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25 Essential China Survival Apps


We loved the list of tips and tricks for living in Beijing that Kaiser Kuo wrote on Quora.  We agree with them all (especially the last one).  Not being able to top such comprehensive and impassioned advice, we thought we’d go a different route.  Since we (YJ excluded) confess to occasionally both whining AND bitching, we’ve come to rely on a few simple hacks to avoid unnecessary bad China days.  

Which ones did we miss? Leave us a comment and let us know your top survival apps!

Language Skills

The indispensable dictionary app. The free included dictionary is pretty good, while for more heavy-duty purposes, serious language learners (or “grownups,” as Brendan calls them) can purchase add-ons including dictionaries, optical character recognition, flashcards, and more. The ABC Chinese-English dictionary is particularly useful, and more advanced users will find the Xiandai Hanyu Guifan Cidian (现代汉语规范词典) indispensable.
Homepage Android iOS

Waygo Visual Translator
Too lazy and/or stupid to learn Chinese? Or perhaps you just want to be able to order a meal without having to learn the world’s dumbest writing system first? Waygo Visual Translator has got your back: the free app offers remarkably good OCR for menus and street signs. Point your iPhone at a menu and get an instantaneous (and mostly pretty accurate) translation of dish names. Brendan used to recommend that anyone coming to China pick up a copy of James D. McCawley’s The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters; Waygo renders that excellent book more or less obsolete. So this is what living in the future is going to be like!
Homepage iOS

Xiaoma Hanzi (小马词典)
A nice little character study app that lets you quiz yourself on the pronunciation and meaning of random characters and search by stroke order, though not as comprehensive as Pleco.
Homepage Android

Sogou Pinyin Input (搜狗手机输入法)
China’s most ubiquitous pinyin input software, developed by internet giant Sohu (also good for watching American TV shows, see below), Sogou Pinyin keeps up with the latest memes, brands and names, so when you enter a pinyin string more often than not the first one is the right one. Also not bad: Google Pinyin.
Homepage Android iOS

Shopping & Eating

Taobao (淘宝)
Russian MIGs and everything else made by the hand of man, plus rent-a-boyfriends.
Homepage Android iOS

Etao (一淘)
Great for comparison shopping across e-commerce sites in China and abroad (including Amazon.com).
Homepage Android iOS

Alipay (支付宝钱包)
Want that MIG? This is how you pay for it.
Homepage Android iOS

Dazhong Dianping (大众点评)
Find restaurants by location, cuisine, price, or user reviews.
Homepage Android iOS

MTime (时光电影)
Find movie theaters and showtimes in your area.
Homepage Android iOS

Wochacha (我查查)
Scan barcodes on books, food, or other stuff and compare prices at supermarkets in your area and e-commerce sites.
Homepage Android iOS


Sina Weibo (新浪微博)
Keep your finger on the pulse of China’s netizens, follow the latest celebrity gossip, and if you’re really lucky, become popular enough that people notice when you’re banned. There’s also Tencent Weibo, but we’ve never met someone who intentionally posts anything there.
Homepage Android iOS

WeChat (微信)
Hot on the heels of Weibo, Tencent’s annointed successor to the omnipresent QQ Instant Messenger features an impressive array of ways to waste time chatting with your friends.
Homepage Android iOS


xiamiXiami (虾米)
Streaming music service, keeps up with China, UK, Billboard charts and searchable for that song you’ve got to hear right now. Also lets you save 50 songs on your phone for offline playback. Click the album cover and follow along on the lyrics (they’re not available for every song though, its hit or miss).
Homepage Android iOS

doubanfmDouban FM (豆瓣FM)
Internet radio station like Pandora. Develops a personalized station based on your favorites, also saves your latest favorites to the phone for offline playback. Particularly interesting are theme stations like those tailor for 80后 and 90后 generation listeners, playing nostalgic classics from their childhoods as well as new music popular with their peers.
Homepage Android iOS


Youku (优酷)
Youku devoured their rival Tudou last year and has an impressive collection of legal, HD films and TV shows from around the world, plus a whole lot of other films and TV shows that may not be quite as legal or high-quality.
Homepage Android iOS

Sohu Video (搜狐视频)
Need to see Mad Men, Dexter, Homeland, Breaking Bad, or Big Bang Theory? Sohu licenses some of the US megahits that Chinese viewers really dig.
Homepage Android iOS

iQiyi (爱奇艺)
Baidu’s online video platform offers a number of films and TV shows not available on Sohu or Youku.
Homepage Android iOS

funshionFunshion (风行)
I’ve not used Funshion yet, but I hear good things, and they have Downton Abbey – good start.
Homepage Android iOS

Kascend (开迅视频)
Great for searching across multiple video platforms.
Homepage Android iOS

Flvshow (视频飞搜)
A good rule of thumb is to never download Android apps from outside the Android app store unless its directly from the official company website (like the Xiami links above), but this app came pre-installed on a nano PC I bought and its a pretty good aggregator of all the video sites, like Kascend. Download at your own risk – the link below is from phone manufacturer Meizu’s app store:

CNTV CBox (国网络电视台Cbox)
CNTV is CCTV’s online arm, and the CBox app lets you watch CCTV stations live – good for catching that NBA game on CCTV-5.
Homepage Android iOS


Find and reserve air and rail tickets, hotel rooms, and travel packages.
Homepage Android iOS

UMeTrip (航旅纵横)
Track flight departures, arrivals and delays at mainland China airports.
Homepage Android iOS

Yidao Yongche (易到用车)
Stuck in Guomao and have dinner plans near Sanlitun? Fees average about 2-3 times the cost of a cab, but this GPS-based pay-as-you-go car service is great for those times when you really need to get somewhere but can’t count on a taxi being available.
Homepage Android iOS


全国空气污染指数 (National Air Pollution Index)
Check the PM 2.5 levels before you leave the house so you know whether to pack your filter mask/gas mask/stay in and cry.
Homepage Android iOS

Conversion Apps
Americans in particular need help learning to think about distance and weight the way most humans do, so an app like ConvertPad for Android or Converter Plus for iOS.

Helpful Tips

  • Want 3G but don’t know which Chinese carrier to use? If you use AT&T or T-Mobile (WCDMA), you need China Unicom. If you use Verizon (EV-DO), you need China Telecom. You can only use China Mobile’s local flavor of 3G if you buy a phone from China Mobile, because its a homegrown standard that hasn’t caught on globally. 4G? Not here yet.
  • Don’t use HiMarket or other Chinese app store versions of apps on an Android device with a SIM card or your personal info.
  • Guess what? English names of apps, movies, TV shows, companies, etc. are either translated or phoneticized, so if you want to find Hobo with a Shotgun, pop the English into Baidu (Android and iOS apps available) and usually it’ll spit back the Chinese name (持枪流浪汉), and maybe even links to watch.


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Xi Jinping and the future of political reform


The Super Seven – New members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo

by James Cuffe

Obama’s brief post-election message “Four more years.” became the most forwarded tweet of all time, but we won’t see a similar expression of delight on China’s weibo platform. Although people appreciated Xi Jinping for appearing warmer and more human than Hu Jintao, not a difficult task to be sure, there was less enthusiasm for his policies or for the future direction of political reform. The Party’s new leader received a positive – if cautious – welcome from China watchers and the media, but he is recognised more as a steady hand than as a reformist. The absence of Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao compounds the conservatism of the new team making it extremely unlikely we will see any major reforms over the next five years.

Li was appointed to the CCP Central Organisation Department in 2007 granting him the powers to modify the rules and framework for promotions within the party and is recognised as an advocate for political reform. Wang, through his experiences as Party Secretary of Chongqing and subsequent promotion to Party Secretary of Guangdong province (both regions economic powerhouses) showed him to favour economic reforms that are market orientated and business friendly. With these figures losing out we see political strategist Zhang Dejiang who was trained in economics in North Korea and Zhang Gaoli, a statistician with expertise in the oil industry making the leadership team. Both are supposedly protégés of Jiang Zemin.

Much is being written about Jiang Zemin’s recent public appearances and continued influence at the highest levels of informal politics. His recent appearances and presence at the Party Congress should be considered the norm. As a previous leader he offers a ‘guiding hand’ and ‘sage advice’ during such uncertain political practices – uncertain as the leadership transition process is still not well institutionalised. It suits foreign spectators who do not have full access to the processes that decide the leadership to turn the event into a factional power struggle between two opposing sides. (It is how we play and understand sports.) Examples of this are media reports citing the continued influence of Jiang Zemin represented in the new nominees. Jiang’s authority alternatively seen as an acquiescence by Hu Jintao and a sign of his weakness in the face of the old guard.

Too much can be read into factional support between the candidates. While factional politics is certainly at play, this largely plays out behind closed doors and speculating as to who is on which team can quickly turn analysis into guesswork. It is worth being aware that the seven men who walked out on stage on Thursday will know each other extremely well having worked together and moved in similar political circles for years if not decades. The overlap between factional politics and personal networks ensures that when one is emphasised over the other we will have more attractive, more defined conclusions albeit on far shakier ground. We need to resist the desire for neat answers in order to better understand processes that are not yet fully out in the open.

Liu Yunshan was considered a supporter of Bo Xilai and earlier this year there was a petition calling for Liu’s removal by 16 retired members of the CCP in Yunnan. Yu Zhengshen’s brother defected to the United States in the 1980’s being denounced as a traitor yet both Liu and Yu have made the top seven despite these events. These facts point to the difficulty in knowing how relationships are played out politically within the CCP and at times how the importance of personal networks wins out over both ideology and factional politics.

Wang Qishan appears to be taking the discipline portfolio, a hint that some attempt is being made to tackle corruption, His financial expertise would lend him to reforming the financial sector but as the team appears conservative and his appointment to the disciplinary office might suggest he is better able to enforce some manner of curtailment of the endemic corruption eating the CCP from the inside.

Seven men, no women; to many people the absence of the only female candidate will be a surprise. Liu Yandong ticked all the boxes for a promotion and it is hardly her gender that kept her out in the end. The argument for her inclusion highlighted her contacts to both major political factions, family ties to Jiang Zemin and professional ties to Hu Jintao via the Communist Youth League. With Bo Xilai’s removal there appeared to be a space for contention between her and Wang Yang yet neither in the end were successful. Gender at such a high level of politics with so much at stake is not as relevant as one’s power base and personal networks and ability to command authority. Presumably she was out-manoeuvred or even uninterested in the closing months.

The most interesting aspect of the new line up is the ability for the Xi-Li partnership to bring in a new team in five years time when all but these top two Standing Committee members will have to retire. It allows Xi-Li to enact a real legacy over the fortunes and direction the PRC will take during the next decade. And the next decade is shaping up to be a tumultuous one. The challenges that China faces are many and are changing year on year. At the next Party Congress in 2017 there is a window of opportunity for the leadership to change direction more radically. Their power and authority will have infiltrated the lower echelons of the Chinese political world. In five years time there will be a generational shift in China with those born in the 1980’s entering their late 30’s – not having the memories of China that the current leadership are wary of.

Xi Jinping is all too aware the dangers that mass campaigns and poor governance can bring. During his speech Xi stated: “To be turned into iron, the metal itself must be strong.” – a clear reference to the experiences of those under the Great Leap Forward and his own  experiences. During the Cultural Revolution he was “sent down” to the countryside living in a cave while his father – purged by Mao – spent 16 years imprisoned. A period of history he has referred to as a mood:

In the past when we talked about beliefs, it was very abstract. I think the youth of my generation will be remembered for the fervour of the Red Guard era. But it was emotional. It was a mood. And when the ideals of the Cultural Revolution could not be realised, it proved an illusion.”

– Interview with CCTV in 2003

Such quotes about darks periods of Chinese history show a willingness to engage diplomatically with China’s shadows. Before China can truly enter a new stage of development, China needs to come to terms with her past. Xi has the experience, the memories, and ten more years to do so.

James Cuffe is an anthropologist interested in the impact communications technology has on social change, specifically interested in current developments in China. Currently associated with IES Abroad in Beijing, Irish Institute of Chinese Studies at University College Dublin and Editor of the Journal of International Political Anthropology.

Getting On In Chinese Media


 by Mike Cormack

I feel a bit foolish making myself out to be any kind of success in media. I am not a trained journalist, and there are many practitioners of that fine calling in Beijing, such as Tania Branigan, Christina Larson and Gady Epstein, who really show how it’s done. However, I have made my way up to managing editor of a Beijing magazine from having been a freelancer only three years previously, so my story might be useful to those looking to get on in the English-language media in China.

I know myself how baffling the media can seem when you’re just starting out. If you have a headful of ideas, a keen interest in the news, and good writing skills, media work can seem the ideal career. I felt this when freshly graduated in English and politics, with no real idea how to go about getting any kind of writing job. Getting an internship in London was an absurd impossibility, and there didn’t seem to be any other kind of entry-level posts: every advert I saw in the Guardian Media Jobs section required experience. I remember reading Private Eye’s “In The Back” section, as written by the campaigning journalist Paul Foot, seeing the phone number listed at the bottom, and wanting to call up to demand: “How did you get started? How do you get a foot in? Where can I begin?” There were practically no entry-level posts and no doubt the few that were advertised were responded to by avalanches of naive, fresh-faced, would-be writers.

Eventually I gave up even the idea of media work and settled for being an English teacher, the great fallback career. However, this wasn’t satisfying, and I moved to Huia’an, Jiangsu province, in 2007, ostensibly to finish the zombie novel I had been plodding on with for the past several years. Though I’d only intended to stay a year, China got its claws into me, and I decided to stay. Huai’an not having any particular charm, when I was offered a job with English First in Tianjin I made the move north.

Tianjin was far bigger than Huai’an, of course, large enough to host English-language media. A few weeks after arriving, so say about October 2008, I saw an ad in Jin, the expat magazine delivered to the teachers’ room, looking for freelance writers. Swiftly I wrote up a review of the local expat dive bar and emailed it in. The editor invited me in for a chat, and I began doing some occasional freelance work for them. The assistant editor would call me up and ask me to go to some shop or restaurant; I would meet them there then write-up a 100 word piece: about one or two per monthly issue. Then sometime in 2009, I saw an ad for the rival expat magazine, Tianjin Plus, and applied. They offered more articles per issue and more money per word, so I defected.

At Tianjin Plus, I got more to do: as well as bar, shop and restaurant reviews, I did opinion pieces, then interviews with expats of note (such as there are in Tianjin). Then I got invited to do the “Last Words” article in the sister magazine, Business Tianjin, like what Kaiser Kuo did in the Beijinger. Then, after I grumbled about the copy editing in one issue, I got invited to do that too, so once a month I would receive about eighteen articles to do over the weekend. Then, in about January 2010, the owner of the magazines asked if I’d be willing to come into the office during my weekend, which as an ESL teacher was Monday and Tuesday, for a consideration on top of the payment per word. I was willing, of course. So for the next four months I didn’t have a day off. The good thing was, though, that after a day in the office, I didn’t feel tired or drained, as I did when teaching: I felt energized. You always know when you’re doing the stuff you love.

As they seemed to like my work, I asked the editor if there was a possibility of going full-time, but we couldn’t agree on salary so I looked to Beijing. Come May 2010, I got a job with an editing house, and I’ve been here since. Fortunately, Tianjin Plus were also looking for someone to write about Beijing at that time, so I became their Beijing editor and kept on copyediting. As Beijing editor, I reviewed two shops, bars or restaurants, interviewed one expat of note (I think I was the first person to interview The Beijing Beatles, for example), and wrote a short general column on Beijing life.

In Beijing I continued to accumulate obligations: a monthly column for Pregnancy and Parenting magazine, the website director for Tianjin Plus. By this time my full-time post was senior copywriter for Dentsu, a big advertising agency, so to say I was busy is a comical understatement. I was looking for editorship of a magazine by this time, but such posts are few and become available only rarely. However, when the post of managing editor of Agenda came up I was straight in there, and took it up at the start of February 2012.

That is a bald summary of three and a half years. Obviously it’s mostly been a case of taking it step by step. Sometimes I’ve been lucky when opportunities have just fallen into my lap, but all the same you have to be there to take advantage. Looking back, then, perhaps I can draw various lessons.

  1. The first and most essential one is: if you have any kind of writing gig, deliver copy on time (preferably earlier), and make as good a go of it as you can. This is always the most important thing. There’s nothing worse than being let down when someone is promising you an article. Get it in!
  2. If you’re looking for outlets, in Beijing there are lots. There are Agenda, the Beijinger, beijingkids, City Weekend, City Weekend Parents & Kids, Time Out, That’s Beijing, Global Times, China Daily, eChinacities, the Beijing Review, and more. If you’ve got an idea for an article, most are very easily approachable. It would be a foolish editor who did not at least consider the idea, regardless of whether you’ve got experience writing or not – all that really matters is the quality of the piece.
  3. Having a good knowledge of a particular field is very helpful. For myself, I have been following the Beijing and China blogosphere/Twittersphere closely since about 2009: this has been a great help in writing for the expat media. If you’re into something niche like welly-throwing or cross-stitching, there are magazines and websites out there, but necessarily exposure in China will be limited. If you haven’t any particular interests, you won’t have anything to say.
  4. Similarly, lots of people think they can just “start writing”, as though it’s as natural as breathing, or that their undergraduate essay-writing skills will see them through. I disagree. Writing is a skill which can be practised and improved upon, but which nevertheless requires some degree of innate talent: just the same as with playing the guitar or assembling code in C++. Writing a snappy blogpost is far different to the 3000 word humanities essay, and both are especially remote from headline writing. If you haven’t been practising writing through having a blog, a journal, or whatever way of writing you choose, those skills and techniques have not been developing.
  5. Social media, then, is I think today utterly essential. You don’t have to be into Twitter or Instagram etc, but a blog of some kind is fantastically useful for the budding writer. You hone your ideas and opinions; you find what you can write about well; you get good at finding appropriate pictures and trying to write arresting headlines; you get into the habit of writing regularly and to order; you get used to fumbling around for ideas; you learn how to link with other bloggers and try to drive up traffic. Your ideas written down can look very different to how they feel in your head.
  6. For a writer, the ability to handle prose is not, I would suggest, the essential skill. The most important thing is insight. Are you observant – of people, of trends, of your field of interest? Can you draw parallels, see similarities, discover underlying patterns? If so, can you look back at stuff you’ve written and find the observations stay relevant? That’s the real stuff every editor is looking for.
  7. Every day, I read and write for fun, beyond work. Before I was writing professionally, I would read and write about 20-25 hours a week. If you don’t put in the time, you ain’t gonna get good. If you think about doing a job reading and writing for 20 hours for free and the idea fills you with horror – you’re in it to make money, you say – I suggest you find something better to do.
  8. If you’re an English teacher and working evenings and weekends, you’re in an ideal position to get an internship, if you’re seeking an entry-level post. Once you’ve got some credits to your name and some feedback from an editor, you can move onto doing freelance or part-time work, and so on. It’s just step-by-step.
  9. Ultimately it comes down to what energizes you. I did not find teaching energizing – I could do it professionally, but it was draining. Advertising writing at Dentsu was better, but still not quite there. But I knew from working in the Tianjin Plus office on my weekends that media work was satisfying, and exactly what I’m most suited to. If you’re writing about your time in China already, in a blog for example, that’s a good sign.
  10. Nonetheless, I’ve no doubt there will be lots of candidates for media work in China. Despite the restrictions, there’s a lot of great content out there. If you think you can do better, get writing.


The author is the managing editor of Agenda Magazine.

Hu Jintao and the Ghost of Mao


Hu Jintao is wandering the Great Hall of the People during his last nights in power.  Drunk on baijiu and hubris…he hallucinates that he sees Mao before him…

Yo Mao! I would tell you we only changed the drapes but actually we messed up your whole world.

Sure there might be a couple of useless tools who run a bookstore and (until recently) a website called Utopia…they’re still into you, but the rest of the kids who spent their formative years shoveling shit while you were sampling teenage minority girls now have their own children to think of, ones with investment portfolios and overseas addresses.

(Any Leftist wannabes unhappy with my brand of Socialism should just let me know and I’d be happy to ship their pseudo-intellectual asses to Pyongyang.   The North Koreans will work them like $5 Tijuana hookers on rent day.)

25 years at “The Helm” and all you left us with is a bunch of buttons, a warehouse of red books, and a signed souvenir photo of Henry Kissinger in drag.

And it could have been worse!  Jesus, best thing that ever happened to this country was your kid getting blown up in Korea.  A Mao Dynasty?   I wake up at night in a hot sweat sometimes just thinking about it.

Your morbidly obese grandson keeps running around protecting your legacy and for some reason the PLA brass keeps promoting him.  Frankly, when they get enough tin on his chest we’ll use it for ballast and drop him in the Bohai Gulf.  Screw the brass. They never liked me anyway.

(Maybe I’ll nuke Hanoi just to mess with them.  HowulikemenowPLAbeeyatches!!!!)

Everything we built is DESPITE YOU.  You crazy paranoid syphilitic bastard.  My society is harmonious.  Your idea of harmony was tuning up Liu Shaoqi by having your goons apply an iron pipe to different parts of his cancer-riddled body.  No wonder Lin Biao wanted to snuff you. If it wasn’t for the druggy son, he might have succeeded. After all, you were pretty out of it toward the end.   Papa Doc Kissinger once told Deng Xiaoping that the only time he ever saw anybody shake that badly was when Judy Garland played the White House while trying to quit Quaaludes.

Because you see…nobody liked you.  We still love Deng.  Saved the country.  Lifted millions out of poverty and definitely knew his way around a tank division.  And you? I’m seriously considering my last act to be ordering your orange desiccated corpse ground up and flushed down a hutong.

Wait…where are you going?  Damn hallucinations wearing off.  I have more to say.  Xi Jinping likes women’s clothes!  We once tricked Wen Jiabao into embracing a fully-erect capuchin monkey by telling him it was a suffering earthquake victim!  Bastard!

I will not fade into history.  I WILL NOT FADE!!!

A Tale of Two Songs


Tyler Cohen got his B.A. from McGill, is starting his J.D. at the University of Toronto, represented Canada at 汉语桥 in 2010 and has been plagued with dreams/nightmares of Yunnan monkeys stealing peanuts from his pocket since 2007. He’s worked as a translator, researcher and marketing manager, and also put in his time in the wilderness of ESL. Tyler’s new blog, The Yamen, will be opening soon.

