THIS IS Morten Jorgensen's international baseblog.
Check also out BRENTBLOG, where you can follow the progress and development of my forthcoming novel "Brent".

On INTERMASHONAL you will find essays and comments and articles and links, including links to all my other work.

INTERMASHONAL will gradually become more active, as I am transferring my authorship from Norway to The World. I'll tell you why in two essays called POWER TO THE READER, which you will find here. Enjoy!

My Norwegian blog is STOR M (Capital M).

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

BEIJING IN RETROSPECT 05: Coffee in China or Eurocentric delusions of grandeur

A day or two into my 10 day Beijing visit in September, I came to the conclusion that the West is in a serious state of denial when it comes to China's new global role. Looking back at the material I had read before I went to China, very little of it actually managed to describe the Beijing that I was about to meet. 

Many Western commentators seem reluctant to leave post-colonial mode when trying to grasp the new China.  There is a predominant tendency in the West to assume that China is shaping her new identity in contrast to the West, that China is somehow defining her global role as some kind of counterpart to the Western World.

Some years ago, I saw numerous accounts in Western media, detailing the expansion in China of popular Western brands like McDonald's, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. The sub-text was often banally gleeful: "Look, the Chinese are becoming civilized!" But in Beijing anno 2011, I saw no queues outside KFC or Pizza Hut. Sure, there are nuggets peddled and burgers served, but most Chinese enjoy their communal meal at their local, often packed, traditional Chinese restaurant, like they always have. Besides, most of them prefer a slice of the good old cong ju bing (green onion pancake), not pizza*.

As a foreigner, I have been duly catered for when- and wherever I have travelled. I have been chased by peddlers with carpets and water melons, and pestered by professional beggars desiring Euros or dollars. I have been offered jewelry, paintings, drugs, women, souvenirs, antiques. Everywhere I have travelled, whether I have been working or vacationing, I have been the focus of the undivided attention from a horde of locals, or the object of special treatment and sales-pitching discounts.

Not so in Beijing. Just another customer, another face in the pastry queue. I have never walked with a populace so disinterested in Europe and the West as the Beijingers. Polite and courteous, sure, but not all that hot and bothered about Europe and the West, nor Norway, for that matter. Not hostile, by any means, but somewhat ... indifferent. The lack of curiosity surprised me, as new Chinese friends from most walks of life usually turned the conversation quickly back to any Chinese topic, as soon as introductions were made and the reciprocal courtesies exchanged. 

We were several foreigners staying at the 3-star hotel in the district of Andingmen; Australians, Americans, Germans, Japanese, some speaking languages I could not identify there and then. All sorts of people, really. A result of the hotel advertising outside China on a regular basis for customers. But still, the hotel had made very little effort to cater for its foreign guests. 

Ok, so the bathroom was European standard, there was almost fluent English spoken by the office management during office hours, and the buffet dishes were labeled in English, but the menu was all-Chinese. No croissants, no corn flakes, no cheese, nothing that even resembled sucking up to European tastes. The apple juice was heated, and if you haven't tried red bean curd (tofu), you should maybe consider limiting yourself to a very, very small piece** before you divulge. Fortunately, there was coffee.
** "They say, the first time you eat it, you hate it. The second time you hate it even more. The third time, you cannot live without it." From my own experience, I would say the second time is probably the hardest part.


In my hotel room, there was a boiler and bags of tea. But no instant coffee. There are many foreigners in Beijing. Coffee to foreigners should be good business, right? 

It's not like it is difficult to find yourself a caffe latte in Beijing. But mostly you'll find it in hipster coffee bars and European-inspired lounges. Take a stroll to the Embassy District, the "West End" of Beijing, or hip quarters like "Guitarshop Street" a.k.a. Gulou (Bell Tower) East Street, where also the rock club Mao Live House is located, and you will easily find your way to the next coffee bar. But the further you get from the city center and the deeper into Beijing you dive, the harder it is to get yourself a simple cup of Java.

For a coffee addict like myself, the absence of coffee came as a total surprise. It also challenged stubborn Eurocentric thought patterns, that I - somewhat embarrassed - found myself stuck in. I had expected coffee to be a token of China romancing, even courting the West, but no. What was equally surprising, was the fact that nobody excused themselves for not serving coffee. No embarrased blushing, no courtesy regrets, no post-rural loss of provincial face. On the contrary, the staff in almost every restaurant I visited, just laughed: “Coffee?? Ha-ha, no, we don’t serve coffee."
The aristocratic 5-star Hotel Beijing resides a block northeast of the Tienanmen, strategically located in the very geographical nexus of Chinese political power, on the corner of Dongchang'an Avenue and Wangfujing Steet, Beijing's partly pedestrian main street. A hotel with a scent of History, in which ballrooms Communist legends like Mao Zedong held receptions and entertained foreign guests. So at the Beijing Hotel, surely, one would expect to be served coffee ...? None of the four waitresses in the 5-star lunch restaurant spoke any English*** at all, and there was no coffee served. Body language tell-tale; their reaction was typical, no need for a dictionary: 

“Ha-ha, no, we don’t serve coffee."
  Ok. (Dictionary intermission.) Tea, then?
"Absolutely, I'll fetch our hand-painted tea menu, handcrafted in sandalwood." 

When I feasted on rack of lamb coriander at a very fine 5-star Chinese restaurant, the staff started giggling when I, after an excellent meal, asked for a coffee. No, no kaffei. What a far-fetched thought, haha!


They did, however, serve Da Gong Pao tea, a brew that would have cost 25 Euros a pot back home. The restaurant was in every way well stocked, but not even at this level of Beijing luxury, they could be bothered to serve coffee. However, they had Coca-Cola, and were particular about asking me if I wanted a can of Coke. Or a Cuban sigar, maybe?

