Category Archives: Culture

Challenges to Trust

I started to re-think about the Google’s decision to withdraw from China. If the rumor “attack-from-within” turned out to be true, it is a very reasonable action. The company’s culture is built on trust – new hires from intern to employee were given enough freedom based on trust – they can see documents they need to see, and access to resources they need to access, without limit. That was exactly like the time in Microsoft before 2000 (I still remember how shock I was when I was able to see piece of source code few weeks after I got into the company).

However, that culture, and the way of people’s behaviors were seriously challenged when integrity issue happens. When misbehavior of very few force the company to change its foundation – the full trust to its people, it is the worst challenge possible. No over-react is too over.

The same philosophy applies to the gun right in some countries. Although massive shooting caused many people to die, people still firmly believe gun rights equal to human rights. They are not defending the criminals, they are defending the foundation that people should be trusted to own their own weapons. It is a matter of choice of lifestyle and culture.

Integrity can never be comprised, no matter how bad the consequences are, because it was the culture of “trust”, and freedom to trust people that in stake.

I hope I had made it clear about it.

Written Chinese Keeps China United

One of my guesses (without any support) is, the written language of Chinese played a very important role in keeping China united as a country in the last 1000 years, although it separates, and then united. Why?

Unlike languages that records pronunciation, like English, Chinese characters is basically a “picture” represents the meaning. Look at the illustration in this blog: Chinese Characters.

No matter how you want to read it, the written language is always the same across China. A simple (over simplified) example are the number one, two, three in Chinese: 一. 二. 三. If you have Chinese system in your computer and can read Chinese, you will find one stroke means 1, two strokes means 2, and three vertical strokes means 3. (Of cause, 1000 strokes does not mean 1000). It is just like the Rome representation: I, II, III, IV, V, or the numerical representation: 1, 2, 3, 4… In different countries, they are read differently, but the meaning are the same.

Just like Arabic numbers keeps most of the human on the same page (unfortunately, there are just few signs in common), Chinese languages acted as a glue to keep the vast area together, and they can communicate with each other.

One example is, if Chinese people start to use Pinyin, or whatever representation of the pronunciation of the Chinese characters, within 50 years, there will be at least 100 different languages in China.

In Beijing, 谢谢你 “Thank you”, will be written as Xie Xie Ni. In Taiwan, it will be written as: ㄒㄝ ㄒㄝ ㄋㄧ, and in Shanghai, it may be written as Xia Xia Nong. I can imagine in most of the provinces, or even cities, they can be written differently, if according to pronunciation…

If that does happen, when a group of people cannot communicate with another group of people for too long, China will become an Europe of today.

That is just my guess. Any support to this idea?

World Cup 2010

I have never been a football fan, and never tried to be one, or pretend to be one. The last time I was deeply impacted by World Cup was still back in 1994, one year before the College Entrance Exam – THE exam that basically determines the future of us. Many classmates climbed out of the wall of the middle school, and put all the pillows in the dorm into the quilt to pretend someone was still on bed.

After that, the world cup didn’t leave too much impression (at least as strong as that year) to me. Maybe the other one is during the time of university – when we finally escaped the “dark July” of the entrance exam. During that time, all the major classrooms and theater of university were broadcasting the game. I spent some time there with Wendy (Wendy is less interested than me).

This year, thank to the time zone of South Africa, the timing is good, and I happened to watch the last 10 minutes of North Korea vs Portugal, and enjoyed the final 0:7 result. That is it.

The world is big and everyone is different. I hope my ignorance of many people’s favorite game does not make them angry. Since there are so many people pour there passion about the game everywhere, as if non-football-fans are second-level citizen, I want to quietly record what I think, so someone similar to me won’t feel lonely in the sea of football fans. People are different. Let’s cherish the difference.

Global Village

This morning, I am very happy to host two talented students – Chengyi from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and Echo from Stanford University. It brought me back to the days when we, as a company and as a person, had strong connection with universities.

