I have moved in their footsteps as in a waking dream where the fragrance from a full-blown
peony is no longer a fragrance but a shimmer; where the deep red color of a maple leaf
in autumn is not a color but a privilege; where a country is no longer a place but a
lullaby. And where an outstretched hand is no longer just a gesture, but
a moment of love that continues into sleep,
into awakening, into everyday life.
~ Kim Thuy
(This is my translation, I’ve read her book Ru and these lines are just so beautiful. I guess that if you want the exact translation you have to read her book. And that is not a waste of time…)
MONTREAL—The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital. Lacourse’s worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behavior, environment, and genetics.
“The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, ” Lacourse said. “However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behavior.”
Over the past 25 years, research on early development of physical aggression has been highly influenced by social learning theories that suggest the onset and development of physical aggression is mainly determined by accumulated exposure to aggressive role models in the social environment and the media.
However, the results of studies on early childhood physical aggression indicate that physical aggression starts during infancy and peaks between the ages of 2 and 4. Although for most children the use of physical aggression initiated by the University of Montreal team peaks during early childhood, these studies also show that there are substantial differences in both frequency at onset and rate of change of physical aggression due to the interplay of genetic and environmental factors over time.
By Michelle Yu
An aging population and growing focus on health in the United States has fueled the growth of a $28 billion vitamin and nutritional supplement market, and it is expected to continue to grow at about 3 percent a year.
Over half of American adults are popping vitamins and supplements. They may not be aware they are eating products made in China, or made using raw materials from China.
China has captured over 90 percent of the Vitamin C market in the United States, according to the Seattle Times. Think about how many labels advertise added Vitamin C. Vitamin C goes into many food and drink products—almost all processed food for humans as well as pets contains Vitamin C.
The consumer has no way of knowing the added vitamin C comes from China, because there is no rule requiring labeling the country of origin for ingredients.
This may raise quite a few eyebrows as Chinese food safety scandals make headlines every day.
Here are five facts any consumer of vitamins should know.
1. Only 2 percent of all imported vitamins and other supplements are inspected. Why? Vitamins and supplements are classified as “food” by law and therefore not subject to the tough regulatory scrutiny of prescription drugs.
2. China’s top vitamin and supplement production areas are among the most polluted in the country (and thus in the world).
Vitamins and nutritional supplements usually use agricultural products as key raw materials. The top vitamin exporting province, Zhejiang, has an alarming level of soil pollution from heavy metal. As matter of fact, one-sixth of China’s farmlands are heavily polluted.
For example, rice planted in several key agricultural provinces was reported to contain excessive Cadmium, a metal commonly found in batteries, coloring, and the industrial waste from making plastic. It may cause serious kidney disease.
Irrigation water is a nightmare: Half of the country’s major water bodies are polluted, as are 86 percent of city water bodies. Pollution is largely caused by the country’s numerous factories, which rarely have equipment for treating pollution. Seventy to 80 percent of the country’s industrial waste is directly emitted into rivers.
3. Even those labeled as “organic” are not safe, since USDA organic standards place no limit on levels of heavy metal contamination for certified organic foods.
4. Approximately 6,300 Americans nationwide complained about adverse reactions to dietary supplements between 2008 and 2012, according to FDA statistics. But the actual number may be more than eight times higher, some experts say, because most people don’t believe health products can make them sick. While not all such problems would be caused by pollution in China, that pollution may have played a role.
5. Worst of all, China-made vitamins are everywhere, and even those who do not consume vitamins and supplements can hardly escape. Many vitamins end up as ingredients in items like soft drinks, food, animal feed, and even cosmetics.
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By Vincent F. Hendricks
University of Copenhagen
Human beings have long been easily influenced by the opinions of others but the social media networks that have come to dominate our lives may be making this “social proof” a problem.
A recent study in the journal Science, describing a randomised experiment on a social news aggregator platform, is testament to this phenomenon. The platform was set up to be similar to crowd-based sites such as Reddit and Digg, where content is displayed according to whether users vote it “up” or “down”. The researchers found that earlier ratings strongly affected future rating behaviour.
