Friday, October 31, 2003

SMS annoyance

One of the worst communication trends in China is the Short Message System (MSM). I still remember the panic when the first one hit my mobile and I actually had to figure out how to type with a key board that is not meant for typing. There is only one reason for SMS: just talking to somebody is slightly more expensive, although I would have saved me a lot of useless pressing of buttons. A very typical exchange of 'information' by SMS.

Message: They are coming!
I: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Answer: Don't you know?
I: Why would I otherwise ask?
Answer: So you really do not know?
(I do not answer anymore)

China should ban this useless way of communicating and can claim serious health to your damage. Today I have overrun at least two people who stopped in the middle of the street, because they suddenly had to send off a message, ignoring what was happening in the rest of the world. I think they got only slight hurted, even ignored their injuries and kept on pressing the buttons. And I'm not even a car.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Chinese girls blog ahead – the WTO column

(This week at Chinabiz)

In the coming months I will travel around the world investigating the changing nature of newsgathering. One of the questions I had to solve beforehand was how to keep updated about the developments in China. Because developments are going in such an unbelievable pace, getting information from China is very important.
One of the very new features in China (in the US they are already around for a few years) are the so-called weblogs or blogs and – watch my words – they are becoming a new trend in China very fast.
Blogs are websites with almost daily new entries in a reversed chronological order and offer many links to related information. They are often rather personal and opinionated and can focus on one person’s life or on an issue. Chinabiz is one example, although it was already blogging before it became popular. Some of those blogs will become famous, just like some became in the US, although most will be forgotten.
In China the government reacted in a classic way: it tried to ban blogs. Since the beginning of this year blogs hosted by blogger.com – a company bought by Google inc. – have been blocked. Blogger.com hosts about 1.5 million of the estimated 3 million blogs on the internet. The others have no problem and this year even the first China-hosted blogs emerged at for example www.blogcn.com.
In a new initiative www.livinginchina.com tries to act as a kind of portal for English-language blogs on China and that portal-idea is a very clever, since it is very hard to identify good information on so many blogs.
What Chinese and foreign blogs have in common is that most are very boring and are only interesting for the authors and their closest friends. The big difference is that while foreign blogs are dominated by a combination of male nerds and professionals – including journalists – Chinese blogs are mostly neatly designed websites, done by good-looking young women. Unfortunately, also most good-looking young Chinese women tend to have lives that are as boring as those of their nerdy counterparts.
In China they only emerged this year and a few are really encouraging. In one blog of a Shanghai girl review the sex she has with many men. Fortunate for the guys most reviews are anonymous. That is of course a classic way to score hits on your site.
Some blogs are giving really useful information. My favorite is www.wangjianshuo.com by the Microsoft engineer Wang Jiangshuo who really hit it on the head with his entry on the traffic in Shanghai. He explains the myriad of traffic regulations that – for example – ban new drivers from certain places. “The traffic sign forbidding the new car drivers are placed at the entrance of the elevated highways. I bet when drivers see the plate, it is already too late to change the lane to the other one leading to the surface road,” he writes. Wang got recently his first ticket, reason for his in-depth analysis. “At many intersections, left turn is forbidden. At the intersection between Cao Bao Road and Long Wu Road, for example, there is even a rule that cars can only turn left or right at the intersection, but cannot go straight forward. Many car drivers get the tickets at this place - I think not many people, especially for new drivers, can understand this strange rule. Thank God that that there are not many "right turn" forbidden roads yet. :-)
I will keep on getting my information from Shanghai.

Fons Tuinstra

(blogging at foreigncorrespondent.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Shanghai FCC hosts mixer with Chinese colleagues
on 14 November 2003, 7-10 pm

"We cover the same events and attend the same press conferences, but how often do we as foreign journalists have a chance to mingle with our Chinese colleagues?," asks the SFCC itself. "The FCC is legally prohibited from allowing Chinese journalists as members, but nothing stops us from hanging out with them. In the interests of promoting friendship between Shanghai's foreign and local journalist communities, we are holding the first FCC Mixer with Chinese Journalists on Friday, 14 November from 7-10pm at ArtSea Gallery by Suzhou Creek. Free alcohol, other beverages, and snacks will be served."

Monday, October 27, 2003

IHT-site still forgotten by the censor

Can somebody give the internet censor in China a call? The website of the International Herald Tribune remains blocked and can only be seen by a proxy. Since all the victims of last week are working without a problem (Google, Hotmail) they simply have forgotten this useful site. That happens of course when the logic for blocking sites is lacking, then it is very hard to decide to unblock them.

Saturday, October 25, 2003


Bijna vergeten: maandag op Wereldnet.
International Herald Tribune

On the internet almost everything seems to be available again, apart from the International Herald Tribune. It looks like the censor has basically forgotten to unblock the site. :-)

Friday, October 24, 2003

Satellite broadcast blocked

Again censorship, but now from the sending side and for commercial reasons. I was this evening visiting a foreign couple who only a month ago acquired their illegal satellite dish to watch mainly foreign stations, just like hundreds of thousands do in Shanghai and possibly millions in China.
Technically it is illegal and of course they do not pay any fees for receiving over 50 channels. The government once a year collects a truck full of those dishes to show how serious the ban is, but otherwise there would be not problem. Only this evening there was for the third time no TV because the sending satellite had changed it settings to stop illegal reception.
It takes a day or so and then their company comes with a new chip and everything is working again, but it is a nuisance. My friends would not mind to pay the legal fees, but they cannot because the operation is illegal anyway. Interesting dilemma, especially since this seems to hit millions in China. Their company was very busy and unable to help them this time right away.
Censor changes preferences

Google is not problem anymore, but the filters have changed to other sites. The IHT is still a problem as is getting hotmail in. With a proxy you can see it, but that is still a bit of a nuisance.
Japan, F1 and Google – The WTO column
(tomorrow at Chinabiz)

25 November 2003

Shanghai - What have 500 Japanese men fornicating in Zhuhai, the Formula One in Shanghai and Google in common? In the rest past they all had a run-in with the Chinese regulations and got a very different treatment. This is the kind of associations you start to make when the internet censor in his/her wisdom decides to turn up the heat for the internet users.

What I liked about the incident with the Japanese in Zhuhai was the exchange of arguments. I did not agree with much what was being said and especially the question whether the event was a legally or morally wrong act was in the end not solved. But the conflict was played in the open and the only one who does seem to have a real problem is the incarnated manager of the hotel. Even the official spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got involved in this earthly matter.

How different was dealt with the revelation in the Shanghai Star a few months ago that tobacco adds would be very important to generate income from the Formula One race next year in Shanghai, but that unfortunately the Chinese law bans those adds at sporting events. From the story it was obvious that the management of the track thought they could get away with it, since it is a very prestigious event. Since it is a big event, they did not even think about making up an excuse for ignoring those rules.
Of course there is an easy way out. I for myself have never considered Formula One to be a sport to begin with. Reason enough to exclude it from regulations that focus on sport. But you cannot expect nowadays that even such an event gets away with flouting the regulations without even coming with a decent excuse for doing so and a bit of discussion.

More upsetting I found last week’s blockade of Google by the not-much heavily used internet filters. Suddenly my favorite search engine and a few other media sites were not available for about a day. Last year it happened for five weeks without explanation, so initially there was reason enough be wonder what was going on and how long it could last.
More important: what could have caused this sudden upsurge in internet blockades? What nasty secret had to be hidden? What major event was taking place without us knowing about it? I could not get a clue. That really was more annoying than the blockade itself.
Since I have not found the solution, I fear it must be a very pragmatic one. Last year this 100-million US dollar device was installed and proved to be mainly effective in causing economic damage. So, it had to be switched off very soon. But then, somebody has decided to spend this kind of money on a useless devise, so they must run it every now and then, just to prove they are still there.

When censorship would be part of an educational process: telling us what to watch or what not to watch, that would make sense. Now we even do not know what is illegal or not.

Fons Tuinstra

Thursday, October 23, 2003


A nice setting at the 50th floor of the Bund Centre where a new jazz bar celebrated its opening. Really sensational with a bright view on the city by night, loads of jazz and wine, and loads of nice people.
Met many colleagues here and especially remarkable were the first Shanghai bloggers I met. My colleagues at Cbiz.cn has assured me that blogging was not done in China. Well, they were wrong.
Shirley Xu gave me a first introduction and would send the url of her blog to me. Included would be many other Chinese blogs, including the current sensation, a Shanghai girl that goes around having sex with men and their achievements on her blog. Fortunately for us guys, this is mostly done anonymously, apart from one famous singer, who also got the job done. Will inform your on new discoveries in this field.
For sure big scale blogging is going on at http://www.blogger.cn/
And even more at http://www.blogcn.com/

Shanghai TV gets English channel

The Shanghai Media Group (that organizes all radio and tv station in town) is planning an all-day English language next year, writes the Shanghai Daily. English seems to be a key objective, not only with print, but with all media.
Still a bit skeptical: I know their English language service now and there is really not reason to watch it unless you are very bored.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

WSJ in the China Daily

Today the China Daily brought a reprint of an article on China by the Wall Street Journal. Indeed a milestone in Chinese standards.
For a long time it was forbidden to use any other sources than the official newswire Xinhua for foreign reports, although print publications started already years ago to flout that rule.
When the Shanghai Daily got permission to actually use foreign newswires, it took years before they actually started to attribute those articles to the foreign wires.
Now even the China Daily takes over full articles by this hard core capitalist US paper! Another sign of change.
Inspection teams check compliance

Beijing has sent inspection teams to "20 provinces, regions and municipalities", writes the official newswire Xinhua today. They have to check whether the new rules that compulsory subscriptions are no longer allowed are really implementen.
The rules were seen as a major improvement, since it would mean a step closer to media that have to comply with the market. Many useless media would then go under.
But when Beijing starts sending inspection teams, it is mostly a sign that Beijing feels the provinces are not complying. That is nothing unusual in China, but might stall the reform process of the media.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Google back

At least Google is back again; other sites still have problems.

Monday, October 20, 2003

More trouble on the internet

Last week Shanghai Telecom (and I'm not sure whether other departments of China Telecom have done the same) has introduce anti-spam measures that makes sending out messages much harder, also for legitimate companies and organisations.
When you sent out more than 50 emails, you will find your messages blocked after the 50th. That curtails also many legitimate use, so I found it very hard I inform people on my new address by email.
One solution is using China Netcom, who does not use this kind of system, but switching companies might not be that easy.
Any effect on spam I do not see. My personal spamfilter signals that my daily harvest is now over 150, up 50 percent compared to a few weeks ago.

Censor plays with Google again

The Chinese internet filters play around with the Google search engines again. It does not seem an all out blockade like last year, but information is only let in in very small amounts that makes surfing a nuisance.
How do I know? When I use other search engines (ICQ is a good one) that apply the Google-technology I get all the information I do not get through Google. It does not seem to make sense, but logic and censorship are seldom a very strong combination.

Not sure what is happening. Also the International Herald Tribune is not working, and the Yahoo news searches. Seems like there is a large nasty story out there, the censors do not want us to see. Anybody a clue? Even my proxies do not work.
What can it be? The negotiations on North Korea.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

No Great Wall

Damned! Now had China its first man in space, but he failed to see the Great Wall!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Man in space

This evening I was at the studio of the German radio station ARD and my colleagues had to find for a commentary somebody who would felt threatened by the launch of the first Chinese man into space. We went over some obvious countries, but could not see how they would feel threatened.
"Maybe the taxpayer," I suggested as a way out. The project has mainly political value, scientifically it does not mean that much.
On my way back I had to reverse my opinion. The taxpayers enjoyed the patriotic feelings. They do not mind to pay the bill for this enterprise.
Man in space

China's first manned spacecraft blasted off just two hours ago and it tops the coverage of almost all media.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The Rupert splash

Just had an enthusiastic Rupert Hoogewerf on the line, who happily remembered he still owed me a 250 renminbi.
On Thursday he is going to make his annual splash with his rich list, and in addition three separate lists on people in real estate, IT and finance. I will be surprised to see who is on it, he told me. Will meet tomorrow, if time allows. Just now he was rushing between CCTV and Shanghai TV for TV shows.
What is remarkable is the high number of people on the list doing business overseas. Last year that was a very small minority, so this might be a interesting change.
China fears fallout of space trip

The central TV CCTV has scrapped plans for a live broadcast of the launch of its first manned space shuttle, the South China Morning Post reports.
The political leadership fears the political consequences of a possible disaster, seen live on TV. Now CCTV will only broadcast some footage after it is clear things go well.
A curious attitude: what will they do when things go wrong? Deny there has even been an attempt? In this way the officials involved are able to create a PR-disaster even before anything has happened. It shows a profound lack of confidence, and that is not good.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Hoogewerf is earlier

I just received word through the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club that Rupert's Rich List will already be out this Thursday.
"Led by a new number 1, there are 40 new faces in our 100, which today have an average of US $230 million. The IT and steel sectors have shown the biggest growth this year. There are a dozen entrepreneurs aged 36 or less with the youngest aged 22. The youngest business only started in 1999. A third have now got strong connections with overseas especially with the US," Hoogewerf writes in his email.
More news on Thursday.
Rich lists face heat

China will see an increase in so-called ‘Rich lists’ as the longest standing list of Rupert Hoogewerf will reappear on October 30 as a co-publication with the British Euromoney, while Forbes – his original host – is expected to come with its edition only weeks later when it wants to start publishing in Chinese. Other Chinese magazines are also expected to follow with such lists, although officially Chinese magazines are not allowed to publish such lists to avoid corruption.
The Ministry of Propaganda has increased the heat on Forbes by repeating an earlier ban on foreign magazines to be republished in Chinese, reports the Shanghai Daily. The anonymous official singles out Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and Newsweek by name, just as the ministry had done in earlier occasions. What can be allowed are fashion publication and science publications by official Chinese publishers that use part of the content of a foreign magazine, but none of the three has applied for permission.
Other magazines like the Fortune magazine – neither fashion nor science – appears in Chinese, but is officially printed in Hong Kong.
None of the magazines has yet been responding to the repeated threat to enforce the ban by the ministry.

The historic launch

Media are getting into gear for China’s first manned flight into space, expected somewhere tomorrow. The flight, a preparation for a possible flight to the moon later this decade, appeals greatly to the patriotic feelings and the media are using the event to beat that drum.
Not for nothing it coincides with the ongoing meeting of the Politburo that is promising more transparency, but has not applied this promise yet to its own proceedings. One of the hot potatoes at the meeting, whether or not give private property more constitutional protection, has been kept carefully out of the media.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

English supplements

A remarkeble trend is starting to develop among Chinese printed media: they want supplements in English.
The newly founded daily in Shanghai, the Oriental Express, was the first one with quite a mature section in their Saturday issue. I have followed the discussion about the target group and the format of this segment from a distance. In two months time both would have turned around three or four times. Would they target the foreigners in the city, or the English language Chinese audience? And in the last case (I asked) why would they do it? I never got a decent answer on that question but I guess it adds the flavor of quality, a global approach to the daily.
More papers are discussing similar moves, says rumors in the market. The main problem at this stage (also for the journalists working there) is the Chinese payment: between 1 and 1.5 Renminbi (0.12-0.18 USD) per word. That does not guarantee much quality.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

