This Note may be somewhat symptomatic of these end-of-February days: a bit of a hotchpotch; wet afternoons, holidays over; Winter’s gone but Spring has not yet sprung; a world of potential, and a potential for disorder; a host of things to come, but none yet arrived; good news, bad news and a million comments on the news; damp and dark, leaves amazingly still falling; Arab world, another world; wise people, knowledgeable people and in spite of those people people; disinformation, inspiration and what does the future hold; I can jump, you can jump, what about now those billion Chinese have jumped?
That is by way of an introduction to this slightly more eclectic Note. It will include an extract from Jonathan Watts’ own introduction to his book: When A Billion Chinese Jump, which I have just got a hold of for the first time. I will add to Mr. Watts’ words a few pictures taken by Lu Guang (卢广), a Chinese photographer who captured what are now quite renowned images of ‘Pollution in China’. I will also include a couple of photographs from a photo-journalist mate of mine in Beijing, the pictures he takes always give me pause for thought; as well as often managing to bring a smile to my face.
In addition, I will add to the mix a couple of maps of China and the US that express the GDPs of their respective Provinces and States in comparison with smaller Nation States. To finish, there is an infographic showing the rise in Chinese language usage on the Internet, [Update 08/03: I have also added an infographic on China's Social Media Evolution] as well as links to a couple of good recent articles on the ‘Internet in China’.
First, a couple of Chris Cherry’s evocative pictures, more of his work can be found over at his Flickr page (elephantonabicycle) or on his own site (christophercherry.net); where his mastery of the written word certainly supports his eye for a resonating picture. As an aside, the lostlaowai flickr page is also worth passing through.
Now I will handover to Jonathan Watts (apologies to Faber publishing) to introduce his own book and explain where his choice of title came from. I am incorporating this extract to simply celebrate finally getting my hands on a copy of his book, and to continue on from a previous note I wrote (here); as well as to introduce the book to anyone who hasn’t come across it before. It is a book that is probably worth keeping in mind as we move forward, with one eye out the window, one on the news, and a couple cast heavenwards. I will add a few images to the text from the photographer Lu Guang, who won acclaim for his ‘Pollution in China’ images. Guang was probably taking pictures around the same time Jonathan Watts was researching his book. (you will need a vpn or proxy to visit that site)
When a Billion Chinese Jump – Introduction by Jonathan Watts:
‘As a child, I used to pray for China. It was a profoundly selfish prayer. Lying in bed, fingers clasped together, I would reel off the same wish list every night: ‘Dear Father, thank you for all the good things in my life. Please look after Mum and Dad, Lisa (my sister), Nana and Papa, Toby (my dog), my friends (and here I would list whoever I was mates with at the time) and me.’ After this roll call, the signoff was usually the same. ‘And please make the world peaceful. Please help all the poor and hungry people, and please make sure everyone in China doesn’t jump at the same time.’
That last wish was tagged on after I realized the enormousness of the country on the other side of the world. For a small British boy growing up in a suburb of an island nation in the 1970’s, it was not easy to grasp the scale of China. I was fascinated that the country would soon be home to a billion people. I loved numbers, especially big ones. But what did a billion mean? An adult explained with a terrifying illustration I have never forgotten. ‘If everyone in China jumps at exactly the same time, it will shake the world of its axis and kill us all.’
I was a born worrier and this made me more anxious than anything I had heard before… Life suddenly seemed more precarious than I had ever imagined. In variations of my prayer, I asked God to make sure that if Chinese people had to jump, they only did it alone or in small groups. But, in time, my anxieties faded. With all the extra maturity that comes from turning eight years old, I realized it was childish nonsense.
I did not think about the apocalyptic jump again for almost thirty years. Then, in 2003, I moved to Beijing, where I discovered it is not only foolish little oiks who fear China leaping and the world shaking… The city’s transformation was vast and fast. Down went old hutong alleyways, courtyard houses and the ancient city walls. Up rose futuristic stadiums, TV towers, airport terminals and other monuments to modernization…
Living amid such a rapidly shifting landscape, it was hard to know whether to celebrate, commiserate or simply gaze in awe. The scale and speed of change pushed everything to extremes. On one day, China looked to be emerging as a new superpower. The next, it appeared to be the blasted centre of an environmental apocalypse. Most of the time, it was simply enshrouded in smog…
Over the following years, the crane and the smog were to become synonymous in my mind with the two biggest challenges facing humanity: the rise of china and the damage being wrought on the global environment… This was a period in which the population increased at the rate of nearly 7 million people per year, when more than seventy million people moved into the cities, when GDP, industrial output and production of cars doubled, when energy consumption and coal production jumped 50 per cent, water use surged by 500bn tons and China became the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and pollution in the world…
A regular jogger since my teens, I found myself wheezing and puffing after even a short run. When the coal fires started burning each winter, I suffered a dry, rasping cough that sometimes left me doubled up. In Beijing I was to suffer two bouts of pneumonia and, for the first time in my life, I was prescribed a steroid inhaler. The city was choking and so was I.
