The love that dare not speak its name

April 20, 2016

No, not that kind.

A new kind of what the Chinese government calls ‘dangerous love’ (危险的爱情).

Last week we had China’s first National Security Education Day. It turns out that the nemesis of 19th-century Asia – the red-headed foreigner – is once again stalking the land, seducing Chinese women and convincing them to reveal Chinese state secrets. This unconscionable sexual espionage must be stopped.

Here is the Chinese poster campaign, with English translation. I hope that readers of this blog will not show ‘a very shallow understanding of secrecy’. If you know any red-heads, out them now.

 

 

One of the very worst?

April 19, 2016

I am loath to post the following article from today’s Guardian because it concerns a woman who is subject to sexist abuse. However I cannot help feeling that Marissa Mayer’s compensation at Yahoo for doing zero (okay, less than zero) for shareholders is one of the most egregious cases of rewarding failure that we have seen. She had nothing to do with the investment in Alibaba 10 years ago that is the only reason that the share price has recovered somewhat of late. The money she personally will have stripped out of the business by the time it is sold is grotesque. And the only people who should be more ashamed than her are the board members who let her do it.

From The Guardian:

What’s the price of failure? For Yahoo’s boss Marissa Mayer it could be about $137m. Bids are now in for the ailing tech company – and no matter who gets it, Mayer is set to be one of the biggest winners.

Mayer has taken home $78m since she was installed as CEO in 2012, according to stock analytics firm MCSI; if she’s dismissed from the company after a buyout she’s set for another $59m, based on the terms of the company’s most recent proxy statement.

Mayer’s performance pay and vested options peaked in 2014 at $48m (double the previous year’s salary). Yahoo has yet to finalise this year’s pay package so the final figure is yet to be determined, but few are expecting her to take home just her base salary, in excess of $2m.

Despite the company’s fundamental problems – it has lost the ad wars to Google and Facebook and bet billions on new businesses that have failed to take off – Yahoo’s share price is still in better shape than it was when she started. The rally in the stock price is entirely due to its holding in Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Shares are close to their mid-2014 levels, in fact, and that probably means Mayer is owed further cash.

Mayer has benefitted from a low “strike price” for her stock options. In 2014 it was $18.87 – and the day those options were granted, 27 February 2014, shares were worth more than twice that.

On Monday, Yahoo’s share price closed at $36.52. History suggests that Mayer will be entitled to buy those shares at a price far lower than that. Although her strike price for 2015 has yet to be released, it is expected later this month. Given that there are bids open for Yahoo’s core assets, however, experts say that filing may be delayed.

While nothing is cut and dried yet, the smallest amount Mayer could make at the company is about $80m if she receives absolutely no more of her long-term incentives.

“Until the new proxy is out it isn’t really possible to say how much Mayer will ultimately end up making, or to what extent she will be entitled to any additional severance amounts,” said MCSI’s Ric Marshall.

Marshall is MCSI’s executive director of environmental, social and governance research at the firm and he says much of the eventual compensation depends upon the decisions of the board: “What you can’t say is how the committee will evaluate the performance and what percentage of the original target they will deem as having been met,” Marshall said.

Investors see the board as unduly supportive of Mayer. One group, Starboard Value, asked that the entire body be replaced with members of its own choosing.

There is reason for shareholders to worry: Starboard thinks that the net value of the “Yahoo stub”, that is to say, Yahoo without its stake in Alibaba, is worthless. With the amount of money a purchasing company would have to pay Mayer to leave in the event of a change in ownership – $59.3m in numbers adjusted for share price from the company’s most recent proxy filing – Yahoo’s value by Starboard’s reckoning would be negative.

“The firm buying her knows all about this,” said Alan Johnson of compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates. “They’re not going to pay for it. That’s coming out of the hide of Yahoo’s shareholders – everybody’s got that in their spreadsheets. They look at this as another sunk cost, like a bad lease.”

In a word, Starboard is afraid shareholders may end up having to pay someone to haul Yahoo away.

Marshall told the Guardian he’s seen that happen in the past. “It has been proven more expensive to sell a company because of the change in control than it is to just bankrupt it.” He hopes it won’t be the case at Yahoo, he said.

 

Bad week for Brave Dave

April 7, 2016

Ooh, these bloody Panama Papers.

It’s like having Edward Snowden as your next-door neighbour for Brave Dave Cameron, as The Guardian goes to work on his family’s offshore tax arrangements.

I believe there have so far been four, very carefully-worded, separate statements from Downing Street and Cameron himself on the question of offshore family businesses, trusts, and the beneficiaries of these (tabloid list here). Downing Street kicked off with ‘It’s a private matter,’ but that was very quickly kicked into touch. Let’s hope that with this succession of ‘clarifications’ Brave Dave is not heading in the direction of Bill Clinton’s immortal ‘It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.’

Two things so far reported by The Guardian stand out for me.

First, Brave Dave’s old man, Ian, was listed by the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth £10 million. But in 2010, Brave Dave had a publicly declared inheritance from his father’s estate of only £300,000, just under the £325,000 death duties tax threshold. There are four Cameron siblings, so one wonders where the rest of the loot is? Or perhaps what one would like is an explanation as to why there isn’t any more inherited or inheritable loot. Did Ian have a flutter on the horses, perhaps? As The Guardian notes, Brave Dave said in 2012 that he would be willing to publish full details of his tax affairs, and this seems like a jolly good time to do it.

Second, Ian Cameron’s company Blairmore (surely ‘moreBlair’?) was window-shopping offshore financial centres and paying zero UK taxes even as Brave Dave became Conservative Party leader and began to rail about the moral iniquity of not paying tax as you should. See here for a Brave Dave versus Jimmy Carr ‘Whose tax arrangements might turn out to be less funny?’ comparison. The key is whether Brave Dave’s immediate family benefited, or will benefit, in any way, at any time, from Ian’s quite legal but morally unpleasant tax avoidance wheezes.

Poor old Brave Dave. Why isn’t this happening to someone less agreeable? Like Boris. Or the Thin Controller.

Later, more:

Well, just this evening Brave Dave has gone on tv and admitted he’s done a little bit of a porky pie. He sold some shares in moreBlair just before becoming PM for a profit of £19,000. This is the fifth ‘clarification’.

Is it enough to draw a line under the affair? Dave is surely hoping so. But I can’t quite see it myself. £19k doesn’t quite fill the hole on the back of my envelope. Although, it is just an envelope…

Here is The Guardian report.

Friday, 8 April, more:

The Guardian‘s Juliette Garside parses Brave Dave’s television interview of last night, here. See her comments down the right hand side. The trail, me suspects, leads to the sleazy island of Jersey… Odds on Brave Dave resigning have shortened from 20/1 to 11/2. Still a reasonable earner. And tax-free, too. I might send a child in a trench-coat over to the bookies’ to put down a tenner.

5 minutes later:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Odds on Brave Dave going this year are now 5/2

Monday, 11 April:

This is excellent, from today’s Guardian.

Will it be another bad week for Brave Dave? Over the weekend, Downing Street published a short and sanitised introduction to Dave’s tax affairs. Not even worth posting, since it is just spin. The pressure continues to mount for Dave to take his pants off, and reveal the full story. And the Thin Controller is feeling the heat too. The Treasury said last week he would not publish his fiscal break-down. Now Treasury is hinting he might offer up something. And there are loud demands to know who across the entire cabinet has offshore interests.

I feel so sorry for the Tories that I have posted the leaflet of their local council candidate in my house window. No one on my whole road votes Tory to my knowledge. So someone has to stick up for these poor rentiers…

Monday, 11 April, later:

The Thin Controller has published his 2014-15 tax return:

chancellor_tax_return

£3 interest on money in the bank. A timely reminder of how the poor, who have nothing but a little cash in the bank, have been royally screwed by record-low interest rates while the rentier class makes out like bandits from asset appreciation fuelled by cheap debt.

£33k is the Thin Controller’s half-share (wife has the other half) of one year’s rent on his London property.

£44k is dividends from Sloane-apocalypse wallpaper business Osborne and Little.

Effective rate of taxation on the whole lot, earned an unearned (including 120k salary) is 36 percent.

 

And Boris has published his tax summary. Unlike the Thin Controller, he has given us multiple years (what’s going on there, George?).

Boris tax summary

The highlights:

In 2014-15 Boris pulled down £266,000 for his pisspoor Daily Telegraph column. He claims to knock out his columns ‘very fast’ on a Sunday morning, and they certainly read that way. The latest lauds Assad for having saved Palmyra from Isil.

In 2014-15 Boris earned £224,000 in book royalties, reminding us that the British public prefers to read this, when it could be reading this.

Add in the Mayoral salary for London and Boris made, gross £612,583 in 2014-15. Although there is no way he will be elected prime minister, I think he comes out of the this tax return publishing episode better than either Brave Dave or the Thin Controller. No offshore filth. No rentier income, either from bricks and mortar or from daddy’s business. Boris does actually earn his money. Which is why he pays a significantly higher effective rate of taxation than the Thin Controller. Ah, the logic of our times…

Easter in Italy

April 6, 2016

Norcia 1

Norcia 2

I won’t pass any comment.

These two were taken in Norcia, in the south of Umbria.

Easter viewing

March 25, 2016

I have meant for some time to recommend Joshua Oppenheimer’s two documentaries about the deaths of more than 1 million people in Indonesia in 1965-6, at the time when Suharto came to power. It wasn’t a genocide, I think, because lots of different racial groups were targeted (though ethnic Chinese suffered greatly). Rather, it was a ‘politicide’, if such a word exists, an attack on all those deemed to be enemies of the new regime, including anyone deemed to be a communist.

If you have not seen these films, you should. They can be rented cheaply from Amazon. Here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the first documentary (£3.49 to rent), The Act of Killing, and here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the second documentary, The Look of Silence.

The Act of Killing received rave reviews partly because of Oppenheimer’s extraordinary methodology. He showed up in Sumatra saying he was interested in learning about the 1965-6 killings, and a bunch of semi-retired preman (gang members/thugs) said: ‘Hey, that’s us. How can we help?’ He then convinced them to act out their memories of murder for his movie. This makes for some very weird and utterly compelling footage.

 

Personally, however, I like The Look of Silence more. In this second documentary, Oppenheimer follows one of the victim families, as a surviving brother gently begins to confront the murderers who butchered his sibling and chucked his body in the local river. The Look of Silence gets much closer to the political and social story underlying the politicide. It is not so visually freakish, but it makes you think more. I note that on Amazon, individual viewers rank it higher than The Act of Killing, so other people may have had the same reaction as me. Really, tho, you need to watch both docs.

 

Finally, here are Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talking about The Act of Killing, just in case the trailer hasn’t convinced you to watch it:

 

 

 

The Thin Controller

March 21, 2016

Osborne weight loss

George Osborne, who I used to call The Fat Controller, has become the Thin Controller after eating less and running more. But he is still Sir Topham Hat, insensitive nemesis of poor Thomas the Tank Engine (and all other members of the working classes).

In case you missed the Thin Controller’s latest, last week he decided to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle classes at the same time as chopping a further £4.4 billion over five years from the budget to support disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 370,000 people with a disability would lose an average of £3,500 a year. This comes on the back of an already-implemented big squeeze on various direct and indirect forms of welfare support for the disabled.

Most of the groundswell of anger at the Thin Controller — he has already abandoned the disability benefit cut in a standard ‘oh my god, what have I done this time?’ volte-face  — focused on his increase to the level at which higher earners begin to pay the 40 percent income tax rate. However this change has at least the merit of rewarding middle class work.

What gob-smacked me in the Thin Controller’s budget was the decision to make big cuts to already ridiculously low rates (compared to income tax rates on work) of Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Britain is fast becoming a rentier society, but the Thin Controller’s determination to turn us into some proto-feudal squirearchy seems to know no bounds. He cut the lower band of CGT from 18 percent to 10 percent, and the higher rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

The old rates do remain in force for profits on one’s second, third, fourth and fifth, etc homes (i.e. for non-primary real estate). However the adjustment is a huge bung to the share- and bond-owning leisure class, of which I regard myself as an aspiring member. Thinking today about whether I should not perhaps take the next three months off and go on safari, I decided to check the HM Revenue and Customs web site and learn more about the Thin Controller’s commendable policy to encourage my indolence. Here is what I found:

<Policy objective>

<The government wants to create a strong enterprise and investment culture. Cutting the rates of CGT for most assets is intended to support companies to access the capital they need to expand and create jobs. Retaining the 28% and 18% rates for residential property is intended to provide an incentive for individuals to invest in companies over property.>

This statement has three great qualities. First, it is pure gibberish. Companies (the supposed subject of the second sentence) do not pay CGT, they pay Corporation Tax. Second, it is dishonest. Following from 1., what the Thin Controller really means is that he wants to support the stock-owning rentier class, who don’t need to work because tax rates on passive capital invested in shares and bonds were already low, and are now even lower. Annoyingly, he can’t actually say this, but we know who we are. Third, the statement is misguided. This is because no British rentier with half a brain is going to invest much of their unearned capital in British companies when the Thin Controller has created such an anaemic growth environment. One gives one’s capital to American companies like Apple, Amazon, Skyworks, Gilead, Amtrust Financial Services, American Express, American Tower, Verisk Analytics, and so on. (Disclaimer: oh yes, I own them all.) And then one pays sod all tax to the Thin Controller on the profits. Of course, in the final analysis this doesn’t matter because the Thin Controller doesn’t need the tax because he’s dismantling the welfare state.

Got it?

 

On journalism

March 17, 2016

Tombstone cover

Yang Jisheng, author of Tombstone, a forensic account of the Great Leap famine that killed 30-40 million Chinese, just won a prize given by the Nieman fellows in journalism at Harvard. So he has written them a nice little piece on how he thinks about journalism. Of course the Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t let Yang go to America to collect the prize…

I cannot upload the Harvard page directly into WordPress because the typeface is not supported. So click here to read an English translation of what Yang wrote, or to find a link to the Chinese original. If you are a journalist you might want to print the document and stick it on the bathroom wall.

 

Ai Weiwei in London

September 28, 2015

Isn’t it great when art is important, as well as nice to look at?

If you get the chance to see Ai Weiwei’s show at the Royal Academy in London, go.

It starts with dead trees in the courtyard outside. They have been sawn up and then put back together with iron bolts. This breaking and rebuilding is a favourite trope of Chinese artists who grew up in the Cultural Revolution. Ai opens with a new variant on it.

Inside, everything, to quote Ai’s dictum, is politics and everything is art at the same time. A large room is filled with 90 tonnes of iron rebars from buildings that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The reason many public buildings fell down is that they were not sufficiently reinforced with steel; the unspoken accusation is that contractors skimmed off money by skimping on steel. On the walls around the sculpturally arranged rebars are the names of several thousand children who died in the earthquake, their names, school classes, schools and towns meticulously recorded, as collated by Ai and his group.

In another room is an installation built from the rubble of Ai’s Shanghai studio, bulldozed when the government decided it had had enough of him.

Much of the work has actually been done by Chinese craftsmen. Ai provides the ideas — a sort of uncorrupted Damien Hirst running an atelier with a rationale beyond mere self-enrichment. There is a pair of handcuffs sculpted from a single piece of jade. There are CCTV cameras in marble. Ai has even re-wallpapered several rooms of the Royal Academy, including with copies of the tax payments that supporters paid on his behalf when the government hit him with a huge tax ‘bill’ as a means to finger him as a criminal. The work in marble, hard wood, jade and so on connects traditional China with contemporary China in a manner that is subtly subversive. It highlights the beauty of traditional craftsmanship at the same time as making just the type of connection between New China and old imperial China that the government rejects — a connection to do with unaccountable power.

There is more than enough stuff that is not aggressively political to give the show balance. Equally, the finale, about Ai’s incarceration, is cleverly handled. It focuses on the psychological torture he underwent. In half a dozen large iron boxes, he is rendered as a waxwork with two guards standing over him has he variously eats, sleeps, undergoes interrogation and defecates. There is no physical violence, but the emotional violence, which can only be viewed through small holes in the iron containers — at one end, and from above, by standing on a step and craning over the top of the box — is palpable. A cheap fan in each ‘room’ produces noise and air movement that makes the experience far more real than any Madame Tussaud’s waxwork.

I wasn’t sure how serious Ai was before going to this exhibition. He is very serious and it is a must-see.

Ai bars

Joined-up economics

August 17, 2015

Here is a rare thing. A dynamic theory from an economist — whereby the solution to today’s problem may not be the solution to tomorrow’s problem. It’s David Dollar, former World Bank country chief for China talking about the role of institutions in development…

 

What institutions do Asian countries need to keep growing?

31 May 2015

Author: David Dollar, Brookings Institution

The notion of a ‘middle-income trap’ has entered the lexicon of policymakers in emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere. Many leaders of countries that have experienced fast growth — such as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang — worry that economic growth will come off the boil as their countries reach middle-income status.

Chinese workers construct residential buildings of a government-funded housing project in Tiemenguan city, China, 2 May 2015. (Photo: AAP).

Growth for virtually all advanced economies was slower in the 2000s than in the 1990s; meanwhile growth rates in poor and middle-income countries accelerated. But there is a lot of variation in these broad trends, especially for the middle-income countries. Some of the latter have seen very impressive growth spurts, while others have stagnated.

What explains why some countries grow fast and others languish? There is a strong empirical relationship between the quality of institutions (as measured by the World Governance Indicators’ Rule of Law index) and economic growth. But institutional quality does not change very much from year to year or sometimes even from decade to decade, which makes it hard to explain why countries have periods of high growth followed by low growth (or vice versa).

Institutions which are well-suited to one phase of economic development may be ill-suited to another. One way to resolve the paradox of persistence of institutions and non-persistence of growth rates is to focus on the quality of institutions relative to the level of development. It turns out this can help explain why China and Vietnam, for instance, have seen such high growth in recent times: they have relatively low institutional quality in an absolute sense, but they have above-average quality institutions given their stage of development, which might, for instance, help to attract foreign investment to China or Vietnam rather than other Asian countries with similarly low wage levels but weaker institutions.

Another question is whether authoritarian institutions are better for economic growth than democratic ones. It may depend on the stage of a country’s development. When we look at the historical experience, in countries that have a per capita income below US$8,000, authoritarian institutions seem more conducive to growth. But at higher levels of income, democratic countries are likely to see higher growth than authoritarian ones. Why might this be so?

One explanation might be that at low levels of income, the economic priority of government should be to establish basic law and order and an environment in which private investment, including foreign investment, can operate. This is a catch-up stage, in which innovation is not yet particularly relevant. But the usual economic strategy for authoritarian governments relies on capital accumulation, which becomes less effective as countries get richer. When an economy reaches the point where acquiring more and more capital is no longer sufficient for rapid growth, the need for political and economic institutions that promote competition, innovation and productivity growth becomes paramount.

Interestingly, it is about at the US$8,000 per capita GDP mark that two of East Asia’s great developmental success stories, Taiwan and South Korea, were also becoming free and open polities. By the early 1980s for Taiwan and the mid-1980s for South Korea, a move had been made away from authoritarian institutions, which continued until both reached fully democratic status as measured by Freedom House’s civil liberties metric.

Of the countries that have witnessed rapid growth in Asia recently, Vietnam has shown some steps towards political liberalisation, with its civil liberties score moving to five, which is slightly better than either South Korea or Taiwan at the same stage of development. But Vietnam is entering the stage of development where the line of thinking presented above implies a need for further political reform. Greater freedom will be necessary to strengthen property rights and the rule of law in order to bring about an environment for innovation and productivity growth.

China, on the other hand, has largely eschewed political reform. Although he has placed a lot of emphasis on the idea of implementing the ‘rule of law’ in China, President Xi Jinping has made it abundantly clear that he wants to pursue economic reform without political liberalisation; some observers even point to backsliding in recent years on the question of freedom of ideas and debate. The historical evidence would suggest that this will weigh on the growth of the Chinese economy in the future. At the stage of development at which China now finds itself, South Korea and Taiwan were on the way to becoming more or less free societies.

Of course, just because no authoritarian country (apart from oil producers and, depending on how you classify it, Singapore) has reached more than 35 per cent of US GDP per capita does not mean that it will be impossible for China to do so. But the historical evidence should caution Chinese policymakers against thinking that the kind of political institutions that have facilitated China’s astonishing growth up to now will be sufficient or optimal for the next stage of its development.

David Dollar is Senior Fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution. He was the former World Bank Country Director for China and Mongolia in the East Asia and Pacific Region.

This article summarises a paper prepared for the Pacific Trade and Development Conference in Singapore this week.

Keeping up with Chinese

August 10, 2015

It is a long time since I checked on the latest code words required to navigate the Chinese internet. Here is an update from Epoch Times:

What do June 4, Falun Gong, and despotism have in common?

They’re all terms censored by the Chinese regime. As Internet use proliferates in China, so too does the internet blockade erected to obstruct the free flow of information.

June 4, 1989 is the date of the bloody Tiananmen Square Massacre, when authorities killed hundreds if not thousands of student protesters and violently suppressed thousands more. As a result, any combination of 6, 4, and 89 is blocked.

The term “Falun Gong” refers to the peaceful self-cultivation and meditation practice that was banned in 1999 following the launch of a nationwide persecution against the practice and its believers. And despotism was placed on the blacklist so that people in Chinese would not be able to criticize the regime with the term.

The regime’s censorship mechanism reaches all areas of the Internet: from Western news sources like BBC and Voice of America, to websites and search terms related to Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, or other persecuted groups, to any other material deemed sensitive or dangerous to the communist regime.

Chinese netizens have therefore turned to more creative measures to communicate on the internet and criticize government policies, since any word or phrase remotely resembling dissident speech unsettles the authorities and finds itself on the list of censored content.

Below are some of the ingenious code words, homonyms, and purposeful misnomers, obtained from a comprehensive list by China Digital Times.

1. Eye-Field (目田-mù tián)

Code words for: Freedom (自由-zìyóu)

Explanation: Since the word freedom  (自由 zìyóu) is censored, Chinese netizens used “eye-field,” which in Chinese looks like the characters for freedom minus the topmost portion (目田  vs. 自由). It was invented back in 2010, when World of Warcraft players in China realized many words were blocked in the latest version of the game. For some it looks like gibberish, but for those who know the meaning, it is a veiled jab at the Chinese regime.

“Freedom” beheaded becomes “eye-field.” (Screenshot via tompda.com)

2. Take a Walk (散步-sànbù)

Code words for: Resisting the state by marching through the streets.

Explanation: In China, since it is difficult to strike, applications to hold protests are routinely denied, and petitioning the government is similarly fruitless (or dangerous), citizens have turned to more creative means of protesting state actions, like “taking walks.”

In 2007, protestors in Xiamen began “taking walks” to protest the construction of a potentially dangerous paraxylene (PX) processing plant. Similar to taking a walk, “going sightseeing” is also a guise citizens use when they want to go to Beijing to petition against some state action, since officials do not look kindly on petitions. When authorities try to stop them, they say “What law says we can’t all walk to Beijing to sightsee?”

3. Check the Water Meter (抄水表-chāo shuǐbiǎo)

Code words for: A house visit by the police.

Explanation: Since suspicious residents often refuse to open the door to police, instead of violently forcing the door open, which is tiring and time-consuming, police often pretend to be from the water utility company to trick occupants into opening their doors.

(Screenshot via neihan8.com)

4. National Treasure (国宝-guóbǎo)

Code words for: The Domestic Security Department (DSD), a branch within the Ministry of Public Security that deals with dissidents, human rights activists, religious groups, and other so-called subversives in China.

Explanation: “National treasure” (国宝-guóbǎo) is a homonym of the DSD (国保-guó bǎo). DSD officials are not subjected to the same oversight as regular police and security officials and enjoy broader powers to violently suppress dissidents or other “dangerous” elements. As the panda is considered China’s “national treasure,” Chinese netizens often use the panda as a symbol of the DSD.

5. Hide-and-Seek (躲猫猫-duǒ māomāo)

Code words for: To die in police custody under suspicious circumstances.

Explanation: The phrase was used to refer to cover-ups of police brutality after prison authorities said a farmer in detention for illegal logging had died from a head injury sustained while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates.

(Kuang Biao 狂飙 via blog.qq.com)

6. Imperial Capital (帝都-dìdū)

Code words for: Beijing

Explanation: In order to avoid censorship of criticisms of Beijing, Chinese netizens started using the code words “imperial capital” to refer to the city. But the censors have caught up and even the words “imperial capital” were blocked on Weibo, China’s microblogging equivalent of Twitter, as of June 19 this year.

7. Scale the Wall (翻墙-fān qiáng)

Code words for: Circumvent the Internet blockade.

Explanation: Chinese netizens term the Internet blockade a wall they try to jump over using a different software, such as VPNs (virtual private networks) that hide their IP addresses.

(Screenshot via kenengba.com)

8. Naked Officials (裸官 luǒguān)

Code words for: Government officials who send illegally obtained public funds to family members overseas.

Explanation: The nickname refers to how these officials appear to be “naked,” or without any assets. In China, corrupt officials siphon billions out of China to their bank accounts overseas while ignoring the needs of China’s impoverished.

9. Big Boxer Shorts (大裤衩-dà kùchǎ)

Code words for: China Central Television building in Beijing.

Explanation: An outlandish piece of architecture, the building of China Central Television, China’s largest state-run broadcaster and propaganda mouthpiece, is widely ridiculed in the mainland for resembling a pair of underwear or a person squatting over a toilet.

(China Photos/Getty Images)

10. Kim Fatty 3 (金三胖-Jīn Sān Pàng)

Code words for: Kim Jong Un

Explanation: After Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea, Chinese netizens used the term to ridicule the dictator.

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

11. Ministry of Foreign Assistance (援交部-Yuánjiāo Bù)

Code words for: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Explanation: The pejorative nickname gained traction because of the Chinese regime’s tendency to send aid to foreign countries while neglecting domestic problems. For instance, in November 2011, China donated 23 buses to Macedonia, not long after a bus crash in Gansu killed 20 people, including 18 children, according to China Digital Times. The bus had only nine seats, but had been carrying 64 people. Outraged netizens criticized authorities for sending buses meeting safety standards to Macedonia while neglecting to fix China’s own shoddy bus problem.

12. Surround and Watch (围观-wéiguān)

Code words for: Intense public scrutiny.

Explanation: The terms are commonly used to invoke a crowd to gather around an event or person online or in the real world and closely observe it. With heavy public scrutiny, authorities won’t be able to cheat the people.

Chinese characters on the screen say “Weibo”. (Screenshot via duozhi.com)

13. Drink Tea (喝茶-hē chá)

Code words for: A police interrogation

Explanation: The Chinese people commonly use the euphemism of someone being invited to drink tea to address being taken in for questioning by the police. Chinese police rely heavily on coercive incentives, like offering “tea,” to make people say something. But when that doesn’t work, they move to threats or violence.

14. Brickspert (砖家-zhuānjiā)

Code words for: So-called experts who understate safety risks or justify terrible economic conditions under the orders of state officials or corrupt businessmen.

Explanation: The first character (专) in “expert” combined with the character for “rock” (石) creates the character for brick (砖-zhuān), pronounced the same as the first term in “expert.” A play on words, it essentially means these experts are like rocks pandering to the wishes of authorities and lying to the people.

Chinese characters say “Brickspert”(Screenshot via xuduba.com)

15. Reincarnation (转世-zhuǎnshì)

Code words for: Creation of a new social media account after a prior one is deleted by the social media company.

Explanation: The term is used figuratively to describe the “rebirth” of netizens on social media after their accounts are deleted for posting about sensitive issues. Political cartoonist Kuang Biao has “reincarnated” dozens of times on Weibo and adds the reincarnation count to each of his new usernames. As of May 10, 2015, his username was “Uncle Biao Fountain Pen Drawings 47.”

16. Frisbee Hu (飞盘胡-Fēipán Hú)

Code words for: Hu Xijin, chief editor of state-run newspaper Global Times

Explanation: The nickname is used to lampoon Hu for always positively spinning government crimes and wrongdoings. For instance, during the scandal involving Bo Xilai, former party chief of Chongqing who was sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, Hu published an editorial titled “Bo’s Case Shows Resilience of Rule of Law.” Netizens angrily criticized him for reporting optimistic falsehoods while omitting how China’s so-called “rule of law” allowed Bo to prosper and continue his corrupt misconduct for decades.

17. Give the People Some Tape (给人民一个胶带-gěi rénmín yí ge jiāodài)

Code words for: Trying to prevent people from talking.

Explanation: Following the Wenzhou high-speed crash in July 2011 when two trains derailed each other killing at least 40 and injuring nearly 200, Premier Wen Jiabao called for an investigation into the incident to “give the people an explanation.” But on the contrary, authorities aggressively limited reporting on the incident and hastily buried (literally) the crushed train cars in what appeared to be a coverup of evidence. Since “tape” in Chinese is a homophone of “explanation,” indignant netizens used the phrase “give the people some tape” to describe the government’s attempt to hide its failures and prevent people from talking about the tragedy.

(luochangping/weibo.com)

18. Sensitive Porcelain (敏感瓷-mǐngǎn cí)

Code words for: Censored words.

Explanation: “Word” (词-cí) and “porcelain (瓷-cí), sound the same, so Chinese netizens refer to all sensitive words or phrases, from major dissidents to religious movements, as “sensitive porcelain.”

19. Reigning Emperor (当今皇上-dāngjīn huángshang)

Code words for: The current president.

Explanation: The derogatory term implies the head of state was anointed the position, rather than popularly elected, and possesses almost absolute power. It was blocked from Weibo search results on August 21 last year.

(Apply Daily via China Digital Times)

20. Your Country (你国-nǐ guó)

Code words for: The country of the Chinese Communist Party.

Explanation: Chinese people often use the terms “my country” to refer to China. The terms “your country” separates the Chinese Communist Party from the state, which are often used synonymously in official rhetoric to equate loyalty to the Communist Party with loyalty to China. As the Chinese people become increasingly conscious of the Chinese Communist Party’s tyrannical tactics, they have started separating the two in their minds and within their Internet posts.

 


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