So on Friday night, China time, a group calling itself the Anti-Communist Party hackers somehow broke into the main state TV channel in Wenzhou and said rude things about the CPC; things that couldn't be erased until viewers re-inserted their smart cards. Things like this:
"Why is Liu Xiaobo of Charter 8 in prison, Communist bandits your words are just unadorned farts, you know the people know that everything you say are just farts."
Technically adroit. Great stunt. But something lacking at the content end, I think. I mean I'm not asking people to commit the collected speeches of Martin Luther King to memory but it does seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity. But that seems to be the hacking thing; the point is to demonstrate technical virtuosity, the message doesn't mean so much.
One thing that opinion polls of what people think of various countries miss is the matter of salience. It's easy to get into a row about the United States because people care one way or another about what it does. People who know that I'm intererested in China think of it as a hobby. I'm that bloke who's interested in China, as opposed to stamp collecting or comics or whatever it may be. When Bo Xilai got busted and it made the news in the UK I was asked in a casual way what all that was about, then. I mentioned CDIC, which I said was a kind of police force that just investigated politicians and officials. A bit like the British Transport Police, only with politicians, not transport. Everyone thought that was a really good idea - China, eh? They know what they're doing, that lot - and then we had another drink and talked about something else.
Anyway, that bit of rambling aside and more for the record than anything else, Caixin has a nice rundown of the structure and personnel of China's discipline inspectors. As we can see, they're not really like the British Transport Police. I would guess that ultimately their historical origins lie in the attempts of various Tsarist era Russian revolutionary organisations to evolve structures that would enable them to resist penetration by the Okhrana, formalised in post revolutionary Bolshevik practice, and, perhaps, transmitted to China through Mao's security chief Kang Sheng, who had a ringside seat at the Yezovzshchina.
That's guesswork. Worth noting at the link is the fact that a lot of the current CDIC structures were put into place under Hu Jintao, which tends to the conclusion that the impetus for Xi's purge has been building for a while and represents a genuine movement within the Party. I've read elsewhere that one of the first things that Wang Qishan did when he became head of the discipline inspectorate was to change its funding structure so that CDICs local organs were paid by central rather than provincial governments. Thus, the cossacks were able to work for the Tsar.
The investigation into Zhou Yongkang has officially begun. Which is to say that the investigation into Zhou Yongkang has actually concluded. What has begun is the choreography around his appearance before people imitating judges, his conviction and his sentence. And what we'll be looking for from all this is some clue as to what the next stage will be. There's an emerging consensus that this clears the decks for major economic reforms in a market-friendly direction. We'll see, but the problem here is that this framing presents a temptation for people to start speculating along the lines of 'at last, Beijing is free to do what I want it to do!' and fill in the details accordingly. While Zhou's takedown clearly contributes to the overall authority of the Xi dispensation in many areas, it's always worth remembering at this point that Zhou, while responsible for overall regime security, seems to have been running a large organised crime family within the higher reaches of the Party, and that this is worth dealing with for it's own sake.
Watching the saga unroll this afternoon I was impressed by how well China's resurrection of the classic Leninist show trial fits in with the multi and social media age. It seems to be a matter of structure, of the unrolling of infographic friendly nuggets of information which slot easily into continuous news cycles while providing endless opportunities for specialist punditry. I've profited modestly from this myself. We all know the media beast needs to be fed. Orthodox Leninist investigative practice can be a very effective way of feeding it, precisely because of the basic predictability of the way in which events are made to unfurl.
Conventionally, the trial should provide a staisfying climax - the event that defines the process - and here Xi and his fellow Leninists let us down. Bukharin wasn't tried, Slansky wasn't tried, Bo Xilai wasn't tried, and Zhou Yongkang isn't going to be tried either. He's going to be disposed of, like the rest of them. Everybody knows this, but I bet every hack in China will be trying to get to whichever third tier city the authorities use to bring down the curtain. While there, they will complain that the proceedings make a mockery of that whole rule of law thing. Well, sure: so why go? Why bother? The whole thing will be the very definition of the caravan moving on, so why bark like the dogs?
A modest suggestion for the relevant organs. Since everybody knows that this is not an investigation and it will not end in a trial, why not structure it as something more engaging, like, say, the last scene in Sunset Boulevard? Have Zhou emerge at the top of the staircase...I'm ready for my close up, Comrade Xi...It's not me, it's the Communist Party that got small...
So being part of the senior management at a gigantic Chinese state oil company has become opertionally akin to being a member of some forlorn partisan band arranging a rendezvous in a distant forest
CNPC sources said that high-level managers are so worried about these investigations that they have drawn up a contingency plan for filling any position left vacant after a CDIC inspection. As part of the plan, all mid- to upper-level company managers must contact department heads daily. Anyone who does not report is considered gone, and replaced the next day by a pre-approved successor.
.It's fairly safe to say at this point that the stability question in Chinese politics has changed from 'how safe is the Party from external challenge' to 'is the Party beginning to put itself under destabilizing internal strain'. There must be at least several hundred thousand people in important or significant jobs in China now wondering if this is going to happen to them. So how well do these jobs get done?
There are not many curently metrics available by which we can judge this - fluctuations in London property prices might be one - though it might be worthwhile examining this in the light of China's ongoing attempts to extinguish the last remnants of anything conceivably definable as dissident activity. If the Party feels the need to subject itself to internal pressure it won't tolerate even the most rudimentary external challenge.
The saga of Gove’s downfall is fascinating because it’s a real-life parable about politics, media, education and the general public. If you had been consuming the media in the past few years, you could be excused for thinking that Michael Gove was tremendously popular because the overwhelming majority of commentators in the press presented him as the saviour of our schools. Possibly this slavish devotion made Gove and the government think that while there may be a few grumbles, everything was going along swimmingly.
This was the same mistake the Gang of Four made in the succession battle around Mao's death. They thought they were safe because they controlled the propaganda organs and came to believe their own story as it was reflected back at them. There's a similar tale in the way Gove politicised Ofsted beyond repair, much as the Gang thought the institutions they controlled were simply instruments of their will. And in the way that both the Gang and Gove surrounded themselves with sycophants, while writing off the professionals as enemies of the revolution.
In both cases, everybody hated them. The Gang of Four woke up to this after the demonstrations at Zhou Enlai's funeral, but by then it was too late. There's no sign Gove woke up to it at all, though even Sky were mumbling over whether the whole Free schools thing had got a bit out of control around the time of the so-called "Trojan Horse" scandal.
A day onwards, I still think Mark Galeotti has the best explanation for what happened to flight MH 17.
More generally, the whole situation in Eastern Ukriane reminds me of stuff like this (selected at random) that we see from time to time:
He told the Mail: "We have let down boys over the years. The school system does not value enough of the traditional male things like competition. Boys are finding it increasingly difficult to cope where things are uncertain for them, specifically around competition or the use of physical strength.
"They have found the skills have been feminised. What seems to have been beaten out of them is any enthusiasm for anything. Some boys are resorting to gangs, which present a world where basic male instincts hold sway."
Mr Sewell recommends more outdoor adventure. But anyway, if you want to see the consequences of a properly masculinized culture at work, head over to the Donetsk People's Republic, where young men have the opportunity to be competitive in masculine company under masculine leadership, pursue outdoor adventures, and demonstrate their physical strength and mastery of various forms of technology, including those pertaining to shooting down airliners. I mean, it's Sporadically Lethal Top Gear over there. Yet despite the grip of firm masculine virtues on local society, they still seem to like forming gangs.
It transpires that the theorist of the Proptestant work ethic was a right laugh when he was pissed:
It transpires that as a young professor Weber ‘suffered from obsessional thoughts and, especially after nights of drinking, sometimes imagined for the whole day that he was Jumbo the elephant and lived in a zoo’. This was fairly often because ‘alcohol-tinged male company, even without deeper friendships, seems to have been what excited him par excellence’. According to those who knew him best, there was ‘a quite elemental kind of sociability in Weber: he was a buddy with all his soul, a buddy for the moment thought capable of creating happiness; a drinking pal, a song mate, an accomplice in furious story-telling and boasting’.
I suppose you could argue that there's a Protestant Drink Ethic going on here. At any rate, he really seems to have worked at getting drunk and then playing the big-I-am with all the 'furious story telling and boasting'. And none of it seems to have had much to do with pleasure.
So how does Chinese e-commerce communicate with the Chinese peasantry? Basically, it does the old time rural Communist Party thing, ie it gets a pot of paint and heads to the nearest village wall. In some cases, what it does is adapt the old CPC technique of designating 'model villages'
As of 2013, there are officially 20 “Taobao villages” in China. To be on the list, at least 10% of the village’s households need to be operating online stores, and the total annual village e-commerce revenue must exceed $1.6 million.
China's controlled media culture hasn't stopped it developing a phenomena familiar in Western media, namely the celebrity anchor:
At just 31 years old, Rui Chenggang has emerged as the media face of Chinese capitalism: young, smart and, to the dismay of some, deeply nationalistic.
His nightly financial news program attracts 13 million viewers on China Central Television, the nation’s biggest state-run network, where Mr. Rui puts tough questions to Wall Street chiefs and Chinese economists while also delivering a dose of optimism about China’s outlook.
That was from 2009. Here's Rui profiled by the BBC in 2012:
At 35, he's already a veteran of the annual Global Economic Forum in Davos.
He's been going every year since he was 22. His book is filled with photos of him with people such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. His private conversations contain references to them, too: "Rupert (Murdoch) told me... Henry (Kissinger) said..."
If he comes across in all of this as being a bit of a dick, that's also his reputation in China. But anyway, Rupert and Henry can't help him now:
Quoting an unnamed insider, Caixin.com said on its website that prosecutors took Rui away directly from the workplace without notifying the news program. Caixin said Rui had been scheduled to appear on the nightly newscast Friday, and his absence was conspicuous, as a second microphone remained on the set. The show is usually anchored by two people.
This is connected to the Guo Zhenxi affair, which I blogged about here, in which the director of CCTV's business coverage stands accused of using it to fuel a huge extortion racket. Presumably the Discipline Inspectors suspect Rui of having some role in the caper.
His last book, by the way, was called Something for Nothing.
UPDATE: The NYT quotes a local journalism professor to the effect that Rui was arrested for economic crimes committed in a professional capacity, ie by the ordinary police, not by the Discipline Inspectors, though the case still seemns to be connected to Guo.
More importantly, it seemsto revolve around a PR company Rui founded in 2002, which was later bought out by the Edelman Group: The co-founder of the company went on to head Edelman's China operations and to work closely with CCTV. I've seen other reports that if you wanted to get onto CCTV then you hired Mr Rui's PR company, and, perhaps, Edelman. It may also have been a good way to protect yourself from negative publicity by the channel, but we'll see. That being the case, it'll be interesting to see how many foreigners and foreign businesses took part in the caper. Also, this:
Pegasus found a studio for CCTV 2 that was 200 yards away from the main venue during the winter 2009 session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and that was apparently praised by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, for being “the most cozy and comfortable studio in all of Davos,” the report said.
Adam Cathcart shows us the men and women who sit at Kim Jong-un's right hand. The fellow at second right on the front row is intriguing; either that or there's a highlander's severed head on the desk for some reason.
It seems that one does not dick around with a country whose football team just beat Brazil 7-1:
Diplomatic relations between Germany and the US plunged to a new low after Angela Merkel's government asked the top representative of America's secret services in Germany to leave the country.
Given that Germany has assumed de-facto political leadership of Europe I can sort of understand why it has become an intelligence target. Without getting all fourth reichy about it, I'd quite like to know what Germany plans to make of its new eminence.
But you get that kind of intelligence the old-fashioned diplomatic way; by getting prominent Germans mildly drunk in a confidential setting and asking them. I'm sure conservative Germans in particular would be pleased to drone on at great length to their attentive American friends about the constructive role Germany intends to play, etc, etc.
I notice that the current US ambassador to Germany seems to have got the job because he funnelled a lot of money Obama's way and I wonder if the trend to appoint campaign donors rather than professional diplomats to major Embassies may be a contributing factor to snafus like this. For one thing, they're less likely to know what's actually going on in their own mission. For another, they are less likely to have any specific knowledge of the country they're posted in or have experience in leading a classic open source diplomatic intelligance gathering effort. Instead of finding someone who could talk to the Germans and listen to them, Obama rewarded a donor. Instead of gaining inside knowledge by generating a rapport with informed local actors, they hired some local doofus to spy for them and bugged the Chancellor's phone.
The Telegraph has a good piece on the GSK corruption scandal in China, which we now learn was first sparked when a number of detailed allegations were about the company's head of China operations were sent to GSK's chief executive along with a sex tape of him in action with his ernai.
The amorous Mr Reilly was sent to China with a brief to 'bring about a dramatic increase in the firm’s revenues'.
It is widely acknowledged by Chinese authorities that many of the problems in the current Chinese healthcare system stem from overservicing. Hospitals obtain about half their income from sales of drugs and also rely for income on the use of expensive and often unnecessary tests and procedures. Doctors in turn are given incentives in the form of bonuses and quotas to prescribe more drugs and more expensive drugs.
For wider background, check out the articles compiled under the blog's corruption tag.
Hong Kong has a British NHS-inspired publicly-funded health service that remains efficient, good value for money and corruption free. China, on the other hand, has ditched its Soviet-era state-run 'health for the masses' system and replaced it with a state-owned user-pays system that is run on private lines.
Moving back to the GSK case, it is alleged that the video was made by a Ms Vivian Shi, apparently hired by the company for government relations work on the grounds that her father, a senior cadre in Shanghai, had served as mentor to, Meng Jianzhu who is Zhou Yongkang's successor as head of China's police, judiciary and internal security forces. It's interesting that GSK decided it needed that sort of political cover.
It seems that Mr Reilly unwisely decided to investigate Ms Shi and hired local corporate investigator and ex-Reuters hand Peter Humphrey to do the job, with – perhaps in hindsight – predictable consequences.
But now Coulson has been delivered into the hands of a penal system which the tabloid papers consistently targeted for being 'soft' and 'too liberal' on prisoners who were not really being punished fro their crimes.
His new reality includes wearing prison-issue underwear previously worn by other inmates.
Welcome, Andy Coulson, to the world you made. At least to the extent that prison is a harsher environment than it used to be.
Elsewhere Rolf - or 'Harris' as he is now officially known, spoken with a moue of disgust - got just shy of six years. Talking about it with Mrs Treasure it emerged that both of us felt the tiniest bit sorry for him, not for good or justifiable reasons but entirely because of childhood memories. Old Rolfie had the knack of making young people happy, until he actually got his hands on them.
The calm and poise of the demonstrators Tuesday seemed to help reassure the business community that future protests would not severely disrupt commerce, resulting in a 1.55 percent rise in the Hong Kong stock market on Wednesday. But while the protesters disproved government warnings that their activities would lead to chaos, their civil behavior could also lead to an impression that they are manageable, which could limit the pressure they are able to bring to bear on the government for changes.
Allied with this is that the pan-democrat mainstream is still stuck in the mindset of Hong Kong as a business city and couch many of their arguments in terms of maintaining the impartial rule of law and the territory's excellent recent record on fighting corruption, and the contribution these make to Hong Kong as a place to do business. Of course, the pan-democrats also tend towards decency on social security, rights at work and similar issues, but these are usually very much a subsidiary part of the general argument.
This is like bringing cake to a knife fight. The local tycoonocracy like nice impartial rule of law things too, or at least they like to pay lip service to them, but they'd also be quite happy with a PRC style insider business culture, not least because so long as they support Beijing, they are among the insiders. This is not much different from the way business lobbies anywhere, but what we have in Hong Kong is the Communists and the Capitalists united against the Democrats - a very 21st century line up.
The Democrats themselves tend to be a bit on the fissile side, which is why Beijing should follow Anson Chan's advice in the article at the link and allow pro-democratic candidates to stand. In fact, it should ensure that as many as possible do so. In the 2012 Hong Kong Legislative Council elections, the pan-democrats won an absolute majority of the vote - 56% - but it was split between four or five parties. The pro-Beijing - or maybe more appropriately 'accomodationist' vote - trailed at 42% , but most of that went to the DAB, the main pro-Beijing party, which became the biggest elected component of Legco. A repeat of this process in the elections for Chief Executive would solve the Hong Kong democracy 'problem' quite nicely from China's point of view.
A bit more on the background of Occupy Hong Kong's territory-wide straw referendum, which is due to end on Sunday, from Suzanne Pepper:
So discouraged were they after May 6 that they had set themselves the lowest possible bar for success. They said that if turnout did not reach at least 100,000 for their online citywide plebiscite, then scheduled for June 20-22, the three of them would have to contemplate defeat. They planned to retreat for a period of quiet contemplation and soul searching as to why their leadership had failed.
Instead, one day into the exercise, they could announce that 400,000 people had come forward. With another week yet to go, they were contemplating not failure but a huge success. By Sunday evening, June 22, the turnout was over 700,000.
If they'd left it at that point it would have been a brilliant coup. But because of huge Ddos attacks on its voting site, Occupy decided to let the vote roll out for another week. The number who participated now stands at just under 750,000, at time of writing. In other words, the numbers voting have gone down from roughly 350,000 per day over days one and two to 50,000 over five days. Not precisely a dribble, but hardly a torrent.
Part of the point of protest actions is that they have a representative function: they're the tip of the spear. And the bigger the protest, the bigger the implied shaft behind the tip. It would have had an incredibly strong impact if the voting had cut off at 700,000 over two days and who knows how many more people banging at the doors. They could have leveraged the ddos attacks against the voting site into outrage that Hong Kongers were being denied a vote even in a straw poll.
Now we do know 'how many more' – not that many. Voting in the Occupy referendum was secure, simple and easy to negotiate. By phone or internet, it takes maybe thirty seconds (Occupy set up physical polling booths as well for people who like or need to do it in person). By the time the vote ends people will have had eight days to take a minute out of their schedule to do something which, physically, doesn't amount to much more than a bit of clicktivism, amid massive local publicity. If you can't be bothered to do that then you're firmly in the can't be bothered column.
So instead of giving the impression of heading a mass movement of Hong Kong citizens who will not be denied a meaningful choice in their selection of Chief Executive, Occupy has revealed that maybe 15% of Hong Kong's adult population actually care enough about the issue to get minimally involved. In letting the vote drag on for so long, Occupy has shown its opponents the exact size of the spear it is holding, and it isn't big enough.
Meanwhile the counter-attack from the establishment coalition – Beijing, local tycoonocracy, multinational corporations – has already begun, led by the accountants.
So, those rumours, the ones we were maybe reluctant to believe after everything else came out, have been confirmed:
One witness was cited in the report as saying he “wore huge rings that he said were made from the glass eyes of dead bodies” held in the mortuary there.
The investigation heard the entertainer claimed to have "interfered with the bodies of deceased patients".
Dr Sue Proctor, who led the investigation into his abuse at LGI, said a student nurse recalled a conversation with Savile in which he claimed he performed sex acts on the dead.
There's more: A couple of years ago Channel 4 released a transcript of a 1991 'in the psychiatrist's chair' interview with Savile:
After his mother's death he spent five days with her body before the funeral and claimed it was the happiest time of his life, when quizzed by Dr Clare Savile claims that in those days she was "all mine"...
..."I'd much rather that she hadn't died but it was inevitable therefore it had to be. Once upon a time I had to share her with a lot of people. We had marvellous times but when she was dead she was all mine, for me. So therefore it finished up right, you understand, and then we buried her."
Earlier on in the interview he goes on about having 'ultimate freedom' - "I've managed to handle complete and ultimate utter freedom." Perhaps this can be interpreted not just as 'I've got away with terrible things you don't know about' but also as 'I've got away with terrible things you can't even begin to imagine.'