Sunday 28 December 2008

What can one say?


Friday 19 December 2008


Somalian pirates are running rings around the navies of the great powers, but an ingenious Chinese crew managed to fight of a band of machine-gun toting seadogs with beer bottles. Now why didn't anyone else think of that?


"I'll have a dozen bottles of your finest pirate-repellent please!"

Saturday 13 December 2008

Fenqing, defined.

Anyone who's been following the recent feeling-hurting spat between China and France in the Sino-blogosphere will have seen the article "Sorry, I will not boycott French goods" by blogger Liao Baoping (click here for the full ESWN translation, and here for the discussion thread on Fool's Mountain). Liao Baoping (who I haven't been able to find out that much about - any help?) received much in the way of approbrium for his article, here's what he had to say about it (translation by ESWN):

The classical patriots are rarely nationalistic angry young people [i.e., Fenqing]. Among the angry young people, nationalism is inside the core while patriotism is the outside packaging. When the inner core explodes, the outside packaging expands as well. The two frequently evolve together in a highly visible manner. Sometimes, it is fascinating to watch the process.

The extreme narcissism of nationalism can become a kind of mental disease. In the 1980's, Erich Fromm wrote in The Fear of Freedom:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism" is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by „patriotism“ I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one‘s own nation, which is the concern with the nation‘s spiritual as much as with its material welfare-never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one‘s country which is not part of one‘s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

In this heated debate over whether to boycott French goods or not, the various flaws of the angry young people manifested themselves in accordance with this quotation. If the angry young people tried to love their country in this way, the result is hurt and not love.

Some people both love and hate the angry young people. Therefore, they elevate them and then denigrate them afterwards; or they denigrate them and then elevate them afterwards. They keep alternating their attitudes (fortunately for them, the angry young people are usually forgetful). While nationalism does have the passionate force of idolatry, it tries to override humanity, truth and justice, and it can therefore become a force of destruction. Nationalism is a twin-bladed sword, and therefore it must be handled with extreme care. Otherwise, the angry young people can hurt the country tremendously.

Friday 12 December 2008

Greatest. Danwei. Post. Ever!

Danwei tracks how many countries have 'hurt the feelings of the Chinese people' in the last few decades according to Chinese officialdom. Amazing!

Monday 24 November 2008

Life imitates FOARP . . .

The first phase of Axl Rose's plan to take over China is complete: he has made the Chinese irate . . .

Saturday 22 November 2008

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is NOT a lawyer . . . .

This needs to be said over and over and over, and over. The man does not even have a law degree, despite what he has claimed in the past. Yes, he continues to make claims to be a legal professional - like in this comment at Silicon Hutong[link now broken, see updates for details]:

"I've been practicing on matters of China law and tax for over 16 years for goodness sakes - and just like any other expatriate lawyer - have not passed Chinese qualifications to do so."

For the record, Chris Devonshire Ellis is not registered as a legal professional anywhere, has not completed any formal schooling in law, or accountancy, or tax, or any area of study associated with them. He is not a registered trademark agent or patent agent. He has no professional qualifications of any kind. For a long time he claimed to have received "Church of England theology education", which, translated into English, apparently means that he went to a Church of England primary school, but this seems to be the limit of his education.

I'd like to go further, but first a little house-keeping. No, I have never met Chris Devonshire-Ellis, I am not associated with Lehman-Brown, the firm with which he had a long running dispute over meta-tagging (something which may or may not be trademark infringement), I am not a disgruntled former employee of his (although there seem to be more than a few of these). No, I'm just annoyed at seeing a man with such obviously dodgy credentials treated as an expert by people who ought to know better. His laughable pieces in the Beijing press on legal matters are a prime example of this. Here's him on IP protection in China in the Beijing Review:

"There is, however, a hole in the registration procedure for patents, which require they be registered and placed on public file for assessment prior to the patent being recognized as your own intellectual property. This means some entrepreneurial types scan such registrations specifically to steal designs and then immediately get into production even while your patent pending process is still ongoing."

The whole purpose of the patenting process is that we, the public, get to learn how to use an invention in exchange for granting the inventor the right to exercise a monopoly over the commercial exploitation of the invention. This system cannot work unless patents and patent applications are made available to the public, so that they can know in good time to avoid infringing the patent.

His knowledge of trademark law also seems a little off, for the record, the next time anyone says that they can get you a mainland China trademark by "going to the patent and trademark office in Wan Chai [i.e., in HK]", they likely don't know what they're talking about. I'm not qualified to say anything about taxes or accountancy, except to say that a company registered as a book-keeping company is not where I would go for advice on my company's future.

Final thought - always do due diligence on consultants, especially in a market with a still developing regulatory structure like China, because shysters abound.

Update: Wow, thank you to my anonymous commenter (email me whoever you are) I checked out Chris Devonshire-Ellis's Linkedin page. Yes, this is going a bit deeper into things than I would normally be comfortable with, but it really is amazing that someone could claim to have an LLB and then make this comment:

if you had researched further into that you would have found that the reason I took it down WAS precisely because it was wrong. The circumstances behind my not completing my exams at the time - more than three-quarters through my papers - however you are not aware of and it is not something I either wish to or have to justify to you, or anyone else. Suffice to say it had a lot to do with family tragedy and little to do with "fake".

So, the Dezhira website was wrong when they listed CDE as having graduated separately in law and marketing from two different universities, but CDE then goes and lists himself as having a law degree on his own Linkedin page.

Update part 2:

Silicon Hutong have taken that page down, but we all saw it folks, CDE clearly contradicted himself, and his previous statements regarding his qualifications.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Pure Crazy-Sauce

This from American commentator Dick Morris over at Real Clear Politics:

The results of the G-20 economic summit amount to nothing less than the seamless integration of the United States into the European economy. In one month of legislation and one diplomatic meeting, the United States has unilaterally abdicated all the gains for the concept of free markets won by the Reagan administration and surrendered, in toto, to the Western European model of socialism, stagnation and excessive government regulation. Sovereignty is out the window. Without a vote, we are suddenly members of the European Union. Given the dismal record of those nations at creating jobs and sustaining growth, merger with the Europeans is like a partnership with death.

Yeah, that's right, the G20 meeting was actually a surrender to a 'socialist' and 'dying' Europe. Never mind the fact that the meeting actually acheived little, or that the proposed regulations would largely return the US to where it was in the nineties, or that Western Europe is far from 'dying' (From 1963 to 2003 per capita GDP in the 29 Western European states rose by an average 156% in real terms, compared to 137% for the US).

Saturday 15 November 2008

Karma . .

Got into a big long argument with a lawyer from TSB a couple of days back about the cause of our current financial crisis. For me, the most incredible thing was the way in which the people doing the actual trading quite obviously had no idea what it was they were buying and selling, that they were essentially extremely well-paid salesmen and buyers for whom it did not matter what exactly is was they were buying and selling. The same kind of phenomenon where politicians win office merely by mouthing catch-phrases and holding forth on button-pushing issues which have little to do with the actual job they will be doing was replicated over and over in the stock market. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of very smart people working in finance, just that they were working within a system which did not (and does not) actually punish them for making long-term bad decisions for short-term gain. Their forecasting had as much to do with the actual value of their stocks as the average job advert is an accurate reflection of what the duties and chances of promotion are in the job advertised (the job market is another field in which style is rewarded over substance, but that's another story). Anyway, I saw this quote on the Andrew Sullivan website which pretty much backed up everything I had been saying:

Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.

Michael Lewis is far from the only person to feel this way, a friend of mine who used to work over at Merill Lynch described Wall Street in pretty similar terms. It would be too easy to simply say that the solution for this (and for politics, and for recruitment) is less tolerance for BS, but is sure would help.

Dateline: 23rd of November, Guns 'n Roses releases new album "Chinese Democracy", CCP surrenders . . . . .

"We're surrendering" said Chinese Communist Party supremo Hu Jintao. "For a long time we thought people in the west were secretly on our side, but now that even Axl has turned against us, we now realise that resistance is useless . . . you guys win . . . I'm going to go and drown my sorrows in Johnny Walker's mixed with shitty-tasting green tea".

There were shocking scenes at Tiananmen square today, where Axl Rose had appeared to give his first speech as President of China, Axl Rose set out his plans for the country. "My first act is going to be launching a nuclear strike against the former band members . . sorry for anyone within ten miles of those lame-ass wannabes, but they had it comin'". At this point a 1 Yuan coin was thrown from the crowd, Axl gave a signal for the mic to be cut and walked off stage muttering "Send in the tanks, you know what to do!".

With martial law in full effect, Axl and his minions set about their plan to create "The rocking-est country on the whole damned planet". First to go was the national anthem, which has been replaced by the ridiculously long guitar solo from November Rain. The national flag has also been consigned to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by the original album cover from Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.

Freedom of speech and assembly, which enjoyed a brief period of liberalisation following the fall of the Communist Party, restrictions on human rights are now fully back in effect. Whilst human rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have looked on with dismay, Chinese university students have enthusiastically joined the revolution that is sweeping the country. One student with dyed ginger hair sporting a headband who identified himself as Fandy Hu of Nanjing University of Knitwear and Needlework, said "Axl Rose's leadership is very to fitting the Chinese country, we all to welcome our new Chinese democracy, if you to criticise Axl then you hate China!"

Neighbouring countries are increasingly fearful that the revolution will spread beyond China's borders. Bakht Inbolok, Kyrgyz foreign minister, has already reported sightings of large formations of PLA soldiers in Flaming Lips-style hamster balls massing along the border. "Axl plans to turn our country into one big swimming pool, but will fight to the last man to stop him!".

Western governments are monitoring the situation.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Sign of the times . . . . .

Has anyone else started receiving spam email messages from people proporting to be representatives of Huatex or the Hang Seng bank but sent using Gmail addresses? Either the (mainly west African) spammers have gotten wise to everybody simply deleting anything with a Nigerian-sounding name in it, or folk in China are setting up on their own - which is it?

Monday 13 October 2008

I'm going to assume the irony here is intentional . . .

. . . Allen from over at Fool's Mountain:

I agree with basically everything you said. I think the PRC is really going out of its way to bend backwards for the Taiwanese people by giving Taiwan such a long leash on political autonomy - by implicitly agreeing to attack Taiwan only if Taiwan formally declares independence. Some people just can’t see a good thing even when it is shoved right under their nose!

Sunday 5 October 2008

An amateur's take on the big China bust

Posted this as a comment over at CLB as a reply to gloomy predictions of a 20-30 year slump in the China market from China Vortex's Paul Denlinger, but I thought I'd put it up here as well just so I can look at it a few years down the line and see how much of it is true:

The best way of seeing the effect of a recession in the US/EU on Chinese growth is to look at the effect that previous Euro-American recessions have had on boom economies like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. A review of the period 1971-1991 (that is, covering both the world energy crisis, the recession of the early eighties, and the crash of '87) shows two years in which real per capita GDP declined in western Europe (1974-75, 1980-81), with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand also suffering two periods of decline (1973-75 and 1980-83). In the same period, the Taiwan suffered only one decline (1973-75), South Korean per capita GDP also only saw decline in 1980-81, Japan declined only in 1973-74. What does all this show us? Mainly that while export-led growth economies are sensitive to world economic crises like the oil shortage, they aren't very sensitive to financial crises in the west. In the period 1987-91 Western European per capita GDP grew by only 4.3%, and US GDP grew by only 4.7%, but in the same period Taiwanese per capita GDP grew by 16.2%, Japan by 19% and South Korea by a whopping 36%.

Paul Denlinger's analysis seems to presume that the Chinese economy is especially sensitive to a US slowdown, but I'm not exactly sure why he should think this. The US is actually a smaller market for Chinese exports than the EU, and tighter money is likely to increase sales of cheaply manufactured goods - at least relative to more expensive high-quality goods. China also has big pockets with which the government can make up for any economic slowdown through public spending on infrastructure etc. The only thing that could damage the Chinese economy is greater protectionism in the west (say, a re-play of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs), however the WTO and other trade agreements stand in the way of this.

Put simply, China's exports to the west would continue to increase even if western economies stood still for the next ten years, because these exports are driven mainly by western consumers switching from more expensive sources to cheaper Chinese ones.

Finally, if back in 1978 we had all sat around and tried to suss out how the world economy would be doing in the distant year of 2008, we would surely have gotten a lot of things dead wrong - 30 year predictions aren't worth much.

Friday 26 September 2008

Xinhua predicts the future, part 2

Having already safely forseen the morning ceremonies on the opening day of the Olympics, Xinhua performs new feats in divining the exact words spoken by China's astronauts in orbit. Amazing!

Monday 22 September 2008

New year's day . . . .

September has always been the month of change in my life, far more so that the year's end you'll see on a calendar, just as (uber blogger) Andrew Sullivan says, September is the real start of the year. This September has brought it's own changes - last week I started the Common Professional Exam course with an eye towards becoming a solicitor. Patenting was OK but I'm not sure I really wanted to spend the rest of my working life trying to spot differences between different types of hinges, and my lack of a PhD was also holding me back, I always preferred the legal aspects of IP anyway. Let's hope that change really is as good as a rest!

Monday 15 September 2008

Dear America

What in god's name are you thinking?

Support for the unequivocal position [On banning all torture] was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries [only] either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%).

Friday 22 August 2008

Goodbye Taipei

I came across this fascinating article written by a GI in the closing days of the US military's prescence on Taiwan via a link from the Taiwan Defence Command blog. Any long time China expat will have come across one of the old timers from the days of Taipei's 'Combat Zone', before Chen Shui Bian came in as mayor and closed down the seedy bars that served the R&R needs of half the US military in Asia. This piece, containing attitudes an opinions common at the time and with which I am not entirely in agreement, goes a long way towards debunking that talk, but it also has a lot in it which will be familiar to any man who has spent a while in Taiwan. Here's a snippet:

Outside the compound, In the side streets between the Napoleon Club and the East Gate, were the bars and massage parlors - here you found the action, as far as Taipei had any action. The memories were made here, stories that will be told 30 years from now. An Oriental bar district is a strange and complicated place, where all things can happen and frequently do, at the same time. It was the playground for single GIs.

The clubs had the same names you see everywhere: Playboy, Playgirl, Penthouse, the Green Door, Rosie's. The same clubs could be found in Saigon, Hong Kong and along Phatpong Road in Bangkok. Occasionally one will disappear and another pop up in its place - same building, same furniture, but a different name. This is said to be because the police weren't properly bribed.

At three in the afternoon Fletcher and I, in search of a drink, sometimes poked our heads into these dens. Then the clubs were shadowy and empty, with maybe a few exhausted girls sleeping in the booths. They looked like people. But at night they put on their war paint and slinky dresses to become the mysterious beauties of the East - a process much aided by Western imagination. Really they were tired, neurotic girls.

It was fun to walk the district at night, except that Fletcher always sang "Old McDonald" at the top of his voice. Airmen prowled everywhere. The neon glowed and its too bright reds and blues reflected from the dresses of girls who stood in front to lure you Inside. Inside, the decor was air-conditioned Howard Johnson's, with plastic mahogany tables and vinyl upholstery, but sometimes you saw amusing things. Like a visiting senator trying to persuade a lovely young thing how important he was. You also realized quickly that the girls didn't like their work, and usually didn't much like you.

It's also interesting to see some recognisable types from my own time in Taiwan:

Then there was the Taipei of the... well, hippies isn't the right word exactly, because they weren't dirty, didn't use drugs, and didn't think they were three shades brighter than Einstein. But they had beards and faded jeans and lived in the tangled warrens of working class houses near Roosevelt and Ho Ping Roads, downtown.

A Screwy lot. There was an ex-Peace Corps fellow from the Punjab, a tiny Japanese mathematician seeing the world, a crazy Belgian intellectual who spoke Japanese because he had forgotten his native French after five years in Japan, and freelance reporters waiting for the next war. They all spoke Chinese and lived In $20-a-month rooms the size of closets.

Their Taipei was a world of soup stalls, open sewers, nights spent on the rooftops when the heat was too bad, and the landlord's children bringing their friends to see the crazy foreign devils. These curiosities often ate a 3O-cent meal in foodstalls where chow was displayed on pans and tough little workmen wolfed it down. There was fried egg and bean curd cooked a dozen ways, bean sprouts, small rubbery squid like gray vitamin pills, and a few we never did figure out.

