The World of Chinese Culture, Language, Travel, and more Sun, 28 May 2017 01:40:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Makin’ Zongzi Sun, 28 May 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Zongzi (粽子), the classic triangle of rice and stuffing wrapped in leaves, isn’t that popular in China, at least as a food. It’s more than that.

In the North, zongzi might be filled with a few jujubes, a little red bean paste, or some other dried fruit. Even with sumptuous fillings, like the pork or seafood you’ll find in southern zongzi, the main ingredient remains unchanged: rice. “It’s just rice,” most will say. What’s so special about the dish, especially for southern Chinese who already eat rice every day? But they’re everywhere for Dragon Boat Festival—almost inescapably so.?Everything has a reason… People are not eating zongzi, but culture. Even though the Chinese don’t care about eating zongzi, they still love them deeply. Everyone loves talking about them, making them and passing them out as gifts, or receiving them. Zongzi has become a cultural token, deeply rooted in our consciousness. The association with Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 Duānwǔjiē), the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, originates from the saving of poet Qu Yuan’s body (for the full story behind that dramatic event, don’t miss “Legends Of China,” page 65).

Zongzi existed long before Qu Yuan did. Five hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors were already wrapping food in leaves, and roasting it in the fire. By the time of the Warring States (475-221 B.C.), it had become a customary version of fast food, especially for farmers, who were too busy in the fields to head home for a meal.

It wasn’t until Qu Yuan, though, that the dish became endowed with sacred meaning and lasting popularity. As an official of the Chu state, he urged his superiors to fight the Qin rule, and wrote romantic love poems dedicated to his country. His work was full of magnificent imagination and metaphors. He’s been called the first true poet in Chinese history, and created a new pattern of poem called “楚辞” (chǔcí, “Song of the Chu”). It’s interesting that the ordinary people commemorated him spontaneously for his righteousness, loyalty and talent, by throwing zongzi into rivers—I am always fascinated by such spontaneous acts of passion. That’s the reason why I eat at least one zongzi every year for Dragon Boat Festival. It’s to commemorate virtuous human beings. It is, in a small way, so romantic.

So—just like eating zongzi—making zongzi surpasses the act of cooking, and becomes an act of culture and romance. Keep that in mind, and you won’t find it so difficult to make your first one.

To get the recipe, we visited Chef Zhang Cuiping in her courtyard hotel, Han’s Royal Garden Hotel, hidden in the hutongs of Beijing. She doesn’t talk much, but she looks familiar, just like my Auntie. And starting with the familiar is the right way to make this ordinary, yet sacred, food. I imagine housewives just like her, silently making zongzis 2,000 years ago, just to throw into a river to save a noble poet’s body from the jaws of the water demons.

Chef Zhang explained that although zongzi appear in different shapes, according to different customs across the country, they’re usually triangles or rectangles. Either bamboo leaves or reed leaves can be used, although in Guangdong, dried lotus leaves are used. The fresher, the better. If the leaves are not vacuum packed, make sure to boil them first and then soak them for three or four hours before using. As I mentioned above, the southern style usually incorporates salty meat fillings, while the Northerners prefers their zongzi to be sweet—some even dip their zongzi in sugar.

Chef Zhang was too shy to give me more stories behind the recipe—and instead begged her boss, Master Wang Xifu, to explain it to me. Wang, a man in his 70s, comes from a long line of cooks; his father was a chef for the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty. He told me that, for Dragon Boat Festival, old Beijingers used to cover raw rice with colorful cloth, and hang these fake zongzi on their doors for happiness and luck. They’d drink yellow wine mixed with arsenic, to ward off the onslaught of insects that also appear in the hot fifth month. They’d also eat Five Venom Pancakes (五毒饼 wǔdúbǐng), another celebratory food, carved with the shapes of snakes, scorpions, toads, centipedes and geckos, also thought to keep insects away.

To make eating zongzi more of a ritual, and to show your respect to Qu Yuan, be sure to share them with friends, and drink tea alongside. Green tea is the best accompaniment for sweet zongzi, but for greasy zongzi, try Pu’er or Chrysanthemum. For salty sweet zongzi, Wulong tea is the best.

Of course, the best way to eat zongzi is to make them yourself, perhaps while meditating on Qu Yuan’s best-known poem.

Lù mànmàn qí xiū yuǎnxī, 路漫漫其修远兮,

Wú jiāng shàngxià ér qiúsuǒ. 吾将上下而求索。

The road ahead is far and long, but I will seek the truth up and down.

Mmmm… I think I will do that this year.

Ingredients (for five zongzis):

  • 5 fresh bamboo (竹叶 zhúyè) or reed leaves (苇叶 wěiyè)
  • 5 pieces of pratia grass (马莲草 mǎliáncǎo), or sewing thread
  • 300g sticky rice (糯米nuòmǐ)
  • 10 jujubes ( zǎo)


  1. Clean the leaves and grass. If the leaves are dried, soak them in water for two hours, then wash them. Soak the sticky rice for three hours.
  2. Fold the leaves into a funnel, as in the photos. Make sure to leave the open side long enough to cover the top completely, and to keep the bottom gap-free.
  3. Place one jujube into the funnel, then add rice until the funnel is full. Place another jujube on the rice.
  4. Fold the open side down, to cover the top of the funnel, as shown in the photos.
  5. Lower the two edges and roll the longer leaf left outside along the funnel.
  6. Take an edge of the grass with your third finger, and wrap it around the funnel two or three times. Tie it into a slip knot.
  7. Place the zongzi in boiling water, and boil for three hours.


For the myths behind the Dragon Boat Festival itself, look over here. 
Cover image from
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Big Data Sat, 27 May 2017 09:22:56 +0000 With China having almost a billion internet users by the end of 2016, regional differences can have a very large impact on online activity.

We looked at the highest-ranked websites viewed by the ten most populous cities in China: The evaluations are from Chinaz, a web service that lists the popularity of websites by combining information from Alexa, Baidu ratings, and Google PageRank (the takeaways are our own).

10. Jinan, Shandong Province
Top Website:
Description: A news portal that centers around the province of Shandong
English? Yes
Takeaway: The people of Jinan like to keep up on the latest happenings in their province

9. Xi’an, Shaanxi Province
Top Website:
Description: An online gaming portal that features news, reviews, and streaming services.
English? No
Takeaway: The streets of Xi’an are likely empty thanks to their bustling internet gaming industry

8. Tianjin
Top Website:
Description: A gaming portal that has all you would expect but with a heavy focus on mobile gaming.
English? No
Takeaway: When visiting Tianjin, you may find that most citizens hold their phones in a landscape fashion. Chronic neck pain is a constant problem

7. Chengdu, Sichuan Province
Top Website:
Description: A consultation website for those in need of legal help, where users can seek advice and representation.
English? No
Takeaway: Further investigation is needed to confirm just how much of the population lives behind bars. But Chengdu seems to have many scofflaws

6. Wuhan, Hubei Province
Top Website:
Description: An online resource for everything education and employment related with courses, guides, and news.
English? No
Takeaway: Wuhan citizens are either ignorant or extremely learned–no-one seems to know

5. Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province
Top Website:
Description: Chinese Ebay, but better.
English? Yes
Takeaway: It is Jack Ma’s hometown

4. Beijing
Top Website:
Description: The most popular search engine in China.
English? You can try
Takeaway: A city with a lot of questions and not enough answers.

3. Chongqing
Top Website:
Description: A database that collects Chinese poems from the past.
English? No
Takeaway: Hipsters

2. Shanghai
Top Website:
Description: A video streaming website that contain both commercial and user-generated content.
English? No
Takeaway: Everyone in Shanghai is bored

1. Guangzhou, Guangdong 
Top Website:
Description: One of the most popular portals in China provides almost every service users would want.
English? No
Takeaway: Is AOL blocked?


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Can You Share Some Change? Sat, 27 May 2017 02:42:12 +0000 Your true friends will be there through thick and thin, good and bad—unless you need money. Oh, yes, your friends will be there when you want to talk about your colorectal surgery or Big Bang Theory fan fiction, but the moment you need a loan, you’ll find them staring at their shoes and kicking the dirt. Nothing kills a good friendship like loaning or borrowing cash, but, sometimes you have no other choice. Here are some tips on asking for a handout in Chinese without killing your friendships.

The first thing that one should keep in mind is that you should probably not use the word “money.” People prefer to describe their difficulty in a more euphemistic manner; for that there is 手头紧 (shǒutóu jǐn), which roughly means “tight fists.” If you don’t want to give a specific description about what happened to you, you can go with this all-purpose term:

It’s hard to explain, but recently my fists are a little tight. So, I have to come to you for help.

Zhēn bù hǎoyìsi kāikǒu, dànshì wǒ zuìjìn shǒutóu yǒudiǎn er jǐn, zhǐhǎo zhǎo nǐ bāngmáng.


There you go. Now no one needs to know that you gambled all your money away or that you spent it on that nice Nigerian prince you met online. It’s hard to explain, so cough up. They may ask:

Well, how much do you need?

Nǐ xūyào duōshǎo qián?


Say the number and add “你方便吗 (Nǐ fāngbiàn ma)?” This “Are you convenient?” has at least two meanings: “Do you have enough money at hand?” and “Are you willing to lend it to me?” Regardless, it looks like a yes-or-no question.

A: I need 5,000 RMB. Is that convenient?

Wǒ xūyào wǔqiān kuài qián. Nǐ fāngbiàn ma?


B: I just have 3,000 at hand.

Wǒ xiànzài shǒutóu zhǐyǒu sānqiān.


A: That will also help. Could you lend it to me now?

Nà yě xíng. Néng xiān jiè gěi wǒ ma?


Nobody likes lending money, so if they hesitate, it’s human nature; some people would more happily part with a limb than their beloved, precious money. You need to win their trust. For example, you could make a promise about the return date and explain how the interest will be paid. Heck, write them a receipt if it makes them feel better.

A: I will return your money in three months with interest. I am writing a receipt.

Sān gè yuè zhīhòu, lián běn dài lì hái gěi nǐ, wǒ zhè jiù xiě jiètiáo.


B: You don’t need to do that.

Bùyòng zhème máfan.


A: I insist. It’s said that, ‘Financial matters should be settled clearly even between brothers.

Háishì yào de. Qīn xiōngdì míng suànzhàng ma.


Lending to a friend who’s genuinely in need can be like delivering coal on a cold, snowy day, or 雪中送炭 (xuě zhōng sòng tàn). As a general rule, 救急不救穷 (jiù jí bù jiù qióng), that is, you lend financial aid to those in an emergency, but not those who are perennially in need of money. If you find yourself in the position of the lender facing a not-so-urgent situation, you won’t want to say “no.” You’ll tap-dance around it, but you don’t want to look like a jerk. For this tactic, some pretexts are necessary.

If it’s not obvious, you need to plead poverty. To end the conversation quickly, the best method is to make it clear that you have no money. Based on this principle, the only thing you need to do is to give some believable whereabouts for your cash.

I’d like to, but all my money is tied up in stocks.

Wǒ yě xiǎng jiè gěi nǐ, dàn shǒu shàng de qián dōu bèi gǔpiào tàoláole.


Or, the “Double 11” shopping circus can be blamed.

If only you’d come to me a week earlier! I spent my paycheck during Double 11.

Nǐ yàoshi shàng gè xīngqí lái zhǎo wǒ jiù hǎole! Wǒ shuāng shíyī bǎ gōngzī dōu huāle.


The second strategy is finding a scapegoat, claiming that you are not the one who controls the purse strings. Just transfer the responsibility to your parents or spouse and say that you have no say in financial matters.

My wife manages the money in our family and I am afraid she won’t agree.

Wǒmen jiā shì wǒ lǎopó guǎn qián, kǒngpà tā bù huì tóngyì.


The most effective way to avoid lenders is to live a low-key life and show them you don’t have much to offer. Nip any attempt to borrow money in the bud. Folk wisdom tells us: if you are poor, no one bothers visiting even if you live downtown, but if you are wealthy, distant relatives come to your door even if you live deep inside a mountain. (贫居闹市无人问,富在深山有远亲。Pín jū nàoshì wú rén wèn, fù zài shēnshān yǒu yuǎnqīn.)

If you are faced with a true friend that you really care for, be as generous as you like, but remember that no matter how good of a friend they are, they may be a horrible debtor. When the deadline is due and they don’t have your money or a reasonable explanation, things can get very ugly. As we say in Chinese, 欠债还钱,天经地义。(Qiàn zhài hái qián, tiānjīngdìyì. Paying back debts is a mandate of heaven.) Still, be gentle.

A: I have a vague recollection that I lent you some money. Is that right?

Wǒ yǐnyuē jìdé hǎoxiàng jièguò qián gěi nǐ. Yǒu zhè huí shì ma?


B: Yes, you did. I will return the money tomorrow.

Shì de, wǒ míngtiān hái nǐ.


A: No rush. I was just asking.

Bù zháo jí, wǒ jiùshì wèn yīxià.


A perhaps more Machiavellian approach would be to ask after their well-being.

A: The other day you said you were kind of hard up. Is everything OK now? Do you need some more loans?

Nèitiān nǐ shuō shǒutóu yǒudiǎn er jǐn. Xiànzài zěnme yàngle? Xū bù xūyào zài jiè nǐ diǎn er qián?


B: The problem is solved, all thanks to your help. I will return the money soon.

Wèntí yǐjīng jiějuéle, duōkuī nǐ bāngmáng. Wǒ huì jǐnkuài hái qián.


This is a very risky strategy, however, because they may actually need to borrow more and you’ve just painted yourself into a corner. So feel free to make up your own excuse.

A: I am sorry to ask, but there’s an emergency. Can you give me that money I lent you last time?

Bù hǎoyìsi, wǒ yǒu jǐnjí qíngkuàng. Nǐ néng bǎ shàng cì de qián hái gěi wǒ ma?


Whether you’re the lender or borrower, it’s always good to pay your debts on time. Remember: 好借好还,再借不难 (Hǎo jiè hào huán, zài jiè bù nán. Return what you borrow on time, you’ll be welcome to borrow next time).

“Can You Share Some Change?” is a story from our issue, “Fantasy”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store


Cover image from Baidu

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Feminine Beauty Brings Disaster Sat, 27 May 2017 01:02:24 +0000 Ding Xuan has become infamous lately for scaring Chinese students into remaining virgins–but many say that’s the least of her outrageous claims.

The 63-year-old executive vice-president of the Hebei Province Traditional Culture Research Association began making waves earlier this month after her speech at Jiujiang University, Jiangxi province, was accused of shaming women who didn’t remain virgins before marriage. Now many are wondering what led the university to invite Ding in the first place, given the sexagenarian’s long history of giving quasi-scientific speeches based on TCM quackery, and views on feminine virtue.

Most of the controversy centered on Ding’s claim that the “greatest gift” a woman could give her husband is her virginity, comparing chastity to a dowry. Her lecture on “being a gentle and graceful woman in the modern era” also lambasted those who dress in a provocative manner, as reported in the South China Morning Post. Ding even made the students repeat various pledges, warning them not to let men use their bodies “like dirty rags,” or risk financial and physical ruin by wearing revealing clothes.

After the remarks were posted online, the university defended the speech, stipulating that the statements she made “that day” were “not inappropriate.” But were they? Really? Video below:

Virginity remains a hot topic among young Chinese, as a recent episode of the hit TV show Ode to Joy demonstrated, highlighting how, despite three decades of so-called sexual revolution, many mindsets remain remarkably entrenched in conservative, patriarchal values. Among the other inflammatory remarks, Ding’s speech touched on several hot-button Chinese tropes, including racial purity and outright misogyny:

  • “If a female white dog has sex with a black dog, the puppies will be black and white. If that same white dog then goes on to have sex with another white dog, the new puppies will [also] be black and white, because of remnant DNA left behind from the first sexual partner.”
  • “Feminine beauty brings disaster. A beautiful women will seduce multiple men, or even if she doesn’t and only has sex with her partner, they will have sex many times a day and this will sap his qi [life force] and cause him to die earlier.”
  • If a woman has sex with three or more men, she will contract sexual diseases which will cause cervical cancer.

After attracting criticism for the virginity comments, Ding offered an apology, saying that she had merely been misunderstood, was only “sharing her experience and opinion” and “considered the equality of men and women.”

But multiple WeChat posts claim to include screen shots of other speeches by Ding, who lectures on behalf of the state-backed China Women’s Development Foundation, in which she told students that eating pork promoted promiscuity, explaining that pigs were incestuous (and even positing that sexually experienced women would likely be reincarnated as swine); “men are the sky and women are the earth below them and this is a natural law”; and female victims of domestic violence need to listen more to their partners. Either way, the Jiujiang University speech offers plenty of reasons why, as Ding herself told the Beijing News, “some of the students wept.”


Ding comparing women to swine


Equating men and women to the sky and earth


Cover image from

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Mountains of Madness Thu, 25 May 2017 08:44:42 +0000 Fellow tourists, today, on our tour of all things wrong with Sino-US ties in the 90s, on  your right you’ll see theme Park Splendid China, Orlando. Keep your hands in the vehicle and pay no attention to the protesters.
Still in operation today, the Windows to the World park in Shenzhen was among the first wave of theme parks opened in China, and the fact it’s still going today (after merging two theme parks into one) is a testament to its enduring appeal. In the 1990s, though, this success was mistaken for international potential–Windows to the World became the prototype for a franchise project in America’s theme-park heartland of Florida. Splendid China Orlando was a $100-million soft-power project that rapidly became a boondoggle of epic proportions.

For this is not a tale of two cultures coming together to enjoy a day out at the park. This is a tale of two kinds of stupidity.

One type involves the operators, who in their zeal to bring Chinese culture to America, proved to be inept operators, alienating park staff and the local community. The other type involves American reactions to the park, which veered between hysterical xenophobia, righteous anger and absurd fetishism.


The park’s former welcome sign, looking like Mickey Mouse crashed through it. (Rhys Asplundh)

Splendid China opened in December 1993. It would endure for ten tumultuous years before being shut down following a sustained press campaign by outraged activists. After an ignominious closure, the park lingered on, its facilities falling into decay. A decade later in 2013, when new owners finally began to dismantle it for good, foreign vandals had already pillaged its valuables like a cut-price re-enactment of the sacking of the Old Summer Palace 150 years earlier. This was, perhaps, a fitting end to yet another failed attempt at foreign engagement, a dismal coda to a performance nobody wanted.

The tale begins with a bright-eyed educator named Josephine Chen, who  toured the original Splendid China (as it was then known) near Shenzhen, during 1998, its prototype year. After seeing the miniature array of reproductions of famous Chinese historical sites, Chen made an agreement with the operators to bring versions of all these locations to America.

Along with all the scale replicas, it would seem that a microcosm of all Sino-US conflicts came free with the deal. If you think that ties today are riddled with misunderstandings and suspicion, cast your mind back to the nineties and every trendy progressive discussing Tibet on campus. Then imagine what would happen if the Chinese government helped build a smaller version of the Potala Palace in Florida.

Things got silly, fast.

Even prior to the park’s opening, a campaign was underway to get it shut down due to its Tibetan element. As President Clinton was meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Seattle about a month before the park’s opening, media reports were already citing the proposed park as one example of China’s propaganda narrative, which, apparently, hasn’t changed all that much in 20 years (former speaker and Democratic politician Nancy Pelosi even stars in many of the stories; today she’s the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives)

Most protesters were aggrieved over human rights issues. Some, including a group of Buddhist monks, quietly protested the park’s opening. Others took a less measured approach.


Tsk, they even misspelled ‘gotta’ (Rhys Asplundh)

Nevertheless, and with financial support from the Beijing-backed China Travel Service of Hong Kong, plus a Taiwanese-American conglomerate, the park opened on December 19, 1993. Only the day before, the Miami Herald issued an editorial titled “The Torturers’ Theme Park,” which went so far as to claim that Florida’s “knack for cheerful unreality…breeds monsters.”

Amid the controversy, beleaguered park spokesman Carl Reynolds told media that the park was not political, and was just trying to make a cultural statement. Reynold’s efforts were largely in vain. Protesters with signs like “NO COMMUNISM IN KISSIMMEE” were there for the opening, as was the coterie of sullen monks.

The Miami Herald did also provide more measured commentary—their former Beijing correspondent Michael Browning reviewed the park and balanced moral concerns over human-rights issues with genuine admiration for much of the park’s content, even throwing in some absurdly exotic language: “Splendid China shines like a small, jeweled Faberge Easter egg in the middle of Jurassic Park.”

Faberge Egg? … Ok.

“The Great Wall—the Chinese call it Chang Cheng, the Boundless Wall—undulates across one end of the park,” he also wrote, but the thing is, the translation for “Chang Cheng” is just “long wall”. Not boundless. (It’s actually many walls, and they are, in fact, well and truly bounded: Nobody calls it the boundless wall)

Did we mention the Beastie Boys got in on the act? This entire drama wouldn’t be complete without the Beastie Boys. Let’s jump ahead to 1995, when a remarkable letter is sent to the editor of student newspaper Central Florida Future in January, purporting to be from a park employee who claimed that Chinese employees were being held prisoner there, and forbidden from communicating with locals. The letter moreover cited rumors of an actual “concentration camp” being built to house them. And despite Tibet outrage continuing at full steam, the park was reported to have attracted about 700 to 1,000 visitors each day (in comparison to about 33,000 at the Magic Kingdom part of nearby Disneyland, which was roughly the same size).

Amid this tense standoff, hip-hop legends the Beastie Boys repeatedly spoke out against the park and announced a protest concert to protest it. It got cancelled due to bad weather.

Lookin' Beastie.

Lookin’ Beastie (

Following this small setback, protesters decided to refocus their attention on local schools, which finally paid off. By the end of the year, the Clearwater area of Florida had banned school visits to the park on the premise that the park did not represent wholesome American values of free speech and human rights.

Splendid China continued to gamely bumble along for several years before investors could no longer ignore their returns. In April 2000, rumors started swirling about financial woes, staff being laid off (in marketing, but still), and attempts to court buyers. Reports indicated the park was losing $9 million a year, and by May it had been independently confirmed that the park was set to be sold.

Finding a buyer proved difficult; the gossip section of the Orlando Business Journal suggested that Chinese interests had pushed to resist any sale because it provided excuses to travel to Florida, as well as employment opportunities for Chinese staff who did not fancy the free market much: “many high-ranking Chinese officials use the Orlando attraction as an outlet for junkets and United States employment for their family members” one article claimed.


Autumn wind clear/Fall leaves gather and scatter/Beware of dog (Rhys Asplundh)

A deal to sell it to Massachusetts company Brookhill at “bargain basement prices” fell through. Then Brookhill took Splendid China to court in an effort to force its hand. Park management still denied any sale was in the works, despite court papers demonstrating that stalled negotiations had taken place. The documents also confirmed that Chinese staff and management “didn’t want to pack up and go home,” with Brookhill alleging that staff had gone online and slandered the $50-million deal in order to make it fall through.

By the end of 2000, things were looking less than splendid for park staff. Sunny Yang, the new president, had disappeared. Brookhill, now engaged in a messy legal battle, wanted to talk to him, but there were reports from the local consulate that Yang was now under house arrest in China.

Chinese authorities had good reason to be suspicious. Despite the fact hundreds of millions had apparently been spent on what was little more than a mini-golf course with a Chinese theme, Splendid China had continued to hemorrhage cash and Yang’s management had first milked resources and “deteriorated the park so that he could sell it” (according to one frightened employee), then become downright hostile when it came to facilitating the deal and ending the catastrophe.


After being abandoned for years, the park resembled a modern Beijing compound (Rhys Asplundh)

In 2003, the park was officially closed to the public, although looters, vandals and various pesky teens continued to have their way with the deserted lot. It was not until 2013 that new owners finally began to physically tear down what was left of the park. It was a less than fairytale ending for Splendid China, perhaps Orlando’s least likely rival to the Magic Kingdom.


Cover image via Rhys Asplundh

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MMA Fighter Backs Down Thu, 25 May 2017 04:41:34 +0000 Is anyone still following the whole mixed martial arts (MMA) versus traditional Chinese martial arts (TCMA) debacle?

We wish we weren’t either.

Unfortunately, in a controversy like this it was only a matter of time before either party involved decides to come ot and raise the bar of sheer absurdity. This time, however, the news had less confrontation and more groveling.

The Economist reported that Xu Xiaodong, the MMA fighter who started this whole movement off by brutalizing a taichi practioner and then celebrating like a Harry Styles fangirl, has been seen in a video that’s missing much of his usual pep and vigor.

Previously (Weibo)

Previously (Weibo)

“I have lost my career and everything,” Xu said in the broadcast. In addition, his Weibo account was deleted early this month, along with a selection of reports on his original fight last month.

In an interview with the BBC, Xu said that he would refrain from speaking out as much from now on and become a student of traditional Chinese martial arts.

This is a complete reversal of his previous stance.

Only a month ago, Xu was spouting off against the “fakers” that he sees in the TCMA community. He challenged any and all practioners to prove themselves, even offering to fight two or three opponents at the same time.

So why the 180-degree turn?

It not entirely impossible that Xu simply realized that what he utilized in combat has foundations in TCMA, had a change of heart, and decided to become a student in order to further his advancement in MMA.

But that probably wasn’t it.

The smart money would be on the fact that TCMA is an intergral part of China’s soft power push and is one of President Xi’s favorite sports. Given how the Belt and Road Forum (BARF) was just recently held, maybe Xu felt that it was not a good move to belittle and undermine one of China’s key international relations priorities.

But even though Xu has now stepped out of the ring, it does not necessary mean an end to the conflict in martial arts, as evidenced by the latest boxing/taichi fight.

As they say, styles make fights. And despite the public outcry, we think that when it comes to different martial art styles in fights, the more the merrier.


Cover image from NetEase

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Play Like an Old Beijinger Wed, 24 May 2017 07:48:44 +0000 One of the many fears that haunt the middle aged is their slow descent into senility.

No one wants to end up with legs that ache even while doing nothing, or a daily routine consisting of liquid foods and long stints on the commode.

Fortunately, the elderly residents of Beijing have long made a study of this problem. Of the many bizarre hobbies that people elsewhere in China associate with decrepit hutong-dwellers, most are actually meant to keep the mind active and the body young.

Here are a few of the most common activities that “old” old Beijingers find themselves drawn to as the inexorable embrace of death edges ever closer. Please note that despite being referred to hobbies, the financial barrier to entry can vary widely—from free to shockingly expensive.



Barrier to entry: ornithophobia

Keeping winged creatures is a mainstay of the traditional Beijing lifestyle. You can often find birds in cages being carried around by hutong residents out on walks, or deposited on the ground as the tweeting spectators to a roadside games of chess.

Inside their houses in Beijing’s old neighborhoods or on the roofs, there may be a specialized area that houses contain pigeons, which have periodically been targeted by campaigns against avian flu in the past, and, more recently (Chinese), to the authorities’ recent attempts to clean up the hutongs.

Owning pigeons is a big responsibility. There are competitions held in which these birds are pitted against one another for substantial cash prizes. And by substantial, we mean millions in prize money.



Barrier to entry: not enough dexterity to handle small creatures

Maybe not the pasttime of choice for many of you, as keeping bugs around the house can be somewhat a lonely affair—for the bug as well as human. The captives are generally kept in individual containers separated from any family their may have had.

However, those of you planning to kidnap a few ants from your backyard will ultimately end up with a middle school science project rather than the guise of a full-fledged old Beijinger. Grasshoppers and crickets are the bugs of choice, so if you have a fear of insects that are bigger than a fingernail or can only sleep in absolute silence, you should forego this hobby.



Barrier to entry: lack of cauldron

Now onto the third animal that Old Beijingers like to keep.

When most think of keeping fish as hobby, they think of miniature aquariums filled with colorful coral, silky seaweed, a treasure chest or two, and a school of Nemos swimming around.

This, however, is not how the old guard does things.

For old Beijingers, the ideal vessel in which to store fish is a small pond of some kind. Failing that, a comically large and heavy cauldron will do.

The fish are also subject to requirements. Goldfish are generally preferred, but anything with red and white can be used.



Barrier to entry: nut allergy

What Western consumers may eat for polyunsaturated fats, the Chinese use as a status symbol.

With their husks intact, walnuts are usually collected in pairs and rotated in the palm of one hand.

