Wandering China

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

Empty Nest Syndrome for Post-Olympics Beijing [Caixin Online]

From Beijing-based media group Caixin Online, a Chinese attempt to revitalise traditional media through integrated media platforms in reaching out to international audiences.

Roughly translated to Financial News and described as a muckracker by the Wall Street Journal, its partner centre is the Global Times): This almost self-reflexive piece considers the price of projecting national image through sporting infrastructure spec-ed for global mindshare and participation, a problem China does not share alone.

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Empty Nest Syndrome for Post-Olympics Beijing
Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube exemplify the high price paid to satisfy Olympic building dreams
By staff reporter Wang Yuqian
Source – Caixin Online, October 3, 2012

China’s national stadium. Source – Caixin, 2012

(Beijing) – First-time visitors to China’s National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest, are usually amazed by the grandeur and grace of this historic centerpiece built for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

But for many Beijing residents, the Bird’s Nest is little more than a curious venue for a hodgepodge of infrequent recreational events and pop music concerts.

The stadium that seats 90,000 and cost 3.6 billion yuan hosted only a dozen events last year. Moneymakers included the Italian Super Cup football match, a stopover by athletes with the TTR World Snowboard Tour and a Rock Records 30th anniversary concert.

It was otherwise quiet except for tour groups and skiers and skaters who reveled in the manmade snow and ice that covered the field of the enclosed stadium every winter since 2010.

Yet the Bird’s Nest is relatively busy compared with other stadiums built for the Olympics in Beijing. Most are struggling to meet financial targets due to weak revenues from their main money sources – tourists and special events leasing.

An exception is the Water Cube, which hosted swimming events during the 2008 Olympics. Lin Xianpeng, a management professor at Beijing Sport University, said post-games revenues at the Water Cube have been “remarkable” if compared to other sports venues across the country.

Nationwide, only about one-third of all major sports venues break even every year, according to a Beijing Sports University report released last year. The rest lost a combined 280 million yuan in 2010 alone.

According to the National Audit Office, China splashed out nearly 19.5 billion yuan for new buildings, 36 venue renovations and 66 training centers to prepare for the 2008 games.

State agencies provided financial support based on the argument that civic pride attached to dramatic sports halls is worth the cost. But most private investors have steered clear.

Shrinking Ticket Sales

The Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, which occupy opposite sides of a giant square, are Beijing landmarks that attract busloads of tourists from near and far every day.

But the public’s passion for the Olympics held four years ago has been wearing off: The number of stadium visitors fell 40 percent in 2010 from the previous year, and another 30 percent year-on-year in 2011, BSAM Chairman Li Aiqing told the official People’s Daily last August.

Visits to the Water Cube have also declined, said Yang Qiyong, deputy general manager of National Aquatics Center Co. Ltd., the venue’s manager. Only 2.08 million people visited last year, down around 30 percent from the year before.

The Bird’s Nest “is definitely a must-go” for capital city tourists “but a glimpse from outside is enough,” said Ran Wenlan, a 61-year-old visitor to Beijing who lives in Chongqing.

Ran refused to buy a 50-yuan ticket for a chance to walk inside the structure, but peeked inside from outside a fence and took a photo from a pedestrian overpass nearby.

Indeed, tourist ticket sales account for a large but shrinking proportion of annual income for the Bird’s Nest. It provided up to 90 percent of the funds soon after the Olympics but fell to 42 percent in 2011, in part because revenue from other channels increased.

The stadium now has more than 500 licensed products on sale, which since 2008 have brought in more than 6 million yuan.

But the revenue pales in comparison with the stadium’s steep annual maintenance costs.

Source – Caixin, 2012

The Bird’s Nest spends about 80 million yuan a year maintaining the facility, Li said.

The Water Cube faces a similarly heavy burden: Yang said its 88 million yuan in revenues last year failed to cover costs topping 99 million yuan. Some 58 percent of the venue’s expenditures last year were tied to labor costs, which have been rising, and utility bills, Yang said.

The Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are also burdened with debts from their construction projects and post-Olympics renovations designed to prepare them for commercial functions.

“If not for debt servicing, both venues could have made a profit,” Lin said.

Beijing’s experience is not unique. Maintaining sports venues after an Olympics is a headache in host cities worldwide.

Athens, site of the 2004 Olympic Games, built 22 stadiums. All but one has been abandoned amid the country’s economic turmoil. With walls now covered by graffiti, these venues still cost US$ 124 million every year to maintain.

Commercial Flop

The Beijing municipal government hoped to minimize construction and maintenance cost of these stadiums by recruiting private investors.

Through a system referred to as the Public-Private-Partnership, a consortium led by the state-run investment firm CITIC Group won a tender in 2002 to build the Bird’s Nest.

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Beijing OIympics, Caixin, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Economics, Finance, Influence, Mapping Feelings, Media, Modernisation, Nationalism, Public Diplomacy, Social, Sport, The Chinese Identity, , , , , ,

The lucre of culture [China Daily]

Culture, commodification and public diplomacy:  Should we taking note of the commodification of millennia of Chinese culture? Could this be the great equalizer in China’s strategy in a complicated international political space?

“Culture is not only energy-efficient, but will also largely promote consumption and boost many related industries.” Li Jiansheng, director of the institute of culture of Beijing Academy of Social Sciences

Beijing is China’s political and cultural capital. Last year cultural and creative industries saw 8,500 companies with 1.4 million workers in a pillar industry worth US$142 billion. They accounted for 12.2% of the city’s GDP. The grand plan in the eyes of some, is for culture to contribute 25% to Beijing city’s GDP by 2020.

Often used in the negative, lucre seems to a negative suggestion about cultural capital being pegged as a pillar industry for the twelveth five-year plan from 2011 to 2015. Indeed, there looms the prospect the commodification of culture pigeonholes art becoming more design than expression as structured industry takes over the freedom of already limited liminal space.

Of course, all this will add up to China’s overall quest for equilibrium in foreign mindshare as it floods the global market with more tangible artefacts of its identity.

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The lucre of culture
by Liu Lu
Source – China Daily, published September 14, 2012


Visitors at a small outdoor market walk past paintings for sale in Beijing on Sept 8. Photo – David Gray, Reuters

Chinese capital banks on cultural blend to establish itself as a major presence in the international market

Culture is a lot more than just pretty pictures hanging on a wall, a ballet dancer gliding across a stage or a visit to a museum. Culture is also money, and in the cases of cities like London, Paris and New York, very big money indeed. Aware of the strong economic pulling power of culture, Beijing, with more than 3,000 years of history and a rich cultural heritage, is trying to shape itself into a world cultural metropolis on par with other renowned cultural centers.

Those efforts are being reinforced at a national level, where in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) the country’s cultural and creative industry receives particular attention, and the sector has become one of the economy’s most vigorous in recent years.

Related reading: In shadow of Basel fair, Beijing show sprouts

Beijing recorded the slowest economic growth among China’s provincial-level jurisdictions in the first six months of the year and, surveying alternative areas for growth, has been looking to culture as one of the key industries. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Advertising, Beijing Consensus, Beijing OIympics, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Ethnicity, Government & Policy, Influence, Lifestyle, Media, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), The Chinese Identity, , , , , ,

On the Olympics – Beijing was better: survey [Global Times]

Self-serving or otherwise, this is a glimpse of how the Chinese see themselves when represented by their sports persons. Global Times poll based on 1,7000 random respondents across 15 municipalities and provinces on the London Olympic Games found over 67% of respondents indicating ‘the overall impression of the London Games couldn’t compete with the Games held four years ago in Beijing.’ 85% ‘still believed that amassing gold medals is a sign of the progress of national power.’

It will be interesting to find out what the responses of the 33% who thought otherwise are like. Despite the controversies highlighted such as doping allegations and ‘engineered’ disqualifications the Chinese got their best ever overseas haul of gold medals .

“The 2012 London Olympic Games witnessed the best overseas record of a Chinese delegation mainly by the standard of the number of gold medals… But the most important thing we learn from the London Games is the public’s opinions toward gold medals have shifted and the public care more about athletes well-being rather than just winning competitions,” Ren Hai, professor at Beijing Sport University.

A sampling from the comments section:

I would LOVE Global Times to do a feature on how much Chinese taxpayers spend on their Olympic athletes versus other countries. Because I know the US gov doesn’t spend anything on their team. That a good investment, you think? (andao)

Sour- grape Mainlanders. If they don’t want to join the Olympics they should pull out- again. Just like they did from 1956- 1984 (Matt Ryan)

I find it hard to believe that 85% of Chinese feel the Olympics are prejudiced against them. A majority might be disappointed with not topping the medals chart. But 85% is a huge majority to believe a conspiracy theory unless they were all being fed this biased idea from the start…. And there’s no statistic to back up the statement in the first paragraph that most Chinese are “enraged.” That’s a strong word…. I wish China could just be happy with its great performance, and accept its achievements without being bitter, self-pitying, or blaming others. (Hong Konger)

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Beijing was better: survey
by Liu Linlin
Source – Global Times, published August 14, 2012

Although the opening of the London Olympics wowed many Chinese viewers who marveled at the creative human touch and partying spirit, a Global Times poll at the end of the London event showed the majority still favored the Beijing Olympics, apparently enraged at the way some Chinese athletes were treated during the Games.

Over 67 percent of respondents said the overall impression of the London Games couldn’t compete with the Games held four years ago in Beijing, according to a survey conducted by the Global Poll Center released on Monday.

While criticism over China’s so-called State-run competitive sports system soared during the London event, the poll showed that over 84 percent of Chinese still believed that amassing gold medals is a sign of the progress of national power. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Beijing OIympics, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Education, Influence, International Relations, Mapping Feelings, Omy, Peaceful Development, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S., , , , , ,

Malcolm Fraser: Obama’s China Card [Straits Times]

Straits Times: Malcolm Fraser discusses the tipping point of Australia’s great and powerful friends dilemma as it balances an increasingly unsteady ship of both strategic and economic impetus. Australia’s former prime minister of three terms also weighs in on the potential ‘baggage’ of the ANZUS treaty if today’s Darwin marine base turns out to be a prelude for tomorrow’s heavier burden.

‘I would sooner abrogate the Anzus Treaty with New Zealand and the US – that is, I would sooner end defence cooperation with the US – than allow nuclear missiles to be sited on Australian territory.. 

…Perhaps our best hope for stability and peace lies in China’s refusal to be provoked. The Chinese understand the game being played.’ Malcolm Fraser

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Malcolm Fraser: Obama’s China Card
By Malcolm Fraser
Source – Straits Times, published July 12, 2012

MELBOURNE – According to the United States Federal Reserve, Americans’ net worth has fallen 40 per cent since 2007, returning to its 1992 level. Progress towards recovery will be slow and difficult, and the US economy will be weak throughout the run-up to November’s presidential and congressional elections. Can any incumbent – and especially President Barack Obama – win re-election in such conditions?

To be sure, the blame for America’s malaise lies squarely with Obama’s predecessors: Bill Clinton, for encouraging the Fed to take its eye off financial-market supervision and regulation, and George W. Bush, for his costly wars, which added massively to US government debt. But, come Election Day, many (if not most) Americans are likely to ignore recent history and vote against the incumbent.

Given this, it would not be surprising if Obama and others in his administration were seeking non-economic issues to energise his campaign. National-security problems in general, and the challenge posed by China in particular, may be shaping up as just such issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Beijing OIympics, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Economics, Government & Policy, Influence, International Relations, Peaceful Development, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Resources, Soft Power, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, U.S.

China censorship: Shares fall 64.98 Points on June 4, 1989 protest anniversary [MSNBC]

Strange, but true? If this turns out right perhaps it has a place in Ripley’s Believe it or not as 23 years pass since the Tiananmen Square anniversary on June 4 1989.

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China censorship: Shares fall 64.98 Points on June 4, 1989 protest anniversary
By Ed Flanagan
Source: Behind the wall: NBC News published June 5, 2012

BEIJING – Government controls many aspects of life in China, but for today at least the invisible hand of market forces proved too strong even for the country’s ruling Communist Party.

In an apparent coincidence, Shanghai’s local stock market, the Shanghai Composite Index, opened trading this morning at 2346.98 points. Read backwards, it looks like the date, June 4, 1989 – this day 23 years ago when the Communists brutally cracked down on pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere in the capital.

Even more bizarre? By the end of trading in the afternoon, the market had lost 64.89 points.

The significance of the numbers might have passed without comment had authorities not tried to censor discussion of the anniversary by preventing users on Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – from posting terms such as “six four,” “candle” and “never forget.” With users abuzz over the Shanghai Composite Index numbers, censors had to widen the list of banned terms to include the Chinese word for ‘Index’. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing OIympics, Censorship, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Education, Government & Policy, Human Rights, Influence, International Relations, Internet, Mapping Feelings, Media, Peaceful Development, Politics, Soft Power, The Chinese Identity, U.S.

An Astounding Article in ‘Global Times’ [The Atlantic]

Interesting view from the Atlantic, an American literary and cultural commentary magazine: is Chinese state media capable of journalistic integrity aware of the power inequalities or is this just a play on foreign sensibilities? The usually ultra (dare I say?)-nationalistic Global Times uncovers car crash hush-up in Beijing.

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An Astounding Article in ‘Global Times’
James Fellows
Source – The Atlantic, published March 19, 2012

(See update below.) As soon as you can, try this link to an article on the site of the state-run and usually very nationalist Global Times newspaper in China. It is hard to believe that the story will stay up very long. (And if it does, that will say something surprising in itself.) Here is the way it looks as of around 9am Tuesday, March 20 China time – although I see from the dateline that it’s been up for a while already:

Here’s the reason this matters: it concerns a spectacularly horrible fatal car crash over the weekend in Beijing. At around 4 in the morning, a Ferrari driven at high speed along the Fourth Ring Road crashed and burned, killing its driver and seriously injuring two women in the car. The Chinese social-media-sphere has been full of speculation about who was in the car, how “connected” they might be, what kind of people (top officials’ children?) end up with Ferraris, whether the story will be hushed up, and so on. In short, every exposed raw nerve created by the gaping economic and power inequalities of today’s China was touched by this episode.

And for Global Times to say that the story is being hushed up! It is like Fox News undertaking an expose of Bush v. Gore or the business interests of Clarence Thomas’s wife. This is at face value brave, possibly reckless, and without doubt extremely interesting. Here is a screen shot of the end of the story as of right now.  After the jump, a text version of what the story says. Thanks to BB in Beijing for spotting it. And I say, with none of the usual sarcasm, that I am very impressed by what this part of the Chinese state media has done in this case. (Seriously, read this story! It’s amazing.)

UPDATE: Some of my China-sophisticate friends say I am overreacting to this, and that an English-language story like this is meant strictly to play to foreign sensibilities. Perhaps, and perhaps I am quickly misreading these events. But — if that is so, why are English-language broadcasts on CNN or BBC blacked out whenever they mention “sensitive” topics? Why do the English-language China Daily and Global Times usually present such a chipper “harmonious society” face? I don’t know — I’m just saying that this is different from what I am used to seeing as the for-foreign-consumption face of Chinese news, from the state-run media.

Filed under: 52 Unacceptable Practices, Beijing Consensus, Beijing OIympics, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Corruption, Crime, Culture, Democracy, global times, Government & Policy, Influence, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, The Atlantic, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S.

Australian troops to join China in disaster exercises [The Age]

Australia: Despite taking sides with the U.S. during recent rounds of China-bashing, Australia pushes the agenda to leverage both strategic partner U.S. and economic catalyst China.

In a move reminiscent for the Chinese as a strategy to contain it, this recent spate of U.S. determination for Asia-Pacific pre-eminence  seems to spell trouble for the region. After agreeing to host 2500 Marines near Darwin as a U.S. hedge against Chinese muscle-flexing in the region, it could have been expected that the Chinese retaliate in kind and not just rhetoric. I am not sure if the report which states that ‘Chinese military leaders have chosen not to retaliate by cutting or downgrading military relations’ is valid.

From record it seems the Chinese do not act on impulse. They wait for the right moment – continuing what essentially is a civil defence exercise has little to do with hard power.

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Australian troops to join China in disaster exercises
John Garnaut, Beijing
Source – The Age, published November 26, 2011

Australian soldiers will soon be landing in central China for joint exercises with the People’s Liberation Army, demonstrating that relations with Australia’s dominant trading partner remain on track.

The military emergency rescue exercises are modest in scale but highly significant in timing, coming just a fortnight after Australia greatly increased military co-operation with the United States by agreeing to host 2500 US marines near Darwin.

The US-Australia collaboration was framed as part of President Barack Obama’s move to reassert the US presence in Asia as a hedge against Chinese muscle-flexing in the region. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Australia, Beijing OIympics, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, military, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, U.S.

Can you really teach goldfish to do synchronised swimming? [Guardian]

Got wind from this from an old friend’s post on Facebook, thanks Jin San. This report has a vital flaw however, as the video link provided was a video posted on youtube of a Japanese variety program and not the Chinese Lunar New Year Opening Gala this year. Nevertheless, the video posted revealed a few useful things – two comments on the youtube link provided in this article provides an insight…

If it was done by magnets, wouldn’t the magnets in the fish try to stick to the magnet under the table, making them drag along the bottom of the tank? They don’t look like they are sliding on the bottom of the tank. not2dayshaq

And a contrasting view – I think magnets too on race tracks underneath, the lines the fish follow are really perfect and the speed of travel is so steady and every time they make a sharp turn you can see them brace themselves and try to cope with the fact that their body has been forceably turned. interuniversal321

I’ve had a look at the real video (see below – and am inclined to say the goldfish look sufficiently distressed). Have a look at the actual video here and form your own opinion –

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Can you really teach goldfish to do synchronised swimming?
A recent glimpse of formation goldfish on Chinese TV has outraged animal rights activists who suspect it’s all done with magnets
Tom Meltzer
Source – Guardian, published February 16, 2011

Magician Fu Yandong directs goldfish during a New Year’s Eve television show in Beijing. Photograph: AP

Of their own volition, in perfect unison, six goldfish line up in a military formation and swim laps around a tank of water. This was the spectacle that greeted and astonished hundreds of millions of viewers at the opening gala of China‘s lunar new year festival earlier this month. Animal rights activists were less amazed.

Convinced that the trick must rely on magnets in the fish’s stomachs, a coalition of 53 groups sent a letter to Chinese broadcaster CCTV asking them to prevent magician Fu Yandong performing it again at tonight’s closing ceremony. Fu has denied the accusation of animal cruelty, telling one news programme: “If I used magnets, the fish would stick together.” So how does he do it?

At Davenports Magic, the world’s oldest family-run magic shop, proprietor Betty Davenport is perplexed. “I’ve been buying and selling magic since 1948. I know most of the tricks, including how they’re done. I have not heard of that one. There’s no magic that I know of that is similar to that at all.” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing OIympics, Chinese New Year, Communications, Culture, Influence, Lifestyle, Media, Social, Video

Traffic in China fuels quest for road civility [USA Today]

China came late to the global love affair with cars, yet this one-time “kingdom of bicycles” is catching up for lost time, and the consequences are painful. In August, a 60-mile, 10-day gridlock of coal trucks stuck on a highway made headlines as the “world’s longest traffic jam.”

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Traffic in China fuels quest for road civility
By Calum MacLeod
Source – USA TODAY, September 17, 2010

A worker picks up trash on the roadside of a jammed section of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway in Huailai, in north China's Hebei province, on Aug. 24. It was backed up for miles. By Alexander F. Yuan, AP

BEIJING — For the past month, the people of China, long used to communist campaigns that stretched from the radical to the ridiculous, have been given another task by Party Central.

“Be a civilized, polite Chinese” runs the latest slogan, spread online by government websites and splashed onto giant electronic signs above major highways.

The nation’s road network, often chaotic, always dangerous and ever more crowded, forms one of the new campaign’s six targets. “Civilized driving, harmonious travel” is the goal, pushed by the Communist Party’s Civilization Office, the same body that tried to stop spitting before the Beijing Olympics. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Automotive, Beijing OIympics, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Influence, International Relations, Lifestyle, People, Population, Transport, USA Today

ID needed for users of cell phones [China Daily]

If China wants to get rid of spam, fraud and porn riding on its telecomms networks, it can do so on a national scale. There will be resistance of course, back in 2006 nationwide registration was first attempted “but it did not materialize because telecom operators and users showed little enthusiasm.”

“By the end of June, there were about 800 million mobile phone users in China and as many as 320 million did not provide ID information, said Chen Jinqiao, deputy chief engineer from the China Academy of Telecommunication Research.”

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ID needed for users of cell phones
By Chen Limin and Tuo Yannan
Source – China Daily, published September 01, 2010

BEIJING – Mobile phone customers will have to present ID when purchasing a phone number from Wednesday, in the latest campaign by the government to curb the global scourge of spam, pornographic messages and fraud on cellular phones.

Foreigners will also need to register with their passports or other ID in order to subscribe to mobile phone carriers.

Also from Wednesday, street newspaper stands will be banned from selling SIM cards, the Beijing Evening News reported. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Beijing OIympics, China Daily, Chinese Model, Communications, Culture, Economics, Environment, Media, Politics, Technology

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