Okay, so blogs have come up in conversation and media a bunch of times. You have heard of them in the context of some great social transformation, liberalization of the media and what-not, quoting how many people are blogging. But I’ve been hearing that Chinese yout’ are actually writing about hardly suggests some radical departure in China’s future. They are writing about their feelings (“I’m sad today”), relationships (“I just started dating this guy! He’s just so-so”), what music they like (“wow this song is even sappier than their last hit! xoxoxo”)…. you get the idea.
To find out if this hearsay is true I checked out myspace myself. And came across one peculiar checkbox on each person’s profile, that for “Annual Income.” The lowest ranking is “Less than $30,000.” Considering the best university graduates from my school land 1,500 RMB/month jobs (that’s about $2,300 a year), an “under $30,000” classification is a joke. I really wonder what this foreign standard does to these young folk’s self esteem, their aspirations, their sense of the value of a dollar, their sentiment towards wealthy America… Do people aspire to break the $30,000 bar? Curious if you have any thoughts on that.
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I went to a local bookshop here where Peter Mandelson, Blair-buddy and current EU Trade Commissioner, was giving a talk about, well, he didn’t know. He sat on the stage with a whiskey in hand and said, “All I had in my calendar was ‘Bookworm’ so why don’t you guys do the talking.” He then pointed to me (my fault for always wanting to sit in the front row) and he asked me the fateful, “What are you doing in Chengdu?” question.
If you’ve ever been to Chengdu you know this question is not dissimilar from the question “Why are you doing on Planet Earth?” Answers run the gamut from the capitalistic (“seeking opportunities”) to the Confucian (“studying”) to the agnostic (“I’m not quite sure”) or the charitable (“working at a charity”) or the Zen-like (“I came to Chengdu to find out why I came to Chengdu”). But darnit wit failed me so I resorted to the ever-charming “just watching pandas” answer, that may upon deeper exploration actually be accurate. You see, I went back to the Panda Place last weekend (for the fourth time) and saw BABY PANDAS. I have never before considering stealing zoo animals as seriously as I did the moment I laid my eyes on those adorable teddy bears. Worth the trip. And I mean to China!
So what do baby pandas have to do with currency regimes? Well, if it’s not obvious, here’s the link: I figured that after asking me to tell 200 people on the spot succinctly what my purpose in life is, Mr. Mandelson deserved to be (politely) grilled on his view on China’s exchange rate regime. Public literature seemed to paint a pretty benign EU view on China’s managed currency band, and Mr. Mandelson didn’t break any shattering news that night at a coffee shop in Chengdu (sorry FX folks — no inside scoop to share in this Aabservation). But Mr. M told us panda-watchers that he would prefer to see China move faster toward a more freely floating currency, and stop watching the bamboo grow. But here’s what’s interesting about how he explained that preference: unlike US policymakers who stress China’s unfair trade privilege due to an artificially weak currency, Mr. Mandelson seems more concerned about China’s own stability. He said he was concerned that their currency policy was keeping interest rates too low which in turn was stoking excessive growth that may suddenly burst. He didn’t say a twinkle about China’s currency regime being unfair to EU companies. (If you want to learn more about Mr. M’s currency views, check out this China Daily article.)
And so kids, there you have it, the admittedly oversimplified difference between America and Europe: America sees relationships as a bilateral shindig (what will China’s currency regime do to our guys back home), while Europe sees it as part of a integrated system (what will the renminbi do the global economic system). Maybe this difference has something to do with Europe being surrounded by, uh, Europe, and America being surrounded by water. If Mermaids had a functioning political system, would the US be more multi-lateral in its approach to foreign affairs?
I’ll ask the pandas.
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That’s it for tonight.
Liz / ankexin