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Archive for February, 2008

The New Anti-Pollution Hundred Flowers Movement

So China is planning on doing a massive census on businesses and farms, stating that if they provide accurate data on how much they pollute, they will be exempt from fines and prosecution. This sounds so much like the Hundred Flowers Movement that I’d be surprised if any firms will actually cooperate. First, a little history lesson:

Back in the 1950’s when the People’s Republic of China was still youthful, vigorous, and trusted by the people, Mr. Zhou Enlai pushed forward the Hundred Flowers Movement to increase the diversity of thoughts and ideas in the government. Mao Zedong eventually supported this after the initial response was lackluster and soon, academics and intellectuals poured their grievances, ranging from criticism over the Party’s oppression of intellectuals and corruption to complaints that the people’s livelihood had not improved since the Party’s takeover. The CCP soon had enough and clamped down with the Anti-Rightist Movement, leading to arrests, beatings, criticisms, and executions of those who spoke out against the Party.

So while most Chinese people would not talk about this, it is actually a pretty well known event. As a result of this betrayal, most people would not speak out openly against the government as they dared to do during the Qing and Nationalist Party’s reigns.

Now the CCP is doing the same thing, expecting businesses and farmers to report their pollution levels. What is there to be gained if they report truthfully that they dump millions of barrels of toxic wastes into a river that is used just half a mile away by a village for drinking water? Why would a farmer tell the inspectors that he uses excessively large amounts of pesticides which could lead to the poisoning of people who eat them? There really is no reason at all that they would and almost all of them would definitely under-report.

So why is the Party doing this? They must surely know this would not lead to anything productive. Well, in my opinion, they are just doing this to show that the government is trying to do something about the pollution and the reason why pollution is so bad is because the evil capitalists refuse to cooperate. So maybe this isn’t a repeat of the Hundred Flowers Movement after all… it’s more like big promises made during American presidential elections while knowing that they’ll never pass in congress. Yeah, something like that…

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So one thing that most of us foreigners have to deal with while living in China is the constant anti-Japanese remarks that take place on an everyday basis. It has become a part of daily life here to hear about the evils of the Japanese, how China should attack ‘little Japan’ and bomb it into the ocean, and so on and so on.

So while I have learned to avoid the topic as much as possible and remain silent whenever people talk about not buying Japanese goods (while they’re wielding a Sony cell phone) or how bad Japanese speak English (while they fail to use any past tense and mix ‘he’ with ‘she’), it still bothers the hell out of me and so here I am on my blog ranting away.

So there are several categories of anti-Japanese statements… so let the institutionalized hating begin.

First is the most blatant ‘blow them up’ statements. These are made by all sorts of people, from the most educated Beijing University students to the peasants squatting by the subway stations selling counterfeit tickets. Most people see nothing wrong with saying these things, but at the same time most would agree that this would be unrealistic, though desireable, action. The problem with this statement is that Japan has a fairly powerful military that is technologically decades ahead of China’s with a population that is just as nationalistic as China’s that wouldn’t back down from a fight if provoked. Oh, and then there’s that big giant called the U S of A that has a defensive alliance with Japan. But to most true Chinese patriots, these are minor details that they would prefer not to think about.

Second would be the historical statements about how bad the Japanese treated the Chinese in the past. They would of course bring up the Rape of Nanjing, atrocities that took place all over China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and most importantly the eventual triumph over the Japanese in the end. Now all of history is distorted, but it can generally be accepted that the Japanese treatment of the Chinese during World War II can only be compared to the Holocaust in Europe except even wider and greater in scope, so for the most part, I wouldn’t have a problem with this except that it comes up way too often (I was also annoyed when Jews were protesting the showing of that made-for-TV movie about Hitler so I’m not just biased against the Chinese). The past is the past, apologies have been made (though the Chinese haven’t accepted it because it wasn’t ‘sincere’), and the only reason why it’s still being brought up all the time is for the CCP to control its people. It’s like using 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq. I just don’t think it’s fair to use tragedy to such means.

Third are the anti-Japanese culture statements. Usually they would focus on the excessively large amounts of porn that comes from Japan and those weird boy-love animes that have recently become popular. They point at these things to show the decadence and immorality that is inherent in Japanese culture. Then again, they say all the same things about America too and it is justified when you watch some of the garbage that comes from these countries. But deeper analysis would show that there’s also a huge moral vacuum here in China where domestic violence is a family issue, harassment of dissidents is given the state’s silent support, and husband infidelity that is excessively common though only talked about in whispers (the reason why so many Chinese men cheat on their wives is because they are away from home so often working, so I can’t really blame them too much for giving in to their natural sexual needs).

