2/27/2009

Is Fast Food Really Becoming Unpopular in China?

via Shanghaiist and Mark's China Blog. The L.A. Times has recently written an article that claims that "in China, appetite slows for Western food." While a little part of me really wants them to be right about this, they aren't. Their thesis:

In the U.S., fast-food chains often thrive in tough times. But not so in China, where Western quick-service food isn't the cheapest stuff in town and, in target markets like Shanghai, there's too much competition. Plus, a growing number of consumers see it as unhealthful.
Their point makes a lot sense, but is ultimately laden with Western assumptions about fast food that don't really hold any water in China. More and more franchises are opening every day across China, and new chains are coming over every year (the recent arrival of Dunkin Donuts for example, soon to be followed by Kristy Kreme).

Go into a KFC or a MacDonalds here and look around. Who are the customers? What are they doing? It's a completely different customer base then the West, and the way in which people consume fast food in China is striking different, that attempting to even connect the U.S. brands with their China incarnations can take you for a loop.

The first time I ever ate fast food in China was in Jinan, Shandong Province in 2007. I was studying at Shandong University and myself and my Chinese-Canadian friend had finally hit that point where we needed to get our Western food fix. Jinan's a pretty provincial place (compared to Shanghai anyway) so we just went straight for the fast food. Imagine my surprise, (coming from "ew-fast food" hipster West Coast Canada) to see that the KFC we had just entered was not only completely packed, but packed entirely with 16-25 year old... couples... on dates. We went to a Macdonalds the next week. The same thing. At all hours of the day, packed, at least relative to other restaurants, and packed with young people on dates or hanging out, excitedly chatting with their friends. There's a rule that we could add about the conception of fast food patrons in China: they are never alone.

We want to imagine the fast food chains always under the cultural representations that they hold in the West. In Victoria, a Quebec poutine or a German shintzel restaurant isn't going to provide either a healthy or a cheap option for going out on a date or just hanging out with for fun. But it will provide something interesting, new and very delicious. That's what fast food restaurants are outside of the West.

There's plenty of Chinese "shanzhai" knock-offs of fast food too. Mark in Xi'an, who I found out about the story from, could take a trip to Xi'an's famous WuYi eatery where there are stalls selling big pieces of "knock-off" breaded fried chicken for several kuai. Or in Shanghai, one might want to venture to Kendeji (as opposed to KFC's brand, Kendeqi) for their shanzhai'd KFC menu... they serve Chinese food too. Others are popping up, and transforming Western fast food into something actually quite cheap priced next to the original brands. But Western meat-heavy fast food is going to always remain priced above high-carbs/veg/poor-cuts-of-meat Chinese food, there's no economical way of changing that. By virtue of that fact alone, I suspect the "novelty" of Western food has as little chance of wearing off here in China as the "novelty" of Chinese food does in America.

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2/18/2009

China bans Westerners from Tibet... again.

Great, hopefully this is finished before it ruins my plans in the area (not the TAR, but Sichuan and Yunnan) two summers in a row. But really, this kind of backwards policy just hurts those of us who want to find a middle ground for China's Tibet policy. I thought the lesson from last year was clear: you can't stop Western papers from writing a story. Either you let them report the facts firsthand or they'll take them secondhand, and it ain't going to be you. Correct or incorrect. Sigh.

Well, hopefully Deqin and Zhongdian will be open this July when I take my parents up to Yunnan.

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2/17/2009

Translation: Interview with Lai Changxing

In this week's edition of the Southern Weekly, Vancouver-based Chinese Canadian writer and journalist Guo Ding (丁果) steps in as the second guest writer in the paper's Lai series with an exclusive interview with Lai Changxing. Guo Ding is host of a popular talk show on Vancouver's Cantonese/Mandarin/Punjabi tv station Channel M that is watched by many in Vancouver's large Chinese community (ethnic Chinese made up 29% of Vancouver residents in the last census). I've translated the article below the cut. In the photo below from the online edition in the original Chinese, Guo Ding (left) interviews Lai Changxing (right).The Lai Changxing Interview: One-on-One with the Lucky Smuggler
Special Guest Writer: Guo Ding
It seems absurd that Lai Changxing has somehow managed to survive, but due to Canada's inflexible enforcement of the rules, at present, he has done just that. Lai Changxing's gangster bravura defies any description.

Once again astonishing the media of the world, Lai Changxing has recieved a temporary work permit in Canada.

Because people are left guessing, after 9 years of lawsuits, this is a signal from the rare smuggler who has been troubling the two great countries of Canada and China since the moment he fled China years ago.

I find myself once again opposite to Lai Changxing. This interview takes place over the course of several hours as we move through several venues. The backdrop is the furor recently set off by his recieval of work permit. Now for the first time, the world over is dicussing the issue of Lai Changxing. He still wears his signature cap and still lays out his old web of flattery on me. Ah, it's Guo Ding, it's been so long since we've had a discussion. In fact, since he absconded to Canada 9 years ago, I've had to track down "the great survivor" for an interview many times as he pops in and out of the media's attention.

Once before in the past, I wrote this paragraph in an article about him:

"Lai Changxing, the suspected ringleader of a smuggling ring, and I sit seperated only by a glass table. On the table are he has poured two cups of green tea.

As he pours the tea, I imagine that at this moment overseas he is famous near and far. By the auction today of the contents of his famous "Red Mansion" (translators note: the Red Mansion, alludes to the great ancient Chinese novel "Dreams of the Red Chambers", where Lai kept concubines for government officials, read more in the journalist Oliver August's non-fiction Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man), people have gathered round to see how he entertained his guests. Where to is that man who is now politely pouring me a cup of tea? No matter, now he causes me to look back in time, to that Lai Chanxing who first made his living sorting garbage, if not for the exacerbation of current trends, how could he have made such a tremendous rise and fall? Personality dicates success or failure, but character decides the overall picture. A chaotic world gives rise to ambitious mavericks. But in today's time of the rise of the rule of law, if these mavericks don't follow the right way, they will be reduced to nothing more than "theives". History has decided that Lai Changxing would be such a person."


Today, I find myself again facing him.

A friend of Lai Changxing's, a big shot and a bit of a wizard in investment circles, once said to me: Lai Changxing may not have read many books, but his intelligence is great. This kind of introduction in the criminal underworld has a sort of logic to it. It seems absurd that Lai Changxing would somehow manage to survive, but due to Canada's inflexible enforcement of their rules, at present, he has done just that. Lai Changxing's gangster bravura defies any description. Therefore as he tells it, this is a case of "political correctness".

Obviously, last time was different, the rumor of a pressing extradition was hanging over him. A temporary work permit gives Lai Changxing the appearance of relaxed feeling of "oh good", something that is clear to see from both his look and his manner of speech.

A little while before now, he happened to meet with mainland singer Dong Wenhua, making a comeback after ten years in seclusion, a meeting which has had the media furiously speculating. In answer to potential questions about this, he volunteered that "You're seen once with Dong Wenhua and of course people are going to make a great deal of that. The truth is, that's as far as it goes."

He says, "Look at me, I don't have any culture, how could I have some sort of relationship with Dong Wenhua?" Lai pauses for a second, "look beneath the words, the position from both sides is to distance ourselves, how could we have a deep relationship? But I'll acknoledge that Dong Wenhua and I are friends. We've known each other for four or five years, we're mutal friends, with no bad intentions. There's not much else to say. One time I hosted an business opening event and asked her to perform. Afterwards I offered to pay, but she refused. That is a friends help. She once even told me that if I ever ran into financial difficulties, she could help."

He added, "I feel that public opinion towards Dong Wenhua is unfair. Outside opinion has turned to dirty gossip. We are nothing but good friends concerned at each others well being. If not for the recent change in my standing with the government, she would not have been brought into the public eye. She has always been involved in only good affairs. I wish her only happiness and hope that the people will stop giving her trouble.

Lai Changxing is truly uncultured. But he knows far better then most cultured people how to deal with the media. He knows how to talk to reporters. He knows how to get himself on the front page and whitewash his public image.

This is not intelligence, but is the instincts of a maverick in a dangerous situation. He has a remarkable intinctive response, perhaps the reason for his rise to power.

He says, "I don't have any money, do you believe me?" There are times in the course of the interview where he seems to contradict this, but I don't argue. I'll leave that to the reader to decide.

