Free speech, Chinese students, and two Canadian campuses

Access Archive

Dear Access members,

Please join us on Monday, February 18, at 10 a.m. EST (11 p.m. Beijing time) on our Slack instant messaging channel, where our own Kaiser Kuo will host a live chat. If you need any help getting logged on to the Slack channel, please email lucas@supchina.com. You can find transcripts of previous Slack chats in the #access_qa_archive channel.

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team


1. Free speech, Chinese students, and two Canadian campuses

Most years, there is at least one prominent incident on college campuses in the English-speaking world involving a figure critical of the Chinese government, Chinese students protesting that figure, and questions of where to draw the line on appropriate free speech.

This week, there were two such stories from Ontario province, Canada. It’s worth reading these reports in full to understand what went on:

  • The Washington Post reports on a protest by Chinese students of a talk by a Uyghur activist, Rukiye Turdush, at McMaster University on February 11.

  • Canada’s National Post reports on a 10,000-strong petition protesting the election of a Canadian citizen of Tibetan descent, Chemi Lhamo, at the University of Toronto Scarborough to student-union president.  

The Washington Post obtained WeChat group chat records, apparently leaked by Chinese students more sympathetic to Turdush’s position, showing that the Chinese consulate in Toronto directed the students to “see whether university officials attended and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk.” The students “later wrote that they sent photos to Chinese officials.” Emily Rauhala, one of two Post reporters on the story, notes that this is a “rare case of documented coordination” between students and P.R.C. consulate officials, whereas in many recent cases, coordination was alleged but not proven, or admitted but the extent was not clear.

As David Mulroney, the former Canadian ambassador to China, tells the Washington Post: “As with many things involving China, there is a continuum, running from what is acceptable to not acceptable…The fact [the Chinese consulate officials] want to know which academics attend hints at desire to stop academic freedom.”

Further reporting on college campus free speech issues:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. Will China replace crutches?

Here’s a fascinating read about a company in a way underreported area of Chinese tech: biotechnology. By China Money Network via TechNode:

Chinese startup Fourier Intelligence aims to reinvent the exoskeleton market

For the 85 million disabled in China, obtaining a set of rehab exoskeletons is a far-off dream…

“The real hurdle for us is that exoskeleton is not being widely used,” said Zen Koh, managing director of Fourier Intelligence, during a phone interview with China Money Network in January. “The main reason is technological constraints: None of the 165 companies, laboratories, and research institutions known to be working on exoskeletons can build a product that can be worn for hours on a daily basis. Imagine buying a several-hundred-thousand-dollar device, but you still need to walk around with crutches—what is the point?”

This creates a vicious circle, in which low usage and high prices keep most consumers watching on the sidelines. That in turn leads to the inability to scale. What Fourier Intelligence wants to do is to make products at the price level of around $20,000, and then eventually lower it to just a few thousand dollars, making it affordable to all disabled people…

[Koh:] “We believe exoskeleton products eventually will become mainstream in three to five years. Just like with air conditioners, washing machines, and smartphones, you will feel significantly inconvenienced if you are deprived of it.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

3. Pacific Reset and Huawei update

Compared with the exoskeleton and free speech reads above, the trade war news today is exceedingly bland. The White House statement on this week’s trade talks in Beijing says as little as Xinhua’s report on Xi Jinping meeting with the visiting officials, both painting broad strokes and citing unspecified “progress.” The Wall Street Journal reports (paywall) that a “memorandum [of understanding] in the works is expected to cover issues related to Beijing’s offers to purchase more American goods and services, accelerating China’s market-opening efforts in sectors such as financial services and manufacturing, as well as improving its protection of U.S. intellectual-property rights.”

More links for today related to the Pacific Reset:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. Real-time censorship for real-time comments

In January, China released new guidelines to tighten its grip on the booming industry of short-video apps, requiring the vetting of all sorts of content before publication. Under the new regulations, the content that is subject to self-censorship on platforms like Kuaishou and Douyin includes not only videos’ titles, languages, and graphics, but also real-time comments written by viewers while they are watching, better known as danmu (弹幕 dànmù), or “bullet screens.”

Today, the People’s Daily published an article (in Chinese) that explains the thinking behind the decision to place danmu under tighter control and how Chinese short-video platforms are coping with the increasing demand of self-censorship.

Click through to SupChina for more details.

—Jiayun Feng

—–

Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • The government of Turkey has strongly condemned China’s treatment of Uyghurs, and noted in particular the reported death of folk poet Abdurehim Heyit in prison. In response, Beijing produced a video of a pale but very much alive Heyit saying he is in good health, but is being investigated “for allegedly violating national laws.” The video has backfired as Uyghurs around the world are now demanding evidence that their relatives in Xinjiang are still alive, using the hashtag #MeTooUyghur.

  • New Zealand has joined the club of Turkey, Canada, Norway, Australia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania as a recent target of Beijing’s wrath

  • Zhāng Yìmóu 张艺谋, China’s most famous living director, had a film pulled from the Berlin Film Festival by Chinese authorities. The film is billed as an intimate portrait of a prisoner who escaped from a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution and is on a trek to see a key newsreel in a rural village cinema.

  • Xi Study Strong Nation,” or Xue Xi Qiang Guo (学习强国), became the most downloaded app on Apple’s China store this week. The app, or rather the Party that produced it, demands engagement from users.

  • Anna Lindstedt is now the former Swedish ambassador to China, after Angela Gui reported a bizarre and threatening meeting with unnamed businessmen set up by the ambassador without the foreign ministry’s knowledge. Angela is the daughter of Guì Mǐnhǎi 桂敏海, Swedish citizen and seller of books that Chinese leader Xi Jinping doesn’t like, who has been held in custody in China for over a year.

  • The U.S.-China trade talks seem likely to be extended to May, after Donald Trump repeatedly hinted at the possibility, and negotiators reportedly remained at an impasse on important structural issues.


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

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Eric Fish@ericfish85

That’s quite a photo, showing in red the Marxist student activists who’ve been detained since it was taken in August ft.com/content/fd0874…

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:


VIDEO ON SUPCHINA

When hip-hop dance is infused with fireworks!

Bo Tao is an amateur hip-hop dancer in Guangdong, China, who likes to share his dance moves on Kuaishou, an online video app. He recently came up with the idea to put fireworks under his shoes and dance. The videos of him dancing with fireworks went viral on the internet, with almost 5 million views per video. What a great way to end the Chinese New Year!

We also published the following videos this week:


FEATURED ON SUPCHINA

‘The People’s Republic of Desire,’ reviewed

Originally founded as a gaming chat site in 2005, YY.com has become one of the biggest streaming sites in China, with more than 300 million users. For China’s poor and ordinary, streaming represents a shot at fame and fortune they could never achieve working their usual jobs. The country’s newfound obsession with streaming is the subject of The People’s Republic of Desire 你人生, the latest documentary by filmmaker Hao Wu 吴皓.

What the ruck? Huawei rugby ad catches flak in New Zealand

In this week’s China Sports Column: International Ski Federation president Gian-Franco Kasper is under fire, athletes around the world send Chinese New Year greetings, and Huawei gets clever with a rugby-related ad in New Zealand.

Love in rural China: Mother and daughter

In 2018, Clarinda Blais spent nine months living in Sanpi, a small village in Huangchuan County, Henan, about 230 kilometers from Wuhan. She returned this year to spend the Spring Festival with her host family and further explore a question: What is love in rural China? This five-part series looks at “love” and the way it manifests itself in five kinds of relationships. The first piece is about a 17-year-old high school senior, Fu Bingyu 福冰玉, and her mother.

Love in rural China: The auntie of Sanpi

This story is about Sun Jieping, a 43-year-old woman who attempted suicide five years ago when her husband revealed he kept mistresses. She has since found purpose through taking care of the village’s children.

Love in rural China: An engagement

This story is about Sun Weiwei 孙薇薇 and Yu Qiqi 余奇奇, a young couple who recently became engaged.

Love in rural China: Like father, like son

This story is about Yu Xiaoqing 余晓青, 22, and his father, whose expectations for him are a source of friction.

Love in rural China: ‘Have you eaten?’

This is the last part in a five-part series, about Sun Jieying 孙杰营 and Lei Zhengya 雷正亚, who were born and raised in Sanpi, got married there, own a farm there, and raised three children and four grandchildren there, over the course of 50 years of marriage.

Taiwan’s indigenous are still seeking justice on the democratic side of the Taiwan Strait

Last month, 31 indigenous representatives of Taiwan signed an open letter condemning the “hegemony” of Xi Jinping — but don’t interpret that as full-throated support for Taiwan’s current government. For many of the island’s half-million indigenous residents, cross-straits politics is secondary to more pressing, long-overlooked issues they face at home, everything from education to suicide rates to government restrictions on their claim to ancestral land.

‘Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj’ highlights China’s #MeToo movement, online censorship, and Uyghur repression

In the first episode of its second season, Netflix’s current events and culture satire show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj focuses on censorship in China. Minhaj explains the topic through the lens of how China’s #MeToo feminist activists have fought the system and built arguably the largest social movement in the country since 1989. He also highlights China’s imprisonment of a million Uyghur Muslims, a topic that receives barely more attention on American television than it does on Chinese.

Fight sexual harassment: A poster featuring Li Tingting of China’s Feminist Five

Employers in New York State are required by law to adopt a sexual harassment policy that meets certain minimum standards. Among other requirements, according to this new policy, employers must display information about these standards in a publicly available place. Here at SupChina, a proudly feminist Brooklyn-based company, we are of course happy to oblige — and give a shout-out to Chinese feminists while we’re at it. Our poster model is Li Tingting (a.k.a. Li Maizi), one of China’s Feminist Five.

Kuora: The most overlooked moments in 20th-century Chinese history

The rise of technocracy in China; Sino-U.S. strategic cooperation in the 1980s vis-à-vis the Soviet Union; the conservative, opposition reaction to reform and opening up; everything to do with warlords… There are many facets of 20th-century Chinese history that get short shrift in typical English-language history texts. Kaiser Kuo takes a look at several of them in this week’s Kuora.


SINICA PODCAST NETWORK

Sinica Podcast: China’s ethnic policy in Xinjiang and Tibet: The move toward assimilation

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Jeremy and Kaiser speak with Tashi Rabgey, research professor of international affairs at George Washington University and director of the Tibet Governance Project. They are joined by returning guest Jim Millward, professor of history at Georgetown University and renowned scholar of Xinjiang and Central Asia. This episode focuses on their respective areas of expertise: human rights violations in the Xinjiang region; the P.R.C. approach to ethnic policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, referred to on this show as minzu (民族 mínzú) policy; and the assimilation and securitization of both regions.

Ta for Ta: Episode 14: Samantha Kwok

On the latest Ta for Ta, Samantha Kwok talks about why her passion is to help young graduates and professionals make genuine connections with potential employers, and how to empower them to take control of their own career development. She is the founder of JingJobs, an online and offline platform dedicated to connecting China-focused startups and fresh bilingual talent.

ChinaEconTalk: China’s foothold in India’s tech ecosystem

Today, nearly half of the top 100 apps in India’s Google Play store are made by Chinese companies. To explore this phenomenon, we spoke with Shadma Shaikh, a writer at Factor Daily. She and Jordan examine the multiple different aspects of China’s growing presence in India’s technology space. They also discuss the successes and failures of Chinese tech companies in India, the strategies that helped those companies find success, and the unique features of Indian culture (such as multiple languages), which have created difficulties for Western and Chinese tech companies that are eager to gain access to the Indian tech market.  


PHOTO OF THE DAY

Beihai at dusk

It snowed recently in Beijing, leading to some wonderfully fresh views of familiar landmarks. Here’s the famous White Pagoda (白塔 bái tǎ) at Beihai Park near the heart of Beijing, caught in just the right waning light. This picture was taken by Eric Favreliere.