Biking and Chinese cultural conflict

On 29 August 2016 I was invited for a debate in Yenching Academy, in Beida (as we call it in Chinese). The students were all Chinese, the foreign students were not available.
The theme was Beijing air pollution. I gave a short introduction of my book “Toxic Capitalism”, the evolution of air pollution in Beijing and what we can do about it. Indeed, as I officially stated to the Beijing Government, traffic is a serious contributor to the air pollution and it is made worse by bad behavior of the drivers and the inaction of the traffic police.

See here the intro of the Academy from Yenching Academy

The Yenching Academy of Peking University builds bridges between China and the rest of the world through an interdisciplinary master’s program in China Studies for outstanding graduates from all over the globe. This initiative brings together young people who show promise to lead and innovate in their fields in an intensive learning environment where they can explore China and its role in the world – past, present, and future. The Academy aims to thereby shape a new generation of global citizens with a nuanced understanding of China and its role in the world.

Founded on the ideal of fostering global connections and dialogue, the Yenching Academy is a fully funded residential program offering a wide array of interdisciplinary courses on China within broadly defined fields of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Working closely with their academic mentors, Yenching Scholars are granted the flexibility to create their own study paths by choosing from six academic concentrations and a variety of extracurricular activities. Studying at the Academy represents a unique opportunity not only for intercultural and academic exchange, but also for personal and professional development.

Two Yenching scholars also gave a short intro for the debate, Ugne (Lithuania) and Ben (UK).

One of the main issues we have with using a bike instead of a car is the Chinese cultural and social “loss of face”. While in European countries even ministers go to work on their bike, Chinese object: it is a loss of face to go to a 5-star hotel or a business meeting on a bike. Furthermore girls who are looking for a husband have stringent requirements: he needs a good position, a house and a car. If not, bad luck.

Some in the audience said the bike trip could make too tired or make one sweat too much. As for myself I explained I have no problem to bike in the cold, the hot, rain or snow. It is a matter of being prepared (put the suit jacket and tie in a plastic bag!). Of course the poor biking lanes and dangerous car drivers are an issue indeed.
In the end, we all have to contribute for a better environment, it requires education, change of mindset and preparation.

I bike every day and just look at the enormous traffic jams and drivers looking for a parking spot.
As for rain protection, sadly to say, I had to buy the outfit in … USA, as Beijing rain caps are too badly made.
How did I go to Beida? It is the other side of Beijing. Well, simple: I jump on my bike to the subway station and then use the subway. The city has made enormous progress in building more subways and installing 68,000 public rental bicycles.

Embassy of Canada: a view on the Arctic

On 18 March I had the privilege to attend an interesting overview on what Canada is doing and planning for this enormous region, called the Arctic.
Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques invited us all you to a “Canada in Conversation event” featuring guest speaker, Dr. David Hik, Board of Directors Member, Canadian Polar Commission in conversation with moderator, Dr. Yang Huigen, Director General of Polar Research Institute of China on “Canada’s Arctic Science in an International Context: Innovations for a Changing Arctic in the 21st Century”
The new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) Act is expected to come into force soon, making it the focal federal government organization for coordinating Arctic research in Canada. This will present on a number of opportunities to strengthen international cooperation in Arctic scientific research, and specific possibilities for enhancing Canada-China collaboration. Science, technology and relevant knowledge underpins all four pillars of Canada’s Northern Strategy – environmental protection, social and economic development, governance, and sovereignty. In addition, given the devolution of some federal responsibilities to local governments and various land claims obligations, the way in which Arctic research is conducted is changing, including greater involvement of Northern communities in decision-making. As China is strongly commitment to Arctic research, though a variety of ongoing university, laboratory and institute activities, the conversation will examine the structure and plans for facilitating international collaboration within the new CHARS and the possibility of implementing joint Canada-China research focused on changes in Arctic sea ice conditions, as well as other areas of potential collaboration.
A networking reception followed the talk at the Official Residence.

