Archive for ‘Culture’

22/09/2017

Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

“IT WAS 2012…I was number 37,” says Ashwini, referring to the badge that was pinned on her shirt pocket.

Her task was to go onto the stage and introduce herself to around 70 eligible bachelors and their parents. Families then conferred and, provided caste and religious background proved no obstacle, would approach the event’s moderator asking to meet number 37. At midday girls would wait for prospects to swing by, again with parents on either side. A brief exchange might establish the potential bride’s cooking skills or her intention to work after marriage. If the two sides hit it off, they would exchange copies of their horoscopes. Nearly 50 men lined up to meet Ashwini that day, speed-dating style. No one made the cut. She later married a colleague.

Such gatherings form an important part of the wedding industry, worth around $50bn a year, in a country where arranged marriages continue to be the norm. India has 440m millennials—roughly, the generation born between 1980 and 1996—and a further 390m youngsters have been born since 2000, so there are plenty of anguished parents for marriage facilitators to pitch to. KPMG, a consultancy, estimates that out of 107m single men and women, 63m are “active seekers”. For now, only a tenth surf the internet to find a spouse. But the number who do is about to explode, argue executives in the marriage-portal business (India has 2,600 such sites). “After Facebook [took off], people are more open about their lives than ever before, which has had a great knock-on effect,” says Gourav Rakshit of Shaadi.com, one of India’s oldest matrimonial sites.

Take Matrimony.com, the country’s biggest online matchmaker, which raised $78m in its initial public offering on September 13th. Its shares began trading this week. It runs 300-odd websites in 15 languages, catering to different castes and religions. It has sites for divorcees, the disabled, the affluent (“Elite Matrimony”) and for those with unfavourable astrological charts, which make it difficult to find a match. All online firms run a “freemium” model: upload your profile at no charge and let an algorithm match horoscope details with potential partners filtered by age, caste, education, income and sometimes (alas) complexion. Or you can pay for features like instant chat or a colourful border around your profile to ensure the algorithm returns you as a top search result.

Such a long list of options means that finding a match on the web can be time-consuming and tedious. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says one suitor. Predictably, many also complain that online profiles often do not reflect reality. Outright fakes remain a scourge. This month a man was arrested in Delhi for extorting over 5m rupees ($77,700) from 15 women by luring them on matrimonial websites. And no amount of artificial intelligence can yet identify what will make two youngsters click.

Spouseup, a south Indian startup, is undaunted. It trawls social media to determine a candidate’s personality and recommends matches by calculating a “compatibility score”. Nine-tenths of its 50,000 users are non-resident Indians who usually fly to India for a month or so, scout for partners, settle on one, get hitched and fly back together. For these time-starved travellers, the machine-led scouring “provides an insight that would come from five coffee dates,” says Karthik Iyer, the firm’s founder. Banihal, which is based in Silicon Valley, relies on a long psychometric questionnaire of around 100 questions to match like-minded partners.

Real-world complements to online efforts can help secure a match. Some services, such as IITIIMShaadi.com, aimed at people graduating from prestigious universities, also act as conventional wedding-brokers, by meeting prospects on their clients’ behalf. The job is no different from that of a headhunter, says Taksh Gupta, its founder. He charges anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 rupees for the service. His most recent catch, after a search lasting over two years, was a husband for a 45-year-old woman from a prestigious university who would settle for no less than an Ivy League groom. Matrimony.com, too, has over 400 “relationship managers” and 140 physical outlets.

“The opportunity is huge”, enthuses Murugavel Janakiraman, boss of Matrimony.com. Around four-fifths of new customers now come via smartphones, lured by instant alerts about new potential matches and services that match up people in the same town. But the spread of smartphones also brings competition. Casual-dating apps are spreading fast. Tinder, on which decisions about eligibility rarely benefit from parental advice, now counts India as Asia’s largest, fastest-growing market.

Source: Online matchmaking businesses in India have many ways to woo

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24/02/2017

Dancing noodle vendor is China’s latest celebrity chef | South China Morning Post

A chef in southwest China became an instant celebrity after a video of him dancing while making noodles became an online sensation during the Lunar New Year holiday, according to a newspaper report.

Tian Bo, 31, was an ordinary cook of a noodle restaurant in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, before he began to sway his body with coquettish look when making noodles to attract more customers, the West China City Daily reported.His signature dish, “longevity noodle,” comprises just one noodle long enough to fill a bowl and is a specialty in the historic town of Huanglongxi.

Tian told the Daily that he resorted to dancing while serving noodles in March last year when the restaurant was almost deserted and he was under enormous pressure. He fine-tuned his performance, adding pop music and coyish facial expressions.

Spinning, jumping and waving the noodles in his hand, Tian leers at the onlookers from time to time, according to the video circulated online.

After the video of his noodle performance made headlines online, his fortunes changed. Tourists arrived in town to seek him out and some even offered his a job with better pay.

Tian said he was merely acting at the restaurant and was not flirtatious in real life. He said he would stay at the restaurant for the time being but hoped to start his own noodle shop one day.

His video got mixed reviews on social media. “He is so tantalising. I just stared at the little brother and did not think about the noodles, ” said one Weibo blogger.

Said another: “I’ve seen him and I think he works too hard. He must get so tired from dancing and making noodles for long time.”

Source: Dancing noodle vendor is China’s latest celebrity chef | South China Morning Post

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14/02/2017

When It Comes to Mandarin, Bill Gates Is No Mark Zuckerberg – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Two years ago, Bill Gates admitted one of his life regrets was never becoming conversant in any foreign language.

Mr. Gates, 61 years old, has made some progress. Over the weekend, he gave a 12-word welcome in Mandarin in an opening video for his new blog on Chinese social network WeChat.

“Hello,” he said in Chinese. “Welcome to my official WeChat account.”

Mr. Gates is the latest U.S. tech executive to risk ridicule by speaking publicly in Chinese, joining Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Uber’s Travis Kalanick. But his brief, accented remarks made clear that while he might rival Mr. Zuckerberg in entrepreneurship and philanthropy, the Microsoft Corp. founder is a less formidable challenger in Chinese oration.

“His Chinese pronunciation is not quite as good as Zuckerberg’s,” announced China’s official Global Times newspaper on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Chinese viewers online gave mixed reviews, with some encouraging his effort (“Great!”) and others panning it (“There appears to be a big difference between his Chinese and English”).

Mr. Gates had praised Mr. Zuckerberg’s fluency in Chinese as “incredible” in a 2015 Reddit question-and-answer session.“I feel pretty stupid that I don’t know any foreign languages,” wrote Mr. Gates in the Reddit Q&A. “I took Latin and Greek in high school and got As and I guess it helps my vocabulary but I wish I knew French or Arabic or Chinese. I keep hoping to get time to study one of these—probably French because it is the easiest.”

Mr. Gates’s attempt at Chinese was occasioned by the launch of his new WeChat account “gatesnotes.” In China, public figures often use WeChat official accounts to share their opinions and musings with fans. For foreign business leaders, WeChat has become a go-to option as both Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. Mr. Gates’ new WeChat account appears to be a Chinese version of his English blog by that name.

Mr. Gates was an early adopter of Chinese social media, launching an account on microblogging platform Weibo in 2010, where he has posted sporadically. He now has 3.2 million Weibo followers compared with 33 million on Twitter.

The new WeChat account isn’t verified but claims to be the official account for Mr. Gates. It was set up by Bridge Consulting Co. Ltd., a Chinese joint venture of international health consulting company Global Health Strategies. Global Health Strategies lists the Gates Foundation as a client and donor on its website.

The WeChat account said Mr. Gates will use the space to share his thoughts on people he meets, books he has read and lessons learned, with topics ranging from health to energy and resources. It had drawn more than 100,000 views and over 9,000 “likes” by late Monday, although the only content so far is the welcome video and a note saying regular posts will begin Tuesday.

Bridge Consulting describes its mission as “shaping and promoting the images of international celebrities on Chinese social media”, according to a job ad posted by the company.

Andre Shen, a former media consultant with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in China, is listed as founder of the company, according to regulatory filings. Mr. Shen said in an email he had to check with Mr. Gates’s team in Seattle before making any public statements.

Chinese has become increasingly popular among U.S. entrepreneurs as they seek to get a foot in the door of the world’s biggest internet market. Facebook appears to be in the lead, with Mr. Zuckerberg giving bravura performances such as a half-hour-long speech in Mandarin in Beijing. Facebook Senior Vice President Vaughan Smith and incoming virtual reality chief Hugo Barra have also studied the language.

So far, Uber’s Mr. Kalanick is closer to Mr. Gates than Mr. Zuckerberg in Mandarin prowess, though he has peppered his English speeches in Beijing with the occasional Chinese phrase, like “Hello, students”, to cheers from the crowd.

Source: When It Comes to Mandarin, Bill Gates Is No Mark Zuckerberg – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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07/12/2016

The Great Wall: China takes on the world with new Matt Damon film – BBC News

Despite a long tradition of movie-making, and much critical acclaim for its directors overseas, China has never yet produced a truly global blockbuster.

But this is being billed as the moment when Chinese film finally takes on the world.

The Great Wall is one of the most lavish and expensive films ever shot in China.

Directed by the living-great of Chinese cinema, Zhang imou, it makes use of vast theatrical sets, elaborate costumes as well as great Chinese cultural icons like, er, Matt Damon.

Matt Damon?

The US superstar’s leading role in the swashbuckling Chinese showcase has already been the subject of much controversy.

“Well, ‘whitewashing’ you’ve got to define,” he tells me.”Whitewashing for me was always like Chuck Connors playing Geronimo, so I don’t know if that would even be the right term to accuse us of.

‘We never consider race first’

The accusation that a Caucasian male star has somehow been shoehorned into the piece to give the film a more direct appeal to American and European audiences is something that also rankles with Zhang Yimou.

“Matt Damon plays a foreign mercenary who comes to China to steal gun powder,” Mr Zhang tells me.

“Of course he is a foreigner. For the director, we never consider the race question first. We always think about the story first. If the story flows, if the story is good.”

Mr Damon joins the massed ranks of the Chinese army on top of perhaps the greatest cultural icon of them all, the Great Wall, built not to keep out men, according to the fantastical plot, but monsters.

The budget of at least $100m (£80m) underwrites a US-China collaboration of a kind that is becoming increasingly common nowadays.

And such collaborations align neatly with one of the political priorities of the Chinese government: to expand its international cultural influence.

The Great Wall’s director Zhang Yimou with actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe

Rivalling Hollywood‘s soft power

As Hollywood comes to China in desperate search of new, lucrative audiences, China is desperate to harness something of the elusive magic.

If it can build its own film industry, the argument goes, it can use it to develop its so-called “soft power”, in the same way US movies have carried American values and norms around the world for a century or more.

And that appears, on some level at least, to be what The Great Wall is trying to do.It can appeal to Chinese and international audiences alike, hence the internationalised plot line, allowing the incorporation of a Hollywood star.

And it carries a central message about time-honoured Chinese ingenuity (the gunpowder), as well as lasting cultural power (the Great Wall).

Matt Damon though is having none of it.”No, I didn’t for a second think this film was a propaganda tool,” he says.

“I think our world is a much better place when we’re talking to each other and collaborating and making art together.”

Performers promoting The Great Wall film in Beijing

‘No director has 100% freedom’For Zhang Yimou, the experience of working on such a giant US-Chinese co-production has, he says, opened his eyes.

