Interpreting the Grass-mud Horse

The sudden popularity of the phrase Cao Ni Ma (草泥马) or Grass-mud Horse in the Chinese cyberspace perplexed many non-Chinese speakers. If you can understand it, you will gain such penetrating insights into the cyber culture in China.

Here is the interpretation of this phrase. The Chinese characters for the three words “grass-mud horse” is used to describe an imagined breed of horse, and Chinese netizens conveniently map it to lamas.

What makes this non-existent creature — grass-mud horse — so hilarious is these words are homophones of the household Chinese F word, the so-called national curse word of China. The disguised F word are cleverly woven into ordinary-looking video clips and stories. These seemingly innocent programs about the “grass-mud horse”, with the repetition of the cloaked F word for effect, became an act of netizen disobedience and a droll case of the cyber culture.

What is a civil society

The civil society, from my understanding, is a society in which citizens have the necessary resources and effective constitutional protection to fully exert their civil rights and fulfill their civil duties. This includes, but not limited to, the formation of ‘sectors’ or organizations for the citizenship related functions.

Citizens don’t not necessarily need collective or collaborated activities to maintain and expand their citizenship. As long as there is a binding social contract between the citizen and the authority, and a impartial arbitrary system to settle the disputes between the two parties, that society can be called a civil society.

Some comparable terms to civil society are slavery society and medieval society, in which there were no citizens and citizenship.

Officials Admit Existence of Grievances Before Violent Protest

Here is the official explanation to the protest happened last week, which was sparked by the controversial death of a young female student:

At a panel discussion on the protest on Wednesday, officials from the provincial and local governments said local authorities in Weng’an County had failed to solve disputes over mines, demolition of homes for city building, relocation of residents for reservoir construction, reform of state-owned enterprises and many other issues.

“Some legitimate interests (of the people) were not effectively protected, and some people bore grievances,” said a Guizhou Daily report on Thursday.

The quotes are from a post in Xinhua, the state news agency.

The next question to ask, after admitting that some people’s legitimate interests were not cared for, is who was responsible and what to do next.

Chinese Netizens Breathe New Life into Common Phrases

“Who cares, I am just buying some soy sauce” said a pedestrian, when he was asked of his opinion about the leaked porn photos of Hong Kong celebrities. Perhaps because of the public attention on the widespread porn photos, the man’s response sounded very funny for netizens. Now the saying “I’m just buying some soy sauce” is attached with new meaning, suggesting a cynical attitude toward the major events happened in China. It also carries a sense of the silent protest on the part of observers – by claiming to distant oneself from the event while silently paying attention to it.

The official description at the press conference about a young girl, whose suspicious death triggered a riot last week in Wengan County, created another popular phrase among Chinese netizens — doing push-ups. You can read my post Rape or Push-up exercises to see what happened. The focused public attention on this event again contributed to the instant popularity of the phrase “doing push-ups”, suggesting some netizens’ disbelief about the official explanation that the young student drowned herself, instead of being raped and murdered.

The creative Chinese netizens have made some caricatures about the soy sauce phrase on the Internet.

The young man told the reporter: who cares, I am just buying some soy sauce.

The words read: Soy Sauce guides the People. Indicating an attitude of ‘detached involvement’ toward social events and issues

Rape or Push-up Exercises?

I am very surprised to read about the large-scale riot happened in Wengan County, Guizhou Province on June 28th. Not believing an incident like this happened again in this already troubled year of 2008, I did some googling about the news. As expected, I received the “Connection Interrupted” error prompt in my browser, reminding me of the powerful presence of the Great Fire Wall. So I fired up a VPN connection and continued my search.

The riot or protest (you choose one word) was caused by the death of a fifteen year old girl who was a high school student in Wengan County. There are several versions about what actually happened, and I will start with the version from the official press conference (my rough translation):

At about 8 pm on June 21, Li Shufen (the victim) went out to dine with Liu Yantao and Chen Guanghan in the house of their mutual friend,a girl from another high school. Both Liu and Chen worked as interns of a local aluminum factory. At 11:30 pm, the group of four people went to the riverside to play. On the bridge, Li sat on the curb of the bridge and said, “Will I die if I jump over the bridge?” The other three persons present thought she was joking, and paid little attention to it, after casually persuading Li. Li went on, saying “If I didn’t die after the jumping, I will live a worthy life”, as Chen sat down chatting with the other girl, and Liu was doing some push-ups on the bridge. At 12:10 midnight, they heard the sound of water splashing, and found Li jumped into the water from over the bridge…

So according to the officials, the violence was organized by local gangsters and the mafia society harboring malicious intentions, along with the disgruntled families and relatives of the dead girl. Officials claimed in the news conference that all the three suspects are from rurual areas, and none of them have any connections with the party secretary of the county.

The description in the official report about the suspects doing push-ups instantly became a catch-phrase among Chinese netizens. The sudden popularity of the phrase “doing push-ups” suggests the some netizens’ doubt about the official news release, and the possible sightings of an on-going rape on the bridge by witnesses.

There are two versions on the Internet about what happened:

It is said the other girl at the scene is affiliated with some local official. Wang previously asked Li to help her cheat in an exam, but was refused by the victim, resulting the revenge by Wang. The local police dismissed the death of the girl as a suicide case, and released the suspects without thorough investigations. The angry students from both high schools (No. 4 and No. 1) demonstrated in the street, joined by locales and clashed with the police at several government buildings.

Another version goes like this:

The uncle of the girl tried to blackmail the three young persons who were with the girl when she committed suicide. He asked for a compensation of half of million Yuan (about $70,000) from them, but was refused. He then went to the local police station to report the crime, argued with and possibly attacked a policeman on duty. The uncle of the girl was beaten up and hospitalized by some people of unknown identities soon after he left the police station.

The highway from Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou to Wengan County are said to be closed afterwards due to a “road cave-in”, according to some netizens who saw the road closure sign.

I am just writing here what I read on the Internet with a filtered and firewalled connection, and I don’t assume any responsibility for the accounts of these incident widely available on the Internet. A reader I am, and a reader I will continue to be.

Photos are from dwnews, and they have more on their site. More photos on this page.

Dr. Lin Yutang on Fenqing and their Patriotism

I wrote my own definition and analysis of Fenqing in this post — What is a Fenqing.

The quote below is from the preface of My Country and My People by Lin Yutang. I quote Lin Yutang because I am disgusted by the so-called patriotism of the self-righteous Fenqing (literally means ‘angry youth’, who are brain-washed and know nothing about such concepts as citizenship, the role of a party, and the legitimacy of the government). Stupid but fervent, they are pitiful as well. They never realized they are just being used and the very thing they proclaim to worship and die for is enslaving them. What’s more sad about them is that they are easily manipulated and highly disposable after finishing the “jobs”.

Fortunately, most of the Fenqing I know are very young, mostly below their twenties. I was once like them, but only to a much lesser degree in terms of ignorance and fervency, simply because I was an English major.

They will change, I believe, after they left the school and started to face the real life. Broader social contact, the competitive job market and the hardship of life will gradually show them the reality and teach them the value of real citizenship.

China is too big a country, and her national life has too many facets, for her not to be open to the most diverse and contradictory interpretations. And I shall always be able to assist with very convenient material anyone who wishes to hold opposite theses. But truth is truth and will overcome clever human opinions. It is given to man only at rare moments to perceive the truth, and it is these moments of perception that will survive, and not individual opinions. Therefore, the most formidable marshalling of evidence can often lead one to conclusions which are mere learned nonsense. For the presentation of such perceptions, one needs a simpler, which is really a subtler, style. For truth can never be proved; it can only be hinted at.

It is also inevitable that I should offend many writers about China, especially my own countrymen and great patriots. These great patriots have nothing to do with them, for their god is not my god, and their patriotism is not my patriotism. Perhaps I too love my own country, but I take care to conceal it before them, for one may wear the cloak of patriotism to tatters, and in these tatters be paraded through the city streets to death, in China or the rest of the world.

I am able to confess because, unlike these patriots, I am not ashamed of my country. And I can lay bare her troubles because I have not lost hope. China is bigger than her little patriots, and does not require their whitewashing. She will, as she always did, right herself again. Nor do I write for the patriots of the West. For I fear more their appreciative quotations from me than the misunderstandings of my countrymen.

I write only for the men of simple common sense, that simple common sense for which ancient China was so distinguished, but which is so rare today. My book can only be understood from this simple point of view. To these people who have not lost their sense of ultimate human values, to them alone I speak. For they alone will understand me.

Links:

  • You can read the Chinese translation of the quote by Lin Yutang here.

The Rise of the Civil Society in the Wake of the Sichuan Earthquake

It has been more than a week since the deadly earthquake struck Sichuan Province. Among the debris, the enormous suffering and the heavy loss of lives, there rises the hope of an emerging civil society.

Strong government and a weak society was a prominent feature in Chinese history. China was an agricultural society, and every household in the rural area, as an individual economic unit, formed the fundation of the society. The connections among these economic units were loose and almost nonexistent. On top of this base, there was a hierarchical bureaucracy directly controlled by the throne. The bureaucratic system, to perform the tasks of taxing, drafting as well as to sustain its own survival, must exert tight and efficient control of the base population. Coupled with the scarce connections among the economic units at the base, a strong government and a weak society became an inevitable phenomenon throughout Chinese history.

China’s civil society has been budding and growing over the past three decades. After all, rapid economic growth will inevitably nurture the spirit of civil society and empower it with necessary economic means. This earthquake became a window opportunity to observe the Chinese civil society in action.

  • Tens of thousands volunteers all over China hurried to the devastated area for the rescue and relief work. This spontaneous action may indicate two things: the increased mobility of normal citizens; the awakening of the sense of civil duty. When interviewed by the reporter, a volunteer, who is on pension himself, said he volunteered because he wanted to repay the society for the tuition waiver his kids received. Chen Guangbiao, who is an entrepreneur in construction in Jiangsu Province, arrived at the site with 60 construction machines and 120 of his employees almost at the same time with the PLA soldiers.
  • The Internet and other media played an enormous role in both informing the public and conveying the public opinions. The servers of the most popular liberal forum KDNET were overloaded, and there were discussions of lowering the national flag to half-mast before the decision was announced by the State Council. Netizens also fervently debated the predictability of earthquakes, the reasons for the delayed entry of the foreign rescue teams, the auditing of the donations to the red cross, and the promptness of sending the paratroops.
  • The government mobilized resources and man power with unprecedented scale in the relief work. Never before did China lower her national flag in major disasters and sound the sirens in a three day national mourning. The press conference is held on a daily basis, and some thorny questions raised by the journalists and their answers are accessible to the general public. The central television station covered the earthquake extensively with compassion and grief that brought tears into the eyes of the whole nation.

As I mentioned above, the rise of the civil society is inevitable in Chinese society, but its presence was almost forgotten. The remarkable display of the civil spirit in this earthquake make me believe the fervent, stark, often blind nationalism can not be the only force that shapes China’s future.

Successful Earthquake Predictions in China

CAN AN EARTHQUAKE BE PREDICTED?

Can. Period.

“Earthquake prediction, though challenging, is not impossible, at least for some earthquakes” — American Geological Institute (AGI)

WHAT IS A VALID PREDICTION FOR AN EARTHQUAKE?

According to Wikipedia, a meaningful earthquake prediction must have all the following elements: Specific area; Specific magnitude or magnitude range; Specific time window; Estimate of probability compared to random chance; A physical basis.

THE PREFECT PREDICTION

China successfully predicted the magnitude 7.3 Haicheng Earthquake in 1975. It is the first successful prediction of the earthquake in human history.

This prediction is not just an isolated instance.

MORE SUCCESS STORIES

Chen Jianming, the head of the State Seismological Bureau (SSB) of China, said in an interview by CCTV “I believe earthquakes can be predicted — practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. Haicheng Earthquake mentioned just now is a good example. We also have more than twenty effective predictions and forecasts over the past thirty years.”

Another well known example is the remarkable story of Qinglong County in 1976 Tangshan Earthquake. Taking great political risks, the county officials implemented comprehensive measures to prepare for the quake and only a single person died of heart attack in the deadly earthquake. Ran Guangqi, the party secretary and the administrator of the Qinglong county, responded to the doubters of Qinglong miracle by saying “Some say that the Qinglong case is like ‘a blind cat bumped into a dead mouse’, but I say those people have scales on their eyes and they know it.”

Ran Guangqi, the head of Qinglong Country was awarded a medal by the U.N.for his courage to act and care for his people. He says
“Chairman Mao’s words emboldened me — a communist is fearless of the five things: being beheaded, imprisoned, and divorced…” said he, on his courageous decision to mobilize the people to prepare for the incoming earthquake

BUT EVEN JAPAN AND U.S. CANNOT PREDICT EARTHQUAKES

Well. China invented the first seismograph about 1800 years ago, at least a thousand years earlier than the appearance of similar devices in other places. China was the leading country in earthquake predictions thirty years ago.

THEN HOW TO PREDICT QUAKES?

I am no seismologist, and can only tell you what I read from the Internet.

Earthquake Cloud

First of all, there should be numerous precursors before a major temblor. This includes strange animal behavior, the abnormal changes in the temperature, clarity and level of ground water, earthquake clouds, Day-glo colors in the sky. The list goes on.

Secondly, quake scientists have instruments that can measure the changes in geomagnetism, geoelectricity, crustal pressure. Abnormal readings in meteorological and astronomical stations are also valuable to predict quakes.

Di Qingguo’s theory on the correlation between droughts and earthquakes caught my attention. He postulates “One to three years before the strike of magnitude 6 or above earthquakes, the epicenter will suffer from droughts. The area of the drought is proportional to the magnitude of the earthquake. If the quake occurs in the third year after the drought, the magnitude will increase by 0.5 in comparison to the scale of the first year.”

His theory sounds very insightful if one correlates it to the severe drought that plagued Sichuan in 2007. The rise of ground temperature also occurred in 1973 Haicheng Earthquake “A part of the ice in a shade of a frozen reservoir melted during a very cold winter, and many snakes suicided on the frozen ground.” Di Qingguo’s studies are also used for the short-term prediction of quakes.

Thirdly, the population at large should be educated and informed about the earthquakes and its precursory phenomena. They should be encouraged to report the possible signs promptly once they notice something unusual. The lay watch stations set up by volunteers in Qinglong County greatly contributed to the success story of Qinglong county.

WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE HESITANT OR RELUCTANT TO ISSUE QUAKE PREDICTIONS?

No one can guarantee their predictions of earthquakes are accurate, and the consequences of a false alarm can be very severe. Despite all of the repercussions of an inaccurate prediction, it is a matter of responsibility and conscience down to the core.

Nobody explains this more amply than Ran Guangqi, the head of Qinglong County. When asked if he was under pressure to issue an earthquake alert, he replied:

I couldn’t sleep for several days, and I was greatly troubled. The warning has been issued and the most of 470,000 people of the county moved outdoor. The loudspeakers kept broadcasting the imminent quake. To tell you the truth, I have a family and a career. I could lose my position as a county leader if I alerted people; on the other hand, the lives of 470,000 people were at risk if I didn’t. The choice agonized me … But what if the quake does strike? I would be ashamed of myself for letting my people down, and have a guilty conscience in my entire life — even tough I may not admit it. I really like the two lines in a poem by Lin Zexu: “When the nation is in a crisis of life and death, how can I evade my duty due to personal gains and losses?”

Shall the public be informed about a possible strike?

It is impossible to predict earthquakes with %100 accuracy, and a false alarm can cause panic and disturbance in the public. so is it better to hide the information and let them die?

Informing the public about a possible disaster does not necessarily cause panic and disturbance in the public. Experts in public administration and disaster management should be consulted as to how to inform the public of the truth and avoid the possible panic. In fact, concealment of information from the public is more like to cause panic and the spawn rampant rumors.

Everybody knows he or she will die one day. Does it mean we all panic once we learn about our mortality?

The recent example during the outbreak of SARS in China 2003 better explains the importance of informing the public. China suffered heavy losses of life in the endemic, partly because the information of the disease was not released to the public promptly, and on some occasions, deliberately hidden from the public. At the beginning, the population had little knowledge about the virus and it spread quickly among the unprotected and unprepared people at large. The hard lesson was learned, and laws were later passed to ensure the immediate reporting and announcing on the occurrence of contagious diseases.

Seismologists should inform the public about the probability of an incoming earthquake, and necessary precautions and measures should be taken to minimize the damage.

The worst-case scenario is the prediction proved to be inaccurate and the normal social and economic lives were affected. However, no loss is comparable to the nightmare when an earthquake struck an unprepared population.

WHY THE EARTHQUAKE PREDICTION IS IMPORTANT IN CHINA

For the obvious reason that China is the most populous country in the world.

Sichuan Government Dispelled the Earthquake Rumor Earlier

Here is a screenshot of a page in the Sichuan Government Website. It claims to have restored order and peace after successfully dispelled the rumor of an incoming earthquake.

The original page is no where to be found on the said government website anymore, but a Google search will turn up the same screenshot and Chinese people’s comments about it.

Below is a translation of the content of the page by Rjkoehler:

Sichuan Earthquake Predicted a Week Ago? | The Marmot’s Hole

At 8 PM on May 3, the Aba Seismological Center received numerous phone calls from citizens asking about rumors that Barkam County officials had warned their people of an impending earthquake and advised them to take shelter outside. The Aba Seismological Center contacted the Barkam County Seismological Center to confirm the rumor and eventually found out that a local official misheard during a videoconference that there would be a major earthquake. Aba officials then assured the populace that there was no danger.

Wikipedia discussed the predictability and the warning signs of this earthquake:

2008 Sichuan earthquake – Wikipedia

On May 13, in a press conference held by the State Council Information Office, a Singapore journalist said they received complaints from 7 workers from the Sichuan Seismological Bureau, who claimed they detected some earthquake evidence several days before the earthquake, but the prediction was banned by the bureau for the stabilization before the 2008 Olympic Games. The bureau responded that earthquake forecasting is a “World problem”, and that no prediction notification was received before the earthquake. The only case in the last 100 years that an earthquake was successfully predicted by an official department was the Haicheng earthquake in 1975 by the China State Seismological Bureau.

Watch the video clip of press the conference held by the State Council Information Office with English interpretation.

An Anti-CNN website?

Some Chinese netizens have launched a site called “anti-cnn.com” to vent their anger toward CNN.

In a CNN report on the turmoil in Tibet dated on March 15, an accompanying picture of the report showed two army trucks on the street in Lhasa. Some Chinese netizens found the original picture from AFP, and condemned CNN for cropping the picture to screen out the rioters stoning the trucks. On the Anti-CNN site, several other western media are also criticized for using the pictures of the Nepalese protests to report what happened in Tibet.

The link to the inflammatory report at CNN.com, which has over 1300 diggs, has been replaced by CNN with the original picture and a different story.

Anti CNN: the original photo

You may want to read the following links to further investigate what is going on and form your own opinion.

1. Anti-CNN.com. Screenshots of some foreign media reports are posted and annotated to “expose the lies and distorted facts in the western media”.

2. ESWN. An analysis of the pictures posted on Anti-CNN and the author’s own opinion: “It won’t do to tell them [Chinese netizens]: Since the your media are rotten, we are surely entitled to suck (but not as much)! “.

3. Xinhua News Agency. A spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to questions about the Anti-CNN website, saying “What the Tibetan incident leaves us is a mirror which tells us the true colours of some in the international community”. This site also posted a commentary saying “Now a word for these Western media: watch out for your credibility crisis.”

4. Danwei. A source of this site reports that CNN was not invited on the journalist junket to Tibet in the aftermath of the Tibetan riots. A post on this site says the anger of the Chinese netizens toward the CNN correspondent in Beijing is “misdirected”.