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April 24, 2007

Books: Douban users' top picks

It's not the New York Times and it is certainly a bit slanted towards Beijing by the nature of its source, but the list of top ten books noted by users of book club site Douban.com is a whimsical glimpse into what young, plugged-in Chinese are reading offline these days. Here is the list as it stands today:
  • Wang Shuo - "My Thousand-Year Chill" (Ramblings by Beijing intellectual badboy and blowhard.)
  • Jack Kerouac - "On The Road" (New translation by prominent but aging scholar Wang Yongnian.)
  • Xu Zhiyuan - "The Mournful Youth" (Peking University graduate, LifeMagazine editor, One-way Street Library founder and blogger writes about his youth as a member of China's Generation Y.)
  • Umberto Eco - "Baudolino" (Translated by Yang Mengzhe.)
  • Tian Yuan - "Double Mono" (Beijing author, HK actress, lead singer of band Hopscotch, and blogger/MySpacer writes about love, youth and self-discovery.)
  • Zeng Zimo - "Ink Marks" (Beijing-born Phoenix TV host, Harvard grad and once-Morgan Stanley New York office analyst's auto-bio is paired with former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's book for Joyo.com's "Buy Together" feature.)
  • Kenya Hara - "Design of Design" (Muji's Creative Director and director of the Nippon Design Center; translated from Japanese by Zhu E; original title was デザインのデザイン)
  • Cai Kangyong & Kele Wang - "Those Things I Learned From Boys" (Taiwanese TV host joins poet and illustrator for 30 sentimental stories about boys.)
  • Yu Dan - "Things I Learned from Zhuangzi" (Prof of classics and media studies at Beijing Normal University interprets the ancients for the post-moderns.)
  • Hong Huang - "A Pointless and Perfect Life" (Ramblings by Beijing aristocrat, controversial publisher and (yet another) blowhard.)

For comparison, at the top of the stack on Douban's English site, Douban.net are Friedman's "The World is Flat", the playful "Gödel, Escher, Bach" and Booker-garnering "Life of Pi".

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Wang is China's most popular surname, with 93 million and counting

In a surprise turnaround, the Wangs win.

A new study has debunked the notion that Li is China's most popular surname.

A 2006 survey of 296 million people in 1,100 counties and cities by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that Li led the ranks of family names with about 7.4 per cent of the population.

However, state media reports a recent analysis of household registration data covering nearly all of China's population revealed that Wang is, in fact, the most common name in the country.

It says data shows almost 93 million mainland Chinese are called Wang, or about 7.25 per cent of the total population.

Zhang is the country's third most popular name.

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April 20, 2007

Face and Guanxi for Beginners

Any Westerner even remotely familiar with Chinese culture has heard of the concept of saving face, but our concept of it tends to be vague and ill defined. Westerners tend to think of face as akin to the Western concept of public embarrassment and the urge to avoid it. But associating face too closely with embarrassment is a mistake, because it puts loss of face on par with the cheek-reddening horror of tripping and falling flat on your face as you walk across the stage at your University graduation. Face is nothing so trivial and its loss has much more far-reaching social effects than mere embarrassment.

There are actually two interrelated but separate types of face: lian (脸) and mianzi (面子), (both words can be literally translated to "face"). Lian refers to society’s perception of the quality of one’s moral character, while mianzi refers to society’s perception of one’s prestige or status. So, at the risk of over simplifying, losing lian generally means losing people’s trust, whereas losing mianzi means losing authority. The two concepts are interrelated, but losing mianzi does not necessarily mean losing lian, and vice versa. (3)

While it’s fairly easy for Westerners to understand the possibility of saving or losing face, the concept of giving face is elusive. Western culture tends to be highly individualistic, wherein one has sole personal responsibility for one’s actions and reputation, so the concept of giving face can be a tricky one for us to wrap our brains around. The collective nature of Asian societies means that each person in a given group - whether it be the office, the family, one’s circle of friends, any group - is responsible both for his own face and the face of other members of the group (1). That means that when someone else in your group loses face, it’s your responsibility to allow him the time and space to recover, or even to help him recover so far as you’re able. The outcome is that you both gain face (2).

Because of the collective nature of face, the concept of face is closely tied to the concept of "guanxi" or relationships. Each person is at the center of a web of reciprocal relationships, and each person gains others’ trust according to his lian and has mianzi relative to all of these different people.

In China, in a very real sense you are your relationships; you are defined by your guanxi. Additionally, Chinese people have an instinctive distrust of and disregard for strangers, so getting along in the world requires guanxi (5).

The dynamics of guanxi are not those of Western relationships. For one thing, while Western friends are often reluctant to ask each other for favors - and Western business partners even more so, for fear of unspecified future obligations - asking for and doing favors is an essential part of maintaining quanxi. A Chinese friend, business partner, or whatever, will ask for favors without warning and expect you to agree to the request readily, as long as its within the bounds of what you’re reasonably capable of (this can create a face-losing situation if they think you capable of more than you are). If you don’t ask for favors in return, the other person will take that as a cue that you’re not interested in maintaining the friendship and he may distance himself from you (5).

In a Western society that values directness and straightforward communication, this kind of hinting is seen as passive aggressive or even two-faced. We simply want to be told exactly what the status of the relationship is: are we friends or not? Can we do business or not? But this kind of directness runs counter to the Chinese social instincts. There’s no need to ask about or discuss the status of a relationship because you know its status based on how you behave towards each other. It’s obvious.

The other thing about directness is that it can easily lead to open conflict, which becomes problematic in a group-oriented society wherein each member of the group is responsible for not only his own face, but everyone else’s as well. Even if two people do decide to terminate their friendship or business relationship, they are still connected to each other by the interwoven strands of quanxi, and so open conflict over the end of that relationship would be disruptive to the harmony of the rest of the group, not just to those two personally (2).

The concern for surface harmony and face affects people’s behavior in ways unexpected to Westerners. For instance, prevaricating is often preferable to the dreaded "no". Refusing a request outright can cause a loss of face or disrupt surface harmony. Besides which, in Chinese, ? (bu) is the negative, but it can’t really be used on its own; if you say ? (bu) without saying no what it’s a very abrupt, very final way of refusing and it’s simply not used very often. Instead of saying no, a Chinese person will refuse an invitation or a request indirectly by saying things like, "I will think about it." In China, "maybe" is an outright refusal (4, 5).

To take things on step further, not only does outright lying not necessarily cause a loss of face, sometimes it prevents a loss of face and is preferable to telling the truth (3). Chinese people are deeply unwilling to admit to a lack of knowledge or understanding. If you approach a man on the street to ask him for directions, he may give you directions regardless of whether or not he actually knows where it is. Similarly a cab driver will almost always say that he knows the place you want to go, regardless of whether or not he actually does and even though he’ll have to admit his ignorance in ten minutes when he can’t find the place anyway.

