Monthly Archives: October 2015

Oct 23

Uncle Xi, Save Us!: Shopowners Protest for Compensation from Construction-related Losses

By Mitchell Blatt | China , News and Politics

As construction nears the end for line 4 of the Nanjing metro system, shopkeepers hurt by the construction have increased the visibility of their protests.

During the third week of October, owners of restaurants and businesses along Caochang Men Avenue, where the terminal station is being constructed, put up banners with messages demanding the government step in to help them.

Uncle Xi, save us!

Uncle Xi, save us!

“Uncle Xi, save us,” one said. “For ‘the people [everyone]’, also look after ‘the little people [or little establishments/small businesses]” (习大大救救我们,为了“大家”也要顾“小家”). They don’t oppose the subway construction, they just want to be compensated for loss to their businesses, they say.

Fences have been put up around much of the street, obstructing shop signs and making it harder to walk along the sidewalk in one section which is lined with small noodle and local cuisine restaurants started by people from across the country, as well as dry cleaning and convenience stores. Shop owners report that the fences have caused crowding and obstructed parking spaces. Some say they have suffered losses of up to 50 percent of revenue since the fences went up.

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“The subway construction has affected our business, but we still have to pay rent,” Li Shuangshuang, who owns and operates a Hunan restaurant, said. “We just want some compensation.”

Between 20 and 30 business owners have banded together and gone to the government offices in the past two months to request some of their rent be covered. According to them, the government hasn’t responded definitely and has directed them to the subway company, which also hasn’t responded to their satisfaction.

Subway Development Has Faced Challenges

Line 4 is just one of more than 20 new subway lines that have been planned in Nanjing for the next decade. With two subway lines already opened in 2005 and 2010 respectively, Nanjing is now expanding quickly. Four new lines opened in 2014 and 2015, connecting the city to the airport and to the northwest side of the Yangtze River. Line 4 has been one of the toughest lines to build, because it runs through historic Gulou district, which features Republican-era buildings and Purple Mountain (Zijin Shan), which features ancient relics and mountainous terrain.

Nanjing metro map without line 4 or other new lines to come.

Nanjing metro map without line 4 or other new lines to come. Via Wikipedia. Location of line 4 via Baidu Baike.

Back during the early planning and preparation stages in 2011, there were protests against the uprooting of historic wutong trees, which line the streets of much of the old section of the city nearby Gulou. Six hundred trees were reportedly to be moved in order to make way for subway line 3 station entrances, after plans for changed to protect 900 more trees that would have been cut down. The government says most would be replanted.

People Online: Construction Fence Enclosures Expanded

Many owners along Caochang Men Avenue noted that the extent of the construction fence enclosures have often been expanded as construction continues. One unfortunate operator of a noodle restaurant saw the fence expanded to right next to his establishment one week after opening it.

According to an article by People Online in October 2014, the online property of propaganda outlet People’s Daily, the geological conditions around Longjiang Station are complex, requiring extra safety.

Because Longjiang Station’s geological conditions are complex, geological disturbances could have a little bit of impact on surrounding buildings. In order to ensure the safe construction of this deep enclosure pit, the space of the enclosure at Longjiang Station needs to be expanded. “We’ve already done a security measure, but some section of the enclosure could influence operations at the surrounding businesses,” Li Hailong stated.

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An article published in Xinhua, the government news bureau, in November 2014 noted that the walking space between the shop and enclosure had been shrunk from 7 meters to 3.5 meters in one place.

Some businesses have even been knocked down completely, due to structural issues nearby the construction, and the residents were offered payments. Huang Shuiqing, operator of a dry cleaner, pointed to the delay of the subway line, which is now expected to open in early 2017.

Signs Come Down

After being displayed for about a week, some business owners started taking the signs down. They didn’t say why they were doing it. In one week, the signs had reportedly attracted some Chinese journalists who didn’t write about it and one foreign writer who published this article here.

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Oct 20

How Xinhua Responds to China’s GDP Growth Dropping Below 7%

By Mitchell Blatt | China , News and Politics

China’s official GDP figures fell below 7% for the first time in six years, and Xinhua is trying to reassure readers by noting that average incomes are up. The numbers come as China’s GDP growth slows after many years above 8%. Some slowing could be expected after years of blistering growth, but many independent analysts distrust China’s official numbers released by the government, with some quoted by Marketwatch.com thinking the real figures could be closer to 3% or 4%.

Still, the fact that the figure reported by the government is less than 7%, even if just by 0.1 percentage points, is significant symbolically in that the government set a 7% growth target for the year, and dipping below that has caused a “Breaking 7” situation that was reported in the local press, even by government-owned sources like Xinhua. Xinhua chose to reassure readers that “Breaking 7” doesn’t presage bad things for the economy.

In Modern Express (现代快报) newspaper, Xinhua’s article reported today in the subheadline, “The first time in 6 years to ‘Break 7’, but the major trend in China’s economic development hasn’t changed. At the same time, the average income of residents across the country increased by 7.7%, continuing to outpace GDP.”

Along with a brief summarizing the GDP growth, there is a section of questions and answers that seem meant to reassure readers that the economic and reform policies remain on the right track.

How to regard the quarterly GDP growth rate falling below 7%?

The National Bureau of Statistics spokesperson Sheng Laiyun said international and domestic causes were both added together to increase downward pressure on the third quarter economy. Those factors contributed to the main reason the third quarter growth of the economy fell back. Although the economic growth rate fell slightly, the overall steady fundamentals didn’t change. The employment index on the whole looks good, the average resident’s income growth outpaced GDP growth…

Oct 08

The Impact of the “Worker, Peasant, and Soldier Students” on China

By Mitchell Blatt | China , History

From 1970-77, admissions to universities in China were based on class background, not qualifications, as I wrote about in my article on the history of the “worker, peasant, and soldier students” campaign.

The impact of that campaign still holds some influence on views towards education in China. One is support for the gao kao college entrance exam. While many (including myself, including Chinese people) criticize the exam, which students focus on for their final year of high school, for fostering a culture of rote learning and arguably hurting creativity, many of the same Chinese critics also praise the exam at the same time for ensuring fairness. While I have pointed to some problems with that line of thought, it is true that the exam lets everyone be evaluated against each other on the same test (even if some people get extra points for various reasons, or have benefits based on their place of birth).

Civil service tests, which tested scholars for service to the emperor, have a long history in China, and the gao kao was implemented before the end of the Cultural Revolution, so it is by no means the only reason people support the gao kao, but the fact that college admissions were so recently based entirely on political and class-based discrimination, rather than merit, lends some to support the gao kao as a merit-based test with a level playing field.

In 2007, China Daily published an article that made the case:

One of my cousins, who was a top student at a well known Beijing high school in the early 1960s, received high scores on his entrance examinations, but his father had been stigmatized as a “rightist” in 1957.

As a result, my cousin was denied university education.

Determining whether or not a student could be admitted to university based on irrelevant standards denied many talented youth from receiving the higher education they deserved, but the exams were otherwise fair.

During the political upheaval of the “cultural revolution” , the college entrance exam was replaced with a recommendation scheme, which placed irrelevancies, such as a student’s family’s political background, before the applicant’s academic ability.

China.org.cn

The exam system is so entrenched it is even used for assigning students to high schools. While there was corruption and relationship-seeking involved in getting people into college “through the backdoor” during the Cultural Revolution, that practice hasn’t been eliminated with testing either. Chinese use relationships for almost all aspects of life. They can also try to get their children assigned to a better high school by networking with their friends or relatives who are in a position to open back doors.

Oct 08

The “Worker, Peasant, and Soldier Students” Program at Nanjing University

By Mitchell Blatt | China , History

After the Cultural Revolution started universities closed their doors to new students. It wasn’t until years later that they began admitting students again—but those students were “workers, peasants, and soldiers” chosen on the basis of class discrimination rather than qualifications. Even those lucky few, however, never got proper educations from the politicized education system Maoism imposed.

This is the story of how the “worker, peasant, and soldier students” campaign worked at Nanjing University, as told by Nanjing University 100 Years of Rich History, a Chinese-language history of the school published by Nanjing University Publishing House.

In 1966, with the Cultural Revolution, the gao kao college entrance exam system was suspended along with admissions. It was said that the test favored bourgeois city dwellers. It wasn’t until June 1970 that the first major universities, Beijing University and Tsinghua University (also in Beijing), began preparations to reopen that year. On April 28, 1972, Nanjing University welcomed its first class of “worker, peasant, and soldier students.” 1,005 were invited, and 995 enrolled in classes, studying 26 majors. From 1972-77, 4,007 “workers, peasants, and soldiers” attended Nanjing University.

Students were chosen on the basis of “good political thought, healthy body, around 20 years of age, and being a worker, poor farmer, or People’s Liberation Army soldier or youth cadre with a level of cultural development equivalent to middle school of higher.” “Educated youths” who had gone “down to the countryside” (上山下乡) to work the fields and “learn from the peasants” were also supposed to be given consideration. But in August 1973, of the 2,149 students at Nanjing University, just 3 came from “exploiting class” households.

Some of the “workers, peasants, and soldiers” chosen were chosen on the basis of relationships, having entered “through the backdoor” (走后门). Zhong Zhimin, a second-year student at Nanjing University (the program was three years) dropped out of college in protest, writing an open letter on September 28, 1973 that said: “I am one of the students who got in through the back door. At my constant insistence, father called the military district cadres department and urged them to nominate me.”

People’s Daily published his report on January 11, 1974, and some other students who benefited from relationships also resigned from school.

Those who did get accepted had low intellectual standards and low educational attainment on average, prompting Nanjing University to start teaching basis skills in remedial classes, including “elementary level math.” This program was criticized by ideologues as a counterrevolutionary “revisionist educational road” designed to restore the old power bases.

One famous example of an unqualified student was Zhang Tiesheng, from Liaoning. He was held up by the Maoist Gang of Four, including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, as a national hero after being recommended and submitting a mostly blank test paper in 1973 and was nonetheless accepted to a prestigious university. Instead of filling in the blanks he wrote a long missive extolling himself for working on the farm rather than spending time studying. After Mao died and the Cultural Revolution ended, he was arrested in 1976 on charges of supporting the Gang of Four as they tried to hang onto power. He recentlymade the news again these past two years by making a fortune with an IPO.

The classes the “worker, peasant, and soldier students” did take were heavily politicized. Mao’s writings were used as “the basic material for political study.” Students spent months on farms and at factories, even though most of them had come from those places. Arts students spent 3 months each school year away from school.

They were expected not only to learn but also to control the universities. As a history of Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing Normal University Record, 1902-1992 states: “[T]he role of the worker, peasant, and soldier students was to ‘attend university, look after university, and use Mao Zedong thought to transform university’ (上大学,管大学,用毛泽东思想改造大学).”

“This put the teachers in the position of being reformed and overturned the normal teacher-student relationship, causing the quality of education to drop substantially, and at the same time retarding the worker, peasant, and soldier students’ personal growth and development,” the history continues.

Yet most students were appreciative of the precious time they had for real education, the Nanjing University history contends. “The vast majority of worker, peasant, and soldier students already hated how the ‘Cultural Revolution’ delayed and wasted their youth.”

See More: The Impact of the Worker, Peasant, Soldier Students Movement on Chinese Thought

Oct 06

Drinking Cocktails With Chinese Students who Go to a Bar for the First Time

By Mitchell Blatt | Drinking

Four Chinese college students laughed and talked with me in the back of a bus heading towards the “West Lake” (河西) area of Nanjing. Two couples from the same high school, they were happy to meet a resident willing to show them around Nanjing, and we just happened to be going to the same neighborhood.

Then I asked them the question Chinese students dread hearing from foreigners, “Can you speak English?” Their eyes opened wide, embarrassed, and a few of them shook their heads and laughed, before the boy in front, Jiawei, responded, “Yes. We can.”

Of course they can. All Chinese students study English in high school, and many need to pass English level 6 to graduate college, but most are much better at reading English than speaking it, and, at any rate, are too shy and scared of making mistakes to speak it.

I was just joking with them, but Jiawei carried on a reasonably fluent conversation in English for a few minutes before we switched back to Chinese and I asked him if he had ever been to a bar. No, he said, none of them had been to a bar, but they really wanted to go!