Interest in the ‘Soft Power’ question in China seems to have hit an all-time peak. From the Bo Xilai scandal to the ongoing hassling of Ai Weiwei, from Chen Guangcheng to Shanghai Metro’s recent double down on the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ defense, 2012 has been no less disastrous a year for the China PR crew than any other. As necessary and plainly fun as it is to point out how events ranging from the tragic to the absurd take a toll on China’s ability to develop soft power abroad, I’d like to turn back to one question on cultural soft power often answered superficially.

Soft Power & Art (and I use both terms lightly…)

The reason most often cited for China’s struggles in producing art that makes people overlook self-immolations in Qinghai is “censorship”. Whether it’s Joseph Nye or the NY Times, articles often begin and end with, ‘How can Chinese artists produce great art with the censorship regime?’ I find this a rather unsatisfying question/answer – while all art may intrinsically be political and in some sense subversive, love of God, State or the authorities has produced great and/or popular art in every corner of the Earth. Gospel can draw the most ardent atheist to a church, and Pearl Harbor somehow pulled in over $250 million outside the States. The difficulty the Chinese state has with its contemporary artistic offering to the world is, at least in part, more basic and subtle than the censorship question.

When poor Jack asks wealthy Rose to close her eyes and feel the wind in Titanic, he’s asking her to see the commonality of their experience – despite coming from “two different worlds,” they share humanity. When Jagger complains about not getting no satisfaction, it’s not “British” satisfaction that he lacks, but the base urge to have hoards of satisfying groupies that we all feel. Even Pearl Harbor, for all its inane nationalism, tries hard to communicate the usefulness of American values to world goals. In their soft power offerings, America, Britain, France, Germany, etc. hope you realize you are part of the same human experience they have, and that you find their cultural norms and forms the best tools to explore that experience. The art that the Chinese state has chosen to put forward to represent itself sends a very different message. Instead of asking you to find the shared humanity you have with China and then explore that humanity through Chinese tools, the art put forward by the Chinese state asks you simply to marvel at Chinese tools. (To be fair, they do hope you find yourself having something in common with China – a love of China.) A quick comparison of the two most recent Summer Olympic songs shows the stark difference in the two approaches.

Say what you will about Muse’s Survival – I’ll wait till the laughter dies down. One thing it can’t be accused of is being about Britain. The official video accompanying it makes this even more radically clear, as images of Britain don’t even appear. The video and song are about sport – the pain, the heartache, the glory, the determination, the abject tears of loss and startled triumph of victory. It’s in English, obviously, and has an implied link to Britain. It hopes that through recognition of the commonly shared experiences of pain, glory and all the rest, the viewer will (a) watch the Olympics and boost ad revenue, (b) understand that you and Britain share the human experience of sport in common, and that Britain’s representation of it is awesome.

Nothing could be more the opposite of this than the video for ‘Beijing Welcomes You’. Most obvious is the fact that it has almost nothing to do with sport, being entirely about China. It is essentially an ode to the belief that China is a great marvel to see, that you will enjoy being its guest,that everyone runs around in cheongsam writing poems, and that the air quality is totally fine, trust us, it’s cool, we’ve taken care of it.

The Muse video does a number of things inconceivable from the point of view of the Chinese state. First is the aforementioned lack of Britain in song and video; were the CCP or SARFT in charge of London’s video, I would half expect to see Shakespeare jumping hurdles as a chorus of Dickens’ characters led by Mr. Bean sang atop the Tower of London. Beijing’s video is about traditional poetry and calligraphy, clean air and Chinese hospitality. Britain’s video is actually about sport. Where London’s offering could be the video for any other country’s Olympics, ‘Beijing Welcomes You’ could be the video for any other Chinese event.

Second, it puts the pain and hardship of loss in the same frame as the glory of victory. When two bikers spin out of control after a crash, there’s an implied recognition of the fact that victory doesn’t come without loss. Chinese artists couldn’t get away with that in anything made officially for the Beijing Olympics – (a) the gold medal push was so important that anything implying Chinese athletes might not win was quieted, (b) loss seems to fall under the same category as ‘negative news’ in Chinese state thought. Instead, ‘Beijing Welcomes You’ says, bluntly, that “as long as you have dreams, you’re awesome” and “as long as you have courage, miracles will happen”. The idea that one can try hard and fail is not part of the narrative Beijing would allow about itself, let alone celebrate.

Third, whatever attraction towards Britain it tries to create in viewers – the soft power feature – is done through an overt claim to the universality of experience overlaying an implied claim that Britain is a great place to explore this experience. Viewers are encouraged to revel in the eternal glory of sport, and because you already know the Olympics are in London, to associate that emotional connection to sport with your connection to Britain. China’s offering was an overt claim to Beijing being a great place to explore…Beijing, overlaying the suggestion that all of us being together is pretty cool. The video and song work hard to make viewers feel they would be welcome and comfortable guests in the home of something amazing – the eternal, though changing, China.

That more subtle thing that the Chinese state has yet to get, or doesn’t wish to get, is that cultural products become effective soft power resources only when they first appeal to the commonality of human experience. It’s not, as Nye says, trying to make others find your values attractive,but trying to show them that they always were shared values. You can call this surreptitious or slimy marketing or genuine faith in universalism – the point is that it’s effective. Titanic works because we all want to be allowed to marry above our pay grade or find someone who cares about us rather than our family background. After accepting Jack’s fundamental wish, we’re then open to the suggestion that good old fashioned (American) straight-forwardness and honesty of emotions is the right way to fulfill that wish.

So the answer is still, in some sense, ‘censorship’. But censorship takes many forms and has a wide array of effects, not all of which constrain the ability to create art effective as soft power. All religious institutions are involved in censorship, and a Baptist church would likely ban any song that doesn’t overtly glorify God. So gospel appeals first to our shared concerns: that life is painful, that answers are hard to come by, that the personal future is unknown, and that the world can be beautiful. And then it makes sense of these emotions by way of its own answer (God), inviting you to adopt its approach. Gospel sells itself as human-first, Christian second, and Titanic as human-first, American-second. Chinese soft power makers will struggle as long as they put China first and humanity second.

Update: I was as happy to see Mr. Bean appear in the opening ceremony as I was disappointed to not see Shakespeare competing in track and field. The opening ceremony, as opposed to the song, is traditionally, and since the 1980 Olympics increasingly so, intended to celebrate the local country’s culture and history. I don’t argue that the U.K. or U.S. aren’t ever capable of crappy ‘soft power’ products with lame themes, just that the Chinese state both makes an art of it and seems incapable of the human-first approach.

Where Are You From?

In his very checkered career Justin Mitchell has worked at Pulitizer Prize winning US newspapers that no longer exist as well as hopscotching across China, Hong Kong and Thailand to stay employed. His past includes interviewing Yoko Ono, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis and Ray Davies as a music writer, as well as Japanese porn star Suzi Suzuki. He also broke ground-breaking stories for The Weekly World News such as “Mermaid Found in Tuna Can,” and “Irish Built the Great Wall of China.”

“Where are you from?” is a common icebreaker when meeting new foreigners or Chinese colleagues.

I’m from Boulder, Colorado, but my answer always varies slightly. If I’m talking to an American or Canadian, I usually simply say, “Boulder.” It’s an admittedly small conceit, as if it’s LA. Or Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or DC. Or New York, Philly, Chicago or Boston.

It’s none of those, of course, but it does have a slightly hip cachet and is a combination of a rocking college town, high-tech, environmentally progressive haven nicknamed “The People’s Republic of Boulder” for things like being the first city in the US with a smoking ban and strict limits on growth and a small thriving medicinal marijuana market. It sits at the foot of where the Rocky Mountains begin. There are no high rises or sky scrapers in Boulder and it has miles of hiking green belts off limits to developers.

Boulder attained one-word status like Berkeley during the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s as a hippie alternative. Many light years ago, I ran into the late beat poet Allen Ginsberg in line behind me at a Boulder Safeway grocery check out and asked him to autograph my frozen pepperoni pizza box, which he kindly did, as well as giving me friendly advice to go vegetarian. That’s the kind of place it was.

If the query comes from a Brit, European, Aussie, Kiwi or Chinese person I say “Colorado.” Though like my knowledge of Chinese geography and geography in general is hazy, most can’t connect it with anything except maybe the old John Denver song, “Rocky Mountain High” or the NBA Denver Nuggets. Or the Grand Canyon, which is in Arizona.

I never mention “Columbine” as in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre; though it’s also the official state flower and the name of the street on which I grew up.

That is until the other day when a Welsh colleague asked me. “Where did you say you were from in Colorado?” We had introduced ourselves a day before and I’d confessed the only things I knew about Wales were Dylan Thomas, Cardiff, an incomprehensible native tongue, chronic unemployment, hard drinking and coal mining.

“Boulder,” I replied, starting to go into my usual Boulder Chamber of Commerce spiel.

“Not Aurora?” he interrupted me politely.

“No, it’s a piece of shit suburb of Denver. Why?”

Then he told me about the movie theater massacre. I mentioned Columbine, which he knew about and then I excused myself and began frantically Googling and quickly felt sick and sad.

Chinese colleagues and friends began asking and texting me, too. Some even asked if I knew the shooter (WTF?) and, some, more gently asked if my family was okay. I assured them that all was well and I didn’t have a clue about the killer.

I saw CNN and online photos and footage of the theater, which I recognized as a place I’d driven by perhaps a dozen or so times in the past on my way to other destinations in sprawling, soulless Aurora.

“It is like Columbine, maybe?” asked a Chinese coworker who also asked me point out Colorado on a fading world map pinned on the office wall. I showed him.

“So it is in the western United States? Why do you have so many guns? Like a cowboy or gangster movie maybe?”

I didn’t want to go there and the right to bear arms or arm bears, etc, excused myself and went back to editing a glowing piece on the harmonious relations between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities in Tibet.

But the next day the same coworker and two others wanted to know more. They were fascinated with the booby-trapped apartment and how one man could walk into a movie theater dressed like some kind of futuristic grim reaper packing three or four guns.

“Your country is so violent,” one said, stating the obvious and not with malice. Indeed, and Aurora, a mostly downtrodden home for many unemployed which sees about 20 of its 320,000 or so residents murdered annually, is particularly so.

But I felt defensive and asked about the recent hostage taker who was shot dead by a police sniper in the No. 10 line Hujialou subway station. Why hadn’t that received more press?

“But he was a professional man,” one coworker said. “A white collar.” As if that explained anything. I pressed on about past atrocities – some worse then the Aurora massacre – such as the rash of young school children decapitations, kidnappings and murders in Shenzhen and other cities a few years ago.

“What ever happened to the men who did that?” I asked. “And what about the other children who saw their schoolmates hacked to death? How do they handle the memory of seeing their friend’s head chopped off with a meat cleaver? In the US or elsewhere these would all be relevant, newsworthy. Here it seems it is quickly mentioned at most and then swept aside in favor of harmonious unilateral relations with Africa or squabbles over tiny islands.”

China also has its fair share of serial killers, as Robert Foyle Hunwick pointed out in an excellent piece in Danwei,though unlike the US or UK, these crimes are underreported and often virtually ignored due to  the low social status – migrant workers, hookers, etc – of the victims. The reverse side of the coin that says a hostage taker in a sport coat who is taken out by a police sniper is not worthy of much press because he’s a “professional man” and it might offend others in that class.

There are obvious answers to these questions for anyone who has done hack work or “PR for the PRC” as I have since arriving in 2003 and – exceptfor 3 and a half year stint at The Standard in Hong Kong – has otherwise toiled in the belly of the beast at state publications, including China Daily, Global Times and China Radio International.

It was at my first Chinese English language paper, a small, friendly and never feisty publication called Shenzhen Daily where I first learned how these things work. A wealthy Hong Kong family connected with Phoenix TV had been murdered and robbed in their Shenzhen luxury home.

Juicy stuff. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as the journo cliché goes.

The suspects were caught shortly thereafter and all I had to do was to clean up the grammar and slap a headline on it.

“Phoenix TV murder suspects nabbed” was what I wrote. Simpl7e and to the point.

Alas and alack, my chief Chinese overseer came to me shortly thereafter and asked me to tone it down.

“It is too harsh,” he said.

“I don’t understand,” I replied.

“There was also a robbery,” he said. “Perhaps you might say, ‘Robbery suspects arrested.’ Murder is too harsh for a headline.”

Flash forward. Okay. How about “Colorado ‘Dark Knight’ premiere interrupted by discord, experts say.”

July Mailbag: Media, Monsters, Weird Searches

Since it’s almost August, it’s time for another Rectified.name mailbag.  As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.  We do love feedback so send your best comments, counter-arguments, complaints, or conspiracy theories via our comment page.  We’ll publish our next mailbag in August.  Until then, keep the letters coming.


Hey guys, Just discovered your blog, and it’s truly awesome. Have you thought about using a twitter feed to alert readers to new posts? It’s the only way I can keep up with the various blogs I read, since I rarely remember to manually check for new stuff.



We have one! @rectify.name (“rectified” was taken). You can also find us on Facebook.


In your June mailbag post, under the search terms you described thusly: “All of which make some sense, unlike these search terms which somehow led the strange, the needy, and the possibly mentally ill to our site over the past two months:” you included the search term: “china cannibalism blood medicinal” That’s not strange, needy, or mentally ill. That’s a combo of Lu Xun and a Chinese literature student. In Lu Xun’s story “Diary of a Madman” there is one sentence in which the Madman recounts hearing of a case of cannibalism in his town. “Medicine” is all about a desperate couple’s rush to get a piece of mantou soaked in the blood of a just executed convict with which to cure their son of TB. Both stories appear in “Call to Arms”.


You are absolutely right.  Between Brendan and Jeremiah, you’d think we would have caught that.  Nice spot, Chris!


re: 10 Ways to Make the World Love Chinese Media

Thanks. That is funny stuff. However bad Chinese movies are generally, I find them far easier to watch that Korean films.



Att. Dave Lyons The “google card trick” is very useable, but to see it you have to know a little about how the Great Firewall works when it comes to google searches: It bans _all_ searches from your IP address for 2 minutes if you happen to enter a query with a sensible word. This is not a big problem for an individual user on his own internet connection, but because workers in companies often share the same external IP address, the mechanics of the Great Firewall effectively bans the whole company. I was working in China for a month last year, and google was often “down” at our site because of that. As an IT professional that lives and breathes through google, I certainly understand and welcome this feature.


Dave Replies: While the new feature is not totally useless, my point was that Chinese users aren’t going to switch to Google because of the banned keyword alert feature. They’ll continue to use Baidu, or maybe Bing. If you ran an organization in China, which is easier and more effective: simply avoiding Google altogether, or training your entire staff to use the keyword warning system? And if you’re “an IT professional that live and breathes through Google,” then you should do what all the IT professionals (foreign and Chinese) do here: set up a VPN or an SSH tunnel, if not in the office, then on your personal devices. This isn’t going to increase Google’s search market share in China, but it plays well overseas since it sticks a thumb in the State Council Internet Information Office’s eye.


Lots of responses to Will’s piece on Godzilla and the SARFT Monster…as well as a few suggestions for fans of Kaiju.

This was a lovely article. Thank you. I’ve learned a lot about Japan by working with Toho on Godzilla-related projects, and it was really interesting to think about how China’s political system could create such a difference between China and Japan in this respect. If William Moss is still interested in Kaiju, may I humbly suggest he back my Kickstarter project on the subject? http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/14214732/kaiju-combat


Humble suggestion noted. 


Loved the post about Godzilla vs. SARFT. Mr. Moss’ conception of how a SARFT-approved monster movie plot would go is spot-on. I thought of another program that could never air in China today: “The Price Is Right.” It would incite too much commentary about inflation.



Reader Gil Grundy (AKA @foarp) sent the following after reading Will’s post on the strange lack of Chinese monster movies. In that post, Will pointed out that Beijing has never been monstered. Gil notes that other Chinese cities have been:

Tell Moss to get himself a copy of Godzilla: Final Wars. A Chinese city does get pwned on-screen by monsters, but it’s Shanghai – obvious choice really. A radiation-crazed Godzilla also trashes Hong Kong in one of the later films. Basically, Beijing just isn’t a prestigious enough destination for the big guy to bother with. Sorry.

Will replies: As it happens, Moss has a copy of “Final Wars.” Produced in 2004, it’s the only one of the eight films I bought that I hadn’t watched when I wrote that post. I watched it last Friday and was treated to Anguirus –the second oldest monster in the Godzilla pantheon– trashing Shanghai. According to the IMDB entry, “Final Wars” had some very modest location shooting in Shanghai, so on that front I owe SARFT an apology. It seems at least in 2004 you could get shooting permission for panic scenes for a film featuring a giant monster in a Chinese city (albeit not the capital). However, “Final Wars” never officially exhibited in China, though no doubt it’s floating around out there in the gray channels.

The attack on Hong Kong is from “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” which I actually saw fourteen or fifteen years ago and clearly must put back on my list. It was produced in 1995, pre-handover, although I assume that, thanks to the “one country, two systems” formulation that keeps Hong Kong cinema livelier than mainland cinema, Hong Kong is still fair game.

I respect the attractiveness of both Shanghai and Hong Kong as kaiju destinations, given that they both have something that Beijing lacks: a skyline (also, treaty ports and the SAR seem somehow politically safer for monstering, especially with the Shanghai faction out of power). However, those are still Japanese productions, and the question remains: Where are the Chinese monster movies? There were rumors of a Chinese remake of the excellent Korean film “The Host” back in 2009, but I don’t know that they ever came to anything. If anyone has spotted a Chinese giant monster film that I’ve missed, drop us a line.

Heading for Kowloon. Typical.


And in case you’re interested….

The most popular posts from June on Rectified.name

The Soft Power Own Goal: China, Leeds, and Mad Men by Jeremiah Jenne

Six Points on Social Insurance for Foreigners by Matthew Stinson

I’ll be the Judge of the Air Quality in These Parts by Will Moss

10 Ways to Make the World Love Chinese Media by Dave Lyons

A Bite of Food, A Whole Lotta Love by YJ


Rectified.name June Mailbag


It’s been nearly three months since we launched Rectified.name. In that time, we have received a lot of feedback for our little group blogging project.  Much of the feedback has been good, some not so much.  Our goal is about once a month (or so) to do a post in which we respond to readers comments and questions….The Recitfied.name mailbag.

As will always be the case, these are actual emails/comments from actual readers.

Why no comments?

It’s not that we don’t love “the conversation”, but in our collective experience open comment threads on China blogs tend to degenerate into mass trollery pretty quickly. However, we do welcome your feedback on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or via email from our comments page. As we hope this post proves, we are paying attention and will respond. Hopefully in some cases more quickly than we did here.


Subject: I Apologize if Anyone Felt Killed by William Moss


I will see your North Korean Steamroller and Raise you one that happened as recently as 2003.
Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine. Love your blog. Keep writing.

Such cheerful correspondents! Technically Ms. Corrie was killed by a bulldozer. We’re sure the North Koreans have studied that situation and are considering whether they need to escalate their choice of construction equipment in order to maintain their “only we are crazy enough…” aura. Do we hear a vote for backhoes?


Hilarious ! I came to this from an Evan Osnos column in the New Yorker. I will bookmark this for more. Thanx ^gb

Thanx back at you.  By the way, Evan’s columns really are the gold standard for thoughtful reflection about what’s happening in China.


Asia resident for 20+ years, 1/2 in Shanghai, i’m embarrassed to say that i’ve just found your site — immediately RSS’ed it — ‘Thar Be Dragons‘ and ‘I Apologize‘ are outstanding — re the former, comparing Daisey to Backhouse is tremendous — total agreement with your comments policy — keep it all, er, up – thanks

Although there is limited evidence that Mike Daisey ever had clitoral-rectal sex with Cixi, he did once tell an audience in Duluth, MN that he had.  Probably.  We’re still looking for his interpreter/fixer to confirm.


 I enjoyed and agree with your comments about Bo’s case and its reflections of Chinese politics. In many ways, not much has changed since the Mao days; the only difference is that losers don’t necessarily get decapitated in the literal sense of the word. All the best,  John

There’s still time.


Hi – I enjoy reading the blog, but the paper-towel-like textured background you have for the body text makes it a little less comfortable than it could be. Any chance of something less grainy? PTH

Our current endorsement deal with Brawny (See the designer prints! Who says cleaning up can’t be stylish? Ka-CHING!) prevents us from changing the background until the autumn. The WordPress template we’re using was the least offensive in the built-in library that we could all agree on. As the site grows, we will invest more time in prettying it up but for the moment time doesn’t permit. You can, however, use an RSS reader like Google Reader or NetNewsWire to subscribe to the site and get all the awesome content with none of the off-the-shelf design.


Hi Brian, Enjoyed your post on corruption in the margins. There’s a somewhat similar phenomenon in the US, although not quite as severe. The person in charge of purchasing for a business often gets to keep the visa/amex/master card reward points from purchases they make, and use the points for their personal use. This means they have at least some motivation to go to the overpriced vendors that have partnered with the credit company to offer bonus points, rather than find the best deal for the company. 

One reason we don’t let Brendan anywhere near the Rectified.name visa card.


Hey guys, Your blog is just great. You need to know this. Having devoted my entire post-adolescent life to everything Chinese, consequently having lived in China for a decade, and now travelling back to the motherland on a monthly basis in my current self-employed capacity to work with Chinese clients, I get a lot from your postings. Not only can I relate to much of what you post, but I also greatly appreciate the sometimes unusual topics or creative analyses of current affairs. After all, I can read the print media for a high-level run-down on China, but your insights provide a much more perceptive viewpoint to any given issue. Anyway, that’s about all I wanted to say. I hope to see much more in the years to come.

All the best, Blair

PS. William –

In Australia for Christmas we actually often persevere with the full British tradition of roast turkey, ham, a plethora of sides, and plum pudding, while dressed up in our Sunday best, albeit with an often blistering sun blazing down on us. Insane, I know, but at least we get to drink lots of cold beer and go for a swim in the pool afterwards. And my partner is American, and believe me, she still can’t get used to seeing poor Santa dressed in his woolly suit with extra padding sweltering on main street in 35+ degree heat either…

Thanks for the kind words and we acknowledge that the traditional Christmas scene of sleigh bells and snow is an excellent example of North Atlantic cultural imperialism. Also, one hesitates to wonder how much beer Santa is drinking in these circumstances. I wouldn’t put my kids on his lap if I were you.


Hey- Just read the piece about Rebiya and the Dalai Lama and wanted to point something out. The Dalai Lama’s comments about poisoning came after the interviewer specifically asked him about his security, and he also mentioned very clearly that the threat was pretty vague. I think a lot of the negative reactions to this came from people who read more sensationalistic headlines taken from the interview, because as presented in the interview itself it isn’t nearly as objectionable and I don’t think really qualifies as douchery. As for why the Chinese would even consider killing him now, why did the last Panchen Lama die when he did? There might be a precedent, even if the dalai lama HAD made some kind of serious accusation. anyways thanks for listening to the opinion of some random web guy.


As a Tibet, I found it funny that in the post where you criticize western media for not doing the homework on Rebiya Kadeer, you go into the same trap youself on Dalai Lama’s security. You obviously haven’t done the minimum of homework regarding the history of threats to Dalai Lama. Great that you reference GT as a source for forming your opinion on Tibet. Because then people know they cannot take you seriously on Tibet. I recommend that you read what Chinese local and regional leaders say on Tibet (in Chinese), rather than reading GTs satirical, ironic and morally disgusting comments in english targeted at western journalist and bloggers such as yourself.  Gendun

Dave Responds:

Dear Random Web Guy: Fair point on the Dalai Lama’s comments, and it was certainly not on the epic fail level of Rebiya’s foot shot. I will say, however, that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan movement pioneered the strategy of focusing entirely on Western opinions and governments and paying no attention to the messages they send (intentionally or not) to Chinese citizens, who ultimately will be the real arbiters of the fate of minorities in China – especially if a democracy somehow comes into being.

As I said, I am not thrilled with finding I agree with something in Global Times, but occasionally they accidentally publish something that resembles a logical point: why go through all that trouble? Go back and read the Wired post on the practicality of contact poisons. If I were the Chinese, why not just shoot His Holiness and frame Dorje Shugden Devotees Charitable and Religious Society (DSDCRS), which, as the link you sent points out, has already murdered three monks close to the Dalai Lama including his Chinese translator?


Hi guys. Love your blog. I’m casually studying Chinese in Harbin while making just enough off English teaching to support my self-imposed medical-style vacation in China. This week I hit an emotional trough reading China Daily, and the five mao comments. The topic, China’s human rights report on the US. While seemingly mostly factual, the tone was retaliatory. Like a shamed little boy. “I may have eaten the last cookie, but I saw you at the movie theater with that girl mummy doesn’t like”. Please, please, please write something to help me through this difficult time. The time will come when I can’t stand China anymore. But since I also love being here, I hope that day is a long way off. Foreign sites responding to the Chinese report are few, and mostly dismissive. Chinese Internet freedom of speech is… ok it isn’t. I need some intelligent perspective on the issue so I can forget about it and get on with tolerating living here. My emotional harmony is in your hands.

You have type-2 Chinabetes. You need to carefully monitor your intake of China-related news and commentary. We suggest restricting it to reading this blog and this blog alone. We also prescribe a healthy diet of fun, breezy modern western novels (Get a Kindle, or even better a Nook!), at least 2 hours of pointless video game playing a day, and if at all possible, recreational activities with other people that don’t involve alcohol or bitching about China, such as soccer, mahjong, karaoke, musical theater, or  drift racing.


The one final post on Yang Rui reminded me of how I was watching an English competition back in 2008 in which one of the judges was Tian Wei, the other host of Cross Talk who often takes a very “Glorious China, Evil/Stupid everyone else” type of condescending tone of voice when talking to guests. During the Q&A Session she asked one contestant a question as if to suggest he doesn’t know anything about the subject and she knows everything. The first words out of this man’s mouth were “Let me tell you why you are wrong.” If I could track this guy down I would buy him a bottle of Qingdao and tell him how great it was that he made this woman publicly lose enough face to need a plastic surgeon.

Win little victories.


In case you’re interested….

The most popular posts from May on the site:

It’s Not Just Yang Rui by Brendan O’Kane

The Devil’s Air Conditioner and other Tales of Woe by Will Moss

“Authorization Modernization always works until it quite suddenly doesn’t” by Jeremiah Jenne

Melissa Chan does not Compute by The Editors

An Expat Comes back from the Homeland by Dave Lyons

Pofu or no Pofu Yang Rui is just an Idiot by YJ


We were also grateful to have our posts picked up and linked to by a number of China blogs including The Analects (Economist), The China Real Time Report (Wall Street Journal), James Fallows (The Atlantic Monthly), and The New York Times.  Jeremiah was quoted in The Global Post and the New York Times this past month, and Internet oracle Rebecca Mackinnon gave a nice shout out to Dave in her latest piece for Foreign Policy.


Finally the top search topics for April/May at Rectified.name were:

bo guagua

Yang Rui

Bo Xilai

Gu Kailai

Bo Guagua Ferrari

Game of Thrones Chinese Title

Sheng Keyi

Nick Heywood

Instagram in China


All of which make some sense, unlike these search terms which somehow led the strange, the needy, and the possibly mentally ill to our site over the past two months:

write pretzel in chinese & pinyin

can you go on instagram in china

Yang Rui foreign bitch

china cannibalism blood medicinal

can get browsing history from my girlfriends instagram?

convincing others to do violence for me

william moss totally venal (NB: Will has asked his ex girlfriends to stop Googling him.)

jacques martin cologne

two asses with glasses on chinese shivering

intestine hangs out at dothraki wedding screenshots (Our bad – this was in our keywords.)

Melissa Chan does not compute


It would be a disservice to Melissa Chan, one of the most dedicated journalists covering China, to not to make at least brief mention of the craven and shameless decision by the Powers that Be to deny her application for a new visa, a move which is tantamount to her expulsion from the country.[1]

Some might see it as a badge of honor to be the first foreign journalist in 15 years to be kicked out of China – and I suppose on some level, like Dan Schorr being included on Nixon’s Enemies List – it is.  But for those journalists who remain, and the world at large who depend upon them to make sense of the rapid changes in China today, the decision is a chilling reminder that the government knows its attempts at managing China’s international image are flailing badly.  Since 2008, when new regulations were announced (if not always followed) allowing greater freedom for international organizations to report from China, the government and its representatives have been barely tolerant of coverage they deemed damaging to their own national self-interest and self-image.  In several cases, especially those involving the thugocracy which passes for ‘local administration’ in many areas of China, that tolerance has crumbled into threats and acts of violence and intimidation against foreign journalists and their employees.

Now that frustration has reached higher levels of the government and Melissa is the victim.  Of course, this being China, nobody in the government has the actual balls to say why they chose to expel her.  That would be too embarrassing.  But if you’re going to send your minions out to obfuscate and cover up your own shamelessness, at least send people who can – you know – do a job.

Compare these two press conference transcripts, both starring MOFA spokesperson Hong Lei.

Q: I just want to know whether the expulsion of Melissa Chan should be seen as a warning to other journalists operating in China?

Hong Lei: “I have just answered relevant questions. On the issue of foreign journalists our policies and moves are easy to see. We will continue to provide convenience for foreign journalists reporting in China and we welcome foreign journalists to report in China. At the same time we need to stress that foreign journalists should abide by Chinese laws and regulations, as well as professional ethics of journalists while reporting in China.”

Q: Under what circumstances will Al Jazeera be given press credentials and visas for a new reporter?

Hong Lei: “The Beijing branch of Al Jazeera is still functioning normally.”

Q: Can you tell us who made the decision to deny Ms. Chan, was it the Foreign Ministry or another department?

Hong Lei: “We deal with relevant matter in accordance with law.”

Q: Can you give us any specifics on why Melissa Chan was expelled from the country because there is a lot of confusion here and unless you’re more specific about it it’s very difficult for us to get a picture of exactly what’s going on.

Hong Lei: “I have already answered this question.”


Q: Can you tell us who made the decision to deny Ms. Chan: was it the Foreign Ministry or another department?

Hong Lei: Honestly? Not a clue. I’m gonna refer you here to our mysterious laws and regulations.

Q: Can you give us any specifics on why Melissa Chan was expelled from the country… because there is a lot of confusion here and unless you’re more specific about it it’s very difficult for us to get a picture of exactly what’s going on.

Hong Lei: She was not expelled… as far as I know, she left of her own volition.


Q: I think the main concern of the journalists is that the Chinese government, you use the issue of visa as a way to censor journalists’ work in China. Is this a precedent of how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will behave in the future?

Hong Lei: We do this every 14 years or so. So, yeah. No. Maybe.

Q: What could the Chinese government say if a Chinese journalist was expelled from a foreign country?

Hong Lei: Anybody else going to see Hanggai play this weekend?

One is the China Daily Show.  The other is a VOA transcript of an actual MOFA presser from this past week.  Once again China’s government teeters drunkenly on that oh so fine line between “self” and “self-parody.”

One question nobody seems able to answer though is: Why Melissa?

Certainly the timing wasn’t great.  The government has had to deal with a number of embarrassing incidents in the past few weeks.  Not a good time to apply for a visa.  Melissa was also one of the most active correspondents in the foreign press corps.  Never content to report “Dateline: Jianguomen,” she spent a large amount of her time in the field, often tweeting about another narrow escape from the forces of Public Insecurity or of being rousted from hotels in the middle of nowhere as she bravely covered stories few others would.  It is also one thing to cover a story with a notebook and pen, quite another to do so with cameras, lights, and sound equipment.  Officials hate reporters with notebooks, but the sight of a camera in the hands of a professional journalist will generally cause even the sternest cadre to experience a sudden involuntary fecal event.

A quotation which was making the rounds on Twitter this past week – and which ended up in a few different posts on the subject — was the old Orwell chestnut: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

Something rags like The Global Times fail to understand.

China didn’t give a specific reason for expelling the reporter. This ambiguity cannot be criticized. According to foreign journalist sources here in Beijing, Melissa Chan holds an aggressive political stance. According to foreign reports, she has a tense relationship with the management authorities of foreign correspondents. She has produced some programs which are intolerable for China.

We don’t want to see any confrontations between the Chinese government and foreign journalists here in China. Local authorities are more willing to cooperate with them, while foreign media should take an objective and balanced view toward the country. Foreign media should reflect on China’s complexity, which is well-known to almost all foreigners in China. However, some media are only keen to show the wickedness of China to the world.

According to some Chinese people who work or used to work in foreign media bureaus, it is common practice for some foreign journalists to just piece together materials based on their presuppositions when reporting on China. If a foreign reporter cannot stay in China, we can only assume that he or she has done something cross the line.

Finally, Isaac Stone Fish put forward a somewhat controversial theory, that Melissa was the victim of racial profiling.

Issac writes:

Executives and reporters with Chinese backgrounds have many advantages operating in China. Besides language skills and local networks, they can blend in a country where different color skin clearly identifies one as an outsider. Anecdotally speaking, they seem to be given less leniency when they don’t follow China’s laws; like they’re supposed to “know better.”

Many foreign news bureaus are hosted in two diplomatic compounds in the Jianguomen neighborhood. As a reporter based out of the compound for two years, I entered freely, while foreign reporters who looked Chinese (and, of course, those that were Chinese), often had to show their IDs to get in. Injustice in China affects more than just the locals.[2]

One wonders – and it helps here to consider the mentality of those officials who make these decisions – if they expected a young woman of Asian descent working for Al-Jazeera to be more…sympathetic, and when she turned out to be tough as nails as well as a highly independent and keen observer of the complexities of China, it was all too much to bear.

I remember an anecdote Melissa once told a group of my students.  She said that when she first arrived, the Ministry folks were all smiles, figuring that any network which plays Osama bin Laden’s mix tapes must be alright.  Six months later the same ministry folks complained to her that she was just as bad as CNN and the BBC.  “Thank you?” she replied.

Melissa was a journalist who, more than most, gave voice to the voiceless and shone a spotlight on those corners of the country in grave need of international awareness and recognition.  A more confident government would applaud her professionalism.  By expelling Melissa, however, the Chinese government has shown how little it really knows about ‘soft power’ or, indeed, how little it cares about showing this glorious country – in all of its nuance and complexity – to the world.

She will be missed.

[1] The further decision to refuse accreditation for a replacement journalist effectively kills the Al-Jazeera English bureau.  One of the less reported casualties were the Chinese staff at the bureau, one of whom, who shall remain nameless, is something of a legend among the Chinese news assistants for his long service and professionalism.

[2] YJ once led a mini-revolt at the compound when she was stopped for the 1000th time while her husband, who had absolutely no business being there except to play basketball, blithely wandered in and out of the gate without so much as a glance.

And the reaction becomes the story…


Early last week there was a flood of sensational rumors on Chinese microblogs alleging political unrest and splits among the Party’s top leadership. Last night news broke that the relevant authorities slapped China’s two most influential microblog platforms, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, for not acting strongly enough to suppress the rumors.  Today, attempts at commenting on Sina’s popular Weibo site receive the following message: “3月31日8时至4月3日8时,微博评论功能暂停使用,给您带来的不便深表歉意.” (From 8:00 March 31 until 8:00 April 3, the Weibo commenting function has been temporarily suspended, we deeply apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.”)

More ominously, the BBC reports this morning that six people have been arrested for spreading false rumors relating to the ‘coup’ in Beijing.

As journalist Adam Minter said on Twitter, “Well, if there were any weibo users who didn’t know about the coup rumors before, they surely do now.”  Other Chinese and foreign journalists are also commenting online and the Wall Street Journal has already run a story.

Once again, the reaction has become the news.  Just when it seemed like crazy rumors of a possible coup in the capital were mostly a jape, easily traced back to a certain heavy-breathing religious society based in the US, the CCP leadership has taken direct aim at the tops of their imported Italian loafers and pulled the trigger.  The story had already largely played itself out in the foreign press. Even the tantalizing threads of scandal emerging on a near daily basis from Chongqing had started to run their course as journalists who traveled there found it nearly impossible to confirm any of the wild and tawdry tales being told about Bo, his wife, the corpse, and the cop.  This is sure to keep those stories going for (at least) another week.

Moreover, Chinese Weibo users are now having their Brave New Weibo World disrupted: “What do you mean I can’t tell my friend that her funny cat picture is soooo cute?  Why?”  

Singer Faye Wong’s Weibo account offers a nice capsule summary of the reaction — and a glimpse at what the big story of the day would have been if not for the comment freeze:Faye Wong's first Weibo update today, posted at 8:17

A cod reworking of a famous Meng Haoran poem — “I slept the spring night away, not noticing the dawn / And tossed and turned all night and didn’t get a good sleep / There was a big old wind at night / So bundle up today!” — about the sandstorm that hit Beijing overnight.
Wong is an extremely — not to say pathologically — active Weibo user, and apparently sat there in her jammies refreshing her Weibo page to see if anyone had commented for thirteen minutes before realizing that something was amiss:

Faye Wong's second Weibo post, at 8:30, asking what's going on

“Huh? I didn’t turn off comments. What’s going on? Am I ‘sensitive’ all of a sudden?”

The ‘forwarding’ function for Weibo (similar to Twitter’s RT) still works, and Weibo users are now rapid-forwarding theories and jokes about the shutdown, with one Weibo follower of YJ writing, “Why do you say there are rumors? We have freedom of speech and didn’t violate any laws.”*

The Weibo platforms have been flirting with a showdown with the government for some time. Time will tell if this is a one-off lesson, or the beginning of some very trying days for Sina and Tencent.


*We have a screenshot but in light of recent events are not posting it here or identifying the user.


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