Oiling the Chinese Bureaucracy

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Granted, this is not something particularly calculated to arouse your sympathy, but Le Monde tells us today how the famed French hard alcohol company Rémy Cointreau – the result of a merger in the early 1990s between Rémy Martin and Cointreau – has fallen on hard times.

RemyC
Sales down 18.9% in IVQ 2013, down a total of 12.3% over the last three quarters of last year.

What seems to be driving most of this is a notable collapse in sales of the firm’s flagship Rémy Martin cognac: down 21% in that same April-to-December period. But it’s the hint as to why this is happening – contained in a link embedded within this article to another piece behind the Le Monde paywall – that is interesting. For sales are collapsing above all in China, where it seems a bottle of Rémy Martin is almost standard currency when it comes to “convincing” a local official to take some action in your favor. In other words, Rémy Cointreau is facing collateral damage from the People’s Republic’s current anti-corruption drive!

Look, don’t they teach these things at INSEAD, say? One must diversify one’s worldwide clientele of corrupt officialdoms! After all, there are so many to choose from!

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Chinese Tech Firm In A Hurry

Monday, March 25th, 2013

You’ve heard of Lenovo, right? Chinese company . . . bought IBM’s Thinkpad laptop division back in 2005 – right, that one. Ah, but you still don’t know the half of it, as reporter Henning Steier of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung found out in Beijing:


Zu Besuch bei Lenovo in Peking: Wie die Chinesen den Smartphone-Markt aufrollen wollen und warum das schwierig wird: http://t.co/s4PMencv2l
@nzzdigital
Henning Steier

In the first place, with a 16% worldwide market-share as of QIV 2012 Lenovo is contending head-to-head with Hewlett-Packard for top position as the world’s largest personal computer-seller. Granted, that is equivalent to fighting the last war, considering that PC sales are now in steady retreat (with the new Windows 8 operating system doing little to stem the losses, as Steier mentions).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFar more impressive is what Lenovo intends to do in the area of smartphones, which these days is truly where it’s at commercially. In fact, they already sell them – maybe you’ve never heard of products such as the company’s flagship K900 smartphone (pictured), but that’s because they have mainly been active in the Chinese market (25 million sold in 2012; #2 there behind Samsung). and in other non-Western lands such as Russia, India and Indonesia (soon to include Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria).

They will be coming to the US and European smartphone markets, to be sure, by 2014 at the latest. Get ready, because their ambition is to be at least #3 in smartphones worldwide within 18 months, and they will upping their yearly production of new models from last year’s 42 to do that. There’s even a rumor that they have their sights set on acquiring the ailing Canadian firm RIM, maker of the Blackberry; CEO Yang Yuanqing seemed quite annoyed when reporters at a Beijing press conference raised that possibility.

By the way, Lenovo sells phones using Android, but with three models coming out this year that run on the Windows Phone system. It also relies to a much greater degree than most other smartphone makers on Intel chips to power its devices – it already has a solid relationship with the California-based chipmaker for its computer business.

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Get With the Twitter Program!

Monday, July 16th, 2012

From all the talk in recent years about Social Media, you would think media outlets (especially) would be quicker to use them.

Case in point:


Japan ambassador returns to Beijing amid territorial spat http://t.co/b6rSwGyl
@Reuters
Reuters Top News

“Territorial spat”: so now you have all sorts of fuss & bother about supposed rising tension on either side of the East China Sea, even though the Reuters article quotes the Japanese Foreign Minister denying that the temporary recall had anything to do with any disputed waters.

And well he might deny that:


LeMonde Unbearable tragedy: National mourning in #Japan as 1st #panda born there in 24yrs (@ #Tokyo zoo) dies http://t.co/bq5d6bdl
@EuroSavant
EuroSavant

As should be obvious, the ambassador had to return to receive detailed information and instructions for complaining to the Chinese about that mother panda they had provided to the Tokyo Zoo – clearly unable to produce a live offspring!

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Sucking Wind

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Check out the first sentence of this piece in La Libre Belgique by Philippe Paquet: “For those who believe they have touched bottom when it comes to absurdity and political stupidity in Belgium, Malawi provides reasons for hope.” How? Well, obviously because there is even more absurdity and political stupidity to be found there! Curious, such an attitude – still, are we to allow it anyway, in view of the fact that the Belgians did not actually rape & pillage that particular African land over eighty years of colonial rule, but rather what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, located two countries away?

In any case, the article’s title is “The wind turns in Malawi,” but don’t get too impressed, Paquet is merely trying to be clever*. After a brief mention of that country’s intention to raise its official retirement age to 70 – that when life expectancy even for women is only 51 years – we get to the real subject: Get a load of this, he crows, the Malawi Assembly (i.e. parliament) is bringing back a law from British colonial times that makes it illegal to fart in public!

