A Message to “People with Different Political Views”, part 2

Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced the Helman/Hammet awards for 2012 on Thursday. I wasn’t aware that this prize  existed, but learned about it from the Chinese press.

Some context: a People’s Daily editorial (on a different issue, the International Communications Union conference in Dubai) was published on a number of popular Chinese websites on Thursday, without direct mention of this specific award. Huanqiu Shibao, a nationalist newspaper (and nominally, not necessarily by content, a sister paper to the English-language “Global Times”) addresses the prize issue head-on, in a way that may be tailor-made for its (angry, by trend) readership.

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

On the American “Human Rights Watch” list of the 2012 Hellman/Hammett Award winners, 12 out of 41 are Chinese, and there are seven people from China’s Uighur, Mongolian, Tibetan etc. national minorities among them. Nearly all of them have been in prison or are currently in prison. When looking at the organization’s name, and looking at which people are the prize winners, and what this prize is used for, one can expect that the Chinese people can make their guess, too.


During these two years, there have been more and more extreme Chinese dissidents who won “human rights prizes” in the West, and [those dissident’s] reputation is going lower and lower. What once bewildered Chinese society has become routine. We all know that there are a few people in this country who oppose the political system and that the West supports them. This has become an established pattern in the game between China and the West.


With China’s great scale of development, interaction between Chinese and Western people has also reached an amazing dimension, and the share of these Sino-Western frictions within the interaction is shrinking, and so is the influence of extreme dissidents in China. Frequently, they don’t get as much attention as lawful [or rightful] criticism on the internet does.


In exact words, extreme dissidents in China have become completely marginalized, and the way the West continues to use them to provoke China is lacking innovation. In fact, the voice of the entire Western discourse has become ever smaller in China, as they are losing to the excitement of the Chinese microblogs.


The highest individual amount of prize money of the Hermann Hammett Awards doesn’t reach 10,000 US dollars, and one of its purposes is said to be giving “politically prosecuted” people in different countries some “living allowance”. But maybe they don’t know that this bit of money is pitifully small, [unsafe translation: for lawful critics in China]. China has become “tall and hefty”, and that bit of money and the hopes from the West are just a drop in the bucket.


What China and the West are struggling about concerning human rights is not clear. The two sides don’t understand each others words at all. Which is alright. Inside China, you have as many human rights critics in China as you want already, and although they are at times extreme, they are also comparatively specific. Society can thoroughly make sense of their context. Human rights prizes awarded by the West often come with abrupt choices, choosing strange people, and we don’t need to spend too much thought on that.


Of course, Western criticism of China’s human rights isn’t completely meaningless. They did move things in Chinese society. Sometimes,confrontation is also a means of interaction. However, objectively speaking, much of Western criticism goes beyond China’s realities, thus causing suspicions among Chinese people about intentions behind Western methods. All this has seriously harmed strategic mutual trust between China and the West, and its negative impact on the 21rst century gretly exceeds its benefits.


Extreme dissidents played an offbeat role of their own in China’s reform and opening, but when their role will be assessed from the distant future, they will definitely not be seen as a mainstream force in advancing China’s progress. If the focus of these Western awards isn’t a prank, it must be caused by a failed analysis of China’s power.


Pluralization in Chinese society has subtly built changes in the way the country progressed. When the government issued a call in the past, society responded in its multitude. Now it leads to a debate. It has become unlikely that the country makes another grave mistake [This and the previous line seem to allude to the excesses of Maoism], but at the same time, societal efficiency is also declining. China is in the process of finding a new point of balance in these changes. If extreme dissidents who break through the legal system of these social changes and explorations, they create destructive mishap, and will be investigated in accordance with the law.


Western support for Chinese extreme dissidents seems to become ever closer, but times when this kind of thing found its way into the limelight are gone. They have become as tasteless as chicken ribs, but the West seems to be reluctant to throw them away. Nowadays, Western organizations doing these things look more like astute public-relations industries. Assuming an air of importance. To make themselves look good, they are seeking gimmicks close to China’s rise.


Much of the commenting underneath seems to be about unrelated everyday issues (Maybe there are relations which I can’t see, though). One of them which would seem to show some of the desired effects, and also one of the more extensive ones suggests that

Patriotic people don’t need to listen to American and other Western countries’ forces’ anti-China rumors, or be furious about them. Westerners people nowadays lose in the political and economic field and know perfectly well that their own institutions have problems, but won’t change, believing it’s the mother of all systems. Therefore, they will blame anyone except themselves, […] this is the common fault of Western people, seeing in exasperation how China becomes stronger by the day, moving heaven and earth and racking their wits about how to obstruct China’s development, but to no avail. Instead, China develops even faster. Now they only have the human-rights and democracy card left […]

爱国之人不要听美国等西方反华势力的谣言,而恼怒,西方人如今政治经济完全失败,明知自己的体制出现问题,可是就是不改,认为自己是体制的老大,而怨天尤人,[气人有笑人无,] 这是西方人的通病,看着中国日益强大而气急败坏,想方设法,绞尽脑汁的妨碍中国的发展,但是都无济于事,反倒使中国发展更快。现在就只有民主这张牌 […]

It is also one of the comments – if not the comment – in the thread which got the most “support” votes – 267 by 11:00 UTC. The average “support” among the latest thirty-three comments got twenty “support votes” or less.

The People’s Daily editorial – published two days before Huanqiu Shibao’s, and in a different context (the International Telecommunications Union resolution) – could be summed down as follows:

  • Those who oppose censorship are a minority (if not outsiders, which is deemed an unfortunate position in a Chinese context)
  • America and other (barely mentioned) countries that didn’t agree to the International Telecommunications Union resolution are in a minority
  • A free internet is war on vulnerable nations
  • China is at the center of the family of nations
  • dissidents are isolated.

The message People’s Daily’s and Huanqiu Shibao’s editorials  have in common is that the country grows stronger, and that “Western” standards would be an exception, rather than the norm. In some ways, Huanqiu Shibao’s approach is more subtle than People’s Daily, though. Even “radical minorities” played a certain role, according to its description – and it suggests that there were “lawful” ways to bring about change.  When it comes to banging the drums of nationalism however, there is no room for subtlety in Huanqiu’s case. While People’s Daily merely uses ITU voting results to point out China’s strong position, Huanqiu counts the prize money from Human Rights Watch and provides an assessment (“pitiful”).

The biggest commonality between the two editorials seems to be the message to (“extreme”) dissidents: you are marginalized.



» Ambassadors Abroad, May 25, 2012
» A Trivial Matter for the Country, Jan 23, 2012
» Party Media Control Capability “Weakening”, Aug 12, 2011
» The “Internet Information Office”, May 6, 2011



8 Comments to “A Message to “People with Different Political Views”, part 2”

  1. Interesting.. I have just returned home from six months in China and I am catching up on the China blogosphere – I am a long time occasional reader but very occasional commenter. I don’t do read/comment much while in the heavenly kingdom, and have tried to leave a similar comment in FOARP but I think he thinks I am a robot.

    Anyway, I wonder whether the attitudes and tone in the china blogosphere are mirroring those of the mothership in Beijing. In my opinion these attitudes have gotten a very sharp turn for the worse in the past six months. For example the crowd at Hidden Harmonies seem to be much more nuts than in the past. An example is here (http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2012/12/how-the-nyt-encourages-dehumanization-of-the-han/) where a HH blogger (melektaus) is lashing out on a sympathetic commenter for daring to use the phrase “might have overstated”. The irony is that the commenter (NM Cheung) is defending the melektaus but that is lost all in a blind rage.. Many other examples like that are around, but that one is particularly funny (melektaus’ racist rant with is not but he got what he deserved on that).

    So, I wonder whether the sharp turn for the worse is related to the fact that this year the US election coincided with the CCP change of guard. All the associated theatrics from both sides (Senkaku/Diaoyu, Romney tough on China, etc etc) seem to have not done much good . That mirrors my experiences over the past six months in China: quite a few Chinese people are buying the CCP line: “the West (US) is colluding with the Japanese to bring China down”,. Regardless of their cynicism about the “leaders” in Beijing and the local officials quite a few people are buying the BS – those with a different opinion (typically educated or frequently traveling abroad) are in the minority.

    Or it just might be me and I forget the way it has always been in China (and the blogosphere)…

    Opinions ?


  2. Just found your comment in the spam folder, Mike – sorry for delay. In a hurry now, but will be back later today.


  3. Last time I commented on HH was one or two years ago – didn’t find it worthwile. The turn from “dialog” to “confrontation” there was predictible. Probably the same kind of syndrom overzealous missionaries suffer from, too. But yes, they seem to mirror a more general trend – especially if “Fool’s Mountain” got started in 2008. Overseas Chinese people in Germany offered the public some kind of “dialog”, too, at the beginning. “Listen to different voices”, “muzzled by the German media”, “Han-Tibetan, one family”, and similar demonstrations. Some of them even symbolically gagged their mouths.

