Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gubernatorial Candidate Flexes Muscles to High School Student

A youth basketball team coach was suspended by one week for inappropriate post-game altercation with a referee.

According to Frederick News-Post, while the 17 year-old referee was changing shoes after the game, Coach Young walked to him, and hovered over him for a moment, before started blaming calls made by the referee during the game. Young exploded when the young referee told him to 'get off my face'.

Young told the newspaper, "I'm old school, and when someone disrespects me, I let my feelings be known."

A reader drumdigger1976 commented, 'Blaine is ...... a talented politician like Sarah Palin in that he knows how to fire up an ignorant crowd, but he has no real ideas and, more importantly, no real moral fiber. This is shown through his decisions to engage with prostitutes, drink heavily, gamble heavily, curse at minors, throw his political weight around, etc. I really have no idea why anyone would vote for someone with such a clear lack of decency and zero moral compass.'

Blain Young recently kicked off his campaign for the Maryland Governor with a initial fund of $447,000. Young is the current County Commissioner for Frederick County, after a short stint at the State delegate. Young's father was the mayor of Frederick City, and now a State Senator. Young's wife is the alderman of Frederick City.

When the story was first broke out by the newspaper, Young played victim, until the kid's mother came out to tell what had happened. Now Young 'decided' to call the kid to apologize. Not far from where Young stands, there was the 'Macaca' moment, which stumbled George Allen's presidential bid.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blooking of Github Led to Whitehouse Petition

Github become the newest major programming websites blocked by China's Great FireWall (GFW), following glories of sites such as SourceForge, Python, etc.

Concerned citizens filed a petition at the Whitehouse. The online petition asked the President to deny entry to the US to those "who help internet censorship, builders of Great Firewall in China." The Whitehouse pledge to respond to a petition if it can generate 100,000 signatures within 2 weeks. This petition collected about 3,000 votes in its first day.

Demanding an immigration policy change from the Whitehouse might be a long fetch. There are, actually, easier ways to do just the same, if the movement can gain the sympathy from the visa interviewers at the US's Beijing Embassy.

The embassy should be provided with a list of most notoriously active GFW researchers. Individual interviewer may block anyone who appears on that list from entering US. Per US laws, the interview agent must exercise her own judgement in each case, regardless of directives from her boss or other government agencies.

The GFW is the most extensive and most advanced content filtering and management system in the world. It is estimated thousands of researchers are working on this project on daily basis. Most of them keep a low profile. Few ever show their pride on the Wall in public, with the exception of two persons so far.

The first one is of course 'the Father of the GFW', Mr. Fang Binxing. In an interview, Mr. Fang said he truly believe the Wall is an important tool that benefits the Communists government. Because the government is for the people, thus it also benefits the people.

The second person is an associate professor Mr. Han Weili in Fudan University. The Wall is rarely discussed in public. When Professor Han posted a job ad for research assistants on the internal bulletin board system (BBS), several students questioned how could he do this in his conscience. Some commented that how would anyone get involved to fix their resume later on (so that not to offend any potential employers whom with no exception must have been victimized by the research). Han boasted his 12 years experience on the Wall, and stated that he only interested in the technology. A student pointed out there is a difference when you already knew how your technology would be deployed (against human mankind) but still work on it.

Mr. Han Weili should be found a spot on the list, no question about that.

Dr. Han's research activities can be viewed at his university homepage.

On an unrelated note, it seems the Great FireWall conducted an MITM attack targeting the Github. It is not clear whether the attack is sponsored by the government, or is a personal act launched by a few operators (Dr. Han). Visitors within China was cheated from a self-issued certificate when they tried to access the Github websites. Chinese government and GFW operators have the authority to issue security certificates with their root certificate privilege. The attack lasted about an hour. The fake certificate was captured and displayed at many security sites and blogs. While it is impractical to yank the root certificate controlled by Chinese government, concerned individuals should make an effort to remove it from their own computers.

