Kim Jong-il death: Phoenix exposes intense Chinese censorship…accidentally?

The Chinese media is currently flooded with reports emphasising the grief of the North Korean people at the death of their “dear leader”.

Comments are turned off on all the big five news websites except Phoenix and Sina, where the Chinese online news-reading community are purportedly also grief-stricken for the loss of North Korea’s great anti-American friend.

However, an apparent technical oversight on Phoenix seems to be revealing the staggering rate at which censors are deleting comments that don’t fit with whatever instructions Beijing has issued regarding how discussion should be “guided”.

On the Phoenix discussion of attached to its special coverage page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, the number of participants is listed at an incredible 15,652,462, and that figure is going up by around 150 every minute at the time of writing. It’s now up to 15,656,193. Yet this enormously popular discussion involving more than 15 million participants has somehow only produced 728 comments.

Normally on Phoenix News and other websites’ discussions the ratio of participants to posts ranges from about 20:1 to 80:1 (see previous posts on this site). On the death of Kim Jong-il story the number of “participants” is more than 20,000:1. This suggests that the censors are deleting almost every post that is submitted on the topic, but have forgotten to also fiddle the website’s automatic counting system that registers an extra “participant” every time someone submits or recommends a comment. I guess they’ve got a lot on their plate at this time, which probably also explains why the Sohu, NetEase and Tencent portals have simply switched their comments systems off.

On Sina’s topic discussion page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, pro-Kim comments are flowing in at a rate of about 1 per minute. Anti-Kim stories are nonexistent. I’m imagining perhaps a full-vetting process is in place at Sina whereby every comment is by default not published unless specifically approved. One would think the wumao (commenters paid by government agencies), to whatever extent that they exist, would be out in force given the attention that the central authorities in Beijing are giving to the story.

All this grieving and well-wishing is probably not just the work of wumao, though unsurprisingly many Chinese readers are drawing that conclusion. The Chairman Mao gravatar attached to one top comment on the Phoenix story “CCP center sends condolences over death of Kim Jong-il” reminds us that plenty of genuine communists do exist in China – it’s just that they’re not very well represented at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

In fact on the same discussion the second-top comment in this discussion of 394 comments and 23,057 participants says:

The comments are so fake, even if i didn’t say so everyone would know. [2420 recommends]

This comment has actually moved up from third position to second since i’ve been writing this post, overtaking what’s now the third-most popular comment:

The Chinese people stand forever with the North Korean people. [2131 recommends]

The fourth-most popular is also remarkable for its mere presence:

If you’re not wishing Kim Jong-Il well the editors delete your post, what sort of principle is that? [1699]

The most likely explanation would be that Phoenix’s censors have decided to leave the two critical comments there in an attempt to disprove the very allegations that they are making, and possibly also give an air of diversity to a very austere discussion without violating the apparent instruction from Beijing that Kim Jong-il is not to be criticized on mainstream news discussions.

But couldn’t one also speculate that the Phoenix editors may, just maybe, have taken the liberty of allowing this couple of comments through to tell readers we’re on your side really? Could the continued existence of the very obvious but as yet un-revised figure of 15,656,193, wait, 15,660,394, be another subtle sign that the censors aren’t entirely supportive of the job they have to do?

China’s three cards: America, economics & Taiwan

Phoenix TV has brought together a highly interesting array of short video clips of South China Sea commentary from both their own satellite channel, and CCTV.

The “brief introduction reads”:

China has three strategic countermeasures [available to it]: the America card, the economics card, and the Taiwan card. ‘To capture the bandits, first go after the king’ (qin zei xian qin wang) – countering America is the most important. The economic card applies mainly to Vietnam and the Philippines. The Taiwan card could initiate cross-strait collaborative defence of the South China Sea.

The video line-up has received 23,930 ‘likes’, and 15,969 ‘dislikes’ (actually ‘tramples’), suggesting many viewers strongly disagree with the overall assessment presented in the videos, which plays down the urgency and strength of action required, with several commentators pointing out that China should try to ensure that its actions do not push neighbours like Vietnam into an alliance with the US (something which has to some extent happened already). The comments section provides some clue as to what so many viewers are objecting to:

wangdashan5658 (Hebei): [Quoting llciven (Suzhou)]: “Previous generations have told us, dignity must be fought for, merely talking is useless!!! [12 recommends]” – Looking at the domestic and overseas [situations], what dignity do we common Chinese people currently have? [0]

qq987645 (Yunnan): Don’t talk about cards this and cards that, other people are actually controlling [these islands]. [2]

wo7133998 (Liaoning Huludao): Why am I sensing the final years of the Qing Dynasty? [2]

ssssssssd (Anhui Chaohu): Nothing at all has happened in the South China Sea, only big-talking. It’s tragic. [2]

lbds (Shenzhen): It’s time to retake the South China Sea islands. [0]

Leader Li [Li Lingdao] (Guangzhou Panyu District): Truth comes from the barrel of a gun, let’s attack. Give the nation a bit of blood. [2]

Li Lü (Hebei Hedan): I miss the Great Mao very much. It was him who made the Chinese people feel proud and stand tall [yang mei tu qi, ang shou ting xiong] in the world’s orient. In those years we defeated America twice, taught India a lesson, and did not give up an inch of sovereign soil or territorial water – even for just one square kilometre, he dared to take back Zhenbao Island from the big-brother superpower the Soviet Union. [33]

Li Lü (Hebei Hedan): It now looks like the “shelve differences, develop jointly” approach was completely wrong. Who is going to take responsibility? [8]

Yi剑 (Jiangxi Shangrao): Corrupt officials running amok, unable to fight, let’s just give the South China Sea away. Others will say good things about us. [30]

Once again we see the CCP’s foreign-policy status quo, especially the “shelve differences” approach, under attack from the Maoist left, whose viewpoints attract strong agreement from readers. How many of these readers, or even the commenters themselves, are ‘fifty-centers’ is unclear (and even if they were it would be impossible to tell whose fifty-centers, since many agencies are known to deploy them), but we can clearly see that this kind of criticism is not being censored out by any central decree at this stage.

Perhaps more significant is that comments linking official corruption with weak foreign policy are also okay with the censors. The third comment, by wo7133998, and the last comment by Yi剑, have strong overtones of “waihuan neiluan” (“external aggression + internal chaos”), the most widely-accepted formula answering the original Chinese nationalist question: what happened to China’s greatness? Seeing China today as afflicted by waihuan neiluan appears to be a refutation of the Chinese Communist Party’s achievements, and a damning indictment of its present rule.

We have to remember though (and one of the talking heads on the Phoenix video reel actually points this out), internet opinion always tends to be more extreme than public opinion in general. As argued elsewhere, a ‘netizen’ (wangmin) is very different to a citizen.

In a side note, He Liangliang, the talking head who puts forward the ‘playing cards’ analogy in the most detail, also puts forward a theory that Vietnam’s internal problems – namely inflation, slow economic growth and corruption – mean that it might be trying to provoke conflict with China to divert the Vietnamese people’s attention. This exact line of reasoning often gets applied by outside analysts to explain China’s actions, and its possible motivations into the future.

Singapore urges China to make clear its South China Sea sovereignty claims

Singapore urges China to make clear its South China Sea sovereignty claims

Phoenix Online/22-06-11

By Li Zongze (Global Times)

China’s biggest navy patrol boat, the “Sea Patrol 31” is currently visiting Singapore, which has drawn attention from that country’s media and internationally. Singapore’s foreign affairs department released a press statement emphasizing this was a routine visit, and also said China’s position on the South China Sea should be “clearer”, as its present “equivocality” was attracting “the intense concern of the international community”.

[. . .]

Please feel free to comment, correct translation, add explanation, or even translate more comments from the same forums >:) ey? ey?

“Hottest comments” from 23080 participants/535 comments as at 2:56 am BJ

Using China’s foreign policy language all around the world, it’s no wonder they don’t understand! Most of what weak, incapable people say is vacuous! Expand the cave! [Recommends: 5197]

Singapore is right, China should be like a great power that says what it has to say, whose position is clear, if others are encroaching on our territory and we don’t fight back that’s defeinitely just giving face to the encroachers. Wishy-washy words and actions will actually stimulate their appetites and give them a false perception that China is equivocal when it comes to its own territory, that is equivalent to to saying this here is not China’s 那就说明这里不是中国的. You can’t benefit from just compromising – even if China gave away all its land, America and other Western countries would still not compromise, let alone stop their encirclement and isolation of China. As for the talk of Russia supporting Vietnam, Russia should understand this principle: the direct result of China being unable to defeat America was that Russia became the latest target to be cleaned up. [2579]

Singapore is noble, and what they said is pertinent! Clearly demarcate the border activities – doing nothing but talk only makes people more demanding. Russia gave Black Blind/黑瞎子/Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island back to China, so what are Vietnam and the Philippines? Drive them out, don’t fire the first shot, show no mercy to those who resist with weapons, are none of those guided missiles loaded? Lock down all their bases, and whichever one attacks us will be wiped out! If the great power can’t even put these little countries in order, there’s something wrong with the world! 荒天下之大繆 [2165]

We Chinese are on one hand saying we have sovereignty over the South Sea, and on the other hand we’re saying shelve differences of opinion and develop together, negotiate and peacefully solve – this is contradictory. Since sovereignty is ours, why would we be jointly developing anything? Jointly developing our own territory encourages other countries to occupy and encroach. Can territorial sovereignty be just given to another country? [1674]

We miss Chairman Mao! [975]


This is called looking for trouble and ugliness. What is it that you want to do? Do you want to attack or make peace? If it’s attack why are you running from Singapore, if you want peace what are you doing crossing the South Sea, aren’t you picking fights on the basis of the present? 想打,你跑新加坡干什么,想和你干嘛要横穿南海,你这不是在现在的基础上找事 [824]

China, China, you just make people so worried. I really want to give you a kick. [763]

Singapore clearly explains how “shelve differences and jointly develop” just confuses the international community. History and reality both confirm that shelving differences and jointly developing will cause much dispute and controversy. We must have a complete discussion. Practice is the criterion of truth, and right now not a single neighbouring country recognizes this idea, it’s caused our territory to be encroached upon, so it’s time to completely clear up this problem. If you fear something will happen, something will inevitably happen! [750]

Translator’s comment

Could public opinion have had anything to do with that unclear stance? Possibly. If expectations about China’s military prowess really have progressed far ahead of its actual capability, “China” might be doing more there than the CCP central decision-makers ideally want to be doing. This may or may not be decisions to actively respond to public opinion, but they could also be non-actions such as allowing military zealots to dictate policy to appease an intra-party constituency, and/or mass opinion? Could the J-20 stealth fighter mystery also be an example of this? Have leftists within the Party been seriously considered as a force? The recent obsession with “red songs” and other red-era nostalgia suggests that the leftist brand’s popularity (or value) is on the rise. Most comment threads on the South China Sea that i’ve read have included (alongside the calls for action) prominent praise for, and often longing for, Chairman Mao. Perhaps those in charge of the Fifty-cent Party are under the control of leftists. With the mobilization of supportive public opinion, “rightists” in 1978 took over the Party. Leftists today might well believe they have the majority of the Chinese people behind them, and they know only too well how to mobilize support. Could we be witnessing an ideological battle in progress?