Why I Love China, Reason #297

Letters from ChinaBy Patrick Murphy – April 2009

The internet in China, as everywhere, can be somewhat user unfriendly. Factor in technoglop in a foreign language (like “Make sure the subnet mask is disengaged”) and it becomes simply impossible to achieve connectivity unaided.

Not only was I faced with that challenge, but my old computer had become unstable. Knowing that we would be returning to our Beijing apartment for several years, I decided on this trip to acquire a desktop computer. More

New Year in Beijing

By MC

We call it Chinese New Year, but they call it Spring Festival. I’ve argued with many Chinese over the years about this misnaming. I think it should be called Winter Festival, because the weather is always cold. “No, no,” they tell me. “Now it is Spring and it will soon be warm!”

One interesting thing I just learned is that until recently the Chinese did not use weeks. Weeks, with weekends, are a Western concept not used in China until the adoption of the universal calendar. The Chinese lunar calendar (also misnamed, as it doesn’t really match up with the lunar cycle– which is why the Chinese have not mere Leap Days, but entire Leap Months) simply started on chu-yi (Day One) and spun through until the end. There was no weekend of rest, just steady work or school, punctuated by the holidays. More

On Chang E

By Craig Dietrich

Chang E, the lady in the moon, appears in different versions of Chinese folk legends.

She is usually paired with her husband, Hou Yi. The two immortals get demoted to mortals. Hou Yi manages to acquire a pill of immortality, but Chang E swallows it and flees to the moon. (Husbands take note.)

In one version, the heavenly couple are doing just fine, when Hou Yi notes that the Jade Emperor’s ten sons have transformed themselves into ten suns (son/sun is not a pun in Chinese, in case you wondered). To rescue mortals from this situation, he shoots down nine of the suns with arrows, leaving just one remaining. Not amused, the Jade Emperor banishes Hou Yi and Chang E to earth and makes them mortals.

Now the Queen Mother of the West gets in the act, when Hou Yi talks her into giving him a pill of immortality. For some reason, he brings the precious medicine home, puts off taking it, and is shocked when he learns that Chang E has popped it in her own mouth. Immortal again, she floats heavenward, and ends up on the moon. She is stuck there because, after all, the Jade Emperor is still mad, so she can’t go to heaven, and she can’t get back to earth, where she would have to deal with a cranky Hou Yi. More

NGOs in China

By Jasmine Qu

Editor’s note: Among many issues created by China’s rapid development, the issue of organizations not controlled by the one-party state has repeatedly emerged. Before “Reform and Opening” the socialist system sponsored and controlled all organizations, whether national, provincial, or local; economic, social, political, or cultural. The recent advent of entrepreneurialism, a freer labor market, a freer press, and the (limited) rule of law has challenged the government to loosen up. NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are a particularly interesting phenomenon. They were unheard of before the 1980s. Still in their infancy, they face official suspicion and have no tradition of private philanthropy to tap. In this follow-up article to her account of waste pickers in the November-December issue, Jasmine Fei Qu sheds light on one particular case, and reflects on the difficulties facing China’s NGOs.

The Institute of Contemporary Observation (ICO) is a China-based NGO in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong. My two-month internship there in 2006 offered me an opportunity to work with waste pickers as well as a valuable experience inside a Chinese NGO.

In some ways, what ICO has achieved is very impressive. Its name has appeared in major international newspapers because of its expertise on the south China labor movement. Recently, its director was even interviewed by the Brunswick Times Record for a report about Shenzhen city. Besides its reputation as a research institute, it has conducted several projects relating to south China migrant workers, including a Migrant Worker Community College, in cooperation with UC Berkeley, and the waste picker project. It has offered free or low-cost education and vocational training to 3,000 workers. It also provides training programs to factories and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) audits to multinational companies. It is a partner with many famous brands, such as DuPont, Fuji, Xerox and Nokia. More

If It’s Dusty, This Must Be Beijing

By MC

A few years ago, the spring dust storms here were so large and so powerful that they blew across the ocean and hit Seoul, an unwelcome surprise for the Capitalist South Korean neighbors. Locals in Beijing may not exactly enjoy the spring storms that some years sweep in and dump tons of desert dust everywhere, but they are at least able to deal with them. It’s not like Washington, D.C., hit by half an inch of snow and municipal paralysis shutting down the federal government. Here, whether snow or sand, people just put on their face masks and get out their brooms and sweep it all up. More

Waste Pickers in China

By Jasmine Qu

Jasmine Fei Qu is an exchange student at Bowdoin College majoring in Government and Economics. Her summer internship with a Chinese Non-Government Organization (NGO) involved several projects. One had to do with waste pickers. Here is her account of that experience.

This past summer I worked with the Institute of Contemporary Observation (ICO), a China-based NGO in Shenzhen. I went to ICO because of its concern for migrant workers and its vision of empowering this underserved group. They are China’s cheap labor force, During the internship, I was mainly involved in ICO’s Waste Picker Project. Funded by the World Bank, it is a one-year project aiming to build a network among Shenzhen waste pickers. This network would allow waste pickers to help each other, enhance their capacity of self-protection, and provide them development opportunities. More

Nanjing

By Fred Fagin

The FaginsIt was a Very Good Year. Yes it was, and it was a time of self-inflicted trial; a great sadness at being away from home, and yet – sweet opportunity, discovery, growth, and sharing.

My son Colin (Fan Wei-cheng) and I, Fred (Fan Cen) ventured forth in late June of 2005 to the Middle Kingdom, specifically to Nanjing, the native place of Zhang Li (now Angela in America), my dear Chinese bride and mother of said Colin.

Here son and I shared almost a year of fascinating, fulfilling, and frustrating experiences: in the realms of learning, of friendships, of history witnessed, of challenges met and overcome, of travel to many places of beauty and spiritual significance, and of surviving the onslaught of air pollution and the standard “China diet” of the modern city. More

On Learning Chinese

By Barry Hilton

Some western missionaries felt that Chinese was invented by Satan “to keep the gospel out of China.” Is it the most difficult language in the world?

If you ask professional linguists that question, most will probably say that every language is complex in some ways and simple in others, and that they average out to around the same level of complexity. But that’s probably not the kind of answer you’re looking for. If we ask, though, which language is hardest for native English speakers to learn, a pretty good case can be made for the group of closely related languages we call “Chinese”. Letís look at some of the reasons. More

“Buck” Freeman

By Mike Palmer

Buck Freeman

Buck Freeman

While house hunting in North Carolina recently, I met a professor whose work in East Asian Studies at Davidson College is supported by a grant from the Freeman Foundation. In the course of our conversation I told her of my interest in the Stilwell Museum in my home town of Chongqing.

She asked if I knew that the Freeman Foundation had made a large grant to that museum. My curiosity piqued, I decided to write Houghton “Buck” Freeman to ask how this came about. Since we were both boys in Shanghai years ago, I am sure we must have known one another, but memory fails me as to how or where. More

A Voyage to Yangkow

By Donald MacInnis

Last weekend I visited Yangkow, the small market town downriver from the Nanping Teachers College where I live and teach. I took a 2-hour train to Nanping, and then a one-hour ride in a friend’s car to Yangkow where I spent my first year in China at age 20, 1940-41, teaching in a Methodist boys’ high school.

China was in their third year of a terrible war that ended with VJ Day, August 1945. Our own school was menaced several times when Japanese planes flew over, but they never bombed us, although they did hit an Anglican mission boys’ school just upriver from us, killing several students. It was just as well, for we had no bomb shelters; we just scattered outside the town gates into the overgrown hillside. More

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