Re: Third Revolution Reading Group, Chapter 3


In terms of archive stability, I think SCMP should be archived in Lexis-Nexis, which should be immune from revision by the PRC - but is a subscription-only database. One option would be for the publisher to put up a bare-bones website with screenshots or downloads of all the sources - should be permissible under fair use.

I thought this chapter was one of the weakest in the book tbh. Tried to cover too much ground - you could do an entire book on the Great Firewall alone, and people have.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 6:45 AM
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Also this link is interesting on Xi's installation of personal friends etc in the Politburo - I stuck it in the last comment thread because I didn't want to forget it.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 6:46 AM
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She does mention polls showing that ordinary Chinese like the idea of credit scoring as a practical tool for daily life.

Clearly nobody would consider telling the pollster the safe option to make sure you can still get railway tickets.

Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 7:07 AM
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I saw Tooze's post, came here to share 2 as well.

To 1: SCMP stopped producing a Chinese-language edition in 2016. Not clear to me how much China cares about English language criticism. Archives are pretty vulnerable politically I think-- LesxisNexis and Esevier share a corporate parent.
It's perhaps paranoid, but a few more years of weakness in the US and Europe, a few more years of strength for China, and a Chinese conglomerate could buy Nexis outright if it becomes an irritant. It'll be pretty far down on the list of such actions worth taking, I guess I'm extrapolating from the successful elimination of Hong Kong's irritating booksellers. What's the next in that direction from a more organized and wealthier organization?

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 7:18 AM
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Thanks for covering, LW. The archive point is a very good one. 2nd 1.
I quit this group for several reasons, but what made up my mind was when I checked the reference for a fact LW mentions - 16% of all Weibo posts deleted - and found the citation was not to the study itself but to a CMU newspaper article about the study. I've concluded basically that this book is a bundle of press clippings. If all you want is a short primer for someone who hasn't been paying attention, that's fine, but that isn't at all what I had been led to expect by the praise this book received from China-watchers when it came out. I suggested it on the basis of that praise alone, a mistake for which I apologize.
To be charitable to Economy, her expertise appears to be environmental politics and contemporary Chinese activity outside China, for which reliance on news and non-Chinese sources is a lot more defensible. To be uncharitable, this book is shallow and sloppy. Not covering, as Ajay did, Xi's family background, or even his pre-presidential career in any detail, isn't really excusable for a book (even a short primer) about Xi's politics. Similarly, repeating the canard about Qin bookburning.* A contemporary China scholar doesn't need to know about ancient China, but they should have the sense not to write outside their knowledge. Especially not if their source on Qin censorship policy is an NYT article.


The development of a pan-imperial writing system led to the founding of an imperial academy intended to control the dissemination of texts and the interpretation of their meanings. In Han and later accounts this event was described as the "burning of the books," but it was actually a policy of unification rather than destruction. When a scholar argued that the First Emperor should imitate the Zhou founders by enfeoffing his relatives, the chief minister, Li Si, retorted that what the state should do was put an end to such criticism of current institutions through reference to an idealized antiquity.

Acting on this principle, he removed all copies of the Canon of Odes (Shi jing), Canon of Documents (Shang shu), and the texts of the philosophical traditions from private hands, stored them in the imperial library, and made them available for study only under government appointed scholars. Books on utilitarian matters such as medicine, divination, agriculture, and forestry were not confiscated. Persuaded that a unitary empire required a unitary doctrine, the Qin government tried to control political thought by limiting access to written texts, but there was no systematic destruction of them. That damage was done in 206 b.c. when Xiang Yu sacked the Qin capital and burned the imperial library to the ground.

Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 7:22 AM
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4: Not paranoid at all. They pressured Cambridge University Press to censor some titles not long ago.

Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 7:24 AM
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Not going to the original articles is certainly something. It didn't even occur to me to check that.

If you're citing an online source, best practice should include recording it in the Internet Archive, along with noting the date of access/recording (which I think some citing formats require, but apparently not all).

Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 06-23-20 8:48 AM
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