China

Does The Government Even Want To Save Cantonese From Going Extinct In Hong Kong?

By Jessie Pang

The linguistic diversity of China is fading rapidly in recent years.

According to the Globe and Mail, 88 Chinese languages or dialects are endangered.

Cantonese, one of the widely spoken languages of Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau, does not escape from this trend.

However, unlike many other endangered Chinese languages or dialects, from “Protecting Cantonese Movement” in Guangzhou to “Opposing Putonghua as a Medium of Instruction (PMI)” in Hong Kong, the regional lingua franca Cantonese receives the most viral discussion and debate across the Pearl River Delta (PRD) on safeguarding its language status and the use of it.

There are many reasons behind such importance and growing concern.

1. Government policies endanger the existence of Cantonese

To start with, the active promotion of Putonghua by Hong Kong and the Central Government in recent years harms the continued existence of Cantonese.

Although “committed to promoting trilingualism” across English, Cantonese and Putonghua is the official stance of the Hong Kong government, the Education Bureau once claimed “Cantonese is not an official language” in 2014  and states that PMI “is a long-term and developmental target” in a report to the Legislative Council’s education panel in 2015.

Despite the contradictive stance of the government, it’s no doubt that Hong Kong has long been adopting a pro-Putonghua education policy.

READ MORE: What Are The Wukan Protests And Why Should Young People Care?

“Scheme to Support Schools in Using Putonghua to Teach the Chinese Language Subject” was launched as a pilot scheme for all schools to adopt PMI since 2008.

As a result, about 71 percent of local primary and 31 percent of secondary schools are now adopting PMI together with Putonghua as a separate language subject.

The situation Cantonese speakers are facing in the Guangdong province is even worse.

A proposal on increasing the use of Putonghua in local television programs was once put forward by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Guangzhou Committee in 2010.

Despite the strong opposition that suggestion has faced, another manuscript, the Guangdong National Language Regulations was enacted by the local government in 2012 to ensure Putonghua is the only workplace language throughout the province.

This was done as part of a national push to standardize communication and enhance state unity and stability according to the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 

A scene in downtown Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Anton/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A scene in downtown Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Anton/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Lacking of the Cantonese context, children in both Hong Kong and Guangdong province are now found using Putonghua naturally in their daily life and some have started having difficulties in understanding Cantonese.

Seeing the possibility of losing their mother tongue, citizens thus become more aware of the preservation of Cantonese.

2. Cantonese is the foundation of local culture

The loss of Cantonese could also mean a loss of local culture.

Cantonese has verbally blended different languages together and as a result becomes a carrier of local culture and eyewitness of the societal development.

During the British colonial period, many common terms in Cantonese, such as dik-si (taxi) and si-do-be-lei (strawberry) were translated from English directly.

In recent years, as the contact of different cultures increases, Japanese terms have also been used in Cantonese directly, such as kawayi (cute) and fong tai (Japanese buffet).

Furthermore, many popular and distinctive local cultural products are made in Cantonese.

For instance, Cantonese opera is one of the three Chinese opera genres on the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Representative List. 

Also, Cantopop has had a significant influence in the Asia-Pacific Rim since the 1970s. The “god of song” Sam Hui and the “four heavenly kings” Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Aaron Kwok are still very popular in both mainland China and overseas.

What’s more, almost all popular Hong Kong classic movies made in the 1980s were produced in Cantonese and the Cantonese-speaking actors are still famous superstars.

Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are two popular examples of the Canto Kung Fu movie icons.

These explain the significant role played by Cantonese in the local culture and the growing importance of preserving Cantonese.

3. Cantonese is a traditional intangible heritage with international prestige

In addition, Cantonese is a precious traditional intangible heritage with a long held international prestige.

It has a richer traditional heritage. It it had been spoken by the ancient Chinese since the Tang Dynasty while Putonghua is a language introduced by the northern nomadic invaders during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

READ MORE: Was There Massive Voter Fraud In The Hong Kong LegCo Elections?

Hence, it has inherited the pronunciation, lexis, meaning and beauty of Chinese classical language. For instance, Cantonese has 9 tones while Putonghua only has 4 tones. Also, ancient Chinese literature can only be fully understood and read in Cantonese.

Moreover, such importance has gained a growing international recognition and concern.

Apart from its legal language status acknowledged by UNESCO, universities have long been offering credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing Cantonese courses which have received strong support from the public.