Update: After the petition, the GFW Dr. Han issued a statement in which he denied any involvement in the GFW project ever. The Seagull found a screenshot of the exchanges between the GFW Dr. and a Fudan University student luosheng. Anyone reads Chinese can see with your own eyes.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Science: Gened Up For Success

Most modern genetic research steer around any discussion that may imply any correlation between a person's likelihood to succeed in a society and his genome, until recently.

In a paper published in the Leadership Quarterly, researchers 'address leadership emergence and the possibility that there is a partially innate predisposition to occupy a leadership role.' In plain English, if your body holds rs4950, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) residing on a neuronal acetylcholine receptor gene (CHRNB3), you are on your way to become a leader, regardless of your education experience or your parents's social status.

In today's politically correct scientific community, it is inappropriate to suggest genetic differences between two groups. For example, scholars recognize the biological difference between men and women (they have different reproductive organs, to begin with), and they even recognize some genes difference may contribute to higher risk of certain diseases. However, they do not want to comment on whether some of the genetic difference may contribute to differences in developing or processing certain skills. For example, whether one group is more likely to make logical decisions, or whether one group is more likely to turn out good drivers.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Slava Mikhaylov, Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler. Born to lead? A twin design and genetic association study of leadership role occupancy. The Leadership Quarterly, 2013; 24 (1): 45 DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2012.08.001

Readers shouldn't be surprised when asked for a voluntary biological sample by future employers, as having been forecast-ed in movie Gattaca (1997). There could be kiosk booth along vending machines, which is labeled, 'leave us a hair, we may have a job for you (we do not share your genome information with 3rd party).'

A separated research identified genes that are responsible for a particular useful engineering skill: digging advanced tunnels. Apparently it is safer when we were not talking about human subjects, thus the appearance in Nature: Behaviour genes unearthed, Nature 493, 284 (17 January 2013).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Scariest Scene

Journalist turned writer Li Chengpeng held a book signing event on Sunday in Beijing to promote his new essay collection 'Everyone in the World Knows'. This was the second leg of his campaign for the new book. Last week in Chengdu, he was told not to say a word during the entire process. He was even denied to say 'Good morning' at the beginning of the event. He also was not allowed to say 'thank you' to his readers. That was a scary scene.

In his book, he pointed out absurdities in some seemingly normal every life. It encourages readers to reflect on simple facts, and tell right from wrong. It is not political, not even toughing any ongoing events. However, it tries to bring out people's own judgement and feeling, independent from politics.

Readers lined up for 3 hours to get book signed. It is a very cold winter day, single digit in Fahrenheit. It is also a 'crazy bad' smog day, with PM10 number shooting 1,000.

Half way through, one Maoist punched Li when he was signing for a reader, then disappeared. There were dozens of uniformed police and security at the scene to monitor Li and intimidate readers. Police did not do anything to stop the attack or the attacker. It was a scary scene.

Towards the end, another Maoist threw a chef's knife at Li. The knife barely missed Li. This time, the attacker was subdued by readers, and handed over to police. The attacker was let go by the police, no charge was filed. It was a scary scene.

However, the most scariest scene of all, was that over 1,000 readers showed up in that police trap, in a prohibitive cold and polluted day to support Li, with over 7,000 book signed. Frankly, it's not that a great writing, or even not some great subjects to be read. There was nothing really intriguing, provoking, or even any where sensational. Li himself is a soft-spoken thinker advocating for evolution rather than revolution. Li campaigned for a lower level delegate two years ago. However, when the Party passed a message of disapproval, he immediately abolished his campaign. Over 1,000 readers showed up in defiance, despite police harassment and harsh weather, only because Li was perceived to be a person with value. Over one thousand ordinary people waited more than three hours outdoor to support a fairly moderate writer, just because it was 'a different voice'. It's a vivid testimony on how hard people's resentment has been looking for a vent.

