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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Imitators Show There is Room to Grow in China for McDonald's and KFC

In an earlier post, I discussed McDonald's localized offerings in China and shared an example of how it was providing a positive impression of the U.S. to some Chinese. Kenneth Chan, McDonald's China CEO, in a recent interview on Fortune pointed out that not only is McDonald's localizing its products and services for China as a whole but also for specific segments of Chinese consumers:
We are reinventing ourselves to adapt to the changing constituency. By the end of 2013, about 80% of our restaurants will undergo reimaging. The design will vary by areas. In business districts with many young professionals, we have kiosks for coffee and pastries. In areas with young families, we reserve places for kids to play or host parties. We also offer customer-friendly amenities like free Wi-Fi and McCafes. We want to stay relevant to the younger population and make them stay longer.
He also discussed his plans for growth:
Opening new restaurants is another top priority. In addition to opening our own restaurants, we have stepped up our franchise programs. After all, McDonald's is a franchise company. At present, 80% of McDonald's worldwide are owned by franchisees; in China, only 36 restaurants were franchised by 2011. We are working hard on this.

In addition to the conventional franchise model in mature markets like the U.S., we also implement what we call a "developmental licensee" model. In certain provinces where we don't have the capacity to reach out for many years, we are looking for licensee partners who have strong financial backgrounds and strong business experience. China had seven conventional licensees and two developmental licensees as of 2011. It's still a very low percentage and over a very short time that will change. The pace of franchising in China depends largely on finding the right partners.
Chan's comments suggest that there remain challenges for McDonald's to grow in China, even if they know of additional markets where their restaurants would be welcomed by Chinese consumers. There are many reasons to believe additional demand exists in China for McDonald's and KFC, who has a larger presence and is also localizing in China. In fact, I believe I have seen relevant evidence during my explorations of China's different regions.

For example, I saw the following restaurant at a pit stop between Guangzhou and Wuzhou, Guangxi:

McDonald's lookalike store in China with an upside down McDonald's logo

Wichael Alone's mascot in China

I am not sure what to call this restaurant since there are both "Wichael Alone" and "Michael Alone" signs. Regardless, I think it is fair to say that McDonald's served as an inspiration.

More often, I have seen stores that are very similar to KFC -- whether in Southeast China in Shanwei, Guangdong province:

CBC restaurant in Shanwei, China

Northeast China in Dunhua, Jilin province:

CBC restaurant in Dunhua, Jilin

Or Southwest China in Chongzuo, Guangxi:

KMC in Chongzuo, China

The KMC is my current favorite. Like the CBCs and other KFC-lookalikes its menu appeared to be nearly identical to a KFC menu. But the KMC went the extra distance to bring a KFC-like experience:

words saying it's finger lickin' good Inside of KMC restaurant in Chongzuo

As I pondered KFC's "it's finger lickin' good" slogan on the wall of the restaurant I sipped at a Pepsi. I then began to wonder if the Pepsi was real. The Pepsi sat untouched after that.

Although I cannot say whether such restaurants run afoul of any laws, I find it notable that wherever I see a (what appears to be) genuine KFC or McDonald's I rarely see an obvious imitator nearby. For example, at the time of my visits I did not see a KFC anywhere in Shanwei, Dunhua, or Chongzuo. Given that pattern, I suspect it is only a matter of time before KFC or McDonald's enter such markets and push out any imitators who have kindly shown that a demand exists. Even if legal action is not an option, there is good reason to believe that Chinese consumers will want an authentic experience, especially since there does not appear to be a significant difference in price (if any). Apparently, KFC agrees that authenticity will matter:

sign inside KFC saying RELAXED, FRIENDLY, AUTHENTIC
Sign inside a real Chinese KFC in Yinchuan, Ningxia

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shopping Area in Zhuhai's Gongbei District

In making a much appreciated mention of this blog, James Fallows shared a photo of mine from Zhuhai, Guangdong province. In earlier posts here, Zhuhai provided the setting for a variety of topics such as the restrictions mainland Chinese face due to China's internal borders, volunteer efforts in China to increase HIV and AIDS awareness, a now semi-famous Android Store that I found after a random bus trip, scenes from Bailian Dong Park & Jingshan Park, and the threat posed to the U.S. by "Tiger Moms" in China.

Those posts include a variety of photos, but in the spirit of showing more "real China" scenes from Zhuhai I will share some photos I took several months ago in a shopping district in Zhuhai's Gongbei district. They are all from the public areas that can be found outside a number of stores and provide a contrast to a shopping area in Nanping, Zhuhai.

In a later post, I will discuss some of my philosophy in taking photographs and how the photographs have aided my research efforts not only in better understanding China but also guiding the design of new & improved technologies.

busy sidewalk in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Busy sidewalk

popcorn street vendor in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Popcorn for sale

kid on leash with open pants in Zhuhai, Guangdong
The open-air pants are common for children in China.

street vendor in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Street vendor on the move to avoid a potential fine

playing Xiangqi in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Playing Xiangqi, otherwise know as Chinese Chess

balloons for sale in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Balloons for sale

rides for children in Zhuhai, Guangdong
A variety of rides

man selling turtles in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Turtles for sale

children rollerblading in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Rollerblading

shoe shiners in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Shoeshiners

Valentine's Day rose for sale in Zhuhai, Guangdong
Roses for sale on Valentine's Day

street vendors in Zhuhai, Guangdong
The street vendor found a safer location.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chinese Being Friendly to a Foreigner in China

The anti-foreigner comments made by Chinese television host Yang Rui and the support they received from others may leave some with an impression of China that would not be accurate. The issue is complex, though, and I hope to share some thoughts about it in a later post.

Before that, I want to briefly share several personal experiences. My point is simple. These experiences would be difficult to reconcile with a belief that all (or many) Chinese have strong negative feelings toward foreigners. To be clear, I would not claim that they occurred only because I am a foreigner. Nor would I claim that all foreigners would have had the same experience. Again, there are many complexities. Regardless, I think these experiences can say much.

What I will share occurred recently in Northwest China, but the experiences are similar to many others I have had elsewhere in China.

young couple in Yinchuan on a tree limb

The young couple above approached me at a park in Yinchuan, Ningxia wanting to take their photos with me. We had a pleasant chat, and they offered to take me out to dinner. Sadly, I had other plans and had to decline their friendly offer.


Another day in Yinchuan I had to find a restaurant open late at night. Fortunately I found one that had excellent food. Even more fortunate was that I met the above three men who invited me to join them after I had finished my meal. Despite being stuffed, they insisted I try some of the special dishes they had ordered (tasty indeed), and they bought me several beers. We had some great conversation about how the U.S. and China compare. They were also curious about my impressions of people's friendliness in various parts of China. They were proud to say that Yinchuan was one of the most friendly places one could find.

girl sitting on a rail and holding a bag of cake in Zhongwei, Ningxia

I saw the girl above with her bags of cake and asked her where I could buy some. She pointed to a nearby store that is popular in Zhongwei, Ningxia. I looked at the long line outside and she said it might take an hour since they regularly need to bake new batches of cake to meet the demand. I sighed and said maybe I would try another day. Before I knew it she handed me a piece of cake from her bag. Refusing it was not an option nor was paying her for it.

four kids in a cable car in Lanzhou, Gansu

I decided to take a cable car up to the top of a mountain in Lanzhou, Gansu. The kids above were very excited to join me in the car. The second girl from the right was particularly eager to tell me about Lanzhou. When we reached the top they introduced me to their families who were having a picnic. Their parents immediately asked that I join them.

two female college students at a park in Lanzhou, Gansu

An hour or so later I stumbled into these two college students who were happy to chat about a variety of topics. They were aware of the news about the poor behavior of some foreigners in Beijing. I asked them if it had affected their views of foreigners in general. Although I am well aware that being questioned by a foreigner could impact their response, their immediate and animated reply seemed telling. They thought the idea was preposterous because they had a very positive view of foreigners. Later, they joined me in walking around the park and visiting several temples.

Muslim student in Xining, Qinghai

During a semi-random walk in Xining, Qinghai I found this mosque and school that were reminiscent of what I saw last year in Zhaotong, Yunnan. Like before, the Muslim students were eager to meet with me and show me around. One of their teachers later insisted on personally guiding me through a shortcut in a construction site so I could more quickly reach a larger and more famous mosque in Xining.

three Tibetans in Xining, Qinghai

These three young Tibetans work at a restaurant/bar in Xining. I was hoping to try a special alcoholic drink in Qinghai--barley wine or qingke jiu (青稞酒). Unfortunately, the restaurant no longer made it and only had a much weaker canned version. Noticing my disappointment, the young man told me he would treat me to some of his father's homemade brew if I returned the next day. Of course I did, and he did not disappoint. He also treated me to several other special drinks. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable night.

At the very least, I hope these experiences show that my being a foreigner does not mean I need to fear Chinese people. If anything, being a foreigner has facilitated a number of positive experiences in China. There is more to say but I need to run. It is Friday night and I am already late. I was told I will be treated to another special drink tonight.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More on Chen Guangcheng and Yang Rui

I want to follow up my earlier post of links to pieces about Chen Guangcheng and Yang Rui with two more related links worth checking out.

1. In an earlier post I questioned some of the criticism of how U.S. officials handled the Chen Guangcheng case. An article by William Han in The Washington Post shares a taste of some of the challenges they faced. For example, at times U.S. officials could not even be sure of the identities of those present at negotiations:
The Americans were greeted at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 29, by familiar faces from the ministry — chief among them Cui Tiankai, a diplomat they had dealt with countless times. But on either side of the Chinese diplomats were two men who did not introduce themselves and were not introduced by others.

Not until days later, with an initial deal in sight, did the Americans learn that one of them was a representative of China’s Ministry of State Security — a powerful branch in charge of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations. The other, the Americans later surmised, was from an unidentified branch of China’s intelligence apparatus.
The article is also valuable in highlighting some of the positive aspects in how China handled the negotiations.

2. Chinese television host Yang Rui is certainly not the only person in China expressing concerns about foreigners in China. The Chinese news site SINA English has posted an entire page titled "Beijing Welcomes You -- Decent Foreigners". I am hesitant to guess the true intended purpose of the site. Maybe it was to influence foreigners. Or maybe they just wanted to convince "higher-ups" that they were doing their duty. I suspect the second case would have a better chance of success.

