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China

Meanwhile, in China

Wednesday, 8 July, 2015 0 Comments

The world is worried about Greece becoming a Cuba on the Med, with ouzo instead of rum and olives in place of bananas, but there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon: China. The rout in Shanghai is far more troubling than the drama in Athens. Consider:

“A stock market crash there has seen $3.2 trillion wiped from the value of Chinese shares in just three weeks, triggering an emergency response from the government and warnings of ‘monstrous’ public disorder. . . . In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market.”

That’s from a report filed Down Under yesterday titled Chinese chaos worse than Greece. In an echo of 1929, the writer notes: “Underscoring growing jitters amid the three-week sell-off, police in Beijing detained a man on Sunday for allegedly spreading a rumour online that a person jumped to their death in the city’s financial district due to China’s precarious stock markets.”

Today, those “precarious stock markets” have moved into the danger zone and the air is filled with talk of China’s “Black Wednesday”. The Sydney Morning Herald has a rolling blog on the situation titled, rather worryingly, China panic grows. Snippets:

“Losses on the ASX have accelerated again on the early slump in Shanghai, and the Aussie dollar just hit its next six-year low, showing that the Chinese turmoil is starting to affect local investor sentiment.”

“China’s securities regulator says “panic sentiment” has set in mainland sharemarkets, contributing to an ‘irrational’ sell-off that has defied the government’s urgent attempts to stem the market freefall.”

“I’ve never seen this kind of slump before. I don’t think anyone has. Liquidity is totally depleted,” said Du Changchun, an analyst at Northeast Securities.”

Update: The SMH blog is now titled “China panic spreads”. It’s a “developing story”.


April 65th and the clocks are striking thirteen

Thursday, 4 June, 2015 0 Comments

As has been pointed out here before, Nineteen Eighty-Four starts with one of the greatest first lines in literature: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell’s dystopian novel is set in Airstrip One (Great Britain), which is governed by a corrupt elite of English Socialists who persecute independent thinking as “thoughtcrime”, as the regime’s invented language, Newspeak, puts it.

In China, contemplating the political significance of today’s date, 4 June, is a thoughtcrime and references are harshly suppressed, as are alternative ways of rendering it, such as April 65th and May 35th. On this day in 1989, Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and the army opened fire on democracy protesters, killing hundreds. Despite threats by the Communist Party, the bloodshed of 4 June 1989 is being commemorated in Hong Kong today. The minimum that the rest of us can do is keep the memory of the date alive and recall the bravery of the Tank Man.

Freedom


The Year of the Caprinae

Thursday, 19 February, 2015 0 Comments

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday with their families. Today, they’re bidding farewell to the Year of the Horse but we’re not quite sure what it is that they’re welcoming. The New Year’s name is defined by the character 羊, which can mean either sheep or goat. Thing is, the goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are members of the subfamily Caprinae. That being the case, we’re going with sheep. For the occasion, then, this is from Songs of Innocence by William Blake.

The Shepherd

How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lambs’ innocent call,
And he hears the ewes’ tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their shepherd is nigh.

William Blake (1757 — 1827)

Year of the Sheep


TAG Heuer + Xiaomi

Wednesday, 7 January, 2015 0 Comments

Silke Koltrowitz, reporting for Reuters: “TAG Heuer is pushing ahead with plans for a smartwatch to more directly compete with the likes of the Apple Watch and may make acquisitions to help drive the strategy, its head said on Tuesday.”

Matt Richman, an up-and-coming tech blogger, is not buying it: “TAG Heuer’s smartwatch won’t sell. There’s no market for it,” he wrote. His reasoning: “In order to have even a chance of being as feature-rich as Apple Watch, then, TAG’s smartwatch will have to pair with an Android phone. However, TAG wearers aren’t Android users. Rich people buy TAG watches, but rich people don’t buy Android phones.”

But what if rich people were to buy those “Apple of China” phones? In his predictions for 2015, Fred Wilson noted: “Xiaomi will spend some of the $1.1bn they just raised coming to the US. This will bring a strong player in the non-google android sector into the US market and legitimize a ‘third mobile OS’ in the western world. The good news for developers is developing for non-google android is not much different than developing for google android.”

TAG Heuer and Xiaomi? Matt Richman points out that Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, said, “Switzerland is fucked,” but China and Switzerland might not be so easy to dismiss.

Xiaomi


English vs. Chinese

Thursday, 20 November, 2014 0 Comments

Sarah Fay interviews Ha Jin for the Paris Review. His books are banned in China because he writes about “taboo subjects”. And there’s another reason he’s unpopular with the authorities: “I write in English, which is viewed as a betrayal of my mother tongue.” Talking of language, here he compares Chinese with English:

“English has more flexibility. It’s a very plastic, very shapeable, very expressive language. In that sense it feels quite natural. The Chinese language is less natural. Written Chinese is not supposed to represent natural speech, and there are many different spoken dialects that correspond to the single written language. The written word will be the same in all dialects, but in speech it is a hundred different words. The written language is like Latin in that sense; it doesn’t have a natural rhythm. The way people talk — you can’t represent that. The accents and the nongrammatical units, you can’t do it. You can’t write in dialect, like you can in English, using a character to represent a certain sound, because each character has a fixed meaning.

When the first emperor wanted to unify the country, one of the major policies was to create one system of written signs. By force, brutal force, he eliminated all the other scripts. One script became the official script. All the others were banned. And those who used other scripts were punished severely. And then the meanings of all the characters, over the centuries, had to be kept uniform as a part of the political apparatus. So from the very beginning the written word was a powerful political tool.”

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the freedom that allows you to read it.


Martin Jacques: The voice of Beijing

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014 1 Comment

Cometh the hour, cometh the apologia for totalitarianism via the Guardian. “China is Hong Kong’s future — not its enemy” writes the dependable apparatchik, Martin Jacques. Much better than his vile defence of the indefensible are the comments it attracts:

IntravenousDeMilo: “The cheque from the National People’s Congress is in the post, Martin.”

Steve Chan: “Maybe next time Mr Jacques would write an article called ‘North Korea is the World’s future’. I am looking forward to reading it in The Guardian.”

goldenbowl: “Utter tosh, Martin. Hong Kong has an identity of its own and shouldn’t tie its future to China exclusively. The truth of the matter is that no reasonable person can think of at least one valid reason why Hongkongers shouldn’t be allowed to elect their own government. These are educated and civilised people, a territory with stable institutions, the kind of rule of law the PRC cannot even dream of in a hundred years. Oh, but your old waxworks friends in Zhongnanhai don’t approve of it.”

WendellGeeStrikes: “It really wouldn’t surprise me if we got an article praising Stalin from Jacques, it really wouldn’t, such is the pathetic depths this man goes.”

Desmond Miles:“China is Hong Kong’s future — not its enemy
Turkey was the Armenians’ future — and yet its enemy. It is entirely possible your future is held by a monstrous enemy. Just ask the Tibetans.”


#StandWithHK

Monday, 29 September, 2014 0 Comments

The BBC is doing an excellent job with its LIVE Hong Kong protests: “11:16: Michael Schuman, says Hong Kong’s economic success is ‘inexorably intertwined’ with the civil liberties its citizens enjoy. ‘If Beijing knocks one of those pillars away ­if it suppresses people’s freedoms, or tampers with its judiciary, ­Hong Kong would become just another Chinese city, unable to fend off the challenge from Shanghai.'”

A estimated 50,000 residents of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to demand the democracy that so many of us enjoy and take for granted. Let’s stand with them in their brave fight against corruption, cronyism and totalitarianism. And it is a brave fight, considering the precedent:


China mobile

Monday, 21 July, 2014 0 Comments

Earlier today, Reuters reported that for the first time ever, more people in China access the web on a mobile device as opposed to a PC. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, of the 632 million internet users in China, 83 percent (527 million) used a mobile phone or tablet to do so. Money quote: “The fastest growing services were mobile payment, where users shot up 63.4 percent, online banking, with a 56.4 percent rise, and mobile travel booking, which was up 65.4 percent.”

Noteworthy stat: China is the world’s biggest smartphone market, and by 2018 is likely to account for nearly one-third of the expected 1.8 billion smartphones shipped then.


Tank Man on Tiananmen Square

Wednesday, 4 June, 2014 0 Comments

Twenty-five years after the massacre of pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, nothing recalls the horror of it all better than the photo of the incredibly brave Tank Man by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener. Today, China is seeking to suppress all discussion of the massacre by arresting, charging or harassing dissidents, artists, scholars, lawyers, bloggers and relatives of the victims.

Tank Man on Tiananmen Square


Mao, the mass murderer, and his supporters

Thursday, 26 December, 2013 1 Comment

In 1968, John Lennon was asked about Mao Zedong. “It sounds like he’s doing a good job,” said the Beatle, who once sang, “Imagine no possessions.” In the same ballad, the idiotic Lennon continued, “No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” Mao would have liked that. Regarding the bit about “No need for greed or hunger,” it is estimated that at least 45 million people died of starvation during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local Communist boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. Imagine.

Today, China “celebrates” the 120th anniversary of the birth of the monster Mao and in a piece that John Lennon would have been proud of, the BBC eulogizes the mass murderer claiming that “Unlike Stalin, Mao sentenced no-one and certainly did not intend to create a terrible famine.” Time for someone there to read Mao’s Great Famine.

Maoism lives at the BBC, the Guardian and similar outposts. There, it has turned itself into a nonsense on a Lennonist scale, but, then, Maoism made no sense. The worst famine in human history was caused by policies that made no sense, such as forcing farmers to melt all their metal tools in backyard furnaces, but those who used to be Maoists no have retained their commitment to following the latest madness with absolute faith. José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, was a Maoist and Ireland’s political establisment has offered a comfortable home to a collective of former Maoists. The unrepentant (and now very fashionable) Maoist Alain Badiou has a new object of hatred these days: Israel and the Jews.

Badiou and his ilk would benefit greatly from reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, who survived the nightmare of Maoism. Snippet:

“In the days after Mao’s death, I did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his ‘philosophy’ really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need or the desire for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history and that in order to make history ‘class enemies’ had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?

But Mao’s theory might just be the extension of his personality. He was, it seemed to me, really a restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out many of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship.

That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred. But how much individual responsibility ordinary people should share, I could not decide.

The other hallmark of Maoism, it seemed to me, was the reign of ignorance. Because of his calculation that the cultured class were an easy target for a population that was largely illiterate, because of his own deep resentment of formal education and the educated, because of his megalomania, which led to his scorn for the great figures of Chinese culture, and because of his contempt for the areas of Chinese civilization that he did not understand, such as architecture, art, and music, Mao destroyed much of the country’s cultural heritage. He left behind not only a brutalized nation, but also an ugly land with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.”

Mao was a monster.

Mao


Post written while using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1

Tuesday, 30 July, 2013 1 Comment

In fact, most Rainy Day blog posts are written using a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 as it happens to be our workhorse of choice. But what if the trusty old X1 were so configured that it might be sending these posts back to Beijing? Would that affect our thinking about it’s lightness and sleekness and reliability?

You see, Lenovo, which has its headquarters in Beijing, acquired IBM’s ThinkPad brand and technology in 2005 and it hasn’t looked back since then. It had revenues last year of $29 billion and has a market share of nearly 17 percent. Note: The Chinese Academy of Sciences, a public body, owns more than a third of Legend Holdings, which in turn owns 34 percent of Lenovo and is its biggest shareholder.

And now comes the disturbing news that the intelligence and defence services of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have banned Lenovo machines from their networks because of concerns they are vulnerable to being hacked. According to the Australian Financial Review, “malicious modifications to ­Lenovo’s circuitry — beyond more typical vulnerabilities or ‘zero-days’ in its software — were discovered that could allow people to remotely access devices without the users’ knowledge. The alleged presence of these hardware ‘back doors’ remains highly classified.

In a statement, Lenovo said it was unaware of the ban. The company said its ‘products have been found time and time again to be reliable and secure by our enterprise and public sector customers and we always ­welcome their engagement to ensure we are meeting their security needs’..

A technology expert at the ­Washington-based Brookings ­In­stitution, Professor John Villasenor, said the globalisation of the semi-conductor market has ‘made it not only possible but inevitable that chips that have been intentionally and maliciously altered to contain hidden ‘Trojan’ circuitry will be inserted into the supply chain.

‘These Trojan circuits can then be triggered months or years later to launch attacks,’ he said.”

By the way, Lenovo is not the only company with links to Beijing to run into trouble about its hardware. Similar allegations were made against Huawei Technologies, the telecommunications giant earlier this year after it was banned from competing for a huge broadband contract in Australia. And Huawei was accused earlier this month by a former head of the CIA of passing details of foreign telecommunications systems to the Chinese government. It has repeatedly insisted its products are safe and challenged its detractors to provide proof for their claims.

Those who think that this is all tech talk, should read the brilliant and frightening Death in Singapore by Raymond Bonner and Christine Spolar of the Financial Times. This is a dangerous world and the stakes are higher than we can imagine.

ThinkPad X1