Friday, June 09, 2006

Gmail Also Affected By Ban

I've sent a couple pings into China about the blackout, and I've heard from one friend that Gmail is also affected:

yeah, it's very annoying. I couldn't use gmail and google just now for about two hrs. It's been like this for the past one week, seriously affecting my work...

While in China earlier this year, I also experienced a one or two-day Google blackout on March 14, which was possibly a test run. Though to be honest, I was finding the Internet so full of twists and turns at that point it's hard to say.

Now I wish I knew what the technology issues were here - are Google and Gmail linked so closely that blocking one blocks the other? I posted the question on this Slashdot thread, and hopefully I'll have some replies...

...coz those friggin cloistered geeks really need something to talk about other than whether or not Google is evil (to the tune of like 500 comments on the two newswire stories that came out last week). There are of course other issues, like:

1) Google is nowhere near China's most popular search engine, lagging significantly behind Baidu for example. I wonder who the Slashdot nerds would rather see win that battle, a compromised Google or some homegrown Chinese search engine? Which brings us to the next point:

2) The Chinese government, or at least the whole zeitgeist it presides over, encourages negative reporting on Google and other suspect Western media/new media companies. Remember, Western colonialism (yes, from the 18th-early 20th centuries) continues to be upheld as a popular myth explaining why the country is so fucked up now. Google has been blamed for holding and improper business license and god knows what else, with the media coming down like pitbulls as the government changes the rules every other day. Now let me restate this question about Google vs. Baidu, but in a different way:

3) Google knows what China is not seeing, and for now it cannot show it, but possibly in the future it may bring this awareness into play in very subtle ways. Baidu may be able to get away with more now but will certainly aim for much less, slowly opening up to information democracy at the pace of China's domestic social/political change, which is happening, though not the rate the international press might desire it. (Note: Compare this to the US government's position that: elections-in-Afganistan-now-will-solve-everything! The point being, immediate change is not always deep change.) Baidu will also be more invested in the national ascendance, with better connections to power for good and for ill. But there is no saying when and how a heavily monitored will make China more global. (Tho I bets they got some crafty insane anti-Chinese tech-warfare they gonna drop on they flat-assed commie bi-yatches, boyee!) In Google vs. Baidu, it's hard not to picture it as an us (West) vs. them battle, and here my instinct is to root for the home team, but God only knows what's right or best?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Taiwan and Tiananmen's 17th Anniversary

At the luncheon following this morning's pan-blue June 4th Forum, the best reason I heard for Taiwan's suddenly renewed interest in commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre on this, its 17th anniversary, was Lien Chan's visit to China last year. Lien's quest, softbrained and sychophantic as it may have been, has reawakened the idea that Taiwan might take proactive policies towards the Mainland.

Or at least it reminded the DPP that if the blues are talking about this, the greens had best come up with a line of their own. Which was why yesterday, June 3, saw the DPP holding its first ever commemoration of Tienanmen (Chinese articles 1, 2, 3, 4) and giving their usual, vague lipservice to human rights.

Meanwhile Ma Ying-jeou and the blues (Chinese) had their own commemoration, as Ma and the blues do every year. They talked about absolutely nothing related to human rights, which at first confused me before I whacked myself in the head for being so naive. The KMT take on Tienanmen was actually rather predictable: "Gee, the motherland - er, oh right, 'mainland China' - they're about as screwed up as a country can be, well uh, outside of our official ally states I mean, and golly it might take 100 years or more, but, well heck let's talk about it anyway, how and when are we gonna unify with them again?"

Now just in case you were wondering, don't worry, there's not much popular interest in Taiwan over Tienanmen, not any more. The candlelight vigils of 1989 in Taiwan's parks, schools and public plazas are pretty safely relegated to popular memory - i.e. the Taiwanese have been there, done that, and if you ask them you'll see how they unabashedly ask you back: what's it got to do with us anymore?

"Yes, June 4th is recieving more attention in Taiwan than it has in recent years, and the reasons are mostly political," agreed Fang Yuan (方圓), one of the labor leaders during the Beijing demonstrations of 1989, who afterwards quickly escaped into exile and currently heads the China Labor Party from his home in Australia. This might be a good place to credit him with the idea about Lien Chan's visit reviving Tienanmen in Taiwan as political tool.

