Monday, May 30, 2011

China Scenes: Neijiang, Sichuan

Been a while since I've done a "scenes" post so here we go...

Neijiang is a city is southern Sichuan province that's definitely off the path for most, foreigners or Chinese.  I've already featured it in my post about cats in Sichuan and it will later appear in a post about rabbits -- though with a different twist.  The city it at an intersection of highways connecting the much larger cities of Chengdu, Chongqing, and Kunming which is what brought me there.

Although the city definitely had its charms, one thing I particularly recall is that I had a faster than normal connection to the Internet and fewer challenges using my VPN to get through China's Great Firewall.  I have no idea if it was related to my hotel, the city, or something else but it was a welcomed change of pace.  Thanks, Neijiang.


Vegetable market

At Shengshui Temple

Tuo River


Zongzi (glutinous rice with other goodies wrapped in leaves) for sale

Crossing the bridge

Working at a large market (she requested to have her photo taken)

Selection of items available at one the street-side restaurants that setup at night

An ordinary alley

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mobile Phones in China: A Main Gateway to the Internet

In a recent post I wrote about the immense variety of mobile phones available in China and shared some examples of the selection that can be found in stores in Zhaotong, Yunnan.

Here are some mobiles phones actually being used by one college couple in Zhaotong:

Nokia and Sunlight Mobile Phones

One had a Nokia and the other had a Sunlight, one of the many Chinese brands of mobile phones.

What most caught my attention about this couple wasn't their choice of mobile phones but how they used them.  Despite neither of them having advanced phones by today's standards, they primarily accessed the Internet through their phones.

College Dormitory Room
Going to an internet cafe was seen as an unnecessary expense and inconvenience.  Purchasing a computer was definitely out of the question, neither of their families could afford one.  Even if there had been money available they would have faced the problems that there was no wired Internet access in their college dormitory rooms and that electricity wasn't available at all times.

Instead, both students took advantage of what they considered to be a cheap plan that enabled them to regularly access the Internet from their phones.

If you want to guess the one piece of technology owned by any college student in China, a mobile phone is a safe choice.  It was clear the couple used their phones to access the Internet not mainly because they were mobile phones but instead because the phones were a relatively cheap piece of technology which fulfilled a variety of other needs as well (such as phone calls and text messaging).

Especially in China, "mobile" isn't always about mobility.

It was also fascinating to see how they used their mobile phones for a variety of purposes, whether it was browsing news sites or interacting on social networking sites.  They were not inhibited to complete what could be considered complex tasks due to using relatively basic mobile devices.

These two students certainly aren't alone in China in how they use their phones.  I've observed that for many Chinese a mobile phone is their primary gateway to the Internet.  Surveys conducted by The Nielsen Company during the past year have found similar results:
"For many people in China, the mobile Web is the only one they need. When they think of the World Wide Web, they don’t think of tethering themselves to a desktop PC and the accessories of mice, keyboards, mouse pads, printers and monitors.  Not only don’t many homes in China have (or need) landlines for voice communications, they also don’t require hardwired Internet access for their fix of the Web.  And with mobile phones, everything they needs is in the palm of their hands.

In a short amount of time, mobile consumers in China have surpassed their American counterparts when it comes to using the devices to access the Internet (38% of Chinese mobile subscribers compared to 27% of American mobile subscribers), despite less advanced networks."
Furthermore, Nielsen'a research shows that mobile internet use in China is particularly pronounced in youth:
"Youth in China and the US lead the way among young mobile subscribers who use advanced data. Eighty-four percent of Chinese youth use their phones beyond voice and text compared to 47 percent of Chinese adults. Eighty-three percent of US youth use advanced data, 32 percent higher than US adults.

At 70 percent, young Chinese advanced data users have a significantly higher mobile internet usage rate than the rest of the world."
graphing indicating Chinese youth use the mobile internet more than American youth

The ramifications of all the above for companies with online services is readily apparent.  If they desire to reach a broad range of Chinese youth it could be critical for the design of the services to take into account that for many youth a mobile phone will be the typical device used to access the Internet, even when mobility is not a primary concern and the phone is relatively limited.

From a research perspective, this is why at times I don't want to be always using the latest and greatest mobile phone, even though I work in the technology industry.  It helps me better appreciate the experiences of many of the consumers I'm trying to understand and reach.

A Variety of Reptiles & Amphibians for Sale

I've reposted my piece "Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options" that was lost during Blogger's recent incident.  It discusses the variety of mobile phones available in China.

To celebrate this historic occasion I'll share another example of the wide selection of items available for sale in China.  This particular assortment seen in Neijiang, Sichuan isn't so typical, but that's part of its appeal to some people:

selection of dead turtles, snakes, frogs, and alligators for sale
Any requests?

And now things are hopefully back to "normal".

Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options

[Note:  Originally posted on May 12, 2011.  I have reposted because the original piece was removed by Blogger in response to an incident around May 13, 2011 and has since not reappeared.  Thanks again to readers who wrote in to say that a saved copy of the post could be retrieved from some RSS readers.]

A previous post covered the topics of local rates, fashion, and fakes for mobile phones in China. Like before, what I'll share in this post is intended to be a high level overview, this time about the variety of mobile phones available in China.

In the "tier 1" cities such as Shanghai many stores selling mobile phones, especially in downtown areas, will have a selection that includes most of the major globally dominant brands. However, in many other cities the typical selection of mobile phones noticeably changes. While Western brands may still be available, there will often be a larger number of Chinese brands.

To provide a small taste of the options in a non-major Chinese city, I'll share some photos (all taken with permission) from two different stores in Zhaotong, Yunnan -- as regular readers of this blog will likely know by now a city in a very rural area of Southwest China.

Here are just some of the phones being sold in one of Zhaotong's larger department stores:

And here is a small part of the selection in one of the many small mobile phone stores one can find in Zhaotong:

Some assorted points:
  • While there are some foreign brands sold in the department store such as Nokia and LG, there are a significant number of Chinese brands, including BBK, Gionee, Jugate, K-Touch, Oppo, Sunup, and more.
  • Some phones in both stores show obvious attempts to be visually appealing for Chinese tastes.
  • The Sunop phones with an apple on them arguably may be a trademark issue, but the overall design is not just simply copying Apple .
  • In the smaller store, trademark issues are more apparent -- especially in the names of phones such as Anycoll (Anycall, a Samsung brand sold in China), Nckla (Nokia), iPheon (iPhone), Mctcrcla (Motorola), and Cppc (Oppo, a Chinese brand). As you can see, this issue is not just limited to foreign brands.
There is much more one could comment on regarding the above photos. And these are just showing a sampling of the phones in two stores out of many in Zhaotong, yet alone in China. However, they're representative enough to make a key point: there is a great variety of mobile phones available in China. There are two reasons why this point is critical to understanding the mobile phone market in China that particularly interest me.

      1) Many consumers have a very wide range of mobiles phones to choose from.

This raises a host of fascinating issues to explore. For example, what impact, if any, does the greater variety have on how people choose their mobile phone in comparison to places with less variety?

      2) It indicates there is a lot of "experimentation" occurring in China.

It's easy to criticize the mobile phone industry in China for the immense about of amount copying that occurs. It's definitely an issue but don't be fooled. There is also a significant amount of design that could be considered creative or innovative. Some of the resulting products may prove to be significantly successful or provide inspiration for better designs -- not only for the Chinese market but others as well.

I'll explore the issues of creativity and innovation in China more in later posts. I don't think they're as clear cut as some portray them to be. For now I'll just close with a claim that may come as a surprise to those who are not very familiar with China: The diversity of mobile phones available in stores in "communist" China is greater, not less, than what can be found in the US.

I'd be very interested to hear you think about that.

[UPDATE:  Follow-up post with a reader's comments and more examples of mobile phones in China here:  Mobile Phones in China: More on Variety]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

WOW! A Cool Android Ad in China!

So, my efforts to get a response from Blogger about my still missing post (and insightful comment by a reader) have not been very successful.  I'll try one last approach...

Look at this photo I took today of a fascinating advertisement in Chengdu, Sichuan!!!

Ad for Sony Ericsson Android mobile phone
"My Android Loves To Sing" -- I bet it would really love to sing about my post returning!

Isn't the photo so cool that you want to forward this post to say... at least 300 people?!?  Then Google will say "Wow, such wonderful free online advertising for Android.  We gotta get that guy's missing post up pronto or let him know what's going on!"

Can't miss, eh?

Anyways, come Thursday afternoon China time I'll replace the missing post myself.  If I've gone nearly two weeks without my post reappearing and almost as long without any word from Blogger well... disappointing but life must move on.  I now need the post up as some future posts will build on it.

Plus, I'm getting tired of the "missing" theme.

Note to readers:  I suppose this may be a form of "selling out" (though I would be stunned if this actually had an effect and it's more about adding some humor to the situation).  If I ever did so I would note it (or be explicit about it like here).  I've never received (nor expected) any compensation (such as money or freebies) from any company (such as StarbucksDairy Queen or WiTopia) for posting about them.

Note to any Google folks who are readers:  I understand there may be little you can personally do about my predicament and it may be frustrating to read about it.  Having worked at Microsoft I am particularly used to being on the receiving end of a lot of "suggestions" and appreciate the complexities of both the technological & business aspects of situations such as this one.  Regardless, as a user experience researcher I also appreciate the value in hearing from one's users.  I am not bashful in expressing some of my own experiences/viewpoints partly in the hope they can be helpful in creating services/products that are more useful/usable/desirable and also more profitable.  Keep up what I suspect is most excellent work on your projects.  Glad to have you as readers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Moments of Insight: How Kids Learn Language

Fellow Johns Hopkins Cognitive Science grad department alumni (and friend) Tamara Nicol Medina just made the news for some really interesting research findings.  In short, kids learn language not by gradually honing in on correct word associations over time but through more focused moments of insight.

One of the more interesting aspects of the research is the logic the research team had for doubting what was assumed by many to be key for language learning:
The current, long-standing theory suggests that children learn their first words through a series of associations; they associate words they hear with multiple possible referents in their immediate environment. Over time, children can track both the words and elements of the environments they correspond to, eventually narrowing down what common element the word must be referring to."

This sounds very plausible until you see what the real world is like," Gleitman said. "It turns out it's probably impossible."


"The theory is appealing as a simple, brute force approach," Medina said. "I've even seen it make its way into in parenting books describing how kids learn their first words."A small set of psychologists and linguists, including members of the Penn team, have long argued that the sheer number of statistical comparisons necessary to learn words this way is simply beyond the capabilities of human memory. Even computational models designed to compute such statistics must implement shortcuts and do not guarantee optimal learning.

"This doesn't mean that we are bad at tracking statistical information in other realms, only that we do this kind of tracking in situations where there are a limited number of elements that we are associating with each other," Trueswell said. "The moment we have to map the words we hear onto the essentially infinite ways we conceive of things in the world, brute-force statistical tracking becomes infeasible. The probability distribution is just too large."
See the full article here.  If you're interested in how kids learn language, this is a must read.

The research conclusions themselves can be one of those "Aha!" moments that immediately sink in once you think about it.  The conclusions touch on several key issues including:

  • Losing information (memories) can sometimes be a very good thing.  As researcher Lila Gleitman said, "It's the failure of memory that's rescuing you from remaining wrong for the rest of your life."
  • The human mind has many strategies for working around limitations in acquiring, processing, and storing information.
  • Artificial Intelligence will be better able to mimic how the human mind works the more it takes into account the brain's limitations.

Later, I'll share some fascinating visual cognition research that has provided surprising insights into the limitations of human cognitive processing, even when we feel we are "fully" processing the world around us.

Cats with Wings in China

A recent post here shared a series of cat photos in Sichuan province (see here).  A reader has brought to my attention that it isn't the first time for cats in Sichuan to receive attention.

A couple of years ago there was a report of a cat in Sichuan that had sprouted wings.  Yes, cat wings.  You can find an article with photos of the winged cat here.  I now recall seeing this story when it first broke.  Later, there was a similar report out of nearby Chongqing (see here for photos of another winged cat).  For more general information on winged cats see here.

All I can say is I have yet to see any winged cats in Sichuan or anywhere else in China.  I'll let you know if I do, though.

For the time being, here's a photo of another Sichuan cat, this one outside a bookstore in Chengdu:

No wings on this cat

Update on Missing Post

Time for a a brief update on the still-missing post "Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options" (see here for previous update). I want to keep the topic fresh particularly for when people come to this blog's main page after seeing the "Page not found" message.

One sign of progress is that the combo-label with the curious number boxes on the "Posting - Edit Posts" panel (see here for description) has gone away.

I know as of this past weekend I was not the only person still missing a post.  I also saw on Twitter that some people were finding their posts replaced as late as the end of last week (at least that is when they found them, I'm not 100% sure when they actually reappeared). I will take it as a sign Blogger is still working on the issue.

I'm hoping for a general announcement from Blogger or a reply to any of my attempts (using a variety of methods) to report the issue. Even a "hey, we've lost it, sorry, how about we ship you a free box of cookies?" would be appreciated (note: those chocolate-mint girl scout cookies would be great -- can't get them in China).

Anyways, hopefully I can end my meta-posts soon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cats in Sichuan, China

[Post in memory of a friend's dear kitty]

While having a pet has become more popular in China, especially in more prosperous cities, in many parts of China having a cat as a pet doesn't seem to be as common as it is in the US.  And if people have a cat, it can solely for pragmatic reasons such as catching rodents.  So, if an American cat lover visited many homes in China they may feel like something was missing.

However, the cities of Zigong and Neijiang in Sichuan province seemed to differ from many other similar cities I've explored in China.  I noticed a curious number of people with cats as pets.

I'll share what I saw to document my observations for posterity (and provide entertainment for any readers who are cat lovers).  Here are a handful of the cats I saw in the two cities:

Working at the fruit shop

Guarding the trash can (owners are in a shop on other side of the sidewalk)

Mother keeping watch (somewhat) over the kittens

Hanging out on the roof

Outside the honey store

Another shop cat

The bra & panties cat

Restaurant cat

Fresh meat for dinner

Dog lovers, fear not, a "dogs in China" post is in the works.  Though, it will be a bit more... complex.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Macho Man RIP

My yet-to-be-returned post (and comment) saga continues.  However, other news helps keep it in perspective as I've learned that one of the more colorful figures in the 80's & 90's has also gone missing -- in this case with no chance of return.

Randy "Macho Man" Savage died in a car accident.  A famous "pro wrestler" in the US, the Macho Man certainly had his own flair.  This classic video sums it up quite well (H/T Kim Le who has an interesting blog about her expat life in South Korea):

The video is a particularly apt way to remember the Macho Man as his talents were more often exhibited in over-the-top drama/soap-opera than sport.

The main  reason I share this is that the video reminded me that no matter how "interesting" some of Chinese TV may be, I've seen nothing that can touch the likes of the Macho Man and his cohorts.  Apparently some Chinese agree.  It is not rare that while in a city unfamiliar to most people outside of China I will see the TV in a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant tuned into American pro-wrestling.

"And the beat goes on, yeah.  And the beat goes on..."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs in Zigong, China

Since the theme of this week here has been inspired by my yet to reappear post, it seems to be the perfect moment to share my experience regarding something that has been missing for a much longer time: dinosaurs.

About the same time I was starting to wonder about my missing post, there was an article by Tania Branigan of the Guardian about China's numerous dinosaur discoveries (see here).  She focuses on the discoveries and museum in Zhucheng, Shangdong province and highlights a few species that may not be known to those who aren't dino-experts.

Coincidentally, I happened to be in Zigong, Sichuan province -- very far away from Zhucheng.  It, too, is famous for the numerous fossils in the region and boasts its own museum aptly named the Zigong Dinosaur Museum (not to be confused with another famous museum in Zigong, the Historical Museum of the Salt Industry).  I took a taxi to the outskirts of Zigong to check it out.

On arrival one is faced with the uniquely designed building seen here:

entrance building somewhat in the shape of a dinosaur
I believe this building is supposed to look a bit like a dinosaur.
At least the building was air-conditioned.  One of the signs for the park claimed:
"Covering an area of 8.7 km2, the Dashanpu Dinosaur Fossil Site Scenic Area, which is a core protected area with the most abundant dinosaur fossils in the geopark has the largest burial site for watching on-spot protected dinosaur fossils in the world.  From the excavated area of 2,800 m2, more than ten thousand specimens belonging to over 200 dinosaurs and other vertebrates have been unearthed, and 23 genera and 27 species, including 12 new genera and 24 new species, have been identified.  This kind of the site with such abundant and completely preserved dinosaur fossil of the Middle Jurassic is rare in the world."
With that in mind I was very excited and upon entering the park a worker guided me in the proper direction.  One of the first things I saw was this:

several small models of dinosaurs that are in various states of decay or knocked over
The models look like they're about to become extinct, too.

OK.  Admittedly this was not what I was expecting.  There were many other similar scenes to be found that included even more decayed examples of miniature dinosaur replicas.  Oh well...  But onward I went to the main museum building which proved to better meet expectations.

It housed several very large fossils, including this trio:

These are 3 wonderful specimens of the Shunosaurus (type species Shunosaurus lii).  In front of the display was a sign which read in part:
"Warm family: Three family members of Shunosaurus lii are walking and feeding leisurely.  What a warm and romantic scene!"
While I appreciated the Shunosaurus fossils I must admit the romanticism wasn't what I first noticed.  Maybe I was being shunned.

Several of the other fossil displays were certainly not romantic and had a strikingly violent tilt to them.  For example:

larger dinosaur picking up much smaller one with its mouth
Dinner time

I question whether such a scene ever played out quite like this but I appreciate the drama it provided.  This one also had a bit of drama to it:

two dinosaurs attacking another
A bigger dinner

While the fossils such as the ones above were impressive and introduced me to several species I had not been previously aware of, what most impressed me was the very large partially excavated fossil pit enclosed in the museum:

large partially excavated fossil pit
Lots of fossils

several fossils in the fossil pit
Close-up view of one section of the fossil site

It was incredible to see so many fossils as they would be found during an excavation.  Both the density and variety were easy to notice.

The other sections of the park were closed for renovation.  Given the condition of the many dinosaur models outside this may be a positive sign and I am hopeful the future holds more promise for the park surrounding the main museum building.  Regardless, the museum in Zigong, like the one in Zhucheng, provides an important picture into a long ago age that captures the minds of so many today.  If one is around Zigong I recommend a quick trip to the museum -- the large fossil pit seals the deal.

And who knows, maybe you'll better appreciate the romance to be found there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Fallows was wrong"

As I'm still waiting for my missing post to reappear (or be told by Blogger it has gone to a more heavenly cloud than The Cloud), I think it's appropriate to do a post on something else that is missing (and of interest to me) in another case: data.

James Fallows includes at the end of a recent post a reference to his earlier claim about the impact of President Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate on the ridiculous debate over the President's place of birth:
"As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, I guessed that even the long-firm birth certificate wouldn't change the minds of many hard-core birthers. I am very glad that real-world results are different and that, on this issue at least, actual evidence seems to have had some effect."
However, a look at Andrew Sullivan's post on The Dish with its charming "Fallows was wrong" suggests to me that Fallows shouldn't give up on his claim just based on that post. [note: I'm not sure if Sullivan's post was the sole piece of information that swayed Fallows.  It doesn't matter for my following points.]  Sullivan shares the following poll:
Apparently, this shows that Obama revealing his long-form birth certificate made an impact in changing people's minds.  As suggested in some opinions of others later shared by Sullivan (see here) the source of the change may be more about the killing of Bin Laden than the release of the long-form birth certificate.  It would be difficult to tease those two possibilities apart given the events were only separated by days.

But even if one disregards the possible influence of Bin Laden's death, it would be easy to be unconvinced by the data above because:
  • It's just one poll.  It could be an outlier.
  • There is no indication that the differences between the two years are statistically significant.  
  • It is possible that opinions on the issue fluctuate greatly over short periods of time so the recent poll may not be an accurate stable measure.
  • It compares two time points one year apart.  
It's the last point that really jumps out at me.  It is possible some or all of the above change occurred prior to Obama's releasing his long-form certificate.  One year leaves plenty of time for opinion to change for a variety of reasons and makes it very difficult to pinpoint the cause of any change -- a lot happens in one year.  For example, possibly some simply grew to accept Obama as President because "time can heal" and they became less motivated to believe he was not born in the US.

Polls from multiple time points, especially including one from a "before" time point far more proximate to Obama's announcement, would help address the above issues.  Sure, no matter how close the before and after polls one could argue that there was another cause.  But if there was a sudden and unusual significant change (compared to previous changes in opinion over comparable periods of time) between the days or even weeks before the announcement and those afterward a more solid argument could be made it was the result of Obama releasing his long-form certificate.

I realize in this case the ideal set of polling data might be unavailable.  Regardless, even just finding a more proximate comparison point than 1 year ago would make a big difference.  It appears that Public Policy Polling has such data (a link to a PDF report is provided in the relevant post here).  PPP writes:
"In February we found that 51% of Republican primary voters thought Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Now with the release of his birth certificate only 34% of GOP partisans fall into that camp... "
Again, I'd like to see more data.  But at least this offers a more reasonable point of comparison.  On the side, while PPP's data adds evidence that there was a change of opinion as a result of Obama's announcement, 34% of Republican primary voters still thinking Obama was not born in the United States also suggests there remains a large number of people in a "post-factual world".

So, the release of the the long form birth certificate may indeed have changed some minds of those who were previously convinced Obama was born outside of the US.  However, the data shared by Sullivan in the referenced post doesn't answer the question, even if you disregard the possible impact of Bin Laden's death -- at least another serving of data from The Dish is needed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where are you?

I think he has the same question about my missing post as I do:

Chinese guy with shirt saying where are you, funny love
In Zigong, Sichuan Province

Though, I might stop short of the "funny love".

The Usability of Futility

I want one of these on my desk:

H/T Electronics Lab Blog

Still Waiting for Missing Post

My view while I waited for something else -- lunch in Zhaotong, Yunnan

As before, my post "Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options" has still not reappeared after it was taken down by Blogger as part of their response to a problem they were having with "data corruption".  In its most recent update on the incident Blogger wrote:
Update (5/15 10:55PM PST): Blogger should be back to normal for the vast majority of people affected by this issue -- if posts are still missing, please check your drafts (you may need to republish). We are in the process of restoring comments made during the affected period from 7:37am PDT on 5/11 to 1:30pm PDT on 5/12. If you still have other issues, please contact us via the temporary form we’ve set up for this particular issue. Thanks again for bearing with us, we’re deeply sorry for the inconvenience we caused. We’ll share an incident report later this week.
I do now see a draft of the post in my Blogger "Posting - Edit Posts" panel but it is definitely not the final version.

Also, on the same screen I see that I supposedly have a posts label with a rather long name.  I can't get the symbols to appear in text so here is a screen capture:

a single label of User Experience Research/Design Mobile China Technology with some fancy boxes of numbers tacked on for good measure

It appears to represent the combined labels for a draft of yet-to-be-published post that now exists as two different copies in the "Posting - Edit Posts" panel.  While the combining of labels is interesting, I'm most curious about the meaning of the nifty boxes of numbers.  Anyone have some insights?  For more context, I was working on the relevant post when Blogger unexpectedly shut down, and I wasn't able to save the most recent version in Blogger (however, luckily I was able to save it on my computer).

Anyways, at least Blogger is providing a form to report remaining issues (which I have done).

A few readers have kindly noted that the missing post remains in at least some RSS readers and that it could be copied from there.  I will re-post myself if at some point there is information from Blogger indicating it's the best option.

So far, the message seems to be that all will be restored.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger Downtime and Missing Post

I haven't posted for a while due to Blogger's extended downtime.  See here for Blogger's recent comments on the incident.  During that period of time, this blog, like others hosted on Blogger, was viewable but I was unable to write posts, edit posts, etc.  Additionally, to fix the problem Blogger removed a large number of posts.  My piece "Mobile Phones in China: A Variety of Options" apparently fit in that category and is still missing.  Blogger is reporting that most posts have been restored but based on Twitter activity I see I am not the only one waiting for a post to reappear. 

I'll likely wait to post anything substantial until my missing post reappears and can feel at least somewhat confident more fun isn't in store.

And best wishes to what I suspect is now a very stressed Blogger team.

Wondering if my post is still in the Cloud

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Islam in China: Religious Beliefs, Political Goals, and Equality

I've done a few posts on religion in China using examples of Christianity (see here and here) and Islam (see here).  One larger issue I've tried to highlight is that while religious expression is repressed and controlled in some ways, in other ways it is practiced openly and without fear.

A video (see below) by Al Jazeera English further highlights how religion, in this case Islam, can be seen as both flourishing and repressed in China.  The video is from a couple years ago just prior to the Olympics in China but I think it's still applicable today.  In particular it draws attention to a distinction of apparent importance to the Chinese Government -- the potential differences between a group's religious beliefs and its political goals.  Claims are made by some that the Chinese Government is primarily concerned about the "politics" of religious groups, in this case the attempt to make a region of China independent.

After watching the video, I could imagine a Chinese diplomat speaking to a group of Americans and trying to defend some of China's actions regarding Muslim groups by saying, "Sure, you allow groups such as Mormons to practice their religion freely.  But how would America respond if a large group of militant Mormons was intent on making Utah an independent country?"

A point made at the end of the video about the limitations Muslims face in China brought to mind some discussions I've had with non-Muslim Chinese.  When I hear the claim that Uyghur people, an ethnic group in China that is predominantly Muslim, are treated as equals in China and have equal opportunities I'll sometimes ask, "Do you think a capable Uyghur would be allowed to become China's leader?".  The discussion on the topic usually ends there with a pensive reply of "no".

On the side...  The video seems reasonably consistent with the stated goals of Qatar-based Al Jazeera English to "provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives..."  By those standards I've seen worse at times from American news organizations.  But the gap between the Al Jazeera English report and those typical for equivalent Mainland Chinese news organizations is particularly striking.  I would very much welcome a day when they are able to produce and distribute equally impartial reports on issues where their audience or the Chinese Government may already have strong views.

Here's the video -- I think it's well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch it:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day in Zigong, China

I suspect a key question recently on many people's mind recently was "What happens on Mother's Day in China?"

I explored the issue in Zigong, Sichuan Province.  While it doesn't seem to get the attention it does in the US, at least among the younger people I spoke to there was a general consensus on the issue.

Whether it was these college students:

Five Chinese male college students

Or these sales people at a clothing shop:

Four Chinese female shop workers

Many were aware it was Mother's Day and said they would be giving their mothers a special call sometime that day.

Although it doesn't seem to get the commercial attention it does in the US, at least one place in Zigong took advantage of the day to have a special Mother's Day fashion show.

Chinese fashion show models

Chinese fashion show models

Chinese fashion show models

Chinese fashion show models

What store would hold a special fashion show on Mother's Day?  Some may be thinking "Walmart!".  Well, that would be ridiculous.  This is Zigong, so of course it would be:

Yes, Mall-mart -- a store that is similar in many ways to Chinese Walmarts elsewhere.

Happy Mother's Day Mom!