Here in Beijing friends have started dusting off their rooftops for summer parties. When I say dusting, I mean it literally: in the past month the city has been hit by the worst sandstorms for 10 years. They serve as a reminder of the urgency of the US climate summit this week. But China and the US have much left to argue over: in my latest column I explore the grassroots nationalist ideas that have sprouted on China’s censored, yet still diverse, internet.
I hope you enjoy my pick of the week’s stories, plus a few from elsewhere you shouldn’t miss. Click here if you’d like to receive Long Story Short by email every Friday.
On Wednesday the former US police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. But convictions of police officers for violence against African-Americans are still rare. Claire Bushey reports on how Minnesota’s state prosecutors secured such a difficult victory, notably by relying on a strong team, emotive evidence and video footage shot by a bystander. According to one Chicago attorney:
If you can’t beat them, hire them. A growing number of China’s tech giants have been hiring former government officials in order to lobby for looser regulation, writes Sun Yu in this scoop. While the “revolving door” between politics and business is not uncommon in the US and Europe, it was largely unheard of in China until recently. What’s more, these officials are unscrutinised by domestic media, making them harder to track. By knitting together corporate records, this piece shows how a nominally socialist country has acquired many of the familiar issues of capitalism.
After recently picking up French again (which I haven’t studied since school), I’ve started to bait my friends into debates over why and how to learn a foreign language. Everyone who has been to secondary school in Beijing speaks some English. In fact, most of my Chinese friends speak two mutually indistinguishable dialects: one hometown and one for Beijing. In his column this week Simon Kuper, a “rootless cosmopolitan”, makes the case for learning languages in the age of machine translation.
In March, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon published a draft bill for a second independence referendum, claiming that the pandemic had boosted support for self-governance. Despite having similar coronavirus outcomes, the Scottish government initially took a tougher line on lockdown restrictions than counterparts in London. In this piece Henry Mance visits Glasgow, which said “Yes” to leaving the UK in 2014, to ask the question: has the pandemic made Scottish independence more likely? In the words of one SNP minister:
In a time when clients, colleagues or even romantic partners will probably Google you before meeting you, Jemima Kelly explores the “digital cleanse” industry. These firms can fix your online reputation — which, by now, we all have. Their interventions range from telling you which tweets you should delete, to working search-engine optimisation magic to bury references to that porn star who awkwardly shares your name. Alternatively, she suggests, we could try becoming a less censorious society and more forgiving of mistakes. In the meantime, broadcaster and prolific Twitter user Gary Lineker advises:
I’m always curious about portrayals of Chinese people’s lives at home, whether eccentric or mainstream. This video feature by the Shanghai-based English language media platform, Sixth Tone, asks why some millennials are warming to pet ducks. It features a live comparison between the ducks we roast and the ducks we cuddle — a topic worthy of pondering . . . Plus, fluffy ducks!
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YuanDeputy Beijing bureau chief