Friday, March 04, 2005

Times on China Internet censorship

The Shanghai bureau chief called me about this in January after Zhao Zhiyang died. I'm actually quoted in the article.

The PRC government is expending a lot of resources on this, and is in many ways quite successful. But, around the edges, there is no stopping the flow of information. While there is no effective political organization in China beyond the government, ordinary people (or, at least, the few hundred million people with direct or indirect access to the Internet) have greater and greater access to uncensored information.

Fairly soon the expectations of the average person in China for democracy and personal freedom will be no different than in other parts of the world. There will be a consensus view that it is "normal" for the government to implement democratic reforms, if only in a gradual way.

Expectations for better governance are increasing everywhere (well, perhaps not in the US ;-) As shown in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon, fewer and fewer soldiers are willing to shoot peaceful demonstrators in support of an unpopular government, and the demonstrators know this. Perhaps satellite TV deserves as much credit for this as the Internet, but both are playing an important role.

An interesting (and optimistic) quote from the article: "All of the big mistakes made in China since 1949 have had to do with a lack of information," said Guo Liang, an Internet expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. "Lower levels of government have come to understand this, and I believe that since the SARS epidemic, upper levels may be beginning to understand this, too."


Anonymous said...

Way to go, Steve!

Even if PRC is not democratic, the government is quite responsive to the needs of its citizens (unlike N Korea, or USSR).

Well, compared to China during Mao's era, Deng's time was quiet and peaceful, Tianenmen notwithstanding. I agree that it is only going to get better there.


Anonymous said...

China Worries About Economic Surge That Skips the Poor

BEIJING - Chinese leaders open their annual legislative session this weekend trying to resolve a vexing pair of problems: the economy is growing too fast, and most people feel left out of the boom.

China's bubbly economy, which expanded 9.5 percent last year despite efforts to cool it down, has produced a yawning wealth gap and fueled a surge of social unrest that top leaders worry could undermine Communist rule.

Although the leadership has focused on social inequality and wealth distribution for over a year - it was also the theme of the 2004 legislative session of the National People's Congress - there have been several mass riots and thousands of small protests over land seizures, corruption and unpaid wages.

In a series of top-level meetings ahead of this session, including a secretive conclave of senior economists and government officials at the Diaoyutai State Guest House a few weeks ago, policy makers bemoaned the severity of the country's social ills and pondered economic changes to assuage the growing impatience evident in rural communities, according to people briefed on the session.

President Hu Jintao, who will consolidate his position as China's top political and military leader during the meeting of the legislature, has ordered Communist Party members nationwide to study his thoughts on building a 'harmonious society' through 'scientific development.' The ideological campaign emphasizes the need to reduce social conflict and take a step back from the pro-growth orientation of previous leadership.

'At past meetings, the stress was on fast growth - how many bridges were built, how tall the new buildings are,' said Hu Jinguang, a legal scholar at People's University in Beijing who follows the workings of the legislature. 'Now the main emphasis is on social well-being and spreading the wealth.' ...


Anonymous said...

Horse Trading for a Venture in China

BEIJING - Shortly after a SARS crisis scared many people off the streets of this city, Henry M. Paulson Jr., the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, flew here for a quiet dinner on June 4, 2003, with two of China's most influential power brokers.

They worked out a remarkable deal, approved last year by President Hu Jintao, that marks a triumph for Goldman - the creation of a joint venture that gives the firm greater access than any other foreign investment bank to China's increasingly lucrative financial services market.

But to gain that access, Goldman engaged in an unusual horse trade. In exchange for making a $67 million 'donation' to cover investor losses at a failed Chinese brokerage firm, Goldman won government approval to set up its own joint-venture investment bank in Beijing.

And to jump-start the venture, Goldman also agreed to lend $100 million to one of the men Mr. Paulson met that evening at the marble-columned Noble Court restaurant in the Grand Hyatt: a 52-year-old Chinese banker named Fang Feng Lei.

The Goldman deal, which the company hopes will mean millions of dollars in profits in the coming years, offers a rare glimpse into the maneuvers that many foreign companies undertake to get a leg up in the rough-and-tumble race to establish business in China. And like others before it, the joint venture was years in the making, involving frequent huddles with high Communist Party officials.

What was so unusual about the Goldman deal is that a blueblood American firm was willing to pay $67 million to help the government dissolve an entirely unrelated state-owned enterprise, Hainan Securities, whose officials have been accused in lawsuits of embezzling millions of dollars from investor accounts.

Why the Chinese government chose Hainan Securities remains unclear. But Mr. Fang and another power broker at the dinner table that evening, Wang Qishan, the mayor of Beijing, had ties in Hainan Province - Mr. Wang had been Hainan's party secretary from 2002 to 2003. And Mr. Fang had overseen a real estate investment with Hainan Securities in the mid-90's....


Anonymous said...

Steve, nicely done :)

MFA, how would you compare the responsiveness of India's government?


Anonymous said...

The Peacock Princess of China

KUNMING, China - Ever since Yang Liping won first prize in a national dance competition in 1986, she has been delighting Chinese audiences with her signature dance, "Spirit of the Peacock."

Now, Ms. Yang, one of China's best-known dancers, is the director, choreographer and star of a new show that is drawing sellout crowds all over the country.

The show, "Dynamic Yunnan," which is expected to travel to Europe and the United States later this year, features Ms. Yang and about 70 other performers from Yunnan Province, in southwestern China, staging ritualistic folk dances, beating drums, stomping, singing and floating elegantly across the stage like butterflies.

The show is the latest coming-out party for Ms. Yang, who, though not well known outside of China, is known here as a stern but creative and independent force in Chinese dance. And even at 47, she can dance like a spirited youth, contorting her slender frame and whipping her arms, legs and fingers in vivid representations of animals and other aspects of the natural world.

"I just love to dance," Ms. Yang said over dinner after a performance here in Kunming, Yunnan's provincial capital. "My nature is to dance all the time. After I eat, I want to start dancing all over again."

To prepare the show, Ms. Yang said she spent more than a year traveling to remote villages in her native Yunnan, studying local dances, recording disappearing folk songs and recruiting dozens of young people from ethnic minority groups. Yunnan is China's most ethnically diverse province.

Many of the villages she visited were wedged between mountains and seemingly lost to the modern world. There she encountered the folk rhythms of farmers and villagers who seemed to have a natural aptitude for song and dance.

"In these villages, people have songs and dances for every event - when they're happy, at harvest time, when they're getting married or mourning," she said. "It's not a choice, it's a lifestyle."

Ms. Yang is also a dancer by nature. She was born about 100 miles northwest of here, in the town of Dali, the eldest of four children. Her parents and grandparents, members of the Bai ethnic minority, were farmers in a nearby village. As was true for everyone in their village, she said, singing and dancing were a part of their lives.

"My grandmother was the best singer in the village," Ms. Yang said, grabbing a bowl of rice at a restaurant near Kunming's performing arts center. "I clearly remember, when I was 6 years old, waking up and hearing my grandmother's voice. My grandfather had died and she sang all day long - all the details of their life together. This was our life. My family loved to sing and dance."

From an early age, Ms. Yang loved to dance, too. At 11, after the family had moved to Xishuangbanna, a region in southern Yunnan, she joined a local dance troupe and fell in love with a popular dance that imitates the movements of the peacock, a totem of the Bai people.

In her early 20's, after she moved to Beijing to dance with the Central Nationalities Song and Dance Ensemble, she made the peacock dance her own, recasting parts of it with deft arm and finger movements. In 1986, that choreography and dance won her first prize in a national competition. Ever since, she has been dubbed the Peacock Princess....


Anonymous said...

Whose Patent Is It, Anyway?

GUIYANG, China - Each shift, 200 workers, most of them women in smocks and bibs, labor in a factory tucked away in hilly farmland outside this city assembling a single product, one-inch hard drives.

