July 2009

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The PR folks for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou have added China Beat to their mailing list, so we got their note this week about organizers’ plans to seed clouds to prevent rain during the Games. Our interest was piqued–we hadn’t heard much yet about the 2010 Asian Games. Here are a few of the things we found when we went looking…
1. As with the Olympic preparations in Beijing, there is massive construction, investment, and environmental management (not just cloud-seeding) underway in Guangzhou, according to Xinhua:
Authorities are pumping in more than 58 billion yuan (8.5 billion U.S. dollars) to boost the transportation system and protect the environment as Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province, is preparing for the 16th Asian Games next November. …

The latest projects include a large urban metro subway network consisting of eight lines, to be completed before the opening of the sporting event. …

On the environmental front, Yang Liu, deputy director of Guangzhou environmental protection bureau, said the city had set a goal to ensure as many as 361 days of better air quality next year.

Air quality in the city improved in the first five months of this year, with 37 fewer days of haze and dust than in the same period of last year, the newspaper said.

“But the task of ensuring better air quality during the Games remains tough,” Yang said.

To fight the problem, authorities plan to raise up to 1.8 billion yuan in private funds to complement public funding toward improving air quality.

“As many as 32 highly polluting chemical plants will be removed or ordered to stop production by the end of this year,” he said.

Similarly, 38 sewage treatment facilities are scheduled to be built before the Games’ opening next year, with an added sewage treatment capacity of 2.25 million tonnes a day, sources with the Guangzhou water affairs bureau said.

2. The Games will sponsor a variety of cultural events along the theme of “Thrilling Games, Harmonious Asia” (激情盛会,和谐亚洲), to build excitement as the countdown to the Games begins:

At the one-year countdown, GAGOC will invite people from across Asia to meet in Guangzhou to celebrate the anniversary date for the 2010 Asian Games … and at the 100-day countdown, GAGOC will announce a new promotion “Guangzhou is ready”, while the Games’ Theme Song, Torchbearers’ Song.

Also underway is the nation-wide Asian Games Cheerleader Selection Contest, which is expected to attract more than 100,000 participants from over 300 cities. The top 30 cheerleading teams, with final approval from GAGOC, will perform in a number of venues during the Asian Games.

3. Dragon Boat Racing and Cricket will be added to the Asian Games for the first time in Guangzhou.

4. The torch relay for the Games, titled “Road of Asia,” is already underway, with officials telling the Macau Daily Times that the Games are already the “best Asian Games until now”:

The campaign has been on tour since its launch in Kuwait in early March and has already travelled through Pakistan, Malasya, Thailand, Vietnam and the Phillipines before arriving to its final destination in Guangzhou, in November in time for the one-year countdown to the 16th Asian Games.

“Road of Asia” consists of three routes and transportation means, aimed to bring toghether all Asian regions that will take part in the 2010 Asian Games. Thus, air, sea and land routes will propagate Guangzhou’s Asian Games expectations, reaching out to everyone, everywhere.

According to GAGOC top officials, the 16th Asian Games are already close to completion and have already exceeded all expectations, becoming the “best Asian Games until now”.

5. We’ve saved the best detail for last. You may have been wondering about the little guys at the top of this post. Please meet the mascots for the 2010 Asian Games, the “five sporty goats,” as one news report dubbed them (the GAGOC website calls them “sporty and cute”), Le yangyang 乐羊羊. The mascots are a play on one of Guangzhou’s nicknames, “City of Goats” (羊城); you can read more background at the official website for the Games and also see there a lot more drawings of the goats being sporty (a la fuwa).


By Timothy B. Weston

It’s been moving to watch the response in China to the July 11 death of renowned scholar, Ji Xianlin (1911-2009). While Ji’s unsurprising departure at the ripe old age of 98 has not brought quite the same flood tide of emotion and cultural stock taking in China as Michael Jackson’s completely unexpected death a few weeks earlier at age 50 has in the United States and around the world, the way the venerable scholar is being remembered in Beijing is nevertheless remarkable. Long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects waited for hours to gain entrance to a memorial ceremony held on the Beijing University campus where Ji taught, the press was full of tributes, and Communist Party leaders were very public in the honors they paid to the man from academe. In the United States it is hard to imagine the death of an elderly scholar, of a humanist who worked on the ancient past no less, ever attracting anything approaching the level of attention that Ji’s passing has in China.

Ji Xianlin and Michael Jackson shared nothing in common except the coincidence of the timing of their deaths and the fact that in passing both were mourned as departed cultural symbols. Frankly, as the hysteria over Michael Jackson’s death has continued to pulsate through American society I have found it refreshing to follow the treatment that Ji Xianlin’s high-minded life has received in China. I feel this way even though it’s clear that the Chinese Communist Party’s highly public paeans to the deceased scholar have not been free of political considerations and while also acknowledging that Michael Jackson’s life and career certainly merit serious reflection and social commentary. Still, when looking at the way Ji’s death has been treated as compared with Jackson’s, and at what the two cultural symbols meant to their times and places, I find myself more drawn to the values and maturity on display in China than to the self-referential, entertainer-obsessed conversation that Jackson’s death has occasioned in the United States (even if much of that conversation has been about the sadness and oddity of Jackson’s life).

Ji Xianlin was without doubt an outstanding scholar whose career was noteworthy for its singular achievements and cosmopolitan dimensions. Originally a student of Western literature at Qinghua University, in 1935 Ji traveled to Germany for foreign study. At the University of Göttingen he moved in a dramatically new direction, choosing to major in Sanskrit and other ancient Indian languages under the direction of Ernst Waldschmidt and Emil Sieg. Ji received his Ph.D. in Germany and after World War II returned to China where he took a position at Beijing University and founded the Department of Eastern Languages. He chaired that department for the next three decades and built it into one of the most important academic departments at Beida and China’s premier center for the study of Eastern languages.

Ji’s greatest scholarly accomplishments came in the realm of the history of Indian Buddhism and comparative linguistics. According to his former student Zhang Baosheng, now a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at Beijing University, Ji’s academic achievements represented the next wave of greatness within the long, proud tradition of Chinese evidential scholarship after the great contribution made by Ji’s patron, the celebrated historian Chen Yinke, who helped bring Ji to Beida in the first place. Whereas Chen Yinke used literary works as a means of verifying history, Ji Xianlin pioneered a method of using comparative linguistics to verify historical events and to track changes over time. Ji’s scholarly findings attracted international attention and made him a world leader in his field; over the course of his career he was awarded major academic prizes in India, Iran and Japan.

In addition to pioneering new methodologies and creating new knowledge, Ji Xianlin also held important administrative positions in the later part of his life. Following the Cultural Revolution he was called upon to help re-build major Chinese academic institutions ravaged over the previous decade. In 1978 he became vice president of Beijing University (which position he held until 1984) and also director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ South Asia Research Institute. During his career he also served as chairman of various professional organizations, such as the Chinese Foreign Literature Association, the Chinese South Asian Association, and the Chinese Language Society.

Ji Xianlin’s achievements within academe distinguish him as one of the towering humanistic scholars of the Chinese twentieth century, as an intellectual whose name deserves to be mentioned, as it was again in a tribute piece recently published in Beijing, along with luminaries such as Chen Duxiu, Chen Yinke, Hu Shi, Li Dazhao, Liang Qichao, Lu Xun, Wang Guowei, and Zhao Yuanren. But Ji’s career, centered as it was in the esoteric academic field of Indology, which few people understand or appreciate, cannot account for the long lines of people wishing to pay their last respects at Beijing University nor for the tributes that poured in from highly placed people within the academic, publishing and cultural spheres upon news of his death. Likewise, Ji’s scholarly accomplishments and official positions at key academic institutions do not explain why the Chinese press has carried so much discussion of the scholar’s life, why Communist Party leaders Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Wu Bangguo and Xi Jinping sent flower wreathes and offered condolences upon news of his death, or finally why, on July 19, his corpse draped in the red flag of the People’s Republic (Ji joined the party in 1956) and laid out for a final viewing, other top officials, including Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Chanchun, and Li Keqiang, showed up to make their farewells in person.

To understand why Ji Xianlin’s passing has struck such a chord it is necessary, I believe, to recognize that in his later years he had become a living symbol of the ideal Chinese scholar, and as such of a type of person who it is ever more difficult to find in today’s fast-paced, money-crazed Chinese society. Here was a man who had been born and raised in the old society, who knew the classics, who had attainted great fame and yet who did not attempt to convert his glory into power, wealth, or celebrity, who in fact talked down his achievements and continued to work hard at his research as long as he was able. Ji was not first and foremost a Confucian philosopher but he nevertheless came to be seen as a kind of secular Confucian sage who personified the committed life of the scholar. His integrity and wisdom, then, not his outstanding scholarly achievements, led to his being recognized as a “national treasure” (国宝), though he himself rejected such a label.

