Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikileaks and China’s Next Top Duo

Contributed by Cathy Zhu

Two wikileaked conversations from 2007 have brought China’s fifth generation leadership back under the spotlight. Xi Jinping, has been considered “heir” to Hu Jintao ever since his appointment to vice chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (October 18, 2010). Li Keqiang, China’s current Executive Vice-Premier, is speculated as Premier Wen’s likely successor. Recent Wikileaked cables include two conversations these two leaders respectively had with US Ambassador Clark J. Randt back in 2007, when both of them were provincial party secretaries. Recent press commentary suggest that these conversations were surprisingly revealing to the international community.

Li Keqiang was formerly party secretary of Liaoning Province, one of China’s poorer regions. Candidly admitting that China’s GDP figures were “man-made” or “for reference only”, he claimed to use electricity consumption, volume of rail cargo, and amount of loans disbursed as indicators of Liaoning’s economic health. Demystifying the party slogan “harmonious society”, he translated the term into policy as creating jobs for Liaoning residents. He admitted that corruption was the gravest concern of most Liaoning residents. Besides increasing transparency and supervision, Li added prison tours as part of public official education--taking incumbent bureaucrats to visit former corrupt party officials in prison. (Wikileak accessible here.)

As party secretary of one of China’s richer provinces, Xi Jinping faced different concerns. With a relatively low income gap and the one of highest GDP per capita’s among China’s provinces, Zhejiang’s residents were more worried about how to invest their savings in context of China’s undeveloped financial sector. Among healthcare, education, and housing, work styles of party officials was apparently a concern of Zhejiang residents, but not something that people would “take to the streets” for. The Guardian highlights the paragraph in which Xi discusses his preference for Hollywood WWII movies, saying that clearly demarcate between good and evil, unlike certain recent Chinese movies that “neglect the values they should promote”. (Wikileak cable accessible here.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The North Korea Debacle

Contributed by Ian Chan

It seems like a never-ending nightmare for diplomats and military officials on both sides of the pacific: North Korea conducting some military action unilaterally and then threatening to respond to any acts of self-defense, the U.S. escalating exercises with South Korea, and China calling for "all sides to show restrain". But following the the recent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, a South Korean military base that caused the death of several civilians and soldiers, there seems to be some change in this dynamic.

Following the shelling, South Korea responded in force and sent out fighter jets to patrol the area, the U.S. sent in the USS George Washington, a aircraft carrier that is a potent symbol of power in the Yellow Sea, and China has called for emergency consultations by inviting a North Korean official to Beijing. However, under all that diplomatic language there seems to be more. As the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks to international newspapers show, there seems to be a gradual shift in China's view of the North Korean regime and its unwavering support for its neighbors. This shift in view, according to the cables, go all the way to the top, and reveal a distancing that has never been seen before.

The leaks show that officials increasingly recognize that the alliance is not bringing any benefits to the Chinese, that the North's nuclear activity is a threat to the world, that the North is like a "spoiled child", that China can handle at least 300,000 refugees from a possible regime collapse, and that Beijing would be alright with a unified peninsula under the government in Seoul. These views, coupled with China's push for a renewal of the six-party talks and emergency consultations, seem to signal a change in stance.

But wait a second, experts in the region and historians have also noted that often even private remarks made by Chinese officials to foreign diplomats maybe more complex than they seem and that a significant shift in China's policy is unlikely, especially under an outgoing leadership. With the foreign policy stances of the possible successor to Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, unknown to the world, there seems to be a small chance that there will be any official change until 2012. Moreover, China does not like to cave to pressure, in particular American, and the presence of a fully operational and supplied aircraft carrier carrying military exercises so close to its coast must be unsettling for a fledgling nation that feels it is being trapped and boxed in by the U.S. Furthermore, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War will remind the Chinese of their heroic sacrifices for their communist comrades during the conflict and will no doubt be used as a nationalistic rallying cry by the regime in Beijing to shore up domestic support.

Therefore, given these two contrasting views, the only conclusion that could be drawn is that the region remains as volatile as ever, and its players are complex and unpredictable. Kim Jong-il, North Korea's ailing leader, is rumored to be posturing to secure a smooth transition for his third son, Kin Jong-un, which has added to the instability in the regime. The South, under the right-wing government of Lee Myung-bak, has stepped up its defense and hard-line tone. The U.S. and China, in the meantime, will likely continue their proxy jabs and disagree on process and substance. Regime change may be coming, but no one knows how that would happen, and that should be worrying to the international community.

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post

Chinese capitalists vs African workers

Contributed by Ying Jiang

A recent New York Times report on a shooting incident at a Chinese-owned Zambian coal mine, Collum Coal, reveals a glimpse of Western impression of Chinese dealings with some of the African governments. In this incident, mine workers who are dissatisfied with wages and erratic work schedules demonstrated their anger by crowding a closed mine shaft, resulting in gun shots from supervisors in (apparently) self-defensive actions. Aside from wage issues, work place safety is also a prime concern.

While the mine-owners denied any wrong of their own, it has become a more common sentiment among Zambians that foreign companies such as Collum Coal exploit and abuse, rather than help and develop, their host country, often protected by a corrupt government. In this case, the words of the Zambian president Rupiah Banda, in an attempt to state that it's unfair to single out the Chinese (foreign companies), sounded absolutely ridiculous. On the other hand, the Times tries to balance its report by incorporating a somewhat humane, West-acceptable response from the Chinese Embassy.

It is ironic that China, a nation which sometimes still wallow in a self-image of the exploited and plundered for its early 20th century encounters with Western powers, has to role-play the exploiter towards countries down the ladder of development. Does this say anything about the evolution of capitalism?

Source: NYtimes

Friday, November 19, 2010

Qihan Li: Tech Watch

Starting from this week’s column, I will introduce up and coming or already popular but somewhat unknown websites and companies from China and America with similar backgrounds or business models to you, the readers, so that you will have a better grasp of the latest trends.  For this week, I will introduce the flash-deal websites that sell products at discounted prices for a short period of time. Companies with such business models like Livingsocial and Vipshop have exploded in both China and America over the past few years and both companies represent a larger trend in their respective nations.

There have been serious rumors around the web that Amazon will invest 100 million dollars in LivingSocial to expand their share of the special-deals and coupons market.  LivingSocial primarily focuses on discounted experiences for bars, salons, and various forms of entertainment in the local area, and the discounts range from 50-80%.  You have probably seen its applications like Visual Bookshelf on Facebook. Due to the economies of scale, it has rapidly expanded to nearly 90 markets and it directly works with local businesses.  They get a share of the businesses’ revenues, and the discounts indirectly advertise the business. Despite fierce competition from large websites like Groupon as well as another 180 smaller websites, LivingSocial has been projected to rapidly expand in America.

In China, one-deal-a-day websites are generally not as popular as websites that combine the traditional e-commerce model with limited time and huge discounts.  One example is Vipshop, which recently raised 20 million dollars from venture capital firms DCM and Sequoia.  Vipshop sells middle-tier brand-name clothes and accessories to cities in China and directly works with both international and domestic retailers to increase the discounts.  What separates it apart from competitors may be its wide variety of products and its secured and trustworthy retail chain. Chinese customers always have to worry about fake products, but Vipshop generally eliminates such concerns with its 7-day return policy and the guarantee of China United Insurance. Vipshop has set its eyes on the growing middle-class to increase its sales and offers valuable opportunities to foreign brands to enter the Chinese market. However, with the flash-sale market rapidly expanding, Vipshop has to continue to innovate to stay at the forefront.

Sources: Sina, Venturebeat, Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

U.S., China, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Contributed by Ian Chan

President Obama's trip to Asia following the recent midterm elections highlighted the likelihood that the remaining two years of Obama's current term of office may be dominated by foreign policy as he wrestles domestically with a divided Congress. Many have labeled Obama the so-called "Pacific" President, with his Indonesian upbringing and birth in Hawaii, but the label also extends beyond the biography of the President. The label signals an emphasis in U.S. policy toward Asia and away from its traditional focus in Europe and more recently in the Middle East. Sure, European nations will still remain allies and the enormous stake the U.S. has in the Middle East has not diminished, but Obama and his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have signalled clearly their intention to heavily engage emerging Asian nations as their economic and geopolitical power rises in the 21st century.

The emphasis on Asia has much to do with the "rise of the rest", as Fareed Zakaria put it in his book "The Post-American World", the U.S. not only should want to, but needs to change its attitude toward emerging markets and their national governments as the post-WWII Washington consensus has slowly disintegrated. In particular, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will play a vital role in the ways the U.S. can seek to further its interests in the region without directly clashing with China. ASEAN is mainly an economic forum that facilitates trade and dialogue between member countries, and as a bloc it often negotiates with bigger economies such as China, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. If the U.S. chooses to be more engaged and pull ASEAN closer, it can act as a powerful check against a rising China that would no doubt seek to dominate the region. It is in ASEAN's interest to maintain their non-aligned status and play the powers off each other in order to get the best deal.

This strategy by ASEAN is reminiscent of the world before 1989. Then, countries such as India were famous in their non-alignment to either the Soviet Union or the United States, despite heavy lobbying, and in turn India was able to reap benefits from both blocs. This mindset is in play in a country no other than Obama's childhood home, Indonesia. A few days before Obama's visit, a high-level Chinese delegation concluded a massive deal with the Indonesian government to invest in badly needed infrastructure. The timing of the package, and the substance of it, clearly shows that while Indonesia is clearly not a Chinese ally or puppet, it sees the benefit of Chinese economic assistance and the void that creates for the U.S. Obama's response was not to match the Chinese package, but to strengthen ties with the Indonesian people by recalling childhood memories, interacting with local culture, and using Indonesian phrases in his speeches. His charm and warmness; however, may not be enough to pull ASEAN countries firmly into the American fold in the new multilateral world. Will this new kind of diplomacy kick off a new Cold War? At this moment, there is no clear sign that the world is turning back to a biploar world, but rather increasingly a multi-polar world where different countries all have an opinion and seek to compromise on all issues. The G-20 is a powerful example of this new way of doing business, and it seems that President Obama, given his character and policy preferences, is well suited for this new world order.

Sources: New York Times, "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria

Will Gap (the fashion brand) succeed in China?

Contributed by Ying Jiang

According to current opinions the answer seems to be no. The reasons come down to the culture and psychology of Chinese fashion consumers: that they are (1) brand and (2) fashion conscious. Therefore foreign luxury brands or middle-range brands who marketted their products as being high-end in China do well (think LV and Haagen Dazs respectively). Lower price-tiered brands, both foreign and local (think H&M and Metersbonwe respectively), that have successfully projected a forward fashion image, also win consumers. Gap, with a moderately known name but non-too-edgy design with relatively expensive prices, is predicted to have a questionable future in China.

Sources: Chinalawblog, Forbes

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama's Endorsement of India for the UN Security Council & China

Contributed by Belinda Tang 

Obama's recent endorsement of India may be based, at least publicly, in arguments about the growing importance of India in the global arena, but is also clear that the decision has large implications on China, as well, and is at least partly based in trying to send some sort of message to China. China has already expressed many recent doubts about the growing power of other Asian nations and how the US government plans on treating them.

Further, China has always had particularly contentious relations with India because of previous border and power disputes, so this move will be viewed particularly badly by the Chinese government. Combined with the recent endorsement of Japan, too, to join the Security Council, it is not unlikely that Chinese officials view these recommendations and endorsements as a power play against the Chinese government. China obviously views it as important to keep a higher balance of power compared to its other Asian counterparts, and these actions are a hazard towards that goal.

Personally, I understand the need for Obama to make decisions in the best interests of the United States, and if he views the decision to endorse India as one that will help the US, then so be it.  I believe there are certainly going to be repercussions with how China will react to this, however, and Obama should have weighed the consequences of his action more carefully before handing such a strong endorsement. At the point where many experts were saying they were very surprised with the endorsement, one should consider the importance of it, in the first place, and whether it was worth sacrificing some element of Chinese-American relations for.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Contributed by Ian Chan

It’s not every day that you get to shake the hand of a Nobel Peace Prize winner and be padded down by CIA agents. One such day for me was Thursday, October 22nd, 2010. I had given up going to a Model UN conference to Yale with my new team to attend this event, and I have not regretted it for one second. Meeting the Dalai Lama was and will remain one of the most memorable experiences in my life.

It all started with a very strict security checkpoint in an obscure hotel off El Camino Real. Only 4 people were allowed into the sign-in at any one time, and there were men in suits and sunglasses everywhere staring at people, checking bags and jackets. After I sat down in the courtyard, I saw multiple agents standing beside windows of hotel rooms looking down into the courtyard with binoculars. There was a tense murmur among the crowd as no one really knew what to expect nor did they really know when the Dalai Lama was coming. We were all instructed to keep the event on the down low and to arrive at the premise two hours early. I sat with a group of Stanford students and around me I saw not only students of all years, but also activists distributing information packets about Tibet, journalists, academics from Stanford and the UCs, and Tibetan-Americans. The majority of students were all from mainland China and coming from Hong Kong, it was amusing to see the look of mixed emotions on their face. Some were clearly apprehensive about being seen present at an event where the Dalai Lama is attending. Others were clearly excited to be able to meet a stalwart of peace and dialogue in close quarters. And yet others just had a look of indifference or confusion about them. My guess is that most of these students probably grew up only hearing one side of the story about Tibet and the Dalai Lama, and that story was either incomplete or unsatisfying.

Suddenly sirens burst out and we hear a motorcade pull in a fast pace. After a long silence came His Holiness, with a gait that was at moments grave and serious and at others light and relaxed. He seemed like a grandpa who was clearly physically limited but was bursting with positive energy and conversation. He spoke in careful English to the crowd and beckoned them to move closer to the podium. He greeted the guests in Mandarin, English, and Tibetan. He then proceeded to talk about compassion, international understanding, experiences he had meeting different personalities, and his views on life and interaction. The conflict between his government-in-exile and the Community Party was not mentioned with any particular specifics but he stressed dialogue and willingness to talk as the most important elements in any interactions.

The most fascinating part about meeting His Holiness was not the content of his speech, which of course was respectable and well delivered, but the way he interacted with people and the manner in which he spoke. He joked a great deal both in his greetings and his in answers to questions, and he generally smiled whenever he was speaking. Only when he was in contemplation or listening to a translation would he stop smiling, but that would be a fleeting second. For a man who has been put under massive ridicule and official persecution for most of his lifetime His Holiness was extremely optimistic and energetic about life. Any lesser being would sink into depression or at least adopt a more cynical view on life. The Dalai Lama exhibited none of these emotions. His answers to questions were straightforward and honest. Often he would answer right after the question is asked without much self-censoring, and this straightforwardness gave the audience an impression of a frank and honest man, not fearing what he says is wrong but believing in everything he says. I am not saying that I take everything he says as the established law of the land, but his frankness makes hiding anything harder undoubtedly. And when he didn’t know something, such as when someone asked him how he thought the new leadership in Beijing would deal with him and the Tibet issue, he flatly responded with “I don’t know.” Many would expect him to give some kind of guess but he just said he didn’t know and there was no way we can predict the future. For a man of his stature, this was an admirable admittance of human limitations that one does not find from leaders these days.

In all, meeting the Dalai Lama was an experience worth remembering not only because of the peculiar circumstances in which I shook an old man’s hand, but also because of the way he acts, the substance of what he said, and the body of work he represents in pursuit of peace, freedom of expression and religion, rights we in America often take for granted but are not available for a large part of this world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

China's Human Flesh Search Engine

Contributed by Belinda Tang

In the midst of China's debates over Internet censorship and privacy, one role of Netizens on the internet has been increasingly growing over the past few years. Deemed the "human flesh search engine", a method through which Chinese internet users are able to pinpoint, and oftentimes harass, people who have committed some sort of moral crime. While this started with mostly personal violations that the government could not solve--for example, a cheating spouse, or sexually deviant people--the use of this "human flesh search engine" has since expanded out to include issues that are not as morally black and white. Recently, the search engine was used to harass a young Chinese women who was trying to negotiate between Chinese and Tibetan people, and there have also been cases of people being targeted for being "not patriotic" enough.

With the wide possibilities that this tool creates, it is also, of course, important to take into consideration the wide dangers that the use of this search engine can be used towards. As demonstrated, the people who are becoming targeted by the search engine are becoming more and more subjective, and the harassment that occurs oversteps more and more boundaries. In a world where censorship is often pointed out, the Chinese government has done surprisingly little against this human search engine, as it lacks a politically threatening nature. In fact, some argue that the human flesh search engine actually advances many of the grassroots goals at the heart of Chinese communism. Regardless of the government's role in this, however, it's necessary to discuss the potential repercussions of this kind of moral behavior and persecution.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

World War on China’s Internet

By Qihan Li

While the American public is watching the politicians battle for gubernatorial and Congressional positions, an all-out war is happening on the Chinese internet. Tencent, a company boasting of approximately 1 billion accounts and 200 million active users, and 360 Antivirus, China’s largest free virus protection company, have attacked one another for the past 40 days. The tensions has have escalated into a full-scale war when Tencent today announced that its programs cannot operate on computers installed with 360 Antivirus’ programs.

You may ask: Why do these companies matter?

Tencent operates QQ, China’s most popular instant messenger program and a series of other programs that range from music to internet browser.  Not only does the regular Chinese citizen rely on Tencent’s programs for communication purposes, it has become the destination for entertainment as well as studies.  The company has become one of the most successful internet companies in China over the past decade, and its is ranked by Alexa as the 2nd most visited site in China and 10th most visited in the world.  On the other hand, 360 Antivirus is the new player in the Chinese antivirus industry with only 4 years of existence. However, it currently has 200 million users and its quick ascend has been due to its free strategy and wide range of protection software.  Both are giants in their respective fields so this particular battle may shape the landscape of the future of China’s internet. 

How did we get here?

It started with Tencent releasing a protection software that rivals that of 360’s.  Subsequently, 360 accused Tencent of intruding into the privacies of its users. The battles continued with Tencent uniting several tech giants to criticize 360 for its policies and then 360 releasing a software that disables Tencent advertisement functions. Just over the past day or two, Tencent decided that only one of the two can survive and all of China’s users have to either choose Tencent’s programs or 360’s programs.  

What will happen?

This is an unprecedented move in the history of China’s internet as the future of two large corporations lie in the balance.  The move has been attacked by many people to be completely irresponsible while others defend the move as a form of self-defense. Tencent may have felt that its revenues were seriously threatened by 360’s program and most likely believes that no other program in China can replace QQ while antivirus substitutes can easily be found.  However, such a belief may prove to be dangerous as alternative communication programs fight for the market.  If neither of the companies back off, both companies will come out with a lot less users and one may even disappear.  If one does back off, it may be perceived as weak. While it is unknown at this moment who will win this battle, uninvolved internet companies have a valuable opportunity to enter into the respective markets while the government needs to clearly define the internet boundaries between strategizing and breaking the law and the definition of monopoly.  Despite the uncertainty, what is certain is that hundreds of millions of China’s internet users face a tough decision and ask themselves, “How can such a war break out on my own desktop?”

Sources: Financial Times China, Sina

UN sees China as a Necessary Influence in Sudan and Myanmar Polls

The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Security Council China to assist the Sudanese and Myanmar polls. He said in a speech given on Tuesday to the Communist Party, "I asked your government's help in assisting the two sides find their way to a peaceful future, recognizing their shared interests." However, though he claims it is necessary, he has neglected Beijing's own human rights record.

