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You are reading about: Nanjing

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 […]


A few days ago the New York Times posted a story entitled “Where Europe Trails Asia,” in which a weary traveler longs for the friendly customs line in China over the one in Germany (which, as we all know, has a global reputation for enthusiastic smiles). I thought I should offer my following experience in reply. On my recent trip home I was reminded of all the fabulous tourist sites I had visited over the past five years – The Terracotta Soldiers, The Great Buddha at Leshan, Dali, Lijiang, and scores of others. However, as incredible as the sites are, I’m often left pondering how much better the trips would have been if just a little bit more thought had been put into the planning […]


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 […]


This morning I took a deep breath as I left my apartment (due in part to the insane pollution we’ve had in Nanjing the last few days, which Global Times reported was the equivalent of smoking 15 packs of cigarettes), and prepared myself for a trip to one of the worst places in China- the post office. Now bear in mind that I myself am the grandson of a post master general, and I worked for a few years in a shipping company so I generally respect the institution. I’m also well versed in shipping regulations and proper packing. But China Post is an unforgiving place, and so it was with great trepidation that I set out on my task this morning. During my 5 years […]


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 […]


One of the first things that a person notices when they arrive in Nanjing, is that unlike other Chinese cities, many of the main streets are lined with mature trees. Some of these trees were planted over 60 years ago, and in some ways are the symbol of Nanjing. The trees are so loved, that around this time last year, when the local gov’t planned the removal of 600 trees for subway stations, people protested and managed to get the officials to redraw their plans to limit the effect on the trees (Nanjing has 15 additional lines planned for the next 18 years). The protest was unique in that it was not related to health concerns as other environmental campaigns have been, but that people […]


continued from “The Misty Poets: an introduction“ Like many China-watchers, I cannot tell you when the better part of my day became dedicated to blog-reading. Background to my everyday routine is the murmur of botched lawsuits, human rights violations, incompetent local governments, nationalist rhetoric, internet memes, and ridiculous acts of indulgence committed by 富二代 (fu’erdai – second-generation rich). Sometime in the past year I’ve started to slouch a little, as if the weight of China’s unpublished atrocities is resting on me, the reader and the blogger. Somewhere in the malaise I found Bei Dao. The article – whichever one it was – had said that he was exiled after his poem “Proclamation” appeared on banners at Tiananmen. As an impulsive gesture of technological footnoting, I […]


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: […]


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 […]


When it comes to China’s environmental progress, it can be hard to find much of a silver lining. The front page of the newspaper in the office today showed Beijing choked with pollution, as over 200 flights had to be canceled. New data also came out that showed the increase in CO2 emissions in 2010 was the largest since the industrial revolution, and China’s lead as worst polluter continues to grow at an astonishing pace. Yet today, I’m feeling slightly optimistic about the future of the air quality as co-workers and friends more frequently discuss the urgency of this issue. The other day I had the chance to help a person prepare a presentation about the energy saving measures taken in one of Nanjing’s largest […]


Yesterday at the bus stop, I noticed a man wearing all black waiting by the back of the mass of people getting on the bus. He would get pushed forward, and then purposefully work his way towards the back; it seemed suspicious. I know from friends that pickpockets like to use the moment of climbing on the bus to snatch wallets and mp3 players as people crowd onboard, so I kept my eye on him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just as the woman in front of him took her first step on, he reached up and placed his hand on her purse. At that moment everything we’d discussed here on the blog about apathy and the evil of “minding our own business” […]


If you have spent much time in China’s major cities, you have no doubt seen a few hundred new luxury cars, up and coming urbanites clutching Louis Vuitton bags or sporting a new Rolex watch, and more than a few people talking loudly on their iPhones. This rampant materialism even seems to surpass what I saw in the US a few years back. As I’ve mentioned before, when co-workers return from overseas trips, more often than not, I hear about what they bought rather than what they saw. One friend told me he had spent over $25,000 on watches during a brief trip to Taiwan. Another said she had bought 4 new designer bags on a trip to Hong Kong. This binge shopping is shrugged off when […]


I don’t always read the local papers, and for the most part my Chinese co-workers don’t either. So when something big comes to Nanjing, we don’t usually hear about it until it has passed, but we can always tell that something is approaching. For example, about three weeks ago we noticed a shift in our favorite DVD shops. The most visible one, located on a busy street across from the foreign student housing of a large university, was not only shut, but completely empty. Just days before it had displayed at least 1,000 pirated DVD’s, CD’s and computer games. Two other nearby shops were closed as well. When we returned home, the two shops nearby that sell more than just DVD’s had been shut down too. At […]


When talking with Chinese friends and co-workers about the pollution levels in Nanjing (awful compared to developed countries, but decent for Chinese cities), they are quick to point out that foreign companies in China are the ones that should be blamed for the filthy air. While it is absolutely true that foreign companies are adding to China’s environmental woes, I’m not convinced they should shoulder all the blame. Today, I’d like to start by discussing three points related to this statement, and I hope you’ll continue the discussion in the comment section below. Production for the West This factor is undeniable. Western consumers have benefited from the destruction of China’s environment by purchasing cheap goods. If all of our environmental standards were enforced globally (and […]


When I hosted a group of European visitors the other day, one of them asked a question that I think many of you might have been wondering about, “What happened to China’s historical buildings?” Considering the historical centers of many European cities, it’s an understandable question. Note: Some of China’s best known cities like Xi’an and Beijing have a number of ancient buildings given that they are historic capitals, but throughout the country they are considerably harder to find. The Communists destroyed it The Party is often the scapegoat when it comes to explaining many of the choices made in modern China. In this case, not entirely without reason, Chinese temples and artifacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but other works were well preserved. However, […]


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 […]


I recently finished Troy Parfitt’s travelogue “Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas,” and I rather enjoyed it. It was at times funny, shocking, enlightening and enraging. The basic idea behind the book was that Troy would visit a number of Chinese cities over a few marathon-like trips to China and record almost everything that happened. From this foundation he would add in bits of history and culture from a wide range of sources that, taken together, give fairly accurate accounts of the places he visits. The hope was that this would help shape his opinions and prove his thesis, that China would never rule the world (at least not this century). Troy’s observations are hit-and-miss, but always thought provoking. […]


I ride the bus almost everyday here in Nanjing. From home to work, the journey is just about 2.5 km, down a single straight road. In ideal traffic conditions it takes about 15 minutes by bus, during rush hour it’s closer to 30 minutes (which is the same amount of time it would take to walk), last night it took me nearly an hour. About 15 minutes was spent just waiting for a bus, which isn’t entirely unusual. Even though the stop is next to a subway station, and leads to a major residential area, there is only one bus route connecting the two. To me it seems to be a combination of rapid development and poor planning. China changes so quickly that 5-10 years […]


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 […]


Nearly 9 months ago I wrote a post that emphasized the fact that the gov’t rarely intrudes in the private lives of most citizens. Which for the most part is still true, unless you are an outspoken artist, or are trying to actually run for office. To the casual visitor to China, it might seem that the army also stays out of the way since they are harder to spot. Yet at times the military seems omnipresent. I say this for several reasons. Partially because yesterday morning, on what was supposed to be a holiday, I witnessed nearly a hundred students, dressed in army fatigues, marching around the center of campus. The campus literally echoes with the sound of their drills. “Army training” is mandatory […]


Today I wanted to bring you something unique. This is from a diary written by a missionary who arrived in Nanjing at the end of Imperial China, and was integral in spreading western medicine in Eastern China.  I hope you’ll enjoy this moment from the past and reflect on how much China has and hasn’t changed. August 1st, 1891 – One amusing experience was a call to the Fanti’s Yamen to treat a man who had cut his arm and fainted from loss of blood. The Fanti is the treasurer and is a high official. The present one being a relative of the Emperor. A yamen is a palace which in Chinese style is composed of many rooms only one story high, separated by courts […]


I sat down to lunch a few days ago with my co-workers and the hospital president. For some reason, when I had been watching “The Founding of the Party” (a recent propaganda film), a single line had jumped out at me that needed further exploration. The line was “Brother Mao, you are so tall.” So I started asking co-workers how tall Mao had been, their answer shocked me. Not only did everyone seem to have an answer, but they claimed he was over 1.8m tall (5’10″+). When I had seen Mao’s body though the thing that had struck me most was how small he seemed compared to his almost mythic stature (even accounting for the fact that he has been dead for ~40 years). I […]


This post was written by my good friend Heather, about her new life with her husband Huichun. I had the honor of being the best man in their wedding and wish them both all the best as they work through the immigration process. None of my friends or classmates of other racial backgrounds have EVER asked me to elucidate my experience as a “white woman.”  So now that I have been called upon to give a kernel of insight into White American woman–Han Chinese man marriages, I can understand a little better the plight of the lone Black American in some of my high school and college classes who would frequently be expected to give the “Black” outlook on the topic.  How can one person […]


I was just told by a Chinese friend that the Nanjing South Railway Station, which was opened just over 10 days ago is already in need of massive restoration. Apparently the opening was rushed for the 90th anniversary, and tiles were either poorly laid, or the concrete had no completely dried (he was unsure of specifics). The result is that they are having to redo thousands of square feet so that the quality can reach an acceptable level. I had mentioned that the bridge in Qingdao had also been rushed for the Party’s anniversary, but a day later it came out that it had opened without all of its guard rails in place.  The Global Times and CCTV were quick to criticize the local gov’t […]


Yesterday I noted that things seem to be improving for China’s physically disabled, unfortunately I’m not so optimistic about the situation for China’s mentally disabled. Generally speaking there are few opportunities for such people, both in terms of education and employment. Children who are severely disabled are often kept in their homes for reasons of protecting their families “face”, those who are less severely impaired are placed in classroom situations that are ultimately frustrating for everyone involved. I know of one project that works with mentally challenged adults. The project is a small bakery here in Nanjing, whose main source of income is selling moon cakes. Currently it only “employs” 5 adults, and is only possible financially because of volunteers, but it is an encouraging […]


I lived in China for almost three years before I saw someone in public in a wheelchair, and I have yet to see anyone using one under their own power. I think this is largely because China wasn’t built for wheelchairs. Even in the big cities, it’s hard to find a side walk that would be suitable for rolling, and almost every building has a half dozen steps to the front door. For most of China’s physically disabled people, I would imagine it is difficult to even leave their home, since buildings with less than 8 floors typically do not have elevators. This also includes schools and practically every government building. Not only are there few programs for physical rehabilitation, but they literally can’t even […]


On Friday morning I was taking a group of foreign guests to visit sites around Nanjing when a heavy smog blanketed the city in a yellow stench. It seemed as if every family in the city of over 7 million had lit a pile of tires ablaze. Within 20 minutes of being outside I started feeling asthma like symptoms, meaning that it actually hurt to breathe. After the experience I was eager to check the official Air Quality Index (updated daily) to see just how severe the pollution had been. Unfortunately, these are not posted in a timely enough manner to be of any use in avoiding this kind of hazard. So you can imagine my surprise in learning that “officially” the air quality on Friday was […]


Yesterday we started to look very generally at China’s efficiency problems. Today I would like to introduce you to a few of the most pointless jobs in China that highlight the practices inspired by low wages. Bus Line Monitor I see these people standing at each of the bus stops on my way to work each morning. They stand around with their yellow or red arm bands and watch the masses cram in to buses. While their title might imply that these people are in some way responsible for making sure getting on the bus is an orderly process, I have yet to see them do anything to improve the situation. Receipt Stamper A common sight throughout China, the receipt stamper is the bored looking […]


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 […]


My wife pointed out to me last night that over the last few days I had fairly completely torn apart the Chinese educational system. My goal in writing these posts was not meant as a way of proclaiming the complete failure of the schools. So today I’d like to focus on the parts of the educational system that show great promise, but still need a bit of work. Creating World Class Universities If you look at this list of the top 100 universities in the world you will notice that China occupies 3 of the places (Sorry Chinese gov’t, you don’t get credit for universities in Taiwan or HK). Upon looking for the other up and coming BRICS, you will notice that China is the […]


This might not be the most exciting news story for some of you, but it is BIG news. China is trying out property taxes in Chongqing and Shanghai in their latest effort to cool down the property markets. If you look at the article you can see that the property taxes are 1. pretty small (less than 1.5%) and 2. confusing as heck. For example, in Shanghai you get to calculate square footage across all properties and then divide by total family members. Property prices and China’s housing bubble have been a hot topic for the last year or so. In conversations with my coworkers, one of the first questions they ask is how much housing in the US costs. With good reason too, in […]


This post is a follow-up to the news story of the week. So to peak your interest, here are a couple of fast food advertisements I found here in Nanjing. First I present to you a McDonald’s ad that I carefully sheltered from the debris of our meal. My poor wife was more than a bit embarrassed. The father is thinking “You have one, I have one too!” McDonald’s has drawn a fair amount of criticism in the US for targeting children, but in China they have to target the adults. The restaurant was full of children snacking on a pile of hamburgers and fried chicken, but the parents weren’t eating anything. You might remember that I talked about this the other day when we […]


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, […]


Yesterday we were looking at how cold it is outdoors and in here in China. Today I want to get to the meat of the problem that lies just beyond that thought. Is it possible for China (or any country) to develop without destroying the fragile environment? I’ll start with something I’m not so proud of; my wife and I are currently running 3 space heaters full blast, all the time. Not because we’re trying to recreate the climate of sunny Florida, or even temperate San Francisco, this is just what it takes to keep our apartment from feeling like winter in Minnesota. At the office we also have two heaters running non-stop, and still I have to pause between sentences to hold my hot […]


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 […]


Today at 10am an alarm sounded to remind us of the invasion by the Japanese 73 years ago. In the weeks following the invasion 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered. I was in my office when I heard the alarm, it caused an awful, uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. My bus ride to work takes me past many of the homes and universities that served as refugee camps. I’ve been in the home where the missionaries would gather to pray for peace during that time. I have seen the mass graves that serve as the undeniable evidence of the atrocities committed. The International Safety Zone was created by the foreigners who chose to stay behind in Nanjing to protect the people. The area was […]


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 […]


Pollution is something that has really become a concern for me here in Nanjing. The main reason for this is that I have had a sore throat and cough for about 3 months, and after x-rays and blood tests I have been declared healthy, even though I feel far from that. I blame pollution for this, since that seems to make more sense than the ideas my co-workers have come up with. One thought it was because I work in a hospital, which isn’t the worst idea, except that I am not even in the same building as patients. Another thought was that I don’t wash my hands enough, which simply isn’t true, thoroughly washing my hands like a surgeon while wearing my doctor’s coat […]


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