Han Feng is a good cadre March 4

The diary of Han Feng, director of the Guangxi Tobacco Agency, has become a hot topic recently. I think that it’s a breath of fresh air to see literary description in a web that is teeming with images and videos. This will be – in its literary and social value – the work of 2010. After I read the director’s diary, I felt we should not prosecute him. If we believe it is genuine, I feel confident in saying that he is a good cadre.

  1. This is a cadre who, in the last six months, has accepted a mere Y60,000 in bribes. That’s the first time in the last few years that I’ve seen the words ‘accepted bribes of’ followed by a five-figure number – where else will we find a director of such probity?
  2. Not one of his women – past, present, regular or intended – is actually kept by him.
  3. This is a director who doesn’t gamble, doesn’t consort with prostitutes, doesn’t bribe his bosses.  If he’s out and needs to get a mobile phone card, he queues up, even if it takes hours.
  4. In his diary, we saw a national cadre who shows real frugality: as other cadres were giving their mistresses houses and cars, he gave his own women no present worth more than a mobile phone or MP4. This doesn’t just show he’s a good guy – it also tells us his women are OK too. How much would we save for China each year if we had more men and women like this?
  5. He only accepted 89 banquet invitations – I know of many village cadres who eat out over 365 times a year. But he often got drunk, and doesn’t have a great head for for alcohol, so in this he didn’t measure up as a national cadre – this was his greatest crime, and it severely damaged the image of our public servants.
  6. He’s had a lot of women – but he was also seen out with his wife on 25 occasions; he bought a mobile for his father – but he hasn’t been discovered using his official position to advance his relatives’ interests.
  7. He can install his own computer software, likes digital gadgets, photography, sport, and writes his diary in micro-blog format – he’s a leader in touch with the times.
  8. In his diary, I didn’t see a single mention – not even a hint – of the hankering after flash cars, art or antiques that’s typical of a national cadre; he just plays quietly with his mobile and his computer. In the diary, he even mentions buying an earpiece for Y160. He’s so easily satisfied – it’s fantastic!
  9. As for work, although we haven’t seen this leader do any work, all that a so-called cadre needs do do is to manage his people and that fulfils the job description.

All of which tells us that, as things are now in China, he’s definitely a better than average cadre. Cadres like him can amuse themselves and are easily satisfied; they don’t harm the people and they don’t harass them; and they do less harm than others do to state and nation. In the diary, we saw a national cadre who was perfectly happy with only a few thousand yuan; when he bought a mobile phone, all he wrote in his diary for three days was ‘stayed home and played with mobile’ – he didn’t even bother with his women. There are so many cadres in the same position who are guilty of worse than he is. I urge all netizens to leave him and his women alone – they’re the smallest fry in this.  Their greatest crime is that they snapped up a few creatures floating by. We can hope that they be dealt with according to the law – but we must not take them to be the model of official depravity. In these degenerate official circles, they are the greenest and least harmful. Let’s allow this director to continue his research into digital products from the job that he has. If he left it, his replacement could do far more harm to everyone – the main difference would be that he might not write a diary.

Poll, 254332 respondents [as at March 22]

Han Feng is a good cadre: hope he will remain in post: 244704 votes (96%)

Han Feng is a bad cadre: hope he will be dealt with according to the law: 9628 (4%)

Readers: 720,157

Comments: 9297

Diary in Chinese at:

ChinaHush translation at: though I prefer my own translation.


And the runner-up is…

In Chinese blogs,Most popular on March 1, 2010 by chinascribe Tagged: ,

Xu Jinglei, actress and director, is’s second most popular blogger. This recent post, translated below, has so far received over 200,000 hits and 8,500 comments – such is the power of celebrity blogging. And this makes it quite hard to get a handle on the everyday blogosphere: if there are über-blogs out there that can attract hundreds of millions of visits (no exaggeration – Xu Jinglei is currently on 269,568,103), how do we decide how much traffic a blog needs to count as interesting?

