2018-10-22 01:50
汉语世界(The World of Chinese) 2018年3期


A “fake medicine” scandal has ignited a nationwide furor over police procedure, with no less than Chinas official Xinhua News Agency calling for public security bureaus (PSB) to “exercise power doubly prudently” following the three-month detention of a corporate whistleblower.

The dispute—between Guangdong anesthetist Tan Qindong and the manufacturers of Hongmao Medicinal Liquor—began in December 2017. Dr. Tan published a blog calling the over-the-counter tonic—which has already been cited for false advertising in 25 provinces—useless “poison.” PSB officers from Hongmaos home county of Liangcheng, Inner Mongolia, seized Dr. Tan in Guangzhou on January 12 for the crime of “impairing [Hongmaos] commercial reputation.”

Legal experts around China have since pointed out that the crime in question, outlined in Article 221 of the PRCs Criminal Law, typically pertains to falsehoods alleged by a competitor that damage a businesss reputation. It is up to the company to prove that the damaging information is both false and that it led directly to a commercial loss—and the police exist to make arrests on matters of public security, rather than civil disputes. Yet the outcome of Tans case is not unexpected in a country when well-connected companies and officials have been known to misuse public resources.

Described broadly in media as a “abuse of public power”—a category which encompasses actions from nepotism to misuse of public vehicles—Dr. Tans case has numerous previous parallels, perhaps most absurdly an incident in August 2017, when a man called Zhang was arrested for complaining about the quality and price of food at a Hebei hospital. In 2010, a Ningxia resident was arrested, following another cross-country manhunt, for alleging online that a classmate—who happened to be the son of two county officials—had cheated on his civil service exams. In both cases, the “reputation damage” charges were later dropped by police.

The PSB have dealt out far more severe consequences, though, when more than just “corporate reputation” was on the line: In 2006, a university student named Huang Jing was detained for 10 months by Beijings Haidian police for “blackmail and extortion” after allegedly demanding too much compensation for her defective laptop from computer manufacturer Asus—Huang had sought five million USD. In the aftermath of the 2008 tainted milk-powder scandal, two of the affected parents, Zhao Lianhai and Guo Tao, were arrested for “provocation” and “blackmail” respectively, after demanding compensation from formula manufacturers—the latter was jailed for five years.

Dr. Tan has since been released from detention, while Inner Mongolias PSB has ordered its county-level leaders to make further investigation into the case. The doctor now says he doesnt regret his actions and is prepared to “serve a years sentence in the worst case”—lets hope he doesnt complain about the prison food in the meantime.




In Sichuan, the worlds largest cockroach farm is at the forefront of an unlikely nexus between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Over 6 billion American roaches, nearly 28,000 per square foot, are bred annually in pitch-black humidity on this vast farm. Its powered by an AI system that constantly monitors and adjusts conditions, such as temperature and food supply, in order to perfect growth rates and quality.

The livestock from this Creepshow colony are mostly destined to be the main ingredient in a host of TCM products, such as 50-RMB bottles of Kangfu Xinye, or “Recovery Potion,” a sweet, fish-fragranced therapeutic brew produced by Chengdus Good Doctor Pharmaceutical Group. The crushed cockroach concoction can help cure respiratory and gastric ailments, regrow damaged tissues, and treat burns or inflammations, at least according to national TCM studies.

But skepticism towards these natural and highly profitable miracle cures is growing, particularly among young and less credulous. Exposés on high-end TCM products like Tibetan caterpillar fungus, which boasts an apparent ability to boost both lifespan and libido, bear bile, and donkey gelatin have heightened awareness of both their lack of efficacy and the vast damage they wreak on the environment and ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the roach farm poses a more immediate existential danger to its surroundings: Professor Zhu Chaodong, a lead scientist in insect evolution studies at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post that a breach in the farms security would be “terrifying” and a “catastrophe” for the local environment: “Multiple lines of defense must be in place and work properly to prevent the disaster of accidental release.”

Many users meanwhile remain unaware of the potions sole raw ingredient, say experts, and would be revolted to learn the truth (the Chinese elixir only lists the Latin name, Periplaneta americana, on its packaging). The robot-ruled roach industry is unlikely to be squashed overnight, though: the potion is worth over 4.5 billion a year to the Chengdu farm alone. All hail our insect overlords. – HAN RUBO (韓儒博)




“This app has too many users, were no longer operating it in China”—said no app developer ever; except, it is rumored, Wei Lihua, the founder of popular language-exchange app HelloTalk.

The source of Weis statement, which was circulated by several bloggers, remains unclear. The closest is an interview with Sohu blog Edu Talk in late 2016, when Wei declared his team was “no longer marketing the app domestically” because their Chinese user base, about 25 percent of the apps then 4 million users, far outstripped the overseas demand for Mandarin exchange partners. That was only the beginnings of the troubles for the overseas-educated, Hong Kong-Chinese entrepreneur.

Founded in 2012, HelloTalk is essentially a mobile update to the old “penpal” concept. Believing that conversing about ones culture and interests with fellow students is more conducive to language learning than the traditional classroom, the apps matches users based on their native and target-language settings and interests. In the app, users can privately message each another in 160 languages, helped by features such as translation and sentence correction. They can also take part in group chats and make public broadcasts (or just advertise for more partners) in a “Moments”-type feature. Competitors Tandem and Hello Pal also allow partners to play mobile games together or share voice messages using professionally recorded phrasebooks, respectively.

HelloTalk now claims to have 7 million users in more than 200 countries, but still hasnt seemed to cracked the code of being both “guerilla” and “globalized” at the same time. In his Edu Talk interview, Wei characterized his project as an “enormous early-stage investment” and “a mini-WeChat thats more complicated than WeChat.” Not only does the software need to support translation, transliteration, correction, reading aloud, and other functions for each language, but the company requires a suite of knowledgeable staff or local partners for each foreign market.

Then there are the security issues: On the dedicated Baidu Forums of all three major apps, a plurality of recent posts have warned against scammers and pick-up artists who seem to treat the apps as more global—and less scrutinized—versions of Tinder. Sexual harassment issues threaten to derail HelloTalks original mission of promoting cultural exchange and friendships, along with language practice: Harassment reports on Baidu are meat and drink to nationalistic netizens who simply reply,“The app has killed my good opinion of foreigners.”

“[Language exchange] apps do influence a lot of education on foreign languages study, but the relationship depends on [the users] network, and they wont be the trend of studying languages,” an ESL teacher, John, tells TWOC. Indeed, Wei told Edu Talk that HelloTalks product was only 35 percent complete, with the other 65 percent to consist of online courses from foreign teachers, live broadcasts, and a paid Q&A; platform. In 2017, Berlin-based Tandem officially launched with a business model of selling online tutoring services to language-exchange users—“Enhance your practice,” urges Tandems App Store description. “Reach your language goals at lightspeed!”




overzealous censors

She may be one of the BBCs most popular cultural exports to China since Sherlock, but it appears that the beloved childrens character Peppa Pigs goose has been abruptly cooked—on the internet, at least.

Peppas rise began when she was seen as a good tool for young children to learn English while having fun. In April, Shanghai media group The Papers affiliate Sixth Tone reported that Peppa (“a lady in the sty and a thug in the streets”) had transcended her childrens TV roots to “become the topic of countless memes, jokes, and short videos…Peppa mania has reached new viral heights, with many millennial celebrities showing off their Peppa Pig merchandise and even tattoos.”

Other newspaper worriedly reported that Chinese parents had said their children were starting to imitate the pink personality by oinking like a pig, jumping into puddles, and generally behaving as children are wont to do.

Then came reports that the piglet had been adopted by shehuiren (社會人, “society person”) as a cultural icon, with memes like “Tattoos on Peppa, claps for fella” undermining society. As an in-depth report by the Global Times explained, shehuiren are “people who run counter to the mainstream value and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. They are unruly slackers roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the Party tries to cultivate.”

Perhaps sensing an incoming government smack-down, similar to ones delivered to a variety of popular live-streaming and humor apps in recent few weeks—many of which have been forced to remove content deemed “vulgar,” lacking “positive energy,” and in defiance of “core socialist values,” and issue humbling apologies to the relevant organs—popular video-sharing app Tik Tok stepped in to give Peppa the push.

Hashtags, videos, and searches for the rebel runt were banned from the app, as users scratched their heads and wondered what farmyard foolery had prompted the sudden ban. Experts point to a widespread paranoia in the tech community about getting on the wrong side of the censors invisible red lines, and risking active censure—Weibo recently caused outrage by banning all LGBT content, for example, which prompted a Peoples Daily editorial in rebuke.

The other reason seems to be a more traditional one, the age-old culture clash between the old (who puzzle over memes, complain about lack of piety, and just dont get pop culture) and the young (who just want to have fun). In the face of such obvious mockery and misunderstanding, the ban was rescinded after a week, but for a brief moment, it seems, this Peppa Pig was just too salty for the state.

– H.R.