In day-to-day conversations between foreigners and Chinese, Chinese people do not like to admit that their English is not quite good enough to understand what you’re saying. (Sometimes the problem is simply that they don’t follow your colloquialisms, so it’s best to try to excise those from your speech where possible.) Instead of stopping you and asking you to clarify, they will make a mental note of the word or phrase that they didn’t understand and at a later time either look it up or ask a third party remote from the conversation to explain it to them. Similarly, if you ask a Chinese person straight out, "Do you understand?" he will tend to say that he does regardless of whether or not this is in fact the case, even in a classroom setting. For the Chinese, it’s better to leave a conversation or English class confused and needing to sit down with a dictionary or textbook when you get home than it is to lose face by admitting that you don’t understand.

Perhaps even more puzzling than the rules about lying and prevaricating, is the Chinese reaction to public praise in the work place. Even if a worker is aware that he does better work than his colleagues, he doesn’t want to hear about it in front of them. Public praise of one worker causes everyone who works at his level to lose face, but the worker takes no pleasure in being so elevated over his peers. Since face is reciprocal and collective, the fact that everyone else lost face through his overachieving causes him to feel shame and feel the need to give face back to his peers by slacking off (1).

This scenario is just one of the many potential face scenarious that Westerners find so puzzling. Not only do we not always foresee the ways it is possible to lose face, we also fail to understand the way people react to losing it. In an embarrassing situation wherein one feels a loss of "Western face" is imminent, often the best way to get out of it is to crack a joke and move on. This kind of humor baffles the Chinese, another indication of just how much more serious losing face is than embarrassment.

If the loss of face is not significant, the result is desire to do better next time. This makes perfect sense to us. But, on the other hand, if it is significant and the losee sees no way to restore face through his own actions, the losee will seek to distance himself from those involved in the face-losing situation. To put it a bit crudely, if your friend does something deeply embarrassing or shameful in your presence and he feels that he’s lost face, he may avoid you. There’s really no way to convince him that he doesn’t need to hide from you; his loss of face is personal and may not have anything at all to do with your opinion of him.

Negotiating this complex web of relationships and personal feelings about status can be rather difficult for foreigners. Not only do we have trouble fully understanding the concepts of guanxi and face, we also have issues wrapping our brains around its social consequences. For Westerners, our sense of self-respect and pride is closely tied to our sense of honor, if you’ll pardon the dramatic language. What this means practically is that we value honesty, a sense of personal responsibility, and directness; unwillingness to admit wrong or ignorance or to accept responsibility are seen as a significant character flaws. There’s no switch we can flip in our brains to change these ideas and help us meet the Chinese on Chinese terms. It takes effort and sometimes quite a bit of after-the-fact apologizing and explanation from both sides.

1) "The Concept and Dynamics of Face: Implications for Organizational Behavior in Asia, Joo Yup Kin and Sang Hoon Nam" in Organization Science, 1998
2) "Cross-Cultural Face-Negotiation: An Analytical Overview" by Professor Stella Ting-Toomey, Presented on April 15, 1992
3) Wikipedia
4) American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt
5) A Common Sense View of Chinese Social Norms

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Daughters' day

One of the nice features on Google Calendar is the ability to add the lunar calendar on top of the western one, which helped us verify that today, Thursday, is indeed the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar.

For several years now, Shanghai Normal University has been holding a ceremony/celebration of this day, which is known as "Daughter's Day" (女儿节). We know this because we saw a TV report yesterday about this holiday. The TV report, full of images of people dressed in Han fu, or traditional Han costume, seems to us to be part of that larger cultural effort to resuscitate traditional culture and, moreover, have it legitimized as Chinese by UNESCO.

Around 2005, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) became one of the first pieces of intangible heritage that China applied to have recognized by UNESCO. Here's some background:

To honor examples of intangible cultural heritage, UNESCO in 1998 created an international program, the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Proclamations were announced in 2001 and 2003. To date, 47 forms of art, music and oral tradition have been proclaimed by UNESCO as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage, including a Chinese form of opera called Kun Qu, and the playing of the guqin, or Chinese zither, a seven-stringed instrument that reportedly requires 20 years of training to master.

In the TV report, a girl said something about it being a common misconception that Daughter's Day originated in Japan during the 8th century Heian period (平安时代), and slowly changed through the centuries. By the time you get to the Edo period, the holiday had become somewhat official.

Now we've not seen what this whole business looks like, either in Japan, Korea, or China. But in Japan it involves a bunch of wooden puppets, which are dressed up and placed in certain order, or in the water, or something like that. Check out the results of an image search on Baidu and you can get a sense of what it looks like in Japan. And yes, those pictures are from the Tokyo Disneyland—they have Daughters' Day events held there each year, after all, Snow White was someone's daughter, and surely Minnie Mouse was not immaculately conceived.

In Shanghai, which is spearheading the effort to repopularize the holiday in China, one would expect to see more Chinese characteristics, but we haven't seen it in person. To our jaded minds it seems more like something young university students to do—dress up and prance around in auditoriums while feeling like you're doing something new/creative AND safeguarding your culture in what seems like an era of perpetual cultural decline.

Zhu Yi'an, a professor of women's culture at Shanghai Normal, mouths off a bunch of Hallmark platitudes in this report about the festivities, and the report even uses the term "好女儿," a riff on the male American Idol-esque show "好男儿" which showcased the musical and acting talents of China's most effeminate men.

Don't get us wrong, Shanghaiist loves daughters, especially the ones that are willing to date us, but we are more interested in the attempt to recreate tradition. Reports we read say that only certain minorities now celebrate this holiday and that for the vast majority of Han Chinese, this holiday has long since been consigned to the dustbin of history. But as we all know, there are people in this world willing to dig into the garbage.

In terms of holidays, we prefer April 17, which in Chinese is pronounced si yi qi, a play on the words for "die together," and so it will be no surprise to you that this day has been dubbed collective suicide "Brothers' Day"; brothers in the sense of "哥们儿" or sworn-brothers, comrades-in-arms, best best friend in the world, etc. Actually, this information came to us via some spam SMS that a friend in Beijing received two nights ago, but what the hey.

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April 18, 2007

Chinese art buyers poised for world market

Kevin Ching says one of his aims as the newly-appointed chairman of Sotheby's in Asia is to see the first Asian bid for a European Impressionist piece.

And he thinks he may already have some potential buyers.

"I have been talking to some collectors in the past few months -- a few of them expressed an interest," Ching explains on the sidelines of the auction house's Hong Kong spring sale.

"I think they take satisfaction from being involved in auctions -- and if you are involved in the international market, the satisfaction levels are higher," he adds.

Chinese buyers have dominated Sotheby's four-day sale of Asian art, historical artifacts, watches and jewellery this week.

For the first time, an entire collection -- from the private collection of a Parisian connoisseur of Chinese art -- was sold to Chinese buyers Sunday, for more than 128 million dollars.

The day before, a new record was set for a Chinese painting sold at auction when a rare politically-themed oil by Xu Beihong, "Put Down that Whip", went under the hammer for 72 million dollars.

The sales illustrate the sudden surge of worldwide interest in Asian art. Sotheby's alone has seen sales at its annual Asian art auctions soar from 400 million Hong Kong dollars in 2000 to 2 billion dollars in 2006.

Such is the growing worldwide interest in Asian art that the auction house will add Paris as a sales venue for the region's treasures, in addition to New York, London and Hong Kong .

At the heart of this growth is Hong Kong, which has overtaken Tokyo as the heart of the region's art market and accounts for 70 percent of all Asian art sales at Sotheby's.

Kevin Ching, Chief Executive Officer for Sotheby's in Asia
© AFP/File Woody Wu

Ching takes over from Henry Howard-Sneyd, who built up the company's regional footprint and will now run the New York offices.

Though a financial lawyer by training, and despite spending much of his career working for Dickson Concepts -- the Hong Kong firm that owns high-end retail outlets like Harvey Nichols -- Ching had been courted by Sotheby's for ten years because of his interest in the arts.

"I am a collector myself, I collect Chinese jadeite," explains the dapper Ching, who, in a sleek charcoal grey suit and thick-rimmed glasses, looks far younger than his 50 years.

"I had contacts through other collectors and an understanding of how the market works. It is a thrill to be able to take up a job that is rooted in my hobby -- I suppose I did it out of some sort of mid-life crisis.

"High-end retail and the art market do have some similarities -- they both appeal to the same customers, for example," he said.

Ching takes over a business much-changed from the one Howard-Sneyd inherited in 2000.

"Certainly the biggest difference is the Chinese involvement," he explains. "Chinese buyers are by no means dominant but they have certainly become a force."

He attributes Sotheby's soaring business in the region to the tenacity and talent of his predecessor, a charismatic character in the local art world.

"He has only ever worked in one company, Sotheby's -- and what he has achieved here is frightening," added Ching.

One of Howard-Sneyd's deftest touches was to introduce contemporary Chinese art sales to the auction house's annual calendar. The move has been a successful one and helped put modern Chinese art on the map.

Ching refutes claims that much of China's contemporary art have been overvalued by over-zealous first-time Chinese buyers snapping up new works out of a sense of patriotic loyalty.

"In the contemporary market, the majority of buyers are western, not Chinese, so that argument falls down," he says. "Much of modern Chinese art employs the sort of communist imagery and Cultural Revolution imagery that western buyers are fascinated by but I think Chinese buyers find commonplace."

He does believe, however, that patriotism has played a role in the development of the market for more historical Chinese pieces.

"As Chinese people have become richer I think they have taken to associating themselves with China's powerful past, so they buy up the artifacts of the imperial periods.

"I wouldn't say this is the over-riding reason they buy -- they buy mostly as investments -- but it is certainly in the back of their minds," Ching says.

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China joins club of bullet train nations

At 5:38 am sharp on Wednesday the sparkling white, futuristic No. D460 train departed Shanghai Station, heralding a new era of high-speed rail travel in China.

Reaching speeds of up to 250 kilometres (155 miles) an hour, the sleek machine covered the 112 kilometres to the neighbouring city of Suzhou in 39 minutes, cutting the journey time nearly in half.

With it, China also joined a small group of the likes of Japan, the United States and most of the European Union, running bullet trains.

"It felt like we were travelling on an airplane," 78-year-old Shanghai resident Chen Lijuan was quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency as saying. "In the past it took more than an hour to get here."

The carriages were spotless, with the seats striped blue and red looking like those on an aircraft, as students, families and businessmen on the Beijing-Tianjin route settled down for the trip, an AFP photographer said.

In keeping with the high-tech image, the trains support WiFi services for those with laptops and other mobile devices wanting to keep in touch.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Railways told AFP that 52 trains have been deployed on short distance services around China aimed at alleviating overcrowding on what is still the nation's most important form of transport.

By the end of the year, the ministry said 108 more trains will be added.

Liu Dongwei, a driver on the Shanghai-Suzhou line, said China's train technology had come of age, recalling how only a decade ago average train speeds were less than 50 kilometres an hour.

"My job has become easier -- more like operating an airplane," Liu, 38, said.

China, now the world's fourth-largest economy, is keen to show off the new bullet trains as evidence that it can develop its own technology in key sectors.

But they are still mainly built abroad on the basis of technology transfer agreements with industry heavy-hitters such as Japan's Mitsubishi-Kawasaki, Canada's Bombardier, German giant Siemens and France's Alstom.

The head of Alstom's operations in China, Alain Berger, said that given the complexities involving the installation of new tracks, signalling and power sources, Beijing's achievement was to be applauded.

"It is a huge achievement," said Berger.

The debut of China bullet trains on short-run lines such as Shanghai to Hangzhou, and Beijing to Tianjin, comes after months of testing the locomotives at normal speeds.

It is expected that the trains will expand national railway passenger capacity by 18 percent, or 340,000 seats a day, alleviating ticket shortages, especially during holidays.

However, currently only 6,000 kilometres (3,720 miles) of track can accommodate the high-speed trains, with most restricted to of 160 kilometres an hour on 14,000 kilometres of sub-standard track.

Until upgrades are made, trains will be forced to chug along at 120 kilometres per hour over another 22,000 kilometres.

Nevertheless by 2020, China hopes 13,000 kilometres of track, or about one-fifth of the nation's current 77,000 kilometres, will be able to handle bullet trains.

A drawback for the moment is that fares on the new services are nearly 50 percent more than current express trains.

"Tickets are quite expensive," said one passenger, who paid 42 yuan (5.43 US dollars) on the bullet service between Beijing to Tianjin.

The usual price on the fastest express train on the same line is 30 yuan.

Vice Minister of railways Hu Yadong lauded the achievement of what China has called its home-grown technological success.

"That length (of high-speed track) exceeds the total amount of rail lines capable of accommodating trains at that speed in nine European countries," Hu was quoted by the China Daily as saying.

In a public briefing held online Wednesday, Ministry of Railway spokesman Wang Yongping, added: "No country has ever achieved an increase in speed of this scope."

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April 16, 2007

101st Canton Fair Open Session Today

China's largest trade exhibition, the 101st session of the Canton Fair, which for the first time features imported commodities, opened in south China's Guangdong Province on Sunday.

The massive trade exhibition, known for the past 50 years as the Chinese Export Commodities Fair, has added the word import to its name and is now formally known as the Chinese Import and Export Commodities Fair.
The import section this year features the products of 314 foreign companies from 36 countries and regions. They're offering a wide range of products from machinery, automobiles, IT products,household electric appliances, building materials, jewelry and food and agricultural products.
At least 6,000 Chinese corporate buyers have been invited to the fair, which runs from April 15 to April 30.

Cars by Volkswagen, Audi, Ferrari and other trendy foreign cars took centre stage in the 10,000-square-kilometer exhibition hall, drawing large crowds of visitors.

Along the exhibits of the world's largest corporations are displays of silverware and garments from Nepal and arts and crafts from Mali, India and Haiti.

Sebastian Kopulande, chairperson of the Zambia-China Business Association, says the fair "is an opportunity for Zambian manufacturers to expand their business", adding that 37 companies from his country are attending.

Chinese exporters still dominate the fair with 14,430 exhibitors participating, 429 more than in the last fair.

Last year, more than 190,000 buyers from around the world signed deals worth 34 billion U.S. dollars, said Xu Bing, deputy secretary general of the fair.

The fair, which is also known as the Canton Fair, is a biannual event that has been held in the spring and autumn since 1957.

By introducing imports to the fair, China aims to increase products sold to the country and lower its trade surplus, said Xu.

In 2006, China recorded sizzling economic growth of just under 11 per cent, largely powered by strong exports which rose by 27 percent to 969 billion U.S. dollars. The soaring exports expanded China's trade surplus to a record 178 billion dollars, up 74 percent from the previous record of 102 billion dollars set in 2005.

China has lowered export tax rebates since last September to help lower its trade surplus, which stood at 46.44 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of this year. The trade surplus in March dropped to 6.87 billion U.S. dollars, dipping below the 10 billion U.S. dollar mark for the first time since March 2006.

At a press conference ahead of Sunday's opening ceremony, Xu Bing said the centennial fair will make further efforts to boost intellectual property rights protection.

He said any exhibitor found to have infringed on any designs orbrands will be banned from participating in the next four events. Those convicted for violating intellectual property rights will be banned from participating in the next six events.

The move was made in response to the United States' WTO complaints last week over copyright piracy in China.

Last autumn's session of the fair attracted 192,691 buyers from 212 countries and regions, including 106,716 from around Asia, followed by Europe, America and Africa.

Click here to see General Introduction the 101st Session of China Import and Export Fair

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New generation Chinese travellers

Structural changes stirring in the Chinese travel market for more than a decade, are about to unleash a new generation of travelers both within China and across the rest of Asia says Asia Pacific’s leading travel facilitator, Abacus International.

The company’s President and CEO Don Birch said that the new generation of Chinese travellers will throw a huge challenge to the local and regional travel industry in terms of everything from travel infrastructure, to product development and even the cultural issues associated with mass tourism.

“The full extent of pending change has not been obvious to the Asian travel industry, because of China’s relative isolation until the last few years and many changes have occurred behind partially closed doors. As China’s push for a more open economy continues, the rest of Asia will begin to experience many of the same benefits and pressures that make Chinese travel such a remarkable story,” Mr Birch said.

“China-driven travel growth provides an excellent opportunity for forward-thinking private operators, National Tourism Organisations and Governments to work together to plan and invest in infrastructure, and ensure the quality of current and future experiences and attractions through their joint actions.”

Big ticket items
 "The Chinese have been busy exploring both their mammoth country and venturing overseas, and more people are visiting China for various reasons,” Mr Birch said.

As Asia’s major economic power, China has climbed from fifth to fourth place in the World Tourism Organisation’s rankings since 2002, with tourism accounting for over 5% of its GDP in 2005 or 5.5% of the world’s total travel and tourism industry.

Besides generating an expected value of US$354 billion of economic activity in 2006, China’s tourism industry has catalysed the country’s development, driving many major infrastructure and transportation initiatives, particularly in Beijing and Shanghai.

Capital investments in the tourism sector were estimated to be US$100 billion in 2006 according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. For example, in a clear indication of faith in China, Disney has submitted a proposal to construct one of its famed theme parks in Shanghai which will initially occupy 4.25 square kilometres, expanding to 10 square kilometres in the second phase, with the US$3.8 billion project expected to open in time for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

Boeing expects Chinese carriers to take delivery of over 2,600 airplanes in the next 20 years, more than tripling the current size of their combined airfleet, while China’s main airport hubs in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have embarked on privatisation plans to expand their capacity to cater for an increasing number of travellers.

Growth drivers
“Rising disposable incomes, rapid urbanisation of China’s provinces and more liberal regulation of its travel and tourism industry have combined to unleash a rising tide of tourists in both the domestic and international arenas,” Mr Birch said.

In the four years from 2001 to 2005, the number of domestic passengers increased by more than 50% from 750 million to 1.2 billion. Outbound travel recorded a compound average growth rate of nearly 25%, leaping from 12.1 to 31 million travellers, making it the fifth-largest outbound market in the world.

“We expect China to be the fastest growing outbound tourism market over the next fifteen years, outpacing even the UK and the US, with more than 110 million trips in 2020, as more destinations are added to the current 81 countries which enjoy Approved Destination Status (ADS),” Mr Birch said.

“While these figures suggest stratospheric growth and a highly-mobile population, the reality is that currently only 1.3% of the Chinese population travels overseas for leisure. This is less than a tenth of other markets such as Japan and Taiwan, and speaks volumes about the potential yet to be unlocked in the Chinese market, particularly for international travel,” Mr Birch said.

Much of the surge in China’s outbound travel is due to private travel, reflecting the increasingly affluent and urbanised population. At the end of 2005, an estimated 22% of the population were ‘middle class’ households with annual incomes ranging between US$3,229 and US$12,917
Wealth is also unevenly distributed across different provinces in China. Most of it is concentrated in large urban areas particularly Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, with around 10% of those living in these major urban centres being at least occasional overseas travellers.

Besides enjoying an improved quality of life as a result of economic growth, a larger proportion of the elderly Chinese population are travelling more, with greater spending power than their younger peers. MasterCard’s 10-year forecast of outbound travellers from Asia projects that by 2014, travellers from the retired segment will account for only 13.5% of China’s total outbound travel figures, but they will command almost 45% of total spending.

According to China’s National Statistics Bureau, the Chinese population of retirees is expected to reach 81 million by 2015.

“Considering that Chinese travellers currently spend an average of US$1,000 a day, we can expect future spending by ‘grey’ tourists to be worth much more, presenting a significant market opportunity for the region’s travel and tourism industry,” commented Mr Birch.

The growth story is not confined to domestic and outbound travel. As one of the top tourism destinations in Asia, China received about 120.3 million foreign visitors, including visitors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, which generated US$29.3 billion, (up 13.82% from 2004), in tourism receipts in 2005.

Business and event driven travel
The globalisation of the Chinese economy is also fuelling business travel. Of the 31.03 million outbound travellers in 2005 (up 7.5% from 2004) 19% were travelling for Government & business purposes, and the remaining 81% for private & leisure purposes.

In the six years since China opened up its doors to global trade under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have grown as business and financial centres, being the main sources of international business travellers from China. However, other economic zones and regional cities such as Chengdu, Shenzhen or Xiamen are also evolving into sizeable markets as rising business costs drive smaller home-grown and regional companies inland.

“Business travellers are a key market for the estimated 200 new 4-5 star hotel properties in development by major international chains such as InterContinental and Accor, which will be opened within the next three years in various key locations in China,” Mr Birch said.

“China is slowly growing into a choice destination for MICE events, rivalling other Asian destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. Government investment in infrastructure for events such as the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai will certainly leave a venue legacy that will boost China’s position as a key player in the MICE industry,” added Mr Birch.

Structured for success?
Government policy has facilitated the growth of China’s domestic travel landscape according to Mr Birch.