More unwed sex

One of the golden rules in journalism is that when you are able to throw in some sex, people will read it. Chinese media have discovered this rule too, and without hesitation I will follow them.
Between 60 and 70 percent of the Chinese had sex before their got the license to marry. Up to a week ago a medical checkup was compulsory before marriage, so that was a great source of information for the health authorities.
The Xinhua report, quoting the China Family Planning Association, does not say with whom people are having sex, but both anecdotic evidence and the report suggest they mostly have premarital sex with the partner they are going to marry anyway.
Morale is loosening up on casual sex too, as one fifth to one third of the young people think that only they themselves decide about having sex and that the rest of the society has no business here.
That is still much lower than the number of people who do have sex before marriage.

Unethical journalists

The scandal of last years Fanshi mining accident in Shanxi province, where local government officials tried to cover up the death of 39 miners has now well developed into a remarkable media scandal. It used to be standard procedure that journalists would not report about this kind of accidents. Chinese media were an extension of the government, mostly the local government, who was not only eager to avoid public interest, but even more eager to avoid the interest of the central government for their failures.
What I did not know was that journalist would earn high bribes for not telling the story: I always thought they would be too afraid to step out of line. But journalism and getting advertisements in is not separated in China.
“Among the 11 journalists, several worked concurrently for their papers' advertising and circulation departments. Business operations constituted the core of their work, while reporting activities were a sideline, or even were perceived as a tool for acquiring material gain,” writes the China Daily.
The propaganda paper continues: “For those who use a reporter's title as a passport to personal gain, it is impossible to stick to truth and objectivity, which ought to be the lifeblood of journalism.”
The problem is that this is not yet the standard, as even local Xinhua reporters, of the official state news wire, were blackmailed into shutting up.
This kind of article is a way to set a standard, fits into the propaganda task of the media, but wrongly suggests that it is already the standard for journalists.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Harvard scandal

State newswire Xinhua goes all out again in the scandal regarding the human genetic research projects by the Harvard Public Health School eight years ago. According to media reporta – initially by US media in 2002 – researchers including associate professor Xu Xiping did not stick to their promises for a medical checkup of their human guinea pigs and most certainly did no ask for their official consent to get involved in the research.
Xinhua reports now that Harvard president Lawrence Summers has concluded that an “inquiry revealed no substantive harm done in our study and that all procedural concerns raised have been fully addressed.
Inhabitants on Anhui province still claim that they suffer from damage caused by the research.
A serious matter of course, although it might also be cause by the fact a famous American institution is involved. Then the official media tend to be harsher in their verdict.

Monday, October 06, 2003


What strikes me as curious on my blogs is that an increasing number of hits is coming from China. Technically that should not be possible, since the domain names of 'blogspot' are unfortunately blocked by the internet censor. When I want to have a look at the site itself, I have to use a proxy and then an IP address in Ireland, Brazil or whatever shows up.

So, how come that also China-based IP addresses show up?
Blogging in China

No, we do not do these things, was the reaction of one of my media-savvy friends told me when I asked him about blogging in China, apart from the English sites of very few foreigners and even fewer Chinese.
He was wrong, I learned from co-blogger Teasalon this morning. (See her entry on September 28). Our Chinese colleagues are busy in preparing their first e-zine on their efforts.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Worker sets himself on fire

Xinhua reports today that a 49-year old laid-off worker from Hubei Province has set himself ablaze at Tiananmen Square this morning. Patrolling police put the fire out and the man only got minor injuries, the report says.
Why would the official news agency report about this incident and not about the arrest of petitioners from Shanghai who wanted to protest today also against their unfair evictions in Shanghai? I guess the divide between the rich cities and the poor country side is higher on the political agenda, than sorting out the political ties up between Shanghai official and real estate developers.
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