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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"The Geography of Horror," a Halloween-themed interactive map by the software company Esri, plots the locations of 200 horror movies, from Psycho (which evidently took place along California's interstate 10, somewhere between Blythe and Indio) to Nosferatu (set in a small German town along the Baltic Sea).
The full-frame presentation of the map allows users to filter the films by decade, making it possible to observe the spread of horror across the globe, over time. Before the 1960s, for example, most horror movies took place in Europe, the birthplace of Frankenstein, Dracula and other classic monsters. Over the decades, Asia gradually became a more popular setting for paranormal horror. The U.S., with its wealth of lonely highways and woodland cabins, has consistently dominated the slasher film genre.
The map draws from IMBD's list of the highest rated horror films, so it's a good resource for movie buffs in search of obscure but well-received films, particularly those set in unusual, exotic locales.
On Oct. 28, a jeep plowed into a group of pedestrians and burst into flames on the avenue next to Tiananmen Square, the massive public square in Beijing that's the symbolic heart of the Chinese capital. According to Chinese state media reports, the crash killed three people in the vehicle as well as two pedestrians, while injuring 40 others. On Oct. 30, the Chinese police announced that the incident was an act of "terrorism," a suicide attack carried out by three Uighurs -- a man, his wife and his mother -- from Xinjiang, a restive region in northwestern China about 2,000 miles from Beijing. Police also announced they had arrested five people with Uighur names for planning the crash. The attack came at a sensitive time, as China's ruling Chinese Communist Party prepares for an important plenum meeting on Nov. 9, and is the most high-profile suicide attack to strike China's capital in recent memory.
Xinjiang, which means "new frontier" in Chinese, has seen a number of bloody incidents in recent years. In June 2013, 35 people were killed in an attack against a police station in Xinjiang's Shanshan county. In April 2013, clashes with police killed 21 people, including 15 police officers, in Kashgar. In July 2009, ethnic clashes in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, left more than 100 dead. (While the precise death tolls are hard to verify, the severity of the conflicts is indisputable.)
If Xinjiang's troubles seemed remote to residents of Beijing, the Oct. 28 attack brought them much closer to home. "This is the first time that I've ever felt so close to a terrorist attack," remarked one user of Sina Weibo, China's Twitter. Another tweeted, "My God, they can do this in front of Tiananmen? I'm very worried all of the sudden, how do they prevent this type of attacks in the future? Vehicle inspections?"
Uighurs, mostly Turkic-speaking Muslims living in northwest China, are one of the country's 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. An estimated 10 million Uighurs live in Xinjiang, making up approximately 40 percent of its population, and bristle under heavy-handed restrictions placed on their language, religion, and way of life. Han officials there often fail to learn functional Uighur, and traditional Uighur male gatherings called meshrep are often banned as "illicit" or dispersed by police.
Making matters worse, anti-Uighur discrimination and profiling abound in their homeland. One Weibo user wrote," I have been to Urumqi, Kashgar, and Turpan in Xinjiang, and as a Han person, I feel really sorry for the Uighurs. The security checks are always focused on the minorities. That's a problem, a big problem."
In China's urban areas, the relationship between Han, China's predominant ethnic group, and Uighurs -- who are often migrants there eking out a living as street vendors or day laborers -- can be quite contentious. Colored by poor personal experiences with vendors or pickpockets, many Han attach negative stereotypes to Uighurs and bitterly complain about policies that they perceive to be favorable to minorities such as Uighurs.
Some of those complaints have found their way online. In Dec. 2012, a tweet by a local police department in Hunan province went viral on China's Internet because it reported a scuffle between Uighur cake vendors and Han, which ended with the Uighurs being compensated $25,000 for the destroyed cake. For Han Internet users who related stories of being forced to buy cake by Uighur migrants, sometimes at knifepoint, the seemingly outrageous sum confirmed their long-held suspicion that Uighurs receive preferential treatment because of their ethnic minority status.
Qin Ailing, a Chinese reporter who has written about Xinjiang, argued that personal relationships were the only way to change the dynamic. On Oct. 30, she tweeted that Chinese should "really pay attention to the Uighur friends around you and the difficult predicaments that they've encountered in their lives -- even those who may be preparing for ‘terrorist activities.'"
But with the latest incident, rising comity between Hans and Uighurs is unlikely. "After a terrorist attack in China's political center, there is no way" that the government will relax its grip on the region, one Weibo user commented. Conciliation has failed, he wrote, and "keeping up the high pressure is the only way to go" -- even if, he continued, a "vicious cycle" of crackdown and backlash is inevitable.
Taiwanese officials are up in arms after discovering that Apple maps refers to their country as a province of China -- in simplified Chinese characters, no less.
The government filed a complaint with the company Tuesday, demanding that it drop the China reference. Kelly Hsieh, the head of the foreign ministry's North American affairs office, told reporters that the label degrades Taiwan and that "no compromise will be made over this kind of matter."
Taiwan's political status has always been a sensitive issue. Having split from mainland China in 1949, it has its own army, constitution, and democratically elected leaders. But China continues to assert that Taiwan is a breakaway province that will eventually be reclaimed. Apple's position on the dispute is, as yet, unclear: It's website refers to Taiwan in traditional Chinese characters, without mention of China at all. But the updated map app on Apple's iOS 7 says something rather different.
It's not the first time that Apple maps has frustrated Taiwanese officials. In 2012, the defense ministry complained that the iPhone 5 version of the app clearly displayed top-secret military facilities on the island.
Apple's mum about the recent controversy, but it might consider discussing the matter with Google, which has repeatedly inflamed international tensions with its maps. In 2010, Google's re-drawing of the Thai-Cambodian sparked a diplomatic controversy. Later that year, a Nicaraguan commander justified a raid on a Costa Rican border area by citing Google's erroneous delineation of the contested boundary. The list goes on. In an interview last year, Google's chairman Eric Schmidt summed up the issue succinctly, saying, "Maps are really hard." Not as hard as international relations, it seems.
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Now viral in China: A failed attempt at photo doctoring. On the evening of Oct. 29, Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, lit up with mockery at an image (above) posted online Oct. 12 by the government of Ningguo, a small city in China's central Anhui province, purporting to show vice-mayor Wang Hun pay a friendly visit to an elderly woman. There's only one problem: The image, which appears to show Wang floating above a particularly tiny woman, has clearly been modified.
That might not seem like much, but it's manna for Chinese netizens, who feast on concrete examples of government dishonesty. In June 2011, officials from Huili county in Sichuan province were also spotted "floating" in a clearly doctored photograph that purported to show them inspecting a local highway. Web users reacted with derision and outrage, even though, as the Guardian wrote in June 2011, the visits were real; a photographer had decided one of the original images was "not suitably impressive." Photoshopping is such a favorite target that the term "PS" has even become a widely-recognized part of Chinese online slang.
It's unclear who first discovered the image on the Ningguo government's website, which features a series of (otherwise seemingly real) images depicting the city's vice-mayor joining a bevy of other local officials to pay visits to women aged 100 years or older, in honor of the Double Ninth Festival, a holiday that honors ancestors.
Now that netizens have found a new target, they seem unlikely to let go any time soon -- regardless of the motive behind the modification. Not only has the Weibo account of Communist Party-run newspaper People's Daily joined in the derision, but some web users have pointed out that Yu Anlin, a local bureaucrat pictured standing (not floating) to Wang's right, appears to be wearing, well, a watch. That too sounds innocent enough, but Chinese officials have become leery of being spotted with timepieces, lest online slueths discover them to be too expensive for an honest official to afford. That revelation felled the career of another provincial bureaucrat named Yang Dacai, an erstwhile safety official who was sentenced in September to 14 years in prison on corruption changes.
Now, Wang and Yu are famous too, and for all the wrong reasons. The impact of this snafu on their careers is uncertain, but they can be sure China's social web will be watching them closely.
On Oct. 28, a Jeep drove into a crowd in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing five people and injuring 38. While the story is still breaking and details remain sparse, the response by both police and censors has been swift. On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, the official account of the Beijing Police Department wrote that the crash occurred at 12:05 p.m on Monday. By 1:09 p.m., it continued, "traffic at the scene had returned to normal." Images on social media purporting to depict the accident show a fiery wreck mere feet from the giant portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong, which overlooks the square.
Photographs by Western photographers who arrived shortly thereafter (see top image) show plainclothes officers erecting green police barriers, obscuring the scene.
China's thousands of online censors have been just as speedy -- and frighteningly successful, even by their own standards. While some official accounts of the incident have survived online, many seemingly anodyne ones, including updates from mainstream media sources like the business magazine Caijing and newsmagazine China Weekly, have not. In fact, a search on Freeweibo.com, which tracks deleted Weibo posts, shows that many related tweets from widely-followed sources were removed so fast that they were able to generate only a handful of comments. One Weibo user complained, "Just because it's Tiananmen, all related images have been deleted; is this necessary?" Chinese censors seem to think so, emphasizing rapidity over precision and ensnaring even innocuous posts in their net.
From the perspective of Chinese censors, this all makes perfect sense. Weibo's interface groups all comments to a tweet in one place, allowing discussions by tens of thousands of users to coalesce around particularly popular or resonant posts. Authorities want to keep online chatter splintered instead. First, they never know what (potentially dangerous) direction such massive online discussion might take. They are also probably aware that Western media now watches Weibo closely: once a thought or meme goes viral, subsequent censorship is often insufficient, because Western reports will find a way to redound back into the Mainland. As the Chinese saying goes, "Once the word is out, four horses can't run it down."
The stakes are particularly high where Tiananmen Square is concerned. The massive public square in the center of Beijing was the site of the 1989 student uprising and subsequent crackdown, as well as major protests before and since, including the so-called May Fourth Movement in 1919 and, as recently as 2011, self-immolations by disgruntled citizens.
Despite Tiananmen's sensitivity, Weibo users have found clever ways to discuss it. On June 4, 2013, the most recent anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Chinese netizens photoshopped giant rubber ducks over a famous image of tanks facing down a 1989 protester.
But anniversaries are different, because both web users and censors have ample time to plot strategy. In that scenario, it's almost inevitable that some of the memes and coded phrases invented by the Weibo-using masses will slip through, particularly those deployed in the middle of the night in China, when most censors are asleep. With this latest incident, where discussion remains highly fragmented, censors are likely receiving plaudits for a job well done.
In China's battle between cupcakes and Communists, the cupcakes appear to be winning. While Chinese President Xi Jinping promotes the "Chinese Dream" of national rejuvenation with mixed success, the U.S. sitcom 2 Broke Girls has drawn Chinese audiences by depicting a more modest dream: the chance to open a cupcake shop.
First airing in the United States in October 2011, 2 Broke Girls tells the story of Max and Caroline, two 20-something women who wait tables at a diner in New York City while saving to open their own cupcake shop. The show's first season appeared on Youku, China's YouTube, in August 2012, and has risen to become the most popular U.S. sitcom on the site, with over 81 million views.
Perhaps Chinese viewers prefer 2 Broke Girls because they can empathize with the characters, who work hard for low pay. In 2012, the average Chinese took home a little less than $4,000 of income, according to official figures. One fan commented on Weibo, China's Twitter, that she wanted to be like Max and Caroline. "Although they are poor," she wrote, "They work hard together to achieve a shared dream."
While wages are much higher in China's urban areas, the country's income gap and the rising cost of living have many worried that hard work will not translate into success, or even security. For these people, 2 Broke Girls represents the dream of a meritocracy. One Weibo user wrote that she felt 2 Broke Girls was about girls "at the lowest tiers of society" pursuing their dreams "with bravery and determination." Millions of Chinese, especially university students and recent graduates facing a tough job market, admire the protagonists' optimism and positive attitude in the face of adversity.
The show depicts a more avowedly individualistic aspiration than the Chinese Dream, which Xi defined in November 2012 as "the national rejuvenation of the Chinese people." The Economist noted in May 2013 that the Chinese Dream contains elements of the American Dream, but also "a troubling whiff of nationalism and of repackaged authoritarianism." On Weibo, some have criticized the official definition, maintaining that the Chinese Dream should focus more on improving overall quality of life and less on the country's GDP.
The Chinese Dream and what can perhaps be called the Cupcake Dream are not mutually exclusive. Numerous senior officials have emphasized the importance of an entrepreneurial spirit, but in the service of nationalism. By contrast, 2 Broke Girls has not appealed to Chinese nationalist sentiment. If anything, Chinese viewers might be offended by the show's stereotyping of its Asian character -- the New Yorker described 2 Broke Girls as "so racist it is less offensive than baffling."
Yet fans of the show in China are drawn in by its feel-good message. "I don't just watch 2 Broke Girls for fun," one viewer explained on Weibo. "I am studying the spirit with which they pursue their dream. At the end of every episode, when they count how much they've saved, I feel an indescribable positive energy. The girl who grew up rich can pick herself back up even though she lost all her money. The girl who grew up poor still has a positive outlook and sharp tongue." The viewer concluded by asking, rhetorically, "Why on earth shouldn't I pursue the life that I want to live?"
Via Weibo/Fair Use
The lure of K-pop and the easy availability of cosmetic surgery have nearly doubled the number of tourists to South Korea in the past few years. But soon discerning travelers may flock to the country's shores for a new reason: nude beaches.
Officials from the northeast province of Gangwon are hoping to open the nation's first nude beach by 2017, in an effort to draw tourists away from South Korea's more popular -- and notably warmer -- western beaches. At first blush, the combination of cold water and naked flesh seems problematic, but officials are confident that the novelty of the beach will trump its chill. ''As vacation cultures diversify, the interest in conventional beaches is decreasing," one official told the Korea Times. "This is part of our plans to create beaches with specific purpose, like a beach for families, a beach for couples, a beach for pets, and yes, a nude beach."
The idea is part of a broader effort to boost tourism in South Korea, which already has its fair share of novel attractions. Annual mud festivals (like the one pictured above) draw both internal and foreign tourists to South Korea's beaches. The number of foreign tourists coming to Seoul's Beauty Belt for cosmetic procedures has increased fivefold since 2009. Tourism surged to new heights in 2012, following the global success of PSY's K-pop single "Gangnam Style."
Officials keen on prolonging the trend are devising increasingly clever ways of attracting new visitors. Last week, the tourism board unveiled a new, "Gangnam Style" tourist police force styled by one of PSY's own designers. At the launch, a police drill team even performed the horse-riding dance from the "Gangnam Style" video.
Seoul's tourism board also hired director Park Chan-wook, who is known for producing incredibly violent films like Vengeance and Old Boy, to create a promotional video for the city. Though Park says that video likely won't feature death or killing, he acknowledges that the final product will be "perfectly unpredictable."
Obviously, tourism officials in South Korea aren't afraid to get creative. But the nude beach remains a long shot. In 2004 and 2009, municipal leaders attempted to open nude or clothing-optional beaches in South Korea, but both proposals failed due to lack of public support. Gangwon officials acknowledge that South Koreans may be reluctant to embrace the idea, let alone the practice, so they're mulling over a plan to open the beach exclusively to foreign tourists. Foreigners, they reason, might be less shy about stripping down, and this could have a liberalizing effect on the local population.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to censorship, "Chinese Internet users can do little," wrote Taiwanese politician and senior opposition party member Hung Chih-kune on Facebook on Oct. 19. "But messing with a Taiwanese like me? [They're] in for some bad luck."
On Oct. 15, Hung (pictured above on the right) wrote on Twitter and Facebook that he had retained a lawyer named Liu Weiguo (pictured above on the left) to sue Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular social media sites, in mainland China; he stated he will also sue the company in the United States and Taiwan. According to Hong Kong's Apple Daily, a popular tabloid newspaper, Hung claimed Sina accepted over $34 in annual VIP membership fees from him -- but frequently censored his posts, even deleting his Weibo account on 50 separate occasions without warning. Hung has used Weibo to share his thoughts about the Taiwan-China relationship and human rights in China. (Sina did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Hung is one of 30 executive committee members of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the country's main opposition party. The DPP is known for its strong advocacy for both human rights and Taiwanese independence from mainland China. While many Chinese Internet users adamantly believe that Taiwan is a part of China, they also admire Taiwan's democratic system and Internet freedom, a sharp contrast to mainland China's one-party political system and censored web.
Hung, who first joined Weibo in February 2013, is fighting censorship in his own way. He belongs to the "Reincarnation Party," a group of Weibo users who repeatedly rejoin Weibo after censors delete their accounts. Censorship on Sina Weibo is often uneven, so "reincarnated" users sometimes escape immediate notice. But Hung's accounts are often deleted as soon as they appear, perhaps due to his predilection for posting political content.
It's not clear whether mainland Chinese courts will even accept lawsuits brought by censored users. In May 2011, a woman surnamed Yu successfully sued Sina after it deleted her Weibo account, but Sina appealed the verdict. Yu claims that in April 2013, the courts overturned the verdict, ruling that the matter was not within its jurisdiction. In addition, Sina, a NASDAQ-listed company worth over $5.7 billion, could almost certainly outspend Hung in a protracted legal battle.
Hung's David-versus-Goliath quest may seem quixotic. But if fighting Internet censorship through legal channels seems ridiculous, Hung's suit is also a sad reminder of a sadder status quo.
Fair use (via Liu Weiguo/Twitter)
Interest in learning Chinese may be growing in the United States, but English-language studies in China could very well be on the wane.
On Oct. 21, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, the organization that decides what students in the city study, proposed a series of reforms to the gaokao, China's all-important national higher education entrance examination, which would reduce the weight the test places on English-language ability. The state-run Xinhua news agency confirmed that other potential changes included postponing English-language education until the third grade (Beijing students currently begin studying English as soon as they enter primary school). Initially, these reforms would target the Beijing version of the test. But what happens in Beijing is often a bellwether for the rest of China.
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When Jean Lee became the Associated Press's first North Korea bureau chief in 2012, she anticipated many of the challenges she'd face while in country: the trouble accessing places typically considered off-limits to foreigners, the constant scrutiny, the roadblocks to verifying information under a secretive regime.
What she didn't expect was the backlash, which came swift and harsh from those who questioned the news agency's decision to play ball with one of the world's most repressive governments in exchange for access (the Wall Street Journal headlined one op-ed about the bureau "Associated Propaganda").
"The lack of support for what we were trying to do … was a bit tough to stomach," says Lee, an American journalist of Korean descent who was the AP's Seoul bureau chief before expanding her coverage to North Korea. "The pressure … and the criticism from other journalists for opening up a bureau when frankly, as journalists, I do think it's our imperative to try to get on the ground and to try to write from as many angles as we can. For so long we and so many other Western media have had to cover this country from the outside -- it was a really bold bid to try to write about it and report on it in a different way."
The AP announced this week that Lee is stepping down as Pyongyang bureau chief (to be replaced by Tokyo news editor Eric Talmadge) and is taking on a new role based in Seoul where she will write in-depth stories about the Korean Peninsula. Lee spoke to Foreign Policy about the role she played in the first chapter of the AP's great Hermit Kingdom experiment, reflecting on one of the most enviable -- and difficult -- journalism jobs on the planet.
In modern China, there is precious little that money can't buy. Shoppers on the massively popular e-commerce site Taobao.com can hire a boyfriend to meet their parents, or pay someone to endure their insults (the cheapest rate is one RMB -- about $0.16 -- per barb). And now, this latest innovation: Chinese with cash to spare can pay a foreigner to report a crime on their behalf.
On China's Sina Weibo microblogging platform, a user named Yu Min, who claims to be an advertising company employee, caught the attention of a few thousand netizens on Oct. 17 when he shared photographs of two crudely made advertisements. Based on information available on the photo, the second advertisement was posted on the streets of Hefei, the capital of impoverished Anhui province. (It is not clear where the first advertisement was posted.)
As fears mounted this week about a possible (and now, it seems, averted) U.S. government default, the U.S. press stumbled upon an Oct. 13 editorial in Xinhua, China's largest news agency, calling for a "de-Americanized world" in light of Washington's fiscal dysfunction. News outlets including CBS, USA Today, and Bloomberg picked up the editorial, while the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline "Upset over U.S. fiscal crisis, China urges a 'de-Americanized world.'" CNBC emphasized that Xinhua was a "government voice," and that the editorial was "government propaganda" intended for local readers. The op-ed hit something of a sweet spot for shutdown-traumatized Americans, touching on, as Max Fisher at the Washington Post put it, "the dual American anxieties that we are letting down the rest of the world and that China is finally making its move to replace us as the global leader."
But what much of the coverage failed to mention is that the article appeared on Xinhua with the byline Liu Chang, indicating that the editorial more likely represents the views of Liu (who is identified simply as a "Xinhua writer") and his colleagues rather than China's top leaders, or "China" itself. The op-ed does not claim to reflect broader Chinese views, and just because an article appears in Xinhua does not mean it represents the views of the Communist Party (which, as an organization of tens of millions of people, does not speak in one voice). China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its last official comment on the fiscal showdown in Washington on Oct. 9: "China and the U.S. are economically intertwined and inseparable. We hope that the U.S. can resolve this issue and ensure the security of Chinese assets in the U.S." Admittedly, "Xinhua Journalist Calls for a 'De-Americanized World'" makes for a less compelling -- if more accurate -- headline.
Xinhua also published the editorial in English only, which suggests it was directed at an international rather than a domestic audience. In fact, there was virtually no mention of the article in Chinese -- until, that is, U.S. media began responding to the provocative op-ed. By Oct. 16, there were at least 15 articles in major Chinese-language media outlets on the international response to the piece. Xinhua published one titled, "Incisive wording of Xinhua's call for 'de-Americanization' surprises American media," and the Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times' top headline on Oct. 16 was "Washington Worried by 'de-Americanization' editorial run in China's state-run media." In other words, for Chinese state-run media, the international reaction to the editorial was more newsworthy than the editorial itself.
Despite all the international attention, the call for global de-Americanization didn't make a big splash among Chinese readers. China's criticism of America's role in international affairs is nothing new, and many Chinese readers felt the Xinhua editorial was unremarkable. As one user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter, wrote in response to the Xinhua editorial, "The articles of certain media outlets are like the farts of a dog: There's no need to pay them any mind."
Chinese Internet users have a message for the screenwriters of The Blacklist: You've got a lot to learn about our country.
The third episode of The Blacklist, a new NBC television drama in which the FBI and a former fugitive team up to fight terrorism, features a villain named Wujing, a Chinese spy who kills CIA operatives. The hunt for Wujing sparks a discussion among FBI agents about his background as the second child in a Chinese family. Because of China's one-child policy, one of the agents claims, Wujing was cast out from his home and became "invisible" to his family.
China's one-child policy is restrictive, but not as draconian as The Blacklist depicts. Some Chinese are not limited to one child: Exceptions for minorities, rural residents, and others mean that a significant portion of China's population is allowed to have at least two children. "If all second children had to be sent away, China would lose at least half of its population," remarked one user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter. When those who are subject to the one-child policy violate it, enforcement can be brutal, but it is also uneven. Many families find a way around the law, paying an administrative fee to get authorities off their backs.
Screenshot of The Blacklist via Sina Weibo
This is a guest post from Jan Cao, a U.S.-based writer and contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation
Xia Junfeng was once unknown, but his 2009 arrest for the murder of security officers -- who, he alleged, had savagely beaten him -- made him a symbolic figure in a national debate about human rights and reform in China. Yet many wonder whether this notoriety did more harm than good for Xia, who was executed on Sept. 25 for the murders.
A laid-off factory worker turned unlicensed street vendor, Xia was selling kebabs when he was approached and, he charged, beaten in broad daylight by two chengguan for selling street food without a license in Shenyang, one of China's largest cities. Chengguan are low-level civilian forces responsible for policing the quotidian aspects of urban life, including street vendors and construction sites. With their troubling reputation for bullying and abuse, chengguan are often portrayed in domestic and social media as petty villains.
Taken to an interrogation room, Xia stabbed two officers to death and injured another before fleeing. During his trial in May 2011, Xia and his lawyers argued that the officers' violence compelled him to act in self-defense. But the Shenyang Intermediate Court found him guilty of murder, and higher courts upheld his sentence on appeal.
Fueled by a pervasive mistrust of both chengguan and the Chinese legal system in general, netizens portrayed Xia as a hero who stood up to China's brutal urban enforcers. People compared Xia's case to another in which chengguan had beaten a street vendor to death, asking why a street vendor acting in self-defense against chengguan had to die while chengguan who killed a street vendor were only sentenced to 11 years in prison. Voices of discontent quickly went viral on the Internet.
But the national discussion about Xia's case took an unexpected turn in 2013, when some social media users began to criticize his lawyers, revealing deep and nuanced schisms in Chinese society.
Wednesday marked the 567th birthday of the Korean alphabet. And South Korea's prime minister, Chung Hong-won, chose a rather unconventional way to honor the occasion, known colloquially as Hangul Day: delivering a speech deploring young South Koreans' use of slang, foul language, improperly conjugated verbs, and other "verbal violence." He then called for a "national language purification" campaign to "remedy this bad culture."
Such campaigns are not new in South Korea, where civil society groups have long opposed the adoption of foreign words and characters. The invention of the Korean alphabet, in fact, was an early effort at establishing linguistic purity (at the time, classical Chinese was the lingua franca of Korea's educated and elite), but it failed to take off until the mid-20th century when South Korea's independence -- and the subsequent establishment of Korean as the national language -- necessitated the adoption of a distinct writing system accessible to a wide swath of citizens. Hangul, with its 24 easy-to-master characters, was perfect.
Asian markets seemed pleased by the news, which broke Tuesday evening (or Wednesday morning, Asia time) that President Obama would nominate Janet Yellen for the position of Fed chair this afternoon. Policymakers in the region, who'd been cheering for her, spoke warmly of the selection -- mostly because the relatively dovish Yellen is seen as someone who'll be slower to roll back the easy money policies of her predecessor, giving Asia more time to prepare for the day the greenback spigot turns off.
But Yellen also has something of a special relationship with the region, which Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Hiroshi Nakaso alluded to when he told the Wall Street Journal that "we already have a relationship of mutual trust with each other." Yellen spent six years, from 2004 to 2010, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a position that involved traveling to Asia at least once a year on fact-finding missions, and brought her to countries across the region from South Korea to Vietnam to India. The reports she produced after each trip are typically brief -- and sometimes rather dry -- accounts of the state of each country's economy and the challenges it is likely to face. But they do give us an occasional hint about the likely new Fed chair's thoughts on the world's most economically dynamic region.
