China Reacts to Policeman’s Use of Pepper Spray

By now, nearly everyone in the world has seen the image of UC Davis policeman Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying a group of peaceful, Occupy Wall Street protesters. (If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen the video, it’s here.) The incident breathed new life into the Occupy movement, raised questions about the militarization of campus police, and damaged America’s image abroad.

The casual recklessness of Lt. Pike’s actions and the early dismissiveness of campus police (UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza saying, “The students had encircled the officers. They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”) painted an ugly picture of peaceful protest in America.

Without a hint of irony, the Chinese government has embraced the incident, covering Lt. Pike’s actions online, in newspapers, and on CCTV. Even though the Chinese government regularly suppresses online videos of domestic police brutality, they weren’t shy even about posting satirical images of the UC Davis incident on the People’s Daily, the government’s primary newspaper.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The notion that police in the U.S. would respond in such a way to a peaceful protest has proven disappointing to many in China, with one blogger warning: ‘Don’t entertain any illusions about the United States – if we want to change the current situation, we have to rely on ourselves.'” One reader from Hong Kong wrote to James Fallows calling the policeman’s actions “a huge gift to the Chinese government”: Continue reading

Chinese Health and the Consumption Curse

Official estimates put China’s life expectancy at around 75 years, placing it 96th in the world. On first glance, that ranking seems incredibly low.

After all, the vast majority of Chinese look fit and healthy. For those who have spent the vast majority of their lives in the Western world, where obesity is clearly visible, the contrast is clear. The difference must be put down to the fact that most Chinese lead remarkably active lives. The average local walks or bikes great distances every day – on the way to work or school, while doing the daily errands, and when relaxing with family. Public parks are always packed with people engaged in some form of exercise. Outdoor gymnasiums abound. With so many good habits, life expectancy should continue to increase as the economy grows, right?

Theoretically, yes, but in reality, that trend seems to be reversing.

There is, of course, the pollution problem. In big metropolises like Beijing, a haze perpetually lurks over the cityscape. Only a good solid rain can bring blue skies, and the particulate reading regularly surpasses 450 (bear in mind that anything over 150 is considered unsafe).  On such days, stepping outside feels like entering a sauna filled with smoke instead of steam. Food, children’s toys, and other common household items have also been affected – and are doing their part to pass along the harm.

Pollution problems are further compounded by China’s smoking addiction, which shows no sign of abating. According to the WHO, over half of Chinese men over the age of 15 are smokers. One third of China’s teenage boys have already picked up the habit. Though women have traditionally been non-smokers in China – the overall smoking rate stands at only 2.4% – the prevalence of smoking among teenage girls stands at an all time high of 8%. On top of all this, Chinese society has yet to twig on to smoking’s harmful effects; in fact, according to one WHO survey, less than a quarter of the Chinese populace believes smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. It’s no wonder the percentage of Chinese doctors that smoke – 60% – is the highest in the world.

Of course, we must remember that the Chinese government itself, through the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, controls the entire cigarette market. On a yearly basis, it produces in excess of 2.3 trillion cigarettes. Officials aren’t in any rush to crack down anytime soon.

And then there is the new and shocking problem of obesity.

Continue reading

China’s youth: Too busy to date

Finding a husband or wife in modern China–for college students or recent graduates working 12-hour days, 6 days a week–can be a daunting prospect. As one mother of a recent college graduate recently confessed to me, “My son has no time to find a girlfriend. He works too hard. The pressure is too much.” And Chinese parents are coming to the rescue.

Something about this potential match didn't sit well with this Chinese dad

Chinese parents play matchmaker at local parks, hanging signs around their necks detailing their child’s characteristics: education, job, etc. And, as you can see in this photo essay at China Daily, they show their potential in-laws photos.

But 20-somethings are on the lookout too. At a recent speed-dating event in Shanghai, tens of thousands of young singles came looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend. The percentage of singles in downtown Shanghai is rising, and the recent “Singles Day” holiday–the 11th of November, or 11/11–was a particularly auspicious time to test out one, two, or dozens of potential mates.

And the pressure to find a partner is particularly stark for Chinese men. Because of China’s one-child policy and the traditional preference for boys–which resulted in abortions of female fetuses and the abandonment of baby girls–some 30-50 million men will be without a wife in 20 years. To compete, Chinese men need to buy an apartment–a tall order in the highly-inflated Chinese housing market. Continue reading

(Trying to) Talk Politics with Chinese High School Students

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend “Political Education” class at a Beijing high school. It was certainly an experience.

On my way over, I chatted with a twenty-something Chinese language instructor from Minzu University. She was less than thrilled with the prospect of the class. ‘It’s not political education,’ she told me, ‘it’s brainwashing.’ When I pressed her on the comment, she explained that not much has changed since she was a high schooler. Then as now, political education classes contain no diversity of opinion and few facts. There is always one ‘right’ answer, the one that comes straight from the textbook. I suppose this is the same ideology that drives the “Socialist Theory” schools of higher education sprinkled throughout every Chinese city. As I’ve been told, students there engage in deep study of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and such. When they graduate, they are bestowed government jobs and given the task of ensuring current policies adhere to doctrine.

Hannah Hindel / Contributing Photographer.

As it turned out, class wasn’t too different from how the young woman had billed it. After a customary “Hello Teacher!” from the class, the roughly sixty year old instructor launched right in to the proper course of entering socialism. His first slide pictured the side by side tracks of the USSR and the PRC and how, according to theory, once a nation entered the advanced state that the USSR did in the 1960’s, a cross over to China’s then-immature form of socialist integration was impossible. All very standard stuff. Continue reading

Three Days, One Test, and Your Future

‘Oh no, not the 高考 (Gao Kao)’ is the typical response of Chinese students to the national testing system. The test, which single-handedly determines university admission, is feared to the point of causing test-takers to faint mid-exam. It encompasses 9 mandatory subjects from Chinese to Physics to Political Education. Testing occurs over three days every June, during which time some 10 million students compete for 6.6 million spots and the corresponding places in the higher levels of society. Students have been known to cheat, fake identities, and in the case of very extreme pressure, even commit suicide. Among China’s youth, June is now known as “black month.”

Understandably, the testing system has received criticism from all sides. Even the Chinese government bemoans the type of student that the gaokao produces: an excellent test-taker with underdeveloped of creativity or reasoning abilities. This past June, 45 students at the South University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen wrote an open letter on the internet refusing to take the test and followed through with their intentions. Fortunately, they had already been admitted to the one-of-a-kind university on the basis of other qualities. Other students aren’t so lucky. Continue reading

Chinese Students Have Trouble Adjusting to America

This week we’re looking at the Chinese education system and its effect on China’s youth. One way we might better understand China’s education system is to look at the difficulties experienced by Chinese students studying in the United States. Over one-fifth of all foreign students studying in the U.S. come from China. That’s about 160,000 Chinese students in total last year, according to a report by the Institute of International Education.

Over at China Power blog, Jiang Xueqin suggests that students’ experiences in the United States aren’t necessarily positive. He offers a few anecdotal stories of Chinese students being treated unfairly by professors and feeling unwelcome. Jiang ties these experiences to a larger obstacle pushing our two countries apart: Americans’ anxiety over China’s rise:

Cross-cultural tensions on the American campus may…increase because the problem isn’t Chinese students who can’t speak English – it’s fundamentally a clash of civilizations. Chinese and Americans have fundamentally different values, norms, and worldviews, and Chinese students on U.S. campuses is merely the first front of the inevitable struggle between the hegemon and its challenger.

Kevin Slaten disagrees. “This “hegemonic anxiety complex” simply doesn’t exist in the mind of the majority of American students.” Instead, “the real reasons for Chinese students’ struggles are more nuanced.” Slaten describes the barriers of language, academic practices, and social behaviors that separate our two cultures:

Classrooms in U.S. universities are operated much differently from those of Chinese high schools – and even Chinese universities. In the United States, discussion-based classes are the norm, and Continue reading

Photo Break: Chinese High-Schoolers

A while back, one of my favorite blogs published a photo series of Chinese high-schoolers, giving us a glimpse into their everyday lives–studying, relaxing, exercising, and studying again. The entire series is available here.

One of the most striking features of the Chinese education system–seen in the photo series–is the tremendous pressure put on students. It’s unlike anything seen in the United States. For two years, students prepare for the national college entrance exam–the gāokǎo–which almost single-handedly determines which college they can attend and therefore their socioeconomic futures. For students from poor families, the gāokǎo is the one chance to break into China’s middle class or escape the countryside and create a future in the city.

Later this week we’ll be visiting a Chinese high school and asking students about the gāokǎo and their hopes for college and their careers. And this Wednesday, Rory Marsh will be reporting about efforts to reform the gāokǎo. Stay tuned. In the meantime, click the image above to see other images from Ministry of Tofu.