I’ve passed the booths and tables many times. Always a young girl sitting and playing on her phone while before her, laid out on the table, are booklets, posters, and framed photos of newlyweds in all sorts of poses.
In the spring and summer couples flock to the local parks for their outdoor shoots, and descend on the foreign-looking buildings because it’s fashionable to take photos in front of them, and even schedule elaborate trips in order to capture on-site images instead of using green screens or poster backdrops. When Xiao Ming and I were in Nice a few years ago we saw two photography groups following Chinese couples around!
We talked about taking the pictures ourselves around the time we got married two years ago, but neither of us wanted to really commit to it. We’re not picture-takers. But after Xiao Ming’s cousin got her photos a few months ago we decided to just get it over with. So, on November 6th we spent NINE hours dressed like what felt like fools in a few of the outfits, and, yes, even got some shots of us in front of foreign looking buildings out in the middle of nowhere about forty minutes away.
Not going through that again.
LiYing Wedding Photography is a two-floor shop down a side street beside iMall (No connection to Apple products whatsoever). The mall used to be the only competition for Ansheng Shopping Center across the intersection, but now that a Wanda Shopping Center opened just up the street Kai Fa Qu consumers have plenty of places to spend their money. We arrive before 8 am, and Xiao Ming is ushered into the back where her make-up is applied by women with questionable cosmetic choices themselves.
A Chinese girl so small I could probably toss her across the room comes up to me and says she’ll be putting make-up on me and doing my hair. I laugh.
I make it clear to her that my hair is the way I want it, and there’s no way in hell I’m getting any make-up put on me. Shit, my mom and aunts had to hold me down as a toddler just to apply sunscreen!
So then after Xiao Ming is dolled up enough that I might mistake her for someone else, we put on our first outfits. We’d gone in two weeks before to select our clothing and decided on at least a few shots wearing the traditional red Chinese gowns (I also insisted on having shots done with us wearing our normal clothes and leather jackets!). We donned them and then traipsed upstairs for the first round of pics. It’s no good. Babies are everywhere being asked to smile and say “eggplant.” Qiezi, the Chinese for eggplant, is basically their “Cheese” for photos. Saying it makes them grimace just like saying “cheese” does for us Americans.
So our entourage packs up for a place they call the “basement” that’s in Jinzhou, about thirty minutes or so away. Sure, whatever. Just let me change back into my normal clothes first. Nope! We both walk outside in our flashy red gowns for all the Sunday morning busybodies to see.
Along the way we stop for some Chinese breakfast – still my least favorite of the Chinese meals. After the food everyone dozes as we drive toward Jinzhou, the county to the west of Kai Fa Qu. When we get to the “basement” it’s pretty clear the name is a euphemism.
Tian Lai Wan is a mostly abandoned complex that looks like something you’d see in England or parts of France. Pale stone slabs for the exterior, statues, and columns. Close to the coast and eerily quiet, you could almost forget you’re in China.
The facility is shared by seven photography companies, and they’ve all put money into the place. Sets – that’s the only way to think of them – are everywhere. Castle, Bar, Pool Hall, Library, Wine Cellar, Park, Bridge, Nondescript Rustic Foreign Place, etc.
Once there, we begin.
NINE hours and a lunch break later, we finish.
The day is done and we’re wiped out. Xiao Ming is just swearing up and down in our pidgin Chinese-English mix we’ve developed as a couple together (we’re so cultured! Haha). I’m half asleep and hungry sitting next to her. But we’re done.
It’s about a month before we get a call that says we can come in and see the digital copies and make our final selections. Apprehensive and skeptical, we go in and look through the 200 pics. We were nervous because the dresses Xiao Ming wore were a bit too big on her, the make-up was way more than she ever wears (which is none), and I have a notorious habit for making monkey faces in my pictures.
After pouring over the photos for about half an hour, we narrow our selections down to 44. There are some decisions about sizes and layout, and then we’re told it’ll be another half month. We wait. Three weeks later we’re called. Yay! Picture pick up!
Except not. We get there and are shown the digital book pages that will become the printed hardcopy books. It took three weeks to put this together, I ask. The woman nods hesitantly. I straight up ask her what they’ve done in three weeks. I tell her that if I’d had the digital copies I could have arranged them just like what she’s shown us in one day. There’s nothing she can do, I know, but sometimes bitching about nonsense feels good.
She tells us it’ll be another half month before we can pick up the books!
And so a few days ago we got the call and went to retrieve the pictures we’d taken in the Autumn.
Weibo, China’s answer for its American counterpart, Twitter, is largely comprised of Chinese language speakers. In 2012 there were more than 500 million users on the site and about 100 million messages posted daily (Josh Ong, TWN). Today they got one more to add to the stats, a goofy American.
The Chinese version of the site isn’t exactly easy to navigate, even with the additional support of Google Chrome’s attempt at translating the pages, but I figure why not look into it anyways. Though I’m not necessarily a tech-savvy individual, the goings-on in the Chinese blog/web-o-sphere fascinate me.
This change in the registration process was supposed to take place last March, but if you checked out the linked article, you’ll see that foreigners with our damn foreign names were in somewhat of a Weibo purgatory, a Weiburgatory, if you will. And even now there are still stirrings saying the policy could take place. Will my profile be frozen or blocked? Will I—Intrepid_Nomad (my Weibo Nickname)—be another of the site’s statistical burps? Or will I be able to hang around the site and play a while?
It’s not like I’m planning to spread dissent throughout the ranks of the microbloging netizens or anything fancy like that. Since joining a few days ago, I’ve only made a few innocuous posts about beginning work again, and I posted a few photos from trips in China I’ve taken. Within minutes the posts were viewed about a hundred times each, and the numbers keep changing, but I doubt any of the thousands or so full-time Censors are counted among those views. Most likely the posts didn’t even illicit a beep from the keyword software Weibo and the Great Chinese Firewall use to monitor searches and the publishing of sensitive content. Well, one of the tags I have is “American,” so…Yeah, maybe they’ve started their dossier.
Keyword recognition software being used for censorship isn’t new, and isn’t even particularly Chinese, but it is used quite a bit here. As anyone in China can attest, most Western social networking sites are blocked. Facebook and WordPress, Twitter and Tublr—you ain’t surfin’ them unless you’ve got yourself a VPN. But of course it isn’t just these sites that are blocked. No, as Econsultancy writer Ben Davis points out, on any given day in China you can’t freely peruse topics that pertain to:
…Chinese politics (human rights etc), socially sensitive content (pornography, gambling etc), people (dissidents), sensitive events, technology (spyware, URLs etc) and other miscellaneous topics.
As you can see, these are pretty general topics that most Americans or web users routinely look up. In China, though, looking up any political leader can get you a slap on the wrist. Checking in on Tibetan protests might do more than slow your internet connection speed. Claiming affiliation with a known activist group or promoting religious views—total no nos.
That being said, people are crafty. Chinese netizens are sly and still do talk about all of these topics, just not in obvious ways. The Grass mud horse (Cao ni Ma—in pin yin) is a great icon for the Chinese blogger who wants complete freedom of speech. A homophone for “mother fucker,” the meme became the animal of the Censorship Fighter on the Chinese net a few years ago. It’s still around, too.
Using the Chinese characters for 6 and 4, people have been able to write and search for info on the June fourth Tiananmen incident. Using euphemisms so veiled that even fluent Mandarin speakers aren’t always sure of their meaning, ideas are passed around and the Great Fire Wall is hopped over like a backyard fence.
Even with censors, in 2011 Weibo was used in a way that even Wikileaks would be proud of. When a high-speed train collision in Wenzhou that killed 40 people was being swept under the rug Weibo users took to the net and lambasted the government for the cover-up. People were criticizing the government’s actions on a scale never before seen in China, and people realized it. Information was spread.
Weibo didn’t remain so open, though. It has been, like all of the Chinese Internet, subject to severe and speedy censorship. Even after the “Real Name” policy got put on hold due to the outpouring of user (domestic and international) criticism, the censors didn’t go away. In recent months, though, that censorship is changing. According to Jason Q. Ng at Tea Leaf Nation, “Through the testing of searches of key “sensitive” terms on the site, it has become clear that some previously-blocked search terms now return results.”
He goes on to squash the celebration by saying that the strategy has changed, not the end goals. These “results” are heavily filtered, sanitized, and censored. Now you can pull up info on June 4th, Xi Jingping, and a few other “sensitive issues,” but what you’re getting isn’t objective answers. Jason Q. Ng sums it up nicely by saying,
Before, Chinese users knew when their results were extra sensitive (most, if not all, Chinese users are aware that censors routinely work behind the scenes to delete sensitive posts), yet the new changes – combined with other tactics documented by GreatFire like only showing search results from verified users for certain terms and delaying posts from appearing in search results – create even more uncertainty as to the boundaries of discourse online, perhaps encouraging greater self-censorship by users. What is and is not off-limits has now become slightly harder to determine – another step in making censorship invisible and all-pervasive.
