Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Censorship Diary: how China cut itself off from the World Wide Web


It is relatively well known throughout the world that the Chinese government censors the internet to its pleasure, and that a number of important foreign websites are blocked in China. What is perhaps not so widely realized is that the censorship of foreign websites has got considerably worse over the last five to six years, the time during which I have lived in China. 

When I first got to China, in September 2008, the Beijing Olympics had just ended. To make a good impression with all the foreign journalists and visitors who descended on the Chinese capital for the games, important foreign websites had all been made accessible. It seems amazing now, but Facebook, You Tube and Twitter were all freely navigable from anywhere in China. At the time I wondered what all the fuss over China's "Great Firewall" was about.

Then in March 2009, the Chinese authorities decided to block You Tube. It was reported at the time that the site was blocked because someone had uploaded a "fake" video of a Chinese policeman killing Tibetan protesters. It's not like they just blocked that particular video. The whole of You Tube was made inaccessible from anywhere in Mainland China. I quickly learned how to download and use a VPN proxy server to get around the censorship, something which I had never done before. 

Shortly afterwards, Blogspot was also blocked in China, meaning that I had to switch on my VPN every time I wanted to update this blog. That summer I went back home on holiday, and when I returned to China in August, I found that Facebook had been blocked as well. Apparently this decision was taken following the unrest in Xinjiang that July. Quite unsurprisingly, groups in support of Xinjiang's independence had sprung up on Facebook, just as you would expect for any conflict anywhere in the world. 

Even less surprisingly, the folks at China's Ministry of the Interior, or wherever else these decisions are taken, reacted with all the subtlety and sophistication they are known for, and simply blocked access to the whole of the world's most popular social networking site. They also blocked access to the whole of the internet for almost a year over the entire territory of Xinjiang, a province as big as Western Europe.

Twitter was also blocked in China around this time, but not being a Twitter user I never really noticed. The situation stayed more or less the same for a few years, with Facebook, You Tube and Blogspot the only major sites I visit regularly to be blocked. Google's exit from the Chinese market in 2010 didn't really make much difference, as searches for google.cn were now simply re-routed to google.com.hk.

Then in January this year they decided to block the Guardian, my newspaper of choice. This was in response to them publishing a piece accusing relatives of Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao and other top leaders of transferring money to offshore havens. As always, the Chinese government makes a big deal of its anti-corruption campaigns and openly admits that corruption is a huge problem (since denials would simply be considered laughable by its own people), but it draws a line at any accusations against its top leaders. 

At a briefing on this topic, a Foreign Ministry spokesman had this to say: "I am not aware of the specific circumstances. From the point of view of readers, the logic of some of the related articles is unconvincing, and it leads people to suspect the intentions behind it."(1) So now the Guardian has become part of the eternal conspiracy by the "foreign powers", who want to sow instability and prevent China's "peaceful rise".

In the meantime, access to Google was also becoming increasingly erratic. And then a couple of months ago, even Google and all of its related services (including gmail) were blocked for good. It is now almost impossible for me to do anything meaningful on the internet without using a VPN. My favourite newspaper, Google, my gmail adress, my blog, Facebook and You Tube are all inaccessible without it, hidden behind the great firewall. 

It may be noticed how the advent of the new Xi Jinping - Li Keqiang leadership in November 2012 has not been followed up by a relaxation of the internet censorship, but quite the opposite. China has now become a country where the casual foreign visitor who doesn't have a VPN feels pretty much cut off from the World Wide Web, or at least the part of it which matters. For a country which wants to present itself as increasingly open and international, this is a huge paradox, and extremely self-defeating.

If nothing else, I hope that blocking Google will backfire. Facebook and You Tube were never really that widely used by Chinese people, who prefer their own social networking and video-sharing sites (which are of course controlled and censored). Most Chinese users also prefer Baidu to Google, but Google is still pretty much essential to search for anything foreign (Baidu's servers just aren't up to standard when it comes to foreign websites).  For many young people and companies, not being able to access Google will be a problem. The use of VPNs may shoot up as a result, at least among the young and educated, making the whole exercise self-defeating.




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chinese sympathy for Israel

So another round of the eternal Arab-Israeli conflict is upon us, and all over the Western world people with nothing better to do are arguing about it over the internet. But how do people feel about it in China?

Here in the Middle Kingdom, most people do not seem to care very much about what is going on in Israel and Gaza. Media reports have been subdued and neutral in tone. The plane crash in the Ukraine attracted far more interest among the Chinese public, perhaps because it was the same airline which had already lost a plane in the Indian Ocean with hundreds of Chinese passengers on board. On my Wechat feed, I have seen various Chinese acquaintances post comments on the plane crash, some of them blaming Malaysia or wondering if Russia is responsible, but I have not seen a single Wechat contact post anything on the events in the Middle East. 

If you search the word "Israel" on Weibo, China's equivalent of Facebook (it often gets referred to as China's Twitter, but I think it has more in common with Facebook), some posts on the issue by random Chinese netizens do appear. What is striking is that a majority of them have a pro-Israeli tone.

Here as some random ones which popped up (the word in red, 以色列,means Israel):

听风灌雨以色列建国时,并未驱逐巴勒斯坦阿拉伯人,留下的也不少。逃难的巴人有相当一部分是被参战的阿拉伯国家忽悠了。事后,这些国家又不允许难民融入本国。//@古筝-赵勃楠: 是太太奇怪了。沙特那一大堆,东南亚一大堆伊斯兰教国家,这么多兄弟都不肯接纳巴勒斯坦兄弟?

This one is in reply to a post about Palestinian refugees. It says "When Israel was created, it actually didn't drive out the Palestinian Arabs, many of them remained. Some of the Palestinian refugees were conned by the warring Arab countries. After the event, these countries didn't even allow the refugees to integrate into their countries." The post it is replying to says "It's so strange. Huge Saudi Arabia and all the South East Asian Muslim countries, are they all unwilling to take in their Palestinian brothers?"

我重新出发也@申点启: 巴平民死亡是哈马斯需要的,不是以色列需要的。以色列是误杀,哈马斯是谋杀。以色列克制,所以巴勒斯坦平民才会死得这么少。

This one says "the deaths among the Palestinians civilians are needed by Hamas, not by Israel. Israel kills by accident, Hamas murders. Israel exercises restraint, and that is why so few Palestinian civilians are dying."

Gegenerg如果是巴勒斯坦占优势,没有任何犹豫就可以得出结论:所有犹太人被送到地中海喂鱼!以色列可以杀710万,但只杀了710人。什么是善什么是恶?对比吧!以色列可以获诺贝尔和平奖了!支持以色列@以色列驻华使馆

"If the Palestinians had the advantage, there is no doubt what the conclusion would be: all the Jews would become feed for the fish in the Mediterranean. Israel has killed 710 people, but it could have killed 100.000 times more. Where is the good and where is the evil? Israel could receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Support Israel!"

To be very fair, not all the posts are pro-Israeli in their tone. There are also some berating Israel for killing innocent people, and the US for supporting it. Since I first looked a few days ago, the anti-Israeli posts seemed to have increased, I suppose as more and more news of Palestinian civilians being killed comes in.

Last year's meeting between the Israeli and Chinese delegations on the occasion of Netanyahu's visit to China.

All the same, the general sentiment among the few Chinese who even take an interest in such matters is certainly far more pro-Israeli than in Europe. The reasons are varied. The urban Chinese populace generally has a positive image of Jews. The one thing they will immediately tell you about Jews is that they are all "very intelligent". Jews have a reputation for being smart, hard-working, and yes, good at business too, but that is not seen as a bad thing. Everyone has heard that lots and lots of important Western scientists and cultural figures are Jewish.

Furthermore, the Chinese have a certain respect and admiration for anything seen to be 厉害. 厉害 (lìhai) can be translated as "terrific, powerful, formidable". The word implies no moral judgement whatsoever. It simply expresses admiration for someone or something that can get things done and achieve their goals. After the 11th of September incident, many Chinese were describing Bin Laden as 厉害. Currently you can hear many Chinese praising Putin for being a really 厉害 leader for Russia.

Well to the Chinese, Israel is clearly very 厉害. One day a bunch of Jewish refugees decided to get their act together, created a country from scratch, and decided that from that day on nobody was messing with them. In spite of being tiny and surrounded by enemies they have thrived and turned their country into a modern economy which has created many technological innovations and high-tech start-ups, as well as keeping all of their enemies at bay (the book "Start up Nation" ha been translated into Chinese, to a certain success I believe). To the Chinese, all this may be right or wrong, but it is clearly 厉害. And that commands respect, and suggests that the Chinese might be able to learn something from this country.

All this creates an environment where people are open to hearing the Israeli side of the story. There is also another factor which has only come about recently: it seems like some Chinese might be identifying more with Israel after the recent wave of terrorist attacks around China supposedly committed by Muslim terrorists from Xinjiang. These attacks have not improved the image of Islam in China, a religion few Chinese know much about. There are quite a few posts on Weibo making the connection between fighting Hamas and fighting Xinjiang terrorism. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Capital in the North is back!

The Capital in the North is back! After not having been able to post anything in my blog for months due to a problem with my VPN software, I have finally found a free Chinese VPN which works a lot better. Chinese firewall, suck on this.

For those of you who live in China and haven't got a good VPN yet, you should really try 自由门. It's working for me.

On the topic of VPNs, I have just discovered quite a neat protest song by Hong Kong singer Alan Tam, which was inspired by the 1989 riots. It's called 你知我知 (you know and I know). The lyrics only reference the events of '89 and Chinese politics in an oblique fashion, as is the Chinese style. The song is censored in Baidu. A search for the song's name brings up the message 搜索结果可能涉及不符合相关法律法规和政策的内容,未予显示 (the search results might contain content which doesn't conform to the relevant laws and policies, so they are not displayed)...

Here is the video:


And here are the Chinese lyrics:

眼中的意思 腦海火熨構思
敲出野性拍子 你雖不發一言
我雖不發一言 你知我知
你心中句子 我心中句子
沖擊我倆四肢 這天終結之前
有幾多遍痴纏 你知我知
你知我知(天知地亦知)
你知我知(你我早已知)

若是問我可否將所想的封鎖
就像問我絲巾可否包一堆火
其情形NA NA NA NA NA
大家都知(不講也知)

你今天到此我今天到此不須再說句子
有幾多片激流拍擊呼叫心頭你知我知
再不可制止也不可禁止身心那串措施
這天可會瘋狂世間可有天堂你知我知
你知我知(天知地亦知)
你知我知(你我早已知)
若是問你能否躲一躲
就像問你絲巾可否包一堆火
其情形NA NA NA NA NA

I'll translate them into English as soon as I have the time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spring Festival Road Trip 1: Shijiazhuang

This year I decided to take advantage of the Spring Festival holidays by renting a car and going on a road trip through northern China. I was accompanied by my American flatmate and a friend of his from college, who has only just arrived in China. Although I have had a Chinese driving license for the best part of a year, I had previously never done anything more ambitious than driving on one-day trips to the countryside around Beijing. This was my first time driving anywhere really far within China, and I knew that whatever happened we would be in for an adventure.

Travelling in China one must always be ready for mishaps and unexpected events getting in the way of  your plans. During the Spring Festival this is even truer than normal, and travelling at this time is best reserved for people with stamina and some experience of the country. With hundreds of millions of people on the move and most businesses and shops closed for days, China cannot be said to be working normally even by its own pretty abnormal standards.

Driving a car is a fun way to travel, but it also adds a whole new layer of possible problems, from the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere to the highways being closed because of snow (both of which things eventually happened to us). What’s more foreigners driving in China are still rare, and outside of the main cities almost unheard of. We were three foreigners preparing to drive alone through some of Northern China’s remote backwater provinces during the Spring Festival. I was thus quite ready for unexpected, frustrating and/or hilarious stuff to happen, even though I wasn't quite prepared for the amount of things which did eventually go wrong.

We left Beijing two days after the New Year. In typical Western style, we didn't manage to get ourselves together and leave before one in the afternoon. Our final aim was Kaifeng, a city in Henan province which used to be one of China’s ancient capitals, and was home to China’s only ancient Jewish community. We soon realized however that we would never get to Kaifeng in a single day, so we decide to make Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, our first stop on the way South.

After an uneventful four hours on the highway we reached the exit for Shijiazhuang. Once we approached the city, we immediately started regretting our choice. I mean no offense to its three million inhabitants, but Shijiazhuang encapsulates all the worst about Chinese provincial capitals: it is grey, boring, soulless, sprawling, and completely lacking in history or culture, since it only turned into a city about one hundred years ago. The huge buildings which dominate its skyline absolutely fail to lend the city any air of grandiosity or affluence.

What’s more Shijiazhuang suffers from a terrible pollution problem even by Chinese standards, and constantly records worse levels of air pollution than Beijing, which is really saying something. The first time we opened the car windows, we could actually smell the pollution in the air. As I drove into the city’s urban sprawl, I started cursing myself for not getting those cheap tickets to Thailand.

We stopped at a chain hotel where they told us that they weren’t authorized to take foreign guests (a common problem with provincial Chinese hotels), but pointed us towards another hotel down the road which could. This hotel seemed quite nice and comfortable, until we checked into our rooms and discovered that incredibly there was no hot water in the bathrooms.

The turtle we eat for dinner
After a while we went out to find something to eat, but given that this was 初二,the second day of the year in the Chinese calendar, most of the city was still in a state of shut down, including its restaurants. The only places open where McDonalds, KFC and other international fast food chains. We were almost resigned to eating in McDonalds, when we were lucky enough to come across an open Chinese restaurant, where we eat a really good meal. Our dinner included a turtle, which I joked was probably from an endangered species.

After the meal we decided to sample the local nightlife, and took a cab to what we had been told is Shijiazhuang’s best bar street. When we arrived, we discovered that the “bar street” consisted entirely of KTVs and only a single actual nightclub.  The club followed the worst tradition of Chinese nightclubs: it was a brash, loud, chaotic and expensive affair, full of tables where groups of young men played dice games and munched on fruit. There was also a “show” consisting of a scantily clad young lady pretending to sing in the middle of the room.

Shijiazhuang's  poor visibility on our second day in the city
We quickly decided against buying drinks and rushed back to our hotel, looking forward to getting out of this poor excuse of a city the following day. After waking up the next morning and being unable to shower because of the lack of hot water, we went outside and were greeted by some of the lowest visibility which I have ever seen in my life. (seen! Ha) The entire city was shrouded in a thick coat of mist mixed with heavy pollution. Buildings 100 meters away had become entirely invisible. The PM 2.5 count was however only at the level defined as “very unhealthy” by the WHO, rather than at the “hazardous” level, so we concluded that at least some of the poor visibility was due to natural mist. When you live in China, you learn to make such fine distinctions.

Silently we drove along Shijiazhuang’s boulevards, in a post-apocalyptic scenery. We could only see the vague silhouettes of the giant grey buildings on both sides of the street, while unfortunate locals rode bicycles around us. We reached the exit to the highway, eager to get out of this hell-hole, when we saw that all the entrances had a big red X above them, indicating that they were closed. Fearing the worst, I got out of my car and went to inquire. A guy smoking next to his car told me that the highway was closed because of the poor visibility, and he had no idea when it would open up again. There was a whole queue of cars patiently waiting for the highway to reopen, but we thought better of just sitting there for what could be hours, and decided to take refuge in a nearby Burger King instead.

We spent a couple of hours in Burger King, munching on chips and reviewing our options. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to the idea of spending another night in the area, but once we got out of the Burger King we found that the highway had reopened. We quickly drove through the exit before they decided to close it again, all of us vowing never to set foot again in Hebei’s grim capital city. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ma Jian and the "barbaric one child policy"

The third plenary session of the CCP, which ended last Tuesday, produced a few legal reforms which gave me some hope that China might actually move closer to international standards on human rights under this new leadership. "Re-education through labour" was abolished, and the use of the death penalty further limited (although we are a very, very long way off from its abolition).