They lived by teaching English to bargirls, not a job you'd tell your mother about. At night they squatted on the floor, because they had no chairs and probably no table, and drank Hung Low Joe. It means Red Dew Liquor, an unspeakable rice wine. You come to like it. Then they'd go out singing drunk, speaking six languages, and wander among fruit stalls and short-time hotels no tourist has ever seen. Sometimes, late on a rainy night, you saw them sitting In the island of light around a noodle stand on a deserted street, tossing down Hung Low Joe and chatting with the noodleman.

Read the whole thing if you've got time.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Hua Guofeng

Hua Guofeng, the man who succeeded Mao Zedong as leader of China, carrying on the policies of 'the great helmsman', died today at the age of 87. He was removed from power in 1980 to make way for the great reformer, Deng Xiaoping.

The Times report can be found here.

Thoughts? Will there be a state funeral? Will credit be given to his reforms in allowing foreign loans and sending officials on fact-finding missions to the west? What will be the response of the leadership?


If, as appears likely in light of today's news, Russia recognises Abkhazia as an independent nation - will the Chinese recognise it as well? I'm guessing not, but it's certainly something worth watching.

Sunday 10 August 2008

The shape of things to come . . . .

I read an interesting opinion piece in the Washington post written by Anne Applebaum yesterday, money quote:

For the best possible illustration of why Islamic terrorism may one day be considered the least of our problems, look no farther than the BBC's split-screen coverage of yesterday's Olympic opening ceremonies. On one side, fireworks sparkled, and thousands of exotically dressed Chinese dancers bent their bodies into the shape of doves, the cosmos and more. On the other side, gray Russian tanks were shown rolling into South Ossetia, a rebel province of Georgia. The effect was striking: Two of the world's rising powers were strutting their stuff.

Quite. In the one case, we have the rising superpower, which for the time being at least is sticking to its rule of 'not claiming leadership' and of not interfering in other countries affairs, in the other we have the Russian bear slapping down on a rebellious neighbour. The tone of the Russian news reports on channels like Russia Today was striking, with the one-word title "Genocide" being displayed at the bottom of the screen in all their reporting on the conflict. The content of the reports was also remarkable, with interviews with refugees who claimed to have been attacked by men wearing 'US emblems' and reports of the bodies of black soldiers being found touted as 'proof' of US involvement in some of the Russian media. I hardly need to say how unlikely actual direct US involvement is at this stage, but the idea .

We also have examples of how ill-equipped our leaders are to deal with this new world we are entering into - see Lord Owen (he of the Vance-Owen plan) and his comments today in an interview with the BBC where he said that Georgian membership of NATO should be put off as Georgia was geographically 'not contiguous with NATO'. Georgia, of course, shares a border more than 130 miles long with Turkey, a NATO country. Something makes me think that we are all going to have to learn a bit more about where Georgia's borders are.

US moves to end patent outsourcing?

A friend of mine sent me (and the rest of my former colleagues) an email saying this:

. . . you guys are all effectively going to be blocked from working on US-originated inventions, at least without getting special permission from the U.S. Dept of Commerce or U.S. Dept. of State.

Now, this is not related to any new laws, but to the blocking of the export of technology of US origin under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), by which the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has delegated its authority to the USPTO over what technology may or may not be exported. Here's the regulation:

(v) Patent and Trademark Office
(PTO). Regulations administered by
PTO provide for the export to a foreign
country of unclassified technology in
the form of a patent application or an
amendment, modification, or supplement
thereto or division thereof (37
CFR part 5). BIS has delegated authority
under the Export Administration
Act to the PTO to approve exports and
reexports of such technology which is
subject to the EAR. Exports and reexports
of such technology not approved
under PTO regulations must comply
with the EAR.

And if that wasn't clear enough, here's what the USPTO said in an official notice:

The USPTO has become aware that a number of law firms or service provider companies located in foreign countries are sending solicitations to U.S. registered patent practitioners offering their services in connection with the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States. Applicants and registered patent practitioners are reminded that the export of subject matter abroad pursuant to a license from the USPTO, such as a foreign filing license, is limited to purposes related to the filing of foreign patent applications. Applicants who are considering exporting subject matter abroad for the preparation of patent applications to be filed in the United States should contact the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at the Department of Commerce for the appropriate clearances.

My (completely un-expert and not to be taken as legal advice)take on this? Patent outsourcing is an industry already worth more than 2 billion USD a year, so it's not going to just disappear overnight. My guess is that this will discourage further outsourcing, but that the outsourcing that is already going on will continue. Too much money has already been invested for it not to. Likewise, so many patents have been filed through outsourcing that it would be grotesque for it to be used as a bar on patentability.

Friday 8 August 2008

China controls weather, predicts future . . .

This post had me chuckling:

Then, at 6.15am, before anything had even happened, we were handed a press release (distributed by the Propaganda Department of Badaling Special Zone Administrative Center.)

"At 6:30 on the morning of August 7th, the Olympic torch motorcade arrived at Badaling Great Wall scenic area. The Great Wall was covered in a holiday-like atmosphere with flags and sounds of gongs everywhere."

The press release went on...

"After the torch-bearer get to the top of the fourth watchtower in the north side and waved the torch at the crowd, 2008 pigeons flew up into the sky, and 2008 balloons were released [...] All the colour-bearers and volunteers were waving their flags and cheering for the completion of the torch relay."

It was slightly curious to read about all of this in the past tense when it hadn't even taken place.

Wednesday 30 July 2008


Check out this video of Navy Day celebrations in the Ukraine-owned Russian-controlled port of Sevastopol. As someone who has always loved the old Soviet videos of weapons being put through their paces (usually with a voice over laden with communist-era jargon) it is great to see the Russians getting back into the swing of things. If, however, you are a fan of world peace and freedom, the idea of such displays of nationalism on the soil of another country is probably going to leave you a little cold, especially given that the Russian lease on the port is due to run out in 2017, and 95% of the population of the port want them to stay despite the Ukrainian government's insistence that they leave.

Friday 25 July 2008

FOARP V. Italy

That's right, the FOARP has now officially declared war on the nation of Italy. For years they have been oppressing me with their beautiful Lollobrigida, their delicious pizza and their boring 0-0 draws, now Antonio Napoli has pushed me too far!

Well, not actually, but for the record:

1) I can't think of any war that Italy has won since Roman times without outside help, if you know better, tell me.

2) Yes, the Italian team does play incredibly overly defensive football in my view, that makes for boring football.

3) The influence that the Mafia has over Italian politics may be exaggerated, but is not imaginary.

History's most 'badassed' history teacher

I have just discovered the history lectures of Yuan Tengfei (袁腾飞), history's most 'badassed' history teacher (h/t to Tang Buxi of Foolsmountain for the translation of '牛') via Danwei. It's well worth taking a look at his archive if you can speak Chinese, if not Danwei has a subtitled version of one of his speeches.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Closing down . . . . .

It looks like envelope-pushing expat mag par excellence The eXile has finally been shut down by the Russian government as a result of an 'editorial audit'. The magazine saw out the reigns of Yeltsin and Putin, only to come-a-cropper in the supposedly more liberal Medvedev era, it seems that the Medvedev government is not going to be as liberal as everyone hoped.

Saturday 24 May 2008

And the 2008 award for wackiest conspiracy theory goes to . . . . .

Whoever made this video explaining how the US caused the Sichuan earthquake by manipulating the ionosphere using the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP). Keep taking the meds boys . .

Monday 19 May 2008

Why an invasion of Burma is impossible

A very interesting piece on the death of liberal interventionism from the Acumulating Periferals Blog. Money Quote:

These kinds of interventions had an extremely mixed record in the ’90s. All were complicated, drawn-out messes. Even the successes, in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor, resulted in countries that are still pretty much basket cases, though they’d be worse off without the interventions. But this model of international action, holding summits, setting deadlines, making coordinated demands, and holding out the vague threat of military action in the background, was a big step forward in establishing an international norm that countries can lose their presumptive sovereignty when they persecute or fail to protect huge numbers of their citizens.


The Iraq War torpedoed that project.

All people who supported the project of creating an international system in which the rulers of a country are no more entitled to infringe the rights of their own citizens than they are to infringe those of neighbouring countries will recognise that this project has been almost totally destroyed in the past five years. This destruction was wrought through hubris, slipshod planning, and above all, a sense of being above the law. And I supported it at the time.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

The Earthquake

7.8 on the Richter scale, an incredibly powerful earthquake, luckily China is perhaps better prepared than other nations of similar size and economic development to cope with this disaster, and the army has, no doubt, already swung into action. I experienced an earthquake that was 6.4 at its epicentre when I lived in Taiwan, but my experience amongst the earthquake-reinforced buildings of Taipei does not even begin to allow me to imagine what it must have been like in the towns and cities of Sichuan.

"There are certain places in the original text which are incompatible with Chinese sensitivities"

A fascinating look into the translation process that foreign books undergo from Paper Republic. Here's a snippet from an interview with the translator of "The Kite Runner":

In China, Political Correctness (政治正确) is the utmost concern. The original text’s description of the Afghan Communist Party could easily bring to mind earlier actions of the Chinese Communist Party. The publishing house feared that if the translation were published unaltered, the authorities might see it as a form of innuendo.

Sunday 11 May 2008

"Foreigners pose risk to stability, says academic"

Setting aside the fact that this could even be a headline in a serious newspaper like the Hong Kong English-language South China Morning Post, this story on the increasing influence of foreign lobbyists (which I read via Victor Shih's excellent China Politics Blog), shows once again the nationalistic tone that the Chinese government is encouraging nowadays. The academic quoted, one Jiang Yong (江涌), director of the Centre for Economic Security Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, went on to say "Under the protection of local government departments, some multinational companies have long ignored the lawful rights of Chinese labourers ... which resulted in the soaring number of mass incidents among their workers,". Now, having worked for an MNC in China I can attest that there is much truth to this, but it is likewise true that Chinese companies behave in (on average) much worse fashion. But I'm going to hold off from making any more comment until I've read through the whole thing properly and made a proper attempt at a translation, which is going to be a few days because I've got exams to worry about at the moment.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Holy S**t!

If you haven't seen this photo of the ash-plume of the Chaiten volcano in Chile being struck by lightning - go take a look. Sometimes Mother Nature just wants to show off, thank God for those times!

The CCP's war on reality continues . . . . .

China's ruler are now attempting to impose their world view on online maps services like Google maps by insisting that they depict China's borders 'correctly', as well as checking to see if locations that the government would rather keep secret can be viewed. No doubt they'll get their way and Google and the others will have to provide a different set of maps for their Chinese users, leading to the inevitable situation where Chinese folk go overseas and suddenly discover that our maps 'lie'.

I am reminded of how up until 2003, Chinese maps still showed Sikkim as an independent state - I had in fact never heard of Sikkim until I saw it on a Chinese map. This grotesque spectacle of a dictatorship insisting on the continued independence of a state which had been voted out of existence by its own people thirty years before was thankfully ended when, in 2003, China finally recognised the annexation of Sikkim by India in an apparent exchange for India's recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China.

The same insistance on controlling reality is displayed in this instance - no doubt in future all un-blocked online maps will show Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin, the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands as being the indisputable parts of China that the Chinese people have always known them to be - with no indication that there is even any conflict as to their ownership. However, re-drawing lines on a map will not make them so.

Monday 5 May 2008

"Should I start worrying now?":

A question I never asked myself during the 2003 SARS crisis until I rolled home from a going away party to find a notice on the door of the Nanjing hotel I was staying telling me (and everyone else in the building) that we had to be out by 10:00am the next day as the hotel was going to be used as a quarantine centre. Up until a few days before this the Chinese government had been trying to prevent a public panic, then first came the news that the May holidays had been cancelled, and then the special checks on travellers and the news that universities were being put under quarantine - but I hadn't taken any of it seriously until seeing the sign on the hotel door.

Now comes today's news that more than 9,700 people have caught hand, foot and mouth disease, an intestinal infection (and thus presumably not airbourne). It appeared at first to be localised - with all the cases appearing in Fuyang in Anhui province, but has now spread to all neighbouring provinces, as well as Guangdong and Beijing. Given the current atmosphere, and the way that rumours spread quickly during the SARS crisis of the disease being a form of biological warfare initiated by the CIA, it seems likely that the foreign population in China will come under further suspicion.

At what point should foreigners start getting worried? So long as you eat in restaurants where a good standard of hygiene is maintained - not yet, but it would be a good idea to keep a weather-eye on the news.

Memories of the labour camp . . . .

Followed a link from the latest War Nerd piece to this utterly fascinating site written by a former Japanese soldier who was captured by the Russians at the end of the second world war. Humorous cartoons interspersed with the sad (but not at all bitter) details of day-to-day life in a Soviet prison camp, definitely worth a hour of anyone's time.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Sport and nationalism

I've been trying over the past month or so to try and fit all of the recent events in London, Paris, China and elsewhere into some kind of framework that makes sense. Having read Chinese and foreign commentators on this subject I felt myself inevitably graduating towards Orwell. Not 1984 mind, although the Chinese news coverage verges on it, but to what the true nature of nationalism is, how it differs from common-or-garden patriotism - if in fact there is any connection between the two at all. Anyway, I found this essay on the Dynamo Moscow visit to Britain in 1945. I had heard about the visit before, but had no idea of the controversy it stirred up - with allegations of cheating and un-sportsmanlike behaviour on both sides:

And how could it be otherwise? I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism—that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

I do not share George Orwell's pessimism about sporting events, but I definitely feel them to be all too true about this year's Olympics.

Monday 28 April 2008

Is your 'Free Tibet' flag made in China?

More evidence that China really does make everything from the BBC Chinese website. It seems that a company situated near Shenzhen has been caught making Tibetan flags for the overseas market, they probably didn't know what they were making because the Tibetan flag is not allowed to be shown on the state media (although it has been evident in recent television footage of the riots).

Is this the end of Chinese civilisation as we know it?

Chas and Dave take on China, who will win? The dynamic duo from the East End of London or the super power of the future?

Losing our way

It seems that every time I look at the news I discover that the United States has done another thing I had thought that reasonable democratic nations do not do. Today: the seeming use of truth serums to extract information from 'terrorist subjects'. My one hope is that the UK has not been involved in any of these acts, and that if it has we will do a much better job of punishing those responsible than the United States has until now.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Tuesday 22 April 2008

EIPIN Windsor: Justin Hughes on China v. the United States in the WTO

The most interesting of last weekend's talk was that given by Prof. Justin Hughes, director of the intellectual property program at Cardozo School of Law, New York, on the ongoing China v. US case in the WTO.

Now, when an old China hand sees the words "China v. US" their mind is suddenly filled with the images of jet-fighters, submarines and missiles swooshing into battle seen on a thousand newspaper and magazine covers on a thousand Chinese newstands, but the real China v. USA is a somewhat more sedate affair. The first of the claims that the US is bringing against China is that there is insufficient protection for trademarks and copyright, this is substantiated by the claims that:

- is not as a matter of course removing seized counterfeit goods from the channels of commerce

- that the fact that copyright is not awarded to works until they have been passed by the censor leaves counterfeiters free to copy those which have not yet been passed

- that the monetary value of counterfeit goods that must be passed before criminal action may be taken are excessively high

The second claim is that China places unecessary restrictions on market access for US companies trying to market products protected by copyright or trademarks, thus encouraging counterfeiters to fill the gap left by the US firms.

As Prof. Hughes pointed out, the Chinese are likely to argue that TRIPS only requires them to make the same effort in enforcing IP laws as they make in other areas of law enforcement - and law enforcement in China is bad generally. Prof. Hughes also noted that it is unlikely that either side will 'win' this case, as WTO cases almost never result in a clear-cut decision in favour of one party, but it is very difficult to see what the result of this case will be as there is little in the way of case law.

I have two observations to make from this. The first is that in future countries should not be afraid of bringing cases soon after the creation of an agreement to test its provisions, in this way when countries whose involvement in the structure o f the agreement is likely to be problematic join it there will be more clarity as to what exactly it is that they are signing up to. The second is that it was unwise of China to sign up to TRIPS as a developed country, and future third-world signatories should also avoid this as they will simply be leaving themselves open to this kind of action.

EIPIN Windsor: Counterfeiting and China - does a bias exist against China in customs enforcement?

Of course, as the subject of last weekend's symposium was counterfeiting the shadow of counterfeiting in China definitely loomed over the proceedings. Time upon time we were reminded that the main source for counterfeit goods entering the UK is China. The figures given by John Taylor, director-general of TAXUD, a European tax and customs body, would appear to speak for themselves: 79% of cases of seizures of counterfeit goods entering the EU and 81% of cases of seizure entering the US are from China.

But how do these figures stand up to close inspection? Mr Taylor did say that 70% of overall articles seized were packs of fake cigarettes seized in the post from China - so the actual value of counterfeit goods received from China may be somewhat less than 79% as postal seizures will be much smaller than container-sized shipments.

Is there a bias towards inspecting cargo coming from China? Whilst it's arguable that customs inspectors target containers coming from China, the way in which many of these containers are so tightly packed that it is often impossible to re-pack them also acts as a disincentive, so it is hard to say whether bias exists.

It should also be mentioned that the seizure process requires inspectors to notify the rights holders who will then come and identify whether the goods are counterfeit or not. It is therefore likely that genuine articles which have been stolen or accidentally dispatched have been declared counterfeit by the rights holders to avoid embarrassment - but it is hard to see how this would create a bias against China.

Most of all, if counterfeiters choose China as a base for their activities, this may well be for the same reason that many manufacturers do - low labour costs, and thus the proportion of counterfeit seizure cases coming from China may be not that much greater than the proportion of genuine articles imported from China - but this is difficult to know.

EIPIN Windsor: Counterfeit scare-mongering which might actually be real

Last weekend was the final of this year's EIPIN (European Intellectual Property Institutes Network) symposiums*, and was held this year in lovely surroundings of the former royal residences at Cumberland Lodge near Runnymede. This time the main emphasis was on criminal enforcement of IP, and the industry folks were out in full force. Here's some snippets from a talk given by John Anderson of the Global Ant-Counterfeiting Group:

- Counterfeiting caused the Paris air disaster

- Counterfeiting supported the 1993 WTC bombings

- Counterfeiting means that toys containing dangerous materials are being imported into the west

- Counterfeiting may be costing the world economy between 500 and 1000 billion US dollars a year

- Counterfeiting is connected to drugs, gun-running, people-trafficking, and pornography

Of course, the criminal enforcement people were right behind this with their own spin on things:

- Counterfeiting and piracy are big problems

- We don't know how big

- We need more resources to find out

- But we're sure they're big problems

Now, it would be very easy to dismiss all this as scare-mongering by industry and law-enforcement lobbyists, but these suppositions should be examined in turn to see which actually hold any water.

Firstly the implication that counterfeiting is funding terrorism. The only instance of an actually internationally recognised terrorist organisation receiving funding from counterfeiting was the IRA, and this only during the period after funding from NORAID and Colonel Gaddafi began to dry up. It should also be noted that the IRA has always straddled the line between organised crime and political insurgency and it should not surprise anyone that this was the case. Whilst it may be true that some of the men involved in the 1993 WTC bombings did work selling counterfeit T-shirts on Canal Street, this is a long way from showing that the bombings were even partly funded by counterfeiting.

On the other hand, the Italian Mafia has long been known to be involved in piracy and counterfeiting, and whereas the IRA might have been a terrorist organisation which was close to being simply a criminal one, the Mafia has not been above using terror to achieve political gains either. The fact that counterfeit goods are often found along with pornography, drugs, guns, and are often touted on the streets by illegal immigrants shows that the main thing which connects all of them is smuggling by criminal gangs. This is not to say that preventing one would prevent the others, but that the success of one may promote the success of the others. At the very least there is something of a connection.

On the matter of counterfeit parts causing accidents, this should not be overly exaggerated. The Concorde crash was caused by an 'unauthorised' component falling off another aircraft and exploding the tyres of the Concorde, puncturing the fuel tank and causing it to explode - but the tyres had exploded many times before. The fact that the part which punctured the tyres was 'unauthorised' may have had absolutely nothing to do with the series of events that caused the accident. On a more general note, though, counterfeit parts do cause accidents, the failure of counterfeit car brake disks being a prime example, and this is a real concern.

That counterfeit products may contain harmful substances should surprise no-one, but as last year's Mattel recalls showed, genuine articles may also contain harmful substances.

Turning to how big this problem might actually be, the one thing that struck me as I listened to the speakers is that there is little in the way of accurate figures to measure this by. Whilst the man from the OECD put the figure as 'up to 200 billion', there is little in the way of solid evidence to base this on and it is the result of much estimation and guess-work. So whilst it may even be as high as the figures that John Anderson gave (some 7% of world trade), it might also be a lot less - and is it really worth spending the money to find out?

At any rate, whilst we may not be in danger of being murdered in our beds by counterfeiters, it is a problem which requires some kind of investment to address it.

* The second-to-last was in Strasbourg - long story short: Europe needs to get its stuff together and setup a real European patent court. Beautiful city by the way.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Fear of a jasmine flower . . .

I spoke on the phone to a very good friend of mine in Shanghai today, asking whether he had heard from a government official aquaintance of ours recently he demured and said simply that he had heard from him, but that "Nearly he first thing he said was 'Everyone knows that Tibet is part of China' - how are you supposed to have a discussion with someone like that? Even if you don't care about Tibet". I had been hoping that the stridently nationalistic tone of some of the headlines in the Chinese press were not actually representative of the views of the wider public, but my friend went on to say that "Most foreigners have given up talking with locals where they might be heard by others about Tibet or Taiwan - anyway, what can you say?".

Now, whenever examining a situation like this you still need to filter out the usual ex-pat paranoia, but the mood of national victimhood and nationalistic resentment seems much more elevated than I can ever remember it being - even compared to that during the anti-Japanese disturbances of 2005. Any western protests, any western boycott, any resolution or speech comdemning recent events in Tibet - none of them will be heard by the ordinary Chinese people as anything but a continuation of western oppression. This is, of course, no reason not to make speeches, pass resolutions or even to boycott events.

Anyway, I had all this in mind when I read this piece by Adam Minter on a performance of Jasmine Flowers (茉莉花) he heard at recent concert -

Like many foreigners in China, I have struggled over the last several weeks to square my affection for this complex country and culture with the painful news that continues to be made in Tibet and West China. I make no excuses for what has happened out West. At the same time, though, I cannot deny that last night’s concert represents, in some small way, the strides made in China over the last thirty (nay, one hundred?) years, as well the issues that are still to be resolved and forgiven. I feel no shame in admitting that I continue to struggle with those contradictions.

Most of the Chinese I have spoken to have expressed the opinion that those who opposed the torch relay and who protest the events in Tibet are doing so out of ignorance and hatred of China. What more can one do to convince people this is not the case?All I can say is that I lived in mainland China for five years as well as living in Taiwan for one year, that I still have friends in China with whom I stay in touch, that I have a great liking for Chinese culture and think the Chinese lifestyle superior to the British in many respects, that I have a love for the Chinese language and many great memories of my time there. That I found the government there oppressive is the reason for my opposition to the CCP - not some imagined hatred of China.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Fear of a 1920's composer . . .

Brilliant comment from Paper Republic's Eric Abrahamsen on seeing a recent Chinese performance of Puccini's Turandot:

Ping, one of the emperor’s three ministers, stands forward to lament, “O China, o China, che or sussulti e trasecoli inquieta” ("O China, O China, now always startled and aghast, restless"), and what comes up on the Chinese subtitle screen? “O World, O World, now always startled and aghast…”

The simple impossibility of allowing any criticism of China has become such a drag on discourse between east and west as to be unbelievable. No doubt by now the whole Carrefour boycott has its own Wikipedia entry. What can one say in such circumstances?

Saturday 12 April 2008

How To Travel Fleming Fashion

Traipsing round tourist attractions is hardly my idea of travel, so if I ever make it over to the land of the rising sun I thoroughly intend to follow the Fleming plan:

“With only three days in Japan, I decided to be totally ruthless,” he wrote. “No politicians, museums, temples, Imperial palaces or tea ceremonies... I wanted to explore Ginza, have the most luxurious Japanese bath, spend an evening with geishas, take a day trip into the country, eat large quantities of raw fish, for which I have a weakness, and ascertain whether saké was truly alcoholic or not.”

The educated view from China

The internet super-soaker fight that is going on right now between those who support and oppose the Beijing olympic games may have lead many to believe that the average Chinese person is one hundred percent committed to Chinese unity and has no doubts as the righteousness of the cause. In reality I found that this kind of certainty is something that you only really find amoungst people of university-going age and of limited real-life experience, but that others are equally committed to Chinese unity but with a more nuanced outlook on the situation. This piece by regular Taipei Times columnist Richard Halloran reflects this complexity, money quote:

The editor of a Chinese trade magazine sipped her tea one afternoon several years ago in a Shanghai tea shop and said: “I think Taiwan should be part of China, but I don’t think it’s worth fighting over.” She went on: “But if we give up Taiwan, then Tibet will try to break away and we will have separatists among the Uighurs in western China and among the Mongols in Inner Mongolia and the Koreans in Manchuria.”

She lamented: “If we let them all go, what will happen to my country?”

Friday 11 April 2008

Balanced and fair reportage from the China Daily

Tired of the western media deceiving you with its lying ways? How's about some real-to-god truth for a change! Here's the China Daily explaining why example people in the west should be ashamed for celebrating the work of Leni Riefenstahl - obviously the exposition of her work can only be because we westerners approve of it. Don't like that? How about learning about how Paris literally slapped itself in the face last monday. Hear the words of truth:

We Chinese translate France into "fa guo", which literally means a country that honors the rule of law. The translation itself shows Chinese respect for that country. However, from the joy of headline stories, the editors, reporters and lawmakers who are educated by the French civilization suddenly lost ability to tell right from wrong, and chose adamantly to side with the law-breakers and the criminals.

Of course, some would say that the fa in fa guo (法国) is just a shortening of fa lan xi (法兰西),the Chinese transliteration of France - similarly 英 being from 英格兰, 美 being from 美利加, 德 being from 德意志 and so on - but those are people brainwashed by western media bias.

It's a pity that people in the west don't get the real story, here is the China Daily bravely telling us first that theocracy has lost its roots in Tibet, and then how the people in Tibet are all following the Dalai lama - makes perfect sense doesn't it?

Why don't western writers show the kind of brilliant logic which allows columnist Li Xing to start an opinion piece with this . . .

There is no way we can liken the singing competition on China Central Television to Fox TV's popular American Idol show.

. . . and finish it with this . . .

It is futile for some people in the West to try to break the close bonds between the multi-ethnic groups in China.

And whilst western newspapers waste column inches on subjects like the sub-prime motagage problem, the Iraq war, the democratic convention, global warming, global food shortages and other meaningless topics, you can always trust the China Daily to give pride of place on its front page to a fascinating piece of investigative journalism like this:

Hu has close look at Hainan farms

Before attending the annual meeting of the Boao Forum for Asia, which opens tomorrow in the southern province of Hainan, President Hu Jintao inspected farms of the Li ethnic group in the island's southernmost region early this week and got to know the concerns of villagers firsthand.

Hu inquired about farmers' lives and learned from them the difficulties they faced.

Huang Zhengguang, a farmer who has been growing cowpea and other high-yield vegetables in the Ledong Li ethnic autonomous county, told the president of his worries.

"Fertilizer prices have gone up rapidly and it is not easy to buy diesel in the market," Huang said.

"I understand your concerns," Hu said. "The government will solve your difficulties soon."

See? The news you want when you want it!

Monday 7 April 2008

And the response . . . . .

I had feared that the attempts at torch grabbing and scuffling with police might have sullied the protests in the eyes of the British public, but it seems that the reaction has been fairly positive. Meantime the Chinese have responded in predictable fashion, arguing that it was a small minority of people following 'Tibet independence forces'. I would say that from the look of the Chinese flag weilding, armbanded fen qing-type 'security' that the Chinese embassy had arranged to accompany the flag that the real foreign-influenced prescence was not the people who objected their streets being used for a CCP PR stunt. The scandal surrounding the blue-suited Chinese toughs accompanying the flag has hardly been good publicity for the Chinese government either.

Sunday 6 April 2008

What East Enders think of the Chinese government

I attended a demonstration for the first time today, luckily I didn't have to go far as it was taking place on the street right outside where I live. Yes, the vast PR exercise for an autocracy that is the Beijing olympic torch relay reached London today, with its route through the city taking it along the Mile End Road. The protests were largely peaceful, although the odd egg was thrown, but the people of London definitely got their point across. If the organisers of the games had hoped for good headlines from this stunt, those hopes were most definitely dashed today - and quite right too!

Tuesday 1 April 2008

The Chinese sense of humour

Saw this mock-up of a copy of the People's Daily overseas edition on the Yahoo! China Rises blog.

Seems that due to a wormhole forming in space/time an edition of this newspaper leaked into our dimension from a world in which China can test nuclear weapons in San Francisco, shoot and kill the Dalai Lama, bomb the Pentagon and build 'patriotic military bases' on the moon. It is also a world where Chinese basketball star Yao Ming can lead the Houston Rockets to the championship, one where Wen Jia Bao can visit Taiwanese provincial governor Ma Yingjiu (no doubt crossing the Taiwan Strait bridge pictured in the corner on his way there), a world where China has an aircraft carrier, and where the department of education rejects formalism and cancels all degree-level courses in Chinese universities. It is the world that exists in the head of the average Chinese university fen qing, and will never exist anywhere else.

Monday 31 March 2008

Snapshot of the motherland

From a piece in today's Times on the decline of TV chef Delia Smith's cookery:

The most upsetting aspect of the ongoing Delia-ruination, however, is that - much like Christ before her - she is actually being punished for the greater crimes of mankind. Let's face it, as a nation, we are eating far worse than Delia's tinned-mince-and-frozen-mash shepherd's pie. Infinitesimally worse. Almost unfathomably worse. Britain exists on a diet of garlic bread, Space Raider crisps and banana Nesquik. However, we seem to believe that if we eat Greggs's cheese'n'onion slices but watch Jamie throw together a mackerel and endive salad, we are, somehow, nutritionally elevated above rats. This is a belief that echoes the childhood theories of my friend John, who believed that, if he ate an apple after he ate a Big Mac, the fruit would, somehow, “soak up” the fat.

"garlic bread, Space Raider crisps and banana Nesquik" - what's wrong with that?

Friday 28 March 2008

Don't be so BBC

I was reading down a comments page on the now unblocked BBC Chinese website when I came across a commenter using the phrase "不要那么BBC" ("Don't be so BBC"). I had no idea what was meant by this until it came to me whilst reading this article from today's Times entitled "How I became the most hated woman in China". Noting that western media has become synonymous with deception in China since the Tibetan riots, she went on to say:

The American television station CNN has come in for particular opprobrium. Indeed a university student has set up a special website,, devoted to showcasing misleading or incorrect use of photos. The Times features here too for an allegedly misleading photo caption. And a new phrase – "Don't be too CNN" – has entered the Chinese vocabulary to mean "don't ignore the truth."

That the BBC, which was once heralded by Tiananmen square demonstrators carrying placards saying "Thank you BBC", now carries the same meaning in the minds of some young Chinese as "lies", is a measure of hold that communist propaganda has over the thoughts of the Chinese population. Although the vast majority of Chinese (or at least the ones I have spoken to) do not have this point of view, it must be admitted that there is now a portion of the Chinese population now reaching adulthood who simply hate the west, and everything it stands for. These, the so-called "FQs", short for Fen Qing - "愤青", which in turn is short for "愤怒青年", or "angry youth", are in every way the modern-day counterparts to Mao's Red Guards. We saw during the anti-Japanese riots how the government were able to control the flow of violence from the demonstrators in the same way you control the flow of water from a tap. No doubt that was not the last time that we will see such demonstrations.

