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As you’ve likely already heard, thousands of doomsday predictors have been arrested throughout China as part of the “evil cult” Eastern Lightning. Unfortunately many Chinese Christians are willing to dismiss them as a cult and agree with their treatment, but these arrests should concern everyone advocating for human rights in China and especially those concerned with religious freedom and yet there has been little discussion of this within the Western Media. Within this story are several important issues worth taking a moment to consider. While Eastern Lightning meets many of the sociological definitions of a cult by urging members to cut off ties to their non-believing family members and friends, unquestioning faith in their charismatic leader, and exerting coercive pressure on those who try to […]


Seeing photos of the terrible flooding in Beijing, I can’t help but feel for the families affected by the devastation (video). As is usual with disasters, netizens have begun to blame the gov’t for the outcome of what would likely have been tragic in many parts of the world. Hannah, the newest addition to our team, described it as “apocalyptic,” and noted that Saturday’s forecast had only called for a 60% chance of rain. While it is important to note the level of dissatisfaction with the gov’t, it is difficult to know to what extent infrastructure could have mitigated the floods. As saddening as the loss of life is, it is important to note that natural disasters are bound to happen and then the emphasis should shift […]


Yesterday we looked at a few of the pros and cons of rural life, today we’ll be looking at the development plan for this region. “China is a large country with a large population,” seemed to be the catch-all excuse for much of the poverty we saw as we traveled through rural parts of a central Chinese province.* While I generally find it an unconvincing dodge, the remoteness of this region lead me to contemplate how it could ever be prosperous. Many of China’s remote regions were settled exactly because they were so difficult to reach, offering minority groups and small clans protection from outsiders. But now that trade and manufacturing are the base of China’s growth, these rural places have been left behind. One […]


Yesterday I shared the answers my former students gave to a short survey I sent them. Today we’re going to look more closely at the data, and try to get a better understanding of the lives these recent graduates are facing. As I am currently living in Nanjing, where salaries have been moving steadily upward for my friends graduating from one of China’s best universities, it was very interesting to see that the top salary among these 9 from Guangxi was only 2,500 RMB. The average was just 1,842 RMB, which is slightly below the national average for urban residents (1,998 RMB/month). Only 3 of the 9 students reported salaries above that average, two of those earned 2,000RMB/month. The second surprise for me was how […]


A few weeks ago I sent a very brief survey to a class of my former students as a way of checking on their progress since graduation. Out of the 20+ students I sent the questions to, 9 replied. Those who did not reply may have been too busy to respond, or without internet (due to geography or poverty), or simply had no interest in participating. These students attended a low-level university (4-year program) in Guangxi province. The questions I asked were: 1. What kind of company do you currently work for? How much money do you earn each month? How many hours do you work each week? Where is it located? 2. Are you satisfied with your work? 3. Does your job make use […]


In the run up to the London Book Fair focused on Chinese literature, the Guardian is publishing a great series of short fiction works from some of the best authors in China (there are a few works left to be published). Unlike the book fair, which moved to avoid offending their guests from the Chinese gov’t by not inviting any of China’s writers in exile or remaining dissidents (One of these guests is Liu Yandong), this set of works doesn’t worry about hurting the feelings of officials who might wish to show China in a more flattering light. The stories published so far play with some of the expected themes like the rural/urban divide and the challenges of modernity. They also explore some surprisingly dark themes like […]


When you hear the words “migrant worker,” what kind of person comes to mind? Are they young or middle age? Are they poor? Are they educated? While “migrant worker” seems at first to describe a fairly uniform group of lowly occupations – factory and construction workers, aiyis, taxi drivers, etc. Their backgrounds are actually quite diverse, and the term covers a far larger group of people than we might expect. So large in fact that over 55% of those between 14-35 living in Shanghai are counted as “migrants.” Many of these people are ambitious college graduates entering a workplace with little need of higher education degrees. As a colleague from a Chinese charity recently told me, a large number of people working at factories like […]


Last night a new arrival to the middle kingdom asked me whether or not the water was safe to drink. “It’s safe as long as I boil it, right?” she said with a worrying tone. The answer is yes, for the short term. A thorough boiling of water is enough to kill the things that cause unpleasant stomach situations. For as long as Chinese people can remember, water has been boiled and served hot. There are a number of Traditional Chinese Medicine beliefs about the benefits of warm/hot water, including digestive aid and the curing of common ailments. In fact there are even accounts from the late 1800’s about how miserably sick the Irish were while building the railroads in the US due to drinking untreated water […]


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 […]


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 […]


The other week I had a chance to discuss nutrition with the doctors at my hospital. As we looked at beverages and snacks, many of them were surprised to see that the healthy choices they thought they had been making, weren’t so great. For example, every single one of the 30 doctors was shocked to learn that a bowl of instant noodles had twice as much sodium and much more fat than a grilled chicken sandwich from KFC. The general agreement was that if they were misinformed about nutrition, than the public would probably be even less informed. A large part of the problem was that nutritional information was either absent or not in a standard, easy to understand format. China’s urban areas are now facing […]


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 […]


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 […]


Modern China is home to many phrases that seem to exist in few other parts of the world. Phrases like: Cancer Village, Blue-sky Days, and Gutter Oil. Perhaps the most troubling of these is “Left Behind…”, because the full damage is much harder to see. This phrase refers to children, wives and elderly parents who are left in the countryside while the productive generation heads to the cities to look for work, and captures a few of the issues we’ll be exploring over the next few days. Parents in rural China face a difficult choice once they have decided to look for work in a place beyond their hukou status: should they bring their child with them? If they bring their child with them as […]


Yesterday we looked briefly at the life of a typical migrant worker, today we will be exploring the limits of the hukou system. It is impossible to discuss the issue of migrant workers without understand what exactly a hukou (户口) is. At the most basic level, a hukou is a legal document that specifies which village/town/city you are a resident of. So when I use the term “migrant worker” I am meaning a person who works in a place outside of what their hukou specifies, and is coming from a less developed region to a more prosperous one to look for work. What is a Hukou? A hukou for one of China’s eastern cities can be an incredibly valuable thing, since your residency determines which schools you […]


In China, “migrant worker” has a very different meaning than it does in most other countries. Here it refers to people who have left their hometowns in search of work (usually on the East Coast). Currently this group makes up nearly 20% of China’s total population, although it is hard to say exactly how many people work outside of their hometowns for a part of the year. Over the next few days we’ll be exploring issues related to this topic. Migrant workers often work the least desirable jobs in China’s major cities, like garbage collectors, window washers, and sweatshop workers, etc. They accept meager wages, because farming offers little or no hope of moving up in society, and these jobs add just a tiny bit […]


Last week we looked at my first hand experience in a rural college, and we explored the current state of rural schools and a few of the underlying problems. Today we’ll be looking at why there are few great teachers in the countryside. Two kinds of teachers The first type is a “certified teacher”, and is considered to be on par with other gov’t employees. These positions are very stable, and the pay is decent. It is a coveted position, with 60% of the salary guaranteed by the national gov’t.  However in rural schools this kind of teacher can be hard to find. Village teachers only earn 1/3 of what they could earn at a county level school. This has led village teachers to move from […]


Yesterday we saw fist hand the condition of a single school in rural Guangxi, today we’ll be getting the bigger picture of the state of education in rural China, and some of the systemic problems. Even Global Times (a State run paper) says that “Knowledge no longer power for rural poor“. Facts and Figures Currently the majority of primary and secondary teachers in rural schools do not have 4-year degrees. These statistics though do not capture the full problem, as it does not account for the divide between rural areas in the east and west of China (the Eastern parts are much richer). For many of my students in Guangxi, none of their teachers prior to college would have attended a 4-year school. Primary school teachers […]


Children from urban areas in China are 6.3x more likely to attend a university than children from the countryside, largely because of the better primary and secondary education in the cities. However, I didn’t need to see the statistics to know that this was true. My first year in China was spent in rural Guangxi as a placement with a Chinese charity. Of the dozen or so “needy” schools we were working with at the time, mine was considered to be one of the poorest, and was located in a small county an hour from the freeway. Some of my students’ families earned less than 1,000rmb per year as farmers, and the majority owned less than 4 sets of clothes. My students came from the […]


At this conference we’ve been discussing some of the recent studies about the massive gap between rural and urban education. For example: Urban children are 6.3 times more likely to attend college than their rural counterparts, and when rural children do go on for further studies it is usually a 2 or 3 year program. For us to get further into these problems, I think its important to take some time to review past posts about Education in China, since there is a lot of background information necessary to frame the topic of this conference. Then over these next few days we’ll be looking at just how serious this gap is, and why it is not as depressing as it might seem at first. Student […]


If you’ve read every article so far on Seeingredinchina.com now, you have now read the equivalent of a 200+ page book, and hopefully have learned something new about China. If you haven’t caught every exciting article (and the ones in between) make sure to check out the archive. Here are a few of the posts that I think were my best work: There must be something in the air Mao’s fuzzy math and the one child policy Can the world afford China’s heating bill Your home in rural Guangxi It’s easy to learn Chinese, really China’s GDP doesn’t mean what you think it does Is inflation a Party crasher? A fight at the hospital – Abortion in China Common questions about Christianity in China Protests […]


“In Guangxi we eat everything with 4 legs but tables and chairs, everything in the ocean but submarines, and anything in the sky but airplanes,” a giddy student told me when I asked about local dishes. It turned out that this was much closer to the truth than I had imagined at the time. In my four years here in China, I have been introduced to a variety of foods: roast dog, snake soup, chicken ovaries, duck stomach, goose intestines, a variety of fowl flippers, and pig arteries, brain, and even urethra (my previous post on dog meat). I’ve seen so many animals served up that I doubt that there is even a Chinese word for kosher. Behind many of these strange dishes are concepts […]


Continuing to look at some of my favorite parts of living in China, is the fact that there is history everywhere. Thanks to the Cultural Revolution, civil-wars, and thousands of years of tearing down the old to make room for the new, it is fairly safe to say that China has lost more history than the US has. We weren’t even a country until half way through China’s final dynasty (the Qing). So living in a place where I pass a 600-year-old buildings on a daily basis is great. The tiny town of Longzhou where I first lived was an excellent example of how even present day backwaters can have an interesting history (Here it is on Google Maps). There was a kind of joke […]


A few weeks ago my friends my friends were on a Chinese TV show called “My Man Can” (Which can be watched here), they are the American Girl-Chinese Guy couple. This episode featured 4 intercultural couples competing for a free trip to almost anywhere in the world. The basic premise is that the wives bid how well their husbands can do on a particular challenge, while the husbands have to hope their wives don’t push the goal up too high. The show ended up taking nearly 4 hours to film, but lead to several interesting insights about how the Chinese view these intercultural marriages. The most striking was that before the show even started the producers told my friend that they were rooting for them […]


Yesterday we saw that China’s farmers occupy the lowest rung of Chinese society. Today we’ll be looking at why China’s farmers are also at the bottom economically, as we try to answer the question, How poor are Chinese farmers? Officially the average rural income is 5,919rmb, which is about $900. That’s well above the World Bank’s poverty measure of $1/day. However I’m skeptical of these official numbers. A few months ago I helped the charity I work with edit their annual report and found the annual per capita income for some of China’s least developed areas. Now keeping in mind that this charity is working in some of China’s poorest areas, it is still surprising to see that none of these villages were closer than […]


About 80 years ago Pearl Buck penned her novel “The Good Earth” about farmers in rural Jiangsu province, and today that image remains firmly planted in the minds of Westerners. After my time in rural Guangxi and my visit to Gansu, it seems that there are many places in China where Buck’s description is still fairly accurate. Over these next few days we’ll be exploring the lives of China’s farmers (you might want to start by reading about houses in rural china). How are farmers viewed in modern China? I remember quite clearly a discussion I had with one of the Chinese teachers in Guangxi shortly after I arrived in the Chinese countryside. He had just returned from Shanghai where he was studying for his […]


Eating dogs is something we joke about when we think of Chinese food, and then we are often scolded by those who are more “politically correct” than us. However, throughout much of China dog meat is a fairly common delicacy. Lately there has been some discussion as to whether or not eating dogs and cats should be banned, but that discussion became a nationwide argument this week after volunteers rescued/stole 500 dogs (ministry of tofu covered this store in more depth). I am heartened by the news that an increase in pet ownership in China has spurred on more animal rights activists, since human rights are more or less taboo. I’m somewhere in between on the issue. After all meat is meat, and it all […]


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 […]


Yesterday we looked briefly at a typical lesson in a Chinese classroom, today we’ll continue looking at education in China by exploring the ways in which the system works against creative thinking. I hope to further illustrate the methodology used in Chinese classrooms, and discuss why these methods are so prevalent. First I would like to highlight a few examples of where creative thinking should be present, but is not. At skit competitions in Guangxi universities, and at the Jiangsu Department of Health English competition, students/doctors simply copied entire performances from online sources. This resulted in 2 groups performing the exact same skit in both competitions. I learned Chinese from “top” language teachers in China at Beijing Foreign Language University (北京语言大学) by reciting texts word […]


Seven’s post yesterday touched on many of the aspects of getting married in modern China. Today I’d like to look at a few of those issues closer to wrap up this five-part series (just check the archive). Seven called them “expired” but the more popular term in Chinese is “Left-over.” The following video features “Left-over women”(shengnu), the term describes women who are seen as being unmarriageable. One factor being that they are older than 25 (Chinese women are pretty much expected to marry as soon as they finish college), and that they make a lot of money or are highly educated (Chinese men find this kind of woman intimidating). Before you feel too bad for these women in the video, or start wondering why they […]


The wedding fun continues (Part 1, Part 2)! Today we will wrap up with a few odds and ends about the activities surrounding the wedding day and the wedding night, before we begin to look at marriage in China. I realized this morning that I had almost forgotten an incredibly important part of getting married in China, wedding photos.The name is misleading; they aren’t pictures taken at the wedding, instead they are taken months in advance in clothes you don’t even own. My wife and I experienced this joy/ordeal for ourselves last year in Chengdu. We opted for the cheapest package (I think 2-3,000rmb), which included 3 outfit changes, 2 indoor backdrops and 1 outdoor photo shoot. My Chinese friends have gone with more pricey […]


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 […]


This is part Four of a series on childhood in Rural China. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. When I first arrived in China my friend Kyle made an excellent point. He told me that it was impossible to fully understand our students, because they have overcome tragedies and obstacles greater than we could ever imagine. At the time I thought that it was an exaggeration, of course I can empathize I thought, but now I know that he was right. Some of the people I am most in awe of were the students I taught in Guangxi and Sichuan. Helen was a shy girl, but you couldn’t help but notice her irrepressible smile. In Yizhou the other students had two nicknames for her, “Happy” […]


When I talk about Guangxi, I find myself talking about “the students,” but I realized I haven’t properly introduced them to you yet. For the next few days I’m going to try to give you a view of what it’s like to grow up in rural China by highlighting some of the stories they’ve told me. After that I’m going to take a little time to introduce you to a few individual students. I hope you’ll keep up with this series, because I think it is invaluable for understanding China. These are a few images of the villages that roughly 1/3 of China’s population inhabits. Most of my students came from places like this. They usually consist of a few new homes, paid for by […]


I’m not exactly sure how these things happen, but the other day my blog post got put up on a Chinese website (the section was later deleted). The title of the article had been translated pretty well. The name got translated to “China Sees Red,” which isn’t quite what I take it to mean, but its close. The post there led to some interesting discussion and a few naïve comments (it is still the internet, no matter the country). The big question though was; who is this American to judge China? It’s a fair question, so let me introduce myself. I had wanted to work in China since I was 16 and spent the 5 following years studying Chinese Language and history. I was enchanted, […]


It’s cold here in Nanjing, outside and inside. It’s been about 30 degrees outside all month with 10 to 15 mph winds. Which in the US is not that bad, and we’ve only had a tiny amount of snow compared to all of you guys this year. So what’s the big deal? Well in our apartment and at my office, it probably only ever reaches 50 degrees inside if conditions are just right. The cement walls are excellent at bringing the cold in. In the apartment the cool climate is due to the fact that none of our windows actually close. Even with our improvised weather-proofing, Arctic winds somehow still find their way in. Standing next to the closed front door you can feel a […]


This is Part Two of a Three part series. Part One. In the major cities of China, despite everything we’ve heard, it is not uncommon to see people with more than one child. In my classes in Guangxi I was shocked to find that maybe only 50 out of my 500 students were only children. When I asked them how many children they wanted to have, they would say, “I’ll have one, but I want two or three.” The other students giggle at the answer, and then quickly agree. So let’s look at two more examples of the One Child Policy in modern China from the perspective of my friends. Mary My friend Mary in Yizhou had just completed her entry to the Communist party, and as […]


One of the most common questions I get is about how much I could talk about religion when I was working in the classroom. In the US there is a lot of confusion about how much religious freedom there is in China (more than you think, but less than there could be), but that is a gigantic issue. So a glimpse of this is how I teach Christmas. Usually I split up Christmas, into two lessons, one for Santa and one for baby Jesus. This is not just because I want the students to understand that these are separate parts of the same holiday, but I really enjoy Christmas and this lets me savor it a little longer. One year I taught a song a week for […]


There are only two types of Chinese banquets. The first kind is just an excuse for the school leaders to eat all of their favorite foods while drinking baijiu (quite possibly the worst alcoholic beverage; 54% alcohol and the rest might be paint thinner). The leaders chat with each other in the local dialect and leave you to try to find a meal’s worth of food among the random animal parts. Luckily this was the second kind of banquet. Millie had ordered all of Kyle’s favorite dishes, so we didn’t get stuck finding excuses as to why we didn’t want a third helping of cow stomach. Instead there was stir-fried broccoli with lots of garlic, a slightly spicy pork dish, and corn with pine nuts. […]


Late August, 2007 When I first arrived in Longzhou, I really had no idea what to expect. I remember that in my mind I was picturing dirt roads, chickens running about, and sweating a lot. The roads turned out to be paved in some places, but my other assumptions were right. I had just met Kyle a few days earlier, and he had told me all about his first year in Longzhou. He was friendly, and literally stuck out from the crowd in China due to the fact that he was 6’6”, and in Guangxi where we lived, few people even reached 5’6”. He had an easy laugh, and had lived in Seattle near where I grew up. We quickly became friends. Millie met us […]


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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