Friday, August 31, 2012

Leaders Brave the Internet (Sort of)

Yesterday I discussed the changing role the internet and web chats have on politicians and leaders, especially in China. Today I revisited the topic on Tea Leaf Nation making some comparisons to President Obama's AMA on Reddit and questioning if this online interaction with citizens is both practical and sincere.

Read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Social Media and Government

President Obama's question and answer session on the popular website has drawn media attention for his ability to utilize technology to get closer to the average citizen. But as the President was performing his ask-me-anything (AMA) on Reddit, Yang Dacai, Provincial Work Safety Administration of Shaanxi Province took to the Chinese internet to do a live chat concerning images circulating of him smiling at the scene of a tragic bus accident, and to refute claims that corruption is to thank for the various expensive watches he's been shown to wear.

Before I post the details of his live chat, the larger picture at play is the government's use of the internet and online technologies to reach the average citizen. Especially on the Chinese internet, political voices have been known to fuel rumors, bring down corrupt officials, and sway judges to amend sentencing. And in recent years, Chinese officials have been taking to the internet to gauge support.

In early 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao urged local officials to improve their internet literacy in an effort to improve leadership. By doing so, he argued, the Party would be able to get a better gauge of the political climate. This outlook was followed up by a web chat hosted by Premier Wen Jiabao's in February 2009. The chat left a strong influence on the Premier, who later said he “perceived confidence and strength from people’s suggestions online.” In June 2009, President Hu himself logged into a web forum hosted by the People's Daily where he chatted with the public. However, the chat only last for four minutes. But what's clear is that the Chinese government hopes these online sessions with government officials will provide the people with a sense of transparency in the inner-workings of the Communist Party. My prior research delves a bit deeper into the underlying motives and questions concerning the role of government online - to read, please click here (begins on page 15).

In keeping up with this trend, Yang Dacai decided that the best way to refute rumors was to take to the internet himself. Live-chatting from Weibo, Yang answered 12 out of over 6,000 questions posed.

In defense of his questionable smile that has been circulating the Chinese blogosphere since Monday, Yang responded, “Everyone was wound up. Some comrades’ accents were very strong, and some of what they were saying I couldn’t quite get. I was trying to get them to relax a little, so maybe, in an unguarded moment, I got a little too relaxed myself. When I think about it now, I’m filled with regret.” (WSJ - China Real Time Report)

Responding to claims that he could not possible afford so many luxury watches, Yang defended himself saying that he bought the watches using his salary of the past ten years. However, this answer did not go over well with netizens who continued to argue that the modest salary of an official at his rank would not be able to support such luxuries.

In recent years Chinese have taken to the web to battle perceived corruption in their government, a move that has been met with much success. Yang himself applauds these actions saying that for the people to monitor officials in such a way is “reasonable and normal.” A sentiment that would surely have been shared with the ideology of Mao Zedong.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Official Outfits

One of the main stories of "netizens vs. corruption" that my own research drew upon was the story of Zhou Jiugeng, a Chinese state official who was thrown into the internet spotlight after netizens dissected photographs oh himself wearing an expensive watch and equally expensive foreign cigarettes. It was later discovered that he also drove a Cadillac to work. Netizens questioned how a man in his position could afford such luxuries and determined that he must be involved in corruption since his salary did not match his amenities. As a result, he was fired from his post.

I discovered today two similar causes of netizens dissecting the outfits of officials and both questioning their spending abilities and morals.

The first story is from March 2012 during the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Delegate Li Xiaolin came under fire from netizens for wearing an expensive Emilio Pucci pantsuit. While debates among netizens ranged from anger over lavish spending against a backdrop of Chinese rural poor, to the delegate's freedom to spend her money as she chooses and wear what she wants. Concurrent with attacks on Li, other images began to pop up showcasing various delegates sporting suits and attire from famous western designers such as Hermes, Dior, and Chanel.

More recently, a story followed a tragic event in Shaanxi province where an overnight bus rammed into the back of a gas tanker and caught fire, killing 36 people. Shortly after the accident, a photo circulated on Weibo depicting a middle-aged overweight man smiling near the wreckage. Netizens did a human flesh search for the man's identity and determined him to be Yang Dacai, chief of Shaanxi’s Safety Supervision Bureau. The photograph quickly sparked ire among netizens condemning his actions.

