Sunday, August 29, 2021

寻衅滋事 [Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble]: China Tightens Regulation of Celebrity Culture as it Reforms Education and Develops Insights From "Social Mentality" Studies


I have been looking at the ways in which states have increasingly sought to (again) attain a greater control of the management of the popular culture and the way in which the masses approach, understand, value, and embrace cultural knowledge.  China has proven to be an easy site for study primarily because its efforts have been both quite visible and unashamedly open. The West  is working in parallel, but as a more fractured  amalgam of ecologies of collectives, it is both more difficult to trace and much less stable.  Either way, the goal is an important one--the management of perceptions of customs and traditions, of the way that things are accepted as "natural."

In the case of China, I have focused on two related but distinct thrusts in the assertion of leadership by the vanguard (as the leading force of society--in the West there are many collectives vying for the authority of a "leading societal force"). The first focused on longitudinal efforts--the education of the young and the disciplining of the intelligentsia (here). The second focused on a sustained and quite objectives based development of fields of study on the management of what is called social mentality (here).  

For this post I focus on an increasingly important, and potentially challenging source of cultural power in China--celebrities and their fans. Liberal democratic collectives, of course, have long ago embedded and exploited celebrity culture (influencers, theatrical people, "personalities with followers, Tik Tok stars, talk media mouthpieces and the like). They have become large parts of the cultural landscape along with traditional actors--religious leaders, institutional big-wigs, public intellectuals, industrialists with substantial media presence, and political figures. To that extent, they have become potent but are deeply embedded in the culture machine and in this sense support rather than challenge the institutional structures which are designed to withstand constant movements of cultural orthodoxy (at least within normative limits).  Those normative limits, that is system tolerance of movement and deviation, has been increasingly tested since the 1960s, but the liberal democratic system has been stable enough to eventually absorb these movements.  That, in part, is grounded in the fundamental institutional structure that is made stronger by factional fracture (again within tolerable limits, the definition of which also tends to be a moving target). 

Leninist systems necessarily approach this source of cultural power from a different perspective.  With the leading social forces, its political vanguard, at the center, the systemic toleration of autonomous sources of societal production becomes much more problematic.  That problem increases as a function of its intersection with the objectives of the vanguard, it basic line, and its definition of the sphere of activity that are meant to be undertaken only under and through the guidance and leadership of the vanguard. These normative limits are also constantly tested, and its constitution are also dynamic. The relationship between the Communist Party and celebrity culture is a great example.  Once understood as innocuous enough (again within the limits of systemic toleration, which started quite broadly), celebrity culture has become more of a challenge as it grows in power and influence in ways that might rival that of its liberal democratic analogues. What is tolerable, or even cliche, in liberal democratic states, however, can easily be constituted a direct threat to the policies, objectives and (most dangerously) the authority of the vanguard.  

Pix Credit HERE
Celebrity culture was originally treated (mostly) as harmless and distracting--fashion, talent, discussion of roles (again within bounds that avoided politics or criticism of the vanguard). Celebrities  did not appear to threaten the political order and as long as they stayed out of politics and avoided scandal, they helped pass the time. Nonetheless, in this era when everything is political or cultural (that certainly has been the trajectory of thinking in liberal democratic systems as well) it would not be long before the consequences of celebrity--fans and influence, would draw attention. And the attention would become more suspicious as celebrities and their fans began to appear to be less compatible with their exploitation  in the service of vanguard goals. Individual lapses were easily identified and controlled, and celebrities wore golden collars--they could fairly easily be guided to avoid sensitivities.  But once celebrity culture spawned substantial and focal fan bases, things appear to have changed.  Fan bases from a Leninist perspective looks suspiciously like mass mobilization.  Mass mobilization for objectives consonant with vanguard objectives might be tolerated or exploited.  But where its autonomy collided with (changing and broadening) vanguard  policies and objectives (in this case the control of cultural movement and the training of the young), or when it becomes to collide with great public societal campaigns (the Socialist Core Values, the campaigns for trust and trustworthiness) things become more complicated.  

Of course Chinese social credit regimes might have been deployed to manage these autonomous collectives and exploit them (harness their influence potential) to align with vanguard objectives.  But this was not a path chosen by the vanguard decision making bureaucracy (perhaps a problem of capacity, perhaps a problem of inter-vanguard fighting, perhaps a normative decision based on a rejection of the use of data driven metrics based nudging strategies; it is not clear). Instead, as recently reported by Reuters, the vanguard appears to be choosing a more old fashioned path, one that is reactive rater than proactive, and one that is likely to produce additional challenges that the next generation of leaders will be forced to face because of the generational blinkers of the current collective assigned the task of domesticating celebrity culture.

Pix Credit HERE
China cracked down on what it described as a "chaotic" celebrity fan culture on Friday, barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and regulating the sale of fan merchandise after a series of controversies involving artists. The country's top internet watchdog said it would take action against the dissemination of "harmful information" in celebrity fan groups and close down discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals or "provoke trouble". Platforms will no longer be able to publish lists of popular celebrity individuals and fan groups must be regulated, the watchdog said. (Brenda Goh and David Stanway, "China cracks down on 'chaotic' celebrity fan culture after scandals," Reuters (27 August 2021))

Also on the chopping block was any sort of televised interactive activity that has the slightest alignment with the practices of liberal democratic states--for example voting to express collective sentiment . "

The internet regulator is also barring variety shows from charging fans to vote online for their favourite acts and has spoken out against enticing netizens to buy celebrity merchandise. Regulators need to "increase their sense of responsibility, mission and urgency to maintain online political and ideological security," the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement. (Ibid.)

Pix Credit: HERE
But it is not just the voting.  There has been some misgiving about the way that such devices instill values that may corrupt.  More immediately it appears to also affect the ability of youth to function appropriately in the society being crafted for them by the vanguard. These clubs "have also been criticised for their influence over minors and for causing social disorder, as competing fan clubs have been seen trading verbal abuse online or spending large amounts of money to vote for their favourite stars on idol competition programmes." (Ibid,.). But it also represents a large industry in its own right--one substantially beyond the guidance of the vanguard: A "local newspaper The Paper projecting the country's "idol economy" could be worth 140 billion yuan ($21.59 billion) by 2022." Ibid. Still, it is the chaos of mass politics by other means to likely worries at least some within the vanguard senior leadership. Sports and entertainment for for millennia been the usual way in which mass political expression can be realized--sometimes with substantial political effect--when formal politics is subject to different rules. The Nika Riots in the Eastern Roman Empire provides an ancient template (here).

A conservative view of Leninism might view this later decision as necessary.  Voting and the imposition of collective decision making from the bottom might be understood as a challenge to the core Leninist principle of democratic centralism.  On the other hand, democratic centralism cannot be read in isolation in Chinese theory (again practice is an entirely different world form time to time in ways that poses additional challenges not considered here).  The Chinese mass line suggests the structures for encouraging, exploiting and managing popular sentiment in ways that make it easier and less risky for the exercise of democratic centralism by putting the conversations between guiding leadership and mass sentiment at the center of leadership working styles. 

Pix Credit HERE
Most interesting, of course, is the implicit rejection of the managerial approach of big data and social credit regimes (especially ironic in the context of internet based regulation and leadership guidance), and the reliance on very old school administrate  (and inefficient case by case) discretionary administration through the use of that old stand by--"provoking trouble." Not that there isn't a role for this catch all in a Leninist system (though the arbitrariness of its application especially when not used as a top down disciplinary tool, can be risky for the long term trajectories of authority). "Celebrities have also been directly criticised. On Tuesday, the China Federation of Literary and Art Workers Professional Ethics Committee held a forum in Beijing that issued a proposal advocating strict self-discipline for actors and other entertainers." ("China to crack down on 'chaotic' online fan culture; iQiyi halts 'idol competition' programmes," Straits Times (27 August 2021).

And yet it might have been worth considering whether the this approach aligned and creates synergies with the vanguard's efforts at managing culture and ideological training in the education system, and more importantly, whether it provides maximum benefits  within the insights provided by the emerging study of social mentality.  Suppression and resort to ancient techniques also ought to be considered in light of the trajectories suggested by emerging principles of New Era thinking. Here there is no question that celebrity culture represents an important target for regulation and now falls within the basic line of the Communist Party and its New Era objectives ("China has stringent rules on content ranging from video games to movies to music, and censors anything it believes violates core socialist values." "China cracks down on 'chaotic' celebrity fan culture). The ideological question, then, is whether is this an approach consistent with that ideology or now a distraction from its forward looking agendas. 

In any case, this policy thrust might best be understood as deeply embedded in what appears to be a large scale multi-objective policy that might well have been long in the planning and now executed seriatim along its various front.  The Reuters reporting follows below.  More reporting here, here, and here. For sympathetic reporting in Chinese see eg HERE (每个人都能感受到,一场深刻的变革正在进行! [Everyone can feel that a profound change is underway!]). Describing the chaos in the entertainment industry it then connected the actions against the entertainment industry with other actions against big data and credit enterprises this way:

金融领域、文化领域到政治领域都在发生一场深刻的变革,或者也可以说是一场深刻的革命。这是一次从资本集团向人民群众的回归,这是一次以资本为中心向以人民为中心的变革。因此,这是一场政治变革,人民正在重新成为这场变革的主体,所有阻挡这场以人民为中心变革的都将被抛弃。这场深刻的变革也是一次回归,向着中国共产党的初心回归,向着以人民为中心回归,向着社会主义本质回归。[A profound change is taking place in the financial field, the cultural field, and the political field, or it can be said to be a profound revolution. This is a return from the capital group to the masses of the people, and this is a transformation from capital-centered to people-centered. Therefore, this is a political change, the people are becoming the main body of this change again, and all those who block this people-centered change will be discarded. This profound change is also a return, a return to the original intention of the Chinese Communist Party, a return to the people-centered nature, and a return to the essence of socialism.]. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Social Sciences in China Press: "推动社会心态研究迈向大数据化" [Promote social mentality research towards big data]

Pix Credit: HERE

Social Sciences in China Press (SSCP), established in 1979 under the administration of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) maintains an interesting website where on occasion fairly important changes to academic and research perspectives may be found--especially important are those academic objectives with significant public policy implications (at home in China and abroad). 

A recent posting provides a case in point: the (deceptively casual) discussion of an important turn in the development and use of big data, and data driven analytics in social science research. 
如何审慎地借助大数据时代的前沿方法,更充分捕捉社会变迁中的新现象、新问题,更好地拓展网络时代社会学研究的新局面,值得学界深入探讨。[Social construction and social governance in the Internet age are facing new opportunities and challenges. How to prudently use the cutting-edge methods of the big data era to more fully capture the new phenomena and new problems in social changes, and to better expand the new situation of sociological research in the network age, is worthy of in-depth discussion by the academic community.] (特别策划:互联网与中国社会变迁 [Special Plan: The Internet and China's Social Changes])
To that end, a series of essays elaborate two goals--one technical, and the other socio-political.  The first seeks to describe an objectives based trajectory for big data, analytics social science research. This takes up much of the focus of the materials developed.  In the process, though, they suggest the forms of research that will be favored in the coming years--and by omission, those research approaches and objectives that will be either marginalized or disfavored. 

More important, perhaps, is the societal dimension of the turn toward big data based social science research, its societal-political dimension.  Here big data analytics in social science has its first task--to develop the means necessary to develop popular trust in and acceptance of both big data research as legitimate, and its approaches as trustworthy.

推动社会心态研究迈向大数据化. 社会心态,一般指在一段时间内弥散在整个社会或社会群体、社会类别中的社会共识、社会情绪和感受以及社会价值取向。积极健康的社会心态是社会稳定的前提,是社会治理及其创新得以有效展开的社会心理基础。客观准确地认识和把握一个时期的社会心态,是社会治理创新的应有之义。[Promote social mentality research towards big data. Social mentality generally refers to the social consensus, social emotions and feelings, and social value orientation that are dispersed throughout society or social groups, social categories over a period of time. A positive and healthy social mentality is the prerequisite for social stability and the social psychological basis for the effective development of social governance and its innovation. To objectively and accurately understand and grasp the social mentality of a period of time is the proper meaning of social governance innovation.]
Social mentality research proceeds apace (see, e.g., HERE; and HERE).  But it has greater utility than the rationalization of individual and collective behaviors. Strategically undertaken, it serves to develop the ways in which trust is manifested, and recognized.  "From this, it can examine how individuals and society construct each other and form the most macro-psychological relationship. It can also examine the shared reality and norms that are diffuse between subjects. Strength-the side that the social mentality of the macro group influences the shaping of the individual mentality. By analyzing the process and results of the construction of this psychological relationship, we can clarify the mechanism of the occurrence and development of social mentality to a greater extent." (推动社会心态研究迈向大数据化).
The essay is divided into 9 parts, each of which includes links for further elaboration: (1) 服务“国之大者”:大数据时代社会学定量研究创新 [Serving the "Greatness of the Country": Sociological Quantitative Research Innovation in the Era of Big Data]; (2) 计算社会学范式革命开拓新空间 [The revolution of computational sociology paradigm opens up new disciplinary space]; (3) 复杂社会研究中的计算及其局限 [Computation and its limitations in complex social research]; (4)  数字化赋予社会结构变迁新动力 [Digitalization gives new impetus to social structure change]; (5) 数字时代的城乡治理与乡村振兴 [Urban and Rural Governance and Rural Revitalization in the Digital Age]; (6) 社会治理数字化转型:问题指向与发展趋势 [Digital transformation of social governance: problem orientation and development trend]; (7) 互联网促进零工经济焕发生机 [The Internet promotes the revitalization of the gig economy]; (8) 新型消费驱动日常生活数字化 [New consumption drives the digitization of daily life]; (9) 推动社会心态研究迈向大数据化 [Promote social mentality research towards big data].
The essay along with the elaboration of the 9th point (推动社会心态研究迈向大数据化 [Promote social mentality research towards big data]) follows below in the original Chinese and in a crude English translations.

Friday, August 27, 2021

習思想滲各級教材 小學重「政治啟蒙」 革命傳統、國安、勞動教育 9課題「融入」大中小學 [Xi's thought is embedded in teaching materials at all levels; primary schools to emphasize "political enlightenment," revolutionary traditions, national security, labor education, and a 9 topics curriculum are "integrated" into universities, middle schools and primary schools]


Pix Credit HERE


It is with no great irony that even as I was posting a video discussion of Chapter 18 my book, Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems', (links here) about what became the increasingly problematic relationship between the Hong Kong education system and the central authorities, the repercussions of which would be felt with increasing singularity after 2020 (see HERE),  the Chinese central authorities announced in 25 August 2021, a deepening of patriotic and ideological education starting from primary education and reaching up through  university education.

As it is only right, given the ironies here, that some of that reporting originates in Hong Kong's Online newspaper, Ming Pao (明報) : 習思想滲各級教材 小學重「政治啟蒙」 革命傳統、國安、勞動教育 9課題「融入」大中小學 [Xi's thought is embedded in teaching materials at all levels; primary schools to emphasize "political enlightenment," revolutionary traditions, national security, labor education 9 topics curriculum are "integrated" into universities, middle schools and primary schools]. The announcement came from the   National Textbook Committee which issued a number of textbook guides. Most significant among them was the integration of "Xi Jinping New Era Socialism Thought with Chinese Characteristics"in the curriculum. 

The control of education is, again, a central concern of state authorities throughout the world.  It has again become common knowledge that those who control the inculcation of baseline principles, ideologies and ways of viewing the world on the young can then control authoritatively all that flows from it--from politics, to economics, to cultural and societal ordering.  Education, then, serves as an important political space which serves the state (or other authoritative drivers of collective cultural discipline) in its inter-generational management (and more importantly) preservation of "correct" thinking about the orthodox collective political-economic-societal model. While it is necessary to ensure the proper socialization of a population subject to collective orthodoxy in appropriate values and perspectives, the naturalization of those values and perspectives in the young is critical.  This is not merely a Leninist preoccupation. In that respect every vibrant ( that is not decaying culture) is ruthlessly "woke", and quite strategically so, in its relation to the education of its masses, but especially the young.  The only real issue (again in a living culture) touch on the mechanics and allocation of that power to determine the content of normative transmission--who gets to be the priestly caste of political-economic-culture in a society. Catholic education in 19th Century America, the form in which 19th and 20th century history is taught in Korea and Japan, and the the battles over the inclusion of "Critical Race Theory" in the curricula of American public school, are merely the tips of a very large iceberg of the politics not merely of culture, but of control of the lens through which all knowledge may be given "correct" or "approved" meaning.  

This represents a much more public and structured effort to develop a formal institutional framework for the naturalization of a specific episteme (the premises through which knowledge is understood and meaning made) within China that guides the development of the doxa of the masses (their common knowledge) and that informs techne of the applied sciences and of vocational aspects of education (STEM etc.). The Chinese Communist Party has become increasingly preoccupied with this issue as the full ramifications of the infiltrations, and its challenges, from a  generation of Reform and Opening Up, become both clear and consequential.  The authorities have responded both defensively and proactively.  Defensive actions have included a much closer scrutiny and a tightening up of education arrangements with non-Chinese and Non-Marxist Leninist institutions within China, and a closer surveillance on non-STEM education for its citizens, especially when it focuses on trends, ideas, thinking and ideology from abroad. Proactively, the Chinese central authorities, starting well before the 2019 protests erupted in Hong Kong and almost from the start of the leadership of Xi Jinping, have sought to develop and impose a curriculum of patriotic education within the education system.  This is not meant to displace the technical education already a strong component of Chinese educational pedagogy.  Instead it is meant to frame that study by contextualizing it within the political appropriate perspective--that of Chinese Marxist Leninism as it has developed from
Mao Zedong through Xi Jinping. It thus seeks to apply the principle of episteme that "In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice." (Foucault, Michel. [1966] 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (NY: Vintage Books) p. 183.) That episteme now, and more formally, is encapsulated in New Era thinking and the basic line of the CCP.


Pix Credit: HERE (Florida Public Schools 1971)
But it is one thing to develop the architecture of a robust episteme; it is quite another to see it operationalized.  No matter how important the central authorities think this is, no matter how much pomp and ceremony is affixed to its articulation and presentation to the masses, such programs remain dead letter in the absence of a large, well educated, and dedicated cadre of teachers dedicated to taking the task seriously. It also requires a set of  metrics with bite.  The West has had its share of legislatively pronounced efforts at building episteme in specific areas.  Sometimes they are successful--but usually when they are deeply embedded within the core texts of every field. It is when they are distilled and presented separately that, in its implementation, such projects tend to be observed strictly in form and mocked in execution.   Bit when they are embedded across the curriculum, they can be marinalized, parodied, or subtly criticized within the broader structures of presentation. In China, as in the West, no one has bothered since the crude and heavy handed efforts of the Cultural Revolution to deeply embed the episteme of Chinese Marxist Leninism in the core texts of the curriculum so that it becomes both baseline and that path to the representation of reality through which everything else is understood, in this way substantially invisible and natural to the study of a field in which it appears.  Nor does it appear that the state has trained (and disciplined) a very large cadre of teachers enthusiastic and knowledgeable in the concepts and pedagogy of this episteme. 

If one is to believe the Ministry, though, that is precisely the project attempted now, a deep dive into catechismic education 2.0. These are large scale comprehensive culture changing projects that take a generation of unrelenting penitence and a commitment to the presentation of its premises and the comprehensive way in which it shapes the knowledge of fields and the world around us. These are the three factors that marked the success of the culture changing critical movement in the United States--the embedding of its premises across disciplines taught by a generation of educators instilled with the naturalness and need for this reality assessing perspective, teaching from a large body of materials created to support and develop these episteme. In the absence of that it is likely that the large gap between the elaboration of a theory of teaching and of its curriculum and its successful application will not shrink any time soon.  Where the project is not comprehensively and seamlesslyapplied, and where local culture is strong and indifferent, the risk that detached projects such as this, appended to the "real" curriculum there is a real risk that the project at theological levels will be treated either as a joke, more subtly mocked in the teaching, or  reduced to a necessary obligation producing resistance to its teachings rather than acceptance.  That, certainly, points to the danger realized in the United States--and elsewhere. But the rewards of success may be worth the risk--and technology (assuming the state has enough interest to put sufficient resources behind the policy) could be effective in tying this approach the the nudging inherent in social credit systems.

The reporting by Ming Pao (明報) : 習思想滲各級教材 小學重「政治啟蒙」 革命傳統、國安、勞動教育 9課題「融入」大中小學 [Xi's thought is embedded in teaching materials at all levels; primary schools to emphasize "political enlightenment," revolutionary traditions, national security, labor education 9 topics curriculum are "integrated" into universities, middle schools and primary schools] follows in its original Chinese and in a very crude English translation.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

19. Conversations About the Book "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems': Chapter 18 (Sunday 20 October 2019) Students at the Center and the University Response --CUHK Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Rocky S. Tuan's Open Letter 中大校長段崇智教授公開信


Pix Credit: Hong Kong protests: Sit-in held for student shot by police during National Day chaos, school refuses to condemn use of force

“言有尽而意无穷” [Words and meanings are endless]. 

In the run up to the book launch scheduled for 13 July 2021 (registration required but free HERE), the folks at Little Sir Press have organized a series of short conversations about my new book, "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems'." 

About the Book: Hong Kong Between “One Country” and “Two Systems” examines the battle of ideas that started with the June 2019 anti-extradition law protests and ended with the enactment of the National Security and National Anthem Laws a year later. At the center of these battles was the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. By June 2020, the meaning of that principle was highly contested, with Chinese authorities taking decisive steps to implement their own understanding of the principle and its normative foundations , and the international community taking countermeasures. All of this occurred well before the 2047 end of the 1985 Sino-British Joint Declaration (中英联合声明) that had been the blueprint for the return of Hong Kong to China. Between these events, global actors battled for control of the narrative and of the meaning of the governing principles that were meant to frame the scope and character of Hong Kong’s autonomy within China. The book critically examines the conflict of words between Hong Kong protesters, the Chinese central and local authorities, and important elements of the international community. This decisive discursive contest paralleled the fighting for control of the streets and that pitted protesters and the international community that supported them against the central authorities of China and Hong Kong local authorities. In the end the Chinese central authorities largely prevailed in the discursive realm as well as on the streets. Their victory was aided, in part by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. But their triumph also produced the seeds of a new and potentially stronger international constitutional discourse that may reduce the magnitude and scope of that success. These essays were written as the events unfolded. Together the essays analytically chronicle the discursive battles that were fought, won and lost, between June 2019 and June 2020. Without an underlying political or polemical agenda, the essays retain the freshness of the moment, reflecting the uncertainties of the time as events unfolded. What was won on the streets of Hong Kong from June to December 2019, the public and physical manifestation of a principled internationalist and liberal democratic narrative of self-determination, and of civil and political rights, was lost by June 2020 within a cage of authoritative legality legitimated through the resurgence of the normative authority of the state and the application of a strong and coherent expression of the principled narrative of its Marxist-Leninist constitutional order. Ironically enough, both political ideologies emerged stronger and more coherent from the conflict, each now better prepared for the next.

The book may be purchased through AMAZON (kindle and paperback), 

I am delighted, then, to make available the next in the series of video recordings of conversations about the book with my former research assistant Matthew McQuilla (Penn State International Affairs MIA 2021). Today we discuss Chapter 18 (Sunday 20 October 2019) Students at the Center and the University Response --CUHK Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Rocky S. Tuan's Open Letter 中大校長段崇智教授公開信. 

Pix Credit: HERE
This chapter points to a pivotal moment in the development of the discursive position of the protesters and the elite communities (in this case universities) in which they were then significantly embedded.  It speaks to the way that universities saw themselves as bridges, and as both within and outside the political turmoil swirling around them in which their students (and some of their faculty) were assuming increasingly visible and prominent roles. To some extent the discursive position adopted in response reflects the way that Hong Kong universities were deeply embedded in global elite university cultures along with their sensibilities and the way in which they saw the world and their place within it. The position was internationalist (or at least transnational), networked, and to some extent deeply inculcated in the values of globalization and global discourse.  From the perspective of the central authorities, that enthusiastic engagement and embedding, so important to the rise of Hong Kong universities in international intellectual communities, might also have (discursively certainly) suggested a detachment from the core nation centering political-economic model of China and its principles, deeply embedded in Chinese Leninism.  By embracing the international, the discourse also suggested a measure of naturalization of liberal democratic and internationalist sensibilities that might not align well with the political objectives and sensibilities (including its projections abroad) of the central authorities.  The university, then, served as a site of deep suspicion.

Pix Credit: HERE
The focus of these insights was a fairly remarkable open letter produced at a very delicate moment in the relationships between local authorities, students, universities, and the international community. The Letter can be read both as a declaration of solidarity with international norms and expectations, and at the same time a challenge to the discursive trajectories of the central authorities, especially respecting the role of the university in the development of societal and political consciousness. The Open Letter first asserts the responsibility of the university for the well-being of its students int he course of the protests. The  University seeks to serve as a Western style human rights defender against violations by the state authorities of their own self-imposed legal constraints and must use its own networks to provide students with necessary resources to protect against violations by state authorities. To those ends the university has a duty to intervene--to interpose itself between the political and police authorities and students to ensure compliance with rule of law. The University, finally, has the duty to protect it own "territories" and protect that space for open debate, even, perhaps, as against the authorities, but under law.  As we will see, this divergence will not stand long and by November the local authorities will not be able to resist the temptation to intervene.   But that is a story for another essay.



The video of the conversation about Chapter 16 may be accessed HERE.

All conversations are posted to the Coalition for Peace & Ethics YouTube page and may be found on its Playlist: Talking About the Book: "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems'." All conversation videos are hosted by Little Sir Press. I hope you find the conversation of some use. 


A pre-publication version of some of the book chapters may be accessed (free) on the Book's webpage (here). All videos may also be accessed through the Little Sir Press Book Website HERE.


It is Not How Well You Do But How Well Important People Think You Are Doing: Elizabeth Leyne and Yvette Nonté, Is the Intelligence Community Staying Ahead of the Digital Curve?A Survey of its Highest-level Customers and Leaders on the Challenges and Opportunities Ahead


 Is the Intelligence Community (IC) staying ahead of the digital curve? Over eight months, the authors conducted in-depth interviews to probe this question with over 45 current and former high-ranking national security professionals, including the leaders of five U.S. intelligence agencies, Cabinet-level officials, two former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Congressional leaders. This study finds that while the IC is overwhelmingly critical to U.S. leaders in the Digital Age, it has fallen behind the digital curve. There was unanimity in the imperative for the IC to radically transform many aspects of its business to accelerate through the digital curve and continue to remain relevant.

So begins the Introduction to the Executive Summary of Elizabeth Leyne and Yvette Nonté, Is the Intelligence Community Staying Ahead of the Digital Curve?A Survey of its Highest-level Customers and Leaders on the Challenges and Opportunities Ahead National Security Fellowship Program
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Harvard Kennedy School paper (August 2021). 

The paper is a remarkable study, not of the capacities of the American Intelligence Community itself, doubts about which I have long harbored but discretely expressed (eg The Passion of John Brennan), but of the way critical actors who consume the IC's work product think they are doing.  It reminds us that even as intelligence becomes more data driven and metrics oriented--neither metrics nor expectations are as important as the sense of trust one's consumers have in the producers of intelligence, without reference either to performance metrics or to its measurement against an ideal.  In that respect, at least in the United States, the IC appears to have achieved an autonomy from metrics based accountability that is the envy of the rest of the American nomenklatura (public or private).  And that is both a great pity and the largest looming tragedy of the breakdown of the American administrative architecture in the first third of the 21st century. 

One finding of the report perhaps sums it up best:

For the IC customer dataset, there was a stark dichotomy between the highest-level customers at the Cabinet level, who offered glowing praise for the IC, and customers a few echelons below, who gave the IC mixed to poor reviews. Military leaders across the board largely had nothing but high marks for the IC and foot-stomped the criticality of the IC’s analysis to their decisionmaking processes. On the other hand, Congressional customers surprisingly noted that only a small sub-set of Congress values intel products; they claimed that large swaths of Congress do not seek out classified products, preferring the ease of access to unclassified information. Despite these differences in the dataset, all of these customers resoundingly saw the IC as credible and unbiased on the whole. The only major caveat was on Afghanistan, where a fair number of customers perceived some bias in analytic assessments and collection priorities.(Leyne and Nonté, supra. pp. 2-3.

What these customers suggest, for improvement," that all coalesced around strengthening partnerships—with allies, within the US government, and with the private sector" (Ibid., p. 3), sounds suspiciously like the vacuous "Trump lite" political talking points proffered as a return from the precipice of Trump era global irresponsibility (at least the tweeting part). None sound in performance objectives internal to the producers of intelligence, all sound like the sort of political objectives that have yet to be undertaken to any good effect by the consumers of data themselves.  That is the irony, the areas of improvement suggested to the IC are at best a telling reflection of what is wanting in those with the responsibility of consuming and holding to account the producers, of intelligence. That ought to provide fodder for those "at the top." It won't; especially given the penchant for self congratulations among that fairly tight circle of people who inhabit the far reaches of the consuming and producing communities. 

On the other hand, it is worth noting that a goodly part of the failures that might be easily attributed to the producers of intelligence, the IC and its institutions, may actually reflect  related problems that fall squarely on the consumers of intelligence and indict what Tony Blair recently described as their penchant for imbecility.  The first, goes to the pressure from consumers for the IC to adopt the political perspectives and ideological lens and conceits of intelligence consumers and to ensure that intelligence "facts" fit the political picture that these consumers want to paint.  The intelligence community has sometimes (perhaps for its own survival) gotten into the habit of giving intelligence  consumers what they want.  That is, after all, the essence of market culture, and the IC wants to stay in business. Thus it pays for IC to mold its product to fit the bias of those who consume it.  That result, of course, at least from time to time is disastrous. But whose bias?  But sometimes the IC has some discretion in choosing its clients.We have been treated to that for a long time, but has it now become pathological?    During the Trump administration if was never clear who that client was, sometimes but not always the Office of the President, other times who knows--perhaps more autonomous administrative or organs and sometimes (rarely) the press organs and their collaborators who seemed to be more attuned to intelligence that the Commander in Chief (though the fault for that might also be squarely placed where it belongs).

The second, is that the entire structure of metrics bases assessment is at best opaque and at worst absent from the cultures of the IC.  Or perhaps the metrics are a function of norms, ideals and expectations that might come as a surprise. But the problem of measurement is enormous in this context, except perhaps within the IC and those assessments must remain opaque. Part of the problem arises because it is not clear that the IC autonomy, and the power to tell consumer what they do not want to hear--along with emerging cultures of risk aversion--make it possible to develop a responsibility  to provide a range of interpretive assessment some of which may annoy those who consume it.  Part of it involves guidance.  It is one thing to produce intelligence--it is quite another to invest it with meaning, and it is altogether different to use it for exercises in predictive analytics.  How does one develop metrics? Perhaps developing an ethics of responsibility with respect to these functions would be more effective. Bit people have lost their jobs for less.  

The third is relevance. Mr Trump, for example was notorious for treating IC in a publicly humiliating cavalier way--perhaps the mutual hatred necessarily followed, as did the choices on both sides of the consumer-producer divide between 2016 and 2020 (the current Administration presents its own but quite different, challenges). It is hard to tell--that, after all, is fundamental to the nature of the IC after all. So in a sense what we have here is a tease of sorts. But the Report also highlights  that Mr. Trump's approach was hardly aberrational among the key stakeholders with a responsibility to hold IC to account--the political branches. 

All of this is speculation of course. . . .And likely wrong.  But that is also a problem.  The IC cannot at the same time tease  those outside of its inner circles  and then become offended when those teased want more. And it is not enough reassurance to know that those at the top continue to view the IC as trustworthy.  Cultures of accountability and compliance--and the legal standards it has nourished, make clear that it is no longer enough to rely on the opinion of those at the top.  Something more is needed.  And that something more is noticeably absent here. This is not to say that IC is broken, it is not; the assessment of those surveyed rings true ("Unprompted, over 20% of the interviewees emphasized that despite some public and elite opinion, the IC is not broken, and most of these luminaries conveyed a protective attitude to the IC, which they clearly valued" (Ibid., p. 4). Perhaps it is more accurate to say that tools are only as good as those who use (consume) them.  Thus the key insight of the report is not an indictment of the IC but of those who use it, the consumers of intelligence.  

“At times, policy preference can creep into the analytic process. I think it colored analysis on Afghanistan and maybe on Iran over the years. Some maybe had Stockholm syndrome with the Taliban.” —Former National Security Advisor, LTG H.R. McMaster (Ibid., p. 14).

And that leads to the last insight.  Given the intimate connection between producers and consumers, it is clear that issues of bias (on both sides) ought to be at the top of the list of accountability measures and assessments.  But that is easy enough to confront with enough will (mostly the will to control ego and political/institutional ambition) and perhaps autonomous auditing. But the real issue is not that sort of bias. It is instead the effect of bias on the way in which IC chooses to collect intelligence (what it over emphasizes and what it ignores and what is is blind to  because of multi level multi institutional bias), and the way in which it approaches investing that intelligence with meaning in itself and as factors in the emerging reliance on modeling and predictive analytics. Here "quality control" measures, if not systems of accountability, are essential, but will require much more thought. 

It is with that in mind that the eight challenges identified may be ore usefully understood: .

1. Igniting cultural change for the challenges ahead at every level of the Community
2. Striking the right balance between agency autonomy and IC integration
3. Developing and scaling artificial intelligence and machine learning tools
4. Retooling human resources for the future
5. Organizing analytic resources around the national security threats of the Digital Age
6. Integrating Open Source—A necessary but complicated cultural shift
7. Strengthening international sharing constructs with allies
8. Designing new paradigms for sharing with the private sector (Ibid., p. 31; elaborated pp. 34-54).

But the great power of the Report is its semiotic insights.  It starts with the fundamental premise that meaning is a function of collective belief.  It follows that collective belief becomes the "fact" metric" against which something can be measured--in this case aspects of the American IC apparatus.  IC , then, is an "object" the signification of which is created exogenously, by the opinion of the consumers of IC "product." The measure of the value of the work of IC then is a function of consumer satisfaction.  Yet consumer satisfaction is itself a function exogenous to the internal operating principles of IC (at least in theory).  So the process of signification creates a disjunction between how IC ought to be assessed endogenously, as a function of its own organizational goals, mission, and ideology, and how IC must be assessed exogenously, as a function of its ability to meet the needs (including the ideological, political, career, and strategic needs and desires) of its clients.  In that context semiotics also suggests that the determinants of measure are themselves signified by desire, in this case by the desire to keep clients happy.   The difficulty then arises as a function of any need to reconcile endogenous integrity and coherence enhancing internal measures with potentially incompatible  desire meeting client functions. Those, disjunctions,are nicely on display in the 8 challenges. For those involved in the development and deployment of AI, bid data analytics and predictive analytics, including simulations,  these baseline premises for constructing and assessing meaning pose substantial challenges of their own.

In the end, the fundamental ordering question remains unanswered: who (or what) does IC serve first? The Report suggests that it serves first a farm full of consumers and thus its value depends on consumer satisfaction, which then also serves as the basis through which its meaning construction is elaborated.  That has significant consequences--the primary one being the way in which it organizes and analyses , the way it manufactures, it product for "sale" to its consumers.  The dangers then assume the character of the flaws of the desires, or the blindness, of the consumer sector.  Those desires, biases, then inevitably creep into both the technologies and analytics through which the IC engages in its intelligence and other activities. The entire report is worth a careful read.  It may be accessed HERE.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stanford’s China Guiding Cases Project Bids Farewell After 10 Years [十年卓越——告别斯坦福中国指导性案例项目]



Sad news today:  Stanford’s China Guiding Cases Project is ending after ten years. Here is the notice received:

When we founded the China Guiding Cases Project (the “CGCP”) of Stanford Law School in February 2011, we did not expect the project to take us to various important forums where we could share our insights globally.  These forums included the World Bank, the Open Government Partnership, the Supreme People's Court of China, and the Belt & Road Initiative conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. 

We did not expect that our commentaries would lead to a call for the publication of a quarterly, bilingual journal.  In response to the call, we launched China Law Connect in June 2018.  The 13 issues of the journal have brought more than 140,000 new readers to the CGCP website, allowing us to share our analyses of China’s Guiding Cases and related topics with a total of 220,000 global readers since the founding of the CGCP.  

The world has changed and new issues have emerged.  The core CGCP team has decided to move on to new ventures with the potential to produce even more impact.  We thank you very much for your support.  To express our gratitude, we are releasing all of the content of China Law Connect.  Feel free to download individual articles or entire issues of the journal at

The CGCP is coming to an end, but the mission to bring about positive changes in China and improve understanding of China through in-depth analyses continues.  


View the video here





我们没预料到我们的评论会引起要求出版一份双语季刊的呼声。为响应号召,我们于2018年6月推出了《中国法律连接》。已出版的13期期刊为CGCP网站带来了超过14万名新读者,使我们能够与自CGCP成立以来的合共22万的全球读者分享我们对中国指导性案例和相关主题 的分析。

世界风云变幻,新问题层出不穷。CGCP 的核心团队已决定开启有可能产生更大影响的新旅程。我们非常感谢您的支持。为表达我们的谢意,《中国法律连接》的所有内容现已公开。请在下载该期刊的单篇文章或整期期刊。


This interested might wish to take advantage of the Guiding Cases Project's generosity in making available  the journal's 13 issues for download. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Detaching US-China Financial Markets: The SEC Disclosure Guidance for Chinese IPOs



Both the United States and China have recently moved more vigorously in developing borders that effectively make access to each others' financial markets more difficult.   This is part of a broader and longer term effort to undo the work of integration at the heart of US globalization and Chinese Reform and Opening Up, as that era disappears into history.  Now with New Era and America First ideologies at the forefront, the need for the reconstruction of stronger and less porous borders between the US and China becomes  more important as both economies reconstitute themselves as both global, but as separate.  Both states are becoming much more protective of their economies and their global extension through the control of global production chains  that lead back either to apex entities in their respective home territories. 

This is particularly important in the context of the operation of financial markets.  The reason is indirect but straightforward.  Financial markets have been the principal vehicle through which states developed their models of compliance-accountability in the management of their macro economic policies.  It is also the principal means of acquiring information about entities and of using such information not just for accountability (e.g.. the Modern Slavery reporting laws) but also to nudge entities into particular forms of behavior. Inc. It is no surprise, then, that both China and US have become increasingly wary of their economic "hostages" in each other's jurisdiction luring by the prospect of profit. 

As a consequence both states have now sought to restrain such cross border access to capital. The motivations of each state, of course, are different at the micro level, and each reflects both short term and longer term objectives.  The result, however, is that the process of integration is being reversed in increasingly obvious ways. 

Reporting by Echo Wang for Reuters today provides a another window on the process: "EXCLUSIVE SEC gives Chinese companies new requirements for U.S. IPO disclosures" (Reuters 23 August 2021). What makes this interesting is the way that the SEC is using its oversight powers to reach into the listing operations of the NYSE without the need for the more cumbersome process of formal regulatory interventions.  The reporting follows below along with its source, the 30 July 2021 "Statement on Investor Protection Related to Recent Developments in China" of SEC Chair Gary Gensler.