Beijing's Cultural Dominance?

Gmail's news scroll provides something interesting every now and then, even something blog worthy, yesterday was one such situation. The government is currently launching a program in over 200 schools in 10 provinces adding Peking Opera to the music curriculum.

While I like the idea of expanding and diversifying the curriculum and especially the attempt to embrace traditional Chinese culture, I'm not sure how good an idea this is. The public has concerns about how much this program will actually promote traditional culture and there is a fear that many, if not all, the teachers who will be in charge of teaching Peking Opera classes will lack a serious (or any at all) background in this very intricate art form.

The provinces selected for the test program are Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Jiangxi, Gansu, and Hubei. I agree that the lack of trained teachers will be a huge problem, but my other complaint, one that the article doesn't touch on, is that while there may be a misunderstanding in the west, Peking Opera refers to a specific art form that is relatively unique to Beijing (or at least the northern region). Shanghai, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Gansu all have their own unique forms of traditional opera. This issue touches on what was brought up in my CCTV post from a few days ago, a policy chosen by the central government seems to ignore regional differences. What makes this one Beijing centric form of art more important to protect and promote in these regions over other, more local art forms?

You can view the original article that inspired this post here, as well as an interesting article on Kunqu, which is said to have influenced Peking Opera, on Shanghaiist.

Am I Dreaming?

As of 5 minutes ago, blogspot is once again accessible in China, I'm not sure how long that will remain the case, but hopefully it will be a long time, so I won't have to switch this blog to another server and go through all those hassles...

Is CCTV Really NCTV?

The numbers have been out for awhile regarding viewership of the annual Spring Festival Gala on CCTV and as usual, they are very high, nearly 70% of Chinese tv viewers tuned in this year to see an overly painted Zhang Ziyi lip synch, Zhao Benshan do his thing, Jiang Wen pander, and Li Yong's crazy outfits. Going inside the stats reveals some interesting details, the majority of viewers were in northern China. The top 5 provinces with the most viewers were (in order of ranking): Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Beijing, and Hebei. You have to go down to 15th before you find a "southern" province, in this case Anhui. The bottom 5? Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan. Disappointingly for CCTV, less than 5% of Guangdong viewers tuned in this year.

The numbers, all from AC Nielsen claim 68.16% tuned in at least at one point during the 5 hour broadcast, a percentage that would have any American tv exec drooling. When you have that many people tuning in, its easy to say that the show is overwhelmingly popular, but at the same time, the stats show a different story. So why is the show so popular in northern China and not watched in the south? Is it an issue of dialect? Is it just habit? In the north, Spring Festival is ALWAYS about preparing dumplings while watching CCTV and complaining about how horrible this year's show is while reminiscing about previous years. Do those in the south fail to tune in because they don't feel connected or is it just their New Year's habits are different?

Like When Everyone Discovers That Indie Band You Love...

You know when you really love a band (or restaurant or store or book or whatever) and they seem to be floating sort of under the radar? You keep going through an internal debate with yourself as to whether you want to tell the world about them because they deserve the wider audience or just keep them your own personal secret so that you can enjoy them....

Well, that's sort of how I felt back in December 2006 when I stumbled across Dianping after having returned to Beijing and wanting to find out if a favorite restaurant of mine had been felled by a wrecking ball or was still going strong. It was Beijing, after all, and places were (and are) constantly closing or being chai'ed. Unfortunately, that restaurant had already met its maker, but I had a new go-to tool whenever looking for a restaurant and also something to waste an hour (or three) when I was bored.

Dianping is THE resource on the web for Chinese (and those who can read Chinese) who like to eat out on a regular basis. The website, launched in 2003, offers visitors the chance to write their own Zagat-like reviews about restaurants they visit, and allows other visitors to send reviewers flowers or leave comments about a review. Some reviews are simple, some are extremely in-depth breakdowns with photos, others resort to poetry, and some (read mine) even are in English. Almost every major (and even some minor) cities are represented and it seems that almost every non-hole in the wall tiny restaurant (and even some tiny ones) are listed. There also are a huge variety of groups where one can go to discuss everything under the sun, but usually focused on food (sort of like the US sites chowhound or egullet). Often, these groups will hold gatherings referred to as "FB"s (for 腐败, corruption in English, as these events typically are about eating and drinking a lot and having fun). Dianping has even spawned local imitators like in Shenzhen, but as of yet none of them can compare to Dianping for depth of information.

So why am I giving up this "secret"? Well, City Weekend already exposed the joys of the site with their interesting interview with the site creator, Zhang Tao. I figured at this point, it really isn't much of a secret, but its still relatively unfamiliar to many expats, so its time to let everyone know. If you love eating out, if you're looking for a new place to eat, or if you need a restaurants phone number or address quick, Dianping is the place to go!

On the Beijng Subway 1: Conservative vs. "Kaifang"

The topic of "openness" is one that I've brought up before, in China it is overwhelmingly understood that Chinese are "traditional" and "conservative" while all foreigners are "kaifang" (ie open) when it comes to choices about personal life, sex, etc. This stereotype is so simple, but fits into the image Chinese want to have of themselves. A stereotype usually has some truth to it and while maybe it made sense during (or up to) the mid 80s, in today's China (as well as today's conservative Christian movement in the US) this stereotype is somewhat flipped on its head.

Going beyond this simple stereotype, though, its interesting to see how societal standards in this area differ in the two countries and it was never so striking for me than when I entered a Beijing subway car the other night after a long day of work to be struck by new ads that were all over the place. The ads? Along the top section were ads for "Pigeon Manual Breast Pumps" (including a picture) and near the doors were ads for "Pigeon Disposable Breast Pads". As someone whose spent much of his life in the US, this seemed shocking to me, this is not the kind of thing that would be put in such a public place in the US. This is not the kind of thing that would even be advertised in the US.

This wasn't the most shocking example of advertising I've seen in China, though. The worst was in front of a Watson's drug store in Shenzhen, located in a mall with a KFC to the left and a McDonald's to the right, regularly full of middle and high school students. The offending "ad" in this case was a large (4 ft high or so) blow up cartoonish version of a Jissbon (by the way, what a great name) condom. I still truly regret not taking a picture of that.

Another example is on the Sina sports homepage, there is a regular section called "Sexy Border" (among others) with pictures that would make those looking for sports news during the work day blush. We're talking straight out of the Victoria's Secret catalogue/SI Swimsuit issue or worse.

Yet another example of how US society is prudish (or is it just that Chinese society is more open than they'd like to admit)?


Beijing Olympics Logos Abound...

Walking around Beijing, you are met with an overwhelming number of Olympics related logos. It seems like BOCOG has gone a bit insane with logos, not being in any previous host city, I don't know how they treated the Games, but to me, by August it might seem like there are a hundred different logos and even more different "official sponsors." Without further ado, let's look at the different offerings:

1. The official logo

Okay, I like the Beijing font, but I've hated this logo since the first day I saw it. Okay, it is supposed to look like a Chinese chop, a person running, and the "Jing" character. Nothing about it is uniquely Beijing nor does it seem special, its just underwhelming. However, having seen the London logo, I'm starting to appreciate it.

2. Candidate City logo

Beforre 7/13/01, this was the logo that could be seen everywhere around the city. It's unique and exciting, there is movement to it and its colorful. It fails to scream Beijing, but has Chinese elements and is more dynamic than the current primary logo.

3. Olympic Mascots

Another example of how this is China's Games (in more ways than one) and not just Beijing's. The Fuwa are made up of mythical and real animals that are found throughout China, though none is really native to Beijing. Also, unlike most other Olympics with only 1 or at most 2 mascots, Beijing's going all out with 5, one for each ring, and their name spells out "Beijing Huanying Ni" (Beijing Welcomes You). Can anyone convince me the decision to have 5 mascots wasn't totally about money?

4. Paralympics logo

This one is bad, really bad. It's supposed to represent "sky, earth, and human beings" and be an "athlete in motion" that incorporates Chinese caligraphy and characters. Sorry, I'm not seeing that. This makes "Running Jing" look good...

5. Fu Niu Le Le Paralympic Mascot
As much as I hate the Fuwa, I love Funiu. It uses some good colors and while it doesn't shout China, it does shout cute, which is exactly what a mascot is supposed to do.

6. Other logos

Above are the logos for the torch relay, volunteers, environment, culture, and ticketing. For the first few, the logos are all variations on a theme and use the same style person and similar Caligraphy-like strokes that are reshaped in different ways. It incorporates Chinese caligraphy, but is unique to Beijing, the only minor problem is that its lacking some "Olympic" element, but then again, it is hard to incorporate everythin. The rings instead of "ticketing" might have made this a much better choice instead of "Running Jing".
So there's a quick, somewhat uniwatch-style look at some of the logos and I'm sure they'll be a few more over the next few months. What do the readers think? Any favorites? Any annoyances?
The ticketing logo is interesting (sorry for the crappy quality) to me. Unlike any of the other logos, this IS Beijing. As is often talked about, Tiananmen is the symbol of China, but Tiantan (the ticketing logo is a stylized version of Tiantan) is the symbol of Beijing.


America's Pastime Comes to China PK Beckham Comes to China

It's February and though Beijing is currently experiencing a bit of spring weather, its shocking to thing that in the US baseball players are already reporting to spring training. In this, the Olympic year, Major League Baseball has decided its time to come to China and play some spring training ball in Beijing. Forgive me for yawning. It's hard enough for me to get excited about baseball, but spring training baseball? Not for me...

However, for those baseball lovers, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will go head-to-head at Wukesong Baseball Stadium on March 15th and 16th. The NBA was the first US sports league to come to China and while the NFL had plans to play at the Bird's Nest this year, those were scuddled. Baseball attempted entry in China a few years back and a domestic league was established, though it was basically ignored and quietly disappeared after a season or two. China's team at the baseball world cup last summer was a bit of a disaster as well, getting romped in every game. Although this is all true, MLB has pushed into the market, while the sport still isn't popular here, they've released a clothing line that can be found in higher end malls that is modestly popular, especially with hip hoppers. For those interested in checking out America's pastime, tickets can be purchased through for RMB50-1280.

As an aside, in an interesting translation, though they are using 中国赛 like the NBA did, MLB is deciding to translate it as "China Series" whereas the NBA went with "China Games." Here's the baseball logo:

and here's the NBA's version this year:

Personally, I prefer the MLB's version, incorporating the team's logo and a Tiantan shadow, unlike the very generic NBA logo.

Slightly more interesting and also LA-related, Beckham's world tour will stop off in Shanghai on March 5 as the LA Galaxy play a "Shanghai East Asia" team. I'm still not clear exactly who the team will be made up of, perhaps a combination of players like Beckham's last trip to China with Real Madrid when they faced off against the "Dragon team." I know the game is all about Beckham, but having watched both the MLS and the CSL for many years, it would have been very interesting to see teams from each league go head-to-head, especially considering both LA and a would-be opponent like Shanghai Shenhua are both currently going through their preseason preparations.  Tickets for "Beckhamfest" will range from RMB50-2008 (surprise, surprise).

edit: More news on the team, its made up of players from Shanghai and Hong Kong and will thusly be called Shanghai-Hong Kong United and the squad will be picked by veteran Chinese coach, Xu Genbao.

Valentine's Day Shanghai Style

I was in Shanghai during Valentine's Day and while the "Hallmark holiday" is about pampering the one you love, don't we all love ourselves the most and want to pamper numero uno more than anything?

With that in mind, I slept in, headed to Coconut Paradise for a wonderful, leisurely Thai lunch and then headed for a 2 hour full body massage at the uber-relaxing and renovated Green Massage Xintiandi. After the massage, I scoped out a new branch of Enoteca nearby and relaxed with a book and a glass of red wine. Already nearing early evening, it was time to head home and get ready for the main event, dinner at Jade on 36. A glass (or two) of champagne in Jade bar was the piece de resistance on an excellent, relaxed day.

While there are always those who complain about bad "China days", this was an example of a great China day. You could have an equally nice day in many of the world's big cities, but the number of cities where you can experience so many different things and not have your wallet take an insanely large hit (dinner at Jade is expensive, but considering the ingredients, its probably less than you'd pay in Chicago/NY/Paris/London). I'm starting to get used to the Shanghai lifestyle...

No iPhone in China: Who is to Congratulate and Who is to Blame?

I try to read as many other blogs as my time allows and there are many times I will have some kind of response to what someone else posted, but its rare that they will drive me to post. Well, here goes. As someone who paid close attention to the China Mobile-Apple negotiations and was really hoping to get my hands on a licensed iPhone (as on my last trip to the US I discovered I was too late to get one that could be easily unlocked), the breaking off of negotiations between those two parties left me somewhat sad.

In reality, it didn't stop iPhones from entering the China market through the backdoor, as the New York Times has explained. Is Steve Jobs being too greedy or did China Mobile have too much confidence in its hand? The reality is somewhere in between, but if anything, its probably easier to blame Jobs.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised to see The China Game, a recent blog that is a pretty good read, take the side of Jobs, even stating:

While everyone was slamming poor old Steve, I wished to congratulate him at
least for holding his ground. So many have gone to China and given away the
store, and here you had a guy who knew where he stood, someone unfazed by all of
the China hype. Bravo

Okay, the "China hype"? "Given away the store"? This language seems to be going back to the wild, wild west days when JVs were the name of the game.

China Game wrongly states that Chinese consumers who got an iPhone through the backdoor don't have to use China Mobile. While it is true that a user could probably go with China Unicom, despite its horrible GSM services, its highly unlikely. China Unicom's focus is on CDMA and therefore any iPhone purchaser is probably choosing China Mobile and its also highly unlikely that Apple will do a deal with Unicom.

Consumers are paying a premium for the iPhone here, but none of that money is going back to Apple, because the phones are usually purchased in the US or Europe. Just think, they could offer the iPhone in China for a price of up to US$100 more than it sells in the US and still have no problem garnering major interest. A licensed iPhone through a Chinese carrier offered at the same price as it is in the US would almost immediately make it the top selling phone in China, especially if you look at what is currently available in the RMB2500-3000 price range.

Also, while China Game sees Apple as creating "customers" in China, the reality is that they are only creating "window shoppers." The current price of the iPhone, hiked up by greedy importers, is making it a tough sell. I've yet to see an iPhone used by someone in China who isn't an expat or an overseas Chinese. The idea that the iPhone is a "hit" in China is insane, sure, as the NYT says "thousands" have been smuggled back into China, but 1. they aren't selling like hotcakes, and 2. "thousands" is a miniscule number in the Chinese mobile phone market. The price issue matches much of the talk you hear from Chinese about Apple products. While many love the design and are highly interested in Apple's other products, price and concerns about software often keep them away from purchasing computers, legit iPhones could have been the first step in really creating "customers."

Granted, China Mobile lost out on getting a cut of sales from the iPhone (at least for now), but as for services, most people are still choosing to go with China Mobile. Equally, the corresponding cut Apple would have gotten from China Mobile on iPhone service usage would have been much greater to what China Mobile would get from sales. If a customer uses an iPhone or not, there are still a lot of premium services that China Mobile offers and that bring in a lot of money. Unlike in the US and Europe, its unlikely a Chinese version of iTunes would be released (and even if it did, there's no way Chinese would pay for music online), so the one new area of revenue that China Mobile would have seen (other than sales of handsets) was a moot point.

Neither of these companies are hurting, but the iPhone was Apple's chance to enter China in a big way and it fell through. If anyone comes crawling back to the table, its going to be Jobs.


The Road to 2010 Begins to be Paved...

The 2010 World Cup seems off in the distant future, but qualifying for it has already begun and if you were like most people, busy on some wonderful New Year's vacation, or just parked in front of the tv watching the annual New Year's Gala, you missed the fact that China played its first qualifying match on New Year's Eve.

First off, the post's title isn't (really) meant as a (somewhat) intelligent gibe at the 2010 host nation, South Africa. I just want to get that out of the way. Anyways, on New Year's Eve, after Australia had basically decimated the group's presumed punching bag, Qatar (a strong team, but one that is more or less overmatched in this group), 3-nil at home, China was to take on Iraq in Dubai.

The lineup for the first match that "counted" in the Petrovic era was an interesting mix of mostly established, young(ish) players with a few surprises, including Qu Bo and Xu Yunlong getting starts. Petrovic kept Sun Jihai on the bench for the majority of the game and brought him on as a late sub, it will be interesting if this was a one-time thing or signifies Sun's future role for the national team. The media has made a lot of the fact that half of the starters lacked experience in WC Qualifying matches, yet that doesn't seem to be a valid excuse considering those without the WC Qualifying experience do have Asian Cup experience. None of these players, with the possible exception of keeper Zong Lei, are lacking in big game experience.

As for the game, well, those that chose to watch the New Year's Gala (or do just about anything other than watching the match) made the right choice. A scoreless, physical first half which saw Iraq lose its star Mahmoud Younis was followed by Iraq grabbing an early lead in the second half, but then going a man down not long after. China had a number of excellent chances as it seemed the Iraqi defense was in disorder and hadn't properly adjusted to going a man down, the Chinese side didn't let the opportunity go to waste and Zheng Zhi was able to bang in a header in the 75th minute. China followed it up with a few more chances, but they were unable to pull ahead, instead settling for an away draw.

Typical logic dictates that an away draw isn't a bad result, especially considering the opponent was the Asian champion. There was also the added pressure that this game was being played on China's New Year's Eve. In reality, this was a winnable game, especially when Iraq lost its best player (early) AND went a man down. It's going to be a long, tough road for China and home results will be crucial, this time around China has chosen Kunming to play host to its home matches and the big clash will be March 26th against Australia.  Perhaps even more importantly will be the June 14th home match against Iraq, the penultimate group stage match.  A win in that game could decide it all as China ends the group stage matches in Australia, a huge challenge.  In between March and June, China can't take their 2 games against Qatar for granted if they wish to advance.

As a fan of uniwatch, my focus wasn't only on the game but also on the uniforms.  China appeared to be wearing their old jerseys and have yet to introduce the "Great Wall" uniform (unless they only plan on introducing a new home kit and keeping the old red kit).  On the other hand, Iraq fixed their Asian Cup uniform madness (players wearing 3 different style tops, all with different fonts and logos) and are now sponsored by Chinese company, Peak.  

As has been previously discussed on this blog, this continues the trend of smaller Chinese companies finding ways to market to a Chinese audience.  Peak has been masters at this, signing a deal with the Houston Rockets as well as Rocket Shane Battier (who does commercials on Chinese tv with the uninspiring tagline "I can play").  I highly doubt Peak sells athletic wear in Iraq (or Dubai), but by signing the Iraqi team, a team Chinese fans will be paying a lot of attention to and whose group stage games (at least in this round), will be all over Chinese tv, they are able to get in through the back door and earn themselves a lot of exposure.  Expect to see even more of this kind of marketing, especially at the Beijing Olympics.