I came across something on Twitter last night that made me go “Wow!” It was this 4-minute video interview between Emily Chang of Bloomberg West and Dr. Kai-Fu Lee. Dr. Lee is a venture capitalist for Chinese mobile app developers with an impressive Google-Apple-Microsoft resume and was recently named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people of 2013: How Will Social Media Change China?
In my opinion, commentary on Chinese Internet censorship falls into three themes:
- The morals and human rights of freedom of speech/information
- Assertions that freedom of access to information strengthens national economies
- Can U.S.-based websites that are popular everywhere but China get uncensored, and if so, will Chinese people even use them?
In the the video, Emily and Dr. Lee insightfully and accurately address all of the above themes in just over four minutes.
The only thing I would add is something that is always missing from media coverage on censorship in China: People outside China think that the government universally bars everyone from visiting certain websites, but actually you can access all the same sites as in the United States if you are privileged enough, meaning you have the money to pay for a VPN that makes your computer think it’s based outside China and the personal connections to find out which VPNs are the best to use at any given time. It’s more of a pain than using the Internet in the U.S., but it’s possible. Some businesses, such as global public relations agencies, pay for VPNs for their China offices’ computers so their workers can have unlimited website access.
Here is Emily and Dr. Lee’s full interview, which includes the segment above plus Dr. Lee’s thoughts on Apple and Google in China and China’s smartphone market: Kai-Fu Lee on China’s Mobile Market, Innovation.
On Friday, my employer found out that we won the PR News Platinum PR Award in Public Affairs for our work on the launch of Washington United for Marriage. The award was global in scale and the competition fierce; most of the other finalists were national campaigns by global public relations firms. Needless to say, the mood was quite jovial.
I’m very fortunate to have been part of the award-winning team. I’ve thought since the 2008 United States presidential campaign that public relations work for political causes could be interesting but that I would have to either start as a volunteer canvasser and work my way into public relations or work my way up to the CEO of a major public relations agency then switch over to politics. Instead, I spent about a year in business-to-business public relations – mostly media relations – for technology companies, and 3.5 years blogging and managing social media strategically for myself outside of work. Then, at the age of 25, in November 2011, I inserted myself into the Washington United for Marriage launch team and had a hand in day-to-day social media management; news release editing and distribution; and coverage tracking. In addition to being personally rewarding, the experience also was great for my professional development; it was heaviest news cycle and had more broadcast and general interest elements than any campaign I’ve ever been a part of. It was the most enjoyable part of my career so far, including college.
What I did wasn’t what I would consider public affairs in the sense that my job duties were similar to those of most junior-ish public relations professionals; although, because the point of the launch was to influence elected officials’ votes, in that sense it was public affairs. My goal in joining the team was never to get into public affairs, but rather to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just a tad after my return from two years in Beijing, to put my professional skills toward the political issue I care about most, LGBTQ rights, in my home state.
This launch fared as well as it could in other national awards without winning. It earned honorable mentions from the Ragan’s PR Daily Awards in Grand Prize PR Campaign of the Year and Best ‘Traditional Still Works’ PR Campaign and was a finalist in the Holmes Report Gold SABRE Award for Local/State Public Affairs.
Here is the rest of the Nyhus Communications team who worked on it: Roger Nyhus, Jennifer Morris, Joseph Vandenorth, Jonathan Misola and Quinn Majeski. Maggie Humphreys joined Nyhus 2 months following the launch and has been volunteering quite a bit throughout the campaign on phone banking. Big shout-out, too, to all of our clients and partners outside of Nyhus during launch, whom were essential to our success.
Let’s hope that Washington state votes on the right side of history in November to uphold civil marriage for same-sex couples in my home state. It would be the first time in U.S. history that same-sex marriage wins at the ballot box. I’m currently trying to figure out ways to help sway votes without spending a lot of money; one is participating in the Seattle Times’ #IDo74 campaign and another is going to a fundraiser on Capitol Hill this weekend.
Welcome to Seattle Guanxi’s first video interview. We hope to do many more of them. Our first is with Larry Johnson, a prominent Seattle-based writer who worked as a journalist in China in the 1980s and was part of a lot of firsts at the time. I meant to only interview him for about three minutes, but he had so many good things to say that the interview lasted nearly nine minutes. Video is below as well as a full text transcript, if you prefer to read instead of watch.
