Questions about a baoan (after Barthelme)

How long has the baoan been at his post? Does the baoan have a slight ache in his jaw? Where does the baoan put the cloth after he’s washed his feet? Does the baoan remember his dreams? Last night, did the baoan become briefly aware of the grainy texture of his pillowcase as he drifted off into dreamless sleep? When on waking the baoan sees out of his window the same quarter of grey apartment block, and the same half obscured pine tree he’s seen for the past fourteen months, does the baoan feel depressed? Does the baoan tell anyone about it? Does the boaan have a favourite song? Why does the baoan have a slight discolouration on his lower, left thigh?  Has the baoan ever won a competition? Does he own any certificates, where does he keep them, and in how much detail can he recall winning them? Does the baoan dread seeing anyone? Does the baoan enjoy a well polished surface? What does the baoan’s laughter sound most genuine? Does the baoan pay attention to the mist forming on the window of his hut? Has the baoan ever seen a beach, has the baoan met an architect or eaten tuna? Is the baoan afraid of balloons? Which word does the baoan use most frequently? When the baoan last spoke to his parents, how long was it for? Did he speak to one parent for longer? State owned oil firm Sinopec made a 500 million dollar purchase of a shale oil gas field in eastern Canada – does the baoan know about this? Does the baoan know who his country’s four largest trading partners are? Does the baoan regularly attend meetings? Who goes to the baoan’s meetings? When the baoan arrives at work, is there a small stack of cards waiting for the baoan to stamp? Does the baoan collect anything? Where does the baoan spend his days off? Has the baoan ever held or looked at a hammer? Has the baoan ever ripped out a page from a book? Has the baoan stolen anything? Did the baoan apologise? When and how did the baoan apply for his job? If the moment came, is the baoan prepared for the chasing, restraining and shouting which his job requires? Who cleaned the baoan’s clothes? What does the baoan think as he slips his trousers on?

Photo: Jeremy O’Sullivan.

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Guest blogging on Asian Correspondent

There will be a bit less posting here for a while, as I’m writing some similar things for

Topics covered so far: Skyscrapers and cigarette lighters.

Posts can be found at

or point your rss reader at:

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Lights, camera, violence

It’s not unusual to find unemployed actors doing odd jobs to get by, but Beijing’s aspiring thespians have hit upon a new source of income: stepping in to control violent land-rights disputes.

According to this report, some villagers in the Fengtai district of Beijing were disrupting building work on a new subway line, because they believed price offered to for the land was too low.  The town government decided to bring in a team of security guards to disperse the crowd. But where to get enough security guards at short notice?

The local town government sent a couple of buses to one of Beijing’s oldest film studios, where a crowd of hopeful actors can usually be found hanging around by the studio gates .”You’ll just be making up the numbers”, goverment staff told the actors. Offered a 60 Yuan daily wage, more than 200 men took up the offer.

Successful actors shirking their security guard duties

Arriving at the village, actors found they were working alongside local police and chengguan (urban administration officers), altogether amounting to more than 1000 security staff. The locals didn’t give up so easily. According to the report, villagers created a human wall at the east of the building site, which remained until they were physically pushed aside by the security staff.

“If we don’t do it, someone else will” one actor turned security guard said. Often the actors shy away from the more violent aspects of the job. If things get too violent, most actors choose to run away from the scene. “We’re putting our lives on the line for cash”, one actor said. Out of work actors in Beijing also also sell medical products and work as life models, according to the report.

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Two ways to out-earn a Chinese graduate

Millions of Chinese students who sat the university entrance exam last week might have been better off staying home. University graduates in Beijing earn on average 1000 Yuan a month less than delivery workers, while truck drivers in Tianjin can earn almost twice as much as university grads in the same city, according to a report in the Economic Observer.

The paper made this handy chart to show variations in how depressing graduate prospects are in different parts of the country.

Bar charts of woe for recent graduates

Why such poor returns on a university degree? First, China’s economy is out of step with the expansion of higher education, there aren’t enough jobs which require degrees. Second, as the number of universities has grown, the quality of university education has fallen, meaning students leave university barely more skilled than when they entered.

Given the poor quality of degree courses, its hard to justify going to a Chinese university on the grounds of the intrinsic value of education. Dating and parties are also discouraged on China’s campuses, so its not as if students can simply have fun either.

The toughness of the lives eeked out by graduates from undistinguished Chinese universities, working in service industries on the margins of China’s major cities, has been written about before. But that toughness is thrown into even sharper relief by a report in Southern Weekend about toll-booth workers on China’s expressways.

According to the article, high tolls charged on China’s new expressways mean huge profits of around 50-70% for the road companies. Cash-strapped local governments get a cut too, since they finance the projects. There is also a constant flow of staff between local government transport departments and the road development companies. In China, its entirely possible that the person responsible for approving a road in your city one year will be the person running the company building it the next year.

Given the close connections between road firms and the government, its no surprise that tolls haven’t been going down. But the other winners in the situation are toll-booth workers, who can earn up to 8000 yuan per month: that’s approaching three times as much as an average graduate in Beijing earns, according to the Economic Observer’s survey. Who are these tool-booth high-rollers? “Academic and technical requirements are not high” the article says, while “university students make up less than one percent” of employees.

University students: down your pens, and head for the roads. You have nothing to loose but your job in Starbucks.

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China’s craziest Man Utd fan?

Manchester United’s recent Premier League victory pleased a lot of fans in China. The league is probably the UK’s most successful cultural export here, and Man U. are amongst the most popular teams. But one of their Chinese fans was slightly less excited by the team’s  success, a Chengdu Sports College student named Xu Jia.

Chinese united fans, yesterday

According to this report, a couple of months ago Xu Jia expressed his complete confidence in the team by vowing to classmates that if they won the title, he would run a complete circuit of Chengdu’s second ring road. And when Man U. did just that, he stayed true to his word.

Setting off on a breakfast consisting of a can of Red Bull, a chocolate bar, and some dried beef, Xu Jia completed the 51 kilometer run in eight hours 15 minutes. At times he wanted to give up out of hunger. “But I knew if I sat down I wouldn’t have the will to go on”, he said. A  testament to the passion some Chinese fans have for English football.

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Glass, and believing in something.

Cao Dewang is a billionaire glass manufacturer, ranked as the 840th richest person in the world by Forbes in 2007. His company, Fuyao, sells glass to foreign automobile companies. Recently, Cao Dewang has been giving away a lot of his money.

Cao winning a world entrepreneur award, 2009

Cao is a Buddhist, and sometimes he donates his money to restoring Buddhist temples. This one, finished in 2006, was his first. It’s the only Buddhist Pagoda to be made entirely out of copper.

this temple is on Jiuhua Mountain, Anhui Province

Cao has donated to three other temples. One is on mount Putuo, near Shanghai, and another is in Fujian, his home province. Here’s a small picture of a large elephant statue from his latest project, the Chongen (崇恩)temple.

any idea where this temple is?

“I restore temples because of my private belief, I think China needs religion and soul” he said in an interview published last week.

“People need to believe in something, anything will do. I’m just worried about people believing in nothing” he said.

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Chengdu’s new anti-police force: beautiful women

China’s Chengguan (城管), or city administive police are notorious for their violent treatment of unregistered street vendors. But it seems they may have finally met their match.

According to a report in Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily, a group of Chengguan in Chengdu were prevented from beating a fruit vendor by a group of ‘beautiful/sexy women’ (美女).

The incident occured in the Yanshikou area of Chengdu on the 14th of May. According to reports from Sina weibo, the blue overalled vendor pictured above was selling yangmei (a kind of berried fruit) from a pole, when he was beaten and kicked to the ground by some Chengguan, who trampled on his fruit for good measure. Seeing how the elderly vendor was being treated, a group of beautiful women ‘became indignant’, and prevented the Chengguan from driving away in their vehicle. A large angry group formed, and some onlookers threw the remaining squashed fruit at the Chengguan’s vehicle, before it was towed away.

Reports of the heroic actions of the beautiful women have been spreading on weibo, where one user dubbed them the ‘most beautiful beautiful women’.

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