Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Global Times: Astroturfing Operation [Updated]

Remember the Global Times journalist whose tweets announced, in what is beginning to look like a "Hundred Flowers" campaign-style bait-and-switch, that the Global Times had decided that everything other than the private lives of the leadership could be reported on? His Twitter name was Wen Tommy, but his real name is Wen Tao, and he was fired soon after making those tweets.

He reportedly has not been seen since the day that Ai Weiwei disappeared, and we can therefore only assume that, being a friend and assistant of Ai Weiwei, was arrested at the same time as him. His ex-colleagues reaction? According to the sources of Richard Burger, a former editor at the Global Times, their response has been to launch an internet astroturfing campaign justifying the arrest of Ai and others:

"Nine days ago, Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of The Global Times, assembled all of the Chinese staff into the paper’s large conference room and shut the door. As is nearly always the case with such meetings, the expats, known as “foreign experts,” were not permitted inside.

Hu had a direct and simple order for his shock troops staff: They were to go to their desks and seek out any Chinese comment threads, any discussions on Chinese BBS’s and portals and blogs — any discussion on the Internet at all — about the detention of Ai Weiwei and counter them with the party line, as expressed so clearly and ominously in a recent Global Times editorial, namely that Ai Weiwei is a self-appointed maverick who deserves to be detained, and who is being used by hostile Western powers to embarrass, hurt and destabilize China. This was not a request, it was a direct order. It was compulsory."

Richard Burger's piece is excellent and I advise you to go and read it if you haven't already. I particularly agree with this passage:

"Go out and do your thing, Global Times 50-centers. While a lot of people will be fooled, enough will see through the propaganda. I admire the young aspiring journalists I worked with there two years ago. If any of you are reading this (which is not very likely), I urge you to think for yourselves, and understand that while journalists have several roles, astroturfing message boards isn’t one of them."
(my emphasis)




There's a difference between running a newspaper and a propaganda operation. During its short existence the Global Times has winked at both, containing humorous satire which we could not be sure was understood by the editorial team, and direct parroting of the party line. It is now clear, though, on which side the Global Times's bread is buttered.

[Edit] Two more things before I go:

- It's worth bearing in mind that Ai, described by the Global Times as a "Maverick" who "will pay a price for his special choice", was reportedly offered CPPCC membership just days before his disappearance. If true, the sheer cynicism of this is just astounding.

- I'd like to say a few words to any of the foreign staff of China Daily, Global Times, China Radio International, CCTV 9, 21st Century, Shanghai Daily and other media outlets owned by the CCP or over which it exercises ultimate editorial control who may be reading this -

Yes, I get that what you guys may be working on may have nothing to do with politics. You may be working solely on sports, society, or arts pieces. I also get that your prescence within the place you are working may, in your view, have a beneficial effect, or at least be value-neutral. I also understand that a lot of you see your work as a temporary gig that will help kick-start your career in media, which I think everyone knows is a difficult business to get into.

But consider this - by working for these outlets you are lending them an air of credibility which they may not deserve. Even the humorous pieces which the people at Global Times occasionally get through are a double-edged sword, since they allow the editors to act as if they're in on the joke even if they weren't. Whatever beneficial things you do should be weighed against this potential harm.

Of course, it may be that, like Chris Gelken, formerly of CCTV 9 and latter at CRI, you actually largely agree with the editorial line uniformly applied across these publications by the censors. Or it may be that, like Edwin Maher, you subscribe to the morally bankrupt proposition that by propagating propaganda you are not in some way responsible for its dissemination. If, however, this does not apply to you, it would be unfortunate if people were to simply decide that it does on the basis that no-one could work for these organisations without holding such views.

23 comments:

James said...

Hadn't seen the Sheen piece. Had me guffawing hard. How on earth did that get through? As you say, must have gone completely over ed. committee's heads.

What I found sad in Burger's piece was the discussion with his intelligent friend. What hope is there at the mo if basically otherwise decent folk can legitimise locking up dissenters because we can't be seen to be capitulating to "the West"?

FOARP said...

JB, the GT writers claim that the editors were in on the joke, but I don't believe it. Given the kind of stuff they print the rest of the time, it's just doesn't seem possible that they would OK pieces like that if they truly understood them. If we see more such pieces under the same moniker then we'll know for sure.

As Burger's friend, I don't think she's representative of people in mainland China in general, but she's certainly representative of the kind of stuff that party members will say, and perhaps even believe. As for being decent, well, she's Richard's friend, but my instinct is not to trust anyone who works for the PRC state media.

One more thing. I know some people in Taiwan, Michael Turton for example, are given to making out that this kind of thing is down to something culturally specific about the mainland as compared to Taiwan. As far as I'm concerned nothing could be further from the truth. Taiwan has no great cultural differences from the mainland, and, given the same circumstances, you would see the same kind of behaviour.

James said...

lestionNo, I don't agree here. Taiwan does have a very distinct identity. Even under Japanese rule there was limited flirting with democratic institutions.

The Taiwanese have gone through a succesful struggle already and so know what the other side looks like. They're not all just going to accept what they're told. If anything, lambasting of public figures here sometiems goes too far.

But if we are talking of a thought experiment of throwing them into the PRC cauldron, how would that work? I'm not sure what you mean by 'given the same circumstances'. What are we presupposing about the people injected into such circumstances?

Do they go into it with any bagagge? And if so, what could that be other than an assumption about culture, which is - in any case - the very thing that is in question. I'm certain you are not making a statement about ethnicity, right?

If we assume nothing, i.e. a tabula rasa, or Rawlsian veil of ignorance, which seems to be what you're getting at, then isn't it little more than a tautology to say of any group of people that in 'the same circumstances' they would 'be the same' ?

A group of people wouldn't behave the same precisely because it is impossible to them to go into any setup free of any predisposition. If we do strip them of any cultural bagagge when we think about this, in what sense are they that people anymore?

Not sure if I'm making myself clear here ...

James said...

Sorry, typo in front of first word - 'no'.

FOARP said...

JB, wrote a long-assed, ref'd comment and somehow it got lost. So I'll just say this - the way things are going down on the mainland isn't too different to the way things were during martial law in Taiwan, and people behaved in much the same way then in Taiwan as they do now in mainland China. The mainland has also had its flirtations with democracy.

People like Jerome Keating love to carry on about how Taiwanese culture is all about "freedom" as opposed to Chinese culture, which presumably isn't. Check out this incredibly bad piece he wrote in the Typeless:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2006/05/10/2003307182

Another example:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2011/01/27/2003494508/1

Pretty much everything he writes about Taiwan's "unique" "Creole" culture is broadly true of, say, Shandong, or Fujian, or Liaoning, or Yunnan, or Guangdong, or Hainan, or other parts of the mainland.

The truth is that there is no great cultural difference between people in Taiwan and people on the mainland. Some of my Taiwanese colleagues at Foxconn may have been somewhat conscious of the wealth and prestige they enjoyed as Taiwanese citizens over their mainland counterparts, but there was no great incompatibility between the two groups. I cannot think of one person I know in Taiwan who would be terribly out of place in mainland China.

The differences between Taiwan and the mainland are historical, political, geographical, but not in the main cultural.

justrecently said...

The problem with many writings about Taiwan - and often most strikingly by foreigners in Taiwan - is that they are apparently unable to take a stand above their own ideology, not even occasionally. It's to quite a degree a matter of self-assertion, vis-a-vis China, which is understandable, but useless. If the status quo or formal independence respectively are the goal, such goals stand and fall with the preparedness to defend ones country.

EastSouthWestNorth has translated and published several opinion polls re these issues, over the past years, and they would suggest that most Taiwanese see themselves as - culturally, anyway - Chinese.

In my view, Taiwan has every right to take its own path, and I do believe that they are as different from much of China, as Italians are from Skandinaveans or Germans, for example, but suggesting that Taiwan were somehow Polynesian leads nowhere.

However, when you differentiate between cultural and political features, things become complicated, too, FOARP. Culture and politics are really strongly inter-related, and I think it is no coincidence that there was a channel of communication between Chiang Ching-kuo (a worldly-wise man, I would think, by Chinese-apparatchik standards) and the Taiwanese public.

No such channels exist between the Chinese "public" and their leaders. Taiwan as we know it today was mostly founded by Chinese people who wouldn't continue to live in China - neither in the 17th century, nor in the 20th.

FOARP said...

@JR - ESWN's polls are usually dismissed (on TW blogs like Michael Turton's at least) because they often come from KMT-friendly media. The fact that they have no problem with using the polls he re-prints showing a majority of Taiwanese people calling themselves either exclusively Taiwanese, or both Taiwanese and Chinese doesn't seem to register.

