A finger on the pulse of Chinese society

21 Sep

Sorry about the recent lapse in blog posts. I’ve been busy with life, the Internet at my home stay hasn’t been working recently, and I’ve been organizing a trip to Tibet, for which I leave in a few weeks. Without further ado:

To gain insight on current events in China, there are select blogs and news sites I’ve made a habit of returning to. James Fallows of The Atlantic and Evan Osnos of The New Yorker, whose sites are listed in the “blogroll” at right, always offer superb analysis. The China Beat, full of dispatches from both Western and Chinese academics, is another excellent resource, so much so that it is inaccessible in China without a proxy or VPN. I extract a plethora of knowledge from these sites, yet one could accuse the authors of writing from an ivory tower. Their interviewees are not always “people on the street,” or your “average Joe.” The subjects are more often professors, dissidents, artists: people in the public eye.

That is why I like to supplement my “hard news” media diet with pages like Chinasmack, which translates memes and trending topics from the Chinese equivalents of Facebook and Twitter. Stories that are slow to take hold in Western media, and off-limits to mainland Chinese media, are heatedly discussed on social networks. This summer, for example, a Communist Party press secretary’s tone deaf response to the horrific crash on the Beijing-Shanghai high speed train line became an instant classic thanks to “netizens” who mocked and repeated his words. Two weeks after reading about the press secretary online, an article appeared in The New York Times.

Chinasmack and other sites are like a fingers on the pulse of Chinese society. They offer an unrivaled “on-the-ground” perspective. One translation that recently caught my eye, while not especially controversial, was a magazine piece that profiled the African expat community in Guangzhou, one of three major cities (along with Hong Kong and Shenzhen) in the Pearl River Delta

The presence of Chinese soft power in Africa, through investment, is well documented (and worrying for the United States), but I had never before come across the inverse of that story – African merchants in China – and I doubt I’ll be reading about it in Western media any time soon. Enjoy this excerpt and please continue on to the full, if imperfectly translated, story:

As Chinese companies have entered Africa to find resources, African businessmen have also come to China, “the world’s factory”. Businessmen ship cheap goods to Africa, where 50 far-away African countries quickly consume these daily consumables that can’t be produced in their own countries. At the end of the 90s in the 20th century, the first batch of Africans came to Guangzhou, their first stop being Canaan clothing market [Clothes Trading Center]. Now, however, with Canaan clothing market as the center, many goods for export markets have sprung up in the surrounding one kilometer area. The people of Guangzhou have gradually come to call this area “Chocolate City”.

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