If he were to say, "I recently ate sweet potato soup and salted fish" I would believe him. But this is not the same man who painstakingly maintained the story of his "peasant character" before his rise to power. Nor is this the man who would eat sandwiches with Sir Li Kashing (translator's note, HK businessman, the richest ethnic Chinese person in the world). But he is still the same man famous for his stubborn characteristics. Lai Changxing refused to be "eaten" (by the Chinese legal system) and now he's providing for his family's many mouthes, cooking without end and entertaining any who will come to talk with him. To use the words of one of his friends, "a starving camel is bigger than a horse. Many people will sponge off his generosity, his company will wear away the boredom, and there is nothing criminal about that."

Lai Changxing is unable to refuse to disclose these sorts of things to the media. He constantly says, I am free now, I want to be a simple farmer. A headline comes out in the media. Just so, he gains the sympathy of the honest people of Canada. As Canada is this sort of country, to speak of judicial independence then the direction of public opinion is quite important. The courts follow in step with the masses.

Lai Changxing is a gambler. He doesn't give up easily. He won't be repatriated to China like Yu Zhandong (the manager of the Kaiping, Guangdong Bank of China, who embezzled 480 million dollars and escaped to the US in October 2001. In 2005, he was arrested and sent back to China where he was sentanced to 12 years in prison, where he is still held).

He can say that for his continued existance, it was hard work every step of the way. This perhaps is what his lawyer has taught him. No one suspected that Lai Changxing's could make it to this point, except for his money. But China has not been able to get past his formidable lawyer, David Mateas, known in Canadian legal circles as perhaps one of Canada's number one human rights lawyers, recently decorated by the Governor General, receiving the highest honor a Canadian resident can be granted -- the Order of Canada.

The meaning of this, to put in context for Chinese residents, is that Da Shan (translators note, Mark Roswell, the most prominent white face in the Chinese langauge) also received the same medal last year. Mateas being awarded this medal naturally demonstratesthat Lai Changxing was able to gain some favorable influence.

The "Yuanhua Case" (translator's note: Yuanhua was the name of Lai's organization) has already reached the point of "put the lid on the coffin, then they'll be judged" in mainland China. But the main culprit, Lai Changxing, has gained a certain media noriety for reaching "criminal heaven" in Canada. I once described Lai Changxing's choice to go into exile: "this a country of vast size, America's neighbour, a member of the G7, a prosperous country and also a warm and peaceful country. At the time of America's war of independence, it conservatively chose to take in the Loyalists, and later the slaves who fled to freedom in Canada. Because of this history, the instinct is to sympathize with exiles and often it is hard to seperate them in their sympathies.

Also keep in mind it's great size, abundant resources and few people, and their rather hard to refuse "generosity". Sometimes, tradition is just incompatible with the modern day, forming a break in the internal logic.

Lai Changxing says, he wants to make money and pay taxes. This is also something he says for Canadians to hear, says for the Canadian media to hear. Obey the law and pay taxes, in Canada, that is the definition of a good citizen. And Lai Changxing's lifetime legacy is to be both a smuggler and a tax evader, how could this not be open to ridicule? In a time of globalization, Lai Changxing convinced the world that taxes are good, this is not easy. If China drops the charges against Lai, will he simply pay his overdue taxes? Is he able to?

As far as I know, today's Conservative Party government wants to extradite Lai and Gao Shan (translators note: another fugitive, a former bank manager) and rid Canada of the label of a place where criminals are sheltered from the law. In 2006, there was one repatriation that met with sucess. Lai Changxing told me that he hadn't heard until afterwards and on hearing said he felt as if they end had finally arrived and he felt fear and a wave of shame and embarassment for letting himself be put in such a narrow straits. Because of this, even with the work permit in hand, this should not be taken as Lai Changxing's final verdict. The masses might now be filled with moral indignation at Canada's failure to repatriate Lai, but please wait until the true end of the legal process before speaking of it.

Regardless, interviewing Lai Changxing, I've come to a deeper understanding of the China-Canada relationship. This affair shouldn't affect the political and economic ties we share, and even more, set out a foundation with which we can expand our friendship, for example, tourism agreements. Deal with it quickly, otherwise our bilateral relationship will suffer some setbacks. The history of Canada in China has had Norman Bethune and Da Shan, why should we look so unkindly on them for Lai Changxing?

