Category Archives: Housekeeping

Translation: “Inexplicably Made Happy”

Here are the results of a recent survey that has been passed around in China; “The Happiest Professions in the Eyes of the People.” (It’s not clear how many people participated.)

  1. Public servants
  2. Government officials
  3. Teachers
  4. Artists
  5. Executives
  6. Self-employed
  7. Bankers
  8. Actors
  9. Pilots
  10. Entrepreneurs

(The list goes on from there, but the first couple are really all that’s relevant here).

From Southern Weekend, “Inexplicably Made Happy” ((This title uses a Chinese construction that’s tough to translate sometimes; the use of 被 in front of a verb to indicate someone is being forced to do something, or that the government is saying someone is doing something they actually aren’t. Here, it’s 被幸福, the implication being that the subject has been decreed to be happy even though they actually aren’t.)):

Recently a survey called “The Happiest Professions in the Eyes of the People” has been being passed around. I couldn’t help but feel curious when I saw it. Government officials are public servants, so how did “public servants” and “government officials” get the number one and number two spots on the list?

I also couldn’t help but think of my classmate Ah Fan, who holds a provincial-level official position making 2,600 RMB a month [$412]. Ah Fan hasn’t experienced the so-called high life [of officials]. High housing prices have forced his whole family to squeeze into a shantytown. The guy renting the place next door dropped out of middle school and went to work making doors and windows of aluminim alloy; he makes 8,000 RMB a month [$1,269]. The comparison horrifies Ah Fan, but the neighbor is very respectful of Ah Fan and often tells his children that Ah Fan is a role model. This only deepens Ah Fan’s sense of guilt; he doesn’t dare admit his real salary to the neighbor.

What is happiness? Some say it’s having enough not to worry about material life, and lacking burdens so you can enjoy a spiritual life. How can Ah Fan, who hasn’t achieved either of these, become a happy person?


Housekeeping announcement: I’m getting sick of my own opinions, and I get the impression some of you are getting sick of reading them too, so no more. We’re going back to basics; from now on ChinaGeeks will just be translations, with maybe a little analysis from time to time. I will also be cross-posting future 2Non.org articles here so that people have a place to comment on them if they want.

Speaking of 2Non, we need your help to and support to continue producing these articles and to continue paying for film festival applications for Living with Dead Hearts. Everybody says they want content like this, so if you like what we’re doing, please show your support with a tax-deductible donation.

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(Finally) Announcing My New Project: 2Non.org

Longtime readers will know that I have been alluding to a “big project” on this site for quite some time. In fact, it has taken long enough to get here that you would be forgiven for thinking this “big project” was actually just an excuse to not update this site much. Today, my friends, I announce that it is real.

Click here to go to 2Non.org. Our first article is about the nightmare of red tape that victims of forced demolitions often remain trapped in long, long after the actual demolition of their house has concluded. I think you’ll enjoy it:

“After Forced Evictions, a Nightmare of Red Tape”

You can even listen to an audio recording of the article if that’s your kind of thing, although for now it’s just a simple reading of the article. (Future articles will feature more fully produced audio versions).

What is this?

2Non is a non-profit media organization that produces documentary films and shorts as well as written reportage on issues of social justice. Although I hope someday to expand its focus, for the moment our work is focused entirely on China because that’s what I know. Basically, it’s a nonprofit platform through which we’ll be making and distributing our films (starting with Living with Dead Hearts) as well as posting original reporting like the article above on a regular basis.

Why?

After seeing such a strong response to both rounds of fundraising for our film, I began to think about ways in which we might be able to work on projects like that on a more full-time basis instead of having to squeeze it in around work schedules. I also lamented that our many generous donors still had to pay taxes on their donations.

So you want us to give you money?

Don’t I always? Yes. Well, if you like the work we’re doing, then yes. But the good news is that if you’re American, your donations will now be tax-deductible! And, as with the film fundraising, we’ve set up a tiered rewards system so that everyone who donates gets something awesome in return (if they want it, it’s not mandatory).

What does this mean for ChinaGeeks?

Well, any story that has the potential to be a longer-form written piece is probably going to end up on 2Non. But as you can tell if you’ve read our first article, I really never wrote articles like that on ChinaGeeks to begin with anyway. So not much will change. Translations and analysis pieces will still be posted here; 2Non will be for long-form reported pieces. Obviously my posting here has slowed down over the past year and that’s not likely about to change, but it shouldn’t get any worse, either.

What does this mean for the film? And hey, how’s that coming along, anyway?

Barring some kind of deal from a major distributor that’s just too awesome to refuse, the film will be distributed through 2Non, as will our subsequent films. We may still work to place modified versions on television or elsewhere, but ultimately, all films should end up on the site where we’ll be able to offer them at lower prices and without crap like DRM restrictions for digital downloads or wasteful packaging for DVD/Blu-Ray orders.

And the film is going well, thanks for asking! It is done and we’ve applied to 12 film festivals so far, with more planned as we can afford to pay for them (so help us out with a donation).


Well, that’s it. Please go check out 2Non.org and tell your friends to help us out by donating if they like what they see. Thanks!

OK, Goddamn it, Fine: Other Reasons I Left China, and Proof Yang Rui Isn’t One of Them

Apparently everyone else (read: two other people) decided to leave China around the same time as me. And since I guess even the New York Times can’t keep from implying that my departure had something to do with the Yang Rui incident, I guess I have to explain some things.

(Note: I don’t mean to imply that this post is just a reaction to that NYT piece. It isn’t. It’s a reaction to a whole lot of things, and overall I think the NYT piece is much better about conveying the real meaning of my “why I’m leaving China” post than many other people have been).

Those of you who read the original post and didn’t immediately assume I was lying and those of you aren’t interested in my personal life are excused. How that isn’t all of you is lost on me, but apparently it isn’t, so here we go.

My personal reasons for leaving China:

  • I hadn’t seen most of my family in several years.
  • My wife had never even visited my home country (like most young Chinese women, she found it impossible to get a US tourist visa; she applied and was rejected twice), and she and I both wanted to live here for a while so that she could improve her English.
  • My job at Tech in Asia is the rare one that is flexible enough to allow an international move without disrupting our lives in a huge way, so it seemed best to take advantage of that opportunity.
  • Our film is nearly finished and we’ll be applying to (and hopefully attending) festivals; that’s easier to do in a country where there are some of them (and where our film isn’t technically illegal).
  • As paradoxical as this may sound, I need to be in the US to set up something that will hopefully allow us to do more in-depth reporting on China. That I still can’t give details about, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to share that project with you soon.

So, those are some of the personal reasons. Why didn’t I share them in the original blog post? Because they’re personal reasons. I didn’t anticipate anyone would be interested and, perhaps foolishly, I didn’t assume that half the internet would assume I was lying about having personal reasons and that my real reason was running away from Yang Rui.

So let’s talk about that: was our decision to leave motivated at all by the Yang Rui incident? No. Since my wife was unable to get a tourist visa, we had to apply for a US immigration visa. Anyone familiar with that process can tell you that it would be utterly impossible to get one in the two months between when the Yang Rui crap started and when we left China.

In our case — which I believe was processed with unusual speed and went unusually smoothly compared to the average application — we decided to apply and began collecting materials in December 2011. We applied in January 2012, as you can see in the — I can’t believe I have to do this — email from Beijing CIS/DHS below. Note the date in the upper right-hand corner.

click to enlarge

Obviously, we had decided to leave China long before Yang Rui opened his mouth on weibo. As it happens, we were actually in Guangzhou doing the final visa interview as the Yang Rui thing started to take off in late May.

US Immigration visas have a six-month period of validity from the date the visa is issued, after which they are no longer accepted and one has to start the entire long, difficult, and expensive process over again (or so I understand it). So, when my wife was granted a visa on that trip in May, it meant we needed to enter the US before mid-October at the absolute latest. Late July ended up being the best option, mostly because we were able to find a pretty decent price on good flights for the day we ended up picking and because a July arrival would allow us to spend some time with my family, almost all of whom are teachers and thus have most of August off.

If I had been truly scared by Yang Rui, since my wife passed that interview in May, it would have been possible for us to fly back to Beijing, collect our stuff, and catch the next plane out as soon as her passport was returned with the visa in it, which ended up being just a few days later. The reason we waited another two months instead of leaving then is because Yang Rui had no effect whatsoever on our travel plans.

So there you have it. I would love it if, in at least the media, we could stop implying that Yang Rui had anything to do with my decision to move to the US. OK guys? That would be great.

(I apologize to our sane readers for doing this; it’s my own fault this has happened, but I felt the need to set the record straight.)

Why I’m Leaving China

By the time you’re reading this post, I’m on a plane with my wife, bound for the United States, where we plan to live at least for the immediate future. I generally attempt to avoid getting personal with this blog, but in light of some recent events I thought I’d take a moment to explain my reasons.

First, let’s get one thing straight: this has nothing to do with Yang Rui. Yes, he did threaten to sue me and suggest that the police should “investigate my background” after I called for him to be fired in a Weibo post. (For more on his original post, see this). Although the outpouring of vitriol on weibo that followed certainly wasn’t pleasant, none of that had anything to do with my decision to leave, which had been made long before Yang Rui shoved his foot into his mouth (and halfway down his own throat) on weibo. I do plan to address the whole “Yang Rui incident” in a post in the near future, so stay tuned.

Anyway, why am I leaving? Obviously the biggest reasons are personal; I don’t want to get into any of it here except to say that I think it’s what’s best for my family at this particular moment. It’s not anything scandalous or secret, though, I just don’t feel the need to broadcast much about my personal life. However, there are other things that helped reinforce this decision that I think are worth discussing here because they represent major problems China has yet to fully own up to.

[Update: Oh, fine. Since everybody feels it necessary to speculate about my life, here are the personal details, as well as proof Yang Rui had nothing to do with it.]

I like breathing

The first is the air pollution. It’s almost cliche to complain about the air quality in Beijing; it’s terrible and everyone knows it. People here just deal as best they can. Some wear masks outside, and those wealthy enough buy expensive air filters for their homes. Most people just grin and breathe it. I wore masks from time to time, but for the most part, I just breathed it in, too.

Here’s the thing, though: as a foreign citizen, there’s really nothing forcing me to live in Beijing. It is, in many ways, a wonderful city, and it’s probably the most fascinating, exciting place I have ever lived. However, it was also killing me. That’s not really hyperbole; cancer rates in Beijing have risen 60% over the past decade even while smoking rates have remained steady. Studies this spring confirmed a link between air pollution and premature death, even in places far less polluted than Beijing. A World Bank report reportedly found that in China, poor air quality causes nearly a million premature deaths each year. That might not sound like a lot, but some back-of-the-napkin calculations based on China’s death rate show that more than 8% of all deaths in China are premature and related to air pollution.

I’m sure there are plenty of arguments to be made about those numbers, what defines “premature,” and whether or not scientists can really be sure those deaths are all linked to air pollution. But that doesn’t really matter. If you’re in Beijing and you have functioning eyes, you know that things are not healthy. Here’s a picture I took from my apartment last year. It hasn’t been doctored in any way, nor is this even a particularly unusual sight in Beijing (it was taken as part of a series of photos I took each day from the same spot for a separate project).

Looking at that and thinking about your own lungs is bad enough. But thinking about my wife, and thinking about having kids, it gets worse. If my wife were pregnant, would I want her breathing this? Would I want my small child breathing this?

Obviously there are millions of families in Beijing, and they deal. Certainly, we could deal, too. But the question I couldn’t stop asking myself was why should we? On a personal level, it’s a more difficult choice than you might think, at least for me. I like my lungs, sure — they’ve treated me well thus far — but I like Beijing too, and whatever else one might say about this city, it’s never boring. But adding a wife and hypothetical future kids into the mix, the question gets a lot simpler for me. Given the choice to be elsewhere, this just wasn’t the right place to put down deep roots.

Eating is also fun

The other big reason — and this applies to all of China, really — is food safety. Things have simply gotten to the point that it’s impossible to feel confident that what you’re eating is healthy, or even real, unless you’re on a farm. Check out this site, for example, which lists the food items that have been publicly reported in food safety scandals over just the last 8 years. I’ll wait a while for you to finish scrolling through that massive list, which includes basically any food item you can imagine. Oh, each name doesn’t represent just one scandal either, some of the more common food items have scores of reported problems associated with them.

Of course, that’s just what has been discovered and reported publicly. Buying only imported food is a solution, but it’s a highly expensive one; above my means, and above the means of the vast majority of Chinese. And while organic foods are gaining popularity here, they’re also expensive, and there have been scandals involving fake, not-really-organic “organic” food, so even that isn’t entirely safe.

Again, people can and do deal with this. I’ve been eating the food here on and off for four years, and while my stomach has protested from time to time, it hasn’t exploded. Again, though, when forced to wonder ‘why choose to eat this stuff?’ I don’t have a great answer. Not that the food anywhere is entirely safe, of course — certainly it isn’t in the US — but there are plenty of places safer than here. And again, thinking about kids and a family, why choose to put down roots in a country where milk power, in one form or another, seems to make kids sick in a new way every year?

I realize no one really gives a crap about why I’m leaving, but I mention this because I think it’s as significant a problem as economic and social factors when you look at the trend of Chinese elites leaving, or sending their families out of, China. Corruption is a huge problem, sure, and if the economic slowdown continues that’s only going to increase the flow of people leaving. But I think there are probably also plenty of people like me who are less motivated by politics and economics than they are by the safety of their families and/or their fondness for their own lungs and digestive systems.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by China’s political situation. For someone who truly believes China would be better served by a system that afforded its people, at the very least, a free press and the true rule of law, this has been a depressing couple of years. Depressing, soul-crushing and occasionally terrifying. But if I’m honest with myself, even with the political situation, I really think I’d be staying in Beijing if I felt like I could breathe safely.

I don’t think I’m alone there. I know plenty of families in Beijing, and it’s not my intent to criticize anyone else here; I’m just trying to explain my own rationale. But these are issues everyone here struggles with. And for those Chinese and foreign who, like me, are lucky enough to have the means to move elsewhere, some are going to make that choice. As the data on pollution gets clearer, perhaps more are going to make that choice. And while China has made some strides in agreeing to report things like PM2.5 publicly in some cities, I unfortunately don’t see the pollution problem disappearing anytime soon.

This isn’t really even China’s fault. OK, yes it is, but it’s also a fairly natural (if disgusting) stage of development. I don’t know if industrial-era London every looked quite this bad, but I gather it wasn’t the cleanest place ever. The thing is, though, would you choose to live in industrial revolution London?

That choice, I think, is part of China’s problem. As Chinese salaries go up and the education system gets better — and here’s hoping those things do improve despite what’s looking like a fairly ugly bump in the economic road — more and more people are going to have the same choice I have.

What does this mean for the blog?

Absolutely nothing. As longtime readers may recall, I lived in the US for part of 2009-2010, and my blogging output only became more prolific during that time. There are some impending changes — all for the good, I assure you — but it’s not quite time to announce any of that yet. In the meantime, regularly-scheduled curmudgeoning will resume as soon as I’ve slept off the last of the jet lag and dealt with the slowly-unfolding nightmare that is my life as the owner of a motor vehicle.

You may also notice a trend back towards more translations, as I tend to feel more inclined to translate things while I’m in the US just to keep my skills sharp…or make them less dull, anyway. However since I’m reading dozens of news articles in Chinese every day for my day job at this point, I make no guarantees with regards to more translations. (The other problem is that a lot of my favorite blogs have really dried up as their owners move to microblogging and weibo or Twitter, and there are already plenty of great blogs that deal with what’s being said on microblogs. Here’s one excellent one.)

Are you coming back?

Yes, obviously. I have written this fairly pragmatic post instead of an emotional, bittersweet farewell piece because I have every intention of returning with some frequency (visa permitting, of course), and every intention of staying fully engaged and more up-to-date than I have ever been before even while living in the US. This, again, touches on the big plans I mentioned above that I’m not ready to share publicly yet, but suffice it to say that China and I will never be strangers.

One Last Personal Note

I do want to take the time to apologize to many of my friends in Beijing, who may find this news a bit of a shock. I was trying to keep my departure plans very quiet on the off-chance that Yang Rui actually did have friends somewhere in the PSB and might attempt to fuck with me or my wife in some way. My email has been hacked before, so I wanted to be a little careful even with that — perhaps a bit paranoid but there were people out to get me. It’s terribly depressing to me that that’s the sort of thing I even had to think about, but if I’ve learned one thing from the whole Yang Rui experience it is not to underestimate that man’s ability to be a petty bully. I wish I had had the opportunity to thank all of you properly for all of your help, and for generally making my life here awesome.

But of course, I will have the opportunity to do that, the next time I’m back in China (or the next time you’re back in the US for a visit). Next time I’m back in the ‘Jing, the drinks are on me.

UPDATE: Because a bunch of people have asked, just to clarify: this doesn’t have any effect on the documentary film project either, we have already completed all the filming for that.

Happy Chinese New Year

Hi folks. I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus here for the next couple weeks, as I’ll be heading back to the in-laws’ place (way up north where there is no internet) for Spring Festival, and then shortly after that, flying down to Singapore for a week for work. Hopefully everyone has a safe and pleasant holiday.

The new year doesn’t actually start until 12 AM on the 23rd, of course (Sunday night/Monday AM), but here are a few things to keep you busy until then:

Anyway, again, wishing everyone a happy and safe Chinese New Year! There’s so much good writing about China out there these days that I doubt any of you will miss me in my absence anyway. (Also, other members of the team may well post updates during the hiatus, so keep an eye out, but don’t expect to hear from me until early February probably).

Thoughts on China’s Big Child Trafficking Bust (and Comments Policy Revised)

child-kidnapping-china

Thoughts on the Child Kidnapping Bust

For the past few days, news of China’s big kidnapping bust has been making the rounds. In case you’ve missed it, here are the basic details, via Shanghaiist:

Chinese authorities have arrested over 600 individuals related to child trafficking in a joint operation which involved more than 5,000 agents in 10 different provinces. 178 children were rescued in the bust, and are currently residing safely in different orphanages while authorities are trying to reunite them with their families.

Police unwittingly stumbled upon a child trafficking group while investigating a traffic accident on May 5th in the province of Sichuan. The youngsters were allegedly either purchased or abducted by the group and distributed from Sichuan to clients in central China’s Hebei province and elsewhere.

Because I’ve been working on a documentary film about this very issue for the past year, a few people have asked for my thoughts, so here they are.

The good: First of all, even one child getting rescued is good news. 178 kids getting to return to their real homes is great news, and 600+ traffickers off the streets is great news too. So regardless of everything else, there’s plenty to celebrate here.

Secondly, it appears from the news reports that once they had gotten the initial clue, the police did exactly what they need to do to solve cases like this — pooled resources, collaborated across large distances, cooperated with police organs at different levels in different areas, etc. From one angle we’ll discuss in a second, it’s kind of bad that this bust came from a chance traffic stop, but on the other hand, it’s good news that the local police handled that well enough to know what they had, and the higher-ups were smart enough to listen to them and begin coordinating to accomplish something real.

Finally, since July the government has implemented a new policy that states kidnapped kids whose original families can’t be found cannot be returned to the families who bought them, and must instead be put into government care. Unfortunately for the kids, the care they’re likely to get from many of these government homes isn’t great, but I still think this is a necessary measure to stamp out the idea, still prevalent in some parts of China, that it’s OK to purchase children (and that if you get caught doing this, the worst that happens is you pay a fine).

The bad: That said, it is a bit disconcerting that this huge bust, coming amidst a bunch of high-profile crackdown campaigns, came to the police almost entirely by luck, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Among other issues, one thing we’ve seen in all the cases we’ve looked at is that local police are (to put it nicely) slow to respond to initial reports of kidnapping, and don’t tend to do much of anything until the first 24 hours — by far the most crucial time in a kidnapping case — have already elapsed.

Moreover, while 178 sets of parents may get a happy ending, there are hundreds of thousands of parents out there who won’t. Even by the Chinese government’s official numbers there are around 10,000 children kidnapped in China each year. Realistically, the number is higher than that. 178 kids rescued is great, but it’s a small drop in a big bucket.

Anecdotally, over the course of shooting we’ve had direct contact with around a dozen sets of parents, who themselves are connected via their own networks to hundreds of others. Over the past year, we’ve heard of exactly one family getting their child back. None of the families we’ve talked to have even heard anything new about their cases from the police since we first spoke with them.

So, in short, this is case is a good sign, but there’s still a long, long way to go.

New Comments Policy

On an unrelated note, followers of this comments thread will already be aware, but I have finally had enough of the bullshit that has been occurring in the comments here. It’s stupid and unproductive, and if I have to I’ll just close the comments permanently, but first, we’ll try out this new, harsher regime. So be warned. I’m going to be reading all the comments again, and I will be deleting comments and banning people like it’s going out of style (if they violate the comments policy).

So, read the comments policy. If you’re already familiar with it, please take note of the following additions, effective immediately:

  • Comment with a spirit of productiveness and openness, and support your points with evidence and reason. (Yes, this is subjective, but in actuality, it’s very simple to abide by this rule.) Failure to make productive comments will result in deleted comments and eventually the blocking of your account.
  • Comments along the lines of “But [Western country] does [object of discussion] as well….” are generally irrelevant, and will be considered off-topic spam, except in discussion of posts that explicitly invite comparison between China and other countries.This is a blog about China. The Western world has many social problems, but generally speaking, this isn’t the place to discuss them.

Note that nothing has been removed from the comments policy, so all the other rules remain in effect. To read the full thing, click here.