Archive for July, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

After the Wenzhou Censorship Directive: “a Wide-Spread Sense of Depression”

According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP, online) on Sunday, China’s propaganda department’s (referred to as publicity department) directive or statement reads as follows:

After the serious rail traffic accident on July 23, overseas and domestic public opinions have become increasingly complicated. All local media, including newspapers, magazines and websites, must rapidly cool down the reports of the incident.

[You] are not allowed to publish any reports or commentaries, except positive news or information released by the authorities.

According to Singapore’s Morning News online (联合早报网), the directive read

In view of the particularly major 7-23 Ningbo-Taizhou-Wenzhou Railway line accident, popular sentiment within and without our borders tends to become complicated, and media in all regions, including their subsidiary papers and news websites, must rapidly cool down their coverage concerning the accident. Apart from positive information, and information about the situation issued by the authorized departments, no news  and no commentaries must be published.


According to the SCMP report, the directive was issued to newspaper and internet editors at 9 p.m. on Friday. Newspapers compelled to scrap several of their originally drafted pages were the China Business Journal (中国经营报), the 21st Century Business Herald (21世纪经济报导), and the Beijing News (新京报). Even Xinhua had to warn its media subscribers not to use one of its investigative reports. A number of papers reportedly defied the directive.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (which isn’t itself immediately affected by the directive, given the special administrative region’s basic law of its own) wrote in a statement on Saturday that it was appalled by the orders from the propaganda bureau and stated categorically that

Premier Wen Jiabao on July 28 when visiting the scene said that “investigation into the accident should be open, transparent and monitored by the public and that the process should be timely, and based on accurate information.”


Hong Kong is the only place in China that enjoys freedom of the press. We urge the Hong Kong media to stick to their job of reporting the truth, accurately and without prejudice so that the whole world will know what is going on.  It is all the more important as Hong Kong is now building its part of this high-speed rail to link up with the mainland system.  We must ensure that the system is transparently safe.

‘There was a wide-spread sentiment of depression (哀鸿遍野) on Weibo, writes Morning News. A number of newspaper editors explained their decisions there. A CCTV producer has reportedly been suspended for criticizing the ministry of railways (央视制片人因批评铁道部遭停职).

A Beijing News editor explained that after insisting and compromising (坚持又坚持、妥协又妥协) time and again, the remaining four pages have also been harmonized (被和谐). There was no other way; we had to take the rice bowls of more than two-thousand Beijing News employees into consideration (没办法,我们要为2000多个新京报员工的饭碗考虑).

The Weibo quotes in the Morning News report read like a who-is-who of the Chinese press; one editor after another seemed to voice his or her feelings.

On July 27, the Global Times, a state-owned window-speech paper in English, wrote that

[t]he train crash tragedy in Wenzhou has drawn more social reflection than most major accidents. Nowadays, almost all public events raise serious questions, but in the face of these, authorities often react reluctantly and ambiguously.  […] It is foreseeable that Chinese authorities and other relevant organizations will continue to suffer from this public crisis and that their clumsy performances when facing the public will become more obvious. This will damage China’s image and waste China’s political resources.

The SCMP wrote on Saturday that

[t]he media ban, imposed in an attempt to suppress the public’s anger, is likely to backfire by causing further frustration.

But most China watchers seem to overestimate the politbureau’s sensitivity. When there seems to be a need to choose between openness and thought control, thought control will carry the day. The matter wasn’t really decided on Friday (or anytime after the train crash). On principal, the pertaining decision was most probably made by the the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventeenth Central Committee, in October last year, and some time prior to that, Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor and member of the politbureau’s standing committee, had probably lost a struggle for reforms of our political system.

(Politically)  reformist officials may be allowed to wiggle forth for a few days, once in a while. But that has been the rule for centuries, at least. It may be tempting to forget who actually rules China, but that’s something foreigners are more prone to than Chinese people. “The sea that carries the ship of state” may heave a sigh, but it is long-suffering.


