Change Gonna Come

We've followed Xujun Eberlein's blog for awhile and she often has some very interesting posts, though a recent one particularly struck me. The post in question is titled "Spider Web in Tiananmen" and takes a look at what is seemingly a new openness among the Party censors to take a look at the Tiananmen uprising that took place during Qing Ming in 1976, shortly after Zhou Enlai's death. For many, the events have all but been forgotten, overshadowed by the larger events that happened in the Square 20 over 10 years later, but it was a significant moment in Chinese history.

As Eberlein points out, its extremely strange for those events to suddenly be addressed now (for those that don't know Qing Ming is in April). There is no major anniversary, or party leader dying, or anything else that would make it seem appropriate for a redress of those events in October 2008. In the past, it was always about reading between the lines in China that told you more than what the actual sentences in the paper said. However, is that really the case today? Next year is the 20th anniversary of those fateful events of 1989, is this signalling the first step on the (most likely slow) path to changing official policy regarding that year?

It would seem to me that if 1989 was going to be looked at again, doing it this year, in the leadup to the Olympics, may have been the best time to take away a story and let China shine in the media (though some may argue it would have brought the story back to the fore). Having spent a lot of time lately in the "suburbs" of Beijing (far different from what those in the US would think of as a suburb, more like the countryside), it still shocks me (although it shouldn't) that there are many people who don't have a clue as to what happened in 1989.

To borrow the immortal words of Sam, "it's been a long, long time coming, but I know, a change is going to come."


Wednesday Photo Thread: Gaming, Chinese Style

An Exciting Discovery

I'm usually a very calm person, but today a new discovery got my pretty excited. The complex facing the north gate of Ritan Park seems up and running with a ton of new restaurant choices. The choices include a branch of the Elephant Restaurant, a Russian spot, and an HK hotpot restaurant have all opened, but what made me the most excited was (what looked to be a very flashy) outpost of Jin Ding Xuan has opened in the complex. The chain has a number of locations in Beijing, with the most famous among most late night diners being the one just north of Yonghegong and next to Tango, but this location will definitely be very popular, very quickly.

Jin Ding Xuan is famous for offering solid dim sum available 24 hours a day. In particular, they have a number of deals, including discounts on many of their best dim sum in the early morning, in late afternoon, and late evening (going into the early hours of the morning). Nothing is better for you after a late night of clubbing and drinking than a good bowl of zhou along with some dim sum.

Surprisingly, City Weekend just did a feature on late night dining and mentioned a number of weak choices (All-Star? Bellagio?) and didn't include any mention of Jin Ding Xuan. While nothing beats a few yangrou chuanr and a nang or two at a local spot sometimes, especially in winter, you need a bit more in a warmer and better lit environment. Jin Ding Xuan provides all that in spades and has great food to soak up the alcohol. The huge Yonghegong branch is an institution, well known to many of the city's clubbers/bar goers. This new branch, a short taxi ride from Gongti/Sanlitun and within walking distance of Partyworld is sure to become an instant favorite.


Monday Photo Thread: Life by the Beach

It's hard to imagine over 2 months have passed since the close of the magical Beijing Olympics. After originally trying to hold onto our few writers and photographers in Beijing, we decided it was best to just give everybody the month of to enjoy the Games, in the next few weeks, we'll offer a bit of a look at the Olympics, both on and off the field. This is from our (wo)man on the ground in Qinhuangdao. Far from the glitz and glamour of the Games in Beijing, this amalgamation of cities on the sea was a shock Olympic site and for those who traveled to the city, what they were met with was equally surprising.


Like A Rolling Stone

An interesting post on Silicon Hutong, that lifts heavily from an equally interesting post by Ed Peto, on the Chinese music scene. The conclusion of both seems to be that, any day now, there will start to be a move away from traditional saccharine Chinese pop songs and diversity will be the word of the day.

The reality would dictate otherwise, as access, habit, and peer pressure will continue to dictate things for years to come. Currently, a large indie, hip hop, and rock scene exists in Beijing, and to a lesser extent other cities, but there are very few people jumping on the bandwagon. Part of it is that a number of artists in these scenes insist on using English, thus pushing fans of these genres to focus away from domestic options and instead pick foreign ones. If they're singing in English anyways, why not listen to people who speak better English?

Yet the biggest issue is peer pressure and acceptance of something new and unusual. Play a Gong Fu or Joyside song for 10 Chinese youngsters and maybe 1 or 2 will be bouncing their head to it, the rest will just see it as strange and go back to blasting their Jay Chou or Cai Yilin megahits. Part of the attraction to these other genres is that it makes one different from everyone else. There has been a nascent rock scene in China for nearly 25 years and yet its never been able to go mainstream, despite huge crowds showing up to concerts of top foreign and Chinese acts. It is a rebellion against what your parents and everyone in your school is listening to, its an act of individualism in a country where individualism is frowned upon.

It is interesting as well that if a genre exists outside of pop in China, it is folk/ethnic music, with singers like Dao Lang (mentioned in the article) and Han Hong garnering a lot of popularity. This sort of "traditional" music is familiar and easy on the ears of all generations, thus making it more acceptable to all.

Chinese labels are looking for music that will have mass appeal in an extremely large, diverse country. Selling music to a subculture wouldn't be that hard as there is still a huge audience for it, but the choice always goes for music that is attractive to 10 million Chinese instead of 500,000. I find it so interesting how 21 year olds who weren't even born when Jackey Cheung (张学友)began his career will know every word to every one of his songs. Music is typically generational, but in China, it crosses generations as many songs today don't sound that much different than songs 20 years ago.

There will always be a market for Re-Tros, there will always be a market for CMCB, but they will never be mainstream and there will never be the same degree of acceptance of these subcultures as there is in the US or abroad. Just looking at Korean and Japanese music shows this, sure other genres have taken a small portion of the market (hip hop and rock, respectively), the majority of what is out there isn't very different from your everyday Mandopop tune.



Sliding Into Obscurity

Chinese soccer has long been a running joke domestically, but while things looked like they were improving for a little while, the current situation is more dire than ever before. Some of the events that brought China to this point:
  • Failure to advance from the group stage at Asia Cup 2007
  • the Women's squad losing in the quarterfinals at the Women's World Cup 2007 (hosted by China)
  • Failure to advance out of the first round of World Cup Qualifying earlier this year
  • The Women losing to Japan (of all teams) and bowing out at the Olympics
  • Firing the Olympics coach less than a month before the start of the tournament
  • The Men's team earning only 1 point (and only scoring 1 goal) in 3 games at the Olympics
  • The Wuhan scandal that has plagued the domestic Chinese Superleague this season
  • China's FIFA ranking dropping to 97th, down from 73rd in July 2007

In the leadup to the Asia Cup in 2007, there was a lot of hope for Chinese soccer. The domestic league appeared to have fully recovered after the "Black Whistles" scandal and corruption of a few years before and big crowds were turning out. A number of Chinese internationals were finding success in Europe, the men's team looked good going into the Asia Cup, and the Women's World Cup would take place in China.

The picture today is an absolute disaster, the men's team is without a legitimate coach, the domestic league is in turmoil and is being ignored again, the majority of internationals have returned or gone to lesser European clubs, and the women's team is experiencing lean times.

Xie Yalong was (rightfully so) pushed out of his position at the top of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) only a month ago. Calls for his head have been sounded for a year, though they got so loud during the Olympics, even when China wasn't on the pitch, that it became a sort of web/sms joke. It got so bad that during the Paralympics soccer competition, fans could be heard shouting "Xie Yalong xia ke" and a number of websites and forums have been created using this name. The length of time it took the CFA to finally dump Xie and his own surprised reaction to finding out he was being removed says more than anything about how out of touch with the public the CFA has become.

When Fan Zhiyi, the former Chinese captain who led the squad during the World Cup 2002, was asked if he'd be interested in heading up the CFA, he basically said "no chance in hell" as the fan's expectations are so high and the CFA structure is such that success is near impossible.

The CFA is calling for reform of Chinese soccer and forming a new squad in December to prepare for Asia Cup qualifying, which is to begin in January, but all of this sounds so familiar. Part of the problem is the form, the CFA is stuck as a governmental department under the National Sports Administration. Bureaucrats like Xie are regularly appointed to take charge, instead of people with actual soccer knowledge or success. Past failure and snap decisions by the CFA has led to an environment in which no coach would feel comfortable and so no matter how much money is offered, it will be impossible for China to lure a top, international coach to try his hand at turning the national team around.

So what comes next? Will a former national hero like Hao Haidong have the power to reform things or will his regional connection to Dalian further divide the national squad? Will the CFA be able to find a foreigner with a solid resume to revolutionize the current squad or will such an individual be stifled by the CFA's red tape?

Even for the most optimistic of fans, the future looks dismal.


The NBA's China Gamble

The NBA just completed its annual visit to China with big crowds coming out in Guangzhou and Beijing to watch two mediocre teams and during the time in China, the NBA announced plans to build a number of new stadiums in China. The original figure being reported is that 12 new stadiums are to be built around China. The NBA plans on partnering with AEG, a major global sports and entertainment company who the NBA worked with before (most recently on England's O2 Stadium). While AEG seems rearing for 12 stadiums, an interview with NBA Commish David Stern made it seem like the 12 was more an aspirational figure than anything else. For the time being, it seems, the focus will be on building new venues in Shanghai and Guangzhou. It should also be noted, NBA China, the league's domestic arm here, owns the Wukesong Stadium and complex where the Olympic basketball competition (and this year's China Games) was held.

I can see why new venues are needed in Beijing and Shanghai. Both cities lack decent indoor venues. The majority of them are either extremely old (Worker's Gymnasium and Capital Stadium in Beijing, Shanghai Indoor Stadium in Shanghai) or in the middle of nowhere (the Tennis Center in shanghai). The Wukesong venue, brand spanking new and very accessible, is exactly what Shanghai needs. The problem is there aren't year long events that can use such a venue. The NBA has come to China once each year and there are a few winter concerts that could use such a venue, but beyond that, there aren't regular sports competitions or other uses for the venue. The NHL will probably come for a game in a year or two, but even with AEG's power in the entertainment world, won't these stadiums just remain empty the majority of the year?

Beyond that, you have to wonder, where will the other 10 stadiums be placed? Sure, outside of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, other cities are even in greater need of newer indoor stadiums, but what events can you put in them. After Shanghai and Guangzhou, who comes next? Shenzhen? Shenyang? Tianjin? The money won't come in solely from the arena but from the "entertainment/retail complex" that will be set up around the arena, but there has to be a draw and in many of these cities, with such complexes already in abundance, it's going to be hard bringing in the masses.


I'm Not Seeing It

I love lists and even though its not really a true "top 5" list, Shanghaiist pointed me to this article that listed 5 of the best cities around the world for expats, though each get their moniker in a specific category.

Shanghai is listed as the "Best Hot New City." Come again? First off, Shanghai is hardly new on the world travel map or as a "hot" city and isn't Beijing the "hot" city of 2008? If you go through the rest of the list, you see how laughable it is.

Let us look at why the writer lists Shanghai as a great "hot new" city. He states, "Shanghai’s dynamism can be seen in the layering of the futuristic skyline, colonial facades, and the teeming, gritty street life. This energy is percolating down to Moganshan Road’s gallery and warehouse studio scene, regarded as the epicenter of contemporary Chinese art."

Blah, blah, blah, a great mix of old and new, blah blah blah. Shanghai the epicenter of contemporary Chinese art? Has the writer ever even been to China? Has he been to Beijing? He further states "Shanghai already provides a good mixture of affordability, opportunity, nightlife, and culture."

I'm sorry, I'm not seeing it, especially when compared to the affordability, nightlife, and culture in Beijing. Nice try, though...