"My Dad Is My Dad, Li Gang Is Li Gang"

(Youth Times)  Current Affairs Commentary, the Internet and the Spirit of the Media.  By Chang Ping.  January 24, 2011.

What is current affairs commentary?  What is it for?


Almost all media have a section called current affairs.  Actually, when we chat during dinner or leisure time, we are commenting on current affairs.  Therefore, I want to raise a question first: What is current affairs commentary?  Alternately, what is the purpose of current affairs commentary and what is it for?

When some people pose these types of questions, they have already fixed the answer: current affairs commentary is useless as it is just idle talk among learned people.  Actually, this is lazy thinking.  The answer may not be as simple.  Who can answer the question?  Fine, let me name names.  First of all, I name Liang Qichao.

Actually, you may not be very knowledgeable about Liang Qichao.  He basically did not leave behind any immortal scholarly works.  But his influence back then and even now is almost unmatched, and not just in scholastics.  His true role is that of a current affairs commentator.  He wrote for various newspapers, <Wanguo Gongbao>, <Shiwubao>, etc.  A lot of his commentary on politics had huge influence in society.  His scholarly knowledge was expressed in his current affairs commentary.

Liang Qichao said: "I comment because I want to foster the thoughts of the people of my country.  Therefore I don't mind wasting words to assess the doings of the current government."  Based upon this paragraph, the current affairs commentator is there to improve our society.

Secondly, I named Walter Lippmann.  He may be the most successful current affairs commentator ever.  It is reported that his column was carried by 250 American newspapers, 20 magazines and in 25 languages.  He said: "The press is the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision."

Thirdly, I name Chu Anping.  He said this about <Observe> which he operated: "This publication is a publication for expressing political commentary, but it is absolutely not a publication for political struggles.  We generally stand for typical liberal thinkers who speak for the broad masses of good people.  There is no organization behind us."  In Chinese history, a large number of people have gone "missing."  Chu Anping is one of them.  He stayed in our history books as a "missing person."

Therefore, there are different views about current affairs commentary, including politics by commentary, media philosophy, cultural traditions, etc.  So it is a good thing that you have asked a well-known commentator to come here to talk about this.

Here is the video that I made for a certain awards ceremony in Hangzhou.  I was unable to attend in person, so I made the video.  At the time, I said about current affairs commentary: "For me, current affairs commentary is less an act of writing than a form of action.  If writing a novel is composing words in your study and making yourself known out in the world, then writing current affairs commentary is akin to yelling in the streets and shouting in the plaza.  It is far less worthy than literature, but I believe it has its value as a form of action."

B. Kennedy and Friedman

I lived in Shanghai for three years.  Sometimes, I had a certain urge as I walked down the clean, beautiful streets to ponder: What can I do for this city?  Under the tall buildings, I was a tiny figure and I had to go through and determine my own value.  I even wanted to include the phrase "What can I do for this city?" in one of my essays.  However, I later decided that this was problematic.  What we ought to do is to see through the cultural fog behind the steel and concrete façade and ask, What can this city do for us?

Politicians like to persuade people to do things.  President Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

The economist Milton Friedman passed away in 2006.  He visited China many times during this life, and his ideas are part of the foundation of the Chinese reforms.  However, not many Chinese media workers really understand him.  In <Capitalism and Freedom>, he had an essay that sharply criticized what President Kennedy said:

The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies the government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary.

For example, CCTV had a documentary series entitled <The Rise of the Great Powers>.  I met the scriptwriter Ren Xue'an later.  He sincerely thanked me for my criticisms.  This showed that there is a lot of space for discussions with CCTV except they don't get realized within the programs themselves.  My critical essay was entitled <The rise of grand nations is not as good as the independence of individuals>.  When it was published, the editor changed the title to: <Only the independence of individuals can let a country become grand>.  This is interesting: the two titles are not the same, but the subject is still rise of great powers which many people can agree on.

We have a entire system of collectivist education.  This blankets our thoughts about ourselves.  This blankets the various aspects of our social lives.  Perhaps we are unaware, but we are nevertheless influenced.  For example, the Fudan University students got lost in Huangshan and called for help.  A tragedy occurred when a rescuer died.  This incident was reported by many media and the Fudan University students had many reflections.  Among these voices, there is a certain viewpoint: We must enhance administration.  Right!  How can the students roam around on their own and cause trouble for the police?  Whenever something happens, there is always the "correct" response to "enhance administration."  Does "enhancing administration" mean that restrictions should be imposed?  Or even an outright ban?

When a person has independent cognition, he can made independent decisions for which he accepts independent responsibility and risks.  Of course, everything is relative -- he can ask his First or Second Uncle for help once he gets into trouble, or he can choose not to go up Huangshan (which is the same result if "enhanced administration" is in place).  But these are two approaches, two administrative/educational methods.

C.  Spoofs and rants

How about letting me tell a joke to you?  One day, the Polish Minister of Culture got a painter to tell him to paint <Comrade Brezhnev in Poland>.  The painter said, "Alright."  After some time passed, the Minister came to view the painting.  The painting showed a room, with a naked man and a naked woman lying on a bed.  The Minister was outraged: "Who is this woman?"  The painter replied: "The wife of Comrade Brezhnev."  "Who is this man?"  "The chauffeur of Comrade Brezhnev."  "And where is Comrade Brezhnev?"  "Comrade Brezhnev is in Poland."

Of course, this is an intentional misreading.  All political jokes are like that.  They are a form of emotional catharsis, even a solemn process.  I want to use this story to move into my main subject of the day: the Internet.  In the Internet era, this is known as "恶·d" (ergao) or spoofing.  The term "恶·d" (ergao) itself is acerbic.

Actually, there is plenty of spoofing all along in history.  Among the "four famous novels" of China, three of them were "spoofs."  Nowadays when someone calls to make a drama film, people say: "Don't spoof the famous novels!"  But they don't know that those "famous novels" were "spoofs" themselves.

In the Internet era, spoofing is easier and more spectacular.  The word "恶·d" that means spoofing is literally "to make disorderly or messy."  One of the achievements of the Internet is the proliferation of spoofing.  The philosopher Zhuangzi wrote: "The world has sunken into muddiness beneath my level."  But I regard spoofing as the weapon of the weak.  This is based upon the research by American scholar James C. Scott on the opposition/resistance by Southeast Asian peasants.

According to this scholar, the elitist explanation of the resistance by Southeast Asian peasants follow the model of uprising/rebellion.  But this is elitist language about people being led forward during rebellions.  In the movie <Let the bullets fly>, the slogan was: "Take your gun in hand and come with me."  This is how the people get hoodwinked.  In reality, the people have others methods of resistance, such as loafing off, telling lies, sabotaging, and so on with respect to the authorities in order to win something back for themselves.

The coffee-drinking Mr. Zhou Libo got himself into trouble on Weibo a while ago.  He said, "The Internet is a place for defecating your private shit.  When the private shit accumulates to a certain amount, it becomes everybody's shit.  Therefore, the Internet is actually just a public restroom!"  He meant to say that the government should not be paying too much attention to Internet public opinion because that would be "self-castration."

Zhou Libo does not know that the government out to undertake "self-castration" in a certain sense.  A government with too much male hormones is not a modern government.  He also said that "those people who heap abuse upon others are actually 'pathetic worms' in real life."  I agree with those words.  But I have to add that even 'pathetic worms' should have the right to express themselves!

Li Yaotao once directed a drama entitled <Toilets>.  In the opening scene, a row of people were squatting in a public restroom, chatting while defecating.  The audience quickly realized that the public restroom was the public teahouse of that era, or the Weibo of today.  Society has to make way somehow for restroom political discussion.

D.  "My dad" and "Li Gang."

"My dad is Li Gang" drew public attention to the so-called "Li Gang Gate."  In the past several years, many people are separating themselves from "Li Gang," who represent the improper powers-that-be.  They say: "My dad is my dad, Li Gang is Li Gang."  This is not just about feeling sorry about our own destinies.  Instead, it is self-pride.  We pretend to be jealous of them, but we are actually teasing, taunting and excluding them.

When Google withdrew from China, Baidu benefited.  No matter what their ethics may be, they can earn money and their stock prices keep rising over at NASDAQ.  The flourishing of Sina.com's Weibo is another phenomenon in 2010.  This showed that a commercial company like Sina.com is able to adapt to the Chinese Internet environment, as well as showing that individual netizens were longing for a platform for exchange among peers.

In Weibo, many people are yelling out extremist slogans.  But if they weren't controlled, it would be interesting.  Our society is multivalent and diversified.  Everybody should have a platform to speak out.  We don't need everybody to advocate liberalism and democracy.  The key is whether everybody can have their own voices.

In the case of Zhong Rujiu (of Yihuang), she was able to spread information via Weibo.  Of course, there are also some government officials such as Wu Hao -- whether he is putting on a show, telling the truth or telling ties -- who deserved to be followed.

The series of suicides at Foxconn was very tragic.  But the workers' strike at the Foshan Honda automotive spare parts assembly plant is also important.

Before the reforms began, the peasants turned over their harvest to the state and the cities.  After the reforms began, they went to work in the cities.  Their children grew up in the cities, but they can only be called the "new generation of migrant laborers."  Last May, these migrant laborers spoke out in their own voices.  In the past, we only hear the voices of the government and a small number of experts and elite members.  During the Foshan strike, the so-called "new generation of migrant laborers" set history as individuals who demanded their civil rights.  To the relevant authorities, these people may be a source of instability.  Actually, theyr are an emergent force.  If their voices are suppressed, this may be lead to incidents that cross over the bottom line.

The conflagration in Jing'an Shanghai was widely reported.  Many citizens went over to offer flowers to the victims.  The media think that this was the beginning of a civic society.  I think it is necessary to characterize the chrysanthemum flower properly.  Everybody knows the poetic line "The city is full of golden armor" used to describe the presence of the chrysanthemum which is supposed to represent resistance to violence.  In Shanghai, the chrysanthemum flowers were silent expressions of strength and feelings.

I don't want to say that we  have reached a critical moment in history.  But 2010 was an important year.  We continue to listen, we want to listen to more voices (including the voice of our Premier), we want the people to have their dignity, we want political reforms to come ...

(New York Times)  Chinese Journalist Who Defied the Censors and Wrote About Corruption Is Fired    David Barboza.  January 27, 2011.

A prominent newspaper columnist who challenged government censors by writing about corruption and political reform was dismissed Thursday by the Southern Daily Group, publisher of some of the country¡¦s best-known newspapers. The columnist, Chang Ping, said he was forced out because his bosses were ¡§under pressure¡¨ from government propaganda authorities.

The executive editor, Zhuang Shenzhi, said that the publisher had decided not to extend Mr. Chang¡¦s contract. ¡§The paper thought some of his work was inappropriate,¡¨ he said in a telephone interview late Thursday.

The authorities in China commonly dismiss reporters and editors who defy censors.

Mr. Chang, 42, has a reputation for writing about politically sensitive topics, including democracy, media censorship, the failures of government policy and Tibet. His commentaries appeared in Southern Weekend and Southern Metropolis Weekly, both of which are published by the Southern Daily Group.

A 2008 commentary that carried the headline ¡§Tibet: Nationalist Sentiment and the Truth¡¨ enraged Chinese nationalists who supported a crackdown on what the government called separatist activities in Tibet.

Mr. Chang also wrote and lectured about media censorship and civil society. In a recent lecture at Fudan University in Shanghai he said, ¡§We should transform into a civil society rather than wait for a virtuous leader.¡¨ He also said: ¡§Society is diverse and should have a platform for giving opinions. We don¡¦t necessarily need everyone to support freedom and democracy. What is key is whether these opinions are people¡¦s own voices.¡¨ Mr. Chang was removed in late 2008 from his position as deputy chief editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly and was also dismissed as a commentator. But he retained a research position at the Southern Daily Group and continued to write commentaries for other publications.

The reason he was dismissed, he said, was simple. ¡§I think it¡¦s because the media censorship has tightened since the Nobel Peace Prize,¡¨ Mr. Chang said in the telephone interview, referring to the Chinese government¡¦s anger over the decision to award the prize this year to an imprisoned dissident, Liu Xiaobo. ¡§I will keep writing,¡¨ he said. ¡§I won¡¦t stop.¡¨

(The Guardian)  China tightens grip on press freedom   Tania Branigan.  January 27, 2011.

A leading Chinese journalist said he had been forced out of his job this week amid tightened restrictions on the media.

Zhang Ping, better known as Chang Ping, is an influential editor and columnist who had worked at the Southern Media Group - one of the country's best respected news organisations - for many years.

His departure has increased concerns that authorities, who already censor publications and broadcasts heavily, are clamping down harder on China's increasingly independent-minded journalists.

Zhang has repeatedly been punished for tackling sensitive issues and was banned from writing columns for the Southern Weekend and Southern Metropolis Daily newspapers last July.

"Now I have 'been resigned'. It is not just because of one particular article, it is because I have always written critical articles," he told the Guardian today. "Many times I have been told not to write and that if I agreed I would be able to get more benefits than now, but I refused. The reason the paper is giving is that 'pressure from above is too great'." He added: "The whole media environment is changing. It has become tighter since the Nobel peace prize."

Beijing reacted furiously to the decision to honour Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence for incitement to subversion for co-authoring a call for democratic reforms.

Chinese journalists say that the Southern Media Group has been under increased scrutiny in recent months. It is understood that two editors and a section head have also been transferred to new positions this week.

David Bandurski, of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University, said Zhang was an important voice who had been bold yet skilful in his handling of contentious social and political issues. He came under fire from nationalists in 2008 when he urged people to look critically at how the Chinese media reported the riots in Tibet as well as complaining about distortions and mistakes by the western media.

Bandurski said media organisations sometimes protected journalists by seconding them to other roles or publications. "But I think he has been under so much pressure there's nothing they [his bosses] can do," he added. "Things have got a lot tighter in recent weeks."

Among the issues flagged up by concerned journalists are new restrictions on financial reporting , the recent sacking of a reporter at the Chengdu Commercial Daily , and the decision to place an editor at Time Weekly on involuntary leave. It had published a list of 100 influential people which included a jailed activist and several dissidents.

Bandurski also pointed to a photograph issued by state news agency Xinhua this month, which shows top propaganda officials with noted hardliner Chen Kuiyuan. He has described the image as "a flesh-and-blood cautionary note about the need for media to fall into line in 2011". But he added that Chinese journalists were generally optimistic about the long-term future of the media and that in some ways conditions were better than ten years ago.

Staff at Southern Media Group said they did not know about Zhang's situation and referred queries to the corporate office, where calls rang unanswered this evening.

Pang Jiaoming, a journalist pushed into resigning four years ago, wrote on Twitter: "Chang Ping's 'forced resignation' proves what I said before, that we are in the middle of a strike hard campaign in the ideological sphere."