Rural Violence: A Problematic Symptom of Change

Travelling the Silicon RoadBetween year-end deadlines and the MidWest and Appalachia getting hammered by an early Winter, I haven’t been posting here as much as I had planned, but that’s neither here nor there. In the course of conducting interviews for year-end stories that will be appearing on Electronic News over the course of the next few weeks, almost invariably people want to pick my brain about China, or just hear first hand about my trip.

That’s not really surprising, nor have peoples’ own various impressions of China at the moment, which have run the gamut. But recent civil unrest in a southeast China town, and the subsequent handling of it by the Chinese government, illustrates what I’ve been saying in this space and elsewhere: China has a lot of domestic issues to address on its way to becoming an economic and political superpower, many of them tied to its emerging middle class.

The story also brings to light a side of China that most Western business travelers, especially those that never make it beyond Shanghai, don’t see and perhaps don’t even realize exists. If one travels to Tiananmen Square in Beijing today, and sees the hordes of fashionably dressed Chinese tourists, the bloodshed of June 4th, 1989 seems far away, a seemingly long time ago.

But its memory bubbles just underneath the seemingly placid surface, I think. And while the student demonstrators in Beijing back then and the rural protesters of today have different motivations, the bigger issue is the same: dealing with the ever-quickening pace of social and economic change.

For those of you that haven’t been following the news, let me fill you in briefly. Last week residents of the village of Dongzhou in Guandong Province protested — or rioted, depending on which side of the fence one resides, I suppose — over land seizures. Specifically, Dongzhou residents were upset over compensation for land taken to house a coal-fired power plant. This is a growing problem in places outside of large urban areas as China’s staggering economic growth clashes with a still largely rural and agricultural countryside.

Official government reports say three villagers were killed when police opened fire during the clash; witnesses say as many as 20 people were killed. Nine were subsequently arrested for inciting rioting. But what is equally startling — in a good way, perhaps — is that the government on Sunday announced that the local police commander was in detention and that his “wrong actions” were to blame for the deaths.

Earlier the government had said that the deaths were justified, stating that the three people killed turned on police after attacking the coal plant armed with knives, spears and dynamite. The government also said it would address local land seizure grievances, and that it was sending in medical personnel to treat those wounded in the clash.

So where does the truth lie? Only the people actually there know for sure, but I suspect it lies somewhere in between “wrong actions” and justifiable killing. But the fact that the government feels the need to mollify the villagers perhaps illustrates just how problematic rural unrest has become. For all the many news reports of this phenomenon that have come out of China in recent years — a country where the media is still by and large state controlled — I wonder about how many of these protests and riots have taken place that we have not heard about.

But the larger issue here is the rapid pace of change in China. As it seeks to maintain its phenomenal growth, it has realized that it needs to improve the economic lot of its rural population; in fact it is depending on it. No less than Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged in a recent speech that China must expand economic consumption on the part of its more than 800 million rural residents, because it is relying on that consumption to push economic growth.

In turn the government has relaxed requirements for citizens wanting to relocate to cities, in search of jobs. But this is naturally a two-edged sword, as China’s sprawling cities deal with the problems associated with exploding urbanization — and rural land is seized for development.

It’s a Tricky Thing, to Say the Least

And this is why I firmly believe that while China is destined to eventually become an economic powerhouse — many would argue it already is, and justifiably so — on par with the West, or its fellow Asian countries, such as Japan or South Korea, it is not destined to take over the world economically and reduce the rest of us to financial serfdom, as some pundits here fear.

As I’ve observed before, China doesn’t really seem interested in that, because it realizes that in the decades ahead, it has the difficult task of managing phenomenal growth coupled with the largest population on earth, a population in which many people live below the poverty line, by Western standards.

A population of 1.3 billion people, one in which half of them don’t have a cell phone or a land line, and yet the other half is depending on that first half to eventually buy a cell phone, in order to keep them employed and enjoying their disposal income. Granted, that’s a glib generalization, but one with a rather large grain of truth, as the premier’s statements attest.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaIt’s a tricky thing, indeed. But then, as I’ve also observed before, the Chinese can be a very pragmatic people, and their culture has lasted for thousands of years for a reason. I think they will be able to manage these changes.

But as Dongzhou illustrates, it will not be easy. And China’s political leaders may have to eventually accept some social changes along with economic ones.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

Editor’s Note (slight return): D’oh! Once again, when I downloaded the Silicon Road microsite, Adobe Acrobat didn’t manage to grab the 13 comments that were attached to this blog entry – it grabbed more than a thousand other pages (most of them empty; I guess it’s an inexact science), but not that one. Damn.

Jetlag and Reverse Culture Shock: Back in the U.S.A.

Travelling the Silicon RoadWell, it’s been a week since I’ve returned to the United States from my month in China, and I finally seem to be back on a Western hemisphere rhythm. For several days following my return home to West Virginia, after a few days in the office on the left coast, I could not stay up past 8 p.m. I would try and try to stay awake, but to no avail, promptly waking up 3:15 a.m. or so.

But that’s the rather mundane aspect of my experience; after a month in China some of the things that I would normally take for granted seem strange. Like being in a crowd of people and understanding what everyone is saying. Or not being petrified when I’m driving. After a month of planes, trains and taxis, hell, it feels weird just to drive period.

And I think I’ve been ruined for Western food. I don’t know whether I just got used to eating real Chinese food frequently, or my stomach shrunk, or my intestinal flora and fauna adapted so much to the East that it doesn’t recognize the food of the West. But everything I ingest now seems to hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like being in a constant carbohydrate coma and in any event — for the umpteenth time, I know, I know — I do miss the food in Chengdu.

But then I’ve traveled abroad for a month at a time before, so I expected a bit of reverse culture shock. But that last time was a month spent in Europe, as opposed to Asia, so it feels magnified, this time. But I don’t think one can spend a month abroad anywhere, and not feel at least a little strange upon coming home. I’m not the same person now that I was when I flew to Beijing on Oct. 8 (it seems a lot longer than 5 weeks ago), and home doesn’t seem quite the same, either. The world is a little smaller, and my perspective is just a bit broader, I suppose. I would hope so, anyway.

It was certainly very strange to go from the hubbub of Chinese cities, finishing up the trip with a weekend in Hong Kong (thank God I never made my way to Hong Kong in my 20s; I would have ended up dissolute and destitute by now, or worse, without a doubt), only to spend two days in San Jose then back home to Appalachia. I live outside a small town of about 3,000 in southern West Virginia, deep in the Appalachian mountains, and now that the whitewater rafting season is over for the year, it’s pretty quiet; in fact most of my local friends are connected with the whitewater tourist industry and they’ve all left until next year.

It’s quite the 180-degree contrast to China, and a bit of a relief in some ways. I was ready for some solitude after the close-knit quarters and seething masses of humanity that are Chinese cities, and it’s nice to breathe air that I can’t see, and smells like … well … smells like air.

But on the other hand, I confess that on the plane ride home from my first trip in China, I was already figuring out when I could take my next trip to China. As I mentioned before, the only other country I/ve traveled to that has affected me thusly was Ireland.

I encountered a saying about China while conducting background research prior to the trip; I’ve tried over the ensuing six weeks to track down the original quote, to no avail. But it goes something like this: travel to China for a week, and you’ll be able to write a book. Travel to China for a month, and you’ll be able to write an article. Travel to China for a year, and you won’t want to write anything at all.

I’ve pondered the meaning of that; many people assume it is a reference to the complexity of Chinese culture; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, as you begin to grasp the realities and complexities of a culture that is thousands of years old. I think to a certain extent that is indeed true.

But for me, personally, I took it to mean that the more time one spent in China, the more one would become enamored of the culture — the more one became absorbed in China, the more one came to know it, the less one would feel compelled to write about it and go home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I want to go native; but I certainly have begun to understand China’s allure — beyond its burgeoning free market.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaBut now the time has come, now that I’ve returned, to try and address the original questions: is China for real? Does it live up to the hype it receives in the semiconductor industry in the West? And if so, is it a threat? Or will it be in the future.

Well, I’ll be attempting to put the answers to those questions in more detail in the coming weeks here on the Silicon Road, but in a word: Yes, yes, yes/no and perhaps, respectively. But that’s enough for now.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Jeff

Original Comments

at 11/22/2005 12:31:00 PM, Brian said:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and thanks for the many informative and entertaining articles. Yes, American food is heavy, in fact I bet you will even feel slower. Perhaps the fast moving Chinese culture is partly contributed to the food. Wait till you eat “Americanized” Chinese food, its just not; well, China, Chinese food.

at 11/22/2005 1:32:48 PM, Dr. Hayao Nakahara said:

I myself just came home after seven weeks in China from Beijing to Shanghai, then to Guangzhou and finally to Kunming (Yunang Province). I do this trip a few times a year and every time I come home to New York, I have jetlag of various severity. This time, when I returned home on November 9, it took me one week before my body recovered “NY bio-rythm”. I hate to come home when I think about my jetlag, but when it is over, I am so glad to be home, and then, I start thinking when I go back to China. I completely agree your sentiment. H. Nakahara New York nakanti@yahoo.com

at 11/22/2005 5:13:05 PM, Eric Fremd said:

Your blog has brought me back to China in my mind…I have absolutely enjoyed the experience of getting back to China by reading this series. This year was my first trip to China- My very first trip I stayed 1 month working at our factory and training in Shenzhen…I was able again to return twice more for a 2.5 week business trip then a quick 10 day trip visiting my new Chinese girl friend…I am looking forward to returning next month…Hopefully I will bring a little piece of China back with me next year…Thanks again for a great series! Sincerely, Eric Fremd etfremd@yahoo.com

at 11/23/2005 7:58:20 AM, Ron Carson said:

Thanks Jeff for this interesting series. Having had the pleasure of traveling to Hong Kong and China about a half-dozen times over the last 3 years I had a yearning to make plans for my next visit. I have only visited “Westernized China” and look forward to visiting more rural areas on a future trip. Thanks again for the journey.

at 11/23/2005 9:52:43 AM, Ralph Kenton said:

Jeff, thanks for your series of excellent articles on China. They were most useful in preparing for my lectures and business trip, which concluded just yesterday. Although I have no jet lag, it was great to once again consume some American ice cream, a commodity that was very scarce in Shanghai!

Eating there was quite an adventure, especially when pondering delicacies such as “Duck Lower Jaw with Secret Sauce” or “Stewed Beef Fat with Fungus” One observation: The buildings and facilities were definitely world class, although many of their basic service processes still offered room for improvement, especially when it comes to speed, comfort and efficiency. It was nevertheless a great experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to my next trip there.

at 11/28/2005 6:00:46 PM, Henry Sommers said:

Interesting stuff, but what does it really mean? Their education is similar, their dedication more focused,their costs way below ours and so what do we need to fear? Is the political or economic threat real? do we face an unknown force? Are we suckered into a sales hype that is not all what it appears.

Should we stay home and look at our own resources or must we give technology and jobs away so freely?

Thank You and Good Night

Travelling the Silicon Road

HONG KONG — Boy oh boy, what a place to end a month-long Chinese sojourn. I arrived here this afternoon; the sun is setting on my last night in China.

But then Hong Kong isn’t really China, in the same sense that San Francisco isn’t really the United States. It’s in the United States, but it isn’t an American city. Just like no country can really claim its bustling port cities as their own, it’s clear even after just a few hours that Hong Kong is a unique place. Hong Kong isn’t Chinese, it’s Hong Kong.

There is every flavor of human being here; a true international city if there ever was one. And it’s a shame I will only be spending about 24 hours here. Of course, one could get into a lot of trouble in a place like this in only 24 hours, and normally I would be more than willing.

But it is a rather bemused and bittersweet feeling I have at the moment. Like I said previously, I feel like the task of unraveling this fascinating, wonderful land has only just begun. It’s true that I’ve had enough business travel to last me awhile, and after wandering the streets of Hong Kong for a few hours, I can’t help but long for the solitude and wide open space that will greet me when I return home later next week.

And Lord so help me, I think I would consider murder in cold blood if I thought it would get me a decent burrito a few hours sooner.

Nevertheless, all things considered, if I had the opportunity and the world were a different place, I’d stay. For how long, I don’t know. As long as I want to, I suppose. If Reed Business were to offer me a correspondent position in China, and they said I could live where I want to, I’d take it in heart beat. If they said I had to live in Beijing or Shanghai, I’d have to think about it for awhile — not very long, likely — and the answer would probably be yes.

I’m not saying I want to spend the rest of my life here — there is that whole free speech thing, I have issues with — but then I can’t say that about anywhere, really. Not even Ireland, which is the only other foreign place to tug at my heart strings like China has. But for a time. …

Anyway, I was a day late arriving in Hong Kong, where I was scheduled to spend the weekend before returning back to the States, with only a day to spare on my visa. Why did I skip an extra day in Hong Kong to remain an extra day in Shenzhen?

Well, Dear Gentle Readers, you don’t get to hear that part of the story. Suffice it to say, my soul longs to return to Gulang Yu or Beijing, and I have no doubt left my stomach in Chengdu, probably for all-time (although I haven’t been to Italy or Thailand — yet). But just when I thought I was going to escape a month in China relatively unscathed, it turns out that I’ll be leaving a little piece of my heart in Shenzhen. A tiny piece, but a piece nonetheless.

