Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Propaganda or Collective Memory? Citizens Invited to Help Build National Day Websites

The red banners on the homepage of sohu, sina and xinhua

The celebration of the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic of China has become a phenomenon on the web. Major web portals in China:,,, and major news websites such as, and, all have a banner at the very top of their homepage, which links to a separate website dedicated exclusively to the celebration of the anniversary.

All the banners use red as the background color, and all carry the title: “Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.” Sohu adds a subtitle of its own: “Seeking a Modern China,” and Sina’s subtitle reads: “Nation/Home.” Not only that these banners are in pretty much the same design, located at exactly the same spot on each website (except, even the width of the banner is also uniformed: about one centimeter. This is not coincidence, but very likely the result of some administrative orders from the top power.

One can sure call it propaganda, but propaganda of a very fine kind, propaganda with a revolution: invitation of contribution from citizens. In other words, these websites are not entirely just a venue of official messages, but a platform for common folks to share their life experiences and memories.

On these websites are state media reports, official documents, as well as memoirs, videos, and photos produced by common netizens. The content is so comprehensive that they record a tremendous amount of experiences of the nation in the past 60 years: from major historical events to individual memories, from red guards to someone’s childhood jelly shoes.

Texts, photos, videos, slide shows, forums, blogs, etc., these sites have them all. The range of information is also very broad: history, current events, politics, economics, culture, arts, literature, music, sports, life style, feelings, opinions, and so on.

The sheer content of these websites may simply be too much for one to absorb. Nevertheless, they very well demonstrate the capability and power of the Internet in the massive media campaign for celebrating the anniversary. And this time, citizens are involved in contributing the content, turning a traditionally state propagandist endeavor into a fabulous show of collective memory.

Special National Day websites by major web portals and news organizations:
China News:

Update: some of the sites changed its outlook on the actual National Day, Oct. 1.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is China’s Society Really Advancing? Re: Prof. Gregory Chow

Prof. Chow's blog on

The Chinese society has made great process in the past few decades and will sure continue to improve in the future. This is the view Gregory Chow (Zou Zhizhuang), professor emeritus of political economy at Princeton University, wrote in an article published in China Business News and also posted on his blog on This article is listed as the “Opinion Leader” piece on sohu blog homepage on Tuesday.

Seems to me, however, Prof. Chow’s argument is ambiguous at best.

First, he listed the criteria for judging social progress: people should feel that the society is better than the past; the public should obey the law and don’t do things that harm others; the public observes high moral standards, and is willing to help others, etc. Prof. Chow threw the standards out there without making the claim that the current Chinese society has achieved them. Maybe he was actually subtly criticizing the current situation, which perhaps makes more sense.

Indeed, millions of people are feeling that the society is getting worse: people are more selfish, youth don’t respect the elderly, government is nothing but corrupt. The list goes on and on. Also, who is to say that people really obey the law in China? If so, then how come counterfeit and fake goods have become the hallmark of China’s burgeoning market, so prevalent that even baby formula could not be exempt? And what about altruism? Well, people will laugh if someone tries to advocate for this idea. “Are you dumb?” They are going to ask.

Prof. Chow did, however, praise progresses made in the past few decades in the Chinese society, such as education. “I believe, the Chinese society will continue to advance,” he went on to say. Why? “Because the government and the public are making efforts in the aforementioned directions,” he wrote. So again, people are trying to achieve a good society as he depicted, but not quite there yet. His other reasons for being optimistic include China’s economic growth and a “sufficient number of” excellent individuals in China.

I appreciate his insights but not sure about his prescription. For one thing, society-wide corruption—government, business, even academia—is not something that could be resolved by a stronger economy or a few excellent individuals. And don’t forget that if China’s environment continue to deteriorate at the current rate, there is no future for the nation, no matter how much money, how many talents it will possess.

Of course, I may sound just too bleak. What I’m trying to say is that, yes, China’s society may well get better, but certainly more needs to be done.

Prof. Chow’s blog on