Archive for ‘Social & cultural’

25/09/2016

Culture: Chinese, Indian and Japanese

I’ve just finished watching a short six-part series featuring Joanna Lumley on her trip from near the northern-most tip to the southern-most island of Japan – http://www.itv.com/hub/joanna-lumleys-japan/2a4327a0001. If, like me, you have not been to Japan but are curious about that mysterious far eastern country, then this show is well worth investing six hours of your time.

But the reason I’m raising it here on my blog is that to me it shows in stark contrast the three cultures today: Chinese, Indian and Japanese.

The series illustrate, without a shadow of doubt, that the Japanese have somehow managed to retain most of its old traditions and culture while adopting much of (the best of ) Western culture.The two co-exist happily and without any visible friction.  For example, young girls in traditional kimono are shown visiting the famous cherry blossom festival, alongside Japanese in plain western clothing. Or modern, educated Japanese taking time off to do a multi-temple pilgrimage (see Lumley photo). 

The Chinese, in my opinion, have (certainly in urban areas) disbanded most of their traditional and culture – apart from a few national festivals – and adopted western customs and culture wholesale. Apart from a few speialist travelogue TV series on rural China (http://watchdocumentary.org/watch/wild-china-episode-01-heart-of-the-dragon-video_3a9158d41.html), any TV show on China reveals mainly western modernity.

And finally, my take on Indian culture is that it has not moved far from what has been prevalent over the centuries, apart from a thin veneer of western culture and customs such as car ownership (see India on Wheels – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b013q5y0) and western clothing or education for the upper class in the English language.

I would really like to hear from you, my blog readers, on this subject, hopefully based on personal experience rather than based on a TV programme!

 

23/09/2016

Shacking up | The Economist

WHEN Da Lin moved in with his girlfriend two years ago, his mother tried to stop them: she feared that their living together unmarried would sully his girlfriend’s reputation and, by association, his too. She will be happy only after they finally marry next year (his family is buying the apartment, hers the car).

That generational clash is replicated in thousands of families across China: cohabitation without marriage was long anathema and officially illegal until 2001. Today it is commonplace.China’s social mores are changing astonishingly quickly. Before 1980 around 1% of couples lived together outside wedlock, but of those who wed between 2010 and 2012, more than 40% had done so, according to data from the 2010 and 2012 China Family Panel Studies, a vast household survey (see chart). Some reckon even that is an underestimate. A recent study by the China Association of Marriage and Family, an official body, found that nearly 60% of those born after 1985 moved in with their partner before tying the knot, which would put the cohabitation rate for young people on a par with that of America.

The number of unmarried couples living together is growing for many of the same reasons it has elsewhere: rising individualism, greater empowerment of women, the deferral of marriage and a decline in traditional taboos on pre-marital sex. Greater wealth helps—more couples can afford to live apart from their parents. Yet Chinese cohabitation has distinctive characteristics. In rich countries, living together is most common among poorer couples, but in China youngsters are more likely to move in together if they are highly educated and live in wealthy cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Shacking up is seen as a sign of “innovative behaviour”, say Yu Xie of Princeton University and Yu Jia of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Elsewhere rising cohabitation represents the fraying of marriage: many couples never bother to wed. In China, however, cohabitation is almost always a prelude to marriage—as for Da Lin and his girlfriend—rather than an alternative to it. Marriage is still near-universal, although the skewed sex ratio resulting from China’s one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys has resulted in a surplus of poor rural men who will remain unhappily single. Some highly educated women in cities forgo marriage too.In some Western countries those who live together for an extended period enjoy some of the same legal rights and obligations as married couples. In China cohabitation carries no legal weight. And it is very hard for a child born out of wedlock to acquire a hukou, or residency permit, which provides access to health care, education or other public services.In the 1980s virginity was considered a woman’s chief asset and few couples dared to date openly, let alone live together. Now China is in the midst of a sexual revolution—some 70% of people have sex before marriage, according to a study conducted in 2012. Many young Chinese, however, still have conservative ideas about how their elders should behave: although cohabitation is also on the rise among the elderly, many of them avoid remarrying because their adult children oppose it.

Source: Shacking up | The Economist

17/09/2016

India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

A yoga teacher clad in white robes and often seen meditating on the banks of the Ganges is the latest to join the billionaires club in India.

But Acharya Balkrishna is no ordinary yoga teacher. He controls Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the consumer-products company founded by his guru, Baba Ramdev, and whose Ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and food supplements are increasingly becoming staples in middle-class Indian homes. Indians’ craze for the company’s Ayurvedic formulations has seen Mr. Acharya’s net worth skyrocket to $3.8 billion, according to Hurun’s India Rich List for 2016. That puts him at number 25 in Hurun’s list of richest Indians, ahead of industrialists like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej and Anand Mahindra.

Such is the demand for Patanjali, which sells creams, cleaners and hair conditioners rooted in Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, that the world’s biggest consumer-products makers are tweaking their products to compete. India’s traditional system of medicine encourages therapies like yoga and believes everything from the common cold to diabetes can be fixed by certain herbs, foods and oils.

Colgate Palmolive last month launched a toothpaste flavored with basil, clove and lemon. L’Oréal SA in June launched a new range of shampoos infused with eucalyptus, green tea and henna, an Indian herb Patanjali also packs in its shampoo. Unilever PLC recently purchased an Ayurvedic hair-care company.

Mr. Balkrishna is a reclusive figure next to Mr. Ramdev, one of India’s best-known yoga teachers who founded Patanjali in 2006 and has since transformed it into a multi-million dollar consumer goods empire. Mr. Balkrishna controls the business because Mr. Ramdev has sworn off most trappings of wealth.

Messrs. Ramdev and Balkrishna are regularly seen practicing yoga on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, the Hindu holy city where Patanjali is based and where they run an ashram.

Ayurveda has produced other billionaires, too. The Burman family which runs Dabur India, another consumer-goods maker that draws inspiration from traditional Indian medicine, is 13th on Hurun’s India rich list.

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, is the richest Indian with a net worth of $24 billion. Dilip Shanghvi, who heads generics-drug maker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, is second with $18 billion in his kitty.

Source: India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

08/09/2016

A 16-year-old British girl earns £48,000 helping Chinese people name their babies – BBC Newsbeat

Beau Jessup, a British A-level student from Gloucestershire, came up with the idea after a family visit to China.

They were out for a meal with friends when she was asked to give an English name to a newborn baby.

In China it is considered important to have an English name for future study or business with the UK.

‘Special Name’ requires the user to pick five of the 12 personality traits which they most hope their baby will grow into

In China they name their child based on the elements and Beau wanted a similarity between how they pick their Chinese name and how they pick their English name.

And she does this by assigning personality traits to each English name.

They also select the gender of the baby and pay the equivalent of 60p.

The three chosen names are then shared with family and friends on We-Chat, China’s WhatsApp equivalent, to help make the final decision.

Each suggestion is printed on a certificate with its meaning and an example of a famous person with that name.

Beau says that when she was first asked to name her father’s friend’s baby, she was surprised.

“I’m not really qualified or relevant enough in that baby’s life to be the person to give it a name.

“But after hearing of some of the “embarrassing” names, Beau decided she needed to act.

There was someone called Rolex

“There are quite a few examples where people have gotten the names wrong.”

Beau explains that the Chinese are fascinated by western culture but their access to it is restricted by the government in China.There isn’t open access to the internet so they can’t use standard baby naming websites that people may use in the UK.

“Being exposed to luxury items and things like Harry Potter, Disney films and Lord of the Rings means they use those for reference.

“I once heard of someone called Gandalf and another called Cinderella.”

Amelia and Oliver were the most popular baby names in England and Wales in 2015

That’s according to the Office for National Statistics which released the complete set of data last week.

But Beau doesn’t know which names are the most popular on her website, and she’s “happy about that”.

“It is called ‘special name’ and it’s based on individual preference and what they personally want their child to be.”

Beau says it’s quite strange to know she’s named more than 200,000 babies

“It’s nice to be a part of such a happy experience and be a part of those young stages in a baby’s life.”The site’s success has been a pleasant surprise.

“I wanted to do it just to see if an idea could turn into more than just simply an idea.”

And I never expected it to become more than just a small project because I never really considered myself very academic.

“It is obviously a nice surprise, but it is definitely a surprise.”

Source: A 16-year-old British girl earns £48,000 helping Chinese people name their babies – BBC Newsbeat

02/09/2016

Crime Capital: Why Delhi Is by Far India’s Most Dangerous City – India Real Time – WSJ

Delhi is India’s biggest megacity, home of the country’s central government and, according to new police data, way ahead of the competition in the quest to claim the title as the country’s capital of crime.

The National Crime Records Bureau released its statistics for 2015 on Tuesday and Delhi left everyone else in the dust.Around 25% of the nearly 670,000 crimes recorded in India’s 53 largest cities were committed in Delhi last year, even though the megacity only accounts for around 10% of their combined populations.

The financial capital Mumbai was a distant second, recording only about 6% of the crimes. Tech hub Bangalore claimed about 5% of the crimes and Chennai looked to be the safest of the top five major metros, accounting for only 2% of the crimes.

This is not because Delhi–home of more than 16 million souls–has the largest population. Even on a per capita basis, the capital shined when it came to crime.

Last year it brought home the gold in theft and insulting the modesty of women, beating all the other cities with populations of more than 1 million,  according to the bureau’s data. In rape, only Jodhpur was worse. In the murder category, it was the bloodiest of the five major metros and well above average.

Delhi police attribute the high rate of crime in the city to their hard work. More and more cases are being registered every year as the force cracks down, said Taj Hassan, spokesman for the Delhi police.

“Delhi, being the national capital, witnesses a lot of law and order problems because people from all states live here,” he said. “The law and order situation is under control.”

More than previous years and in other cities, people are now being “encouraged to come forward and report” every incident of crime. “Not even a single complaint goes unnoticed,” he said.

There was, however, one area of hope.Surprisingly Delhi-ites were relatively law-abiding last year when it came to injuries caused by rash driving and road rage. Maybe the city’s notorious traffic is keeping cars from going fast enough to cause injury.

Maybe the city’s police force is too busy tracking down violent criminals to deal with bad drivers.

Source: Crime Capital: Why Delhi Is by Far India’s Most Dangerous City – India Real Time – WSJ

26/08/2016

A horror confronted | The Economist

HUANG YANLAI was 74 when he first raped 11-year-old Xiao Yu.

He threatened her with a bamboo-harvesting knife while she was out gathering snails in the fields for her grandmother in Nan village, Guangxi province, in China’s south-west. Over the following two years, Xiao Yu (a nickname meaning Light Rain) was raped more than 50 times, her hands tied and a cloth stuffed in her mouth. She was a left-behind child, entrusted to relatives while her parents worked in distant cities. Her father returned home once a year. Told that his daughter was in trouble, he asked her what was wrong but she was too frightened to tell him. So he beat her up.

Her abusers bribed her to keep quiet, giving her about 10 yuan (about $1.50) each time they raped her, threatening that “if this gets out, it will be you who loses face, not us.” They were right. When Xiao Yu finally confided to her grandmother and went to the police, the villagers called her a prostitute and drove her out of town.

Xiao Yu’s story came to national attention after it was reported by state media. At the end of May it formed part of a study released by the Girls’ Protection Foundation, a charity in Beijing founded to increase awareness of child sexual abuse, a crime officials preferred not to discuss openly until recently. The study said there had been 968 cases of sexual abuse of children reported in the media between 2013 and 2015, involving 1,790 victims. Wang Dawei of the People’s Public Security University said that, for every case that was reported, at least seven were not. That would imply China had 12,000 victims of child sexual abuse during that period. “I have never seen this many child sexual-assault cases, ever,” ran one online reaction. “Why is it such things were hardly heard of five years ago,” asked another, “and now seem all over the media?”

China is no exception; it is no longer taboo to discuss the problem. In 2015 Fang Xiangming of China Agricultural University, in a report for the World Health Organisation (WHO), estimated, using local studies, that 9.5% of Chinese girls and 8% of boys had suffered some form of sexual abuse by adults, ranging from unwanted contact to rape. For boys the rate is as high as the global norm, for girls it is slightly less so. Because of the country’s size, however, the absolute numbers are staggering. Perhaps 25m people under 18 are victims of abuse.Chinese pride themselves on the protectiveness of their families. That children suffer even an average level of abuse is a surprise to many. But, as everywhere, children hide their experience. In 2014 Lijia Zhang, a journalist, wrote a first-hand account in the New York Times of sexual abuse at her school in the city of Nanjing in the 1970s. She said it never occurred to her and other victims to report the teacher. “We didn’t even know the term sexual abuse.” Even in Hong Kong, where sex is more openly discussed, a study of university students found that 60% of male victims and 68% of female ones surveyed since 2002 had not told anyone about their abuse. These rates of non-disclosure are considerably higher than in the West. Mr Fang, the author of the study for the WHO, says that if Chinese girls were more open, then the true rate of female sexual abuse might turn out to be as high as elsewhere, just as it is for boys.

In any country, child sexual abuse is hard to measure. China has never conducted a nationwide survey, though it is talking about holding one in the next couple of years. There are many provincial or citywide studies. But as in other countries, researchers use different measures and standards. And there are no studies of abuse over time, so it is hard to detect trends. Even so, there are reasons to believe that children are at growing risk.

First, China has huge numbers of “left-behind” children, like Xiao Yu. According to the All-China Women’s Federation, an official body, and UNICEF, the UN agency for children, 61m people below the age of 17 have been left in rural areas while one or both parents migrate for work. Over 30m boys and girls, some as young as four, live in state boarding schools in villages, far from parents and often away from grandparents or guardians. (A growing number of rural children whose parents are still at home have to board, because of the closure of many small schools in the countryside as village populations shrink.) Another 36m children have migrated with their families to cities, but their parents are often too busy to look after them properly.

Time for new thinking

About 10m left-behind children see their parents only once a year and otherwise rely on the occasional phone call. “Every time my mother called, she would tell me to study hard and listen to my teachers,” said one victim of sexual assault by a mathematics teacher at a school in You county, in the central province of Hunan. “I could not bring myself to tell her over the phone what was happening.”

How much abuse is inflicted on left-behind children is not known. Researchers complain that schools with large numbers of them often refuse to allow sexual-abuse surveys. But given their vulnerability, left-behind children are likely to be victims of such abuse more frequently—possibly much more so—than average.

Another risk factor is a mixture of ignorance, shame and legal uncertainty that makes it very difficult for children to defend themselves. Fei Yunxia works for the Girls’ Protection Foundation, the NGO that released the recent study of abuse cases. She travels to schools, giving sex-education classes. “No one tells these students about their bodies or how to protect themselves from harm,” she told Xinhua, a government news agency. Sex education in China is rare and never touches on abuse. The NGO says that 40% of 4,700 secondary-school pupils polled in 2015, when asked what was meant by their “private parts”, said they did not know. When cases are reported to the authorities, little is done, either because of legal loopholes, or because officials refuse to recognise the problem, or because they cover up for colleagues.

It does not help that China’s statute of limitations is only two years. Wang Yi of Renmin University says this is too short for cases involving child sexual abuse: victims often remain silent for years. There is no national register of sex offenders, though Cixi, a city in Zhejiang province, aroused controversy in June when it said it would publish “personal information” about major sex criminals after their release to let the public monitor them (some commentators worried about an invasion of privacy).

The lack of well-developed sex-crime laws means victims are often failed by the justice system. In Liaoning province eight school girls aged between 12 and 17 were kidnapped, stripped, beaten, and forced to watch and wait their turn while men who had paid $270 per visit raped them repeatedly in hotel rooms. The men were charged with having “sex with under-aged prostitutes”, a charge that shamed the victims into silence. The law that allowed child-rape victims to be classified as prostitutes was scrapped in 2015. But a women’s legal-counselling centre in Beijing, which had led a campaign against it, was itself closed earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society launched by China’s president, Xi Jinping. No wonder that, as a lawyer in the You county case put it, “silence is the preferred solution.”

A shift in moral assumptions about sex presents another challenge. China is in the middle of a sexual revolution. Sex before marriage is more common. The age of first sexual experience is dropping. Most researchers into child abuse think there may be a link between such changes and sexual violence against children, if only because the revolution in mores seems to go hand in hand with changes to the traditional child-rearing system that, through intense surveillance, may limit abuse.

Ye Haiyan, challenging abuse

When a country confronts the problem of child abuse it typically goes through three stages, argues David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire. First the public and media become alert to the problem. This is happening. With the help of social media, and thanks to a greater willingness to speak out on social matters, campaigners have begun to organise. Ye Haiyan (pictured), known online as “Hooligan Sparrow”, helped arouse public awareness with her protests in 2013 against the rape of six girls aged between 11 and 14 by their school principal. In the next stage the government becomes concerned and starts to tighten laws. Then the police, social workers and public prosecutors begin to deal with problems on the ground. China is moving into this third stage.

Make them safer

Since early this decade, prosecutors and police have been spelling out how cases of abuse should be handled, from the collection of evidence to support for victims and procedures for separating a child from his or her parents. At the end of 2015 China adopted its first domestic-violence law. It says that preventing this is the “joint responsibility of the state, society and every family”. All this, says Ron Pouwels, UNICEF’s head of child protection in China, means that “China gets it and is determined to do something about it.”

But much more work is needed. For example, there are very few social workers. The government has set a target of 250,000 properly qualified ones by the end of 2020. But only 30,000 take up such jobs each year. Crucially, Mr Xi needs to reverse his campaign against civil society and his efforts to stifle media debate. Further improving public awareness of the problem will need the help of NGOs and a freer press (free, for example, to point out that abusers are often people in authority—Ms Ye, the activist, was harassed by officials for trying to do so). Over the past 30 years, China has enhanced the life prospects of millions of children by providing them with better education and health care. Now it is time to protect them from sexual violence, too.

Source: A horror confronted | The Economist

25/08/2016

TV Show Spotlights Middle Class Anxieties in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

A hit Chinese TV drama that tells the story of three families who sent their young teens to study abroad has surfaced middle-class doubts about their future in the country.

“A Love for Separation,” based on a novel by Lu Yingong, started screening last week and grabbed the public’s attention despite competing with the Olympic games for viewers. Users on the cultural website douban.com gave the show an average score of 8.2 out of 10.

Some critics say it reflects a widespread anxiety among China’s middle class: they constantly feel insecure and believe that the only way for their children to get a better life is to leave China and pursue their dreams elsewhere. The story line has triggered discussions about the country’s test-based education system and about “tiger” mothers, fathers and teachers. Many scenes of domestic conflict in the show center around the children’s test scores.

In one clip circulating on social media, Fang Duoduo, a ninth-grader, yells at her father, “You want respect from me? You only treat me like an exam machine!”

In this still from the TV show “A Love for Separation,” the character Fang Duoduo’s mother helps with her homework late at night.

PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

Stress about the highly-competitive gaokao, or college entrance exam, is one of the reasons why some parents would rather send their kids abroad to study.

In the show, Duoduo’s mother tells her, “If you can’t make sure you in the top 100 right now, you won’t enter a key senior high school. If you can’t enter a key senior high, you won’t enter a key university. If you can’t enter a key university, you whole life is done.”

In China, college admission hinges on the gaokao, which can only be taken once annually. Competition is so intense that parents would do anything to make sure their kids’ sail through the exam without interruptions. Last summer, a Sichuan family made headlines when it emerged that a mother hid from her daughter news of her father’s death for nearly two weeks until she’d finished taking the test, for fear it would influence her results.

The show reflects a “collective anxiety” among the middle class, the writer Huang Tongtong said in an article on her public WeChat account.

“Do you sometimes feel like everything you own is so fragile? Is it merely a fluke that you have the kind of life you live? Do you have the confidence that your children can live a good life? These are the questions that each one of us has to face,” Ms. Huang wrote.

Frustrated with a rigid education system and a growing list of grievances, more and more well-off Chinese parents send their children away when the children are increasingly young. More than 520,000 people left China to study abroad last year, up nearly 14% from 2014, according to China’s education ministry.

In a survey of 458 Chinese millionaires by China Citic Bank and Hurun Report, 30% of them said they plan to send their children to attend senior high schools overseas, while 14% of them said their children should leave at a younger age, for junior high school.

In the U.S. alone, Chinese students make up about half of the 60,815 foreign pupils in high schools and 6,074 in primary schools.

“The show makes me so sad. I used to argue with my parents all because of my scores. Study is the most important issue in my family. Only study study hard, there was never love and care,” said one user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform in China.

Source: TV Show Spotlights Middle Class Anxieties in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

20/08/2016

The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

Near my childhood home in Kunming (昆明), Yunnan (雲南) province, is a park dedicated to its most famous son: Admiral Zheng He.

Our teacher would take us to pay tribute to the great eunuch of the Ming dynasty, recounting his legendary seven expeditions that brought glory to the motherland.

The marble bust of Zheng He shows the face of a typical Chinese, with a square chin, brushy eyebrows and a flat nose. My father joked it more resembled comrade Lei Feng than the admiral. Not until years later did I realise how true this was.

A statue of Zheng He in Nanjing, where his armada was built. File photo

The statue was erected in 1979 – a year after Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched his open-door policy. Zheng, barely mentioned during the Cultural Revolution, was plucked from obscurity and hailed as a national hero who embodied China’s open spirit. A park near his ancestral home was dedicated to him. The same craftsmen who churned out revolutionary statues were employed to build his.

In real life, Zheng probably looked very different. My school textbook mentioned only that he was a Hui minority (Muslim Chinese). In fact, the admiral was a descendent of a powerful Persian family. Records discovered in 1913 trace his lineage to Sayyid Ajall, who was sent by Kublai Khan to conquer Yunnan and became its first governor. In 2014, Chinese scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai put the theory to test. They examined DNA samples collected from descendents of the admiral’s close kin and found they originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. In addition to Zheng He, most senior officers of the storied Ming armada were also Muslims.

Beijing follows the route well travelled by Admiral Zheng He in its belt and road initiative

Over the past decades, researchers have concluded Zhang and his armada were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia. The Arabs established settlements in Southeast Asia from the eighth century. But Islam did not become dominant there until the 15th century – around the time Admiral Zheng began to sail in the South China Sea. Historians found evidence of Zheng’s missionary work in documents discovered in Semarang, Indonesia, by Dutch officials in 1925. This prompted Indonesian religious leader Hamka to write in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.

”A crowning moment of Zheng’s expedition was converting the King of Malacca, Parameswara, to Islam shortly after he paid homage to the Yongle Emperor in Beijing in 1411. The conversion played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, according to Professor Xiao Xian of Yunnan University.

A replica of a ship used by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Zheng He, in Nanjing. Photo: Reuters

Xiao was one of the scholars who presented research work on Zheng He at an international symposium in 2005. They painted a vivid picture of the Ming armada, which had all the elements of a multinational enterprise.

The 300 ships – many twice as big as the largest European vessels of the time – were constructed in dry docks in Nanjing ( 南京 ), Jiangsu ( 江蘇 ) province. Building materials were sourced from across the Ming Empire. The 27,000-strong crew included Han Chinese, Muslim Hui, Arabs, Persians, and peoples from Central and East Asia. The lingua franca was Persian or Sogdian – a language used for centuries by merchants of the ancient Silk Road, according to Professor Liu Yingsheng of Nanjing University.

Size was not the only difference between Zheng’s fleet and that of Christopher Columbus 70 years later. The Europeans aboard the Santa Maria were exclusively Catholic – the Ming fleet was culturally and religiously diverse. Zheng was a Muslim but he was fluent in the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and classic Chinese philosophy. The fleet included many Buddhist missionaries. Many regard his expeditions as the high-water mark of Chinese civilization. The Ming armada’s true greatness lay not in its size or sophistication but in its diversity and tolerance.

A statue of famed Chinese navigator Zheng He overlooks the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Photo: AFP

After the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Ming court lost its global vision. Power was in the hands of the Confucius gentry-class, who jealously guarded against other schools of thoughts. China became increasingly introspective and insulated. The court stopped further expeditions and banned seafaring. The Chinese civilization gradually lost its vigour and started a long decline.

Today as the new “Silk Road” and “soft power” become China’s new catchphrases, it is important to remember what makes the Chinese civilization unique in the first place. Its greatest strength lies in its people’s amazing ability to absorb, adopt and assimilate different cultures.

Buddhism, which originated in India, flourished in China. The Zen school – a hybrid of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism – spread to East Asia by monks in the Tang dynasty and became mainstream. Islam arrived from Central Asia and the Middle East during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It took root in western China before spreading to Southeast Asia with Zhang’s fleet. We should remember that until 100 years ago, China was not a nation state in the Westphalian sense. Narrow-minded nationalism and xenophobia are the exception rather than the norm of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

Source: The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

19/08/2016

Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s capital has banned killer kite string after three people died this week from injuries and accidents caused by string that has been fortified for kite fights.

The weeks around India’s Independence Day—Aug. 15—are peak kite flying and fighting season. Kids and adults fly kites high in the air and try to maneuver them so their lines cut those of other kites as part of a traditional and usually harmless competition.

To better their chances of surviving longer and cutting competitors, many people use extra strong string and nylon lines and even lines encrusted with ground glass. When those sharp lines fall across roads they are a hazard to two-wheeler riders who can’t see them. Hitting one of the lines at high speed can knock bikers off their vehicles and slit their throats.

While there are injuries and deaths caused by kite strings every year, this year was particularly tragic as two of the victims were under the age of five.

A three-year-old girl died, while traveling in a car Monday with her head sticking out of the sun roof. She sustained a neck injury and was taken to a hospital where she died, said Vijay Singh, deputy police commissioner for northwest Delhi.

In another incident the same day in west Delhi, a four-year-old boy died also while looking out of a sun roof and becoming entangled with a string hanging from a tree. He was taken to a hospital and died, Pushpendra Kumar, deputy police commissioner for west Delhi said.

Also Monday, a man traveling in west Delhi on a motorbike became entangled with a kite string and crashed his motorbike, sustaining head injuries. He was also declared dead at hospital, Mr. Kumar said.

Chandraker Bharti, Delhi’s secretary of environment and forests, on Tuesday banned the sale, production, storage and supply of kite flying thread “that is sharp or made sharp such as being laced with glass, metal or other sharp objects.”

Source: Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

19/08/2016

The return of the Xia | The Economist

CHINA’S leaders are immensely proud of their country’s ancient origins. President Xi Jinping peppers his speeches with references to China’s “5,000 years of history”. The problem is that archaeological evidence of a political entity in China going back that far is scant.

There is some, including engravings on animal bones, that shows the second dynasty, the Shang, really did control an area in the Yellow river basin about 3,500 years ago. But no such confirmation exists for the legendary first ruling house, the Xia. Even inside China, some historians have long suspected that the country’s founding story—in which Emperor Yu tames flooding on the Yellow river (with the help of a magic black-shelled turtle, pictured), earns for himself the “mandate of heaven” and establishes the first dynasty—was either a Noah’s-Ark flood-myth or perhaps propaganda invented later to justify centralised state power. This month, however, state-controlled media have been crowing over newly published evidence in Science, an American journal, that at least the flooding was real. This, they say, has made it more credible that the Xia was, too. Not everyone is so convinced.

Catastrophic floods leave their mark on soil and rocks. Qinglong Wu of Peking University and others have examined the geology of the upper reaches of the Yellow river. In the journal, they conclude that a vast flood did take place in the right area and not long after the right time for the supposed founding of the Xia. Although their evidence does not prove the existence of an Emperor Yu or of the dynasty he founded, it does provide a historical context in which someone might have gained power with the help of flood-taming exploits.

According to Mr Wu, a vast landslide, probably caused by an earthquake, blocked the course of the Yellow river as it flowed through the Jishi gorge on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. For six to nine months as much as 16 cubic kilometres (3.8 cubic miles) of water built up behind the accidental dam, which, when it finally burst, produced one of the biggest floods ever. At its peak, the authors calculate, the flow was 500 times the normal discharge at Jishi Gorge. Mr Wu reckons the ancient flood could easily have been felt 2,000km downstream in the area of the Yellow river said by Chinese historians to have been the realm of the Xia.

At about this time, either coincidentally or (more probably) because of the flood, the river changed its course, carving out its vast loop across the north China plain. The significance is that, while the river was finding its new course, it would have flooded repeatedly. This is consistent with old folk tales about Emperor Yu taming the river not through one dramatic action, but by decades of dredging.

The ancient flood can be dated because the earthquake that set the catastrophic events in motion also destroyed a settlement in the Jishi gorge. Radiocarbon dating of inhabitants’ bones puts the earthquake at about 1920BC—not 5,000 years ago but close-ish. Xinhua, a state news agency, lauded the study as “important support” for the Xia’s existence. Xu Hong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences challenged this, saying the scholars’ findings had not proved their conclusions. The first dynasty has gone from myth to controversy.

Source: The return of the Xia | The Economist