Home > Analysis, culture, Opinion > James Fallows should know better speculating someones death is cultural taboo

James Fallows should know better speculating someones death is cultural taboo

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and one of the more accomplished journalists in the West. Throughout the years, he has also become a well known “China hand.” I have high regards for his views about Western media; he is like a sage. As a Westerner, his views about China are more nuanced (relatively speaking), and I appreciate his efforts promoting understanding. For example, I recall a debate between Fallows and Niall Ferguson on the topic of ‘Chimerica’ where Ferguson constantly tries to rachet up doom and gloom but only to be fizzled by Fallows more moderate (in my view correct) take on the relationship.

His perspective and narrative can be horribly wrong though about China. And, today, I take issue with him regurgitating a provocative WSJ piece essentially rumor mongering Jiang Zemin’s ‘death.’

First of all, Chinese culture has a disdain for publicly discussing imminent death of a family member. Chinese believe it is bad luck to discuss someone dying. It is disrespectful to do so too. Death is usually announced after.

The West may be fine talking about someone who is old, ill, and dying as if it is some kind of spectator sport. For me, personally, I much prefer the ‘Chinese’ way.

Fallows headlines, “Is Jiang Zemin Dead? Real-time Illustration of News Control in China.”

I am surprised for being a ‘China hand’ he doesn’t understand that nuance. A big bold headline with that question is just insensitive to say the least.

He writes:

For the past 24+ hours, anyone following various social-media feeds* about China has seen rumors, then official denials, then silence, about the possible demise of former president Jiang Zemin, shown in his prime at right. Jiang would turn 85 next month.

I would add, the hysteria as demonstrated in some Western media over this non-news is just mind-boggling.

Fallows then cites the WSJ’s China Realtime Report – apparently taken at face value “illustrates the extreme heavy-handedness of the news control.”

An item two hours ago in the WSJ’s China Realtime Report illustrates the extreme heavy-handedness of the news control. For instance: Jiang’s name in Chinese is 江泽民, with the first character, 江, being his family name. That character, jiang, literally means “river” — and in the past few hours, any search for info about China’s big rivers on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter counterpart, the real Twitter being blocked in China) comes up empty. As Josh Chin of the WSJ says:

>>In addition to “river,” the company has also blocked searches for “death” in various iterations as well as “301 Hospital,” a reference to the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing where top leaders are often treated.

Beyond blocking searches, the service’s human censors have also been busy hand- deleting posts that mention the former leader.

Chinese microbloggers have employed a variety of tricks in an apparent attempt to get around the blocks. With Weibo censors blocking searches the word for “hung” (挂了), a common Chinese euphemism for death, users have been circulating an image showing an empty set of clothing hanging out to dry, pants hiked up to chest level the way Mr. Jiang preferred.<<

Fallows should ask himself, given his exposures to Chinese culture while in China, do Chinese media speculate on the imminent death of their leaders or anyone else?

Did the WSJ reporter search for “江泽民” itself? Were results blocked?

Did the WSJ reporter search Baidu and any other portals in China to see if results were blocked too?

I would not be surprised if people running the Weibo service were suppressing the rumors out of respect for Jiang. In fact, Chinese laws forbid citizens from spreading false rumors.

Can’t the West give it a rest until Jiang Zemin’s fate is known? If he passes, it will become news. Why pry for it? Until then, people should just mind their own business. Jiang is old and probably ill. The decent thing to do is to wish him and his family well.

Fallows went on to say:

I wish Jiang and his family well. He has been out of power for nearly a decade. The government’s difficulty in handling even the most basic info about his health is one more illustration of the unevenness of its emergence as a full-fledged world power. It will be interesting to see what the government finally says about him, when it does.

I wouldn’t chalk this episode up as “unevenness of its emergence as a full-fledged world power.” That is reading way too much into it. Is Sina Weibo the Chinese government?

If the West is so interested, then do some real reporting. Aren’t their Western journalists physically in China? But again, I will remind them that this type of reporting will be frowned upon as being disrespectful.

Imagine Chinese media outside Reagan’s home while he was ill asking “is he dead yet?”

  1. Tian Chen
    July 8th, 2011 at 07:19 | #1

    I daresay this is too much nuance. Fallows is a journalist mainly speaking to a western audience. He has no need to be too considerate of Chinese sentiments.

    In the western context, if the media starts speculating whether George Bush Sr “is dead yet”,I don’t think that’ll raise too many eyebrows either.

    Tian

  2. July 8th, 2011 at 10:30 | #2

    Looks like Hong Kong based Asia Television (ATV) ran a story Jiang died. Some Chinese officials have confirmed it to be false. Also, Xinhua News Agency said in an English dispatch: “Recent reports by some overseas media organizations about Jiang Zemin’s death from illness are pure rumors.” More on the media mess surrounding this rumor in Hong Kong from Roland Song’s ESWN.

    @Tian Chen
    Yeah, and I think hence, that’s the difference between him and some of the much more effective ‘China hands’ out there. Kissinger comes to mind.

    Perhaps I still expect media to be decent.

  3. Tian Chen
    July 8th, 2011 at 10:57 | #3

    @YinYang
    :-) That’s different. Kissinger has business interests in China. He also needs the political access in China. Fallows doesn’t.

    But I share your overall sentiment re media in general. I think John Stewart put it quite well a couple of weeks ago when he said on FoxNews Sunday that mainstream media often can be sensationalistic and lazy.

  4. July 8th, 2011 at 11:22 | #4

    The government’s difficulty in handling even the most basic info about his health is one more illustration of the unevenness of its emergence as a full-fledged world power. It will be interesting to see what the government finally says about him, when it does.

    I guess Fallows measures transparency of a government and freedom of speech of a society by its readiness to cater to tabloid media.

    I’m surprised about Fallows’ superficial and childish rant. As a journalist, does he not understand a line between private sanctity and official government business? Given that Jiang has been out of power for so long – why can we not leave him and his family along? It’s not like China is going to go down the drain with Jiang’s death. Even if the gov’t want to keep things quiet, it is doubtful it’s for political reasons, but much more likely only personal (cultural, privacy) reasons.

    Under Fallow’s reasoning, I suppose the next time we talk about detailed descriptions of a high ranking gov’t official’s private parts (see, e.g., http://www.endevil.com/presidentialpenis.html), we want the gov’t to be completely open and proactive about it. I mean … the prestige and credibility of the “evenness of the development of a full-fledged world power” is on the line.

  5. July 8th, 2011 at 13:42 | #5

    Want to follow up on #4:

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Jiang’s death does have political connotations. Perhaps it affects some balance of power within the CCP. (Yes, there is a balance of power of sorts in the CCP. The CCP after all is a rather inclusive party, including elements from all segments of society.)

    Even if that were so, what’s wrong with the CCP wanting to clamp down wildfire political gossip? We don’t demand all cabinet decisions to be made in the open – or all Congressional hearings to be public – so why not respect CCP’s political decision making process?

  6. zack
    July 9th, 2011 at 10:06 | #6

    this whole attitude from western journalists stems from an arrogant perception that China and its leaders have to answer to morally hypocritical self serving westerners;

  7. raventhorn2000
    July 9th, 2011 at 17:31 | #7

    http://spectator.org/archives/2011/07/08/imperious-china

    This guy’s article pretty much summed up the Western attitude.

    To summarize his words, “Westerners should have the right to criticize anyone anywhere on any issue. If China leaders feel insulted, they don’t have the right to tell Western leaders to shut up and mind their own businesses, (even when Western leaders are begging Chinese leaders to bail them out of their “business”). That would be an “attack” on the West.”

    I frankly don’t understand these Nationalistic idiots. If they really want to say freedom is great, our leaders are better than Chinese leaders, then by all means, elect a few leaders who can actually take care of BUSINESS so that they don’t have to beg the Chinese leaders for help.

    Seriously, look at the mess that UK PM Cameron is in with his “free media” pals, 1 of whom, Andrew Coulson, was a ex-convict whom he hired as his own political minion.

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/07/08/andy-coulson-set-to-be-quizzed-by-police-over-news-of-the-world-phone-hacking-115875-23256448/

    So better find a Western leader who can actually do the job WITH a “free media” hounding him, instead of catering to lobbyists, special interests, corporations, perhaps then the Western “free media” has a point.

    But for all your talks, why aren’t the Western leaders listening, and actually do good jobs?

    Because they know deep down, that “free media” doesn’t matter, except for the circus show we call “elections”.

  8. jxie
    July 9th, 2011 at 19:24 | #8

    Wittman of the American Spectator is a clueless idiot. It’s not the pols in France, Germany & Italy didn’t like to play with the domestic audience like Cameron did, it’s that they stared at the barrel of a gun in 2010 and learned their lesson. According to Soros, it was China that saved the euro. At this very juncture with the Greek debt situation potentially being the first domino to fall, Wen paying you a visit is like getting a chance to kiss Michael Corleone’s hand.

    On the other hand, Cameron acted like Moe Greene. You hear from me first, within the next decade, the UK will experience a financial crash that makes Iceland’2008 and Argentina’2002 like a child’s play.

  9. zack
    July 9th, 2011 at 21:59 | #9

    about the journalist who said”“Westerners should have the right to criticize anyone anywhere on any issue.’
    well, where the heck does this pompous idiot get off thinking westerners have the divine right to judge others?? to expect the world to conform to western perceptions?

  10. raventhorn2000
    July 10th, 2011 at 15:02 | #10

    @jxie

    I don’t like Mafia movie analogies, but hey, you are right.

    Even Americans say, “Don’t bite the hand that FEEDS you.” Ie. you bite me, you don’t get fed. You criticize me, I won’t bail your as* out.

    Western countries are quickly becoming that aweful friend that you don’t want.

    He eats your food, make you pay for snack and beer, and then when he’s done, he tells you what a loser you are to your face.

    Yeah, next time his ass gets thrown in jail, are you going to bail him out?!

  11. jxie
    July 10th, 2011 at 18:33 | #11

    At the risk of getting this further OT…

    Cameron is quite a competent politician, compared to say Obama. The UK had got its act together fairly quickly and passed a rather impressive austerity program. It had made some very deep cut, based on which in 5 years the UK wouldn’t be able to win another Falklands War. In any event, for the time being, the UK actually enjoys a safe haven status of some sort — Gilts are treated almost as solid as German bunds and US Treasuries. BTW, none of these nations, i.e. the UK, Germany & the US, are financially solid per se. If you tell the folks in the 90s the current and optimistically forecasted balance sheets, & growth prospects of these 3 nations, they would all be rated as banana republics. But, that’s the Western world of today; they are merely ugly among some hideous looking ones.

    So for now, the UK doesn’t need China’s backing unlike the Eurozone nations. At the end of the day, Cameron needs to score some points among his domestic audience. However, they are not thinking this through (not unlike Moe Greene). The UK isn’t a good producing nation like China, Germany and Japan, and with its structural and societal deficiencies unlikely ever will become one in our lifetimes. The North Sea oil, which IMHO is the real reason why the UK had enjoyed somewhat a renaissance during and after Maggie Thatcher (not most of her policies claimed by her admirers), is drying up. Its core competency is financial services, which after the global financial meltdown they are like being good at nuclear technologies after the Nine Mile Island Accident. The silver lining is that both the American comic book superheroes Superman and Batman will be played by Brits and directed by a Brit.

    The British Pound is a much smaller currency than Euro, and the British economy is much smaller than the Eurozone economy. When — not if — the British economy suffers a major blow in the next several years, China would have much less self interest to provide a backstop.

  12. slim
  13. Jason
    July 11th, 2011 at 16:52 | #13

    Looks like Richard from PK has some strong words against your post, yinyang.

  14. July 11th, 2011 at 17:15 | #14

    Thanks for the heads-up, Jason. The best thing to do with people like that is to ignore them. I have a full time job I need to keep up, and I squeeze in whatever time I have to write articles. That takes precedence over mud-wrestling.

    I’d also add, I think people like that are afraid to comment here, because they themselves have no ability to moderate what we say. :)

  15. pug_ster
    July 11th, 2011 at 17:47 | #15

    Jason,

    Almost of Richard’s writings are garbage, whining about ‘fenqings’ and ‘frustrations’ of Chinese men. You can tell the kind of trollish like comments that he attracts these ‘fenqing’ haters. You can’t have an rational conversation with irrational people. I haven’t commented in his disgusting hate site for more than a year and they are still talking about me.

