Archive for the ‘Cultural History of China’ Category

Is China’s Growth Sustainable?

Friday, March 11th, 2011

“For example, it is estimated that 40 percent of China’s water supply is now so polluted that it is unusable for any purpose, a circumstance that substantially increases the cost of industrial production in many sectors.”1

This statistic really floored me. I mean, I know that China isn’t exactly a bastion of environmentalism, but for 40 percent of the country’s water supply to be completely destroyed is crazy, especially for a country with a population as large as China’s demanding resources. And it’s so ironic. China isn’t regulating its industry very closely in the name of economic development, but that same lack of regulation is costing the state as much as 10% of GDP annually.2 In some ways its hard to fault China because the US and Europe managed to do all sorts of damage to our own natural resources while industrializing, too. Yet China saw what happened to the environment here and elsewhere and still went ahead with little to no regulation. How bad does it have to get before China realizes that responsible protection of limited resources is actually beneficial to economic growth in the long run? And for as long as China continues to pollute, developed countries have less incentive to curb their own emissions, making everyone and everyone’s economies worse off.

  1. Ho-Fung Hung, “A Caveat: Is the Rise of China Sustainable?” China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism, Ho-Fung Hung,ed. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 197
  2. Ibid.

China’s Economic Growth

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

“China makes goods spanning the entire value chain, on a scale that determines world prices. Hence East Asia’s anxiety. If China is more efficient at everything, what is there left for neighbors to do?”1

This quote was from The Economist in 2001, and it conveys the fears many of China’s neighbors had at the time about China’s growing power. Those countries had previously been the low cost areas for production, and when companies began moving to China the “Tigers” had to adapt their own economies to the changing global circumstances. But I thought it was interesting that the article attributed this fear of China’s efficiency and strength to China’s neighbors but not necessarily to the other developed economies of the world. I think that today, ten years after this article, many Americans are increasingly concerned China is going to outpace not just East Asia but the US as well. At the same time, those ten years have also seen different scandals emerge out of China in terms of the safety of some of the products made there that show, even though the economy is growing rapidly, there are still problem areas China must confront. I think it ultimately comes down to the idea of creativity and ingenuity. Yes, China may become more economically efficient at many things, but if other countries continue to come up with the next big thing, China will always be chasing after them. Will China adapt and become a more creative economy? Will the US and others continue to lament China’s gains while still failing to develop the new technologies and skills that will help them maintain their dominance?

  1. Ho-Fung Hung, China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism. Ho-Fung Hung, ed. (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2009, 12.

Rethinking Chinese Development

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

“The Chinese state many times backed off from carrying out those policies that could lead to massive layoffs and the elimination of social safety nets.” 1

The author makes this claim in comparing China to the East Asian countries that developed without China’s legacy of revolutionary socialism. China placed such emphasis on the collective well being for so long that it makes sense that the state did not want to abruptly deny individuals that sense of security. That history, too, might mean that most Chinese citizens would not understand the kind of economics behind the sort of big-picture policies that might put some people out of work while still benefiting the overall economy. According to the chapter, China is actually aiming to ramp up the level of social security nets available which seems a pretty extraordinary goal considering the size and relative poverty of China’s population. From what I understand, most of the current developed countries didn’t start implementing significant social safety net programs until the bulk of their economic development was completed. My question is, are Chinese leaders really trying to avoid policies that would harm the social safety net because of a true continued commitment to socialist ideologies or because they fear what happens to their hold on power if a large enough section of China’s massive population becomes dissatisfied with the economic directives the state hands down? High unemployment is never a good thing for those in control, even if what caused the unemployment is meant to be beneficial overall.

  1. Alvin Y. So, “Rethinking the Chinese Development Miracle,” China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism, Ho-fung Hung, editor (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 60.

Memory as History

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

“The narrator looks for objective history, but he must submit to fiction as the only way to retrieve the past. The resulting narrative is revised while being told.”1

Is there really an objective history of the Cultural Revolution? Here was an event that influenced virtually everyone in China, yet no two people had exactly the same reaction to it. And as we move farther from that time, new generations are adding their own historical perspectives and ideas about what happened while their parents or grandparents were younger. Therefore, there really isn’t a coherent “memory” of the Cultural Revolution itself. Xiaojun’s inability to recount his story as it “actually happened” mirrors China as a whole’s struggles to recall and make sense of those ten years on a national level. The history of the Cultural Revolution didn’t end with the end of the Cultural Revolution itself, but continues to evolve as time moves on and people come to terms with what happened. Any fictionalizations are not inherently “wrong,” just a part of that changing narrative.

  1. Yomi Braester, “Memory at a Standstill: From Maohistory to Hooligan History”, 198/

Examining Posters

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This 1987 poster reads “Less births, better births, to develop China vigorously.” The Chinese government became much more serious about the One Child Policy in the 1980s, and this poster was certainly part of that message. The government wanted people to believe that having fewer children would benefit the country as China moved towards modernization and prosperity. In other words, having fewer children was a patriotic duty.

The poster presents a family that the Chinese government presumably thought those who saw the poster would want to emulate. The parents are young, healthy-looking (or vigorous, as the caption suggests), dressed well (and western), and smiling. His hand on her back and the mother’s arms around her child lend them the aura of an affectionate family. And the father is carrying what looks like it could be a book, perhaps a symbol of education or business success. Both of the adults are depicted in motion, suggesting the forward moving trajectory of the country itself. The fact that the child is on her mother’s shoulder is important too because that indicates how the parents are investing themselves in her to help her reach higher. The toddler’s red shoes are the only red images on the poster aside from the text, but they are a subtle reminder that China itself will rise with this generation if parents act responsibly. The fact that child is a daughter could also mean that the government wanted parents to welcome girls as much as they would welcome sons and to give them the same opportunities to thrive that boys receive.

The background is a bit strange; the family looks as though they are going for a stroll through outer space. Space itself is futuristic I suppose, so it may be indicating the future and the bright tomorrow of China. And there is that little sun tucked away in the upper right hand corner. I almost missed it because it’s not red the way it often seems to be in Chinese artwork, but it is there and positioned in such a way that the little girl’s arms are almost reaching for it. This is a family ready to lead the way to a brighter future for China!

Cultural Revolution Posters

Monday, January 31st, 2011

“There are layers of trajectories of meaning that are common throughout the visual imagination of a society or group and that operate on the key level of assumption.”1

I thought the idea of “hegemonic discourse” that the authors introduce was rather interesting. During the Cultural Revolution posters were everywhere and dealt with a variety of topics, yet somehow amidst all of that visual stimulus a certain common meaning developed for different colors, symbols, or designs. But, as the authors point out with their example of the Red Guards’ behavior, common understandings can still provoke different reactions. Each individual viewer brings her or his own unique perspective to every poster seen on the street or in a home. As the posters were generally made to have a quick impact, viewers may only have had a few seconds to form an overall impression of what the poster meant or was asking. That leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation. My question is, how much did the Cultural Revolution posters play off of colors, motifs, or images already common in Chinese society? How much of the meaning behind these things existed before the revolution and how much grew out of it?

  1. Harriet Evans & Stephanie Donald, Picturing Power in the Cultural Revolution (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 17

Ideas for Project

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I got my first project idea when I came across a Chinese made documentary called “Kindergarten” that documents the everyday lives of kids age 2 to 7 attending a boarding kindergarten in China. I was floored by the fact that parents were sending their two year olds to boarding school, and I started researching the idea and found that kindergarten has become an increasingly competitive thing in China as parents try to give (what is often their only) child the best possible chance at success. A lot of the schools, both boarding and day, have long waiting lists and are very expensive. My project would look into the way early childhood education is dealt with in China. Prof. Fernsebner suggested another documentary called “Please Vote for Me” about elementary education, so I’ll definitely be looking into that one as well. There are lots of interesting articles coming out about the growing focus on early childhood education and the pressures it puts on parents as well as students. It would also be interesting to compare how the the Chinese are approaching kindergarten in relation to the way those in other countries do.

My second idea stemmed from the article about pet ownership I read in China Digital News the other day. As pet ownership is rising in China so are tensions between pet owners, largely wealthier city dwellers, and non pet owners, mainly poorer and rural Chinese, over the merits of owning vs. eating dogs and cats. Treating animals as pets is so ingrained in American culture at this point that it is intriguing to see China just now grappling with what it means to bring animals into homes, some even treating them as substitute human companions.

Government “Benevolence” Protects Women

Friday, January 21st, 2011

In Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up the main character is forced into a marriage with a man that beats her, but she is unable to divorce him because of societal expectations and legal restrictions. But after the New Marriage Law is enacted in 1950, Li Fengjin has the right to divorce Tang Jinrong and marry who she pleases, in this case Gu Shuijin. The Chinese certainly were not aiming for subtle with this one. Li Fengjin is severely beaten many times, and yet those around her continue to insist she stay in her marriage.

When her town is finally “liberated” and the government officials see the error of their ways and come to accept her right to a divorce, Li Fengjin quickly jumps into marriage with the man who helped her escape her former husband. As one governmental official said “Men and women are equal and they should enthusiastically unite and produce in order to construct a new China.” 1 So while women were theoretically free to marry who they wished, they were still very much expected to marry. It’s interesting that both the law and the book are framed as women’s issues. Was there no equivalent pamphlet for men about the impropriety of beating your wife or of purchasing human beings with rice? Was it really “benevolence,” as Gu Shuijin calls it on page32, on the part of the government to grant women the right to escape life threatening situations?

  1. Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up, 29.

China’s Children Disappear

Friday, January 14th, 2011

“Although we enjoy universal suffrage and every citizen democratic rights, in reality our vote doesn’t threaten them.”1

The chapter “Getting Organized: The Parents of a Stolen Child” touched on not only the tragic situations of so many families who have lost children to kidnappers but also the frustration the grieving parents found in dealing with China’s bureaucratic system. They are shuffled from one office to another without ever receiving substantive help in finding their missing children. It seems that, some of the parents involved at least, had never quite realized the extent to which their government disregards the interests of its citizens until confronted with the horrible reality missing children and the government’s lack of concern and help. Does anyone really know what happens to those kidnapped kids? Are there other situations where Chinese lose faith in their government after trying to work with it?

  1. Sang Ye, China Candid: The People on the People’s Republic, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006), 118

Exploring Internet Resources on China

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

While reading through a lot of the resources about China, I stumbled upon a New York Times article listed under the Culture section of the China Digital Times. The article, “Once Banned, Dogs Reflect China’s Rise,” discusses the relatively new phenomenon of dog ownership in China. Among the wealthy, certain expensive breeds of dogs are becoming status symbols, but for many Chinese, especially in cities, dogs are becoming beloved family pets with entire pet care industries centered on catering to their needs.

The article drew my attention at first because I never knew that the Chinese government once banned pet ownership. But today the rules are softening, as in a country where many couples have only one child and many children have no siblings, dogs are playing extraordinary roles as social companions. Dog swimming pools and the opening of elaborate doggy hotels reveal China’s growing affection for dogs as pets. In light of this rise in pet owner consumerism, the article goes on to raise an interesting point about the way in which a society allocates its resources. One Chinese dog skeptic expressed the concern that, “The birth of humans needs to be planned, but anyone can raise a dog?”

And, yes, far fewer people are eating dog in China these days as well, a fact the article attributes not only to the growing numbers of pet owners, but also to the fact that “other developed countries have animal protection laws.”