Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Monday, 28 April 2008
They were spectacular, fluid, and yet tight when it counted. Gutsy in a word.
At the end of the first act through a triangle shaped formation, the dancers hopped violently backwards and receeding back into the stage, with peaked caps, bathed in the deepest hues of revolutionary red, and saluting violently to the audience whose spontaneous applause they won through sheer bravery given the context of the protests by China against the French in the last few days that is bordering on rage and insanity.
For a brief few seconds, it was as if the French were saying to the overwhelmingly Beijing intellectual-elite audience, "is this what you want?", "is this how you want France to be?", "jumping up and down every time China starts to wave a stick?" ...."haven't you, you of all people, had enough abuse of power?"
It was the most creative thing I have ever seen and I will never forget it.
If you are a student
If you are a student, a university student, I have a suggestion for you. If you like something, buy it; if you don't like something then don't buy it, but don't demonstrate on the streets.
Protests and rallies are addictive. Today you carry the flag of patriotism against the outside world, tomorrow you carry the flag of patriotism against...
So you won't get support. During the whole process, all you can do is face the Chinese people and the Chinese riot police. You won't even see one blonde hair [i.e. foreigners]. Don't let pointless injury or death happen. Patriotism is not a golden talisman that will protect you from dying. In fact patriotism can be the death of you.
In an era of peace, radical patriotism is no different from a fan's adoration of his idol. But because people don't choose the object of their patriotic love, it's bound to be ever crazier. Previously, I thought inciting the masses was just government rhetoric, a pretext, but now I realize that people can be stirred up rashly. Of course, it's not easy to incite people but when they are determined to be cannon fodder, it's easy for them to blow up. Don't equate the current situation with the May Fourth movement [when patriotic students protested the Versailles treaty in 1919].
The two situations are totally different. Right now what we need is stability. Don't cause disturbances or stir up trouble, it's pointless.
To repeat: that's not the way forward, now is not the time.
I am willing to be called a traitor or a running dog, if only to give you this message: hold back your passions and show a gentle face, accept different voices. It's not yet the time now.by Han Han
Han Han (韩寒) is a novelist with a huge and dedicated fan base. He is also a racing driver and a blogger.
By way of the excellent Danwei
Sunday, 27 April 2008
The last time I was last in the area, it was for the Yen Countdown on New Years Eve. This time had a chance to walk about in the daylight and get a feel for the Bauhaus architecture and general post war 50's East German industrial influence.
I just liked the comical feel to these. We've been having a discussion on Facebook about art which could go on forever but I think good art should just send people up a bit as much as possible.
This one though in the green was just the right amount of sinister and beauty I like. I was really disappointed not to bag, it as it had been bought by the time I arrived, although I may be able to see the artist at his studio at some point.
I really loved this fading and aging Commie girl complete with pigtails from whatever revolution was being espoused at the time. She's just the wrong side of 50 and a little too old to be putting it about. Its the breasts and neckline that give it away. Brilliant.
Like most of the paintings this was part of a set and the eyes were amazing. Magnetic, hypnotic a little bit attractive, a little bit scary and very sexual.
Thursday, 24 April 2008
I subsequently discovered from Sam's China Internet Word of Mouth that there is a name for this activity in Chinese netizen culture and it's called Fubai FB for short or 腐败 in Chinese. The literal meaning of fubai is "corrupt." It comes from describing the act of corrupt officials freely spending to enjoy life. Within internet auto forums, the term has been appropriated to refer to the netizens spending their own hard-earned money to enjoy life through such "FB" activities as going out for good food and traveling. Often these "offline" FB activities are organized "online" within the forums, as the sense of community is very strong. "Online" friends, who are united by similar interests can quickly become offline friends.
Further evidence that this kind of activity is not restricted to the West comes today in the form of flash mobbing. I came across this possible first event in China last month but it was a Western organised affair judging by the participants. I twittered about it with Mark Earls blogging it later in the day on that occasion.
