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Low on EQ (2): Welcome to Kamp Krusty

Monday, December 21st, 2009

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Look what I found in my letterbox today. An advert for the "Toothy Rabbit’s Children’s EQ Camp!"

Those of you who are patient enough to stick to this blog might remember the last post I did about the popularity of self-help/business books in China, and in particular those related to Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Not surprising at all, we said, in a society where the education system is ruthless, that the alternative concept of R.Goleman’s EQ is welcome by millions of Chinese with almost religious faith.

But somehow, I think they got it all wrong.

The program in the camp includes courses on leadership,controlling emotions,competitiveness, determination and social networking, among other scary items. The minimum age to access the camp is 3 years old, and the booklet is not exactly describing games, but rather hardcore EQ training from the start. It looks pretty successful too, with some 10 centers already open in China, as you can see in the map below.

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Little girls learn to lift hands like Hu Jin Tao

Now I don’t mean to be more snarky than is strictly necessary on this blog, and I am afraid I might be looking at this from a very European angle. I am told in the US  as well as in China people believe in these things, and I respect you if you do.

But parents: please let the children play, meet new friends, prowl about the nongtang forming bands of little outlaws, ride the bikes around the compound like nutty Shanghai taxis and come back home every other week with a bruised knee and one tooth in the pocket. That will give them loads of EQ. I did that as a kid, and look where I am now, single handedly running Chinayouren.

And I just can’t wait to get the next pamphlet for a "Wacky Mouse Moving your Cheese Summer Camp for toddlers"

Low on the EQ side: the New Philosophy of China

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

51aVuMO1vSL._AA200_ There are some beliefs that, although not originally from China, were embraced so thoroughly by the Chinese that they became part of the local culture. One example is Buddhism, imported from India in ancient times. Another one, I have found out, is the teaching of the modern management gurus, imported from the USA.

It is interesting how analysts of China continue to explain all the  social phenomena with the Confucian tradition, when it seems to me that the Johnsonian and Golemanian thought must be at least as influential nowadays. Walk into any Chinese bookshop or check out the local pirate’s tricycle to see that self-improvement and cheese management titles rule supreme. The glossiest and most liquid books on the front table are the likes of: “Train yourself to start the next Google”, “How I changed myself from a complete idiot to a Fortune 500 CEO”, or “How I built a company that acquired the  company of the idiot in the previous book”.

Now, I have to warn you at this point: the titles mentioned may not be 100% exact, I am illiterate in the field of self-improvement. As a conceited, self-styled free-thinker I cannot help an almost classist repulsion towards those works, and I frown even on the  tricycle that sells them. During my years in the old Europe I happily managed to stay away from the rites of personal productiveness.  But ever since I moved to China, the new philosophy is lurking at every turn of phrase, and all resistance is in vain.

One of the concepts that appears most often in conversation is that of EQ, or emotional intelligence, coined by D.Goleman in his 1995 best-seller. After dozens of Chinese  spin-offs over the years, it has become an everyday expression here. It is not surprising that an idea like EQ should be so popular in the highly competitive Chinese system, where it provides some much needed comfort: don’t worry if you didn’t make it into a top Uni - the books say - because it’s not IQ but EQ that will determine your future. The pair IQ/EQ is also known in Chinese as 智商/情商,(zhishang/qingshang), although I find that the English abbreviation is more commonly used.

Whenever EQ comes up in conversation I like to point out that the concept is unscientific, especially in the loose form in which it is used here. But my wikipedic erudition always fails to impress the locals, and I have seen my EQ summarily analyzed in multiple occasions. The first time this happened to me was during a lunch with my colleague Jia, an otherwise bright engineer, in the first year of my stay in China. I can remember it almost vividly:

- Uln, your Chinese is getting pretty good.
- Thanks -  I ignored it. The comment is standard icebreaker in mandarin.
- You have a very good IQ -  he continued.
- Hm, thanks, you are also not bad.
- Yes, but.
- But? –

He looked me intently in the eye. It must have been the expression called “frank positive emphatic” in page 362 of the emotional book. When the look had been established, he proceeded:

- IQ is not good enough.
- No?
- No, you should watch your EQ.
- You mean, Ah Q, by Luxun?
- No, I mean E-Q.
- So who wrote that one?
- Nobody did.
- It’s  not a book?
- It is many books.
- Is it any good?
- Listen here. EQ is what explains why some people with lower IQ get further in life than others with higher IQ!
- You mean, like guanxi.
- No, like emotional intelligence.
- Ah, I thought…
- Guanxi is just a part of it. EQ is  about your skills to get on in life!
- I see.

But I didn’t see. That human relations and non-technical skills are essential in one’s career was one obvious thing, that I should check my parameters like a cranky old motor was quite a different one.

- Your IQ is Okay - he insisted -  but you should watch your EQ.
- Like what?
- Like there are open positions in HQ, that would be a good move for your career.
- What?
- A corporate level position is the way to leverage your expat experience .
- But I don’t want to live in Paris!
- You see, that is EQ.

I was beginning to feel a bit annoyed by the philosophy. I weathered another “empathic positive penetrative” while I plotted my counterattack.

- So, why don’t you apply to go to Paris yourself? – I said finally.
- What, me?
- Yes, of course, you have much more experience!
- But I am not an expat!
- So what, it’s not required.
- You know, Uln – he paused slightly - I have my children to take care of.
- There are family packages.
- She would never let me, my in-laws would kill me!
- Hah! –I said victorious - You should watch your EQ!
- But I already do!!

And this time he quickly looked away, forgetting the EQ looks, as if to hide some shameful thought. But too late, I had caught him already. It was my turn to pull the thread.

- Jia?
- Yes?
- You are pretty serious about this EQ, right?
- Er, I … do what I can.
- Building  good connections in the company is a good strategy, right?
- Er..  you might say that.
- Like having a friend in the HQ,  for example, right?
- Huh? No, no, of course I didn’t say that..I wouldn’t…
- Jia?
- Well?
- You have an excellent EQ, Jia, you know that?
- Oh, haha, no, no, thanks, you have an excellent IQ…

Stab in my back: TV Serials and Communist Ethics

Friday, November 13th, 2009

I have realized lately that, due to a certain unbalance in my training methods, my Chinese reading skills might be running ahead of my speech, and I have been forced to take severe corrective measures. At the risk of turning this into an SM blog, I am going to speak today of the terrible penance I imposed on myself to make up for that error. Brace yourself: I watched a whole 22+ hours communist TV serial on CCTV, all in a single week and pausing to understand every word and chengyu.

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It is the latest super production of the “Red Army against Capitalists” kind, called 冷箭, or “Stab in the back”. The first chapter was launched the day of the 60th Anniversary, on CCTV 1 prime time, proving that it was born to be big. Even if it didn’t live up to expectations (it was switched later to CCTV 8 nights), I am guessing that more people have watched this than the “Foundation of the Republic” film that so excited Western minds. Admittedly, there is little buzz on the internet about 冷箭, but that is just because the target audience is a different (and much larger) group than the internet community. My own investigations with taxi drivers indicate that it had a very strong following, at least in the first weeks.

For all those who complained about political propaganda in the “Foundation of the Republic” (or in Independence Day, for that matter), those are just amateur efforts next to this “Stab in the Back”. Because the Stab is not concerned with distorting facts, but with edifying and providing a complete moral system for the people. And like most of these widely watched Chinese TV serials, it still follows loyally in the spirit of the first moralizing plays organized by the 1930s partisans in Shaanxi.

A Little Critique

Regarding artistic merit, I will just briefly say that, although this looks like one of the highest budget “Red Army” serials to date, an improvement in quality does not follow. The main problem is the visible incompetence of its producers and actors almost without exception. Knowing that Chinese are very well capable of doing good films when they are given some freedom, I can only suppose this is the result of dead imaginations bureaucratically selected and nurtured by CCTV mummy-cadres.

In this case the main story is about — surprise- a Long March towards the West, where the Captain discovers that there is a Capitalist enemy spy infiltrated in the team. In fact not only one, but two, and three, and more are found in every chapter, until by the end of the serial the largest part of the brigade are actually undercover agents. This gives the poor captain played by borderline Huang Zhizhong countless occasions to run his fits of histrionic paranoia, apparently a main selling point. One can’t help wondering why all those spies don’t just get together to kill their clownish captain, rename their brigade with the KMT star, and get on with their counter-revolutionary business.

I don’t know if you have experienced this before when watching a film, but it is one of those instances when deplorable script and performance manage to kill the suspension of disbelief right from the first sequence. Then, suddenly, you find yourself watching a bunch of adult people walking around in funny clothes and uttering pointless nonsense. The result is embarrassing.

I have never been much of a TV watcher, but I do understand that TV films are substandard anywhere in the World, and nonsensical plots or braindead dialogs are by no means exclusive of China. Even the fixation with the deeds of the Red Army marching West is not necessarily more ridiculous than, say, the fixation with illiterate cow herders during the golden age of Westerns. But there is something in these Chinese serials that makes them unique beyond the obvious propaganda and quality issues, and that is the complete set of values that they embody for the edification of the masses.

Edifying the Masses: A Communist Catechism

This is the first time, (and most surely the last) that I watch a complete Chinese propaganda serial, but I believe that the effort is not wasted. Because only getting inside these long works one can appreciate that deeper level that flows underneath, the construction of  a public moral system that is very much akin to Religious Instruction.

Here are a few of the points I noted while watching the Stab, for the benefit of those who want to understand these works without throwing 22+ hours of their life down the drain:

  • Love: The scenes of love are tacky to nauseate an armored brigade, with perhaps the best example in this scene in minute 40 chapter 4, when the captain “falls in love”. In general, love among the communists is virtuous and innocent, and always secondary to the interests of the organization. There is not the slightest romantic indulgence, no concessions to passion other than for the party. When the communist lover is told that her beloved is a Capitalist spy, she abandons him on the spot, and volunteers to kill him if necessary.
  • Sex: Of course, this puritanism does not stop the young lieutenant from having proper sex (under the sheets) starting chapter 25, in a clear effort by the authors to attract more audience. “乱搞男女关系!” (disorderly do man-woman relations!!) chastely exclaims the captain when he gets the news through a disgustingly virtuous informer. But worry not, the ethical purity is safeguarded. These two sinners have betrayed the higher cause, and they receive their deserved punishment without further delay: death at the hands of some brigands.
  • Violence: We have  seen enough of the likes of Eastwood in Alcatraz to have some expectations about the frightful fate of new prison inmates (especially if they are male!). I don’t know to what extent this violence is consistent with reality, but what I am pretty sure is that prison wardens do not tell off the inmates screaming “don’t be naughty”, and major disputes in the common cells are not settled through pillow fights. This is exactly how things are done in 冷箭, making the whole experience for the high level KMT prisoners like a children’s Summer Camp. This is one of the most puzzling parts of the communist ethics, and the most difficult to grasp in a movement that was imposed largely through violent revolution. It seems to come from a belief in molding mentalities through peaceful labour, but, as we will see below, it has little to do with the Christian notion of “turning your other cheek”.
  • Class virtue: Virtue is presented as a characteristic of the proletarian class, and salvation must necessarily follow. Like the ancient Christians looking for consolation in the Bible before they were thrown to the lions, so the Chinese Laobaixing today seem to find solace in these serials, while they wait for the next corrupt CCP cadre to come and tear their homes to serve a rich developer. The notion of a Final Judgment that accompanies this kind of teaching is represented through the iconic verses of the Internationale, sung at several points in the serial, with the main theme conspicuously inspired in the melody of the first verse.
  • Forgiveness and Revenge: There is an appalling scene of revenge (ch 31 38:00) when the main spies are apprehended, that completely shocked me after 20 hours of mellow bloodless harmony. The righteous blows of the officers are completely devoid of mercy, enjoying the raw pleasure of revenge. In my observation of the Chinese, this represents very well the paradox of their ethical system: Chinese are by nature far more tolerant than any Western people, but –perhaps as a necessary consequence – once a certain level of crime is attained, this sets off a mechanism of ruthless punishment where the object ceases to be seen as human. This is perhaps the most important difference with Christian influenced ethics, where our less tolerant natures were softened by the love doctrines of the New Testament. The whole discussion of death penalty in China vs. Europe is an interesting modern development of this difference in outlooks.

Some Conclusions

There are many ideas here worth commenting further, perhaps one of the most interesting would be to see how this communist system of ethics is working (or failing) to keep the always delicate balance between 道德 (virtue) and Deng Xiaoping’s 致富 (getting rich).

Clearly, Chinese are not the only ones to introduce ethics into their TV serials. Popular Western serials have long been educating us with teachings as varied as respect for minorities, tolerance of homosexuality, patriotism or democracy. But crucially, while the Western system of moral instruction has evolved with the times and deals with problems facing today’s society, the Chinese system has remained stuck in the 1930s, with the characteristic rigidity of Religious ethics. As a consequence, there is a growing, insurmountable gap in China between the ideas preached and the real needs of the ordinary citizens. This may be having the catastrophic effect of eliminating all ethics from mainland Chinese life.

When we speak of problems like perceived racism, corruption, lack of respect for the public goods or environment, how much of these are related to a lack of a realistic, up-to-date moral support, or to the hijacking of ethics to serve the single interests of the CCP power elite?

I would like to say more about this, but unfortunately this post has got out of control already, and I know nobody reads past the first 1000 words. Write your ideas below about any particular point and if we get some interesting discussion going on we can try to expand the subject in a new post.

Race and Sensitivity

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The discussion about racism in China keeps coming back every once in a while, and each time it arouses the strongest passions. This is a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time, following the interesting comments we had in March, and as a conclusion to the Xinjiang series.

The story that sparked the debate this time is that of Lou Jing, a Chinese half black participant in a TV talent show who has been the object of racist remarks on the internet. I don’t think this is in itself significant, netizens of all countries are well known to post outrageous comments that they would never utter in real life. But quite apart from that, it is clear that there is a particular attitude to race in China that shocks many in the West, and this bears some reflection.

Because it is not just immature netizens, but also respected people with names and surnames who support jokes like this, or write comments like this. Of course, in many cases what we see is just a visceral reaction to accusations coming from the West. It is ironic and surely annoying  for many Chinese to think that, even in a field where China has always fared better than them, the arrogant, patronizing Westerners still feel justified to give them public lessons.

But after the first wave of heated comments has passed from both sides, it is worthwhile to look at things calmly, and see what is the reality behind these misunderstandings. And the reality is that it is all too common in China to hear such statements as “Uyghurs are dangerous” or “Africans are less intelligent”, or even, surprisingly enough, “whites are more capable than Asian”. All of them rather startling comments to a Western ear, but which Chinese never ascribe to racism.

In fact, most seem to follow the simple logic: “there is no problem in China because, unlike Westerners, Chinese are not racist”. This idea clearly comes from the fact that the large majority of Chinese have no experience with different races other than the studio material produced by the propaganda department, where nations are smiling children in colourful costumes. And behind it all is the “Union of the Peoples” inherited from the communist doctrine, which still stands on what might be described as the center of the country:

Mao said

Mao: “For the union of the peoples of the World, hurrah”

I am not implying that this communist ideal was not sincere. It was, and it probably still is for many people. The problem is that, while some decades ago this surely was in the vanguard of tolerance and respect, in the globalizing World of today it just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Because sure enough, the Chinese are right to say that it is not for Westerners to dictate acceptable racial attitudes. But neither is this a prerogative of the Han. Ultimately it is the peoples that feel discriminated, be it Africans or Uyghurs, who should  have a major say. For in any dispute, it is not the offending, but the offended party who decides (within some reasonable limits) what words or attitudes are insulting.

Ultimately, the development of new racial attitudes in China will have important consequences for the whole World, and in particular for its own national interests. The process is still in its initial steps, but already some key challenges are apparent: internally, as more minorities are questioning their treatment by the Han; and externally, as China tries to expand its influence in strategic regions like Africa and South America. All the soft power obtained in these areas will be worthless if the Chinese fail to show convincing respect to the peoples living there.

And again, is China racist?

So is there really a problem, and if so, what can be done to solve it? As some Chinese would have it: Is it wrong just because we say that Asians are better at math and black Americans better at basketball? In other words, is China racist?

From my own observation, China is in essence no more racist than most other countries. Which is to say, very much indeed. Because that is how most of the World is today, and how it has always been. If there is a notable difference between China and the West, it is just one of appearance: we are better at hiding our prejudice.

Indeed, in the West we censor ourselves to a point that it is hardly even acceptable to ask questions like the one in italics, which boils down to: “Do different races have on average different sets of skills?” The non-prudish answer to this is obviously yes, as can be learned from simple observation. Different races, just like different genders, tend to have slightly different characteristics, and this diversity has never been a problem for honest, open minded people, but rather the opposite.

The problem comes when obtuse individuals choose to focus partially on these differences, and then theorize them in a way as to satisfiy some low psychological needs. And at times such individuals have even convinced enough people to be able to rule their country, invariably leading it to ruin and to shame. From old Sparta to imperial Japan, history shows that short-sighted ideas of ethnic purity do not yield best results, groups based on those premises consistently falling behind the creative power of diverse societies.

So, knowing that in every country the obtuse are legion, what has the West done to prevent those outbreaks which oppose diversity and “brought untold sorrow to mankind”? Recognizing that human stupidity knows no bounds and cannot be eliminated, Western societies have instead learnt to sweep it under the carpet. And in an amazingly short period of time, in the second half of the XX century, they have developed a series of norms to regulate speech, enforcing them through the power of the socially acceptable. This non-written code, derisively known as PC, ensures that individuals can remain as prejudiced as ever, but will refrain from making it public, or else face social exclusion.

In the meantime, China’s insular society has never really felt up to now the need to develop these restraints, and so its racial prejudice is able to run free in conversation, shocking the sensitive ears of the occasional foreigner, and earning little goodwill from the peoples they are supposed to befriend.

Should China follow the West?

There is a natural resistance from the Chinese to adopt any kind of PC solution, mostly because they don’t feel the problems described apply to them: in the history of racist madness, they were mostly on the receiving end. And it is fair to say that, as a people, Chinese have always been one of the most tolerant, accepting different religions and cultures at a time when their counterparts in the West were already going berserk to eliminate the infidel. Why would such a civilized society need to apply the same rigid standards of restraint as the wild West?

It should not, in my opinion, and China is right to ignore upfront many of the Western over-reactions. In a healthy community there is nothing essentially wrong with calling a black “black” or a yellow “yellow”, like Chinese and other peoples do. The complex, guilt-ridden American style PC is best suited for the conditions of that particular country, and should not be forced onto the Chinese.

But this is not to say that the system should not be improved. From my observation of some of the affected communities in China, it looks like the present state of affairs is far from ideal. Chinese should work to modernize their rusty, communist era conceptions and little by little come up with a more realistic, more equal and less condescending racial attitude that will be key for the success of the coming challenges, internal and external. And the State alone cannot undertake this modernization. Like in the West, it is society at large, with its authors, and celebrities,  and other public role models that should join in the effort.

Chinese have a golden opportunity now to build their racial attitudes starting almost from scratch, from intelligence and generosity rather than from guilt, and to regain the image of tolerance and good sense in international relations that their country has deserved.

Penance for a lazy Laowai

Monday, September 14th, 2009

It has been a while since I last wrote, and now I feel the typical blogger’s guilt, the same that drives some weaker souls to start all their blog posts with unasked apologies. But worry not, we are not that kind of blog. We don’t ask for forgiveness here, and that is because we already punish ourselves even before facing the public. What better penance than playing the role of a lab rat for a sociological experiment? Using our own body to test in the open some potentially lethal phenomena?

What follows contains shocking images made public here for the first time. Sensitive readers are advised to close this website now before reading on.

The laowai phenomenon

Everyone familiar with China has heard of this phenomenon. When a person with non-Asian features wanders in the country he gets hundreds of local fingers pointed at him, as he is promptly and thoroughly informed that he is a foreigner (“laowai !”). Even in the 21st century, after 30 years of reform and opening, this behavior is prevalent in most areas out of the foreign-populated centres of Shanghai and Beijing.

Although some foreigners still take offense, it is by now widely acknowledged that the “laowai call” is just  a neutral form of expressing curiosity in a country that is almost entirely uni-racial. It has also been explained as part of a socializing device that consists of stating the obvious to each other, like “Hey, you are back from work!” or “hey, you are a laowai”.

IMG_1116 (1280x960)22Fig1: Standard testing equipment: “laowai has come!” - “laowai has left!”

But enough theory now. This Summer we took a completely different approach and decided to test the Chinese people’s humour by entering some of the most dangerous bumpkin infested areas of the country wearing the garment in Fig 1. The sampling areas selected were: the tourist village of Zhujiajiao and a fake market in Shanghai.

The challenge was phenomenal, and the reaction of the public was correspondingly massive and spectacular, with whole streets turning their heads or popping out of windows to share in the excitement. It was a great performance of what I believe is called “Kazakh humour”, its main characteristic being that nobody is sure who is laughing at who.

Among the passers-by we discerned and duly registered in the log book the 3 following attitudes:

  1. Conspirational –  Those who were laughing with us.
  2. Malicious –  Those who were laughing at us.
  3. Annoyed – Those who felt they were being laughed at.

Fortunately, the Chinese passed the humour test remarkably well, falling mostly into category #1, with some children and local lowbrows accounting for the #2s. We didn’t encounter any crazy patriot accusing us of hurting people’s feelings, which confirms my previous notion that those people can only be so silly when under the anonymity of the internet. In any case, this T-shirt is a must if you want to be famous in a mid-size Chinese town in the first 5 minutes of your arrival.

Some more pictures of the experiment:

IMG_1177 (1280x960)In the fake market

IMG_1119 (1280x960)Relaxing facial muscles after hours of being pointed at

The next challenge

If you liked this performance stay tuned for the next experiment. We have obtained the necessary gear to boratize this time an altogether different social group. Equipped with the 7” mangy moustache and the genuine garment in Fig 2, this specimen will make its appearance at the next fashion show in the exclusive M1NT bar. How will the high society in expat Shanghai (more than 50% clad in fake Paul Smith) fare in our test?

DSC_2641 (1280x857)Fig 2. Whiskered specimen used for laboratory testing

Lessons from Xinjiang: The Deep Roots

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

eeeee One of the essential purposes of a government is to ensure the safety of the citizens and, from this point of view, the Chinese government has failed spectacularly in Urumqi.

To begin with, it did not afford sufficient protection to the Han victims during the night of 5th July. Some wrong decisions were most likely taken during the crisis, and the leaders of the forces of order owe at least some explanation to the Chinese.

But the CPC has failed in a more crucial way, which cannot be ascribed to simple human error in time of emergency. It has failed to create the conditions for the peaceful coexistence of the Chinese; it has failed in the very objective that it states as its own: the creation of a harmonious society. 200 Chinese killed by Chinese are the clear proof of this failure.

I will analyze in this post some of the reasons why the interethnic policies may have failed and what can be done to  improve the situation. There are many good arguments both for and against the independence of Xinjiang, which would make for a fascinating discussion, but I will not touch the subject here. Whatever the theory says, the reality is that Xinjiang is and shall remain Chinese for the foreseeable future. Large numbers of both Han and Uyghur can equally call Xinjiang their homeland, and these peoples have to learn to live together for their own sake. Let’s try to be constructive and see how this can be achieved.

The intentions of the CPC

I began by saying that the government has failed, which is obvious. But to be completely fair, interethnic relations is an extremely difficult area where almost every government in the World has failed to some degree. Looking at the region where Xinjiang sits, and comparing with interethnic and interreligious strife in similar nearby countries we have to acknowledge that the record of Xinjiang in the last 20 years is far from catastrophic.

Some argue that there are no worse problems –fundamentalism, suicide bombings, war- just because the Han are repressing the Uyghur population to inhuman extremes. This is easily proven wrong, and anyone who has been to the area knows this much. Moreover, a simple look at the World can tell us that even the most extreme repression by the army does not guarantee peace, but rather the opposite, as seen in Uzbekistan, Chechnya or Palestine. It is not mainly force, but prosperity and stability that have kept the Uyghurs silent.

The party’s interethnic policies have failed, but the very existence of these policies and their actual enforcement speaks a lot for the nature of the CPC’s intentions. The clear goal of the party is to guarantee China’s unity, stability and harmony, it is not and has never been to impose the supremacy of the Han. Granted, China is an authoritarian regime, and individual rights are not always respected, in Xinjiang or in any other province. China needs democracy and rule of law, but this has nothing to do with the oppression of the Uyghur by the Han.

Interethnic policies

Let’s take a look at the essential of these interethnic policies, which mostly come in the form of positive discrimination: 10 added points in the gaokao exams for access to university, partial exclusion from the single child policy, quotas (but rather low) in the administration and, most surprising of all: an explicit policy of lenient treatment for non-political crimes, which is known to all Chinese in the form of the common assumption: “be careful with Uyghurs, they can carry knives”.

Another group of policies are the ones destined to avert the danger of Islamic fundamentalism. These include prohibition to wear headscarves and other religious attire in schools and government buildings,  prohibition for under 18 year olds to attend prayers at the mosque, and strict control of the clergy. While we can accuse these policies of offending sensibilities, we might as well say that France has a similar headscarf prohibition, and that China is consistent with its clear principle of forbidding religions to engage in politics. An enlightened rule, in my opinion, more so in a place where there is reasonable grounds for fearing religious fundamentalism.

Other more recent policies, decided by the maximum leader of the party in the region, Wang Lequan, are less justifiable. In particular the one related to having all the schools teach solely in Mandarin makes no sense and can only spark resentment among the Uyghurs. The logic of this decision is that all citizens need to be proficient in mandarin, but this point is not technically sound, as it has been proven that a full bilingual education from early age is compatible with proficiency in two languages.

Grievances

One interesting point in the conflict of July and its aftermath is that it was never made clear what exactly the protesters wanted. The WUC had plenty of media time, but it didn’t present a consistent program. Kadeer dedicated her appearances to send out casualty figures and to deny her role in the events, relating them to the Guangdong incident. As a result, it is difficult to know which of the Chinese policies are most resented by Uyghurs, other than being “colonized and repressed”. The absence of a moderate Uyghur voice makes things very difficult to understand, another consequence of the heavy handed government of Wang Lequan.

In any case, it looks like it is not so much a matter of one policy in particular, but a problem of attitudes between the Uyghurs and he Han. A problem of integration and mutual misunderstanding that is so typical of interethnic conflict in any Western country, rather than a conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed. This is consistent with many of the observations of foreigners living in Xinjiang.

Much has been written in the West about positive discrimination, and you might be familiar with the kind of problems it can create. There is a natural reaction of resentment in the poorest elements of the majority group at what they see as unjust favouritism towards minorities. But worst of all, policies such as “2 restraints, 1 leniency” lend themselves to abuse and often benefit the worst individuals in the minority, starting a vicious circle of negative selection.

In China positive discrimination is particularly vicious because the Han, encouraged by the official media, tend to take these few concessions as a definitive proof of their generosity towards the Uyghurs, which then gives them carte blanche to engage in all sorts of discriminating behaviours, in many cases not even realizing that they are being unfair.

The Uyghurs react to this perceived –and often very real- discrimination by adopting the role of eternal victims and recalling the invasion of the bingtuans, or the dilution of their people, which is hardly a strong argument as: 1- A large part of the bingtuan population is not installed in Uyghur areas, 2- The Chinese have been doing bingtuan-like activities in Xinjiang long before the Uyghurs even arrived and 3- Chinese companies  have all the right to establish in any areas of their country as long as they are not forcefully expropriating the original owners.

Some possible solutions

In conclusion, I think this is not so much a matter of bingtuan, oppression or ethnical dilution, but rather a matter of complete insensibility from both sides Han and Uygur, and most of all from the Chinese government in Xinjiang, whose head only cares about pleasing Beijing.

I know the really important problem – lack of democracy and rule of law - will not change in Urumqi until it does in Beijing. But without looking so far, I have some modest suggestions to the CPC of Xinjiang that should be easy to try and improve the situation.  All relatively simple points, more gestures and attitudes than large power concessions:

  • Don’t forcefully modernize Kashgar declaring it backward.
  • Don’t force monolingual schools on people for their own benefit.
  • Impose 100% bilingual schools for all in majority Uyghur areas.
  • Stop, progressively and with tact, the leniency policies.
  • Enforce the laws against discrimination in job postings.

But most important of all, I have one advice for the government of China that is not restricted only to Xinjiang: Actively promote mutual respect and understanding among different cultures and races.

This ability is seriously lacking in most Chinese of all ethnicities, as this essential part of their education has for years been substituted by clichéd touristic dances and children in costumes. This spells trouble for China not only with the minorities, but also in other regions where it wants to earn respect and expand its influence, like Africa or South America.

NPC and the internet Thunders: Browsing Tour

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

fireshot-capture-29-e4b8ade59bbde694bfe5ba9ce7bd91-www_gov_cn_zlftThere was some buzz last week on the Chinese internet about this supposedly new concept of  Online Democracy. The excitement started with the weird “elude the cat” story, and then continued when Premier Wen JiaBao chatted online with “internet friends” .  David Bandurski of the China Media Project, who has been watching these things for a long time, was rather sceptical, although  some interesting ideas appeared in his comments.

I go back to this because I am surprised there hasn’t been much said about the internet chats that for the first time have been organized with legislators participating in the NPC-CPCC Annual Sessions. Where has all this gone?  Not even the Chinese language internet seems to be very interested, judging by the search 网络民主.  It is obvious that without a strong push of the propaganda machinery the “internet friends” don’tpay much attention to these initiatives.

And why didn’t the State Media push it this time? Perhaps they are bored of it already, or perhaps  not everyone was very hot for the idea of “online democracy”. For example,  NPC chairman Wu Bangguo, one of the strong men in the politburo standing committee, who made these encouraging statements yesterday.

In the end, it is not so much about democracy (that’s too big a word for the NPC), but more about trying to give it some sort of role in participatory politics that would allow the legislators to take into account at least some requests of the public. The problem is, this year again, the NPC has given an image of being just a big annoying “Carnival”,  where the guest’s only role was to clap at the words of Mr. Wu.

Did I say the only role? No wait, the deputies  also have the duty of making proposals, and some of them must be pretty talented, judging by their phrases “amazing like thunder”.

ULN takes you for a browse

But follow me for a minute as I browse the Chinese internets, see what interesting things we can find on this subject. A good place to start is izaobao, with their daily roundup of bloggy stories: Click to continue »

Fujian in just 5 Words

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Here is the illustrated report of our Fujian trip. Today I present some clear symptoms of blogorrhea after my 5 day internet abstinence. So we’ll try to keep it ruly and live up to my Bull Year’s resolutions. I am applying the special astringent potion: Max 5 words per picture. The rest in your imagination: 一切尽在不言中.

Every village had a church


热闹 means Hot and Noisy!

The temples were 热闹

The faithful like burning stuff

The mosque was less 热闹

Love Church was not 热闹

Beach of the Grande Jatte

No! Muslims don’t eat porc

We met an electric fisherman

Administration + Participation = Administpation

Hate those noisy cracker vandals

Shooting and Bumpers: Safety first

Ming Walled Chongwu is Magnetic

Let’s get chicken at EFC’s!

No! my chicken at CBC’s!

Ah, finally: it’s a KFC’s!

Macdonalds + Kentucky’s = Mac-Ken-Ji’s !!

Mac-Ken-Ji’s: Children’s playground, Grandpa’s shrine

Fairy houses made of seashells

发展 wave engulfs the past

Model Street Award: Zero Imitations

I

My polos always at Coddle’s

Model Workers Instruction: Model Street

The Fat of the Land

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I know I shouldn’t be linking the same source all the time, but since I got my new coded connection I have rediscovered the Time China Blog and I just can’t get my eyes off it. Check out this picture of the rich corn fields in Ningxia in their last post by Lin Yang. After the recent avalanche of crisis articles, this must be the most heartening piece of info I have seen in weeks.

In her message, Lin Yang explains how, during their holiday trip to the native land, they were surprised to see the prosperity of the Ningxia farmlands, where 30 years earlier they had known trickier times. Obviously this is not a scientific study, and I don’t know if the situation applies to all farms or all parts of the province. But I am happy to see that, for once, the Good Earth is bringing prosperity to her children. Consider this paragraph:

It is hard work though. It usually takes a couple of years to break new land, and Wang spent the last two decades acquiring the 50 acres he has now. The family grows mostly corn, but also vegetables and melons (a local specialty). Last year the harvest was 200,000kg. In fact, over the years Ningxia has gained the reputation as Hong Kong’s vegetable basket, and migrant workers have been returning to the west to pick up their old trade.

This is a tribute to the patience and hard work of the men and women of the land. Madoff and all the band of crooks in Wall Street, the conceited Shanghai sharks and vain princesses who look down on immigrant workers, they can read this when they sit, in a few months time,  wondering how they lost their jobs. And perhaps some of them should be sent to labour the Ningxia fields and learn what honest work feels like. That would be a way to make something useful of the old reeducation camps.

Popcorn Doomsday Scenario

In parallel to this, I have conducted some research as to the probability of a meterorite falling on the farm of the picture at the moment when the 200,000kg harvest is out for collection. I am reassured to see it is rather unlikely, for it would mean the end of civilization as we know it, and the beggining of a new sweet glaciation era  in which the planet would be covered by a floating cloud of hot, delicious pop-corn.

OK, yeah, I admit my hypothesis today are a bit wonkish, like the economists like to say. But what do you want, this is another panda-eyed Saturday morning, and the electric coolie I called in to fix the air-con is hovering around me all the time. It is freezing. Not easy to concentrate in these conditions.

The Goose, the Goose, the Goose!

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Finally Friday. It’s been an exhausting week and I feel like I need a little break. Sometimes I wonder why I ever took up Crisis Watch as a hobby. Other China blogs watch cool things like Scandal, or even Shoes. But Crises are an awful thing to watch, believe me. You watch it for a few hours and numbers swim before you eyes like a Gaggle of Geese.

Fortunately, we still have the Learn Chinese post of the week to do. So here we go. Today’s tip is sponsored by Chinese uber-teacher Fu Ting.

It is called: The Goose, the Goose, the Goose!

Anyone brought up in China will be familiar with this little poem, but surprisingly few foreigners know about it. It has a very interesting story that you can read in detail here. The poet Luo Binwang wrote it about 1400 years ago, when he was only 7 years old. It goes like this:

Now, the essential thing to remember is the Rising Tone of the Goose: 鹅. You have to pronounce it stretching your neck and pulling your head back, just like a Gandle would do if he caught you messing with his Goslings.

It is very important to master the gaggling technique before we can proceed. Practice in front of the mirror or go to the Bird and Flower Market in Shanghai and find a professional Goose to coach you. Beware: a slight mispronounciation of the Rising Tone can have you saying extreme things such as: Hungry (饿), or Disgusting (恶), or just plain Crocodile (鳄).

OK, now we are ready, here are the INSTRUCTIONS. The Goose Trick can be used for the following purposes:

1- If you want to see how your Chinese friends looked at age 7.

Have them recite the Goose. This is a poem that many generations of Chinese children have learnt by heart, memorized in that childish singing way. You will be surprised with the results. I got some spectacular performance from the old flower lady down the road, she got carried away. Didn’t work so well with the bicycle repair man.

2- If you want to sound cocky and in control of the situation.

For example, when you are stuck in the Shanghai Taxi Comic Dialogue:

- Dai wo qu YuYuanLu!
- WuYuanlu?
- YuYuanLu!
- YueYangLu?
- YuyuanLu!!!
- Huh Huh huh ??
- 鹅, 鹅, 鹅!! -> Qu xiang xiang tian ge…etc.

3- When you are in the wild and you encounter an aggressive Goose, the kind that would snap at your picnic sandwich before you have the time to open your electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus.

Final tips: In case your mandarin mental age is under 7, you probably can’t figure out the quackings of a 7 year old poet. Here you have some rather creative tranlations from Baidu. I especially like the last one, by a blogger called wangwuming. It comes with rhyme and all:

Quack Quack, merrily sings the goose,
Raising its head a tune from its mouth pours.
Bule water moors the white feathers,
Its red palms ply the waves as oars.

So that’s all for today. Have a nice weekend and happy gagglings!

Chinese English Names

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Hong Kong - It feels good to travel just for fun once in a while. I flew to HongKong this weekend to say goodbye to a good friend who is leaving Asia, with the firm intention to relax, enjoy the city, and not indulge in any sort of  China watching activity.

My only serious mission was to obtain for a Shanghai girlfriend of mine some hi-tech cosmetics of a European brand, which are cheaper down there. Clearly, at 1500RMB+ the package, it was a real bargain.

In spite of my initial plans, I couldn’t help making some observations of this amazing city. The first one is that it is a very vertical place, so much so that all my pictures have an awkward shape which is hard to fit into this column.

It was difficult not to notice also the amount of mandarin spoken in Hong Kong today. Many times on the street I saw chinese speaking mandarin to each other, probably newcomers from mainland China. I don’t know if this is good or bad for Hong Kong, but I found that today it is easer to move around speaking Mandarin than English.

But the most interesting detail I observed, and the one that has ruined my good intentions not to write an entry about Hong Kong, is the creativity of locals when it comes to choosing their English names. Two girls we met over there were named Redana and Monstar. Seriously, we had it written down for us, so there is no possible mistake. A quick search on Google confirms that these first names don’t exist in any known culture. Pure innovation.

However, when it comes to choosing their own names, there is a sector of the mainland Chinese population that is by far in advance of the rest. It is schoolchildren, and in particular boys below 10 year old. Children that age are often given the freedom to chose their own English names, and they make full use of this freedom to let their imagination fly.

While all their female classmates are from an early age naming themselves Sugar and Lovely, the boys are clearly one step ahead.

It is through my friend Annie, who worked as an English teacher in Shanghai, that I came to hear of the wonderful world of Georgie Pan, the old teacher, and his two young students: Polar Bear and A Chinese Boy. Hopefuly, they still have some time to enjoy their childhood names before the ultra-competitive world of chinese education changes them into the likes of Johhny Power.