Wandering China

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

Singapore a model for Chinese democracy [Sydney Morning Herald]

Each leader of the People’s Republic is remembered by an overarching, guiding ideology.

Mao Zedong left his legacy with Mao Zedong Thought 毛泽东思想; Deng Xiaoping with the Deng Xiaoping theory 邓小平理论. Then came Jiang Zemin and the Three Represents 三个代表 in 2000; and Hu Jintao with Scientific Development outlook 科学发展观 in 2007 that for the first time, saw public diplomacy and soft power . To be leader of 1.3 billion requires more than just clout, it seems an updated grand narrative as calling card in line with the previously intricately marked out stages of development have to be in place. What will Xi Jinping’s be? The West contends China will become more democratic. Will it, must it?

The Sydney Morning Herald is suggesting, along with some others that the Chinese intend to use Singapore as a model for Chinese democracy. They do share some interwoven characteristics, meritocracy, authoritarian capitalism, one-party rule, and Confucian-value systems indoctrinated through textbooks and norms. But they only extend as far as socio-political constructs and institutions go. Culturally however, they are not the same.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo puts it best –

On why Singapore, a young nation of just over five million people, is of interest to China, an ancient civilisation with 1.3billion people, he says: “For China, Singapore is sometimes seen as a bonsai, but one with genetic similarities.” S’pore is ‘only one bonsai that China looks at’ in the Straits Times, November 1, 2012

In any case, most Chinese I speak to have an answer for this – Singapore is too small to be a model for the whole of China. While there are bits and pieces the Chinese have been gleaning from the island-state, is the Singapore model scalable upwards to 1.3 billion?

The piece in Study Times explains the attraction for China’s leaders. ”Since 1968, the People’s Action Party has won consecutive elections and held state power for a long time, while ensuring that the party’s high efficiency, incorruptibility and vitality leads Singapore in attaining an economic leap forward,” writes Song Xiongwei, a lecturer at the Chinese Academy of Governance. Sydney Morning Herald, October 30 2012

“The Singapore model has been admired by most Chinese leaders and Xi might see Singapore’s success as the dreamed accomplishments of his rule in coming decade,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University. South China Morning Post, October 23, 2012

See also – a rather engaging religious analysis of the Hartcher article here – Singapore’s “Democracy” – The Lessons for Applying the Gospel?

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Singapore a model for Chinese democracy 
by Peter Hartcher
Source – Sydney Morning Herald, published October 30, 2012

Illustration: John Shakespeare. Source – Sydney Morning Herald, 2012

China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, will take power formally in three weeks, yet he’s given no public hint of his plans. But he gave an intriguing glimpse to the Westerner he’s spent more time with than any other.

After a total of 10 days together across a year or so, Xi left the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, with one clear impression. He does not think that China’s political system can continue indefinitely, according to people Biden has briefed.

But while the inheritor of the one-party dictatorship does not think it will last in its current form, neither does he have a clear idea of what should replace it, Biden said. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Confucius, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Government & Policy, Influence, Mapping Feelings, New Leadership, Overseas Chinese, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Xi Jinping, , , , , , , , , ,

Martin Jacques – A Point Of View: How China sees a multicultural world [BBC]

Professor Jacques repeats his call for Western strategist and politicians for a change in prism in understanding the Chinese mind with another timely US/China grand narrative comparison on the BBC. Ultimately  I think he asks, where and how do we want to see the Chinese pendulum swing under pressure?

Just as with the US, China will naturally tend to see the world in its own image. An unusual feature of China, in this respect, is that its history is so atypical: a huge population who overwhelmingly consider themselves to share the same identity. This helps to explain why the Chinese have tended to think of Africa as one, just like China, rather than a complex mosaic of different ethnicities and cultures. Martin Jacques, 2012

 – – –

A Point Of View: How China sees a multicultural world
by Martin Jacques
Source – BBC, published October 26, 2012

Photo source – Getty Images, n.d.

The vast majority of the Chinese population regard themselves as belonging to the same race, a stark contrast to the multiracial composition of other populous countries. What effect does this have on how China views the world, ask Martin Jacques.

I was on a taxi journey in Shanghai with a very intelligent young Chinese student, who was helping me with interviews and interpreting. She was shortly to study for her doctorate at a top American university. She casually mentioned that some Chinese students who went to the US ended up marrying Americans.

I told her that I had recently seen such a mixed couple in Hong Kong, a Chinese woman with a black American. This was clearly not what she had in mind. Her reaction was a look of revulsion. I was shocked. Why did she react that way to someone black, but not someone white? This was over a decade ago, but I doubt much has changed. What does her response tell us – if anything – about Chinese attitudes towards ethnicity? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Africa, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Environment, Ethnicity, Go West Strategy, Government & Policy, Han, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, People, Politics, Population, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., , , , , , , , , , ,

Sinking our teeth into China [The Age] #Australia #China

Depending on how you are informed, Australia’s two-track/two-speed economy has been widely reported to have stalled for the moment as China decides to moderate growth and distribute its wealth – a middle class boom could just be the result Australia looks out for. In 2011, Mining and mining related services made up about 20% of its $1.3 trillion GDP and helped fuel the Australian dollar’s rise (Check out official data here at the Australian Bureau of Statistics) and wider socio-economic growth. While it has been a huge catalyst for growth in the past decade, there are opportunities for Australia elsewhere that have less to do with digging up finite sources, allowing for a more synergistic friendship based on the exchange of ideas and culture.

Casino mogul Packer to a business audience – ”The biggest opportunity is China… In 2000, China had about 10 million overseas trips a year. In 2010, that was up to 50 million overseas trips a year. And in 2020, it’s forecast to be 100 million overseas trips a year. And Chinese tourism is changing the world.”

And in human movement alone, it has changed Australia to a degree visible in all the capitals – beyond the tourists, you will find at least one if not more Chinese-speaking sales staff in the luxury stores. Chinese tourists were the biggest spenders in 2010 despite having less of them here than the Americans.

Here is an interesting read on how the future of the 106 year-old Australian movie industry could lie in a multibillion-dollar Chinese market. In the wider context by producing cultural capital for the Chinese, this could grow into a useful muscle in Australian public diplomacy toolbox to build bridges where others make walls. This will be in a space where first, sees the third largest box office in the world, and second – a foreign films quota that only recently increased from 20 to 34 a year. Of course, Chinese funding would suggest some manner of Chinese intervention through script and production and a 25% cap of takings that the film can take out of the country , but as this article finds out – so far to no major detriment to the overarching artistic narrative.

Naturally enough, that meant it had to be submitted to the Chinese censors for approval – at script stage. The shark having no views on the desirability or otherwise of democracy, there were no problems there. Karl Quinn, 2012

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Sinking our teeth into China
by Karl Quinn
Source – The Age, published October 25, 2012

Australian actor Xavier Samuel in Bait. Photo: Ben Timony Source – The Age, 2012

The future for Australian movies may well lie in the multibillion-dollar Chinese market.

IN LESS than two weeks, the shark-in-a-shop film Bait has become the most successful Australian movie ever released in China. Like the sharks themselves, nobody saw it coming, but the success of the 3D horror-comedy points to the potential rewards that await Australian filmmakers in the world’s fastest-growing movie market.

The number of cinema screens in China has exploded from just 1500 in 2002 to more than 10,000 today. New screens are being added at the rate of more than eight a day. In 2011, the Chinese box office grew by 35 per cent to $2 billion, making it the third largest market in the world, behind only the US and Japan (Australia was ranked ninth). Some analysts predict China’s box office could top $3 billion this year, an astonishing 50 per cent increase year-on-year.

It is in that context that Bait’s success demands some serious attention. Is it a freak of nature, a random and unpredictable hit, never to be repeated? Or is it perhaps a pointer, a sign that the great white hope of the Australian film industry just might lie in China? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Media, Modernisation, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, , , , , , , , , ,

Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader #China [New York Times]

As a student of the media, it is hard to ascertain intention from simply reading off representative lines of text in articles. Unless one has a direct face-to-face interview with the author and amongst other things, a complete understanding of the editorial process,  political economy of the transnational media institution involved, it’s at best, an informed guess. Interpreted by Chinese communities I am in touch with as part of a continuum of China gesturing in a time of Sino-US leadership transition, the consensus seems to be one of 顧全大局 – keep the eye focused on the big picture, general situation and present conditions.

New York Times: From David Barboza, correspondent for the NY Times based in Shanghai since 2004. Fact illuminating or complicating the Chinese fog of war ahead of the  leadership change scheduled to take place on Nov 8 at the 18th National Congress? I don’t think the Chinese people are overly concerned for the wider Chinese socio-economic headspace has other priorities, but for a non-Chinese audience this may take some deliberating.

Will this diminish Wen’s residual power as the Chinese central authority reconfigures itself? Also – this comes at a time when questions are being asked if Hu Jintao will step down from his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (see Hu Jintao likely to quit as head of China’s military: analysts by the Want China Times, October 15, 2012)

The article scarcely reveals the methods behind their investigations, based on ‘[a] review of corporate and regulatory records‘. Incidentally, this story is repeated all over Australia’s state broadsheets via the agencies and was trending on Twitter when news broke. Below is what I found on my feed.

Screen capture from my Twitter Feed. Hashtag #Wenjiabao is trending at the moment. David Barboza who wrote the article was ‘credited’ by FT’s David Pilling as bringing the NYTimes website down in China.

In response, China’s Great Firewall was cranked up with a retaliatory posture, with its 500m plus  internet users now unable to search for keywords relating to Wen and NYT (save for those who utilise proxy servers to ‘tunnel’ through the wall – China condemns NY Times Wen Jiabao wealth story ‘smear’ (BBC, October 26, 2012)

On China’s Twitter-like weibo platforms, keywords such as Wen Jiabao and the New York Times are blocked. Mr Wen’s name, like most other Chinese leaders, has always been a screened keyword.

Some netizens did manage to post the article despite heavy and rapid censorship. A Sina Weibo user tweeted about the article from Kawagoe city in Japan, but his post was removed after 11 minutes.

Here’s an interesting comment on the NY Times article which piqued my interest. Fair comment, or victim of  information intertextuality and access gone wild?

It looks like ousted Chongqing leader Bo Xilai has eventually got to fight back. Revelations about Wen Jiabao family’s hidden fortune have been timed to coincide with expulsion of Bo Xilai from top legislature that stripped him of his MP immunity, which means he’s now facing a biased trial and harsh imprisonment, if not worse. With the revelations Bo Xilai and his supporters landed a devastating blow straight at the top of China political establishment. Adding to the drama the long awaited change in China’s secretive and closed leadership is looming only few days away. Wondering whether this is just the first and last retaliatory blow from someone who has given up all hopes and deems to be doomed. I would bet that Mr. Bo Xilai keeps ready some more bunker-busting ammos in store and signaled loud an clear that he’s now ready to use all of them in his last-stance fight. If my bet is right things in China in the very near future will get quite interesting. Comment on article by Mario from Italy

If found true however, will this fall under the list 52 “unacceptable practices” (不准 – 中国共产党党员领导干部廉洁从政若干准则 in full)? Introduced in 2010 to fight widespread corruption after an initial trial that started in 1997, the code of ethics has a special emphasis on indirect corruption – when officials abuse power to benefit not themselves directly, but their relatives. The code explicitly names ‘spouses, children, in-laws and other relatives’ as unacceptable beneficiaries depending on transaction.

According to a Shanghai cable in 2007 that Wikileaks got its hands onto – “Wen is disgusted with his family’s activities, but is either unable or unwilling to curtail them.” Swimming in a sea of driftwood collateral corruption, if you will.

For a wider perspective – check out A rising pitch against corruption [Straits Times, March 8, 2010] – that examined China’s ever-lingering problem – corruption. The issue has brought down many Chinese institutions in the past – 3% of the GDP being siphoned off sounds like no small number. Back in 2010, Wen Jiabao spoke at the National People’s Congress, stressing that failure to ‘check corruption will have a ‘direct bearing’ on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) grip on power.’ This article then argued that it is not China’s modern capitalist leanings that have fueled today’s problems. Rather, it feels that it was Mao who “created a privilege-based political system that lies at the heart of China’s contemporary corruption woes.” Beyond that the fine line between guanxi and gifting as a significant cultural paradigm Chinese, diasporic or not, subscribe to makes the western interpretation of corruption hard to impose.

 And here’s a two-year rewind with Inflation, corruption could hurt China: Wen (The Age/AFP, October 3, 2012). In an interview with Fareed Zakaria on GPS, he said, “I do have worry for the management of inflation expectations in China… And that is something that I have been trying very hard to manage appropriately and well, because I believe corruption and inflation will have an adverse impact on stability of power in our country.”

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Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader
by David Barboza
Source – New York Times, published October 25, 2012

Many relatives of Mr. Wen became wealthy during his leadership. Source – New York Times, 2012

BEIJING — The mother of China’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind — she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 52 Unacceptable Practices, Beijing Consensus, Bo Xilai, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Corruption, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Great Firewall, Influence, Internet, Law, Maoism, Media, New York Times, Peaceful Development, Politics, Poverty, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., , , , , , , , , , ,

Chinese automakers to tap Brazil through local production [Want China Times]

Brazil was the fifth largest auto market in the world in 2011. Sales topped 3.6 million cars then and Chinese cars accounted for a quarter of the market. Interdependent synergy where bridges can be found?

For more, see

Transnational media financial coverage: China’s Cars Grab Brazil Market Share (Bloomberg, September 21, 2011)

Chinese state media coverage: Feature: Chinese cars win hearts of Brazil’s new middle class (Xinhua, October 17, 2012):

“No one had anything good to say about the quality of Chinese products in the past… That was the Brazilian people’s first impression of China,” Fernando Morais, general manager of the Chinese state-owned JAC dealership at Botafogo. It made 494,800 vehicles in 2011. Exports began in 1990 after 26 years of being established. They started with Bolivia, today its products are claimed to be sold in over a hundred countries.

For a perspective from an internationalist automotive journalist who was recently in Brazil, check out Motor Mouth: I’m going back to Brazil! (National Post, October 25, 2012):

Auto sales are growing so rapidly that traditional automakers — such as Volkswagen and Renault — are expanding their manufacturing base here (the French company expanded its Ayrton Senna complex to build 100,000 more cars), while even the Chinese upstarts — JAC, for instance — are offshoring to Brazil to beat local tariffs. (The Chinese presence at the Sao Paulo auto show is huge, dwarfing its national presence at any mainstream exhibition I’ve attended. Great Wall, Chery and the aforementioned JAC all had huge booths as did Changan and Haima, along with smaller participation by Jonway and Landwind.). But despite their obvious ambitions, their displays are definitely second-rate compared with even the cheapest of the established marques. Indeed, if their products lag mainstream brands as much as their show displays, it may be some time before they are competitive.

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Chinese automakers to tap Brazil through local production
Staff Reporter
Source – Want China Times, published October 26, 2012

Chinese carmakers are setting up production bases in Brazil, which is currently the world’s fifth-largest auto market, to tap into the surging business opportunities offered by the South American country, Shanghai’s First Financial Daily reports.

On Oct. 23, Brazilian car distributor Districar announced that it will be adding Changan and Haima to the list of Chinese auto brands it distributes, including Chery and JAC, in Brazil from early next year.