They grew up in a small town in Shandong, and, while it did have some bars, they were “good students,” so they didn’t go to the bar.

But now, you’re in college, I said. Why haven’t you been to the bar since you left your parents?

Of course they had drank together, but many Chinese students—particularly from the countryside or traditional-minded areas—would do so more often at late night shaokao bbq joints or private karaoke rooms. Bars still held a touch of mystery and danger to them—the province of playboys, prostitutes, and foreigners.

The next day, before our appointed meeting, Jiawei texted me and said he was having second thoughts. “The four of us discussed, and we feel if we go to the bar, we are a little bit nervous about money. How about we eat shao kao and have beers instead?” he said.

I responded that they are traveling and don’t have many chances to see a bar with a foreigner for the first time. How much do drinks cost, he asked. About 30-60 RMB (~US$4.70-9.50) a glass, I said. (I underestimated—somewhat consciously, maybe—each drink cost between 60-75 RMB.) I also know a poolhall bar where the beers only cost 15 RMB each, I said, but by then Jiawei was convinced. He wanted to see the trendy bar district in Nanjing—1912.

Located next to the old Presidential Palace that Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek held offices in, 1912 consists of bars and restaurants in Republican era style—stone and brick buildings with columns, Westernized Chinese architecture, laid out along walking streets. It is popular among the fashionable middle class, nouveau riche who want to show off their wealth at a private table, tourists, expats, college students, and kids who want to party all night. Businessmen and corrupt officials know of private clubs elsewhere, but 1912 is a big deal for the mass market.

Dance clubs like Mazo and Richie, with pounding music and tables with at least a few thousand RMB minimum, make the place famous. The shady businesses that make bars “bad” places for high school students are evident in the darkness of some of the underground clubs—girls sitting at tables together, in alluring dress, looking uninterested the whole night. Even the restroom attendants, who try to harass unexpecting customers with a hot towel and a shoulder massage while they are pissing and then demand payment for it, seem like a gang.

But 1912 also has a lot of family-friendly restaurants—hot pot, Starbucks, the artistically-decorated Maan Coffee, KFC—and a few classy bars. One of those few, that just opened around the beginning of the year, is Kamakama, a cocktail bar with thick menu of drinks organized by cocktail base and an atmospheric interior that I thought would fit in just fine in Shanghai.

I had been there a few times. The cocktails there are really good—also things you would expect in Shanghai or in an American city—not like the “mojito” I once had at Mazo, which seemed to be mostly just lemonade and water and syrup. So I thought it would be a good place to give the amateur Chinese drinkers a taste of their first real bar.

“Have you ever had Western liquor before?” I asked around the table. All of them said no.

I thought how to explain the different kinds of liquor to Chinese who had never tried it, but I decided it was useless—if they haven’t tried it they would have no idea what they liked. They could decide by reading the descriptions or asking the waiter, and eventually they would learn on their own.

As expected, their selection of drinks was varied: Jiawei with a Godfather (whisky and disaronno amaretto), Chengyi with a Blue Moon (gin, parfait amour, and lemon juice), Wuyue with a Tropic (blanc wine, grapefruit juice, benedictine, and lemon juice), and Zhiyu with a Cosmo.

Zhiyu, who goes by the English name “Curely,” is a guy. I told him that some cocktails are traditionally associated with genders. Jiawei looked up “Cosmopolitan magazine” on his phone and showed him the cover, and Zhiyu dropped his head and laughed. When his girlfriend, who was hanging out at the bar with the other girl watching the “handsome” bartender make drinks, came back to the table, she looked at Zhiyu’s cosmo, topped with a rose petal, and said it looked pretty. Zhiyu said, “It tastes like juice.”

Jiawei, whose chose the English name “Jarvon” from the game League of Legends (LoL) that almost everyone in the internet bar I am writing in is playing, ordered the Godfather. He said, “The flavor is softer than beer. It’s a lot like a kind of Chinese medicine (川贝枇杷膏) that is used for coughs.” Comparing a drink to medicine isn’t often a compliment, but in that case it was. And the place itself, with its wood-paneled walls and ceilings and colorful liquors under lights behind the bar “has sentiment (情调) and artistic feel (文艺).”

Chengyi and Wuyue (aka May) took longer to finish theirs. Chengyi, with the blue moon, said, “With the first sip, I thought it was too bitter, but then I realized that it was something to drink slowly.”

Wuyue said she ordered her tropic because she liked lemon and sour flavors wasn’t disappointed with wine, grapefruit juice, and lemon juice, along with benedictine, in her cup. “I thought it was really great from the first sip,” she said.

All in all, they were quick to assimilate to the bar and to the flavor of liquor. No one asked what was the difference between whisky and a cocktail.

Oct 05

Hanging Out With China’s “No-Seat” Travelers During National Day Travel Rush

By Mitchell Blatt | Travel

When I arrived at 7 pm on the evening of National Day , the departures hall at Shanghai Station was already full from front to back, with people sitting in all the seats and standing on all the open floor space. I had to push my way through to the line for Nanjing. A train for Xinjiang was heading off at the same time, and a fence, patrolled by police officers, had been specially set up in front of the gate for that train.

There are two major public holidays in China for which most people get at least a week or so off: Spring Festival and National Day. According to Baidu Baike, 530 million people travel during National Day (October 1) Golden Week. China.com.cn put the figure at 750 million this year. Shaanxi province alone, home to the terra cotta warriors of the ancient capital Xi’an, had over 3,665,000 tourists.

Needless to say, it’s hard to get a ticket sometimes. Shanghai-to-Nanjing, however, is a popular route that links big, wealthy East Coast cities (Suzhou and Wuxi between the two). At peak time, over a dozen trains leave from Shanghai towards Nanjing in one hour. When I purchased my ticket at 3 pm, I got a seat on a train that was to leave the same day at 7 pm, so I went to a hotel nearby to drink whisky in its bar.

Others weren’t so lucky. Upon taking my seat for the 1.5-hour journey, I noticed a group of young men in eye-catching, but low-grade clothes, some with shiny hair dyed reddish brown. Workers in a shoe-factory, they told me, heading back towards their place of work nearby Kunshan (the first stop) after having traveled to Shanghai for Mid Autumn Festival (which came just before National Day this year). A few of them took photos with me as I hung out in the cooridor between the two cars with the standing passengers.

They had to stand for the 19-minute journey because there were no seats available when they bought tickets. Often migrants are seen sitting on stools on trains, with “no-seat” (无座) tickets. But it isn’t because standing tickets are cheaper. In fact, they are the same price as ordinary second-class tickets. A blogger affiliated with the high-speed rail entity’s media network says that if they charged lower prices for standing tickets, many people would buy standing tickets and then take seats (as many of the routes aren’t always full). But the article didn’t address whether they could limit sales of standing tickets until all the seats are full, although one could argue that, by that point, the obvious high demand for the route would demand a high price for the remaining tickets.

Anyway, there were a lot of middle class passengers with standing tickets as well—students, people in business suits, travelers on oddessies across the country. One said he had to change trains in Wuxi in order to head to Chengdu, about 2,000 km away.

Most were only traveling for one or two stations. At Suzhou Station, 14 people got on with standing tickets. That was the most no-seat riders for any one section of the route. Most of them got off in Wuxi, and by then there were some empty seats in the cabin.

One of the travelers who stayed on all the way from Suzhou to Nanjing was Shelly, a student studying in Nanjing. She was “Shelly” after I met her, because she didn’t have an English name, and her Chinese name started with “x”, and she liked the name when it came to my mind and mouth. Her home is too far from Nanjing, so she didn’t go home for Mid Autumn Festival, instead opting for a short trip to Suzhou’s famous ancient courtyard gardens. While I stayed at a hostel in Shanghai for a few days, I noted that a lot of college students travel by themselves or with friends this time of year, rather than going home to celebrate either of the two festivals. It is the first time for many of them to live by themselves.

On the bus from the station, I met four college sophomores, high school friends from Shandong, who got back together to travel. I said I could show them around Nanjing, including to the bars, which they were quite interested in, since they had never been to a bar before, and we went and had cocktails in Nanjing’s trendy 1912. But that, as they say, is a story for tomorrow, so click the next post button on my blog below.