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Several years ago, when I was working in a very rural university, I hosted a group of college graduates from the United States. They were invited to visit with the students, and one of them became very popular with the girls in class. He always had more attention than any of the others, perhaps because he was incredibly friendly, had a bright smile, and was by most accounts handsome. However, what the fawning girls didn’t notice was that my friend was gay. So after a week or so of having girls ask for his QQ number, I asked if he would be willing to host a very special English corner. Even though it was specifically in my contract that I was not to challenge traditional […]


As I prepared myself for leaving China to embark on something of a speaking tour of American churches, I was told time and again by friends, co-workers, former students, and even the Party Secretary of the hospital to tell them the “truth” about China. The undertone seemed to be that Americans were truly ignorant about China and thought it was a place of human rights abuses, corrupt officials, a draconian one-child policy, tainted food and polluted skies;  and somehow I was going to counter all of those “misconceptions” in a cozy 1-hour talk. At the same time, I know that in most respects China is a better place than the average American is imagining. Compared to other developing countries- most Chinese children can read and […]


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 […]


Just a quick thought today: As I tell people in the States, when it comes to China, seemingly good news is often bad, and seemingly bad news is often good. In many cases, like increased numbers of AIDS cases, higher numbers of people living below the poverty line, and shrinking college admissions, bad news can actually be signs of problems being acknowledged and addressed. On the other hand, reforms to the criminal code, the completion of bridges and rails, and “elections” often serve as reminders of how far China has to go in terms of human rights, safety, and developing a gov’t that is actually selected by the people. In a story published the other day in People’s Daily, the gov’t announced that it planned […]


For over two years ocean rocks have dominated China’s foreign policy issues. So far the Party has managed to anger virtually all their neighbors and has left an opening for America’s pivot to Asia. In my opinion, regardless of whether or not China’s claims are valid, the gov’t seems to be losing the battle on the international stage. One afternoon when I was chatting with a typically soft-spoken co-worker about my future plans in the Pacific, she pointed out the Philippines on the map and said, “I hope the ocean swallows this country up so that China doesn’t have to destroy it.” As I picked my jaw up off the floor, she elaborated, “Since I was a little girl, these little islands have been a […]


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 […]


On return from more than a week on the road, I caught up with my China news and found it all to be a bit…predictable. In response I’ve created the following template that seems to exist somewhere to save all of you time. A gov’t official (or family member of an official) was caught abusing their power by murdering/embezzling/forcing farmers off their land/covering up a scandal for a company in X province. The story first appeared on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, late last week and built to a crescendo over the weekend. SomeGuyWithACamera posted pictures of an angry crowd ranging between dozens and thousands, which were deleted within 24 hours by censors. Calls to the local gov’t went unanswered. A man from the […]


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 […]


With the conclusion of the school year, I marked the end of my 5th consecutive year in China. Soon, I will be heading back to the United States and applying to graduate programs related to international development and theology. It has been a fantastic time. I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to be here and to witness China firsthand. I plan on continuing to write about China, and will try to digest a similar amount of People’s Daily, Global Times, and whatever else looks interesting. I know that I will not be able to keep up with frantic pace of five posts a week, so for the past few months I’ve been working with Yaxue and another friend (you will meet […]


I recently read Dambisa Moyo’s NYT op-ed “Beijing, a Boon for Africa.” After wrestling with a few questions that came up for me in the piece, I realized that this was a topic far beyond me and decided to ask my African friends here in China what they thought. The three men I chatted with come from Zambia (the same as Moyo), Zimbabwe, and Ghana. Even though they are not scholars like Moyo, their opinions reflect another valid view of how China is being perceived in their countries. Since they currently live in China, they prefered to remain anonymous. Do Africans really like China more than the U.S.? This question was met with chuckles from my Zambian and Zimbabwean friend (I didn’t get an answer […]


I try to only let myself indulge in jubilant patriotism once a year on this blog, and the 4th of July is that occasion (last year’s entry). This afternoon I’m bringing pulled pork sandwiches in to the office, where I plan on chatting with co-workers about how America threw off the chains of imperial oppression and built a nation based on the rights of individuals instead of the whims of monarchs (sentences like this come from listening to Fanfare for The Common Man on a steady loop). I will acknowledge that it took nearly 200 years to even begin to make the idea that “All men are created equal” a reality in our laws, but that for those centuries, it was this founding principal that pushed […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: June 28, 2012   I almost forgot; I had been to Shanghai before. It was the Chinese New Year of 1990, I decided spontaneously to go to a friend’s home to spend the holidays. On New Year’s Eve, I boarded an airplane in Guangzhou, and landed, several hours later, at Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai. From the airport, I took a taxi to the Shanghai Train Station. I remember it was dusk, the sky overcast, the air chilling beyond a northerner’s assumption of Shanghai. There was not a soul on the streets. I don’t know why, but right at this moment, I am thinking about six o’clock. Two clicks away now, I know the trip is sixteen kilometers long, and passes a […]


