With press reports circulating about Timothy Geithner's plan to speak at Peking University/Beida tomorrow, this might be the perfect time to dip into China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance and read Geremie Barmé's "Facing Up to Friendship" (pages 212-214), a smart look at the talk Kevin Rudd gave at the same campus on April 9, 2008. (If you don't have the book, check out the earlier and slightly shorter version of it that appeared in the April 12, 2009, edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, under the title "Rudd Rewrites the Rules of Engagement.")
Earlier this week, the Washington Post published a fascinating article by Maureen Fan, paired with a very effective video that the same reporter narrates (hat tip to Shanghaiist for bringing both to my attention), that combines architectural and family history. This is because the grandfather of the Post's Beijing bureau chief was Robert Fan, a leading local architect who designed, among many other buildings, the one pictured here.
I won't try to summarize her piece, which is part memoir and part analysis of the fate of buildings her grandfather designed (some of which are shown in the accompanying video), as it is well worth reading in its entirety. I will just note that the video is a nice one to pair with the two-part "Jews in Shanghai" episode from the "Sexy Beijing" series that's been recommended on this site before (and been lauded by NPR). In this episode, the American filmmaker Anna Sophie Loewenberg (who goes by "Su Fei") and her father seek out the house in Shanghai that he lived in as a child.
A final note is that there's a link between the two videocasts provided by the wonderful Shanghai historian Lynn Pan. The "Jews in Shanghai" episode opens with Su Fei shown reading one of Pan's early books (In Search of Old Shanghai) and Robert Fan's life and contributions to the city's built environment are discussed in Pan's latest publication (Shanghai Style).
This piece is excerpted from the manuscript of Philip J. Cunningham’s forthcoming book, Tiananmen Moon, part of an on-going China Beat feature of excerpts from Cunningham's book. Interested readers can see more at Cunningham’s website.
Yesterday, China Media Project’s David Bandurski published a post that highlights the best of what CMP does: muckraking in the China media and blogosphere, in this case regarding school construction in Sichuan. If CMP isn’t already on your RSS feed, we encourage you to add them. In the meantime, Bandurski kindly agreed to let us re-post this piece on the suppression of findings regarding shoddy school construction in Sichuan.
By David Bandurski
China Economic Weekly, a spin-off magazine of the official People’s Daily, ran an important story Monday about the collapse of school buildings in last year’s Sichuan earthquake. But the story, posted initially to People’s Daily Online, was removed by day’s end, a sign that some important officials at least were not pleased.
The original URL for the story at People’s Daily Online is now replaced with a tell-tale trace: “The page you wish to view no longer exists.”
Nevertheless, this is a story to keep your eyes on and one that amply illustrates the complexity of China’s media environment. Where did the story come from? Why was it allowed to appear at all?
The story’s jumping-off point is an academic study on construction quality in the quake zone launched last year by Tsinghua University, but it makes much more explicit the findings of the study as they are relevant to the problem of school collapses.
The story, by reporter Zhou Haibin (周海滨), uses the numbers in the Tsinghua study to make it clear that schools surveyed by a team of experts suffered far more crippling damage in the quake than did government buildings. For example, while 44 percent of government buildings studied were still deemed usable, having sustained little seismic damage, only 18 percent of school buildings studied were still deemed structurally sound.
The article quotes the author of the paper, professor Lu Xinzheng (陆新征) of Tsinghua University’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Project Research Center, as saying that . . .
. . . the severity of school collapses in the quake owed not to [the inadequacy of] our nation’s earthquake mitigation means and objectives. The problem [he says] is the [failure of] application of these preventive means and objectives in particular regions. He says that owing to China’s national characteristics (我国国情) and limited national [government] strength, the level of seismic resistance [for buildings] in many local areas was as low as .5 to 1.0 when it should have been 1.5 to 2.0.
The long and short of it: negligence by local government officials.
Lu Xinzheng runs a decent personal website in both Chinese and English, which includes PDF downloads of much of his research over the last few years. There’s contact information too, but we’re supposing the news has already cycled past the earthquake anniversary so far as those editors back in New York and London are concerned, right?
Anyhow, a list of Lu’s recent earthquake-related research is here. One of the most interesting papers is a study of the structural weaknesses of buildings in last year’s Wenchuan earthquake. In this study, Lu and his colleagues write about the notable thinness (and hence weakness) of vertical supporting columns in frame structured buildings in Sichuan, which either buckled or broke when the quake struck.
“In the Wenchuan earthquake, most of the many frame structured buildings that either were damaged or collapsed were of this sort, particularly spacious and open buildings that were purely frame structured (most of which were school classroom complexes, see figure 8),” Lu and his colleagues write.
Fortunately, yesterday’s story from China Economic Weekly has not disappeared altogether. As of 10:51am today the story was still available at Qingdao News.
The article’s headline also appeared today in a list of “recent news” in the Chongqing section of People’s Daily Online, and the link was still active, taking readers to this Chongqing page with the full text of the report.
A search in the WiseNews Chinese news database suggests the story also ran yesterday on CCTV’s international website, and on the website of China News Service.
A partial translation of the China Economic Weekly story follows:
Seismic Investigation Team Reveals Causes of Severity of School Collapses in the Wenchuan Earthquake
China Economic Weekly
Zhou Haibin (周海滨) reporting from Beijing and Sichuan
This reporter recently received a copy of an academic paper called “An Analysis of Seismic Damage Caused to Structures in the Wenchuan Earthquake,” written by a seismic investigation team from Tsinghua University, Southwest Jiaotong University and Beijing Jiaotong University. Of the 54 government buildings that the investigative team studied, 13 percent (or 7 buildings) were deemed to have been irreparably damaged [by the quake]. Of the 44 school buildings that they studied, this ratio was 57 percent (or 25 schools), more than four times the level [of damage] seen with government buildings.
Numbers reveal damage to be most serious among school buildings
After the earthquake struck on May 12 last year, Tsinghua University arranged for a team of relevant experts to travel to Sichuan, and they teamed up with civil engineers (土木结构方面专家) from Southwest Jiaotong University and Beijing Jiaotong University, making a series of three investigations into seismic damage to structures [in the earthquake zone].
The investigative team classed structures sustaining seismic damage into four categories: 1) usable, 2) usable pending repairs, 3) use to be ceased, and 4) immediate demolition. Buildings were divided into types according to their purpose: school, government, business, factory, hospital and other public buildings.
According to the statistical chart provided in the paper, China Economic Weekly has determined that 44 of the 384 structures studied were school buildings. The numbers provided in the chart reveal that of the 44 school buildings studied, 18 percent (or 8 buildings) were deemed usable, 25 percent (or 11 buildings) were deemed usable pending repairs, 23 percent (or 10 buildings) were labeled “use to be ceased” (unusable) and 34 percent (or 15 buildings) were recommended for immediate demolition.
In comparison, the percentages in all categories for the 54 government buildings were: 44 percent usable (24 buildings), 43 percent usable pending repairs (23 buildings), 9 percent “use to be ceased” (unusable) and 4 percent for immediate demolition (2 buildings).
The paper also points out that schools and industrial structures suffered more serious seismic damage due in part due to the functionality of their designs. Schools suffering seismic damage were largely structures of masonry, with large-spanning rooms, large openings for doors and windows, projecting corridors, and in some cases no allowances made for quake resistance, so that their earthquake resistance was low. Factory building were also largely masonry structures, usually of small scale and spaces consisting predominantly of parking areas where there were few personnel. For this reason, little consideration was given [in factory buildings] for earthquake resistance, and seismic damage was rather severe.
Government buildings mostly used reinforced concrete frameworks, and seismic damage to these was minimal . . .