The tentative $4.7 billion deal to take BlackBerry private may have only been announced on Monday, but for many Americans it was a long time coming. In the United States and Western Europe, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android have come to dominate the smartphone market, while Blackberry has been lapping up less than 2 percent of the American market and has seen its share European markets decline steadily over the years. But there are some corners of the world where BlackBerry's fall may come as more of a shock -- particularly in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, where BlackBerry has its strongest market presence, or in the several African and Latin American nations where it remains the top smartphone. Here are some of the countries where the BlackBerry still enjoys superstar status.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
The news this weekend that Tokyo will once again play host to the Olympics after a nearly five-decade hiatus was greeted with jubilation on the streets of Japan, where many saw the decision as a vote of confidence from the international community and a sign of a long-struggling Japan's "rebirth."
"My heart was pounding before the announcement -- I am so happy," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Emi Ishii, an office worker in central Tokyo, called the victory "an amazing feeling," while athletes responded to the news with a cry of "banzai!"
It was an occasion to celebrate. But amid all the merriment, some were already pausing to acknowledge at least one realm in which Japan has its work cut out for it over the next seven years.
"English is going to be necessary around town," said one young newscaster on the Tokyo Broadcasting System, according to the New York Times. "Let's start learning English."
Blame it on what some have called an "insular" culture; on teaching methods that emphasize a deep understanding of grammar over practical skills like listening and speaking; on social mores that include a deep aversion to embarrassment -- an inevitability when grappling with the strange sounds and structures of a foreign language.
Whatever the cause, few dispute the facts: Japanese people, on the whole, can't speak English.
In the aftermath of the Bo Xilai scandal, the Communist leadership in China has scrambled to push back against the party's reputation of widespread corruption. Once known for lavish banquets and bribery so widespread that it propped up whole luxury markets, the party is taking on a wide range of reform efforts, some of which have been commendable and effective. But it has also been aiming at some odd targets -- with this week's ban on mooncakes, a popular pastry, being a prime example.
Here are some of the strangest parts of Xi's anti-corruption campaign.
Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned animator of critically acclaimed films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle, is courting controversy in Japan and drawing the ire of the aggressively nationalist supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Miyazaki's latest movie, Kaze Tachinu (which will be released in English as The Wind Rises), his first since Ponyo, five years ago, is a marked departure from his usual stories about spirits and magic. The new film is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of Japan's World War II workhorse fighter, the Mitsubishi Zero. Japan's role in World War II has always been a fraught topic, but has been a point of contention since Abe's election (or rather, reelection; he was prime minister briefly in 2007) earlier this year. Abe has tried to reframe Japan's role in World War II: He's questioned "whether it is proper to say that Japan ‘invaded' its neighbors" and questioned the 1995 official apology to "comfort women," the conscription prostitutes provided to Japanese troops during the war. Abe is currently pushing for a revision of the Japanese constitution that would not only ease the country's prohibition on military aggression, but would also enshrine the emperor as the head of state and compel "respect" for symbols of Japan's pre-war heyday.
By 1999, South Korea was already well on its way to joining the world's most advanced economies. Companies like Samsung and Hyundai were fast becoming household names and, at a little less than $10,000, the country's GDP per capita -- having taken a hit during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 -- was not far off from those of poorer Western European countries such as Malta and Greece. Overall life expectancy in South Korea was soaring.
But the country's aviation safety record was abysmal. Its national carrier, Korean Air, had a reputation as one of the worst in the business -- so bad that U.S. Department of Defense personnel were banned from taking its flights. The airline ranked among the worst in fatalities in the 1990s, with 311 over the course of the decade compared to American's 171 and United's 147. Three of Korean Air's partner airlines -- Delta, Air France, and Air Canada - refused to continue booking their passengers on its flights.
One would expect a country's aviation safety record to improve as it develops economically, since richer countries should be more committed to and capable of enforcing health and safety regulations. But according to a 2010 study, in newly rich countries like South Korea, safety in the skies does not always improve in step with GDP. (It's worth noting that Korean aviation safety has improved significantly from the bad old days; until this weekend's crash in San Francisco, South Korea's Asiana Airlines had a top-ranked, seven-star rating for safety on the website airlineratings.com, according to the Wall Street Journal).
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The real-life Shinzo Abe has had his fair share of critics -- those who find his nationalist inclinations distasteful, for example, or others who are deeply skeptical about his so-called Abenomics plan to save the Japanese economy.
But who could dislike the cartoon version of the Japanese prime minister? Flipping through the air, his downcast face unchanging as he bounces higher and higher in his gray suit -- he's adorable.
