Evan Osnos Again on China’s Lack Of ‘Gangnam Style’

A few weeks ago, I posted about Evan Osnos article, ‘Why China Lacks “Gangnam Style.”‘

Today, I came across an interview of Mr. Osnos about the same topic on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. I found him to be more articulate and persuasive speaking than writing (not for the first time; perhaps his future lies in broadcasting–I’m a fan either way). Have a look:

Having now been over the same territory twice with Mr. Osnos, I realize what has quietly nagged at me: He is asking the wrong question and giving the right answer.

The question is not why doesn’t China have ‘Gangnam Style?,’ as Mr. Osnos suggests.

Why? Because Korea doesn’t have ‘Gangnam Style’ either; it has PSY. Nothing in Korean popular music foreshadowed–or encouraged–PSY’s genius work.

But, Mr. Osnos answer–that Chinese society shaves off the edges–is right on target. The problem is that it applies equally or perhaps even more so to Korea.

Outside of China and Taiwan, the place I lived the longest was Seoul (where I also met my wife Sojeong, K-Pop critic extraordinaire who provides me with a steady flow of insights). What struck me in my couple of years there is that for the most part Koreans seem to be compelled to conform more by their society than Chinese are compelled to conform by their government. And, while Koreans tend to bend to overwhelming societal pressure, Chinese demonstrate extraordinary ingenuity at thwarting their government’s.

If this were Korea Debate, I would write at some length about how the impressario, Yang Hyunsuk or YG of YG Entertainment, gave PSY (short for Psycho) the freedom to express himself and take risks. And, how this atmosphere allowed PSY to develop his already outside-the-mainstream work that culminated in ‘Gangnam Style.’ If anything, the real question should be why doesn’t China have a Y.G.?

In the end, this is all beside the point. Michelangelo might have achieved greatness without Medici nurturing, and PSY might have produced ‘Gangnam Style’ without Y.G. Works of overarching or of merely popular genius come from the artists themselves, often despite the the forces surrounding them.

‘Grabs for Power Behind Plan to Shrink Elite Circle’: NYT

Shortly after the U.S. presidential elections, China will begin its leadership transition. In the noise and reportage of both, one seeming small change may be about to occur in China:

To outside observers, the move may appear to be little more than bureaucratic reshuffling: trim two seats from the nine-member body [Politburo Standing Commitee] that governs China by consensus at the pinnacle of the Communist Party.

But, as ‘Grabs for Power Behind Plan to Shrink Elite Circle’ from the New York Times shows this is a move to watch carefully:

Mr. Xi and Mr. Hu may both be pushing for the downsizing of the committee, but they have different interests in mind, say party insiders. A smaller committee could, at least in theory, give either man more leverage and authority. And either could be better positioned to maneuver their allies and protégés into top seats at the next congress five years from now, halfway through Mr. Xi’s likely decade-long tenure, when several members of the committee would be expected to retire.

A lot of inside baseball in the article, but just as we in the U.S. watch the inside baseball of our own election, we would do well to understand just what the heck is going in Chinese factional politics:

But the proposal by Chinese leaders to downsize the body, the Politburo Standing Committee, offers one of the clearest windows available into the priorities of the party and the mechanics of power-sharing and factional struggles as the leadership transition nears its climax at a weeklong congress scheduled to open Nov. 8.

Oh, my. This is complicated.

Obamao’s ‘Secret’ Second Term Agenda (Should Have Been Our Scary Halloween Post)

With Mr. Obama’s edge in the upcoming election, we have reason to fear his secret agenda for a second term. To put this in perspective, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show has cataloged the unheeded warnings by the Right during the 2008 campaign and the perils of another four years of Obamao.

Now, Mr. Stewart doesn’t use the very apt description of Obamao (I got the idea from an eye-opening post by China Whisper via the Haohao Report–have a look at the rest of the Obamao pictures). Note the similarity of facial structure:

How did Mr. Stewart miss what has been so obvious to the right. Still, he got the threat right in these three reports:

Here are two more: Continue Reading

NYT’s Barboza Reveals His Methods And Thoughts About The Implications Of His Work

David Barboza

David Barboza recently reported on ‘Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader [Premier Wen Jiabao].’ The piece caused China to block the New York Times in China and Premier Wen to consult his legal options against the reporter and paper. In other words, Barboza’s article was explosive.

But, it was not a scoop. Instead, Mr. Barboza acted in the best tradition of investigative journalism–grinding persistence. Now, he has begun to life the hood on his methods in two articles.

The first, ‘Obtaining Financial Records in China,’ illustrates a gap in Chinese control:

It is this system that allows news organizations, including The New York Times, to request and review corporate records. Although ordinary citizens are not allowed access to the records, they can hire a lawyer or consulting firm to request documents for a fee of $100 to $200 per company. The Times used this process in obtaining thousands of pages of corporate documents to review the business networks controlled by the relatives of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

The second, ‘David Barboza Answers Reader Questions on Reporting in China,’ Continue Reading

‘Illicit Financial Flows From China And The Role Of Trade Misinvoicing’: Global Financial Integrity

When I lived in Taiwan in 1980s and 1990s, I first learned about ‘misinvoicing’ firsthand from Taiwanese exporters who were friends of mine. They had all parked considerable assets overseas, avoiding Taiwanese taxes and currency controls.

Although often complex in practice, misinvoicing essentially works like this. An exporter sells a widget for $100 to a foreign buyer; at home, he files an invoice for $90; he then deposits the difference, $10, in an offshore bank account.

Later, I similarly learned that the Chinese were as adept at misinvoicing as their Taiwanese compatriots. I just had no idea how adept they were. According to the Global Financial Integrity‘s report ‘Illicit Financial Flows From China And The Role Of Trade Misinvoicing’:

Over the period 2000 to 2011, cumulative illicit financial flows from China totaled a massive US$3.79 trillion, if one were to exclude the country’s intra-regional trade with Hong Kong and Macao. We found that if adjustments for such trade were not made, the resulting outflows due to trade misinvoicing were significantly understated due to trade data distortions. The sharp rise in illicit outflows, from US$172.6 billion in 2000 to US$602.9 in 2011,….

And, what are the Chinese doing with those trillions?: Continue Reading

‘Watch: Mrs Xi Jinping, Peng Liyuan, Sings About How The PLA Saved Tibetans From Themselves’: Shanghaiist

I once spent a morning watching musical performances by ‘General’ Peng Liyuan, wife of Xi Jinping, and I found her and the other performers to be great. After decades of watching Chinese variety programs, I’ve come to appreciate these shows.

So, today when I saw one of Ms. Peng’s videos on my rss feed that was new to me,  I watched immediately. Great costumes and dancing, and fine singing by the star. The lyrics weren’t too interesting. (‘Who is going to help us harvest barley?’) But, that’s the problem with a lot of patriotic songs. You probably need to be Chinese to get the full impact.

Or perhaps Tibetan. After watching, I read the description on the original post in Shanghaiist. Turns out I was watching ‘…the “Laundry Song”, a 50-year-old propaganda classic which purports to be sung by Tibetans desperate for the PLA and the Communist Party to liberate them.’ Okay. Missed that, either too dazzled by Ms. Peng or too dense.

More description:

Tibetan overseas website High Peaks Pure Earth:

The song tells the familiar Socialist narrative of the army and the people being one. For the Sino-Tibetan relationship though, the song puts the Tibetans firmly in a position of subservience, as natives, full of gratitude for the help of the benevolent People’s Liberation Army. The trope of washing clothes fits in also with the Socialist preoccupation with Patriotic Hygiene, [since] observing hygiene rules came to be seen as patriotic.

And, a final thought: ‘There have been 57 self-immolations by Tibetan protesters since February 2009.’

Needless to say, how you react to the video, armed with its meaning, depends on your stance here. For me, sure looked different the second time through. Have a look for yourself:

“Laundry Song” Performed by Peng Liyuan from HPeaks on Vimeo.

‘Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader’ Premier Wen Jiabao: NYT

First Bloomberg got blocked in China for exposing the wealth of Xi Jinping’s family. Now, it’s the New York Times turn.

David Barboza of the New York Times has done an incredible job of investigation in ‘Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader’ that tracks the wealth of the family of Premier Wen Jiabao:

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Grandpa Wen, say it ain’t so.

The article goes seven pages, all worth close reading. But, before you read it, have a look at the accompanying video:

And, after you watch the video and read the article, go to the chart showing ‘The Wen Family Empire’: