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Burning books, banning foreign tech


Dear Access member,

Burn the books and bury the scholars is a four-character saying that is our word of the day: 焚書坑儒 fén shū kēng rú (see the first item below, or Wikipedia for details). 

I am delighted to announce that we have begun a partnership with the Africa China Project to beef up our coverage of my native continent. Their excellent China in Africa podcast will also join our network.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


Burning books outside the Zhenyuan County library in Gansu. Image from Michael Anti’s Twitter account

1. Burning books in Gansu 

From the Guardian:

Reports and photos of two women burning a pile of books outside the Zhenyuan county library in Gansu province emerged at the weekend. According to Chinese media [reports that have been deleted], an article on the county’s website detailed a “removal and destruction” cleanup at the end of October, focusing on illegal, religious, and biased books.

Earlier in October, the Ministry of Education had ordered [in Chinese] all primary and secondary schools to “firmly cleanse” their libraries of reading material deemed illegal, improper or outdated as part of efforts to “create a healthy and safe environment for education”…

The order gives schools until the end of March next year to report back on their efforts. The schools are to disclose the name of the author, publishing house and date, and ISBN numbers of all books falling under these banned categories.

The news of the book burning, now deleted from Zhenyuan county’s website, has prompted a wave of criticism from commentators and internet users who were reminded of the Qin dynasty, when books were burned and scholars burned alive as a way to control the populace and prevent criticism of the regime.

The prominent magazine Beijing News wrote in an editorial that was later censored [reproduced here]: “How a society deals with books is a test of its attitude toward knowledge and civilisation and should never be arbitrary and barbaric. How did this happen? The relevant parties must investigate and respond to society’s concerns.”

Context and history

2. Party to purge foreign tech  

Beijing has ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, in a potential blow to the likes of HP, Dell, and Microsoft, reports the Financial Times (paywall, or see CNBC for an unpaywalled report).

“The directive is the first publicly known instruction with specific targets given to Chinese buyers to switch to domestic technology vendors, and echoes efforts by the Trump administration to curb the use of Chinese technology in the US and its allies,” according to the FT. The order came from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Office “earlier this year” per the FT’s sources.

About 20 million to 30 million pieces of hardware “will need to be swapped out as a result of the Chinese directive, with large-scale replacement beginning next year,” according to analysts at the brokerage China Securities cited by the FT. “They added that the substitutions would take place at a pace of 30 percent in 2020, 50 percent in 2021 and 20 percent the year after, earning the policy the nickname ‘3-5-2.’”

The plan is ambitious, perhaps unrealistically so, since “analysts say it will be difficult to replace software with domestic alternatives, because most software vendors develop products for popular U.S.-made operating systems such as Microsoft’s” and defining “domestically made” is also problematic; for example, although “Lenovo is a Chinese-owned company that assembles many products in China, its computer processor chips are made by Intel and its hard drives by Samsung.”

3. Beijing says Uyghurs in internment camps have ‘graduated’ 

After exposés published by the New York Times (porous paywall) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailing China’s detention of a million or more Uyghurs and other Muslims in indoctrination camps, Beijing has begun a propaganda offensive on Twitter and YouTube, and with a press conference where the token Uyghur leader of Xinjiang made a series of dubious claims. From state broadcaster CGTN

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government in northwest China, voiced his condemnation of the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of a Xinjiang-related bill during a press conference on Monday, calling it gross interference of Washington in China’s internal affairs.

Per the Guardian:

In response to growing international criticism of the detention of up to 1.5 million people in re-education and other internment camps, the Xinjiang governor, Shohrat Zakir, told reporters in Beijing that they had “returned to society.”

Zakir said on Monday: “At present, all the trainees who participated…have completed their studies, found stable employment with the help of the government and have improved their quality of life and live a happy life.”

He said the programme focused on teaching Chinese language skills, law and vocational skills to “eliminate extremism.”

Zakir did not present any evidence for any of these claims. See also: 

In the New York Times:

A last-minute booking, a furtive cab ride and a spy in the window. How our correspondent found a crack in China’s surveillance state — and a woman on her deathbed in Xinjiang.

Asiye Abdulaheb said she had helped spread documents exposing China’s detentions of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Chinese-language editorials from Xinhua: 

Elsewhere:

Geneticist Yves Moreau tells NPR’s Scott Simon the ethical concerns he has for businesses and academics who may be helping Chinese authorities to track Muslim minority groups.

4. Enormous Sunday protest in Hong Kong 

“Hong Kong saw yet another massive street protest on Sunday, which ended peacefully despite heightened tensions between demonstrators and police in Central,” reports the Hong Kong Free Press:

March organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), estimated that around 800,000 attended.

Police put the peak turnout figure at 183,000.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

5. Shanghai university sacks professor after sexual harassment allegations 

Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE) has fired 55-year-old associate professor Qián Féngshèng 钱逢胜 after sexual assault allegations filed by a female student, the school announced in a statement (in Chinese) today.

The accusations started making the rounds on Chinese social media on December 6, when a female graduate student posted to WeChat (in Chinese) a description of how she was verbally and physically harassed by Qian while taking his class earlier this year. After the post went viral, SUFE quickly responded to the allegations in an announcement (in Chinese) on Friday evening, vowing to launch an investigation. The probe led to the professor’s dismissal, announced today.

SUFE has been widely applauded for taking a clear stance on on-campus sexual misconduct by taking prompt action against Qian. As many people pointed out, SUFE’s handling of the situation is particularly praiseworthy because although sexual misconduct is rampant on Chinese college campuses, it is unusual for Chinese schools to punish their employees appropriately after proven cases of sexual misconduct. 

There’s a longer version of this story on SupChina.

—Jiayun Feng

6. Voices from China: Clashing about Hong Kong at overseas universities 

Today’s unexpected source of commentary about Hong Kong is the Campus Times, the student newspaper of the University of Rochester, where senior undergraduate student Edgar Yau wrote A Hong Konger’s message to CSSA, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), which has branches on many overseas campuses and is known for supporting Chinese nationalistic causes:

To the CSSA: This is not your fight. You are not the ones affected. At home, I live right next to the University of Hong Kong, where I have to worry about the safety of my siblings and parents every time they leave the house (although, my siblings relish any excuse to not go to school). My city will never be the same.

…What is most offensive is not your censorship, but your suggestion that negative peace is an option that benefits anyone but the Chinese government. CSSA, you are a poor representation of the Chinese student population here as a whole, a population that I know to be empathetic, thoughtful, and caring.

Yau also reserves some harsh words for clicktivists who seem to have flattened Hong Kong’s protest movement into half-formed yammerings about “democracy” and “freedom.” 

—Anthony Tao


BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:

U.S. officials flooded Europe last week, and by the time they had departed, their efforts to persuade their allies to cut back in using Huawei Technologies Co. equipment appeared to finally be gaining traction.

  • Back at home, Nikkei Asian Review says (porous paywall):

Washington’s decision to block Huawei smartphones from using Google’s mobile services has created some unexpected victims: By forcing the company to retreat from abroad, it has squeezed rival Chinese smartphone makers and reinforced Huawei’s already dominant market position at home.

Erica Brescia, GitHub’s chief operating officer, said in an interview with the Financial Times that Beijing was “very encouraging” of the company’s plans to expand in China.

GitHub, which was bought for $7.5 billion last year by Microsoft, hosts and manages software development for private companies and is the biggest host of open-source software projects that anyone can take part in.

Baidu has filed more artificial intelligence (AI) patent applications than any other company in China — for the second consecutive year.

The search giant has filed a total of 5,712 AI-related patent applications as of October 2019, followed by Tencent with 4,115 patents and Microsoft with 3,978, it said [in Chinese] on its public WeChat account last week.

Chinese video platform Bilibili, known for its content targeting younger audiences…announced on Friday it had won a “competitive bidding process” to be the sole broadcaster in China of the popular online multiplayer game League of Legends’ annual World Championship between 2020 and 2022.

Chinese automaker BYD saw its new-energy vehicle sales more than halve in November compared to the same period last year, as reduced government subsidies dampen buyers’ interest in the more eco-friendly cars.

PetroChina is looking to produce 12 billion cubic meters of shale gas next year and is predicting 7.8 billion to 8 billion cubic meters of output for 2019…

The Chinese government wants to increase annual production capacity of the fuel to 30 billion cubic meters by 2020, according to a plan published [in Chinese] by National Energy Administration in 2016.

China’s crackdown on illegal meat imports has left India, one of the biggest exporters of buffalo meat, scrambling for a new buyer…. China has adopted stricter border controls due to African swine fever, meaning Indian buffalo meat exports into China that usually flow through Vietnam has all but stopped.

—Companies fear inclusion in China’s corporate social credit system, which can result in punishment for bad behavior.

—Beijing says system is designed to scare companies straight.

SCIENCE, HEALTH, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: 

As world leaders arrive in Madrid for a second week of climate talks, missing among the familiar faces will be Xiè Zhènhuá 解振华, China’s climate negotiator for over a decade. In his place, Zhào Yīngmín 赵英民, vice minister of ecology and environment, will head the Chinese delegation…

Xie has steered China’s climate diplomacy since 2007, and has been critical to forging agreement on international climate action to avoid dangerous global warming.

In its annual report released last month, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) urged China to “ban all new coal-fired power plants” as part of an accelerated phase-out of coal power by the largest economies in the world.

POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:

  • Sinophobia in South Africa
    Four people admit guilt in landmark Chinese hate speech case in South Africa / SCMP
    Four defendants in a landmark South African anti-Chinese hate speech court case have pleaded guilty even before the trial has ended. They’ll do hundreds of hours of community service and post a public apology. There are eight other defendants who posted anti-Chinese comments on social media in 2017 in response to a TV documentary on the slaughter of donkeys, whose skins are exported for Chinese medicine.

  • Pirates and the PLA on African coasts
    Chinese navy ship Weifang docked in Kenya / Xinhua
    The Weifang, a Type 054A frigate, is one of China’s most advanced warships and recently took part in trilateral naval exercises with Russia and South Africa. The Weifang and its support ships have also been active in the Gulf of Aden as part of multinational anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. 
    Hong Kong-registered oil tanker attacked by pirates off Nigeria, 19 crew kidnapped / SCMP
    Nigerian authorities have provided new information on the oil tanker that was raided by pirates last week in the Gulf of Guinea. The Marine Department confirmed the vessel is a Hong Kong–registered ship with 19 hostages aboard (18 from India, 1 from Turkey). The Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Nigeria now accounts for 80 percent of crew kidnappings globally, according to the International Maritime Bureau.  

  • U.S.-China techno-trade war, day 522
    China says hopes it can reach trade agreement with U.S. as soon as possible / Reuters

China said on Monday that it hoped to make a trade deal with the United States as soon as possible, amid intense discussions before fresh U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports are due to kick in at the end of the week.  

President Donald Trump on Friday called for the World Bank to stop loaning money to China , one day after the institution adopted a lending plan to Beijing over Washington’s objections.

China’s official spokespeople are keeping quiet on trade talks with the U.S. amid growing uncertainty on when even a phase-one agreement can be reached.

General Charles Brown, commander of US Pacific Air Forces, said US warplanes — including bombers, U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones — regularly conducted “freedom of navigation” operations over the disputed waters despite China’s deployment of air defence facilities on artificial islands and reefs in the area.

Italy has proved especially vulnerable to competition from China, given that many of its artisanal trades — textiles, leather, shoemaking — have long been dominated by small, family-run operations lacking the scale to compete with factories in a nation of 1.4 billion people. Four Italian regions — Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna — that were as late as the 1980s electing Communists, and then reliably supporting center-left candidates, have in recent years swung sharply toward the extreme right. 

  • The Foreign Ministry’s metaphors
    A literary reference backfires / China Media Project
    An essay by journalist Qián Gāng 钱钢 on how the misused literary references of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson often lead to internet backlash in China. 

SOCIETY AND CULTURE:

The truth none of us wanted to face, least of all Laolao, was how alienated she felt, from her family and everyone else. She was once a woman in complete control, and she had given China a lifetime of service. She survived Land Reform, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. As a government official, she helped shape national policy, and there was a time when she was involved in every major family decision.

But she had become stranded in a country she no longer recognized…

Last week, a local court in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou formally opened what is thought to be the country’s first job discrimination case against a transgender person invoking a 2018 legal mechanism for resolving disputes over equal employment rights.

The plaintiff, a transgender woman known by the pseudonym Ma, is suing her former company, an online cosplay-platform operator, on the grounds that employers cannot discriminate against their staff on the basis of their “personalities,” a term that includes lifestyle, physical appearance, and reputation, among others.

OPINION PIECES AND RANTS: 

None of the businesspeople I know think that. China is a bad actor in some ways, especially in not respecting intellectual property and arguably in de facto subsidizing some industries. But Trump isn’t taking on China over those issues, and hasn’t even made any clear demands. 

He also hasn’t rallied other countries to join America in pressing China to change. Instead, he’s picking fights with everyone. So even if you think China should be confronted, Trump is doing it wrong.

The rats are scrambling off the sinking ship and there are no prizes for guessing who the rats are or the name of the fast-sinking People’s Tug Boat CENO, captained by Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only.

Only the terminally loyal and relentlessly stupid will have failed to notice that the days of the CENO and her waxwork administration are numbered. They are to be sacrificed under the slogan of “when it comes to saving the party — no one is too big to be spared.”

  • China can still be a “responsible stakeholder”
    The new China scare / by Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs (porous paywall)
    An essay arguing that the U.S. ought to adopt a more nuanced understanding of China than the “vital threat” narrative that has gained traction across U.S. politicians, policymakers, and media. Zakaria argues that U.S. policy toward China must adjust accordingly:

A wiser U.S. policy, geared toward turning China into a “responsible stakeholder,” is still achievable. Washington should encourage Beijing to exert greater influence in its region and beyond as long as it uses this clout to strengthen the international system. Chinese participation in efforts to tackle global warming, nuclear proliferation, money laundering, and terrorism should be encouraged — and appreciated. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative could be a boon for the developing world if pursued in an open and transparent manner, even in cooperation with Western countries wherever possible. Beijing, for its part, would need to accept U.S. criticism about issues of human rights, freedom of speech, and liberty more generally. 

It’s time for pension funds and others to stop supporting companies that abet Beijing’s crackdowns on China’s Uyghurs and Hong Kong’s protesters…By any standard, China is led by an amoral dictatorship.


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Jeremy Goldkorn

Jeremy Goldkorn worked in China for 20 years as an editor and entrepreneur. He is editor-in-chief of SupChina, and co-founder of the Sinica Podcast.