Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Non-International View of Macau from Zhuhai

View of Macau from Zhuhai at night
View of Macau, China, from Zhuhai, China (February 2015)

You could try swimming from the location in Zhuhai where I took the above photo to Macau. I stress "try". Even if you reached Macau, the relevant authorities would likely prevent you from getting much farther, and what follows would likely not be a pleasant experience. Reaching Macau would be far easier if you simply walk to the nearby immigration and control point and cross the border on land, assuming you have the relevant documents. Many Chinese people I have met in the same area did not though. But if you do make it to Macau from Zhuhai, regardless of the method you use I wouldn't call it "overseas travel".

Monday, August 3, 2015

Many of China's 109 Million "Overseas" Travelers Never Left China

People in Zhuhai walking away from the border gate with Macau
People in Zhuhai, China, walking away from the border gate to Macau, China (February 2015)

The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) claims mainland Chinese citizens traveled "overseas" more than 100 million times last year, the most ever. This statistic is often mentioned in media reports and commentary regarding growing opportunities for countries to attract international travelers from China and their money (examples from The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Xinhua, and Quartz). But numbers from China often come with big caveats which significantly impact their meaning. This one is no exception.

To be clear, the statistic does not cover citizens of Hong Kong or Macau, both Special Administrative Regions where a number of rules and regulations differ from the rest of China. One possible reason for omitting the two cities is if CNTA included them it would be at a loss to explain why it wasn't also including Taiwan. The People's Republic of China claims Taiwan but doesn't currently control it. Presumably CNTA doesn't have the same access to Taiwan's travel data. So clumping Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau together, a common thing to do in China, helps CNTA avoid highlighting a delicate issue. And there can be meaningful reasons for not including data about Hong Kong's and Macau's citizens, including many countries making it easier for them to visit by having more generous entry rules for them than for citizens of mainland China.

Less mentioned and more significant than the statistic excluding people traveling from Hong Kong and Macau is it including people traveling from mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau, where mainland Chinese need a special permit to visit. This means when a Chinese citizen living in Shenzhen travels to Hong Kong it could count as "overseas" travel despite the cities sharing a border easily crossed by foot and both undisputedly being part of the People's Republic of China. The same holds true for Macau, which borders Zhuhai.

I can't find a breakdown of the statistic for all of 2014, which was 109 million, on CNTA's website. However, in December last year CNTA provided additional details for the year's first 11 months when the number had already surpassed 100 million. According to CNTA, of those more than 100 million "outbound tours" from January through November last year:
Overseas tourist destinations of Mainland Chinese citizens are: Asia (89.5%, in which Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan account for 70.4%), Europe (3.5%), Africa (3.0%), Americas (2.7%), Oceania (1.1%), and other regions (0.2%).
Reported elsewhere, Taiwan had 2.8 million mainland Chinese tourist arrivals for all of last year. Hong Kong and Macau clearly account for a large majority of the trips. Even in the most extreme case, the final numbers for the year could not change this point.

So indicating Chinese citizens made 100 million "overseas" or "international" trips is highly misleading at best. This doesn't mean there aren't growing opportunities for countries such as the U.S. to attract international travelers from China or influence them to spend more money. I think there are. But citing the 100 million statistic isn't usually going to be a great way to make that case.

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.