Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China second only to US in research-Thomson Reuters

Quotable Quotes – “China’s grip on innovative materials is likely to have far-reaching effects. It is difficult to see developments in industrial sectors that draw on these technologies that will not directly or indirectly depend on the knowledge coming out of China’s research.”

China second only to US in research-Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters
Source – Reuters, 2 November 2009

WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Chinese researchers have more than doubled their output of scientific papers and now are second only to the United States in terms of volume, according to a report from Thomson Reuters (TRI.N) (TRI.TO) released on Monday.

The research is heavily focused on materials and technology and shows China is poised to dominate several areas of industry, the report finds.

“China’s comparative growth is striking, far outstripping that of the rest of the world,” reads the report, available here

“And the curve seems to be showing only marginal signs of slowing, still heading to overtake the USA itself within the next decade.”

Chinese researchers published 20,000 research papers in 1998. This ballooned to nearly 112,000 in 2008, the report found, with China passing Japan, Britain and Germany in terms of annual output.

During the same time U.S. researchers increased output from 265,000 to 340,000 publications a year, a gain of around 30 percent.

Chinese research is concentrated in the physical sciences and technology, especially materials science, chemistry and physics.

“China’s grip on innovative materials is likely to have far-reaching effects. It is difficult to see developments in industrial sectors that draw on these technologies that will not directly or indirectly depend on the knowledge coming out of China’s research,” the report reads.

“If China’s research growth remains this rapid and substantial, European and North American institutions will want to be part of it,” Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation at Thomson Reuters, added in a statement.

The report, based on 10,500 journals monitored by Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, notes that China has more than 1,700 standard institutions of higher education.

“Since the Chinese economic reform started in 1978, China has emerged from a poor developing country to become the second-largest economy in the world after the United States of America,” the report reads.

“Already, more than half of the nation’s technologies, including atomic energy, space science, high-energy physics, biology, computer science, and information technology, have reached or are close to a recognizable international level of achievement.”

Other high-growth areas for China, according to the report, include agricultural sciences, immunology, microbiology, and molecular biology and genetics.

The United States is the biggest international collaborator with China, with 39,000 Chinese papers suggesting collaboration with U.S. researchers, or 8.9 percent of China’s total. Japanese collaborations came next with 3 percent. (Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Beech)

Filed under: Education, Reuters, Science, Thomson Reuters

Was Chinese wrongly taught for 30 years?

This has been big news. Ever since Lee Kuan Yew admitted a flawed approach to teaching Chinese to Singaporean Chinese, the floodgates have opened. It begs the question – just how Chinese are Singaporean Chinese? Why is it still so important to Singapore to continually assess and develop their competence with the Chinese language? Cultural ballast or economic tool? Or hybrid of both? Will speculate it has always been designed to do so – a cultural ballast with economic and political benefit. Win-win.

Personally, Mandarin as we know it has very little to do with the Singaporean Chinese. When our ancestors left China, they would have scarcely spoken Mandarin. The written form was standard, but spoken Mandarin today was established as recently as 1955 by the Communist Party and is based on a Beijing (northern) dialect in terms of phonology. And Singaporean Chinese are from the south. We had to adopt a language not indigenous to our historical region.

In terms of culture, we find ourselves more easily aquainted with dialect groups (and hence their dialects which were unfortunately suppressed during the Speak Mandarin campaign), because that was what our parents and grandparents were like. Today, it is more accurate to say we live more like Straits Chinese (think we appreciate and assimilate much of the culture and lingo of our Malay and Indian brothers and sisters) than Chinese from the mainland.

What is clear is that the utility of being able to speak Standard Mandarin is the true goal.

Quotable Quotes – “From independence in 1965, Singapore began aggressively pursuing a two- tongue education policy. The thinking was, and still is, that a command of English would give its economy a competitive edge in the region, as well as facilitate communication among the different races. This would be supplemented by the mother tongue to give each race cultural ballast.”

Also – see posts here and here.

Was Chinese wrongly taught for 30 years?
By Clarissa Oon & Kor Kian Beng
Straits Times
Source – AsiaOne, 29 November 2009

FOR Chinese Singaporeans who had struggled with their mother tongue in school, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s recent remarks that bilingual education had proceeded on the wrong assumptions for 30 years were a breath of fresh air.

One of those who felt vindicated was Mr Andrew Koh, 43, who studied at an English-stream mission school.

It was there where he developed ‘a phobia of the Chinese language, no thanks to the rigid way it was taught’, says Mr Koh. ‘I am sure we all feel vindicated by MM Lee’s acknowledgement and now know that it is not because we are intellectually inferior.’

Back in the 1970s, Chinese was taught in much the same way to all students – whether they came from English-speaking backgrounds with little exposure to Mandarin, or lived and breathed the language in traditional Chinese-medium schools that still existed then.

This meant that Mr Koh and his schoolmates at St Andrew’s Primary and Secondary schools had to memorise unfamiliar words and passages ‘with lots of ‘ting xie’ (spelling tests) thrown in’.

‘It was a torture and very pressurising as it was pure memory work with no context to learning the language,’ recalls Mr Koh, a director and general manager at Canon Singapore.

In Mr Lee’s view, the problem of how to teach Chinese as a second language was effectively fixed – somewhat – only in 2004, through a modular system customising the teaching of primary school Chinese to different language abilities.

Most of today’s Chinese teachers are bilingual – compared to their Chinese-educated predecessors – and better able to engage their young charges. But the policy is still ‘not completely right’ and must be fine-tuned, Mr Lee said last week at the opening of a centre to upgrade Chinese-language teaching.

Hence, the newly launched Singapore Centre for Chinese Language (SCCL) must explore ways to make learning Chinese fun for students, he said. This is because fewer children these days have a Mandarin-speaking home environment to fall back on. Official figures show that three out of five children entering Primary 1 this year come from English-speaking homes.

For Mr Koh, unimaginative teaching turned him off Chinese – though fortunately not for life. Five years ago, he took a Chinese refresher course at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce which ‘opened his eyes to the rich historical heritage and beauty of the Chinese language’.

If only it had been taught differently when he was in school, says the man who barely scraped through his O-level Chinese examination.

Education as ‘political football’

MUCH ink has been spilt in the newspapers, and many tears shed, over the last 40 years as policymakers, educators, parents and students grappled with the impact of bilingualism.

From independence in 1965, Singapore began aggressively pursuing a two- tongue education policy. The thinking was, and still is, that a command of English would give its economy a competitive edge in the region, as well as facilitate communication among the different races. This would be supplemented by the mother tongue to give each race cultural ballast.

The devil was in the details of implementation – especially as language and education were highly emotive subjects that became ‘political football’ among different interest groups, as Mr Lee noted in 1978 when he was prime minister.

On one side, there was the Mandarin- speaking community worried about declining Chinese language standards – particularly after the closure of Chinese-medium schools in the mid-1980s. Members of this group had their share of struggles in having to improve their English, and feared the Government was catering too much to the needs of English speakers.

On the other side of the debate were the English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans who felt not enough was being done to help their children improve in the Chinese language. Some in this group felt the language had been forced on them.

Mr Lee was to intervene many times, as PM, in this deeply polarising debate – as well as later, in the 2004 review of the Chinese-language curriculum.

What went wrong?

THE controversy over the bilingual policy started in the 1970s.

The Government began assigning greater weight to both first and second languages in examinations, and passing both became a requirement for advancement to pre-university and beyond. Many students had trouble coping with two languages, especially given the prevailing dialect-speaking home environment at the time. The failure rate was astounding.

From 1975 to 1977, more than 60 per cent of those who sat for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) or the O levels failed either English or Chinese, or both. The bilingual issue sparked many letters to the newspapers – from anguished parents detailing their children’s difficulties in learning Chinese, as well as from defenders of the Chinese language.

One parent who criticised the policy was Mrs Pauline Tan, in her letter to The Straits Times in 1989. She said then it was the key reason behind her family’s decision to migrate to Australia. She felt that her son was a victim of the boring way the Chinese language was taught then. She also argued that the policy was too harsh and inflexible, especially for students from schools that were traditionally much stronger in English.

There are no available figures on the number of Singaporeans who migrated because of their children’s struggle with the language. Experienced Chinese teachers who have been teaching in English-dominant schools since the late 1970s say they did not encounter former students who migrated as a result of difficulties with the Chinese language.

A former Singaporean, who has worked as an immigration lawyer in Melbourne for the past eight years, says she has not met any Singaporean families with children who migrated there as a result of the bilingual policy.

She says: ‘I do not think that the bilingual policy alone is a strong enough factor to make Singaporeans migrate. From what I have gathered from my Singaporean clients, the main reasons are cost of living and stressful environment.’

A good gauge of the number of Singaporean students struggling with Chinese at that time could perhaps be seen in the passing rate of the subject at PSLE level.

Madam Foo Siew Lin, a senior teacher at St Joseph’s Institution Junior since 1975, says that in the 1980s, about half of the 260-plus pupils entering Primary 1 at the school each year would have difficulty with the Chinese language. During that period, about 35 per cent of the Primary 6 pupils managed to pass the subject at the PSLE, says Madam Foo. Now, it is above 90 per cent, although detractors argue that the higher percentage is a result of lower benchmarks in marking.

From the 1970s, the Government was already aware of the difficulties this particular group of children from English- speaking families had with learning Chinese, but did not tackle this problem until much later.

One reason was that they were still a minority in Singapore at that point. In 1982, only 10 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort came from English-speaking families, compared with 59 per cent this year.

Another factor was that all the Chinese teachers back then came from Chinese-educated backgrounds and knew no other way of teaching Chinese.

Mr Lee also acknowledged that his mistaken assumption then was that a child who was bright enough could master two languages. For that reason, Chinese lessons in the past were pitched at too difficult a level and ‘successive generations of students paid a heavy price because of my ignorance’.

But not all students from English- speaking backgrounds were complaining.

Mr Edward Ong, 57, who went to Anglo-Chinese primary and secondary schools, was one of those who felt they had benefited from learning Chinese the hard way. He recalls how the lao shi (teacher) would make the class practise writing fan ti zi (traditional Chinese characters) instead of jian ti zi (simplified Chinese characters).

Says Mr Ong, a retired banker and headhunter: ‘We had to repeat and recite after the teacher, over and over again. But it actually gave us a very sound foundation in the language. With certain things, you just have to grit your teeth and go through with it. It is the same with learning English, isn’t it?’

Chinese teachers in English-dominant schools also defended the old way of teaching, saying that it had its merits in the early years. Says Madam Foo, in Mandarin: ‘We can’t say that the method back then was wrong. Most of the students we had then came from Mandarin- speaking families and had less trouble during lessons.’

Chinese teachers did not have the benefits of the computer, Internet and new media technologies widely available these days to make the lessons more fun, she notes. But now, she says, ‘society has changed, with more students coming from English-speaking families’.

She adds: ‘Students these days also need more visual and physical stimulus. So there is a greater need for teachers to make Chinese lessons more fun through games, cartoons and music.’

The remedies taken

AFTER the 1991 General Election – when four seats fell to the opposition – an attempt was made to raise Chinese-language standards. This was viewed partly as a way to appease the Mandarin-speaking community, many of whom were perceived to have voted for the opposition.

However, the Government backpedalled in the late 1990s, recognising that a growing number of students were coming from English-speaking homes and that their Chinese textbooks were too difficult for them.

To cater to differing language backgrounds, a 1999 review committee led by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, now PM, introduced the Chinese B curriculum for weaker students and slashed textbook content, while making it easier for more students with the aptitude to do Higher Chinese.

Linguistic ability and academic ability are two different things, MM Lee – who stepped down as PM in 1990 to become Senior Minister and then MM in 2004 – had realised by this point.

The B curriculum, however, proved unpopular, with many parents viewing it as a stigma if their children enrolled in it.

So in 2004, the current modular system for teaching Chinese in primary school was introduced. This gives children with little exposure to Chinese additional support, while allowing those with backgrounds or ability in Chinese to go further.

In recent years, the bilingualism debate has been tempered by geopolitical realities. The rise of China has melted away much of the resistance of those from English-speaking backgrounds towards learning Chinese, now that they see its economic value.

This can be seen in the rising number of students opting to do Higher Chinese. Some 27 per cent of O-level candidates took Higher Chinese last year, compared with 19 per cent two years ago.

In the last 10 years, it appears that students have had less trouble with the Chinese language compared to their predecessors in the English-dominant schools of the 1970s and 1980s.

The pass rate for Chinese, whether at PSLE, O levels or A levels, has hovered around 95 per cent or better in the last 10 years, on a par with the English pass rate.

However, there is still a small group of about one in 10 Primary 6 pupils who are above average in other subjects, but do badly in Chinese. These students are in the top 30 per cent for English, Mathematics and Science, but in the bottom 10 per cent for Chinese.

Going forward, Chinese-language educators say the challenge is to stimulate the interest of weaker students, while not compromising standards for those with an aptitude for the Chinese language.

The future: Using English to teach Chinese?

THE modular approach gives Chinese teachers leeway to use interactive teaching methods. Drama and IT resources are commonly used in Chinese classes. The system also places more emphasis on oral communication and reading, compared to writing, for primary school pupils.

MM Lee believes schools should take a step further in reaching out to students from English-speaking families – by using English to teach Chinese.

A task force will make proposals soon on how this group of children can be taught the language, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Sunday.

Several primary schools, most of which have traditionally been stronger in English, have used this bilingual approach to teach Chinese since 2002, with some success. One of them is Anglo-Chinese School (Junior).

Madam Lye Choon Hwan, 42, who heads the school’s Chinese language department, says the bilingual approach is useful in the school for weaker pupils, especially those from English-speaking families who just cannot catch up with the lessons. About 10 per cent of the 270 pupils entering Primary 1 at the school each year are in this category, she says.

‘English is used as a scaffolding to help my pupils understand concepts and clear up any misinterpretations,’ she adds. ‘It also melts down the psychological barrier of my pupils who have resistance to learning Chinese as they found it hard and incomprehensible.’

But, like her, educators stress that English must be used very selectively in Chinese classes, or it could become a crutch preventing students from effectively learning Chinese. Says Mrs Joanne Ng, 33, head of the Chinese department at St Andrews’ School Junior: ‘We do not use English unnecessarily but for select situations, like to explain complex words that students do not understand.’

SCCL’s executive director Chin Chee Kuen encourages more young parents, who are the products of a bilingual education system, to use Mandarin more often with their children instead of English.

‘Before the age of six is the best time for a child to learn a language. Parents could help set a foundation for him in Chinese, so that it will be easier to build on this foundation when he enters school,’ says Dr Chin.

Filed under: AsiaOne, Culture, Singapore, Straits Times

‘We migrated to spare our kid further misery with Chinese’

It is sad but true – early Singapore’s model for teaching Chinese to its ethnically but far from culturally Chinese Singaporeans was not the best. The result – adding to the already diasporic Chinese.

Quotable Quotes – “I am comforted that finally someone at this high level of government has come round to see my point of view, which I have voiced for a long time…” Singaporean mother, Mrs Pauline Tan

‘We migrated to spare our kid further misery with Chinese’
By Kor Kian Beng
Straits Times
Source – AsiaOne, 30 November 2009

IN SEPTEMBER 1989, a Singaporean mother, Mrs Pauline Tan, wrote an impassioned letter to The Straits Times, criticising the way the Chinese language was taught in schools here and the impact it had on her nine-year-old son.

She said her son, then studying in Primary 3 at a Methodist school, was having suicidal thoughts because he hated having to study Chinese every day.

Wrote Mrs Tan: ‘He was constantly ridiculed and scolded by his Chinese teacher. He felt ashamed and shunned his classmates. He found Chinese boring. It is spelling, dictation, writing, tests and more spelling, dictation, writing and tests.’

As a result, she and her husband made plans to migrate to Australia. It was to spare her son further misery with the Chinese language, wrote Mrs Tan. The couple also have a younger son, who was aged five then.

Her letter sparked widespread criticisms, with many readers – especially those from the Chinese-educated community – lambasting her controversial move.

Many wrote in to express their anger over the Tans’ ‘absurd’ decision, and pointed out that Chinese-educated Singaporeans also had to overcome difficulties with the English language to compete with the English-educated for jobs.

One reader said: ‘At times, I find some English-educated Chinese Singaporeans too pampered.’

Some readers showed sympathy, saying the school and parents should have detected the problem earlier and done something to help the boy before he got into serious difficulties with the language.

For the next 20 years, there was no news about Mrs Tan and her family – until this week when she penned another letter to The Straits Times, which was published on Tuesday.

It was in response to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s comments last week that the Government had made mistakes with the bilingual policy.

She wrote: ‘I am comforted that finally someone at this high level of government has come round to see my point of view, which I have voiced for a long time.’

She was also pleased with Mr Lee’s comments that the policy would be adjusted to suit students of different abilities.

Speaking to Insight on the phone from Brisbane, Mrs Tan, 60, said the family had obtained Australian permanent residency in 1990 but uprooted for Down Under only two years later.

That was because the couple wanted their elder son to complete his Primary School Leaving Examination here, and time to wind up the family business. She declined to specify the industry.

She had also harboured hopes that there might be changes to the education system after the publication of her letter – and after she contacted the Ministry of Education for help. But her elder son told her that the situation had barely improved in his school.

Mrs Tan acknowledged that the home environment was a key factor in determining a child’s interest towards the learning of any language. The couple were English-educated and spoke mostly English to the boys at home.

Still, she felt that the teaching style could have been less harsh, and the bilingual policy more flexible, to suit various types of students. ‘We definitely wouldn’t have migrated if the situation had been different,’ she said.

On the adverse reaction to her 1989 letter, Mrs Tan said that she was unperturbed by it.

She said: ‘I was just a voice saying the policy was wrong and that we should make changes. I wasn’t trying to make people follow my example.’

After all, it was not easy in the new land, as the couple encountered challenges like loneliness, she said.

The couple ran an export business, and later a property consultancy, until they retired two years ago.

But Mrs Tan said she felt she had made the right decision when she saw her sons enjoying and doing well in school again.

She declined to name her sons nor let Insight speak to them. The reason is that they are not aware that she had written to the press. She said only her husband knew about the Forum letters.

Both sons, aged 29 and 25, graduated from Queensland University of Technology and are doing well in life, said Mrs Tan.

Her elder son is now working as an IT specialist in Brisbane and the younger one is doing his doctorate studies in mathematics at Oxford University.

She said her elder son still feels bitter over his school experience.

‘When we returned to Singapore for visits, I would ask him at times if he wanted to visit his primary school. He did not want to go back there at all.’

Does the family plan to move back some day? Mrs Tan would only say that her sons now feel more Australian than Singaporean, though she still feels ‘deeply Singaporean’.

‘It’s such a pity that Singapore has lost some talented people as a result of some of its policies,’ she said.

Filed under: AsiaOne, Chinese overseas, Culture, Singapore, Straits Times

Kungfu shrine under attack

Case of enlightenment in learning to leverage on its core strengths? Or? It is always such a hot potato – overdo the commercialisation and internationalisation and be blamed for pushing it too far, under-do it and no one remembers who you are., and one gets blamed for dragging it down into the water.

Quotable Quotes – “Chinese News Weekly said the temple receives 1.5 million vistors a year and has a yearly income of 60 million yuan ($8.8 million), whereas The Guardian puts the figure at 10 million pounds (100 million yuan). In 2006, Henan officials presented to Abbot Shi a spectacular sports sedan worth one million yuan ($125, 000) for his contribution to local tourism.”

Kungfu shrine under attack
Global Times
Source – Cultural China, 16 November 2009

Shaolin Abbot - Source Cultural ChinaHe was China’s youngest Abbot in the Shaolin Temple – 22 when he ascended the throne. He was one of the first monks in China with an MBA. He is also the most controversial Buddhist here, allegedly for turning the shrine into a money-making machine.

Now, he is in the spotlight again after hackers targeted the website established to promote Shaolin’s shows and products worldwide.

The hackers have posted a purported letter of confession on the site (shaolin.org.cn) in the name of the Abbot Shi Yongxin, who “admitted his guilt” in commercializing the temple generally considered as the cradle of China’s traditional martial art, or Kung fu.

The Temple’s website remained inaccessible until the time of going to press Thursday.

The letter and a photo of Shi in a sitting posture were not visible on the temple’s website shortly after the attack Wednesday. But the screen shot has been circulated across Chinese websites, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported Thursday.

The letter, shown with Shi’s signature and written in the first person, summarized the history of the Temple and his own growth path.

“Over almost a decade as Shaolin’s abbot, I have done my best to convert Shaolin from a small shrine to a top-notch international attraction. I felt proud with a sense of accomplishment. But now, increasingly, I feel guilt and regret over what I have done,” it states.

“Its rapid development is at the expense of sacrificing the tranquility and sanctity of the Temple … I hope to not proceed further on the commercial path and become a sinner in the eyes of Shaolin and Buddhism,” it reads.

The Temple’s Master Shi Yanyu denied the abbot having written the letter, according to the newspaper.

“The hackers’ action is patently illegal and we’ll let our lawyers handle the case,” Qiang Daliang, manager of Henan Shaolin Temple Development Company, told the Global Times.

Speculation is that Shaolin and Abbot Shi were targets of hackers and public criticism because Shi’s effort to commercialize and internationalize Shaolin has offended those who saw these moves as a departure from Shaolin tradition.

This is nothing new for Shi, who is a highly controversial figure both at home and abroad. His very rise to the top as an abbot in 1987 – six years after he joined Shaolin – aroused suspicion. That did not deter him from pressing ahead with reform of the temple.

He set up the country’s first temple-based website in 1996. He was one of 18 monks in a half-year course on business administration at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University, leading to The Los Angeles Times calling him the “CEO in a monk’s robe.”

He spent much time travelling overseas – for meetings, in Kung fu delegations and cultivating elite society. The Shaolin Temple was the country’s first temple to welcome former Russian president Putin.

The Guardian newspaper of London reported that Shaolin was paid $10,000 for each performance in the US. There is no clear estimate of the funds raised by the temple’s commercialization drive.

Chinese News Weekly said the temple receives 1.5 million vistors a year and has a yearly income of 60 million yuan ($8.8 million), whereas The Guardian puts the figure at 10 million pounds (100 million yuan). In 2006, Henan officials presented to Abbot Shi a spectacular sports sedan worth one million yuan ($125, 000) for his contribution to local tourism.

Shi’s commercialization was denounced by fellow monks and local residents. Shi Yongguo, Shi Yongxin’s senior fellow apprentice, and the abbot of the Fujian-based South Shaolin Temple, said Shi Yongxin’s motive for a commercial Shaolin Temple went too far. “The South Shaolin Temple will not adopt such practices to become famous,” he said.

Li Zhenying, a Dengfeng resident living near the Shaolin Temple, said Shi is a controversial figure locally as many believe that monks should keep away from business practices. “What he did over the years is seek personal gain and fame,” he said.

However, Shang Qiumin, chief of the Tourism Service Department of Shaolin, a Dengfeng-based tourism agency affiliated to the Shaolin Temple, is supportive of Shi Yongxin’s controversial actions. He said the current abbot’s move represents the general trend in the administration of the temple and has had its benefits.

“The living standard of monks has improved greatly thanks to Shi’s effort, and the temple has never attracted so much attention before,” said the 52-year-old, who served as secretary of the late abbot Shi Xingzheng from 1985 to 1988.

Zhou Xueying a history professor at Nanjing University, said it was for history to judge the merits of Shi’s reform. “Buddhism has been secularized since the time of the Song Dynasty. It is inevitable for Shaolin and other temples such as Wutaishan to ride on the modernization tide and move into the future,” he said.

Although it may be reasonable to question the abbot’s commercialization drive, he said it was unreasonable to wreck the temple’s website to vent anger.

“That is certainly not a good way of communicating and resolving the issue,” he said.

Filed under: Culture, global times, Media

56 columns to leave Tiananmen Square

Some controvesy over where the 56 columns, recently symbolic of China’s ethnic diversity should sit now that the 60th anniversary celebrations are over.

Quotable Quotes – “The 56 columns have been in rows along the east and the west sides of Tiananmen Square, by the National Museum and the Great Hall of the People since National Day. Each column represents a different ethnic group in China with paintings of people in traditional ethnic costumes on each one.

Tiananmen Square - 56 Columns56 columns to leave Tiananmen Square
Global Times
Source – Cultural China, 25 November 2009

The 56 columns representing ethnic solidarity in Tiananmen Square will be moved to the Olympic Green neighboring the Bird’s Nest, according to a staffer at the Administration of Tiananmen Area Tuesday.

The administration said that the move will be finished by the end of the year though the exact date of the move has not yet been set.

The 56 columns have been in rows along the east and the west sides of Tiananmen Square, by the National Museum and the Great Hall of the People since National Day. Each column represents a different ethnic group in China with paintings of people in traditional ethnic costumes on each one.

But Wazed Ali, a Bengali merchant working in Shandong Province disagrees with the decision. “It’s beautiful and suitable to keep it in this historic place,” he said, “Few people will know what the columns represent if they are moved away because the square attracts more tourists than any other place.”

“The huge red columns don’t look harmonious with the square’s whole tone,” said Liu Feizhou, an urban management consultant for Adfaith, a leading management consulting firm in China. “The overall planning for Tiananmen Square finished years ago, so it’s not suitable to add more long-term additions. If those columns stay, what will be added for the 70th anniversary?”

Where the 56 columns would end up caused a heated discussion even before National Day. No permanent constructions have set up camp in the square since 1977 when the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall was completed. In September, Lu Jiankang, the designer, told Legal Mirror that they had worked out a plan for the columns to be moved to Ethnic Avenue on the Olympic Green.

However, news came on October 2 that the columns would stay in Tiananmen permanently.

Lu told local media that he was informed by the National Day Parade Headquarters that the columns would soon be moved inside the square. But the columns are still standing today.

The columns will be moved in the middle of the night to avoid attracting attention, and the planned move will not damage the columns or the square in any way, according to an officer from the Beijing Urban Construction Corporation who built the columns.

Filed under: Culture, Ethnicity, global times

Challenges to a Sino-U.S. partnership

Offering solutions to the China and US relationship is this article from UPI Asia.  Considering each other’s position fairly definitely sounds like the way to go, for both parties.

Quotable Quotes – “To work together, China and the United States will not only have to respect one another as partners, they will also have to encourage other stakeholders to partner with them in order to manage global issues. They will have to set aside their mistrust and consider each other’s positions fairly.

Challenges to a Sino-U.S. partnership
By Zhang Quanyi
Source – UPI Asia, 26 November 2009

Ningbo, China — When U.S. President Barrack Obama met Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing last week, he promised to pursue a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive” relationship with China. Both sides agreed on the need to work together to meet future challenges in areas such as climate change, security and international finance.

The tone of the meeting showed a strong sense of shared responsibility between these two world leaders in constructing a healthier and more prosperous and peaceful world. However, several factors might challenge a closer partnership between their two countries.

At the heart of the matter is the issue of trust. Even though Obama has signed an agreement to work in partnership with China, there is still opposition in the U.S. Congress that cannot be ignored. There are still voices who stress the ideological differences between the two countries – who consider China more communist than capitalist, more authoritarian than democratic, disrespectful of human rights and valuing the collective more than the individual.

In a word, Americans have a different attitude toward national identity, as well as different ideological assumptions and a different culture from the Chinese.

Partly because of this, Americans cannot easily abandon the idea that China is a threat to them. In terms of security, many Americans hold a negative attitude toward China’s military development, especially in space and on the ocean.

Some military experts and politicians still hold the view that China should be contained in the Taiwan Strait, and advocate continued weapon sales to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, which was signed in 1979 several months after the United States and China established diplomatic relations. An imminent test of Obama will be if he agrees to sell such weapons to Taiwan.

Americans also see China as a threat in economic terms. They wonder if China’s rising economic power will swallow up the U.S. economy in the future. This fear is similar to one that arose in the 1980s when Japan began buying massive amounts of U.S. real estate. China is now the biggest holder of U.S. Treasury bonds; many Americans wonder if China will take advantage of this to coerce the United States to sacrifice its national interest.

In the real world, trade conflicts have emerged one after another. The United States has recently imposed special tariffs on China-made tires and steel pipes, for example, and restricted poultry imports. On the other hand, China has had long-term bans on U.S. beef and creative industry products including films, DVDs, music and books. Such trade skirmishes are likely to continue.

On the Chinese side, it is true that China is a state with a collective culture, whereby power is held and decisions mostly made by top leaders. Yet public attitudes can also affect Sino-U.S. relations. There are local interest groups, nongovernmental organizations, party dissidents, and most importantly nationalist groups that stress China’s own interests and hold an aggressive attitude toward other countries.

When conflicts do arise, the nationalistic fervor of such groups cannot be ignored. This has happened in the past, for example when the United States hesitated to back China’s resumption of membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and later in joining the World Trade Organization.

Then there was the 1999 U.S. bombing of China’s Embassy in Belgrade, and the 2001 collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter, resulting in the Chinese pilot’s death. There was also Beijing’s failed Olympic bid in 2000 which many Chinese blamed on the United States.

Even if China and the United States are willing to share responsibility and meet the challenges of the 21st century, one must ask if the comprehensive capability of the two states is powerful enough to handle all issues. There are some 200 states in the world, and history shows that conflicts can arise over many issues, including security, trade, economic interests, borders, religion and ethnicity.

Currently, security and economic interests are the biggest areas of contention. Some states still seek regional hegemony; some fear for their own survival to the point of breaking international norms, even to the point of developing nuclear weapons. Iran and North Korea come to mind as potential threats to a peaceful world order.

Another area of potential conflict is the pursuit of development or modernization and the need to protect the environment, which is faced especially by developing countries. In an interconnected world, united efforts are needed to manage climate change. Yet some nations will feel they have to sacrifice their developmental interests to do this. This issue will require negotiation and a strategy that is fair to those who are developmentally behind.

To work together, China and the United States will not only have to respect one another as partners, they will also have to encourage other stakeholders to partner with them in order to manage global issues. They will have to set aside their mistrust and consider each other’s positions fairly.

Most importantly, if they wish to be seen as world leaders, they must build a global consensus that can define international priorities and work toward solving the problems that threaten humanity as a whole.

(Dr. Zhang Quanyi is associate professor at Zhejiang Wanli University in Ningbo, China, and a guest researcher at the Center for the Study of Non-traditional Security and Peaceful Development at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. His research interest revolves around the creation of a world state. He can be contacted at qyzhangupi@gmail.com. ©Copyright Zhang Quanyi)

Filed under: International Relations, Politics, U.S., UPI Asia

Substantial climate deal sought after

A good example that the good China can bring to the status quo. Yes it could all be lip service, the very thing the Chinese are attempting to rout. We shall see. Implementing these measures on such a large population not privy to the consequences of climate change will prove challenging.

Quotable Quotes – “China will try everything possible to make the Copenhagen summit a success and will not end the summit with an empty political declaration.” Li Gao, division director with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)’s climate change department

Substantial climate deal sought after
By Li Jing
Source – China Daily, 26 November 2009

Chinese negotiators have started a new round of campaigning in their battle to secure a meaningful climate change deal at the upcoming Copenhagen summit.

The nation’s top climate change negotiators said Beijing will not accept an empty political declaration at the summit next month. Instead, the country will settle for nothing less than a global deal with “substantial content”.

Yu Qingtai, China’s climate ambassador, said any deal should lock in achievements already made during the two years of negotiations that have already taken place in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference.

Following Yu’s lead, China’s climate change special envoy, Xie Zhenhua, and Su Wei, climate change department director with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), both plan to hold press conferences this week on the issue.

Yu said the international community has agreed that rich countries should set a significant target for carbon emissions reduction, and he said nations have already decided that an effective mechanism should be formed to transfer capital and technology to poorer countries.

Meanwhile, under agreements reached so far, developing countries should take proper steps to mitigate global warming after receiving aid and technical assistance.

“The consensus can enrich the deal,” said Yu, who told China Daily his team had been burning the midnight oil prior to their departure for Copenhagen next week.

However, Yu said China will not set a binding carbon reduction target at the summit, despite pressure from many countries for Beijing to accept such a goal.

It is not yet known who will lead the Chinese delegation at the summit, which will take place Dec 7-18 in the Danish capital. The UN has said more than 40 heads of state have indicated they will attend. The White House has said Barack Obama will also attend.

On Tuesday, Li Gao, a division director with the NDRC’s climate change department, said China will “help bring about a meaningful result and try to make the summit successful”.

“We hope the Copenhagen summit will become a milestone in mitigating global warming, and China has always been playing an active role in the process,” said Li. “China will try everything possible to make the Copenhagen summit a success and will not end the summit with an empty political declaration.”

But Li did not elaborate on what China might be able to do to make the meeting a success.

Yang Fuqiang, director of global climate change solutions at WWF, said the comments from the top negotiators show China will be pushing for a legally binding document that includes progress already made.

“For instance, Japan has pledged to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. Similarly other countries have also made some proposals,” Yang said.

According to unnamed analysts, China may accept the latest proposal from rich countries on emissions targets, even though they fall short of the earlier suggestion that developed countries should cut carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 from its 1990 baseline.

“China has demanded that the international community does not backtrack from what has been agreed,” Yang said.

European countries were blamed for backing away from earlier commitments during the previous round of climate change talks in Bangkok. During those negotiations, Europe sided with the US in calling for a separate mechanism away from the Kyoto Protocol, according to Li Gao.

He added that China will try to coordinate its stance with the EU during the Sino-EU summit at the end of this month.

The document that will be drafted at the Copenhagen summit may also include mitigation plans from developing countries, Yang said.

Yu Qingtai said China’s hopes before Copenhagen are uncomplicated.

“Our demand and expectation for the conference in Copenhagen is very simple. We hope everyone will do a good job in meeting the commitments that they have already made,” Yu said. “As long as the countries fulfill their respective commitments and take due actions, based on the principal of common but differentiated responsibilities, the Copenhagen summit should be, and must be, successful.”

Filed under: China Daily, Copenhagen Summit, Environment, International Relations

Mainland may pull some missiles: Expert

1,500 missiles defintiely do not make for much comfort to get a good night’s rest. Funny though, most, if not all of my Taiwanese friends do not have this problem. They sleep rather well and happily despite this fact. There must be something I am not privy to. Paper strategy perhaps? Or maybe China’s move is to delay arms sales from the US to Taiwan. When the time comes, all they need to do is to put them back?

Quotable Quotes – “According to the island’s defense officials, the mainland has nearly 1,500 missiles pointed at Taiwan.”

Mainland may pull some missiles: Expert
By Xie Yu
Source – China Daily, 26 November 2009

Beijing might consider removing a portion of its missile arsenal in South China, a long-held precondition by Taiwan officials for peaceful cross-Straits ties, a mainland expert said Wednesday.

The possibility of the mainland’s missile removal should not be excluded, according to Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, ahead of new round of talks next month between the two sides.

“(Removing the missiles) would be a goodwill gesture by the mainland toward Taiwan,” Li said.

But he emphasized that the missiles are not targeting Taiwan and are positioned at their current location to safeguard national safety. It is thus impossible for the mainland to remove them all, he added.

According to the island’s defense officials, the mainland has nearly 1,500 missiles pointed at Taiwan.

Li’s remarks come after two key instances in the past days. Yang Yi, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, gave a positive response to the mainland’s reported plan to remove regional missiles at a press conference yesterday.

On Tuesday, Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the Washington-based American Institute in Taiwan, said the United States plans to resume arms sales to Taiwan.

Yang expressed firm opposition to US arms sales to Taiwan.

“We strongly oppose US arms sales to Taiwan and our stance is consistent, clear and resolute,” Yang said.

Cross-Straits relations have improved since Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou of Kuomintang came into power in May. Both sides have established closer economic and cultural exchanges. But Ma has said the missiles remain a big hurdle to warmer relations.

Yang’s overture, however, signaled a departure from Beijing’s practice of shunning the issue of removing missiles from South China.

At the press conference, Yang did not attempt to deny the media that the mainland plans to remove “one-third of the missiles targeting Taiwan” before next March or April and said: “We hope both sides can make joint efforts to get prepared for addressing political difficulties in the future.”

The mainland has recently expressed a strong desire to open political talks as soon as possible, but Taipei has backed off from discussions and has said “the time is not ripe”.

“The mainland could accept the present cross-Straits status quo, but if it remains so in the long term, it will divide China,” said Wu Nengyuan, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences.

He added that it seems that Ma is delaying political and military talks indefinitely in a compromise with the opposition pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to stabilize his power on the island.

“So there is a possibility that the mainland is making some concessions, including removing some missiles, to show its sincerity of pushing forward peaceful negotiations,” he said.

Li said removing the missiles could also serve as a signal to the US, which is pushing with its plan to resume arms sales to Taiwan.

Filed under: China Daily, military, Taiwan

[Opinion] Obama in China: Who’s the Superpower?

Nice opinion piece by the Foreign Policy Association about Obama’s trip to Asia last week. I especially liked the allusion to an 800-pound gorilla!

Qutoable Quotes – “The NYTimes reported this week that the Chinese grilled the president’s budget director, Peter Orszag, on health care reform — not on the public option, not on universal coverage, but on its impact on the budget deficit.  These are the kinds of questions the IMF asks countries with serious fiscal problems.

Obama in China: Who’s the Superpower?
By Roger Scher
Source – Rising Powers – Foreign Policy Blogs by the Foreign Policy Association , 17 November 2009

President Obama did a good job this week in China.  Goodwill is a valuable intangible in politics, and he engendered some on his Asian trip.  Still, the gloss is off the family car — the superpower with hat in hand is an oxymoron.  The spectacle of the United States having to go to Beijing to explain health care reform, the biggest expansion of American entitlement spending in years undertaken in a year when government debt is skyrocketing, reminds one of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “Carter bonds.”  This embarrassing episode in U.S. economic history occurred in 1979, when U.S. government bonds were to be issued in deutchemarks in order to shore up the sagging U.S. dollar.

C’mon, America, you can do better than that!

Instead of having to explain America’s faltering public finances to our Chinese bankers, the administration should be planning a medium-term deficit and debt reduction strategy.  The financial relationship with China echoes too much of the relationship in years past between the IMF and the likes of Argentina and Turkey, Mexico and the Ukraine, periodically having to explain their messy public books.

The NYTimes reported this week that the Chinese grilled the president’s budget director, Peter Orszag, on health care reform — not on the public option, not on universal coverage, but on its impact on the budget deficit.  These are the kinds of questions the IMF asks countries with serious fiscal problems.

President Obama is impressive on the world stage.  He did well in China this week, as he has done giving speeches across the globe.  On Iran, the impressive stance his administration has taken – tough, though measured, and thus far, persistent (see NYTimes article) — is to be praised.  He emphasized this issue with the Chinese this week as well.  But, let us not forget the view of international relations “realists,” that relative power remains the foundation of a country’s security, and in the case of a superpower such as the U.S., the pillars upon which important global institutions rest (the U.N., the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank, NATO, the G-20, etc.).  America should stick to its knitting, by enhancing internal sources of power — a strong economy, sound public finances, a sound currency,  a healthy banking system — as a counterpart to external sources of power — good relations with other great powers, alliances.

It is understandable that the Democrats would undertake an expensive health care reform this year.  They want this legislation.  It has its merits in terms of fairness in our society.  They have the majorities in Congress and control over two branches of government.  If they don’t do it now, they may miss the opportunity, when the Republicans have their inevitable electoral surge.  Witness the losses of two governers’ mansions this month in New Jersey and Virginia, despite the president’s active campaigning.  So, health care reform now is understandable from a political perspective.  It just remains fiscally irresponsible, as government debt moves toward 90% of GDP.

Granted, a fiscal tightening right now would be premature, would take away the only stimulus active in the U.S. economy.  But, a plan, a program, to restore fiscal health — in a word, credibility – would reassure not only America’s foreign investors, but Americans themselves, uneasy over the management of the economy.

This was the 800-pound gorilla in the Forbidden City this week.  Sure, staunching a trade war between the U.S. and China is arguably as important as improving America’s finances.  Sure, working diligently on climate change is probably the issue most critical to our planet in the long run.  And, cooperating on policy toward Iran and North Korea is a very high priority, as is human rights, a cornerstone of America’s mission in the world.  Nevertheless, all of these issues can be advanced more effectively by a United States more in control of its destiny.

Filed under: Foreign Policy Blogs, International Relations, U.S.

[Education] Special course for Chinese scions

This is an interesting move. One of the key markers of Chinese society is how after 2-3 generations, the family empire crumbles. It happened to the dynasties, it happens with the big companies. Let’s see if this is of any use.

Quotable Quotes – “…rich scions could not rely “on only family experiences”…” Wen Jun, sociology professor at East China Normal University

Special course for Chinese scions
China Daily / Asia News
Source – AsiaOne, 25 November 2009

SHANGHAI: China’s so-called “rich second generation” of business scions have so far been best known for generating negative news reports, such as for drink driving and street racing.

Now, a leading university has launched a special business programme catering to this privileged second generation, who are slated to take charge of their family enterprises one day.

The overseas education college of Shanghai Jiaotong University will cooperate with America’s West Point Military Academy, Britain’s Cambridge University and European business schools for the course.

“We believe that entrepreneurs can be trained with the proper approach. We hope to cultivate more entrepreneurs who can commit to the responsibilities of the family as well as society, and, meanwhile, master advanced business knowledge and management skills,” said executive dean Wang Hongxin of Overseas Education College at Shanghai Jiaotong University.Over the past 30 years, China has seen rapid development of private enterprises. Yet, as the first generation of entrepreneurs nears retirement, their would-be successors seem to drift idly.

The course will last 3 1/2 years, and contain both theoretical and practical aspects. Its curriculum will include topics on West Point leadership, familybusiness challenges and entrepreneurship.

Most candidates, now working at the executive level in their family businesses, are between age 25 and 30, with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. More than half would have had an overseas education background.

Wen Jun, a sociology professor at East China Normal University, applauded such studies, saying the rich scions could not rely “on only family experiences”.

Filed under: AsiaOne, China Daily, Economics, Education

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