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By Teng Biao, translated by Rogier Creemers Teng Biao (滕彪) is a well-known legal scholar and rights lawyer in China. Read the original here.   Even in Robinson’s world of one man, his life required information, reflection and memory. Human society not having information is even more impossible to imagine. It may be said that a person is moulded by the information he or she comes into contact with and masters; a society is the same. Thinking and memory cannot be separated from language. Modern philosophers have paid more and more attention to the extreme importance of language in human societies. The thinking human (homo sapiens) exists first and foremost as a language human (homo loquens). Society and language have not stopped interacting for a blink: regardless of […]


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 […]


The following is a guest post from a friend who writes on her blog ChinaB.org My Chinese friend turned to me the other day and said “What time is it? I got a plane to Shenzhen to catch.” “Shenzhen? What are you doing going there on a Sunday night?” She looked suddenly embarrassed and told me quietly that she was taking a PhD qualifying exam for someone. The first question that came to mind was why?; why this thirty-some-year-old was being flown out to Shenzhen to take a PhD exam. I have known her for two years, and she is a very kind and curious woman, but by no means a mover and shaker. Her English is pretty good, and if she had any other […]


I think to many observers of China, People’s Daily (PD) has little worth outside of restating the Party line. They pretend that it is a reconstruction of the Ministry of Truth from 1984, whose only purpose lies in creating “truth.” Some even go so far as to argue that reading and quoting such a paper does nothing but affirm the Party’s leadership. In fact, bloggers, activists, and dissidents should be reading the People’s Daily, and, as I’ll show, often the most damning evidence against the Party’s rule can be found within its pages. Initially, I too was skeptical of the integrity of People’s Daily, but linked to it regularly, assuming that even the strongest proponents of China would find it difficult to argue with facts […]


It would be easy to write a post about the difference between Malaysia and China and point to the joys of multiculturalism and  democracy. However it wasn’t these things that jumped out most at me during my travels, instead it was the simple joy of being reminded of the abundance of life outside of the human race. Even though Malaysian Borneo is home to orangutans, sea turtles, and hosts of other intriguing creatures, it was the little birds that could be heard in every city that made me saddest to leave. China’s urban areas have stray cats and dogs, rats, and surprisingly large cockroaches, but very few birds (outside of the ones old men bring to the parks in cages). Even though my apartment exits […]


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 […]


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. […]


Dear Readers, I just wanted to let you know that I am starting work on a book. At the moment it is in the very early stages, and I am writing this open letter partially to put pressure on myself to complete it. The book will be similar to the blog in some ways, as I will discuss a variety of topics that have already been mentioned briefly here including: education, rural life, issues facing migrant workers, the environment, and also a touch of politics, history and economics. I am also planning on a few topics that I have a closer connection with, like the difficulties facing disabled people in China and the Rape of Nanking. These topics will be presented in more depth than on the blog, […]


Today my co-worker informed me that she would be sending her 14 year-old son to study in New Zealand, and she was understandably sad about it. For the last year he has struggled to meet the school’s standards, but has been left behind by teachers who care more about their own performance bonuses than helping him reach his potential. He is a good kid, who simply does not fit the model of Chinese education. His family feels like there are no decent choices for educating him in China, but hate to be separated. My co-worker revealed part of the problem when she explained that every night he’s given hours of homework focused on memorizing answers. He doesn’t see the point, and she doesn’t either. After […]


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. […]


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 […]


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 […]


At a conference I attended a few months ago, a Chinese professor described rural villagers as “sacrificing their youth, for the sake of the cities”. It struck a chord with me as I pictured the rural villages I had grown familiar with during my bike rides down dirt roads in Guangxi. Every village was full of children and grandparents, but was missing nearly everyone from 20-60 years old. It’s as if this entire group left to work in the cities, giving their best years to a develop a region where they cannot reap the full rewards of their work. While the left behind children are a pressing topic of discussion, the other family members are no less effected by the social hole left by migrant […]


People’s daily and other state news sources have been pointing to the influence of Weibo as a sign of China’s shift toward democracy (here and here), but is social media really creating a more just China? Note: Weibo is a Chinese networking site, something like a combination of Twitter, Facebook and a blog. It is also carefully monitored by gov’t censors (a.k.a. internet police) for stories on sensitive topics, and imposes keyword bans. One way that Weibo is contributing to the development of democracy in China, is that it has helped introduce the idea that the gov’t should actually listen to its people. Weibo has accomplished this largely because it has given common people a way of airing grievances in a public forum. In the past […]


Today’s guest post comes from Mr. Kuaizi, who writes wonderful comments in response to many of my posts (and sometimes he eve agrees with me).  He writes a blog that covers a wide variety of topics, and that can be found here. I was very thankful that he agreed to share his story for the first time here for all of you. After reading much of the commentary on foreigner/Chinese relationships related to Tom’s recent post on “I hate the Chinese ideas about marriage”, I feel compelled to offer some of my own insight on the subject matter. I am American and my wife is Chinese. We first met in China more than 15 years ago when I was there on scholarship teaching English and […]


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 […]


This week we’ve taken a brief look at China’s ability to project economic, political, and military power, and whether or not China is approaching super power status. Today we look at China’s cultural power. Culture a.k.a. Soft Power Chinese language is becoming widely popular in schools throughout the world. People are eager to learn the world’s most spoken language, and this has given China a great opportunity to use it’s GDP (and people’s desire to get into the Chinese market) to build China’s soft power. The Confucius Institute has been by far China’s most successful attempt at exporting it’s culture. However, many expats have already discovered that Chinese isn’t actually a necessity for living in China. I know dozens of foreigners that have never progressed […]


Earlier this week we looked a little bit at food safety in China. Today we are going to look at a Chinese market (nothing comes in packages), these are where most rural Chinese prefer to do their shopping. Whenever I have visitors from the States, I enjoy taking them to the market because it makes such a visceral impact on them and leaves them with the inescapable feeling that they have caught a glimpse of the real China. I still clearly remember my first trip to the market in Longzhou. It was late August so the air was heavy with humidity and the heat seemed to amplify the fragrance of the fresh fruit along with the pungent smell of meat that had been sitting out […]


Qing Ming Festival is a day in which Chinese families head to the graveyard and clean the tombs of their ancestors. It is interesting because it helps us understand how traditional Chinese ideas about death survive in modern China despite Mao’s efforts to eliminate them. It can be said that the Chinese used to believe the spirits of their ancestors were in three places: the grave, the ancestral tablet, and in the Chinese afterworld. It’s not correct to refer to it as heaven or hell, since the afterlife was in most ways the same as their temporal one. It was also believed that ancestors had the ability to help our hurt one’s situation in life. If the tomb was not swept on Qing Ming, if […]


I know that one of the few things I learned in middle school about China was that the Chinese language has many “dialects.” I had never been clear on what a dialect really was, often people say that it’s like an accent, and for a few of them that’s correct. In many cases though “dialects” are completely different languages that are based on the same written system. That means even if you couldn’t understand what the person was saying you could read what they wrote. This is most likely the result of China’s vast lands and difficult terrain that made travel rare. This limited direct communication and made writing invaluable. In this video my former students count from 1-10, first Mandarin (the official language), then […]


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 […]


So far we’ve looked at speaking Chinese, and the basics of forming characters (which are complete words themselves), so today we’re wrapping up the series and looking at compound words. Compound words are formed by putting two characters together to create a single, new meaning. For example 中国zhongguo (China) separately they mean “middle” and “kingdom,” but by putting them together they take on a new meaning. We can take it a step further and say 中国人zhongguoren(Chinese person), or 中国菜zhongguocai (Chinese food). Now the vocabulary is growing, for 7 words we’ve had to learn 4  characters. Now I can teach you one more character 美mei(beautiful), but we can make 美国meiguo(America), 美国人meiguoren(American person), and 美国菜meiguocai(American food). So now we are at 5 characters, but 11 words. This […]


One of the first thing people ask me when I tell them I live in China is whether or not it’s a difficult language. The short answer is: yes. Like any language it is tricky, but I promise it’s not as bad as it seems. So for the next couple days I’m going to try to explain the basics of how Chinese works, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Fear #1 – Tones:The first day of Chinese class I was shown something like the picture above showing the 4 tones of Mandarin. The teacher then explained the importance of tones, and how the slightest inflection could completely change the meaning. Ex. 1 妈妈骂马 (mother scolds the horse) or 马骂妈妈 (The horse scolds mother) However […]


The other day my wife and I were walking through a kind of upscale mall when we heard (in English) “Hey foreigner! Come here! Foreigner buy things!” This isn’t unusual for me. There is a joke in my organization that being a foreigner in China is like being an animal in the zoo (it is for this reason that we honestly do not sit near windows while we eat). People treat you like you are famous, but you really wish you weren’t. Kyle and I used to play pool in the very back of the dingiest, darkest pool hall in Longzhou because it was the only public place we could go and only be mildly bothered by gawkers. Imagine if every time you went shopping […]


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