Archive | April, 2013

Inequality in China

30 Apr

Since China’s economic and social reforms that have occurred from 1978 onwards, and have allowed China to a more market-based economy, the Nation has been recognised for its achievements in reducing the level of absolute poverty within its borders. If the Chinese Government’s official statistics are to be used, a rapid decline from 30% of the rural population in 1978, to just 5% of the rural population by the end of 1998, were considered to be living in poverty.

However, internationally recognised statistics, such as those provided by the World Bank, show a different story. Although there is evidence of decline in absolute poverty, the World Bank estimated the percentage of rural persons living in poverty was closer to 11.5% than the state statistics of 5% (11.5% represents approximately 106 million people). And in 2001 it was argued that 1 in 5 of the world’s total poor lived within China. Income inequalities between Western and Eastern regions within China have grown dramatically, whilst simultaneously there has been a sharp increase in the income gap between those living in rural areas, and those living in the urban centres. It is estimated that urban incomes are as high as three times that of rural incomes, thus showing the extreme income gap and inequalities between rural and urban persons. In 2010 the rural income per capita average stood at 5,900 yuan ($898), whilst the capita disposable income of urban residents stood at 19,100 yuan ($2,900).

In 2010, China’s Gini co-efficient stood at 0.47 (a value of 0 suggests complete or total equality, whilst a value of 1 suggests complete or total inequality). This figure shows that, in terms of inequality, China has now surpassed the US (a society considered to be highly unequal based on ethnic and class determinants) as a highly unequal society. A figure of 0.4 is considered to be a warning sign of massive inequality to the international community, and the rise of inequality shown within the Gini co-efficient Index throughout the 2000’s has sparked international concern. 

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The table above shows the level of ownership of commodities and technologies per 100 households, and shows that households living in rural areas are significantly less likely to be able to afford commodities such as computers and refrigerators, and are more likely to use unsafe and unhealthy modes of transport such as motorcycles. Although such measures cannot demonstrate the levels of persons living in absolute poverty, or provide accurate and generalizable statistics, they can provide a powerful image about the levels of social inequality found between rural and urban households.

China’s previous government attempted to begin strong measures to correct this trend by increasing investment in rural areas, especially in infrastructure, irrigation, education and health. In November 2011 the government redefined the level at which people living rural areas are categorised as ‘poor’. Previous to this move, people in rural areas had only been defined as ‘poor’ if they were living on below 55 cents a day; however following November 2011 persons living on a $1 or less a day are now officially considered and recognised as poor. This measurement of poverty whereby persons are defined as ‘poor’ when they live of $1 a day is an internationally recognised measure of poverty and therefore allows statistics within China to be internationally comparable. The hope was that this re-definition would allow for hundreds of thousands of Chinese people to access welfare and other state benefits such as subsidies, job training, employment opportunities, discounted loans and the promise of government funded rural infrastructure programs. Previous Chinese President Hu Jintao stated he wanted to create a ‘harmonious society’ within China, and to achieve this Mr Hu established a number of large-scale development projects into some of China’s most poverty stricken rural districts. In November 2011 Mr Hu announced by 2020 no persons within China would have the need to worry about food or clothing, and that rural access to education, housing and basic medical will be ensured for all. The trend discussed here, of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, was considered a priority of Mr Hu and trend that must be reversed.

16 months later, at the opening of the National People’s Congress in March 2013, where the current president Xi Jinping took over from Hu Jintao, the report produced by Mr Wen (whose work report traditionally begins the new session of parliament) focused upon the increased wellbeing of Chinese citizens. The social issues that have arisen from the vast economic development seen within China were acknowledged within the report, and sustainable economic development was placed as a focal point for the strategy of the new leadership. However despite the optimistic messages of increased well-being, the focal point is still economic development. China under Xi Jinping will continue to pursue rapid economic growth, it will continue to build its giant cities and continue to shift tens of millions of persons from the countryside to the towns and therefore, somewhat overlooking the major social and environmental issues such strategies have posed for China thus far.

The authority of the Chinese government is increasingly questioned in the eyes of many Chinese citizens, and without focussing on the severe social inequality that has arisen from the rapid economic growth, urbanisation and economic reforms, the voice of the rural (which is China still contributes a majority share of the population) may become more negative, thus further undermining the Nationalist Party rule. The challenge for Xi Jinping will be to ensure the growth of Chinese economy, whilst at the same time ensuring the levels of current social and environmental issues are addressed and improved. The question is, with a continued focus on the urbanisation of China by the government and the continuous opening up of the Chinese Market, how realistically can this be done? One could argue that unless China moves away from its current attitude of growth, growth, growth the inequality faced by millions of it citizens will continue to be a secondary, and somewhat hind sighted concern for its government.

 

Sources:

Chen, S., and Ravallion, M., (2004) “How have the world’s poorest fared since the early 1980s?” The World Bank Economic Observer, 19(2), 141–169.

China increase rural poverty limit to $1 a day – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-15956299

Inequality in China: Rural poverty persists as urban wealth balloons – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13945072

Rural Poverty in China – http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/country/home/tags/china

Wen Jiabao ‘well-being’ vow as China parliament opens- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21652640

What does the future hold for China? – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21666152

Zhang, Y., and Wan, G., (2006) The Impacts of growth and inequality on rural poverty in China – http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/63309/1/517989778.pdf

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The ongoing conflict between China and Tibet

29 Apr

Tibet is an area in the Republic of China, north-east of the Himalayas that has been the point of conflict for many years in China. The Chinese believe that the region of Tibet has been under Chinese rule for many centuries; however Tibetans claim that this has not been a constant rule, with times where Tibet has had independence, such as in 1912. Later, in 1950 the Chinese army invaded Tibet and a treaty was signed giving China authority over the area, which has caused ongoing tensions between the Chinese government and Tibetan people. Tibet, who once had independence, wants this back and as a result there have been many demonstrations and uprisings by both monks and Tibetans; the last one being in 2008. More recently, however there have been cases of monks setting themselves on fire in protest against Beijing, which has further alleviated tensions with the Chinese authorities.

There are many reasons for the strained relationship between China and Tibet, which has been present for many years. Firstly, there have been claims that Beijing has forced monks away from the monastery and detained up to 300 illegally. What’s more Tibetans believe that China has suppressed Tibetan culture, freedom of expression and worship and the Chinese attempts to replace their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama with someone approved by the Chinese government has simply added fuel to the fire. Lastly, the increasing numbers of Han Chinese migrants arriving in the region is causing anger among the Tibetan people and further resentment for China. However China disagrees with these claims against them, stating that due to Chinese rule Tibet is a much more wealthy area that has seen a huge growth of industry and infrastructure which has benefitted the people hugely. The Chinese authorities also claim that Tibet does in fact have a large amount of autonomy due to a system of devolved government.

Sources:

http://tibet.net/about-tibet/tibet-at-a-glance/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14533879

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-16747814

Does China still see television as a tool for influence and not a source of entertainment?

29 Apr

During the 2009 Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese TV stations were instructed to delay live broadcasts by 10 seconds. The purpose of the policy was to give censors time to react in case free-Tibet demonstrators or others staged political protects.  As a result, Obama’s inaugural speech was cut off in Chinese-language translations in its communism-related references. Seeing television as a means of spreading propaganda, it can be seen that the Chinese government exercises a particular degree of control over local entertainment, however to what extent?

As ratings go up, so does government scrutiny. In China, popularity and influence are closely linked which perhaps worry the government when a programme appears to have gathered a significant following and is deemed to exercise a certain influence. Wo Ju (“Dwelling Narrowness”) was a drama discussing topics like China’s spiraling real-estate prices and local-government corruption. Considerably sensitive in its content and having attracted a large following, it was taken off the air midway through the first season.

In 2011, a popular Chinese version of American Idol “Super Girl” was banned. Although the government cited the reason as because the programme often ran past its allotted time, some believe that the authorities were actually concerned the audience may get inspired by the voting system and American-style democracy, likening the viewer participation in the singing contest to political decisions.

Due to China generally viewed as an atheist country, there is no mention of religion on TV or radio. Television shows that have been banned or other potentially controversial topics are also refrained from being aired. 

Looking at Benjamin Haas, a foreigner who went on a dating show’s experience, his segment was never aired and was told by the director that he was censored because he was successful. There is a particular degree of national sentiment in China and while seeing the two foreign contestants before fail is entertaining, the image of an American male dating a Chinese girl is much more controversial. It is a common sighting in everyday life but perhaps the government does not wish the encourage this. One of the girls on “If you are the One”, Ma Nua was made infamous for having said “I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW” in response to whether she would like to go on a date with a contestant and ride on the back of his bicycle. Her departure from the show possibly indicates that television channels do not wish to promote a materialistic nature in society, demonstrating the subtle influence television always has in the public. Thus, perhaps it can be drawn that it is not completely ridiculous that the Chinese authorities still see the television as a medium with the ability to influence public perception but it might be beneficial towards the society for the government to gradually adapt towards a more open-minded approach.  

In regards to movies, following the United States, China has become the world’s second-largest film market. Despite careful vetting to meet China’s strict censorship requirements, Django Unchained was abruptly pulled from Chinese theatres due to ‘technical problems’ earlier this month. Even Rush Hour 3 had been banned, despite featuring Hong Kong-born Jackie Chan who is well celebrated in the country. The film had attracted negative attention over reference to Triad gang members. In the absence of a movie ratings system to decide whether a film is too violent for underage children, it can be seen how censorship is of fundamental importance. American moviemakers have also reportedly allowed government officials onto movie sets to monitor the filming in movies such as “Iron Man 3” which will be aired in China including scenes featuring China’s top actress, Fan Bingbing. It is interesting to note how the movie has been tailored towards the Chinese audience as the actress has been edited out of screening in other countries. Looking at its strict attitude towards foreign films and websites, it can be seen that China’s lift on its 3 year IMDb ban was a pleasant surprise and could perhaps even give way to room for change.

Sources:
At 11th Hour, China’s Censors Bar ‘Django Unchained’. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/business/media/django-unchained-pulled-from-chinas-theaters.html?pagewanted=all

Chinese media censor Obama’s inaugural speech. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/22/world/fg-china-censor22

China’s New TV Censorship May be a Sign that State Control is Losing its Grip. http://www.worldcrunch.com/chinas-new-tv-censorship-may-be-sign-state-control-losing-its-grip/culture-society/china-s-new-tv-censorship-may-be-a-sign-that-state-control-is-losing-its-grip/c3s4006/#.UX4_TyvwJG4

China Unexpectedly Lifts Ban on IMDb Wesbite. http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/7/4074332/china-lifts-ban-on-imdb-movie-website

Fan Bingbing Cut out of Iron Man 3… Except in China.
http://thediplomat.com/asia-life/2013/03/fan-bingbing-cut-out-of-iron-man-3-except-in-china/

I was almost a Chinese dating show star. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/04/i_was_almost_a_chinese_dating_show_star?page=0,0

‘Shengnu’: China’s ‘Leftover Women’

28 Apr

Effects of the One Child Policy within China have echoed through generations and have led to unexpected consequences. A recent term which has gained rapid circulation within China but has been heavily criticised from abroad is ‘Shengnu’ which translates as ‘leftover women’. The term refers to women in their late twenties who are still single, something which in Western culture may not seem too unusual. However due to gender selective abortion, with parents preferring a son to a daughter, demographics within China have been radically altered so there are about 20 million more men under 30 years of age than women. As a result women are feeling great pressure, not only from society but also the government, to get married. Leta Hong-Fincher, an American doing a sociology PhD at Tsinghua University in Beijing says:

 “Ever since 2007, the state media have aggressively disseminated this term in surveys, and news reports, and columns, and cartoons and pictures, basically stigmatising educated women over the age of 27 or 30 who are still single,”.( Magistad, M. BBC, 2013)

Some women however have decided to drain the terminology of its power and revert the meaning so that instead of a sign of weakness it become one of strength signifying well educated and independent women.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21320560

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/dont-pity-chinas-leftover-women-theyve-got-more-going-for-them-than-you-realise-8536872.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/world/asia/24iht-letter24.html?_r=0

fighting back the grey

27 Apr

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Last November retired Premier Zhu Rongji turned up to a meeting with his natural hair colour shining through, grey. Although praised by many on weibo, this sparked debates over whether leaders of the Communist Party should be allowed to go grey or whether they should have to continue to dye their hair black.

A BBC news article looked at the recent annual Parliament session and commented on the similarities of all participants all wearing the same dark suits with the same jet black hair despite the ages ranging from 50s to late 60s.

Professor Tsang has claimed that this is far from coincidental in the Communist Party stating that “If every party leader sports the same outfit and hair colour, it’s easy to blend in and dodge blame for the failure of any particular policy” thus stating that politicians are too scared to die their hair in case they stand out too much which makes them politically vulnerable.

Jeremy Goldkorn has claimed that this emphasizes the stability of the Communist Party “They’ve tried to show that the party is not dependent on any single personality, it’s an institution. They’ve tried to devalue the individual in favour of the party.”

This clearly demonstrates the control that the Communist Party has over its officials and the extremes it will go to, to maintain stability. 

sources: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21738733

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2292163/Just-zen-How-Chinas-leaders-dye-hair-black-vanity-terrified-standing-out.html

http://www.agimag.co.uk/a-party-to-dye-for/

China and cybercrime

27 Apr

An American information-security firm – Mandiant – that was initially hired by the New York Times to investigate cyber attacks on businesses, stated that since 2006 it has observed attacks from a unit identified as unit 61398, against at least 141 companies across 20 major industries.

Last month US intelligence traced the ‘cyber attacks’ to an “anonymous looking tower block” in Shanghai, where it is believed the hackers have been working from.

In an attempt to discredit the claims made by the US over the ‘hacking’ of many US companies, China has called for international rules and cooperation on cyber espionage and has dismissed the above claims as a “smear campaign”. Foreign minister Jiechi, has claimed that China itself is often the victim of cyber attacks. Where in response to the hacking scandals, Chinese officials have claimed that coca-cola have been mapping areas of China illegally, working on behalf of the US military. A Chinese official related the ‘illegal’ activity back to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade which the US blamed on incorrect mapping, saying that “Some people are profiting from collecting information, including providing it to some foreign intelligence agencies”. He has warned that ‘cyberspace’ should not be turned into a battlefield.

According to analysts the US has mounted the most aggressive response so far to China over the ‘cyber attacks’. Obama stated in his state of union address that the US’ enemies are  “seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions and our air traffic control systems”.

This has urged Mr Donilon – Obama’s national security adviser – to reiterate Mr Obama’s intention to rebalance US foreign policy towards the Pacific following a decade of focus on military activity in the Middle East. – Could this be seen as a threat to China’s rising power? It certainly isn’t doing much for China’s global image as a “responsible great power”.

The Obama administration has created a Cyber Command, consisting of 13 teams of programmers and computer experts, where the Chief of Military told the New York Tmes, that the new section could carry out offensive cyberattacks on foreign nations if the US were hit with a major attack on its own networks.

In addition the Obama administration has said that it will confront Beijing over the cyber attacks and may resort to trade sanctions, diplomatic pressure and indictments of Chinese nationals in US courts.

Could this therefore turn into a cyberwar?

Although a recent visit to China by the US chief of staff has sought to overcome this problem and re-build military relations between the two great powers there was still a sense of mutual distrust.

China may feel suffocated by the US’ presence in the Pacific region as the US has made a string of military alliances in the region stretching from Japan to Australia.

American officials say raising the issue with the Chinese is a delicate balancing act at a time when the United States is seeking China’s cooperation in containing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and joining in sanctions on Iran. With the threat of North Korea dominating the headlines, cybercrime seems to have taken a back seat but for how long?

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http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f02a6abc-8b21-11e2-b1a4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2NN74pRyd

 

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9923173/China-must-stop-unprecedented-wave-of-cyber-attacks-says-Obama-administration.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/world/asia/china-calls-for-global-hacking-rules.html?_r=0

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/world/asia/us-demands-that-china-end-hacking-and-set-cyber-rules.html?ref=us

 

 

http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2013/02/chinese-cyber-attacks

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/02/chinese-cyber-attacks

 

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323551004578438842382520654.html

Small ‘wave’ of currency swap deals.

26 Apr

China is certainly growing strong as an international business partner.

China and Brazil have recently signed a currency swap deal that was first announced last year. The central banks of the two countries will be allowed to swap local currencies worth up to 190 billion yuan or 60 billion reais ($30 billion or £20 billion) and is a pact meant to safeguard against future global financial crisis. Considering that China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner, this sounds like a sound decision by Brazil.

Moreover, Australia’s central bank is planning to invest around 5% of its foreign currency in Chinese government bonds, making it the Reserve Bank of Australia’s first investment in an Asian country’s sovereign bond that is not Japan.

The Bank of England is also in negotiations with China for a three-year currency swap arrangement that can help boost trade between the two countries in the yuan. It is, as chancellor George Osborne said, an ‘important step’, especially because the UK means to be the ‘centre’ for the yuan, as well as ‘cements London as the Western hub for the fast-growing renminbi (another name for the yuan) market’

These currency swap agreements will allow for central banks to settle trade between firms in local currencies other than US dollar, which is standard for today.

Reading;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22276222

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21949615

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21552601

The origin of chop sticks

26 Apr

Chop sticks are the most commonly used, and traditional utilities for eating food in China. They are usually made of wood, bamboo or plastic, contrasting to knives and forks which are commonly used in the West. Those using chop sticks will use their dominant hand to Image their food in the bowl or plate.

‘The honourable and upright man… allows no knives on his table’  Confucius

It is believed that this quote from Confucius has been a major driving force that has kept knives away from many Chinese dining tables. This was because Confucius associated knives and forks with tools used in battle and when fighting, because many of his teachings advocated against acts of violence and aggression. Hence food is served in bite sized pieces so there is no need for knives at the dinner table.

It is unknown the exact time when chop sticks were first used, there is evidence to confirm their use during the Shang dynasty (1766 BC- 1122 BC). Initially chop stick were twigs and were used in the preparation of food before they were used during meal time; it was not till 400 AD that this was the case.

Bibliography

History.com (2013) A Brief History of Chopsticks — Hungry History. [online] Available at: http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/a-brief-history-of-chopsticks [Accessed: 26 Apr 2013].

Holm, D. and  Honey, D. and Dauncey, S. (2008) Quotations from Confucius Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press

Parkinson, R. (2013) Chopsticks. [online] Available at: http://chinesefood.about.com/od/restaurantdining/a/chopsticks.htm [Accessed: 26 Apr 2013].

 

Video

Shopping in China

26 Apr

A tourist shopping guide in China

26 Apr

Shopping at a stores

When travelling abroad, one may choose to do a lot of shopping as the exchange rate makes goods cheaper; items that may be included are name brands. This is not the case in China as foreign brands mean that goods are more expensive despite the fact that the pound sterling holds (more weight in comparison to the value of the Yen) which is due to the high tariffs placed on such goods. Therefore when shopping in China it may be best to avoid name brands that you are used to seeing in the UK, and the West.

Shopping in the market

When shopping in China bargaining is often a common practice, although his is only acceptable in markets and stalls rather than larger department stores. You should often start at a low price sometimes as low as 90% and you and the vendor will work up until you reach a price that you are both happy with.

BibliographyImageImage

History.com (2013) A Brief History of Chopsticks — Hungry History. [online] Available at: http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/a-brief-history-of-chopsticks [Accessed: 26 Apr 2013].