Toys “R” U.S., or Illegal Babes in Toyland

A Chinese-American baby was in line to get a $25,000 savings bond from Toys “R” Us until it was revealed her parents were illegal immigrants. Apparently Toys “R” Us had a rule in the sweepstakes that a baby would be disqualified if their mother was illegal, and Chinese-Americans are mad:

The first baby of the year is usually a one-day story. But Albert H. Wang, a corporate lawyer who read about Yuki Lin’s lost chance on the Web site of the Chinese-language newspaper The World Journal, was outraged enough to start an e-mail campaign that is enlisting the ire of prominent Chinese-Americans like the president of the Asian American Business Development Center and officers of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Their criticism, and threats of a media campaign against the company, come just a month after the chain opened its first store in China, in Shanghai.

“They want business from China,” said Mr. Wang, 39, adding that most of the chain’s toys are made by Chinese workers in China. “But when it comes to this Chinese-American U.S. citizen, she was deprived of $25,000 intended to be used for her college education, because of who her parents are.”

All this comes right after Toys “R” Us opened its first mainland store in Shanghai. Will there be a boycott? Well, the story got picked up a bit on the Mainland, but apparently Toys “R” Us quickly changed its mind:

On Saturday, the company released a statement saying “We deeply regret that this sweepstakes became a point of controversy. As a result, we have decided to award all three babies in the grand prize pool a $25,000 savings bond.”

There were three babies born “first” on January 1st, and Yuki Lin had initially won a random draw between them before the prize was retracted. None of them were really the first though:

Ole Pedersen, a spokesman for Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, said the hospital initially believed it had won the sweepstakes with the midnight birth of Odunayo Muhammed to a Nigerian immigrant couple, Christiana and Abdul Muhammed. Later he learned that the doctor who reported the birth online had missed the contest’s 6 a.m. deadline on Jan. 1 by an hour and a half.

As for a mother’s legal status, Mr. Pedersen added, “We wouldn’t have even thought of that.”


The Mallard Has Landed

Richard writes to tell me that he is in Beijing, safe and sound, and that it’s not even too wretchedly cold, so I don’t know if he’s broken out the Mighty Parka or not. But because of the earthquake internet mess, he’s unable to access the site, either to post or to read.

So, here’s a shout out to any and all interested guest bloggers – I’m only good for a post every day or two, and that’s not going to keep the ducklings fed.

Besides, I want to see if anyone can top Dave’s ramen post and the comments it generated for the coveted “Most Beverages Snorted Through My Nose While Reading” award.


Things fall apart?

Yeah, another one of those “Cycle of Funk” articles, to quote davesgonechina…but here goes…

British writer Will Hutton began research for his upcoming book on China’s astounding economic and political rise believing that “China was so different that it could carry on adapting its model, living without democracy or European enlightenment values.” In the course of his research, he changed his mind. After detailing the staggering growth of China’s economy, the global reach of its political power, the abandonment of anything resembling Maoist doctrine, Hutton concludes:

But for all that, it remains communist. The maxims of Marxist-Leninst-Maoist thought have to stand, however much the party tries to stretch the boundaries, because they are the basis for one-party rule. Yet the system so spawned is reaching its limits. For example, China’s state-owned and directed banks cannot carry on channelling hundreds of billions of pounds of peasant savings into the financing of a frenzy of infrastructure and heavy industrial investment. The borrowers habitually pay interest only fitfully, and rarely repay the debt, even as the debt mountain explodes. The financial system is vulnerable to any economic setback.

Equally, China is reaching the limits of the capacity to increase its exports, which, in 2007, will surpass $1 trillion, by 25 per cent a year. At this rate of growth, they will reach $5 trillion by 2020 or sooner, representing more than half of today’s world trade. Is that likely? Are there ships and ports on sufficient scale to move such volumes – and will Western markets stay uncomplainingly open? Every year, it is also acquiring $200bn of foreign exchange reserves as it rigs its currency to keep its exports competitive. Can even China insulate its domestic financial system from such fantastic growth in its reserves and stop inflation rising? Already, there are ominous signs that inflationary pressures are increasing.

Hutton goes on to discuss China’s environmental crisis, which has been covered here on so many occasions that I don’t think it’s necessary to restate it now. His basic argument is that “it is the lack of independent scrutiny and accountability that lie behind the massive waste of investment and China’s destruction of its environment alike.”