Ever since the quake struck, public opinion in China and overseas has turned to the issue of construction quality in the quake zone. Addressing concerns about “tofu engineering” [shoddily built structures], Sichuan’s acting vice-governor Wei Hong (魏宏) said in answer to questions from reporters that the collapse of schools in this major earthquake was the unavoidable result of natural disaster.
The author of this paper, professor Lu Xinzheng (陆新征) of Tsinghua University’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Project Research Center, believes that the severity of school collapses in the quake owed not to [the inadequacy of] our nation’s earthquake mitigation means and objectives. The problem [he says] is the [failure of] application of these preventive means and objectives in particular regions. He says that owing to China’s national characteristics (我国国情) and limited national [government] strength, the level of seismic resistance [for buildings] in many local areas was as low as .5 to 1.0 when it should have been 1.5 to 2.0.
Images and the full text of the above article are available at the China Media Project website.
1. A very cool set of reports from 1949 on what happened in Shanghai sixty years ago when the Communist Party took control (Hat tip: Shanghaiist).
2. Alec Ash continues with brief insights on critical issues. Here’s a nugget on the Chinese “brain drain.”
3. A very smart review of Zhao's memoir by Richard Rigby at East Asia Forum:
What was not generally known at the time to outside observers was Zhao’s determination, mentioned several times in the book, that he not go down in history as the General Secretary who approved unleashing the PLA against the demonstrators.(Go to East Asia Forum for more.)
In so doing he sealed his political fate, but also ensured his name would be added to the (all too long) list of upright officials who throughout Chinese history did the right thing – to their cost, but to their own, and China’s, ultimate credit.
The fascination of the book, though, goes much further than Zhao’s account of the June 4 events.
It will be mined in great detail by many for the insights it provides into the evolution of the economic reform program, the twists and turns of internal party struggles, the paramount role of Deng Xiaoping (but even his power was not unlimited), the serious differences within the reform camp over political reform (and in Zhao’s case, the way his thinking on this issue changed, and continued to do following his removal from power), Zhao’s insightful pen-portraits of his erstwhile colleagues, and his frank admissions of various policy mistakes (in particular the mishandling of the price reform of 1988).
Most of all, the book stands out as the sole account of how things worked – and in some, but not all ways, presumably still do – at the very top of the Chinese political system, by one who was there.
4. Check out an intriguing new blog (hat tip: Victor Mair) called The China Society Pages that features translations of quirky Chinese new stories (some of which also appear at CNReviews), including recent entries like “Husband and Wife Sue His Former Mistress,” “Widowed Chicken Disconsolate over Loss of Rooster,” and “Man Stabs Father 6 Times Killing Him, Then Goes Back to Bed.” You get the idea.
5. China is trying to manage its international profile the same way it does at home: by creating media, this time aimed at foreigners. Hear the story at NPR.
By Gina Anne Russo
In my first post on the "Better City, Better Life" Expo promotion campaign, I focused on the centrality within it of visions of Shanghai as a special sort of distinctively modern and distinctively international Chinese metropolis, but here I'll emphasize the second half of the slogan, which draws attention to the quality of urban existence. Expo public advertisements don't just glorify Shanghai’s place in the modern world, they also strive to present Shanghai as a place where good behavior is on display. For example, on the subway one day I ran across a person dressed up as Haibao, and he was surrounded by people in vests that read “Make this city better, be a loveable Shanghaier.” Along with being cute and loveable, however, the most common adjective connected with expected “Expo” behavior is wenming I have been in
Wenming is difficult to define. Most dictionaries say it means “civilized,” but this definition carries as many problematic connotations in Chinese as it does in English. Leo Lee, in his book Shanghai Modern, traces the development of this word in modern Chinese. The term was originally borrowed from the Japanese, who used the same characters (pronounced differently of course) in the late nineteenth century to define behavior that was specifically “modern” and “Western,” thus maintaining the same connotations as “civilized” in English. This was picked up by
According to Lee, this word shifted in connotation after 1949 to mean “manners” rather than “Western defined behavior.” However, it seems to me that in today’s usage, the meaning still carries this kind of “civilized” meaning. The term tells people not to do things that are considered uncouth or uncivilized by the international community, and by “international community” the reference remains Europe and North America (with Japan or Singapore getting an occasional look-in as perhaps honorary members of the Western modernity club) In this sense, the Expo is connected with making the lives of Shanghai people better, (hence the “better life”) which is inextricably tied with a population that maintains “modern” and “civilized” behavior.