Photo Credit: Toomore Chiang/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Toomore Chiang/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

One significant example is the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. That institution received a large amount of thank you emails after it announced to offer credit-bearing Cantonese courses.

Therefore, people often regard Cantonese as the last resort of protecting traditional Chinese culture and languages and proud to be its defenders.

4. Cantonese is the symbol of local identity and the yardstick of distinctiveness

With such unique importance and status of Cantonese, the language has become the symbol of identity and the indication of the local political and socio-economical difference with the rest of China, especially in Hong Kong.

Lacking of confidence in the central government and fearing Hong Kong may lose its status as an international city and its competitive edge, many Hong Kong people have committed to preserve and enhance the distinctiveness of Hong Kong from China since the handover in 1997.

According to the ethno-linguistic identity model and the communication accommodation theory, when people strongly identify with their ethnic group, they tend to communicate in their ethnic language to symbolically distinguish themselves from others.

In this way, people with a strong Hongkonger identification incline to resist learning Putonghua and focus more on preserving Cantonese (Tong, 1999. International Journal of Intercultural Relations,23(2), 281-296.)

Such inclination is further intensified as the entitled ways of life and valued linguistic practices changed rapidly by the mass migration from northern China.

Guangdong province has attracted lots of migrants from the northern part of China with all walks of life ever since the economic reforms and the open up policy.

Yet, most of them failed to adapt the local culture and even demanded the city to change for them.

Hence, Guangdong citizens feel that they are the root cause of all problems, such as the recent acceleration in the strong competition in the job market, exploiting the social welfare benefit which the locals do not have and causing the rise of crime rate and more.

Hong Kong has shared a similar situation but the reaction in Hong Kong is much stronger owing to intense Hong Kong-China conflict in recent years and the three concrete promises: “once country, two systems”, “high degree of autonomy and “remained unchanged for 50 years” made by the central government before the handover.

Mao even said “language is the most significant part of life style. According to the above stipulation, therefore, the status of Cantonese can at least remain unchanged for 50 years”.

For instance, Hong Kong Airlines fight attendants launched a “No Putonghua” protest in response to a mainland passengers’ sit-in.

Also, jeering at the Chinese national anthem has gradually become a habit of Hong Kong football fans to express their anti-China feeling.

With a fear that they may lose their identities and cities, the potential of losing Cantonese has become a warning alarm in many people’s mind.

Thus, Cantonese has become a way of struggle against the domination of the outsiders for the locals with strong ethnic consciousness.

To conclude, protecting Cantonese in PRD has become more important since the 1990s mainly because Hong Kong and central government fail to understand Cantonese is not just a regional lingual franca and suppress its existence rapidly.

On the contrary, the genuine public uphold Cantonese as a precious intangible heritage with international prestige, the foundation of local culture, the symbol of local identity and hence defend the linguistic status and use of Cantonese fiercely.

Although many countries try to achieve solidarity through linguistic conformity, there are also prosperous multiethnic and multilingual countries that achieve the same goal by preserving the linguistic diversity.

If policy makers really hope to achieve a harmonious society, they should recognize the complex multicultural and multi-linguistic reality of China, respect the linguistic right of individuals and preserve Cantonese and other dialects or languages at their upmost through revising the current national policy.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

You can also like our RISE NEWS Hong Kong Facebook page to stay engaged with our local coverage. 

Photo Credit: green_intruder/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Are The Wukan Protests And Why Should Young People Care?

By Joy Pamnani

HONG KONG- The Wukan protests have hit global news headlines over the past few weeks, and yet many people, still don’t have a good idea of what it is all about.

The controversy seems to have begun in 2011, and it is certainly complicated.

But in this piece, we’re just boiling it down to the basics.

What sparked the protests?

Back in September 2011, the Wukan protests began as a result of land sales disputes in the Chinese coastal village.

Protestors argue that corrupt government officials got involved in land sales in the region without properly compensating villagers for their land that was sold.

Protests soon erupted, and clashes between the police and villagers left dozens wounded.

The movements grew in scale when a protest leader in police custody died in December 2011, as villagers forced the entire local government, Communist Party leadership and police out of the village.

Why is Wukan known as the “democracy village” experiment?

Wukan became known as China’s democracy village after villagers were granted the right to vote for officials following protests in 2011.

The term “democracy village” comes as many of China’s villages are state-controlled.

Read More: Was There Massive Voter Fraud In The Hong Kong LegCo Elections?

