Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One-Child Policy Revisited

Today an article on the New York Times discussed a report about the one-child policy in China and it's 30 year anniversary.

The report stated that many human rights abuses continue to occur surrounding this restrictive policy, including forced sterilizations and abortions, and other coercive family planning tactics such as heavy fines and threats of job loss. Most of these abuses take place in the countryside; therefore, they are more "out of the public eye" or at least the eye of the media. Poorer families suffer the most from this policy, not only because they lack the finances to pay the fines or fly their wives overseas to give birth, but also because they would benefit from having the economic support that multiple children could provide.

Authorities claim that they have prevented 400 million births over 30 years, a population 130% the size of the United States. While I agree that those additional individuals probably would have caused overcrowding and economic problems in the country (it is difficult to imagine China with any more people than it already has), it is hard to weigh the consequences against the current situation. I previously wrote about the negative effects in this post.

The Chinese government should change the incentive structures in society if it wants to keep population growth at a minimum in a voluntary and effective manner. Right now, human rights are being violated and there may be many children that are hidden or unregistered. Maybe if there was more public financial support for the elderly, couples would not feel insecure with only one child, and the child would not be too burdened with the care of two parents.

One thing needs to change - the uneven application of the policy in different areas of China and towards people of different social classes. I am not referring to the special cases of ethnic minorities, but the arbitrariness and corruption of local officials. According to the article, the budget from fines collected from the violation of the policy sometimes goes to "feed an entrenched bureaucracy." It will be very politically difficult to change this situation.

How do you feel about the one-child policy?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Situation on the Peninsula

So I guess I was wrong, at least partly, in my post about 2 months ago about North and South Korea. In that post, I wrote:

"I really don't see any military conflict happening in the near future, thank goodness. I also don't see reunification happening between the Koreas for at least a decade. The succession in North Korea will probably occur smoothly and I doubt the new leader will make any visible changes to foreign policy. Japan and China will get over this incident because they are big trading partners and sometimes economics trumps politics. So, in my opinion the region will remain in this standstill for now."

That's one of the cool things about keeping a blog, is that you can actually see how your perspectives and situations change. If you've read the news, you probably have heard about how North Korea fired shells onto South Korea's territory. It was an unprovoked attack on civilians and has definitely further raised tensions in the region. This action just shows how unpredictable North Korea is. Why are they being belligerent when they depend on their neighbors for so much food aid? Additionally, the North is in a fragile state right now, dealing with their leadership transition.

So does North Korea have some sort of method behind this madness? Or are the leaders just mad, likely in more ways than one? I'm not sure, but China should really try to get a hold of the situation. It seems to be the one remaining anchor that can keep North Korea stable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Lunch with the Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri

This past week I had the honor of attending a private lunch with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the current Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the largest international organization dedicated to gathering the scientific evidence on climate change from scientists around the world. It shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

Dr. Pachauri spoke to a group of about 12 students, so the talk was intimate enough that we were able to ask questions. One student asked him his opinion of the role of the developing world, especially China and India, in the climate change issue. Many developing countries think it is unfair for them to have to curb carbon emissions just as their economic growth begins and so many of their citizens still live in poverty. For example, though China's economy is growing at unbelievable rates, many Chinese still experience a very low standard of living. Is there a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions without hurting the economy as well?

Dr. Pachauri believes that developing countries would be making a mistake if they chose to go through the same trajectory as the developed countries did. They need to find their own way to develop in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, without compromising their economy or the well-being of the impoverished. They could possibly try to do this by utilizing new technology. He emphasizes that this is an opportunity for developing countries to divert from the "business as usual" approach and really be innovative.

One step would be to price goods in a fair, transparent manner, without providing subsidies to goods such as oil. For example, the price of our oil does not actually reflect all the expenditures that are spent on our oil supply. Moving in a "green" direction does not necessarily lead to economic loss. The prices of renewables will only decrease, whereas oil prices can only rise in the future. Dr. Pachauri points to Germany and South Korea as examples in which sustainable changes led to economic gain.

I think that Dr. Pachauri makes valid points, but it still will be very difficult for China and India to drastically decrease carbon emissions without compromising their growth, especially if the leaders focus more on short term growth. The environment is a global public good; China will directly gain more by using cheaper and dirtier fuels than it will lose. All countries will share the burden of climate change.

China has begun large-scale initiatives that move it towards sustainable growth, but there will probably have to be some economic incentives in order for it to lower emissions to a level that will acceptable to everyone in the international community.

Do you think developed countries owe the developing countries anything in exchange for lowering emissions?

The image above is from Undergrowth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Outsourcing Jobs = Outsourcing Pollution

I was talking with a visitor from China this past week about the beautiful weather we have been enjoying lately. She told me she sent a few pictures of Yale back to friends in China. The children that viewed the photos were amazed, not because of the centuries-old Gothic architecture, but because they had never seen a sky so blue.

Now, I was taken aback, because believe it or not, Yale is located in an urban area, and New Haven is considered a city. There are cars, buildings, construction, and streets. When I arrived last year, I remember complaining to my parents that the poor air quality of the city would cause me to develop some sort of respiratory disease. After all, for all of my life I have lived in nice suburban areas full of trees, blue skies, and sunshine.

Obviously, I had never experienced real pollution. This summer, I had a little taste of the air quality problem in China. The skies were always muggy, smoggy, and gray. First I thought it was just heavy cloud cover, until I realized there couldn't possibly be so many cloudy days during the summer months. It was true - if I peeked hard enough I could detect the hard bright glimmer of sunshine blocked by the layers and layers of pollution covering the sky.