The study involved monitoring 101,281 comments made by users over a five-month period. These were viewed more than 10 million times and rated 308,515 times. In collaboration with the service, the researchers had rigged the setup in such a way that whenever a user left a comment it was automatically rendered with either a positive upvote, a negative downvote or no vote at all, for control.
They found that if a comment was given just a single upvote before publication, the likelihood of it receiving another upvote when the first user saw it was 32% higher than for the control group.
Overall, the comments that received an initial upvote came out with an overall rating of 25% higher than the control group, showing popularity really does breed popularity.
The researchers suggest results like these should make us think about the potentially dramatic consequences of the collective judgement phenomenon if it has spread to markets, politics or our health.
Upvoting the vote
It’s hardly news that we are susceptible to social information phenomena like herding, the lemming effect, cascades, bystander-effects and group-thinking. But as technology permeates every aspect of our lives, it has amplified the way in which social information processes distort truth, making us more vulnerable to err than ever and on a much larger scale.
The abundance of information driven by the internet has allowed us to increasingly side-step old methods of gathering the information we need, which seem cumbersome and time consuming now we can get what we need at the click of a button. This also means, however, that we are offered tempting avenues for by-passing traditional gate-keepers of correct information. Honestly, how many of us don’t just rely on what the internet says about some government ruling rather than looking at the original document?
Relying more and more on social media, crowd-based opinion generators and other online “democratic” rating, comment or information acquisition systems not only makes such side-tracking possible and more likely to occur; it also increases the numerical reach of the spreading of false beliefs, be that intentional or not. This is known as an infostorm.
In the eye of the infostorm
Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics: the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral. Politics is simply about maximising voter support.
The American presidential election of 2012 presented some striking examples of this new beast rearing its head. On August 29 2012, the Republican candidate for the vice presidency, Paul Ryan, made a speech that was later summed up by Fox News characterised in three words: “dazzling, deceiving, distracting”. According to the news outlet, Ryan’s address was “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”
These included trying to blame the Obama administration for the downgrading of the US credit rating instead of the Republicans, who had played their own part when they threatened not to raise the debt ceiling. He likewise tried to pin the closing of a General Motors factory plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on Obama while the plant was actually shut down under George W Bush.
During the election, the Democrats also tried moves that were perpendicular to the narrow track of truth, when they hit out at Mitt Romney over off-shore accounts.
There are quite a few narratives like this out there and they can be very advantageous for a certain political agenda if they can be made to stick and become robust. The internet, and social media in particular, are excellent mediums for padding stories through “likes”, upvotes, comments, reads, threads and views. Over a relatively short period of time, this padding can turn into social proof and cause the narrative to go viral.
But what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral.
But what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral. Maximising votes does not require facts, but then again voter maximisation does not add up to robust democracy. If democracy doesn’t have access to reliable sources of information and instead relies on narratives and social influence then there is no way of distinguishing between junk evidence and facts. Without the ability to make this distinction we may be welcoming the post-factual democracy. Not a pretty picture.
Vincent F. Hendricks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
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By Tim Gebhart
The Italian peninsula has long been a land where the fine arts have flourished under a meticulous eye and in an idyllic setting. Wealthy and demanding benefactors connected their prestige and power to art.
Nowhere else has fine art played such an iconic role: it set a precedent to guide humanity toward lofty ideals beyond the purely material, and shaped our view of the world through its images.
Listed here are a few of the most significant artists that pushed the realm of fine art to new heights either in technique or expression.
Fra Angelico (1395–1455)
As his name suggests, Fra Angelico means “angelic friar.” Fra Angelico was said to have stirred the transition from late Gothic paintings, which resembled iconography, to the classic Grecian style. When not working for wealthy patrons, he revealed his devout, humble nature through frescoes painted in the San Marcos friary.
The images he portrayed varied from his counterparts in that he depicted Mary and the saints as people rather than lofty, inaccessible beings. His constrained palette and gentle, relaxed figures give his paintings a surreal quality.
“Annalena Altarpiece.” Tempera on wood, 1437-1440, 70.87 inches by 79.53 inches. Museo di San Marco (Florence, Italy).
