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Avatar’s theme of self-determination proves too subversive and successful in China and is abruptly yanked by censors

January 19th, 2010 No comments

I noted in my previous post – Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against “progress”) can be downright subversive – that Avatar had hit a surprising chord in China.

Perhaps not so surprisingly. China’s censors have said they have seen enough of the band-together-and-fend-your homes-by-standing-up-to-bullies movie – which has been playing since January 4 to record breaking audiences – and have ordered all theaters to stop showing it after January 22, weeks ahead of its scheduled February 11 closing.

Avatar will be replaced by a state-approved movie on Confucius. As a result, Avatar will not be shown nationwide. (Avatar can continue to be shown only at the very limited urban locations with a 3-D projector – there is no 3-D version of the Confucius movie).

Most reports are based on the following report from Hong Kong`s Apple Daily (I was unable to find the original) (emphasis added):

China Film instructed all locations to stop showing the ordinary version of Avatar and to show only the 3D version. The Central Publicity Department issued an order to the media prohibiting it from hyping up Avatar. Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar:
first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from
domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced
removal, and may possibly incite violence.

A mainland source close to China Film confirmed that the company had
recently issued instructions ordering the 2D and film version of Avatar to be taken down this week, leaving only the 3D version still showing.

Because there are so few 3D cinemas on the mainland, the order effectively prevents the general distribution of Avatar. The source said that the order had come from SARFT [China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television]: “It may be a political decision.” Reportedly, even the 3D version will only be able to screen for three to four weeks. Avatar premiered in China on the fourth of the month.

According to the source, the Central Publicity Department has
ordered propaganda departments to ensure that the media does not hype
up Avatar, and that they correctly guide public opinion. At the
same time, it instructed the entertainment news media to shift its
attention to the upcoming domestic blockbuster Confucius. Confucius, starring Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat, will premiere across the mainland on the 22nd.

More reports are here and here.

I imagine bootleg copies of Avatar, which were apparently on sale in China even before the movie opened, will soar.

Next up on the censors’ agendaLooks like Google.

Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against "progress") can be downright subversive

January 14th, 2010 No comments

It looks as if James Cameron`s Avatar movie –  which is seen by many in the West as predictibly shallow, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-enviro and racially politically correct – has struck a home-owners` rights chord that is resonating in China, and may reinforce popular demands in China for the protection of private property rights against governments and politically well-connected developers.

These are “rebellious undertones“, claims the WSJ in January 11 editorial. This editorial, as well as coverage in WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8) and by Xinhua/China.org.cn (January 13), are worth a look.

Here are a few excerpts (emphasis added):

WSJ in January 11 editorial

This is standard politically correct fare for a Western audience,
conveying a message of racial sensitivity and environmental awareness.
In China, however, it has more rebellious undertones.

That’s because Chinese local
governments in cahoots with developers have become infamous for
forcibly seeking to evict residents from their homes with little
compensation and often without their consent. The holdouts are known as
“nail households,” since their homes are sometimes left stranded in the
middle of busy construction sites. More often, however, they are driven
away by paid thugs. Private property is one of the most sensitive
issues in the country today, and “Avatar” has given the resisters a
shot in the arm.

 

WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8):

While the plot contains obvious allusions to colonialist
resource-grabbing, Li [Li Chengpeng, an apparently well-known blogger and sports reporter] instead sees “Avatar” as an allegory for the
exploitation of regular people by Chinese real estate companies.

In his post, titled “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” Li draws
a comparison between the tree where the Na’vi live and the homes of
people who resist eviction—known in China as “nail houses” because of
the way they stick up out of would-be construction sites (see articles,
with video, on the subject here and here).

Like the Na’vi, China’s nail house residents are often asked to
abandon their homes for little or nothing in return. Chinese real
estate developers, like the company in the film, are typically
quasi-governmental organizations, backed by the rhetoric of progress
and armies of hired thugs that can be brought in when negotiations fall
through.

“The developer sees the tree as an illegal building, its residents
as rabble rousers who don’t support municipal development and aren’t
willing to sacrifice for the greater good,” Li writes.

The post has been viewed more than 200,000 times and attracted
nearly 2500 comments, the vast majority supportive, since he put it up
Monday.

Others have jumped on the idea, including The Beijing News, which called the film “a nail house parable,” and twenty-something literary star Han Han, who defended
the film against charges its plot is weak: “For audiences from other
places, barbaric eviction is something they simply can’t imagine–it’s
the sort of thing that could only happen in outer space and China.”

So what lessons does the film hold for people in China facing
eviction? “Communication is worthless,” Li writes. “You can only fight
fire with fire.”

 

Xinhua/China.org.cn (January 13)

While most of the global audience are enjoying the dazzling 3-D experience of the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, some Chinese see it from a very different angle: a successful battle against forced eviction. …

But in China, the story has aroused a
sympathetic response among many spectators, as they see in the film a
familiar social conflict — forced demolitions by real estate
developers and urban administrative inspectors.

“They are very much alike. For
instance, the conflict in the film also starts with land,” a posting by
“A Cup of Green Tea” said in an on-line forum operated by the
www.xinhuanet.com.

“When real estate developers want a
piece of land, the local residents must move away; if they decline to
leave, then real estate developers will resort to violent ways,” the
posting said.

Forced demolitions have always led to
opposition and resistance from local residents in China and have given
rise to the term “nail house” in China, in reference to a nail refusing
to be hammered down.

In southwest China’s city of
Chongqing, a couple battled for three years from 2004 to 2007 to stop
developers from razing their home. Their neighbors left one after
another, leaving their two-story brick building standing like a tower
surrounded by a 17-meter deep construction site. Their fight finally
came to an end in April 2007 with a negotiated agreement that
nevertheless saw the demolition of their house.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband
stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw Molotov
cocktails at the approaching bulldozer. Pan’s efforts to protect her
home failed at last when the bulldozer destroyed the walls, forcing the
couple out.

In November last year, a 47-year-old
woman, Tang Fuzhen, in the southwestern city of Chengdu, set herself on
fire to protest the forced demolition of her house and died later.

In both cases, the local governments insisted that the forced demolitions were lawful and accorded with regulations.

“I am wondering whether Cameron had secretly lived in China before coming up with such an idea of writing the story of Avatar, but with a promising ending in the film,” said renowned football reporter, Li Chengpeng, in a blog article on www.sina.com.

“In a word, I think the film is a successful eulogy of the fight of ‘nail houses’ against forced demolitions,” he said.

The Chinese central government is increasingly aware of the negative impact of and public discontent toward forced demolitions.

China passed its landmark property law in 2007, highlighting the protection of private property.

On Dec. 7 last year, five professors
from Peking University claimed in an open letter to the National
People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, the Regulation on
Urban Housing Demolition Administration was unconstitutional and
violated the property law.

The existing demolition regulation
took effect in 2001, allowing forced demolition. The government has
finished a draft revision to the regulation.

The draft revision, with its content
still unknown, put more restrictions on the government’s administrative
power in demolition procedures, and was aimed at easing growing
tensions caused by forced demolitions, legal experts said.

“To audiences of other countries,
forced demolitions are probably beyond their imagination,” said young
writer Han Han, well known for his always controversial remarks, in one
of his blog articles on www.sina.com.

“So I think Avatar is a great movie. I give it a full mark of 10, also taking into consideration the 3-D and IMAX,” he said. …

However, “A Cup of Green Tea” voiced a
note of warning: “I strongly advise real estate developers and urban
administrative inspectors see the movie and learn from it.”

 

This relatively surprising reception of the Avatar movie in China is obviously something to be welcomed by all those who favor markets and freedom – as well by evil greenies (and Japanese and others downwind/downstream) who want cleaner air and water – since it is clear that  enforceable and transferrable property rights is one of the key mechanisms by which developing societies move along the “Kuznets environmental curve” from pollution to a cleaner environment.

Let`s also hope that the Chinese also start to recognize that their consumer demand is (like that of Western consumers) fuelling Avatar-like destruction elsewhere around the world, and choose to act as responsible consumers, by insisting that indigenous rights elsewhere by protected.

So, what happened at Copenhagen?

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Briefly, Obama succeeded in getting China and India to agree that they need not simply to improve efficiency as they grow, but to make verifiable cuts in emissions.

This is a major accomplishment, as it addresses the chief reason why Clinton and Bush refused to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate. It also clearly indicates that these and other developing nations view the climate threat very seriously, and that Obama has done an effective job in gaining the trust and confidence of their leaders.

As this provides assurance that any action by the US will be reciprocated to some degree by China and others, and thus may actually be meaningful rather than simply driving jobs from our economy to theirs, this may be the hand-writing on the wall for the passage of climate legislation by Congress (though the acrimony over health care, economic woes and the mid-term elections may weigh in the opposition direction).

But by coming in on the penuitimate day, working directly with China, India, South Africa and Brazil, and then leaving behind a bare-bones “Accord” that didn`t fit into the prior negotiation framework, Obama ruffled the feathers of smaller nations, and left poorer and island nations (which wanted to see firm mitigation and funding commitments) and indigenous groups (which hoped to be acknowledge as the recipients of offsets funnding that would help them preserve their forests) very upset.

Further, logistics for thousands of accredited NGOs and other observers who had planned side events were apparently very screwed up, so many people were apparently locked out in the cold for a day or two and are now steaming.

The result will no doubt be revitailzed pressure on political leaders over the coming year, in preparation for a climate summit in Mexico City in 2010.

Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, has here the most useful and readable summary that I`ve seen.

I note that in September, Stavins participated in a debate with AEI`s Steven Hayward in the Wall Street Journal on the question of whether countries cut carbon emissions without hurting economic growth. Stavins provides links to the discussions here.

 

Playing with fire: With a Democratic President in the wings, Buchanan advocates protectionism

November 12th, 2008 No comments

See Pat Buchanan‘s commentary in the November 11issue of CNSNews.com:  http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=39124.

Buchanan points to the unfair advantages that China has created by devaluating and keeping its currency cheap, thereby favoring and protecting its industry, and growing a large surplus with which it can acquire US assets.  Is the free trade response to this that it doesn’t matter?

Even as he points to what looks like serious issues involving foreign states, Buchanan leaves unaddressed not only the perils of protectionism, but also the ways in which government actions and policies at home – favoring consumption over savings, bubble creating, heavy government borrowing – have fostered the problem that he decries.

Categories: Buchanan, China, protectionism Tags:

Envirofascists at Heritage Foundation worry about China’s environmental problems

September 4th, 2008 No comments

The bleeding-heart liberal do-gooders!  Puzzlingly, this Heritage Foundation essay completely fails to mention the predominant role of the state and the lack of property rights in generating the problem.

They make Tom Friedman seem like the real advocate of freedom.

[Snark alert: high]

Tom Friedman/NYT roots for freedom and property rights as ways to propel Chinese progress along the enviro Kuznets curve

September 1st, 2008 No comments

Here’s the money quote from Tom Friedman‘s interesting op-ed at the Sunday New York Times:

The problem for the ruling Communist Party is this: China can’t have a greener
society without empowering citizens to become watchdogs and allowing them to sue
local businesses and governments that pollute, and it can’t have a more
knowledge-intensive innovation society without a freer flow of information and
experimentation.

Spoken like a true enviro-Nazi!

My prior posts on the environmental Kuznets curve are here.

 

Chris Horner/CEI: Confused or alarmist on Kuznets, China and climate?

August 9th, 2008 No comments

The right-wing Business & Media Institute has published a rather confused piece by Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in which Horner, while noting China’s progress along the environmental Kuznets curve (as I discuss here), prefers to wring his hands that the West, in order to deal with climate change, may feel compelled to adopt the same strong-arm approach that China has taken to trying to partially clear its filthy skies over Beijing during the Olympics. 

But Horner has his paradigms all mixed up. Environmental Kuznets curves are discussed with respect to particular countries – and for good reason, as a society’s response to externalities is largely dependent upon the particular mix of property rights and other institutions which such society may rely on to protect its people and their property from harms generated by economic activity.  But despite Horner’s worst nightmares, there is no “world government” (even as growing trade and wealth is gradually bringing different countries together and establishing a very interconnected world, a world that encourages China by allowing it to host the Olympics), much less a red-handed governing elite that can impose its will on the rest of a powerless world.

Indeed, while one might very well conceive of a global Kuznets curve, it’s quite obvious that information and transaction costs, political disunity and differences in wealth and perspective across the nations of the world make it very difficult indeed for self interested countries to reach meaningful and enforceable agreements with respect to shared resources like the atmosphere.  Even so, we are more likely to see such a political agreement or resource-management much earlier than we are to see the establishment of a unified global government that is capable of exercising a monopoly on force the way the Chinese government does.

It’s the very difficulty in reaching such agreements that underlies some of the pessimism among many that man is capable of addressing in a coordinated and meaningful way various global and regional problems, from those relating to unowned or open access resources to those relating to development and poor/kleptocratic governance (from Zimbabwe to the USA).

Further, on climate change discussions, the effort has stumbled not because of strong-arming of the kind that alarms Horner, but because Western nations have tried to craft overly sophisticated and bureaucratized trading mechanisms (based in large part on US insistence and experience) that were intended to reduce costs overall.

 

Accordingly, Horner’s “alarmism” is rather surprising.  One would think that the difficulties that the enviros have encountered in trying to coordinate global climate change policy would hearten Horner, who is a strong climate change skeptic, both on the science and on policy grounds.  Is Horner secretly concerned that maybe the enviros are right, and that delay on the policy front is buying us unavoidable future costs – in which case governments might decide to act with greater alacrity that they have shown to date?  If not, what is he worried about?

We’ve encountered “beam me up” Chris Horner before; as previously, I find his views to be puzzling – unless Horner, like “skeptical” scientists Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, is becoming a warmer.  As Michaels and Knappenberger wrote in January:

“First off, it will take nothing short of a miracle for the 50% reduction to take place, and secondly, it probably wouldn’t stop the temperature from rising 2ºC above “natural” levels. …

“But the targets won’t come close to being met as a bits-and-pieces solution will not achieve the goal of halving current global CO2 emissions by the year 2100—much less any year before then. In fact, more than likely, these legislative efforts will not, to any noticeable degree, even begin to separate the blue and the red curves for a long time to come—far too long to avoid elevating global temperature 2 degrees above “natural” levels. 

That’s what the future holds in store. Get used to it.”

 

 

 

"Environmental Kuznets curve" and Onion’s spoof of China’s Status as World’s Number One Air Polluter

July 12th, 2008 No comments

Sorry; this was too good not to share:

China Celebrates Its Status As World’s Number One Air Polluter

China has now outstripped the rest of the world in GHG emissions, as well.

Government ownership of (and favoritism to) much of industry, a lack of clear or enforceable property rights and an inability of injured citizens to seek recourse for damages will all delay Chinese progress along the “environmental Kuznets curve” – which in my mind simply reflects the various information costs and transaction costs within a society in becoming aware of and responding to environmental problems.  Environmental problems are “problems” only because a lack of information or social infrastructure means that certain producers (and consumers of their products) are able to shift costs of production to others, who either may be unaware of the risks, unaware of who is producing them, or unable to organize and lack institutional abilities either to protect their rights or to transact with those who generate the harms.

Institutional deficiencies in China unfortunately mean that China will experience a higher peak in environmental damage than if it openly acknowledges its environmental problems and moves quickly to widely publicize pollution information, and to strengthen property rights, tort rights and access to fair courts (or, alternatively, to follow the Western example by abandoning common law approaches in favor of stronger statutory, regulatory and criminal measures).

"Worldwatch" enviro group praises moves to water rights and markets in China

May 18th, 2008 No comments

Yingling Liu, manager of the China Program at the Worldwatch Institute, has praised recent steps by Chinese water authorities to clarify rights to water and to encourage water trading as a means to resolve serious issues over the use of water.

Here are a few key excerpts for the article (“Water Trading in China: A Step Toward Sustainability”):

“In recent years, scarcity and pollution of water have become the paramount environmental woe in China. Numerous reports and books have exposed China’s water crisis, depicting a nation suffering in the face of black-running rivers and dried-up waterways. Nationwide, the per capita availability of fresh water is only one-quarter of the world average.

“But a new regulation from the nation’s water authority may hold the key to achieving water sustainability in this thirsty country. The Interim Measure for Water Quantity Allocation, which came into effect on February 1, provides a framework for allocating water rights across provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities that are under the direct jurisdiction of the central government. The ruling’s 17 stipulations lay out the principles, mechanisms, and practices for water allocation, potentially opening Chinese markets for water trading and enabling the use of market tools to promote conservation.

“The need for better delineation of water rights in China has become increasingly urgent. Water demands within shared river basins are frequently at conflict due to industrial expansion and urbanization. … Such competing claims are prevalent in nearly all of China’s major river basins.

“As water demands keep rising, water waste remains pervasive due to the current “open-access” nature of China’s water resources. According to statistics, in 2003 China’s utilization coefficient for agricultural irrigation water was only 0.4-0.5, compared to 0.7-0.8 in industrial countries. Water use per unit of gross domestic product was as high as 413 cubic meters, four times the world average, while water use per value added of industry was 218 cubic meters, 5 to 10 times the level in industrial countries. China’s industrial water-recycling rate was only 50 percent,compared to 85 percent in industrial countries.

“The traditional practices of promoting conservation through education, moral suasion, and technological innovation are no longer able to keep up with China’s rising water demand. By allocating water rights and introducing market-based tools, the new regulation may accelerate progress toward water saving, protection, and pollution control.”

More here:  http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/environmentandenergy/archive/2008/05/18/a-step-toward-water-markets-in-china.aspx

Query:  Is this really a step in the right direction, or should it be faulted as state action in creating property rights?

Categories: China, markets, state action, water rights Tags:

Bush announces bold inaction on climate change

April 16th, 2008 No comments

As I noted in my April 15 post, http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/04/15/bush-hoist-by-own-petard-prepares-global-warming-initiative.aspx, President Bush has indeed just made a specific policy statement on climate change.

There is much in it to discuss – and disagree with – in what Pres. Bush had to say, but I think it’s fair to conclude that the speech was all talk and no action, and represents no act of leadership, at least with respect to domestic policy.  I’m not so sure that is anything to cheer about, regardless of one’s view of the science or whether the government ought to do anything about it, because, as I noted previously, in fact the Administration’s hand is being forced by court decisions.  Failure by Bush to propose a legislative agenda means we will end up not with a policy designed by the Administration or Congress, but with various uncoordinated ad hoc regulatory actions.  As a result, doing nothing is simply a surrender of responsibility.

So what does this speech do, other than in part to shift to Congress – the Congress that he held in check for seven years – the responsibility for regulatory actions that Bush clearly finds undesirable?   First, it appears that Bush is trying both to have his cake and eat it too at home, by conceding grudgingly that action is needed on climate change (if only to cope with a regulatory agenda that has forced on the Administration), but actually proposing no legislative agenda.  And on the international front, Bush appears to be trying to create some shred of credibility for upcoming talks later this week in Paris with Sarkosy and leaders of other major economies concerning progress under the “Bali Plan” climate agenda, which will be discussed at the G-8 summit in July.  It does seem clear that Bush is also insistent that China and India join any post-Kyoto plan (the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012), as a condition for any agreement by the US to take action, but whether his administration is actively making any efforts to persuade China or India is not so clear.

Interested readers should take a look, both at Bush’s speech, and at the Bali Plan:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/04/20080416-6.html

http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_13/application/pdf/cp_bali_action.pdf

Categories: AGW, bali, bush, China, climate change Tags: