James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
What concerns me most about US criticism of China, is the existence of a military-security lobby in Washington that seeks enemies and would like to have China in that status.Those who comprise this lobby vary widely in their motivation, from weapons production and sales to racial paranoia. But collectively they are dangerous.Finally, stepping back, the arrogance of the US in dictating to the rest of the world is stunning, especially as in the last 20 years we are further and further adrift from our alleged principles and from acting on best scientific knowledge. The US is lacking in the ability to reverse-think. My favorite example is imagine how the US would react if China declared Tibetans and Uighurs to be terrorists and decided to strike such groups with drones in the United States, offering $500 to the families of anyone killed as collateral damage.
I'm an American and have lived in China since the fall of 2004, mostly in the capital of [a westerm province] but with a 15-mointh stint in [an eastern province] in 2009-10. I've been teaching English as a foreign language all these years (surprise!) at universities and at private training centers.
The rant you linked to in your piece was interesting to me insofar as I've shared many of the same experiences as that disaffected writer, but he lost his argument as soon as the piece descended into incoherent and rambling sentences. It reminded me of a post I could have written on a "bad China day," the expression many of us expats here use when we have troubling experiences or the culture shock is just too much. In those cases, I think it can be healthy to vent to other expats or Chinese friends, but I certainly wouldn't want to publish something in that frame of mind. It wouldn't be well-thought out, would be rife with shaky-at-best conclusions based on anecdotes and stereotypes, and would be the mirror-image of the "you Americans are like this" one hears from many Chinese that may be an interesting data point but worthless as any sort of constructive addition to the conversation about China.I much prefer to take the long view. China is still a developing country, and as such it is experiencing the same advancements and their subsequent challenges the rest of the world deals with. In the western Chinese city in which I live, in 2004, traffic as a problem was something that only existed in the news for rich, eastern cities. Now, traffic is a huge problem here. The city is fairly aggressively trying to address certain problems with barriers separating sides of the streets, pedestrian bridges and tunnels, and more traffic light-governed intersections. However, much more needs to be done. I sincerely believe this because I've seen so much waste in terms of time and money in countless accidents of the fender-bender variety. On my bicycle (my preferred mode of transportation), I see one or two of these almost every day. Often these accidents appear inexplicable as they occur in broad daylight and there's no evidence that there was a vehicle malfunction. Instead, as locals and expats alike will tell you, drivers frequently weave in and out of lanes and make turns without looking.But then you think about traffic policing, and you realize that if the authorities only punish speeding caught on camera or lack of proper paperwork (which they do by setting up random check points and then stop random vehicles), and not the breadth of moving violations that constantly occur, how can we expect people to think of the consequences of reckless driving? Same goes for the reckless behaviour of pedestrians, whom I've never seen ticketed for crossing against green lights or jumping barriers even when there's a traffic police officer present.A school that I've worked with started teaching "moral lessons" last year. Among my favorite moral lesson topics were "always flush the toilet" and "red light stop, green light go." So, okay, the school made a translation error by calling these moral lessons, but I respected the intent. I suggested to a local colleague that while "red light stop, green light go" is certainly useful, perhaps we could have also encouraged students to look both ways before they cross a street. This, among other ways to behave within my surroundings and society, was drilled into my head from a young age at home and in primary school. This way of preparing to cross a street seemed like a revelation to my colleague.I know that sounds crazy to an American audience. How do people just not know that you shouldn't throw yourself into oncoming traffic? The point is, if you've never heard of these concepts, how can you be expected to live by them? Is the old Chinese lady crossing the street against a green light with her eyes firmly looking down at the pavement doing this because she's rude and lacking in character, or may it have something to do with the fact that she recently moved into a new high-rise apartment with her family and the chaos of a city and its traffic are totally new to her?I'd argue the latter. And look, it's up to China and its people whether they want to change these behaviours. But China and its people have undergone mind-boggling, rapid change. To expect American behaviour, when we've had a car-dependent culture for 60 years now, is folly. I've focused on just this one narrow detail in that Chinese American's rant, but I'd argue that this applies to its other aspects. China is busy negotiating the messy details of rule-of-law, government accountability and private citizen responsibility. This is not a character defect issue.
I think that it is wise to separate "criticism of China" into criticism of the government and criticism of the people. It is easy and correct to criticize a kleptocratic regime which seems to run the country merely to line its own pockets but is smart enough to let sufficient crumbs fall from the table to keep the bulk of the population happy. We (and by we, I include tens of millions of Chinese people) are all familiar with stories of corruption and intrigue that reach right to the top of China's government, and we are also familiar with the knowledge that when officials fell threatened, they will brutalize and even murder those they fear...I think that many, maybe all, foreigners living in China, and for that matter, many Chinese nationals, are aware of certain aspects of Chinese society that are not flattering. I refer to the absence of basic norms (not by all people, but by enough to make aspects of life here annoying) of common courtesy and common sense. To the obvious examples with a high "eeew factor" - the expectorations, the spitting, the "snot rockets", the use of any public space by all age groups as a toilet (be it for urination or defecation). [JF note: a very senior Chinese official has himself been making some similar points.]
But there are other things that can leave you scratching your head. Things such as people jamming the entrance to a lift (or a subway car) and blocking the exit for those waiting to get off [JF note: this has gotten better over the years, especially in post-Olympics Beijing], standing in the middle of a doorway while engaged in a phone conversation, bellowing into their cellphone while holding said phone 3-4 inches from their ear because the person bellowing at the other end is hurting their ear... Car owners who feel that the car is an extension of their body and that if they want to barrel down a packed city street at 50 using the horn to blast obstructions out of their way, because a set of wheels gives them the right. The fact that across large parts of China, cars are allowed to share sidewalks with people and that those sidewalks are not constructed to allow for cars and so quickly disintegrate to become pot-hole strewn assault courses ready to soak the foot or snap the ankle of unwary pedestrians.I want to make the point that in a country of people and crowds, there seems to be a general uncertainty of how to behave in such crowds. Is this a legacy of Communism, where for hundreds of millions of peasants the only thing they actually owned was themselves and they were going to use that thing the way they damn well wanted? Or is it because China is a new urban society, and that standards of behaviour that might have suited village life simply aren't suitable in cities? Or is it because that while many Chinese are unhappy about the things I have outlined, there's a feeling of powerlessness and that the only thing they can do is keep their head down and get on with their own life?
Not sure if you noticed it but at least two mainland Chinese were intimately caught up in the Boston Marathon bombing - first, the poor girl, Lu Lingzi, who got killed, and second, "Danny" the man who got carjacked but escaped from the Tsarnaev brothers. Extraordinary coincidence and yes, Boston is among the most cosmopolitan cities in the US, but still, it shows the degree to which the US and China are inter-linked at the most basic human level, even in tragedy.
On the assorted points of disagreement:I've been thinking quite hard about the amount of negative China articles that have appeared on your blog, usually in the form of links to Western laments about Chinese life and culture, as well as, of course, pictures of Beijing's pollution . This is part of what I view as a general media trend of China-bashing . Clearly, you love China, so I'm not accusing you in any way of being anti-China or malevolent, but I think you would agree there has been a rise/change in tone in coverage of China over the last year and a half.A prime example is the piece you linked to two days ago, where the author made sweeping generalizations based on singular anecdotes that paint the entire Chinese populace as rude, shallow and sub-human (or at least sub-Western.) In analyzing a country of over a billion people, how can we take seriously someone who can paints with such a biased (and shockingly untruthful, if we were going to compare anecdotal memories) brush? Wouldn't it be similarly possible to write a similar anecdotal and nonfalsifiable story about America? Or any other country? Would we assume a fair appraisal if a Chinese person did the same to us? I doubt it.So why does this piece get coverage from you and the rest of the internet? I believe it's because it fits a media narrative that has been growing in strength over the last year or year and a half. I would summarize this narrative as: "News Stories That China is Not As Good As The West." Examples of these stories include the story making the rounds the last week on the quality of lamb in restaurants, ubiquitous reports on various degrees of Chinese corruption and of course, pollution pictures.Now these are big important stories (except the lamb one,) but the focus on on China as opposed to say, India seems particularly acute. I am assuming that this is due to the news media's need for a rival to the United States in the post Soviet Era. As China actually has some potential to pass the US in GDP (kind of meaningless) and perhaps have a say in regional (and maybe global?) security matters, I guess this is makes for news? I am assuming it's the present version of the Cold War Era "look how long the Soviets had to wait in line for bread" stories.But at least China is open for Westerners to visit, as opposed to the USSR of the 70s, leading to a particularly annoying narrative: the disgruntled foreigner leaving China because of excess pollution/corruption/hurt feelings. What kills me about this type of article is the total lack of acknowledgement of a huge advantage any Westerner gets when living in China: a five or ten fold increase in purchasing power.Some small examples from my time there:
- You can ride the Beijing subway, whose frequency and coverage exceeds all American lines with the possible exception of New York, for 30 cents (2 yuan.)
- You can take a taxi for 2 miles (maybe 3 or 4?) for an initial fee of 10 yuan in Beijing, or $1.60.
- You can swing into a hutong restaurant and order enough (incredible) food for 4 easily for 80 yuan, or maybe 3$ a person.
- You can hire a maid for 50/100 yuan to clean your likely cheap apartment.So why wouldn't someone expect a tradeoff if they moved to China between prices paid and living standards? And why isn't it explained by China watchers that while Chinese GDP per capita is 1/6th the US? That China is not a developed country, and that it's nowhere close to being one, despite it's massive growth of the last few decades? That Westerners who travel or live there that are expecting the comforts of home are fooling themselves?Excuse the rant. I'm not sure why I'm responding to you about this. I think it's my fear that over the coming decades, the US and China will be thrown into an antagonistic relationship that will be an antagonism of choice. And people who do not share the love for China and the Chinese people you and I do, will look to this rising negative tide for rationalization of fear and hatred of the other. But in doing so, both countries will be turning their backs on incredible places and peoples that offer so much to each other.Thanks for listening. And here's hoping you have many future sunny Beijing days. The mountains ARE beautiful when you can seem them.
The past week in China has been as packed and enlightening as any comparable span I've spent anywhere, but since I have to get up in a few hours for a very early-morning (China time) muster, I will wait until tomorrow to begin a description.Ai Weiwei, oversized personality that he is, must understand the cult and farce of celebrity and those who would fawn in the face of it. At the risk of reading way too much into this, perhaps that's the wry, mischievous reasoning behind his deliberately woeful haircuts: because he knows you -- you - will appreciate it, since it came from him. It's why you'll wear it for a day, a week, a month after the fact, looking ridiculous because no one else understands the context. You know, however. You got a haircut from Ai Weiwei.
If domestic politics continue to drive Chinese diplomacy, ... the result will be an increasingly isolated China. Perhaps the best hope is that [new president Xi Jinping] will begin confronting the reality that Beijing's heavy-handed foreign policies are the principal cause of its rapidly deteriorating security environment... But [this] would also require a serious discussion with the Chinese people that is at odds with the current government's jingoist rhetoric. In the meantime, whatever China's defense white paper has to say, the U.S. rebalancing to Asia is not containing China. Besides, a U.S. policy of containment is hardly necessary when China is so effectively containing itself.2) The Hidden Harmonies blog is known for stoutly defending anything Chinese against criticism from any outsider (the authors are not big fans of my work). Now it offers a bracing "what's really wrong with China" essay by an ethnically Chinese foreigner, writing under a pseudonym, who has moved to China and is alarmed by what he has seen. I've frequently noted that, even though a thousand aspects of modern Chinese life drive me crazy, I still can't help liking the openness, the vim, the life of most of the people I meet here. That is, I find it easier to get along with the people than with the whole system. This blog writer sees things differently:
After living here for more than 9 months, I have come to a most repugnant conclusion. It pains me to even think about it for I am a Chinese person who has often defended the traditions, institutions, values and dignity of the Children of Heaven. But the truth is often painful at first. I realize now that much of the problems in Chinese society, and a plethora of problems there are, are not from the Chinese government (not a surprise to me since I am a long time China watcher suspicious of the anti government rhetoric of the west). What is surprising is that the myriad problems within Chinese society comes from the behavior, values and the beliefs of its people, a people that with all their traditions of wisdom behave in the most atrocious, despicable manner towards each other today. In a sense, I'd always expected this but were perhaps too proud to admit it and needed first hand experience for verification. Now I cannot escape that basic truth.
>>Good morning from the Four Points in Shenzhen!That is what we call ending on an optimistic note. Now, from another American I know who has lived for years in China:
The good thing for China is that the middle class market is growing [JF note: this had been the topic of the meeting we attended in Washington] and the bad thing for China is that the middle class market is growing. The middle class in China want access to better food, fashion, cars, holidays etc. That's going to be a real headache for the government. China Inc will struggle to meet the requirements this is an opportunity for USA Inc.USA Inc needs needs to get working. It's as if it doesn't see the big picture. I just landed in HKG this morning and you cannot compare it to IAD. We landed at gate 64 one of the furthest away gates. From the plane to the Four Points in Shenzhen it was 1 hour and 15 mins. That's 30 less than just for immigration at IAD.
HK immigration [inbound], baggage (I checked a bag) customs, car to HK/SZ border, HK immigration [outbound] and walk through the SZ immigration control. Then a car ride to the Four Points. The experience at IAD is very telling. What most people were upset with was the attitude of the immigration officers. They were sitting in their booths chatting to each other ignoring the people in the queue. it's as if they don't have a purpose in their work.If America gets its act together it will be a huge winner in these times.<<
>>A good friend and academic colleague (prof at [a well-known West Coast university]), Chinese citizen with a green card, 28 year resident of the USA, is in the customs line at the Bradley Terminal [international-arrivals area at LAX.]Again, for making a joke to a customs agent, a professor coming back to work lost control of the electronic devices through which many people manage their business and personal activities. You can choose how you would like to categorize these reports: under "the way we live now," or "seeing ourselves as others see us." Other possibilities: "life under the sequester." Or, "annals of the security state."
Asked if he had any cash, he answered 'none'. Then, realizing he had some pocket money, he said, "Oh, I forgot - I have a little. Poquito." (smiling)
"Please step over to that line, sir."
In 'the line you don't want to be in', he was searched carefully. He asked why.
"We have a lot of rich Chinese trying to bring lots of money into the USA these days."
"Do I look like a rich Chinese?"
"Could be, sir."
Upshot was that they confiscated both mobile devices and the laptop. He received the mobile devises several days later, they still have the laptop.
He thinks maybe it was the attempted Spanish that ticked off the Latino officer.<<
[Widespread Chinese ignorance of the "June 4 1989 episode"] reminded me of something another teacher told me. She had asked her students from China if they had heard about the death by starvation of 30 to 40 million people during the so-called "three years of natural disasters" in the early 1960s. Her students responded with stunned silence, as if she, a teacher in Hong Kong, was brazenly fabricating history to attack their mother country.
In the U.S., for every 10,000 live births, there are 7.5 infants with neural tube defects. In Shanxi province, that number is 18 times higher: 140 infants....
Over a 10-year period, the researchers gathered placentas from 80 stillborn or newborn infants in Shanxi with the disorder. Based on their analysis, they confirmed that those infants had been exposed in utero to significant levels of pesticides, industrial solvents, and especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are released into the air when fossil fuels are burned.
Chinese nuclear technology can be regarded as approaching global levels, with similar design, safety and operational standards. But to reduce costs, Chinese designs often cut back on safety. In the past, earthquake-resilience was lower than in Japan, for example. China also has much less experience of this sector than Japan.Qian Shaojun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has repeatedly said that nuclear safety relies on experience - you cannot claim something is safe until it has been operating for a certain number of reactor years. Japan has at least 10 times as many reactor-years of experience as China.
