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Spread Hope

Reuters Photo

Reuters

There is an old religious joke that talks about St. Peter leading a group of hard-shell Baptists on a tour of heaven. The whole time they were getting a sanctified tour they could not help but notice a high wall blocking any view to the right of the procession. Finally, one of the followers deigned to ask about what was on the far side of the obstruction. St. Peter answered by putting a forefinger to his lips and  whispering, “Shhh. It’s the Catholics. We allow them to to think  they’re alone.”

It’s been quite a week: wars, unprecedented elections, genocide aided by international good intentions not backed by action, uprisings, volcanoes, the earthquakes that bred the tsunami that continues to effect nuclear and economic meltdowns.  And in the tamer, less catastrophic weeks that led up to the horrors in Libya, Bahrain, Sendai, and Fukushima there was the Jasmine Devolution and Groupon’s troubles baiting the China hook on their first Middle Kingdom fishing expedition.

Not unlike the Beijing Olympics ( how is that for a metaphorical jump?), the intense media coverage and social media soapbox attention given to global disasters brought out a raft of what Ted Turner (surely headed toward the console to start playing Nearer My God to Thee) would have deemed kooks or bozos. Everyone with an agenda or a buck to make on adversity had something to say: and most of it was reprehensible. They tried to outwardly extend the boundaries of their political and ideological heavens (or hells) devoid of humanitarian consideration for the suffering at hand.

Let’s look back to Groupon for a paragraph or two: The madmen who contrived the Superbowl ads probably spent  more time discussing the thread counts on their suits than the cultural impact of their decision to air a commercial that a junior high school student in mainland China could have advised them was going to fly them through a shit storm for which a flak jacket and goggles would be mandatory. Groupon’s supporters cried “foul” and pointed to the fact that despite the vagueness of the ad ( Angry Birds should have given away a secret decoder link) they did indeed give money to imperiled Tibetans. It’s just that the Tibetans they support live in India in exile and are viewed by 1.2 million well instructed Chinese as separatists and a threat national stability. Add to it that for religious reasons most Tibetan Buddhists in exile, Tibet, greater China don’t eat fish because they are used to consume corpses in water burial rituals and you had acts perceived as cultural aggression in both sides of the political and geographical border. Offers of money don’t easily buy you out of those kind of fixes.

Pundits piled on that one and Old China Hands talked about the perils of Internet business in China and took odds that Groupon will fare worse here than my beloved Cubs might have of making the MLB playoffs. The jocular usual media suspects and good old boys, journalists and ex-journalists who interview, blog and record each other’s comments over drinks in Beijing, heckled Groupon nearly as much as they normally do anyone not afforded the sign or grip of their secret society. But, I digress…

Then soon after the Jasmine Devolution attracted more media than strolling activists (they’d been locked up or invited to tea (detained) in advance of their morning walks) for breakfast at KFC and McDonalds. Stephen Engle of Bloomberg was beaten, detained for hours and forced to file a police report while in dire need of medical care. It’s hard to imagine not one of the hundreds of cops and soldiers nearby was able to stop a broomstick battering of a journalist by a group of men wearing tactical communication type wireless ear pieces.

Social media fingers began pointing at the photographers themselves, there to do their jobs, as the cause of the ruckus and Engle was quickly crucified in absentia for crimes of omission and submission by reporters from time immaomoraiam. And if something had happened and they would have stayed in the comfort of home away from home someone would have been nailed for that one too.

My truck with the reporting of any of this, aside from the hate mongers who all seem to have heavenly authority to speak ex-cathedra on matters of morality, is the lack of attention to the human response cost in each of these tragedies.

A journalist running a running a stringer’s boiler room inn Shanghai once told me that I would never get published if I insisted on writing human interest stories with a positive slant. perhaps she was right. These last few weeks I have carefully watched  reactions to my updates on Twitter and Facebook and tagged my Twitter upates and my pictures on Twitpic. Those pictures or posts containing disaster or devastation seach terms were rebroadcast/viewed, on a average, 40X more often than those with heroic or human interest markers.

Bing took update hits over a Twitter campaign encouraged by Brian Seachrest (American Idol) that asked people to retweet their commitment to pay the Red Cross a dollar for each tweet up to a maximum of $100,000. It was seen as a commercial ploy while Lady Gaga was lauded for for donating proceeds for a grisly bracelet she designed when the link for the bracelet took you to Gaga’s ad forested online  store. As an aside: Though I don’t use Bing, I am now a fan because of the way they handled the crisis: They donated the $100,000 within minutes of criticism and apologized for what was obviously a poorly thought out and hastily run campaign.

