Category Archives for "China"

Feb 17

Chinese netizens mock Trump’s English — “Could he pass the Chinese English test?”

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Viral Chinese News

“I’ve been feeling unconfident for this many years. I’ve always questioned my English reading ability. But after continuing to read Trump’s tweets, finally my self-confidence has returned, and I have discovered my vocabulary is actually very large!” – Viral post in China’s WeChat social app says, sent January 30

Trump’s often-misspelled tweets and unrefined prose at press conferences has been noticed by Chinese citizens. Could Trump pass China’s College English Test? A Xinhua News analysis article is titled, “With Trump’s English ability, what level could he test in China?” (Passing CET level 4 is a requirement for most undergraduate students to earn a degree.)

Reporter Chen Shan pointed to the simple nature of many of the words Trump uses in his public statements.

His tweet defending his immigration ban included two uses of the word “bad,” one of which was used as a noun and bracketed in quote marks.

If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the “bad” would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad “dudes” out there! – @RealDonaldTrump

I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult! – @RealDonaldTrump

Chen noted, “The toughest word in the whole expression is ‘instructed,’ which is on the level of CET4 (also called College English Test 4).”

Next Chen looked at some of the Super Bowl tweets Trump sent out.


Chen wrote: “One can read the content without sweating.” She compared his tweets to one of Obama, which used words on level with TOEFL, the test that American and British universities require foreign students to pass for admission.

Chen continued on page 3:

Among Americans, there really is a range of English abilities, some people at a high level, some low low. But for an American president, the weakness of his English is historic.


The chart comes from Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute (source).

Later Chen also brought to light Trump’s “unpresidented” misspelling in a tweet about China capturing a U.S. Naval drone. Chen or her editors even translated “unpresidented” into Chinese as “非总统的” (fei zongtong de).


“So we believe that the TOEFL and GRE vocabulary may really not be suitable for Mr. President.”

Chen noted Mr. President’s habit of repeating words over and over again and using very simple sentences. “Look at Paris! Look at what happened in Paris.” Even Americans who can’t read Chinese can see how simple it looks when translated into Chinese: “看看巴黎!看看巴黎!看看巴黎!看看上周的加利福尼亚!”

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In short, according to Chen, there are three things Mr. President does: 1. Deliberately repeat, 2. Use command tone (“Look”), 3. Change usage.

Dec 24

The real reason Chinese people eat apples on Christmas Eve

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture , Strange China News

Last night was Christmas Eve in China, so my WeChat account was full of apple emojis and festive messages.

“Don’t you give each other apples on Christmas Eve in America?” multiple friends asked.

That Americans give each other apples on Christmas Eve appears to be a common misperception in China. Although it’s a big tradition in China, many Chinese people don’t even know they invented it.

“Giving apples on Christmas is what kind of a custom?” a questioner asked on Guokr, a Chinese Q-and-A website. Another question asked, “Is eating an apple on Christmas Eve something Chinese people invented? Just because it is homophonic [(in Chinese)]?”

When I first received apples from Chinese people on Christmas Eve in 2014, that’s what I thought, too—that the tradition was because of the homophone sound. “Christmas Eve” translates to ping’an ye (平安夜), which literally means “Peaceful Night” or “Silent Night” (the same as the name of the song in Chinese). Apple is pingguo, and the character is also similar (苹果).
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Dec 12

“Sometimes you need someone who doesn’t act professional”: Taiwanese on Trump

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Foreign Affairs , New Writing

Whatever one thinks about Trump the person, the vast majority of Taiwanese are ecstatic that Trump appeared to give their country a little respect and took a (pre-planned) phone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. I wrote about the circumstances behind Taiwan’s domestic politics at Red Alert Politics and how Taiwan’s youth are increasingly united around independence: What Trump’s call means to Taiwan’s ‘strawberry generation'”.

Now here are brief comments from two other young Taiwanese I talked to recently.

Ryan, a bartender who has worked in Nanjing, China, the Republic of China’s old capital, said:

“Finally there’s a politician who is not political. Sometimes you just need someone who does not act like a professional to make a change. When you try to break through an impasse, you’ll need a random genius to break it, then you’ll have a chance to rebuild something.”

Mohan, whom I met at a hostel in Nanjing, China, said:

“That Trump had a phone call with Tsai Ing-wen made me especially happy. Although China has developed pretty well, life isn’t just about money. The mainstream thinking of Chinese people still isn’t in accord with the tide in the world.”

Nov 24

“Black Friday Overseas Shopping Festival” is coming!

By Mitchell Blatt | China

Last night Amazon sent me a text message alerting me that “Amazon’s real Black Friday Overseas Shopping Fesitval” is coming. The foreign shopping festival comes just weeks after China’s own retailer-created “Singles Day” on November 11.

Singles Day is still the biggest retail day in China, but Black Friday is getting more attention as Amazon, capitalizing on its American background, is pushing it. is covered with promotions emphasizing Black Friday. Taobao and TMall, China’s leading online stores, aren’t pushing Black Friday promotions.


Even in New City Plaza, a shopping mall in Nanjing, a few clothing shops had signs using the word “thankful” around Thanksgiving, although there was no Thanksgiving-related imagery.

Because China absorbs some Western culture, it effectively has two versions of some holidays. Western New Year and Chinese New Year. Christmas and Christmas Eve are also big shopping and entertainment days in China. Now Amazon will try to get Black Friday to join the mix.

Nov 10

A night painting with Zhuzhou’s only graffiti crew

By Mitchell Blatt | Art , China , Culture

Desk, Shark, Fat, and Klute were spraying their nicknames onto a wall in a northern suburb of Zhuzhou city, Hunan province when a police car drove by and flashed its lights. Desk and Shark ran down an alleyway, but Fat stayed to finish his tag.

“Where are they??” Desk asked, in the safety of the alleyway.

When Fat and Klute came nonchalantly walking along, Desk asked if they weren’t worried the police would chase.

“No,” Fat said, “the Chinese police are lazy.”

Indeed, the police didn’t pursue, and the GCK crew continued to make their mark for another hour. According to Desk, an American who has taught English in China for two years, the Goofy Chinese Kids are the only graffiti gang in the city of 1 million. On one wall near a university, there was some graffiti written by others, but Desk dismissed it as the work of “art students trying to be edgy.” All of the graffiti on the road by the train station was marked with the names of GCK members.
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Nov 08

Cantonese folk art associations and the preservation of culture

By Mitchell Blatt | Art , China , Photos

On November 6, Cantonese opera actress Li Chixiang shared her expertise and experiences with the Yuanzhou Town Folk Art Association (园洲镇曲艺协会). Singing, dancing, doing magic and recalling stories, she was able to draw laughter and applause from the audience of a few dozen locals intent on preserving China’s traditional art forms.

“China has 5,000 years of history. We should pass it on,” said Zhu Runhong, a member of the folk are association.

Li spoke for an hour, talking about how she once ran away from her home in the suburbs of Guangzhou to try to study Cantonese opera and later was enrolled in the Guangdong Cantonese Opera Academy. Showing off her wide range of talents, she did a trick to turn blank papers into 100 RMB bills and danced with a multicolored fabric. It was like a “talk show,” she said. Every Friday she hosts a Cantonese opera show on Guangzhou TV, and the TV network sent its reporters to cover it.

“In an average month, we perform about five times like this,” Li said. “But in the rainy season, we might not perform once in a month, and during Spring Festival, we could perform every day, sometimes even twice a day.”

Zhou Aiwen, who has been an actress for 7 years, practices in the car on the way.
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After her act, the members of the Yuanzhou Town Folk Art Association’s Cantonese opera troupe took the stage to perform scenes from the opera Dinv Hua (帝女花). The group holds meetings and practices three times a week and competes with other local arts groups in local and regional competitions. Located in Shangnan city, about 2 hours from Guangzhou by car, Yuanzhou is one of many Guangdong villages to tout its rich Cantonese opera tradition. In 2012, the Shangnan Folk Art Society, featuring some members of the Yuanzhou group, won silver at a provincial Cantonese opera invitational.

The media in Yuanzhou even tries to use new technologies to preserve its traditional arts. One local entreprenuer founded Yuanzhou Online ( in 2006, a forum which includes news and events in BBS format, and launched a Boluo county app this year, upon which he live streamed Li’s talk and the opera performance to up to 1,500 viewers.

See also

Backstage with Li Chixiang at a Cantonese opera performance
An Interview with Li Chixiang

Nov 04

Chinese student uniforms on a foreigner

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Culture

You know a Chinese student when you see one because of their 80’s-track-warm-up-looking uniforms. Chinese student uniforms, or xiaofu (校服), are a famous emblem of Chinese education, hated by students for being ugly and remembered with laughs later.

For Halloween I like to wear costumes with special Chinese characteristics, so this year, guess what… I was a Chinese student.


A friend Hunan who graduated from Zhuzhou No. 2 High School lent me her xiaofu. Xiaofu, it turns out, is gender-neutral and one size can stretch to fit many people. The attire consisted of a pair of pants and a jacket with lining. The clothes were made out of a quick drying polyester-ish material. Students only have two pairs, she said.

I added a red neckscarf for humor. Red neckscarfs are worn by primary school students, who are made to participate in the Young Pioneers program, a patriotic group run by the Communist Youth League. They aren’t worn by high school students, but I expected Chinese people would get the reference. I have worn red neckscarfs before without school uniform–for example while working at the bar in Dali–and Chinese people found it funny to see a foreigner wearing the red neckscarf.

Chinese people stared at me as I walked to the Halloween party at a bar. Having dinner before the party, a group eating in front of a childhood blackboard wanted to take pictures with me.


At the party, a group of young people pulled me over to their table.

“We’re classmates!” they said.

Apparently they had graduated from Dali No. 2 the year before. One of them handed me a beer.

“Gan yi bei!” one of the girls said. Drink it all!


Sep 28

What it’s like playing in the band for a rich Shanghai kid’s birthday party on a yacht

By Alan Fowler | China , Culture

When I received the invitation to perform at an unknown 18-year-old’s birthday party in Shanghai, all I could think about was how rich I would become from this endeavor.

I thought, “His parents are hiring foreigners for his party, they must be rich. I know, I will charge 10,000 RMB. No! Better make it 12,000 RMB (US$1,846). After I pay the rest of the band and take care of all the other expenses, I’m still going to walk away with over $600 for one night’s work.” My eyes quickly turned green—or in this case, red. What I didn’t expect is that what followed would leave me feeling poorer than I ever have in my 29 years of existence.

Guest Post by Alan Fowler

The party was on a boat about the size of a large yacht, but it wasn’t fancy. It carried the stench of years of wear and tear, probably through commercial use of similar events and tours around the Bund. The bulky spiral staircase that led up to the dance floor had a faded royal blue tint and, like the rest of the boat, felt tacky and outdated. The peripheral rust that barely hid itself all throughout the ships interior, along with the protruding bank slogan on the side of the upper deck characterized the vessel. It wasn’t at all what someone would see in a beach resort advertisement or flashy hip-hop video.

On top of that, the power failed, delaying the performance and causing the sound crew to rush out and frantically gather a bulky stand-alone generator and an endless supply of cables.



ut when it was all set up and the lights came on, it started to become clear that whoever was behind this had pockets that ran very, very deep. There were girls dressed in sexy captain’s uniforms—though they couldn’t have been much older than the birthday boy—a three man pop-lock dance group, a mediocre magician, a professional mixologist with a fancy repertoire of colorful booze and a mountain of wine glasses, a rent-a-DJ that seemed to use the same “Now That’s What I Call DJ Music” subscription club as every other Zhou with an mp3 player, an obnoxious host-in-a-suit, a lavish buffet, and then us, a motley group of foreigners who had come well dressed, ready to rock the house and eager to load our pockets with Maos (the Chinese equivalent of a Benjamin: i.e. 100 RMB note).

In between songs, we were asked to take a short break while a timid looking birthday boy was all but forced to take stage to say a few words to the crowd. His demeanor wasn’t unlike the typical 18-year-old Chinese boy one might encounter during their mandatory stint at scummy English training centers and rickety middle schools that, in their desperation for white faces, lure any half-literate “foreigner” in with money and a job description that reads, “No experience needed.” His shoulders were hunched, gaze focused slightly toward the ground so as not to accidentally make eye contact with anyone, arms tightly crossed, and carrying a somewhat nonplussed, Dad-please-don’t-embarrass-me look on his face.

When the host asked him to express his excitement to the crowd—a modest group of the boy’s friends that couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 people in total—the boy hesitated, and then in angst, finally was able to muster the courage to grab the mic, just to announce that he really didn’t have anything to say. At that point, he abruptly shoved the mic back over to the host, who I’m sure the boy wished would quickly just get the hell out of his life.



s I stood and watched alongside the stage, nightfall had set in and the towering Shanghai skyscrapers along the riverfront had begun to light up with brightly colored neon imagery—the Shanghai skyline is an architectural work of art. We had been taking advantage of the open bar (the one on the bottom level that had been designated “for the band”), and were starting to have a good time on what we thought was one of the coolest gigs we’d ever done.

My band mates—two Russians, an Armenian and an Englishman—didn’t speak much Chinese, so they weren’t too interested in the shenanigans that were taking place on stage. I however, watched and listened intently, if not just to practice my Chinese, I was also quite curious.

I turned around just in time to see three big bright red characters flashing under the Chinese for “happy birthday” on a skyscraper across the river. Leaning against the railing with martini in hand, I squinted my eyes and tried to recall how to pronounce the first character. It wasn’t a commonly seen Chinese word, and I probably wouldn’t have figured out that it was the boy’s name if people weren’t shouting it behind me. This, to me, was borderline unbelievable, but I was quick to accept it. After all, it seemed to fall right in line with all the other aforementioned festivities.


Then, when the dad took the stage, he gave his boy a warm hug, made a short speech, and presented him with a gift. But before I say what the gift was, just think back to what you received for your 18th birthday: maybe a check for college tuition, maybe the keys to a used Ford Focus, maybe not even that much.

One thing that I still can’t grasp though, is why the young man had virtually no reaction as his father presented him with a fund for 5,000,000 RMB. At the current exchange rate of 1 US dollar for every 6.5 RMB, that’s around $769,230 big ones. That’s greater than 14 years of salary for the average American, or, just over 10 years if you’re an Asian American. Yea, I should have charged more.

Sep 19

Video for Chinese air travelers: Don’t fight the airline employees

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Strange China News

As more and more Chinese have been traveling by air in the past decade, many for the first time, reports of passengers fighting with airport staff and running out onto the runways have become a common phenomenon. And Chinese passengers often have reason to be angry. Their airports are some of the worst in the world for on-time departures. Average delays at Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Nanjing, and Hangzhou were all over an hour.

In 2014 the airlines of China got together and produced a helpful video explaining why delays happen and telling travelers not to fight. It seems to be partially an introduction to inexperienced travelers and partially a PR effort, but it also doesn’t explain one of the main reasons flights in China are always delayed.

1.) It begins by explaining the “main reasons” a flight could be delayed. Those are “weather,” “traffic,” “airline reasons,” and “travelers.” It is nice of them to admit that the airline could be the reason, something some American airlines have a hard time doing. But what’s missing from the four “main reasons”? The fact that less than 30 percent of China’s airspace is open to civilian airlines, while the air force aggressively controls most of the sky.

2.) Why are we stuck on the runway?, this man asks. As the video goes to explain, maybe there are a lot of planes waiting in line. (Maybe they have to wait a long time because there’s a lot of traffic in the skies due to no airspace being open.) This is the explanatory part. There is also an explanation that even if the weather at the departure and arrival airports is nice, there might be a storm in between.

3.) Up until reason #4, all of the characters in the cartoon have had black or dark brown hair, but when it gets to “passenger” reasons for delay, when it shows passengers stupidly being delayed while buying snacks when their plane is about to depart, the characters suddenly have yellow and brown hair! Are only foreigners so stupid as to delay a plane by being late? (A flight wouldn’t wait an hour for a late passenger, however.)

Military operations are only listed–along with “unidentified flying objects”–as a secondary reason flights might be delayed.

Now we get to the fun part of the video: exhortations to be “civilized” when traveling.

Don’t kick the trash can! There is an orderly process for dealing with delayed flights:

This video divides delays into two categories: Those which are the responsibility of the airline, which the airline will provide compensation for, and those which are not, like weather.

If it is the airline’s responsibility, they will communicate with you, offer food and lodging, get a replacement flight set up, and/or offer monetary compensation. In my experience with Chinese airlines, they really do live up to their obligations. When an international flight was delayed for about four hours at Shanghai Pudong, they provided food, offered to let me stay in a hotel for an hour or two (I declined), and handed us all a few hundred yuan as we boarded the plan. Try just getting transportation and hotel covered when your flight is actually canceled because of airline fault on with an American company and you might have to argue with their customer support for weeks!

Don’t run out onto the runway and block the plane if your flight is delayed! Once again, I was slightly interested in the color of the hair the cartoon characters had in this scene.

However when the characters are being escorted away by police all of them have black hair.

Don’t try to rise up against the airline’s customer service! The other passengers will shun you if you try to fight. (One of the women tells the man he wasn’t being “civilized.”)

Here’s a video of what that kind of fight actually looks like in real life:

And finally, don’t act like a superhero and start Hulk-smashing things or Batman-kicking things.

I first noticed this video being shown on flights in 2014. It was produced in partnership, the credits show, with Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, and a number of smaller airline companies. The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration is listed as producer.

Sep 17

A Western-style wedding in Beijing with Chinese-style drinking

By Mitchell Blatt | China

“Open up!” We were pounding on the door, but the girls wouldn’t let us in. They demanded we slip four red packets of money under.

I was one of three groomsmen at the wedding of a Chinese couple in Beijing this Mid-Autumn Festival weekend. Eventually the groom and we made our way into the bride’s chamber. This “door game” is an ancient Chinese wedding tradition. But it wasn’t over until we found the bride’s shoes, which the bridesmaids had hidden around the room, and the groom kissed her feet and put them on.

It was one of a few Chinese elements of the day. In a traditional Chinese wedding the bride’s procession to the car would have been accompanied by the bangs of firecrackers, gongs, drums, and rice being scattered.

But the couple wanted a Western-style wedding. “Chinese want Western-style weddings, and Americans marrying Chinese want Chinese-style weddings,” the bride said.
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