Archive for May, 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008

This Blog’s Traffic

Hehe. Just in case of any claims that “this blog gets no traffic”, this is evidence to the contrary:



Friday, May 30, 2008

News article: Volunteer faces amputation after injury in earthquake relief work

On May 26, BBC’s China correspondent James Reynolds asked his audience: Did we show too much? What he meant was if he had been too intrusive into peoples’ grief.

An article on Xinhua Net makes me ask myself a similar question. Do they report too much? Does it help the victim? May it encourage other people to donate for surgeries or other medical measures he may need? What is the purpose of the article?


Volunteer faces amputation after injury in earthquake relief work, says he feels sorry for not being able to help others

He didn´t cry. There is only remorse and sorrow, even though he is facing amputation of his left leg.

Wang Peng, a senior student, a volunteer who came from Chengdu. After the earthquake occured, he, who had been orphaned as a child, joined a volunteer group and went to a county within the earth quake zone, them being some of the first on the road. On May 16, around 1:30 hours, as he was following some military reservists´ vehicle, a 5.9 degrees aftershock occured, a rock smashed his left leg. “I’m feeling sorry. I haven’t contributed any efforts, and have instead become a burden to the disaster area myself.” His short statement made warm tears run from the journalists´ eyes. At a young age, Wang Peng had lost both his parents, and it was his grandmother who raised him. “Being an orphan myself, I know that kind of bitterness”, Wang Peng said. Later on, Wang Peng was taken to the Number 453 PLA Hospital in Chengdu by helicopter.

Yesterday, the journalists saw Wang Peng in hospital. He lay on a bed, with a lot of swathe around his left leg, and behind his calm expression, the journalists saw distress.

According to the doctor in charge of his treatment, the injuries to Wang´s left leg were too serious, the muscle tissue around the wound had become necrotic, and an amputation had probably to be made.

“Do you regret to have volunteered?”, the journalist asked gently. Wang Peng shook his head. “I’m just feeling sorry. I haven’t done anything yet, but instead have become a burden for the people of the disaster area.” The eyes of everyone in the place were tear-stained. “Does your grandmother know about this?”, asked the journalist. “I don´t dare telling her. She is so old, and I´m afraid of saddening her.”
Wang told with tears in his eyes that she had been very supportive of his volunteering.

(Special reporters Li Guohui and Wen Jianmin)

Monday, May 26, 2008

After the Earthquake: preparing for College entrance exams

A BBC Report on how life goes on – in a makeshift camp, students prepare for exams.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Justrecently’s little Press Review, 20080525


Ouzhou ZhongHua ShiBao, Budapest, Hungary

International Edition, No. 530, May 17 – 23, 2008, page 1

Zheng Yongnian: Europeans’ perception of China and fears of China


The article could be written by Professor Zheng Yongnian, who, according to Wikipedia, is teaching at Nottingham University. The topic of the article suggests that, but I’m not sure that it is him.


OuZhouZhongHuaShibao apparently reprinted the edited version of Zheng’s article at Singapore’s “LianHe ZaoBao” ((联合早报), where it was published on May 13. The edited version is also available online.


Maybe the effects of the editing impair my understanding of the article.



A.        Zheng’s Article, the Gist


The topic is the recent conflicts between Chinese and European views, which, as the article puts it, “almost centred around the Olympic Games”. He also mentions that “some forces are using China’s hosting of the Olympic Games to cause China trouble”. These is not the first time of such conflicts, but they hadn’t been that comprehensive and abundant before. These conflicts, the article says, are about interests, but also about values. In either case, there is a “knowledge problem”. Some differences in interest factors and views on values would never go away, but that didn’t mean that conflicts were inevitable.


Zheng’s picture of the matter is this: Behind the forces using the Olympics is the Europeans’ perception change, and behind that perception change is worry, if not fear.

So Zheng wants to look at the matter from the point of Europeans’ changing perception of China.


He takes a look at history and more modern times, and distinguishes three stages of perception:


1. Europe’s main interest used to be on the “Four Books” and “Five Classics” – in short, Classical China. One could say that this European approach for understanding China was still going on. But this, Zheng warns, leads to a illusionary Western picture of China, kind of an utopian country. European views of Tibet, he adds, are similar to this utopian one: Shangrila.

(This is the only time in the article that Zheng actually mentions Tibet in his article.)

Then came a fateful discovery: Europeans found out that China was a civilised, but not a modern country. Zheng indicates that there were possibly Westerners who cared about China´s future, but acted as its “teachers”, expecting that China would become like Western countries, and developed a feeling of moral superiority.


2. Next, Europe started to feel the energy of Economic China. At the beginning, says Zheng, there was hope among Europeans that Deng’s reforms after 1978 would lead to economic freedom and democratisation. In Other words, Reform and opening policies should lead to China implementing Europe’s view of values, or, in still other words, “that China would become a country similar to Europe. One must say that this is another Utopia, because China didn’t and couldn’t take a development according to European’s expectations.

After Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 “inspection tour of the South” (Shenzhen), where he encouraged further growth, China’s rapid economic energy started influencing the lives of Europeans, too, in that “everything China produced was cheap” (exports), and “everything it consumed was expensive” (energy, environment, climate, etc.). So from the European trade deficit with China, to the environmental issues, everything became a matter of animadversion on China. If the current status of developing China can already have so much influence, asks Zheng, what will a fully developed China mean? Some people were already talking about an “economic threat”.


3. The European fears of Economical China far from over, there comes Political China, says Zheng. Now the conflict was no longer only about material benefit, but also about values. And they meet developing countries, especially in Africa. As European development models had neither brought stability nor development to African states, “some” were now rejecting Western patterns, and were “rather learn from China’s experience”. [Some doesn’t necessarily mean a small number, when used in Chinese language.]

So in Africa, Europe and China were now competing both in terms of economic benefit, and in terms of values which was a serious challenge for Europe. And the resulting European worries or even fears are hard to alleviate, says Zheng. To achieve that in the long run, not Chinese nationalism was needed, but a rational and reasonable quest to change the West’s ways of perceiving China.



B.        ReadingDifficulties


The idea of looking as to how European perception of China has developed during the past 500 years is an interesting one. But I see a lot of information that is missing in this article. There is no definition as to what kind of Europeans Zheng is referring: to the European elites, or the European “working class” (which certainly fears Economic China for potential job losses)? There is no definition of who actually tried to study China. I would think Zheng is referring to the old European elites here, but who of them, apart from some philosophers, did really study “the Four Books and Five Classics” at all? There is no mention of what kind of media spread the ideas of those who tried.

As for Political China and its influence on other developing countries, even the majority of European elites won’t take a big interest in it. Only experts at the agencies who deal with development will see the Chinese competition very clearly.


My impression is there is no link between Zheng’s description of Europe’s “three stages of perceiving China”, and the conflicts “centered around the Olympic Games”. Another problem is that he leaves European statements about the recent conflicts completely out of account. No chance that Europeans who express concern about the situation in Tibet do actually mean what they say?


As for Political China, I seem to remember that many Europeans expected the same kind of change in China, as we were seeing in Eastern Europe. June 4 was not only disillusioning – it shocked not only Europeans, but also many Asians. Zheng leaves this factor completely out, and uses Deng’s 1992 tour through Southern China as an explanation for economic fears of Europeans. With all due respect to Deng Xiaoping and his historical importance, but June 4 1989 left a bigger impression on me and most people I know, than the renewed economic growth that followed the paramount leader’s tour in 1992.


What is left out in this article is actually what makes it most interesting to read. But I don’t think it is objective. The header of each OuZhou ZhongHua ShiBao edition says “Liberty, Objectivity, Diversity”. The paper is actually pretty diverse, and what liberty and objectivity means can be a matter of an endless discussion after all. But Zheng’s article printed there on page one seems to send an unspoken message: “Although we are objective, our stance is still correct. “


Are you confused? So am I. How can this translate into a reasonable Chinese communications strategy towards the West?


Monday, May 19, 2008

LiuHan Hope Elementary School students’ Survival a Miracle?

I have no idea as to how authentic the different takes of these stories is.

This is CCTV’s story: “With the care and love of the local community, the students were given a new home, temporary but warm.”

A blogger at gives kudos to two teachers in particular: Xiao Xiaochuan (肖晓川) and Shi Shaoxian (史少先). He has no idea how the teachers could organise the escape of all 483 elementary students in such a “scientific” way. After all, he adds, neither of them had been trained for such emergencies, and, according to an expert, they had still acted according to all the standards of an emergency handbook.

Many students were picked up by their parents after the quake, but 71 remained at school, and it was likely that they had lost their parents. As everyone was busy with rescue work, the teachers had to take care of them, and take them to another place. According to the blog, It became a march of nine teachers and 71 children to shelter – a long, two days’ and one night’s march through wilderness and rubble, hearing but not seeing stones coming down the hills at night.  Just the right stuff for a heroic saga. But the blogger isn’t in the mood for a heroic story. The group, he describes, acted according to the handbooks, but they did not feel the way the news coverage has described them. They were, naturally, afraid.

And the heart of the matter isn’t the day when the students left the school, adds the blogger. The matter that decided their fortunes happened ten years earlier. The school building is still standing. A “Hanlong Corporation” had funded building and repair works on the building. The name of the corporation’s supervisor on the ground is not mentioned, but his story describes how donations usually go to the “departments in charge” (authorities) first, and only then to the construction company. The story also describes how the donating corporation’s supervisor makes sure  that the money gets to the construction company, and how he makes sure that the quality of the construction material used for the school is actually according to standards – something that only happens after numerous interventions from his part.

The supervisor, ten years later, does not want his name to be mentioned, and he cautions the blogger whenever the latter uses language that he finds too strong (“It may create unnecessary trouble”). The blogger isn’t explicit here – but one gets the impression that a school like LiuHan Hope Elementary school – built according to standards – is an exception, not the rule.

Is a supervisor who cares a miracle? Is it a miracle that a corporation doesn’t only donate (with the press taking a photo of its generous gesture), but also makes sure that its donation is used properly?

During the first half of the week, the Chinese will mourn the victims. But questions are already being asked. If the story written there at is true, I feel it is both encouraging and dispiriting. Encouraging because the man did what he was paid for, and didn’t shy away from quarrels with people who gave a damn. But it feels dispiriting, too – why does a man who did the right thing back then, hide his name now? For fear of what kind of “unnecessary trouble”?

There is another encouraging aspect: the blogger who went to great lengths to find “the story behind the story”. If shoddy schools (and buildings in general) become rare exceptions in the future, it will be because the media will care, rather than turning a blind eye to it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Branding China: Language(s) of a Multi-Polar World

The Great InstructorAn Arrival in Mainland China

Shenzhen´s outskirts are accessible from any place in Guangdong Province, but access to the city itself is restricted for non-Shenzheners. The International Airport is outside the restricted area, in Bao´an District to the West, but if you want to get inside Shenzhen from the airport, there will be a passport control along the way.
Some years ago, I was on a mini bus from the airport to Shenzhen. It was late in the evening, and I was asleep. I woke up because a policeman stood next to my seat. He was looking at me, and seemed to be slightly confused. Apparently, he didn´t speak English, and he hadn´t expected a foreigner to travel on this small vehicle.
I produced my passport and asked if I had to get off the bus. The time before, everyone had had to walk through Shenzhen´s immigration and change the bus after the procedure. “No need”, said the policeman, and added that my hanyu was very good.
I was still sleepy and a bit confused, but managed to utter the usual ceremonial reply to the accolade: “My guoyu is still no good.”
“We speak putonghua”, the policeman portly replied.

Indeed. Guoyu is spoken in Taiwan. It is basically the same as Putonghua – both also referred to as Mandarin, but not the official People´s Republic of China language. And of course, ever since the Chiang Kaishek government had fled to Taiwan in 1949, guoyu and putonghua had developed their own respective histories and some varying expressions.

That´s how a foreigner´s Guoyu came to town in mainland China and was politely, but firmly reinterpreted into Putonghua. Anyway, the policeman and I were speaking the same language, were we not?

Putonghua goes into the World

In March 2004, China´s 汉语国际推广领导小组办公室, or Office of Chinese Language Council (will be referred to as “Hanban” in the following) officially established the “International Volunteer Centre of Chinese teachers from China”. The concept is pretty similar to many such projects from Western countries, such as the American Peace Corps. And same as the Peace Corps, the Volunteer Centre of Chinese teachers is an official organisation, with the Hanban (which might be comparable to the British Council) as its parental organisation.

In an interview with China Radio International´s Chinese service in 2004, then director of the project, Li Xinyuan (李新元), explained the concept of the Volunteer Centre. The Chinese government had sent “official” teachers to more than sixty countries already, but that did by no means meet the demand. The volunteering concept was the answer. According to Li, the project was open to potential volunteers who were required to have received higher education, to have some fundamental knowledge of foreign languages, enough to fit easily into work and life. As for professional skills, the organisation stressed the need for knowledge of liberal arts or social sciences, but other people whose study subjects appeared suitable had been eligible, too.

The first volunteers had been to places in Asia like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia. In November 2004, the first five volunteers went beyond, to Mauritius, East of Africa.

Most or all of these five came from Peking or Tianjin. According to Li´s interview with China Radio International, officials sent from the Mauritius education ministry had asked for face-to-face interviews with the teachers, which was most suitable with people from Peking and around.

Both the Chinese and host country government took a share in grants to the volunteers, and their health insurance. The host country was also expected to provide accomodation “in accordance with local standards”.

According to Li, the number of candidates who applied on their own initiative was at 5000 in 2004, while the requests from abroad were rising, too. As for Europe, sending volunteers to Greece and Poland was already on the cards.

Besides teaching Chinese, other professional work or assistance was also part of the volunteering project, but cultural exchange and promotion seems to rest mostly with the Confucius Institutes.

Language teaching and Government

The Volunteer project seems to be pretty much modelled after the American Peace Corps. According to its website, more than 190,000 Peace Corps volunteers “have been invited by 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.” In addition, the Peace Corps volunteers also work in the field of education. The fact that it is “an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship” probably made it an appropriate model for the Chinese leadership to emulate, too.

The Hanban defines teaching standards for Chinese and foreign Chinese language teachers alike. At least one of the five volunteers who went to Mauritius in 2004 had attended a “Chinese as a Foreign Language Training” (对外汉语培训). It probably corresponds with the Hanban standard, as Chinese as a Foreign Language Training schedule from March to May 2008 includes Hanban tests.

English as a foreign language doesn´t feature as prominently on the Peace Corps website, as Chinese does on the Hanban website, and its presentation on China Radio International. However, “issues like health education and environmental awareness [are integrated] into English, math, science, and other subjects.” Certainly, the American volunteers are much more likely to meet English-speaking people in most of their host countries, than Chinese volunteers are to meet Chinese-speaking people in theirs. The British approach is different. The British Council is teaching English, but seems to base it less – if at all – on volunteers. The teachers overseas and in Britain seem to be professionals – a condition that the Hanban might have preferred too, if there were enough of them to meet the demand as described by Li Xinyuan. In general, one can probably think of the British Council as an organisation that combines language teaching and cultural exchange (which is divided on the Hanban and the Confucius Institutes in China). And the British Council expressly states image building as a goal, too: “We take pride in celebrating the UK’s creativity and achievements, while looking for ways to enrich the cultural and intellectual life of the UK, by bringing its people together with people from other countries.”

The British Council points out that they “operate at arm´s length from the UK government” which makes them “able to build relationships with those who may be wary of working with government bodies.” That may be an icebreaker – but there are significant connections with politics. Neil Kinnock, former Labour and opposition leader, and later a European Union Commissioner, is chair of the Council, and a substantial amount of the budget comes from government sources.

The Hanban, as is the American Peace Corps, is a governmental agency, and as usual for such an agency in China, there are a many chefs in the kitchen:
“The Chinese Language Council International is composed of members from 12 state ministries and commissions, namely, the General Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, the Overseas Chinese Affaires Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (China Radio International), the State Press and Publications Administration, the State Council Information Office and the State Language Committee . President of the Council is State Councilor Chen Zhili.”

The fact that there are many chefs, but only one political party at work at the Hanban does not create a mainland Chinese monopoly on the global practice and use of Chinese language and its teaching. Taiwan´s Ministry of Education (that´s guoyu again) is active in the definition of Chinese as a foreign language, too, while Singapore seems to rely at least partly on mainland Chinese organisations.
Outside the Chinese-speaking world, institutions like the George Mason or Rutgers University offer opportunities for certification in non-Chinese-speaking countries.


Other links:

Volunteers in 42 countries, “even Tai Chi” (China Daily)


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Earthquake and its Politisation

new military mission - resist the earthquakeIn the past six months there has been the Olympic debate, Tibetan violence, the Tibet debate, the Han and Tibetan confrontation abroad, the CriticiseWesternMediaMovement, etc..

I think that this process, although not pleasant, may be essential. After this period of criticism and confrontation, Western people may not like China that much any more, but may know more about China than before. And Chinese people may not like the West that much any more, but may know more about the West. As for Han and Tibetan mutual understanding, this kind of hope is likely to be too idealistic now.

Of course, if better knowledge turns into hatred, that is no good result from knowledge. But no matter if the results are good or bad, freedom of information is a good thing. To make responsible use of it is everyone’s own responsibility.

At the moment, everythings seems to get influenced by politicisaton. The earthquake is, too. The People-and-Army-United-as-one-Man coverage by CCTV is no surprise. » But there are Western people who can’t take off their political glasses anymore, either. Did God send the Earthquake? Apparently, Hateful superstition doesn’t know any borders. It can be found in any country.

Let’s hope that this kind of uttering oracles won’t become the netizens’ favourite Olympic discipline.

» 中文

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How should Germany commemorate VE Day?

The photo to the right shows a public poster issued by a German trade union. Is it an adequate way to remember? Today is May 8, the day of commemorating Germany´s surrender and the end of the Second World War in Europe. Members of the trade union invite people to take part in commemorating liberation day.
I´m no history expert, but I feel the invitation contains rather big contradictions. One is the picture used on the poster. I believe that Germans shouldn´t complain to America, Britain, Canada etc. about the bombings, or criticise them. World War 2 was started by Germany. But as a German, I also feel that the bombings are nothing to celebrate.
I´m not sure: do Germans who use this poster want to forget that at the time, many Germans supported Hitler? Have they forgotten that maybe not all of them felt that May 8 was a day of liberation? Do they want to forget those of our grandparents who were among the members and supporters of the Nazi party? Do they hope to become Britons or Russians? Do they hope to forget that their grandparents lost the war?
That day was above all a day of liberation for those opposed the Nazis, and those who suffered from the Nazis.
The uncomfortable fact is that at the time, most Germans did not oppose the Nazis.
Therefore, I find the poster too easy.
Whose liberation was it?
Certainly, for me and most Germans of my age liberation day includes Germany. But within the generation of our grandparents, be it in 1945, be it in 1975, there were people who didn´t feel that way.

中文 »