That, is the most scariest scene.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Remember Aaron Swartz

From the "Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz"

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

The Seagull, along with almost every other programmers in this world, is saddened by the pointless loss of a truly gifted talent, one who loves this world with his tireless efforts to contribute the knowledge base and to care for the general people. However, what bothers the Seagull most are:

  • The sole reason of his death seems to be a result of a pointless prosecution jointly conducted by the US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and the MIT.

  • After scrutinizing the case documents, there is no 'hacking' involved, whatsoever. The public wouldn't have the technical expertise to tell the difference between an access and a hack. And the whole crime case with 14 charges was built upon the assumption of public/jury of your peers's inability to tell.

  • It's unclear which way the trail would go, had the case seen its day in the court. However, the power of prosecutorial intimidation is mighty enough to crush a talent of our time.

  • The US justice system did this one year after the British government apologized for the death of Alan Turing, 38 years too late.

  • The attitude of 'I am right (by my book), so I'm right to nuke you' that dominates our time.

The Seagull, a small time programmer, demands an answer and accountability from the prosecutor, the judge and the justice system as well as the MIT.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Behind the Curtain of the Tearoom

A Twitter user revealed his experience after returned from a Tea-Date. Police often summon political dissidents to a tea-drinking appointment in their first offence, before harsher enforcing measure would be involved.

Recently, after hinting support to Southern Weekend's fighting for freedom in journalism, entrepreneur Kai-Fu Lee, real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and famous actress Annie Yi all were summoned to have tea with police. Among all tea-drinkers, Lee is the only person to have ever even brought up the experience afterwards. In fact, Lee posted a picture of the tea set in defiance (taking picture is not allowed). It is a very nice tea set. Lee, a renowned scientist in artificial intelligence, and former senior Global VP at Mircosoft, and first CEO of Google China, is not a nobody that police can easily mess up with everyday. Others were not as lucky. Protesters including many students reported being stripped and locked up. Veteran rights activists wrote about being beaten and scolded. However, Lee was not specific on his encounter with the police, but rather announced that effectively immediately he would only talk about weekdays (not Weekend), and that he would only mention East, West and North (not South).

We may, though, figure out what actually happened behind the door of the tearoom, thanks to Twitter which is beyond the reach of Chinese Internet Cops.

Twitter user xddcc shared his tea-drinking experience, which he later categorized as a hell-chat. XDDCC is a cartoonist and illustrator. He was summoned because his postings on Tibetan issues. In addition to routine questionings and educating, he was asked to draw a cartoon. It can be anything he likes to draw. The political police "just want to see how good he is", quote and unquote. So he drew a cartoon for them. Then he was allowed to leave.

In many cases, people were summoned to meet the political police for no obvious reasons. There is no intel to be extracted. The purpose is simple: we ask you come, you must come, regardless how polite we were when we asked you; we ask you to dance, you dance, even if we are not interested in dancing. We can make you do that because we know you will comply.

Perhaps, Lee wrote them a beautiful piece of code to examine the boundaries of an array. Perhaps, Yi sang one of her most popular songs. It's not a burden to them at all. It's actually what they do best. However, the point is: you do it when we tell you to do it; and you stop when we say stop.

Everyone looks to do what they do best. However, there is nothing more humiliating than having to do what you do best in a specified place at a specified time to a specified people. Did you have the courage to refuse? Will you have the courage to tell?

Having spoken for the Southern Weekend, and after learned of Annie Yi being summoned for the tea appointment by political police, actress Li Bingbing posted a photo of a tea set on her Weibo indicating she would not be intimated by an invitation to the tearoom.

Li was not foreign to police appointments. In her 2009 movie Feng Sheng, Li played a role of a government employee who was under suspicion of leaking key information. In the movie, Li was invited to a tearoom appointment with a detective Takeda (played by Xiaoming Huang). During the interview, no question was asked. The detective was simply curious on how precisely beautiful Li's body was. He asked Li to strip down, then used a range of instruments such as ruler, vernier caliper, micrometer and compasses to carefully measure every aspect of her body.

In the movie, Li's role was known for her beauty. The detective told Li that he wanted to study Li's beauty himself, therefore he needed to collect quantitative data from Li's body. The detective did not have to fully complete his work before Li mentally collapsed. Regardless how proud and confident Li was about her own body, making her to present it in the tearoom had been proved to be the most effective way to crush any dignity in her mind. The detective came to the conclusion that Li was innocent, because a career spy would be able to hold on longer.

Is Li Bingbing ready to face the challenge in real life? How far will she go to prove her innocence?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Global Reach of Chinese Censorship

Tech in Asia reported that 'sensitive phrases' such as the name of the newspaper having an issue with the Guangdong Provincial Propaganda Department Southern Weekend were being filtered on global scale by WeChat, aka. Weixin, the No. 1 popular messaging app in the world. Weixin is a cross-platform product by Chinese company Tensent (HKG: 0700).

According to Tech in Asia's tests, messages containing the phrase were blocked not only inside China, but also when both ends of communications were outside China.

A couple of days back in the height of the New Capital Daily incident, it was reported that Internet cops work in the operation room of Sina Weibo (Twitter like micro-blog). Major Internet service providers have permanent offices for Internet cops. However, it's rare for them to directly work at terminals in the operation rooms.

Taiwan's Ma Ying-Jeou administration suffered collateral damage when the opposition Party questioned his policy to boost ties to the regime on mainland.

Although the idea of a unified China roots deeply in culture, tradition and people's hearts, the former Chairwoman of the pro-independent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Ms. Tsai Ing-wen enjoys great popularity among Chinese online communities. Chinese people on mainland were amazed when they watched Ms. Tsai gave a graceful conceding speech after she lost to incumbent pro-mainland President Mr. Ma. This time, Chinese were pleased to hear Ms. Tsai stated unwavering support to the demand of a free press. Many said the mainland should not destroy the great political system that Taiwanese people were lucky to live in.

Hong Kong's leadership, Mr. CY Leung who is hand-picked by the central government, is also facing a set back as pro-democracy groups in the legislature launched a symbolic impeach process.

China built mega data warehouses, aimed to win global cloud service contracts. It's unclear how western companies and individuals feel if they know their documents were stored and processed inside China boundary.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

This May Not Be It

In the 2003 movie The Recruit, senior agent Walter Burke's tagline was 'In the CIA, nothing is what it seems.'

It might be the case of recent conflicts between news outlets and the Propaganda Department.

It's not Spring 1989, when the country was nervously weathering an unprecedented inflation, when political corruption was attributed as the cause of all adversities. People was questioning the leadership of the country, and uncertain about future of Communism. This time it's different. Someone summarized it well: if you collect your intel exclusively from the Weibo (online), you would be convinced that the regime would fall before it saw the light of another day. However, when you get up in the morning, and take a walk in the grocery market, you will know the Party's ruling is to last another 100 years. In other words, the great majority of people do not echo the anxiety of intellectuals.

Those working in the media business have particular reasons to be nervous, partially originated from the strict control of Internet. While western press such as Washington Post and New York Times's financial prospect is hanging on a thread, Chinese newspapers have seen the fastest expansion in the last decade. While almost all major websites (Google, Wikipedia, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook, just naming a few) are blocked in China, Radio and TV are under much tighter control because of their dangerous capacity to reach audiences in real time, newspaper had been considered a favorable way of controlled information dissemination by the authority. At the same time, they are the only news source for ordinary Chinese. As a result, one large city often finds itself home to multiple daily newspapers, each with hundreds of pages in multiple sections, and each enjoys millions of circulations. Accordingly, each newspaper employs hundreds of staff reporters and editors, in addition to an army of supporting personnel.

In most recent years, as more people start to retrieve information from the Internet, many become disappointed by the weakness of traditional media. Struggling to compete with the Internet as well as other papers, newspapers are increasingly frustrated by the content censorship. Many journalists see the censorship a fatal threat to a newspaper's survival, and their personal financial stability.

Mr. Anti, a veteran new media researchers cautioned the world to notice the difference between news autonomy and news freedom. Despite what had been heard and said, the Southern Weekend was not fighting for Free Press. Rather, it was bargaining how much leeway it could use in a war of its own fate.

Dr. Fang 'Zhouzi' Shimin mocked the dispute between the newspaper and the Propaganda Department a daily disagreement between a prostitute and her pimp. Dr. Fang's wife Ms. Wang Juhua is a senior reporter with the official Xinhua News Agency. He must know better.

It's not the first time the duo concerted their moves. Not too long ago, Mr. Anti joined Dr. Fang in his attack at Han Han, and blamed Southern Weekend in making Han Han an idol for Chinese youth.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Talking About Forces

After the Southern Weekend incident, Han Han published a blog in support. The blog entitled "There Is One Kind of Force".

Hu Xijin, chief editor of he Global Times, acting as the mouthpiece of the Propaganda Department, released an editorial, in which Mr. Hu accused overseas enemy forces as black hands behind the Southern Weekend's resistance to censorship.

Having heard of the incident of New Capital Daily, Li Jingrui, a former reporter with the paper, re-published an article in support. The article entitled: 'Force in Silence'.

Frisbee Picture Censored

The Seagull has seen many text and music banned for good reasons. For example, the national anthem was banned at the Tian'anmen Square following the massacre in 1989. The Communist Party's own L'Internationale was also banned, because after all it was a fighting song. Numbers such as 64 or square of 8 can be seen as suggestive, understandably so.

However, the official Xinhua News Agency banned a picture which they themselves rated as a best picture of the year, a picture showing a dog catching a (explicit!) Frisbee disc: (click). To be specific, the picture was snapped on June 16, in Budapest in Hungarian. The thumbnail still exist, but the original picture had gone. All other pictures in this series, including those immediately next to it still are viable. In place of the large size photo, a '' logo was displayed indicating a broken link.

It can be more bizarre than banning a dog catching a Frisbee....

..but it happened after the chief editor of official Global Times Mr. Hu Xijin was mocked as a good dog who could always make up a rational for the Party no matter how unreasonable the Party might appear. They say, no matter how far or low the Party throw a Frisbee, Mr. Hu can always catch it. PS: in Chinese culture, a dog is not a positive reference for a person.

Power to the Online Chinese citizens, who made the dog catching Frisbee a taboo.

The Beginning of Aftershocks

One ordnance issued by the Central Propaganda department amid the Southern Weekend incident was demanding all news media to publish an editorial drafted by the official Global Times to denounce the rebellion as being manipulated by 'overseas enemy forces'. Most media complied, some reluctantly.

Some media did not bend over to the ordnance the first day. However, authorities issued a final notice, news media must either comply today, or be taken down.

Li Ning of New Capital Weibo-ed that he was awaken by phone calls from colleagues who were rushing to the newsroom in the middle of night to defend the newspaper as human shield. A vote was cast at the scene with unanimous support to refuse publishing the aforementioned article passed down from the Propaganda Department. However, authorities published the article by brute force. The publisher of the paper Mr. Dai Zigeng tendered his resignation in protest to Mr. Yan Liqiang, a Deputy Director of the Propaganda Department on Beijing. Chief Editor Mr. Wang Yuechun also offered his resignation in protest. It may sounds ironic, but in theory the Propaganda Department is the owner of all media in China.

According to New Capital Daily staff, the raid was ordered by the Director of Propaganda Department Mr. Liu Qibao, and was approved by Mr. Liu Yunshan, one of the seven standing committee of the Politburo, and carried out by Mr. Yan Liqiang on behalf of Mr. Lu Wei, Director of the Beijing Municipal Propaganda Department.

The New Capital Daily was specifically target partially because of its past. The paper was founded as a joint project between the Bright (Guangming) Group and the Southern Group in 2003. Because of Bright Group's national status, the paper had permit to cover stories outside of its registration city Beijing. Its first chief editor was jailed in 2004, and the successes chief editor along two associate chief editors were fired in 2005. In 2011, the paper was realigned under the Beijing municipal Propaganda Department and consequently lost national reporting permit.

There is a saying which had been passed down in generations among journalists in China. If you can't tell the truth, in the least you could shut your mouth instead of to lie. In China, they will make you lie one way or another; when necessary, they will lie on your behalf, and there is nothing you can do about that.

Tonight, the Propaganda Department made an even horrifying scene in many newsrooms across the nation by coercing them to publish the official article using physical forces. It made the triggering event itself a pat on the wrist. The move could not be justified by any practice reason or logistic necessity. It is nothing but a pointless and resentful show of force after Don Quixote having been crushed to pieces.

Update: Wall Street Journal Chinese has a detailed account on the night of sorrow by a New Capital reporter at the scene. The Journal inaccurately stated the New Capital was operated by the Southern Group.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Southern Rebellions Labelled As Such

The Central Government listened to demands from the Southern Weekend editors and reporters, and ruled against them.

Further more, the protests over Mr. Tuo Zhen, the provincial Censor Czar in Guangdong, was labelled as insubordinate. 'Overseas enemy forces' was cited as the black hand behind the social turmoil. This is very close to calling it a treasonous act.

In a sense, the timing and the trigger of the rebellion are puzzling. Censorship is no secret in China. People on left and right see the censorship critical to the survival of the regime. You won't believe a regime can last forever on lies, but you know it faces immanent collapse without telling lies. Anyone really expect the CCP to give up on censorship and sign its own death warrant?

Before pro-democracy intellectuals went all in on this otherwise routinary offense to civil liberty, how did they anticipate it to unfold? It seems there is no counter measure at all after the central government made the decision, and the paper was left high and dry. Pig Bay?

Monday, January 07, 2013

There Is a Weatherman in Every Woman's Heart

It seems that all in a sudden every A-list Chinese actress develops interests in the weather business.

Li Bingbing posted a Weibo (micro-blog): Weekends are no longer weekends, but Monday is still Monday. There is no heating down the South. Take care, while anticipate the coming of spring at this prohibitive cold winter.

Yao Chen, the No. 1 popular celebrity with 316 million followers, forwarded a Weibo of the Chinese Meteorological Administration, and wrote, it's so chilly down the South.

Zhang Ziyi also forwarded another remark with her own comment, 'Good morning Dreams!, in reference to the title of the altered editorial of Southern Weekends.

As 'Southern Weekend' became a 'sensitive phrase' and being filtered, the online community are creating innovative references to the paper without mentioning its name to fly under the radar of aggressive censorship. The cold weather is used to imply the chilly political repression against the Southern Weekend.

Chinese actors are mostly business as usual.

No wonder there is no A-list Chinese actor. Unfortunately, as it appears, in China, (only) females have back bones.

Do you hear the people sing? Asked Li Jingrui, who is traveling in NYC with her husband who is visiting Columbia University. Li is one of best Chinese writers, and like Han Han, gained fame in her early age after winning a national writing competition.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Update: Taiwan actress Yi Nengjing (Annie Yi) was summoned by political police after she posted support to Southern Weekend's fight against censorship. Yi wrote, on some occasions, keeping silence can make good people accomplice of evil forces. Yi's Weibo account was closed.

She posted a last message after being released and before her account was canceled regarding her experience with the authority: your anger proved my choice; your disguise boosted my confidence; your craziness reflected my sane; your slaughter testified my survival.

Southern Rebellions

Perhaps a misjudgment on weather led to a showdown between a newspaper the Southern Weekends and the Chief of the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province.

The editorial board of the Southern Weekends demands resignation of Mr. Tuo Zhen, the chief of the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province. The editors and reporters must have counted on the breeze of openness and democracy since the once a decade power transfer. But it seems the wind was not in their favor.

Dozens reporters and editors accounts were suspended at the Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese knockoff of Twitter. The official Southern Weekends Weibo account was taken over by the Propaganda Department. Searching of the term 'Southern Weekends' is banned.

Editors and reporters mounted pressure from outside. Dozens former employees issued a statement supporting the fight for journalism. Dozens public intellectuals from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan jointly urged Mr. Tuo be fired. Hundreds of interns signed a open letter asking Mr. Tuo's departure. Other medias, including TV, newspaper and Internet media showed sympathy or support.

The focus stays on an individual, Mr. Tuo. The newspaper is not protesting the censorship itself, but rather a procedural abnormality in the censoring process. Editors and reporters revealed a record of 1,034 articles either changed or withdrawn by the Propaganda Department in the year of 2012, which converted to a shocking 19.88 articles per issue. However, the change made on the New Year Special was an outlier. The Propaganda Department changed major part of the newspaper without editors and reporters's awareness.

By definition, the Southern Weekends is a mouthpiece of Chinese Communists Party (the Chinese literal translation is "Journalists are the Party's Throat and Tongue"). By law, all Chinese news agencies falls into this definition. In particular, the Southern Weekends is published by the Guangdong Provincial Committee of CCP. However, the Southern Weekends has made itself an advocate for democracy and openness. Although the managerial level officials had been shuffled many times, the newspaper attracted mostly freedom-leaning reporters and editors in the past few decades. Although a chief editor was jailed after the newspaper broke out a story of torture death of a young man in a police 'rescue camp', which led to the abolishment of such camps across the country.

Mr. Tuo was born in a propaganda family in 1959. Before the current assignment, Tuo was the deputy director of the official Xinhua News Agency. Mr. Tuo's father Tuo Wenzhong was the Director of the Propaganda Department of Nanyang Prefecture of Henan Province. Mr. Tuo Zhen's sister Ms. Tuo Jun is the Deputy Director of the Propaganda Department of the CCP Nanyang Prefecture of Henan Province. Mr. Tuo Zhen's daughter Ms. Tuo Yannan "Kelly" is a senior executive with the China Daily's Japan office. Mr. Tuo Zhen's sponsor at the top is Mr. Liu Yunshan, a member of the seven people Standing Committee of the Politburo. Liu was also implicated in the recent Ye Junqing scandal.

The newspaper cited the Constitution on rights of journalism and publishing. On the other hand, official identities and public perception of journalists are still the mouthpiece of the Party. How do editors and reporters in China find peace between their inner urge to freedom and the strips on their official uniform is beyond human comprehension. Equally puzzling, the newspaper seems to have no problem with censorship, which on paper does not exist in China, but have a big problem with Mr. Tuo, who is not only the head of the Propaganda Department but also the chief of the newspaper's official publisher. Conflicts between the media and the censorship are no secret, but the clash of this scale is totally unexpected.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Chinese Businesses Busted in Russia and North Korea

A Zhejiang businessman asked the central government to intervene when his forest harvesting farm was confiscated by the Russian government.

Mr. Fu Jianzhong a forest farm in Russia in 2003. According to the news report by 21CN, Mr. Fu obtained the operation of the farm through a stock transfer (no money involved). A RMB 230 million ($40 million) loan from the Chinese National Development BanK was used to improve infrastructure. At the same time, due to price change on the international market, value of the farm raised from RMB 7 billion ($1.2 billion) to RMB 15 billion in 3 years.

Fu's trouble started when a driver was stopped for stealing stock from another farm. The Russian authority found the driver worked for Fu's farm. Fu disputed the accusation. Four more charges were thrown at Fu's farm, citing varies violations in operation. Russian taxation authority forced a bankruptcy because of back taxes.

