Until this week, the social critic Sima Nan was best known for getting his head stuck in an escalator at Dulles Airport. That moment was particularly precious because Nan, a devoted neo-Maoist, had just posted another of his anti-America screeds on Sina Weibo before flying to DC.
But China’s most famous wumao is now back in the news for a more impressive reason: as an impassioned defender of free speech.
The arrest of another journalist in China is normally cause for concern: as the news is shared across social networks, tweets of sympathy accumulate, human rights groups and lawyers protest, and diplomats may even issue statements of public concern.
But the detention of economics anchor Rui Chenggang (pictured), reportedly “dragged” from his offices by investigators just hours before his show was due to go live, has prompted almost the opposite – the overwhelming response, as the NY Times’s Ed Wong noted, has been one of schadenfreude (xingzai lehuo, “feel happy about someone’s disaster”).
Look at Xi Jinping eating lunch. When the story broke yesterday that the president of China was spotted in Beijing ordering steamed buns at a local restaurant called Qing-Feng, I noted that we'd be seeing more pictures, since if you can't take pictures of the president of China on your camera phone, you might as well never take another camera phone picture again. Well, here's a video, which surfaced on Youku about nine hours ago. It is wonderful in the following ways:
This certainly looks like Xi Jinping in a crowded Beijing restaurant. Weibo user @四海微传播 wrote at 1:20 pm today: "People, I'm not seeing this wrong, am I? Uncle Xi came to Qingfeng to eat steamed buns (baozi)!" The same user messaged again at 1:34 pm: "Uncle Xi queued to buy steamed buns, even paid his own bill, carried his tray, chose his own buns." The message was forwarded by none other than the official Xinhua Sina Weibo account at 1:38 pm.
As reported last month, former security chief Zhou Yongkang, now retired, has been the target of high-level corruption probes since at least late August. "How far and high is [Xi Jinping] willing to go to clean up China’s political elite?" the New York Times's Chris Buckley asked in a September 25 article.
Now we kind of know. The South China Morning Post reported today, citing unnamed sources, that Xi Jinping is overseeing a "special unit" to investigate Zhou, "bypassing the Communist Party's internal disciplinary apparatus."
The relationship between China's central and local governments has never been linear or completely top-down. There are times of harmony, but more often, there's tension. In the recent past, thanks to social media, conflicts and disagreements usually kept behind closed doors have begun leaking into the public domain.
Several recent posts on Sina Weibo by legal organs revealed that tensions are as manifest today as they were during historical times. Many netizens have gone as far to call these posts an act of “rebellion.”
Democracy advocates in Hong Kong clashed with a pro-Beijing group on Sunday at a public forum, renewing a personal curiosity of mine over whether that city has ever held a political public forum that hasn't devolved into a shouting match with histrionics only monkeys could enjoy.
But we digress. The above picture. That.
The character for demolish (or dismantle) -- 拆, chai -- appeared on the Chinese embassy in Washington DC on Wednesday morning. According to Voice of America, the characters appeared three times: on two of the pillars on the embassy's front gate, and on the entrance of an office building.
This happened on the same day as the opening of the fifth annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a two-day session between top leaders of China and the US.
And he's gone. Screams the latest SCMP headline (all-caps theirs):
SNOWDEN LEAVES HONG KONG ON COMMERCIAL FLIGHT TO MOSCOW
The report isn't confirmed, but SCMP notes that Snowden "would continue on to another country." The Hong Kong government issued a short statement today, in which it said the US's request for extradition "did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law."
A mere two days after 21 were killed in violent attacks in Bachu county, Kashgar, including six police and six ethnic Uighurs, Beijing has politicized the incident, using it to call out the United States for failing to condemn the attacks as "terrorism." Reuters:
But the U.S. State Department on Wednesday merely expressed regret at the loss of life and urged China to "provide all Chinese citizens, including Uighurs, the due process protections to which they're entitled."
Ed’s note: On April 19, the US Department of State published its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which included a section on China. It was typical, mundane, and features nothing you don’t already know, including restriction of Uighur and Tibetan movement, harassment of journalists and dissidents, prison labor, discrimination, extrajudicial killings, etc. On... Read more »
Peng Liyuan, who’s warming up to her role as China’s “First Lady” — a term that, lest you forget, has basically never been applied to the wives of Chinese leaders — is currently traveling with her husband in Africa as part of Xi Jinping’s first overseas trip as Chinese head of state, and it’d be... Read more »
Xi Jinping sat down with foreign media yesterday for the first time since becoming CPC chairman, speaking with reporters from BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa — ahead of the BRICS summit later this month. This historic occassion drew almost no English-language media coverage, leading Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish to ask,... Read more »