James Cameron & The (Moral) Abyss

This is embarrassing — especially from someone who recently became a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence:

… James Cameron: “Titanic” is actually censored less this time [in China] than it was in ’97. Because it was their second bite at the apple. It’s gotten much wider and we’re seeing it being less restrictive. So we’re moving in the right direction. The quotas for international films coming in now, it’s a higher quota, the percentage of revenue is higher, so everything is moving in the right direction. You see the market opening up. And I think that that’s having a beneficial effect in that it’s growing the exhibition market internally, if you look at how rapidly theaters are being built here.  …

NYT: You must have had people talk to you to give you a briefing on the censorship process, about how it works or how it’s affected certain films [in China]. Do you have any general thoughts on that?

James Cameron

James Cameron: As an artist, I’m always against censorship. But censorship’s a reality, even in the U.S. We have a form of it there. We used to have the Hays commission. We now have the M.P.A.A. ratings system, which is basically a self-censorship process that prevents government from doing it. But the economic imperatives are that if you get an R rating, the studio won’t make a film that looks like it’s headed toward an R rating, and if you get a R you’ve got to cut it yourself to comply with PG-13. So it’s really just a form of censorship indirectly.”

NYT: Do you consider that the same as Chinese censorship?

James Cameron: You’ve got a little more choice in it. It’s not as draconian. But I can’t be judgmental about another culture’s process. I don’t think that’s healthy.

NYT: Did you talk to other filmmakers – your peers – about Chinese censorship?

James Cameron: No. I’m not interested in their reality. My reality is that I’ve made two films in the last 15 years that both have been resounding successes here, and this is an important market for me. And so I’m going to do what’s necessary to continue having this be an important market for my films. And I’m going to play by the rules that are internal to this market. Because you have to. You know, I can stomp my feet and hold my breath but I’m not going to change people’s minds that way. Now I do feel that everything is trending in the right direction right now, as I mentioned earlier.

Read the whole thing here.

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As Mr. Cameron mentioned earlier, “trending in the right direction” isn’t about human rights or freedom of expression; it’s about quotas for international films, share of revenue, and the Chinese market opening up to people like James Cameron. 

If Mr. Cameron suddenly develops an interest in the reality faced by his peers in China — filmmakers, writers, artists, and others — then he should take a peek at Freedom in the World 2012 (published by Freedom House): 

China

OVERVIEW:
With a sensitive change of leadership approaching in 2012 and popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes occurring across the Middle East, the ruling Chinese Communist Party showed no signs of loosening its grip on power in 2011. Despite minor legal improvements regarding the death penalty and urban property confiscation, the government stalled or even reversed previous reforms related to the rule of law, while security forces resorted to extralegal forms of repression. Growing public frustration over corruption and injustice fueled tens of thousands of protests and several large outbursts of online criticism during the year. The party responded by committing more resources to internal security forces and intelligence agencies, engaging in the systematic enforced disappearance of dozens of human rights lawyers and bloggers, and enhancing controls over online social media.

And this from Reporters Without Borders: 

And this from Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Price, who is still under house arrest in China. Mr. Cameron says “you have to” “play by the rules that are internal to this market,” but Liu Xiaobo is a living proof that you don’t: 

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

 

Whose side are we on?

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

 

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≡ Desmond Tutu quote & graphic via The Idealist

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

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John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John:
Any thoughts?

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

My parents taught me a simple truth:
 Your life is a reflection of your priorities

1989:
“We sing this for the brave ones

who brought about this great change in Eastern Europe.
But I also sing it for the brave ones who failed,
back then, for that minute,
to bring about great change in China.”

______

TODAY:

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The National Geographic Society goes to China:

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

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John Fahey National Geographic

“Democracy is not a spectator sport”

Welcome to readers of the ALASKA DISPATCH.
If what you’re seeing raises questions for you,
please consider encouraging
John Fahey, Chairman and CEO of National Geographic,
to share some answers by granting us an interview.
You can give him that gentle nudge by clicking “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally — 220+ people & counting.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

_______

Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

National Geographic once understood Mr. Booker’s point.
In a time of crisis,
National Geographic asked all of us to participate.

National Geographic once featured stories
about the people who helped launch
our democratic adventure.

NGM, September 1987

National Geographic once was proud to celebrate
the values that make us a nation.

NGM, July 1986

_____

Today, our Society asks us to share kitty pictures.

To buy air freshener…

… and coffee beans.

Our Society lends its good name
to a television channel (majority-owned by News Corp)
that serves up shows like this:

In which a man falls in love with a sex doll....

What happened?

Why has our Society, under John Fahey’s leadership,
stopped addressing us as citizens
and started treating us like customers?

Here’s a hint:

You can’t do business in China
if you insist on talking about
James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and democracy.

So, we changed our story.

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

This is tragic and short-sighted.
But it doesn’t have to be the end of the story….

John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society

John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society

Dear John: Let’s Talk

John rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one — and you can help by clicking “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally — 220+ people & counting.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

_______

 

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≡ This is a modified encore presentation of An Urgent and Demanding Participatory Endeavor, which we posted earlier this year.


Invasion of the River Crabs

… The River Crabs, or harmonizers, have been around almost as long as the Internet, making sure no one reads information that might make them angry at their government, but they’ve been busier and busier in recent years. First, they had to squelch the escalating talk two years ago around the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. They picked up their game for that one, eventually casting such troublesome websites as Facebook and Twitter to the other side of China’s so-called Great Firewall.

Then came last Oct. 8, and the news that Liu Xiaobo had become the first Chinese national living in mainland China to win a Nobel Prize. …  

Beyond the work of the River Crabs, the Chinese authorities went further than anyone expected in trying to nullify the effects of Mr. Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize. Not only was Mr. Liu in prison the day his award was placed on an empty chair in Oslo (putting him in the company of Ms. Suu Kyi, Soviet dissident Andrey Sakharov and anti-Nazi journalist Carl von Ossietzky), travel bans were placed on dozens of Mr. Liu’s family, friends and sympathizers to keep them from travelling to Oslo on his behalf.

His wife, Liu Xia, hasn’t been seen in public since last October, and her Twitter account has gone silent since then. The secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee recently called her treatment “unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Mark MacKinnon

I recently sat up late talking and drinking beer with two educated young Chinese who were helping me research a story in Yunnan province. There was no one else around – we were poolside at a hotel in which we appeared to be the only guests – so we started talking about our family histories. Li, our driver, told us he came from a family of Christians who had been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Yu, our local Yi language translator, told us how she had recently become a devout Buddhist.

They were connected and intelligent young people whom I thought would know more than most about what was going on in their country, so I asked them what they thought about Liu Xiaobo. The name drew blank stares. I tried again, this time asking if they had heard about what had happened to Ai Weiwei, the prominent artist and dissident who was recently detained without trial for 81 days because of his political activities.

Again, the name was unfamiliar to them. (Among the younger Mr. Ai’s provocative acts was a party he hosted to “celebrate” the demolition of his Shanghai studio at which he promised to serve 10,000 river crabs.

A frown grew across Li’s face as the conversation continued. “I know our country isn’t perfect,” he said slowly. “But it bothers me a lot that a Chinese person won the Nobel Peace Prize and they hid this news from us.”

Score one for the River Crabs. For now.

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

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The Liberty Project: Who’s in?

“Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s words inspired Anne Bayin’s photographic project.

See more portraits at The Guardian.

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Meanwhile, at National Geographic:

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

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Which is why we created this video mash-up — audio & video from Great Migrations, National Geographic’s recent wildlife extravaganza, combined with still images that tell a very different story.

“An urgent & demanding participatory endeavor”

Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

National Geographic once understood Mr. Booker’s point.
In a time of crisis,
National Geographic asked all of us to participate.

National Geographic once featured stories
about the people who helped launch our democratic adventure.

NGM, September 1987

National Geographic once was proud to celebrate
the values that make us a nation.

NGM, July 1986

_____

Today, our Society asks us to share kitty pictures.

To buy air freshener…

… and coffee beans.

Our Society lends its good name
to a television channel (majority-owned by News Corp)
that serves up shows like this:

In which a man falls in love with a sex doll....

What happened?

Why has our Society, under John Fahey’s leadership,
stopped addressing us as citizens
and started treating us like customers?

Here’s a hint:

You can’t do business in China
if you insist on talking about
James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and democracy.

So, we changed our story.

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

This is tragic and short-sighted.
But it’s not the end of the story….

_____

We hope you had a happy Independence Day.

July 4, 2011: On the Mall in Washington, DC (photo by Ian Livingston via the Washington Post)

 

 

“The meaning and intention of your superiors….”

From the China Media Project:

By David Bandurski | Posted on 2011-05-09
 

A cartoon about China's so-called 50-Cent Party, whose members get paid by the government to spread the Party line online.

On May 5, a post purporting to be the full transcript of an interview by now-detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) with a so-called “Internet commentator,” or wangluo pinglunyuan (网络评论员), made the rounds on China’s Internet, where it was quickly removed and just as quickly reposted on various blogs and online forums.

Online commentators, known colloquially in China as “50 Centers” or the “50-Cent Party” (五毛党) because they were once rumored to earn 50 Chinese cents for each pro-CCP comment made in online forums or the comment sections of major news stories on Web portals such as QQ.com and Sina.com, are now a generally acknowledged fact in China. But given the secrecy that still surrounds all methods of public opinion control in China, precious little is still known about these hired hands….

[UPDATE: We have confirmed the authenticity of the interview with a volunteer at Ai Weiwei’s studio, who writes: “The source is reliable….”

Question: In the midst of your “guidance of public opinion” work, how much do you think is directed from above, and how much is based on your own understanding [of what’s expected]?

Answer: In all of it I listen to the instructions from above, but your superiors don’t indicate how you should do it. Your superiors will only tell you the overall orientation of your public opinion channeling. They’ll tell you that this incident requires channeling the people toward this or that orientation, that the public can’t be allowed to think this or that, or that we can’t tolerate this or that kind of speech. But [in this work] you basically have to understand the meaning and intention of your superiors.

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

Dear John,
For National Geographic magazine to get permission to publish in China,
was it necessary for you, Terry Adamson, and
NGM Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns

to “understand the meaning and intention of” the Chinese Communist Party?
Was it vital to grasp the “overall orientation
of what sort of Society we needed to be?

If so, would that “understanding” and “orientation” explain why Chris Johns,
just days before he flew to Beijing to celebrate the launch of NGM-China,
killed Ha Jin’s NGM story about Censorship in China?

Members of the 50-Cent Party were once said to be paid
50 Chinese cents per post.
How much does our Society get paid
for assuming the proper “orientation” in China?

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

 

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≡  Cartoon of 50-Cent Party via China Digital Times

“Saving the soul of a nation….”

2005

Chris Johns

“I believe that each of us is capable of the extraordinary. It may reveal itself in some small act or gesture, but the possibility exists. The courageous makes itself known in many ways, from saving the life of a snake to saving the soul of a nation.

Keep in mind the hummingbird—the first animal in the crowd to take action in the face of a daunting challenge. Be like that blur of energy with a beak full of water and a heart full of hope:

Do what you can!”

— Chris Johns, Oregon State commencement address, June 12, 2005

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2007

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

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2010

Celebrating the launch of National Geographics new Arabic edition in 2010. (Photo: AFP)

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