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Tag: "china"

Chinese Pollution, Chinese Philosophy

[ 52 ] May 26, 2016 |

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You owe it to yourself to read this interesting essay the intersection of Chinese philosophy and contemporary Chinese air pollution. Just a quick excerpt:

According to professor Liu, the Chinese word for pollution, 污染 [wu ran], has a very specific meaning. The first character of the word, 污 (wu), consists of 氵, the three dots of the ‘water’ radical that signified a meaning related to water, and the word 亏 (kui), which on its own means loss, or deficiency. The second character of pollution, 染 (ran), which also has the ‘three dots of water’ in it, means to infect, or to dye. In this sense, pollution in Chinese implies an action in which something foreign intrudes into something else, and by that, disturbs its purity. Taken literally, pollution is what happens when a foreign substance is mixed in with water, causing it to become impure.

Even though it might seem that the pollution is a recent problem, its seeds were sown much earlier, before China overtook the United States in 2015 to become the world’s largest economy, before China’s booming years in the 1990s when it became the world’s largest factory, and even before former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up China’s economy in the late 1970s to private enterprises and the rest of the world. According to the Professor, it was Mao who essentially changed China’s relationship to nature.

“In the past, Taoists believed that everything in the world, including humans, had to follow the rules of nature,” he explained. “But since Mao, we came to believe that we can manipulate the world to our own will.”

After the People’s Republic of China was officiated in 1949, Mao set out to transform the new nation from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse. Using newly developed scientific ideas and technologies, with much of its early stages based on the Soviet model, natural resources were all subjected to rapidly expand heavy industry, a maniacal increase in steel and coal production, and an amped-up agricultural yield by collectivizing traditional farms into agricultural co-operatives. Human lives were seen as natural resources too, and between 1958 and 1961, tens of millions of lives were lost in a famine caused by The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-led movement that urged farmers to prioritize steel production over farming, forcing many to melt their pots and pans in make-shift backyard furnaces to reach the steel quotas. The Professor traced the lineage of contemporary large-scale production and the technological conquering of nature back to Mao’s legacy.

“In the Mao era, [mankind] didn’t just think that [it] could manipulate nature, but believed that [it] should.”

These questions were very urgent to contemporary Chinese philosophers.

“What we care most about is: Is this the necessary road for humans, going from an agricultural to an industrial and then to a developed society? And in that, do we have to pollute?”

Of course, this was all just another way to get at the connections between personal wealth, national glory, and modernization, all of which has prioritized pollution over sustainability.

Read the whole, etc.

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Chinese Energy

[ 3 ] May 7, 2016 |

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Interesting developments in Chinese clean energy, which is of course of vital importance for the future of the planet, not to mention the health of the Chinese people.

China’s order to suspend coal-fired power plant approvals in some provinces will help alleviate grid congestion that has left clean-energy capacity idle, according to the World Resources Institute.

As part of efforts to prevent unnecessary competition between fossil fuels and renewables, the government will use an early warning mechanism to forecast and discourage local planning that may exacerbate coal power plant overcapacity, researchers Song Ranping and Hong Miao wrote in an April 27 blog post on the WRI’s website.

Solar capacity in the nation has soared more than sevenfold since 2012, while wind has almost doubled as China seeks to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewables and nuclear by 2020, according to Bloomberg data. The additional capacity has taxed the grid’s ability to transmit the influx of clean power.

Some of China’s renewable plants are idle as operators are unable to sell their output. The idle rate was 15 percent for wind turbines last year and about 31 percent for photovoltaics in the northwestern province of Gansu, according to data from the National Energy Administration.

Obviously these are just first steps on what should be a road of suspending all coal-fired power plants. That’s a hard row to hoe because, as the linked article later discusses, in China fossil fuels have priority over renewables, which is also mostly true in the United States. These two nations have to lead the way on changing that and both are struggling with it. But this is good, if limited, news.

Sinoizing Chinese Place Names

[ 29 ] March 27, 2016 |

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China is extremely worried that its citizens are being good to Chinese because they are naming things like housing developments after foreign places. Evidently, this will “violate the socialist core values and conventional morality,” showing once again that socialism in China has absolutely nothing in common with anything having to do with actual socialism. Of course, China is fighting what is no doubt a losing battle, especially considering those who care about this the most are probably the same wealthy people who are increasingly internationalized.

Once a name is in use, though, changing it can be problematic. Officials tried to rename a street in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, ostensibly because the Chinese character used to represent its foreign name was often mispronounced by people unfamiliar with the place, China National Radio said. But residents objected and filed a lawsuit to block the change, citing the potential loss of historical identity.

Previous efforts to change foreign place names in China have not been wholeheartedly embraced, either. In the southeastern city of Fuzhou, a housing development known as Fontainebleau was ordered by local officials to change its name, which became Gaojiayuan. Afterward, one resident complained to a local newspaper that she missed her bus stop after the signs were changed.

And a real estate agent confessed that while the official name was now Gaojiayuan, for the purpose of selling houses it would always be called Fontainebleau.

Personally, I am just amused that the Chinese are building houses that are supposed to emulate log cabins in Jackson Hole, although in a nation that populated, it’s a horrible use of land.

New Adventures in Capital Mobility

[ 29 ] February 21, 2016 |
epa01150223 Two men carrying goods to be recycled ride their flatbed tricycles past a red Porsche Cayman parked outside a high end housing complex in Beijing, China, 18 October 2007. Chinas economic growth is widening the gaps between the rich and the poor. By the government's own statistics, 20 million people in China still live in absolute poverty, and tens of millions more on less than a dollar a day, while a survey published last week found that the number of dollar billionaires had exploded to more than 100 last year from just 15 the year before. China's leader Hu Jintao announced in his speech on the first day of the 17th communist party conference, that the tax system would be reformed to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to the poor. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

epa01150223 Two men carrying goods to be recycled ride their flatbed tricycles past a red Porsche Cayman parked outside a high end housing complex in Beijing, China, 18 October 2007. Chinas economic growth is widening the gaps between the rich and the poor. By the government’s own statistics, 20 million people in China still live in absolute poverty, and tens of millions more on less than a dollar a day, while a survey published last week found that the number of dollar billionaires had exploded to more than 100 last year from just 15 the year before. China’s leader Hu Jintao announced in his speech on the first day of the 17th communist party conference, that the tax system would be reformed to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to the poor. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL

Chinese capitalists are getting inventive in getting their money out of China.

But China’s experience has often proved that money will find a way to flow where it wants. In a post published on Sunday on Seattle-headquartered law firm Harris & Moure’s China Law Blog, Mr. Harris detailed his conversation with an adviser to a Chinese company. The adviser had called him essentially to ask Harris & Moure to help the Chinese company deliberately lose a lawsuit for a phony breach of contract that would result in a payout of $3.5 million, which the Chinese company would then send to the U.S.

The money, as it turns out, would be paid to entities in the U.S. controlled by the Chinese company itself.

Mr. Harris told China Real Time that the company, a privately-held Chinese manufacturer, wanted to pursue such a fake arbitration, rather than fake a simple legal settlement for the same amount of money, because it was concerned about convincing government regulators who have been closely scrutinizing offshore remittances.

“They wanted it to look really official,” he said in a phone interview. “Arbitration also moves quickly, so they could conceivably do it within three months.”

Mr. Harris said he got the call in the last two weeks, and it was the first and only of its kind he’s so far received. He said he altered the nationality of the adviser recounted in his blog post – the adviser was a Westerner, but not Australian – to shield the identities of those involved.

It became clear to Mr. Harris in his conversation with the Western adviser to the Chinese company that there wasn’t even a real counter-party in the U.S., where the Chinese company wanted to move its funds. “We would have helped to form this company that would have sued this Chinese company,” he told China Real Time.

Curious as to how China deals with these issues going forward, especially as large swaths of its wealthy class really sees the West as a more desirable place to live.

Cheap American Labor

[ 20 ] December 5, 2015 |
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz (left) and Lian Ning (center) gesture with Schmitz's signature go-go-go sign after announcing that his company, Nanjing Zijin-Lead Electronics, would open a small 3D printer manufacturing facility in Dothan during the U.S.-China Symposium inside the Dothan Civic Center on Friday.

Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz (left) and Lian Ning (center) gesture with Schmitz’s signature go-go-go sign after announcing that his company, Nanjing Zijin-Lead Electronics, would open a small 3D printer manufacturing facility in Dothan during the U.S.-China Symposium inside the Dothan Civic Center on Friday.

It’s hardly surprising that if American companies are scouring the globe looking for the cheapest and most easily exploitable labor possible that Chinese companies would do the same within the United States when it is in their interests to do so. This story of how Alabama gave a ridiculous package of tax breaks and benefits to a Chinese company in order to draw low-wage work with no chance of advancement is quite depressing.

To help push the deal, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) dined with Li. Company executives visiting the region were greeted with imported Chinese tea and Mandarin video messages. Alabama’s state workforce team explained how, if chosen for the job, they would visit Golden Dragon’s Chinese headquarters, study the process, and make videos and training courses for the new U.S. employees. In Alabama, Golden Dragon wouldn’t pay taxes for 20 years; it would get free roads and land.

Alabama also did something no other state was willing to try: Its legislature passed the “Made in Alabama” act, a tailored law that allowed the state to reimburse Golden Dragon for several prior years of tariffs. A version of the law had first been drafted by Cheng and a lawyer, according to Cheng and a lawmaker who sponsored the bill.

Ultimately, the company was given the choice of the reimbursements or an extra $20 million in cash. Golden Dragon chose the cash.

All told, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, Golden Dragon received subsidies worth some $200 million — the bulk of it in local and state tax abatements, plus the cash, $5 million in land and road costs, and nearly $2 million in worker training. County leaders say they had little choice: They had spent years trying to lure companies, reaching out unsuccessfully to more than 100. Even Golden Dragon only settled on Wilcox after a site in a neighboring county proved too small.

The problems here are multiple. First, if the poorest counties in the country are giving these tax breaks, that means that there are no taxes to improve the reasons why the counties are so poor to begin with–poor education, underdeveloped infrastructure, under-trained workforce, etc. Second, the workers, as this article explains in good detail, simply cannot live middle-class lives with these jobs. They barely make enough money to survive. The promises of the Asian companies that this will benefit the states and the workers aren’t proving out. These jobs are better than unemployment–but they aren’t that much better. These jobs don’t build hope and they don’t build a future. The county is no better off than before.

Given that it’s Alabama, I’m amazed that the workers voted to form a union–but it passed by a single vote, giving the company little reason to take it seriously and it has naturally dragged its feet. Good luck to them. But as a whole, this is no way for Alabama to build up its economy.

It’s also worth noting that today is the anniversary of Alabama repealing its child labor law in 1894 in order to attract New England textile factories fleeing worker agitation and state restrictions on how it treated labor. That really built the Alabama economy too.

Tianjin, Texas

[ 11 ] September 1, 2015 |

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Above: The 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

There’s been a lot of media discussion over the past week about Chinese workplace safety conditions because of the Tianjin explosion that killed more than 150 people and spewed toxic material into the air. The problem is a lack of regulatory control, corruption, and a culture of indifference to the general public. And this is a major problem in China, with another blast in another city yesterday killing someone.

But it would be nice if these reporters noted that a mere 2 years ago in Texas, a very similar incident happened in the town of West, where a fertilizer plant exploded and killed 15 people. Governor Rick Perry’s response was to declare Texas open for business, ensuring that nothing would change. And with OSHA so understaffed that it would take 129 years for the agency’s inspectors to visit every workplace in the United States, very little has improved. Moreover, Tianjin and West is the America libertarians want to embrace. The freedom of factory owners to site factories where they want, store chemicals how they want, and not be responsible for the forthcoming disaster is central to conservative philosophy. So while we should be talking about Tianjin and these problems in China, casting an eye on the United States is also important for journalists, for the comparisons are not as far-fetched as one might hope.