China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
Ever since the Obama administration first rolled out its signature Asia pivot policy, the effort seemed ambitious. The United States was wrapping up its war in Iraq and still surging troops in Afghanistan -- and yet, policymakers planned to "rebalance" military forces to the Pacific while strengthening business and diplomatic ties with partners in the region. Since then, events have stymied the administration's policy at seemingly every turn.
In the latest example, President Obama's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was overshadowed by new revelations of an extensive domestic surveillance program. But Asia getting pushed to the backburner is nothing new. The administration's series of high-profile trips to the region last fall had to jockey for attention with the news that Israel might any day launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip (and now there's Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations). Since then, the administration's Asia policy has also been a bone of contention in the fight over cuts to the defense budget.
Even the administration's modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there's the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia -- when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
With all the setbacks, maybe the administration is happy that the media isn't paying attention to the pivot.
North Korea is getting the Hollywood treatment yet again. But this time, instead of puppets, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco are taking on the Hermit Kingdom in a film entitled The Interview.
"James and Seth play reporters who get an interview with the dictator of North Korea and the CIA asks them to kill him," producer Evan Goldberg told E!Online during this week's premiere of This Is the End. "They're going to play a--holes."
And Hollywood isn't going to create any old fictional North Korean leader.
"It's Kim Jong-un. Literally King [sic] Jong-un in the movie. We figured it's North Korea, you might as well make it Kim Jong-un," Rogen told E!
But that's about as close to reality as the movie gets (this is Hollywood, after all). In March, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Columbia Pictures expects to spend around $30 million to make the film. But Rogen and Franco won't be getting anywhere close to Pyongyang. "We're going to the foreign land of Vancouver, Canada," Goldberg admitted.
And the premise is pretty shaky as well. As far as we can tell, no reporter has ever interviewed Kim Jong Un, let alone one from a Western news organization. The Associated Press did open a bureau in Pyongyang in January 2012, but operating a bureau in a place that ranks 178th out of 179 countries on Reporters Without Borders's Press Freedom Index (Eritrea has the dubious distinction of placing last) comes with many challenges, including using office space that is hosted by the Korean Central News Agency, as my colleague Isaac Stone Fish pointed out in an article last year. Many journalists who have written about life in North Korea have had to rely on accounts from defectors.
The closest any American journalists have gotten to Kim Jong Un in recent months was during Vice's highly publicized basketball diplomacy campaign in North Korea with Dennis Rodman in February. Vice's Ryan Duffy has said he found Kim Jong Un "socially awkward," and that the North Korean leader avoided eye contact while shaking hands. (Rodman, for what it's worth, described Kim as a "cool guy" who wears "regular clothes" and is "not one of these Saddam Hussein-type characters that wants to take over the world.")
Suffice it to say the actor who ends up playing Kim Jong Un for The Interview will have a lot of creative license for his portrayal.
In the latest development in the showdown between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the hands of the Philippine coast guard, Taiwan is holding military drills near Philippine waters. The Philippines -- its apology having been rejected by Taiwan -- is also standing firm, saying it won't "appease" the Taiwanese, while the United States is urging cooler heads to prevail. The standoff is just the latest in a string of geopolitical showdowns in which fishermen have served -- sometimes unwittingly and sometimes wittingly -- as lightning rods in East and Southeast Asian maritime territorial disputes.
The humble fishing boat, in fact, has been at the center of incidents between China and Russia; between China and Vietnam; between Japan and Taiwan; between China and South Korea; between North Korea and South Korea; between North Korea and China; between China and the Philippines; and between South Korea and Japan. And then, of course, there was the 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which set relations between the two Asian superpowers on edge for months.
How has the fisherman -- a seemingly unassuming practitioner of his ancient craft -- come to play this vital role on the international stage? There are a number of factors at play. For starters, Asian waters are running out of fish -- which means more fishing boats are straying into foreign waters in search of good hauls. Then there's the growing nationalism in many of these countries, which raises the stakes in these disputes and allows one arrested fisherman to take on national significance.
In addition, there's the suspicion that some countries -- notably China -- really do use fishermen as proxies in their ongoing disputes with other countries -- that these fishing boats are not the innocent bystanders caught up in forces greater than themselves that they seem. At the height of last year's tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it was reported that China was sending an "armada" of 1,000 fishing boats to the islands with the goal of overwhelming the Japanese coast guard -- though the reports later proved false.
Hung Shih-cheng, the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman at the center of the current row between Taiwan and the Philippines, appears to have ventured into disputed territory with the simple aim of fishing; the Philippine coast guard has said the crew believed he was trying to ram one of their ships and opened fire.
Venture astray, and face the chance of catching fire from a military vessel as a result of international border disputes? That's quite an occupational hazard.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
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