There are many other statements, such as talk of boycotting Japanese goods, how bad the Japanese language sounds, how disgusting it is to eat raw fish, how they all look funny… yeah… it all gets pretty ridiculous.

Now to be honest, I must say that the hating on Japan has gone down a bit since Koizumi has left office, but it still comes up too often. I just wonder what would happen if a Japanese hurdler beat Liu Xiang or the Japanese ping pong team sweeps the Chinese. Worst case scenario would be that they riot and beat up the Japanese national team while burning Chinese-owned Japanese restaurants. The best case scenario? Well, if they did they same thing as they did during this football game, that would show that they have truely re-learned how to do a self criticism.

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No More Anime

China extends ban on foreign cartoons

 So this is an article on Yahoo news about how China’s banning foreign cartoons during prime time slots so that the domestic cartoon industry can flourish. The main problem is that Chinese cartoons are absolutely horrid. There’s all those cartoons starring the Olympic mascots, which can probably find it’s nearest equivalent in the Teletubbies. Then there’s that one with a bunch of kids set in ancient times, animated in poorly imitated Japanese style and voice-acting worse than English dubs. Finally, the only one that can be called decent, is the one about that blue fox. That one obviously has a higher budget, but even then it’s directed entirely towards small children.

Anime is huge here in China. Even my most patriotic and nationalistic brainwashed tool of the CCP likes to watch Naruto. In almost every provincial level TV station that could afford it, Chinese dubbed Japanese anime is shown. There’s even a TV program back in Guangdong entirely devoted to recapping episodes of popular anime as if it were a sports show going over the most exciting moments of various football games. Let’s face it, Japanese anime is an entire level above even the top American cartoons. GI Joe would kick his face kicked in by the Full Metal Alchemist.

Now I understand why China is doing it. Japan’s cultural power, its soft power, has expanded rapidly around the world mostly through food, anime, and manga. Korea has also become dominant with their excessively feminine looking men, hot girls with artificially created faces, and those Korean dramas that increases the expectations of adolescent Asian girls to unattainable levels. Taiwan has those pretty empty-shelled pop singers that fills entire stadiums whenever they step foot in the mainland. Hong Kong’s kung fu stars have made it big in Hollywood and Gong Hay Fat Choy is taught in primary schools during Chinese New Year instead of Gong Xi Fa Cai. 

Mainland China, on the other hand, has been lagging behind in their cultural development. Their TV shows are dominated by communist war epics and Qing dynasty dramas. Movies are confusing, dark, depressing, and almost completely unexportable. Food has made some inroads, with Sichuan fast food and Peking duck being a commonplace in most Chinese restaurants abroad. And let’s face it, calligraphy is a little hard for someone who can’t read Chinese to appreciate and Chinese opera isn’t watched for enjoyment.

For a country that considered itself to be culturally superior for so many hundred and thousands of years, the fact that their soft power has been diminished to a few plates of sweet and sour pork in Chinatown and a replica terracotta soldier that some foreigner paid way too much for sitting in their suburban living room must be pretty damaging to their pride.

So I guess banning anime during the prime time slots is one way for the CCP to both stem the influx of foreign cultures while encouraging domestic popular culture to grow. Of course, if the future is reflected by history, we’re just going to end up with Chinese cartoons starring some orange haired death god with a big sword running around fighting evil spirits. He’ll be obviously Chinese because he’ll have a queue. And his sidekick will be the monkey king. Or Zhou Enlai.

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Now I’m a big supporter of freedom of speech and expression, which is why I strongly dislike the CCP for moving so slow towards political reform. However, there is also this western “lecturing” style of criticism that doesn’t go over so well here in China.

Now, this is not necessarily a result of CCP brainwashing and societal controls over its people, though it does play a role. All those commercials with Liu Xiang and the Olympic mascots plastered around Beijing, on every TV station, and on every bus has to have some effect on the people’s views. However, even without it, the Olympics is a source of pride for the Chinese. It’s like “You damn foreign devils spat and looked down on us for a hundred years and then after that we were poor as hell because Chairman Mao never studied economics, but look at us now! We’re so modern and powerful!” The Olympics gives the Chinese people the chance to show the world that things have changed and to gain respect from the international community that they think is lacking.

Now, from what they see and hear, which is exaggerated towards the extreme positive or negative, it seems like the west is disrespecting China and making them lose face. You see, criticism is generally not taken very well here, even if it is constructive and tactful. For example, when I was in Guangdong, there was another foreign teacher who helped a Chinese man correct this English story he wrote.

Now this foreigner decided he would try his best to help him and spent a lot of time correcting everything and giving him many suggestions on how to improve it. Afterwards, the Chinese man, whenever he would see this foreign teacher, would look away, ignore him, and do whatever he can to avoid the fellow. This was heartbreaking towards this foreign teacher who felt he tried to sincerely help his friend but ended up losing one.

Now here are some comments on the BBC:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7245325.stm

Now, when I first read this, I felt really annoyed. Chinese people blaming westerners for knowing nothing but propaganda? Hurting your bloody feelings while mass graves are being dug for the Sudanese? Spielburg being ‘mean’? Oh god damn, I just wanted to smack these people. Then I realized that if I had to smack every person that said something like this, I would have to smack everyone in China. My hand just can’t take that kind of punishment.

So despite my gut feeling of contempt for these people and their comments, I have to say that I understand where they’re coming from. This is an example of culture clash. In the west, to get things done, you would go out into the streets and protest in mass numbers. In China, this kind of act is basically open rebellion. Only in the most extreme scenarios, such as the beginning of opening and reform in the late 70’s and the Tiananmen protests in 89, would people do this. Oh, and if it’s against foreigners, especially the Japanese, then it is OK as well.

So for Spielburg to abandon the Olympics only strengthens China’s resolve to not change their policies towards Sudan because if they do change, it would seem like they are bending to the wills of the west. I can see it now, all these Free Tibet protesters, Falun Gong practitioners, and democracy advocates staging protests in Beijing. It won’t be the police who’ll beat them down, it’ll be the Chinese people. All these protests will just make it worse for the oppressed in China as they’ll be seen as more dangerous with international support.

Sigh, it’s very annoying for me to go against my gut feeling on this, but Mr. John Prescott is right. This kind of Cold War rhetoric will do nothing to make China more involved in international affairs nor will it better the lives of the common people anywhere in the world. All it will do is strengthen the East-West wall and once again create two worlds with the third up for grabs.

Give China face. Praise first, followed by suggestions for improvement. Only when all else fails, speak out and protest. Sorry Mr. Spielburg, I like your movies (some of them) and I agree with your beliefs on Sudan, but your actions did nothing to help change China for the better.

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Mr. Spielberg has resigned as the cultural adviser for the Beijing Olympics because of China’s refusal to pressure Sudan into ending its genocide. Westerners applaud the move as the director of such known films as E.T. and A.I. has turned down fame and prestige because of his moral obligations as a human being while the Chinese Communist Party is selling their souls and the lives of the Sudanese people in exchange for black gold.

Now I haven’t heard too much about the Chinese reaction to this and I can’t read Chinese bulletin boards, so I have stayed quiet on this issue, but today, I finally got some idea of what is going through the Chinese minds, or at least a small representative of it based on the conversation of two of my coworkers while I was reading a BBC article about Sudan-China relations.

“That’s so stupid, why is Spielberg resigning because of Sudan? What does Sudan have anything to do with being a cultural adviser to the Olympics? He should just leave politics aside for once. Why do Americans love to bring politics into everything?”

An analysis of what this little tidbit would prove that everything they said follows the party line to the very word. According to the CCP, the Olympics is an event for athletic competition, not politics. It is an event that unites all the people of the world as they all have the same dream of winning. All those people who are using the Olympics to criticize China, such as that British athlete who was associated with the Free Tibet movement and all those journalists speaking out about the media restrictions, are denigrating the Olympic spirit.

Then again, if politics weren’t a big deal in the Olympics, then why isn’t Taiwan allowed to be called Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei or whatever the hell they’re called? Or why is there this quota that’s set for how many medals Chinese athletes must win? And most importantly, if the Olympics weren’t political, why is it such a big deal to the Chinese people that Beijing was awarded the Olympics?