Besides its diplomatic engagement in Sudan, China has a significant peacekeeping mission in the country, which could help with implementing the transport and technical support in the voting.
Additionally, China can ensure that Myanmar, it's southern neighbor moves in a positive direction following the military-run government's staging of the country's first elections in two decades on Sunday.

"I see it as an important test. Will the vote perpetuate an untenable status quo? Or will it set the country on course toward a more open, democratic and inclusive political future?" Ban said.

Criticism towards Ban has been directed due to his disregard of raising specific human rights issues to the Chinese leadership. Primarily, critics are dissatisfied with Ban's fail to act upon the case of dissident writer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Li Xiaobo.

Contributed by Iris Yan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ying Jiang: Anti-Three-Vulgarities Movement

It is rare (and fun) when cultural matters at home in China get caught on by the Western media. The quality of interpretations vary, but many are rather accurate. This August, there was an article in the Economist alliteratively entitled "Functionaries vs Fun: Party Poopers". It described Hu Jintao's resolve earlier to eradicate the "Three Vulgarities" from popular entertainment - "低俗、庸俗、媚俗". Before I start to attempt the impossible translation to distinguish the three, I thought it's greatly illuminating to state that the word "俗" could take the neutral meaning of traditional or/ie popular culture, or a negative connotation when prefixed with the words above: 低 = low; 庸 = mundane; 媚 = fawning/populist. In its fierce and compact style, the Economist rolled its eyes at the act of party functionaries infiltrating popular TV variety shows, presenting "politically correct entertainment". Eg, a match-making show was forbidden to talk about money being a criteria for spouse selection. (The wide contrast between the communist ideal of material minimalism and the materialistic reality of the Chinese society makes an entirely different discussion.) It's a story about censorship. What caught my attention was a brief mention of the CCTV condemnation of the crosstalk artist Guo Degang, in which incident culminated the irony of the Anti-Three Vulgarities - might I say? - Movement.

Guo Degang is known for his popular gigs, in the form of crosstalk - a fast vanishing or politicizing traditional comedic form, that are relevant to social reality and at the same time fairly funny. Those two qualities, to the understanding of most of the Chinese masses, are related - the latter results from the former; a comedian needs to be grounded in real-life materials. In early August, Guo "defended the actions of one of his pupils who beat a television reporter for arriving uninvited at Mr Guo’s home". In the official press, he was branded as being "vulgar", choosing a "江湖" (another impossible phrase: a society outside of official governance, a world where actions and interactions are more immediate, mainly a result of personal/emotional/short-term decisions) styled attitude. Among the netizens, sympathy almost entirely lies with Guo. Here're some of their comments with regards to the "branding":

"I think CCTV as a media body should not carry such serious bias towards the public opinion [it's trying to create]. This'll cause misunderstanding to people who don't know the truth."

"Old Mr Guo, now you taste defeat. Want to fight with CCTV? Even real estate companies can't. You thought you could??" (sarcasm implied)

Furthermore, comparison in the degree of "vulgarity" has once been drawn between Guo and Xiao Shenyang in a pretty decent Chinese article (which since I haven't been able to find again on the internet). Xiao Shenyang has a feminine stage persona, dresses in drag and constantly tells jokes with sexual connotations - performances that more than a few would describe as being truly vulgar. However, he has appeared on the official Chinese New Year televised show for two years now, garnering obvious official support, allegedly due to his steering clear of politically sensitive contents. This is not to say he doesn't enjoy popular support. After all, "俗" could be popular or vulgar. The line, as many others in China, could be rather arbitrary.

Incidentally, the Newsweek feature of Xiao Shenyang drew comments defending the comedian, mainly out of against-Western-media anger. What do the Chinese people really think? Who's really vulgar? Who should we "anti" (反)?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Surprise surprise! China raises interest rate in unexpected times

Contributed by Qihan Li

Sources: VOA news, FT, WSJ

China’s decision to raise the interest rates of its central bank by 0.25 percentage points has caught the world by surprise.  The raise brings China’s one-year lending rate to 5.56% and one-year deposit rate to 2.5%. It comes at a time of heated discussions regarding RMB’s exchange rate, and the state of the Chinese economy. While China’s recent GDP figures will make any developed nation jealous, (10.3% for the second quarter, 9.5% projected for the third quarter) many scholars in China are still concerned with low domestic demand.  Within the blogosphere and major publications, economists disagree on the ultimate effects of the hike, but most agree on its intentions: to combat domestic inflation and market bubbles.

The year-to-year CPI figure stands at 3.5% in August so the hike in interest rate is interpreted to prevent rises in prices.  Despite the uncertainties regarding consumers’ reactions, what is certain is that small businesses that have taken recent loans will be directly affected, as they will need to pay more in interest.  This may particularly hurt export-oriented companies because the evaluation of RMB has already reduced their competitiveness in foreign markets. On the other hand, state-own enterprises will largely be unaffected since most of them have good capital flows. The effects on the overall economy will be much more difficult to evaluate.  While fewer individuals will borrow money to invest in commodities or real estate, it may not prohibit wealthy private or corporate investors to continue to invest in real estate as a hedge to high inflation.  Earlier policies to cool off the real estate market have somewhat worked but have not changed the general speculation. The effectiveness of this move is to be seen.

On the issue of exchange rate, as Ian previously mentioned, a drastic evaluation will dramatically hurt China’s export industry.  There have been concerns regarding the inflow of hot money due to this hike, pressuring the RMB to appreciate. However, because the RMB is controlled by the People’s Bank of China, the correlation between a higher interest rate and RMB’s exchange rate may be relatively low. This is nonetheless an important aspect to look out for in the upcoming months.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

China’s Currency Dilemma

Contributed by Ian Chan

The International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Dominic Strauss-Kahn remarked on October 8th that a currency war “is not a solution” to the world’s economic woes and committed the Fund to resolving trade imbalances. Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s remarks followed a bill passed by the United States House of Representatives expanded the President’s authority to impose tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports to the United States. China responded promptly with a stern statement and threatened to bring the issue up with the World Trade Organization. Less than three weeks from the mid-term elections, and given the gloomy domestic picture, it is not surprising that the House has tried to direct voters’ anger toward a foreign country. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has written extensively in the New York Times that the United States needs to act swiftly, harshly, and broadly in order to press the Chinese to revalue its currency. However, these populist and protectionist measures will not help the U.S. or global economy, and must be avoided at all costs.

First one should look at a brief history of the currency issue. China’s currency, known as the Renminbi, was once loosely pegged to a basket of currencies including the U.S. dollar and the Euro in the run-up to the financial crisis. When the financial tsunami hit, China promptly re-pegged its currency strictly to the Dollar and it has stayed at that level since then. Most economists reckon that if the Renminbi was traded at market value, as the Dollar is, the Renminbi would be 25-40% above its current rate. In conventional international economics, an undervalued domestic currency means that goods and services are much cheaper as exports whereas imports are much more expensive, because the purchasing power of each Renminbi would be less than it should be. By making goods and services from foreign countries more expensive, China was able to keep its export industry going strong throughout the crisis.

Some have attributed this artificial undervaluation to China’s huge trade surplus, but it is not the only contributing factor. High savings rates and a culture of thrift also contribute to low consumption.  Although allowing the Renminbi to appreciate will help lower savings rate, the effects will not make a real difference until the long run and China needs to make decisions that minimizes shocks to the global economy in the short run. There are a few serious harms to revaluation. First, a slow and steady revaluation will prompt foreign investors to pour funds into the country’s financial markets as investors anticipate ever-increasing Renminbi rates and start gambling with the currency. This flow of hot cash would cause runaway inflation, which in a country such as China where price levels are not as flexible and financial markets are underdeveloped, would cause a crisis that would reverberate all around the global economy. Moreover, whether or not the world likes it, China is reliant on its export industry to employ its massive workforce and drive growth. A quick revaluation would drive a lot of these export companies into bankruptcy and cause huge layoffs. The consequences of having large amounts of unemployed youth roaming the streets are too grave for any Western politician to imagine. Furthermore, provoking a global trade war now by introducing protectionist measure would cause a global slowdown right when the recovery is in its early stages. If countries close their borders and shut out money flows, the mightily feared double-dip recession will hit the industrialized world, and with most industrialized grappling with sovereign-debt crises, there will be less room for expansionary measures. Is it unfair that China artificially undervalues its currency? Yes. Would it be better for the world’s rebalancing if China appreciates the Renminbi? Yes. But is this the right moment to do it, and is the U.S. pursuing the right path by introducing protectionist measures? Absolutely not. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail in the Senate and in the Administration.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hu Shuli on reasons for China's boom

Every Chinese knows real estate in China is a fiasco. And then it's uncomfortably tied to the sustainability, and therefore almost the legitimacy, of China's economy growth. Watching the recent video interview with Hu Shuli, the editor of Caijin magazine, makes it easier to explain why that tie exists. (For more on Hu Shuli and the Caijin magazine, please refer to New Yorker's Jul 2009 article on the journalist)

According to Miss Hu, the housing privatization in 1989 created craves for home-owning (not just an American dream after all). With China's main economic model being manufacturing and production, the newly created demand was then naturally supported by the productivity of the building-related industries.

Which are the now notoriously polluting and energy-demanding steel, glass and aluminum factories. If the heavy industries had started out nicely obeying internal demands, something almost laudable by the believers of the market, excess production of building materials, spurred on by speculative property trading, is now wasting resources (tearing down and re-building of condos at breakneck speed), stuffing export and destroying the environment. What a pity that the Chinese has a tendency to take a good thing too far (but that's a different topic).

Friday, October 8, 2010

CB Editorial: From 6/4/89 to 10/8/10

Contributed by Ying Jiang
Source: The Times, Washington Street Journal, wikipedia

Two decades of "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" was the rationale for awarding the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer and political dissident still jailed in Shenyang for "煽动颠覆国家政权罪" ("instigating the subversion of the national political regime"), starting early this year. In 1989, Liu Xiaobo, together with three other scholars, attempted to render a rational voice to the students in the Tiananmen Square Student Democracy Movement. They were known as the "Four Gentlemen of the Square", who've pursued different paths since. While the others have settled down as scholars of various disciplines in political science and philosophy, Liu Xiaobo has maintained a actively critical stance towards China's administration. In 2008, he helped to draft a reformist manifesto, the "Charter 08", styled after Vaclav Haval's 1977 document for human rights in Czechoslovakia. It was this document that landed him his current jail sentence.

No matter what your interpretations of the Nobel Peace Prize are, it has certainly diverged from the initial, rather literal meaning: awarding those who prevented war and created peace (often in the process of trying to, unlike the physical sciences awards which are certainly meant for concluded accomplishments). As the world morphs into modern geopolitical and economic situations, awarding the prize to political dissidents against authoritarian regimes, who speak up for human rights and free society, is getting popular. One can perhaps think in this way: freeing up a society and the people's lives and mind, less oppression, would probably create a happier, more balanced national psyche - the inner peace of a nation, almost. On the other hand, there are people who think the Norwegian committee has been exercising its own political agenda, infuriating the Chinese government, which, after all, isn't sending soldiers to wars, to curry favor with Euro-American global interest.

In any case, the Chinese government has had its share of "humiliation" these months, with what was perceived a forced appreciation of its currency and now almost the most direct insult to its political legitimacy in history. (Bush has escalated the Taiwan sovereignty issue in 2002 and made the Chinese very mad, but Bush is Bush.) While human rights issues were never completely off the radar, they more served as co-news of the generally positively reviewed Olympic festival, and were pretty much replaced with economic priorities recently in the Western nations' agenda towards China. With what it seems to be a re-harshening of stance, where would China and US relationship go next? The leadership of today in both the East and the West are different from before. While a solution is not easy, more sophisticated thinking is in order.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Has China outgrown its one-child policy?

Contributed by Ying Jiang
Source: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5998.1458)

This article discusses a brief history and the known harms of the one-child policy. Following the Cultural Revolution baby-boom era, birth control and planning was introduced and then made strictly one-child in the 80s. Known economic and human rights infringement issues include aging population, diminishing workforce, sex-selective abortions and outrageous fines on offenders.

The author then reports efforts that attempt to gather evidence for a need to lift the one-child policy (where a chief obstacle has been bureaucratic inertia of the family-planning official organizations). The question whether China has outgrown the one-child policy was approached by testing the hypothesis of whether China's fertility rate has fallen so low anyway, that a compulsory policy is no longer needed.

Through demographic surveys and analysis, the answer is pretty much a yes. The decline in average fertility rate is tied with trends in modernized and urbanized states, and is linked to high costs of education. In fact, in one of the interviews, the percentage of women eligible for a second child who intend to have that second child was a minority of 45%. The actual percentage of women who followed through with their intentions, as studies years later reported, was even lower. Therefore scholars have concluded that lifting the one-child policy is reasonable. With these studies made known to the officials, one can start to hope for a slow process of transitioning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

US-China relationship to face test with pending Sudan referendum

Contributed by Ying Jiang

First of all, a little history of Sudan. Sudan is the largest African country with a conflict between its Northern government (National Congress Party, NCP) and Southern militants (Sudanese People's Liberation Army, SPLA). There will be a referendum in 2011, ie a decision (to be made by the people nominally) whether the South Sudanese want to split and become a more independent political entity.

What has happened these days is that the US congress is intensifying diplomatic actions in this respect by introducing legislature to keep the referendum on schedule. The new bill, having bipartisan support, is expected to pass into law rapidly (before 2011, obviously).

Now China figures greatly in the relationship of Sudan to the world. It is known that China buys 10% of its oil from Sudan, and supplies NCP with firearms and diplomatic support. It's a source of frustration to US diplomats and humanitarian efforts. This results in US-China diplomatic tensions, a manifestation of which being the branding of Beijing's 2008 Olympics as genocidal, a reference to conflicts Darfur then.

What US scholars and humanitarian groups speculate as of now is a mixture of optimism and wariness. While some think that US-China competition over resources/diplomatic high ground is manifest, others opined that its a good opportunity for China and the US to work together in the promotion of Africa peace, and that China would less likely hinder the progress of South Sudan independence for fear of a war destroying its economic interests in that country.

From Sustainability to Innovation: Thomas Friedman to Qi Lu

Contributed by Cathy Zhu

Stanford, CA (Oct 04, 2010)– Just this past week, two international conferences were hosted here in the Bay Area.  Wednesday saw the conclusion of Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project 2010 Research Symposium (“Creating a Sustainable Energy System for the 21st Century and Beyond”), as well as the launching of HYSTA (Hua Yuan Science and Technology Association)’s “Drivers for Growth and Innovation”, their annual conference focusing on IT and entrepreneurship across both sides of the pacific.

Despite their difference on technical focuses, the two conferences shared a common theme: the idea that ensuring sustainability is the challenge of our time and that innovation is the key solution. As noted by the two keynote speakers Thomas Friedman and Yinyi Qian, it is an idea accompanied by a sense of immediacy and urgency; it is an idea that simultaneously brings empowerment and responsibility; it is an idea that defines and shapes international relations today, especially those of US and China. It is one that perhaps will continue to do so throughout the coming years.

The GCEP conference focused on the need for sustainable development. Keynote speaker and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman aptly captured the way we are currently treating our markets and our mother nature in three phrases: we are “under-pricing risk, privatizing gains, and socializing losses.”  This is not only a concise summary of the financial crisis, but also an accurate picture of our environmental situation. Climate change is becoming a globally recognized threat to our survival, but our governments have yet to put a price tag on carbon emissions.  Friedman describes “the American model” of living as one continuous cycle of buying and selling ever-increasing numbers of consumer products, produced by ever-increasing numbers of factories in China, powered by ever-increasing numbers of coal-fired power plants, that result in an ever-increasing trade imbalance, which encourages ever-increasing American consumption on credit, bringing us back to the beginning of the cycle. Each link in the chain is driven by short-term pursuit of privatized profit, which comes at a societal cost of long-term environmental degradation. In an increasingly “hot, flat, and crowded world”, Americans must change the “way of living” example they are setting for the rest of the world, because the world was not created to sustain an entire world population living on such extravagancy and waste.

So how do we act and how do we act now? HYSTA gave an excellent illustration by showcasing how businessmen and entrepreneurs are now changing China’s economic model. The answer given by Qi Lu, Microsoft President of Online Services, is in one word: innovation. There are three drivers of economic growth, says Lu, labor, capital, and productivity, and only one of them is sustainable: increasing labor and capital productivity.  Thus, the daylong conference saw high-level executives of Baidu and Tencent come and talk about unleashing young Chinese minds from the rigid thinking of China’s test-based education system, teaching them to take risks, break rules, and think outside the box. Entrepreneurs shared case studies of business success before a panel on the challenges and benefits of “Return to China”. The business model for cross-pacific ventures is rapidly evolving from one that merely combines America’s talents and technology with China’s vast capital reserves and untapped markets. Increasingly, Chinese R&D is yielding ideas and technology that are beginning to enter the US. The rapidity of innovation, growth of new successful ventures, the progress towards cleaner technology, all tell us one thing: we are addressing our sustainability issue and we are doing it right here, right now.

So where does this leave us, at the beginning of the school year and nearing the beginning of a new decade? Here at FACES, we firmly believe in the importance and relevance of our mission: building the US-China bridge by developing and connecting the leaders of tomorrow. Whether it is facing common challenges or finding common solutions, mutual understanding, exchange, and collaboration between USA and China is more important than ever today.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

(Assistant) Law Professor Up for Sale

The following are excerpts from the report of a recent incident on the streets of Beijing. This is an incident that reflected possible negative sides of the one-child policy. For the full article, complete with translations, please visit (

我叫杨支柱,原是中国青年政治学院法律系副教授。因妻子意外怀孕,不忍堕胎,于2009年12月21日生下第二个女儿,我今年4月被学校下岗。现在 我工资单上每月应发工资960元,实发工资368元。两个月后再减960元,变负数了。北京市海淀区计划生育委员会又向我征收24万所谓“社会抚养费”, 我无力缴纳,只好把自己卖了。考虑到卖身之后不能照顾孩子了,我希望多卖40万元补偿她们。一口价64万元人民币,谁买我我就给谁当奴隶,鞠躬尽瘁死而后 已。我拒绝好心人的捐助,因为我不想做“超生”孩子身上的寄生虫。

My name is Yang Zhizhu and I was originally an assistant professor at the China Youth University for Political Sciences. My wife got pregnant by accident and did not have the heart to get an abortion. On December 21, 2009 she gave birth to our second daughter. In April this year, I was laid off by the university. My monthly salary should be 960 yuan, but I now only get 368 yuan. Two months later, they deducted another 960 yuan. Moreover, the Haidian district family planning committee have asked me to pay 240,000 yuan “Social Upbringing Fee”. I don't have money and I can only pay the bill by getting myself sold. Since I won't be able to take care of my children after being sold, I want to mark my price higher to 640,000 yuan. Whoever decides to buy me, I will become their slave and serve them until I die. I reject donations as I don't want to become a parasite for the sake of my child.

答:不该交。孩子是我们自己在养,不是社会或者政府在养。我们若楠连户口都没有,在中国这样一个无证寸步难行的国家,没有户口意味着没有被承认为一个人, 完全不能享有作为人最起码的权利,更不要说社会福利了,跟养了条宠物狗差不多。中国政府并没有对养宠物狗征收“社会抚养费”呀。若楠唯一享受的社会福利大 概就是免费注射一类疫苗了,那都是几块钱一支、最多几十块钱一支的便宜疫苗,贵一点的二类疫苗还是要交钱的。而若楠出生以后他们把若一曾经享受的独生子女 费和我工资中的“幼补”都要回去了,四年就有两千多块,已经远远超过若楠免费注射疫苗的成本了。何况若楠长大后还要纳税,一个人一生所纳的税扣除他(她) 幼年、晚年、生病和失业时所享受的社会福利外应该还有剩余…

Q: Why do you refuse to pay the “Social Upbringing Fee”?
A: There is no reason to pay. We feed our own kids, not society nor the government. Our Renan (second daughter's name) does not even enjoy proper household registration. In a country like this, without household registration, you are not recognized as a human being and do not enjoy any rights, not to mention social welfare. It is like feeding your pets. However, Chinese government does not demand that pet owners pay “social upbringing fee”. The only social welfare that Renan has enjoyed so far was a free vaccination, it costs a couple of yuan or at most tens of yuan. We have to pay for the more expensive ones. Moreover, after Renan was born, the subsidy for my first kid was taken away. This sum would have exceed the cost of all the vaccinations. When Renan grows up, she has to pay tax, the amount will also exceed all the benefit she will receive in her whole life….

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Certifier for organic food made-in-China disqualified

The American non-profit organization Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) used to audit and certify the majority of organic-labelled food supplied from China, but not any more. First, consumer complaints have made retailers such as Whole Foods pull Chinese organics from their shelves. Then, since three years ago, the United States Agriculture Department has discovered problems in terms of conflicts of interests in the procedures OCIA uses in its inspection of Chinese-processed organic food. OCIA employs Chinese personnel (from the Chinese government branch of Environment Protection Agency) for the actual fieldwork of inspection, who then type up reports to OCIA agents (who have a scant presence in China). Currently, OCIA is formally disqualified for further organic-food-certification in China.

Source: NYTimes

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The White Temple Town story: what happens after account transparency

Contributed by Ying Jiang

白庙乡位于巴中市巴州区东北部山区,1万1000余人中农村人口约占95.5%。2009年全乡农民人均纯收入3393元,属于典型的边远贫穷 乡,经济运行主要靠财政转移支付。该乡目前最急需解决饮水问题,资金缺口达130万元,道路加宽的资金缺口达480万,电力改造需要资金约1000万元, 三项加起来共需资金1600万元。
White Temple Town (WTT) is situated in the mountainous regions of Bazhong City in Sichuan Province. Rural population constitutes 95.5% of its population of around 11000. In 2009, the average income per farmer is 3393RMB, making the town one of those typical remote, impoverished towns. Its main source of income depends on the wealth redistribution policies from the central government. The town needs up to 1.3 million RMB for badly needed improvements on potable water sources. Other than that, it needs around 4.8 M and 10 M for widening roads and reforms in electricity supply networks, totaling its need for capital to 16 M RMB.
实施公开政府财务和公务员财产申报以衡量领导干部是否廉洁自律一直是中国百姓密切关注的问题。今年三月,巴中市白庙乡政府把使用的每一分钱,甚 至是花1.50元(人民币,三角新元)买信纸,都在其官方网站上公开。此举当时获网友盛赞并称之为“政府全裸第一例”。
The publicizing of government accounts and government employees' wealth reports as a measure of corruption is everyone's concern in China. In March this year, White Temple Town council reported every single cent of government expenditure, eg even a sum of 1.50 RMB for envelopes, on its official website. The action has won intense praises from netizens, who called it the first example of a "fully naked government".
自今年三月全国“两会”,政府‘裸’账本已成为一种趋势,中央、广州、北京等地都陆续公开财政预算。白庙乡所属的四川省前天也首次通过省政府网站把 2010年省级预算报表公之于众。然而,有专家批评,白庙乡的“账目”浅白易懂,而其他地方政府出于自身利益的考虑,把预算案搞得犹如“天书”,内行看不 明白,外行更看不懂。
Since then, "going naked" on the accounts has become a trend, where the central, Guangzhou, Beijing governments have published their budgetary outlays. Sichuan province, to which WTT belongs, has also done the same just two days ago. However, critics have stated that while WTT's "account book" are easily understood, some of the other provincial governments have turned their budget statements into a document of mystery out of self-interests. Neither people who are in the trade (accountants?) nor those who are out of it are able to understand it.
白庙乡“裸账”的目的是希望能吸引更多的资金和项目。全国目光聚焦到这个偏远的山村以后,当地老 百姓对自己民生问题的改善寄予了更高的期望,他们迫切希望解决水、电、路等问题。然而,过去两个多月,白庙乡政府向有关部门争取项目和资金,却少有回音, 来白庙乡的上级部门人员与以往相比减少了一半。
WTT was hoping to attract more investment with its account transparency. While its act has indeed attracted the attention of the entire nation, and has raised townspeople's expectations for their standard of living (in terms of solving problems of water, roads and electricity), the WTT government has been failing to obtain capital and projects these past two months. Officials who visit the town has reduced by half.
由于饭钱酒钱烟钱全公开,白庙乡乡长欧明清告诉《四川在线》,即使有上级官员到访,70%以上的客人都是来去匆匆,没有在白庙乡吃饭。... 欧明清认为,“裸账”让很多客人望而生畏,生怕自己的生活费开支被公示在网上。
Since the expenses for meals, alcohol and cigarettes are now made public, the Chief of WWT Ou Mingqing thinks that "going naked" brings fear to many of the clients, whose "living expenses" might be made known to all netizens. Even as officials visit, 70% of the clients rushed to get back and did not stay in the town for meals.

一名不愿透露身份的重庆学者告诉本报, 白庙乡的基层领导勇于尝试,大方向是对的,做实在事,遭遇如此尴尬后果非常不幸,但可以理解。他说:“公开财政的核心在于减少官员腐败的实现途径和方式, 也巩固政府执政的合法性。然而,基于一些利益上的交换,这样透明地公开财政让企业或政府单位难以接受,要扩散到全国的挑战非常大。”

A scholar in Chongqing commented that while WWT's grassroot leaders have been courageous, and are correct in general directions (of policy) by being honest, it is unfortunate though understandable that they obtained the opposite of what they hoped for. "Publicizing expenditures is a means to reduce corruption, and consolidates the legitimacy of the governments' rule. However, due to (a web of) exchanges of interests, such account transparency is hard for enterprises and government agencies to accept. There remains great challenges to implementation to the entire country."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Speech from top Xinhua official sobers Budding Chinese journalists

Xia Lin, Chief Editor of Xinhua News Agency, in his speech at the Tianjin Foreign Studies University, described various instances where recent Chinese news was prettied up. Essentially, journalism in China holds a dual mission, that of providing a swift and clear picture of current affairs while at the same time manipulating that picture towards the public to maintain social harmony. Here's a website describing Xia Lin's talk.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Foxconn suicides: Bringing Standard of Living and Concept of Civility to today's relevance

Source country/region: Singapore
Original contributor:
Original title: 移位的生存标准与文明底线

"  在公开媒体上,同情工人、对资本持批判态度的声音占了上风。当然反对的声音也从未消减,至今双方仍在唇枪舌剑的进行激辩。
富士康发言人以及老板郭台铭本人坚称,富士康不是血汗工厂,他们没有强迫员工加班,工厂的经营方法在法律所允许的范围内进行,给员工制定的薪酬 也符合当地最低工资标准(上周宣布加薪20%)。也有人认为坠楼事件只能说明当事人的心理素质太差,毕竟中国东南沿海地区待遇比富士康更差的企业,大有人 在。 " ...
"What has been reported in media reflects that the majority sympathizes with the workers, and criticizes the "capitalists" (? unclear in original text). There are differing opinions, however, and heated controversy exists.
Guo Taiming, CEO and spokesperson of Foxconn, insists that Foxconn is not a death camp, did not force workers to work overtime, operates within what's dictated by laws, and compensates workers fairly according to local lowest wage standards (with a wage raise of 20% last week). There are also those who hold the opinion that workers who committed suicides could have been more robust in their psyche, since Foxconn is deemed to provide better welfare as compared to an enormous number of coastal enterprises in Southeast China."
"  [青桐,一个前”打工妹“]说:“相对来讲,在长三角的很多代工厂里,富士康在待遇方面已经算是不错的了,但其实是我们整个社会把标准降得太低了,让我们的工人只在生存线上徘徊。”"
"   青桐提到了标准与生存线问题。对于农民工承受力日益低下的批评,说明中国社会对于底层群体应享的生存条件,以及他们“天生”应该具备的吃苦耐劳能力, 抱持一定的传统认知与判定,这个认知与判定已落后于时代变化。对于许多新一代农民工而言,他们的父辈过去可以承受,现在已经不再能够被接受;过去被认为不 错的报酬与生存状态,已脱离他们对现实的期望与人生梦想。
The writer quotes a former female factory worker, Qingtong, who recently autobiographed her Foxconn experiences: "Foxconn indeed provides comparatively superior welfare. However, the truth is the society has decreased the standard such that the factory workers [even those deemed well-provided for] are actually just barely on the edge of survival."
"There are people who disdain the inability of stress endurance, which they deem to be the cause of the suicides. This shows that the Chinese society holds a certain pre-conceived, traditional, attitude and judgement towards people of the lower social strata: that these people are "by nature" able to endure and bear an extraordinary amount of suffering. This attitude is becoming irrelevant as time and society progresses. For many of the rural workers today, what hardship their fathers have born is not necessarily what they are willing to accept; what was accepted as superior compensation and state of existence is lagging behind their expectations and hopes for their lives."
“N连跳”之 后,舆论界开始了一场对于发展模式与社会现状的大反思。“N连跳”刺痛了人们对公平正义的感受,牺牲一部分人的利益以换取大部分人的幸福,按照今天的文明 标准,不再像过去那么被社会视为理所当然,要求提升员工福利的呼声强烈。... 说明全社会都希望国家的发展模式变得更文明。每一次这样的讨论,都是劳动者权益与平等观念在全社会内的一次推进。这种追究的精神与姿态,将是中国走过目前 的转型期的最重要推动力。"

"After what was called the 'N-continuous-jumps', there was extensive ruminations on issues of a developing society. The jumps bothered people's sense of "justice". Sacrificing the well-being of a small number of people to exchange for the majority's "happiness" is no longer a civil norm (editor: think Lei Feng, the moral model of a past era). The demand for worker welfare is on the rise. ... It shows the whole society wishes that national development and building is carried out in a more civilized mode. Every of such debates signifies progress in an awareness of labor rights and equality, and such "inquisitory" spirits is what's necessary to pushing China towards a shifting shape."

Monday, May 31, 2010

CB Editorial: "Pan Gu": Punishing Punk-rock

Contributor: Ying Jiang

Some years ago I heard the song "nu cai" ("The Slavish"), an early hit of the Chinese Jiangxi-based underground punk rock band "Pan Gu" (Apparently there's a wiki article more sentimental in tone in simplified Chinese.) (Pan Gu's the name of the Chinese mythical creator of heaven and earth). I was struck then by the intense anger that came through as the vocalist essentially sang (or hollered) like a man that had everything taken away from him, half in tears, half turning into a beast, shouting himself hoarse. That directness in anger and offensiveness in lyrics is rare even in Chinese rock music, which is in general depressing.

(I asked Cui Jian why that is so during a reception for a little culture-exchange concert inStanford, and he flatly denied that Chinese rock is depressing, saying "if you are familiar with foreign rock music, it's much darker and more violent. Those who speak dirty words out loud are the cleanest in their souls. Those who speak properly have the dirtiest souls." The audience agreed with him and I then gave up arguing. The fact is Chinese rock is based on a society cruel in real life, and is performed by people with a hopeless, cuttingly sardonic outlook and plunges listeners into suicidal moods. Father of rock music, leader of a brand new cult of cultural sensitivity, and can't differentiate depression from noise? Give me a break! Well I'm side-tracking.)

For some reason I wanted to listen to "nu cai" again. Couldn't find it on youtube; googled "Pan Gu" and learnt that not only is it "underground", despised by general Chinese rock muscians (due to its shoddily produced music, almost non-existent instrumental talent, and punk being in general less popular), but has also been hated/loved by the Chinese people since 2004, where they openly declared support for Taiwan independence in a concert, an act of immense political significance. Since then exiled and living in Sweden, its political message has been overtly anti-CCP. The western sojourn seems to be endowing the musicians an ability of adopting attitudes on some issues that have come to exemplify the West's attitude towards China's human rights issues, eg freeing Tibet, boy-cotting of the Olympics etc.

What are some of the responses to the rebellious band? Some whole-heartedly support the nihilism, some call them traitors, some call them talentless sops who use politics as an attention grabber, and some just find some of the songs plain funny. As much as I appreciate humor as an attitude more desirable than anger or depression, I can't deny that more sombre consequences for the Chinese society are in order as rebellious instances like Pan Gu get more common. The band probably has little political impact (as compared to eg a journalist who has more information that matters); its coarse musicianship prevents serious expansion of fan base. However it seems (to me) just a matter of time before a group of significant intellect, capability, power and size gather and start to pose real challenges. What will happen then? Has the "system" thought about it?