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Chinese new year made special

3 Feb

In China, the Spring Festival bears special meaning for Chinese people. This is the time, once a year, when people need to get together with their families without any excuses.

For people who can go back home, they will find any plausible way that can make them home, despite the situation in the pre-festival traveling, which needs a strong body and highly determined mind.

For those who cannot, celebrations of any means should also take place. It usually include sitting together with whatever people you can find that bear the same cultural capital. The conception of gathering is important.

Chinese students in another countries are the latter. Although for a trivially few of them going back to China is still feasible in spite of the high traveling expense. Most of them are thousands of miles away from their families in such a crucial point of the year.

But the spirit of the Spring Festival shall never be lost.

An imagined community

When people are put in a different cultural environment, culture shock is almost deemed to be shared.

People in this sense will tend to look for signs that maintains their bonds with the homelands.

The more people feel that shock, the more hard they struggle to find those familiar cultural signs.

Globalisation has enabled/forced people to scatter in the world while following the same universal calendar.

Therefore when a certain festival is around the corner, people in places other than their mother lands will suffer the pain even more.

But the bonds, to bigger or lesser extents, can always be maintained. Certain cultural elements still help people to be together with their families – in a virtual way.

A imagined community, according to Benedict Anderson, will be generated when people share the same identity.

Media, can sometimes function as the channel that delivers elements of the same identity.

The Spring Festival Gala (chunjie wanhui) which happens on the evening of 30th December of the nular calendar, helps to build the imagined community for Chinese people.

Usually a Spring Festival Gala will include following elements that makes up the jigsaw of Chinese culture: a lot of red decorations, festive songs, well-known stars, talkshows with mainstream topics.

The gala, which is although disliked by the younger generation, is still capable of connecting people’s minds via presenting elements that are shared by differents individuals with the same cultural identity.


It’s My Dear Country, But Why Going Back?

28 Dec

There is one question that I’ve been asked by my classmates for a thousand of times: will you go back to China after graduation?

There is a short-term and a long-term answer.

The short-term one goes like I will firstly try to find a job here in Britain no matter how tough the condition is for journalism students.

The long-term one says even if I find a job here, I will eventually go back to China, for it is my country.

Ugliness in their eyes

There are some changes about my father that I detected shortly before and after I came to England to learn to be a journalist.

He was keeping persuading me to gain a British citizenship.

My cousin successfully got the Canadian green card earlier this year, which is probably why the thought was generated in my father’s mind.

But this is just a trigger.

His deep reason is that there are too many ugly scenes being played in the contemporary Chinese society, which can easily grab a genuine man’s hope and ability of living.

Corruption, back stage trade, extreme pragmatism…he is losing hope for this country due to what he saw as a businessman for almost ten years.

He was born in the 60s, which should have brought to its generation some traces of idealism.

And indeed my father used to be loving literature and writing. He has even been a teacher of Chinese.

He has now, unfortunately, turned to be very cynical.

The answer is no

My father discussed with me about the same old topic again when we talked on the phone last week.

My answer is still no.

The difficult of finding a job here is part of the reason.

It is even more difficult for a foreign student to stay in the UK since the British government is planning to cancel the Post Study Work visa, which used to give students a favour to look for a job within two years’ time.

The set rise of  VAT to 20% on 4 January 2011 also puts more weight on our burden.

But more importantly, I cannot live in a country where you can hardly obtain the sense of belonging.

Your root is with your home country. This is something deeply planted in your identity. This is something you cannot get rid of no matter how many China Towns you have in a foreign country.

Not to mention there is still the prejudice and even discrimination, conscious or unconcious, visible or invisible, in every domain of the country where I currently study in.

Another reason that I choose to go back eventually is that given those ugly scenes that my father has seen, there is still some hope of changing the status quo.

Hope can only be realised by actions. If nobody actually prove there are still something to do to make China a better place, hope will fade away.

Although it may take some time.


Chinese media: Enemy’s enemy is my friend

1 Dec

During a war sometimes you do not have many choices. You must optimize your chance to win. Enemy’s enemy is your friend.

The same relationship is experienced by Chinese media confronting with the Internet and the government. They tend to choose the Internet as their ally against the government, even though this ally may sometimes bite them as well.

Internet as a friend with adversity

In a place like China where the free flow of information is a rather luxury, any sign of hope is worth making effort to.

The early 2000s has witnessed the boom of the Internet in China, as well as the start of skyrocketing of Chinese online news, which later proved to be a doom for Chinese media on traditional platforms, especially for the Chinese print media.

Till today Chinese traditional media are still undergoing a complicated relationship with the Internet.

On the one hand they need to fully embrace it as a new platform which is welcomed by their readers; one the other hand they need to keep an eye on it as the Internet is also sabotaging their readership or viewship.

Enemy’s enemy

The Chinese government by no means sees the Internet as a friend.

Concerning the social stability in China, the government has set up the Great Firewall (GFW) to prevent Chinese Internet users from accessing “vicious” foreign websites such as Youtube and Twitter.

A slightly exaggerating explanation of the GFW

Online content in the Chinese Internet context is also under the scrutiny of the authority. Any content that is considered as unfavourable will be “harmonised” and kept out of the public sight.

The Chinese Web browsers, the real power behind the Internet, bear the large possibility of being irritated by the government due to the lack of free flow of information. Some activists have already managed to get over the GFW to see the “outside world”.

Internet as the leverage for free flow of information

Chinese media, have been kept their noses up and therefore been rather sensitive about the current of power rushing forward and back underneath the peaceful sea surface.

They now tend to mingle with the Internet as an important platform to release their news products, as well as a crucial leverage to keep the game on with the government.

By utilising the Internet, the Chinese media hope to see a more open environment for information to be cultivated in China.

As pointed out the Hu Shuli at the Reuters Memorial Lecture, although Internet seems to be dangerous for Chinese people concerning the risk of annoying the government, “it is helping China to grow”.

She also treats the relationship of Chinese government ant the media as “a game of cat and mouse”.

In this game, she said, “The mouse is smarter with modern technologies. While the cat needs to learn what will happen.”

The manipulation over news is possibly to be broken by the Internet as well, as empowered by the Internet, Chinese people can get access to any information (some may need a little technology to get over the GFW).

In the era of the Internet, according to Hu Shuli, “it is hard to fool people”.

Hu Shuli optimistic about Chinese media’s transition

30 Nov

China as the world’s biggest developing country, is facing a transiting phase. So are its media.

Where will Chinese media heading? People both from China and the rest of the world turn to the crystal ball for an answer.

Ms. Hu Shuli, editor of Caixin and a noble journalist, joins the team of fortune tellers,  saying that the Chinese media will face a bright future transiting “from an old one to a modernised and democratic one”, at the Reuters Memorial Lecture at Oxford on Monday.

Pressure from the government

It has almost become a cliche that in China, the government imposes a significant influence on its media.

Oh did I say “its”? Yes, the Chinese government has been making it’s effort to make meida as its mouthpiece for political propaganda.

Ms. Hu Shuli at Reuters Memorial Lecture at Oxford University

According to Yuezhi Zhao, this is due to the military origin of Chinese media. During the Long March in the 1930s, the Chinese Red Army used to utilise its official publication – The Red Star – to execute wartime propaganda.

This has created a mindset for Chinese government: the media should be controlled rather than liberated, as its power may harm the government itself.

It is true that the impact of the government has been mentioned by many scholars on this topic. Yet it is indeed a very important dimension of the Chinese media landscape.

Rather than being fairly upset about this objective condition, Ms. Hu Shuli seemed to be quite confident about Chinese media.

She did not deny the existence of the government’s impact on the media output. Actually she was very blunt about sensitive issues that media in China should not even touch, such as Falun Gong, Tian’anmen Square and Liu Xiaobo, a new name added to the list recently.

Ms. Hu Shuli has kept emphasizing that there is the hope for Chinese media to do a better job the the democratic progress of the country. Talking about her own Caixin, the sentence she has repeated for many times during the lecture and the panel discussion is “we will try our best”.

She treats the media-government relation in China as “a game of cat and mouse”. Although she thinks that there is no simple answer to questions about the government censorship over news, she believes Chinese media can still survive, by saying, “There is always a way to go. It’s always one step up, one step back.”

Pressure from the market

The media is never actually independent. Maybe it used to be like that in the very early days, but after people realised its amazing power and intended to get involved, the very pure days for media were over.

Apart from the influence from the government, today’s Chinese media also have to face the commercial impact.

As China is experiencing a serious transition, economic factors will play even a more important role in almost each domain, including media.

Panel discussion after the lecture

On the one hand, if the media are healthily sponsored by a company, it will enjoy more power to insert quality journalism.

On the other hand, the sponsor may also try to influence the media output in the consideration of its own profit.

Journalistic integrity and financial support are actually put on the same balance and weighed. For Chinese media, it is actually a severe problem of life or death.

Even Ms. Hu Shuli admitted that the commercial pressure is one of the “enemies” that Caixin now faces when trying to achieve genuine journalism in China, yet it is still “common”.

“‘Soft news’ is actually dangerous, ” She said, “They are paid news. But what’s more dangerous is fully manipulated news.”

It seems that to her, the government’s influence is still a bigger problem than the commercial pressure.

Poor Ai Weiwei a victim of politics

11 Nov

When I heard the news about the Chinese modern artist Ai Weiwei being under house arrest, I thought this was the end of the story and that he would fade away with the outdated agenda.

It turns out that the story finds itself a new lead as the British Prime Minister David Cameron visited China and Ai Weiwei asked him to put pressure on the Chinese government about human rights.

It is not surprising to hear someone “liberal” from China asking his government for more space for democracy. It is also not surprising to see British media to cover it. What surprises me is that I Chinese citizen urged a foreign government to press the Chinese government on human rights.

Ture, that democracy and human rights are problematic issues for China. But this time Mr. Ai was actually a victim of this saga.

An uneven business relationship

Mr. Prime Minister visit China for the sake of Britain itself. To specify, he went to China for money. This is a business trip.

When doing business, there is one rule that is fairly clear and simple: you do not mess up with the other party of the deal. Or there shall be no good bargain, or even deal being called off.

The current situation is slightly unfavourable for Britain in this commercial relationship with China. It is Britain who is struggling to survive the recession. While China, as one of the world’s biggest economies, although suffers as well, but the end of the world is not yet coming, at least later than Britain.

With a more eager mentality to achieve the business, Britain tends not to push China to the point that will make the deal fail.

Part of the plan

Right after David Cameron arrived in Beijing and started his visit, Ai Weiwei’s appeal started to occupy the frontpage.

It is hard to tell whether he was doing this in the advice of the British party, but in either way this will help achieve the deal.

Mr. Ai’s appeal seems to touch the danger zone of the Chinese government, it also gives China a chance to show it’s attitude towards democracy and human rights. The infamous case of arresting Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo will also inevitably be brought out. Again, this could be another chance for China to present a political show.China will be happy, and Britain, who stands in the middle will get the deal.

Sometimes it is wiser to accept the challenge and face it than avoiding it deliberately.

For Britain, certainly Mr. Cameron will not ignore Ai Weiwei’s plea. If not, Britain will taking the risking of irritating other parties of the international community, which is obviously unfavourable for it’s image on the world.

Ai Weiwei, in this story is utilised by the two parties of this business relationship. For him, the arts career in China can be declared dead as the Chinese government will never forgive a Chinese citizen trying to put pressure on it in such a public way.


Kindle won’t change anything

3 Nov

Kindle can be used as a tool to browse the Internet

The BBC says yesterday that Kindle can bypass China’s Great Firewall, but it will not change anything about Internet censorship in China.

Another way towards liberty?

By the first glance at this piece of news I am very pleased with it, as there is one more way to get access to the real world. Chinese people are obssessed with the notorious Great Firewall (and I am not saying it good or bad) for many years. As a result, they cannot browse sites like Youtube and Facebook via an IP in China.

The government always tries to convince its people that this is for the consideration of national security and social stability – I myself still think so – but this means that the Internet is not open any more for Chinese people. There are something happening on the cyber space where they actually cannot but theoretically they should get access to.

Since the day that the Wall fell, Chinese people have been looking for ways to get over it. People in China now can log on to those banned sites with the assistance of computer technology.

Kindle’s fancy function – whether it is realized consciously or unconsciously – provides an alternative way for people in China to be able to see the whole landscape of the Internet, which should be safeguarded.

No big change

There is by so far no sign of any agreement between Amazon and the Chinese government. This possibility can be really trivial considering the attitude held by the government towards the American company Google. In terms of social stability, Beijing tend to apply an unswerving stance. There is absolutely no space for negotiation.

The reason why this gray function of Kindle is still on-going instead of being prohibit, is that the government wants it to be there. In other words, the government does not care about the influence of this function…yet.

As a portable e-paper reader, Amazon’s Kindle still lacks popularity. According to the BBC, a Kindle will cost from 1200 (£112) to 3500 (£327) yuan. Although the price is similar to that of a mobile phone, the idea of reading electronically is brand new to Chinese people.

Not until people in all coastal and some inland cities use Kindle to surf the Internet, the government will not call for halt on it. Before this is realized, its influence is rather limited.

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