I then had a really good conversation with one of our planners here called Connie, who is ace and gives me all my China tip offs. Connie explained to me on that occasion that the internet conversation with the Chinese revolved around 'what is the point?' of flashmobbing. Which is a fair enough cultural perspective on something so new. However I'm pleased to see that today, again through the brilliant Connie, that the Chinese netizens have come up with a constructive form of their own flashmobbing. It manifested itself yesterday at the same time in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Finally we have a point to flash mobbing, Chinese style.
The participants assembled outside bookshops and froze at a certain time with a book in hand to advocate that reading and literacy is a good thing. This is quintessential Chinese in so much as it takes a marginally subversive activity that could potentially be used for 'Mob Sourcing' ™ (Oh yeah. I like that) and is turned into something constructive with a point, while of course having fun and not unsettling the authorities. Here is another picture from yesterdays event in Beijing that appeared in the newspapers.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
I really like this ability to embed and share music with people through blogs and widgets. It's a terrific recommendation/distribution model, and means that Adult Swim make it into my awareness and/or consideration set quickly easily and effectively.
I guess their next task is to find a way to get a few Euros out of me. I believe they can do this outside of the traditional revenue model and despite David's startling assertion in a brilliant post he just wrote that content production as we know it may be dead, or even the nature of content itself.
I'm guessing it depends a lot on the context but make sure to follow his thought leadership blog for more on the future of media and take time to check out David's seminal 'Where are the Joneses', for a glimpse I believe into the future of mobile content.
The other talent that caught my attention recently off the Radio One site are Crystal Castles. This video is for Rob because its all about the noise right?
However Chinese internet isn't really Web 2.0 yet. The Western model of identity and profile through Facebook and Myspace et al simple doesn't work here, but use of BBS is unbelievably masssive. I wrote about it over on Kaiser Kuo's excellent digital China blog some weeks ago here. The most dangerous focus group topic I ever raised was identity versus anonymity here in Beijing with quite progressive University students. Even mentioning that 99.9% of China's internet voice is completely anonymous on Bulletin Boards (BBS) against the thought of 'appearing' on the net as themselves was enough to silence a room full of respondents with fear, as if I were interviewing them for Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti in Soviet Russia. I'm not exaggerating.
Whether its the State, or the group or the family there's something about being identified or attaching a face to content that terrifies Chinese folk. Face is a big deal in Asia. However the internet is a very valuable and highly appreciated part of middle class Chinese ability to express themselves and articulate their thoughts. Sure a lot of it is flame wars but I think we all know that flaming is part of growing up on the net. Its not hard to wind people up via the interweb is it? Once that realization is discovered, we tend to move on. Possibly to identity/reputation management which is definitely the new game in town now that Google is in charge.
So here's the thing. 70% of Chinese BBS is built on a platform called Discuz which is owned by Comsenz. They just had another million bucks thrown at them by those guys at Google. Now the killer thing about Discuz is that it is partially open source. Open source is almost an heretical idea in Asia. The notion of 'sharing' is antithetical to the Asian mindset. Secrets and information are valued beyond anything else to the point that sometimes it would appear that some would prefer suffocation than sharing their oxygen supply with other parties. I really mean that, it also explains a lot of the copy mentality that exists in this part of the world. That's the irony to the insane fixation on secrets and not sharing stuff; nobody does anything really new and so everyone is watching everyone else to see if an incremental change or new direction is taken. It also explains why only one or two Asian brands, including Japan have brands that stand out.
But with Discuz there is an opportunity to create a mini platform between profile driven social networks and BBS topic driven net activity. I would suggest writing some code for some widgets to sit on top of Discuz driven BBS and then we have a half way house to facilitate cross networking of BBS and profile/identity management that exist with traditonal social networking sites. I'd even go so far as to encourage all the flamers to pick up a new moniker and treat it like they're in front of their family at all times. Like it's their new 'face'. ....Start afresh like!
So the trick now is to figure out where brands should hang out on the net with their customers and their respective communities. Nobody actually has a full breakdown of this information although Sam from See I See/China Internet Word of Mouth knows more than most.
A proposal I made was to do a standard quantitative research project of the top 500 BBS communities on the Chinese net. If that seems like a lot then hold steady because China is massive and there's more. I think the top 500 BBS communites across the metrics of 'most affluent', 'most populous' and 'most influential' would make sense. Then I would segment all those groups across the usual community interests that advertisers are most interested in, moms and families, car lovers, tech lovers, political, travel and all the usual useful-in-a-rough and-ready-way segmentation seen on those standard tick boxes we are asked to fill in when we subscribe to internet services.
Once this 'new digital media planning data' is available I'd then put forward a China 2.0 media plan. Using the fundamentals of Transmedia Planning and some viral work that embraced volume seeding, Lo-Fidelity video and the upside of risk, as talked about back here in the post Black Swan (and here too) I'd think about developing a plan for engaging with existing customers and potential customers on the basis of being interesting or useful to them. That plan should be strategically built on a broadcast to narrowcast basis or vice versa depending on the rationale for engaging/reenforcing something at an internet dialogue level first or television's monologue model. Its quite exciting when I start to think about creative briefs written with the net first or telly first as a rolling narrative direction. Lots of opportunities there.
The only part I'm still trying to figure out is how to 'represent' in those tens or hundreds of 'communities' on the net where it's important to be useful or interesting for specific clients and their needs. I've given it some thought and my instinct is to identify the people who are most active in and respected in the community. The trick is NOT to buy them, because they then lose their authority and respect (Shills they scream!), but to build up their reputation by giving them the ability to 'share' through either reputation enhancements of information sharing or favour dispensation such as Skype credits or Taboa (China's Ebay) coupons as an idea. It's crucial that all actions are transparent, open, honest and authentic otherwise it all falls apart. Brands aren't very good at that short list of Web 2.0 guidelines and it explains why most marketing 1.0 peeps and planners 1.0 types don't get it.
Ideas like the one above are unlikely to be implented here though any day soon. One of the most frustrating aspects of working in developing economies is just how many bad habits are picked up from the West and then applied cookie cutter style over here. The advertising format is pretty much the same for lazy/untalented marketers and agencies (insert pretty model with product implying that you too can be cool/beautiful/powerful). And then the methodologies for assessing the effectiveness of those campaigns are just lifted from the West without much thought to the notion that Asians have a different perception of the truth or how to articulate it. Even the focus group dynamic is completely stuffed given that cultural differences like Guanxi in China or Grenjai in Thailand exist. This is where even the sharing of inconsequential information is considered reckless and stupid. I did write back here how I would approach Asian research with a fresh mindset because the same old companies come back with the same old rubbish and its not hard to figure out better ways.
I've pointed out that a lot of the advertising people in China have sat on top of 15% GDP growth for 10-15 years and are at best unremarkable and at worst believe their own P.R. but I'm guessing that one or two might read the above and see the seeds of China 2.0 in there. It's all very exciting when I think about it - The End.
Update: I see that some of these ideas have started to materialize over on CWR blog.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Monday, 21 April 2008
Who could dispute that?
However in order to achieve that stability and meteoric growth a number of the usual freedoms which have evolved with many different institutions over several centuries in the West have needed to be limited. The discussion in the mainstream media is never critical of the Government, but I'm assured that within the privacy of the home it's quite normal. The point made to me earlier is that if China's backbone or the migrant worker classes were subjected to a mass media message more critical of China's own shortcomings, it would lead to massive instability. Our news institutions in the West are critical of our own failings but that's because the maturity to handle the criticism is generally there.
OK back to hypersensitivity of criticism. The Chinese are only ever exposed to the 'Good News' provided by the state run media, of success after success. It then comes as a bit of a shock when criticisms are leveled against this country despite the successful nature of accelerated wealth accumulation conditions provided by the State. It is even more of a rude affront as those criticisms come from the outside. No family can handle criticism from any outside party when constructive criticism from within is stifled and curtailed.
The video above prompted me to write this post because its weakness is the obvious. The author never ever concedes that China may have some responsibility for anything at all, at any time. I think it would be wise for the West to become better at admitting its own shortcomings in a more public manner with the institutions of our governments and their diplomatic agencies. Internal debate and criticism may be endemic in the West but unfortunately the Chinese get to see very little of type of content that makes it into the "comment is free" section of The Guardian. If the West were a little smarter about getting its message across to the Chinese, they'd be making Chinese language viral videos with the type of criticism we subject each other to on a daily basis.
It will probably take a few more years yet though, for the West to intellectually accommodate the East as an equal sibling and also for the East to come to terms with the responsibility of being on the word stage. The Olympics in China's case will be a good start for getting to know each other. However do expect more growing pains.
Saturday, 19 April 2008
It's quite a surprise that this film, And the spring comes - 立春 which is principally about artists and art in China, made it through the censors (SARFT) as although there are only a couple of scenes where the State reveals its ugly and invasive side the operatic leitmotif is pretty much that art is everything about truth and beauty the State has reason to fear the most. It's the unveiling of the human spirit in its purest and most uncontained form isn't it?
Aside from the homosexuality and sexual craving, even the mild partial nudity comes as a surprise in this movie after the recent blacklisting of Lust and Caution star Tang Wei from working in China. I found the operatic parts hugely moving with the end super bringing tears to my eyes. I don't want to say that its completely brilliant throughout as the narrative on occasions was a little patchy although sometimes deliberately so judging by the colour palette on the film poster
The photography, while good isn't say on a par with my favourite director Wong Kar Wai, although I think I could easily die quite happy if I expired while immersed in a scene from 'In The Mood For Love'. The colours in this film are a little washed out in the way that the light in Beijing really is most days. It's captured depressingly accurate, although when Beijing is unpolluted and shines it really does.
The lead actress Jiang Wenli is nothing less than a tour de force with one of the most powerful performances I've seen in a long time. She is married to the director Gu Changwei (Farewell my Concubine) and I understand put on considerable weight to fulfil this role. She acts so well that its difficult for other cast members to come across as better than average.
I want to give some additional thought to the scenes that I think are most important and so I'll probably come back with an update to this post but in the meantime here is a no subtitles clip from Tudou the Chinese version of Youtube and a strong urging that you try and see this important and definitive movie that encapsulates so much of what I love about the Chinese and yet why freedom of expression has yet to be fully understood and also why until it is fully embraced, movies like this will largely be a rare exception. More here too.
Friday, 18 April 2008
I have read comparisons that Beijing is like Tokyo in the sixties for construction with almost all of its architectural legacy being wiped out. There are still a few Hutongs left, although that courtyard and dimly lit, narrow alleyway type of life is now present in only scattered pockets behind the construction of super huge buildings. Beijing does gigantic urban sprawl with large buildings very very well.
Thursday, 17 April 2008
I think this young Chinese man who blogs in English has an international and mature perspective that corresponds more closely with the Olympic Slogan of One World One Dream. I blogged about it over here and questioned the sincerity and logic. Nothing would please me more than if the Chinese people proved me wrong on this.
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Blogspot blocked again April 14, 2008
Wikipedia and Blogspot unblocked April 1, 2008
Blogspot unblocked and blocked again January 14, 2008
Blogspot blocked again — ongoing saga June 1, 2007
Blogspot unblocked again March 29, 2007
Foreign blog providers (including Blogspot) blocked March 20, 2007
Blogspot working in Beijing again November 23, 2006
Blogspot blocked again October 27, 2006
Blogspot unblocked August 9, 2006
- Blogspot was first blocked in 2003
This article comes via the excellent Danwei.org
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Of course everything is contextual including the market's media literacy, the product, the category but if I was going to paint a broad stroke Fallon are body popping when it comes to advertising. Bravo!
We're all good at it aren't we. You only need to go on the BBS and IRC to see the screaming, shouting and finger pointing going on. I guess it all comes down to binary thinking. Stuff like 'Four legs good two, legs bad' which is from an allegorical tale called Animal Farm, that intelligent people from around the world should have access to read (that and Down and out in Paris and London). I can appreciate some of my Chinese American friends who were raised with pluralism of opinion and free access to any countries' media including China, feel that the picture below and doing the rounds on the net, is the sort of managed message that makes them feel uncomfortable.
One sent this to me: "In the streets of the March 14th event, the government is using these signs to promote 'unity' again in the country by saying, "Tibetans and Han Chinese are daughters of one mother. Our mother is called China."
Here is the poster with that slogan on being posted in Lhasa and on the Net
I couldn't help looking at it in a simple semiotics kind of way. Why is it illustration? Are those national costumes? Is there room for only one flag on the poster? Is there even a flag for Tibet? I did a quick search to find out and this is what I found?
It's quite distinct isn't it?
The British are famously reluctant to haul out a flag and wave it because we've seen how symbolism gets people fired up in the wrong way in tense situations. Nazi Germany springs to mind, and particularly memories of the ugliest people gathering round symbolism as if it were worth more than life itself which it most certainly isn't.
Just for reference here is Hong Kong's flag which is unquestionably part of China and has returned back to the fold under the good guidance of Chris Patten who was vilified at the time by Beijing as "sinner for a thousand generations" and is now broadly welcomed by the PRC as having managed a tricky job quite even handedly.
I wrote back here that what happened in 1949 is history and the riots on March 14 2008 were news. Separating history from news is important for constructive dialogue because the news in this instance was that the ethnic Tibetans rioted in Lhasa and attacked the ethnic Han Chinese. If we're going to be brutally honest, history discussions aren't embraced in China because pluralism of opinion isn't accepted, in much the same way that discussion of the Rape of Nanking isn't debated in Japan or Extraordinary Renditon, the loss of Habeas Corpus and the ugly stain of Guantanemo Bay for the 'Enemy Combatants/Bin Laden Clique that the Neo Conservatives and their unholy alliance with the Christian Fundamentalists have to smash and crush isn't accepted.
Look at that finger pointing in one direction and notice the other three pointing back at you.
Monday, 14 April 2008
Saturday, 12 April 2008
Friday, 11 April 2008
Anyhow an immediate thought was how controversial this could be if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time depending on the context (everything is after all contextual) and I think the recent spotlight in China has highlighted that.
I had a low key QIK incident of my own when making my way to the Forbidden City. I saw a crowd gathering around the kind of vehicle that only the very rich and powerful can afford to own, as ostentatious luxury cars in Beijing are frowned upon more so than Shanghai. The police were on the scene already, and I took a glance as I walked by only to see a young Caucasian male stuck in a crowd of 20 something Chinese who were looking on intently.
I thought he seemed like he needed some help and made my way over to offer a hand. He had a cut finger, the car was scratched and he explained to me that it had knocked him off his bike. I could see that the police were at a loss for what to do because they didn't speak English and both the boy wanted to get on his way and the car owner was eager to accept the cost of a spray job and avoid bureaucracy escalation. I called our brilliant HR Manager Grace who is way more of a planner than most planners in China, to see if we could get the cops to put the pad away and save everybody a few hours. But you know how it is with those who are used to orders. Once the pad is out its not worth their job to put it away and also the Olympics mean that they are very binary about sticking to the rules. Once I'd done all I could I thought I'd whip the N95 out and do a QIK scene which was beamed straight to the web. Those of you who follow my Tweets are immediately alerted to the live streaming nature of QIK (Althought China is still waiting to go full-on 3G)
Here it is:
If you get excited about where social media might take us all, you'll probably enjoy this post by Grumblemouse: San Fran torch relay is a social media extravaganza. The notion of a guy helping to organise a protest in San Francisco by watching a livestream of NBC and sending updates via Twitter, from his kitchen in London, is pretty cool, I think.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
I'm having an email discussion about the difference between using the word success or win in a tagline and trying to explain that it doesn't really matter because both options are bland. Anyway I think Absolut Vodka have stumbled into ahem, a territory (intentionally or otherwise) that I believe some brands should think about, because the level of internet participation and debate says to me that contentious issues should be embraced, and that quite possibly there is a role for brands to host that debate in a constructive and meaningful way. Far more important than the meaningless endlines that are constructed to cause offense to nobody and ultimately please nobody. We are after all in the business of engagement.
I also wrote about this topic over here because I think we use the word brand values when the corporations who often are the most powerful forces in our lives (work and environment) claim 'values' that are rarely committed to anything of consequence. This is a huge missed opportunity I believe. I also said over here that I don't think the U.S or its leader 'the great decider' have any credibility left in the eyes of the international community to define what is right or wrong (particularly in Tibet) given their own track record, and I think Absolut have tapped into that debate with this ad for vodka which highlights the history of Mexico as stolen land by the United States.
It has now had to be withdrawn because we all know that the United States are hypersensitive to criticism that ranges from the American Indians, to the Mexicans and then Slavery. It has always had a propensity to protect its own God given wealth and the American dream (Illusion?). How long is it before we see U.S. government announcements of intent to 'smash and crush the Mexican clique responsible for this malicious falsehood? Of course I've got my tongue firmly planted in my cheek (I'm very fond of many people from the U.S and especially its political history), but equally I don't think we should ignore that thousands upon thousands of people all round the world are ignoring our well crafted endlines and joining in on this debate about Mexico and the United States on the Internet over here and elsewhere.
I do believe that its better for the flamers, pious revisionists and neoconservative right-wingnuts to let off their steam in an internet forum than in real life...why? Because I know from experience that they then feel they have had a chance to voice their opinion, that they've been heard, that maybe someone cares about what they feel - Even if nobody gives a fig. We all like the sound of our own voice when we're off on one don't we?
Update: I see Dos Equis have also tapped into this sentiment before Absolut
Wednesday, 9 April 2008
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
These guys really made me think I'd lost my antenna for what's going on because their piercings and punk goth look had in my opinion overstepped what Beijing tolerates as acceptable. Its one thing to be rebellious but in my estimation their look (even though its ace) would surely lead to some kind of 'social alienation' in this part of China. I think Vivienne Westwood collector and fashion lecturer Robert De Niet in London would be particularly pleased with those bondage trousers which, like the rocking shoes she designed, are somewhat impractical but look insanely good. Clothes for heroes indeed.
I bumped into them later in that cheap clothes mall I've been raving about and had a chance to ask them a few more questions where they told me in quite good English that they were of Canadian/Korean descent and here to learn Chinese. This kind of pleased me because I couldn't believe how much attitude their style had, although I will always be slightly disappointed in a city that doesn't have room for a few Punk Goths. I understand that Worcester wasn't the sort of place to wear this stuff in 76/77 either!
John Grant has done a much more courageous job of showing the way forward with his excellent book The Green Marketing Manifesto and also his blog Greenormal which is a must-read for those who like the communications business and dig frugality dictated by the brutal logic of finite resources.
Some time back, we talked on his blog if Walmart or M&S would insist on environmental standards in the distribution and supply chain, it would have an impact on both China and the rest of the world. If you're not sure how this works, it's enough to know that Walmart single handedly pushed the world into using barcodes when insisting on its suppliers using them.
The same applies for pretty much anything else they put their mind to.
Now Walmart are famous for being miserly with suppliers and parsimonious at best with employees but there is a strong Christian ethic that runs through the organisation and its values, which when misguided are unpleasant but when constructive can be a force for good.
Following on their news last year to become the largest purchaser of solar panels ever, thus creating economies of scale for others, I read today in the essential China Digital Times that they are making a push in October for all their Chinese suppliers to follow environmental and sustainability guidelines. This will likely be a future trend for China and its suppliers, but if embraced can drive wealth creation that is not at the expense of the planet and is surely the single largest opportunity for making money in our lifetimes by rewiring the economy for sustainability. Anything else is just loose change isn't it?