Posted by Jeremy Goldkorn on Tuesday, April 26, 2005 at 1:59 AM
A chain of events:
Act 1. The New York Times publishes an article titled 'A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets', a headline that combines two things of which non-Chinese newspaper editors can't get enough, when talking about China: Mao era sayings, and Chinese people taking to the streets. Two excerpts:
"Chain letter" e-mail and text messages urged people to boycott Japanese products or sign online petitions opposing Japanese ascension to the United Nations Security Council. Information about protests, including marching routes, was posted online or forwarded by e-mail. Banned video footage of protest violence in Shanghai could be downloaded off the Internet.
Act 2. New York-based blogger Jeff 'Buzz Machine' Jarvis links to the article, and comments:
Smart mobs are not just some cute cult of the cellphone. They are, indeed, a force.
Jarvis is an obsessive and often interesting commentor on the way new media (blogs etc.) are forcing change upon old (TV, newspapers et al.), but you don't read him for China coverage.
Act 3. Some guy named Tony posts a comment on Jarvis' blog:
With the advent of cell phone technology, along with computers no stone will go un-turned. I seriously doubt that the Chinese government (or any government) will be able to stop this communications landslide.
Nice story you have there gentlemen. Aside from these two problems:
A. Most urban Chinese youth are not interested in overthrowing the government, even if they occasionally exert their youthful energies with an anti-Japanese protest.
The type of people who were demonstrating aginst Japan are comfortable urban people. For many of them, it would be a big sacrifice if they had to get rid of all the Japanese electronic gear they own. On the other hand, there are people in China, poor people with nothing to lose, who are willing to run amok in anti-authority demonstrations (check out this village riot at Huankantou for example — background description; photos), but peasant demonstrations are always relegated to an obscure section of the New York Times and the Guardian and don't even make it into the Chinese media or the London Times, let alone Sploid.com and Drudge, which both covered anti-Japanese demonstrations. Even if ten thousand peasants throw stones at the cops, it's not going to change the status quo, nor pique the interest of the average American, or Frenchman.
B. The mobs have mobile phones. The cops have whatever the hell electronic gear they keep in the van pictured above, which was photographed near the Japanese embassy a few hours before the Beijing demonstrators arrived there on April 9.
In addition to the pictured high-tech truck, keeping watch over all the demonstrators were hundreds upon hundreds of armed riot police, as well as scores of ordinary cops and, no doubt, their plainclothes brethren. This was one anti-Japanese demonstration that was not going to get out of hand.
Furthermore, somebody had arranged scores of buses to help take demonstrators home after the afternoon's fun. People were not coerced into getting on the buses, but you know how it is: you've walked several miles to the Japanese embassy in the springtime sun, and you've chanted slogans all day, then the cool spring evening air hits and you're feeling tired and a little chilly, why not get on the bus?
What's the moral of the story?
'A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets' is a great headline for Manhattan, but meaningless in Beijing.
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.