Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Posts Tagged ‘China

China & the US: Corruption, Progress, and Tragedy

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China doesn’t say it’s going to change. It doesn’t ask you to believe in it.  But it’s happening.

I’ve often written about this country’s extreme paradoxes, how I can never seem to decide if it’s righting its course or steadily eroding. China is fascinating and frightening. It’s grotesque and inspiring.

And now, China is our only hope.

It hurts to say. I feel unpatriotic, a traitor to my upbringing. The good ol’ US of A is meant to kick ass and take names, to lead. And yet, as inspired as I was by Barack Obama’s historic ascent to the presidency, I’m equally horrified by the impotency of his tenure and the implications of our collective behavior.

For what seems like months, in reality is years upon years, I’ve witnessed Washington quibble over plans for universal healthcare.

I just don’t get it. How is this so difficult?

And what now? You’re bringing assault rifles to speeches? Town hall fights? What is this madness?

Burning flags, gay marriage, prayer in the classroom. We spend months and months and months working on this in Congress, and pass nothing. But on big issues, big like Andre-the-Giant-standing-on-a-ladder-on-Mt. Everest-type issues, we revert to mind-numbing partisan hack jobs. We choose paralysis over politics. And worse, we citizens allow it.

Chinese know they cannot openly question their government. But in a country where we can, the best we can muster is crazy gun-totting homophobes carrying Bibles to town hall? Holy Baby Jesus.

As we bicker and point fingers and nod our heads to the lunacy of TV pundits, here’s what China is doing.

1. Cracking down on corruption at the highest levels.

October 1st is the 60th anniversary of the PRC. Chairman/President/His Holiness Hu Jintao is expected to announce major achievements in righting some of the massive wrongs of corruption over the last, well, forever in China.

“Every month for the past year, at least one cadre at the level of assistant minister or above has been nabbed for ‘economic crimes’ and allied felonies,” writes Willy Lam in a phenomenal piece on the anti-graft campaign. Long-standing party members and mafia frontmen are feeling the heat.

The crackdown recently nabbed Kang Rixin, head of China’s nuclear energy program, one of the most powerful 204 cadres in the country. It’s progress, mind you, not an end-all solution.  Corruption in China will continue. As Lam writes,

Doubts remain as to whether the Hu administration will go one step further and introduce institutional checks and balances, as well as allow scrutiny from the media and independent anti-graft agencies, to better eradicate the scourge of graft and related malfeasances.

But this much is known: if you want to skim off the top nowadays, you better have the skill set (or be Hu Jinatao’s son).

Here’s more. For the first time ever, China’s 10th meeting of the Standing Committee just passed a resolution declaring a commitment to fight climate change. Just words, yes. But this is the first time that the highest reaches of government have conceded climate change must be addressed. Some call it peanuts, I’ll call it progress.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of progress in China is that so much is left to be done and much of it is easily within in reach. Unlike the US, China has the ability to implement policy nationwide practically immediately. In other words, while the US jabs, China is throwing uppercuts. As Thomas Friedman writes,

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

That, the in-between-the-lines up there, used to belong almost solely to the United States. We called it Balls and Foresight. Now we have malls and foreclosures.

But it’s not the economy that worries me. I’m supremely confident Wall Street will find a way to make money off of others. That, to me, is a lock. They have plenty of time to find the next best method, because everyone is distracted by the nonsense that is now healthcare and tomorrow will be something else. Because as much as I want universal healthcare, I feel that half of my Congress is dead set on me not getting it.

So what I do care about is the environment. My ability to eat, drink, and breathe is very important. These three come before the health issues they may cause. And, as I said, progress is attainable here in China.

A new joint report by The Boston Consulting Group and The Natural Resources Defense Council reads,

If by 2015, the end of China’s 12th Five-Year Term, 5% of existing buildings and 60% of new buildings were to achieve levels of energy consumption 50% below those of comparable non-green buildings in similar climate zones, the subsequent annual energy savings would be 170 billion kWh electricity, equivalent to turning off all the lights in America for one month. CO2 emissions would be cut by 170 million tonnes.

It’s been proven. Beijing’s “Agenda 21 Building” applied existing technology and reduced energy consumption by 70%. According to Justin Fung, co-author of the report,

“What is not commonly understood is that building operational use accounts for around 25% of China’s total energy consumption… That is more energy than China’s cement, iron and steel sectors combined. And if you include energy used for manufacturing and transporting building materials and products, China’s buildings consume 30-40% of the country’s total energy.”

People like to say the United States is The Land Where Anything is Possible. Well, healthcare sure doesn’t seem to be. Does the shoe still fit?


Front Burner Topics: Racism in China, etc.

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I grew up in New Hampshire.  The state’s population is 95.5% white.  That’s a lot.  More than a lot.  It’s why I once had a friend (who I actually do not consider racist) unintentionally mutter a quick “wow,” when he saw a black guy walking down Main Street in my hometown.  Yeah, it’s like that.

It’s also strikingly similar to China’s ethnic mix: 91.5% Han Chinese.  Whether people approve or not, living in such a huge majority bends the yardstick for socially acceptable behavior.  China (and Taiwan) are grossly racist.

"Oreintal Angel" Luo Jing is definitely Blasian!

"Oreintal Angel" Lou Jing is definitely Blasian!

Part of it is cultural.  There is, especially for young woman, a desire to have deathly pale skin.  This is meant to prove your wealth, perhaps tacked to old notions of parlor living and powdered English wigs.  For as much as the Chinese hate “Western interference” they love to chase its ideals.  Pale is pure, and dark means dirty.  It means field workers, farmers.  And to the elite– then and now– the backbone of society, the working class, those that feed China, is a cast(e) of untrustworthy thieves.

For as odd to the eye as a white person is in remote parts of China, it fails to surpass the contrast in appearance of a dark skinned black person.  And Chinese equate fear with this.  It’s the age old DIFFERENT=DANGEROUS equation.

It’s no surprise that Lou Jing– a gorgeous Blasian young woman who worked her way onto a popular TV show– was targeted by the narrow-minded netizenry of China’s uber-lame mainstream Web forums.  If you want to know how far China  has to go before becoming a “harmonious society,” read this disturbing translation from chinaSMACK.

Chinglish makes everything a bit more interesting!

Chinglish makes everything a bit more interesting!

Here are a couple other quick links:

  1. China, ever-so romantic, has dropped a ban on it’s national ping-pong champ.  At age 25, he is now allowed to have a girlfriend.
  2. “Long time no see,” for those who don’t know, is a literal translation of a common Mandarin saying.  Direct translations can turn out to be quite humorous, and eventually acceptable.  But in Shanghai, the city gov is working to eliminate any instance of jumbled English phrasing before the open of the World Expo (a.k.a. World’s Fair) next year.  Here’s an article on “chinglish,” the hybrid of our two tongues. The Flickr chinglish group it mentions can be found here.  Some shots are downright hysterical.
  3. And here’s a bizarre article about a troublesome bridge in China and a savory solution to suicide threats.


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After over a year mired in the inadequacies of my own intent, I have surged forth and rekindled the flame that once burned for this dear blogging hobby.

Thank you, genius internet proxy hacker men and women– children, perhaps.  For all I know.

As of now, I feel confident this remedy will hold.

To start, I’d like to point those who have returned or stumbled here in the direction of Nicholas Kristof and (his wife) Sheryl Wu Dunn’s gripping piece on women’s issues and solutions to global poverty.

There is a great deal to be said for the way China has empowered its women (as Kristof notes).  While this society is still rife with sexist traditions, for a developing nation, I remain impressed.

I’ve had an entire summer of leisure, in which most of it has been spent exploring the inner expanses of China.  I will share more of this experience, here, shortly.

Written by Miles

August 26, 2009 at 3:09 pm


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Written by Miles

May 8, 2008 at 3:52 am

Locked out

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For whatever reason, even my VPN has been failing to get past the Great Firewall of China as of late. There have been a slew of topics I wanted to comment on, including some very interesting personal experiences. Since, I am logged on now by pure luck, I will be brief.

I think one of the most fascinating things happening here in China, today, is the dialogue Chinese people are having within their own communities debating patriotism versus nationalism. Don’t get me wrong, there are roughly zero people who weigh in on nationalism’s side. The Chinese see their recent reactions to the protests, their calls for boycotts of French companies, their condemnation of all Western media as anti-Chinese… they see these things as rational steps in defense of their beloved mother.

An article in the New York Times talking about the protests read, “‘Before I came here, I’m very liberal,’ said Minna Jia, a graduate student in political science at U.S.C…. ‘But after I come here, my professor told me that I’m nationalist.'” That’s the thing. Chinese see themselves as very rational and independent. But as the article goes on to point out, rightfully so, these students studying in the States, these students protesting in big cities along the Eastern coast of China, are all those who have benefit most from China’s opening up. In effect, they are the cream of the crop, the bourgeoisie of China, looking to protect what has been given them.

For years, Chinese have been told horror stories of the way their parents grew up. It has helped them to appreciate what China has accomplished. It has also embedded in them a faulty notion of entitlement. It’s a land of Only Children, and they act like it. Greed is palpable. Self-esteem is fragile. There is no room for criticism, they do not know how to accept it because they have never been in a position to give it out. In Chinese culture, there is no complaining, no protesting. It’s unacceptable to question the government. Therefore, when they see outsiders doing just that, they are shocked.

I have written before about how this country has surpassed America in term’s of global hegemony. China has officially bought, bribed, and blackmailed its way back to superpowerdom. But this is about as far as it will ever go, until the people within this country develop a culture the world can accept or strive for. There is nothing here the world wants to aspire to… corrupt government, a devastated environment, a mute press, a cowardly civil society. Until China can realize what once made it the historical superpower of the past– a vibrant culture– it will never overcome being the world’s sweatshop.

Written by Miles

May 8, 2008 at 3:32 am

A Look at Asia, Tourism and Tension

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My cousin recently ventured into Burma, after we parted ways in Vietnam.  He later told me the contrast between the two was nearly indescribable.  On the one hand, you have Vietnam, rolling in new money and racing ahead at reckless speeds.  On the other, Burma, idle and eroding, sinking into dictatorship and economic stagnation.

It had me thinking of the Asian countries I have visited in the past two years, in comparison to each other, and in comparison to some of the places I have been in Africa.  It’s a unique system of development in this corner of the world, one very dependent on its geography.  There’s massive China.  South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have all followed similar paths, straight down to Singapore.  Then there’s the peninsula with Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, all lead by Thailand in regional power and leadership.  The island nations, they have their own type of development, the Philippines, Malaysia, etc.

Common to them all is the boon of tourism.  Unlike Africa, people think of Asia as a “safe” place.  It’s long been part of the backpacker circuit, and has been further pushed and developed in the last 20 years than ever before.  The situation is slightly different in China and Japan, who are welcoming more tourists but also sending out an all-time high as well.  Meanwhile, the peninsula and the island nations are facing a huge influx of transient visitors, some relying greatly on their financial input.

Often, upon returning from trips, I have written of the downside of tourism.  Primarily, the 3 P’s: pollution, poverty, and prostitution.  I think I should expand on the notion of prostitution, because it is not just young women being forced into intimate interactions, but entire populations.  There is a cultural prostitution, a sense that everything is for sale in these places, and it is tragic.  The more tourist flood in, the more enormous cameras dangle from necks, the more tour buses, stupid guides with little flags, groups with matching hats, youth just in search of a party, elederly in search of 5-star hotels… its enough to make me sick.  It’s enough to make entire nations sick.

Here are two articles that I think point out the contrast in what has become the search for “authentic” places.  The first discusses how Luang Prabang, a sleepy city in the center of Laos I visited just over a year and a half ago, is dealing with a record number of tourists streaming into its quiet streets.  The second article talks about Myanmar and the situation there, in which a society is being “preserved” to such an throttling extent that it is now starving itself to death.  It’s two ends of the extreme.  And after reading the article on Myanmar, thinking of my cousin, I realize that soon enough that country will open its gates to the floods of foreign visitors and let the rainfall of cash wash away any seeds of culture still in the land.

Lastly, I wanted to follow up on my premise that China has silently regained sole superpower status on our globe.   The article is a wake up call, but I think we, especially the U.S., have hit the snooze button a few too many times to reverse course now.  A U.S. government spokesperson recently spoke of silent diplomacy being used against China.  Ha!  What a crock of shit!  Our soft and hard power are being shown to be exactly what they are, weak.  Our moral legitimacy is in peril, our thirst for war has lost us allies, and with our economy in the toilet, our nation has become a clinger, desperately holding on to resources and the last clutches of geopolitical hegemony as they slip through its grip.

Obama Says We’re Bitter, I Say He’s Damn Right

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Apparently the big campaign trail news is a co-sponsored, bipartisan “attack” on a piece of Barack’s speech in San Fran the other day.  According to the NY Times, it went like this:

At the fund-raiser in San Francisco last Sunday, Mr. Obama outlined challenges facing his presidential candidacy in the coming primaries in Pennsylvania and Indiana, particularly persuading white working-class voters who, he said, fell through the cracks during the Bush and Clinton administrations.

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Mr. Obama said…

McCain and Clinton responded calling him “out of touch” with “small town America.” Is that insinuating these two D.C. knuckleheads are down with the git-down on Main Street? Please! “That’s rich,” Obama retorted, perhaps unaware of his pun.

This is EXACTLY why we need Obama in the White House. His rivals live in an idealized world where everyone pulls the wool over their eyes and tries to go to sleep. There’s a bogeyman in America’s closet, and it’s about time people come to terms with what we fear.

Bitter? Hell yes, I am bitter. I am from a working-class family, with a father who owns his own fledgling company, a Mom who works too much OT, a step-dad who works multiple jobs, a 21 year old sister working nearly full-time to help pay her way through college, and a 16-year-old sister working part-time for spending money after school and on weekends… that’s what Bush calls “uniquely American.” My whole family is sick and tired of politicians who don’t have a clue, who cut taxes on the rich thinking it’s going to trickle down Main Street. It doesn’t.

One of my favorite lines from Obama came before the South Carolina primary where, to paraphrase, he said something like, “I was pounding the pavement as a community organizer when you were busy sitting on the board at Wal-Mart, Hillary, trying to figure out how to ship our jobs overseas!”

Oh Lordy, the audacity, to borrow another campaign buzzword, of two candidates who think they are in tune with the realities of the middle class! Is this the same McCain who has no problem leaving sons and daughters of the lower classes burning in the desert of our immorality in Iraq? The same McCain married to a millionaire? Is this the same Clinton who reported a family income of $109 million dollars last year? Is that in touch with my family? Hell no.

I try not to be a defeatist or a pessimist, but it is this backward thinking by these status-quo preaching politicians that has our country sitting atop the sinkhole of eternity. Stay in Iraq, Johnboy? And pay for that how? With our awesome economy being buoyed up by those doubly-awesome tax cuts you are so proud of? Keep borrowing from China? Hope it buys another TRILLION dollars of our debt? That’s a great way to maintain any miniscule inkling of geopolitical strength, when we are begging and groveling to the world’s new authoritarian superpower.

Does this rant sound bitter? It should. That’s exactly what I am. I met an American woman working as a bartender in a hostel on Baobob beach in Mozambique in 2004. She told me she had become so disenchanted with the direction of her country that she was boycotting living there while Bush was in office. A week before, he had won reelection, and she said she was too stubborn to head back now.

I’m not praising her for fleeing the US. I praise her for being aware. Clinton and McCain can keep pounding the pulpit in the US, telling everyone everything is ok, that there is nothing to fear about our economy, our war on terror, our education, our healthcare, our dependency on oil, our expansionist military regime, our debt, our obese gluttony of what we hold as our country’s entitlements… sure. Keep telling us that’s normal, that’s the way it oughta be. Me and my friend in Mozambique, we’ll keep waiting.

Written by Miles

April 12, 2008 at 6:12 am