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A Study of Sex Selective Abortion in China

Thursday, 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 [1], 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 »


NOTES:
  1. for a simple introduction to the problem of gender imbalance in China and its potential consequences you can read this article from the Economist []

Year-End Edition 2009 (1): Measuring "China"

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Goodbye 2009. Here is another Year-End Special of Chinayouren, the first after a full year of operation. Thanks all for sticking around.

As usual we will start with the popularity of China in the news. This year it is more interesting than ever, because 2010 is a round number, and the early-birds of the China Experts are already chanting the Chinese decade.

As we predicted last time, 2008 was a peak for China related news in the World, and it was going to be difficult to beat that in the short term. Within the general rising trend, 2009 has gone back to reasonable levels of media attention, partly because Xinjiang and the Tiananmen anniversary were no match for Tibet, Sichuan and the Olympics; partly because the US Obamania has stolen the show from the Middle kingdom.

In the first months of the year the crisis did bring some attention to China, but as soon as it became clear that the stimulus package was working and damage was under control, the journalists’ interest waned. Here are the results of my Chinanews-meter, the high precision tracking device I purchased from the Uni of East Anglia:

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Occurrences of "China" in LaVanguardia 1881-2009

This year I want to go a bit further, so I add below the statistics from Google Trends for the News references of the term “China”. Note that Google Trends is not more precise than my own original method, because the number of news sources that Google references always grows. To recalibrate the scale we must try neutral words like “when” or “he” and take them as visual zero axis, leaning the whole curve to the right. The result confirms clearly the peak of 08.

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Google Trend News for "China" (axis not corrected)

Still, this system is not very accurate, and I would like to find a more reliable way to estimate the impact of China.  I guess the old Chinanews-meter above is as good as I can get for now. As a random mainstream newspaper in Barcelona without any special connection with China, there is no reason why La Vanguardia  shouldn’t replicate roughly the general trend in the West.

Another possible solution (albeit without numbers) is to use the tool “Google Timeline” to compare some occurrences of “China” within particular newspapers. Interestingly, I have seen that the “highbrow” newspapers, such as the NYT or WAPO, tend to have a more stable coverage of China, as they usually have staff dedicated fulltime to this subject:

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New York Times occurrences of "China"

Whereas more “lowbrow” papers like USAToday tend to show more the peaks and the valleys, as they follow more closely the trends of popular interest (see the massive peak in 2008 Tibet+Sichuan+Olympics):

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USAToday occurrences of "China"

As a temporary conclusion I would say the results from USAToday and similar papers are more significant, because by far that kind of media have the largest number of readers in the World. This confirms again the trend seen in my old Chinanews-meter, and it also confirms the impression of most China bloggers I have spoken to: 2009 was not as hot as 2008.

Your call

I am still not entirely satisfied with these measurements and I am looking to find a better way to estimate “China” and follow it over time. If you have any idea please let me know in comments. Any suggestion welcome.

In the meantime, the bets are open for 2010 predictions, closest guess gets a beer.  Remember there is the Shanghai Expo and the end of the stimulus package, plus the novelty of Obama will be worn out. I go for a safe 4,000 this time (we have to use the Chinanews-meter again as it is the only chart with numbers in it).

In the next part we will see the results of this blog in 09, and I will inflict you with the best of the 2009 collection. While I get that ready, to follow the year end tradition, here’s the green pastures of the Biscay coast:

DSC_1034 (1280x857)_thumb[4][4]

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UPDATE: This morning I did a “callibrated” Google trend, taking the word “when” as horizontal reference. “The lower curve is the one representing “China”. The results are far from precise, but they do confirm a strong peak in 08 and return to normal in 09:

Occurrences of "when" (up) and "China"(down) in Google Trends News

UPDATE2: I have found out these days one reason why the Chinanews-meter shows such a sharp fall in 2009: in the beginning of the year the popular correspondent of La Vanguardia, Rafael Poch, was demobilised from Beijing. It is very possible that a few hundred of the articles missing in 09  can be explained by his absence.  Of the charts above, probably the general reality of Western media is somewhere between the USAToday and the NYT charts. I am still looking for a way to put numbers to that, any idea would be welcome.

China and the World Map of the Internet

Friday, December 4th, 2009

I was tinkering with some statistics last night, considering that strange idea of the Insularity of the Chinese Internet that we’ve been discussing lately. The expression itself is odd, because “internet” and “insularity” form an oxymoron, but you hardly notice these things when you live here. It’s normal routine in the land of socialist market economy.

Whatever we make of the phrase, the fact is that it comes up every time, whether we are speaking of language, media or politics,  all seems to point in that direction.  The pictures below are my attempt to draw a World Map of the Internet to illustrate this insularity, using the data from the site Internet World Stats.

Here is the first idea I had: I got the statistics of all countries with more than 10 Million internet users, that makes 32 in total, from China to Morocco. Then I did an Excel chart where each bubble has an area proportional to the internet users of the country, and crucially, I filled the bubbles with code from the Matrix. Result: the World Map of the Matrix:

SP32-20091204-143947

The World Map of the Internet Matrix

One interesting thing in the map above is that Asia is already the largest internet area in the World. Amazing—but not really, after all, it has by far the largest population. And this is nothing compared to what is coming: with the growth of India and China the internet is going to be an Asian joint in the next few years. No hit will be really global on the net without them. Up to now, most people on the net were from developed countries, from now on the majority will be from developing ones. The close contact between our societies will have important consequences online and off. That is, supposing we really manage to connect.

But when we speak of the internet, it doesn’t make much sense to look at political boundaries. There is no such a thing as border controls online, what really unites or divides the peoples is culture. An in particular, the most important parameter is language: regardless of your national origin, what defines you as an user is the language you surf in. That is the reason why my browsing habits look more like this blogger’s than like anyone in my country: ESWN and I have completely different backgrounds, but we have in common our surfing languages.

So I looked up the statistics of the 10 most used languages on the internet, from English to Korean. This time I coloured the bubbles with flags, and I placed them roughly on the center of gravity of their community of speakers. The result is the map of Surfing Languages:

SP32-20091204-151433

The World Map of the Surfing Languages

Still, the map is not great. Many of the speakers in the massive English bubble are actually Indians, Spanish should be both in America and in Europe, and Australia is completely out of the picture. Physical distance has no meaning on the net, even less than political boundaries. It becomes clear that geography is of little use for my purpose, so we might as well dump  Gmaps and stick to the bubbles.

My new diagram looks like this, where all the major internet communities are represented together in a Cloud. We are all interconnected, and the only solid differentiator is language. Two people might share a hobby, like soccer , but they don’t go to the same websites if they surf in different languages. Most of the media and resources on the internet are not translated into other languages, but rather re-written and re-interpreted by native bloggers/journalists, who function as border control among the communities.

image022

Improved World Map of the Internet: the Cloud

One of the things we see on the Cloud is that all the communities are touching each other. But I’m afraid this is not a very precise picture. Normally Russians don’t translate Japanese content, neither do Portuguese translate Arabic. The English language has a crucial role on the internet today, because in most cases it is through English that the rest of the languages communicate: Most content is translated first to English and from there to the other communities. The English bubble, including users from all over the World, is the Center of the Internet.

Another problem with the Cloud is that it shows all the communities equally interconnected, which is not very realistic. Users who speak European languages are much more likely to read English. The Spanish community, for example, includes many Americans who surf English sites as much as their own language. Actually, most of the language bubbles share a significant part of their pixels with the English bubble, so we can represent the Map as a sort of Venn diagram:

SP32-20091204-184148

Second Iteration: the Venn Diagram Map

We see the new Map is very different from the previous one. Now there is a cluster of Western languages that share a lot of content with English, two more languages that share a bit, Russian and Arabic, and then the three languages that form the core of the Asian internet today: Chinese, Korean and Japanese. And you may have noticed that I have drawn Chinese at a distance from the rest.

For various reasons that we will see, Chinese don’t use Facebook, or Twitter, or Youtube, or MySpace, or eBay. They don’t read Boing Boing or the Huffington post, and they chat in their own QQ chatrooms. They rarely receive the viral emails that we receive, and instead they get others like this one. They have all the things that we have and some more, but they built them in parallel in their separate parcel of the internet.

Whereas the sizes of the bubbles above are based on quantitative data collected by a respected source, the positions are only decided by semi-informed feeling. Any reader could argue that China should not be so far right. There is Hong Kong,  Chinese-Americans, even mainland Chinese who do surf in English. And I will be forced to admit that the Venn Map is flawed, because it fails to show this.

But in such a fast changing World like the Internet, position really means nothing. What holds today may be different tomorrow. What is really significant is the dynamics: which direction is China going, and how will the internet look in 10 years? Everybody agrees that China’s internet community is growing very fast, and that is natural. The worrying part is that it might also be moving away from the rest.

image3

Third iteration: The Dynamic Map

Because in Western countries internet penetration is already very high and India is still lagging behind, in the next 10 years the Chinese internet will become almost as big as all the rest together. If it continues to diverge, it may grow into a parallel network, like a dark side of the moon, a vast, self-sufficient island that the government can cut out at any moment and most people inside it don’t even notice the difference. This defeats the whole idea of the www.

Whatever the real magnitude of the problem, it is clear to most observers that there is a disconnect between China and the rest of the Internet, and there are powerful forces pulling them further apart. Fortunately, there are also forces working to balance this, and the results in the coming years will very much depend on how those factors play against each other. Here is how my new map looks now:image4

The Forces of the Internet

As we saw before in this blog,  some of the main factors that keep China separate from the World are the following, shown in red in the chart:

  • Linguistic, as we saw in this post, where we proved that Chinese language is beautiful and unique in many ways, but it makes it very difficult for Chinese and foreigners to connect.
  • Cultural, in the broad sense of the word, meaning that the communities have so different views and values that they cannot understand each other. This includes the problems with the Media.
  • Political, the deliberate actions of the CCP in  multiple forms, including Nannies, the Great Firewall of China (GFW) and directly arresting people, as we saw here.

And in green the main factors that go in the opposite direction. Here they are in detail, for the optimists to rejoice:

  • The growing number of bridge bloggers and other internet uses that work to connect the two communities. These include not only the English language Chinablogs, but mainly Chinese people who translate foreign media and other content on the Chinese internet. From this humble blog I also did my bit against the GFW.
  • The post 90s and 80s generations that already dominate the Chinese internet. Their personal tastes in arts, music or cinema will probably be more international, and push them to connect with the World. This point is object of debate though, and some Westerners are very skeptical of the post 80s.
  • Business is one of most important factors that link China to the World. Since the construction of the EU, it is no secret that commerce can achieve the most ambitious goals in World Peace, so whatever your take is on those business minded Chinese, they are probably the main force that is still keeping the Chinese Island connected and holding the World Wide Web together.

What do you think? 你有什么想法?

Do you think I am exaggerating? Or is the problem even worse than this? Any factor I missed in the Internet Maps? Internet friends: you are the pixels inside the coloured bubbles, you know all about this World because it is your home: comment and help me improve my Map!

你觉得这很夸张吗?还是认为问题写得还不够严重?你知道我在互联网地图里忽略了哪些元素吗?网友们:你们是小圈里面的像素,那里就是你们家,帮助我改进我的地图!  U5KMU63NGPP2

Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

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Today I am starting my review section with one of the books on Chinese economy that has impressed me most in the last year, “Capitalism with Chinese characteristics”, by MIT professor Huang Yasheng. It is a book that clearly stands out from the recent China books, and it might be destined to become one of the big references in the field.

There is no shortage of good China books in the last years. Many are written from a business perspective, by people with first hand experience who will tell you exactly how things are done here. Others look at the available economic data and build interesting theories to explain them. Few go deeper than this, to look into the heart of the matter: the politics behind the Chinese economy.

The problem is:  it is so difficult to obtain reliable information on Chinese policy that most efforts in this field turn into circular arguments over the same limited data. Professor Huang breaks the circle by going back to the sources and questioning directly all the mainstream assumptions, leaving many of them upside down. The situation in China requires this approach, as he says in the preface:

In studies of American economy, scholars may debate about the effects of, say, “Reagan tax cuts”. In studies of the Chinese economy, the more relevant question would be, “Did the government cut taxes in the first place?

By going back to the archives of what, in his own words is “some of the world’s most medieval record keeping”, Huang Yasheng is able to come up with a whole new picture of Chinese economic policy in the last three decades. This book is the result of painstaking archival research into rarely examined files, such as a “22 volumes compilation of internal bank documents” or the archives of the Ministry of Agriculture.

A qualitative leap from the classic tea leave reading, and one that deserves some careful consideration, even if the conclusions drawn will not be to the taste of every reader. Click to continue »

Funny bits and ends

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Some strange things happening in this blog:

Post unpunned?

It is hard to resist when you are writing a post and you see the chance to put in one of your puns, but lately I’ve been pretty good at it. It’s been more than a month, for example, that I don’t refer to the Leadership of the PRC with the sentence: “Who and when attended the conference?”.

I say this because I just noticed the opposite case in yesterday’s post: a good gag appeared unnoticed and now risks to seriously embarrass me, as it involves - again- a leader of the People’s Republic. If you remember, I was telling you about Wen Jiabao’s predictions getting a good kick in the family jewels. Only now I realize that Wen’s first name actually, literally, means: Family jewels. Man, I love this Premier more every day.

I don’t believe in self-censoring, so I won’t have it unpunned. For now.

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Meet the activist Uln Win

I don’t hide that I was pleased when my trackback indicator told me I had been linked by no less than the Telegraph - well, OK, from one of its blogs.  When I went to look at the article, I found this:

The Chinese blogger Uln Win has reprinted the core principles, together with some analysis, on her site.   [...]  Uln Win makes the point that while the charter originated within mainland China and its signatories are all from within the country, she remains concerned that the vast majority of people in the country remain wholly unaware of it…

Extraordinary! Not only I am a girl now, but I am also Chinese and I am called Uln Win. Let’s go by parts:

1- The change of sex: I kind of fancied I had a virile writing style, obviously I was wrong. I can’t blame him  on this one though, it is true that my profile is not clear in this respect.

2- The Chinese nationality: Funny. The first sentence in my profile famously is: “This blog is written by ULN, a foreigner happily living in Shanghai”.

3- The code name “Uln Win”: This has to get the top prize. I just can’t imagine where he got it from, there is not an instance on the internet of such a name. My guess is he wanted a powerful name for his female Chinese hero, and he added the “Win” as a sure winner! I can’t wait to read his next post, will Uln Win rescue Liu Xiaobo from the claws of the regime?

Well, this explains why my statistics give so many visits of less than one minute, that’s what I call skimming a blog. I suppose it is the excess of information we all bloggers suffer. To be fair, it looks like at least he read the post, which, I suppose, is what matters.

BINGO: Growth projection down to 7.5%

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I am quite excited about the new 2009 Growth Forecast for China issued by the World Bank, because it gives exactly the same figure  I estimated 2 months ago on my Crisis Page.

OK, granted there is a bit of luck in there. But, if you think of it, it was an obvious number to come up with. It is exactly the Yearly Growth marked as an objective in the 11th 5 year plan. Don’t forget that China is still a planned economy and that the objectives of the 5 Year Plans are very present in everyday business life and in the minds of all politicians.

Of course, I am not suggesting that World Bank economists draw their forecasts from 5 year plans. But in times like these, predicting the future is a sticky business, and one 5Y Plan can be about as accurate as applied statistics. And then, rounding up a 7.2% to a 7.5% will harm nobody, and will keep Wen and Hu happy for a while.

Michael Pettis writes that this is only the beginning, and that we’ll see the forecasts slide every time as the crisis spreads to every aspect of China’s economy over 2009. He bases his prediction on the method that is used to calculate these forecasts, which does not take into account the passive side of the balance sheet.

He is surely right on that, but I think there are also non-economical reasons. China’s political influence is rising very fast with the Crisis, and nobody wants to upset her now that she is going to save the World. Least of all the World Bank, which is very likely to end up with a Chinese boss pretty soon, after what was agreed in the Washington G20s meeting.

Nobody cares (some actually take pleasure) when some terrible macro figures are posted about failing economies in times of crisis. But few serious institutions today will be willing to publish a face-losing digit for the Chinese government, and all will measure their steps cautiously. As a result, official predictions will lag behind the actual knowledge.

So that’s it, we are here. We’ve reached the 7.5%  psychological barrier. There will be no more psychological barriers until the 3.8% growth of 1990. We are touching the Wall.

Ladies and Gentlemen fasten your safety belts, we are getting ready to land.

Shanghai Air Zero

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

If you’ve been around in Shanghai today you might have noticed there was a Beijing nip in the air. One could almost smell the 烤鸭 as the temperature got rapidly freezing by midday. In the same time, the air felt clean like it does in the clean Northern winters, and it’s been a great day for a walk if this weather suits your clothes.

This is how it looked down the line of Nanjing Lu seen from the French concession:

A little search on the internet confirms that it is indeed the North Winds that are sweeping the pollution out of Shanghai and bringing us the blue skies. I found this cool weather site that is  more technical than the usual mainstream ones, and more enjoyable with lots of buttons and levers for all the geeks to play with.

This is what I got for Shanghai winds today:

I always love to google up “Shanghai Air Pollution Index”. It doesn’t give you a clue about the real state of pollution, but at least it shows some typical difference in perception.  These are the 3rd and 4th results:

Shanghai’s Air Quality Improves .China Daily

Shanghaiist: Shanghai air quality now sucks even harder .Shanghaiist

Whatever. The intention of this post is to start monitoring the air quality in Shanghai. During these past years leading to the Olympics, foreign residents in Beijing have been insistingly complaining about the pollution and have finally managed to have the government take some serious action.

Having lived in both places, I’ve always held that pollution in Shanghai is as bad as in Beijing. We have the World Exhibition coming, so now’s the time to start building the pressure to get the authorities do something about Shangai too. In case you are thinking that the EXPO 2010 is not as important as the Olymics, you might want to check out this article from the October issue of CER. The EXPO will have more than 10 times the visitors of the Olympic games, that is, 180 million lungs breathing in the Shanghai air in 2010. There’s clearly a critical mass to try some lung lobbying.

I also found that the blog “Mad about Shanghai” started some time ago a particular pollution scale, and for some reason gave up after a year. I will not apply the same scale, but I have a simplified one that I developed the first week i got to Shanghai: the Plaza 66 scale. It is simple, visibility index = the number of floors you can see when you look up at this building on Nanjing XiLu. Today we had a Full 66 (albeit with some browinsh hue in the horizon).

Now, I know if we really want to get technical you might say that visibility doesn’t equal pollution, and that Shanghai being in a more humid area, worse visibility is to be expected. There are also the famous API measurements done by the chinese authorities, and shown in this interesting  website for any day in the last 7 years. It shows that Shanghai has no problem with pollution.

But I have been an engineer for long enough to know that numbers are the most powerful tool of deception. I’m not buying the “blue sky day” statistics of the Shanghai Environment Monitoring Centre (SEMC). I have compared it with My Nose Monitoring Centre (MNMC), which says that, everytime you get back to Shanghai from a trip in the country, you can actually smell the air the minute you step out of the train in any one of those yellow “blue days”

I will be posting once in a while to see if there is any improvement from now to the EXPO. For more information on how China measures the pollution, you can read this very interesting post by an environment engineer explaining all you don’t want to know about API.

If you are not scared of the hard numbers, you can also check out the Shangzilla measuring scale, although judging by the number of reads, you probably have seen it before. As for me, I will stick to my Zhongnanhais while they are in stock. At least the air I breath in goes through a filter first.

The Crisis

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

One of the things I like to keep an eye on is the situation of China’s economy.

Not that I think anything is  wrong  with it. On the contrary, the country is resisting well the international crisis, and China has one of the best governments in the World when it comes to managing the economy. The results of the last 30 years speak for themselves. The Chinese have a strong confidence in their leaders, and this confidence seems to be spreading to the rest of the world, where some are already starting to believe that the Wall of the Han is going to save us all.

That is exactly why I am a bit worried.

La Muralla en Gansu

Wall at Gansu

The Great Wall of China has always functioned better as a national myth than as a defense system. This picture of the Wall bordering the Gobi desert can give an idea of what remains of the great myths once the barbarians have passed. The basis of my spectacular and sensationalistic theory of  the Great Wall of China are all explained here.  More entries on the topic in the category Crisis Watch, and in my blog in Spanish.

Following that entry, I have received quite a few comments saying that it is idle to issue predictions at this point (which is true), and that anyway the Wall is down and the crisis has already arrived to China (which, at the time of writing, is definitely false). Of course, we are seeing some impact on the exports and the GDP growth statistics have already been reviewed for 2008. Most probably growth will go further down in 09, perhaps around the area of GDP 7.5% per year, which is what Prime Mr. Wen considers sustainable anyway.

But that is not what I mean by the Collapse of the Wall.

Equilibrio inestable

Unstable equilibrium

What I have noted from my observations in China is that there are inefficiencies, structural, social, political problems, and too many people living off the fat of the system. Many of these problems come from the prolonged single-party authoritarian regime, and others simply from the fact that the engine has been running for the last 30 years without a stop for repairs. Downcycles also have their function in economy, after all.

All these problems that I am seeing, which I will try to post here once in a while, make me suspect that China is still not the stong, cohesive economy that many want to see in it. And that much of that stability that is attributed to China is but mere illusion, just like the one of the Red Ball on this illustration.