    Then “Anti-CNN”, clashes around the “Sacred-Torch” ralleyes, etc.. It seems to me that this also marked a turnaround in the way the CCP’s propaganda department discussed issues like censorship or dissidents much more head-on than before 2008. Issues like the “Zhang Danhong incident” at Deutsche Welle, and a long, still ongoing aftermath there have also helped to portray censorship in China as something “they do, too”. And yes, many Chinese people seem to buy, or to consider the propaganda.

    I do believe that free navigation, shipping routes etc. are a genuine concern to Beijing. But at the same time, a public feeling that China is becoming “encircled” may help to stabilize things at home. On the home front, every territorial dispute with neighboring countries helps – and every ideological dispute with any place abroad does, too. My personal guess is that the CCP is quite comfortable with the current status. They weem to work the ideological ground much more actively than in the past.


  4. Thanks for the response…

    Indeed the 2008 torch/fenqing incidents were one turning point, and I think we are witnessing yet another one. The crowd at HH is one thing – they have always been both comical and scary at the same time. But their recent posts indicate a definitely more bellicose attitude enhanced with a newly found sense of “Han” superiority. They might be a bunch of buffoons but they get their cues from the tone emanating from the power center (as expressed by both the official party organs and the various satellite media outlets).

    The unsettling thing for me is that the same belligerent attitude has taken hold in the majority of Chinese – my unscientific sample consists of the people I interacted with over the past six months in Shenzhen and Shanghai. Most people’s attitude seem to be summarized as: “yes the party is a bunch of crooks but they protect us from the evil plots of the west – and they (US) are worse than the worse of the red guards”. A couple of people even used the word “guizi” in the discussion. Although they were quick to disassociate me from the other guizi’s this was a first ever for me in China – I have been spending significant amounts of time there in the past seven years.. And the people who used the word were not run of the mill farmers, but urban educated folks in their 30’s and 40’s. The whole thing got to be outright creepy with the Senkaku/Diaoyou protests. It sort of reminded me of the 2002/2003 climate in the US in the run-up of the Iraq invasion. Comical elements of course were present (e.g. references to a Japanese porn star) but they were also present in the US 10 years ago (remember “freedom fries” ?). Things quieted down during and after the party congress, but the hostile attitude sort of stayed in the air.

    I might be exaggerating but it seems to me that this time is different. On the whole I agree the rational part of the party is and should be concerned with trade routes. But this was an concern for them for the past 30 years and the US, which effectively controls all routes in the pacific, did not ever compromise that golden goose – publicly at least. So the question is what caused that turn for the worse. I am hoping it was just the unfortunate coincidence of 2012 – i.e. US elections happening at the same time as the party congress.

    The worst case scenario is that as the party more comfortable with its grip in power, it also is more arrogant externally and some hothead faction will start a splendid little war – any old rock which was mapped 1500 ago by some Song or Yuan official would be good enough of a casus belli. The best case scenario is that as Mr. Xi and his cohorts settle down and get comfortable things will go back to normal and with along with that the sentiments of the general population will cool down and business as usual will continue. I sure hope its the latter..


  5. Your comment brings out the little pundit in me, Mike, so let me undertake this solemn prediction: Beijing would need to be pretty sure that an “aggression will stand” before trying one in the near future – unless issues at home push them into an adventure, anyway. They can only afford a splendid little war if it doesn’t become costly in militarily or economic terms. That said, stoking and limiting jingoism can spin out of control in the long run.

    As for political or soft-power aspects, however, the top leaders won’t care as much as fans of the concepts appear to think. “Soft” or not-so-soft power begins at home. Been so since 1949, or since the CCP’s foundation. While the top-seven gentlemen may feel that China’s glory (i. e. the CCP’s, which basically amounts to the same thing in their view) should be proclaimed throughout the world, they will mostly ask one question: “how will these efforts make our rule safer at home?”

    Diplomats may feel that soft power would also be an end in itself, at least to some extent, but they aren’t very influential.

    In certain ways, I think currents of “feelings” which have been there in China, at least since the 1990s (and that’s my unscientific sample) are now allowed to go on display in the media.