As China's emerging industrial centers go, Guiyang is an obscure outpost, bearing little resemblance to the booming factory towns of the east coast. And yet, as much as any other place in China this hard drive assembly may be at the front line of an intense global struggle to dominate high-tech manufacturing.

The tiny storage device this factory churns out is the heart of one of the world's hottest consumer electronics items, the mini version of Apple Computer's iPod. Sales to Apple represent a huge triumph for GS Magic Stor, an offshoot of a struggling state-owned carmaker that is so obscure that even in China few are familiar with the name. The problem with this ringing success story, according to a better-established rival, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, which has factories in China and also supplies miniaturized drives to Apple, is that the Chinese company stole crucial elements of the design.

GS Magic Stor denies this charge, which Hitachi has made in a suit filed in Federal District Court in Northern California. In a recent online forum the company's president ridiculed Hitachi's claim, likening it to someone's asking carmakers to pay design rights to the inventors of the horse and buggy. A Hitachi official, who refused to comment further, said that GS Magic Stor could characterize the Hitachi patents however it wished, 'but the plain and simple matter is they haven't expired.' Hitachi's highly technical complaint specifies several areas where it says its designs were infringed by Magic Stor.

Apple, which was not named in Hitachi's suit, would not comment. Even if Hitachi wins the suit, that would do nothing to stop Magic Stor from continuing to produce its miniature hard drives in China, although some analysts say that Apple would be forced for image reasons, if nothing else, to drop Magic Stor as a supplier.

For Western companies competing with China as well as those doing business here, the issue goes well beyond the fate of one obscure company or of a single technology, however valuable. In one sector after another, companies warn that China's swift industrial rise is being greased by brazen and increasingly sophisticated theft of intellectual property.

The issue of intellectual property theft has been a fixture on the trade agenda between the United States and China for years, with visiting American officials routinely stopping at the famous Silk Market in Beijing to highlight the sale there, like all over China, of cheap knockoffs of toys, clothing, software and DVD's.

The Chinese government has recently razed the market, but the counterfeit activity has been moving relentlessly upscale, with General Motors, Cisco, Sony and Pfizer, just to name the most high-profile companies, complaining that their designs or formulas for everything from cars and PlayStations to routers and Viagra, have been violated.

'Until recently, when China began putting intellectual property laws in place, for the past 40 years, all patents were owned by the government, and could be shared by any company that was willing to use them,' said Paul Gao, a Shanghai-based expert on consumer electronics and automotives at McKinsey & Company. 'The Chinese government actually encouraged this, and that has left a deep impression on companies that intellectual property is there for anyone to use it.'


Anonymous said...

As much hope as I have in China's economic development, the development of the arts in China will and must parallel such hope.


Anonymous said...

Similarly for India, MFA :)


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the interesting articles!

I think Indian government is more responsive than the Chinese, at least in emergencies, e.g., during the SARS crisis, tsunami. This is definitely because it is a democracy and the media and opposition politicians would shine the spotlight on any government failings.

However, when it comes to more endemic problems, like poverty and hunger, I think it is not true. According to the World Food Programme, China has done an exceptional job feeding its people, and should be a model for the developing countries. That cannot be said for some parts of India. Of course, unresponsive politicians are thrown out in elections, but progress in such problems is slower than in China.


Anonymous said...

I am confused about the patent issue. If Chinese companies are doing this (an example of a car featured earlier in this blog), how could they sell abroad, especially the US?

Of course, consumers here will like the cheap imports from China based on IP theft ($20 DVD players?), but won't the affected companies be easily able to block the sale of such items in the US?


Anonymous said...


Thank you so much, as always. You response, as usual bears considerable thought. By the way, do you think I can get Steve more interested in birds :) ?


Blogger does not like me, though I have the fastest of links. I will ask a tech person :) Help!

Anonymous said...

Imagine, I received a set of silk screen birds from China. My, my :)


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