Archive for January, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

35,000 Yuan for an Obedient Wife

The Xi’an Evening Post (西安晚报) tells the story of a man from Nanjing (Jiangsu Province), Dai Moujin (戴某仅), who wanted to get married for a second time, and was looking for an obedient (关键是听话) wife – young, beautiful, hardworking, and virtuous (年轻漂亮勤劳贤惠) -, who wouldn’t worship money.

To this end, he went to Vietnam. His expenses, according to the report:

passport fees 220 RMB
notarization 830 RMB
confirmation procedures 300 RMB
visa fees at Vietnamese consulate in Shanghai 1,650 RMB
travel expenses from Nanjing to Shanghai 610 RMB
return flight from Nanjing to Nanning 1,880 RMB
dating fee (相亲费) in Vietnam 1,000 RMB
go-betweens (中介及办理) and marriage certificate 15,000 RMB
ceremony-related costs *) 14,000 RMB
Total
35,490 RMB

*) thereof 10,000 RMB for eighty banquet tables

He stayed in Vietnam for fifteen days and chose from more than forty candidates, according to the Xi’an Evening Post. It was apparently quite a public affair, as his castings were closely followed online by Chinese netizens, who took note of the fact that each girl the man from Nanjing met for lunch or dinner never started eating before their potential husband did. “Vietnamese girls are really like that!”

Other findings: “To marry a Vietnamese girl is very simple, you only need to obtain her parents’ permission.” And whoever goes to Vietnam to seek a wife must remind himself that “I’m a moneybag” (我是大款).

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Remarks:
At purchasing power parity, Vietnam’s GDP per capita is less than half of China’s.
According to an 2008 estimate, the sex ratio in Vietnam is 98 males per 100 females, but with a currently worsening imbalance, similarly to China’s.

Related:
Vietnam’s mixed marriage mayhem, Asia Times, Sept 18, 2003
Skewed China birth rate, Bangkok Times, January 11, 2010
Chinese-foreign “blind date”, Global Times, October 9, 2009

Friday, January 29, 2010

“Access Denied – Wait for the Appointed Time”

Australia’s federal government plans legislation against pornographic content on the internet, reports Tianjin’s Enorth (北方网), quoting China’s national broadcaster Zhongguo zhi Sheng (中国之声). The central message to the Chinese readership is probably meant to be that “every government worldwide censors, not only yours truly (net nanny)”, although when you continue reading the article, it soon becomes clear that the declared target of the Australian government is child pornography, rather than pornography in general. Enorth also quotes a certain Mr Xue (薛先生), a Chinese national who had worked in Australia for several years, as saying that contents with all kinds of “extreme” pornography were now targeted by Australian legislators.

It may be too early to tell if Canberra’s approach will turn out to be a justifiable move to protect society’s most vulnerable members, or if harmonization is its real objective. The picture seems clearer in Germany, a country without a long and established tradition of individual liberties, and a particularly heavy-handed and shameless government, when it comes to “family values”. JR (himself a German) believes many of his compatriots are more security- than freedom-minded, and fall for the charm of apparently simple solutions relatively easily. Only bloggers and people in the internet business seem to take offense so far.

Jun Jie for example, a German citizen who is running an honorable, decent blog, would be facing a problem. He wrote on January 26:

One of our politicians in charge of the harmonious German society, Ursula von der Leyen, has proposed a new law to make the internet more safe for minors. This law has not yet been approved, but if it will be approved, then the Chinese internet is an oasis of freedom. Here is what might happen:

Basically I have to rate my website to which age it is appropriate. I can choose between sitewide oder per page rating. Unfortunately it is to much work to make sure, all my articles including all posted comments by all my readers are safe for a certain age group. I’m not an legal expert, so I can’t really rate every piece of text without making mistakes. Bottom line is, I label my whole site suitable for people 18 years and older.

But there is the downside of this. If I label my website for people aged 18, I have to make sure, only people at least 18 years old access my content. Either I ask everyone to send me a copy of their passport and give them accounts, or alternatively, I only make my site only available from 11pm to 6am Central European Time.

Jun Jie’s problem: while his website is .com, not .de (Germany), the contents of his pages are on a German server and therefore (apparently) under German jurisdiction. A statement he links to, by Arbeitskreis Zensur, a German pressure group against censorship, can instantly give you an idea how slippery and fast the road to censorship can be:

according to the draft (written by the federal states as part of a treaty for the protection of minors using the media (Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag), a blogger – as any webmaster in Germany – shall be required to prove that he or she promptly removes comments which “qualify for affecting the development of younger persons (negatively)”. All contents will be required to be categorized as “suitable for an age from zero years old, from six years old, from twelve years old, from sixteen years old, from eighteen years old”.

Certain contents shall only be available at certain times of the day. And access providers shall be required to block foreign websites that won’t be in line with German regulations for the protection of minors (Jugendschutz).

The good news is that the draft – not surprisingly – seems to be lacking clarity and standards. If passed, it will hardly stand in court. But before a constitutional court makes a decision, months or even years may go by. Until then, it will create a lack of legal certainty. Besides, it shows how inefficiently German politicians open secondary – and useless – theaters of war. Our country has a number of real problems we’d really need to address.

JR believes that the availability of content that may affect the development of minors isn’t the real problem. The fact that minors may surf the internet without parental guidance at all is a problem indeed, but none that the bill in question would solve. The development of minors wouldn’t be in the least affected if they stayed away from the internet altogether until they are sixteen anyway. And once they are sixteen, they should understand that certain sites simply aren’t for them to “visit”. In fact, there is no need to watch such sites at any age, merely for the silly reason that they are available. Once in a while, hardcore Christians may actually be smarther than Christian Democrats (at least in theory): “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. (1 Corinthians, 10:22).

JR has lived without the internet for most of his life. Neither too little, nor too much of it affected his personal development. Free internet access for minors won’t produce computer geniuses. Mindful work with computers and software may do so.

The current government initiative is just another helpless, but dangerous move to deal with problems which would need smart educational approaches instead – approaches many in our society seem to feel unable to take.

But censorship won’t solve any problems. It will only aggravate them. And if you are unable to access Jun Jie’s website right now, from inside and maybe also from outside Germany, it will probably be because the time in Germany is between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m..

Once the law has been successfully passed, that is. For now, it can be safely said that the CCP propaganda, once again, is missing out on a really juiciy example of foreign censorship policies. Help yourselves, greenhorns!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obituary: Mark Anthony Jones, 1969 – 2009

Mark Anthony Jones, an Australian author, blogger, and teacher, died in November last year, writes the Peking Duck. Mark learned in June 2009 2008 that he had cancer, and he stopped blogging and commenting soon after. I didn’t know him personally, but started missing his disagreeable pro-Beijing posts and comments as soon as he ceased writing them. He made himself friends and enemies. I hope that he died peacefully, and I’m feeling sad tonight.

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Update/Related

Mark Anthony Jones: Flowing Waters Never Stale, Google Books (scroll down there for a table of content, and excerpts from the book)

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sack me if you can

There’s a tendency in Washington to think that our job description of elected officials is to get re-elected. That’s not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and to help people.

Barack Obama, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Specter Beijing loves to hate

Punk's Not Dead

Punk's Not Dead

The state-run “China Tibet Information Center” has said that a recent statement by the Dalai Lama describing himself as “son of India” showed he had become subservient to his “Indian masters” while trying to deny his Chinese citizenship, reports the Times of India. It was a rare occasion when an official organ described him as a Chinese citizen.  Chinese leaders have been worried that the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama will take place outside China and far from its control, writes the Time of India’s Beijing Bureau Chief  Saibal Dasgupta, but this was the first time that the government had openly elaborated on its worries that the Tibetan leader might actually change his citizenship.

Victory messages about economic growth in Tibet are lavishly aired these days, and Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, announced that ethnic unity has been enhanced and major successes achieved in the fight against separatist activities in Tibet. The latter may refer to great victories such as against Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, in  something which appears to have been a travesty of a proper trial. To be fair, there seem to have been Han Chinese people who actually did something useful for multi-national harmony – a handful of attorneys volunteered to defend the monk, so that he would be treated like a rightful citizen of the PR China. But that was hardly the kind of harmony the CCP has in mind. The CCP has nothing against defenders in a trial. The dictators only want to make sure that such defenders won’t spoil the desired verdict.

A Tibetan breakaway from China is highly unlikely. This isn’t necessarily so because most Tibetans would love the status quo – you can’t conduct surveys in Tibet to find out about the general mood. But independence would only be – theoretically – thinkable if Tibet was mainly inhabited by Tibetans, or at least by a Tibetan majority. That is probably no longer the case.

But despite Beijing’s propaganda, there is still a counter-public to the one the CCP has tried to establish in the past decades. This alternative public’s center is in Dharamsala, India, and its main protagonist is Tenzin Gyatso himself,  the 14th Dalai Lama. He is essentially powerless when it comes to the daily lives of the Tibetans inside their old country, but when he speaks about his native land, he speaks with authority all the same. And what he says, doesn’t leave China’s dictators cold.

In March last year, during his annual press conference, China’s chief state councillor Wen Jiabao (温家宝) told a Figaro correspondent that

when we say that the Dalai Lama is not a simple religious figure, and he is actually a political exile, this is absolutely justified. The so-called exile government situated in Dharamsala is actually a combination of politics and religion, and this illegal government is under the direct control of the Dalai Lama.

