Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The BBC on North Korea

The question whether local journalists could replace foreign correspondents. At least at one place that would be very hard, although foreign correspondents did not get many chances: North Korea.
The BBC has a bureautiful radio-documentary. Listeren here to part one. Really very nice (still listening, though).

Friday, December 19, 2003

And what does the public say?

Interesting, the Shanghai Daily went out and asked the public what they thought about the harsh sentences in the Zhuhai sex case. As a technique that is still rather new for Chinese media.
Less interesting was what the people in the street had to say: they approved of the sentences. "As the orgy involved such a large number of people and Japanese citizens as well, life sentences are acceptable in this case," said Huang Youtu, a teacher at East China University of Politics and Law.
The answers were still very politically correct. In this case, the severe punishments may be an attempt to ease the anger of Chinese people, said Chen Haoran, a criminal law professor at Fudan University in the article. Chen is probably right, but that is not what the court should be used for.
A disruptive technology - the WTO column

Tomorrow at Chinabiz

Ann Arbor – My apologies to those who are fed up with all the internet stories after the commercial bubble has let them down over the past few years. While investment bankers have certainly overhyped this new technology, it is time to look around again and see what the internet is really going to do to our lives. It is that time of the year to look ahead, isn’t it?
My viewpoint has been slightly blurred by my current presence in the US, but the changes caused by the internet here in this part of the world are really breathtaking. China is not yet ready for similar changes, but as connectivity – now over 80 million internet users! - increases and applications become more easy to use, similar changes will take place with only a few years delay.

I’m sitting now in the student lounge of Michigan Business School and around me I hear the familiar sounds of ICQ and other communication tools people use to chat continuously with their friends. Apart from the time they sleep, students are online 24 hours per day, even during classes and meetings, so they can google their professors. People no longer their local newspapers as a tool to see what movies they can go to, they use it to see film reviews and they order tickets online, as almost anything else apart from groceries. They use Yahoo!
The music industry is forced on its knees by teenagers downloading music for free from the internet. Some of them are now put on trial for doing this by the music industry, a last act of desperation of a class of managers out of touch with the reality of the internet.
Howard Dean, at this stage the most promising presidential candidate in the Democratic Party, has amazed everybody by mobilizing his followers through the internet, and beating all the other candidates in terms of getting support and funding from the average Americans, not from big companies. Even when he loses next year from George Busch, even when he does not become the candidate of the Democratic Party, his name will be connected with an internet revolution that has changed politics in the US.

The position of universities is under threat as online providers of education and information conquer their positions. The former president of the University of Michigan James Duderstadt describes the internet as a “disruptive technology”, and for sure it is. In less than five years higher education will look differently from how we know it. Differences between students, teachers and staff blur, degrees lose their value. Duderstadt is now helping to develop a global university, where being on campus is not longer necessary and new institutions will provide the ‘life-long’ education needed to keep up with changing times. We have to otherwise we will not survive, Duderstad insists.

De US media are regularly corrected and set straight by webloggers from Bagdad – local people who have their own website and often know better what is going on than the legion of foreign reporters dropped on their streets. The media are not only losing their classifieds, they also have to compete with other news providers. Commercials at the main TV stations target pensioners looking for insurances or medicine, the young people turn away from traditional TV stations.
With each new internet connection in the US, jobs flow to India and China, unstoppable. Every industry in the US is struggling to reinvent itself in this competitive world, and nobody really knows where that struggle will end.

It will take a few years, before the disruptive effects will rattle China in a similar way. Perhaps we should be careful when investment bankers and venture capitalists pass by again, promising millions of US dollars for basically unsustainable operations, like they did in the past. Maybe it does make sense to look at revenue models, something that was considered to be a blasphemy during the first internet craze.
But otherwise, all signals point in the direction of yet another, more unsettling internet craze that will shock the world.