The announcement preceded the Sao Paulo International Motor Show, which opened on the following day, where China’s Great Wall Motors unveiled its plan to enter the Brazilian market in the second half of 2013 and to set up factories in the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Automotive, Beijing Consensus, Brazil, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Economics, Environment, Finance, Influence, Intellectual Property, International Relations, Modernisation, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, Technology, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, , , , , ,

草泥马style by Ai Weiwei [Youtube]

In China today, the problem ultimately, culturally, for people that are involved in the arts – whether it’s music or filmmaking – is that if you do anything that is truly radical that is making people uncomfortable, then there are so many points when the system will intervene. Evan Osnos on CNN GPS

At a time Fareed Zakaria and Evan Osnos are dicussing why Why China can’t do Gangnam Style (CNN GPS, October 25, 2012), fancy a Chinese dissident artist joining in the simulacra dance with an dance assault on central authority? The subversive Ai Weiwei interprets the Gangnam Style dance if you have 4 min 15 seconds to spare. Remixed as Cao Ni Ma style 草泥马, this play on Chinese tonality prompts a negotiated reading depending on your cultural lens- grass mud horse or fornicate with your mother (literally… up yours) style.

Filed under: Ai Weiwei, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Corruption, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Education, Government & Policy, Human Rights, Influence, International Relations, Internet, Lifestyle, Mapping Feelings, Media, Peaceful Development, People, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

On American presidential debate rhetoric: Similar views voiced on China [China Daily]

Chinese state media interprets the elliptical us-and-them rhetoric of US presidential campaigning.

– – –

Similar views voiced on China
By Tan Yingzi in Washington and Zhao Shengnan and Wu Jiao in Beijing
Source – China Daily, published October 24, 2012

China Daily: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and US President Barack Obama exchange greetings before they begin their final debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday. Photo source – Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The next US president will continue to seek China’s help, despite any harsh campaign rhetoric, as long as the economy remains in the doldrums, analysts said.

US President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney revealed increasing similarities in their China policies in their final debate in Florida on Monday night.

Romney, often labeled as hawkish on China, softened his tone markedly by saying “China doesn’t have to be an adversary”. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Chinese Model, Communications, Economics, Education, Environment, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Soft Power, Strategy, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, U.S., , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chinese, US and Russian rating firms set up a JV to rival the Big Three [Russia Today]

Russia Today and fresh off the agenices such as AAP and Reuters: Why play by the rules when new ones need to be made? Chinese ratings agency Dagong Global founded 1994, is the first agency to downgrade U.S. credit rating. In this announcement it joins forces in an international triumvirate to make an institutional challenge on the current credit rating megaphone.

“The current international credit rating system has proven inadequate to the task of producing responsible and reliable ratings,” Dagong said in a statement, adding that a new agency is needed to “mitigate economic risk in the development of human civilization”.

Further reading – see
Dagong Releases the Sovereign Credit Risk Report on Central Eastern Europe (October 17, 2012)

Dagong, the new bad Chinese or just a realistic and fair player? (Paris-headquartered Society for the Advancement of Credit Rating)

Dagong to unveil new ratings agency (AAP, in The Australian, October 23, 2012)

Ratings agency aims to rival ‘big three’ (China Daily, October 25, 2012)

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Chinese, US and Russian rating firms set up a JV to rival the Big Three
Source – Russia Today, published October 23, 2012

Photo source – Reuters / Kacper Pempel, in Russia Today, 2012

China’s Dagong Global Credit Rating agency is to set up the joint venture with US-based Egan-Jones Ratings Co (EJR) and Russia’s RusRating JSC to challenge the three major US ratings agencies.

“The current international credit rating system has proven inadequate to the task of producing responsible and reliable ratings,” Dagong said in a statement, adding that a new agency is needed to “mitigate economic risk in the development of human civilization”.

The new institution, called Universal Credit Rating Group, will handle global ratings “as an entirely independent rating service provider”, which “do not represent the interest of any particular country or group”. Earlier this year the head of Dagong, Guan Jianzhong called for the creation of a global credit rating system with uniform standards. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Europe, European Union, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Media, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Russia, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, U.S., , , , , , , , ,

Old 100 names: Witnesses of China’s history [BBC]

BBC on 老百姓: A bottom-up look at China from its Lao Bai Xing 老百姓 as the 18th National Congress draws closer. Scientific development was entrenched as guiding ideology for the 17th. What can we expect from the 18th? In Chinese 老百姓 literally means the old hundred clans though it could range in semantic meaning from “ordinary folks“, “honest folk”, “the people“, or “commoners.” Historically, the genesis of the 100 clans in folklore is also an interesting shaper of an identity that has prevailed over the ages.

There is a lot of unresolved history in China, some of it too recent and too painful to address, but not far below the surface. And deep history matters too – the cycles of unity and fragmentation, and the deference punctuated by rebellion that defines the relationship between people and state.

Further reading – A designer’s thoughts – Curiousity Chronicles on Lao Bai Xing

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Old 100 names: Witnesses of China’s history
By Carrie Gracie
Source – BBC News, Shixiaguan, published October 18, 2012

Photo source – BBC, 2012 from Getty Images

Chinese has a word for the people whose names don’t make it into the history books – the Laobaixing or “old 100 names”. They have witnessed history, even if they have only played a bit part. They have also inherited their community’s folk memory and will pass it on to their children.

Mountains behind. Blue sky above. And all around a forest of gold spears. Mei Jingtian is harvesting his maize with a scythe. It’s a scene which can’t have changed much in hundreds of years.

The sweetcorn is fine this year. Heavy summer rains have made the cobs swell. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: BBC, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Confucius, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Education, Environment, Government & Policy, History, Human Rights, Infrastructure, Mapping Feelings, Nationalism, New Leadership, Peaceful Development, People, Politics, Population, Poverty, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, , , , , , , , , ,

Changing China seen from the ‘hard seats’ of a train [BBC]

Train rides are like time-lapses. Treelines and support struts cut keyholes across the horizon, as train stations cascade from one to another.

If the Great Wall was the defining feature of the Chinese of yore, breaking and interfacing new ground through railroads are the fascination of the contemporary Chinese.

Their ambitious rail plans are perhaps not unlike any other national infrastructure project to materialise a geo-political national identity. It hasn’t been without challenge – this task of connecting people, industry and cultures.

Train rides make a great window for introspection, juxtaposed on shifting landscapes as one chugs along. It is on train rides I feel most inspired to write, as one’s thoughts traverse along where urban fringes creep into green belts. The views, available at just a shift in the neck provide first-hand images both on board and outside. Together, they form a nice wallpaper for a writing headspace based on the primacy of an first-hand unadulterated macro view without variable semantic interpretation of printed text and the ideologies or worldviews their content carriers may bring along with it (save for the advertising billboards and hoardings along the way I suppose).

Take it with a space of 26 years in between and changes become more apparent than hard data might best hope to suggest. BBC Beijing correspondent Angus Foster relates his view of China’s development through the prism of the train  – experiencing China’s changes through first hand, five-sensory experience from and of the ground.

Perhaps not mentioned too are two things. Relative affordability of the train rides for the masses and second,  the availability of hot water dispensers on both trains and stations (I remember searching high and low for them in my travels on rail in Austria, Italy and Switzerland to no avail). Instant cup noodles are the lifeblood of China’s working class and like the trains, they have evolved into a major industry in China – big enough to purchase and own media companies in some instances. Incidentally the biggest players in the Chinese cup noodle market are from across the Strait in Taiwan, but that is for another story.

– – –

Changing China seen from the ‘hard seats’ of a train
By Angus Foster
Source – BBC News, Beijing, published October 13, 2012

Ying Zuo are no longer the sepia toned postcards of the past. Even ‘peasant class’ features modern comforts and a shift in good form, as the article suggests, smokers were seen dutifully head to smoking areas. Photo Source – BBC, 2012

Travelling with a cheap rail ticket provides a snapshot of any country’s underbelly. Doing it twice at an interval of 26 years, in a country like China, provides a fascinating snapshot of the country’s rapid development.

Sixteen hours sitting bolt upright on a train gives you a bit of time to reflect on how much a country has changed.

It had started to go wrong when I got to the ticket booth in China’s capital Beijing and found a queue snaking round the corner. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 52 Unacceptable Practices, BBC, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Collectivism, Corruption, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Government & Policy, Influence, Infrastructure, Lifestyle, Mapping Feelings, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Social, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, Transport,

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