Internship Cross Borders

Regarding the summer internship program we had been for five years, we just realized that we can accept both students from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and from Stanford – 6000 miles, and 8 time zone away.

With Shanghai getting hotter, and ops, high living cost, the two places are less different. The two community started to interlace with each other.

Stanford GMIX Program

For the third year, we are accepting application from Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA program for a four week summer project. That program is called GMIX in Stanford (Global Management Immersion Experience). We had very talented students (well, one of them are not that “student”. He worked for famous consulting firms for years) in the past, and expecting to meet great persons this year. (Hey! My dear readers in Stanford MBA, and my friends there, help me to spread the message, and check out the project posting in April!)

Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time

Next Monday, I will have a phone call with Berlin, Germany. I was told that they are going to advance the clock one hour this weekend. No one wants to calculate the exact time to call.

Then I did some research and have this simple rule:

Berlin is GMT+1.

In DST time, it is at GMT+2 (advance one hour = follow the timezone east of them).

Shanghai is still GMT+8 (China abandoned DST years ago, and never change clock)

The new gap will be 6 hours.

That means, 9 AM in Berlin = 09 + 06 = 15:00 in Shanghai.

Hope my calculate is right.

Global Landscape

Friends, and travel are two vehicles to help us get global landscape. Without visiting a place or having a friend in certain part of the world, it is harder to setup that connection with certain type of world. If we have either of that, that personal tie makes us not afraid of things there.

So my personal goal – travel more and making more friends – the diversity of friends actually matters to help.

People Started to Wait at Red Lights

Taken at Guangyuan Road, and Gongcheng Road

Taken at Guangyuan Road, and Gongcheng Road, at 8:50 AM, rush hours

Look at this photo. That is a normal day in rush hours in the morning. People started to wait for the looong red lights to cross the pedestrian. That was something very new to me. That continued to build my confidence to this city, and this country. As time went by, people will start to learn how to live in a city better, and will form some rules that everyone started to obey.

P.S. If you want to claim that this is another Shanghai Expo PR, please read this entry, especially my reply in the comment section. If you don’t want to take the time to read, let me give you a tip of the direction I am going to send you: “Read the Blind man and the elephant story, again, before claiming that even the blindest man can see people cross the road at red lights, at any time, in this city”.

P.S. 2: This is another photo of people lining up at Metro Line #7 at Zhaojiabang Road.

Lining up for Metro – Part II

This is the second post about lining up in Shanghai metro after I posted the first entry about it (Lining up for Metro?) three and half years ago.

These days, when I started to take metro again, I found out in more and more stations, people started to line up.

The Change Over Time

8 years ago when I started my blog, people never line up.

3.5 years ago, people started to line up in busy stations like People’s Square, and that was the only case I saw it.

Now, in many small stations, people started to line up – 5 persons a line. Look at the photos I took randomly at Jinxiu Road station of Metro Line #7.

The lines are not exactly that type of lines in armies, but people do start to honor orders. People will automatically make up two lines along the door, leaving the space for people to get out first. For efficiency, people won’t wait for everyone to get out to get in, but the door is wide enough for three lines of people, the order were kept and it is much more efficient.

Reasons?

I guess there are two reasons for it. First is the abundance of resources. When more and more metro is built, there are enough room in most metro lines for everybody, and people don’t worry about missing the metro in most of the cases. Please note: it is not ALWAYS, but in most cases. Even if there are times there are more people that you need to way for two or three turns, as long as it is occasional, people still respect orders that they formed in normal days.

A half empty train cart in none-peak hours

The second is the ramp up of the city life style. Metro and the city life style itself are new things to the Chinese people. It takes some time for people to get used to it, to start to understand it, and form a set of rules. The interesting thing is, time will just help people to shape their behavior without too much external forces.

For the elevators, the same thing happens. People started to naturally stand on the right, and leaving the left side for people to pass. This is more and more trendy in Shanghai. When the trend is formed, it is hard to change, since everyone will be happy to do it to demonstrate their “fit” with this city.

P.S. I chatted about it with my friend RC who introduced the phrase “T.I.C moment” to me. He joked: “No! There will be one TIC moment missing in Shanghai!” I am happy that the TIC moments fade out while this city advances in civilization.

French Concession and Shanghai’s History

Just when I opened a new entry before me and wondered what to write to day, Stephen left a comment, which can be a very good topic to start a discussion.

I was reading the website of the restaurant where you celebrated your birthday, to my surprise the restaurant features “French Concession” as a selling point. Since the Shanghai public concession has been abolished since last government, is people today still fond of the past history or they prefer the infrastructures left by the foreigners before the war?

Mixed Feeling about Shanghai History

Shanghai is a very unique city. Its founding was because of a treaty – the Nanjing Treaty, one was always referred as unequal treaty in China.

From the day one of the modern Shanghai since 1840s, the city was mixture of Chinese and westerns, and of cause the culture of Chinese, and western culture.

If you see Shanghai as a child, he has a Chinese mother, and a western father. The western culture is actually put into the blood of this city. The intimacy of this city and the whole western world is by culture blood line.

French Concession?

You see this connection easily by architect – the whole French concession was well kept, and the building along Bund. But most importantly, it is the way people in Shanghai behaves – the respect to contracts, hobbies about decent nice restaurants, and many westernized things. If you walk on the small streets in Shanghai, you can feel the deep connection.

The Painful Conflicts

After being in Shanghai for 14 years, I can see the struggle and conflicts in the mind of Shanghaiese. Just like an abandoned child with a foreign father, Shanghai cannot admit its connection with the western world in the last half century, especially the forming of this child is because of a rape.

People try to avoid that embarrassing history of this city, but the city itself is the evidence of that embarrassing history for China. On one hand, all students in China were taught to “hate” those countries who invaded China during 1840s to 1940s, and described that period of time as the darkest time of Shanghai, on the other hand, that was the most prosperous ages for Shanghai. Why so many people still loves the 1930 style of Shanghai?

Back to the French Concession

Today, many people in Shanghai is trying very hard to rebuild the elegance and gracefulness of the old 1930 times. But they did it without claiming anything, because it is something that you cannot claim in public. It is pride mixed shame. It is love mixed with hate. It is also a memory people try to pickup but avoid to mention.

P.S. I wrote a Chinese blog article about my observation: A mixed blood named Shanghai.

Whole Society is the Biggest Network Effect

I chatted with Doug on this the other day about the difference between people in China and US. I have written on this topic in many articles:

Why People don’t Use Voice Mail in China

Do You Have a Calendar?

Why Classified is NOT Popular in China, Yet

The Slow Move

You will find that people in US seem to move slower than people in China in all of the cases, just because most of the things are new to Chinese, and people in China can directly by pass voice mail and get to mobile era, by pass calendar and directly do real time planning (via IM and mobile), and no possibility for newspaper based classified in China forever.

The problem then will be, why it is slower to move in a more established market like in US?

My answer is about network effect.

In eBay’s case, in the cases of many SNS site, and in the case of telephone company, we are using the term “network effect” to describe the fact that by adding another point in the network, the whole network get more useful than before the addition.

In the voice mail case, since most of the people are already using voice mail, it is so hard for people to change the behavior to switch to mobile over night, since the voice mail network is so big and so useful to abandon. Think about fax machine! What is the point to print out a document and fax it and throw the paper away? The reason is, so many people are still using it and making the fax technology – the fax protocol still attractive.

When to do the Shift?

When the network effect there, change in a few of the users won’t impact the network. 10% of people don’t use fax machine actually does not take big impact to the whole network.

BUT, one thing can change it. That is some big social movement that changes everyone’s behavior at the same time. Let me give two examples.

1. The earthquake in Taiwan in 2007 that cut the cable between US and China. The week of pause of any service from US actually changed the nature of many Internet business in China – just because people (100%) are switch at the SAME time.

2. Another example is SARS. Since everyone choose to stay at home during May holiday in 2003 at the SAME time, online shopping site Taobao got its best push since a big social event like SARS not only changed the behavior of part of the network, it almost changed everyone, so changed the whole network effect.

The Biggest Network

In that sense, the whole society can be treated as the biggest network effect business. A shift is very slow, and takes long time to happen. The only way to change it is big social events like cut-off of Internet for several days (like the earthquake), or SARS. The recent Sichuan Earthquake, and H1N1 Flu are very likely those pushy event, but we don’t know the impact yet.

Why People Don’t Use Voice Mail in China

People in China don’t use calendar as often as United States. I talked about it in a blog entry back in 2005: Do You Have a Calendar?. I also talked about Why Classified is NOT Popular in China, Yet. Today, I want to talk about another thing about absolutely no people in China use today. That is voice mail.

Chinese is Unique? No

Four years ago, when I just joined eBay, and had the golden opportunity to witness the fight between eBay and Taobao from an inside on the eBay side. During many in-depth discussion with Meg Whitman when she was in Shanghai, I tried very hard to convince her that China is different. China has a unique culture, unique history, and unique user behavior, and we should treat China very differently.

Four years later, when I analyze what happened around me, I more and more tend to agree that people are very like each other across the world, and by nature, they are the same. The different behavior comes from different history. Taking the eBay example, people in both China and US want the website to be fast and stable, and eBay’s problem is, it is not fast and stable in China as in US (and in US, not as fast and stable as Google).

So, let’s discuss about why people in China don’t use voice mail.

How Voice Mail Started

The voice mail started in most countries from 1970s, to 1980s, when there is no such a thing called Internet, or mobile phone. From today’s point of view, voice mail is more like a a asynchronous pull-mode mobile phone. In contrast, mobile phone is synchronous, push mode; SMS is asynchronous, push mode, and email is asynchronous pull mode.

With voice mail, although there are no technologies like mobile phone, it is impossible to reach a person at any time, and voice mail is a not perfect, but working solution. So voice mail became so popular that the current generate grow up with voice mail recorder at home, and in office.

Today, when there is mobile phone, SMS, email, or even Skype, the user behavior changed in United States, and Europe, but slowly. Voice mail still plays an important role, before it fade out from the history scene.

Voice Mail Just Missed a Historical Chance

In China, fixed line telephone itself has never become as popular as the States. When I was young, let’s say, early 1990s, the telephone number for my city was still 4 digits (FYI, in 2005, it became 8 digits). In China, when people start to use phone, they jump start from mobile phone. Many cities just started from mobile phone without fixed line phone installed.

With this background, Voice Mail seems to be a stupid thing. There are 6 billion mobile phone users, you literally can reach any people in this country if you know his/her mobile phone number. Mobile phone means instant talking (Yes! With Interruption!)

The usage of mobile phone also shape people’s behavior. People would like to take mobile phone immediately and people love to have instant interact, and don’t care about interruption as much as people in the States. In a era when the people first used instant messaging like QQ, mobile phones that go with them, they don’t use voice mail any more.

There are Many Examples

Email appeared before SMS, but SMS is more convenient. That is the reason why email is not popular and people use SMS all the time. Blackberry is something attractive for non-corporate people in China. Offline classified? Before Internet, there is still a chance, but when Internet comes, the newspaper based classified that didn’t take off, permanently lose the opportunity to grow bigger.

Is this something called “Late Mover Advantage”?

A Glass Cup of Water on Left Hand

Foreigners have typically wrong perception about China. One is, Chinese all knows some Kongfu, and the other is, people in China all believe in Fengshui. I don’t believe in Fengshui, until recently.

Let me tell you the story.

A Glass Cup of Water on the Left Hand

I read a Fengshui book about where you should put your water glass. They suggest that according to Fengshui theory, you should keep a glass of water on the left hand on the desk, and always keeps above 60% of water in the glass.

The rational behind it is, the left side is the position for black dragon, and right side is for white tiger. Since dragon likes water, so put a glass of pure water at the position of dragon keeps the dragon happy, so it is good for your health.

Hmm… Pretty non-sense, isn’t it?

The Result of Testing

Then I tried to put the water of glass on the left hand, and keeps it 60% of water. The magic does happen in several days.

I found I obviously drink much more water than before. Whenever I put my attention onto the glass cup, the water is gone. It is not consciously that I reached out to the water. When I reply an email, or read a report, I drink the water, even without my explicit awareness. When I see the glass cup empty, my conscious told me “Hey! Fill it. It is more important than your work – the dragon is looking” – obviously I said it to myself in a joking tune.

Fengshui = Convenience + Time

Then I realized, there must be some reason behind many Fengshui practice. It is by no means the mysterious theory it pretend to be (just like the dragon stuff in this example), it is all about convenience.

Fengshui seldomly discuss about the topic making something accessible or not to. It is all about how easy something is accessible. Just because of The Power of Convenience, convenience makes it so easy to accumulate over time, and with enough time, even smallest change can make big impact, just like one or two years of drinking enough water may make a difference in my health, although most people don’t know the root cause, and attribute the change to the bless of dragon.

Office Fengshui

Now I am a practitioner of Office Fengshui. Fengshui is talking about Ch’i. Actually, the Ch’i, in my understand, is communication. The move of stuff in the office cause the flow of communication changes – the communication between you and the world, and between the team members. Putting a tree to block a path, causing everyone to go the other way, and changes how people interact with each other. These are all called Fengshui.

The glass cup and water story is a very simple one that I can understand, but many Fengshui principles are hard to understand, or even no way to understand today. Hope more mysterious Fengshui theory gets some backup of modern science theory, and prove by scientific methods.

Meaning of 886 in Chinese

I received email asking about what 886 means in Chinese. This is an interesting question.

886

Simply put it, 8 may generally means rich, because it has similar pronunciation of being rich. 6 means smooth, since the pronunciation of 6 is pretty smooth by itself.

886 is a pretty good number, in most Chinese people’s mind.

Meanwhile, it is also the international long distance area code number for Taiwan (mainland China is 86, and Hong Kong is 882).

Numbers and Its Related Characters

Since there are tens of thousands of Chinese characters (number 0 to 9 are just ten of them), and there are basically only 200 or something pronunciations, as you can imagine, many characters maps to exactly the same pronunciation.

Although there are characters with exactly the same pronunciation with the 10 numbers, like cloth to 1, dance to 5, wander to 6, wife to 7…, these numbers are not generally mapping to this meanings. There are some characters with pretty similar meanings, like 4 and die, 8 and rich, 5 and me, 1 with want, 2 with son, that are generally used to “translate” the numbers.

Impact of Numbers to People

People in China generally (although it may be too generally to say so) care about numbers and their meanings, to certain extend. A good number (with many 8 or 6 in it) is much more popular than others.

For office and residential buildings, people don’t like number of 4, 14, just like western people don’t like number of 13. So you may see some buildings with stair numbers like this:

16

15

12B

12A

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

3A

3

2

1

A Joke about Telephone Number

When I was in Shanghai Jiaotong University, I have a schoolmate who don’t want to tell others the telephone number of their dorm, and in early 1995, they all bought a pager, or mobile phone. Their phone number was:

54742484

(with 5 means I, 7 means wife, 2 means son, and 8 means dad, and 4 means die…)

Different Ways to Waste Energy

Travel is interesting since it gives you the chance to understand the silly things we do everyday.

During my travel in US, I realize something:

People in China always use energy to make water hot, while

People in US always use energy to make it cold.

I just cannot bear that everything I drink is cold. Not only “not warm”, half of the water in the cup is “ice”. I didn’t think about my love to hot water too much before I realized American’s love to cold water.

The even more serious energy waster is the drinking machine in Shanghai. Many drinking machine has hot water on the left, and cold water (cold, not normal temperature) on the right. Many people just mix the hot and cold water to get water that is directly drinkable. But why waste the energy to cool it and heat it, before they are mixed?

Table Tennis is the National Sports of China

In this Olympic Game, as in many previous Games, China dominates in the Table Tennis – with 4 gold medal:

Women’s Team GUO Yue, ZHANG Yining, WANG Nan

Men’s Team MA Lin, WANG Hao, WANG Liqin

Women’s Singles ZHANG Yining

Men’s Singles MA Lin

It is not by accident since Ping Pong is really one of the most popular sports in China. I have been playing Ping Pong for many years, and tomorrow we will have a Ping Pong game within the company, after we have “friendship game” with other companies before.

Here is the Ping Pong table we placed in our lobby:

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang

All Kinds of Trap – Another One

Recently, besides the tactics I listed in the previous article, I encountered more. That is “missed call”.

In your mobile phone, you often get missed call. The caller rings for less than one second and hang up. Even if the phone is at your hand, you cannot get the call. You may find a good time to call back, but… it is a tele-marketer’s call.

P.S. My blog quoted by Wall Street Journal’s China Journal. But again, as most of time, it is because of the similar type of blog entry. Emm… I am fine if I am quoted once or twice because of the same point of view, but when it is all the times, I am not sure what I should say…:-)

It is Gaokao Time

These two days are the time for GaoKao, or the National College Entrance Exam.

In Cixi, Ningbo, middle school students filled the hotel we stayed. In Zhejiang, students all check-in to hotels to have better rest during the noon, and night, since it is generally closer to where the test is held.

Just now, Wendy gave me some sample questions of this year’s Gaokao. Pretty frustrating that I know the answer of none of the questions. How embarrassing.

13 years ago, Wendy and I also attended the Grand Exam – my favorite is English, 900 out of 900, the top of the province, and Wendy’s highest score is on Mathematics. She got 148 out of 150, also almost the top of the whole province. We turned out to be the first and the third place of students entering SJTU in 1995. We worked together as a family very well – I write English blogs, and call to US banks for her to settle down stock issues, and she always calculate the total amount when we went to the grocery store.

Best wishes to the students of this year!

Pinyin is Not Chinese

During my Nanjing YLF trip, I just realize one simple fact that many people outside China may not be aware of: Pinyin is not Chinese.

After I explained this to my friends, they were surprised. This is different from what they thought. I am even more surprised when people tell me that they think the Pinyin (the Romanization) is Chinese itself. In case you don’t know, let me tell you more about it.

Chinese Characters and Pinyin

The Chinese characters itself are like a logo. Chinese is ideogram language. Check out this page: Chinese Characters about Chinese characters.

Pinyin is just one of the many ways to romanize the language so people at least have some idea of the pronunciation of the character. It acts as a bridge for the world to use commonly used 26 alphabetic to quote a Chinese character.

For example, someone may think my name in Chinese is Wang Jian Shuo. It is wrong. My Chinese name is 王建硕. I know it is hard for people who don’t know Chinese to read it, so we invented Pinyin to turn these characters into English style word – Wang Jian Shuo.

The Mapping

The problem is, there are 10,000 Chinese characters (the small square pictures you see on the screen), and at least 2000 to 3000 of them are commonly used in daily life. However, there are only around several hundreds of pronunciation in Chinese – even includes the tones (same pronunciation with different tones makes different sounds). With some simple calculation, you have the idea that many characters have to be mapped to exactly the same pronunciation. To make it even worse, most of the Pinyin don’t have tones printed with it, so put four different pronunciation into one.

When I am presented a name of a school (Tian Jia Xing), I said I don’t know the name. My American friends may wonder: “How come! You don’t read Chinese?” My answer was: “I do read Chinese, but Pinyin is not Chinese itself.” Since so many characters maps into the same Pinyin, it is very hard to decode it and get back to its original characters.

Just give you a quick example about the mapping.

My last name is Wang. However, look at how many characters reads exactly as Wang:

These are just some samples of the 50+ characters mapping to Wang.

So, Pinyin is not Chinese at all.

Spend Money on Art or Porverty

This is a very interesting topic we covered in this Young Leaders Forum. When we talk about whether it is appropriate to spend more on art when world poverty or world hunger is not solved. This was among the hottest debate we had.

Two Sides of the Question

One opinion was, we should pay attention to world poverty first. There are still people starving, or there are still children dieing because of lack of medical assistance. What is the point to spend the money in art. The extreme statement can be: Spend a dollar on piano may kill the hope to save a child’s life.

The other side of the argument is, the importance of art and others (like space technology) is as important as solving the other problems. Government should have a balanced budget spent on all different areas.

My Two Cents

I lean toward the second opinion. There is a Chinese saying:

If you wait for being rich before you help, you will never be able to help;

If you wait for spare time to read, you will never be able to read

待有余而济人,则永无济人之日;

带有闲而读书,则永无读书之时.

That is what I am trying to say. Although we hope one day, the world, or a country or a person can be rich enough that there is nothing else to spend but to put into art, this day will never come.

There is another Chinese saying: “Don’t stop doing good deed just because it is small. 勿以善小而不为”. Although spending on art does not seem as noble as spending on saving people’s life, it is good deed and we should do it.

I also face the same question in daily life. When I tried to save a cat, someone pointed finger to me and said “Why bother care about a cat while some human being is still hungry”. When I tried to help people in hunger, someone may say “You should spend to help people’s life”. The “more noble” thing is endless. We should not criticize anyone from doing any good thing – anyway, it is the same kind of people who save both cats and human. If someone does not care about cats, it is more likely that he/she does not care about human.

What J.F. Kennedy Said about This

I searched my photo album, and found another sentence I took on the wall of J.F. Kennedy Center for Performing Art.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang in 2004

It reads:

There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Lorenzo De Medici was the age of Elizabeth also the age of Shakespeare. And the new frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a new frontier for American art

Thanks J.F.Kennedy to put it preciously that spending a dollar in art may not always cause reducing some spending in other area. The push from art or other field to economic success may eventually complete the positive feedback loop (my major in university is automatic control), so it is not always conflicting with each other.

Hopefully, this helps to justify many of the good things artist, dramatist, conductor, musician, astronauts, even soldier is doing.

Not Be Afraid of Grace and Beauty

When I wrap up my Young Leaders Forum 2007, and the extension trip in Suzhou, Tongli, and Shanghai, I could not help thinking about an important question about the future of China: Are we, as a nation, afraid of grace and beauty?

Here is why I asked this question.

The Beauty of Ancient China

Yong Leaders Forum is a small group of young leaders from all the fields in U.S, and China. It is on two year term that we meet in China (odd years), and America (even years) to discuss U.S. and China relationships and other important things. I am among the 6 representatives from China this year.

The extension trip was as interesting as the main sessions. Since this is in my own country, and I tried to bring my American friends to places I love – like the mid-night tour of Tongli. Many people, especially Ashish, were amazed by the beauty of the water town. It happened again in the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou.

I am also overwhelmed (again) by the scene of old China. I started to ask the question: Why beautiful things only happens in ancient China? Where are the beautiful places we built recently? Why many building in the recent 50 years are ugly or lack-of-repair?

Suzhou Museum and Guiling Garden

Two places changed my mind. The first is Suzhou Museum. I talked about this place in another blog entry. It is a break-through. I can tell, at least, it costs lot of time to design and construct it. It is beautiful, and expensive.

The other is Guilin Garden.