It’s not surprising that China lacks a forum for cutting political cartoons, but one artist is challenging the Party’s dominance with pigs and ducks. Crazy Crab’s satirical cartoons on China, which he posts on his site Hexie farm, show the absurd nature of China’s one-party dictatorship and its efforts to silence discussion. He is probably best known for his work on the Chen Guangcheng dark glasses portrait campaign, and his series on China Digital Times. Tom: How would you describe yourself and your work? Crazy Crab: I’m an anonymous cartoonist who doesn’t know how to tell a joke. I started to draw Hexie Farm in late 2009. It’s a series of political cartoons depicting a ‘great, glorious and correct’ era of ‘harmony’. Were you always interested […]


For the last few weeks, the expat community in China has been abuzz with talk about Beijing’s crackdown on foreigners who are here illegally, and the growing anti-foreign sentiment that seems to be stoked by state media (Beijing Cream’s summary of what sparked it all and the fiery post that almost got China Geeks sued). So far the crackdown has already spread to Yanbian and Chengdu is preparing to announce similar measures, a nationwide campaign in the next few months would not be surprising. If we’re completely honest though, I think most of us would agree with the importance of enforcing visa policies, but dislike the tone of the rhetoric and the nationalism it encourages. I think we should also admit that most of us know people […]


Any foreigner who has spent more than a few hours in China might have noticed that smokers are everywhere. Many notice it before they even leave the airport. In Shanghai’s Pudong airport, it’s not uncommon to see a man place a cigarette between his lips or behind his ear before he’s even off the plane. Most of them will duck into the first bathroom they can find to light up, despite the ban on smoking in airports (this might not be the first impression they were hoping for when they built PVG). But what does the ubiquitous smoking tell us about China? First, it gives us a very interesting glimpse into how many Chinese view freedom. In the west we might define freedom as the ability to […]


Over the past few days, I’ve mentioned the village on the cliff several times, but haven’t yet discussed one of the biggest questions I had on my mind during my time there, Why didn’t the gov’t build this village a road? Why is it being left to charities to do the gov’t’s work? I should say that we aren’t just talking about a single road, the majority of the projects we visited were infrastructure projects. One involved repairing an irrigation system, another was to fix a broken water pump, and the third was to build a water pump. Throughout China this charity is also involved in rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and village clinics. This ties back into an important argument made by economists who say […]


For seven years Chen Guangcheng has been silenced in China for his role in opposing illegal forced abortions in Shandong province, that ended today with his arrival in the US. Even after his escape from thugs in Linyi, the gov’t in Beijing kept him in a tightly guarded hospital room. Finally, he will have a chance to talk openly about his experiences and the situation facing hundreds of other activists in China. I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the power of that image – a man once tortured and imprisoned, now is able to stand in front of the world. I wanted to say that he was no longer afraid of the Chinese gov’t and their reprisals, but much of Chen’s […]


A few months ago I reviewed Yes China! by Neil Clark, and when a friend asked me to review another book about teaching English in China I was a little hesitant to commit to reading what to me has already become a familiar story. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find Yin-Yang: American Perspectives on Living in China filled with thoughtful reflections packaged in an altogether new format. Colorado China Council (CCC) Executive Director and author of this book, Alice Renouf, collects letters from former teachers and organizes them into a wide range of topics, and sorts them by location and date. I found this a wonderfully novel approach to creating a clear picture of China’s development and the diversity of experiences. This book shows it […]


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 arrived in Beijing late on the high speed train from Nanjing a few days ago. In Nanjing we were whisked to the South train station on a relatively new subway, walked into the massive new transportation hub (it brought back memories of the Three Gorges Dam), and arrived roughly a thousand miles away in just 3 and half hours*. It was everything that China appears to be in Thomas Friedman’s accounts, and even as skeptical as I can be at times about China’s progress, it was hard to contain my sense of awe. For a moment I forgot about the pollution that had limited my view the entire journey and the massive cost of the projects and enjoyed China’s glorious achievements (but just for […]


Last week Chen Guangcheng entered a US embassy for the protection that the Chinese gov’t had failed to provide the innocent man. According to Chen’s friends, it was a step that Chen did not want to take. Today we will be looking at three lessons Chen’s case teaches us about China’s legal system. Chen Guangcheng would never call himself a dissident; he might hesitate to even describe himself as an activist. The incredible thing that we should keep in mind as representatives from the US and China decide Chen’s fate, is that he is a man who simply thought that the laws on paper should be enforced. Chen’s initial fame came from his efforts to protect the rights of the disabled and he fell afoul […]


China’s foreign policy of non-involvement seems to stem from the Confucian teaching to “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” For the Party, this means avoiding situations like what is currently happening in Syria, which if the UN had its way would see the ouster of a gov’t for slaughtering its own people (similar stances were taken by China in respect to Sudan and Libya too). China’s foreign policy recognizes the possible problems of setting a precedence of using military force against chronic human rights abusers. The key to this policy is keeping public opinion in line with the gov’t response and to accomplish that, China needs nationalism. This also explains the Party’s framing of China as a still imperiled nation. They push […]


By Ge Xun, published: February 8, 2012 A Chinese-American activist’s kidnap.    I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide. My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remains together. For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” […]


I recently finished a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” that focuses on intrinsic motivation, how it can be bolstered or buffeted by workplace policies, and how it effects our overall happiness (I enjoyed the book, even if it was a little short). Like most things these days, there were several parts that reminded me of China (we’ll be looking at a second aspect in a later post). If-Then rewards cause a search for loopholes China’s government since reform and opening up has functioned more as a corporation than as a country. Within each level of government there is fierce competition for promotions that come with clear perks and benefits (and some that aren’t made quite so public). As Daniel Pink […]


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 […]


I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season. In this issue, you will find a sample response to President Hu Jintao’s article about malicious cultural infiltration by hostile forces, items about Wukan, how China practices law, why a couple who were dying to see each other had a hard time reuniting, the deluge of confidential user information, and more. Click date below for link to the original.   张鸣 /Zhang Ming/(Professor of political science at People’s University of China)/: Chinese have no American TV to watch, cannot access American websites. Americans are not allowed to open schools in China. On the other hand, China can set up TV, websites and schools in the US. The US has no Great Fire Wall to keep […]


As we saw yesterday, China is a diverse country with hundreds of distinct dialects/languages that are closely connected with local culture. However, for the past 100 years, the government has been encouraging the adoption of a single national dialect based on the Beijing accent. Originally, the language we know as Mandarin, was only spoken by officials and the people who lived near the capital (the language shifted with the capital as it moved from Nanjing to Beijing). It was a necessity due to the fact that officials came from all corners of China, and would be otherwise unable to communicate orally. Near the end of the Qing Dynasty, it was decided that this language of officials should become the national dialect, known as Guoyu (国语 […]


Koonchung Chan’s The Fat Years is a chilling account of a very possible near future. It was originally published in Chinese in 2010, but is finally available in English. The book is set in 2013. China has been the world’s only super-power for two years since the US dollar dropped 30% in a single day plunging all other world economies into chaos in 2011 (it seems we just barely escaped this). As the story opens China is confident, the people are happy, and a strange man (Fang Caodi) confronts an old friend (Old Chen) about a missing month. He tells Old Chen that despite the official account which states that China’s rise and the global downfall were on the same day, they were actually a month […]


Yesterday we started looking at some of the strategies China has used to weather the first financial downturn. Today we’ll continue that by looking at two other strategies as well as their potential benefits and costs. One of the major things that was supposed to happen after the economic downturn was that China was going to shift from being the world’s factory to a position higher up the production chain. The idea was that many of the factories on China’s east coast were shutting down, but increased domestic consumption and new college graduates would soon alleviate the slowdown. Increased College Enrollment When I arrived in 2007, my average class size at the rural college was 35, by the start of the 2009 school year that […]


As the world braces for what looks like a possible second economic downturn, it is increasingly important to understand how China weathered the first one. Today and tomorrow we are going to take a very simplified look at this issue. Please keep in mind that this is meant to give a broad overview and is in no way a complete account. When the markets started to drop off in 2008, the gov’t took a number of actions to try and prevent a financial collapse in the middle kingdom. They made it easier for companies to get loans, pushed a massive economic stimulus, propped up domestic consumption by offering discounts on things like home appliances and cars, increased college enrollment to delay entrance to the job market […]


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 […]


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. […]


The first year of blogging has resulted in well over 300 posts, so in celebration of surviving the writing process that has yielded over 150,000 words, I thought we should revisit a few of the best posts. My personal favorites – and the story behind them There must be something in the air – I don’t think anyone but my wife, and a few close friends know that I had a very short lived blog prior to this one. It was charitably described as “dry” and “overly detailed” (it was deleted shortly after starting this one). That failure helped me realize that I should be writing a blog that was more accessible to those without any first hand knowledge of the country. This post launched […]


The “three public expenditures” refers to public spending on government vehicles, banquets, and overseas travel. This part of spending is the most hotly debated, and one that netizens have already won symbolic victories in (meaningful ones will come more slowly). Government agencies are now supposed to make this part of their budget public, but many have simply refused to release the information or claim that it is a “state secret.” While I have no idea how much public money is spent on travel, I am familiar with the kinds of trips government employees take, and I think this gives an interesting glimpse of the decision making process that goes into this. Note: my office is responsible for all travel by hospital employees, and these trips are covered […]


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 […]


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, […]


When I first visited China in 2006, my parents and I did a whirlwind tour of the major sites in a few weeks before I began my summer course at Beijing Language Culture University. I remember one sweltering morning in Suzhou, we were approached by two child beggars, they were caked in mud and wearing torn clothing. Without a moment of hesitation my mother reached into her purse, and dropped a few coins into their cup. For a moment we felt we had fulfilled our Christian duty, and could feel less guilty knowing that at least for today these children would eat. Our satisfaction didn’t last long, as the children dutifully scampered back to their parent who was lounging in the shade of a tree. […]


In addition to “The west doesn’t understand China,” the second refrain you’ll hear when it comes to defending some of the Party’s more draconian policies is that “China is a big country with a large population.” For example, a comment on an old post: “China insists on having solution that is suitable for the conditions in China, and I bet the shape the hospitals are in is one of these solutions – right for China. When anyone complaints about anything wrong with China, the size of the population will always come up as the trump card – no other country has as large population as China, and therefore China’s problems are always unique. And I suspect that these hospitals are part of the solution to […]


The story most deserving of your attention this week can by found on Foreign Policy, and was written by Charlie Custer of ChinaGeeks.org, highlighting the problem of kidnapping in China (hopefully you already noticed the link on the right hand side of this page). According to the U.S. State Department there are nearly 20,000 kidnappings every year in China, which is over 100x higher than in the US. It is a heartbreaking story, and Charlie is working on a documentary called “Living with Dead Hearts” to draw more attention to this epidemic. Although there have been stories circulating for nearly a year about China’s possible economic problems, it seems like this week the evidence of a slow down started bubbling to the surface. Throughout China […]


It’s no secret that journalists working for Xinhua, Global Times, and People’s Daily, are part of an effort to distribute messages from the Party. I read these sources daily, and have built up a degree of tolerance to articles about how America wants to separate Taiwan from the mainland (example), that China’s presence in Africa is always beneficial to Africans (examples 1, 2, 3), and the seemingly weekly calls for the Party to serve the people (Example). Let’s just say that my expectations for Chinese journalists in these publications is pretty darn low, yet from time to time, they still manage to surprise me with their total lack of concern when it comes to exposing the truth. Yesterday’s post is a prime example. Not only did these officials take […]


According to reports from Xinhua: Guangdong Experimental High School (广东实验中学) announced that not only had it completed 3 new campuses within China, but was proud to be opening the very first Chinese managed public school in Riverside, California. The move was heralded as China’s first step on to the world stage for promoting its unique style of education and overall quality. Even better, it was opened on National Day, and would soon be opening up to enroll Chinese students. This new campus/program was made possible through a relationship with the Chemax Educational Foundation, which was authorized by Guangdong Experimental High School to establish a branch in the United states. Former Secretary of Education for the state of California, Dr. David Long, had even been on hand for […]


Yesterday we explored how currency manipulation works, today we’ll be looking at tariffs briefly before examining why the currency bill isn’t going to change China. Tariffs: When we talk about imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, it sounds like a great way to promote the American economy. Lawmakers argue that these tariffs will force China to revalue its currency, help create jobs in the US, and hopefully force China to open its markets to American products (although this chart from The Economist suggests otherwise). It sounds like a miracle solution to America’s economic problems. But what if we called it a 10-20% tax on everything imported from China? As Tim Harford explains in his book “The Undercover Economist” (a fun introduction to economics that goes a […]


