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Cyber-assault on Hong Kong Umbrella Movement

9 Mar

Here’s a striking graphical account of the cyber-spying and online attacks activists faced during Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement last year. It also describes how news about the HK protests was first blacked out then altered in the mainland. This is from January but better late than never.


China’s murky state

30 Jan

The weather has been mostly good in Beijing, but there’s something else afoul in the country recently.

The government’s ideological-fueled crackdown on liberties continues to grow, so much so that it might be hard to keep track of them. Internet censorship took a big step recently when the authorities blocked Gmail in late December and then last week blocked mainstream VPNs (Virtual Private Networks, which allow users to access the Internet through private links) on Apple iPhones and iPads.

Then this morning, I woke up to read that the education minister came out and told Chinese universities to stop using textbooks that “promote Western values” or criticize socialism. University academics have also been told to stop criticizing the government, while a province even mulled plans to install CCTV in university classrooms to monitor professors over the past year. Journalists and artists have also been urged (warned) to adhere to Marxist values while accepting tighter control and scrutiny. Churches and human rights lawyers have faced crackdowns of their own as well.

I’ve said before I don’t see things going too well for the country, especially as its economy continues slowing and its government goes on cracking down on everything left, right and center, and spouting Marxist rhetoric. What I’m unsure about is whether the leadership is doing these things because it feels invincible or is desperate.This article sums up why China might be feeling a bit vulnerable, which is indeed facing a host of challenges.

Yet another hospital attack took place, resulting in a doctor dying along with his assailant after both fell down an elevator shaft in a Hebei hospital earlier this week. There is absolutely no excuse for attacking a doctor and killing him. The hospital’s doctors and nurses then went on a march through the streets the next day to mourn their colleague and highlight the lack of security. This has been a recurring problem that has happened across the nation even in Beijing.

In what was a bit of a shocker, a government regulator came out last week and blasted e-commerce giant Alibaba, which launched the world’s largest-ever IPO last September, over the prevalence of counterfeit items on its market websites. Alibaba, owned by China’s second-richest man Jack Ma, hit back at the regulator, the SAIC, with some unusually strong words of its own. This is very interesting since it pits a very wealthy and well-known entrepreneur against a strong organization of the central government. As this article points out, similar clashes have happened in the past and the government has usually come out on top.
The tiff seems to have settled a bit but this raises the question about whether the government will start cracking down on its own large companies, as it has already done on major foreign companies such as drug giants, auto companies and Microsoft and Qualcomm. The regulator has picked a very late time to release its critical report, which it had completed by last July but claimed it had held off from releasing public due to not wanting to affect Alibaba’s IPO. Alibaba’s share prices have dropped significantly this past week after the report. Alibaba’s Taobao site, which lets vendors sell directly to individual consumers, does have a lot of fakes so there is some merit to the SAIC’s report but this is the first time it has openly criticized Alibaba, which many consider a massive and rising star in China’s private sector.

Crackdown on rights lawyers

18 Jan

Here’s a link to another bleak article about the mainland’s legal system, this one focusing on human rights lawyers, of whom 7 are languishing in jails. The situation is certainly not good especially with a rough 2014 and a president who feels powerful enough to crack down on everything and everyone. While in general, the harsh treatment of lawyers is not surprising in China given its stance towards human rights, the disturbing situation is that this is a major part of how the party maintains such control over Chinese society. Maintaining a self-serving legal system, enforcing the law arbitrarily and jailing any form of dissent whether it be lawyers, journalists or activists, the party guarantees that no form of organized opposition can develop. Indeed, one of the jailed lawyers Xu Zhiyong was jailed in January for criticizing the government and advocating for political reform as a founder of group New Citizens Movement. This piece has more about Xu.

Some choice quotes from the article:

China’s leaders are far from governing the country under a system based on the rule of law. Instead, they are paying lip service to the idea in order to give legitimacy to the Communist Party’s rule while building a legal system that serves their political interests.

“China’s embattled rights lawyers, however, have refused to be coerced into submission. On the contrary, they are increasingly challenging authorities for failing to practice the respect for the law that they preach. More young lawyers are joining the movement.”

“Finding light in China’s darkness”

24 Oct

A poignant commentary by Chinese writer Yan Lianke about “finding light in China’s darkness.”

Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement overview

17 Oct

For the past month, Hong Kong has experienced an incredible street movement that sprung up to demand open candidacy for the 2017 chief executive election. It started with a week-long student boycott and protest, then continued into a public occupation that took place in several key sites including outside the main government offices. It captured the world’s attention and admiration and China’s disdain and heavyhanded censorship, but more importantly it seems to have forced Hong Kongers to think deeply about their society and its problems. The movement seems to have decreased in the past few days with HK’s chief stating his administration will meet with the protesters, though the latest controversy involved police brutality earlier this week. The protesters, many of whom are university students, may not be victorious in getting what they wanted in the short term, but they have proved an inspiration to many and shown that a new generation of HKers do care a lot about society rather than shopping.

Here are a few key links to help you understand the protests and some interesting aspects.

The BBC covered the protests quite well, providing a lot of indepth reporting and analysis.  Actually they covered it so well that they were blocked in China just this week, while Instagram was blocked from the very beginning of the protests. On the mainland, the HK protests were first ignored, then censored, and finally covered but in a very slanted way. In addition, mainlanders who expressed support for the protests were also arrested and detained.

Political reform and full democracy are widely known to be the main stated goal of the protesters, but the problems with Hong Kong lie beyond politics and this article provides a very good take on the property curse that afflicts HK. Home prices have skyrocketed, while good jobs are inadequate and the economy has not diversified enough, meaning that many young HKers see a dismal future, one that is reinforced by the current political system where business and property tycoons have enormous influence.

The protests became famous worldwide, helped by the use of a popular symbol – the humble umbrella. As a result, the protests have been termed the Umbrella Movement or Revolution (the latter I don’t quite agree with).

While the main sites were led by students outside the HK government offices in Admiralty, protesters in Mongkok, a working class district in Kowloon, created their own feisty protest zone, one which involved a more diverse mix of people than the Admiralty site.

A lot of Western media, politicians and observers showed support for HK protesters, but so did Taiwan where members of the public and even the president himself spoke out about democracy. This cross-strait support is not surprising in a general context, as ties have grown between young activists who detest and fear China’s government and its increasing influence. For many Taiwanese who cherish their democracy and abhor the mainland’s system, it was natural to support and be sympathetic towards HKers striving for democracy as well in the face of mainland opposition.

Taiwan’s toilet issue and more

10 Sep

Here’s a very good critique of the issue of toilet paper disposal in Taiwan, that encompasses problems with Taipei’s infrastructure and appearance, and inequalities in resources between Taipei and the rest of Taiwan. In Taiwan, as in parts of East Asia, specifically Hong Kong and mainland China, toilet paper is not flushed down the toilets after usage, but thrown into bins, presumably because plumbing and sewage systems cannot handle the paper. While true for much of mainland China, including Beijing, it may not be so in Taiwan, which is where the writer makes valid points, from wondering why the plumbing infrastructure can’t be upgraded to handle the dastardly toilet paper, to why Taiwanese don’t think about this issue too much. It’s not only about disposing of toilet paper of course, the same critical questions posed could be asked about many aspects of society and behaviors in Taiwan.

Beijing’s growing pains

5 Sep

Beijing is a massive city of over 20 million, the most heavily populated one in the world’s most populated nation, and its population is still growing. Beijing is a magnet for all kinds of people from around the nation, whether it be white-collar professionals, media people, artists or hairdressers. It’s no surprise that this has become a serious headache for city leaders and residents, who have to deal with things like terrible traffic and overcrowded subways and hospitals. In terms of things like air quality, traffic and community life, Beijing can be downright haphazard and life is not easy for a lot of regular people.
That’s why the huge population is also an indictment of the resource inequality in the nation, as Beijing, being the nation’s capital, has education, medical care, transit and other social resources that heavily outweigh those of surrounding provinces especially Hebei.

Beijing’s population issues are also an indication of mismanagement within the city. After all, Tokyo, as the article says, has a larger population but is renowned for its efficiency. Having vibrant satellite towns and districts is a natural aspect of many major cities (Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, Taipei, and so on), but not so for Beijing. While Beijing covers a huge area, it’s fair to say a large proportion of its people is concentrated in the central areas within the inner ring roads and so are its social resources, companies and government offices. The government is trying to move a few industries to Hebei as well as get some people to move out, but it is hard to tell if this will lead to significant changes since the more attractive resources and businesses will still stay in Beijing.

China’s urban planning issues

27 Aug

This Guardian article provides strong critiques of modern Chinese urban planning, which the writer says is heavily based on replicating American cities in the last few decades, which turned out to be a mistake. These include the prioritizing of cars over bicycles, the construction of sprawling suburbs with large homes, and constant construction of business and high-end residential buildings that are not necessarily needed or effective.
There are two separate but related issues here- one is the local middle-class’ desire to live a Western lifestyle, with cars, big standlone houses and lawns, and the other is that local governments, meaning provinces, cities, counties, all depend heavily on selling off land to earn money. As such, there’s a constant cycle of selling land to developers, who then construct waves of apartment and business towers, and then finding more land on the edges of cities and towns, which often requires seizing agricultural land. As the writer says “Local bureaucrats have financed their operations to a large extent by hawking property to developers, who in turn expand the suburbs farther and farther from the urban core. Last year, land sales accounted for 55% of local governments’ revenues, according to China Daily.”

As such, it’s easy to understand the why behind China’s ceaseless and flawed urbanization. There’s nothing careless about the way how urban planning has unfolded; it’s been a deliberate process.


Tragic case of a doctor’s murder by a patient, one of many in China

23 Aug

China’s medical system has serious problems in meeting people’s needs and the most serious symptom is a troubling spate of murders and attacks on doctors and nurses by patients. New Yorker has an indepth look at a particular tragic case where a young doctor was killed in his hospital by a frustrated patient who’d been turned away after repeated visits, something that has happened frequently over the past few years. It’s a good article that gives a profound account of the incident and a clear overview of the China’s health system and its problems, including a spate of attacks on doctors and nurses.

China’s society has become so full of suspicion, anger and frustration that people often resort to violent means to address their problems. It’s no different for shoddy medical treatment, whether real or perceived. Murders of doctors and attacks on hospital staff have become common, but the actual statistics, as mentioned in the New Yorker piece, are still shocking – A survey by the China Hospital Management Association found that violence against medical personnel rose an average of twenty-three per cent each year between 2002 and 2012. By then, Chinese hospitals were reporting an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital.

Some of the underlying reasons for the murder are common problems that afflict hospitals across the country – inadequate facilities, overworked doctors, inefficient treatment and excessive bureaucracy.
Facilities, staff and resources are unequally distributed, resulting in too few good treatment available to people, resulting in serious overcrowding by patients and overwork for doctors and patients. The medical system is one of China’s most serious social issues that needs to be fixed before China could ever really become a so-called superpower.

The end of the article is telling: I asked Wang Dongqing whom he blamed for his son’s death. “I blame the health-care system,” he said. “Li Mengnan was just a representative of this conflict. Incidents like this have happened many times. How could we just blame Li?

Ugyhur-Hui overview, biking from Xinjiang to Tibet, and a borderlands book

22 Aug

Amid turbulence in Xinjiang, here’s a comparison of China’s two main Muslim groups, the Hui and Uyghurs. There are major factors that show exactly why the two are treated and fare differently in modern Chinese society. It’s not very hard why – the Hui are ethnic Han Chinese and speak Mandarin, meaning they look and speak just like the majority of Chinese. Unlike the Uyghur, they also don’t constitute a single group or culture, though they do have their own autonomous region- Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Even then, they have no separatist or anti-party sentiments, plus Ningxia is tiny.

The Silk Road has gotten a lot of attention recently because it seems China wants a resurgence of this route, or concept, for trade linking China to Central Asia and further afield to Europe. Besides economics, the Silk Road is famous thanks to one intrepid European traveler Marco Polo. Coming to the present, few people have biked along the Silk Road in modern times, but that’s what these folks did, from Xinjiang southwards to Tibet (which is not exactly part of the Silk Road though it is still a vast frontier). It is as hard and desolate as it sounds and more.

The Uyghurs are however, just one of China’s many ethnic minorities who live in places far from the core heavily populated areas. Not by coincidence, these people often live on the borders, far from the center, ranging from southwest Yunnan to northeast China to Xinjiang and Tibet. There’s a new book out which details these peoples and places, called The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.