“Fake ladies” dominate China’s “Happy Boy” show

A most interesting article that once again highlights China’s conservatism on the one hand and its tolerance on the other. While I can imagine this sort of thing being seen as cool among some segments of American society, it’s hard to picture weiniang (fake ladies) going mainstream anytime soon. (Then again, Liberace was popular all across America.)

The bottom line is that millions of Chinese youth are celebrating cross-dressing guys, at least some of whom seem to be true transgendereds. They are wildly popular. While there may be examples in the US of toleration for cross-dressers, we’ve never seen it go mainstream like this.

On a separate note, one quote from the article baffled me.

But noted sociologist Gu Xiaoming from Fudan University says weiniang shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

“It used to be a fad even in the Western countries,” Gu says. “In the movie ‘Titanic,’ Leonardo DiCaprio stunned many people with his feminine features.”

Were “many people” really “stunned” by DiCaprio’s “feminine features”? Did he seem at all transgendered or ladylike? I’m not convinced this was a widespread reaction.

Update: Then again, when it comes to other teen-oriented TV shows, the Chinese authorities can show a lots less tolerance.


Cross-dresser Xu Long, who insists he only dresses like a man. You decide.


The joys and the hardships of being a student in China

I am a bit late to this, but please leave this site now and read this delightful, beautifully written post about what it’s like being a student in China. And no, it’s not a story about inhumanly crowded dorms and suicide. It offer a human side to the story, a side that never seems to get into the articles we’re used to seeing in the international media (including the English-language Chinese media). You can go through the trials of the Chinese educational system with your humanity and appreciation of life and love intact.


America’s 50-centers

Fiverr.com is a truly interesting site. People tell you what they can offer you for $5, you tell them the specifics of what you need, and within a day or two they provide it to you. (The provider gets $4; the fiverr administration keeps $1 of every transaction.)

Today, for example, a student (who happened to be Chinese) was offering to take your photo and photoshop it to make you look like a character from Avatar. Someone else was offering “the world’s best barbecue sauce recipe” (and that’s the kind of thing where you can really rack up big money – when it’s something already prepared that you can just email off to lots of curious browsers). Someone else offered to call one of your friends and sing Happy Birthday in Mandarin to them.

A friend introduced me to fiverr just yesterday. Curious about how it worked, I idiotically put up an ad saying I could write a 400-word article on any topic for $5. Within an hour I found myself with three orders for press releases, one about real estate, another about single moms raising young sons and a third about a line of soap products all made from hemp oil. It didn’t take me long to write these, but still, it was worth way more than $5. So I took down my ads. The only way to make money on this site is to have something pre-written that you can then tweak, refashion and recycle for multiple use, like a barbecue recipe. Once you figure out the formula, you can actually make a lot of money.

All of that was a very long-winded way of getting to my very small point: A lot of service providers on fiverr are offering to put up a set number of positive comments on your blog, or to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon. In other words, they are the Made-in-the-USA version of China’s 50-centers, employed by business instead of the government.

I was especially depressed to see the offers to write Amazon book reviews. I write a lot of reviews on Amazon and I work pretty hard on them (most but not all are from reviews I put up here). And, gullible as I am, I take the reviews I read seriously. I had to wonder, how many of these glowing reviews were ordered and manufactured on sites like fiverr?

I’m not really that naive. I was always aware a lot of what we call “word of mouth” has been planted by insidious clever marketers. But it was disheartening for me to see there’s a whole cottage industry dedicated to planting BS reviews, written by anonymous sharks who never even looked at the book they’re raving about. 50-centers; pay per comment, pay per post, pay per review. It was just another reminder that you need to assume just about all the user-generated content you read on the Internet is, or at least might be, bogus. A shame.


Three-hour countdown set to begin

And then I’ll be another year older, based on Phoenix time. You know you’re really getting old when you have to stop and calculate your age.


Where are China’s soccer stars?

It’s true, I almost never post about sports, and it’s safe to say I would never even dream of posting about the coma-inducing sport we Americans call soccer unless it had a strong angle related to my interests, like China. Which brings us to an interesting debate going on over at the NY Times blog as to why China doesn’t play in the World Cup.

I don’t know enough about the game itself or China’s Football Association to offer much wisdom here. But I do know that one of the arguments jumped out at me.

The Chinese men’s soccer team has not been able to improve its world standing in the past two decades for the same reason that its swimming and track and field have not improved….

The Chinese state-supported system works well for sports in which children begin highly specialized training at a very young age, and it produces success in women’s sports because it gives equal support to men and women while most other countries do not.

But that system loses its comparative advantage in men’s sports that have good financial backing in other countries, and it does not work well for sports in which stars emerge slowly from a wide participation base, where talent becomes apparent only as the athletes mature physically.

In January 2009, the revelation of rampant corruption in the professional soccer league partly answered the question of why the Chinese team performed so poorly in the 2008 Olympics. Commentators recognized that one reason for the corruption is that soccer is only partly subject to market forces.

The Chinese Football Association, an organ under the State General Administration for Sport, is responsible for its administration, and the Football Management Center — in theory a “public institution” — is responsible for managing corporate sponsorships and business affairs. But in fact this is a “one office, two signs” situation, which characterizes much of the economic and political system. The same person acts as director of both organs, and where power and money are concentrated in the hands of one person, the system is open to corruption.

Why is there no Chinese soccer team at the World Cup? To answer that question, one has to ask why China has this state-supported system narrowly focused on Olympic medals rather than grassroots sports. The answer is that the sports system –- and Chinese soccer in particular -– are microcosms of China’s current position halfway between a state-planned and market economy.

Interesting to see from this and other arguments that it’s not just the often-cited educational and anthropological factors (relatively little emphasis on problem solving/teamwork, lack of competitive spirit, which, we’re told, is why China sweeps diving and gymnastics but not team sports) but also sociopolitical and economic factors like corruption and an economy that’s still developing.

The comments are worth a glance, too, despite the irritating nationalists on the one hand and the equally irritating “the Chinese aren’t smart enough” jerks on the other. Your typical comment thread on China.