Search Results for: china

Why John Fahey’s decision to do business in China was a huge mistake for the National Geographic Society

Banned in China: Bloomberg and New York Times say they had no choice


Chris Johns & Terry Adamson stand tall with our new publishing partners in the People$rsquo;s Republic of China (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson stand tall with our new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

Chris & Terry shake hands with our new partners.

Chris & Terry shake hands with our new partners.

Chris Johns Terry Adamson China National Geographic Liu Xiaobo

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM’s new publishing partnership in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

Free speech is dying in China… but, hey, isn’t that a lovely photo of a cloud?

{ Read the whole thing here. }

For those media executives who are willing to play ball,
a different dream lives on: 

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM’s new publishing partnership in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

Front page of (People’s Republic of China), September 14, 2012


Political Prisoners in the People’s Republic of China (2010)

Zola, Temple Tiger, and free speech in China

This film — beautifully shot, with a fascinating story that has global resonance — is the sort of documentary our Society should be supporting and distributing:

The Kickstarter trailer:

From Luisa Beck & On The Media:

When talking about China, we often try to fix points that help us understand the country’s seemingly strange and contradictory politics. We retell certain types of stories about China, framing the experience of Chinese people in terms Americans can easily relate to. After watching a short clip from High Tech, Low Life, I was looking forward to watching the kind of David and Goliath story that Americans so love: a story of two Chinese bloggers or “citizen journalists” who defy government censorship while reporting on issues like homelessness and corruption the government would rather keep below the radar.  I wanted to walk away from the film with an “Ah, so this is the kind of stuff the Chinese government censors” and an “Oh, and these are the tricks outspoken Chinese citizens use to circumvent it.” But Stephen Maing’s film challenged my David and Goliath framing.

In the film, the government Goliath doesn’t have the clear-cut characteristics that would have made its politics and its relationship to its citizens easier to understand. Yet, despite my inability to fit the film’s scenes into clear-cut explanations, its poetry- stunning visuals of Beijing and the Hunan Province, intimate encounters with the personal lives of two traveling bloggers- Zola and Temple Tiger kept me intrigued. 

By focusing not on China’s censorship politics but on the personal stories of these bloggers, I learned that neither Stephen nor Zola nor Temple Tiger could fully explain or predict Goliath’s motivations or strategy. Because China is in the process of reinventing itself. And that’s precisely what makes this film so fascinating….

Losing our way in China

At a party last weekend, I had a fascinating conversation with a senior National Geographic executive about the relationship between our Society’s support for science — and our Society’s apparent lack of interest in democracy, especially in China.

His view (paraphrased): Science is central to National Geographic’s mission; democracy is not.

I disagreed, citing National Geographic’s (forgotten) history. A few days later, I sent him this 2006 story from The New York Times about Chinese physicist Xu Liangying. Dr. Xu has long embraced Albert Einstein’s dictum that freedom, especially freedom of speech, is a prerequisite for scientific progress.

By championing the cause of freedom in China, Dr. Xu has paid a very high price; by ignoring the cause of freedom in China, National Geographic gets access to a huge new market for cheetah pictures, but fundamentally undermines the future of our society — and our Society.

The story of Xu Liangying is well worth reading, especially on the June 4th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

… If he is not the oldest living Chinese dissident, he is easily one of the most intellectually distinguished, the author of some 200 papers and editor of a half-dozen books. The historian H. Lyman Miller called him an “archetypal figure” in his book “Science and Dissent in Post-Mao China.” The adjective “venerable” seems to attach itself to him the way snow is attracted to the mountains, but he does not seem to have lost an ounce of rebelliousness. …

The love affair between Dr. Xu, who was born in Linhai, Zhejiang, in 1920, and Einstein began when Dr. Xu was in secondary school and read a collection of Einstein’s essays called “The World as I See It.” The book had as much politics as science.

In one passage that the young Xu underlined, Einstein wrote: “The state is made for man, not man for the state. I regard the chief duty of the state to protect the individual and give him the opportunity to develop into a creative personality.”

Dr. Xu said, “I wanted to be such a person.” …

In January 1989, Dr. Xu’s friend Fang Lizhi, an astrophysicist, wrote an open letter calling for the release of political prisoners. That was too limited, Dr. Xu concluded. He and an old friend, Shi Yafeng, a geographer at the academy, then in February drafted their own letter calling for democracy. “We agreed that actually China needs political reform,” Dr. Xu said.

“They need political democracy and need to protect the rights of citizens, and there should be freedom of thinking, speaking and publishing,” he said, “and they need to end the long history of punishing people because of their words. China has such a history, which has lasted for thousands of years.” …

His letter was signed by 42 people, including many scientists.

It and Dr. Fang’s letter helped provide inspiration for students and others who swarmed Tiananmen Square in April 1989 to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a purged political activist, and then stayed to protest corruption and the lack of human rights. Many of them were wearing T-shirts that said 

“Science and Democracy,” watchwords of Chinese politics and aspirations since the early 20th century.

On June 4, Chinese troops invaded the square with tanks and killed hundreds of people. …

Dr. Xu is now retired. In 2001 his book “My Views: Xu Liangying’s Collection of Essays on Science, Democracy and Reason” was published by Mirror Books in Hong Kong. He and his wife, who works at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, are working together on a book about the history and theory of democracy.

“Science and democracy are separate concepts,” he said. “They are mutually supportive, but democracy is more fundamental.”

Despite their showy embrace of science, China’s present leaders have not won over Dr. Xu.

Jiang Zemin, who inherited power from Mr. Deng, earned Dr. Xu’s scorn in 1997 when he invoked Einsteinian relativity to justify China’s human rights record, saying democracy was a relative concept. “It’s just nonsense because, first, Einstein’s relativity principle is actually essentially emphasizing the absolute,” Dr. Xu said, referring to the notion that the laws of physics and speed of light are the same for all observers.

“And the other part is democracy and freedom are also absolute because human nature is universal and needs to pursue freedom and equality.”

Dr. Xu said he was optimistic that China’s future would embrace those qualities. He pointed out that when the student leader Wang Dan first tried to start a democracy salon in 1989, only 20 people showed up. But only half a year later, more than 3,000 people joined a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.

“So I never doubt the power of the youth,” Dr. Xu said.

{ Read the whole thing here. }

Meanwhile, at our Society:
Money for Chinese scientists …

… but not a word about democracy:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)


“There should be freedom of thinking, speaking and publishing,” said Xu Liangying, “and they [China’s rulers] need to end the long history of punishing people because of their words.”

John Fahey National Geographic

Thomas Jefferson vs. The China Syndrome


The way we were: 

Thomas Jefferson, Architect of Freedom

NGM, February 1976


The way we are: 

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate National Geographic Magazine's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

≡  Thomas Jefferson quote & graphic via Sergio Toporek @ Beware of Images. (Be sure to check out Sergio’s upcoming documentary.)

Sure, Tibetans are burning themselves alive to protest China’s brutal occupation, but… have you seen our latest rhino pics?

An excerpt from In Self-Immolations by Tibetans, Signs of New Turmoil, by Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times (22 March 2012):

Tsering Kyi, a 19 year-old student, self-immolated in the middle of a busy vegetable market in Tibet's Gansu province on March 3, 2012.

Tibetan scholars and exiles say the current resistance campaign is unlike anything seen before. The tactic — public, fiery suicides that do not harm bystanders or property — has profoundly moved ordinary Tibetans and bedeviled Chinese officials. Just as significant, they note, is that the protesters are mostly young — all but nine of them under 30.

Tsering Kyi was one of them. According to family members, she was a thoughtful student whose hard work earned her a place on the school’s honor roll. But in 2010, she joined classmates who took to the streets of this dusty county seat to protest the new Chinese-language textbooks and the decision to limit Tibetan to a single class. In the clampdown that followed, several teachers suspected of encouraging the protest were fired and the headmaster, a popular Tibetan writer, was sent to work on a dam project, according to local residents.Tsering Kyi’s death has been widely publicized by Tibetan activist groups eager to draw attention to the self-immolations. The Chinese state news media, which has ignored most of the cases, reported that she was mentally unstable after hitting her head on a radiator. Her grades started to sag, the official Xinhua news agency said, “which put a lot of pressure on her and made her lose courage for life and study.”

In interviews, several Tibetan residents and relatives of Tsering Kyi’s contemptuously waved away such assertions. Instead, they were eager to discuss her devotion to her Tibetan heritage and the final moments of her life. When she emerged from the public toilets in flames, they said, the market’s Han Chinese vegetable sellers locked the front gate to prevent her from taking her protest to the street. No one, they claim, tried to douse the fire.

When the police arrived, they forced witnesses to remain inside the market and returned Tsering Kyi’s body to the bathroom. Then, after collecting everyone’s cellphones, they methodically went through the devices and deleted any photographs of the incident.

That’s not to say the Chinese authorities are against all kinds of pictures. For example, Chinese authorities have a passion for surveillance photography:

A security camera hangs from the roof of a monastery in Qinghai Province.

Chinese authorities also give their official stamp of approval to cheetah pictures and the people who snap them:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

Please remember that our Society has not always been so editorially hamstrung and so institutionally silent. Twenty years ago, before NGM launched its local language editions, our Society had the freedom and editorial courage to publish stories like this one:   

Problem is, you can’t publish those types of stories if you aspire to be a global media company that (a) wants to do business in China, and (b) is joined at the hip with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns the National Geographic Channel:

Rupert Murdoch

Worth repeating:

Rupert Murdoch


John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John:
Any thoughts?


≡  Tsering Kyi via Candle4Tibet
≡  Surveillance camera by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times

China’s President is a very wise man…

… for he understands what’s truly at stake:

If only everyone did.

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

“The China Syndrome: The Sequel”

From “The China Syndrome: The Sequel,” by Evan Osnos in The New Yorker:

What will the effect be? Bale’s near-visit is likely to draw attention in a way that activists have surmised could be helpful. In a hearing last fall on subject of Chen’s imprisonment, Jerome Cohen, a leading American expert on Chinese law, testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and said:

[I]t is possible that a combination of domestic and foreign pressures can improve the situation, especially after the Party installs a new generation of leaders one year from now. In the interim, enhanced publicity is indispensable. Today’s Commission hearing and dozens like it in democratic countries can inspire the expression of much greater foreign concern by international organizations, governments, N.G.O.s, scholars, bar associations and ordinary people.

In the interim,” what will we see and hear from Chris Johns, Terry Adamson, and other Society executives? We’ll keep you posted.

Chris Johns (Editor of National Geographic Magazine) & Terry Adamson (NGS EVP) celebrate with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

“Self-censorship and castration” in China

Han Han is a 29-year-old Chinese professional race-car driver, author, and cultural critic. He’s also China’s — and perhaps the world’s — most popular blogger. In a recent essay (translated by the China Media Project), he discusses his personal experiences with censorship in China, which he compares to castration:

Han Han

I haven’t written anything since [my July post] “Nation Derailed.” In point of fact, I’m not very diligent about my writing, and each time I do finish writing something and then can’t see it [after I post it, because it has been censored], I get despondent. And there are just so many government departments [to get past]. …

I’ve been involved in this work [of writing] for around 13 years now, and I now understand just how powerless and of no account cultural workers (文化工作者) really are. Owing to a richness of restrictions, people in this line of work are unable to produce anything truly special. 

And so up to this very day, everyone and anyone involved in culture is engaged in a painful process of self-censorship. So can we look forward to publishing houses lowering their taste a bit. This is of course impossible. As soon as a publishing house shows any sign of notching down its taste — remembering that these are state-run units — the authorities will just send over a new publishing chief. The nasty thing about post-facto censorship is how it exacts penalties. It says, look, I’m not going to look over your shoulder, but if you publish something improper I’ll have your head for it. If it’s something less serious I’ll fire you from your post or disband the publishing house; if it’s serious I’ll lock you up. So, you decide how you want to do it.

As for myself, while every single essay I write goes through a process of self-censorship and castration, sometimes unavoidably the fashion of my castration is still insufficient to past muster. This has to do with the level of sensitivity at various publishing houses. For example, my most recent novel has been killed outright, because the protagonist in the novel is surnamed Hu [like China’s president]. So even though I have only written 5,000 characters so far, the publisher assumes there must be political allegory somewhere. By the time I realized I had to avoid this name and changed the character’s surname it was too late.

I don’t know how a country where a writer trembles when he takes up his pen can build itself into a cultural great nation (文化强国)….

Read the full excerpt here.

For National Geographic’s response to such “self-censorship and castration,” see this.
And this:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)


Want to publish in China? Here are the rules.

Read the whole thing here.


Docility defined:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson of National Geographic meet with our Society's new publishing partners in the People's Republic of China (2007).


The way we were:

NGM, May 1953


NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.