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The Great Firewall of China September 20, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in China, Cultural Differences.
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I recently put a small blog online using WordPress (The site is 努力队). The point of the blog is to practice my Chinese writing and reading, and especially to keep in touch with my classmates in China with whom I studied Mandarin. I sent the link to all my friends on the mainland only to realize that the website was not accessible from there. I guess thanks to “The Great Firewall of China”.

I called my hosting support staff for help only to learn that if I wanted to be granted access, I had to contact every ISP in China and ask them to allow my website. As a result I have been gathering some general information about the matter. Here are three links that I found pretty interesting:

  • See if your website can be accessed from Mainland China using GreatFirewallofChina.org. It seems that the test does not always work. Still, I tried a few. The result: my blog was not accessible while Facebook was, which is accurate.
  • Learn about how censorship is organized in China from the Human Rights Watch website
  • Of course, you can also find plenty on the matter on Wikipedia with more links and references

Well, at least, with a link to the Human Rights Watch website on this very blog, I am sure Psychobserver will never be accessible from the Mainland. No need for me to bother about the issue.


Bookstores and signage – Shenzhen September 14, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in China, Customer Experience, Signage.
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Shenzhen Book CityI was in Shenzhen yesterday afternoon making a trip to the biggest bookstore there. It was indeed pretty massive! 6 floors full of books and with people reading in every corner. Pretty nice place. I was most impressed by the computer science and programming section of the bookstore. I never saw so many books about C++, Photoshop or Dreamweaver… Just insane!

The role of knowledge and books in Chinese society is really important. And we can really feel that in the bookstore. While in France we may read more comic books or novels, Chinese bookstores are mostly dedicated to “learning stuff”. From literature to  design and… anything really, it seems that if there is no learning from a book, then it is  not interesting. So, simple novels have very little shelf space.

During my other trips to Shenzhen, I really had a bad impression of the city. It was dirty and had a gloomy feel to it. But that district around the bookstore, with brand new shopping malls like Citic and MixC, is quite impressive…

Anyway. I was trying to find the bookstore at some point and I thought it would be a good idea to follow signs… ha ha ha

Signage in Shenzhen

Signage in Shenzhen

Okay… I make a turn…

Signage in Shenzhen

Oh… A dead-end…

Who is in charge in China? June 26, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in China, Cultural Differences.
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Quite an interesting read from NY Times this week-end: an article from David Barboza entitled “My Time as a Hostage, and I’m a Business Reporter“. In the article David Barboza describes how he was held hostage in a toy factory for pursuing a story on recalled toys. In the article he brings to light the immense power that businessmen today have in China. As he describes it, neither the police, nor high-level local officials were able to convince the person in charge at the toy factory to release him.

I think the conclusion of the article is a bit too rushed. In a country like China, local people, whether businessmen, police or politicians, do not like to see foreigners wander around asking questions. If the factory manager wanted to send a message like “DO NOT COME BACK”, then the reporters had to be held for a while to make that message clear. And I would not say that the police and the politicians could not do anything… I would say that it was in their interest as well that the message sent was clear. Then of course, they have to be seen do their jobs, thus the arguing that took place on that day. At the end of the story, the factory people and the policemen have a dinner at the police station. Does that dinner really mean that businessmen are all powerful? Or are they all on the same side defending what they built together?

The balance of power is very complex in China today. Definitely bribery is rampant and local politicians and police have interests in many of the businesses that are being set up everyday all around China. But I think it is just a matter of priorities. The communist party could very well control all this. In the end they may be the biggest organization in the world and have ramifications in every medium and large scale businesses in China. So, why would they not control this? It may be quite simple. The biggest enemy to the Chinese government is social instability. Although corruption brings instability, it is nothing compared to what would happen if corruption was brought down, leading to the destruction of many businesses around the country and the slow down of the economy.

So to me this story just highlights the current choice of the Chinese government – maybe a conscious lack of control to achieve its greater purpose, which is to bring 1.3 billion people to a higher standard of living. Once the situation changes, it could very well be that the party will change its approach, and show that this so-called lack of control did not exist in the end. A read like “One Billion Customers” from James Mc Gregor highlights very well the important role the party plays in day-to-day business and that if the party wants to bring down somebody for the greater good of the country, that person will go down.

Honeymoon Domestic Consultant December 25, 2006

Posted by psychobserver in China, Cultural Differences.
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From ChinesePod.com (A great website to learn Mandarin) is an interesting look at a phenomenon that is spreading in China… I would say especially in Shanghai. Young Chinese couples are getting married, but have no clue whatsoever as to how to take care of themselves, so their parents “offer” them a kind of domestic helper/consultant (蜜月阿姨) to make sure they won’t … well starve to death for example, or put their pet in the washing machine, who knows…

You can listen to the 3 minutes dialog below to know a bit more:

Word on the Street – 蜜月阿姨 (mìyuè āyí)

Merry Christmas! And happy festive season!