The Arctic merits indeed a lot of attention for many reasons, due to Climate Change, Warming of the Planet, the melting of the ice cap, the impacts on fauna, flora, fishing, coastal lines, shipping and so on. China is very interested in the subjects and is looking forward to work with Canada on further research.
I had also the pleasure to hand over my book “Toxic Capitalism” to the ambassador. The book also mentions the issues affecting the arctic.
It had been quite some time since I visited the embassy. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and cordiality.
See here the biography of the main speakers:
Dr. David Hik
Dr. David Hik was appointed to the Canadian Polar Commission’s Board of Directors in November 2010, and reappointed in November 2013. He has conducted research in Northern Canada since 1984, and his interests are focused on the ecology of tundra ecosystems in Arctic and mountain environments, social-ecological resilience, and the interface between science and policy. Dr. Hik is currently a Professor at the University of Alberta, and also a visiting guest professor at Polar Research Institute of China. He recently completed a four-year term as President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) where he championed engagement of early career researchers, international partnerships, data management, and long-term planning for research coordination.
Dr. Hik currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Arctic Council’s ‘Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON)’ initiative; Chair of the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III); and Co-Chair of the International Polar Partnership Initiative (IPPI). Previously, he held the Canada Research Chair in Northern Ecology (2002-2012) and was Executive Director of the Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) Secretariat (2004-2009). He is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and was awarded the Society’s Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership and Science in 2013.
Dr. Yang Huigen
Huigen Yang is the Director General of the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC). Over his career, he has spent significant time carrying out Aurora observations at Syowa and Zhongshan Station in the Antarctic and Yellow River Station on Svalbard. During the 2007-08 International Polar Year (IPY), he acted as Chief Scientist of the IPY China Program. Dedicated to international cooperation, he is the Vice-President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), and the national representative and council member of both the Science Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) and International Council for Science (ICSU). Dr. Yang was the leader of the 25th Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition, 2008- 2009, during which the Kunlun Station at the top of Dome A was established. He also led the 5th Chinese National Arctic Research Expedition to traverse the Northeast Passage. He has built up intensive cooperation with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Norway, United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries in the area of polar sciences, logistics cooperation, and education and outreach. Dr. Yang obtained his PhD in the field of the space physics in Wu Han University and completed a Post-Doctorate at National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo.
(information all provided by the Embassy)

The Bookwork Literary Festival: I took part!

Now in its 9th year, the Festival has become not only a tradition, it also has become … huge. From 13 to 29 March some 120 authors from anywhere in the world attend the events in the three locations: Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou, all under the watchful eye of Peter who happens to be a Rotarian from the Chengdu club, see the pics when we first met at the upper deck of The Bookworm.
This year I attended the kickoff event on the evening of 13 March, for the talk “Celebrating Writers and Readers”. On the panel were: Chan Koonchung, Linda Jaivin, Sheng Keyi, Xu Xi and Lijia Zhang. A fully packed room. Followed by music and more drinks – one of our Rotaractors was at the piano…
For more on the Festival:

On Saturday 14 March I was fortunate to be at the following panel:
How does one reach beyond cliché to unearth the root causes of China’s environmental problems? Start by assembling a panel that rivals those you’d find at international summits: Ma Jun, possibly China’s preeminent environmentalist, selected by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in 2006; Dr. Husayn Anwar, with more than three decades of experience, who founded the first private environmental services firm in China in 1992; Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author of the thought-provoking book Toxic Capitalism; and Xizhou Zhou, honored by Forbes in 2011 as one of the “30 Under 30” young leaders in energy. Moderated by Jonathan Fenby, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the environment-focused This event was in English and Chinese (thanks to a super translation…).
See the announcement:
The debate was interesting and lively and the room was fully packed… Then some say the environment issue is “passé”? It was clear most agree the water problems are underestimated, the air pollution is indeed serious, implementation of the environmental laws are still a major challenge and we as consumers have to change our attitudes.
It was an honor to have Ma Jun on the panel, he is featured in my book and he is probably the most famous pioneer in environmetal issues here in China.
I mostly commented on the well-know documentary “Under The Dome” by Chai Jing. Somehow my book already addressed all the same issues and much more. She came at the right time and adds to more awareness on the environmental problems. And she is a former CCTV host, a lady who spent a lot of money on the documentary and – did it all in Chinese. I can‘t compete with that!
Seems all my books in stock at The bookworm were sold out…

What is wrong with Greece?

Snapshot China – Newsletter No. 3 – What is wrong with Greece?
It is Chinese New Year in Beijing and most of us try to enjoy some quiet days. Quiet maybe, but not peaceful.
Europe is in turmoil for many reasons. Russia and Ukraine are grave threats not only for the economy but also for the possibility of a new cold war, or worse. Immigration, integration and social stability have failed; religious extremism and crime have become a menace in daily life. The economy remains lethargic, the least to say. The euro is unstable. And there is the danger of “Grexit”, the exit by Greece of the EU.
Overall the EU is weak, politically and economically and fundamentals are simply not good.
Exaggerated or not, I am told the image of the EU Parliament today shows politicians who are redundant in their home country, get a well-paying job to do little and hardly appear for work in the Parliament, except to read a novel, newspaper or check their mobile. Is there any record of attendance? The EU Commission has some competent staff I have been fortunate to work with but right now the top people still need to find their way while also facing a divided Europe that is unable to assume any position of strength to deal with internal and external challenges. Even a world power like China is calling for attention but Europe seems too busy with its many other “priorities”.
The case of Greece is a threat for the future of the EU but also a symbol of the many things that went wrong and remain so as nobody has the courage nor vision to clean up the mess, not only in Greece but also in many other member states. The system has failed as I explained in my book “Toxic Capitalism”, referring to some of the absurdities in Greece, Italy and other countries.
In my book I mention the dubious role of the financial institutions, the rating agencies, the bureaucracy and politicians in general. Since then, what has changed? Not much. Greece has made mistakes for sure. Simply calling for austerity and debt repayment is rather meaningless without rendering justice. Moreover, the real problems are not being tackled, such as the devious role of banks and other financial institutions during the crisis, the corruption and inefficiency of the bureaucracy and political institutions, the failure to collect taxes, the monopolies and oligopolies who continue to strangle the economy. The country is ranked very poorly for corruption, graft and media freedom. How can the Greeks come out of their misery under those conditions? It is unfair to call them lazy. In Greece running a business is a joke because of its stifling bureaucracy, and no politician has the guts to do what needs to be done. Nothing much has been achieved on tax evasion and graft prosecution. There is a need for a real revolution. The Chinese might not be always models to copy but their performance in the port project proves what is wrong in the country (see “Chinese Transform Greek Port, Winning Over Critics – Cosco-Built Container Terminal in Piraeus Marks Public-Relations Victory for Beijing”, WSJ 20 November 2014).
Greece is just an extreme example of what is wrong in our decaying Western Europe. Except to a certain degree for Germany, Switzerland and some Nordic countries, Europe has nothing to be proud about in terms of running their country, their economy, their foreign policy.
I still feel “European” but I sometimes have doubts. China has a host of thorny challenges but Europe certainly has no right today to lecture it: the EU has to clean up its own house before it can claim any credibility.
As for China, the challenges I mentioned last year are still here. Where the country is going remains a question mark and 2015 might be a difficult year indeed. China closes its door a bit more for sure, maybe it feels the rest of the world is both irrelevant and a threat. First deal with the internal issues, isolate the patient in quarantine. Then later we will see.
As Europeans, we need to act if we want to remain relevant.
(this Newsletter is sent out to our listed contacts)

Talking to European Chamber on Quality & Durability

On 5 November, one more seminar where I introduced the main message of my book “Toxic Capitalism”: the need to strive for Quality and Durability, so we can reduce the pressure on the environment by being better consumers, wasting less and using more efficiently resources such as raw materials and energy.
The event was organized by the European Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) and presented as “Event Series on Environment: Quality & the Environment – Quality & the Environment – The dilemma for China and the West”.
It took place in the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing
The introduction to the talk:
Despite the ongoing efforts of government and industry to embrace quality systems, market competition has historically forced many Chinese manufacturers to neglect quality to save costs. However, there are signs that the tide is turning, and improving the way that quality systems are implemented has become a top priority for the current Chinese leadership.
At this event Klaus Ziegler, owner of Beijing Quality Partnerships LLC and a renowned expert in the fields of standardization, quality and certification, will introduce some of the tools that are available in the market that improve quality through training and integrated quality measures. He will explain how these tools can be utilized in product design and production processes and how they are implemented in China.
The issue of manufacturing quality has a direct impact on the environment, and as consumers we play an important role in this. Today’s consumers are locked in a cycle of buying cheap goods and quickly disposing of them when they break or are superseded by superior products, and this places an enormous strain on the environment.
Although China has borne the brunt of criticism for producing cheap and inferior products that degrade the environment, there are plenty of examples of Western manufacturers that are equally culpable. Environmental issues are a global problem that we all have a responsibility to solve.
Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author of Toxic Capitalism, will provide insights on environmental issues linked to manufacturing and consumerism, and will explain how we can all play our part in improving the current situation.

I had suggested to share the presentation with Klaus as he is indeed an authority in quality and standards. He was so kind to give me some more time for my presentation – a little under 40 minutes.
The presentations were followed by Q&A (and some book sales!).