Archive for the ‘B. China Generally’ Category
Busy days of post-graduate studies, travel, work and some expert husbanding of pregnant wife have meant there has been no time recently for any Notes From Xi’an. However, with our first child only weeks away my thoughts have turned to two very real concerns that are worth a quick reference: 1. Our child’s little lungs and 2. That it (we still don’t know if it is to be a boy or a girl) could very well soon be speaking better Chinese than me – which is seriously uncool! I never thought my competitive spirit – which has been eternally lacking in relation to my Chinese language studies – would be activated vis-a-vis my own child.
I have decided to tackle my still unborn child head-on. This means no more security blankets of teachers and textbooks, learning this language is now going to be mine to direct and conquer. I have, though, turned to Olle’s excellent “Essential Articles” over at ‘Hacking Chinese‘ to give my solo studies a bit of a boost and some perspective. His great articles have helped me find a sense of proportion between reality and ambition – plus a few sensible study tips to keep me going through the next phase of learning this ****** language. See the screenshot link below.
Secondly, while a few colleagues and I were measuring the daily air pollution levels on the way to work last week (we used the excellent ‘CN Air Quality‘ iphone app), Beijing’s pollution levels were kicking up an even greater storm. There is no need to go over the figures again here; suffice it to say that the maximum danger levels for both particulate matter 2.5 and 10 were comprehensively exceeded. To the right is a screenshot of a great infographic from Greenpeace (click through to the original) that looks at particulate matter and air pollution, and includes a few protective measures- thanks to Hamza for sending me the link. There is also this page from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which looks in more detail at the ranking bands that make up the air quality index. At the bottom of that page are clear band descriptors for each pollutant within the index, they include Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Ozone, Particles < 2.5µm (PM2.5) and Particles < 10µm (PM10). The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has this comprehensive and informative page on particulate matter that is may be worth checking out.
I am sure I will have plenty more to say on this at some point, especially as my ID studies have now turned to look at Urban Development and Poverty. “Poverty of what?” would be the question that springs to my mind. It seems we can almost pick our poverty these days. There is the traditional kind measured by assets, livelihoods, illness and debt, and there is the “got TV, got the internet, got a smart phone, got a shopping mall across the road, got a bowl of hot noodles in the microwave but can’t breath, can’t cross the road and can’t ride a bike for fear of fast cars and pollution” kind of poverty. And let’s not even think about poverty of time, education, culture, information, choice, rights, trust, security and community. To be continued, I am sure.
My favourite stat. from my studies so far: it took about 10, 000 years for there to be 1 Billion people on the planet (8000BC to 1960 AD) and only another 25 years to get to 2 Billion (1985), 26 years after that (at the end of 2011) the world population dashed passed 7 Billion.
10,000 years to get to 1 Billion, only 51 more years to reach 7 Billion!!
Oh, baby!! (in more ways than one)
Anyone not initiated into the ways of pollution in China, check out this slider by Michael Zhao over at The Atlantic!!! There is also this Note I added at the end of 2011, entitled Xi’an, The Xi’anese, And The Need On Days Like These To Hang Onto Our Joie De Vivre. Good luck out there!
From Xinhua: ‘General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Xi Jinping (C) and the other newly-elected members of the Standing Committee of the 18th CPC Central Committee Political Bureau Li Keqiang (3rd R), Zhang Dejiang (3rd L), Yu Zhengsheng (2nd R), Liu Yunshan (2nd L), Wang Qishan (1st R), Zhang Gaoli (1st L) meet with journalists at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 15, 2012.’
This piece in Time Magazine, ’Meet the Men Who Will Rule China‘, briefly introduces the 7 members of the new Politburo Standing Committee (click the names above to go to them), while this link offers a video of Xí Jìnpíng’s acceptance speech (18 mins – includes an English translation). There are a few extended profiles of Xí in the previous Note below, but non of Lǐ Kèqiáng, so here is one from The Washington Post.
I just saw this quote from Cheng Li, in Tania Branigan’s recent Guardian piece, which made me smile: ‘”What’s very important is the capacity to be on the right side of history,” said Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “He [Xí Jìnpíng] himself probably does not know what he will do.”‘ There is also this brief but optimistic video interview with Cheng about the hopes for Xí’s leadership, from the Brookings Institution.
“Watching Xi’s remarks I was struck by his three references to “中华民族伟大复兴” (translated as “great renewal of the Chinese nation” or “great Chinese renaissance”) and his omission of most of the standard ideological benchmarks.
“中华民族伟大复兴” is not a new term and has historically been used by Deng Xiaoping and many others as the justification for reform. On November 15 Xinhua in 述评：循序渐进，中华民族复兴路线图清晰可见discussed Deng’s plan for the renewal and said that the roadmap for the “great renewal of the Chinese nation” is getting clearer.
Xi’s repeated mention of this goal may be another sign that will see a more nationalist China during his rein. The Party knows it needs more than “Scientific Development”, “The Three Represents”, “Marxism”, “Mao Zedong Thought” or “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” to justify its rule.
And that is why I think we will see attempts at reforms, though nothing like the political reforms Westerners and liberal Chinese hope for. The great renewal of the Chinese nation will not happen without significant changes to the economy, and a real crackdown on corruption (calling Wang Qishan…) Some will argue that it will also not happen without wholesale political reform, but Xi Jinping and the new leadership are unlikely to agree.
Expect Xi Jinping to be a reformer, but possibly a hardline nationalist one. Be careful what we wish for?”
Elections, like New Years, don’t immediately usher in significant change but they do offer a nice simple way to re-package our perspectives and look at things anew. With Xí up top instead of Hu, and with his more affable but stringent character, as well as his closer ties with the (expanding) military, it may be a more interesting time to keep an eye on China’s evolving political landscape, both here in China and abroad. (Also see this Nov. 16th Sinca podcast, titled: ‘The State of the [Chinese] Navy’. Kaiser Kuo chats with Taylor Fravel, who is Associate Professor of Political Science at MIT and an expert on Chinese foreign policy, with particular knowledge of China’s naval development.)
With all this in mind, here is a link to an article that a friend of mine sent me last night entitled ‘War Making and State Making as Organized Crime‘, written in 1985 by Charles Tilly (the pdf automatically downloads from the link). I include it as a matter of general perspective rather than one of critique. We shall see what a Xí Jìnpíng and Lǐ Kèqiáng future holds.
I was actually reading the following article when I saw the announcement about the makeup of the new Standing Committee, as it has some relevance to this new China context, particularly from a European laowai perspective, I thought I would add it here too - ‘Austerity is Here to Stay, and We’d Better Get Used to It‘. Just to finish here is something a little different – a heads up from a German péngyou: ‘The Wealth of the Commons‘.
While I may not be making much time to write any Notes From Xi’an at the moment, the world does still seem to be turning. And one aspect of this ongoing rotation is the leadership transition going on right now at the top of China’s Communist Party. So, for my part, I thought I would just re-post a couple of relevant Notes I wrote earlier in the year, which took a look at that transition. For ongoing and up-to-date insight do not forget to check out Bill Bishop’s daily updates. It is also well worth taking a look at this rare interview with Xí Jìnpíng, recorded in 2000 but translated and published by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) in October this year.
As an extra aside, I have just seen that Richard over at The Peking Duck has highlighted an interesting review, by Ian Johnson, of the newly translated English version of Yang Jisheng’s ‘Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962‘, that I was just reading in The New York Review of Books at the weekend. It is maybe worth checking out Richard’s post, Ian Johnson’s review and the book itself. There is also this piece in The Nation by Samuel Moyn, titled: ‘Totalitarianism, Famine and Us‘.
i. Understanding “China’s Leadership Transition” and Well, Just Simply “Understanding China – Or Not”
While I am still in a post-nuptial state of flux, or rather more disconcertingly a post-matrimonial photo-shoot state of mind, and as my next atom-splitting Note is still only in the gestation stage I am going to have to follow the lead of prolific blogger David Wolf at Silicon Hutong. I will do what I rarely do [update: then at least!] and that is simply post an extract from another blogger (or two). I will, however, throw in the odd comment for good measure or at least for my own small sense of ownership.
I agree with David’s appraisal that Patrick Chovanec’s Primer on China’s Leadership Transition is well “worth reading and absorbing”. For those of us uneducated about all things Chinese, or more specifically uneducated in things Chinese government, this article is a godsend. [Update 11/2012: also see this report by Susan Lawrence and Michael Martin produced for the US Congress, titled: 'Understanding China's Political System']
I will, however, go a step further and throw in a second extract from another great blogger, Sam Crane, whose perspective on China comes from a slightly different academic domain to Patrick’s Business, Economics and Management perspective. Creator of The Useless Tree, Sam is a professor of political science who focuses on ancient Chinese thought, and who approaches the issues covered on his blog from that multi-faceted but concentrated perspective. He wrote a piece last week, titled Understanding China – Or Not, in response to Vice-premier Wang Qishan’s recent emotive comments that Americans are a simple people who don’t understand China.
As I am at present stuck in that no-man’s land between British time and Chinese time (which means waking with intent at 3am) and as Xí Jìnpíng – China’s President elect – is at this same moment quietly crossing America, I thought I would simply note down extracts from, and links to, a couple of profiles of Xí that I have just been reading. Going on the basis that they didn’t have the desired affect of sending me to sleep, they may be worth passing on. It does seem, though, that not a great deal is known of the man who will, more than likely, succeed Hú Jǐntāo as Party head later this year and as President of China in March 2013, let alone what he might actually do when in office.
The visit has highlighted the fact that both parties – the Americans and Chinese – are in election mode, although with differing strategies. Vice President Biden has taken the opportunity to publically air a few American grievances vis-à-vis China’s control of its currency (link), its various trade irregularities (link) and its role within the UN, most recently in relation to Syria (link). Xí Jìnpíng seems to have adopted the “let’s not rock the boat” school of diplomacy, which is as much to do with his own election – not yet in the bag – than any significant representation of his leadership style or his views on China’s relationship with America. See this piece in the New York Times.
The Guardian: Profile – Xi Jinping by Tania Branigan – ‘His name is becoming more familiar but his face is still unknown to most and his opinions and intentions are an enigma. Xi Jinping’s visit to the US this week is unlikely to answer the west’s most important questions. But this is a getting-to-know-you trip for China’s heir apparent, who is expected to take the helm of the world’s second largest economy and fastest rising power from late this year. The Chinese vice-president’s Valentine’s Day meeting with Barack Obama is notable – as are his plans to catch a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game and to return to Muscatine, the tiny Iowa town he visited in 1985 as head of an animal feed delegation. His activities suggest he is shaping an image very different from that of the current Chinese president, Hu Jintao. While Hu is determinedly anonymous, Xi is “a big personality”, according to those who have met him.’ + a more recent profile (Nov’ 2012) from Tania Branigan here.
The Washington Post: Profile – Xi Jinping by Andrew Higgins – ‘After years of persecution by a Communist Party he helped bring to power, Xi Zhongxun was hauled from solitary confinement and taken to see his family. The purged revolutionary could barely recognize his own offspring and recalled a melancholy Tang Dynasty poem: “My children do not know me. They smile and say: ‘Stranger, where do you come from?’ ” More than three decades later, his son is set to become China’s next leader. Just months from his near-certain elevation to the country’s most powerful post — general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party — 58-year-old Xi Jinping arrived in Washington on Monday for a visit that U.S. officials hope will clarify the direction of the world’s fastest-rising economic and military power. Probing where Xi might be going, however, involves answering a question that, back home in China, is largely taboo: Where exactly is the leader-in-waiting coming from?’…continue reading + this recent piece (Nov’ 2012) from the Washington Post on China’s next Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng
Tea Leaf Nation.com: Netizens On Xi Jinping – The Inscrutable Heir Apparent by Rachel – ‘The Chimerica couple is serious about romance. As President Obama gears up to teach Vice President Xi Jinping some Potomac two-step on Valentine’s Day, netizens on China’s microblogs are voicing their own hopes for their Heir Apparent. No one is questioning the succession chances of Xi aside from few grumblings of “who elected him?” A widely circulated speculation on the reason behind the clampdown on Cantonese broadcasting is that his future title “Party General Secretary Xi” (习总书记) sounds like “Secretary Bastard” in Cantonese (for those who speak mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘Xi’ in proper Cantonese resembles ‘Za’). Xi, a “princeling” whose father was a high level official in Mao and Deng’s days, has not really shown his colors on the key question of political reform and whether the country should turn “left” or “right.”’…continue reading + this from them.
And then there was this [another 3am moment] :
The New York Times: Why China’s Political Model Is Superior from Eric X. Li - ‘This week the Obama administration is playing host to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and heir apparent. The world’s most powerful electoral democracy and its largest one-party state are meeting at a time of political transition for both. Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends. In the history of human governance, spanning thousands of years, there have been two major experiments in democracy. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half; the second is the modern West.’ …continue reading
This is just a brief Note that includes an extended extract from an article that I just read in The UK Guardian. The article was published in the wake of the recent disappearance, in Britain, of 5 year-old April Jones. Up until the time of writing April’s body had not been recovered, though a man has already been charged with her murder. The article resonated with me not only for the fact it relates to such a tragic story, nor simply because I am just a few months away from becoming a father myself, but particularly for the way the author, David Wilson (a professor of criminology), talked about “childhood”. He referred to childhood’s intrinsic value – where children play for playing’s sake – but also to its instrumental value in terms of child protection. David’s comments made me think about how, for so many Chinese children, this childhood space is restricted by heavy workloads and constant pressure.
David talks about how parental and societal pressures, like those so common here in China, inhibit young people’s ability “to determine for themselves how they would like that [childhood] space to be filled’. This prevents an environment from developing where children feel free enough and confident enough to be able to voice their views and concerns- which is instrumental in terms of children’s protection (not to mention the process of development into adulthood).
With this in mind, it is quite disconcerting to contemplate the number of times I have heard young people here in China refer to how their hobbies, their school and university subjects, their actual choice of university and their jobs have been chosen by their parents. As well as the frequency with which I have listened to more explicit, first-hand accounts of people’s childhoods being affected by physical and emotional abuse. The lack of space for self-determination in China and the effect this can have on a person’s ability to develop a sense of self-worth, and the confidence to speak out about their cares and concerns, is – given its relevance to child protection, let alone the process of simply growing-up – concerning.
During my time in China, I have been fortunate to have spent a good amount of time around young Chinese kids. And I can safely say that they are a joy to be around, exuding such a wonderful spirit of innocence and fun- even when faced with so much work and pressure. But, it is sadly true that we do not always see in the classroom and playground what is under the surface, especially as these children get older. This is particularly worrying in China when early warning signs, if visible, are quite often not picked up on.
It is one of those times again; time to reflect in another’s glory. A good buddy of mine, Reto Winkler, has just moved from Xi’an to Hong Kong. He has also just started off his own personal blog (superbly named chilling in the pressure cooker) which, if his early posts are anything to go by, is going to be a good read. I asked Reto if he wouldn’t mind me re-producing his most recent post here, as it says a great deal about Shaanxi life (Xi’an is the Capital of Shaanxi Province), but is also a nicely positive twist on the living in China story. In my last Note, I was referring to the fact that no matter how long we live here in China it is difficult for us foreigners to be seen by the Chinese as being locals, we are always simply “the laowai” – even if we foreigners do actually feel quite at home. Reto celebrates this latter point in a resounding manner. I will let him speak for himself:
1. We just had an enormously epic meal. Indeed, it was more than epic: It was transcendent.
It brought me home in an instant. It made me see the yellow clay of Shaanxi stretching in endless layers towards the horizon, made me smell the dust again, hear the voices of yelling peasants in restaurants filled with plastic chars and smoke and laughter, feel the frosty winds on rocky Qinling mountain passes, that taste of pork fat and rough bread and cold noodles and sprouts and garlic, topped with a can of the inimitable ice peak orange lemonade, sweet as sin. Almost too good to be true.
Relishing it, I saw it all passing by again, these faces that looked like they were made of the very earth underneath their cotton shoes, in the eternal dust, these faces altogether impossible to forget, the faces of friends and family. I could see down all the generations gone by, working the dust in this most inhospitable of places – home. I could see my old friend He Si throwing his hands up high when he saw me trudging up his mountain again, laughing, yelling my name in his funny way, letting me know that just as I was about to say goodbye I had truly arrived at this place, since I had moved it, and it had moved me.
2. It’s been about four weeks since we arrived here in Hong Kong, and we people from Xi’an have finally gotten together for our first meal.
Mark Kitto wrote a challenging piece in Prospect Magazine recently that highlighted a few realities about life in China today. Not least was the issue bound up in the title of his article: “You’ll Never Be Chinese”.
Now, Mark, as he explains, was never trying to don the cap and gown, or learn to spit in places that really should never be spat in. What he did want to do, however, was build and live a life in China with his family, and live it “normally”. This seemed to mean to him a life where wealth and status, and the “Great China” narrative didn’t infect all forms of social interaction, all business opportunities, and all educational institutions. It also meant a life lived with the laws of the land applying equally to all, no matter their background.
Mark’s discussion does not, though, simply orientate around his own personal experiences but attempts to outline a few worries he has about Chinese society generally. His views are particularly noteworthy given that his love affair with China – nearly 25 years in the making – has, in his own words, now died. You can read his article to get a much clearer and more nuanced sense of his experiences and where he is coming from.
I will briefly note a couple of my own thoughts on Mark’s basic premise: that one will never be Chinese.
First, it seems to me that the sooner one acknowledges to oneself this reality the better. No matter how long we foreigners stay in China, we will always be perceived – by a majority – as coming from outside and treated as a visitor. If we can assimilate this fact it into an “it is what it is” worldview, then we should be able to go on with a “normal” life, quite happily. In this way, we will be more equipped to bear the ubiquitous reminders of the fact that we are “not from around here” without high levels of surprise or frustration, disappointment or anger.
I remember quite early on in my time in Xi’an becoming very conscious of having this feeling: that no matter how long I lived here, how much I did here, or how well I spoke Chinese, I would always be the alien, the “not from around here” guy, even if I felt happily at home. And, that feeling hasn’t changed. It may turn out that one day I have a more subtle appreciation of ancient Chinese philosophy than some, use chopsticks with the dexterity and precision that many can only dream of, and I may even be able to speak Putonghua better than a fair few; but it won’t matter. I will always be to many the “where do you come from, how long have you lived here, wow, you can use kuaizi” guy, who can be easily disparaged with a quick laowai quip.
They all just keep producing the goods.
This is just a re-post of a Note I wrote in 2010 – now, more as a note-to-self than anything else. It relates to global eco-economic concerns and remedies, issues that I have begun dwelling on a bit more again recently. Especially after reading a couple of George Monbiot’s recent articles in The Guardian. But also, in no small degree, due to the fact my mind is beginning to turn towards October, when I start an MSc in International Development. Here, are a couple of links to the two Monbiot pieces: After Rio, We Know. Governments Have Given Up On The Planet / We Were Wrong About Peak Oil. There’s Enough To Fry Us All
While writing the piece below, I was particularly interested in the potential relationship – that Jonathan Watts highlights – between a Daoist perspective and the reattaching of the economy and the environment. As Watts notes: “Clearly Western values haven’t stopped the west from screwing up the environment. So its worth looking to China’s philosophical and cultural roots.”
*I will also add a quick link to a Sinica Podcast, where the panel discuss the China environment site: China Dialogue. Jeremy Goldkorn, of Danwei, is joined in the studio by Isabel Hilton, the founder of China Dialogue, and Jonathan Watts himself.
I am presently on a Notes From Xi’an sabbatical, although, it is an unplanned one and I have no idea how long it is going to last. Over the last couple of months, I have found myself enjoying a pretty-much Internet free lifestyle, this, coupled with a recent lack of desire on my part to comment on life – whether one here or elsewhere – offers the reasons why there is a distinct lack of new Notes finding their way here. The few that are already up will hopefully still be of some use to some (see the archive section). If nothing else, I will in due course write the piece on Chen Guangcheng that I promised below. In the meantime, and with the help of my old mate Chris, I will just add a few pictures to help keep us on the straight and narrow. They are taken from Chris’s “Rebuilding A Nation” set.
Here also is a link to Danwei‘s “Model Workers 2012“, a useful list of “websites, blogs and online sources of information about China”. A pretty comprehensive list, even if it does suffer from one glaring omission. * Coincidently, Danwei has also just included a selection of Chris’s images.
And I’ll just add a quick “God Bless” for good measure.
This is going to be one of those more personal Notes From Xi’an, as during the May holiday I was back in my wife’s village for a few days and, over and above it being our first year wedding anniversary, it was a particularly pleasant and significant trip. When we were back at Ling’s home just before Spring Festival it became very clear to me that Ling’s parents, having supported both her and her younger brother through college and university, had not benefited from the “luxury” of having a child working out in one of the Southern cities sending money home: a reality for many female siblings coming from the countryside. Not to mention the actual money her parents would have saved if they hadn’t put Ling (the daughter) through University.
What was clear was that the re-development of the Chinese village – which has gone on in the last 5-10 years and which has meant the turning of small and simple family homes into gleaming white-tiled, two-storey rural homesteads – had passed Ling’s parents by. As we were leaving last time, I turned to look back at the village nestled in amongst the fields and recognized just how conspicuous the recent changes visible in other parts of the village were by their absence in Ling’s home. It did seem like it was time to get the family around the kitchen table and to discuss what the next move might be.
When we came back over the ridge to the village this time, Ling initially could not even locate her childhood home. A second floor had been built, a new roof with new beams and new tiles was in place, there were newly tiled exterior walls and interior floors, as well as gleaming new windows running the length of the upper rooms, and – for the first time – an inside bathroom and toilet. I even got to help drill out the concrete in the front yard that would allow pipes to be laid, which in turn would supply running water to the house for the first time. We were all there gathered together in the kitchen when the first stream of water came through. Happy days, indeed.