Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Can You Say "Falun Dafa Is Good"?

While in Taitung, Taiwan a couple of days ago I saw this sign:

sign in English and Chinese saying Falun Dafa is good

There was at least one other similar sign elsewhere in Taitung.

Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a "spiritual discipline" that has roots in China and was once viewed positively by the Chinese government.  However, as noted in Wikipedia: the mid- to late-1990s, the Communist Party and public security organs increasingly viewed Falun Gong as a potential threat on account of its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings. By 1999, some estimates placed the number of Falun Gong adherents at over 70 million, exceeding the total membership of the Chinese Communist Party.[8]

In July 1999, Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership initiated a ban on Falun Gong and began a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization."[1][9][10] Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believe to have been imprisoned extra-judicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, severe torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.[11][12][13][14] In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.

The signs brought to mind something I saw while in Seattle, USA for a business trip two winters ago:

banners on hillside saying Falun Dafa Stop Genocide in China

On this small grassy mound near the popular Pike Place Market in Seattle were people presenting information about the struggles of Falun Dafa in China.  The most visible banners say, "Falun Dafa -- Stop Genocide in China".

On numerous occasions I've informally shown my photos from the US to friends in China.  If the above photo from Seattle comes up it can sometimes cause a stir.  I recall one time in particular when a friend was shocked that some people in the US would support Falun Dafa and even suggest that China is conducting genocide.  I didn't know much about Falun Dafa so together we read the Wikipedia entry on it and further searched the Internet (using my VPN to avoid any potential censorship due to China's Great Firewall).  Much of what she believed was consistent with the efforts of the Chinese media described in the Wikipedia entry on Falun Dafa under the section "Media Campaign".  For example:

According to China scholars Daniel Wright and Joseph Fewsmith, for several months after Falun Gong was outlawed, China Central Television's evening news contained little but anti-Falun Gong rhetoric charging that it cheats its followers, separates families, damages health, and hurts social stability. The government operation was "a study in all-out demonization," they write.[146] Falun Gong was compared to "a rat crossing the street that everyone shouts out to squash" by Beijing Daily;[147] other officials said it would be a "long-term, complex and serious" struggle to "eradicate" Falun Gong.[148]
On the eve of Chinese New Year on 23 January 2001, five people attempted to set themselves ablaze on Tiananmen Square. The official Chinese press agency, Xinhua News Agency, and other state media asserted that the self-immolators were practitioners while the Falun Dafa Information Center disputed this,[150] on the grounds that the movement's teachings explicitly forbid suicide and killing,[151] and further alleged that the event was a cruel but clever piece of stunt-work.[152] The incident received international news coverage, and video footage of the burnings were broadcast later inside China by China Central Television (CCTV). Images of a 12 year old girl, Liu Siying, burning and interviews with the other participants in which they stated their belief that self-immolation would lead them to paradise were shown.[150][153] Falun Gong-related commentators pointed out that the main participants' account of the incident and other aspects of the participants' behavior were inconsistent with the teachings of Falun Dafa.[154] Washington Post journalist Phillip Pan wrote that the two self-immolators who died were not actually Falun Gong practitioners.[155] Time reported that prior to the self-immolation incident, many Chinese had felt that Falun Gong posed no real threat, and that the state's crackdown had gone too far. After the event, however, the mainland Chinese media campaign against Falun Gong gained significant traction.[156] As public sympathy for Falun Gong declined, the government began sanctioning "systematic use of violence" against the group.[157] According to Falun Gong websites, the number of Falun Gong adherents tortured to death rose from 245 in 2000 to 419 in 2001.[158]

After reading several sources on the Internet that day, I don't think she was convinced that Falun Dafa was necessarily "good" and that a genocide had occurred, but she was now deeply suspicious of much of what she had previously learned about Falun Dafa and how the Chinese government responded.
The full Wikipedia post on Falun Dafa can be found here.  It is detailed and provides numerous references.  I suspect that many, whether in Mainland China, Taiwan, the US, or elsewhere would find much in the entry that would be new to them.  What people take away from it could be very different, though.

For now, I simply want to say that like the students' use of Facebook in Hualien, Taiwan discussed in the previous post, the signs in Taitung contrast with what is possible in Mainland China.  I doubt such signs would be permitted to stand long in Mainland China.  I certainly haven't seen any.

Signs supporting Falun Dafa may seem like a very distant issue from access to Facebook.  However, you don't need to make a sign to share the opinion "Falun Dafa is Good" with many people.

You could do it with Facebook as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Facebook Contrasts: Students in Taiwan and Mainland China

Hualien City is a smaller city on the eastern coast of Taiwan with some wonderful natural scenery nearby.  One afternoon a few days ago I stopped by a store in Hualien well-known for its shaved-ice desserts.  While I was there, several local senior high school students who were also enjoying the desserts asked if they could sit with me and chat.  They were likely interested in speaking to a foreigner and practicing their English.

It provided an opportunity to learn a little about them and see how they compared to the many youth I've spoken with and researched in Mainland China.  Of course, there is a wide range of youth in Mainland China and I am not sure whether the students I spoke to in Hualien were representative of either their city or of Taiwan.  Still, there was an aspect of the conversation that clearly differed from any I have had in Mainland China.

After chatting for maybe 10-20 minutes they asked something that most youth in Mainland China never ask.

They asked me if I had a Facebook account so that we could be "friends".

In most places I've been in Mainland China if I were speaking to local youth they may ask if I use QQ or Sina Weibo, but almost never do they ask about Facebook.  That isn't surprising since Facebook is blocked in Mainland China.

However, in Taiwan there is no Great Firewall blocking sites such as Facebook on the Internet.  The Taiwanese students told me they use Facebook regularly and that it is particularly useful for keeping connected with their friends from junior high school.  Unlike junior high school, their senior high schools have specialized areas of study, so now many of their friends go to different schools.

There were other indications that Facebook is a regular part of their lives -- in some ways similar to people in other parts of the world.  For example, after having someone take a photo of us with one of their mobile phones they excitedly spoke about later posting the photo on their Facebook accounts.  And at one moment several of them energetically said (zàn) to voice their approval of something.  (zàn) is the equivalent on Facebook in Taiwan for "Like".  They were consciously using it in the same manner they would use it online on Facebook.

Their use of Facebook is striking in comparison to most youth in Mainland China.  Like the waitress in Chengdu I wrote about in an earlier post, I believe there are many in China who would question why it is that these students in Hualien, Taiwan:

Five students in Hualien posing for a photo in a dessert store

are free to use online services such as Facebook without restriction while these students in Zigong, Sichuan province:

Five students in Zigong posing for a photo in a McDonalds

are not only blocked from using Facebook but also services such as YouTube, Twitter, and more.

I suspect that many of these students would agree with the waitress in Chengdu when she said, "That's not fair!"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Potential Perils of Visualization

James Fallows recently shared a video providing a visualization of the flow of money connected to Kiva, as Fallows describes "an organization that matches lenders, mainly in rich countries, with microfinance organizations and entrepreneurs and students mainly in poor countries".  The video is a great example of how a good visualization can effectively communicate information and be invaluable in "selling" ideas.  I recommend taking a look at the post and video here.

Fallows also suggests that the visualization can be reminiscent of "war-game counterparts involving a different sort of intercontinental ballistic device".  While I agree that this visualization can conjure up images of mass destruction, I think we should keep things in perspective.  After all, at least the visualization itself wasn't destructive.

What do I mean by this?  Ask Kermit the Frog.  As you can see in the video below, he has seen firsthand the potential perils of visualization gone awry.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Facebook, Taiwan, and a Waitress's Comments on Censorship in China

Several months ago while at a cafe in Chengdu, Sichuan, I spoke with one of the waitresses and asked her a number of questions about her use of the Internet.  Eventually, the conversation touched on the issue of online censorship in China.  In summary, she expressed that she didn't like it in terms how it directly impacted her online experience, but she felt that it was for the best so that China could maintain stability during its current stage of development.

I've heard similar comments from many others across China.  There's much I could say about this viewpoint, but for now I'll just share what followed in this particular case since I believe it highlights some deeper issues and I hope it can stimulate further discussion.

After her comments defending censorship, I simply asked the waitress to take a look at the screen of my laptop, and I pulled up a browser window with Facebook on it.  After looking at the screen for a few moments she asked me how I could be using Facebook -- she knew it was blocked in China.  I briefly explained how I used a VPN to get through China's Great Firewall.

I then pointed out some posts a friend had written on Facebook entirely in Traditional Chinese (Language note: Some Chinese characters exist in both a Simplified Chinese form and a Traditional Chinese form.  In mainland China and Singapore typically Simplified Chinese characters are used when available.  In other places such as Hong Kong or Taiwan typically only Traditional Chinese characters are used).  I asked the waitress what she thought of the posts.  She said she felt that my friend had a "special" way of expressing herself since she used Traditional Chinese.  I suspected the waitress's impression was based on the assumption my friend lived in mainland China, so I then told her that my friend lives in Taiwan.  The waitress nodded and understood that it would be typical for my friend to use Traditional Chinese.

I waited.

After looking at the screen for a bit longer the waitress suddenly cocked her head, looked at me, and with a puzzled expression asked, "They can use Facebook in Taiwan?"  I explained that Facebook wasn't blocked in Taiwan and anyone there was free to use it.

Her face quickly shifted to an indignant expression, and she emphatically said, "That's not fair!  Why can they use it and we can't?!?"

In later discussion she expressed that she was frustrated that she couldn't use a service such as Facebook.  I think it's particularly striking how her expressed acceptance of censorship significantly changed in a short period of time without any confrontational debate or explicit argument.  Instead of justifying the censorship she was beginning to strongly and openly question it.  Especially given the informal nature of this interaction, whether this indicated a deep change of opinion or an opening up of ideas already held is difficult to confidently determine.  Regardless, what she expressed, both verbally and emotionally, had shifted dramatically over the course of the discussion.

In part, I believe what occurred was that the waitress had previously been able to rationalize why it was OK she didn't have the same freedoms as someone in a place such as the US by noting the differences between the countries and cultures.  However, people in Taiwan can be considered "Chinese people" -- from the perspective of the waitress this was true both in terms of ancestry and of country.  Seeing that what was closed off to her and others in mainland China was freely available to anyone in Taiwan made it more difficult for her to maintain her earlier justification of censorship.  I also suspect the comparison to Taiwan impacted her sense of pride and caused a more visceral reaction.

I never did try to provide the waitress an answer to her question about why people in Taiwan can use Facebook but people in mainland China can not.  It was a question I could have easily asked her myself without even bothering with my laptop or Facebook.

But it makes all the difference that she asked it herself.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

Due to some travel and Internet issues I haven't had a chance to post lately.  For a clue of where I am, see here:

ad for Sony Internet TV in Taipei Metro station

If you look closely at the ad for Sony Internet TV you'll see logos for Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.  The latter 3 were all blocked in China last time I checked so is Sony promoting blocked web sites like K-Touch?

Not at all.  Some readers may have picked up on some clues in the photo (such as the signs and use of Traditional Chinese characters) that the above scene is from inside a metro station in Taipei, Taiwan.  No Great Firewall in Taiwan!  I'm full of joy to be able to access such sites without having to slink behind a VPN (although I still use it at times for other reasons such as privacy/security over Wi-Fi).

For at least the next week or so, I'll be traveling around Taiwan.  I first visited here over 9 years ago and it's fascinating to see a) what has and has not changed during that period of time and b) how it compares to... um... "Mainland China".

In upcoming posts I'll share some thoughts on those topics and some conversations I've had in Mainland China regarding Taiwan.  The topic of Taiwan there can be hotly emotional in ways that can be very unexpected for those who aren't familiar with such issues in China.  I'll see if I can write about it without causing a firestorm.

Admittedly, my enjoyment of Taiwan and catching up with a number of friends here might interfere with my posting.  But at least I know the Great Firewall won't be getting in my way.

And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't follow Google Maps' advice for getting to Taipei from Shanghai (if you missed out on this fun, use the directions tool on Google Maps, enter "Shanghai" for starting point and "Taipei" as the destination point, and look at step 33 or so explaining how to manage a large stretch of water along the way).  The direct flight from Shanghai to Taipei worked out just fine for me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Only Some Things are Shared

Here is a view I enjoyed on an early evening this past weekend from near the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center:

It's hard not to be impressed by the architectural wonders and ponder what they imply about China's economic strength.  However, scenes such as this one are worlds away from the lives of most people in China, and they can be symbols of the relatively extreme concentration of China's new wealth.  For many in China, the photos I previously shared of Shanghai's Xiaonanmen are far closer to their daily lives.

The above photo can also be a symbol for how the costs and benefits of China's development can be spread very differently.  Even if one isn't reaping much profit from China's economic growth, you still breathe the pollution from its factories, power plants, and vehicles.  I can't say for sure whether the haze is a result of clouds or pollution but Shanghai certainly has more than enough of the latter -- possibly an unavoidable price for China's rapid economic development.

Two questions to ponder:  Which would be easier to change -- the amount of pollution or the imbalance of wealth?  Which would most people in China prefer to be changed?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paradoxical Text Message from China Mobile

Yesterday, I called China Mobile's customer service using their 10086 hotline number.  They were very helpful in answering my question about international roaming.  Shortly after the call concluded I received a text message asking for feedback.

As a prelude, I'll just say that there are many challenges to writing good survey questions.  For example, small changes in wording can mean big differences in how people respond and how the results can be interpreted. 

However, in the case of the text message sent by China Mobile the shortcomings are relatively clear.  There are several things I could comment on but it was that last sentence that caused a moment of pause and my friend to wonder why I was laughing.  I share the text message here "as is" [grammar mistakes not mine]:
Premiere Service, Only For You. Dear Customer, please rate your satisfaction with our 10086 hotline service: 1. reply 1 for "Strongly Agree" 2. reply 2 for "Agree" 3. reply 3 for "Passable" 4. reply 4 for "Disagree" 5. reply 5 for "Strongly Disagree". If you refuse to response this message, please reply with "0".
I'd be interested to know if any Chinese equivalent is also so wonderfully paradoxical.  Though, there might not be one since they say this "Premier Service" is only for me.  Maybe I should just feel special.

In case you're curious, I decided not to respond.  Although I was tempted reply with "6".

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bertrand Russell's Advice to the Future

Although I've been living in China the past 5 years I still closely follow news and commentary in the US.  During that time, I have wondered if there was an increase in the severity of several problems that I believe interfere with meaningful debate over how best to address a number of important issues, whether the environment, the recession, the debt, etc.  Two of these problems are:
  • Attacks against or dismissal of logic, science and intellectualism.
  • Labeling those with different viewpoints as "evil" or "traitors".
I find them particularly concerning since they work against traits that I believe are part of some of America's most important strengths.  I'm certainly not the first to note them and neither is new to the world.  In fact, in 1959 when Bertrand Russell was asked what he would say to people alive 1000 years later his response touched on these two issues.

The following is a video of Russell's response.  It is just a 2 minute clip from a longer interview (which can be found here).  I'd be curious to know how various people interpret and react to it.

I don't think his response would be at all out of place if he made it today, especially this:
In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected we have to learn to tolerate each other.  We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don't like.  
Maybe the continued aptness of his comments shouldn't come as a surprise since he apparently thought this advice would still be useful about 950 years from now -- possibly a silver lining for an interpretation of struggles in today's debates.  And while Bertrand Russell's comments were likely the result of some careful thinking, I suspect he would also appreciate debate about his very own advice.  After all, he has said:
I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.
I believe there is much strength in that view.  And I believe that if more people held it, we might be able to have more productive debates in the US.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pedestrian Bridges as Intended

In an earlier post I challenged readers to identify the intended meaning of a sign on some pedestrian bridges in Chengdu, and in a later post I provided the answer.  In another post I shared a video someone took of a driver incredibly using a pedestrian bridge as a car bridge in Kunming.

The other day in Shanghai I saw this pedestrian bridge:

man walking bike down ramp on pedestrian bridge in Shanghai

The photo shows someone walking their bike down the steps using a side ramp as intended for that purpose.

Just goes to show that not every moment in China involves people not observing signs or driving their cars across a pedestrian bridge.  Sometimes, people behave just as designers intend.  It happens.

For me, the scene is also indicative of how like everywhere else in the world there is a more "typical" side of China of people simply going about their everyday lives.  It may not seem as flashy, but if you want to understand people that side is important, too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Curious Promotion for the K-Touch W700 Mobile Phone in China

As I mentioned in the previous post, this past weekend I was in Shanghai's Qibao Town, best known for its "Ancient Town".  As part of another experience I had in a non-ancient section of Qibao, I became familiar with the promotion for a new mobile phone including a new mobile operating system, both developed by Chinese companies.

This building in Qibao includes the electronics store Yolo (永乐 - Yongle):

As part of of a promotion outside the store, a video of scenes from Gameloft's game Asphalt 6: Adrenaline was displayed on a TV:

The promotion wasn't primarily for the game, but for K-Touch's recently released W700 phone on which the game could be played.  K-Touch is a Chinese mobile phone brand that I've seen for sale in many cities across China, and I mentioned it in an earlier post about the mobile phone selection at stores in Zhaotong, Yunnan.

K-Touch's W700 is particularly notable for running Alibaba's new Aliyun (阿里云) mobile operating system.  Alibaba is a significant force in China, particularly in the e-commerce domain and the Alibaba Group includes web sites such as Taobao (the "eBay of China") and China Yahoo!.

Alibaba intends for Aliyun OS to compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in China.  As noted by Mark Hachman in PC Mag:
Alibaba's operating system makes use of "cloud-based" services, including e-mail, Internet search, weather updates and GPS and mapping applications, the company said. The OS will apparently require users to be constantly connected to take advantage of its Web-based apps, instead of designing applications that can run natively on the phone's hardware...

"Mobile users want a more open and convenient mobile OS, one that allows them to truly enjoy all that the Internet has to offer right in the palm of their hand, and the cloud OS, with its use of cloud-based applications, will provide that," said Wang Jian, president of Alibaba Cloud Computing, in a statement. "Introducing cloud apps to mobile devices not only brings a whole new user experience, but also greater ease for third-party mobile software developers who will be able to use Internet technology such as HTML5 and JavaScript to reduce the complexity in the app development process."

Alibaba said that each user would be given a free 100 Gbytes of storage to back up data to AliCloud's remote data center, which could be replicated to the PC and mobile devices.

I went inside Yolo to try out the phone.  I wasn't able to spend much time with it and mostly focused on the Asphalt 6 game given the staff's eagerness to show it off.  The short story is that I could only steer the car by pressing on the sides of the screen screen.  Tilting the phone to drive the car did not work.  The staff insisted that the phone's settings must have been changed because tilting the phone worked fine when they had played the game earlier in the day.  They didn't offer to try to change the settings, though.

That Asphalt 6 could be played at all on the K-Touch W700 is interesting since Gameloft does not list the W700 or Aliyun OS as compatible for the game (nor does Gameloft have a Chinese web site).  However, there is a key feature of Aliyun OS that may explain how the game can be played.

One line of the flyer seen above advertises "兼容多种Android应用".  That translates as "Compatible with a variety of Android applications".  I'm not familiar with how Aliyun OS is able to run Android applications without itself being or including a version of Android in some manner.  But this relationship of operating systems isn't entirely unique in at least some regards.  For example, it's possible to run Windows on Apple's Mac OS X.

The promotion highlighted the Android connection elsewhere as well.  For example, you may have already noticed than in the photo of the TV above the words "Available Now On Android" appear on the screen.

The Android logo also appeared in the display case as seen here:

There are pictures of cubes representing Youku (the "YouTube of China"), Windows Live Messenger, Kaixin (a social networking service), Taobao, QQ (instant messaging & more), and... Android amongst others.

While I could appreciate the desire to highlight that the W700 could run Android applications, I found it curious that K-Touch would build a whole promotion around an application that was built for Android versus focusing on the uniqueness of the Aliyun OS offerings.  I also noticed that "Asphalt 6" or a Chinese equivalent was not written on any of the promotional material I saw that day other than in the video and the game itself -- even though there is ample reference to the racing theme.

At the time I wasn't sure whether to read anything into this.  However, I now see that the game appears to be be specifically referenced in connection with the W700 on the K-Touch web site as seen in the mention of "狂野飙车6" in an announcement of a game competition which is being held by K-Touch in 20 cities across China including Shanghai (screen capture of part of the page below).

And a sales page on Taobao linked to from the home page of the K-Touch web site specifically says that the game is included on the phone and that K-Touch has an agreement with Gameloft to do so.

No problem here.  K-touch has an agreement with Gameloft.

Whatever agreements K-Touch may have with Gameloft, it isn't the only mobile phone brand tying Asphalt 6: Adrenaline to its product in China.  In Qibao and elsewhere in Shanghai I've seen the following advertisement in metro stations:

Since this Sony Ericsson mobile phone runs the Android operating system, I suspect their marketing challenges are a bit more straight forward.

Regardless, what most captured my attention about the K-Touch promotion was the final scene for the video on display:

Yes, the video included directions for where to find Gameloft on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. 
Maybe it's just me, but it seems a bit peculiar for K-Touch to be promoting web sites that are blocked by China's Great Firewall.  I asked the salespeople about why these web sites were included in the video.  After some discussion they decided they had no idea and looked hopeful I would stop asking about it.

Later, I discovered one possible source for the video: YouTube.

As far as I recall, the YouTube video above is the same video I saw outside the Yolo.  And for what it's worth I couldn't find it on Youku.  The video was posted by Gameloft and is specific for its Android release (there is another video for its iPhone release).

Anyways, it will be interesting to see how the W700 does in China.  But even if it performs poorly, K-Touch can perhaps still tie in Asphalt 6 to its products.  After all, some of K-Touch's other phones, such as the U2 and W606, don't use the Aliyun OS, but they do use Android.

They may want to drop references to blocked web sites, though.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shopping Cart Kid in Qibao, Shanghai

In the previous post I noted I had yet to see a kiddie play area in Shanghai as large as the one I saw in Changchun, Jilin.  This weekend I saw another kiddie play area in a modern shopping district in Qibao, a town in Shanghai well-known for its "Qibao Ancient Town".  However, yet again the play area's size was not as impressive as the one in Changchun.

Keeping the kids amused in Qibao

Not all the kids around there were just playing around.  After all, there's shopping to be done.  This kid was doing it style, though, while riding around in a shopping cart in Tesco (a Walmart-like store):

She seemed well prepared for the hot and humid weather outside with the fan hat.  The proud display of Shanghai kiddie fashion is was most caught my eye.  Both her and her parents seemed quite happy when I asked if I could take her photo. 

Soon, I'll post about some unrelated mobile phone marketing I saw nearby this Tesco that involved Android, Angry Birds, and Facebook -- not exactly a combo I was expecting to see in Qibao or anywhere in a country that is currently blocking Facebook.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mega Kiddie Play Area and Mall in Changchun

In an earlier post, I commented on a ramp at an historic site in Guiyang, Guizhou that was being used in a manner its designers had not likely intended -- as a kiddie slide.

In Changchun, Jilin I saw something else that prompted kids to play.  However, in this case the designers clearly had kids in mind:

This rather incredible play area is in a very large mall in central Changchun.  It was particularly striking to me since I'd never seen a play area on this scale before.  A Shanghainese friend told me that they recall seeing even bigger play areas in Shanghai as a child but they now seem to be fewer in number (I haven't seen anything like this in Shanghai myself).  I have to admit I was a bit jealous nothing like this was available when & where I grew up as a kid.

Is this one of those things that's easy to be impressed by only to discover it's unsafe or built improperly?  I saw nothing obviously amiss but I really don't know.  If I had kids, I probably would have caved in if they wanted to play in it.  All I know for sure is that it's been open for at least well over a year (based on my two visits to Changchun).

It is but one of the attractions in the mall.  For example, there is also an indoor amusement park on the 4th floor.  It includes a number of rides such as the ubiquitous swinging pirate ship and also some dinosaur scenes such as this one:

Fortunately not real

Similar (but smaller) to what can be found at The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian hotels in either Las Vegas or Macau, China there is also a fake Venetian-style shopping corridor with its very own canal:

As you can see in the photos, there weren't a lot of people at the mall (at least relative to its size).  I've seen it far busier on other days, though, and there is a lot of space for people to be.

The mall is not representative of the typical shopping experience in the Changchun area, but it represents the "big" side of China that can be found in a variety of places.  As China's economy grows, malls like this may become more common in places such as Changchun, an area with over 7 million people.

At least that's probably what some kids are hoping for.