Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested and detained by the Chinese government on several occasions for speaking out against state policies. Writing in the Guardian, he comments on the recent revelations of large-scale American surveillance:
In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.
If a government is elected by the people, and is genuinely working for the people, they should not give in to these temptations.
During my detention in China I was watched 24 hours a day. The light was always on. There were two guards on two-hour shifts standing next to me – even watching when I swallowed a pill; I had to open mouth so they could see my throat. You have to take a shower in front of them; they watch you while you brush your teeth, in the name of making sure you’re not hurting yourself. They had three surveillance cameras to make sure the guards would not communicate with me.
But the guards whispered to me. They told stories about themselves. There is always humanity and privacy, even under the most restrictive conditions.
To limit power is to protect society. It is not only about protecting individuals’ rights but making power healthier.
NSA Surveillance: The US is Behaving like China [TheGuardian]
Two Beijing-based photographers, Huáng Qìngjūn and Mă Hóngjié, have been travelling around China getting peasant families to pose outside of their home with everything they own.
They arrange them in one single broad line, to make visible the most possible items, provided that they fit into one line, but usually they do. Normally they do not pile them up, but exhibit them one by one, just like they acquired them. The family is almost always sitting or standing in the middle, and even in the two or three exceptions they are shifted towards the house as a center. Wherever they have food reserves, rice sacks, corn pipes, they put them in the forefront as the symbol of abundance. As well as the animals…
Is it possible to live a whole life with so few things? While not so long ago a peasant household had about five hundred objects, most of which were used in daily activities, in an industrialized culture we are surrounded by even a hundred times more things per household. No matter how much we want to live a simple life and try to eliminate the unnecessary frippery around ourselves, a set of everyday objects reduced to this extreme implies poverty to us even without considering the condition of the houses.
It was revealed in the security audit of a major, yet unnamed, American software company that one of their star developers had outsourced his work to China at a cost of 1/5th of his (6-figure) salary, allowing him to do whatever he felt like at work.
The analysis of his workstation found hundreds of PDF invoices from the Chinese contractors and determined that Bob’s typical work day consisted of:
9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time
2:00-ish p.m – Facebook updates, LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End-of-day update e-mail to management
5:00 p.m. – Go home
The scheme worked very well for Bob. In his performance assessments by the firm’s human resources department, he was the firm’s top coder for many quarters and was considered expert in C, C++, Perl, Java, Ruby, PHP, and Python.
Further investigation found that the enterprising Bob had actually taken jobs with other firms and had outsourced that work too, netting him hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit as well as lots of time to hang around on internet messaging boards and checking for a new Detective Mittens video.
Security Audit Finds Dev Outsourced his Job to China to Goof Off at Work [theRegister]
Liu Xianping has become somewhat of a celebrity in China. When his granddaughter needed someone to model for her women’s fashion store, he stepped up to do it. Apparently, his figure is the envy of women all over China. I can’t quite decide if I think this is really sweet of him or not…
An impressive story about how much some people value education:
Tan, seven, has cerebral palsy and can’t walk, so every morning for the last three years, her granny has carried her the five kilometres to school, waited for her, and carried her home across southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality… Incredibly though, the two have never been late for school, even though the walk takes around two hours on a good day. It is estimated Xiang has carried Tan, now seven, over 10,000 km.
Ai Weiwei, writing in Newsweek, offers his scathing view of Beijing:
Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don’t care who their neighbors are; they don’t trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper.
Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing’s slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts—and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.
Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Bird’s Nest, the CCTV tower. Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants’ schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches—and when they find the patients don’t have any money, they pull the stitches out. It’s a city of violence.
Ai Weiwei on Beijing’s Nightmare City [TheDailyBeast]
Unlike many regimes which consistently deny commiting human rights violations, China has long maintained that many of the ideas which are generally considered to be universal rights (like free speech) aren’t universal at all. For years, the official Chinese line has been that modern, Western ideas of human rights are just that and don’t apply to China. It should come as little surprise, then, that Chinese state media has been very congratulatory of British PM David Cameron’s proposal to extend state censorship over social media, viewing it as a Western concession to Chinese-style politics:
One of the anti-riot measures recently suggested by British PM David Cameron is to prevent rioters from using Twitter and other social networking websites. Such a tactic, which was slammed as a trick resorted to only by authoritarian governments in the past, has had a great impact on world media.
The bold measure indicates that Britain is at its wit’s end on how to stop the country’s worst riots in decades.
Cameron’s suggestion to block social networking websites smashes basic concepts of freedom of speech in the West, which always takes the moral high ground in criticizing the reluctant development of Internet freedom in developing countries.
The editorial goes on to say:
As for China, advocates of an unlimited development of the Internet should think twice about their original ideas.
On the Internet, there is no lack of posts and articles that incite public violence. They will cause tremendous damage once they are tweeted without control. At that time, all governments will have no other choice but to close down these websites and arrest those agitators.
Riots Lead to Rethink of Internet Freedom [GlobalTimes]
According to a North Korean study, North Korea is the world’s second-happiest nation, with China being the first:
The blissful top five is rounded out by Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, reports the International Business Times, which picked up the news from Chinese-language outlet Chaoxian.
How merry is the U.S.? It placed more or less dead last at 203rd.
North Korea, the World’s Second-Happiest Nation…According to North Korea [GlobalPost]
In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left, but in the rest of China, they drive on the right. This cool bridge provides a cool way to change sides. More shots here!
The New York times has a great op-ed on Shanghai’s efforts to crack down on residents wearing pajamas everywhere as they prepare for the 2010 World Expo:
Catchy red signs reading “Pajamas don’t go out of the door; be a civilized resident for the Expo” are posted throughout the city. Volunteer “pajama policemen” patrol the neighborhoods, telling pajama wearers to go home and change. Celebrities and socialites appear on TV to promote the idea that sleepwear in public is “backward” and “uncivilized.”
But many residents disagree. Pajamas — not the sexy sleepwear you find at Victoria’s Secret, but loose-fitting, non-revealing PJs made of cotton or polyester — have been popular in Shanghai since the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader, sought to modernize the economy and society by “opening up” to the outside world. The Chinese adopted Western pajamas without fully understanding their context. Most of us had never had any dedicated sleepwear other than old T-shirts and pants. And we thought pajamas were a symbol of wealth and coolness.
Shanghainese began wearing them to bed — but kept them on to walk around the neighborhood, mainly out of convenience. At that time in Shanghai, people lived in crammed, communal-style quarters in shikumen — low-rise townhouses in which families shared toilets and kitchens. Through the 1980s and ’90s, the average person had less than 10 square meters of living area. To change out of one’s pajamas just to walk across the road to the market would be too troublesome and unnecessary.
The Pajama Game Closes in Shanghai [NYTimes]