Happy Number 8 Signal!

The BBC summarizes China’s economic ideology…

Western economies tend to be powered by people spending, but Beijing is wary of this consumerist model. Not only is it deemed wasteful, it is also individualistic.

Empowering consumers to buy a new TV, subscribe to streaming services or go on holiday may help stimulate the economy, but it does little for China’s national security or its competition with the US.

From Bloomberg China’s latest new, zippy, thinking-out-of-the-box idea on how to boost the economy: more local government borrowing to finance more infrastructure. It’s not all about loss-making construction projects – local governments will also be allowed to issue bonds so they can repay off-balance-sheet debt.

If you can’t get through the paywall, here’s a pic of Michael Bloomberg at M+ Museum yesterday…

Also probably paywalled, but worth reading if possible: Howard French in FP on the absence of foreigners in China today.

From Politico, a UK parliamentary committee calls for greater recognition of Taiwan…

“The U.K. could pursue closer relations with Taiwan if it were not over-cautious about offending the [Chinese Communist Party],” the committee said. “The U.K. should loosen self-imposed restrictions on who can interact with Taiwanese officials. The U.S. and Japan have shown that communication is possible even at the highest level.”

(Some over-excited comments about this online. It’s a legislative branch talking shop, not a government department.)

A ‘positive energy’ CMP guest article describes the rise of stand-up comedy in the Mainland despite financial, censorship and other problems…

…many of us still found workarounds to put on unpaid open mics and shows, billing them as community events or language exchange programs rather than professional performances.

…Stand-up comedy worldwide has long been a male-dominated field, and that gender imbalance was imported to China alongside the format … well-educated women are often told that they will have trouble finding a husband if they are too outspoken. To be a female stand-up is to seriously defy gender norms. 

…Young Chinese have endured years of soul-crushing education to enter a job market with record-high youth unemployment in the workforce. They’re pressured to succeed professionally then urged to marry and reproduce. There’s plenty to complain about, and comedians excel at making misery funny.

Also from CMP – and even funnier than stand-up – China’s cyberspace administration announces the annual ‘Positive Energy Online Exemplars’ winners…

Hidden among the hundreds of entries are a few human interest stories that genuinely speak to the resilience and compassion of people around the country — suicide hotline counselors, firefighters, and educators, for example. But across every medium, the top winners are invariably stories praising Xi Jinping. The top five articles aren’t works of storytelling at all but merely summaries and commentaries on Xi’s speeches. The silver medalist invites us to “Feel Xi Jinping’s Affections by Attentively Listening to His New Year Greeting.”.

Some stand-up – Margaret Cho impersonating her mother. 

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7 Responses to Happy Number 8 Signal!

  1. Stanley Lieber says:

    Margaret Cho shows why stand-up is a male-dominated field.

  2. Chinese Netizen says:

    Read the Howard French piece. I also lived through a lot of what he describes as the “heady times” in China. I used to have to laugh and educate so many upon my trips home that no, it’s not like one of those Cold War black and white movies where there’s always an agent assigned to follow every outsider’s (AFAIK) every move. It was a great time to be in China. Laissez-faire was an understatement.

    And then Xi had to waltz in and fuck it all up.

  3. Knownot says:

    Yellow Helmets

    I have a tale, a tale to tell-o
    About the wicked colour Yellow.
    See the danger disappear-o:
    Art is nought and Yellow zero.

    Cartoon figures could be found
    Painted on a wall:
    Building workers, plump and round.
    No trouble there at all.

    This mural was devised
    Years ago, before
    Your politics were advertised
    By the clothes you wore.

    Here’s the problem: each good fellow
    By some chance had got
    A helmet coloured Yellow.
    Yes? – you say – So what?

    Remember: Yellow represents
    A challenge to the motherland.
    Patriots came in loyal defence;
    Oh, good! The mural’s banned.

    And so we saw the wall was clear-o.
    In conclusion, have no fear-o.
    Every patriot is a hero.
    Art is nought and Yellow zero.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Hong Kong Free Press
    August 26, 27
    Hong Kong gov’t removes decade-old graffiti over security …

  4. Justsayin says:

    Yes but he made the trains run on time

  5. seedy Brit journo Tim Ommelet says:

    Today something happened that has never happened before during my 40+ years in Hong Kong: all the 7-11s in my hood closed abruptly at 5 PM. My friends, this is the end.

  6. Low Profile says:

    @Knownot – it is surprising that TVB still dress their reporters in yellow helmets (and anoraks) when they venture out during typhoons. Are they secretly practising soft resistance?

  7. DelBoy says:

    Fir those unable to read the Howard French article, I’v found a useful dodge. Command + A + C will copy and paste the article and command + V to transfer it to a TextEdit file. My first visit to China was 1981. The local were friendly and curious, but as a photographer, it was impossible to take candid photographs. The neighbourhoods knew my comings long before I appeared. One notable moment was standing on the corner of Nanjiang Lu in Shanghai waiting for that ‘perfect moment’. Turning round, I stumbled into a huge crowd patiently watching me from behind. Howard’s article following.

    China Is Closing In on Itself
    The absence of foreigners in the country is a symptom of China’s restrictive, security-driven view of the world.

    One weekend in late July, I hired a car and driver to take me from Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, to Leshan, a town two hours to the south.
    There, on the steep bank of a river, stands one of the world’s most extraordinary religious statues: a 71-meter-high likeness of the seated Buddha, his enormous body and gently smiling countenance carved in stone out of the face of a mountain more than 12 centuries ago.
    I had never managed to see the Leshan Buddha during my six years of living in China as a correspondent in the early 2000s despite numerous visits to Sichuan, a sprawling province that is one of the country’s largest by population. What stung worse was that a few years later, in 2012, I spent the better part of a summer in Chengdu and still didn’t get a chance to see the famous Buddha statue. The province, like the rest of China, brims with astounding historical sites and places of dramatic natural beauty, so I simply ran out of time.
    I didn’t know what to expect from a day trip like this, but I knew it would be interesting—and for more reasons than just the imposing Buddha. China had only recently reopened to foreigners after its severe and prolonged quarantine measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy was (and remains) stubbornly sluggish. The country, like much of the earth, was also baking under a record-setting heat wave. And the mood of the population was said to have turned broadly pessimistic, at least about China’s near-term prospects after many years of world-leading growth.
    But something else I found—or rather, didn’t find—in Leshan stunned me in ways that I was certainly not expecting. Arriving at the immense and well-organized reception site where tickets are sold for the various means of viewing the Buddha, I discovered myself to be the lone non-Chinese person (going simply by appearances) among the many thousands of people milling about the premises.
    Let me be clear: This was not a matter of fright or even the least discomfort for me. I have always been an avoid-your-own-kind sort of traveler, and during my many chance encounters with people that sweltering day, I relished having extended conversations in Chinese.
    I do think the lack of foreign people in the country raises concerns for China, though—even serious ones.
    Over the course of that long day, whether endlessly standing in snaking lines, eating in mess hall-like dining places, riding on a packed river cruise boat, or walking around Emeishan, another famous, ancient Buddhist site nearby, I would estimate conservatively that I came face to face (or close to it) with at least 20,000 people. And that entire time, I saw only one other person who was obviously not Chinese. He was a middle-aged man speaking a European language I couldn’t identify into a cellphone for instant translation as he struggled to make himself understood to a young Chinese woman who was trying to assist him.

    Later in my stay in China, as I reflected on the experience of this day, my thoughts were thrust back to an era long before my first visit to the country in the 1990s, to an earlier time before China had modernized and was still all but closed to the world. The prevailing images of that bygone era available in the West were mostly in black and white and were filled with iconic elements like bicycle traffic jams, drab clothing, and unisex haircuts.
    By contrast, there I was in the summer of 2023, having traveled to Leshan in an all-electric, made-in-China SUV. The brand, which suddenly seems poised to capture lots of market share outside of the country, was BYD, and its slogan, “Build Your Dreams,” was emblazoned on the back, as was the case with countless similar vehicles I saw on an expressway as sleek as any in Germany. Wasn’t that proof enough, at least for starters, that China had completely changed? How could it be that a country that had only recently embraced globalization so enthusiastically had suddenly become so untrodden by non-Chinese?
    This was by no means an impression confined to Leshan. Chengdu is an enormous city of roughly 20 million people—an unfamiliar name for some who have never visited China but a giant and impressive city by global standards. And yet, during a two-week stay there, my experience was similar. Sightings of foreigners were only slightly less rare than they had been during my weekend outing. What struck me even more was that China’s biggest city, Shanghai—which has long been proudly cosmopolitan, even to the point of earning the derision of Chinese from other places—was also strangely lacking in foreigners, at least during my stay there in the two weeks that followed.
    In Shanghai, where I had been based when I lived in the country, I had time to catch up with old friends who were natives of the city. We met in the very heart of the city, at places like the very upscale commercial boulevard known as Nanjing Lu. Over lunch I took care not to steer the conversation in any particular direction and instead let it take its own course. The feelings and impressions I heard from people whom I had never known to be particularly political were grim with discouragement.
    For their safety, I must withhold their names, but they quickly offered up the impression that their country had recently been closing in on itself, and the resulting sensation, one said, was like suffocation. One of them told me that I had lived in China during its heyday, a feeling I immediately understood but had never formulated myself. He worked in art criticism and knew of the photography that I had done of the ragged but tightly knit old working-class neighborhoods of central Shanghai that were demolished in a crash program to rebuild the city during my time there. That work became a book, Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life, and was eventually even exhibited in Shanghai and elsewhere in China.

    “If this were now, you would never have even been allowed to take those pictures,” he said. “Someone would have stopped you and said, ‘If you want to take photographs here, you have to take pictures of the skyscrapers and other marvels of Shanghai, not the lives of ordinary people.’”
    My friend deplored the decline in the number of foreigners in Shanghai, but he was clear that this was only a relatively minor feature of what had changed in the city and China more broadly. “You can’t even turn on the TV or go to the movies here anymore,” he said. “Popular entertainment has become unwatchable because everything is so tightly controlled.”
    A friend from Beijing took the risk to tell me something similar by phone—or rather, by WeChat, the all-purpose social media app without which life in the country has become essentially unlivable. That’s because everyone now uses WeChat to do everything, from phone-like conversations and texting, to hailing cars and booking tickets, to buying groceries and making airplane reservations—all of which makes the monitoring of people by the state a nearly one-stop process. This, too, was a person I had never known to be particularly political. “There is no more news in this country,” she said. “It’s so depressing.”
    Other friends told me they worried about public notices and social media messaging warning Chinese people to be wary of foreigners because they might be spies. The United States, of course, has its own problems with xenophobia of this sort, especially with Chinese academics working in the hard sciences, but not since the dark days of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II has the country seen anything nearly as broad as what my friends in China described happening there now.
    Chinese people who, like these friends, have received good educations and generally done well for themselves economically over the last generation are responding to what they perceive to be their country’s inward turn through a variety of means. These include trying to emigrate, seeking to establish one foot outside of their country as a guarantee of personal security and comfort, or sending their children abroad.
    All of this is occurring against the backdrop of unprecedentedly insistent questions about whether the political style of China’s leader, Xi Jinping—known for his penchant for security and social control, as well as the economic model that he presides over, which has favored state corporations—is foreclosing the country’s boom era. Making matters worse, these doubts have surged at a time when China has belatedly begun to come to terms with a topic that observers like me have already been writing about for nearly a decade: what stands to be the most difficult crisis of aging and demographic decline ever seen.
    The absence of foreigners in the country, where this essay began, is merely an epidermic signal or symptom of something much larger. At stake for the country is whether China’s best bet for a prosperous, peaceful, and stable future is doubling down on a restrictive, security-driven view of the world that constantly elevates self-reliance and control, or recommitting itself to the relative openness of an earlier, more self-confident time.
    At the end of the month that I spent in China this summer, I was filled with an awareness of how lucky I had been to experience such a vibrant time in the country when I lived there before. I can only hope that the society as a whole will be lucky enough to experience another less uptight era again in the future.

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