Category Archives: Cultural

U.S. Nuts…The Chinese Want Them

In the grand finale of blog posts on this site (for this course term at least), I have decided to take a light-hearted approach to the serious topic I have been commenting on for the past few months.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Shell Shock: China Demand Reshapes U.S. Pecan Business”, the recent phenomenon of Chinese increased demand for pecans was discussed.

 Pecans are as all-American as anything can be. Washington and Jefferson grew them. They are the state nut of Arkansas, Alabama and Texas. The U.S. grows about two-thirds of the world’s pecans and chews most of them itself.

For generations, pecan prices have fallen with bumper crops and soared with lousy ones. But lately, they’ve only been going up. A pound of pecans in the shell fetched $2.14 on average last year, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture, nearly double what they brought three years earlier.

The reason: The Chinese want our nuts.

Quite honestly when I was reading this article I burst out laughing. Although there is nothing odd about the article, I found the WSJ’s play on words for “the reason” to be quite funny.

All jokes aside however the article was actually very interesting from an economic perspective. Five years ago in China, almonds were considered the preferred nut. However after a string of advertisements in China, claiming that pecans resulted in better health and a longer life, demand immediately spiked for the pecans.  Why this is so intriguing is how it has affected the landscape of the pecan industry. Prices have been driven up rapidly wherever one is trying to purchase the nut, which makes sense from a supply/demand perspective. The supply of pecans has not changed, but the number of people that want increased vastly. Thus, prices rose accordingly.

In the U.S., pecan orchards have seen land values increase as a result of the heightened demand for the nut. While five years ago the orchards typically cost between $3000-$3800 dollars per acre, today they cost between $4500 and $6000 an acre. Pretty big jump I would say.

All in all I actually really like looking at this article because its not terribly serious, but highlights the main idea of my blog: globalization and its inescapable reality. Whether we are looking at policies on education, free speech, or simply changes in pecan consumption, it is clear that actions undertaken by China will affect the U.S., and vice-versa. This leads me to conclude by saying…keep a heads up as to how these countries make decisions; whatever it is they do will undoubtedly impact the other.

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Arresting the Artist

Not to beat a topic to topic into the ground, but I am once again dedicate a post to the notion of Chinese “voice suppression.” However, rather than this being a case in which a protest or gathering is broken up, a unique situation has arisen: a once beloved Chinese artist has now been arrested due to his growing political position which challenges the current communist government.

“Whether Ai Weiwei is right or wrong, this is still really big news, a really hot topic. I never thought, never thought, that the domestic media would actually lose the power of speech, and act both deaf and dumb. Sad, really sad.”

-Liu Xiaoyuan, Weiwei’s lawyer

Ai Weiwei

Al Weiwei, one of China’s most famous artists, has been arrested on dissent charges. The Chinese government has been on a six week campaign to reign in public opposition to their operations, and Weiwei made no exception. His detainment is of the upmost interest for in 2008 he was one a trusted cultural ambassador for China when they hosted the Olympics.  He even helped design the Bird Nest stadium that garnered so much praise during the event. Weiwei however boycotted the opening ceremonies to demonstrate his opposing views to China’s current political system. Since boycotting the games, his sentiment has only become more and more public, and in the wake of the recent uprisings in the Middle East, the Chinese government could tolerate Weiwei no more. When trying to board a flight on Sunday morning from Beijeng to Hong Kong, police took him. Similarly his apartment was searched and his wife also detained.He has not yet contacted his lawyer leading many to believe he is in some sort of odd legal scenario without boundaries.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, there is certainly something brewing in China in regards to human rights. Clearly the government understands this for they have made several blatant attempts, like arresting Weiwei, that show their desire to end the dissent. As more and more instances like these occur I become more inclined to believing that something big is going to happen in the near future. Although in my previous posts I noted I did not think that a major revolution could be around the corner, I am relaxing that opinion. I think the more public instances in which the government aggressively tries to combat opposition occur, the more likely we are to see uprisings. Weiwei has 70,000 followers on Twitter.

The Birds Nest

I’m sure they are not particularly thrilled he was just yanked off the streets because he wasn’t on the communist bandwagon.

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How to Spread the Word Without an Effective Means?

Over the past few weeks, the notion of media impacting political changes has been mentioned quite frequently. Specifically, heavy attention has been drawn to the use of Facebook and Twitter in regards to their role in the crisis in Egypt, and now Libya. Protestors and activists used both of these social mediums to stage gatherings, and many believe they were the tools of success. However one thing that is not mentioned is the fact that one key element of society must be in place for any social medium to successfully operate: freedom of speech.

In a March 24th article in PC World magazine, co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone, discusses the company’s role in the recent uprisings, as well as its possible relationship with the China. When asked about such relationship between the, Mr. Stone replied by stating:

“Our philosophy is that open exchange of information can have a positive global impact, and that’s not China’s philosophy.”

Regardless however, Mr. Stone did say that the company was searching for new ways of becoming an effective company within China. With over 100 million users, Twitter is growing on a daily basis.

So how are all these things intertwined? I really think that within the next two years, freedom of speech rights will become a more pressing issue within China. The recent demonstrations in Egypt and Libya show the discontent of massive amounts of people with their governments and their ability to use social mediums to address their concerns. In China, I noted the Jasmine Revolution in support of democracy. It was immediately stifled. It showed however that some Chinese people are dissatisfied with their lack of freedom, and I am curious as to what will be done in response. Since Twitter does not exist, and practically all other social mediums are censored to the upmost degree, how will meaningful gatherings and protests be able to occur? I can’t say from experience, but I can imagine organizing such things require an immense amount of effort and carefulness. This is why Twitter is so valuable for such circumstances; it is simple and effective in that it reaches tremendous numbers of people.

I’m not claiming that massive unrest will hit China soon, but in the event that people do decide to make a change, how will the word be spread?

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Response To Japanese Disaster-Duke, China, and U.S.

Although both extremely busy with an extensive list of internal affairs, both China and the United States offered aid to Japan, which was recently hit with one a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The death toll is feared to be over 10,000 people, and although the country has one of the best natural disaster responses in the world, it is still in dire need of help from abroad. The magnitude of the earthquake was recorded at an 8.9, which qualifies among the most severe. The destruction of an earthquake with that magnitude can “totally destroy communities.” Earthquakes such as these occur every 5 to 10 years.

Devastating Effects of Japanese Tsunami

The U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement expressing its deepest condolences to Japan and its citizens. In a news conference a few days ago, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, spoke of the U.S. readiness to “support emergency relief efforts and minimize human suffering.” So far, the U.S. military has rerouted several ships, sent helicopters, and directed planes with emergency packets towards the coasts of Japan. President Obama claimed, “The images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking.” U.S. citizens have also gotten involved as small assessment teams and charitable groups have been dispatched to help.

The Chinese response to this tremendous disaster has also been immediate and substantial. Chinese Premier Wen Jaibo sent a message to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan offering not only his sincerest condolences, but also support. Although no direct military commitment has been reported, hundreds of Chinese humanitarian workers have headed to Japan with emergency supplies. China’s Red Cross Society donated roughly $152,000 to the relief effort, and Chinese billionaire and philanthropist Chen Guangbiao has also committed to giving an equally large sum.

It is good to know that both the U.S. and China step up when needed most, and I’m interested to see how this catastrophe is perceived on Duke’s campus. Will it be another occasion where students table on the plaza, and a small portion of money is donated? Or will a group of students actively seek to travel to the country such as many other U.S. and Chinese citizens? In the coming weeks I will look to see whether or not students a status quo manner or if they will be more aggressive, such as working to send small groups of people or assembling aid packages. Do not get me wrong, raising money is very admirable. However in order for the effects of this tsunami to be well known and for students to make a palpable difference, other efforts outside of fund raising will have to occur.

Chinese citizen Fei Ye said a few days ago “When confronting natural disasters, there are no Chinese or Japanese, but only global citizens.” Thus far the U.S. and Chinese governments have taken this notion to heart. Will Duke students?

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Exploration of Imagination

“Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences”

–Amy Chua, “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom”

On January 8th, Amy Chua, a professor at the Yale Law School, wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” In her piece, Chua claims that first and second generation Asian mothers are better parents than their U.S. counterparts. She elaborated on many practices Chinese and Chinese-American mothers implement on their children, such as disallowing play dates, sleepovers and participating in the school play. She even mentioned that food is sometimes withheld from kids in order to gain better performance.  After explaining all of these approaches to raising children, Chua then goes on to say that Asian children should still love their parents and have a smooth relationship. As I read her article, which is actually an excerpt from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” I could not help but wonder…wow, the United States methodology is so different.

I know everyone is probably wondering how this relates to globalization in regards to China and the United States, but I believe that Chua’s article highlights some very important cultural differences between the two nations. As I alluded to in my post last week, what makes the U.S. special is the fact that its innovation has withstood the test of time. What I did not talk about was what allows that innovation to come about. Sure, I mentioned enrichment programs and emphasis on funding innovate-friendly programs, but I did not mention from a mental aspect what spawns creativity. When it comes down to it, innovation is not something that is forced; rather it’s something that exists as a result of freedom of the mind. Although to many, building a tent out of sheets, or spending the night with a bunch of kids at a friend’s house seems counter productive to learning, these activities are actually some of best ways for a kid to explore imagination. This in turn leads to the ability to think outside of the box, which is what defines innovation. These experiences are what make America special.

This article was useful in that it brings to light that what allows America to continue exploring creativity is imagination. How can innovation exist if one can never take advantage of that freedom as a kid? Quite simply, it cannot. It is that U.S. youth is not stifled by expectations and a rigid schedule, but is rather allowed to experience independence of the mind at the youngest of ages. Although to an Asian parent allowing one’s kid to pretend to be a spaceman, or play laser tag with friends might seem worthless, the truth is that those are some of the most beneficial out-of-classroom experiences. They allow children to think creatively. It is not surprising that the U.S. has been able to out-innovate China for so long.

I’m not saying that the Chinese are wrong in their parenting styles, for success is found often in both China, and among Chinese-Americans. What I am saying however is that although the “Tiger Mom” may think she has parenting down cold, play dates, sleepovers, food fights and camping trips, might be what her kids are missing to be truly successful.

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