The Social Pressures on the Businesswomen of China

Chinese New Year is a time of family in China, with the young men and women of China’s ever expanding social middle class travelling out of the big cities to visit family in more rural areas. With expectation radiating from mothers at home, those who are yet to find a significant other have turned to a rather odd sector which did very good business during late January and early February.

The idea of renting a lover seems almost oxymoronic in design; however for those young people with a decent wage in pocket it’s preferable to facing awkward questions at the dinner table. According to The Huffington Post (2014, available here) this pressure applies in particular to women due to the massive gender imbalance created by the one child policy. This amounts to an extraordinary 20 million more men than women under the age of 30 (Huffington Post 2014) and as a result, the social pressure on women is much higher than for men (due to the comparitively grand selection available). Those women who are single around New Years are called ‘shengv’ which directly translates to ‘leftover women’; a linguistically brutal reminder of the burden they face.

Hence there is now an industry revolving around renting a beau which is growing according to the Financial Times (2014, available here) where successful businesswomen hire men for anything from companionship, purely to show their parents, to sex. The prices are exceptionally fluid with entrepreneurial man for hire Sui Wei admitting (in a similar vein to many others in his line of work) he bases his starting rental charges on how successful the women are, and then add fees based on what actions they require of them. The latter is perhaps the most unsettling part of the story, with CBC news (2014, available here) reporting acting boyfriend Zhu Ruisen’s charges included $1 each time the couple held hands, while hugs and kisses were to be negotiated with the individual. As for the participation and price of sex, this depends on the individual offering the service. Although this is something both Mr Zhu and Mr Sui do not provide, mainly due to real girlfriends outside of work, the Financial Times (2014) report that this can cost anything from 3000 Yuan to 30,000, the equivalent of approximately £300 – £3000. The financial aim for Mr Zhu (which is again characteristic of the industry) is to charge his clients approximately one month’s salary in total (CBC News, 2014).

How to assess this business is difficult. One could interpret it as an innovative exploitation of supply and demand by those men looking to score a New Year bonus, while one could equally see it as a cynical form of prostitution (as if prostitution wasn’t inherently cynical enough). The individuals interviewed by the news sources above all admitted some feelings of guilt, with Mr Sui admitting a low point was accepting large quantities of money in a traditional red wedding envelope from one client’s parents. The overwhelming truth either way is that with such an imbalance of gender due to the one child policy, and the pressure of terminology like ‘leftover women’ being tossed around, this service is one that will inevitably grow and prosper into the future.

The solution is an almost crippling case of irony, with the procreation of the current generation being the key to addressing the gender imbalance and hence relieving the pressure felt by the successful business women of China. In simple terms; to address the problem of women being forced to act like they have a boyfriend in future, women have to get a boyfriend today. In the meantime, Mr Zhu and Mr Sui will continue successfully making big money for their services, a financial achievement that this free market fan can’t help but admire.

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Obamacare and Spin

An independent poll by Reuters (reported by the Huffington Post here) found that the majority of Americans don’t like the Affordable Healthcare Act with 56% being against the healthcare overhaul that Obama proposed. Furthermore in elections, 45% said they were more likely to vote for a member of congress who campaigned to repeal the act with only 26% voting in the opposite direction. This isn’t surprising for a country built on a laissez-faire mentality, right?
Well, in the same poll when individuals where asked about the provisions actually in the bill they showed overwhelming support. 82% favoured banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, 72% backed requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for their employees and 61% were in favour of allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26. The only provision which didn’t score well in the poll was the Healthcare mandate which 61% of individuals were against. More on this later though.
So, how is it that the core values of Obamacare are desired while the policy is generally still held in contempt? The answer lies in spin and partisan campaigning. Republicans have an opposition rate of 86% while only 25% of Democrats oppose the act. Where the campaigning is being won for the Republicans is in the independents where opposition reached 73%. Since this poll was taken, the negative feeling has permeated to some Democrats (or at least to their voters) with 39 Democrat members of the house supporting an anti-Obamacare Republican bill in November (BBC News).
The actual form of campaigning has come from a strong and consistent anti Obamacare message from both the Republican Party and right wind media outlets like Fox News. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks argued that the Democrats by comparison have been weak with a serious lack of response. He also points out that the only measure respondents didn’t agree with, the Healthcare mandate, is the part of the bill which is driven by Republican ideology stating Nixon, Bush and Romney have all backed healthcare bills with this mandate in place (video here).
This is hence a classic example of politics beating logic with individuals liking the contents of the bill, but being fooled by aggressive propaganda into responding negatively to the Obamacare brand. Just look at ads like this and you may see why…

Topic 2: Defending Anonymity through Multiple Online Personalities

When wrestling with the topic of online identity the question that debates most often revolve around is whether a policy of anonymity is preferable to online identification. As a politics student this question is one which has been central to studies around revolution, accountability and the protection of children. Personally I err on the side of multiple web personalities as this is allows for the best of anonymity while protecting against the worst.
The main reason anonymity is essential is to protect freedom of expression. Expression is a word which I use here in its broadest possible sense. As a libertarian I believe that an individual has a right to seek any (reasonable) material which they see fit, whether that’s controversial government leaks, communication with individuals that the state would not endorse or pornography. The first two points there are politically crucial; freedom of information and freedom of communication are tools of freedom and liberation. One needs to look no further than the Arab Spring to see why these are things we want to keep, and looking to China will show why these are things we don’t want to lose (if you want more information on this I wrote a full blog available here). As for pornography, although it may be a socially awkward topic, one can tell a lot from how a government navigates this tricky issue of free speech.
Anonymity allows for these activities to be participated in without individuals being tied to the negative consequences of doing so. On a less extreme note this could even be posting a controversial idea on a forum to spark conversation and debate. It all comes down to free speech and having one identity to deal with anonymous activities one wishes to pursue. However another identity is required.
With the grand positives of anonymity on the web come the petty, but hugely significant negatives. Free speech without consequence can lead to liberation, but on a day to day basis creates ‘trolling’, the practise of abusing individuals online with hateful communications. It’s something which can be both over and understated in significance depending on who is reporting on it, however bullying in whatever form must always be taken seriously. YouTubers such as boogie2988 have documented cases of trolls causing suicide, while the now infamous and tragic suicide of Amanda Todd made national news after being effectively bullied to death online.
There is a gulf between the worlds of the trolls and of freedom fighters. YouTube for example is arguably the hub of cyber-bullying, with commenters hiding behind fake names to spread aggression and hate where they see necessary, a desire which has recently seen them labelled as psychopaths and sadists by a new report from Canada. As reported by Masters (2011), the key sites such as Facebook and Google Plus (which is now linked to YouTube) has created an internet which is much more identity-orientated. Names will often appear next to YouTube comments, and as Masters observes, features such as Facebook Connect offer a fast alternative to new accounts and hence new pseudonyms.
Another option posed was by Google CEO Erick Schmidt who believes that children should be given an opportunity to rename themselves to essentially wipe their internet history. As reported here, Schmidt believes that with less anonymity the internet will eventually be a treasure trove of search history which, as anyone can attest to, would look really bad out of context. In interview circumstance for example, that could significantly harm life chances.
Is a renaming of every child in Britain necessary? I’d argue not. The solution to trolls and faults is education in schools and allowing individuals to grow into the web before committing content to their real name. By all means have their pseudonym known by family and individuals they should be accountable to, but keeping their record clean is a good idea if Schmidt is right about the future of the internet. And let’s face it, he’s the CEO of Google, he’s probably right.
As for the topic overall, I’m confident in my defence of anonymity. In countries suffering from illiberal oppression, anonymity has been at the core of dissidence in many revolutions across the Middle East and now Eastern Europe and that is a value which must be protected. Other than this, rights of expression such as accessing explicit content without the fear of negative repercussions is an issue of free speech and one which should also be defended. When someone buys a lads mag, it doesn’t end up on their CV. The internet should be no different. Plus with a more identity-centric internet growing by the day, hopefully a good-willed and troll free internet will come with it and the mistakes of the past are not replicated.
In conclusion having multiple web identities is a perfect, if piecemeal, solution to the issues faced by owning an identity online. Now let’s go and see how many of you disagree with me 

