Archive | November, 2013

The ongoing saga of the blind lawyer, Chinese travelers, and Shenzhen’s new airport

29 Nov

This is a fantastic piece about the saga of blind lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng… after he arrived in the US having escaped house arrest in China. I admire him and his work, as well as what he had to endure during his imprisonment, and it’s terribly unfortunate that having reached the US, all this new controversy would unfold.

No, I don’t think he’s China’s Jack Kerouac, but this Chinese guy sure has guts in traveling. Chinese are now traveling more widely and bravely, and not in tour groups only intent on shopping. This guy and his girlfriend decided they’d made enough money and spent the past year traveling the world, a desire not alien to some people in the West. What’s a little different is this guy is 37 and is a Chinese millionaire, which makes him a little older and well-off than a lot of longterm travelers. It is encouraging that even with so much wealth, the guy decided to stop working and start traveling, though in a practical sense, that’s a very logical thing to do. It’s even more encouraging given the huge value placed on materialism and consumption in mainland Chinese society.

Check out Shenzhen’s new airport terminal, which has a fantastic ceiling, not to mention an interesting outer shell.

It hasn’t been a good week for China, with its announcement of an air-defense zone over the disputed Diaoyutai islands being met with shock, anger, criticism, and of course, the US flying two B-52s over it. China seems to have overplayed its hand, especially considering its rocky relations with Japan lately, but I’m not sure China wants conflict, though its latest move was sending its own planes into the zone. It mustn’t be ignored that Japan has a longstanding air defense zone that partially overlaps China’s new one and isn’t that far from China’s coast.


Taiwan’s declining brands

25 Nov

Taiwan has several tech companies which are well-known worldwide, but in recent times they haven’t been doing so well. HTC, Acer, and even D-Link have struggled, and in the case of the former, have dropped significantly. Taiwan’s Commonwealth magazine has a good article about the case of Acer, the world’s second-largest PC maker. Acer’s recent lack of success, covered in another Commonwealth feature, has become so dire that according to a Taiwan tech executive: “It’s over. The branding dream of Taiwan’s high-tech companies has come to an end.” I wouldn’t be so gloomy but I am also not surprised. Problems like lack of innovation, research, marketing, proper structure, and vision could all be found in Taiwan companies. While Taiwan companies may not become titans anymore like Acer, they can still prosper as smaller brands.

China’s first Nobel Literature laureate

22 Nov

The first Chinese Nobel Literature Prize winner was not Mo Yan, but Gao Xingjian, back in 2000. Because he left China in the late 80s to seek asylum in France, the government doesn’t acknowledge his victory but it doesn’t change the scope of his achievement. He is widely known in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and still presumably has fans and admirers on the mainland. He’s still a very busy man, judging from the BBC interview in the first link. He has written novels, short stories, and plays, and even paints. His two most well-known novels, both based on events in his life, are Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible. I read both -the former is about his travels through Southwestern China’s Sichuan after a false diagnosis of cancer coupled with threats from authorities to jail him over his work, but it was a little too abstract and mystical for me. I preferred the latter one which was about the Cultural Revolution and was more realistic and gritty.

Early 20th-century China in color

21 Nov

Here’s some great color photos of early 20th century China, as well as other places around the world, from a photo collection called Archives of the Planet commissioned by Albert Kahn. Beijing is there, as is Guilin, but I’m not sure about the rest. The first 10 pages are of China and definitely worth a look.

“Easing” the one-child policy (for some) and the ongoing typhoon response issue

20 Nov

Some major news in China in the past week include the easing of the one-child policy for urban couples, and the country’s response to the aftermath of the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines.

The one-child policy is widely known but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Rural couples and ethnic minorities can have more than one child, with the latter possibly having no limits at all. Meanwhile urban couples in many cities are able to have a second child if both parents were single children, that is they have no siblings. This latter stipulation has been relaxed, rather than the general rule, so that urban couples can now legally have two children if only one parent was a single child. However, there might not be a baby boom due to factors like the high cost of living in cities, though one would think that baby product companies must have been salivating at the thought.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, leveling towns and leaving at least 3,000 dead. Major countries and the EU offered help immediately in the form of money, supplies and personnel. However China’s initial offer was a paltry $200,000, in comparison to several millions offered by the likes of US and Japan. This caused a lot of anger and ridicule around the world, but China later upped its aid to a much more respectable $1.6 million in supplies as well as personnel and even its hospital ship. However even this has not satisfied some observers, since it is still less than what countries like the US are offering. It seems that some media outlets and commentators have become a bit overzealous in their China criticisms, to the point of focusing more on China’s response than the actual tragedy and relief efforts in general, but the Financial Times has a more reasonable story, which focuses more on China’s limitations in terms of hardware, training and resources.

