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Archive for the tag “Dalai Lama”

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

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I will admit that I have no idea where Leeds is.  I know it’s in England.  I know the Who played a concert there before I was born but I only know that because I listened to “Live at Leeds” about 9,474 times one summer while commuting back and forth to work.  A quick survey of the – decidedly Yankish – Rectified.name office reveals that there was also a halfway decent movie made about the local soccer/football team a few years back.

I’m guessing that your average Beijinger knew as much about the city as I did…that is until today’s full-on state media blitz castigating the Leeds City Council, England, the Queen, and possibly the Queen’s kennel of championship Welsh Corgis for all having the shocking temerity to allow the Dalai Lama to speak at that well-known den of international subterfuge: the Yorkshire International Business Convention.

Of course these things matter to China, who react to anything involving the Dalai Lama the same way, say, a championship Welsh Corgi reacts when presented with its own poo wrapped in bacon, and right now it matters to the Leeds City Council because the Chinese government has chosen Leeds to be a training and preparation site for the Chinese delegation to the 2012 London Olympic Games, an arrangement, according to The Guardian, worth about 250 million pounds (USD $388 million).

Event organizers swiftly moved to defuse the crisis using carefully crafted diplomatic language specifically written to assuage Chinese sensitivities.

“Here we have an unelected communist state coming and dictating to local politicians. What we pride ourselves on in this country is freedom of speech. Clearly, they don’t.” – Mike Firth, Founder, Yorkshire International Business Conference

Or not. Whatever works.

The state media hissy fit over Leeds comes days after the Chinese government denied a visa to Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway.  Norway, as you may remember, is that northern country known for salmon, Fjords, and giving Nobel Prizes to people the CCP really wished the world would just shut up about, and so apparently somebody in the Chinese government thought the opportunity to slap the Norwegians around a little was just too tempting to pass up.

Trying to put the best spin on the situation, the People’s Daily published comments made by Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Liu Weimin urging foreign skeptics not to read too much into the denial decision, and suggesting that the Chinese government, like governments around the world, rejects visas for no apparent reason all the time.

But today an op-ed appeared in the nationalist rag The Global Times which made it quite clear that anybody who messes with China’s dignity should expect a flaming bag of cat hurled in the general direction of their front door sometime in the very near future:

“They must pay the due price for their arrogance. This is also how China can build its authority in the international arena. China doesn’t need to make a big fuss because of the Dalai or a dissident, but it has many options to make the UK and Norway regret their decision.”

You get the idea.

This is China at its soft power worst, scoring goals in its own net and making it exponentially harder to convince the rest of the world that the country is being run by grown-ups.

Take the case of the new documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, produced by Alison Klayman.  It’s received some decent buzz at Sundance and other stops on the festival circuit, but that wasn’t sufficient for the Chinese government who apparently want EVERYBODY to go see this movie.

Faced with the possibility of appearing at the same film festival as Klayman’s documentary, a Chinese delegation, including representatives from CCTV, pulled out of a planned appearance rather than validate the promoter’s decision to…I don’t know, show films.  Anybody not high from inhaling industrial solvents could have predicted what happened next, because as sure as cows shit hay the festival organizers then called a press conference, chastised the Chinese delegation, and reaped a bonanza of free publicity for their festival, Ai Weiwei, Klayman and her film.

Seriously, if the powers that be really wanted to kill this film they’d have SARFT publicly give the documentary its seal of approval.

And that’s the rub. The Chinese government can’t help itself.  They’ve become so predictable that any organization, cause, event or movement that wants some buzz knows it only has to take a stick and poke China because they know a) the government will always take the bait and b) they know the response will be a staggering overreaction ultimately undermining whatever point the Chinese government hoped to make in the first place.  It’s become too easy.  The government fails to see that no matter how insecure you might feel on the outside, by acknowledging the source of your frustration and your doubt you give that source power.

As James Fallows wrote on his Atlantic Monthly blog last week:

To adapt a line from The Usual Suspects, the greatest “soft power” strength comes from appearing not to care about appearances at all. Billions for international PR campaigns, and defensive censorship about public health data? Huffiness about “the Vienna Convention”? Sigh. The country is better than this.

If the Chinese propaganda professionals really wanted to end this game, they would approach the Leeds invitation to the Dalai Lama or the next Nobel Prize winning dissident or provocative documentary about China with the same mix of disdain and hollow bravado that Don Draper used on new copywriter Michael Ginsberg this season on Mad Men. Every time the Ginsberg’s of the world get in an elevator and talk about how sorry they feel for China, just take a line from Don Draper’s playbook:

“Really? Cause I don’t think about you at all.”

That’s not really soft power, but at least China won’t be helping the other team by kicking the ball into its own goal.


Rectified.name June Mailbag

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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.

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Subject: I Apologize if Anyone Felt Killed by William Moss

William,

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?

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.)

This Week in Douchiness: Oppressed Minority Edition

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Last week both the Wall Street Journal and the Telegraph had articles about the World Uyghur Congress holding a conference in Tokyo, and China delivered its usual autonomic response, although, interestingly enough, they tagged in rumored Bo Xilai supporter Zhou Yangkang to do it. Western media coverage somehow managed to skirt past the fact that right-wing Nanjing massacre revisionist and nationalist MP Takeo Hiranuma spoke at the conference, and Rebiya Kadeer visited the Yasakuni Shrine. The Chinese press, of course, didn’t miss this at all, and frankly these are significant events that ought to have made it into the Telegraph and WSJ articles. Not only is the Uyghur movement associating itself with a Japanese politician who opposed a woman’s ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne because “If [Princess] Aiko becomes the reigning empress and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be the emperor… We should never let that happen,” but Kadeer’s visit to the Yasakuni Shrine is quite simply just spitting in the eye of not just the Chinese government, but the Chinese people. The only apparent purpose it serves is as a gesture to Japan’s right wing, which hardly seems of any value in the long-run if you’re seeking actual solutions to the discrimination and oppression faced by Uyghurs in Xinjiang. UPDATE: It appears that Rebiya also donated 100,000 yen to the Tokyo government’s fund to buy the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if she releases a statement next week endorsing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. SECOND UPDATE: Word is that the reports of far-right funding were erroneous, and that the Uyghur dissident groups were “unaware” of the importance of the Yasukuni Shrine. Not clear whether the reports of right-wing Japanese politicians speaking at the event were also erroneous, but being unaware of the impact of a Yasukuni Shrine visit smacks of geopolitical naivete. Do they know how this game is played?

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama has reported “rumors” of a Chinese plan to assassinate him via poisoned scarves, a delivery system that Wired’s new science blog Elemental throws some cold water on. Once again, I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with the Global Times, who said “Let’s put it simply: If the central government wanted to “eliminate” the Dalai Lama, why has it waited for such a long time? Isn’t it foolish to take action against Dalai at such an old age?” And as Wired’s Deborah Blum pointed out, “In that interview with the Telegraph, the Dalai Lama did emphasize that he was just repeating a rumor, nothing that had been verified. So why, you might ask, even bring it up?”

Meanwhile, I heartily recommend Autonomous Region, an excellent Xinjiang blog (and one of the few left still posting regularly) where Batur has lately been turning up several good Taobao finds, including organic free trade fruits and nuts direct from Kashgari farmers, that Xinjiang consumers purchased the most numbers of bikinis and bras via Taobao in 2011 (and also the largest cup sizes compared to all other Chinese provinces), and an awesome t-shirt. Batur is also reliable for news on things like ethnic discrimination in government hiring, the upcoming Urumqi metro, the expected return of Uyghur BBS Uighurbiz, which was shut down after the 2008 riots, a Uyghur movie site, and the problem of Chinese transliteration and name-length limits for Uyghur names on ID cards and plane tickets. A must subscribe for Xinjiang news bites.

To close out, here’s a clip of American bluegrass musician Abigail Washburn jamming in Urumqi.

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