In a country with the insane population numbers of China, the uneducated are a large demographic. Rumors that start on the net can spread and cause serious damage if not monitored. Those who have no way of forming their own views can be guided to think and believe just about anything. It’s happened all around the world before, and it’ll probably happen again. I suppose I get that, to an extent. A country does have to have the ability to be objective, and if that means admitting to itself that your citizens are too incompetent to make informed decisions, than that’s one thing. Some of the censorship in China is up this alley.
But not all, or even most of it. When you take away objective, educated journalism or news, that’s when the fit hits the shan. Now they’re taking it further and doing a form of “reeducation” by allowing searches that produce authorized results. People notice these things. They’re treated like sheep, but not all of them follow the shepherd so closely.
And the truth is: people here are curious. Hell, they’re more than curious. I’ve spoken to Masters students who have aired the issues they have with Chinese censorship, and I’ve seen the looks my Business Education students have given one another when the conversation has strayed into territory that is not supposed to be discussed openly.
The government knows its people are restless, too. In 2004-2006 a talent show called with the English name Super Girl allowed people to call in a vote for their favorite contestant. The show was a lot like American Idol, and it had viewers tuning in in the hundreds of millions. The democratic one-call, one-vote platform was too much, though. Chinese officials cancelled the show, and even its second reincarnation, Happy Girls. The official reasons were due to timing issues and the “risqué” nature of some of the episodes, but it was pretty obvious when it got the axe that seeing such a large percentage of its citizens taking part in something so democratic was not what China wanted (China Cancels Talent Show ‘Happy Girl’ For Being Too Democratic, Business Insider).
Linette Lopez’s article for Business Insider had another great quote, too, “Some people sight that if only we could vote in Chinese elections, as we do in ‘Happy Girl’, then we’d lock horns and join the contest…This is the truly sensitive issue.”
The people know all the faults in their system, and people in other countries are foolish if they think otherwise.
That’s just it, though: it’s their system.
Living in China for a few years does not make me any closer to being Chinese. Learning the language will not grant me the Golden Ticket into this culture. Joining Sino Weibo and having a WeiXin account does not give me any sort of street cred. It does, however, give me a more scenic seat.
In her recent book, “People’s Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet” Katrien Jacobs sheds a lot of light on the interesting worlds surviving and thriving behind the Great Fire Wall on the net. The Chinese people may seem docile and complacent in the face of an oppressive, secretive, and Big government, but that is only what they appear to be. They are quite a bit more. Their lot has forced them into challenging the system in unique and unorthodox ways, and, yes, many have taken large gulps of the Mao Era Cool-Aid, but there 300 million bloggers (about the population of the entire US) out there trying to find something of an individual identity. Some are whispering and others shouting. There are the voyeurs and the voices, the loners and the leaders, and they are pushing against the boundaries that have been placed around them.
It’s going to be interesting to see how much pressure the “Great Fire Wall” can take when the people inside it are pressing against it, trying to get out. Will it stand the test of time like The Great Wall, or come tumbling down like the one in Berlin?
I’m just hoping that doing research for this entry without my VPN doesn’t get me deported and my new Weibo account deleted.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world of high-speed downloads and uploads, of text speak and netizen culture that sometimes bleeds into the actual 3D world of reality. Here are some of those tidbits that I’ve noticed while here in China…
Ten Internet Memes or Phrases that I’ve been hearing a lot in Dalian.
Gei (3) Li (4)—This expression is a relatively new one that got its start right online in Chinese forums and chats. Its two characters translate to “give” and “power,” and it basically has the same meaning: to give power, to make something interesting or impressive, awesome…”
I used this once, and my friend just laughed and wondered how I knew it. Last year I heard it more than this year, but I’m told it’s still out there. You can also hear “Jia You,” which basically means, “Good Luck,” or “You can do it.”
Gao (1) fu (4) Shuai (4)—This phrase means tall, rich, handsome, and is the pseudo-standard Chinese women use when searching for that special someone. They want a tall, handsome guy with access to cash. I hear this phrase all the time, and even in television shows. While it may not be the exact blueprint for what is desired by all, it certainly has a lot of traction, and everyone knows of it.
Every time this sort of topic comes up in conversation and I say it, the girl usually acts surprised that I know of it, and then enthusiastically nods her head in agreement.
Da ge r, piaoliang, bai OR Bai, Fu, Mei—Tall, pretty, white is the phrase that is the male equivalent to “gao, fu, shuai.” The whole of Chinese culture values white, pearly skin, as a lot of the world knows, but it’s one thing to think, “Oh, Chinese like pale girls,” and it’s another thing entirely to go to the beach and see people hiding out in tents, wearing full-body suits, or wearing heaving clothing in 90 degree weather, and carrying sun-brellas around during the day.
Even if a girl has gotten the tiniest bit of sun—say an hour or two—someone close to her will notice and say, “ni zen me zhe me hei?!” How are you so black?!
The numbers: 2, 250, and 38—er, er bai wu, san ba. The number two has taken on the meaning of “stupid, dumb,” whereas 250 describes a foolish person. 38 is actually a bit worse because if you call a man a “san ba” you’re basically calling him a bad woman or an annoying gossip, or even a “biaatch.” Not at all nice.
Merchants will go out of their way to make prices anything else but 250, just to avoid the implied meaning of calling their customer an idiot. And lately young people have added some math into the mix: 2 + 250 + 38= 290. If you hear someone calling you er bai jiu shi they’re not saying anything nice, trust me.
Hen (3) huang (2) hen (3) bao (4) li (4)—This phrase means, “very yellow, very violent.” A woman who was interviewed on a Chinese news channel used the phrase to discuss violence and pornography, and people just kept it going.
In Chinese something that is “yellow” has the stigma of being explicitly sexual or dirty. You have yellow jokes, yellow movies, yellow man, yellow woman, etc. You wanna be careful because this one is used often, and everyone knows the connotative meaning of yellow here. “Bao li” means violent, which sort of goes hand-in-hand with some of the topics.
囧 jiong (3) is a character or pictogram that means embarrassed. The strokes look like a face making the embarrassed look. This is used a lot online because people can see the face, although I’ve heard a few middle schoolers say this at Starbucks.
Another similar one is “Orz” because it looks like a human bowing.
Diao (4) si (1)—loser or even “douchebag.” This word got its start on a Baidu discussion forum, and describes someone who is poor, ugly, short, good for nothing, a failure in life, and even prone to excessive masturbation. It has become a popular term similar to the Japanese term “otaku” and can be used to refer to both males and females.
I have only heard this one once or twice, but I think it’s used online more than in actual conversations.
Dan (4) teng (2)—Ball Pain is a phrase that, well, men use, to describe uncomfortable situations, pain, irritations, or just annoyance. In Chinese the testicles are often referred to as “Dan” or “egg” for some reason.
This is a new one for me as I have yet to hear it, but Xiao Ming jokingly told me about it a few days ago. She’s heard locals say it a few times.
Shen (3) Ma (3) Dou (1) Shi (4) Fu (2) Yun (2)—God’s Horses Are All Passing Clouds. This phrase can be translated into “nothing is permanent” and the implied meaning is that we should all just chill. This has become a popular catchphrase for the youth or the “fen qing” emotional youth.
Cao (3) ni (2) ma (3) –Grass Mud Horse. The Grass Mud Horse is a Chinese “netizen” symbol of resistance against the government’s control and online surveillance. It got insanely popular in 2009, and just kept going. It’s a homophone that sounds almost exactly like the Chinese “Fuck your mother.” The phrase is ultra-negative, of course, but my friends tell me it has even more feeling than the English phrase of the same wording.
Everyone knows that the Chinese net is policed by the govt., but most in the international scene don’t know just how much. For years now young people, artists, activists, and bloggers have led a campaign to take back their right of expression (in all forms), and the Grass Mud Horse just happened to be a mascot they could rally behind.
The GMH is a species of Alpaca, apparently. There were stuffed animals made, people paraded actual alpacas around in the streets, and a song was even made.
Ai Wei Wei, an artist, made big waves because of his dissent and artwork, but he’s just one name among many.
I can’t even look up certain Yahoo! News articles here (I know, why would I even go to Yahoo for the news, right?). Simple things like air quality measurements to sensitive things like ANYTHING WITH POLITICS and some historical facts are all banned. I’m only on here now thanks to my VPN.
Yes, you can say that Chinese culture is still very conservative regarding a wide range of topics, but more and more, today’s young adults are pushing back and, in some cases, breaking those perceptions. Many of the people I’ve gotten to know during my time here are between the ages of 19-30, and most of them can’t stand the censorship or hypocritical nature of the government’s policy’s and officials’ behaviors.
But…so far, the fight is largely relegated to the virtual world where “50 Cent armies” commissioned by the govt. to perpetuate propaganda scour the web to shoot down dissenting voices, sites are shut down by agencies, keywords are monitored for sensitive topics, and the citizens are forced to use internationally-based servers just to get the news about their own nation.