Tag Archives: Chinese


The future of Chinese language learning

Victor Mair has some compelling thoughts on the Language Log on the future of Chinese language learning, and how we might soon be rid of brute force “rote memorization (sǐbèi/jì 死背/記 [lit., "deadly memorization"]).”

When I began learning Mandarin nearly half a century ago, I knew exactly how I wanted to acquire proficiency in the language.  Nobody had to tell me how to do this; I knew it instinctively.  The main features of my desired regimen would be to:

1. pay little or no attention to memorizing characters (I would have been content with actively mastering 25 or so very high frequency characters and passively recognizing at most a hundred or so high frequency characters during the first year)

2. focus on pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, particles, morphology, syntax, idioms, patterns, constructions, sentence structure, rhythm, prosody, and so forth — real language, not the script

3. read massive amounts of texts in Romanization and, if possible later on (after about half a year when I had the basics of the language nailed down), in character texts that would be phonetically annotated

The problem was that all of my language teachers insisted that I memorize hundreds of characters right from the very start.

How shall we use these marvelous tools, and what are their implications for Chinese language teaching / learning?  I could expatiate on the virtues of these new applications for days, but here I shall merely outline them under several points:

1. they will eliminate the need for the dreaded, boring, antiquated, stifling tīngxiě 听 写 / 聽寫 (“dictation”) exercises

2. they will banish the fear of character amnesia (electronic devices are already writing our characters for us)

3. they will enable students to read massive amounts of quality texts on the widest possible variety of subjects without having to endure the agony and drudgery of looking up characters by radicals, stroke order, shape, etc. — I wasted years of my life on exactly those tasks — and it is precisely the reading of large quantities of real Chinese that facilitates the acquisition of a confident Sprachgefühl for the language in diverse contexts

Read the full article.

Inspiration for the future of cars from resource-constrained vendors in China

China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring cars designed for Western users do not always appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers.

Zach Hyman, an ethnographer based in China, has been researching the creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. In Zach’s latest fieldwork update on Ethnography Matters, he shares with us some of his observations.

He notices that people combine naturally found objects, like bamboos, with trucks to navigate the hilly city and narrow alleyways of Chongqing.

One way Chongqing stands out from most other major Chinese cities is geographically – the city’s notorious hills lead to the near non-existence of cyclists and, as a friend here says, “forces one to navigate in three dimensions”. The bang bang jun (棒棒军lit. “stick soldiers”) make their living using a length of bamboo with an attached rope to carry everything from groceries to refrigerators up and down the city’s steep streets for families and businesses alike. In conjunction with 3-wheeled vehicles, prized for their ability to enter narrow alleys where conventional delivery trucks wouldn’t fit, stick soldiers form a formidable duo for local logistics. Oftentimes, one can spy a stick soldier’s trademark bamboo shoulder-pole resting upon the pile of whatever goods fill the rear bed of a 3-wheeled vehicle.

 

While Zach’s observations may seem very disconnected from car design, but it’s important to keep in mind that a deep understanding of people’s current vehicle practices can reveal new insights for developing future vehicles. And maybe those vehicles can challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles.

Read more observations from Zach on Ethnography Matters. 

An infamous Chinese hacker becomes a “security professional”?

image: iDefense

image: iDefense

Up until now, Wicked Rose has been infamous for one thing, being a prolific hacker. He exploited Microsoft Office security holes in the US Defense Department and obtained sensitive data for over two years before being discovered.

But it appears that Wiked Rose is exploring a new career path.

Investigative reporter, Brian Krebs, reports that Wicked Rose, otherwise known as Tan Dailin, has possibly registered an antivirus company, Anvisoft. Krebs explains this discovery and the maze he went through to track the site to Wicked Rose:

A quick review of the Web site registration records for anvisoft.com indicated the company was located in Freemont, Calif. And a search on the company’s brand name turned up trademark registration records that put Anvisoft in the high-tech zone of Chengdu, a city in the Sichuan Province of China.

Urged on by these apparent inconsistencies, I decided to take a look back at the site’s original WHOIS records, using the historical WHOIS database maintained by domaintools.com. For many months, the domain’s registration records were hidden behind paid WHOIS record privacy protection services. But in late November 2011 — just prior to Anvisoft’s official launch — that WHOIS privacy veil was briefly lowered, revealing this record:

Registrant:
   wth rose
   Moor Building  ST Fremont. U.S.A
   Fremont, California 94538
   United States
Administrative Contact:
      rose, wth  wthrose@gmail.com
      Moor Building  ST Fremont. U.S.A
      Fremont, California 94538
      United States
      (510) 783-9288

A few days later, the “wth rose” registrant name was replaced with “Anvisoft Technology,” and the wthrose@gmail.com address usurped by “anvisoftceo@gmail.com” (emails to both addresses went unanswered). But this only made me more curious, so I had a look at the Web server where anvisoft.com is hosted.

Kreb then used a reverse DNS lookup on Anvisoft’s IP address and tracked it down to three other domains that were once registered to the same email at Anvisoft: wthrose@gmail.com. And then he discovered that Anvisoft was once registered under the user name, “tandailin.” Then Kreb made the connection to a name he came across a few years ago:

When I saw that record, I was instantly reminded of an infamous Chinese hacker who went by the name Wicked Rose (a.k.a. “Withered Rose“). In 2007, Verisign’s iDefense released a report (PDF) on Rose’s hacking exploits, which detailed his alleged role as the leader of a state-sponsored, four-man hacking team called NCPH (short for Network Crack Program Hacker).  According to iDefense, in 2006 the group was responsible for crafting a rootkit that took advantage of a zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Word, and was used in attacks on “a large DoD entity” within the USA.

Although Kreb can’t confirm that Wicked Rose started Anvisoft, he raises enough questions to justify a serious inquiry:

This may all be a strange coincidence or hoax. Anvisoft may in fact be a legitimate company, with a legitimate product; and for all I know, it is. But until it starts to answer some basic questions about who’s running the company, this firm is going to have a tough time gaining any kind of credibility or market share.

If Wicked Rose did start Anvisoft, then that mean that he’s abandoned his days of international hacking for a more entrepreneurial life? Has Wicked Rose made an ethical turn?  The writers at Darknet are not as hopeful:

Even so, the evidence that has been turned up so far is far from conclusive and as well know just because this chap was mixed up in some dubious activity a few years back – doesn’t mean he isn’t ethically sound now. Some of the best ‘whitehat’ security folks have some distinctly grey stains on their hats.

But in China, infamous hackers are usually plucked up by the Chinese state for cushy jobs. Could this be a signal that capitalism is competing against the Chinese state for knowledge workers, like Wicked Rose? Or as China continues to prove, the state and the market can always find new ways to operate together.

Where are all the creative Chinese people? hanging out in hacker spaces apparently

Finally we get some sense of history to hackerspaces outside of the West from Silvia Lintner and David Li in their latest co-authored article in Interactions, Created in China.

In September 2010, China’s first hackerspace opened its doors in Shanghai under the name XinCheJian (literal translation: new workshop, or new factory). Only a year after the founding of XinCheJian, the Shanghai government announced a call for proposals to build 100 “innovation houses” (chuangxin wu ) to be supported by government funding. Although the official document [4] described this initiative as part of a larger effort to build a citywide platform for supporting popular science work and innovation, national and international media interpreted this move as an endorsement of China’s fledgling maker culture by Chinese politicians.

They article is more than just a report on hackerspaces. They do several important things. First, they show that Chinese hacker spaces are incredibly politicized on a local level and on a national level. Silvia Lindtner has done a lot of research on the politics of Chinese hacker spaces for her dissertation that is a must-read for the juicy back stories that link hacker spaces to larger national efforts for innovation. In the article, they ask,

What motivated politicians in China to support the growth of a community that has come to be known for its commitments to a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach toward making technologies and to the free and open exchange of knowledge? How does maker culture manifest itself in China, where “making” in the DIY sense collides with China’s image as the world’s largest manufacturer?

They share some details about this politicized space:

Members of the growing scene are not only into making and remaking technologies, organizing workshops, and showcasing their work to others, but also are actively engaged with political debates. For example, the announcement by the Shanghai government to support the establishment of hackerspaces as innovation houses has been the subject of heated debate.

They also connect the hacker space culture to shanzai culture, which is a very important link that reveals the bottom up nature of these spaces.

This form of open source manufacturing has co-evolved with the formation of new production sites, including, for example, counterfeit/copycat design houses. Over the years, these copycat productions have adopted these open source processes and moved beyond simply copying popular brands such as Nokia or Apple. Today they often produce new, consumer-specific products, such as mobile phones with additional features tailored to particular customer segments or location-specific demands. Examples include dual-SIM-card mobile phones that support two operator networks on one device—such as the G5 phone, a made-in-Shenzhen brand for the Indian market—and phones with built-in compasses that are shipped to consumers in the Middle East, who may need to know the direction of Mecca during prayers [11,12]. Many of these innovations were later reappropriated by mainstream mobile manufacturers; for example, in 2010 Nokia launched two dual-SIM mobile phones.

Copycat productions from Shenzhen are often described with the term shanzhai (山寨). However, in the hackerspace community, shanzhai now speaks to a new form of innovation based on the principle of open source manufacturing and continuous remaking. The literal translation of shanzhai is “mountain village” or “mountain stronghold,” the home to bandits or Robin Hood–like figures who oppose and evade corrupted authority. China’s hackerspaces invoke this image of subculture in order to argue for an alternative take on the meaning of copying through the lens of remaking.

In their concluding comments, they make a case that hacker spaces are signs of Chinese people being creative. They are critical of statements that contribute to “cultural stereotypes and extend existing systems of power” that portray Chinese people to be uncreative. They cite  James Landay, a professor who helped lead Microsoft Research Asia’s HCI group in Beijing, in a quote where he says Chinese researchers are not as creative as US researchers.

He [James] argued that “the level of innovation and creativity in this cohort is much lower than in similar cohorts in the U.S. And in fact, the ones that are the best on the ‘creativity’ scale almost invariably are folks who received their Ph.D.s in the U.S./Europe or worked in the U.S./Europe.”

My research on Chinese youth lines up with James’s assessment. In my work, I show that the lack of trust between individuals and social trust with institutions is hindering creativity. The problem is that institutions can really promote or damper the expression of creativity, and in the case of China, its education system (combined with cultural elements and political control) has hindered, not promoted, creativity among Chinese youth. The students WHO DO make it to research labs like the one that James’s was overseeing in Beijing or in more elite positions like running companies aren’t necessarily the most creative ones, they are the most privileged ones and sometimes they are the most knowledgeable ones.

But creativity is not about how much you know, but about how much you can think beyond what you know.

The reality is that Chinese people are not as creative as they could be, for now. There is nothing inherently uncreative about the Chinese. I mean who really thinks that about Chinese people after spending a day on the streets. Migrants and youth all over are doing mind-blowing stuff. China is dripping with creativity as your research confirms. But we aren’t’ seeing the mind-blowing stuff happening within formal spaces.

So where are the creatives in China? I don’t think the future crazy ass disruptive innovators are going to come through Tsinghua, this is not to say that there aren’t brilliant freaking people there doing cool stuff. But the crazy kind of thinking-out-of-the-box-crazy-ass-imaginative-attitude needed for disruptive innovation may be more attracted to space like XinCheJian. Researchers like James work in a very institutional formal place so his assessment makes sense for the kind of researchers who are coming through Microsof. But of course Silvia and David know where the most exciting energy in tech innovation lies – hackerspaces!

That’s why more research like Silvia’s on hacker spaces is super important because it highlights the possibilities for alternative spaces of creativity in China. Hackerspaces promote the exploration of the unknown – their cultures around sharing and teaching all create an informal environment to get people to learn new things. So more research please! Creativity is not dead in China, it’s just happening in informal spaces.

88 Bar Receives Runner Up in Danwei’s Model Worker Award 2012!

Blogs on China have come and gone over the last decade. Then twitter came and everyone stopped blogging in 2006. Long form analysis was shrunken to 140 characters. But then something magical happened, a resurgence of blogs on China bursted onto the internet over the last few years!

One of the longest standing and most important blogs, Danwei, is not only still around, but alive and kicking! Jeremy Goldkorn, the brains behind Danwei, has turned it into a media platform offering consulting services in media analysis and strategic planning.

Since 2005, Danwei has held their annual Model Worker Award. This year, 88 Bar is proud to be a runner up in their  8th Annual Model Worker Awards 2012 for blogs and websites.

So who received the coveted Model Worker Award? We’re glad to say it went to a website that we love, China Smack. Danwei has a great list of other runner-ups and I see some of my personal favorites go-to sites.

  • I’ve been following @blackchinahand since 2005 when we were both blogging activtely. We eventually found each other on twitter and then moved to the same city last year in some province where Westerners are rarely spotted. @blackchinahand also tweets really great updates about basketball.
  •  I also have found Tech Rice to be a great source for tech news. Kai Lukoff, one of the editors, has always been a pleasure to work with!
  • If there’s only one journalist’s blog I could read, it would be Adam Minter’s blog Shanghai Scrap. Adam’s blog is like an off the record blog that is on the record; he writes as if he cares more about pleasing readers instead of journalists. The most memorable moment was when he called out the New York Time’s Sharon LaFraniere and David Barboza for exaggerating or pretty much just conjuring up stories about internet censorship and surveillance.
  • I have a love for group blogs because they give you such a great diversity of opinions through a common framework of values, hence why we have 88 Bar! So one of new favorite group blogs comes from Will Moss and several others, Rectified Name. I also have noticed that a lot of have joined the group model perhaps because we realized they are more sustainable.
  • Tea Leaf Nation is my favorite new blog on the China scene. They have a great group of writers and even better yet, 88 Bar is teaming up with Tea Leaf Nation on guest posts. We just announced our partnership in our first guest post from Liz Carter on the Shifang Cop meme, China’s “Fat Police Officer” Terrorizes Everything [TLN].

 

Blood ties rule China: an interactive map revealing the ruling elite’s relationships

Wall Street Journal has created a wonderful interactive map that traces five generations of  blood ties of China’s ruling elite.

The interactive map accompanies WSJ’s article by Jeremy Page, Children of the Revolution, explains the emergence of “Princelings,”

The offspring of party leaders, often called “princelings,” are becoming more conspicuous, through both their expanding business interests and their evident appetite for luxury, at a time when public anger is rising over reports of official corruption and abuse of power.

A common conversation among Chinese people is the recklessness of children of wealthy government officials, otherwise known as,  富二代. The article points out that even The People’s Daily acknowledged the problem in a poll last year with over 91% of respondents agreeing that wealthy families have political connections.

Soon after the WSJ article was published, a Chinese new site, 看中国, posted an article based off of the details provided by the WSJ article. The Chinese article highlighted the expensive lifestyle of Bo Xilai’s (薄熙来) son, Bo GuaGau (薄瓜瓜).  Bo Guagua went to some of the most expensive elite private schools in the UK, Papplewick and Harrow. He is now studying at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:

2000年,时任大连市长的薄熙来,把他12岁的儿子送到英国名叫“Papplewick”的预科学校。根据该校网站,每年学费22425英镑(约3万5千美元)。
一年后,薄瓜瓜成为中国大陆加入Harrow的第一人。Harrow是英国最高档的私立学校,根据该校网站信息,现在每年学费30930英镑。
2006年,薄熙来时任商务部部长,薄瓜瓜去了英国牛津大学学习哲学、政治和经济。该校现在的花费是每年26000英镑。他现在就学的哈佛肯尼迪政府学院每年花费约7万美元。
It’s good to know that articles such as this WSJ piece are inspiring Chinese writers to report on this topic.
Read  and interact with the full WSJ article here.

*thank you to Chris Chang for referring me to 看中 version of the WSJ article.

Hilarious video & song for learning Chinese