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Archive for April, 2008

China may lease foreign fields

Wow, this is pretty interesting. So China plans to rent land from other countries, grow food on it, and then ship the food back to China to decrease grain prices. At first glance, this would seem like globalization at it’s best: I mean without low transportation costs, how else could this plan even be feasible?

However, this isn’t really ‘globalization’ in the free market, free trade sense. If it was, the US would end their farm subsidies and flood the world market with cheap grains instead of paying the mid-west to destroy their own crops so that there wouldn’t be a need for this plan in the first place (I never really did much research on this stuff so it’s probably more complicated than I make it).

China in a way is still attempting to maintain self sufficiency in grains instead of purchasing it off the world market. Except it’s kind of weird because it’s not really self sufficiency if you have to rely on grain being grown on foreign lands thousands of miles away. It kind of smells a little like colonialism, but it also looks similar to the way western corporations move to China to exploit cheap labor. Except in China’s cases, they’re exploiting… cheap land?

Now the article is really brief and I can’t seem to find much other information on the internet either. So here are all my questions: Is China going to send their own peasants to other countries to farm the land? Who will be managing these farms? Is the land that’s to be rented out originally farmland or are they cutting down forests? What about environmental issues? If China is sending their own workers there, will they have to abide by Chinese or domestic laws?

And finally, this doesn’t seem to make much economic sense. So if these farms are producing grains for the sole purpose of lowering domestic prices, that means the gap between China’s and the world’s grain prices will increase. There is a higher profit to be made to sell the grain on the world market, so there seems to be a built in incentive for the managers to cheat. It’s like they’re bringing back the old wheat-tax-quota from the 1980s, except they’re exporting this system to foreign… collectives? I mean these will be state-owned factory farms. Wouldn’t these farms hurt the Chinese household farmers as well? Didn’t China’s Green Revolution take place because they allowed the market to dictate the peasant’s behaviors?

If anyone has more information on this, please comment. Muchas gracias.

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Revolution is fun.

There was this time when I helped to organize a rebellion of student workers against our organization’s leadership for their imposition of the boring ‘packet making’ task upon us with no compensation. With rousing speeches filled with Marxist rhetoric and denunciation of the students who tried to be rational or worked with the leadership instead of us, we quickly gained support from the accounting and human resources departments. A boycott of packet making was organized and crippled the organizations ability to gain new members and donations. Even the firing of one of our bosses was turned into a martyrdom. In the end, we were victorious and were compensated for the packets that we made. I wasn’t exactly satisfied and wanted the revolution to continue until our organization was turned into a workers collective where we all shared in the profits of the company, but I had to start work in China so the organization was spared a prolonged revolutionary struggle.

And I admit, it was a lot of fun for all of us. We felt empowered, like we finally had a purpose in our lives, but most importantly, it took some of the boredom out of the daily grind.

I’m pretty sure that most of the Chinese youth here have the same thing in mind when they spread false rumors on the internet, call those who do not side with them a traitor, and beat up South Korean protesters. It is damn good fun and a helluva lot more exciting than studying or working. Sure, they might truly believe that what the are doing is right. I mean I thought I was fighting for equal treatment and respect of the student workers at the time too, but when it comes down to it, the main reason why people are waving all those flags and painting their faces is because it’s fun.

Now Mass Struggle, or the use of massive numbers of people to criticize others, is widely used in every day life here in China. If someone wants to pick a fight with you, the first thing you do is call all your homies and then have a long face off between the two sides. Mano a mano between two thugs isn’t all that common and more often than not, it’s a gangbang (non-sexual type) on one kid. It’s used as a show of force for both sides so when the numbers are equal, it’s mutually assured destruction and no giant melee takes place. Of course there are exceptions, like back in Guangdong, two hundred hoodlums from rival Chaozhou gangs kicked the crap out of each other in the streets before the police showed up, but that’s pretty rare.

So what’s happening now in and outside of China is a show of force. In their mindset, to show up unified and in excessively large numbers, they can gain the respect and fear from their enemies. If they vastly outnumber their enemies, then there is an impulsive desire to make use of their advantage, may it be surrounding them, shouting them down, or beating them up.

However, the pro-Olympics demonstrators have gained no international prestige from all these protests. Instead, they’re viewed as brainwashed thugs who have no respect for free speech. The problem with these condemnations is that the western media completely ignored the pro-Olympics supporters in London and Paris when the Chinese were a minority. That in itself is an act of censorship and all these Peking University exchange students in Paris complained about this. Which is also hypocritical since those same people who have complained about being silence are praising the silencing of the anti-Olympics protesters.

I guess free speech is a universal right… but only if you agree with the right side.

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And this time, I’m not talking about the Free Tibet and Beijing supporters. Instead, I’m thinking about:

  1. The ultra-nationalistic protesters who advocate boycotting Carrefour and have been spreading all sorts of rumors about evil foreigners on the internet.
  2. The moderate Chinese citizens who are against the boycott and are trying to lower the amount of nationalism in China.

At first glance, it would seem obvious that I would side with the moderates since I’ve always advocated rational thought and pragmatism above such abstract things like ‘patriotism’ and ‘national face’. However, I’ve been thinking about it a bit more and I realized I might have been a little impulsive me condemning the hoodlums who wear those anti-CNN t-shirts.

One thing that bothers me is the fact that the CCP is against the idea of boycotting Carrefour and foreign goods. There are also all these popular Chinese bloggers and government sponsored celebrities like Jin Jing who have spoken out against the rashness of the angry mob’s actions. I mean is the CCP really a moderating force in this case or are they just playing the PR game? The CCP were the ones who stirred the flames of nationalism in the first place, so why are they trying to reign it back in now? Maybe it’s be cause there are different factions fighting it out over in the National People’s Congress about what should be done, maybe they have no idea what they’re doing and they’re crossing the river by feeling for stones, or maybe they planned this all along to gain the initial support of the people before betraying patriotism for good international publicity.

Ok, so that last one is more like a conspiracy theory than anything else, but it’s fun to think about. But let me get back on track.

The nationalistic Chinese youth are raging and they can’t be controlled, right? I wrote previously that Jin Jing failed, the government failed, and any attempt to pacify them has led to denounciations that any who oppose them are traitors. In the short run, this will be a disaster for China. An ultra-nationalistic atmosphere during the Olympic games would hurt China’s image, the spread of boycotts against foreign goods would hurt China’s economy, and continued anti-foreign feeling would make China a little less attractive to investors and businessmen. So for any people who want China to have continued stability and growth would side with the CCP’s idea of ‘moderate controlled patriotism’.

However, what if all that bad stuff was allowed the happen? What if the Beijing Olympics completely failed, not because of foreign protesters waving Tibetan flags at the Birdsnest, but because angry Chinese mobs torched a busload of French atheletes? What if the economy failed, not because the west raised their tariffs and banned Chinese products because of ‘safety’ issues, but because foreign businesses and investment were driven out by an environment hostile towards anything non-Chinese?

This might be the change that China needs. In a way, they will succeed in proving how strong they are, how united they are, and how patriotic they are, but at the same time remove themselves from the role as the ‘victim’. Not only would the west not be able to take the fall for China’s failure, but the government can’t be blamed either. It would be the Chinese people themselves who would have to bear the burden. There would be a new kind of self-cynacism and self-criticism that can take place. A new sense of nationalism then can be built on the identity of the Chinese people’s achievements instead of their historical exploitation by foreign powers. From such a disaster, a new society can be rebuilt which looks forward instead of backwards and outwards instead of inwards.

Jesus will then come back with his Chinese younger brother and everyone lives happily ever after.

Yeah… I guess this is what the Chinese intellectuals envisioned when the Qing began to reform, when the Nationalists came into power, when Japan was defeated, and when Mao finally died. It seems like in most cases, the brief flame of creating a new and better China would be snuffed out, may it be by the Empress Dowager, Yuan Shikai, civil war, or the conservative faction within the CCP. So while a ‘new China’ is a damn sexy idea, I think I would still have to play it safe and side with the moderates and the CCP for now.

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Dalai Lama Aides to talk with CCP

Sure, I don’t really expect anything to come out of this, but something is better than nothing. I mean the Dalai Lama mentioned this a while ago, but the CCP finally came out and made it official. Maybe they’ve been talking this whole time and they only just announced it because they made some progress? Like tomorrow there will be an announcement about restriction of migration into Tibet, the implementation of free local elections and the establishment of a real autonomous region similar to that of Hong Kong, and the freedom to practice their religion and use of their own language while the Dalai Lama steps down as a political leader after accepting that Tibet is a part of China? Eh, probably not I guess, but yeah, dialogue is still good news.

The bad news is that the MIDI modern music festival is canceled.

Now I really have nothing to do during the three and a half days vacation I have during the May holiday. Shouting slogans, waving flags, and bludgeoning little Carrefour cashiers to death with bricks all day just doesn’t really appeal to me….

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Carrefour to Scrap Sales

Damn, I was actually kinda looking forward to this. I mean sales of up to 50% from May 1st to the 4th? There’s so much stuff I want to get, like a welcome mat, a nice blanket, a fan for the coming summer, yogurt, Kirin milk tea, cheese, ham… oh, and tuna fish. Can’t forget that, now can we.

Of course I wouldn’t actually go and show up on May 1st to buy the stuff. That would seem like I’m making some kind of political statement and I’m not big into making political statements in front of big angry mobs. Instead, I thought going there on the 3rd would be a good time since the most patriotic members would still be boycotting it but most of the mob has to go to work or are too busy to throw rocks at shoppers.

But all my dreams of obtaining material goods on the cheap are crushed. Oh well, I guess it’s not too big of a deal. Seriously though, I think it’s a good idea for Carrefour to cancel the sales since at the very least it would weaken the accusations against their company. Or better yet, just close all the damn stores on May 1st. The nationalistic youth would get their victory but without huge publicity. The workers at Carrefour would lose a days wage, but their safety would be guarenteed since they won’t be forced to work while protesters are outside. And Carrefour would be able to escape this whole event without risking some huge catastrophe like angry mobs burning and looting the whole place. Or even if they do burn and loot the place, at least no Carrefour employees would be hurt.

There really is no point in keeping the stores open on May 1st. People are going to be protesting outside, people who want to go shopping would be deterred by theats of being called a traitor, and those who do go will have their pictures and address posted on the internet and bricks thrown through their windows.

Besides, Carrefour has dominated the mainland hypermarket sector for way too long. I think it’s about time Wumei and Chaoshifa get a day in the sun. Or maybe Park and Shop can move up to the north and bridge the gap between Chinese and Western supermarket chains. Albertsons and Safeways in Beijing anyone? Or maybe Berkeley Bowl can open up a Beijing Bowl and the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective will come too…

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So I’m currently reading China: Transitions and Growth by Barry Naugton. (Not a bad read, a little academic and dry, but not bad) I’m currently on the part about the urban-rural divide and he mentioned that in 2005, there was going to hukou reform in three provinces. The reforms were supposed to remove the distinction between rural and urban hukous, which would increase the ease of mobility of people by lowering the cost of education and health care for residents within the city as well as providing social security. As of 2007, apparently 12 provinces have enacted these reforms. (Thanks to CM for reading the articles to me) Hooray, right?

However, there’s a catch. The hukou is still marked to the place of your birth. So for example, if you’re in a Guangdong rural town called Chini and you want to move to the Guangdong city of Chaozhou (assuming that Guangdong will enact the reforms someday), you will still have to pay higher costs for education and health care because your hukou is in Chini, not Chaozhou. So what’s the point of having reforms if the hukou is still tied to the place of your birth? Is this all some kind of evil communist PR stunt to show that they’re respecting the basic human right of freedom of movement while actually not giving anything?

Well, sorry to all you Dragon Slayers out there, but that’s not true either. The hukou is apparently tied to the macro area of your place of birth. Like Chini is part of Huadu County, which is a part of Guangzhou Prefecture. The urban areas of the prefecture would include places like Huada City and Guangzhou City while the rural areas in the prefecture would be places like Chini Town and Shiling Town. Basically, the reforms allow rural residents of Chini and Shiling to move into the urban areas of Huadu and Guangzhou with greater ease. The hukou reform is slowly taking place and can allow some mobility to rural residents while ensuring that they stay close enough to their farms to ensure continued food production.

Now let’s talk about the hukou system. The reason why it exists is because of the Great Leap Forward (or Backwards). During that time period, huge numbers of peasants left their villages and flooded into towns and cities to engage in industry. Now the famine took place because of a combination of the government procuring too much grain from the rural areas, lack of good information on production levels, bad weather in several provinces, lack of incentive to increase production due to the collectivization of land, and probably a few other reason that I forgot. One of the CCP’s response to the famine is to tie the peasants to their villages to ensure that there is not a huge influx into the city and cause a huge decrease in food production. The hukou, though it is a relic of the Great Leap Forward, was logical when it was first implemented.

So why does it exist now? Just look at the rising food prices that’s spurring inflation in China. A decrease in supply of food is extremely dangerous for a countries like China and India. A little bad weather here, a little bit of industrial encroachment of farm lands there, and suddenly food shortages take place, prices go up, and the economy goes straight to hell. Also look at all the complaints by urban residents about crime caused by the migrants. With the huge income disparity between the villages and the cities, freedom of movement will flood the urban areas with people which would shoot up housing prices, increase pollution, crime, and the chance that urban slums will begin popping up.

Just like the privatization of land, the hukou is a tricky issue. Tying people to the land may seem like serfdom, but there are reasons behind the government’s actions other than just wanting to be evil. What the government is trying to do now is create enough jobs in smaller cities and towns so that the big cities wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Which leads to all sorts of problems as industries and mines are plopped down on land taken from the peasants without adequate compensation.

Yep… if only nationalism can solve economic problems like this but I guess the grain just doesn’t grow as high as one wills it…

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First, a little definition for all those who are uninitiated in the ways of China:

Jin Jing is that girl in the wheelchair who protected the torch when them Free Tibet people tried to grab it from her in France.

Carrefour is a French supermarket chain that was/is highly popular in China. There are currently a lot of people calling for a boycott against the store while the government is trying to reign it in.

The Mob is made up of hyper-nationalistic Chinese youth who voice their opinions mainly on the internet.

So according to this article in English and this re-post in Chinese, The Mob has apparently turned on Jin Jing. Now this is the reason why the CCP is so afraid of the hyper-nationalism that is sweeping across the Chinese Internet.

One day, this girl was revered as a living goddess. She was a hero for the Chinese people who protected the torch from those evil foreigners and Tibetans. Now in my opinion, she’s not a bad person but oh she is such a tool for the Chinese government. I mean it’s not necessarily her choice. She most likely out of love for her country and her responsibility as a torch bearer protected that torch on her own whim, but afterwards, since she became like this symbol of Chinese defiance to the west, she has to be put under strict government control to make sure she doesn’t say anything like “We should tear down Mao’s Mausoleum and finally fullfill his desire of cremation” or “BOYCOTT CARRREFOUR! KILL THOSE FRENCH BIATCHES FOO!”

I mean of all the people who could have brought some sense into the nationalistic youth these days, it would have been Jin Jing. Afterall, she is their symbol, right? Or so the CCP thought. They sent her on a mission to placate the mob, but to no avail. They called Jin Jing a cunt, a traitor, a brainless one legged bitch, and so on. Now the people who said these things are the most extreme of the brainless idiots. I mean I was reading (Ok, I tried to read it but it was taking too long so I got my girlfriend to read it to me) the comments and most of them seemed to support Jin Jing. Of course, this is after the censors got rid of all the worst comments, but yeah.

The problem is, the rational voices in China and the west are not heard. It’s only the loudest, most extreme points of views that are reported. It does give a good sense of that mob mentality, peer pressure, and snow balling that is driving China’s nationalism away from just protecting the country from foreigners, but to attacking ‘traitors’ within the country as well. It’s like they’re getting tired of hating on BBC, CNN, and Carrefour, so now they have to find people closer by the criticize. And the CCP fears that if The Mob criticizes Jin Jing, they will most likely be next.

We’ll see what happens when May 1st comes around. I’ll be standing outside the Zhong Guang Cun Carrefour observing the action… and then I’m gonna go to MIDI and listen to some Chinese punk rock.

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