It’s true – the Dalai Lama is a very political figure. But the blame for that shouldn’t be placed on this political exile. Within China’s borders, and seen from there, everything is political, and Beijing even accroaches the function of defining what should mean to be Tibetan.

That is exactly what makes the Dalai Lama so important after all. He keeps reminding the world – and above all, his fellow Tibetans – that to be Tibetan may still mean something else. Even if independence was his actual goal – and not even every old friend of Beijing believes in that piece of CCP propaganda -, he wouldn’t achieve it. As much as Beijing may dwell on the dangers of separatism, almost like if the Communists didn’t want the specter to go away and leave them alone with their booty: Tibetan  independence is out of date. But any counter-public, no matter how powerless, is an insufferable insult to a totalitarian government. The counter-public keeps exacting the natural price for legitimate rule: the approval of the governed.

That’s why the current Dalai Lama probably won’t be the last “simple monk” in the spiritual lineage. Whichever road will be taken to find a successor, there will be one. But between the era of the 14th, and the 15th Dalai Lama, there may be years of turbulence. The concept of a Middle Way might become questioned. And its hard to think to imagine a more powerful powerless figurehead than Tenzin Gyatso.

____________

Related:

“Ridiculous Indian Heart”, eng.tibet.cn, January 24, 2010
Phrasebook: yī jùn zhē bǎi chǒu, January 24, 2009
“Reflecting the Diversity”, November 4, 2009
“Serf Emancipation Day”, March 28, 2009

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Phrasebook: yī jùn zhē bǎi chǒu

一俊遮百丑

yī jùn zhē bǎi chǒu

俊: beauty, strength, talent

遮: conceal, cover

丑: disgrace

Frequently used for criticizing euphemisms, such as emphasizing success without taking its backdraws into account, or for judging by one’s initial impression.

Example: 只要GDP上去了,就可“一俊遮百丑”。

Friday, January 22, 2010

Letters to Net Nanny: Tremendous Improvements

Dear Net Nanny,

China Daily says that Google’s deliberations to leave the Great China is a matter of business, not of censorship or human rights. I think that’s clear enough. I think the CCP is very kind, and has shown a lot of politeness and patience in dealing with Google’s rude declaration of war against China and all the friends of the Chinese people. But everything is political, unless proven non-political, is it not? Would you agree that while Google’s deliberations to leave China are no matter of censorship or human rights, it still is a political matter? And if it  is a contradiction, is it a slight contradiction or one of the fundamental contradictions?

Shun R. Issues

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Net Nanny: The Mission Continues

Net Nanny: The Mission Continues

Dear Shun,

you are a very successful businessman in our country, and you have very important opinion and views the whole world should learn from, and I would like to congratulate you, and thank you for your very thought-provoking questions.

As for the question if the crude Google threats are a slight contradiction or a fundamental contradiction, this question still needs careful assessment. Actually, it is even a strategic question from a broader perspective. I appreciate that. The question deserves in-depth discussion at academic seminars, and I am afraid that it would be difficult for me to answer your question in one or two words on this occasion.

But I can promise you that in the future, too, we will continue our efforts in cracking down on pornographic content on the Internet, which we believe and numerous examples have shown are detrimental to the healthy development of young people. Therefore, we will remain a good and stable place for investment. We will make sure that the Internet environment here in China will continue to improve tremendously in terms of censorship. That, after all, is my sacred duty.

Net Nanny

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Related:
Lots of Tea, September 8, 2009

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Democracy: The Insecure Sovereign

“It takes a stick to govern Poland,” I heard an old lady say to her husband some time ago. “That may be so,” replied her husband. “But then, it would take a stick to govern Germany, too.”

Their frank exchange of views reminded me of how unlikely a democracy my country is. Germany only became one in 1919, after losing world war one. Until then, it had been a constitutional monarchy by name, but with only limited parliamentary government. Parliament – the Reichstag – had the right to pass, amend or reject bills, but different to the German Bundestag today, it was in no position to initiate legislation. The chancellor was, and he stood and fell with the confidence of the emperor.

rule #1: don't mention the budget

rule #1: don't mention the budget

The European concept of democracy is different from America’s, at least originally, Martin Mosebach, an author, wrote in Germany’s weekly Die Zeit, earlier this month. His issue was the welfare state, and that rather generous dole-money today could be compared to the apanage once paid to members of royal families. It looked like a somewhat precipitous assumption to me first, and I’m almost sure that experts in constitutional law would have their objections in detail, but Mosebach’s idea  started looking logical to me as a layperson.

If our Kaiser and quite a number of regional German kings and dukes were the sovereigns until 1918, and if our grand- and great-grandparents were the sovereigns from 1919 to 1933, the latter were pretty reluctant sovereigns. It took them only a decade-and-a-half to have their sovereignty transferred to a gang of mass murderers, partly by their own vote, partly by the dealings of their political class. They went through thick and thin with their supreme killers, until they were thoroughly defeated in 1945. After all, the Nazis had created jobs.

“Whoever voted  to get rid of democracy? Or preferred secret police to freedom of speech?”

That’s what Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair asked in an essay for The Economist in 2007, and it was probably meant to be rhetorical. But many of our ancestors here in Germany did vote for the first, and preferred the second, in the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, they didn’t only run away from democracy. Until less than seventy years ago, they put up a huge fight to remain oppressed, and to oppress and loot others.

Why the reluctance of a people to be the sovereign? Most Germans probably never saw themselves as the masters of their own nation, but as its servants. Only the more recent, rather favorable experience of the past six decades made us supportive of the democratic concept. Distrust of powers that be, after 1945, probably helped to convince Germans  that we can’t transfer political power to some kind of an “elite” and leave it there. But we aren’t easy with the responsibility that sovereignty demands.

There is a legend which may live in every country: the idea of an innocent but wise sovereign who is always right (if not in detail, so still in general), and a political class which is over-theoretical, corrupt, ivory-tower, and inefficient. Louis Quatorze is said to have encouraged theorizers and politicians such as Jean-Baptiste Colbert – but one can be pretty sure that he frequently distrusted them, too. Get me the money for building the Palace of Versailles, or get lost. Bring me solutions, not problems.

Give a nation the opportunity of divided government, and they will leap at it. Germany’s chancellor Gerhard Schröder governed from 1998 to 2005. Six out of seven of those years, he had to govern without a majority in Germany’s upper house of parliament. He may count as the only post-war chancellor in Germany who dared to expect sacrifices from the public, when he tackled reform of the welfare state. It was badly needed, it helped to bring the economy back, and it probably helped to secure the welfare state, even if at a somewhat more basic level. But the grumpy sovereigns, fearing for their apanages, fired him anyway, and continued to fume afterwards when their  ex-public-servant became a businessman instead, looking after his only own well-being in the first place.

France has seen cohabitation, an uneasy coexistence of a president and a prime minister of different political colors for much of the past twenty years. America’s presidents usually had to govern with a Congress of oppositional political colors. An American president’s party usually fares badly in mid-term elections, two years after a president has been voted in. Barack Obama lost the “by-election” in Massachusetts only one year after he had been sworn in.

Why is that? I believe it is because the people want someone to check, contain, and supervise their government. They don’t feel up to that task  themselves – it would take the preparedness to inform themselves regularly, and to be involved. It’s not that they would lack the ability to be informed people. Most of them are no idiots, and successful in their daily jobs. But still, they entrust supervision of their government to people whom they actually despise. President Obama’s approval ratings dropped during his first year in office, but compared to the public’s disdain for Congress people, the president is still looking fairly good.

In an ideal world, the Republicans would try to control the costs and increase the efficiency of projects like healthcare reform. But constructive opposition is an unlikely scenario. Most voters in Massachusetts were probably aware that entrusting the Republican Party (in its current shape) with keeping a check on the administration was about as clever as entrusting Hezb’allah with the same job. But they still took a big step towards divided government.

Divided government usually results from an insecure and inconsistent citizenship. A good policy is no wiki page. A good policy doesn’t always need overall consensus. Frequently, decisions made with narrow, but legitimate majorities, have proven to be the best decisions. But they need dependable support, during a realistic timespan. Voters who supported something initially should continue doing so for quite a while.

But then, the sovereign is only wise in general, and not right in detail. That’s how many voters seems to view themselves.

The political class certainly reciprocates for the sovereign’s disdain as much as it can. Politicians aren’t usually inclined to cede more powers to the people than they absolutely have to, not even in a democratic society. There is no great preparedness to introduce plebiscites in Germany, and given samples like the recent ban on new minarets, voted in by the people of Switzerland, one might wonder if the political class doesn’t actually have a point here.

All that said, it isn’t the concept of democracy that is bad. The problems we are facing don’t usually stem from our form of government. No political system and no law can work without some individual virtue. Any sovereign, be it the people, a monarch, or an “elite”, needs to keep himself informed, and a political class needs to know and respect the basics of loyalty.

Maybe no informed society ever voted  to get rid of democracy, or preferred secret police to freedom of speech.

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Related:
From Depression to Rage, The Atlantic, January 18, 2010
Democracy can’t Buy People, January 5, 2010

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