The measure which will probably have the biggest impact on the Chinese people's lives is the reform of the notorious one-child policy. The main alteration to the existing policy seems to be that in future, couples where either the husband or the wife is a single child will be allowed to give birth to two children. The previous rule was that both members of the couple had to be single children for them to receive permission for a second child.

This should mean that basically, a majority of young couples in urban areas will now be able to have two children by law.



The Guardian has chosen to report this item of news by publishing a piece by Ma Jian, entitled "China's Barbaric One Child Policy". Ma Jian is a Chinese author who hasn't lived in the Mainland for over two decades, and is a vocal critic of the Chinese government. He isn't at all well known within China, although to be fair that might be because his works are censored here. Even so he is not strictly speaking an exile, since he appears to be able to happily travel back to China at will.

I do not doubt that some of the facts described in Ma Jian’s article are true. Indeed, forced abortions and sterilizations clearly do still happen in China. If this were a piece of denunciation aimed at the Chinese public, it would have its worth. However, as an article aimed at Western readers who aren't familiar with China and can't put these terrible events into context, I find it rather misleading. 

What is missing from the article is any reference to the fact that forced abortions and sterilizations are just not the official policy in China, and also not the norm. Such aberrations normally only occur in remote rural areas, where local officials will resort to such measures to achieve quotas. 

In fact, in 2002 the use of physical force to make a woman subject to an abortion or sterilization was outlawed, although enforcement is patchy. At the very least, we can say for sure that there is a large chunk of China where such things would never happen. Official government policy is to fine couples which break the birth control policy, and this is what usually occurs.


Of course, the Chinese government can and should be criticized for not making a real effort to stamp out such practices for good. Reading Ma Jian's article, however, one would get the impression that China is just one big hellhole full of goon squads running around forcing women to have abortions and terrorizing families. This is just not the case, and articles like this one probably don’t help to bridge the gap in understanding between Westerners and the modern urban Chinese, who live in a very different world from the one which Ma Jian describes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Corruption and the death penalty in China

Last week China’s new anti-corruption campaign made an illustrious victim. Liu Zhijun, who used to be China’s Minister of Railways, received that strange Chinese form of sentencing which exists nowhere else in the world: the death penalty with a two year reprieve. When this happens, the sentence is usually commuted to life imprisonment after two years.

The court found that during the course of his career Liu Zhijun helped eleven people to receive promotions and contracts, and got a total of 64.6 million Yuan (about 10 million dollars) in bribes from them in return. As well as the death penalty with a two year reprieve, Liu was also given a 10 year prison sentence for abuse of power, and his personal property was confiscated.

In China corruption is punishable with the death penalty if the sums acquired illegally go beyond a certain threshold, which in this case was abundantly passed. However, in view of the fact that Liu readily confessed to all of his crimes including ones which were unknown to investigators, and that most of the stolen assets were recovered, it was decided to be “lenient” and hand down a suspended death sentence.

What I find rather unsettling is the reaction of many ordinary Chinese to the case, which I gathered both from my discussions with colleagues and acquaintances and from comments I have seen on Weibo (China’s Facebook). Basically, most people’s feeling seems to be that the guy should have got the death penalty without a reprieve, and been executed for real.

This was certainly the opinion of two of my Chinese colleagues with whom I discussed the issue on the bus yesterday. They claimed that corrupt officials who get a two year reprieve sentence end up being released after ten or fifteen years, after which they can take off abroad and enjoy their wealth. When I argued that his property had been confiscated, they claimed that he was bound to have more money which hadn’t been found, and had probably already bought a house in the US.

This is an argument which I have already heard before. Corrupt officials who are condemned to death with a two year reprieve are then released after “only” a decade or so, and can enjoy their ill-gotten gains. It’s almost as if they weren’t punished at all! When I told my two colleagues that in a European country the guy might have received no more than ten years in prison from the start, they were very surprised (even though one of them actually studied in France for some years).

When I said that I thought a decade in prison is a heavy enough punishment for corruption, they were disdainful. They pointed out that Liu Zhijun’s crimes might have been responsible for the terrible Wenzhou high speed railway crash in 2011, where people lost their lives. I argued that killing people indirectly is not the same as killing them directly, but this argument didn’t go very far with them. Other Chinese I have spoken with have expressed similar views.

Then on Weibo minor internet celebrity Yanhua Meimei, better known for the sexy photos of herself which she often releases online, posted a comment on the case. It reads: “In the end Liu Zhijun had his wish not to die fulfilled. The former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun was condemned in the fist instance to the death penalty with a two year reprieve, and not all his personal assets have been recovered. The death penalty with a reprieve is perhaps the form of death penalty which most deceives the ordinary people in the whole world.” Under her post there were dozens of comments, many (but not all) supporting her view that the guy should have gotten the actual death penalty.

It is common for ordinary Chinese people to feel annoyed if important corrupt officials who are caught don’t face the death penalty. This may seem extreme and cruel to European eyes, but it must be remembered that this is a country where a number of crimes are punishable with the death penalty, including serious cases of drug trafficking.

If powerful officials don’t get executed even though the amount they have stolen is big enough to warrant the death penalty, then people feel that they are getting off the hook just because they are government officials, in contrast to ordinary people and even corrupt businessmen.  After all when some poor sod with no connections gets caught trafficking drugs to make enough money for their father’s operation, they will get the death penalty with no reprieve. Why should it be different for important politicians, goes the reasoning?

This issue came to the fore again last Friday, when Zeng Chengjie, a pyramid scheemer from Hunan province, was executed for his frauds. The execution took place without his family even being notified of the exact date or getting to see him for the last time, something which is no longer legal in theory. Zeng Chengjie's daughter opened a Weibo account to protest his sentence, and then dramatically announced on Friday that she had just found out that her father had been executed.

In the days before the execution, she had often protested that while Liu Zhijun got a suspended death sentence "because he is a government official", her poor father got an actual death sentence for being just a businessman. Her Weibo account has not been censored or deleted up to now, perhaps because of the fuss it generated.

Personally I am and remain opposed to the death penalty for any kind of crime. I don’t think it can be justified because “there are too many people in China, and we have to keep order”, like many Chinese would tell you. I realize that the death penalty is being implemented less and less in China, and that the way of implementing it has also become more civilized (although the way this Zeng Chengjie was put to death seems like a real step backwards). I am also quite aware that public hangings used to take place in my own country not that long ago.

All the same, the ease with which much of the Chinese public can demand the death penalty for people who haven’t even murdered anyone still unsettles me. I suppose this is the result of living in a country where it is a normal form of sentencing, and of anger at the unfairness when only non-influential people get executed. I hope that one day it dawns on the Chinese public that abolishing the death penalty all round is the real solution, and that it is neither a necessary nor a humane way of dealing with crime.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Student writes a biting denounciation of China's injustice in his Gaokao essay, and gets a zero.

A few weeks ago millions (literally millions) of Chinese teenagers took the Gaokao, the national university-entrance exam, and now their scores are in.

Every year, after the exams have been marked, essays which received either full marks or a zero are published or leaked to the public. This year a particular essay from a test-taker in Sichuan Province which received a zero has been doing the rounds on the internet, inspiring both amusement and admiration. The topic of the essay was supposed to be "Chinese style justice (or fairness)", 中国式平衡 in Chinese.

The young test-taker, obviously not even hoping to pass the exam, took the chance to write a denounciation of all the unfairness in Chinese society. Personally I think it is a scandal that the essay got a zero. It was on topic, and for that alone it should at least get some points by any standard. If it were me, I would have recommended this young man for one of China's top universities. What China needs is more of this kind of people.

The essay makes references to a lot of recently occured scandals in China. I have added links where possible. Here is an English translation of the essay:


Chinese Style Justice

According to the media, the last decade has seen the price of real estate increase twenty-fold. When all the young who have dreams cannot even lift their heads because they are crushed by the prices of apartments, where is justice? The common rabble’s monthly salary is enough to buy only half a square meter of real estate a month, while any one of “Brother Watch‘s” watches costs tens of thousands of kuai—and “Brother Watch” even says he has dozens of watches like these. Brother Watch even says he also has so many apartments in Beijing. Thus, my eyeballs almost popped out from their sockets [after reading this essay prompt].

Fortunately, then there came a “Sister House”, who with her actions told “Brother Watch”: You’re nothing, kiddo! After all, it was all over the news that “Sister House” has dozens of apartments in Beijing, plus four household registry booklets. Those booklets are real, and she even has four citizen identification numbers [four official valid identities]. This time my eyes actually fell out of their sockets, and it took me a while to put them back in their place. Apparently, the so-called “relevant authorities” had nothing to say about this seeming abnormality. No one was held responsible, and no one ran into trouble. Suddenly, I felt “justice.”
When the second-generation rich drive their sports cars, flowers in hand, into school campuses chasing after chicks, when the exhaust of the sports car roars and blows into my face, I think, why isn’t my dad Li Gang? This kind of cynicism spread through my body, and made me dispirited and downcast. But then, the feats of Guo Meimei reinvigorated me. When there isn’t a biological father to rely on, there’s always someone called a “godfather” ["sugar daddy"]. Unfortunately, godfathers don’t take on godsons.

When the Chinese Red Cross, the symbol of helping those in need, couldn’t explain all the discrepancies in their accounting books, when Guo Meimei flaunted her luxury accessories, when people began criticizing and blaming Guo Meimei, Meimei told them, “Sister [referring to herself] has 17.4 GB of video.” Suddenly, the leaders of the Red Cross quickly declared, “no one said anything at all!” Guo Meimei acted to protect her personal interests, displaying the noble qualities of a new generation of youth. With her snow-white thighs, she climbed again and again onto the highest award podiums of the Red Cross.

Justice? I’ve always wanted to live a just life; in a society where everyone’s equal, where the law reigns supreme, where the city management don’t beat the rabble, where school principals don’t check into hotel rooms with their students, where doctors focus on treating their patients. But I was born into this society, breathing highly polluted air, eating food that could kill you at any time, watching the director of some state tobacco bureau accumulating millions. I want to ask, do you see justice? Do you believe the Chinese Dream will ever be realized? It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not, either way I believe it.


When over ten thousand pigs collectively jumped into the Huangpu River, I realized that if I don’t believe in this “justice,” I’ll end up just like them. I’ve been waiting to live a “just” life, where the government officials are honest and do real work, where the businessmen run their businesses conscientiously, where the housing prices are not so ridiculously high, and where the people live in happiness and contentment.

There’s only a few minutes left before I have to turn in my test paper, and I already know my essay has pricked the test grader’s tiny little heart. Give me a zero then, my dear grader. I’m not scared, Sanlu milk powder didn’t kill me, so what more could a zero grade do? Don’t hesitate; scrawl down the grade, and then you can go play mahjong…
(Mahjong is China's most popular game, but it is often played for money, and thus the suggestion is that the examiner is going to go and gamble with his friends after marking the exam.)

If you can read Chinese, here is a link to the Chinese original.

The Gaokao is one of the toughest end of high school exams in the world, and only the students with the highest grades can get into university at all (although there is less pressure for students in Beijing or Shanghai, because of a system of regional differentiation widely seen as unfair). Students famously spend the year before the exam doing nothing but cramming for it.

As always, this year there have been a few cases of students committing suicide after (or before) hearing the results. Just the other day, after CCTV news reported on a suicide case, I saw the presenter inviting students not to think of their score in the exam as a life or death matter, and even quoting Lao Zi to reinforce the point. What a pity that Chinese society seems to give these young people exactly the opposite message much of the time.

Chinese students revising for the exam. On the blackboard it says "still 100 days left to the Gaokao"