You do see a distinction between Taiwanese who are willing to be called "中国人" and those who are willing to be called "華人" and this does show that there are plenty of people who are willing to be called one but not the other. Taiwan as we know it was made by Chinese people, and there has been no great cultural change since. Talk about some great cultural change during the 50 years of Japanese colonial rule, a period during which there was little in the way of settlement, linguistic change etc. is idle.

justrecently said...

I think we've both been to Taiwan, FOARP, and we seem to see it differently. In the end, I do see significant civilizational differences from China there. I think either civil society or public life may be catchwords to describe my hunches. Neither exists in China.
Meta-Confucianism exists in both countries - but that's mostly personal or inter-personal in Taiwan - it isn't political.

FOARP said...

@JR - But I would put that in the political field, not the cultural. The relations that people with have with their bosses etc. are much the same in both places. There is no special deference in mainland Chinese culture that does not exist in Taiwan. Without dictatorship, mainlanders would likely have much the same attitude towards their leaders that the Taiwanese have towards theirs.

As for which place shows the greatest imprint of Confucianism (as in real Confucianism, not just "were going to raid Confucius for whatever excuses for ruthless dictatorship we can find"-ism) I would be tempted to say Taiwan, not the mainland. However, this would mainly be down to the one-child policy.

justrecently said...

Policies can create a certain culture. That's a point where the CCP is probably right, and that's what it is trying to do. It's even taking care of the citizens' "spiritual hygiene" - no matter if we talk about Han Chinese, Tibetans, or Uyghurs.

I'm not trying to discuss the KMT's role in China now, prior to 1949, but we can safely say that the KMT's approach on Taiwan was much more pragmatic than what it had been on the other side of the Strait. The goal, even during the time of dictatorship, was "the recovery of the mainland". The design of Taiwan only mattered in that it provided a safe base. One might even argue that they had learned one or another lesson from their defeat.

As for Confucianism, I'm pretty sure that it matters more in Taiwan - between individuals. But it is neither a state doctrine there, nor is it part of a set of several ideologies.
The one-child policy may have had an impact on Confucianism in China. But for the first decades of the PRC, Confucianism as a state concept was an absolute "No". I think that mattered more.

I haven't seen Taiwan under Chiang rule, but I do believe that even then, it had a public life which deserved the name. The KMT banned the local dialect at schools, but not at peoples' homes there. In general, families were left to themselves.
China has emulated a public life, from Mao Zedong to Hu Jintao.

James said...

G, I don't have the time or energy to go into all of this now (we will chat another time) but some of what you have said here is just plain wrong I'm afraid.

The last paragraph, in particular, is way off the mark. As I know you on a personal level, I have a fair idea about the scope of your reading on Taiwanese history. I am fairly sure you have never read Shepherd: http://books.google.com/books?id=g3oWoSKVnVIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=shepherd+statecraft&source=bl&ots=fvKo-UPZwO&sig=8XsDQ18YaewaAIMM8v3kta7-VYg&hl=en&ei=2TWtTfzVLoGGvAPzk7naCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

or http://www.amazon.com/Taiwan-Under-Japanese-Colonial-1895-1945/dp/0231137982

Even the novel Orphan of Asia, written at the end of the war/colonial rule lends the lie to what you're saying.

I'm not making any claims based on Austronesian mixing (though they are pretty easy to prove, due to Qing immigration policy vs. population expansion) but to say the Japanese era, in particular, has had no influence on identity formation in Taiwan is just silly.

And where are the examples of figuers like Henry Kao in the PRC? Sure, he may have later been coopted and only got in in the first place through KMT oversight but he still won a popular vote and was allowed to assume office. The same goes for candidates in Keelung and Tainan during the same period.

I really don't understand what you mean by 'culture'. You strike politics from your list of criteria which is very odd, especially here, where local- interest politics mean the two are inextricably linked; but you don't offer an explanation of 'culture', aside from some vague observation about deference to leaders. Away with history, too, which clearly has no bearing on culture.

How about religion? Visitors from the PRC are nearly always surprised at how traditional Taiwan is - quite a far cry, from what I am told, from what they are used to. No? No te religion? Food? Education? Social mores?

I suppose that latter is what you must be angling at.

My original point still stands: if we are saying Taiwanese would act the same in the same circumstances, we seem to be saying either a)even given their very different experiences over the last century-plus, they would just fall into line through some innate (?) cultural memes. b)if we treated them as blank slates, i.e. if they were children growing up there, they would be the same. I reiterate, who wouldn't?

The first case scenario seems intuitively implausible, the second just to say nothing.

FOARP said...

@JB - You were unwise to tell me of those books, now I thoroughly intend to swipe them next time I'm round yours. As I said before, I'm ruthless when it comes to books.

I still maintain there's no great difference in culture between the mainland and Taiwan. Yes, Taiwanese are more religious than most mainlanders - but when the comparison is made with their direct neighbours in Fujian across the straits it seems less. Yes, the political system in Taiwan is a product of the differing development of Taiwan and mainland China since 1949 - but the same system was in place in that year.

When I talk about culture, I mean the basic attitudes people have towards other people, figures of authority. Were one to read Jerome Keting or Michael Turton, one would get the impression that mainland Chinese are servile robots whereas Taiwanese somehow changed during the colonial era into freedom-loving democrats.

This is a dubious argument, for which there is little/no evidence. It seems to be a product of their dislike for mainland China, which extends to opposing even students from the mainland coming to Taiwan, and to arguing in favour of shop-keepers and business-owners who refuse to serve mainlanders.

As for your final a) or b), my answer is neither. My answer is that they would fall into line whatever their cultural mores. The political system in mainland China is far more a product of the victory of the Communist Party than it is a product of Chinese culture. Had Taiwan been taken at the same time as Hainan, the Communist party would have wrought its work on Taiwan just as it did on Shanghai, Shandong, the North-East, Tibet, Xinjiang, Fujian etc. etc. etc.

justrecently said...

To distrust Keating's or Turton's narratives is one thing - to equate China and Taiwan is still another, FOARP. Taiwan has seen changing rule many times, and even before it was seized by Japan, it had only been part of imperial China for something between two or three centuries. All that as a time when it was a very remote place from the imperial court's perspective.

China is united not least by fear, of the foreign world or of its own leaders respectively.
I don't agree with an idea that Chinese people would be robots, but I do think that there is a collective trauma which won't go away any time, soon.

That Taiwan might have been terrorized into submission just as successfully - or unsuccessfully (it depends) - as Tibet or Fujian is a problematic kind of argument, too. After all, even if there are common sino-tibetan cultural elements, they are by no means belonging to the same culture. Confucianism is no cultural all-purpose glue (if it was, count Korea, North and South, in, too), and common ethnic roots (the Taiwanese certainly share an ethnic heritage with much of southern China alone won't build a common culture either (if it did, count ABCs, BBCs, any any-country-born-Chinese in, too).

FOARP said...

@JR - Currently I'm living in a city that used to be called "Breslau". It was called "Breslau" for more than 500 years. It is not, now, called "Breslau", except in the novels of Marek Krajewski. And, still, in Germany.

Things can change. War changes much. Taiwan doesn't need to change much, relatively speaking, to become part of the totalitarian system that is on the mainland.

For it to change in this way would be a tragedy. But it would not be the imposition of a foreign system.

Instead, it would only be the imposition of dictatorship, just as, for example, my own country changed during and after the civil war, when freedoms that had long existed suddenly disappeared as if they had never existed. And, out of fear, no-one said anything.

Remember, I am not arguing that Taiwan should be part of China. I do believe that it could be, and it might even be desirable for it to be so, were the dictatorship on the mainland toppled. However, if Taiwanese people, fully informed and fully aware of the necessary costs, truly want independence, then they should have it.

James said...

It's b) G! These two statements just prove my point (i.e. that the statement that the Taiwanese would fall into line is self-evident to the point of being meaningless):

'My answer is that they would fall into line whatever their cultural mores.The political system in mainland China is far more a product of the victory of the Communist Party than it is a product of Chinese culture.'

If you can't see what I'm talking about here, then we'll just be going in circles ad infinitum.

Similarly:

'Instead, it would only be the imposition of dictatorship, just as, for example, my own country changed during and after the civil war, when freedoms that had long existed suddenly disappeared as if they had never existed. And, out of fear, no-one said anything.'


Also, how would it not be a foreign system? Are all dictatorships the same in form or am I missing something? And surely then any country that has ever had totalitarian rule - which is pretty much everywhere - would not be importing a 'foreign' system if it fell under a dictatorship. Puzzling.

As JR says, I think we are veering between extremes here with you being just as wrong as those you are attacking. I agree that Keating has been responsible for some woefully fatuous drivel. I find MT's blog frequently insightful and interesting, though I understand your point.

Still think you are tilting at strawmen though. Anyone saying the stuff you've cited (I've not seen them arguing in favour of banning PRC citizens from businesses, though I'll take your word for it) is clearly being ridiculous, at least in those instances.

Oh and I'll be watching me books like a hawk next time you're in town. Teef the Shepherd (best single book I've read on Taiwan) and you WILL die.

Now away with ye and your unificationist tendencies!

FOARP said...

@JB - Sorry about your coms getting spammed. Bloody Blogspot is doing my head in on this.

Sure we'll argue about this some more sometime, at which point you will no doubt be won over by my sage-like wisdom.

justrecently said...

my own country changed during and after the civil war
Are you referring to the Cromwell dictatorship, FOAR?

FOARP said...

@JR - Yup, went from being a relatively liberal quasi-absolutist quasi-democracy to being a puritanical republican dictatorship. Fortunately, Cromwell died and his son wasn't much use.

On the other hand, perhaps Cromwell was only 30% wrong? Didn't he make foreigners fear England? Didn't he make a new England? Why should he be blamed for Drogheda? I mean, all he did was order the massacre?

Foreigners like to criticise the execution of King Charles and his followers, but they fail to understand the social conditions of England . . .

Michael Turton said...

One more thing. I know some people in Taiwan, Michael Turton for example, are given to making out that this kind of thing is down to something culturally specific about the mainland as compared to Taiwan.

What "thing" are you talking about and when have made the statements you claim I've made.

Thanks for the publicity, though.

Michael Turton said...

ESWN's polls are usually dismissed (on TW blogs like Michael Turton's at least) because they often come from KMT-friendly media. The fact that they have no problem with using the polls he re-prints showing a majority of Taiwanese people calling themselves either exclusively Taiwanese, or both Taiwanese and Chinese doesn't seem to register.

You're really far gone, aren't you? I mean -- it is like you don't even read my blog, just your bizarre fantasy version of it.

My usual comment on, say, a poll from the Chinese-owned and pro-KMT TVBS station that shows 69% support independence is to point out that, as I always do in TVBS polls, that it underestimates the Green numbers. TVBS usually does (though not always!).

I'd like some examples from my blog of how this criticism of yours is actually relevant.

Michael Turton said...

When I talk about culture, I mean the basic attitudes people have towards other people, figures of authority. Were one to read Jerome Keting or Michael Turton, one would get the impression that mainland Chinese are servile robots whereas Taiwanese somehow changed during the colonial era into freedom-loving democrats.

This is a dubious argument, for which there is little/no evidence. It seems to be a product of their dislike for mainland China, which extends to opposing even students from the mainland coming to Taiwan, and to arguing in favour of shop-keepers and business-owners who refuse to serve mainlanders.


Hahahahahahaha. Dude, here is what I've actually written on students from China, a move I have no problem with.

http://www.taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xitem=103999&CtNode=426

Do you actually read my blog? The KMT policy is about saving the schools that are family and construction company run, because almost all small local private universities are run by firms/clans that support the KMT. It's the usual KMT policy of using China to extend its own power in Taiwan. I have no objection to Chinese students, only to the way they are exploited.

Don't you think it is time you actually read my blog?

Michael Turton

Michael Turton said...

Talk about some great cultural change during the 50 years of Japanese colonial rule, a period during which there was little in the way of settlement, linguistic change etc. is idle.

C'mon FOARP. You cant really believe this. The experience of Japanese colonial rule was formative for modern Taiwan, in everything from its financial and administrative infrastructure to its built environment to ideas about identity, rule of law, policing, what westernization is, crop choices, food culture, fashions, administrative boundaries, you name it.

Michael

FOARP said...

@MT - Yes, I do read your blog, even if I'm not entirely jazzed about your comments policy.

Here's you going about Chinese culture contains a yearning for autocratic control that Taiwan has left behind:

" . . . Chinese culture is filled with commentators like Roland who. just. don’t. get. it. It is this widespread yearning for technocratic control in Chinese culture, not plebian tastes, that is the real threat to the future of Chinese democracy."

Here's you justifying people refusing to serve mainlanders and describing them as "perps":

"I know the Chinese are the first and greatest victims of their government. So what? Over there, they are victims. Over here, they are perps. If they don't want political action aimed at them, they should stop invading other people's countries."

As for your stuff about the colonial period being a formative period for Taiwanese identity, I've always thought this was far too overblown. Economically? Yes. Culturally? I don't believe it, at the very least, you don't see any great sign of it nowadays.