Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon

The secrets behind China’s extraordinary educational system – good, bad, and ugly Chinese students’ consistently stunning performance on the international PISA exams— where they outscore students of all other nations in math, reading, and science—have positioned China as a world education leader. American educators and pundits have declared this a “Sputnik Moment,” saying that we must learn from China’s education system in order to maintain our status as an education leader and global superpower.

Indeed, many of the reforms taking hold in United States schools, such as a greater emphasis on standardized testing and the increasing importance of core subjects like reading and math, echo the Chinese system. We’re following in China’s footsteps—but is this the direction we should take?

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? by award-winning writer Yong Zhao offers an entertaining, provocative insider’s account of the Chinese school system, revealing the secrets that make it both “the best and worst” in the world. Born and raised in China’s Sichuan province and a teacher in China for many years, Zhao has a unique perspective on Chinese culture and education. He explains in vivid detail how China turns out the world’s highest-achieving students in reading, math, and science—yet by all accounts Chinese educators, parents, and political leaders hate the system and long to send their kids to western schools. Filled with fascinating stories and compelling data, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? offers a nuanced and sobering tour of education in China.

  • Learn how China is able to turn out the world’s highest achieving students in math, science, and reading
  •  Discover why, despite these amazing test scores, Chinese parents, teachers, and political leaders are desperate to leave behind their educational system
  • Discover how current reforms in the U.S. parallel the classic Chinese system, and how this could help (or hurt) our students’ prospects
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World  by Yong Zhao
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (September 15, 2014)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Winning China's Chocolate War?

M&M as Terracotta Warrior Credit: FITCH
At the new M&M's World chocolate megastore in Shanghai, the decor is a tribute to Chinese culture. There's a Great Wall of Chocolate and a massive M&M statue wearing the armor of a Terracotta Warrior. Chen JieTing, 20, posed for photos with an M&M wearing Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit. "I love M&Ms -- not too sweet and so cute," she said.

Chinese consumers traditionally prefer salty snacks, but the world's chocolate makers have been making converts -- and competing fiercely for market share -- in the high-stakes market that's home to 1.37 billion people. The local chocolate market has been growing 12% annually, according to Euromonitor International. China's embrace of chocolate has helped push up cocoa prices and contributed to fears of an international shortage. (Mars Inc., the maker of M&Ms. has warned the industry will need 1 million more metric tons by 2020 and is working on sustainable farming to boost yield.)

Meanwhile, Western brands have upped the ante in China by building factories and innovation centers, launching flashy campaigns, buying local chocolate makers and creating retail experiences like the M&M's store, which opened in August.

Mars, which also makes Snickers, has come out ahead, with a projected 39% of the Chinese market in 2014, according to Euromonitor. Its biggest hit is the Dove brand, which accounts for a whopping 34% of national chocolate consumption.

After the era of Chairman Mao Zedong, "when China's doors opened in 1979, you really had a billion people who had never tasted chocolate," said Lawrence Allen, a former Hershey and Nestlé executive in China. "It was a virgin market."

Companies rushed in and learned by trial and error -- Mars tried first with M&Ms. he said, but Dove was what took off. Hersheys had a hit with bite-size Kisses while others were selling 60- or even 80-gram bars, because "Chinese people do not sit down and eat 60 grams of chocolate at a time," said Mr. Allen, author of "Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China's Consumers."

There were cultural differences too. China traditionally classifies foods as "heating" and "cooling," concepts not about temperature but about the effect on the body. Chocolate is a heating food, so it's ill-advised for summer.

Read more at Adage.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The People’s Republic of Chemicals

The name of China is almost obscured by a grey smudge on the title page of The People’s Republic of Chemicals, and this image proves to be apt.  This book examines the crisis caused by toxic smogs that periodically choke vast regions of China and the massive particulate clouds that drift far beyond the country’s borders.

Authors William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs joined forces once before in order to write their climate classic, Smogtown: the Lung Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, a remarkable 2008 exposé and memoir about air quality, politics and health in Southern California’s smog belt. This time, the duo of self-described “smog gumshoes from Los Angeles” go farther afield to investigate air pollution that threatens to put a chokehold on the Pacific Rim. What’s more, Mandarin editions of both books will be available through the Central Party School Publishing House.

No doubt the translators were challenged to render some of the exaggerated gonzo phrases and slang from this “murky yarn of atmospheric pain and karma” into prose that doesn’t come across as glib or simply baffling.

“Ashtray-skied towns” abound and burning coal “cruds its troposphere like cigar smoke in a closet.”  Beijing is described as “the city where your oxygen sometimes came spiced with black char.” A chapter entitled “Tweets for the Wheezy” notes that “a Twitter account had economic superpowers throwing each other the stink eye.” It goes on to describe how the U.S. Embassy in Beijing inadvertently raised a ruckus in 2009 and 2010 by posting hourly readings of particulate pollution as measured on the roof of their former compound. Intended as a service for American travellers and embassy staff, the air quality statistics appeared on @BeijingAir, an embassy-run Twitter page, and showed that the capital’s atmosphere frequently was less healthy than the official daily averages posted by China’s Environmental Protection Bureau would indicate. Chinese officials took umbrage and tried to block the public’s access to these damning numbers.  It’s obvious that Kelly and Jacobs are relentless researchers, and they don’t hide a heavy reliance on secondary sources. They readily confide: “We Googled until our fingers tingled. Then we gasped.”
U.S. President Bill Clinton also emerges as an eco-villain. Although Clinton championed environmentalism in the United States, Kelly and Jacobs note how the bilateral trade deals made during his administration got the American consumers hooked on inexpensive Chinese goods. Prices were kept abnormally low because of China’s cheap but dirty energy sources and sweatshop wages paid to labourers. But exporting dirty manufacturing to China could not outsource pollution indefinitely, particularly when antiquated or wasteful methods were used there without modern filters. Regrettably, no provisions prevented China from financing highly contaminating coal-based projects.

“In post-W.T.O. China, something biologically creepy was only a factory pipe away,” the authors observe. They conclude that ultimately, the world cannot escape the consequences of carbon gluttony on its climate. Kelly and Jacobs urge President Xi Jinping “to make eco-restoration as much his legacy as ridding the party of the endemic graft he so loathes.”

Read more at ChinaFile.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Chinese Smartphone Brands Push Into U.S.

A host of Chinese smartphones have big ambitions for the U.S. -- but don't expect a flood of marketing from them.

Just a few weeks ago, research firm IDC declared that Xiaomi, a four-year-old Beijing company, had stormed to third in the worldwide smartphone market based on units shipped. Only a day later, it was leapfrogged when Lenovo completed its Motorola acquisition. These companies now aim to replicate industry leader Samsung's rise, parlaying success at home to go global.

Realizing this goal, however, could be an expensive marketing proposition for brands that are obscure outside of China. U.S. carriers are reluctant to carry the political risk (and marketing weight) of selling Chinese devices. That puts the onus on the smartphone brands themselves.

"Chinese brands don't do a great job of brand building," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "The cost to invest and build a brand in the U.S. seems a bit too daunting for them."

Daunting but tempting. Western markets still hold the industry's best margins -- and its prestige. "To be a truly global brand, you have to be in the U.S.," said Lawrence Lundy, a Frost & Sullivan analyst. He expects that some Chinese brands will follow Samsung's strategy of investing broadly in media; others will attempt to sell devices without spending big, like Apple. Here's what to expect from the top five. >>

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A Map of Betrayal, An Ambivalent Double Agent, Torn Between Two Countries

When the Chinese writer Ha Jin came to the U.S. in 1985, he was only planning to stay long enough to finish his graduate degree. After that, he thought, he'd return home and teach English.

But a series of events shocked him into staying permanently, starting with the capture and trial of a Chinese spy named Larry Chin. Chin spent decades infiltrating the CIA, but swore at his trial that he was trying to improve the relations between the two countries.

Larry Chin "claimed that he was basically serving both countries. He used the metaphor 'mother and father' ... really, he was torn by the two countries," Ha Jin tells NPR's Arun Rath.

In 1989, the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. Ha Jin soon decided to settle permanently in America.

In the decades years since, his novels and stories have won him international acclaim and a National Book Award.

His newest novel, A Map Of Betrayal, describes the life of a spy who is deeply ambivalent about spying on America, a country he loves as much as China. There are unmistakable echoes of Larry Chin — and, Ha Jin tells Rath, of the novelist's own experiences.

Please read/listen the interview highlights with Hajin at NPR.