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For over two years ocean rocks have dominated China’s foreign policy issues. So far the Party has managed to anger virtually all their neighbors and has left an opening for America’s pivot to Asia. In my opinion, regardless of whether or not China’s claims are valid, the gov’t seems to be losing the battle on the international stage. One afternoon when I was chatting with a typically soft-spoken co-worker about my future plans in the Pacific, she pointed out the Philippines on the map and said, “I hope the ocean swallows this country up so that China doesn’t have to destroy it.” As I picked my jaw up off the floor, she elaborated, “Since I was a little girl, these little islands have been a […]


A few weeks ago I witnessed something that warmed the cockles of my typically icy heart. In China, when one pictures a middle school student, they picture a small child diligently studying behind a great wall of books. Outside of the classroom they are spotted in their uniforms around 5pm being brought back from school for several more hours of homework. These few minutes on the bus in Nanjing were almost always filled with a few rounds of Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds on their smart phones. In rural China, the students were boarded, and so had no chance of furtive gaming between school and study. In my two years at the hospital, I sat through dozens of chats between co-workers that focused on their children’s […]


With the conclusion of the school year, I marked the end of my 5th consecutive year in China. Soon, I will be heading back to the United States and applying to graduate programs related to international development and theology. It has been a fantastic time. I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to be here and to witness China firsthand. I plan on continuing to write about China, and will try to digest a similar amount of People’s Daily, Global Times, and whatever else looks interesting. I know that I will not be able to keep up with frantic pace of five posts a week, so for the past few months I’ve been working with Yaxue and another friend (you will meet […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: June 25, 2012 《盛树人》_中文版   I came upon the name Sheng Shuren (盛树人) recently when I was reading one of the documents left behind by Uncle Liu Erning. From the reference I learned Sheng Shuren was a man arrested along with Uncle Erning in Xushui, Hebei Province, in the summer of 1958. I very much wanted to know who he was and whether he was still alive; and if so, whether I could find him and ask about what had happened in Xushui. A Google search found him on the list of notable alumni of an elementary school in the east coastal city of Ningpo. I knew then it was him: “Sheng Shuren, also Yinxing, of the Sheng Family in the […]


I had the chance last night to record a podcast with Mike from the new website ChinaBlogcast.com. We talked a bit about my last few posts on life in rural China, and I shared a few other thoughts and anecdotes. You can download it or listen online here. Secondly, I’d just like to encourage you to check out Mike’s other episode and add China Blogcast to your podcast subscriptions (this is week 2, so it won’t take long to catch up). At the moment there is a real shortage of China related podcasts, and this is a very good addition to the others that already exist. Mike is planning on releasing a new ~30 minute episode every Thursday featuring chats with other China bloggers.


For seven years Chen Guangcheng has been silenced in China for his role in opposing illegal forced abortions in Shandong province, that ended today with his arrival in the US. Even after his escape from thugs in Linyi, the gov’t in Beijing kept him in a tightly guarded hospital room. Finally, he will have a chance to talk openly about his experiences and the situation facing hundreds of other activists in China. I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the power of that image – a man once tortured and imprisoned, now is able to stand in front of the world. I wanted to say that he was no longer afraid of the Chinese gov’t and their reprisals, but much of Chen’s […]


China’s rise has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but has life really improved as much as that claim implies? As a recent study shows, life satisfaction in China has not increased over the past 20 years, which seems to suggest that increasing wealth has not brought about a correlating increase in happiness. Today we’ll be exploring why this might be the case in the countryside. A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit several remote villages in central China. As the van bumped along rocky roads that wound over steep mountains for nearly 10 hours I started wondering how much life had really changed in many of these places over the past 60 years and whether or not these survivors would say […]


A few months ago I reviewed Yes China! by Neil Clark, and when a friend asked me to review another book about teaching English in China I was a little hesitant to commit to reading what to me has already become a familiar story. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find Yin-Yang: American Perspectives on Living in China filled with thoughtful reflections packaged in an altogether new format. Colorado China Council (CCC) Executive Director and author of this book, Alice Renouf, collects letters from former teachers and organizes them into a wide range of topics, and sorts them by location and date. I found this a wonderfully novel approach to creating a clear picture of China’s development and the diversity of experiences. This book shows it […]


Yesterday we explored why there is no such thing as instant guanxi, and were reminded that favors are often repaid in ways that we might not expect but have to accept. Today we’ll be looking at why your Chinese friends might feel uneasy pulling strings for you, and why foreign teachers are so wary of dinners with co-workers and bosses. As an employee of a hospital, I occupy a prime spot in the guanxi hierarchy in that I know a few doctors in several departments. Even though my connections are very limited in number, the connections I do have can be incredibly handy when friends are sick. Yet, as they have come to see, if it can be avoided I don’t use my guanxi. It […]


I received this as an email today and was asked to share it with you all. I am writing this in great fear. Let me explain- All of the things happening with the drama of Chen and Bo haven’t even phased people here as they are still more concerned with surviving in their daily lives. But then today that changed. My boyfriend (a Chinese professor of English) received a strange text message. He sent it to me and was very concerned because we are planning on getting married and moving to the US as soon as possible. The text was in Chinese and my Chinese was too poor to understand all of it so he translated it. It read: an announcement received today from concerned authorities that all leaders and professors […]


We’re often presented with images of Beijing and Shanghai’s glittering skylines and are inundated with stories of economic success. We know that China has succeeded in bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and that life in the countryside has never been better. But what does life actually look like in rural China for the nearly 700 million people that call it home? What kind of life does roughly $2.50 per day buy (this is the average rural income)? Today I’ll be sharing some of the best photos from People’s Daily as well as from my own travels. These images would be familiar to most Chinese people. In the countryside your school looks like this (more) Your parents are most likely farmers (more) Or work […]


China’s foreign policy of non-involvement seems to stem from the Confucian teaching to “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” For the Party, this means avoiding situations like what is currently happening in Syria, which if the UN had its way would see the ouster of a gov’t for slaughtering its own people (similar stances were taken by China in respect to Sudan and Libya too). China’s foreign policy recognizes the possible problems of setting a precedence of using military force against chronic human rights abusers. The key to this policy is keeping public opinion in line with the gov’t response and to accomplish that, China needs nationalism. This also explains the Party’s framing of China as a still imperiled nation. They push […]


For those who have never visited China, the country offers much more freedom than you are probably imagining. For those who’ve visited for quick trips, China is likely far more restrictive than what you’ve experienced. For most people in China, the lack of freedom only occasionally asserts itself as the veneer of “reform and opening up” gives way, exposing the fact that in many ways, China is still a police state. Despite my daily reading of abuses and scandals, these breaches rarely appear in daily life. This is partially why I try to avoid reporting on every act of depravity, they don’t reflect the China I know. At times it feels like there are two completely separate realms, the one in the papers and the one that I […]


After two days without breakfast, I was glad to see the jianbing man this morning (jianbing is a delicious crepe like food that should be enjoyed by all). I was actually surprised to see him, the two big meetings of the Party start next week, and I had assumed they had forced him from the street early as usual. When I asked where he had been, he said, “There was a health inspection. We get a phone call from someone who knows when these are, and so we stayed home.” I nodded and expected the conversation to shift back to the usual topic: the cost of random goods in the US. In the last year the jianbing man has been absent a few days at […]


Last week I briefly showed how if-then rewards are more likely to cause a search for loopholes than actual results. Today I want to explore a second idea from Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us;” that relying solely on extrinsic motivation doesn’t promote the kind of business/thinking that China needs to become a world leader. Firstly, it is important to understand another concept from the book, which Pink calls “motivation 2.0,” this is his name for the carrot and stick approach to leadership. External rewards can give people the incentives they need to act in a certain way, but it doesn’t fully appreciate the complexity of human choices (“motivation 2.0” can be anything from lower power prices at night to encourage […]


The following is a guest post from my friend Hannah on the latest story buzzing around the Chinese internet. Twenty-four-year-old Liu Lili recently appeared on a Chinese job-hunting TV show. She was halfway through saying, “I was in New Zealand for three years. After those three years, I came back home, and realized, ‘Wow, China’s been through a lot of changes!’ Now if it had been New Zealand—”, when the host, Zhang Shaogang,  scolded her for using the word “China” rather than “my country” (我国) or “my ancestral homeland” (祖国). He said that using the word “China” did not convey the warm-hearted feeling that two Chinese people should share when talking about the motherland. Liu Lili probably did not realize what she was going up […]


In this article, Jonathan Poston finishes the story he started last time about how his kung fu film project collapsed without him ever seeing it coming… …the lead student (and there is almost always one in every group—the outspoken, respected one) came to my office to let me know that the students felt uncomfortable with the contracts they had signed. Granted they were pages long, covering everything that the attorney said they should for me to feel comfortable that I owned all rights. I told the lead student (whom I’ll call film supervisor) that was managing the other students and coordinating the film team, to just find some other students who were interested, and let anyone go who was disagreeable to the terms of the […]


Yesterday we began to explore the biggest challenge facing China, trust, and how mistrust is a pervasive feeling even at a personal level. Today we are going to slightly broaden our view and look at mistrust between customers and companies. Between customers and companies While the importance of trust may seem obvious, the results of mistrust are often irrational. For example; a Chinese person is walking down the street and spots 50RMB lying on the ground. Given the lack of trust between individuals, do they A) pocket the money immediately B) look for the person who may have dropped it or C) leave the money on the ground? According to my college students in Guangxi (about 120 of them) the answer is C. In each […]


A few weeks ago a Chinese friend told me what worries him the most: a form of Nationalism that asserts China’s natural position is “glorious” and that the country only falls from this status when “outside forces” limit its growth. Equally concerning to him was that these ideas were predicated on a kind of racial superiority, sometimes referred to as Han nationalism (大汉族 DaHanzu Greater Han Ethnic group). This small group of people maintain that not only was China weakened in the 19th century by western influence, but was susceptible to these forces specifically because they were being led by Manchurians. The ultra-nationalists take this misreading of history to illustrate that China can only be strong when Chinese (Han) culture is purified of foreign influences and […]


As the world braces for what looks like a possible second economic downturn, it is increasingly important to understand how China weathered the first one. Today and tomorrow we are going to take a very simplified look at this issue. Please keep in mind that this is meant to give a broad overview and is in no way a complete account. When the markets started to drop off in 2008, the gov’t took a number of actions to try and prevent a financial collapse in the middle kingdom. They made it easier for companies to get loans, pushed a massive economic stimulus, propped up domestic consumption by offering discounts on things like home appliances and cars, increased college enrollment to delay entrance to the job market […]


When I was being briefed about Chinese communication styles in my preparations to come to China, I was warned that indirect communication is the preferred method of transmitting news. Today I’d like to share a few examples of this, and how woefully understated that was. Indirect communication in China means that information (usually bad news or self-boasting) is either transmitted via a third party or through half truths. I would say that despite my other experiences, this is the more common style of communication. I have seen this manifest in several ways, and it usually involves the word “maybe.” In fact, the word “maybe” often pops up in sentences where it has no place. One of my co-workers at one point actually said “Maybe today […]


This past weekend I had the chance to go to a nearby resort with my co-worker’s family. It was a great opportunity to see how China’s newly wealthy spend their money, and I was reminded of what priorities they have when it comes time for vacation. Value To me, the urge to get the most use of the money spent, was surprising. For instance, we had many places that we wanted to visit after we checked out, but our friends insisted on waiting until noon to leave the hotel. When noon did finally roll around, there was a giant mob of people checking out as well. It seemed as if everyone had whiled away their morning in an effort to get their full allotment of hotel room time. […]


The first year of blogging has resulted in well over 300 posts, so in celebration of surviving the writing process that has yielded over 150,000 words, I thought we should revisit a few of the best posts. My personal favorites – and the story behind them There must be something in the air – I don’t think anyone but my wife, and a few close friends know that I had a very short lived blog prior to this one. It was charitably described as “dry” and “overly detailed” (it was deleted shortly after starting this one). That failure helped me realize that I should be writing a blog that was more accessible to those without any first hand knowledge of the country. This post launched […]


Last year I detailed just how miserable winters can be in China (here). Windows are left open or don’t even close to begin with, buildings lack any kind of insulation, and space heaters are required just to keep your tea from freezing. The problem is that China’s people are now actually expecting to be comfortable at home and work (I don’t blame them), but the amount of energy required to accomplish that is going to be astronomical given the lack of energy efficient buildings. In fact, just the other day a senior gov’t planner described 95% of China’s new buildings as “energy-guzzling,” and that China is building  2 billion square meters of this type of building each year (that doesn’t account for old buildings which […]


I don’t always read the local papers, and for the most part my Chinese co-workers don’t either. So when something big comes to Nanjing, we don’t usually hear about it until it has passed, but we can always tell that something is approaching. For example, about three weeks ago we noticed a shift in our favorite DVD shops. The most visible one, located on a busy street across from the foreign student housing of a large university, was not only shut, but completely empty. Just days before it had displayed at least 1,000 pirated DVD’s, CD’s and computer games. Two other nearby shops were closed as well. When we returned home, the two shops nearby that sell more than just DVD’s had been shut down too. At […]


When talking with Chinese friends and co-workers about the pollution levels in Nanjing (awful compared to developed countries, but decent for Chinese cities), they are quick to point out that foreign companies in China are the ones that should be blamed for the filthy air. While it is absolutely true that foreign companies are adding to China’s environmental woes, I’m not convinced they should shoulder all the blame. Today, I’d like to start by discussing three points related to this statement, and I hope you’ll continue the discussion in the comment section below. Production for the West This factor is undeniable. Western consumers have benefited from the destruction of China’s environment by purchasing cheap goods. If all of our environmental standards were enforced globally (and […]


Yesterday we looked at the spread of AIDS in China and the impact of having a limited understanding of the disease. Today I want to look at one of the major factors in the spread of the disease: prostitution. Chinese friends are quick to point out that officially, prostitution is illegal but I’ve noticed that doesn’t seem to mean very much. On virtually every trip I have taken in the middle kingdom I have been solicited, usually through phone calls to my hotel room. Even the small towns in Guangxi where I lived, with populations around 50-75,000, had something similar to red light districts. If you walk around in the evening almost anywhere in China off the main streets, you will see the faint pink […]


When I hosted a group of European visitors the other day, one of them asked a question that I think many of you might have been wondering about, “What happened to China’s historical buildings?” Considering the historical centers of many European cities, it’s an understandable question. Note: Some of China’s best known cities like Xi’an and Beijing have a number of ancient buildings given that they are historic capitals, but throughout the country they are considerably harder to find. The Communists destroyed it The Party is often the scapegoat when it comes to explaining many of the choices made in modern China. In this case, not entirely without reason, Chinese temples and artifacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but other works were well preserved. However, […]


I recently finished Troy Parfitt’s travelogue “Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas,” and I rather enjoyed it. It was at times funny, shocking, enlightening and enraging. The basic idea behind the book was that Troy would visit a number of Chinese cities over a few marathon-like trips to China and record almost everything that happened. From this foundation he would add in bits of history and culture from a wide range of sources that, taken together, give fairly accurate accounts of the places he visits. The hope was that this would help shape his opinions and prove his thesis, that China would never rule the world (at least not this century). Troy’s observations are hit-and-miss, but always thought provoking. […]


In addition to “The west doesn’t understand China,” the second refrain you’ll hear when it comes to defending some of the Party’s more draconian policies is that “China is a big country with a large population.” For example, a comment on an old post: “China insists on having solution that is suitable for the conditions in China, and I bet the shape the hospitals are in is one of these solutions – right for China. When anyone complaints about anything wrong with China, the size of the population will always come up as the trump card – no other country has as large population as China, and therefore China’s problems are always unique. And I suspect that these hospitals are part of the solution to […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: October 15, 2011   Earlier this year, I interviewed two people in China and wrote the story of a man called Sheng Shuren (盛树人). He studied journalism in St. John University in Shanghai around 1940, and worked for English publications and then for the British Consulate. After 1949, he moved to Beijing to work for the Xinhua News Agency. His trouble began almost immediately and, by the end of the 1950s, he was a prisoner at a labor camp. Later he was sent back to Shanghai, his hometown, where he was denied residence registration, divorced by his wife, had no job, and lived with his aging mother. He taught English stealthily to support himself and died in 1976 at fifty-six years old. […]


The other day I was visiting my favorite jianbing salesman (煎饼 a delicious crepe type breakfast food), and he asked me if America was safe. I told him that regarding food and transportation, America is pretty safe, but we still have too much violent crime. I figured this was a fairly safe answer, China has been plagued by food safety problems and fatal accidents in the double digits are fairly common. It would have also played into the stereotypical idea that America is dangerous because we all have guns, which would make it easy to believe (more on that tomorrow). Instead the chef just shook his head and said, “China isn’t safe”. His two female co-workers agreed. “Too many thieves,” one said. Even in the […]


A few months ago I wrote a post titled “There’s no bureaucracy like Chinese bureaucracy” that highlighted a few of the crazier experiences I’ve had with China’s love of hierarchy. Today though I wanted to look at one of the bigger problems with bureaucracy, not that it simply wastes time, but that having millions (literally) of officials with a little bit of status and a small amount of power can be an incredibly dangerous thing. A recent study came to a rather unsurprising result, when people have power and a low status in the overall hierarchy, they tend to abuse it. For those of us living in China we see this daily in the way the chengguan beat street merchants, the way local gov’t officials […]


On my way to the supermarket I pass a man fixing bicycles, a place that can repair virtually any article of clothing and at least three shops that can solve any problem on almost any cell phone. This culture of fixing things instead of throwing them away is something I deeply admire. In Longzhou I had a flat tire, so I went to the repairman who worked behind a newspaper stand just off campus. His body was a rich brown, and he hardly had any hair left on his head, just a few wisps combed over. He only spoke the local dialect, and I could only speak Mandarin, but he knew what I wanted when he saw the sorry shape of my bicycle. He pulled […]


By Yaxue Cao On the heel of the 2008 Olympic spectacle that awed much of the world, China celebrated its 60th anniversary of the communist rule on Oct. 1, 2009. In the ancient Chinese calendar system where 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches are combined to designate the sequence of years, the 60th year marks the completion of a cycle, and after that the years start all over again. By the old concept, 60-years is a lifetime. 10,000 military members goose stepped in formation, each consisting of marchers who looked like replicas of each other with the same height, the same built, the same weight, the same haircut and the same expression. After the soldiers, 100,000 civilians paraded in nearly the same sameness along […]


It seems that few people manage to escape China without a tale of being conned out of at least a couple dollars. Whether it’s buying goods in Beijing’s silk market at prices 1000% higher than locals would pay, getting tricked into paying additional “fees” at hotels, or having a cabbie take you the long way back to the train station. Today we’re going to be exploring why scamming isn’t seen as an ethical problem in China. While many people think that these scams are simply a result of increased tourism (which is definitely a factor), this does not completely explain its prevalence in the middle kingdom. After all, foreigners aren’t the only ones getting tricked, it may actually be more closely tied to the idea […]


One of my first posts on this blog focused on the idea of being a waiguoren (外国人), an “outside country person”, and the fact that a foreigner can never be fully accepted in China. Today though, we’ll be looking at the idea of a waicunren (外村人), an “outside village person”, and how it presents new challenges in an increasingly mobile China. Along with your name and age, a person’s hometown is considered an important part of their identity. This comes out of the fact that for thousands of years a person’s village in many cases mostly consisted of their extended family members. In a traditional village one would expect to find only a few family names with lineages tracing their history in a single place back hundreds […]


While China may be releasing a huge quantity of films, and producing a number of new TV shows, to most foreigners living here, there is still a dearth of entertainment (sorry CCTV). Despite efforts to promote “soft power”, China still seems unable to attract followings on par with Japanese anime or Bollywood films. So today we’ll be looking at the factors limiting China’s cultural potency. As I’ve discussed before (How long until we’re all singing Beijing Opera?), I think one of the major challenges facing China’s efforts is that the gov’t/party seems to be closely involved with these projects, which is a negative to many in the US and Europe. This has been especially true of 2011’s highest grossing film, The Founding of the Party, […]


The top story this week was the fallout surrounding Li Yang’s abuse of his wife. Li is the head of “Crazy English” which is probably the best known English learning program in China. Last week pictures were post on Weibo by his wife that documented the abuse, and begged him to stop hitting her in front of their children. This was a shock to Li who said, “I hit her sometimes, but I never thought she would make it public since it’s not Chinese tradition to expose family conflicts to outsiders.” Adam Minter wrote an excellent piece for Bloomberg with a closer look at this case, and what it says about domestic abuse in China. The biggest lesson from this article is that China does not have […]


The big story in China news this week was that there was an effort by Chinese arms companies to sell weapons to Qaddafi in mid-July, well after the UN embargo had begun. While the Chinese gov’t is denying any knowledge of these meetings (even claiming that it might have just been a friendly chat), and is stressing that no arms were sold. This does however fit China’s pattern of supporting dictators with small arms that they know are being used against civilians. As China’s strength grows, it is finding foreign policy to be a bit of a minefield. Read my coverage of weapons sales to Zimbabwe, and Chinese attitudes about the genocide in Darfur. China also used state media to focus anger at ConocoPhillips this week as news […]


From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society is not a typical book on modern China, largely because it was written 70 years ago. It’s author, Fei Xiaotong, was one of China’s first sociologists, and was writing at a time when it seemed that new China would have limitless potential. Fei wrote a number of essays that were published throughout China in the 1940’s firstly to describe China’s essential nature, and secondly to describe how this national character could be used to China’s advantage. I don’t think he realized how relevant this book would be today. Fei’s main argument focuses on his idea that China is essentially a rural country, which describes a great deal of modern China’s social structure all these years later. I […]


By Yaxue Cao Yaxue Cao is short story writer who grew up in Northern China during the cultural revolution.  I met a young man a few years ago while working with a law firm on a case involving China. We were among a few Chinese who had been hired to translate documents. All of us were working more or less honestly in our respective capacities, but every day he sat in front of his computer, chatted with anyone who would answer him, or mostly got online to do whatever he was doing. Now and then, he would say to the rest of us, “Why rush? Slow down so we will log more hours!” Or, twirling in his office chair, “The Americans are dumb! They don’t […]


It’s no secret that China is a massive country that is changing at incredible speeds, and so it seems that even 5 days a week isn’t enough to cover everything that is happening in the middle kingdom. So I am very pleased to announce the launch SeeingRedInChina.com’s weekend section. It will have posts focusing on (mis)adventures in China, a brief round-up of the week’s news stories with a brief explanation of why they matter, as well as opinion pieces, guest posts, and hopefully some interviews. My good friend Casey will be kicking things off on Saturday as he starts to tell the story of his first trip to China, and his time spent working in what has to be the absolute worst school in China. […]


Yesterday I highlighted some of the exciting developments in Chinese NGOs, and briefly illustrated why they were needed (so far at the conference every speaker has emphasized the growing gap between rich and poor). Today I want to address a few of the challenges. Recently the gov’t has publicly taken a step away from civil society, but in practice remain strong supporters. I think this is partially because of the problems that are being highlighted, and partially because of scandals and fraud within some of these organizations. I think one of the major challenges for these NGOs is that the gov’t has already defined what a “harmonious society” should be, but has not actually engaged in any sort of discussion with the people about what […]


I recently finished Jonathan Watts’ book “When A Billion Chinese Jump,” and I must say that it is one of the finest books I have read on China. While the author was attempting to create a complete picture of China’s environmental situation, he actually created a much broader guide through his pan-China adventure in which he visits almost every province. His journey begins in Shangrila, or Deqing as it was called before the marketing campaign. There he notices that in the rush to create an eco-tourism paradise, the companies are actually destroying the main attraction. There he also takes time to introduce a concept that he refers to as the Daoist approach to nature, a bit of Tibetan culture, as well as sharing interesting conversations he […]


…continued Chinese men also come with involved mothers.  Their mothers are full of opinions and criticisms.  The Chinese fathers I have known, on the other hand, are not involved and extremely difficult to have a relationship with.  The best way to deal with the introduction of a new mother-figure into your life is to demonstrate to her that you are an adult who is open to and cares about her opinions, but is not obligated to follow them (I learned this the hard way from my step-mother).  You don’t yet have water under the bridge with this woman, so there’s no need to get worked up when she does not agree with you.  I am very pleased with my husband’s mother because she genuinely likes […]


This post was written by my good friend Heather, about her new life with her husband Huichun. I had the honor of being the best man in their wedding and wish them both all the best as they work through the immigration process. None of my friends or classmates of other racial backgrounds have EVER asked me to elucidate my experience as a “white woman.”  So now that I have been called upon to give a kernel of insight into White American woman–Han Chinese man marriages, I can understand a little better the plight of the lone Black American in some of my high school and college classes who would frequently be expected to give the “Black” outlook on the topic.  How can one person […]


Over the next few days we’ll be looking at three different interracial marriages, though this time, it is the woman who is non-Chinese. First though I thought it might be beneficial for us to take a look back on some of the other posts on this topic (to date, the topic I have written the most about). In the past we have looked at weddings in modern China, and saw that family obligations still often trump personal desires. The boss’s speech and other oddities at Chinese weddings What happened to traditional Chinese weddings? Chinese wedding days & wedding nights Guest Post – I hate the Chinese ideas about marriage Expired women and family obligations We also looked at intercultural weddings where the men are foreigners. […]


Today we’ll be looking at a few of the upsides of these projects, and why they are for the most part appreciated by the people, despite the corruption and problems these vanity projects can cause (read my updated post on some of the problems). Jobs As the US entered the recession questions were raised about Keynesian economics, could gov’t spending really be the answer? While we battened down the hatch for another long debate as to whether or not it might be effective, and then moved on to how much to spend, China pushed ahead with massive spending. While the long-term results are unclear (10 trillion rmb in local debts is worrying), the immediate benefits were obvious. Not only did several cities launch plans for expanding desperately needed […]


For the past few days we’ve been exploring a few of the myths the Party sees as central to their rule (here and here). Today and tomorrow we’ll be taking on the the most controversial one, that Chairman Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. If you haven’t lived in China, you are probably wondering how anyone ever came up with such a precise statistic. One of my American friends liked to joke with his students (not sure if they realized he was joking) that perhaps the Chairman was only 65% right or that it included his primary school test scores, generally, the students didn’t want to discuss these things. The Chairman is still very much officially revered in China; his face is on every […]


This is a question I have been struggling with these past few months. I don’t mean to say that China’s economy is headed for a bust (although many are afraid it is), but will the rest of the world ever like China as much as it did during the Beijing Olympics? It was a moment when China’s human rights issues seemed to be improving, Wikipedia had been unblocked, journalists were given greater freedoms than before, and China had spared no effort in responding to the Sichuan Earthquake. Heck, Beijing even had blue skies for several days in a row! The stadiums and infrastructure had all been built in record time, and the opening ceremony was awe-inspiring. It seemed there was nothing that China couldn’t do. The […]


A few weeks ago a shepherd in Inner Mongolia was run over by a trucker moving a load of coal. The result has been wide-spread protests over the past two weeks, causing dozens of news stories about Han-Mongol relations. Before we get too far into this story, we need to pause for a little background. Around 221 B.C. China became a unified nation under the Qin dynasty. One of the emperor’s first acts was to connect the city walls along the Northern border to defend against the nomadic sheepherders who were also fierce warriors (the tribe at this time was the Xiongnu). Even though the tribes along China’s border changed, the relationship between the nomads and the farmers never really improved. For another 1500 years […]


On China’s East Coast people are getting rich. The province I currently live in, Jiangsu, has a GDP equivalent to Switzerland (picture the Alps with more than 30 million people, and 100 degree heat). While much of this wealth is concentrated in a few hands, there is a growing middle class in the cities, and they are providing jobs to their lower class neighbors that are better than they sound. The first job I wanted to discuss was that of the maid, only that isn’t close to being an adequate translation. The Chinese call the maid an “Aiyi” which actually means auntie (in the close family friend sense of the word). In English this job doesn’t offer the opportunities that it does in China, nor […]


I had a great discussion with a German man on the train yesterday, and thought you might find it interesting. He is in the garment manufacturing business and works for a large German chain similar to The GAP or H&M, and has been in China for 3 years. In our conversation we talked about a variety of topics: Manufacturing, GDP growth, High speed rail, the housing boom, China’s environment, and in each topic he brought up that it wasn’t sustainable. Perhaps it was made more apparent by traveling 300km/hour through what used to be China’s countryside, which now offers little other than new apartment buildings, gray skies, and a dozen coal power plants. One of the most interesting things he said was that wages have […]


On Tuesday I reported briefly on Shaanxi’s plan to relocate 2.7 million residents from the northern and southern parts of the province. The local gov’t reported that this was a major push to help break the cycle of poverty that has been effecting those regions for generations. They also cited the fact that both areas are prone to disasters, and so this project would help save lives. I wasn’t so optimistic about the project, and wondered when exactly we would find out the real motivation behind it. Today as I was combing through the part of the People’s Daily I realized they had yet again buried the lead. The headline is “Shaanxi plans to move 2.7 million to safer areas“, and the first page of […]


This is part of a series, it starts here with my trip to Huaxi village The whole experience raised more questions about Huaxi’s socialist success than it answered. Most of the Chinese people I have talked with know about the village, are quick to repeat that it is the richest village in China, but I’m still stuck on how exactly it became so rich. I have a few different theories, which as usual, I’m happy to share with you. The Government has paid for the whole thing. Or at least that was my initial reaction. After all, how could it possibly be that simply through hard work and “advanced” agricultural techniques that a village could possibly get rich enough to build all of these villas? […]


Continued from yesterday At dinner that first night we started to realize that there was much more to Huaxi village than most might realize. For one the village leader offered us the choice between Huaxi Wuliangye (a famous brand of baijiu) or Huaxi Changyu (a famous brand of red wine in China). The dinner included a variety of local specialties, including a kind of Yangtze river puffer fish that is poisonous if not prepared correctly. “Our chef is one of the highest ranking chefs in China,” the village leader said as he raised his glass for the umpteenth toast. I’ve lived in Chinese villages, and this was completely different. It wasn’t until we got to Huaxi’s memorial hall that we fully realized we were in […]


Every once in a while I start to wonder if I will run out of material for this blog…then I have a ridiculous weekend like this one and realize that there is still so so so much more to talk about. Even though many of you have read more than 100 posts here, we are still just a few inches beneath the surface, and luckily for us, that is where a lot of the fun begins. This weekend was May Day holiday here in China, essentially the communist version of Labor Day in the US, and my co-worker invited my wife and I to visit her husband’s hometown, Huaxi Cun. “Where is it?” I asked. “Oh, it’s very famous,” her husband said “It’s the first […]


This short post comes from a friend living in Inner Mongolia, and is brand new to life in China. I asked her what had surprised her and this was her response. Her and her husband keep a personal blog about their adventures, which can be found here. Spring is in the air, and as I was walking back from class recently I took a deep breath and realized that the smell of urine is also in the air. When I first came to China, public urination surprised me. Now it doesn’t surprise me, but it is one of those mild Chinese irritants. Men and children urinate here, there, and everywhere. I have yet to see a woman assume the squatting position, but every day men […]


My Chinese friend Grace is about the last person you would picture when you think about dissidents. She’s happily married to a doctor who doesn’t drink or smoke. She is pregnant with her second healthy (and perfectly legal) baby. She has a college education and a good job by Chinese standards. Grace doesn’t like reading the news, and refers to the Cultural Revolution as “some unpleasant times that aren’t good to talk about.” Her family is firmly part of China’s new middle class. She isn’t an artist or a lawyer, she doesn’t know how to get past the great firewall (even though she wants to), and she definitely wouldn’t be considered an intellectual (she’s not stupid, but she avoids reading and writing at pretty much […]


I stumbled across this short documentary about Chinese immigrants living in Senegal and thought some of you might enjoy another look at this topic. If you missed my 3-part series (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) on China’s Growing African Empire, I would suggest reading that along with this documentary. I found that this film focused much more on the micro-economic effects of Chinese immigrants’ push into Africa, that was a piece missing from my own posts on the situation.


This week’s story brings an old story back to the front page. China and Japan are quarreling over the fishing boat accident again, that happened late in 2010. This time Japan has sent the fishing boat captain a letter for the repairs to their coast guard boats. You probably heard about this story, because as it escalated China stopped trading rare earth materials (magnets and other things used in electronics) to Japan. It also caused all of China’s neighbors to pause for a moment and realize that China was positioning itself for a new role in the region, and it might not be a positive thing for them. I don’t think it was a coincidence that China’s GDP had just passed Japan’s a month or […]


2011 has already set record highs for food prices, and that means another step backward for development. Now add to that news that China’s wheat-producing region (one of the largest in the world) is bracing for the worst drought in a century, and you have the makings for a disaster. In 2008 the world saw record high food prices. They led to riots in some countries, and crime waves in others. My brother was in the Dominican Republic at the time, and faced a number of threats on his life, as desperate people looked for ways of providing for their families. At that time I was in Longzhou and there were daily questions from the restaurant owners about the cost of goods in America. In […]


Chinese has a few common phrases that are used to mean “foreigner” one is laowai (老外) meaning literally old-outsider, and the other is waiguoren (外国人) meaning outside-country-person. These phrases are both considered neutral. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, just a fact, and Chinese people enjoy stating the obvious (on a rainy day you will hear people under umbrellas telling other people under umbrellas that it is raining). Waiguoren is attached to all foreigners: North and South Americans, Europeans, Australians, Africans, all are lumped together into a single homogeneous “other”. This is not to say that there is no racism, or stereotypes attached to people from separate countries, but as we walk past people on the street, “waiguoren” is what they shout […]


Yesterday I wrote about the health effects of pollution on the general Chinese population. (from a Photo essay on pollution in China) Today I am going to look at the question: Where does all this pollution come from? Which has an easy answer – Coal burning power plants, coal heated homes, and coal roasted sweet potatoes. The coal roasted sweet potatoes aren’t a joke sadly, they are a common sight throughout China. In Guangxi many restaurants used cement buckets with coal bricks for cooking. In a matter of minutes my entire respiratory system would stage a protest, and I would have to run out with my nose running, coughing like I had just been tear gassed. This embarrassing reaction only happens to foreigners since all […]


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