China at War – The Story of Teng Chan

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World War II propaganda poster (by Martha Sawyers, United China Relief. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The following story from a book published in 1945 offers a fascinating insight into the life and mentality of ordinary people in wartime China. 

[Teng Chan] saw the beginning of the war as a bachelor in Shang-hai and Nanking, met and fell in love with a girl, and was married, lived through the worst of the bombing in Chung-king and is now the father of two children.

Working in a Chinese government office he is one among thousands of public functionaries. Before the war, he was a prosperous young member of the middle class; but, like his fellows in government offices, he has been hard pressed economically as the war has gone on and on. He has suffered far more than millions of Chinese and far less than other millions.

Before the war, Teng had a remunerative job in a business firm in Shanghai. He drew $300 Chinese a month, which was the equivalent of $100 American. He paid $28 for a room in an apartment house and $30 for food–often eating fish and chicken, which were comparatively expensive–sent another $30 to his father in North China, and spent the rest of his income on clothes, incidentals, luxuries, and amusements. Continue reading

China-Taiwan Tensions and the Guomindang’s Existential Crisis

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People’s Republic of China vs Republic of China (Taiwan). CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014 the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) suffered a defeat in Taiwan’s local elections, winning 40.7% of the votes and only 6 out of 22 local seats. The main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), gained 47.5% of the votes. This setback led to the resignation en masse of the Guomindang executive cabinet.

It was widely believed that the Guomindang’s declining popularity was caused by its policy of rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The controversial signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) between Taiwan and mainland China was opposed by a majority of Taiwanese and resulted in the formation of the Sunflower Movement. Students occupied the parliament and eventually forced President Ma Ying-jeou to scale down his efforts to improve relations with the CCP.

The Guomindang did not draw the right conclusions from its electoral backlash. Instead of steering towards a more moderate policy, in June 2015 the Guomindang endorsed candidate Hong Xiuzhu (Wade-Giles: Hung Hsiu-chu), who stood out for her conservative pro-China views.

Hong’s poll ratings were so low that a few months later her own party ditched her, replacing her at an emergency meeting in October 2015 with Eric Chu, Guomindang chairman and mayor of New Taipei City. However, Eric Chu did not dissociate himself from Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China stance. In May 2016, he travelled to mainland China to meet with President Xi Jinping. a move that further alienated Taiwanese voters. In the 2016 presidential elections, the DPP won 44.1% of the votes, while the Guomindang garnered a mere  26.9% of the votes.

Yet, once again, instead of aligning itself with moderate voters who viewed close Taipei-Beijing ties with suspicion, the Guomindang turned again to Hong Xiuzhu, electing her as its chairwoman – the party’s first female leader. Ahead of the chairmanship elections due in May 2017, the candidates are once again debating how to handle relations with the Communist Party, an issue that has been at the heart of the Guomindang’s internal struggles since the 1920s. Will the Guomindang be marginalized by the DPP and its Taiwan-centric stance? Or will it once again redefine itself so as to appeal to voters who reject closer ties with Beijing? Continue reading

The Traditional Roots of Parental Pressure and Academic Success in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

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Song Dynasty Imperial Examination, 11th century illustration (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese state media once called China a “world superpower in stress“. According to a 2012 survey, 75% of Chinese workers are stressed, compared with 47% in the United States, 42% in the United Kingdom, and 58% in Germany. Over 70% percent of Chinese white-collar workers suffer from overwork, which poses a serious risk to their health. China Daily cites rising home prices, long working hours, overtime work and living costs as the main sources of stress.

A survey showed that almost 70% of Chinese women believe that a man must have a house and earn more than 4,000 yuan (USD 634) a month in order to have a relationship with a woman and eventually ask for marriage. “The concept of marriage in China is becoming more practical nowadays,” China Daily quoted a Shanghai professor as saying. “No matter how self-confident a woman is, she will feel she is losing face if her boyfriend or husband doesn’t have a home.” Continue reading

Directness, Hierarchy and Social Roles in Chinese Culture

Social hierarchies, “face” and etiquette have traditionally played an important role in Chinese society. These elements of social interaction are reflected in the way people talk and act. In particular, it has been argued that Chinese people “are much more vague and indirect than Westerners”. One may find such views even in authoritative news outlets. For instance, in an article published in The New York Times in 2009, a professor was quoted as saying that “Americans often perceive the Chinese as indecisive, less confident and not tough enough, whereas the Chinese may see Americans as rude or inconsiderate.”

But is this assessment true? Are Chinese people really less direct than Westerners? Or is directness simply related to social roles in different ways? In the present article we shall examine how the network of rigid relationships, of formalities and duties that bind people together in Chinese society shapes communication and social behaviour in a way that differs from the West.

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China Ready to Use Military Force if Taiwan Declares Independence, says Chinese Admiral

“If the Democratic Progressive Party [Taiwan’s ruling party] declares independence (台独), then we must go to war without hesitation,” said Yin Zhuo, Rear Admiral of the Chinese Navy, in an interview on March 5. “If [they] declare independence, we will use military force to bring about unification, we must be very clear about that.”

In the interview, Yin Zhuo further explained that any action by the Taiwanese government that can be interpreted as a step towards independence would be regarded as a cause for war. Independence, he stated, “includes steps towards ‘de jure independence’ such as amending the Constitution, changing the name of the country or the national anthem.” Continue reading

Face, Filial Piety and Work Motivation in Chinese Culture

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Civil service examination during the Song Dynasty (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Sometimes, kids feel that studying is hard and stressful because parents are over anxious and expect too much,” writes the Student Health Service website of Hong Kong‘s Department of Health. “If parents’ expectations go far beyond their kids’ ability, the kids would be discouraged and lose confidence as they are not able to meet their parents’ expectations … Avoid comparing your kids with others in their presence. Negative remarks, such as ‘You’re really good at nothing! Such poor marks! Look at your cousin. He’s always the top of the class every year.’ will only hurt them.”

The fact that a government department gives such advice to parents means that parental pressure on children is not only based on anecdotal evidence, but that it is a fact which affects the lives of a large number of Hong Kong children. In 2016 alone, 35 Hong Kong students committed suicide due to academic pressure.

Chinese parents’ insistence on academic performance is notorious. Studies have shown that Chinese students and adults have a high level of work motivation, which is often explained as a result of a “socially oriented”  drive to achieve success “not for personal glory, but for the good of one’s family, group, team, or nation” (Handbook of Chinese Organizational Behavior: Integrating Theory, Research and Practice, ed. by Xu Huang, Michael Harris Bond, 2012, p. 503).

In this article we shall analyse the particular connection between “face” (mianzi), filial piety and work motivation. We shall argue that the ancient Confucian tradition of subordinating children’s interests and desires to the needs and wishes of parents, and of sacrificing oneself to achieve “glory” for the sake of one’s parents, are a fundamental element of career drive in Chinese culture. Continue reading