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The People’s Daily responds to a dodgy chart
The People’s Daily reports (in Chinese) on a chart that was recently circulating online that purports to show how much of the total GDP of various countries comprises “administrative expenses.” The chart apparently states that 70 percent of China’s total economy is government expenditure on administrative costs, while by comparison, the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Britain spend less than 10 percent. In addition, the chart claims it is based on data from a UN agency.
First problem: The People’s Daily says that the UN agency mentioned by the chart does not exist. Fake data.
Second, the numbers are complete nonsense. A quick look at the World Bank’s data on China’s general government final consumption expenditure as percentage of GDP shows that between 1960 and 2015, the figure fluctuated between 11 and 17 percent, never higher. And that number, per the World Bank, covers much, much more than admin costs: it includes “all government current expenditures for purchases of goods and services (including compensation of employees),” as well as “most expenditures on national defense and security.”
The chart is easily debunked, and although the People’s Daily says it “sparked a heated debate,” it certainly did not cause a noticeable debate on social media. And yet, the editors at the Party’s venerable house newspaper felt the need to write more than 1,800 characters and quote various experts to refute a piece of internet nonsense.
So why did the People’s Daily care enough to write an editorial, and to feature it prominently on its website’s politics and current affairs channel? Perhaps it’s just because it’s Chinese New Year, and there’s no news except that people are feasting and arguing with their families, while Xi Jinping is on a poverty alleviation tour straight out of the Party template.
Here’s my theory for the sensitivity to this subject: People’s Daily editors — like most thinking people in China — can never quite shake the feeling that the government is just a little too involved in just a few too many things.
Here’s how far that involvement goes: Party and government entities are replicated throughout the country from village to county to city to provincial and national level. The Party demands control of NGOs, religious groups, media, and lawyers. And whereas in the 1990s and 2000s, the state backed away from the management of private companies, the last decade can be characterized with the phrase 国进民退 guó jìn mín tuì — the state advances and the private sector retreats. The state is subsidising and supporting the enterprises it owns, and pushing large private companies to “play with the national team” by installing in-house Party branches.
The government’s hand is in every pie, and that’s not always a pleasant feeling.
A personal note on ubiquitous government
The photo below shows me, in the fall of 1997, looking at a propaganda board in Ruoqiang Town, in Xinjiang — about as close to the middle of nowhere as I have ever been. This was long before the rise of the digitally enabled surveillance state in Xinjiang that has been in the news lately. But Ruoqiang was already part of an efficient nationwide system for spreading government messages to even the most remote and inconsequential corners of the People’s Republic.
The hand-drawn characters on the board below are about learning from and implementing the spirit of the 15th Party Congress, which had just concluded a few days previously on September 18. Jiang Zemin had been reappointed Party general secretary, and the Party constitution had been amended to include Deng Xiaoping Theory as a guiding ideology alongside Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.
This is what the scenery around Ruoqiang looks like:
And this… That blob in the picture below is my friend on a bike — we were cycling along the route sometimes called the Southern Silk Road.
This seemed to be the major local industry:
But even here, in the desert, before the internet or mass mobile telephony, Party messaging from Beijing was being reproduced on chalkboards according to a template.
Below is the Xinhua Bookstore in Ruoqiang. Aside from local maps, and the Uyghur-language versions of many of the books, the selection was the same as you’d find in any state-owned bookstore across the country.
Note the Uyghur script: It’s a hybrid of pinyin and Cyrillic introduced in the 1950s, and then phased out in the 1980s to return to the Arabic-based letters currently in use in Xinjiang.
Here is a family planning propaganda poster, in the middle of the desert. Note that the couple has two children: As minorities, Uyghurs were allowed more than one child even during the height of the one-child policy.
A few months later, also in the middle of nowhere, but in Tibet: Deng Xiaoping Theory on bilingual propaganda boards:
I ended that trip in Kathmandu. During nearly a year of cycling around Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Tibet, from Kashgar to Lhasa, Altay to Yili, Golmud to Lhasa, right until the border with Nepal, I was never able to escape the nearly ubiquitous, and remarkably consistent messaging from the Party.
On that note, it’s time to eat dumplings. All the best for the Year of the Dog from all of us at SupChina.
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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief
China-friendly veteran politician appointed Nepal’s new PM / Nikkei (paywall)
“Nepal’s president on Thursday appointed veteran communist leader Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli as the country’s new prime minister, over two months after Oli’s communist alliance won by a landslide the country’s first general election under a federal constitution.”
Can Ambassador Branstad’s relationship with China’s president ease tensions? / NPR
Ex-Iowa governor and current U.S. ambassador in Beijing Terry Branstad tells NPR’s Philip Kuhn that he enjoys extraordinary access to China’s president from an old friendship. But, asks this radio segment, can the relationship “stave off the headwinds the U.S.-China relationship faces.”
Harry Harris, Trump’s pick for Australia envoy, slams Beijing’s Asia ambitions / CNN
If the American president reads anything on Harris’s remarks, it might be this Fox News headline: U.S. ignores China ‘at our peril’ and lags on missile tech, Pacific commander warns.
Unigroup forges deal for $9.5-billion Chongqing chip plant / Caixin
Celebrating New Year’s while in the closet
Pretending to be straight for China’s Lunar New Year homecoming / Washington Post
Chinese students warned over Australia safety / Financial Times (paywall)
“Beijing has issued a safety warning to Chinese students in Australia, heightening fears in Canberra of economic retaliation after a spike in political tensions between the countries.”
Seven years old and kicked out of Beijing / NYT (paywall)
A multimedia account by Javier Hernández about a young girl and her migrant family traveling home to Henan Province. They were victims of the city’s recent purge of its “low-end population.”
Pop music and prejudice against LGBT
Hong Kong Canto-pop star Denise Ho barred from playing in Malaysia ‘because of her support for LGBT people’ / SCMP
China slams India PM trip to disputed region / Channel NewsAsia
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY
China’s AI ‘wish list,’ and how it works
China’s plan to dominate artificial intelligence is not a centrally planned and state-funded project in the way that high-speed rail was. Instead, it is like a “wish list,” where the central government is telling local governments “hundreds of ideas for ‘gifts’ that it would like to receive, and saying, ‘Surprise me,’” as Matt Sheehan explains.
A setback for Tesla in China
Tesla, America’s biggest electric car manufacturer, “is in danger of being relegated to an expensive niche in China because Elon Musk can’t clinch a deal to open a factory there,” according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that “China’s government is leaning toward allowing provinces to continue with local subsidies for electric vehicles to sustain the rising demand for new-energy automobiles,” a reversal of an earlier decision to cancel such incentives.
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS
The fall of Lu Wei, first commander of the Cyberspace Administration of China
The Party’s anti-corruption watchdog has thrown the book at China’s former internet regulator, in a rather extraordinary attack on the character of a recently high-flying official. Also, Sun Zhengcai, the disgraced former Party boss of Chongqing, was charged with bribery.
Backlash against FBI director’s statements on Chinese spies infiltrating U.S. universities
FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on February 13 that China has aggressively placed operatives at American universities, and that all 56 FBI field offices are monitoring Chinese students and academics in the country. Asian-American advocacy groups harshly criticized the comments, accusing Wray of “scapegoating immigrants” and “racial profiling.”
Detained Hong Kong bookseller gives surreal interview, raising stakes for Sweden
Gui Minhai, detained since January 20, appeared before selected media in an interview on February 9 that was greeted with extreme skepticism by his daughter, his adopted nation of Sweden, and many international observers.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Another Olympics, another online trolling war between China and Korea
Chinese fans flooded Raver, a South Korean sports website, with comments after what Pear Video dubbed the “darkest night for China’s short-track speed skating.”
China ends reciprocal blood donation, exacerbating the country’s chronic blood shortage problem
China is set to end its decades-long reciprocal blood donation system by the end of March, in the hopes of eliminating black-market blood dealing, but some patients are facing plasma shortages.
China’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala included a truly shameless Africa skit, featuring blackface
This year’s annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala, which is the most-watched TV program on the planet, included a skit set in Africa that many Chinese viewers are calling “racist,” as it featured a Chinese actress in full blackface. Much of the criticism of this skit (which is called 同喜同乐) has been censored on social media.
China’s Spring Festival Gala is (still) not open to criticism
Two hours after the 2018 gala concluded, users on Sina Weibo discovered they were prohibited from searching for “Spring Festival Gala complaints.” The show was so heavily criticized last year that the country’s media regulators had to censor online criticism to prevent the backlash from growing out of control.
The 12 most noteworthy Years of the Dog in Chinese history
In Chinese mythology, the dog came second to last in the race to determine the order of the zodiac — but starting tomorrow, when the lunar calendar turns, it will take pole position. What will 2018’s Year of the Dog bring, and how does it compare with dog years past? Check out SupChina’s ranking of the 12 most noteworthy and interesting Years of the Dog in Chinese history.
Beijing was awfully quiet this Chinese New Year’s Eve — as it has been
Beijing is being returned to an older form, one with fewer people, lighter traffic, better air — these are all desirable on paper, but the city that “true Beijingers” are getting back isn’t the dynamic, multidimensional, gritty metropolis that once publicly and proudly aspired to be part of the international community. Those who have been here long enough have all witnessed a gradual yet sure transformation, writes Anthony Tao, and not for the better.
Polyamory in the PRC: A brief history of sex and swinging in modern China
Orgies are technically illegal in the PRC. Article 301 of China’s 1997 Criminal Law bans “group licentiousness,” and has been used in the past to bust would-be swingers such as Ma Yaohai 马尧海, in an infamous 2010 case. But it’s not so straightforward. In modern China, everyone is trying to get laid, even if no one seems to be talking about it. Robert Foyle Hunwick investigates.
Sinica Podcast: ‘Critical’ journalism in China, explained by Maria Repnikova
A scholar of Chinese and Russian media discusses her book on media politics in China, and how she believes that the critical role of media in the country is underappreciated. In her view, China’s media and government engage in an improvised “dance” to guide and influence each other, rather than having a one-way relationship in which the government controls the media.
996 Podcast with GGV Capital: Lin Bin on How Xiaomi Engineered Its ‘Surprise Comeback’
Lin Bin, co-founder of Xiaomi, reveals the secret sauce of one of the most valuable private companies in the world, which may go public later this year. After an unprecedented “comeback year” in 2017, in January 2018, Xiaomi was the third-largest smartphone seller in the world by shipment, the No. 1 smartphone seller in India, and one of the top five sellers in 12 other countries.
Kuora: A Valentine’s Week stroll down memory lane
Before Valentine’s Day, we delved a bit into Kaiser’s romantic past with a question originally posted on Quora on June 7, 2015. It’s a short but sweet one: What is it like for two ABCs (American-born Chinese) in China to date each other?
Video: The great Spring Festival train stampede, 2018 edition
The Spring Festival travel season, chunyun (春运 chūnyùn) in Chinese, is under way. About 2.9 billion trips are expected to be made during the travel rush from February 1 to March 12 this year.
Video: Stephon Marbury bids farewell to basketball
Former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury retired from the basketball court after winning his last game on Sunday in Beijing. Watch how much he’s deeply loved by Chinese fans!
PHOTO FROM MICHAEL YAMASHITA
The Year of the Dog
A dog walks on the Ancient Tea Horse Road in the village of Shuhe, Yunnan Province. Today marks the first day of the Year of the Dog. The dog is an auspicious animal, symbolizing loyalty and the good fortune.