International sports competition is all about politics. Ceasefires have been agreed upon because of the World Cup. Africa gets news coverage for some reason other than ethnic cleansing, famine, or disease as their athletes win gold medals. Recently formed countries gain international mass recognition as they march with a couple athletes during the opening ceremonies. And then of course there were the assassinations of the Israeli athletes, the fascist Olympics, and the South American football wars.

There is a huge possibility for positive as well as negative political change through international competition as a result of the huge publicity. I guess that’s what I’ll be watching for during the Olympics this year… that, and women’s beach volleyball…

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Back when I was in the states, there was this rumor that during Christmas, employees would get a Christmas bonus check right before the holidays. I don’t think my parents ever got one, or at least they never talked about getting one, so I always assumed it was just some kind of myth made up for controlling the masses or if it did exist, it was only for office workers.

After failing to receive any such bonus during the variety of jobs I held, ranging from janitorial work to receptionist to coach, my belief was that Christmas bonus were given by Santa and since Santa did not exist, neither did this Christmas bonus.

 Now just a few minutes ago, my boss walked up to my cubicle with a smile on her face. Maybe it was because as I saw her walking up, I immediately alt-tabbed away from OGame.org and over to this word document of planned English seminars that I planned on giving. I smiled and said hello. Then she handed me this envelope and said Happy New Years. I assumed it was a little trinket of some kind, like those Chinese knots or one of those paper cut things so I just politely said thanks with little expectations until she walked away.

Lo and behold, I look inside and there it is. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d be happy to see Chairman Mao, but there he was on a crisp hundred RMB bill. Ah yes, my first holiday bonus. What a great day.

Now, back to wasting my online games…

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Tasting China

In the news, there has been something about Chinese frozen dumplings being poisonous and ended up sickening a bunch of Japanese consumers. To commemorate the occasion, I have decided to make a list of my favorite Chinese foods.

Yanji Leng Mian – Yanji Cold Noodles – Northeastern noodles in vinegar soup filled with preserved vegetables and meat. Usually served in a huge metal bowl

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Yang Rou Chuan – BBQ Lamb Sticks – Standard sticks of lamb with a fatty piece in the middle all nice and spiced up.

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Kao Jiu Cai – Guangdong specialty. BBQed Chinese Chives on a stick. Bloody amazing stuff also covered in spices.

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Jian Bing – Chinese Pancake Thing – Flour-based liquid substance spread on a hot stone with an egg cracked on top. Proceed to add a crunchy east-west, hot sauce, salty sauce, wrap, roll up, put in a plastic bag, and eat while taking your final exams.

Yuhuan Haixian Mimian –  Yuhuan Seafood Rice Noodles – Hot clay put with boiling seafood broth. Throw in the rice noodles for a minute and cover it with crayfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, and chopped up fish. The noodles are the key here. They don’t turn soggy!

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Liang Pi – Chinese flat noodles mixed with peanut and hot sauce, shredded cucumbers, bean sprouts, and sponge tofu before being served in a plastic bag. Eaten cold and perfect for hot summer days.

Fujian Zheng Jiao – Fujian Steamed Dumplings – Meat dumplings folded in the ‘mouse style’, put onto a steamer, and served with peanut sauce. Hot sauce also an option. A good meal for only 3 RMB.

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Ban Hun Tun – Half Won Ton – Won ton dumplings boiled and served dry on a plate. Topped with peanut sauce and weird vinegar soy sauce mixture. Chopped leak added for aesthetic purposes.

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Ting Zi Zhou – Boatman’s Congee – Rice congee made up of fried pork skin, shredded fried egg, peanuts, and fish. Very flavorful as well as filling.

Nan Yu Diao Shao Ji – Preserved Tofu Flavored Roasted Chicken – Once again, the name says it all.

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Lu Rou Huo Shao – Donkey Meat Biscuit – Chopped donkey meat served in a northern-style fist-sized pita-like biscuit thing. Tastes especially good if eaten with a bowl of granulated corn congee.
 

Yu Dan Mian – Fish Balls Noodle Soup – Fish balls, made up of flour and fish, rolled up and boiled in a MSG-loaded broth and served with Hong Kong-style egg noodles. A good cheap meal in expensive Hong Kong.

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Bai Luo Buo Nu Za – Chinese Turnip with Assorted Cow Parts – The name says it all. Boiled Chinese turnip is mixed with cow intestines, lung, diaphragm, stomach, and all sorts of internal organs. Usually stabbed and eaten with a long stick from a styrofoam bowl while walking down a street.

And that takes care of that chapter.

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