Read more: 8 Italian Artists Who Changed the World
Teaching schoolchildren happiness, empathy, altruism and compassion has proven beneficial results for classroom learning as a whole, says Vinciane Rycroft.
As educators, we have a genuine wish to contribute to a happier society. And yet, we sometimes wonder how we can keep this intention alive and make it a reality.
Do you remember this letter written by a Holocaust survivor? It said: “My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human.”
A few of us like-minded educators met in the late-90s during mindfulness retreats that we attended regularly in France and in the UK. We were young and looking to live by values of peace and compassion, in a way that was neither cranky nor hairy fairy. What are the qualities that make the Nelson Mandelas and the Dalai Lamas of this world? Could we cultivate such qualities in ourselves and impact the young people around us?
Tags: chinese astrology
By Ying Wen
According to the cycle of the five elements in the Chinese Zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Wooden Horse, which is regarded as a year of quick victories, unexpected adventures, and surprising romances.
Five Elemental Signs Start Dates, End Dates:
Metal horse 30 January 1930, 16 February 1931
Water horse 15 February 1942, 4 February 1943
Wood horse 3 February 1954, 23 January 1955
Fire horse 21 January 1966, 8 February 1967
Earth horse 7 February 1978, 27 January 1979
Metal horse 27 January 1990, 14 February 1991
Water horse 12 February 2002, 31 January 2003
Wood horse 31 January 2014, 18 February 2015
Fire horse 17 February 2026, 5 February 2027
Chinese people believe the horse is one of the most important creatures in the world for mankind to befriend.
The elegant horse symbolizes a strong character with aspiration for straightforward momentum and goals. A horse is known to be one of the quickest animals to learn independence: for example, a foal can stand up less than 10 minutes after birth and begins to walk almost immediately after that.
It is believed that those who are born in the Year of the Horse usually have superior manners, and they pay more attention to their appearance in terms of style and accessories. They tend to be generous and like extravagance.
Generally, they are free-spirited, liberated, and always on the move, yearning for the freedom to roam. Their attitude toward everything is positive and straightforward. As independent as the horse, they don’t like to be suppressed and they don’t easily accept help from others.
Usually open-minded, it is easy for them to make a wide range of friends. Their eloquence and talent of persuasion make them natural leaders. Being cheerful and kind, they can also get along easily with other people. Gifted with insightful comprehension, they often seem to know what others are thinking.
People born in the Year of the Horse have a wide variety of interests, such as drama, music, sports, etc. They are usually very athletic and sports-oriented.
Being highly diligent and creative, they often progress directly towards their goals. They learn new skills easily and quickly. Their personality makes them excellent business people who can take on an amazing volume of tasks and complete them with equally amazing accuracy.
However, once difficulties and frustrations arise, they can be impatient and tend to shift direction easily. They dislike doing things alone and are most satisfied when they are embraced, acclaimed, and admired by others on a team.
Horse people are high-spirited and witty. At critical moments, they have a flair for making the best of a situation, which makes them quite impressive.
Furthermore, they can easily acquire wealth but not necessarily keep it because they are always changing their minds and strategies.
Due to their open and loose nature, they are not, however, good at keeping secrets. Another significant shortcoming is that they are inclined to invade others’ privacy.
As impulsive as a horse can be, they like to try everything without thinking and often fall short. Fortunately, they are optimistic people and never surrender to feelings of failure. Therefore, they are able to eventually achieve their goals.
Generally speaking, they have incredible talents and know how to respond quickly and deal with things effectively. Since they are quite aware of their innate talents, they are often arrogant, selfish, and ambitious, and have blatant disregard for others. Thus, they will likely not feel sorry once they get what they want, even when it’s at others’ expense. This personality trait is their biggest stumbling block.
As for romance, they can express their sentiments directly. Often emotional, their feelings are easily hurt, yet they can sacrifice everything for true love. This characteristic is one of the factors that make their romantic relationships fragile.
Due to the seemingly contradictory nature of the personality traits of this sign, Horse people can be endearing and at the same time infuriating.
The Wood Horse is fortunate, though, in that this “wood” element balances the best and the worst characteristics of Horse people. The element of wood makes them more stable so that they are less capricious and less prone to emotionality than their other Horse counterparts.
That is how the Chinese see those born under the Sign of the Horse.
By Tara MacIsaac
The pineal gland in the human brain has the structure of an eye. It has cells that act as light receptors, as the retina does. It has a structure comparable to the vitreous—a gel-like substance between the retina and lens of the eye. It has a structure similar to a lens.
Scientists are still learning much about the pineal body, known in both Eastern spiritualism and Western philosophy as the seat of human consciousness. Eastern beliefs also hold that, on other plains of existence, eyes may be seen all over the body. Western science is slowly coming to understand the pineal body as a third eye.
For many years, scientists have recognized the similarities between the pineal body and the eyes. In 1919, Frederick Tilney and Luther Fiske Warren wrote that the similarities listed above prove the pineal gland was formed to be light-sensitive and possibly to have other visual capabilities.
More recently, in 1995, Dr. Cheryl Craft, chair of the department of cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California, wrote about what she called the “mind’s eye.”
“Under the skin in the skull of a lizard lies a light-responsive ‘third eye’ which is the … equivalent of the bone-encased, hormone-secreting pineal gland in the human brain. The human pineal is denied access to light directly, but like the lizard’s ‘third eye,’ it shows enhanced release of its hormone, melatonin, during the night,” she wrote. “The pineal gland is the ‘mind’s eye.’”
A bundle of nerve fibers connects it to the posterior commissure, another part of the brain that is not well-understood.
In the 1950s, researchers discovered the pineal body’s ability to detect light, and to produce melatonin according to the amount of light it detects. In this way, it essentially controls important rhythms in the body. It affects the reproduction and immune systems. The pineal body was previously thought to be vestigial, but this discovery showed it actually has an important function.
In May 2013, another discovery was made that could change the way the pineal body is viewed.
It was found that a rat’s pineal body produces N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). DMT has a widespread presence in organic beings that is not well-understood. Some people ingest DMT to induce psychedelic experiences often characterized as intensely spiritual.
Dr. Rick Strassman conducted U.S. government-approved clinical research at the University of New Mexico in the 1990s, injecting human volunteers with DMT. He calls DMT the “spirit molecule.”
The study that confirmed the presence of DMT in the pineal glands of rats was conducted at the University of Michigan by Dr. Jimo Borjigin and at Louisiana State University by Dr. Steven Barker. It was partially funded by the Cottonwood Research Foundation, which is headed by Dr. Strassman and which supports scientific research into the nature of consciousness. It was published in the journal Biomedical Chromatography.
By James Chi
People who suffer severe and chronic depressions age sooner, according to a new study.
The team of researchers in California and the Netherlands noticed people with depression have shorter telomeres than their healthy peers. Telomeres are strands of chromosome caps that shorten as people age. The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry on Nov. 12, 2013.
Based on these measurements, the researchers found that those who are clinically depressed for 2 years abnormally aged 7 to 10 years. Also, people who experienced the most severe depression had the shortest telomeres.
According to the study, while depression tends to induce harmful lifestyle habits—such as drinking, smoking, taking drugs—that shorten people’s lifespans, depression itself is also responsible for premature aging. Even though the researchers can’t confirm a direct correlation between depression and aging, psychological distress does take a toll on the body.
By Tara MacIsaac
Irving Finkel, British Museum curator and author of “The Ark Before Noah,” has found a 4,000-year-old tablet that describes the materials and measurements for building Noah’s Ark.
It also describes the Ark in a way never before conceived by archaeologists—as round.
Finkel writes in a museum blog post of his discovery. Douglas Simmonds had approached him at the museum with a tablet given to him by his father. His father had picked up some artifacts from Egypt and China after the war in the late 1940s.
The tablet “turned out to be one in a million,” said Finkel. Dating from 1750 B.C., it tells the Babylonian “Story of the Flood.” The Babylonian story, and its similarities to the story recounted in the Book of Genesis, were already known, but this table “has startling new contents,” Finkel said.
He lists off some of the materials a God told the Babylonian Noah to use for his ark: “Quantities of palm-fibre rope, wooden ribs and bathfuls of hot bitumen to waterproof the finished vessel … The amount of rope prescribed, stretched out in a line, would reach from London to Edinburgh!”
