Xiaogang, Anhui: Can You Hear the Roar of Prosperity from China’s Quiet Revolution?





One of the most touching and courageous moments in China’s recent history is depicted in the painting shown here of a secret meeting of farmers in a tiny village that few people have ever seen or heard of. It was the beginning of a quiet revolution, what one might call China’s Second Revolution, whose roar continues to inspire and strengthen this land. These farmers are gathered in a hut in a dark side room free of windows to keep the meeting hidden from spies. As the mostly illiterate farmers touched the red ink pad to sign an illegal contract with their fingerprints, they were putting more than ink onto paper: they were putting their lives on the line. That moment in 1978 marks the birth of a revolution that has changed the world and blessed hundreds of millions in this land. It’s a story rich in basic lessons that the West may need to relearn in order to survive.

Xiaogang Signing

The village is called Xiaogang (pronounced like “Shau Gong”). It’s a tiny dot on the map in Anhui Province about an hour away from the major city of Bengbu, a city most Westerners have never heard of because, of course, it only has the population of Chicago. But Xiaogang Village is really small, I’d guess around a thousand people or less, and that’s counting the outsiders who work here to staff their gargantuan tourist buildings that commemorate the economic revolution that began here. After learning about the dramatic but not frequently shared story, I finally made a pilgrimage in 2017 to what is now a sacred spot.

The story basically is that the village of Xiaogang had been suffering from the effects of the Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution, along with some bad weather, perhaps. The old system of that day left people with relatively little incentive to work hard and produce more. They were starving. Whether they worked hard all day or just slept, they would still get inadequate food and risk starvation. Why bother? But they suspected there was a better way. Led by a brave man, the farmers met and agreed to implement a bold new (but actually very ancient) system. The contract they signed agreed to give a portion to the government and then they would get to keep the surplus for themselves. In the article “Xiaogang, Anhui,” Wikipedia describes the Xiaogang miracle this way:

During the Great Leap Forward, Fengyang County, along with much of the rest of the country, experienced a period of famine. A quarter of the county’s population, 90,000 people, died of starvation. In Xiaogang village alone, 67 villagers died of starvation out of a population of 120 between 1958 and 1960.

In December 1978, eighteen of the local farmers, led by Yan (NPR’s name is a typo, there is no YEN in Chinese romanization) Jingchang,[2] met in the largest house in the village. They agreed to break the law at the time by signing a secret agreement to divide the land, local People’s Commune, into family plots. Each plot was to be worked by an individual family who would turn over some of what they grew to the government and the collective whilst at the same time agreeing that they could keep the surplus for themselves. The villagers also agreed that should one of them be caught and sentenced to death that the other villagers would raise their children until they were eighteen years old.[2][3] At the time, the villagers were worried that another famine might strike the village after a particularly bad harvest and more people might die of hunger.

After this secret reform, Xiaogang village produced a harvest that was larger than the previous five years combined.[2] Per capita income in the village increase from 22 yuan to 400 yuan with grain output increasing to 90,000 kg in 1979.[3] This attracted significant attention from surrounding villages and before long the government in Beijing had found out. The villagers were fortunate in that at the time China had just changed leadership after Mao Zedong had died. The new leadership under Deng Xiaoping was looking for ways to reform China’s economy and the discovery of Xiaogang’s innovation was held up as a model to other villages across the country. This led to the abandonment of collectivised farming across China and a large increase in agricultural production. The secret signing of the contract in Xiaogang is widely regarded as the beginning of the period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation that mainland China has experienced in the thirty years since.

This is dramatic stuff, and it’s been recognized by the Chinese government as a key moment in China’s history. Wonderfully, Deng Xiaoping embraced the Xiaogang miracle, which was vital inspiration for the economic reforms he introduced. The timing was just right, and as a result, when local police came knocking on the door of the main farmer behind the conspiracy, it was not to take him to his death as he expected, but to ask for help in expanding their illegal system across many more farms in China. He came away from the police station as hero, not as a criminal, and China awoke to a revolution that continues to roar. Some of you will call that capitalism and an abandonment of Chinese socialism, but over here I think it’s more officially viewed as an important modification in socialism, part of the unique Chinese approach, that overcomes empty “bubble talk” and lack of commitment to work that many faced. However you want to package it, it was a huge step for China. I have seen the burden of poverty in this country and yearn for China’s economic success, and applaud the brave farmers who started the revolution and the policy makers who recognized and learned from their wisdom. What a revolution it has been.