Thanks for Alex Liu, YLF Fellow 2007, we had dinner in Guilin Garden. That garden was originally the private garden of Huang Jin Rong, and was turned to a public garden. A private equity investor acquired this garden and renovated it and turned it into a very nice restaurant. I was impressed how beautiful an ancient garden can be turned to a great wonder. The new owner brings life back to the gardens. All rooms are lit up, decorated with curtains and paintings. I don’t have pictures, but it gave me the impression that 1930 is back, or 1600 is back to life. The waitresses were trained for 3 months, and they also showed the best of Chinese culture – beautiful, grace, polite, and many characters I only experienced in old novels. Of cause, this does not come without cost. The renovation project costs several million USD. If you look at the history of this garden, the private beautiful garden to bad maintained public park to a decent private garden in the last 100 years seem to be a big circle that it returned to its original starting point.

Whether we should pursuit the luxury like this or not

I may be too quick or too generalized to say that people in China are afraid of beautiful things. This is obviously wrong. Look at the beautiful furnitures, calligraphy, gardens, silk, and millions of great things we created in the past. China is so beautiful (although it takes time for us to re-discover it).

However, nowadays, people still didn’t recover from the lack of (material) resources in the 20th century. People hate luxury things (there are national wide propagandas against being luxurious). The famous saying for socks and cloths are: “New for three years; old for three years; patched and fixed, they last for another three years”. It seems to wear the same socks for 9 years is the virtue of Chinese people. So people face the moral conflict between being grace and beautiful, and saving money.

However, the reality is, much big portion of beauty comes at higher cost than those ugly one. When we have more and more resources, how should we choose? That is a question new generation of people in China has to answer.

JFK’s Answer

This reminds me of something J.F.Kennedy said. It was carved on the wall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I happened to took a picture of that wall:

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang. © 2004. Taken at the south wall of J.F.Kennedy Center for Performing Art.

The first sentence reads:

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty. — J.F.Kennedy

At the first sight, I felt puzzled. Is there anyone who is afraid of beauty? There are!

We are in a hurry, that we don’t dare to slow down to spend the time to really appreciate the beauty of our life.

We are afraid to put time and effort to make our living environment more beautiful, and healthy.

We are afraid that spending time with fine art is too luxurious.

We are afraid something is too beautiful that may be treated as outrageous.

When we talk about how many hours workers spent to create an ancient garden, we often said it in a negative way – “look at how luxurious the bad guys are!” However, we ignored the fact that really beautiful thing does take time. So the market is full of craps that a worker created in one hour, and very rare can we see some decent art work.

This brings us to the next sentence carved on the wall by J.F.Kennedy:

I am certain after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for the victories or defeats, in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit。 — J.F.Kennedy

It was a snowing winter in Washing D.C. Wendy and I just stepped out of the theater after watching the musical of The Thoroughly Modern Millie. At that time, we were touched by the words. He is absolutely right.

A Chinese, which is not afraid afraid of grace and beauty

I believe when people in China end the centuries of hunger, and war, we get back to the original track to pursue happiness, grace, beauty, and all kinds of great things, just as our ancestor did in the last few thousands years.

People in China were not afraid, and will not afraid of grace and beauty.

Panyu Lu or Fanyu Lu?

George has a question regarding name of road:

Jian,

For the longest time I have seen people reference PauYu Lu as FanYu LU and vice versa. Some maps and business cards say FanYu Lu and some say PanYu Lu. Why the difference?

George

This is an interesting question, and I believe many foreigners may run into the same situation – people call the same road differently, and inconsistently.

Many Chinese Characters Has Two or more Pronunciations

This is the interesting thing about Chinese characters. Just as many words are with the same pronunciation (exactly the same, not just similar), there are many characters having different pronunciation. They produce different sounds in different contact.

In this case, the Chinese name for the road is:

番禺路

The first character 番 was typically pronounced as Fan, so people call it Fanyu Lu.

However, 番禺 put together is the name of a city in Guangdong – Panyu. In this situation, it should pronounce as Panyu Lu.

That is the reason of the confusion. Since Panyu is not as famous as many other cities, people just pronounce it as Fanyu Lu.

In my opinion, and according to the bus plate, it should be pronounced as Panyu Lu. Although the other pronunciation is also widely used.