Shenzhen Ren on Cantonese soup

Shenzhen Ren comes up with an excellent post about a subject of which I know quite a lot – the famed soups of Guangdong. Particularly the ones prepared with Chinese medicine:

One of the under-appreciated varieties of Chinese food is the soup they make here in Guangdong. It’s a specialty, and I don’t know all the secrets, but one important point, maybe THE most important, is that they’re made with Chinese “medicine”. Now, I don’t mean bear gallstones or deer penis, nothing exotic like that, but there is a selection of roots, berries, and….substances….added that is actually healthful, and I can tell the difference. Call it a tonic effect, but I do seem to suffer less exhaustion or stomach upset if I eat the Guangdong soups regularly. There’s a gnarly root sort of thing, and something that looks like a thin slice of wood, some little red raisin-like things (I think they’re Chinese wolfberries), and some smaller stalks that are all included.

Guangdong soups are boiled for many hours. Traditionally, in huge soup kettles which usually stood outside of the restaurant, though such a sight is rare these days. The deep meaty flavour of the soups mainly comes from the long boiling of animal bones, as well as the addition of vegetables, roots and herbs. Small blocks of congealed pigs and chickens blood are probably the most common “unidentifiable” floating in the soups.

When in Guangdong, always go for soup – they are consistently excellent. As well as medical soups, also try the medicinal wine – alcohol with traditional medicine added for up to several years. If you have a small medical complaint (upset stomach, tiredness, insomnia etc.) be assured that traditional restaurants will have a remedy. It normally works as well.


‘Hole in the head’ operations for addiction resumed

Drug addiction is a terrible thing. Mostly with uppers and hallucinogens, it’s easy to form a phychological dependence. Those who regularly use so-called ‘clubbing’ drugs often feel that they can’t enjoy themselves without them. Bad, but that pales in comparison to heroin/opiate addiction. Opiate addiction creeps up on you, quickly develops into a physical dependence and starts to systematically ruin your life as well as your body. Withdrawal from opiate addiction drags you through hell itself (both physically and mentally) making it almost impossible to quit.

China is no stranger to the scourge of heroin addiction. Available throughout the country for around 400 Yuan per gramme (about 8-10 injections, or 2-3 days worth for an addict). Therefore, a few years ago Chinese doctors invented a new treatment for drug addiction. It involved inserting a hot needle through the skull and burning away part of the brain:

A thin surgical needle is slowly inserted deep into the brain, where it is heated to a temperature of up to 80C and kept inside for seven days by use of a surgical clamp applied around the head. The needle is removed, destroying – if all has gone to plan – that part of the brain linked to addictions and cravings.

However, this time last year, and after approximately 500 of the operations, the health ministry banned the procedure citing mixed results. The side effects included loss of memory, weakened sex drive and extreme mood swings. In some cases, the personalities of the patients markedly changed. However, the ‘hole in the head’ operations have now resumed again as part of a controlled experiment at a hospital in Xian.

Chinese drug addicts and their desperate families had been willing to pay thousands of pounds for the treatment – pioneered, but then banned, in Russia – in the belief that it would cure them.

Dr Gao admitted that early attempts at treatment failed – one of his first patients went back on drugs within a week – but said the technique had now been vastly improved.

Read the article for individual reports of successes and failures. The treatment appears to have a positive effect on the cravings of some former addicts, but at a cost. From what I understand, the inner workings of the human brain remain a mystery to science. Therefore, it looks like Chinese doctors are literally poking around in the dark with this one.

I’m all for progress but I can’t help thinking that a monitored programme of oral Methadone solution (an artificial drug that mimicks heroin in the body) remains a far better alternative that this ‘hole in the head’ operation (Methdone programmes are available at all Chinese hospitals). Also, at just a couple of dollars per 10ml bottle, a lot cheaper as well.


Chinese teens lipsynch Backstreet Boys

They want it that way. Very well done and worth a look. (I read about this weeks ago but only saw it today.)

Thanks to the reader for the tip! I needed a smile this morning.


The Fall of Japan?

(cross-posted at the paper tiger)

In general I’ve avoided the topic of anti-Japanese sentiments in China. It’s such a hot-button issue that it’s difficult to have any real debate that doesn’t deteriorate into a lot of shouting and slogans. But these two articles, dealing with Japan’s increasing isolation from the rest of Asia, are worrying on many levels.

First up is an article from the UK Guardian that explores the connection between China’s rise and increasing Japanese nationalism:

When Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister, secured his dramatic and overwhelming victory in September’s general election, its significance was generally interpreted as a victory for his programme of privatisation and deregulation. This, however, is secondary. Far more important to Japan’s future is Koizumi’s implicit and incipient nationalism. This was demonstrated again on October 17 with his latest visit to the Yasukuni shrine, where class A war criminals are honoured, despite the opposition of China and South Korea and the wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China earlier this year.

Little is made too explicit in Japanese society, but the new cabinet, which Koizumi announced last week, spoke volumes about both his intentions and likely future trends in Japan. The two top positions, chief cabinet secretary and foreign minister, were given to Shinzo Abe, the man most likely to succeed Koizumi when his term finishes next September, and Taro Aso respectively. Both are rightwing nationalists and both, like Koizumi, are regular visitors to Yasukuni. This is the first time that the three key positions in the cabinet have been occupied by such figures. The previous cabinet secretary, who had opposed Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, was dropped from the cabinet and the former foreign minister, who did not visit Yasukuni, lost his position.

One might think that this is to read too much into such visits to the shrine. On the contrary, they are symbolic acts, an expression of how Japan’s past and future should be seen, and as such a deliberate, if coded, signal to the Japanese. Nor are these visits naive or innocent in the message they send to China and South Korea. Koizumi may express the view that they do not give offence to these countries but he knows that they do. And this, indeed, is their very intention. The more these countries protest, the more likely it is that Koizumi will continue to visit the shrine. He is laying down a marker – for the Japanese and to the Chinese and Koreans. Japan’s future is already beginning to take shape.

The causes of growing Japanese nationalism may be diverse, but they are increasingly driven by one overwhelming factor: a fear of the rise of China. That is the only way the behaviour of Koizumi and the other leading lights in the Liberal Democratic party can be understood. It could be different. China, widely credited with having pulled Japan out of its long-running recession, represents an enormous economic opportunity for Japan, and is already Japan’s largest trading partner. But far more powerful forces than mere economics are at work. Ever since the Meiji restoration in 1868, Japan has turned its back on Asia in general and China in particular: its pattern of aggression from 1895 onwards and the colonies that resulted were among the consequences.

To engage with China requires Japan to come to terms with its past, and Koizumi’s visits to the shrine represent a symbolic refusal to do so. Japan is stuck in its past, and its past now threatens to define its future and that of east Asia. Even during the postwar period, when Japan dominated east Asia economically and China was weak and self-absorbed, it never had an influence commensurate with its economic strength. The reason was simple: its failure to atone for its past and embrace a new kind of relationship with its wronged and distrustful neighbours. If Japan could not do it then, it is even less likely to do it in the face of a resurgent China that is rapidly displacing it as the economic and political fulcrum of east Asia.

Even more alarming in this context is the increasingly close alliance that Japan is forming with the United States:

Earlier this year Japan affirmed, for the first time, its willingness to support the US in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. It has also agreed to work with the US to develop and finance a missile-defence system whose intention is clearly the containment of China. It is not difficult to see the early signs of a new cold war in east Asia, with Japan and the US on one side and China on the other.