» Chinese Citizens should tolerate Censorship, March 26, 2011

» “Economic Observer ignored the directive”, NY Times, Aug 1, 2011


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hong Kong Journalists Association criticizes alleged Wenzhou Coverage Restrictions

The Hong Kong Journalists Association has urged mainland authorities to stop interfering in media coverage of last week’s fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou. Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said some mainland journalists have told her of directives issued to them by the government, restricting their reports to the accounts given by the state-run Xinhua news agency. Several newspapers on the mainland were also forced to pull planned lead stories about the tragedy. Ms Mak said China’s curb on press freedoms is not acceptable.

RTHK News, July 30, 2011

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has criticized the central propaganda department for issuing restrictions on coverage of the Wenzhou rear-end railway accident, and demanded the withdrawal [of the restrictions].

Before, widespread internet news had said that the central propaganda department had issued the third restriction since the accident occured, obliging more than 100 publications of Saturday (July 30) to withdraw or rivise their coverage overnight.


The HKJA said that according to its understanding, the central propaganda department had decreed that media in all regions, including their subsidiaries’ publications and websites, should rapidly lower the temperature (迅速降温) of their coverage concerning the accident.

BBC Chinese Website, July 30, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Wenzhou Train Crash, Public Reactions, and Social Management

Doppelpod, a blog in German and Chinese, perceives a quantum leap in China’s public debate, triggered by the high-speed train accident near Wenzhou, and notes that this leap has gone mostly unnoticed by German media. Which is true – but then, even the train accident itself wasn’t big news here.

A comment by King Tubby seems to have shed a light of insight for me onto how the current internet openness is rated, and – I believe – overrated among foreigners who do  follow the events closely.

My reply to his comment:

Maybe I’m misinformed, but loss of fear is a very gradual process, and it can go back and forth. Also, some of the openness comes from the top. I’m aware of the cover-up directive, but such directives will come with every major (重大) accident or incident. (Let’s face it: this accident is only considered major for affecting a crown jewel of modernization, and is therefore a matter of trust and example).

When it comes to Wen and leaders of his kind, I’m not so sure that the current public supervision is really that unwelcome. Gorbachev’s answer to insurmountable bureaucratic problems was glasnost. That’s not on the cards even for Wen, I suppose, but while the references to the role of the Chinese internet are newsworthy, the emphasis is sometimes overblown. Way too early to think of this as a new dawn, or something like that.

I’m pretty sure the train crash has been rated a less-than-principal contradiction (非基本矛盾) by the politbureau. Hence the lightning bolts of public opinion. They are tolerated, and to some extent encouraged from the top.


Related: Social Management »


Friday, July 29, 2011

“People Internalized their Fear” – Stéphane Courtois on Totalitarianism

Stéphane Courtois is a French historian, probably best known for his Black Book of Communism. The following is a quote from  Radio Romania International (RRI) of July 19.

[…] This is an important issue, all the more so as communism is one of the key phenomena of the past century. If we want to understand communism, we must understand the nature of this regime. If it was, as I personally believe, a totalitarian regime, we must draw some obvious conclusions. If it wasn’t totalitarian, then obviously conclusions will be different. However, given that now archives are open, and also considering the large number of papers by historians, who for twenty years now have worked the documents we didn’t have access to before, it is clear that nobody can deny the totalitarian dimension of that regime.

There is one more question pending, though: did communism remain totalitarian after the death of Stalin? I believe it did, because it maintained the same structures. A single party, a political police force, a civil-war army, the same ideology and same people. What is true is that after Stalin had died, repression was less violent, less intensive. There were no longer large-scale massacres, just a general control over society, carried out by the political police and the political party.

Unfortunately, what happened, was that people internalized their fear – and when people start fearing, there is no more room left for democracy. Because the basic principle of democracy is precisely freedom of expression.

Courtois visited the Republic of Moldova, and Romania, this month. He is rector of the Sighet Su­mmer School.


