Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shushee Becoming a Shusher

I'm getting old.

OK, I'm sure that many of you a lot older than me think I'm being ridiculous in saying this. But last night I had an experience that made me feel as though I've crossed some kind of age barrier.

Qian and I are staying at a youth hostel here in Beijing. To the young-at-heart western backpacker in me, staying at a hostel is the natural way to travel. Last night though, my enthusiasm for hostels took a big hit.

The two of us were able to fall asleep at about midnight, but then woke up at about 3:30AM as the room heated up from our air-conditioner's timer turned off. We turned the air conditioner back on, but still couldn't get back to sleep. I'm sure some of our inability to sleep was due to the hot air, but the young backpacker types outside were still going strong and annoying the hell out of us.

After trying our best to endure their drunken banter, I eventually gave in and asked the front desk of the hostel to get involved. The poor front desk girl did as I asked and went to tell them to be quiet. But then a few minutes later, the noise level elevated again (as they always do on a night of drinking).

I then, in full grandpa mode, went outside and told the young folks that Qian and I had a big day planned for today and that they needed to shut the hell up.

Their response: "We were being loud?"

I went back to bed angry and annoyed with the whole situation.

This whole episode reminds me of a classic Seinfeld bit:
Jerry: I don't know. What do you do when a neighbor is making, like, a lot of noise at three o' clock in the morning? I mean, can you knock on someone's door and tell them to keep it down? You're really altering your whole self-image, I mean, what am I? Fred Mertz now? What's happening to me? Can I do this? Am I a shusher? I used to be a shushee!
I'm afraid my days of being a youth hostel enthusiast are over. I'm just too old for this kind of crap.

But other than that, Beijing has been great so far!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three Nights in Beijing

Qian and I took a night train to Beijing last night. I woke up a bunch of times on the way, but overall slept pretty well.

We're going into town to do some touristy stuff in a few minutes - Tiananmen, maybe Temple of Heaven. Jackie and a friend of hers are going shopping tomorrow while I chill with friends. We're going to the Great Wall on Wednesday. Our train back to Xi'an is leaving Thursday evening. I hope that at some point we can make it out to see the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, things I haven't seen in my previous three trips to Beijing.

I'll post more later.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes

I was talking about the role of Confucianism in contemporary Chinese society with a colleague of mine today. This, honestly, isn't something I can say much about. I haven't read much of Confucius' works and am only vaguely aware of Confucianism's principles.

But in thinking about Confucianism, a story I read the other day popped into my mind. Recently, I've been studying Chinese a lot better than before. I'm not sure why I'm more motivated now (on the cusp of leaving China in a few months), but I am and am trying to ride it for whatever it is worth.

In particular, I'm reviewing a lot of chapters and passages I studied a long time ago. I can't emphasize how important this is when it comes to studying Chinese.

A couple days ago, I reread the story of Zhang Liang. It is in chapter two of my second book. I just finished chapter twenty-seven of that second book last month. So the story is something I read for the first time a long time ago. In fact, it's been at least a year since I'd looked at it.

The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes is probably my favorite passage of anything I've ever read in Chinese. I remember after I finished it the first time, I just thought to myself: "Whoa..."

I just typed up the story and am going to quickly translate it as well:



张良家附近有一座桥,有一天,张良刚走上那座桥就看见一位白胡子老人从对面走来。那位老人看见张良就脱下自己的鞋仍到桥下,然后对张良说:“孩子,下去替我捡回来!” 张良看了看桥下的鞋,又看了看老人,马上跑到桥下去帮助他捡鞋。可是,张良刚把鞋交给老人,老人又把鞋仍到桥下去了,“孩子,再下去替我捡回来!” 张良又吃惊又生气,但是因为对方是位老人,没办法,就又到桥下去捡那只鞋。张良刚要把鞋交给那位老人,老人却抬起脚说:“孩子,给我穿上!” 张良虽然很生气,但还是蹲下来,给老人穿上了鞋。鞋穿好了,老人谢也不谢,站起来就走。张良说:“真是一位奇怪的老人。“



两天以后,张良很早就来到那座桥上,他想:”今天肯定不会迟到了。“ 可是,当他到那儿的时候,老人又在桥上等着他了。老人生气的说:你怎么又迟到了?回去吧,后天早一点到这里来!“ 说完又生气的走了。

又过了两天,天还没亮,张良就到桥上去了。他在桥上等着老人。天渐渐亮了,老人还没来,他又等了很长时间,才看见那位老人从远处慢慢地走来。老人满意地对张良说:”孩子,你就是我要找到的人。“ 他拿出一本书交给了张良,”这是一本兵法书,你要刻苦学习,以后肯定有用。“

And here is my quick translation of the story:
The Story of Zhang Liang Picking Up the Shoes

Ancient China has a famous person named Zhang Liang. There are many stories about him. The following is a story from his childhood.

There was a bridge near Zhang Liang's house. One day, after Zhang Liang went to the bridge he saw an old man with a white beard walk towards him. When this old man saw Zhang Liang, he threw his shoe under the bridge. The old man then said to Zhang Liang: "Young child, go pick up my shoe from under the bridge for me!" Zhang Liang looked under the bridge, looked at the old man, and then quickly ran down to help the old man pick up the shoe. But right after Zhang Liang had given the shoe to the old man on top of the bridge, he again threw the shoe under the bridge. "Young child, go pick up my shoe from under the bridge for me again!"

Zhang Liang was both surprised and angry. But because the other person was an old person there was nothing he could do. He went under the bridge to go pick up the shoe. Right after Zhang Liang gave the old man his shoe, the old man lifted up his foot and said: "Young child, put it on my foot!" Although Zhang Liang was very angry, he stooped down and put the shoe on the man. After the shoe was on the old man's foot, the old man stood up without saying "thank you" and began walking away. Zhang Liang thought: "This is some weird old man."

After the old man had walked a few steps, he suddenly walked back towards Zhang Liang and said to him: "You are a really good kid. In the early morning of the day after tomorrow, come back to this bridge. I want to give you an important thing."

The third day early in the morning, Zhang Liang came back to atop the bridge. The old man was already there waiting for him. The old man angrily said to Zhang Liang: "How can you be late to a meeting with an old person? Go away. Come back earlier in the morning the day after tomorrow!"

Two days later, Zhang Liang went back to the bridge really early in the morning. He thought: "Today, I definitely won't be late." But when he got to the bridge, the old man was there waiting for him. The old man angrily said to Zhang Liang: "How are you late again? Go away. Come back earlier in the morning the day after tomorrow." The old man then angrily walked away.

Two more days passed. On this morning Zhang Liang went to the bridge before there was morning light. He waited for the old man on the bridge. The day slowly came. The old man didn't come. Zhang Liang waited a long time. But then he finally saw the old man slowly walking towards the bridge from far away. The old man happily said to the boy on the bridge: "Young child, you are the kind of person I want to find."

The old man then took out a book and gave it to Zhang Liang. "This book is The Art of War. If you study it very carefully, you will one day be a very useful person."

Zhang Liang studied The Art of War very hard. He later in life became a very famous politician and war strategist.
I'm exhausted from typing and translating this. I can't really write my thoughts on it right now. I'll just leave this post with this: To me, this story does a wonderful job of highlighting the mystery and mystique that is China and has so much stereotypical "Chinese thought" in it.

Do you have any opinions on the story?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Photos of the Week - Walmart in Xi'an

I took these photos when the first Wal-Mart opened in Xi'an in 2007. Since that time, a handful more have opened up or will open soon in Xi'an.

While Wal-Marts in China have some of the same characteristics as Wal-Marts in the States, there are, obviously, a fair number of differences too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Google Blocked in China

Just sat down to the computer a few minutes ago. Google blocked.

Edit - 11:06PM, Wednesday evening: Google opened...

Second Edit - 3:53PM, Thursday afternoon: Google blocked again. Was working this morning. Not anymore. I have no idea what's going on with all of this stuff... except that this country is now a purer place since the evil products Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed are no longer accessible.

Obama's Blockberry

I guarantee this wouldn't have happened to John McCain. Obama's been Shanzhai'd!

The picture and story below are from The Wall St. Journal's "China Journal:"

It’s the biggest product launch of the year: a Chinese company is selling a BlackBerry-like device with promotional assistance from none other than the President of the United States.

Okay, not really. But that’s the idea behind this ad, the latest emanation from China’s zany shanzhai culture, a mixture of old-school copycatting and arch parody.

The ad promotes a smartphone called the “BlockBerry旋风 9500” (旋风, xuanfeng, means “whirlwind”), that more-than-slightly resembles the BlackBerry Storm, Research In Motion’s (RIMM) first touch-screen device, released last fall. The touch-screen BlockBerry purportedly runs on Windows Mobile software, has WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G wireless capabilities, and comes in six colors, from purple to champagne. “Obama’s BlackBerry. My Blockberry旋风 9500,” reads the tagline below the president’s photo (which is inverted, apparently by a sloppy layout designer, with the American-flag pin backwards on the wrong lapel). China Journal admittedly hasn’t verified this with Robert Gibbs, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that Obama’s presence in the ad is unauthorized.

Read On
I wanted to post something more substantive today, but couldn't resist highlighting this ad. It cracks me up.

I've talked a few times before about Shanzhai culture in China. Coming from a country that is one of the biggest enforcers of intellectual property rights in the world, this culture continues to amaze me. It is literally everywhere on every street in Xi'an. Fake everything everywhere.

I couldn't help but laugh a couple times as I read the Shanzhai Wikipedia page:
The use of “shanzhai” became popular with the outstanding sale performance of “shanzhai” cell phones. According to Gartner’s data, 1.15 billion cell phones were sold worldwide in 2007, and according to data provided by the Chinese government 150 million “Shanzhai” cell phones were sold in the same year, thus making up more than one tenth of the global sales. [3]

The market for “shanzhai” cell phones lies not only in China, but also in the surrounding developing countries in Asia or even third world countries in Africa. The outstanding sales performance of “shanzhai” cell phones is usually attributed to their low price, (usually lower than $50), multi-functional performance and imitations of trendy cell phone design. Although “shanzhai” companies do not use branding as a marketing strategy, they are known for their flexibility of design to meet specific market needs. For example, during Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, “shanzhai” cell phone companies started selling “Obama” cell phones in Kenya, with the slogan “yes we can” and Obama’s name on the back of the cell phone. [4] They also designed “ Bird Nest” and “Fuwa” (福娃) cell phones in light of the Beijing Olympic Games.


Shanzhaiism 山寨主義 is a philosophical term denoting a Chinese style of innovation with a peasant mind-set. Western style innovation cannot be developed in China. In the Web2.0 era, most products and services are produced by the west. It seems that China has no say and no way in the Web2.0 era.

Shanzhaiism has a long tradition. Products needed to be designed to suit peasants which account for most of the Chinese population.

Shanzhaiism has an equivalent English term: tinker. Lacking a garage, they build products in villages in the mountain that have stockade houses. However, with shanzhaiism in mind, people can produce fake and pirate products in a massively organized way.


The frequent reference of “shanzhai” cell phone on internet and in traditional media made people started labeling low-cost imitation cultural activities as “shanzhai” as well. Some of the most well-known events include, “Shanzhai” National Spring Gala (“山寨春节联欢晚会”), “Shanzhai” Lecture Room (“山寨百家讲坛”), “Shanzhai” Olympic Torch Relay (“山寨奥运火炬传递”), and “Shanzhai” Nobel Prize (“山寨诺贝尔奖”). One thing these events have in common is that they all imitate high-end, popular yet authoritative events in which grass-root power usually has no participating role.

While the purpose of above mentioned “shanzhai” events are arguably just for the participants to have fun and to experience being the authority, other “shanzhai” cultural phenomenon, like the “shanzhai” product, is profit-oriented. One example of such is that some low-end performing agencies will hire people who look like pop stars to perform in rural areas, where people cannot afford to watch the performance of the actual stars. Thus “shanzhai” Jay Chou( “山寨周杰伦”), “shanzhai” Andy Lau(“山寨刘德华”, “shanzhai” Faye Wong(“山寨王菲”)s’ performance can be seen in many underdeveloped places in China.
Shanzhai is definitely ingrained into Chiense culture. As China develops and becomes wealthier, it's going to be interesting to see how this culture develops and how the country deals with the phenomenon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seven Day Quarantine

Coming to China soon? Be sure to act lively and in good spirits when you deplane.

From The Seattle Times:

Image from Beijingolympicsfan.com

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert about China's anti-flu measures that have led to some travelers being quarantined for a week.

China is imposing the seven-day quarantine on passengers arriving with a fever or flu-like symptoms in order to prevent the spread of swine flu.

"Although the proportion of arriving Americans being quarantined remains low, the random nature of the selection process increases the uncertainty surrounding travel to China," the State Department said Monday in regard to China's H1N1 (swine-flu) procedures.

The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, was quarantined earlier this month for several days in Shanghai after arriving on a plane that carried a passenger who had symptoms of the virus. Nagin and his travel companions were symptom-free.

"The selection process focuses on those sitting in close proximity to another traveler exhibiting fever or flu-like symptoms or on those displaying an elevated temperature if arriving from an area where outbreaks of 2009-H1N1 have occurred. We have reports of passengers arriving from areas where outbreaks have occurred (including the U.S. and Mexico) being placed in precautionary quarantine simply because they registered slightly elevated temperatures, " said the State Department.

Read On
China wants to take this swine flu threat seriously after it botched SARS in 2003. At least the selection of who to quarantine is now based on showing symptoms rather than what country a person is from.

It's understandable that China is concerned about swine flu. The country's urban centers are densely populated and the sanitary conditions are not so high anywhere (good luck finding soap at a public place).

Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of travelers are going to have to spend a week of time in quarantine in Chinese hotels. That's not going to be a pleasant experience. But China is serious about this and I bet that these practices go on for some time, or at least as long as swine flu is anywhere to be found in the world.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Carbon Capture

China is serious about reducing CO2 emissions through CO2-capture at coal-fired power plants.

From The New York Times and Climate Wire:

Image from New York Times

When European and Chinese scientists first agreed to collaborate on capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground, China's entire carbon capture and sequestration "team" was composed of two Tsinghua University graduate students.

Less than five years later, the landscape is markedly different. China's first near-zero-emissions coal plant won state approval this month -- an apparent formality, since construction already is far under way. Two other pilots are in the works, including one in inner Mongolia that could be the largest sequestration project in the world. Conferences on carbon capture in China now routinely feature high-level government and industry leaders.

And one of those once-lowly grad students, analysts said, is among China's negotiators at the international forum of the world's 17 major economies meeting on energy issues next month in Mexico City.

"It's a definite shift in attitude," said Matthew Webb, coal campaign leader in Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who once led the ongoing attempts at cooperation between Europe and China on carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS.

"It's not political taboo anymore," he said. "It's a reality that needs to be addressed."

Read On
It's refreshing to see that the world has moved past the thinking that dominated the beginning of this decade. During that time period, we heard a lot of "we shouldn't get serious about climate change because the other side won't." How much of that was due to President Bush is debatable. Although I'd say that he had a great deal to do with this attitude.

I also like seeing that instead of an inconvenience, tackling climate change is being viewed as an opportunity. I see the development of a renewable energy and other technologies, like carbon capture, as great chances to do something productive with economies that have fallen off a cliff.

Clean coal has a wide range of issues. Ultimately, it may not be the best thing for humanity to embrace. Other truly renewable energy developments would seem to be ideal. Coal is king though. And it will be for some time. But the willingness to take the idea seriously across the globe, and especially in China and, hopefully, America, is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mao Monroe

I randomly came across a couple works of art I'd never seen before today. I'm not sure what this says about my knowledge of modern art.

The first piece is from Salvador Dali and the second from Philippe Halsman:

"Mao Monroe" from deviantart.com

"Marilyn Mao" from hragvartanian.com

I hadn't realized that there was such a fascination with the combination of these two historical figures. Hmmmm...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Getting Google In Line

In a continuation of sorts from yesterday's "Building Walls," China is ramping up the pressure on Google and its "vulgar" searches.

From The Financial Times:

Image from Gordonchoi.com

China has ordered Google to suspend part of its search operations on its local website, in a show of force which could disrupt the company’s growth in the country and underscores the political risks of operating in China.

State media said on Friday that the authorities had “punished” Google China for linking to pornographic content. On Thursday, in a “law enforcement talk”, the government announced that Google China would be punished with orders to suspend foreign webpage searches and automated keywords, Xinhua, the official news agency, and China Central Television, the main state broadcaster, said.

Google confirmed that it met with government representatives “to discuss problems with the Google.cn service and its serving of pornographic images and content based on foreign language searches.” The company added that it was undertaking a thorough review of its service and said it believed it had addressed the large majority of the problem results.


The government has been clamping down on various internet sites for months in the name of a campaign against ‘vulgar’ online content. But on Thursday, the authorities took the unusual step of accusing only Google of allowing links to lurid content, although similar content was easily found through Baidu, its local rival which holds 59 per cent market share.

“If these restrictions are kept up for more than a few days, they will have a huge impact on Google’s business in China,” said Edward Yu, chief executive of Analysys, an internet research firm in Beijing.

Read On
China's been acting funny recently. This latest push-back against Google coupled with the Green Dam self-censoring computer project has me worried about the direction the Chinese internet is going.

Today's Google episode seems to be coming out of thin air. The vulgar content charge is spurious at best. As the article pointed out, similar content to Google's came up on searches of Baidu, China's largest, home-grown search engine.

This dispute with Google is surely being viewed as an opportunity to both restrict the flow of information and berate of a foreign company. A win-win indeed!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Building Walls

Getting involved in a tit-for-tat with the United States, China has decided to promote nationalist economic policy.

From The Associated Press:

Image from Time

BEIJING (AP) — China has imposed a requirement for its stimulus projects to use domestically made goods — a move that could strain ties with trading partners after Beijing criticized Washington's "Buy American" stimulus provisions.

Projects must obtain official permission to use imported goods, said an order issued by China's main planning agency and eight other government bodies.

Even before the order, business groups worried that foreign companies might be excluded from construction and other projects financed by Beijing's 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus. Foreign makers of wind turbines complain they have been shut out of bidding on a $5 billion stimulus-financed power project.

"Government investment projects should buy domestically made products unless products or services cannot be obtained in reasonable commercial conditions in China," says the order, dated June 1 and reported this week by state media. "Projects that really need to buy imports should be approved by the relevant government departments before purchasing activity starts."

Read On
I can see why China is doing this. They're responding to the actions of other countries. I can also see why, if available, it would be better to buy something in China as opposed to buying a similar product from abroad.

While I get why, economically, China would add this new provision to its stimulus, it seems like a dangerous political path to do down considering how important foreign exports and imports are to China. China has more to lose than just about any country if the world's economies all go insular.

I suppose I'm holding China to a higher standard than the rest of the world, but it seems to me like China would be smart to continue to try to promote what's gotten the country ahead, foreign trade, even if the other countries in the world are making globalization difficult.

An editorial from The Telegraph discusses China's actions:
As the world’s top exporter with a $400bn current account suplus and an economy that lives off the America and European market, it will pay the highest price if it triggers a global retreat into protectionist blocs.

The Chinese elite no doubt feel provoked by what they call the “poison” of the US `Buy American’ clause, but the Obama White House managed to tone down the worst excesses of Capitol Hill and in any case the Chinese version is more restrictive.

It bans the purchase of foreign equipment for investment projects unless a special exemption is obtained. The measures apply to European goods, even though EU states have not imposed any such “Buy Europe” clause of their own. EU producers of wind turbines have already been excluded from a $5bn wind project, whether or not they have factories in China.

Beijing risks making the same catastrophic error as the US Congress when it passed the US Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930. America was then the rising surplus power, like China today. It was the chief beneficiary of an open global system.

By imposing tariffs, Washington triggered massive retaliation. While nobody escaped the Great Depression that ensued, the effects were unequal. The US suffered a far steeper decline in output than the rest of the world. Britain muddled through relatively well in a trade bloc behind Imperial Preference.

Read On
China, the lone "beacon" of the world economy, is sputtering. It's exports and imports both continued their free-fall in May. It seems premature to me that some are saying that China is getting out of its funk.

Maybe the domesticating of economies around the world is the right thing to do at this time. My gut reaction is that it's a bad idea. But maybe it is the bitter medicine that the globalized world needs. The globalization that's occurred over the past couple decades certainly led to a lot of unsustainable growth and has a lot to do with the mess that we are in now.

China very well may see the way things went for the past decade as obsolete and a recipe for disaster. All of the export-led growth certainly hasn't been a completely smooth path for the country. I wouldn't blame China for wanting/needing to change the direction its economy.

Of course, if China and the rest of the world shifts course on globalization and tries to right the imbalances that came about during the last decade or two, then everyone in the world needs to re-think what "recovery" is going to look like when that happens. That kind of recovered world definitely wouldn't look like the world of, say, 2007.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Subtitling TV and Movies for the Masses

Every single western TV show or movie available to the Chinese masses on the internet has the Chinese translation of the program at the bottom of the screen. For some time now, I've been wondering who comes up with this ubiquitous text. I just found out the answer.

From CNN (H/T to The Peking Duck's Twitter page):

Photo from Daylife.com

SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- On Saturday at 10 a.m. it's show time for Brenda Zhang and her subtitle team. They roll out of bed, meet each other online and chat, while their modems download the latest episode of "Prison Break," which just aired half a world away on Friday night in America.

Once they have the show on their hard drives, the team spends the rest of the day creating subtitles for it in Chinese before putting it back online for other fans to watch.

Dozens of such groups exist in China. They are voluntary and are translating a mix of media, from books and magazines to games, TV shows and movies. The translated products are for an audience whose primary means of accessing foreign entertainment is the Internet.

The members of these online translations groups participate out of a desire to improve their English. For many there is also a passionate interest in overseas content and a desire to make it accessible to other Chinese people.

"This is a way to fulfill your life and do something you are interested in," said Zhang, a 24-year-old who translates for a team that calls themselves "Showfa."

"I think Chinese people need to know something different, to see how the foreigners think about life, think about love."

Read On
These people who do these translations are committed to their hobby. I can't exactly understand why they care so much given that they don't make any money off of what they do. But then again, I spend time on this here blog every day and I don't make any money on it. So I guess I can see why they do what they do.

The article says that there is a strict application process for being accepted into these groups. One member of the 1000fr group said "she had to translate 300 words in 15 minutes." These standards, translating words (probably with no context), surely explains why most of the translations are so awful.

When watching these Chinese subtitled programs, I can recognize a lot of the characters flowing across the bottom of the screen. It's hard for me to say whether what I'm kind of understanding gels with the English going on on the screen though. But Qian often (actually more often than not) has something to say about how terrible the translations are. She usually turns them off or switches it to the English translation, if possible.

The translations don't cut it for Qian, who has really good English. But it obviously works for the majority of Chinese people, who aren't proficient in English.

Whatever one thinks about the quality of these translators' work, there's no questioning their quantity.

As the article states, shows are turned over often within hours of their showing. If "24" is on on Tuesday night in America, you'll most likely be able to find it on the 'net in China by Wednesday (remember, China is twelve hours ahead of the US). Being able to watch TV shows as they air lets young Chinese people watch the show at the same rate as those in the States.

From what I've seen and heard, the most popular shows for young Chinese people are "24," "Desperate Housewives," and "Prison Break."

The most popular show during my time in China, by far, has been "Prison Break." I find this amusing since the show isn't particularly popular at all in America. I've watched a bit of it. It's painfully bad. You see pictures of the lead character "Scofield" all over Xi'an selling jeans or whatever. I've heard a lot of Chinese guys tell me how handsome they think Scofield is and lots of girls lament that he's gay in real life. The Prison Break phenomenon in China is indeed a curious one.

In addition to TV shows, American movies with Chinese subtitles across the bottom of the screen are everywhere. I've been impressed with some of the titles available. Both the Darren Aronofsky film "Pi" (I like its translation 死亡密码 - "Death's password?") and the 80's film "Stand by Me" are currently available with Chinese subtitles at PPlive.com. Neither of these movies are that popular in the States. Seeing that they've been translated, the Chinese 'net has just about every movie out there. Go search for whatever you want on PPlive. It's probably on there.

All of this stuff is, of course, illegal. Right now, the powers that be seems to be completely ignoring it though. Whether this culture will continue into the future will be an interesting thing to observe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Photos of the Week - The Streets of Pingyao

Qian and I went to Pingyao for a few days in February of 2008. It was a very relaxing few days. I wrote an article about it for Chinatravel.net here.

One-Child Policy Shmolicy

As China's economy develops and allows its people greater flexibility of movement, its arcane one-child policy is becoming more and more difficult to enforce. Particularly amongst the ultra-rich.

From The Telegraph:

Image from CBS News

In China's cities, the fines for having a second child can run up to 200,000 yuan (£20,000). The payment is intended to cover the schooling and healthcare costs of additional children.

However, wealthy parents are now either paying the fines outright, finding a way around them, or travelling to Hong Kong where no permit is needed, according to the government.

Between 2001 and 2008, nearly 78,000 babies were born in Hong Kong to parents registered as living on the mainland.


"Due to the rising mobility of Chinese citizens and the social transformation from the country's reform and opening up from the late 1970s, it has become tougher to regulate the policy," he said.


In addition, the government has gone on the offensive against public figures with multiple children, in order to set an example. "The fine is a piece of cake for the rich, the government had to hit them harder where it really hurt, at their fame, reputation and standing in society," said Zhai Zhenwu, a sociology professor with Renmin University of China.

Celebrities have been barred from public shows or television programmes and businessmen have been blocked from receiving government contracts.

Read On
It makes sense to me that the most well off in a society are the ones who crave freedom the most. Wealthy Chinese families have big apartments, cars, and everything else they want. I'm not surprised to hear that they also want to have as many kids as they like.

As China's economy yields more and more rich people and a larger middle-class, some of the questionable policies and rules being enforced in the country are going to face greater scrutiny. The internet (assuming it's not completely blocked out at some point) and cultural influences from outside the country will also help show Chinese people what else is out there in the world.

The one-child policy has already wreaked an amazing amount of havoc on millions and millions of people. And its going to create a plethora of unfathomable problems in the future as well.

It'll be interesting to see when the country decides to cut its losses on the policy and let its people have as many children as they want. I understand that there are 1.3 billion people in the country, etc. etc. But I don't buy that society would fall apart if the policy were lifted. There will hopefully be a point in the future when it's decided that the whole thing is more trouble than its worth.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Microsoft's Sickness

Microsoft just launched a new search engine: Bing.

The engine is already causing headaches for Microsoft in China. There aren't any problems about lewd pictures or politically-insensitive content. No, "Bing" is just a stupid name for a Chinese website.

From The Wall St. Journal:
After a brief hiatus last week, software giant Microsoft’s Bing search engine is back online in China.

Microsoft launched a Chinese version of Bing on June 1 at cn.bing.com, marking the first time the company has offered a Web product specifically targeted at the 298 million Web users in mainland China. But unlike its American counterpart (and like many of the other international versions of Bing), Chinese Bing is still a bit of a shell at this point, without all of the handy features that are available on the U.S. search engine.

And in China, Microsoft prefers not to call it “bing,” since that sound can have several meanings in Mandarin, depending on the tone and character associated with it. For example, this word: 病. Pronounced bing (fourth tone), it means “sickness” or “to be ill,” something most people would prefer to avoid. Other “bings” mean ice, soldier and pancake.

The Chinese version has thus been named “biying” (必应) which means “must respond/answer” and which Microsoft is marketing it as a“decision engine”– something that will provide information to assist Internet users with their decision-making processes.

Read On
This is a pretty funny scenario. It reminds me a lot of the classic example of the Chevy Nova trying to be sold in Latin America. In that case, "no va" loosely means can't go. The story I remember is that this naming-flub doomed the car's sales in Spanish-speaking countries.

It turns out that this Nova situation isn't completely true though. I just did a Google search on it and found this article from About.com:
Chances are you've heard about how Chevrolet had problems marketing the Chevy Nova automobile in Latin America. Since no va means "it doesn't go" in Spanish, the oft-repeated story goes, Latin American car buyers shunned the car, forcing Chevrolet to embarrassedly pull the car out of the market.

Chevrolet's woes are often cited as an example of how good intentions can go wrong when it comes to translation. There are literally thousands of references to the incident on the Internet, and the Nova example has been mentioned in textbooks and often comes up during presentations on cultural differences and advertising.

But there's one major problem with the story: it never happened. As a matter of fact, Chevrolet did reasonably well with the Nova in Latin America, even exceeding its sales projections in Venezuela. The story of the Chevy Nova is a classic example of an urban legend, a story that is told and retold so often that it is believed to be true even though it isn't. Like most other urban legends, there is some element of truth in the story (no va indeed means "it doesn't go"), enough truth to keep the story alive. And, like many urban legends, the story has the appeal of showing how the high and mighty can by humiliated by stupid mistakes.

Read On
So maybe the Chevy Nova in Latin America isn't completely analagous here. But it is in the same ballpark.

I'm not sure what Chinese people are going to think of the change from "Bing" to "Biying." The web address is still going to be cn.bing.com, so it's not as if people will be typing "Biying." I could see confusion or mocking of Microsoft over this name.

The Wall St. Journal article also goes on to discuss some other problems with the site. Again, it's not being threatened by the Great Firewall or anything. It's just that it's not a very good site or search engine. And the search market on the Chinese internet is already firmly established. So an inferior product just isn't going to cut it.

I don't really feel sorry for Microsoft blowing a big opportunity here. I haven't been a fan of the company for some time now. I bought a Mac Book a couple years ago and would never consider buying a PC again. Apple OS X is so much better than Windows, in my opinion. In addition to operating systems, Microsoft has also fallen behind with its search (MSN and Bing), its web browser (Internet Explorer), and its email (Hotmail).

Office is still pretty good though. I'll give Microsoft that.

Maybe one day 必应 will be big in China. I doubt it though. It's probably going to, instead, be another symptom of Microsoft's 病.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tweet Me

If a twit tweets alone in a forest, will any other twatters notice?

I'm trying my best to embrace the latest technology taking over the world: Twitter. I still don't completely get it. But I'm beginning to see the light. A little. I'm going to give Twitter a whirl and see what happens.

If you're interested, my user name is @markvranicar. The link to my profile is here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Serious Green Growth

I've talked a few times now about the status of US/China talks before this coming winter's Copenhagen Climate Summit. What happens over the coming months is, indeed, going to have major ramifications on the future of the planet.

I stumbled across an excellent report from The Center for American Progress by Julian Wong and Andrew Light from last week detailing what China is already doing and has already done with regards its development of clean energy.

Here is the opening section of the report:

A common refrain from climate action naysayers is that, "China is building two coal-fired power plants a week!" They insist that the United States should wait until this major emitter takes on binding commitments to climate change mitigation before it decides to adopt global warming pollution reduction policies in the American Climate and Energy Security Act (H.R. 2454). They "further claim that if such a bill became law, the United States would be transferring its jobs to countries such as China and India that are doing nothing to curb emissions. But that thinking is exactly wrong.

Critics fairly point to the fact that 80 percent of China’s power is derived from dirty coal, and that China recently surpassed the United States as the word’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Yet China’s per capita emissions remain a fifth that of the United States, and its historical cumulative per capita emissions from 1960 to 2005 are less than one-tenth that of the United States.

Still, the Chinese have recognized that it’s climate inaction—not climate legislation—that will lead to its own economic undoing. As the U.S. Congress debates the merits of enacting renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, China has already forged ahead with building its own low-carbon economy, laying the foundation for clean-energy jobs and innovation.

China ranked second in the world in 2007 in terms of the absolute dollar amount invested in renewable energy, according to the Climate Group. It spent $12 billion, which put it just behind Germany’s $14 billion. These investments have placed China among the world leaders in solar, wind, electric vehicle, rail, and grid technologies. And now approximately 9 percent of China’s $586 billion economic stimulus package will go toward sustainable development (excluding rail and grid) projects.

China is expected to unveil in the coming weeks another extensive and unprecedented stimulus package—reported to be in the range of $440 billion to $660 billion—dedicated solely to new energy development over the next decade, including generous investments in wind, solar, and hydropower. If those expectations are fulfilled, China could emerge as the unquestioned global leader in clean-energy production, significantly increasing its chances to wean its energy appetite off coal, and at the same time ushering in an era of sustainable economic growth by exporting these clean-energy technologies to the world.

The bottom line: China is not there yet, but it is beginning to transition to a clean-energy economy through a wide range of actions. The United States should recognize China’s efforts and encourage China to expand upon them. We have sketched this claim before, but let’s run though the numbers in more detail.

Read On or Download the .pdf of the Memo
I encourage everyone reading this to click through on this link and check out what Wong and Light highlight that China has done. It is well-referenced and very insightful.

In my three years of blogging on China, I've gone on countless rants about how awful China's environmental degradation is. It is astounding. But there is obviously more than meets the eye when it comes to China's handling of its unprecedented environmental issues.

There is an interesting story about a speech Thomas Friedman gave a couple years ago in a recent Guardian article about China and its response to climate change:
Visiting China a couple of years ago, the American journalist Thomas Friedman conceded that, when it came to climate change, his hosts had a point. Yes, the west had grown rich using dirty old coal and oil, and the Chinese had the right to do the same. "Take your time!" he told a conference in Tianjin. "Because I think my country needs ... five years to invent all the clean power and energy efficiency tools that you, China, will need to avoid choking on pollution and then we are going to come over and sell them ... to you." It took a few moments for his words to be translated and land in delegates' headphones - and for the ripple of consternation to spread around the hall.

Two years on, Mr Friedman's lesson - that clean energy can be profitable rather than a costly drag - has not only been learned by the Chinese; now Beijing is intent on writing the rest of the textbook.

Read On
While the world needs to avoid blowing up another bubble, investment in the development of green energy technologies could be an excellent way to get through the financial crisis. China gets this. America doesn't.

China, with billions upon billions set to be invested in green technologies, is serious about doing something in the face of the climate change challenge. Will America change its traditional stance on the climate change issue and treat clean-energy develoment seriously? The answer to this question appears far from certain.

I like the conclusion of the report posted above:
What makes the above list of actions by China all the more impressive is that the country’s leaders decided to act unilaterally even though its per capita GDP and per capita emissions, both historical and present, remain a fraction of the United States'. China hasn’t done so out of charity, but out of recognition that doing so is both critical to its national security and a huge opportunity for future economic prosperity.

Sure, China can do more. But we can create a much more constructive platform for forging a consensus in Copenhagen or forming the basis for a bilateral agreement with China on climate change by acknowledging and understanding the effects of the full range of China’s climate actions outside of its lack of hard caps on carbon emissions. A more extensive analysis should quiet the naysayers on Capitol Hill that use the false excuse of Chinese inaction to block the passage of the historic climate and energy bill in the U.S. Congress.
China isn't getting serious about developing clean-energy to cover its share of the climate crisis or out of kindness. China's stepping up for selfish financial reasons. If America can't wrap its head around this idea, then it deserves to be passed up by the Chinese in the coming decades because it will be blowing a huge economic opportunity (as well as a chance to, you know, save the planet, but that's not important).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terracotta Expansion

Archaeologists are about to begin an expansion at Xi'an's terracotta army site.

From Xinhua News:

Photo from AP

XI'AN, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists will begin the third excavation of the famous terracotta army site on Saturday, hoping to find more clay figures and unravel some of the mysteries left behind by the "First Emperor".

Archaeologists hoped they might find a clay figure that appeared to be "in command" of the huge underground army, said Liu Zhancheng, head of the archeological team under the terracotta museum in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province.

"We're hoping to find a clay figure that represented a high-ranking army officer, for example," he told Xinhua Tuesday.

Liu and his colleagues are also hoping to ascertain the success of decades of preservation efforts to keep the undiscovered terracotta figures intact and retain their original colors.

Richly colored clay figures were unearthed from the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of a united China, in previous excavations, but once they were exposed to the air they began to lose their luster and turn an oxidized grey.

The upcoming excavation into the first and largest of the three pits at the site would last at least a year, said Wu Yongqi, curator of the museum.

Read On
One of the most interesting things about the terracotta warrior site is how little of the site has actually been excavated. A significant amount of the site remains under earth, including Qin Shihuang's tomb.

Of the three pits of soldiers at the terracotta soldier museum, only one is really all that big - Pit 1. And even that one has a significant amount of unearthing going on at it. You can see what I'm talking about in the background of this picture:

Here is a closer up shot of the debris:

These pictures, one developed and one undeveloped, are from Pit 3:

This site should just get better in better with time. That is, of course, if they can survive the damage of being exposed to air and tourists.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Photos of the Week - On the Yulong River

The Yulong River, near Yangshuo in Guangxi Province, is an amazing place. My family and I went down the river on bamboo rafts two years ago in June of 2007.

The karst mountains surrounding the river make it, quite possibly, the most beautiful place I've ever been.

Food/beer stall on the river, incredible mountains in the background

Bamboo raft

Ma and Pa

Younger brother


Dad getting mugged by lil' ol' ladies selling junk

Our driver

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Self-Censoring Computers

The regulation of Chinese internet users is set for a major overhaul this summer.

From The Wall St. Journal:

Image from The Guardian

BEIJING -- China plans to require that all personal computers sold in the country as of July 1 be shipped with software that blocks access to certain Web sites, a move that could give government censors unprecedented control over how Chinese users access the Internet.

The government, which has told global PC makers of the requirement but has yet to announce it to the public, says the effort is aimed at protecting young people from "harmful" content. The primary target is pornography, says the main developer of the software, a company that has ties to China's security ministry and military.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Chinese government has a history of censoring a broad range of Web content. The new requirement could force PC manufacturers to choose between refusing a government order in a major market or opening themselves to charges of abetting censorship.


The software's Chinese name is "Green Dam-Youth Escort." The word "green" in Chinese is used to describe Web-surfing free from pornography and other illicit content. Green Dam would link PCs with a regularly updated database of banned sites and block access to those addresses, according to an official who tested the product for a government agency.

The May 19 Chinese government notice about the requirement says it is aimed at "constructing a green, healthy, and harmonious Internet environment, and preventing harmful information on the Internet from influencing and poisoning young people."

Read On
A few years ago, Google had to compromise it's "Don't be evil" motto for the sake of making its search engine available to Chinese people. Now it appears that companies like HP, Dell, and other hardware makers are now going to have make the tough call of how to deal with these new requirements.

The Net Nanny or The Great Firewall or whatever you want to call China's online censorship program appears to be as paranoid as ever right now. This blog, and every other Blogger/Blogspot-hosted blog, is blocked. Twitter is blocked. Youtube is blocked. Flickr is blocked. Some of these sites can be accessed via proxy server while others can't.

And in addition to these recent website clamp-downs, there also appears to be a visa crackdown for foreigners in effect.

I've heard a few explanations for these recent changes in policy. There was that anniversary last week. That makes sense to me. I'm also hearing that there is a lot of concern about the 60th anniversary of the The People's Republic of China this coming October 1st. That one doesn't make as much sense to me. But I have a couple friends who can only get their visas sorted out through September, and not October, for no apparent reason. So there might be something to that. I really don't know.

I reckon the financial crisis and the general malaise of the world's economy (including China's in its own way) can't be helping the free flow of information and people.

All of these developments are concerning to me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Car Culture

A Chinese company placed a bid on GM's Hummer brand this week.

The New York Times' "Week in Review" has a nice summary and analysis about his situation:

Image from China Daily

Even in a world mostly done being amazed by the ironies of globalization, last week managed to produce something fresh and previously unfathomable: General Motors, newly bankrupt and struggling to raise cash, agreed to sell its Hummer division to a company from China.

Yes, that Hummer, maker of the famously gas-guzzling behemoths whose menacing width and armor trace their provenance to the American military, is now set to become the property of Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company, in a land officially still called the People’s Republic of China.

It might seem incongruous, this plaything for the unabashed American road warrior shifting to a country where the bicycle once ruled and collectivism was an organizing principle. (What next? Harley-Davidson snapped up by the Vietnamese?) But that’s just until you contemplate the realities of modern China, and the nouveau riche in the growing suburbs, setting down lawn furniture inside gated complexes of villas, shopping at big-box stores and driving luxury cars. China seems intent on nurturing the very sorts of landscapes and consumer attitudes that produced the Hummer.

More than a merely economic event — the latest sign of China’s rise and American struggles — the deal is a cultural moment. It seems no accident that a Chinese company is taking possession of Hummer. China has come to embrace many of the attributes and modes of consumption that Americans may reflexively consider their own, complete with the sprawl and tangle of highways familiar to any resident of Los Angeles or Atlanta.

As China has cast off its ideological past and aggressively modernized its cities, it might reasonably have been expected to look to Europe or Japan for models of urban planning. Like Japan — home to one of the most sophisticated rail networks on earth — China is densely populated and dependent on imported oil. As is true in Europe, China’s major cities are surrounded by productive agricultural lands, making tightly clustered growth seem prudent.

Instead, in a choice familiar to Americans, China has put the automobile at the center of contemporary life. China has torn down older buildings in every major city to make way for more vehicles. It has erected an impressive network of highways crisscrossing the vast country. Air quality and energy efficiency have been outweighed by reverence for the car.

This has not happened randomly.

Read On
Later on in the article, the writer talks of an interesting exchange that he had with a car-buyer in Beijing.
“Why do you want a car?” I asked a young professional couple shopping at a car lot outside Beijing in 2002. The question elicited an irritated glare from the woman, as if I were condescending. “Same reason you want a car,” she said. “We want what you want.”

She did not mean merely the ability to go where she pleased, but also the geography the car enables — the villas with their backyards and modern conveniences; the superstores selling microwave-ready food; the new golf courses.
The American dream of the freedom of car ownership seems to be taking root in China. I agree with the author here; buying and owning a car is a dream come true for Chinese people.

One of the interesting things highlighted in this article is China's conscious decision to mimic America's car culture and dependence on individual car owners. China could've tried developing like Japan or Europe, but instead is choosing to follow the path laid out by their American counterparts.

Will China ever achieve suburbal sprawl on the scale America has achieved? I doubt it, but it's important to remember that China, despite its huge population, is not that crowded or dense. Sure, Chinese cities are packed full of people. But the outskirts of those cities contain vast swaths of uncultivated land. There is a lot of room for sprawl in China.

My city, Xi'an, is moving out a very rapid rate. If you go a couple miles outside of the city in any direction, you will be met by development. Past those construction projects, you will encounter fields and fields, which will, in coming decades, be developed more and more.

In terms of potential climate change and humanity's dependence on oil, the prospects of the hundreds of millions of cars that could one day be clogging China is scary. But as an American, it's hard for me to argue that they should avoid this path.

Car ownership is amazing. I can sit here and talk about the reasons why its bad that China goes down this path. But in the end, I miss having the car I had in America and the opportunities - the ability to get across town, the state, or the country quickly and comfortably - it provided for me.

Rationally, it'd probably be good for China's long-term interests to try to develop new urbanism, but it has the right to do otherwise. Personally, I'm interested in the concepts of urban living based on not owning a car. And in the future, a city or town in America that isn't completely dependent on cars is a very attractive sounding idea to me.

But I can understand how and why car ownership is appealing to Chinese people. And even if I couldn't, barring an energy collapse, I don't see how or why the Chinese could be convinced not to go down the path of encouraging car ownership.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cheating Crackdown

A few days before Chinese students' make-or-break 高考(college entrance exams), China is very serious about curbing cheating this year.

From Xinhua News:

BEIJING, (Xinhua) -- As millions of Chinese students gear up for the national college entrance examination, education and police authorities Thursday issued stern warnings against cheating.

The Ministry of Public Security has instructed police departments across China to make detailed plans to ensure the security of the exam, which falls on June 7 to 9 each year.

The police would be on high alert for any cheating, such as the use of electronic devices by both students and people outside the exam site to exchange questions and answers, said a statement from the ministry.

The Ministry of Education Thursday announced four investigations that involved the production and sale of devices to be used during the exams, using them as a warning.

The police in northeastern Jilin Province uncovered four underground workshops late last month, where more than 100 sets of devices were found. At least seven people involved were detained.

Read On
In addition to investigations and raids, the crackdowns are also getting high-tech.

From the BBC:
In China, video cameras are being installed in almost 60,000 examination halls to prevent cheating in next week's national college entrance exams.

In the past, some students have been caught using hi-tech equipment, including tiny radio receivers, to get help with exam questions.

For three days next week, more than 10 million Chinese students will sit exams to determine their college entrance.

The exams are seen as potentially life-changing and the competition is fierce.

Some students have been using increasingly sophisticated cheating methods to get ahead.

Read On
It's easy to chide the ring-leaders of these cheating circles and the cheaters themselves for being immoral and tainting the Chinese tests. But I think one should really look at the system before one throws all of the blame on the cheaters and the people helping them.

If Americans think that the SATs are stressful, that test is nothing compared to the 高考. Honestly, one's entire future is determined by these tests. Students' future universities are largely chosen for them and their majors are largely influenced by their exam mark. If one gets a poor score, he or she can forget about going to a good university. No matter how good his or her grades in school were.

While cheating is obviously wrong, it's easy to see why young teenagers with tons of pressure on them (largely because they are single children) would resort to cheating to get a good mark on the exam.

America, which traditionally has not had that strong of an influence on testing, has started going this testing route in recent years. I'm very discouraged by this trend.

Maybe it is the philosophy major in me talking (my college career mostly consisted of writing essays), but I believe training students to be test takers is a very narrow-minded and depressing view of education.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blank Space

I'm too paranoid to be outspoken on the most controversial topics surrounding Communist China. Holding this stance often limits me from talking about important things going on in the country, unfortunately. Today is one of those days where I choose to bite my tongue.

Go out on the 'net to find info about why today is significant. This would be a great place to start. And for some sights and sounds, check out the feature at the top of this page.

In lieu of saying anything more, I'll end today's post with this...


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Photos of the Week - The Flooding of The Yangtze

In the Summer of 2006, I took a cruise from Chongqing to Yichang via the famed Three Gorges. It was a pretty cool trip.

At the time I was there, the dam had not pushed the water to the level that it is now. I'm glad I saw the area before the water-level was its final 175 meters. The gorges were a bit taller and more dramatic and there were a few instances where I could see what would eventually be consumed by the time 175 meters was achieved.

Here are a few photos highlighting the water-level and its eventual rise:

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Challenge of Fuel-Efficient Cars

As China gets richer, its people would like to have more comfortable cars.

From Reuters:

Image from Lamarguerite.wordpress.com

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's energy policymakers have lately been thinking a lot about drivers like 24-year-old Cindy Chen, who chose a larger German Opel over smaller, more fuel-efficient models when she bought her first car in March.

Like many motorists of the "single child" generation -- kids of baby boomers born in the 1950s -- Cindy is showing early signs of an American-style auto affair, heedless of Beijing tax breaks meant to encourage sales of smaller cars, whose market share grew to over two-thirds of all new car sales in the first quarter.

"Daddy bought it for me, so why not a big one?," said Cindy, a lawyer with a local government office in eastern Ningbo city.

But she will have fewer incentives to drive the way her American counterparts do after policymakers on Monday raised diesel and gasoline prices by 6 and 7 percent respectively, the second increase this year but the biggest since last June.

While some criticized it as a half-measure that barely matched half of the recent rise in global crude oil costs, the increase takes gasoline prices to near their peaks last June, in stark contrast to U.S. prices that are half last summer's highs and are now about 40 percent cheaper than Chinese pump rates.

Early anecdotal evidence suggests the shock of steadily rising prices this year may be causing car-owners to think twice before hitting the road after five years in which authorities sought to cushion the blow for consumers, adding to demand.

"I never really thought about petrol cost before. My panic about oil prices started last summer... Now my pay has not increased but oil went up again. I will certainly start to plan for driving nowadays, like a car pool if driving long distance," said Zhang Yun, who drives a 2.7-liter Hyundai Tucsan.

At stake is nothing less than the outlook for global oil prices, which have rallied in part on hopes for a sustained recovery in demand from No. 2 consumer China, where gasoline use has led the pick-up in consumption seen in recent weeks.

Read On
This discussion of Chinese gasoline prices reminds me of a blog post I read a few weeks ago from the relatively new and popular China blog - China Smack. Here is what a blogger there had to say about China's gas prices:
The above is States Average Gas Prices is “United States average gasoline prices”.

For example: Wyoming state 1.753, Wyoming (unit should be USD/gallon?)

If we use the foreign exchange rate I just checked: 1 USD = 6.8311 yuan RMB

And 1 gallon = 3.785 liters

Conversion (U.S.) price: ?

1.753 USD * 6.8311 / 3.785 liters = 3.16 yuan RMB / liter (American gasoline price)

According to what netizens have said today, Yichang’s 93 octane gasoline is approximately 5.20 yuan/liter??

Yichang (it is said that Beijing, etc. are even higher) gasoline prices compared to Wyoming state is higher by %
(5.2-3.16) / 3.16 * 100% = 2.04/3.16 * 100% = 65%! ! ! !

Our gasoline prices per liter is 2.04 yuan higher than the United States, exceeding 65%!!!

And they do not have grade one, grade two road fees, bridge fees, highway fees…

And their average wages are perhaps 10 times our average wages…

Read On
Obviously, this guy was not happy about the gouging he was feeling at the pump.

The only problem I have with the calculations done above is that taking Wyoming's gas prices may not be the best indicator for America's prices as a whole. Wyoming, in America's mountain west, has the lowest population of the entire country. Even lower than Alaska. So the prices in rural Wyoming are going to be lower than those in more populated areas.

But overall, the price of Chinese gasoline compared to American prices are way higher. But I also remember from studying abroad in Europe in 2003 that Europe's gasoline prices are also significantly higher than America's.

So this leads me to the question: is it really fair to compare China's gas prices to America's? Instead of China's prices being "too high," are America's prices "too low?"

Doing a quick Google search, I found this list of the countries with the most and least expensive gasoline prices in the world as of last summer. The results of the prices from major cities within the country, from promotionalcodes.org.uk, are interesting:
Most Expensive Countries
1. Oslo, Norway - $9.85/gallon
2. Paris, France - $9.43/gallon
3. Copenhagen, Denmark - $9.24/gallon
4. Rome, Italy - $9.03/gallon
5. London, England - $8.96/gallon

Least Expensive Countries
1. Caracas, Venezuela - $0.12/gallon (!!!)
2. Tehran, Iran - $0.41/gallon
3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - $0.47/gallon
4. Kuwait City, Kuwait - $0.92/gallon
5. Cairo, Egypt - $1.24/gallon
These prices were from when gasoline was at an all-time high last summer. So the prices will be off compared to what they are now. But I imagine that the rankings are still fairly similar. China and America aren't at the top or bottom of the world's prices. Although it does appear obvious from the China Smack calculations that America is more setup for "happy motoring" than China is.

With GM and Chrysler now bankrupt, the days of Americans truckin' around in SUVs may very well be over though.

There was an intelligent discussion of Detroit's bankruptcies on NPR's podcast "Planet Money" the other day. Frank Langfitt, an NPR correspondent, was present at the Chrysler bankruptcy hearings this past week. He had some really interesting insights on what is going on with the government's take over of Detroit.

Indeed, the American car industry as we knew it is long gone.

I'm going to transcribe a couple of the key points, but I really recommend that you listen to it for yourself here.

From a discussion between Laura Conaway and Frank Langfitt on the Planet Money podcast:
Langfitt: Now what the government always says is, "We don't want to run this company. We want auto executives to do it." At the same time, let's take a look at that Fiat deal. One of the things they said to Fiat is, "It you want another 5% stake in Chrysler, you're going to have to deliver a 40 mile per gallon engine in the United States."

Conaway : So the Obama administration is directly saying to Fiat that you can have some more of Chrysler, but you've gotta give us a car that does like this on the road?

Langfitt: Exactly. So you can say publicly, as the president has, we're not going to dictate policy, but you already have the White House saying, "If you want X, you're going to have to deliver Y," and Y is a very fuel efficient engine, which is what the government's policy is towards oil and part of its energy policy and part of its automotive policy. So, it's very hard to divide this up when you have a government that has other political agendas that are related to the car industry.

Conaway : And let's talk for a minute about those agendas because government comes with one set of goals - more fuel efficient cars, maintaining the employment rate or getting the unemployment rate down in places like Michigan and Ohio, nobody in those places want to see the auto industry go away. But a profit-making company like Chrysler comes at things from a very different set of goals. First and foremost has to be, by law, maximizing profit.

Langfitt: Absolutely.

Conaway : How do you reconcile those?

Langfitt: It's going to be fascinating. This is going to be one of the big meta-stories of what's happening with the auto industry because if you talk with people in Michigan, they say smile and just nod their heads when Obama says anything. They say, "Sure boss, we'll do whatever you want." But they say it's been very difficult traditionally for those companies to make much money on small cars. The profit margins are very narrow. People perceive, rightly, that Toyota and Honda are better at making them. And so they're concerned about these fairly significant fuel standards and that they're going to have to make small cars that they can't make money off of, which would run counter to the tax payers' interest, which is getting some kind of return on the money we've put into these companies. So in some ways, these things can be very much at odds and how it plays out is going to be fascinating.
The discussion continues. It is really great. I just can't be bothered transcribing any more of it. This section was the most interesting to me anyways.

This contradiction between profitable cars and cars that the Obama administration wants the companies to produce is incredible. I can see where Obama is coming from. It is in America's best interest to get away from its oil addiction and try to drive smaller cars. Yet it is hard to see how the companies that the US is now gobbling up are going to be able to sustain themselves on such cars.

There are no clear answers as to how the collapse of the US auto industry can or will be reconciled. What happens over the coming months and years is going to be remarkable to witness.