Within a few month, Fu was severed from the farm, and as a result, 'Ten Billion Estate Vaporized.'

This incident mirrored a case in North Korea. Mr. Zhou Furen claimed he lost RMB 240 investment in a mine he operated in North Korea, after the mine was taken over by the Korean government.

Zhou signed a contract with a Korean firm in 2006 to set up a joint venture. Zhou holds 75% share with technology, management and cash valued Euro 36 million. The Korean side gets 25% with mine valued Euro 12 million.

The project was completed in April 2011. One hundred fifty Chinese workers worked along 500 Korean workers. Projected revenue was RMB 5 billion per year.

Things turned the opposite way in June, when the Korean side piled up new fees and profit sharing demands. When Zhou attempted to fight back with suspension of production, Korean workers who had already learned the rope restarted the mining on their own.

Korean authorities accused Zhou's venture started operating without many required approvals. Also, many documents including contracts and approvals were forged. Zhou disagree with the findings, but said it would be impossible to prove one way or the other due to the gray area in which his company was operating because of Korea's political status.

Both cases took place in extreme high-risk areas where corruption are abundant under volatile political systems. Both cases involved natural resource that Chinese business obtained at unreasonable low price. Mr. Fu paid literally nothing for a forest farm worth in his own words US $2.5 billion. Mr. Zhou paid some labor cost and electricity bills for a mine which in his own words could bring US $900 million net profit a year. In both cases, the companies were taken away by foreign governments moment after they were fully operational. In both cases, the accusations employed by foreign governments were shady at best, but the Chinese businesses still had trouble to prove their own innocence.

Now, the billion dollar question is: what are they complaining about?

Friday, January 04, 2013


Jefferson once warned that, 'the natural progress of things is for Liberty to yield and Government to gain ground.'

People in Iceland have plenty to choose from regarding a baby's name. Specifically, 1,712 names for boys and 1,853 for girls. One girl, Blaer Bjarkardottir has been fighting this pointless regulation for 15 years because her chosen name 'Blaer' was not approved. In Icelandic, 'Blaer' means 'light breeze'. For 15 years, and until a resolution can be reached, Blare does not have a name, for real. In all of her official documents, such as school records, banking, passport, Blaer are referred to as 'Stulka (a girl)'.

Chinese, on the other hand, enjoy broad freedom in name choices.

On the other hand, the 'Southern Weekends', an influential newspaper is protesting censorship to its special new year's edition. After the paper had been sent to the printing plant, the Propaganda Department of Guangdong Province made a number of major changes, on the title, the package, the editorial and many reports. None of the reporters and editors were informed of these changes. Some employees who discussed these online found their Weibo accounts suspended.

"Even during the Occupation, Japs did not write editorial for Chinese newspaper," commented a reader.

For a while, it seemed the Xi-Li administration was bringing in new hope since they assumed the reign as new generation Party leaders last November. The 'light breeze' of the power transition lasted less than a month.

Update: At the daily press brief held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 4th, spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated there was no news censorship in China, in response to a question regarding the 'Southern Weekends incident' from a Japanese reporter.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Laws

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) passed two laws last week.

The Seniors Rights Protection Act mandates adult children to visit their parents, besides providing cares. No specifics is spelled out though.

While the move is welcome by many as a return to traditional values, some worried it's a back step from modern society.

The NPCSC also passed a new rule to mandate real-id for online activities. Sina's Weibo, the Chinese knock off edition of Twitter, stopped overseas registration as a temporary measure before details of implementation can be ironed out. Mobile companies are also required to authenticate cell phone usage.

Not long ago, South Korean Supreme Court declared the country's real-ID law unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. It also found the law failed to reach its goal of protecting privacy.

While Chinese government is cracking down on online criticism of the Party, international companies are weighing whether to leave China due to increasing limits on critical communications such as VPN.