I’ve assembled a new page of various online resources for Chinese Historical Image Collections, ranging from photographs of events and objects to posters to political cartoons. If there are any sites I’ve missed, drop a comment and I’ll add it to the list.
James Fallows wishes he was in China right now to “see first-hand” how people in China are reacting to reports that dam construction may have led to the Sichuan earthquake last year. Here’s a rough translation of the only media report I’ve seen so far addressing the issue:
Foreign Media Stir Up Trouble, Speculate “Sichuan Earthquake was Man-Made”
In the past few days, western media has been spreading the following kind of statement – “Large Dam is the Cause of Last Year’s Sichuan Earthquake”, followed by the rumor that the earthquake in turn induced the current northern drought. Experts believe Western media’s linking of natural and man-made disasters is unscientific and irresponsible.
On January 3rd the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph published a story filed by Shanghai correspondent Malcolm [Moore, only first name published] quoting a “Chinese scientist” saying “Construction and filling of the Zipingpu reservoir in Sichuan altered pressure on fault lines, most likely causing the earthquake.” According to the report, Columbia University professor [Christian] Klose holds the same opinion. This quickly became a hot news item in the Western media. The Associated Press and other media all trumpeted the man-made aspect in their headlines, and a few included photographs of the earthquake’s aftermath to give it additional visual impact.
Gao Jianguo, Vice Secretary General of the China Association for Disaster Prevention said the Zipingpu reservoir couldn’t have brought about so large an earthquake, as a reservoir has never created an earthquake registering over 7.0 in modern history. Experts believe that in covering China’s natural disasters, Western media should use a more objective and scientific approach.
In addition, in regards to Western statements that “China’s current drought was brought on by the earthquake”, the National Climate Center’s director of forecasting Zhang Peiqun says the present drought and the Wenchuan earthquake have no direct connection. “This years major drought is the result of slow changes since last October, primarily the persistent lack of rain. These two events are separated by 5 to 6 months, it is extremely difficult to link them together.” Gao Jianguo says that in disaster research there is a theory of “disaster chains”. One type is a “drought-earthquake chain”. Before an earthquake, underground heat rises up. Up to three years before an earthquake there will normally be a drought. A “flash flood chain” follows the earthquake, as hundreds of kilometers of faultlines can emerge and subterranean water can surface, leading to an increase in rainfall. To say the earthquake was the cause is to obviously reverse the sequence by mistake.
I don’t know anything about geology or climate science, but saying that a reservoir has never caused an earthquake over 7.0 sounds like weak sauce. Doesn’t that mean Gao Jianguo is agreeing that it might have, just as the Western media is saying?
“The present situation of maintaining national security and social stability is grave,” Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu warned China’s leaders this month, according to state media.
The quote followed a list of dissenting behavior that all occurred in January 2009 – Charter 08, the CCTV boycott letter and Yan Yiming’s attempt to bring sunshine to the government budget and stimulus plan, and following it are details on the charter. The average reader would naturally assume that Minister Meng was referring to these events.
But he wasn’t. The full quote was:
孟建柱强调，当前维护社会稳定工作面临一系列新情况、新问题 ，要密切关注国际金融危机对社会稳定带来的影响和冲击，密切关注敌情社情的新变化，充分认识形势的严峻性和复杂性，狠 抓好各项工作措施落实，努力维护国家安全和社会稳定。
Meng was referring to the financial crisis and told the audience to understand the “grave” and complex nature of its effects. This could be an oblique reference to Charter 08 and its brethren, but its really a pastiche of party cliches. As far back as 2004 Meng was telling his audience to “actively tackle new grave challenges to national security and social stability” and “consolidate the Party’s political power”. The Washington Post article ignores this context completely, giving the impression that Meng is responding to intellectuals. In fact, he’s been on a tour of cities for the past couple of months stressing that police need to focus on small cases – he’s talking about community policing of rural unrest, not academic dissent.
Other English-language articles are taking quotes from the Chinese press out of context. One Reuters article titled “China calls for “absolute obedience” from military” and begins with a quote from state media:
China, wary of growing unrest and facing “multiple security threats”, called for unity in its armed forces on Sunday and absolute obedience to the Communist Party.
All military forces should ensure that they “uncompromisingly obey the Party and Central Military Commission’s command at any time and under any circumstances”, the commission said in a statement issued on Sunday and reported by Xinhua news agency.