» Obituary: Yelena Bonner, 1923 – 2011, June 25, 2010
» China: Authoritarian or Totalitarian, March 9, 2010
» Le Rapport Khrouchtchev, FondaPol/Youtube, March 4, 2009


Friday, July 29, 2011

SID to End (Certain?) Special Funds “Misappropriation Investigations”?

I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, but if I am, the Supreme Prosecutors Office’s Special Investigation Division (SID) in Taipei would plan to put an end to investigations of special fund use by Taiwanese leaders. The BBC Chinese reports that after Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, had passed legislation to this end in May this year, the SID would now terminate its investigations accordingly. The report suggests that Ma Ying-jeou and Lien Chan might benefit from the arrangement, but it doesn’t mention former president Lee Teng-hui who is charged with embezzlement of a special diplomatic fund during his presidency, allegedly in or around 1994.

It seems that the special diplomatic fund which is the issue in the charges against Lee are counted into a different category than the special monthly allowances referred to by this China Post article.

The legislative arrangement of May would only apply to administrative chiefs at the central and local government levels. It does not cover grassroots officials, such as representatives elected to local assemblies., the China Post wrote in May.

Waiting for more coverage…


Updates / Related

From a Commenter on this blog, on July 9:

Thanks to the KMT-dominated judicial system, it is no longer illegal for politicians to use special funds for personal ends. If Ma were somehow reindicted today, he would certainly be not guilty even if he couldn’t find another accountant to take the fall for him. Under these circumstances, one might argue that a president or ex-president should receive the same treatment. In other words, your post is missing a bit of the context. I agree that some in the Green camp may be willing to overlook potential transgressions by Lee because he is their man. But the case itself highlights the ridiculous lack of fairness in the blue-dominated judicial system. Somehow, CSB and LTH are guilty. Yet Ma is not? And why stop there? Where are the calls within the blue camp to reevaluate the records and legacies of CCK and CKS?


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wen Jiabao’s Crash Site Press Conference: “Only two Words”

On a visit to the train crash site near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on Thursday, Chinese chief state councillor Wen Jiabao (温家宝) held a press conference, taking questions from mainland Chinese, Hong Kong, and foreign reporters. One of the questions asked was why it had taken him five days to visit the site, and Wen’s unusually personal explanation was that he had been sick, and in hospital, according to the Wall Street Journal China Blog.

Wen Jiabao press conference: You can ask that one

Wen Jiabao press conference: You can ask that one.

Xinhua, via Enorth (Tianjin). Main Link:
Links within the following blockquotes were added during translation, and aren’t part of the original piece by Xinhua.

The first question quoted came from Xinhua itself.

Xinhua: Chief State Councillor Wen, I’m from Xinhua news agency. After the major 7-23 Ningbo-Taizhou-Wenzhou Railway accident, the public have observed the high-speed technology’s safety, railway scheduling and rescue work on the crash site closely. There were some doubts, and the masses urgently demand that the causes be identified.

Wen: After this accident, the public had a lot of doubts about the accident’s causes and its handling. I believe that we should carefully listen to peoples’ opinions, handle them seriously, and dutifully provide them with a responsible explanation. I’ll now answer your question about how the investigation is conducted. After the accident, the state council established an investigation team, which is independent and includes [members from] supervisory, investigative and procuratorial departments. This team will, by on-the-site surveys, by taking technical samples, by scientific analysis, and experts’ proof, come to conclusions which are going to seek the truth in the facts, and which will withstand the conclusions of history. Also, in accordance with national law and regulations, it will look into the immediate and the leadership’s responsibilities. The investigation has begun, we require the handling of the investigation to be open and transparent, under the supervision of the public.

CNN: Hello, I’m American CNN’s correspondent. I’d like to ask about the government-related problems after the accident. You have just addressed the issues with the handling of the accident, dissatisfaction within the public, and accusations. I understand that China urgently wants to export high-speed rail technology to other countries, including America. What I’d like to ask is, which measures is the government, and which measures are you personally going to take to regain the international community’s trust, to show that China’s high-speed rail technology is advanced and safe?