In the early days, this was done as an exercise to help circulate blood flow in the hands and keep warm during harsh winters. Now, collectors normally spend less time rotating and more time furiously scrubbing and polishing their nuts.

And for good reason.

A great looking pair of walnuts, rubbed to a dusky color and luminous sheen, can sell for hundreds of thousands of RMB.



Barrier to entry: intellect

Finally an activity for the more financial straited amongst us: Playing Chinese chess on the street is both free (as in beer) and mentally stimulating.

The only problem would be that you’ll need an opponent to carry out this activity, and Chinese chess is not the easiest game to learn or the most well-known. It’s easier to gather some people to play a few rounds of cards, but it isn’t the same.

Buy a chess set. Learn the rules. Practice. Be old Beijing.



Barrier to entry: discomfiting awareness of sexual connotations

More commonly known as chuan’r (串儿)—yes, they have the same name as your favorite post-alcohol snack—these beads are a favorite pasttime among those who like to pseudo-religious symbols.

Worn either round the wrist or neck, the preferred method of interaction is to caress each bead in turn while sporting a pensive expression.



Barrier to entry: worries about being scammed

A running theme with this list of hobbies is the concept of “old.” Old Beijingers playing with fairly old objects that their ancestors also fiddled with in the olden days.

Nothing encompasses this better than collecting antiques, an activity that is literally called as guwan (古玩) which means “ancient play.”

There are numerous marketplaces and online trading posts that deal with antiques. Buyers often go in hoping to spot that undiscovered gem that will go on to sell for millions, and come out with a lighter pocket and a lingering feeling of unease.


Citizen Patrol

Barrier to entry: lack of curiosity about your neighbors

You’ve probably seen them around the city during major events wearing red and loitering on street corners.

These are members of the local neighborhood watch and often congregate in public to gossip, while away the time, and maintain the peace; in that order.

Most do so due to a sense of duty to the community, but others join the neighborhood committee (居委会) to stave off boredom and find likeminded individuals to talk to.


Cover image by 李大人

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Rocky Ride for ofo Tue, 23 May 2017 07:59:15 +0000 The bike-sharing world moves fast, and competition is fierce. Mobike and ofo have been dueling it out for first place, but the latest news indicate a bumpier road ahead for ofo.

Bikelock Technology, the operator of ofo, has announced they will pull out of 14 cities in China. These include Qingdao, Jinan, and Sanya, as well as a host of third-tier cities.

Ofo initial strategy was to compete with Mobike in terms of cost—Mobike started out with more expensive, bulkier bikes (which have since been modified to make them much cheaper) while ofo came out of the gate with lower-price bikes without the GPS-tracking bells and whistles. This has made ofo bikes a more common target of vandals and thieves, but also lowered the risk attached to each individual bike and made it easier for ofo to recoup any potential losses.

Took him a week to find a working bike (

Took him a week to find a working bike (

The company has, however, run into various other roadblocks. Officials in various cities—such as Huizhou, Guangdong, and Tai’an, Shandong—have issued orders for bike-sharing companies to rein in their errant bikes, which were not heeded by ofo, resulting in crackdowns (though it’s pretty safe to say officials in various cities are getting annoyed with bike-sharing companies in general, not just ofo, as bikes continue cluttering up footpaths). There are also potentially legal issues, such as a recent case (Chinese) in which a cyclist sued ofo because the brakes on his bike failed, leading to an accident.

These problems with local governments may be why ofo is withdrawing, though in lieu of a public statement from the company itself, we can’t be sure. Meanwhile, despite withdrawing from some Chinese cities, ofo has been making its way abroad with an experimental ride-sharing project in the hallowed UK city of Cambridge.

You’d think, amid all of this, that Mobike would be celebrating. Well, things have been pretty hectic on their side of the fence as well.

Over the fence and into the water (

Over the fence and into the water (

Mobike is currently tussling with Zhihu, a question-and-answer website that’s basically the Chinese equivalent of Quora. Apparently, a Zhihu user posted claims of corruption among Mobike executives. These posts were erased relatively quickly, but Mobike is now suing Zhihu for 100,000 RMB and, crucially, the identity of the anonymous poster. The financial side could easily be settled, but revealing the identity of a Zhihu poster would have a chilling effect on the site’s operations, not to mention all the ethical questions it would raise, so the case will have to go to court.


Cover image from ERIC

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Car Apps Restricting Migrant Drivers Mon, 22 May 2017 08:46:18 +0000 It’s probably going to get harder to find a ride in Beijing in these days.

Last December, the city authorities announced restrictions on drivers for car-hailing apps like Didi Chuxing, which finally came into effect on Saturday. There were two key aspects of the measures which really affected the companies—firstly, they had to register their presence with the government and receive approval to operate. Secondly, and this was the big one, drivers had to have a local license plate and a local household registration, or hukou.

This effectively wipes out the possibility of migrant drivers joining the service, and frankly, they’re more likely to be the ones who need the work, given that household registration barriers already exist in the regular taxi industry and plethoras of other fields.