The ark would have had an area of about 2.2 miles squared (3.6 kilometers squared)—about the size of one and a half football fields—with walls 20 feet high.
The aspect of the description that most stunned Finkel, however, is that the ark was round. He said: “To my knowledge, no one has ever thought of that possibility.”
Finkel told the Associated Press that the tablet is “one of the most important human documents ever discovered.”
More in Science News
In quantum physics, one of the most enduring mysteries is known as the double-slit experiment, which renowned physicist Richard Feynman described as containing “the only mystery.”
So what’s so mysterious about it?
This requires a bit of setup: If you take a light-tight box, and inside shoot photons (basically units of light) through one slit onto photographic paper, you’ll see a pattern where it’s darkest right in the middle, and gets fainter as you move toward the edges. Basically, it’s what you would expect: most of the light hits the middle, and the rest of the photons get deflected to various degrees and stray from the middle in predictable ways.
If you change your apparatus and introduce a second slit, and shoot photons through it, you’ll now get an interference pattern—alternating bands of dark and light. What’s happening is the light is acting like a wave on its way to the photographic plate, and the two beams of light are interfering with each other. Sometimes they reinforce each other, and sometimes they cancel each other out.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting: if you shoot one photon at a time through the device, but don’t know which slit the photon goes through, you still get the interference pattern!
But if you shoot one at a time, and you know which slit it goes through, you’ll just get two clusters, like when there’s only one slit open, but in two places.
Numerous theoretical explanations have been offered to explain this mystery, some of which propose that the act of observation by a conscious entity—a mind—plays a crucial role. The act of observation, in effect, alters the state of matter at the quantum level.
This is controversial, probably because it doesn’t fit with the prevailing scientific worldview that matter and energy are primary, and consciousness is more or less something extra, and has nothing to do with the most basic constituents of the universe. If mind isn’t just as fundamental as matter, how could it affect matter at a quantum level?
There are problems with the view that matter is primary and consciousness comes later, but the best way to demonstrate that is probably with experiments, rather than philosophical arguments. (After all, such philosophical arguments have been going on for a long, long time.)
What if it could be shown experimentally that consciousness can affect the results of the double-slit experiment?
The Experimental Evidence
Enter Dean Radin and colleagues, who carried out a series of six experiments demonstrating just this.
Participants were first familiarized with the double-slit experiment by watching a 5-minute animation, then they were brought into an electrically shielded steel room, sat down a few meters from the double-slit apparatus, and were given instructions to try to influence the beam when told to do so.
During randomly assigned periods lasting from 15 to 30 seconds, participants were cued to relax or to try to influence the apparatus. Each session lasted about 15 minutes, not including instruction.
Radin and colleagues found that during those periods when participants were attending to the device, the interference pattern was significantly reduced, compared to when the device was active but no one was present. That means it looked more like when there’s knowledge of which slot the light passed through.
They controlled for various factors, such as electrical shielding, temperature, and vibration, but none of these could explain away the results: focused attention influenced the pattern of light.
And how good one is at focusing turns out to be an especially important factor. Participants’ amount of meditation experience made all the difference as to whether they could affect the pattern or not—those who did not practice meditation on average failed to show a statistically significant effect.
Somehow, those who regularly practice focusing their attention can have more of an effect on this quantum phenomenon.
This brings up a host of new questions: how does focused attention affect this or other phenomena? Are these meditation practitioners different than other people, or is it the meditation itself that produces the effects? If it is amount of practice, what exactly is it about meditation that produces this capability?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, these six experiments present strong statistical evidence that meditators are capable of influencing quantum events. To get these results by chance, you’d have to run the same set of experiments 150,000 times. In contrast, for most psychology studies, if you would arrive at a particular result by chance one out of 20 times, it is considered a valid effect.
Radin and colleagues also examined whether fluctuations in the Earth’s geomagnetic field might be responsible for the results, because previous studies have shown that these magnetic variations are linked to various phenomena related to human behavior, such as stock market activity, suicides, and cardiac health, as well as differences in performance on extra-sensory perception (ESP) tasks.
They found that the results of these experiments are not explained by these variations, but the variations contributed to how strong the effects were, thus further validating that both these geomagnetic influences and the effect on the double-slit experiment are real.
The study was published in Physics Essays, June 2012.
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By Carol Wickenkamp
Late in November of 2013, following a high Chinese Communist Party official’s address asserting the CCP’s tolerance for religions, the regime clamped down even harder on Tibetans, Uyghurs, and practitioners of Falun Gong. Now Christian churches—even state-registered ones—are being tormented across China.
State Bureau of Religious Affairs director Wang Zuoan’s speech, printed in People’s Daily, acknowledged the value of religious people to Chinese society and asked for their support in achieving the Chinese Dream, the current leadership’s goal of a revitalized China. While Wang’s remarks suggested even something more than toleration for religion, the reality has proven different.
A popular Tibetan religious teacher was beaten to death while in custody in Lhasa and others monks detained less than three weeks after Wang’s address. Concurrently, 14 Uyghurs were killed in an incident in Xinjiang, triggered by a policeman lifting a woman’s veil.
As of Jan. 21, Minghui (a site run by Falun Gong that serves as a clearinghouse for reports on the persecution of the spiritual practice) has received reports of 228 January arrests, 33 “trials” resulting in 16 illegal prison sentences, 16 detentions at brainwashing centers, and three death cases reported in January so far.
In mid-November, Zhang Shaojie, the popular pastor of a state-sanctioned Christian church in Hunan Province was detained by officials along with church members, but no charges were announced.
In December a group of Chinese rights lawyers and a British news crew attempting to meet with Zhang were assaulted by a crowd of unidentified people, said to be hired by local officials.
The pastor, who defended his church’s land rights, will be put on trial on Jan. 28 for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and “fraud” charges, his lawyer told China Aid. Parishioners say that the local officials want the church’s land for development.
Christmas and the New Year
In Sichuan Province, an employee of an unregistered house church was detained on Dec. 24 for organizing a Christmas gathering for church members, though he had informed the Domestic Security Protection Squad prior to the celebration. His request for reconsideration of the detention has been denied several times, said China Aid.
China Aid has received reports of persecution from local churches across China. Local police raided a house church in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Jan. 1, while believers were celebrating the New Year, detaining nine members. Authorities are evicting a small house church in Xincheng, Shandong Province. A Christmas celebration in Anhui Province was disrupted by police and some members were put under administrative detention, a church member reported.
In Beijing a house church member was taken from his home and placed under house arrest in a different location. When friends attempted to take food and medicine to him on Friday, fifteen of them were detained.
A house church in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province reported to China Aid that police have disrupted their church gathering twice a week since the beginning of January, while Christians in central Henan Province say they are afraid to attend their church meetings because several local government departments have been harassing them.
“The director of the Religion Affairs Bureau is “running” the Church ever more ostentatiously, not even taking care to save the appearances. The only purpose of their work seems to be ‘enslaving’ our Church (unfortunately with much success) by forcing our bishops and priests to betray their conscience, their faith,” said Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, voicing his concern at the situation of the Catholic faithful in China to AsiaNews, a Vatican publication.
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With the Chinese New Year quickly approaching—a time of family reunions, where people who live in the big cities travel back home—single 20- and 30-somethings across the country are cooking up ways to explain to their parents why they aren’t yet married.
But not the young 25-year-old who offered 1 million yuan for a girlfriend for a week. In an advertisement posted to the Chinese Internet app iweju (“mini-gathering” in English), he said he would pay just over $165,000 for a young Chinese woman who would accompany him for seven days over the Chinese New Year holiday; and he’d pick up the tab for the charter flight.
The phenomenon of renting a boyfriend or girlfriend is not entirely new to China. The griping of an older generation set upon matchmaking and ensuring that their children are married is a common complaint among young Chinese adults. A cottage industry in acquiring boyfriends and girlfriends to rent, to head off the parents nagging, thus sprang up.
But the offers were usually not as high-profile as this one. This Jan. 17 Internet post, which subsequently went viral, offered a huge reward, along with a series of strict and peculiar requirements: “The girl needs to be younger than 25, taller than 5’6”, weigh less than 110 pounds, look sweet, and have a Bachelor’s degree or a higher level of education. A PhD or a virgin will get an extra 10 percent reward!” the note said.
