Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mao Basketball, Not Baseball, in China

In response to a post with a quote of the MLB vice president saying Confucious would have liked baseball, reader "Pete" commented:
Baseball is certainly popular in other Asian countries, including Taiwan. Assuming this Wikipedia article is correct, there have been 11 players born in Taiwan that have played Major League Baseball.

The advantage that basketball has over baseball is that you can play basketball with two people, one ball and one hoop. Or you can go shoot by yourself. To play a reasonable game of baseball, you need more equipment, more people, and a bigger patch of ground. And it's pretty much impossible to practice by yourself.

If baseball is going to grow in China (or Australia, or the Netherlands, or Italy, or inner-city Chicago), it's going to need organizational and facilities support from the government and MLB's (or NPB's) outreach organization.
Although mentioning Confucius may be a good for marketing purposes, I believe more contemporary issues, such as those raised by Pete, are more likely to have a impact on whether baseball significntly grows in China. For example, Helen Gao's article in The Atlantic suggests basketball's current dominance in China has far less to do with whether an influential philosopher would have liked it 2500 years ago than the preferences of a 20th century leader who also has a book filled with his quotations:
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao [Zedong] declared war against almost all Western bourgeois affections, from classical music to novels [to baseball], but he never wavered in support of basketball. Deprived of all forms of cultural enrichment and lacking the most basic athletic equipment, children and young adults roamed around their neighborhoods, setting up boards and hoops in alleys and courtyards and pouring their energy into the simple game of shooting the hoops. "At that time, China had basically only two sports: basketball and ping pong," my father, a teenager during the height of the Cultural Revolution and a devout basketball fan told me. "If you were young and loved sports, you only got these two to choose from."
See Gao's piece for more about basketball's history in China and the roles political support and other factors have played in its growth. Of course, Confucius may have liked it too.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

"No Clock, the Sacrifice, the Journey Around the Bases": MLB Hopes For China

The ethical man comprehends according to righteousness, the small man comprehends according to profit.

Analects of Confucius, Book 4, Verse 16

Xu Guiyuan, nicknamed Itchy thanks to one of his baseball coaches, recently made a bit of history by becoming the first player from MLB's three professional baseball development centers in China to sign with a Major League club, in this case the Baltimore Orioles. In an article about Xu that also provides examples of how MLB's centers in China have been adapted to better fit the local culture is a fascinating claim about how the game of baseball, which was banned during the Cultural Revolution, is especially well suited for China:
"All the ethereal things about baseball -- no clock, the sacrifice, the journey around the bases that starts and finishes at home -- it all resonates in Chinese culture," said MLB vice president Jim Small, who oversees all of Asia. "I'm convinced that if baseball was around during Confucius' time, he would have been a huge fan."
What would Confucius say? What would the NBA, far more popular than MLB in China, say?

Please discuss.

*Added note: Removed my first two lines because they could imply things I didn't intend to imply and had nothing to do with this post anyway.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Few Perspectives on the Chinese Government's Strength

In the essay "China After the Reform Era", Carl F. Minzner argues China has taken significant steps back from many of the reforms it made during the post-Mao era. Some examples he mentions include:
The crackdown on public-interest lawyers has tightened. Social-media sites have been subjected to tighter controls. Even those used to a degree of immunity have found themselves targeted. Foreign businesses have been alarmed by stepped-up corruption probes into pharmaceutical companies, dawn raids by antimonopoly regulators on firms ranging from Microsoft to Mercedes-Benz, and proposed antiterror rules that would require foreign software companies to hand over their encryption keys. New civil society laws have tightened restrictions on foreign NGOs. As of early 2015, central CCP organs had begun to speak of the need to “rectify” higher education, purge “Western values” from textbooks, and redirect art and architecture back toward traditional Chinese forms.
In "Is Xi Jinping Losing Control of China?" J. Michael Cole argues that recent changes indicate a decline in power:
All of this—the new stricter laws, the crackdown on non-governmental organizations, lawyers, bloggers, web sites, and journalists—is indicative of a government that does not have the situation under control, a situation that is unlikely to be helped by the recent stock market crash. Rarely is authoritarianism a signal of strength; instead, it stems from fear, paranoia, and panic . . .
But not everyone is convinced these are all signs the Chinese government is losing control. In the ChinaFile conversation "China’s ‘Rule by Law’ Takes an Ugly Turn" Keith Hand suggests quite the opposite:
I think we need to consider a different possibility. Together with China’s assertive posture in territorial disputes, the adoption of a broad national security law, and proposed legislation that would place strict new limits on the Internet and activities by foreign non-profits, the mass detention of rights lawyers suggests to me that China’s leaders are so confident in their strength that they no longer need to maintain the pretense of limited engagement and tolerance.
For now, I simply recommend the above three pieces. They offer plenty of food for thought.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More Watery Walmart Scenes in China

Earlier this year at a Walmart in Zhuzhou, Hunan, I saw a man removing a number of large fish from a tank.

worker pulling out large fish from a tank at Walmart

He seemed to be choosing those near death, if not already there. It was not what I would call a thriving fish community, and I wondered what would be done with the removed fish. I wasn't able to come back the next day to see if there was a special on spicy fried fish.

A couple weeks before that at a Walmart in Loudi, Hunan, I saw a boy who appeared interested in catching a fish.

boy holding a fishnet in front of tanks of fish

I wasn't able to stick around to see if he gave it a try. But at least most of the fish were swimming in a relatively normal fish-like manner.

Although these scenes aren't as dramatic as an escape attempt I saw in Chongqing, they too capture some of how Walmart has localized its groceries in China.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

In Memory of a Crab and a Turtle: Watery Escape Attempts in Chongqing

One day earlier this year in Chongqing, China, I unexpectedly witnessed two daring escape attempts. I waited to share the dramatic story to reduce the chance that either of the individuals would face additional repercussions.

One escape attempt involved a plucky crab.

crab dangling outside a tank of water

The other involved a determined turtle.

turtle trying to get out of a tank of water

It appeared hopeless for the turtle with its short, widely spaced limbs to pull its heavier body out. The crab fared better, possibly assisted by a higher water level, yet remained hanging from the tank's edge. Perhaps the crab realized that letting go wouldn't lead to much of an escape, since both it and the turtle were at the highest level of three rows of stepwise tanks.

As they say, "Out of the frying pan into another frying pan". Or something like that. In this case, a frying pan likely isn't far off from their ultimate fate, which I assume has already occurred, since they weren't being sold as pets.

May this crab and this turtle never be forgotten. They not only showed remarkable spirit, but they also demonstrated how the grocery section of a Walmart in China can be a bit more interesting than those in the U.S.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Quick and Deep Thoughts on China's Stock Market

Richard Perry, founder of Perry Capital LLC, shared some thoughts with The Wall Street Journal about China's recent stock market decline and the government's extraordinary efforts to reverse it:
“I think it’s a game, the stock market, personally. They’ve basically closed Macau, and this has become the place to gamble.”
The article doesn't explicitly say so, but it appears Perry did not intend his comment to be a compliment.

Later in the article, another viewpoint is shared:
Eric Mindich, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner who now runs hedge fund Eton Park Capital Management L.P., said the Chinese authorities had “plenty of ammunition” to keep the good times rolling.
Some people wouldn't necessarily disagree with Mindich, with the caveat that keeping the good times rolling now could mean a bigger price to play later.

These two excerpts succinctly capture the spirit of much of the recent commentary I have seen on China's stock market, or whatever you want to call it now. Big questions about what this all means for China's future remain. In a longer piece, Orville Schell, who also makes use of the gambling analogy, offers an historical perspective on the scope of the uncertainty, which extends beyond China's stock market:
Although we can see a few shadowy outlines of answers emerging as China’s reform odyssey continues, we still do not really know exactly where [President] Xi intends to take the nation. To look into his “Chinese dream” is to see an aspiration for a country that is wealthier, more powerful and better respected. If you look at Xi’s domestic policies it is possible to see an ominously Mao-tinged autocrat whose answer to most problems seems to be more discipline, controls and toughness. But there is little else. And so, because China will almost certainly remain caught between transitions for some time to come, the resolution of crises such as stock market crashes will remain an uncertain and parlous business. The Maoist toolbox into which Xi now seems to reach with increasing frequency when problems occur provides him with few suitable tools for handling many of the complexities of 21st-century economic markets.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Uncle Sam Wants Some Students from Hengyang

When I visited the University of South China in Hengyang earlier this year, I was surprised to see a familiar uncle.

Poster with Uncle Sam and the words "I WANT YOU!" on a chain-linked fence

But Uncle Sam wasn't recruiting people for the U.S. Army Instead, the poster claimed to be advertising paid internships available in the U.S.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scenes from University of South China and Xiangtan University

In the spirit of the shouts and photos of recent university graduates in China, I will share some photos I took during brief visits a couple of months ago to two universities in Hunan province — University of South China in Hengyang and Xiangtan University in Xiangtan. They are focused mostly on buildings and landscape and represent only a small part of each university. Many of the taller buildings in the background of the University of South China photos are from the surrounding neighborhood. Like many other universities in China, Xiangtan University was not located in an urban area.

University of South China:

Xiangtan University:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Great Day for Science of the Big, Small, Far, and Near: Pluto and Pentaquarks

In honor of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft passing by Pluto just hours ago, I will share a drawing I made of the famed dwarf planet:

If you are having difficulties seeing anything, it is probably because I drew the planet to scale based on what you would see if you were looking directly at Pluto from the surface of the Earth with only your eyes. Pluto is really, really far away, as illustrated by this video depicting the New Horizons spacecraft's journey:

For something far easier to see than my drawing or looking outside, here is an image of Pluto taken from a much closer distance of 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers):

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The image was taken before the spacecraft's closest approach and many more should be on the way if all goes as planned.

Incredibly, the Pluto mission isn't the only big science news to report today:
The LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has reported the discovery of a class of particles known as pentaquarks. The collaboration has submitted a paper reporting these findings to the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The pentaquark is not just any new particle,” said LHCb spokesperson Guy Wilkinson. “It represents a way to aggregate quarks, namely the fundamental constituents of ordinary protons and neutrons, in a pattern that has never been observed before in over fifty years of experimental searches. Studying its properties may allow us to understand better how ordinary matter, the protons and neutrons from which we’re all made, is constituted.”
In honor of the discovery, I will share a drawing I made of a pentaquark:

Once again, if you are having difficulties seeing the pentaquark, it is probably because I drew it to scale. This time the challenge isn't that the object is really, really far away, but that it is really, really small. For something easier to see, here is an illustrated representation, not to scale, of a possible layout for the quarks in a pentaquark.

Credit: CERN/LHCb Collaboration

Compared to Pluto, though, it is far more complicated to talk about what a pentaquark "looks like". Suffice it to say here that our brains weren't built to interpret the world at such small scales, where the rules seem rather crazy compared to what we experience in our everyday lives.

But strange stuff that defies our expectations isn't limited to the small. And these two examples of today's science are just a taste of the many exciting discoveries still remaining to be made whatever the scale.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Compute Actions Louder Than Words

The winds of change have blown across Beijing yet again.

Not only did students at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management not chant "revive the A shares, benefit the people; revive the A shares, benefit the people" at their graduation ceremony, but they also did not chant the updated slogan "Actions speak louder than words, shoulder responsibility, be innovative, benefit the people." Perhaps the university considered the point I made about the phrase "Actions speak louder than words".

Cecilia Li in Sinosphere reports they instead shouted, "Tsinghua S.E.M., benefit the people!" It doesn't seem as poetic as the previous versions or as creative as pink ribbon graduation photos.

Fortunately, slogans shouted by other schools proved to be a little more interesting. My favorite is the one shouted by the School of Information Science and Technology: "Compute lives! Compute the world! Compute the future!" I can't help but think that adding "Compute this!" at the end would have spruced things up even more.

Strangling Pink Ribbons and Vigorous Elves Appear on Graduation Day in China

Although People's Daily got it wrong in connecting No-Bra day to health risks, at least the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper has drawn a bit of attention to breast cancer prevention elsewhere. For example, in one series of related photos People's Daily explained:
Recently, several college graduates wearing pink ribbons took photos in Shandong University to advocate the "International activity of breast cancer prevention" and commemorate their university lives.
The details of how the graduates advocated the cause raise some questions though. Here is one of the photos:

six young women wearing pink dress holding a large pink "ribbon" which is wrapped around a young man's neck

I would like to explain the symbolism, other than the color of the cloth, in the scene and how it relates to breast cancer awareness.

However, I cannot.

For some useful context, though, People's Daily once again comes to the rescue. Here is a photo from another series, this one titled "Creative graduation caps of ‘vigorous elves’":

group of young women standing in formation and pulling out their shirts with one hand and looking down

I would like to explain the symbolism in the scene and how it relates to, well, anything.

However, once again, I cannot.

But People's Daily does offer this explanation:
Graduates from Nanjing University of the Arts pose for a group of creative graduation photos in their ballet costume on June 30, 2015. The history of the university can be traced back to the year of 1912.
I would like to explain why the date of the university's founding was mentioned.

However, yet again, I cannot.

More relevant here is that both sets of photos are examples of a common practice in China — students finding fun ways to make graduation photos more creative and memorable. And in this respect, it is hard to argue with the results of either photo.

I would like to explain why such photos receive the amount and type of attention they do from the People's Daily.

I have some guesses, however . . .

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tsinghua University Graduates to Now Shout "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" in Beijing

Yesterday I expressed hope to see a video of Tsinghua University graduates shouting "revive the A shares, benefit the people; revive the A shares, benefit the people" tomorrow as required by their school. Sadly, or happily, the event won't occur.

The South China Morning Post reported today today that the slogan was originally submitted by students as a joke. Although an official e-mail notice from the school stated students would be expected to shout the slogan, after news about it broke the school sent another notice stating that the slogan had not been officially approved. Some have suggested that the school had been playing along with the students' joke and was simply caught off guard when the issue became known to the public. Others don't buy that story and believe the school genuinely thought the slogan was a great idea.

In either case, the new slogan is "Actions speak louder than words, shoulder responsibility, be innovative, benefit the people." Presumably this slogan is not intended as a joke. So perhaps when students shout "Actions speak louder than words" they will think of the words in one of my most favorite articles in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China:
Article 35 Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.
Congrats to this year's graduates all across China, whatever they may be shouting.

Friday, July 10, 2015

No-Bra Day and A Shares for the People in China

Two things of note for today. They aren't related except in the sense of, well, maybe you can figure something out.

1. Here is one of set of four photos the online English version of People's Daily, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published today:

group of young men and women walking behind a "NO-bra Day" banner

The People's Daily offered this explanation:
To mark the No Bra Day, volunteers call the public to pay attention to the breast health in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province on July 9, 2015. Research indicates that wearing bra may increase the risks of getting breast cancer for a woman.
I would be curious to know the organizer of the event. More importantly, one of the claims, which inspired Felicia Sonmez, editor of the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog, to ask whether People's Daily has "lost its mind", deserves additional . . . context. I will keep it simple by quoting a single statement from the American Cancer Society:
There are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer.

2. For something different, James Kynge begins a piece in the Financial Times about China's recently declining stock markets with an observation of a special type of patriotism:
On Sunday, the new graduates of Tsinghua University are set to gather in their smartest attire to celebrate degrees from one of China’s most prestigious institutions, a place that has fostered generations of political leaders. Just after the ceremony starts — according to a written agenda — the graduates must “follow the instruction and shout loudly the slogan, ‘revive the A shares, benefit the people; revive the A shares, benefit the people’.”
I hope there will be video. Somehow, I don't think the same slogan was chanted at any Occupy protests.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mystery Critter at Fuzhou West Lake

A large number of people seem captivated by China's stock markets these days. I have some thoughts on that topic, but I will instead cover something unrelated (unless you are especially creative in finding analogies) for a change of pace.

During my explorations in China and elsewhere I have come across a large number of creatures I have not seen before, often insects or arthropods, that I can't identify. In part, this is probably due to many relevant resources I find being focused on North American or European creatures. For example, I am still struggling to identify a creature I saw (and ate) in Cambodia two years ago, though I now have a lead to follow up. Fortunately, as with one type of giant centipede in Hong Kong, I sometimes have a much easier time.

So today I will highlight another magnificent creature which has confounded me. If you can convincingly identify the species, you will win a prize of untold proportions. I would tell you the prize, but then the proportions will have been told. Since they are untold, this cannot happen, at least not yet. Please don't get excited about the proportions. Please do get excited about the creature.

Below are two different individuals, I believe of the same species, I saw near the Kaihua Isle in Fuzhou. The length from the end of their body to the tip of their head was roughly equivalent to or slightly smaller than the diameter of a Chinese 1-jiao coin or a U.S. dime. They both ran rather quickly and did not appear to enjoy being photographed, despite me refraining from poking, eating, or criticizing either of them.

I would guess they are some sort of beetle, but I'm looking for something more specific. So, dear readers, what are they?

red insect with six white and two black spots in Fuzhou

red insect with six white and two black spots in Fuzhou

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Scenes from Kaihua Isle in Fuzhou's West Lake

circular entranceway at Kaihua Temple in Fuzhou

Fuzhou's West Lake may not be as famous as Hangzhou's, but according to a sign at the 105-acre park first constructed in 282 AD:
It is ranked 6th among the 36 west lakes all over China and wins its fame for verdant hills, sparkling waters, shady trees, grotesque rockwork and wooden pavilions.
I have been to a number of those similarly named parks and wonder if I have been to the one ranked 36th. Whatever the case, I recently enjoyed a peaceful afternoon walking around the park in Fuzhou, and it wasn't hard to believe it deserved a top 10 ranking. This post includes some scenes from its Kaihua Isle, the location of Kaihua Temple. Tree penjing, sculptures of small monkeys, and a monk all make appearances.

rock formation with sculptures of small monkeys in front of Kaihua Temple in Fuzhou

Tree penjing (bonsai) at Kaihua Isle in Fuzhou

man and small girl walking on small stones across a pond at West Lake in Fuzhou

sculpture at West Lake in Fuzhou

scene at Kaihua Temple in Fuzhou

covered walkway behind Kaihua Temple in Fuzhou

monk walking into a prayer hall at Kaihua Temple in Fuzhou

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A July 4th Recommendation

I had a post about July 4th in mind for today. Then this evening I read a piece published on that same day which speaks about the U.S. today and its history and also touches on much more. I have since been rereading it and thinking about its power, scope, and perspective.

I think this is something best experienced with few or no teasers.

"Letter to My Son" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Public City Bicycles Not Only for Getting Around Zhuzhou

In 2011 Zhuzhou became the first city in Hunan province to operate a public bicycle rental system. When I was in Zhuzhou a month or so ago, I came across a few of the many stations where city bicycles could be rented or returned.

public city bicycle station in Zhuzhou

There is much which could be said about Zhuzhou's system. I will limit myself here to two things which especially caught my eye from a user experience perspective.

One was that some of the bicycles available have a special feature: an added seat, presumably for a smaller rider.

Zhuzhou city bicycles with two seats

These bikes also have an extra bar, apparently for the second rider to hold. Since it is attached to the main handlebar, it is easy to wonder whether this could make steering the bicycle more difficult and present a safety issue.

The other thing I noticed requires having a suitably sized block of wood or similarly strong object handy.

man using a propped-up docked city bicycle as a stationary exercise bicycle

Like the man in the above photo, if you prop up a docked bicycle, you have yourself a free stationary exercise device. And unlike renting the bicycles for a less stationary ride, it won't cost you any money no matter how long you use it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dharma Art in Fuzhou

Today's piece of contemporary art comes from the Museum of Fujian Intangible Cultural Heritages in Fuzhou.

"Dharma Pot" (达摩尊) by Chilong Ho (河志隆)

According to the museum, the artist is Chilong Ho (河志隆), and the piece is titled "Dharma Pot" (达摩尊).