What China Wants

Recently, The Economist published an excellent 4-part essay exploring China’s future. The first part, titled “What China Wants” looked at some of the major drivers of China’s economic and diplomatic policies.

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“China,” the author says, “is a nation that wants some things very much:”

“At home its people want continued growth, its leaders the stability that growth can buy. On the international stage people and Communist Party want a new deference and the influence that befits their nation’s stature. Thus China wants the current dispensation to stay the same—it wants the conditions that have helped it grow to endure—but at the same time it wants it turned into something else.”

“Finessing this need for things to change yet stay the same would be a tricky task in any circumstances. It is made harder by the fact that China’s Leninist leadership is already managing a huge contradiction between change and stasis at home as it tries to keep its grip on a society which has transformed itself socially almost as fast as it has grown economically. And it is made more dangerous by the fact that China is steeped in a belligerent form of nationalism and ruled over by men who respond to every perceived threat and slight with disproportionate self-assertion.”

The main issue, of course, is how China can/will manage this contradictory desire of seeking change while trying to maintain the status quo.

The other sections of the essay are:

The Long Fall

Expanding the Bounds

Leviathan and its Hooks

Can China get what it wants? Only time will tell.

I am not teaching a course on China this fall; if I were, this entire essay would be required reading.

 

How Many USA’s Can You Fit Inside China?

I ran across this interesting map on the inter webs the other day. It divides the population of China into four different regions, each with a population roughly equal to that of the United States. As you can see, the issue in China is not simply that the population of China is so large (1.35 billion); it’s that it’s unevenly distributed. Don’t like crowds? Go west, my friends, go west!

 

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Go here to see the data behind the map.

Note: The grey areas obviously indicate areas that the mapmaker considers to be disputed territory.

RELATED POST: How Big is China?

 

 

Ten Documentaries on China

China from the InsideI’m a documentary lover; given a choice between watching a movie, a TV program (drama or comedy) or a documentary, I will almost always choose the documentary. There are numerous documentaries about China floating around out there so I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites, some of which I use in training/orientation courses for folks headed to China. Others I like just because they are interesting. At any rate, they will all help you understand China better.

 

1.  The Genius that Was China (4 parts) (PBS) (1986)

This four part series, which originally aired on the program Nova, examines the scientific and technological dominance of China in ancient times, and explores reasons for China’s decline in the 19th century. I remember watching this when it was broadcast in 1990, and loved it because it addressed so many questions that I had accumulated in my first years of working in China. It’s interesting to watch it now because at the time no one really knew where China was headed. (Parts 1-3 are on YouTube)

2.  A Century of Revolution (3 parts) (PBS) (1987)

If you want to get a handle on what the 20th century looked like in China, this is the series. It begins with the Xinghai Revolution in 1911, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, and goes right up through the Cultural Revolution.

The product description from Amazon:

China: A Century of Revolution is a six-hour tour de force journey through the country’s most tumultuous period. First televised on PBS, this award-winning documentary series presents an astonishingly candid view of a once-secret nation with rare archival footage, insightful historical commentary and stunning eyewitness accounts from citizens who struggled through China’s most decisive century. China in Revolution charts the pivotal years from the birth of the new republic to the establishment of the PRC, through foreign invasions, civil war and a bloody battle for power between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. The Mao Years examines the turbulent era of Mao’s attempts to forge a “new China” from the war-ravaged and exhausted nation. Born Under the Red Flag showcases China’s unlikely transformation into an extraordinary hybrid of communist-centralized politics with an ever-expanding free market economy. Monumental in scope, China: A Century of Revolution is critical viewing for anyone interested in this increasingly powerful and globally influential country.

3.  China from the Inside (4 parts) (PBS)

This is one a number of documentary series about China that was produced in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. They give an excellent glimpse into some of the myriad issues and social challenges facing China. And yes, they all still apply!

The product description from Amazon:

China from the Inside is a series of four documentaries that survey China through Chinese eyes to see how history has shaped them, and where the present is taking them. Episodes include Power and the People, deals with the governance of China, The Women, talks about the past and future for Chinese women, Shifting Nature, looks at China’s environmental challenges, and Freedom, explores China’s conflict between personal freedom and governance.

The documentary website is here.

4.  China Rising (4 parts) (CBC and The New York Times) (2007)

This pre-Olympics series was produced by the CBC, and in some ways dovetails nicely with the PBS series mentioned above. The writing is exceptional!

The description from the series website:

China. The scene of the most extraordinary economic, social, and political transformation of our time. But it is also a nation struggling with an enormous population, a strained environment, and unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. Four documentary films portray the triumphs and disappointments of remarkable individuals caught up in an epic story.

The episodes are also available on YouTube.

5.  Young and Restless in China (PBS)

This film follows the lives of 9 Chinese young people (urban and rural) over the course of four years as they try to find their way in a changing society.

From the official description:

“These young Chinese are Westernized, savvy about today’s interconnected world, ambitious — and often torn between their culture and their aspirations. Set to an original soundtrack of Chinese rock and hop-hop music, this provocative film presents an in-depth look at what it means to be young and Chinese today.”

6.  The Cross: Jesus in China (4 parts) (China Soul) (2001)

Produced by Pastor Yuan Zhiming (former filmmaker in China), this series was one of the first to give a first-hand account of the explosion of Christianity in China.

The Amazon Description:

This documentary, The Cross: Jesus in China, portrays the little known history of a remarkable people; it is the turbulent 50 year history of Chinese Christians on screen! For the first time, the history of Christianity in China, especially within the House-Church movement, is given in an honest and comprehensive account. The film answers the question raised by many people outside China: how did the number of Chinese Christians increase from 700,000 in 1949 to approximately 70 million today despite communist control? Using live footage and interviews, the film captures the true stories of many people and seeks to answer the most common questions: how does the Chinese government deal with Chinese Christians and vice-versa? How have Chinese Christians developed, survived and grown? What kind of people are they and what influence have they had and will they have on Chinese society?

7.  Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (4 parts ) BBC)

The description on YouTube:

China – the superpower the world fears, but few really know. Ken Hom, the godfather of Chinese cuisine, and Ching-He Huang, leading chef of the contemporary generation, together undertake an epic 3000-mile culinary adventure across China – not only to reveal its food, but its people, history, culture and soul.

8.  Education Education: Why Poverty (Steps International)

This is a slightly depressing look at education in modern day China.

Description on YouTube:

In ancient times in China, education was the only way out of poverty — in recent times it has been the best way. China’s economic boom and talk of the merits of hard work have created an expectation that to study is to escape poverty. But these days China’s higher education system only leads to jobs for a few, educating a new generation to unemployment and despair.

9.  Please Vote for Me (Independent Lens)

This is one of my favorites – part “Lord of the Flies,” part Cultural Revolution!

The description on Amazon:

Two males and a female vie for office, indulging in low blows and spin, character assassination and gestures of goodwill, all the while gauging their standing with voters. The setting is not the Democratic presidential campaign, but a third-grade class at an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China. “Please Vote For Me”, which is on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences documentary feature shortlist, packs its fleet hour with keen observations. Chronicling a public school’s first open elections – at stake is the position of class monitor – filmmaker Weijun Chen has crafted a witty, engaging macro-lens view of human nature, China’s one-child policy and the democratic electoral process as the ultimate exercise in marketing.

10.  High Tech, Low Life

This film examines how modern media technology in the hands of citizens is challenging the government monopoly on information.

Description from the documentary website:

High Tech, Low Life follows the journey of two of China’s first citizen reporters as they travel the country – chronicling underreported news and social issues stories. Armed with laptops, cell phones, and digital cameras they develop skills as independent one-man news stations while learning to navigate China’s evolving censorship regulations and avoiding the risk of political persecution.

This film is available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

So that’s my list. What China documentaries would you recommend?

Note: This post was originally published at ChinaSource.

 

Dueling Aircraft Carrier (Videos)

To celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Aviation Industry Corporation (a state-owned company) released this video of China’s J-15 carrier plane and the country’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Round about the same time, the US Navy released their own video of the USS George Washington-based “Royal Maces” squadron showing their stuff.

Let’s just hope that the duel never moves beyond video clips!

 

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!

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

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

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.

 

Three Decades in China; Four Trends

Thirty years ago, I set off for what I thought would be a one-year teaching stint in China. Twenty-eight years later, I moved back to the States. Either I’m really bad at math or that was one very long year.

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I worked in three different cities: Zhengzhou, Changchun, and Beijing. I wore many different hats: English teacher, Chinese language student, Chinese language program director, English teaching program director, cross-cultural trainer. I learned lots, and of course, made many mistakes.

I count myself privileged to have had a front row seat to watch China transform itself from a country on the brink of social and economic collapse to the world’s second largest economy.

My connections to China actually predate 1984, though. I grew up in Pakistan in the 1960′s during a time when Pakistan was one of China’s only friends. My mom drove us to school every morning, and along the way we passed the Chinese Consulate, with its imposing portrait of Chairman Mao. As kids, we had a nickname for him, but it’s probably better left unspoken. It was from Pakistan that Henry Kissinger made his secret trip into China that laid the ground for Nixon’s visit in 1972. When I was in junior high school, there was even talk of a class trip to China; unfortunately the Chinese government decided it was not in their interest to have a couple dozen American 8th graders roaming around their country.

My first actual visit to China came in 1979, the first year that China “opened up” to American tourists. I was doing a summer internship in Hong Kong, and when the opportunity to do a three-day tour to Guangzhou with a group of American college students came up, I took it. What I saw was a country unlike anything I had ever seen (and I had seen a couple dozen countries already). China was just three years out from the end of the Cultural Revolution, and the exhaustion and oppression was palpable. I remember thinking that if it continued to open-up, it might be interesting to work there someday.

Four Observed Trends

As I look back over three decades in China, these are some of the trends that I have witnessed.

1. Ration coupons to Wal-Mart

When I arrived in China, ration coupons were still in use. The political campaigns of the 60′s and 70′s had brought scarcity (and even famine), so essential foodstuffs were rationed: meat, flour, sugar, and eggs. As foreigners, we could not get the required ration coupons, which meant that we could not purchase any of those items. However, our school was given extra ration coupons so they could feed us. The ration coupons remained in use until the end of the 1980′s.In China today, there is no shortage of food or consumer goods available to those with purchasing power. Every major city has a Wal-Mart or some other big box store with food and other items stacked floor to ceiling. Sometimes when I see older people wandering around in these stores, the ones who experienced the famines of the 60′s, I wonder what they are thinking.

2. Isolated to Engaged

In the 1980′s the world of a Chinese citizen was quite small, existing primarily of family and the work unit. It was difficult to travel within China, and almost impossible to travel outside of China. The students that I taught knew almost nothing of the outside world, and I was the first non-Chinese they had ever seen. I remember one of my students telling me that he had secretly learned English from VOA broadcasts while hiding under the bed.

Today the nation of China is fully engaged on the world stage. Its economy is integrated with the global economy and China is seeking to establish itself as a major world power, a second superpower to act as a counterweight to the United States. Chines citizens are travelling and living and working abroad in record numbers as passports and visas are easier to get. In the 1980′s I worked hard to explain what a “hamburger stand” was (it was a lesson in the textbook we used), but today kids often ask me if we have MacDonald’s in America too.

3. Conformity to Self-expression

One of the enduring images in my mind of China in the 1980′s is the uniform drabness of it all. In addition to the sky and the buildings all being various shades of grey, everyone was still wearing the same dark blue or green “Mao suits” (Chinese call them Sun Yat-sen suits, by the way). Everyone dressed alike and thought alike. The political and social system had no room or tolerance for self-expression.

Today, one only occasionally sees Mao suits worn by peasants or construction workers, and everything from fashion to architecture seems to scream out “LOOK AT ME!” The post-90′s generation is all about individual self-expression and their own (as opposed to state-mandated) social connections.

4. The Church: Hidden to Visible

In the 1980′s the church was in survival mode, having just come through the Cultural Revolution during which religions were banished from Chinese society. Churches were slowly beginning to reopen and pastors were being let out of prison and back into their pulpits. By and large, the church was invisible to society around it. Throughout the 90′s and 2000′s the church moved into the shadows – it was visible, but not very. As it became more visible, it found ways to serve the needs of society. And today, the Chinese church has even begun to send missionaries abroad.

It will be interesting to watch what happens in China over the next thirty years. To quote Rob Gifford, author of China Road: Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, “the next thirty years cannot and will not be like the last thirty years.” New demographic and economic realities won’t allow it.

Note: this was originally posted on the ChinaSource Blog.

Related Post:

Literary Journey: The List

 

 

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