Written by Julen Madariaga on May 27th, 2012

I am leaving China for good. After 5 years in the country, and over 3 years writing this blog, it is time to say goodbye.

I wanted to write a closing post, even if the blog has been closed de facto for many months. The busy work activities of my last year in Shanghai and the arrangements to move into my next country have left me no time for writing. The appearance of new lands on the horizon has inevitably captured my attention, and left little of it for the productive obsession that was the sinosphere.

In the last year of the blog, after my website was blocked in China for the second time, there has been a marked decline in readership. I had to let go the original domain which had a privileged position on Google, and domain squatters used it to host an erotic website, and then a marketing site, hoping to make money off my SEO. I'm sure they have already made more than I ever did from the site.

Anyway, it is time to move on. The golden era of blogs is coming to an end. In the years to come, this conversation is going to happen more and more on the so called "social" media. Everybody will have their cookie cutter platform on Facebook, Twitter, and similar services, and nobody will bother to go through the trouble of building up and marketing a blog from scratch for the sole purpose of sharing ideas.

It´s only been 3 years, but what a run. I started writing mostly of the economy, in 2008 the crisis was everything. Then I became more interested in politics. Then tech and the internet, together with some book reviews. And all along language and culture, mixed with some fiction. Very early on, from the first few posts, I managed to catch the attention of the blogs and the specialised media, and soon the readers were pouring in and we had a lively conversation. This blog has been hard work, but I have learnt so much from it, and made good friends. It has been well worth the effort.

Thanks to all the readers and commenters, all the inbound linkers, and all the friends of the sinosphere. Maybe some day I will start another website, although it´s hard to imagine anything that will capture my attention so much as China circa 2008.

And finally, best wishes to China for the future. We have spent so many hours analyzing, dissecting, inferring, hypothesising and theorizing all about this misterious country. Regardless of all the criticism, I have a feeling that, in the years to come, she is going to do pretty well.

Language Thursdays: Parsing Chinese 1.0

Written by Julen Madariaga on May 7th, 2010


I was flying back from Chongqing recently when I was reminded of the very frustrating problem of reading Chinese. There was a movie on the cabin TV and it had a particularity: it carried subtitles in Chinese and English in parallel, in two lines of comparable font at the bottom of the screen.

As I watched I kept forcing my eyes to stick to the Chinese subtitles in order to exercise my reading (the sound was off) but it was pointless. Every single time, before I had finished reading the Chinese I already knew the meaning of the line anyway. The words in English just seemed to transmit their meaning even if I was not looking at them.

Reading Chinese

We already spoke last year about the problem of Reading Chinese functionally. It is very important for advanced students of Chinese, because progress beyond a certain level depends largely on this ability. Many foreigners are able to read slowly and even do good translations of Chinese texts with the help of a cursor dictionary. But to read functionally, in my definition, is a completely different thing. It means to be able to read all sorts of general texts as quickly and reliably as an average native. Click to continue »

Conclusions of Last Week´s Debate

Written by Julen Madariaga on April 22nd, 2011

Last week I wrote a post where I expressed some views on Ai WeiWei and other dissidents. This attracted an unexpected number of comments, and it even inspired a podcast in the best blog about China in Spanish, Zaichina. All in all, it has been a long and fruitful exchange, so I want to thank everyone for participating with an open mind. Below I write the conclusions I drew.

It is unfortunate that all this discussion started with a response to Osnos’ blog,  because it caused the whole debate to turn around that. I regret that by doing this I have upset some people I respect, who were actively demanding Ai’s release. The fact is I disagree with and even dislike many of Ai and Liu’s statements, but now that they’ve been imprisoned for speaking out their views, there is only one right thing to do. This blog stands for Freedom of Speech.

So I have decided to borrow the banner from the roof of the Tate Museum and hang it on my own roof until my next posting, or until my blog goes down, whichever happens first. It represents not only Ai and Liu, but any person who has been imprisoned merely for having different ideas or for exposing hideous crimes, like the American hero Bradley Manning. Click to continue »

Why Ai Matters - Why Not so Much

Written by Julen Madariaga on April 13th, 2011

Interesting article by Evan Osnos, explaining Why Ai Weiwei Matters. He gives three good reasons why we should not dismiss the Ai WeiWei case as irrelevant. Despite the annoying tone (he seems to imply that foreigners ignoring Ai Weiwei are brainwashed readers of The Global Times), it is fair to say that he addresses the issue effectively.

The trouble is,  I don’t think he chose the right issue to address. Many of us who (mildly) oppose all this Ai Weiwei fad don’t do so on the grounds of irrelevance, but for other more important reasons.  In particular, we fear that the disproportionate focus of Western media on characters like Nobel Liu XB or Ai WW is counterproductive, and it can undermine the democratic dissidence in China.

Both Liu and Ai are quite extreme characters. Both have a few things in common: an aggressive style, an economic dependency on the West, and (coincidence?) a radically pro-Western stance. More crucially, both share a taste for expressing their views or creating “art”  by means of destroying  the things that are dearest to all Chinese who love their country, communist or otherwise:  their history, their culture, their wounds of the colonial period. Click to continue »

An Interesting week in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on March 18th, 2011

So many things are happening outside China right now, I have the strange sensation that the roles have been reversed, and for once we are the onlookers instead of the targets of all eyes. It feels relaxing, and I note it’s had a great effect on the Chinese TV as well. After the absurdly oppressive weeks leading up to the NPC, they are now taking some time out.

bow japan flag

Some things I liked watching this week:

  • The coverage of the Earthquake continues to be great. Contrary to what some feared, the official media has prominently displayed the CCP leaders bowing to the Japanese flag, and some touching videos of Sichuanese victims remembering how Japan helped them in 2008. The hero of today? Not a soldier, but a young Chinese student who has decided to stay put in her post in Sendai, to continue with her duty in spite of the danger. I found it all really moving, perhaps because it was unexpected.
  • Another outside event: China has abstained from vetoing the UN resolution that allows “all necessary measures” against Libya if Gaddafi does not hold fire immediately. The same day the CCTV has openly explained this to the public, stating the possibility of foreign countries to intervene in Libyan affairs. I wonder if this would have been presented differently, had the tsunami not distracted attention from the Jasmine ideas—the vote itself would have probably been the same, it looks like there was no other option.
  • Finally back to China: there has been this amazing story of the salt, you can read it all in this interesting post. One of those crazy viral chains that spread like wildfire in China. Someone started a rumour that salt is essential against radiation, and within hours there was a nation-wide run on the convenience stores:


An interesting phenomenon that this blogger explains as lack of political trust. I agree, and I add the following:

What is really remarkable about China is that the hoarding was so completely irrational. I mean, why would you get salt of all things? Anyone can go on the internet and see third party information to check about the salt. The first thing I did Tuesday is goggle “salt iodine radiation” to find some expert advice.

It looks like Chinese people don’t have this instinct of looking for different sources, perhaps due to years of media control. In the end, this is not a story of distrust, but rather of blind trust: the trust of all those absurd sms chains started by some Zhejiang guys (salt merchants?) saying that you need to get salt.

What is it that makes Chinese society so conductive for viral chains? My guess: not only distrust of the government, but also the lack of a liberal education and the instinct to search the truth for themselves.

To be fair, it was mostly older people and uneducated peasants that acted this way, there is still hope for the young generations. My colleagues at work found it all rather funny, and I received lots of jokes. They were also spreading like wildfire on kaixinwang.

The Japanese are queuing to get water. The Americans are queuing to get iPad 2s. The Chinese are queuing to get salt.

Chinayouren is Free Again

Written by Julen Madariaga on March 10th, 2011

After a few months in the shade of the GFW, I wanted to get active again on the internet, so as a first step today I have unblocked my blog. I think there has been a few quirks this morning as I was moving to the new URL and some of you might have seen weird things come up in the RSS- sorry for that.

With the previous experience of 2009 and following my own instructions, this time it has been a piece of cake, I managed to get the site completely open in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, the GFW mechanism has also learnt since last time, and they have done  a URL block on the string “”, which has forced me to change my URL. My new address is:, write it down.

Yes, I know, how original. It is not supposed to be a statement of any kind, nor am I trying to rub it in. On the contrary, for those of you who have been paying attention, you know the only reason my unblocks are effective is because I am not well known to the censors. The minute I start getting too smart about it I will be down again in a click. This is not a campaign, and I am not an activist.

I chose free as in FOS, because it is easy to remember, but this operation is not free at all for me. I had to pay another 10$ for the new domain, and if this continues too long the GFW officers are going to squeeze Chinayouren dry. I feel also for the guys at the travel agency “” who have lost all the incoming connections from out of the mainland due to the URL string reset. They are mere pawns, as it were,  in an altogether larger game. Click to continue »

Get out of Here, Your Excellency

Written by Julen Madariaga on February 24th, 2011

I was very disappointed when I read this story about the US ambassador in Beijing taking part in the so-called “Jasmine” protests last Sunday. This is very bad news for Chinese supporters of democracy (yet again).

First of all, let’s be serious. The idea that the ambassador didn’t know what was going on is an insult to intelligence, his appearing on camera lying to a Chinese passer-by only makes things worse. You might argue he was casually walking around, but in a stroll protest walking around is precisely the way to participate. You might believe he was saying the truth, but that would mean he is an incompetent officer, ignorant of the situation on the ground. Clearly that is not the case.

No, the ambassador of the USA has openly and consciously joined a minority protest against the Chinese government in Beijing. Mr. Huntsman’s action is clearly not due to incompetence, but to careful calculation, based on Western vanity and political ambition.

Don’t American politicians understand that democracy can only win if it is seen as homegrown? What would happen if the French ambassador was seen joining a protest for, say, the health reform in the US, would this help further the Democrats’ agenda? Does this kind of action help the millions of real, anonymous Chinese who hope for a more open system? Certainly not. Click to continue »

Nobel Prize Thoughts

Written by Julen Madariaga on October 8th, 2010

I just learnt about Liu’s Prize. This is important news, which could mark the beginning of new developments in international politics.

Certainly, the whole thing would have been more effective if the Nobel wasn’t completely made worthless by last year’s award. But even without that, it couldn’t have any positive direct result. The government will not move because of outside pressure, and Mr.Liu, the brave drafter of the Charter, will hardly see his situation improved.

What this Nobel may probably bring is some important indirect consequences, such as:

1- The government will learn perhaps that raw power is not always the best way in international politics. How were they expecting to threaten Norway, not buying any more oil and smoked salmon? The problem of soft power, which ccp has definitely NOT mastered yet, may have to be reconsidered.

2- This is a very direct attack against the party, and even if it comes dressed in neutral scandinavian colours, everyone knows this represents the Western establishment. Internally this might provoke some reactions and give strength to the radical. This and the pressure on the yuan may quickly escalate in the coming weeks.

3- There is no way to know ultimately what will be the outcome of all this. From a pure justice point of view, clearly a person imprisoned for writing about human rights is more worthy of this prize than a newly elected politician. But looking at the World political and economic situation today, I am afraid this might be a not so smart move.

Let’s hope for the best. In the meantime, congratulations to Liu, a brave Chinese man.

A Study of Sex Selective Abortion in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on May 13th, 2010

In the 2010 Social Blue Paper, published last December by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there was a very interesting piece hidden among the 330 pages of socio-economic analysis. Under the title “Population problems China should pay attention to between 2011 and 2015″, this article contained some of the newest and most negative data to date about the important problem of gender imbalance, published by an official PRC source.

The data was immediately published by the People’s Daily Chinese. A month later, it came out in the English version of the paper, and since then it has been making the rounds of the Western press, with the predictable apocalyptic spin.  Within China, however, the article has failed to spark any significant debate, even though the subject wasn’t censored. It is already positive that the authorities speak openly of this problem, but clearly a different approach is needed to raise awareness and find solutions.

With the help of my sister, pediatrician Dr. Madariaga, I have been comparing data from different primary sources outside and inside China. The CASS data coming from China official statistics turns out to be very consistent with previous outside sources, like the often quoted BMJ study. It is also the most pessimistic of all, and the most politically credible, as the patriotic CASS can hardly be accused of anti-CCP bias.

What follows is my analysis of the existing research from a different perspective. Not to do projections on the future, but to see what these numbers tell us of the Chinese today, and what solutions can be found. The results are shocking, read and judge by yourself: Click to continue »

Facebook’s "Evil" Plan in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on April 23rd, 2011

The great China Beat has just published an article by James A. Millward about Facebook’s controversial plans for China.  The article is written from a human rights perspective, and it includes an interesting passage from LuXun’s Nahan.

“Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to wake a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?”


“But if a few awake, you can’t say there is no hope of destroying the iron house.”

Great quote, not unlike some of the comments I got in the Ai Weiwei post. Mr. Millward’s point is, in a nutshell:  that businesses do not have an obligation to spread democratic values, but that we can appeal to the stated principle of Facebook “to help people understand the world around them” and demand some action from their side.

This is an argument reminiscent of the Google non-evil saga, which makes me think:  the day all those tech companies stop getting themselves in trouble with their idealistic statements we will know the tech market is growing old.

The View from Reality Camp

Back from the fascinating realm of metaphor and into the tough Chinese internet. Quite apart from the moral side of this, there are some important issues with the practical implementation of the FB plan in China:

  • As Bill Bishop already mentioned, the train has long passed for FB here. General social networks are all about critical mass of users, the rest is gimmicks. The only possible chance would be, as suggested by Hu Yanping,  to come with an existing local player.
  • Either way, it is impossible to implement the level of censorship required on social networks today without effectively separating them from the rest of the World-(ie. to have the FB China servers open in China and the rest of the World with behind the GFW).
  • This makes the whole Facebook plan pointless indeed, as it fails to deliver the single value that, in my view, could justify all the trouble: to help connect China with the rest of the World.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t worry so much about the ethical side of this-I doubt we will ever reach that point.  Facebook may lend their name to some weird creature in China, perhaps, and they will pay it with their reputation.  But the real core of Facebook  is the 500 million community that it has in the World, and this, unfortunately, is out of reach for the Chinese netizens.

Creating the Landmarks: of Heritage Restoration

Written by Julen Madariaga on May 5th, 2010


One of the things that foreigners enjoy lamenting in China is the destruction of architectural heritage. It is understandable, modern China has a terrible record of heritage destruction, and today there are cities with 2,000 years of history where it is hard to find any trace of old construction. But the worst is that you can witness the destruction ongoing even today, before your very eyes.

It is true that in the last years there is a growing awareness of this cultural loss (and the loss of tourism revenues), and the authorities have started to take measures. Unfortunately, these measures come in the form of “restoration”, usually by the method of demolishing and re-building something vaguely similar, in brand new materials. Of the many infamous examples of this, perhaps the concrete-and-plastic Jing An Temple in Shanghai is the most obvious. Click to continue »