NBA grovels for Chinese forgiveness

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

The satirical animated TV show South Park released a perfectly timed episode last week titled “Band in China” in which the elementary-school-going protagonists run into trouble with their heavy metal band biopic — because the film’s producers are relying on the Chinese market for funding. (If you’re in the U.S., watch here. Outside the U.S., it’s here on Youtube with Chinese subtitles.)

And then, just over the weekend, the National Basketball Association — one of the most successful American entertainment franchises in China — found itself on the hot seat in China because of a mere tweet from the general manager of the Houston Rockets team. You can hear some commentary from me about this on The World, from Public Radio International / NPR. 

Our word of the day is South Park: 南方公园 nánfāng gōngyuán.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Screenshot from South Park episode linked above.

1. NBA grovels for Chinese forgiveness after ‘erroneous comments on Hong Kong’ by Houston Rockets GM

Over the weekend, one of the best-known general managers of an NBA team found himself smack-dab in the middle of an international political nightmare. 

  • It started with an October 4 tweet, now deleted, in which Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey shared with his 200,000+ followers an image that said, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” This is a slogan that has become a refrain among demonstrators in the embattled city, which has just undergone its 18th straight weekend of protests. However, expressing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong is seen as insulting by pro-Beijing Chinese nationalists. 

  • Morey was immediately swarmed by outraged Chinese internet users or bots, who spammed the replies to his tweet with “NMSL,” which stands for a Chinese internet insult meaning “Your mom died” (你妈死了 nǐ mā sǐ le). A data analysis of these commenters indicates that many could have been automated. 

  • The Chinese Basketball Association, whose president is former Rockets star Yáo Míng 姚明, suspended its relationship with the team. And then Chinese companies like sportswear brand Li-Ning and SPD Bank began pulling sponsorships

The Rockets were, until now, the second-most-popular basketball team in China, after only the Golden State Warriors. They were probably the most popular team from 2002 to 2011, when Yao Ming was part of the team. In the years since, the NBA has become even more widely viewed (and profitable) in China. 

The NBA twists itself to please Beijing

Faced with a threat to its business, the NBA promptly groveled to the fullest extent, releasing a statement in English on October 6 on how Morey’s expressing his views had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China,” which the organization called “regrettable.” This echoed the “sorry you were offended” tone of Morey’s own half-apology

Even more grovely: The Chinese-language statement the NBA posted on Chinese social media, which closely resembled the statement of the Chinese Consulate in Houston that had said, “We are deeply shocked by the erroneous comments on Hong Kong.” Our translation:

We are extremely disappointed in the inappropriate remarks of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. He has undoubtedly severely hurt the feelings of Chinese fans.

Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai (蔡崇信 Cài Chóngxìn), co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Chinese internet giant and owner of the Brooklyn Nets then weighed in with a statement on Facebook that has horrified many critics. The essential argument is:

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China.

The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable. 

One of the companies Tsai’s Alibaba controls, Taobao, then followed up. Per Reuters reporter Keith Zhai’s tweet: “China’s largest e-commerce platform Taobao just announced it is removing all items linked to HoustonRockets following GM Daryl Morey’s comments on Hong Kong.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis and Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Fears of an extradition agreement in Nepal

Khabarhub News of Nepal reports

Nepal is preparing to sign an extradition treaty with China during the Nepal visit by Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 slated for mid-October… 

According to sources, a draft of the treaty has been readied. A meeting of Council of Ministers needs to endorse it before it is signed. It is still unclear when the Cabinet will approve the treaty.

The source added that Beijing has been pressing Kathmandu to sign the treaty during the visit by Chinese President Xi.

If the treaty is signed, Nepal and China can extradite crime-accused individuals to the concerned countries.

Experts worry that the northern neighbor is pressing to sign the treaty mainly to extradite Tibetans involved in ‘anti-China’ activities in Nepal.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

—Sharp recovery in sales renews talk of whether people are tightening their belts because of economic worries.

—Government argues that strong sales are a sign of upgraded consumption.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

  • Selective breeding of pigs
    Why China is breeding giant pigs that are as heavy as polar bears / Bloomberg via Hindustan Times
    “The 500 kilogram, or 1,102 pound, animal is part of a herd that’s being bred to become giant swine. At slaughter, some of the pigs can sell for more than 10,000 yuan ($1,399), over three times higher than the average monthly disposable income in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province where Pang Cong, the farm’s owner, lives.”
    Why are some farmers breeding such large swine? One factor is that the decimation of African swine fever has caused pork prices to rise, and the government has urged farmers to boost production. However:

…many farmers are wary about restocking swine after being hurt by an earlier outbreak. Also, piglet and breeding sow prices have surged, making it more expensive for backyard farms to afford rebuilding their herds. Increasing the size of pigs they already own may be the next best step.

The experiment was part of the Chang’e 4 project, in which China is exploring the far side of the moon with a lander…the team selected five species of biological organisms to send to the moon: Cotton seeds, potato seeds, arabidopsis seeds, yeast, and fruit-fly eggs. Most of these died quickly, but the cotton seeds sprouted and grew not one but two leaves. Although plants have been grown on the International Space Station before, this experiment marks the first time a plant has been grown on the moon.

However, despite the hardy cotton’s best efforts, the leaves died within one lunar day, which is equivalent to two weeks here on Earth.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

U.S. prosecutors say Hao Zhang is a professor-spy who conspired with a colleague from USC to steal and sell American secrets to the Chinese government and military through a shell company in the Cayman Islands.

Zhang’s lawyers will try to show at a trial set for Wednesday in San Jose that his work at one of China’s most prestigious technical universities to develop radio-filtering technology used in mobile phones has always been about advancing scientific knowledge — and not for the benefit of the Chinese state.

The women have found refuge from Chinese authorities across the border in Kazakhstan, their ancestral homeland. But they remain haunted by the stories of abuse they carry with them.

Some said that they were forced to undergo abortions in China’s Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, others that they had contraceptive devices implanted against their will while in detention. One reported being raped. Many said they were subjected to sexual humiliation, incidents that included being filmed in the shower and having their intimate parts rubbed with chile paste.

Just as in China in the aftermath of 1989, Hong Kong’s education system will be overhauled to promote “patriotic” narratives; “unreliable” civil servants and judges will be purged; news outlets will be muzzled; all business figures, including multinational companies, will be expected to display loyalty to the motherland. The internet will probably be censored. Mass arrests are likely. This is a best-case scenario, predicated on the protests ending now — which is unlikely.

Ask Google or Siri: “What is Taiwan?”

“A state,” they will answer, “in East Asia.”

But earlier in September, it would have been a “province in the People’s Republic of China.”

For questions of fact, many search engines, digital assistants and phones all point to one place: Wikipedia. And Wikipedia had suddenly changed.

The edit was reversed, but soon made again. And again. It became an editorial tug of war that — as far as the encyclopedia was concerned — caused the state of Taiwan to constantly blink in and out of existence over the course of a single day.

“This year is a very crazy year,” sighed Jamie Lin, a board member of Wikimedia Taiwan.

“A lot of Taiwanese Wikipedians have been attacked.”


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French fans, angry at early start time, protest with massive Tibet flag

Fans of Olympique Lyonnais of France’s Ligue 1 were angry at their club for an early 1:30 p.m. start time, chosen to accommodate viewers in China. Lyon’s hardcore fan group, Bad Gones, expressed its displeasure by coordinating the entire north stand to hold colored cards to represent the Tibetan flag, with a “Free Tibet” banner added right in the middle. This and other stories on the intersection of politics, business, and sports in this week’s China Sports Column by Mark Dreyer.

Abdurehim Heyit is the Uyghur Bob Dylan. The Chinese government disappeared him.

Abdurehim Heyit, born in Kashgar in 1964, was a virtuoso composer whose versions of old Uyghur folk songs were so beloved that bootleg cassettes far outstripped official supply. He was a sensation on the long-necked dutar lute, and an icon of the Uyghur nation. Like Bob Dylan and New York in the 1960s and ’70s, Heyit’s life in song was part of a mosaic of pop, folk, and underground music in Xinjiang. But everything changed when Heyit was arrested in 2017 amid a sweeping Chinese government crackdown in Xinjiang, and disappeared from public view.


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Chapter Two: The Calm Before the Storm

The second episode of our new show, Strangers in China, features Storm Xu, a comedian and the owner of a local comedy club in Shanghai. One of the very few comics who can perform in both English and Chinese, Storm is making a name for himself on the Chinese stand-up comedy scene as he deftly navigates between languages and cultures to connect with his various audiences.

Sinica Early Access: Jude Blanchette on the Hong Kong protests

Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, joins Kaiser for a discussion of the ongoing Hong Kong protests, possible U.S. responses, Beijing’s puzzling inaction, the perspectives of mainland Chinese, and media coverage of ongoing events in Hong Kong.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. Listen by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.