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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

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.

The Storm of the Chinese Tea Stain In A Tea-cup

After I posted the item about the tea stain remover [yesterday’s post] I did a search, using the slogan, to see if I could find who might have instigated this heinous campaign. The results were disappointing with only this site and QQ News returned with the full slogan, all other hits were irrelevant. Out of curiosity I repeated the exercise today and was presented with 117 hits, each containing the slogan. Here are a few of them


The first on the list is Baidu, listing another 2 further pages of sites, I didn’t investigate these and assumed they will be duplicates of those already found. Most of the others are on Chinese websites and simply reproduce the QQ news item, but others add a few comments. Here are a few selected from the thread of a forum, arguing over the possible meaning of the ad and all of them completely missing the point. Bear in mind these are Google translations so the English is not very good.

Absolutely Yiyushuangguan mean. 现实生活中,china这个词常用么? In real life, china used the word Mody » 如果一个装饰性的瓷器还说得过去,而喝茶的杯子谁管它叫china? 我听说过have a cup of tea,却没听说过have a china of tea. If a decorative porcelain also justifiable, and the tea cups Who Guanta Jiao china «I’ve heard about have a cup of tea, no one heard of have a china of tea. tea这个东西,本身就很容易联系到中国。 tea this thing in itself can easily link to China. 欧美人喝茶的比例毕竟是少数,如果做广告,更应该说,洗咖啡垢,可乐垢。 Europe and the United States, after all, the proportion of people drinking tea is one of the few, if advertising, should also be said that the scale washing coffee, cola scale. 偏偏选了一个茶垢,真是别有用心。 Unfortunately the election of a tea scale, is an ulterior motive.

再看排版,后面感觉就是Made in China。 Look at publishing, is the feeling behind the Made in China. 是在打击中国制造的东西有污圬。 In the fight against Chinese-made things have sewage masonry. 不知道这个广告是什么时候放上去的,如果是毒玩具毒狗粮那段时间反中国制造的高潮时期,那它100%有反华的意思在里面。 The ads do not know what the time-boost, if the drug is toxic Gouliang toys made in China at that time the anti-climax period, it is 100 percent anti-China mean inside. 更可恶的是,这里字母全都是大写,所以也没办法区别是不是一个专用名词。 More heinous is that here are all in capital letters, so it can not distinguish is not a special term.

The English do not quite understand people not to speak, Procter & Gamble this ad is a shame, for advertising, his advertisements have two customs justice, CHINA can refer to China, was criticized when sophistry can be said that the porcelain, but if they are That the porcelain, the use of cleaner bit too narrow, because the cleaning agents can not just wash porcelain, can also wash the glass. Shing and tea in general is in the cup, porcelain flush toilets is done, but by who heard that Flush toilet to drink tea,
所以正常情况下, 他的这个广告词应该说”除去任何杯中的茶垢”,而不是”除去瓷器中的茶垢”他难以自圆其说的.他这个广告直意是”中国茶可以造成污垢”, 暗讽中国的东西都是污垢. Therefore, under normal circumstances, his words should be said that this ad “cup of tea to remove any scale”, not “get rid of porcelain tea scale,” he difficult to justify. He This ad is intended straight, “Chinese tea can cause dirt” , An Feng of China things are dirt.

. . . . and so it goes on page after page

Another starts with the heading “Westerners also declared war on the Chinese people! !“, the article is pasted below it, and ends “ Brothers, how do we fight again » » » » »”

If the students who reported this to QQ had not been so touchy . . if QQ had used a bit of common sense or employed a competent translator to check the ad out . . if the ‘news’ item had not been published . . . . probably no one would have batted an eyelid.

Am I right in thinking we have an expression which might sum this up, something about a lot of rain in a cup? Or creating a large mound of humous from the labours of a small black animal?

The ‘b’-word

blindman.jpgThe ‘b’-word has been mentioned in the press. Again. At the time of Mr Spielberg’s disengagement with BOCOG there was some talk of boycotting the 2008 Olympics in protest over China’s involvement with Darfur, but it then faded away. Since the recent troubles in Tibet the topic has been revived and the notion is now being discussed amongst some European political circles. I’ve said once before that not going to the 2008 Olympics seems rather foolish after going to all the trouble of awarding the games to Beijing in the first place and I still feel the same way so perhaps a little clarification is necessary.



Does anyone remember the 1980 Games, held in Moscow? That year the USA persuaded many other countries [about 60, I believe] to join it in boycotting the Moscow games in protest at the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The games went ahead as planned; the only disappointment for the spectators was that the records were not pushed as far forward as might have happened if everyone had participated. The conflict in Afghanistan continued for another 10 years and the only people to have been affected directly from the action were those athletes instructed by their countries to not participate. Did the boycott achieve much? Well, the following Olympic games in 1984, and held in Los Angeles, were boycotted, tit for tat, by the Russians and that is the only result I am aware of. Not long ago Prime Minister Brown boycotted the EU Conference in Lisbon as President Mugabe [of Zimbabwe] had been invited to attend. I’m unsure what Gordon Brown hoped to achieve by that, teach Robert Mugabe a lesson and scare him back home perhaps, tell Europe that Britain and Zimbabwe don’t mix maybe, I can only guess. What I do know is that he scored a resounding silence with this fatuous gesture. So much for the power of the boycott.


Looking at this from a slightly different angle, in what way are the British public and other westerners getting involved in this matter. Are they boycotting Chinese goods? Refusing to buy anything with a ‘Made in China’ stamp on it? Are western businessmen withdrawing from deals struck with Chinese enterprises? Have our ministers refused to attend trade missions in China? Have we advised all tourists to not travel to China? No. Really? In fact, for the rest of the world it’s pretty much business as usual. So why must athletes be singled out to bear this message of disapproval to China and have their years of training and hopes sacrificed? At best this can only be described as an exercising of double standards, but at worst it is nothing short of gross hypocrisy.


In the b-camp there are some who are convinced the way forward is to stage an all-out boycott and there is some logic in this as only a boycott supported by the vast majority of participants could effectively stop the event from being staged, but there are others who take what they see as a more pragmatic and moderate view. Instead of denying athletes the opportunity to compete they say we should go ahead and attend, as planned, but boycott the opening ceremony. And if that wouldn’t teach them a lesson I don’t know what will!

Related posts – Xizang, Take Note.


An Italian Hero

I was passing the time in a reading room recently, working my way through the newspapers of the day, as one does, filling in bits of crossword puzzles, dozing and drinking tea, though not necessarily in that order. Stuffed away in a corner was the remnants of a backcopy which I idly glanced through until I came across an article about a marathon runner. This was a character who had been briefly introduced to us at school but I had never really got acquainted with him as he was quickly pushed back out of my mind to make way as we moved on to Corn Law, Tariff Reform and other more important matters. This was not the original marathon runner, Pheidippides the soldier who fought in the battle of Marathon, ran to Athens to deliver the good news and then dropped dead, but a pastry shop assistant whose achievements were no less remarkable in that he completed the 1908 event, lost the gold medal, but won the hearts of millions of people around the world.

Dorando Pietri began his running career in an almost casual fashion, perhaps by accident, when, in 1904, he took part in a local race at Carpi which featured Pericle Pagliani, the then top runner in Italy. According to accounts available Pietri was still in his working clothes when he ran but he beat Pagliani. A few days later he participated in a 3,000 metre race at Bologna and won! What had prompted him to do that, bravado, a bet with his pals or Italian dottiness and eccentricity, is unknown but during the following years he began his rise to international fame. In 1905 he won the Paris 30 km race, his first international success and in 1906 won the qualifying Italian marathon for the Athens Olympic games, held later that year. During the Athens marathon he retired from the race, due to an intestinal illness, while he was in the lead by 5 minutes. By 1907 he was the undisputed long distance champion of Italy, for every event from 5,000 metres upwards.

At the 1908 London Olympics the day of the marathons race was an unusually hot one by UK standards (78 degrees F) and this took its toll on all of the 56 starters. Three-quarters of the way in to the race Pietri was in second place and several minutes behind the leader but when he was told Hefferson was having trouble he increased his pace and a few miles later overtook him. After entering the stadium for the final lap his troubles began when he took a wrong turn and was redirected by an official. He then fell from exhaustion but was helped back to his feet and struggled on. Different stories give varying counts of the times he fell, all we know is that it happened several times and each time he was helped on his way by officials and Arthur Conan Doyle, no less, who happened to be standing by. Of his 26 miles and 365 yards, taking 2 hours, 54 minutes and 46 seconds the final lap had taken 10 minutes to complete [no one actually timed this section so we only have anecdotal information]. And only in the final moments had any other competitor entered the stadium!

Several theories have been put forward to explain his condition on entering the stadium – excessive heat, his efforts in the final half of the course to speed up, gargling with wine during the race – but these are speculative. And the nearest he got to using drugs was to take balsamic vinegar during training.

From any of the BW photographs available of those final moments many differences between Pietri and a modern athlete can be seen. There is even a difference between himself and the officials surrounding him. There is no imagery or PR at work, he is noticeably small, skinny, one might say weedy, the very picture of the underdog and this had an immediate appeal to the masses. He had finished by will and determination.

Immediately after the race the USA team lodged a complaint which was accepted by the committee and Johnny Hayes, who came in second, was awarded first position. Undoubtedly the USA [why are they such poor losers?] complaint was technically correct, Pietri had been redirected, assisted and helped to his feet by officials who should have had no influence on his performance. But whatever anyone wants to say no one can alter those staggering ten minutes when he was in the stadium alone. That is an impressive lead to have gained, coming up from behind, by any standard.

In the months following he was invited to America to compete in a tour of races. Twice he competed against Johnny Hayes and twice he beat him. Of the 22 races he participated in on tour he won 17. He continued his professional racing career for another 3 years and retired after winning his final race at Goteburg, Sweden.

He died in 1941, at the age of 56, of a heart attack.

Future Masters

Some people have been talking about it, many others have been ignoring it, the majority still haven’t got their heads around it but it is happening now.

When China began its current economic revival and subsequent march to power for most people, myself included, this was something unimportant. It was happening thousands of miles way on the other side of the world. In those dim and distant days – all of 5 years ago – the word ‘China’ was scarcely mentioned in the newspapers and when it was it would probably be with a small ‘c’ and more likely to refer to a set of cups and saucers than a country or nation so how could we know? Things have moved on since then and the ‘C’ word has moved from the occasional mention each year, to every week on the national news and now to almost every day. Most people are concious of China but very few seem to have grasped the dimensions of this phenomenon.
In the 1970s something similar happened in Japan and the impact is still being felt, but it would be enormous mistake to imagine that China’s rise to economic prosperity will be on the same scale, just another phase we can live through and then shrug off. There is a huge difference in the size and potential power of these two places which have implications for everyone. The population of Japan is not a great deal more than that of the UK so for such a small nation to have made such an impact is something of an achievement. But what if the same thing were to happen with China? Just consider the dimensions of China. It is not the largest country in the world but to travel from East to West, by train from Beijing to Kashi for instance, takes over 3 days and North to South would be something similar. Everyone knows the population of China, officially 1.3 billion [maybe more] – that’s 1,300,000,000 – but what we don’t seem to understand is that this is more than 20% of the world’s population. By comparison the UK has less than 1%. If everyone in China wanted a pair of rubber boots this year there wouldn’t be enough rubber to meet that demand, let alone keep everyone else happy. Even the slightest hiccup in China can have an impact on everyone else. If there is a statistical shift in China it will affect statistics on a world scale; if there is a similar shift in the UK it is highly unlikely anyone else will even notice. It is the enormity, and the differences in culture, of the place which has lead several western companies to come unstuck when dealing with the PRC as they have mistakenly treated it as just another minor player in the world.
For years we, in the west, have been happily closing down our factories and moving production lines overseas. The theory was that it was cheaper to manufacture in other places therefore the goods would be cheaper for us. Hong Kong [when it was colony], India, Malaya, Thailand, Myanmar have all played their part in this process and many still do but the ultimate move was to China with its never ending supply of un-unionised, unrepresented, unregulated and unprotected dirt-cheap labour. Until now many of the items bought from China have been designed, sourced and marketed by western companies, that way they could at least argue that they were keeping the biggest slice of the profit. Our retail outlets are flooded with goods with the ‘Made in China’ mark but branded with western names. The one area where the China economy is weak is in branding – how many of us can name a global Chinese brand. Answer, none; there aren’t any, well not up to now.

Another angle to consider is the value and power of the Chinese ¥ [Yuan]. At present it is seen as an undervalued currency and many western powers have been pressing the PRC to revalue the RMB. So far China has resisted such efforts. Another factor to consider is the rate at which money is saved in the PRC. At present the average Chinese citizen saves 40% of income every year – by contrast the average citizen of the UK is £3,175 in debt. Overall, China saved approximately 50% of GDP, about $1.1 trillion, in 2007, the US managed to save 13% of GDP, about $1.6 trillion, although the US economy is 6 times that of China. This pattern of behaviour is reflected throughout the Chinese economy with private companies and the government itself following suit, storing money for the proverbial rainy day. In recent weeks a Chinese company purchased a French vineyard, a modest move and not an earth shattering event in itself but something quite new demonstrating that China does have an interest in the world beyond its borders. What would happen – or should I say what will happen, as this event is now so close as to be almost inevitable – if the PRC waited until it controlled the biggest slice of manufacturing in the world and then re-valued the RMB, just as we want them to? This would certainly make Chinese goods more expensive for western countries, but, hey ho, why should they care, with manufacturing neatly tied up and under control their customers are certainly not going to do a runner, that simply wouldn’t be an option. More importantly, the RMB, combined with the reserves held by the PRC, would then have the power to enable the Chinese to wander the world and go on an acquisition spree. No need to limit purchases to crappy little vineyards, we could soon find that our railways, power companies and banks were owned by PRC Plc.

What happens when China finally makes its marketing breakthrough and begins selling goods manufactured in China, with Chinese brand names and sold on the global market as it surely must? I don’t know the answer to this question and I’m not convinced anyone else does including our dear leaders, I can only speculate and posit ideas but the thoughts which come to mind are not encouraging. Our share of the profits will diminish drastically, that much is certain, we will eventually reach a point when we can no longer expect to buy at such low prices from the PRC and we will not have the financial clout to ‘buy whatever the price’, and then what. We will buy from somewhere else? But where? There isn’t another country in the world which could take the place of China. India might have been a possibility but we had our fling in that subcontinent a while ago. While we have been sitting around admiring ourselves and thinking how savvy and successful we all are President Hu Jintao and his pals have been beavering away around the world developing relationships and securing resources for China’s future. Many of the rogue states of the world, which coincidentally hold the key to much of the mineral wealth of the planet, are safely in China’s pocket so our options are reduced yet further. I’m sure someone somwhere with a little more inside knowledge than myself could enlighten us further as what has been happening and what, in all likelihood, will happen soon. All I know is that I am typing this article while sitting at a desk in the UK, using a PC manufactured in the China, and sold with a Chinese brand name from a British retail store.
“Greetings, Master” in Putonghua [Mandarin to you and me] is 吾皇万岁万岁万万岁; now might be a good time to start learning.

"Come Back To Afghanistan"

Here is another book giving a different angle to mainstream media to help you fill in more spaces of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle.

The author, Said Hyder Akbar, was born in Afghanistan, left while he was a child during the Russian occupation, moved to Pakistan and then to the USA with his family. He comes over as a mixture of Afghan but with a strong US flavour; which gives him valuable insight into why things happen as they do, why they don’t work, why some ideas were doomed to failure before they started, plus a few hints as to why the US government seems unable to learn from its calamities.

Come Back To Afghanistan is both an entertaining and informative read