The city pictured here isn't even that bad, believe it or not. This is Shenzhen and twenty-something years ago it was just a tiny fishing village. It has only suffered two decades worth of damage.

So my point is, we only see the bad side of companies moving their factories and jobs to countries like China. Yes, our manufacturing sector may be suffering and people may have to seek employment elsewhere, but the corporations are also taking their pollution and carbon emissions with them. By uprooting their factories, we do not have to deal with the immediate effects of smog and particulate matter.

My friend sees it this way: China is the factory of the United States. Chinese citizens may receive manufacturing jobs, but they also are paying indirectly because of the negative externalities. Respiratory diseases have become very common in cities. Buildings only a few years old look run-down and dirty from all the dirty residue from the air. It's another way to look at the debate over moving jobs and factories overseas. As the U.S. moves from being a manufacturing nation to one that provides services and technology, its environment and its citizens are benefiting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Most Powerful Person on Earth

I was reading this article on Yahoo today called "The Most Powerful People on Earth 2010." Guess who was ranked number one by Forbes? Hu Jintao, the President of the People's Republic of China.

Here's a quote from the article:

"Paramount political leader of more people than anyone else on the planet; exercises near dictatorial control over 1.3 billion people, one-fifth of world's population. Unlike Western counterparts, Hu can divert rivers, build cities, jail dissidents and censor Internet without meddling from pesky bureaucrats, courts. Recently surpassed Japan to become the world's second-largest economy both in absolute and purchasing power terms. Credible estimates have China poised to overtake U.S. as world's largest economy in 25 years — although, crucially, not on a per-capita basis. Creditor nation oversees world's largest reserves at $2.65 trillion — $1.5 trillion of which is in U.S. dollar holdings. Refuses to kowtow to U.S. pressure to change its exchange-rate regime. Heads world's largest army (in size). His handpicked successor, Xi Jinping, set to assume the presidency in 2012."

The people were ranked in terms of amount of influence over people, financial resources, power in multiple spheres, and active use of power. After Hu, Obama comes in number two, followed by the King of Saudi Arabia.

I definitely agree that Hu Jintao is an immensely powerful figure and has basically unchecked control and influence over more than one billion people. However, maybe the rankings would be different if we also factored in influence in international relations and "soft power," the ability to obtain what one wants through attraction and diplomacy. In my opinion, Obama probably has more clout in dealing with international relations. Additionally, he definitely has a lot of "soft power," as many people around the world admire him and believe him to be the "leader of the free world." However, Obama obviously does not have as much direct control over people's lives, and his power is checked not only by Congress and the Supreme Court but also by state governments.

What do you think? Does Hu Jintao have the most power in the world?

This image is from The People's Daily Online.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Talk with Kishore Mahbubani

This past Tuesday, Kishore Mahbubani came to talk at Yale. He was the Singaporean permanent representative in the UN Security Council and currently he is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Mr. Mahbubani is extremely forward thinking and has written articles and books about the idea that the West in in decline while Asia is rising. I found his speech fascinating. Here were his main points:

  • Historical eras change rapidly. Power and dominance can decline in the blink of an eye. For example, he has lived through the fall of the British colonial empire, the Cold War era, and the rise of America.
  • Western dominance has actually been an anomaly in history. Before the year 1820, for thousands of years, the two largest economies in the world were China and India. The last two hundred years of Western rise has been a historical aberration.
  • The coming era will signify the end of western triumphalism. America reached its peak in the 80's and 90's - now we have to manage our decline. What is happening today in Asia is analogous to the Industrial Revolution in Europe - but look at the scale. In Europe, living standards increased by 50% in one lifetime. However, in Asia today, living standards are jumping by 10,000% during one lifetime.
  • Why is the change occurring now? Asia is adopting what Mahbubani calls the "7 Pillars of Western Wisdom": free market economics, mastery of science and technology, culture of pragmatism, meritocracy, culture of peace, rule of law, and spread of education. These factors build upon each other to create te massive rise and development of Asia.
The challenge today is to find a way to reshape the global order without conflict. For example, right now global institutions are very western-dominated. The IMF and the World bank have requirements that the leaders must be European or American. France and the U.K. are permanent members of the UN Security Council though they are no longer major players on the world stage.

What about democracy? Mr. Mahbubani also warns us to "be careful what you wish for." Right now everyone wants democracy to spread all over the world. However, there are 5.8 billion other individuals out there. If they all got a say, the world may not be as friendly to Americans as it now is. For example, he claims that a completely democratic China would be an extremely nationalistic China, and that right now the Communist Party is carefully controlling its population and keeping it stable. Democracy will come later when the country itself is ready for it. He provides the example of the U.S. - we took 200 hundred years to reach full democracy.

These are all fascinating ideas that really bring us a new perspective. What do you think of the rise of Asia? Is it inevitable? Will it be bad news for the U.S.?

The image is courtesy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize

Wow, exciting news yesterday morning - this year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. He's the only recipient that was in prison at the time of receiving the award. The committee wants to recognize him for his peaceful protest against the Chinese government.

The Chinese government really is really angry. Apparently, they threatened to break off ties with Norway, even though the committee doesn't have anything to do with the Norwegian government. This prize definitely adds more pressure on China regarding its lack of political freedoms for its citizens. The CCP must be so stressed right now - they already are getting called out by the international community on economic issues such as their currency undervaluation.

I feel like China will feel like this is an attack on their sovereignty and legitimacy. This may open up room for discussion among citizens, but the government itself may become more aggressive, paranoid, and strike out. After all, it is being attacked already for its economic policies and its behavior towards Japan. However, since the Nobel Prize isn't really connected to one actor, China may not have the ability to directly retaliate. I can imagine the government clamping down on internal dissidence more intensely, because it may be afraid of protests generated by this award. After all, its already trying to block Liu Xiaobao's name from internet searches. It's unclear if he himself even knows he won the award.

So, I really want to know your opinion. Do you think he deserves the prize? How do you think the Chinese government will deal with being under the spotlight yet again? Will Chinese citizens start to press for political freedoms again?

This image is courtesy of the LA Times.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

China's Currency

I'm sure you have all heard about how China's yuan is undervalued compared to the U.S. dollar, and how this is supposedly damaging our economy and causing American workers to lose jobs. This argument has been all over the news, and more recently, both Republican and Democratic candidates' campaigns.

For example, this article "China-Bashing Gains Bipartisan Support." In addition, articles about China's currency have made headlines in the New York Times for the past few weeks.

However, have we considered any opposing arguments, or at least views that believe there are better solutions to deal with the economic crisis?

In my class "Gateway to Global Affairs," we discussed alternative perspectives. First, some background info: right now, with the yuan undervalued, exports are cheap for China and imports are more expensive. On the other side of the coin, imports from China are cheap for the U.S. and it is costly for U.S. manufacturers to export to China. Therefore, if the yuan appreciates, Chinese imports will become more expensive for U.S. consumers.

The main argument in the media seems to be that if we forced China to appreciate its currency, goods from China would be more expensive, making our domestic manufacturers more competitive, so American jobs would increase. However, why would jobs move from China to the U.S.? This is not a world that only consists of two countries. It makes sense that job creation would occur in the next low-cost producer, such as Vietnam and India. It is not likely that jobs would return to the states. So are politicians just using China as a convenient scapegoat for our economic problems?

Who is benefiting from artificially-cheap Chinese imports? Largely the American lower-middle class (think Wal-mart shoppers). So why the disconnect?

On the export side: change in currency may make U.S. products cheaper in China, so this may benefit American export manufacturers. However, Chinese savings rates are far higher than the rates in the U.S., so it is not certain that Chinese citizens would spend that much more money on imports. A good policy may be for the Chinese government to encourage more consumption among their citizens. Stephen Roach argues for this approach in the NY Times. He's the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.

Stephen Roach also teaches at Yale. Funnily enough, he's actually the sponsor for our Global China Connection chapter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bill Valentino, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for Bayer

This semester I joined the executive board of Yale's chapter of Global China Connection. Global China Connection (GCC) is the world's largest student organization dedicated to providing the future leaders of China and the international community with a platform to engage each other. A non-profit, non-partisan organization, GCC is represented in over 50 chapters at top universities around the world. We work directly with top Chinese universities as well as a number of corporate and organizational partners on a variety of projects to provide opportunities for our members to gain international experience and develop an international network.

Specifically, we organize speaker events to educate the Yale campus about different issues. We also plan to host a student delegation from Peking University in the spring. Our first speaker of the year was Bill Valentino, the VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for Bayer in China.

Mr. Valentino also is a professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. He has lived in China for 23 years and can speak fluent Mandarin. Last Friday, Mr. Valentino visited Yale to speak about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and what that really means for the company, its consumers, and the people that it affects. Here are some of the most interesting points he made:
  • Every company has a direct impact on the environment, social fabric, and development of an area. It's important to be conscious of this ability and whether it has positive or negative consequences.
  • Creating value: most companies only look to the short-term and care about creating economic value. However, there is also the potential to create social value and ecological value in a community.
  • The world's richest 20% consume over 76% of the resources. The world's poorest 20% consume about 1.5% of resources. In the future, companies that look to develop new markets will be targeting the lower segments of society.
  • Companies are sensitive to consumer opinion and consumers care about the ethics and values of the company. Therefore, it is in the interest of the corporation to be socially responsible.
  • China in general has to balance the desire for economic growth with the health of its people and its environment. In the past few decades of rapid development, the latter two have been mostly ignored. For example, 90% of rivers in China are polluted, and the income gap between rural and urban areas has increased greatly.
  • When we think of sustainability, many times the environment comes to mind. However, there are many other facets of sustainability such as public health, education, food security, poverty, gender, labor, etc.
  • China is becoming aware of the need for CSR. From the blogosphere to Hu Jintao himself, a recognition is forming that balance is necessary in the corporate world.

I am really glad that foreign corporations are now becoming aware of the effects they have on the surrounding area and are now dedicating entire departments to CSR. Bayer is an extremely prominent international pharmaceutical company and is leading a great example. Let's hope other businesses, both foreign and domestic, soon follow in their footsteps (Foxcomm anyone?).

Thanks so much to Mr. Valentino for coming to Yale!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trouble in the East Asian Seas

There has been a lot of drama in East Asia in the past few months, shifting international attention from environmental and economic concerns to fears of deepening tensions between rivals and military confrontation.

First North Korea torpedoes a South Korean ship off its coast and kills forty-something sailors. This incident is one of the worst military provocations on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War. Obviously, this significantly sours the North-South relationship, and South Korea threatened to stop trade with its neighbor. China was put into a quandary. After all, it traditionally has been one of North Korea's only allies. However, with the U.S.'s and the U.N's strong support of South Korea, China could not easily defend the rogue nation. Therefore, it remained "on the fence," trying to ameliorate the situation with no success.

The situation took an almost childish turn in which South Korea stating that it would re-designate North Korea as its "archenemy." China, on the other hand, faced mounting pressure to make Kim Jung Il face responsibility for the events. Trying to be objective, the Prime Minister of China offered his condolences to South Korea while cautiously not directly accusing any actor for the sinking of the ship.

Meanwhile, North Korea fervently denied any involvement with the sinking and threatened military action if it received a U.N. condemnation. The North Korean ambassador to the U.S. stated, "our people and army will smash our aggressors." I don't underestimate North Korea's ability to take rash actions, but it's not like they have never faced U.N. pressures before.

The U.S. and South Korea began naval drills on the coast of the Korean peninsula. These drills involved over 8,000 personnel and 200 aircraft. Then the two sides go back and forth, with North Korea threatening retaliatory action. It seized a South Korean ship and fired rounds into a disputed sea border. It seemed like direct military confrontation was inevitable.

Then, in a sudden turn of events, North Korea freed the detained ship and South Korea suggested a reunification of families that were separated by the Korean War. It also agreed to send flood relief aid to the North. North Korea then proposed military talks to settle some border disagreements. It seems like tensions are cooling. However, as this one incident wraps up, another one begins.

China and Japan, two other rivals in the region, have begun a spat over the detention of a Chinese captain who had sailed into a disputed area between the two countries. The island in question is called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese. China is arguing that Japanese officials do not have jurisdiction to prosecute the man. Now China is refusing to talk to Japan during the U.N. meeting. I don't think there has been conflict on this level between the two countries since the controversy a few years ago over the publication of Japanese textbooks that did not fully explain Japan's part in the atrocities of World War II.

Wow, so there are still a lot of problems in the region. China and Korea have deep-rooted anger towards Japan for historical reasons. The two Koreas struggle to find a way to coexist. The U.S. backs South Korea and Japan militarily. China tries to balance its alliances but has to keep supporting North Korea. North Korea, meanwhile, is trying to sort out the succession of Kim Jong Il's son. The world waits with bated breath to see the conclusion of this power transition. Each country tries to become the regional hegemon. In a way, it kind of sounds like some kind of soap opera, doesn't it?

It's also really difficult because of the range of political and economic systems in the region. South Korea and Japan are both capitalist and democratic. North Korea is an enclosed communist nation in which a dictator rules with an iron fist. China economically, is teetering between its past socialist roots and its capitalist future, while remaining essentially a totalitarian state.

Any predictions as to what will happen? I really don't see any military conflict happening in the near future, thank goodness. I also don't see reunification happening between the Koreas for at least a decade. The succession in North Korea will probably occur smoothly and I doubt the new leader will make any visible changes to foreign policy. Japan and China will get over this incident because they are big trading partners and sometimes economics trumps politics. So, in my opinion the region will remain in this standstill for now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Controversy Over Cheap Clean Energy

The short story is that the Chinese government has been subsidizing the development and production of these technologies for its domestic companies. Then these companies have been able to sell its products at a lower cost and still make a profit. Apparently, the Chinese companies have begun to sell the products such as wind turbines and solar panels at below cost to U.S. companies. The argument is that this action is hurting certain U.S. industries.

So I can understand how certain sectors of the U.S. economy would lose out due to the low prices of the Chinese companies, such as the manufacturing industry. However, it is hard to wrap my brain around the fact that people would rather have the Chinese selling at higher prices. It's not as if clean energy is bad for anyone. In fact, it seems like other sectors of the U.S. economy would be greatly benefited from a cheap source of clean energy. Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels and foreign suppliers of oil seems like a win-win situation because it helps ease pollution and lower dependency on oil.

The Chinese government is doing a good deed by granting these subsidies. Maybe the U.S. government should also subsidize its own companies so they won't be undercut by competition? Maybe it should move some of the tax dollars from inefficient agricultural subsidies? Really, there is no price too low for clean energy supplies. In the long run, the U.S. economy overall will benefit because other companies and consumers will have access to cheap clean energy.

The problem with switching to clean energy is the initial start-up cost of getting the equipment - afterwards, besides maintenance costs, there is basically a free flow of energy. From this angle, it definitely seems like Chinese manufacturers are helping U.S. companies get a hold of cheap supplies that will drastically lower their costs in the future, even if the Chinese companies only have economic motivations. I mean, hypothetically, what if the Chinese government just started giving us free wind turbines and solar panels? Would we still have the same reaction?

I don't know. I am definitely far from an expert in this field and there may be many issues that I am forgetting or don't understand. This is just my gut reaction to all the uproar over the incident. What do you think? Do I have a valid point or am I misunderstanding some fundamental principle?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hello World

Sorry for not posting for so long! Even though I'm back at college and not in China anymore, I still want to keep writing about the effect of my experiences and about China in general. I hope you will still stick with me! If you read my last post about choosing classes, I finally decided to chose the seminar called the Chinese Diaspora in Fiction and Film. The material is so interesting; for example, here are some of the topics we are going to cover: Coolies and Slaves, Chinese Food, and the Chinese in Hollywood.

Still, the class is first and foremost about the dispersion and emigration of the Chinese people starting as early as the 15th century. I feel as if I've already learned so much about the history of Chinese Americans as well as the Chinese that immigrated to other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia and Africa. The homework for the first class was 800 pages of reading! Thankfully the subject matter was so engaging that it did not even feel like work.

If you are at all interested in Chinese American history, I strongly recommend Iris Chang's The Chinese in America. It takes you on a journey from the first Chinese immigrants working on the transcontinental railroad in California all the way up to the wave of Chinese intellectuals arriving in the 80s and 90s. I warn you: the narrative is extremely depressing and heart-wrenching as the author tries to sway the emotions of the reader. The book made me feel anger, disgust, and humiliation at the horrific way the Chinese were treated. It's definitely a part of American history that I never learned in school textbooks.

Did you know there was a period of time in which Chinese Americans were not allowed to testify against white Americans in court? When Chinese children could not attend the same schools as others? Did you know that opposite Ellis Island was an immigration station on the west coast called Angel Island, basically an interrogation and detention center for Chinese immigrants? Or that during the Cold War, prominent Chinese scientists were ousted after years of hard work for the U.S. government?

I feel lucky that my parents immigrated to the U.S. during the 1990s instead of the 1890s. Not to say there still isn't racism, but at least it is illegal! I personally do not recall ever encountering hatred or intentional discrimination. I grew up in fairly diverse college towns when my parents went to their respective graduate schools. I guess I never really felt that different from my friends, who were of all ethnicities (white, black, Asian, Hispanic).

I have encountered some ignorant but well-meaning remarks. For example, once I was in a Target store with my younger sister and a nice old white lady came up to us, smiled, bowed, and said "Konnichiwa!" (Means Hello in Japanese). When I worked at a grocery store, there were many elderly men and women who would smile at me benevolently and ask me, "Where are you from?" I never knew how to answer the question though I could guess at their intent. Technically I lived just in the next neighborhood, but before that I lived in Wisconsin, and before that, Indiana. Going even further back, I lived in Texas for two years. Before that, I lived in China.

Still, it seems like there is less ignorance and racism with each successive generation. The U.S. is turning ever more into a multicultural melting pot. Technically, we learned in school that our situation isn't really a melting pot, because immigrants keep parts of their own culture and traditions instead of everyone blending together. Therefore, it's more accurate to say that we are a chunky beef stew, with distinct chunks of different foods.

Well, I think that's enough rambling for now. I have much more to write about so I hope to "see" you soon. Question: what are your own experiences with race and culture?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Choosing Classes

So, after discussing about China's economic and social classes in my last post, I want to talk about a different type of class. After what I've learned and experienced in the two past months, I really want to study about more Chinese politics, society, and culture. Thankfully, this semester Yale offers very interesting classes about China. I'm having a hard time deciding between two of them in particular. They both deal with extremely fascinating topics. Of course, I will wait to "shop" the classes before I make a decision. Here are the two classes and their descriptions:

Wealth and Poverty in Modern China:
"The underlying causes and consequences of the changing distribution of income, material assets, and political power in contemporary China. Substantive focus on inequality and stratification. Instruction in the use of online Chinese resources relevant to research. Optional weekly Chinese language discussions."

The Chinese Disaspora and the Americas in Fiction and Film:
"Comparative survey of modern fiction and film portraying Chinese diaspora in North and South America. Topics include labor, migration, displacement, ethnicity, gender, linguistic hybridity, world Chinatowns, and popular culture. Readings in translation. Evening film screenings on alternate Mondays."

The first class is in the political science department, which means it will count towards my major, but the second class is a humanities credit (a distributional requirement). Any suggestions? I'm really torn between the two classes but taking both of them will not work with my schedule. I think I will see what each of the professors is like.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wealth and Poverty

About a week ago, I read this article in the NY Times about China becoming the second largest economy. This occurrence was inevitable, sooner or later. However, what is more surprising is this line:

Its [China's] per capita income is more on a par with those of impoverished nations like Algeria, El Salvador and Albania — which, along with China, are close to $3,600 — than that of the United States, where it is about $46,000.

This had me reflecting back upon my own trip. When I met up with friends living in Beijing, living the ex-pat life in sheltered modern communities, I believed that they did not have the opportunity to experience the "real China." Metropolitan, wealthy cities like Beijing and Shanghai really can shield a person from the realities of the larger country. Living in high-rise apartments and top-ranked universities, shopping in mega-malls, visiting tourist attractions, using sparkling clean flush toilets, sipping Starbucks coffee, and hopping swanky bars is a far cry from the typical experience of Chinese citizen. Even outside of the ex-pat community, Beijing's average standard of living towers over that of other areas.

I thought I knew the real China. After all, I had ridden in a motorbike in the streets of Changsha, used dirty public restrooms, slept four to a room, gone without air conditioning, lacked internet access at times, eaten fresh greens just picked from the garden, hand-washed clothes, visited public schools and daycares, bought produce from a street market, browsed in tiny street-side shops, and suffered the suffocating humidity of the summer.

However, even my experience cannot be thought of as the life of an average citizen. All my relatives and acquaintance were members of the upper-middle class. My uncle is the chief editor of a university journal. My other uncle is a golf course designer. My grandparents were university professors. One uncle is a prosecutor. Most of the people I have met are academics, the students and professors of prestigious universities. These are not average people - they are the cultural, if not economic, elite.

The cultural elite may not be able to afford houses (rarely anyone can!). They may have to live in apartments for the rest of the lives. However, they do not have to worry about putting food on the table. Their kids are well-provided for and go to good schools. TVs, cell phones, and computers are within their price range. They will have enough to live on comfortably after they retire. They definitely make over the per capita income of $3,600 cited above. They are a part of the "real China," but they are in no way representative of the average citizen.

What is the face of the average citizen? Maybe the lady carrying the large woven baskets of bokchoy to the market down the street. The salesgirl in the tiny shop, her eyes eager as you walk in. The construction worker, dusty and sweaty from toiling under the midday sun. The little boy in the country, his bare feet muddy from helping on the farm. His older brother, eyes bright with opportunity as he enters the city to find a job and begin a new life. The old nanny, who left her family behind in the village in order to take care of another household.

I'm glad I got to see more of China this summer, but I cannot fool myself into believing that I lived the life of the average Chinese. But won't the nation's fast economic growth aid its citizens? China is changing. The expanding economy has improved the lives of millions of citizens while simultaneously crushing the dreams of others. A large city sucks in migrant workers with its demand for construction of new high-rises, while ejecting long-time residents with the demolition of old neighborhoods. Electricity and modern conveniences are now more available to farmers, while the the land and rivers that support their livelihood become more and more polluted everyday.

Development is a paradox. I can only hope it will be for the best in the end.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The One-Child Policy

So many of you probably know that China has a one-child policy, started in 1978. The government implemented this controversial policy because of fear that the population would grow far too large to be sustainable. The laws are not always concrete though, and slowly I think the government has relaxed upon many restrictions. However, this policy has many social consequences.

The Policy

If you have a second child, you are subject to heavy fines. You may lose your job if you work for the public sector. Therefore, making the wrong decision could cripple your family's finances and future. However, it seems now that instead of viewing the monetary penalty as a punishment, some people (with enough money) see it as the price to pay to have a second child. Additionally, if you work in the private sector, your career might not be affected.

There are many other exemptions. If one of the children is born in another country (or Hong Kong), he or she doesn't count and the parents can have another child. If both parents are single children in their respective families, they can have two children. Farmers in rural areas can have more than one child. Members of minority groups are also not limited to one child.

Therefore, if you are wealthy, you basically can ignore the laws, because you can either afford to pay the fines or afford to go to another country to give birth. However, the majority of the population does not have so much free-spending money. Hence, most people that live in urban areas only have one child.

I have read articles and books about the human rights abuses involved, such as women being forced to be sterilized and have abortions. I'm sure these stories are true though I have not personally heard of or observed any such atrocities. In my opinion, since most citizens seem to be complacent and passive with the government's policies, they accept birth control and abortions as a normal way of life. When I spoke with people about the policy, most of them did not really like it but thought it necessary to control China's population.

The Effects

There are so many concrete problems that arise from the one-child policy, aside from the issues of reproductive rights and privacy. Of course, these issues aren't absolute, because as I mentioned before, there are loopholes where couples can have more than one child. However, the effects are real and growing, especially upon the families.

  • The Parents: It is traditional in Chinese families that when the kids grow up, they support their parents through old age. Children are like insurance. The parents usually are financially and emotionally dependent on their children. This fact explains why in the past, parents liked to have many children - so they could be sure to be well cared for in their old age. However, it becomes an inverted triangle now. Each child has to maintain two elderly parents. A married couple must provide for four elders. Since the aging parents usually live with their children, this creates an issue.
  • The Children: Since children are so important in Chinese society, single children are under a lot of pressure from their parents. After all, each one of them is their parents' only hope for the future. Parents are also overly protective and coddling, spoiling their child. Many parents take this point of view: as long as my child succeeds in school, he can have whatever else he wants. This environment can create many emotional issues, such as overly-stressed students or kids with low emotional maturity. Society becomes extremely competitive as each parent strives to make their own child the best.
  • Babies: Traditionally, Chinese parents prefer sons. After all, it is your son who will support you in your old age. Sons will carry on the family name. But how can you be sure that your only child will be a son? Hence the large numbers of abandoned baby girls. The lucky ones will eventually make it to an orphanage. No wonder all the stories you hear of adopted babies from China are all of baby girls. I've heard that sex-selective abortions are not legal any more but I'm sure there are ways to get around that. I am lucky that my family is wonderful and even though all my cousins are girls (on my father's side), nobody complains, though my grandfather would love a grandson to carry on the family name.
  • Sex-ratio: Because of the preference for boys, the sex-ratio of this generation is skewed. I believe it is around 120 males for 100 females as an average, but in some areas it could be more extreme. It is harder for guys to get married. They also face more competition in the workplace. Many thinkers believe it is unhealthy to a society to have a large population of young and single men, as this demographic is the most likely to be violent and full of unrest.
  • The Economy: China will definitely have an aging population in the near future. It will be tough to have these new, small generation of children supporting a large elderly generation. Healthcare costs will definitely be an issue. Also, with a smaller working population, I wonder if China will be able to keep up its miraculous economic growth.
  • Family: Isn't it kind of sad to think that after my generation, many families will not know of cousins, uncles, or aunts? Each family will be a single nuclear unit. Right now, though my cousins do not have siblings, at least have each other and they treat each other like sisters. But what about their children? Extended family is such an important part of the Chinese culture and tradition.

We don't know what China's population would look like without the one-child policy. Maybe it would have continued exploding like India's population. Maybe there would have been even more social problems, such as lack of basic resources, crowding in cities, destruction of the environment, and famines. Maybe China would have turned out like Japan, where fewer and fewer couples want children, and the population is actually shrinking. This possibility wouldn't be unlikely in the future, with the rise of China's middle class.

The Chinese government did have good intentions but I think the policy was implemented poorly. If it was incentive-based rather than founded on fear and penalty, the policy would have been much more acceptable in terms of human rights. However, what financial incentive would be enough to stop a couple from having another child to insure their security in the future? Without a doubt, it was a tough policy decision to make. The main choice mirrors many topics we are debating today: Is it okay to violate the rights of individuals in order to benefit society at large?

