Archive | August, 2014

China’s urban planning issues

27 Aug

This Guardian article provides strong critiques of modern Chinese urban planning, which the writer says is heavily based on replicating American cities in the last few decades, which turned out to be a mistake. These include the prioritizing of cars over bicycles, the construction of sprawling suburbs with large homes, and constant construction of business and high-end residential buildings that are not necessarily needed or effective.
There are two separate but related issues here- one is the local middle-class’ desire to live a Western lifestyle, with cars, big standlone houses and lawns, and the other is that local governments, meaning provinces, cities, counties, all depend heavily on selling off land to earn money. As such, there’s a constant cycle of selling land to developers, who then construct waves of apartment and business towers, and then finding more land on the edges of cities and towns, which often requires seizing agricultural land. As the writer says “Local bureaucrats have financed their operations to a large extent by hawking property to developers, who in turn expand the suburbs farther and farther from the urban core. Last year, land sales accounted for 55% of local governments’ revenues, according to China Daily.”

As such, it’s easy to understand the why behind China’s ceaseless and flawed urbanization. There’s nothing careless about the way how urban planning has unfolded; it’s been a deliberate process.



Tragic case of a doctor’s murder by a patient, one of many in China

23 Aug

China’s medical system has serious problems in meeting people’s needs and the most serious symptom is a troubling spate of murders and attacks on doctors and nurses by patients. New Yorker has an indepth look at a particular tragic case where a young doctor was killed in his hospital by a frustrated patient who’d been turned away after repeated visits, something that has happened frequently over the past few years. It’s a good article that gives a profound account of the incident and a clear overview of the China’s health system and its problems, including a spate of attacks on doctors and nurses.

China’s society has become so full of suspicion, anger and frustration that people often resort to violent means to address their problems. It’s no different for shoddy medical treatment, whether real or perceived. Murders of doctors and attacks on hospital staff have become common, but the actual statistics, as mentioned in the New Yorker piece, are still shocking – A survey by the China Hospital Management Association found that violence against medical personnel rose an average of twenty-three per cent each year between 2002 and 2012. By then, Chinese hospitals were reporting an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital.

Some of the underlying reasons for the murder are common problems that afflict hospitals across the country – inadequate facilities, overworked doctors, inefficient treatment and excessive bureaucracy.
Facilities, staff and resources are unequally distributed, resulting in too few good treatment available to people, resulting in serious overcrowding by patients and overwork for doctors and patients. The medical system is one of China’s most serious social issues that needs to be fixed before China could ever really become a so-called superpower.

The end of the article is telling: I asked Wang Dongqing whom he blamed for his son’s death. “I blame the health-care system,” he said. “Li Mengnan was just a representative of this conflict. Incidents like this have happened many times. How could we just blame Li?

Ugyhur-Hui overview, biking from Xinjiang to Tibet, and a borderlands book

22 Aug

Amid turbulence in Xinjiang, here’s a comparison of China’s two main Muslim groups, the Hui and Uyghurs. There are major factors that show exactly why the two are treated and fare differently in modern Chinese society. It’s not very hard why – the Hui are ethnic Han Chinese and speak Mandarin, meaning they look and speak just like the majority of Chinese. Unlike the Uyghur, they also don’t constitute a single group or culture, though they do have their own autonomous region- Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Even then, they have no separatist or anti-party sentiments, plus Ningxia is tiny.

The Silk Road has gotten a lot of attention recently because it seems China wants a resurgence of this route, or concept, for trade linking China to Central Asia and further afield to Europe. Besides economics, the Silk Road is famous thanks to one intrepid European traveler Marco Polo. Coming to the present, few people have biked along the Silk Road in modern times, but that’s what these folks did, from Xinjiang southwards to Tibet (which is not exactly part of the Silk Road though it is still a vast frontier). It is as hard and desolate as it sounds and more.

The Uyghurs are however, just one of China’s many ethnic minorities who live in places far from the core heavily populated areas. Not by coincidence, these people often live on the borders, far from the center, ranging from southwest Yunnan to northeast China to Xinjiang and Tibet. There’s a new book out which details these peoples and places, called The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.


Animal tales

19 Aug

China is a large country, which albeit heavily populated has a lot of open space and features diverse types of animals including tigers, leopards and elephants, as well as the famous panda. So it’s a little surprising, or maybe not, but definitely unfortunate that there are not many national parks where one can see these animals. Yes, there are zoos and safari parks, some of which are infamous for feeding of live prey to tigers and lions, but there are no natural preserves for tigers. China has three types of tigers – the Siberian, the IndoChina and the Southern tiger, the last two being virtually extinct in the wild in the nation.

To save the latter, there is a project that took some and raised and bred them in a preserve in South Africa. After 10 years, the tigers are expected to be brought back to China and introduced into the wild. This being China, there are some complications with the project, including bureaucratic shortcuts and problems with the charity that organized it, not to mention the breakup of the couple who ran the charity, to the point where some speculate it could be a scam. However, another major problem is that there isn’t any large appropriate reserve or budget to do so, since it is hard to find a large enough area of wilderness in Southern China where tigers and their prey could live naturally.

China also has elephants, but only in southern Yunnan province, which borders Southeast Asia, and only in one main area – Xishuangbanna, in the far south of the province. Interestingly enough, these Asian elephants have increased in numbers as they are well protected, though this does have adverse effects on human residents in nearby areas. For a weird but happy story, see this one about four elephants who were given drugs by traffickers, then rescued and rehabilitated and weaned off of their heroin “addiction.”

There are a few places to see China’s special animals with most being in the Northwest and Southwest regions. And Sichuan is not the only province to see the giant panda, nor is its panda the only kind of giant panda.

Southeast China’s limestone cave empire

4 Aug

China’s Guangxi is famous for its karst hills but what’s underground is just as impressive. See National Geographic’s amazing video, 3-D footage, and article about the exploration of several of the world’s most massive underground limestone caves in Guangxi and neighboring Guizhou. And there’s more to China’s attractive karst hills than just the postcard-perfect hills in Guangxi. People from the cave expedition climbed several karst areas (Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi) with the best being a slim standalone tower in Hubei’s Enshi Grand Canyon. How they got down from that one, I don’t know and I wish the writer had described how they did.

Taiwan’s big firms’ succession issue

4 Aug

A lot of large successful companies in Taiwan are family-owned and managed, but a lot of the original founders have stayed on and retained control. This leads to the obvious problem of what happens when the founder passes away or retires. The main issue is that these founders often like to keep control of their companies, reigning over all affairs and micromanaging. For instance, take Foxconn or Hon Hai, the world’s largest contract electronic goods maker, and its owner Terry Gou:

Some years ago, Mr Gou enlisted the help of a group of academics, including Mr Tang, to develop a successor training plan. The plan was later disbanded after it became clear that no-one would be able to take over from Mr Gou until he started to delegate more.

“He can pick up [the] phone and call Steve Jobs or Bill Gates,” says Mr Tang.

“How can he transfer [these kind of] connections to his successor?”


Water, the looming environmental crisis

1 Aug

It’s no secret that China has serious environmental problems, but usually smoggy and polluted air gets a lot of the attention. However, water should be considered one of the biggest problems, not just because of it is very polluted but because it’s scarce and disappearing. Rapid and mass development and industrialization have caused a lot of China’s water sources to disappear, with 27,000 rivers having vanished since the 1950s, according to the article.

It’s reached the point where China has seven percent of the world’s freshwater resources but 20 percent of the world’s population. And of the existing water, well not surprisingly, China has some of the most heavily polluted water, so bad that the government admitted polluted water may have caused “cancer villages” where a lot of residents developed cancer and died.
Making the water scarcity issue worse is the unequal distribution of the water, with the more arid north having much less but still using more due to its major industries such as steel and iron processing and manufacturing. Beijing itself has major water scarcity problems and already “borrows” water from neighboring Hebei province.

To address this, China did what it seems to do best and unleashed a major infrastructural project in the form of cross-country canals to transport water from the south to the north, of which one has already been built. But even this may not be effective and risks lessening up the water supply for the places where the water comes from. And this will create gripes about the north from the southern provinces.
Another problematic factor is that China’s western regions like Xinjiang and Tibet are vast and sparsely populated, but the government is keen on developing these places, resulting in increasing populations and industrial projects, which will damage ecosystems there, especially the headwaters of major rivers.

The authorities, both central and local, seem to be quite aware of how serious the problem is, and have become more strict about water pollution and other measures to clean up water supplies, with the central government announcing a $320 billion plan to tackle the water problem this February. It’s a huge task nevertheless, and grand infrastructural and engineering projects may not be sufficient, as long as water conservation and de-industrialization measures are not widely implemented as well.