By Willis Sparks
A few days ago, Google introduced a tool that warns its users inside China about the hundreds of sensitive words and phrases that can produce an error message or even freeze the site, at least for a moment. China Digital Times (CDT) has since compiled a list of the most interesting (sometimes surprising) search terms. Taken together, they offer a glimpse of the wide range of things that China's Internet monitors don't want Chinese citizens reading and talking about. Translations are provided by CDT.
All the terms you see below in bold are apparently considered sensitive subjects.
Why are Chinese authorities worried about truth, benevolence, and forbearance? Because these words are associated with the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong. Watch out for the phrase snow lion; it's a reference to the flag of Tibet. Not surprisingly, searches for Taiwan Political Talk, Xinjiang + independence, and the Tibetan government-in-exile produce similar reactions. References to dissidents like Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei can get you bounced. So can entering the words Liu Xiaobo or the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2010. In fact, you might want to avoid the word dissident.
Nor do China's Internet monitors want citizens thinking about Chinese people eating babies or baby soup. That goes double for pornography, Playboy, and boobs.
Other words and phrases are dangerously suggestive for different reasons. The expression blood house, which refers to forced evictions, is a problem. Perhaps that's because it can encourage curiosity about assembly, a student strike and a people's movement. As these kinds of events take on a life of their own, it can lead young people to explore the so-called three leaves -- leave the Party, leave the Youth League, leave the Young Pioneers -- the 21st century Chinese equivalent of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. It can also lead students into the public square, trigger a rebellion, a coup d'état or even a revolution. These kinds of things can provoke martial law.
It has happened before, though you won't learn much about that simply by searching for Tiananmen, tankman, block tank, or by entering 89 + student movement, Beijing + something happened, or what happened to Beijing. Lately, these sorts of spontaneous insurrections have been popping up in places like Egypt and Tunisia, stoking fears in Beijing of Jasmine + revolution, a Beijing spring or a China spring.
Insurrections aside, mere political embarrassments ring alarms, as well. Searches for Governor Bo Xilai or Chongqing, the province he governed before scandal charges brought him down, make the list -- as does Heywood, the family name of the British businessman his wife is suspected of having murdered. Add Chen Jian, victim of an earthquake who gave a live interview before dying beneath the wreckage and Zengcheng, a city in Guangzhou with the misfortune to have hosted a riot among migrant workers last summer.
Then there is Twitter and Facebook. Expect problems if you hunt for Wikileaks + China. China Digital Times is on the list along with traditional foreign troublemakers like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Expect glitches if you investigate the country's great firewall, the web brigade of Internet censors who help hold it in place, and freegate, dynapass or ultrasurf, tools for those who want to climb over the wall.
It's a bit more surprising that searches for Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin raise red flags. Even the names of today's leaders (Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao) and tomorrow's (Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang) can create a disruption. Same for searches of the nine elders who operate behind the scenes in the Politburo Standing Committee. Simply entering Chinese Communist Party can create a problem, to say nothing of its less flattering nicknames the Common Disabled Party, Common Tragic Party, or the more colorful red bandits.
It's clear that Chinese authorities don't want citizens reading Mein Kampf. It's less clear why they appear to frown on the Coen Brother's film Burn After Reading. It's easier to understand sensitivity about the phrase best actor when you learn that's it a derisive nickname for Premier Wen Jiabao. But one mustn't get too curious about another of his popular nicknames: teletubbies.
Taken together, these and hundreds more words and phrases demonstrate just how hard it is to "manage" communications in a country of 1.4 billion people, more than half of whom have already found their way online.
Unfortunately for all concerned, this list of words and phrases is only getting longer.
Willis Sparks is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Global Macro practice.
China Photos/Getty Images
By Ian Bremmer and David Gordon
Individual hackers and organized crime organizations have targeted businesses for years, but cyberattacks have rarely created political risk. They do now. The centralization of data networks -- both in energy distribution (the move to the smart grid) and information technology more broadly (the shift to cloud computing) -- is increasing the vulnerability of states to potentially debilitating cyberattacks. As governments become more directly and actively involved in cyberspace, geopolitics and cybersecurity will collide in three major ways.
First, new cyber capacity allows governments to project power in a world where direct military strikes are much more costly and dangerous. There have been plenty of stories about well-funded efforts from inside China to manipulate access to the Internet, but it's the almost-certainly state-sponsored Stuxnet attacks on Iran's industrial infrastructure that provide the clearest early glimpse of what tomorrow's carefully targeted state-sponsored attack might look like. When a missile is launched, everyone knows where it came from. Cyberattacks are a very different story.
