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Now, I generally know better than to go sticking my neck out on issues like this, but I actually agree that China should be in control of the Diaoyu islands. The problem is that I was tempted to side with the Japanese after witnessing the disgusting display of mindless nationalism over the weekend (which in some cases included calls for wiping out all Japanese, and seemed to be state-sponsored). Hidden behind the calls for boycotts and sanctions, and the embarrassing claim based on the policy of “first come, first serve,” (which can be found in legal texts between “Dibs” and “Finders keepers”) makes it seem like this entire issue is nothing more than a ploy to drum up support for the Party. Or, that perhaps […]


On Saturday Yaxue shared the story of “Subverter” Chen Pingfu. Essentially, he was deeply in debt after paying for a surgery, and turned to performing in public to try and pay off the money he owed his family members. For this he was threatened and eventually beaten by “public servants,” but he continued on. When he complained about this treatment online, he was further harassed by police, and was forced out of the only job he’d been able to find in years. Chen was a man desperately clinging to the last shred of dignity he had and local officials were determined to take that away from him. Apparently in China, when the gov’t takes away your job and threaten you by saying, “I’ll send you […]


My wife asked her students to collect stories from their grandparents from the Rape of Nanking. Many of the student’s families had fled the city, and other simply didn’t hand anything in. The following are four accounts of what happened in Jiangsu province during the war with Japan as remembered by witnesses of the tragedies. I’m publishing this partially in response to Yoshikazu Kato’s comments made during his visit to Nanjing, in which he stated that he wasn’t certain of the facts of the event, and that further research should be done. All I know about that period of history is from my grandma. At that time my grandma was very young, about 7 or 8 years old. One night when the whole family was […]


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 […]


Today marked the 74th anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, and as I wrote last year, it is a day that for me is inescapable (you should read that post because I won’t be rehashing much of it). I am surrounded by the history of that dark time, but am also buoyed by the memories of those who risked their lives for the common people of China. Today I’d like to share a few lesser known facts from those six weeks. One of the most important things to understand about the Nanjing International Safety Zone, is that the foreigners involved with it never lost their faith in the rule of law. Time and again they brought cases directly to the Japanese embassy and Japanese military command, and […]


My co-worker and I took guests through the Nanjing Massacre Memorial yesterday, which we do several times each year. It is a place where the past serves a distinct political purpose for the present. Groups of Chinese tourists are shepherded through by guides who make sure they don’t miss a single grisly detail, murals depicting slaughter on an inhuman scale stretch over open graves filled with ten-thousand bodies, and signs remind visitors that this is an important place for political education. The memorial is essentially a monument to the Party’s narrative of history. Even though I have visited the site several times, I still find something new each time in the massive complex. This, however, was the first time that I had accompanied one of my co-workers […]


Wednesday we looked at part of the reason why Chinese officials like massive projects, and today we’ll be looking at the another major reason: corruption. This factor helps to explain why local governments are so eager to build infrastructure, but struggle to find money for schools, and why the National government continues to favor single major projects. It’s no secret that China has thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of officials who use their positions for extra gains. Starting at 1:58 (What do you want to be when you grow up?) Boy: I want to be an official Interviewer: What kind of official? Boy: A corrupt official, because they have many things. This endemic corruption is essential for understanding not only infrastructure projects, but China as […]


Du Haibin’s film “1428” captures a variety of scenes from post earthquake Beichuan in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Even though I was in China at that time, and remember checking the news hourly for days, there was still very little I knew about the conditions in Sichuan at that time. All of the images were being very carefully selected before they were shown on TV, but this film manages to capture everything that was left unseen. The documentary begins just 10 days after the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people, and shows how chaotic life can be as people struggle to know what steps to take next. Many people spent their days trying to scavenge scrap metal from collapsed buildings to […]


My friend happened to be in a supermarket when panic struck here. She was buying her lunch when three loud, pushy women shoved their way to the front of the line, each buying two bags of salt. She thought it was a bit strange, but it is China, and she has seen far stranger. Within the next few minutes the entire store was full of customers grabbing up bags of salt like it was the most precious commodity on Earth. The store opened up 3 more cash registers and the manager declared that there would be no limit on how many bags a person could buy at a time. Finally my friend asked what all the commotion was about. Why did everyone suddenly need pounds […]


I just wanted to quickly share the reactions of my Chinese co-workers to the earthquake in Japan. On Friday I spent the entire afternoon trying to learn more about the earthquake, but my co-workers seemed oblivious to it (they weren’t working either). It turned out they had heard about the earthquake, and figured that Japan could handle such a large quake, and went on with their day. When I showed them a video of the tsunami, their reaction was absolute horror. Watching the water rush over the farmland carrying flaming buildings looked like the end of the world. Grace couldn’t help whispering “Oh my God” a few dozen times as she watched the short clip. In that moment the reality of the situation hit them. […]


Today’s post is a crash course in economics (for people who don’t like economics). The truth is that we get a lot of numbers thrown around in the media about China, but I don’t think they are as meaningful as CNN or Fox news want you to think. Let’s get one thing clear straight out of the gate, China is obsessed with GDP. You can’t go more than a few days without seeing it as some headline on People’s Daily, and I was on the look out for parades or fireworks the day China passed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. Virtually any govt. promotion relies on improving GDP and little else. So what exactly is GDP? I know it’s a figure we […]


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 […]


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