Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

China

Don’t know which Chinese newspaper to read?

Friday, 27 October, 2017 0 Comments

Don’t worry. The Party does. Telling the truth is now a revolutionary act in China.

Chinese newspapers

“Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.” — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty


China is driving the electric car

Tuesday, 10 October, 2017 0 Comments

“There is a powerful reason that automakers worldwide are speeding up their efforts to develop electric vehicles — and that reason is China.” So begins the story by @KeithBradsher in today’s New York Times. According to Bradsher, China feels it has little choice in pushing forward to an EV future. “While it is true that electric vehicles fit neatly into China’s plan to become the world leader in sci-fi technology like artificial intelligence, the country also fears a dark future — one where its cities remain cloaked in smog and it is beholden to foreign countries to sell it the oil it needs.”

China Hastens the World Toward an Electric-Car Future does not gloss over the many contradictions involved in the country’s drive for automotive independence. Nearly three-quarters of China’s power comes from coal, which emits more climate-changing gases than oil and, as Keith Bradsher puts it: “Even on electricity, China’s cars are still burning dirty.”

It’s a long road, comrades, as the Great Driver Helmsman would have said.


In the world of the cloud-capped peaks

Sunday, 9 July, 2017 0 Comments

The poet Yu Xuanji was not permitted to be a candidate for the all-important imperial service examinations in mid-ninth-century China, but she lived a full life outside the privileged world of the court bureaucrats, nevertheless. She became a concubine, lived a scandalously promiscuous short life and was executed for allegedly beating her maid to death. In the midst of all this, she wrote poetry that continues to enthral.

“In a gauze dress / I read among my disordered / Piles of books,” she says in Living in the Summer Mountains. And then there’s the famous On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations. The “Cloud-capped peaks” in the first line are, of course, those candidates who were successful in the civil-service exams.

On a Visit to Ch’ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations

Cloud-capped peaks fill the eyes
In the Spring sunshine.
Their names are written in beautiful characters
And posted in order of merit.
How I hate this silk dress
That conceals a poet.
I lift my head and read their names
In a powerless envy.

Yu Xuanji (844 – 868)

Wang Hui


WeChat is the world in China

Saturday, 6 May, 2017 0 Comments

Ben Thompson writing on Wednesday about Apple iPhone sales in China distills the challenges into one word, one app: WeChat. Here’s how he puts it:

“The fundamental issue is this: unlike the rest of the world, in China the most important layer of the smartphone stack is not the phone’s operating system. Rather, it is WeChat. Connie Chan of Andreessen Horowitz tried to explain in 2015 just how integrated WeChat is into the daily lives of nearly 900 million Chinese, and that integration has only grown since then: every aspect of a typical Chinese person’s life, not just online but also off is conducted through a single app (and, to the extent other apps are used, they are often games promoted through WeChat).”

The piece by Connie Chan referred to by Thompson is the must-read for anyone wishing to learn about the WeChat phenomenon: When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China. And for those who don’t get the revolution that WeChat represents, this paragraph by Ben Thompson is sobering:

“There is nothing in any other country that is comparable: not LINE, not WhatsApp, not Facebook. All of those are about communication or wasting time: WeChat is that, but it is also for reading news, for hailing taxis, for paying for lunch (try and pay with cash for lunch, and you’ll look like a luddite), for accessing government resources, for business. For all intents and purposes WeChat is your phone, and to a far greater extent in China than anywhere else, your phone is everything.”

WeChat


Chabuduo in China!

Monday, 23 January, 2017 0 Comments

The plight of the elites last week was summed up in this headline: “Distraught Davos finds globalisation saviour in China’s Xi.” The cause of the relief was the fact that Xi Jinping had become the first Chinese leader to address the World Economic Forum in the swish Swiss resort. His endorsement of globalization saw him instantly crowned as a kind of anti-Trump, but those bestowing the title made no mention chabuduo.

James Palmer is a British writer and the author of The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China. He lives in Beijing and he’s very knowledgeable in that which Western boosters of China do not wish to discuss: chabuduo. The word means “close enough” and, says Palmer, “It’s a phrase you’ll hear with grating regularity, one that speaks to a job 70 per cent done, a plan sketched out but never completed, a gauge unchecked or a socket put in the wrong size. Chabuduo is the corrosive opposite of the impulse towards craftmanship, the desire, as the sociologist Richard Sennett writes in The Craftsman (2008), “to reject muddling through, to reject the job just good enough”. Chabuduo implies that to put any more time or effort into a piece of work would be the act of a fool. China is the land of the cut corner, of “good enough for government work.”

In his article for Aeon magazine, “Chabuduo! Close enough …,” James Palmer offers many terrifying examples of how chabuduo affects those unable to enjoy Davos:

“Mr Cha Buduo doesn’t understand why he misses trains by arriving at 8:32 instead of 8:30, or why his boss gets angry when he writes 1,000 instead of 10, or why Iceland is different from Ireland. He falls ill and sends for Dr Wãng, but ends up getting Mr Wáng, the veterinarian, by mistake. Yet as he slips away, he is consoled by the thought that life and death, after all, are close enough.”

As Davos Man confronted the Trumpocalypse over canapés, chabuduo was not on the menu. It’s a fact of life, and death, for Xi Jinping’s subjects, however.


JT Singh and the art of high-impact storytelling

Tuesday, 25 October, 2016 0 Comments

The amazingly talented JT Singh describes himself as “city geneticist,” studying interactions, collisions and opportunities. A mix of urban futurist and media artist, he focuses on bridging the gaps between technology and storytelling.

“Shanghai’s iconic skyline is symbolic of its presence as a premier global city, but below the towers, the intimate, and human story that unfolds is what will always be part of the city’s core DNA,” he says. This is special.


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.


The axis of cyber evil

Thursday, 15 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Monday, Ciaran Martin, the Director-General Cyber at GCHQ, outlined the British approach to cyber security at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC. Very topically, he addressed email. Snippet:

“We need to make sure UK Government email is trusted, so we need to stop people spoofing our .gov.uk domain. To do that we’ve set a DMARC policy as a trial to stop emails from the wrong IP sets, or with the wrong key, from being delivered purporting to come from .gov.uk. Well they do get delivered, but they get delivered to us, not the recipient — usually members of the public. And when we first trialled it, whoever was sending 58,000 malicious emails per day from the delightfully named [email protected] isn’t doing it anymore.”

In an increasingly digitized economy, security is a critical currency. When Colin Powell wakes up and finds his hacked emails on the front pages of global media outlets, overall confidence in cyber security is greatly diminished and while his comments on Clinton and Trump might make for great merriment, we should condemn these intrusions because the cyber bell may toll for us one day, too. Just as it has done for the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, the gymnast Simone Biles, and the Tour de France winning cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Because when Ciaran Martin was speaking, the World Anti-Doping Agency was confirming that a Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear had accessed its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System database. The stolen information is now being broadcast 24/7.

People, businesses and institutions will be reluctant to share information in a digital environment they feel is fundamentally unsafe, and Ciaran Martin accepted this when he said that the internet may have transformed the way we live, “but it hasn’t completely changed our nature fostered over thousands of years. And nor are the groups who pose us harm particularly new.” They are stealing secrets, stealing money, stealing intellectual property, and they are pumping out propaganda that’s crafted to confuse and intimidate. Without naming Russia, China and North Korea specifically, he said:

We’ve got hostile states. Some of them are great powers, using cyber attacks to spy, gain major commercial and economic advantage or to pre-position for destructive attack. Others are smaller states, looking to exploit the relatively immature rules of the road in cyberspace to tweak the nose of those they see as bigger powers in a way they would and could never contemplate by traditional military means.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll name the most hostile of these states.


