Filtering by Tag: china

Life Without Global Internet Unimaginable

Added on by C. Maoxian.
Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad

I lived in Beijing from May 2005 to July 2015. The main reason we left was the deadly air pollution, but a contributing factor, and not an insignificant one, was the tightening grip the State had on the Internet. I first began using a VPN in China after Twitter got blocked in June of 2009? (if memory serves). More and more sites got blocked over the following years making it essential to have a VPN, with Gmail being "the last straw" for the few remaining VPN holdouts when it got blocked in early 2015? (again if memory serves).

I cannot imagine living in China and not being able to access the global internet. I certainly wouldn't consider living there now, or even doing a semester of study abroad there, without unfettered access to the global internet (via a VPN). Maybe that's what Xi wants? 

Sites to Worship Heavenly Bodies

Added on by C. Maoxian.

I read Ian Johnson's piece, My Beijing: The Sacred City, with interest since I too first lived in Beijing as a student (in 1991) and then spent ten years there (between 2005 and 2015).

Some excerpts with my comments:

"I studied Chinese language and literature at Peking University from 1984 to 1985 and biked over to [the Ritan park] area because it had become the country’s chief diplomatic district and one of the few places where homesick Westerners could buy chocolate and postcards."

Nutella. That's what we bought (and hoarded) in 1991 ... only available at the Friendship Store. 

"I came for the croissants, but stayed for the tree-lined streets and the Temple of the Sun."

My son went to school at Fangcaodi, which was originally set up for diplomats' kids. When we would ride the electric scooter through that tree-lined area every morning, I'd tell him, "there are no other streets like this in all of Beijing."

"I ended up moving into one of the diplomatic compounds and the neighborhood became my home."

He doesn't say what the rent was in 1994, or how it changed over the seven years he lived there. I'm sure today it's thousands of dollars a month, even for a small place.

"This was a time when Chinese parks rarely had grass. Instead, the hard-packed dry earth of arid Beijing was raked by crews every few days. It was odd but had an austere beauty that set off the ginkgo and persimmon trees that lined the paths."

Parks in Beijing still have no grass and there's nothing beautiful about that hard-packed dry earth ... Johnson is clearly a glass-half-full kind of guy. To get that one photo with green grass in it that accompanies the article must have been a real trick shot.

"But this need for green space clashes with another trend in China: the surrender of public areas to the rich."

This is true. I used to visit Longtan Park, which was near our apartment, and goons with earpieces used to chase me out of areas that had been "privatized." It really got my dander up, but there was no way to fight back, 没办法.

"[There are] high-end restaurants, an exclusive social club, a German beer garden, a yoga yard, a strange antique furniture store ... commercial activities that don’t belong in this great old park"

These "money-spinners" have been there for ages and they're on the periphery; I saw no harm.

"I even listen for the screech of the tacky children’s amusement park with its half-broken choo-choo trains."

Those "tacky" amusement parks, with their derelict rides, which can be found in all these sacred parks, were some of my favorite places ... and my kids spent many hours in them (at 30 cents a ride).

"But over the past decade or so, Chinese have been searching for meaning in their lives."

Now that they can afford to, lol. 

"The admission fee of $6.50 [to the Daoist Temple] does keep out many people...."

45 kuai is a pretty high bar, it would keep me out for sure. 

"Beijing is still the capital of an authoritarian state. Beijing’s message is still the state’s message, perhaps not perfectly but still audibly."

True. But old Beijingers are a pretty rowdy bunch and are quick to tell you what they *really* think, if you're a foreigner who speaks Chinese, like Johnson does. 

A Life of Continual Consumption

Added on by C. Maoxian.

The most revealing paragraph in Jiayang Fan's recent post, "The Golden Generation"

“The thing is, I’m not sure I’d fully fit in there [China] now,” she said slowly. “I lack my parents’ Chinese business know-how. Westerners are all about being straightforward and direct. But, when you negotiate a deal in China, it’s all about what’s unsaid, simultaneously hiding and hinting at what you really want. In China, I’m treated like a naïve child, and sometimes I feel like an alien.” Pam and many of her friends, having emigrated in their teens, exist between two cultures. Canadians, and the West generally, could be inscrutable. The cultural capital that their parents had hoped would be theirs was elusive. But having been away from China during years of dizzyingly rapid change made them foreigners there, too.

Crazy Russian Kids Climb Shun Hing Tower

Added on by C. Maoxian.

That black dagger of a building in the background is the 京基金融中心, Kingkey (Kinky?) Finance Tower or "KK100." The Russian kids are once again taking advantage of Chinese New Year (when no one's around) to pull their stunts.  

Drifting Into Progressively More Adversarial Positions

Added on by C. Maoxian.

A speech by David Lampton from earlier this year, "A Tipping Point in U.S.-China Relations is Upon Us," is worth reading ... he tries to take a balanced approach. 

Confidence that a growing middle class, exposure to the world, and integration with it would produce growing value and/or interest convergence over time is challenged by the PRC’s perceived domestic political tightening and muscularity abroad ... the hope that economic interdependence would produce tolerable security cooperation increasingly is questioned.

The China Fantasy is over, right?

I liked this line:

In the United States, elections put a premium on finding security issues that exert a powerful influence over voter behavior and justify larger military budgets in a constrained fiscal environment.

In other words, politicians have to find a new bogeyman that scares the booboisie enough to justify continued support for the military-industrial complex. China a much better hobgoblin than a ragtag bunch of fanatical Islamists. 

David Shambaugh's Wishful Thinking

Added on by C. Maoxian.

David Shambaugh, the academic and think tanker, posted a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Coming Chinese Crackup." I didn't find his argument that "China’s system and society ... [is now] closer to a breaking point" persuasive in the least. Just for reference, Shambaugh got his BA in 1977, which means he was probably born in 1955, making him a "Middle Boomer" who will turn 60 this year.  Here are his five points:

  1. "China’s economic elites have one foot out the door" -- not new, and not entirely true
  2. "greatly intensified the political repression" -- has waxed and waned for 30 years now
  3. "propaganda has lost its power" -- actually they're savvier on this front than ever before
  4. "corruption riddles party-state, military, Chinese society" -- has for "5000 years"
  5. "economy is stuck in a series of systemic traps" -- they're well aware of the issues

The truth is guys like Shambaugh can't stand the idea that an authoritarian, one-party state can be successful and long-lived. The Chinese are practical above all else, and survivors. His idea of political reform is anchored in liberal western ideals, not Chinese reality. What he should be concentrating on instead is how the West will become more Chinese: the rise of crony capitalism, regulatory capture, Washington-Wall St. client patron relationships, sham elections ("re-districting"), the rise of the surveillance state, etc.  

The Chinese aren't going to become more like us, we're going to become more like them.

Cheap Chinese Cigarettes -- Taishan

Added on by C. Maoxian.

Under US$1 and a hard pack ... Taishan ("Mount Tai") is one of the famous mountains in China, can't remember how many there are in total, oh right, five, five sacred mountains 五嶽 ... it's in Shandong province, so these cigs are manufactured in Shandong. Predictably the website listed on the package doesn't work: taiclub dot com dot cn ... probably because I have a US IP address?

UPDATE -- Taishan has a number of brands under their label, this is the "General" brand.

The characters in the center of the package say 將軍 or "General" It also says "General" in English script on the bottom of the box.

Taishan written in pinyin on back of box.

Plain pull foil, though gold

Butt design ... "General" in fancy English script

Cheap Chinese Cigarettes -- Baisha

Added on by C. Maoxian.

Remember the rules, under US$1 and must be a hard pack. Baisha is a "common place name" according to the dictionary. Literally it means white sand. These are manufactured in Hunan province, apparently.  Just like Hongmei, the website listed on the pack doesn't work for me ... hngytobacco dot com.

Front of box, a pair of cranes which symbolize something, would have to google it. OK, "ultimate depiction of longevity." The text on the gate says 白沙古井, "white sand ancient well"

Name in pinyin on back.

Plain foil pull.

Butt design

Cheap Chinese Cigarettes -- Hongmei

Added on by C. Maoxian.

I'm going to feature the boxes of all the cheap Chinese cigarettes I come across.  The rules are a pack can't cost more than one US dollar (6.20 RMB currently) and must be a hard box.

These are Hongmei ("Red Plum") from the Hongta Tobacco Group.  Might be some kind of subliminal sexy woman in the potted plant picture? Bonsai red plum tree, I mean. Not sure where they're from, Yunnan maybe? Package doesn't say. Website listed on pack, hongta dot com, doesn't work for me.

Front of box.

Back of box. Name in pinyin. Different bonsai tree.

Fancy pull foil

Butt design

Blocked in China

Added on by C. Maoxian.

I'll have to make this a running list ... you can see how impossible it is to live here (without a VPN).

Oh, I see there's a wikipedia entry on this.  Anyway these are the ones I use:

  • All Google services (Gmail, Search, Analytics, Maps, etc.)
  • YouTube
  • The New York Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Bloomberg
  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • All Blogspot blogs
  • All WordPress blogs
  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive

If I've missed anything let me know and I'll add it.

International Comparison of Living Space Per Capita

Added on by C. Maoxian.

Nice chart from Nomura ... hard to be bearish on property in China looking at the big picture.

What's the deal with Russia? No one has upgraded from those squalid Soviet-era apartments, or what? My favorite movie of 2012 was 'Elena,' which features a suburban Moscow apartment block, beautifully placed next to a giant cooling tower. Those subtle Russian movies fill me with a dark joy.

Money Market Fund Growth in China

Added on by C. Maoxian.

A chart from HSBC, but I don't know how accurate it is ... Yu'e Bao has over 500 billion in assets now from zero last June ... that would take the chart from 400 to 900 ... I'm not sure where the other 500-600 billion is coming from since Yu'e Bao's competitors are relatively small.