My Internet is essentially down; here are some things from the Internet

Last week, our home Internet began crapping out. Everything took ages to load, to the point where they just didn’t load. I accidentally did something to the router and had to call a repairman to come over. Ever since then, Google barely works and I can’t connect to my VPN anymore. I don’t know what my ISP is doing, but i) they don’t speak English; ii) I don’t know anything about computers; and iii) China. In other words, this is probably a mystery that I’ll never be able to figure out.

Anyway, two China stories that have been making the rounds:

1) The story of Wen Jiabao and family’s billions: In the vein of Bloomberg’s expose of Xi Jiping’s fortune, the Times published this bombshell that got it blocked in China, too. Some people feel that this is old news; some people think it’s a big, big juicy scoop. They are both right. Officials are corrupt everywhere, whether by design or simply by virtue of being in power, so of course China’s prime minister would have dubious claims to money. But it’s cynical to just accept it without knowing exactly how any politician came into all that money. After reading the Times article, you can judge for yourself whether shady deals were made or not. It’s a shame that Chinese journalists won’t or can’t do this kind of reporting; perhaps it would better help the Party in their so-called “fight” against corruption if people knew exactly what’s happening. As the Times article points out, most times politicians don’t make their fortunes off of bribes and hong baos (the red envelopes of cash), which China already has laws against. In reality, it’s a lot more complicated.

2) The story of a former “polisher”: Eveline Chao writes in Foreign Policy about what it’s like to be a journalist in China. Her story accords with my experiences:

Unlike my American counterparts, however, I was offered red envelopes stuffed with cash at press junkets, sometimes discovered footprints on the toilet seats at work, and had to explain to the Chinese assistants more than once that they could not turn in articles copied word for word from existing pieces they found online. I also liaised with our government censor.

These things are what I remember most from my days at China.org.cn. We didn’t have our very own government censor, but censored we were. For instance, my boss once complained to me about my use of “arrested”, as in someone was arrested. I couldn’t use that word, or “detained” or “brought in for questioning”, without the police’s side of the story. Such is the sensitivity of the Chinese.

The article also does a great job of pointing out what censorship entails in China. It is not a blatant excising of references or a complete fabrication of events. Yes, there are some amateurish propaganda attempts, as well as articles that simply don’t accord with reality. But in many ways, Chinese censorship is more sophisticated:

English-language content isn’t censored as much either, since only a small fraction of the Chinese population reads English. … We couldn’t say that a businessperson came back to China from the United States after “Tiananmen,” but we could say “June 1989,” knowing that our readers knew the significance of the month. We couldn’t say “the Cultural Revolution” but could write “the late 1960s and early 1970s,” to allude to then Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong launching his disastrous campaign that sent millions of intellectuals to the countryside. Writing that a company planned to expand into “foreign markets like Taiwan and Korea” was forbidden because it suggested that Taiwan was a separate country from China, but we could say “overseas markets,” since, according to Snow, Taiwan literally is over a body of water from the mainland.

What is most true of her story, though, is her depiction of her censor, Snow. Every Chinese person knows what is sensitive, what can and can’t be published, how sensitive things can perhaps be phrased. Most of all, they know that their real thoughts, usually the opposite of what is published, cannot be said outright in the media, even though it may be said in conversation. It’s as if they were taught this in school, though of course they’re not — because these things can’t be officially acknowledged. And they all have the same reaction as Snow: That’s China!

No major insight here, just anecdotes to add to the general observation that the Chinese are willing to put up with a lot, with or without details of what they are putting up with.

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