There are two strands to the blog. The first focuses on fairly traditional PR matters, covering sponsorship events, promoting her lifestyle magazine Kaila, and talking through her latest film’s progress towards release. The second has a Xu-Jinglei-next-door flavour: see the self-deprecating tone of the post below, the super-cute babypix in other posts (very clean baby, too), and the post from March last year that begins ‘It is unbelievably cold in the house, and my typing fingers are frozen…’)

Dumbing down on holiday March 1

After 22 days on holiday, in these dull rainy days in this tropical city, I sleep until I wake naturally – after sleeping 5 or 6 hours a night for the past year, I started sleeping 9 or 10 hours; I’ve finished the 6th season of 24, become obsessed with television, and watched as much television on holiday as I have over the last five years put together.

Just as this blog was about to space out completely, news came from the team that they wanted me to put the final touches to the film to smooth preparation for the release, so the airhead took half an hour to finish packing her already overweight bags, book a ticket and rush back to Beijing!

The night I got back to China, I couldn’t sleep until nine thirty the following morning; I knew I had a meeting at midday and the more I worried about it the harder I found it to sleep. And all this in my desperation to change the airhead back into superwoman.

When I got back to China, airhead-superwoman went to work immediately at the Huairou centre. The greatest thing is that the technology is now so advanced, you have perfect freedom to adjust the colours in the print. Airhead-superwoman loves high tech .

It’s a real shame but I’ve taken no photos since my last post.

What is even more airheaded, the last two times I’ve been through the airport, on both occasions I’ve nearly lost my hand luggage …


Blogging in China is huge

In Blogs about China,Chinese blogs on February 23, 2010 by chinascribe

Blogging in China is huge. The China Internet Network Information Center’s 24th annual report records 181 million blog users in mid-2009; there are personal blogs, photoblogs, official blogs at all levels of government (see, for example, the Public Security blog), self-help, agony aunt and stock market blogs; and of course a proliferation of China-watching blogs overseas. The most popular blog on – Han Han, novelist and amateur race driver, described by Time magazine as “China’s Literary Bad Boy” (on which more below) – has received over 325 million visits since 2007, and 3,000 comments have been left on today’s post. There is a small (English-language) academic industry dedicated to blog-watching in China that reflects some of what we have thought blogging will mean for China – growth of new communities in civil society, opportunities to bypass the mostly still relatively, um, staid  mainstream media – but on the whole this doesn’t dig very far into the millions of blogs that attract much less attention than Han Han and other blogged-up celebrities (well, you can see why, I suppose…).  But that stuff does matter; it does show us quieter lives in a China that doesn’t always catch our attention. Some of this we can see at second hand, through the work of the China-watching blogs – but there is much, much more out there – so here we go…

Let’s begin with a random selection of China-watching blogs: accessible (if you read English but not Chinese), eclectic  and thought-provoking

One of the best is probably The China Beat featuring China scholars providing ‘context and criticism’ on China and current affairs: informed, intelligent comment on those aspects of China that matter to the rest of the world. Recent posts include a survey of work on religion and modernity in China and Taiwan, and a round-up of commentary on China, Tibet and the US in the run-up to Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Equally interesting, and rather more political is EastSouthNorthWest, which offers translation, commentary and critique of media stories from and about China, from mining disasters and journalists’ ‘gag fees’ to a thread provoked by the Han Han interview in Time (this could all become terribly circular, could it not?)

There are also some productive blog aggregators: chinaSMACK offers stories from China, translated into English: content ranges from discussion of adultery (and how to face the consequences) to Google’s recent dispute with the Chinese authorities.The founders note that, ‘chinaSMACK hopes that translating and sharing the content that is most hot or viral on China’s internet, as well as the comments of Chinese netizens themselves, foreign netizens can better understand a part of China’s modern society and that Chinese people aand foreigners are really not so different after all.’

ChinaHush does something very similar, but is rather darker in tone (observe the prominence in the tag cloud of terms such as ‘Crime’, and ‘Death’. The founder states that, ‘… I created ChinaHush first and mostly for personal reasons, as a way to record what I have been learning about China, and to share this knowledge with those who also have an interest in China. I think the Western media does not do a good job of presenting China to the western world.’

ChinaGeeks is a third translation site, carrying news and blog translations (there is an accompanying Chinese-language blog). The site blurb tells us that ‘We post articles, original essays, translations, news, and relevant links to further the English-language discourse on China. Topics covered include (but are not limited to) history, current events, politics, literature, culture, and philosophy. We take pride in our writing standards–everything you find here will be well-written and worth your time (we hope!)’ And check out the interesting blogroll.

The HaoHao Report collects English-language media stories about China.