To be in Beijing at this time was to witness the consequences of two hundred years of industrialization and urbanization, in close up, playing at fast-forward on a continent-wide screen. It soon became clear to me that China was the focal point of the world’s environmental crisis. The decisions taken in Beijing, more than anywhere else, would determine whether humanity thrived or perished…
For the first five years as a news correspondent for the Guardian, the environment was my primary concern. After that, it became such an obsession that I took 6 months off for private research trips and then returned to a new post as Asia environment specialist. Travelling more than 100,000 miles from the mountains of Tibet to the deserts of Inner Mongolia, I witnessed environmental tragedies, consumer excess and inspiring dedication…
This, then, is a travelogue through a land obscured by smog and transformed by cranes; one that examines how rural environments are being affected by urban consumption. What are we losing and how? Where are the consequences? Can we fix them? It projects mankind’s modern development on a Chinese screen…
China is simply too vast and changing too fast to capture in its entirety. Yet even fragments tell a story. Starting from the world’s high, wild places and descending into the crowded polluted plains, the book tracks mankind’s modern progress and my own growing realization: now China has jumped, we must all rebalance our lives.’
Here is an article from today’s New York Times, Feb. 28th 2011, where China’s Environment Minister Issues a Warning on Climate and Growth: ‘Zhou Shengxian said the government would take a more aggressive role in determining whether development initiatives contributed to climate change through a new system of risk assessment… His comments, coupled with similar remarks by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao that were publicized in the state media on Monday, suggest that China may seek to embrace tighter environmental restrictions during legislative sessions that begin this week in Beijing. The meetings, held once a year, will include the introduction of the country’s latest five-year economic plan.’ read on…
[Update] An article from China Dialogue, March 8th 2011, China’s Green Era Begins: ‘This week, China is making history – launching not only its Five-Year Plan, but also a global green revolution. Five-year plans (FYPs), which set down and clarify national strategy, are one of China’s most important policy tools. Just as they have helped to drive China’s economic success over recent decades, so they will play a pivotal role in putting the country on a green development path. The 12th Five-Year Plan, now under consideration by the National People’s Congress, marks the beginning of that process in earnest.’ read on
Comparing Chinese Provinces With Nations
Now, next, with a bit of GDP muscle flexing having been the order of recent days and months I thought I might as well just reference these two images, that equate the GDPs of Chinese Provinces and American States with comparable national GDPs. A friend of mine, Mark, over at his China blog, put me onto them, both maps come from the Economist (here and here). I have no great desire to delve into the world of GDP measurements and what they may or may not tell us about the circumstances and potential of any particular area on earth. So, I will just observe pithily that China at present doesn’t have provinces comparable to countries such as Italy, Australia and Russia, as the US does, with GDPs that top a trillion dollars. There are also far fewer provinces in the 4-500 billion plus range. And, although many might say it won’t be long before there are a lot more, you could say that the environmental time bomb that is hanging over the country may mean it will never quite get there. But, then again it just might. (see these GDP listings for around 180 countries over at wikipedia)
The Rise of the Chinese Language on the Internet
And finally for all of you out there working hard on sharpening your Chinese kǒuyǔ (口语) skills (speaking skills) but letting your character recognition and reading ability slide, (this doubles as a note to self by-the-way) get yourself back to the drawing board or over to Skritter, as the Chinese language is coming to dominate a wireless connection near you soon. Ok, I exaggerate slightly, but here is an infographic from thenextweb.com showing that the Chinese language will likely become the dominant language of the Internet very soon, in terms of numbers of users. Here are a few more China Internet usage statistics, from the Internet World Stats site.
China’s Social Media Evolution
[Updated March 8th] I know nothing of Social Media other than a blurry awareness that new forms of communication and product exchange exist that are changing and probably will continue to change the media and communications world, and probably a few lives as well. I have included this infographic, that I just spotted over at Thomas Crampton’s Blog, for a couple of reasons. First, because I have already gone a little graph/infographic crazy in this Note and another shouldn’t hurt. And second, that it may help some people, myself included, get a superficial overview of some of the wider world Social Media sites that are out there, especially with regard to their Chinese counterparts. It is, as Thomas Crampton himself notes, neither a definitive nor a static list, but it should still offer the odd insight or two to a few.
And to conclude, here are three recent articles on the ‘Internet in China’ that are worth-a-read:
- China’s Internet: The Invisible Birdcage from Sinocism
- Absurdities of China’s Censorship System from Time
- Q. & A. With Rebecca MacKinnon: Internet In China from The New Yorker