Media regulation

The mystery of the China Digital Newspaper Lab

NCOH seal vs. CDNL logo.
China's National Committee for Oral Health was established in 1988 by the Ministry of Health to promote oral hygiene and disease prevention. The Ministry abolished it last week following extended controversy over the Committee's legal standing and true function - it apparently had no authority to endorse products, and may have been merely a few part-time employees who accepted payment in return for allowing the use of the Committee insignia.

Commentators have been buzzing the last few days about similar endorsement rackets waiting to be discovered - an "endorsement economy" that brings little value to anyone but the government-approved organizations.

The following op-ed wonders about the legality of a newly-launched GAPP project - the China Digital Newspaper Laboratory.

Worse than the NCOH

by Ji Lima / Eastday

The National Committee for Oral Health is gone. No matter what the notice from the Ministry of Health says about it, the NCOH is gone, and toothpaste advertisements will no longer bear the great NCOH seal of endorsement. Good, let's send it off with fireworks.

Then I saw a great piece by Wang Runlong with the bold title, "How many more NCOHs are there to disband?" and I had a sudden shock. What? There's another NCOH? Reading it carefully, it was actually talking in general terms about monstrous, "non-governmental, non-private entities that have not a single full-time employee and have no qualifications to issue endorsements," which, "owing to protection and shielding by 'authoritative departments'," "are able to issue endorsements like the NCOH." Using this as a basis for comparison, then we could say that the NCOH is indeed still around. And not only that - recently, a new one ventured out.

Recently, at the instigation of the Newspaper and Magazine Publishing Department at GAPP, the Media Information Institute organized and promoted the China Digital Newspaper Lab. After the lab was established, it was all about meetings, setting up a board of directors, developing the member work units, collecting membership fees, running forums, evaluating, inspecting, and deciding on projects, setting up consulting groups, getting account holders to issue receipts....isn't all of this work fun? However, there's always "progress." Compared to the NCOH, this lab had two areas of "progress": first, it had no seal. Didn't the NCOH have that nationally-famous seal? It's success lay entirely in that seal, and its failure lay in that seal as well. Ultimately, that seal was seized and it could not escape being tied in. This is better - the CDNL was founded without a seal, so no handhold can be found. Clever!

Second, there's no trace of where it came from. Although NCOH did not have a single full-time employee, it at least was a formal oral hygiene organization approved and established in 1988 by the Ministry of Health. The CDNL held conferences large and small, there were newspaper reports, and the signs of member work units have been put up, but if you ask GAPP, they'll clearly inform you that they did not approve or establish this entity; nor has the Ministry of Civil Affairs ever registered this kind of communal organization. If you say that this organization doesn't exist, well, it has normal activities, normal reports, and a web site. Say it does exist, well, it has no approval, no registration, and to collect fees it has to find someone else to issue a receipt. Should this lab later cease all activity, there is no need for GAPP to issue a notice. Brilliant, truly brilliant!

However, if you say that the National Committee for Oral Health is an illegal expert consultation organization set up by the Ministry of Culture, one that does not have the power to offer product inspection and quality endorsements, then the China Digital Newspaper Lab is even worse than the NCOH. To date it has not been approved by GAPP and has not registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs - what qualifications does this beast have to set up a board of directors, to develop member work units, and to evaluate projects? A stupid, illegal organization like this - screw it - no need for upright work units and organizations to pay it any mind; if you're not afraid of stirring things up, you could even sue. The National Committee for Oral Health is gone - what's there left to fear?

Links and Sources
There are currently 9 Comments for The mystery of the China Digital Newspaper Lab.

Comments on The mystery of the China Digital Newspaper Lab

i saw the translation of 牙防组 here today for the first time. i have always associated 牙防组 with some japanese crime organizations such as 熊本组 and 山口组 in ganster films made in Hong Kong.

this said, i object to the glorified english translation of 牙防组 in your story. i have no idea whether it was rendered into english by the translator of this story or by a master translator and handpicked by a leader of the 牙防组 when a list of candidate translations of the name were presented for the final decision years ago.

china's national committee on oral health? in china's bureaucratic system, government agencies such as 部,委,办, 局,处,科,etc, are all well defined and politically prioritized. there are huge and hair-splitting differences in these names that can mean promotion and exile for some politicians. so when it comes to the english translation of 牙防组,the name used in your story is out of the place. if high-ranking officials should bother to ask questions and make a difference and decide upon a name or its english translation, there would be a huge difference between oral health and dental health.

i don't mean i embrace the bureaucratic system and the way all the ingredients are named. i just find this english translation of 牙防组very enlightening and funny. try to call a spade a spade in this case and the english translation definitely highlights the absurdity in the powerful ruling of the 牙防组 in the national toothpaste authorizations over years.

joe: The NCOH wasn't really part of the government bureaucracy, was it - it styled itself as a professional organization along the lines of the ADA, it seems. Here's their web page (it's actually for oral health in the logo; I've made the change above).

Of course, now that the name is defunct, organized crime is free to make use of 牙防组.


about the bureaucratic system: the 牙防组 was first set up by the mihistry of health. that's why the ministry disbanded it now. though it was not part of the national government systme, it was closely related. that's why i found the english name quite funny.

on second thought, i don't object to the english translation if it was done by the 牙防组 itself. the translation was exactly the royal part of the absurdity of something big and authoritative.

the english translation reflects both the ambition and the worry the 牙防组 had. guys in the 牙防组 probably knew they at least needed a proper english name to justify what they did. they certainly knew what 名不正则言不顺 meant.

by "it was closely related", i mean when the boss within the system said it should be called “牙防组”,he or she knew all the nuanced implications in these chinese names such as 部委办局处科 for government agencies. the ministry set it up outside the system and called it 牙防组 for a very good reason. it certainly indicates that the namer thought the organization should be way below all other agencies in name, even though it was outside the system.

i tend to believe the chinese name was to indicate its proper position in a governmental hierarchy with all its baggage including these government-sponsored things. even though 牙防组 was not in a government systme, its name was right in the pecking order. no one in the system would make any mistake about what a 组 was all about. those in the system certainly did not want a small-time two-penny 组 to style itself as a 全国委员会, or did it?

啊~ ~!我也不知道该说什么好了!我觉得这里的版主有点像柏杨,他们写东西不是为了让中国人开心或不开心,而是想通过一些事例让中国人去反思,去领悟,而且他们都是心怀善意的。从这一点上说,我确实十分感激这里的版主Joel。

Don't tell Jeremy you've been promoted to 版主, Joel!
I hope Chinese readers like studentyoung and 阿明 bear in mind that Joel is providing accurate translations of content that originally appeared in Chinese. I imagine Joel's intended audience is foreigners interested in Chinese society but excluded from many debates by the language barrier. I've always thought that translation services like this can only help foreign observers of China realise that opinions and views are not monolithic in the country. That in itself will aid a clearer understanding and undermine some of the simplistic and stereotypical views that prevail.

As Jim says, practically all the pieces put up here are translated/summarized from the mainland Chinese media. I won't deny that there might be selection bias present - things swing back and forth, and recently we've had quite a few pieces that shine a rather unkind light on certain aspects of Chinese government and society. But other months have seen strings of upbeat, less political pieces.

Jim, your final two sentences are what I would have written here if you didn't write them first.

That's China all over! No need to be surprised. You can call it the "Chinese Characteristics". I am not some angery youth which in Chinese is " 愤青". I just want to express my personal feelings about these unreasonable facts!

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives