One of my many favorite movies is the 2004 film Control Room
. It starts out examining the media bias of Al Jazeera in coverage of the Iraqi War, and ends up highlighting the separate but equally appalling biases that show up in Western news. The take away for me was that while there may not even be a single truth, each version of a story is biased, so seek multiple sources.
Meet Roland Soong, one of the few individuals translating mainland Chinese news into English. He publishes those stories on his blog: EastSouthWestNorth
. Soong takes popular news stories covered in Western press, and looks through the two dozen Chinese domestic newspapers, as well as other media for Chinese coverage on those same stories. The blog presents the Western story, followed by translated coverage from within China of that same story. This results in some interesting twists, as the other side of the story emerges.
For example, in February, the following item hit Western media sources: Google accuses Chinese government of using students to hack gmail accounts
Several Western newspapers published the names and qualifications of the two academic culprits: one of which was Lanxiang Vocational School. The New York Times
described Lanxiang as a vocational school in eastern China that "was established with military support and trains computer scientists for the military." The Washington Post
reported that "the Lanxiang Vocational helped create what has become known as China's Great Firewall. According to the school's Web site, it established a military department in 2006 to train high quality technology officers. Many of those students have gone on to form 'the important technology backbone' of the People's Liberation Army."
When Soong visited the Lanxiang school's web site
, he found eight academic tracks:
- Automobile maintenance / repair
- Numerical control of factory instruments / equipment
- Bulldozer / Forklist / Earth excavation
- Professional cooking
- Beauty / hairdressing
- Electrical / mechanical machine maintenance and repair
Hong Kong commercial radio aired a story about the school. ".. the school was founded in 1984 and has taken in 20,000 students who learned cooking, automobile maintenance and repair, hairdressing, and other skills. In computer classes, they teach basic courses such as 3D drawing and document handling and they do not teach software engineering. In 2006, 38 students joined the military on the basis of their skills in automobile maintenance and repair, cooking, welding, and other things."
Soong translates reports of the story and its impact from inside China. Two of my favorites include this from Qilu Evening News
The school's Office Director Mr. Zhou did not meet with our reporter.
He only said over the telephone: "These reports are nonsense fabrications.
Several days ago, a Chinese-speaking woman called up under the pretext of asking questions
about student enrollment. She did not identify herself. We teach mainly motor
vehicle maintenance/repair, and some of those students eventually joined the military to
maintain/repair vehicles. It is also said that there is a Ukrainian professor
teaching here. That is preposterous. Our school does not have any foreign
teachers. We are not licensed to hire foreign teaches. Besides, we did not
decline to answer the question about whether there was a Ukrainian teacher here -- she
simply never asked."
The school's chairman Rong Lanxiang said: "British and French media
also published that fake report. Many foreign reporters called about this matter.
They are making this up. We have students who go into the military as allowed by the
military recruitment policy. It is an open process to recruit local talents to join
the military. What is there to it? Our computer room has more than 2,000
machines. But it has nothing to do with Baidu. They even said that we have a
military background. That is laughable."
The reporter also tried to find leads among students. On the
afternoon of February 20, our reporter found a student association cadre outside the
Lanxiang Vocational School campus. He said that he had not read the New York Times
report, but he is familiar with the rumor from the Internet.
He said: "In our computer classes, we learn very simple computer
skills. We learn basic applied skills such as how to make pictures. Where do
we get hacker skills? Some students may have attended a few days of computer school
somewhere and then go to boast at Baidu that they are hackers. It is not true that
the school is training hackers."
And proof that The Great Firewall does not censor sarcasm, this from Tianya Forum
Soong also includes in this blog entry subsequent stories from the Western press as it begins absorbing the rest of the story:
Recently, Lanxiang hacked Google and came to the attention of the US
National Security Administration. When the hack was exposed by the New York Times,
Lanxiang suddenly became famous. Actually, I am not surprised at all. As a
Lanxiang worker, I know many things. For reasons of national security, I cannot tell
all. But I will tell you the following.
- Lanxiang does have a military background. The five schools
Lanxiang, Tsinghua University, Harbin Institute of Technology, National University of
Defense Technology and Shanghai Jiatong University are involved in a major national
defense project whose purpose must be kept secret. Not just any institute was
allowed to participate. Tsinghua has the means, Harbin Institute of Technology is
the big brother of national defense technology and engineering, National University of
Defense Technlogy is the big brother of military schools and Lanxiang provides the secret
- Shanghai Jiatong originally did not qualify. However, it was able
to join through the efforts of an alumnus (you don't need to ask who!). We are
mainly responsible for electronic interference and Internet warfare research. I
cannot go into too much detail. Peking University and the Beijing Institute of
Technology applied to join but they were turned down.
- Lanxiang has eight specialty areas.
- Numerical control is actually robotics.
- Cuisine is actually the manufacturing of chemical weapons and defensive measures.
- Automobile repair is actually manufacturing robots and heavy war machines.
- Excavation machines are actually advanced robotics.
- Cosmetology is actually disguise and tactical deception.
- Welding is actually design of laser-based and high-energy particle weapons.
- Wireless is actually electromagnetic monitoring and early warning systems.
- Computers ... no explanations are necessary.
- Although Lanxiang is good in computers, it is not necessary what it
is best at. The four best disciplines at Lanxiang are numerical control, automobile
repair, excavation and welding. Computers are ranked somewhere between fifth and
seventh, but Lanxiang is already unmatched in all of China. By the way, we invented
the Galaxy computer. However, due to the need to maintain secrecy, we gave it to the
National University of Defense Technology.
- According to what I know, the best tank in China was secretly
developed by the automobile repair department. Due to national secrecy
considerations, credit was given to other universities instead. The welders work
mainly on welding satellites and rockets, but they are not as good as Harbin Institute of
Technology. For this reason, the leaders are very upset. Therefore, the
teachers in the Welding Department are under a lot of pressure. Last year two of
them quit, one to become a professor at the Imperial College, London and the other to
Taiwan. The government tried to stop them. One general exclaimed that the
person leaving for Taiwan was equivalent to five army divisions. However, the action
was unsuccessful due to interference by the CIA.
- The government had considered letting Lanxiang join the 985 project,
but the Central Military Commission vetoed it because the best instruments of the state
should not be revealed. In Lanxiang, many teachers did not agree either, because it
would be a major dishonor for a secret and excellent institute such as Lanxiang to be
listed along the side of second-rate institutions such as Hunan University, Chongqing
University, Huanan Institute of Technology and so on.
- The current "Hacker Gate" was a surprise, because it came
as a result of a romantic quarrel between a teacher and a student (who was a graduate
student named Ying from the Northwestern Institute of Technology and has been here for two
years) fell in love with the same female student. The teacher threatened to fail the
student. The student begged for mercy. The teacher said that he would pass the
student provided he hacked Google. The result was ...
- In China, many things cannot be revealed to the outside because of
national security issues.
- I can only say this much, because I would be invited to have tea if I
The Inquirer: Google was Brought Down by Chinese Hairdressers
Reuters: Schools Accused in Google Hacking Case Ask: "Why us?"