I think this fear is somewhat overstated. The United States simply has too much of an economic stake in China, and vice-versa. Regardless of neo-con posturing on both sides, China and the US are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship that if broken, will damage both parties (granted, I may be giving too much credit to the power of rational thinking here). And it’s not clear to me what the greatest danger of a nationalistic Japan might be to its Asian neighbors (ideas, anyone? I don’t see Japan invading Manchuria again any time soon). I wonder if the greatest danger of this sort of isolation is to Japan itself, both economically and spiritually. What this New York Times article says about certain strains in Japanese culture is both alarming and deeply sad:

A young Japanese woman in the comic book “Hating the Korean Wave” exclaims, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!” In another passage the book states that “there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of.”

In another comic book, “Introduction to China,” which portrays the Chinese as a depraved people obsessed with cannibalism, a woman of Japanese origin says: “Take the China of today, its principles, thought, literature, art, science, institutions. There’s nothing attractive.”

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan’s fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan’s worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan’s longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain’s apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan’s history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea’s rise to challenge Japan’s position as Asia’s economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

There are so many offensive stereotypes and outright falsehoods in these books that I’ll stick to the Chinese volume:

The book describes China as the “world’s prostitution superpower” and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, “I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China.”

The book waves away Japan’s worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army’s Unit 731 – which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners – was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

So does all this justify the recent, and sometimes violent, anti-Japanese demonstrations in China? A cautionary note: one of the book’s authors, Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who has lived in Japan for forty years, credits the demonstrations with boosting his sales to past the one million mark:

“I have to thank China, really,” Mr. Ko said. “But I’m disappointed that the sales of my books could have been more than one or two million if they had continued the demonstrations.”

Thanks to David in the UK for the Guardian article!


Bird flu spreading in China’s poultry

What a nightmare. At least they seem to be talking about it.

China said Friday that bird flu is spreading among its poultry flocks despite mammoth efforts to control the disease, while leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit warned that greater vigilance is needed to prevent more human infections….

The near-daily reports of new bird flu outbreaks in China point to the challenges in controlling the virulent virus. Hundreds of millions of birds have been vaccinated, yet the government reported two new poultry outbreaks Friday — bringing to 15 the number of cases it has confirmed since Oct. 19.

In the hard-hit northeastern province of Liaoning, nearly 1 million officials were fanning out to enforce anti-flu controls, which include mandatory poultry vaccinations and twice-daily health checks for all villagers who live near the sites of outbreaks — 72,000 people in all, authorities said at a news conference this week.

Officials have been ordered: “If you get too tired to do your job, close your eyes for a moment and then get back to work,” said Zhou Liwei, a Liaoning government spokesman.

I really hope this doesn’t turn into another SARS scare. Even if the threat to humans is over-rated as some claim, a major scare will devastate China’s economy and bring another round of misery to the region. Then you get the aftershocks (empty hotels, layoffs, recession, fear), and I never want to see China go through that again.


China fears U.S.-inspired “c0lour rev0lution”

The People’s Daily recently blasted the US media for shaking the “ideological mindsets and cultural foundations” of other countries by exporting US-style values of “freed0m and dem0cracy”. High praise indeed.

Also, a recent edition of the CCP publication ‘Foreign Theoretical Trends’ stated that U.S. had been using “street politics” to push western interests and “c0lour rev0lutions” around the world. “Facing US cultural hegemony’s assaults and infiltration, we must be serious and vigilant” said the official magazine. Soon afterwards, Beijing also scrapped plans to allow foreign newspapers to print in China. Mr. Shi Zongyuan, China’s top press regulator stated: “When I think of the ‘c0lour rev0lutions’, I feel afraid.”

The term “c0lour rev0lutions” refers to the popular protests (so-called because of flower symbols adopted by the masses) that recently toppled authoritarian governments, such as Georgia’s in 2003.

Beijing is taking the threat of “c0lour rev0lutions” as seriously as the 1989 collapse of c0mmunism. Certainly, it doesn’t take much for Beijing to consider something as a threat (quasi-religious elderly Qigong practicioners spring to mind) but to lay the recent “c0lour rev0lutions” at the feet of the U.S. and its values of ‘freed0m and dem0cracy’ (nevermind the U.S. media) can only be wishful thinking. After all, the U.S. and, to a lessor extent, the E.U., can hardly be credited with the ability to whip up large sections of a foreign population against its own government, quite the opposite in fact.

Nevertheless, increased supression of d1ssidents, Internet restrictions, SMS monitoring etc. all continue here in China, and in a clear warning to China’s more liberal-minded officials, the CCP recently announced stricter rules to safeguard “national cultural security” by limiting foreign involvement in the media market.

On a slightly more cheerful note, some media reports have, however, stated that despite the recent increase in domestic political freed0ms, there is little sign that fears of a Chinese “c0lour rev0lution” are changing China’s basic commitment to economic reform and further opening of its economy.

(Apologies for the excessive ‘ed1ting’ of sensitive ‘w0rds’ – Baidu searches for ‘c0lour rev0lution’ are not permitted here).


Allegations of abuse at Chinese sports school

British Olympic rowing great Sir Matthew Pinsent recently visited Beijing’s Shichahai Sports School (a special school that trains gymnasts). In a subsequent BBC report, he alledged abuse of the students and a harsh Soviet-era ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality at the school.

“It was a pretty disturbing experience. I know it is gymnastics and that sport has to start its athletes young but I have to say I was really shocked by some of what was going on. I was wondering whether the western approach compared to the eastern approach is a bit different but I do think those kids are being abused.”

“When I talked to the vice principals they said hitting was against the law, but then there were parents who want you to do it. They said this is what they needed to do to make them hard.”

One boy at the school admitted that beatings were sometimes administered following serious mistakes but went on to say that it only meant that the coaches cared about them. Perhaps shockingly, China has more than 4,000 similar sporting schools training potential Olympic medal winners.

The school’s director, Mr. Liu Hongbin, responded by declaring the need for “discipline and order” among his young charges and that sometimes beating children was necessary to improve performance. Another offcial was quoted as saying: “This is the breeding ground of our Olympic heroes. They make us proud of being Chinese.”

The I.O.C. expressed concern about the reports but refused to condemn China, saying that people should not jump to conclusions. The British Olympic Association also distanced itself and refused to discuss Chinese methods. Only the International Gymnastics Federation said that they would talk to the Chinese about the allegations.

If widespread, then certainly China’s ultra-strict methods are not for the faint-hearted. However, where does one draw the line? At what point does one accept cultural differences and/or declare outrage at the beatings of children and a Soviet-type quest for national glory? Certainly, schools like the one Sir Matthew describes are a far cry from the famed and much-envied Australian sporting academies of excellence which have made the country a dominant force in many sports. Is it naive for Sir Matthew to question his earlier belief that giving the Games to China would help open up the country to the rest of the world and have a positive overall effect?

UPDATE: Britain’s culture secretary Tessa Jowell has advised a full investigation into the allegations: “”We simply can not have young people in a sense being sacrificed in the interests of medal glory.”


It’s not just the left

This will make the war bloggers bristle. From the quite conservative NRO:

Don’t know how many of you caught Rep. John Murtha’s very angry, very moving speech just now in which he called on the White House to institute an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. CNN didn’t air the entire thing, but as I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he’s a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party. Murtha, a conservative Dem who voted for the war, talked in detail about the sacrifices being borne by our soldiers and their families, and about his visits out to Walter Reed to look after the maimed, and how we’ve had enough, it’s time to come home. He was hell on the president too.

If tough, non-effete guys like Murtha are willing to go this far, and can make the case in ways that Red America can relate to — and listening to him talk was like listening to my dad, who’s about the same age, and his hunting buddies — then the president is in big trouble. I’m sure there’s going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.

Let the swiftboating of Murtha begin! But mark my words, this may well be a turning point. Murtha is not Cindy Sheehan, and the usual anti-liberal invective won’t stick in this case.


Liu Qibing: China’s Nick Leeson?

Readers may have noticed ACB‘s first comment on the current open thread regarding the whereabouts of a Mr. Liu Qibing – a London-based copper futures trader who worked for China’s State Reserve Bureau (SRB) at the London Metal Exchange. Mr. Liu gambled that copper prices would fall – and stands to lose a huge Nick Leeson-esque amount of money after the gamble backfired spectacularly. He then mysteriously disappeared.

China’s consumption of copper has surged 23% over the last two years (compared with 10% globally) and China’s growth has played a large part in driving up world prices.

Reports are contradictory, but all agree that Mr. Liu committed China to sell up to 220,000 tonnes of copper at the end of the year. Mr. Liu, sold the copper at, allegedly, US$3,300 a tonne. He gambled that he would be able to buy it more cheaply when it was needed (known as going “short”). However, this year, copper prices actually increased by 38% (3 month delivery prices recently jumped to US$4,119). As demand is still raging, who knows what the prices will be at the end of year? Therefore, the losses are potentially huge – they could reach the best part of US$1 billion.

No surprise, therefore, that China’s SRB recently started to sell copper openly on the spot and futures markets – trying to drive prices down. A long-held Chinese policy made even more pressing considering recent developments. Also, this very scandal has caused copper prices to rise as speculation continued with regard to China having to buy more copper in order to meet trading commitments.

More intrigue, the SRB, initially denied that Mr Liu existed: “We do not have such a person working for us.” However, that then changed to a statement saying Mr. Li’s actions ‘were the responsibility of this trader and not the SRB’. Nevertheless, despite this wriggling, the debts will have to be met eventually.

In the meantime, poor Mr. Liu is rumoured to be at home in Shanghai. The latest reports claim that the SRB still maintains that Mr. Liu acted independently and they refuse to take responsibility. Meanwhile, other reports add that copper prices may easily climb to over US$4,500 by the end of year.

Update here.


Bob Woodward

I’ve distrusted him for years now, ever since I read his obviously made-up story of an interview with William Casey right before he died. And then there’s the way he always gets himself in the limelight just as he has a new book coming out. Today’s news could be the nail in his coffin. The story of his newly discovered role in Plamegate is being blogged to death everywhere so I won’t reiterate it. Suffice it to say he is shilling for the Bush administration and he can never be trusted again.

Let’s not forget that Woodward has been accused of lying, sensationalizing and witholding news many times in the past.

Woodward’s dual role as newspaper journalist and book author has opened him up to occasional criticism for sitting on information for publication in a book, rather than presenting it sooner when it might affect the events at hand. In The Commanders (1991), for instance, he indicated that Colin Powell had opposed Operation Desert Storm, yet Woodward did not publish this fact before Congress voted on a war resolution, when it may have made a difference. And in Veil he indicates William Casey personally knew of arms sales to the contras but he did not reveal this until after the Congressional investigation.

Woodward has also been accused of exaggeration and fabrication by other journalists, most notably regarding Deep Throat, his famous Watergate informant. Before he was revealed to be top FBI official W. Mark Felt, some contended that Deep Throat was a composite character based on more than one Watergate source. Martin Dardis, the chief investigator for the Dade County State Attorney who in 1972 discovered that the money found on the Watergate burglars came from the Committee to Re-elect the President, has complained the book and movie misrepresented him. Woodward was also criticized for his deathbed interview with the now-deceased former CIA Director William J. Casey. Critics have said that Woodward’s interview with Casey simply could not have taken place as written in the book Veil, and that he fabricated the scene. And an investigation by the New York Review of Books found that Woodward fabricated a sensational story about Justice Brennan in The Brethren, among other issues.

What Woodward did is inexcusable, right up there with Judy Miller – sucking up to and protecting at all costs their “sources” at the expense of the readers they’re supposed to be serving. To borrow a phrase from Kos, “Screw them.”