Wen: Thank you for your question. The degree of trust in Chinese exports of high-speed rail technology, and other high-technology export products doesn’t depend on what is being said, but on practice. As far as high-speed rail technology is concerned, it should be considered comprehensively – from its design, equipment, technology, construction, and management. It is here were a degree of trust has been lost. During these years, the high-speed train industry has developed a lot, but his accident reminds us that more attention must be paid to safety in high-speed railway construction, and speed, quality, efficiency, and safety must be comprehensively achieved. Safety must come first. I’m confident that the departments in charge will conscientiously draw lessons from this accident, improve work under many different aspects, especially concerning breakthroughs in key technologies, strengthen the management, and help China’s high-speed railway technology rise truly safely, and only then it will credibly stand its ground worldwide.

Replying to other questions, Wen said that if corruption was to be found by the investigation, it would be dealt with according to the law, and unforbearingly (毫不手软). That was the only way to be worthy of (对得起) the dead (literally: the dead, buried to sleep eternally – 长眠在地下的死者). Chairman Hu Jintao had issued instructions right after the accident to put the rescue of the passengers first (胡锦涛主席当即指示要把抢救人放在第一位), and Wen himself had given a person in charge at the ministry of railways a phone call. [Pointing to one of the officials standing behind him:] “He can confirm that I only said to words, which were ‘save lives’.”

Wen reserved the use of the word “intellectual property” for a Kyodo News reporter, but by mentioning the term in a general context of China’s development, rather than in connection with one of the trains in question, and without a hint that there could be issues about intellectual property. The reporter’s question hadn’t been about intellectual property anyway, but, similar to CNN’s, about which measures or reforms it would take to restore overseas confidence.

Xinhua’s rendition of the press conference ends with a question from the Wenzhou Daily (温州日报) which is in itself a statement, rather than a question – how Wen, who had praised the Wenzhou peoples’ entrepreneurial spirit in the past, did evaluate the rescue efforts by all of Wenzhou’s CCP levels, and how the local government and the people had thrown themselves into the rescue work?

To which Wen, as quoted by Xinhua, reacted with a harmonious apotheosis of gratitude.


Main related tags:
» trains
» Wen Jiabao

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

China Blogs Review / Phrasebook: Political Reform and Righteousness

No stuff of my own today, but two other blogs’ issues instead…

Blog Review

In May this year, Wukailong discussed Political Reform in China, and provided a review of a number of Chinese scholars’ views in short. After that first installment, he discussed another number of scholars’ and journalists’ views this month, from a more foreign perspective, plus some opinion of his own. Part three appears to be in the pipeline.

Bremen-Hemelingen, July 2011

Bremen-Hemelingen, July 2011


Meantime, Foarp quotes from Huanqiu Shibao‘s (Global Times) commenter threads – responses to the bombing and shootings in Norway last Friday.

It’s in Foarp’s commenter thread in turn where I found another line for my phrasebook collection: 善有善报,恶有恶报 (shàn yǒu shàn bào, è yǒu è bào) – what goes around, comes around, or righteousness earns righteousness, evil earns evil.



The way we view our own violence…,, July 22, 2011


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

“Unusual Criticism”, and People’s Daily’s Take on the Wenzhou Bullet Train Crash

People’s Daily Online (人民网), on Tuesday, published an article about the train crash on a viaduct near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on July 23, where a CRH2 bullet train (also referred to as D301 train) rear-ended a CRH1-046B (also referred to as D3115) train which had been halted there by loss of power, attributed to a lightning strike.

Main Link:
Links within the following blockquotes were inserted during translation, and aren’t part of the original.

39 people died, and about 200 got injured – rear-end collision! This happens more commonly in car-driving accidents, but it can even happen to technologically advanced trains. How exactly did the particularly serious accident happen? People sincerely hope that the causes of the accident can be identified soon, so that lessons can be learned.

Why did the train control system fail?

The train control system measures the speed, the train’s location between the points of departure and arrival, and automatically prevents rear-end collisions, and collisions. Why didn’t it perform its functions in this accident?