Other public advertisements emphasize
While this may seem a somewhat simplistic way to read these advertisements, representation of the third world are almost always absent in images of the “global community” (and you’ll look in vane in such visual representations for any sign of India, which constitutes ¼ of the global community). And a final illustration of this phenomenon brings us back to one place you see Haibao, which is on the interactive TV screens located in many
With the Expo less than a year away, Shanghai has a lot of preparation still ahead of it (the most pressing of which are the massive building planned in Pudong). But philosophically,
By Susan D. Blum
In recent years, articles have appeared from time to time in the Western press that deal with cases of plagiarism in China and speculated on what these incidents may reveal about how academic life and the educational system in the PRC work. When we learned that anthropologist Susan Blum, one of the contributors to China Beyond the Headlines, a book that was co-edited by a contributor to China Beat (Timothy Weston) and in a sense was trying to do in print form some of the things that this blog now tries to do online, has been combining writing about various aspects of Chinese culture with writing about plagiarism in the U.S. (and elsewhere), we thought it would be great to get her to reflect for us on what is and is not unusual about the situation in the PRC. Here's what Blum, the author of a new book called My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture as well as an earlier work on deception and truth in China, Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), had to say in response our invitation:
Plagiarism. Doesn’t the very word send chills down your spine? It resembles plague, after all (even though it has no genetic connection to it), and a plague must sicken us all. So the cases of plagiarism and academic misconduct, fraud, copying, and misrepresentation that are the latest ills to beset China make for great journalistic stories. China should, by some accounts, take its lead from the “West,” and especially from the United States.
In case you haven’t noticed, the United States too is consumed by worries about plagiarism and violations of academic integrity. But we have the sense that things are worse in China.
The whole topic of plagiarism depends on related ideas of originality. By a certain logic, developed in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an author should write original works (Woodmansee 1984, Rose 1993), and should be paid—in both money and “credit”—for that contribution, especially because the best authors were seen as geniuses, inspired by their Muse or by God. The unique work of each of these geniuses should be acknowledged. And paid.
Thus was born the notion of copyright, which is connected with but not identical to the admonition to give credit to our sources.
Academic writing, which is not always—to say the least—touched by genius, borrows from this sense that the author has made a unique contribution and should be gestured to. But it also has a professional scaffolding, the guild rules, if you will, that uses a person’s prior learning to demonstrate proper deference and training. We do that, as Anthony Grafton showed in his book The Footnote, in our footnotes. They give credit. They allow readers to pursue our line of thinking. And they show that we are following the rules.
These are the rules we teach our students and these are the rules we follow, at least when we do follow them.
In the United States college students fail to follow these rules sometimes; in surveys about 66% of our students admit to using uncited material. They do so for a variety of reasons: The rules are extremely subtle and difficult to master properly. The students are busy with a variety of other compelling activities and don’t want to take the time on a particular assignment. The assignment is meaningless to the student. The student has waited until the last minute and just needs to fill up pages, with anything. Some of these reasons may have to do with integrity and some with failed education.
But you can imagine a different notion of writing, a different path in history that does not regard writing as an individual possession. (Many of our students do, in this age of collaboration and Wikis.)
You could imagine a notion of writing where sharing was more important than hording.
You could imagine an academic system where people were hired and rewarded on the basis of contacts, seniority, and cooperation rather than publication and competition.
You could imagine a notion of education where quoting authority showed the proper deference of youth.
