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.