The article then explains in more detail how the train control system is expected to work, and continues:

But this advanced control system failed in this accident. “I’m puzzled about this rear-end accident!”, said 40-year-old D301 train passenger Li Yanting (李研婷)1). She and four others had gotten onto the train in Tianjin on July 23, at perhaps 8.10 h, to tour Yandangshan Mountain. It was rainy during the trip, the train went smoothly, but with a lot of stop and go (时常走走停停). The D301 train isn’t scheduled to stop at Yongjia Railway Station, but theirs stopped there anyway, for several minutes.

At about 20.24, having gotten the departure signal, the train moved on again, now at a clearly faster speed. At that moment, the D3115 train was travelling not far ahead, and its speed was clearly slower than the D301’s. The distance between them kept narrowing, but nobody – neither the passengers, nor the driver(s), and not even the background control and signal center – noticed that.

It had been reported that the control system’s failure, too, had been caused by a  lightning strike, writes People’s Daily. But if so, did that mean that every train would need to be stopped in case of a lightning storm?

The article then quotes ministry of railways spokesman Wang Yongping (王勇平) as saying that “under normal circumstances, this kind of rear-end shouldn’t happen, but it just did happen” (按照正常的情况,列车不应该发生这样的追尾,但它就是发生了……), and that the state council had arranged an accident investigation team which would conscientiously and meticulously investigate the causes of the accident, and that the ministry of railways would actively support the investigation (国务院已经组织事故调查组,将会认真地、严肃地、细致地把事故原因查清楚,铁道部会积极地配合事故调查).

Passengers are quoted as asking why train drivers wouldn’t communicate by phone, even if the signal system failed. When a train lost power, wouldn’t its driver send a dispatch to the coordination center? People were “full of doubts on these issues” (人们对这些问题充满了疑惑), writes People’s Daily. Two passengers remembered that the D3115 had left Yongjia station at a pace of some 20 km/h2), ten minutes prior to the D301 train at a pace of around 100 km/h. With correct coordination, and a departure-time difference of ten minutes between the two trains, the D301 should have had sufficient time to stop [before crashing into the D3115]. According to the reporter’s information, the ministry’s and local Shanghai coordination center were monitoring real-time, and should have issued emergency instructions from the first moment3).

The article points out that on July 25 at about 6 a.m., traffic had resumed with some seventy trains on that day. There had been public concerns about the resumption’s appropriateness, given that there was no finished report on the accident, writes People’s Daily.

The article avoids to refer to the two CRH trains as “Harmony” trains (和谐号). Referrals to that politically-charged term – harmony is a hallmark of party and state chairman Hu Jintao‘s political philosophy – don’t seem to be an absolute “No” on People’s Daily’s website, but only seem to occur on the forums.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reports that

[w]hile the Hexie name and CRH letters indicating the train was part of the high-speed railway system were visible at first, the loading shovels crushed the car to erase such labels.

The Asahi report also suggests that a hole had been digged to bury the front car of the bullet train that had rear-ended the other.

Police officials would not confirm that the train car had been buried. But a number of railway sources said it was only natural to bury anything that could not be removed from the accident site,

writes Asahi Shimbun.
Jinghua Shibao (Beijing Times), a paper affiliated with People’s Daily, had published an editorial on July 24 (prior to the above one by People’s Daily itself) which amounted to unusual criticism of the government.



1) D301 would be the CRH2 train that rear-ended the halted CRH1-046B (or D3115 ) train.
2)This seems to refer to two passengers, each of who were on the D3115 and the D301 train respectively.
3) “from the first moment would be my translation of 在第一时间.



» 铁道部发言人称2岁半女孩获救是生命奇迹, (video), July 24, 2011
» Phrasebook: xiāng tí bìng lùn, July 11, 2011
» Scientific Development and Contradictions, July 3, 2011
» Imperialism Thwarted on all Fronts, October 27, 2010


» Interrogating the Party, The Economist, July 25, 2011


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