  16. July 11th, 2011 at 21:45 | #16

    Ok – so I just strolled over to PKD for a quick look.

    I don’t have time for a point for point, but here are some of what I think are the key points, and my response.

    In fact, this story exists solely because the Party has practically forced it onto the news pages by frantically deleting posts and messages and comments.

    Is this a known fact? In a previous post, I described how American companies have all acted to suppress the reach of wikileaks – under the pretext they are only trying to enforce any of their various policies. So if American companies can do so without the American gov’t being called out, cannot Chinese companies also remove posts in the name of their own policies (such as spreading unfounded rumors) without the Chinese gov’t being called out?

    Hate to tell you this, buddy, but reporters of all nationalities congregate around the homes or hospitals that house the critically ill super-famous like Reagan, and these reporters ask constantly whether there is new information, whether the person is dead yet, etc. Chinese reporters are absolutely free to do this. It may not seem tasteful, but that’s how journalism in a free society is, though I wouldn’t expect you to know about that.

    This is what I call the cult of tabloids. Looks like the freedom of speech has been denigrated to protecting the rights of rumor spreaders and sensational tabloids. I’m not surprised.

    Freedom of speech is meant to be the foundation of democracies. But when you look at speech where it counts – during the election season in modern democracies – you will see that political debates today have been degraded to mere political tabloid ads that invoke the emotion, that confuses – rather than speech that educates, that articulates, that clarifies.

    I suppose it’s only natural Richard has gotten confused about what freedom of speech is really about, meant to protect…

    This is just the way it is, boys and girls. You can always find media bias when you dedicate yourself to finding it, when it becomes a cult or a fetish. And yes, often it’s there, there really is bias. But that’s life. That so many young Chinese men are so invested in the notion that China has been picked out by some grand design to be mocked and suppressed and misrepresented says much more about these individuals and the environment that fostered them than it does about the Western media that, at the end of the day, is just doing their job the best they can.

    Looking past the disparaging tone, I believe that simply saying that media is merely doing the best it can is to overlook the main point of yinyang’s post. Your best is not good enough. Not when it perpetrates lies, falsehoods, and hate.

    The point of yinyang’s post is not to say Western media is 100% full of lies, falsehoods, and hate. There are a few (much too few in our humble opinion) good ones (see the article on the left that yinyang linked in his recent post on China’s “bullet train,” for example. We have also linked to many representative articles written in English that are good in our Recommended Readings section.)

    The point from our perspective is that there seems to be a fog of ignorance or ideological bias so strong, that even when sunlight is brought upon the truth, little freshness is brought about. This is dangerous and is not healthy. The lesson of WWII – of Nazi and Japanese single-minded aggression is not about democracy, or race, or evil in my books – it is about ideological snobbishness so strong it blinds a people’s humanity. I see something of a similar fervor pervading throughout all levels of thinking in the West – but including (and perhaps especially) amongst journalists.

  17. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 12:13 | #17

    @YinYang

    “I’d also add, I think people like that are afraid to comment here, because they themselves have no ability to moderate what we say.”

    I think it’s less an issue of fear and more that they don’t see why they should waste time posting on a rubbish blog. Oh, and Richard is one of the fairest blog owners I know of. He lets all sorts of people post on his blog. The only ones that get banned are those that repeatedly troll his blog and then try to avoid temporary bans by repeatedly changing aliases and email addresses. Even then there are still those that he lets back on.

  18. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 12:34 | #18

    @Allen

    “cannot Chinese companies also remove posts in the name of their own policies (such as spreading unfounded rumors) without the Chinese gov’t being called out?”

    Is that a known fact? Because I can say that you’re speculating just as much as you suggest Richard is that the CCP ordered the posts on Jiang’s death to be deleted.

    Now, what’s an “unfounded rumour”? There is no independent truth commission to assert if stories are correct. So how is anyone supposed to report if the Chinese government/CCP is withholding information? They’re not going to admit they’re doing that, are they? Otherwise what would be the point. So, basically, the suggestion is that if the Chinese government denies something, you have to keep quiet.

    “I suppose it’s only natural Richard has gotten confused about what freedom of speech is really about, meant to protect…”

    Allen, if you have a plan to regulate the media to ensure that it doesn’t post rubbish or lies but is not restrained from voicing its opinion on any topic, regardless of whether it is supportive of government or calls for it to be replaced, feel free to share it. In fact, I suggest you try to sell it through consulting services. Because I think you’ll find there are plenty of governments out there that would embrace it and pay through the nose for it.

    However, I feel that you are likely to have no plan, or just a plan that would muzzle the media generally. Because I do not believe that you really support the right of the media to call for a government’s peaceful removal, at least if it’s a government that you strongly support. From what I understand, you want the media to be “responsible”, in as far that it shouldn’t rock the boat. That extends to not criticising the government too much or on the “wrong” issues. If the government decides that the media has overstepped the invisible line, then the government is right and the media is wrong. I cannot remember the last time you defended the Chinese media against its own government. Or is that because you don’t believe the government censors the media?

    “We have also linked to many representative articles written in English that are good in our Recommended Readings section.)”

    The fact this is your list of “Recommended Readings” says a lot about you two, I’m afraid to say.

  19. slim
    July 12th, 2011 at 12:39 | #19

    This post, and this blog, provide a comfortable haven from logic and fact for people like pug_ster, who the ample written record shows simply can’t cut it in adult debates.

    Come on guys: If in your day jobs you tried the leaps of logic, diversion, omission and deceit that are a staple of Hidden Harmonies, you’d be fired. One or more of you have claimed elsewhere to be lawyers. Although not under oath, you are committing perjury here on a day-in, day-out basis.

    Try as I might, if I wanted to do a “The Onion”-style parody of a know-nothing, ultranationalist, fenqing, 50-center blog, I could not outdo Hidden Harmonies. It freaking hard to be so totally illogical. I think even the PRC would be embarrassed at what you do on its behalf.

  20. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 12:48 | #20

    @slim

    Great post, slim. :)

  21. July 12th, 2011 at 12:51 | #21

    @Raj #18

    “cannot Chinese companies also remove posts in the name of their own policies (such as spreading unfounded rumors) without the Chinese gov’t being called out?”

    Is that a known fact? Because I can say that you’re speculating just as much as you suggest Richard is that the CCP ordered the posts on Jiang’s death to be deleted.

    No. I do not know if the CCP is ultimately behind the deletions. I only know that Chinese social media and blogging companies do often delete based on their own internal standards.

    Richard made a statement as if he knew the fact. I merely called him out and present another plausible version of what happened.

    Allen, if you have a plan to regulate the media to ensure that it doesn’t post rubbish or lies but is not restrained from voicing its opinion on any topic, regardless of whether it is supportive of government or calls for it to be replaced, feel free to share it. In fact, I suggest you try to sell it through consulting services. Because I think you’ll find there are plenty of governments out there that would embrace it and pay through the nose for it.

    Hmm … again I am merely calling out trash where I see them and am not selling anything. I have no ulterior purposes to achieve in making such calls. I do believe however that governments have a right to regulate information (as it does so many other things) – and that regulation of information does not equate per se to distortion of information. Channeling flow of information that maximizes social welfare is the end goal. Government definitely has a role to facilitate that. I harbor no ideological bias that such a thing can only be brought about by “free media.”

    “We have also linked to many representative articles written in English that are good in our Recommended Readings section.)”

    The fact this is your list of “Recommended Readings” says a lot about you two, I’m afraid to say.

    Not sure how to respond. What does it say about us two? Please share any insight about what you see about us “two” there.

    By the way, yinyang has no hand (thus far) in what goes in that list. The list is mine and entirely mine.

  22. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 13:04 | #22

    @Allen

    “I only know that Chinese social media and blogging companies do often delete based on their own internal standards.”

    And it doesn’t strike you as strange that just about all of them (the biggest ones, certainly) all seem to have the same view that it is illegal/improper for anyone to report/post on the death of a senior Chinese politician without it being confirmed by the CCP? Because in any free country, whilst some sites might delete such comments as unfounded, there would be plenty more than would let them run.

    Either the companies in question were being told what to do or they’ve been so cowed by pressure exerted from officials in the past that they do the censors’ jobs for them.

    “Hmm … again I am merely calling out trash where I see them and am not selling anything.”

    I didn’t say you were selling anything, I said that you COULD sell such a plan.

    “I merely believe that governments have a right to regulate information – and that regulation of information does not equate per se to distortion of information. Channeling flow of information that maximizes social welfare is the end goal.”

    Right, so you believe that the government should decide what the press should publish and how. This therefore extends to whether the media can criticise and demand the peaceful replacement of government, whether you like it or not. Fine.

    But you see Richard doesn’t believe that. He thinks that government should not regulate media to the point where it can censor views critical of it. He is a Democrat, but he would still be among the first people (if he was in the US) to take to the streets if Obama passed an executive order making press criticism of his administration illegal. He defends the rights of others to express their views, even if he doesn’t like them. Whereas you think that the government knows best.

    By the way, Allen, do you vote in US elections? Or do you abstain on the basis that you can’t trust yourself with taking a decision that would best left in the hands of politicians?

  23. July 12th, 2011 at 13:22 | #23

    @Raj #22,

    And it doesn’t strike you as strange that just about all of them (the biggest ones, certainly) all seem to have the same view that it is illegal/improper for anyone to report/post on the death of a senior Chinese politician without it being confirmed by the CCP? Because in any free country, whilst some sites might delete such comments as unfounded, there would be plenty more than would let them run.

    I see that in the U.S. w.r.t. wikileaks. http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2011/01/reflecting-on-the-wikileaks-incident/.

    The U.S. gov’t may be behind each of the acts to curb wikileaks (including those by other gov’ts) or it may not. I reserve my judgement about U.S. gov’t then – as I reserve judgement about Chinese gov’t now.

    The rest of your post I will let you have your last word. I’ve written about those issues many times – and will continue to articulate and clarify my stance. Freedom of speech, running of a gov’t that serves society are complex topics.

    As for my voting as an American citizen, I do vote, but unfortunately, not often enough. I do trust my judgement – although not completely. The issues facing the U.S. is complex. When even Harvard-educated policy pros disagree about what is best for this country, what is a lay person spectator like me to say? But many of my fellow Americans make most of their decisions based on whether they “like” a candidate and what they see in T.V. ads – that I don’t think lead to informed decisions, however many times one may vote.

  24. July 12th, 2011 at 13:26 | #24

    Raj!

    I’ts been ages. I thought I never get to hear from you! Lol, your love for the PKD says a lot about that blog. ;)

    You said:

    Is that a known fact? Because I can say that you’re speculating just as much as you suggest Richard is that the CCP ordered the posts on Jiang’s death to be deleted.

    It is Chinese law to require services like Sina Weibo to censor and delete false rumors. That coupled with employees at Sina feeling this type of rumor being disrespectful, I can easily imagine they worked at it with extra effort.

    So, which is more plausible? The Chinese government go around every forum in China ordering deletion of this rumor or Chinese companies complying with the law? It is clearly more likely Sina is complying.

    You said:

    Now, what’s an “unfounded rumour”? There is no independent truth commission to assert if stories are correct. So how is anyone supposed to report if the Chinese government/CCP is withholding information? They’re not going to admit they’re doing that, are they? Otherwise what would be the point. So, basically, the suggestion is that if the Chinese government denies something, you have to keep quiet.

    Raj, you lack comprehensions here. News media report when there is something to report.

    What is your basis for substantiating the rumor to be true? The only facts would come from Jiang’s family, because they are foremost entitled to such information.

  25. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 13:31 | #25

    @Allen

    “I see that in the U.S. w.r.t. wikileaks”

    Nice try, but my point was that in free countries people could find somewhere to post about similar news. In the US, despite any attempts the US government may have made to censor Wikileaks, people DO find ways to discuss it. Whereas in China, there was no similar outlet to discuss whether Jiang was alive or not and the Chinese government’s response. I should thank you, you’ve helped me explain my point with an example of how it’s easier to express opinions in the US.

    So, can we just agree that it was fair of Richard to point the finger at the Chinese authorities?

    “But many of my fellow Americans make most of their decisions based on whether they “like” a candidate and what they see in T.V. ads – that I don’t think lead to informed decisions, however many times one may vote.”

    So do you think that it would be better that they not be allowed to vote, either because they don’t make the right decisions and/or because you’re not sure if you can make the right decision?

  26. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 13:43 | #26

    @YinYang

    “It is Chinese law to require services like Sina Weibo to censor and delete false rumors.”

    Right. So how did they know it was false? Let me guess, Uncle Jiang personally visited all of these people immediately thanks to his pocket TARDIS.

    Or, maybe, the Chinese government gets to decide whether something’s false or not. Especially when it’s accused of hiding the truth, which is exceptionally convenient!

    Hmm, I’m leaning towards the latter.

    “The Chinese government go around every forum in China ordering deletion of this rumor or Chinese companies complying with the law?”

    First, there is such a thing as email. It doesn’t take a lot to email editors and other key contacts to tell them to do something. Second, as I suggested to Allen, if you punish “bad” behaviour, many people will learn to do as they’re expected to do without needing to order them to do it.

    “Raj, you lack comprehensions here.”

    No, you lack the ability to write good quality English prose.

    “News media report when there is something to report.”

    And the government decides if there is something to report. My mistake.

    “What is your basis for substantiating the rumor to be true?”

    I don’t have to believe the rumour is/was true. My belief is that there is nothing wrong in discussing it. I would not run a newspaper headline saying “Jiang is dead” based on a rumour, but I would consider discussing it – ESPECIALLY if the censors or their whipped dogs in the Chinese media started deleting references to it. I would also say that Chinese people have a right to discuss it. After all, discussing such a rumour openly is the best way to expose it if it is false. Otherwise, if disussion is censored, many people will assume that it’s because there’s something to hide. It’s not like whether Jiang is alive or dead is something that will really affect China – the CCP is just paranoid that it could somehow reflect badly on the Party.

  27. raventhorn2000
    July 12th, 2011 at 14:26 | #27

    “Right. So how did they know it was false? Let me guess, Uncle Jiang personally visited all of these people immediately thanks to his pocket TARDIS.”

    It’s called a telephone/cellphone. Yes, it may seem magical or sci-fi to consumers of “Free media”, but journalists and leaders use them on a regular basis to get their information, without going to the tabloids.

  28. July 12th, 2011 at 14:27 | #28

    @Raj

    Nice try, but my point was that in free countries people could find somewhere to post about similar news. In the US, despite any attempts the US government may have made to censor Wikileaks, people DO find ways to discuss it. Whereas in China, there was no similar outlet to discuss whether Jiang was alive or not and the Chinese government’s response. I should thank you, you’ve helped me explain my point with an example of how it’s easier to express opinions in the US.

    Not sure about what you mean by “nice try.” The purpose of the entire post is to rebut James’ assertion that freedom of speech somehow implies leaders must allow for discussion of rumors and dissemination of innuendos. To me it’s as if someone equates freedom to speech to shouting fire in a crowded theater or allowance of fraudulent speech. These are matters of policy, not freedom per se. Chinese people have plenty of space to express and discuss in general (and as people gets more educated, that space will only grow, I am sure). While I do not necessarily agree with where the Chinese gov’t draw lines on speech, here though, I am 100% ok generally with gov’t regulating rumor-based discussions – including discussion of whether a retired old leader is dead or alive. This line in my view does not hemorrhage discussion of anything of important social import.

    So, can we just agree that it was fair of Richard to point the finger at the Chinese authorities?

    No.

    So do you think that it would be better that they not be allowed to vote, either because they don’t make the right decisions and/or because you’re not sure if you can make the right decision?

    Depends. I personally don’t have high confidence either way. At this moment, I believe in neither the ability of the political leadership nor the wisdom of the people of the U.S.

  29. Raj
    July 12th, 2011 at 15:14 | #29

    @Allen

    “As I’ve said many times before, I believe gov’t has a role to regulate information but do not necessarily agree with where the Chinese gov’t draw lines. Here though, I am 100% ok with gov’t regulating rumor-based discussions of whether a retired old leader is dead or alive. This line does not hemorrhage discussion of anything of important social import.”

    “No.”

    On the one hand you admit that the discussion of Jiang was regulated by the Chinese government and on the other you’re still trying to maintain that Richard was wrong to point the finger at the CCP. Isn’t that rather hypocritical?

    In any event, even if I agreed with you that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to limit the spread of rumours, why is it ok to then suppress discussion of whether that’s the best policy? You say that Chinese people “have plenty of space to express and discuss”. But as soon as they’re discussing anything the Chinese government doesn’t like, that space is shut down. They can’t even freely question that automatic right to limit discussion. Sure, if all someone wants to talk about is the latest non-political movie or new pop starlet, they have plenty of room to discuss it. But if they want to talk about Chinese politics or current affairs in any “forbidden” areas they’ve got little space to do it. And every discussion is subject to being arbitrarily shut down, regardless of how developed it has become or how long it has been running for.

    “Depends. I personally don’t have high confidence either way.”

    That’s not an answer. Either the general population can vote or it can’t. It’s not possible to pick and choose who can vote simply based on whether you think they will make a “good” choice, because that brings a totally subjective element into the equation.

    Similarly it is not possible to force the media to be “responsible” because it’s subjective as to how they would best be responsible.

    With all due respect, Allen, you try to have your cake and eat it. On the one hand you believe that the Chinese government knows best or by default knows best. Sure, sometimes you disagree with it. But most of the time you think it’s doing the right thing, because it’s the government. Yet on the other hand you want to suggest that despite this Chinese people have enough space to “discuss”, without of course actually indicating what they are free to discuss – or more importantly, what they are NOT free to discuss.

    You’re trying to believe that China has hit some sort of “sweet spot” between regulation and freedom, when in reality it is not that free at all. I’m afraid that you’re in denial if you believe otherwise. It would be better if you said that China has what you consider to be a good level of media regulation and that the price for paying that – censorship that severely restricts political and sometimes social/current affairs discussions – is a price worth paying.

    Your views on US politics/voting is telling. You say that you vote but you also say that you don’t always trust yourself to vote the right way. You clearly don’t like the decisions of some other Americans and you don’t appear to believe that people have the right to make decisions that you don’t like, so in theory you might support them being disenfranchised on that basis.

    If you don’t trust yourself to vote properly, you have the right not to vote. But you shouldn’t want other people to lose their vote because you don’t think they’re making the right decision – ESPECIALLY if you yourself do not think you can make the right decision. You can’t on the one hand disqualify yourself from taking responsibility to vote properly and then sit as judge over other people. You should also consider that Uncle Sam might decide that it’s YOU who can’t make the right decision and disenfranchise you. How would you feel about that? I doubt you’d be pleased if you and people like you were singled out.

    It seems to me that your support of the government’s right to regulate the media to the point where it stamps out discussion of a political leader’s supposed death is linked to your lack of confidence in your own decision-making abilities. You don’t feel that you can make good decisions all the time, so it’s better if other people be limited as you limit yourself. Maybe you don’t like to see other people act in ways you feel you can’t. I don’t know. But anyway, I would suggest you increase your own confidence rather than support shackles or muzzles being put on others.

  30. July 12th, 2011 at 15:56 | #30

    @Raj #29,

    On the one hand you admit that the discussion of Jiang was regulated by the Chinese government and on the other you’re still trying to maintain that Richard was wrong to point the finger at the CCP. Isn’t that rather hypocritical?

    No – please re-read. I did not say the gov’t is regulating in this case, merely I’d be ok with government regulating. I think it’s wrong to accuse Chinese gov’t of censorship in a trigger happy manner (esp. when we don’t do so to Western gov’ts like the U.S. when similar things happen with wikileaks). I also think it’s ok for gov’t to regulate spread of lies, fears-mongering, fraud, and in this case – tabloid rumors. Those are two separate points, and they are not inconsistent with each other. That’s as clear as I can make it. Sorry…

    As for the rest of your comment, I want to thank you for psychoanalyzing me – figuring how my “lack of confidence” is at the basis of my beliefs. Your ability amazes me; it’s almost in the same league as Richard’s ability to psychoanalyze “so many young Chinese men.” Hats off to you both.

    But in this blog, I am sure people are not as much interested about me as you appear to be. So in the future, please save some time and refrain from pursuing such pointless exercise.

  31. raventhorn2000
    July 12th, 2011 at 15:58 | #31

    “If you don’t trust yourself to vote properly, you have the right not to vote. But you shouldn’t want other people to lose their vote because you don’t think they’re making the right decision – ESPECIALLY if you yourself do not think you can make the right decision. You can’t on the one hand disqualify yourself from taking responsibility to vote properly and then sit as judge over other people. You should also consider that Uncle Sam might decide that it’s YOU who can’t make the right decision and disenfranchise you. How would you feel about that? I doubt you’d be pleased if you and people like you were singled out.”

    You are going off topic.

    Go find the thread about voting systems, and post these tangent thoughts there.

  32. raventhorn2000
    July 12th, 2011 at 16:05 | #32

    “It seems to me that your support of the government’s right to regulate the media to the point where it stamps out discussion of a political leader’s supposed death is linked to your lack of confidence in your own decision-making abilities.”

    Speculative comments about other posters like these are off topic SPAM’s, and should not be allowed.

    Every government has the right to regulate speech. It’s in virtually all legal systems.

    If you wish to challenge your own government’s right to regulate speech, go right ahead, get the government to over turn the laws. No one is stopping you.

    But you are not even a legal expert enough to do it on your own. So much for armchair critics.

  33. jxie
    July 12th, 2011 at 20:07 | #33

    This again is a bit OT.

    I always like Steve and Wukailong, and someone whom I actually enjoy debating with, Otto. Richard is a rather fair guy… But from my short stay there, Raj deleted too many comments that disagreed with his but from my vantage point were intellectually superior to his. The blog just stopped drawing what you normally want for a top-notched one: attracting intelligent opposite opinions.

    Well, if you want real Chinese Chinese opinions, you ought to hang out BBS, forums, blogs in Chinese. But I really don’t see any expats with a blog on China have enough submerging cultural experience, and quite frankly the language skill and knowledge, to hang around these places to tell how Chinese Chinese really feel. If the linguistic medium is English, then you have to expect the bulk of the participants being oversea Chinese.

    Steve comes across to me as somebody who is warm and personable… How about this? Giuseppe Rossi would probably be called a what, Italian American Italian? I know some Chinese American giving up their American citizenships/greencards and becoming “Chinese American Chinese”, for tax/job/business reasons. Also know one Chinese American Canadian, and one Iranian American Brazilian (you don’t want to know his children’s ethnic designation). You see, in this game of “identity”, American can also be an adjective. Unlike in the old days people taking steamed boats for weeks to migrate from the Old Countries to the New World, this day and age, you can hop on a jet and be in a different world in a few hours. This is the Internet age. Heck, if you want, you can follow an Argentine football club from afar, and add partially Argentinian into your own identity.

    Speaking of this “identity”. Your identity is yourself — you are your own brand name. Don’t ever f—ing fit yourself into the label they think you need to be attached to. You are who you want yourself to be, and you are who you make yourself be.

    BTW, the 50-cent directive quoted by China Digital Times, which sometimes quote from some very dubious sources, is quite possibly faked. 107 comments later, did Richard and others think about that? If you actually hang around the Internet gathering places in Chinese, you hardly see many discussing the said topic seemed to have read the directive.

    Last but not least, about labeling somebody as “fenqing”, “50-center”. It’s convenient, isn’t it? You can discount a large chunk of opinions out there as less worthy. The reason why somebody may fake a “50-cent directive” is exactly for that purpose: to discount a large chunk of the opinions out there. Next time when you want to rush into labeling somebody, just stop for a second, and seek first to understand, then to be understood.

  34. Charles Liu
    July 12th, 2011 at 23:14 | #34

    @jxie – exactely, just check Slim’s comments on China Geeks, he’s a frequent violator of the “50 cent party” McCarthist accusation.

    @Slim – I’ll challenge you again to produce prove of the accusation you made against me. Once again name the place in Seattle and I’ll meet you and settle this in person. Just as Ed Murrow said, here’s your chance to back it up.

  35. Raj
    July 13th, 2011 at 00:53 | #35

    @Allen

    Allen, perhaps you could tell me why the big providers shut down the conversations about Jiang’s death if it wasn’t due to:

    a) government pressure; or
    b) fear of government pressure

    The thing about most media groups and social websites is that they have different views on policy. So how come everyone conveniently came to the same conclusion about this matter? You suggested it’s not going to harm China by censoring the discussion, but where is the harm in allowing it to run? He’s a retired politician.

    As for my speculation as to why you think what you do, perhaps you could tell me in your own words:

    a) how you would feel if you and people of your views had your vote taken away; and
    b) given the above, whether you still think it’s permissible to take the vote away from people who vote based on popularity or otherwise make what you feel are poor choices.

  36. Raj
    July 13th, 2011 at 00:56 | #36

    @jxie

    “Raj deleted too many comments that disagreed with his but from my vantage point were intellectually superior to his”

    No, I deleted troll and wildly off-topic comments – or those designed to derail discussions. I also didn’t moderate other threads (maybe once in a blue moon) so that wouldn’t explain why you didn’t feel the quality of discussion was up to it.

  37. r v
    July 13th, 2011 at 07:18 | #37

    “a) how you would feel if you and people of your views had your vote taken away; and
    b) given the above, whether you still think it’s permissible to take the vote away from people who vote based on popularity or otherwise make what you feel are poor choices.”

    You are “wildly off-topic”. You are warned, further off topic comments such as these will be removed.

    This thread is not on the topic of merits of “voting systems”, nor how people personally feel about hypothetical situations that regarding “vote taken away”.

    Every system has people who cannot vote under laws. There is huge difference between having “vote taken away” and never having the “vote” in the first place.

  38. xian
    July 13th, 2011 at 12:21 | #38

    But if he had actually died, would the news still be censored in favor of “announcing it after”? Personally I don’t understand why this whole event turned out this way
    Dead or not, people will find out the truth in a few days and dismiss the rumors. Minor issues like this should just be left alone IMO

  39. July 13th, 2011 at 12:36 | #39

    Yes, some people just want to blow it out of proportions.

    Incidentally, spreading rumors of the “death” of an ex-leader is (1) defamation, or (2) conspiracy to assassinate former government official, under US laws.

    Either case, the rumors can be injunctively gagged in US media to say the very least. And in case (2), the FBI and Secret Service might want to have a chat with you, with some rather mean looks, along with your past emails all subpoenaed.

    Some people have no measure of shame in spreading rumors.

    Of course, Western media know well enough to not speculate on deaths of their own leaders, but have no shame in speculating the deaths of other nations’ leaders.

    Yes, another example of hypocrisy

  40. July 13th, 2011 at 15:22 | #40

    Here’s the thing, raventhorn: Are the US media speculating on Jiang’s death? Nearly every article I’ve seen, except in loony pubs like Epoch Times, is about how CHINESE PEOPLE IN CHINA are speculating on Jiang’s death. For example, we have an article today by Adam Minter with the headline: Is Jiang Zemin Dead or Alive? Yet if you read the article, you’ll see there is no speculation by Minter, just as there was none by Falllows. None. Minter never speculates on whether Jiang is dead, but reports on the speculation by the Chinese.

    This prompts me to respectfully ask, What media in the US are openly speculating on his death, as opposed to reporting about people within China who are speculating he is dead, and the reaction this has fostered — the deletion of posts, etc.? I ask again, what media are we referring to? Fallows doesn’t do it. Minter doesn’t do it. In fact, I’ve seen no US media speculating on Jiang’s death, but plenty writing about speculation on Jiang’s death in China. If you look hard enough can you find an example of true speculation? Probably, but it’ll taker a lot of googling. Because there is no mainstream trend of speculating on Jiang’s death. I found one article that said no one knows if Jiang is dead or alive, but IF he died it may have been from lung cancer. Speculative? Arguably. Not my favorite type of journalism. But the reporter was simply using the rumors as a lead-in to a story on lung cancer in China. He nowhere speculates Jiang is dead.

    To repeat, nearly all the US media are reporting this story through the lens of CHINESE PEOPLE IN CHINA speculating Jiang is dead. Most of these articles are brief and unexceptional, and the main focus of each is not on Jiang but the deletion of posts about Jiang, which, ironically, rapidly fueled the rumor machine. So we need to be very careful and draw some distinctions here: Are US media being “hysterical” in their coverage of this issue, or are they being quite restrained and avoiding speculation, while reporting on the speculation within China?

    Meanwhile, as I said in my post, is China (and this blog) so thin-skinned that they can’t laugh this off? The media, to some extent, speculate about EVERYTHING. There was speculation for months that Pope John Paul II was dying, and even some false early reports he was dead. Not good journalism, but what can you do? This is how journalism works. There was no bias against the pope, just a rush to get a scoop. Meanwhile, to underscore my main point, I have made a simple request: What Western media are displaying “hysteria” on this issue? How is this hysteria manifesting itself? Show us the money. Where is the hysteria, aside from here?

    And let’s define “speculation.” It means to form a theory without sound evidence. Are the media engaging in actual speculation? Are they writing articles that speculate on whether Jiang is dead or alive? Or, like Fallows, are they reporting on how these rumors have spread in China? That’s an important distinction. I have not seen any US media — not one single pub — speculate that Jiang Zemin is dead, as opposed to reporting that there is speculation in China that he’s dead.

    This is a great big non-story. The US media (as opposed to the HK media) have done their job and for the most part have fastidiously avoided speculating on whether Jiang is dead or alive.

  41. July 13th, 2011 at 15:50 | #41

    richard, I would appreciate if you address some of the comments in this post, specifically Allen’s #16. You sound like a zealot to me.

    Sure, you can argue on technicality, the Adam Minter, the WSJ piece, and all these pieces in the NYT, NPR, Fox, Huntingpost, and on and on were about ‘Chinese government censorship’ of the Jiang death rumor. I can agree with that. BUT, it is also about the death rumor itself.

    Now, you might then say I am paranoid about American media and reading too much into it. Well, my reaction is very ‘normal’, because if you watch American reactions to the U.S. media coverage on Twitter is this: “Is Jiang dead?”

    Why do you suppose the American public react that way? Could have the U.S. media reported the rumor differently so it comes across truly as Chinese government censoring rumors? Or rather, Chinese companies complying with law to suppress rumors.

  42. July 13th, 2011 at 16:07 | #42

    @YinYang, Richard,

    Each of us have a personal angle to this, which is fine, as we are all individuals.

    My personal grip with James is very simple – and I believe I have been razor sharp on this one criticism in the above comments: he points to a lack of openness about Jiang’s life/death as another proof – another symptom – of Chinese government’s suppression.

    Now it’s ok for people to believe (mistakenly in my opinion) that the Chinese gov’t is suppressing when it is merely legitimately regulating speech that harms, that riles, that incenses, that falsifies…. But pointing to a gov’t being ho-hum about a death an old leader who is no longer at the helm of power as proof is asinine! It seems like Fallows just want to take a swipe at China whenever he can (see, e.g., this video, around 12:20 in). If people want to prove China’s “suppression” simply because the gov’t does not cater to tabloid journalism, then I suppose they can prove whatever they want. It’s – to me – an ideological-based dumbing down of journalism – propaganda – in its worst form.

    This is my main point against Fallows (for this thread).

    Now my criticisms of Richard can also be seen above. It’s tangent to the complaints above (in #16 and in the various subsequent protracted exchanges with Raj). I have no axe to grind against Richard, only his (sometimes sloppy) ideas…

  43. raventhorn2000
    July 13th, 2011 at 17:26 | #43

    “Minter never speculates on whether Jiang is dead, but reports on the speculation by the Chinese.”

    I think Minter and Fallow are blowing informal rumors out of proportions and legitimizing them into real stories in the Western press.

    Chinese people always had a rumor mill on every thing.

    the “loony pubs like Epoch” made a business in blowing the rumors out of proportions, and Minter and Fallow are following the Loony pub business model.

    If you read Epoch’s articles very carefully, they also disclaim that they are merely quoting a bunch of “unnamed” People here and there.

    Epoch never admits that Epoch is making the assertions into facts. They just try to dress up questionable sources and rumors into actual stories.

    Minter and Fallow are just 1 step away, coming in a different angle: They imply a story by essentially going for the old, “what’s China hiding” story.

    Well, it’s not that different from the “loony pubs” like Epoch.

    *the problem is Western paranoia likes to imply a REAL story from any regulation of speech.

    In the West, these paranoid are called “conspiracy nuts”.

    Yet somehow, the Western audience behave just like conspiracy nuts when viewing China, and still believe that they are behaving normally.

    that’s frankly hypocrisy.

  44. July 14th, 2011 at 07:56 | #44

    This will be my last comment because I can’t get a straight answer to the most fundamental question: Where is the media” hysteria”? Raventhorn writes, the “loony pubs like Epoch” made a business in blowing the rumors out of proportions, and Minter and Fallow are following the Loony pub business model. So all I am asking is to show us how Minter and Fallows are following the “loony business model,” as opposed to simply commenting on the censoring of references to Jiang and what’s going on in China. You can win this argument in a heartbeat with a simple quote of something they wrote that you feel is “loony.” Just cut and paste, and you win. I’ll concede. What is loony, where is the speculation? Without examples, you have no case. This very simple request impels yinyang to call me a “zealot,” which is fair in the context that I am zealous for truth and evidence. What is hysterical? What is loony? Just cut and paste. Without that, this post is just more hot air. But I’m happy to give you the benfeit of the doubt.

  45. July 14th, 2011 at 08:34 | #45

    Richard,

    Is there something different that Minter and Fallow is doing that’s different from Epoch’s usual “loony” articles?

    If you want to distinguish them from Epoch, that’s YOUR assertion, (you brought it up in your comparison 1st).

    Yet, you do not provide any evidence of supporting your assertion of differences.

    On the contrary, I don’t see you making a case of the differences.

    You wrote, “I found one article that said no one knows if Jiang is dead or alive, but IF he died it may have been from lung cancer. Speculative? Arguably.”

    VERY speculative, AND the article does not even say where the speculation of “lung cancer” comes from.

    Engaging in rumor spreading by making FURTHER unsupported speculations.

    You say that’s “arguably” speculative. I don’t think so. When the author ADDS to the rumor by speculating MORE, then it’s the very definition of speculation, no matter how many “IF”‘s he adds.

    I can add a bunch of “IF”‘s to all kinds of wild speculations, doesn’t unmake them from speculations.

    *Some people seem to think that by adding the disclaimer “IF” into articles, they are saving their statements from being “speculations”. That’s plain window dressing.

    For example, “IF I’m Right, Minter and Fallow may have veneral diseases in their brains, affecting their sense of logic.”

    Is that something better than rumors and speculations? I don’t think so.

    That frankly would be LOONY journalism.

  46. July 14th, 2011 at 09:24 | #46

    I guess you have no quote you can cite as proof of your assertions of hysteria and speculation. Take care.

  47. July 14th, 2011 at 10:11 | #47

    @richard

    Look, we are probably not going to be able to come up with a quote, and you make it out to be that is the only thing that matters whether the Western media have “hysteria over this non-news” (my OP) or what they are doing is “loony” journalism.

    If you are a self proclaim “zealot” for seeking truth, you clearly ain’t demonstrating it. To demonstrate that, you will have to make a sincere effort in explaining the broader phenomenon we are observing. That of essentially every Western media:

    1. Repeating this rumor, which in turn leads the Western public to propagate this rumor. We observe that on Twitter.

    2. Yes, the Western coverage IS technically about the Chinese government censoring the rumor. But they went further as Fallows have done in demonizing the Chinese government over something that is perfectly rational – where Chinese companies attempt to comply with law in suppressing false rumors.

    That may not be a ‘Western’ value, but the Chinese have theirs.

    If you went so far as to say Western media focuses on sensationalism and tabloid trash – and frankly, ‘loony’ journalism – I would accept that being a big part of this whole Western media affair.

    Did the Chinese press jump on this rumor story? No. Looking at #2 everywhere in the Western press, of course it is hysteria and loony.

    You said:

    I guess you have no quote you can cite as proof of your assertions of hysteria and speculation. Take care.

    Very immature.

  48. Charles Liu
    July 15th, 2011 at 00:32 | #48

    @YinYang

    Well said. I’ve personally not bothered with PKD for years now, precisely because the blog owner sucks.

  49. July 15th, 2011 at 05:35 | #49

    “I guess you have no quote you can cite as proof of your assertions of hysteria and speculation. Take care.”

    I think I quoted you at least to cite a proof. I just pass long information, like Minter and Fallow did apparently.

    Did I forget to use the word “IF”? I don’t think so.

    :)

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