The Chinese corporate apology

When does a corporate apology become a political self-confession, or jiantao (检讨), an act of submission not to social mores and concerns, but to those in power? The line can certainly blur in China. But the public apology today from Zhang Yiming (张一鸣), the founder and CEO of one of China’s leading tech-based news and information platforms, crosses deep into the territory of political abjection.

Zhang’s apology, posted to WeChat at around 4 AM Beijing time, addressed recent criticism aired through the state-run China Central Television and other official media of Jinri Toutiao, or “Toutiao” — a platform for content creation and aggregation that makes use of algorithms to customize user experience. Critical official coverage of alleged content violations on the platform was followed by a notice on April 4 from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), in which the agency said Toutiao and another service providing live-streaming, Kuaishou, would be subject to “rectification measures.”

Read through Zhang’s apology and it is quickly apparent that this is a mea culpa made under extreme political pressure, in which Zhang, an engineer by background, ticks the necessary ideological boxes to signal his intention to fall into line.

At one point, Zhang confesses that the “deep-level causes” of the problems at Toutiao included “a weak [understanding and implementation of] the “four consciousnesses”. This is a unique Xi Jinping buzzword, introduced in January 2016, that refers to 1) “political consciousness” (政治意识), namely primary consideration of political priorities when addressing issues, 2) consciousness of the overall situation (大局意识), or of the overarching priorities of the Party and government, 3) “core consciousness” (核心意识), meaning to follow and protect Xi Jinping as the leadership “core,” and 4) “integrity consciousness” (看齐意识), referring to the need to fall in line with the Party. Next, Zhang mentions the service’s failure to respect “socialist core values,” and its “deviation from public opinion guidance” — this latter term being a Party buzzword (dating back to the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests) synonymous with information and press controls as a means of maintaining Party dominance.

Zhang also explicitly references Xi Jinping’s notion of the “New Era,” and writes: “All along, we have placed excessive emphasis on the role of technology, and we have not acknowledged that technology must be led by the socialist core value system, broadcasting positive energy, suiting the demands of the era, and respecting common convention.”

In the list of the company’s remedies, there is even a mention of the need to promote more content from “authoritative media,” a codeword for Party-controlled media, which suggests once again that the leadership has been unhappy with the idea of algorithms that wall users off from official messaging if they show no interest in such content.

Here is the full story, via Anecdotal.


It's not just Chinese domestics falling into line with Xi Jinping. Here in the Philippines, the current president Dutarte has renounced the US (though he like Trump, since they have similar styles) and aligned the PH with China. They are planning to jointly explore the disputed waters off of PH, which the UN has said is exclusively the Philippines and not China's. The cat (CHN) and the canary (PH) are friends now. Some speculate Duterte was paid off, which is not hard to imagine in this country. China's perceived weight (some economists say by the bogus PPP measuring standard their GDP is #1 in the world) is paying off.

Are you getting Straussian on us as well, Ray?

Dutarte is to China as ____ is to ____.

Zhang is to Xi as ____ is to ____.

Luckily the American spirit resists such things.

@Anonymous - It's not Straussian, since no hidden meaning. I'm expressly saying that many people have bought into the China is a juggernaut theme, including our gracious host, fellow blogger Scott Sumner, a bunch of other Panda-huggers. Truth is, China needs the USA more than the US needs China, which is why, just as I predicted, China's treat of a trade war is a paper tiger. I think, as a Caucasian in Asia, China is, like Japan was, a proxy for "Asians can do it too". Analogous to how wartime Communism was admired in the 1930s-1950s, about the time industries in the USA began to grow to monopoly scale, which confused the issue between communism and market capitalism, hence the admiration for the USSR.

China is hype. Besides the fact CHN GDP is inflated, its population is graying fast. CHN has no real reach with its navy and probably even could not win a war with Taiwan, much less the USA. Recall they lost to Vietnam in the 1970s. Still, people fear the hype, recall "Japan, Inc" taking over the world in the late 1980s.

"China is hype."

A personal 'jumping the shark' moment was when NY times ran an article on why western deodorant brands haven't made much of an imapct in China. The reason you ask? Scientists, marketers and native journalists say the same thing: The Chinese, as a race, are incapable of producing body odour and therefore has no need for deodorants. With any other nation, of course, it would be because the people don't care about smelling bad in public but in China, it has to be genetic superiority. I doubt even the Japanese got so much hype at their peak in the west.

Addendum: I guess it speaks for the time that I feel like I have to prove that yes, 'East Asians' do in fact smell like the rest of us.

"The review period saw a strong emergence for the sumehara concept in Japan, with this term meaning "smell harassment." Many are distressed by exposure to other people's body odour on public transport or in workplaces, while being keen to avoid inflicting sumehara on others. This trend is linked to a number of factors, including urbanisation and increasingly crowded cities."

@D - good one, though in defense of "Asians don't smell" I do recall some study that found body oils, statistically, are found in higher concentrations in the 'races' as follows: black > white > yellow. Keep in mind it's a bell shaped curve so lots of overlap, but the above seems to me to be true, since indeed Asians hardly smell at all to me (and I'm sure I reek to them). They have no facial hair either, statistically, making finding a quality 3-edged razor blade sometimes hard to do even in a grocery store.

Well, they use a lot of garlic to fend off food poisoning...

"Addendum: I guess it speaks for the time that I feel like I have to prove that yes, 'East Asians' do in fact smell like the rest of us."

What's telling is that you still believe all humans are identical and are shocked that it might not be true.

"The non-functional ABCC11 allele is predominant among East Asians (80–95%), but very low in other ancestral groups (0–3%).[5] Most of the world's population have the gene that codes for the wet-type earwax and normal body odor; however, East Asians are genetically predisposed for the allele associated with the dry-type earwax and a reduction in body odor.[5][18][20] East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) have fewer apocrine sweat glands compared to people of other descent, making East Asians less prone to body odor.[22][23] The reduction in body odor and sweating may be due to adaptation to colder climates by their ancient Northeast Asian ancestors.[18]"

The same link says females of the human species (race not specified) smell like fruit/onion. That is all.

No matter how spectacularly wrong you are, keep doubling down. That seems pretty common in today's world.

I doubt the civilized world will collapse if people realize there are (average) racial differences in body odor, but who knows. Is this yet another issue where we have to play pretend?

"The reduction in body odor and sweating ..."

And this is why they'll never REALLY be good at hoops. If you can't sweat, you can't play hoops! Although the fact that they don't smell makes it more fun to play against them. Especially if they're "skins."

How much of China's economic performance is hype and how much real is debatable I suspect. It's certainly a large economy and has some clout. What is real is both its and Xi's lust for empire now.

I have often wondered about that action by Duarte. I certainly can understand that the Philippines might not really want to be ground zero in a conflict with China while aligned with a power not too close by. Perhaps he thinks he can get a better deal with China -- and they certainly would not publicly (or I suspect privately) ever question or criticize his policing action in the war on drug as the West will and has done. But so has the UN so maybe that is not an entirely "western" view.

@john - yes, that's right. Supposedly Duarte was going to get some aid money from China to either build a railroad to the neglected east part of Luzon island and/or bring in another badly-need telecom company to make for better competition, but so far it's just been talk. I think Duarte's real concern right now is trying to overturn the constitution so he can run for more than one term, hence his push towards some sort of new 'federalism'.

Thinking emoji.

Gosh this is boring.

At one point, Zhang confesses that the “deep-level causes” of the problems at Toutiao included “a weak [understanding and implementation of] the “four consciousnesses”.

Coming to Silicon Valley soon. There is not such a big difference between the world the Left has created in China and the world they want to create in the West:

After all this is not as trivial as the incident that ended Paula Deen's career.

I am a Lutheran and I still think that was beating the trees for a remote example. Compared say to:

"Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTIMES & WAPO, the Trump base is getting stronger!" - the President of the United States

If only they understood the four consciousnesses as well as Fox and Friends.

It is not Fox and friends that is forcing people into abject public apologies. That would be the Left.

It is hard to believe that with the onslaught of the mainstream media, so many American voters still support Trump. The American media is not state-owned like China's but it is remarkably uniform and intolerant just like China's. Except America has Fox. For the moment. I am sure people are working on that now.

But you're right. The correct comparison is forcing Georgetown to apologize for slavery.

Although Tyler is quite knowledgeable about China, he has said that he doesn't really know enough about American universities to comment on any situations there. He's not too different from our friend Zhang.

I think we westeners too often look at China with awe because "the economy" and "they get things done". Never forget theyre a disgusting, murderous dictatorship.

Oppressive dictatorships usually have clean streets and impressive public works projects, almost to the point that these features are identifying.

Look at the bright side, China doesn't have clean streets!

Of course, our own boy billionaire was having his political abjection in front of finger-wagging politicians and cameras, while billionaire Saudis were having their political abjection in the Ritz-Carlton. A difference in culture, I suppose. I prefer the French method: the guillotine!

What is the difference between that and Japanese tycoons pretending they are sorry they backstabbed the United States and sold foidden technology to the Soviet Union? Big business and government are in it together in Asian countries.

This could be the shot in the arm that will turbo boost the Chinese economy to the top!

Perhaps it's just coincidental but the parallel to Facebook is obvious. Taking the comparison too seriously, one is led to believe that the US is just another autocracy like China. And, indeed, many libertarians have criticized government intrusion on the FB business operations.

While sympathetic to those arguments, I think there is an important distinction. Facebook had allegedly violated the rights and privacy of its users, two core principles of American liberty. [Interject excuses and justifications here]. The Chinese corporation had allegedly violated the core principles of socialism. So there is an analogous violation of fundamental principles.

But where things depart is that socialism is inherently violative of liberty. Disobedience to socialist principles is a virtue, not a vice. China is attempting to SUPPRESS the free exchange of ideas while the US Congress is trying to PROTECT the free exchange of ideas. The former intervention is oppressive. The latter intervention is in keeping with the fundamental principle that the sole legitimate role of government is to secure rights. The proper analogy is forcing a large corporation to admit and correct rampant racial discrimination in its hiring and operations or rampant sexual harassment.

Facebook was appropriately forced into jintao. Zhang was forced to submit to cruel and oppressive control (without me passing judgment on the ethics of what he actually did)

Good conversation. Philosophy is overrated by manipulative forces and underrated by the populace.

The most frightening (though predictable) aspect to this story is how Xi Jinping is becoming an absolute dictator. The (relative) political stability and economic growth of the post-Mao era is at great risk.

To what extent will Chinese (government and people) read the Zuckerberg hearings the same way as this news, and take it as evidence that the US government wants to do the same thing with Facebook?

Silicon Valley is becoming increasingly as authoritarian as China. It was funny that Zuckerberg could not define what hate speech is and said at the same time that Facebook would have adequate AI tools to fight it. Won`t we be able to say things openly that are uncomfortable to other people(similar to keep the social order in China)? Will scientific debates be banned because it is psychologically hamful to some people(for example, psychological differences between men and women, sex dimorphism)?

"In the list of the company’s remedies, there is even a mention of the need to promote more content from “authoritative media,” a codeword for Party-controlled media, which suggests once again that the leadership has been unhappy with the idea of algorithms that wall users off from official messaging if they show no interest in such content.'

So the CCP wants social media to avoid showing people what it calls "fake news?"

Thought control will come to the USA too but from a different direction: via Silicon Valley. Xi is just more upfront about it.

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