The Five-List Plan

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• Guest-blogging for Jim Fallows last week, friend of the blog Christina Larson posted several interesting pieces about journalism and environmentalism in China today. Read her articles here: “The Plight of the Chinese Newspaper Reporter,” “A Watchtower on the Roof of the World,” “Mount Everest: Then and Now,” and “China’s Nascent Environmentalism.”

• In the Sydney Morning Herald, journalist John Garnaut chronicles the persistence of the Chongqing underworld despite mayor Bo Xilai’s anti-mafia campaign:

”This is the most brutal battle in Chongqing’s business community since liberation,” says a manager at one of Chongqing’s largest and well-connected private companies, who knows both protagonists well.

This, after all, is the thriving Yangtze River metropolis where China’s only maverick leader, Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, has gained nationwide acclaim by reclaiming the streets from the city’s mafia. Bo has thrown thousands of lesser ”black society” gangsters and their Communist Party protectors in jail and executed several, including the vice-president of the Supreme Court.

As well as ”striking black”, Bo Xilai has been “singing red” by leading his city in rousing cultural revolution songs. He has launched an ambitious ”red GDP” campaign to strengthen state ownership, build public housing and accelerate China’s (already breakneck) urbanisation by coaxing and pushing peasants off their land.

And yet, throughout it all, Weng Zhenjie has managed to grow bigger.

The ascendencies of big brother Weng and comrade Bo reveal the alchemy of power in China today and a signal as to where the country may be heading. Both men have spun astonishingly complex webs of loyalty and patronage through the Communist Party and its red-blood aristocracy. They have exploited every lever at their disposal and chosen their targets carefully.

• For an example of Bo’s “singing red” campaigns, check out these photos at Shanghaiist, which were taken at the Chongqing parade celebrating the CCP’s 90th anniversary.

• When the New York Times published a story on March 21 asserting that China had tightened its monitoring and censorship of electronic communications, the following anecdote was used to lead off the article:

If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter (and others) decided to investigate the claim that quoting Shakespeare would result in a shutdown of phone service, conducting a small research study and posting the results—that he was unable to replicate such a communication cut-off—at his site. Responses to the Times’ story were so widespread that the paper eventually added an “Editor’s Note” to the original article, clarifying the context in which the original phone shutoffs took place and admitting that “those examples should not have been given such prominence in the article.” Minter has some additional thoughts on the incident at Shanghai Scrap.

• Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal’s China Real-Time Report interviews Susan Shirk, editor of Changing Media, Changing China, posing eight questions about the contemporary Chinese media.

• In the latest Sinica podcast, Kaiser Kuo, Gady Epstein, Jonathan Watts, and Kathleen McLaughlin ask, “Where did the Internet/salt go?”

• Louisa Lim of NPR’s All Things Considered filed this report on Chinese aid to Japan in the wake of last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. The Financial Times also has details of Chinese involvement in disaster recovery efforts.

• Soon after the earthquake, Adam Minter wrote about “Schadenfreude and Sympathy in Shanghai” for Foreign Policy, describing various Chinese reactions to the earthquake that he observed online and in person. For more on responses to natural disasters, see this 2010 China Beat post by Nicole Barnes on the aftermath of the Qinghai earthquake.

• For some long-term perspectives on Sino-Japanese relations, see this 2005 article by James Farrer at YaleGlobal Online.

• At his “Letters from China” New Yorker blog, Evan Osnos discusses “China’s Nuclear Binge” in light of the ongoing emergency at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant:

China presents a unique dilemma for energy strategists: it is expanding nuclear power in a race to meet rising demand for electricity and replace heavily polluting coal power plants. If China’s greenhouse emissions keep rising at the rate they have for the past thirty years, the country will emit more of those gases in the next thirty years than the United States has in its entire history. But this week has laid out in all the detail we could imagine what could result from the combination of rapid construction, poor oversight, and events that were previously dismissed as unimaginable. In some cases China builds world-class pieces of infrastructure, but we have also seen a steady drip of deeply disconcerting examples of a system growing too fast for its own good.

• For general news and links about the crisis in Japan, see this blog, linked to a planned symposium on “The Atomic Age” scheduled to be held at the University of Chicago on May 21.

March 8, 2011 marks the 100th observation of International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.” So today I’ve put together a collection of links that both look back at Chinese women in history and also touch on present-day Chinese women and the workplace.

• Hat tip to Danwei for calling attention to Sinopop’s translation of a 1942 Women’s Day essay by Ding Ling on marriage, divorce, aging, and how women could “strengthen themselves” to gain a more equal footing with men:

Use your brain, and make a habit of doing so. Correct any tendency to not think or ponder, or the problem of going with the tides. Before you say or do anything, think whether what you are saying is right, and whether yours is the most suitable way of dealing with the problem, whether it goes against your own principles, and whether you feel you can take responsibility for it. Only then will you be free of any regrets about your actions. This is called acting rationally. It is the best way of avoiding the pitfalls of sweet words and honeyed phrases, of being sidetracked by petty gains, of wasting our emotions and wasting our lives.

• For another look back at women during the Mao era, check out Li Fengjin: How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up, a 1950 comic book and political instruction manual translated and edited by Susan Glosser. Read Nicole Barnes’s write-up of the book for China Beat here, and Alan Baumler’s Frog in a Well post on Li Fengjin here.

• And for a dramatized look at the life of China’s “first feminist,” Qiu Jin, see if there’s an upcoming screening of Autumn Gem in your area. Or, if there’s no showing near you, read my interview with Rae Chang, one of the project’s filmmakers.

• If you’d like a book-length read about Chinese women, pick up a copy of Susan Mann’s The Talented Women of the Zhang Family, one of five books on “Chinese Life Stories” that Jeff Wasserstrom picks in an interview at The Browser.

Melissa Chan of Al Jazeera visited Baidu headquarters in Beijing and talked with one of the company’s top engineers, discussing the opportunities for women to break into the Chinese tech sector:

• At CNNGo, Shirley Chen writes about an increase in the number of female Shanghai professionals opting out of the workforce and choosing to become stay-at-home mothers.

• For another angle on Chinese women in the workforce, read Adrienne Mong’s MSNBC story, in which she looks at China’s leadership and asks “Where are the women?”

• Finally, a somewhat different take on how to celebrate International Women’s Day comes from People’s Daily, where one of the day’s lead features is a photo essay of “Attractive females at NPC, CPPCC sessions” (thanks to @joshchin on Twitter for linking to that piece).

Image via chineseposters.net

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• Guest-blogging for James Fallows last week, Jeremiah Jenne devoted several of his posts to discussions of protests and the possibility of a “Jasmine Revolution” in China. His columns on this topic include “China: Not Quite a Revolution,” “After Protests, Beijing Cracks Down,” and “In China, Droughts Bring the Crazy.” Jenne also provided on-the-spot reporting today from Wangfujing in Beijing, the site of a planned protest that was primarily attended by security forces and foreign journalists.

• Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers writes at his “China Rises” blog of the juxtaposition of the crackdown on protests with the message of an online forum held Sunday morning by Wen Jiabao:

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday held an online forum in which he promised to focus on making the lives of ordinary people in China more comfortable and secure.

Just a few hours later, thousands of Chinese police deployed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities to clamp down on public gatherings after a second week of overseas Internet-based calls for protests across the country.

The combination of Wen’s comments about government efforts to raise living standards, accompanied by a display of China’s police state tactics aimed at squelching dissent, neatly laid out in one day’s time the Chinese Communist Party’s approach toward avoiding the kind of unrest seen across the Arab world.

In the morning, Wen pushed the official position of more stability and prosperity through one party rule. And in the afternoon, security personnel swarmed public spaces to be sure nobody suggested otherwise.

• In the wake of Best Buy’s announcement that it has shuttered its branded stores in China, Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap takes a look at what went wrong.

• At Miller-McCune, Jeff Wasserstrom writes about “Media and Revolution 2.0: Tiananmen to Tahrir”:

Have the latest advances in communication technology radically altered the fundamental dynamics of struggles for change in authoritarian settings? Or have cell phones and social media merely brought about small shifts in the dynamics of revolution? Is the Web a godsend to those trapped in oppressive states, as Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo suggests in his essay “The Internet is God’s Gift to China”? Or does this thinking give in to a form of “cyber-utopianism” that glosses over the potential of new media to be used by autocrats, their propaganda ministries and security forces to massage public opinion, keep tabs on dissidents and ensure that populations stay docile and distracted, as Evgeny Morozov argues in The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom?

• Maura Cunningham reviews Pallavi Aiyar’s new novel, Chinese Whiskers, at the Asian Review of Books.

• If you’re looking for a few China book recommendations, check out these two recent interviews at The Browser’s “Five Books” feature: the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos suggests five books that first-time visitors to China should read before they go, and Victor Shih of Northwestern University shares his favorite titles dealing with the Chinese economy.

• Osnos also writes about “China’s Education Binge” at his “Letters from China” blog on the New Yorker’s site.

• China Beatniks around the web: at the International Herald Tribune, Daniel A. Bell evaluates the chances of protests in the Middle East being replicated in China. For a comparative look at how the Chinese and North Korean governments have been reacting to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, see this article at the Korea Times, where China Beat consulting editor Jeff Wasserstrom is quoted on the parallels between present-day protests and the anti-Chiang Kai-shek demonstrations of the 1940s in China. And at the Business Standard, Pallavi Aiyar writes about why the Egyptian protests could be a warning for China.

• Jottings from the Granite Studio guest-blogger Yajun analyzes “Why Groupon is Flailing in China”:

I argue that Groupon’s problem is its arrogant attitude. It had no sense of political sensitivity of certain issues for Chinese consumers. Its inefficient internal coordination and its lack of effective communication with its Chinese partner put them in an embarrassing situation. It ignores advice from Tencent, and their management team doesn’t seem to have the experience necessary to really get in touch with Chinese consumers.

As a Chinese tuangou veteran, I suggest that rather than paying expensive salaries to MBAs, they should listen to what their partner say about Chinese market. They should find out what young urban people with money to burn wish to burn it on.

Have you ever seen an old Chinese woman buy vegetables at a morning market? Consumers in China are tough and persistent. We like to bargain and we are good at it. Most of us don’t care about the background of the company. (Even though Groupon is well-known abroad, for Chinese consumers, it is just another group buy website). I personally only care about the best value and reliable service.

• If you’re a polo fan, see Lara Farrar’s article at the Wall Street Journal discussing the sport’s rising popularity among the very rich in China.

• Finally, for a glimpse at how food moves from the farm to the dining tables of Beijing’s residents, see this slideshow by Jonah Kessel. Kessel visited one of the city’s major food markets, the Xinfadi Agri-product Wholesale Market, to see how the operation worked.

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