While the world around him buzzed first with Maoist revolutionary fervor and then with Western-style modernization, Ji Xianlin, identified with the secluded garden campus that is Beijing University, remained committed to his study of the ancient, non-Western past. He devoted his life not to the practical but to historical discovery, and in so doing was adamant in claiming that civilizational values other than those associated with the modern West deserve to be known, celebrated, and even selectively embraced as humanity collectively makes its way forward in time. The steadiness of conviction that informed Ji Xianlin’s life, and the messages he derived from his life’s work, proved highly reassuring during a period of unceasing and disorienting change.

In his humility and seriousness of purpose it is hard to imagine a greater contrast to Michael Jackson, the fallen American cultural symbol. Whereas Jackson forever reinvented himself and never ceased turning his life into spectacle, Ji occupied a well-established scholarly role with grace and distinction. Jackson was all artifice, Ji not the least bit affected. Jackson appears never to have known who he was, Ji to have possessed a remarkable inner compass and knowledge of self. The scholar lived simply, dressed in the clothes of a common worker, and was available, kind and respectful to one and all, regardless of social station. As those themes come up again and again in the articles that appeared after Ji Xianlin’s death I sense in them a nostalgia for the ideal of a life defined by the quest for pure knowledge and self improvement, for an age when those ideals were aspired to by society’s best and brightest.

For Chinese intellectuals Ji Xianlin meant more still. To them he was a hero who used (and so risked) his reputation to speak out on issues of concern to all. Like most of his colleagues, Ji suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, during that period he secretly worked to produce a brilliant Chinese-language translation of the Ramayana from the original Sanskrit, an act of bravery and scholarly devotion for which he later became celebrated. When after the Cultural Revolution he was named to high administrative posts at Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences he became one of the great survivors of the age and a symbol of the indomitable spirit of truth-seeking Chinese intellectuals.

In the mid-1980s Ji Xianlin added to that reputation when he published an essay calling for a new and more favorable appraisal of Hu Shi, who of course had been vilified during the Cultural Revolution. Ji’s point was that whatever Hu’s political mistakes, his contributions to the study of Chinese literature stood on their own and needed to be recognized. Not everything should be politicized, Ji maintained, a message that was widely praised within Chinese intellectual circles at the time. In the late 1990s, with the publication of his widely read and highly acclaimed account of his own experience during the Cultural Revolution, Memoirs from the Cowshed (牛棚杂亿), Ji’s reputation for speaking the truth in a courageous and thoughtful manner was deepened still further.

While it is impossible to know with certainty, it would seem that the Communist Party lavished so much praise on Ji Xianlin upon his death not only because many of its top leaders recognized his scholarly achievements and admired him personally (Wen Jiabao is even said to have referred to Ji as his mentor) but also because in embracing him and what he stood for they were able to communicate to Chinese intellectuals on the eve of the all-important Sixtieth Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China that they share heroes in common, that they speak a common language. Unlike American political leaders, most of whom do not feel compelled to demonstrate any cultural competency whatsoever, top political leaders in China desire to be taken seriously by intellectuals and to display to the public at large that they are not only working to protect and strengthen the country but also that they prize the scholarly custodians of the Chinese past. Culture, history and politics are intertwined. So to bind Ji Xianlin to the political leadership in a clear way, the party press went out of its way to identify Ji as a great Chinese patriot, as a figure who dedicated his life to his people and to his country’s improvement. In these ways it was useful for the Communist Party and its official media organs to mark Ji’s passing and to extol his virtues.

Finally, Ji Xianlin happened to pass at the very moment when the sad and murderous recent ethnic violence in Xinjiang was filling the media in China and around the world. As the fractiousness of contemporary Chinese society, at least one part of it, was on display and impossible to deny (even if its causes will long be debated), and as Party leaders scrambled to contain the damage, an orderly period of mourning for a great man, a great Communist with popular appeal, was an attractive possibility.

And here Ji Xianlin’s worldview and unique scholarly contributions proved particularly meaningful, for one of the things that Ji stood for most powerfully was the idea that, to quote Ji himself: “Cultural exchange is the main driv[ing force] for humankind’s progress. Only by learning from each other’s strong points to make up for shortcomings can people constantly progress, the ultimate target of which is to achieve a kind of Great Harmony.” Not only should the Chinese people admire Ji Xianlin for his great scholarly achievements and his integrity, the official obituaries seemed to suggest, they should also realize that he stood for cultural tolerance, for the idea that only by accepting and interacting with one another can all people (the nation) prosper. Harmony as the goal—something Hu Jintao and Ji Xianlin, the great sage, could agree on.

Timothy Weston teaches in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a participant in the National Committee on US-China Relations’ Public Intellectuals Program and author of The Power of Position: Beijing University, Intellectuals, and Chinese Political Culture, 1898-1929 (UC Press, 2004).

All photos from Xinhua: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


By Daniel A. Bell

Over the last decade or so, there has been a revival of Confucianism. Popular books on Confucianism are best sellers, and official discourse from the government often expresses traditional Confucian values like harmony. What is less well known, however, is the resurgence in interest among academics in China.

Rigorous experiments by psychologists such as Peng Kaiping and Wu Shali show that there are striking cognitive differences between Chinese and Americans, with Chinese more likely to use contextual and dialectical approaches to solving problems. Psychologists Huang Guangguo and Yang Zhongfang from Taiwan and Hongkong advocate the use of traditional Chinese ideas like the “relationism” (guanxizhuyi) and “middle way” [zhongyong zhi dao] for psychological research. Economists such as Shen Hong take the family as the relevant unit of economic analysis and try to measure the economic effect of such values as filial piety. Feminists such as Chan Sin Yee and Li Chengyang compare care ethics and Confucian-style empathy, particularity, and the family as a school of moral education. Theorists of medical ethics such as Fan Ruiping discuss the importance of family-based decision making in medical settings. Those working in the field of business ethics like Huang Weidong research the influence of Confucian values on business practices in China.

Political surveys by political scientists like Shi Tianjian, Chu Yunhan and Zhang Youzong show that attachment to Confucian values has increased during the same period that China has modernized. Sociologists such as Kang Xiaoguang and Sebastien Billioud study the thousands of experiments in education and social living in China that are inspired by Confucian values.

Theorists of international relations such as Yan Xuetong and Xu Jin look to pre-Qin thinkers like Mengzi and Xunzi for foreign policy ideas. And philosophers such as Jiang Qing, Chen Lai, Bai Tongdong, and Chen Ming, draw upon the ideas of great Confucian thinkers of the past for thinking about social and political reform in China. Wang Richang discusses the Confucian foundations of government slogans like “yi ren wei ben” (“the people as the foundation”)

But academics doing research on Confucianism often work within rigid disciplinary boundaries borrowed from Western academia. At a recent conference, “Traditional Values in a Modern Chinese Context: An Interdisciplinary Approach,” which was held at China’s Renmin University in Beijing this June, we tried to break away from this pattern. Leading academics working on Confucian values from different disciplines met to see what they could learn from each other. The conference, which was convened by Shi Tianjian, Kang Xiaoguang, Peng Kaiping, and myself, was supported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and organized by the Non-Profit-Research Center, Renmin University.

Chen Lai pointed to the complexity of measuring Confucian values, which would involve tracing their origin in classic texts, their historical development, as well as evidence of contemporary influence. But most participants still felt that the research was well worth doing, given the importance of Confucianism for understanding Chinese society and furthering social and political reform rooted in local conditions.

As one might expect, there were important areas of disagreement. For one thing, the starting points were often different. The majority sympathized with Confucian values and openly admitted that they begin with normative standpoints, just as liberal thinkers try to promote liberal values. Some claimed that they are doing purely scientific work measuring Confucian values. And some do both: most notably, Kang Xiaoguang both promotes political Confucianism and studies its development in Chinese society.

The participants also identified areas of study that could not be researched fruitfully from other perspectives. Philosophers like Jiang Qing pointed to values like tian and liangzhi that could not be studied by the empirically-minded social sciences, and Confucian educators like Yang Ruqin argued that moral growth is long term and could not be measured in controlled laboratory studies.

But the workshop also led to some fruitful proposals for cross-disciplinary research. The participants noted areas of weakness in their own disciplines that could be usefully addressed from other perspectives. Philosophers and historians could help to refine the questions posed in political attitude surveys. For example, the “Confucian” attitude measured by political scientists that children should blindly obey their parents should be made more conditional if the aim is to measure attachment to Confucian values rooted in classic texts. Philosophers might also suggest questions for research inspired by less well-known Confucian values, such as the idea that listening to different types of music or believing in different views of human nature (性善vs性恶) have different moral consequences during the course of one’s life.

Social scientists, for their part, can help philosophers determine which Confucian values are most effective in contemporary society. For example, the claims that filial piety provides the psychological basis for extending morality to non-family members could be researched by means of longitudinal studies. Psychologists could also identify the key ages that best allow for the memorization of classical texts. Social scientists could also help to study whether morality normally improves with age and whether learning the Confucian classics really does make rulers more morally sensitive and politically effective.

The findings of social scientists might also help Confucian philosophers to determine which Confucian values are particular to societies with a Confucian heritage and which ones might be universalized. For example, the finding that collectivist attitudes are more typical of Chinese subjects in experimental settings means that there will likely be resistance to promoting those values abroad (just as there would be resistance to promoting highly adversarial and interest-based politics in China). Yan Xuetong pointed out that Confucianism won’t be taken seriously abroad unless it is practiced by political leaders at home.

These research questions remain open. What is clear, however, is that academics need the freedom to discuss and publish their ideas and adequate funding to carry out research in order to pursue these questions in fruitful ways. Under the right conditions, China could well develop into a leading center of global learning, with academics researching questions and values hitherto neglected in the West.

Daniel A. Bell is a professor in the Department of Philosophy of Tsinghua University. His latest book is China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society (Princeton University Press, 2008).


Five Things to Know about China’s Links to World’s Fairs and International Expositions

By Susan Fernsebner

The city of Shanghai will be the official host to Expo 2010, an international event celebrating the theme “A Better City, A Better Life,” with an opening celebration next May. As the event’s website and preview videos below reveal, Expo 2010 is intended as an example of a new and shared urban modernity. Visitors will have the opportunity to tour the site personally and, if lacking an opportunity to visit Shanghai next summer, also to take a virtual tour of its grounds online.

As the videos note, Expo 2010 is intended as an event that will fulfill and expand upon the legacy of world expositions while also helping to make the “world feel at home in China.” This endeavor of global exchange amidst the scene of the exposition is one in which China has, in fact, its own lengthy history of participation. An account of important events in this lesser-known history follows…

1. Chinese objects and merchants were both on hand for what is commonly considered the first major exhibition of the modern day. In 1851, a variety of actors displayed Chinese goods at London’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held at the Crystal Palace that summer. While the Qing state did not send an official contingent, at least one Chinese merchant participated alongside Western diplomats and merchants in offering displays of Chinese goods at the grand event, winning a commendation for fine silks.

2. Between 1851 and the First World War, China would participate in at least twenty-eight world’s fairs and expositions including grand events staged at London, Madrid, Paris, Philadelphia, and Vienna, among others.

3. Though originally planning to attend, the Chinese government would withhold official participation in Chicago’s “World’s Columbian Exposition” of 1893 as a protest against the exclusionary Geary Act. The passage of this act in 1892 by the United States Congress renewed restrictions on Chinese immigration and imposed a strict regulation system for Chinese laborers residing in the U.S.

4. In 1904, Prince Pu Lun of the Qing imperial clan would personally attend the St. Louis Exposition and host a grand reception for over three thousand guests at one of the city’s fine hotels that spring. His visit also would be preceded by the reformist critic (and temporary expatriate) Liang Qichao, who toured the exposition grounds during the course of their construction the previous year (this was not the first time Liang Qichao spent time thinking about Expos, as in 1902 he wrote a story that imagined a Chinese international exhibition taking place in Shanghai in the far-off future date of 1962…).

5. China staged its first national fair, the 1910 Nanyang Exposition in the city of Nanjing under the co-sponsorship of the Qing state and independent investors. Intended as an event that would further industrial development and “enlighten the people,” the exposition offered discounted tickets for students and soldiers and included presentations by Japan, the United States, England, and Germany, among other nations. The exposition grounds would also offer multiple theaters, musical arenas, shops, restaurants, and a grand display of over fourteen thousand electric lights. As organizers noted, China had, like other nations around the world, reached a day in which both an education in material things and popular amusement itself was indeed “a certain necessity.”

Susan Fernsebner, an associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington, is currently completing a book-length study on the history of China’s participation in world’s fairs and expositions.

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After a few weeks of vacation, China Beat is back to posting (though we considered making an 8 percent reduction in our future posts in honor of the UC furlough, we’ll just be back to business as usual). Even so, it is still summer and a few contributors have been using the time to publish in other venues.

Last Saturday, Ken Pomeranz mentioned a few of his recent publications, including this one at the New Left Review.

Jeff Wasserstrom recently reviewed Lisa See’s new book, Shanghai Girls for Time Asia. (We ran an interview with See this spring, which you can read here.)

The new issue of Journal of Democracy also features a piece by Wasserstrom, “Middle-Class Mobilization,” which revisits some issues he’s written about for China Beat and The Nation. This issue also includes pieces from Yang Guobin (a China Beat contributor) as well as Elizabeth Perry and Andrew J. Nathan. Journal of Democracy makes a few articles from each issue free; this issue the free-access articles are “The Massacre’s Long Shadow” by Jean Philippe-Béja and “Authoritarian Impermanence” by Andrew J. Nathan. (The other essays can be accessed through Project Muse, for those with library access.)

Here is a short selection from Wasserstrom’s piece:

I worry that some foreign observers will jump to the wrong conclusion when thinking about Chinese middle-class protests, especially if we see more and larger ones in the years to come: namely, that they signal the imminent arrival of the sort of democratic transition that has so often been predicted for China since the 1980s. When protesters took to the streets of Beijing twenty years ago, with the fall of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos fresh in many minds, some thought that the CCP would be toppled by something akin to the “people power” rising in Manila. Then, after Solidarity won elections in Poland and the Soviet system unraveled, some outsiders predicted that China would follow in the footsteps of one or another East European country. All it would take would be some “X factor” or other, perhaps the appearance of a reform-minded official with bold ideas or the rise of a charismatic organizer able to bring workers and intellectuals together.

More recently, while the search for a Chinese counterpart to Mikhail Gorbachev or Lech Wa³êsa has not been abandoned completely, one “X factor” on which some have begun to bet has been a restive middle class. Once an authoritarian country has undergone a dramatic period of economic development, members of the middle class will demand more of a say not only in how they make and spend money, but in how they are governed. The CCP, according to this logic, could end up facing the same pressure to share power that its erstwhile rival, the Nationalist Party (KMT), faced and eventually gave in to on Taiwan. It is easy to see the appeal of the thought that China, a country which has so often surprised us of late, is still destined to have a future that will resemble some other formerly authoritarian country’s recent past. Yet there are important flaws in this mode of thinking. How justified, for instance, is the assumption that because a number of Leninist regimes fell between 1989 and 1991, communist rule everywhere must be teetering?

In Central and Eastern Europe and many parts of the old USSR, communist rule was essentially a foreign imposition. In China, as in Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea, the communist regime has at least some basis for grounding its claim to legitimacy in its role in a struggle not to impose but to throw off foreign domination. Then too, one must account for the cautionary lessons that many Chinese (ordinary citizens as well as rulers) have drawn from watching the post-communist travails of places such as the former Yugoslavia and the former USSR. Have the economic hardships, internal wars, social upheavals, and loss of respect in the world that such countries have had to bear made them seem like models for emulation in Chinese eyes, or worrisome examples of sad blunders best avoided?

And here is a short selection from Yang Guobin’s article, “Online Activism”:

One reason why contentious activities thrive in online communities is that controversy is good for business—disagreement raises interest, and with it, site traffic. Within limits, websites encourage users to participate in contentious interactions. Some sites strategically promote and guide controversial discussions in order to generate traffic. Behind this business strategy of promoting user participation is the logic of nonproprietary social production in today’s Internet economy.

Internet consumers are Internet-content producers too. When they post on message boards, write blogs, upload videos, or protest online, they contribute directly to the Internet economy. Chinese Internet users are active and prolific content producers. A January 2008 nationwide survey shows that about 66 percent of China’s 210 million Internet users have contributed content to one or more sites. More than 35 percent indicated that in the past six months they had either posted or responded to messages in online forums. About 32 percent had uploaded pictures, while 18 percent had uploaded films, television programs, or other video materials.

A third important condition is the creativity of Chinese netizens. Generally speaking, netizens try to stay within legal bounds and refrain from directly challenging state power. As skilled observers of Chinese politics, they understand which issues allow more leeway for discussion, and when. To a certain extent, the four types of online activism reflect netizens’ strategic responses to the political opportunities for pursuing different issues. If the cultural, social, and nationalist varieties of activism online are more widespread than political activism, that is partly because the former types enjoy more political legitimacy. As in street protests, cyberprotests directly challenging the state are much more constrained than those that can be based either on existing laws or else on claims about justice and morality that do not touch directly on questions of state authority.

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