On Chinese Art and Innovation

I don’t claim any expertise on art generally and Chinese art in particular, but I am planning to head out to Songzhuang Village some time over the next couple of weeks. Like 798 before it, Songzhuang is a bit of an artist’s commune. There does seem to be a greater propensity for artists in China to congregate more deeply than they do in other countries and I’m curious if this leads to greater collaboration or innovation.


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While I have spoken to many a Beijing taxi driver over the years, I’ll have to confess that the topic of sex has never come up. Well, it’s not like

it ever even came to mind during these talks.

It turns out, however, that taxi drivers (probably like other older Chinese men) aren’t all that comfortable with the subject.

The traditional Chinese concept that sex is a taboo, combined with the operations of the taxi industry, has made it difficult for the China Family Planning Association (CFPA) to carry out a project that aims to improve sexual and reproductive health awareness among male taxi drivers here.

Why taxi drivers you ask? Why not bakers or bicycle repair men?

their occupation, which includes long hours of sitting, puts them among those at high risks of having reproductive health problems. At the same time, she says, many of them know little about how to protect their sexual and reproductive health.

Well, if that’s the case, you’d think the researchers would learn a bit about their subjects first.

the CFPA has had to content itself with urging drivers to value condoms as much as they do seat belts, since both protect their safety.

If taxi drivers start valuing condoms that much, an epidemic of venereal diseases and illegitimate children is surely in the making.

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China Scary!

A somewhat misleadingly titled article from the BBC, the headline of which seems made for the China Threat crowd:

China ‘to overtake US on science’ in two years

The article goes on to explain that the subversion of American scientific supremacy does not mean that satellites aiming Chinese laser-beams will soon be orbiting the western hemisphere (if they are not already), but rather that a country of 1.3 billion will soon be publishing more scientific papers than a country with 5-fold fewer people. Oddly, after scaring us with the bogeyman of Chinese scientific paper output, the article goes on to note that it might not be such a big deal.

However the report points out that a growing volume of research publications does not necessarily mean in increase in quality.

One key indicator of the value of any research is the number of times it is quoted by other scientists in their work.

Although China has risen in the “citation” rankings, its performance on this measure lags behind its investment and publication rate.

“It will take some time for the absolute output of emerging nations to challenge the rate at which this research is referenced by the international scientific community.”

I wonder. I would imagine that much cross-citation is a function of time. One’s research must be given time to breathe before its scent can waft through the waiting nostrils of the broader scientific community, so we may only have to wait a few years till the huge volume of Chinese research starts along a more fertile path of cross-citation. That said, I think there is often a missed point in all this talk of an scientific arms race with the Chinese.

The topic of innovation in China is one that’s been much debated over the last couple of years almost unfailingly leading to the conclusion that while true that China is spending loads on it, they are more derivative than creative and require a wholesale upheaval of society or the educational system, or both. What I feel is missing, however, is the recognition that for the progress of science and for the progress of society, marginal change is often better than revolutionary change.



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Explain Away

Is the appeal of science merely that it explains things well?


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Let them eat. . . Sugar?


Subsidies on consumer goods in order to forestall protests, I can understand, but why is the Algerian government subsidizing sugar? Protestors running around on a cheap sugar high can’t be good.

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China’s Great Soft-On?

Talk about bearish on China: Before most people realized that China even had any “soft power” to exercise, Johan Lagerkvist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs is talking about its collapse.

While Lagerkvist doesn’t seem to really get into how much soft power China had built up before its ostensible collapse, he does note what he views to be the reasons behind the fall, which I think can be summed up as the unappealing qualities of the following:

1) China’s recent aggressive regional foreign policy

2) China as a place to immigrate

3) China’s authoritarian regime

4) The revival of propaganda over objective information dissemination

5) Over zealous responses to perceived threats to internal stability

While I agree that the reasons he cites can’t be good for China’s international image, I’m not sure that they’ve really impacted China’s international status. All of the above has long been seen as part and parcel of China’s international reputation. I don’t see as much of a change as Lagerkvist does. And, in the end, China has been achieving its international goals through good old fashioned ┬árealpolitik, what the want has been bought and paid for.






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Suck on this!

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