Monthly Archives: October 2011

Cooking up something on the side + Andrew Morris on waiyuan

Things have been a bit quiet here because I’ve been distracted coding up what I hope will be a fun and hopefully fruitful project. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be ready to declare it fit for presentation to the world in a a couple weeks. Until then, here’s short section from Andrew Morris’s 2002 essay “Baskteball Culture in Postsocialist China,” from the Perry Link-edited collection Popular China. The whole essay is fantastic (if a touch outdated; there’s an updated 2008 version of the essay in the Brown Journal of World Affairs which I’ll get around to as soon as I decide what else to sacrifice now that sleep is all but gone from my life), but in light of last summer’s Georgetown-Bayi brawl and the continued hand-wringing over overseas/NBA players dominating the CBA, this passage recounting the 1998 CBA All-Star Game is still especially relevant:

But the most significant subject of nationalist basketball discourse relates to the recruitment of foreign players to supplement CBA rosters. In the 1990s, each team was allowed two foreign players, and Americans occupied the overwhelming majority of these slots. Members of the basketball bureaucracy seemed to take a very ambivalent stand on the role of the CBA’s foreign players. In one lead article of Basketball, titled “To Fire Up the Basketball Market, We Need More Foreign Players,” the author told of the foreigners’ contributions and reminded readers that the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) itself employed many foreign players.

But many fans do not buy this line. In one fan forum, subscribers protested these Americans’ presence, holding that “second- and third-rate European and American players” could not truly help the development of Chinese basketball since they were only in the CBA to “sell tricks” and make money, and that they were not worth the disruption. One fan was even more dramatic, stating that “[this] is Chinese basketball. Those winning glory for the nation in international competition are the men of China, not these ‘Eight-Nation Allied Forces’ [the foreign armies that invaded the Qing Dynasty in 1900].”

The tensions present in this nationalist narrative finally came to a head at the CBA All-Star Game in Shenyang in April 1998, a contest that for the first time used an ill-advised “Chinese vs. Foreigner” format. The Foreign All-Stars won 83–80 on a last-second three-point shot by Ray Kelly of the Sichuan Blue Sword Beer Pandas, but the victorious side was quickly showered with cans and bottles, a barrage so heavy and prolonged that the state-operated CCTV was forced to cut off its broadcast. The sight of China’s national all-star team losing to these third-rate American “rejects” was evidently too much for these proud fans, whose own Shenyang Army Lions were one of the few CBA squads that did not employ foreign players. Their spontaneous demonstration against the waiyuan presence in the CBA was a clear statement against American hegemony in the Chinese basketball world.

Waging Nonviolence

Waging Nonviolence is an incredibly thoughtful blog about nonviolent movements around the world. A few short articles of mine were posted there yesterday, one about Han Han and internet protests in China, a draft of which I’d posted here previously, and another about parallels between the Zuccotti Park cleanup and Tiananmen. If I can find time in the coming months, hopefully I’ll be able to contribute a few more going forward. Thanks to Nathan for the encouragement to get this started.

Millionaire immigrants: NBA players cross the border to the CBA

With the NBA locked out (though maybe not for much longer?), unrestricted free agent basketball players have dispersed around the world, with more than a handful ending up in China because of the healthy salaries (six-figures to the $2 million+ that Kenyon Martin is earning) that CBA owners have been throwing at foreign talent. It’s always amusing to read about NBA players “coping” with moving to China and doing without the perks accustomed to not just being an NBA player, but also living in a first world country. Heroic stuff, crossing borders to work in a place where you don’t speak the language fluently or at all, leaving behind your loved ones, hoping your employers and host nation don’t capriciously lock you up, take your assets, and deport you. Oh wait…

I’ve been meaning to compile a definitive list of all the NBA signings to the Chinese Basketball Association, but it looks like Guan Weijia at Chris Sheridan’s site has already done it. It looks pretty up to date, reflecting Earl Clark’s decision to come back stateside and the recent signing of Cartier Martin. Until I make any changes or add substantially new information (eg include the non-NBA foreign players), I’d just say go there to check out. Going forward, I’ll try to follow some of my favorites, including Quincy Douby (Rutgers!), K-Mart (can’t wait for the first time a Chinese players accidentally swings an elbow into his chest…), and of course, everyone’s favorite soul-baring Coney Island’s greatest, Stephon Marbury.*

*One of the best pieces of sportswriting from last year was this Deadspin article by Anthony Tao; the Wells Tower GQ article from this year is good too, but there was something electric about Tao’s report, which was one of the first extensive ones about the Marbury in China experiment. At the time it came out, Marbury was (and still is) an absolute wildcard, in the “Tyson Zone” as Bill Simmons would put it, having posted a series of bizarre videos the summer before.

The Disconnect Between Virtual and IRL: Han Han’s Dismissal of Online Protest

(If you’re already familiar with Han Han, feel free to jump ahead.)

Today, the Nobel Committee celebrated the Arab Spring by awarding a share of the Peace Prize to Tawakel Karman. Though Ms. Karman is certainly deserving of the award, it very well might have gone to any number of other individuals without argument; it could have also been awarded to the entire nations of Tunisia, Egypt, and others, ala Time’s “You” as Person of the Year, without much fuss as well (though cutting the check 200 million ways might be an administrative nightmare for Oslo).

Though Karman’s role as an inspiring leader in Yemen is indisputable, our elevation of people like her and Wael Ghonim and others as first among equals taps into something deeper than just a prize announcement: this is our desire for simple narratives of Great Men leading forth mass movements. Deviating from this storyline introduces (or, rather, accurately reflects) complexity and the possibility of the message being clouded or misrepresented—see the Occupy Wall Street protests as an example, with the mainstream media at wit’s end trying to figure out how to sell the story of varied, collective action.

Similarly, in recent years, those outside China have anointed a series of Great Democratic Hopes in China. In the run-up to last year’s Nobel Prize announcement, interest spiked in Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08. Then it was Ai Weiwei’s turn to get the hero treatment and coverage as the man leading masses of Chinese netizens toward the path to freedom.

Now revolution seems to rest in the hands of Han Han, he of the Evan Osnos New Yorker profile (behind a paywall, but well worth trekking down to your local library for): a renegade cultural icon, wise-ass blogger, and dogged reporter of government corruption. The voice of the Chinese youth is another way to put it. Though his name recognition here may still be on the low end, he’s more popular than Ai and Liu across the Chinese-speaking world and heralded at home as the next Lu Xun, one of China’s most important intellectuals and critics of the past century and so popular that he’s able to get away with writing just about whatever he wants–though especially hard-hitting posts often get deleted after the fact, but not after they’ve already been re-posted thousands of times over.

Which brings us to this recent interview he did with Channel News Asia (fast forward to 17:45):

Amid this mostly vapid interview suffused with social media buzzwords and one especially curious moment* where Han Han explains why he rejected an offer to meet with President Obama (see Will Moss of Imagethief for an insightful breakdown of Han Han’s answer), his dismissive comments on the illusory nature of online protest are seemingly shocking for those who expect Han Han to fit neatly into their preconceived notion of online freedom fighter: Continue reading

Weibo and 星期 vs 礼拜

Just a note to myself that WEIBO IS AMAZING. After throwing up my hands at Twitter’s worthless search functionality* (Google’s discussion search is useful, but no holy grail), it is a pleasure to use something this intuitive, even if I have to re-translate the whole thing into my second language, I daresay it still makes more sense than Twitter does. I’m playing around right now with all sorts of things, including working with my friend on writing some simple code for searching for banned keywords. For instance, searching for “艾未未” (Ai Wei Wei) yields this hilariously transparent message:

根据相关法律法规和政策,搜索结果未予显示。热门微博推荐 (Rough translation: According to laws, legislation, and policies, the search results are not shown. We recommend blogging about popular things. [emphasis mine; literal translation of 热门.)

Pussyfooting around this Weibo is not.

So, interesting results so far?

1) As someone who grew up speaking Taishanese, laibai (pinyin: libai; 礼拜) was my word for week (eg, 礼拜一 for Monday) while sengkay (xingqi; 星期) was reserved for newscasters and certain older speakers. While speaking with my language partner, who is Taiwanese, she almost exclusively used 礼拜 as well. But as any student of Mandarin today, 星期 is the standard word and 礼拜 seems to have developed a religious connotation.** But for the most part, they are semantically equivalent, and thus, variations in usage appear to simply be either a) regional b) generational or c) context (informal or more formal). It’s sort of (emphasis on sort of) like the great American debate between soda versus pop, and with Weibo, you don’t have to actually design and tabulate a survey of who uses what where; the data is all already up online, coded by gender, age, and location.

It’ll take some time to scrape some of this data (no way in hell I’m going to sit here and do this by hand; but the sad thing is that it probably will take me just as long to figure out how to code the script to do what I want… sigh), but preliminary results:

礼拜天: 251748 results 星期天: 2461924
礼拜日: 48962 星期日: 1115494
礼拜一: 272460 星期一: 3436480
礼拜二: 78241 星期二: 1336238
礼拜三: 88890 星期三: 1287634
礼拜四: 91038 星期四: 1272936
礼拜五: 245327 星期五: 3157894
礼拜六: 253894 星期六: 3177002
礼拜七: 2664*** 星期七: 50031***

All right! And because the deputy likes dots, here it is in visual form:

So it’s official, on Weibo, Monday is the most popular day, closely followed by Saturday and Friday. Wednesday and Thursday are in a dead heat for least popularly cited. Curious what a similar chart would be on Twitter… oh wait, I can’t generate one. Dur. (Though I guess you could use Google to get a rough estimate, but those aren’t hard numbers like these on Weibo.)

Future project would be to do similar analysis of paired words like this, and to further dig into the data and figure out where these libai users come from and what similarities they share.

*What is it with Web 2.0 folks and broken search? That was aimed at you Tumblr, get your act together.


***Not a real date, but just curious to see if it’s used. I’ll have to go back and analyze what it actually means when people say Seven-day.

You can pry hanzi from my cold, dead hands!

I first learned about years ago when someone linked to the much-circulated essay by David Moser hosted on the site, Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. When I first read it, probably when I was still struggling through my second year of learning Mandarin, the essay heartened me. I remember thinking, “Wow, this grad student has been learning Chinese for 5 years and still can’t read a newspaper! Phew, I shouldn’t feel so bad about myself.” But in the end, it was Dr. Moser who would have the last laugh (over me and Chinese) as he’s become probably among China’s most famous Chinese-speaking White Guys,* up there with Da Shan, Jon Huntsman and the guy who plays the British guy in all the Cantonese imperial dramas and HK cop shows.**

I regularly check up on, and though some of the posts are rather pedantic to someone outside of the pinyin movement or linguistics world (misuse of apostrophes! non-semantic CamelCaps!), I do think pinyin has great value as a teaching tool and for making Chinese a more inclusive language and deserves to be defended by someone as knowledgeable as Mark Swofford against those traditionalists who bemoan the encroachment of English and Romanization into Chinese. I still remember cackling my way through Swofford’s devastating breakdown of an op-ed by author Ruiyan Xu in the NYT about the usage of Baidu vs 百度.

As I was making my way through my twitter feed today (sometimes it can feel like a chore…), I noticed with interest a new post about a similar topic by China Beat contributor Xujun Eberlein’s on her excellent blog Inside-Out China. In it, she notes how the Caixin website (which I could have sworn Bruce Humes had done regularly pieces about, but now I can’t find them–#googlefail) has included an English word in the headline of an article, the first instance she can think of where a reputable national publication did this. It’s a short little commentary which touches on the debate between those who pushed China to further reform its writing system even more than it had and instead fully adopt alphabetization, and she mentions the Peter Hessler article from the New Yorker which served as the basis for his 2006 book  Oracle Bones. Continue reading