Saturday, December 11, 2010

Liu Xiaobo and Neoauthoritarianism

Generally speaking, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo does not have much to do with neoauthoritarianism, except for the fact that the latter is part of the reason that he is in jail.

Briefly, neoauthoritarianism is a political ideology that postulates economic growth under authoritarian rule. This was the ideology that Zhao Ziyang held when he lost the political battle with the hardliners amid the1989 pro-democracy demonstration, as pointed out by Ruan Ming, a former aide to Hu Yaobang.

Dissidents from 1989 often blame Zhao for failing to ally more firmly with the demonstrators and take the initiative of media freedom, thus possibly turn the demonstration into a successful democratic revolution. But if one understands Zhao’s political position at that time, i.e. neoauthoritarianism, one could see that such scenarios were just not going to happen.

For Zhao simply never really believed in democracy or freedom of press. As much as he wanted to liberalize the market, he had no intention to liberalize the political system. Zhao, like pretty much all party leaders, who might have different views regarding how to hold onto the party’s monopoly of power, firmly supported the one-party rule. They don’t believe Chinese people are ready for democracy, free election and free speech. They see political liberalization as simply the cause of chaos and turmoil.

As Liu Binyan, one of the media freedom advocates from the 1980s, stated, China is unique in some way. When the communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed like dominos in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party hurried to tighten its grip of power. The entire China was on fire in the spring of 1989, demanding more freedom in politics, thoughts and expression, only to cause the party re-realize that ideological control was the very lifeline of the party rule. Despite the outcry and demonstration from millions of people, including journalists, there turned out to be less, not more, freedom for the media in political discourse.

In other words, people like Liu Xiaobo, who have fought with their lives for democracy and freedom for the Chinese people, keep getting disappointed, or worse, jailed. The answer, at least in part, still lies in neoauthoritarianism.

Zhao Ziyang was down, but the political ideology he was trying to practice is still strongly upheld among the CCP leaders, only that today’s ruling group is savvier in both propelling economic growth and maintaining political control through control of media and expression.

This is not to say that neoauthoritarianism is all bad and evil. Whether China is ready for a political overhaul does merit a big question mark. At the same time, Liu Xiaobo and his comrades deserve all the respect and honor for pursuing their dream of a better country for the Chinese people. But unless there is a substantial number of members of the party elite actually believe in democracy, civil liberty and media freedom, grass-root dissidents like Mr. Liu would probably have to spend more time in jail.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Forbes Put Hu as the Most Powerful Person in the World

Surprising even to editors at Forbes, Chinese president Hu Jintao is the most powerful person in the world, according to the latest Forbes List.

U.S. president Barack Obama is the second.

The power ranking is based on evaluation of four criteria: number of people under influence,  financial resources, powerful in multiple spheres, and active wielding of power. The combination of scores in all four categories put Mr. Hu to the top spot.

In the explanation of Hu's power, the authoritarian nature of the Chinese political system, China's taking over as the world's second largest economy, as well as China's massive foreign currency reserve are the key elements. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chinese Freshmen in American Colleges Facing Challenges

The University of Iowa, like many universities around the US, has seen an increase in freshmen from China

One night in August, right before the fall semester started, I shopped at a local Walmart. Bumping into a few Chinese fellows at Walmart is common here in Iowa City, but never to such an extent like that night.

Mandarin chattings on what to buy, or guessing the use of some gadgets, etc. filled my ears from aisle to aisle. Everywhere I looked or moved, there would be a few Chinese people nearby. They were young and stylish, loading their shopping carts with everything from fruits to rice cookers and furniture. Some of them were shopping with a team, staffed by their parents, with the mother and child browsing through the shelf while the father pushing heavily-loaded shopping cart behind.

Make no mistake, they were the incoming freshmen at the University of Iowa from China, and they were brought to Walmart by two fully-occupied big school buses that night.

As the university struggle to balance its cost and revenue amid steep budget cuts, international students came to the rescue, since they pay full tuition instead of in-state tuition. That is, $23,713 vs. $7,417 per year, according to numbers shown on the UI website. Plus living expenses, health insurance mandated for international students, as well as books, these Chinese students, or, precisely speaking, their parents, are paying around $36,000 per year.

The New York Times ran an article in early August about the challenge to house all these international freshmen at UI. Among about 430 of them this year coming to UI, nearly 350 are from China alone, the New York Times reports. But for these Chinese students, the challenge goes way beyond finding a place to sleep.

After the first meeting of a journalism history class, for instance, four Chinese students came to the professor complaining that they didn’t understand the lecture, and couldn’t take notes. I am an instructor for two sections of the same history class, and the two Chinese students registered for one section dropped out in the first week.

I talked to a Chinese girl in my other section, and she admitted facing language barrier, especially for a journalism class. One day after class, she asked if she could speak Chinese when discussing a class related question with me. I said no. I told her she better speak English, because that was the reason she came to the US to study.

Nationwide in the US, steady increase in enrollment of undergrads from China has been a trend for a few years. In the 2004-05 academic year, 8,299 Chinese undergrads were enrolled in American universities. The number keeps rising year after year, to 26,275 in 2008-09 academic year, according to data collected by the Institute of International Education. Peggy Blumenthal, IIE’s executive vice president, contributed the increase to the rise of an economically strong middle class in China, their determination to provide the best education to their only child, as well as the scarcity of high quality college education within China, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The large number of incoming Chinese freshmen has caught the attention of Chinese students and professionals already at UI, and there is this sense that most of these kids are not able to get into a decent university in China through the competitive college entrance examination. At the same time, many people, including people not from China, wonder how these families can afford four years of higher education in the U.S.

Thousands of young Chinese men and women have made it to the US to pursue college education in recent years. These post-80s youth have far stronger purchasing power than my generation of the studying-abroad Chinese. But studying abroad is more than a shopping trip. I hope they have also the perseverance and diligence to overcome all the challenges and get the education they paid for.

Read more:,%20august%203&st=cse

Monday, July 26, 2010

Story of the Other Side

Lin Yulan had good reasons to pronounce her whole life a failure.

Her revolutionary course with the nationalists in pre-communist China, to which she devoted the heyday of her life, was denounced and forgotten in her homeland once the communist party won the civil war. She fled to Taiwan, along with other nationalist elites. Personally, the man she married to cheated on her throughout their marriage, no matter in Guangzhou or Taiwan. Worst of all, amid the chaos and despair right before they fled the mainland, her only son wandered away in the city of Guangzhou, never seen by his parents again.

Lin Yulan is one of the characters in a newly released novel, A Thread of Sky, written by Chinese American writer Deanna Fei. Although not the leading role in the novel, Lin’s story is particularly touching to me, because it made me realize that something is missing, on the part of mainland China, in the representation of last century’s revolution.

Growing up in the mainland, I have known the nationalists almost always as the bad guys, while the communists the good ones, in all kinds of representation of the revolution—novels, movies, television dramas, children’s stories, etc, with Mr. Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) being the only exception. Occasionally, the nationalists are portrayed as heroes, but usually only when they cooperated with or joined the communists. I never got to know how it was like for the individuals who belonged to the other camp, what they experienced, how they felt, and what they had to tell.

Lin Yulan’s story somehow became my first chance to gain some insights. Born and raised on the mainland, Lin rose from the countryside to join the nationalist revolution, fighting for women’s equal rights. Qiu Jin, the legendary female revolutionary who sacrificed her life to overthrow the rule of the Qing court, was Lin’s idol.

I found Lin’s passion and dedication just as strong as her communist counterparts depicted in stories popular in the mainland. They might have served different party, but they had the same goal of liberating Chinese women from cruel depression and above all, to change China.

Lin’s story is also the first one that shows me the personal distress and pain experienced by the nationalists when escaping the mainland. It was chaos, fear, and misery. Mainland stories never gave much attention to the kind of human suffering the other side lived through.

The corruption of some nationalist officials notwithstanding, thousands of individuals like Lin in the nationalist party fought, died and shed blood for the revolution: first to overthrow the Qing ruling, later to defend the nation against Japanese invasion. Their life, their struggle, their pain and sacrifice should also be recognized and remembered in mainland China, as have been done with stories of communist revolutionaries.

As mainland cultural workers increasingly try to move the focus of narrative from prominent historic figures to ordinary individuals in the communist camp, more similar stories should be devoted to the nationalists as well. The commemoration of the revolutionary achievements of the nationalists should not be limited to showing the giant portrait of Sun Zhongshan on the Tiananmen Square during the October 1 national holiday. The younger generations of China deserve to know a more accurate and complete version of the revolutionary history. To quote from the novel, “But her [Lin Yulan’s]sacrifices, even forgotten, had made a difference.”

Related article: 

For a Chinese-American Writer, Split Images of China

Friday, July 09, 2010

Google to Resume Search Service in China: A Win-Win Solution?

The Chinese government renewed Google's Internet service license recently, the Associated Press reported today.

The catch? Google ought to stop automatically directing mainland users to its Hong Kong-based search site, which is not cencored by the Chinese government. Meanwhile, to continue to operate within China, Google is very likely to filter information as required  by the government.

This seems to be a win-win solution for both Google and the Chinese authorities.

Google got what it wanted: the chance to expand business and exploit profit potentials in China's growing Internet industry. The Chinese government, on the other hand, eased its tension with Google and perhaps other Western businesses, while at the same time managed to remain its control over information flow.

But what about Chinese web users? While a top American Internet company celebrating its commercial gains and the Chinese authorities chuckling at their political victory, millions of Chinese people hunger for more information are set to be the loser.

Even when Chinese netizens were directed to Google's Hong Kong site, certain information was still blocked to them, according to NPR. Baidu, China's biggest Internet search service, is never interested in challenging the authorities. Now with Google resuming its China-based, i.e. filtered, service, everything is simply same old, same old.

As is Chinese web users' effort to surpass the Great Firewall.  Fortunately for many, access to more information is only a software away.

Related stories:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Different China in "The Karate Kid"

The Chinese version of the poster. The title is "Kung Fu Dream." It says on the poster: Kungfu kid, dreams come true in China.

China is no longer the far away, exotic and ancient land, but a modern, familiar place. This is the kind of image “The Karate Kid” presents about China. 

The two-hour-long movie, which opened in the US yesterday, is a remake of a popular 1984 movie of the same title. The year is 2009, and twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves to Beijing with his mom, only to find himself bullied by a group of kung fu-practicing Chinese boys. With help from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a kung fu expert disguised as maintenance guy, Dre finally defends himself and wins respect. 

Intentionally or unintentionally, the movie shows a China that is quite different from previous Hollywood productions with a Chinese setting. 

First off, China is not a country where “everything is old.” While looking at a tour book about China on the flight from Detroit to Beijing, Dre tells his mom: “Look, everything in China is old.” 

Arriving in Beijing, on the way from the airport to their apartment, Dre and his mother see the postmodern CCTV tower, the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and the car packed streets. “Well, I guess nothing in China is old, huh,” says Dre’s mother. 

Dre is soon to discover that Beijing is, after all, not so foreign. Switching on TV, the first show he sees is “Sponge Bob,” an American cartoon program, although translated into Chinese. 

He plays basketball with Chinese kids in a park, same game as he played in the US. He meets another American boy who lives in the same apartment building. Not to mention that he attends a school that enrolls quite some western teenagers, and everybody eats lunch very much the same way as in American schools, except for the use of chopsticks. 

American music is also not so hard to find in Beijing. Going into a game room, Dre and his Chinese girl friend both show off some American dance on a dancing machine that not only plays American music, but also speaks English. 

Another image about China featured in this movie, but rarely in other Hollywood productions so far, is that of rich people in today’s Beijing, which is new to Chinese society itself. 

The Chinese girl, whom Dre is trying to get close to and consequently bullied for, is from an upper-middle class family in Beijing. Her parents dress nicely, drive a nice car, and live in a fancy court-yard residence with stone lions standing at the gate. They also can afford to hire a western musician to teach their daughter to play violin! 

In reality, this kind of people might not be everywhere in China, but does exist. As a matter of fact, the father character might well resemble one of the creators of this movie, Mr. Han Sanping, president of China Film Group Corporation, the state-owned powerhouse of China’s movie industry. Han Sanping himself is likely the most powerful movie maker in China, having produced international blockbusters such as “Red Cliff” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” People like him, who head profitable state-owned enterprises, have become the most affluent in today’s China.

Still, a movie like this cannot totally leave out China’s rich history and culture. Thus the scenes of the Forbidden City, the Taoist temple in Wudang Mountain, and of course, the Great Wall. Comparing to the scenes of car-packed streets, junk-stuffed narrow alleys, i.e. the messy and hectic inner city, which are fairly truthful portrait of life in Beijing, those from the famous sites seem to demonstrate that China still has some beautiful places. 

A co-production between China Film Group Corporation and Columbia Pictures and set to be released in China on June 22, this movie also intends to make both American and Chinese audience feel good at the end. 

American audience is happy when Dre finally beats up the aggressive Chinese kids, while Chinese audience will be satisfied by the success of Mr. Han, who is arguably the biggest winner. Besides turning Dre into a brilliant kung fu kid, Mr. Han also wins over those aggressive Chinese kids, who decide to turn to him as the true kung fu master. 

For Mr. Han (Sanping), mission accomplished.

More about The Karate Kid (2010)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Wake Up, People! And Stop Killing Our Children!

Taixing Central Day Care after the attack on April 29. On the colorful stone at the gate, three Chinese words read: sunshine, future, hope.

Nothing is more horrifying and evil than purposefully slaying children in groups. Yet in China, five such incidents occurred across the country in less than two months.

On Mar.23, eight elementary school students were killed by a man just outside the gate of their school in Nanping, Fujian. On April 12, several elementary school students were injured in front of their school in Hepu, Guangxi. On April 28, another man injured 16 students and school teachers in Leizhou, Guangdong. The next day, one man attacked 32 people in a day care center in Taixing, Jiangsu, seriously injuring several small toddlers. The following day, in Weifang, Shandong, yet another man attacked students and teachers in an elementary school.

State media only confirmed eight deaths of children so far, but bloggers in China claim the actual number is much higher. These children were not killed by gun, since fire arm is strictly controlled in China. They were killed, and others injured, by knives and in one case, a hammer.

A blog post by someone who appears to work in a day care not far from the one attacked in Taixing, provided a graphic account of how four men, instead of just one as reported by state media, slaughtered toddlers with knives. While the state media were reluctant to confirm any death in the Taixing incident, the blogger claimed at least five small children were brutally murdered at the scene and more were fatally injured.

The entire country was shocked, public outraged, parents terrified, while the media, including the blog sphere, lashed out at the crime—it was cruel, cold-blooded, evil, and totally insane!

Scholar Yu Jianrong warned that the Chinese society is in a psychological crisis, as people living on the edge of the society are seeking revenge not just against society, but against humanity. Writer Zheng Yuanjie wrote a song that reads: “Dear daddy and mommy, I am going to school. I hope I will be safe, and come home alive”…

There were speculations that the attacked schools are elite schools, and the attackers intended to harm children of powerful and affluent families. But soon there were others claiming most of the children in those schools are from ordinary families.

For some pundits and bloggers, the crime is rooted in social injustice, as income gap and disparity in social status continue to widen in China. But for others, blaming the society is misleading, and those who committed the crime should be condemned and punished as the most iniquitous murderers, and can never be excused as victims of social injustice.

Any one of these killings would be shocking and tragic enough for a country with 1.3 billion people—seeing such brutal violence deliberately targeting children: the most vulnerable and innocent members of our society. Yet China had five in a roll in slightly more than a month!

Forget about the extravagance of the World Expo in Shanghai. The sharp contrast between the bloody scene of children being slain and the lavishness of the World Expo only belie the realness of the “harmonious society”!

Less than two years ago, when thousands of babies were sickened by melamine tainted formula, we already saw how a money-making-driven society can do wrong to children.

Sadly for China, that was still not the end of the slippery slope. And now we see knives hurting those small bodies and we see blood, children’s blood. But is this the end? How many children have to die before we realize something deep is seriously wrong with the society in China and really do something to stop it from falling into hell?

Wake up, people! And stop hurting our children!!

Bloggers on the Taixing incident:

Scholar comments:

More about the serious killing:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Netizens Criticize Earthquake News for not Covering the Disaster

TV shows rescue workers flying to Qinghai

Some Chinese netizens have voiced displeasure over the fact that despite state media's heavy coverage on the earthquake in Yushu, the news is not really about the disaster. In particularly, it is not about the suffering victims.

Instead, the coverage is mostly about rescuing workers saving lives, government officials visiting disaster zones, and celebrities writing big checks, etc.

As one Chinese blogger put it, "all the news is not about the disaster or the victims. The theme is about the brave armed police officers and rescue workers." On TV, as this blogger described, rescue workers were dressed in red uniforms, fought against all odds "to create one after another miracle of life," and then there is cheering and happy tears, along with moving music soundtrack and emotional announcements from news anchors.

Not that there is anything wrong with all these, but what about the victims? What about their suffering, their loss, their pain? Who would give them some voice in the media?

True, today's state media in China no longer simply rely on Xinhua text, photos or footage in their coverage. True, newspapers, magazines, television stations from all around the country now could go to the disaster zone and gather abundant information enough for 24/7 live news feed. But make no mistake, quantity does not translate into variety of content.

Studies by media scholars show that during major disasters, state media in China usually frame their stories from the perceptive of government reactions or rescue work, rather than human interest. In other words, the news is often chockfull of rescuers' actions, quotes from government officials, but not much about individual suffering.

Such a pattern has been repeated in various disaster coverage for at least the past decade, including the 1998 Yangtze River flood and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In covering other man-made disasters such as the melamine-tainted baby formula scandal and many coal mine accidents, the official angle is even more dominant.

In comparison, Western newspapers tend to focus their coverage of disasters on the human interest angle. In the New York Times' coverage of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, for example, the narrative of most stories was based on individual victims, who were mentioned by full name, age, quoted directly, and depicted with great details.

I'm not saying that the New York Times is the golden standard that all Chinese media have to follow. I simply want to make the point that if a foreign newspaper could give personal voices to the suffering individuals, why not media in these people's own country? Why the authorities are so afraid of showing people's grievance and suffering, even during natural disasters? What drastic result could letting out the victims' voices incur? I really do not understand the rationale in the minds of those propaganda officials.

People affected by the disaster need to tell their stories and share their feelings, and other people want to hear. Why not target the camera at the victims, and let them express themselves? So they know that people around the country, including the media, care about them, and people watch the media can feel better connected with those in need.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Life-and-Death Struggle for Chinese Home Owners: At Least in a TV Drama

Guo Haiping (right) and Guo Haizao, sisters experiencing the struggles for owning a home, in the TV drama Wo Ju.

To own a home could be a matter of life and death for Chinese people. This is one of the messages a popular yet controversial TV drama tries to send.

"Wo Ju" (蜗居, meaning living like a snail in a small place), a 33-part series adopted from a novel of the same title, was one of the most popular TV dramas in China in 2009. The show tells stories of conspiracy between corrupt officials and real estate developers, the disparity between haves and have-nots in urban China, and the tough life people have to live in order to save or make money for buying a home, among other things--all very familiar to Chinese people.

In the drama, which is set in contemporary China in a fictional Shanghai-like city of Jiangzhou (江州), a low-income family even lost a life in a stand-off against the demolishing of their ghetto. The developer offered the family a brand new apartment for free, something these people could never dream of owning, in exchange for the family dropping the charge against the developer for killing a family member during demolishing.

"A life exchanging for a home," a government official in the show said of the incident. And yet, this official is behind the demolishing effort and devotes himself to using his political power to make way for property developments, and then shares with the developers the huge profits.

Besides plots that vividly depict today's social reality in China, the censorship rumor around the show made it even hotter. The rumor started when the rerun of the show on a Beijing television channel stopped abruptly after 10 episodes. Words then spread on the Internet that China’s governing body of broadcast media ordered the show off the air, on the ground of sexual content.

Viewers also noticed that the TV version of "Wo Ju" had 33 episodes, while the web and DVD versions had 35 episodes. Beijing News said in a story that Beijing TV cut two episodes' length of sexually explicit content before showing it.

Wang Lizhi, a university professor in Beijing, said the show went through the first round of broadcast across China but is not up for reruns like many other popular TV dramas. As Prof. Wang saw it, the issue with the show was not obscene content, but sharp language.

"Wo Ju" is known for its stinging comments that reflect the reality only too candidly. For example, one character told his wife that he took a usurious loan in order to make down payment for their new home. “The interest is only a little bit higher than bank loans,” he says, trying to calm down his furious wife. This comment implies that mortgage in China are having interests almost as high as usury.

In another scene, the wife of the low-income family complains: “We are all proletariat, all working people. There is neither lowliness nor nobleness among labor divisions, but why in a place like Jiangzhou some people live in garden villas…while we live in such a place [a city ghetto]? We are working honestly, too!”

"Such extreme language will influence social mood,” Prof. Wang said. When such expressions gain currency among people, they might encourage extreme actions. “It is better to use rationality. There is no benefit if people are emotional,” he said. For him, stopping reruns of the show was more of a stability consideration.

Despite the controversy, the series is still available on various websites.

News reports about the controversy:

Watch the show:

Related story:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Entertainment Extravaganza and/or Propaganda Campaign: The Spring Festival Gala Show's Tough Job

Wang Fei performs at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala

The people, the party, the advertisers, all of them need to be pleased, and that’s the mission of the Spring Festival Gala show.
By the eve of the Year of Tiger, the job for China Central Television (CCTV) has only gotten tougher.

For the past nearly three decades, watching the Spring Festival Gala show on CCTV has become a new custom of Chinese people’s lunar New Year celebration. The show is never pure performing arts, but always carries messages that the ruling party wants to convey to the people, which mostly promotes the legitimacy of the party. But in this year’s show, comparing with those in recent years, the propagandist intention seemed to be more blatant.

Particularly in those group song performances, by singers dressed up in minority outfits, or very old artists dubbed as teenagers, etc., political slogans have been turned into lyrics. A singer in Uyghur costume, for example, sang enthusiastically about the benefits of the newly established rural cooperative health care system. In reality, though, the system is facing all kinds of problems, and exactly how many rural residents are benefiting from it is worth questioning.

In another performance, a group of teenagers expressed loyalty to the party by singing: “without the communist party, there will be no new China”, and “following the community party, let’s build a great China.”

The first line has been the central theme of the party propaganda since the foundation of the People’s Republic, and has become such a cliché that very few young Chinese today would embrace it. But for the purpose of propaganda, sing it anyway. The second line is a relatively new invention, and more or less bears some nationalism sensation, which is gaining popularity among the Chinese youth. In one way or another, the party is trying to fortify its legitimacy in the minds of the entire nation by imposing the message on the performances, rather aggressively.

A show full of political preaching could only annul the intended political messages, of course. So for a better part of the entire gala show, entertainment is still the focus. Super star Wang Fei’s appearance certainly put this year’s show at a high point of China’s pop culture, while the reunion of Xiaohu Dui satisfied the nostalgia of China's rising middle-class: the generation born in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, putting together such entertainment extravaganza has become increasingly expensive, with ever fancier visual effects, better stage equipments, etc. CCTV therefore had to use the show to serve the advertisers, too. Unlike the Super Bowl broadcast in the U.S., CCTV’s five-hour airing of the gala was commercial free, which left the television station with few choice but to weave product promotion into performances. So actors wore aprons printed with the name of Lu Hua cooking oil, magician Liu Qian made a magic with Hui Yuan juice, and an actress in a short drama giving out Guo Jiao 1573, a famous liquor, as gifts.

Overall, it’s a tough job for the gala to appeal to everybody. After all the extravagance was over, however, people would keep talking about those entertaining or nostalgic moments, while forget those propagandist messages pretty quickly. Chances are, people would remember Guo Jiao 1573 better than the success of the rural health care system.

See more of the gala:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Notes from China

traditional houses struggling to survive in a fast modernized city, Kunming

During my visit to China at the turn of the year, I had some interesting observations as well as experiences, and decided to document some of them.

Something New

The first time I finished a degree in the US and returned to China to find work, people in Beijing mostly showed admiration of my American education. I did get pretty good jobs and felt good of myself. That was in 2004. This time around, however, things were very different.

It seems like the ego of Chinese people has grown bigger over the years. They no longer look at people returning from overseas with high regard. On the contrary, they are more into reminding America-educated people that “not everything in the US is right.”

While visiting different cities and talking to different people, for a few times when I tried to comment situation in China by comparing with the US, I sensed resistance from the person I was talking to. So I started to avoid talking about America, unless I was asked about it, which also happened less frequently than five years ago. And frankly, to me, it was more interesting to hear people talking about what they were doing and what was happening in their life in China, than me telling them how things were in the States.

Something Unexpected

I have a few friends in Kunming who have been pretty well established: having decent jobs, getting promoted, and owning houses and cars. All in their thirties and college educated, they’re promising professionals: physician, court clerk, engineer, and accountant. Some of them work for government-related companies. They don’t deny that the single party ruling system has problems, but agree with each other that American-style democracy will not make things better in China.

“We all support the Communist Party,” they say. Millions of people who work directly or indirectly for the government feel the same way, they say. China is doing just fine, despite criticism from other countries, and they don’t want things to change too much.

What about human rights? What about corruption? Well, China is not perfect, they say, but neither is any country in the world. Besides, Chinese people are living a better life than people in many countries such as India or North Korea, in their view.

Having read a lot of news in western media, I’ve got the impression that China is full of crisis. But looking at and talking with people there made me realize that the CCP still has very strong appeal among Chinese people. Young professionals like my friends don’t like everything the party does, but certainly don’t want political overhaul in China.

After all, under the party’s rule, they have established their career, family and a good life. They don’t have that much demand for democracy, at least for now.

Something Impressive

two new houses built right next to each other, Xichuan

vendor-packed street in Xichuan

At least two things impressed me during this trip.

Supermarkets in Kunming, Yunnan no longer provide plastic bags for shoppers. People either have to purchase reusable bags, or bring their own. This is part of the effort pushed by the Kunming government to turn the city into an environment-friendly city. I’m impressed by the decisiveness and effectiveness of the government’s initiative.

Another thing impressed me was the chaos in a small town in Henan. Home to nearly 200,000 people, the rural town of Xichuan was a mess. Increasing number of cars packed in the streets, not stopping for pedestrians, not even for red lights. Everybody fought their way to move ahead, regardless of the traffic rules, as long as they didn’t kill each other. Multi-floor buildings were being built wherever they could set a foot on. They stood only an arm’s distance to each other, made already narrow allies even narrower, and turned the town into a dirt covered ghetto.

But what really impressed me was not the mess of this place, but its dynamics. Despite lack of order, this place was full of energy of growth. People were eager to make more money and enjoy better material life. More than once while I was walking in the streets, a door opened beside me and l saw a few women sitting in a narrow room weaving rugs, which was one of the newly developed business in the town. Stores of all kinds were everywhere, mostly individual owned. Many of them selling all kinds of household stuff for just 2 yuan each (30 US cents).

People were complaining about the chaos and the dirtiness, but continuing to do their business and make their living, full of enthusiasm, full of hope.

Something Astonishing

The sky-high real estate price in China is insane. In Beijing, everybody was telling me how housing price has doubled, tripled, or gone tenfold over the past decade. When I was working in Beijing in the early years of the 21st century, the price of 3000 yuan (US$440) per square meter sounded pretty high already. And today, one can barely find any property that’s below 10000 yuan (US$1470) per square meter.

I heard similar story in Chongqing and Kunming. Some people say there is huge bubble in China’s real estate market and the market will collapse some day, others believe the price could only go higher.

For people like me who are still studying overseas, such high housing price could well scare us away from returning to China to work after completing education. Like one lady recently returned to Beijing from the US told me: “a city like Beijing is no longer livable” because of the appalling real estate price.

Something Unchanged

a popular restaurant packed with eaters in Kunming

People. I mean, the amount of people. Having lived in the States for a few years, I have grown used to doing everything by myself: adding gas, filling out forms at the bank, throwing away trash when finish eating in a fast food restaurant. But in China, where there is always a labor surplus, there is always someone there to do things for me as a customer.

At the bank, despite the fact that I do read Chinese and understand how the number vending machine works, which is really simple, there is a clerk standing right beside the machine to press the button for me and hand me my waiting number. Similarly, in pretty much every fast food restaurant, McDonald’s included, there is someone collecting trash after a meal is finished.

It has always been like this, and I think it will continue to be this way. For better or for worse, average Chinese consumers receive more service on a daily basis than American consumers.