No matter when all is said and one, because in dealing with this case, the Chinese government knows that in theses legal proceedings, in the West, especially in Canada are based around evidentiary hearings, a kind of rigid and circutious legal process that in the Lai case, Lai Changxing was able to benefit, but they are also something the Chinese judicial process might benefit from as well.

And Canada is able to know, that China with it's vast population, can imitate Canada's legal process, there can be less fears of economic crisis and bankrupticies.

Lai Changxin still needs to wait. It was from a humanitarian ideology that he was granted a work permit, be happy a little for just that, there is no need for the anger. The death penaly charge is past and he be able to feed himself. Never mind Lai Changxing, we can wait to see what fate has in store for him. He can take a breath. Do some work to distract himself with, go where he wants. That concludes the interview. I say to Lai: look out for yourself.

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More Lai Changxing news...

If you're interested in more news about Lai Changxing's misadventures, I suggest you head on over to the English language Chinese online hub in Canada, Chinese in Vancouver where you can find two articles detailing the latest news about Lai Changxing. A few days ago, we found out that Lai Changxing has apparently already gotten a "high pay job offer" and just recently a (false) rumour spread around the net that he had died in a car accident. They also have another post that details the rather numbingly simplistic policy that the Canadian government holds towards China.

-breaking- Southern Weekly has also followed up in this week's edition with a cover story exclusive interview with Lai Changxing! I'll be translating that tomorrow and posting it on this blog. stay tuned. If you can read Chinese and can't handle the wait, the link to the interview is here.

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2/16/2009

Wikipedia as basis for new Chinese dictionary?

A very, very interesting post over at Random Stuff that Matters about the author's experimentation with hacking Wikipedia into an awesomely powerful Chinese dictionary. I myself use Wikipedia extensively as a Chinese study aid, though my technical know-how is so limited, I could not even imagine how I could make use of this stuff. But this is an exciting direction for developing Chinese tools, first because it's in expanding dictionaries to include the vast store of technical terms, people and pop culture shit that just doesn't exist in any dictionary on the market and secondly, because in the spirit of Wikipedia it's being shared and open-sourced by creative minds like Stian of RSTM.

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2/15/2009

Translation: Is Canada Double Dealing in the Lai Changxing Case?

From the pages of this week's Southern Weekly comes an article that summarizes the Lai Changxing case I mentioned last week. To gain perspective on the case and practice my Chinese, I have translated it here, however poorly, for future reference. According to the article, the Chinese-Canadian author, Vincent Yang L.L.M. PhD, is a professor at Shantou University and a senior researcher at the Canadian International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy at the University of British Columbia. He has been called upon several times in the proceedings of the Lai Changxing case as an expert witness. The article is quite lengthy, so I have hidden it behind a cut. Click "Read more right here" to read the rest of the article. In an accompanying cartoon, Lai Changxing reads the classifieds.
From Deportation Order to Work Permit
Is Canada Double-Dealing in the Lai Changxing Case?
Special Guest: Professor Yang Cheng

As Canadians see it, there is no reason why someone accused of crimes overseas should starve to death on the street. Give them a work permit so that they can provide for themselves and lessen the burden on the Canadian taxpayer.

If they only had Lai's "repatriation and risk assessment" in mind, the decision of which has so far been unable to persuade the courts that Lai faces no risk on return. Instead, it was primarily Lai's long time already spent in Canada that turned the decision in his favor.

After nearly 10 years in Canada, the suspected head of a smuggling ring based out of Xiamen, Lai Changxing, received a work permit. An uproar followed.

Lai Changxing is neither an immigrant to Canada, a refugee, nor does possess any extraordinary talents. He is a longtime internationally pursued criminal whom the Canadian government has previously brought deportation charges against as a foreign criminal. Why has Canada granted this kind of unwanted foreigner a work permit? Does this signify that just because of the long time time Lai Changxing has already spent in Canada he can continue to stay? Lai's case is lodged in which sticking point?

Why was the Canadian government unable to carry out the extradition?

The Canadian government granted Lai a work visa complying with the "Immigration and Refugee Act." According to article 206, foreigners who have already entered Canada and if they are unable to support themselves due to lack of work, there are two circumstances in which they may receive a work permit. One: if they have already applied for refugee status but the government has not yet ruled on their application. Two: if they have been denied refugee status but the government for whatever reason has been unable to carry out the deportation proceedings.

Obviously, the government's reason for granting Lai Changxing the work permit at this time was the second circumstance. Then why was it they were unable to carry out the deportation?

When Lai was arrested in 1999, the Canadian government sought his deportation and extradition. Since 2001, Lai has been in court against the Canadian government, which despite meeting with failure time after time, has managed to put his deportation proceedings on hold for a sufficient amount of time.

In 2006, the Canadian Supreme Court returned their ruling on the suit, ruling against Lai's appeal for "political refugee" status. When the decision reached the hands of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, it should have followed with the restarting of the deportation procedures. According to the regulations of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Law, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration which had previously dealt with Lai Changxing's deportation should assign an analyst to carry out a "repatriation and risk assessment" on him. Only after the assessment had confirmed that he would not face the risk of execution or torture in China could the extradition proceed.

In March 2006, the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration's assessment was concluded. They found that Lai Changxing would not face these risks after returning to China. Just at this juncture, Lai's lawyer (translator's note, David Matas, the noted human rights advocate) filed an injunction to again halt the extradition, criticizing the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration's assessment as unfair. That put into motion a "judicial reconsideration".

Then, in 2007, the highest Canadian Federal Court adjudicated that the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration could not properly say that Lai would not face torture or execution in China. From the result of this decision, the court placed in doubt not just the ruling of the immigration board, but of all the other Federal Courts' decisions on Lai's case.

In the the practice of the common law system of Canada, the independence of the judiciary from the government administration is of the utmost importance. At this point, the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration considered whether to appeal the decision, but ultimately decided to drop the matter, instead relaunching the "repatriation and risk assessment" process. However, to this day, if anyone has been working on, or completed this assessment, it has yet to be announced. Because of this, the government is incapable of carrying out extradition procedures against Lai and he has been able to continue living in Canada to this day.

The background of the judicial logic of this "work permit"

Since Lai Changxing has received his work permit he has expressed to the media his desire to "work hard and pay his debt to Canada." This claim seems rather absurd, but it inadvertently draws attention to the "legislative intention" of Canadian law.

Many netizens have spoken out saying that this cases shows that Canadian law should be altered so that it does not allow international fugitives to received work permits. But in reality, the Canadian legal system's design and function has the perspective that considers "criminals are also people." The way Canadians see it, a crime committed in a foreign country shouldn't consign a person to die of starvation on the streets of Canada. If the case of this person is delayed too long and they have no source of income, then they can be considered for a work permit. In this way, they can provide for themselves and lessen the economic burden on the Canadian taxpayer.

Canada set up this kind of legal system on the basis of the consideration of humane principles and the domestic welfare. In this situation, there is no alternative. Of course, any legal system can be abused. This kind of system can be abused and Canada must examine the particular circumstances of every case. From the reality of how the system operates from circumstance to circumstance, it can be seen what the government should do. If they discover that the fugitive criminal has scads of money to live on, then they cannot grant him a work permit. From this logic, we can deduce that since the Canadian government has granted Lai Changxing a work permit, they must believe that his quality of life has already entered into appropriate economic hardship that access to work is necessary.

In China, Lai Changxing is truly believed to be amongst the richest of criminals. But the amount of wealth that he brought with him to Canada was actually extremely limited and those funds were frozen by the government. His family has now lived in Canada for around a decade, during which he has retained a lawyer at great expense.

In the media's reporting, Lai Changxing has been shown to life a life of wealth and comfort in Canada, coming and going to all sorts of high class establishments. Because of this, not many people believe that he really faces economy hardship in Canada. They are querying whether the Canadian government really investigated Lai Changxing's assets.

But in reality, if there's not much efficacious "international help", whether for the Canadian or Chinese government that can determine his assets if they are hidden in a 3rd country or a hidden offshore bank account. If Lai Changxing has money not in Canada but elsewhere, it is going to be truly difficult for the Canadian government to investigate it. And even if they do, they don't have a clue where to look. Even if they did have a clue, likely they would find the third party unwilling to cooperate. I fear there is nothing that can be done.

Because of all of this, regardless of what the law says, in reality China, Canada and other countries need to work together to investigate Lai Changxing's assets.

Legally speaking, while Lai will receive a work permit, it does not mean that the Canadian government has granted refugee status or in any way intends to change their plans to deport him in the future.

But since there still exist such vast differences between the legal systems and cultures of the two countries, the bilateral process of extraditing a criminal faces many obstacles. In 1994, a treaty was signed for judicial aid, but to this day there is no extradition treaty between China and Canada. For the Ministry of Immigration, this poses layer upon layer difficulties.

Practically speaking, there is only one reason why Lai Changxing has been able to remain in Canada. It is that Canadian courts and officials lack understanding of and confidence in the Chinese legal system.

In August 2008, Canada extradited fraudster Deng Xinzhi back to China to face charges. This case was swiftly dealt with by Canadian authorities, because there was no possibility that he might face the death penalty in China. Moreover, Lai Changxing could very well face the death penalty for the charge of smuggling. Even if China has offered a solemn promise that he will not face execution, his lawyer can appeal to the notions that China can still not be trusted.

At the same time, we have no sign that there is much understanding of China from the Canadian bureaucrats assessing Lai Changxing's repatriation risks. It really isn't easy. The Western media often concentrates on the defects of the criminal system in China, leading Canadian officials to naturally be prejudiced against the Chinese legal system and it will be hard for change to be forthcoming in the short-term.

This time, Lai Changxing was able to recieve a work permit because he appeared to suffer money problems and primarily because his case had been delayed so long in Canada. From these reasons, it is reasonable to query the government's decision. For example, since the overturn of his pre-extradition risk assessment, the regulations would call for that assessment to be redone, something that should have been completed with six months. If to this day, this assessment has not been completed, or has practically been abandoned, how can it be said clearly that Lai faces risks after extradition to China? It seems that Lai Changxing has suceeded in staying in Canada. The government has spent countless resources and over eight years with difficulty reaching a series of rulings all in the cause of attempting to carrying out an ineffective law.

Lai Changxing's case is a true headache for the Canadian government. If after ten years of this case going back and forth, over and over again, the result is that Lai Changxing gets to live legally in Canada, how are ordinary folk to sort all this out?

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2/14/2009

Back in the Swing of Things...

I admit, the Chinese language related blogging has been slow lately... the reason is, I really haven't studied very much Chinese the last few weeks. As it is, I don't really like the structure of university Chinese classes, but that's the vehicle by which I can afford to incorporate spending this time in China into my university degree. So after purposefully choosing a much too hard class for myself last semester and basically coming to the point of almost hating studying Chinese by exam period, I'm vowing to take an easy class and put the onus for learning Chinese on myself. It's good to take a break though at times like that, so I feel better now that the stress has left. Expect the translation and Chinese learning posts to gear up from now on.

Though I'm a little unfaithful at times, I'm a big believer in the "All Japanese Chinese All the Time" model. So I have a big host of media at my disposal and I thought I'd list them mostly for my own benefit.

  1. Chinese blogs and forums (see the links on the right).
  2. Podcasts: Chinesepod, 反波, and 静雅思听。
  3. My 三国演义 project: the CCTV series paired with the novel. I'm also reading An Introduction to Literary Chinese to help me understand the grammer.
  4. Novels: I'm pecking at 徐三观卖血记。
  5. Various dubbed Western films.
  6. Exploring the magical land of Youku.
  7. Edit: I forgot about 南方周末(I read the paper, but here's a link to the online version)!I'm trying to read it, at least on a superficial level, since it's like the closest thing I've found in Chinese to the Saturday issue of the Globe and Mail.
轉寫主義者asked how I can use Wenlin. Wenlin may not look pretty, but it's functionality is far beyond what any of the web based apps can offer (with the possible exception of nciku, a service I am really enjoying and have replaced the old faithful, perakun with). The way to really get bang for your buck with Wenlin is to rely on it's powerful "component" and "radical" search function. Simply CTRL+click on a character to break it down into different components (emphasis: components, not just radicals). A very simple but powerful tool. Once you master this tool, it will become the fastest way to find out a character you don't know.

I use Wenlin for two different things. One is for taking notes in class, while watching a film, or reading a book. I get a quick translation with no loading times and all of my searches are saved together. The second is for annotation of complicated documents, though I find that I have been relying on nciku more and more as my vocabularly grows. Still for more technical documents, especially legal related documents, I'll still use Wenlin for it's speed and radical search functions.

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2/11/2009

Another Canada-China Diplomacy Failure

A new article in the Tyee from everyone's favorite Canadian law professor, Michael Geist, outlines the failure of Canadian diplomacy in a recent US trade dispute with China. In a nutshell, the US connived us into co-signing a trade complaint about China's customs policies, but then the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was unable to find that Canada was actually negatively impacted. And we can see more of Canada's often incomprehensible political dispute with China this week in the granting of a work permit to one of the most wanted criminals in China.

It really makes me wonder. When will Canada find a sensical China policy?

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2/10/2009

Misreading Cultural Codes

Just finished reading a very interesting older article on JSTOR (cited below) about foreign teachers working at a Chinese university in the 1980s. It details how problems with the staff of their dormitory led to a strike and analyzes the cultural misunderstandings on both sides. I have to say that as a student in Shanghai more than 20 years later, I deeply sympathize with many of the problems faced by the teachers. I haven't faced any serious problems from our own staff, but I've witnessed some and heard of many others. I guess this post should be taken by the potential student or teacher who plans of living on campus or in any building where the management and not you have control of who comes in and out, buyer beware.

The key issue in the dispute was the incessant paternalism that the foreigners faced from staff, which began with the dormitory management's use of their control over the building to express their discomfort with racial mixing (harassing the Chinese wife of one of the teachers, and limiting/monitoring Chinese visitors) and ending with university administrators refusing to believe the claims the of foreigners over the dormitory staff and threatening the teachers with dismissal after teachers went on a one day strike (btw, striking was and is illegal in the PRC). Finally, the president of the university stepped in to reassure the teachers, but without addressing any of the problems they had faced initially.

How did they come to this situation? Frankly, situations like this are inevitable for Americans in China, though to a much lesser and more benign degree today. I'm sure every foreigner who comes to China can recount a situation where they've been placed in a very frustrating situation and treated in a paternalistic fashion. Paternalism is interesting to talk about in this context, especially since in anthropology we're normally talking about the American expats as acting paternalistic, not the other way around. One explanation is to tie this behavior to Confucianism; connect a lack of a conception of privacy and the Confucian conception of "righteousness" the responsibility to intervene in the affairs of others.

The central problem in the paper that enraged the foreigners was the social and moral classification of foreigners and Chinese visitors to the foreign dormitory, and the abuse they experienced. I have to say that while I have witnessed nothing of the degree that the subjects of the 1986 article faced, I'd say these problems are rampant in the university housing for foreigners. Blatant racism towards African and Middle-Easterners and stereotyping of Westerners as wild, dangerous party-goers. And of course the worst is reserved first for ethnic or mixed Chinese who are trying to explore their heritage here in China, and lastly for native Chinese who are making friends or lovers with foreigners.

I don't mean to gripe. In different circumstances I might praise these exact same qualities within the "Chinese worldview". But for people who come from the most tolerant of cultures, to experience the discomforting webs of ethnic tensions present in everyday China is quite enough, to have it thrust at us in our supposed places of refuge is too much.

Anonymous, Deborah Pellow (1986) An American Teachers' Strike in China: Misreading Cultural Codes. Anthropology Today, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 3-5 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3032709

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2/06/2009

China Evening Post Royally Pisses Off Shanghainese Readers

Well, the Shanghai Evening Post (新民晚报)has gotten themselves into some hot water. In an essay, published yesterday(English), the paper saluted the "heroes" who had come to Shanghai to make a living, while drawing some quite discriminatory contrasts between "Old" and "New" Shanghainese.
The errant essayist was even careless enough to bold the most xenophobic part of the whole article to further enrage Shanghainese. Translation from the great Roland Soong:

In Pudong, especially in Lujiazui, everybody speaks Putonghua. To speak the Shanghai dialect is a sign of being uncivilized, like being a native American Indian.
Shanghainese quickly forced an apology out of the newspaper, and placed a poll on the bottom of the page which quickly garnered tens of thousands of responses, almost all vehemently against the article. I've translated the questions, answers and results as of 16 hours after the article was published.
Is speaking dialects uncivilized?
1. Yes, everyone should speak Putonghua. 2024
2. No, speaking dialects is in itself civilized. 19158
3. Don't look at isolated events, look at the bigger picture. 1988
4. I couldn't say. 26
What is your impression of this article?
1. Everything that was discussed is objectively true. 3995
2. It's discriminatory towards Shanghainese. 18647
3. I couldn't say. 409
How do you feel about the Shanghainese response?
1. It's an understandable, simply natural response. 19955
2. It's an extreme response, in itself "uncivilized." 3066
3. I couldn't say. 82
Well, there is more to be said. And it's that we should observe some of the diads dyads at work in how "New Shanghainese" construct their notion of the "Old Shanghainese". I don't want to be to harsh on "New Shanghainese" so I'll only pick the most obvious ones in this article. Let's map them out!
New Shanghainese vs Old Shanghainese
Family not Shanghainese vs Ancestors Shanghainese
Putonghua vs Shanghainese (can speak Putonghua but won't, grr)
Civilized vs Uncivilized
Pudong, clean, shiny, yay! vs Puxi, dirty, old yuck!
Compare to the Japanese vs Compare to the French
Commercial Grade Housing Deeds vs Shanghai Household Registration
And beyond that stereotypes get wilder and wilder. I'll sum it up for you, Shanghainese women, who BTW are the "cream of the nation" and know their worth (definitely a golddigger insinuation in there), are going for the best bet which is a racial and education hierarchy we're all familiar with: foreigners on the top, then overseas Chinese, then successful New Shanghainese elites. Kind of a final f*** you to Shanghainese men in the end, who end up at the bottom of the essayists pyramid.

Yeah, folk are darn pissed about this article. The author has already been human flesh searched!!! And there are many unkind words being said. Folks are unhappy with the term "New Shanghainese" (how can you call yourself Shanghainese when you can't speak Shanghainese and consider some other place to be your "real home."?). A fairly comprehensive board on Tianya discusses the post, though I don't doubt there are others out there.

Edit: Shanghaiist also carries the story, stating that "a retired national leader" complained about it. Please let that have been Jiang Zemin!

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2/02/2009

Narrowed My Focus?

I've finally settled on one main theme in the online discussions I've been reading that I want to focus on... especially because of it's "real-life" connection here in Shanghai. Specifically, I've narrowed down my examination of how people are expressing themselves online in China, to how people are expressing themselves in what I'd call "the Great Shanghainese Debate".

"Let's all speak Putonghua!" In the photo above, taken on the campus of ECNU this Fall, an art class project encourages university students to speak Mandarin (rather than other Chinese dialects) and also is branded with the slogans and logos of this latest round of monolingualization campaigns tied to the upcoming 2010 World Expo.
There is nothing more familiar or divisive to Canadians than struggles over prominent dialects, French being the most important in Canada. In Canada, the climax of our struggle over language rights was la charte de la langue française was seen by French speakers as a necessary step to preserve Quebecois langauge and culture. On the flipside, Anglophones looked upon the change in status of Quebec to French official language province in a country they saw as being Anglophone (incorrect as they may be) as proof of the dissent and rebelliousness of our belle provence. The issue became one wherein the preservation of the French language somehow "interfered" in the "rights" of English speakers living inside and outside Quebec vs. the devastating effects of English economic dominance on the French culture and language in Canada.

In China, the language issues are far more complex, and likewise, far less openly discussed. Here is a map from the University of Texas that gives us some notion of the size and scope of the linguistic differences in China. I would note that while Sichuan Mandarin and Beijing Mandarin are only barely intelligible to each other, "Southern dialects" like Shanghainese Wu and Hong Kong Cantonese are even further apart, with such distinctive features as more tones (Cantonese with it's ear-mind-coordination-shattering nine versus Mandarins paltry four. And since these linguistic groups could be easily misunderstood, it's important to not that this is a map of native languages. We can consider Beijing Mandarin, Zhongyuan Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin to form an ubiquitous lingua franca in the media landscape of spoken Chinese. Less media saturated dialects, for example Henan or Sichuan Mandarin, feature seperate pronunciations and idioms, but are more or less comprehendable to "Standard" Mandarin speakers.

My interest rests with the everyday conflicts between Mandarin as lingua franca and the local Wu dialect of Shanghainese. Not just some little ethnic language either, as we should keep in mind that Wu native speakers number in the area of 80 million, on par with native speakers of such a major world language as French. I'll follow up with examples in a similar format to my previous post on human rights.

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