China and Africa: Trade or Exploitation

China’s rapid growth and development over the past 30 years has led to a nation with an almost insatiable appetite for natural resources. This has not historically been an issue, due to large reserves of coal in the north west of the country; however with demand for coal increasing by the day there was always going to come a time when China’s supply of fossil fuels alone would no longer be enough. The same can be said of raw metals and oil, both of which are crucial to a production heavy economy.

Predicting this issue, the government has looked into two ways of combatting these issues: firstly through investing in renewable energy, such as massive investments into solar energy, and secondly investing across Africa to access largely untapped subterranean minerals and fossil fuels. On the surface it seems a good deal for both parties: China gets the resources it needs to continue to develop, while countries that permit China to enter gain Chinese constructed infrastructure and a healthy income. It’s a deal which in 2013 saw trade exceed $200 billion with new agreements being made by the month, Senegal agreeing further trade agreements and a long term partnership just days ago.

Angola is a perfect case study of Sino-African relations, displaying all the traits described: Angola is rich in oil, diamonds, gold and copper but has been ravished by 27 years of civil war. Unsurprisingly perhaps, in 2010 bilateral trade between China and Angola exceeded $25 billion with some estimates totalling over $120 billion. A key part of this total was Angola exporting more oil to China than any other African country although the presence of the minerals listed is equally important in China’s investment.  China has paid for this mostly through general infrastructure such as building roads and healthcare while also investing in infrastructure projects such as rebuilding the Benguala Railway which had previously run across Angola to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

For many, the trade agreements are a continuing story of success. Many in Africa see the trade as a step up from receiving aid which although helpful, has hurt the pride of African countries wishing to be seen as more than a charity case. This was a sentiment shared by Faida Mitfu, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ambassador to Washington who at the opening of the African Union headquarters in January of last year claimed, ‘There are people who still consider Africans like children who can be easily manipulated. The good thing about this partnership is that it’s give and take.’  However critics have argued that China is simply using its economic and political power to exploit Africa.

The first accusation is not an uncommon one for China to face: worker exploitation and, in extreme cases, slavery. On the 20th of February 2013, the Zambian government seized control of a Chinese owned mine over concerns about safety and working conditions, a year after a Chinese supervisor was murdered by a Zambian miner at the same location. There are reports of this nature from many locations across China’s investments, and it would not be farfetched to suggest that were it not for the authoritarian government’s control in China, stories of this nature would be more common in the homeland.

The second accusation China has faced is that they’re investing irresponsibly into corrupt governments hence enforcing terrible conditions for some African citizens. The most blatant example of this is China’s investment into Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe which who have seen great economic recovery with the aid of China. Fraser Nelson described the success as ‘deeply depressing… for those who would like to believe political freedom is the surest route to prosperity’. Mugabe, who has used brutal tactics in maintaining his position atop Zimbabwe, has been visited by Xi Jinping on a number of occasions and their nations now share a prosperous trade deal which saw upwards of $500 million worth of trade in the first 5 months of 2012. Of note, China’s decision to trade with these individuals is partly fuelled by the West’s refusal to. Without the US and the UK offering foreign direct investment, there was a lot of free economic opportunity in countries like Zimbabwe and also allowed for some political point scoring against the US by giving Zimbabwe an economic out from the effects of western sanctions. The political motivation is cynical from China, even if the economics are sound, and by supporting dictators like Mugabe they are strengthening the position of some of the most dangerous men in the world.  

A third accusation levelled at China is that of colonialism, with critics believing China is exploiting Africa in much the same way the European Empires had with devastating effect in the 20th Century. In a speech in Johannesburg, Jane Goodall spoke of China’s desire to take resources from Africa and ‘leave it poorer than how they found it.’(Source) One could respond with the degree of China’s investment suggest they have a much longer game plan than the smash and grab tactics that Goodall is implying here.

However, Goodall makes a second claim which is undeniably true. With the influx of Chinese companies into Africa there has been an eruption in the poaching of Rhinos and Elephants with Chinese medicine holding horns and tusks in high regard. Although illegal, the market has proven worth the risk for enough ‘businessman’ to have a significant effect on the populations of rare species such as the black rhinoceros.  Although this practise has been condemned by the government, Goodall says that China’s involvement in Africa has been fuelling resurgence in the market and, even if it’s unintentional, it’s a harmful side effect of China’s investment in Africa.

Overall, China has made huge investments in Africa which have handsomely paid off and look set to for time to come. The real test of whether Africa will benefit overall will come when their resources have dried up. If China invests enough, Africa will begin to develop its own industries and be in a much better position than before China invested. As for the human and ecological costs, they will join a long waiting list of morally ambiguous crimes committed in the name of China’s progress. And there aren’t many who see that list being dealt with any time soon.

China and the Internet: Freedom or Falsehood?

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China and the Internet: Freedom or Falsehood?

At the turn of the millennia the internet was in its infant stages, however its political potential was clear to see. The ability to instantly communicate and rapidly spread information seemed the perfect combination for dissidence to spread in an authoritarian regime. As a result eyes were focused on China and how the centralised government would deal with this new challenge. For many there was a quiet optimism that this new technology would lead to the weakening of the central authorities hold on society with then president Bill Clinton saying attempts to control the internet in China would be comparable to trying to ‘nail Jell-o to the wall’ (Epstein 2013).

Fourteen years on though and Gady Epstein believes that the use of the internet has not only been unsuccessful in liberating China, but has instead been utilised by the government to increase their control. The implementation of projects like the ‘Great Firewall’ ensures that foreign social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remain outside of residents reach while ‘Golden Shield’ works to internally block and censor controversial content. The state also works with Chinese internet companies such as Renren, China’s Facebook equivalent, to monitor and censor user created content. Although some western companies such as Google have attempted to cross the border, they are often either cut out due to censorship laws or ruthlessly probed by state employed cyber-hackers.

What this equates to is what many thought to be impossible: China has a national internet which, through the firewall measures, is distinct from the rest of the world. This means that the information passed internally is monitored and controlled while the national agenda can be enforced consistently across all sites by a force of more than 2 million individuals (BBC 2013), all of whom are employed by the state. As the BBC reported censors run programs which search out buzzwords which are indicative of content  which their ‘clients’ (the state) may find ‘undesirable’ before compiling reports on individuals and returning the results to their clients. Lulu (2014) theorised that a recent internet outage on the 21st of January may have been a result of changes to these screening processes saying only the government has the capacity to shut down as many servers as were faulty on the day. Regardless, their control is undoubtable.

An individual who fell victim to these screenings was Liu Xiaobo who in 2009 was arrested for writing a pro democratic manifesto and posting it online. As Watts (2009) reported the state arrested Liu for engaging in ‘agitation activities’ and ‘defaming… the government’.  The control of information the state had at this time is also clear from Watts’ claim that Liu’s lawyer was ‘unaware of the arrest until he was called by journalists’.  Liu’s bravery was rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 however Epstein claims he’s generally unknown in China due to his name joining the long list of buzzwords which have been previously described. Nemcova (2014) writes that his dissidence has led to his wife Xia being placed in a ‘virtual cage’ in an effort to create a ‘wall of silence’.

Nemcova theorises that China’s national internet would have had a place in any tyrannical authoritarian rule, drawing on her experience in Soviet Czechoslovakia under Brezhnev in the 70s and 80s. She writes that the rulers of china, ‘cling to one of the most commonly used authoritarian tools: the creation of an alternate reality, one in which, for their own subjects at least, some people and some ideas are not allowed to exist.’

Furthermore the state’s cyber forces have been given the skills and instructions to venture outside their borders to acquire assets for China. Philipp (2014) reported an example of this where medical device companies Medtronic, Boston Scientific and St Jude Medical all fell victim to hackers in early 2013 with Rep. Billy Long claiming that ‘China has official government policies of stealing U.S. assets for economic gain’. Other examples of hacking include successful attacks on American defence firms and foreign media which has criticised the regime.

Where is the light in this tunnel then? Epstein keeps faith in the idea that more and more individuals will be logging onto the internet in China by the day and although the majority are poorer individuals who use the internet for very basic needs (i.e. checking the weather) he argues they can still be drawn into the world of politics and potentially some low grade dissidence. With the volume of this sort of engagement increasing, Epstein argues that communist party members are being held accountable in way that they haven’t before which in many ways shows the feint outline of democratic process. He also writes that the party as a whole are being held more accountable for faults in China such as pollution; ‘the internet requires the party centre to be more efficient at being authoritarian’.

Epstein also argues that the growth in internet use could lead to a critical mass of dissident content being created where censors cannot take offensive content down quickly enough before it is ingested by potential rebels. This idea is more difficult to subscribe to as more censors can (and will) be recruited, not to mention the extreme and mobilising kind of dissidence that Epstein seems to be suggesting is punished severely and quickly. The case of Lui is a classic example where although his dissent could have caused real change, he is now barely known in China and may never see outside a jail cell again.

The story of China and the internet is one of control and authoritarian rule. The central government’s ability to adapt to the times has enabled them to achieve the impossible and reap the rewards of a self-contained population. Although there is potential for some form of liberation through greater communication within communities in China, the writing, and the Jell-o, is on the wall for the future of the internet in China; China is an authoritarian state and the internet is a tool to enforce the regime. If ever an individual attempts to overstep this boundary they will be punished by the state and erased from the public conscience.

 

References

EPSTEIN, G. (2013) China’s Internet: A Giant Cage, The Economist. Available from: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21574628-internet-was-expected-help-democratise-china-instead-it-has-enabled [Accessed 16 February 2014]

BBC (2013) China employs two million microblog monitors state media say, BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-24396957 [Accessed 16 February 2014]

LULU, Y. C. (2014) Chinese Internet Outage May Be Result of Censorship Changes, Bloomberg. Available from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-23/china-internet-outage-caused-by-cyber-attack-government-says.html [Accessed 16 February 2014]

WATTS, J. (2009) Prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo formally arrested, The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jun/24/china-human-rights [Accessed 16 February 2014]

NEMCOVA, D. (2014) China has not been able to hide Liu Xiaobo’s ideas, Washington Post. Available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/china-has-not-been-able-to-hide-liu-xiaobos-ideas/2014/01/17/1c4d841e-7977-11e3-b1c5-739e63e9c9a7_story.html [Accessed 16 February 2014]

PHILIPP, J. (2014) China Alleged to Have Hacked Three Medical Device Companies, The Epoch Times. Available from:  http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/504911-china-alleged-to-have-hacked-three-medical-device-companies/ [Accessed 16 February 2014]

#UOSM2008 Summarising Topic 1 (and other such topics)

Reflecting back on the topic and I’m left in pretty much the same place as after writing my blog in terms of opinion, but with a greater understanding on the practice of blogging and how to go about maximizing word limits and utilizing my own experiences when writing. I found that of the blogs I read the most engaging blogs were the most accessible and anecdotal which I think is something I could improve on.

As for the topic I maintain that digital residents and digital visitors needs a middle tier definition to account for those individuals who use social media to improve their use of websites such as YouTube without residing on the internet. These individuals (of whom there are a growing number) don’t fit into residents and only partially fit into the idea of visitors as they have a constant web presence and a degree of expression (which I identified as the key difference between residents and visitors) within these social networks.

Although I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about this view I’ve also had to answer certain questions such as can you really introduce one subcategory without opening the floodgates to a million more? I’ve argued yes, as there is such a gulf between the two definitions that a middle ground definition could not only define some individuals stuck in digital purgatory but also assist in sending individuals either way on the digital scale i.e. if an individual is more engaged than the middle tier definition that would suggest they fitted the title of digital resident and vice versa for digital visitor.

Also of note, I think that we really have a responsibility on this course to be critical and analytical of existing theory as there isn’t enough analytical approach out there. The degree of acceptance that I found for the digital visitors / residents theory online was startling with hardly any critical approaches. Perhaps its just that I’m studying politics, but a lack of discussion over topics such as this to me indicates an unhealthy academic field. Lets facilitate some change and work together to evolve and improve the study of the web.

Thanks for your time 🙂

#USOM2008 Topic 1: Digital Visitors and Digital Residents

The titles ‘digital visitors’ and ‘digital residents’ are the evolutionary product of the previously contested titles of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ devised by Prensky (2001). The previous concepts identified those who had been born into a technologically advanced society as natives who held a monopoly over the ability to utilise the web. Those who then tried to develop these skills would be able to gain some skills but would otherwise be fundamentally unable to connect in the same way; the immigrants.

Ignoring the implications being made about non-digital immigrants, this theory was flawed within a couple of years of improvements to software which made internet use etc. more accessible to individuals of all ages. White and Le Corneu (2011) explored how to adjust the definition to better fit the reality of the situation at Oxford University. They observed that those who were best versed at the use of the internet were not necessarily those who used it the most often. Being fluent in Facebook for example, does not assist in Google researching techniques. White and Le Corneu hence changed the criteria being used to define individuals from digital expertise to the individual’s purpose and the idea of digital visitors and residents was born.

For White and Le Corneu, to distinguish between a digital resident and a digital visitor is a question of how much an individual wishes to express themselves on the internet. Residents are identified as those who utilise the web as an extension of themselves with their online profile expressing their personality and beliefs. A resident’s social life is in a symbiotic relationship with the internet and there is no aspect of life which they do not utilise the internet for i.e. their personal life and professional life are both (at least) in part online. As for visitors the internet is not about giving an impression about the self, rather it is a tool to complete tasks outside of the net. White and Le Corneu give the examples of booking a holiday and using a web chat tool to contact friends abroad as actions that a visitor would use the web for. They show the difference well as the actions taken (i.e. communicating with someone in another country) could well have been taken without the use of the internet, however visitors understand that the internet facilitates these actions in a better way than the non-web equivalent.

As White and Le Corneau concede these two online personalities are either end of a spectrum and that sub-categories are more than appropriate to describe the middle ground being questioned. Personally, I’d argue that the need to subcategories is stronger than ever and that without a middle ground definition, the theory is lacking. Websites have learnt that building social networks into their framework (whether that be their own or using Facebook etc.) can be a good way to build brand loyalty as well as spreading their brand across social networks and has made more visitors into social networking users. Does this make them residents? I’d argue not. The individuals still use the internet for very specific functions i.e. watching a video on YouTube but improve their experience by joining and using (although not embracing) social networks i.e. Google+. Perhaps there is space therefore for a middle tier of internet use…

…if only I could come up with a name.

Bibliography

PRENSKY, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Residents. On the Horizon, 9 (5), 1-3.

WHITE, D. and LE CORNU, A. (2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors & ‘Residents’, Tall Blog (Accessed 4/2/2014) [http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/]