Complain as we might about life in China, the last thirty-four years or so haven't been all bad: we've seen three decades of roughly ten percent GDP growth, a whole lot of people eating a whole lot better than they did, and impressive progress improving life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy rates and more, not to mention a slew of prescient infrastructure investments in transportation and telecommunication networks.

This week on Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn are joined by Jeremiah Jenne, director of IES Beijing and popular blogger, for a look into what we love about China, and what the government is doing right. It was fun coming up with our own lists and comparing them, so we'd be curious what yours looks like too: please share in the comments section below.

As always, this podcast is available as a standalone mp3 file if you'd like to download the show manually instead of listening through our on-site flash player. And for all of you to subscribe to Sinica through RSS, you can get your computer to automatically download all of our shows by visiting the iTunes store, clicking on podcasts, and then doing a search for... you guessed it... Sinica. And let us know if you have any questions or problems.
 said on
June 8, 2013
The link to the standalone mp3 file is broken.
 said on
June 8, 2013

Apologies -- fixed.
 said on
June 9, 2013
enjoyed the many point-of-view on China.

can we talk David into posting fotos of the new local?
 said on
June 9, 2013

Obama and Xi at Sunnylands: A New Pattern of Relations?, by Richard Bush for The Brookings Institution

NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others, by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian

Economies of Emerging Markets Better Rated During Difficult Times at the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project

China's Generation Y is optimistic, apolitical and eco-friendly, survey shows, by Patrick Boehler for the South China Morning Post

China: What’s Going Right? at ChinaFile

VP Biden’s Penn Commencement Speech Inspires Viral Rant by ‘Disappointed’ Chinese Student, by Xiaoying Zhou for Tea Leaf Nation

Index Mundi



The China Hangup podcast (#ChinaHangup)


East by Southeast


The Wonk With the Ear of Chinese President Xi Jinping, by Jeremy Page for The Wall Street Journal

Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream, by Robert Lawrence Kuh for The New York Times
 said on
June 9, 2013
I could do with a lesson on speaking to our Ayi. General Ayi jobs around the house. Asked ours to give the kitchen a good clean today and

I might just as well have been speaking Martian. My wife tells me it was pure Chinglish. Oh well....

Help me out with a good lesson would you? Please???
 said on
June 9, 2013
Just a note on the privatization of SOE's. I was privy to be able to watch the dismantling of some of these enterprises first-hand when I was working for Morgan Stanley on the first distressed asset deal in 2003. While I totally agree that the raping and pillaging of state assets was not nearly as egregious as in the former Soviet Union, the bulk of the wealth stripped from these SOE's did go in to the pockets of what I would call "the regional elites." China has too many smart people for one group to just walk off with the spoils as the Slavs did, so regional countervailing powers split the spoils among themselves......I witnessed local party officials stripping the assets from SOE's, paying the workers a pittance in severance pay and then walking away with the land that could later be co-developed into high-rises. Hundreds of millions of RMB were made this way.
 said on
June 9, 2013
My comment on not hearing recent Chinese grads complaining about lack of jobs: I have to completely take that back....
 said on
June 10, 2013
Regarding the plastic shopping bag ban in China, I'd just like to point out that Austin TX has done something similar. Much smaller scale to be sure but it surprised me the first time I had to pay for a bag at the grocery store (just like in Beijing).
 said on
June 11, 2013

Your wish comes true :)

 said on
June 13, 2013
I haven't listened to the podcast yet (looking forward to it), but I question the assertion made at the top of this page (in the first paragraph):

"the last thirty-four years or so haven't been all bad: we've seen ... impressive progress improving life expectancy"

It's an assertion that I keep hearing, but the really impressive progress in life expectancy seems to have been made during the Mao era:

"[T]he fact remains that, despite all the horrors of the Great Leap Forward, Mao's time in power saw life expectancy within China jump from roughly thirty-five to seventy" [p.61, "China in the 21st Century: what everyone needs to know" by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom]

Googling "life expectancy china" and other similar searches, I find that in the period 1980-2011, improvement in life expectancy in China is not *particularly* outstanding in comparison with other countries, if Google's figures are to be trusted. It's better than some, and not as good as some others. The following table shows the changes in life expectancy in the period 1980-2011 for several countries.

China 67.0 --> 73.5 (+6.5 years, or 9.7%)

India 55.4 --> 65.5 (+10.1 years, or 18.2%)

Indonesia 57.6 --> 69.3 (+11.7 years, or 20.3%)

Thailand 65.5 --> 74.1 (+8.6 years, or 13.1%)

Australia 74.3 --> 81.9 (+7.6 years, or 10.2%)


 said on
June 13, 2013
Re: China's lack of belligerence:

Has China ever attacked or invaded a country with which it did not share a land or sea border? I mean EVER?

