Archive for October 23rd, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: “Social Media Provide a Common Virtual Space” –

an interview with Catherine Yeung

Catherine Yeung runs the blog Under the Jacaranda Tree,

a public forum with a personal aspiration: to fulfil a longstanding wish, shared by several friends, to provide a cyberspace venue for some overdue open and honest discussions about the internal conditions of the People’s Republic of China and their effects upon the international community and the Earth.

Under the same virtual tree,  Catherine’s co-blogger Ned Kelly (or his re-incarnation, for that matter) runs his virtual pub, not necessarily, or not exclusively, with China-related topics.

The Interview:

Q: I’m feeling tempted to call this interview “blogs, and what became of them” – there has been one post Under the Jaracanda this month so far, and the previous post is from April. During the first two years after you and Ned Kelly started the blog, your average number of posts per month was exactly thirteen. Why the slowdown?
A: I didn’t slow down at all. I’m actually blogging much more often than before. It’s just that I’ve been doing it at other places, rather than at the Under the Jacaranda Tree Blog. I started my Twitter account in 2009, and so far I have posted 13,450 tweets. My Sina Weibo venture commenced about a year ago. And I am also in the process of migrating from Facebook to Google+.  My co-blogger Ned is doing more or less the same thing. The only difference is that Ned has moved on to writing about Australian and American politics, while my focus is still on China.
Q: Could you share some links?
A: My Twitter name: WLYeung;  my Google+ Profile:
Q: How would you usually introduce yourself, when meeting people, and asked for a few words about yourself?
A: This is Catherine Yeung from Under the Jacaranda Tree Blog. I write about China.
Q: You are Australian, and of Chinese ancestry. You read both Australian and Chinese media. Which are the three worst Australian news article about China you can remember – and vice versa? Which are your favorite information sources, be it on the internet, or elsewhere?
A: In my opinion, Australian journalists have, by and large, done a decent job reporting about China. The best among them are: John Garnaut, who writes for the Fairfax News Group; Stephen McDonell, ABC’s China Correspondent; and the very talented Jane Hutcheon.
For me, the worst media reports on China ever written by an Australian are in fact not published in Australian newspapers.  And they are not even written by a journalist. I’m referring to two articles by the ever illusive “former Australian diplomat to Russia” Gregory Clark: “The Tiananmen Square massacre myth” published on 15 September 2004 in Japan Times, and “Black info and media gullibility: creation of the Tiananmen myth” published on 1 July 2011 by the same news service. To cut the long story short, back in 2004, Mr Clark claimed that the Tiananmen Massacre was a western media fabrication. He has recently upgraded his allegations and is now adamant that the entire incident was some kind of gray propaganda concocted by British intelligence.
My co-blogger Ned wants to add a note here about worst Australian news report on China. Ned says, “Any media publication that bears the title “China’s Rise” is bad, period.” His remark reminds me of an Australian politician, the self-proclaimed father of Australia’s republican movement Malcolm Turnball MP. Mr Turnball is now running a regular column for the Fairfax news group promoting China trade. I have a distinct impression that Mr Turnball is the Kissinger Sino-US PR team’s latest recruit. But I may be wrong. Only time can tell …
My blog roll represents a significant part of my information sources. I also receive first-hand information from media contacts I have established via Twitter.
Q: If Australian papers or correspondents are more informed about China, could it be for the relative proximity between the two countries? And does professional reporting, in your view, amount to a more informed public in Australia, than in Europe or North America, for example? Or is there no great difference in quality between coverage from the three continents, anyway?
A: I didn’t say Australian journalists are “more informed” about China. I am just suggesting that most of them are “as informed” or “as professional” as many first class journalists from other developed countries. Those three Aussie journalists in particular are not just professionally qualified, they also have good language skills. John Garnaut speaks Mandarin and is a human rights lawyer by training. Stephen McDonell speaks fluent Mandarin and Spanish. Jane Hutcheon speaks fluent French and Mandarin, and has acquired near-native proficiency in Cantonese.
Q: Under the Jacaranda Tree is meant to be a place for people to meet online and to discuss China-related issues. What motivated you to start it?
A: Under the Jacaranda Tree Blog was started as a celebration of my co-blogger Ned Kelly’s completion of his sojourn in China. It’s meant to be a continuation of a dialogue we had been conducting on and off for many years via letters and emails. It is also a tool for us to reach out to the world. As you know, Western Australia is, by all accounts, a rather remote part of the world (and here we are not just referring to its physical location).
Q: How closely do you follow Chinese and non-Chinese blogs respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news and topics?
A: I subscribe to more than 70 online publications, some in Chinese, some in English. They include blogs, newspapers and journals. I am following more than 400 Twitter users and 80 odd Weibo users. Among them there are Chinese dissidents, academics, media workers as well as China-based foreign correspondents. I’m also a part of the HK InMedia network. It is my intention to read as widely as possible. But it seems the topics that constantly catch my eyes are: media censorship, mass incidents, corruption, rule of law (or the lack of it) and religious freedom.
Q: Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, or foreign “China blogosphere” since you started blogging yourself?
A: Yes indeed. However, I see those changes as a reflection of similar changes in the entire China blogosphere. They are mostly propelled by the discovering of new social media. Nowadays, I’ll use Twitter for a quick exchange of information, Google + for sharing video clips or posting detailed analysis of current affairs, and conventional blogging for longer pieces of translation or for advocating a certain course of action. I hope I can integrate all these into a single platform. But unfortunately the WordPress template I’m using for my blog does not have the best tools for such endeavour. I am still searching, and will be grateful if technologically savvy readers can give me some suggestions.
Q: In your view, has China changed since you started blogging? Has the overseas Chinese community changed? Or has the world changed? How so?
A: I’ve seen many changes, but they are not all good news. The space for freedom of speech in China has dramatically contracted in the last 2 years, particularly among the dissident community. The Chinese censors’ effort is closely matched by the CCP propaganda department’s much improved strategy at selling China’s soft power. Meanwhile, the so-called pro-democracy faction among overseas Chinese community worldwide has been more or less discredited. The world is now more eager to see a stable China than before the 2008 financial meltdown, to the extent that many world leaders are willing to overlook some rather obvious human rights violations that are happening in China.
Q: Being a bilingual blogger, you seem to follow both Chinese- and English-language blogs, and blog posts from Chinese and from foreigners alike. Do you see anything they would have in common? And what makes them different from each other?
A: They are very different. The difference is not just confined to the topics they picked. Let us take the Wenzhou train crash as an example. Most English-language bloggers wrote about how the news was censored. There were some discussions on possible implications for the Chinese government, but they are not in great details. Many Chinese bloggers who wrote about this incident, however, seemed to be more interested in the way the rescue was handled. They were also eager to ascertain whether there were signs of a cover-up.
Ultimately it comes down to a different reason for blogging. English-language bloggers who write about China are doing so mostly as observers. Most of them want to use their blogs as a forum to provoke discussions. For many Chinese bloggers, particularly those who are living in China, the blogosphere is a virtual space for them to gather, to exchange information, to gossip, to monitor the authorities and to plot the kind of actions that they cannot otherwise have contemplated in the real world.
The good news is: the difference between the two groups of bloggers can be bridged. From what I can see, social media, such as Twitter and Google +, or even the Weibo, have provided a common virtual space for the two bloggers’ groups to converge. The exchange of minds is made possible by bilingual bloggers (or “bridges”, as my friend Isaac Mao calls them). With the number of bilingual bloggers and online projects growing, I am confident that the gap will be gradually narrowed.
Q: Weibo is often portrayed as a social or political game-changer in China. Would you agree with that? How do you feel about Weibo?
A: I’m still feeling my way through Weibo. So I may be able to shed more lights at a later stage. But my first impression is that it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call it a game-changer. However, as mentioned above, I believe social media such as Weibo can provide a common space for some meaningful cultural exchanges. So I strongly urge those of you in the English-language China blogosphere to go over there and have a look. A friend of mine, who is doing a Japanese major in university and doesn’t speak any Chinese, has recently set himself up at Sina Weibo with the help of Google Translate. He says he is having fun and is thoroughly enjoying the experience. So why don’t you have a go too.
Q: Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?
A: So far only one blog has this kind of effect on me. And of course you won’t be surprised if I mention the name “the Fool’s Mountain” ….
Q: You are an active campaigner for human rights. Do you feel that global reactions to human rights violations are usually disappointing? Why should people with a vested economic interest in China care about human rights, and speak up for people who are persecuted, even as they may harm their business by doing so?
A: No, I don’t find global reaction disappointing. I just find world leaders’ presumptuous attitude unsettling. As a matter of fact, pressure from the international community and human rights organisations has proven to be very effective in putting a check on human rights abuses in China. Ai Weiwei’s release from illegal detention, among a few other cases, is a good example.
For Australian businesses who say they don’t care about human rights in China, as long as business keeps going, I have a word of warning for them: those who allow evil to conquer the world will suffer from its consequences. If human rights abuses are acceptable in China, there is no categorical reason why they are not acceptable in other parts of the world, including Australia.
A note from Ned: “JR, I am referring you to Kant’s categorical imperative.”
Q: You said before that the pro-democracy faction had discredited itself. Was it for leaders being presumptuous? In which ways? Or is it for misinterpreting the status quo, or for  the American and European economic setbacks of the past three years?
A: As far as I know, the overseas dissident community has always been fragmented and there are rather serious internal power struggles among key members. It’s possible that there are personality clashes. But I’m more inclined to believe that agents from CCP’s United Front Work Department have infiltrated the community. Many of these overseas dissidents have been away from China for too long and their views on current issues are out of date. Consequently, activists in the PRC find it difficult to take them seriously. For many PRC-based Chinese netizens, the title “民主斗士“, or democracy fighters, is considered a derogatory term.
Q: Is there an unasked question to which you would like to reply to all the same?
A: Just one: Which flavour chocolate you like best? White, milk or dark?
Answer: All of them.
Q: Catherine, thank you very much for this interview.


