Sunday, September 26, 2004

Google abets Chinese censorship

Google's recently launched news service in China doesn't display results from government-banned websites, according to a study by Dynamic Internet Technology. The study was reported yesterday in the Associated Press.

Google has acknowledged this self-censorship, but contends it is necessary to make the search engine "efficient"–if users clicked on dead links, they would grow irritated.

"Google has decided that in order to create the best possible search experience for our mainland China users we will not include sites whose content is not accessible," said company spokeswoman Debbie Frost.

Monday, September 06, 2004

South Korea reveals ability to develop nuclear weapons

"Dick Cheney and I will make this world safer, stronger and better for every American," says George W. Bush today at a rally in Missouri.

In the meantime, South Korea admitted last week they had begun conducting secret experiments with enriched uranium, the ingredient for nuclear energy.

The Financial Times reports:

"South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have all refrained from developing nuclear arsenals because they enjoy the military protection of the United States.

However, the growing military and economic power of China, the threat posed by North Korea and weakening ties with Washington since the end of the Cold War are causing the three US allies to question their security.

A US announcement last month of plans to reduce its number of troops in Asia by about 20,000 in the next 10 years has increased doubts about US commitment to defend its allies."

Heroes need not be Nameless

Hero, Zhang Yimou's epic martial arts movie, has finally been released in the U.S. The movie was released in China two years ago and nominated for an Academy Award but theatrical distribution was held up due to funding difficulties at Miramax/Disney.

Having seen the movie yesterday, I can understand the disappointment of Chinese audiences with the film. Although a huge commercial success in China, Hero was not held in high esteem among fans of Zhang Yimou's previous work.

Zhang Yimou's early movies shifted between historical dramas (Raise the Red Lantern, To Live) and stories of ordinary triumphs/tribulations in Chinese society (Not One Less, Happy Times).

In Hero, we find Zhang Yimou deeply in the debt of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--so deeply in debt that he borrows the previous film's flying warriors, above-the-treetops battle, and two leading actresses. But the film's plot, largely propagandist in nature, fails to achieve the sublime depths of Crouching Tiger. Nameless (Jet Li) sacrifices himself for the destiny of the Qin Emperor, a notorious tyrant. In the film, this makes him a "Hero."

Brian Marple writes about the underlying subtext:

"The historical Emperor Qin was known for his cruelty. The movie does refer to his practice of slaughtering entire villages. It is silent about the tortures he employed, the draconian legal code that involved the cutting off of limbs, his burning of books and suppression of schools of thought, or such incidents as the burying alive of hundreds of scholars who had objected to his rule.

The reason for the differences between the historical Emperor Qin and the movie’s retelling may be found in the needs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)...

Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has used China’s state controlled media to make the claim that the Communist Party exists for the sake of a great and unified China. Love of China and love of the Party are conflated, and love of China is taught to be of supreme importance.

This propaganda campaign has been an extraordinary success. The generation of 1989 peacefully asked for democracy; today’s young Chinese riot in the streets following the United States’ accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The claims made for democracy appear to have been buried, their place taken by a virulent form of patriotism.

Zhang’s movie fits the CCP script very neatly. It appropriates China’s history, its founding moment, the unification by the Emperor Qin, and uses that history to teach the very same lessons that CCP has taught: the need to give up individual claims (what we today call rights) for the sake of a great and powerful China under the rule of a strong leader (the CCP)...

Zhang Yimou’s early films were not patriotic epics... Many of them were banned in China...

The release of Hero was announced at a press conference held at the Great Hall of the People, something unheard of. The involvement of the Chinese government allowed Zhang to raise the unprecedented sum of $30 million US he needed to make the movie..."
I would be wary of the state which asks you to take its arrows and offers nothing in return.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Russian media hesitates over coverage

Russia's state-dominated media was slow to interrupt regular programming to provide coverage of last week's Beslan tragedy, Francesca Mereu reports in the Moscow Times.

Mereu writes, "When the biggest terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001, was coming to a tragic end on Friday and the world was holding its breath about the North Ossetian children held hostage, the two main state-owned Russian television channels did not interrupt their regular programming.

Channel One and Rossia continued showing a film and a documentary while CNN, the BBC and EuroNews were broadcasting live pictures of half-naked and bloodied children running terrified through the streets of Beslan, thirstily grabbing water bottles."