He then takes that theme and runs with it. I’ll leave most of its further ramifications to French-readers interested enough to click through to the original. But just to give you a trace . . . apparently one good thing about the dictatorship under Kamuzu Banda that ruled the country for thirty years after independence in 1964 was that people were much more discrete with their personal gas-emissions during that time. So does that mean that dictatorship always smells better? No, Paquet points out, look at China, where this particular aspect of personal behavior has been notoriously loose for centuries, under kings, presidents, and Communist dictators.

* Much as I also try to do all the time when crafting titles for the posts of this weblog, I have to admit!

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The Chinese R&D Juggernaut

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Don’t look now, but Blair House has a rather important guest staying there now. That’s “Blair House” – 1651 Pennsylvania Ave. – namely the official guest house for the President of the United States, and it is currently hosting a delegation from the People’s Republic of China headed by no less than President Hu Jintao. His four-day visit to the US presumably means important face-to-face discussions with President Obama and other US business and political leaders on such topics as East Asian security, the valuation of the Renminbi, and maybe even human rights in China (and possibly in the US, too).

In the background to all this, though, is China’s growing economic power and influence. You might be surprised, but much of that actually stems from a growing Chinese superiority in certain key modern technologies, and in R&D generally, if we are to believe the “MONEY editor” of the German newsmagazine Focus, Christian Bieker, who today offers a quite informative three (Internet-)page article entitled From Dwarf to Giant. Check out the lede:

From workshop to technology mecca: China is about to have a development-leap – and is already at the top in solar energy, electric autos, and mobile telecommunications.

Keep in mind that US Defense Secretary Bill Gates actually was in China just last week, obviously on a sort of preparatory visit there, and much was made of the Chinese military using the occasion to launch the first test-flight of their latest “stealth” technology fighter, the J-20. That provided a suitable foretaste of China’s growing technical skill, but things really go much further than that. As Bieker goes on to mention:

  • China is now – from the turn of the year 2010/11 – actually a net exporter of R&D to the EU;
  • One-eighth of all the world’s R&D spending takes place there;
  • In 2010 it overtook the US in number of patents awarded. (This raises the question of how that relates to the Middle Kingdom’s notorious laxness when it comes to observing patents and copyrights issued from the outside!)

(more…)

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Money vs. Happiness in China

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

One piece of news now much in circulation is the “slowdown” in GDP growth for the (mainland) Chinese economy. “Slowdown” in quotes, because statistics still showed an annualized 9.6% rate of third-quarter growth (year-on-year) – still impressive, if a bit less than the 10.3% y/y growth recorded for QII. This news-item’s appeal to those reporting it is clear, as it enables them to combine that “slowdown” irony with an underlying concern that it might turn out to be a serious matter after all, if most of the rest of the world is mired in recession and waiting on eventual Chinese demand to pull it out.

Typically, though, most news outlets fail to carry the story through to its deeper layer of meaning, in this case the fact that such a slowing of economic growth is actually a good thing and precisely what the Chinese authorities hope to achieve. For a more profound level of sophistication such as that one has to resort to publications such as the New York Times to read how, in fact, Beijing is concerned about runaway inflation and maybe even a property-price crash, so that if anything they were disappointed not in the slackening of third-quarter growth but rather the smallish magnitude of that slackening, and in fact recently went so far as to raise interest rates to gain more of precisely that result. (For the ultimate in detailed analysis of this predicament, from a Chinese professor at Peking [sic] University no less, the blog Naked Capitalism graciously provides us with this.)

Then there is an even deeper treatment of the phenomenon, brought to us today in the FT Deutschland: The Chinese cannot grab hold of their happiness. Sure, for decades now the Chinese economy has consistently shown explosive growth, is this piece’s message (written – note well! – by a journalist named Luo Xu), but it seems clear that this has failed to make the Chinese any happier.

Since he writes for the FTD, Luo is naturally far too intelligent to base such a contention merely upon any set of anecdotal impressions – from a population in excess of 1.3 billion! – that he and his acquaintances may foster. No, he has academic reports to cite:

  • The Erasmus University study, using a “People’s Happiness Index” on a 1 (most unhappy) to 10 (most happy) scale, that returns 6.64 in 1990, 7.08 in 1995, but then 6.60 in 2001. (Nothing more recent mentioned);
  • The University of Michigan study of 2009, which doesn’t provide numbers but merely concludes that yes, the Chinese are on the whole unhappier now (i.e. 2009) than they were ten years before;
  • The study published just last August at the Conference for Positive Psychology that took place in China, according to which 90% of respondents to a survey described themselves as lonely, 46.9% were dissatisfied with their lives and 19.1% were very dissatisfied.

It seems, then, that the Chinese have finally bumped up against the folk-wisdom that money does not (always) make you happy. But why exactly is that? And what, if anything, can be done about it? Remember, though, that this is but an article in a business newspaper and not the detailed psychological study – or, better, Nobel Prize-winning novel – that would be a more-appropriate means for addressing this dilemma. Mr. Luo is game to do the best he can to explain, though, and that turns out to be the following summary of seven factors behind this mysterious society-wide gloom, as compiled from the studies already-cited and others:

  • Competition: The old, familiar comparative motive: you might be sitting happy, but that can swiftly change once your neighbor buys a fancy car which you don’t have.
  • Lack of ideals: That is, when people discover that money is not enough to give life a true purpose.
  • Negative thinking: Looking on the cloudy side, not the sunny side, of life.
  • Fading altruism: Apparently, helping other people is one key to happiness, but modern Chinese society is steadily forgetting this.
  • Dissatisfaction: With what one already has, that is. Luo cites a Chinese proverb – “The satisfied man is usually happy” – and observes that there are ever-fewer truly satisfied Chinese left, because of what they see is available if they just had more money, because of what they see their neighbors have, etc.
  • Distrust: People are increasingly estranged from each other.
  • Worry: Also known as stress, resulting from a host of new concerns originating from work, children, old-age provision, and the like.

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Some Numb & Spicy Chinglish

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

"Carefully bang head!"Just like mushrooms popping up after spring rainfall (at least as they do here in Northern European climes) comes a new journalistic phenomenon: some pre-planned world-scale event occurs in China (e.g. the 2008 Olympics, the recent opening of the Shanghai World Expo) and is immediately followed by articles in the American press taking a bemused look at the stumbles of the Chinese as they try to come to grips with the English language, efforts that produce something usually termed “Chinglish.” The latest instance of this is a recent article in the NYT together with the almost-indispensable accompanying slide-show displaying some prime Chinglish examples (e.g. “Slip and fall down carefully”).

It’s often pretty funny stuff. Then again, another thought may come to anyone inclined to think about such things a bit more deeply. (And/or to those quick to take offense – or are these two cohorts actually one-and-the-same?) Could it be that the “paper of record” of one great civilization is, in effect, mocking the citizens of yet another for their well-intentioned struggles in navigating the former’s language? When, in fact, relations between these two great civilizations are of possibly the most crucial importance to world peace as well as progress on most other global-scale problems (e.g. environment, trade, financial regulation)? (more…)

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George Orwell’s Expo

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I reported a couple months ago about what I termed Potemkin Shanghai, that is, about the authorities in that city applying what we could call the “Chinese Treatment” in advance of the 2010 World Exposition due to kick-off there on May 1. I go so far as to call it that because we already witnessed this in Beijing prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, namely city administration and police going to ridiculous lengths to present the city’s “best face” to the hordes of foreign visitors they expect to welcome. In Beijing, for example, whole city blocks were razed to make way for the erection of more eye-pleasing buildings; in Shanghai attractive women are reportedly being shipped in from the countryside to man – excuse the expression – bus-ticket sales counters.

But a new piece from the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad (Thousands of arrests for Expo Shanghai) brings an altogether new and sinister tinge to this. It’s not just those arrests, totalling 6,042 from the massive police-sweeps conducted so far, and said to be for the offences of “theft, gambling, prostitution, sales of pornographic materials, drug trafficking, and swindling practices.” It’s also the bodyscan machines that the authorities plan to place at each of the 870 entrances to the Shanghai metro while the Expo is going on (1 May through 31 October) – and they’ll be looking not just for weapons but for anything they don’t happen to want people to have. And then there’s the security guards that will be riding in all the buses for which those Sichuan sweeties will have sold you a ticket.

He doesn’t live there anymore, but when he did James Fallows of the Atlantic painted a convincing picture of a Middle Kingdom that, far from being some monolith state of worker-ants bent on world domination, was actually still rather poor, somewhat diverse rather than uniform, and very messy in daily life as people there actually had to live it. Still, this “Chinese Treatment” stuff also convinces me – together with their infamous Internet “Chinese Wall” – that the Communist Party authorities over there are hell-bent to recreate George Orwell’s Oceania.

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Let It Renmin-Be?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Need I even say it? Despite fantastic economic figures just out from China (exports up 46% in February year-on-year, 8.7% economic growth in 2009), the world-wide financial/economic crisis is far from over. An ever-expanding list of governments (Greece, Spain, Ireland, the UK – yes, also including the US) have adopted the strategy of grabbing back desperately-needed economic growth through success in increasing exports. A corollary to that is that a weak currency is an awfully handy thing.

Except that it simply isn’t possible, from a mathematic point-of-view, for everyone to weaken their currencies at the same time. Someone’s money – preferably some country with a huge presence in international trade – has to go up in value, relatively. And this gets back to recent Chinese economic performance: China seems to be doing rather well, but it is also suffering from a notable bout of price-inflation. Furthermore, the Middle Kingdom’s currency, the Renminbi, is clearly undervalued – infamously so, even, due to the Chinese government’s explicit policy to protect it with various currency restrictions to be sure to keep it that way. So wouldn’t we find some nice economic solution for everyone by heeding the calls that have been issuing from US officials for some time now and convincing the Chinese government to cut that stuff out and allow the Renminbi to appreciate in value?

Not according to Tobias Bayer, in his opinion piece for the Financial Times Deutschland (Exchange rate policy: Dangerous game with the Renminbi). (more…)

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Go East, Young Man!

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Need a job? Well, do you speak Chinese – in particular, Cantonese? While throughout most of North America and Europe the financial crisis and its dire economic effects are still on-going, as Germany’s Die Zeit now reports, In China manpower is lacking.

I make reference there to “Cantonese” because the really acute labor shortages are showing up in those regions of the southeast that have long claimed the lion’s share of China’s export-oriented industry. Guangdong city alone (it used to be known as “Canton”) is said to lack 2 million workers. But everywhere in that part of China there are phenomena which point clearly to increasing desperation from employers when it comes to finding workers. Unemployed-looking people are accosted on the street and at train stations, by eager recruiters wearing “Welcome!” T-shirts; local authorities stage job-fairs, but nobody bothers to show up. And the like. For, to hear this piece tell it, China certainly is not suffering from any recession, not any more: exports are now back to their 2008 levels and rising.

Keep in mind, it’s also not especially highly-trained or -educated workers that are sought (although, if you’re seriously thinking about making the move yourself, learning the language could indeed be a complicating factor). Remember, that has not been China’s traditional manufacturing paradigm in any case, which instead has been based on cheap, simple manufacturing, performed by basic, lowly-paid workers – reinforced annually by as much as 150 million new people moving in to the big cities from off the farm to find a job and sample urban life. Presumably that stream from the countryside is still there, but businessmen are still having problems recruiting a work-force, even as wages rise 10% a year and even 20% annually in the “hardest hit” (in terms of worker-shortage) areas.

If conditions are indeed anything like how they are reported here, all this has to call into serious question that “simple, cheap manufacturing” economic model. China may be about to lose its reputation as the place you go to have your stuff made at rock-bottom costs; time to go elsewhere for that. (Myanmar? Mongolia?) Still, not only is there indeed a new Chinese capability coming on-line for higher-value, quality production, but business leaders there are also convinced that the country has accumulated an expertise in supply-chain management that should keep it very competitive for some time to come.

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Potemkin Shanghai

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Have you heard? The 2010 World Exposition will be held in Shanghai, China, from May 1 through October 31 this year. And yes, there will be a US pavilion there, even though through much of last year that issue was touch-and-go: it seemed no one really wanted to pay for one, least of all the US Government, but a solution was finally found involving a broad away of corporate sponsors.

But enough of that; the Neue Zürcher Zeitung has a truly mesmerizing article up now by Mattias Messmer about the preparations in Shanghai itself (Pajamas back in the closet). His key point: this is going to be a Chinese world exposition, after all, the first one ever, so you know it is going to be rather different from the last one (which was held in Zaragoza, Spain in 2008, in case you don’t remember) or indeed any other. As Messmer puts it, “In this country politics, national pride and cultural differences play a much more significant role, especially regarding great international events.” I should not surprise us at all – at least those of us who were paying attention during the 2008 Peking Summer Olympics – but it is clearly the aim of the Chinese authorities that this World Exposition be the biggest and indeed the best ever.

Also similarly to Peking two years ago, those authorities are also determined that from 1 May – and even before – Shanghai will present its best face to the world. Messmer’s article is basically devoted to describing the initiatives being taken to that end. Cost is no object: once again, whole streets are being ripped up (often because of the new subway lines being built under them), unsightly neighborhoods are being razed, often to be replaced for the most part with attractive parks, and in those neighborhoods allowed to continue to exist as before the house-facades are being spruced up.

But it doesn’t stop there. Those in charge are determined not just to make a new physical city, but also a new, improved sort of Chinese citizen to go along with it. That means that a behavior-modification campaign is now in place to “civilize” Shanghai citizens in preparation for all the encounters they are sure to have with visiting foreigners starting May 1, a campaign pursued through ubiquitous street-posters – usually featuring “Haibao,” the Expo’s little blue mascot, pictured above – reminding people to behave themselves, backed up by an enhanced police presence. These banners make it clear that there is to be no more spitting; no more littering, no more “wild jostling,” such as apparently is ordinarily the Chinese norm at bus- and train stations; and no more wandering around town in your pajamas. (Thus the title of Messmer’s piece, and it’s a shame: apparently middle-aged women wandering around town in their pajamas, with their hair in curlers and a lap-dog under their arm, is a proud Shanghai tradition.)

Interestingly, the Shanghaiers are also supposed to cut out the use of their local dialect (Shanghaihua) and just speak regular Mandarin. But that’s not all: bank clerks (presumably only the females) are being prepared to pretty themselves up for work during the Expo-period using the same uniform makeup arrangement, and it’s also said that other local young lovelies are being recruited to take over bus-ticket sales along certain high-traffic routes.

As usual, Messmer reports, the city residents are fine with all that. They’ll stop their spitting; they’ll put away their pajamas. They’ll even enter a state-sponsored contest on the theme “Knowledge of the Expo and Civilized Behavior” to get the chance to win free tickets to the event. Because, in the final analysis, they’re proud that the World Exposition is coming to their city.

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Towards a New US-China “Ice Age”?

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

The American government has approved a new sale of made-in-America arms (including Black Hawk transport helicopters and Patriot air defense missiles) for the “Republic of China” (i.e. Taiwan), and Chinese officials are making clear their displeasure, including their intention to “punish” those companies behind these sales. Already, all Sino-American military exchanges have been canceled. This hardly represents the first such American arms-sale to Taiwan, and the Chinese have reliable protested against all previous ones as well. But some observers view this latest episode as something slightly different, as perhaps expressing some sincere Chinese anger this time that could lead to trouble.

Steffen Richter of Germany’s leading commentary newspaper, Die Zeit, takes a look at this question in A case of new self-awareness, and agrees that things do seem to be a bit different this time. Of course, as he points out, one could make a case that China should just shut up, that such protests are pointless. China has long been aware of the firm American policy of support for Taiwan’s independence, enshrined in the Taiwan Act of 1979 (enacted right at the same time that Sino-American relations were coming around to a sort of cordiality, with the visit of then-Chairman Deng Xiaoping to meet President Jimmy Carter). Indeed, back in 2001 Taiwan was even angling to get submarines and F-16 fighters from the Americans (they did not, in the end), while this time they knew better than to even ask for such things.

But of course the People’s Republic is not shutting up, its public tone is rather becoming even more angry and threatening. Richter ascribes this to a new Chinese wave of self-confidence, leading to the notion that now is the time to test President Obama to see just what he is made of. There would seem to be so many areas of international policy where the US depends on China to play along, headlined by the fact that China is America’s largest creditor but then going on to issues such as climate change, Iran, North Korea, and the whole broad area of trade policy, international economic equilibrium and the pegging of the yuan against the dollar.

Maybe, in the face of all of this, Obama will blink and cancel the arms-sale; maybe he’ll even be intimidated enough to withdraw the US troops in South Korea and Japan. In the end, though, just as with currency issues, China is really not in any position truly to force any new “Ice Age” in its relations with the US, since it is still reliant on America for things like technology and know-how. Richter expects no truly serious consequences to arise from this latest flap.

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Chinese Consumption Kings

Friday, January 15th, 2010

What’s Chinese for “Starbucks”? Did you catch the news about how China is now the world’s biggest exporter in absolute terms, having recently eclipsed Germany? Or how the Middle Kingdom is very close – almost there, 9 out of 12 months last year – to passing the US as the world’s largest car market?

Now Isabelle de Foucaud of the French newspaper Le Figaro weighs in with another upcoming China milestone: The Chinese soon [to be] kings of consumption. “Soon,” but not really right away; her lede:

Chinese households are earning more and saving less. In consequence, Credit Suisse estimates that the Chinese could dethrone the United States at the first world-rank of consumption around 2020.

Yes, this pronouncement is based upon a survey that Credit Suisse recently did towards the end of last year among 2,700 respondents in eight major Chinese cities. In particular, this showed that Chinese personal saving rates have fallen from 26% in 2004 to 12% last year.

Where does all that newly-free income go? For now, the report says, it’s going to real estate and to cars, but it’s also starting to go into consumer goods, too. “The big international brands are rubbing their hands” in glee about this, writes De Foucaud, but they need to be careful: Chinese companies are getting ready to challenge foreign firms for these new consumers’ Yuan across-the-board, including in the high-tech and luxury sectors where up to now they have been absent.

From my reading of recent macroeconomic commentary, this increase in consumer spending is a quite healthy development towards “re-balancing” the recession-struck world economy, so it can’t come soon enough (indeed, in this perspective 2020 looks rather too far off). On the other hand, the strong economic growth that is behind these developments is also making China more into a nation of “haves” and “have-nots,” i.e. with top-earners enjoying much more income growth than the rest, and this itself is a dangerous development in traditionally-egalitarian Chinese society.

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The Frankfurt Book Fair and the People’s Republic

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

As a bibliophile, one event near and dear to my heart is the Frankfurter Buchmesse or Frankfurt Book Fair*, which takes place every year in the second week of October and has been doing so for some five hundred years (missing a few years on rare occasion due to wars and such) since shortly after Johannes Gutenberg invented movable-type printing in the first place in the near-by city of Mainz. I even managed to attend this event once and so can attest that, although it’s mainly meant for publishing professionals, visiting it is well worth the while of any mere civilian with any interest in books – even despite the knotty problem of finding someplace affordable to stay as local hotel rates skyrocket.

This year, however, I had no interest in making the journey even if I could get away. It was clear things were going to be especially awkward. One main highlight of each Buchmesse is the exhibitions and events put on for the literature of the “guest of honor” country, but this year that Ehrengast was to be the People’s Republic of China. That’s right: not the country in the world known particularly for its free press or tolerance of free expression, which you would think would be central themes to the very ethos of the annual Frankfurt goings-on. Maybe the Buchmesse executives, after honoring one country each year for so long, simply ran out of non-problematic countries to feature. More likely – since this custom of Ehrengast countries/literatures probably does not go back that far in time – someone in charge rather felt it was time to acknowledge the economic/political/demographic gorilla in the room and finally come to grips with granting the People’s Republic that one-time special status that it “deserves.” (more…)

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The Chinese Academic Threat, In German Eyes

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Germany confronts the Chinese threat – and all within the pages of the leading German commentary weekly Die Zeit! That is what we can now find on-line in the form of the article Should I learn Chinese now? Look closer, though, and the treatment is not quite what it might seem from the title; the piece actually originates from the Zeit Campus spin-off magazine, and so the article (by Nadja Kirsten and Philipp Schwenk) in its essence explores what the authors describe as “China as learning-factory that spits out cheap competitors into the world academic market.” Ultimately, as they show based on interviews conducted with a handful of German students actually studying in China and other available experts, this image is hardly true at all – despite that photograph of massed ranks of identically-clad graduates (yes, mostly in red) that the Zeit Campus editors chose to adorn the space just below the article’s headline and lede.

Kirsten and Schwenk do bring forth amazing facts about Chinese schools and Chinese students, some of which we have surely all heard before. The idea is that, seemingly throughout the entire breadth of the 1.3 billion citizens making up Chinese society, education is attended to fanatically as the best (and for many the only) means to advance oneself. So students routinely show up at school in the morning up to an hour before classes actually start, to get some preparation time in; and throughout their academic careers they have to deal with a constant stream of publicly-posted lists of class-rank and who scored precisely in what order on any individual examination. (more…)

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High Voltage Cut-Off for the Internet-Addicted

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Good news from the German pressetext website: On-line addiction – China stops electro-shock therapy. The Chinese (meaning, of course, from the People’s Republic) have for a while now been alarmed at the epidemic of Internet-addiction that has been plaguing their citizens, which scourge should be no surprise in view of the fact that the number of Chinese Internet users now exceeds even the total US population. As you might imagine, this overwhelmingly afflicts the young, and yes, the Chinese authorities’ solution has mainly been some electro-shock therapy, which to this observer does seem both rather harsh and questionable on sheer grounds of effectiveness (unless it’s just a matter of pure deterrence: “We catch you playing World of Warcraft again and its the electrodes for you!”). Indeed, according to this report the Chinese take this method one step further: “patients” must also get on their knees before their parents for “therapy” and are allowed to speak of nothing else other than their determination to beat their addiction.

Now the Health Ministry has announce this sort of “treatment” will be stopped. Ironically enough (and, frankly, also implausibly), it is supposedly doing so due to a huge wave of protest against the practice that has welled up over the Internet, of which a crucial component is expressions of doubts from actual psychology experts that such extreme methods really work at all. That’s also the opinion here of Bernd Dillinger, who is involved with an Austrian anti-Internet-addiction treatment site, the Institute for the Prevention of Online Addiction, who states “That they try in China to cure online-addicts with electro-shocks is completely incomprehensible to me personally. Such a procedure is in fact only possible in totalitarian states, among us it would be unthinkable.”

So what is appropriate treatment? Well, they’re still trying to come up with one that can be generally accepted, but at this point experts can already agree that the problem should be treated in a “value-less” way, i.e. assigning no blame, and that attractive alternative activities should be brought forward to engage the patient’s leisure-time. Naturally, this is not only a problem among the Chinese; estimates of how many Internet-addicts there are in German-speaking countries are still imprecise, but Dillinger assesses the total at around 1.5% to 3% of all Internet users.

UPDATE: Here’s a new report from the AP: yes, they’ve stopped the electro-shock therapy to treat Internet addiction in China, but people are dying at their “boot camp”-style treatment camps nonetheless!

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Kindle-Copy

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

You knew it was just a matter of time: From Johannes of the German readers-blog lesen.net we get word of a Kindle-clone out of China. It’s called the “Wefound”; it was first displayed to the public recently at some Japanese publishing-industry convention; and the organization behind it is the Founder Group of Peking University, which is bad news since that company is already famous for its hardware prowess, employs around 30,000 and has a yearly turnover of $6 million.

This “Wefound” should come out on the market by the end of this year and cost €150. As Johannes remarks, you’d have to think that the Founder Group will at least steer clear of the American market, where Amazon already has gained a patent on the “Kindle-Look,” for the thing is awfully similar to your standard Kindle 2: the same 6-inch “e-Ink” display, the same QWERTY keyboard, the same paging buttons – and even a digital publishing house lined up to sell content, called Apabi.

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That’s It, Then: It’s All the Chinese’s Fault

Monday, May 11th, 2009

It looks like World Bank released an interesting publication a few weeks ago, the “Global Monitoring Report.” Jørgen Steen Nielsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has got it covered, albeit with a title for his review-article that the World Bank bureaucrats would never have dared to formulate themselves: The Chinese saved up for the American binge. Likewise, Nielsen’s lede would probably have not passed muster with the World Bank editors:

The large developing country [i.e. the PR of China] through its loans financed the overconsumption in the USA that launched the global recession and now forces millions in undeveloped countries into unemployment, hunger, and extreme poverty, said the World Bank.

How many millions exactly? The report does provide these numbers: 55-90 million more people in undeveloped countries driven into extreme poverty, 50 million in addition to that made unemployed, and the ranks of the world’s chronically hungry growing to over one billion. China did this (that’s the implication Nielsen draws out from the report) by recycling its dollar earnings from exports to the US through the amassing of incredible quantities of US Treasury debt – $696 billion by the end of last year, now grown to $744 (out of a total amount of foreign-owned US Government debt obligations of $3.1 trillion).

Again, this is probably not the slant that the writers of this report originally intended. It seems clear that their point was rather to warn how the UN’s Millenium Development Goals are in danger of not being achieved by the target date, which is 2015. You probably don’t remember this (I don’t either), but back in September, 2000, there was a “Millenium Summit” held at the UN’s headquarters in New York City, the largest gathering of world leaders in history as of that date, when those leaders committed their countries (192 states in all) to certain anti-poverty/anti-disease goals. But now, the report writes, “it is improbable that most of the eight global goals agreed to can be achieved – among these the goals having to do with hunger, child- and childbirth-mortality, education and progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other serious diseases.” In particular, the report writes off entirely sub-Saharan Africa’s chances of achieving these goals.

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Find Dream Job Under the Knife

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

A number of the Flemish newspapers today are carrying the same brief article about an interesting approach to the job market currently being adopted in China. I might as well point you to the version in the Gazet van Antwerpen: Crisis drives Chinese massively to the plastic surgeon. Yes, operating under the assumption that the more attractive you are, the more you are likely to be hired, this piece tells how Chinese plastic-surgery patients are 40% more numerous now year-on-year. From a survey conducted at the Time Plastic Surgery Hospital [sic] in Shanghai, more than half of the people there for plastic surgery are motivated by considerations of finding either a new or a better job. Also: “most patients are women.”

Not to worry, though, because at least this Gazet van Antwerpen article provides its own antidote to those Belgians who might read it and think, “Yes, that’s a good idea!” For it is headed by a picture of an array of flesh-probing and -cutting tools indispensable to such procedures – yuck!

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No More Milli Vanilli, Silly

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

The following post is meant as a public-service “heads-up” message to one Ms. B. Spears.

Britney darling: I know that China is high on your list of tour destinations – “exploding market,” “millions of rabid fans,” and all that. But it looks like you’ll just have to cross it off. The authorities there seemed determined to seriously cramp your style. I mean it: forget about it.

This we learn today from an article in Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel, entitled Peking wants to punish “playback-singing.” What is this are they talking about? Yep, you guessed it: lip-synching. That’s could be a strict no-go soon, punishable by Chinese law as “fraud towards the public” (Betrug an der Öffentlichkeit, although I suspect the Chinese use yet another phrase for official purposes). In fact, the Chinese Culture Ministry is considering making not only lip-synching but also instrument-synching (or whatever you call pretending to play your instrument against the pre-recorded sound of it playing the required tune) against the law. (more…)

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Kennedy and America’s Downfall

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

First off, please note: that’s Paul M. Kennedy, history professor at Yale. One meta-theme that has been floating around the media throughout the global financial crisis of the last month or so has been variations on “the overthrow of the American century,” the “undoing of Wall Street as the world’s financial center,” and the like. If you’re going to write about this, what better expert to consult than Prof. Kennedy, author (although it was way back in 1987) of the noted history The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers?

Germany’s Die Zeit recently caught up with the good professor to do just that, sending correspondent Thomas Fischermann to grab an interview (“USA loses world-power status”). (more…)

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China’s Little Olympic Tricks

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

First of all, here’s confirmation of the point James Fallows made on his Atlantic Monthly weblog, namely that Chinese Olympic officials pre-recorded the spectacular chain-of-exploding-fireworks display that allegedly happened during the Olympics’ opening ceremony last Friday. From the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny we have an account (A Small Chinese Deception) of how it’s even true that some of those sensational explosion effects did not even actually happen, but were merely animation effects of the sort you would expect out of an animated movie from DreamWorks. That much Wang Wei, vice-chairman of the Beijing Olympic Committee admitted today to reporters. Incidentally, the caption to the one picture accompanying the article at the top, showing the Olympic flame, speculates “Perhaps the lighting of the Olympic flame was also only from a recording.” (more…)

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Give the Israelis the Dirty Work

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Sorry, the Olympics get started today, but that doesn’t mean that EuroSavant coverage will be dominated by them. You wouldn’t want that anyway, no? . . .

One aspect of the ongoing crisis around the alleged attempts by the Iranian government to develop nuclear weapons that usually goes unexamined is the attitude of Arab states, especially those in Iran’s immediate neighborhood. (Well, it’s true that the vagaries of the Iraq-Iran relationship have certainly received their fair share of attention – but let’s treat that as a special case.) Sami Al Faraj, President of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies (all I could find on the Net was this), gives an enlightening interview to Der Tagesspiegel about the Gulf state perspective on Iran (specifically, that of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia) in the article “Against Iran Much Harder Economic Sanctions Are Necessary”. (more…)

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Chinese Christian Community Under Pressure

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad is somewhat of an outlier in the European media sphere, as it is expressly a Christian newspaper. You can see right there in its logo, written at the top: Christelijk betrokken, or “Engaged in a Christian manner” (“Christianly engaged,” if you like). Surf to the paper’s website on Sunday and you’ll find nothing: that’s the Lord’s day of rest, after all.

It’s not alone, though: the Reformatorisch Dagblad, or “Reformed Daily,” is similar, although that website does stay open on Sundays. People should not confuse the allegedly “anything goes” atmosphere of cosmopolitan cities like Amsterdam (see this weblog’s recent coverage of the famous yearly Gay Pride parade there, for example) with Dutch culture as a whole, which in fact features some enclaves which can easily hold their own in the Christian piety department with any of the American Amish communities.

The Nederlands Dagblad reports today, as the 2008 Olympic Games open in Beijing, that the Chinese church leader Zhang Mingxuan was recently arrested by the authorities in his hometown in the province of Henan, along with his wife and another associate, and brought to an office of the “security services” in that province’s capital, Zhengzhou. This follows Zhang’s being driven out of his Beijing by the authorities at the beginning of last month, and then out of the city itself two weeks ago.

The Stichting De Ondergrondse Kerk (a Dutch name, of course: “Foundation of the Underground Church”) has issued a call to make these opening days of the Olympic Games days of prayer on behalf of the persecuted Christians in China.

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Nike etc. Worker Exploitation Carries On

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Wasn’t this issue addressed – and, to some extent anyway, solved – around the turn of the century? I thought Nike, at least, had gained whichever Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the labor practices at its manufacturing plants in Asia. Yet the old problems with those very labor practices seem to be still with us, at least according to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel which is carrying a report entitled Unions Criticize Nike & Co. (more…)

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