Second, we'll see more cyber conflicts between state-owned companies and multinational corporations, providing state capitalists with tools that give them a competitive commercial advantage. China and Chinese companies are by far the biggest concern here. Throw in Beijing's indigenous innovation plans, which are designed to ensure that China develops its own advanced technology, and this is probably the world's most important source of direct conflict between states and corporations.
Third, there is the increasing fallout from the WikiLeaks problem, as those sympathetic to Julian Assange unleash attacks on governments and the corporations that support them in targeting WikiLeaks and its founder. In fact, the principal cybersecurity concern of governments has shifted from potential attacks by al Qaeda or Chinese security forces to radicalized info -- anarchists undertaking a debilitating attack against critical infrastructure, a key government agency, or a pillar of the financial system. Whether attacks are waged for power (state versus state), profit (particularly among state capitalists), or for 'the people,' (as in the WikiLeaks case), this will be a wildcard to watch in 2011.
On Friday, we'll talk about Top Risk no. 4: China -- and why its policymakers will frustrate much of the international community this year.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group. David Gordon is the firm's head of research.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to Adam Davidson, one of the sharpest, most insightful media personalities I know. I love what the NPR team is doing with Planet Money.
they ran on Alec Litowitz, Magnetar, and their mortgage/collateralized debt obligations
(CDOs) shorting strategies actually kept me sitting in my car in a parking
garage until it was finished. Nobody should be allowed to read Michael Lewis's
"The Big Short" until they've listened to it.
My book, The End of the Free Market, has just had the honor of serving as guinea pig (their term) for the first Planet Money "Deep Read" -- a good hour getting inside the arguments of the book and thinking about where the world is going. Before Adam begins an interview, he absorbs a book cover to cover, helping him conduct sharp, nuanced, provocative conversations.
I love that he peppered the interview with some of my favorite dystopian "corporations take over the world" movies. Network is an obvious choice. (I used it in the book.) Adam made me wish I'd also worked in a reference to Robocop. But the citation of Rollerball (the James Caan and John Houseman original) takes the gold.
It also raises an interesting question: Why did so many folks think corporations would take over the world? Were screenwriters sharing a private joke about Hollywood's most megalomaniacal studio executives?
No matter. Each day provides more evidence that the power of the state is back. Salad days for political scientists.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
The launch of The End of the Free Market has given me a new understanding of Twitter, as book-related tweets come over the transom. A few that caught my eye, with some perhaps less than twitterish (tweetful?) commentary:
It's odd to me that one of the most immediate responses to "The End of the Free Market" is, "See, Obama's a socialist." Um, no.
Private sector remains key economic actor? Check.
32,000 private sector jobs created in April? Check.
Geithner and Summers, not socialists, on the team? Double check.
charleswtapp From Ian Bremmer's latest: "Kenneth Minogue once defined capitalism as 'what people do when you leave them alone.'" Well said.
I always liked that quote. Of course, when you're leaving your teenage kids alone, probably a good idea to let them know you're going to be checking in on them occasionally. I suspect Greenspan missed that part.
mushkush Saw this guy, Ian Bremmer, on the Daily Show last night. Confused me by saying regulation = free market, unregulated != free market.
Unregulated = really badly run free market. There's a profound difference between regulation and a state-run/controlled economy (see: "Obama isn't a closet pinko.") When the United States starts moving toward paying attention to what the banks are actually doing, yes, we're still a free market. Just (hopefully!) a more effectively run one.
And the virtue of resisting the urge to argue for authoritarian governments. It's like the dark side of the force. After all, how many tanks does the Pope have? (Wait, the Vatican is authoritarian too.)
TheMiniDocs I really appreciate when Jon Stewart interviews people like Ian Bremmer, as opposed to that horrible Sex in the City 2 guy.
I didn't realize i was up against a Sex in the City guy. Clearly, you have to prefer the wonky fellow.
cjmadigan i love it when jon stewart gets to really show his smarts, like right now talking with ian bremmer!
I would like this even more, but the italics makes it implausible. Suspect cj is actually my little brother in pseudonym.
If dizzle isn't a fellow political scientist, I'll eat several pages of my book.
Geosphotos Ian Bremmer on Daily Show. Is he really Mr. Smithers?
Oy oy oy.
To experience the visual spectacle that is Avatar, Chinese audiences have flocked to theaters, with some reportedly paying up to $100 for a ticket. Yet, despite its spectacular success in China, the film has run into some trouble. Authorities have decided to pull the 2-D version of the movie from theaters to make way for a Chinese-made film on the life of Confucius. Why?
Part of the move is undoubtedly aimed at promoting homegrown cultural products at the expense of a formidable foreign competitor. But that can't be the only issue, especially since many Chinese have roundly extolled the film's creative revolution. Take a closer look, and you'll find that it's a quieter, subtler revolution that is unsettling the Chinese government. In Avatar, many Americans see a film about exploitation, militarism, and environmental sustainability. Many Chinese, however, see a cautionary tale about a form of social and economic injustice all too common across their country. To many Chinese bloggers, Avatar is a fable about unscrupulous Chinese officials forcefully evicting residents in the name of local development.
"Land development with an iron fist" has become a volatile issue for Beijing. Driven by rapid urbanization and the absence of property rights, city residents are often uprooted from their homes with little or no compensation to clear the ground for construction of luxurious new high-rises. City enforcement officials, known as "chengguan," are often in cahoots with local developers, granting permits in exchange for kickbacks. Flanked by public security officers, they demand that residents vacate or face removal by force. At times, the ham-fisted moves lead to tragic outcomes, as when a woman in Chengdu set herself on fire rather than be evicted. In another incident, when an elderly man threatened to jump off the roof if he was forcibly removed, a chengguan quipped, "Go straight to the top floor. Don't choose the first or second."
Public outrage at this behavior has run rampant, fueled by the stubbornness of petty officials with unchecked power. In recent years, individuals managed to attract national attention to the issue via iconic and viral images of the "nail house" (usually a single dilapidated shack standing amid razed ground, sticking out like a nail). The photo above tells the story.
These houses remain intact because the owners refuse to budge and chose to fight against developers. On Chinese blogs, commentators immediately recognized the Pandoran aliens Na'vis' tree home as a nail house, and the army that descended upon it as chengguan. Dripping with sarcasm, bloggers' reaction to Avatar as a metaphor for average Chinese woes is unmistakable: "The humans actually failed to successfully evict and demolish [the aliens]? Truly embarrassing. Why didn't they send China's chengguan there sooner?" And "China's demolition crews must go sue old [James] Cameron, sue him for piracy/copyright infringement!"
With enormous numbers of comments like these moving across the web at lightning speed, Beijing, ever more preoccupied with public opinion on the Internet, grew nervous. Corruption is surely involved in many of the development deals, and it doesn't take much of a leap for the public to shift blame to the central government's inability to weed out corruption as promised. Though most of the ire is usually trained on local officials, the party leadership isn't going to take unnecessary risks. Few things arouse more fear in official circles than the loss of message control-and Avatar is just so popular. They decided they would need a wizened local sage to provide a little ancient wisdom.
Damien Ma is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Asia Practice.
I attended a dinner on alternative energy, hosted by Liz Claman over at Fox (previously CNBC), with a couple of heavy energy hitters and the ever-present Tom Friedman on the panel.
It was a pretty bleak couple of hours, given the aftermath of Copenhagen. Most surprising to me was a snap poll of the room, which had about 100 in attendance -- I'd say 60 Americans - asking who thought some form of climate change/energy bill would pass in congress by June. Zero folks raised their hand. (Problematic methodology warning -- it's harder to raise your hand than to keep it down, but still...) By next June? About 25 percent, 30 percent if I'm feeling generous. And it's late, so I'm not particularly.
Tom Friedman, in his every year Davos garb (casual oxford and sweater), had the most enjoyable quote of the evening: "If horses could vote, we wouldn't be driving cars." Really makes me glad we've limited suffrage.
I have no idea if that was already in a Friedman column. Or even Hot, Flat and Crowded. (My apologies, Tom). But having said that, my snap view is that he's a national treasure. He tends to be sensible, he works/travels the world like a banshee with near unparalleled access, and -- most importantly -- he actually speaks English. Crowds of all shapes and sizes can actually relate to what he's saying. They don't tune him out, even when they're jetlagged after a long overnight flight to Zurich.
I'm convinced we'd be in a much better place on climate change if most serious climatologists could actually present in plain English and engage an audience.
Case in point from dinner: The truly lovely Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus. He is charming one-on-one, and doing tremendous work bringing affordable alternative energy (solar power) to villages throughout his country. But his ponderous intervention, late in the dinner, three times returning to the importance of having the people running the country and not the government, had everybody scratching their heads. Affably, mind you. But still.
One more meeting, and then there's a Clinton thing (he's been ubiquitous today ... and the one fellow at Davos that folks are stopping to take pictures of) that I'd like to attend. Word is Clinton's talking about Haiti. And losing his voice. We'll see.
Ian Bremmer will be blogging from Davos this week sending reports and commentary from inside the World Economic Forum.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.