Monday, December 13, 2010

Why China is in a bubble

It is not a popular view here (in Hong Kong), but it seems to me that we are in the midst of a bubble. Some simple signs:
  • Soaring property prices
  • Inflation rising rapidly (just announced at 5.1% for November, up from 4.4% in October and including an 11.7% rate for food), such that it has already caused riots (one in a school in Yunnan, over the rise in lunchbox prices, made the front page of the SCMP)
  • Repeated attempts by the government in China, and in Hong Kong, to rein in speculation by raising bank deposit requirements and the property sales tax
  • The growing difficulty people are having finding a job, especially the young new graduates (see the NY Times article on this here)
  • The smug conceit one often hears that "China is different" (where have we heard that before...)
Hard to figure out how and when this is going to end, however. But it will not be pretty.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bad gender research

Here are some comments I made to a journalist to critique some recently published social research. Basically, when you ask people yes/no questions, the number may be misleading. Most Hong Kong residents don't think much about homosexuality, and don't care much about it either. So asking them if they are for or against it is not very meaningful. Since the original study made the news, I was happy to comment to show that it was misleading. I'm a bit disappointed that this has ended up in the China Daily, the PRC mouthpiece that no one reads, but anyway...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Injustices USA

China does have a lot of problems, but it can be hard for someone unfamiliar with the country to understand how Chinese do not live with fear every day, given the prominence in the press of stories about the treatment of people like Liu Xiaobo and Zhao Lianhai. In fact, many of my Chinese friends are just as outraged by those cases as I am by some US stories, like the unbelievable racism and injustice described in this NPR story

Civil Rights, Judicial Bias Surround Texas Drug Case, by Wade Goodwyn.

Especially when one reads the accompanying Reporter's Notebook story that details the way some middle-class blacks blame the victims, one cannot imagine living in the US. But the victims themselves admit that they did not believe other Blacks who claimed the police was racist, until they experienced it in dramatic fashion themselves. While it is clear that the judiciary is much worse in China, from the point of view of ordinary people's daily life, it is actually quite similar. Both Americans and Chinese hear stories of gross injustices, and do what they can to redress them.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

News Stories That Make Chinese Students Feel China Is Better Than the USA #1

This type of story, which shows the importance of money in US politics, convinces many Chinese students that US democracy is a sham. Americans are used to it so dismiss it, but it undermines the image of democracy (to say nothing about what the money does to democracy).

The Tea Parties didn’t arise spontaneously: they were boiled up by big business.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 26th October 2010

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Funny maps. An anthropological technique for eliciting informants' world view transformed into comedy. Thank goodness we can laugh about this.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"It's the culture!"

Culture is often used as an explanation for why some unusual things happen. Here is one example. When a gunman killed 8 Hong Kong tourists in Manila, the SCMP reported:

City University criminologist Dennis Wong Sing-wing said if the drama had occurred in the United States or on the mainland, the gunman would have been killed much earlier.

"It may be due to cultural differences. Filipinos are more easygoing and peace-loving so that they tend not to adopt fierce action. If the same scenario happened in the US or China, snipers would have killed the gunman a long time ago," Wong said.

"The negotiators might also have failed to assess the situation correctly, thinking it could be solved without force, as the gunman released a number of hostages."

Blaming this terrible crime and botched rescue on "culture" is ridiculous. In fact, it is no explanation at all. Many have even claimed the opposite, that there is a "culture of violence" in the Philippines (see this article in Global Nation, a Philippino online publication), and The New York Times had an article just half a year ago discussed the "culture of violence" that results from arguments over bad singing of "I did it my way" by Frank Sinatra. A better explanation was provided by a security officer in another article, also published in the SCMP:

The police assault on the bus, according to a French security expert, was “badly prepared and risky”.

The police who stormed the bus in Manila did not have specialist training and “visibly lacked adequate equipment and tactical competence”, said Frederic Gallois, who once commanded France’s elite hostage rescue unit.

After seeing live television images of the operation, the former colonel said that “one cannot understand what justified this badly prepared and risky assault.”

The police, for example, did not attempt a surprise tactic like entering the bus at several points and had also stayed too long outside the vehicle before launching their assault, he said.

Bad planning, bad government, incompetence. Common in poor countries. Simple as that. No need to resort to "culture."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Anthropologists as car park attendants

Now we know what anthropologists are good at. In an NPR ATC story about movie about a parking lot in Charlottesville, VA, the lot manager says:

"The anthropologists are always the best," Farina says, laughing. "They have a perspective that allows them to look at oddness and be interested in it and not be bored."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Money is symbolic

See this Onion article for an example of an anthropological perspective suddenly emerging in a humorous vein.

U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion
February 16, 2010 | Issue 46•07

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct.