It’s not often that Chinese media has a positive story about the chengguan to relate, so they’re making the most of this one, even if they have to explain what a chengguan is and why they’re so loathed beforehand.

(The post wisely omits to mention that they are most famous for demanding bribes and – if insufficiently sweetened – administering beat-downs.)


Brand Identity Theft

山寨 (shanzhai) is a Chinese word for a particularly Chinese product: knock-offs. They look pretty much the same, but there’s generally something ever-so-slightly off.

Shanzhai Lamborghini

Seems legit.

Well over the past year or so, CCTV’s foreign social media has gradually been turning into a shanzhai version of Russia Today. We’ve observed this before, but one particular facebook post made today seems like a milestone in the transformation.

As part of the RTification of CCTV we’ve tended to get a lot of footage from Chinese tv talent shows. This is because the Chinese authorities would love to be able to mobilize the viral video phenomenon in the same way that RT did. However, while RT had the balls to play up to national stereotypes by making itself a go-to source for meanwhile-in-Russia videos, the powers that be ruling CCTV are less willing to take risks, and hence wary of posting videos that might make China look bad. Or, more realistically, wary of posting videos that a 60 year-old CCP cadre might think might make China look bad.

So we get Cultural Artifacts, weird stuff happening abroad that has nothing to do with China, and the aforementioned talent shows. Lots and lots of talent shows.

And it’s moderately interesting – certainly compared to actually watching CCTV News in Chinese – but it’s no bear-riding-in-a-taxi.

Meanwhile in Russia

Meanwhile in Russia…

Today, however, they seem to have taken things a step forward:

CCTV Facebook


The only reason the post embedded above stands out is because it’s moderately sarcastic. It’s not actually sarcastic, obviously, but they’re clearly testing the waters. CCTV’s transformation has been much more gradual than RT’s was, and it appears that the authorities will only allow daring experiments such as this at very widely spaced intervals. Nevertheless, it is happening. When you compare CCTV now with what it was just a few years ago, the difference is impressive. It’s grown more open, but it’s also grown far slicker. Which raises the question: which is better, propaganda that can easily be seen through or real news content presented in such a way as to manipulate the audience?

Interestingly, I happened to mention the RTification of CCTV to a friend who works in the Chinese media. He replied, “Oh yes. The CCTV executives go to Russia every year for training.”

Good luck getting this stuff out of your head

China’s 13th Five Year Plan is coming up, and these guys have made a bewildering but horrifyingly catchy music video about it.

I think I speak for all of us here when I say: whatisthisidonteven.

Apparently it is a product of the 复兴路上工作室 (Road to Rejuvenation Studio), which has produced similar stuff in the past, though no-one one really knows anything much about them. However, at least one Chinese source seems to believe that Road to Rejuvenation is, in fact, CCTV itself, on the basis that Rejuvenation Road (复兴路) is a genuine street in Beijing where CCTV owns an office.

CCTV evaluates Syria

CCTV Facebook post on Syria

Ironically, Chinese has no exact translation for the term “irony quotes”, though they are used occasionally (notably in reference to Taiwan’s government in exile).

If you want to watch the full video, it’s here:

Several things here:

a) CCTV’s English-language Facebook page continues its transformation into Russia Today. Even as little as a year ago, you could never expect sarcasm in their posts. (Also, the endless stream of hypnodogs and twirling ladies on tv talent shows.)

b) The Chinese haven’t actually been very vocal on Syria, so it’s nice to get an idea of how the authorities really feel about things via their foreign language social media. (Learn English to know China!)

c) “It has not worked the way it was supposed to.” This one sentence is interesting for two different reasons. Firstly, because by changing “was” to “is”, CCTV’s social media manager makes the Americans sound far more arrogant and clueless than Obama’s actual statement did. Secondly, because it’s a sort of through-the-looking-glass version of Victor Chernomyrdin’s famous statement on the Yeltsin era: “We hoped for the best, but things turned out as usual.” (Officially the most Russian sentence ever uttered.) Taken together, the two pretty much sum up the difference between the optimistic American attitude to politics (let’s make a plan and the default assumption is that it will work) and the pessimistic Russian attitude (if we’re very lucky this won’t be a complete fuck-up).

CCTV, arbiters of good taste

You know the photo of Aylan Kurdi that has done the rounds on social media as everyone tries to prove to one-time Tinder dates and people they hated at high school how sensitive they are raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees?

CCTV blurred it out on its English Facebook page:

Aylan Kurdi

We’ve noted the fact that CCTV censors blood and guts in its English language broadcasts while happily showing all the gory details on its Chinese channels here before.

Interestingly, not only is it not censoring the image on its Chinese language site, it’s even running stories about how Western media has using the (uncensored) picture for the past few days.

Aylan Kurdi

I presume that this is the result of an odd combination of standard rules and gradually more liberal reporting of the news. CCTV’s general policy states that Western audiences can’t hack images that are too graphic. However, when Western audiences – on occasion – prove that they most definitely can, then CCTV obviously has to report that.

Interestingly, Russia Today – an outlet never previously known for its delicacy – has shown a similar committment to good taste reporting, opting to blur its own photos too:

Aylam Kurdi

The need for speed


Trains are omnipresent in Japanese pop culture. If you have had any contact with it – and who hasn’t? – you will probably have noticed that authors and artists love including trains in their work, even when it’s not strictly necessary. Especially when it’s not strictly necessary. There’s even an entire genre of train-based fanart.

The reason is obvious: for many of Japan’s 19th century inhabitants, the train was their first introduction to Western industrial modernity. Imagine you are a feudal peasant seeing a steam engine for the first time: impressive, isn’t it? (The manga/anime Gintama brings the idea closer to modern audiences by imagining a scenario in which 19th century Japan was forced to open up not by Perry and his black ships, but by an alien civilisation, with technology far in advance even of the 21st century.) Indeed, this idea of the huge culture shock that trains provided is so prevalent that various academic studies have been published on the subject.

Interestingly, China also experienced an encounter with a terrifyingly swift and powerful foreign technology that marked its art and literature for years afterwards: the horse.

If you read through classical Chinese poetry, you can identify almost exactly the same romantic attitude towards the horse as you find towards the train in Japanese literature. During the early centuries of China’s history, the Middle Kingdom’s own equine stock was… well… stocky. These days they would mostly be considered ponies rather than horses per se. They could be ridden (historical texts refer to this) but were generally used for pulling carts and chariots.

At some point around the second century BC, however, the Chinese began importing horses from the nomads of central Asia, and this was the game-changer: the ‘blood-sweating heavenly horses’ of Ferghana. Taller and faster, they could be ridden in combat and provide troops with far greater speed and agility than had previously been the case.

And, just as with the train in Japan, the horses became a symbol not just of speed and power, but also of foreign-ness – a reminder of the barbarians at the gate. In poetry, you will often find them mentioned in conjunction with the wild Northern borderlands, used in flights of romanticism by respectable and decadent court poets.

Which is all very well, but why mention it on a blog devoted to contemporary discourse analysis?

Because CCTV is keeping the legend of the blood-sweating heavenly horses alive via its English-language Facebook page (yes, Facebook is banned in China; that doesn’t mean that the authorities are willing to ignore its existence, however). Isn’t that nice?

(If you’re wondering why the horse didn’t have the same impact in Japan, it’s because most of Japan’s working horses were bred from a small stock of (shortish, fattish) Mongolian horses imported via Korea in the largely pre-literate Yayoi period, rather than being imported on a large scale, so while changes in size, quality and riding techniques did occur, they happened slowly over time and were thus less impressive.)

Tolerance levels


The Atlantic has a great article about Kenneth Jarecke’s horrifying dead Iraqi photo (not that one above, the burnt one), and how the US media refused to publish it because it failed to fit the sanitised narrative of the first Gulf War.

The story in itself is pretty interesting, but so are the comparisons with Asian media. In China, you can witness something is either the exact same phenomenon or an completely opposite one, depending on your point of view. Explanation:

China’s national broadcaster, CCTV, santises images on its international news channel, but not its domestic one. During the Urumqi riots in 2009, it was actually possible to flick between CCTV 9 (the English language service) with its safe-for-Western-consumption pictures of shouting demonstrators, and CCTV 13 (the Chinese language service) which featured blood, fighting and police beatings.

There are several possible reasonings behind this editorial decision:

1. Western audiences are just more sensitive about violence. Japanese anime for kids regularly have the violence levels toned down when they are dubbed for foreign markets, and it’s a commercial decision rather than a political one.

2. The vast majority of non-minority Chinese oppose Uighur nationalism, and would be quite pleased to see them getting a beat-down.

3. It offers a handy reminder to the masses of what will happen to them if they get too bolshy.

I have no idea which of these is the correct explanation, if it is not a mixture of all three. Answers on a postcard please.

Zhou Yongkang: hair, protocol and weasels

Zhou Yongkang

Zhou Yongkang — erstwhile oil czar, former chief of China’s dreaded state security apparatus, a man once swaggering and fit enough to perform 50 to 100 pushups in front of fawning onlookers — has completed his transformation into a sad historical footnote. On June 11, China learned the man it once feared will spend the rest of his life in prison when the Number One Intermediate People’s Court in Tianjin, a large city near Beijing, handed Zhou his fate for corruption and abuse of power, both on a staggering scale. As the chief judge read the verdict aloud, his hands visibly shook. But Zhou already looked neutralized. What struck observers most profoundly was not the long prison term awaiting him, but the shock of heretofore-unseen grey hair on his head.

While it’s true that age is venerated in China, its leaders nonetheless make every effort to appear strapping — late Communist Party strongman Mao Zedong is famed for having swam the roiling Yangtze River. In the coded language of Chinese politics, there could be no more fitting image of Zhou’s swift passage from colossus to cipher than the simple change in hue.

For even mid-level Chinese bureaucrats, assiduous maintenance of a dark mane is part of the standard uniform of power. Zhou appearing without it is the state’s way of saying that it can deny him anything.

That includes a soapbox. Zhou’s trial was closed to the public, a sharp turnabout from the quasi-public trial of Bo Xilai in August 2013, another high-flying politician now imprisoned for corruption. Although Bo’s trial was not shown live, some details emerged via official court accounts on Weibo, China’s Twitter. Those materials quoted Bo speaking in his own defense, and even cross-examining witnesses testifying against him. Then again, Bo had built something of a fan base in China’s south, where he governed the megacity of Chongqing by fear and patronage. By contrast, Zhou, who has few if any defenders left, was shown on China Central Television (CCTV)’s flagship news broadcast, Xinwen Lianbo, bowing his head and reading from prepared remarks. “I accept the judgment of the court; I will not appeal,” Zhou intoned. “I admit the facts of my illegal conduct, and the harm I have done to the party enterprise.” He is not shown apologizing for any harm he may have done to the rest of China.

Chinese state media may not have hid the news — doing so would only lend it the alluring aura of the forbidden — but it has been careful to signal that whatever happens to Zhou is far less important than what President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang are doing today. CCTV news positioned the story third in the night’s lineup. Xi’s meeting with Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi led the broadcast, followed by Li’s attendance at a meeting on food safety. A commentary that followed the Zhou news emphasized that Xi and the party center have treated corruption “with life and death seriousness.” It’s best, the remarks seem to imply, to forget about Zhou and look toward the future.


Chinese authorities have not censored all mentions of Zhou, but they certainly have axed some, captured on the mirror site Among them are expressions of surprise that Zhou was not sentenced to death. But there was also more on Zhou’s hair. “The number of years of his sentence, or even whether he was sentenced to death, ultimately don’t matter to China’s law, politics, or future,” wrote one user who claims to be a policeman from the mid-sized city of Xuzhou. “I just think it’s a shame he doesn’t have a head of black hair anymore.” The user quoted Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a novel about the jostling of feudal lords for primacy in post-Han dynasty China. The police officer used a phrase from the book describing an elderly but evil minister of court: a “white haired weasel, a grey bearded bandit.” Zhou, he implied, was never anything more than that.

For what it’s worth:

1. The hair thing is spot on. I once knew a high-ranking cadre who took his off every night when he got in from work.

2. But there’s no point reading too much into the order of precendence on the tv news. Protocol dictates that the President always appears first, no matter how dull his activities. There is a set order in which the doings of the elites are mentioned, and it is followed religiously, whatever else may be going on.

Chengguan beatings… now a work of art!

Along the River during the Qingming Festival

A new version of “Along the River During the ‪#‎Qingming‬ Festival” has stirred up a hot discussion on social networks.

The 25-meter-long ‪#‎photograph‬, named after the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings, has featured roughly 40 social events or phenomena in recent years.

Scenarios such as “Chengguan” (urban management officer) beating people, young women seeking sugar daddies, the famous drunk-driving case “My father is Li Gang” have replaced the natural sceneries and prosperous economic activities along the river bank in the original painting.

The photographic work is on display in the 2014 LIANZHOU FOTO Festival held in Lianzhou city, Guangdong Province between Nov. 21 and Dec. 22.

Some netizens criticized the work, saying it magnified social evils, but others thought it was creative and a mirror of the times.

“I don’t like the documentary photography technique of presenting reality, but prefer a teasing way and posing models,” Dai Xiang, the creator told the newspaper, Southern Metropolis.

“I want to present thought-provoking topics to interact with the reality and that are based on the attitude of pushing the society forward,” Dai added.

Over 1,000 people engaged in the creation of this artwork that took two and a half years to complete. Apart from time consumption, the photograph costs nearly 80,000 yuan ($13,027), according to Dai.

Along the River During the Qingming Festival is a painting attributed to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145). It captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng city in Henan Province, from that period. Successive scenes reveal the lifestyle of all levels of the society from the rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city, and offer glimpses of period clothing and architecture.

What’s amazing here isn’t so much the photo (though that’s awesome too) but the fact that that description came from – I shit you not – CCTV’s own Facebook page.