Archive for July, 2007

Fake food-scandal (this time not a fake-food scandal)

July 22, 2007

When following news about the problems concerning food exported to the United States I caught myself questioning whether the food we are eating everyday really is safe. Media reports said that shiploads of food to be exported into the US had to be returned to China, because it contained chemicals, antibiotics or other non-wanted ingredients. US media seemed to cover the scandal, especially highlighting deadly pet food and dangerous tooth paste that was sold in America.

As part of China’s response Western goods like bottled water were rejected, and the US were told to first care about their own supply. But as this topic was present in the news, it somehow managed to get into the Chinese media, as well. After the prizes of pork have been drastically increased (the government even started to subsidize meat for low-income families) the climate of doubt has been established. Chinese still remember the time of SARS and according to rumors the lack of pork meat is caused by swine fever.

Steamed baozi, often eaten for breakfast, on a street market in Suzhou.

Last week there was a report on how bad Chinese “baozi” are. In the climate described above, people tend to easily believe that Beijing’s baozi were not only made from natural ingredients, but also from cardboard (up to 60 percent) and some chemicals. The public obviously believed the story, the news was spread quickly via blogs, I happened to hear a conversation between two young Chinese about the report aired on Beijing Television. However, two days later it turned out that the report was made up, and the journalist in charge has been detained in the meantime. Usually it’s the other way round in China: There are problems that are not mentioned in the media, this time a problem was subject of media reports – but it wasn’t a true problem after all.


University campus turns into tourist attraction

July 16, 2007

As Peking University is one of the nation’s top rated universities, during the summer months when there are now classes for Chinese students, the campus becomes a tourist attraction. Every day one can see tourist groups touring the campus, a big part of the visitors are prospect future students who hope to be able to study here in the future. For the Chinese students the exams have already ended some weeks ago, whereas I am supposed to learn for my exams at the moment. In the next two weeks I will have to take five exams and there is still a large amount of preparation needed to get beyond them smoothly…

The tourist are numerous, at  the building of our philosophy faculty even is a sign next to the door reading 游人止步 (“No tourists beyond this point”). This might be because the building, partly covered with wine, is one of the older ones remaining on campus – and one of the first of this kind when you enter the campus.

Students graduation at Beijing University
Students at Peking University in their graduation robes.

But our building is not of interest only for tourists. In the past weeks there were several students who just had graduated and were taking graduation photos in front of the building. They usually wore westernized graduation robes, but as I just found out, there is a heated debate at Peking University whether students should wear Chinese or Western style clothes during for their graduation. Although the media usually picks up the topic by showing Chinese graduation dresses, the Western clothes one knows from the US are outnumbering the Chinese ones by far.

Shanghai, Take II

July 11, 2007

Bund in Shanghai just after a rain
The rainy weather we had for one day turned the skyline into a spooky atmosphere.

Although I’ve been to Shanghai before, having my brother in China visiting me was a reason enough to go there once again and see the financial capital of China. And since the city has many places of interest it was surly not a problem to come again. Places that I had not seen the last time include the Lu Xun Park, a nice park with a lake that reminded me of Central Park in New York – not because of its size but because of it’s location nestled between multi-story buildings. This park was not listed in my travel book – that might be a reason for not seeing any foreigner what made that park quite authentic. Quite contrary to the park around Lu Xun’s tomb was the “Old City” quarter around Yu garden that I did not go the last time was full of tourist and full of people trying to convince passer-by to buy shoes, DVDs, T-shirts or fake watches.

Lu Xun Park in Shanghai
Lu Xun’s tomb in a park named after this famous writer.

The “Old City” area seemed to be (re-)constructed during the past years, and might be expanded. Because right next to the tourist streets when going through a small entrance one enters one of the last Hutong areas left in downtown Shanghai. Those small streets with tiny houses do not feature the best living conditions (sometimes no heating or water, no toilet inside the house), but they make up the atmosphere – a totally different one than in the renovated “Old City”.

Shanghai Street in old design
The old town where the city wants the tourists to go to.

