Jul 15

Chalk it up to the list of toxic exports from the U.S.

Written by DJ on Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 at 5:34 pm
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Rebecca MacKinnon concluded her blog entry on Chinese media control following the Weng’An riot with the following line:

“We’re starting to see early signs that China’s Internet and media regulators are becoming a bit less Leninist in their techniques and a little more Rovian.

Wow, Rovism?! Now this is an accusation that stings.

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31 Responses to “Chalk it up to the list of toxic exports from the U.S.”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    It’s ironic to see the very Rovian “army of 50 center party” technique employed in Rebecca’s article to indict any POV that is not sensationalist or antagonistic towards the Chinese government as “government paid”.

    This broad storke also insinuates any diverse opinions in the Chinese blogsphere must be artificial, as the Chinese netters are inferior to their counter part in the West.

    I find that exteremely prejudicial and insulting.

  2. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – Errrmmmmm . . . . no, still don’t see it. Still don’t see at all how you can acuse a long-term China watcher of being ‘prejudicial and insulting’ to China based on what she wrote. It seems that any non-Chinese commentator who writes anything about China that is not 100% praising is a purveyor of ‘anti-China BS’ in your eyes.

  3. Nimrod Says:

    FOARP, maybe the said “China watcher” is doing too much “watching”?

  4. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    I am ignorant about the Chinese internet and its foreign watchers. I guess moving from Lenin to Rove, Soviet to American, is a good sign of progress?

  5. DJ Says:

    Rebecca MacKinnon presented an interesting take on the condition of Chinese media, blogsphere and online forums, with particular focus on the events after the Weng’An riot. Her perspective may or may not be correct but is definitely worth consideration. All in all, I found this piece well researched and the tone even-handed.

    That said, I posted this simple entry mainly to poke fun take a shot at Rove. Frankly I expect the term “Rovism” to gain popularity in the future and become firmly established as a descriptive phrase, not unlike “McCarthyism”. That would be a fitting legacy for him and his brand of politics.

  6. Charles Liu Says:

    DJ, I’m a long time reader of rconversation. I did not object to the other parts of the article (or vast majority of the articles on rconversation), however I must object to her insinuation that diverse opinions in Chinese blogsphere is somehow artificial.

    This seems to be a pretext for her lot of self-appointed ex-pat China experts to ignore certain POV from Chinese netters, opting to promot the sensationalist, antagonist ones.

  7. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – ‘Self appointed’? For the record she is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre as well as former Beijing bureau chief for CNN – are you suggesting that she appointed herself to these positions? As far as I could see, she offered some evidence that where discussion is political and likely to attract attention, the state intervenes to make sure commentry does not overly turn against them. I could not find any section in which the idea that all commentry on the internet in China is ‘artificial’ was conveyed – can you show us the passages in which the insinuation is made? Whilst you’re at it, could you tell us who her ‘lot’ of ‘ex-pat China experts’ are? Are you saying that there is nothing ‘sensationalist’ or ‘antagonistic’ in the modern Chinese internet which deserves highlighting?

  8. Netizen Says:

    I think she finally find out the Chinese government is quite responsive and flexible. Her prevous blogs are very average stuff and lack depth. I didn’t see any original ideas.

  9. Buxi Says:


    Interesting that you jumped in on that comment from Charles, and ignored the fact he’s a self-professed “long time reader of rconversation”. I guess we know where your buttons are. 🙂


    I literally stopped and wondered for a second which Renaissance European philosopher gave birth to “Rovianism”… I’m a little slow.

    I largely agree with Rebecca’s post… especially since this paragraph just happens to be a rehash of what we talked about in the WSJ article:

    We’ll have to see whether this pattern holds in future, but if it does, that would point to a growing sophistication in the Chinese government’s strategy for managing online media – both professional and amateur. The strategy would appear to be: give the professionals more rope to report while censoring the amateurs more heavily. Let Chinese people searching on the internet for information about unrest incidents read about them primarily from the state-sanctioned media, not from bloggers repeating things they got from chatrooms repeating things that people heard on the street.

    But I think this is the paragraph that probably pushes Charles Liu’s button, and I can understand why:

    He describes how the rage of Chinese cyber-nationalists against CNN’s Jack Cafferty was fueled by 50-cent party postings.

    Right. I take it Rebecca doesn’t read shijie ribao… I personally was struck by how many Chinese-American activists + elected officials were coming out and railing against Jack Cafferty, at least according to the shijie ribao. I wonder if the Chinese government also pays a councilman from San Jose 50-cents.

  10. DJ Says:

    Charles Liu,

    I followed the link you provided in the comments section of Rebecca MacKinnon’s article. Interesting, very interesting. I have always wondered about the financial backers of FLG. Well, let’s just say I am not very surprised about your findings. Nice work in digging out the details from the form 990s.

  11. DJ Says:

    Charles Liu, Buxi,

    He describes how the rage of Chinese cyber-nationalists against CNN’s Jack Cafferty was fueled by 50-cent party postings.

    That line. I did (what’s that phrase for it?) raise my eyebrows while reading it. Well, count me in as one offended by Jack Cafferty’s words. And where was my 50 cents? Herrrmmm, maybe because I didn’t rant about him online when it happened. 🙂

    Anyway, I let it slide because it is just one line, quoted from someone else, in a substantial article. But yeah, I can definitely understand how it could push one’s button.

  12. Buxi Says:

    Wow. I don’t want to turn this into a FLG bash, but this topic is certainly as valid as the one about “50 cent” commentators. Has there been any press or notable blog discussion about the “Friends of Falun Gong”?

    Looking through the form 990 return for the form, the most eye-catching line item: $1.3 million in 2005 spent on “telephone projects”, more than half of all expenses. Many, many Chinese (on the mainland) have reported receiving random telephone calls with Falun Gong propaganda over the past 6-8 years.

    Is there any way to see who exactly is donating?

  13. Netizen Says:

    Interesting. The link between Fa Lungong and NED. Yes, who are the donors?

  14. DJ Says:

    According to Wikipedia:

    The NED receives an annual appropriation from the U.S. budget (it is included in the chapter of the Department of State budget destined for the U.S. Agency for International Development-USAID) and is subject to congressional oversight even as a non-governmental organization. In the financial year to the end of September 2004 NED had an income of $80.1 million, $79.25 million of which came from U.S Government agencies, $0.6 million came from other contributors, plus a little other revenue.

  15. davesgonechina Says:

    Gentlemen! (And ladies?) How are ya?

    I think you’re reading too much into MacKinnon’s post. I don’t think she’s using the 50 centers to dismiss genuine feelings of anger over, say, Cafferty, or to declare that every Chinese netizen who expressed such feelings is doing it for beer money. The point in both MacKinnon and Bandurski’s articles, I felt, was that the WMDs (50 Center just makes me think of the rapper or some sort of sports complex) were instrumental in bringing that particular non-event to a level of public attention that resulted in everyone getting so pissed off – not that everybody who was pissed off was getting paid, but the people being paid amplified it so that everyone heard it in the first place. Rebecca’s word “fueled” seems fair and by no means contradicts the reports in shijie ribao Buxi mentions.

    I would like to see more data on how the 50CP/WMDs get operate and get paid. While there are apparently former 50 centers (see, it just looks weird) talking about it, none of them have laid out the schemata. Mind you, I’d like to see the same done for FLG.

    Charles, I see you’ve got your own little guerrilla war goin’ on there. Some FLG 50 centers seem to follow *you* around leaving comments. I got this big hysterical one on my site about some Western Standard article that presumably interviewed you. Care to comment?

  16. yo Says:

    Here is what is said from sourcewatch(http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=NED) about the NED:

    “NED receives an annual appropriation from the U.S. budget and, while a non-governmental organization, is subject to Congressional oversight. In the financial year to the end of September 2002 NED’s budget was US$48.5 million.”

    “…97 percent of NED’s funding comes from the US State Department (through USAID and before 1999, the USIA), the rest being allocations made by right-wing donors like the Bradley Foundation, the Whitehead Foundation and the Olin Foundation…”

    Just one of those things that you wonder what they do, are they just a front for special interests, and if they are just a waste of tax payer money.

  17. yo Says:

    Let’s just get it straight, it’s “fitty cent” 🙂

  18. Charles Liu Says:

    DaveGC, how do you substantiate “instrumental”? There must be some prepondrance of evidence to qualify that, no?

    My beef is this nebulous indictment that diverse opinions in Chinese blogsphere is somehow artifical; pro-government blogs/protest against Cafferty can’t possibly be genuine, so let’s not bother covering it. How convienent for Rebecca and her GlobalVoicesOnline.

    And did you notice Rebecca planted one of her own blogger from GVO into her article? Oiwan Lam’s allegation of 50 cent twitterer (whatever the hell that thing is) is basically BS. Would a twitterer full of BS gain any following (that’s how the thing work right)? I think the Chinese netters are more sophisticated than that.

    Since you asked, FLG spokesperson/disciple/reporter/blogsphere operative, Jana Shearer, has visited foolsmountain already, you can ask her about her “Chinese spy” allegation against me:


    My response is in comment 15. BTW Western Standards ceased printing a while back.

  19. DJ Says:


    How are you? It’s nice to see a new entry at your blog.

    And to come up with “WMD”, where did you get the idea from? 🙂

  20. Charles Liu Says:

    On the subject of media control and paid shills, here’s another riddle for you to crack.

    Rebecca’s latest blogpost on Chinese Human Rights Defender led me to a mysterious bag of money called “Monica Fund”:


    MonicaFund.org exists, thou they don’t have a website. Registration information led to a dead end in Australia:


    There’s tiny bit of information out there, and upon examination it appears Monica Fund is associated with the NED, again:


    What gives? Why is it when I look into these stories, I end up with NGO/GO like NED, USAID, OSI?

  21. Rebecca MacKinnon Says:

    Charles, can you please show me: where in that blog post did I cite the Thomas Crampton interview of Oiwan Lam? Nor did I mention the alleged 50 cent twitterers. I believe I linked to the Danwei post linking to the Crampton/Oiwan Lam video in my daily del.icio.us links (which is just a list of links to thinks I’m reading and find interesting) a few days previously, but I did not cite it in my blog post at all because – as critics pointed out – it was really more like a casual dinner conversation than a factual report. Also, any regular readers of Roland Soong’s EastSouthWestNorth will know that he has been translating materials discussing the existence of the “50 cent party” for quite some time, and a number of Chinese language blogs and articles have talked about the 五毛党 at some length. This is not a new revelation – it’s just that Bandurski, unusually, obtained some pretty solid concrete evidence from a reliable source. All kinds of people – the government, FLG, employees of other governments, marketing people, companies, special interest groups, human rights groups, individuals with axes to grind – are all trying to use all kinds of tactics to spread their point of view around the internet. Not just in China but the U.S. and everywhere else. To believe otherwise is naive. I made the crack about Rove to get people’s attention – obviously that worked. The point is, the way information gets manipulated in China (by all kinds of people) is looking more and more similar to the way information gets manipulated in “Western democracies.”

  22. DJ Says:


    Welcome. I believe it’s your first comment on this site, isn’t it? Well, hopefully we will see you more often here.

  23. Charles Liu Says:

    Rebecca, your Danwei and del.icio.us links definitely gave your “plausible deniability” 😎

    Roland may have wrritten about rumors of paid commentators, but the logical inference “Jack Cafferty protest fueled by paid commentators” is insufficient. Even if Bandurski’s source is “pretty solid”, it is anonymous in the FEER article. It’s paragraph 14, people can go see it for themselves. Also his “rumors spread quickly”, “permanent fixture of the Internet” is about as factual as UFO abduction, which is also a permanent fixture of the internet.

    Not to mention the paraphrasing/translation/transfiguration of what Hu Jintao might have said about offical Internet content/communication. None of the quotes explicitly mentioned hiring commentators. He’s probably talking about government websites and official contents being more accessible, but stretch it to “commentators”, nobody will notice.

    Do you know where these Hu speeches and quote are from? Let’s see the context.

  24. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – Since Fool’s Mountain now allows contributions from anyone, why don’t you write all your findings up in a big article on how the west is conspiring to destroy China? That would be one in the eye for ‘shills’ like MacKinnon, wouldn’t it?

  25. Netizen Says:

    @Charlie Liu,
    Your scrutiny of these so-called China experts is welcome because their domestic media is not going to do that, expecially when it is biased against “them”, not “us”.

  26. Buxi Says:


    I don’t think we should lose sight of the big picture by focusing on small details. The Jack Cafferty comment in your article is, in my opinion, unfortunate and inaccurate. But it’s a minor detail, and I know not at all a primary part of your thesis. I only skimmed the FEER article, but I thought the quotes attributed to Hu Jintao seemed believable.

    I think the primary gist of your article gets across fine, including the mixed compliment of calling the China’s reforming propaganda system “Rovian”.

  27. Buxi Says:

    Roland at ESWN comments on the 50 cent story:


  28. davesgonechina Says:


    “My beef is this nebulous indictment that diverse opinions in Chinese blogsphere is somehow artifical; pro-government blogs/protest against Cafferty can’t possibly be genuine, so let’s not bother covering it. How convienent for Rebecca and her GlobalVoicesOnline.”

    And that’s where we disagree. I don’t see anything in MacKinnon’s article stating that protest against Cafferty wasn’t “genuine” or any other “nebulous indictment”, merely a claim that the protest was “fueled” by paid comments. Nothing in that suggests that everyone who disliked Cafferty can be dismissed as some sort of stooge, but simply that the 50 Cent Party contributed to the affair. Now it’s a separate matter to argue whether the 50 Cent Party actually in fact did that, and whether or not Bandurski’s sources give suitable evidence that they did, as opposed to whether anyone is dismissing any and all Chinese condemnation of Cafferty as “artificial”. When I read it, neither MacKinnon or Bandurski are arguing that because of whatever evidence exists of paid comments, we can dismiss general condemnation of Cafferty’s comments as manufactured. That is what you’re accusing them of doing, and they make no such claim. You’re the one projecting that on to their comments. No one claims that the charge of astroturfing means that no Americans agree on the issue that is being, um, astroturfed, simply that it is holding a megaphone up and amplifying a position that may in fact not be held by so many or with such volume, though the result of it may ironically be exactly more of that sort of shrillness, because people get carried away in the emotional wave of a short news cycle.

    I personally would like to see a more detailed account of the alleged influence of the 50 Cent Party in the Cafferty Affair, because I agree with you, Charles, that there is not sufficient public evidence to say they really played such a big role. That is, nonetheless, what Bandurski is arguing based on an anonymous source. Take it with however much salt you want, I won’t stop you. But on the other hand, you’re claiming that MacKinnon and Bandurski are arguing that because of this unseen evidence, no Chinese anger over the Cafferty comments can be regarded as genuine. I don’t believe anyone cited in this post or thread believes that, or has ever argued that, and you’ve insinuated this is part of some larger agenda. Nor do I believe GVO ever avoided reporting Chinese condemnation of Jack Cafferty as genuine in the past, so I fail to see the “convenience” you speak of:


    Perhaps your FLG stalkers are getting to you after all. We’re not all out to get you Charles, I do wish you’d realize that.

  29. Netizen Says:

    Declaring the protests as “fueled” by paid comments with only one anynomous source is not the type of journalism or university research I’m familiar with. It seems the standards have gone downhill.

  30. Charles Liu Says:

    Don’t sweat it Netizen. After all, Dave’s admission “there is not sufficient public evidence to say they really played such a big role” basically proves my doubt. Essentially there’s no evidence WMD played any role.

    Again I’m not objecting to other parts of the article, just these unproven allegations and the insinuation they seem to make about the make up of Chinese blogsphere. I agree with you this is yet another example of New Media’s irresponsibility.

  31. Charles Liu Says:

    Buxi@27, thanks for the ESWN’s reply to Rebecca and Bandurski. I feel completely vindicated. There’s no way WMDer could’ve or even needed to have any significant impact. Anti-CNN to my understanding was the driving force behind the Cafferty protest in US, and they are a grassroot forum with funding question clearly addressed.

    Compare anti-CNN, with Rebecca’s GVO and their coverage of anti-CNN, you’ll understand why there’s so much connection to OSI (Ethan Zuckerman), RSF (Julien Pain) from this lot.

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