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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 […]


This year a crowd of economists and social spectators have started to wonder aloud if 2012 will be the year China’s system collapses (to be fair, this is an annual tradition). This time they are pointing to mass incidents, economic troubles, growing evidence of corruption, a Grand Canyon sized gap between rich and poor, and scandals that seem to rock the country on a bi-weekly basis. These are challenges China has overcome before, but on a much smaller scale and without having to contend with the openness of Weibo. Some might go so far as to say that what has already been set in motion makes it impossible to avoid such a catastrophe. However, there is a single problem underlying many of China’s greatest woes: […]


Yesterday’s review of “Reconsidering the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries,” is important reading not only to better understand the terror and hysteria of the Mao years, but to understand the way in which the past effects the psyche of Chinese people today. Three bits from the article have been cycling through my mind since yesterday: that in some areas nearly 80% of the people accused were later exonerated, 30% of those whose death sentences were not absolutely necessary were executed anyway, and that even in my former home of Longzhou, which is tiny by Chinese standards, at least 40  people were executed. These three pieces show that the campaign was largely used as a source of revenge against otherwise innocent people, and that this campaign reached […]


Those of us who grew up in Christian homes are all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Sadly we learned this week that the tale has a very different ending in China: A toddler was going down to the street to play, she was run over by an inattentive driver, who paused a moment to consider what to do and then departed, leaving her half dead. By chance, a certain merchant was going down that way. When he saw her, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a mother also, when she came to the place with her own child, and saw the injured toddler, passed by on the other side. Sixteen others did the same, but a certain […]


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 […]


Yesterday we took a careful look at the budget of my office’s unpaid intern, and some of you questioned her spending habits. So today we’ll be looking at the importance of social obligations, and why spending more than 20% of your monthly budget on friends and family doesn’t strike this young woman as an optional expense. Her 150rmb dinner for four seems like an extravagant expense considering that she usually spends less than 10rmb on meals for herself. However, hosting meals may be one of the most important ways of building guanxi. This usually means ordering more food than any group of humans could possibly eat, with as many meat dishes as possible (since meat is more expensive). Where I currently work, a small banquet […]


Today I want to illuminate what life is really like for the average Chinese person that has yet to fully reap the rewards of China’s rapid development. We’ll be looking at a friend’s monthly budget up close, which I think you’ll find quite interesting. From other discussions with students, this seems to be a fairly typical budget. She is about 20 years old, and is in her final semester of college (a three year program). Her school requires her to complete an internship as part of her degree, the hospital gives her practically no work to do and she takes home no salary. All in all it seems to be a huge waste of time and money for her, but for some reason it is necessary for […]


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 […]


Last week we looked at many of the misunderstandings about Christianity in China (1, 2,3, 4), so today I thought we would wrap up by looking at mission in China just before the fall of the last emperor. The era we will be looking at though is not the start of Christianity in China, which first arrived around the 8th century. The following dynasties seemed to fluctuate between banning the practices, embracing them, or just flat out ignoring them. Matteo Ricci was the most successful of the early missionaries to China. In 1601 he was the first westerner to ever enter the Forbidden City, but it was the scientific knowledge he possessed that most interested the court. His efforts to understand Chinese culture, and adapt […]


While I was in Huaxi another interesting topic came up which doesn’t have so much to do with this strange village, but reflects more broadly on China. As we were walking through their hall of glorious history we noticed there were pictures of leaders from several foreign delegations on the wall. Two in particular seemed to be emphasized and we looked closer. “It’s the king of Cambodia,” my co-worker’s husband said with a big grin, “He very much liked to visit Huaxi.” I recognized the man in the second photo too, a small part of me was hoping we would just move on. “And this,” her husband continued, “Is Po-er Pa-te.” “Pol Pot?” I asked trying to make sure that this was something he really […]


When we head overseas we brace ourselves for the variety of new foods, the crazy streets, and missteps in a new culture. The thing we often forget is that culture is truly ubiquitous, permeating absolutely every aspect of life. So over the next few days we will be looking at a few of the places where cultural differences surprise us because we didn’t even realize they were part of culture. As I like to think of this blog as a place to be exposed to new concepts and ideas, I’ll be introducing a variety of anthropological terms that will help us talk more exactly about culture. Time This one seems fairly obvious, we have heard about cultures that are more or less time sensitive (Americans […]


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 […]


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