Saturday, May 7, 2011

Coca-Cola: Not Only on Police Tents in Yunnan

Some recent travel combined with putting together several larger posts at the same time has caused a gap of sorts.

In the meantime, I'll do a very brief follow-up on my piece about Coca-Cola's support of the police in Kunming, China.

As you can see here:

Food carts in a street market

Drink carts in a street market

Coca-cola doesn't limit its advertising in Yunnan Province to police tents and can be found on these large umbrellas in street market in Zhaotong.

More on other topics, such as mobile phones and comparisons of life in the US & China, coming soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

China Scenes: Zhaotong, Yunnan

I've done several recent posts involving the city Zhaotong, Yunnan (about a Muslim ethnic group, about youth's reactions to Bin Laden's death, and a photo of skateboarders) and I expect to do at least one more related to mobile phones.  To add some more color to the city here is a series of photos capturing some of what the younger people in Zhaotong enjoy doing when they have some free time.  I think several of the photos help capture that parts of China can be both so similar in some ways to the US and yet so different in other ways.  Just depends on how you look at it.

Playing basketball on a college campus

Playing pool along a street

Playing ping-pong on a college campus

Playing volleyball on a college campus

Playing at a lake beach in a city park

More playing at the beach

Hanging out at the park

Hanging out on the sidewalk

Playing at the arcade

Hanging out on a shopping street

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Islam in China: Some Scenes from Zhaotong, Yunnan

Previously, I posted some of what I've seen of Christianity in China here and here.

Like my observations of Christianity in China, I was not specifically looking for instances of Islam in China.  However, I've had the opportunity to observe a small slice of of it.  One of China's numerous ethnic groups is the Muslim Hui people.  While Yunnan isn't one of the major regions for the Hui people in China, in Zhaotong it is impossible not to notice their presence.

I'll share a light selection of what I saw in Zhaotong.  Nothing deep here, just providing some color on Muslims in China (see here for more details about the Hui people).

While walking around Zhaotong one day I came across this mosque with a Muslim school and dormitories next to it on the right:

mosque, school, and dormitories

While prayer sessions were ongoing two younger boys invited me into the classroom & dormitory building to chat.  Their dorm room wasn't very different from some college dormitories I've seen in Southwest China:

dormitory room with 9 beds

When the prayers were finished numerous students and teachers came out of the mosque to return to their classrooms and dorms:

men and boys leaving mosque

Hui people can be seen in many other parts of Zhaotong as well, typically doing the same things as other Chinese -- such as working in stores or attending college.  Here is a scene from a shopping street:

several Hui ladies walking down shopping street

Also, there were numerous Hui people selling food in some street markets.  This lady was selling a tofu snack and an assortment of eggs:

Hui woman selling eggs and tofu

I had several very enjoyable conversations with Hui people.  Probably the most memorable was this lady:

Hui lady making a strange face

This was the 3rd photo of her trying to make her best face.

She struck me as someone who had no fear of being different and her strong sense of humor readily displayed itself.  She definitely provided an enjoyable change of pace.

Before I came to Zhaotong I was not aware it had any Muslim influence.  Now, I'll definitely never forget it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Updates to Post About Reaction in China to Bin Laden's Death

I've added 2 significant updates to my previous post "Views on Bin Laden's Death in Zhaotong, China".

You can read them here.

Views on Bin Laden's Death in Zhaotong, China


The announcement of Bin Laden's death is obviously the big news of the moment in many places, but what about China?

Josh Chin for The Wall Street Journal's "China Real Time Report" posted an article about the Chinese reaction.  The article was based on comments found on Twitter and Sina Weibo, the most popular Twitter-like service (though with some different features) in China.  Evan Osnos of the The New Yorker also posted on the Chinese reaction based on what some people were writing on Weibo.  Both pieces share some interesting views expressed by people in China on Monday.  For example, Evan Osnos writes:
As news spread Monday, there was some celebration on the Chinese Web, but also a note of chilliness toward the U.S. than I didn't anticipate. Zhang Xin, the director of the China Central Television’s National Security and Military Channel posted of bin Laden: “As a billionaire, he didn’t want to live a comfortable life, but chose to challenge the superpower, chose to live the life of a caveman. What was he trying to do? Laden was the greatest national hero in Arab history. Using his own power to fight the most powerful country in the world, America….Whether Laden is dead for real or not, it’s not important anymore. He has already become a spirit, an anti-American system of thought.”
However, neither of the two above posts commented on the relative volume of comments regarding Bin Laden's death -- a key measure of the impact of the news.  Also, while sources such as Weibo can be a valuable source for opinions on a variety of topics, they are not necessarily representative of the general public nor many of its major groups.

I wanted to get a sampling of thoughts from one of the many groups of people in China that typically aren't heard from in the foreign press to see how they compared to what would later be reported.  So on Monday in China, prior to reading the above mentioned reports, I asked over 10 people in Zhaotong, Yunnan -- a city in a rural region of Southwest China -- to share their thoughts about Bin Laden.  They were all younger Chinese (approx 18-25).  Some were working full time and some were university students.  President Obama's official statement was made around lunch time in China and I questioned people in the very late afternoon and early evening.  A cursory review of some Chinese news web sites prior to me speaking to people showed that the news of his death was both available and not buried.

Summarizing opinions of a group of people can sometimes be tricky, but this one was easy.

Without exception, none of the people I spoke to were aware of Bin Laden's death.

I wouldn't be surprised that if I had continued to question people eventually I would have found some who were aware of Bin Laden's death.  Regardless, the very consistent response I found is rather striking.  It does not appear that the news had quickly spread in Zhaotong.  I suspect I would have found the same in many other locations in China.

This certainly leaves a very different impression than that provided in the posts referenced above.  It's a good example of how sources such as Weibo can be valuable for understanding China but don't likely provide the whole story.


I've received questions about how the people reacted to the news once I told them.  I didn't include this before because I was primarily concerned about understanding the "natural" course of the reaction in China to Bin Laden's death.  I didn't consider me telling them the news to be part of that.  I only shared the news with people in order to confirm they hadn't heard it previously.

For what it's worth...  None of the people I spoke to reacted in any significant way upon hearing the news from me but there are several reasons not to read anything into it.  For one, it can be common in Chinese culture for people to hide their emotions in some situations -- that may apply here.  It would take some time to understand their true thoughts on the issue.  However, if someone didn't already know the news I didn't dig further due to the reasons I just mentioned.


Today (Tuesday) I had the opportunity to speak to another set of college students in Zhaotong.  The passing of another day seems to have allowed the news to travel as now there were students who were aware of Bin Laden's death -- the main reported source for the news was either television or through friends. 
There were a couple of students who mildly expressed happiness that a "bad man" was killed.   One was concerned this would spark future attacks (though not against China) and he also questioned whether Bin Laden was really killed.

However, many who were aware had no strong opinions about the news.  For example one girl said, "I've forgotten about him the past several years so it doesn't have much meaning to me."  As I've mentioned before, the response of "not caring" sometimes can be a mask and it would take a deeper interview to really be sure (I was simply asking people a brief series of questions informally).  However, if I had to make a gut-call based on speaking to people the past two days and my previous experience doing more in-depth interviews my overall impression is that the news is genuinely not of concern to many of the people I spoke to.   At most it is an interesting piece of world trivia to them.

Finally, despite the number of students who were now aware of the news, I still regularly came across those who had remained completely unaware.

And again, I want to emphasize the point that while online comments on sources such as Weibo and Twitter can be a great source of viewpoints, without context they can easily distort the impression one may have of the overall public reaction to a news event.  What I've shared might not be as "sexy" as the quotes found on Weibo, but it is just as much a piece of the difficult puzzle in understanding what over 1 billion people are thinking.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Skateboarders in China

Some guys I chatted with in Zhaotong, Yunnan -- a city in a very rural area of Southwest China:

four Chinese skateboarders

Friday, April 29, 2011

Coca-Cola and the Chinese Police

In Kunming, Yunnan Province I noticed what I considered to be a somewhat curious sight:

What is seen in the photo is a police tent covered with Coca-Cola logos.  At first I thought this might be an isolated example, but I continued to see more of them in other parts of Kunming.  Here are just a handful of the many others I passed by:

I've seen them occupied with up to four police officers - normally just sitting there looking bored or chatting.  It isn't unusual to find them empty and no, they appear to never have Coke.

The messages on the tents roughly translate as:
"Kunming Police. Public Security to Control and Protect.  A Harmonious Community, A Safe Kunming."
I'm not the first to have noted these tents.  As reported here on GoKunming, a local Kunming English language web site, the tents are a donation from Coca-Cola.  Based on the date of the article it appears they've been around for about a year.

Part of what made the tents intriguing to me is that in many parts of China it can be common for some businesses to develop a "harmonious relationship" with the police and government officials.  The need to do this came up in the post I wrote about a Chinese lady's intriguing views on the sources of Google's problems in China (see here).

Despite the potential benefits of a positive relationship with the police, the article on GoKunming raises the issue that:
"Coca-Cola's rationale for partnering with Kunming's police is less clear...  Last year, a total of three detainees died under questionable circumstances in police custody in Kunming."
And that was over a year ago before the role Chinese police have played in the recent surge of rights lawyers, activists, etc. being detained (and now even a Chinese rock musician).  Regardless, Coca-Cola may believe that their sponsorship of the police is a net positive in the eyes of Kunming's residents or that the benefits of the relationship with the Kunming police is worth any negative reactions some may have.

The flip-side is also interesting.  Does the Kunming Police believe it is to its advantage to be seen as connected to Coca-Cola, a foreign corporation?

There are many fascinating issues to explore.

To be "balanced", I'll note that Coca-Cola's contributions in Yunnan Province aren't only focused on the police.  Coca-Cola China's 2008/2009 Sustainability Review (pdf here) says:
"Yunnan is one of the provinces most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, as a result, has a rising number of orphans. In 2006, in order to alleviate the growing pressure of this new demographic, we partnered with the Chinese Foundation for Prevention of STDs and AIDS, the Yunnan Women and Children Development Center and the Yunnan Ruili Women’s Association to launch the first AIDS-Impacted Orphan Care Program in Ruili county.

The primary function of this Program is to provide support and care to AIDS-impacted orphans in the 75 villages throughout Ruili. The Program pays for the orphans’ physical check-ups and medical expenses, subsidizes living and education expenses, provides for regular counseling sessions, and delivers soy milk powder to supplement their daily nutritional needs. 

In 2008 and 2009, Coca-Cola China joined efforts with the Gary Player Foundation to organize annual fundraisers which have raised RMB 13.5 million collectively to reach 2,000 orphans in Yunnan, Sichuan, Xinjiang and Gansu."
I'll also note that it was very easy for me to find this mention of the AIDS program on Coca-Cola's English language web site.

However, I couldn't find any mention of their support of Kunming's police.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Update on Starbucks in Yunnan

A quick update to my earlier post on the first Starbucks to open in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China is in order.

Today was the grand opening and I stopped by for a look:

As you can see the place was packed and there was a line extending out the door.  Later in the day all was the same.

I received some questions from people curious about cost.  For today's exchange rate some sample prices in US Dollars:
  • Tall Brewed Coffee:  $2.31
  • Venti Brewed Coffee:  $4.15
  • Tall Mocha Frappuccino:  $4.61
  • Tall Green Tea Latte:  $4.61
Prices such as these for drinks are relatively quite high for China, and especially Kunming.  For example, milk tea can be easily found for about $1.25 at other trendy tea and dessert stores nearby -- even that is a relatively high price for Kunming.

The fact that Starbucks is so busy with such high prices is a particularly good sign for them and says much about the customers' desires to purchase Starbucks' products.

Finally, I saw yet another sign of how Starbucks has localized for the Chinese market, or I should say "signs":

Signs in Kunming Starbucks' bathroom

Throwing bathroom tissue into a wastebasket can be common in parts of China where the pipes/sewage system isn't able to cope with it.  The second sign is likely due to squat toilets being very common in the region.  I assume some people may attempt to use seat toilets as squat toilets.

I suppose Starbucks has had some experience regarding these issues (and tissues) in the past.

China Scenes: Xizhou, Yunnan

A bit under the weather today (something I ate) so back to photos of scenes in China that aren't typically portrayed in the news.  These are from Xizhou, Yunnan, a village not so far from the touristy town Dali (Xizhou is actually a part of the Dali "administrative region") and the location for this previously posted photo from a horse-cart.  Xizhou is one of many villages in the area which offer a truer glimpse into the traditional culture of the Bai people, one of many minorities that can be found across Yunnan.  However, even there you can find growing touches of Western culture, such as a basketball court.

Traditional Bai architecture

Woman cleaning vegetables in the lake

Basketball court

Street scene

Farming plots near the lake

Street market

Horse-cart transportation

Other forms of transportation

View from inside a local restaurant

Two girls and a home is in the background

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blog Design Updates

For regular readers of visitors to this blog you've likely noticed some recent evolution in its design.  When I first started the blog my primary concern was on content, and it still is.  Before spending a significant amount of time on the design I wanted to get more of a sense of the overall "character" of my posts collectively.  While I knew some of the topics I'd certainly write about, I wasn't totally sure how it would all fit together.

I decided it was time to spend some time on the design so I've been experimenting with some things to improve both the look of the site and its usability, effectiveness, etc.  The user experience researcher side of me would like to do some "A/B testing" -- in short, compare multiple versions of the site at the same time to see what "works" best.  However, I don't think Blogger will let me do that so I'll make do with tinkering with some changes over time.

Feel free to email me, or leave a comment, on any thoughts you may have.  You're the ones who will be using it the most (while I get to spend most of my blog-related time in the Blogger interface world).

An additional note... for long time ("long" as in almost 3 months) readers you'll likely recognize the photo used in the new banner.  It is from a photo I took in Yulin, Guangxi that I posted when I guest blogged for James Fallows in February.  His comments, to which I say "yes!", and the full photo can be found towards the bottom of his post here.

You may also notice that the photo has been mirror-reversed.  I did it for placement of the blog title.  However, I may later revert it to the original orientation so don't worry if you have a bizarre sense that something is "off" but you can't quite pin your finger on it.

That's all for now.  Back to focusing more on posting.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Result of Oppression: Social Violence in China

David Bandurski has a new piece (see here) posted on the China Media Project web site about a debate around the scholar Xiong Peiyun.  A recent lecture by Xiong at a university in China was "canceled" at the last moment and he received a rebuke from the deputy director of the university's own Student Affairs Division for expressing ideas that were not "mainstream".

The article is worth reading in its full to appreciate some of the debate that is currently underway in China.  There are a few issues raised by the contents of the pieces that I'd like to specifically discuss because of their importance in understanding China.

The first is that in criticizing the deputy director in an open letter, one university student referenced the various viewpoints in China and the need for people to be able to express themselves freely, even if through alternative channels:
"Must an individuals views represent the mainstream and basic essence? Personal viewpoints have a right to be in line with the mainstream, and of course they have a right to not be in line with the mainstream. Moreover, from the history of the rule of our dear Party one can see that the non-mainstream views at any given time tend to become the mainstream views in the space of one or two decades . . . I don’t oppose the fact that you represent those people who seek to use public institutions [such as media] to advance their own mainstream values, but I firmly believe under the principle of substantiating [arguments] with facts that every viewpoint should have a channel for expression within the framework of our laws and regulations."
While not everyone feels free to share their thoughts so freely, and while some who have done so have been detained or imprisoned, here is a sign yet still more people remain to both offer a different viewpoint from the "mainstream" and to insist they be able to do so.  A debate by Chinese, for Chinese.

A second issue appearing in the article is the one of "violence" in China.  In speaking to many Chinese students across China, one common theme that has come up is the concern, in their own words, of the Chinese people being "emotional".  There can be a willingness to support the censorship applied by the Chinese Government because of the belief that if many Chinese people knew the uncensored truth the resulting emotions could lead to violence and upheaval.  The biggest concern I've heard regarding possible turbulence isn't the potential of destruction, loss of lives, etc.  It is that foreign countries will take advantage of China during a moment of weakness, as many Chinese believe occurred in past centuries.

I've seen Chinese students who were not constrained by the limits of China's censored internet be brought to tears when exposed to what had been hidden from them.  Often, you don't know what you're missing until you specifically look for it.  While in none of these cases did I notice any signs of violence, it heightened my awareness the impact lifting the veil of censorship can have even on people who are far more educated and exposed to the outside world than most in China.

Xiong Peiyun referenced the issue of Chinese reacting in an emotional and violent manner in his lecture.  What is most fascinating is how he in part tied the behavior of Chinese people to "violent" acts such as the oppression of free speech and people being forced to move from their homes (an issue I discussed here) - both issues related to polices of the Chinese Government.  He even goes as far as to label such acts as torture after addressing the "canceling" (sudden relocation to a much smaller venue) of his lecture:
"Now too we see many violent things occurring, like the way today’s lecture was suddenly cancelled, partly cancelled, and they say someone made trouble. This sort of riot [against the lecture itself] is a kind of violence. I’ve discovered over the past few days that a number of extreme websites have dubbed myself, old [economist] Mr. Mao Yushi (茅于轼) and others as “slaves of the West” (西奴) and said we must be hung. . .

I think this is an awful phenomenon. This sort of violence, this omnipresent violence, there is so much of this violence. It is online too, and from our major boulevards to our villages you can witness violence at any time. Aside from the cases of violent demolition and removal led by the government, there are many other cases arising from our society. I’m talking not just about government violence but about social violence. Social violence always has a profound impact on us. Some suffers a personal collapse, for example, everything goes wrong in their life, and they drive out on the streets and mow down life after life. In case after case, men brandish knives and murder children. . .

I think, if we ask whether this society of ours is healthy, give us the first part of the answer, that this society is a mess and that we constantly see these heinous acts of depriving others of their lives, or what we could call torture. This is the dark side of our society."
Finally, Xiong Peiyun make an intriguing claim that even relatively minor common behaviors in China that could be interpreted as showing disregard for others can be tied to an "air of oppressiveness":
"The other thing is that our whole society has an air of oppressiveness about it. I remember the time when I was living overseas [in France]. I’m not saying things overseas are necessarily great. But I believe the people are extremely courteous and mild in attitude. Let’s say, for example, that you’re walking through a building and come to a [glass] door and someone else is coming through the other way. Perhaps five or ten meters before the door, they will wait for you to pass. When people meet they often embrace. But I think that the distance between people in China is extremely vast . . . If you’re on a bus and someone steps on your foot, according to your understanding this person should apologize, but this person won’t apologize. I’ve seen it happen before where the first person will confront the second person about not apologizing and the other will say, look, why don’t I just inflict more harm on you? In the end, they’ll bring each other down fighting. We should recognize how this society [of ours] is brimming with this sort of air of oppressiveness, this unexplainable hatred. There is no shortage of things like this."
An example to provide context for some the above can be found at elevators all over China.  It is common for people outside the elevator to push inwards past people before those inside have had any chance to exit.  While an explanation for such behavior is certainly debatable, its existence is readily apparent.  It is such behavior that Xiong appears to reference as indicating a lack of courtesy.  Xiong connects oppression to a lack of regard for other people to escalating violence.  He seems to be saying that a tempest is building in China, and the policies of the Chinese Government are at least partly at fault.  Regardless of the merits of the claim, the mere suggestion of it in a public forum in China is striking.  One can not but help to wonder if Xiong will soon be among the many others who have been recently detained in China.

Regardless of detentions and censorship there remains a degree of vigorous debate in China - something that many outsiders in particular would view as positive.  However, I think the above issues raise a very difficult question.  There may be an immense amount of emotion bottled up in China and more yet to be realized.  If consensus grows in China on the merits of uncensored and open debate, as increasing information reaches the Chinese people will there be a way for the resulting emotion to slowly dissipate, or is it inevitable that there will be a significant level of disruption in China?

This is an open question that should help foreigners appreciate why many Chinese may be hesitant for immediate change.  What foreign countries can best offer is not outward support in the debates themselves.  Those are best served by voices in China, as seen above, and foreign "meddling" would only allow suspicions to be raised to serve as a distraction.  What is most needed are signs that if the Chinese people demand open debate and the freedom to make their own decisions for the future of their country that foreign powers will not take advantage of any potential turmoil but instead will show respect as the Chinese people face the challenge of building their country as they want it.

Easter in China: Detention, Worship, and Song

Earlier, in "Christianity in Churches in China" I shared some of the experiences I've had in China witnessing how Christianity could blend into the China's culture.

The openness of the religious expression I shared stood in stark contrast to the news of that day -- Chinese police had detained numerous Chinese for praying publicly outside.  This led one reader to ask:
"So how have these churches even gotten building permits if religion is so tightly controlled??"
The key is that China is "OK" with religion as long as any organized practice of it occurs in government controlled Buddhist temples, churches, mosques, etc.  For example, Chinese Government insists on the power to appoint Bishops for the Catholic Church.  They want the power to be able to avoid the potential that such organizations could be used in any way against the ruling Communist Party of China.

The people who were earlier detained were part of what is called a "house church" in China -- one that isn't officially sanctioned by the Chinese Government and may gather in a variety of locations such as people's homes.  They had bought a building to serve as a church but have been blocked from occupying it.  When they were unable to use the newly purchased building they decided to pray outside.  In recent weeks, some of the worshipers have reportedly been forced out of their homes and lost their jobs due to pressure from security officials.

On Sunday members of the same church again tried to pray outside to observe Easter and the police responded as before by detaining a number of people.  There were also reports of other Easter services being repressed.

Regardless of the continued detainment of people praying in non-sanctioned manners, many other Christians in China were able to pray with no obvious disturbance.  This was made apparent to me as I passed by a church in Kunming, Yunnan during the Easter weekend.

Trinity International Church in Kunming, China

At the time, there were people outside openly passing out pamphlets and actively encouraging passerby's to come inside. [sentence edited for clarity]

First page of religious pamphlet

On Sunday when I took a look inside there was a completely full house with a number of people having to stand.

Church service with packed seats

While I am not at an expert on Easter services, what I saw during my short visit didn't seem unusual to me in any way -- except hearing some Western style hymns in Chinese.  The above photo shows one of four services that were being held on the Saturday and Sunday of Easter weekend.  During my two visits I didn't see any obvious foreigners but the 2nd service offered simultaneous translation into English through wireless earphones.

English version of guide to services

There were many things in the church that seemed familiar for a place of worship.  In fact, they even had the requisite bulletin board highlighting recent activities:

Especially after reading so much about the detentions in Beijing, the large crowds in the church made me feel like I was in a different world.  One congregant said she had absolutely no worries about the Chinese Government -- they were sanctioned and had no fears.  When I asked her about the Christians who had been detained in Beijing she claimed not to have heard the news, but her body language and sudden desire to switch to another topic suggested otherwise.  Her apparent reluctance to speak about the issue may have been related to a sense of shame.  However, it is also possible "observers" were nearby and she didn't wish to draw any unwanted attention.

The issue of religion is an example of how China can be open and free in some ways and yet so controlled and censored in other ways.  It is easy to see that China's openness has grown over the past several decades, however the recent chilling series of detentions of political activists, lawyers, and even those who wish to express themselves through religion or art causes worries there may be at least a temporary shift in direction.

I share all of this simply to point out that like many aspects of China, the issue of religion is not as black and white as many outside of Chinese perceive it to be.  This weekend, hundreds of millions of Chinese went about their lives as normal entirely unconcerned about the Easter holiday.  Millions of other Chinese celebrated Easter in official churches like ones like the one I visited or in "house" churches.  Then there were those who were forcibly restrained from peacefully observing the holiday in the manner they chose.  All of these people are a part of religion in China today.

To close, I'll share a video of several younger congregants singing a religious song early Saturday evening before a production of a play for Easter.  The lyrics of the song are simple and include phrases I'll roughly translate as "I'm truly for you, my Jesus.  I want to contribute much to you.  I really love you."  Even if you don't understand Chinese, you can probably understand the Chinese word for "Jesus" -- 耶稣 (Yesu).  The singing is not remarkable in any way except how it likely mirrors scenes in many other churches around the world.  Hopefully, it is a sign that China will continue to open so everyone can peacefully express themselves as they desire.