Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

Spoon Forth

The Great Firewall decided to temporarily block blogspot, and my personal site last week. The usual random pattern, I thought - but a few days later, today, it's the anniversary that dare not speak its name (rhymes with Loon North). Ah. Still, today when you Google 'Tiananmen' from Beijing, you get a page of Wikipedia and BBC listings describing the incident (links blocked though), and if you image-google, you get columns of Tanks, Tank Man, and a pile of dead people.

This has been done before on this very site, but what better day to have another go at it. When you use Chinese google, and misstype ‘六死事件’ it handily asks in Chinese, 'do you mean the June 4th incident?' The first-page results are mostly Chinese news reports relating to how the 'incident' has affected foreign relations, and even one on the previously proscribed commemoration of Hu Yaobang's birthday, whose death marked the beginning of the demonstrations. When you image-Google 'June 4th incident' you get one relevant picture on the page - a demonstration scene; when you image-Google 'Tiananmen incident' (and remember, Googling 'Tiananmen' in China is like Googling 'Aotea Square' in New Zealand', so getting that comical contrast between tanks and tourists on the two Googles doesn't mean much), you get two relevant pictures on the page: The same demo scene (with the Goddess of Democracy) and the iconic picture of Zhao Ziyang speaking through a megaphone to the students, with current Premier Wen Jiabao at his shoulder - from the Wikipedia page. I wrote about that picture last year with a little more contextual clarity than I'm doing now.

To further commemorate this invisible pebble of a day that causes such unpredictable ripples though the Chinese internet, here's an interview I did in Shanghai with Isaac Mao, Chinese cyberactivist. Because it was in a noisy Chinese restaurant (where else?) and recorded on a dubious knock-off MP3 player, it wasn't swish enough to make PA radio, but here you go, finally.

Founder of China’s first online forum discussing blogging technology in 2002, Isaac Mao is now one of China’s best known bloggers. In 2002, Mao numbered blogs in perhaps the thousands in China; at last count, China had over 17 million regular bloggers, 34 million blogs in all, and a blog readership deep into the hundreds of millions. So it’s perhaps the opposite of hyperbole to say that Mao is the Russell Brown of China, but like Russ, Isaac is not just a blogger, but an originator, a coordinator, and a proselytiser.

At the end of March this year, the Chinese public was galvanised by a private Chongqing household’s holdout against a mall development, a story which all media except a liveblogger called Zola was eventually prevented from covering; and I talked with Mao in Shanghai about Chinese blogging’s impact on the media, freedom of speech, his plans for this year’s annual Chinese bloggers conference which he organises, and his usual covert operations behind the Great Firewall of China.

IM: [Regarding the GFW] It’s a problem, but we should regard it as a common problem around the world; China is very typical, in the tradition of China from a traditional perspective, the government, the politicians, just want to control people’s thinking, they want one voice… But things are changing in its own way, no-one can prevent these things happening.

Internet is a boundless world and anyone can create a blog within minutes… if the government can control the local media or local website, they cannot control the websites around the world… it’s too late.

TM: We call it ‘Whack-a-mole’, it's a game where you have a table with holes in it, and these heads poke up out the holes and you have to whack them down again.

IM: Yes, and they try to use human labour to do it… manual searching to try to locate the position of the hosting, and command the ISP to shut down the website… that’s why I moved my website to overseas hosting… they unplugged my website, but now I am on an overseas server… You cannot use only 10,000 net police to prevent 1 billion people to do so many things. We try to develop some technology to help Chinese people to access the whole world with proxy, some new tools like Tor which does anonymous accessing, and help people to set up their own blogs on overseas hosting, or group blogs on secret hosting websites. If I write something there must be someone else will quote my voice, and someone else will quote his voice too, and it connects each other, becomes flat media, not like today’s hierarchical media, vertical media, and in China I don’t think anything can be closed today, …the government can’t stop it from happening.

TM: how has this affected the mainstream media?

