With the rise of the middle class in major cities throughout China, a potentially very disruptive identity is also bound to emerge: The concept of the individual taxpayer.

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Two (probably) unrelated stories that reflect the difficulty of getting facts in China.

The first has do to with the $400 million dollar renovation of the National Museum of China.  I guess I should have probably seen where this is going based my experience visiting the Shenzhen history museum, but Chinese museums seem to have no problem creating an entirely flawless image of the Communist Party.  Foreigners, emperors, and certainly the old Republican government can be corrupt or evil, but the Party can do no wrong.

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As Foreign Policy magazine puts it, things are going from bad to worse for anyone who has a history of challenging one-party rule.   More than 50 people have either been charged with subversion or have simply “disappeared”.  Liu Xianbin will spend another 10 years in the slammer in addition to the previous 10 he did for the same crime (advocating non-violent political reform).  Ai Weiwei, an incredibly popular artist in China and abroad has disappeared without a trace from a Beijing airport.  Something like 200 other activists have either reported house arrest or under constant police observation.

This is really getting out of hand.  It’s probably the biggest sweep up of dissidents in a decade.  So far I’m able to get on WordPress and use the VPN just fine, but who knows how long that will hold out.

Anyway, hope all these people are safe and get released soon.  It will be very interesting to see if this generates more anti-government attitudes (it seems like it would) or if these dissidents will really be scared off.

I’ll link the ad itself at the end of the post, but first some observations.

The Chinese ad industry, whether it is billboards, commercials, or packaging, is pretty boring.  Literally every ad that’s jumped out at me as “cool” comes from a foreign company.  However, I’m almost positive that the actual design work for these ads (not to mention filming and casting for commercials) happens in China.  So I know for a fact that the Chinese artistic community has the ability to make cool, creative ads.  The real problem is the Chinese companies themselves, who either aren’t concerned or aren’t interested in “cool” marketing.  Why is this?

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As I discussed before, the CPC is not as monolithic as it appears on the outside.  I think this is becoming increasingly clear with the censorship in Chinese media of Premier Wen Jiabao’s CNN interview he did last September, and more recent censorship of his comments in Shenzhen earlier this year.  I don’t expect there to be a faction that will publicly denounce another anytime soon, but I think it also goes beyond what the Coasties-vs-Hinterlanders argument suggests.  Below are just some predictions, and some members might be in two or more factions, so it’s not always clearcut.

In no particular order:

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From: http://www.startribune.com/world/118626734.html

In sum, Liu Xianbin, who peacefully maintains a blog that criticizes the Chinese government and suggests democratic reform, got sentenced to 10 years in prison. This will be his second prison term (first was from 1999-2008) for the same crime. The article says the trial lasted only a few hours, and only Xianbin’s wife and brother were allowed to attend.

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There’s been a lot of hubbub in the Chinese and Western news lately about the situation in Libya, and about China’s sort of “support while not supporting” stance allowed them to save some face. In the meantime, every paper over here paints the US, UK, and France out to be colonial imperialists only in Libya for the oil. Conveniently, none of these reports mention that this operation also has support of the Arab League and the African Union, or that China could have stopped the whole damn thing with a veto.

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I can’t think of any reason to like Baidu.  It pretty much represents all the things China needs to get rid of to be successful.  I will concede that it does seem to offer a lot MORE results than Google (in Chinese), but they aren’t especially good.  Here’s my beef with the king of Chinese search engines:

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Read: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-01/21/content_9351998.htm

In another odd case of government over-interference, the Chinese movie authorities pulled the movie “Avatar” from all 2d screens in China. This was done to make way for a Chinese blockbuster – “Confucius” – to be released in the next few weeks. Avatar will continue to be shown on 3d and IMAX screens, which are of course less common.

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From: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html (blocked in China)

A new approach to China
1/12/2010 03:00:00 PM

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate
infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our
investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.

We have already used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online. You can read more here about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more about these kinds of attacks can read this U.S. government report (PDF), Nart Villeneuve’s blog and this presentation on the GhostNet spying incident.

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially
far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer