Say what you will about China's state-run media -- they are enthusiastic cheerleaders. On Dec. 2 Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-graft organization, published its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which scored China at 40 out of 100 points, and ranked it 80th out of the 177 countries and territories surveyed. Yet what caught the attention of China's Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, was the country's progress: Although China's ranking remained unchanged from 2012, its 2013 grade has risen by a single point on a 100-point scale.
The Global Times gleefully covered the news in a widely reposted Dec. 4 article entitled "Transparency International: China's Transparency Index Improves for Three Continuous Years." Transparency International has warned against comparisons with pre-2012 data, in part because the organization has changed its methodology. But this did not stop the Global Times from arguing China's improved grade "shows that the international community continues to think more and more highly of China's anti-corruption efforts." (Corruption remains endemic in China, and President Xi Jinping's months-long effort to curtail it have thus far fallen short.)
The United States wants China to pull back from its gambit to try to rewrite the East China Sea's status quo, but the Chinese are having none of it. On Dec. 2, the U.S. State Department said China's newly-declared air defense identification zone (ADIZ), a California-sized swath over the East China Sea that includes a disputed island chain the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese call the Senkaku, has "caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden sounded a similar warning while in Tokyo, before departing for Beijing this week.
Chinese have heard this argument before, and they are still not convinced.
China's state-run media, often criticized by foreign news organizations for prioritizing propaganda over news, has come under fire from a source once within its own ranks. Wang Qinglei, a well-known producer at the state-run network China Central Television (CCTV), took to Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, shortly after midnight on Dec. 2 to post an open letter to his former employer, which he claimed had fired him (though CCTV has not confirmed this). Wang called CCTV "a disgrace" and lashed out at the censorship, selective coverage, and violation of professional ethics he had seen during his 10 years at the network. CCTV is a behemoth, with advertising revenues of $2.5 billion in 2012 and viewership in the hundreds of millions, according to an internal survey by the network.
The letter made a splash on Weibo -- and censors noticed. Although they quickly deleted Wang's original post, other users shared the letter from their own accounts; one repost racked up almost 15,000 retweets before it got the axe. Wang's letter "has already disappeared too many times to count, but everyone continues to repost it," wrote British-Chinese writer Yilin Zhong, who also attached Wang's letter to her comment. Liu Yun, dean of the Haikou College of Economics in the island province of Hainan, wrote that Wang's complaints were not an attack on communist orthodoxy, but focused on problems that "someone with even a bit of a brain or a conscience can see." Deleting the letter, Liu continued, showed "a lack of self confidence" on the part of authorities. Sina Weibo also began preventing Wang from gaining additional followers; attempts by this author and numerous other Weibo users to do so failed.
At a press briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, a reporter asked a question that seems to come up whenever China attempts to do anything of global significance: Is China a paper tiger? His question pertained to China's controversial new air defense identification zone, and the government's failure to respond when the United States defied it by flying two B-52 bombers through the area. At the briefing, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson deflected the question, saying: "The word paper tiger has its special meaning. You should look it up."
Well, we did. And guess what: Everyone has a different definition.
Flickr/'No Matter' Project
The newspaper China Youth Daily estimated that over 100 million Chinese people do it. The magazine The World of Chinese called the tensions surrounding this activity, performed mostly by women between the ages of 40 and 65, a "national issue." And it provoked news outlet Ifeng to conclude, "Old people haven't gone bad, it's bad people who have gotten old."
The nefarious act in question is outdoor line dancing, in which pop or traditional Chinese tunes are blasted in public areas, often in the morning or the evening, as dozens of geriatrics move in unison to the beat.
And over the past several months, it appears China's would-be party-poopers are growing increasingly fed up with the practice. Residents of one such neighborhood in the central Chinese city of Chengdu reached a breaking point on April 12: They threw water balloons at a gathering of women in the square below who refused to turn down the volume. In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, on Oct. 24, unknown assailants hurled "a large amount of poop" out of their windows and onto the heads of dancers assembled below. "The whole square stunk to high heaven," a dancer surnamed Chen told state-run China Central Television. (The perpetrators are still at large.) And in November, a group boogying outdoors in Changsha, the capital of southern China's Hunan province, complained to Huasheng Online, a local news website, that they had been hit with "shit bombs" no less than three times since Aug. 2012.
National Geographic/Getty Images
Dozens of people have died in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao, and authorities are sorry -- but, most Chinese think, not sorry enough. Early on Nov. 22, a crude oil pipeline owned and operated by Sinopec, a state-owned petrochemical giant, began to leak. It exploded later that morning, ripping through the road with sufficient force to overturn cars above it, killing an estimated 55 and injuring over 100. Both officials and executives have scrambled to manage the public relations aftermath with a combination of apologies and state media coverage touting clean-up efforts.
But many Chinese are unsatisfied. A public apology from Sinopec, one of China's largest corporations, backfired on Nov. 25 when the company sent Li Chunguang, a vice president, to deliver the official apology, instead of President Fu Chengyu. Li admitted, albeit vaguely, that Sinopec had "failed the city of Qingdao and the people of this country." On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, a user who claimed to hail from Qingdao condemned Li's "robotic, cold recitation," arguing that if he was truly sincere, he would have stood up and bowed instead of remaining seated. More subdued users called for Li's resignation, while more extreme ones urged him to commit suicide. Others demanded to know why Fu did not appear at the hearings himself. (Fu expressed condolences during a Nov. 23 television appearance lasting less than one minute, and has not publicly appeared since.) "If he was the head of a private company," wrote one Weibo user, "he would have been arrested."
In the Chinese region of Xinjiang, home to a large population of the country's Muslim Uighur minority, government workers are encouraging women to cast off their headscarves in the name of good looks. Called "Project Beauty," the government-backed campaign has reportedly taken over the streets of Kashgar, one of the few cities in China where a significant number of women don the veil for religious reasons. De facto beauty police staff street-side stalls and single out veiled women, recording their images with a surveillance camera and even making them watch a re-education film "about the joys of exposing their faces."
