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Sunday, December 12, 2002

Special Note


I'm in the process of moving web servers and converting to a new content management system. I expect it to start going again (with a totally new look) in the middle of January. If you would like to be notified about updates, please sign up for the mailing list (see right).

Sunday, September 29, 2002

 

Beauty or Evil


I finished writing a very long essay on Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. "I can only recoil when confronted by beauty or evil," the narrator says.

While looking for commentaries, I found this excellent essay by Mabel Lee about contemporary Chinese Literature. Walking Out of Other People's Prisons: Liu Zaifu and Gao Xingjian on Chinese Literature in the 1980's .

While listening to the wonderful live365.com Mandarin Chinese pop music radio station , I heard a delightful song. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a transliteration until I found a small personal site of Chinese pop singers by Sarah Guo from Australia. The lovely index of singers contains more importantly, a listing of transliterated names with their original. (The singer I was interested in was Zhang Qian). Sarah also has a nice page about Chinese composers.

Monday, September 16, 2002

 

For Small Lobsters Only


Here's an interesting article by Robert Marquand about how Western influences are changing the Chinese language. Mandarin is quickly taking on Western idioms (xiaoxia, or "small lobsters" refers to an internet novice). One TV broadcaster was quoted as saying that the Chinese language is changing so quickly that it's the primary topic of conversation among his friends.

In earlier times, to say "I love you" was viewed by party officials with suspicion. Talk of struggle, revolution and battlefields were more acceptable. Says one student, "We can now say "I love you" every day."

Thursday, September 12, 2002

 

No Time to Remember


the lovely Zhou Ling, Miss Universe contestant

Zhou Ling, 2002 Miss Universe Contestant. Woman with an amazing story.


City Weekend has emerged as one of the most interesting English language periodicals in China. I have only started reading through the articles (a nice mixture of arts and feature stories). Perhaps the article on "la duzi" (diarrhea) in China won't win any journalism awards, but these sort of details are what interest the non Asian the most. Qiu An writes, "In the West, you'll be advised to eat a banana if you have la duzi; in China, you'll be greeted with a look of horror if you even suggest it. Many people believe ingesting such a high-fiber fruit will only aggravate your system; the opposition stands firm on the fact that bananas will slow down anything working its way through your system."

Seriously though, Katie Benner's introduction to ?Scar Literature", (that's what they call memoirs from the Cultural Revolution) is one of the most interesting and informative pieces I'd read on Chinese literature in English. Although this literary genre has attracted a lot of attention from the West, these works are virtually ignored within China itself. When asked why, Shen Rui, a Western professor replies, "...with all the changes happening, it seems that there is no time to remember the Cultural Revolution."

What better way to learn about 3rd century BC China than by videogame? If Mark Prensky?s view about the value of game-based learning is right, then playing a game like Prince of Qin would seem to be a good vehicle for westerners to learn basic facts about Chinese culture. The game describes the period after the reign of the great emperor Zheng Ying (who is a historical figure), with a few embellishments. In history the rightful heir was tricked by his enemies into committing suicide. In an interview, game creators Liu Yu Bin and Liu Gang, (the game?s creators) say: ?In history Fu Su did indeed commit suicide, but in the game, he lives on and seeks to discover why the edict was issued. Once he discovers the plot against him (the edict was a forgery) and his father (he was murdered), he launches himself on a mission for revenge against the plotters to avenge himself and his father, the Emperor.

I?m all in favor of learning by video games after having played a wonderful game a few years ago called ?Yukon Trail.? Even if we agree that video games tends to stretch history a bit and emphasize the violent and melodramatic, it can still be a painless way for Westerners to be exposed to geography, names and the external attributes of the time period. Maybe games like Lineage won?t do this, but the medium holds a lot of potential. Mark Prensky's book calls attention to a game that does precisely that, Qin, Tomb of the Middle Kingdom, a Chinese archeology game, which according to Scientific American, "makes historical research into a labyrinth from which only the intellectually passionate can return." With the fast pace of game economics, I am happy to report that the game can currently be bought for under $6.

Few things surprise me anymore, but Elisabeth Rosenthal's account of Zhuo Ling's 2002 participation in the Miss Universe pageant is one amazing story. According to this article, after spending 4 years unsuccessfully trying to obtain a government permit, the promoter held an underground competition, only to have government officials raid the event and shut it down, telling the frightened girls that they had broken the law because they didn't have a permit. (I witnessed similiar absurdities firsthand while a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania. When my university students went on hunger strike against the Albanian government in 1997, the semi-repressive government also ordered them arrested because of lack of a permit).

The judges hurriedly met in private to award Zhuo Ling the prize, and she prepared to go to Puerto Rico, site of the 2002 Miss Universe pageant. Rosenthal writes, "there have been no actual beauty contests in China since the Communist takeover in 1949, and that apparently makes some officials nervous when it comes to approving such an event. Some argue that modeling involves skill, while beauty is more superficial - a bourgeois concern - even though the Miss Universe contest involved speeches and other performances." Zhuo Ling was second runner-up at this year's pageant. (Thanks to Chinaweblog for this amazing story)

 

China, from the Outside


JIM LEHRER: But there are, there are some Americans, as you know, who believe there is something that America has to fear from China. What do you say to them?
PREMIER ZHU: I would say to them, what are you afraid of? President Clinton said the United States has about 6,000 nuclear warheads and that China has 20 or 30 of them. Actually, I honestly do not know exactly what number China has, but I would think that President Clinton may be clearer than I am about that number. So my question would be, what are you afraid of? China cannot possibly constitute a threat. And if you mean should you fear China as an economic competitor, then I should say your economy is 10 times the size of our economy. Your per capita income is 10 times our per capita income, and it would take a very, very long time for China to yet become even relatively a major economic power. And besides, even if China were to become an economic power, why should the United States fear it, because the stronger that China becomes, the bigger the market for the Americans? (From an interview with Zhu Rongji, 1999. You can interview an equally fascinating interview with Jiang Zemin in 1997).

Michael Ledeen has written a strongly worded opinion piece comparing the current Chinese government to other fascist governments. America's mistake, Ledeen argues, is in assuming that the government has the capability to reform peacably. He writes, "although Hitler liked to speak of himself as primus inter pares, the first among racial equals, he would not have contemplated the democratization of the Third Reich, nor would Mussolini have yielded power to the freely expressed will of the Italian people. It seems unlikely that the leaders of the People's Republic will be willing to make such a change either. If they were, they would not be so palpably concerned that the Chinese people might seek to emulate the democratic transformation of Taiwan." Such comparisons are certainly thought-provoking, but one could argue that a large number of Eastern European governments made peaceful transitions to democracy during the "Velvet Revolution," even though most of them were "bloodless coups." The difference between Eastern Europe and China is size and geography. China's vast size creates a heavy inertia on the political realm. Also, China did not have strong and powerful neighboring democracies to exert positive influence (although Japan is as close as you can get to this, and satellite TV means that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is only a channel away. What differentiates China from fascism is open acknowledgement by its leaders that the system needs reforming. Chinese leaders interviewed on American TV (see above) readily concede that China needs vast improvements on the realm of human rights, but simply ask for more patience about liberalization. First, let's solve the economic problems. When considering comparisons with fascism, it's important to remember how easily Germany and Italy could mobilize their citizens for military ends. People in these countries also shared a common heritage, language and religion. Although China does have the force to enact laws and to ask beauracracies to enforce them, it is always an iffy question about how well anything can be enforced in China. Secondly, Marxist-Maoist thought makes an implicit social contract with the people. Revolution is prescribed as the method for the exploited to unshackle themselves from their oppressors. If the people are exploited, then the right to revolution exist. The Chinese government may use censorship and propaganda to convince its people that they are not exploited or that the proletariats finally rule, but it cannot really disprove the same principle that Communists originally used to justify Communist revolution in the first place. Fascism doesn't really offer any convincing vision of what the government ought to do for its people, only what the people ought to do for their country. The danger of Ledeen's conclusion is that it discourages diplomatic engagement in favor of containment.

A fascinating, though misguided view of foreign correspondents by China's official newspaper, frets over the shallowness and sensationalism of articles by foreign journalists. Many of the foreign correspondents don't speak Chinese and rely on Chinese secretaries to find juicy stories. Many journalists are under commercial pressure to reveal scandals and to put China in a negative light in print. The article continues, "more distorted reports are from non-resident correspondents, researchers and politicians. They don't work and live in China so they have nothing to care about. Some journalists and researchers come to China under the identity of tourists so they can gather seamy-side materials and interview persons of different views with the government. Some politicians, in order to reap political capital, can even afford a deliberate slander on China, while the press pays more attention to their remarks because of their political status." The article contains legitimate criticism of foreign correspondents or even journalists in general. But it ignores China's regulation of the press which many have reported to be suffocating. In many cases, there are blanket bans on certain kinds of reporting, especially about such sensitive subjects like North Korean immigrants and Tibet. So people need a license from the government to write a newspaper article? Behind the reasonable tone of this article is a deep suspicion of what journalists do and a tendency to equate them to spies.

Brad Yu from Brandrecon has noted, as I did before, that very little content is emerging from China, partly for economic reasons, partly for political ones. After the closing down of Internet cafes and the blocking of google.com, one can see the difficulty in trying to create and distribute content from within China and why such software like blogger haven't yet become popular within China (although curiously blogger has not yet not blocked). Brad writes, "In a few years, China will become the largest Internet market and supply the largest chunk of Internet users and sites online. Until then, much of the personal insight into life will be supplied from outside."

Monday, September 02, 2002

 

Testing the Chinese Firewall


After reading about China's blocking of google.com and a web application that determines whether the Chinese firewall is blocking your site, I decided to put up my own controversial page to test the Chinese firewall. On another note, China's unsuccessful attempt to pressure Ukraine to punish Falung Gong adherents reveals how difficult it can be for a small country to oppose the most populous nation in the world, even when the cause is just.

Another excellent guide: Asian Cinema Weekly

 

Phone Books in North Korea


In a bizarre twist, analysts learn about the North Korean power structure by studying its phone book.

I just wanted to say that Brad Yu's Brandrecon newsletter is one of the best things I've seen on the net. The link on the left goes to the archives of its email newsletter. Highly recommended!

After removing a bad music link on the India side, I added three more, a great Indian song database, a music site with singer-specific radio stations. Great! Lots of banners ads and pop ups, but no audio advertisements.


 

The Indifference of a City


Note: I have been away for a while, but now that I am gainfully employed in Houston, Texas, I expect to be posting more regularly. Also, as luck would have it, I discovered an Indian cinema very close to my job, so I'll be posting a lot more film reviews.

Goolam E. Vahanvati, Advocate General of Maharashtra, writes some fascinating pieces for Asian Age . Note that the articles on Asia Age are below the table of contents, a really stupid layout if I ever saw one. Writing about the joys of solitude , Vahanvati says, "To my mortification, people drifted from conversation to conversation. The level of concentration depended on the status of the person they were talking to. The moment somebody more important came into the room, the conversation was terminated. Sentences were aborted midway." . In another article on famous con-men, Vahanvati tells of a master con man who dupes people into thinking he was from Russian royalty. " They invited the Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia to a function and to confront the conman there. The Grand Duke spoke to Harry rapidly in Russian. People waited with bated breath for the impostor to trip and fall but Harry rose to the occasion. He raised his hand and solemnly told the Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia, "I don't think that we should insult our hosts by talking in any language but theirs." And then he coolly walked out of the function."

Arnab Guha writes a piece about the indignities India faces in international organizations. He writes, "Fifty-one years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has not yet found the will to relocate a single global head office of some 13 major UN organisations from Western Europe or North America to an Asian, African or Latin American state." I should point out that international conferences on population, woman's issues, development and AIDS are frequently in third countries.

Frontline, which seems to have more articles on international affairs than Indian affairs, published an article by Usha Ramanathan on American opposition to the International Criminal Court. The article mentions the proposed" American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), a law which would authorise the use of military force if U.S. citizens are held in the ICC in The Hague. The law, which has passed Senate scrutiny, advocates the use of "all means necessary" to retrieve its citizens from the court." Please note that Ramanathan mistakenly uses the word "law" to mean a proposed bill.

?While India will keep struggling with its stupid communal and geo-political problems, China will become a developed country with world-class infrastructure.? Ashu Kumar writes an article on the IT world of India v. China.

Although my first source of India news has been Sulekha, I've been recently reading a lot of pieces on rediff . This link, by the way, goes to the index of columnists, not the main page, which is just a bland portal page. A journalist eyewitness account of a rape at a train station leaves people outraged . Syed Firdaus Ashraf writes that the real problem is indifference of bystanders and police. Although Mumbai remains relatively safe for woman (according to the article), the amount of ?eve teasing? has been increasing. It's worth remembering that there are costs associated with mass transit and public spaces; you come in contact with people of all walks of life. In a typical American city, a person rarely encounters or even sees strangers except in parking lots or supermarkets or nightclubs. This is good or bad, depending on one's perspective. In Mumbai, you have more encounters with complete strangers in public spaces, but also more possibilities for bystanders to witness. In US, victimization strikes in complete solitude. Is that better or worse?

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

 

Candle for Devdas


A letter to the editor by John Maxwell Taylor in August 12, 2002 Time Magazine (quoted in full here because the website doesn't seem to have it):

Bollywood movies, those Indian musical dramas with their unabashed displays of pure feeling, represent something that has been lost in American film. In the days of silent movies, lovers had to express what they felt in their hearts solely through their eyes and facial expressions. From the 1970's on, a no-acting-please mentality has cramped expression of the higher aspects of love. The displays of feeling and sometimes declamatory dramatic style in Indian films may make us squirm and snigger, but maybe we should question our own dysfunction. Perhaps Indian film can inspire us to create epic movies once again that point to the higher possibilities of human nature.

the lovely Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi

The Lovely Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi, the lovelorn prostitute. Watch for the lovely melancholy song, ?Maar Daala? sung by Kavita K. Subramanium

Last week I saw Devdas , an elaborate remake of the classic 1935 film. Before discussing the film itself, I wanted to mention the aspect of the film that is the most recognizable to Americans: the use of elaborate settings as ?eye candy?. The house of Devda's family is multistoried, lavishly equipped with long open hallways and a panoply of servants. So is Paro's house and Chandramukhi's brothel. Is anybody poor or at least middle class in India? But when is the last time American cinema has depicted lower middle class or middle class life? Everything is idealized. All the movies show the students with cars, fashionable outfits and spacious houses. I was reminded of the offbeat, ?Last Action Hero? where the artificial world contained only beautiful people. What is realism anyway? No one expects realism in a musical, but at least some musicals can maintain a certain edginess toward the artifice it creates (as in Golddiggers of 1933, where Ginger Rogers, after rehearsing the ?We're in the Money? song for a play, learns that the theatre is closing down due to lack of money). In this production of Devdas, we are supposed to think that Devdas' family looks down upon Paro's family, although they both have beautiful houses and a panoply of servants. Another critic wrote, "all the emotions are lost in the opulence."

Do films that ostentatiously display wealthy accouterments entice or alienate an audience? One film that handled this tension beautifully was Monsoon Wedding, where a subplot involving a middle-class wedding planner falls in love with one of the house servant of the wedding family. Ultimately, the main wedding was an enjoyable bore; the people were rich, alienated individuals with Western sensibilities and nice cars and fashionable problems. The point of the movie is to show the wide-ranging ramifications that an event like a lavish wedding can have, not only on the immediate family, but bystanders and even servants. The magic of the film (and the story) is seeing how each person contents oneself in romantic reveries at the expense of the individuals who really care about them then and now. Devdas ignores Chandramukhi while dreaming of Paro. Paro's husband ignores Paro while basking in the nostalgia of his deceased wife. And Paro returns the favor by proclaiming her love for Devdas. The insight here is that individuals rarely have the ability to pick and choose the objects of their affections, that past amours can linger and even poison current relationships, that romantic affections for a nonexistent partner can rule our actions if only to keep the dream alive. The film's beautiful metaphor is a candle that remains lit long after it is necessary. If an individual lets the candle burn out, that not only denies that person's romantic dreams, it also kills the part of the individual animated by this dream. If Paro let the candle burn out, she would be unfaithful not only to Devdas but herself as well.

For me, the Devdas story seems more compelling than Sanjay Leela Bhansali's version. I came across an excellent essay about the original novel and 1935 Bengali film (which I would love to find!) Devdas: India's Emasculated Hero, Sado-Masochism and Colonialism by Poonam Arora. Although Arora spends a lot of time integrating theoretical perspectives with the substance of the movie itself, in many ways that approach is perfectly appropriate. The premise of the earlier film, she argues, is that Devdas' education abroad is what spoiled him (and in fact the 1935 film is a subtle protest against colonial influences). In Bhansali's simplified version of the world, Devdas parents are responsible for everything going to hell; they veto the marriage arrangement, and ?darn it!--the father interrupts Paro's nighttime visit after the big fight. As Arora points out, it is Devdas who submits to the decision of his parents; he confesses to not thinking about Paro while studying overseas; he scolds Paro for coming to visit him in the middle of the night and he refuses to see her visit as an opportunity. Arora quotes Rinki Bhattacharya, who claims, "Devdas (has been to the Indian actor) what Hamlet is to his western counterpart." Devdas has somehow softened by his journeys overseas and been incapable to succumbing to the romantic bond he had agreed to much earlier in life.

According to Arora's reading, the tragic flaw lies mainly with Devdas and his inability to pursue the romance that he was fated for. The recent movie (which paints a romantic illusion as attractive as it is doomed) seems to suggest all of us (not just drunkards) possess this flaw. Arora refers to texts in sado-masochistism (including the very appropriate ?Story of O?) to show how sado-masochistic self-denial sustains itself by forming a partnership with the master who establishes all the boundaries. Arora writes:

?According to the logic of sado-masochism "one person maintains his boundary, and one allows the boundary to be broken" (Benjamin, 285). The pathology of failed differentiation implies that "together the partners form a whole--the tension in which the assertion and loss of self are united" (ibid). While in Story of O the masculine and feminine postures are definite though in constant need of re-inscription, in Devdas the masculine and the feminine postures alternate. When the one advances, the other recedes. It is in keeping with this logic that Devdas may submit to Parvati at the end (giving into the feminine), but Parvati may not accept his submission (thereby ascending to the masculine). This paradoxical relationship of control and submission must either exhaust the dynamic through death or suicide or it must transcend the inertia/momentum of the context. ?

Monday, July 08, 2002

 

Mao's Salary and Professors


Joey Yung, Hong Kong singer

Joey Yung, Hong Kong pop star

The Hong Kong pop star of the moment seems to be Joey Yung whose simple heartfelt song "Painful Love"(Tong Ai) is just great (but she's no Sammi Cheng!). After listening to lots of Cantapop, I?ve come to the conclusion that everything sounds like Barry Manilow or Karen Carpenter and is about two minutes too long. Just joking?I really love all of it. And indeed, if every Chinese song sounded a little like Karen Carpenter, the world would be a much better place.

Rice University in Houston, Texas recently sponsored a Transnational Project Commentary about the culture and politics of China. It has published English translations of many of the texts regarding cinema, industrial modernization and social change. A roundtable discussion on trends in Chinese film reveals that Hollywood, for insurance reasons and personal security, would not allow Jackie Chan to perform movie stunts by himself in American film productions. A roundtable discussion on feminism and literary culture led by Dai Jinhua, a scholar at Beijing University, included a fascinating discussion of how intellectuals were treated. The conventional thinking was that intellectuals were despised (Mao Zedong said, "The despicable are the smartest, and the noble are the stupidest"), but in fact they enjoyed special advantages in Mao's egalitarian society. Dai Jinhua writes, "In the Mao era, intellectuals were actively made part of the organizational structure. And within this "equal society," intellectuals were in the higher income brackets, sometimes the highest. For example, at that time first and second tier Peking University professors on the whole earned close to what Mao Zedong made. Of course Mao had given himself the highest pay-grade, and nobody could exceed that. Nevertheless, at that time the wages of more renowned professors approximated Mao's. As compared to the approximately eight yuan a month made by apprentices and 32 yuan for workers, these professors made over 300 yuan, really quite high."

The highlight of the symposium had to be David Ownby's investigation of the historical roots of the Falung Gong movement. Ownby traces the origins to the Ming era, writing that Qigong (a Chinese system of discipline and exercises that reduces stress and anxiety) dated from "White Lotus" Buddhism of the Song dynasty and that the Chinese government even encouraged such practices in the 1980's as a way to reduce health care costs (!). He writes, " So for a certain period, for a good 10-15 years anyway, Qigong was given the go ahead and groups were allowed to organize legally. You could sign up with a Qigong research institute as a legal organization and what began to happen was quite remarkable, a phenomenon of modern marketing. It came to be very much like what you see on televangelism in the United States. In other words, Qigong masters would go around the country and give lectures in all the major cities, and minor ones as well. And they would charge entry fees, then they would sell books, they would sell audio cassettes, video cassettes, just like morning talk shows in America - you know, Julia Child sells her latest cookbook or whatever -- and these guys made a ton of money. They even got outside of China, went to Taiwan, to Hong Kong... Many people here I am sure can confirm this.On college campuses in the 1980s and part of the 1990s there was what was called the "Qigong re" the Qigong craze. Everyone was sort of into Qigong and there were ideas that you could capture the Qigong from trees. Later on they decided it was not nice to the trees so they moved on to something else. But it was just a craze that hit and it was seen as entirely normal, I think, by most people. I think most young people just thought it was sort of fun -- the people I talked to anyway. They did not really know why these things worked but they certainly seemed to work for certain things, certainly for health. This all comes back to health, pretty much. "

Feng Shui chinese symbol

Chinese symbol for Feng Shui



Fengshui, the practice of planning your living space to meet astrological and aesthetic guidelines, literally translates as "wind and water," or the environmental policy of "hindering the wind and hoarding the water." A leading American scholar of Fengshui, Stephen Field, has published several essays about fengshui and qimancy . Field writes that this art derives originally from architects' desire to optimize the amount of sunlight during the seasons. In an ancient poem from the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), according to Field, the hero Gong Liu "was measuring the shadow of the gnomon, or sundial, to determine the cardinal directions. Sunshine and shade are the original meanings of the well-known terms yang and yin, which appear here in one of their earliest textual references. With this information he could determine which side of the hills and vales received the most sunshine during the winter, as well as the proximity of these sunny dells to sources of water. "

Field has created an informal ?online fengshui tool? that allows you to figure which fengsui model is appropriate for your own house.

An Economist article about the shifting male/female ratio in China says that it has implications on geopolitical security, perhaps resulting in increased belligerence. While acknowledging that sex imbalance is only one of many factors influencing levels of violence, Valerie Hudson points out that the 30 million unhappy unmarried men China is likely to have by 2020 could become ?kindling for forces of political revolution at home?. There could also be an impact outside China, she says. The government may decide to use the surplus men as a weapon for military adventurism and ?actively desire to see them give their lives in pursuit of a national interest?.

According to an in depth article by Matthew Forney on unemployment in China, China must create 17 million new jobs a year just to keep the unemployment rate the same. "In the next 10 years, I predict 150 million farmers will move to cities looking for work," says Chen Huai, a senior research fellow at Beijing's Development Research Control. That's a mass of unemployed migrants larger than the total U.S. workforce." In an accompanying article on female unemployment, he quotes an official saying "Men will hold out for factory work, even if it doesn't exist. Women rise to the occasion."

Note: Because I am moving to Houston, I will skip next week's post. But I'll be back the week after that.

 

Weblogs and China


Nobody finds it more hilarious than I do, but typing india + weblog, china + weblog or asia+weblog will produce this weblog as first, second or third in google search results. The lesson to be learned here is that classifying your site in the dmoz.org directory produces better results than simply adding the url. By the way, far better Asia weblogs exist out there than this one (and recently I found been loving RiceCooker and techrose ( as well as a dozen others on Anita Bora's Indian Bloggers). Anita Bora wrote a lovely profile of this site and me, which I feel deserves a plug, no? This site will add notable weblogs as time goes by --just check the "Weblogs" categories on each side.

Frank Yu's article on how China will respond to the proliferation of weblogs . The point is rather obvious, but it's possible that weblogs will severely test China's attempt to control the web through the "great firewall of China." My guess is that China would choose a few notorious weblogs, shut them down with a lot of publicity and hope that nobody else gets bright ideas. Whether they could block the mushrooming of weblogs (both in foreign languages and in China's own languages) using the is another matter. (An excellent book on peer-to-peer publishing technologies by Oreilly talks about how such firewalls could be circumvented, and a 1999 Ian Buruma article, "China in Cyberspace" talks about how dissidents are fighting back). I've always felt, by the way, that email will play a pivotal role in organizing opinion against the Chinese communist party if and when that occurs. China moves very slowly at anything. When Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji was asked whether the model of the French revolution had any influence over Communist China's political development, he replied, "It's too early to tell."

By the way, if anybody is reading this from China, please email me at [email protected]. Don't forget to remove the portion of the email in big letters.

This was copied from an interview on Computer Chronicles TV show with technology guru Nicholas Negroponte: Imagine all the things that would make a country digital. Compare India to China. If you look at these two countries?roughtly the same size?together, they represent about half of the world?s population very soon. All of the things that you would imagine would make a country digital are on the India side of the equation. 100 million people speak English, they have Bangalore, democracy, etc. And look at the Chinese: they?ve got Kanji, it?s topdown. Well, it turns out that by whatever measure you use, China is 2-10 times ahead of India in the use of computers, Internet access and cell phones per capita. Income in China is double, foreign investmet is 10 times that of India. You say, ?Whoops! What?s wrong with that picture? What happened?? What?s wrong is very simple. In the case of computers in China, you have an imperative because families have only one child. The commitment of resources to the education of that one child is absolutely enormous. In spite of government, you will find an enormous amount of Internet access growing in leaps and bounds. And then you go to India, where you might expect this to happen more more, but it?s just not moving.

An Indian businessman has written a piece about the India/China technology race with these comments.

My response: it's fairly easy for a command-style economy to direct growth in one particular sector. It's harder to create incentives for entrepreneurs to start businesses, especially when complying with existing regulations requires a lot of resources. Individuals can circumvent regulations rather easily with personal websites, proxy servers and overseas hosting companies. The problem comes when law-abiding companies try to use the Internet for nonpolitical purposes and suddenly find strict and expensive controls on publication, forums and chat. ( Steve Friess's hilarious account of working as the English language editor for a Chinese state-run journal provides Chinese thinking on a free press. He writes, "One day, this newspaper -- representing a regime that mowed down a thousand or more in Tiananmen Square and then insisted it never happened -- concluded, in reference to Japan, that 'a nation that lies about its history cannot be trusted by the rest of the world.' This was actually in print.)" In such a political climate, it's hard to believe that a Chinese version of Amazon.com could ever exist, for example, if readers were very restricted on the content and amount of comments they can contribute.

Also, in the brief time I've spent gathering English language links from China and India, it's been really shocking how easy it is to find great Indian writing in English on the web and how hard it is to find great Chinese writing in English. The best writing I've found has been by Western reporters and not necessarily by Chinese people. Believe me, I really look hard. There may be various reasons for this, (economic, linguistic, cultural, financial), but Western ignorance about China will continue until it is easier for ordinary Chinese individuals to self-publish. Of course, my judgments are limited by the fact that I'm only looking at English links. If anybody has a different opinion, please email me!

Two weeks ago I saw Kim Jung-eun's amazing 2000 documentary "Shadows and Whispers" about North Korean refugees in China. To read about a nation's sufferings is quite different from viewing their shaken bodies as they recount their ghastly lives in North Korea. They are doubly afflicted because the Chinese government frequently repatriates them to North Korea. After a scene in which small children tell of running away from North Korea, seeing relatives die of famine and swallowing plastic bags full of money before sneaking back into North Korea, the TV switches to three commercials: first, a Circuit City ad about a man dissatisfied with the size of his new television (so he buys a new one!), second: a parade of gigantic SUV cars (costing $20,000 each) running down some rough road, and third, a diamond store talking about how to show that you love her.



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