Home > Opinion > Hollywood has underwent self-censorship training, so should Feng Xiaogang

Hollywood has underwent self-censorship training, so should Feng Xiaogang

Western narrative likes to pit Chinese against China’s government censorship.  In accepting the director of the year award, Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚) publicly lamented the difficulties he faced in complying with Chinese censors.  What Feng and the 10,000-some people who retweeted him on weibo (sizable, but not that big a deal given the 500 million+ users) need to realize is that Hollywood will never make blockbusters about innocent Iraqi’s or Afghani’s and other innocent civilians killed in America’s drone strikes.  Hollywood will never do a lot of things.  All Feng needs to do is to ask his Hollywood friends to make a list, then he will understand perhaps what he has to put up with is not all that bad.  Don’t get me wrong.  All societies practice censorship.  The simple truth is really just that some societies simply have thick skin like the fattest pig and feel no embarrassment wagging fingers at others.

  1. raffiaflower
    April 19th, 2013 at 19:43 | #1

    Feng Xiaogang could have been just blowing off steam about the failure of his epic flop 1942.
    It was such a leaden movie anyways, with stifled character development; with or without censor interference (if any) the flick was going to be hemlock @ the box-office.
    The point that those bloggers missed is that today there is enough wriggle room for Feng Xiaogang to fire some returning volleys at the `cultural’ commissaries; but this is not a point they’d like to make, since their sponsored mission is to demean the host country.
    As to whether the US government intervenes in Hollywood, the excellent article The Desolationists by Randy Shields on Counterpunch points out:

    “Why should the CIA spend its hard-earned drug money on front groups when organizations like the AWFJ do the heavy propaganda lifting?
    Is it too paranoid to imagine that one day all nominees for the best picture Oscar will be CIA productions, either covertly or overtly? This would just be an extension of the FBI orchestrating most of the recent “terror plots” or infiltrating leftist groups in the early 1970s to such an extent that FBI agents eventually rose to “leadership” positions in these groups and then disbanded them.”

  2. April 20th, 2013 at 05:02 | #2

    China has since unbanned many films critical of China’s modern past (To Live eg.). But When will Hollypeckerwood ever make a film that’s critical of even one of the many aggressive wars it has been involved with since 1960? When will it make a movie critical of the US’s relationship with apartheid Israel? But it constantly makes films glorifying war (Hurt Locker) and even torture like Zero Dark Thirty.

  3. jdsf
    April 22nd, 2013 at 21:13 | #3

    Yingyang, raffiaflower and melektaus:
    I would suggest to start with some “classics”:
    Deer Hunter, Apolcalypse Now, and Platoon..

    Continue on with some more recent Hollywood products:
    Three Kings, Stop-Loss, Redacted, Green Zone, Syriana

    And finally jump right into products of the “apartheid state”:
    Five Broken Cameras and the Gatekeepers.

    I could go on and on, but the list above (available at netflix and/or your local video store) should be enough to start with. When you are done with these, the internet (without GFW that is) should help you find many more.

    Best of luck..

  4. April 23rd, 2013 at 09:08 | #4

    Where do I start. Regarding the “classics” you cited, which were mostly about the Vietnam war, that was the period when U.S. press was somewhat free. It’s common knowledge that U.S. no longer allow reporters to report freely on wars anymore. Those who report “against” the U.S. occasionally gets bombed.

    That said, even for a film like The Deer Hunter, read the following critique:

    John Simon of New York wrote: “For all its pretensions to something newer and better, this film is only an extension of the old Hollywood war-movie lie. The enemy is still bestial and stupid, and no match for our purity and heroism; only we no longer wipe up the floor with him — rather, we litter it with his guts.”

    What you have to understand is that Vietnam was invaded. All the Vietnamese wanted was to push the French imperialists out so they can have freedom and live a normal life.

    What the film doesn’t fully portray is that a nation, a people, would be raped and slaughtered on the ground as well through napalm carpet bombing from the air. Agent orange would be doused on them and their crops. Only Hollywood could paint the Vietnamese, in particular, the north, as deserving of all that.

    But I will grant you – that during the 70’s, American press was infinitely more free compared to today (or had infinitely more conscience) in their war coverage.

    Even under such “enlightened” periods, the best Hollywood could do is to make American victims savages.

    Okay, I will make it extremely easy for you.

    Name one popular film where Hollywood’s main narrative is that the U.S. invasion is wrong. You have many wars to pick from.

  5. jdsf
    April 23rd, 2013 at 18:09 | #5

    I will not waste time on a critique of one film (Deer Hunter) by one magazine (I could find tons of different quotes disputing your point – that is just business as usual in a polyphonic and uncensored society).

    I will neither waste time on the “70’s American press” (our subject is film not press), nor on Vietnamese motives (our subject is Hollywood not Vietnam). We can have those discussions and we can reach all the way back to Gutenberg and the Truong sisters, but that would divert us from our subject which is the supposed Hollywood self censorship in light of Feng Xiaogang’s lamentations.

    It seems that the titles I listed did not really register (have you watched all of them really ?). So, I will return the favor and make it extremely easy for you. The clip below is only 2 minutes long and dates back to March 23 2003 (I trust you are smart enough to figure out the significance of that exact date):


    That segment was broadcasted on prime time TV throughout the US (and the rest of the world) from Hollywood on Oscar’s night. No screen went blank, some booed, some applauded, some cried, some laughed. Ten years after that we can pass judgement . Not on the person that performed the action, but on the process that allowed it to happen

    I think that is what 冯小刚 was thinking of when he gave his speech, but he needed to resort innuendos and mince his words. As it is, I am happy that he could even use these innuendos, and he was not not summarily send to a laogai (30 years ago that is what would have happened to him). I am still trying to figure out why you seem so unhappy about that progress (given that you don’t even live there)..

    With that I am done. To mimic your 傲慢 style, I will congratulate myself on the checkmate and dismissively say:

    Please try to do some justice to your “pen-name” ( 陰陽) from now on. Because if you continue on your current tone, I think that either 伪君子 or 猪为首 would be more appropriate .

    PS: If you really want to go deep on the subject of Hollywood/war/politics/Vietnam/WW2: I’d suggest the “Fog of War” (oscar winning documentary featuring Robert McNamara). I hope that ten-fifteen years from now, we can all watch Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao tell all in the production 和諧霧 (translated as “Mist of Harmony” in the west) and directed by Feng Xiaogang. I will be really happy then. I hope you will be too.

  6. April 23rd, 2013 at 19:40 | #6

    Deer Hunter: A portrayal of US self-victimization while ignoring the real suffering of Asian people. In the movie the Vietnamese were portrayed as blood thirsty gamblers with no redeeming quality whatsoever. If this movie is about the Vietnam war, show me one Vietnamese lead character.

    Platoon: More or less the same but at least painted the corruption and inaptitude in the US Army. There is no Vietnamese lead either.

    Apocalypse Now: A re-adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. However, it is still all about American.

    I would actually add “We Were Soldiers”, but the director’s eventually edited out politics questioning US’s involvement in Indo-China. Again all American war movies are so self absorbed and centred that anybody watching them would feel no attachment to the real war being fought there. This movie is more modern and actually try to show the Vietnamese adversary side. However, one cannot feel after watching the movie that the Vietnamese commander was very ruthless and callous with his use of men. He was shown as directing the battle from a safe place while his US adversary was leading his men in the thick of battle and last to leave the battlefield. Full Metal Jacket is probably the better choice as it actually showed an enemy who is but a teenage girl.

    All these re-enactments although try to be critical of the war never once address the issue of EXTREME death and destruction caused by the US military and its allies.

  7. April 23rd, 2013 at 19:58 | #7

    I wouldn’t waste time on you either but want to show how you try the skirt the issues of Hollywood actually performing self-censorship by resorting to personal attacks and insults.

    Instead of debating with YinYang on the basis of his points you couldn’t come up with anything substantial but instead hid behind those flawed Hollywood productions as your defence. Wow, in your view those movies gave the answer to Hollywood impartiality and absence of censorship?

    The US main stream interest on Vietnam war is still on why the US lost the war, not on the suffering of the people there caused by US involvement. It is repeating itself with the Iraq and Afghan wars.

    You are the classic case of the pot calling the porcelain black. Congratulation. The US has won the propaganda war on Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Please, pad yourself on the back for great humanitarian works done.

  8. April 23rd, 2013 at 20:10 | #8

    Anyway, in Korea PSY’s latest MTV Gentleman was taken off the air as it include some acts of vandalism.

    The PRC never portrayed itself as having absolute free press. All along it argues for an accountable free press more than anything else. The key words here are responsible and accountable. The PRC is also moving the internet in that direction by requiring real name registration.

    However, in many instances China’s CCTV routinely show programs that can be super critical of China’s past. I will give just one example now.

    The TV series人间正道是沧桑 http://www.youku.com/show_page/id_zcc00bdd0962411de83b1.html have such a conversation:

    Guy: Why wouldn’t you join the CCP?
    Woman: Well, I have been to the Soviet Union. That’s why I will never join the CCP.

  9. jdsf
    April 23rd, 2013 at 21:36 | #9

    I am skirting the issue ? Please leave subjective interpretations of semi-fictional movies aside and stick with real statements and facts. You can do that by answering the following two simple questions:

    Why could Michael Moore say what he said on prime time TV and Feng Xiaogang needed to resort to bleeped innuendos ?

    Why have we seen McNamara’s confessions in “the Fog of War” (which you conveniently ignored) and we have never heard a peep from 趙修業 or 江澤民 ?

    By the way, I have read a few of the other posts and comments on that blog and since Yinyang and yourself talk about your background in the “About Us” section I really want to ask you both a question. I know first hand how much an immigrant’s life in the West can suck, but do you know how much even a privileged 海归’s life in China can suck ?

    I am asking because if you really had first hand experiences, you would not so easily dismiss 冯小刚comments with a reductionist “it is not that bad – Hollywood self sensors too”. If you have had first hand experiences you would be more nuanced in your judgements. The attitude you are projecting on this web site is something between a second hand regurgitation of the Global Times and the most fake 愤青 slogans I have ever seen. The real 愤青 that live and breathe China every day show much more 内省 and nuance than you all – trust me, I have met and became friends with many of them. They are real – you seem like a group of far away 丑角 who are waving wooden swords at windmills – a real embarrassment..

    My $.02: Go back to China, make a living there for a while and I bet that you will get off your high horse because you will learn to appreciate both your distant motherland and your adoptive country with all their flaws. Both of them are great, both of them are terrible both are hypocritical. It is not just black and white. And as far as I know that is really the meaning of 陰陽.

    Take care. 慈悲 and 道安 to you all.

  10. April 23rd, 2013 at 21:47 | #10

    Ray, this jdsf is a moron. Reads like a FLG cult follower. lol, he’s going to continue to be so stupid and tell me I am calling him names next.

  11. jdsf
    April 23rd, 2013 at 22:05 | #11


    Is that all what you can come up with ?

    I am sorry to burst your bubble but the fact that I called you on your superficial and hypocritical understanding of Daoist concepts, does not make me a 氣 worshiping superstitious airhead. I am as realist as they come, and my realism comes from my first hand experiences and facts. Experiences that you seem to lack, and facts that you seem to evade.

    So, please do the readers of this blog and yourself the favor to respond to my points. For your convenience I summarize below:

    1) Hollywood censorship: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7Is43K6lrg
    2) Hollywood narratives and American regrets: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_of_War

    If you really are up to shutting me up, please enlighten us with your first hand experience in China, that qualifies you to dismiss legitimate grievances of people living there. Incidentally using simplistic reductionist comparisons reminiscent of the CR era will not cut it. No matter how many 小丑 on this site try to re-assure you, this is not going to be enough to recover from the 丢面子. You have to come up with some concrete counter arguments to to do that. But that seems kind of impossible now. Doesn’t it ?

    So, I will leave you and Ray alone to play defenders of the motherland in your internet sandbox, and wish you 无量寿福.. “No hard feelings” as my Yankee friends say.

  12. April 23rd, 2013 at 22:50 | #12


    The discussion brought up by jdsf and YinYang and Ray is actually interesting in a way – if you can look away from the name calling.

    The discussion of freedom of speech is a difficult. Things have been framed in such narrow ways that if one is not careful, one argues superficially, on the U.S. being free because the law says so and because you find so many instances of “defiance.” One can argue everyone else – including even Western European nations such as Germany, France, and UK – as less free due to this and that regulation, or this and that act by the government. When one looks to developing countries, one often gets smug … – , there is no freedom at all.

    Truth be told, things are more restrictive when things are more volatile – when there is internal strife, or external pressure. In the U.S., things can look good on the surface because the U.S. is strong. There are very little forces that threaten it. It can afford to be “free.”

    But what kind of freedom does this mean? Is a weaker country that allows less of it, to defend itself, so bad?

    Also – freedom may also be tolerated more precisely because the citizens have become so indoctrinated and passive that more things can be said without upsetting the existing order. In the West, you notice how things are already controlled by entrenched interests, with ordinary people having no strength, when the average Joe is dumbed down by complacency, propaganda and indoctrination that is embedded in everything we hear, read, and see …

    So what if there is more freedom in such context – what of it? Even the most ardent advocate of freedom of speech such as Justice Black acknowledges a limit to speech defined by harm. The U.S. enjoys a privileged position as a political entity because – by position of the nation’s economic and military strength – and the nation’s dumbed-down populace – it is subjected to less harm. It doesn’t mean more power for the people. It doesn’t mean a more empowered people.

    Going back now to the discussion here. Hollywood may have produced some anti-war movies. But the anti war message portrayed is always limited. It’s against this president, that president. This party or that party. It is self absorbed in the narrow human condition at hand (as happens in many literature), but ignoring the real political question of the times. So yes you may find a war against Iraq – as anti-Bush or anti-Republican. Or a war movie on personal sacrifices and obstacles and challenges soldiers face. There may even be a little humanitarian sympathy cast to the enemy here and there.

    But can you find a war as anti-imperialism, anti U.S.? Yes, imperialism, that biggest political issue of the last few millennium, with the U.s. the standard bearer today. Any real movies on that? Any movies with a message that might wake the American people up? I mean REALLY WAKE THE PEOPLE UP??? The anti-war movies of Iraq are so limited, the critique so partisan, it’s not interesting. It reminds me of this quote from Pepe Escobar at Asian Times on the foreign policy debate between Romney and Obama in the last U.S. president election.

    The latest Obama-Romney talk-fest was not so much a debate as a duet on American Exceptionalism, with no hard questions or pressing on nuance, no smashing of preconceived misconceptions – its entertainment value resting in Mitt Romney’s attempted u-turn from extremist hawk to centrist dove, anything to get, or not lose, the vote of undecided ladies in Ohio.

    Yes: point to a movie that really will create a debate not just support a duet…

    So yes, jdsf is right. There is a level of freedom of speech in the U.S. that is not reflected in China – especially when viewed through the lens of a Westerner predisposed to a certain Western view of the world and history. But that freedom needs to be taken in context – of U.S. strength in the world and the meekness of its own populace, the dominance of entrenched interests. In the bigger picture, YinYang and Ray – and Escobar – are right. The freedom of speech does exist – but not in any substantive or meaningful way… It’s a superficial feature of Western history, and circumstances – nothing more.

    Back to Hollywood again. When Hollywood can’t even make a movie with a real central Asian protagonist, don’t expect it to make a movie that deviates from the standard dominant anglo-saxon white European theme / viewpoint.

  13. April 23rd, 2013 at 22:56 | #13

    jdsf is a damned liar. The last two films he mentioned are not even American movies (Israeli and Palestinian). The other films he mentioned are not hollywood films but mostly indepedent movies produced independently and distributed not by hollywood studios but independent distributors. There are many Chinese independent films also critical of their own gov.

    Like I said, Hollypeckerwood has rarely if ever truly made a film that was critical of any of its wars especially sympathteic the the plights of the victims. His inability to show even one film is evidencve of this.

  14. April 23rd, 2013 at 22:58 | #14

    Look at this fraud


    “Running time 90 minutes
    Country State of Palestine
    Language Arabic

    Box office $93 578 (USA) (15 February 2013))[1]
    5 Broken Cameras (Arabic: خمس كاميرات محطمة‎ Khamas Kamīrāt Muḥaṭṭamah; Hebrew: חמש מצלמות שבורות‎ Hamesh Matslemot Shvurot) is a 2011 documentary film co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi.”

  15. April 23rd, 2013 at 23:56 | #15


    More on “freedom of speech” – people in the West tend to view it narrowly as gov’t action. Private censorship is ok – as long as it’s not government.

    But that’s b.s. Gov’t simply outsource a lot of the censoring to its cohorts in the private arena. Remmeber what happened with Assange and wikileaks?

  16. April 24th, 2013 at 00:09 | #16

    Well, you are moving goal posts whenever you feel like it. To top it off, you like to practice double standard, typical imperialist behaviour. Let’s go back to the basis of your outage on this article. YinYang simply points out that Feng Xiaogang would be facing Hollywood’s corporate, industrial, cultural, financial type of self censorship in the US. He makes no notion that China is superior in anyway but simply remind the readers that “all societies practice censorship”.

    You, on the other hand started off by listing a hosts of Hollywood made Vietnam war movies that has almost nothing to do with the Vietnamese people as the holy grail. I simply point out how ridiculous it is to have a bunch of movies about THE VIETNAM WAR that has no Vietnamese in them. And why should I answer random questions or standard posted by you when you refused to even defend the lame acts of throwing a bunch of Hollywood productions that totally ignore Vietnamese people? Which is also YinYang’s emphasis in the article with regard to the US overseas’ wars.

    Why should China make a movie like “Fog of War”? If you think that means Hollywood has no censorship or propaganda, you are being delusional. Please don’t forget about the Rambo, Braddock type of movies that rule the box offices. Should I use that to indicate how senseless Hollywood and its US audience are? What educational movies have Hollywood really produced about the Vietnam war and for that matter the Iraq and Afghan ones.

    And please stop acting like a deranged lunatics. Stop skirting the issues and stop the holier than thou lecture, it doesn’t help your argument. Stick to the points.

  17. jdsf
    April 24th, 2013 at 00:41 | #17

    Read the sentence before my reference to the two Israeli films. Hint, hint: the word “apartheid” was referencing your post, in case you did not get it yet…

    Nice, civil and quite lofty. But if I might say so, quite devoid of substance – reminds me of US law school admission essays (are you a lawyer by any chance ?). I’d like to point out the irony of you sitting comfortably somewhere in the West (I assume the US, maybe even San Francisco), theorizing on the strength of a state vs its tolerance of dissent. I’d like to see you try to criticize the bleeps on Feng Xiaogang’s speech on a post on Sina by using your real name, while living in Beijing and being the unfortunate owner of only a PRC passport. That would “put some hair on your chest” as they say in Kansas.

    Imaging Feng Xiaogang shouting out “Shame on you, communist apparatchiks” on public airwaves and you Allen in the audience applauding or booing is pure science fiction of course.

    But since you seem so keen on theorizing on freedom of speech trade-offs (from a distance of course). I’d like to hear your opinion on CCP’s promotion of “responsible” Internet use by requiring registration of real names. I am asking that question since I find it ironic that all the the theoretical patriots on this site post hiding behind pseudonyms, and they don’t dare to use their real name (it seems that they quite enjoy the rights that so easily like to deny to others).

    I have obviously given up on getting concrete answers to the questions I asked before. But I will repeat for the last time and beyond hope below.

    1) Hollywood censorship: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7Is43K6lrg
    2) Hollywood narratives and American regrets: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_of_War
    3) Most importantly. Which one of you 小丑 has really made a living in China for three or four years and came back to the West entitled to criticize the grievances of people who live or have lived in China ?

    But I am not going to get an honest answer to any of these questions. And that will simply re-enforce my opinion that you are all just fakes and 偽君子. And of course you will label me a 白目 and you will go on playing internet 戰士 vs the evil West. But in case you have not figured it out yet, the evil west does not even give $.02 about you. It simply ignores or tolerates you because you are a bunch of clueless harmless buffoons. Your counterparts (in a yin-yang sense) in China though are another matter.

    I will not post any more to this thread. I will just wait and hope (beyond all hope) that your answers will prove me wrong.

    再見 – so long.

  18. April 24th, 2013 at 02:40 | #18

    I know you were referring to my post, moron. But the point I made in that post is that Hollywood hardly ever makes films critical of its aggressive wars and its foreign policy. You then quoted two Israeli films as counter evidence. That’s clearly stupidity on your behalf.

    The only recent US film that I can think of that was mildly critical was the Fog of War (2003), a documentary. And this film was essentially independently produced and distributed by a foreign company (Sony) and its main protagonist was the secretary of defense Robert McNaramara. It mainly got his perspective on the war. Little effort was made to get the views of the victims of the Vietnam war, namely Vietnamese and Cambodians.

  19. April 24th, 2013 at 02:50 | #19

    More on The Deer Hunter.

    “When the movie was being planned during the mid-1970s, Vietnam was still a taboo subject with all major Hollywood studios.[19] According to producer Michael Deeley, the standard response was “no American would want to see a picture about Vietnam”.[19]


    Executives from Universal, including Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg, were not very enthusiastic.[7][43] “I think they were shocked,” recalled Spikings. “What really upset them was ‘God Bless America.’ Sheinberg thought it was anti-American. He was vehement. He said something like ‘You’re poking a stick in the eye of America.’ They really didn’t like the movie. And they certainly didn’t like it at three hours and two minutes.”[7]”


    Not exactly a counter example to the point I was making in my original post. This chump proves himself a complete fraud.

  20. Black Pheonix
    April 24th, 2013 at 06:47 | #20


    I was going to jump in, but I had a feeling that JDSF was psychotic enough to have an insult session with himself.

    Apparently, we have called him a bunch of names without even doing so! LOL!

    “But I am not going to get an honest answer to any of these questions. And that will simply re-enforce my opinion that you are all just fakes and 偽君子. And of course you will label me a 白目 and you will go on playing internet 戰士 vs the evil West.”

    OK, since JDSF is wasting bandwidth in having an imaginary debate with himself, I agree with him, he shouldn’t post here any more.

    * On JDSF’s “questions”, I didn’t realize that we are under any obligations to answer questions of personal history and qualifications.

    But on that note, I have lived in China for many years. I still have family in China. I have clients in China.

    That’s all I need to say about that “question”, which is irrelevant to the topic of “Hollywood self-censorship”, WHICH is not DENIED for its existence, but merely debated of its Extent.

    Now, moving onto the DEBATE of the ISSUE: the EXTENT of Hollywood Self-Censorship!

  21. Black Pheonix
    April 24th, 2013 at 07:27 | #21


    “So yes, jdsf is right. There is a level of freedom of speech in the U.S. that is not reflected in China. But that freedom needs to be taken in context – of U.S. strength in the world and the meekness of its own populace, the dominance of entrenched interests. In the bigger picture, YinYang and Ray – and Escobar – are right. The freedom of speech does exist – but not in any substantive or meaningful way… It’s a superficial feature of Western history, and circumstances – nothing more.”

    Yes, it’s the “context” that’s the “Self-Censorship” in Hollywood.

    That it is “SELF” censorship. There is no written rules, just that the entire Industry itself is censoring its own message, and sticking to a narrative that does NOT allow unorthodox criticisms.

    *Of course, in China, there is also very little written rules of “censorship”.

    The only rule in all sides, is that if you offend a major group in a society, you will face backlash, (perhaps even riots, like in Egypt and Libya).

    Now, rational governments would “nip it” in the butt, BEFORE riots happen.

    Rational artists and industries would do the same, BEFORE their profits are hurt in the backlash.

    But some would be foolish (buffoon) enough to take the risks. To such people, if you are brave enough to play that game, you can always prove yourself by going to the Middle East and take on Islam by yourself with some serious “debate” with the locals, (and then REFUSE to hide in your respective embassies).

  22. April 24th, 2013 at 11:59 | #22


    Lots of ad homenim theorizing and attacks … which I wont respond as it’s not interesting for our readers.

    But for our readers, please note that when you do discuss democracy / freedom of speech / etc. with ideologues, the first thing you will notice is their worshiping of a particular narrative. Everything is framed based on that narrative.

    Just as an example, here we have jdsf spouting off the evilness of real name registration on the web – of the nobleness of anonymity. The narrative goes: you need freedom of speech to attack the government. The government will preemptively always squash you when you do exercise it though – because it is inherently bad, not interested in criticism, and will quash all dissents. Anonymity is protection for the people. Without it, people live in fear.

    It’s a story – born in the vein of novels like 1984. But how realistic / useful is such a belief?

    The gov’t has so much power anyways. It runs our police, regulates our drugs and food, presides over all sorts of arms that the people have no chance of matching, licenses our doctors, regulates the banks, etc., etc. If you trust the gov’t to do so much, why be so afraid of it? Mere “freedom of speech” is not going to tip the scale in the people’s favor – not when consent can be so easily manufactured.

    The reality is that when people have anonymity, it is the criminals, the subversive types, and the mobs that benefit – not the good responsible people. The harboring of the notion that any criticism will lead the CCP to track and hunt you down is childish – a result of American propaganda.

    Yes you can find corner cases where the Chinese gov’t would – and should – track down subversive people who work with foreign organizations and governments to bring chaos to the Chinese nation – but so what? Organizations like CIA might think that’s bad … it’s not. Not for the Chinese nation – a nation that is relatively weak (the gdp per capita for China ranks somewhere before Algeria and behind East Timor according to the World Bank; its defense spending per capita is $74, same as Peru, at 2.1% of GDP; the U.S. by comparison spends $2,141 per person, at 4.7% of its huge inflated economy). A little control of fraudulent information can be effective in countering much larger military budgets.

    In a recent post, I noted that a recent Harvard Study had found that the Chinese gov’t allows for a surprising amount of substantive individual freedom … on par with that of U.S. … with regard to criticism and dissent. (The article imputes that while the ordinary Chinese enjoys tremendous individual freedom, the Chinese do not enjoy much collective freedom. For my response to that, you’d have to go to my recent post linked above.)

    Not surprisingly, the Chinese government has also been recognized to have made many innovations in e-governance. Contrary to popular belief, the CCP is not afraid of criticism and dissent. It seeks it – to better serve the people – to allow it better to hold on to power, if you must (wink).

    Anonymity does not empower the people, registration, does. (By the way, users who have registered their real identity on Weibo, Tencent, etc. can still comment under anonymous handles. All can still tweet, blog, etc. to the world anonymously … so it’s not like we are going to have the type of online vigilante justice that silences speech as we see in the West … it’s just that people now explicitly know if they do violate the law, they can be easily tracked.)

    Registration represents an important social check on normal people’s inclination to be subversive. It’s like the presence of street lights. It’s not an invasion of privacy. It promotes responsible use of public space.

    One of the original visionaries of the web – Jaron Lanier – has come to the same conclusion about anonimity. (See, e.g., this Smithsonian articlethat Black Phoenix recently brought to my attention).

    The Smithsonian article notes:

    At last we come to politics, where I believe Lanier has been most farsighted—and which may be the deep source of his turning into a digital Le Carré figure. As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture—the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites—as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn’t hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism.

    It’s taken a while for this prophecy to come true, a while for this mode of communication to replace and degrade political conversation, to drive out any ambiguity. Or departure from the binary. But it slowly is turning us into a nation of hate-filled trolls.

    Surprisingly, Lanier tells me it first came to him when he recognized his own inner troll—for instance, when he’d find himself shamefully taking pleasure when someone he knew got attacked online. “I definitely noticed it happening to me,” he recalled. “We’re not as different from one another as we’d like to imagine. So when we look at this pathetic guy in Texas who was just outed as ‘Violentacrez’…I don’t know if you followed it?”

    “I did.” “Violentacrez” was the screen name of a notorious troll on the popular site Reddit. He was known for posting “images of scantily clad underage girls…[and] an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore” and more, according to the Gawker.com reporter who exposed his real name, shaming him and evoking consternation among some Reddit users who felt that this use of anonymity was inseparable from freedom of speech somehow.

    “So it turns out Violentacrez is this guy with a disabled wife who’s middle-aged and he’s kind of a Walter Mitty—someone who wants to be significant, wants some bit of Nietzschean spark to his life.”

    Only Lanier would attribute Nie­tzschean longings to Violentacrez. “And he’s not that different from any of us. The difference is that he’s scared and possibly hurt a lot of people.”

    Well, that is a difference. And he couldn’t have done it without the anonymous screen name. Or he wouldn’t have.

    And here’s where Lanier says something remarkable and ominous about the potential dangers of anonymity.

    “This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant.”

    The worshiping of anonymity as a basic right is religion – and not based on reality. If you understand anything about the web, you know anonymity doesn’t not protect the average people’s identity from the government. The information is there or will soon be there for the government’s taking – registration or not. The CIA has for example already openly acknowledged that it already has or soon will have the capability to be all-knowing.

    Governments already have almost unlimited power to monitor (see e.g. this article on UK’s camera surveillance system). Why live in shadow of the fear of 1984? Shrieking against reality – against childish fears – is, well, childish.

    The Chinese citizens seem to approve their government by a wide margins compared to so-called democracies in the West. They trust the government. Why? The government is about seeking the common good, providing for the people – whereas democracies is about running soap operas called elections that support squabbling games of where is my beef for special interest groups. The Chinese gov’t actively works and seeks people support while Western democracies seeks legitimacy from reality shows they call elections.

    Real-name registration is not going to induce fear in responsible citizens. The government in China is actually the indispensable partner for society to engage in free, responsible speech.

    As Eric Li has recently noticed in an article titled “China’s political system is more flexible”, there is an old Chinese proverb, “The people are like water, the ruler is a ship on that water. Water can carry the ship; water can overturn the ship.”

    This fear-government narrative is a religion, a cult. Ditch it. In fact, whenever you argue with ideologues on democracy, freedom, rule of law, note the reasonable sounding but stifling narrative they employ. Head boldly to the future. Demand the common good. Free yourself from ideology and their presumptions. Be practical. You’ll come out much better ahead.

  23. Black Pheonix
    April 24th, 2013 at 17:44 | #23


    On “anonymity”, as some Americans love to say, “if you don’t have any thing to hide, why hide?”

    Of course, the same Americans rarely apply that same standard to themselves.

    Hence, Google wants everyone’s data for free, but don’t want to share its data.

  24. April 24th, 2013 at 22:10 | #25

    And anyone who’s seen Apocalypse Now knows what a complete sham the claim that it is an anti war movie is. It is ambiguous with plenty of pro war sentiments as well as a few anti war sentiments mixed in. Again, jdsf proves himself insincere at least if not fraudulent.

  25. April 25th, 2013 at 18:23 | #26

    I think what’s missing in this discussion (or more appropriately, shouting match) is an assessment of the results. I happen to agree with jdsf (despite his obvious ideological bend) that Hollywood faces a smaller degree of censorship than its Chinese counterpart. We can debate about the pro-war or anti-war elements of Apocalypse Now, or how pro/anti-US Syriana maybe compared to a Chinese movie that may stray away from the mainstream, but to what extent does this actually matter?

    Let’s assume my opinion is true, and that Hollywood is more “free” than its Chinese counterpart to make anti-government movies, has their influence actually resulted in fewer wars or regime changes? Did Platoon or any other Vietnam movie disrupt America’s regular routine of once-a-decade warmongering? Did Syriana result in fewer acts of sabotage, assassination, and regime change by the CIA & organizations such as NED? It is quite clear that the answer is a resounding NO. How many war/spy movies actually instigated meaningful change in foreign policy?

    Advocates of western ideological dogma often argues for the intrinsic value and justification of free expression, without taking into any account the actual results, or in the present context, the utter lack thereof. In the present context, I would describe Hollywood (& US society in general) as free to shout, but powerless to act, especially in a one dollar, one vote electoral system.

  26. April 25th, 2013 at 20:52 | #27

    @Mister Unknown
    I agree it’s more useful to simply look at the results. But why would you argue more censorship on the Chinese side? I don’t think the answer is clear.

    Censorship, whether directly by the government, through self censorship for economic reasons or other reasons (such as direct or indirect threat of reprisal from some powerful political groups) are all censorship.

    So, when you look at the results, I think it comes back full circle. It must be censorship.

    If you look at the constant wars America has been waging since WW2 and think about censorship of all those victims perspectives, you would agree that sum total is ‘big.’ Now think about all the censorship the Chinese government must carry out to support China’s wars since WW2. You would be obviously right to say little on China’s part, because China was involved in very few wars.

    So, who is on a censorship binge?

    If we look at another type of censorship – say, compare Liu Xiaobo to Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is censored by the American media. The very few ocassions they talk about Chomsky, they attack him.


    What’s the difference between China silencing Liu’s work? Sure, Liu’s work gets virtually no exposure to the Chinese public. Most Americans don’t know about Chomsky either. Percentage-wise, there’s more American who knows of Chomsky compared to Chinese knowing Liu. But that’s an insignificant difference.

    Liu is censored because the Chinese government thinks his work is damaging. This is the same reason why the U.S. government goes after Wikileaks so strongly, because Wikileaks is viewed as more damaging by the U.S. government – much more so compared to Chomsky.

    You will hear people say, see, Chomsky is not censored. True, not censored by the government. But who knows why the American media censors him? We simply can’t tell what kind of influence the American government directly exerts on the U.S. media. The truth is Chomsky is totally censored by the American media.

  27. April 25th, 2013 at 21:41 | #28
  28. April 26th, 2013 at 02:14 | #29

    @Mister Unknown

    I think you missed what the general gist is of the criticisms against this troll. This isn’t a contest to see which has more censorship. The point is that all of the examples the troll gave are fraudulent. They are actually either non US films, independently produced ones, or ones not even about any US war or foreign policy or even pro war instead of anti war as he claimed Fact: Both sides has a lot to learn when it comes to allowing different voices in the media and in film. But lying and making one side look less than what it is, is not the way to start any kind of sinecere conversation.

  29. April 26th, 2013 at 04:26 | #30

    I think I should have qualified my comments in regards to censorship comparisons. I commented solely in the context of movies and entertainment media, not in the broader sense of overall media control. I do believe that Hollywood and entertainment media has a greater degree of freedom (relative to its Chinese counterpart) to directly criticize US foreign policy, as shown by numerous movies (Fahrenheit 911, Syriana, etc), as well as to satirize politicians (i.e. Stewart, Colbert, etc) in a comedic setting.

    However, like I mentioned, these freedoms are ultimately insignificant. In the context of entertainment media and US foreign policy, at the end of the day, the US government will continue to wage war and sabotoge other countries’ political and economic systems. The entertainment and info-tainment industries will allow people to vent about the unjust nature of such policies, but ultimately few will lift a finger to make genuine changes. Those who make such an effort are marginalized and portrayed as extremists. Freedom of speech – in the absence of genuine power – has little real impact.

  30. April 26th, 2013 at 08:47 | #31
  31. Charles Liu
    April 26th, 2013 at 09:22 | #32

    It’s not like movie makers in America are not subject to economic-based censorship. Any film receiving NC-17 rating essentially is given commercial death sentence.

  32. April 27th, 2013 at 04:54 | #33

    @Charles Liu

    @Mister Unknown

    I have to disagree – or at least raise a note of caution.

    I have been known to include in censorship not just overt government restrictions (regulations if you will) of speech, but also private restrictions (distortions if you will) of speech by the powerful in the private arena. Government restrictions tend to be regulations – for the common good – as governments at least have an obligation to the people – whatever you think about the failings of governments – whereas private entities – such as church, NGOs, corporations – never do. As private entities, they are by definition “special interests.”

    Western gov’ts also often outsource the dirty job of restriction speech to private entities, by brandishing carrot and sticks on private entities it dominates over (see Chomsky; see my wikileaks post some time ago).

    But what both of all you talking about – results – is different. If you care about result, what kind of result are we talking about – and waht standard should the result be judged against? Some noble standard that you would have to argue for?

    But freedom of speech has never been about achieving some noble results. It’s – as a religion – formulated for legitimacy – to ensure the people have a say – or at least a semblance of having a say. A people can have all sorts of quirks and preferences – which as Charles noted can be reflected through market forces – but what of that, freedom of speech was never meant to fix that. If a people is warlike, freedom of speech will only allow them to incite each other more to war, not the other way around. It’s not freedom of speech to curb such “bad” tendencies – according to some external noble standards.

    So I am thus very puzzles by Charles comment. Coming at this point in the discussion, it’s almost an argument that the U.S. has lots of freedom, but laments that freedom caters to the masses … when that’s what it’s supposed to do.

    I can kind of understand where mister unknown is coming from, as I think he is presuming that freedom of speech is about bringing about truth, but that the American public have been duped into war by the freedom’s allowance of those in power to confuse, distort – and not away from war by more clear headed thinking expected of freedom of speech.

    But I think that presumes the American public is rational (about international human welfare), intelligent, and want to avoid unjust wars. However, if the American public were none of those – is actually irrational (about international human welfare), dumb, and want war’s spoils – then again – it’s not the role of freedom of speech to curb such bad tendencies – it’s not freedom’s fault, but the America’s fault. Hope that makes sense…

    Arguing against freedom of result by pointing to a result that is not clearly defined I think is the wrong way to go. It may be arguing too much – as I think you have both done here.

  33. April 28th, 2013 at 04:24 | #34

    Granted I haven’t taken any official polls, but I think if you were to ask your average American to justify the need for freedom of speech/press, 9 times out of 10 he/she would give you something along the lines of allowing the market place of ideas to thrive, something about exposing injustice and maintaining accountability, or something about using that freedom as a pressure valve to appease the disenfranchised. All of these are very much results-based justifications – regardless of the extent to which these justifications actually represent reality. By the same token, I’d imagine very few Americans would actually be so lazy as to claim that freedom of speech is justified simply because a piece of paper said so.

    Also, I don’t think most Americans are dumb or irrational (at least not significantly more so than the average citizenry of any other country), I think ‘ignorant due to indifference’ is a far more apt description.

    In any case, what I’m trying to get at here is that I don’t believe the concept of ‘rights’ exist in a vacuum. When determining the degree to which ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’ should exist, one must take into account results (& in reality, just about every society takes a results-based view when determining the boundaries of freedom), or else the only legitimate form of society would be something resembling anarchy.

    Furthermore, in the context of this particular discussion, I’m not arguing whether the freedom of speech & press should exist or to what degree it should exist; I am simply pointing out something that I’ve said in many other contexts – the supposed benefits of freedom (in this case, freedom of speech) has not yielded the advertised results.

  34. Charles Liu
    April 29th, 2013 at 10:56 | #35


    Allen, sorry I’m not being clear. It’s not we don’t have free speech, rather free speech is limited in every country, in this case US films are self-censored via industry ratings system (created under threat of state censorship) with economic penalty.

    I hope you agree self-censorship is still censorship.

  35. teaz
    May 2nd, 2013 at 05:41 | #36

    it’s not really censorship. to make a film, you need a lot of funding, and the ones who get the funding are the ones willing to “play ball”, meaning put out disinformation to brain wash the public. this is why anyone who makes it big in hollywood, or in any segment of western society, is bound to be highy corrupt. the ones who control the money want to hold onto to it. they will make complicit regimes look good (ie japan, canada), and the better they look in the eyes of westerners, the worse they usually are. then they make the resistors look back. actually, you look at a country like China, and it appears that they are highly complicit with the west, given the amount of western crap China buys from the west. you look at the elevator industry in China and it is basically monopolised by western corporations. Chinese cars are dominated by foreign makers. 99% of the cameras in China are foreign. i sit on a domestic Chinese flight, and i hear the flight atendants making announcements in english, and i think to myself, why the hell are they making announcements in english. everyone on the plane in Chinese. i cant imagine an american domestic flight making any announcements in Chinese. the truth of the matter is that China really bends over backwards to accomodate the west, despite the west’s malicious intents.

  36. jason
    May 2nd, 2013 at 15:13 | #37

    Can somebody tell jdsf that most of the film he picked that deals with foreign wars of US empire does not reflect foreign affairs of non-interventionism policy of China?

    In conclusion, there’s no direct comparison of any Chinese director doing a critique of Chinese wars against foreign nations.

  37. May 7th, 2013 at 22:51 | #38

    Maybe some level of “censorship” is unavoidable, but personally would really rather in China they codify it — be it on making films or accessing Internet.

    About movies:

    * In the movie “Syriana”, CIA assassinates an Arab prince who is honest and loves his people more than oil money. The only honest actor in the whole movie seems to be a Chinese diplomat. It’s right up there as far as “anti-America” goes. It didn’t sell well and lost money.

    * In the other end of the spectrum, Kathryn Bigelow’s overly pro-America “Zero Dark Thirty” pretty much tanked internationally despite its American accolades.

    * Another overall pro-America film “Argo” at least gave a couple of opening minutes explaining why Iranians in the 70s hate America. It did far better internationally.

    So neither too anti-America nor too pro-America will sell well. “Life of Pi” is the type of movies Hollywood will likely make more.

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