The US Senate is getting ready to pass a bill that would allow the gov’t to place a tariff on Chinese goods equal to the amount that Chinese currency is undervalued. If that sentence makes complete sense to you, and you feel like you understand its implications, congratulations! You’ve clearly been working on your economics degree. If you’re like me though, you might want need further clarification. Today we’ll be looking at the general idea of currency manipulation so we can talk about the bill tomorrow. Is China’s Currency Undervalued? The answer to this is a resounding “yes.” It’s no secret that China has manipulated the value of its currency for years, unless you live in China where the People’s Daily throws a fit anytime the […]


I’d like to apologize for the large number of links today, but when it comes to sensitive topics it’s best to be prepared. The other day I quietly asked my co-workers where exactly Dr. Sun Yat-sen (or Sun Zhongshan in pinyin) was during the Xinhai revolution, when Imperial China was overthrown. The intern quickly replied “Nanjing” which was a good choice, since that is where his mausoleum is, and where Sun set up the Republican gov’t (his presidency lasted 3 months). My other co-worker guessed “Beijing” then switched to “Beiping”, the name used during the republican era, just in case it was a trick question. Their mouths fell open when I told them he was in the far away city of Denver, a fact that […]


This week China was on holiday, and millions of people spent it traveling. On Oct. 1st alone, the start of the break for National Day, nearly 9 million people climbed aboard China’s busy trains. Thousands of mainland tourists visited Taiwan, with a few taking advantage of the newly relaxed restrictions that allow for travelling as an individual instead of in a group. Both governments hope that it will help to ease tensions between the two sides, but Taiwanese locals aren’t always so impressed by their mainland visitors. Despite the holiday, Xinhua (a state media company) did not miss the chance to point out the flaws in American democracy as Occupy Wall Street protests grew. In a single week Xinhua published more than 25 stories about […]


Yesterday we looked at how China can be rife with small crime, while still seeming safe to foreigners. Today we’ll be exploring a few of the ideas Chinese citizens hold about other countries, and why these views might be promoted by the state. I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve been told that everyone in America has a gun, and that I come from a very dangerous country. While the US does have the highest gun ownership in the world, that doesn’t actually effect my daily life in the way my students might think. My wife actually takes a little joy in responding to this with her students, her grandfather sells antique guns and in the past had a room full of them. […]


The other day I was visiting my favorite jianbing salesman (煎饼 a delicious crepe type breakfast food), and he asked me if America was safe. I told him that regarding food and transportation, America is pretty safe, but we still have too much violent crime. I figured this was a fairly safe answer, China has been plagued by food safety problems and fatal accidents in the double digits are fairly common. It would have also played into the stereotypical idea that America is dangerous because we all have guns, which would make it easy to believe (more on that tomorrow). Instead the chef just shook his head and said, “China isn’t safe”. His two female co-workers agreed. “Too many thieves,” one said. Even in the […]


On my way to the supermarket I pass a man fixing bicycles, a place that can repair virtually any article of clothing and at least three shops that can solve any problem on almost any cell phone. This culture of fixing things instead of throwing them away is something I deeply admire. In Longzhou I had a flat tire, so I went to the repairman who worked behind a newspaper stand just off campus. His body was a rich brown, and he hardly had any hair left on his head, just a few wisps combed over. He only spoke the local dialect, and I could only speak Mandarin, but he knew what I wanted when he saw the sorry shape of my bicycle. He pulled […]


The top story this week was the Shanghai metro crash which I covered in a recent post. The accident reignited the debate about the speed with which China is building infrastructure. Adam Minter reflected on the greater meaning of the crash for Shanghai residents who have no choice but to commute to work on the subway in his piece “Shanghai rail commuters get onboard with a prayer“. China also launched the first components of its new space station, which should be fully operational around the time the International Space Station is decommissioned. This great technological accomplishment coming on the heels of a needless crash creates an interesting contrast between technical achievements, and the ability to manage and maintain these systems. The cost of development was also […]


While China may be releasing a huge quantity of films, and producing a number of new TV shows, to most foreigners living here, there is still a dearth of entertainment (sorry CCTV). Despite efforts to promote “soft power”, China still seems unable to attract followings on par with Japanese anime or Bollywood films. So today we’ll be looking at the factors limiting China’s cultural potency. As I’ve discussed before (How long until we’re all singing Beijing Opera?), I think one of the major challenges facing China’s efforts is that the gov’t/party seems to be closely involved with these projects, which is a negative to many in the US and Europe. This has been especially true of 2011’s highest grossing film, The Founding of the Party, […]


By Yaxue Cao, published September 17, 2011   You would imagine that it is easier for Chinese to discuss Mao Zedong and do so in a productive manner, now that over thirty years have passed since the death of the man and there is enough perspective for retrospection. After all, the look of China is so far removed from Mao’s era, Chinese from all walks of life are travelling all over the world studying, sightseeing, working and living, and new and abundant information has shed such light on the man as never before. No, it is not. Earlier this year, the Chinese economist Mao Yushi (茅于轼) wrote an article entitled “Turning Mao Zedong Back to a Human Being” (《把毛泽东还原为人》 ), calling for just that: To […]


Recently a lot has been made of China’s efforts to modernize its military, and it’s easy to get the West’s attention when you simply remind them of the sheer size of China’s army. Even though China maintains the largest standing army in the world, it hasn’t been involved in international conflicts, outside of a limited peace keeping role, since the 1980’s. So what do they keep all of these soldiers around for? According to President Hu Jintao, who is head of the Party, the government, and the military, the PLA exists to: Consolidate the ruling status of the Communist Party Help ensure China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and domestic security in order to continue national development Safeguard China’s expanding national interests Help maintain world peace Though, […]


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 […]


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 […]


By Yaxue Cao Yaxue Cao is short story writer who grew up in Northern China during the cultural revolution.  I met a young man a few years ago while working with a law firm on a case involving China. We were among a few Chinese who had been hired to translate documents. All of us were working more or less honestly in our respective capacities, but every day he sat in front of his computer, chatted with anyone who would answer him, or mostly got online to do whatever he was doing. Now and then, he would say to the rest of us, “Why rush? Slow down so we will log more hours!” Or, twirling in his office chair, “The Americans are dumb! They don’t […]


It’s no secret that China is a massive country that is changing at incredible speeds, and so it seems that even 5 days a week isn’t enough to cover everything that is happening in the middle kingdom. So I am very pleased to announce the launch SeeingRedInChina.com’s weekend section. It will have posts focusing on (mis)adventures in China, a brief round-up of the week’s news stories with a brief explanation of why they matter, as well as opinion pieces, guest posts, and hopefully some interviews. My good friend Casey will be kicking things off on Saturday as he starts to tell the story of his first trip to China, and his time spent working in what has to be the absolute worst school in China. […]


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 […]


I’m at a conference focused on Charity and Education in China, so this week we’ll be focusing on these two issues. One of the biggest misconceptions in the west about China is that “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” is anything like “Socialism”. From the 1970’s China has maintained only the State owned enterprises, which are incredibly profitable, but has done away with most of the social programs. For nearly thirty years many of these holes grew larger, and are now reaching a point that is beyond rescue even for the party. The Central Government has mandated a “Harmonious Society”, but has left the details to local governments. So in the last ~5 years these gov’t bodies have encouraged the growth of a civil society, finally admitting […]


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 […]


…continued Chinese men also come with involved mothers.  Their mothers are full of opinions and criticisms.  The Chinese fathers I have known, on the other hand, are not involved and extremely difficult to have a relationship with.  The best way to deal with the introduction of a new mother-figure into your life is to demonstrate to her that you are an adult who is open to and cares about her opinions, but is not obligated to follow them (I learned this the hard way from my step-mother).  You don’t yet have water under the bridge with this woman, so there’s no need to get worked up when she does not agree with you.  I am very pleased with my husband’s mother because she genuinely likes […]


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 […]


If you are new to Traditional Chinese Medicine I suggest reading my other posts on the topic first (1, 2, 3, 4) For many Westerners “Traditional Chinese Medicine” brings to mind an image something like this However this is not what TCM looks like in most of China. At the hospital where I work there is a TCM department, their patients are mostly elderly and have been referred for pain management, not yin and yang disharmony. TCM is shifting from local practitioners who collected their own herbs to massive TCM pharmaceutical companies, the entire system is changing. I thought today we should wrap up our look at TCM by discussing its possible future. Medications It may surprise many of my western readers to learn that […]


Today we’ll be looking at a few of the upsides of these projects, and why they are for the most part appreciated by the people, despite the corruption and problems these vanity projects can cause (read my updated post on some of the problems). Jobs As the US entered the recession questions were raised about Keynesian economics, could gov’t spending really be the answer? While we battened down the hatch for another long debate as to whether or not it might be effective, and then moved on to how much to spend, China pushed ahead with massive spending. While the long-term results are unclear (10 trillion rmb in local debts is worrying), the immediate benefits were obvious. Not only did several cities launch plans for expanding desperately needed […]


For my non-American readers please excuse this burst of patriotism, as it is Independence day Today I wanted to share a few of the aspects of American life I enjoy more after living in China for four years. Freedom to Report In China there is a special vocabulary that has evolved out of the need to define events that have never happened before. Words like: “Gutter oil” (Used oil that has had the garbage strained from it, that is reused in restaurants), “Cancer village” (unusually high rates of cancer caused by pollutants) and Naked officials (gov’t officials who have sent their assets and family overseas so they can escape when their misdeeds surface). These are words we don’t have in the US, and I think […]


I just finished reading The Millionaire Next Door, and even though it’s about how America’s wealthy become wealthy, I started to notice just how many of the mistakes mentioned in the book described the new rich in China. In contrast to what we have heard about the Chinese savings rate (around 30% for households), it seems that many of those struggling to reach the middle class are spending massive amounts of money on luxury goods to appear rich (or here). One of the ideas in the book is that there is a difference between being rich (usually a high salary) and wealth (the accumulation of investments above what would be typical for the salary). An example of this would be that a person making $70,000 […]


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 […]


One of China’s newspapers broke the story that gov’t officials were in Hunan province were forcing parents who had more than one child to give up their extra children. The children were than sold to adoption agencies by these officials. This isn’t to try to scare people out of international adoption, but I think it is important to consider the possibility that this act of love, can create a demand for babies. This demand for babies creates incentives for immoral people to take terrible actions. The majority of these kidnapped and trafficked children are adopted/purchased by other families within China that were unable to conceive their own child. So it would seem that only a tiny percentage of the children adopted by Americans or Europeans […]


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 […]


A few months ago America tossed itself into panic mode again, like it does every year when it realizes how low our students are ranked on standardized tests. So it may surprise some of you to learn that despite China’s number 1 ranking on the tests this year, the best Chinese students all want to go somewhere else for college. I had a number of students over the years talk about their aspirations to go study in the US or England, but none of them eve had the money to make that a possibility. It turns out there are very few scholarships for international students; schools expect them to be able to pay. So it’s only now that I’m living in a city where people […]


Continued from yesterday At dinner that first night we started to realize that there was much more to Huaxi village than most might realize. For one the village leader offered us the choice between Huaxi Wuliangye (a famous brand of baijiu) or Huaxi Changyu (a famous brand of red wine in China). The dinner included a variety of local specialties, including a kind of Yangtze river puffer fish that is poisonous if not prepared correctly. “Our chef is one of the highest ranking chefs in China,” the village leader said as he raised his glass for the umpteenth toast. I’ve lived in Chinese villages, and this was completely different. It wasn’t until we got to Huaxi’s memorial hall that we fully realized we were in […]


So far we have seen that China has the GDP to be a superpower, and would have the political strength to meet the criteria if it decided to take on a leadership role. Today we will be trying to evaluate how effectively China would be able to project it’s military strength. Military Power China employs the largest army in the world despite the fact it has not been involved in any serious battles since the early 1980’s when it faced off in a brief skirmish with Vietnam (China called this self-defense, even though it launched the attack) . Since then China has been steadily building a blue ocean navy, state of the art missiles, and even its own stealth fighter which is being tested now. […]


I have wanted to write this series since I went back to the US this February and noticed a palpable change. It seemed like people were no longer talking about China as a kind of economic miracle, those thoughts had been replaced by a growing anxiety over what it might mean for China to be a superpower. This week we are going to be taking a look at what it means to be a superpower, and try to gauge how close China is to meeting the criteria. For this series we’ll be looking at four areas of power and China’s ability to project them. These four areas are: economic, political, military and cultural power. Economic Power Today I thought I would begin with the most […]


China’s high-speed rail system has been a hot topic for these past few months since it was revealed that millions of dollars had been embezzled from these projects. With that revelation came some big questions over the safety of the system, which had already been constructed with a fraction of the budget used in other countries. Japanese engineers were also raising questions about how China was using the same technology, but were traveling 25% faster than was allowable on Japanese lines. Yesterday we got the first notice that these lines were going to be slowed down, however all of the information pointed to this move being in response to complaints about high ticket prices. Today it seems we are getting a bit more of the […]


If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few weeks, you probably already know that I enjoy looking at cultural differences, and like to highlight just how vast a subject culture can be. Grabby Beggars Let me start my describing a fairly typical scene here in China, which I experienced yet again just two days ago. I was walking to a restaurant with my wife when an old woman in grubby clothes came up and asked me for money, when I didn’t reach into my pocket right away, she started pulling on my sleeve and pleading that she wanted to eat. When I shook my head ‘no’ she stepped in front of me to block my path and continued begging from my wife who […]


This guest post was written by the same friend who wrote – Why I didn’t join the communist party. This time he asked me if he could share his opinion on marriage, and I am so glad he did. Like arranging for a blind date, let me introduce myself first: I’m a 30-year-old single man growing up in a big city in China and I’m the only child in the family. I have a postgraduate degree and a decent job with a comparatively good salary. Moreover, I have 2 condominiums on mortgage. Everything I said here puts me in an advantageous position in the dating circle. But I hate the Chinese idea about marriage. Let me go back a few years. I had a sweetheart […]


Censorship in China at times is so extreme that it is almost laughable, like when they claimed foreigners couldn’t go to Tibet because of the weather (it was the anniversary of anti-Chinese riots). The news articles are so carefully screened for any material that doesn’t portray the official line that they can end up being whittled down to a single sentence. So today we are going to be looking at the ways the Chinese gov’t controls the news and the net. It’s no secret that the internet here is tightly controlled. Over the past four years I have seen (most of) Wikipedia become available, and have seen Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other sites disappear without explanation. These sites are referred to as being beyond […]


A topic I have been fascinated with recently is trying to figure out what China’s long-term goal is concerning North Korea. I can tell you China would probably say North Korea is a sovereign nation, and that they would never interfere with their internal affairs. It’s a pretty safe guess because that’s China’s stance on just about every international issue. However the last flare up on the Korean peninsula gave us a few interesting glimpses of where China really stands in all of this. One thing that was left out of the Western Media’s coverage was that up to the day of the shelling, China was running pro-DPRK propaganda in the People’s Daily regarding the Korean War, or as it is called in Chinese, the […]


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 […]


This week’s story is more of a reminder perhaps than breaking news. China’s People’s Daily led with an article today titled “Year of extreme weather shows reality of climate change.” I wanted to link to this article because it really is interesting the things China has never had a public debate about. So for example, Climate Change- real, Abortion- not an ethics based decision, Stem Cell research – all good, Death Penalty – absolutely necessary. I’m not supporting or disagreeing with these positions, but I think public debates are positive even if they do slow us down, because they force us to actually try to justify our ideas. One of the big topics that will be coming to the surface in the new year will […]


This is part three of a three part series. Part One. Part Two. It’s not surprising that a plan that has supposedly prevented almost 400 million births (more than the entire population of the US), has also caused some side effects that have changed every stage of life. One of the big side effects has been a drastic change in family relationships. As you have probably heard, Chinese families have one child and four grandparents. That tied with China’s growing wealth has led to unfathomable levels of spoiling (sadly not an official measure yet). In China, McDonalds and KFC are considered relatively expensive outside of the major cities, yet in even smaller, poorer areas, you see grandparents and parents shelling out the big bucks on […]


Christmas in China is a really funny thing. Let’s call it 奇怪(qi-guai), a word that means “strange” but without any negative or positive connotations. You get a full month for quiet reflection, but miss all of the fun and merriment of the Christmas spirit. There are friends you spend special meals with, and there is still some shopping you have to do. After four years, I’m still not sure if I like it or dread it. Christmas is still kind of new in China. During the missionary period up to the revolution Christmas was a quiet religious holiday. The hospital and local universities had many special Christmas performances to try and spread the Gospel. Then President Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, Madame Soong, attended many of these […]


September 2007 When I arrived in Longzhou there were only a few days to get settled before the semester would begin. On Friday Millie brought Kyle and me over to see the Foreign Language department, Thai and Vietnamese were also popular majors at the school. After some back and forth with the vice-dean she turned and told us that our class schedule had not been decided yet. When Millie turned back to ask about a few other things, Kyle let me know that this was pretty typical and I shouldn’t worry about it. It was my first insight into how things really work in China, in all actuality very few things are planned ahead, and I’m sure this will be the topic of a future […]


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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