12 October, 2005

a defense of benjamin joffe-walt

First the good news. Lu Banglie, the Chinese activist who was beaten to near-death outside of Taishi village is alive. Whether or not he’s ‘fine’ has yet to be fully determined.

Lu, a People’s Congress representative who had fallen afoul of village officials, was beaten while escorting Guardian foreign correspondent Benjamin Joffe-Walt to the village. Joffe-Walt’s account of the incident is here.

Chinese blogger Michael Anti, in a translated post provided by ESWN, accuses Joffe-Walt of negligence and, in a round-about way, racism.

As for The Guardian’s Benjamin Joffe-Walt, how the fuck did he still have to nerve to write this kind of report? Perhaps he is young and does not yet know that reporting in certain areas of China is just like in a war zone. He should not have gone there against the advice of others, and he should not have brought Lu Banglie to the village. Since he was being taken out by the police, why didn’t he insist on rescuing Lu Banglie as well? It is alright to beg for mercy when it happened. But the more important thing is that you have a duty and you must assume responsibility for your companion. Or is that Chinese person just a guide dog?

Thus, we the Chinese people are treated like dogs by the government and we are also treated like dogs by certain arrogant and ignorant foreigners. I have no idea how this tragedy can be changed.

Full disclosure, I am a foreign correspondent in China and have a tendency to defend my brethren against accusations. I also have lower different ethical standards compared with most of those brethren - and most bloggers for that matter - so my comments should not be taken as representative as those of my profession or the English-language blogosphere.

I was also invited to the Guardian’s house-warming in Shanghai on the day of the Taishi incident — though I didn’t attend and have never met Joffe-Walt (ergo, this defense of his actions cannot be attributed to payola from free drinks. Not that such a thing has ever happened before … I’m in wires, so I always file before the free drinks.)

As ex-CNN china bureau chief Rebecca McKinnion notes in the first link in this post, there has been considerable criticism of Joffe-Walt in the SinoBlogosphere - much of it reflecting Michael Anti’s comments that he did not respect his ‘fixer.’ Fons is fence-sitting (or, in more respectful terms, contemplative), while Running Dog, a more opinionated but anonymous Shanghai-based journo (anon for good reason given the specific blocks on his website), does not discuss Joffe-Walt’s role but sees this as another failure of China’s central government.

Although I cover finance and would never likely be in a similar situation, AsiaPundit believes he would have done the same as Joffe-Walt in the same situation. Protecting sources is important, and I have in recent months, to my shame or credit, asked a Chinese-national source to review some of his on-the-record comments that were highly critical of the central government. He did and it almost ruined a great story, but I feared they were a risk to his livelihood, albeit not his life.

I would never put my staff at risk, but I’ve personally always ignored the most-sound advice and taken insane risks (usually with my own life and typically during leisure activities). And it seems from Joffe-Walt’s account that the risk was taken willingly by Lu and not taken at the correspondent’s request. Indeed, it was after his repeated objections.

There is a healthy debate on the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents’ Club mailing list about Joffe-Walt’s probable responsibility, and how to protect sources. The harshest post, which shall remain unattributed, is this:

Please tell Joffe-Walt and other foreign correspondents in Shanghai that I am shamed by his conduct. He risked the life of Lu Banglie and his own Chinese assistant, stood watching Mr. Lu being beaten so that he can fabricate a report about the beating and then he runs away to save his skin. He makes us excuse him for doing nothing because we do not know what we would have done in his place except that we won’t have been so stupid as to take a Chinese with us on sensitive assignments in the first place. My Chinese friends are asking me “How can you do something like that?”

But it seems clear to me that Joffe-Walt cannot be blamed in any way for this. Lu, who had his own agenda, was insistent about accompanying the Guardian correspondent, and Lu - likely more that Joffe-Walt - knew the risks involved.

I would never instruct any of my Chinese staff to take any political risks - they face penalty of jail while I, at worst, face deportation - and I will advise sources to remain anonymous or alter sensitive quotes rather than take what I deem unnecessary personal risks (though this is very rare as getting a decent comment in China financial journalism is like pulling teeth… with tweezers).

Lu did have an agenda to push, and was taking his own risks to achieve his goals. I’m largely sympathetic to these goals and, I actually believe most senior-level central government officials also are. However, this means Lu was a political figure and he cannot have the same status as an employee or even a trusted or coaxed source.

That said, this is not to put the responsibility on Lu.

Lu was beaten by hired goons! The responsibility for the crime is on the hired goons and their employer(s)!!


Much thanks to GI Korea for all of the posts in my unexpectedly long absence, normal service will resume shortly, featuring more tabloid sensationalism, no introspection and fewer exclamation marks!!!!

UPDATE (12 October 19:12 Shanghai time):

Sun Bin posted in the comments that “the bigger controversy is about the ‘exaggeration’ or ‘inaccurate description’ of Joffe-Walt’s story.” I didn’t address this yesterday and I’m still reluctant to do so in definitive terms. I haven’t fully made up my mind on the matter and probably won’t until I see a thorough update on Lu’s physical condition or some sort of follow-up from Joffe-Walt.

I’m reserving judgement on the accuracy of the report until I have more information. By ‘accuracy’ I mean whether it is poor observation caused by panic or whether it was simply blatant exaggeration.

As well, for argument’s sake, I will suggest that it is possible that what Joffe-Walt says he witnessed may be a relatively accurate retelling of what he thought he saw. I haven’t seen many beatings, and no serious ones. However, I have had friends in such things as motorcycle accidents. Someone who looks near death can look almost normal after a quick cleanup in the hospital. Head wounds, because of the concentration of blood vessels, very often look much worse than they actually are.

An inspection of the apparently-not-lifeless body would have been helpful, as would have been a camera (though that may seem ghoulish). But given that there were allegedly 30 thugs standing around, it is understandable that he did neither of these things.

The primary thing that bothered me yesterday was not the report, but the matter of blaming Joffe-Walt for the beating, That is not a rational response. It’s not quite like blaming a rape on the dress of the victim - as Lu was the real victim - but to point accusing fingers at a bystander rather than the assailants shows a serious lapse of judgement.

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by @ 1:12 am. Filed under China, Asia, Coming collapse, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, World record watch, Riot watch

9 August, 2005

late tuesday linkage

Via the Avian Flu Blog, a map (pdf) of poultry and pig concentration and possible avian flu transmission routes from migratory birds.


It’s Singapore’s national day, Daniel Drezner asks ‘how long Singapore can remain an outlier?’.

Whenever people start talking about the interrelationships between regime type, the rule of law, economic development, and political corruption, the outlier is always Singapore.
Think that economic development inexorably leads to freedom of the press? Hello, meet Singapore.
Think that authoritarianism automatically leads to corruption? Have you met Singapore?
Think that no government can plug its country into the Internet while still retaining a vast web of censorship.

The Swanker also offers a National Day post, along with a motivational poster that will not likely grace many Singapore government offices.:


The city state’s people are far more fun than its gahmen, as mr brown’s ‘One Singapore Minute‘ photo meme . And Singabloodypore’s mention of protest punks, blogs and gay pride should dispell some of that myth of a conservative culture.

Away from a 40-year old nation… in another step at preserving a 5,000-year-old culture, China will ban lip synching from September 1.

I have just run across the State Council’s Regulations on the Administration of For-Profit Performances (营业性演出管理条例),
issued July 7, 2005 and effective as of September 1, 2005. Among other
things, lip-synching is now prohibited, and punishable by a fine of up
to 100,000 yuan

Mei Zhong Tai is outraged that ex-Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui considers defense spending synonomous with a different sort of protection money. Michael Turton, the Budding Sinologist’s regular sparring partner, meanwhile ponders whether Lee is on crack.

A study in South Korea has come up with a rather obvious conclusion, long hours at the office result in less active sex lives.

Atanu Dei says Mother Teresa was no saint.

Sepia Mutiny ‘uncovers’ the world’s longest strip tease.

The Indian girls in Toronto are busy making big bucks with sari stripping. They wear sari to attract traditional clients from getting rich India and strips in front of them.

Industrialists, politicians, Bollywood directors, actors and
producers all are heading towards Toronto to experience this massive
display of Indian sex!

The number of girls involved in sari stripping and sex market exceeds hundreds. They speak fluent Canadian English, are brought up in Canada and have Indian heritage.

Arms Control Wonk takes a look at obstacles to the recent US-India agreement on nuclear cooperation.

As well as Singapore’s 40th, there’s another anniversary today. I posted on Hiroshima on Saturday, today Japundit remembers Nagasaki.

Also from Japan, a legal argument that it’s not indecent to masturbate on public transit.

There’s a lot of bloggage on Japan’s failed Post Office reforms and snap election that I won’t post about. Tak notes that Wikipedia has it all.

3854983_c23b52ef57_oNK Zone has a superb wrap of the Six Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. At OneFreeKorea, ahead of the anniversary of the peninsula’s liberation the author ponders ingratitude.

by @ 9:17 pm. Filed under Japan, South Korea, Blogs, Singapore, China, India, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Korea, World record watch

20 July, 2005

cpc vs. sister hibiscus

China’s internet censors are ‘keeping an eye’ on sino-sexblogger Sister Hibiscus. The below item from the Asian Sex Gazette (worksafe, risque banner ads) concludes that her 15 minutes of fame are up.

To monitor what these increasingly curious "netizens" are reading about, the authorities have intensified their internet surveillance by recruiting "web watchdogs" to anonymously police thousands of cyber-cafes and public message forums. And all Chinese websites, bloggers and bulletin-board operators must register with the government - or be fined and shut down.
Furong Jiejie - the name literally means "hibiscus older sister" - seems likely to face that fate. "We have been keeping an eye on sister Furong," said Liu Qiang, an official with the Ministry Of Culture, which is responsible for overseeing the internet. "But there aren’t any explicit regulations to control such a phenomenon." The latest in a series of online celebrities, known in China as BB, or bulletin-board, stars, to have emerged in the past couple of years, 28-year-old Furong is an unlikely candidate to run into trouble with the authorities.
Prone to posing in provocative photos - tame by Western standards - Furong has an obvious hunger for fame. She hardly seems a threat to society.
Nevertheless, the publicity department of the central committee of the Communist Party has told BlogChina, the largest provider of blog-hosting services, to relocate content relating to Furong, whose real name is Shi Heng-xia, to less prominent parts of their website.

by @ 4:57 am. Filed under Culture, Blogs, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Weblogs, Censorship, World record watch

9 July, 2005

world record watch viii

From Rational Ignorance:

PiA guy from Japan recited the first 83,000 decimal places of the number pi.
Oddness aspect number one is the obvious question of why bother to do that.
Of course, the answer appears to be: to get a world record by beating another guy from Japan.
That other pussy could only recite pi to 42,000 decimal places.

by @ 4:20 pm. Filed under Japan, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, World record watch

4 July, 2005

world record watch vii

Holy Catfish Batman!

…two fisherman made a world record catch when they landed a 646lb catfish out of the Mekong River in Chiang Rai, Thailand.


by @ 7:24 am. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Asean, Southeast Asia, Thailand, World record watch

24 June, 2005

world record watch (vi)

This post is not related to Asia, but it comes via Asia-focused blog the Paper Tiger so I consider it fair game. New York was hit by a flood of sticky Snapple after a public-relations exercise gone wrong.:

An attempt to raise the world’s largest ice pop in a city square ended
with a scene straight out of a disaster film — but much stickier.
25-foot-tall, 17 1/2-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice melted faster
than expected Tuesday, flooding Union Square in downtown Manhattan with
kiwi-strawberry-flavored fluid that sent pedestrians scurrying for
higher ground.
Firefighters closed off several streets and used
hoses to wash away the sugary goo. Some passers-by slipped in the
puddles, but no serious injuries were reported.

Snapple’s press center remains conspicuously silent about the flooding, which more or less reminds me of how Xinhua usually acts.

by @ 7:43 am. Filed under World record watch

20 June, 2005

world record watch (v)

Via Tomorrow, the Atypical Singaporean takes a look at some of Singapore’s world-record feats:

Want to know what Singaporeans are good at? What world records our dear fellow Singaporeans have broken? Look no further than here. I am proud to belong to the same country as the people who did:

It is strange that with so many people like this, Singapore has only one Olympic medal so far. Something is wrong somewhere.

by @ 3:25 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, World record watch

18 June, 2005

world record watch (iv)

Singapore takes another one.:

SHE owns three mobile phones, sends over 1,000 SMS messages a month and chalks up more than $100 on her monthly handphone bill.
A typical phone-obsessed Singaporean youth? Not really.
Singaporeans can claim what 24-year-old systems engineer Miss Kimberly
Yeo now can: A place in the Guinness World Records 2005.
Ms Yeo broke the
67-second world record set by an Australian in 2003 during the SingTel
SMS Shootout last June. Her entry in the Guinness World Records was
recently confirmed.
Within 43.2 seconds, she had typed — without
the help of predictive text — the 160-character message: "The
razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are
the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality, they
seldom attack a human."

by @ 7:26 am. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, World record watch

17 June, 2005

world record watch (iii)

The Eurocopter has landed on Everest, and - even more impressively - managed to take off.:

A French helicopter piloted by Didier Delsalle has landed on the top of Mt Everest.
This is an incredible feat and sets a new world record for the highest
helicopter landing/takeoff. Coverage of the story seems to have been
supressed somewhat due to the fact that the French expedition team did
not actually have a permit to land on Everest and so did not announce
their feat until safely back in France. In fact, according to this (report from nepalnews.com)
it looks like the Nepalese government is denying the landing at all and
there was some controversy over whether the helicopter actually landed
on the summit. However, eyewitness accounts from several expeditions on
the mountain at the time and a compelling video shot from the
helicopter seems to have dispelled all doubts.

The press release, video and photos are here.

by @ 8:42 am. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, World record watch, Nepal

14 June, 2005

world record watch (ii)

Cathartidae 2.0 translates an item from South Korea’s Sports Hankook’s Erotic Blog recalling another (now broken) world record set by a Singaporean, Ms Anabelle Chong.:

For example, why do porno actors place so much emphasis on the frequency of sex? In Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, a documentary about the famous porno star, we learn that Chong had sex with 251 men at one time. She explained her actions as being consistent with the logic of the woman’s movement. But in reality, it was nothing more than an event designed to attract attention.
For proof, even afterwards, such events went on. A porno star named Houston continued the record-breaking by having sex with 500 men. As a millennium event, one Italian porn star had sex with 2,000 women, though it wasn’t officially recognized as a new record.

by @ 8:18 am. Filed under South Korea, Singapore, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Global/grober, World record watch

13 June, 2005

world record watch (i)

La Idler has alerted us to Singapore’s two newest attempts at greatness, involving towers of dumplings and the world’s largest balloon-hat festival.:

Someone bring out the bubbly! We are at it again — the Guinness World Records that is. Once again, we have defied impossibility and gravity by building the tallest tower of dumplings imaginable.

With some patience, and lots of sticky fingers, a whopping 14,038 dumplings were finally made.
The dumplings were then neatly stacked on a custom-made wooden structure.
The final tally beat the current Guiness World Record of 13,192 hands down.

Heh. I wouldn’t be surprised if the previous record were made by us, seeing that we love to beat records in the most trivial ways!

by @ 7:37 am. Filed under Culture, Singapore, Southeast Asia, World record watch

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