I mean, you've got to set the bar pretty low to call China the modern state or China the ongoing culture belligerent.
 said on
June 13, 2013

With the caveat that China historically has generally has not had (or chosen to develop) power-projection capabilities that would have allowed it to act otherwise, it is true that its relations with distant nations have been remarkably peaceful over the years. Domestically and with nearby nations the record is a lot more spotty but credit is due to Chinese culture for being one of the few that has, as a rule, valued the scholar over the warrior. I hope things remain that way. I wonder what will happen if China ever starts having to take over some Persian Gulf oil protection duties given their lack of domestic supplies and the US's recent oil/natural gas boom.
 said on
June 15, 2013
ianfinnesey asked "Has China ever attacked or invaded a country with which it did not share a land or sea border? I mean EVER?"

"The Ming–Kotte War was a military conflict between the expeditionary forces of the Chinese Ming empire with the Sinhalese Kotte kingdom, located in the southern territories of present-day Sri Lanka. It resulted in the overthrow of the Sinhalese ruling house."

 said on
June 21, 2013
dear kaiser and jeremy. first some words of praise: your podcast usually makes my week on the intellectual and humorous side - I have turned into a sinica aficionado during the last months.

that's the first time that I comment, because you have turned purposely on this topic: what China has done right. still most of the podcast was about what China does wrong - even though the bad cop part mostly stays with Jeremy. I ask myself this question quite frequently: what is good about this place, why have I spent the better half of my adult life in China? I give you here my list mixed with some comments on the podcast.

you start out to claim that the Chinese gov has accomplished a lot from 1989 to 2013. i have a problem with such statements - and you are making up with it later, when you say that one of the things china has done right is her embracing of science and technology. its not china or china's gov that has done something right. neither the EU or the US or some other national gov has done anything right. humanity as such has accomplished a lot by applying science and technology wider and deeper on our lives. some countries like Britain have started in the 18th century others like China in the 20th. anyway, its technology, combustion engines, fossil fuels and (mostly Western) entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists that have lifted millions of people all over the world, including in China, out of poverty, into a more humane and less beast-like existence. the gov have essentially remained the same, no matter if the systems they work in are aristocratic, democratic, bureaucratic or technocratic: they live off the people, some do it more bluntly than others. The political scientist Heilmann argues the success of China with a peculiar system of trading off administrative favors with financial benefits and large stakes of municipal gov in local enterprises: levying corruption instead of confiscatory corruption.

If I remember correctly it was in Nial Ferguson's BBC4 documentary China Triumph and Turmoil, where he says that the great heritage of MZD is the party apparatus which he left to his people. If there is something positive in a rather totalitarian gov, then it is this gov system that Mao has built up and which to this day provides China with a relatively stable gov that, yes is corrupt, but wastes less resources with the antagonisms of "free democracies" where politicians have action horizons only until the next election and are usually concentrated on sabotaging their coalition partners instead of moving on with things. So, has communism after all brought something good to humanity? Much more to be said here.

I missed in your list the country's massive railway infrastructure, which is certainly one of the things I am frequently boasting off when back in Europe. The light railway/subway system of cities like BJ or SH is still improvable, but also something China is doing right. I hope that municipal debt won't bring 2nd and 3rd tier cities public transport projects to a full stop.

Jonathan Fenby compiled in his work "The Fall and Rise of a Great Power" a great number of statistical information in his introduction. One is that according to the National School of Administration 50% of county level civil servants do not reject physiognomy, astrology or divination. So much for technocratic atheists and no superstition. I can't confirm this data, but it seems quite reasonable.

Chinese, even if atheism/nationalism is prescribed state religion, are often as much Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian as any modern European (of which I know more than bible belt Americans) is Christian or modern Israeli is Jewish. Religion is part of culture and as such even a cultural revolution can not completely erase the conditioning of a society over hundreds of years. Bring a nice Buddha statue to a wedding of a Chinese friend of yours, and you will know what I mean. Superstition is still wide spread and I can't say why, I am fine with it. Wouldn't humanity be much duller without some folks being superstitious? It adds color to the spectrum and I hate all of us to be marble like atheists. What I miss in Chinese society, and what some of my foreign friends articulate too, is actually more individual spirituality as opposed to dogmatic religion.

There is one last thing that comes to my mind. Work. I can't pinpoint if China has done something right here, but Jeremy has built a company in China, Kaiser works at Baidu, most of your co-hosts have great career records, and even I have an interesting yet modest job, and if I think about it, now being father of two, one of the best reasons for me to stay in China is an interesting, well paid job. I even endure some pollution, mental and physical, archaic banking, a great fire wall, et cetera for it. I know that holds also true for many Chinese.
 said on
June 24, 2013
By 'sui generis' re Glenn Greenwald, you mean, of course, totally awesome. This exact comment came to mind a couple of weeks back and didn't feel worth the effort at the time. Just read below link, however, and in the name of impulsive respect and admiration couldn't help myself:

Mark Lesson Studied