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Monday, July 08, 2002


Mao's Salary and Professors

Joey Yung, Hong Kong singer

Joey Yung, Hong Kong pop star

The Hong Kong pop star of the moment seems to be Joey Yung whose simple heartfelt song "Painful Love"(Tong Ai) is just great (but she's no Sammi Cheng!). After listening to lots of Cantapop, I’ve come to the conclusion that everything sounds like Barry Manilow or Karen Carpenter and is about two minutes too long. Just joking—I really love all of it. And indeed, if every Chinese song sounded a little like Karen Carpenter, the world would be a much better place.

Rice University in Houston, Texas recently sponsored a Transnational Project Commentary about the culture and politics of China. It has published English translations of many of the texts regarding cinema, industrial modernization and social change. A roundtable discussion on trends in Chinese film reveals that Hollywood, for insurance reasons and personal security, would not allow Jackie Chan to perform movie stunts by himself in American film productions. A roundtable discussion on feminism and literary culture led by Dai Jinhua, a scholar at Beijing University, included a fascinating discussion of how intellectuals were treated. The conventional thinking was that intellectuals were despised (Mao Zedong said, "The despicable are the smartest, and the noble are the stupidest"), but in fact they enjoyed special advantages in Mao's egalitarian society. Dai Jinhua writes, "In the Mao era, intellectuals were actively made part of the organizational structure. And within this "equal society," intellectuals were in the higher income brackets, sometimes the highest. For example, at that time first and second tier Peking University professors on the whole earned close to what Mao Zedong made. Of course Mao had given himself the highest pay-grade, and nobody could exceed that. Nevertheless, at that time the wages of more renowned professors approximated Mao's. As compared to the approximately eight yuan a month made by apprentices and 32 yuan for workers, these professors made over 300 yuan, really quite high."

The highlight of the symposium had to be David Ownby's investigation of the historical roots of the Falung Gong movement. Ownby traces the origins to the Ming era, writing that Qigong (a Chinese system of discipline and exercises that reduces stress and anxiety) dated from "White Lotus" Buddhism of the Song dynasty and that the Chinese government even encouraged such practices in the 1980's as a way to reduce health care costs (!). He writes, " So for a certain period, for a good 10-15 years anyway, Qigong was given the go ahead and groups were allowed to organize legally. You could sign up with a Qigong research institute as a legal organization and what began to happen was quite remarkable, a phenomenon of modern marketing. It came to be very much like what you see on televangelism in the United States. In other words, Qigong masters would go around the country and give lectures in all the major cities, and minor ones as well. And they would charge entry fees, then they would sell books, they would sell audio cassettes, video cassettes, just like morning talk shows in America - you know, Julia Child sells her latest cookbook or whatever -- and these guys made a ton of money. They even got outside of China, went to Taiwan, to Hong Kong... Many people here I am sure can confirm this.On college campuses in the 1980s and part of the 1990s there was what was called the "Qigong re" the Qigong craze. Everyone was sort of into Qigong and there were ideas that you could capture the Qigong from trees. Later on they decided it was not nice to the trees so they moved on to something else. But it was just a craze that hit and it was seen as entirely normal, I think, by most people. I think most young people just thought it was sort of fun -- the people I talked to anyway. They did not really know why these things worked but they certainly seemed to work for certain things, certainly for health. This all comes back to health, pretty much. "

Feng Shui chinese symbol

Chinese symbol for Feng Shui

Fengshui, the practice of planning your living space to meet astrological and aesthetic guidelines, literally translates as "wind and water," or the environmental policy of "hindering the wind and hoarding the water." A leading American scholar of Fengshui, Stephen Field, has published several essays about fengshui and qimancy . Field writes that this art derives originally from architects' desire to optimize the amount of sunlight during the seasons. In an ancient poem from the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), according to Field, the hero Gong Liu "was measuring the shadow of the gnomon, or sundial, to determine the cardinal directions. Sunshine and shade are the original meanings of the well-known terms yang and yin, which appear here in one of their earliest textual references. With this information he could determine which side of the hills and vales received the most sunshine during the winter, as well as the proximity of these sunny dells to sources of water. "

Field has created an informal “online fengshui tool” that allows you to figure which fengsui model is appropriate for your own house.

An Economist article about the shifting male/female ratio in China says that it has implications on geopolitical security, perhaps resulting in increased belligerence. While acknowledging that sex imbalance is only one of many factors influencing levels of violence, Valerie Hudson points out that the 30 million unhappy unmarried men China is likely to have by 2020 could become “kindling for forces of political revolution at home”. There could also be an impact outside China, she says. The government may decide to use the surplus men as a weapon for military adventurism and “actively desire to see them give their lives in pursuit of a national interest”.

According to an in depth article by Matthew Forney on unemployment in China, China must create 17 million new jobs a year just to keep the unemployment rate the same. "In the next 10 years, I predict 150 million farmers will move to cities looking for work," says Chen Huai, a senior research fellow at Beijing's Development Research Control. That's a mass of unemployed migrants larger than the total U.S. workforce." In an accompanying article on female unemployment, he quotes an official saying "Men will hold out for factory work, even if it doesn't exist. Women rise to the occasion."

Note: Because I am moving to Houston, I will skip next week's post. But I'll be back the week after that.


Weblogs and China

Nobody finds it more hilarious than I do, but typing india + weblog, china + weblog or asia+weblog will produce this weblog as first, second or third in google search results. The lesson to be learned here is that classifying your site in the directory produces better results than simply adding the url. By the way, far better Asia weblogs exist out there than this one (and recently I found been loving RiceCooker and techrose ( as well as a dozen others on Anita Bora's Indian Bloggers). Anita Bora wrote a lovely profile of this site and me, which I feel deserves a plug, no? This site will add notable weblogs as time goes by --just check the "Weblogs" categories on each side.

Frank Yu's article on how China will respond to the proliferation of weblogs . The point is rather obvious, but it's possible that weblogs will severely test China's attempt to control the web through the "great firewall of China." My guess is that China would choose a few notorious weblogs, shut them down with a lot of publicity and hope that nobody else gets bright ideas. Whether they could block the mushrooming of weblogs (both in foreign languages and in China's own languages) using the is another matter. (An excellent book on peer-to-peer publishing technologies by Oreilly talks about how such firewalls could be circumvented, and a 1999 Ian Buruma article, "China in Cyberspace" talks about how dissidents are fighting back). I've always felt, by the way, that email will play a pivotal role in organizing opinion against the Chinese communist party if and when that occurs. China moves very slowly at anything. When Chinese prime minister Zhu Rongji was asked whether the model of the French revolution had any influence over Communist China's political development, he replied, "It's too early to tell."

By the way, if anybody is reading this from China, please email me at Don't forget to remove the portion of the email in big letters.

This was copied from an interview on Computer Chronicles TV show with technology guru Nicholas Negroponte: Imagine all the things that would make a country digital. Compare India to China. If you look at these two countries—roughtly the same size—together, they represent about half of the world’s population very soon. All of the things that you would imagine would make a country digital are on the India side of the equation. 100 million people speak English, they have Bangalore, democracy, etc. And look at the Chinese: they’ve got Kanji, it’s topdown. Well, it turns out that by whatever measure you use, China is 2-10 times ahead of India in the use of computers, Internet access and cell phones per capita. Income in China is double, foreign investmet is 10 times that of India. You say, “Whoops! What’s wrong with that picture? What happened?” What’s wrong is very simple. In the case of computers in China, you have an imperative because families have only one child. The commitment of resources to the education of that one child is absolutely enormous. In spite of government, you will find an enormous amount of Internet access growing in leaps and bounds. And then you go to India, where you might expect this to happen more more, but it’s just not moving.

An Indian businessman has written a piece about the India/China technology race with these comments.

My response: it's fairly easy for a command-style economy to direct growth in one particular sector. It's harder to create incentives for entrepreneurs to start businesses, especially when complying with existing regulations requires a lot of resources. Individuals can circumvent regulations rather easily with personal websites, proxy servers and overseas hosting companies. The problem comes when law-abiding companies try to use the Internet for nonpolitical purposes and suddenly find strict and expensive controls on publication, forums and chat. ( Steve Friess's hilarious account of working as the English language editor for a Chinese state-run journal provides Chinese thinking on a free press. He writes, "One day, this newspaper -- representing a regime that mowed down a thousand or more in Tiananmen Square and then insisted it never happened -- concluded, in reference to Japan, that 'a nation that lies about its history cannot be trusted by the rest of the world.' This was actually in print.)" In such a political climate, it's hard to believe that a Chinese version of could ever exist, for example, if readers were very restricted on the content and amount of comments they can contribute.

Also, in the brief time I've spent gathering English language links from China and India, it's been really shocking how easy it is to find great Indian writing in English on the web and how hard it is to find great Chinese writing in English. The best writing I've found has been by Western reporters and not necessarily by Chinese people. Believe me, I really look hard. There may be various reasons for this, (economic, linguistic, cultural, financial), but Western ignorance about China will continue until it is easier for ordinary Chinese individuals to self-publish. Of course, my judgments are limited by the fact that I'm only looking at English links. If anybody has a different opinion, please email me!

Two weeks ago I saw Kim Jung-eun's amazing 2000 documentary "Shadows and Whispers" about North Korean refugees in China. To read about a nation's sufferings is quite different from viewing their shaken bodies as they recount their ghastly lives in North Korea. They are doubly afflicted because the Chinese government frequently repatriates them to North Korea. After a scene in which small children tell of running away from North Korea, seeing relatives die of famine and swallowing plastic bags full of money before sneaking back into North Korea, the TV switches to three commercials: first, a Circuit City ad about a man dissatisfied with the size of his new television (so he buys a new one!), second: a parade of gigantic SUV cars (costing $20,000 each) running down some rough road, and third, a diamond store talking about how to show that you love her.

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