The country has started to introduce grassroots democracy for its villagers, and Wukan is a place people see the impacts of democracy in China, akin to an experiment.

What brought the issue into the spotlight again recently?

Protests have been on-and-off for the past few years, as villagers call for an eradication of corruption and better protection of land rights in China.

Authorities, on the other hand, have sent police and troops to crack down on the protests.

Clashes have continued.

WATCH: BBC News Report from Wukan in June, 2016

One of the elected village leaders, Lin Zuluan, was looked up to by many villagers in his fight against land seizures.

In June, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment facing bribery charges after he drafted a letter to the government demanding an end to corruption.

Lin released a taped confession, admitting to his crimes.

However, villagers believed his confession was forced and began marching along the streets, calling on authorities to release him.

If corruption is prevalent in China, why is this one of the only few uprisings we’ve seen so far?

Many mass movements have been a result of corruption, yet mainland media censorship stops information about protests that get out of hand.

While most people think the news was spread as a result of large-scale of demonstrations, experts believe it had to do with villagers’ intentions of making the news circulate around the world.

“The protestors in Wukan were very smart and invited international media outlets to broadcast the story,” Chen Xi, an Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told RISE NEWS in an interview.

Yuan Weishi, a retired historian from the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told the New York Times that geographical factors also play a role in Wukan’s mass coverage.

Guangdong is China’s wealthiest and most liberal province, and its citizens tend to look at uncensored news reports from Hong Kong, where people enjoy a higher degree of political freedom.

“People in Guangdong watch Hong Kong TV, rarely China Central Television, and so have a better understanding of civil society and the rule of law,” Weishi said, in a telephone interview with the New York Times back in 2011.“Being exposed to the Hong Kong media in their daily lives gives Guangdong people a better understanding of how the media works and what they can do.”

Hong Kong people held a democracy movement called the Umbrella Revolution two years back, and they didn’t receive as much backlash from the government. Why so?

Before going into comparisons, it’s important to understand the political context involved when comparing Hong Kong and Wukan.

Deciding whether or not to stop demonstrations in Wukan and Hong Kong don’t share the same dimensions in decision-making.

“Hong Kong was a British colony, and got handed over to China in 1997. The city has a considerable amount of autonomy, and a crackdown is an important decision related to national sovereignty,” Chen Xi told RISE NEWS. “An incident like Wukan is only a local matter.”

What’s in store for China’s democracy scene in the years to come?

Well, different experts have different thoughts on the issue.

According to a New York Times interview with Johan Lagerkvist, a professor at Stockholm University, Lagerkvist believes the Wukan incident will discourage the spread of democracy in China.

“It is now unlikely that other villages in China would adopt democracy in the mold of Wukan.” he said in the article.

However, Professor Chen Xi begs to differ, as grassroots democracy has spread well over China, as officials begin to embrace the concept of self-governance.

“Wukan is not a good model for democracy in China,” Chen Xi said. “Many elected officials have taken good care of their villages and I believe grassroots democracy will spread.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

You can also like our RISE NEWS Hong Kong Facebook page to stay engaged with our local coverage. 

Cover Photo Credit: BBC News/ Youtube (Screengrab)

In Hong Kong, Young Demosistō Activists “Greet” Chinese Official In Tense Encounter

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s National Congress, Zhang Dejiang spent three days in Hong Kong, between May 17th and May 19th.

Zhang is a member of the Chinese Politburo (the central governing organization of the CCP and therefore the country), and chief official in affairs related to both Macau and Hong Kong.

Zhang was met with some resistance from democracy advocates, including the youth led organization Demosistō.

Activists took actions to voice their displeasure with Zhang, such as displaying large banners with pro democratic messages.

Large scale protests were largely foiled by the impressive security measures taken, which ranged from utilizing divers and scores of police, to confiscating yellow towels and umbrellas; symbols of the 2014 Occupy Movement that gripped Hong Kong.

Read More: Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

The most dramatic of these protests was a premeditated “ambush” of Zhang’s convoy outside his hotel.

Several Demosistō members took part in the attempt, standing on the side of the highway or in the median. The police response was swift.


 #NathanLawKwunChung@demosisto was pressed down to ground and others were oppressed by police during protest#HongKong pic.twitter.com/ku2fkMRtWq

The activists were detained for a short while, reportedly receiving further abuse, as shown below.

Though all the activists were released today, the trouble seems to have not ended in relation to this incident.

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Demosistō’s Facebook page reports that five activists related to this display had their residences raided by police.

