China | Dominik Mayer – Products, Asia, Productivity

Xi Jinping in the Shadow of Gorbachev  

Christopher Balding retraces Xi Jinpings rise in the 1980s and the conclusions Xi must have drawn from the collapse of the USSR:

Everything the USSR did in the 1980s and 1990 was wrong. Do the complete opposite. To put it another way: whatever Gorbachev would do, do and do the complete opposite.

In Balding’s view this explains current policies:

If we take avoiding a system of governance collapse as the driving motivation for what Xi is going rather than seeking to address continually rising debt levels or differences in public and private productivity, his behavior makes sense. Foreign analysts talking about the importance of private enterprise to the Chinese market are not incorrect in their presentation of facts, they are wrong in understanding what problem Chinese leadership believes it is solving and how to solve it.

Interesting piece.

Jack Ma’s Costliest Business Lesson: China Has Only One Leader  

Keith Zhai, Lingling Wei and Jing Yang write in the Wall Street Journal about Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

They quote former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao with calling himself a “serious student” of Ma’s. Current president Xi Jinping seems to be everything but a fan.

The article suggests that Ma’s companies are under scrutiny because of the outspokenness of its founder. But then there is this:

There also were concerns at the central bank that Ant could become too big to rescue in a financial meltdown, according to people familiar with the matter.

And:

By June 2020, Huabei’s credit outstanding accounted for nearly a fifth of China’s short-term household debt.

Xi Jinping Turned Me Into a China Hawk  

China expert Michael Schuman describing his disappointment with where China is headed:

Xi’s vision for “a community with a shared future,” as he calls it, is like a neighborhood where a man beats his wife every night, but anyone who tries to help her is “intervening in his internal affairs.” In order to show you are not “prejudiced,” you invite the guy over for pool parties, and smile as if nothing’s wrong. Maybe he’ll bring you a few beers. That’s how Xi defines “mutual respect.”

Nian

Every Chinese New Year, Apple commissions a short film.

This year it’s about the mythical Nian. Wikipedia explains:

Once every year at the beginning of Chinese New Year, the nian comes out of its hiding place to feed, mostly on men and animals. During winter, since food is sparse, he would go to the village. He would eat the crops and sometimes the villagers, mostly children. […] The weaknesses of the nian are purported to be a sensitivity to loud noises, fire, and a fear of the color red.

Hence the fireworks, noises and the red color everywhere. I remember riding my bike through Shanghai on Chinese New Year with things exploding left and right. It felt like crossing a battlefield.

Here’s the making-of video to the short film with director Lulu Wang and colleagues touting the iPhone 12 Pro Max as a cinema camera:

The Dawn of the Dragon: How Xi Jinping Has Transformed China  

DER SPIEGEL correspondent Bernhard Zand:

Deep in Siberia, at the same latitude as Hamburg, China begins. It only comes to an end some 4,000 kilometers away, on the beaches of the tropical island Hainan. Both are places of great beauty.

In the north, the Heilongjiang, the Black Dragon river, winds silently eastward. It marks the border to Russia, where it is known as the Amur. The pine forests of the Taiga stretch out behind it.

In the south, the surf of the South China Sea gently rolls into Hainan’s Yalong Bay. Plane and palm trees line the coast and children frolic on the beach. Hainan is often called “the Hawaii of China.”

In between lies a country about the size of the United States, but with four times as many people – twice as many as in Europe, more than in Africa.

Before leaving mainland China for Hong Kong, Zand once again travels the vast country.

He wants to understand how Xi Jinping has shaped China in the past eight years. Eight years, in which Zand had been living in China, eight years that Xi Jinping has been president.

Doing and Sitting  

John Pasden at Sinosplice shares this cute conversation between a bilingual kid in the US and a Chinese adult:

Adult: 你最喜欢跟家人做什么?
Child: 椅子。

In English:

Adult: What do you most like doing with your family?
Child: Chair.

