Cool Things On The Chinese Internet

I am going to begin with a quotation from Rebecca MacKinnon in Chinese Bloggers: "Everybody is Somebody":

The majority of Chinese users and pretty much all web entrepreneurs believe that the Chinese Web 2.0 must remain as un-political as possible in order to develop, spread, and innovate. Since people in China have never been free to express their political views in public, not being able to do so in cyberspace isn’t actually viewed as a sacrifice. People don’t feel like they’re giving anything up. On the contrary, they feel that blogs and other forms of online social media have given them a great deal more freedom of expression than they ever had before. Most feel they’ve got plenty to say and do within the limits they’ve been given. Of course some chafe at the limitations, but most users don’t even recognize what they’re missing because they’ve never had it. So they’re a bit bewildered that the Western media focuses mainly on that portion of speech that remains forbidden, while from the Chinese perspective the story is a very positive one about how they’re saying and doing more than ever before. They’d like more appreciation and recognition for all the cool things they are managing to say and do.

So I'd like to offer a few examples of things that are very cool.  My first item is based upon a 20-year-old photograph:

Here is the story behind the photograph:

Early in 1985, the Guangzhou City Party Committee planned the first beauty pageant in China in the form of the First Annual Yangcheng Young Beauty Competition in conjunction with the "Two Civilization" Project and "Five Speeches, Four Beauty, Three Passions" campaign.

The preliminary competition took place on February 3 at 7pm at the Guangzhou Uighur People Elementary School.  More than 550 young men and women took a written test.  The questions included mathematics, geography, chemistry and other natural sciences, current affairs, politics, literature and geography.  It was almost like a university entrance exam.  One question was: What is the name of the composer of The Blue Danube?  What is his nationality?

More than 130 people got past the preliminary round.  Next, they went to the Guangzhou Youth Palace for the marathon personal interview that went from 10am to 10pm.

After the preliminary round, the competition came under the objection of some citizens: "Beauty pageant?  What for?  Who do they want to marry?  Didn't Lin Piao's son Li Liguo hold beauty pageants for himself?"  The argument went all the way up to the Beijing.  After much effort by the organizers, the pageant survived.  But the controversy meant that the reporting would be limited, thus giving the event an aura of mystery.  In 1985, people were not familiar with the concept at all.

The final took place at 730pm on March 6 in the banquet room of the China Hotel.  By 7pm, the more than 700 seats were already filled with spectators.  There are also many people outside without invitations and they wished that they could get in.  The jury panel included people from the party comittee, the provincial radio channel, the provincial television station and Yangchen Evening News, as well as writers, dancers, painters, sociologists and economists.  

The photo above was taken for some of the competitors during the preliminary round.  That was 20 years ago.  Today, of course, there are beauty pageants, Super Girl and all that.

For something more substantive, I don't even have to go far -- I'll just stick to the blog posts here at EastSouthWestNorth within the past two weeks.  Sometimes, people think that I select silly stories to translate; believe me, there is much more to them.  After all, why would I personally waste my own time if there was no real reason?

In Zhang Ziyi's Butt and the Face of the Chinese People, there is an argument against blind nationalist chauvinism.  The central argument is raw and incisive:

If you think that Zhang Ziyi's butt can represent your face, then I do not object to that.  But could you please not bring the entire Chinese population into this!  When I read your words, I did not feel screwed by the Japanese people; instead I thought that you were screwing me when you decided to use Zhang Ziyi's butt to represent my face as well as the face of all the Chinese people.  Why do you want to screw the Chinese people?  What kind of patriotism is that?  Do you deserve to be a Chinese person?  Do not use patriotism to elevate yourself, do not think that you win just by invoking the word 'patriotism' and do not think that you are elevated, haloed and flawless.  It is not so.  When you used Ms. Zhang's butt to represent the face of the Chinese people, I consider you to be unpatriotic; instead, you have insulted the 1.3 billion Chinese people.

I should think that this is a persuasive argument to many as it is an affirmation of their individuality and their right to decide for themselves.  The writer then quotes Wang Yi:

Those who presume to invoke the name of the people actually do not believe in the rights of the people; those who frequently claim to act in the name of the nation are actually not nationalists; those who frequently use to the name of nation to do things are not actually patriotic.

In that article, there is no further elaboration or expansion about that quotation.  I'll leave it up to you to read what you will.

In The Number of Trustworthy Economists in China, we have the results from a survey commissioned by the China Youth Daily on the standing of economists within a survey.  This confirms the uncertainty that people have about the economists due to suspicion about the multiple conflict of interests.  Here is how the essay ends:

"The economists only happen to the ones who are closest to the interests and most influential presently, and that is why the interests want them to speak on their behalf," said one respondent to the reporter.  "Who can guarantee that the expert scholars in other areas are speaking for the public interests when they speak out as public intellectuals?"  Thinking about the collusion between government and coal-mining interests or the gaming within the real estate industry, he even began to worry about certain government officials: "Open your eyes wide!  When someone comes out to speak on behalf of public interests, you better be careful!"

I'll leave it up to you to contemplate that last sentence.

I suggest that it is possible that someone might regard those two instances as being subversive.  Are they?  I personally don't think so.  In terms of the topics, these are commonly discussed subjects of some importance and relevance.  To build a harmonious society, we all need a little bit less of that raw nationalistic chauvinism.  To build a well-off society, we all need better scientific knowledge about the economy.  In terms of presentation, those quotations arise naturally in the respective contexts.  Again, the comparison should be against what what it was like twenty, ten or even just five years ago.  Twenty years ago, even the topics would have been unthinkable for discussion.  So what will they be talking about five years from now?

Meanwhile, in The Silence of the Press, something amazing happened.  The newspapers in the city of Chengdu spontaneously self-organized not to cover the movie "The Promise."  According to one media worker: "We can't see the movie, we can't interview the principals and we can't make negative comments.  Are we to make up false news?"  This is pretty much unthinkable twenty years ago.

I'll leave it up to you to imagine what the media will say NO to next.

None of these things are subversive and revolutionary in any noticeable way.  But if you think about 1.3 billion people committing hundreds of billions of these little acts over the next few years, then a completley new society will emerge.  One may not notice it from one day to the next; but if one tries to sit back some day and look back, one would marvel at what has happened.

Cool, eh?

Now for a bit more nostalgia.  The time is February 1985, more than twenty years ago.  In order to increase understanding and friendship among young people, social dances became an important venue.  Sometimes, they are even organized by government units and schools.  In this photo, one would guess that the tape player featured The Waltz of Young People.  The couple in the center appeared to be skillful and at ease, and their clothing are more fashionable.  The other dancers are more careful about watching their steps.  Still, everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.  They were happy enough then, and they and their children are probably even happier now.

After all, we could easily still have this kind of scene (October 5, 1966) in Tiananmen Square today: