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Sinica Podcast

A weekly discussion of current affairs in China with journalists, writers, academics, policy makers, business people and anyone with something compelling to say about the country that's reshaping the world. A SupChina production, hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn.
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Now displaying: 2010
Jun 4, 2010

A spate of suicides leaves ten dead at the Shenzhen campus of Foxconn, the giant electronics manufacturer that makes many of the world's most popular consumer electronics. A rare strike paralyzes production at Honda Motors, shutting down all of the company's manufacturing lines in the country. In response, both companies offer substantial concessions to workers, causing many to ask if this marks the end of China's reign as the low-cost "workshop to the world"?

This week on Sinica, host Kaiser Kuo welcomes Kathleen McLaughlin, a prolific reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs and Global Post who has written extensively on electronics manufacturing trends in China. We're also joined by Jonathan Watts, Beijing-based correspondent for The Guardian, who is just back from a visit to the massive Foxconn facility in Shenzhen. Also with us is Danwei founder Jeremy Goldkorn. We look at the problems afflicting labor in China: are these simply the result of poor working conditions, or is there more at work here?

May 28, 2010

Is the "Western media" biased in its reporting about China? What are the frames and narratives that inform the Anglophone media's understanding of the county, and what are the misunderstandings about the "Western media" that lead Chinese people into believing Western reporting is more biased than it is?

This week, Tania Branigan from the Guardian, Jeremy Goldkorn from Danwei and serial China entrepreneur Bill Bishop join host Kaiser Kuo in a discussion of this perennial topic. And lest you mistakenly believe that it's only the Western media writing critical stories on China, we discuss the state of investigative reporting in China, focusing on a recent piece by Tania in The Guardian about China's best-known investigative journalist, Wang Keqin.

May 21, 2010

Videos of lectures by Tengfei Yuan, a history teacher in a middle school in Beijing, recently went viral on the internet. While his charismatic and humorous teaching style attracts public attention and fans, his bold criticisms on Mao make him highly controversial among Chinese netizens. The surprising rise of this outspoken teacher sets off by contrast the self-censoring phenomenon that has taken root among the foreign community in China. How has one of the fiercest critics of Mao's legacy emerged within the confines of China's own educational system? Why is one Chinese teacher going where most foreigners fear to tread, and what does this mean for foreigners working and living in China?

This episode is a conversation with Sinica regular Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, and a first time guest David Moser, translator, essayist, and Sinologist, who is currently working as the Academic Director for CET Beijing. Along with Sinica hosts Jeremy and Kaiser, these guests share their opinions on the level of “civility” as foreigners and their experience of self-censoring while working in Beijing. Gady also discusses the main concepts of the upcoming book the Party: the Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor and a piece about the book Gady is working up for Forbes.

References:

After Four Decades, Apologies are Coming Forth, Xujun Eberlein

Changing the Subject: How the Chinese Government Controls Television, by Ann Condi

Censors Without Border, by Emily Parker

China's Private Party, by Richard McGregor

May 15, 2010

Despite efforts to downplay the story in the face of the Shanghai Expo, news of a recent wave of copycat killings has spread quickly through China, driven in part by the surprising revelation that many of the killers have been middle-aged and apparently well-educated men. Online, some netizens have blamed the government, which in turn blames social contradictions. Writing for The Telegraph, Malcolm Moore summarizes these attacks as a “turning point” created by alienation engendered over the last twenty years of China’s industrialization. Where does the truth lie? 

With Kaiser Kuo out of the country, Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei takes up hosting duties this week, joined by Sinica regular Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, and China public relations expert Will Moss, whom you may know as author of the popular blog Imagethief. Qin Liwen, a Chinese author and bookstore owner in Beijing who has written about these killings in the domestic media, also joins Jeremy as a guest in the studio.

May 7, 2010

Sponsored by the government organization Hanban, the Confucius Institute has been successfully promoting the learning of Chinese Language internationally. However, it recently inspired a lot of resistance, especially in the San Gabriel Valley, where an editorial in a local paper decried that the Chinese Communist Party is sending Chinese teachers to spread Communist ideology. Is the Confucius Institute a cultural exchange platform or an aggressive arm of Chinese foreign policy?

Some of China’s major news agencies are busy expanding their English-language satellite news networks. For example, CCTV has recently invested six billion dollars in its international satellite news network and has established bureaus all over the U.S. But who is the audience of this media expansion?

As one of the biggest plays for soft power that China has ever staged, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was intended to showcase Chinese culture and innovation. However, was it as inspiring in the view of Western core values as Chinese media had praised, or was it more imposing and intimidating? Shanghai EXPO just opened after billions of dollars have been devoted to it by the Chinese government, but do people outside China really care?

In this week’s podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy discuss different facets of the grand Chinese soft power push as an effort to win the world through attraction rather than coercion. Is Beijing’s global soft power charm bearing fruits? Is China making or breaking its public image? Why has Chinese culture not made meaningful impacts on the West? In what ways is China still deficient that would make for real attractiveness? 

Joining our podcast this week are Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, and Evan Osnos, Beijing-based staff writer for the New Yorker and part-time enforcer in Kaiser's outlaw e-biker gang. We are also proud to have extra commentary from Adam Minter, an American writer in Shanghai who brings us stories from his first-hand encounter with the 2010 Expo.

May 1, 2010

Huang Guangyu, the founder of home electronics chain GOME, was China’s richest man, with a fortune of over 6 billion dollars in 2006, according to Forbes. However, the multi-billionaire was detained in November 2008 on suspicion of bribery, insider trading, and money laundering. The dragnet in the investigation leading up to the trial has already widened, and has implicated a number of high-ranking cadres in the Ministry of Public Security's white-collar crimes division. Is Huang’s case a warning to the Chinese emerging wealthy class? What does Huang's trial mean for rule of law in China? 

Whether they own property or not, there is nothing that people across China are talking about more than real estate prices. Property prices in 70 cities in China rose by a whopping 11.7% just in March 2010. Records show that new real estate loans grew to over 1.4 trillion dollars in 2009. People all over China talk about the phenomenon of “house slave” — people who are enslaved to their mortgage, and working only to pay off their homes. What dilemma does China face over the soaring property prices? In the mean time, Beijing issues sharp new policies to curb speculation. Do the government's actions portend the collapse of the real estate bubble?

Joining host Kaiser Kuo this week are Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, and Sinica regulars Bill Bishop and Will Moss. Bill is a tech entrepreneur in Beijing who blogs regularly on politics and economic issues at Sinocism.com. Will is a public relations expert in China and the force behind the popular imagethief.com.

References:

The Curse of Forbes, by Gady Epstein

Rule of Law Implications of Huang Guangyu Trial?, by Stan Abrams 

How China's Property Bubble Works, by Andy Xie

Apr 23, 2010

On April 15, 2010, on the 21st anniversary of former Party Secretary Hu Yaobang’s death, Premier Wen Jiabao published an essay to eulogize his former mentor in the People’s Daily. On April 15, 1989, the death of this foreign-minded general secretary of the Communist Party famously touched off the student demonstration of that year. It is a highly-emotional essay, which recalls a trip he took to Guizhou in 1986 with Hu Yaobang, a good friend of his that he worked with and admired. He particularly emphasizes Hu’s qualities, especially the populist rhetoric that he learned and now applies. In today's episode, we first visit this speech and ask what it really tells us about the political landscape in China. Does it telegraph an ongoing rift between a “populist” faction headed by Wen Jiabao, Hu Jintao, and Li Keqiang and a competing “princeling” elite represented by Xi Jinping?

Early in the morning of April 14th, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake leveled roughly 90 percent of the buildings in Yushu County in southern Qinghai Province. So far more than 2000 people are now reported dead, and practically the entire population of the affected area is living in tents or in temporary housing. Qinghai, and particularly this area of Qinghai, is heavily Tibetan. This dimension of the quake as well as Beijing’s handling of the rescue have become part of the focus of the story. Is the ethnic dimension of the rescue overplayed by Western media? Do encounters between Tibetan monks and Chinese government officials demonstrate tension or a successful relationship? How does the government’s ability to deliver disaster relief relate to the historical concept of the Mandate of the Heaven?

Joining Kaiser Kuo this week are Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine and Guardian correspondent Tania Branigan, fresh back in Beijing after a reporting trip to the remote earthquake region and with a first-hand account of the rescue efforts there. We're also joined by Jeremiah Jenne, Dean of Chinese Studies at the IES program in Beijing, who helps put both events in historical perspective. You may know Jeremiah as Qing historian and author of the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio.

References:

Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang, by Wen Jiabao

After Quake, Tibetans Distrust China’s Help, by Andrew Jacobs

Robert Barnett on the Qinghai Earthquake, by the China Beat

Apr 16, 2010

This week, Kaiser Kuo hosts a discussion about China's best-known gadflies: writer and auto racer Han Han, and artist-cum-activist Ai Weiwei. The former writes one of the most popular blogs in China with over 300 million hits, and was recently shortlisted for Time's 100 Most Influential People. The latter is a leading visual artist and has been vocal on a number of social issues, including the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project. 

Joined by Austin Ramzy, Beijing-based correspondent with Time magazine, and Will Moss, public relations expert and author of the blog Imagethief, we talk about who both of these public figures are and why they have gained so much attention both inside China and in the foreign press. We also look at how both are perceived domestically and abroad, discuss why they have not been silenced the way other equally vocal critics have been, and ask if it even makes sense to speak of them in the same breath. 

We also have contributions from Charlie Custer, publisher of the translation blog China Geeks, and Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, who remembers his first interview with Han Han back in December 2002.

Following this, we close with a quick discussion of the Wangjialing mine flood, focusing on the official handling of the rescue where 115 out of 153 workers trapped in the flooded mine shaft were spectacularly rescued. Although to a government that was strung with bad news and negative PR as a result of mining industry safety failures, the fact that the rescue turned out to be a successful one was a real gift. On the flip side, did the Chinese government market the story to the domestic media too hard? How do we compare this with the mine disaster in West Virginia that happened roughly at the same time?

References:

Han Han: China's Literary Bad Boy, by Simon Elegant

My Pen Pal Han Han, by Raymond Zhou

China and West Virginia: A Tale of Two Mine Disasters, by Austin Ramzy

Chinese Whispers: A Vein of Distrust

Apr 9, 2010

While Western countries prepare for tougher sanctions at the UN against Iran regarding its nuclear development, China is reluctant to impose any further sanctions, intensifying the tension between Beijing and Washington. However, increasing signs, including Hu Jintao’s upcoming visit to Washington to attend the nuclear summit, have shown that China may be preparing for an about-turn on Iranian sanctions. Indeed, China is in a tough spot in this situation as Iran has always been its important strategic partner and oil provider. Through delicate maneuvering in the Middle East, China is undoubtedly maximizing concessions from both Iran and the West. 

Scandal broke out last month involving a number of deaths in Shanxi and Jiangsu among infants and toddlers that appear to be related to bad vaccinations. The crisis was eventually attributed to the private companies that take over the vaccines through local health administrations. How the government will manage this situation, coming after the melamine crisis, is still waiting to be seen.

In this week’s installment, host Kaiser Kuo discusses these two issues with Bill Bishop, a tech entrepreneur and blogger at DigiCha.com and Sinocism.com, and William Moss, who writes the blog imagethief.com. How should we interpret China’s signs of willingness to support sanctions on Iran over nuclear weapons development? Will the vaccination scandal become another melamine crisis, or does evidence point to this blowing over quickly?

References:

The Iran Nuclear Issue: The View from Beijing, by Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt

The Race for Iran blog

The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, by Robert Baer

山西疫苗乱象调查:近百名儿童注射后或死或残, by王克勤

Apr 2, 2010

In this inaugural episode, Kaiser, Jeremy, and Bill Bishop sit down to discuss the landscape surrounding Google’s pullout in China. They seek to answer: What exactly happened earlier this week with Google's inaccessibility? Does Yasheng Huang have the right take on their pull-out of China, or is Tania Branigan from the Guardian more on the money? What are the consequences for Google's future in Asia, and what does any of this mean to the average Chinese user?

The song used in the show is an excerpt from “The Huntsman” (猎人 lièrén) from Chunqiu’s (春秋 chūnqiū; Spring and Autumn) first and eponymous album. Both song and album are available on iTunes.

Bill Bishop is among the most recognizable China-watchers in the business. His long-running Sinocism newsletter is an essential resource for serious followers of China policy, and he is regularly quoted in a variety of major news outlets reporting on China.

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