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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…


Friday, June 5th, 2009

In the afternoon of the World Environment Day, the sky in Shanghai has gone almost completely black (brown?) at 3pm, and these little babies have fallen from the sky.


In the same time,  many “Environment Day” squadrons were busy in the parks and beaches for the 1 hour long volunteer cleaning up activity. I hope they are all OK.  I’ve never seen the sky so dark.

Are the heavens complaining against a meaningless WED? Is it a sign, on 6/5, that the regime has lost its virtue ?  I let you figure that out, but please do not leave home without an umbrella.

Photo: Origin unknown (circulating on emails)

UPDATE: Those that see the glass half full

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Oh, thank you, thank you Xinhua and thank you editor Yan.


Thank you for adding now pictures to your yesterday’s article :  China’s “scientific development” works to counter economic downturn. And thank you for choosing the most beautiful of the slides you published last week, the one which I call:  “La vie en rosy

Now it has the completeness I was looking for. I will keep your article for further reference in my database of Crisis Commentary, and I will look at your slide every time that Shanghai weather makes me feel down.

Crisis: Those that see the glass half full

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Xinhua has come up with the most brilliant in-depth analysis of the economic crisis that we’ve read to date.

BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) — China’s relatively fast economic growth has caught the eye of the world at a time when most of the countries are experiencing the full wrath of a raging economic slowdown.

As some Western media questions why China works, the world’s economic experts and scholars are also wondering the same thing: What tools China has to keep its economy resilient and why it is well-positioned to weather the financial crisis?

The answer lies in the nation’s unique growth mode featuring a “scientific outlook on development.”

Economists and bloggers of doom, read and learn.  For the sceptics, this editorial is based on the work of recognized specialists, such as:

  • “Analysts”
  • The vice president of Stellenbosch University
  • The Colombian ambassador to China
  • “The international community”
  • Velia Hernandez, professor from the A.N. University of Mexico

And many other “economic experts and scholars”.

Finally,  science at the service of the community.  And the question is, what do I do now with my two months worth of canned tuna?

Rat Year and 3-month Roundup

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Today is the last of the Rat days. Happy 牛 Year to all! And byebye too, I won’t be around for the next few days: I’m off to where the weather suits my clothes, down to the charming shores of Southern Fujian.

I will take the chance before I pack up to write my little roundup of the Rat year, as today is also exactly the 3 month Anniversary of CHINAYOUREN. I want to write what these 3 months have meant for this blogger.  We are on holidays and the time is to relax, so I’ll do it in easy bullet points:

  • Hailing from the primitive highlands of Western Europe, Uln is a very recent blogger, with an experience of 3 months writing blogs, and just 6 months reading or even knowing what a blog is.
  • In these 3 Rat months I have discovered that blogging is not just weird psychotherapy. It is also a way to speak of ideas too brainy to be allowed in the pub, and actually get people listening. More suprisingly for me, you actually make friends.
  • One of my main discoveries is that China bloggers are cool. Even the big ones that I thought inaccessible and Holy. All of them answer my emails and sometimes even share readers by linking to this my humble site. For the moment I haven’t encountered a single exception, thanks to all.
  • Speaking of Links: I have to give special thanks to those that helped me get some readers: First, to China Law BLog and Global Voices, who linked me from my very first post. Then the Wall Street Journal blog, for bringing me record readership by linking me 3 times in a single week. And, third but not least, the Fool’s Mountain, who not only inspire me with their ever lively discussion, but also let me publish 2 articles and shamelessly promote my blog on their site.
  • To be completely fair, I have to mention that Google are good to me, and in spite of my pointing my finger at them, I continue getting amazing results in their search engine. For SEO reasons that I’ll never understand I am Number One on strings such as Update President Obama. And what is fair is fair: I owe the same credit to the Chinese authorities who, in spite of my finger-pointing and irreverent writing, have yet to censor my content in any way.
  • The most important of all: I seriously enjoy blogging. It is amazing that 200 people from the most diverse origins come into my website in a single day. I even enjoy it more when someone leaves a comment, so please make my day and leave yours below.
  • Finally, my Bloggy Resolutions for the 牛 Year:  Write shorter posts, write better English and speak better Chinese, enjoy China online and offline.

So let’s go one more time say with me: Happy 牛 Year to all !

Google is Drifting

Friday, December 12th, 2008

It is Friday. It’s a beautiful, beautiful day. I’m in an excellent mood this morning, pondering the unexpected turns of Fate and Fortune.

I mean, take the weather in Shanghai, for example. Did you ever imagine we would see these long weeks of clean blue skies? You lose faith in things and then they happen, and it makes you dream. If this is possible, then everything else must be: World Peace, End of Poverty, China winning the soccer World Cup.

On Fridays like this my mind drifts on the world wide web and I end up reading funny bits of information, like this delicious “boat drifting skills” I found over at the Engrish website. I saw it and laughed for a bit, and then I read the comments and I thought I might do something useful for the community.

So I went on Google Translator and I asked it to translate the drifting instructions into English. This is the disappointing message I got:

What! No translation English-English? What kind of service is this? And who said that it was English in the first place?  If there is someone at Google reading this now (other than my friends the bots) please raise the issue immediately to your management:

“You are missing out on the largest market in the World. Develop Chinglish translator ASAP!”

Stimulus: 3 Days that will change the World

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

This week the international observers are observing us with renewed interest: China’s Annual Central Economic Work Conference is being held in Beijing Monday to Wednesday, where the country’s leaders will decide how to maintain a stable economic growth that will “improve people’s livelihood.

Expectations are high on the meeting that will change the World. The trouble is, it will not. Xinhua has just published a first official explanation from NDRC, containing no news. The 40BRMB for “healthcare, education and cultural undertakings”, or the 280BRMB for housing projects were already announced before the meeting. If anything, note that now they have added the “cultural undertakings” for extra flavour.

What about all the rebalancing of the economy that we were supposed to see?

Wishful Thinking

What began as a series of advice by some economists has evolved into a streak of generalized optimism, as  more people started to believe that Chinese leaders will take the chance now to rebalance the economy. I suspect this very optimistic and profusely quoted World Bank report is partly responsible for this state of mind.

But the rebalancing of China’s economy, including a social safety net, health care, and all sorts of measures to bring into the economy the 900 milion rural residents that have been left out is not going to happen now.  Because it doesn’t make sense.

Here is why:

1- Hu Jintao hasn’t been able to implement his rebalancing policies during the first half of the 11 year plan. It is difficult to imagine that the development hawks in the CCP will allow him to implement them precisely now. Especially considering that things like a health care system are costly and someone needs to finance them. How much power do Hu and Wen really have to oppose the immediate interests of business?

2- Chinese like to save money, that is just the way they are, it is a trait of character. No amount of health care or land reform is going to make them spend more in 2009. How would it make sense that the same people who were saving during an economic boom decide to spend more now that there is fear of crisis?

3- All the social rebalancing and Scientific Development of Hu might be great for the long term, but they will not help China weather a difficult 2009. The real worries of the leaders now are: How well will the system resist the social and political tensions that will arise? And how well will Hu Jintao and an already fragile Social Wen resist them in the Party?

An emergency package

But there is a more fundamental objection to the notion that the stimulus package will implement any serious structural change: it is not its role. It is an effort to save an emergency situation and avoid the worst aspects of the crisis (notably unemployment) getting too serious.

And the sad fact is that great restructurings are not done in advance of crises, they are done afterwards. Hard times comes first, then reform. As an example, a quick look back at one of the historical cases that is most fashionable these days: FDR started his famous New Deal only in 1933, well after the crash of 29. In the meantime what was Hoover doing? Investing in infrastructure, like the Chinese now.

“Social” Stimulus

So will the package improve the livelihood of the peasants? Well, if you consider that buying a new color TV at a discount price is going to change their lifes, then yes. But otherwise, not.

The subsidies to buy home appliances that WSJ mentions here are clever measures, and they will probably be effective to boost the consumption of some farmers in the short term. Which makes sense, because the factories producing those TVs have to keep running, unless someone imagines that a legion of jobless manufacturing workers can be set to construct roads and railways overnight.

But nobody should be fooled: these are no social measures. They are measures to help the manufacturing companies to find a substitution market for the failing exports.

Another related “social” measure which might be hidden in the stimulus budget is an emergency fund to cover the possible cases of layoff riots. Victor Shih estimates it in his blog to be around 120BRMB in the worst of cases. I don’t think the government would be announcing this fund publicly, as it is a signal for disaster. But if 120B are missing in the 4Trillion package, now you know were to look.


It is all very healthy to dream, but I am afraid the largest part of China’s money in 2009 will go to help the companies resist the crisis and to mitigate the effects of it. The leaders are nervous, and the time is not for experiments.

But enough of stimulus already. Too much has been said, and I have the feeling that there are more important things to watch right now. Namely: Unemployement and Currency.

I have done enough tea leaf reading in my posts as of late, so I will leave these two subjects for next time. But if you want to know what 2009 is going to bring us in China, make sure keep an eye on them.

Projections, predictions, oracles

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Yesterday I read the World Bank’s Quarterly Update on China. It is the report where they forecast the 7.5% annual growth for 2009.

First of all, I should thank chinalawblog for showing me the way to it, and also the World Bank itself for doing a very useful report that can be understood by dummies. This makes sense too, since we are paying for it through our taxes.

There has been some discussion on the net about the last 7.5% forecast given by the World Bank. The subject is so hot, and China is so overpopulated by pundits that any kind of statement about the economy can easily get you in trouble.

That was the case of China Herald publishing an 8.94% forecast. It was obviously a joke, but in the heat of the moment it was misunderstood by some readers. The actual message was simple: after many years seeing many crisis forecasted for China, Fons has learnt to be skeptical. Experience makes as good a prediction as anything these days, so at CYR the point is well noted.

Now, back to the WB report. This might sound obvious to many people, but it is just as well to say it: to issue a deterministic prediction of economic developments in China 1 year ahead is only second in difficulty to predicting next’s year weather. Just to give a little insight, the forecast for 2009 is based on dozens of graphs like the one below, where particular aspects of the economy are projected into the future. A single one of these factors that deviates from the projection can completely change the whole picture.

But the comment above could apply to any economic forecast. For the China report in particular we can add the following important points:

  • It assumes that the Chinese government will continue to make good choices in fiscal and monetary policy, as it has done up to now.
  • It assumes that Chinese authorities are transparent, and that they do what they announce. For example, implement the mysterious land reform announced last October, or the famous list of 10 points for the stimulus plan.
  • It assumes no big change in non-economic variables, such as social and political impact of the crisis, i.e. unemployment, social unrest, rise of nationalism and protectionism,  etc.

In the end, a 7.5% or even a 6% during 2009 is only a little break in the race, and in itself is not at all catastrophic. In fact it can be positive for China to allow her to implement the much needed “rebalancing” policies, as David Dollar explains here.

But the question that remains is not whether the growth will be 6, 8 or 9. The question is whether China’s government is clever and flexible enough to adapt to the new situations that will arise, and whether the delicate social and political balance that has been working in China for the last 30 years will resist the impact of a global crisis. Or, as I like to say and link in all my posts, whether the Wall will resist.

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.