As this was a solidly pan-blue forum, pamphlets showing President Chen Shui-bian and his coterie in Nazi SS uniforms were hardly a surprise, nor was the "No Justice, No President" t-shirt of the old and slightly retarded-looking man sitting in front of me. In the open section following the panel, someone proposed a law against "selling out the country," claiming the greens were the greatest source of this imminent danger. Quick aside: after a decade of hanging out with and writing about artists and musicians in Taiwan, I can safely say, if you want to find the real freaks, look to politics.

The old boys I lunched with were all in favor of impeaching both the president and vice president - at the same time! - and one of them, Loh Kao-ming (樂可銘), the chairman of some blue splinter party I'd never heard of (the New People's Party? - 新民黨), had taken out a half-page newspaper ad full of constitutional convolutions that would bring this long fantasized blue coup d'etat to life. All dining concurred that Lien Chan should remain KMT Chairman, and at any mention of Chiang Ching-kuo, their faces washed over with a warm, nostalgic dew.

Loh told a story about an encounter with Ma Ying-jeou: "He was surrounded by reporters, but when they cleared out a bit, he recognized me and I stepped in to shake his hand. As I was shaking it, I told him, 'I have no problem with you becoming the next president, but I cannot support you taking the KMT Chairmanship from Lien Chan.' At that, Ma recoiled as if in horror and tried to pull his hand away, but I grabbed it with both hands and kept talking..."

...Three luncheon-mates had been sentenced to jail, two actually serving it. Loh once got three months as the butt end of some political revenge intrigue, but he'd paid his way out of actually serving time for a little over NT$80,000.

There was Yan Peng, a Chinese political dissident in passport-less limbo, a 1989 era demonstration leader who listened silently as Loh bombastically rattled on, "At Tiananmen, what else could the Chinese government do? During Vietnam, America shot college students too!" He waited humbly through the dinner, until one of the old boys' wives asked where he was from, followed by, "Oh, what are you doing here?"

"Seeking political asylum."

After two years and some months in Taiwan, the first 9 of those months in jail, Taiwan won't take him for lack of a political asylum law and has only been able to arrange political asylum with Honduras.

"Honduras! That would be a living hell!" chuckled one old boys. He had connections to the military.

Yan thought so too and had refused.

"Don't worry, you did the right thing. If you need any help, just ask us." And they handed him name cards and spun the lazy susan.

The third political was a worn-down Taiwanese woman in her early 30s with a blue wrist - some medicinal unguent, she said. She'd spent a month in Chinese jail after going into both the French and American embassies in Beijing seeking political asylum - from Taiwan! She claimed to be the victim of political oppression from the current government, which oppresses her by invisible means, preventing her from getting or keeping any sort of job. This having something to do with the daily reports she sent to President Chen by email of fax from 1999-2001. It was some sort of policy analysis. She was serious, and seemingly rational, for someone with a story that was completely insane.

Okay, now the disturbing thing is this. What brings this whacky fold back into the zone of political reality is that, Chinese dissidents possibly excepted, these are the faithful. These are the died-in-the-wool partisans who must routinely be placated. While Ma Ying-jeou struggles to pull the KMT out of the tar pits of its tainted past, his milieu is symposia and banquets like this, and each has its own Loh Kao-ming, mitts tenatiously clasped and trying to pull him back down.

End note: A quick list of Chinese dissidents in attendance:

Shao Jiang (邵江), Tiananmen student activist. Panelist.
Wang Min (汪岷), secretary general of the China Democratic Party, Oversease Section. Panelist. Quote: "June 4th is our moral advantage over China."
Fang Yuan (方圓), Tiananmen demonstrations labor leader and current Chairman of the China Labor Party. Quoted above.
Wu'er Kaixi (吾爾開希) - Tienanmen student leader and resident of Taiwan. Uncharacteristically, he did not speak.
Yan Peng (燕鵬), the above mentioned, passportless dissident. Also a Tienanmen-era activist from Shandong Province.