"Dead pigs have always ended up in Shanghai. This time they just went there by river, instead of by truck," said one Shaoxing pig farmer, pointing at a porcine corpse.Yes, of course, the pigs are by definition dead before they end up on a dinner table. But the story suggests that the cause for the riverine dumping is a crackdown on letting pigs who died from disease into the normal meat supply.
Foreign reporters flaunt their Mandarin skillsYes, I did notice the "with a big smile" touch; and this story caught my eye mainly because I find it droll. At the same time, I am trying to imagine the counterpart in America: a Secretary of State Clinton or Kerry hearing a question from a German or Japanese reporter and, before answering, noting that the questioner's English is "so good" that it can actually be understood. It's another little marker on the long road of China's developing a sense of ease as an international presence and power.
Caroline Puel, French magazine Le Point correspondent in Beijing, was surprised twice on Saturday at the press conference with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Besides getting a chance to ask a question out of the hundreds of reporters at the scene, Puel also got high marks from Yang for her Chinese.
"Your Chinese is so good I can understand your question without asking you to repeat it", Yang told her with a big smile.
Cyber security has become an increasingly prominent issue as security threats in a peaceful era, and seems another way for Western powers to apply pressure to contain China's rise, they [various Chinese officials] say.
Wen Weiping, a professor at the School of Software and Microelectronics at Peking University, put forward his explanation on the belligerence.
The US believes it is justified to launch military attacks on any country that launches cyber attacks threatening its cyber space, he said, and it must raise a fuss against such alleged attacks to build up a case. Wen said the US also aims to strengthen its cyber security forces as a deterrent and maintain its advantage during the information war.
In a question-and-answer session following Henry's pitch, one of the panel's three judges, a software billionaire named Shi Zhuyu, asks Henry whether he is just a "floral piece" for his company. At first, Henry looks confused, and the show's host -- thinking that perhaps Henry had become lost in the rapid-fire Mandarin -- interjects to clarify:
"Are you just one of those good-looking but useless CEOs?" she asks.
"I got it the first time," Henry replies with a grin. "I was just waiting for him to ask a bit more tactfully."
Encrypted traffic, especially [a certain protocol] is being focused on. China operates like one big LAN as best they can muster. If they outright block all encrypted traffic they go off the grid and no one is willing to do business there. Their choice? Randomly detect and disrupt encrypted traffic that has a high probability of being non-business traffic. If I were them, I would also be "white-listing" corporate data streams.
So, China is like a company with an IT director bent on stopping anything but official corporate business from being conducted on their network. That's the way to think of it.... China is doing nothing to [foreign] servers directly, but is disrupting the protocols they all use.
Thousands of users can connect to VPNs with no issue in China, so it definitely varies regionally and by ISP.
In regard to the People's Daily slideshow with the seven images of the lone "beautiful" journo - I'd bet a couple of rounds that it's a paid placement, designed to boost her career prospects (note how the images are mostly posed). No need to include her name - the right people will know who she is.
This is pretty common stuff these days. Alternatively, there's the very real possibility that a paramour might have paid to have these placed as a sort of flattering gift. That's not without precedent - recall that during Obama's first China trip in 2009 there was a big online kerfuffle over the identity of a very attractive young woman [JF: gif at right] seated behind him during his q&a with students. Later turned out that a wealthy boyfriend arranged for her to be seated there, and paid off some photogs [more than $15,000 at current rates, > $12,500 at the time] to get good images that would be published in Chinese media. Pretty standard stuff, and I'm guessing something similar is happening with this slide show, and many similar on PD.
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|Blind into Baghdad||Boiled-frog|
|Brave little USB||Budget|
|China Airborne||China Daily|
|China Menace||China Today|
|Copenhagen||Crisis of the press|
|Doing Business in China||Dreaming in Chinese|
|Going to hell|
|Ideas 2009||Ideas 2011|
|Obama||Obama in Asia|
|Occupy Wall Street||Olympics|
|Public health||Reader comment|
|Security Sanity||Security Theater|
|Self-pity and its discontents||Small Business|
|Volcano||Walk like an American|
|Wine||Year end pensee|
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