The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.

Concerning Catherine’s suggestion that I should give Sina Weibo a go, I’ve actually done that a few months ago. I’m only occasionally reading there, so far.



» All BoZhu Interviews
» Jacaranda, Wikipedia


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zhou Youguang: don’t Blame Confucianism – make it Work

Zhou Youguang (周有光) is the man who “invented” the hanyu pinyin – those pronounciation helpers not only used by foreigners who learn Chinese, but also by Chinese elementary school students, before they learn the simplified characters. The following was posted on his blog some five months ago – thoughts about how to make Confucianism work in our times.

Every country’s culture includes modern and traditional culture. Modern culture is  mainly about internationally shared natural and social sciences; traditional culture is mainly a nationality’s culture, history, philosophy, and religion. Our universities’ curricula are mostly modern culture, with a small share of traditional culture, which reflects the degree to which our country has entered globalization, and retained particular national features. Every culture, knowingly or not, carries out modernization.


Confucianism maintained imperial rule, and built a stable and prosperous feudal society. During the second millenium, it produced great and correct accomplishments. Confucianism wasn’t there to serve post-feudal times. To blame Confucianism for not being able to serve democracy or science is no adequate historic viewpoint. The Fourth-May era attacked Confucianism, which made as much sense as to criticize Confucius for not understanding English. At that time, there was no English language. To make Confucianism work for the post-feudal times isn’t Confucius’ responsibility; how to make Confucianism modern is the responsibility of current generations.


Modernizing Confucianism should include

  1. Removing feudalism, building up modernity
  2. removing conservatism, building up creativity – for example, “I narrate, but I don’t innovate” must change into “I narrate and innovate”1)
  3. removing dissimulation, building up practicality; sayings such as “man and nature are one, sage inside, king outside” will find it difficult to reach modern young people – both its shape and content needs reform. Our forefathers didn’t know what nature is, and easily put the two together. Today’s people have at least elementary scientific understanding, and man and nature don’t fit together. There’s a five-year old poet in India, his anthology is titled “Let me touch the Sky”, and he may welcome people and nature sitting together. Old  bottles may be filled with new wine, but if the artwork on the bottle disgusts people, there will be no people who want to try its good taste. Imperial thoughts have turned into swearwords – who would still want to be called a king? You call yourself a sage, and other people will want to scoff [at you], too! What’s hard to understand for modern youth will hardly play a role in modern society.

Confucianist content needs to be explored one by one, and should be seen in three different categories:

  1. What has guiding meaning for modernity, such as “to know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge” is to be kept
  2. what’s correct in principle, but not in specific cases, needs to be changed, such as “Parents can’t do wrong” should be put “天下有不是之父母”.2) Parents have their faults, may be an reassuring figure of speech. [Update, Oct 27: for the source of the original quote and a discussion, see commenting thread.]
  3. What’s not in correspondence with modern requirements should be abandoned, such as “Women and ordinary people are hard to handle”.3)


There are people who say that illiterate people were in need of being converted to religious Confucianism, studied people needed Confucian were in need of Confucian dissimulation, and young people were in need of Confucian practical wisdom – but these three [rationales] exclude each other, and might as well go their own ways respectively. Isn’t that an essential phenomenon of transition?


Ever since the Han dynasty, Confucians have made thorough studies of chapters, sections, sentences and phrases in ancient writings, and added explanatory notes, added footnotes to the Five Classics, to Confucius and to Mencius. Genuine development and innovation was very rare, but many wise sayings were left behind, having universal and perpetual meaning. Future development should bring Confucius spirit “as the most timeous sage [or saint]4”  into play, and turn the ancient, feudalism-serving Confucianism into a modern, “post-feudal” Confucianism.


Zhou Youguang isn’t the only blogging academic who explores Confucianism and modernity – Wang Zhicheng would be one of many others -, but Zhou is arguably the oldest blogging academic  who is pursuing this interest in particular, and reform more in general. He turned 105 in January this year.

Underneath the “notes” section, I’ve listed some posts which may or not be “related” to this topic.



1) 子曰:“述而不作,信而好古,窃比于我老彭。” Confucius said, “I transmit but do not innovate; I am truthful in what I say and devoted to antiquity. I venture to compare myself to your Old P’eng.” (Analects, 7:1 / 论语述而篇第七章1) Also: “I transmit but do not create. In believing in and loving the ancients, I dare to compare myself with our old Peng.”
2) I’m exceeding my time limit, seeking for a proper translation of “天下有不是之父母” – maybe a reader can help out here.
3) In full: “子曰:唯女子与小人为难养也,近之则不孙,远之则怨” – Confucius said: “Only women and non-gentleman are difficult to handle. Be close to them and they lack humility, stay away from them and they complain.” (Analects, chapter 17, 25.)
4) In full (according to a blogger’s translation):
Mencius said, ‘Bo Yi among the sages was the pure one; Yi Yin was the one most inclined to take office; Hui of Liu Xia was the accommodating one; and Confucius was the timeous one. In Confucius we have what is called a complete concert. A complete concert is when the large bell proclaims the commencement of the music, and the ringing stone proclaims its close. The metal sound commences the blended harmony of all the instruments, and the winding up with the stone terminates that blended harmony. The commencing that harmony is the work of wisdom. The terminating it is the work of sageness. As a comparison for wisdom, we may liken it to skill, and as a comparison for sageness, we may liken it to strength – as in the case of shooting at a mark a hundred paces distant. That you reach it is owing to your strength, but that you hit the mark is not owing to your strength.’



» At 105, now a Government Critic, NPR, October 19, 2011
» Lee Teng-hui’s New Central Plains, Oct 18, 2011
» Confucius relegated, April 27, 2011
» Neither Law, nor Order, April 21, 2011
» Does Confucius matter outside Asia, Dec 12, 2010
» Not Father, but Son, The Guardian, Febr 21, 2008


%d bloggers like this: