Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Up against the ‘Great Firewall’ – Sim Chi Yin

The latest in the saga triggered by the Google cyber-attack. China’s Great Wall has stood the test of time and in many ways, shaped Chinese thought – insular and superior, is best. Let’s see how the ‘Great Firewall’ stands up to the test of modern pressures. I suspect it will hold. But just like how China’s northern neighbours found opportunity from time to time to creep in, and invade, China’s new wall surely cannot keep everything in, especially if its own people want to get out.

Quotable Quotes – “Basically, in China, the Internet is mainstream media. Whatever happens on the Internet, the whole nation knows, and that gets on the government’s nerves.” Professor Xiao Qiang, China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley

Highlights -“China has the most Internet users in the world – 384 million by the end of last year – and there are more than 150 new users every minute. Ordinary Chinese use the Internet for work, chatting, games and entertainment. Increasingly, many also use it to rally around social causes…

– – –

Up against the ‘Great Firewall’
By Sim Chi Yin
Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider, 24 Jan 2010

JAN 24 – Each time Web portal executive Li (not his real name) receives an e-mail from his political masters telling him to remove certain posts and articles, he curses under his breath – and then immediately carries out the orders.

Heavy-handed – and tightening – censorship was a key reason cited by international cyber giant Google for possibly quitting China, the world’s largest Internet market.

But it is a daily reality for the thousands of fresh-faced Chinese who work in China’s “Silicon Valley”, Zhongguancun, in west Beijing.

Mostly graduates of top local universities, many struggle with the sort of “schizophrenia” Li professes to have – yearning for free flow of information but having to block an ever-growing list of “sensitive” words and content.

Even as United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a loud call for global Internet freedom last Thursday, foreign Internet companies in China, including Google, play by the same rules as local firms – for sheer survival.

Beijing-based technology analyst Kaiser Kuo noted: “There’s widespread acceptance of it. It’s just how business is done here.”

But enough is enough, said Google, whose dramatic move was apparently triggered by an audacious hacking attack, originating from China, on it and more than 30 other US companies.

The world’s leading search engine company, which had drawn much flak for agreeing to self-censor when it set up shop in China in 2006, said more than a week ago that it would stop filtering search results on Google.cn

Google, which has about one-third of the Chinese search market compared with chief rival Baidu’s 60 per cent, might shut down its China operations if the negotiations it is seeking with Beijing fail.

Former Google China executive Dan Brody, who left the company in 2008, said: “Inside the company, we were never fully comfortable with the censorship, but we thought offering something was better than nothing. It was distasteful but overall we saw a net positive. And we said we’d continue to monitor the situation.”

Beijing-based Brody, who is now chief executive of Internet investment firm Koolanoo Group, added: “Now the calculus has changed. It’s got more, rather than less, difficult, so it’s become a net negative.”

There is little doubt the screws of control have tightened of late in Chinese cyberspace’s “most bitter winter”, as blogger Tan Yifei put it.

Since the start of last year, Beijing has been carrying out a crackdown on “vulgar” websites, ostensibly aimed at stopping rampant pornography in Chinese cyberspace, but also netting politically sensitive content.

In the past year, the authorities have also started blocking Web 2.0 social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and some of their Chinese equivalents like Fanfou.com.

“They are more worried about sites that allow dissemination of information among many to many,” noted Kuo.

Beijing has been trying to control cyber access since it wired up ordinary Chinese to the Internet back in 1995.

When an initial plan in 1996 to get all Internet subscribers to register with their local police became untenable because of the ballooning population of users, Beijing introduced the “Golden Shield Project”, which had public security officials playing gatekeepers online.

Today, a two-tier system exists. The first – “Great Firewall” – uses keyword filtering technology or human monitors to trawl the Internet and block objectionable material. A list obtained by the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley found that more than 1,000 words were automatically banned on China’s online forums, including “dictatorship”, “truth” and “riot police”.

The second and “more pernicious form”, noted Kuo, is that which “compels companies under pain of shutdown to enforce their own censorship”.

This strategy, which Beijing has increasingly relied on in recent years, holds Internet service and access providers responsible for their users’ behaviour.

“Not a single day goes by” without such directives from several Chinese Communist Party and government agencies, all of which have their own Internet-monitoring arms, said a Chinese Internet company executive who has been in the business for a decade. Not enforcing them swiftly means the company may have “points” docked and its licence not renewed.

Even seemingly non-political social networking sites like kaixin001.com – a Chinese site similar to Facebook – are said to employ an army of hundreds of human censors.

China has the most Internet users in the world – 384 million by the end of last year – and there are more than 150 new users every minute. Ordinary Chinese use the Internet for work, chatting, games and entertainment. Increasingly, many also use it to rally around social causes.

Professor Xiao Qiang, head of the Berkeley project, noted: “Basically, in China, the Internet is mainstream media. Whatever happens on the Internet, the whole nation knows, and that gets on the government’s nerves.”