You could even imagine a place where a culture hero claimed “I transmit, I do not invent (or create).” (This saying is attributed to Kongzi, known as Confucius, in The Analects.)
Such a place would have a different set of rules about what is supposed to be found in footnotes and in papers, and writing in this place would not be seen as violating universal morality, but rather as following its own logic.
Until very recently, these have been some of the rules governing academic writing in China.
Now, of course, China has left behind its twentieth-century academic isolation and would like to make intellectual contributions to the global academic world. China is now producing more people with higher education degrees than the U.S. and India combined, according to the BBC. China is investing heavily in tertiary education. China’s faculty are no longer rewarded simply for loyalty.
So new rules are evolving.
And like all social change, it is clear that it happens unevenly. Now that several Chinese universities are ranked in the top 100 in the world, and collaborations between Chinese and foreign scholars are common, Chinese universities have agreed to follow “international” notions of academic integrity, meaning that all work must declare its origins. (Never mind that there is great variation among nations in how this is regarded.) Deference has given way to the confident claims of invention.
As in any high-stakes system—the SAT, Wall Street, publication in prestigious fora—one finds some individuals willing to take enormous risks. Some are sociopaths, such as journalist Stephen Glass who fabricated an entire story in The New Republic. Some claim sloppiness, such as Doris Kearns Goodwin. Scientists wishing glory may also write fraudulent papers, such as three recent professors at Zhejiang University. He Haibo copied and fabricated results published or submitted to eight journals; two colleagues were implicated with him. China Daily called it the “biggest-ever academic scandal.”
Here we have a case with several possible explanations:
--Chinese people cheat.
--Some Chinese people cheat.
--Some people cheat.
--China follows imperfectly international guild rules about academic practices.
--China’s acceptance of the rules of academic citation are in flux and so far have been mastered imperfectly.
Which answer is preferable may depend on whether you want China to be similar to or different from people elsewhere, and whether you believe in an enduring Chinese essence.
I believe that in some sense the rules of academic conduct are arbitrary, but like any game, the players must follow the rules. Violations occur occasionally, both in the West and in Asia, and are rarely caught or punished. The American Historical Association recognized its powerlessness in enforcing rules against plagiarism in 2003, though it encouraged historians to follow and teach students about proper rules of conduct.
There are some traditional practices that may endure in China, such as having novices quote from authorities as part of their education, and there is a tendency to regard communication as effective based on the results it produces.
But there are also new forces at play in China, having to do with the way academics are compensated for speed of publication and uniqueness of contribution.
In this sense China is copying the economic structure of the Western academy. And in this sense the temptations for cutting corners in order to “scoop” everyone else or at least to pile on publications are just like ours.
In this sense, imitation may be the best form of flattery, but both the source and the copier would profit from a different model.
Grafton, Anthony. 1997. The Footnote: A Curious History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Woodmansee, Martha. 1984. “The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the ‘Author’.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 17: 425-48.
Susan D. Blum is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of the recent works Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman and Littlefield 2007) and My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Cornell University Press 2009).
By Gina Anne Russo
This month began with the countdown clocks ticking away the time until the start of the 2010 Shanghai Expo hitting the one-year-to-go point, and the weeks that have followed have seen the international press pay a good deal of attention to this upcoming event, which had gotten relatively little media coverage in the Western media. There have been a flurry of op-eds (including this one by China Beat's Jeff Wasserstrom), reports on the question of whether the U.S. will have a national pavilion (such as this one by Shanghai Scrap's Adam Minter), and feature stories on the city of Shanghai that highlight the build-up to the Expo (such as this one in the Washington Post). In addition, while Shanghai-based publications had long been trumpeting its importance, the focus on it in major Chinese national press organs also increased last month, with Beijing Review, for example, devoting several articles to it in a recent Shanghai-themed issue (particularly noteworthy is this one by Fudan University historian Li Tiangang).