“Ha-ha, no, we don’t serve coffee. In China, we drink tea.” 

I was later told that counterfeit tea is big business in China. You simply claim that a tea costing 1 Euro a kilo in fact is a tea priced at 60 Euros a kilo. That's probably more profitable than selling marihuana to the hipsters of Beijing.

Most of the tourists I saw on the Tienanmen and in the Forbidden City, were Chinese. The Beijing hotels and restaurants have a potential of 1,3 billion customers inside their own borders. Why bother with coffee, if you can sell even more tea to the sightseeing-weary traveler from Guandong or Shanghai? 


Of course, fashion is inspired by Western pop culture, so is music. Style is a rather new and fresh concept in China, but Beijing style is not a Western copy. Style is shaped by adaptation; the Chinese way. I saw just as much Japanese influence as Western. If anything, Beijing style is a silent response, not to the West, but to China's own past, to the "excesses" of the Cultural Revolution in the 60ties, to the days of dress-as-one; green, black, grey, blue: "Thanks, but no thanks. We want to dress exactly as we please."

The mode a la Beijing, which includes black metal T-shirts Made in China as well as Fruit Of The Loom, fake or real, does not subliminally express, "We want to be Westerners", but rather, "We want to be modern. We are peasants no more", an issue I shall return to in a later post. In Beijing, style is pride, independent of income level.

So, it goes without saying, the Chinese have started designing their own clothes, probably spurred on by their very successful textile export industry, and among the youngsters I met, it seemed to me that Made in China was at least as popular, if not even more popular than Western brands.

Besides, only hipsters care about labels in Beijing, just like your local iPad- and Ray-Ban-toting hero with the green Adidas does back home, and the sound of modern China is not Lady Gaga or Coldplay, but Chinese pop, the kind of easy-listening pop music you might hear in a Chinese restaurant in the West. And when listening to it, the Beijinger does not carry an iPad or an iPhone, he spouts a Lenovo LePad or LePhone, the IBM-developed tablet and smart phone resp., with Chinese character sets and keys. At 530 dollars/380 Euro, they are selling by the thousands, even millions in China. 特别优惠


A myth is prevailing in the West. It says that if only the Chinese knew, like, you know, really, really knew, how great life is in the West (as compared to life in China), yes, absolutely, if only the Chinese could read and understand English***, and if only they had access to Facebook and Twitter and if only they could read our free-speech newspapers and if only they could watch our uncensored TV, they would surely want to live and be exactly like us. Why, even take to the streets, demanding that China should choose the Way of the West?

If the Beijinger is concerned with censorship, she will be concerned with the censorship of something Chinese, not the Communist authorities blocking out Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Most young, urban Beijingers are fully aware of the existence of VPNs and proxies. The Chinese could be on Facebook if they wanted to, it is not all that difficult. I, for one, had no problems with by-passing the censorship, and everybody I spoke to, took that for granted, me being a foreigner in Beijing and all. But, if you are Chinese, why bother, when you have Renren, QZone (both Facebook-ish) Sina Weibo (China's answer to Twitter), Baidu (search engine) and Youku (video)? All your friends are there, too, of course. 


Everywhere I went in China, and the more I walked, I came to the conclusion that the West is completely overestimating its own influence and impact on China. I cannot speak for other cities than Beijing, and hardly even that, aware as I am that 10 days is too short a time for understanding every aspect of any major city, not to mention a city of plus 20 million people. But to me it seems that most of Western mainstream analysis of China is flawed, even biased, as the commentators wrongly assume that Europe and the US are all that important to the average Chinese, and in that sense, to China as such. We're not. 

On the contrary, based on my Beijing visit, I tend to think that China is not really all that concerned with the West. At least not as much as the West would like to think. It takes a strong back to admit you are being overlooked. The United States, Europe ... It's very far away, isn't it? Plus, the population of Western Europe and the US is half the size of China’s, right? And the Western crisis-stricken economies are crumbling, while China is prospering, isn't that so?

Its a simple as this: The average Chinese is fully aware that China's era has come. The Communist authorities make sure they keep the Beijingers updated on Chinese acquisitions of American stocks and bonds, as well as with China's latest triumphs in international sports. Any Beijinger can feel the - quite literary - daily progress, see the thriving economy expand, sense the general extreme growth of the People's Republic of China, eradicating illiteracy and poverty by the minute, fulfilling dreams.

Of course, some "Western sectors" are extremely important to China***, e.g. finance and technology, but that is not a concern for the average Beijinger. It is the domain of specialists, of experts. The Beijinger of today has more than enough with China. His and her China. Inspired for centuries by Confucius and Buddha, not by Aristotle or Hegel.

The urban Chinese buys her grandmother a modern apartment with running water or an Ibanez ARZ guitar for himself, and they are all quite proud of the turn of the tides, proud of themselves, proud of China, proud of "the Chinese Miracle". So why bother with yesterday's heroes?

    *  I shall return to the question of foreign languages in a later post.
*** In spite of the myth that claims pizza was invented in China.

Monday, 17 October 2011

BEIJING IN RETROSPECT 04: Why China won't accept the recent diplomatic advances of Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Garh Stoere

Today, Norwegian news media are reporting that China is bluntly rejecting Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre's effort to thaw the ice between China and Norway. The diplomatic cold front arose in 2010, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee, headed by the secretary-general of the European Council, Mr. Torbjørn Jagland, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Both Mr. Jagland and Mr. Støre are both members of the governing Norwegian Labour Party, and the Labour-Left government of Mr. Jens Stoltenberg voiced its enthusiastic support of the decision.

China published Friday its official reaction to Mr. Gahr Støre's advances. Mr. Gahr Støre was bluntly slapped. It was a predictible reaction.

Let's cut through the diplomatic language and go straight for the underlying reasons, the words that are not spoken. Because this is what the Chinese are really saying, and maybe it takes an author to translate it onto "un-diplomatic":
"In 2010 you, the collective political leadership of Norway, headed by Labour-politicians, saluted that another Labour politician, Mr. Jagland, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a man who has said: 

'Modernization means whole-sale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs in-humane, there's no middle ground... Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race'.

For this, we have jailed him, as he is no less than a foreign agent, not a spy, but an agitator for the introduction of the political system of the West in China. His organization is funded by the US Congress.

Mr. Gahr Støre has said that he respects China's 'traditions'. That is, he respects our right to shape China according to our 'traditions' when we supposedly should become like the West. We thank you, Mr. Gahr Støre for your love of pagodas, flute-playing and fireworks, but we will shape China as we please."
Until Mr. Gahr Støre grants the +1 300 000 000 inhabitants of China the right to choose its own political system, not "a West Mark II" with a Chinese "traditional" dragon-twist, he will most likely meet a closed door, independently of how well he performs his diplomatic moves. The Chinese are talking principles here, post-colonial principles.

It is not a question of semantics. There is a difference between saying, on the one hand, that China has the sovereign right to choose its own political path, and on the other hand, the limited right to "choose" its own Western path. The West may refuse to realize this, and simply deny its own Eurocentric arrogance and hypocrisy, but in an un-diplomatic translation, this is exactly what this entire conflict is all about.

In China, strength is tied to respect. That it is little Norway, with a population of less than 5 million people, probably adds anger to what the Chinese consider an insult.

If Mr. Gahr Støre would resign as Norwegian foreign minister, the Chinese would most surely accept it with satisfaction. If Mr. Jagland were to step down as Nobel Committee Chairman, the Chinese authorities would rejoice. But as neither alternative is likely, I predict it will take a change of government in Norway to make the Chinese Communists even considering taking a first step towards letting bygones be bygones. 

In China's opinion, the present Norwegian political establishment has arrogantly, even patronizingly used the Nobel Peace Prize to insult China. Thus, it has become a matter of principle. Of honour. Ask any Chinese.

* In September 2011 I travelled to Beijing for research on my forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related reflections on China and China's relationship to the West. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

BEIJING IN RETROSPECT 03: To the deconstruction of the concept of "human rights".

When Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre leaves Norway for an official China visit, he is usually asked by the Norwegian press: "Will you raise the question of human rights with the Beijing authorities?" The answer is always, "Yes, certainly", or "We just did", or "We always do". Norway is "concerned" with China's "human rights record".

However, the Declaration of Human Rights is comprehensive. It covers many aspects of human life and many different rights.

This is e.g. paragraph 25:

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

The last decenniums, China has given hundreds of millions poverty-stricken Chinese these basic human rights.

In comparison, Norway, the world's richest nation per capita, with 3000 billion NOK or 385 billion Euro banked in the National Petroleum Fund (SPF), holds the dubious heroin overdose record for Europe. And even though each Norwegian citizen, at least on paper, through the Fund "has" 650 000 NOK or 80 000 Euro tucked away for a rainy day, still 10 % of the Norwegian population is officially classified as "poor".

And I could continue onto the second subsection of paragraph 25, which reads,
"Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection",
as 60 000 of these poor are children. I could also mention other Norwegian violations of the Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, I could mention the many human rights violations that has brought Norway to the attention of Amnesty International, but I see no need for that.

For what is my point here? A competition in human rights? "Which country is best on human rights? Norway or China?" Should Norway become Little China? Am I a closet Communist? By no means. But as an author, I feel an obligation to defend the honour of Mother Language.

When Norwegian foreign minister Støre talks about "China's human rights record", he is a thief. He is stealing the words "human rights record", making them his property. He transforms the content of the (comprehensive) Human Rights Declaration, making the concept of human rights synonymous with "free speech" and "multi-parti system".

I am an author, so by default I am a supporter of free speech, and I find any censorship deplorable. So Mr. Støre is of course fully entitled to discuss these matter with the Chinese authorities. However, that he speaks in general about China's "human rights record", making it sound as if Norway is the proverbial angel while China is supposedly a demon, is another matter. From a global perspective, China's human rights record is nothing less than enviable, for any country. Millions upon millions of impoverished Chinese have been lifted up from utter misery to a good and meaningful life.

If anything, Mr. Støre should lower his head in respect for what China actually has achieved when it comes to establishing basic human rights - the very foundation of human dignity - for such a vast number of our fellow human brothers and sisters. If we feel inclined to compare this feat with Norway's human rights achievements, I am tempted to propose the adjective used in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to describe planet Earth: "insignificant". (Pop. 4,9 million.)

That is, if we give paragraph 25 the status that it deserves. Or, as the German author Bertolt Brecht said it:
Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral
Erst muss es möglich sein auch armen Leuten
Vom grossen Brotlaib sich ihr Teil zu Schneiden
 (First comes a good meal, then morality
 First it must be possible for the poor as well
To cut their slice of the big cake)
In other words, if Mr. Støre sees it as his prerogative to use his (sovereign) right to condemn the free speech record of China from a moral point of view, he should also be prepared for a resiprocal condemnation from China for Norway's appalling human rights records when it comes to the Norwegian poor, and especially the destitute Norwegian druggies, who are only met with police and a cold bureaucracy that treats them like human trash.

Nobody has forced the Chinese Communist Party to take the path that has made China what China is today. The Communists of China could have chosen "the Rumanian model", living a life in luxury and decadence. They had a choice. So has the authorities of Norway when it comes to eliminating poverty and curing drug addiction.

Yes, come to think of it, I would actually encourage the Chinese authorities to raise Norwegian human rights violations internationally, as the dissidents of Norway, and I am but one, have tried to raise these two issues in the oil-rich and prosperous Norway for years, but to absolutely no avail whatsoever.

If this is not to Mr. Støre's pleasing, then maybe he should consider consulting his dictionary: E for Eurocentrism. H for hypocrisy. S for self-righteousness.

* In September 2011, Morten Jorgensen travelled to Beijing for research on his forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related reflections on China and China's relationship to the West. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Beijing in retrospect 02: The Nobel Peace Prize and post-colonial megalomania

* In September 2011, Morten Jorgensen travelled to Beijing in China for research on his forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related reflections on China and China's relationship to the West. 

Before leaving Norway for China, I had been warned that there might be resent- ment in China towards Norway, due to the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarding the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
Determined on breaking any and all conversational taboos while in Beijing, I brought this subject up myself, expecting it to be, if not perilous, at least touchy.

It was neither. There were four of us around the table, dining and drinking Chinese rice liquor. I asked my new Chinese friends if China was angry with Norway for awarding Mr. Liu the Prize? Who? they asked. Liu ...? Oh, right, they could vaguely remember hearing something about that, yes.

Politely, as I was their guest, they assured me that, no, no, there was no resentment against Norway or Norwegians in China. It was a political question, something that concerned the government and their officials; a diplomatic issue. It became obvious to me that they were not really very concerned with the subject matter at all.

Curious, I probed a little. Mr. Liu was an advocate of free speech and multi-party system, right? Yes, they agreed, and this was when I got my first glimpse of what we maybe can call The Beijing Consensus. There were three generations seated at the table, and they were by no means a homogenous group of people, but they all concurred when the "interpreter", who had taken business education in Europe and North America, spoke, on the behalf of them all:

China is China, and the West is the West. They were all highly skeptical to the multi-party system of the West, as it in their opinion, only led to division and strife. It was as if I could hear the voice of Buddha in the background: "Harmony, harmony ..."

Some days later, a student with detailed knowledge of Western politics, used the then recent crisis in the US Congress to illustrate why the Chinese are not all that keen on a multi-party Constitution. The partisan battle between Republicans and Democrats in the US (with president Obama in the middle) seemed to him more or less absurd, a confirmation of the forthcoming Decline of the West. 

"In China," he said, "something like that could never have happened. The partisan tug-of-war and the inevitable diluted final compromise is totally contrary to the way China does it. In the West, you plan and build for re-election, and you base your politics on bland compromises. China plans and builds for a hundred years."

It is a myth that there is a Communist Party elite that takes all the decisions. The Political Bureau is of course extremely powerful, but when it comes to participation in the political process, China's credentials are actually rather impressive. The Communist Party of China has +80 million members. If we exclude children, it is close to 10 % of the Chinese population. In Norway, the parties of Parliament have appr. 200 000 members, or 3 % of the population (excl. children). In the UK, appr. 500 000 are party members, or appr. 1 % of the population.

This is how the Chinese technocracy works: If you are talented, you are encouraged to join the Party. If you are skilled and innovative, you are promoted. In the end, you might become the head of an agency or a department. As a Westerner you would have to go through a complicated political process if you wanted to change or achieve something. In China, you take decisions.

One example is the public toilets of Beijing. Before the Olympics 2008, the Communist Party said: "Beijing needs public toilets." So they most likely called their sanitation department, or wherever their most skilled sanitation engineers might be located, and said: "We need toilets. Do it." So now you can't walk anywhere in Beijing without a maximum of 200 meters to the nearest public toilet. There are toilets everywhere.

In Norway, toilets would instantly become a partisan, even ideological issue. The Left would go for public construction and ownership, the Right would go for private. There would be discussions on cost, location etc. There would be hearings, propositions, debates. Maybe even organizations formed and rallies held. It might take years. Not so in China: "Give us the best solution, as you see fit. Now."

The West cherishes opinions. China honors skills, efficiency and competence.

So my Chinese friends quickly changed the subject. Not because the topic was taboo, but they were simply not interested. And who can blame them? After 800 years of colonialism, imperialism, post-colonialism and whatnot, someone is awarded a prize for declaring business as usual, i.e. that the West is the best and always has been:
"Modernization means whole-sale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs in-humane, there's no middle ground... Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race".
                                                                             (Liu Xiaobo)

There is a certain beauty to the naive, almost touching aura of European self-centeredness in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a person, who in China is known, if known at all, for stating that the West is superior to China, that China must become like the West. "... choose Western way of life."

Personally, I tend to think that to the average Chinese, this sounds like high treason. The fact that Mr. Liu's organization is funded by the US Congress will hardly further Mr. Liu's case in China. Try telling that China is "in-humane" to the four young Chinese who were cheering ecstatically at the table next to mine as China beat Jordan 70-69 on live television, in the finals of the Asian Basketball Championship while I was finishing my Guinness.

The Beijingers are a polite and courteous creed, but they just might be inclined to ask: - Sorry, but who did you say gave him the award? The answer would be a committee in Norway, Scandinavia. Population 4,9 million.

My little China girl
You shouldn't mess with me
I'll ruin everything you are
I'll give you television, I'll give you eyes of blue
I'll give you men who want to rule the world

While in Beijing, I encountered a China that is predominantly concerned with ... China. The China I met, did not seem to take Mr. Jagland's Nobel hint all that seriously. His transparent agenda would be like China awarding a prize to the chairman of the Workers' Party a.k.a. AKP (m-l), the Norwegian pro-Chinese Maoist extremist left-wing party of the 70ies, who actually did propose that Norway should adopt the Chinese way of life, an imagined scenario that the Chinese leadership never was unwise enough to enter.

No, I am not a supporter of political incarceration. No, I am not a Communist, on the contrary, I am a devout anti-Communist. But I am no supporter of stupidity either.

Who in the West would take seriously anyone declaring that West should "... choose the Chinese way of life"? Who in China can take the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize seriously?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

BEIJING IN RETROSPECT 01: Jazz and politics at the Tienanmen.

As we pass the Forbidden City, my Chinese friend Kun points to the surveillance cameras that are to be found everywhere on and around Tienanmen, and I take pictures of them. We keep on, walking faster than everybody else on Chang'an Avenue, the very nexus of political power in China. We stand out, and we are surrounded by soldiers and police. I decide it's time to talk politics.

With the giant portrait of chairman Mao Zedong on our left, I ask Kun if he has been inside the Forbidden City. He has not. I ask him why. Doesn't he like chairman Mao? Oh, it's nothing to do with that. But his life is jazz, and jazz only. Kun needs every day and every hour for rehearsing, practicing. He has no time for monuments or sight-seeing.

The very same morning I had shown him Facebook. I have a proxy program that makes the Internet accessible to me, also in countries where it has been blocked by the authorities. Kun is not overly curious, but asks me what Facebook is? I tell him, it's is like a Western QZone. Kun nods. He is of course on QZone, China's answer to Facebook. 530 million users, while Weibo has merely 230 million.

I tell him, in Europe, many people believe that his generation is dying to be on Facebook. 24 year old Kun looks puzzled. Why? "Many in Europe and the US think that many in China think that Europe and the US is better than China." "No, no, no, no, no ... China is my country," he says. "Well," I say, "in Europe, some people believe that if people in China could, they would all run away to the West." Kun doubles over, laughing. He looks at me, incredulous, "No?" "Oh, yes." Kun is shaking with laughter. 

When arriving in Beijing, I expected to spend the next ten days in a society with rigid social control and a multitude of restrictions and taboos. I was also assuming a lack of individuality and a comprehensive set of collective norms that would make Beijingers a homogenous lot.

They were not. I expected social control, but Beijing embraced me with its vibrant chaos. Beijing is a happy city, with total freedom of individual expression, even if you flag a cannabis banner in your storefront window and spout dreadlocks. Mini-skirts are high fashion, you can drink your beer in the streets, you can walk with your ghetto-blaster on your shoulder blaring hiphop, you can do exactly as you please. The police won't even frown at you. I looked for all the miniscule signs of social repression that one might find in Belarus or Iran. I saw absolutely nothing of the kind.

It took me just two days to realize this, and as the week progressed, I came to understand that everything I had been told or had read in preparation for my Beijing quest, was severely biased by Eurocentric prejudice and a number of arrogant, post-colonial misconceptions. And in the following posts, I shall tell you all about it.

As we take the stairs down to the underground passage that leads to the Tienanmen Square itself, Kun looks at me with a serious face, "There is one thing I don't like about China." Once again, my preconceptions overtake me, as I expect him to give me an indication of political discontent.

A sad expression settles on his face: "There is no jazz in China. China is pop. That's very bad."
* In September 2011, Morten Jorgensen travelled to Beijing in China for research on his forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related reflections on China and China's relationship to the West. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011


A talented, skilled and experienced novelist can make the reader believe any story. In principle, it is quite possible to write an astonishing novel without even leaving your desk. Through thorough research and penetrating insight in the human psyche, the seasoned novelist will add details and make observations to such a degree, that if the reader was to be told the author himself had experienced the story, he or she would most certainly believe it.

However, no matter how skilled the author may be, personal experience is unsurpassable, and on-the-spot observation superior.

In the theater, there are two extreme approaches to acting:

*So-called method acting, as theorized and institutionalized by the great Russian director and actor Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938). The essence of method acting can be described within the framework of terms like empathy, identification and even experiencing. The actor immerses himself or herself in another personality, "becoming" that person.

* Classical acting, in the tradition of William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen, where an actor develops skills. Or, as the seasoned and gifted Norwegian actress Anne Krigsvoll commented once in a private setting, upon being told by somebody that she seemed to identify strongly with her character in a particular movie: "Identify? Me? Ha! I am a classical actor, I have technique." If a character is sad, then the actor uses her or his technical skills to express it.

As in theater, so also in literature. I subscribe to what can be called method writing.


I do not write about my characters. I become them, I live them. I walk like them, I eat like them, and gradually I start to understand them, maybe even getting to know them.

I do it literally. I go to the mall as them, as if I were an actor. I "enjoy" their favorite ice cream, even though I personally may be allergic to those walnuts. I go to MacDonald's and eat their sloppy burger, while I as a private person never eat anything whatsoever from or at a MacDonald's. I don't equip my characters with hobbies or idiosyncrasies, they find their own, often on pure impulse, like normal people. I never write about The Teacher or The Nurse. I write about actual people, about individuals. I do not design them, they grow themselves like plants.

While the more classically inclined author will do "normal" research, i.e. read stuff, talk to people, go to the library, interview somebody, draw from personal experience, and develop a character by means of assorted semantic character development tools, I start from scratch. I let the characters develop over time, and on their own.

In his 1881 lecture “Norwegian literature” , the Norwegian Nobel Laureate, Knut Hamsun, said about his colleague, the playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen:

“Ibsen‘s persons far too often have been just vehicles ("apparatuses"), who come forward, representing concepts and ideas … Priests are hypocrites, the common people are being violated, Latin and Pontoppidan murders little children fervently to death, merchants seduce young girls.”

Nowhere within the vast field of literature is this more obvious than in contemporary crime fiction. The private investigator or policeman is usually constructed over the same last: He is single or painfully divorced, he drives a particular car, he may have or may have had a problem with alcohol, he has an interest or a hobby, he has a neurotic trait (claustrophobia is currently trending, but fear of heights, water, open spaces, crowds will also do), he may have a disease etc.

These characters are not real, they are templates, cliches, card board characters with no depth, just a mishmash of characteristics. Their makers have snatched the measuring stick of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and others, making the format universal.

There is an army of crime hacks out there who build their characters as if people are sets of Lego bricks. And I will never, ever read "a relationship novel", unless you count Murphy or Le Bleu de Ciel as one.


When I wrote my second novel, “Kongen av København” (The King of Copenhagen), I knew the character “King” from my first novel. But, hey, I hadn’t associated with him for 10 years. Surely, he would have changed?

The most frustrating questions I get from the press are: “What do you want to say with this book?” and “What is the story in the book about?” Morons! It is a story. My books “say” nothing, they have no purpose other than telling a story, creating a coherent text.

No, I am not "Brent". I always try to distance myself from my characters. If I write something autobiographical at a later stage in my authorship, I'll let you know. On the contrary, I enjoy writing about The Other.

Most readers were fooled by The Mustard Legion. Droves of people, including reviewers, thought I was expressing opinions, that I "was" the main character, "TT", or at least that I was sympathetic to him. In King of Copenhagen he is exposed as a liar and a coward. What a jerk. I never even liked him.


Before I started physically writing The King of Copenhagen, I travelled to Copenhagen. I had absolutely no idea what the storyline would be. I planned next to nothing.

From my publisher J.W. Cappelen AS I acquired a generous amount of money down, sufficient for me to travel as “King” to Copenhagen for a fortnight. As “King” had always been a heavy drinker, it was evident to me that he, ten years after, would have become somewhat of an alcoholic.

So off to Copenhagen I went, with enough money to be drunk for 14 days, carrying a tape recorder and a camera, as I knew I would spend parts of my time there in a haze. And, just for the record, I am unable to write if I drink.

I did not enjoy it. Growing up, I was surrounded by drunks, my father a junkie, the continuous use of alcohol has always been a no-no to me. Even as a notorious punkrock madman in the 80ies, I rarely drank any alcohol at all for more than two days in a row, or three times a week, even though I can assure you I know how to party hard, and in spite of the fact that I certainly don't mind ten pints of Guinness on occasion. But when my friends drink beer in the afternoon, I tend to stick to coffee.

Not only that. I told people my favorite liquor was Jack Daniel's, a liquor I have always detested. The fact that I managed to pour into my sensitive gullet this disgusting, syrupy substance for 14 consecutive days, and lots of it, too, is only due to my total and uncompromising dedication to the craft of the novelist. Seriously.

Did I have to do it? Yes, because I wanted “King”’s hangovers, and nothing, except maybe very old cognac and bad moonshine, gives you a worse morning after than a 40 % proof liquor containing lots and lots of sugar. Well, couldn’t I have leaned on my own hangovers? No, I wanted his.

Robert DeNiro put on weight to play Al Capone, while Christian Bale lost 60 pounds before he became Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. Both method actors, of course.

So there I walked Copenhagen as if I was “King”. Things happened. Scenes I never could have constructed took place, but because they developed originally in the real world, acted out by real people, the story got just that little bit of extra edge, an element of unpredictability.

The Method always adds some obscure detail, some inconsistency, a lack of linearity; it strengthens the credibility of the text. A surprising smell, a cameo, a dog, it can be anything.

I went home to Oslo and wrote the book, and 90 % of what is depicted in the book, is more or less exactly what happened during my stay in Copenhagen.


Yes, I involve other people. I manipulate, I lie. I posed as “King” in Copenhagen, introducing myself as him if need be, telling strangers that I had been awarded ten Norwegian Grammys. I behaved like an idiot at times, on purpose, to get unique and unpredictable reactions, and most of the embarrassing situations in the book, are the result. I acquainted people whom I would never have approached as a private person. I hit on girls that did not appeal to me. At all.


Naturally, there are limits to what I’ll do, and lines I will not cross, either for personal or ethical reasons, or both. These borders will be severely tested while writing Brent, as Brent is as story of criminals and crime.

Not only that, but there are villains in the book. It is not exactly pleasant to be inside the minds of psychopaths, mass murderers, pedophile cannibals, or serial killers. Being a method writer can be extremely hard on the psyche.

It can also be dangerous. Before I wrote the death scene in "Sennepslegionen" (The Mustard Legion), in which Brian II dies of an overdose, I bought myself half a gram of heroin, which I smoked. I felt that I had to. I haven't touched it since, and I did not like it. But I had to know, I had to understand.


But now, as I am headed for Beijing on research for my forthcoming novel Brent, I don’t expect to "suffer" all that much, or put myself in danger. There will be other research travels for Brent at a later stage that are bound to become substantially more hairy. And when I write the mid section of volume 1 of Brent, I expect to become a social recluse for a period of time. I don't want other people around me as I walk with the mind of the proverbial homicidal maniac.

The only thing I dread in Beijing, is that I have to eat dog. Dogs are my friends. I love dogs, and I still miss Basse (RIP). But I need to eat dog, I must. “Tasted like” or somebody else's taste buds is not good enough. I shall eat dog in the shape of “Brent”, and I have no idea how he will react. (I hope he pukes, but he probably won't.) I will have to prepare myself psychologically, just like a soldier before his first battle, or a parachutist before her maiden jump.

I have done some Beijing research, and I have friends that have been to Beijing, or lived there. But I am trying to keep my knowledge down to an absolute minimum, as Brent comes totally unprepared to Beijing. He has never been there, he speaks absolutely no Chinese, and he does not know a thing about the China he is visiting, a China that within a few decades will be the dominant global economic power. What Brent knows about China, is what is publicly known among those who on a regular basis read magazines like Time, New Scientist and National Geographic. High school knowledge, plus news watched and read on a daily basis through life. But "Brent" has no idea how to ask for directions, or how to board a subway. So no Chinese glossaries for me before leaving, no reading that contains too much details. On the other hand, when Brent takes place, most Chinese are fluent in English, as Brent is a novel from the future.

I shall be a stranger in Beijing. A somewhat shy entomologist, completely on his own and absolutely out on a limb. I shall eat what Brent eats, I will choose his kind of movie, I shall buy his clothes, I shall blush, I shall be modest, I shall only listen to classical music. I may cry in my hotel room, I may let myself be intimidated, I may embarrass myself, loyal as I am to my character.

Other authors have their ways. I am not saying that my method is superior to others, or that I am the only one to work like this or in similar ways. But this is how I do it. It's the method to my madness.

And, sure, I also master the classical skills. My previous novel Bank (German edition: Rache auf Raten) was written in six weeks without any research. But that was the whole point, it was why I wrote it: I wanted to prove to myself that I could write entirely from my imagination.

And as most of Brent will be written in my imagination, it is imperative to me to balance the bulk of Brent with something which is very earthy and real.

In Beijing, I will most likely spend no time whatsoever in libraries, I'll go method writing. It will be a blast.

I will be blogging from Beijing on BRENTBLOG, and you will also be able to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and other social media.

Friday, 1 July 2011


According to a recent report, Facebook has lost 6M Users in the US. Some seem to adhere this fact to market saturation, i.e. that no product or company will ever be able to maintain a 100 % monopoly or establish a 100 % market share. Other commentators tend to think it is a question of novelty, that some users simply have become “bored” with Facebook.

Facebook's regional impact varies, and in many countries other social media are far more popular, like Orkut (120M users, mainly in India and Brazil), or the Chinese Qzone with its 500M (and rising) users, probably surpassing Facebook's 600M users already in 2011. Twitter has 200M users, but the fast rising Chinese Sina Weibo is hot on their heels with 140M users.

Ten years ago, a phone line, a road used to be the infrastructure needed for a functional society and social life in general. But today, social media satisfy a need that must be considered a new type of infrastructure, like roads, like surface mail, like telephone lines, like ferries ... The 'novelty' theory is misleading, because social media are not a toy, comparable to computer games. Social media is our new interpersonal infrastructure.

All social media corresponds to a social need. So if users are leaving Facebook, it cannot be due to 'boredom' or 'novelty fatigue'. The reason or reasons for this decline must be sougth within the framework of Facebook itself.

Users don’t leave Facebook to start collecting stamps, or to go fly-fishing instead. Facebook is not a simple hobby or pastime, just one of many items on a menu of entertainment and activities that Man can choose from. Facebook and other social media combined are there to serve the need for a platform from which to socialize in modern society. If Facebook loses users, it can only be because the users feel that Facebook does not satisfy their need or needs.

The fault is Facebook's own, and it is easily identifiable.

In my own country Facebook is big. Of a 5M population, 2.8M have a Facebook account. Thus, 80 % of all potential Norwegians (minus the 1.5M under 13 and over 65 years old), are on Facebook. It's a number that is analogous to Norwegian telephone coverage in the 1950ies.

Facebook has for the last months introduced a number of changes and restrictions. The motivation is said to be a desire to reduce the amount of spam and Facebook traffic in general. The changes were also based on user complaints of too many PMs and far too many requests, invites, suggestions, applications and whatnot. But the consequences can prove disastrous for Facebook.

This winter, Norwegian Facebook suddenly started a purge against what has been labeled "False profiles". All and any profiles that were not personal, not containing a surname and a given name, were deleted without warning. It hit libraries, art galleries, cafés, pubs and restaurants, NGOs, fun profiles, forcing them all to either give up Facebook completely or transfer their activities onto Facebook Pages instead.

I was losing ‘false’ friends in droves, as their ‘false’ profiles were deleted by Facebook. For a while I lost maybe 5 Friends a day, all deleted without warning – Facebook was not even polite about it. At least they could have given their users a fair and friendly warning, so users might salvage important pictures, links and Personal messages plus their Friend list. But no. Facebook Norway interpreted "false" as "bad, mischievous breaking of rules"/"immoral"/"punishable by deletion", as if the "false" user was buying alcohol with a fake ID. I mean, what's wrong with the word "incorrect"?

Whereas a company or an NGO previously could interact as a “person” (profile), an anonymous, but identifiable, even official entity, having all the means and ways of communication of a personal Facebook profile at their disposal, now the company or the NGO were forced into the Facebook Page format, where the Admins can only send Updates to "fans", i.e. Updates most users don't read anyway. Direct communication by Personal Message disappeared.

A company with five employees that used to share a Facebook Profile called "Green Inc", would now have to maintain five separate accounts. Indeed, "Green Inc" can in principle no longer maintain a steady Facebook Profile presence, as Marketing Directors come and go.

Then, begging for disaster, Facebook’s next moves turned out to be universal, not just limiting the Facebook interface for companies and NGOs:

* Changing the "Suggest to Friends" option on Pages to what de facto is "Recommend to friends with a small ad in the upper right corner of your screen, only visible part of the time”.

* Changing "Suggest to friends" in Facebook Groups to the far more intrusive "Add friends to group", even though in this latter case, it must in all fairness be said that (for once on Facebook) the user actually has the necessary Setting tools to limit or switch off any communication within a given Group.

So our poor NGO user, whose "false" profile just has been deleted, a profile with 1.000 Friends, no less, something which had taken our distraught user 7 months to achieve, will now have to work up a totally new Page to achieve his or her goal(s) on Facebook, whatever that or those might be. The user can no longer send Personal messages the same day to all of her friends and ask them to join her Page.

She can, of course, use her Personal (private non-related) profile, if she has one, to recruit fans, but maybe she has just 250 Friends, and of them perhaps only a mere hundred are inclined to Like her Page. Besides, only a measly 8 Friends can have the privilege at the time, according to the new rules.

It takes a whole lot of work to revamp those 1.000 contacts, which is why we all lately have observed that the number of new non-staffed NGO-Pages and spontanous social Pages, maybe Facebook Pages in general, are on the decline, both in activity and numbers. It simply takes too much work to establish and maintain them after the new Facebook “improvements”.

An example: Nuclear power is not the hippest thing these days. I mean, Fukushima, Japan and all that, right? But a newly constructed Page that demands a clean-up of Norwegian nuclear waste, has after several weeks
not more than 48 supporters. Dear readers, from what I know of my fellow Norwegian countrymen and -women and their general disdain for nuclear energy ... Just take my word for it: I can assure you that one year ago, that Page would be approaching a minimum of 10.000 supporters by now.

It's elementary, my dear Watson.

So where did Facebook go wrong? We are talking a cardinal error, it was forgetting the no. 1 rule and the defining word for all social media: Identity.

Willy is looking for a new job, and he has recently added himself to Pages and Groups with names like: Overtime never killed anyone and Hard work is better than sex as well as Red Cross, Family is everything to me and Earth Hour.

Marianne would like to hook up with a sexy book lover, but there are six Samuel Beckett-pages, and she has no idea which one is best for her. But even so, she will most like never bother to check if any of these Pages have at least some Scandinavian members, and her friend Tina does not bother to Suggest to friends (= recommend) the correct Page anymore, as she spent half an hour last week inviting (recommending) the Beckett Page to 300 of her friends, but a measly three users joined, as opposed to one year ago, when Marianne invited her first batch of 300 friends by means of the old system, i.e. directly, clickably, instantanously, whereupon she recruited seventy-five new members, of whom eight invited their friends and so on, increasing the Page's following with several hundred new Beckett-fans in a couple of weeks.

So now, alas, Marianne will never hook up on the Samuel Beckett Page with the dark-haired, six feet tall, handsome Beckett-fan, who loves children and Golder Retrievers and agrees with the statements Real men don't hit women, Ban football and A man who does not remember his wife's birthday is a moron.

Facebook forgot the mantra "If it works, don't change it".

One year ago, every Facebook user received a constant up-to-date stream of Invites and Suggestions to Groups and Pages, and all was swell, even though The Usual Whiners complained indignantly. But for the majority of Facebook users, even the need for reading newspapers disappeared. Every single newspaper headline of importance ended up as a Facebook Group or Page. Politics, celeb news, sports ....

Through this endless stream of ... well, the essence of modern life, the user's profile, the user’s public image, the user's identity was shaped and proudly presented. Through and with and by all this activity combined, the Facebook user would organise his or her social life. And – true or delusional – enjoying the benefits of a personal sense of a more clearly defined personal identity, even enpowerment as a result, and publicly presentable at that.

When it comes to social media, the importance of identity is so self-evident that it is a minor mystery how a large enterprise like Facebook managed to err in such a dramatic fashion.

By restricting the use of the Facebook tools of identity-building, Facebook is sawing off its proverbial branch.

Alternatives to Facebook like
diaspora.com or altly.com have so far not been willing or able to enthuse the masses and persuade them to leave Facebook, and Facebook's main contender, bebo.com, has been in serious financial troubles for quite some time, making no money.

But the next contestant may well be the David that brings the Facebook Goliath to his knees.

Maybe the main argument for Facebook’s continued existence and/or pole position, is the kidz. The teenagers and post-teenagers of Facebook have never really been into all this identity-building. Teenagers just are, and they communicate mostly with their peers, the harshest judges of all, plus any given number of what used to be pen friends or summer holiday friends 10-15 years ago. Kidz who have grown up with and inside the internet have basically always used Facebook as infrastructure already. It's not something they can "get bored with", just like an eighty-five year old lady never can “grow tired of” her road or her mailbox. Facebook just is there, has always been there and will always be there, unless someone comes up with a cooler “digital highway”. Because there is a need for social media.

Any potential David out there wanting to take on Facebook and create the New Social Media Hit, would be well adviced to remember: Identity first, spam whining and server capacity second.

Fifteen years ago Netscape Navigator ruled the modems. In 2006, MySpace was the place to be. Google is working hard on new models for social media, and Pad development may open up for new customized social media that work far better than Facebook on smart phones and pads, or perhaps the future is TV by holographic HDMI - who knows? Nothing lasts forever.

Facebook may soon be the new MySpace. On the internet, interface is all, and the user is king.

One thing is certain, though: A post-Facebook vaccum will never be. Something will most certainly take Facebook’s place if it collapses. The world needs social media, quite simply. Our 2011 infrastructure is more or less defunct without them.