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!

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