In light of this, we thought this was a good time to ask Gina Anne Russo, a Fulbright scholar based in the city that is gearing up for the Expo, and someone whose "Gina in Shanghai" blog had caught our attention, to fill our readers in on the publicity campaign under way to whip up enthusiasm for an event that has been called an "Economic Olympics" and also "China's First World's Fair" and will run from May 1-October 31 of 2010. We'll be running her response in two parts, which focus on different aspects of the "Better City, Better Life" slogan that is being used to promote the extravaganza:
Shanghai has had a history of personality cults that permeate the visual landscape of the city. However, today, Mao’s presence, ubiquitous only 40 years ago, has all but faded —though you can still find some reminders that he was once omnipresent, such as the big statue of the Chairman that continues to stand on the East China Normal University and the kitsch items for sale at Shanghai souvenir stalls (though these are aimed largely at foreigners). Even the pervasive symbols of American consumerism Colonel Sanders’ and Ronald McDonald’s are not as common as they once were—though each of them have some statues as well, standing (the Colonel) or sitting (the clown) near the entrances to venues selling buckets of chicken and Big Macs, respectively. Today, the latest personality to overcome Shanghai's visual landscape is quite different, a symbol of neither Communist Revolution nor capitalist consumer culture. His name is Haibao.
Haibao, a bright blue wave with a face, is in constant public view. His animated likeness looks out at you from TV screen advertisments in subways, his picture looms down on you from the walls of construction zones, his statue is an even more popular photo subject at the Yu Gardens than the Ming architecture, and he is even often seen dancing on a giant LCD screen that moves slowly up and down the Huangpu River on a barge.
His cult of personality displaces all others, including those of the Olympic Friendlies (not so last year) and Barbie (whose pink allure is celebrated in the city now that it is home to the world’s first megastore devoted to the doll), and he brings with him a simple message: the World Expo is coming to Shanghai, and with it a new chance for Shanghai to become internationally recognized as China's most progressive and global city. The important word in that last statement, the one that draws the distinction between the message of the Expo and of the Olympics (mega-events that have been linked in various ways, including similar roles for countdown clocks and promotional videos featuring Jackie Chan), is the word “city,” not “country,” and this distinction illustrates a lot of underlying issues regarding Shanghai's own self understanding.
The slogans for both events, the Olympics and the Expo, illuminate this distinction. Whereas the Olympic slogan reads “One world, one dream,” connecting China to a world of nations, the Expo slogan reads “Better city, better life,” putting Shanghai on the map of globalized cities, not countries. Creating this type of identity for
This is similarly emphasized in academic discourse. It is no accident that many books about China’s search for modernization are almost entirely concerned with Shanghai and present the city’s modern history as unique (though other treaty-ports sometimes get a look in as well). Leo Ou-fan Lee and Yeh Wen-hsin, along with countless others, have demonstrated that Shanghai was the birthplace of the modern Chinese nation because of its unique cultural connection with the outside world at the beginning of the twentieth century.
I did my senior thesis research about the magazine Ling Long, a
The current campaigns for the Expo play upon this Shanghainese notion that it is the center of Chinese urban modernity. One particular advertisement that seems to run on constant replay on twenty meter high screens on the sides of skyscrapers depicts Haibao’s journey through
The distinction between the “traditional” and “modern” is accentuated by the fact that our modern Shanghairen (Shanghainese) actually watch the “traditional” scenes on a TV screen on a skyscraper (where, in real life, this whole advertisement is played), making the "traditional" elements seem like a movie, not the real and modern Chinese world (in Shanghai). This advertisement sends a clear message: Shanghai is the end of the natural progression from traditional to modern, and therefore the logical place for the world Expo—the contemporary counterpart to the World’s Fairs of old, the first of which were held in London and Paris when those cities represented state-of-the-art modernity.
Furthermore, while also making the dichotomy between a traditional lifestyle and a “modern” lifestyle, the advertisement also implies that all of China’s elements, its diversity, celebrates Shanghai’s greatness. The advertisement actually ends not in
To be continued in Part II.