6 September, 2006

Lonely Planet China

Lpchina-1There is a debate on whether or not the Lonely Planet China and Taiwan editions of the popular travel guide are banned from the mainland. Bingfeng notes that he has several LP editions that were purchased in China.

AsiaPundit will note that the state-owned bookstore that is across from his office does sell the Lonely Planet Shanghai city guide, and several other editions of the guide for other Asian locations. However, there are no editions for Taiwan, China or Greater China.

Marc Van der Chij’s, in an item linked to here earlier, noted a conversation he had with a clerk at Shanghai’s best English-language bookstore.:

I could not find the China guide, so I assumed it was sold out. Then I looked for the Beijing guide, and did not find it either. The Tibet guide maybe, as as preparation for next year’s bike trip? No luck. I asked the shop assistant, and he explained to me that in China it is not allowed to sell the Lonely Planet guides for China, Beijing and Tibet.

Fons describes the ban as an “urban myth.” AsiaPundit does not believe that to be the case. Mainland authorities are very sensitive to maps that depict Taiwan as a separate state, and there is a general ban on maps that do so. This is old news.

If there is an urban myth, it is the myth that that the CPC Censorship Machine is efficient.

There are massive gaps in the Great Firewall of China through which ’sensitive’ information is available on the internet (even without the use of proxy servers). AsiaPundit has picked up locally published expat magazines that have addressed the ‘question of Tibet.’ We expect that more than 90 percent of satellite receivers are illegal. And, of course, none of those pirated DVDs that can be picked up at the neighborhood shops or street-stall vendors are state-approved (though some may be made by state-owned enterprises).

Most of this, it should be said, happens in the margins and in the black-market economy. But even in the heavily regulated world of state-run bookstores things will get through. The state-run SBT Bookstore near AsiaPundit global headquarters, and various other outlets throughout the city, are still selling copies of Jung Chang’s Wild Swans.

China does ban maps that display an independent Taiwan. And if the Lonely Planet does display such maps it would be included under such a ban. However, the CPC Censorship Machine is a rickety and incompetent beast and it misses more material than it catches.

We are incredibly thankful for this.

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by @ 11:34 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship

24 August, 2006

The PAP’s Disconnect

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned mr brown, and the government’s role in his termination from the Today newspaper, in the recent National Day address. A Singapore Angle has the transcript, with the below passage:

NdrSo I give you the example of Mr Brown’s column in Today. Some of you may have read it, some of you may not. But it hit out wildly at the government and in a very mocking and dismissive sort of tone. So MICA [Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts] replied. How can you not reply? And some Singaporeans feel we were too harsh, we should have been gentler, or maybe just even accepted it, it is just niceness, he didn’t mean us any harm.

Well, my view is like this: Mr Brown is very talented man (in fact he is Mr Lee Kim Mun). If you listen to his podcasts, they are hilarious. And he is entitled to his views, and entitled to express them. But when he takes on the government and makes serious accusations, as he did in this case because he said the government suppressed information before the elections which was awkward and only let it out afterwards, then the government has to respond, firstly to set the record straight, and secondly to signal that this is really not the way to carry on a public debate on national issues and especially not in the mainstream media.

As noted earlier, and as explained by mr brown this week, the government’s right of response is not a concern. The concern is the silencing of dissent, through the sacking of mr brown from Today and the refusal of the newspaper to print any further replies in defense of mr brown. This is said here by mr brown.:

I believe the Government has every right to respond to my Humour column. I may disagree with what they say but it is their right to respond.
I also believe in responding in turn to what the Government said in their letter, but my Humour column was suspended immediately after their letter was printed. Perhaps Mediacorp/TODAY did not stand by what they published?

I understand that many people did respond on the matter by writing in to the mainstream press, but none of their letters were published by mainstream media. Not a single one. Some people who wrote to TODAY about the column’s suspension received a templated response to write to MICA instead, even though TODAY were the ones who suspended the column. Strange.

An equally controversial element of the National Day speech was Lee’s comment that he orders his noodles without cockles. While AsiaPundit has not found the moment in the transcript, mr brown has captured the controversial utterance in his latest podcast.

Xenoboy explains the significance:

When PM Lee in his Rally Speech delivers the ultimate punchline to lay the bak chor mee to rest, to signal Government’s engagement with the Digital Age Singaporean, those dreaming of somewhere else, he utters the phrase “Mee Siam Mai Hum”.

This becomes an instant classic of dis-connect….

Read the whole thing. The disconnect is explained in this passage:

SketchbookmeehumMee Siam has never had cockles as an ingredient. Two other distinctly Singapore dishes use cockles. Laksa and Fried Kway Teow Noodles. Most Singaporeans know this. Its a fact of life.

To put it simply, most Singaporeans will NOT make this mistake. Its like ordering bak kut teh, another classic Singapore dish, without the soup. Ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the dough. No, actually its worse. Its like ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the spaghetti. In short, the phrase “Mee Siam Mai Hum” is an oxymoron. Its like one of those chain e-mail wordplay jokes “military intelligence”.

From what I understand, our esteemed national newspaper, the Straits Times, “heard” and interpreted the crucial phrase as “Mee Siam Mai Hiam”; which means hold the chilli. If this “hearing” is correct, than the phrase is meaningless as a direct riposte against the bak chor mee podcast. I guess the ST is not being honest again. Its “hearing” certainly connects with PM Lee but it means all the rest of Singaporeans “heard” wrongly, very dis-connected.

Image taken from Sei-ji Rakugaki’s Sketchbook, a full size and legible version is here.

While we will not discuss it in detail here, Lee’s comments were in reaction to an earlier satirical podcast by mr brown. See Jeff Ooi for more details on that

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by @ 1:29 pm. Filed under Blogs, Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Media, Censorship

8 August, 2006

Opera Mini vs China’s Firewall

AsiaPundit is pleased to report that government-blocked websites such as the BBC’s news portal and HRI China can be accessed on mobile devices in China with the installation of the Opera Mini browser.


While phones with WAP capabilities have built-in browsers, these have to go through the same firewalls that plague China’s conventional internet. The Opera Mini, however, “uses a remote server to pre-process Web pages before sending them to your phone.”
From the Opera Mini Wikipedia entry:

Unlike normal web browsers, Opera Mini fetches all content through a proxy that runs the layout engine of the Opera desktop browser. The engine on the proxy server reformats webpages into a width that is suitable for small screens using Opera’s Small Screen Rendering. The content is compressed, then delivered to the phone in a markup language called OBML (Opera Binary Markup Language). When the content reaches the phone it has been reduced in size by typically 70-90%.

This was designed to improve loading speed and rendering of content for the small screen. However, the end effect is the same as what can be achieved using proxy servers or web-based services such as Anonymouse and Virtual-Browser. Unlike the Anonymouse service, which is disabled by the Great Firewall’s keyword filtering, the Opera Mini was able to load one particular banned website without any time-out errors.

Viewing web pages through a WAP connection is a slow and expensive process, so this will not bring freedom of information to the masses. The government could also mandate a block on Opera’s server should use of the service become widespread enough to be considered a problem.

Still, AsiaPundit expects that in a few short years more Chinese will be accessing the internet through mobile devices than through PCs (the organic evolution of mobile technologies is a more important revolution than the $100 PC). With that, the discovery of a small chink in the armor should be welcome.

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by @ 2:48 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Web/Tech, Censorship

7 August, 2006

Singapore Seeks Self-censoring Foreign Press

Singapore’s government has issued strict regulations on high-profile foreign publications seeking distribution in the city state. Having its local press on a tight rein and having threatened local netizens, the People’s Action Party is attempting to ensure that major overseas media do not print anything that goes against their ‘enlightened’ rule.

RSF has issued a condemnation:

MicavsfeerReporters Without Borders today condemned the Singapore government for putting pressure on on the Far Eastern Economic Review and four other foreign publications to censor themselves.

“The authorities are looking for effective ways, including fear of prosecution and heavy fines, to intimidate these publications into censoring themselves,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “This is the latest threat against the foreign media, which are the only means of reporting independently on political and economic events in the country since the local press is controlled by the government.”

The information, communications and arts ministry gave the monthly Far Eastern Economic Review until 11 September to comply with section 23 of the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act. The magazine has been registered as a foreign publication since it criticised the government’s domestic policy in 1987 but had an exemption from some legal requirements which has now been cancelled. It must have a legal representative in the country by the ministry’s deadline and pay a deposit of 200,000 Singapore dollars (100,000 euros). For other foreign publications, the International Herald Tribune, Time magazine, the Financial Times and Newsweek, have been ordered to do the same when their licences come up for renewal.

This crackdown follows an interview in the Far Eastern Economic Review with opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, who the magazine called a national “martyr” because of the many lawsuits against him.

Mr Wang, a Singapore lawyer, notes the legal implications for FEER and the other publications for having ‘a legal representative‘:

The interesting bit is the MICA requirement that FEER “must have a legal representative in the country”. This probably means that FEER is required to appoint what lawyers call a “process agent” in Singapore.

What’s the significance of having a process agent in Singapore? Well, it’s one of those rather technical legal/ procedural matters. The basic idea is that it enables the Singapore government to sue FEER …. in the Singapore courts….

…The foreign newspaper has to consider whether the Singapore courts would regard the article as “defamatory” of the Singapore government.

Not what you or me or the man in the street would regard as “defamatory” … not what a Hong Kong judge or an English judge or a Thai judge would regard as “defamatory” …. but what the Singapore courts would regard as “defamatory” of the Singapore government. There are some potentially scary implications here, because we can expect the chilling effect to kick in once again.

AsiaPundit has grown slightly tired of commenting on the slow erosion on liberty in Singapore under Lee Hsien Loong. On this occasion, he will leave the commentary to Imagethief.:

We, the audience, are left to wonder if the tightened regulations are really due to a “changing media landscape” or to a combination of a relatively poor election showing (by Singapore standards) for the PAP, anxiety about the ability of the somewhat charisma-challenged Lee Hsien Loong to carry his father’s mantle, and a feeling that people are beginning to sense the shadow of mortality hovering over the revered and still politically active elder Lee and wondering over the inevitable consequences.

Image stolen from Sei-ji Rakugaki’s sketchbook, the only regularly updated site for Singapore political cartooning (full size here).

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by @ 7:11 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Media, Censorship

18 July, 2006

The Terrorists have Won

The terrorists have won, so says Anna at Sepia Mutiny.

In the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Indian government issued a directive to internet service providers to start blocking sites hosted by Google’s Blogger service, TypePad and Geocities. The alleged reason for the block: terrorists have been using the internet to communicate.
We shudder at the thought that India’s intelligence services will eventually discover that terrorists also use telephones, national postal services and pencils.
UltraBrown offers the following comment:

As the world’s back office, for India to blame overzealous techies would hardly be credible. It’s not yet clear which blogs the government was targeting, but banning all of Blogspot is nothing less than outright repression — mimicking the tactics Pakistan used to shut down discussion of Danish cartoons critical of Islam. India is now in the august company of some of the world’s least free nations

Amit Varma, who just penned a piece for the Guardian on how collaborative blogs such as Mumbai Help can be put to use in a crisis ponders: ” Won’t it be ironic if, after all that Mumbai Help attempted to do last week, residents of Mumbai aren’t even able to access it?”

Much, much more at DesiPundit, Global Voices and .

While India is following the route of authoritarian China in blocking blog hosting services, curiously neither country has banned . Although concerns abound about online sexual predators using the service, we must assume the youth-oriented service is free from terrorists, pro-democracy dissidents and Falun Gong practitioners.

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by @ 4:33 pm. Filed under Blogs, India, Asia, South Asia, Censorship

17 July, 2006

Wild Swans at the Little Red Book Shop

There is only one decent English-language bookstore in Shanghai. It’s backed by Hong Kong money. There are numerous state-owned places but these have selections that are limited to language-training materials, photography books, travel guides and a handful of paperbacks. These are usually avoided by your correspondent.

Nevertheless, a lapsed subscription to the Economist prompted AsiaPundit to seek the newest issue from his local little-red bookshop. Upon entry to the small red-brick store on Hongqiao Lu, AP was shocked by what he discovered.


As shown in the bottom-left corner, Jung Chang’s Wild Swans was on prominent display at the bookstore. By prominent, we imply that it was face up and there were multiple copies (staff are not really trained at promotion, so that’s about as prominent as you will get for a state-owned bookstore).

Why the shock? Here’s a passage from Jung Chang’s introduction to the book itself (pages xxiv-xxv):

Wstext…Wild Swans is not allowed to be published in Mainland China. The regime seems to regard the book as a threat to the Communist party’s power. Wild Swans is a personal story but it reflects the history of twentieth-century China from which the party does not come out well. To justify its rule, the party has dictated an official version of history, but Wild Swans does not toe that line. In particular, Wild Swans shows Mao to have criminally misruled the Chinese people, rather than being basically a good and great leader, as Peking decrees.
. . .
That is why publication of Wild Swans is banned in China. So is any mention of the book of me in the media. Although over the years many Chinese journalists have interviewed me or written about Wild Swans, all write-ups except a couple have bitten the dust as few editors dare to break the ban. The ban is particularly deterring because the toughly worded, top-secret injunction was co-signed by the Foreign Ministry, which, for a book, is most unusual, if not unique.

As noted, AsiaPundit would not have wandered into the Little Red Bookshop were it not for an expired Economist subscription. That’s mildly ironic, given that the two magazines subscribed to by AP both had issues banned in China simply because they contained reviews of Chang’s most-recent work.

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by @ 6:50 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Books, Censorship

11 July, 2006

Hao Wu Released

Good news at Global Voices:

Following nearly five months in prison, blogger, documentary maker and American permanent resident Wu Hao has been released, as noted in a July 11 post on his sister Nina’s blog:

刚刚得到家里电话, 被告知皓子出来了.谢谢大家的关心,但他需要清静一阵子. 如果还有什么消息,将更新在这个BLOG.

Just got a call at home and informed that Wu Hao is out. Thank you everyone for your concern, but he needs some silence for now. If there is any new information it will be posted on this blog.

by @ 10:02 pm. Filed under Blogs, China, Asia, Censorship

10 July, 2006

The Intelligence of Lee Hsien Loong

The Far Eastern Economic Review, in this month’s free feature, has an insightful and sympathetic interview with Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan.

It’s worth reading. Points of interest include Chee’s comments that Singapore needs a color revolution, Chee’s questioning the transparency of the city’s institutions and his doubts about the media intelligence of Lee Hsien Loong.:

Minilee.. tensions will erupt when strongman Lee Kuan Yew dies. Mr. Chee notes that the ruling party is so insecure that Singapore’s founder has been unable to step back from front-line politics. The PAP still needs the fear he inspires in order to keep the population in line. Power may have officially passed to his son, Lee Hsien Loong, but even supporters privately admit that the new prime minister doesn’t inspire confidence.

During the election, Prime Minister Lee made what should have been a routine attack on multiparty democracy: “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters’ votes, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?” But of course the ominous phrases “buy votes” and “fix them” stuck out. That is the kind of mistake, Mr. Chee suggests, Lee Sr. would not make.

“He’s got a kind of intelligence that would serve you very well when you put a problem in front of him,” he says of the prime minister. “But when it comes to administration or political leadership, when you really need to be media savvy and motivate people, I think he is very lacking in that area. And his father senses it as well.”

AsiaPundit would agree that Mini-Lee is far less media savvy than his father, who still commands a lot of respect for his intellect and his economic record. AsiaPundit also appreciates that his opinion is considered completely irrelevant by the ruling People Action’s Party.:

(Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) Vivian) Balakrishnan said: “I am not concerned at all about what the foreign media thinks. We are not here to fulfil (sic) their agenda. Let me put it to you this way.

Even though the PAP doesn’t care about the foreign press, AP expects that the Singapore government will seek its ‘right of response’ to the latest issue of FEER.

It’s a shame that the government does not allow its citizens the right to a counter response when MICA drafts letters criticizing the opinions of Singapore’s private citizens.

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by @ 6:05 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Censorship

China Cracks Down on Film Pirates

After endless demands from Western embassies and industry groups, China is seriously cracking down on film pirates…

Oops, our mistake, China is actually cracking down on a pirate film. “Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s’ Chest” has been banned from the big screen due to depictions of cannibalism.:

Mpaa-1SHANGHAI (XFN-ASIA) - The Walt Disney Co movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest’ has been banned from cinemas in China because it depicts people eating human flesh, the Shanghai Daily reported citing a cinema company official.

‘The movie didn’t get the approval of the state authority,’ an official from Shanghai United Cinema Lines, the city’s movie chain, told the newspaper.

The official, who declined to be named, told the paper the main reason it failed to secure approval was the scenes of cannibalism in the movie.

The scenes are a key part of the movie’s plot and cannot be easily changed or cut, the paper said.

In spite of the ‘Arrr’ rating, pirated copies of the film should still be widely available.

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by @ 2:12 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Censorship, Film


In ordinary times, AsiaPundit would be concerned by the appearance of a group of Brownshirts with a political agenda.



Photo © Straits Times Online, July 9, 2006. The author believes that the use of this image, with attribution, constitutes “fair use” under current copyright laws.
I found out through my other correspondents at Singabloodypore that some people gathered at City Hall MRT at 2pm Sunday Singapore time, decked in brown, claiming to be bloggers showing their solidarity in support for mrbrown’s recent fallout with MICA, and subsequently TODAY. Netizens at Sammyboy’s are suggesting a week of brown outfits to carry on the show of support.

To quote seminal punk band Minor Threat: “tell your mama and your papa, sometimes good guys don’t wear white.”


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by @ 10:54 am. Filed under Blogs, Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Censorship

6 July, 2006

Four Million Fingers

Singapore’s godfather of blogging, mr brown, has just been suspended as a columnist for the Today newspaper after the Ministry of Information and Culture (MICA) objected to his previous column.

Although AP is not a citizen, he was a long-term resident of the Lion City and has a strong affinity for the place. AP is outraged by the treatment of mr brown, a personal friend.

AP also objects because the government has again, through its oversensitivity and brutishness, embarrassed Singapore and its people.

The Singapore government says citizens should not offer criticisms unless they offer solutions. With that AP offers the following criticism and an accompanying solution:

Inspired by the government’s four million smile campaign, AsiaPundit would like to propose the Four Million Finger movement. He urges readers to display their outrage in the method illustrated below. Photos and posts will show up on Technorati and when tagged ‘fourmillionfingers.’


In order to help better attain the four-million-finger mark, AsiaPundit encourages the use of the two-finger salute, illustrated below on Ministry of Information spokeswoman Krishnasamy Bhavani.:


Ms Bhavani is president of the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore, which offers diploma and professional certificates in PR and mass communication. AsiaPundit will suggest that the current travesty offers a great case study for the institute: “Bhavani v. Brown: How to create an embarrassing global incident by cracking down on an innocuous columnist.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have issued a statement condemning the Singapore government.:

It is not the job of government officials to take a position on newspaper articles or blog posts unless they are clearly illegal, Reporters Without Borders pointed out today after the Singaporean newspaper Today published an opinion piece by an official on 3 July condemning a recent post by blogger Lee Kin Mun as over-politicised and unconstructive.

“This reaction from a Singaporean official is disturbing,” the press freedom organisation said. “It reads like a warning to all journalists and bloggers in a country in which the media are already strictly controlled. The media have a right to criticise the government’s actions and express political views. Furthermore, a newspaper’s editorial policies depend solely on its editors. They should under no circumstances be subject to instructions issued by the government.”

Lee, who uses the pseudonym “mr brown,” wrote an article entitled “S’poreans are fed, up with progress!” for Today’s opinion pages on 30 June in which he criticised recent government measures and the constant cost-of-living rises in an amusing and acerbic fashion.

Krishnasamy Bhavani, a press secretary to the ministry of information, communications and arts, responded with an article published in Today on 3 July in which she defended her government’s policies but went on to criticise Lee for taking a political position.

RSF issued the above statement yesterday, before it was revealed that mr brown would be suspended.

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by @ 7:18 pm. Filed under Blogs, Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Media, Censorship

30 June, 2006

China to Crack Down on Internet

Oh no! China i.:

BEIJING - China’s Internet regulators are stepping up controls on blogs and search engines to block material it considers unlawful or immoral, the government said Friday.Jingcha“As more and more illegal and unhealthy information spreads through the blog and search engine, we will take effective measures to put the BBS, blog and search engine under control,” said Cai Wu, director of the Information Office of China’s Cabinet, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency.
The government will step up research on monitoring technology and issue “admittance standards” for blogs, the report said, without providing any details.
China encourages Internet use for business and education but tries to block access to obscene or subversive material. It has the world’s second-biggest population of Internet users after the United States, with 111 million people online.
China launched a campaign in February to “purify the environment” of the Internet and mobile communications, Xinhua said.
China has 37 million Web logs, or blogs, Xinhua said, citing a study by Beijing’s Tsinghua University. It said that number was expected to nearly double this year to 60 million.

This is shocking news, if only because AsiaPundit didn’t realize that the previous crackdown had abated.

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by @ 6:21 pm. Filed under Blogs, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Censorship

21 June, 2006

A Defense of China’s DVD Pirates

Simon yesterday offered some commentary on the Motion Picture Association’s latest report on DVD piracy, and specifically its claims about piracy in China.:

Piratemovie“Piracy cost filmmakers US$2.7 billion (HK$21.06 billion) last year, with domestic firms shouldering more than half those losses, according to a study commissioned by a trade group representing the major Hollywood studios. China’s film industry lost US$1.5 billion in revenue to piracy, while US studios lost US$565 million, according to data released Monday by the Motion Picture Association…Some 93 percent of all movie sales in China were of pirated versions of films, according to the latest study.”

Who’s to blame here? Is it the average Chinese worker, who earns maybe 5,000 yuan a year and can either buy a copy for 5 yuan or the original for 10 times as much? Is it China’s government, who’s domestic industry and creativity suffers far more from piracy than Hollywood? Or is it the outdated business and pricing models of foreign companies in the Chinese market?

AsiaPundit is less inclined to support the thesis that movie piracy in China is price driven and would argue that the problem is based on censorship, heavy regulation and a lack of legal channels for distribution. Pirates are on every street corner, but the only legal outlets for sales are inefficient state-owned shops or big-box retailers such as Carrefour. While the pirates can carry everything, the legitimate outlets can only sell the very slim selection of Chinese Communist Party-approved content that is available.

For that reason, AsiaPundit generally welcomes piracy in China. It would challenge a person’s sanity to only have access to CCP-approved material for viewing.

AP expects that many of the most-heard voices complaining about China’s piracy problems are also consumers of pirated products. AP would wager that the vast majority of local American and European chambers of commerce members, Western journalists, local employees of MPAA-affilated companies and even CCP party cadres all buy pirated DVDs or rob television signals trough illegal sattelite dishes and descramblers.

If the MPAA wanted to see less piracy in China it should be challenging the state’s restrictive policies on content. There are many Chinese and expatriates who would buy quality original DVDs if they were easily available, even if they were significantly more expensive than pirated product.

Variety’s Asian cinema blog, Kaiju Shakedown, offers a post today that makes the same point.

“But, as we all know, these numbers regarding China are completely bogus anyways. Because most MPAA member movies can’t be sold in China so they have no loss. China only allows 20 foreign films to be imported each year, and usually 14 - 16 of these are from MPAA members. So what the MPA is talking about in this report isn’t “profits lost to pirates in China” but “profits lost to closed markets in China”.

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by @ 10:37 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship, Film

8 June, 2006

Reporters Without Borders has condemned China for allegedly blocking Google.com.:

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the current unprecedented level of Internet filtering in China, which means the Google.com search engine can no longer be accessed in most provinces - although the censored Chinese version, Google.cn, is still accessible - and software designed in the United States to get round censorship now only works with great difficulty.


The organisation also deplored the fact that the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June has been used to tighten the vice on Chinese Internet users.
“It was only to be expected that Google.com would be gradually sidelined after the censored version was launched in January,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Google has just definitively joined the club of western companies that comply with online censorship in China. It is deplorable that Chinese Internet users are forced to wage a technological war against censorship in order to access banned content.”
Internet users in many major Chinese cities have had difficulty in connecting to the uncensored international version of Google for the past week. The search engine was totally unaccessible throughout the country on 31 May. The blocking then gradually extended to Google News and Google Mail. So the Chinese public is now reduced to using the censored Chinese versions of these services.

There are problems with Google’s service but these are being massively overstated by RSF.

Google and G-Mail services are still working fine here at AsiaPundit Global Headquarters in Shanghai. There were intermittent outages last week, but there was nothing of the sort that indicated a firewall-level block. Beijing residents had a more prolonged outage, although AP understands that this has largely been resolved. The comments at the Peking Duck indicate no blockage in South China.

AP has also heard, indirectly, confirmation that Beijing was raising the level of its filtering ahead of the June 4th anniversary. Other services such as an overseas hosted POP e-mail account were also inaccessible last week, and general internet service was sluggish.

Still, there was a particular problem with Google. Andrew Lih has done very solid tracking of the problem and . China Web 2.0 Review, meanwhile, notes that Chinese users were frustrated with Google over the inaccessibility of the uncensored site.:

Difficulty in accessing Google: From a week ago, Chinese internet users in north China started to encounter difficulty in accessing Google and other service as Gmail. Will Google.com finally become inaccessible, and all the traffic has to change to Google.cn? On the other hand, Chinese bloggers are discontented with Google China’s official blog, since it did not have any explanation on the issues.

Google won’t say this on its official blog, but for those looking for a simple explanation, this works well:

“Google was inaccessible because the Chinese government is run by a bunch of absolute berks who annually screw up the country’s communications infrastructure to prevent its citizens from being reminded that they are ruled by thugs. Normal service will hopefully resume shortly after June 4.”

In other Google news, co-founder Sergey Brin has said that the company may have made a mistake with its China service, and has realized that no one in the country uses the censored service.:

Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged Tuesday the dominant Internet company has compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google is wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course. (…)
“We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said. (…)
“Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Brin said. (…)
Brin said Google is trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company’s customers in China use the non-censored service.

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by @ 10:05 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship

6 June, 2006

Philippine Phalluses Irk Censors

Regulators in the Philippines are threatening to ban a documentary program after it ran a cultural item involving old women and wooden objects.:

THE PHALLUSES are carved out of wood. Some are painted with lipstick, others decorated with flowers and ribbons. A few are huge, like rocket launchers, while others are more human in scale.

 Blog Wp-Images Lukayo2They are the handiwork of the lukayo, women way past their sexual prime who dance at weddings where they wave the phalluses like trophies, brandish them like swords, twirl them like batons, or thrust them like, well, phalluses.

According to Ramon Obusan, who will be named the National Artist for Dance on Friday, the dance of the lukayo is a nearly 200-year old ritual that celebrates marriage and binds communities. For the women who take part, he says. “it is also a chance to assert their independence” and to mock male power, which the phallus represents.

On May 22, GMA 7’s multi-awarded documentary program “i-witness” featured the lukayo of Kalayaan, Laguna and showed old women decked in brightly colored ribbons, faux jewelry and gaudy flowers, some in boots and oversized sunglasses, all of them displaying phalluses of various sizes and shapes. They were dancing, singing bawdy songs and looked like they were having the time of their lives.

It was the first time anything like this was seen on Philippine television and it provided viewers a peek of what dance and culture scholar Obusan calls “the depth of the phallus in our culture” and that remains as a residue from our pre-Hispanic, Hindu-Malay past.

But the program, hosted by veteran television journalist Howie Severino (who is also a member of the PCIJ board), now risks being suspended by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) for violating Section 2, Chapter 4 of the implementing rules of the board, which prevents the airing of sexual content in a “patently lewd, offensive and demeaning manner.”

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by @ 11:14 pm. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Media, Censorship

15 May, 2006

Shanghai Cinema

Although Shanghai has been attracting scores of Western filmmakers, the city is unlikely to become the Hollywood of the East, due in part to overly sensitive authorities.
Danwei notes that Tom Cruise’s latest may not hit the screens in China after it offended Shanghai’s sensibilities by showing commonplace things such as drying laundry.:

The much-anticipated film “Mission: Impossible III” may be kept out of China for “tarnishing the image of Shanghai,” Shanghai-based newspaper Xinmin Evening News reported over the weekend.
With 20 percent of its scenes shot in China, the action-thriller starring Tom Cruise has been expected to achieve box office success here.
Cruise shot part of the film in Shanghai last year, and his Shanghai press conference attracted nearly 100 reporters from different media.
The film could well have offended the Shanghai authorities. In the film, when Cruise stepped into the metropolis, he saw rags and underwear drying outdoors in side streets, rather than views of Shanghai’s shining skyscrapers. Shanghai’s image was further tarnished by the film’s awkward and slow-moving “Shanghai police,” according to the Xinmin Evening News.
Industry insiders told the Xinmin Evening News the authorities were yet to make a decision on allowing the film into the mainland. The film’s import has been delayed indefinitely, industry insiders said, adding that the ban was probably caused by the “negative Shanghai image.”

In other Shanghai movie news, AsiaPundit picked up the new DVD of a film shot largely in the city: UltraViolet, starring Milla Jovovich. If you can stop staring at Ms Jovovich’s midriff, you will note the Pearl Tower and Jinmao Building in the background.:


In spite of the generally hot Jovovich, the film was thoroughly unwatchable. This review at IMBD sums up the film quite well.:

I had hopes for this movie based on the trailer, but it turned out to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen.
The special effects range from mediocre to kinda cool, but the plot is too sketchy and absurd to justify their existence. Milla Jovovich’s hair and jacket change colors for no discernible reason throughout the film. I think the pretty colors are supposed to distract us from the incoherent script, but it doesn’t work…
If you appreciate Milla Jovovich’s body, it might be possible to enjoy this film by renting the DVD and watching it with the sound off and your techno MP3 collection blaring in the background while you do something productive, like picking the gunk out from beneath your toenails. Or you could spare yourself the pain and just get The Fifth Element instead.

Shanghai’s architecture, in spite of the city being “Ground Zero in the Blood War being waged between humans and her kind in what’s left of Shanghai,” looked good. That would please authorities.

Still, we can be thankful that the film will likely offend local sensibilities enough that Mainland residents will never have to endure it on the silver screen. The film is set in the future where apparently Shanghai is ruled by Laowai, something that would surely upset the CCP. As well, the only Chinese in the film are a group of hybrid vampire gangsters called the Blood Chinois - all of whom are killed by the protagonist.

AsiaPundit recommends avoiding UltraViolet at any cost. Although the ‘Shanghai-curbside Special Edition DVD‘ does offer some interesting subtitles that actually improve the dialogue.




UPDATE: A reader has informed us that the leader of the Blood Chinois was played by Vietnamese American actor Duc Luu — which means that there were no major roles by Chinese actors or nationals. Given the wretchedness of the film, that shouldn’t upset them.

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by @ 10:16 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship, Film

Sergey Attacks Yahoo!

While redirecting criticism toward a competitor is usually a poor way to deal with probing questions, AsiaPundit thinks Google co-founder Sergey Brin did properly address a protest from Amnesty International at the company’s annual general meeting.:

EnemyA wide range of investors, including retirees and Wall Street professionals, attended the meeting at Google’s Mountain View campus. They peppered the two founders and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt with questions about everything from new products to sluggish e-mail to competition with Microsoft and Yahoo.

A member of Amnesty International who was representing the shares of a New York pension fund took a turn at the microphone to criticize Google’s decision to launch a separate search engine in China and comply with that government’s censorship policies.

But the protest got derailed when Brin asked the man, Anthony Cruz, what search engine he was recommending as an alternative to Google.

“I use Yahoo,” Cruz responded.

“You mean the one that has been censoring since the ’90s and recently caused a number of journalists to go to prison?” Brin asked in amazement.

Via Searchnewz, where David comments “Maybe Amnesty International USA should take down its front page attack on Google and replace it with Yahoo instead, perhaps?”

AsiaPundit still uses all Google, Microsoft and Yahoo services - though he may search for a new photo service when his Flickr pro account expires. However, for those who want to avoid all three companies, Amazon’s A9 search engine is pretty good.

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by @ 12:13 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Censorship

10 May, 2006


Living behind the Great Firewall of China, AsiaPundit has solid proxy software installed on all computers he uses regularly. Generally, he can surf the web freely without much difficulty. Still, there are times that AP finds himself using a machine that does not have any proxies configured. In China, that means much of the internet is inaccessible.
With that, TorPark is an excellent new tool. With a USB-drive keychain AP can now quickly set up a proxy on any PC without installing or having to configure any extra software.:

 ~Sxt6146 Images TorparklogoWhat is Torpark, exactly?
Torpark is a fully configured combination of Tor (The Onion Router) and Mozilla’s browser technologies, enabled by John T. Haller’s Portable Firefox. As of v1.5, the whole package is wrapped up in a nice single executable with file directory. No installation, no registry keys, no files left behind.
How can this be used?
Lots of ways! It can be used to circumvent censorship firewalls, like at work or in China. It can be used to bypass paying for internet access at a wifi cafe. It can be used at school computers so you can get full access to the internet. And best of all, if there is no key loggers secretly installed on the machine, nobody is going to know where you went, what you saw, who you spoke to, or what you said. It is all encrypted in a tunnel between your computer, and at least three others somewhere in the world. Only after your data has passed through the encrypted and constantly changing tunnel (a tor circuit) will it reach the internet as unencrypted. The data from surfing the internet goes through the same tunnel as well, passing back to you encrypted, where your computer uses Tor to decrypt it to the Torpark browser. When you need a secret and secure tunnel to surf the internet, Torpark is your mobile solution.

After testing today, AP will say that Torpark works as advertised. It was slower than software directly installed on a PC or laptop, but the portability is welcome. AP recommends this to anyone who may be traveling through China or other countries that implement strict online censorship. It should work in internet cafes or hotel business centers without attracting too much attention.
(via Boing Boing)

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by @ 11:10 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Web/Tech, Censorship

Singapore’s Press: Free to Self-censor

AsiaPundit has known many good local journalists working in Singapore, but AP remains a critic of the Singapore press. However, so too are many of the reporters who work for it. An anonymous media worker reports on the chill felt in Singapore newsrooms during the general election.:

I had no illusions about the independence of the local media when I first started my job as a [——] in Singapore. I knew that my work would be edited, and possibly censored for political safety, and I was mostly fine with that - no media channel anywhere in the world is entirely free from some form of editorial trimming, after all.
PapboltWhat I didn’t bargain for was individual self-censorship, unspoken policies and rules, and the stoutness with which people swallowed their journalistic dignity and integrity (because it does exist, even strongly, in some places) to toe the party line. Incredible as it seems, reporters in Singapore do have the same fierce pride in their work as reporters anywhere else; I think this is especially evident in sections of the media that don’t touch on politics.
But when it comes to political news, particularly something as sensitive as the elections, many of us leave our brains and consciences at home and resign ourselves to doing what we’re told and writing what’s being dictated. To some extent I appreciate the rationale of this - there really is a very close watch being kept on the media and when we’re kept in line it’s largely for our own safety.
However, as someone still young and naive and idealistic, it’s hard for me to swallow the indignation I feel whenever I see the local media doggedly ignoring its otherwise sharply-honed news sense. Articles and TV programmes are edited to balance out pro-opposition views; awesome camera opportunities - like the opposition rallies - are studiously left out of media coverage; banal and unfair quotes and tactics are highlighted and headlined simply because they are tools of the ruling party.
There are many things journalists see that the eyes of the public are not privy to, and that we would like to report on but can’t. Please remember that when you read an article or watch a broadcast that seems particularly, emetically subjective. And help spread the word that a lot of us in the media are sorry that we can’t do the job we want to.

AP will note that foreign media in Singapore is also guilty of self-censorship. While some of the better publications are willing to weather an annual libel suit and settlement for stating the obvious, most of the media operating in the country is very aware of what cannot be said in the city state. And none have been willing to challenge a libel charge in court. Of course, there may be a good reason for that.

(via Tomorrow)

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by @ 10:16 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Media, Censorship

9 May, 2006

Academic freedom: China vs Singapore

Sam Crane points to an essay by Daniel Bell that, among other things, argues Mainland China offers greater academic freedom than Singapore.:

The willingness to put up with political constraints depends partly upon one’s history. In my case, I had taught at the National University of Singapore in the early 1990s. There, the head of the department was a member of the ruling People’s Action Party. He was soon replaced by another head, who asked to see my reading lists and informed me that I should teach more communitarianism (the subject of my doctoral thesis) and less John Stuart Mill. Naturally, this made me want to do the opposite. Strange people would show up in my classroom when I spoke about “politically sensitive” topics, such as Karl Marx’s thought. Students would clam up when I used examples from local politics to illustrate arguments. It came as no surprise when my contract was not renewed.
In comparison, China is a paradise of academic freedom. Among colleagues, anything goes (in Singapore, most local colleagues were very guarded when dealing with foreigners). Academic publications are surprisingly free: there aren’t any personal attacks on leaders or open calls for multiparty rule, but particular policies, such as the household registry system, which limits internal mobility, are subject to severe criticism.

As a resident of both countries, AsiaPundit is somewhat skeptical of Bell’s observations. The ‘out of bounds’ markers in Singapore do permit discussion of most matters of policy - discussions of nepotism or the integrity of the courts could cause some trouble. Still, AP has never been involved in academia and would welcome comments from those more experience in that arena.

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by @ 10:59 pm. Filed under Singapore, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Media, Censorship

7 May, 2006

Free James Gomez

Singapore’s People’s Action Party, as expected, routed the opposition in Saturday’s general election. Also as expected, the PAP has again embarrassed itself and the people of Singapore by demonstrating the government’s thuggish nature and fear of opposition.:

JgomezAuthorities in Singapore have arrested Workers’ Party candidate James Gomez for allegedly “threatening the country’s election officials” — a day after he failed to win a seat in the general elections.
James was arrested Sunday for alleged “criminal intimidation,” said his aide Jacob George in an AP dispatch carried by AsiaOne.com.
The AP story said James, a researcher with Sweden-based Idea Foundation, was about to leave the country but was stopped by immigration officials, who turned him over to the police.
A security official, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity in line with policy, said James has not been charged. If found guilty for criminal intimidation, James could be jailed for up to seven years.

AsiaPundit has appreciated much of Gomez’s work on speech and expression issues, although he is not a fan of the Workers Party.
Truth be told, if AP were a Singapore voter he may be inclined to support the PAP, for reasons similar to those expressed by Han. However, the PAP’s continued repression of opposition leaders make it unworthy of support. For all of Singapore’s tropical efficiency and first-world charms, the government has again shown itself to be little different than the thug regimes that most of Southeast Asia has thankfully freed itself from.
Sam Crane offers more:

…again right on cue, the PAP demonstrates its authoritarian ruthlessness by orchestrating the arrest of a leading opposition candidate on trumped up charges of “criminal intimidation. Of course, if anyone is guilty of “criminal intimidation” it is the PAP leadership. This is all they know: intimidation.
The arrest of James Gomez does not signal the “end game” of the election. It is another phase of a political game that never ends. The PAP will now advance and take advantage of its tactical gains. They will use the power of the state to defend their personal political interests, as they have always done. But the opposition has gained some ground, and that matters.
“Ground” is an important concept for Sun Tzu. He tells us that, in war - which is, of course, a more extreme form of politics - we must always be aware of what kind of ground we are on. I have always understood this to mean awareness of the broad strategic context. The ground has shifted some in Singapore in recent weeks. The opposition has discovered new sources of strength. They have a new, young cadre of leaders and increased support throughout the city. The internet has proven to be an alternate means of getting their message out - so much so that the PAP is now investigating. Perhaps dissident can develop those strengths and exploit PAP weaknesses to achieve the next tactical goal:
(photo stolen from James Gomez News)

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by @ 9:57 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Censorship

26 April, 2006

the podcast crackdown begins

Via Singabloodypore, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have been ordered to remove podcasts from the party website.:

 Blogger 4785 200 1600 Radiosdplogo.2SINGAPORE : The Returning Officer for the General Election has ordered the Singapore Democratic Party to take down audio files and podcasts from its website.

The Elections Department says the podcast contravenes the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations.

It says those found guilty are liable for a fine of up to S$1,000 or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

Dr Chee, the SDP’s Secretary-General, had recorded a podcast message and posted it on the party’s website two days ago.

The SDP’s website cannot be considered a blog, and the audio files on its site are not really podcasts. Nevertheless the PAP is making good on its threat to squash political speech in Singapore. The SDP is also making good on its attempt to be the most prosecuted political party is Southeast Asia.

In a related matter, the PBS MediaShift site takes a decent look at political speech in Singapore, including this money quote from Yawning Bread (yawningbread.org).:

“The freedom available to Singaporeans is quite wide,” Au told me via email. “However, there is a climate of fear that the government can clamp down anytime. There have actually been very few instances of arbitrary clamping down, but the fear persists, and thus a lot of people in Singapore, including bloggers, self-censor to some extent. With the passage of time, there is increasing confidence that freedom of speech on the Internet is pretty wide. The more years that pass without incident, the more confidence people gain.”

The article also cites AsiaPundit, somewhat unexpectedly but without causing any offense.

AP would like to clarify that his mention of the word ‘nepotism’ was done to illustrate an example of one of Singapore’s ‘out-of-bounds’ markers and that he was in no way implying that such a thing exists in the Lion City.

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by @ 9:29 pm. Filed under Blogs, Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Weblogs, Censorship

adsense uncensored

Internet Censorship Explorer, a blog associated with the Citizen Lab initiative, discovers that while Google is censoring its search results for Google.cn, it is not censoring the keyword-based advertising that is displayed on the site .

After buying an advertisement for the banned website for the Human Rights Watch lobby group, ICE discovers that the ad is displayed on Google.cn.

I created my ad (which does not appear to fall under these categories) for hrw.org, which is censored by google.cn, and it was held in a queue waiting to be viewed and labeled “Family Safe”. Only “Family Safe” ads are allowed to be shown by Google in China. Eventually my ad was approved as “Family Safe” and was labeled as currently being shown…

HrwMy ad was being shown on the uncensored Chinese language Google, but not the censored Google.cn. Google checks what ads to deliver by location (determined by IP address) and the language setting of your browser. Despite both of these showing that my language was Chinese and my location was in China the ad did not properly appear.

Eventually, my ad began to be shown on Google.cn. While my ad does not appear every time the keywords are searched, it does periodically appear.

Although there are no search results available for hrw.org, my ad for a censored website did appear on some occasions.

While it is news that the AdWords service does display uncensored advertising on Google.cn, AsiaPundit has been aware of the lack of censorship in AdSense for some time. The right-hand corner of the below screencap, taken in Shanghai minutes ago, clearly indicates that advertisers bidding on China-related terms are not necessarily pro-CCP.


While some groups have over its China censorship, in light of this evidence, AsiaPundit suggests a new tactic of buying Chinese AdWords terms.

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by @ 7:48 pm. Filed under China, Asia, Northeast Asia, Web/Tech, Censorship

lest we forget

More than one year.

ChingcheongThe Hong Kong Journalists Association and Reporters Without Borders have campaigns to save Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist charged by China with spying. RSF says he faces a possible death sentence although the Chinese authorities have produced no evidence against him.

Over two months.:

FreehaoReporters Without Borders today said it considered Chinese blogger Hao Wu to be the victim of state abduction as more than two months have gone by since his arrest by the National Security Bureau in Beijing without his family getting any news about him. His lawyer has not been allowed to see him, but has been told his client is under house arrest.

“This case shows the Chinese security services operate without any control by the courts,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Hao is the victim of an arbitrary system that interprets the law as it sees fit. We call on European and American diplomadts to raise his case at their meetings with the Chinese authorities. We are curious know how they will justify the National Security Bureau’s procedures.”

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by @ 7:55 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Censorship

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