Behold, an exemplar of the Red Army Orchestra parody meme:
ChinaSMACK is a treasure. It provides such a useful complement (and counterbalance) to mainstream China news, precisely because it isn’t news at all. Instead, it’s a cross-section of the stuff that’s criss-crossing Chinese web browsers right now. It’s weird and funny and meme-y. Sometimes it’s gross and depressing. But it’s always revelatory.
Importantly, chinaSMACK filters and translates not just Chinese internet content, but also the comments on that content. For instance, here are some comments on that video above:
Godly syncing, the electric erhu at the end was the most niubi
I laughed until my stomach hurt; I’m worried this will be harmonized.
louzhu, hurry and delete this, otherwise you’re going to be harmonized.
There are at least two things worth noting, right? One is obvious: the use of “harmonized.” It’s funny how it manages to imply punishment, censorship and smoothing-over, all at once. The other is subtler: louzhu. It’s a generic term for “the person who made the first/original post or started a BBS topic”—sort of an internet-specific honorific. I like it.
Oh, and niubi means bad-ass.
Also from chinaSMACK: here’s a day in the life of a member of “the ant tribe.”
People who are allegedly and secretly paid five mao (50 cents RMB) per post/comment that praises, supports, or defends from criticism/attack the country, government, or Communist Party. Netizens who are very nationalistic are often accused of being part of the “50 cent party” spreading propaganda or “guiding” public opinion.
So, with that context, I really enjoyed this (translated) sharp, satirical post from Chinese writer and blogger Han Han:
Moreover, if [Party members] perform well on microblogs, the authorities may notice and ask them to use their cell phones to guide public opinion moment by moment. To them, this is a disaster: at first it was 10 cents for one post, and that was good, but sending a text message to influence [public opinion] costs ten cents, plus there’s the cost of electricity for charging their phones, anyway they’re losing a little bit of money. Don’t ridicule them, they sell themselves for one mao, for a thousand kuai they would sell a kidney; to them, a little money is still money.
It’s part of this whole tongue-in-cheek riff about Fifty Cent Party members doing their job too well—a fun, strange insight into the Chinese internet.
One of my favorite things about the chinaSMACK approach is that they always translate a bunch of the comments, too. Of course, right? Brilliant! Check it out.
Google’s announcement that they’re going to stop censoring their Chinese search results in response to a cyberattack targeting Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents is big news, but I wanted to look* at some older instances of political attempts to control information (and of users to hide it).
Samuel Pepys, the only person more famous for writing a diary than Anne Frank, had a problem. He’d bought this book, Mare Clausum by John Selden, in a 1652 translation that included a lavish dedication “To the Supreme Autoritie of the Nation: The Parliament of the Commonwealth of England.” The trouble is that in 1660, Charles II was restored as king of England. Whoops.
In 1663 a new edition – keeping Nedham’s translation, but changing the title page – had been published by two booksellers called Andrew Kembe and Edward Thomas… For readers who already owned the 1652 edition, and who didn’t want the shame of the old title page but were reluctant to shell out for a new one, there was another option. The bookseller Robert Walton was offering a new title page that could be bound or pasted into the old edition, restoring the dedication to Charles I.
Pepys was nothing if not politic and practical, so on 17 April 1663, he visited Walton to paste the new title page into his book. Pepys also burned books that he thought might incriminate him, either with the government or his wife, as in the case of a French book Pepys found pornographic:
Friday 7 February 1668. We sang till almost night, and drank my good store of wine; and then they parted and I to my chamber, where I did read through L’Escholle des Filles; a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for imagination’s sake (but it did hazer my prick para stand all the while, and una vez to decharger); and after I had done it, I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.
As Nick Poyntz (who blogged about this at Mercurius Politicus) wrote: “This is the seventeenth-century equivalent of wiping your browser history.” Awesome.
* Actually, I was going to write about Pepys anyway. But Google! China! Crazees.
Cool WSJ blog post on the reaction to Avatar in China:
In his post, titled “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” [blogger] Li [Chengpeng] draws a comparison between the tree where the Na’vi live and the homes of people who resist eviction—known in China as “nail houses” because of the way they stick up out of would-be construction sites
I liked this line from Chinese writer Han Han:
“For audiences from other places, barbaric eviction is something they simply can’t imagine–it’s the sort of thing that could only happen in outer space and China.”
Of course, I’m just waiting for that house in the WSJ photo to explode into a mass of brightly-colored balloons and float away…
Rachel shares some language hacks used to confound the Great Firewall:
Chai Zi, if you remember, is an old form of divination involving the splitting up of Chinese characters into their component radicals,altering or removing strokes to form different words. But ancient an artform as it is, it’s also become, today, one of the weapons in the arsenal of the Chinese Internet Résistance.
An example I like: the government likes to say that it filters the internet to promote ‘harmony’ (和谐, HE2 XIE2), and bans ‘unharmonious’ blogs. Chinese bloggers, however, say sardonically of a banned blog that it has been ‘river crabbed’ (河蟹, HE2 XIE2), because the word for river crab, while comprised of entirely different words to the word for harmony, nonetheless sounds exactly the same.
Cross-reference this with Stanislas Dehaene’s book “Reading in the Brain” and you get a gooey mass of brain-bending politico-linguistic delight.
I really love what they’re doing over at chinaSMACK: translating and republishing pieces from the Chinese blogosphere so we non-Chinese speakers can get a peek at them, too. Here’s a good example: a post about life as a university student in Beijing—written by a university student in Beijing. It’s squalid!
See also: Dwelling Narrowness, a popular TV show in China. Man it would be cool to see that with subtitles.
James Fallows follows up on nine Chinas with a bunch of fun refractions of China’s mass based on perceptions from particular vantage points. You’ve seen maps like this before. Here’s China from the POV of Shanghai:
It’s just like that great old New Yorker cover with the view of America from 9th Avenue—
—which I love because the rendering does all the work; no labels required. The American interior as maize rectangle. Doh. Perfect.
These maps only work if they’re drawn from some specific perspective, with some particular allegiance made clear. This annotated map of San Francisco, for instance, is not funny—because it hates everything! (Except maybe the “Forests of Mystery”?) Now, a hipster’s map of San Francisco, or San Francisco through the eyes of a visiting Chicagoan—those could be good.
Likewise, Maira Kalman’s classic map of New Yorkistan doesn’t fit the genre; it, at least, manages to be super-funny, but it still doesn’t really let you know who is drawing the map. (Am I being too picky?)
Any more like this out there that you’ve seen?
Here’s a fun Wall Street Journal piece on shanzai culture in China:
Shanzhai, which literally means “mountain fortress” and implies banditry and lack of state control, refers to China’s vast array of name-brand knockoffs. Shanzhai versions of Apple Inc.‘s iPhone, for example, include the HiPhone, the SciPhone and the deliberately misspelled citrus-themed iOrgane.
Recently, the definition of shanzhai has expanded. On China’s Internet, blogs, bulletin boards and news sites carry photos of automobiles jerry-rigged to run on railroad tracks (“shanzhai trains”), fluffy dogs trimmed and dyed to look like the national mascot (“shanzhai pandas”) and models of the Beijing Olympic Games’ National Stadium made out of sticks (“shanzhai Bird’s Nest”).
And finally, a sort of storefront Las Vegas. Instead of faux Paris…
A property developer in Nanjing, hoping to lure business and buzz, set up storefront facades with logos such as “Haagon-Bozs,” “Pizza Huh,” “Bucksstar Coffee,” “KFG” and “McDnoald’s.” Images of what became known as “Shanzhai Street” spread rapidly online.
This reminds me of the semester I spent in Bangladesh with my classmate Dan. For weeks we’d heard legends of a Domino’s Pizza somewhere in Dhaka. Domino’s! So finally, we made the trek and discovered not Domino’s, but… Dominous. Same red-and-blue livery; crucial extra vowel. It clearly had nothing to do with the U.S. Domino’s—except for the suggestion that the owner of Dominous (who came to greet us at our table) may once have worked at one.
I love the shanzai vibe. There’s a certain Robin Hood spirit to it: the noble, resourceful, slightly wacky rogue.
This is terrific: a colorful little map that breaks China down into nine distinct regions. Probably a bit too concise for real China experts, but I found the shorthand revelatory and useful.
And here, the map’s creator slots the regions one-by-one into a list of the world’s most populous countries. Man that is a lot of people.
Here’s the North American analogue for all of Snarkmarket’s Chinese readers! “Ecotopia”—talk about shorthand—but I love it.