John explains:

The key to understanding this exchange is knowing that 做 (zuò), the verb meaning “to do,” sounds identical to the verb 坐 (zuò), which means “to sit.” Add into this that many verbs in Chinese don’t require an additional preposition like their English counterparts (for example, we’d say “sit on” rather than just “sit”), and the child’s answer starts to make a lot of sense.

Great example of the challenges understanding spoken Chinese. Using characters this mixup could never happen.

Then enter Vietnamese, where even in the written language everything looks the same:

Chào em = Hello
Cháo em = You porridge

TikTok War  

Ben Thompson suggests blocking TikTok in the US:

This is, without question, a prescription I don’t come to lightly. Perhaps the most powerful argument against taking any sort of action is that we aren’t China, and isn’t blocking TikTok something that China would do? Well yes, we know that is what they would do, because the Chinese government has blocked U.S. social networks for years. Wars, though, are fought not because we lust for battle, but because we pray for peace. If China is on the offensive against liberalism not only within its borders but within ours, it is in liberalism’s interest to cut off a vector that has taken root precisely because it is so brilliantly engineered to give humans exactly what they want.

I would add a friend’s suggestion to block WeChat so the Chinese elite’s kids studying overseas can no longer communicate easily with their friends back home. Let them see how it feels.

Livestream Censorship

Joshua Drummer on Twitter:

Wife trying livestreaming on Douyin. Comes over to me in the middle of a stream and puts me on camera. After about a minute, notice pops up saying that foreigners are not allowed to appear on livestreams “without permission”.

Journalist Isabelle Niu replied:

This seems really alarming so I did a little digging and found that apparently ByteDance, which owns Douyin & TikTok, explained how it self-regulates livestreaming content in a detailed 2019 report. I’ll break down some of the main points of the report in this thread

Read the whole thing. Welcome to semi-automated livestream censorship.

Cold War 2.0  

Christopher Balding writing about China:

Second, better negotiation or communication will have little to no impact on Chinese government policy. A common argument whether it is on bilateral basis, whether the personnel at the negotiating table, or at international organizations, a common argument is that better communication or negotiation strategies will give the US influence. However, the CCP will never negotiate its authoritarian stranglehold on China willingly. The CCP will not change its intent to establish a loose alliance of global authoritarians as a bulwark against open democracy due to better PowerPoint slides from well meaning DC think tanks. The CCP will not change its policies on import substitution and policies after reading a report from about what is really in its best interest in a Washington Post oped. It has not happened in since the turn of the century and it is not going to happen going forward.

Exactly.

He goes on to suggest measures that could work.

Read the whole article. Great analysis.

How to Choose a Chinese Name  

Sinosplice founder John Pasden:

Should learners of Chinese have a Chinese name? That’s a good question, but it’s not one that I’ll be answering in this article. Assuming that you feel you need a Chinese name, there are several approaches that you can take, depending on your preferences and your needs.

I got my Chinese name assigned when I enrolled in Tongji University.

Shanghai, a 195-Gigapixel Panorama  

Chinese Chingkun Tech crated a 195-gigapixel panorama of Shanghai:

After taking photos in the Oriental Pearl Tower which is 230 m high and after data treatment for two months, we successfully created this picture, the world’s third largest picture and Asia’s first largest picture, marking that our team became a top creative image production team of the world.

I found my old appartment building, my university, friends' houses, … Pure nostalgia…

Daughter

Also check out the behind the scenes video:

The Rise of the Red Prince  

How Xi Jinping took control of China.

Pink Towers  

Suzanne LaBarre:

In Wuhan, the largest city in central China, developers are planning not one but two skyscrapers, both of which will edge out their Middle Eastern rival. Plus they’re on an island. And powered by renewable energy. And pink.

Four Tank Men  

Patrick Witty:

There was not just one “tank man” photo. Four photographers captured the encounter that day from the Beijing Hotel, overlooking Changan Avenue (the Avenue of Eternal Peace), their lives forever linked by a single moment in time. They shared their recollections with The Times through e-mail.