And for those of you that know Shenzhen, get your minds out of the gutter, it’s not what you think; I’m not talking about any of Shenzhen’s legendary working girls. No, Ali … she is anything but that.

I even thought about staying tonight in Shenzhen and getting up early and going straight to the Hong Kong airport. But I figured that, even though I have no interviews or appointments in Hong Kong, it was still part of my job to come here and experience it. And it’s a good thing I did, because it took hours to travel the 30 some kilometers from downtown Shenzhen to downtown Hong Kong.

This brings us all the way back around full circle to the subject at hand, finding out the truth of China.

But that will have to wait until next week. After all, it is Saturday night, and I am in Hong Kong. I’m not that bemused.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaWhat, you thought this was it? Oh no, the voyage down the Silicon Road will continue long after I’ve returned to the States. There are more stories to write about China, and more blog topics, like the long list of people I want to thank.

Why for heaven’s sake, we haven’t even gotten yet to what I know many Westerners want to know about: public restrooms and pit toilets. How could you think we were done?

Stay tuned.

Jeff

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/7/2005 7:36:42 AM, PeteF said:

I’ve enjoyed this series very much. As a student of Chinese history I envy your opportunity to visit there. And I must compliment you; you were not an ugly american. You are a real traveler. I’m going to be looking forward to more of your work. The writing is quick, entertaining and insightful. You done good boy!

at 11/7/2005 12:37:29 PM, Wayne V said:

Jeff, just a short note to tell you how much I have enjoyed your reports from China. Definitely first hand and first rate! Have a safe trip home and I look forward to hearing more about your trip! Wayne V

at 11/7/2005 2:09:45 PM, Jim from Rhinebeck said:

I’ve read bits and pieces of your blog; have enjoyed, and agree with, your perspectives. I’ve been to Shanghai on and off, for 10 years, to attend Semicon China trade shows. It’s amzing to see Shanghai’s transformation in that time, when the Pearl tower was the only really tall structure in the city scape. Now, Shanghai boasts a skyscraper a day and a 430 km/hr ride on the mag-lev.

Jeff, if only you could have seen the bicycle traffic in 1995! So much of that traffic has moved to the subway. This past March was my first endeaver to see other cities in China; Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Seemingly endless examples of cultural, social, and political juxtaposition. My Beijing business associate (friend/guide/translator) survived the Cultural Revolution, and is now quite proud to own his own home and car.

China, for all its complexities and contradictions, is modernizing at an unfathomable rate. It’s a 21st century version of the California gold-rush. Enough of the profound. Time and Newsweek covered the profundities in detail. Simply put, China is a great place to visit. An when you’re done, you’ll be wishing Chinese foot massage parlors in the US.

at 11/7/2005 2:13:04 PM, Phil Harris said:

Having recently returned from a 2 week stay in Beijing, I found the people friendly, warm, and very helpful. My coworkers were enthusiastic and recognized that I brought information on well established western procedures. It was also an opportunity for me to learn that business in China has some similarities and differences. I hope to make this trip again shortly and look forward to it except for the plane ride. That leaves a lot to be desired. Thanks for your perspective. Phil

at 11/7/2005 2:14:43 PM, C.C.Poon said:

All the tour articles make very interesting reading. Worth many times over the money spent (by whoever)on the trip. I look forward to reading the other articles yet to come. Many thanks for writing them, Jeff.

at 11/11/2005 8:49:12 AM, Pete Flynn said:

Jeff, I want to let you know that this series has been great. I’ve enjoyed every post and even most of the comments by other readers. Even the dopey ones.Since I work for a company that sells lots of “stuff” to the Chinese electronics industry, their success means I keep working. I see the global integration of China ultimately resulting in more freedom for the Chinese people and a reduction in tensions. I will look forward to more of your articles.

Let Us Set the Record Straight

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHENZHEN, China — I was just going through the comments section of this blog to make sure all of the submitted comments had been cleared, when I came across one in an earlier post that was still pending. You see, in order to keep out spam and profanity, we review all the comments that are submitted prior to them appearing live on the site.

And it was the straw that broke my metaphorical camel’s back.

You can find it here. But it doesn’t really matter; there have been similar ridiculous comments. Being a journalist, I’m pretty thick skinned; we’re like lawyers: everybody loves to hate us, and you either get used to it or go into PR. But everyone has their limits.

So, let’s get one thing straight, and I’ll spell it out nice and simple even for the narrow-minded and thick-skulled (which fortunately seem to be in the minority). I am not an apologist for China’s communist government. Yes, I was very surprised at the openness and passion of the officials that I’ve met, both locally and nationally. They were not the automatons I expected.

But NOWHERE have I said, despite several self righteous reader comments to the contrary, that I think China’s political system is a good thing, or its repression acceptable.

I’m a journalist, and freedom of speech and the press is my birthright as an American, after all. I’d take up arms to defend that right. I do not say these words lightly; in these days of the Patriot Act, I sometimes wonder if it will come to that. But the Chinese don’t have freedom of the press here; there are journalists in prison in China, jailed for what they have written. Of course I think this abhorrent.

Got it? One more time, follow along: Jeff say repression bad; free speech good.

The thing that people in the West need to understand is that your average Chinese citizens, while not enjoying all the freedoms we have in the West, don’t appear to be, nor to they think of themselves as, repressed by a totalitarian system.

I know it’s a blow to you ideologues out there, but I’m afraid it’s true. But again, for the narrow-minded, indignantly self-righteous, let me spell it out in tiny little words that even you can understand: I’m not personally justifying the Chinese political system. Just telling you what I’ve observed and experienced — whoops, sorry, let’s say “seen and heard” — this past month. Don’t shoot the messenger.

If you don’t believe me, come here and see for yourself and talk to them, like I have.

It’s a difference in culture between East and West. Like I’ve explained here before, the Chinese people are perfectly capable of revering Mao Zedong as a hero while acknowledging that the Cultural Revolution was a horrendous mistake. And while people like me, being an American, can’t completely understand how Chinese people can be so patient and complacent about things like freedom of speech, nevertheless, they are.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Chinese people about this issue, and my interpreter, Zhike, a 24-year-old Chinese graduate student, put it best: “We have freedom of speech in China, just not in the media.” He said it with a knowing smile. This is such a thoroughly Chinese way of looking at the world; it was a very Chinese thing to say.

To understand why, ultimately, I think you have to come here and know China for yourself. But I’ll add this: the specter of the Cultural Revolution does still lingers here, as does what happened in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Chinese are an ancient people, and are nothing if not patient; they are happy with the changes that have been made over the past two decades, but they are concerned about what might happen if things move to fast — after all, look at the last revolution they endured.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
— Voltaire

Now, second of all, it is time for some self-righteousness indignation of my own; this is a subject I’m unapologetically passionate about. Read it and weep.

This business of anonymous ideologues posting morally indignant comments about me or what I supposedly said, and then not having the courage to put their names to it, is quite frankly pathetic. There is no excuse, and you should be ashamed.

You see, people have died protecting this right that we in the West enjoy, the right to express our political beliefs, whatever they may be, in a public forum like this. You do those people a disservice — if not an outright insult — by hiding behind anonymity. You insult their bravery with your cowardice. As far as I’m concerned you might as well run though Arlington cemetery kicking over gravestones.

It’s rather sadly ironic in these times of right-wing, red-white-and-blue dogma in the United States.

So say whatever you wish; ultimately I don’t care, nor do I care who you are. But you should nevertheless have the decency and courage to put your name to what you say.

This isn’t the kind of forum that you have to worry about your spouse or boss finding out you frequent, after all. And this is a U.S.-based site; there are no government goons monitoring it. Not yet, anyway.

Trust me, it’s not hard, I do it every day. I still do it, even though I’ve had my life threatened because of what I’ve written more than once. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits a number of times. I’ve even had a brick through my window and my car vandalized.

And yet I still put my name to what I write, not because I’m brave or thick skinned, or that I think my writing is particularly brilliant, but because it is my right. And it’s yours too.

The only excuse you might have to utilize anonymity here is if you are perhaps a Chinese political dissident, still on the mainland, but I’m reasonably sure “Dave in Dallas” or whoever is not a political dissident.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaLet me just add that I realize that many will take this as just my own inane blah blah blah, and those few at whom this was directed will surely have missed the point. The only thing I’ll say in my defense is that my real name is proudly displayed with it, blather or not.

Neener neener :p

Jeff Chappell

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/4/2005 12:16:34 PM, William Woodley said:

Good for you! I have the same beliefs after visiting China.

at 11/4/2005 12:41:45 PM, Mike Jones said:

There are a lot of people in the USA still operating with an ethnocentric mentality. This is a way of thinking that can’t imagine anyone else in the world having a valid idea or way of life different than ours. And our success has only fostered this kind of thinking because it is very easy to translate success into righteousness.

What is coming next is a worldcentric mentality. This viewpoint will be a result of globalization and its challenges. In general many Europeans and Asians are ahead of the game in this regard. The rightwing in the USA just does not like the fact that they are not the center of the universe.

It is much like what the Catholic Church had to go through when it was demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe. And the pain the USA will suffer may be no less. All right wingers take note: we live on planet Earth and the USA is not the Garden of Eden and you are not God’s chosen people. We are all related right down to our genetic material. Mike Jones mike@integralate.com

at 11/4/2005 12:45:47 PM, David Naegele said:

Jeff, First let me say that I have enjoyed everything that you have shared. I doubt I will ever have the chance, or time/money, to go that far away.

With that said, I must also say this about the anonymous postings. In the local news paper all letters to the editor must be signed. In this day of political correctness, many topics are off limits to anyone who wants to keep their job. Some things could easily be misconstrued by ideolouges and cost you a fortune defending yourself against what turns out to be perfectly legal actions. Innocent verdicts don’t restore your bank account.

Take a look into the actions of the BATF in recent years for some overly blatant abuses. There are many agendas being pushed, for good and not so good. I don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of somebody’s agenda. For this reason, letters to the editor once had a “name witheld by request”, but that is no longer the case. Yes, we too have freedom of speech in the U.S., but I don’t believe we have it in the media here either.

at 11/4/2005 12:49:47 PM, cmichaud@mcintoshlabs.com said:

RIGHT ON.WRITE ON !!!!

at 11/4/2005 1:05:29 PM, BobboMax (aka bfank@aol.com) said:

I also enjoyed those paragraphs that ended w/ neener, neener. My sentiments exactly. Things have gotten to the point that the atitudes expressed in the “Patriot Act” require honest patriots to step in front of the tanks in the Capitol Ma– um, ahh, I mean Tienanmen Square.

Some of us are going to get squashed, just like the men and women in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans. It’s still true that blood is the price of freedom and it must bought again every generation. Buying oil with blood is another matter.

at 11/4/2005 1:05:37 PM, Joseph Kagan said:

Jeff I enjoyed reading all your articles. They made reading Electrinic News alot more interesting. I agree with your article “Let us set the record straight”. I was in China in May making a study of the dairy industry. My impresions of China were similar to yours. I wish you continued success in your work. Joe K.

at 11/4/2005 1:27:49 PM, P. C. Chen said:

Right On, Jeff! One learns sooner or later in life that whatever one does, there will always be people putting a negative twist to it for their own hangups. A lot of people these days seem very hung up on their own perception of the world, regardless of reality. My philosophy is that, as long as I do things to the best of my ability and with a clear conscience, I don’t really give a hoot to what some narrow-minded people might think or say.

Glad to see you think likewise. I enjoyed your columns very much. My admirations for staying cheerful and objective when in a very different cultural environment.

at 11/4/2005 1:29:42 PM, Herb Smith said:

I decry the religious repression in China, and also the government censorship and monitoring of various media. And yet…one of the best ways to change a repressive system is to expose it to capitalism, however imperfect THAT is. The Chinese government attempt to crush Christianity will also fail. The Church thrives on reporession. So China is going to change, and in ways the government will not be able to control.

at 11/4/2005 1:40:30 PM, Bob Duncan (in Dallas) said:

Jeff, thanks for sounding off against those gutless critics. I enjoy your insight into China and want to learn more about the country than just who’s in power today. Your blog has been terrific! Too bad you have to come back! I also share your concerns about the way our government is treating our personal liberties. Waving the flag and threatening us with terrorist attacks has helped the Bush crowd hide their rape of the American people, both our tax dollars and our privacy.

at 11/4/2005 6:40:10 PM, Al Giese said:

Hello Jeff, I have been enjoying reading your reports from China. I traveled to China in the very early years when the doors to China first opened (first trip in 1977) and sold Thermco Diffusion Furnaces through MEI in Beijing to the then small Semicionductor factory in Wuxi. In those days we traveled on simple and slow local trains and the best hotel in Beijing at that time was the Friendship Hotel. Only old timers will remember this hotel.

Needless to say there were no fancy restaurants, high speed trains and the best you could hope for as local transportation was an old Russian build Limosine with a poorly working heater in the deep of winter. The reason I’m sending this note is to express my full support for the position you have taken in the above article.

There are always some jokers that try to mess up business with narrow minded and arrogant political views. After these early business visits to China which were very successful, I didn’t believe that China would ever manage to build a Semiconductor business or any other high tech business. But I have to give them credit, with support from Beijing and from local Government agencies, it is an unbelieveable success story and as you have said, one has to visit the country to believe it.

The positive changes in business and the changes for the majority of the Chinese population are real and amazing, especially for one who has been there and observed the country 25 years ago. Jeff, please keep on writing. You are doing a great job and don’t let ignorant, narrow minded readers disturb you. Best regards Alfred W. Giese IBC,International Business Consultant

at 11/5/2005 1:45:09 AM, Jeff Chappell said: Wow. Rather just the opposite of the reaction I had expected. A gracious thank you to one and all.

at 11/5/2005 12:33:37 PM, Tom Murphy said:

Interesting observation about PR. I was a journalist for more than 10 years before I was laid off for the fourth time and then took a job in public relations. There were times in journalism were I was villified by readers for something I wrote. But I did not feel the true wrath of criticism until I was involved in client-vendor relations as a PR practitioner.

Even ten years of having rocks thrown at me as a journalist barely gave me thick enough skin to deal with the pressure here. People get fired based on the whims of an executive. That’s pressure. Journalists are protected by the first amendment and sometimes by a publication with a backbone. PR practicioners don’t have that and when you’re dealing with a publicly traded company and the entity’s shareholder value is on the line there is just a great deal at stake. That’s something I was never exposed to as a journalist but it is an experience that is highly valuable.

at 11/6/2005 2:25:13 PM, Clayton Werner said:

Onya Jeff! Too many of us from across the oceans see only the bad side of this North amero-centric push. The world is full of real people, different languages, cultures and the like, viva diversite’ (from the land of Oz) Clayton

at 11/6/2005 6:54:45 PM, Mei said:

Hello, I am Chinese, and love to read Jeff’s writings. What Jeff wrote here is quite to the point.

Shopping, Shenzhen and Farmer Ye: Pondering the New China

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHENZHEN, China — I’ve come to the conclusion that many, if not most Chinese people love to shop.

Now before the ignorant self-righteous weigh in, let me add that I’m not knocking China; far from it. After all, the movement to a market economy is still underway — less than a generation ago, really — and I imagine that many middle-aged people have disposable income for the first time in their lives, and want to spend it. As a middle class American I would feel hypocritical if I found fault with that.

Then of course, there is the bargaining. Travelers to China know all about the tourist or laowai price vs. the Chinese price, and one’s new-found Chinese friends are always on the lookout for you, making sure you get the Chinese price whenever possible. Like friends I’ve known of Middle Eastern descent, I think perhaps the bargaining is half the fun for them.

But for myself, I really don’t care to shop or bargain. While many Americans do, I think my disinterest stems also from being American — by Asian standards we tend to be rather abrupt and forthright; even by American standards most people would consider me very direct.

And I’m not one to mess around with shopping; if I need something I go buy it, as quickly as possible, end of story, no screwing around. I remember getting out of the mag lev station in Shanghai, along with my interpreter, Zhike; we were immediately besieged by taxicab drivers. When they realized that we wanted to go to the other side of the city, there was silence.

Finally one young man ventured timidly, “250 yuan.” I did the math in my head: expensive by Chinese cab fare standards, but still cheaper than many a cab ride from an airport or train station in the U.S. “Done!” I cried, happily. “Let’s go,” I said, proceeding to wheel my luggage toward the gentleman’s cab. At that point I was already sick of carting around luggage — business trips always seem to require 3x as much stuff as vacation — on planes, trains and automobiles, and the sooner this was done, the better.

But you could literally hear the sounds of jaws of everyone within earshot of this exchange bouncing off the pavement. Our cab driver looked a little bewildered; Zhike seemed almost shocked. At the time, I wasn’t sure what faux pas I had committed; now I know — crazy, hasty Americans.

But running around Shenzhen the past couple of days, conducting interviews or just wandering at random, phrase-book in hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about shopping. Shenzhen by all accounts was a sleepy, balmy fishing village 20 some years ago, when the central government decided to make it a special administrative zone. Viola — now it’s a busy, balmy port metropolis, the heart of the country’s electronics manufacturing, and consequently its richest city.

It shows. Everything seems new and sparkling, and the shops stay open very late; downtown there are shopping districts where the stores are open past midnight.

Shenzhen has also been recognized in China as a garden city, for its cleanliness and green space — and indeed it is, especially compared to China’s older cities, and even Shanghai. It provides quite a contrast to the rural areas that I glimpsed outside Chengdu this past weekend. Many of my newly met Chinese colleagues and associates have observed that the gap between rich and poor in China is greater than many in the West realize, especially those that never venture beyond the popular eastern cities — like Shanghai and Shenzhen. Judging from what I saw, I’m inclined to agree.

But I think it is also a generational issue as well; like Zhike and others pointed out to me, young people from rural villages are flocking to cities, hearing stories of the new wealth to be had; once they glimpse a “better” way of life, they head for the smoke.

I put the word “better” in quotes, because I suppose it’s a matter of perspective, in this case, a generational perspective. This past weekend, while hiking up the 1,200-meter Qingcheng Shan, a holy Taoist mountain some 65 kilometers west of Chengdu, I took us off the beaten path. I have a habit of doing that; chalk it up to a streak of Robert Frost.

The path took us to a small farm, a subsistence farm, really, of one Ye Wen Fu (you can see a few pictures of Ye and his farm in the photo section of the Silicon Road — I think it starts with photo no. 65). He told us that he and his wife had been living off the side of the mountain for nearly 50 years. At one point the government had tried to get him and his family to go down to the city, and he did for awhile, but he couldn’t meet his family’s needs, so he returned to the mountain.

While by the standards of any developed nation, East or West, Ye is literally dirt poor, all his basic needs are met, and he seems happy and content with his lifestyle as it is. It’s hard to argue with that, and I wouldn’t presume too. I wouldn’t choose his life, but I understand the attraction to its simple and uncomplicated nature. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the “New China” that interests him, even though he came down off the mountain to see it.

I have no idea how many people there are like Ye in China; I haven’t been here nearly long enough, and won’t presume to draw any broad conclusions. But I can’t help but think about him when I hear people who reside solidly in the New China talk about how China must bring the entire population up to speed in the modern world. People often talk about how 50 percent of the population doesn’t have any sort of reliable means of communication — no land telephone line, no mobile phone, no satellite phone — and how that is a market opportunity that needs to be developed, not only for their own sake, but for those who are rapidly becoming attached to disposable income.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaBut I’m guessing that Ye isn’t the only simple rural farmer out there who might not be interested in the Brave New World. Many of their children are, to be sure, but people like Ye are not. Just how much of a bump, if any, this will be on the road to the modernization of rural China remains to be seen.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/2/2005 12:47:16 PM, W. Wong said:

Hi Jeff: I was born in HK and left there to live in thhe US when I was 10. Now I’m 50, I have yet return or have any desire to visit China. Your article and pictures have really touched my inner soul, so that I should plan a visit to my own country and see the changes that have developed since I left. Thanks

at 11/2/2005 1:28:26 PM, TerryP in VA said: Can you get Chinese food without MSG there?

at 11/3/2005 7:40:53 AM, AndyB said: I look forward to seeing pictures and hearing more about Shenzhen. I spent about a week there visiting companies and was awestruck by the growth and size according to some locals (that was 6 years ago). I was amazed by the unmarked dirt piles blocking freeway lanes and dodging bicycle rickshaws as well (4-way unmarked intersections on the freeway were interesting as well). Thanks for the very interesting personal experiences.

at 11/3/2005 10:00:15 PM, Jeff Chappell said: Yes, you can order food without MSG; you just have to ask (I recommend the Lonley Planet Mandarin phrasebook). And the food is so awesome here. … You can also find espresso; it’s not the espresso you’d find in say, Rome or Paris, but it’s often comparable to what you can get in the U.S., much to my delight. Starbucks is already here, of course. But then some of the tea over here will wire you right up 🙂 and it is about 1,000x better than any tea in Europe.

at 11/3/2005 10:03:59 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

Thank you Mr./Ms. Wong, for your kind words. And I think you would find that your childhood home has indeed dramatically changed …

at 11/3/2005 10:08:12 PM, Jeff Chappell said: AndyB, what you describe is typical of many a Chinese city. In that respect, Shenzhen is Chinese through and through.

at 11/4/2005 12:55:25 PM, BobboMax said:

Hey, I’ve enjoyed the blog- a pleasant mix of humility, openness, observation and that rarity of modern life, good writing.

at 11/7/2005 12:30:52 PM, D Autry said: Hello Jeff, I have thoroughly enjoyed your stories and pictures. We are a small electronics company and will be opening an office in Dan Dong.