Friday 22 February 2008

Is Innovation Over-Valued?

Much has been written recently about whether the Chinese are, or ever will be as innovative as western countries. Whilst I agree that China's education system does not emphasise individual thinking or the development of problem-solving skills, I think the main part of the problem lies in corruption in research institutes and an over-emphasis on trying to catch up with the west via reverse engineering rather than trying to set their own paradigms.

My own experience of Chinese R&D is that joint ventures established with universities (such as the one that Foxconn established at Qinghua university) do produce useful research. However, even the top research institutes suffer from professors embezelling research funds to subsidise their relatively meager salaries, and then faking or plagiarising their results.

One question that hasn't been asked, though, is "How much is innovation actually worth?". One finds that, at least in industry, the vast majority of inventions are fairly minor improvements over previous designs which have been developed by engineers working to set problem-solving schedules. Reverse engineering is a valid way of catching up with competitors, as can be seen from Microsoft excusing their refusal to licence IP on the grounds that its competitors could find out the information they needed by reverse engineering and decompiling Microsoft products.

Other countries such as Japan and Korea which have, in the past, been equally accused of lacking innovation have not suffered noticeably grave effects from it. In fact, they have perfected the incremental approach, creating high-quality products which the whole world enjoys. Economies ethnically and linguistically linked to China like Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have also done fairly well. One of the first sights which met my eyes stepping off the plane at CKS airport (as it was then) on my very first time in the far east was a large advert touting Taiwan's 'Innovalue', a concept which sums up the Taiwanese experience for me.

It is also worth mentioning that few countries have come out with as many brilliant inventions as the UK did in the years between the start of the first world war and the end of the second, but this did not translate into a brilliant advantage for the British economy. Instead, it was those countries which were best at perfecting inventions and mass-producing them that reaped the real benefits. If you ask the average Chinese person which country invented the television, the computer, and the jet engine they would most likely say America, an answer which is at best only half right. Innovation has its value, but you have to be able to turn that into a saleable product to gain the reward which comes from innovation. Can China do this? I would say that all the evidence so far says yes.

Thursday 21 February 2008

The Father Of Hanyu Pinyin . . .

. . . now we know who to blame!

Pretty much every time I run into a certain Taiwan-based journalist friend of mine we argue as to which pinyin is the best, but it has to be said that even coming up with a fairly meaningful system is acheivement enough - see the Wade-Giles system if you want something which makes no sense whatsoever. Of course, what the above video doesn't show is that pinyin was developed mainly from the system used in the Soviet Union to transcribe Cyrillic script into the Roman alphabet, most of the work had already been done for Zhao You Guang, all he did was apply a similar system to Chinese.

Monday 18 February 2008

Random QMIPRI fact

A second life avatar uses as much electricity as the average Brazilian citizen -

Which means, of course, that a real Chinese person uses less energy than a fake 2nd life person.

At which point you start to wonder if the world has gone mad.

Friday 1 February 2008

Hu Jia charged

Aids campaigner and 'prisoner of freedom city' Hu Jia, having been arrested in his own home at the end of last year, now faces charges of 'stiring up subversion against the government', a meaningless and utterly odious claim against a man who has commited no real crime. Hu had already been kept under house arrest for some months last year, but internet access allowed them to get their stories out. Hu was then arrested at the end of last year without specific charge, and his wife and new-born daughter were held under house arrest also. Now there is no way of knowing his current state, but at the very least the government will try to keep him from public view until after the olympics. There is also the distinct possibility that he will be tortured as other human rights protestors arrested under similar circumstances have been. There is nothing I can say but that it is in this kind of action that the Chinese government shows its true face. Later this year tens of thousands of tourists, journalists and sports fans will pour into Beijing, I hope that at least some of them will take the time to understand the true evil of the Chinese communist party. For myself, I want nothing to do with the olympics, and I am glad to see that at least some of the great and good agree with me.

Thursday 31 January 2008

Copyright and Libraries

Interesting comparison from a Times columnist, money quote:

"Here is a thought experiment worth considering the next time that there is ill-considered talk about tightening copyright law. Battered and not properly loved, the public library is an outrageous attempt to encourage its infringement. These are taxpayer-funded institutions that buy books in large numbers and encourage people to share them, thereby denying repeat sales to book publishers who are fighting to deliver growth in a market that can be described as mature."

Cross my palm with silver . . . .

A Hollywood writer unloads:


Japanzine does a 'best of' for their long-running agony-uncle Kazuhide: prease to looking!

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Random Facts On Wikipedia

Britain has more university graduates than any other country in the EU, the USA still has more graduates than China, and Russia has more graduates than Britain, France and Germany combined.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Sign Of The Times . . .

The US now has more choreographers than metal-casters,. Meanwhile, Chinese automobile manufacturing passed the eight million mark last year.

The Real Facts About The Sino-blogosphere

This post over at Mylaowai's blog amazed me. I meet a lot of people who've been to China (i.e., stayed in a hotel in Beijing for a week) and when asked what they thought about the political situation say things like 'nothing can stop the liberating power of the internet' and 'dictatorship cannot survive in the modern age' - well yes it can folks. I guess the first time I realised this was when I read this front cover China Daily piece (yeah, I used to read that rag, but it was soft, strong, and very absorbing let me tell you):

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei yesterday to oppose moves toward independence in the island province.

Defying the hot weather, throngs of people held banners declaring their opposition to moves to change the island's "official name" from the "Republic of China" to "Taiwan" - a move supported by former "president" Lee Teng-hui.

The demonstration, which was joined by around 1,000 taxis and private cars, was also in response to a protest held by pro-independence forces at the weekend.

Banners displayed by marchers on the orderly and good natured anti-independence demonstration, which was joined by many passers-by, read: "Against Taiwan Independence", "I am Taiwanese and Chinese as well" and "Direct links for transport, post and trade between Taiwan and the mainland will lead Taiwan to prosperity".

Other marchers sent a very simple but clear message to those seeking to split Taiwan from its motherland, displaying the word "Chinese" on their T-shirts.

Responding to the pro-independence demonstration in Taipei on Saturday, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs' Office in Beijing dismissed the concept of "Taiwan independence".

The spokesman said the demonstration is one of the steps being taken by Taiwan pro-independence forces seeking the "gradual independence of Taiwan".

The demonstration, a move which intends to separate Taiwan from China, goes against the majority of Taiwan people's desire for peace, stability and development, said the spokesman.

"It has seriously damaged cross-Straits relations and gone against the primary interests of Taiwan people," he said.

"We believe that Taiwan compatriots will make a distinction between right and wrong and oppose pro-independence activities in any form," he added.

There are no forces that can prevent the final reunification of China, he noted.

"The so-called name-change that Lee Teng-hui called for was to separate Taiwan from China. But China will never break up," an angry demonstrator at the anti-independence demonstration was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Ninety-two-year-old Xu Yue-li told Xinhua that she loves China and recognizes herself as Chinese.

"China is my mother and I firmly oppose the name change," she said.

The picture that accompanied the story, I hope the extras
they used were well paid.

Now, up until this point i had been telling myself that, like a lot of papers in the west, CD was just cherry picking the stories that matched with their position and not including those that disagreed with it, but this was a clear example of them making stuff up. I emailed a friend of mine who had covered the Taipei demos for Taiwan News newspaper and he sent me an email listing the following facts:

1) There had been a demonstration that day, but it had been a pro-independence one

2) The counter-demonstration organised by the KMT had had only a few hundred people at it, most of them old party members who still believe the old "We're going to liberate the mainland" line

3) The CD piece was therefore total bollocks and the details listed in it had been made up

From that moment on I started to view CD not as a source of (however biased) information, but as a kind of infotainment amusing only for the extravagance of the lies that they thought they could get away with. After reading Mylaowai's piece I'm going to extend the same view to the (unblocked) Chinese blogosphere as well.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name . . .

Leo Lewis totally nails the fin de siecle excess of expat boozing in this brilliant piece. Does the recent market crash mark the end of such revelry? Almost certainly not, but it might mark the point when the pinnacle of such partying changes from Roppongi to the Bund.

Saturday 26 January 2008


An incredibly bile-filled report on life in the US dependent territory of Saipan, I have no way of knowing how much of this is true, but it makes for interesting reading all the same. The sweat-shop conditions for Asian imigrant labourers are not news to me, the various misdeeds of certain section of the male US mainland immigrant population are standard for the poorer parts of Asia (although the Hillblom case still shocked), the high level of corruption was quite surprising:

That candidate, late in the 2001 election, was shown to have paid a prospective voter $550 by check drawn on his campaign organization. A photocopy of the check was published in one of the two Saipan newspapers – not the one owned by his sponsor and former employer. The candidate's spokesman answered the charges. Unable to deny the allegations of vote-buying, the spokesman defended the practice – claiming the payments were an "accommodation" and that such payments are made out of the kindness of the candidate's heart. They represent "the island way." (He actually said that. You can't make this stuff up.) At least one other payment was disclosed later, also drawn on the candidate's campaign organization and similarly defended. Vote-buying, therefore, is openly argued to constitute acceptable conduct. And where did this candidate's money to buy votes come from? From the garment interests, of course. Because garment workers are paid nearly slave wages, the factory owners are able to amass enormous capital both to pay off United States Congressmen to maintain the CNMI's political status quo and to buy votes for their local candidate.

Bronowski: 100 Years

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacob Bronowski, as a student I took a science/philosophy class in which his masterpiece, 'The Ascent Of Man', featured largely. This piece has always stayed with me:

Is what we call logical thinking learned?

The number one rant that a lot of expats have about their Chinese collegues is that they seem to operate according to a different kind of logic. Well, according to this very interesting Colbert Report interview with Malcolm Gladwell, maybe they do.

Government Singapore-style?

Read an interesting piece in the Taipei Times this morning comparing the politics and economies of Singapore and Taiwan. I was struck by how both of these places represent in their own way a possible path for development for other Asian countries, especially mainland China.

Will China develop into a one-party state with all the trappings of democracy - the kind of state that Timothy Garton-Ash described as a 'demokratura' (democracy + Soviet-style nomenklatura)? Or will it follow the Taiwanese path and become a far freer state with a developed economy, but without the political and ethnic unity which Singapore enjoys - at least on the surface.

There is also Hong Kong, political unstable due to broken promises on the part of the central government, but with economic growth and power which is still a striking contrast to anyone who visits from the developed world, let alone from mainland China.

The things which can be found in all of these places are high levels of materialism (Singapore's Five C's being perhaps the most famous example), high levels of growth (at least by western standards) and a yearning (at least within 30% of the population) for strong, even dictatorial, leadership.

Of course, China is large enough to contain all of these models and more in one single (tolerably) unitary state, and probably will do.

Friday 25 January 2008

Sexy Thai Air Hostesses In Cat Fight

Figure that should get the search engines buzzing, here it is gratis the Russian state news RIAN Novosti website

Want ice with that?

Man, I have got to go to this bar!

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Herschel Smith Lecture: Moral Rights

The FOARP attended a lecture the other day given by a visiting Canadian professor on the question of moral rights in copyrighted works - my impression? At least in the UK the issues surrounding moral rights are something that sounds alright but are actually worth very little, as the small amount of case law that it has produced shows. I guess it keeps the academics on their toes, and in less business-oriented jurisdictions (like France) might get people quite exercised, but that's what the English Channel is there for!

Prisoners in Freedom City

Should anyone be in any doubt as to the nature of the Chinese government, should anyone think that the fact that communist economic policy has been abandoned in China means that the tools of communist oppression have been thrown aside as well, please watch this video:

Friday 18 January 2008

James Fallows on China's $1.58 trillion dollar question

As someone to whom the whole currency issue has always been somewhat obscure, I can't recommend enough James Fallows' latest article in The Atlantic. In his article, Fallows shows that the biggest question in US-China relations is not that of getting China to adjust the value of its currency, but that of China's ever growing dollar reserves (now valued at 1.58 trillion US dollars) and the use to which they are put.

Quite simply, it seems strange in the extreme for a country which has difficulty in feeding and clothing its own people to be investing more than a billion US dollars per day in the United States. The money for these investments is skimmed from the profits made by exporters to the United States and other countries that deal in dollars by forcing the banks in which US dollars are exchanged for RMB to sell the dollars made from such exchanges to the central bank. This money is then invested in various US assets, creating a cycle whereby dollars paid for Chinese imports are shipped back to the US to be invested in American treasury bonds, shares in US companies etc.

Trade deficit wingnuts should take note: far from representing a great transfer of wealth across the Pacific to China which will somehow eventually leave the US bankrupt, trade with China creates a cycle whereby Chinese buy an ever-growing stake in the US economy with the very money that people in the US pay for those cheap Chinese imports. Running a trade deficit with another country cannot result in the country becoming bankrupt as it is impossible for a country to go bankrupt (foreigners require payment for the goods they export to the US, I guess they're funny like that), but it is possible for a large part of that country to become subject to at least a modicum of foreign control.

However, the day is fast approaching when people in China will realise that they are seeing only part of the money made from exports and will demand a greater share, or at least that not so much money is invested in country which the majority of Chinese people view with the darkest suspicion. Of course, there are sound economic reasons for the government to want to keep this money out of the Chinese economy, avoiding run-away inflation perhaps being the most important, but the pressure to diversify away from a weakening dollar may not long be resisted. In fact, as Fallows seems to note, there is a definite danger that both countries may loose out by delaying too long in re-adjusting their relationship: China in that it will become impossible to diversify away from the US without overly harming its investment there, the US in that as this cycle continues an increasing stake in the country's future will pass out of its hands. In fact a growing wariness on the part of the Chinese towards increasing their exposure to the US market is beginning to assert itself, as a recent piece on the Chinapolitics blog shows, money quote:

Well, well, just months after the completion of Citibank's acquisition of Guangdong Development Bank, the table has turned, and Citi is going to the Chinese begging for money. Once again, the State Council squashed the deal, further confirming our suspicion that deals above 1 billion USD (and possibly less) needs State Council approval. Well, are we surprised? No, not really. The reason is many. The most important perhaps is that Wen realized that such an acquisition would expose China too much to the badly damaged US financial sector.

Thursday 17 January 2008

Just incredible

No one should automatically take the often out-rageous examples of piracy in China that are reported in the media as indicative of the way the average Chinese business conducts itself, but sometimes you come across examples which are simply way too much. Here's a report from a recent edition of Time that simply takes the biscuit, money quote:

"In 2003 Timothy Demarais, vice president of the South Bend, Indiana-based industrial adhesive manufacturer, says he walked into the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou, China, and found that his company's product line — and his company's identity itself — had been knocked off by a Chinese firm called Hunan Magic Power, also known as Magpow. When Demarais attempted to have the imposter kicked out, he says, Hunan Magic Power chairman Yuan Hongwei produced documentation that he claimed showed his company had the right to use the trademark ABRO. He had even copied ABRO's labeling, including one sample card with a photo of a woman applying epoxy to a bicycle. The woman, it turned out, was Demarais' wife. After Demarais pulled out another photo of his wife from his wallet, the trade fair officials booted Hunan Magic Power. "How blatant can you be when you steal my wife's picture for your card?" asks Demarais."

Of course, there's been the usual mindless appeal to Chinese patriotism, after jumping bail in London and fleeing back to China, Yuan Hongwei made this statement:

"I most want to say thank you to all levels of the motherland's government and the people for the loving concern, help and support you gave me during my period of misfortune in London,"

On Chinese blogs, ABRO is increasingly being labeled the villain in the saga, and the company's Chinese attorneys have been called traitors. "Thanks to America and Britain, and with the help from the traitors, Chinese people were left in the dark and really thought Magic Power and Yuan Hongwei violated the law," reads one posting.

Another thing which stands out clearly from this case is that the (at least public) support that the foreign rights-holders received from central government counts for nothing if the local government is not on board also:

"The Chinese legal system has been very supportive of our case," Baranay says. "We've been tarred and feathered, but we're not going to abandon China. We sell in China and we manufacture some of our products in China." But despite government support at the national level, Baranay says local authorities in Yuan's home of Hunan haven't gone after him. "Good gracious, he employs people, he pays taxes — that's a powerful incentive to local people to turn a blind eye."