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.
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?
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.
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.
With a history spanning 5,000 years, China is rich with cultural and artistic treasures – albeit not nearly as wealthy as it should be.
There’s no arts and culture killjoy quite like a Cultural Revolution. In just 10 years from 1966-1976, innumerable works of splendid art, antiques, architecture, books and paintings spanning millennia were destroyed by Red Guards. Countless Chinese artists were persecuted and people were encouraged to criticise their cultural institutions. Arts students, or any students for that matter, were shifted en masse from their universities, to raise pigs and grow grain in rural labour camps.
If you were born in China post the 1979 One-Child-Policy, you’d better hope you’re a karaoke crooner or have a lot of cash. Getting a wife in China is becoming increasingly difficult.
If you’re one of those boys who does find your Chinese bride and grows old with her talking about sunsets on the Nile River, you’re one of the lucky ones. Tens of millions will be without. Yep, for every 100 boys born in China these days, there’re only 81 Chinese girls to woo. And with those ratios, it just pushes the stakes up.
In less than 20 days, New Zealand will be overrun with striped jerseys and empty beer vessels as the rugby world converges for the third largest sporting event on the planet, the Rugby World Cup
20 nations will be competing for rugby supremacy in the Nile River of rugby tournaments. Yet in China, the world’s most populous nation, the dedicated following of the rugby will be limited to a few smoky expat bars and a handful of committed Chinese rugby heads (most of whom will be supporting the All Blacks)
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.
Imagine you were a young girl in a small Chinese village. One day exploring the market, you discover a tatty newspaper announcing the development of a shiny new bullet train that will eventually link Beijing to Shanghai in less than five hours. You look up to the sky and take a deep breath: some day you will work as a stewardess on that glistening train. But being partial to stuffed pork buns meant you were slightly tubby in 2011, when applications were called to work on that train. You are the smiley type, and pleasant to be around, but weighing in at 66kg meant you weren’t even considered for an interview.
Do the Chinese eat dogs? It’s one of the most popular Chinese-related searches on Google, and for 2,500 years, Chinese people have munched away on dog meat. But these days its only common in a few areas in the south … and on Chinese spacecrafts. Yep, dog meat was on the menu for the Chinese astronauts who orbited the planet in 2003. Was it served in toothpaste tubes?
In most Chinese cities you won’t see many Lassie kebabs smoking away street-side. To the contrary. There are now close to 50 organisations bursting with dog-loving Chinese dedicated to halting the culinary custom. Earlier this year dog enthusiasts blocked a highway in eastern Beijing in a bid to rescue hundreds of dogs being trucked to local restaurants. Five hours of negotiations ended when the enthusiasts bought the dogs for US$17,000. Many of the dogs were wearing collars and tags and had obviously been dog-napped.
There’s also talk of Government legislation outlawing dog for dinner, however that is likely to be as ineffective as their anti-smoking laws.
These days in China you’ll see a lot more manicured poodles than braised beagles. It seems for the growing middle class who can’t yet afford the bright orange Lamborghini, the designer pooch is the accessory of choice.
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.