IM: I think they are trying to adapt to the new media technologies and trying to not be left behind... The traditional media are trying to get more content from the blogosphere because we don’t think they have enough resource to do it, so they try to copy content from the blogosphere to make their content more interesting. When you switch on your TV set many channels broadcast the same content, it’s very boring for the Chinese people. It’s a kind of change, even CCTV in Beijing, they are trying to use the internet… but actually they don’t know how to really adapt to the change, they just copy the content.

TM: how has the climate been post Jiang Zemin, under the Hu Jintao government?

IM: I think it is kind of tighter control after Mr Hu took over… however they all realise that they cannot prevent things happening, actually they are trying to hear what people are saying on the internet, they are trying to listen to people too. They know something is happening and they cannot just rely on their traditional, maybe hierarchical system to get the right information, in fact they are in siege at their central office, they cannot get the right information… but they also fear losing control to the whole country… I think they have their own strategy, they tighten something, loosen something…

I think it can do something if they try to rebuild their own system, but their system is a closed system, they try to operate the game by themselves instead of trying to get people in. They just try to get some information from the people’s voice space, but they don’t want to respect the space.

TM: are there many active bloggers in ethnic minority areas?

IM: yeah, yeah, in the blogosphere, of those that are different from the traditional business or other things, I think there are 20-30% of people from those areas, the western provinces… I think blogging is a tool to help them speak out. In China it’s so obvious that people are seeking new tools to express themselves, even under repression. To other countries… maybe in NZ people already have many forms of tools to speak out and maybe blogging is only one new form… but for developing countries blogging is more important to enable social equality.

We just created a new project called Me Media and it has collected about 100 bloggers around the country to coedit a weekly journal to discuss what happened last week in the Chinese blogosphere, including the case in Chongqing last week… the official media cannot talk about it anymore, but Me Media can talk about it. We also have technical support frm the local communities, they are all geeks… and they can support our project from being blocked. So even if the government blocks one site, we can have another mirror site to recover.

Mao talked about his preparations for this year’s blogcon, and the results he was hoping for:

IM: [We want t]o make it more diversified, to invite different kinds of bloggers, even from some marginal areas, including maybe gay bloggers, some political bloggers, even some dissident bloggers. We try to have some international speakers every year, for example last year we had Rebecca McKinnon from the Harvard Berkman centre, the first year we had Eric Eldred from Creative Commons… We also like to invite more people from other countries to make Chinese bloggers feel more open and connected… to share more information. We have some bridge bloggers, they try to blog in a bilingual way. Sometimes some of them only blog in English… to tell the outside world what is really happening in China, a different voice from the official media. [But] we got warnings from the authorities that we cannot invite people from liusi shijian [Spoon Forth Incident], the Tiananmen event, and some dissident bloggers… otherwise they will totally close it down.

A foreign diplomat present noted, diplomatically, that things were improving, and that the government seemed to be allowing them some room to move, or even “enough space”

IM: [laughs] It's something. It’s good, it is changing. Still, we try to explore the bigger borders, the bigger space.

Me Media updates are regularly available in English translation in the Global Voices Online's China section, which also has the best English-translation breaking news on China's live-blogging citizen journalists.

What's the problem with white?

Guest Peril: Hannah Ho, one of the organisers of 'Sweet As?': Ethnic and Pakeha New Zealanders talk identity and dominance in a colonised land, 9-10 June 2007, St Anne’s Hall, Newtown, Te Whanganui a tara/Wellington.

Why do some white people get grumpy when they get called white people?

I would hazard a guess that it’s not because those people reckon they are actually beige, peach, off-white, cream or pink, rather than literally white. I suspect it’s because being called white is real close to the bone, the white supremacist bone. (And I don’t mean the 20 National Front members in New Zealand.) When I call white people white people, I reference systems of white privilege and white dominance. Which does sound awfully close to white power and white supremacy . . . Purely semantics?

In the national collective mind, white is the national default setting. This fact should feed into the discourse on national identity. But, if you point that out or start talking about it, people get nervous. Why? Because identifying whiteness is pointing to a power structure that we’re not meant to talk about.

It’s all about dominant culture. When we talk about “the real New Zealander”, or what constitutes “Kiwi values”, we have to talk about dominant culture. If we don’t we’re like fish who don’t know they’re swimming in water.

These discussions on culture, as opposed to race, are important because race is no longer a barrier to technically being a New Zealander. You can be any sort of ethnicity to be a New Zealander. But to be a “real” New Zealander, according to the mainstream argument, you have to buy into dominant culture and values. And when you buy into that, you can forget the foreshore and seabed, inequitable health care, dominant culture-geared education system, or any other thing majority-enforced inequity. Different world views? That’s divisive. That’s not the “Kiwi way”.

So, we get back to labels. Without the dominant culture analysis, “New Zealander” is easy. New Zealanders just “belong” to New Zealand. We can forget Aotearoa. We can forget our colonial and migration history. Forget Māori sovereignty, stolen land, the White New Zealand League, Poll Tax, dawn raids, because we’re all just New Zealanders. Right? In the context of national identity, pretending that you can be “just a New Zealander” (whether you’re white or not) is denying white privilege. It dismisses power dynamics that benefit some and disadvantages others. And it means that you can’t scapegoat the National Front as the only ones who are racist and white.

I guess that’s the real reason why white people don’t want to be called white, because then they’d have to fess up. The objections to being called Pākehā or tauiwi are kind of the same, because the terms are inherently about being in relation to Māori.

Shock, horror!! Well, hey, no-one’s just one label. You can be Irish and Pākehā and white and middle-class and heterosexual and monogamous and a man. Just like I am Chinese New Zealand and tauiwi and middle class and queer and a woman. Yes, everyone can suffer multiple oppressions, have multiple identities, and have multiple responsibilities!! Amazing!!

Yes life is complex – and things are hardly ever either/or. When Māori use tauiwi as a term they don’t think that Cambodian tauiwi don’t experience racism from Pākehā, tauiwi. They aren’t saying the Irish were never done over by the English, that the Romans never did over the Pagans. That the Greeks, Italians and Dutch never experienced discrimination from English tauiwi. Tauiwi gets used to point to the fact that all us non-Māori, enjoy and benefit from the past and continued colonisation, no matter where and when, we, or our ancestors, migrated here.

So have a think about privilege. Because sometimes it’s not just about the ‘having”, but about the “not having”. Not having to be yelled at “fuck off home chink”. Not having to be told that Asians are driving the housing market up so that “ordinary Kiwis” can’t afford houses (never mind neo-liberal economics). Not having to worry about walking home late at night. Not having shop keepers follow you around in shops. Not having to hear stupid Irish jokes. Not having to be “randomly” searched at the airport. Not having our friends in blue check your license and ask if you own the car you’re driving. Not having to ask if there’s wheelchair access. Not having the government always taking your land “for all New Zealanders”, and not returning land they said they would. Not having to ask for the Treaty to be honoured.

If you’re having trouble thinking of things you don’t have to worry about, you can get off your computer and talk to someone who doesn’t look like you.

If you are interested in this stuff and would maybe consider getting off your computer to talk about it with other people, come to the “Sweet As?” conference. It’s all about national identity, dominance, colonisation and social justice. Check it out.

-- by Hannah Ho

To comment on this piece, please click here.

Alternative captions welcome

Having spent a lot of time in China in my life, I hardly ever think of it as a Bizarro-World where people walk around upside down, read back to front, and eat inside-out. Then I saw Winston Peters speaking at Peking University in praise of all things Asian.

Here's a photo I took at the opening ceremony of the New Zealand Centre, Peking U.

...And running with the theme of confusing imagery, another one I turned around to take: a hallful of Chinese students and academics applauding Winston Peters.

During his speech, the Minister kindly refrained from proposing common ancestral links, but gave mad props to Chinese international students, Academics, and Politicians (but not journalists). Manying and Pansy, that means you. He thinks you guys are awesome!

In a further brief episode of hip-hop surrealism, the President of Peking University acknowledged the dignitaries present (the standard roll call at the beginning of such speeches) by simply adding the word 'respect' in front of their names. "Respect, Winston Peters!"

The MC coudn't pronounce any of the English names properly. 'Winston' was fine, but he became Mr "Pedderers."