Fons Tuinstra

And I added my comments in living in China, at the entry about Mu Zimei, that disruptive blog from Chinese soil.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Internet justice

Justice has been done, at least the court has spoken in the case of the Zhuhai sex scandal where hundreds of Japanese were entertained by prostitutes, report all Chinese media. Two defendants actually got life sentences and others also lenghty penalties.
It was a modern lynch party, where the internet users rallied as patriots and demanded 'justice'. If it would not be for this public outcry, probably nothing would have happened, and that would have better too.
Interesting in the story in de Shanghai Daily is that China also wants to arrest three Japanese through Interpol. Wonder whether this fits the international standards for crime too.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Two million bicycles more - The WTO column

(tomorrow at Chinabiz)

Ann Arbor, MI – Governing a potential world-class city like Shanghai is not easy, I realize when I see the news from my city reaching me here in the mainstream US media. While premier Wen Jiabao went around and won the hearts of many Americans during his trip to his second-largest trade partner, Shanghai did its best to become the laughing stock of the world.

Two announcements made a huge impression. First the announcement of Shanghai mayor Han Zheng that the official tally for the number of Shanghainese – including three million migrants – is now over 20 million.
That is about two million more bicycles more, was my first thought.
Also at the Shanghai police force they must have been rethinking their traffic policies now also the official number of bicycles must have been revised in line with the increase populace. Super traffic copper Chen Yuangao announced this week in the Shanghai Daily that bicycles will be banned from most of Shanghai’s major roads, since they hinder traffic too much. “Bicycles put great pressure on the city's troubled traffic situation," Chen was quoted all over the world.

Now some people might think that bicycles are also traffic, even cheap and more environmental friendly than cars, but who watches the traffic police in Shanghai knows that this is a wrong thought. Traffic regulations are only there for cars, police men (I did not see any traffic police women yet) give their directions to cars, fine them.
Bicycles are not considered to be traffic, I learned from my own experiences, although their official number must now have increased from nine to eleven million and they are the preferred mean of transportation in Shanghai.

Is there a way to stop people making a fool of themselves and their whole city in front of a worldwide audience? Probably not, as some countries even have a problem of controlling their head of state. Here in the US a senior aid to US President Bush noted in the New York Times – cowardly anonymously – that his boss really looks uncomfortable when the word ‘globalization’ is being mentioned during discussions.
Fortunately, Chinese media do allow themselves more leeway when they are confronted with lower-ranking officials that act out of line with even basic logic. Although only in the last paragraphs, the Shanghai Daily notes high level opposition against the new plans, among bicyclists and even the powerful Shanghai Economic Commission.

Officials should feel free to say whether they think it their genuine feeling about issues that relate to their competence. And media should put that into perspective, even if it is tough for those officials.

Fons Tuinstra

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

XFN buys US newswire

An interesting move by the Xinhua Financial Newswire (XFN) that has bought a US financial information provider Market News. Now the Hong Kong based newswire has a foothole in Wall Street, writes Reuters.
In August we held a meeting of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents' Club (see earlier entries) where we had XFN managing director Graham Earnshaw as a speaker. China would not limit itself to the market for teddy bears and washing machines, but would also enter the services, was one of the predictions earlier this year.
They move fast. The story says that Xinhua holds 20 percent of XFN. I thought it was more in August, but still a minority share.
"Market News Chief Executive Mike Connor said his company was excited about the Xinhua link and that all 70 staffers will remain working under the Market News banner, which will now be expanded to include coverage of Asian markets," the article says.
The purchase coincides nicely with the visit of China's prime minister Wen Jiabao to the US, giving perhaps a bit more than a symbolic signal about future developments.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Different opinions

One of the interesting things in China is how one and the same event can trigger off rather different assessments. President and CPC party-secretary Hu Jintao recently called upon cadres in the Chinese media to "meet the requirements of the new situation", wrote state newswire Xinhua. "Hu called for ideological emancipation, seeking truth from facts, and keeping pace with the changes of the times, in the field of media work. The Party's leadership for the sector must be firmly adhered to, he stressed."
But non-Chinese newswires like AFP have a different take on that meeting. "Chinese President Hu Jintao has stressed the importance of Communist Party control over public opinion and urged propaganda officials to make promoting the country's ideology overseas a "strategic task", AFP said. "During the meeting, Hu urged that patriotism, nationalism and socialism should be promoted along with the policies of the ruling party in an effort to maintain the "cohesiveness" of the nation."
Well, good to see that not all ideological differences have been wiped away under the regime of globalization.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

China stories - the WTO column

(today in Chinabiz)


Cambridge, MA - Mention China and Shanghai here at Harvard University and you can be sure you will get an attentive audience. China and Shanghai - much more than Beijing - almost seem magic words, now the world is trying to revive national economies, with the exception of China where the government is trying to slow down its economic growth.

The amazing thing is how little information crosses the oceans, despite the internet and all the modern tools to exchange information. A Finish colleague who had been stationed in both Shanghai and Beijing initially visited all the seminars, lectures and meetings he could identify by famous Harvard scholars. Until he discovered that he got very little new information. "They were all repeating the same stories I have been writing over the past few years," he said.

He now decided to write a book himself. "I have become a bit less modest in the past few months," he acknowledged.

People in the US ask me too often how they can get a job in Shanghai; not whether they can get one.

For a large and media-rich country like the USA they get information about China through very few sources, I discovered while talking to people. AP - say the American Xinhua - and the New York Times dominate the spectrum; nobody even mentioned the Washington Post. The New York Times published recently an article about China's most famous weblogger Muzimei, who described her multiple sexual encounters in her weblog or 'blog' in jargon and that dominates many discussions.

The blog has developed into the latest new media cult in the US. Thanks to Muzimei China is catching up rather fast and is getting international fame too. At a meeting of Harvard bloggers a few days ago, of course broadcasted directly onto the internet, I gave an overview of the latest developments of the internet in China, but did not have to tell about our exploring reporter from Guangdong.

Harvard blogging supremo David Winer had already met the lady at a dinner party at Berkeley journalism school, but had not made it into her blog, he said regretful.

The problem of Shanghai's success story has a downturn, I read in the Chinese media. Now the city has officially 20 million inhabitants, a rise with over three million in only a few years time, because jobseekers from all over China and the rest of the world flock to Shanghai to cash in on this economic miracle. Here at Harvard and other famous US universities many Chinese are working hard to earn themselves a grade that would allow them only a few years ago a better future in their home town.

They might face a hard time, now all the competitors they can imagine have the same idea: go to Shanghai. Apart from reducing economic growth, China should perhaps also discourage jobseekers to go to Shanghai. Official tours to encourage Chinese to return to China seem outdated: the pool of well-educated and often too cheap white collar workers is already putting too much strain on those returnees.

Fons Tuinstra

PS: Cover by a snow storm today, preventing me from useful activities like sight seeing. In stead I have been clearing the roads from snow for the first time in my life.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Internet users force Toyota into retreat

Another anti-Japanese flame has ignated first China's internet users and has now boiled over into the regular media. Two adds by Japanese car producer Toyota angered the internet users, who called for a boycot of Japanese goods and "most included language that can't be reprinted here", the Shanghai Daily reports.
Even the journalist of the papers initially did not see too much wrong in the adds, who "look harmless enough at first glance, but have hurted Chinese pride at second glance. In one adds a Toyota pulls a car that looks like a Chinese military car.
The adds have been pulled and Toyota has offered its apologies to the Chinese.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

English language

I predicted it already some months ago: English language supplements are becoming the next big thing in Chinese media. The Shanghai Daily now confirms that trend. What they want to do is still unclear.
"Foreigners won't buy a Chinese newspaper to read its English page," said Huang Hu, a journalism professor at Fudan University in the Shanghai Daily. "Clearly those English pages have a positioning problem."

Monday, December 01, 2003

Berkman Center issues new internet report

The Berkman Center of Harvard University has issued an updated report on the internet blockades, writes The Inquirer today.
About 200,000 sites are blocked in one way or another, the report says the article.
I know the testing is done in a rather serious way, although I feel that the criteria ("from at least one point in China on at least one occasion") are rather rigid. As a user of the internet in China I felt the blockades did not mean that much and could be circumvented rather easily.
Interesting point of discussion when I meet Ben Edelman of the Berkman Center on Wednesday.

Shutting down print publications

China will start to shut down over 600 print publications as a further step in reforming the media business, the Shanghai Daily reports. Officially forced subscriptions are banned by the central government, but the effect on the print business seems rather limited. Even the number of over 600 publications is rather modest for Chinese standards.
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