March 25, 2011

Baidu and Intellectual Property

Posted in Books and movies, China at 11:29 am by changisme

Today, I read a blog post by Han Han regarding intellectual property rights in China, specifically attacking Baidu‘s free sharing of published books. The gist of the argument is that Baidu is profiting on the free sharing among other people’s products and authors’ income is substandard already, we shouldn’t be so cruel to our fellow man (as Zhangfei puts it). This made me think of several things.

I remember the first time I saw the Chinese translation of Wikipedia, the subtitle caught my eye. In English subtitle is “The Free Encyclopedia”. Presumably, it means both free as in free of cost and free flow of information. The Chinese translation only capitalize on the free flow of information part but not the free of cost part. It’s not to say Wikipedia costs anything in China, but it points out the possible distinction between free of cost and free of other barriers, which in the Chinese language are two different words. Han Han says that free flow of information on the internet should be advocated, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t cost the consumer anything.

When Google was being squeezed out of the Chinese market, the public harped on the fact that Google scanned Chinese books and showed online the tables of contents without authors’ permission even though they paid a small sum of money up front. Somehow, either by the manipulation of Baidu or nationalism, the public ignored the fact that Baidu showed entire books without paying anything. Baidu claims that this is the information age, free information flow should be available to everyone. On the other hand, they are making the big bucks on it. All this reminds me of the recent controversy over Huffington’s Post being sold to AOL, on which the founder Arianna Huffington gained $315 Million while insisting the journalist bloggers should not be paid. Are these two events similar in nature?

To a certain extent, they both exhibit the symptom that I would like to think of as the Edison Symptom. Thomas Edison profited greatly on the creative endeavors of many other scientists who worked for him. In our case, the corporation takes matters to a further extreme, they don’t pay anything due to the sheer willingness of the creators of information.

It is to be said, however, Baidu, Huffington Post and Edison’s leadership effort are results of creativity themselves, so it may be hard to claim that they don’t deserve some compensation for their work and opportunism. However, since we all agree creativity is to be propagated rather than simply protected, how we craft policies should depend more on the consequences than fairness. In this particular case, by allowing free access to all creative contents, do we protect the rights of people and encourage more creative work?

From a theoretical point of view, I have trouble deciding either way, but simply observing what has happened during the information age, I incline to say that free flow of information encourages more creative work. In China, what really hurt artistic expression was, and still is, censorship, not mainlythe fact that artists don’t get paid enough. (They probably don’t, but that’s besides the point.) As the internet flourished, which I personally observed since the early ’90′s, online literature filled in a lot of the gaps published literature cannot imagine to step in.

This is not to say, however, the rights of creators are protected. The result of which, is people do not write professionally, in turn hinders the quality of their work. In other words, Chinese literature is two steps forward, one step back. Is that really the best we could do? I think not. I did not mention the difference between the Huffington Post and Baidu: Baidu is a monopoly and HP not. If Baidu doesn’t want to pay anything to its creative slaves, it doesn’t have to. This is further aggregated by the owner Li’s power over the judiciary system. One may argue that Huffington Post doesn’t seem to have any incentive to pay its original journalists either, but recent events show that some bloggers have left, like Mayhill Fowler, and occasionally Huffington Post does bankroll some journalism. In other words, it’s more worried than a tycoon like Baidu.

The internet and aggregate website has the illusion of all create and all consume, with everyone on the level playing field. In fact, small number of individuals do gain disproportionally more than others, but in most cases, everyone does gain due to the increase in overall production. This is just like any other capitalist structure.

I don’t pretend to have a clear understanding of the whole mechanism, and I still debates in my own mind, whether an anti-trust case against Baidu could improve the problem.

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I haven’t been blogging since I graduated last week because I feel I should talk about my feeling towards it. The fact of the matter is, I’m still in vacation mode and really don’t have a lot of feeling about it other than “Gosh, I finally don’t need to plug in that crooked little thumb drive anymore.” I will write more about it later when anything does come to me.

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January 10, 2011

In reading Amy Chua’s Chinese parenting style article.

Posted in China at 12:40 pm by changisme

In the past few days, a very viral article has shaken anyone who has ever been a parent or a child all over the websphere. The author has been raised in a Chinese diaspora family with strict parenting rules and is comparing the strict Chinese parenting and the perceived free-range parenting in the West.

Among the responses I have seen, most have been horrified, a few protested against the extreme inaccurate stereotypes, even fewer have resonnated to a certain extent.

To be honest, I almost feel that she’s not serious. My first feeling when I read it was, is this satire against stereotypes or an outcry against the miserable life she’s been subjective to? To this moment, I’m not completely sure that she’s really advocating the so-called parenting style.

There are a few things people do resonate with though. One is that desciplined learning versus fun learning. Traditionally and culturally speaking, Chinese did believe that studying is supposed to be hard, there are proverbs like 学海无涯苦作舟 (the sea of knowledge only has bitter hard work as vessel). This thinking is very entrenched in Chinese scholarship. However, this is not completely absent in western thinking either. Edison said “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”, though I’m not a fan of Edison.

Another point many Chinese resonnate with is that parents criticize their children more readily. There is a common proverb in Chinese, 良药苦口 (good medicine is bitter to the taste). People justify their criticism to their loved ones to be for their own good. I personally believe otherwise, that we all need to nag because it’s a form of release. Some parents criticize more because they worry and their heart aches from this worry. If somehow they believe people can live a happy life even without being the top student, they would stop worrying, and feel less urge to criticize. Therefore, I don’t believe heavy criticism really comes from Chinese parenting style, it might comes from the types of lives the parents lead which constitutes to the worries they may have. For example, if the parents believe without a degree from a decent college, their children can’t get a decent paying job, then they worry. Some may believe this worry is justified and some may believe it comes from ignorance.

Very few other points in the article were resonated. For example, Chinese north americans like to make their children practice piano or violin, mostly because they feel that’s better for their children’s mental development. Western parents do things like that too, except in different ways. For example, I know some parents who take their children to church even if they aren’t really religious. They just believe their children might learn better behaviors there. A side note, I’ve never heard of any Chinese parents barring their kids from playing instruments other than the piano and violin (my mom did protest against loud instruments like the trumpet but that’s different). Again, this is only comparing to Chinese diaspora, if comparing to children in China, there is a much fewer percentage of chinese children who play piano or violin than Americans.

Also, very few Chinese parents forbid their kids from going to sleepovers. They may forbid their children from having certain friends. It’s the same as racism and prejudices in other main stream American cultures. It’s common for Chinese parents to believe that all American children smoke drink or smoke pot, and they believe Chinese children don’t do such things. American parents are much more concerned about leaving their children at home alone than Chinese parents, and no, I don’t think they are worried because some law says so. In essence, parental criticisms come from the parents fear of the world.

Chinese parents demanding good grades. That’s mostly due to the fact that most diaspora families in the US had high levels of education, so it’s a biased sample. Also, most of these people have a very hard time obtaining residence status in the US and it’s only their degrees that saved them, or the parents spent decades working illegally while seeing their more educated counterparts getting a green card in 5 or 6 years.  Therefore, one could almost say, the demands for high grades from immigrants are due to America’s immigration policies. Besides, find a white physics professor and see how easy of a time do hir children who fail math in 8th grade have!

Chinese diaspora like diaspora of most cultures, are generally more conservative than the source population. The reasons for this are commonly believed to be lack of cultural dynamic due to small community size and strong desire to hold on to conservative values for a sense of identity. Even taking these into consideration, the description of Amy Chua is extreme and uncommon in the Chinese North American population.