A fifth of the lump sum would be advanced on the first day, and the rest at the end, the note said. “Sign up and send me your contact information. Once you are approved, we’ll arrange an interview!”
The post was accompanied by pictures of a young Chinese man, with short hair, sitting at a desk over a large pile of 100-yuan bills. Photographs of the inside of a jet were also provided.
The ostentatiousness of the offer attracted 5,300 applications within days, but also a bout of unwanted media attention for the young man. The local newspaper Zhengzhou Evening News put the young man’s picture, with the pile of money, on its front page on Jan. 20.
That caused him to cancel the proposal because “too much pressure and trouble came to my life,” he wrote in an update to his post on iweju, the mobile application he originally used.
The renting of boyfriends or girlfriends became a theme in Chinese popular culture in the early 2000s, a product of the pressures parents put on the generation born in the 1980s—after the one-child policy came into effect.
These single children, having always been the focus of the family, have become the center of attention for the parents. Also, it was common for members of their parents’ generation to be married in their early 20s, or even late teens, but social mores have also changed.
“I am a single daughter. My dad and mom started looking for a boyfriend for me last year,” a 27-year-old female calling herself Luly told Guangdong News. “They forced me to go home and have blind dates with the boys they found. Otherwise, I’d need to find a boy by myself and show them over the New Year. They give me headache.”
The desire for grandchildren is another reason parents put their children under pressure. “She must get married and then have a child sooner or later. Why wait for so long?” Mrs. Wu said to China.com, an official news service. “The older you are, the harder to find a partner, and also harder to have a child.”
With the pressures from an older generation not looking to subside anytime soon, young adult Chinese Internet users have taken to openly posting Available or For Hire ads, so they can make a few dollars on the side.
Junheng Li writes about her journey from China to America, shattering conventional wisdom along the way
For a China skeptic, reading this book is like listening to a sermon. For a China bull, it will start ringing the alarm bells. For anyone interested in how the world’s second-largest economy works, this book provides a great overview, neatly packaged within the life story of a remarkable and interesting woman.
“My father’s quintessential tiger parenting ultimately resulted in an American success story built with Chinese strengths,” Junheng Li tells us about her upbringing in the suburbs of Shanghai in the 1980s, her American college experience in Vermont in the 1990s, and her successful Wall Street career in the 2000s.
Having lived in both cultures and having experienced both education systems, Li offers her insights on the differences between China and America. She builds a compelling case for why the mainstream perception that “China will rule the world” won’t come to fruition in the near future, and why America, despite its problems, is better equipped for a long-term contest.
“Until the software—the quality of its citizenry and society—matches the government-led hardware of infrastructure buildup, China is far from constituting a credible threat to America,” she writes.
Drawing on her experience as a Chinese citizen and an American businesswoman—Li now runs a boutique investment research firm specializing in Chinese companies—she sheds light on deep issues such as declining moral values in a communist state, and more practical matters like the risks hidden in the Chinese banking system.
Although the subtitle, “Winning Business Strategies from Shanghai to New York and Back,” over-promises a little, specific investment and real-life examples, as well as many Wall Street anecdotes, illustrate her main points.
As a result, the narrative never gets too dull or technical, so the book remains accessible to the average reader. In addition, most investors, whether professional or not, can learn a few things from Li’s contrarian methods.
Drilled for Success
For Li, education is the determining factor in her personal life, and in how China and America compete. In what she refers to as “tiger parenting,” Li’s father drilled her to be successful from a very young age.
She had to complete arithmetic exercises while kneeling on a rugged washboard with sharp edges. Her dad threw her in a swimming pool as a toddler with a small flotation device so she would learn how to swim.
“It was the only way his daughter would gain an edge in China’s highly competitive education system,” Li writes, adding she knew he was doing it for her, so she could be successful later in life.
She writes that the basic rigor of learning mathematics and grammar as a child is an asset she would use for the rest of her life. However, the Chinese system is based mostly on memorization, whether it is mathematics or Communist Party propaganda. Independent thinking and innovation are not taught.