Some Internet company employees flinch from having to enforce these rules. Others “just do as the Communist Party says”, as another Internet company employee put it.

Even among users, some of whom presented bouquets – literally – to Google for finally standing up to Beijing’s censorship, many see little meaning in such an affront.

As Baidu’s chief product designer Sun Yunfeng said in a Jan 14 blog post that was quickly removed: “Every enterprise or every individual must dance with shackles. Actually it’s the same in other countries, just a difference in degree.”

Some two-thirds, or 66 per cent, of Chinese surveyed in January 2008 in a University of Maryland poll said they “should have the right to read whatever is on the Internet”.

But another poll by the Pew Research Centre in the US and the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, published in the same year, showed that more than 80 per cent of respondents thought the Internet should be managed or controlled.

Kuo noted: “Many in China who appear cosmopolitan and are perhaps even Western-educated still accept the argument that throwing open the floodgates and allowing a fully free Internet could destabilise society.”

Lin Jun, author of a new book on the history of the Internet in China, said: “It’s understandable that the authorities want to control the Internet. The leaders who made certain political decisions in the recent past that they don’t want the public to discuss are still around.”

But he added: “Information flow really cannot be blocked. People who have higher aspirations for more information can always fan qiang.” This is a Chinese netizens’ term for “scale the wall” – using software and Web-based proxies.

Their ranks are probably growing. But the average Chinese – like office worker Qiu Yun, 35 – does not try his or her luck, out of an amorphous fear of Big Brother. On Jan 14, when Google.cn’s image search temporarily appeared unfiltered, she saw – wide-eyed – the iconic 1989 photograph of a Chinese man confronting a line of army tanks at Tiananmen Square for the very first time.

Beijing’s cyber censorship regime is getting more powerful, but it is also “creating many more enemies”, said Prof Xiao.

Li and other reluctant cogs in the machine plod on with a resigned optimism.

“Ordinary Chinese are getting smarter. We use homonyms to mock officials’ words until they are embarrassed to use those same terms,” he said.

“Anyway, good things live on for a longer time. Bad things die off.” – Straits Times

Filed under: Censorship, Communications, Google Cyber-attack 2010, International Relations, Internet, Media, Straits Times, The Malaysian Insider

Beijing tightens control over the Net

Quotable Quotes – The “Internet has become an important avenue through which anti-China forces infiltrate, sabotage and magnify their capabilities for destruction.” Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu

Beijing tightens control over the Net
New York Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider, 19 December 2009

BEIJING, Dec 19 — China’s government censors have taken fresh aim at the Internet.

It has rolled out tough new measures that limit ordinary citizens’ ability to set up personal websites and to view hundreds of other online sites offering films, video games and other forms of entertainment.

The authorities said that the stricter controls are intended to protect children from pornography, to limit the piracy of films, music and television shows, and to make it hard to perpetuate Internet scams.

But the measures also appear designed to further tighten the government’s already strict control of any organised political opposition.

In various pronouncements over the past several weeks, top propaganda and security officials have stressed anew the need to police the Internet on ideological and security grounds.

The “Internet has become an important avenue through which anti-China forces infiltrate, sabotage and magnify their capabilities for destruction”, Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu wrote in the Dec 1 issue of Qiushi, a magazine published by the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

“Therefore it represents a new challenge to the public security authority in maintaining national security and social stability,” he said.

The newly-announced restrictions are the government’s broadest effort yet to control the Internet since last June, when it tried to require manufacturers to install Internet filtering software on all new computers, experts said. Officials scaled back that programme, known as the Green Dam-Youth Escort, after an outcry by both Internet users and corporations.

Under the new initiative, unveiled piecemeal over the past month, more than 700 websites have been shut down, including many that offered free movies, television dramas and music downloads.

The government has also intensified pressure on cellphone companies to prevent transmissions of online pornography.

Among the video sharing or BitTorrent (BT) websites shut down by the authorities, who cited copyright violations and lewd content, was BT China which recorded at least 250,000 visits daily. China’s largest file-sharing site, Very CD, must obtain a new licence or face possible shutdown as well, according to reports.

Individuals have also been banned from registering websites using China’s country code domain, .cn. That domain is now limited to registered businesses.

Although individuals can still register websites in other domains, such as .com and .net, the new rule will dull the vibrancy of the Chinese Internet, analysts said.

The move comes against the background of heightened social unrest, some of which was allegedly organised or promoted through the Internet, peaking in ethnic riots in July in the Xinjiang region, the Financial Times said this week.

In March, China banned Google’s YouTube. Twitter, Flickr and Facebook were banned this summer, and last week, Sun TV (based in Hong Kong) lost its licence to air in the mainland.

Analysts say the latest measures are a continuation of the state’s increasingly sophisticated effort to control the Internet’s influence on more than 300 million Chinese users.

“They are basically improving their censorship mechanisms,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong.

Reaction to the government’s latest crackdown runs the gamut from enthusiastic support from Chinese parents who want to shield their children from pornography, to harsh criticism from those who view the Internet as the best antidote to government propaganda.

‘It’s all hypocrisy. Under the guise of weeding out undesirable content, what the authorities are really doing is to cut off a channel for the exchange of information,’ raged a netizen posting on Baidu.com’s message bulletin.

Beijing Business Today, a weekday newspaper, in a report last week interviewed sellers of pirated discs who said they expected business to improve after the closure of BT sites. ‘As long as there is an original version, there will be a pirated edition,’ said one hawker.

Young Chinese, including college students who are accustomed to downloading music, films and other materials easily and cheaply, said the new measures would be proven to be ineffective as users would find ways around the new online obstacles. — New York Times

Filed under: Internet, Media, Social, The Malaysian Insider

Americans view China as both friend and foe

Friend or foe, those ideas are just words. The numbers do paint a story – 34 percent of Americans polled found China to be more worthy of having a good bilateral relationship with, 11 percent more than next closest Britain. 56 percent found China to be a foe, and 33 percent as an ally. Numbers and words only go that far to characterize the importance of this relationship, however. What is pertinent though, is that there is still some way before harmony arrives.

Quotable Quotes – “Asked to choose from a list of countries “the most important bilateral relationship the United States should have,” 34 per cent chose China. Next was Britain, selected by 23 per cent; and Canada, the choice of 18 per cent.

Americans view China as both friend and foe
Reuters
Source – The Malaysian Insider, 4 November 2009

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 — A plurality of Americans see relations with China as the most important globally for the United States, a survey published yesterday showed, but more than half of those polled viewed China was an adversary.

The Thomson Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,077 adults aged 18 and older across the United States a fortnight before President Barack Obama’s first official visit to China highlights US ambivalence about the key trade and diplomatic partner.

Asked to choose from a list of countries “the most important bilateral relationship the United States should have,” 34 per cent chose China. Next was Britain, selected by 23 per cent; and Canada, the choice of 18 per cent.

When asked to characterize China as either an “ally” or an “adversary,” 56 per cent characterized China as a foe, while only 33 put the country in the ally column, said Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the poll for Thomson Reuters.

Two per cent of Americans said China was both an ally and adversary, the same percentage who said it was neither. Seven per cent responded “don’t know,” the nonpartisan polling firm said.

The poll, conducted between October 29 and November 2, had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, Ipsos said.

Obama makes a key visit to China and other Asian countries next week at a time when Washington and Beijing are working closely on tackling the global financial crisis, climate change and how to handle diplomatic hot spots like North Korea.

But the two countries have skirmished over trade issues. US manufacturing and labour groups frequently accuse the Chinese of mercantilist business practices that have put American firms out of business with a loss of millions of jobs. — Reuters

Filed under: International Relations, Reuters, The Malaysian Insider

Changes in the wind — Lee Kuan Yew

Quotable Quotes – “The thrift habits of the Chinese are deep-seated, born of centuries of deprivation. Their experience over the millennia is that during floods, famine, pestilence, earthquakes and war the central government will not rescue them; therefore, savings are vital to survival. But change the Chinese must.

Changes in the wind — Lee Kuan Yew
Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider 13 October 2009

OCT 13 — For the countries of East Asia, including China, there was no decoupling from the financial crisis in the United States and Europe, which caused East Asia’s exports to drop.

But because its economies and banks are sound, by this year’s second quarter East Asia was beginning to show growth. Stimulus packages in China and India increased those nations’ economic growth, which has had a ripple effect on their neighbours. ForEast Asia, the worst seems to have passed.

China is now aiming for 8 per cent growth in 2009. However, continued low interest rates in East Asia will fuel asset bubbles. And before long, interest rates will rise with excess money supplies unless they are sterilised (or withdrawn).

Despite domestic political difficulties, GDP growth in Thailand and Malaysia shows no significant decline. In Indonesia, the July re-election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been welcomed by foreign and domestic investors. Jihadist bombings of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels a week after the election have not shaken confidence in President SBY, as he is affectionately called.

Japan’s economy continues to be sluggish. Even after four stimulus packages it grew by only 0.9 per cent in the second quarter. Japanese workers, however, are still the world’s best when it comes to skill and dedication to excellence. In automobiles, electronic cameras, camcorders and several other export industries, Toyota, Honda, Sony, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Mitsui, Canon and Nikon are highly regarded, highly competitive, brand names.

A looming problem for Japan is its ageing population of 127 million. With a fertility rate of 1.37 children per female, the population will decline to 90 million by 2055. In 2000, 3.6 Japanese workers supported each old person (over 65), but by 2055, only 1.2 workers will support each senior. Yet the Japanese continue to reject immigration. This will not be an easy position for Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s new government to change.

Small economies such as Singapore have no alternative but to export and grow, because their domestic markets are too small. After the first quarter, Singapore expected its decline to be -6 per cent to -9 per cent, but in the second quarter exports recovered. Negative growth will shrink to -3 per cent to -6 per cent. Singapore is export-dependent, with the world’s highest trade-to-GDP ratio: 360 per cent.

Singapore’s fertility rate, at 1.28, is lower than Japan’s. But, unlike Japan, Singapore welcomes younger, skilled and educated immigrants from many countries, adding to its already cosmopolitan society of Filipinos, Myanmarese, Indonesians and Caucasians, some married to Singaporeans.

Larger numbers of immigrants come from Malaysia, China and India. These immigrants keep Singapore’s economy vibrant and reverse the greying process.

Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank forecast that East Asia will be the world’s highest-growth region, and fund managers have poured money into its stock markets. But in July, Larry Summers, director of the US National Economic Council, while speaking at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, warned that the US can no longer be the world’s consumer, that Americans must reduce consumption and increase savings and that in order for US exports to increase, the dollar will remain weak.

The thrift habits of the Chinese are deep-seated, born of centuries of deprivation. Their experience over the millennia is that during floods, famine, pestilence, earthquakes and war the central government will not rescue them; therefore, savings are vital to survival. But change the Chinese must.

In September, at the “Summer Davos” forum in China’s northern-most seaport of Dalian, Premier Wen Jiabao said that China should “make greater effort to enhance the role of domestic demand, especially final consumption in spurring growth”.

He added that boosting domestic demand is ‘a long-term strategic policy for China’s economic growth’. Wen’s remarks are a signal to the US and the European Union that China is changing its economic development strategy but that the process will take time.

Prior to the current economic crisis, the world didn’t challenge the Washington consensus that the Anglo-Saxon economic model is the most efficient for the allocation of financial resources to produce the highest return. However, the US market model is no longer considered ideal. China is confident that it is better for the government to maintain control of and manage its economy. China will now also be slower to open its closed capital markets to avoid large inflows and outflows of speculative foreign currencies.

China has about US$1 trillion (RM3.39 trillion) of its reserves in US Treasuries. For China to move out of the dollar would trigger a devaluation that would severely diminish its reserves. However, China has proposed that in the future an international currency be created to take over the role of the US dollar. India, Brazil and Russia support this view.

China has offered to settle East Asian countries’ trade accounts in renminbi (RMB). Likely reserve currencies other than the dollar are the euro, RMB and the Japanese yen.

But, when all is said and done, the US dollar is likely to remain the leading currency, because the American economy will remain the most entrepreneurial and dynamic in the world. — The Straits Times

Filed under: Economics, Singapore, Straits Times, The Malaysian Insider

Renaissance of Chinese films

BEIJING, Oct 10 — A new era appears poised to replace the painful memory of the Cultural Revolution as China celebrates 60 years of communist rule: a cinematic renaissance is shaping up.
China made more than 400 movies last year, and box-office revenues have grown 25 per cent annually over the past five years.
Blockbusters, including “Hero”, have wowed critics and audiences alike the world over and helped cement the status of Chinese actors such as Jet Li, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi as superstars.
That makes China one of the world’s major film-producing countries, the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television said in a report this year. Critics at home and abroad are also impressed by the mass appeal of recent works such as the historical film, “Red Cliff”, directed by John Woo.
It is among a bumper crop of sophisticated films that rise far above the traditional “Red Movie” genre and have cast the spotlight on the country’s state-driven film industry, analysts say. Movies that recount the history of modern China with an ideological slant are still known as “Red Movies”.
For instance, China’s biggest-ever domestic hit, “The Founding Of A Republic”, has already taken in some 350 million yuan (RM170 million) in ticket sales since its debut last month. Of course, it helped that the film, produced by the state-owned China Film Group Corporation which is also the country’s largest film studio, was helmed by China’s top directors. Its cast included more than 170 established actors, such as Li, Zhang and Jackie Chan.
But other less star-studded movies such as “The Message” and “Tiananmen Square” have also drawn crowds. Despite their politically tinted depiction of modern China, such films have seen even the younger post-1979 generation of Chinese who grew up on Hollywood movies lining up for them.
Li Qingqing, a Beijing-based public relations manager in her mid-20s, thinks it is because these movies package their messages more stylishly than the old familiar hits like “Fight In Shanghai”, which marked China’s war film industry in the 1950s.
“I have watched five of this year’s Red Movies because they are well-filmed and about as entertaining as any Disney hit,” she said. “I don’t feel like they are just preaching politics.”
The government “realises that film-making should be commercial while politics should be secondary”, said China expert Wang Zhengxu.
Local films make up about 60 per cent of the Chinese film market and are largely produced by the big four state-owned studios such as New Picture Company and Shanghai Film Group. The country’s top film honours — the biennial Huabiao Awards — are controlled by the state.
But some small independent studios are now giving the Big Four a run for their money. Last year’s “Painted Skin”, which took in US$29 million (RM96 million) in 19 days, was made by a small studio, Ningxia Film. Analysts also note a marked change in the government’s attitude towards the role of the film industry compared to the 1960s. In those days, Mao Zedong’s regime pushed the ideological role of movies, especially during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution which wiped out many artistic elements.
But the film industry started to experience a phase of reshaping and exploration in the 1980s and 1990s following market reform and the opening up of China, said Professor Hu Zhifeng of the Communication University of China.
At a panel discussion last month held by the China National Film Museum, he noted that local directors started to take a more critical view of Chinese history in internationally recognised works such as “Yellow Earth” and “Red Sorghum”.
But very few Chinese films showed a profit — until the turn of the 21st century when the government threw its weight and financial clout behind the industry’s restructuring.
“The government is a major investor in film production, and it has supported the liberalisation of the sector as it wants these films to be widely seen… and to infuse national pride in China’s artistic work,” said film studies assistant professor Stephen Teo of Nanyang Technological University.
Not only has this helped produce international blockbusters, but it has also attracted big-name Hong Kong directors such as John Woo, Gordon Chan and Peter Chan to Beijing, the country’s cultural capital. Foreign studios are also rushing to China. Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch recently called it “one of the most exciting markets in the world today”.
The renaissance in China’s film industry comes as Beijing set out ambitious plans last week to build a global media empire. It will spend billions on media and entertainment companies that are more market-oriented and can face off against global giants like News Corporation and Time Warner.
This is just part of China’s grand plan to export its soft power abroad, noted some analysts.
“It is quite evident that the recent blockbusters are indicators of China’s soft power, they impress worldwide audiences… and show them what Chinese history is about,” said Teo.
It will take time, however, before the industry can match the stature of the American market, which has nine times the number of movie screens and 14 times the box-office earnings of China.
But Beijing is wasting no time. It will build tens of thousands of movie theatres across the country in the next few years. It is still trying to protect its domestic producers from foreign studios that are allowed to share profits on only 20 imported movies a year. But a recent World Trade Organisation ruling that China must ease restrictions on distribution of Hollywood movies and other Western media may well shake up the industry.
Competition over the next three to five years will be fierce, adding pressure to local studios to become even more commercial, according to communications academic Zhao Ningyu. This may fuel China’s film industry further, say industry players.
Han Sanping, chairman of China Film Group, predicted at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June that the country’s movie box office could exceed 100 billion yuan within 10 years.

Quotable Quotes“The renaissance in China’s film industry comes as Beijing set out ambitious plans last week to build a global media empire. It will spend billions on media and entertainment companies that are more market-oriented and can face off against global giants like News Corporation and Time Warner.”

Renaissance of Chinese films
Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider 11 October 2009

BEIJING, Oct 10 — A new era appears poised to replace the painful memory of the Cultural Revolution as China celebrates 60 years of communist rule: a cinematic renaissance is shaping up.

China made more than 400 movies last year, and box-office revenues have grown 25 per cent annually over the past five years.

Blockbusters, including “Hero”, have wowed critics and audiences alike the world over and helped cement the status of Chinese actors such as Jet Li, Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi as superstars.

That makes China one of the world’s major film-producing countries, the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television said in a report this year. Critics at home and abroad are also impressed by the mass appeal of recent works such as the historical film, “Red Cliff”, directed by John Woo.

It is among a bumper crop of sophisticated films that rise far above the traditional “Red Movie” genre and have cast the spotlight on the country’s state-driven film industry, analysts say. Movies that recount the history of modern China with an ideological slant are still known as “Red Movies”.

For instance, China’s biggest-ever domestic hit, “The Founding Of A Republic”, has already taken in some 350 million yuan (RM170 million) in ticket sales since its debut last month. Of course, it helped that the film, produced by the state-owned China Film Group Corporation which is also the country’s largest film studio, was helmed by China’s top directors. Its cast included more than 170 established actors, such as Li, Zhang and Jackie Chan.

But other less star-studded movies such as “The Message” and “Tiananmen Square” have also drawn crowds. Despite their politically tinted depiction of modern China, such films have seen even the younger post-1979 generation of Chinese who grew up on Hollywood movies lining up for them.

Li Qingqing, a Beijing-based public relations manager in her mid-20s, thinks it is because these movies package their messages more stylishly than the old familiar hits like “Fight In Shanghai”, which marked China’s war film industry in the 1950s.

“I have watched five of this year’s Red Movies because they are well-filmed and about as entertaining as any Disney hit,” she said. “I don’t feel like they are just preaching politics.”

The government “realises that film-making should be commercial while politics should be secondary”, said China expert Wang Zhengxu.

Local films make up about 60 per cent of the Chinese film market and are largely produced by the big four state-owned studios such as New Picture Company and Shanghai Film Group. The country’s top film honours — the biennial Huabiao Awards — are controlled by the state.

But some small independent studios are now giving the Big Four a run for their money. Last year’s “Painted Skin”, which took in US$29 million (RM96 million) in 19 days, was made by a small studio, Ningxia Film. Analysts also note a marked change in the government’s attitude towards the role of the film industry compared to the 1960s. In those days, Mao Zedong’s regime pushed the ideological role of movies, especially during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution which wiped out many artistic elements.

But the film industry started to experience a phase of reshaping and exploration in the 1980s and 1990s following market reform and the opening up of China, said Professor Hu Zhifeng of the Communication University of China.

At a panel discussion last month held by the China National Film Museum, he noted that local directors started to take a more critical view of Chinese history in internationally recognised works such as “Yellow Earth” and “Red Sorghum”.

But very few Chinese films showed a profit — until the turn of the 21st century when the government threw its weight and financial clout behind the industry’s restructuring.

“The government is a major investor in film production, and it has supported the liberalisation of the sector as it wants these films to be widely seen… and to infuse national pride in China’s artistic work,” said film studies assistant professor Stephen Teo of Nanyang Technological University.

Not only has this helped produce international blockbusters, but it has also attracted big-name Hong Kong directors such as John Woo, Gordon Chan and Peter Chan to Beijing, the country’s cultural capital. Foreign studios are also rushing to China. Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch recently called it “one of the most exciting markets in the world today”.

The renaissance in China’s film industry comes as Beijing set out ambitious plans last week to build a global media empire. It will spend billions on media and entertainment companies that are more market-oriented and can face off against global giants like News Corporation and Time Warner.

This is just part of China’s grand plan to export its soft power abroad, noted some analysts.

“It is quite evident that the recent blockbusters are indicators of China’s soft power, they impress worldwide audiences… and show them what Chinese history is about,” said Teo.

It will take time, however, before the industry can match the stature of the American market, which has nine times the number of movie screens and 14 times the box-office earnings of China.

But Beijing is wasting no time. It will build tens of thousands of movie theatres across the country in the next few years. It is still trying to protect its domestic producers from foreign studios that are allowed to share profits on only 20 imported movies a year. But a recent World Trade Organisation ruling that China must ease restrictions on distribution of Hollywood movies and other Western media may well shake up the industry.

Competition over the next three to five years will be fierce, adding pressure to local studios to become even more commercial, according to communications academic Zhao Ningyu. This may fuel China’s film industry further, say industry players.

Han Sanping, chairman of China Film Group, predicted at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June that the country’s movie box office could exceed 100 billion yuan within 10 years.

“The best show is yet to come,” he said. — Straits Times

Filed under: Culture, Media, Straits Times, The Malaysian Insider

Hu vows to protect rights of foreign media

Neat little touch by China here I felt, the premise was simple to the foreign media owners- you want our markets, you better report fairly. Enjoy the read!

Quotable Quotes – “I realised that some of them (the top media leaders) had never been to China until now. I’m very surprised… hopefully, when they see the real China, there will be less biased reporting.” Tsinghua University analyst and adviser to the Chinese government on media policies, Dong Guanpeng


Hu vows to protect rights of foreign media
Peh Shing Huei
Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider 11 October 2009

BEIJING, Oct 10 — Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged yesterday to protect the rights of foreign media organisations, during a forum of global media leaders designed to improve China’s image.

As he urged the international media to help the world understand China, he also called on journalists to fulfil their social obligations to the world by providing true and objective information.

“We sincerely hope that media organisations from around the world can… help consolidate and develop friendship between the Chinese people and those in the rest of the world,” he said at the start of the two-day World Media Summit at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

China has been criticised regularly for censoring media and jailing and assaulting journalists, and the Xinhua-organised event was a chance for both sides to boost mutual understanding, Tsinghua University analyst Dong Guanpeng told The Straits Times.

The two-day forum invited the likes of News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch, Associated Press (AP) president and chief executive Tom Curley and Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger.

“China has had big problems with its image,” said Dong, who is an adviser to the Chinese government on media policies. “This event is a chance for us to get to know each other. If you do not know the people who see the global agenda every day, who report on China every day, it will be a disaster.

“I realised that some of them (the top media leaders) had never been to China until now. I’m very surprised… hopefully, when they see the real China, there will be less biased reporting.”

Beijing has been eager to improve relations with world media after it was slammed for locking foreign reporters out of Tibet during last year’s riots.

To bridge the gap, Hu stressed to the gathering of some 300 representatives from more than 170 media outlets that China is a big and complex country with problems and issues quite unseen anywhere else in the world.

“China still has a long way to go before it can build a well-off society that can benefit more than one billion people, and achieve basic modernisation and the common prosperity of all its people,” he said, a week after the country celebrated its 60th National Day.

In the span of a year, Beijing has upped its game. During the Xinjiang riots in July, for example, foreign journalists were allowed into Urumqi a day after the ethnic strife.

Yet the authorities undid the good work by assaulting Hong Kong journalists in the same city last month. Three Japanese journalists were also beaten up by Beijing officials for filming the rehearsals of the Oct 1 parade.

As for the parade itself, some foreign reporters were only informed that they could attend the event in the wee hours of Oct 1.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement on Oct 1, calling on the authorities “to provide better coordination, earlier information and a more transparent allocation of passes, all of which would be in keeping with normal international practices and China’s pledges of openness toward the media.”

It was a promise that Hu reiterated yesterday, saying the government will “continue to push for an openness in government affairs according to law, enhance the distribution of news and facilitate the foreign media’s work in China.”

Said Beijing-based analyst Russell Leigh Moses: “Hu’s speech was very carefully phrased to continue an effort to protect and foster international reporting that is seen as fair and friendly to China. Securing the rights of all reporters, foreign and domestic, from danger remains an aspiration for only some officials here, and always under the usual requirements of social stability.”

Hu also welcomed international media to expand their operations in China, a move which was later echoed by media baron Murdoch, who called for a further opening up of the Chinese media market.

Said Murdoch: “China will ultimately decide its own fate, but unless the digital door is opened, opportunities will be lost and potential will not be realised.”

Together with AP’s Curley, Murdoch, a long-time advocate of charging for online content, also said that it is time for search engines and other web services that use news content for free to start paying up. — Straits Times

Filed under: International Relations, Media, The Malaysian Insider

60th Anniversary: What history teaches about toppled regimes — Ching Cheong

Quotable Quotes – “as long as the prairie (of discontent) is there, no one knows which spark can start the fire…

What history teaches about toppled regimes
Ching Cheong
Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider

SEPT 29 — China’s leaders are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Thursday.

No expense has been spared for a grand parade to showcase China to the world, just as no effort has been spared to keep the Chinese capital safe and secure from “all unstable elements”.

A “security moat” will bar undesirable or dubious characters from entering Beijing from neighbouring provinces and regions — Hebei, Liaoning, Shandong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Tianjin.

The authorities’ concern is understandable, especially following the outbreaks of social and ethnic unrest in recent months. Indeed, in the run-up to Thursday, there had in fact been open discussion of the possibility that these events may portend the collapse of communist rule.

In July, the Guangdong-based Southern Metropolitan Daily ran an article on some common features in the collapse of dynasties.

One such feature, it said, involved emperors believing that they could survive any crisis so long as they controlled the army and therefore commanded force.

“Whenever this mentality emerged, the emperor’s days were numbered,” the article observed.

Another feature was that the fall of a dynasty was often triggered by an accidental incident or a seemingly inconsequential event. This was especially so whenever there was widespread public discontent.

Said the article: “In fact, numerous failures might have preceded some seemingly accidental incident succeeding in toppling a regime.

“In the people’s hearts, every effort counted. If it did not succeed here and now, it could succeed there and then.”

The Southern Metropolitan Daily article concluded by saying “as long as the prairie (of discontent) is there, no one knows which spark can start the fire”.

A month later, the Outlook magazine published by the official Xinhua news agency, ran an article by Zuo Fengrong, a research fellow at the Central Party School, entitled “Drawing Lessons From The 1977 Soviet Union”.

While Zuo did not explain why he picked 1977, it was the year that the then-Soviet Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in October 1917. China will be marking its own 60th National Day on Thursday, in effect the culmination of the Chinese revolutions of the 20th century.

In his article, the researcher noted that the Soviet Union had attained a level of prosperity in 1977 that it had never seen before. Yet under the pretext of preserving stability, its leaders refused to undertake any reforms.

“Leonid Brezhnev thought everything was alright. He… never tolerated divergent views. Dissenters were locked up in psychiatric hospitals. High-handed ideological control and news censorship stifled innovation and the Soviets’ cultural and spiritual lives ground to a halt,” Zuo wrote.

He went on to point out that by 1977, the Soviet Communist Party had become the vehicle of a special privileged class. Instead of serving the people, Soviet officials ruled them instead. Corruption, nepotism and cronyism were the order of the day.

Needless to say, a similar culture of corruption, nepotism and cronyism also exists in today’s China.

Zuo concluded: “The 1970-80s were a rare stable and prosperous period in Soviet history. Yet it was only superficial. Stability turned into stagnation and the country lost its ability to re-invent itself. This finally led to the unexpected collapse of the Soviet empire.”

A week after Zuo’s article appeared, the Central Party School magazine Study Times published an article analysing the fate of the descendants of senior officials of the Tang Dynasty, which once gave China its golden age.

Essentially, the account showed that none of the descendants came to a good end. The writer concluded: “Even in feudal times, senior officials could not ensure that their descendants enjoyed ever-lasting prosperity, although they themselves had made great contributions to the country.”

“That is why (first-generation Chinese leader) Mao Zedong’s reminder to senior cadres that they should keep a close watch on their own children is so timely and important,” the author said.

There was no mention of modern-day China in this or any of the other articles. But the allusions were unmistakable. — The Straits Times

Filed under: 60th Anniversary, The Malaysian Insider

60th Anniversary: The dragon marks its peaceful rise — Ron Matthews & Wang Di

Having a look at China’s good side is getting increasingly difficult. Much like how celebrities are pretty susceptible to picky and meticulous over-thinking interpretations by the general public, China has had its fair share of detractors. This article provides a good summary of the good that China has been doing in ensuring it is keeping to its promise of a harmonious ascendancy.

Quotable Quotes – “For instance, China’s “official” 2009 defence budget, at US$70.3 billion (RM246 billion), is only 10 per cent of what the US spends. Moreover, China’s offensive capability is far inferior to that of the US. China’s navy probably cannot sustain naval operations beyond 160km from its shores, its combat aircraft are less than half the number of America’s, and much of its artillery is antique by Western standards.

The dragon marks its peaceful rise
Ron Matthews & Wang Di
The Straits Times
Source – The Malaysian Insider 1 October 2009

SEPT 30 — Two events will once again focus the world’s attention on the Middle Kingdom.

The first is that China’s growth rate for this year is slated to hit 8 per cent, suggesting the country will be among the first of the mega-powers to recover from the global financial crisis.

The second will be tomorrow’s sight of China’s biggest and most impressive military parade in a decade, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

Both events will inevitably fuel concerns about China’s power. However, China views its rise as a peaceful one. Beijing’s challenge is to project a soft rather than hard image of its power.

China’s economic power is the result of its unparalleled growth, averaging 9.5 per cent per annum over the past three decades. As a result of this growth, the country has been able to increase its defence expenditure by 17 per cent in each of the last four years.

Reflecting this substantial expansion in defence expenditure, China’s military power has undergone an impressive transformation, carrying with it the potential to destabilise the world order. China now has the world’s biggest standing army, with more than 2.25 million soldiers and a broad array of advanced military platforms, including nuclear-powered submarines. The country is also in the process of acquiring aircraft carriers.

Unsurprisingly, China’s rising hard power is seen as a threat. The United States, in particular, is nervous of China’s burgeoning military capability and strategic reach.

But is this fear justified? There is room for doubt.

For instance, China’s “official” 2009 defence budget, at US$70.3 billion (RM246 billion), is only 10 per cent of what the US spends. Moreover, China’s offensive capability is far inferior to that of the US. China’s navy probably cannot sustain naval operations beyond 160km from its shores, its combat aircraft are less than half the number of America’s, and much of its artillery is antique by Western standards.

China is aware of the international anxieties engendered by its growing military strength, and needs to communicate the purpose and nature of its military “modernisation” programme.

Progress has been made on this front. In June, defence consultative talks between Beijing and Washington were resumed, and last month the two countries held maritime safety talks to reduce incidents such as the recent naval confrontation in the South China Sea.

China’s Defence Ministry has also launched a Chinese and English website to give an unprecedented amount of information on the country’s military capability. The country is also seeking to counterbalance its hard power with a focus on soft power projection, the ultimate goal being to create the image of a benign China.

For instance, in the area of maritime territorial disputes, it proposed to shelve disputes and engage in joint developments in 1978, providing the basis for the path-breaking preliminary agreement with Japan last year to jointly explore gas fields in the East China Sea. China has also cooperated with neighbouring countries in non-traditional security areas such as drug trafficking, piracy, terrorism, money laundering and cyber crimes.

The country has also sought to become a good international citizen. It has taken part in peacekeeping operations in international hot spots. In December last year, it sent three ships to the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy in the waters off Somalia. China acted in response to a United Nations Security Council request for assistance. Significantly, it was the Chinese navy’s first mission beyond the Pacific.

China provides a large amount of overseas aid, both economic and technical. By the end of 2005, it had completed 769 projects in Africa, most of which were associated with sustainable development.

The country has begun two other major programmes to expand its soft power. One is the establishment of the Confucius Institutes. The other is the launch of what has been described as a “media aircraft carrier” aimed at the hearts and minds of a global audience. The Chinese government has pumped 45 billion yuan (RM23 billion) into supporting four key state-run news organisations — China National Radio, China Central Television (CCTV), People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency — to expand the country’s influence. There are also plans to launch an international news channel with round-the-clock global news coverage, rather like a Chinese version of the Arab network Al-Jazeera.

China’s desire to cultivate the image of a benign and responsible state is likely to curtail any use of its hard power. Therefore, the country’s rise should be viewed positively. — The Straits Times

Filed under: 60th Anniversary, The Malaysian Insider

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