Regardless of his reasons for smiling, be it nerves or another situation that will remain unknown to netizens, those on China's internet soon began to analyze various photos of Yang wearing expensive watches costing anywhere from $30,000-60,000, more than an official in his post should be able to afford, proving that officials need to keep in mind that their expenses are not without scrutiny on the Chinese internet.

Chinese Netizens: South Koreans "Lucky"

A few days ago I blogged about the South Korean's court decision to rule real-name registration requirements on popular website unconstitutional. After the decision came out, I wrote a piece on Tea Leaf Nation on the subject and the response of Chinese netizens.

Read the article HERE.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Graduate Woes

One of the arguments in my research is that netizen participation in China is high because Chinese graduates are either facing lack of work or are working at jobs that they are overqualified for, leading to extra time being spent on the internet and thus finding activities and posting grievances on the internet. While this is a hard argument to substantiate, there was a new article today by the Wall Street Journal saying that 69% of college graduates in China currently make less than migrant workers.

While worker dissatisfaction hasn't manifested itself politically, such as in public protests, it is bound to be a worry for China's top leaders who regularly stress the need to avoid social instability, particularly ahead of this fall's leadership change.

Whether or not this underemployment is the reason for netizen activities on the Chinese internet, as stated above the dissatisfaction among students in job placement is enough to cause unrest online, and perhaps offline.

Chinese Interests in Africa

Africa has long been a land of lush resources, home to both fertile lands and harsh deserts. Some of the most powerful ancient civilizations were located on the continent, including the Egyptian, Carthaginian, and Mali empires. However, in the modern era Africa has become known for the carving up that occurred when European nations began to colonize the continent in the nineteenth century and strip it of it's resources. And today, similar work is underway by China.

Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa's main draws were its rich mineral deposits (namely gold) and the slave trade which flourished in Europe and the America colonies. By the nineteenth century, European powers quickly began to set up colonies in Africa in what was known as "the Scramble for Africa," invading the continent, colonizing, and annexing land. Native Africans could do little to halt the Europeans who had advanced weaponry due to the tide of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain would claim land in Africa, stripping it of resources.

While the age of imperialism drew to a close with the onset of two world wars, and revolutions granting independence to native peoples from their colonial powers, the time of colonization has had a lasting influence on Africa. Most notably, the European nations worked to strip Africa of resources, but did little build lasting infrastructure to the region.

Today, a new effort is underway in Africa spearheaded by the Chinese. The Chinese are leading enormous infrastructural projects in Africa, building the region (and also getting access to much needed resources in the process) and pouring large amounts of money into projects all along the African continent.

The Chinese are placing most of these funds into resource investment, utilizing Africa's rich deposits and untapped areas. The Chinese are also striving to improve infrastructure and transportation throughout the region. However, is this advancement and investment in infrastructure to benefit the locals or to aid Chinese efforts to access and transport resources? Is Chinese "investment" in Africa a subtle word choice to mask plans to get at Africa's resources?

Another part of this is a large influx of Chinese workers into Africa, a move that is creating hostilities between the Chinese and local populations. Visitors to China may also note large influxes of African students studying in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. While large pockets of African students exist in China, they are often met with hostile attitudes centered on racism.

The similarities between European colonization of Africa and China's recent "investments" in Africa are great. And the growing tensions between the two cultures and China's ambitions in the region are definitely something to keep an eye on.

Obama v. Romney

Wondering what netizens think of the US presidential election and candidates? My latest article at Tea Leaf Nation examines which candidates netizens on Chinese social media are throwing their support behind.

Read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Update: S. Korean Name Registration

Judges in South Korea voted unanimously to block a law that would have required netizens to use their real names when posting to the internet. Real-name registration, a practice that is gaining momentum on various Chinese websites, strips netizens of anonymity when posting to the internet in the hopes that removing an online user's ability to post and hide behind an anonymous handle with deter the spread of rumors, lies, and libel online.

South Korean judges blocked the law saying it undermines freedom of speech and prevents netizens from voicing concerns on the internet and that no proof has been shown that real name registration does in fact limit libel and cut down on abusive comments on the internet.

This news removes South Korean from the list of Asian nations aiming for real-name registration laws and policies on the internet. Chinese cities have been making strides to implement similar policies for websites such as Sina Weibo, however critics argue that doing so severely limits political participation and voicing concerns online.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Parental Bad News

Why are Chinese parents hiding bad news from their children? New article I co-wrote up over at Tea Leaf Nation.

Read the article: HERE.