It's only been 32 years since the policy has been instated - only one generation of children has been without siblings. The population growth has not stopped because of the lasting effects of population momentum. It's too soon to tell what the lasting societal effects will be.

What have you heard of the one-child-policy? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Western Influences

So there I was, in the heart of Xi'an, a Chinese city full of history and culture, home to the famous Terra-cotta warriors. The great walls of the city stretched from east to west, north to south, protecting the ancient capital. The lights of this beautiful temple in the center of the city shone in the night sky. Even with the modern advances of cars and electricity, the scene was dazzling.

But there seems to be something out of place... do you see it? Look carefully...

How about now, in a close-up of the bottom-right of the photo?

Yes, it is the ubiquitous McDonald's. Even in the heartland of Chinese history, you cannot escape the 99 cent (or should I say 6 Yuan) chicken nuggets and greasy french fries. It's actually kind of frightening how quickly this fast food chain can spread throughout a country. In major Chinese cities, you can find a McDonald's on every block. The kids can't get enough of it. The Other invaders include Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Speaking of KFC...guess where this next picture is taken?

It was on the site of the museum of the famous Terra-cotta warriors, one of China's national treasures. We had to pass this KFC to get from the parking lot to the main museum.

And guess what we also found displayed the Museum of the Terra-cotta warriors? A framed photograph of Clinton and his family visiting the warriors. Obviously the museum was very proud that such an important figure visited their exhibit.

Oh, and remember the Haagan-Dazs? These little precious scoops of ice cream cost a fortune, more than the cost of an average meal.

Why do people buy this ice cream? There is plenty of other brands in China that are much more affordable - but the reason people want it is because of the price. The high price means that this is a western luxury good, which represents somewhat of a symbol of social status.

Sadly, this seems to be a trend. Anything western, whether it be celebrities, pop music, movies, clothing brands, or food, automatically seems to be superior to their domestic counterparts. Teens listen to singers such as Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift and watch the popular TV show Gossip Girl. People want Buick cars and iPhones. Fashionable women wear Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren with their Dior sunglasses and Louis Vuitton or Coach bags (likely fake ones!). Boys run around in Nike shoes. Beautiful Caucasian models fill billboards in cities and commercials on TV. Students dream of studying abroad in Europe or the United States. Little kids whine for hamburgers or Lay's chips instead of traditional home-cooked food. Magazines and product advertisements are littered with English phrases in an attempt to look "cool."

Though it's good that China has "opened up" its economy in the past decades, I really hope that its people realize that "western" or "American" doesn't necessarily mean better. There are so many wonderful Chinese musicians, designers, beautiful models so China shouldn't have to look towards the West for talent or style. Also, Chinese food is delicious! I really hope people can realize that fast food can never compete with a good traditional meal.

It's interesting that at the same time the mainstream Chinese opinion derides the West and particularly the U.S. for being dominating and intrusive politically, the Chinese people are simply devouring all these western goods. If they are voting with their dollar (Yuan), I'm not sure what that means for the future. However, I guess it is possible to separate business and politics.

I learned in class that the Chinese do a very good job of separating the U.S. government from the American people (and their businesses). While most Chinese people have negative feelings towards the government, they believe that the American people as a whole are good. Therefore maybe it is not ironic that they have such favorable feelings towards consumer goods and such negative impressions of the government.

Anyways, I think that is enough rambling for today. What do you think about the spread of Western influence in China? Is it a benefit or is it harmful?

Friday, August 13, 2010


"Do they only eat bread there?"

As you can imagine, there are many misconceptions that Chinese people have about the United States. Likewise, many American beliefs about China are also twisted or incorrect. This is probably because in general, the only knowledge one has about the other is gathered through pop culture, dramatic media reports, and consumerism.

Chinese Misconceptions

1. Food in the U.S. consists only of bread, hamburgers, and french fries. It is laughable how many times relatives have insisted that I eat more of something because "you won't be able to eat it once you leave China." I try to explain that in the U.S., you can find any type of food imaginable, all year round. Even hard to find ethnic foods are found in specialty grocery stores.

Where does this misconception come from? Probably from the abundance of Western fast food restaurants that have spread throughout China in the last decade, serving just those foods.

2. Everyone in the U.S. is rich. It is true that the standard of living in the U.S. is much higher. It is also true that land and housing is much cheaper here. However, there is poverty, found both in inner cities and rural areas. Most people have to work hard to make a living and achieve their "American Dream."

Where does this misconception come from? Films depicting people living in the sprawling suburbs with white picket fences and manicured lawns, news reports of GDP, stories of acquaintances immigrating to America and making it big.

3. America is dangerous. I've always said that I am more likely to get run over in the street in China by a bus than get shot by some gang member in America (streets are very busy and drivers don't do a good job of following traffic laws). But many Chinese people just have this notion that living in the U.S. is not safe.

Where does this misconception come from? People have definitely mentioned to me the fact that Americans can legally own guns. Citizens in China cannot bear arms. There actually doesn't seem to be that big of a black market in China either - at least most attacks occur with knives. I think both countries have their own dangers so the best idea is just to always be careful!


Of course, there are many Chinese also don't have these misconceptions. This is just what I've personally observed to be common. Citizens also have many common opinions on the Iraq war, Taiwan, etc., that are not necessarily right or wrong. But that's another story.

Next time I'll write about common American misconceptions of China.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Yali School

While I was in Changsha, I had the pleasure of visiting Yali Middle School, which is one of the most selective high schools in Hunan Province. What's so special about Yali, you ask? Well, it was founded more than 100 years ago by Yale-in-China, now known as the Yale-China Association.

The school is known for its excellent English education, as the English teachers are Yale graduates who receive a two year fellowship to teach at Yali. I met one of the Yale fellows who graciously gave me a tour of the campus.

The School

Yali has an open campus, with a main gate and separate buildings for athletic facilities, libraries, classrooms, and dorms (it's a boarding school).

I already mentioned that Yali is famous for its English education. Recently, in addition to having standard English classes, it has also added specialized English courses such as theater and writing.

Yali is also unique compared to similarly ranked Chinese high schools because it offers an abundance of extracurricular activities. To my knowledge, the typical Chinese high school student does not really get to engage in many activities because he or she must focus on academics and the big college examination. However, Yali makes sure its students are well-rounded. There is student government, environmental clubs, etc.

Similar to other schools in the area, the students are divided up into classes by their grades (grades as in scores). Therefore, all the best students are in the same classes and the "worst" students are in the same classes. Though this is extremely controversial, I can see how it would make teaching instruction easier, as students are grouped by ability level.

Unlike schools here, students are in the same classroom with the same classmates the whole day while the teachers are the ones that have to shift around. Classes are 40 minutes each. Though the school day is longer, students have a lunch break of 2 hours.

The Students

No doubt about it - the students here are the cream of the crop! Many of them apply and get into the top universities in China as well as around the world.

The teaching fellow who gave me a tour told me his view of Chinese students. He believes that compared to American students, Chinese students are at a higher intellectual level (at least the ones at Yali). I can understand this - they spend so much more time on academics. They start high level math at a very young age. At my cousin's age, I would not have been able to comprehend the calculus she is now working on. Now, this does not mean that Chinese students are inherently smarter or quicker - just that at a younger age they have the capacity to understand more complex concepts because they have been trained this way.

However, the teaching fellow thinks that Chinese students generally are at a lower emotional maturity level than their American counterparts. For example, high school students in China would be comparable to middle school students in America. This also makes sense. After all, Chinese children receive so much more coddling and overprotection from parents as well as the school system. The parents cater so much to their children's needs that they do not allow them any room for independence. Schools prohibit students from dating, and teachers are a very big influence in a student's private and family life.

The students I met and saw wore the same plain blue school uniforms. They were all friendly and polite. The ones I did speak to had impeccable English.

The Teaching Fellows

I was surprised to learn that the Yale teaching fellows do not need any Chinese language or culture background at all before arriving in China. The fellow that gave me a tour explained that at first he actually was more interested in the teaching English part, not the China part. He arrived in Beijing right after graduation from Yale and had a crash course in Chinese and teaching. Then he left for Changsha.

I imagine that must have been quite a shock! Beijing may be a pretty cosmopolitan capital and a good transitional stage from the U.S. to China, but Changsha certainly is not. Changsha, located in the southern heartland, is a bustling, colorful city that certainly makes no apologies for being Chinese down to the core (after all, Mao Zedong did grow up here!).

The teaching fellows live on campus in a separate building from the other teachers. I was interested in the dynamics between the foreign teachers and the Chinese teachers, because, for one, there is an age difference, and the Chinese put a lot of emphasis on respect for elders. Apparently the two groups do not have too much interaction but the foreign teachers do instruct the Chinese teachers in English on a weekly basis.


So I'm really excited because my cousin in Changsha got into Yali! Chinese students need to take examinations to see which high schools they can place into. Apparently you basically need all A's on six exams to get into Yali. Yali was her first choice and she is really excited! Her parents would rather her to go a nearby high school so she doesn't have to live away from home, but her heart is set on Yali, because 1) there are many extracurriculars, and 2) apparently the guys there are very cute. Oh, that would be on the mind of a 15-year-old girl.

Monday, August 9, 2010


As you probably know, there is something called Chinglish. This is when someone tries to translate a Chinese phrase or word into English and for some reason, whether it's just a typo or too literal of a translation, the end result is grammatically incorrect and sometimes just plain funny.

Sometimes I wonder, how can it be possible that someone has spent all that money on a sign for their store and has somehow turned something as common as "fruit" into "fult?" Isn't it easy to check a dictionary or ask someone? But then I realize how many mistakes there would be if for some reason we had to translate a lot of the English here into Chinese.

Anyways, I'm still glad for Chinglish - it really amuses me! Sometimes the phrase just sounds awkward, though it may not be incorrect, such as below. This was found at the World Expo in Shanghai. I think it's telling you not to cut in the lines.

Here are some other ones in which the meaning is slightly obscured by the awkward placement of words.

This next one was found in one of those pamphlets in the hotel room describing all the amenities. It was actually a five-star international hotel. Wow, they do actually think of everything...

This was the evening CCTV news. CCTV is the state-controlled media in China. I was surprised they don't have better editing.

National parks always have interesting signs...

This next sign, which says "Do not touch me, do not kiss me," is actually translated perfectly. I think it's great that the tree is standing up for itself and wants you to respect its comfort zone!

I'm not sure how they were trying to translate this next sign, found at the Southern Great Wall. It's meaning in Chinese is "Do not enter," but I have no idea how they translated that into this garble.

This next one takes a bit more concentration to find. It was located at the entrance of a fast food court. Do you see it?

"Entrance" was translated as "Import." Not in this photo was the exit, which was labeled "Export." I guess this place is a human-feeding factory, where you import hungry beings and hopefully export satisfied ones.

Oh Chinglish, you will never fail to amuse me.