Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Censorhip in China--The Good Kind and the Bad Kind 

Very intersting feature from the South China Morning Post on censorship in China.

I should make clear that I do not believe censorship is inherently immoral. Some people do, but I don't. Everybody censors something at some time. You censor what you let others see of your own diary. You censor what you allow children to see. We may find censorship distasteful, and we will often argue about what should or should not be censored, but no one can say that all censorship is bad all the time.

But dishonesty is despicable, and the dishonesty in the Chinese media has always bothered me much more than the censorship. I don't think the censor featured in this SCMP article is a bad guy. I think he's a good guy. You may not agree with what he (or his company) considers offensive material, but I think you will agree that he is not a bad guy. He's just an honorable man doing his job.

Click for article.

This piece seems to show what I call the "good" side of censorship, which is removal of offensive content (though there can certainly be debate about what should be considered offensive). Maybe I am a bit cynical, but I think the reason this entity within China was so open to giving outsiders an inside view is because it takes attention away from the dark side of censorship, which is excessive control of individual expression.

The watershed moment for the dark side of censorship in the Chinese media was the extraordinary event in January of 2013, when the propaganda guy from the Southern Weekly edited a New Year's message, but left the bylines alone, implying that the writers of the original piece had written the new, sanitized version. The anger which ensued from this event resulted in a strike--very unusual in China--where the paper was actually shut down.

I refer to that event as a watershed moment, because it showed that the powers that be are not only committed to "good" censorship, but that they defend their right to control information and even falsify information for the purpose of influencing the thinking of the people.

Begin your study of that incident with the Freedom House article. Then if you want more detail, the Wikipedia article is also good. As you study those two articles, what emerges is not just the dishonesty, but the excessive micro-management of the message. And how ironic that what they had intended to keep secret has been shouted from the housetops.

But there is good news, too. Another thing that comes out as you study that incident, is that there are many decent journalists in the Chinese media who really do want to do a professional job of bringing the truth to light. They are not just kissing up to the powers that be. I remember at the time the head of the Beijing News famously refused to publish the government ordered propaganda statement following the incident. Sina Weibo published it, but with a statement that it was published under duress. These are only a couple examples. The response of conscientious journalists in China to this incident is a heartwarming story that needs to be told. There should be a movie. So I am actually more optimistic about journalism in China than in America.

When I first came to China fifteen years ago, I often wondered where Chinese "journalists" got their education, because there was so much editorializing in news articles. The Southern Weekly incident taught me that part of the reason for my jaded view was because I only read the English language propaganda papers, not the real journalistic enterprises such as Southern Weekly, or Beijing News, which do not have English language versions. And never did I imagine that I would one day see American media outlets becoming worse than what I see in China. American "journalism" has really gone downhill in terms of basic journalistic integrity. I think there's actually more propaganda in the American media now than in the Chinese media. Not government propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless.

The Southern Weekly incident is really the "Tiananmen Square" of journalism in China. And I say the same thing about the courageous journalists from the Southern Weekly as I say about the young people at Tiananmen in 1989: They lost the battle, but won the war. Stay tuned.

Note: Do not confuse the Southern Weekly with the South China Morning Post. The South China Morning Post is the main Hong Kong paper. There has always been, and probably always will be, a lot of debate over how much the SCMP may or may not be influenced by Beijing, but it is definitely not controlled by Beijing. Under the one country-two systems arrangement, the Beijing government has no authority to dictate to the Hong Kong media.

The Southern Weekly is a mainland paper that "pushed the envelope" in presenting news as openly as possible under the circumstances. There are basically two kinds of newspapers in China: the government propaganda papers (Global Times and China Daily), and independent papers such as Southern Weekly and the Beijing News. The government propaganda papers contain lots of scripted propaganda. The independent papers are not generally controlled by Beijing, but they are regulated, which means their content is not actually written by Beijing, but can be censored by Beijing. The Chinese name of the Southern Weekly translates literally to "Southern Weekend," but that sounds a little strange in English, so it is usually anglicized as "Southern Weekly."


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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Some people did something? 

Some people did something? Most reports about this statement by Ilhan Omar focus on the apparent trivialization of the 9/11 attacks that this statement seems to imply. But I see something very different, and more concerning.

When Americans think back to those terrible events in September 11, 2001, they remember the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Then we all remember how it eventually came out that radical Islamists from Saudi Arabia had come to America, taken flight training to be able to fly the planes once they took them over, and then carried out the attacks.

But most Americans don't realize that the rest of the world doesn't see it that way. I have been in China for fifteen years. I have had conversations about this event with several Muslims from Middle Eastern countries. People in the rest of the world do not think that these attacks were carried out by violent Muslims from the Middle East. It is very hard to convince them of that. You can get them to believe that Israel did it. Or you can get them to believe that the CIA did it. But getting them to accept that this act was perpetrated by violent Islamists from the Middle East is very difficult. I am not sure I have ever been successful at this.

Why is this? Well, the reality is that most Muslims are very mild-mannered people. Americans have trouble with this. They have been taught that all Muslims are violent. But this is a very unfair, and--more importantly--inaccurate assumption.

Think of it this way: In America, if you want to join the Ku Klux Klan, you must be a Protestant. So if you apply the same logic to the Klan that many Americans apply to Muslims, it would look like this:

Al Klansmen are Protestants.
all Protestants are Klansmen.

Agree? I don't think so.

But if it is hard for a Muslim to believe that the 9/11 attack was carried out by Islamists, is it not just as ludicrous for Muslims to expect an American to believe that the CIA would actually carry out such an attack on American citizens?

No. It isn't. They are perfectly justified in thinking that the CIA is capable of such a thing. Why? Because the CIA has done it before. Almost. In 1962, there was a plan concocted by the United States Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to have the CIA plan and carry out terrorists attacks on American citizens. It was called "Operation Northwoods." Fortunately Kennedy did not approve it, so it was never carried out. You've probably never even heard of it. But Muslims have heard of it. I lived in America for forty years and I had never heard of it. It was a Muslim I met here in Beijing who first told me about it:

But isn't that all irrelevant now that the 9/11 terrorists have been apprehended? Apprehended after their deaths, to be sure, but apprehended nonetheless. We know their names. We know where they got their flight training. We have lots of details about how the operation was planned and carried out. So how is it that conspiracy theories about this event could abound even to this day?

You must realize that people in other countries don't watch the same news you do. I was having dinner with some Pakistani guys one time--really nice guys. We were discussing this issue, and they were expressing the belief common to most people outside of the United States, that this had been a "false flag" operation.

I told them that even before the 9/11 attacks, a flight school--I told them it was the one in Minneapolis, but last night I was watching the 700 Club, and Pat Robertson mentioned one in Florida too, so I'm not sure--had called the FBI and alerted them that a Middle Eastern student had paid for flight courses. He wanted to learn how to fly the big birds, but he kept telling the instructors that he didn't want to waste time learning how to land or take off. He just wanted to know how to fly the plane when it was in the air. I said to those Pakistani guys, "Doesn't that sound a little strange to you?"

That caught them off guard, because they had never heard that before. Still not sure if I convinced them, but I did give them something to think about. I met a guy in a coffee bar who was from Belarus. Nothing I could say would dissuade him. I can't remember now whether he was blaming it on America or Israel. Anybody but Islamist terrorists from Saudi Arabia.

So what is it about Muslims? Are they just gullible? Well, they are human and humans are gullible by nature, so yes, I guess you could say that. But not nearly as gullible as Americans. I don't think I have met any people in my life as gullible as (some of) the Americans.

Look how many people fell for the "collusion" hoax. Only a country like America would spend millions of dollars investigating something for which there never has been a shred of evidence. It is the conspiracy theory of conspiracy theories.

You see, when everything is said and done, people believe what they want to believe, and that brings us back to Ilhan Omar. When she said "some people did something," she was thought to be uncaring. That's because the American media focuses on the "something" part.

But for me it sets off a whole different alarm bell. That's because I don't focus on the "something" part. I focus on the "some people" part.

Everybody in America missed this. When Americans analyze her statement, they are like, "Something? Only something??" Americans focus on what they perceive to be her trivialization of the disaster.

Not me. When I hear her statement, I'm like, "Some people?? You mean you think we don't really know who did this?

I think the reason she said "some people" is because she does not believe that terrorists from Saudi Arabia committed that atrocity.

Watch this video. At the beginning, you see her mocking a college professor because (she thought) his body language gave a negative impression when he spoke about Al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization behind the 9/11 attacks), but he spoke more respectfully about the UK or the US or the Army. She seemed offended by that. Then comes the infamous statement about some people who did something (which, by the way, was NOT quoted out of context). Does Ilhan Omar believe that the 9/11 disaster was actually a "false flag" operation? I don't know, but her statement renders us justifiably concerned. I just want to hear one journalist from one media outlet in America ask her one simple question: Do you believe that the destruction of the World Trade Center was carried out by violent Islamists from Saudi Arabia, or do you think it was a "false flag" operation by the CIA? What do you think she would say?


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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Xinjiang re-education camps 

Detainees listening to speeches in a re-education camp.
Lop County, Xinjiang, April 2017.

See entire post on Facebook.

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Shanghai Ghetto 

This the picture I took in the old Ohel Moshe Synagogue
in Shanghai, which is now the Jewish Refugee Museum.

Throughout the Diaspora (71 AD to 1948), the Jews were scattered to the ends of the earth. It seems that every country has their "Jew story." The Jews came to China in three places. First, they came to Kaifeng during the Song Dynasty.

The second main entry of Jews into China was over a hundred years ago, when the Russians made an agreement with China to allow them to build the railroad across the northeast tip of China, because they wanted to go straight to Vladivostok from Moscow. If you look at a map, you will see what I mean. Anyway, the agreement gave them the little village of Harbin, which the Russian Jews built into a prosperous city.

The third place the Jews came to was Shanghai. That was during the years before World War II, and the reason they came that time was in order to get away from Adolf Hitler.

I went to Kaifeng back in 2005 to study the Kaifeng Jews.

In February of 2009, I went up to Harbin in Heilongjiang Province to study the Harbin Jews But until last week I had never been to the neighborhood in Shanghai where the Shanghai Jews lived under Japanese occupation. Since this was my first visit, I focused on the museum (located in the old Ohel Moshe synagogue) rather than the neighborhood itself. So I need to come back again, probably several times to see the rest of it.

Shanghai was far from a perfect solution--I mean showing up in a city occupied by a foreign power--but in a strange way, it was a gift from Heaven for the Jews, because the Japanese had made Shanghai an open city. You could enter without a visa. Refugees streamed in, and this became the Shanghai Ghetto.

The following video gives a powerful and tremendously informative description of the Shanghai Ghetto by the Jewish children (now grown, of course) who lived there. This is a small, but very important part of the Jewish story. Do not try to understand Israel today without this history under your belt.

I should note that there is a brief silent spot toward the end of the video where there is no audio for about half a minute while they are showing pictures of the holocaust. You might want to keep your eyes closed during that part.


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