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News on the March

October 29, 2008

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China gets a phenomenally bad press in the occident, not least since the instigation of the new ‘stealth’ cold war seemingly waged mainly through the media outlets of the Western economies who feel most threatened by the entrenchment of Chinese interests in their own markets.

It would be a giggle to see exactly what would happen if China suddenly sold all its dollar-denominated bonds in a move similar to their sudden rescinding of the dollar-peg in 2005. As a declaration of fiscal warfare it would be a doozy, but we’d only be laughing for about five minutes before the F-16s were called in.

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Western reporting of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics was primarily dominated by reports of the little girl lip-synching and the disputed genetic make-up of the children playing the ethnic minority roles.

The fact that the whole thing was a breathtaking demonstration of an almost completely original form of performance art was conveniently overlooked (but more on this elsewhere). English-language media couldn’t wait to get their teeth into the gymnastics team who, as young Chinese girls, happen to look very young. This is news!?

It’s true that bird flu, chemical-tainted milk, internet censorship and government dissent suppression scandals haven’t helped much lately and this post post hardly redresses the balance in any way, but as a snapshot of modern China that’s even remotely comprehensible to the ignoramus-at-large, the snippets collated by Chinese news agency, Xinhua and printed every day in arguably China’s only readable English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, provide an invaluable resource that doesn’t require years of rigorous application and study of the last 5,000 years of history.

Taken at face value though, they are also another stupefying view of a country driving across the Tienanmen Square of modernity like an unstoppable tank; grinding the student body of democracy into the grimy tread of inexorable progress etc. etc. etc.

In a vast country only recently prised open, the process of revealing is bound to unearth a few wackos among a billion people suddenly exposed to Western scrutiny. (The American West still manages to churn out a consistent number of surprises, and their culture been actively colonising the subconscious of the human race for decades.)

Reading these snapshots of Chinese life as the place urbanises faster than any country in history is like coming across the collected works of Dickens Reanimated. It’s as if some intrepid Qing-era warlocks had sneaked into a Gadshill morgue and nicked his brain while it was still warm; their successors only now deciding to switch it back on and start feeding the revitalized output straight up into cyberspace.

There is at least one gem every day but here are some particular favourites:

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Looking for love
SHANGHAI – Men in Shanghai have cold-shouldered a Guangzhou woman who spent 100,000 Euans searching for a husband. The woman cycled almost 2,000 km across the country looking for a man with a monthly salary of 15,000 Euans and an apartment. A total of two men showed up to meet her. (From theInformation Times, December 2008.)

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Salt of the Earth
GUANGXI – On a recent visit to a local clinic complaining of “digestive problems”, a 78-year-old man from Yangshuo was found to have been subsisting for the past several years on a diet primarily comprising soil. Doctors estimate that the man has eaten little more than sod for the best part of a decade, despite the abundant crops available from his own farm. The man was said to be, “ignorant of the nutritional value of mud”. (From the SCMP, August 2008.)
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Do you want my shoe, eh?
CHONGQING – A mother, 28, is under arrest for allegedly battering her five-month-old son to death in November because her husband refused to buy her a pair of shoes. (From the Chongqing Evening News, December 2008.)

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Coke is It
BEIJING – A customer found 10 iron nails in his cola in a city outlet of KFC on Wednesday. The manager said the nails were left in a paper cup by workers repairing the drinks machine, and a staff member failed to notice them when filling the cup. The manager refused to issue any kind of apology. (From the Beijing Times, January 2009.)

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Game On
JILIN – A man died after playing mahjong for 15 hours in Changchung. A witness said the man became very excited after winning 30 Euans from his neighbours and then collapsed and died at the mahjong table. (Paraphrased from the Information Times, January 2009.)

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Fun and Games
JIANGSU – A Sheyang county middle school has paid 50,000 Euans in court-ordered compensation to the family of a child who died of “fright” in hospital several days after another pupil showed the girl a snake in class. The county court said the school was partly responsible for the girl’s death. The snake in question was believed to be a toy. (From Xinhuanet.com, October 2008.)

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Nice Haul
ANHUI – The mother of a 12-year-old girl in Dalongshan town who had given 2,800 Euans to a beggar asked for the money back on Sunday but was turned down. The beggar said he could not remember who gave him the money. (From Chengdu Economic Daily, January 2009.)

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They are getting there
ZHEJIANG – A man in his 60s was found dead in an overnight queue for train tickets at the Hangzhou Railway Station on Wednesday. (From the Qianjiang Evening News, January 2009.

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