Future sex with gynoids and guynoids

Wednesday, 3 August, 2016 0 Comments

The word “gynoid” was used by Gwyneth Jones in her 1985 novel Divine Endurance to describe a female robot slave character in a futuristic China. Does this mean, then, that the male equivalent is a “guynoid”? Not quite. Gynoid is created from the Ancient Greek prefix gyno– (of or pertaining to women or the female reproductive system) + android, a Greek word used to refer to robotic humanoids regardless of gender. However, the Greek prefix “andr-” means man in the masculine sense and because of this android is used to describe male-styled robots. Given the established etymology, it’s going to be a battle to replace androids with guynoids.

All this is by way of saying that sex with robots is very much in the news. Let’s take three of today’s headlines, starting with The New Scientist. “Could sex robots and virtual reality treat paedophilia?The Daily Mirror is more of a mass-market publication: “Expert to publish ‘how to build your own sex robot’ handbook after Scarlett Johansson lookalike success,” while The South China Morning Post brings us back to the gynoid world of Gwyneth Jones: “Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys.”

Actually, that last headline is quite topical in light of the work being done by Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Last September, she published a position paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots.” Snippet:

“Following in the footsteps of ethical robot campaigns, I propose to launch a campaign against sex robots, so that issues in prostitution can be discussed more widely in the field of robotics. I have to tried to show how human lifeworlds of gender and sexuality are inflected in making of sex robots, and that these robots will contribute to gendered inequalities found in the sex industry.”

The debate about the gendering of robots and the sexualized personification of machines is on.

Ex Machina


Chinese parking robot meets commenting bot

Monday, 30 May, 2016 0 Comments

With typical modesty, The People’s Daily trumpets that “China’s most fantastic parking robot amazes the world.” And, indeed, this automated guided vehicle (AGV) robot, which uses laser navigation, delivers very impressive results.

The technology was developed by Guangzhou-based Yee Fung Automation Technology Co, which has a state-sponsored English-language web presence that’s adorned with the Golden Gate Bridge and cryptic English: “in order to visit customer for regularly and supply to maintain for customer by freely, We set up net of service for all of city in china with staff of parmanent.” Pointing that out, however, is sure to anger “seethru”, a Party bot, who added this comment to The People’s Daily article:

“We are starting to read more and more innovations and inventions coming out of China which should kill the myth perpetuated by ignorant and racist Westerners that Chinese people are incapable of original thought and creativity.”

Many informed and cosmopolitan Westerners are convinced that Chinese people are capable of original thought and creativity, but they will keep pointing to awkward facts about the political scientists and law experts fleeing to America as Beijing’s grip on freedoms in China intensifies under President Xi Jinping.


Those robot slackers

Friday, 29 April, 2016 1 Comment

The state-run China Daily, which has the largest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in the People’s Republic, has come up with one of the great headlines from the front-lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “Robots must do more than just playing sports.” They’re slacking already!

What’s intriguing is that the story, however, is that it contains nothing to support the demand asserted in the headline. “Premier Li Keqiang visited a town in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Monday, during which he played badminton with a robot,” is how it begins, and the final paragraph is a classic example of socialist-realist reporting:

“Early in 2011, Zhejiang University developed Wu and Kong, two special sporting droids, which could play table tennis with each other and with human players. In that sport, the robots need to recognize the ball more precisely than in playing badminton. Instead of a technological breakthrough, the droid that plays badminton in Chengdu can be better called a good, practical model that uses these technologies.”

For those interested in how robotics and artificial intelligence are viewed in Beijing, China Daily is required reading. It informs us that on Tuesday President Xi Jinping visited the Institute of Advanced Technology in University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, and was greeted by a pair of human-like robots developed by the institute. “The two life-like robots named ‘Xiao Man’ and ‘Jia Jia’ interacted with Xi when he approached them during the inspection,” we learn. “‘Hello Mr. President. I am Xiao Man. We have been looking forward to your visit,'” Xiao Man said. “‘I’m very happy to see you, dear President, I wish you happiness every day,'” said Jia Jia, who has been dubbed ‘robot goddess’ for her good-looks.”

This is all to the good, but they must do more than just playing sports.

Jia Jia