“The [regime], represented by the Ministry of Education, still holds onto Marxist and Maoist teachings because it is afraid to part with the bygone era—parting with it would mean reform, and the party inherently fears reform,” Li writes.
This is a major flaw, which constrains the full potential of the country’s citizenry, according to Li. Rampant cheating in high schools and universities explains why Chinese companies have been successful mostly by working hard and copying others, fielding few innovations of their own.
Thanks to her father, who never believed communist propaganda and was an avid Voice of America listener, Li got inspired by the American classic movie “Gone With the Wind,” and set her sights to move to the United States.
After another round of hard work and memorization, Li aced her Chinese university and the TOEFL English exams, and got a scholarship for Middlebury College in Vermont.
In America, it wasn’t the academics of her economics course material, but rather the way education was approached in the United States that baffled Li.
“The hardest changes lay in the social and ethical rules that governed the campus.” She writes about the relaxed supervision, yet strict code of ethics at her college. Students were expected to complete their work independently and honestly, something she had never heard of in China.
According to Li, this approach of accountability, as well as risk taking and independent thinking in class and group work is a cornerstone of American innovation—a big advantage it has over China.
“China’s education system has failed to produce either an honorable or an innovative society,” is Li’s shattering verdict.
An Honor Code
Ultimately, the differences in the two countries’ education systems reflect a different moral code, which also translates into business practices.
“It [seems] counterintuitive. China had delivered impressive economic growth since I was a child. One would think that as a country gets richer, its people would no longer need to fight for their livelihoods. Shouldn’t they therefore hold themselves to higher moral standards, like the honor code we had at Middlebury?” Li asks.
Apparently not. Li then astutely analyzes this moral dilemma: Having robbed the Chinese nation of its spiritual beliefs by persecuting religious believers and indoctrinating the masses with atheist communist ideology, the Chinese Communist Party replaced a noble code of ethics with money worship and belief in the Party itself, which cares for nothing but power.
According to Li, solely caring about profit and outdoing others are the direct reasons for China’s creativity-stifling education system, slew of corporate scandals, widespread official corruption, and destruction of the environment, all of which Li documents with numerous examples.
“Social values remain weak because the system does not encourage citizens to believe in a power higher than the state—and given the personal tragedies and inequalities that many Chinese have witnessed in the last 30 years, the state is hard to believe in,” she writes.
Poised for a Crash
All of these factors have played a role in creating a lopsided behemoth economy that is ripe for a huge adjustment.
“Many people living in China, from the top leadership in Beijing to corporate executives to average citizens, believe the country is nearing an inflection point that will force it to reflect and reform.”
For Li, the command nature of the economy, the lack of morality, and the problems in the education system have left the Chinese economy with a one-size-fits-all solution of exploiting cheap labor and massive debt expansion, mostly for infrastructure investment and real estate.
She argues that while the export model of manufacturing cheap goods was successful in lifting 500 million people out of poverty during the past 30 years, it has now hit its limits as wage growth has surpassed the level of productivity growth.
Advancements in productivity are limited by an education system that fails to promote innovation, and therefore prohibits the progression toward more value-added products and services.
According to Li, the second wooden leg of the Chinese growth miracle is its massive debt expansion and investment in unproductive projects. Because the Chinese regime is obsessed with growth, when growth threatened to slow as part of a normal economic adjustment, it always forced banks to expand lending.
This prevented the occurrence of smaller cleansing cycles and created one massive debt super cycle, which has to come to an end sooner or later. More money funneled into unproductive investments by state decree will not result in more value creation. Instead, it looks like the whole economic system is poised for a crash—sooner, rather than later.
“The country’s trajectory seems similar to that of an athlete on steroids. As with most athletes on steroids whose temporary outperformance is inevitably followed by a long period of underperformance, the truth will eventually find its way out,” she writes.
The astute analysis found in “Tiger Woman on Wall Street” goes far deeper than the hyped-up numbers of Chinese GDP growth, currency reserves, or self-made millionaires. Li’s accurate and vivid description of China’s cultural fabric and its economy makes this a must read for anyone interested in the country’s economy and its people.
“Tiger Woman on Wall Street” is available from the McGraw-Hill Companies in print and in Amazon Kindle format.
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