Imperialist Food Coverage

[ 15 ] December 26, 2014 |

I know The Economist has its roots in the British imperialist world. And I also know that the Chinese eat enough pork to play a not small role in global environmental degradation. However, an article on how Chinese pork consumption “is a danger to the world” that does not mention how European and European settler states consume meat (except for a quick mention of Americans liking beef) and how the people of these nations are and have long been the real driver of worldwide environmental degradation really follows that imperial legacy and is borderline offensive. That does not in any way downplay the point that global meat consumption is an environmental problem, but by pointing at THOSE (brown) people as the problem, this piece reinforces long histories in a variety of genres of writing–economic, environmental, foreign affairs–that worries about a foreign threat while ignoring the privilege of the publication’s own readership.

Ban the Puns!

[ 52 ] November 30, 2014 |

If we followed the Chinese model and banned puns on this blog, our comments would fall by 50 percent.

Glacier Memorial National Park

[ 29 ] November 24, 2014 |

I suppose I should visit Glacier National Park and Glacier Bay National Park before the glaciers become one of our starkest memorials to human-caused climate change. The loss of these glaciers will have widespread negative impacts on the humans and ecosystems in entire region, as they will around the world, including in China and Bolivia.

Chinese Chicken

[ 69 ] November 7, 2014 |

I know my trust in the quality of the chicken I eat (not that I eat very much) is really reinforced by the United States now accepting Chinese imports of cooked chicken products that come from chickens grown in “approved nations.” If there’s one thing, we can count on, it’s the safety and sanitation of imported Chinese goods.

China has been the given green light to start shipping chicken to America.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department told stakeholders it had certified four poultry processing plants in the Shandong province of China to export fully cooked, frozen and refrigerated chicken to the United States.

Though raw chicken must still come from countries approved by the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) — the U.S., Canada and Chile — consumer rights activists are calling the certifications for cooked chicken from China dangerous.

“China’s food safety system is a wreck,” D.C.-based Food & Water Watch said in a statement Thursday. The group has been fighting the USDA on the issue since November 2005.

“There have been scores of food safety scandals in China and the most recent ones have involved expired poultry products sold to U.S. fast food restaurants based in China,” the statement said. “Now, we have FSIS moving forward to implement this ill-conceived decision, and it has not even audited the Chinese food safety system in over 20 months.”

Taking raw American or Canadian chickens, sending them to China for processing, and then returning them to the United States also says a lot about the absurdity of the global food system.

High Fashion Smog Masks

[ 10 ] October 31, 2014 |

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I’d laugh at this Beijing fashion show having the models wear designer smog masks if it wasn’t so bloody depressing.

Chinese Emissions and American Consumption

[ 10 ] October 11, 2014 |

Too often, we, even liberals, create politically convenient artificial barriers between the globalized economy and national boundaries. Specifically, we have outsourced the vast majority of our industrial production overseas while absconding responsibility for its outcomes. This might mean saying that we American consumers have no responsibility for factory conditions in Bangladesh and Vietnam because “those people should demand change from their government.” This common formulation ignores the power structure behind the present apparel industry situation, where American clothing companies will simply move production abroad if “those people” do demand that change.

The same goes for carbon emissions. We note the growth of Chinese carbon emissions and sometimes use it as an excuse why it isn’t worth the U.S. doing anything about if the Chinese don’t care. But again, a lot of that Chinese production is for the American market and our companies choosing to export production to China make those emissions as much American responsibility as Chinese.

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And while China does lead the world in carbon emissions, the U.S. still far outpaces the rest of the world in carbon emissions per person:

GCP per capita consumption emissions

This all does not mean we should not be concerned about Chinese emissions, but it does mean that a) a lot of those emissions are in fact the responsibility of the United States and b) the United States still produces vastly more emissions per capita and needs to take care of its own house before blaming the Chinese for why we can’t do anything about climate change.

More broadly, it reinforces my very strong belief that in a globalized economy, national law is a hindrance that helps corporations take advantage of hundreds of different jurisdictions, many of which are easily bought off, in order to avoid responsibility. Short of a global legal framework that would actually hold corporations accountable, which is a pipe dream, we have to demand that the U.S. government regulate corporate behavior wherever they operate if they want the advantages of working, living, and trading in the U.S.

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