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When I heard that Richard Burger, of The Peking Duck, had written a book about sex in China, I expected it to be a somewhat scandalous introduction to the topic (he had told me that it wasn’t meant for China experts). However, I found Behind the Red Door: Sex in China to be an incredibly thorough exploration of sex and sexuality in China. He covers almost every aspect– dating, marriage, prostitution, concubines, homosexuality, pornography, sex shops – and each in a way that considers the past and present and avoids easy answers. The only gripe I had with the book was when Burger chastised the missionaries of the past for bringing their close minded western views on homosexuality. He highlights a passage from a Jesuit […]


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 […]


Today, we continue our ongoing series on Ai Weiwei’s book, Time and place. A World Without Honor By 2006 China had already tapped Zhang Yimou to direct the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. To Ai this was completely unacceptable, and he decided to devote a rather fiery post to the injustice of this decision. It was  shortly before this that the once daring director had begun to back away from the line. As a friend who had attended film school with Zhang told me, it seemed to her that the gov’t had finally “gotten” him. But Ai’s essay is still relevant today, especially as we sit through two more weeks of Olympics. He says, “Every competition has a winner, and the victorious side always […]


When it comes to describing China’s challenges, foreigners (myself included) tend to attack the gov’t side of the issue. While the current system does seem to reinforce a number of practices that limit people power and encourage corruption, it ignores the cultural factors that are in play. I believe the reason for this is that us “old outsiders” worry about being decried as racist. To some extent these two factors reinforce one another. For instance, the leaders in China have never actually been required to heed the will of the people, and so there is a limited culture of challenging their rule; 0r that the rich have always been privileged in Chinese society over the commoners. Fortunately, people like Xu Zhiyong and Murong Xuecun are attacking both […]


Yesterday we posted Xu Zhiyong’s essay calling for a New Citizens’ Movement. Today I want to highlight a few of the aspects that make this piece especially interesting to me, and why I believe this essay lays out a realistic path for change. Reform not Revolution What has been made clear time and again in Global Times and Peoples Daily is that the Chinese people have little appetite for revolution, they aren’t wrong about this. After all, they got their fill of the chaos that revolution brings during Mao’s reign. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, and a successful movement is going to have to reassure the people that what they are doing is not going to turn China into Libya, Egypt or Syria. […]


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 […]


For some reason, I’ve been brought to a number of business meetings even though I am in no way a businessman. Yet, I’ve been a part of making decisions related to hiring and forging partnerships. Today I thought I’d share a few cases that may prove of some use to those of you looking to succeed in China. The case of the effusive businessman An older white man sits down at a table full of Chinese faces. With a strong Aussie accent he manages to say in Chinese, “Hello, I’m very happy to be here with you today.” The meeting begins with laughter, and whispers of how good his Chinese is (even though it really isn’t). Over the course of the meetings and meals he […]


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 […]


In China I often hear opinions stated as facts, so today I present to you: The two best Chinese poets, Li Bai and Dufu. These two are known by virtually all Chinese people, regardless of their level of education. I have chosen a few of their best short poems for you to read today to introduce you to some of the finer things in Chinese culture. A few things you should know about Chinese poetry before reading these is that: 1. Poets were usually travelers 2. Poets typically will express Daoist (Taoist) ideals, often through images of nature 3. Poets were usually inspired by simple events, and wrote hundreds of poems 4. Poets were often drunk Dufu, who lived just up the street from me […]


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