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.
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.
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.
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.
When I first arrived in Beijing in 2010, my biggest surprise was the lack of bicycles. As a young lad, gaping over sepia prints of China, it was the hordes of bicycles on Beijing’s streets that made the biggest impression. These days, China’s bicycle situation is one of the most noticeable indicators of the changes China has made over the past three decades.
Beijing has many great things, but its diminishing bike culture isn’t one of them. Just 10 years ago, 60% of Beijingers used peddle power to get to work. But with increasing wealth, sprawling suburbs, bigger roads and lessening bike lanes, that figure now languishes below many European cities, at 20%. For someone who enjoys powering two wheels from a hard seat, I was disappointed.
Six months later and a 1,200 kilometre move south to Shanghai, my faith was restored. Shanghai is China’s original home of cycling and it still reigns as a dreamland for those who enjoy a little excitement when they play on their peddles.
There’s a new book in town: China Expat’s A Decade of Writing 2001–2011.
Squeezed into 228 pages are a collection of articles from the boys at China Expat, to celebrate 10 years since they began demystifying this fascinating land of China.
China Expat’s book is a must-read for anyone curious about China, planning to visit, do business or live in China; in addition to any seasoned Chinese expatriate. I think Chinese locals would get a kick out of it too! Remarkably, it’s absolutely free!
I’ve lived beside four rivers in my life. As a youngster, Wellington’s mighty Hutt River was my favourite spot for sitting in inner tubes and doing ‘bombs’ into. Then there was Dublin’s River Liffey, the resting place of more pint glasses than any other river in the world. Preparing for our paddle down the Blue Nile, I lived in Khartoum, Sudan where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. It was there I caught the bug for the world’s longest river.
Since moving to Shanghai on banks of the Yangtze River Delta, my fascination with rivers hasn’t tempered and I’ve become curious about how two of the world’s greatest rivers compare.
Who could possibly like green tea flavoured toothpaste? The Chinese it seems. On more than one occasion I have been wooed with different shades minty green and slogans such as “fresh blast” and “nature burst” only to discover my molars overrun with the bitter sensation of guey dried leaves.
How does pea-flavoured icecream sound?
I enjoy sipping a cup of green tea or a few peas with my mash, but I have to admit in my closed-minded western opinion, there’s a time and a place.
I cannot think of a time or a place anywhere in the world where I have found tastes more contradictory to my culinary instincts than in China.
Every year it comes with blasts of gunpowder, steamed dumplings and red envelopes. Chinese New Year or Chūn Jié (Spring Festival) as it is known in China is The celebration on the Chinese calendar. Think Christmas, New Years Eve and Thanks Giving all mashed into 15 days of festivities. Fireworks bang, red oval lanterns hang and red cut-outs are plastered everywhere; symbolic of happiness, longevity and wealth.
During the Chinese New Year Festival it’s obligatory to be with your nearest and dearest, so every year sees hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their hometowns and villages. It’s when the city folk really appreciate the migrant workers doing menial jobs to keep the cities ticking over, because things slow right down once they’re gone. They’ll leave by train, bus, car, motorbike, boat, bike, horse, plane, whatever. It is the largest human migration on the planet, by far.
Over the festival, around 2.6 billion trips are made. That stretches China’s extensive transport networks to breaking point. For most Chinese, train travel is the mode of choice – it’s safer than planes and the roads are congested and less comfortable. But the finite capacity means only about 12% of trips during the festival period are on tracks.
When I was a youngster, China really scared me. I’d been told if everyone in China all jumped at the same time, the whole world would wobble. Although there hasn’t been a coordinated hop, China is without doubt, shaking up the balance of the world.
Curiosity has drawn Ellen and me to get in amongst China during this fascinating time in history. I was lucky enough to be working for an Internet company in North America during the dot-com boom, Ireland when the Celtic Tiger was roaring and New Zealand when microwave ovens were introduced, but nowhere has the rate of change been more apparent than in the Middle Kingdom. This is the biggest boom in history.
The rate of change for almost everything in China is staggering; incomes (almost 300% since 2000), car sales (32% last year), the market for art (25% last year), number of billionaires (57% last year). Even more impressive is the scale of it all – the rates are measured across 1.3 billion people! And although developing countries have a low starting point to measure growth from, significant tracts of China are long past the ‘developing’ stage. Shanghai, for example, now has a higher average GDP than parts of southern Europe.