The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) made the first step to liberalise the industry in 1997 when it allowed 67 travel agents to operate outbound tours. Ten years later, this has grown to over 600 government and private Chinese-owned travel agencies with outbound licences. More than half of these outbound agents are located in the three main Chinese cities of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.

In 2003, four years earlier than required by its WTO commitments, China took initial steps towards opening its travel industry to 100% foreign-owned travel agents through the relaxation of some location and capital requirements.

“China is well placed to pick up the pace of economic liberalisation by building on the success it has enjoyed in recent years with issues such as the appreciation of the Chinese currency, and development of an active and more robust share market,” Mr Birch said.

“More flexibility for airlines to price and segment their markets has resulted in lower domestic fares and contributed to the exponential growth in domestic personal travel seen in recent years,” said Mr Birch.

A more liberal aviation regime is also likely to stimulate increased traffic, healthy competition and more partnerships between Chinese airlines and foreign operators.

While the Chinese government has made good progress in deregulating its domestic travel industry, China’s travel distribution market has yet to be fully opened to foreign competition, with a limited number of wholly and partly-owned foreign travel agencies operating in the country.

“This situation looks set to change in the coming years as the Chinese travel industry matures along with the rest of the economy and increasing professionalism is needed to meet the peak load requirements of the Beijing Olympics and World Trade Expo,” Mr Birch said.

“This will allow a window of opportunity for travel agents to gain market share and add value to the travel supply chain as online distribution still has very limited currency in China due to relatively low internet and credit card penetration,” according to Mr Birch.

Coming ready or not
“With China’s economy forecast to grow by 9.6% and 8.7% this year and next, travel service providers such as airlines, hotels and travel agents in neighbouring Asian countries will have to ready themselves for an influx of Chinese tourists, many of whom will be first-time travellers venturing outside of China for the first time,” said Mr Birch.

Estimates from the United Nations suggest that China’s population will increase to almost 1.5 billion people by 2025, accounting for 18% of the world’s population and further consolidating its position as an engine of growth for Asia’s travel industry.

“Singapore’s experience of being the first country to welcome a million Chinese tourists last year was just a taste of things to come as more National Tourism Organisations and their private partners lay down the red carpet for the Chinese travellers in the region,” Mr Birch said.

“As Abacus as has been closely observing the Chinese market over the past decade we have seen how the changes in economic sentiment are driving a more international outlook in everything from manufacturing to aviation. Now Asia’s wider travel and tourism industry is catching China’s momentum, challenging all players in the travel supply chain to consider their strategies in the light of this vast potential,” Mr Birch said.

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April 14, 2007

Chopstick Faux Pas

You’ve been in China for a couple of weeks and you think you’ve finally started to get the hang of this whole chopsticks thing. Your hand has stopped cramping painfully after every meal, it no longer takes you ages and ages to finish eating, and you’ve finally made it through a whole meal without dropping something while serving yourself from the common dish. You’ve triumphed!

Or so you think. Now that you’ve got the basic mechanics of eating with two sticks down, it’s time to move on to doing it without being rude. Chinese table etiquette might perhaps appear less complicated than Western (there are, after all, not three forks, three knives and two spoons to choose from) but it’s no less important for all that.

One of the biggest possible chopstick faux pas is sticking your chopsticks straight up and down in a bowl of rice or other dish. Many Chinese people offer a bowl of rice with chopsticks stuck straight up and down in it to the recently deceased during funerals and sometimes during other ceremonies. Even those who don’t practice this custom associate a dish with chopsticks stuck vertically in it with death, so using chopsticks this way at the table is a big no-no.

Since Chinese style eating involves a number of common dishes shared by everyone, there are a few things to remember in terms of proper sharing. First of all, chopsticks are for food, not dishes. Chinese tables are generally round with a lazy-susan in the middle, so if you can’t reach something you’ve only to turn it. But if you’re at a square table, ask someone to pass you the dish. Drawing a plate towards yourself with your chopsticks is very rude.

Sometimes dishes come with a pair of chopsticks for use in serving that dish and sometimes not, and sometimes each person has two sets of chopsticks, one for common dishes and one for eating. Whatever the case, don’t eat with chopsticks used for common dishes. If there are no extras it’s polite to use the blunt end to serve yourself. Of course, among friends, people tend to be less fussy on this point, but you should be aware of it all the same. Also, don’t dig around in the dish looking for a particular thing and taking all the choices bits for yourself; the rest of the table deserves better than your leftovers!

Don’t be afraid to not use chopsticks at all on common dishes. Some dishes are very difficult to scoop with chopsticks, and if you aren’t confident that you can do it without making a mess, use your ceramic spoon. Using the spoon is far from rude and it definitely won’t attract ridicule or teasing; it’s the proper way to serve hard to eat dishes.

However, once you do get such dishes into your bowl, eating them won’t be a problem. Lifting your bowl to your mouth with your left hand and using your chopsticks to “shovel” your food into your mouth isn’t rude. That’s just how it’s done! However, it is rude to lick chopsticks that don’t have any food on them, so don’t do that.

Just as it’s rude to point with a knife or a fork in the West, so it is rude to gesture or point with your chopsticks. But in China the rule has an extra dimension: depending on how you learned to use your chopsticks – “properly” with one held still and the other moved by the finger tips or “naturally” using the area between the thumb and forefinger to control them – it may be possible to point your index finger outward while you’re using them. Don’t do this as it’s very rude.

When you’re not using your chopsticks, you should be careful of how you set them down. Many places will provide a chopstick rest you can use to keep the tips off of the table. If not, place your chopsticks together across your bowl or plate. It’s important to keep the chopsticks together; they’re a pair and separating them disturbs that. This is also the reason you should make sure to keep both chopsticks in one hand, and if you should happen to drop one of them you should replace both chopsticks with clean, not just the one you dropped.

Hopefully you can now get through a meal without any major gaffs! And now for an interesting bit of culture trivia: a set of chopsticks is a common gift for newlyweds, because the Mandarin for chopsticks (筷子 “kuaizi”) is a homophone for “have a son soon” (快子).

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Online gamers face new regulations

China's Internet economy is booming. Last year, Internet gaming revenue grew by 73 percent to 654.6 Billon RMB. (source: People's Daily) Companies such as Shanda, The9 and TenCent have become huge businesses providing very popular MMORPG (Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft, Yulgang and Legend of Mir II to more than 30 million Chinese net users. However, the online gaming world is being put under increasing scrutiny and pressure by the Chinese government.

The industry is already under strict control without even mentioning the firewall. New Internet cafes have been banned and existing ones have to install cameras and check ID cards. The Chinese government clearly thinks there is a problem based on statistics that 13 percent of under 18s are "addicted" to the Internet games, so they have gone one step further by limiting the number of hours that young people can play their favourite MMORPG.

Chinese gaming firms such as NetEase and Shanda Interactive Entertainment have until 15 July to install software which will halve the number of points gamers can score if they play for more than three hours...

Determined gamers who play for more than five hours will get no points at all and face an on-screen warning that they are entering "unhealthy game time".

In order to verify their age, gamers will be required to register for games using their real names and identity card number. (Source: BBC)

It is not clear how these rules can be easily enforced if gamers migrate to international servers. We also wonder how this will affect other addicted Internet activity. Picture this scenario. You are playing an online game of chess against Gary Kasparov and manage to hold him to a stalemate for two hours and 59 minutes. All of a sudden, you start losing pieces before he check mates you. Another possibility is that letters start vanishing from your blog post when you spend too much time writing an entry.

It is also not very easy to get a clear definition of what exactly is meant by Internet addiction beyond the extremes of dropping dead after playing for many days without any sleep. You may want to try out this quiz to find out just how hooked you are when it comes to net activity and then follow this twelve step plan to recovery.

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April 12, 2007

Red China

Legend has it that in ancient times a horrible man eating monster called Nian lurked in the mountains of China, waiting to for nightfall to sneak into people’s homes and consume his gruesome favorite feast during the New Year celebrations. But the people found out that for all his ferocity, Nian was terrified of two things: the color red and loud noises. (According to one legend, the people discovered Nian’s color-phobia when a clever old man flashed his bright red underwear at Nian and frightened him away. A brave man if that’s so!) In order to survive the New Year, people used fireworks and lots of red decorations to scare away the Nian and keep their homes safe.

From out of this tradition grew the modern association of the color red with protectiveness, prosperity and luck during the fifteen days of the Chinese New Year. People hang red decorations and signs with 恭喜发财 (prosperous wishes) written on them, married people give 利市 (red envelopes) with money in them to their unmarried friends and family, and many people wear something red for every day of the fifteen days of celebration. The color red is more than just associated with the Chinese New Year; it’s an essential part of the festivities.

So strong is the association of red with protectiveness and the warding off of bad luck that many Chinese people wear a jade pendant on a red cord around their necks for luck. People are especially vulnerable to bad luck during the year of the zodiac sign they were born under, and during this year many Chinese people never take these jade pendants off.

Because of all of these associations, the color red is also prominent at Chinese weddings. Chinese couples often send out red invitations; the bride’s dress is traditionally red; and here too the 利市 (red envelopes), generally with cash gifts inside, make their appearance. Even wedding decorations tend to be red.  

The story of the color red in China doesn’t end there; aside from these associations with luck and protective qualities, the color red has a history within the Chinese astrological system. Most westerners probably know about the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac (in order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar), but the cycle of the Chinese calendar is actually a sixty year cycle, with five twelve-year-cycles each associated with elements and colors – metal with white or gold, water with black, wood with green or blue, fire with red, and earth with brown or yellow. These five elements and the colors associated with them are the elements and colors that make up the world and everything in it according to classical Chinese physics.

So, red is the color of fire, of light and warmth and life. Coincidentally, red is also the color of blood, strengthening its association with the essential pulse of life, and through this its association with happiness and joy, in particular the joys of a life well lived.

In more recent days, particularly in the West, red has come to be associated with China itself, Chinese communism and the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. Red is the dominant color of the Chinese flag after all. To some extent this association is true in China as well; during the 50’s and the 60’s it was popular for communist party members to name their children Hong (red) in part because of this association with the communist party and patriotism. But these associations are secondary or even tertiary in the Chinese consciousness. Red is, and has been for thousands of years, the color of luck, a protection against evil and an assurance of future good fortune.

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Bargaining for Beginners

Bargaining is perhaps the most essential skill for foreigners in China, even more important than survival level Mandarin. After all, it’s possible to get around with pointing and pantomime, but if you don’t know how to bargain your wallet will empty faster than you ever thought possible.

Of course, not all shopkeepers are out to empty your wallet for you, and some quote a fair price the first time. But not all. Foreigners quickly learn to recognize that particular glint in their eyes, that small hesitation before they quote a price. ‘How long has this foreigner been here?’ the clerk is asking himself, ‘And how high can I get away with setting the price?’

It can difficult to know just how much of a ride you’re being taken for, especially if you’re new to China. In places like the Silk Market in Beijing, where foreign shoppers sometimes outnumber Chinese, you should assume that the first price you’re given is outrageous and react accordingly. (A certain amount of theatrics makes the whole process fun for both of you.)

There’s no good rule of thumb for how much you should low ball a first offer. The best advice is to never accept the first price, and to hold off on making a counter-offer as long as possible. You should respond to a first price by saying, “Oh my, that’s much too expensive,” or something similar. Try to convince the clerk to lower the price for you before you make a counter offer.

If the clerk responds to your offer by taking the item away from you or walking away, that’s a cue that you’ve really gone too low, so low that the clerk isn’t willing to even argue with you about it. Otherwise, stick to your guns and only increase your offer in small increments during the haggling. If the bargaining isn’t going your way and you’re having trouble convincing the clerk to come down to a price you’re willing to pay, simply walk away. The clerk will usually shout one or two lower numbers at your retreating back, and at that point you can turn around and flash a smile and accept. 

While many foreigners are aware that they ought to bargain at places like the Silk Market, many are reluctant to do so in stores where items are marked with price tags. But the simple fact is that a price tag is almost never definitive, not even in a proper department store. In such places, there are often hidden sales and promotions of up to ten or twenty percent off. Generally, these sales aren’t advertised because they’re only for “VIP” customers, but in my personal experience, you simply have to ask the clerk if there’s any way you can have a discount, then fill out a few forms to get it.

Just as there’s no hard and fast rule for how far you should undercut a first price when you bargain, there’s no hard and fast rule about where you can bargain either. At small, family owned stores, you can generally get a discount if you’re buying quite a number of things or if you’re a regular customer whose repeat business they can count on – this is particularly true in DVD shops. You should feel free to bargain for fruit when you buy it from a cart on the sidewalk, but for some reason the prices for street-food are immovable. Unfortunately the only way to really know how much things ought to cost and when and where you can get a discount is to stick around in China and learn through experience.

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April 10, 2007

Google Admits Outside Source for Chinese App

Faced with mounting questions over similarities with a rival's software, Google Sunday acknowledged that a dictionary of Chinese words used with one of its recently released software tools came from a third party. The statement came as Google faces a looming deadline to stop downloads of the software and issue an apology.

Google's Pinyin Input Method Editor (IME) "was built leveraging some non-Google database resources," Google China spokesperson Cui Jin wrote in an e-mail response to questions. The IME allows users to enter Chinese characters by typing their Pinyin romanization equivalents.

"We are willing to face this issue of ours," Cui wrote. She did not describe the database or where it came from.

The admission comes as Google faces a deadline from Sohu.com to stop allegedly infringing on its copyrights. On Friday, the Chinese Internet company gave Google until Monday to stop downloads of its IME software and issue an apology. Sohu also wants compensation from Google. Early Monday morning, Google's software remained available online.

Cui did not respond to questions concerning Sohu's letter.

However, Google has released an update of the software that relies on a new dictionary.

"The new dictionary is now based on tens of thousands of entries Google's enormous search database has accumulated over the years," Cui wrote.

Google says the update also closes a security hole that Chinese security company Rising said on Friday presented a serious security threat to Microsoft Windows Vista users. The security firm warned users not to download and install the software, saying hackers could exploit a flaw to take control of a user's computers.

Rising said Microsoft also bears responsibility for the vulnerability, noting that software released by other companies could recreate the same vulnerability.

"We had found this problem and have solved it during the product upgrade on Friday," wrote Google spokesperson Cui in an e-mail response to questions.

Google's Pinyin IME bears an uncanny resemblance to Sohu's Sogou Pinyin IME, which draws on a database of popular search queries from Sohu's Sogou search engine to suggest characters that match the Pinyin entered by a user.

The dictionaries used with both software from Google and Sohu shared several common mistakes, where Chinese characters were matched with the wrong Pinyin equivalents. In addition, both dictionaries listed the names of engineers who had developed Sohu's Sogou Pinyin IME.

These names were added to the Sohu dictionary solely for the convenience of the engineers and would not otherwise need to appear in the dictionary, said Wang Xiaochuan, Sohu's vice president of technology and head of the company's research and development center, in an interview over the weekend.

A review of the first version conducted by Sohu's engineers revealed a dictionary of around 330,000 words and their Pinyin equivalents, including more than 300,000 entries that are identical with Sohu's dictionary, Wang said.

"We have never made this dictionary public or licensed anybody to use it," he said.

Google was slow to respond to questions over its dictionary late last week, even as it made changes to remove similarities with Sohu's Pinyin IME.

On Friday, Google released an updated version of its Pinyin IME that removed the names of the Sohu engineers from its dictionary. That update removed 600 words from the dictionary, while adding just one, Sohu's Wang said. That update did not remove Pinyin errors, such as one mistake that required users to type the incorrect Pinyin -- pinggong -- to get the characters for the name of Feng Gong, an actor and comedian.

That error has been changed in the latest version of Google's Pinyin IME released on Sunday. "The new dictionary is now based on tens of thousands of entries Google's enormous search database has accumulated over the years," Cui wrote.

That claim was confirmed Monday by Sohu, which said the similarity between Google's dictionary and its own dictionary had fallen from 96 percent to 79 percent with the latest version of the software.

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Mutant oranges from Jiangxi Province

jiangxioranges040907.jpgSpotted Spotted these yesterday at a fruit stall on Wulumuqi Lu near Fuxing Lu, and had to buy a couple for obvious reasons — they reminded us of a Nerf football we owned in the 1980s. The entire basket was filled with oddly shaped oranges, many of them quite large (the bigger one in the photo above is 14 cm long). The vendor didn't have an explanation for the elliptical look of the fruit, but did tell us that were from Jiangxi Province and "very sweet." The price was something like 3 or 4 kuai per jin ... we forget exactly (we bought a lot of fruit yesterday).

We are not fruit experts, nor do we play one on TV, so we have no idea why these oranges look like they do or if they happen to be a Jiangxi specialty. We do know we have not seen oranges like this before. And we also know that simple Google search tells us that oranges are an "economic staple" of Jiangxi's capital, Guangzhou loves oranges from Jiangxi, and allegedly so did Stalin, calling them the "King of Orange".

So, what did we think? Well, we are saving the big one to show our Chinese instructor, but the small one had very thick skin and was only kind of sweet, not exactly bursting with flavor. Maybe they are better suited for playing catch.

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April 08, 2007

Self China magazine launch

Published by Condé Nast, Self is an American women's magazine focusing on health, happiness and lifestyle. Their slogan is "Beautiful body, mind and soul".

In partnership with the China Women's Magazine Press, Condé Nast has just launched a Chinese edition of Self, their second magazine in China following the launch of Vogue in 2005. Vogue took several years to launch, but judging by the amount of advertising in every issue, it has been a runaway success.

Can Self also succeed in China's saturated market for glossy women's magazines? Perhaps, but the magazine's positioning seems a little confused.

The large coverline on the Chinese Self seems consistent with the American edition's themes — "Happiness depends on yourself" and refers to a survey about happiness done in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland Chinese cities.

The advertisements for the magazine currently appearing on bus shelters all over Beijing also have the same themes: they show various women smiling, with motivational sounding slogans.

The same photos and slogans are found on a set of cards that came with the magazine as a 'free gift' wrapped in a plastic case. Three of the cards are reproduced to the left. Most interesting perhaps is the plump girl, whose slogan reads: "A little fat is OK, Yang Guifei [a famous beauty of China] was like that and she made the Tang Dynasty Emperor sick with love".

But the content of the magazine does not really fit in with the way it's being advertised.

Aside from liberal lashings of words meaning "happy", Self China is basically just a bog standard trashy women's magazine about fashion, accessories and beauty.

Self is also competitively priced at 15 yuan compared the 20 plus yuan that most women's glossies cost. This might put off the luxury brand advertisers, but would let Condé Nast have a property in both low and high ends.

And despite the confused positioning, China's fondness for trashy media, Condé Nast's clout, and the fact that media buyers who represent fashion and cosmetics brands in China are clueless about print media, might all make Self into another money spinner.

* To compare the U.S. and China editions, visit their websites: Self China, Self U.S.A.

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Pirates are not insulting, say netizens and academics

Chow Yun-fat plays Sao Feng, a Chinese pirate, in the upcoming movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Looks sort of menacing, doesn't he? Is such an image insulting to the Chinese people?

On Friday, the International Herald Leader reported the results of an online survey in which 61% of respondents felt that Chow's character does not insult China, while 22% felt that it does. There are reports that SARFT shares the minority viewpoint and may not allow the film to be shown on the mainland.

Of course, you can get an online poll to say pretty much anything, and the report doesn't indicate if Chow's character was put into context: the IHL article has quotes from people on both sides, none of whom seems to realize that the heroes of Pirates of the Caribbean are themselves pirates. Apart from that, there is a certain historical perspective to the responses that's refreshing. This one is from a cell-phone dealer in Chengdu:

This is an obvious affront to the feelings of the Chinese people. You can see the arrogance of western culture in this portrayal of the Chinese as pirates, just like how China used to believe that it alone was the Celestial Empire and everyone else was a barbarian.

The IHL report actually had something broader in mind: it asked a follow-up question: "What do you think is the major reason that Chinese people are incredibly concerned about foreign films 'insulting China'?" Responses:

  • Nationalist feeling: 38.44%
  • Domestic public opinion that has been misguided: 34.27%
  • Genuine patriotic expression: 24.51%
  • Other: 2.78%

The article goes on to quote a few experts who are basically dismissive of complaints about Pirates and other "insulting" films. Here's Zhang Xiaoming, a CASS academician at the Cultural Research Center:

"Insulting China" is a complicated issue that hinges on the genre of the film, its plot, and what it wants to say. A movie, even one that is just entertainment, will be inclined in a particular way, and will certainly possess the thinking of its author. To say that it insults China merely because of a poor image or because a Chinese person plays a scoundrel is untenable.
You cannot leave behind your own opinion merely because someone wrote a script and someone financed a film. Hollywood's 007 films used to use the Soviet Union as an opponent - there are lots of examples like this - there is no need to be overly sensitive to these things, but it is reasonable for there to be critical opinions. Actors, in particular, should take care when choosing films. They shouldn't just take any role; they should use their own judgment.

When actors perform it is their own personal choice. To immediately elevate this to a nationalistic political level, and to ignore fundamental historical facts, can ultimately only result in the detrimental effects of "narrow nationalism." However, this does not mean that stars have no responsibility; the more influential a star is the more care should be taken in choosing films.

Huang Xun of the Beijing Social Psychology Institute commended the critics' concern for how China is portrayed overseas, but cautioned against tying artistic works to ideology. And cultural critic Zhu Dake summed up the protests against Chow Yun-fat's character as crude nationalism masquerading as righteous patriotic expression (another response from Southern Metropolis Daily is translated at ESWN).

None of the reports name a specific source for the notion that SARFT will take action to block the film's release on the mainland. The Administration did move last week to address previous rumors concerning criticism of the films Still Life and Lost in Beijing. Film Bureau deputy director Zhang Hongsen had been quoted criticizing Jia Zhangke for insufficient compassion for his subjects and calling Lost in Beijing insulting to the Chinese people.

In a statement posted on its website, SARFT said that the reports were misleading and took Zhang's address to a private conference entirely out of context. The statement did not provide a different context for Zhang's words, but instead closed with a paragraph about how the Administration is cooperating with the Party Central Committee to achieve new successes in the healthy development of the country's film sector.

SARFT claimed that "some papers and websites published these seriously erroneous reports without first confirming them"; Xinhua Daily, which first reported the story, has yet to issue a correction. Earlier this year, when reports circulated that GAPP deputy director Wu Shulin had called for a ban on eight problem books and their authors, the ultimate response was to deny everything. Does this mean that we should the disregard leaks from "internal meetings," or are the authorities actually responding to the storm of criticism kicked up by their words?

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April 07, 2007

We have so much more respect for Shanghai's 'No. 1 Beauty' now

Pictured at left is Shen Lijun, who, according to "many netizens" is the "No.1 Beauty in Shanghai." (Shanghaiist thinks she is so 2006.)

Anyway, Xinhua says BBSs have long been aflutter with the "shocking" rumor that Shen is determined to marry nothing less than a billionaire (so all you Millionaire Fair attendees, step off.)

But, wait. Stop stepping-off. Shen says this is simply not true. She clarifies:

"Although it is my dream to marry a billionaire, I still believe it is better for a girl to be self-reliant."

Amen, sister.

View Shen Lijun's blog here.

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Calif. Man On Voyage To China Aboard Homemade Raft

A 74-year-old man from Stockton, Calif., was on his way to San Francisco Bay Wednesday aboard a homemade raft he plans on taking all the way to China.

Poppa Neutrino is the kind of guy who enjoys taking the road less traveled. But many of the miles he has logged have been on floating rafts.

A few years back, Neutrino and his family sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a pieced-together vessel. Of course, that was more the size of a houseboat.

On Wednesday, he was about to take his small dog, and equally small boat on his longest voyage yet.
Neutrino's homemade raft is about the size of a Volkswagen bus, but it's got a 5-horsepower outboard motor.

When questioned on why he chose such a small craft, Neutrino said, "When you are on a large boat, and it breaks up, they put you on a smaller one. Why not start out with a small one?"

He also added that when you start out small, you can always upgrade along the way.

"Rafts can be made bigger. You can get wood and tie it together, make it as big as the Titanic," said Neutrino.

It's expected to take Pappa Neutrino a couple of days to get to San Francisco. He plans to leave San Francisco Bay for China sometime around April 17.

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April 04, 2007

Shanghai ranked 100th for quality of living

The 2007 Quality of Living Survey fresh off the press from Mercer Human Resource Consulting has Shanghai coming in at 100th spot in a ranking of 215 cities around the world.

Zurich and Geneva took the top two places in the study that ranked cities based on 39 quality of living criteria, including political, social, economic and environmental factors; personal safety and health; and education, transport and other public services. The study named the top 5 cities in Asia as Auckland (tied for 5th), Sydney (tied for 9th), Wellington (12th), Melbourne (17th) and Perth (21st) - all cities within Australasia. Top city in Asia sans Australasia was Singapore (34th), sandwiched neatly between Paris (33rd) and Tokyo (35th). Closer to home, Hong Kong came in at 70th position, followed by Shanghai which moved up three notches to 100th place, and Beijing which advanced from 121st to 116th place.

Well, now, if the 2006 report on the cost of living by the same company (2007 report not out yet, one can only wait with abated breath) is anything to go by, Shanghai is BAD value for money since it was supposedly the 20th most expensive city in the world to live in.

Without going so far as to admit to the utter pointlessness of its annual rankings, Mercer has pre-empted the controversy surrounding its findings with these two inconspicuous paragraphs found at the bottom of the page which seek to define the difference between the Quality of Living and the Quality of Life:

The Quality of Living index is based on several criteria used to judge whether an expatriate is entitled to a hardship allowance. A city with a high Quality of Living index is a safe and stable one, but it may be lacking the dynamic je ne sais quoi that makes people want to live in world-renowned cities such as Paris, Tokyo, London or New York. Sometimes you need a little spice to make a city exciting. But that "spice" may also give a city a lower ranking.

What makes one person's quality of life better or worse cannot be quantified in an objective index. Therefore, Mercer's Quality of Living report reflects only the tangible aspects of living in a city on expatriate assignments, and leaves the question of the quality of one's life to those living it!


Okay, point taken. But now we're just wondering: Where the hell is our hardship allowance? Damn.

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Engineers unveil China moon rover

Chinese scientists have shown off a prototype Moon rover that could lead to the country's first unmanned mission to the lunar surface in 2012.

The 1.5m (5ft) high, 200kg (440lbs) rover should transmit video in real time, dig into and analyse soil, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface.

Engineers have unveiled a prototype at the Shanghai institute where work on the six-wheeled vehicle is underway.

Rival rovers are being developed at institutes in Beijing and elsewhere.

It is not clear when the successful candidate will be selected.

Engineers at the Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute have created a specialised laboratory that mimics the lunar surface for their rover.

Unlike the solar-rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used by the US space agency's (Nasa) Mars rovers, the Chinese model will eventually run on a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Such devices convert heat from a radioactive source into electricity.

"We want to make it better than the early US and Russian rovers," Luo Jian, director of the institute, was quoted as saying.

With an average speed of 100m (328ft) per hour, it can negotiate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects, China Daily reported.

China is working on a three-stage plan for exploration of the Earth's Moon, which includes sending a lunar orbiter called Chang'e-1 some time this year.

This will be followed by a soft landing in 2012 and the return of lunar samples in another five years.

The US has outlined its vision for the exploration of the Moon, which will involve returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020.

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