It includes links to a variety of articles. One provides advice to foreigners:
As it happens, whether or not you are a popular guest and can win the due respect from the host will all depends upon your behaviors, and whether or not you wholly alienate or even hostile to the host.

It is advisable to bear in mind: “Only good scouting is likely to preserve the respect and freedom so dear to the heart of the eternal Boy Scout.”
I fear my year or two of Cub Scouts might not be enough.

One of the more notable sections of the page is the poll question which seems representative of some other online polls I have seen in China:
Beijing started a three-month campaign on May 15 targeting foreigners illegally staying in the capital. Your say?
  • Support, as management is desirable.

  • Hard to say.
I am torn as to whether it is better or worse than the paradoxical text message I received from China Mobile last year. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fake Mold Sandwich Bag on Weibo Not a Sign of Chinese Creativity

In "Images—Chinese Creativity" on Tea Leaf Nation David Wertime wrote, "Weibo user Jason Peng (@赵鹏自媒体) has just posted two hilarious images of Chinese creativity." The second example particularly caught my attention:

photographs of a sandwich in a clear plastic bag with fake mold spots

Wertime suggested that this fake mold plastic bag could mean that "colleagues at the office will never pilfer your delicious lunch from the communal fridge". I would question, though, whether it would lose its effectiveness over time. Bringing moldy sandwiches regularly to work could raise the suspicions of others and cause them to investigate.

But what I most questioned when I saw the image was whether the plastic bag was truly a sign of Chinese creativity. If it was designed in China, I would be curious to learn what inspired or motivated the designer. Based on what I have seen in China, most Chinese do not bring homemade sandwiches to work or keep them in resealable plastic bags.

Although only a link to Jason Peng's Sina Weibo account was provided, I was able to track down his specific post. It makes a comment about the bag's potential use that is similar to Wertime's, but Peng makes no claims about the designer's nationality or ethnicity. Furthermore, Peng was not the first to post the image. He found it in a post by the Weibo user 微吃货 (Weichihuo). Although Weichihuo provides no links to other posts, the multiple Weibo stamps at the bottom of the image and the "DIY私房菜" logos suggest Weichihuo found the image elsewhere on Weibo. DIY私房菜 has her own Weibo account and her post of the image on Weibo appears to be Weichihuo's source (though it may not have been direct). DIY私房菜 posted the image earlier, the image only has a single Weibo stamp, and Weichihuo's comment is identical to DIY私房菜's comment.

DIY私房菜 also has no mention of the designer, and she provides no information in the post about her source for the image. To see if there was any reason other than the image being posted in China for Wertime to describe the plastic bag as a sign of "Chinese creativity", I decided to apply a complicated research method. After countless seconds of tireless work, I discovered several relevant articles from four years ago, such as one by Emily Dreyfus on CNET:
If only Jane had known about the Fake Mold Lunch Bags. Created by New York-based engineer and designer Sherwood Forlee, these bags are sure to gross out any lunch thief. Just place your delectable sandwich inside its clean yet deceptively filthy-looking plastic, and voila: the unstealable sandwich. Even the most stealthy lunch thief won't be desperate enough to eat a moldy sandwich (we hope).
I also discovered that Forlee's "Anti-Theft Lunch Bags" can be purchased here. The webpage includes images that appear to match those shared on Weibo. I was reasonably convinced that the plastic bag seen in the Weibo posts was Forlee's design.

However, since "New York-based" did not sound Chinese to me, I dug a little deeper and found more information about Sherwood Forlee:
Sherwood was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Zimbabwe, and attended university in the US. After graduating with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, he has worked as a product designer for various companies and consultancies.

Sherwood's main interests lie in searching for the simplest solutions to problems and creating novel and memorable experiences. He has created innovative designs for well-known companies as well as for his own personal brand, the. (www.thinkofthe.com). His works have garnered awards and extensive press attention.

Outside of design, Sherwood is passionate about food. He hopes to one day open his own bread and nut butter shop replete with a staff of well-trained squirrels to operate the grinding the machines.
I supposed Forlee being born in Hong Kong might allow the claim of "Chinese creativity". Clearly, additional innovative research was required: I sent a quick email to Forlee. He kindly replied, and I will share his answers to my questions.

As far as you know, were you the first to create a fake mold plastic sandwich bag?
I believe I was the first to come up with idea of fake moldy sandwich bags and apparently, also the first to have them made.
I see you were born in Hong Kong. Would you describe your creation as a sign of "Chinese creativity"? Would you feel it is accurate for others to do so?
I was born in HK, but only lived there for 1 year. I wouldn't consider my work a sign of "Chinese creativity" as any influence from China or HK is minimal and most likely naught.
Could you provide any updates on your squirrel training?
I am interested in opening up a nut butter shop where customers can mix and match various nut butters together to create their own specialty jar. Squirrels are incorrigible and thus, I have had to alter my plans a bit.
And thus, my research came to an end.

I believe Forlee's response resolves my question, and I cannot characterize his work as "Chinese creativity". Additionally, Forlee has shown that sometimes human-centered design is not sufficient for a successful product or service. Squirrel-centered design may be required as well.

I could now opine about how the above relates to a variety of issues such as the challenges in interpreting and discussing online posts to gain cultural insights, but instead I will recommend checking out Forlee's website at www.skforlee.com. It includes links to some of his other intriguing designs such as modular wine glasses, a maze waffle iron, a double ended jar, and a mirror plate which reminds me of some fascinating neuropsychology research (maybe a topic for another day).

In a later post, I will discuss a creative endeavor I witnessed in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. It highlights how labeling a new design or piece of art as "Chinese" can raise some deep issues, even when it is made by someone who is Chinese. In addition to Forlee's diverse background before living in America, these issues mean I am more likely to be thinking about "Forlee creativity" than "American creativity" whenever I see his work.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chen Guangcheng and Yang Rui

Due to some frequent travel and being away from the computer quite a bit, I have not been able to post as much as I would have liked during the past week. To get things rolling again, I would like to quickly highlight two stories deserving attention before moving onto other issues.

1. Chen Guangcheng has left China and is now safely in the U.S. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be true for some of his family members who remain in China, nor for other activists who remain there. Although there are positives to be found in Chen being allowed to leave China, his need to do so says much that is otherwise. Lawyer Liao Rui wrote:
A Chinese citizen must go to America to get a safe life. As a Chinese citizen, I am deeply sad for this country and myself.
2. Yang Rui, the host of a program on Chinese Central Television that typically includes at least one foreigner guest, recently posted online (as translated by Josh Chin on The Wall Street Journal):
The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in [student district] Wudaokou and [drinking district] Sanlitun. Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the U.S. and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, Korea and the West. We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing.
At the moment, I will refrain from providing context for the above and commentary. Instead, I recommend reading Brendan O'Kane's post on Rectified.name. It includes links to some of the other relevant posts worth reading and translations of additional comments by Yang that provide further insight into his mindset. It is not clear whether the discussion of Yang possibly being a "xenophobic racist" means O'Kane will now need to find a lawyer. After all, Yang recently said he is considering legal action against Charlie Custer due to "libel against a sincere and conscientious host who has been devoted to international cultural exchanges for 13 years". I suppose that means Melissa Chan can rest assured she has been called a "foreign bitch" in a sincere and conscientious manner.

I may provide some additional comments later. For now, I will just say that I hope Yang invites O'Kane and Custer onto his show for a frank and open discussion.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shapotou in Ningxia: A River, Sand Dunes, and more

I was lucky enough to spend most of my time yesterday in a tourist mode at Shapotou--an area where the Tengger Desert meets the Yellow River. It is a side of China I have not seen before, so I will take this opportunity for a light post about my experiences there.

The first thing I did was take a non-thrilling motorboat ride from the main entrance. I then faced a decision about how to ascend a steep hill of sand. For an additional fee one could take an escalator:

escalator at Shapotou in Ningxia

three young women working at the escalator at Shapotou in Ningxia
Plenty of staff at the escalator

Despite the friendly staff waiting to greet people, it seemed like a boring choice. So, I decided to attempt the climb by foot. After discovering that my brilliant idea to wear sandals was not so brilliant as the sand was rather hot, I settled on another method for ascending the hill:

chair lift at Shapotou in Ningxia

At the top, one could take in a view of the Yellow River:

Yellow River at Shapotou in Ningxia

From there, I exited the southern portion of the park, walked under a railroad, and then entered the northern section of the park where a variety of activities were available, some for free:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kids with Large Tools in Ningxia, China

A bus ride (not random) to another city and an eventful arrival means I have little time (and energy) for a post today. However, I will share two photos of kids in Zhongwei, Ningxia with large tools.

little boy holding a shovel in Zhongwei, Ningxia, China

The boy above was helping his father with construction work at a temple. I would have used quotes for "helping" but later I saw him bringing bricks to his father. I did not have the impression the father was truly making use of child labor, though. The boy appeared to just want to lend a hand. He showed some surprising strength when he decided it would be grand to throw the bricks instead of carry them. Fortunately, his father has quick reflexes.

little girl holding a large inflatable hammer in Zhongwei, Ningxia, China

The girl above had just finished her homework. Her mother and father have a restaurant on a food street. She had a lot of fun practicing her English with me and kept things entertaining during a good dinner. In case you are wondering, I did not feel the wrath of her inflatable hammer.

If you find a deep meaning in my experiences with the two kids please let me know. Otherwise, this is all for now.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lives Remembered

photos of deceased people at the Kun Ian Temple in Macau

Over a month ago I stood here in Macau's Kun Iam Temple transfixed by all the faces from the past. I wondered about their lives--so many different stories I would never know.

Later that same day, I came across a similar scene at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel.

final resting places, some with photos, at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel in Macau

And again I thought about all of the lives and wondered what could be learned to help answer the question "What is life?"

I then slowly walked around looking at a variety of gravestones--some with a mix of Eastern and Western styles. One gravestone especially caught my eye.

graves at the Cemetery of Saint Michael the Archangel in Macau

GEORGE V DO ROZARIO
BORN IN SHANGHAI 21-7-1914
DIED IN MACAU 2-8-1968

SON OF JOSE MIGUEL DO ROZARIO AND OF
IZA DO ROZARIO

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

REST IN PEACE
A man who was not ethnically Chinese, but China had been the place of his birth and death. I wondered what stories he could have told. What brought his family to Shanghai? Why and when did he leave? What brought him to Macau? What did he experience in China during a time when it underwent immense changes and challenges?

My inability to find any answers leads me to ponder the phrase "Gone but not forgotten". What does it mean to be remembered? Why would it matter? How long will the gravestone last?

These experiences and questions come to my mind now due to the recent death of someone I knew. A man who began his life in the U.S. but found his end in Shanghai, a place where he discovered much that he enjoyed. Just days ago we were discussing the great variety of people that can be found in China.

I know more about him than the man who died in Macau. Yet as is highlighted by what others are now sharing online in a new form of an old ritual, I am sure there remains so much more I could learn. I am also sure that two men who had different journeys have something in common. They both impacted me and others. And I know the resulting changes are a form of remembrance, no matter what happens to their stories.

flowers on the ground outside the Kun Ian Temple in Macau
Outside the Kun Iam Temple

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Feeding Pigeons in Yinchuan

Posting an ordinary photo of ordinary people feeding some ordinary pigeons in Yinchuan, Ningxia feels proper at the moment.

two children and an older woman feeding pigeons

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ambiguity and Assumptions About Reporting in China

The Chinese government recently denied a visa for foreign correspondent Melissa Chan thereby making it not possible for her to continue delivering eye-opening reports in China. Mark MacKinnon explained why it mattered, Evan Osnos argued it was a sign that "China is moving backwards", Isaac Stone Fish suggested Chan's ethnicity and nationality played a role, William Moss observed that the "Chinese government has never been comfortable with an adversarial media", and Patrick Chovanec provided a list of Chan's work while describing her visa refusal as "China’s version of the Pulitzer Prize".

Official reasons for the visa denial have been hard to obtain as seen in an excerpt from a daily briefing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Spokesman Hong Lei did not clarify the "relevant Chinese laws and regulations" other than to say in a "relevant" statement:
I think our policies and laws regarding foreign journalists is very clear. In your work and exchanges with us we have briefed you on relevant Chinese laws and regulations which is also the basis for your work in China. With regard to relevant issue I think relevant media and journalists are clear about that.
From the relevant information I have seen, relevant journalists would still like some relevant clarification about the relevant rules. I would say that is relevant.

In the apparent quest to explain the "relevant issue", Shan Renping on The Global Times wrote an article that has already received the attention of James Fallows and others. It has inspired me to share my own thoughts. Below, I will provide excerpts of the article followed by my questions and comments.
In the past 14 years, there has been a lot of friction between China and other countries.
Yes, I look back wistfully to those frictionless days before 1998.
... Chinese officials acknowledge that it only makes things worse for a country's image if they take a confrontational position with foreign journalists.
What piece would be complete without ironic foreshadowing?
China didn't give a specific reason for expelling the reporter. This ambiguity cannot be criticized.
Pure gold. I suppose it stands to follow that the article itself cannot be criticized. Therefore, what I am writing here could not be criticism. Excellent, I would not want to upset anyone.
According to foreign journalist sources here in Beijing, Melissa Chan holds an aggressive political stance.
Which is...?
According to foreign reports, she has a tense relationship with the management authorities of foreign correspondents. She has produced some programs which are intolerable for China.
Which are...?

Oh, I see. Being ambiguous to justify someone else's ambiguity is unambiguously effective.
Interfering with foreign media's reporting is a retrograde act, and it is simply impossible to do.
After interfering has been described as "impossible to do", it will now be argued why an act of interference was justified.
However, foreign journalists in China must abide by journalistic ethics. They have their values and reporting angles, but the bottom line is that they should not turn facts upside down.
Like this: "˙sɹǝʇɹodǝɹ uƃıǝɹoɟ ɥʇıʍ sǝɹǝɟɹǝʇuı ʇuǝɯuɹǝʌoƃ ǝsǝuıɥɔ ǝɥʇ"? Or should I flip the text instead of rotating it? The ambiguity in the suggestion leaves me uncertain.
The scale of opinion expressed in the media, especially the Internet, has greatly expanded these last few years. The Chinese government's ability to accept criticism is greater than ever.
A clarification of "accept" would sure be interesting.
We don't want to see any confrontations between the Chinese government and foreign journalists here in China.
Not sure I agree. It depends on what is meant by "confrontations". But I would agree that an absence of hostile intent would be good.
Local authorities are more willing to cooperate with them, while foreign media should take an objective and balanced view toward the country.
I wonder what "less willing to cooperate" would look like for the local authorities in Linyi.
Foreign media should reflect on China's complexity, which is well-known to almost all foreigners in China. However, some media are only keen to show the wickedness of China to the world.
So a concern that foreigners will view China as "wicked" leads to an action that likely only increases any perception of "wickedness". This would not be the first time that a desire to avoid humiliation in foreign eyes has backfired in China.
According to some Chinese people who work or used to work in foreign media bureaus, it is common practice for some foreign journalists to just piece together materials based on their presuppositions when reporting on China.
Of course, The Global Times has high standards about piecing together materials. After all, I could never imagine someone saying, "they selected quotes from an interview, grossly modified my words on a key point, then made it look like my article". Oh, someone did. Well, at least The Global Times apologized after they were caught.
If a foreign reporter cannot stay in China, we can only assume that he or she has done something cross the line.
Which is...? Oh yes, ambiguity + assumptions = inarguable fact.

I have nothing more to say other than that I hope the conditions in China for foreign correspondents and Chinese journalists will improve. Among the numerous benefits of a free press will be more respect for China in the eyes of the rest of the world. This will in turn ensure more awareness of the many positive sides of China. But at the moment, even this example would be a less foolish display of interfering with people who want to report the truth--good or bad.



Added note: See Melissa Chan's new article "Goodbye to China, country of contradictions".

Added note 2: Removed a few superfluous sentences for clarity.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Musical Experience in Beijing: Menuhin, Wieniawski, and Lee

Last month Beijing had the honor of hosting the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. The competition describes itself as "the world's leading international competition for young violinists" and includes two age groups: "Juniors" who are under the age of 16 and "Seniors" who are 16 to 21 years old. Americans won first prize in both groups and had three prize winners in total. South Korea also had three prize winners and China had two.

I did not become aware of the competition until a friend who was a conservatory classmate of mine and is now a professional musician positively commented on a video recording of a performance. Especially since this friend rarely shares recordings, I was rather curious. It only took a few notes by the junior group 2nd prize winner for me to be captivated. The performance is not just technically impressive, but surprisingly musical for one so young. I am sure a lot of practice was involved, but you cannot play like that without an excellent ear and a lot of spirit. I could go on, but performances are better listened to than described.

Below is Soo-Been Lee from South Korea ripping up Wieniawski's "Variations on an Original Theme in A Major" like I never imagined possible for an 11 year old. I recommend listening even if you do not care about the performers young age:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fake Stuffed Toys Influencing Technology Usage in China

During my several trips to Guangzhou in Guangdong province I have visited a number of large buildings full of small wholesale stores. The immense variety of what is sold makes it easy to believe that many of the world's products are manufactured in Guangzhou and other nearby cities. Such stores offer an opportunity to gain knowledge relevant to the design of various technologies. To provide a small taste of what I have found I will share an example of a single store. It highlights some important issues and at the end of the post I will allude to an intriguing question it raises about lands far from China.

The store's owner, who I will give the fictitious name "Jia", sells stuffed toys and other stuffed products based on animated characters. Her customers sell the items they buy in bulk to retailers or sometimes directly to consumers. Jia has an advantage running her business due to a close connection with the factory where the items are manufactured--her long-term boyfriend is a manager there.

There is an Internet-connected computer in the store that plays a critical role in taking orders from the customers, but not in the way one might first guess. Although some of Jia's customers may sell their merchandise online using services such as Taobao, Jia's store has no formal online presence itself.

person on the phone and sitting at a computer in a small wholesale store in Guangzhou, Guangdong
Jia takes a call from a customer.

Some of the reasons why Jia has a computer yet no online store became clearer to me after I asked Jia, "Are your products genuine?"*

She replied, "Kind of."

One may think that whether something is genuine or not is a simple yes or no proposition. But fake products in China have a wide range of quality. Jia's "kind of" reply reflects that although her products are not genuine, she believes they are equal in quality and practically indistinguishable from genuine products.

stuffed toys of Japanese cartoon characters in a wholesale store in Guangzhou, Guangdong
The stuffed products include many Japanese animated characters found in video games, television or movies.

What Jia sells is significantly cheaper than genuine products yet more expensive than lower quality fakes. Furthermore, her customers are fully aware they are not buying genuine products. To be sure they are getting their money's worth and a product meeting their needs, they desire to visit the store to examine the products firsthand. While in the store, many customers photograph whatever they may buy. Later, they can send their photos to ensure the accuracy of any orders which they may place via email, instant messaging, or telephone.

There are other factors at play, but this example provides a window into how fake products can influence a business's and its customers' use of technology. Had Jia been selling genuine products or low quality fakes the situation may have been different. As it stands though, Jia's customers are motivated to visit the store, take photographs, and later send them via the Internet. And Jia is motivated to use a computer to communicate with customers but is far less motivated to set up a formal online presence for her store.

Understanding not just how people use technology but the deeper reasons for why they use it the way they do is critical to designing useful and desirable technologies. Although Jia's business is just a single example, it can provide inspiration for new ideas that would not have been conceived otherwise. By combining it with other examples or with findings from different forms of research, compelling evidence may be found of needs impacting a great number of people--both in China and elsewhere.

Research such as this never fails to fascinate me. As I have mentioned before, sometimes such research is conducted to answer specific questions, but it is also valuable for discovering important new questions. In fact, I left Jia's store with a new question that pertains to issues beyond just technology. After all, Jia was not always sure (or willing to say) what happens to her fake stuffed toys after she sells them--especially those she delivers to her good customers in Australia and the U.S.



*Yes, this is a leading question**. I had reasons to believe it was appropriate for my purposes (especially since I wanted to know whether Jia would be forthcoming in answering such a direct question). I believe some of its value in this case is indicated by Jia's atypical response.

**A "leading question" is a question that is asked in a manner that may bias the reply. Especially in research, avoiding their use can be very important, though they can have value at times if used appropriately. I hope to more fully discuss this issue in a later post someday.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Unlike a Chinese Engineer I was not Questioned For Photographing a Stopped Vehicle

James Fallows recently wrote about a Chinese-citizen engineer who during a work trip to the U.S. took a picture of a bus stopped on a road. If you have not already, please read the post "Annals of the Security State: China vs. America Department" before continuing further. It explains why the photograph was taken and what the ensuing events say about America's "security consciousness". It also sets the stage for what follows here.

The post by Fallows resonated with me for two general reasons.

One, I had a quick reaction to the photo taken by the Chinese engineer. Although many Americans may be puzzled as to why someone would feel compelled to take such a photo, after more than 5 years in China the reasons seemed obvious to me. In fact, they are similar to the reasons why one day in Macau, China I took this photo:

truck stopped to let an older woman cross a street in Macau

It shows a man who had very suddenly stopped his truck to allow a woman to cross the street even though he could have zoomed by without likely hitting her or have honked his horn to dissuade her from crossing. That the truck driver did not chose one of the latter options greatly surprised me since they would be typical in many places elsewhere in China. Yes, it appears there may be a traffic signal which I did not notice at the time. The point remains that prior to living in China, what I perceived at this crosswalk would not have surprised me or caught my attention. And like looking at the photo shared by Fallows, it felt surreal to find unusualness in something that was once so ordinary.

The second reason the post resonated with me is that like the Chinese-engineer I too have been questioned by police after taking some photos in all innocence. I will share that story another time, but it lead to the eye-opening discussion described in the post I wrote last year: "Detained in China: My Chance to Hear a Policeman's Views on Revolution and More". But I do want to say one thing about it now. Even after that experience in China, I can still believe I face fewer potential problems as an obvious foreigner in China taking the types of photos that I do than I would if I were in the U.S. and "looked suspiciously like a foreigner". Even in my current incarnation I wonder if I would have more problems in the U.S. Like Fallows, I am concerned about the "photograph-pathology that has emerged in the United States".

I can appreciate why the Chinese engineer was so fascinated by the scene at the stopped school bus. And although I think some aspects of driving behavior in China may not be best described as disorderly but instead as having a different type of order from what can be observed in the U.S., I am glad the truck driver seen above stopped for the older woman. And I am also glad he did not feel the need to call the police even though he may have been baffled by my choice of scenes to photograph.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bo Xilai's Image and Police Platforms in Chongqing

Although the case of Chongqing's former party chief Bo Xilai has been overshadowed in Western media by recents events surrounding Chen Guangcheng, it remains an important issue in China. Xujun Eberlein, a writer who grew up in Chongqing, in a recent post discusses the views of a group of people who were impacted by many of Bo Xilai's actions--Chongqing's residents. She also describes how their various perspectives have lead to different interpretations of recent events. For example:
Bo’s supporters and dissenters all believe their side is in the majority, and each side uses very different logic when interpreting the charges against Bo and his wife. Four out of five taxi drivers I spoke to, for example, said they didn’t believe that Gu Kailai had murdered Neil Heywood or that Bo was corrupt and hiding money overseas. “Think about it,” one driver said in a teaching tone. “Gu Kailai is a very smart lawyer, wouldn’t she know the consequences of murder? Bo Xilai’s interest is in politics, would he care about a few bucks? It is just that simple!” Their interpretation is that all the charges are made-up excuses to bring Bo down because Bo is more capable than Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Xi Jinping. The dissenters, on the other hand, believe Bo is completely capable of murder because he has no regard for the life of someone standing in his way. Curiously, regardless of their stance on the Bo affair, most of those I spoke to suspected that Wang Lijun’s entry into the US consulate was part of a plot to bring Bo down.
I would be interested to learn more about why there was general agreement about the purpose of Wang Lijun's visit to the U.S. consulate. I wonder whether Bo's supporters and dissenters shared similar motivations for their belief.

But there are always more questions to ask, and Eberlein presents a far more nuanced account than most others. In addition to adding important context to the Bo case, the post provides a hint of the challenges in answering "What do Chinese people think?" or even "What do Chongqing people think?". I find Eberlein's account fascinating and have nothing more to say at the moment other than to recommend reading the full post which can be found here.

However, I do have something to say regarding one of the "leftovers" from the Bo era which Eberlein describes in another post. During a recent trip to Chongqing she noticed some well-equipped police platforms:
Each of these modern-equipped platforms cost 5 million Yuan, according to sources. And there is one at every big intersection in the city. To Bo Xilai's supporters, this is what makes them feel safer. Bo's dissenters, however, say this unnecessarily high-expense contributes to the city's huge fiscal deficit. A local journalist said that, in the summer, the platform's air conditioning runs fully 24 hours a day in the open air. Chongqing is notoriously hot. "Think how much electricity it wastes!" He said.

The disgrace of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun makes the police platforms a difficult issue to deal with: Get rid of them? People who are used to them will protest. Keep them? maintenance cost is very high.
I am wary of providing suggestions for Chongqing's government, but in this case I have a "creative" idea to share that I have not yet seen anyone else suggest: Chongqing should partner with Coca-Cola. Last year in Kunming, Yunnan province I discovered that the police not only had a far less expensive version of Chongqing's police platforms, but they had appeared to have even found a sponsor for them. From my post "Coca-Cola and the Chinese Police", here is one of the police tents I saw in Kunming:

Coca-Cola sponsored police tent in Kunming, Yunnan

Coca-Cola may be more than happy to form a similar partnership in Chongqing. And if free cold drinks were provided like at a Coca-Cola tent I visited in Shanghai, people may be more accepting of shutting down the wasteful air conditioners. Between the money brought in through the sponsorship and the reduced costs on air conditioning (keeping the drinks chilled would surely cost less), the worries about adding to the city's deficit would be eliminated.

Though, I do see a potential problem--the color of Coca-Cola's brand. I doubt Chongqing needs any more "red culture" at the moment. Maybe Coca-Cola could promote Sprite instead.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Has the U.S. Government Been Naive in the Chen Guangcheng Case?

Since my previous post, the Chen Guangcheng case had continued to develop. Most importantly, he has communicated to numerous people including reporters Louisa Lim, Melinda Liu, Steven Jiang and others that he now wants to leave China and is seeking U.S. assistance.

One of the issues concerning me is that some have questioned why the U.S. would believe China would keep its side to the agreement made with Chen. For example, Charlie Custer, editor of ChinaGeeks, tweeted:
Regardless of how this ends, needs to be a serious discussion in US State Dept of why the hell they would believe CN assurances on CGC.
And with some additional qualifications (which are of course more difficult to capture in a tweet) Peter Foster for The Telegraph wrote:
...it is hard to know whether the US State Department was being naive or cynical by accepting assurances that Chen would be allowed to settle down in peace with his family and study law unmolested...

However, some of the language coming from the US State Department suggested they really believed they had a "deal" that would enable Chen to remain in China. If so, they must have taken leave of their senses, and to listen to senior State Department officials involved in negotiations, perhaps they had.
Although it remains possible a major blunder has been made, I am not at all convinced the U.S. has acted unwisely or been duped. I will focus on two of the reasons I feel this way.

One, there is reason for the U.S. to give China the benefit of the doubt publicly and in the recent negotiations, whatever officials may think privately. Especially with China's role in the world so quickly changing and China seeking to increase its influence, it could be an especially opportune time for the U.S. to provide China the chance in a unique case to show it can be trusted in such a situation. If China does break the agreement then the U.S. has reasons for other approaches in the future. But if the U.S. had fully applied a belief that it must openly question China's intentions or insist on stronger oversight measures not only may have China responded in a less preferable manner in Chen's case, but an opportunity for important future gains may have been lost.

In addition to the stakes for the relationship between the U.S. and China, there is a second issue in considering whether the U.S. should be seen as foolish. Even if the U.S. had significant questions about the agreement, the decision to leave the embassy was ultimately Chen's, and there are reasons to believe he was willing to accept a less than perfect offer. At the time, Chen expressed a strong desire to stay in China and very much wanted to be reunited with his family. Also, Chen has said that he felt unfairly pressured. China's statement that they would return his wife to Shandong province if he did not leave the embassy could be perceived as a veiled threat to harm her. On the side... some have criticized U.S. officials for their refusal to characterize this as a threat, but their decision seems reasonable. If the U.S. publicly stated otherwise it would likely only anger China and create the potential that Chen would face increased difficulties. Once Chen was in China's hands, the U.S. needed to do everything possible to put the best face on matters to improve the chances for a positive resolution.

Certainly, as time passes more will be learned to better judge recent actions. But at this point, I believe some of the reasons the U.S. has been criticized could be indicative of prudent actions. Actions taken to best facilitate Chen Guangcheng's own choice in a difficult situation and to provide the best chance for improving broader conditions in the future.


Added note: As I am about to publish I see that James Fallows has recently also questioned whether it can be assumed U.S. officials have made significant mistakes. I have only skimmed his post at this point, but it appears to raise other issues, including that the U.S. had "an incredibly weak hand". I will read it and the cited material more closely. My only comment at this point is that I am encouraged to see others are urging caution in judging recent U.S. actions. You can find the post by Fallows here: More on Chen Guangcheng: The Limits of Outside Power.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Labor Day in Yinchuan, China

The status of Chen Guangcheng remains unclear at the moment. It feels somewhat surreal, but I will continue with this post of photos.

The Labor Day holiday in China occurred on May 1. A day off for many, it is also a heavier day of work for others as many people shop, eat out, relax at a park, and so on. Here is a photo of Nanmen Square that provides a hint of the large number of people who were out and about (or working) in Yinchuan, Ningxia that day:

Nanmen Square in Yinchuan China

The difference in the crowd size is obvious in comparison to an earlier photo of Nanmen Square. Beginning with a photo of the drum tower that provided the above scene, here are some other photos showing some close up scenes in Nanmen Square:

drum tower at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

three men sitting at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

two boys at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

several people standing and talking at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

selling toys and other items for kids at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

woman sitting at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

Busy sidewalk at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

little kid urinating on Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

older women at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

family sitting and squatting at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

police truck at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

many people drinking under tents at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China

man handing a canned drink to a little girl at Nanmen Square in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China