Enterprises are accountable to no one but the Communist party for their actions; there is no network of civil society, plural public institutions and independent media to create pressure for enterprises to become more environmentally efficient. Watchdogs, whistleblowers, independent judges and accountable government are not just good in themselves as custodians of justice; they also keep capitalism honest and efficient and would curb environmental costs that reach an amazing 12 per cent of GDP. As importantly, they are part of the institutional network that constitutes an independent public realm that includes free intellectual inquiry, free trade unions and independent audit. It is this ‘enlightenment infrastructure’ that I regard in both the West and East as the essential underpinning of a healthy society. The individual detained for years without a fair trial is part of the same malign system that prevents a company from expecting to be able to correct a commercial wrong in a court, or have a judgment in its favour implemented, if it were against the party interest.

The impact is pernicious. The reason why so few Britons can name a great Chinese brand or company, despite China’s export success, is that there aren’t any. China needs to build them, but doing that in a one-party authoritarian state, where the party second-guesses business strategy for ideological and political ends, is impossible. In any case, nearly three-fifths of its exports and nearly all its hi-tech exports are made by non-Chinese, foreign firms, another expression of China’s weakness. The state still owns the lion’s share of China’s business and what it does not own, it reserves the right to direct politically.

Hutton believes that the world cannot afford a China that dominates the globe without achieving some form of democratic transformation. From what I can suss out about him, he’s no neocon; he’s also no cultural relativist and makes a strong case for the superiority – and universality – of Western enlightenment values, which he believes China desperately needs to achieve its stated “peaceful rise”:

Britain and the West take our enlightenment inheritance too easily for granted, and do not see how central it is to everything we are, whether technological advance, trust or well-being. We neither cherish it sufficiently nor live by its exacting standards. We share too quickly the criticism of non-Western societies that we are hypocrites. What China has taught me, paradoxically, is the value of the West, and how crucial it is that we practise what we preach. If we don’t, the writing is on the wall – for us and China.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Nowhere in Hutton’s piece does he make a case that certain traditional Chinese values might be advantageous or even virtuous in the modern world (in fact, quite the opposite). I can’t help it – I’m a good liberal, and this makes me uncomfortable. I’d venture, a little tentatively, since this is only a small excerpt from a much longer work, that this lack and even downright dismissal of 5,000 years of cultural traditions somewhat undercuts Hutton’s larger argument.

I will say, however, that my first time in China, back in the beginning days of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, gave me an appreciation for the American Constitution, Bill of Rights and the rule of law that I’d never had before. And also, as Hutton states, the absolute necessity of following our own values.

As for China’s future, Hutton concludes:

My belief is that what is unsustainable is not sustained. Change came in the Soviet Union with the fifth generation of leaders after the revolution; the fifth generation of China’s leaders succeed today’s President Hu Jintao in 2012. No political change will happen until after then, but my guess is that sometime in the mid to late 2010s, the growing Chinese middle class will want to hold Chinese officials and politicians to account for how they spend their taxes and for their political choices. What nobody can predict is whether that will produce another Tiananmen, repression and maybe war if China’s communists pick a fight to sustain legitimacy at home or an Eastern European velvet revolution and political freedoms.

So what do you think?

UPDATE – okay, I’m a little embarrassed – Jeremiah posted about this guy before, which I only discovered because the Monster of Blogging Productivity that is China Law Blog just posted about this article too..


Put the Kettle On For Momofuku Ando

The One, The Only, The Original ChikinMomofuku Ando, inventor of instant ramen, has died. A Japanese hybrid of Godzilla and Ray Kroc, Momofuku’s Nissin Foods burst on the scene in 1958 with “Chikin Ramen” – as a luxury item, no less. Yes, those Cups O’ Noodles that fueled exam cramming or unemployment were considered Space Age food for a world that was so on the cusp of providing you a flying car, jetpack AND DisneyMars that you could taste it. And it tasted like “Chikin”, apparently.

Born in Taiwan with the name 吴百福, or Wu Baifu, Momofuku went to Japan when he was orphaned as a small child. His dream of creating an instant meal in a disposable cup has often been credited to his life growing up in wartime, but it might just as equally have been driven by a hatred of Japanese prison food when he served two years for tax evasion. Momofuku’s product was laughed at by a food industry full of snobby, cigar-chomping, poisonous-blowfish-sushi-eating elites who called it a novelty. But as his company, Nissin Foods, so rightly points out on his bio page:

“They had never been so wrong.”

The competition responded quickly, however, and the bloody Instant Ramen Wars have continued to the present day. Momofuku Ando was always at the front line, even getting his noodles into space, and Japanese Prime Ministers for years have gone to pay their respects at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry for years has demanded that, in the event that Momofuku wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, that it be rightfully identified as a Chinese Nobel Prize since he was born in Taiwan. While China produces half the worlds ramen, using 1/10 of its wheat, it still lags behind more developed nations in ramen consumption, an embarassing fourth after South Korea, Japan and Indonesia. This is partly blamed on Mao’s “Let One Hundred Kettles Whistle” Campaign, which ended up re-educating China’s ramen-enjoying population at Lanzhou Noodle Camps. Later, during the Great Leap Forward, ramen bricks were melted down having been mistaken for steel wool.

Chinese university students will be asked to put down their little plastic forks on Monday morning during a moment of silence for the man that has kept them from starving during their Gao Kao examinations, until the flag is lowered and the kettle whistles.

If you wish to take ramen in Ando’s honor, Ramenlovers.Blogspot.Com has been reviewing the noodle since late 2005.


Panic Attack

Last night I hit a new record with 2.5 hours of sleep. I still haven’t processed it, that as of tomorrow night I’ll be living in Beijing. I haven’t felt this nervous in years. I’m still not sure exactly why.

Today a bunch of friends and clients from work are giving a party for me at the new Din Tai Feng (3pm if you’re around). I am now fully realizing just how much I will miss Taipei. What spectacular people, what a great place to live. What an amazing 1.3 years. Well, on to the next adventure. I am excited about it, but also apprehensive, more so than I’d expected. One slow step at a time. Takr a deep breath….


“She’s just another blogger”

No, she isn’t. She is a power-drunk populist who can whip up the masses, generate blog and media storms, and ignite false memes that lead directly to action that is bad for everyone, though especially for the victims of her rage. Go here for the complete story. It is a superb indictment of the right-wing noise machine’s ability to spread blatant falsehoods and endanger innocent people’s lives. Money quote:

In other words, [Jamil] Hussein is being arrested only because Malkin and her cohorts raised a ruckus questioning his very existence. As Lindsay says, maybe she can interview Hussein in his jail cell while she’s there on her upcoming trip.

In other words, Malkin and her friends have successfully criminalized the flow of any information outside of official Iraqi channels.

Nice going, gang. I’m sure the reporters on the ground in Baghdad will thank you for that.

This masterpiece led me to another masterpiece with lots of black humor and juicy quotes that demonstrate the wingnuts’ utter lack of shame or morality. Follow the links…. And never tell me she’s just an ordinary blogger. True, she’s a blogger, but she’s also a menace to society and a quintessential demagogue.

Update: Purely hilarious. Oh, the power of irony. Now, if only the story were a bit less tragic….


Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Howard French has a new piece on the contradictions of modern China. These are all familiar themes, mostly of the “beneath the glittering surface lurk serious problems” variety, but French summarizes them well. The key graphs:

The intent here is not to slight China’s economic achievement, which in the past quarter-century has truly been all but miraculous. The point is to say that so much remains to be done here, including most of the hard work.

China’s outstanding tasks tend to be of the kind that evade quick and simple measurement and will certainly not loom large in the calculations of the graph paper and ruler gang.

The people who inhabit the world’s oldest unitary state have a common nationality, but they have yet to construct commonly held bonds of citizenship, which allow for the sharing of other people’s problems and of each other’s dreams.

The road thus far for China has been built on an official religion: the cult of GDP growth. China has built roads and buildings in dizzying quantities. And at the individual level, Chinese people are acquiring things just as fast as they can, but there seems to be little other rhyme or reason to life here for the time being.

The predominant reason for this is the government, which reserves for itself the right to proclaim causes and strikes down anyone who insists on articulating a different agenda too loudly. Similarly, it tightly controls the right of association, meaning that any group of any size must be organized under the government’s aegis.

The result is an atrophied sense of the individual and of civic participation, from which the country and its people are just now awakening, and not a moment too soon.

Sounds about right to me.



I’m off, yet again. Not sure when I’ll be back, maybe not until next week when I’m back in China. Stay tuned.


Thomas Friedman: A Hanging and a Funeral

This is well, well worth a read. Saved as a Word file.

Money quote is right up front:

The more I read about the hasty, quasi-legal maneuvers used by Iraq’s Shiite leaders to rush Saddam to the gallows on a Muslim holiday, Id al-Adha, and the more I watched the grainy cellphone video of the event, in which a guard is heard taunting Saddam with chants of ‘Moktada! Moktada’ – the Shiite cleric whose death squads have killed hundreds of Sunnis – and the more I read of the insults Saddam spat back, the more it resembled a tribal revenge ritual rather than the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated.

Remember, those chants of “Moktada” are in celebration of the true victor here, a man who is dedicated to killing our troops and supporting Shiite death squads. And still some say it was all worth it?


Holiday Movies

A quickie.

I saw three movies this week, Blood Diamond, The Good Shepherd and Apocalypto. I only saw Apocalypto because it was the only thing that fit with our schedule yesterday. Predictably, it was your usual Mel Gibson fare – endless violence, unnecessary gore and men in loin cloths being beaten, maimed, sliced and battered into bloody pulps. Like The Passion, it was technically superb – great cinematography and soundtrack, and tight editing and direction that keeps you riveted, if somewhat disgusted. A few times I simply laughed out loud at the frivolous mayhem. It’s not enough to show a man’s head split open with a primitive weapon. No; Gibson has to show us the blood spraying upward and outward like Old Faithful for a full 30 seconds. We see a very busy executioner lopping off the heads of captured indians and hurtling them down the steps of a pyramid as if they were discarded cabbages. The camera follows the heads as they bounce down in a ghastly ballet. Once was enough to get the point here, but Gibson has to milk the mayhem for maximum effect for as long as he can get away with it. We get to see at least three separate beheadings and rolling heads, and, as an added bonus, we get to watch two men having their hearts ripped out of their bodies; the men gape in horror at their own hearts beating in the executioner’s bloody hand. The hero, just like the hero of The Passion, withstands hideous injuries that no human being could possibly endure. At one point a spear plunges through his back , half of it popping out his chest. But not to worry; the hero puts a determined look on his face and with a deft flick of the wrist he pulls the spear out of his body, blithely tosses it aside and keeps on running. The same when an arrow slices through his shoulder. It makes no difference; like the Eveready bunny he just he keeps going, killing off the enemy all along the way. See it for the silly fun of it – but think of it as a comedy and little else. It’s the only way to keep from getting seriously disturbed by Gibson’s grisly obsession with torture, suffering, bloody entrails and death.

Blood Diamond. Leonardo Dicaprio proves once more that he is the greatest young actor of our times in a film that is as intelligent as Apocalypto is depraved. The thrills come quick and furious, and yet the action is never frivolous or unnecessary. This is an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a very serious message and magnificent performances. I haven’t been so mesmerized by a film in a long time. Don’t miss it.

Last of all is The Good Shepherd, which in its own way is as engaging as Blood Diamond, though it is no thriller. It is a grim, dark and thoroughly depressing examination of what the CIA is, how it came to be and how it works. I loved every moment of it, though it was a trial to sit through. There is no comic relief, no moment of lightness, no jokes. Indeed, not a single character in the entire movie is likable – each is despicable in his own unique way. I love my country but I am aware of its many mistakes and injustices. One of the things I love most about America is that we are free to make movies like this chronicling some of our government’s ugliest chapters. Sometimes, we can even hold the perpetrators to account. I hate that the issue at hand – the dangers of a CIA that answers to no one and sees itself as a god – has worsened under the current administration, but I am still very happy that we can discuss these things and make popular movies about them and blog about them. I respect the fact that we learn about the CIA’s connivance in Chile and Guatemala in college, and that the truth in America so often comes to the surface. Still, there’s a lot about out government not to like, and a lot of people have no idea what the CIA’s sordid story is. They, and everyone else in America and on the planet, should see The Good Shepherd. It’s a great movie.

Okay, back to my race to pack my things and get ready for the big trip tomorrow afternoon. There may be an opportunity for one more post before i go to the airport if I don’t keel over from stress. After that, there will probably be precious little for several days as I gather my things in Taipei and then get set up in Beijing.

Update: Damn, how could I forget?? I also saw The Queen last week, a movie I was expecting to be bored by. Instead, i was thoroughly entertained, enchanted and absorbed. Presuming that the script is a true representation of actual events, I had no idea of how nobly the newly elected Tony Blair rose to the occasion of dealing with Diana’s death. He, as well as the queen herself, emerge as true heroes at the end of this film (though Prince Philip does not). This was another thinking man’s movie, poignant and intelligent and subtle, enhanced by performances that should win some major awards. Throughout, I couldn’t help but wonder how Blair let himself get suckered by a smaller, less experienced leader, thus ensuring his political ruin. By hitching his star to Iraq, Blair destroyed his career and reputation, and robbed his people of a prime minister who showed incredible promise and skill. Iraq is like the plague, infecting everything and everyone it touches. What a tragedy, and how foolish of Blair to keep standing up for it. See The Queen, and remember how splendid a job Blair did before embracing the tar baby of Iraq. Remember, and weep.