To date I have seen no stories on the impact of Grooupon’s faux pax on Tibetans living inside or outside the borders of greater China. And I have not seen a story about any of the hundreds of workers, who signed on with Gaopeng in hopes of tenured employment with an up and coming new venture, and how this has affected their lives.

I have not read about Stephen Engle’s  recovery, the outcome of Embassy calls for justice in his attack nor the impact on him, and other journalists, of the aggression and subsequent indifference to suffering he endured in Beijing.

I translated and re-broadcast (retweeted) several Japanese updates this week.   One man, trapped under his house in northeast Japan put his address in a tweet. Another man talked about the charity and collective strength he felt after seeing several random acts of kindness. In one of his updates he asked people to “spread hope.” Others have called for a pre-morbid  celebration and recognition of Fukushima’s 180 ( #Fukushima140)heroic workers who have surely sacrificed their lives in service to others. They are already enshrined in many hearts as are the ancient 47 leaderless samurai who embody, arguably, a kind of selfless courage and spirit known in Japan as Bushido. There is no argument about these men and others who have and will surely suffer for their kindness.

One beautiful and moving article this week that touched on the difficulties faced by the nearly 500,000 people searching for news of missing or displaced relatives.  The piece was written by an LA Times reporter “on the ground” in Sendai. I felt it baited readers with a headline that made it sound like chaos had begun to reign in one most honor bound places on earth. In fact the Japanese have made themselves exemplars of dignity with their unselfishness and commitment to the common good. maybe the reporter or her editor felt and important story wouldn’t be read without first appealing to the apocalyptic side of us first. (It was better than the horsemen Beck and Limbaugh who ask you to follow them into foul and foreboding places stripped of any humanity where bright students like Alexander Watson get lost.

Many of the messages I read moved me to tears, many have inspired me, and others made me examine my place in the social web and where I want to be as a writer, friend, social median, volunteer and, more importantly, where I hope to be one day as a more self-actualized person who isn’t afraid he will write a story, or run a venture, only a few will come to know or appreciate.

Best of all: I have adopted a new #hashtag I will use without regard for its popularity: #SpreadHope…

 

American Professor in China,Censorship,China Editorials,China Expat,China Law,Chinese Education,Heartsongs,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,IWOM,Tibet,中国

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If the show fits, throw it…

I was speaking to Zach, “monk in the Sycamore tree“, Xiao Shuang today about events of late in Iraq. Xiao Shuang and I disagree on many things related to soldiering, patriotism and heroism, but our mutual hunger for meaningful conversation only grows when we debate.

Zach believes that losing one’s life in war or service to a national imperative is akin to dying as a result of a drug overdose or any similar free will decision of dubious moral merit. As a veteran, son of a soldier lost to war wounds and diligent supporter of post-conflict care for the needs of soldiers after their premature introductions to death and human suffering–as if there were a good time for such things.  I am emotionally unable to deny feelings of pride and admiration for warriors and even if I cannot reconcile for myself any reason or rightness for a battle in which they may have had a dubious ideology foisted upon them I support their sacrifices and bravery. Xiao Shuang provisionally acceded that it is OK for one to give up one’s life for a cause, but only a worthy one, and then only though non-violent resistance.

shoe bush

Xiao Shang, with a slight nod, acknowledged my feelings and left that dialogue for another time–no story is ever unfinished with us, thank goodness. He went on to query my feelings about the war in Iraq beginning with questioning whether or not I understood the cultural significance of shoes being thrown at President Bush in an Islamic country. I gave a didactic/pedagogical answer: In the Middle east the throwing of shoes is a symbol of contempt and a grave display of disrespect far weightier than the physical act appears to be (even showing someone the sole of your foot is an insult) even a culturally impaired observer.  I shared with Xiao Shuang that I had recently polled Chinese business students about the leather clad curse thrown at my nation’s leader: I asked students if they thought that the act should be classified as an act of aggression or as an expression of anger that qualified for protection as freedom of speech. The responses caught me by surprise.

My students manufactured this scenario: They likened Bush to the Prime Minister of Japan during the occupations of  Manchuria and Nanjing and made clear that the throwing of shoes in Iraq was neither freedom of expression nor a reasonable expression of anger. The former was too aggressive to qualify for protection as mere freedom of speech and the latter was not nearly an aggressive enough act in their angry estimation.

The most recent war in Iraq was likened to the war invented by the Japanese in order to justify an incursion into Manchuria to rob China of much needed natural resources. And they compared the spread of rhetoric and doublespeak about building democracy in the Middle East to the propaganda spoken by the Imperial Army’s mainland invasion leaders, those based on assertions that they were merely unifying Asia for the sake of Asia’s preservation against American influences. Visiting occupied soil, bombed and blood-stained on orders of the Bush administration, could only bring pain, anger and anguish on the citizenry and would be weakly represented by merely throwing shoes. They were openly pleased that the last chapter in Bush’s public record bore a size 10 seal of disapproval. They doubted pro-war voices that say the war won him the right to express himself through shoe tossing.

(OMBW note: Does not look like much has changed in Iraq and China Smack has a very telling article here: Chinese Reactions)

I will save debate for later by asking Xiao Shuang and maybe students, if my contract allows, what would have become of any of us had Allied Forces not interceded with force in the Pacific during WWII. I am guessing his answer will be rooted in a call for love and compassion and acceptance any current suffering as a fraction of many yet to come in lifetimes beyond this one as we progress toward “The Right Way”.

Zach digressed a bit and went on to explain that he had viewed actions of the west, directed toward China as a whole during the Olympics, as a metaphorical set of shoes; a symbol not only of contempt, but of aggression against the Chinese people. A pastor from California painted upscale hotel rooms to “give a voice to the voiceless” (Xiao, a Buddhist, says he does not want or need a second larynx donated by a vandal) during the Olympics; and  Amnesty Australia put Olympic tourists in harm’s way by asking them to act on Amnesty’s behalf  in protest of China’s Internet firewall. Xiao Shuang smiling, wondered out loud why Amnesty Australia has not concentrated on its own censorship issues.  “To spoil and politicize for the average Chinese citizen, most of whom neither know nor are affected by China’s online controls,  our time to celebrate and embrace the athletic heroes among us was a clearly a lack of sensitivity and understanding of our culture and the pride we felt for the Games.

To believe that those who are subject to censorship are simply suffering in silence or incapacitated by fear is nonsense. The Chinese people are not as docile or as compliant as the media would make them out to be. And we don’t need lectures on the virtues of western life as much as we need tools of empowerment, education, and community building. We also don’t need meaningless regime challenging exercises that only steel the resolve of those  have not outgrown the need for power. They may raise funds for the groups involved but they only fuel ignorance and hatred. For the west to rally against situations they have not fully studied is like ranting at fire because it burns.”

Today China’s navy headed out to a sea beyond its territorial borders for the first time in 600 years to battle Somalian Pirates. Zach and I will not agree on this one. I am behind the EU and China in patrolling the waters to ensure the safety of their citizens and their property.

It will be interesting to hear the mediatative musings of Xiao Shuang as the rich and poor get poorer and the girth of hungry anger expands….

Asia,Beijing,Beijing Olympics,China Cartoons,China Economics,China Editorials,China Law,Videos

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The Monk in the Sycamore Tree

Shanghai and Beijing have enviable expatriate communities; many long term residents of China from other countries live, and foster social connections across cultural boundaries. Unless you are an young, resilient, party animal or a consular type, Guangzhou, with a few exceptions, can feel  uncomfortably transient and fragmented. That is why many have told me they hope for Web Wednesday to build on its first successful meeting of Chinese and Foreign Internet professionals.

That is all to say that a visit from an old friend, especially a gentle , deep-thinking one who always breaks up the unceasing rhythms of this hurried, harried immigrant workshop town for me. when he is around I happily feel cobwebs clearing on internal scaffolds of old dreams and aspirations.

He he is a Buddhist monk, 小双 (Xiao Shuang) who goes by the English name of Zachias. Zachias was the Tax Collector described in Christian literature as the man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus Christ. 小双 actually chose his name after hearing a lecture of mine on Trappist/Benedictine monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton. I was talking about Merton’s last journey  before his death. He traveled to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama in his quest to discover the true waters of religious thought he believed flowed from mainsprings the east. Merton had given his lifer to solitude believing that the distractions of the secular prevented a clear view of the spiritual. But, at that point in his life he also thought that the notion of complete segregation as practiced in his monastery created an illusion of holiness. Holiness is something in the distance and one rises above the crowd to witness it, to be guided by it, not to achieve it.

Writer Edward Rice would later call Merton, in a book by the same name, The Man in the Sycamore Tree.  Xiao Shuang aspires to be like Merton who is thought to have been a reincarnation of the Buddha by many Tibetan and Indian practitioners: He aspires to be a seeker of truth, not a symbol of reverence. And I aspire to adequately chronicle our talks of 25 years just as Rice did with his beloved friend Merton. In our two and a half decades of campanionship and cooperative learning we have never once argued. We have talked about everything from existential phenomenology to our mutual love for the Chicago Cubs.

Today we spoke of the Russian decision to commit troops to combat during the Olympics and actions of an American zealot in China for what has been called a “pseudo-guerrilla protest” on behalf of Tibetan Independence.

On both the conflict in Georgia and the missionary known as “iamgadfly”  he quoted Merton:

“While non-violence is regarded as somehow sinister, vicious, and evil, violence has manifold acceptable forms in which it is not only tolerated, but approved by American society.”

He viewed, as do I, both acts as unacceptable and violent: Russia violated a long-held moratorium against violence during the games; imagadfly purportedly was “giving a voice to the voiceless” when he vandalized upscale hotel rooms in Beijing, covered the walls in pro-independence slogans.

Zachias holds that a few obscure slogans in a hotel room, even broadcast on Youtube, could do nothing more than raise some angry voices in a country that recently received hundreds of hours of approved television instruction in Tibetan culture following the recent riots.  Ifimagadfly thought the Tibetans could not be heard before, he should imagine the din and roar resulting from his actions. Merton believed that the prayers issuing from his Abbey were powerful enough to effect world change. Zachias and I tend to believe, like CS Lewis, that prayer has more influence over the petitioner than the petitioned. At the risk of sounding opposed to human rights protests, we are both sure, and think Merton would agree, that delivering supplications to a deity as you commit a crime in a foreign country is unlikely to create a spiritual  butterfly effect for Tibet.

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And let the real games begin…

Beijing Olympics

Four years ago I befriended a Vietnam veteran who was clean and sober after years of Cocaine addiction. He was one of the hardest working and congenial men I’d met at the VA hospital. He was employed in a minimum wage rehab program where he pushed wheelchair bound patients to and from appointments.

He had his own apartment in a declining and dangerous section of Chicago and custody of twin boys. It was like a sad scene from a predictable Hollywood tragedy when two young gang members approached one of the twins at his home. One of the gang members shot the young man, an top African-American student with college ambitions, in the head. They had intended to murder the other sibling who was who was less inclined to social conformity.

When my friend went to the police with information on the possible killers he was turned away in an angry exchange that ended when the white policeman told him that he would lock him up. When asked for what reason the officer replied, “I don’t need a fucking reason, boy. Since 9-11 it has been one long year of the cop.” He was right: Law enforcement was, overnight, accorded special privileges and many did not do well with the responsibility and instead used it as a personal weapon in their own private wars. My buddy finally found someone who would take him seriously and the killer was jailed when a plea bargain let the accomplice go free in exchange for his testimony. The veteran, demoralized by the struggle and grieving, relapsed into depression and drug use.

The same is happening here in China. A friend came to me after being detained and beaten by local police. Local constables now have the right to ask for your passport and visa on the spot. Those that have not carried their papers up to now, have started…The police have used it as a way to intimidate local Africans (blacks have an especially tough time maintaining work and cultural relationships here due to rampant racism) and Muslims. Some area police are extracting protection monies from Africans and calling it an immigration fee assessment.

When my friend pulled out his cell phone to answer a text from his wife, wondering where he was so late at night, the police who had been manhandling his countryman, thought he was snapping pictures of the assault. That is when they gave him a dose of the same treatment. His countryman was detained past his scheduled departure out of the city and missed his plane back to Africa.

With sudden power arbitrarily given to street cops, the heat hanging in the 90s along with similar humidity levels, and increasing paranoia over possible security threats it is tense here.

Below is a Youtube video of a scuffle in Beijing that left police and reporters injured. People hoping to get the last remaining tickets for the games spent two days in the heat and in unruly, close-quarter lines that we who live here can barely tolerate for a short time on a good day.

Some are calling it infringement on freedom of the press and chastising Beijing for not making good on its promise to allow reporters unfettered access to stories in and around the Olympics. I tend to see it as a lack of preparation for the enormous crowds and throngs of media personnel. Defects in crowd and traffic management planning have paralyzed the city more than once in the last few weeks.

The games have already begun, but outside the stadium.

The original story here at the ever vigilant Shanghaiist:

HK reporter and cameraman taken away after Olympic ticketing kerffufle

AJ report on Beijing:

Beijing Olympics,Censorship,China Editorials,China Law,China Olympics,China Sports,Chinese Media,Hong Kong,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,The Great Firewall,Videos,Vietnam,Violence,中国

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Interning the poor

China rural poor
One online dictionary defines interning as:

  1. The act of training someone for a job or vocation
  2. Restriction to a locale, country or prison

Recently a group of girls in Guilin who were training to be dancers were sent by school officials to intern in their craft. They lived in Guilin, a part of the exceedingly poor Guanxi autonomous region often in the news lately for civil disturbances related to government enforced birth control and abortion.

I don’t know about Guanxi, but in areas of Guangdong, arts schools and their charges are not held in high regard. Dancing, painting, contemporary music and poetry are often thought to be frivolous activities meant for those not expected to succeed in life. Business, marketing, engineering, medicine, and law are more socially acceptable here.

But most students in China, regardless of their vocational choice, are hungry for life experience in their chosen fields. They believe that transferable skills are learned in the workplace rather than the classroom and they trust teachers and authorities to guide those experiences. And most of the teachers there, a dear friend of mine among them, make about $100 USD a month for their efforts, but take their responsibilities seriously.

Xinhua news euphemistically reported this week that “The law was broken” when one school lost its moral compass and arranged for its students to work as bar girls: Guilin Intermediate Vocational Dance School’s cadre arranged “internships” for 22 teenagers in Hangzhou, China nightclubs.

The school officials told parents that their children would perform at “well-regulated places” and would each be paid 750 yuan (US$94) a month, a very hefty salary for an ethnic minority student in Guanxi, but the dark reality was they earned 100 yuan ($12.50 USD) and paid 50 yuan to an “agent,” 25 yuan to the dance school, leaving 25 yuan (a little more than $3 USD) for their them.

The most bizarre part of this story is the spin some educators and officials have put on the event: Yuan Bentao, a professor at Tsinghua University, said, “It is even more important that private schools like this maintain a respectable image so that they can survive in China’s competitive education marketplace.” Ya, that was the first thing that came into my mind.

Internet chat-rooms have called for jail time for the school officials. The school’s Chairman Guo Guisheng claims he believed he was “doing a good deed” for the impoverished girls and their families.

In all of the reporting on this issue I have seen no indication that anyone has done anything to dress the wounds that were surely opened for the girls involved. My mother and her sister were abandoned on the steps of an orphanage during America’s Great Depression because my grandparents could not afford to feed them. They never got over it emotionally and they were not morally degraded like these girls were: The students were often forced to share toasts with middle-aged businessmen then sent to bed to cry themselves into a drunken sleep.

A law firm director, Qiu Baochang, of the Beijing-based Huijia Law Firm added, “These schools have to improve their teaching if they hope to have good reputations; otherwise, they will easily fall into a vicious circle.” Alleged professionals like these make a case for the re-thinking of industrialized education in China.

It’s too late, counselor: The vicious cycle involves the haves and have-nots in your new China. The internships given to those underprivileged children better fit the definition of imprisonment. They are now socially and psychologically locked in to a wheel of poverty and trauma. The only thing these girls learned is that a lack of self-esteem for a poor child is not a self-induced psychological condition, but part of a realistic self-assessment. A prospering economy has driven off and left these dancers on the steps of bankrupt orphanage.

With big thank you to Virtual China /China.org

Asia,Asian Women,Charity in China,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Law,Education in China,Human Rights,Human Rights China,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China,Violence,中国,中文

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I will meet you for Coffee at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk….

china starbucks

Adam writes on the Lehman Law Blawg [sic] that the new ordnance in Shanghai requiring foreign businesses to add Chinese characters to their name is “misguided.” He goes on to make his case: “The claim that a foreign-language-only name is a major impediment to Chinese-only speakers is dubious. Even if potential customers cannot say the name, they can refer to it in other ways, for example, ‘that pizza place on the corner of Taicang Lu and Huangpi Nan Lu.’ As for access by taxi, unless you are going to the Shanghai Museum or some other such well-known landmark, names are useless. Whether you say City Diner or a Chinese name, you’re going to have to tell the driver ‘intersection of Nanjing Xi Lu and Tongren Lu’ to get where you want to go.”

Adam, I kind of expect to be reading Chinese (authentic Traditional Chinese) in Guangzhou, and even Portuguese in Macau. Just a guess on my part, but there seems to be some ethnocentrically driven historical precedence for the annoying habit of the local governments insisting on being able to navigate streets and order in eateries using their native tongue….

In China, that country bordering the country with the man with strange hair that is building a nuke, people brought up during the cultural revolution who don’t read English or Pinyin, probably don’t know the Hard Rock Cafe from a day-old bread store, but they have heard of Xingbake (the Chinese name for Starbucks) the American coffee joint or Kendeji (pronounced cun-dutch-ee) the chicken emporium. And even the Cantonese taxi divers can take you to either one if asked…

Adam gives his jury summation thusly: “Finally, foreign-language-named businesses add to the cosmopolitan air of a city. As one strolls through the streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one will see many Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or other foreign-language-named businesses without English translations. Because Shanghai is unique in Mainland China as an international and cosmopolitan city, this diversity should be celebrated, not hindered.” Adam might have had me here if he he hadn’t introduced reasonable doubt in his argument by saying “Shanghai” and “free market” in the same sentence…But then, I lived in Chicago and did see a few businesses in ethnic neighborhoods with signs exclusively in the area’s dominant language, but most ethnic businesses in most cities have romanized names as well….The businesses intentionally wanting to appeal to immigrants left out “ease of menu translation” in their business plan to-do lists. The places looking to be cosmopolitan were smart enough to add English characters.

And if 谷哥 (Google) and 肯德基 (KFC) haven’t filed any ethnic diversity lawsuits because people here now know them better by their Chinese monikers, I doubt 星巴克 (Starbucks) is headed to court either.

By the way: “Guido”and “Boris” (their English names) from Guangzhou’s Tourism Board want to pay you a visit to discuss ways to improve on internationalizing their hick towns Hong Kong and Guangzhou… And “Makudonorudo” (the Golden Arches) in Japan wants you to represent them as they are tired of their name sounding like a morning rooster in the ads that air in the backwater town of Tokyo….

Adam is held in contempt of culture unil further notice…

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The trouble with Oiwan….

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

  1. Support for her cause would be hard to muster because people might feel as though Oiwan invited trouble by publishing a picture that she knew might provoke the ire of Hong Kong Censors. Civil disobedience is not as cherished as it was in the past;
  2. Support would quickly wane as the matter did not seem as urgent or foreboding as the Hao Wu case. Oiwan is facing 12 months in jail, a costly defense and a hefty fine, but she is not incarcerated at the moment;
  3. Bloggers might not pass the torch, or the hat, because the issues are complicated and Hong Kong specific;
  4. People would find it hard to empathize with Oiwan: Hong Kong is part of China and censorship is expected here.

EastSouthWestNorth, Rebecca McKinnon Boing Boing, Lost Laowai, Image Thief and a handful of others have done their best to explain the issues while rightfully advocating for one of their own. An advocacy group on Facebook has collected 69 members, but few calls for action have subsequently originated from western computers.

Oiwan did not invite this kind of response. She put her journalistic foot in the water and was dragged below the surface by the well-mapped but unpredictable undertow that is the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Authority (TELA) and the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). These are the same forces that roiled against a Hong Kong University student newspaper for a ridiculously benign sex survey, Michelangelo’s David in a 1995 magazine ad and Cupid and Psyche on a book cover at the most recent Hong Kong Book Fair.

The charges against Oiwan created a tremor in the blogsphere , but the aftershocks are so imperceptible that we have gone about life as usual. Some Hong Kong bloggers are taking up the cause by posting other classic art works as an act of protest and solidarity. The rest of us should also act on her behalf.

I met with John Kennedy of Global Voices Online today and he spoke again to the issues involved in Oiwan’s case that affect all of us:

  • He thinks, and public opinion in Hong Kong backs him up, that the Tribunal and the TELA are antiques in need of dry storage and replacement (my sorry metaphor, not his). He thinks the Tribunal, which operates independently without reliable standards and accountability, should be elected officials that have to answer to the public.
  • He feels, and again is far from alone in his opinion, that a legal and reliably quantifiable definition of “obscene” or “indecent” should be adopted.

The latter is important to all of us as it would prevent dissidents from being punished at the whim of judges with personal or political agendas.

IF blogger’s rights can be upheld in Hong Kong it can instruct and inform governments and lawmakers everywhere about the need for free speech legislation and reform. Oiwan, who has no desire to be a martyr, is every man and woman who wants to speak their mind or read another’s in cyberspace. And, as Rebecca McKinnon has said so well in her blog, Oiwan is a writer who has devoted herself to the non-profit sector most of her adult life, so she has few financial resources to assist with what will be a costly and important court battle.

Help Oiwan and help yourself with a little link love to her cause blog (Banned in Mainland China), a posting of the banner below (feel free to use my bandwidth) and by, please, donating a few dollars to her legal campaign by clicking here:

Free Oiwan Lam

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The trouble with Oiwan

censored in china

When the Oiwan Lam controversy began I predicted four things:

  1. Support for her cause would be hard to muster because people might feel as though Oiwan invited trouble by publishing a picture that she knew might provoke the ire of Hong Kong Censors. Civil disobedience is not as cherished as it was in the past;
  2. Support would quickly wane as the matter did not seem as urgent or foreboding as the Hao Wu case. Oiwan is facing 12 months in jail, a costly defense and a hefty fine, but she is not incarcerated at the moment;
  3. Bloggers might not pass the torch, or the hat, because the issues are complicated and Hong Kong specific;
  4. People would find it hard to empathize with Oiwan: Hong Kong is part of China and censorship is expected here.

EastSouthWestNorth, Rebecca McKinnon Boing Boing, Lost Laowai, Image Thief and a handful of others have done their best to explain the issues while rightfully advocating for one of their own. An advocacy group on Facebook has collected 69 members, but few calls for action have subsequently originated from western computers.

Oiwan did not invite this kind of response. She put her journalistic foot in the water and was dragged below the surface by the well-mapped but unpredictable undertow that is the Hong Kong Television and Entertainment Authority (TELA) and the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT). These are the same forces that roiled against a Hong Kong University student newspaper for a ridiculously benign sex survey, Michelangelo’s David in a 1995 magazine ad and Cupid and Psyche on a book cover at the most recent Hong Kong Book Fair.

The charges against Oiwan created a tremor in the blogsphere , but the aftershocks are so imperceptible that we have gone about life as usual. Some Hong Kong bloggers are taking up the cause by posting other classic art works as an act of protest and solidarity. The rest of us should also act on her behalf.

I met with John Kennedy of Global Voices Online today and he spoke again to the issues involved in Oiwan’s case that affect all of us:

  • He thinks, and public opinion in Hong Kong backs him up, that the Tribunal and the TELA are antiques in need of dry storage and replacement (my sorry metaphor, not his). He thinks the Tribunal, which operates independently without reliable standards and accountability, should be elected officials that have to answer to the public.
  • He feels, and again is far from alone in his opinion, that a legal and reliably quantifiable definition of “obscene” or “indecent” should be adopted.

The latter is important to all of us as it would prevent dissidents from being punished at the whim of judges with personal or political agendas.

IF blogger’s rights can be upheld in Hong Kong it can instruct and inform governments and lawmakers everywhere about the need for free speech legislation and reform. Oiwan, who has no desire to be a martyr, is every man and woman who wants to speak their mind or read another’s in cyberspace. And, as Rebecca McKinnon has said so well in her blog, Oiwan is a writer who has devoted herself to the non-profit sector most of her adult life, so she has few financial resources to assist with what will be a costly and important court battle.

Help Oiwan and help yourself with a little link love to her cause blog (Banned in Mainland China), a posting of the banner below (feel free to use my bandwidth) and by, please, donating a few dollars to her legal campaign by clicking here:

Free Oiwan Lam

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Zaijian

chinglish

Books have been virtually replaced by blogs. But, puns aside, many of them showcase the transformative elements Pablo Neruda* suggests as essential to written art in Ars Magnetica:
“From so much loving and journeying, books emerge.

And if they don’t contain kisses or landscapes,
if they don’t contain a woman in every drop,
hunger, desire, anger, roads,
there are no use as a shield or as a bell:
they have no eyes and won’t be able to open them….”

Here I have I have tried to smooth the stubble of memory, share poetry, attempt humor, journal my social conscience, and reconcile my longings while shoutng to you in some far-off room. I leave here absolutely bewildered that anyone, other than my long-suffering friends, ever returned to listen. I am grateful you did.
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