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Presentation of the new CHINAYOUREN 2.0

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

gravatar This weekend I have taken a break from my exhausting research into the the sex of Chinese conservatives, to update old parts of the site and finish implementing some new features I had been trying lately.

The changes in version 2.0 are not related to design, so they may not be immediately apparent to the eye. But they are rich in content and they will have important implications in the way I blog from now on. See the following points for what’s new:

Switch to Real Identity

Ever since I started blogging, and especially since I started using the Google sharing tools with my real ID, I have suffered from split personality on the net. Those who have been following from the beginning might remember the big fuss about this last year, as I was never completely comfortable with my internet persona. Click to continue »

Reply to Surf with Uln

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Hi, welcome to Surf with Uln, aka The Mini-Youren. This is an experimental part of my blog, a homemade mini-blogging service connected with my Google Shared items. I open this section so I can comment the news without opening posts all the time. Here’s the instructions:

  • You can click on the title of the news item to go directly to that article.
  • You can click on the Follow button to see my profile and subscribe.
  • You can Reply to any of my notes right here in this page.

There is one annoying thing with GReader sharing system: you still can’t reply directly to a note. That is why I have opened this page. Just copy the note you are replying to in your comment below, or continue an existing thread. If it gets interesting enough I will open a separate post and put it in the front page.

Any other suggestion about this new service is more than welcome!

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…

The Reading Method

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I know, I should be studying right now, and not writing posts. But I was just breathing slightly between two sessions of 模拟考试, and I reflected on the fascinating process of learning a new language, and on how, when you have been through it a few times, you end up developing your own secret methods to climb up the long steep ladder.

My approach to learning Chinese this year is based on the one I used with my previous languages: The reading method. It can only be used starting from intermediate level. In the case of mandarin, I would say this is not before 2 years of studying at a normal rate.

The method consists of acquiring first a minimum level of vocabulary to understand most simple texts, and from that point on dedicate your study time to the pleasant hobby of reading novels as captivating as possible. If you are a bookworm like me this works very well, because you end up putting in far more hours of study (reading) than you would if it were normal exercises. I know there are also many resources to read Chinese on the internet with cursor translator included, but computers tend to distract your attention very fast, whereas reading a good book gets your eyes glued to the characters for hours on end.

The result of this method is that you end up with a vast passive vocabulary and excellent character recognition abilities. Then it is up to you in your socializing time to go out and try to use these words in conversation, at the risk of locals saying you sound pompous. Sometimes you can even lift full phrases from a novel, and it is fun when you manage to use them in real life. For example, when I was reading Lu Xun’s “AhQ” I placed neatly my favourite line:

Little Yi:我讨厌我的老板,怎么办?

Uln: 你先估量对手,口讷的你便骂,力气小的你便打。

Little Yi:天哪!

Uln: 怎么啦?

Little Yi:你又在练习!

Uln: 我?没有啊。。。

Admittedly, my use of the method is a bit radical. But the social phase is an essential part of it, because once you have used a word a couple of times successfully, it quickly moves into your active vocabulary, and after that it rarely leaves you again. This is only practicable if you live in a Chinese environment, it never worked when I was back in Europe.

Reading speed

The key tipping point in the reading method is that moment when you realize that you can read a story fast enough to actually enjoy it. This is a function not only of your knowledge of characters/words, but also of the interest of the book and of your own personal nerdiness. When I read my first novel “Brothers” last year, I was so excited to taste the Chinese popular literary style that I gladly spent two months ploughing through the 700 pages of chengyu-ridden Yu Hua.

Since then, I have much increased my reading speed, to a point where I can sustainably read non-fiction without falling asleep. The preparation for the high-speed requirements of the HSK has helped me a lot for this, and I must say that, in spite of all my ranting in the previous post, it does make sense to force students a bit. Because the ability to read characters at normal native speeds is one of the most difficult to acquire, in my opinion.

Note that, when I say speed, I am not referring to the speed that comes from knowing all the words in the text. It is obvious that by using less the dictionary it is possible to read faster. My point is that, even for simple texts where all the words are familiar, I still read almost 3 times slower than a native Chinese, even after 1 year of reading books. This is an issue that has appeared only when studying Chinese, and not in any of my previous languages that used latin script, so I have strong reasons to think that it is tied to the use of characters.

I think it probably has to do with the way the brain processes the characters, and the way people schooled in Chinese from an early age have developed differently in this field. The post about reverse pinyin last week pointed me in this direction, and a few experiments I have done with my Chinese neighbours as well. I hope I have the time to write a bit more about this next week.

In the meantime, if there is a non-native advanced reader out there, I would like to hear your experience. Does it eventually get better, and do you manage to read at the same speed as the Chinese? Or do you have the same problem I note here? Let me know.

OK, off-line I go again. I already missed all Tuesday and Wednesday in an absurd meeting in Changsha so I need to catch up. I’ll be back after the HSK, if I haven’t showed up by Monday call the fire brigade.

The University of Love

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009


This is the imposing main entrance of my favourite university campus in Shanghai: HuaShiDa.  I like this entrance because it is very green and very complete, and it has everything from a roundabout sign to a saluting giant Mao, to a construction crane in the background. But what I like most is the inscription:


GFW 1st July: Waiting for my Anonymous saviours

Monday, June 29th, 2009

So OK, I am censored, but why NOW?

I mean, I haven’t been writing anything for ages, is the Propaganda Department punishing me for being lazy? Has some big Chinese BBS  linked to me recently, is Uln hot now? As I was looking around for an answer, I found out that the Peking Duck blog was blocked more or less at the same time as mine, and it was asking the same kind of questions.

That is when I got this idea of the LIST, which I wrote on their comments. Everyone knows that GFW is unpredictable, it starts and stops and nobody ever knows why, if you don’t believe me look at this funny chronology. But this random behaviour usually affects only some websites, and never touches others. So necessarily, the guys at the GFW Control Deck are working with a number of websites that have been shortlisted beforehand.

I am quite sure of the existence of this LIST, because I noticed very precisely the moment my blog was shortlisted. It happened earlier this year with that political post that was picked by the New York Times. Since then I had strange things happening, with miniblocks now and then, a perceived slower speed loading in China, and, of course that particular Chаrter 08 post has been blocked ever since (even as the rest of the blog remained open). Also, look at that weird comment in Chinese in that post, where the guy says I am interfering in China’s internal affairs… could be a troll. Or could be not.

Anyway, my guess is that this blog and the PKD’s block have probably nothing to do with our recent activity, but rather with the tense atmosphere in the censors office these last weeks, after the Green Dam fiasco and the Google affair. At some point someone must have said: “hey, let’s block some more sites”, and we were unfortunately the next names on the LIST. And, unlike Google, I am afraid sites speaking specifically of politics are blocked permanently, such as this one, or this one. I hardly imagine the censors taking the trouble to monitor our blogs every day to see if we are behaving better. So my guess is, both for me and for PKD, that the block is here to stay and there is no solution.

… or perhaps there is?


Click to continue »

Han Han and the post-80s

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

From http://msn.ent.ynet.com/

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 »

Travel: Journey to the Shanxis

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Some pictures of my recent travels in Shanxi & Shanxi. As with past editions, 5 words per picture.



The Shanxis have solid history Click to continue »

The cat got my blog!

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Oh dear. This is a disaster. I haven’t written anything for a month!

Now is when I have to come up with some good excuse.  Like:  Spring has finally come to China; I have been travelling a bit in the dusty real-sphere of Shanxi; a band of homeland friends cheerfully invaded Shanghai, bringing with them some good Rioja wine.

The cat got my blog, what.

Of course, the real blogging spirit never dies. The blogger mind is a highly evolved mechanism, constantly absorbing stimuli from the environment and processing them into hot controversy.  When not at the computer, he will continue to blog the pub over the old pint of Tiger, moderating the comments of his table-mates whom he suddenly addresses as “subscribers”…   This behaviour led to some critical situations, and soon several of my friends were inviting me to kindly  get back online. At my earliest convenience.

And now that I’m back, the creepy thought:  what has China been up to all this time? 

Be advised, reader, that I haven’t opened a newspaper for the last 3 weeks. This is more than enough for a  fast country like China to change itself beyond recognition. For all I know, we are still in a socialist system with Chinese characteristics, governed by a mysterious CPC oligarchy, still doing quite OK  in a World crisis that somebody else started, and glad to point this out at every possible occasion. God, last time I checked we were asking the US to dump the dollar and start using some World wide currency. Like in Star Trek!

I hope I can get back in the loop over the weekend, and normal service will resume promptly.  Thanks for sticking around.

Is China racist? or new PC colonialism

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

This discussion on China Geeks caught my eye, mostly because it is one of the few that has managed to engage the real Chinese blogosphere to interact with us foreign China blogs. And no less than hecaitou, a respected blogger in both the Chinese and Western communities. Unfortunately, the results are rather discouraging.

It all started when some Chinese blogs, including hecaitou, posted this image, which was picked by Chinageeks in a post titled “racism in China”. Hecaitou responded rather energetically to the pingback, writing a new post, and then commentators from all sides joined the party.

The discussion about whether Chinese are racist or not is a never ending one, and it has been commented to exhaustion already, for example in the FM blog.  It usually degenerates into a series of “you worse than me” counterexamples, as American/Chinese national pride quickly takes over any serious attempt of debate.  Rather  than racism, the misunderstanding comes from a different perception on the limits of the socially acceptable (ie PC). Some notes I would like to add to the debate: Click to continue »

Something about Uln

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Let’s admit it, the intro section of this blog gives little information about me, other than the proven fact that I am not called Lilly. And I know from what I have read on other blogs that some people attach great importance to a name and a face, and that in their eyes a blogger signing ULN must be little more than an electronic scoundrel.

I can understand these feelings. Nothing would make me prouder than to stick my picture and my name at the top of each page, because I am not ashamed of what I write and I am ready to stand for each of my statements. Nor is mine a full anonymity, as I know and I am known (with my real name) by many people in the China blogging community.

So why continue hiding behind a pseudonym? Simple:  I like writing about subjects that have the potential to excite large numbers of people. Today I represent a company in China, and this company is not mine to decide its political stance.  There is a real risk of clients associating my blog with my company if my name gets spread all over the Chinosphere - it has happened to other bloggers before-  and due to the kind of clients I deal with, I cannot allow this to happen.

So if you don’t mind, and until the next horde of fenqing decide to flesh-seach and chop up Uln, I will keep my semi-anonymity. But since we are speaking of “credentials”, I want to unveil the following points about me, just to make sure that nobody takes me for what I am not:

  • I am an engineer, but I have a Master in Business and a Semi-Master in International Relations (Didn’t get the degree because I got a job and never found the time to finish the thesis, but I will be back).
  • I like reading a lot, books. Sometimes even uni course books, like my famous brick: Samuelson’s economics. Because of my focus-challenged nature I have always learnt more from my own readings than from what I heard in a classroom, even when I had remarkably good teachers.
  • I have been in China for 2-3 years, including Beijing in 2002 and now  Shanghai. I haven’t stopped for a day speaking about politics with all the Chinese I’ve meet. That probably explains my poor results with the “delicate” sex. On the other hand, it has taught me to be diplomatic.
  • My experience and “achievements” include weird and unconnected points such as: winning a national poetry contest in France, writing and performing songs with guitar and harp, spending 1+ year living and coordinating a project in 5 different provinces of North Korea, and others even more irrelevant.
  • And finally, the most exciting: my Chinese qualifications. My level is already enough to read books in Chinese, the last book I read was XiongDi by Yu Hua, and I absolutely recommend it. I am aiming at HSK 7,  signed up for  the next test session in April and then I will publish the results on this blog.

Voila,  I don’t think any of the points above provides a serious basis to support my comments on Chinese politics and economy, so I am safe from self-satisfaction. My posts will all need to stand on their own, and when they don’t please point it out. Same when I “invent” words and phrases that don’t exist in English.

And I will leave this info hidden behind the fold of a single post instead of updating my profile info. Because I only feel like telling these things to those readers that had the patience to come all this way.

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 »