Reading Round-Up, 3/30/2011

• 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?”

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