Dynamic Map of Chinese Unrest

The Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo censors searches for the names of places where there are protests (currently Shenzhen). You could write a script that searches for the main Chinese cities on Weibo and plots the ones that are censored on a map. Presto, a dynamic map of Chinese political unrest! With data supplied by the Chinese government, no less. Who will do it first?

Update same day: Daniel Becking points to the highly informative web site Blocked On Weibo. It has a wide remit. The most recent entry explains why the two characters for “pantyhose” are blocked.


Fazer Chinaman Gone, Leaves Hat

Fazer's old packaging

Fazer has removed the cartoon East Asian from one of two versions of the packaging for their chocolate-covered puffed rice. Only the conical straw hat remains, an “abbreviated motif” as Karl Hauck would have put it. Tørsleff still has the guy on their gel agent. Gabob recently published the fine boardgame Wok Star which is full of cartoon East Asians.

Tørsleff's gel agent

Thinking about these images, I’ve decided that I don’t find them racist. The old Fazer and Tørsleff cartoons are certainly outdated, since few people in East Asia wear conical straw hats or queue hair any more. The Wok Star images are up-to-date. And none of the images denigrate East Asians in my opinion. Granted, it’s hard to understand why there’s a cartoon Chinaman on the gel agent, but the chocolate has rice in it and is named “Kina”, and the boardgame is about a Chinese family restaurant.

The Wok Star boardgame

I’m thinking that when Chinese cartoonists draw friendly caricatures of their own people, then they probably look a bit like this. If we can’t allow cartoons of people with non-Europid features, then we just make them invisible in part of the public space.

What do you think, Dear Reader?

Update same evening: Dear Aard regular Christina points to an ongoing fracas in Canada where a South Asian woman depicted on a draught for new paper money was replaced by a Europid woman.

China’s Tech Is Independent Of Its Ideology

I had a brief but interesting conversation with a distinguished Chinese art historian the other day. He’s my age but has been far more successful than me despite relocating to Sweden. We were talking about science and superstition, because apparently someone had described the Swedish Skeptics that I head to him as “The Swedish Anti-Superstition Society”. Anyway, he told me this (and I paraphrase).

“I’m not sure China is going the right way now with its emphasis on Western science, technology and capitalism. Just look at the environmental degradation and rapid urbanisation. If my country hadn’t been forcefully opened to these influences by the Opium Wars, we might have chosen a way of our own.”

He didn’t make it clear just what this Chinese way might have been, other than that it would be less scientific, less technological, less capitalist, not communist, and more like imperial China. Thinking about this, I’ve concluded that he’s getting it all mixed up.

To begin with, there is no such thing as Western science. There is only one world and science is the only semi-reliable way to find out how it works, regardless of what culture you operate in. From this follows that there is no such thing as Western technology. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge to the solution of engineering problems. And so, if China hadn’t lost a war against technologically superior opponents when it did in 1860, it would have lost the next such war. No amount of imperial ceremonies or Buddhist meditation would have helped.

As for capitalism and communism, neither of them is a necessary corollary of scientific and technological advances. Imperial China could have started the scientific revolution long before the 17th century when capitalist Europeans did. But we must remember that although China’s current capitalism and its recently ended communism both led to atrocities, this was in fact a continuation of a tearful history reaching back to the dawn of recorded Chinese history. Being a majority farmer or worker in China has never so far been a pleasant way of life. So my guess is that any continuation of the imperial Chinese civilisation would have been pretty draconian too.

Scientific advances lead to improved technology. And improved technology tends to improve living conditions at the expense of a degraded environment. But the way out of this is to improve technology further, not to sit down and meditate or dream of the lo-tech past.

People Messhall Pickled Cabbage


My wife’s from Zhejiang province, and so is this can of pickled cabbage that she bought yesterday. I like the label a lot. It’s not quite Engrish: of course, we would say “people’s mess hall”, but the Chinese characters actually denote an extremely basic canteen-like eatery. A mess hall, a canteen, maybe a refectory; very latter-day Maoist. It’s a correct translation.

I endorse the pickled cabbage of the Chun’an Qiandaohu Nongxing Food Co., Ltd.. It is by far good enough to be served not only in mess halls.

Gobi Desert Romans Are Unfounded Speculation


I’ve written before (123) about the Kenyan village with a poorly supported and recently concocted origin myth involving Medieval Chinese sailors. Now my buddy Axel Andersson has alerted me to a similar case. But here it’s sort of the other way around: a Chinese village with a poorly supported and recently concocted origin myth involving Roman soldiers.

The village of Zhelaizhai (formerly Liqian) is in Gansu province in northern China, on the border towards Inner Mongolia and on the edge of the Gobi desert. People here tend to have an unusually Europid appearance by Chinese standards, and recent DNA analyses are reported to support such a link. No archaeological support for any Roman contacts have however been reported.

In the 1950s the eminent Oxford sinologist Homer Hasenpflug Dubs suggested that the people of Zhelaizhai might be descendants of a lost Roman legion. This unsupported conjecture from a forgotten Western academic has now entered local folklore in Gansu.

If indeed people in Zhelaizhai have a much closer genetic affinity with Europeans than others in the area, then this is to my mind unlikely to have anything to do with the discreetly undocumented arrival of any Roman legion. More likely, these people are related to the Europid, tartan-wearing Bronze Age mummies of the Tarim basin in neighbouring Xingjiang province, or with their Tocharian-speaking descendants. And the Silk Road runs nearby, offering a steady supply of amorous travellers from distant parts who were more than willing to contribute to the local gene pool.

The Roman legion hypothesis is a typical attempt of an historian to pin a specific well-documented name and date onto something that actually goes way back (frustratingly, to some) into nameless prehistory.

Failed Attempt To Use Aard For Anti-Cult Propaganda

I don’t like Falun Gong, which I regard as a crazy manipulative cult. And I don’t like the Chinese government, which I regard as a repressive capitalist dictatorship. These two organisations, in turn, hate each other. And it looks like someone in the Chinese government is trying to use me to disseminate anti-FG propaganda.

This morning I received two letters from people claiming to be FG members trying to convert me. Neither letter is very long. Both contain loudly racist statements about black people and “mix-blood”. It is a matter of public record that my wife is Chinese and that we have a child. So I guess the gamble here was that I’d be angered by the racism and publish an anti-FG screed quoting the letters.

FG’s prophet actually has made some racist statements, but they are peripheral ideas in the movement and certainly not something a FG proselytiser would shove in someone’s face when making a first contact. They’re religiously deluded, but that doesn’t mean that they’re stupid.

Not the Big Chinese Power Dam


The rivers run almost dry in Qingtian prefecture, Zhejiang province, China, because of recently built power dams. This particular dam on a tributary of the main river was completed three years ago. The resulting lake is 100 meters deep above the drowned villages on the valley floor.

And if they didn’t build these dams? Either burn coal, build more nuclear plants or stay an undeveloped nation.
Continue reading

Restaurant Engrish

i-b7a68193f5420adbf3a6f570606d727b-Lie fallow sock.jpg
“Lie Fallow” means “in your spare time, without a prior appointment” in Engrish.

Everybody loves Engrish, the surreal dialect of English found on signs, in menus, on clothing etc. in the Far East. Much of it seems to stem from blind over-use of dictionaries, where the non-Anglophone user picks one of the possible translations of a term at random. Here are a few examples I’ve caught recently at restaurants.

i-8476a8da48cdeeb30e45d98b52323c45-Cow platoon lores.jpg

i-623628b73919526e7a98b9d10fe8ddf1-Hydrophobic lores.jpg

i-e3cde64696f287003c1689138f3a63a7-Wet new lores.JPG

The breakfast menu at our hotel in Hecheng had some fine variations on rice porridge and its condiments.

i-490a1bbe070711b7fb2bb159386f272f-Porridge class.jpg

i-b7549416186742ac97c12bc2da9863b5-Porridge kind lores.jpg

i-66bae5bd562f9007a8e08a0d129c03cf-Porridge theme lores.jpg