Zhang has been described as a rising star of the CCP by the Brookings Institute, having studied at Kim Il-Sung University, and been integral in Chinese policy towards that country in the early 1990s.

During Zhang’s visit, he made claims that the CCP was not attempting to subvert Hong Kong’s unique identity, or the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Despite these reassurances to the group of banquet invitees, security officials do not seem to think these arguments are compelling to a significant number of Hong Kongers, due to the significant police presence, and the gluing of bricks to the sidewalk to prevent their use as improvised weapons.

Are you in Hong Kong and have a tip about this story? Send us an email to editor@risenews.net

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: 羅冠聰 Nathan Law/ Facebook Video (Screengrab)

Here’s Why This Hong Kong College Student Scares The Shit Out Of The Chinese Government

On April 10th, the Hong Kong based political party Demosistō was formed by some of the youth leaders that led the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

The highlight of the party’s platform is the desire to hold a referendum on Hong Kong’s autonomy prior to 2047. It is a revolutionary desire in the eyes of the Chinese government and many pro Chinese political figures in Hong Kong.

When RISE NEWS  learned about the creation of Demosistō, we reached out to them in order to share their story.

After all, they are some of the most politically influential millennials that the world has seen.

We eventually secured an interview with Agnes Chow, the party’s Deputy Secretary General, and veteran of the student group Scholarism, which proved highly influential in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

She is also a second year student at Hong Kong Baptist University, studying politics.

Chow first became involved in Hong Kong politics in 2012, after being exposed to Scholarism via Facebook.

The group was founded in opposition to the highly controversial Moral and National Education Curriculum, which was claimed by opponents to be pro Communist Party of China (CPC) brainwashing.

One of the more compelling pieces of evidence to this claim is one of the key seven priorities of the curriculum being “National Identity“, which is to say an identity indistinct from that of mainland China.

Scholarism, and its allied groups were ultimately successful in defeating the Moral and National Education Curriculum, but also in demonstrating that a grassroots movement of millennials in Hong Kong can make political change.

However, Scholarism’s next big outing, as well as other liberal organizations, proved even larger than the opposition to the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

The Umbrella Movement was a mass protest spanning several months in Hong Kong. Thousands of protesters gathered in opposition to constitutional reform imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). These reforms give a nominating committee, with purportedly strong ties to the CPC, the authority to pre-select a handful of candidates prior to a territory wide election.

The “suffrage” presented by Beijing outraged a tremendous number of Hong Kongers, and in particular, large swaths of young people, many of whom were in secondary school.

In particular the student group Scholarism was the centerpiece of what little international media attention was put on the Umbrella Movement.  It was largely out of the ranks of Scholarism that Demosistō emerged.

However, size of opposition did not prove decisive in the Umbrella Movement, as the ultimate objective of the protesters was thwarted.

When asked if the three month event was a failure, Chow told RISE in a Skype interview;

“in terms of political goals, i think it was a failure, but it also had lots of influence on people’s minds.”

Indeed, there is something to be said of the conditions being created in which a handful of university students can exercise a considerable degree of influence in politics.

To those familiar with the Occupy Movement in the United States, the idea of using the political capital gained through the Umbrella Movement to work within a broken system may seem strange or counter intuitive.

“It is difficult to fight some things through the Parliament, or through the Legislative Council, and while I can understand these kinds of feelings, because in our legislative council now half of our council is not democratically elected, because of the Functional Constituency,” Chow said. “I still believe we can enter the Legislative Council, we can do something… because our aim is to not just work within the Council.

“Through the election we want to promote our ideas to more people. What we have to do is connect the Legislative Council and the Civil Society outside.”

The intentions of Demosistō and other liberal actors within Hong Kong has not gone unnoticed.

Earlier this year, Chow brought attention to the abduction of a man selling books that criticized the Communist party, or were otherwise banned in Mainland China.

Chow has also had the shadow of the CPC come upon her as well.

Limits on withdrawals were placed on her bank account which was intended to be used to accept donations on behalf of Demosistō, as they have thus far been unable to register as a company.

This has resulted in Demosistō relying on crowdfunding via Paypal.

Chow was more concerned with Demosistō’s hurdles in registering as a company. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t like this very much.

” In Hong Kong we do not have the legislation for political parties,” Chow said. “They all have to register as a company instead.”

These financial problems likely do not improve Demosistō’s opinion of the Hong Kong establishment.

” Of course the government and the companies will not support us, because we are opposing the government, and the business sectors are also always standing on the government’s side,” Chow said. “They have to cooperate with the Chinese side.”

Demosistō then will be relying on their proven ability to utilize grassroots tactics to gain wins in the Legislative Council, especially students, but not exclusively.

“We have involved a professor teaching in one of the arts schools… We believe that the new political party, because it’s not a student’ s organization anymore, and it’s important for us to involve more people from the older generations.”

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A Demosistō social media banner showing members of the party. Photo Credit: Demosistō/ Facebook.

She also notes that for future plans, the party will:

“Try to recruit them [volunteers], through our website, and different forums, and public locations we will try to send our message to Hong Kong People, and hope that they can join us later on.”

Spreading the message of a referendum on Hong Kong’s self determination by 2047, the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration expires, is the clear center piece of Demosistō’s platform, but is far from the only position taken.

Scholarism was deemed ill fitting for elevation to Demosistō’s status as a political party in part due to a lack of political cohesion, according to Chow.

Demosistō heavily invests in individualist language to describe their proposed policies, broken down into the ” Four Selves” :Self Initiating, Self Standing, Self Autonomy, and finally Self Determination. These are intended as steps over a ten year period.

” Self Determination does not mean dissolution of the Social Problems in Hong Kong”

” Even after self determination we still have lots of: education problems, housing problems, property hegemony, etc,” Chow said. “We still have a lot of problems to solve before the self determination of Hong Kong. Resources such as food and water heavily rely on the supply of the mainland China. No matter if it was an independent country or a city under a country, it has to have self sufficiency.”

Not only does Demosistō insist on self sufficiency for the city of Hong Kong, but also an advancement of Hong Kong’s unique identity.

” It is also important to build up the identity of Hong Kong People, so we propose a Hong Kong History subject be implemented,” Chow said in the interview. “Hong Kong people do not really know much about Hong Kong history; in our education system there are only World History and Chinese History.”

This idea of an independent Hong Kong identity seems pivotal in the dispute between Hong Kong and Beijing.  As previously noted, establishing a national identity was one of the objectives of the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

Beijing specifically does not want there to be any distinction between China and Hong Kong, and may be trying to begin laying the groundwork for 2047, and end this “salutary neglect” like relationship.

Chow concluded our chat by telling us about her vision of Hong Kong’s identity, saying;

“For me, the identity of Hong Kong people, or the characteristic of Hong Kong, is diversity. We have lots of different kinds of people, who believe in different core values, who came from different countries, who are different races, etc. It’s very important to emphasize the diversity, and not to exclude the others who disagree with us.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Agnes Chow Ting/ Facebook

Militarism Is Back In Vogue Around The World And It Should Scare The Shit Out Of Us

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published its most recent report on world wide military expenditures earlier this week.

Two headlines of the report pop out as significant.

The first is that Saudi Arabia has overtaken Russia in military spending, with $87.2 billion to Russia’s $66.4 billion, being behind only the United States and China, at $596 billion and $215 billion respectively.  The second is that, beyond the Western Hemisphere and Africa, worldwide military spending is on the rise.

These figures can be paired with known geopolitical trends and instances in order to project what particular actors may be thinking, as well as what is the world’s security zeitgeist.

First, the somewhat surprising figure of Saudi Arabia overtaking Russia in defense spending.

Russia has been working to modernize its armed forces through: professionalization, doctrinal evolution, and working to achieve technological parity with the West (particularly, but not exclusively, in electronic warfare, unmanned vehicles, and force projection).

Indeed, Moscow has been consistently increasing its defense spending since the 2000’s, into the current year.

However, in real terms, the Russian military budget has remained largely stable.  This is due to the fact that the Ruble is approximately half its value at the onset of the Ukrainian adventure.

A Ruble just isn’t worth what it used to be.

As a result, Russia’s modernization efforts are slowed for the foreseeable future, perhaps to be completed in the 2020s.

This is in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s large scale investment in weaponry to balance against Iran.

This is most noble in the three year old Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, first displaying this deterrent power in 2014, as well as procuring nearly $1.3 billion in American munitions.

These purchases seem to indicate that Saudi intends to keep Iran at arms length in the event of hostilities, utilizing its overwhelming number of missiles.

Iran in turn, due to the lifting of EU and US sanctions, will likely attempt to counter these Saudi gains.

Of course, Saudi and Russia are not the only ones preparing for conflict.

Asia leads the way in new defense spending, with $436 billion in new spending region wide.

This is driven in large part China’s need to deter American intervention in its periphery.  Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also increased their spending in response to China’s bellicose enforcement of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Afghan National Army soldiers drill in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, November of 2008. Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matter/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Europe is also continuing its trend of increased spending, in light of the Ukraine Crisis.  NATO’s biggest European spenders, Germany, France, and the UK, did not drive any growth.

But some of the Baltic states have built up their militaries.

This is likely due to the perceived threat of future Russian attempts to secure buffer space against the stronger alliance members, and unease about the Americans honoring their security agreements.

The outliers also a tell a story of the global arms buildup.

The Western Hemisphere is largely conflict free due to an end of the Cold War, and other imperialist interventions into Latin America largely subsiding after the Roosevelt administration’s attempt at being a “good neighbor”.

American hegemony over the region is uncontested.

Africa, despite being rife with conflict in: Libya, the Sinai, the West Coast, Somalia, Sudan, and the Congo, is largely devoid of great power politics.  Thus, large scale trends of regional military investment are not necessary.

These trends seem to indicate that military spending is increasingly becoming an acceptable investment of revenue in light of perceived dangers for nations from activist states.

This is potentially worrying, as periods of militarism tend to precede periods of conflict.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Vietnam: China Landed Plane On Disputed Island In South China Sea

Vietnam has accused China of violating its sovereignty by landing a plane on an airstrip on an artificial island in a contested part of the South China Sea. Le Hai Binh, foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Saturday the airfield had been “built illegally” on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago, in territory that was “part… Read More

Big Brother Time: China in Process of Creating “Social Credit” Scores

China is in the process of creating a nationwide database of “social credit” in order to not only rate the financial strength of their citizens, but also their trustworthiness.

Unlike the US or UK, China does not have a nationally recognized credit score system. However, also unlike the aforementioned countries, China’s new initiative will not only determine how good people are at paying bills. It will also be used to rate how obedient they are to the state.

Currently, this plan is in somewhat of a beta stage, as eight Chinese companies have set up sites to issue these credit scores.

Possibly the most high-profile of these is called Sesame Credit, a joint venture between Alibaba, Asia’s largest online retailer, and Baihe, China’s largest matchmaking service.

However, neither company will reveal how they determine or calculate the scores, nor will they directly speak to Western media out of fear of losing the lucrative government contract.

Conversely, they will admit that shopper’s purchases will be taken into account. As Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director, told the Chinese magazine Caixin:

“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.”

This is a very controversial point, as it leaves the door open to the government deciding who can do and buy certain things based on subjective, and possibly stereotyped, life decisions.

From a different angle, this type of credit system is being valued as little more than another authoritarian propaganda tool.

In the extensive government planning outline, the Chinese government states in Article 5, Section 1 that it will actively encourage competition between citizens to work for high scores by incentivizing trust-keeping and punishing trust-breaking.

Many Westerners are beginning to see this as China hiding an Orwellian “big brother” behind the façade of a game. For more on that angle, there is the relatively short, but oft-linked video from Extra Credits on the matter.

Watch: 

As of now, the system is opt-in. However, as part of China’s most recent Five-Year Plan, the “social credit” system, in one form or another, will be mandatory in 2020.

Cover Photo Credit: Danny Mekic’/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Sphere Of Influence: China To Open Its First Naval Base In Africa

China recently announced a landmark agreement with Djibouti to establish Beijing’s first overseas naval base in its modern history. The agreement opens the door to the creation of a permanent Chinese military presence on the African continent – at a key geopolitical address bordering the Bab el-Mandeb Strait guarding the approaches to Suez along the Arabian… Read More

Heavy Smog Shuts Down Shanghai, Sparking Health Concerns

Heavy smog covering Shanghai Tuesday shut down school events, restricted construction and kept the elderly indoors with the highest air pollution levels in nearly a year. Reuters reported authorities issued a yellow alert — which is the third-worst on the environmental scale — once the air quality index reached hazardous territory. As of 6 a.m. local… Read More

“China’s Warren Buffet” Has Gone Missing

Billionaire Chinese entrepreneur Guo Guangcheng, who styled himself on famous US investor Warren Buffet, has reportedly gone missing – causing his companies to halt share trading ahead of an expected announcement about his fate. The Caixin business magazine first reported Guo missing late on Thursday night, saying he had not been contacted since midday on Thursday.… Read More

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