    I’m always interested in latest trends of course – either way. When you talked with people who expressed the sentiments you describe, did they do so in Chinese, English, or both?


  6. Thanks for the link. I completely agree with the linked post – which I had not seen until now. The pessimist in me thinks that we are seeing some signs of spining (not completely out of control but spinning nonetheless). Last week we witnessed one unintended consequence of the CCP’s clumsiness: Shinzo Abe is now Japan’s prime-minister and Japanese F15’s are flying over the Senkakus. All it would take is a mishap that causes Mr. Xi to lose too much face and the spinning can quickly accelerate. Of course Mr Xi and his newly appointed court would not want any of that now – they just navigated through a rocky year and used nationalism very effectively to wag the dog. But the problem with nationalism (especially when blended with a narrative of victimization) is that once it is out of the bottle it is too difficult to control. Hopefully none of that will happen, or even if it does the “scientific methods” taught in the central party school will be effective in putting the jini back in the bottle..

    On your question: the discussions were mostly in Chinese. The people that ended up using the g-word were both male and well educated (advanced engineering degrees) – ironically one of them works for a foreign company. Of course my experiences constitute just an anecdote – we have no way of knowing the general sentiment and we are trying to figure out things through anecdotes and conjectures.

    Anyway, thanks thoughtful commentary on your blog. I hope 2013 will be better than 2012 in every way..


  7. JR, Sino-NK described how the CCP’s insubordinate little brother, Pyongyang, addresses former taboo subjects, remember? It’s about defections. North Korean propaganda even admits that the life in the South is not as poor as it tried to make North Koreans believe in past, but very bad to North Korean defectors:


    Proactive propaganda as a Komintern trend?


  8. Thanks for your reply re the guizi talk, Mike. One more observation on the matter: it seems to me that people who come from rural backgrounds and may be the first in their families who can count themselves into that proverbial urban middle class are much less aggressive about foreign affairs as people whose parents themselves were/are “more than just farmers”. I’m wondering about why this would be the case – and again, this too is just my personal and rather small sample base -, and it seems to me that the sense of having achieved something real big in their personal lives makes them more stable and self-confident, and an emotional steadiness that is more rural than urban may also help. In fact, the closer the Chinese leadership comes to achieving its goals in “urbanization”, the less emotionally stable people may be. Even when Japanese politicians make statements that truly stink, the people I’m having in mind are more inclined to shake their heads about it, than to feel that this would warrant a lot of attention. They seem to feel too strong – or too much at peace with themselves – to be offended.

    Taide: that “proactive propaganda” kind of got me. I don’t know about Vietnam, but this seems to be true for Cuba. Propaganda seems to move closer to certain realities there. Above all, it needs to sell the changes the Communists there are trying to bring about in the economic system.

    The following isn’t directly related to our discussion, and I’m certainly not comparing (or equating) Communists and Nazis, but I did a “proactive-propaganda” search and found this:

    While World War I and World War II gave propaganda a bad name, Korea and Vietnam did nothing to improve the situation. Lessons from Korea and Vietnam include: PA professionals in Korea and Vietnam were “ham handed” in their propaganda methods, the most obvious reason is that military PA professionals do not receive any formal training about how to communicate persuasively, that is propaganda. Censorship began in the middle of the war as in Korea or a proactive propaganda campaign had begun years into the war as in Vietnam, significantly lowers the probability of success. Even the Germans learned this in World War I with their counterpropaganda campaign well into the war. While Goebbels was evil, his principles of propaganda were sound and stated as follows: (1) truth is best; to do otherwise risks exposure of the lie and loss of credibility, (2) do not oversell success on the homefront, (3) propaganda is ineffective when an unfavorable military situation becomes undeniable fact, and (4) war is an extension of politics as recognized first by Clausewitz.

    The fourth item doesn’t matter in this context, in my view, but (1) to (3) appear to be relevant. They are basically relevant in any propaganda effort, but especially when propaganda is centrally controlled and directed – and when there are big geo-strategic issues.

    Is that Komintern politics? A result of consultations between Beijing and Pyongyang – and maybe between these and Hanoi and Habana, too? I’m sometimes wondering how far peer talk between Western officials and Communists go – I’m getting the feeling that our politicians, too, are becoming more attracted to the idea of “guiding public opinion”.

    But more than that, I believe, it’s a natural response to a changing environment – in terms of information technology, too. That doesn’t rule consultations out, but “truth is best” is highly practical in most situations. OK – “half-truth”, anyway.


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