China social media: WeChat and the Surveillance State
- 7 June 2019
China's WeChat is a site for social interaction, a form of currency, a dating app, a tool for sporting teams and deliverer of news: Twitter, Facebook, Googlemaps, Tinder and Apple Pay all rolled into one. But it is also an ever more powerful weapon of social control for the Chinese government.
I've just been locked out of WeChat (or Weixin 微信 as it is known in Chinese) and, to get back on, have had to pass through some pretty Orwellian steps - steps which have led others to question why I went along with it.
One reason is that life in Beijing would be extremely difficult without WeChat. The other is that I could not have written this piece without experiencing the stages which have now clearly put my image, and even my voice, on some sort of biometric database of troublemakers.
I was in Hong Kong to cover the enormous candlelight vigil marking 30 years since the People's Liberation Army was ordered to open fire on its own people to remove the mostly student protesters who'd been gathering in and around Tiananmen Square for months in June 1989.
This moment in history has been all but erased from public discourse on mainland China but in Hong Kong, with its special status in the Chinese-speaking world, people turn out every year to remember the bloody crackdown.
Tiananmen 30 years on - China's great act of 'forgettance'
- 1 June 2019
There are no official acts of remembrance for the events of 1989 in Beijing. But that statement, although factually correct, is far too neutral.
In truth, what happened in Tiananmen Square is marked faithfully each year by a massive, national act of what might more properly be called "forgettance".
Xi Jinping: Digital 'little red book' tops App Store in China
- 15 February 2019
China's most popular app over the last few days has been one that's red in face and at heart.
With a scarlet logo reading "study" in Chinese, or "study Xi" as an ingenious pun, the app aims at shaping the nation's minds under Xi Jinping's presidency.
Huawei confident in uncomfortable times
- 25 January 2019
Huawei has a public relations problem - to put it mildly.
Last week, Oxford University said it had decided to decline new research grants from the giant Chinese telecoms company.
Peppa Pig: China falls for an unlikely UK brand ambassador
- 22 January 2019
She's unlikely to feature on many lists of the all-time top British cultural icons.
But Peppa Pig - the UK-made children's cartoon character - is right up there with the best of them, at least in China.
Zhao Ziyang: A reformer China's Communist Party wants to forget
- 17 January 2019
In a small, central Beijing courtyard, family and friends are gathering to pay tribute to Zhao Ziyang - the most powerful man in China to oppose the decision to send tanks into Tiananmen Square nearly 30 years ago.
He was subsequently erased from Chinese history for what party officials deemed his "serious mistakes" that day.
Xi Jinping game show: How well do you know China's leader?
- 4 October 2018
It's dinnertime in China, the evening news has just aired, and primetime TV-watchers are settling down for the real entertainment of the night.
"Let's listen to President Xi's speeches and comprehend his thought," enthusiastically declares the host of a game show called, yes, "Studying Xi in the New Era".
Movie madness: Why Chinese cinemas are empty but full
- 31 August 2018
For a country which will soon assume the mantle of the world's largest cinema audience, China comes out with a surprising number of big budget B-grade flops.
Some blame this on censorship, others on a lack of creativity but there are also those who see a more sinister force at work, which has nothing to do with film-making.
Beijing Olympics 2008: A hope lost or fulfilled?
- 8 August 2018
Ten years ago this week, the Beijing Olympic Games drummed themselves onto television screens across the globe.
It brought waves of hype in China that the country was preparing to celebrate not only a festival of sport but the return of the "Middle Kingdom" to the centre of the universe.
Trump-Kim Summit: Three questions about China's role
- 11 June 2018
As the US and North Korea prepare for their historic summit, China is the elephant in the room.
Beijing is Pyongyang's only significant, long-standing ally, as well as Washington's most powerful, long-term strategic rival.