A little about Lu Xun, Chinese literature great

16 Nov

The most famous Chinese writer in the last 100 years isn’t Mo Yan, or Gao Xingjian or Ha Jin, but Lu Xun. He’s often referred to as the greatest Chinese writer in modern times and his book The Story of Ah Q is often referred to when describing issues in China or Chinese society. What’s striking is he could have been a Nobel Literature laureate, but declined the chance to be nominated, a very long time before Mo Yan or Gao Xingjian. Lu Xun (born Zhou Shuren) lived in the early 20th century, and died in 1936. I don’t know much about Lu Xun, especially as I haven’t read his work yet, but this interview was a chance to know a little more about him, including his spurning of a Nobel nomination out of selflessness and patriotism. Besides being a good writer and an astute social commentator, Lu Xun was also instrumental in redefining Chinese language itself, shifting written Chinese into a more accessible and modern usage – vernacular Chinese-  from the traditional classical form.

Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande get it done in Asia too

12 Nov

Guangzhou Evergrande, as expected, captured Asia’s top club football crown Saturday in Guangzhou. Evergrande drew 1-1 with FC Seoul in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final, winning on the away goals rule after having drawn the first leg in Seoul 2-2. This was the first victory in Asia’s premier club competition by a Chinese team since 1990. Besides Asian success, Evergrande, led by Italian World Cup winning coach Marcelo Lippi, were rampant in the Chinese league, which they won again this season for the third year running. The final was a tense affair since the South Koreans proved to be tough and refused to give up. Evergrande scored first in Saturday’s game in the second half, but within minutes the Koreans drew level, so the final twenty minutes were quite nervewracking for Evergrande supporters. As I said before, Evergrande was carrying the hopes of all of China, not just Guangzhou, and a lot of the Chinese media and public have been lauding Evergrande.

Evergrande will now represent Asia in the upcoming Club World Cup in December, where they will face African champions Al-Ahly from Egypt in the quarterfinals (the competition is a straight knockout tournament).

Murky media scandal

11 Nov

A major media controversy unfolded last month when a Guangzhou-based investigative journalist was suddenly arrested by police and taken to another province. His newspaper responded by printing an appeal for his release on its front page for two consecutive days, a very bold step that probably wouldn’t have passed official censorship. This journalist had been reporting on a big construction machinery maker and was being charged for damaging the reputation of this company. Yet what happened afterward was an even bigger shock – the journalist appeared on CCTV, the national broadcaster, and confessed to having written fabricated accusations in his articles about that company in exchange for bribes, presumably from the company’s rivals. It was a major blow to journalism and the reporter’s newspaper, which previously had gotten a lot of sympathy. This brought to mind events in the recent past in China when reporters had taken money from businesses not to report bad news. If the reporter’s confessions were true, it really is a serious setback to journalism in the mainland, not to mention his and his paper’s reputations. But one can’t help harboring some cynicism here – would a reporter at a respectable newspaper really write a series of articles containing completely false information just for money? What if the newspaper’s front-page appeals had so unnerved the authorities that they took steps to cause the reversal and make the reporter confess. On the other hand, if the newspaper was bold enough to publish front-page appeals and was certain about its reporter’s integrity in his articles, wouldn’t they have been able to mount a protest instead of seemingly meekly accepting the reporter’s “confession”?

China journeys, and the nation’s cinematic challenge

9 Nov

Take a journey across China in this video of timelapse photos of cities and landscapes, ranging from Shanghai and Beijing to Hong Kong to Tibet and Xinjiang.

Down in the southwest of China, there are great mountains and wilderness in Yunnan province and Tibet. This guy did a 15-day trek to the 22,107 foot high Kara Kapo, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest mountains, with just two guides.

Moving on to movies, a major aim of China is to have its international cultural power match its geopolitical standing. Movies is a strong way to achieve this, but the big problem is actually making a hit blockbuster. Sure, there was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but other than Jet Li (and to a lesser extent Donnie Yen) kungfu pics and Jackie Chan comedies, international Chinese hits are sparse. That’s not to say there are no good movies from China – I’ve seen some interesting movies recently in China, such as So Young, Saving General Yang, and a comedy about a Xinjiang village’s kid’s football team. Chinese movies are slowly getting there in terms of special effects and topics, but they’re not there yet. China’s biggest local hit was Lost in Thailand which grossed US$194 million last year, but it didn’t fare well in the US. On the hardware and infrastructural front, China is set as well. A Chinese magnate made news last month with the launch of his giant US$8 billion-plus studio complex in Qingdao, which saw Hollywood stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman attend. Hopefully there’ll be a time when Chinese stars (other than Jackie Chan) can attract such attention and coverage overseas.

Hong Kong v Taiwan

8 Nov

Hong Kong versus Taiwan – see this interesting matchup here through a series of drawings by a Taiwanese artist living in Hong Kong. It’s kind of funny, kind of fascinating, and kind of untrue. In general, Hong Kong people appear to be more individualistic and blunt while Taiwan is more collective and polite, which is not surprising. HK is also portrayed to be softer than Taiwan, such as in dealing with typhoons. Taiwan does get affected by stronger and more frequent typhoons but it can’t be ignored that if things are really bad, typhoon holidays are often announced, sometimes even in the middle of a workday. It’s definitely true that people in Taipei walk slow and casually, even in the subway which was annoying. About the arguments on subways, I’ve never seen something like that in Taipei, especially blunt and in-your-face arguments or fights. On the other hand, I can only speak for Taipei as I’ve never lived elsewhere in Taiwan. Maybe down south in Kaohsiung things get more rowdier sometimes.