On the other hand, Beijing local drivers will now face dramatically reduced competition. This poses quite the challenge for the companies themselves, who will now struggle to recruit enough drivers.

So if you’re having a hard time getting a ride, well, you know why. At least, theoretically, the drivers should be screened a bit more now, so maybe that’s a good thing?

CGTN has a video on the new restrictions here.


Cover image from Xinhua

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The Viral Week That Was: Ep 112 Mon, 22 May 2017 08:37:58 +0000 *The Viral Week That Was is our weekly round-up of the previous week’s trending memes, humor, rumor, gossip, and everything else Chinese netizens are chatting about. Think of this as a nicotine patch to help ease yourself into the week after suckling on the smokey teat of the weekend.

Welcome back to the wonderful world of the Viral Week. Coming up on today’s issue, we bring you smog-sniffers, a drowning attempt fail, ancient Chinese beer, that which protects but also harms, and eating placenta. But first…



Originally, we here at TWOC wanted to stay away from the topic of traditional Chinese martial arts in real combat until some more substantial matchups emerged.

Unfortunately, those in the Chinese martial arts communities seem unable to keep their hands to themselves.

In another recent exhibition, a Wudang quan master—generously speaking—faced a boxer in the ring. What started out as a potentially competitive matchup quickly devolved into a flurry of punches that downed the supposed master.



In a recent televised report, it was revealed that a crack team of female pollution experts reside in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, and are working on a specialized form of smog detection.

Air from around the city is bagged, tagged, and given to these women to process through the use of their nasal passage.

Not drugs, but air (Shanghaiist)

Not drugs, but air (Shanghaiist)

According to Wang Haying, a senior air pollution sniffer (no, we couldn’t believe this is a real job title either), using a nose to determine pollution levels is a quicker way to diagnose the severity of the problem (it’s all-natural too). She goes on to say that while on-the-job hazards are real, they are not a serious concern.

They wear white lab coats so you know they're legit (Shanghaiist)

They wear white lab coats so you know they’re legit (Shanghaiist)

Many may think that in order to procure such a job, one may need an extensive background in olfactory training and smell theory. Luckily this is not true. The only thing that a prospective pollution-smeller needs is to apply for an official license from the local authorities.



After suffering from apparent heartbreak and over-ingestion of alcohol, a man in Shandong province decided to wash away his troubles by drowning himself in a nearby river.

He got his hopes up as he saw a sign on a bridge warning passersby of the still waters that run deep beneath. Unfortunately, after entering the murky green liquid, he found himself in an unexpected situation—with his head above the surface.

It turns out that the river was much shallower than expected. This left the man attempting to drown himself by forcing himself under the water. Fortunately, due to his miscalculation, the local authorities had time to jump in and drag the man out of the water before any serious harm was done.



Professor Liu Li and researcher Jailing Wang of Stanford University had recently discovered that the ancient pottery vessels found in Shanxi province were previously used to make beer.

Using a variety of techniques, they deduced that the beer these people used to drink were partly made up on millet, yam, barley, snake gourd root, and something called “Job’s Tears.”

Armed with this information, Professor Li handed over the recipe to his Archeology of Food class—which must be an awesome class to take—and students did what students are wont do when confronted with something alcohol-related: They made the recipe.

Wang hopes that more modern breweries incorporate these ingredients as they will allow the beers to be more “healthy.” One such company in Seattle has already taken advantage of this discovery. Lucky Envelope Brewing released its Mijiaya Historic Chinese Beer early this month after taking inspiration from Li and Wang’s findings.


A red envelope filled with beer (Lucky Envelope Brewing’s Facebook Page)



There used to be a time when ozone was the only thing protecting life and stopping humans from becoming seriously sunburnt.

Unfortunately, at a recent anti-air pollution forum in Hebei province, one panel member, Dr. Wang Qifeng, warned that precautions should be taken against the rapid rise of ozone and carbon monoxide.

Both the Jing-Jin-Ji and the Yangtze River Delta metropolitan areas have seen a sharp rise in both pollutants, and experts are hoping preventative measures are taken before the situation gets any worse.

This means citizens will have add ozone to the list of harmful stuff from air they should be wary of.



Have you ever wondered what happens to the ejected placenta after a birth?

Well, in a recent investigation by The Beijing News, it was found that many hospitals sell their leftover placenta on the black market. Buyers then make the placenta into “pills,” which are then sold onto customers for a variety of traditional Chinese medicinal uses (increased kidney function, fertility, qi, etc.).

Making them into capsules (Weibo)

Making them into capsules (Weibo)

For those interested in the business side, a human placenta is sold at an average of four hundred RMB and can be processed into hundreds of pills. These pills are then sold for around ten RMB each.

And it's as easy as baking a pie (Weibo)

And it’s as easy as baking a pie (Weibo)


Cover image from Sohu

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