Not to the political sensitivities of communist China, of which he is already well aware of course, but of the restrictions that commercial pressures bring to bear.

“This time I discovered that Hollywood has lots of restrictions too,” he says.”It is a system based on producers and companies… As far as creativity is concerned, I think there is not 100% freedom for any directors around the world. The job of a director is to do his best under limited circumstances.

“Whatever the truth in that, it is surely the case that American films have been such powerful vehicles for the transportation of American values for the simple reason that those values have universal appeal.

So is the first all made-in-China blockbuster finally about to be released?Zhang Yimou thinks the time has come.”The world is following Hollywood. Everyone else is absent,” he tells me.

“This is not normal.”

Source: The Great Wall: China takes on the world with new Matt Damon film – BBC News

25/11/2016

China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

CHINA has long oscillated between the urge to equip its elite with foreign knowledge and skills, and an opposing instinct to turn inward and rebuff such influences.

In the 1870s the Qing imperial court ended centuries of educational isolation by sending young men to America, only for the Communist regime to shut out the world again a few decades later. Today record numbers of Chinese study abroad: over half a million people left in 2015 alone, many for America (see chart).

The Communist Party officially endorses international exchanges in education while at the same time preaching the dangers of Western ideas on Chinese campuses. A new front in this battlefield is emerging, as the government cracks down on international schools catering to Chinese citizens.

Only holders of foreign passports used to be allowed to go to international schools in China: children of expat workers or the foreign-born offspring of Chinese returnees. Chinese citizens are still forbidden from attending such outfits, but more recently a new type of school has proliferated on the mainland, offering an international curriculum to Chinese nationals planning to study at foreign universities. Their number has more than doubled since 2011, to over 500. Many are clustered on the wealthy eastern seaboard, but even poor interior provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Yunnan have them.

Some international schools are privately run, including offshoots of famous foreign institutions such as Dulwich College in Britain or Haileybury in Australia. Even wholly Chinese ventures often adopt foreign-sounding names to increase their appeal: witness “Etonkids”, a Beijing-based chain which has no link with the illustrious British boarding school. Since 2003 some 90 state schools have opened international programmes too, many of them at the top high schools in China, including those affiliated with Peking University and Renmin University in Beijing.

New laws are making it harder for such schools to operate. In 2014 Beijing’s education authorities stopped approving new international programmes at public high schools. Several other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have also tightened their policies on such institutions. Some have capped fees for international programmes. The Ministry of Education says it is pondering a law that would require public high schools to run their international programmes as private entities (fearing this event, a few schools have already begun doing so).

Earlier this month a new law banned for-profit private schools from teaching the first nine years of compulsory education. That came only days after Shanghai started to enforce an existing ban on international schools using “foreign curriculums”. Some such institutions already offer a mixture: Wycombe Abbey International, which is based in Changzhou in eastern China and affiliated to a British girls’ boarding school, teaches “political education”, a form of government propaganda, and follows a Chinese curriculum for maths. But the new regulations threaten to nullify the very point of such institutions for most parents, which is to offer an alternative to the mainstream Chinese system, in which students spend years cramming for extremely competitive university-entrance exams that prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.

Lawmakers say the rules are prompted by concerns about the quality of international schools. The expansion of international programmes within regular Chinese schools also spurred a popular backlash against the use of public facilities and funds to teach pupils who plan to leave China. Since the number of people attending public schools is fixed, the elite high schools are accused of squeezing out regular students to feed their lucrative international stream. Local governments often provide capital for private schools, too.

The move to control international schools is “the next logical iteration” of a wider campaign against Western influences, reckons Carl Minzner of Fordham University in America. In 2015 China’s education minister called for a ban on “textbooks promoting Western values” in higher education.

This mission extends far beyond the educational realm: the government has called for artists and architects to serve socialism, clamped down on video-streaming sites that carry lots of foreign content and even proposed renaming housing developments that carry “over-the-top, West-worshipping” names. Chinese organisations that receive foreign funding, particularly non-governmental ones, face increasing scrutiny.

The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

But lashing out against international schools could prove risky. Any attack aimed at them essentially targets China’s growing middle class, a group that the ruling Communist Party is keen to keep onside. Chinese have long seen education as a passport to success, and it is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57% of Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Even Mr Xi sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.

Since school is optional after 15, and parents must pay for it, even at public institutions, the state will find it tricky to prevent high schools from teaching what they want. Moreover, constraints on international schooling in China are likely to swell the growing flow of Chinese students leaving to study abroad at ever younger ages. This trend is the theme of a 30-episode television series, “A love for separation”, about three families who send their children to private school in America.

Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.

Source: China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

02/11/2016

China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

A Chinese Muslim‘s call for e-commerce giant Alibaba to rename one of its services because it uses the word “pig” has sparked a backlash in China.

It all began when Alibaba changed the name of its popular travel booking app from Alitrip to one that means “Flying Pig” in Chinese. Its English name is Fliggy.

Over the weekend, Uighur businessman Adil Memettur criticised this decision on popular microblogging network Sina Weibo, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

He noted that the app is popular among minorities because it lets people whose names have unusual spellings make bookings.

“But now that Alitrip has changed its name to Flying Pig, I can only uninstall it, and maybe all my Muslim friends too, because the word “pig” is taboo to Muslims all over the world. Alibaba is an international corporation, could it take Muslim taboos into consideration?” he said.

Image copyrightSINA WEIBO / ADIL MEMETTUR. Mr Memettur is an Uighur Chinese who runs a cake business

His post quickly sparked condemnation and ridicule from other Chinese online, with some asking if this meant China had to expunge all references to pigs in popular culture and literature.

“We each have our own way of life; we do not force you to live according to our rules, but you cannot force us to change the law,” said Weibo user Fireflyinred.

Mr Memettur quickly took down the post and on Sunday night he posted an apology.

Alibaba told the BBC that they decided to rebrand the app to appeal to a younger demographic. “We embrace diversity and respect all creeds and religions. The name change is meant to reflect the demographic’s aspirations to pursue dreams, sit back and enjoy life,” said the spokesman.

The visceral pushback stems from the fact that the pig occupies an important place in Chinese culture.

Pork is not only a staple of Chinese cuisine – the government keeps a national reserve of pork in case of market shortages – but the pig is also celebrated in folklore and the Chinese zodiac.

Online, the reaction to Mr Memettur has been intense, often descending into derogatory comments and insulting jokes about Muslims and Uighur culture.

It has also highlighted how gaps in understanding between Muslim minorities and the Han Chinese majority can arise.

Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES – The Uighurs are one of China’s biggest Muslim minorities

Because of their relatively small numbers, concentrated mostly in the West, Muslims still do not figure largely in Chinese public discourse.

China’s 21 million Muslims, comprising minority ethnic groups such as the Huis and Uighurs, make up only 1.6% of the population, with the rest from the Han ethnic majority and they have mostly co-existed peacefully.

The western province of Xinjiang, home to many Chinese Uighurs, has seen unrest with residents saying they have been economically and culturally displaced by a growing influx of Han migrants. Violence there has been attributed by the authorities to Islamist militants and separatists – rights groups point to increasingly tight control by Beijing.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES- Xinjiang cities like Kashgar are home to Muslim minorities such as the Uighurs

In this instance some online, like blogger Han Dongyan, have called for respect and calm.”Don’t extend this to all Muslims… (Mr Memettur) has made a mistake and he can be criticised, but don’t respond to an extreme with another extreme and tar them all with the same brush, this is wrong too!” he wrote in one popular post.

Source: China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

03/10/2016

How has India changed a year after Dadri beef lynching? – BBC News

It has been a year since a Muslim man in northern India was lynched over rumours that his family had slaughtered a cow and eaten beef.

Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and for many, eating beef is taboo. The slaughter of cows is also banned in many Indian states.But Mohammad Akhlaq’s death sparked widespread outrage and contributed to changing the social and political discourse of the country. The BBC’s Ayeshea Perera looks at some of the most significant things that happened in India following his death.

The ‘intolerance’ furore

Image copyright AFP: The government began to be haunted by allegations of intolerance

Perhaps the largest fallout of Mohammad Akhlaq’s death in Uttar Pradesh state was the accusation of “intolerance” that began to haunt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP.

Critics of the BJP have often accused it of being Hindu majoritarian in its outlook and of being hostile to ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims. And this incident only strengthened those voices.

The fact that Mr Modi did not immediately condemn the incident, choosing to remain silent even as state party leaders jumped to the defence of the accused, caused even more anger.

It prompted an unprecedented movement by writers and poets who had been celebrated by the government – they started returning their prestigious Sahitya Akademi awards to protest at intolerance in India. More than 40 writers from all across the country returned their awards and were soon joined by a group of film makers who said they would not be “guilty of flattening diversity” in the country.

Leading writer Nayantara Sehgal, a niece of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote that “… India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault… The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.

“But “intolerance” was not limited to returning awards – it found its way into popular discourse as well. Bollywood superstar Amir Khan also created a furore when he expressed concern over the “growing intolerance” in India. He was later joined by fellow star Shah Rukh Khan who said he “respected” people returning awards to protest against intolerance.

Later, the arrest of a student leader from India’s prestigious Jawarhalal Nehru University on sedition charges over a rally condemning the hanging of a man convicted of attacking the Indian parliament also sparked cries of “intolerance” on a massive scale.

The BJP loses Bihar

Image copyright AP: Nitish Kumar led an alliance which defeated PM Narendra Modi’s BJP in the Bihar polls

A second outcome that can be linked back to the Dadri killing is that the BJP went on to lose state elections in the neighbouring northern state of Bihar – a poll it was widely expected to win.Incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was on his second term, had already suffered a crushing defeat to Mr Modi’s party in the 2014 parliamentary elections, and another “Modi wave” was expected to sweep the state elections as well.

But in a masterstroke, Mr Kumar and his allies positioned themselves as a “secular” alliance, in direct opposition to the “communal” BJP.

The fact that Mr Modi and BJP party chief Amit Shah raised the sensitive issue of cow slaughter and consumption of beef during election rallies in the state also did not seem to help.

When Mr Kumar’s party won, it was called a “historic verdict” and hailed as proof that running a poll campaign along religious and ethnic lines would not bring results.

The rise of cow protection vigilante groups

Image copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL: These self styled cow protectors created headlines after they lay in wait for and then badly beat up a number of truck drivers transporting cattle for slaughter

The death of Mr Akhlaq seemed to put new focus on “cow protection” groups who took it upon themselves to ensure that cattle would not be slaughtered or consumed.

Mostly members of militant Hindu groups like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and Shiv Sena, these self-styled cow protectors created headlines after they lay in wait for and then beat up a number of truck drivers transporting cattle for slaughter.

In another attack, two Muslim woman were beaten up after they were accused of carrying beef. And most significantly, in an incident which led to massive caste unrest, four low-caste Dalit men trying to skin a dead cow were thrashed by vigilantes in the western state of Gujarat.A video of the incident went viral and led to huge protests and an uproar in parliament.

After again being accused of silence, Mr Modi used a radio address almost a full month later to criticise vigilante attacks, saying such people made him “angry”, and any attacks must be investigated.

Eating as an act of defiance

Beef fry is an essential part of the diet in south India’s Kerala stateThe right to eat beef became another huge talking point in

Source: How has India changed a year after Dadri beef lynching? – BBC News

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!

 

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

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

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