Photo from Cory M. Grenier’s photostream
Given the foul called by Twitter’s CEO at a press conference at SXSW last week and Google’s “99.9% certain” pulldown of its G.cn product amid China’s refusal to lift censorship requirements, it’s no big shock that the West has gotten its collective panties in a proverbial twist. Unsurprisingly, some of the coverage from the mainstream media has become a little, well, paranoid. Read below to learn about an exciting new sport:
The art of China-watching is imprecise at best, and hardly deserves yet to be called Sinology. The explanation, or blame, for this often frustrating situation lies mainly with the way the Chinese conduct their affairs. To say the Chinese have a penchant for secrecy is almost an understatement.
Twitter’s co-founder came out fighting against said secrecy at SXSW: “The Internet is a tidal wave that is going to be impossible for anyone to keep out.” Indeed, the impermeability of the Great Firewall has created a sort of “information prison,” leaving ordinary Chinese citizens unable to update their friends and families as to which fast food they’re enjoying, raise animals in Farmville or even indulge in a little pornography in the comfort of their own homes. And what can be said for Beijing political season?
Each time a new job opens up in China, it evidently becomes a political nightmare just to get a small group of people to agree on who should fill it. Most Chinese, even those in officialdom, can at best take only wild guesses as to who sits in what job until the appointments are announced by the Chinese press.
Politicians threatening reporters, non-corrupt officials and environmental policy transparency, oh my! In spite of recent reports from both in and outside of China that government procedures are becoming more and more open, speculation is still abound that everything here remains rigged, rulled by “guanxi” and fancy cars. Even officials aren’t immune:
Because the Chinese people, and even many officials, are often kept in the dark about domestic politics, the usual problems of obtaining clandestine information about denied areas are magnified in the case of China. Officials abroad are often as confused about domestic developments as western observers are.
Indeed, as Reuters notes, “management of the yuan is shrouded in secrecy.” While it’s speculated that the yuan-dollar peg may sooner rather than be released, the mechanism and timing of said release is anybody’s guess. Expats should feel especially deceived by this turn of events: the next time you transfer money home to your bank account, you could inadvertedly end up with significantly more dollars or pounds than you’d originally planned on.
Logic, or common sense, is sometimes the China watcher’s only tool for assessing the veracity of a piece of new information. The problem is that the Chinese, who are not without common sense themselves, can often disregard it when they choose to.
Fresh from the pen of “one of China’s best-known investigative reporters” has emerged saga of contaminated vaccines, one which claimed the lives of several children in Shaanxi province more than three years ago and has only recently come to light. Still, ever-secretive Xinhua reports only through a filter which glorifies government, quoting Li Shukai, the deputy director of Shaanxi’s Health Department as saying that allegations against the his hospital were “basically not true.”
On those rare occasions when there is solid information about a major development, the often divided China watching community can usually agree on its implications and on Chinese motivations. It is not hard to understand the Chinese; it is just hard to get information about them.
Specifically, it’s hard to get a definitive “true” or “false” for the following: Google is leaving April 10; the Yuan will soon be allowed to appreciate; Twitter’s coming here at some point; the Chinese media is free; the Chinese government is as corrupt as its always been.
The confusion felt by the Western media is great enough that we were able to trick you into thinking the article we extensively quoted above was recent.
Surprisingly, it was first printed in 1975 and de-classified by the CIA in 1994. Consider it an early April Fool’s.