One many of the small Hutong houses the Chinese character 拆 (chai, to dismantle, to take apart) was written to mark their last days – some have already been destroyed to make room for high rises, streets or tourist areas. There are propaganda banners glorifying the abandoning of the old houses as a step to a better city that the results will be positive for all residents. As a matter of fact, families are receiving money for their will to 动迁 (in Beijing this is called 拆迁, but Shanghai preferred to not use the 拆 character in their banners). With the money it is possible to buy a new flat in a suburbs of Shanghai that are currently reorganized and centrally developed.

拆 sign in Hutong streets in Shanghai
拆-sign on a demolished house, behind is a construction site for new houses.

The master plan for development until hosting the World Expo in 2010 and a long term program to turn Shanghai and the county around it into a green area for living as well as for doing business can be seen at Shanghai’s Museum for Urban Planning. What has started with recognizing the Pudong area as a special economic zone in the 1980s has turned the east side of Huangpu river from a farming area into China’s financial center within 20 years. The achievements are huge, but nonetheless, the master plan is quite ambitious and especially emphasizes the ecological problems that have to be solved by cleaning rivers, creating green areas and using modern technology.

Model of Shanghai in 2010
Shanghai’s plans for the city in 2010 – the model does not have a lot of room for the old Hutong-style houses.

Another event we went to was also focusing on the ecological development, not only in China, but in the whole world. On Saturday afternoon we just heard (just by chance) that one of the nine Live Earth concerts will be in Shanghai. It did not reach the other concert’s audience or international catchy celebrities – however, sitting with about 3000 other fans just below the Oriental Tower (Shanghai’s famous TV tower) was nice, although it started to rain…
The speech by a representative of the United Nations featured some advice how one can protect environment (although I think most of them were not very applicable for China), but also showed the figures of how much glaciers are endangered in China. This English speech that was translated into Chinese was was followed by a Chinese only speech by a representative of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau who was highlighting what China’s central government and Shanghai city government has achieved in protecting environment. Thereafter Chinese stars played a some songs, most of them I had not heard before.

Video made during the concert.

But we were not only looking for the Shanghai of today, at the French concession we found Shanghai of the past and the circumstances of the early Republic: We saw the museum for the first congress of the Communist Party and the former residence of Sun Yat-sen. The first one is of course displaying the view of the party of their struggling in their first years for a revolution in China, the first board already reveals this position: “During the years when the Chinese people were suppressed by western imperialist, capitalist powers…” Of course the thought of Mao is presented in various ways and Mao himself is displayed on many photographs. It is interesting to see that in fact Mao although being a founding member was not the leader of the movement so the photos are cutouts to put him into the center in order to present him as member of an “inner circle”. On the largest display, showing the 13 delegated debating at the original setting, Mao is the one who is taking the lead and making a speech, according to historians he was not the number one person among the communist at that time. Ironically, in the same block of the museum, is Xintiandi area, a westernized commercial area where western brand products are sold for astronomical prizes.

Garden in Suzhou
One of the famous gardens in Suzhou.

Before we got to Shanghai, we first stopped at Suzhou to spend one day. Along with Hangzhou, where I went to in early April, the city counts as the “paradise on earth” because of the plentiful gardens and channels and was therefore promoted world cultural heritage. You notice this when entering one of the nicely arranged gardens where a hefty entrance is levied fee each time – and there is not reduction available for students. Nonetheless, we climbed the North Temple Pagoda for a view over the city and went to two gardens. In the evening we also walked along Shantang River Channel (built in 825) – during the day one has to pay 25 RMB, but in the evening the locals go there to eat considerably cheap food. In the morning we followed the waterway in the opposite direction to a street market that did not only sell tasty food for breakfast, but also showed us how to extract frogs’ legs from a still living frog.

Channels in Suzhou
Suzhou is called “Venice of the east” because it has a lot of waterways.

Going back to Beijing was quite relaxing: The night train took about 10,5 hours for the smooth ride back to the capital. As our train was only having “soft sleeper” we had a comfortable ride that ended at 6:50 at Beijing railway station, we changed into the subway and I was at Beijing University at 8 a.m. just in time for class after a 1400 km way to school…