Reuters puts this in the context of the plethora of political anniversaries coming this year, as well as unemployed graduates and migrants being a potential threat to stability. But these quotes are stock language as well. The original quote in Chinese regarding “obedience”, “确保部队在任何时候任何情况下都坚决听从党中央、中央军委指挥”, appears as early as 2004 (with insignificant differences) in a Baidu News search. And the phrase about the military facing numerous security threats (“我军应对多种安全威胁”) has been used nearly everyday for years. These quotes belong under an Onion-esque headline: Chinese Military Redeploys Stale Rhetoric. They are even less in response to contemporary developments than Meng’s, and there is no mention or suggestion that the military would be used to deal with “social stability” problems, as the New York Times repeated. The term used was 部队安全稳定, or “security and stability of the armed forces“, which generally refers to things like safety training and perhaps also political ideology classes for soldiers. In other words, standard practices.
Adam Minter mentioned the other day that the New York Times published a story on the possibility that there is now a net outflow of cash from the PRC (it is not certain if this is true), and compares it to a Caijing story saying:
To be fair, the Caijing article offers little more statistical evidence than the NYT piece, but – unlike the NYT piece – it doesn’t bury its uncertainty in unconnected anecdotes.
These other articles suffer from a similar problem, stringing together a series of anecdotes that may be connected but don’t actually show it.
As China Geeks points out, many articles (Reuters again, in this case) argue the Party is taking the economic downturn seriously because it wants to avoid another Tiananmen. Western media has a tendency to look at China, particularly in rough times like those now and ahead, through Tiananmen-colored glasses. Though nothing in the military commission report suggests they had disgruntled students on their mind, this article succumbed to the temptation to put them together. These are newsworthy topics, but the article gives false evidence they are intertwined. This is not to say that the Chinese government isn’t concerned about Charter 08 or social unrest, but that these are not examples of its concern. These are examples of jargon.
Once upon a time one of the vital tools of journalists in China was “reading the tea leaves” – reading between the lines of editorials to gather hints about internal power struggles in the government. Some scholars still do it. Perhaps in some cases, like the articles above, this has degenerated into reading things into articles in Chinese state media.
Image by Zach_ManchesterUK @ Flickr.
The Chinese government has managed to overreact to Charter 08 by making one author an international martyr for free speech by jailing him, requiring Beijing law students to renounce the document in meetings, and perhaps shutting down Chinese blog provider Bullog.cn, or at least that’s what many believe is behind the current anti-vulgarity campaign, as well deleting the new blogs by Bullog refugees like Persian Xiaozhao. There are some, such as Han Han or Ai Weiwei, who seem to be considered “too big to censor”, but that’s only so far.
The other day I was telling a friend that one of the reasons I continue to live in China and find it interesting is that growing up I was a scifi geek. I always loved the idea of visiting other planets, and living abroad is the closest I’ll ever get. The common wisdom in both countries about the other is a bit like descriptions of Jupiter: massive (China in people, America in power), enormous gravitational pull (markets, culture), and full of dangerous gases (pollution from China, political hot air from the U.S.). What makes China so much like another planet isn’t that China is actually so alien, but rather the distance between them perceived by both sides. China is, for so many Americans, so far away as to be an abstract concept, and vice versa for Chinese peoples perceptions of America. To illustrate, check out these surveys (disclaimer: never believe surveys):
The outlines of the Obama Administration’s China policies are starting to come into focus. First was the mention of China on the new Whitehouse.gov:
Seek New Partnerships in Asia: Obama and Biden will forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. They will maintain strong ties with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia; work to build an infrastructure with countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity; and work to ensure that China plays by international rules.
That was a bit more forceful than “responsible stakeholder”. Now incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has mentioned in his confirmation hearings that China is “manipulating” its currency. To be clear, Geithner was quoting Obama’s campaign rhetoric and did not state policy.
“President Obama — backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists — believes that China is manipulating its currency,” Mr. Geithner wrote. He stopped short of charging that China is manipulating its currency intentionally to gain an unfair trade advantage, as the 1988 law requires for an official citation of currency “manipulation.”
The statement was in response to a question from Chuck Schumer – everyone in China ought to understand how he rolls. Little noticed so far, however, has been Hillary Clinton’s choice of Kurt M Campbell for assistant secretary of East Asian Affairs. A former assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific during the Clinton Administration, Campbell has been fairly visible in the media, writing about the schism between sinologists, a semi-regular column in the Taipei Times, and frequent appearances on NPR. He appears to be a defense-oriented centrist, supporting multilateral talks in Korea and maintaining the American strategic position in the Pacific. He’ll be worth watching in the future.
Photo by January20th2009 @ Flickr.
via China Digital Times, news that the premier museums of China and Taiwan may be getting back together. The National Palace Museum in Taipei is essentially the worlds longest touring exhibition, since its collection is pretty much everything Chiang Kai-Shek could fit on the boat with him when he left. That raises the question of whether any similar activities might take place at the Fujian – Taiwan Kinship Museum (闽台缘博物馆) in Quanzhou, Fujian. Southern Fujian is where the “native” Taiwanese (本省人) are predominantly from – “native” meaning Chinese whose ancestors migrated pre-1949, not the far smaller population of indigenous peoples. It’s the Southern Fujian dialect, Minnan, that is known as “Taiwanese”. Culturally there are vast similarities – Southern Fujian culture shares far more in common with Taiwan than with Northern Fujian (last night Quanzhou police were in full force against drunk drivers for the year-end employee dinner Wei Ya (尾牙), a Taiwanese mainstay as well – and the museum celebrates this, along with extremely blunt language about the political implications. Above is a slide show of some of the museum, including hometown art sensation (he of the Olympics fireworks) Cai Guo-Qiang’s firecracker painting and the historical narrative text throughout the museum.
ESWN links to an article at Ulaan Batar Post about Mongolian Nazis, whose members espouse “The Chinese are our main enemies as they contaminate Mongolian blood by getting married to Mongolian women, and intend to assimilate Mongolians to Chinese” and “It is for their own good […] A small nation can only survive by keeping its blood pure.” In Xinijang, I did meet a few Uighurs who eventually struck up conversations with me beginning with “What do you think about Hitler?” and had similar views about what was necessary to preserve their people. One Uighur YouTube user has a special place for one of Hitler’s speeches on his account, and I suspect that while a minority viewpoint, the sorts of views I heard in 2004 and Justin Rudelson wrote about in his book Oasis Identities, where he points out that Hitler supported pan-Turkic nationalism to undermine the Soviets in Central Asia, and Xinjiang explorer and scholar Sven Hedin had Nazi sympathies. Turkey has had its share of Hitler idolizing as well, such as when a translation of Mein Kampf flew off the shelves in 2005. It’s not strange that there are people in Inner and Central Asia who are racial nationalists, but it always seems like unintended irony to me that people who would have been fairly low on the Nazi racial totem pole would hold up Hitler as a role model. They’re like Asian versions of Clayton Bigsby, the blind black white supremacist from the Chappelle Show.
Artist Liu Jianhua’s (刘建华) latest gallery showing in Italy at Galleria Continua. “Unreal Scene” (2008) is a model of Shanghai made out of poker chips and dice. Photo by Cinghialino, Flickr Creative Commons. More from this and previous Liu works below. He’s currently a professor of sculpture at Shanghai University.
via io9, the imaginative robotic creations of Wu Yulu (吴玉禄):
Wu Yulu was invited to participate in the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival in Hong Kong, which produced this short video. As the video shows, Wu has been a popular fixture in Chinese media, where he’s invariably referred to as “peasant Wu Yulu”. In one extended interview with Wu, one peasant is quoted as saying “For an ordinary peasant to use his mind, it’s not easy, if you asked me to make [robots] I couldn’t” (就一个普通农民动者脑子，那是不简单，要让我做我不成).Likewise, a Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher says it’s not easy for someone like Wu to create such machines because his “cultural level is not very high” (文化水平也不高). Cultural level (wenhua shuiping) is often used to strictly refer to educational level, but has much broader implications. Someones cultural level can be applied to matters of courtesy and etiquette, such as littering or queueing, and generally how “civilized” they are. Measures of civilizing have roots in Qing scholarly elites and rural/urban distinctions and biases, as well as social Darwinist ideas that influenced Chinese 20th century society. A related concept, suzhi (素质) or “human quality”, also touches on these ideas of lesser and greater levels of civilized citizens, and is a core principle of Chinese educational theory. It’s a hierarchy, where progress is measured in comparison to ideal notions of the scholar, the gentry, the elite, the sophisticate.
The whole world makes similar distinctions between city slickers and country bumpkins, aristocrats and farmers, intellectuals and the illiterate. It does seem more clearly articulated in China, however, both in general speech and in the educational system. But this seems irrelevant to Wu’s work. Wu’s robots are primarily mechanical – they don’t appear to have any technological breakthroughs, but are more like mechanical sculptures. It’s hardly surprising that a peasant would be able to learn how to build machines like this, since mechanical repair is an important skill in any Chinese village. What Wu has accomplished doesn’t really have anything to do with formal schooling, it has to do with practical knowledge, obsession (in building one robot, he burnt his house down) and creativity. In the following video, a visiting foreign reporter observes that had Wu been to university, he would be running China’s space program. But to be creative as Mr. Wu has requires the time and space to tinker, to experiment, to burn your house down once or twice. If he had gone to university, he never would have had a chance to do so. If his “cultural level” was higher, he may have been just another middling technician.