Jason Ng: Hard Drives Break, Bad Guys Spread Rumors

In the wake of revelations of alleged at the RYB kindergarten in Beijing, netizens have mocked official reasons given for why China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras could not capture evidence. The Beijing Public Security Bureau claimed that there was a problem with the camera’s hard disk, rendering the tape unwatchable. Tech blogger Jason Ng responded with an essay which quickly went viral, before being censored from WeChat (though it is still available on his blog). Posted early on November 29 by the Wechat account “可能吧” this article was spreading rapidly on Wechat, but by 10:36 am, the article was no longer accessible. A reader in Shanghai has contributed the following translation of his essay to CDT:

Hard drives Keep “Breaking,” Bad Guys Keep “Spreading Rumors”

It’s not that I don’t trust the results of the Public Security Bureau’s investigation. Rather, it’s my own habit to not just trust one side of a story. Plus, I tend to trust quickly “disappearing” [referring to censored] articles.

A few days ago, the policed announced another discovery from their investigation of the RYB Kindergarten child abuse scandal – that the hard drive that held classroom surveillance footage is broken. According to police reports, a manager whose surname was Zhao said the video monitoring was disrupted and frequently had power outages. The Public Security Bureau restored 113 hours of the lost video footage, but none of the recovered footage is of any use to the investigation.

Many people don’t believe this report of a broken hard drive, they believe it this is a lie to conceal information. Actually, hard drives are easy to break. Ten years ago, I bought many hard drives, mobile hard drives, NAS hard drives, mechanical hard drives, and solid state drives. Many broke and I bought many more. The fact that a hard drive will break, to me, seems quite normal. Hard drives frequently overwrite and break, it’s simply unavoidable.

Furthermore, RYB Kindergarten isn’t the only school whose hard drives have broken. Many other institutions have also had issues with the hard drives they store their surveillance footage on. For example:

  • 2016: A man died at a drug rehabilitation center. Investigations revealed broken surveillance system, family members were suspicious
  • 2015: A Heilongjiang prison responded to requests for footage of a criminal deceiving and seducing women from the prison with the statement: that footage has been lost
  • 2014: A man in Jiangxi “died from illness” while imprisoned. Complete footage was unable to be recovered.
  • 2009: A sudden death in a Jiujiang, Jiangxi detention center. When the man’s his family demanded to see surveillance footage, the detention center said that there were obstacles with the computer hard drive, rendering part of the recording unable to be viewed.

Based on this history, how could anyone suspect that the Public Security Bureau is spreading lies? This idea could only be the product of rumormongers.

However, while many of my hard drives have broken, my data has not been lost, because I always have backup storage devices. After all, everyone knows it is dangerous to “put all of one’s eggs in one basket.” Why didn’t anyone simply swap RYB’s broken hard drive for a functional one?

The answer is simple. Sure, I have a low salary, but I can afford to buy a few extra hard drives. The kindergarten’s tuition is only 5,000 rmb per month [context: 2016 Beijing salaries average 9,227 per month]. With such a small revenue stream, the kindergarten clearly does not have enough money for a back-up system. They have too many shareholders to reward, right?

Some people say, look, in the case of RYB kindergarten, many of the articles and comments that people posted have been deleted. Doesn’t this mean that some of the truth is being hidden?

Actually, no. Even if hard drives are easily corrupted, perhaps the buttons of the internet are hard to use. From a technological perspective, successfully posting a comment requires stable servers, perfectly connected wires, flawless front and backend server communications, extremely stable internet connection, and totally functional submission methods. Only if all of these complex parts function can a person successfully leave a comment online. With so many links and connections, it is very easy to have a comment go unposted.

But, wait, haven’t many supporters of the Public Security Bureau’s post successfully left comments? Then this can’t be because of bad wifi, nor can it be because of individual phone problems. There is no need to tarnish the reputation of our electronics in search of a scapegoat.

This is also true for deleted articles. Articles only get deleted after being reported by users numerous times. Then, after WeChat verifies that the article should be deleted, the article gets deleted. It is only natural that obviously extremist or completely untrue rumors should be reported and deleted. How can anyone argue that this is a violation of our right to free speech?

That argument would certainly be groundless.

A few days ago, I naively thought that since RYB Kindergarten is a stock market listed company that, at the very least, a high-level employee would resign in remorse at a child abuse scandal. In reality, not only has no one resigned, but they have called a worldwide meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to clear their name around the world, to show that child abuse couldn’t have happened in an RYB school, and that even if it happened, it was a “temporary employee” who did it. They have also prepared millions of USD to protect their share prices.

In recent years, “temporary workers” seem to have done many bad acts, for example:

  • 2017: Civil servant was playing cell phone games? Manager: It was a temporary worker watching gaming videos.
  • 2017: Netizens report that Xiangtan City’s Intermediate People’s Court used the public car for personal purposes; turns out that a temporary worker had already paid 500rmb fine
  • 2013: When people were crushed from trampling in Yanan, the head of the city management fired eight temporary workers
  • 2015: Hebei city management fraud involving deliberately crashing cars for insurance money was blamed on a temporary worker
  • 2011: Jiangxi’s “Female Police Officer Flips Out!” scandal was fired and actually was a temporary worker

I keep thinking, what reason would prompt them to act like their brain was half-submerged in water, caring primarily about the profits of shareholders, rather than about giving their own country’s next generation and their parents a real inheritance? Today, I understand. They have always known that the needle marks were actually a child accidentally pricking themselves on a rose. They have always known that children were not force-fed medicine, but actually that parents had forgotten to give their own child medicine and were just spreading rumors to say the school’s teachers were doing a good deed. They have always known that the supposed “forced nudity” was actually just children spreading rumors and embarrassing their teachers. Just look, the recovered surveillance footage doesn’t even show a single instance of teachers bullying students.

Additionally, the Public Security Bureau also sent out an announcement absolving them of responsibility. Actually, the kindergarten wasn’t responsible, it was one person’s actions. The fact that the announcement didn’t say whether or not this was a temporary worker even helps restore the name of the temporary worker industry.

The Public Security Bureau also said that one of the complainants, surnamed Gou, has now admitted that their child was not forcefed medicine, that reporter Liu had failed to verify this story and thus was spreading fake news.

So, RYB Kindergarten is certainly a great kindergarten.

As Chinese citizens, we put our faith in our legal system’s strength, fairness, and openness. Clearly the fact that so many keywords can simply “not be posted” on Wechat and Weibo is an expression of this strength. Fairness is expressed by the fact that anyone, whether or not you’re actually planting rumors, will certainly face article deletion and possibly detention when expressing their voice in online posts. And openness doesn’t even need to be addressed, the city manager’s supposed “even-handed enforcement” has been videotaped and exposed on the internet for anyone to comment on. No other country in the world surpasses this level of openness.

Since I was young, my parents taught me to persuade others with reasons. They taught me that even if I don’t agree with what others are saying, that I should allow the other person to finish speaking and then, by exposing problems in their logic, refute what they said.

I naively thought that this value, that we should challenge ideas with reasons, was a universal value. Until, one day, I discovered that even if I want to express my voice, I have no way to speak. And, even if I speak, there is no support.

You certainly must think that I am wrong to speak so mockingly of our country. This is a great country, there is nothing worth mocking, you may say. Let me describe a simple workplace situation. Imagine, you’re in a meeting with your boss. Everything you are saying in the meeting makes sense, but the boss continues to keep doing things in his own way. Your only option is to obey, there is no other option. Except quitting.

But your boss does pay your salary.

In contrast, I pay taxes for this land, I contribute to this society. Why then can I not express myself? Consider carefully, who did you inherit this land from? Your rights to this land only last for 70 years, this is your “salary.” Here, you are not the boss, you are merely a paid laborer.

Once I put a lot of effort into writing “Kick the wheels of the car.” I had hoped that many people would join in with supporting voices, realizing that even though we are small we must take action. I had hoped that together, with each of us contributing what we can, we could move society forward. Instead, although I have spent years calling for action, everyone is only looking out for themselves. As they say in ancient Chinese, “Everyone is shoveling the snow in front of their own door.”

Sometimes, even if you cover your eyes in the face of danger, even if your voice is silenced by risk, we still should speak out against the inequalities of society. This can be done without even speaking, simply liking or forwarding an article is also a form of expression.

Only when many people speak out, only when people speak out through many different ways, only then will the people blocking communications be unable to keep up against the tide of voices.

Don’t wait until you have your own child or until you are personally impacted to speak out. By that time, it will probably be too late.

I believe that RYB’s scandal is done with. And even if you don’t want to let it conclude, the scandal has been forced to an end. At this point, I trust that history repeats itself. Yesterday’s viral controversy becomes today’s cover-up. And today’s controversy will become tomorrow’s cover-up. [Chinese]

December 1, 2017 2:10 AM
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