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To love the Country is not to love the Dynasty

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Very sorry, this document has been erased!

This little piece by historian Hong Zhenkuai has been taken down from the Southern Metropolis, but it has managed to escape the censors on some other sites. I liked the subtle way Hong criticizes the reigning CCP dynasty, and the cool Chinese rendering of “L’Etat c’est moi” as “朕即国家“.

Since I don’t have the time for Language Thursdays today, I have done this bit of translation work:

The French Bourbon king Louis XIV reportedly said “L’etat c’est moi” [1]. Even if all the World’s sovereigns love autocracy, few of them would say it so openly. Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715, the same period as China’s Kangxi. Kangxi’s thought was probably not unlike “L’etat c’est moi”, but clearly he had more “wisdom with Chinese characteristics” than Louis XIV – he did a lot of “humane actions”, thus earning a reputation of humane Lord while still ruling as a dictator.

In the ideas of the Sovereign People, the sovereignty belongs to the people and it is not “L’Etat c’est moi” but rather “L’Etat is us“. Of course this kind of ideas only appeared after Louis XIV’s death. In his age there were not many in the World who could tell the difference between the notions of sovereign, government and State. In China, even if the pre-Qin philosopher Mencius said: “first the people, then the State then the  monarch”, in fact in the 2000+ years since the Qin and the Han, Patriotism has meant Loyalty to the Monarch, and these two concepts are muddled. Click to continue »

  1. meaning the State is me []

The Living Cells of a Sheep Foetus Injection!

Monday, March 29th, 2010

IMG_2508-4Of all the amazing things that happen to me in China, the SMS messages I get in my cell phone are one of them.

When I first got to Shanghai 3 years ago I was young and my heart was full of ambition. Eager to make a name for myself in the local business circles, I handed out my name card liberally to all those smiling locals that pullulated in the networking events, actively introducing themselves and offering their cards in the lovely Asian two-handed fashion.

It took me a few weeks to understand how things work in Shanghai, and by then my card had already become a commodity in the IDs market, classified right up there under the header: First Class Expat Suckers.

The downside of this is that a good 75% of the text messages I receive since then are adverts. The good side is that these adverts are among the most extraordinary that I have ever seen, giving a good insight of the resourcefulness and creativity of the Shanghai underworld. Click to continue »

Han Han and the post-80s

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


Chinese ultra-blogger Han Han is starting a magazine. He announced it previously on his blog, and his last post is already giving the details to send in article drafts and job applications. I learned this last night from my friend 2Ting, who was eagerly preparing her CV and intro letter. The literati of the post-80s are very excited, it appears.

Han’s magazine, which still doesn’t have a name to avoid imitations, is presented in this blog post. A very Chinese and a very Han Han announcement, interesting for several reasons. But before I speak of it let me give some background on Han Han. I’ve been planning to write about him for ages, and never found the time until today.

The man

Han Han is 2Ting’s idol. He is also the idol of thousands of others post-80s Chinese, and he has become - in spite of himself-  a symbol of this often caricatured generation. His bio is interesting: while attending middle school he won a first prize in a famous literary contest, then he dropped out of high school and started writing  popular novels and driving race cars. By now he has become one of the best selling authors in China, and, if I got my stats right, the most read personal blogger in the World. Click to continue »

The old China bookworm

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Today it was a calm morning, the perfect Sunny day to take a long lunch break like we do back in homeland. So at midday sharp I took my bike and rode over to my new favourite reading spot. It is a bright, silent cafe, where reading is the main part of the menu.  I am into a great book at the  moment — I will write about it soon.

The place is called in English “The Old China Hand”, and I find this funny, because the atmosphere has little to do with China hands, but rather with tea-drinking ladies and nerdy bookworms. Perhaps it’s a good example of the connotation of a word being lost in translation. It is a Chinese cafe, but their coffee is not bad.


Click to continue »

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 »

The mysterious life of the Characters

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Over the weekend I read this post on zompist that creates a new writing system for English called  “Yingzi”: how would English look if it was written with characters. h/t FOARP

It is an enjoyable read and it is useful to explain to those back home that don’t study Chinese how characters work. In Europe, when you say you are studying Chinese, people always ask the same questions:  is it true that each character is a word, is it true that they are all “pictures”? And these questions are very difficult to answer accurately, as even expert linguists don’t seem to agree on whether characters should be considered words, or even on what is the proper definition of “word”.

The article is also great in that it draws conclusions that go beyond the purely linguistic, and might help understand to non Chinese-speakers the particular importance of the script in shaping the history and culture of China.

The complexities of the writing system, the inherent interest of the pictorial elements, the cleverness inherent in graphic compounds like woods and the radical-phonetic system, and even sociological facts such as the time it takes to learn the system, and the fact that English speakers of all nations can use it whatever their native dialect, would also combine to give the writing system an overwhelming character of its own. It would be seen as more important than speech; there would even be a tendency to think of words as derived from characters rather than the other way around.

And it is true that in China the writing system has an importance that trancends even today into all areas of life, from art forms to humour, marketing and, through the inherent ambiguity of  the characters’  “independent existence”, to the political speech. Expressions used by Chinese leaders can have hundreds of political analysts around the World scratching their heads and engaging in endless debate  about their real meaning, like was recently the case with Hu Jintao’s 不折腾 (buzheteng).

This only happens in China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion people and 20,000 odd characters living together in the same territory.

Click to continue »

Back to Shanghai (+SEO Google Goody)

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

What is the meaning of life and work? How can it possibly be so cold in the same latitude as the Sahara desert? Where did you put the camera’s battery charger? What do you mean “where did YOU put”?

These and many others are the fundamental questions you ask when back to Shanghai after a reinvigorating holiday in the South. It is tough to get back to real life. Anyway, I will get that camera running soon enough, and I hope I’ll be posting some of my fruitiest pics in the coming hours, so do stay tuned. Chinayouren is re-Shanghaied.

Hello all.

One of the most rewarding moments after 5 days of Web Withdrawal is when you sit down at the table and open your laptop with eager fingers. What is even more rewarding is to find that my readers are extremely loyal, so much so that stats actually register MORE views this week, while I was absent, than last week as I churned out 1 post/day. Now there, I am not sure how to take this. It makes me wonder. Feel a bit dispensable, what, if you see what I mean. More about this phenomenon below after my next digression.

Now, one thing I have discovered since I got immersed in the blogging world is the Value of Original Writing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean “original” in the sense of artistic, but just in the sense of “not copy-pasted”.  In this sense I am clearly a Net Original Writing Creator, which explains why I find bits and pieces of my sentences scattered over the Spanish and English internets. I am thrilled. Am I doing literature? Like Moliere’s Jourdain, who spoke in prose ! Or Dylan’s more mundane version: “I am a poet, I don’t know it, hope I don’t blow it”.

Value. Yes, this probably explains why I meet so many people in Shanghai making a living as Copywriters (I am an Engineer, I only recently discovered what “copywriter” means. The first time I heard one guy say the word I though he was a “copyright-er”, as in a lawyer). And I draw my own conclusions from all this. It means that some company guys cannot come up with their own description of their product and need to get “Copy” done by a consultant. I am baffled.

OK, and now to the SEO finding of the day. I am leaving this for the end of the post to make sure readers go through my  chat. Here’s the jewel: I have found an INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE way of getting your SEO results skyrocketing in days. Which also explains why I got so many hits in absentia: Almost 60% were Google searches.

You can see for yourself on my sitemeter page (link in sidebar). A large part of these searches are in German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. Not coincidentally, these are the languages that my Google Translator accepts.

And here is the secret: last week I was playing with the translation tool to check its accuracy. I can confirm that, in terms of accuracy Google Translator is still short of perfect, but it is in SEOptimization that this baby is a real breakthrough. Indeed, by playing with it, by translating many of my own pages into other languages, I was inadvertently getting them stored in some mysterious cache and indexed by Google. Result: I doubled my Google hits in a week, with star strings: “La Charte 08″ and “El Presidente Obama”. Funny.

Tip of the day: Dear readers keep it to yourselves and don’t tell Google that I told you. Add translation tools to your blog and make sure you regularly translate posts into as many languages as you can. Soon you will have all the peoples of the world, down to the nuttiest Kazakh herder, rambling into your blog and boosting your stats.

In my experience this works miracles, I am just not sure how long Google will take before they notice the use of Google Translator for SEO purposes and penalize you. For my part I will stop playing with the translator, lest I kill the chicken of the golden eggs.

Time for Resolutions

Monday, January 19th, 2009

I was wondering lately why do I get so many people coming into my “Learning Chinese” category, which I haven’t updated for ages. It struck me just now: of course, New Years Resolutions!

How many expat readers have made the firm resolution to improve their Chinese this year? I for one. Why do we do the same every year and the progress seems so slow? Is it really possible to learn Chinese while at the same time working full-time and running a blog (or a life)? I don’t know.

To all those that come looking for lessons of Chinese: Be patient, I will be doing more soon. For the moment the carrying thread has been updated with 2 more carrying characters, thanks to VIP contributor XiaoLu. If you are through with the carrying list and you feel you are already well above and beyond those simple concepts, let me give you some serious stuff to chew: There you go, the Periodic Table of Elements.

The majority of these characters have been invented in modern times, and they are among the newest characters to enter the Chinese Dictionary. They were created following the interesting procedure detailed here. Some characters are so new that they are not recognized by computers - you can feel for once that you know more than your electronic dictionary! In fact they are surprisingly easy to learn, supposing you know your chemical elements in English.

But then of course, I never made it all the way to Americium (镅) and Californium (锎) …

The Week of Obama

Monday, January 19th, 2009

We are at the beginning of a historic week, and I just can’t not write about Obama’s inauguration. This blog is also about changing the World, and there is a chance that this Tuesday will be one of those days that changes everything. Call me a dreamer, but I want to believe that this new president of the USA will lead us to a better World, one finally based on the Rule of Law and not on the force of a few bullies. One where Western countries will not need to ask anymore for political change from China, because all know there’s no better teaching than leading by example.

Looking around the China blogosphere, I see some of the early birds have already done their Obama posts. There is this comparison of Obama’s inaugural ceremony with emperor QianLong’s, and Chinamatic here takes a look at one hilarious letter by a school kid. But I must say that up to now my favourite Obama post has been this one by Global Post. (h/t Peking Duck). I always liked the idea of interviewing a taxi driver, especially the chatty Beijing ones. These people get masses of information from all sorts of sources and can provide the best radiography of society. In this case, the taxi they chose sounds a bit conservative. He wishes Obama “to value Harmony”.

Now, one thing you don’t want to miss is the inauguration speech this Tuesday. For local info, it will be Tuesday night 12:30 China time and 17:30 West Europe. Whatever happens afterwards, this speech has all the chances of becoming a classic of political speeches. I dare say it might also become the most read/watched speech of all times: I’ve never known so many people in Europe and China preparing to watch a speech by a US president. Thousands of Chinese listened already to the election speech: We saw the Sensitive, who cried with emotion; the Ambitious, attentive to every detail of Obama’s technique; the majority, jotting down the new English vocabulary.

For American readers these links probably look too obvious, but for the rest: check out some analysis of the speech by previous presidents’ speech drafters, and here more details of the ceremony. Will Obama mention directly his ethnic background? Will he finish with “God bless America”, or with “I love you guys”? A whole lot of things to watch for Tuesday evening.

And what has Chinayouren been doing this weekend in preparation of the Historic Week? Well, among other things, reading Obama’s book in stereo Chinese-English. I bought these two books at the little stall next to my place, initially with the intention of getting some bilingual material to practice reading, but eventually captivated by the book and reading it all straight to the end (in English). As for the Chinese version, I admit I skipped a few pages and ended up in the passages where Obama plays with “Ma-li-ya” and “Sa-Sha”, which contain a vocabulary more adapted to my level.

By the way, if you are one of the thousands of Chinese out there trying to get this book, I would not recommend buying the daoban (fake) translation, buy the real one published by Han Manchun instead. The fake can be seen all over the place, riding on a thousand tricycles in Beijing and Shanghai, but believe me, I have some very serious doubts regarding the translation they are using. More about fake books in the next chapter I am preparing for this week…

Chrter 08: Found an Open Link!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

For those who are following the developments around Chrter 08:

I have discovered a website containing the full original Chinese Charter (+ translations) that is still not blocked by the censors. It is also open to comments, apparently not manipulated:

Thanks to heroic advocate of freedom of speech David Ferguson who, by introducing himself as an editor in a Chinese goverment news portal ( and then pretending to be a detractor of the Charter, has obtained the insider information. And what is more, he has the guts to publicize this link right in the Opinion section of their website. Respect!

Re the link. It is a website at apparently set up by blogger Zuola. It is very surprising that it has escaped the censorship (Zuola’s blog itself is censored) and I can only think it is because:

  1. It uses https connection and the quick “Charter patch” has somehow missed it, or else,
  2. Advocate Ferguson has asked his bosses at the State Council to unblock it.

Please pass this link to anyone you know in China. Let’s get the document finally circulated, and send your thanks to the China Internet Information Center at

Beaumarchais and the Nanny

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

As I was answering to a comment on the Chrter 08 post, I felt a sudden urge to find the original context for one of my favourite quotes, which stands on Instructions as a principle of this blog.

That is how I found again this beautiful passage which I can’t resist copying here, although I know in these fast times some readers may find it somewhat old  (231 years to be exact).  It was written by a  watch-maker, inventor, playwright, musician, politician, publisher, spy, arms-dealer, and notorious activist of the American and French Revolutions:

They tell me that if in my writing I will mention neither the government, nor public worship, nor politics, nor morals, nor people in office, nor influential corporations, nor the Opera, nor the other theatres, nor anybody that belongs to anything, I may print everything freely, subject to the approval of two or three censors.

Figaro satirizes. And then goes on to say:

Foolish things in print are important only where their circulation is interfered with; without the freedom to criticize, no praise is flattering, and none but little men are afraid of little writings.

So beautiful and so up to date, every bit of it. A few bureaucrats in this country should read this, and realize that already 231 years ago their same little game was well known to the people. And that some day, in China too, the attitude of silencing, detaining, firewalling and suppressing the freedom of speech will be remembered as one of the “4 Shames” of the past.

Mind you, I know that quoting a comic writer, even if he is a classic of Literature and Revolution, is not exactly a solid scientific argument. But who speaks of science here? This is all about common sense, about opening your eyes and seeing what is obvious, and about concepts so simple that a child can understand. If I am not allowed to criticize you, all of my praise will be empty of value.

And this leads us to speak of the latest little wave of protest in the China blogs. Like it happens every now and then, all the main blogs are (rightly) complaining against the new Net Nanny ’09 campaign. The adult babysitting agency CIIIRC has published a list of websites who have been caught posting “vulgar” pictures of beautiful ladies. And warned them to “seriously clean up their unhealthy content”.

I don’t think there can be a better example of a petty departure getting large circulation thanks to the censors. And if I know my fellow men, Chinese or Western alike, I am ready to bet that the offending sites have noticed a dramatic increase in traffic today since the publication of that list, and that blogs like Danwei have done a great service to the community by putting all the links together on one single page for us to check. Bravo!

Note: Translation of “Marriage of Figaro” by Edward J. Lowell in the book “The Eve of the Revolution”. Some slight modifications from my part.

The Quick Loans of Mr. Wang’s

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

When I left China for the holidays I was pretty sure I would not manage to write a single line on the blog until my return. China is such a stimulating place that every day I am jotting down notes, and my blog runs 20 posts behind myself. In Europe the stimulus would stop - I thought- and I would get some rest.

As it turned out, I had forgotten the sms. I’ve been receiving a continous flow of text messages from China that have inpired me a good deal more than I would have wished. Every little spammy sms is a concentrate of Chinese characteristics, and one that tells a lot about the country if you read it carefully. Look at the one we have here, for example.

Exhibit 1 above is one of the first text messages that greeted me in 2009. It is an interesting one, and I thought I would blog it for its Chinese language and economics interest.

First of all, here is the translation:

Dear Sir,  the Nanguang Group in this city provides for those who lack funding small loans at 3% interest monthly , 10% yearly. Guarantee not needed. Interested call Manager Wang.

OK, this is not exactly news, quick loans spam have been coming in for a while already. I suppose anyone in Shanghai who gives his name card around as easily as I do gets the same, but surely I am the only foreigner who cares to read them all as they come. Because it is my mandarin homework.

This has allowed me to see the messages getting more frequent and more dodgy as the Crisis pushes into China over the last months. In the field of dodginess, this one sets a new high, featuring:

1 - Commas inserted in random places, probably to avoid automated searches for character strings.

2 - Interest of 3% monthly becoming 10% a year, when my financial calculator gives 43% yearly interest for a 3% monthly compound.

3 - Slightly more disturbing: as far as I have been able to ascertain on the internet, the Nanguang Group does not exist.

As a consequence of the financial Crisis official banks are tightening their conditions and it has become difficult for many Chinese to get a loan. This is the reason why “underground banks” (地下钱庄) seem to be flourishing these days.  Danwei recently reported that the government is planing to legalize private lenders, and set some limits to the interest they can ask. Obviously, Mr. Wang still hasn’t heard about this.

There has been a lot written about the parallel financial system of China, and how, from the beggining of reform, it has helped start many family businesses. However, this sms looks like the dark side of the system, and I would strongly advise everyone to stay away from these deals. If only for one reason: the loans are being offered indiscriminately on cell phones, which means that there is no real guanxi (network) contact between the lender and the borrower.

The main problem with these no-questions-asked credit is that somehow the lenders need to make sure that their loans don’t go bad.  In case of non performance, they cannot follow the legal procedures (since they are illegal) and they cannot appeal to a family network (since there is none). Surely they have some  convincing reasons to remind the debtors of their obligations.

So please stay out of trouble and do not call Mr. Wang.