Xi Jinping and the "Mandate of Heaven"



It's mid-February 2020 and the rule of China's strongman leader, Xi Jinping, is being assailed from many directions.


Xi's list of woes? A slowing economy (hurt in part by a trade war with the United States, a lending bubble, and an African Swine Fever epidemic), a continuing crisis with a restive Hong Kong, growing criticism of his policies re: the Uighurs and others in Xinjiang from the international community, and an apparently botched response to the still-growing epidemic of coronavirus.


What do these calamities and threats mean for a ruler who has spent the past eight years cultivating an aura of his own essentialness - while purging potential rivals and dismantling the system of succession set into place by China's less-cult-of-personality-obsessed post-Mao leaders?


What might befall today's Chinese leader - who exercises absolute control over 1.4 billion people - but whose grip on that power might appear to be slipping as China seemingly careens from one crisis to the next?


Perhaps a bit of history could prove instructive?


Over 3,000 years ago the Zhou people, from the western part of China, overthrew the Shang Dynasty. During the resulting Zhou Dynasty, the emperor reigned as the “Son of Heaven”, with the approval of the gods - known as the "Mandate of Heaven" (in Chinese, tiān mìng, 天命 ).


One of the key concepts underlying the Mandate of Heaven? The ruler's great power came with a moral obligation to use it for the good of his people. If the ruler failed in this duty, then his state would suffer terrible disasters and he would lose the right to govern. 


So, in ancient times, floods, diseases, local rebellions, famines or military defeats were often seen as signs that the ruler must go.


Around 300 BCE, the Chinese philosopher Mencius (in Chinese, Mèngzǐ, 孟子) explained the concept of the Mandate of Heaven - and how certain signs might be deemed relevant in deciding whether a ruler was past his shelf-date - this way: "Heaven does not create people for the sake of the sovereign. Heaven made the sovereign for the sake of the people."


The Zhou ruled for almost 1,000 years (until 256 BCE). And then? The concept that a ruler was empowered by the Mandate of Heaven (to varying degrees) persisted in China under all the subsequent dynasties. And - here's where we get back to Xi Jinping - the "Mandate of Heaven" still has relevance today.


Inside China? The coronavirus - causing millions to fear for their health and with a destructive impact on the economy and everyday life - may be the last straw.


Anyone who claims to know what will happen next is not to be trusted. China is just too big and complex.


But? After a seemingly unending chain of crises? Is the fall of Xi out of the question?


And should Xi be forced out?


What then?


Is a break-up of the CCP's iron-fisted control over all of China as we currently know it impossible to imagine?




Sexy Chinese Content: Slipping One Past the Censors 苹果陈 @loora8888



I have been spending a lot of time in Asia. To support myself? I do several things - a number of them under the banner of “teaching”. One organizing principle of my “teaching”? Trying to figure out how stories are being told and shared using new motion picture tech. How does that manifest in my life? I try to find (paying?) opportunities to share what I’ve learned in Asia watching things online - like the Hong Kong protests or web content in China. 

So? 

I saw loora8888

I’ll admit, the apparent street photography coupled with fearless beauty and a sexual connection to the camera is where my fascination started. But from that first connection flowed other questions. 

Who are they? What’s with their physical intimacy? Are they gay? 

Not likely. 

In China right now gay stories are banned - and an author of gay-erotica was recently sentenced to 10 years in jail

So? 

It seems they are sisters. 

Ok. That part makes sense. Even though, in my life, I’ve only known a few sisters whose connection was truly that exhilarating. I get who they are. And it gets them past the Chinese censors. In other words? Their intense connection, coupled with their intoxicating playful sexual confidence on camera, now made sense to me as a China-watcher and supporter of civil rights for gay people. 

But then my producer-self asked - who or what is paying for all this? 

The answer? 

They are marketing the clothes they design. 

Truly? Next level stuff. And? For me? This is yet another example of how some major obstacles (Chinese censorship) and the new tools are inspiring amazing work that contributes to the ongoing democratization of motion picture production.

Are Media Sites Delivering Their News All Wrong?


In February of 2017, the Director for Ad Engineering for The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development group, Aram Zucker-Scharff, posted to his personal blog about a better model for delivering the news.

Aram's specific gripe? A lack of evidence to support the design choices news organizations were making online: 

"Few, if any, media companies are backing up their design with user experience science."

Aram argued that not enough attention was being paid to actual user experience. 

By copying what the big guys were doing (e.g., innovating with screens cluttered with ad videos and too many choices), media sites were becoming less, not more, readable.

"The first value every site design should solve for is readability. The people who come to news sites are there to read. Yet bad design patterns that challenge readability don’t just abound, they multiply."

Aram's article struck a chord with me, because I've been urging the educators training tomorrow's filmmakers (and XR experience designers), to instill a deeper understanding of how human anatomy and human perception work.

Here's what Aram wrote about that:

"Understanding how our readers eyeballs work in the general sense means building designs informed not by trends or other news orgs, but by science. Much of that science is publicly available, waiting for us to use."

Finally? 

Aram came out in favor of inviting the users to participate in the design process. Because the tools for delivering connected experiences are increasingly two-way, opening up (in previously unrealistic ways) to user interaction is not only possible, it can actually help to build a sense of community and ownership.

"With better tools and connections into the community we can start driving better choices to impact how we build the news. The news media can start looking at atomic, delayed, or personalized news with the confidence that we can build whole new workflows for reportage that create better engagement with our audience."

German Federal Courts: Where IP Optimism Goes to Die


Remember what I said about Germany's highest Court recognizing an untrammeled right to sample a small portion of an existing musical recording

Because that's how hip-hop works.

Remember how excited I was when Germany's Constitutional Court - back in 2016 - wrote so eloquently (and logically) about how a 2 second long drum sequence from Kraftwerk’s 1977 "Metall auf Metall" (Metal on Metal) could be looped under Sabrina Setlur’s 1997 "Nur Mir" (Only Me) without requiring endless years of litigation - or paying hundreds of thousands of Euro's to lawyers and record companies?

Was I wrong to hope, back then, that the evolving American legal decisions - written by enlightened Judges, who favor a transformative fair use for economically inconsequential excerpts - had found a sympathetic ear in Germany's highest Court?

Well. Yes. And no.

While the highest Court in Germany clearly got how sampling could work in the 21st century, they also referred the matter back down to Germany’s Federal Court (mired in the 19th century?) to be reassessed.

And it's in those dreary German Federal Courts where optimism (for example, about copyright law evolving to suit the times) apparently goes to die. 

It isn't over yet. 

But, the latest news is grim.

In the now never-ending case involving that 41-year-old 2-second rhythm sample from Kraftwerk, Advocate General Szpunar writing for the German Federal Court ruled on December 12th, 2018 that:

"The aim of sampling is not to enter into dialogue with, be used for comparative purposes, or pay tribute to the works used. Sampling is the act of taking extracts from other phonograms, which are used as raw materials, to be included in new works to form integral and unrecognisable parts. Moreover, those extracts are often modified and mixed in such a way that all original integrity is lost. It is not therefore a form of interaction but rather a form of appropriation... I do not believe that it is customary in hip hop or rap culture to indicate the sources of the samples that make up the works belonging to those genres of music. In any event, it is not apparent from the order for reference that the appellants tried to indicate the source of the extract used in the song Nur mir or the names of the respondents... I therefore propose that [an exception similar to US notions of fair use provided for in Germany's Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29]... does not apply where an extract of a phonogram has been incorporated into another phonogram without any intention of interacting with the first phonogram and in such a way that it forms an indistinguishable part of the second phonogram."

In short?

You still can't sample in Germany without getting permission.

Even after the highest Court in Germany wrote in 2016 that Sabrina Setlur’s sampling of Kraftwerk's then 20 year old song had a “negligible” impact on Kraftwerk and therefore “artistic freedom overrides the interest of the owner of the copyright.” 

Address your outraged complaints to Advocate General Szpunar in the German Federal Court. (That's his picture above. And no. I didn't get permission to use the picture from CommRisk. Sue me.)

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.