The effort is an underhanded campaign to put beauty ideals to work in the name of national security. States have long tried to restrict the veil among Muslim women, often through formal decree. But China is taking something of a soft-power approach and telling China's Muslim women to unveil and show their pretty faces.
What isn't said is that the true aim of that campaign is to make it easier to track members of a restive minority group.
The United States challenged China's recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Monday night, flying two unarmed B-52 bombers on a scheduled training sortie into airspace which China on Saturday declared subject to new defensive measures. Despite Beijing's blustery announcementthat any aircraft flying over a large swatch of the East China Sea would have to identify themselves and coordinate their flights with Chinese air traffic controllers, Chinese naval and air forces in the area did nothing to intercept the flight.
Washington said the flights had been scheduled weeks ago and that the timing was coincidental. Of course, scheduled flights can always be delayed, and it's striking that wasn't done here.
To eliminate any confusion, this is what's known in technical terms as Washington deciding to flip the bird at Beijing.
The entire episode -- both Beijing's decision to erect the ADIZ and Washington's decision to immediately flout it -- raises an important question: Just what exactly is an ADIZ?
Tech Sgt. Dennis Henry/DVIDS Map: Chinese Ministry of Defence via Xinhua
Wu'er Kaixi is homesick.
Wu'er Kaixi, an exiled Chinese dissident and the "second most wanted" man among the student activists of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, has tried to turn himself in to the Chinese government four times. Each time he has received the same, utterly baffling response from the communist regime: We don't want you. His most recent attempt to return to his native China, this time via Hong Kong, ended with his deportation to Taiwan on Monday.
Wu'er Kaixi is number two on a list of Tiananmen's "21 Most Wanted" -- former student activists who, in 1989, helped to organize massive political demonstrations that ended with a brutal government crackdown in Tiananmen Square. The 21 are purportedly sought for arrest but are also, ironically, prohibited from returning to China -- even if they, like Wu'er Kaixi, have every intention of turning themselves over to they authorities.
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
Beijing has just thrown down the latest gauntlet in a long-simmering territorial dispute with Tokyo -- and China's citizens are cheering. On Nov. 23, China's Ministry of Defense released a map showing the "Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone," a wide swath over the East China Sea, and stated China had the right to monitor and possibly take military action against foreign aircraft that come into that territory. But the area also covers territory currently administered by Japan, including the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese call the Senkakus.
The move sharply raised tensions not only with Japan, but with the United States: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" by the "destabilizing" announcement, while Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida warned it could "trigger unpredictable events." But on China's Internet, where much of the country's political expression finds its fullest voice, the reaction is far different: Web users hailed China's move against what they derisively call the "abnormal nation" of "little Japan." And they want the United States to stay out of it.
The authorities are saying it's too soon to determine whether Japan's tiny new island,
The new island, about 500 meters south-southeast of Nishinoshima island in the Ogasawara island chain, was first spotted by the Japanese coast guard on Wednesday, and in the days since, it seems that all relevant parts of the Japanese government have mobilized in an effort to use it as an instrument in realizing Japan's expansionist ambitions. According to Japan's English-language AJW, Japan's Headquarters for Ocean Policy has said that the new island could slightly expand Japan's territorial waters, and at a news conference on Nov. 21, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed hope for such an expansion. Including the island in a nautical chart in order to secure international recognition has so far proven difficult for the Japan Coast Guard because of continuing eruptions, but they have been monitoring the island from air in the meantime, according to the news story.
EPA/JAPAN COAST GUARD
Chinese are waving goodbye to the frustratingly normal U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, who announced on Nov. 20 that he will be leaving his post in early 2014. Over 300,000 netizens discussed Locke's resignation on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like platform where thousands had lauded Locke's frugality and common touch since his term began in Aug. 2011 -- when a Chinese tech entrepreneur spotted Locke carrying his own backpack and purchasing his own coffee at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport en route to assuming his new post.
The contrast between Locke, who frequently chose to fly economy, and China's often coddled and flashy officials, rankled some citizens, not to mention cadres. The consensus among China's chattering class: The bureaucracy will be happy to see Locke go. A lawyer named Ding Laifeng wrote that Locke's "crimes" in China included "impacting the honorable image of Chinese officials." Businessman Du Zhifu remarked that, set among Chinese officials, Locke was like "a pearl in a pile of trash," and that his presence made China's bureaucrats -- whom Du called "boozing gluttons" -- look even worse.
Unsurprisingly, China's state-run media were stingy with praise as they bid Locke fairwell. The Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times published a pseudonymously signed op-ed claiming that Locke and the U.S. embassy had "caused some embarrassment" for China over the past two years. The op-ed referenced two sensitive incidents in which Locke played a major role: successfully negotiating Chongqing police boss Wang Lijun's safe exit from the U.S. consulate in Chengdu after Wang attempted to defect in Feb. 2012, and helping rights activist Chen Guangcheng leave China for the United States in May 2012. "Goodbye Gary Locke," the title reads, and then adds, somewhat condescendingly, "our old controversies are water under the bridge." The first Chinese-American ambassador to China, Locke always tried to convey that his loyalties were with the United States. "Just because he is the same color as you," the author of another Nov. 21 Global Times op-ed cautions Chinese readers, "doesn't mean he will treat you well."
Locke's exit may relieve some Communist functionaries, but his departure is almost certainly not a result of their dissatisfaction. Locke himself told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to return to Seattle so that his three children could finish their education in one place. He denied that the notoriously polluted air in Beijing, which the U.S. embassy monitored more assiduously during Locke's tenure, had anything to do with his decision. Hundreds of Weibo users were incredulous, writing confidently that Locke had "returned home to cleanse the lungs."
Others were inclined to just take him at face value. "You can tell he's a man who loves his family," wrote one Weibo user. "There's no need to read too much into this."
Elle magazine's creative director, Joe Zee, has been getting a lot of flack for characterizing a military-inspired runway trend as "North Korea Chic" in their August issue. The spread, which featured an assortment of olive drab menswear, a single gold stiletto, and a photo of a man in an approximation of a North Korean military uniform, read: "Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring."
The Washington Post and ThinkProgress (among many others) were quick to attack Zee for invoking North Korea so casually and exploiting the country's notoriety to sell luxury goods. North Korea does, after all, have a horrendous human rights record and a reputation for military brinkmanship. The criticisms are certainly valid, but they miss another important point: Elle, a fashion magazine, got North Korean fashion totally wrong -- and no one even noticed! (Admittedly, that could be due to the fact that there is no internet in North Korea.)
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Call it reproduction with Chinese capitalist characteristics. On Nov. 15, authorities announced that the country's one-child policy would be loosened, adding couples in which one spouse is an only child to the list of families allowed to have two children. Experts hope the new measure will increase China's birth rate -- which at 1.5 per woman lies below replacement level -- and ameliorate labor shortages caused by an aging population.
But according to a Nov. 18 survey of 5,000 web users conducted on Sina Weibo, a surprisingly large portion of Chinese think one is plenty: 52 percent of respondents said the "economic pressure" of a second child would be too much. Chinese wages are expected to rise 8.4 percent in 2013, yet many still feel constrained. "In China, when you get married you have to take care of both partners' parents," explained one Weibo user. "And don't forget the mortgage. Add another child to that and the pressure is enormous." (The Weibo findings are consistent with another online survey, conducted on Nov. 19, in which 80 percent of respondents eschewing a second child cited financial concerns.)
The 48 percent who voted in favor of larger families felt that siblings inspire humility. Many Chinese complain the one-child policy has given rise to a generation of self-centered, only children, known as "little emperors."
Although a poll of self-selected netizens may not reliably reflect the attitudes of China's masses, a survey released in October by the Family Planning Commission, the organ responsible for implementing the one-child policy, found that only 50 to 60 percent of couples affected by the upcoming policy reform wanted a second child (though it didn't specify why).
Online, at least, financial concerns carry the day. One Weibo user argued the reforms will help the rich more than the poor. "If you have money, you can have 10 kids," she wrote. "But if you're broke, even two children is too many."
The reform of China's One Child Policy, which restricts most couples to having a single child, has taken a tiny step in the right direction. On Nov. 15, the Chinese government announced it would loosen the policy, declaring that "a couple within which one partner is an only child" -- dandu in Chinese -- "may have two children." (The current policy, which is not always widely enforced, allows couples living in certain areas where both partners are only children to have two children.) The announcement followed the Third Plenum, a major four-day meeting of Chinese top officials, who promised "comprehensive and deepening" reforms to address China's economic and social issues. But Chinese demographers and population experts have called for the wholesale repeal of the One Child Policy for years -- and they find the new measures too little, too late.
How late? At least two decades. Independent scholar He Yafu, the author of Population Crisis, a book about China's aging population problem, wrote on Nov. 15 that family planning laws should have been eliminated as early as 1991. In his book, He argued that the prolonged suppression of the birthrate would lead to a labor force too small to support a growing number of aging people.
The stakes couldn't be higher. In 2011, Yuan Gang, a professor of government at China's prestigious Peking University, called the One Child Policy "national suicide," citing China's low birthrate and aging population, which he said would cause the country to "grow old before it grows rich." Yuan and He were among 40 scholars from some of China's most prestigious universities to sign an open letter to the Chinese government in August 2012 calling for the immediate abandonment of the One Child Policy. The letter argued that no matter what changes were made, the population of working age adults would begin to shrink in 2015, causing labor shortages. "What China should really be doing," they wrote, "is encouraging people to have children." According to demographer Wang Guangzhou of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, dandu couples comprise a "rather small" portion of the population. By contrast, many experts argue that only a total and immediate repeal of the One Child Policy can help China avoid a full-blown demographic crisis.
Chinese officials have repeatedly emphasized that change to the One Child Policy will come "step by step." But the country faces an acute imbalance between its young and old populations, one that will take decades to rectify. Most subject matter experts feel that the government would do well to move far more quickly. When it comes China's babies, baby steps just won't do.
In October, China's massive, state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Peace Ark, completed a four-month deployment to eight countries, coordinating goodwill medical missions and running emergency response exercises with other navies. The ship is one of just a handful of floating hospitals in the world and boasts 300 beds, 20 ICUs and 8 operating theatres, treating patients in Myanmar, Djibouti and Cuba. Yet it remains berthed in Shanghai in the face of unfolding devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
According to the latest government figures, at least 3,361 people were killed by the storm surge that flattened parts of the Philippines last Friday, while 12,487 others were injured. Medical teams on the ground are struggling to handle the crisis, particularly as a lack of clean water and sanitation has fueled the spread of diseases like cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery and leptospirosis. In an outpouring of humanitarian assistance, Britain has sent its largest helicopter carrier, the Illustrious, to the country, loaded with medical supplies and a promise of $32 million in aid. The U.S., for its part, has dispatched two Navy ships, an aircraft carrier, 5,000 troops and is also preparing to deploy the USN Mercy, a hospital ship currently berthed in San Diego.
State media in China have urged the government to deploy Peace Ark in the wake of Haiyan, but the ship, which is well-positioned to respond quickly and effectively to disasters like this one, is unmoved.
China's underwhelming response to the developing crisis has become a point of contention in the region. Its perceived stinginess made headlines again on Thursday, when it became clear that Ikea -- the Swedish furniture company -- had donated more money to Haiyan relief efforts than the world's second largest economy. Experts attribute China's lukewarm attitude to its longstanding maritime dispute with the Philippines, as well as to the U.S. military's effective posturing in the region.
But as the death toll climbs and the crisis worsens, the Peace Ark's stillness grows more unnerving.
JEAN CURRAN/AFP/Getty Images
He may be the most powerful man in the world (at least according to Forbes) but Russian President Vladimir Putin just got snubbed by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF. Yes, seriously --"WTF"). Though he was awarded an honorary black belt from the federation, it was a grade below the distinction given to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Putin got the ninth dan (grade) belt and dobok (uniform) during his visit to Seoul, South Korea for the "commitment he has shown in promoting taekwondo in Russia." The ever modest leader replied "I don't think I have earned such a high Dan." Russia has announced they will be hosting several WTF Grand Prix events in the country.
Putin's taekwondo qualifications seem to be elusive, but he is a judo champion and published author on the sport (he even recorded a "Let's learn Judo with Vladimir Putin" video) and holds a legitimate black belt in karate. Ban Ki-moon's tenth degree honorary taekwondo belt, awarded for "how strongly matched the WTF's values are with the United Nations," probably wouldn't be of much help if they ever were to fight it out.
Past recipients of tenth degree belts had been the slightly more qualified two former heads of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge. An eighth dan was bestowed upon Chuck Norris, whose Walker, Texas Ranger drop-kicks have probably sent more children to martial arts schools than all the other dignitaries combined.
Oh, and let's not forget Barack Obama, known for receiving distinctions he does not necessarily deserve, who was presented with a black belt in taekwondo from South Korea's president.
Though he may have been skipped over for the Nobel Peace Prize, Putin has many more athletic feats up his sleeve. If we are to believe the photo-ops (here is an amazing collection from Russian news sevice RIA Novosti), the Russian president seems to be a master at any sport he endeavors, including skiing, hockey, fishing (without a shirt), biathlon, horseback riding (also without a shirt), bowling and the riveting sport of curling.
After the Third Plenum, a high-level meeting to discuss China's future, ended on Nov. 12, Beijing released a major document likely to affect many of its 1.3 billion citizens' lives for years. Western media responded to the 5,000-plus character document, called the Plenum Communiqué, with a collective head scratch -- CNBC and the Wall Street Journal both promptly declared it "vague." But the confusion isn't the result of language, or even cultural differences: Many Chinese citizens also cannot make heads or tails of this document.
If they're failing, it's not for lack of trying: On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, a search for "third plenum" yielded over 2.7 million recent mentions, and among those comments, over 154,000 used the word jiedu, which roughly means "to decode." Frustration is palpable online. One Weibo user complained, "I glanced at the Third Plenum communiqué; it surpasses my ability to understand it." Another wrote, "I made myself dizzy reading it three times." And another: "It's a pile of words on top of words, without saying anything." And this: "I can't understand why after a meeting lasting three days, the only thing they can produce is ... a document that has to be decoded. It's like a high school exam."
Readers who think they're smarter than the masses of confused Chinese citizens should boil up a pot of coffee, then try to decipher the below, a particularly turgid sentence from an unofficial translation posted on the blog China Copyright and Media:
The Plenum stressed that to comprehensively deepen reform, we must hold high the magnificent banner of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important 'Three Represents' thought and the scientific development view as guidance, persist in beliefs, concentrate a consensus, comprehensively plan matters, move forward in a coordinated manner, persist in the reform orientation of the Socialism market economy, make stimulating social fairness and justice, and enhancing the people's welfare into starting points and stopover points, further liberate thoughts, liberate and develop social productive forces, liberate and strengthen social vitality, firmly do away with systemic and mechanistic abuses in all areas, and strive to open up an even broader prospect for the undertaking of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Some media outlets have tried to illuminate the document by turning to statistical analysis. Tengxun, a Chinese news portal, released an infographic ranking the words most often mentioned in the communiqué. (The winner was "reform," followed by "system," "development," and "economy.") The Beijing News, a liberal Chinese newspaper, compiled a detailed set of graphs, one (above) showing how mentions of the word "reform" were higher than in any previous Third Plenum release.
That's not insignificant; mentions of "reform" are likely to please many hoping for just that. And in the communiqué's defense, it is meant only to provide a broad sketch of where China is headed and to set the tone for implementing steps that will take years. Its function is to signal to high-level actors what they will need to prioritize, not to explain each reform in exacting detail. The document may also be trying to shoot the moon, somehow satisfying all readers at the same time. One Weibo user speculated, "In the end it's not important whether the document is consistent from beginning to end, because everyone can find what they need in it."
The communiqué may contain the right words, but Chinese are struggling to pick up the logical thread connecting them. Any readers who breezed through the earlier quote (and hold a Chinese passport) may wish to sign up for the nation's civil service exam, scheduled for Nov. 24. We hear the Chinese government is hiring.
Updated: A New York Times spokeswoman has told FP that T Magazine's Chinese language site is "once again accessible" in Mainland China. Although the cause of the outage is "unclear," it "appears to be technical and has been resolved."
The New York Times' flagship English and Chinese-language websites are already blocked in China. Now, the Times' latest hope for avoiding the wrath of censors there may have suffered a setback. Portions of the Chinese-language site of T Magazine, the Times' lifestyle publication, have been inaccessible in Mainland China since the afternoon of Nov. 13, Beijing time.
Problems accessing the site first came to light when social media users complained on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, where T Magazine maintains an active presence. A Nov. 13 test using the servers of Greatfirewallofchina.org, a site that tests web addresses for accessibility behind China's so-called Great Firewall, found that T Magazine's Chinese site is "most likely NOT accessible" from the Mainland. A Tea Leaf Nation contributor in Beijing said that while she was able to access the magazine's front page without the aid of a virtual private network, articles she clicked on would not load.
It is unclear why T Magazine's Chinese-language site is not currently accessible from the Mainland; it could be censorship, or merely a glitch. A spokesperson for the New York Times told FP via phone that the publication is "aware there is an issue" with site accessibility, but is still investigating the cause.
If there's a block, it's impossible to say how long it will last. Beijing does not officially admit the existence of the Great Firewall, publish a list of blocked sites, or officially confirm or deny what it has censored. However, the timing is suspicious, falling soon after a Nov. 8 New York Times report stating that Bloomberg News editors spiked two stories likely to be offensive to Chinese authorities, one detailing financial links between a Chinese tycoon and some of China's top leaders. (Bloomberg has denied the allegations.)
T Magazine has been a source of optimism for a news organization that had run afoul of Chinese censors before. The T Magazine Chinese-language site launched Oct. 10, 2013, about 10 months after Chinese authorities blocked both the English and Chinese language sites of the New York Times, likely in retaliation for the outlet's Oct. 2012 story about possible corruption associated with family members of then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. T Magazine's Chinese language site does not publish stories about politics, economics, or foreign policy, focusing instead on less controversial topics like fashion, design, education, and real estate. The day of the launch, the Times thought it possible the T Magazine site could, according to the Wall Street Journal, "pave the way for the unblocking of the publication's English and Chinese news websites" in Mainland China.
The New York Times is not alone among international media in its struggle with Chinese censorship. The Chinese-language site of the Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post is intermittently blocked in the Mainland. Bloomberg's news sites were blocked in China after the service ran a June 2012 story about the wealth of Chinese President Xi Jinping's extended family. On July 17, censors deleted the official Weibo account of Asahi Shimbun, Japan's second-largest newspaper. Time will tell whether the Great Firewall has just added another brick.
In the United States, the lonely have Reddit and cats. In China, they have Singles' Day, which falls on Nov. 11 -- 11.11, the four ones symbolizing "bare branches," Chinese slang for bachelors. Thought to have originated about 20 years ago as a joke on college campuses, Singles' Day was once an occasion for confessing one's feelings to that special someone. But since 2010, online retailers have transformed the holiday, also known as "Double 11," into an epic online shopping extravaganza akin to America's Cyber Monday.
China has 271 million online consumers, meaning that almost half of China's 591 million Internet users buy products online. E-commerce sites Taobao and Tmall, which saw a combined $1 trillion in sales in 2012, will both be running promotional campaigns during China's Singles' Day. Among the offers: 50 percent discounts on products like boyfriend body pillows and hoodies that read "I am single because I am fat." Amazon.cn declared that the site would sell "20,000 products discounted by as much as 90 percent." That includes a wedding ring, which singles can presumeably buy, just in case. Jack Ma, founder of Internet giant Alibaba, told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang late last month that Alibaba's sales on Singles' Day 2012 were "nearly $3.3 billion" -- more than double the roughly $1.5 billion purchased on Cyber Monday in 2012. For Singles' Day 2013, Ma expects sales to exceed $4.9 billion.
Here's your "quirky Japan" story of the day: Apparently, it's very impolite for women there to eat hamburgers in public -- or so says one Japanese fast food chain that hopes to free women from the unbearable shame of opening their mouths too widely.
Freshness Burger claims that, for the longest time, its tastiest burger was only popular with men because Japanese women were too embarrassed to shove the sandwiches in their "small, modest mouths." So they came up with a novel idea: A hamburger wrapper that not only shields a woman's chewing mouth from public view, but also depicts a soothing image of the lower half of a woman's face. It's pretty much a mask that women can hide behind while they, for the first time, enjoy ""the wild pleasure of taking mouth sized bites."
The company says that the wrapper was a huge success:
Meanwhile, in the U.S., fast food chain Carl's Jr. has long taken the opposite approach: shoveling large portions of food in the wide open mouths of as many women as possible. Come to think of it, maybe it's America that's quirky, and possibly a little gross.
Over the past 10 days, two horrific attacks have shaken China -- but Chinese Internet censors seem interested in only one. On Oct. 28, five people died and dozens were injured when an SUV plowed into a crowd right near Tiananmen, the massive public square in the heart of Beijing. Authorities called it an act of terrorism by Uighurs, an ethnic minority mostly located in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, and censors clamped down hard, scrubbing virtually any mention of the incident from online discourse.
Then, on Nov. 6, an unknown perpetrator, or perpetrators, detonated what appear to have been home-made bombs outside a government building in Taiyuan, the capital of northern Shanxi province, killing one and injuring eight. That bombing, however, triggered a flurry of candid, often vitriolic online discussion lauding violence against the government and speculation about possible links to the first attack. Mei Xinyu, an economist and columnist, wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, that the explosion "was rather expertly done, probably the work of a terrorist organization." Another user invoked a recent U.S. tragedy: "Was this a terrorist attack like the one in Tiananmen? I am beginning to get a taste of how the evil Americans felt after 9/11 happened." Yet the censors appear to have done little to halt the discussion.
What does the divergent reaction say about what the Chinese government may be thinking? It's almost impossible to divine the thoughts and motivations of an apparatus so opaque and multifarious. But the stark contrast between the reactions of the propaganda apparatus to the two incidents suggests Chinese authorities probably do not think Uighurs were responsible for the Taiyuan incident. In the case of the Tiananmen attack, Beijing worried anti-Uighur chatter could go viral, potentially raising ethnic tensions that have turned deadly in the past. With Taiyuan, however, censors have allowed thousands of comments to flow, even those speculating about Uighur involvement. If the authorities believed the two attacks were connected, they would have subjected chatter about the Taiyuan bombing to a much stricter fate.
That doesn't mean information has flowed freely. Local papers in and around Taiyuan did not carry front-page coverage of the news in their Nov. 7 editions. But when Weibo users mocked these omissions, their comments made it onto the Chinese social web -- and stayed there.
Twitter shares hit a high of $50 on Thursday in its first day of trading. It's a sizable opening-day pop, given that the initial public offering price was initially marked at somewhere near half of that. The opening generated a lot of buzz among investors, in large part because, despite having yet to turn a profit, the micromessaging site has a staggering global reach. There are more than 230 million tweeters worldwide, and more than three-quarters of them are outside the United States. But perhaps the surest sign of Twitter's worldwide popularity is the number of knockoffs -- sometimes subtle, sometimes outrageous -- that it has inspired across the globe. Below, we bring you some of the best that, unfortunately, never made it to their own public debut. Here are the top five foreign Twitter clone fails.
Futubra. There was considerable hype over "Russia's Twitter," Futubra, which was launched in early 2012 by Mail.ru, the multibillion-dollar Russian company behind several successful Russian social networking sites. In a farewell note published on its website, the developers explained that their improvements weren't enough for "sustained growth of the project" -- a mere 11 months after its initial launch. The failure of a Twitter copycat might have been somewhat of a surprise given the comparative success of the Russian-language VKontakte, a Facebook rip-off that has a consistently top position among Russian networking sites. In an interview with Roem in December 2012, Mail.ru chairman and CEO Dmitriy Grishin conceded that the experiment, while "interesting," "went differently than planned."
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Recession be damned: There are more billionaires today than there were during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 -- and they're twice as rich, says a new report released Wednesday.
The Billionaire Census, jointly compiled by Swiss financial company UBS and Singapore-based firm Wealth-X, is a comprehensive survey of the world's ultrarich -- essentially a thumbnail view of their interests, assets and social networks. The report's findings are equal parts predictable (billionaires love yachts!) and intriguing (women are richer). As of 2013, there are 2,170 billionaires enjoying a collective fortune of $6.5 trillion. Over the past five years, they've increased in number by 60 percent, their combined wealth has doubled and they're more liquid than ever.
Just over the past year, billionaire wealth has increased in every region of the world, as depicted by the map below, with the biggest gains in Asia. Europe was the only region to lose billionaires (29, to be exact), but it still boasts among the richest in the world. What's more: The global population is still growing -- expected to reach 3.900 by the year 2020.
Billionaires, it seems, are taking over our world (what little of it they don't already own, anyway).With that in mind, here are some of the report's highlights, framed as your most pressing questions about the richest people on Earth.
Who are these people?
The average billionaire is a 67-year-old man worth about $3 billion -- 18 percent of which is liquid (the recent financial crisis taught him a thing or two about carrying cash). He went to Harvard, or maybe to Penn State. His passions include art, aviation, real estate, traveling, and golf -- in that order. He's married, with two children and -- though he owns four $20 million homes -- he tends to spend most of his time in the city where his business is headquartered (probably New York).
Just 13 percent of billionaires are women, but they are an enviable minority -- richer than their male counterparts by about $200 million on average.
How did they get so rich?
An astounding 60 percent of billionaires are self-made. Twenty percent have inherited their wealth (most of whom live in Europe) while another 20 percent managed to leverage inheritances into even greater fortunes. The world's "mega-billionaires," each of whom are worth upwards of $50 billion, are self-made, according to the report: Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Amancio Ortega and Warren Buffet. Interestingly, only 17 percent of women billionaires are self-made. China boasts the highest number of self-made billionaires, at 89 percent.
Where do they live?
New York, Hong Kong, Moscow, London and Mumbai, in that order. The world's super-rich tend to congregate in wealth "hot spots." The majority live in the United States, which boasts more billionaires (515) than any other country. China has the second largest population -- and the youngest cohort -- with 157 billionaires.
Do they swim in a vault of golden coins, in the manner of Scrooge McDuck?
The report doesn't say, but it does note that billionaires spend a lot of money on luxury goods, chiefly: yachts, private jets, and art, but also antiques, clothes, jewelry and collectible cars. They also give to charity, to the tune of $32 million each over the last three years. American billionaires tend to be the most giving, with education topping favorite causes. So don't hate them completely.
The full report is here.
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The term "yakuza" may call to mind prostitution rings and low-brow thuggery, but Japan's modern day crime syndicates are all about white collar abuses -- investing in high finance and getting their hooks into the country's biggest banks.
Now those banks are under scrutiny following revelations that they've lent cash to gangsters. In September, authorities discovered that Japan's second-largest bank, Mizuho, had loaned more than $2 million to people affiliated with organized crime groups in Japan. (Most of the 230 loans issued were for buying cars.) The incident prompted a federal investigation of the country's three biggest banks, Mitsubishi UFJ, Mizuho and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.
The scandal deepened Tuesday, when one of the companies, Mitsubishi UFG, came clean about loans it made to "more than one" but less than 10 yakuza affiliates. On November 1, another bank, Shinsei, admitted to making dozens of similar loans, as well as opening bank accounts for "anti-social forces," as the yakuza are sometimes known.
Yakuza groups have sought a foothold in the financial sector for years, with varying success. In decades past, the gangs have reaped billions through extortion, drug smuggling, prostition, gambling and other illegal activities. Lately, though, their forays into banking and finance have earned them the nickname "Goldman Sachs with guns."
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Beijing's latest bid for the Olympic Games is getting off to a rough start. On Nov. 5, China's Olympic Committee announced that the capital city had applied to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, with some events to be held in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou. The news trended on Weibo, China's Twitter, with users retweeting related posts over 10,000 times. Beijing held the Summer Games in 2008, meaning that a winning bid would make it the only city in history to host both the winter and summer Olympics. But most of the Chinese who reacted to the news online oppose Beijing's bid, and wonder why their country's capital appears reluctant to share with other regions.
Many Weibo users suggested that several large cities in China's frigid -- and relatively unpolluted -- northeast would be a better host than Beijing. "Winter sport athletes all come from the northeast, they win all the medals, and the northeast is the cradle of winter sports," one Weibo user wrote. "Why would Beijing apply to host a Winter Olympics?" China's six medal winners in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics all hailed from China's northeastern provinces -- none from the capital. (Beijing is competing with Kazakhstan's Almaty and Ukraine's Lviv to host the 2022 games, while Norway's Oslo, Poland's Krakow, and Germany's Munich are also potential competitors; the winner will be announced in 2015.)
Alternative suggestions abounded. "Why not give Harbin or Changchun the opportunity?" asked one Weibo user. Changchun, a large city known for its winter sports, is the capital of northeastern Jilin province, while Harbin, the capital of China's Heilongjiang province, is called the "Ice City" for its long, cold winters. "If China is going to bid for the Winter Olympics," wrote one Weibo user, "Harbin should be the first choice." In fact, China bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics in Harbin. On Nov. 6, the Beijing News, a major domestic media outlet, cited a government official who said international authorities had nixed China's northeast for being "too cold."
But that hasn't stopped Chinese web users from complaining about the latest move, partly because inequalities between the capital and less developed cities fuel anti-Beijing sentiment among provincial citizens. The hukou, China's household registration system, makes it more difficult for non-residents moving to Beijing to live, work, study, and obtain medical care there. And because of quotas, students from Beijing can test into top universities -- which are disproportionately located in the capital -- far more easily than their provincial counterparts. "Beijing gets all the resources," complained one 2022 bid-opposing Weibo user.
The online criticism forms a sharp contrast to the excitement and optimism that preceded China's first hosting of the Olympics in 2008. In June 2008, two months before the games, 96 percent of Chinese respondents to a Pew Research survey said that the 2008 Olympics would be successful, and 79 percent said the 2008 Olympics were personally important to them. Yet the extravagance of those games -- Beijing spent $42 billion, hosting the world's most expensive Olympics -- upset many. Five years on, some now feel that another Beijing Olympics would only waste taxpayer money. "We need a Winter Olympics," wrote one Weibo user, "Just not in Beijing!"
A collection of sex education videos have just gone, ahem, viral on the Chinese Internet. On Oct. 29, a three-person team calling itself the "Nutcracker Studio" released three one-minute clips addressing tough topics in childhood sex education, such as "Where Do Babies Come From?", "Why Are Boys Different from Girls?", and (the far less lighthearted) "How Minors Can Prevent Molestation." Funded by the popular Chinese tech site Guokr, the "One-Minute Sex Ed" videos rose to become the second most popular search on Baidu, China's largest search engine, and have drawn over one million views on Youku, China's YouTube.
These slickly produced videos, which depict a hand drawing cartoon figures, are likely not aimed at young ones, but instead at parents searching for narratives to pass on to their children: The rapid-fire voiceovers use some high-school level vocabulary, including two bleeped cusswords hopefully outside most primary school students' lexicon. Given a widespread reluctance to talk birds and bees -- in China's version of the stork story, parents often tell children that they were picked up "out of a garbage dump" -- the video's narrator is something of a myth-buster for the young and for the ill-informed. The language and visual illustrations have amused adult viewers with hilariously off-color comparisons: In the first video, the narrator explains insemination by comparing it to an injection received at a hospital. The second clip, "Why Are Boys Different from Girls?", addresses anatomical differences by likening male and female reproductive organs to electrical outlets and plugs. (The caption on the photo, from the second video, states: "Why does that boy have a little pee-pee and you don't?")
Because of China's long-standing need for accessible, accurate sex ed, young adults might also find the videos edifying. On Sept. 29 Hu Zhen, an academic specializing in sex education issues, told China's largest state-run news agency, Xinhua, that sex education in Chinese schools lagged "at least 60 years behind" Sweden and other developed countries, and emphasized that only about ten of China's 180,000 primary schools, and only 500 to 600 of China's approximately 500,000 secondary schools, were providing sex ed. Three short video clips, embedded below, won't hasten the plodding progress of sex education in China's state system. But given the dearth of frank discourse about sex in China, Internet users there may be happy to take what they can get.
Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rules of the global village. That's the takeaway from a Nov. 1 editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of 35 foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone "too far."
The editorial's tone and choice of metaphors is enough to make a U.S. policymaker blush -- or boil with anger. Called "The United States Also Must Respect the Village Contract," the piece is signed by Zhong Sheng, a pen name for the international desk of the People's Daily. The Chinese-language editorial warns that the recent NSA wiretapping revelations are a "political tsunami" that should prompt the United States to "truly awaken to a few things." In particular, the editorial argues, the concept of "exceptionalism" should "have already been relegated to the museum exhibits." With the "global village" becoming ever smaller, erstwhile bullies who "rely on force to snatch position in the village" are becoming "obsolete."
The editorial is full of advice that would likely strike U.S. policymakers as patronizing -- for example, the reminder that "turning a negative into a positive is a kind of wisdom." There's also the counsel that whether the current "sensitive period of transition" -- one leading, the editorial implies, to a world where the United States is no longer the most powerful country -- is "smooth" and "sufficiently speedy" depends "on the United States' character and ability." That does not imply, however, that "the United States can do whatever it wants, like a spoiled child."
The People's Daily doesn't want readers to take their word for it. For evidence of its claims, the article relies instead on U.S. voices. These include President Obama's April 2009 statement, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," which the editorial takes to imply the United States was "not that special." The piece also cites Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, who in an Aug. 29 FP article referred to the United States as "a wounded giant" that is "steadily weakening," still capable of hurting people when it "flail[s] around." The article expands on the metaphor: Those hurt by the giant "have become furious, and the 'wounded giant' suffers even more pain in the midst of this anger." (Brooks, in a phone interview, called the article's mention of her idea "fair enough.")
It's unlikely that U.S. policymakers will take this particular editorial to heart. For one, it doesn't contain much actionable advice. In Chinese, the village contract -- cungui minyue -- refers to a mode of governance sanctioned by the party and enshrined in Chinese law, hardly something the United States could follow even if it wanted to. It also appears the article has not been reproduced in English, even though publishing English-language barbs aimed across the Pacific is a frequent practice of Chinese state media.
Instead, the editorial appears to be speaking to Chinese readers, not U.S. policymakers. With NSA revelations stirring up mistrust toward the United States even among staunch allies, Chinese state media may sense a ripe opportunity to tell its people something like: "Don't worry. We've got this governance thing figured out."
It's spreading. The fourth season of The Walking Dead, a U.S. cable television hit about how to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, has found a massive audience in China. Since launching Dec. 2012 on Youku, China's YouTube, it's become the most-watched season of any Western television show on that platform, with over 27 million views and a user rating of 9.4 out of 10 stars. China's largest news agency Xinhua reported that as of Aug. 7, all episodes of the show had received a combined 250 million views in China across all video sites. The show's Chinese title, "Traveling Corpses, Walking Meat," (xingshi zourou) frequently trends on Weibo, China's Twitter, when a new episode becomes available.
Most Chinese-language reviews of The Walking Dead laud the show for its excellent acting and moving storylines. The Oriental Morning Post, a popular Shanghai-based daily, wrote on Nov. 1 that The Walking Dead "has gone beyond the boundaries of traditional zombie shows," tackling questions about "how human nature and society change in extreme conditions."
The show is especially attractive to Chinese fans because there's no domestic equivalent on cable television. China lacks a ratings system for film or television, so shows with more violent content are rarer. Authorities have banned some television shows for being too violent for any viewer, and on Oct. 13, China Central Television, the state-run television network that often acts as a mouthpiece for government authorities, criticized the popular children's cartoon Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf [sic] for excessive violence and adult language. With squeamish censors still worried about cartoon violence, a Chinese show featuring zombie gore stands little chance of getting produced.
China's morbid fascination with the apocalypse is another likely factor driving The Walking Dead's popularity. According to a May 2012 survey conducted by the global market research firm Ipsos, 20 percent of Chinese respondents said they believed that the world would end Dec. 21, 2012, compared to 12 percent of U.S. citizens and 4 percent of Germans. In Dec. 2012, a user on book and movie review site Douban wrote a short take-off of Max Brooks' tongue-in-cheek book The Zombie Survival Guide that accounted for China's "special characteristics." These included a lack of weapons (Chinese citizens are banned from carrying guns), a huge population, and environmental pollution.
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, populous China would likely have it rougher than the United States. But with shows like The Walking Dead, at least both nations have a basic roadmap.
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A Guardian article about Japanese young people no longer being interested in sex and relationships has generated a lot of blogosphere criticism over the past week and a half, primarily about Western media exoticizing "weird" Japanese culture. Those criticisms duly noted, there have also been some recent Japanese innovations that seem to not only support the premise of the article -- that technology is taking over the space once occupied by sex and dating -- but take it further. Several recent inventions in Japan seem not only likely to disrupt traditional relationships in the way that social media or text messaging has, but to physically replace companionship and affection. Today's report of the physiological benefits of using the Hugvie, a soft doll that simulates a human heartbeat so that the user can "cuddle" with the person on the other end of their phone, is one such case.
Below are some Japanese inventions, like the Hugvie, that may be the most solid proof that Japan is indeed throwing out the idea of relationships and becoming a dystopian future of human loneliness.
The Hugvie is a soft body-fitting pillow with a slot in the head for a smart phone. Users can cuddle with the pillow while talking on the phone, and the pillow's internal vibrators generate a simulated heartbeat of the caller based on the voice's tone and volume. In other words, the soft, "blobular" doll transforms a standard phone conversation into a "cuddling" experience with your phone companion. The gizmo was invented by an Osaka University professor who built off of an earlier remote-controlled doll.
A video from the product's launch last year shows users talking into the phone end and cradling their pillows, and new evidence suggests that the pillow might be as satisfying and soul-warming as the video portrays: a joint study from the University of Sussex and Osaka University that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were reduced in people after using the pillow.
Wine for Cats
Earlier this month, a Japanese company took the age-old stereotype of the lonely cat woman and made it a little less lonely with the invention of Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a non-alcoholic feline wine. Masahito Tsurimi, the chief executive of the company behind the wine, told the Wall Street Journal that it was invented in response to requests from cat-owners -- despite the fact that only one in 10 cats were willing to taste it.
Tsurimi said he saw a bright future in the "specialty pet-drink business" six years ago when he was worried about where future beverage sales would come from with a shrinking, aging Japanese population. It was probably just a nice bonus when he read about the country's sexual aversion and social awkwardness on top of that.
The Girlfriend Coat
In April of this year, RocketNews 24 reported that a group of engineering students at Tsukuba University created a coat that could hug its wearer and whisper phrases into its ear. Meant to simulate a girlfriend, motors in the coat operate the "arms" that squeeze the wearer when he puts it on. In a pair of headphones he slips on with the coat, he also hears one of a number of programmed phrases: "I'm sorry, were you waiting?" and "Guess who?"
The university students named it the Riajyuu Coat. According to gaming site Kotaku, riajyuu is a mash-up Japanese word that means someone who is pleased with his non-virtual life. Unlike some of the other replacements for human contact, this one appears to have just been a joke between friends, and the inventors have no real plans to release it commercially.
Video Game Relationships
Japan has cultivated a global reputation for their romantic simulation video games, and for good reason: while some of the games are just bizarre, like a game in which both the player and his mate are pigeons, others mimic relationships down to eerily small details. LovePlus+, for instance, a dating simulation game released in Japan in 2009, invites players to choose one girl that they prefer out of three types -- a "goodie-goodie," "sassy," or "big-sister" type -- and then earn "boyfriend power" points by going to the gym or doing homework to become smarter. The girl can get mad at their boyfriends, too: in a 2010 article, LovePlus+ gamer Shunsuke Kato told the Wall Street Journal he was on the outs with his LovePlus+ "girlfriend" for being busy at work and only playing the game for ten minutes a day.
The game has blurred the line between real and virtual to such an extent that a Japanese resort town once known for honeymooning, Atami, launched a promotional campaign in 2010 that relied on recreating the virtual trip to Atami from the game. At Atami's (real) Hotel Ohnoya, the staff was trained to check in single men as couples, and restaurants created Love Plus+-inspired menus for the gaming guests.
If there's some silver lining to be found in all of this, it's that a business opportunity will be there to pad the landing when humans do something self-destructive. As Japan has demonstrated, the risk of a plummeting birth rate and the social instability inherent in becoming a society where unmarried people exist in large numbers at least opens up the possibility for bizarre romance-gamer tourism, wine for cats, and pillows you can cuddle with. It appears that the patterns of coupling off and forming small units, once thought of as a naturally occurring constant, can only be outlasted by the other constant of economic self-interest. On second thought, maybe it's not such a silver lining after all.
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