Over the past couple of years, there has been a trend towards more heavy-handed censoring in China, particularly for content that strongly represents Western ideals and culture. Each year, as China’s population becomes more global, online, educated and well-travelled, its censors battle harder to keep China ‘pure’ and free from the evils of sex, drugs and civil rights that have polluted the West.
While China’s censoring of the Internet is well documented, rules require everything from mainstream advertising to TV soaps to get the big State tick before being aired in the Mainland. “The Empress of China” – its biggest-budget soap ever made following China’s only female emperor during the Tang Dynasty, was abruptly pulled after its release in late-December 2014. After a few days the show returned with cleavage shots strategically removed from the lead actress, Fan Bingbing. It happened at a similar time to announcements that the Shanghai Auto Show was likely to ban racy models.
China has been investing large sums into Africa to take advantage of the continent’s vast natural resources and build diplomacy. In 2012 alone, China dropped $27.7 billion between Cairo and Capetown and is showing no signs of slowing down. But even with China bringing all sorts of new infrastructure, mobile networks, sports stadiums and more productive farming to the continent, one country that isn’t looking too fondly on the Middle Kingdom is Egypt.
Egypt’s tourism industry, which accounts for 40% of the country’s non-commodity exports and is one its main employers, stands to benefit significantly from the rise of Chinese outbound tourism. With 200 million Chinese expected to travel abroad in 2017, once Egypt settles a little, big-spending Chinese tourists will come flooding in. So it is in Egypt’s best interests to keep China on side, but a couple of recent incidents by Chinese nationals will certainly be testing their patience.
On the long flight back from China to New Zealand recently, one of the films I watched was Elysium. The sci-fi thriller probably won’t make my top-10 list, but some of the content felt disturbingly close to home.
Although earth in Elysium was depicted as a polluted and overpopulated Los Angeles in 2154, it had elements of the way China is going right now, as the air and water pollution seem to be getting worse every year. The luxurious space habitat that the earthlings wanted to escape to, reminded me a little bit of New Zealand – although with slightly better looking inhabitants and a far superior health system.
A recent McKinsey poll in China, found air and water pollution to be Chinese consumers’ fastest growing concerns – 11% and 7% up on last year – and the forth and fifth biggest concerns overall. Interestingly, the concerns were confirmed by a recent report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, claiming that Beijing was almost uninhabitable for human beings due to the pollution. Whether or not these claims are ‘exaggerated‘, as reported by Chinese state media, the pollution appears to be getting even worse, not better, based on both official reports and my personal experiences, particularly in Shanghai.
One of the most fascinating things about living in China over the past few years has been observing how the Internet is changing everything from shopping, to communication, to the way Chinese people think.
For generations, Chinese were heavily influenced by what the Government said in their state-controlled media, determining what is shown on television, the newspapers, radio, books and almost everything in China. It was an incredibly powerful channel to spread the propaganda, and in a way, helped control what 1.3 billion Chinese thought and felt, contributing to much of China’s swift rise into the economic powerhouse it is today.
A few years ago, things started to change. Soaring Internet and social media connections reached critical mass. Whereas the Government controlled virtually all of the country’s mass-communication channels before, the Internet finally gave the average Zhou a voice, and they took full advantage of it.
Most people have heard of Shanghai and Beijing, but I bet there’d be very few Westerners who could name 50% of the 113 cities with more people than San Francisco’s metro area. Every month in China, there is a city the size of Brisbane added to the landscape. On the Yangtze River alone, 18 cities have more people than New Zealand.
What’s remarkable, is the number of China’s mega-cities that most people have never heard of. Consumers in those cities are becoming increasingly wealthy, and their tastes are going to increasingly influence the whole world. To bring some perspective to the scale of China’s cities, my marketing and research agency, China Skinny, has created a simple tool, The City-Nator, where you can enter your city, or a population over 1 million and see how many Chinese cities have more people. It’s quite fun, try it out at chinaskinny.com/tools/city-nator.
Below is a little infograph to warm up…
See how your city compares to Chinese cities, try out the City-Nator
It’s one of my favourite things about living in China – the constant contrasts at every turn. There’s the well known scenes: snot-green Lamborghinis zipping past peasants dragging stacks of wood, ultra-modern skyscrapers acting as a backdrop to crumbling lane houses where multiple families share a tap.
In the sky there is heaven, on earth there is Hangzhou, so the old Chinese saying goes. Steeped in history, Hangzhou was one of Seven Ancient Capitals of China, reining as capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978. Today it’s a prosperous city of more than 6 million people, spoilt with its picturesque West Lake, countless parks, and surrounding lush hills and mountains. It’s less than a one-hour fast train ride from the concrete grit of Shanghai, but a world away. It’s hard not to feel at ease amongst the peace and tranquility of one of China’s most famous lakes.
Philippine’s ‘Last Frontier’, Palawan Island, is the westernmost point of the Philippines archipelago. Once the realm of pirates, it’s now a relatively popular spot for sun, scenery and turtle seekers. On its northern tip, along with 45 islands nearby, is the municipality of El Nido.
El Nido’s landscape is simply breathtaking. Dotted with dramatic limestone cliffs humping everywhere, dropping down to countless sandy beaches. It looks like something between Jurassic Park and Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s Treasure Island. The golden sand, blue sea, green mangroves, palms and other foliage felt especially vivid coming from a slightly smoggy Shanghai in the winter.
It began around April 2011, those subtle winks and prods between couples, before slipping out early from the KTV bar with plenty of new accessories from the 7-11 counter. Lights were out across China as hopeful parents pwapped like crazy to hit the 12 month window of a dragon kid. The 17 million new babies picked to be born in the Year of the Dragon are said to possess passion, courage, luck and strength like no other, so they’re a pretty good bet for your shot at securing retirement funding. Or are they?
Burma seems to be Southeast Asia’s latest hotspot. The ‘opening up’ of Burma’s and talk of it being like Asia 30-years ago (not the first time that one’s been used) has seen tourists flocking to get a piece of the action before it’s overrun with tourists. Unfortunately that’s already happened. In 2012, Burmese tourism soared 43% and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
There’s little wonder tourists are coming to Burma. The people are charming, smile at ease and, unlike some with of its neighbouring countries, you feel comfortable that they’re not going to be ripped off every time you slip your hand into your money belt. There are some big-hitting sites to see too. The scale of Yangon’s crumbling colonial grandeur is matched by few cities in Asia, maybe just Mumbai. The bizarre one-legged-paddling fishermen, floating villages and surrounding vineyards of Inle Lake are cool, although one does get a little souvenir-shop fatigue. And cycling between the 4,000+ temples that dot the grassy paddocks amongst goat herders and ox-pulled ploughs is right up there with Amritsar’s Golden Temple as my favourite things to do in Asia, or pretty much anywhere.
Will the real New Zealand please stand up?
China is notorious for fakes. There’s the counterfeit handbags and watches everywhere, bogus Subway restaurants and fake Apple stores that even fooled the staff working there.
New Zealand has had it’s share of products ripped off as well: fake NZ milk powder (because Chinese are worried they’ll be poisoned by the local stuff), pirated Separation City DVDs and fake NZ kiwi fruit – though we kinda stole it from them in the first place.
However, the latest theft has taken ripping off God’s Zone to a whole new level – they’re faking NZ!
The international press hasn’t been shy reporting the dramas in the build up to this week’s change of leadership in China. There’s been the blocking of Google and other annoying Internet disruptions, the 1.4 million-strong volunteer security force keeping peace in Beijing, and the unrelated, somewhat sensationalised reports of thousands clashing with the police in China. But there seems little coverage of the positive change taking place right now in China’s police force.
I visited Greenland about 10 years ago, and it still ranks among the most fascinating places I have been to. It made quite an impression on me, keeping me curious enough to read the odd article I stumble across about the world’s largest island. One article that recently caught my attention was that 2,000 Chinese workers would be shipped to the freezing land to build an aluminium smelter.
Every time I’d seen the little men peddling the big stack of polystyrene, which was a lot, I though I must get a photo – I finally did. It’s hard not to love what they add to the contrasting city of Shanghai. They’re one of the hairier obstacles on the daily bike adventure but one of my favourites.