Introducing… FCC new members, July/August 2017
The latest group of members to join the FCC is, as always, an interesting bunch. The membership committee meets regularly to go through the applications and are always impressed by the diversity of the prospective members. As you would expect there’s a healthy mix of Correspondents and Journalists as well as Diplomats and Associates – and all have interesting tales to tell – so if you see a new face at the bar, please make them feel welcome. Below are profiles of just some of the latest ‘intake’.
Jean-Charles Viens: At 25 I established my first company in Hong Kong and for the past 20 years I have witnessed, first as an entrepreneur in import and export and now as an expert in wine communications, the unprecedented growth of the wine industry in Asia. I am deeply passionate about wine and other pleasures of the table and am always looking for quirky and unusual wines. I regularly travel to various wine regions around the world to learn the stories behind the labels. I am a Vinitaly Academy Italian Wine Ambassador and creator of a popular 30-part wine workshop series “How to Taste like a Pro”. When not talking about wine, I am writing about it. As Deputy Editor of Spirito di Vino Asia, a bi-monthly magazine I am dedicated to promoting a Culture & Quality “Wine-Style”. The magazine is widely distributed across Asia.
Ernest Chi: I graduated with a BA degree from the University of Winnipeg, Canada and began my career in journalism when I joined the Hong Kong Economic Journal in 1995 as a financial reporter. In 1999, I moved to Ming Pao, where I was promoted to finance news editor in 2003 before joining its general news desk in 2007.
In April 2011, I formed an investigative news team and soon after, we broke a story on the rigged purchase of Henderson Land’s luxurious residential 39 Conduit Road. Other investigations followed – notably one on voter rigging in 2011 and the following year two ‘illegal basement’ stories. The first led to the leading Chief Executive contender Henry Tang losing the 2012 election while the second report a few months later found an illegal structure in the Peak home of the newly-elected CE, CY Leung. I have often wondered whether the Chief Executive would be a different person if we had broken both stories at the same time.
I left Ming Pao in 2013 and joined HK01 as Executive Chief Editor in charge of the News. The publication was launched with a mission to drive social change, restructure social values and drive media reform. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
Michael Connelly: I have lived in Chicago, Beijing, and New York City before relocating to Hong Kong in May 2016 to assume the role of Editor in Chief at digital magazine Lifestyle Asia. My past experience includes colourful stints roaming the globe as online editor at Fodor’s Travel, reporting on the arts for New York magazine, and interning for the fiction editor of Playboy magazine. A speaker of Mandarin and Spanish, my passions include languages, cooking, 35mm photography, gardening and gin.
Bhavan Jaipragas: I’m the not-so-new Asia Correspondent for the South China Morning Post. I came on board last September, after spending a year at the LSE pursuing a postgraduate degree in politics and communication. I was previously a correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Singapore, my home country. At the Post, I work mainly with the newspaper’s This Week in Asia team and write about the politics, economy and foreign policy of the 10 ASEAN countries. I’m a wannabe polyglot and am ever endeavouring to polish my command of Tamil, my mother tongue, and Malay, my national language. I speak and understand (very) basic Mandarin.
Malcolm Johnston: Originally from Northern Ireland, I arrived in Hong Kong in 1992 for a two-year contract and decided to stay. I am a Chartered Surveyor, specialising in major transport infrastructure projects, and have worked on projects in the UK, China, Hong Kong and the Middle East. I am head of quantity surveying with Arcadis Hong Kong / Macau. Married with two teenage daughters, I am a keen hill walker, whisky taster and novice beer brewer.
Silver Kung, Ph.D: I consider myself a poetic traveller exploring life through space and time. I am a constant and enthusiastic student of world history and hope to travel to every corner of the world. I have an academic background encompassing engineering, finance and economics and have been working on cross-border and cross-fields projects for the past decade. I am an active environmentalist doing my best to preserve our planet to help make it a better place for our children. I was born in Taiwan but have lived in the US and Italy, I am currently based in Hong Kong and active in the Greater China region.
Marian Liu: On a whim, I quit my job with American newspapers to take up my first overseas post with CNN in Hong Kong. As a Chinese American, I hope to bridge the gap between countries and cultures. I cover Asian entertainment with stories about K-pop, J-pop, Canto and Mando pop and Bollywood. I manage the sites and social media for CNNMoney International, Media, Tech, Travel and Entertainment. I will also be teaching multimedia journalism at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at The University of Hong Kong. Previously, I covered entertainment as an editor, critic and writer for the Sun Sentinel, The Seattle Times, San Jose Mercury News and Source Magazine. I have an Executive MBA from the University of Washington and a Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Biology and Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley.
Carlos Tejada: Nora and Carlos Tejada may have downed a few drinks at the FCC before. We are returning members after a smoggy five-year detour through Beijing, where our children learned Chinese and discovered that the line between pets and food can get blurry fast. We have also lived in Kansas, Dallas and New York. Nora, a freelance photographer, is from Towanda, Kansas. Carlos, the Asia business editor for The New York Times, is from southern Arizona. Like so many country people, we prefer life in the big city. We are both graduates of the University of Kansas.
Alex Williams: Now 38, I have spent most of my adult life working in Asia – firstly in Beijing and Shanghai and now more recently living the dream in Wanchai. My early career penning bar and restaurants listings and selling advertising at That’s Beijing transitioned seamlessly into that of a commodities trader. I currently focus on trading large quantities of specialised sand around the world; life’s a beach! As a Brit with an American wife and a couple of ankle biters, we holiday in England and New England, or make the most of short breaks to Japan, Cambodia or Vietnam.
The one piece of the jig-saw that still needs to fall in place is setting up an AC/DC cover band here and thrashing out some foot-stomping tunes!
Weiboscope: Tracking censorship of China’s most popular social media platform
The instant-messenger app Sina Weibo has been redefined by media as a bellwether of popular opinion. Martin Choi looks at its influence with a study of a University of Hong Kong project that tracks the censorship of microblogging posts.
With the proliferation of Internet access in China, authorities are increasingly hard-pressed to prevent the spread of sensitive content before it gets blocked or removed.
One of the largest Internet-based platforms for sharing ideas publicly in China is the microblogging service Sina Weibo. It is the country’s answer to Twitter, which is officially blocked in the Mainland.
Weibo is so widely used in China that journalists, experts and China observers look to the platform as a gauge of the pervading public sentiment. By looking at what type of information is censored on Weibo, insight may be gained into the limits of free expression.
The Weiboscope project at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong, tracks and produces annual and quarterly reports on the most important censored Weibo posts of the year.
Looking at the first quarter of 2017, the most recent at press time, the top five posts relating to current affairs were selected in descending order of the reposts generated per “survival time”, or the time between which they were posted and taken down. Each post has been translated into English and includes relevant background information to provide context and insight into China’s online media environment.
By looking into the content and circumstances surrounding the censored posts, we hope that some light may be shed on the nature of discussing sensitive issues on China’s most popular microblog.
TOP FIVE CENSORED POSTS
1) Parodying the CCTV New Year’s Gala
Posted on 2017-01-27 at 12:00:47
Generated at least 40,346 reposts in 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Original: #春晚# 大家好，这是今年的春晚节目单吐槽・[bed凌乱]
Translation: #SpringFestivalEvening# Hello everybody, here are the rantings about this year’s Spring Festival Gala rundown … [bed messy]
The Spring Festival Gala, also known as the CCTV New Year’s Gala, is a highly publicised official event in celebration of Chinese New Year. Broadcast annually by China Central Television (CCTV), the event always generates criticism and is the butt of jokes on the Internet community in China for its unsubtle dissemination of Communist Party values and propaganda themes such as national unity and prosperity.
In this censored post, the whole rundown of the CCTV New Year’s Gala was parodied. For each event, netizens made a crude drawing, poking fun of the performance.
In the screenshot above, the song and dance performance of “Beautiful Chinese Year” was parodied. The drawing for the performance featured the silhouettes of numerous people and words in brackets that specifically said there were “many people”. Without having seen the event itself, it’s not too hard to envision a performance with a lot of performers.
In the image below, netizens made fun of the recital of the song “Happy Night”, sung by Phoenix Legend with a crude drawing of a pole-dancing panda saying “Come on, be happy” and “It’s New Year’s Eve, no need to do homework” in mockery of the officially joyous nature of the occasion.
This post may have been censored for making fun of the CCTV New Year’s Gala, a highly publicised event that the government takes pride in.
2) Recruiting wives for the PLA
Posted on 2017-02-06 at 17:32:20
Generated at least 52,871 reposts in 6 hours and 32 minutes
Translation: Speaking of surrogate pregnancy, not sure if you have heard of “The Eight Thousand Girls from Hunan who went to Tianshan”.
In the early 1950s, in order for two hundred thousand troops to reclaim and cultivate the barren land in Xinjiang, a large number of Hunan girls aged 18 were recruited so that each soldier could “each have one wife”. Many of the recruited girls were cultured, educated and full of patriotic enthusiasm, and they responded to the lofty call to protect and construct the borders…
To put this censored post into context, in 1950, Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the 200,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers stationed in Xinjiang after the 1949 occupation to settle down and cultivate land there to secure China’s borders.
Many of the PLA soldiers were unmarried, so Wang Zhen (1908-1993), who commanded the forces in Xinjiang, requested Mao to send female soldiers from Hunan.
Wang (who would later become vice-president of China and is known as one of the ‘Eight Elders of the Communist Party of China,’ told Mao: “Without a wife you cannot be at ease, without a son you cannot take root.” This quote can be found at the bottom of the image in the Weibo post. Over the next three years, around 8,000 young women from Hunan were sent to Xinjiang to be married to the soldiers.
History is a sensitive issue in China, especially anything to do with the image of the party or its propaganda. In March, the National People’s Congress made amendments to the Civil Code, notably that “encroaching upon the name, portrait, reputation and honour of heroes and martyrs harms the public interest, and should bear civil liability”, according to a Reuters report.
This is a significant amendment in that it restricts discussion of history that the Communist party deems sensitive. Yet this Weibo post not only brings to light history that is sensitive to the party, it also attacks the image of the PLA, which is sacred in the eyes of the Chinese government.
3) Pork or beef for the New Year?
Posted on 2017-01-29 at 13:56:50
Generated at least 13,309 reposts in 7 hours and 27 minutes.
Original: “腊月二十六，杀猪割年肉，怎么在中国中央电视台就成了粕二十六，炖牛肉？难道春节也清真了？为了灯民族团结，随意放弃自己几千年民族传统，我相信得到的只能是轻蔑和鄙视，因为你们太无耻太自贱！“ “
Translation: The folk saying is that on the 26th day of the 12th month in the Lunar Calendar, you butcher a pig to prepare for the New Year’s feast, but how come CCTV has changed this tradition to braising beef on the 26th? Has the Chinese New Year become a Muslim tradition? Freely giving up traditions spanning thousands of years for the sake of “national unity”, I believe the only thing you will end up with is contempt, for you are shameless and cheap!”
In other words, this post criticised the Chinese government for sacrificing traditions for ethnic and national unity. Ethnic minority relations are a highly sensitive topic in China, as the Communist Party has been trying to secure harmonious relations between communities. Therefore, it’s not surprising this post was censored for touching on Muslim and ethnic concerns, one of the red line issues for the Chinese government.
4) Protesting against criticism of Mao
Posted on 2017-01-08 at 11:40:14
Generated at least 2,526 reposts in 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Translation: [Meaningful] In Jinan, those people held up banners with the words “Down with Deng thief” written on it, then in smaller words “Xiangqiao” was written behind it.
In this Weibo post, a banner is erected in Jinan, with supporters of Mao Zedong condemning criticism of Mao.
Tang Xiangqiao, a professor at Shandong University of Architecture and Engineering, wrote posts on Weibo insulting Mao. As his posts gained more traction and the protest in the Weibo post became publicised, he was dismissed from his teaching position by the Shandong provincial government.
There may be two levels of sensitivity in this post. The first issue is Tang’s criticism of Mao, which could be unwelcome itself. Another issue may be the depiction of collective action, and anything on social media about collective action tends to be censored in China.
A study about censorship in China headed by Gary King, professor of government at Harvard University, claimed that China’s “censorship programme is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilisation, regardless of content.”
The study further concludes that collective action may be a stronger reason for censorship than criticism of the government. Therefore, the idea that people are standing on the streets holding banners may be the most sensitive issue at stake for the Chinese government in this post, even if they are in support of Mao.
5) Muslims take to the streets of Shanghai in worship
Posted on: 2017-02-19 12:04:39
Generated at least 2,900 reposts in 5 hours and 9 minutes.
Translation: [Shanghai Muslims occupy the streets in worship. Authorities acquiesce] Every Friday during “jummah day” (equivalent to Christians’ Sunday worship), more than a thousand Muslims gather outside the Shanghai Huxi Mosque. Even the Shanghai police forces have to clear the way to allow them to pray in the middle of the road, and the most astonishing thing is that this happens every week.
Mainland China forbids assembly, nor does it encourage religious activities, yet it acquiesces to Muslims in Shanghai occupying the road during Friday prayer every week.
This Weibo post criticises Muslims for being able to assemble on the streets of Shanghai during the noon Friday prayer. This takes place outside the Huxi Mosque, a historic building in Shanghai’s Putuo District that was built in 1922. It was the first mosque in Shanghai to be allowed to resume worship after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
As in the post about Tang Xiangqiao, this post may be sensitive on two levels. First, the post brings up and generates criticism of ethnic minorities – Muslims in Shanghai in this case. In addition, the Muslims assembling on the streets of Shanghai, although behaving peaceably, appear to violate unlawful assembly and demonstration laws. As noted in the title of the post, the authorities appear to “acquiesce” and don’t stop them from gathering on the streets.
The nature of posts like these triggered sensitive issues that send signals of alarm to the party. While the posts shown here depict many issues that worry the party – ethnic minority issues, collective action, historical narrative or even defamation of party officials these are in no way a definitive or exhaustive explanation of online censorship. Much remains to be seen regarding China’s censorship decisions over its expanding online community.