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436 days

November 27, 2012

意. línggǎn. inspiration.

Chinatown, New York

Over one-year has passed since any sort of content has been posted. 436 days.  Life is different now.  It has moved forward, relentlessly, as time does. Whatever substance the past is made of is left behind, enveloped in the memory of experiences, people, places, passions & interests. Many memories are forgotten, lost completely or hazy. And some, like the seeds of spring, are idly rooted, waiting patiently for a right moment to surface into being.

Poetic prose aside, its been a damn long time since I’ve written anything of substance here.  I’ve been living in New York City, my hometown, and away from the People’s Republic since December 2011.  I originally created this blog to share my experiences while living in China.  I convinced myself  from the very beginning that words were only valuable if I was physically present. That otherwise I am suddenly an outsider looking in — an observer rather than a participant.  In A Mortal Flower, Han Suyin described that it was the smell of the countryside and the fragrance of the peasants that was more real to Mao Tse-Tung than all else. That despite all the power that he cultivated along the way, the poets heart remained where it began, in the rural villages where sensations of the countryside inundated and filled his senses.

I too am familiar with the sharp scent of village burning rubbish, or cigarette scented economy-class cabins. I have felt the warmth of roadside noodle shops in bitter winters, and awoken in the morning dew of rolling grasslands.  Yet I also know the view from the rooftop of Shanghai and the sensation of sipping tea on high speed trains.  These contrasts, contradictions and differences are as unique in China as they are anywhere in the world, and life.  Perhaps I was always an outsider, after all, when does a foreigner actually become an insider, if ever?

Today I found myself sitting on a workers bench in Chinatown (NYC) as a Chinese man fixed a defect in my shoe. I frequent this part of lower-Manhattan on a daily basis. In these ten-minutes, as I watched the activity around me, I realized something–nobody here seems to feel like an outsider. None of these Chinatown inhabitants, workers, and people carry on like foreigners. The European couple with a map unfolded in their hands are the foreign visitors. The tourists being persuaded to have lunch one block away at the restaurant in on Mulberry street are the the outsiders–not the Little Italy American with the wannabe Soprano accent doing the persuading.  The temporary visitors paying $350/night for a hotel are the outsiders–not the taxi-driver from Ghana who shuttles them from one destination to the next.   In Manhattan and the five-boroughs, generations of foreigners have created a demographic unlike anywhere on our planet. This is my birthplace–a home for foreigners and natives alike. And as I sat outside on the corner of Grand and Mott Street with the Chinese shoemaker, with whom I share this block with, I realized that this blog space should not remain idle.  Let experience be, for in time, words written are never lost.

As always, thank you for reading…

A Long, Long, Journey

September 19, 2011

作家. zuòjiā. writer.

“Only by escaping this colossal and invisible prison called China could I write and publish freely. I have the responsibility to let the world know about the real China hidden behind the illusion of an economic boom — a China indifferent to ordinary people’s simmering resentment.” – Liao Yiwu

Three days ago the New York Times published an opinion article written by novelist Liao Yiwu, author of “The Corpse Walker” and  recently released “God Is Red”.  Liao, a friend of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei is known for being an outspoken and courageous writer.  Determined to document conditions on “the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society yet”, Liao, unlike his close friend and Nobel Laurette Liu Xiaobo is  “unwilling to be treated as a ‘symbol of freedom’ by people outside the tall prison walls.”

Its difficult to imagine really–obstacles to free speech and expression.  Of course, even in America these rights are not ‘absolute’, but this comparison is practically trivial.  One can hardly understand these restless hardships unless being subjected to them.  This recent article (essentially pages ripped out of Liao’s own journal) are indicative of the psychological and logistical control mechanisms operating deep within the layers of China’s society.  Perhaps Liao’s personal account, despite his own wishes not to become a ‘symbol of freedom’, have by its own mandate become exactly this.  Yet his reflective journal entry is alive and now–an innocent man, not an outlaw, on the move, Liao is not robbing banks in an old western, but he is galloping his way towards the horizon of freedom penetrating the air with words like bullets from an 1875 Outlaw Remington.


Walking Out on China Illustration. © New York Times, 2011.

And he is not alone.  There are many others, I believe, who mount their own horses on this oftentimes unforgiving oasis.  But what is this oasis?  Is it China? A state of mind? A landscape constructed by a highly Consolidated Clique of Power?  Regardless of the abstractions as to whomever or wherever these empowered decision-makers are, there exists a remarkable amount of individuals who are willing to blaze the path towards a rule of law country–where human rights, those as fundamental as freedom of expression, are not only allowed, but encouraged.  This isn’t just lofty thought either–it is as real as a paper-cut.

One example is legislation promulgated by the State Council in April 2007–the Regulation on Disclosure of Government Information.  In theory, this legislation, the first of its kind, serves the purpose of promoting transparency within the Chinese government.  Let me write this again, “transparency within the Chinese government.”  To many this is likely laughable, right?

Last week Administrative Law Professor and Chinese lawyer, He Haibo, gave students a broad task–to compose and submit a request for disclosure of government information to any Ministerial branch of the PRC.  Before assigning this ‘homework’, Tsinghua University law student, Li Ye, gave a 30-minute presentation about her recent experience requesting disclosure of certain information from over 13 administrative departments of the government.  She ended her presentation with a single slide containing the phrase: “It’s a long, long, journey.”  Li currently has lawsuits pending against three ministries who refused to provide her requested information regarding her thesis topic:  What is the power and responsibilities of Vice Ministers in the Ministries.

Still, it’s critical not to lose a sense of context–something touched upon in the previous post relating to the often disjointed, sometimes coexistent and inevitably intertwined forces; academia & real-world, legislation & enforcement, rhetoric & action, etc.  How these dimensions interact is not a static condition, and like so many other things in life are in constant motion.  I’m not sure what I will request for my ‘homework’, my first thought was to write to the Ministry of Culture and request information on why Bob Dylan was denied a visa for a decade–or why the Rolling Stones ‘Brown Sugar’ was forbidden from being performed in the 70s.  But it’s likely that there is something more current, more pressing, which remains to be uncovered.

Beijing. Two Worlds. Multiple Metropolises.

September 1, 2011

城市. chéng shì. city.

“If you’ve been in China for one day you feel like you can write a book.  If you’ve been in China for 6 months maybe you can write an article.  But if you’ve been here for one-year than maybe you can’t write anything.”

This is what Professor Wang Chenguang said during our Chinese Law & Society class.  It took me a second to understand the meaning of it–and he continued, “because maybe on the first day you find stories everywhere you go. The people you meet, the different things you see, in just one day.  But once you stay here longer, and get below the surface you realize that China is more complex.  That there is a lot going on.”  These words could not have come at a more timely moment, for I am now approaching that one-year mark, and this sentiment rings true.  It has meaningful implications.

For purposes of this blog I wish to portray China as it is.  And being here now certainly puts the observer in the position to do so.  Yet I do not want this blog just to be about my personal experiences, another “noodle blogger” as those at China Law Blog would label it.  So what to do?  What to reflect on without making this just another average travelogue.

Last post I wrote about some of the initial impressions I had regarding Tsinghua University, the University I am currently attending.  Having arrived about ten-days ago it was a premeditated decision to live ‘on-campus’.  I do not regret this decision, but I question whether or not it is the right choice.  Two-years ago, during my very first days in The People’s Republic I lived far outside of Beijing proper.  What is Beijing proper anyway?  The city is massive.  One musician who came here to perform last summer described Beijing as “multiple metropolises within one.”  This couldn’t be more accurate.  It’s certainly not a walking city–although walking around does have its moments, particularly while getting lost in the evaporating hutongs of this old city.

Beijing used to be a city of hutongs.  Sadly this cultural dimension of Beijing is disintegrating before our eyes to make room for modernity.  To say this is happening slowly would be inaccurate–and to say that this occurrence is limited to the municipal region of Beijing would also be to narrow.  So what is this ‘occurrence’?  Is it development…sure.  Is it destruction…sure.  How to reconcile the two? There are big themes here–socio-cultural economic  elements that demand thoughtful attention moving forward.

Yesterday, artist and government branded ‘political dissident’, Ai Weiwei, wrote a pretty abysmal article about Beijing.  He concluded this stream of consciousness expression  by saying, ” Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.”  I was able to catch a very cool and rare Ai Wei Wei photography exhibition last month in New York City.  The exhibition, hosted by the Asia Society featured shoeboxes of undeveloped film from the artists life in the 1980s while living in Manhattan.  It was a very intimate portrayal and it proved how close Ai Weiwei was to the pulse of the times–the pulse possibly inseparable from himself.  In other words, through a camera lens you witness the close proximity of Ai Weiwei to numerous demonstrations and movements taking place. Firsthand images of Reverand Al Sharpton, to numerous pictures of various artists in his small studio apartment in the lower east side–names like Ginsberg.

“I see people on public buses,” he writes, “and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper. Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing’s slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts—and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.”

These two realities: the one outside of the academic sanctuary of Tsinghua, and the one inside the walled classrooms have such far-reaching implications.  It is a constant struggle for co-existence–between rhetoric and practice, intellectuals and workers, academics and farmers, law and reality, politics and rights. China is not the only developing nation struggling with such pervasive issues, but it is unique.  “You have freedom of speech in this classroom,” says our Chinese Civil Law Professor Chen Weizuo, “you are free to discuss anything.”  And we do.  We take time to dissect the framework and structure of China’s legal system.  We learn about its ancient history and influences of traditional thought.  We study its decision-making process and are encouraged to think critically about the contemporary times–which I believe are in constant motion, towards a country that is becoming a nation where rule of law is authoritative, not rule of man.  In a cheap one-liner, China has come a long way.  The major challenge is not establishing proper legislation to protect people’s rights, it is deeper, way deeper, and it is  multidisciplinary journey that quests into the heart of the nation–from the Autonomous regions of Tibet to a sometimes dismal Beijing.

Tsinghua University- At First Light

August 25, 2011

上午.shàng wǔ. morning.

Tsinghua University--Quad Area

Tsinghua University--Quad Area

Near the skyscraping machines of industry lights blink piercing the darkness.  A dim glow from the eighth floor view of the international dormitory building at Tsinghua University illuminates several high-rises under construction on the horizon.

Having just arrived several days ago on a direct flight from the United States the magnitude of this travel has not fully settled in, but these virgin days on campus have unveiled qualities and characteristics that are worth expressing.

The University, like its mother city, is massive.  Students and visitors alike can be seen riding on bicycles at any time of the day–a necessity of campus commuting.  Having just celebrated the centennial anniversary the 970 acre campus is now decorated with large art sculptures and flags proudly announcing this recent accomplishment.  As one of the premier Universities of the Peoples Republic, Tsinghua, having survived multiple wars and revolutions, boasts its achievements with great confidence and pride to the world at large. It is all very fitting for a University that initially functioned as a preparatory school called “Tsinghua Xuetang (Tsing Hua Imperial College)” for those students who were sent by the government to study in the United States.

One who visits may initially be confused on many occasions regarding the campus life, activity and movement of people.  Who are the students?  Who are the young workers and security officials?  Who are Chinese tourists visiting?  Where does the campus end and Beijing begin?  All of these elements seems to blend together in one dynamic area formerly known as Qing Hua Yuan (Tsinghua Garden) —a royal garden of the Qing Dynasty.  And there are hundreds, if not thousands who pass through each day, taking photo’s of the iconic spots on a family trip.  Parents, with “dreams that one day their children may attend” such a higher place of learning, wander around and take snapshots in front of the main east gate.

Tsinghua Old Gate. © Global Times, 2011.

Approximately 3,300 Chinese national students were enrolled in the 2011-2012 undergraduate academic year and only those who score in the top 10% of their college entrance exams are even considered for admission.  Just take a walk through any one of the dozen provincial cities that are home to over 10 million people and you will get a feel for just how impossible these pure numbers make it seem.  But only now, for the first couple of weeks on campus will you be able to distinguish these 3,300 young bright minds.  How?  Just open your window around 6am and you will hear them.  From the soccer fields 100 meters away shouting in a uniformed command and performing synchronized physical routines for about nine hours per day.

“Some have to stand for over 1-hour at a time,” says a fell0w-student who had herself participated in this physical training.  “It is for discipline,” she says, as we watch them in the hundreds continue with the military-like training, “we had to go to a military base during our training because the olympics were here.”  In other words, olympians were using the fields for training purposes, not because the University has any intentions to hide its tradition.  If anything it is the opposite–a powerful show of discipline and uniformity that is not only part of the University alma mater, but the nation’s ideology.

As we watch this magnificent display across all the playing fields of the campus I cannot help but to notice how young they all appear.  Many, not even eighteen years of age seem so small and physically undeveloped. Males and females alike, in exacting strides with such youthful expressions of focus–it is eerie and awe-inspiring.  This intense synchronization, in form, in action and expression. Is it voluntary?  A lesson of discipline and unity.  Not from the outside-in, but from the inside. Is such laborious patience and willingness to comply on command a genuine volition?  Sure this fraternization and physical hazing only lasts for two-weeks, but one cannot help but to consider the objective contributive value towards an academic pursuit–especially within these youthful, virgin and malleable encounters of University life.

‘So I lie here on the grass, and that is all. A gentle breeze greets as willows dance through fall.’ 

Baidu.cn – “The Google of China”

July 25, 2011

出差. chū chāi. business trip.

This is related to a previous post about Google Music in China.

For those who don’t know, the simplest way to describe Baidu in a soundbite is “the Google of China.”  Although somewhat of a misnomer (afterall Google does operate in China), it is a fitting place to begin.

Inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty, the poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one’s dream while confronted by life’s many obstacles. “…hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood.” Baidu, whose literal meaning is “hundreds of times”, represents a persistent search for the ideal (according to the company’s own mission statement). [1]

Founded in 2000, Baidu became the first Chinese company to be traded on the NASDAQ-100 index in 2007.  It commands a 75.8% share of China’s search engine market, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International, [2] placing Google at a distant second, with just under 20% of the market-share.  And what is the market-share?  How about an estimated 477 million users as of mid-2011. [3]  ‘Search’ became the most widely used service for Baidu in 2010, at around 82%, with ‘music streaming and downloading’ at 79%.

These are just some of the reasons why a recent deal between Baidu executives and the world’s largest record labels may be groundbreaking.  It is to early to tell of course, but the closing negotiations that took place this month between Baidu and One-Stop China, a joint venture between the Universal Music Group, the Warner Music Group and Sony BMG, will aim to uphold the legal standards of copyright law.  The business model is creative, but not necessarily original.  See post about Google Music here.

Nevertheless, many of those surrounding the deal are calling it ‘landmark’ and a momentous step towards enforcing copyrights for artists in the oftentimes chaotic and unpredictable digital landscape that float’s in cyberspace above mainland China.

“Under the two-year deal between Baidu and One-Stop China, the three music labels will license over 500,000 songs, about 10 percent of them in Mandarin and Cantonese, which will be stored on Baidu’s servers and available for free streaming and download on the site’s ad-supported MP3 search page and social music platform, Ting.

Baidu will pay a fee to the labels for each time a song is downloaded or played in a stream. It will also share revenue from online ads if that revenue exceeds a certain amount, as well as provide promotional support for the labels.”

In terms of functionality and structure it may not seem dissimilar to Google’s music platform that launched 3-years ago.  However, those close to the ground identify that “some pretty big names out there are still missing in action on Ting like AC/DC, Motley Crue or The Blues Brothers just to name a few. Moreover, a slew of local bands like Xie Tian Xiao, Reflector, Yaksa, Zhou Yun Peng, Miserable Faith, Muma etc… are also not available yet. [4]

But even if these developments are just “a pale copy of Google Music…with a lesser catalog and nothing to set it apart” it is still of massive proportions and inclined to influence the music industry in China.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents global music companies, estimates that 99 percent of the music found online in China is illegal, much of it available through Baidu. Although China has more broadband connections than the United States and a rapidly growing middle class, the global recorded music industry’s revenue in the country for 2009 was worth just $75 million, compared with $4.6 billion in the United States, according to the federation. [5]  This is an even smaller market than Ireland for a country with 1.2 billion inhabitants  [6]

According to industry analysts, making money from music downloads and streaming in China will have an outsize impact for the labels, since digital sales accounted for 76 % of the country’s legitimate music revenue in 2010, compared with just 29 percent globally, where CD sales remain dominant.

As part of the July 2011 deal the labels and Baidu agreed to a settlement endorsed by the Beijing Higher People’s Court ending all outstanding litigation. For years, the American and Chinese music industries have singled out Baidu for criticism, saying the company has enabled users to steal vast quantities of copyrighted music, accusations that spurred a number of unsuccessful lawsuits.

“We’ve managed to forge a commercial partnership with Baidu that respects the value of copyright,” said Lachie Rutherford, a director of OneStop, the joint venture company created by Sony, Universal and Warner to handle distribution deals in China, and President of Warner Music Asia Pacific.  “We are working together on a really attractive music service and have agreed ways to counteract infringement, giving the service the best chance of success,” he said.

Baidu’s Mp3 search users may have already begun to notice that searches for certain songs in the catalogs of major record labels Universal, Sony and Warner are turning up files marked as zheng ban, or “licensed copy, which can be downloaded for free. Thanks to the deal, Baidu users will eventually enjoy free access to more than 500,000 songs owned by the three labels with tracks uploaded in batches according to what’s most popular, according to Baidu’s Music and Entertainment General Manager Catherine Leung, formerly an executive at Universal Music.

How this will effect, if at all, other popular social media sites with an integrated music platform, such as Douban, Ren Ren, and so on, is not clear yet.

In the bigger picture, however, events like this lead one to believe that the force of law in China is evolving.  Particularly, intellectual property rights, which have remained arguably nothing more than empty rhetoric.  In late March this year, Baidu announced it had deleted 2.8 million written works from its online library service, Wenku, in an effort to appease Chinese authors who demanded compensation, arguing that the company allowed pirated content on the site’s servers for free download. The move came days after China’s National Copyright Administration stated that it was investigating the company for copyright infringement of books. [7]

A few days later, Baidu said it would pay a fee to songwriters belonging to the Music Copyright Society of China, the country’s official performing rights organization, each time one of their songs was downloaded or streamed through Baidu. Last year the organization won a rare lawsuit against Baidu over the company’s providing unauthorized lyrics to 50 songs on its servers. [8] To many who are interested and involved, these are all signs of positive change in an otherwise disorienting area of copyright law in China.


[3] id. footnote 1

[4] http://beijingdaze.com/tunes/2011/07/19/baidu-ting-underwhelming-but-welcome-addition-much-room-for-improvements/

[5] New York Times, “China’s Biggest Search Engine, Known for Illegal Downloads, Makes Music Deal.” (July, 19 2011)

[6] id. Footnote 4

[7] id. Footnote 5

[8] supra 6

www.Google Music….cn

July 21, 2011

音乐. yīn yuè. music

Brief Background

You won’t find it through any United States IP addresses, and many other countries with conflicting intellectual property laws for that matter.  It’s not uncommon that many have no idea about its existence outside of the countries where the service is offered.  So what is it exactly? Drum-roll please.  The service: A legal, trustworthy, and quality place to search, stream and download music…FOR FREE.

Almost exactly three-years ago Google announced their free music download service for China.  Surprisingly, this ongoing venture into one of the worlds largest digital consumer markets has received an insubstantial amount of attention.  In the legal discourse, whether academic or in practice, the conversation is almost non-existent.

Some Facts

This lack of coverage is shocking for several reasons.  First, let us become familiar with some of the relevant facts (these statistics apply only to Google China):

* 2009 – Google announces a music service where users can download or stream free licensed music from a pool of over 1.1 million songs

* Google projects main revenue model from banner advertising to generate $14.6 million in annual revenue over next few years

* Includes 140 partner labels including 4-Majors: Warner Music Group, Universal Music, EMI, and Sony Music Entertainment

* Press release indicates revenue sharing is 50/50 with partner music labels

* As of 2009, around 5 million songs/day are downloaded

http://www.google.cn/music/homepage (as seen from America)

Implications

On the grand scale of things, Google’s implementation of an innovative music service is only a piece of the China puzzle.  In other words, this is just one of the many ways in which Google.cn is attempting to enhance its competitive positioning within China’s search engine marketplace.  Particularly, against its formidable competitor, Baidu, a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.

Notwithstanding, this type of music service clearly demands a deeper and more comprehensive survey.  At a fundamental level it will provide an objective evaluation for a free-music-revenue-sharing model that involves: a) one of the largest entities in the world, b) one of the largest consumer populations and active web-users in the world.

Furthermore, a comprehensive study would also require illustrations of the most profoundly distinguishing characteristics of the respective countries (i.e. intellectual property laws, consumer norms, music industry standards, etc.).  Ultimately, a study that is objectively focused on the contemporary effects of China Google Music would be in a better position to unveil and speculate on the effects this would have for the major actors in the music industry today—from the major labels to the artists themselves.  Lastly, it may even serve as a successful model for other regions of the world struggling to monetize digital music platforms.

To say that Google Music in China has been passive over the past few years since its launch would be inaccurate.  Several sources have commented on recent activity of the database:  Indicating that from “international releases” which, “end up there right away”, to local music where “Google Music has come around leaps and bounds” that the music service remains active.

Still curious?  Try it out yourself.  Although you’ll get a translated highlighted message under the search bar that reads “Music Streaming / Download Services are not available in your region” you can get a feel for what the service is all about:  http://www.google.cn/music/homepage.

Larger than Yao

July 19, 2011

篮球. lán qiú. basketball.

I spent the better half of the 2009 summer living in the autonomous region of Yinchuan, Ningxia.  To this day it is altogether one of the more interesting and memorable experiences I’ve had in the Peoples Republic.  Partly because as a white american I was even more of a minority than the minority population in an autonomous province of China.  And partly because I was teaching english full-time to a jubilant, wide-eyed and sometimes outrageous group of students at a local language school.  I had several different classes with students ranging from 12 – 18 years of age.

Some lessons were taken from books, and many I created myself, or simply went impromptu.  With the older group of students, in a class of about ten, I was as curious from a perspective I had never been before.  It was the first time in my life I found myself leading a group of adolescents.  The time where voices crack and hormones rage as often as new pimples form. For one of the first times in my life I actually was conscious of myself trying to act cool.  Although this probably just added to the awkwardness of it all, it also eased the tight adolescent tension and recalcitrant ways.  Most of these classes I conducted in a round-table discussion-like setup with the goal of informality and comfort.  In the first few sessions, in order to prove that I was indeed cool and could educate at the same time, I printed up a packet of song lyrics and played music through my laptop.  I wanted to teach them genre’s of music, instruments and also dissect various lyrics and their meaning.  And as we all sat there, listening to music from Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and other great artists, most seemed somewhat interested–an achievement in a group of adolescents from my perspective.

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As time went on the comfort level increased and classroom dialogue became more meaningful.  One underlying theme, that I wish to touch upon now, seemed to resonate with the males–an unconditional love for the NBA.  Just recently I read a two-part essay by Asian American columnist Jay Caspian Kang.  This is the first time I’ve read any of Kang’s material.  His writing is eloquent, raw, humorous and a pleasure to read.  One essay, which inspired this post, was a reflection about the cultural impact of Yao Ming:

“The mammoth hope of a national athletic program representing 1.2 billion people, Yao was Chinese, on a scale we had never seen before…With Yao, I always felt that same dread. In an absurd, yet still significant way, watching him over the past nine years was like watching a video of my parents. I worried he would mispronounce a word, bomb a joke, or say something awful about his black teammates. Yes, I should probably not compare a 7-foot-6 Chinese basketball player who can carefully select his televised moments with an immigrant parent who has to make his or her way through a skeptical and oftentimes cruel country, but when the scope of available cultural references goes from Jackie Chan to Jet Li to Bruce Lee to Ichiro to Yao to Yan Can Cook, you sometimes have no option but to inflate, conflate, and, at times, fabricate. We live in an era in which self-identification is just the pastiche of relatable characters we piece together while staring in the mirror. Where else could we look for that story? Margaret Cho? Tiger Mothers? The Joy Luck Club?”

Billboard of Yao Ming in downtown Yinchuan, Ningxia

On the other side of the world, what peaked my own curiosity was pretty much the opposite of this cultural inquiry.  In other words, the effect that cultural icons in the universe of sports, such as Yao Ming, have on those with a similar nationality. More specifically, what is it about the National Basketball League that causes the younger generation of male adolescents to designate their english names after their favorite NBA stars.  This is no fabrication, two out of five students in this particular group named themselves James and McGrady.  An even larger population of Chinese youth sport NBA gear on a daily basis and express ‘playing basketball’ as there favorite hobby.  In Yinchuan I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful and large gated high-school that could easily have been mistaken for a small University.  Once inside I was invited to participate in a game of badminton with members of the faculty.  Upon walking into the gymnasium I was shocked to find a handful of 5 v 5 basketball games taking place.  I recall particularly one student who stood above the rest, dominating the floor and draining outside shots with perfect form.  For a good moment I truly felt like a NBA scout and imagined myself in a Chinese version of Blue Chips.

The fascination and self-identification of a good percentage of China’s youth to the NBA is widespread and ever-growing.  Yet unlike the content of Kang’s essays, which articulates a cultural impact from the insular lens of America, these students were more passionate about NBA’s all-stars: Kobe, McGrady, Lebron, Nash and so on.  Concerned more accurately with talent than origins. Perhaps Yao was a bit before there time. However, it should be expressed that Yi Jianlian was given respective air-time amongst the voice-cracking conversations.