2001: A Space Odyssey, Alastair Reynolds, Arthur C. Clarke, Blog, Blogging, Fiction, Google, Iain M. Banks, Journal, Literature, Peter F. Hamilton, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing

Google Hangouts discussion with Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds

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This evening I watched a Google Hangouts discussion with three science fiction authors I have now known for a long time, though only one in fact that I am highly familiar with in terms of their actual writing. Names within genres are always thrown around, and if you spend any sort of time in the SF genre you will soon enough come across these three: Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds.

It is wonderful when you get three giants of any kind together (and these three are certainly giants within the SF genre) and so much fun, as opposed to dryness, is the result. Here are three forward-thinking visionaries of a genre of writing that has always been at the cutting edge. As Reynolds points out, the term gas giants that we use for the likes of Jupiter and Saturn, were born in the SF novel, not the laboratory or science paper.

I was interested by Banks touching on the question of storing one’s mind in an artificial substrate (much like we see in his Culture novels) in order to scratch at immortality, and admitting that for him, at least, half-joking (but only half), it is simply a question of vanity. We all want to feel that something outlives us, even if it is not the same consciousness that transfers to the mind-storing device — which, to me at least, it would blatantly not be, but that is for the philosophers to argue over.

For Banks, who is very sadly no longer with us, he wanted to believe that his work would outlast him, something I suppose that is common enough to all authors: the desire to leave a legacy, a body of work. As Banks points out, two people are required to make a child, but it only takes one person to create through the process of writing.

Reynolds compares SF in its written, or prose, form to hard drugs. There is nothing else that can bring about quite the same effect on him that good prose can, not even for the most part increasingly dazzling television. Interestingly he makes one exception, or at least goes as far as to name one in the moment, that being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interesting because of all the sci-fi I’ve ever watched, 2001 is the only one (at least that I can think of now as I’m writing this) that carriers with it a quality of the very best and most accomplished written SF prose. Granted, it was written by Arthur C. Clarke, but still it is quite a rare accomplishment. It retains something of the spirit of literature, brought forth in the medium of film (with such powerful appreciation for both mediums, making it a masterpiece of modern SF).

Although I have yet to read much by Hamilton (I did years ago begin one of his sizable SF books, but misplaced it as I was traveling in China at the time), he is someone I intend to get round to eventually. Certainly as a fan of the genre, it would be impossible to skip him. Plus he’s a fellow Brit, and I think Brits produce some of the best SF writing around. He may not have made any stand out comments that come back to me right at this moment, but I paid close attention to everything he said in response to the Google host and questions from readers.

Speaking of readers, it is a reader who has been invited to ask a question that makes the point of how wonderful it is that our modern technology can allow for such social exchanges as this one here taking place on Google Hangouts, where the limits of physical distance are powerless. He himself was in Australia (could have been Spain, there were several readers invited with questions via webcam), the host was in California at Google’s home turf, and the three authors were seated in Google’s London offices.

I look forward to a future where giants like this can come together over a quality video link-up (as provided by the likes of the Hangouts service) and have a bit of fun, banter, and genuinely passionate discussion on the field of SF (or any other, for that matter). Sometimes I think we are halfway to living in the books they describe. And that’s a very cool thing indeed.

Be sure to check out the video for yourself if you’re a fan of either Banks, Hamilton or Reynolds, or the genre at large.

Alastair Reynolds, Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, Blog, Blogging, Excession, Fiction, Iain M. Banks, Inversions, Journal, Matter, Reading, Revelation Space, Science Fiction, State of the Art, Writing

Can Alastair Reynolds fill the black hole left by Iain M. Banks?


Science fiction books by Alastair Reynolds, including Revelation Space, which I am currently reading. Photo by blog.patrickrothfuss.com.

I woke up fairly early, around 8 a.m., and wasn’t in the mood to immediately continue reading Revelation Space, a sci-fi I started yesterday after finishing Ancillary Justice.

Instead, after a few minutes of lingering around the dim house, having just opened the shutters to allow in what early morning light was available, I stepped out into the garden and found one area, towards the back near the vegetable patch where several varieties of vegetables grow, already enjoying quite a bit of sunlight.

After perhaps 10 minutes in the garden, in both the bright and shaded areas, I returned inside. I may well have had my morning coffee at around that time, and probably opened up Flipboard or the Guardian news app. I don’t think I was yet ready to delve into Revelation Space by that point.

We drove out to a pizzeria nearby for lunch, and then dropped off some bottles at a recycling bank on the way home. We planned to take a walk through a nearby woods on account of the good weather, but decided first to come home, and then I made plans to mow the lawn instead, which in the end I didn’t do as the rain started, dampening the grass, something that would cause problems for the blades of the petrol lawnmower.

We are going to London in two days time. That is at least something unexpected. Tickets by train were extortionate — too bad, as we were going to make an enjoyable rail trip out of it, changing in Paris for the Eurostar — so we instead are going by plane with Swiss Air into Heathrow.

Issues around the talk of the town of late — the Scottish referendum that didn’t go through — has been a constant talking — and for my mum, reading — point over the last week. And it’s not just the Brits, as the world media has followed it all very closely. Even the Russians couldn’t keep quiet, calling foul at the first opportunity.

As to Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, it is a style of sci-fi (space opera) that I think, for me, could replace the black hole left by the late Iain M. Banks when he so unexpectedly left the world last year, leaving behind, no doubt, a treasure trove of ideas, books that could have been but now will never be, set in his utopian universe of the Culture. I am enjoying Reynold’s style, storytelling and themes more than I did Ann Leckie’s acclaimed Ancillary Justice.

I find Reynold’s concept of the Chasm City (he also penned a sequel by this name, hence the bold and italics) very intriguing, as well as his Prometheus-esque dig on an alien planet unraveling long-lost secrets that wiped out the former planet dwellers 900,000 years ago, as well as the understated, minimal, yet powerful and evoking scenes on a long-transit star ship on which all the passengers but one are in ‘reefersleep’.

Don’t let me down, Reynolds. I’m counting on you. I do still have Excession by Banks to enjoy — supposedly one of his best, from what I’ve read and based on reviews over on Amazon — but after that I will have read almost everything in his Culture universe (almost, I still have his short stories in State of the Art and Matter, which is only very loosely Culture, plus Inversions which, again, is only so very loosely tied into that universe, disappointingly on both counts).


The long (and the short) road to death: thoughts on capital punishment with reference to Orwell, Tibetan lore, and example cases


This was written several years ago but I am finally publishing now.

An article I read during my editing duties at Shenzhen Daily today re-sparked my thoughts on capital punishment.

Two men were sentenced to death in China today for terrorism, I believe in the Xingjiang Autonomous Region. They had murdered, according to the court, and been broadly involved in terrorist activities. They, and several others, were caught earlier this year, I think after an attack that left many dead. I would need to have a copy of the story at hand — which I don’t — to be more specific. Generally, though, that was the gist of it.

Is capital punishment acceptable in any circumstances?

It is hard to say, but I confess to feeling for the men who have been sentenced to death — probably by firing squad, or else lethal injection; I’m not sure which is used in China these days — despite their crimes.

George Orwell wrote that he could never again work for any government after witnessing the execution, by hanging, of a man during his time in India. I think his belief was that no state should wield the power over life and death, and that no one was responsible for a man’s execution that was ordered by a state because the “state” was not an individual. I think what he couldn’t accept was that death meted out by a government was somehow not the same as murder, when to him it clearly was.

Clearly there is a case for capital punishment in some cases, especially in those cases involving murders. The case is obviously made more strongly by individuals who have lost loved ones or friends to murder. When a crime affects you personally, emotions can become primal and unchecked.

In the case of the terrorists sentenced to death in China today, those who lost their lives or loved ones to the extremists’ bloody and loveless violence can’t be blamed for wishing anything but the death sentence for them.

At the same time, the old question of an eye for an eye — which Ghandi famously said “leaves the world blind” — and the question of whether murder should be used by any state as punishment handed down by its courts in the way that Orwell seemed to believe was clearly wrong, remains.

Note: I should point out here that despite any sadness in my heart when reading a news headline on death sentences for individuals that I have never met, and for crimes that I have never witnessed or been directly affected by, if I was taken hostage for no other reason than because I was a Westerner, or because I did not follow a certain faith, by individuals who wanted to put me to death, to execute me, I think I would not hesitate, should I manage to escape, to want the government to hold those individuals accountable for what they did, or tried to do, and perhaps for them to even face the death penalty.

But that does not make my desire for revenge in the form of death for the perpetrators correct. At the same time, it would be hard to accuse me of being unreasonable, or failing to understand my position and why I would be in favour of capital punishment. How could a man who was going to be put to death by people he did not even know, for no reason at all other than the ones mentioned above, be criticised for wanting those individuals to pay with their lives.

What I am trying to say is that although we can sympathise with the victim(s), there is also an argument to be made against an “eye for an eye.” The Bible, for example, does not say, “Thou shalt not murder — unless those you murder are murderers themselves.”

Truly this is a complicated topic, made even more complicated if you want to bring in religious arguments — which I am not going to do. Just remember that there are plenty of them, as well as arguments that can be made from a spiritual point of view of the universe and life on earth.

Those spiritual arguments, I expect, may require specifics of a case by case basis to determine whether death could ever, in any circumstances, be karmically or by universal laws justified as repayment for an act of murder.

I expect there would be some cases where it could be justified, but that is an entire other topic — far too deep for the moment. Plus, individual case studies with lots of background information and context would be needed as examples. Material from sources such as the Edgar Cayce readings would be one option.

However, no matter how justified a murder can ever be as punishment for another murder, spiritual teachings would suggest those individuals would be left with karmic ties that would have to be worked out at a later time. This comes to the very large topic of reincarnation, which many are sceptical about — including myself sometimes. Though often I also am intrigued by the possibility, and the explanations it would seemingly offer to current situations we find ourselves in that are otherwise the result of sheer chance.

There is an interesting Tibetan Buddhism folklore that claims Padmasambhava, a fearsome deity in the tradition, once in an incarnation upon the earth killed a man who was either committing, or else was going to commit, murders. The deity did this, so the story goes, out of compassion so that he would not accumulate more and more sins and karmic debt that would result in the suffering and long-term bondage of his soul as it worked out its karma in many future lifetimes.

George Orwell, on the other hand, said it was the way the man being led to the gallows stepped to avoid a puddle that made him realise the profound wrongness of ending a human life.

I think I understand what Orwell saw in that moment. And yet all these questions still remain.


Unravelling my Superman dream: a brief discussion on good and evil


This was written several years ago but am finally publishing now.

Last night I dreamt I was a nemesis of Superman, and then Superman himself — albeit a Superman who had lost, or forgotten, most of his powers — later in the dream.

For example, as a weakened version of Superman, I had forgotten most of my powerful moves, almost like a character in a video game that pulls off techniques when you press the correct combination of buttons on the controller or keyboard.

I was reminded by someone in the dream — a team-mate perhaps, or else a voice that drifted up apparently from nowhere — about one of my strong attacks during a confrontation with the nemesis character that I had experienced being in the early part of the dream.

The move was called “something-cut,” as far as I can remember. At the time it seemed like a strange move for Superman, but I was glad to have it. Clearly I played too many video games at one point in my life.

The strange thing, remembering the dream now, is that I essentially felt the same sense of being as both the nemesis and then Superman. I was not aware of being an evil character, though perhaps as Superman there was more of a sense of fighting to stop an evil force.

As the nemesis I had motives and goals and clearly justifications for why I was doing things. I do not recall there being any battles or confrontations with Superman while experiencing the dream as that character, but there were things I was trying to do. I believe I may have started out in a cell and was looking for ways to get out. I may not have even realised this character was pursuing some kind of ill plan until I then experienced the world through Superman.

Clearly there are parallels here to real-world conflicts between groups I will not mention the name, or even nature, of on this blog. Groups that believe they are in the right even if what they do hurts, or even kills, others — they believe they are fighting for a bigger cause and thus freed of responsibility, or else that their acts are justified.

I would have to argue that in almost every case in which innocent life is traded for the gain of a few, or even a many, there is a justification made on false principles. Here I am not talking the taking of one life to save several, or even hundreds, but more about the taking of life as a means to serving the interests of a few, unrelated to the saving of a larger group of lives.

The Joker character in Batman is a good example of an individual who justifies innocent death for personal interests. Unfortunately, in the real world, there are also characters with more than a little in common with the Joker.

Disclaimer: I did not experience killing anyone as the nemesis of Superman in my dream. I did not even experience attacking anyone, including Superman, let alone innocents.

As Superman, I was also struggling with the ability to fly — I could hardly do it any more.

I do not know whether I believe that dreams have any connection to our life and personal experiences and problems, but I am open to the idea that there is more to our dreams that we may think.

Edgar Cayce, one of the most famous psychic mediums of the 20th Century, said that dreams are important and should be paid attention to. He also said that dreams can give us warnings about negative things in our lives, or things to watch out for, including people in our lives.

I am no reader-of-dreams, but if I had to read into my Superman dream from last night, I might interpret it as meaning I am not in touch with some important area of my life or part of myself that is resulting in me ‘losing innate powers or even “super-powers,”‘ if we can be said to possess super-powers in our lives.

We may not possess super-powers in the Superman sense, but perhaps we all have unique, or different, talents and abilities that we can shut ourselves off to if we don’t honour, nurture and use them for good in the world.

Equally, if we turn away from positive goals and positive living that respects all life on this planet, and aims to contribute towards a greater good or purpose, we can fall into a darkness without ourselves even realising it.

Winston Churchill said of the Second World War: “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to stand and do nothing.” Of course, he was right. Hitler very nearly did succeed. Millions of innocent lives were taken because fundamentally good men in Germany, but also in other countries, stood by and did nothing, or else fell in line behind an evil will of one man.

If you have time, try to remember your dreams and give them some thought. Try to un-puzzle them. Do you think they are trying to send you an encrypted message in symbolism? Remember, dreams are symbolic and not literal. Certainly that was the position held by Carl Jung and most other psychologists and psychoanalysts in dream theory.


Critically discuss the effects of media liberalisation and deregulation in the People’s Republic of China


In this essay I am going to critically discuss the effects of media liberalisation and deregulation in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Having spent over two years of my life living in both the mainland and Hong Kong, I hope to offer some interesting insights from my own experience as well as what I have learnt from background reading on the subject.

First I will look at the question of what media liberalisation means in the broadest terms before turning to media deregulation and how the two differ from one another. Then I will briefly look at China’s media in a historical context so as to provide a foundation for what is to follow and help put into perspective the ways in which the country’s media has experienced liberalisation and deregulation in recent years. I will also discuss exactly what the effects of these processes have been, sighting relevant examples where possible. Finally, I will consider the extent to which China’s media has really been liberalised and deregulated and what we can expect to see in the years and decades to come.

There is little doubt China has undergone a profound opening-up of its economy and society over the past 50 years, whether that be Mao Zedong’s 1958 proclamation of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ which saw the introduction of a new paradigm of agricultural and industrial production, or the economic reforms of 1978 implemented under Hua Gafeng (Donald, Keane & Hong, 2002, pp. 4-183). But in spite of this and the claims made in 2007 by Cai Wu, former head of the State Council Information Office (SCIO), that “the country will have a more open attitude toward the world and ensure better services for the media” (Jiao, 2007), has the Chinese media actually been reformed, liberalised and deregulated to the extent that one might expect?

Before we can consider these questions, it is necessary to look at precisely what is meant by the term ‘liberalisation’ and how it fits into current media theory. The concept of liberalisation has roots in social and economic policy. It can be broadly defined as “the removal of controls” with the goal of stimulating economic growth and encouraging a healthy economy (Choudary, 2008, p. 131). To give a relevant example, China liberalised many of its sectors in the 1990s (notably the financial and banking sectors), opening them up to foreign investment before joining the World Trade Organization in (WTO) in 2001 (Brandt & Rawski, 2008, p. 657). One of the condition’s for China’s entry into the WTO was that it “allow foreign investors to hold up to 49 percent of certain telecommunications companies, including Internet firms” (Head, 2001, p. 414). This move had a direct effect on China’s media sector and many experts believe it was “a sign marking an accelerated process of opening the domestic media market to international competition” (Zhan & Dimmick, 2005, p. 36).

This, then, was a pivotal moment in China’s recent history with regards to its policy towards the media sector and loosening of economic controls that directly affected it. The need for a ‘healthier’ market resulted in a liberalisation that is often characteristic of how media sectors are made more open by governments seeking to implement more competitive economic policies that, as we have seen already, are required to encourage growth and keep the markets healthy. Lyons (2005) points out that “the admittance into the World Trade Organisation was a benefit that outweighed the past reluctance towards foreign investment”. One obvious result of this is the compromise of allowing foreign investment in media companies that then also helps to promote pluralism of ideas and voices, even if not immediately obvious at first. This is an example of one effect that liberalisation has had in China and how it has come about since the 1978 reforms.

However, there is also another side to be considered. Whilst in theory media liberalisation in China encourages plurality of views, it could also be argued that in reality this is not the case. The concept of ‘cultural despotism’ whereby production and distribution of media content is controlled by the state, in this case the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has long been associated with the media situation in the country (Shaozhi, 1993) and remains much unchanged to this day, even in spite of the technological advancements brought about with the arrival of the new millennium. The idea can be explained more fully in these terms: “limits on people’s capacity to explain non-orthodox views in the media, or to register complaints against the paramount leadership of the CCP, illustrate the path dependency of China’s leaders, their allegiance to a Leninist media model, and their deep misgivings about democratic pluralism” (Donald, Keane & Hong, 2002, p. 12).

This, then, would seem to suggest that any benefits potentially gained from liberalisation of the media on the surface are apparently lost due to deep-rooted political and social values imposed on the masses by the CCP. Opening up media companies to foreign investment, whilst healthy for the markets and industry from an economic standpoint, may not translate into democratic-pluralism as we have come to expect it in the West in terms of views, voices and opinions freely expressed in the press. Monopolization of the vertical-chains of production and distribution by the state ensure that ultimately they are still in control of what is disseminated on a large scale.

I will now turn briefly to the concept of ‘deregulation’ which is often used to mean the same thing as liberalisation. At any rate, it is perhaps wise to think of deregulation and liberalisation as still being forms of regulation imposed by governments because they believe there is something to gain from lifting restrictions, whether it be economic, social or otherwise. Some media commentators believe that “the new ‘deregulation’ is regulation in disguise” (Silverstone, 1994,p. 90), hinting cynically that changes in government policy towards the media are sometimes more in name than contributing to any real improvements, especially when the removal of restrictions only result in more power being given to already-bloated corporations and media conglomerates that may very well abuse it.

In the context of the media, deregulation can be described as “the process of diminishing intervention by the state into media organizations; the government delegates greater authority over programming, personnel, and business decisions to lower levels in the broadcast and print administrative hierarchy” (Shirk, 2011). I now wish to briefly examine China’s media in a historical context before moving onto specific examples of how the effects of liberalisation and deregulation have been played out in the country using specific case studies and examples.

With the end of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) there was a desire to set right certain wrongs of the past in terms of journalistic practice and a longing for a return to the ideals of ‘seeking truth from facts’. Although the media and press would still be controlled by the state, it was to be “promoted as instruments of economic and cultural construction, with a new stress placed on business information and entertainment” (Zhao, 1998, p. 34). With the arrival of the 1980s, more independence in journalism was advocated by the likes of the People’s Daily Liu Binyan (Shirk, 2011, p. 80). Media ventures attracted more and more investors and between 2001-2004 the market for print advertising grew by well over 100 percent. Intellectual property rights also saw a dramatic improvement in the late-1990s and all of these conditions, along with government cooperation and a rapid expansion of the economy around the same time, meant that there was now a greater push and incentive than ever before in favour of reform and deregulation of the media market. Journalism, particularly in the form of reports on business and financial stories, thrived in this new environment that was so “conducive to the expansion of capital markets” (ibid).

China enjoyed a period of relatively relaxed media regulation under Deng Xiaoping during the 1980s, though the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 undid this trend and put to rest hopes for further deregulation until nearly 10 years later and well into the late-1990s under Jiang Zemin. More recently, with the rise of the Internet and the measures of mass-censorship that are being undertaken by the Hu Jintao government, regulations have once again been tightened, certainly for the online media but also for the media industry in general (Southerland, 2007). This has lead to the organisation Reporters Without Borders claiming in their 2009 annual Press Freedom Index that the Chinese government holds “the sorry distinction of leading the world in repression of the Internet” and in 2010 ranked it 168 out of 178 countries (UNHCR, 2009).

In spite of this, there is an increasing move to the commercialization of China’s press and this is a trend that has been going on for the past few decades, with ever more deregulation being offered in profitable media markets such as entertainment, sports and finance (Bennett, 2011). This has been a liberalising process for the media as the state is less able to control financially independent outlets than was the case in the past, resulting in more media autonomy and increased market competition that is directly linked to quality journalism. Similar independence has been found in the talk radio format which has seen the transition from a single government radio station operating in regions such as the Shanghai Municipal some years ago to the well over 100 stations that exist today. This has also seen the lessening of predictable pro-state propaganda material in the medium and a wider choice between views for listeners tuning in.

The move away from heavy subsidising of state media has meant that revenue has had to be found through commercial means, i.e. advertising (Zhao, 1998). As such, this has resulted in a more diversified media due to the fact that advertisers are essentially customers that must be sold an attractive package and may be potentially put of if they regard the station as merely a ‘mouthpiece’ of the party-state. In some ways, therefore, this deregulation has meant that broadcast stations, for example, must offer more programmes that people want to see in order to attract larger audiences that can be packaged and sold on to advertisers. It is clear that “behind this policy lay an economic imperative: to transform the state media from a loss-making drain on government finances into a globally competitive industry. To attract advertisers and consumers, even Beijing’s most hidebound apparatchiks realised the media must be allowed to offer better fare than official propaganda and deathly dull speeches” (Economist, 2005). Competition is encouraged between media outlets even though ultimately the state defines what type of content is allowed; there are financial rewards/bonuses for journalists that are sympathetic to the government’s ideals or views (Esarey, 2005, p. 37–83). So even within this apparent deregulation of media subsidising in favour of creating more competition in the market there is still guaranteed bias to the CCP’s ideology and worldview due to incentives offered to journalists ‘under the table’ so to speak, even if the picture painted by official government policy seems to suggest a far more open and fair system of income and revenue-generation almost entirely through advertising.

In spite of China’s appalling record of jailing journalists (42 in 2004) and the ‘Internet-policing’ that it carries out, since Deng Xiaoping came to power and over the last few decades, as has already been mentioned, it could be argued that there has been an overall climate of more open media content that has accompanied the social and economic reforms. Talking on the subject of newspaper reporting at a visit to the People’s Daily offices in 2008, President Hu Jintao stressed the need for accuracy and objectivity with no room for “tardiness, deception, incompleteness or distortion” (Moore, 2008). Unfortunately, powerful institutions in China such as the Central Propaganda Department and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, still seek to curb liberalisation of the media wherever possible, and Beijing continues to limit any reports that may paint a negative picture of government policies, etc. (An & An, 2008).

Sometimes it seems that the Chinese government is its own worst enemy when it comes to understanding how to successfully implement media liberalising and deregulating policies. As one commentator put it, “reform often proceeds in fits and starts in China” (Economist, 2005); there is progress for a time and then there is tremendous back-tracking over old problems. The move to give the state-run Xinhua News Agency power to censor the news of foreign agencies is typical of extreme policy decisions that seem counter-productive to the demand for growth of a deregulated media market. As of 2007, Xinhua “retains the right to censor materials disseminated by any foreign news agency in China” (Glasser, 2006, p. 104).

From all this, then, one could argue that the real deregulation of the Chinese media is yet to come. Journalists operating in China are still far more restricted than their Western cousins and must still abide by rules that aren’t always clearly laid out in government policy. Historical events such as the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 as well as technological advancements have all brought with them more problems than solutions for an open media in China. There is a relaxing of regulations for a while, what you may call a period of liberalisation, but then there is a tightening once again that makes it very hard to know precisely where the media stand in the country. Even if in the past there were deregulatory policies put into place, as we have seen from the withdrawal of subsidies from the broadcast sector, there are more often than not grey areas where there remain more uncertainties and it is unclear precisely what is going on behind closed doors. Journalists still live in threat of imprisonment and, even worse, in threat of physical harm whilst others take payments from officials to toe the line. Shirk (2011) commented that “gradual media deregulation created broad grey areas where opportunities for freer coverage existed beside potential risks – even traps”. Much media content is still examined on a case by case basis, what one commentator called ‘playing on the white line of the ping-pong table” (Hughes, 2002).

In China it is very hard to decide on exactly what the effects of liberalisation and deregulation of the media sector have been except from in the broadest possible terms and with a historical context to help analyse a larger window of time than may be usually needed. This may be characteristic of other developing countries too. The famous Chinese scholar of news believed that “newspapers should put the interests of the people above everything else and be run accordingly… When a communist society is attained, even the party will be eliminated. Yet the people are permanent, they live forever!” (cited in Zhao, 1998, p. 38).

To bring this essay to a conclusion, it is apparent that there has been a gradual opening up of the media since the Cultural Revolution. Many leaders have come and gone, television and the Internet have dominated the media scene but newspapers also continue to flourish in third-world countries such as China. Attempts on behalf of the CCP continue to be met with ever more resistance and slowly but surely more deregulation will have to be implemented if social unrest is to be avoided. If not, we may see similar events to those of 1989 in the years to come. There needs to be a continued push towards more openly legal regulation and further strengthening of economic incentives for media business and owners to operate in China. This must be achieved by relaxing laws and allowing a greater degree of freedom and liberalisation, both in terms of content as well as a move away from state-monopolisation to oligopoly of the print and distribution chains involved in the production of media (as has been mentioned with reference to ‘cultural despotism’). These effects have been realised to a certain extent so far but by no means enough. Journalists are still forced into self-censorship because of uncertainties that remain in the state of the media and attempts at deregulation that have left ‘grey areas’.

Examples such as the English language China Daily’s open criticism of government actions after detaining petitioners in a mental institution in 2008 (Qian, 2008) is seen as a sign of progress towards less government control of the media and even toleration for criticism in certain situations (AFP, 2008) resulting in more editorial freedom for some newspapers in the country and capital.

The extent of liberalisation, however, is still certainly limited to slight relaxations of otherwise strict regulations such as the change since 1994 that has meant the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television has stopped pre-screening news programmes before they are aired. Citizens have taken advantage of the sharp growth of the Internet to explore the possibilities of citizen journalism, even if those efforts are erased by the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’, also known as the ‘Kung Fu Net’ among bloggers in China (Scotton & Hachten, 2010, p. 31) and this looks like a trend set to continue for the foreseeable future. One would have to argue that when and where deregulation is implemented it has a positive effect on the Chinese society and its people, allowing more freedom of expression in the media, but the effect has similarly been one of retaliation on part of the government when that liberalisation has more powerful effects than they had anticipated and certain content is seen as a threat to the one-party system.

It is my hope that in this essay I have succeeded in my attempt to critically discuss some of the effects of media liberalisation and deregulation in the People’s Republic of China and that I have illustrated ideas clearly with the use of examples and in historical contexts where helpful.


AFP (2008). China city locks up ‘petitioners’ in mental asylum: state media. Available: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hcT05IfKenQTw0XXxrfByZhQhizA. Last accessed 2nd Mar 2012.

An, A. & An, D. (2008). Media control and the Erosion of an Accountable Party-State in China. China Brief.

Brandt, L. & Rawski, T. (2008). China’s Great Economic Transformation. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Blogging With The Sunrise: A Meditation On The Morning Mind

sunrise c 1965 Painting by Roy Lichtenstein; sunrise c 1965 Art Print for sale

The best time to write is the morning. Make an effort to get up early and you will find the conditions perfect for writing. Let the morning light into your room (wherever you happen to be writing) and sit at a desk so that you are upright and your back is straight. Your eyes should not be strained by a screen that is too close. The chair should be hard but comfortable.

The mind is most clear first thing in the morning. People talk about your most productive hours and they’re correct. We all have a time of day when we are most productive – for most of us, no doubt, it will be the morning. I know it is for me.

Writing at night can be a mixed bag. You’re mood has turned more sentimental and your mind has tired and been flooded with thoughts, impressions and information throughout the day. You’re much more likely to reflect this mood in your writing by waiting until a late hour to share your thoughts on paper. Certainly if you write anything – or at least if I write anything – late at night, I’m starting to think it’s best left til the next morning when I’ll be able to look at it again with a fresh frame of mind, in the natural morning light. It’s amazing what sleep does to our minds, how it refreshes us mentally. It’s so important, not just in terms of the need for our physical body to rest and recuperate.

I know authors and writers who write for a living may have so much to do that they can’t afford to just write just in the hours up til midday. I know, for example, that the Scottish author Iain Banks treats his writing like a 9-5 job (though he’s quite honest about the fact that he loves what he does and writing comes pretty easily and naturally do him. He just keeps the 9-5 thing running for practical reasons so that he can, for example, have the weekends and evenings off.)

Looking at my own habits, I used to do pretty much all my writing in the evenings, often late at night or even the early hours of the morning. At the time I thought I was producing some good posts (a lot of the early posts on my China In My Pocket blog came from writing during the late hours), but they were sometimes more reflective and sentimental in nature than I think is necessary. If at night I am in a reflective mood and considering the past, in the morning I am more energetic and looking to the future.

I am also less distracted in the morning and have more energy to write for longer spells. Of course, for most people it’s not possible or practical to write in the mornings – they’re at work or busy with whatever life is beating them down with at that particular time, but for anyone who does have free time in the morning and enjoys writing, it’s something you should decide for yourself.

The right words also come faster earlier in the day compared to at night when I sometimes feel as though I’m developing early-onset Alzheimer’s, in that I just can’t string sentences together as quickly and coherently, or I’m stuck for minutes thinking about the right word by which time I’ve lost the whole momentum behind the idea or train of thought.

But I do appreciate that I’m lucky to be able to regularly write in the mornings as opposed to the night. I only work three days a week at the moment and, even at that, on two of those days I don’t start til 13:00 and 14:00. So I’m in an unusual boat where I have lots of time I can commit to writing if I want. This morning has been a particularly productive one so far and I’m going to continue experimenting with writing in the morning hours. I’m sure I will continue to write in the afternoons and evenings too – when I have the chance – but it may be that the work I produce then is left until the following morning for a second look. That’s what I did with the previous post on haiku poetry: I started writing it last night but couldn’t squeeze out more than a few paragraphs. I decided to leave it until this morning and it turned into something much longer and became a stronger piece. So I’m happy about my decision there and I think it should work well as a general rule of thumb with future pieces too.

So here I am, part of my continued effort to write during my free time and conquer boredom and that sense of apathy towards the creative side of my personality. People choose to express their creativity in many different avenues and for me it’s in writing. That’s why I chose to apply to study Journalism at degree level and I think I have an obligation to myself to start doing some serious writing (serious in terms of consistency and length if not in terms of quality and content). It’s about building good habits and discipline to sit down and force yourself to write, even if you think you don’t have anything to say. Most of us do in fact have stuff to say, we just don’t know it until we make an initial effort to let it out and look at just what’s hiding back there in the depths of our mind.

As anyone who knows me will vouch to, I’ve never be one for commitment and discipline in the work area. Here’s to my continued effort to start changing that pattern in the practice of writing, even when I (wrongly) believe that I have nothing to say.