Beth: I am here today with Larry Johnson who has some really good work experience in China in journalism. Larry, first of all, can you tell us your background and give us your spiel about yourself?
Larry: Sure. I was a journalist in California and I got an offer to work with a magazine in China called “China Reconstructs,” and it was a one-year contract, and my wife and I both actually got an offer to do that. We went. This was way back in 1987, and we were there from ’87 to ’88.
Beth: I know this is a really loaded question, but what were kind of your strongest impressions of China at the time that you’d like to share?
Larry: Well, the most stark contrast between China and the United States at the time was that it was very regulated, authoritarian. We, for example, we were the first journalists working for this magazine, it’s called China Reconstructs, that we didn’t have a socialist background or a communist background. We were the first just regular journalists hired by the magazine. But, one of the things they did was they kept really tight control over you, and they watched you at all times, and the people where you lived, there was a hotel called the Friendship Hotel where we stayed, and the maids, everybody there, cleaners, they were all reporting to the government: what you did, where you went, who your friends were, especially who your Chinese friends were. So it was a pretty authoritarian atmosphere.
Beth: So did you get to travel in China at all for your work?
Larry: We did. We traveled all over. And this was another first. They allowed us to go as reporters and photographers for the magazine to Tibet, for example, which was pretty unusual to get to go to Tibet at that time. And also, we went to some of the Special Economic Zones they were setting up, starting in the ’80s, to bring in investment from overseas. We went to Fujian province, and that was pretty exciting. It was a thriving industrial area, bringing in factories from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong. So, we traveled and wrote and took photos for the magazine quite a bit.
Beth: At that time, and in China, how did you get your story ideas and find people to interview?
Larry: Well, it wasn’t hard coming up with story ideas, because China was one of the main topics for magazines and newspapers all over the world. In fact, before we left, we set up a little news service of our own, where we sent stories back to about half a dozen big newspapers across the country. And they would suggest ideas, and in our everyday work for the magazine, we’d come across story ideas that were great. It was a great environment for journalists at that time.
Beth: So did you work at all with people who would be seen as PR people, or was that kind of nonexistent at the time?
Larry: It was funny. They were all rolled into one. Journalists in China were seen as PR people, basically, at that time. One of the funny stories for when I was working for the magazine was one of the stories I did for them, they assigned me to go out and do a story on an old China hand, someone who had been in the country for years, from overseas, and helped them get established in various fields. This was a very successful businessman. So I went out, and I interviewed him at his hotel, took photos, came back, wrote the story up, sent it to my editors, and they immediately came over and said, “Wait a minute, you have your byline on this story. You should have his byline.” So, it was like, “What? I’m a journalist. I just interviewed this guy. And you want his byline on the story?” You know, and I’d done PR before, so if they’d said, “This is going to be a PR assignment,” I would have understood it, but I was really kind of shocked and offended that they were treating me as a journalist as a PR person for this guy. And it eventually ran, despite my protests, under his name.
Beth: I also wanted to ask you if you’re familiar with the term “guanxi.”
Larry: Oh, of course.
Beth: How do you define guanxi, because it’s one of the words in our blog title?
Larry: Well, guanxi at the time, just basically bribes, and still is. I mean, I haven’t been to China in years, but I understand that guanxi is still, kind of an everyday thing. For dealing with, especially, government officials, you want to take them presents. That’s another nice name for it. You give them presents, and you’ll get what you want. When we traveled, and we traveled quite a bit, we would hire someone to get our tickets for us because they knew how to work with guanxi. We didn’t. We’re used to going up, getting in line, paying our fare, and getting on. Well if you do that, at the time we were there, you would never get a ticket to a plane or train, or you wouldn’t get into hotels or anything. So we’d hired someone, they’d give them a little extra, so they could give to the officials some present, in this case, money, and you’d get a really nice ticket, better than most people.
Beth: One thing that’s kind of famous about Chinese journalism is the blur between advertising and editorial content, and bribing journalists and things like that. Did you ever get bribed yourself as a journalist or was it different because you were a foreigner?
Larry: I think it was different because I was a foreigner. No one ever offered me bribes. They knew I was working for the Chinese magazine as a quote: “foreign expert,” and so I was never approached, never offered anything. Actually I went to a travel fair. A bunch of travel agents in China. They suggested that I do things like come to their area of the country and write a story about it, and they would pay certain fees, you know. But they do that in this country, too, they offer to pay your plane travel or train ticket or whatever to do a story on it. So it didn’t seem any different than what I was used to in the United States. But I know, my colleagues, they were offered money and talked about it a little bit, and we talked about the differences between journalism in this country and the way it was done in many other countries overseas at the time.
Beth: So I see that you have copies of magazines with you. Would you like to show them to the camera?
Larry: I do. This is a copy of the magazine when we were working for it in 1987. It was called “China Reconstructs,” and it was founded by Madame Sun Yat-sen, originally. And then in 1998 or 9, maybe 1989, they changed their name to make it sound more modern. “Reconstructs” sounded like the old communist idea, so they changed it to this, and it became a little more modern. More use of color, a little bit better magazine. It’s still basically a PR magazine for the country. I would not call it a journalism magazine. It’s more finding good things about the country to write about, good things, good people, and putting on a good face to the world.
Beth: This has been really great. Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
Larry: Well, I think, I would just encourage people to do things kinds of things, to go somewhere overseas, especially in countries where journalism, public relations and public affairs work is considerably different than what we have in the United States, just to get the difference and kind of understand how other people operate.
Beth: Lastly, how can we find you online?
In honor of Lady GaGa’s 25th birthday, I’ve embedded her Google Goes GaGa interview and written up my favorite quotes from it. I’ve also embedded the performance of hers that was the tipping point in my belief that’s she has genuine charisma and talent as a live performer instead of just as an artistic director and composer.
Google Goes GaGa: same video on YouTube and Youku
Favorite quotes from this interview:
“The most important thing I think with creativity is that you honor your creativity and that you don’t ever ignore it or go against what that creative image is telling you because of what society is projecting on you.”
“My whole life is a performance piece, so I don’t need to have my picture taken to feel that I’m in a moment of art.”
“Honesty and the truth is always what will set you free.”
“If the artist is constantly molding ourselves and changing, abridging what we do for the machine, then the artist becomes part of the machine. I don’t want to be part of the machine. I want the machine to be part of me.”
“I do believe that women in pop music have a very bad rap, and I think people have learned to expect very little of us, and I think it’s unfair. It’s very prejudiced.”
“I worship my fans, is what I’m trying to say. They are my religion.”
Speechless on The Ellen DeGeneres Show: same video on YouTube and Youku
As a background on my Lady GaGa fandom, she is not my favorite celebrity or pop star – that would be Adam Lambert – but I love her music, and she is one of my idols. She is my age, and I find her passion and drive to succeed in her career as well as her willingness to be controversial in order to live up to her potential inspiring. She was the only celebrity I blogged about in 2010, and she was the go-to celebrity example I used in my classes in China.
Last night, as part of my ticket to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Contemporary 4 dress rehearsal, I got to see a lecture that consisted of artistic director Peter Boal interviewing acclaimed choreographer Alexai Ratmansky, who choreographed Contemporary 4′s closing ballet, DSCH.
Snippets from Alexai’s answers that I found most interesting:
• He says Russian dancers made a lot more effort to learn from the West until pretty recently. He thinks this new trend in discouraging Western influence is rooted in the field’s influentials’ fear that this leads to loss of Russian artistic and cultural identity.
• He tries to use a new group of dancers for each ballet he choreographs.
• When given free reign for choreography inspiration, music is his main source, not literature or dancers. He can remember at what point in his youth he started imagining choreography whenever he listened to music.
• The personalities of dancers who he works with when choreographing a new ballet influence the ballet’s story aspect.
• As part of traditional Russian ballet training, he began a comprehensive performing arts education at age 10 that included academic history lessons. To this day he is still passionate about studying ballet history.
• He pays attention to contemporary-style barefoot choreography because he admires certain choreographers in this field but prefers to choreograph in the classical point style.
• He says he could talk for a long time about differences between Western and Russian ballet, but one of the main differences is that Russian ballet’s center of movement is the shoulders, whereas with Western ballet it’s the feet.
In terms of my review of Contemporary 4 itself, I thought its variety as well as interesting concepts and themes were so entertaining that I’ve been encouraging others to see it.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s website’s wonderful Contemporary 4 multimedia page of course contains nothing from DSCH, but includes this rehearsal video of for Place a Chill’s tutting, a dance style I personally really enjoy watching and therefore loved last night:
Nyhus Communications founder and CEO Roger Nyhus has worked as a communications director and advisor for the new U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke. Therefore, Roger was in a couple Seattle television news segments last week, embedded below with permalinks to their spots on the Nyhus blog.
I couldn’t find much U.S. news coverage of Locke on Tudou or Youku, so in case my China readers can’t view the above, I give you this Tudou playlist of Locke’s appointment: http://www.tudou.com/playlist/p/l11595087.html.
Correction: Picasso in Seattle did not contain Musée Picasso’s complete works, only 150 of them.
I recently caught the tail end of “Picasso in Seattle”, a documentary by local PBS station KCTS 9. Before watching, I assumed that the exhibition was like the Pacific Science Center‘s Harry Potter: The Exhibition in that it was worth paying more than usual to go see but not unique to Seattle. I was wrong. Seattle is the first American city to show the Musée Picasso‘s complete works, which are travelling the world while the gallery undergoes renovations.
It seems that most of the documentary is a general biography of Picasso focusing on how his life, especially love life, influenced his art. However, the most fascinating part to me is on why Musée Picasso chose the Seattle Art Museum over other hosts, quoting the Musée Picasso’s director that she chose Seattle because it has a “new brand” as a city. It just so happens that KCTS 9 uses this segment as the documentary preview video on their site:
One of the most exciting aspects of watching this documentary is the obvious public relations participation by the Seattle Art Museum required to make the documentary’s production happen. I’ve admired the museum’s public relations efforts ever since its reopening and simultaneous re-branding driven by Pyramid Communications.
This is an oldish video of a VIP view of back-to-back quintessentially Chinese field shows as part of the opening ceremony for my employer Beijing Geely University’s hosting two track and field competitions, one university-wide and one city-wide. These are perfect examples of tons and tons of people doing the exact same dance in perfect synchronization, what performances at Chinese ceremonies are known for. I missed the beginning of the female students’ dance because it took me a second to realize I absolutely needed to be filming. The boys’ dance is done to the theme song of the university.
Apologies for poor camera quality. You can’t really see or hear details but the view of the massive synchronization is still there.
And yes, I was wearing one of those white hats that many people sitting in front of me were. Someone handed them out to everyone sitting in my area, and they have the Geely University logo on the front.
Watch the same video on YouTube here.
Watch the same video on YouTube here.
This is the third and likely final post in a video series of people making my favorite common Beijing street dishes. I hope that this can provide an insight into Beijing food culture for people who don’t live here. The first post is here. The second one is here.
I believe these kebabs are made of chicken cartilage. I am a vegetarian, and kebabs made of bread and vegetables are pretty boring to watch, so I waited until I was with a friend ordering a meat kebab to shoot a kebab video. I realize kebabs on the street are not unique to China, but they are by far the most common street food in Beijing, especially at night.
Prominent in student life at my alma mater are student groups who perform pop song covers a Capella. The men’s group, On the Rocks, is active in social media as a promotional tool; they have a Twitter account and broadcast their performances live online. About a month ago, they uploaded a performance of Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance” with annotations onto YouTube as a fundraiser for their trip to Los Angeles to audition for the NBC television show “Sing Off.” The video currently has more than 3 million views.
Last night, as I was watching the original music video for “Bad Romance” on the Chinese site Youku, I noticed On The Rocks’ performance video, uploaded by YoutubeSpace, as a suggested related video. The video has more than 300,000 views and about 300 comments (in Chinese). I shared it on my own RenRen and Q Zone profiles (with a note that this was my alma mater, of course), then found out one of my good Chinese friends had already shared it on his RenRen as well before learning that the video had any relation to me whatsoever. On RenRen, the video has more than 41,000 share views and 233,000 views.
Watch the video on Youku, YouTube, or both below:
And if you want to compare the choreography and arrangement, here’s Lady GaGa’s version. (Nudity warning for those who haven’t seen it already.)