The scale of the tragedy in China has led to people zeroing in on the human cost, and on a person-by-person, family-by-family basis, if possible. James Fallows does this and points to an emerging trend in reportage of the earthquake’s aftermath: how families subjected to the one child policy have been particularly devastated (one BBC report casually mentioned that wealthy families in China ignore the government’s regulations, as they can afford to pay fines for having extra children; that’s a story in itself, I think).
Frog in a Well looks at how the Chinese government’s trying to manage the news, in the light of previous efforts:
During the Yangzi floods a few years ago I remember seeing pictures of PLA troops trying to hold back the water with their bodies, which probably was not very effective as a flood control measure, but did result in pictures of the Army helping the people. Paratroopers are already landing in the quake area.
Proper management of a natural disaster is of course important for states, and people are already drawing comparisons to the Tangshan earthquake of 1976, the bungled handling of which was one factor in the political chaos of that year.
Qian Gang is putting out what I would call the official line, that the time is not right to ask questions…
All I can say is good luck with that. Perhaps the Chinese government is learning the American trick of saying first that the event is too close for us to understand it and then switching to saying that this is old news and we should not live in the past. How well the quake is defused as a political issue depends on a number of things. How well the relief efforts go. How much of the damage was caused by shoddy buildings. (At least some people are already blaming corrupt officials for cutting corners on school construction) How much future damage will be caused by shoddy buildings? (Up to 200 dams were supposedly damaged by the quake. This could end up being a slow motion disaster.) Will the state be seen as insensitive in its handling of the crisis? (Already people are asking that the Olympic torch run/great national celebration of China Power be toned down a bit.) In the next year or so I expect that things will be pretty bleak in the quake areas in part because of the quake and in part because it was a pretty poor rural area to start with. Will this lead to more talk about rural poverty? In the West this will probably be a pretty short media cycle, which may clear up a few questions in our elite media such as “Is Sichuan where Szechuan food comes from” (yes) and “Why is China so stagnant and unchanging?” (Don’t get me started) I expect the Chinese press to be filled with stories of rescue and grief for at least a while, as Qian Gang suggested.
Adam Hanft in The Huffington Post believes that Out of Tragedy, a New Cultural Understanding of China, and lists the evolution of American (and perhaps, Western) views on China:
There have been four modern phases that define the way Americans see the Chinese, four lens of perception.
The first was as opium-smoking Mandarins during the 19th century.
The second lens, which emerged late in the 19th and early in the twentieth century, was that of a feverishly over-populated civilization where human life was meaningless. The Chinese were a “Yellow Peril”, and journalists used that incendiary language to whip us into a frenzy of fear and discrimination.
The third lens, which defined our view during the Communist period — particularly the Cultural Revolution — was that of brainwashed, amoral thought slaves who were able to be manipulated and controlled by Mao…
The fourth lens, our contemporary one, views the Chinese as still amoral, but now 24/7 capitalists, cold, calculating and emotionless. A civilization that is willing to relocate millions, manufacture tainted products in a free-for-all economy and destroy the environment as they play the largest catch-up game in human history.
…The Chinese government, of course, bears some responsibility for this. In their burning desire to both modernize and control, their global image management strategy was to focus on China’s transformational economic success, to restore national pride and never, ever convey weakness or softness or victimization in the process.
One has to wonder, though, whether Filipinos have even gone past whatever images were prevalent in the 19th century, as far as China and the Chinese are concerned. In one sense, I think we have, and that’s in terms of aesthetics, where the J-Pop and K-Pop crazes, telenovelas, and so on, have changed people’s images of what’s desirable and attractive. But at the heart of our attitude to China, I’d still think, is the idea that Chinese society is still an imperial society; and that most of all, a fundamentally anti-capitalist, anti-entrepreneurial, and vaguely xenophobic attitude towards the Chinese still reigns.
There’s this striking passage in China’s All-Seeing Eye: With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export. by Noami Klein in Rolling Stone Magazine:
China today, epitomized by Shenzhen’s transition from mud to megacity in 30 years, represents a new way to organize society. Sometimes called “market Stalinism,” it is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarian communism – central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance - harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism.
…Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range – a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment. Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen, which would make it the most watched city in the world. (Security-crazy London boasts only half a million surveillance cameras.)
The security cameras are just one part of a much broader high-tech surveillance and censorship program known in China as “Golden Shield.” The end goal is to use the latest people-tracking technology - thoughtfully supplied by American giants like IBM, Honeywell and General Electric – to create an airtight consumer cocoon: a place where Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cellphones, McDonald’s Happy Meals, Tsingtao beer and UPS delivery (to name just a few of the official sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) can be enjoyed under the unblinking eye of the state, without the threat of democracy breaking out.
A slightly different interpretation of what the Chinese authorities are up to, is presented by Professor Mitchell Langbert:
The Chinese have decided to imitate American economic progress. But they have chosen to imitate the wrong thing. American economic success has come in spite of, not because of, government development schemes. In particular, the US government and the states granted large amounts of land and access rights to railroads in the nineteenth century. Although railroads contributed to economic development, they did so at much higher cost to the public than was necessary. The public donations of land were accompanied by considerable incompetence and corruption. More railroads were built than were needed. In today’s world, the corruption associated with land grants has not disappeared. The Progressives of the early twentieth century believed that by rationalizing the corruption of the political bosses, government support for business could be rationalized and made honest. In the Progressive tradition, Robert Moses in New York and similar social democratic Progressives in other states involved state and federal governments in considerable grants to business. This tradition is not why America has succeeded. America has succeeded in spite of government support for business. Sadly, the Chinese have chosen to imitate the Jay Gould/Robert Moses tradition. They are attempting to modernize their country through government support for development coupled with inflation.
The way that America did succeed in developing its economy was entrepreneurship. Freedom of enterprise not only permitted entrepreneurial genius to innovate here, but also drew entrepreneurial geniuses from other countries. For instance, Nikola Tesla came to the United States because Europeans refused to invest in his concept of A/C electricity. Thomas Edison, Jonah Salk and an endless list of homegrown and immigrant innovators came here because of American freedom. But a long list of social democrats, media pundits, quack academic economists and socialists have done all they can to destroy America’s freedom.
The development that occurred because of Jay Gould, Robert Moses and Bruce Ratner, the successor to the governmental welfare approach to business, is not the development that made America a great country. Rather, America became a great country in spite of Jay Gould, Robert Moses and Bruce Ratner. In the case of Robert Moses, the public housing on which he squandered billions of dollars and was supported by the New York Times caused massive increases in crime, destruction of neighborhoods and the near-bankruptcy of New York City in the mid 1970s. Jay Gould’s and his contemporaries’ railroads were incompetently run and cost the nation far more than they should have. Despite the massive tax on innovation that corrupt government support for business has posed, the US surged ahead because of the innovation of men like Edison and Tesla. The entrepreneur, free of government impediment and government welfare subsidy, thinks of ways to meet consumer needs and so makes himself wealthy and the world wealthier still.
In “Asian Godfathers” (Joe Studwell) the author basically argues that Harry Lee (alias Lee Kwan Yew) advocates 19th Century European ideas of eugenics, camouflaged as native pride (from this online excerpt from his book):
If anything, Chinese-ness is rather trendy in Southeast Asia these days, sometimes bizarrely so. The theaters of Bangkok’s original Chinatown are thriving, even though most of the players are now Laotian, the Chinese having moved on to better-paid work. Under Thaksin, most Thai Rak Thai election candidates made a point of putting their name in Chinese characters on their election posters.
All this owes a lot to China’s economic rise, and to a desire to be seen to be in tune with what is presently perceived as “the future”, but it also reflects a waning of the capacity of indigenous elites to divide and rule their subjects. Time — since the end of large-scale immigration before the Second World War — has been both a healer and an educator.
In the Philippines, race is a non-issue. Hong Kong has become a far more culturally relaxed, mature and integrated society since the end of colonialism in 1997. The exceptions are Chinese-majority Singapore, where Harry Lee Kuan-Yew will likely take his dreary eugenic theories to the grave, and Malaysia, where the still relatively even demographic balance between ethnic Chinese and bumiputras allows the indigenous (if this term is still meaningful) political elite to plunder the country in the name of positive discrimination. Nonetheless, around the region, the race relations story is a very positive one.
A critical review of Studwell’s book by Richard North describes Studwell’s view:
Studwell tries to persuade us that historic circumstance even more than culture or genes accounts for the power of the Chinese Godfathers. Indeed, Studwell is keen to point out that the Chinese Godfathers are much more apparently than actually Chinese: they are “chameleon” – as though they are uncertain whether to promote or disguise their ethnicity. He is especially fierce about anyone who claims there is something Confucian about the Chinese Godfathers or their form of capitalism. Indeed, he sees the ethnic posing of the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, erstwhile Prime Minister of Singapore, as a sort of social manipulation, which enjoins workers to be obedient and quiescent in case something damages the special but fragile economy in which they toil.
China at the very least, doesn’t have a government people would classify as weird. But in the Encyclopedia Britannica blog, Robert McHenry asks, in the case of Burma, what do you do when a government’s obviously insane?
Closer to home, The Asia Sentinel reports on Malaysia’s LingamGate,
A royal commission appointed to investigate Malaysia’s judicial system has concluded that the country’s courts have been subject to widespread fixing of judicial appointments that corrupted decisions at the behest of ranking politicians.
The report has not been released and, given its political sensitivity — involving, for instance, allegations of judicial abuses by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad — it is posing serious problems for the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the United Malays National Organisation…
However, the report appears to confirm what has been widely reported so far on b logs and in the press — and that is that the court system was almost entirely in the thrall of politicians with close ties to businessmen. The commission was appointed last year after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim made public an eight-minute segment of a 2002 videotape showing the well-connected lawyer VK Lingam in conversation with Ahmad Fairuz, then the country’s third-ranking judge. The release of the videotape played a major role in energizing opposition to the ruling Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition of ethnic parties, in elections earlier this year that wiped out the coalition’s historic two-thirds majority and resulted in its biggest defeat since independence.
You may want to check out Mahathir Mohamad’s blog, to see how he’s reacting to the issue.
atheista.net makes an appeal to ignore the 100 pound Gorrell-a in the blogosphere. Fair enough but what makes this appeal interesting to me is that it reveals the limitations of the entire effort to identity the “top 10 emerging blogs.” The criteria are subjective and nearly every blogger trying to propose blogs for consideration has to wrestle with the dilemma of is the process about identifying up-and-coming blogs with influence, or is it about endorsement, is it a wish list or an objective identification? Also of interest to me is this concern with “reputation,” as far as the blogosphere is concerned, which only proves that bloggers outside media aren’t immune to the fierce self-identification with a specific platform that accounts for so much antagonism between platforms.
Meanwhile, from some time back, BuzzMachine on Tearing down the news-opinion divide.
So opinion crosses a media divide: How can you write a blog without a human voice? And once you import stuff from that blog, even a Times blog, into print, you’ve brought in a human voice - that is, one with a stated perspective – into a publication that has prided itself on having no perspective. Heh.
There’s another divide to consider here, an organizational divide. Don’t forget that at The Times and many American newspapers, there’s a wall between business and editorial and another wall between the newsroom and the editorial page. The silly conceit of this is that opinion can be relegated to and imprisoned in the walls and pages of an editorial department: They own opinion and nobody else is allowed to have any - and that is the inoculation that has, historically, preserved the news department’s own conceit that it is objective: See, we don’t do opinion, those people over there do.
So one has to ask what the difference is between Andrew Sorkin and Paul Krugman except that Sorkin is paid to spend more of his time reporting with more sources. So - no offense to Krugman; I just picked the most convenient beat – but what whose opinion/perspective/viewpoint is more useful? If we take the argument that newspapers make against blogs - they just have opinions; they don’t report - that would give the contest to Sorkin, now that he is allowed to have opinions. So what’s the point of having opinion-page columnists? Why not just have reporters who can also share their perspective?
There’s another opinion divide to consider: inside v. outside. What about those bloggers? As newspapers get relationships with them - The Times has taken Freakonomics under its wing and the Washington Post today announced it is syndicating TechCrunch onto its side (as it syndicates my PrezVid) - one need wonder about their opinions. They have them. Michael Arrington certainly has them - including opinions about mainstream newspapers, we should remember. So how does that fit with the news-opinion divide? I was surprised to learn recently that Freakonomics is under The Times’ Opinion section. Why? The Post put TechCrunch stories on its technology news page. What’s the difference: prissiness, as Nick says, or turf battles? (And by the way, in all these cases, I think a network relationship is smarter than a syndicated relationship – but that’s the subject of another post another day.)
Which brings us to RG Cruz in his blog. See RG’s entry for today:
IF I am to believe everything that ive been hearing so far, then I would think that Ping got Joe to divulge THE pictures, that this alex guy is a but a front to Joe who is still neither here nor there if he’s gonna spill the beans on Mike and Gloria, that Joe is getting from Gina and Joey big time, except that Joe is afraid he’s gonna go to jail if he does spill the beans (thats why he flew overseas), that the blackened figure in one of the pictures isnt ben but a tourist, that all this drama now is but part of a big scheme to bankrupt a family corporation to ease some pressure on certain individuals.
That’s if im to believe everything ive heard so far. DO i? Jury is still out.
Fair enough.Two reporters -Jove Francisco and RG Cruz- are good examples of the points raised by BuzzMachine above: the value of having reporters not only do reporting, but have the freedom to blog and present their personal take on things.
Meanwhile, you’ll enjoy this article on a family feud involving oil millionaires going on in Texas: Oil in the Family.