By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Dispatches from Xi'an

Some observations from the city of Xi'an:

1) Xi'an is the home of the famous ancient terra cotta warriors, and thus a tourist attraction. I was nonetheless surprised to see that the dominant group in my hotel (visible at the breakfast buffet) was American retirees, travelling in groups. Hard to believe that 20 or even 10 years ago Americans of this age would have ventured to such an "exotic" location. Globalization is really changing the world.

2) China joins the U.S. as the country filled with flags. Europeans visiting the U.S. frequently comment on the huge number of American flags on display. China, like the U.S., also has flags flying everywhere. When Chinese TV goes on in the morning at 6 a.m., they play the national anthem and show various inspiring pictures of China.

3) I have been terrified whenever I get into a taxi. I don't even want to count the number of times the taxi I've been in has come within an inch or two of a car next to it. Swerving from lane to lane is a way of life. And there are no seatbelts in the back seat.

4) I have had the chance to attend, as the only non-Chinese present, two small (about a dozen people) dinner banquets for participants in the conference I am attending. Chinese banquet traditions are quite an eye-opener for an American. The feel is more like a frat party than a gathering of middle-aged adults. Deafening noise level, lots of laughing and joking and truly stupendous quantities of alcohol. People go around the table and "offer" ("require" would perhaps be a better word) other members of the party the opportunity for a bottoms-up featuring Chinese hard liquor. According to my Chinese host, these banquets characterize the social interaction of government officials and of businesspeople – the idea is that people get to know each other informally through these events, and then it becomes easier for them to cooperate in a work setting. Apparently, a lot of people in the upcoming generation of Chinese don't like this tradition.

5) Press coverage of the controversy over Chinese Internet blocking software, at least in the English-language China Daily, has been surprisingly free. Yesterday's paper reported that an American software company had sued the Chinese company that developed the software for copyright infringement, and the paper also ran a full-page article called "Outrage Over Bid to Tame Web," which discussed an anti-software blocking Web site that had received over ten thousand comments from critical Chinese. The article also noted that Chinese gays had expressed outrage that the software filters all gay-oriented Web sites (freedom of gays to express themselves is itself another new thing). Can any of my Chinese readers tell me if the Chinese-language press has been as open as the English-language press?

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 19, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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