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.
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?
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.
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.
You don’t see adorable golden Labradors helping the blind find their way around the streets in China. Although China has almost 1 in 5 of the world’s blind people – around 5,000,000 – there are just 47 guide dogs. Yep, that’s over 100,000 people per pooch. So how do those who can’t see find their way around?
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.
As a youngster in New Zealand, it wasn’t unusual to return home to the sweet aroma of roasting lamb. Over the years, Kiwi cuisine evolved to mouth watering lamb shanks, gourmet lamb burgers, lamb racks, lamb medallions and many other cuts that make your taste buds tingle and tummy twitter. With almost 10 sheep for every New Zealander, there’s a bit of lamb to go around.
Fast forward a few years and 9,735 kilometres across the Pacific, where we found ourselves craving a little lamb love in Shanghai. While lamb and mutton are the meats of choice for the sparsely populated western China provinces and Inner Mongolia, and is a popular dish in Northern China, finding a nice cut in Shanghai is needle-in-a-haystack kind of stuff.
Imagine you were the top engineering student at one of China’s best universities. You’ve studied hard, hoping some day you’ll work for a multinational and possibly get transferred to America. Fortunately, there are many graduate jobs advertised for multinationals looking for the exact skills and qualifications you have. You submit your resume, both in Chinese and English, with your English name atop, followed by your impressive credentials.
Days pass, you hear nothing. Weeks follow, without a word. One by one, you call up the companies you applied to. In perfect English, you introduce yourself to the American HR representative, “Hi I’m Rambo, I’m calling about your graduate position…” An empty silence fills the receiver, then a click.
There are an infinite amount of staggering China statistics. One of my favourites is the quantity of meat. Over a billion pigs are in China, more than every other country combined, and 12 million of them are eaten every week. On average, a small Chinese village eats more hog than Egypt’s entire population living along the Nile. But to think that China is just about animals that oink would be unnecessarily underselling that other well-known white meat, the chicken.
The new moon on 23 January 2012 will welcome in the Year of the Dragon and see another round of the largest human migration on the planet, billions of boiled dumplings, gargantuan fireworks and enough red decorations to plaster the Great Wall of China 87-times over.
While doomsayers have been stocking up on tinned asparagus in preparation for the world-ending catastrophe of 2012, the Chinese have been preparing for the biggest of their 12 zodiac years. The Year of the Dragon is the most auspicious year of the Chinese lunar cycle and the one that is associated with wealth and power.
While most of the world’s major economies splutter along, China’s blistering economic growth has businesses everywhere salivating for a piece of China’s increasingly wealthy middle class.
Everyone peddling something from adventures down the Nile River to skin-whitening face cream are redefining their strategies to get a piece of the Chinese pie. Even Porsche chose Shanghai for their world debut of the 4-door family wagon Porsche Panamera – its biggest launch in years.
But it seems ads with backdrops of Chinese skylines are for beginners, when you see the lengths the world’s biggest auto manufacturer is going to get their cars on Chinese roads…