Spray Painting Beijing

When most people think or talk about Beijing today, the focus is on pollution or the crowds Rarely do they think, “Beijing? Great graffiti!” 

But that may change, thanks to a documentary about graffiti artists in Beijing called Spray Paint: Graffiti in the Capital of China. Here’s what a report on PRI had to say about the film:

“Here in the US, we tend to think of graffiti as an illegal activity carried out by kids at night. But in China, the street art scene is quite different.” 

 

Lance Crayon, a Texas native who has been living in China since 2009, made a documentary on graffiti artists in Beijing and found just how different tagging culture is there.

 

“It’s really a middle class and up endeavor, simply based on the money factor,” he says. “For a 19-year old or even a 25-year-old to have something known as disposable income, that’s a pretty new thing in China. And you’ve got to ask yourself, do I want to spend 500 kuai — which is roughly $82 — on throwing up a piece that could easily be covered in a few days, or at some point.”

 

This leaves Beijing with only a small number of graffiti artists — nor more than 25 by Crayon’s estimate.

Here is the trailer of the film:

(If you receive this post by email and cannot see the video, click here.)

 

Hong Kong, China. Really?

Way back in 1997 I was the director of a Chinese language program at a major university in Changchun. As the semester was coming to an end, one of the students (they were all Americans) let me know that he needed to go to Hong Kong at the end of June.

This was back in the days before multiple entry visas, so every time we planned to leave the country, we had to obtain exit and re-entry visas before we left. (As you can imagine, this made emergency departures for medical or personal reasons quite challenging!)

The tricky thing in this student’s case was that he was going to Hong Kong the last week of June, and would be returning to Changchun mid-July. During his time in Hong Kong, the city was due to be “handed over” to China after 99 years of British colonial rule.

The fact that Hong Kong was reverting to Chinese sovereignty was a matter of great pride in China, and we had been bombarded with slogans and propaganda about  Hong Kong’s “return to the Motherland” for months and months.  Let’s just say the Communist Party was milking this one for all it was worth!

As for the student, clearly, he was leaving China in June, but would he be ‘returning’ to China in July. If Hong Kong was to become a part of China on July 1, wouldn’t he then already be in China? And if he was, by virtue of the July 1 handover in China, would he need a visa to return to Changchun?

It was a great question, and one that I had no idea how to answer, so off we went to the foreign student office to see what they would have to say about the matter. Since they were the ones who handled visa paperwork, surely they would know.

I handed the passport to Mr. Y. and explained that Mr. G. was going to Hong Kong, so would need an exit visa. “But when he returns in July,” I said, “Hong Kong will be a part of China….so will he need a re-entry visa?”

My question stumped Mr. Y, so he decided to call the local Public Security Bureau, which was in charge of actually issuing visas. The conversation went something like this:

Mr. Y: I have an American in my office who will go to Hong Kong at the end of June, but return to China mid-July. Will he need a re-entry visa?

Mr. Policeman (he was on the other end of the phone, but Mr. G and I could hear him clearly): Of course. Why wouldn’t he need a visa?

Mr. Y: Because by that time Hong Kong will have returned to the Motherland.

We could “hear” silence on the other end of the line as the absurdity of the situation began to dawn on Mr. Policeman. Then he began laughing hysterically, and soon we were all laughing hysterically!

After a few minutes, we regained our composure and waited for Mr. Policeman’s response.

Mr. Policeman: That’s true, but he will still need a visa to return.

And so it is — Hong Kong is a part of China, but it isn’t. Flying from Beijing to Hong Kong is considered an international flight, and thus requires a passport — even for Chinese. And a foreigner wanting to travel from Hong Kong to China must get a visa. But remember, it’s a part of China.

Are you confused? Never fear; this short video explains it all!

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And now you know why “Is Hong Kong a part of China?” is a tricky question. 

China Divided in Half

It is often said that there are two China’s — urban China and rural China. But according to this map, recently published on Tea Leaf Nation, China can be split in half according to GDP distribution. Here’s the description:

Foreign Policy compiled GDP figures reported by municipalities across China and found that 35 cities contributed just under half of China’s GDP in 2013.

The map (below) merits two caveats. First, the definition of a “city” in the PRC includes all counties, county-level cities, and city districts it governs. (Chongqing, for example, is a megacity in southwest China with a population of just under 30 million that covers 31,814 square miles, netting in smaller towns that lie far away from the bustling, recognizably urban center.) Second, multiple regions will sometimes take credit for the same dollar of GDP, such that the sum of reported numbers exceeds the top-line national statistic. Nonetheless, the below map provides a revealing look at just how much China’s GDP growth machine depends on a few regions:

140328_China50PercentMap

 There you have it — the two China’s! Wow!

 

 

Jesus and Mao on China’s Internet

On April 7, the online magazine Tea Leaf Nation (one of my favorites) published an article titled Infographic: Jesus More Popular Than Mao on China’s Twitter.

The writer set out to determine the prevalence of religious content vs. political content on Weibo and discovered (much to her surprise, it seems) that “the atheist Chinese Communist Party, known for its sometimes heavy-handed policies towards religions, from Islam to Christianity to Tibetan Buddhism, seems far more willing to allow Christian terminology to appear on Weibo than Communist argot, according to data taken from search results on the platform conducted April 3.”

She did a search for “Bible” and “Quotations of Chairman Mao,” and discovered 17 million recent mentions of “Bible” and only 60,000 mentions of Quotations of Chairman Mao.”

A search for “Xi Jinping” (China’s President and General Secretary of the Communist Party) yielded 4 million mentions, while a search for “Jesus” yielded more than 18 million mentions.

She found 41.8 million mentions of “Christian Congregation,” while “Communist Party” only turned up 5.3 million mentions.

In other words, the words “Bible,” “Jesus,” or “Christian” are NOT considered to be sensitive words on Weibo. This is something that I wrote about on this site last year in an article for ChinaSource titled China’s Online Christian Community.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the Tea Leaf Nation article veers off course a bit when the writer highlights the results of her search for the term “underground church:”

“That’s not to say that Christian content is free of censorship. A search for the term “underground church,” referring to Christian congregations in China that refuse to register as one of the state-sanctioned churches, produces a blank search page with a notice reading, “results cannot be displayed due to relevant laws and regulations.””

The implication is clearly that these un-registered churches are outside the bounds on Weibo (and by extension, the Internet in general), and therefore fall into the ‘not permitted’ category.

Here’s the problem:  people in China generally do not use the term “underground church” (地下教会) to refer to congregations that are not registered as state-sanctioned churches. That’s a term used almost exclusively by foreigners. The common term for these unregistered churches is “house church” (家庭教会). This is true even if the church meets in a venue other than a house, such as rented office space.

If she had used the term “house church” instead, she would have discovered thousands, if not millions of mentions, something that would have actually bolstered her findings.

That mistake notwithstanding, her conclusion is spot on:

“Chatter about religion may make the Chinese government queasy, and occasionally terrified, but it’s politics that keeps its leaders (and censors) awake at night.”

Note: This post first appeared on the ChinaSource Blog.

 

Laughing is Happiness

So says the darling little boy in this video:

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It is a clip from a popular TV show in China called “Amazing Chinese.” Obviously it’s along the lines of America’s Got Talent, or other such shows. As in the west, this genre has become quit a hit in China.

When Little Zhang talks about dancing with his mom in the plaza everyday, he is referring to the spontaneous (and sometimes loosely organized) dancing events that spring up in city plazas and parks in China. It’s mostly grannies who are out dancing (one of the judges makes reference to them), but anyone can join in the fun.

It’s one of my favorite things about Chinese society, and I have often thought that if we spent more time dancing with our neighbors, we’d probably have a less violent society.

 

Wedding Photos

One of my favorite streets in Beijing is Xisi Nan Dajie. Besides being one of the few remaining shopping streets in the old part of the city, it’s main claim to fame these days is being ‘wedding studio’ street.

For the mile or so that runs between Xisi and Xidan, many of the storefronts on either side of the road are expensive wedding studios, all with very fancy (and romantic) sounding names. Milan Spring. Paris.    Love Castle.

Two of the biggest ones are next door to the Gangwashi Church, which I attended when I lived in Beijing. Every Sunday morning I enjoyed walking from the subway to the church and eyeing the latest wild outfits on display in the windows.

Wedding photographs in modern Chinese culture are a BIG deal, and couples spend LOTs of money. But unlike in the West, having the photos taken is an event in and of itself!

China File recently captured this phenomenon in a recent essay and slideshow about weddings in China, titled, First Comes Love, Then Comes…the Photo Shoot:

“The wedding banquet comes later. For many Chinese couples, married life really begins in the photo studio where, basted in glitter and hair gel, the brides dressed for a debut at La Scala or night out with Fabio, they gaze upon sets so tufted and inlaid and gold-foiled that comparisons to the real places that seem to have served as models—Versailles, the homes of Donald Trump—don’t quite suffice. This isn’t just a ritual for the rich and corrupt. Flinty investigative reporters, law professors at the country’s best universities, bank tellers, even men and women who ordinarily dress and live in a manner that suggests only the most passing of concern with appearances, still greet visitors to their modest homes with towering portraits of themselves surrounded by velvet and marble.”

weddingphotochinafile

And lest you think this is a homegrown phenomenon, the author reminds us that it is an import from Taiwan:

“Wedding studios first came to the mainland from Taiwan in the ’90s at the very beginning of China’s rocket-like economic ascent. And they have multiplied and evolved as new groups have amassed the funds necessary to support 3,000 to 130,000 RMB shoots.”

Please visit China File to see the entire collection of photos.

When visiting parks or other scenic spots in China its not uncommon to spot one of these wedding shoots. Sometimes there is one couple, sometimes numerous couples — all out for the day together getting their pictures taken.

Here’s a collection of some I’ve run across over the years:

Couples vying for the best shot at the Qingdao Christian Church

Couples vying for the best shot at the Qingdao Christian Church

Dolled up in Tianjin

Dolled up in Tianjin

Hong Kong Wedding Shoot

Of course, it’s a big business in Hong Kong too.

This is one of my favorites…

The swimmer is not phased

The swimmer is not phased

Related posts:

You May Kiss the Bride

A Few Wedding Photos

Get Me to the Church on Time…Or Not!

 

 

 

Is China Happy?

Last week the New York Review of Books published an article called China’s Way of Happiness, by Ian Johnson. The article is an interview of Dr. Richard Madsen, a scholar on religion in China, about his research on happiness in China. 

Taking the Blessing Home

Here are some interesting excerpts from Madsen’s comments.

On the subject of his next book: 

My research project is on searching for a good life in China in an age of anxiety. Where do they see their lives going? Where do they see China going? Its aimed at tapping into people’s sense of meaning. I’m doing it with several other colleagues.

On the need for moral anchors: 

People’s lives are disrupted by urbanization, economic change, and so on. There’s also a collapse of Marxist ideology and a sense of dislocation. There is a need for new moral anchors.

On the relationship between unhappiness and religious revival: 

In the reform era, the revival of religion is probably a quest to return to a normal life to carry out normal festivals, to do things in a normal way, which always had a religious element to it in China. In China, religion has always been more about practice than about belief. You do those things — you sweep the graves of your ancestors because that’s what you do to remain in connection with your family. People have been dislocated from their villages, but there’s a sense that you have to maintain your roots. So they might go back and rebuild a temple or ancestral hall.

On whether China might become a Christian country: 

If you look at the growth and project that over the next fifty or one hundred years, that would happen; but I would predict that the current trajectory will plateau out, like in Taiwan, in the range of 7 percent of the population. Maybe 10 percent. It’s a guess, a hypothesis. But other things like Buddhism are becoming more popular. People will look at other things for meaning and that will crowd out Christianity.

On whether or not Christianity has failed in China: 

It hasn’t failed. What does success mean for a religion? Taking over the country? Or is it just becoming an accepted part of the plurality of understandings, and permanent in a sustainable way? You can definitely argue that its like that for Christianity in China today. We’re seeing new ways for people to find meaning in their lives. Its definitely changing and broadening. Christianity is a part of it.

Read the whole thing here. You won’t regret it.

Related Posts: 

Give Me that Part-Time Religion

Temple-Hopping

Pragmatic Religiosity

 

 

 

 

Measures, Counter-measures, and Hotel Stars

There is a Chinese saying: shang you zhengce, xia you duice (上有政策,下有对策).  The top (leader) has its  measures, the bottom (people) has its counter-measures. Or, to put it in plain English: The leaders make the policies, and the people find ways around them. (I wrote about this in an earlier post titled Measures, Counter-measures, and Filial Piety).

hotelscom

Recent events once again clearly illustrate this truth. As part of it’s anti-corruption campaign, the Communist Party has banned officials from staying at five-star hotels. This has, of course, hurt business at five-star hotels favored by Party and government officials (redundancy alert).

Solution? Get rid of a star and become a four-star hotel!

CNBC reports:

“A five-star rating may be the holy grail of the hospitality industry, but top-end Chinese hotels are actively working to rid themselves of this prestigious ranking.

This comes as the luxury hotel sector struggles with shrinking revenues following the government’s decision last year to ban officials from spending money at five-star hotels as part of its broader austerity drive. “

In 2013, 56 five-star hotels sought to downgrade their ratings to four stars, state press agency Xinhua reported, citing Chen Miaolin, vice president of the China Tourism Association. 

Problem solved!

Image source: hotels.com