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China Rises

I came across an item, written by Jared Diamond, on the New York Times website recently.  Although it was a few years old, it struck me that if it was correct then it is probably as relevant now as when it was written.  Just to satisfy my curiosity I looked further and sure enough dug up more items which fitted in with the first.  Of these the most notable is an article written by Michael Pettis on his blog, China Financial Markets, entitled The difficult arithmetic of Chinese consumption, published a little later in 2009. In essence most of these articles  talk about the rise in consumption of China, of the problems which may arise from this and how they should be dealt with, but looking at the figures used I couldn’t help wonder if they were not looking at the situation the wrong way round.

Let me explain what I mean.  In 2008 the gross domestic consumption of the PRC [Peoples Republic of China] was $1.2 trillion – that is, two digits followed by eleven zeroes. By comparison consumption in the UK [United Kingdom] in the same year was $1.4 trillion and in the US [United States of America] was $9.4 trillion.  All big numbers to get your head around.  So it seems that Britain consumed slightly more than China but quite a lot less than the US, but then that is a bigger and more wealthy country.  But are these reasonable comparisons?  If, instead of using total consumption, we compare consumption per person possibly we might have a more reasonable figure to look at, after all there are substantial differences in population; 1,300 million, 304 million and 60 million for the PRC, US and UK respectively.  After dividing the figures these are the rates per capita for the year 2008  –

PRC     $923

UK       $23,333

US       $30,921

Think about it for a moment.  On average a British citizen consumes 25 times as much and a US citizen 33 times as much as the average person in China.  This may not sound much of a difference when compared with, for instance, the income of the wealthiest family in Britain with the poorest family but these are averages, not extremes.

For a moment let’s turn the situation on its head.  If the rate of consumption in China were the same as that in the UK it could only support a population of 51,428,571 and if it were the same as in the US the population would be only 38,808,510.  How does that compare with the present PRC population of 1,300,000,000?

Turning the figures round yet again and dividing the total consumption of the UK and the US by the consumption rate of China will give us some idea of how many people can be [financially] supported in these two countries – in Britain 1,516,666,666 Chinese consumers and the US 10,183,332,484 Chinese consumers.  These figures are nonsense, of course, as they represent more people than live in the entire world and more than the whole world can probably support –  but what if certain countries decided they wanted to live as we do?

I think you get my point, that with such a huge disparity between countries we cannot expect to continue, unchallenged, living such an extravagant lifestyle as we do now.  Sooner or later our standard of living will change. Downwards.  As to what the answer is, invade their countries [again], nuke the buggers, or bring a bit of moderation and realism to the western world, who knows,  that’s a question for the political leaders and experts to decide.

Related posts – “Future Masters

Yet another insult to the Chinese people

chinese-condom-16939454Yet another advert which has ‘hurt the feelings of the Chinese people’.  But I wonder how many of the Chinese people have actually seen it?

The article is on this QQ page.

Related posts –  No favour

Why The Chinese Don’t Count Calories

A summary/report on a lecture given by the author Lorraine Clissold on her new book Why The Chinese Don’t Count Calories, posted by Fiona Lee on the CN Reviews blogsite.  Being all about food, this is very close to my heart. The essence of the book is that all traditional styles of eating are better than ‘dieting fads’; however as the author is better aquainted with Chinese cooking than other forms this is used to press home her message.

Lee sums up the contents of the lecture [and book?] under five headings –    

1 strong cultural and culinary identities –  Traditional cuisines pass on the collected food wisdom of a culture from generation to generation, and China is no different.  As scientists begin to learn more about nutrition and how nutrients work in tandem with each other, much of what is passed on in Chinese cuisine is backed up by modern nutrition.   The Chinese also talk about food as being determinative of a regional identity–like the strereotype of Sichuan people having fiery tempers because of all the spicy food they eat.  By way of contrast, in The Omnivore’s DilemmaMichael Pollanmakes the point that because Americans do not have a unifying food culture, Americans tend to be particularly vulnerable to savvy food marketers and diet fads (think Atkins, South Beach diet, etc).

Like all other traditional cuisines Chinese cooking is the accumulated mass of lore and common sense gathered over the last few thousand years.  Examination of any country which has a strong culture and adheres to its traditional forms of eating will show that the population is in a much more healthy state than that found in a country where traditional food has been replaced by diets concocted by nutritional ‘experts’.

2 vegetables, vegetables, vegatables – Chinese cuisines tend to make vegetables the star of the show, with meat as a flavouring or compliment. Part of this is because of historical patterns of consumption, until very recently the average Chinese person simply could not afford vast amounts of meat.  Contrast this to an American or British diet which relegates vegetables to limp supporting roles for meat.

The backbone of all the Chinese cuisines is vegetables and meat is used sparingly [this is not what would be found on the menu of Chinese restaurant in the USA or UK]. Originally this will not have been out of choice but simply a matter of economics; most Chinese people could not afford meat. This is also the reason the Chinese people eat everything which is eatable and throw nothing away – offal, wild animals, insects; if birds and other animals could eat these things and thrive then surely it was possible for people to find a way of doing the same.  This, of course is in complete contrast with the modern western diet which is based on large quantities of meat and factory ‘food’.

3 balance is the key – Clissold invokes the Chinese concepts of yin and yang. A properly balanced meal includes both yin foods (cooling foods) like cucumbers and lettuce and yang foods (heating foods) like spicy foods and meats.  If you eat too much of either one, then your body will become unbalanced. The Chinese way of eating family-style with shared plates also allow for greater opportunities to balance yin and yang versus a Western-style one-plate meal.

Every dietary ‘expert’, no matter what they are selling you, says a balanced diet is essential for healthy eating. This sounds grand but then what exactly is meant by ‘a balanced diet’.  Talk to a chef or expert on Chinese food and sooner or later the notion of yin and yang will come into the conversation, as it did with Clissold’s lecture. Talk to a Chinese peasant farmer and he/she will explain it in a different manner, but the end result will be much the same.  There is nothing random about the way foods are mixed together in Chinese cooking and, in my own experience, there is a lot of level-headed common sense and logic behind it. Balance is an essential feature of Chinese cooking, esoteric explanations are not.

4 eat all five flavours – On a related note, the five flavors are bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and sour.  Each of these flavors addresses a specific part of the body.  For instance, a bitter food like bitter melon feeds the heart, while a sour food will nourish the liver.  Again, balance is important–if you eat too much of one flavor then you are only feeding one part of the body.

The point about the five flavours could have been rolled up under the previous heading as again Clissold emphasizes the need to eat a mixture of foods rather than homing in on a few favourites.

5 eat until you are full and enjoy your meal – This seems like a no-brainer, but Clissold is specifically addressing the different attitudes that Chinese and Americans and the British have regarding food.  While Americans and the British food cultures often incorporate guilt and unhealthy cycles of binging and purging, Chinese people just plain enjoy their food.  They talk about food all the time, and a common Chinese greeting is “Have you eaten yet?”  Make eating a pleasurable activity, instead of one that induces guilt.

On the face of it, this is more a matter of culture than cuisine, but no less important.  If you have faith in what you are eating there is no excuse to not enjoy it and no reason at all for counting calories and measuring everything as you go along.

All of which ties in with what Professor Michael Pollan has written and said about modern western eating.  That in the west we are the victims of a conspiracy, driven largely by the food manufacturers but also by dieticians, journalists and other ‘experts’.  Following any traditional cuisine from anywhere in the world will give you a better chance of good health than eating a western diet of meat and industrialised food, but to achieve that benefit it is essential to accept the whole package and not just a few favourite dishes from here and there.  For those who want to eat healthily but not necessarily follow the Chinese way, simply follow Pollan’s advice given in his book In Defense of Food, “Eat [real] food. Mainly plants. Not too much.”

Other related posts –

 A consuming passion,  

China, health and us, 

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,

Unhappy Meals.

Chongqing idioms

Here’s a superb snippet from a posting entitled ‘Funny Bits from Beijing Olympics’ found on the ‘Inside-Out China‘ blog. I’ve replaced the names to make the story a little more palatable, otherwise everything is as is.

Two Chongqing tourists Wu and Jin arrived at Beijing. On a bus, Wu looked at the map and said, “Lets first kill to Tiananmen, then Chairman Mao’s Memorial, then Zhongnanhai.” Jin answered, “Good, we’ll do what you said, kill all the way along this route.” (Chongqing idiom: “kill the way” 杀过去 means “go there.”) Alarmed Beijing passengers reported their dialogue to the police and the two Chongqing men were arrested as soon as they got off the bus.

After several hours interrogation and detention in the police station, they were released. Walking to the Tiananmen Square, the two men kept silent. They just looked at each other and sighed. At last, Wu said to Jin, “Why don’t you shoot?” Jin replied, “You didn’t shoot, why do I dare to shoot?” (Chongqing idiom: “shoot” 开腔 means “talk.”) Before they knew their arms were twisted by plain-clothe police.

A week later the two Chongqing men came out of the detention house. They looked at each other. Wu said, “This is good. My pockets are all empty. Where should we go to get some bullets?” (Chongqing idiom: “bullet” 子弹 means “money.”) The armed guards at the gate charged up and pinned them down on the ground.

Eventually, the Public Security Bureau issued a nationwide notice: “Chongqing idioms are strictly forbidden during the Beijing Olympics.”

Click here for the full post

. . . . and finally, for a translated joke, posted on the Black and White Cat blog, relating to the responses from different nations to Michael Phelps’ recent success click here.

China, health and us.

I came across two articles [vaguely] related to the 2008 Olympics, China and health. The first is an article from ‘The Guardian‘, ‘A cultural revolution to make London sit up and take notice‘ [2008.8.13], written by Marina Hyde, and the second is an item from the Reuters news agency, written by Belinda Goldsmith, ‘Armchair Olympics fuels obesity fears‘ [2008.8.15]. Although, on the face of it, they seem to be at odds with each other on closer inspection they are both correct.

The substance of the Reuters report is China is facing a [potential] obesity crisis. Work patterns have changed, average family spending power has risen and there is an increasing demand for western style foods so is it any surprise that some of the problems which have bedevilled western societies for some time are now cropping up in Eastern Asia. Over the last two decades fast food chains [MacDonald’s, KFC etc] have found their way into the middle kingdom and have been enjoying considerable success. They are quite expensive compared with normal run of the mill Chinese restaurants and dining there is something of a mark of status; children from middle class families are often taken to fast food eating places for birthdays or other treats, so the habit is established at a very early age. In the early days, shortly after Deng Xiaoping opened up China to the outside world, someone in the Politburo made the mistake of thinking that such chain restaurants represented the very highest in western cuisine and as result they were allowed in to China to trade. One hopes that after the mistake was discovered the culprit was taken away and sent on a suitable programme of re-education or at the very least, shot.

At present approximately 14% of Chinese adults are overweight and about 3% are obese [ref BMJ August2006], compared with 21% of men and 23% of women in the UK, but these figures do not paint the full picture. In China obesity is more likely to be found amongst younger people than the older generation, in the UK the reverse is true, the older the age range examined the more prevalent obesity becomes. This is good news for China as it shows the problem is a recent one, new problems are more easily remedied than those long standing, but not so good for the UK. Perhaps the most worrying thing for China, and for anyone else interested, is just how fast the population changed from one of the slimmest and most sveldte in the world to its present position. Another interesting twist to the picture is that in China obesity is more common amongst the middle classes while in the UK it occurs most frequently amongst unskilled working classes, although it must be stressed that no sector of society is free of the problem. In China most children have enough to eat but an increasing number of families have the spending power to buy more meat and to overfeed and having only one child per family, who is often tended by both parents and grandparents, the child, especially if it is a boy, is spoilt beyond belief. In the old days to be overweight was a status symbol, as it demonstrated your wealth and showed you did not have to work and this is now being re-echoed in modern China. Similar things have been happening in the UK for much longer, although one observation I would make is that with the UK, and other western nations, it is the coming of industrialised foods which has been our final undoing. Make of all that what you will but one thing which cannot be avoided is that we are faced with a health problem which, if unchecked, will become more than just a nuisance in the future.

The gist of The Guardian article is that the Chinese people take responsibility for looking after their own health and many are quite fanatical about staying fit and healthy. The main reason is quite simple; no-one else is going to do it for them.  There is no free health service in China to sort out all your ails.  The phenomenon observed by the writer Marina Hyde in her Guardian article is something which can be found all over China, in cities, towns, villages, taking place in parks, near lakes, in back-streets or on any convenient patch of ground. Reading her article the reader may be excused for thinking that only older people are involved, in fact at schools, colleges and universities morning exercise periods are as fixed a part of the day as the sunrise. Every morning at different places around the campus where I taught people would gather for exercise, sometimes individually but more often in groups. Almost every activity could be seen, taijiquan, sword dancing, fan-dancing, wushu, or just a routine of faithfully repeated exercises. All of which goes a long way towards persuading people that they have a responsibility to look after their health and giving them the means of doing just that. In the evenings, in the Peoples’ Square, similar things took place, although these were usually of a more social nature, line-dancing, ball-room dancing. At weekends, in the park, clusters of people would gather for more of the same thing, more practice on the communal exercise parks, Peking Opera, more ballroom dancing, group singing, traditional music – I was captivated and awed by the range of activities which the people would organise on their own initiative. When it comes to looking after themselves and their peers, and with the minimum of resources, the Chinese people win hands down.

As Ms. Hyde says, “Mao declared that the Chinese should civilise their spirits and be brutal on their bodies. “; he may not have been right about everything but this is one gem of wisdom which seems to ring true, judging by what can be seen in China and the contrast which can be found in “London: that far-off land where the increasingly familiar sight of mobility scooters outside pubs suggests that late-capitalism is either a mixed blessing, or bold initiatives are called-for in the run-up to the [2012] Games“

It is hard to see how a couple of weeks of elite sportsmanship in 2012 could alter the health of the British nation or have any impact on the growing obesity problem. As quickly as the 2012 games come they will go, and so will the euphoria and any nine-minute wonders that the government dreams up. If we are not to end up glued even more firmly to our remote controls and TV sets [see “Success will inspire us … to pick up the remote” in The Guardian, written by Emma John] drastic action is required. As stated in The Guardian, free swimming for the over-60s is a start, but measures need to go a little further and deeper than that. At the very least we could take a leaf from the PRC government and invest in low cost, low grade exercise equipment such as is found in Chinese towns and cities and restore playing fields to all schools; these are relatively superficial things but could be part of an overall scheme. Reaching out to the population with more funding for games and sports probably wouldn’t be a bad thing either, but relies on people being willing to respond. Are those most in need of shaping up most or least likely to respond? This is not just a matter of offering opportunity and providing the hardware and infrastructure but one of culture and attitude, neither of which are easy to influence. Or maybe we must turn to Chairman Mao once again and be more brutal with the population and give people no option other than to take responsibility for their own health or suffer the consequences.

You Know You’ve Been in China Too Long If…

Here, on the Seven Castles blogsite, is a list similar to one posted some time ago on this blog but more comprehensive with 130 criteria to help you sort out whether or not you have been in China for too long. Many of the conditions are old hat but some are quite delicious and raised a smile for me. Here are a few that applied to me before I finally made my escape . . .

4. You would rather wait on the street for an extra ten minutes for a small cab, than pay the extra for a big cab

7. You have absolutely no sense of traffic rules.

10. You no longer need tissues to blow your nose.

13. Other foreigners seem foreign to you.

21. You start cutting off large vehicles on your bicycle.

60. There are more things strapped to your cycle than you ever put in a car.

75. Forks feel funny.

76. The shortest distance between two points involves going through an alley.

119. You get offended when people admire your chopsticks skills.

Read the full list here.

Related posts – ‘You know you have been an expat in China too long when . . .

Bring ’em on

Actually I’m not sure if China is preparing for a sports event, i.e. running around in circles, jumping over obstacles, throwing things, generally fooling around and having a good time, or about to go to war. Reading websites such as the China Daily [CD] and the Shanghai Daily [SD] you might be excused for believing the latter and that China is under threat of imminent attack.

“Missile launchers have been assigned to the Bird’s Nest National Stadium. Any perceived threats to Games venues from the air will be shot down.” in this bulletin.

“The Navy will ensure security at sea as the coastal city of Qingdao hosts sailing events.
Special task forces have also been trained to deal with nuclear or biochemical attacks.”

Nothing is being left to chance; land sea, air, nuclear, biological or chemical attacks have all been planned for and will be dealt with summarily. There is obviously a very powerful enemy afoot.

Sniffer dog patrols are out on duty as far way as Anhui province. Road security is stepped up, as shown in this bulletin, and in the Shanghai Daily report referenced above –

“From the beginning of next week every vehicle coming to Beijing will undergo a security check.

Hundreds of check points will be set up at the road entrances to Beijing, ring roads and downtown to ensure a safe Olympic Games.

Each vehicle entering the capital during the Games will be checked electronically and by sniffer dogs.

Bus passengers traveling to Beijing will have their ID cards and belongings checked from July 20.

If just one passenger fails to show a valid ID card, the bus and all its passengers will be refused entry to the city.”

The government has taken its fight against terror overseas and set up a cooperating body, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO] with neighbouring countries – Russia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The first thing to notice about them is that they are all pretty dodgy regimes and all have little or no regard for basic human rights; not exactly the sort of freedom-loving partners most western governments would want to line up with.

If all this were just for show then why fuss over it, but the PRC government seems to be taking its own propaganda very seriously indeed – one might almost be lead to think it actually believes it – and these measures could cause a lot of hassle for any visitors to Beijing. Just take the last statement in the SD report regarding the possibility of a passengers being refused entry because one ID card/passport doesn’t look quite right. A whole busload of people brassed off in one fell swoop. That’s efficiency for you. There is more than ample scope for rubbing people up the wrong way and knowing the government’s enthusiasm and skill in these areas it is more than likely there will be a few toes trodden on in the coming weeks. But the most exciting little gem is the promise of a reward for anyone who provides information “about a planned terrorist attack, possible sabotage by an illegal organization, such as the Falun Gong, murder of Olympic-related personnel or foreigners, or some other major crimes“ [notice how the scope widens with each phrase] see CD again. The bulletin says “The tip-off must include accurate and detailed information“, but offering money on this scale [a minimum of 10,000 yuan and a maximum of 500,000 yuan] may be just a little too tempting. Here is an ideal opportunity to settle old scores with anyone you dislike and line your pocket at the same time. Let’s see how many ‘denouncements’ are made this summer and how many victims of this scheme end up behind bars as terrorists.

This question has been asked before but it needs to asked again, and again, and again until we have a real answer, otherwise how can we take China’s War on Terror seriously. What evidence, beyond the political rhetoric, is available to show that “’the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” [Mr Chen’s words] really do exist in China? None, so far. Maybe one day the government will surprise us by showing police records, photographs and paraphernalia relating to these incidents, but until then we must reserve judgment. Just one more little question; according to the governments own reports, most of these alleged gangs are armed, principally, with knives, so are anti-aircraft missiles, naval deployments and one of the biggest land army mobilisations that has been seen for years [there are as many personnel tied up with this operation as the USA deployed in Iraq] really justified?

Welcome to Beijing 2008.

Related posts  A question of security