That's satisfying enough, for now.


Are you gonna liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?

For Take Back the Blog day, here are some thoughts on receiving threats, and on why I never had a photo-byline for my 2006 Sunday Star-Times column.

Firstly, photo-bylines are stupid and vain, and Steve Braunias virtually dared me to try and wrangle my way out of having to have one at the SST - he thought that I'd never succeed.

Secondly, the white supremacist movement (about four people - maybe more of a mah-jong group than a movement?), had a bad photo of me on a 'watchlist', which included a link to my phone number and address details. The purpose of this was to encourage harassment of me, due to my involvement in an anti-hate crimes march in Wellington 2004, on a day that ended with skinheads being routed from the city by a mob of bloodthirsty anarcho-punks. Naturally, I was also receiving a few nasty emails, sometimes threatening and graphic, via the Public Address feedback function, messages which I generally file under a 'Nazis' label and forget about unless they're particularly inventive.

Was there a realistic threat? Very unlikely, and that's what I would have said if you'd asked. But it would have depended on what time of day you caught me at, and if you caught me by jumping out from behind a bush. My address and phone number was out there. A lot of the time I was home alone. I'd had a silent hang-up call which could have been nothing. I'd seen pictures in return of the weedy kids involved in these far right groups, and was confident that I could take them if they knocked on my door, although I didn't relish the idea. What if it was nighttime and they knocked off my glasses? If they vandalised my apartment wall and ran away like at the Roskill Mosque, would the Bodycorp cover it? What if they turned up and I was just in my sarong and not able to take a swing at them for fear of it falling off? Should I start building up my upper body strength? Find a self-defense class? Why are you even thinking these things? Stop it! These were actual thoughts running through my mind.

I suppose it is weak of me to admit that it bothered me, and I would never have admitted it publicly at the time - but it's actually the truth. Does admitting that you can be bothered by these things, damage the reputation of women bloggers as strong, independent, forceful voices? Should we just shut up and take it like men? Or should we rather, point out that these kinds of fears are why women do in fact, shut up much more than they should?

Because the 'watchlist' photo didn't look that much like me, I didn't feel any reason to make a better picture widely and regularly available at weekly intervals until the far-right attention faded away (it has). The SST heard me out on this, after the 'stupid and vain' and 'Steve Braunias dared me to' angles failed to have an impact. To be honest, it pained me to have tell them that I did have slight security concerns, and it would have been a lot more painful to admit had the SST editor been a man. She wasn't, and the paper kindly acceded to my request.

Well, sort of kindly. I had assumed that my contract negotiations would remain private, but as it happens I soon found myself at the receiving end of a mini snark-attack in the weekly gossip column of a national magazine once held in high esteem by the bourgeois-intellectual set (before we were all lobotomised by interest rates and pinot noir, and the likes of Steve Braunias and Ian Wedde suddenly became far too difficult for us to understand). Along with a weird imputation that I was covering up a 'white' name, actually belonging I believe to an unfortunate Wellingtonian Dutchwoman called Lena Mok, the snippet pulled out a columnist's most deadly weapon - scare quotes. "...Chinese letters have been inserted instead of her mugshot – it’s because of “the death threats”. Isn’t it strange how death threats always arrive in clusters?"

No-one has ever specifically threatened to kill me I am happy to say, and I've never claimed to have received death threats, scare-quoted or bare. It was contextually kind of a funny thing to see, but since it wasn't actually true, and as I was still doing the odd bit of freelancing for that publication, it was surprising. I didn't really know why they would want to imply that I would exaggerate or make up unpleasant things that had happened to me.

Let me make clear that all this was nowhere near comparable in scale to the Kathy Sierra affair, but that recent shitstorm did remind me of the far lesser echo of my own experience, and of the sorry end of Blackademic last year. These events seem to speak of default methods of dealing with women, and women of colour, when they - ironically - attempt to *recede* from the public eye citing distaste at an atmosphere of sexual or racial aggression that they are exposed to in daily operations. When threats are mentioned, these women are simultaneously, or contradictorily, accused of self-aggrandisement (even though they are trying to disappear), dishonesty (in exaggerating the harshness of their treatment or making up imaginary 'threats'), and of cowardice (being unsuitably afraid of the things they have been accused of making up).

Russell posted a few weeks back about the extreme and frightening threats of rape Sierra received, and some of the appalling reactions to her statement. Russ included a link to a Joan Walsh article - 'Men who hate Women on the Web' - which made think about my past situation again, and was the deciding factor in letting ya'll know about it:

If you show it bothers you, you've given them pleasure," Walsh writes, "But it coarsens you to look away, and to tell others to do the same. I've grown a thicker skin. I didn't want skin this thick. And what does it mean that women writers have to drag around this anchor every time they start to write -- that we reflexively compose our own hate mail, and sometimes type and retype to try to avoid it? I can honestly say it's probably made me more precise and less glib. That's good. But it's also, for now, made me too cautious. I write less than I would if I wasn't thinking these thoughts. I think that's bad."

An aftershock of the Sierra case that Russell didn't mention was the reaction from Markos Moulitskas, kingpin of America's liberal blog elite. In criticising the Blogger Code proposal, Kos also threw a dismissive blanket statement over Sierra's case, indicating that she and other "crying bloggers" were hysterical pussies who should just shut up and take it like real men. It confirmed those suspicions we've had ever since the 'pie fight' incident: Kos has got something against chicks. But I shan't speak ill of the dead. Because Kos is now dead to me, ya hear? Dead. The progressive and feminist American blogosphere has done a comprehensive whack-job on him, even if the 'A-list' didn't touch him. Reactions like Moulitskas' to Sierra's departure have provided the progressive US blogswell for the Take Back The Blogswarm that this post is a part of:

in support of the rights of women to participate fully in all aspects of our society, including specifically online in the world of blogging but indeed everywhere and at all times, day and night, without fear of harassment, intimidation, sexual harassment, online stalking and slander, predation or violence of any sort.

I count myself lucky to be part of a blog community where the self-selecting readership and bloggers are supportive of people's freedom of expression, and generally committed to disagreement in civil, even friendly terms.

I have to admit, I did not join Public Address to engage in discussion in a comments section, because I knew, whatever the demographics of my own readership and private correspondence, a comments section is always a white boy's playground. But hey, white boys gotta play somewhere, and at least it's clean!

Still, of all places, this sandbox featuring the nicest play in the New Zealand blogosphere doesn't have a lot of girls, possibly even fewer non-whites, and the blogroll itself has its share of silent, but very busy, female writers who have passed out the other side of the children/career wormhole. The comments don't reflect the readership (what is the female readership Russell?), but even on what one might think is a girl-biased topic - what David Slack could buy his daughter for her birthday - a quick scan of gendered names will reveal that 20 men had an opinion on this that they felt compelled to share, compared with 7 women, and that Che Tibby really should get back to work. (Those are our tax dollars, buddy!)

What are the women doing instead of commenting on blogsites? Maybe they're busy doing things that they think are more important. When I've asked my fellow ethnic minority correspondents to start commenting more on the System rather than just writing to me, they give me virtual shrugs and say things like: 'but I have real work to do. You know, the revolution.' When I was asked at my very first Great Blend why there is a gender imbalance in political blogging, I hazarded an uneducated guess that

women committed to social justice might actually be going out there and doing something about it instead, by teaching our children, nursing our sick, organising our unions, and occasionally getting elected. I would also hazard a guess now, that less overtly political women might also have a little less time to participate in cyberdiscourse for the same reasons that they have less time to devote to their careers. So is it unrealistic and counterproductive, another time and energy burden on already double-burdened women, to hope that they Take Back this particular Blog by wasting more of their precious time mucking around online? Possibly.

Maybe Robyn, Joanna, Emma, Deborah, Jackie and Anjum could register again under fake names, and create the illusion of having doubled the number of regular female commentors. You go girls!

However, for you nice, liberal white boys, if you feel like you're missing out on some quality opinion from the other 50%, you could do worse than drop in regularly on Span & Maia who, although they're girls, don't just write about flowershops and periods but also unions, racism, ideological bankruptcy, and nationalism; and of course my favourite US f-worders at Feministing. If you spend serious time in geekworld talkboards, or sites with serious winger constituencies, here is some very practical misogyny-fighting advice from a weary geekworld woman who has tried and failed, because she is not one of you: Caveat Lector: 'What some folks can do, if they choose'.

And for kicks, here's a Youtube clip from the Sonic Youth gig I went to in Beijing last Monday. Kim Gordon is still asking the age old question, one that we could ask the internets. It was the New Kool Thing we could use to break down social, political and economic hierarchies of information and debate - but

we've known for some time now that it is just another space, just another tool, and at its worst, just another replication of existing patterns of domination and segregation - and as ever, we're going to have to liberate ourselves. But I suppose, dear blogosphere, when pushed... we can still be friends.


You win again Debs

I know what you're waiting for: What was Deborah Coddington's comeback to the Press Council 'Asian Angst' complaints? Was the complaint ghostwritten by Russell Brown and David Haywood using fake unspellable Chinese names? And where can you find the only genuine Southwest Chinese Style sesame noodles in the Central City?

All this and more... sometime. Maybe.

Okay, okay, I feel bad for guarding secrets now that I'm leaving the country. It's Hot Woks in the huge SkyCityCinema's megacentre foodcourt on Queen St. Ignore absolutely everything they're selling except for the obscure noodles that you've never heard of, down the bottom of the photo-menu wall.

And that other thing? The Press Council is expected to rule in April. As I'll be overseas by then, Manying Ip has taken over complaint coordination duties, becoming the New Manying Ip as the New Tze Ming Mok as the New Manying Ip. I think this means I'm Old.

The complaint was sent off on the day Keith Ng left the country. I wrote it, with the support of dozens of prominent 'Asian' academics, journalists, business figures, artists, community leaders, and a few fellow-travellers, Pakeha and Maori. Keith and I hi-fived outside the K' Road Post Shop after I sent the chunky envelope down the chute, then we weirdly capitulated to the magazine's call to send some of us back by driving to the airport and sending some of us back.

When the Press Council does rule, whatever the result, I'll make the complaint papers available on the media issues bit of my dorky-looking Frontpage website, along with a link roundup of the blogs, columns and features generated by the Embedded Asian Underground over the issue at the time.

But I'm going away for a while guys, from next Friday. The Public Address Asian Invasion of 2005 has been successfully reversed; like Keith, I am being sent back [to the] home[land, briefly]. Looks like Debs has won on that front at least.

Here's my itinerary if any of you are in any of these places, and want to have a drink or (in Europe) offer me a couch:

Shanghai International Literary Festival, then Beijing (3 months), Hong Kong, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Paris, Den Hague, London, New York (all in summer, bad idea, but them's the breaks), then Quito, Ecuador (6 months or so) and Brazil (Carnival '08!).

Except for the first bit of that route, there's precious little relevance to what you might have come to expect from a New Zealand Politics & Society blog called Yellow Peril, and I'm loathe to bore you by turning this into a travel blog or a cat blog. So there will be the odd dispatch from China, but after that, a hiatus from mid-year until 2008. A real hiatus, not like that hiatus I called for a fortnight in 2005 when I ended up blogging three times a week.

Until then, you can still browse my archive of Sunday Star-Times columns and other political resources.

If you're interested in the other kinds of writing I do, you can come to my Auckland Triennial reading with Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Alison Wong, 1 pm Saturday at the Gus Fisher Gallery, or if you're in Shanghai on Sunday the 25th of March, I think my Festival session is at 2 pm at M on the Bund. Also, here's something I wrote for the Listener on the No Chinatown Triennial project that I've been a bit involved with. If you've seen the pretty pretty Triennial catalogue, I wrote Kah Bee Chow's artist profile.

So I have been kind of busy with my other life, but I really should apologise for not blogging more about, well, anything lately. Sorry.

It's tough to keep your mind on the job when you're being deported.

If I don't' see you at the Hustle for Russell, as we say in Mandarin: Bai-bai.