Archive for December, 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review (3): the Declining Sphere and the Dizzy Gatekeepers

I’m not sure what same old mug’s game means. Probably something like der gleiche Scheiß wie immer. That’s what King Tubby writes about the Sino-English gulag, i. e. the English-language China blogosphere, as the phenomenon has been dubbed sometime in the past decade or so.

While Shepherds watched: Beautiful landscape, now closely nannied.

While Shepherds watched: Once a beautiful landscape, now closely nannied.

It hasn’t always been that bad. I don’t know about the pre-2008 years, as me and this blog were latecomers to the sphere, but the run-up to the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing was probably the last stormy heatwave that went through the sphere. And its best times were even before that, because once upon a time, the sphere or gulag wasn’t even firewalled by the CCP, foreign authors and readers within China dwelled on fragrant meadows there, playfully bopping each others with sunflowers (posts) and dandelions (comments). Not that I can tell (I wasn’t there), but that’s how the memories of the initiated come across these days.

Anyway – the past four years were interesting times, too, even if in less paradisiacal ways. Heck – the Chinese propaganda department even cared to recruit one of the American leaders of the English-language China-blogosphere! All of a sudden, floppy hats crowded the once graceful sphere.

Social management set in, too. The bozhus (blog wardens) took all kinds of approaches, and again, in an earlier post, King Tubby describes some of them. He failed to cite mine, however (just as he usually fails to link here, even if he mentions yours truly): show your feelings to trolls – show them exactly the disdain they deserve, but stay polite while doing so.

Which means that you will hardly get any comments. But what appears to be a nonstarter in most blog wardens’ view, is a perfectly harmonious and happiness tool in mine. In all these four years of blogging, I only had to censor one comment – one which baselessly insulted an academic from Norway. On the other hand, whenever comments do come in here, chances are that they are informative.

But some decline in the sphere is natural. You can call JR a “cold warrior” as much as you like (btw, what I said was that by semi-official Chinese standards, my attitude towards the Chinese Communist Party would be cold-warlike. Anyway – that’s how the internet works, and how the names stick). But: JR usually listens when others speak.

It is legitimate to write about people and a topic, rather than to interact with them. It is just as legitimate to emphasize that one wants to keep discussions in English, rather than in Chinese. One has to bear in mind, however, that most Chinese people either can’t speak or write English, or feel too embarrassed even about potential flaws in their language skills to speak out. Don’t get surprised then if the other side of the story gets told by “overseas Chinese” people who moved their ass into America, to sing the praise of the Chinese Communist Party from the land of the free, rather than immersing themselves into the great rejuvenation of the motherland.

It wouldn’t need to be that way. There is an interface world between the “sphere” and its topic, i. e. China. It’s pretty much the Chinese-language Western blogosphere. And while a Westerner may not last in a Chinese propaganda unit forever, the same can be true the other way round. There is a Chinese-language intersection towards the West, just as there is the foreigner sphere towards China. They hardly ever meet.

Fools Mountain / Hidden Harmonies was one attempt to bridge the divide – initially, anyway. But it was doomed, probably because it quickly ended up as a blog version of the “Global Times”  – only angrier, and from a particularly challenged or mortified American-Chinese perspective. A more promising try is – or was – Doppelpod. One problem (but not necessarily the only one): they write only in German. It basically seems to be a project between a German lecturer, and some Chinese students. But the German-speaking world between the bigger camps of glowing CCP admirers and “cold warriors” like yours truly appeared to be to small to lead to threads with a sustainable commenting frequency there. Last time Doppelpod posted was on November 14th this year.

But even with an English or Chinese version, they may not have attracted the critical number of readers or commenters it would take to make it a real Western-Chinese forum.

But wait – there’s a tax-funded solution. A gatekeeper in the “information overload”, as Deutsche Welle director Eric Bettermann was quoted on the Goethe-Institute’s website. That was in 2011. Bettermann reportedly also

leveled clear criticism at Web 2.0, which in some states has proven itself to be “virtually a job machine for government approved opinion controllers”. Presumably he was alluding to developments such as those in China, where the state leadership has discovered the Internet as a tool of domination.

If the role of a gatekeeper and a scout in the information jungle was Bettermann’s vision of Deutsche Welle’s role, he probably hasn’t arrived there yet. Nor has RFE/RL. And at least as far as the Western world is concerned, China Radio International’s audience seems to be limited to a small congregation of “early Christians” – you have to be a real believer to listen to “People in the Know” on a regular basis.

It’s certainly not where the world meets.

But then, it probably isn’t where the world wants to meet. And the sphere isn’t the place to be for too many people either.

The world of work is. That’s were Chinese and Westerners interact. They have to, because they are paid for it. That’s what makes those places interactive anyway.

The world of academia, too. Maybe that’s the only place where Chinese and Westerners interact because they want to. As King Tubby says, even if in a somewhat different context, maybe:

Quite a lot of shared content with different top and bottom commentary. All in all, a pretty depressing picture. I also suspect that many folk simply overestimate the importance of the China English digital world.

The digital world still isn’t the real world. The only thing that could have connected the two – in the early stages of the digital parallel universe – are the digital world’s wannabe gatekeepers. But they are struggling now. They may have the power to silence people in the real world, but they can’t build the world in accordance with their wishes either. They, too, are just part of many different spheres – and if the importance of the China English digital world is simply overestimated, so is the gatekeepers’.

And that’s good, isn’t it? Let’s not complain too much about the fragmentary state of the spheres. Hegemony would be the ugly alternative to it.

Happy new year.



» 2012 in Review (2): nothing trivial, Dec 30, 2012
» The same thing, everyday, Dec 15, 2012


Monday, December 31, 2012

Shortwave Log, Northern Germany, November/December 2012


VoR terminates Shortwave for Europe and North America

Samara, probably little known outside Russia, but the country’s sixth-largest city, may be getting ready for the FIFA soccer world cup in 2018, but it will probably disappear from the maps of shortwave enthusiasts.

swldxbulgaria / BDXC:

-St Petersburg SW/MW site is closing (including MW 1494 kHz)
-Samara SW site is also reported to be closing.
-Mayak is closing on MW/LW throughout Russia
-Voice of Russia is reducing some of its SW/MW output across its language services following budget cuts.

I listened to the Voice of Russia‘s (VoR) German broadcasts via Samara a number of times this summer. First time I came across the broadcaster – then still Radio Moscow – was in the 1980s, when I was a teenager. The authentic thing about the station was that they all seemed to be truly proud of their country (or “Union”), but that was basically it – most of it came across as rather surreal. I never became a regular listener, as I didn’t find the way they tried to “teach” their audience correct (or useful) political attitudes terribly charming. But I obviously did write several reception reports, and got several QSL cards with (usually, it seems) photos of Moscow’s touristic spots on them: one of the Lenin Mausoleum (see picture underneath), one of a big, ugly hotel with lots of different national flags above the entrance, and one card featuring a big stadium (probably the site of the 1980 Moscow Olympics).

Radio Moscow QSL, apparently featuring the Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

Radio Moscow QSL, Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

I can’t tell for sure, because the scenic explanations on the cards were in Russian.

There were several (more or less) internatonal broadcasters in the Soviet Union besides Radio Moscow: Radio Kiev, Radio Vilnius, or Radio Tashkent, to name a few. But they all seemed to rely on the same pool of transmisson sites, all over the Soviet Union. The Samara site was probably among them, too.

A number of AM broadcasting cuts are going to take effect on January 1, 2013, according to Radio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB). Besides Samara, Popovka transmission site in Krasny Bor near St. Petersburg will also be shut down. No shortwave broadcasts for Europe and North America anymore, and long-lasting airtime exchange cooperation on shortwave with China Radio International (CRI) has recently been terminated, according to RBB.

In 2003, Deutschlandfunk (DLF, Germany’s national domestic radio) had a feature about the Voice of Russia’s German service. The foreign broadcaster’s German department, now no longer “Radio Moscow”, saw struggles among its staff for free coverage of issues listeners might be interested in, but the department manager, Anatóli Stjópkin, denied that there was censorship. Of course, he was in a position to correct mistakes made by colleagues. There was pressure from the government, the Deutschlandfunk report alledged – and “an insecure manager passed that pressure on to the staff”.


Recent Logs

International Telecommunication Union letter codes used in the table underneath:
AUS – Australia; BGD – Bangladesh; CHN – China; CLN – Sri Lanka; CUB – Cuba; INS – Indonesia; KOR – South Korea; KRE – North Korea; MDG – Madagasca; THA – Thailand; UGA – Uganda.

Languages (“L.”):
C – Chinese; E – English; F– French; G – German; K – Korean; P – Persian.







12070 Deutsche
Welle Kigali
UGA E Nov 1 19:00 4 4 4
17750 RHC Habana CUB F Nov 2 19:30 2 4 2
 5850 Radio Farda CLN P Nov 2 20:16 5 4 4
 7570 Vo Korea KRE E Nov 3 15:00 3 4 3
 9525 Voice of
INS G Dec 13 18:06 3 4 3
11660 Radio
AUS E Dec 13 20:03 4 3 3
 9475 Radio
AUS E Dec 14 14:26 4 4 3
 7250 Radio
BGD E Dec 22 18:29 3 3 2
15160 KBS Seoul KOR K Dec 23 09:23 3 5 4
15105 Radio
BGD E Dec 28 12:29 4 4 3
 9585 Radio
THA E Dec 28 19:03 3 3 3
11535 Vo Korea KRE C Dec 28 21:00 4 3 3
11850 Radio Japan MDG F Dec 29 20:30 4 4 3
17650 CRI Beijing CHN C Dec 30 06:59 5 5 5
 07:15 5 4 4



*) The noise of the transmitter itself usually seems to create most of the disturbance. Recording here ».



» Previous log, Sep/Oct 2012, Nov 1, 2012

» Radio Moscow (1985), sporizon / youtube, 2011
» Struggle for supremacy, 1926VictorCredenza / youtube, 2012

» VoR in English
» VoR in German

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review (2): Nothing Trivial

« original post there

There was nothing trivial in 2012, and it was still OK, except for the driver license test.
On August 20, Baobao got started elementary school, the first step into the learning career.

In early September, we bought a car and spent more than 120,000 on it, which is a big household item.

In mid-November, my husband had an accident on the expressway, but fortunately nothing serious. We spent 12,000 Yuan on the repair costs, and the insurance company refunded the full amount.

The end of the world didn’t come in December, and we continue to live on this planet.

Wimpy Kid’s Space (小屁孩的大空间)



» 2012 in Review (1): The Imperfect Photograph, Dec 29, 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Internet Disaster Areas”: Help is on the Way

Two reports published this month came to the same conclusion, reports Enorth (Tianjin): microblogs have become the internet’s disaster areas when it comes to rumors.

Main Link: Enorth, December 30, 2012. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

A survey by Legal Daily online shows that 51.7 percent of rumors emerged online in 2012 came from microblogs, or were mainly spread on microblogs. Forums have been sources and disseminators of substantial numbers of rumors, too. 27.6 percent of online rumors originated from forums or were mainly disseminated on forums.


According to a sample-based statistic on 200 online rumor cases in 2012, conducted by Shanghai Jiaotong University’s New Media and Social Research Center, microblogs accounted for 28 percent of all rumors in the spotlight. Forums accounted for 20 percent, and internet news for 13 percent.


Only in March 2012, “the authorities in charge” had to “clean” [or “put in order”] more than 210,000 messages or news, according to Enorth.

China University of Political Science and Law professor Ruan Qilin says that because of existing investigation and verification problems, looking into online rumors is difficult to a certain degree, and how to effectively administer and control online rumors has currently become an urgent question.


“One important reason for online rumors spreading so easily is that netizens have no more convincing sources”, says Renmin University News faculty assistant professor Weng Changshou. “Officialdom must build public credibility – they must become the first the netizens think of and rely on as information sources whenever they are facing hearsay. Therefore, to deal with the internet age in terms of concepts, style and mechanisms, the asymmetry between official information and netizens’ information, and the antagonism between them, needs to be reduced.”


Officialdom building credibility would be a fairly long-term goal, of course. But Weng’s suggestion to reduce the “asymmetry” between official and online information seems to point into the right direction, from the legislators’ perspective:

As far as concrete measures are concerned, a number of experts believe that sound legislation, strengthened internet management and raising netizens’ ability to judge and recognize online rumors are important. This time, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee will pass a decision concerning strengthened internet information protection, which is seen as a major official step to curb internet rumors.


For good measure, possibly to demonstrate how strongly Chinese “civil society” is involved in “fighting rumors”, Enorth also quotes an NPC delegate from Anhui Province, He Bangxi, who “had, in recent years, begun to call for awareness concerning online rumors”.

It’s not a completely new effort. Only a year ago, administrative tries were made to require real-name registration on what looked like a small scale, but would have affected most microblogs, if it had been seen through according to plans back then. And in summer 2009, Chinese news websites were reportedly required to implement real-name registration.

The 2009 initiative came from the State Council. This seems to be the first time that NPC legislation seems to be planned.

Obviously, there are “human-flesh searches” and similar online activities which threaten individual rights – or even lives.

But then, as netizens noted days before Enorth informed its readers, it’s currently not difficult for officials to track down real identities anyway.

Or, at least, to bust some “illegal internet cafes” which didn’t have subversive visitors register properly with them.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

RFE/Radio Liberty: Broadcasting Board of Governors orders Cease-Fire, Fires Steven Korn

America's Space Shuttle Program, featured on a VoA QSL Card of 1986

Mr. Korn goes on a vacation. Click on this picture for Bachrach’s blogpost. (VoA QSL Card of 1986.)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has reportedly fired Steven Korn, president and CEO at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. However, the governors had been in no hurry to inform the press, Judy Bachrach wrote in a blogpost on Christmas eve, so as to encourage the press (i.e., me) to linger in order to discover what was bubbling beneath the blather. While much of the meltdown of Radio Liberty’s Russian service could be attributed to Vladimir Putin, Korn had aggravated things, not least with the summary sacking of 41 seasoned Russian journalists, Bachrach wrote. So did an alledged closeness of leading members of the Russian service. Russian dissidents, and Mikhail Gorbachev, had complained about that.

Korn would formally keep his position until February, but won’t be allowed to fire any more members of RFE/Radio Liberty, Bachrach wrote and told her readers that she welcomes sources for further information. Korn took the position as RFE/RL’s CEO on June 3, 2011.

RIA Novosti‘s German service quotes BBG member Victor Ashe, also by drawing on Bachrach’s blogpost, as saying that Steve Korn was a tremendous disappointment as the No. 1 person at RFERL, but ignores all the content of her post that is critical of Putin and the Russian authorities.

The summary firing of the Russian journalists had met with a lot of criticism in recent months, among others from human rights activist Pavel Litvinov and from David Satter.

But Russia wasn’t necessarily the only minefield for Korn. Industrial-relations issues apparently emerged in the Armenian and Croatian services, too, and earlier this month, Lev Roitman, a retired RFE/RL senior commentator, reportedly appealed to the BBG to resign collectively, in an open letter quoted apparently republished by Orer, an Armenian magazine based in Prague.The open letter did have some words of praise for Victor Ashe, however, who – alas unsuccessfully – tries to bring some political and human sense to BBG’s endeavors.

Ashe, a Republican and a former ambassador to Poland, had also been commended by supporters of Voice of America‘s (VoA) Mandarin service, a year ago.



» RFE/RL job contracts criticized, June 24, 2012
» An open letter from Anna Karapetyan, Mediamax, March 16, 2012


» Actively involved, U.S. News & World Report/freeM, Nov 2012


Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Review (1): The Imperfect Photograph

« see second photo there


Spring festival at home.

I went out every day, and took a photograph of Grandma there. This is the one I like most, although, unfortunately, it’s blurred.

Grandma doesn’t smile easily, in line with the restraint of the older generation in the old families. She didn’t want me to take photos of her, but I kept insisting. As I lifted my camera over and over again and asked her to smile, she’d smile as if she couldn’t help it – she seemed to smile in a quizzical way, amused by my stubbornness.

I like her smile on this portrait best. It’s a slight smile of someone who has read the state of human affairs very closely.

We moved here twenty-four years ago. The wall behind her seems to want to match her age. For two years, hearsay has been that there will be demolitions here. I certainly hate the idea of having to part.

Hu Cheng (胡成), photographer and freelance writer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Weather Report

Minus six degrees C., dry and clear.

Crisp morning, ...

Crisp morning, …

... moderate heating.

… moderate heating.

No snow  – all melted away two days before Christmas eve (fortunately).


Thursday, December 27, 2012

From the Bottom of a Dead Volcano? Public Vehicle Petitions and Open Letters

The following article was published on China Value last Friday, nearly a week ago. It seems to date back to about 2008, but I can’t tell for sure. And maybe the reason for (re)publishing it now can be found in the current news.

An age of open letters has been going on in China ever since, say, 1895, suggests Fu Guoyong (傅国涌), a mainland Chinese journalist. Naval defeat against Japan, then considered a small neighbor, led to the Gongche Shangshu movement (公车上书, literally: public-vehicle movement), a movement that never fully achieved, and at the end of which Kang Youwei began to publish his thoughts about modernization. (Kang actually led the movement.)

Entering the Republic of China, from Hu Shi, Cai Yuanpei and a total of sixteen renowned intellectuals who wrote “Our Political Position” in 1922 to the 1940s, intellectuals wrote one joint declaration or manifesto after another – the open letters of their times. The traditional open letter was reborn in the late 1980s, including authors like Shi Yafeng, Xu Liangying, Mr. Liu Liao, and others from the quarters of science, and including Mr. Wu Zuguang and other gentlemen from the circles of literature and art, writing open letters expressing their political views and conscience. This reached its peak in the peaceful protest movement of 1989 – a great number of open letters emerged, more than people could usually read, including Qian Zhongshu, Ba Jin and other signatories.

And after 1989, open letters were almost the only way to express views, writes Fu. A number of open letters, among them one in 1995, written by Xu Liangying, and one by a medical doctor, Jiang Yanyong, to the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2004 – the latter with a request to re-evaluate 1989 – were relatively influential.
“Open letters in large numbers bear testimony to the vitality of a nation, proving that an old nation hasn’t died”, writes Fu. “Under a dead volcano, there are still unusual voices.”

But open letters also showed that society was lacking effective legal channels and protection by the law, which led to the need to making appeals by such open letters: “a huge tragedy”. Simply said, open letters were one-way, with one side speaking, and the other mostly brushing the appeal aside, acting as if it hadn’t heard the voices, not being used to listen to peaceful voices. Only thunderbolts would shed light. A move from the era of open letters to dialog was contemporary China’s major issue which couldn’t be easily ignored or delayed anymore.

In my view, the “game” is about stating prices and making concessions, by mutually transparent and fair principles, each side giving in a step at a time, with standoffs, compromises, inching forward, giving in and backtracking, and if one sight is dominant and belongs to the side of the exclusively powerful interest groups, and the other interest group is weak, there is no great likelihood for a fair game, and the weaker are mostly at the mercy of the stronger.

The game, concludes Fu, needs clear rules. And it doesn’t work when the stronger side alone determines the rules.
Dialog had once been a hot word, in the CCP’s 13th national congress political report. But it had long since become absent. But dialog had been useful in the more recent past, in critical moments of history. Negotiators for Yuan Shikai‘s side and Sun Yat-sen‘s negotiators had their “South-North Peace talks” and came to the conclusion to send the Qing Dynasty into the museum of history. Another dialog approach, although not successful, was tried to overcome the Chinese north-south divide in 1919, to address the issue of warlordism. 1945 brought the Chongqing talks, and in 1946, a consultative conference came together in Chongqing, too.

Fu also addresses “politicization”. This is a term that is often used in an accusing fashion by the powers that be, against those they think of as their “challengers”. Fu doesn’t say that, either because he doesn’t actually address this context, or because it should go without saying among his readers.
The Chongqing talks and conference were “politicized”, he writes, and successfully so, in a peaceful, rational way, by solving problems and contradictions through dialog, with all sides representing their interests and negotiating them. It was China’s pain that dialog was destroyed by violence, with the complexities of Chinese history behind the violence. But more than once, Chinese people had chosen dialog and negotiations between different interest groups over violence.

I’m taking a short break from Fu’s article here.

The official term, concerning the 13th national congress of the CCP, was – probably – social consultation and dialog (社会协商对话, that’s how Fu puts it), or social system of consultation and dialogue / system of social consultation and dialog (社会协商对话制度). You have to turn to books rather than to websites to find clues about those times.

Back to Fu.

But the weaker weren’t completely bereft of dialog opportunities,he writes. There were (smaller) opportunities, and there was always room for reflection – even though the stronger side had decided to keep its powers, at the cost of dialog. “At the time”, civil representatives’ anger, overboard emotions, childishness, naivete and immaturity had shown that there was still a long way to go to the “era of dialog”, and that the tribulations for the Chinese nation hadn’t been over.

But “no matter how long it will take, I believe that the ‘era of open letters’ will be replaced by an ‘era of dialog’ in the end”, writes Fu. Discussing this transition was an urgent task.

The article also refers to Vaclav Havel‘s and other Czech intellectuals’ Civic Forum and its Eight Dialog Principles (as described/translated by Fu):

– the goal of dialog is to seek truth, not to compete
– no personal attacks
– stick to the topic
– use evidence when debating
– do not insist on your errors
– mind the difference between dialog and only allowing yourself to talk
– keep records of dialog
– do your best to understand the other side.

Fu had read the “code” about ten years before writing his article, and it had been a “new, rocking” experience, in its simplicity and practicality. To learn dialog, he believes, means parting from just talking to oneself, from a winner-take-all mentality, oppression of the weak, lame arguments camouflaged by strong words, but also from a mentality of hate, hostility, an absolutized feeling of superiority, and a place for people from different social classes, with different positions and values to talk with each other.

The main field of China Value, the website who published this article last Friday, isn’t politics, but finance. It addresses professionals. But according to their “about” page, they participate in shaping legislation, and cooperates with Chinese Central Television (CCTV).

Fu Yongguo, born in 1967, writes for a number of literary magazines, and for Southern Weekly (南方周末, aka Southern Weekend).

The rich and the talentend are turning their back on China’s political system as long as there was no legal certainty, Johnny Erling, correspondent for German daily Die Welt in China, (indirectly) quotes CASS scientists. Systematic reform, a reliable social-security network and emancipated participation by the people were needed. For the first time, writes Erling, the CASS blue book mentions China’s brain drain, in the context of China’s economic slowdown. More than 150,000 rich or well-qualified Chinese nationals had acquired resident permits abroad, in 2011.


» Scholars petition CCP, South China Morning Post, Dec 27, 2012
» Between Negotiation and Affirmation, March 25, 2012
» Scudding Clouds of Modern Thought, October 18, 2011


%d bloggers like this: