Wandering China

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

China holds closing ceremony for Shanghai Expo [China Daily/Xinhua]

Sunday marked the end of the Shanghai Expo, and I had the chance to watch some of it on TV. More money was spent on the Expo than the Olympic Games, and the media representation was top notch. I have heard much internal criticisms about how it reeks of elitism and favoritism (especially from popular Chinese blogger Han Han) toward the rich and powerful, but having being part of the everyday Chinese flock to visit the Expo and what it had to offer – I can bear testimony that many ordinary Chinese minds were emancipated as a result. Beyond them benefitting from China’s economic progress, this expo would also have alleviated their minds in giving them an opportunity to them see, appreciate, and learn how to work with the wider world; that there is a larger picture outside the great wall.

There is always a give and take element to events of such magnitude, and perhaps the net gain should be the focus. I am sure more bridges were built than broken. It is a tantamount task to please 73 million visitors. The first Expo to be held in a ‘developing’ country (China continues to play this card close to the chest),  I guess it was no surprise a PR spiel such as this – ‘The gala is eyed in China as another event of national splendor after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games showcased China’s status as an economic and political power to the world’ was reinforced. China’s charm offensive and public diplomacy would have most certainly gained another powerful agent with this event.

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China holds closing ceremony for Shanghai Expo
Source – China Daily, published October 31, 2010

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (3rd R) attends the closing ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo at the Expo Cultural Center in the World Expo Park in Shanghai, Oct 31, 2010. Photo - Xinhua

SHANGHAI – The 184-day Shanghai World Expo came to the end as a closing ceremony started here Sunday evening.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other dignitaries attended the ceremony.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said the Expo has made China and the world come closer together, and a more open, inclusive and culturally advanced China that steadily moves forward will join other countries in the world to usher in an ever brighter future for all.

He said the Expo spirit will be carried forward from generation to generation. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Communications, Culture, Education, Han Han, Influence, International Relations, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Shanghai World Expo, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 12 – The former Summer Palace Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园

The study of the burning of the former Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Tuan 圆明园 is necessary in understanding the minds of the Chinese nationalistic intelligentsia and elite today. Five times the size of the Forbidden City and eight times the size of the Vatican, the burning of it is also highly regarded by the older populace as a symbol of foreign aggression in China during its century of humiliation in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some say the wounds run so deep it explains the Chinese entrenchment of wanting to do things its own way, and its continued treating of outsiders with suspicion. In 1860, China’s summer palace was robbed, sacked and burnt by Anglo-French allied forces during the second Opium War. It was ravaged and plundered again in 1900, this time by the Eight-Nation alliance (the U.S., Europe and Japan), this time leaving nothing behind.

French artist Victor Hugo once ‘criticized the destruction of Yuanmingyuan in his “Expedition de Chine (Expedition to China),” in which he likened the looting to “two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain.” (Dawanews, 18 October 2010) In a letter, he also lamented, “The French empire has pocketed half of this victory, and today with a kind of proprietorial naivety it displays the splendid bric-a-brac of the Summer Palace. I hope that a day will come when France, delivered and cleansed, will return this booty to despoiled China.” (UNESCO Courier, cited in BNET, n.d.) Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 11 – Forbidden City / Palace Museum

Day 11 of my journey involved getting a glimpse of  the Forbidden City, the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. Now managed as the Palace Museum, the site has become an emblem of Chinese pride and nationalism, and its scale and opulence can be staggering for any unwary visitor.

The seat of supreme Chinese power for close to six hundred years, it boasts almost 1,000 rooms and is listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. The Forbidden City is the largest surviving palace complex globally and covers an expanse of 72 ha (178 acres). It is shaped as a rectangle 961 metres from north to south and 753 metres from east to west. Being an avid trekker, I thought traversing the former palace grounds would be a peace of cake. It was not, and there were plenty of distractions inside. Here is a photo story of my little adventure.

Breakfast at KFC - Some say globalisation leads to cultural homogenisation. Not here at KFC China - here's a traditional brekkie with congee, fried doughstick and soya milk!

On the way to the Palace Museum (formerly known as the Forbidden Palace), I spied a blood donation drive on the city streets as early as 8am.

Zhong Shan parks (named after Sun Yat-Sen) have been in all the cities I've visited. Modern China's founding father is remembered everywhere thus far in my China journey. It might be pertinent to remember that he was a strong advocate for democracy.

Probably the antithesis to Sun's democratic ideals, Chairman Mao is still ubiquitous in Chinese culture. I am not sure if he would find joy in capitalist China today.

Hall of Central Harmony - Harmony and balance has been part of the Chinese way of life for millennia, and has continued to be represented a such with contemporary Chinese leaders. The pattern means something, the question is, can we see the forest for the trees?

A gentle reminder to visitors to remain cultured. And like Shanghai, the toilets here had reminders to the Chinese to stay 'civilized' too. In the male toilets, there would be signs that say, take a step forward here at the urinal (to avoid splashing), and take a big step forward in terms of being cultured

Evidence the Chinese find it hard to forget. There was an exhibition on the evacuation of the Palace Museum during the Sino-Japanese war and disputes. The exhibition detailed the tremendous routes and pains the China had to take to hide away their national treasures from invasion.

Reflection of one of the Forbidden City towers in its 6m deep, 52m wide moat.

Captured sunset with one of the Forbidden City towers overlooking its own reflection by following a big group of about fifty local photographers. An indication of contemporary China - Aged as young as five and as old as eighty, everyone had a larger and more expensive camera than my Panasonic Lumix.

Filed under: China Daily

‘Wandering China’ in China Day 10 – To the capital 北京 Beijing

View on the way to Beijing on the 28.1km Airport Express: 北京机场轨道交通线. Figured we would beat the traffic and take the train. At 25rmb it is 9rmb more than the bus and much cheaper than the taxi.

Encyclopædia Britannica describes Beijing as “one of the world’s great cities”. Translated as the ‘Northern Capital’, it is China’s political, cultural and educational center. Site of the Tiananmen Square (translated as Gate of Heavenly Peace) incident, it is not hard to see why any massive public gathering would be a sight to behold. The city was designed to display reverence to the ‘Son of Heaven’, and its roads are wide and vast and easy to navigate. All roads, lead to the Forbidden Palace. It does look rather opulent, at first glance.


Beijing Transport - no longer amber-grey postcards with bicycles galore.

Beijing has a rather advanced transport system and one benefit citizens get for the socialist system is affordable public transport. 1 rmb (AUD0.15cents) is all it costs for a bus ride in Beijing, and that 1 rmb goes everywhere any anywhere. Senior citizens travel for free. Beyond that the trains and subway cost 2 rmb flat, and both buses and trains feature easy touch and go systems that Melbourne has been struggling to implement for years. I do not suppose it be easy to move 16 million people, but the experience taking buses were pleasant. The train rides on the other hand were an experience like sardines in a can, even in off-peak hours.

More updates to come!

Filed under: China Trip 2010

Change Expo to better showcase China [China Daily]

Projection of soft power is a key research of mine, and this article speaks some truth. Already we see many instances of cross-pollination. Zen Buddhism, Feng Shui, Kung Fu and the like have been successful cultural capital but what is lacking is a cohesive effort to brand them together under one flagship. Naisbitt in his book China’s Megatrends puts it quite pertinently for a sense of the diagrammatic – American Eagle versus Kung Fu Panda. Perhaps the Shanghai Expo should be redesignated into a new cultural beacon for China. However, I also think there is a danger when the soft power projection gets too potent – it will sow the seeds for nationalism on a scale never seen before, and then we’ll be back to square one. I may be thinking too far, but yet another hegemonic force imposing itself on the rest of us does not seem like progress to me.

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Change Expo to better showcase China
By M.D. Nalapat
Source – China Daily, published October 29, 2010

In the 1970s, Japan broke the stereotype that Asian countries could only produce goods inferior in quality to those made in Europe. By the time China’s economy began developing at a fast pace in the 1980s, the world had accepted that Japanese goods were as good as, if not better than, those made in Europe and North America.

Soon, South Korea followed in the footsteps of Japan. By the 1990s, South Korean companies were wresting larger market shares from their competitors in the United States and the European Union, and reaching levels that only their Japanese counterparts in Asia had scaled before.

Even in the 1990s, when the Chinese economy was growing at an unprecedented rate, the international perception was that China only did the basic work and it was for others to put the finishing touches and “add quality” to them. Chinese enterprises were almost always thought to be working on behalf of foreign companies, even though many foreign brands were being made in China. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Shanghai World Expo, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

Chinese, Japanese FMs pledge to improve ties [China Daily]

China’s feelings are easily hurt across all boards from top to bottom when it comes to confrontation with Japan. Bilateral harmony between the two economic giants must be maintained otherwise the entire region stands to get hurt by the collateral damage. Whatever the case, the longer this issue gets dragged out in the open, the more solid anti feelings from each populace will grow.

– – –

Chinese, Japanese FMs pledge to improve ties
By Qin Jize
Source – China Daily, published October 29, 2010

HANOI – Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Friday held a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara in Hanoi, on the sidelines of East Asian leaders’ series of meetings.

The two foreign ministers exchanged views on China-Japan relations and relevant issues. Yang reaffirmed China’s solemn stance on the issue concerning the Diaoyu Islands.

The two sides agreed that it is in the fundamental interests of the two countries as well as the two peoples to maintain and promote the bilateral relations. They also agreed to maintain regular contacts and make joint efforts for the improvement and development of bilateral ties.

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Diaoyu Fishing Boat Incident 2010, Influence, International Relations, japan, Mapping Feelings, military, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Strategy, The Chinese Identity

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 9 – Hangzhou at the fore

West Lake - Getting around the lake the 'old school' way

I’ve never had warm orange juice before and in Hangzhou, that was what I got for breakfast at the hotel. I hear people here prefer their drinks (even if they were meant to be cold, for the rest of us) in winter. Cold orange juice. Hmm, it took a while to gain enough of a paradigm shift for me to finish the glass.

In any case, my experience at Hangzhou had shown me that authoritarianism comes in different doses for different parts of China. People may think that Beijing and Shanghai are at the forefront of China’s rise, but Hangzhou definitely leads the way in my books. Described as the most beautiful place on earth when Marco Polo visited China, Hangzhou possessed one of China’s outstanding natural beauties – West Lake. The city’s most famous products, silk and ‘long jin’ tea have held the imagination of both the Chinese and beyond since the Tang dynasty.

Sunset at West Lake

With property prices going at 15-20,000 rmb (a little less than AUD$4,000) per square metres as middle ranged, the city of China’s famed West Lake is the premium spot to be in China at the moment. A local gave me a shocking update, the latest top range housing cost 40,000 rmb (<AUD$7,500) per square metre. Rent on the other hand seems affordable, a visit to a real estate agent revaled that apartment rental ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 rmb (<AUD$400-$800) a month. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 8 – Over to Hangzhou


The queue for the CRH

To continue my journey in gaining first-hand knowledge about China, I took the high-speed train to Hangzhou after returning to Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport from Shantou. Interestingly named He Xie Hao 和諧號 (or Harmony) the China Railway Highspeed (CRH) 中国铁路高速 trains run up to 350km/h. Perfect timing as the rail line to Hangzhou was launched just yesterday making me the second batch of passengers! The trains being called ‘Harmony’ seems to be aligned with the game plan for Chinese public and people’s diplomacy, both internal and external, so the message is hitting home strongly on many fronts.


Getting up to top speed

The ride was as comfortable as the Eurostar I took close to a decade ago from the UK to France, and the ticket cost only 82 rmb or AUD$15. A definite upgrade in pricing class from the regional buses that cost a fraction of the price, the train was packed full of facilities it features kitchenettes serving snacks and six squatting toilets (Chinese style?) with baby change stations and viewing galleries front and back of the train. Snazzy rail magazines were also a feature and provided to all passengers and a comfortable recline of about  made for pleasant seating. There was also plenty of leg room in front. Proclaimed as the most advanced train system in China at the moment, it also had restroom faciltiies for the handicapped. It took about forty minutes to make the trip to Hangzhou.


Arriving in Hangzhou. All of 45min for the journey.

Hangzhou is an entirely different proposition to Shanghai, Suzhou and Chaozhou. I had arrived in the city located in Zhejiang province late at around ten, and as I made my way around hunting for dinner, there were plenty of options available. Even the hairdressers and nail shops were open at that time. Traffic was orderly and it was probably the anti-thesis to Shantou. Expensive European cars lined the streets and the only signs of two wheelers were Hangzhou’s extensive bicycle sharing system with 50,000 bikes, surpassing Paris’ Velib at 20,000. No signs of motorcycles running on petrol nor diesel. Electric motorcycles rule the roads here. More to come tomorrow, as it is a little late and I did not get a chance to see much. Hangzhou’s famed West Lake awaits.

Filed under: China Trip 2010

No arms no barrier to Chinese dancer [The Age]

This may be people’s diplomacy on one end, but more, it is an even great sign of building bridges between greater facets of both societies. “This is fantastic because it builds on what we are trying to achieve in Australia in regard to being an inclusive society. The troupe is reinforcing a global focus on making life better for those with disabilities”. Victorian disability advocate John McKenna.

– – –

No arms no barrier to Chinese dancer
Donna Demaio
Source – The Age, published October 27, 2010

Double amputee Huang Yangguang dances with the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe. Photo: Donna Demaio

“Once I had learned to write with my feet, I knew I could take on anything,” says Huang Yangguang, who at the age of five lost both arms in an accident involving high voltage electrical wires near the family orchard in Guangxi province, China.

The 32-year-old one-time farmer, now a lead dancer for the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, recounts through an interpreter how his teacher excused him from taking notes while at primary school. It made him even more determined and by the age of eight, he’d mastered writing and painting with his feet, a task that “wasn’t easy,” he says.

Next month, Mr Huang will travel to Australia after fulfilling yet another seemingly impossible goal: to become a professional dancer.

Mr Huang carried his childhood determination into adulthood, continuing his quest for independence by entering a competition held by the disabled troupe nine years ago. The spirited young man says at the time, he really had no inkling if he actually could dance but was encouraged by a local teacher to give it a go. He was accepted into the troupe, which now provides him with a home at its Beijing training centre, rehabilitation, education and most importantly, a career.

Today, Mr Huang feels “ very, very happy” when dancing and has joined the troupe on several international tours, performing the self-choreographed piece The Happy Life in Farmland. He’s happily left behind the fruit picking, tree grafting and watering of his old life.
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Chinese overseas, Communications, Culture, Influence, International Relations, Media, Population, Public Diplomacy, Social, The Age

‘Wandering China’ returns to China: Day 7 – Ancestral home found

With just an address scribbled on a two decade-old envelope, I headed back to Chao An county with mum and dad to find the ancestral home. The paternal grandfather had been the only one in the family of four sons to leave Chaozhou (or the Chaoshan region) for Nanyang (Singapore as it was known to the Chinese then). With little education, he made a living selling fish before finding a niche as a middleman/trader. He passed on when my dad was still young so I never got to meet him, but we knew that he had a younger brother still living in the ancestral home in Chaozhou. We had not heard from him in many a year, but with that little sliver of a clue, we pressed forth.

Chao An county was a 30-minute drive from Shantou, both part of the Chaoshan region that inhabits the Chaozhou dialect group. As indicated in my previous entries, Shantou was an early benefactor of China’s opening up, and was granted SEZ status. The drive there was eye-opening. Pot holes weere everywhere. No one in four-wheelers wore seat-belts, no one on bicycles nor motorcycles wore helmets, and abandoned factories now nestled in overgrown foliage dotted the landscape. Even fewer vehicles had license plates. From what I saw, I discovered a newfound gratitude for the courage grand-dad had in charting new waters overseas, and I suppose, just like I have; extending his diasporic journey by another 7000kms down under to Australia. Perhaps, it is the family nature.

The cab driver summed it up rather pointedly to describe the backwardness of the place. Twenty years ago it was beautiful here, twenty years later it never moved forward, in fact it regressed. The anecdotal word out on the street was that rampant corruption had forced many of the industries and corporations out (mostly started by returning diasporic Teochews), tired of paying excessive dues to local government who were not indigenous Teochew in the first place. Now, if only China’s 52 unacceptable practices were in place then. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: China Trip 2010

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