Friday, April 29, 2011

China Calls

I feel like I've written this blog before, but my Chinese friend called last night and said he has been called back for more meetings. He will not be available for our meeting on May 13, sadly. I have decided to carry on anyway, and will have the planned meeting without him and carry on the best we can. We should stick with our plan to have Chinese food for our potluck that night in all its many wonderful forms. Judy will cook a pot of rice, so you can concentrate on delicious dishes of your choice.

I've finished reading River Town, which I found to be very good in detailing the ins and outs of small town life in rural China. The portrayals of the lives and the mentality of rural Chinese people was most excellent, and I will try and draw on the author's insights in my comments on the 13th. I would also recommend Country Driving by Peter Hessler which is similar in content. He lives in Beijing, has a country "writing studio" in a small town some distance from Beijing, and takes long drives along the Great Wall to have the adventures a traveler might have by doing such a thing. Both these books showcase the Chinese people through the eyes of a careful observer, and he writes very well. I highly recommend them.

Statistics about China cannot convey the reality of living in China. How things get done is so different than what happens here that I find myself asking questions and wondering about how people would put up with what seems to me to be a sort of crazy system. It works, after a fashion. At least for them.

For my distance participants (and there are several of you) I don't see how I can actually involve you if you don't leave comments or make some sort of noise with your questions, comments, and observations on the various topics we cover. I hope to hear from you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Preparation for Our Chinese Discussion

The May, 2008 issue of National Geographic was devoted to the subject China. If you have access to this issue you might like to grab a copy and read the articles. I will have a copy of the map that came in the magazine we can use it for a reference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Site Changes

Please note the changes to the blog site. Over to the right I have added a calendar section where I show the a planned dates for BQ for the next few months. When the dates are known I will post them. As I work out the topics I will show them next to the dates. If I can figure out how to do it, I will link the topics to the blog where they a discussed. Then you can just click on the topic and go straight to the write up that explains the topic and puts things into perspective. We call this Technology Working For Us.

If you have suggestions for the site please drop me a line. I have not provided links to other blog sites mostly because I don't troll for them. If you do, an you have found something particularly good ones let the rest of us know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How can we address the issue of China?

I have been thinking about China, and how we can productively discuss this immense topic.  Modern China is a complex morass of social, political, economic, cultural, and international issues that seem like quite a quagmire when it comes to wanting to pluck some out for specific study.  I am not wanting to criticize my readers, but this is also a topic where most American's are woefully uninformed, and it is not easy to get informed.  Where do you start?

I think the problem breaks down into several dichotomies and conundrums.   In no particular order:
  • Political:  democracy vs. communism; the goal of egalitarianism
  • Social:  rural vs. urban; agrarian idealism vs. capitalism and commerce; demonizing capitalism
  • Economic:  poor vs. rich; the Iron Rice Bowl concept; entrepreneurship in modern Chinese economy; the 5 Year Plan and a controlled economy; managed growth and expansion;  foreign investment;  cheap labor; domestic consumerism vs. the Export Economy
  • Historic: exploitation by the west and Japan;  the legacy of feudalism; Dynastic thinking in modern China 
  • Demographic: 1.6 billion people; the pyramid of social hierarchy;   
  • Infrastructure:  communication; transportation; power;  housing;  sanitation;  education
  • Ideology:  the role of ideological thinking in shaping China's social structure
  • China under communism:  Marx, Lenin, and Mao;  Mao and Stalin;  Mao and Nixon;  The Great Leap Forward;  The Cultural Revolution; Tienanmen, 1989; Deng Xiaoping; Hu Jintao
  • Chinese food:  fried rice vs. sweet and sour chicken;  is there more?
I could go on, but you get the picture.  This is not a subject to which we can do justice in one evening.

My personal reading list for China includes some older and many newer titles.  Writers that have been chronicling the changes inside China from a western perspective are very interesting.  I recommend the books by Peter Hessler, River Town, and Country Driving.  Also one called Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang.  Pearl Buck's The Good Earth describes life in China of 100 years ago, and yesterday for the rural poor.  I have just finished listening to a 48 lecture series from the Teaching Company called The Fall and Rise of China by Professor Richard Baum of UCLA, which has been an excellent review of China since about 1850 through the present, and covers especially well the ascent of communism and Chairman Mao, and the importance of idealism in the crafting the Chinese state under communism. All of these authors are fluent Chinese speakers, and they relate personal experiences in different strata of Chinese society.  These strata are very important to understanding the way things work in China.

I ran a test over the weekend.  I invited my Chinese friend over for dinner on Sunday and tried the idea out on he and his wife.  I told them about our group, and that I wanted to try and have a conversation about China.  They were agreeable, and have offered to attend on May 13.  So, we are committed to this adventure and now we have to sort through the pile of possible topics and see if we can't make some sense out of it.  If you have suggestions please either send me an email, or leave a comment below.  Thanks!