I hope you’ll consider a trek to Xiaogang someday. (I might even join you if you give me advance notice.)

Getting there wasn’t too difficult from Shanghai. It required two or so hours in a high-speed train, often reaching 300 km/hr, to reach Bengbu, and then about an hour in a taxi to reach the village. The town is pretty much just one side road on the main highway. But it has a big arch as you enter, and then a giant tourist center, and then you find that the tourist center is not about the historical event that should make this town famous, but about its current geography, agriculture, climate, etc. Not what IO came for, but nice to have, I suppose.

Only after inquiring did we learn that the place celebrating the key historical event is on an even bigger building about one kilometer down the only side road off the main highway the the town seems to have.

When my wife and I with two other Western friends finally arrived at the primary building about the Xiaogang miracle, I was amazed at how large it was. And what a thrill to finally be there! But where were all the crowds? The place was obviously built with the expectation of big tour groups, but it seemed rather vacant on the Saturday when we showed up. Never mind, I was so excited to finally be here.

As we entered and paid a small fee, it was about 11:50 AM, and the staff informed us that it would be lunch in 10 minutes and we would have to leave until lunch was over at 1:30 PM. Since we had a 3 PM train to Nanjing for additional plans and would need to leave by 2 PM, waiting until 1:30 would be a huge set back. I politely pleaded our case: “We are foreigners who have traveled a long way to see this vitally important site in Chinese history. We have looked forward to this for so long and now are here on a tight schedule. We have to go to Nanjing this afternoon and would not be able to see all the museum if we wait until 1:30. We won’t cause any trouble and don’t need any help. Can we please just stay and look around during your lunch? Please?” No, sorry, we are closed at noon. Come back at 1:30. We didn’t get anywhere with diplomacy, so we rushed in and started looking and shooting photos. A friend suggested we just stay and keep looking. But soon a staff member came to escort us out and right at 12:00 the lights went out. China has made huge progress in customer service attitudes during my six years here, but sometimes there is still room for progress. Tourist sites that close in the middle of a Saturday for lunch (or naps) represent an opportunity for progress, IMHO.

The memorial had some frank information though it was very tactfully presented and balanced with reminders of the positive impact of officials over the years that greatly cheered and motivated the workers.  But repeatedly we can see hints about the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. The scene below from the museum is of a landowner being harassed for having taken the “capitalist road.” Those scenes could be very tragic.

During our 10 minute spree through the building, we realized it was just a museum and didn’t look like it housed the site where the economic revolution began. On our way out, though, we asked some more questions. “Oh, you want to see the old hut? It’s just down the street, about 200 meters, and it’s open during lunch.” Ah hah! Glad we didn’t spend all our time in the museum to miss the most important site. There was the hut where it all began, and the side room with the table where the contract was signed. We sat there and put our fingers to the pad and thought of the brave farmers, tired of watching loved ones die of starvation, risking their lives for the right to keep a reasonable chunk of what they produce. Economics 101, but forgotten by too many in our world.

The result of the conspiracy was a sudden boom in prosperity. About a 600% increase! It went viral and lifted one of the poorest parts of China. Farmers rose out of poverty and could afford luxuries like a television, a ceiling fan, and a sewing machine.

The leader of China today, Xi Jinping, paid tribute to Xiaogong with a 2016 visit. Of that moment in history and of those brave farmers, he said this:

“The daring feet that we did at the risk of our lives in those days has become a thunder arousing China’s reform, and a symbol of China’s reform.” 

Whatever you think about the politics of China and the revolution that gave us the nation of China, I think all of us Westerners can embrace and learn from this second revolution of China that has lifted so many of its people and brought so much opportunity and hope. At this time of thanksgiving, the courage of those who brought about the Xiaogang miracle is one of the things that I am grateful for. And how grateful I am that I could visit that site and meet some of the locals of Xiaogang. Sadly, I was the first foreigner they had seen there for months, one worker told me. Wish more of you would come by and experience the spirit of this place.

By | 2018-06-17T18:50:26+00:00 June 17th, 2018|Categories: Business, China, Politics, Relationships, Society, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Xiaogang, Anhui: Can You Hear the Roar of Prosperity from China’s Quiet Revolution?

Credit Cards in China: Don’t Rely on Them, and Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Security

Many visitors to China are surprised to see that credit cards are not widely accepted. High-end hotels will accept them, certainly, but they might not be accepted at many Chinese hotels. Many restaurants are not able to take Western credit cards. Train tickets, taxis, and numerous other services will refuse them. Simply put, cash is king in China. You really need to have a healthy amount of cash for daily survival. Have a stack of 100 RMB bills and some smaller bills and a few coins.

The first time I used a credit card in China was at a Best Western hotel in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. Within 15 minutes after using the card, a spurious charge was made against that number by someone trying to purchase something in California. Our credit card company called to report the problem and our card had to be inactivated. Big hassle. Not everyone has that problem, but in Asia there are many places where credit card numbers will be swiped. They are easier to swipe than the highly secure ATM cards that are commonly used and accepted in China, cards that require a 6-digit password.

For secure use of a credit card here or anywhere else, a great service offered by some providers is a virtual credit card number. Bank of America, Discover, and Citibank offer this service. With a virtual credit card service such as Bank of America’s ShopSafe system, you can request a one-time or limited time use credit card number with a set maximum amount that can be charged against it. You don’t have to worry about the virtual credit card number being stolen. For example, I just logged into my credit card’s service and requested a virtual credit card number. I specified the amount that could be charged ($30), the date the card would expire (2 months from now), and then received a new card number, CCV code, and expiration date with my name and linked to my credit card. I used this to pay for an annual service that I don’t want to be automatically renewed with a provider who may not have the highest security. I made the payment and don’t have to worry about them charging me over and over or about hackers stealing my card number. It’s worthless now that I’ve made my payment.

Virtual credit card numbers can help you add security to your travels and your online life. You will need online access to your account to create them. You can obtain a variety of numbers for different parts of your trip. It’s a terrific advance in credit card security.

By | 2018-04-25T05:57:43+00:00 April 25th, 2018|Categories: Business, China, Consumers, Finances, Products, Restaurants, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off on Credit Cards in China: Don’t Rely on Them, and Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Security

Jimmer, the “Lonely Master,” Might Be Doing Better and Doing More in China than the Deseret News Thinks

In the state of Utah, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News recently carried a touching but slightly downbeat article about China’s most popular basketball player, Jimmer Fredette, the impressive star who once stunned American crowds while playing for Brigham Young University. The article is “Lonely Master: From March Madness to Shanghai, the Unlikely Journey of Jimmer Fredette” by Jesse Hyde, published March 12, 2018. It has a lot of positive things to say about Jimmer and his accomplishments in China, but the general tone of the article is that Jimmer has missed out on his US dreams and thus has settled for something painfully inferior by coming to China, a grim and gritty place. I think there’s another perspective that ought to be considered.

Yes, the CBA is a far weaker competitive field than the NBA, and yes, it is disappointing that his NBA career did not give him the opportunities and satisfaction he sought. But don’t shed too many tears for Jimmer: things might not be as grim as the article implies.

The negative picture painted of China is quite disappointing. It’s a beautiful, exciting place where Jimmer is visible and influential to millions of people in ways that would not be possible in Europe or the US. I have met Jimmer and chatted a few times but don’t know him well nor can I speak for him. But what he is doing here is remarkable and has touched many people. His goodness, his honesty, his humility, and his high standards have also helped him touch people beyond what his athletic skills alone could do. For someone who possibly may have a sense of a mission higher than personal temporal success alone, coming to China brings many opportunities to achieve greater good, while also benefiting from a shorter season and excellent pay. Win/win from my perspective. His presence in China is part of something big, at least in the minds of many of his BYU-related fans here.

One of those fans, a Communist Party official, requested a chance to meet Jimmer last year. I was honored to be part of the little gathering where introductions were made. Jimmer with his characteristic class and humility brought gifts for the Chinese men who had come — framed photos of him as keepsakes. They were thrilled. Before Jimmer showed up, one man in the small group, a business leader in charge of the large complex where we rent some beautiful space to hold LDS services, chattered excitedly about Jimmer and quoted statistics from Jimmer’s games when he was at BYU and in China. Kid in a candy shop when Jimmer arrived. The official had gifts also, a terrific album of Chinese postage stamps. It was a beautiful souvenir for each of the foreigners at this event, which I’m proudly holding in the photo below.

With typical Jimmer class, Jimmer noticed a couple of keenly interested staff members from the little cafe where we met and invited them to get their photos taken also. It was a big day for all of us.

The Deseret News article makes numerous references to the pollution of China and Jimmer’s depressing situation here. The lead paragraph suggests he can’t see much of the skyline in Shanghai due to pollution (yes, we have pollution and some days visibility is noticeably reduced, but we have a lot of beautiful days too and air quality is improving). His apartment is “empty, lonely, a place he just crashes, so devoid of personal effects….” Regarding some reminders of his wife and daughter in his apartment: “Sometimes he needs those reminders. Like when he’s in Shanxi, a gritty industrial city where the gray dust blows from the cement factories and the grime is so thick he could scribble his name on the windows of parked cars.” And when he’s in Shanghai, in spite of the wealth and good food here, “even here, the air carries a slight whiff of chemicals you can almost taste. It’s hard not to want to be somewhere else.”

At this point in reading the article, I wondered if the staff of the Deseret News have ever been in Salt Lake City during the winter months, when the winter inversion traps air in the Salt Lake Valley and leads to painfully high levels of particles, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants? Of if they have ever been near operations of the massive copper mine that scars the Valley? Or drove through Utah County in the days when the Geneva Steel works were cranking out massive whiffs of chemicals into the air? Or if they have lived near a paper mill in the United States? Shanghai air can get smoggy and is typically worse than most places in the US, but apart from an occasional painter using oil-based paint or a vehicle burning too much oil, as in almost any city, noticeable “whiffs of chemicals” are something I generally don’t experience here, unless those chemicals include the cinnamon aromas coming from Shanghai’s amazing Cinnaswirl bakery with world-class cinnamon rolls, or from the intoxicating smells of any of the hundreds of different cuisines available in Shanghai. OK, we do have stinky tofu, which does have a noticeable smell from its unusual natural chemistry — maybe that’s what the writer encountered here. But you can just take a few steps and be free of that.

China has pollution, certainly. There are spots that are gritty or grimy, just as in America. But it’s also one of the most beautiful and exciting places to live, especially Shanghai. For me personally, my respiratory health during my nearly seven years in Shanghai has been much better than it was in the US, where I would often get bronchitis or other issues in winter. Here it’s been great and I’ve almost never had to miss work due to illness. One or two days for an injury, but my health has been terrific. Part of that is from the food, which is high in fresh produce and generally quite healthy.

Come give China a chance. It’s one of the nicest places in the world, in my opinion. Anyplace is grim when you are away from family, but with such a short playing season, we hope that Jimmer can continue to thrive here and increasingly experience the beauty and wonders of China while here.

As a reminder of the surprising beauty and sometimes even miraculous nature of life in Shanghai, here are images of one of Shanghai’s secrets: its impressive angels rising from the ground to watch over this city. May Jimmer continue to be among them.

Finally, here’s a couple views of one of Jimmer’s favorite Shanghai spots.

Shanghai Disney Castle

The Shanghai Disney Castle

 

Cinderella’s Castle.

 

 

By | 2018-03-17T07:24:37+00:00 March 16th, 2018|Categories: Business, Career, China, Food, Health, Photography, Relationships, Religion, Restaurants, Safety, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Comments Off on Jimmer, the “Lonely Master,” Might Be Doing Better and Doing More in China than the Deseret News Thinks

Surviving Bank Theft in China: What to Do Immediately When a Thief Robs You with an ATM Machine

If you have taken my advice elsewhere on this site, your bank account is already set up to alert you by text message whenever there is activity such as an ATM withdrawal. But what do you do when you get the dreaded message that a large unauthorized withdrawal has just been made on an ATM machine somewhere in China or elsewhere? Sadly, few victims know about an important defensive action to take at that moment that will increase the odds of prevailing in court if your bank, like many banks in China, refuses to refund the money that was stolen from you.

Court? Really? Yes. Unfortunately, Chinese banks may actually accuse you, the victim, of having given your card to someone else to use in the usually distant city where the theft takes place. “How do we know you didn’t take the money out yourself, or give the card to an accomplice to take it out? You’re trying to cheat us!” The bank sometimes won’t even cooperate by providing you the recorded images or video of the person who made the illegal withdrawal, or providing other forms of information they might have that would show this was a criminal act unrelated to you. It’s up to you to prove that you are innocent, without any help from them. What to do?

My advice is simple: the moment you get notice of unauthorized activity, RUSH to the nearest ATM machine, use the ATM card for the account that was just robbed, and make a deposit, a transfer, a withdrawal, or some other action. Stare into the camera monitoring the machine and make sure your face is visible. Your goal: create a record about the location of you and your card at that moment. For extra protection, hold up a sign with your name and the date, maybe holding your photo ID near the camera, and also show your ATM card before and after the transaction (perhaps unnecessary since it will be read and recorded, but this will verify that it’s an ordinary card you are using). The point is to create a record showing that you and your card were in your neighborhood very near the time of the theft, ruling out the possibility that you or your card was in, say, the backwoods of Guizhou province at the time. With this approach, one Chinese man recently successfully overcame the ridiculous defense of his Chinese bank in court and was able to have the judge demand that the bank reimburse him in full for the large unauthorized theft from his account. Just in case, take your card to another ATM machine from a different and do this again. Maybe it helps if one of the ATM machines you visit is associated with the bank whose account was hacked. Create at least two records. In the process, have someone take a photo of you on your camera as you are holding your card (maybe cover the last couple of digits with your fingers) and do that with a background that is easily recognizable (street signs, famous landmark, etc.) and then text it to someone you trust to create an electronic record. These forms of evidence may be helpful in proving your innocence so that the bank will be held accountable for allowing someone to hack your account.

There are thieves out there who use your scanned card and stolen PIN to make bogus duplicates and suck your money out. Sometimes money gets sucked out from your account with inside help from crooked employees. However you are robbed, be ready to swiftly create evidence that can help you in court. Further, defend yourself by using your card as little as possible. Every transaction could result in your data being given to thieves. Always shield your PIN entry. But even that won’t help when an ATM machine has been hacked and is sending data to a thief. Keep lots of cash on hand and use only a few trusted ATM machines in well monitored locations like inside banks to reduce the risk of using a bad machine.

Don’t let large amounts accumulate in your accounts, either. Diversity your resources and don’t risk losing everything if a bank goes belly up, an account is hacked, or you make a ridiculous mistake like leaving your card in an ATM machine and walking away while the terminal is still actively connected to your account (I know someone that happened to, and someone stepped in and just started helping themselves to their money).

One more thing: Be sure to call the bank and report the theft as soon as you’ve created the evidence you’ll need to show where you and your card were located. Hopefully they will work with you, but if you have to sue, it will take several months and once the award is ordered by the judge, they may still drag their feet for a few months. Sigh. One of the challenges of surviving China.

By | 2016-10-24T05:57:53+00:00 September 24th, 2016|Categories: Business, China, Safety, Scams, Society, Surviving|Tags: , , , , , |Comments Off on Surviving Bank Theft in China: What to Do Immediately When a Thief Robs You with an ATM Machine

Facing the Real Risk of Theft from Your Bank Account in China

An increasing number of friends are reporting troubling cases of theft from their China bank accounts. One friend, after years of working in China and saving every penny, was preparing to return to the US, but suddenly every penny in her ICBC bank account was stolen. The ICBC bank officials told her that someone had a copy of her card and had taken the money out. She asked how this was possible without knowing her password. No explanation was given, except that it was somehow her fault. She spent five days arguing with them and got nowhere. They said that the thief could have been working with her to perpetuate fraud on the bank, so why should they refund her money? Her only option now is to sue, but she has to go back to the US soon and fears she won’t have the ability to pursue the case. But we’ve encouraged her to work with a lawyer to fight this. She will, and I hope to have good news to report sometime.

Her story has almost exactly the same set of facts that we find in a chilling account, “How I sued the world’s largest bank and won” at Shanghaist.com. In this case, it was a smaller amount, 15,000 RMB that was taken from the author’s ICBC account. He encountered the same helpful consumer service policies and attitudes, and was forced also to sue for something that was clearly not his fault. He won, and it only took 7 months and some modest attorney fees to get his money back.

If you have a bank account with an ATM card, there is a real risk that one day money will begin disappearing from your account. There are some very high risk factors in China you need to understand:

1) The daily limit for ATM withdrawals is much higher than it is in the U.S. and Europe. A thief typically can take out 20,000 RMB a day (over $3,000), which is 5 to 10 times higher than typical US limits.

2) The daily limit may not be over a 24-hour period, but may be based on the calendar date, so if that applies to your bank, then a thief can take 20,000 RMB out at 11:55 pm, and another 20,000 RMB out at 12:05 PM.

3) Banks in China often don’t have effective anti-fraud protection.

4) There are many thieves with card copying or card scanning devices who can make a duplicate of your card. If they or a small video camera can watch you enter your password, having your account number and your password leaves you defenseless.

5) Thieves can sometimes pull money out of your account without using your password. I don’t know how this happens, but it has happened to multiple people in China, and it happened to us with our US bank.

6) When someone pulls money out of your account without knowing your password, it should be the bank’s fault and they should reimburse you. But consumer service attitudes and policies may not be identical to those in your home country. China banks may tend to blame the customer and argue that maybe the thief was collaborating with you, so they might not cooperate unless you take them to court. You can sue and win in China, but it will take a lot of work and the help of an attorney.

Because money in the bank is so vulnerable, I suggest several best practices:

1) Do not keep large amounts in any single Chinese bank. Move a lot of it into US accounts without ATM cards or with two-part authentication, and keep plenty of cash.

2) Use your bank cards as little as possible. Instead, use cash to make payments when possible.

3) Do not let employees walk away with your bank card (they might run it through a card copier device of some kind). Keep your eyes on it.

4) Do not let your card be scanned in any place that seems questionable or seedy.

5) When using ATM machines, look for unusual devices, small video cameras, etc., that might have been added.

6) Keep good records of where you have been so that if the bank says it must have been you that pulled all your money out of your account in, say, Harbin, you can prove you weren’t in Harbin that day.

7) Monitor your bank account frequently, and make sure you receive automatic text messages when money is taken out of your ATM.

8) When you do find a problem, document in detail who you spoke with, what you said, what they said, etc. You will needs lots of documented details if you have to sue the bank to get back missing money.

9) Avoid trusting your money to any bank that has a bad track record of protecting the money of its customers. If you know of banks that have performed well in this regard, please let me know.

These problems are not unique to China, but they seem to be a lot more frequent here and more severe, especially with the high daily minimum that thieves can take out.

If you do online banking, your risks are also high due to hackers. I suggest you use complex passwords that you change often, and only use secure computers to access your bank accounts. It’s good to have a cheap computer that is never used for browsing but only for bank access, and even then keep good firewall and anti-spyware software on it, keep it updated, use more secure browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and don’t use untrusted wifi networks to access your accounts. For added security, use VPN when you access your bank account.

Don’t keep all your money in any one account, and keep a wad of cash somewhere, too. Thieves can get everything, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them.

By | 2017-10-24T07:05:04+00:00 June 17th, 2015|Categories: Business, China, Finances, Internet, Investing, Scams, Shanghai, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off on Facing the Real Risk of Theft from Your Bank Account in China

St. Gobain Celebrates 350 Years of Innovation with a Temporary Pavilion on the Huangpu River in Shanghai

St. Gobain, one of the world’s oldest companies (350 years!), just had their Innovation Days celebration in Shanghai on Sunday. I was privileged to be a guest and to learn more about this innovative Fortune 500 company, headquartered in France, that produces leading materials like special glasses and abrasives.

To celebrate their 350th anniversary, they built a temporary pavilion on the Bund near the International Cruise Terminal area, just east of Suzhou Creek, and it is now open to the public for a few days. But you have to reserve a ticket for specific times. Make your reservations at www.saint-gobain.com.cn/en/350th_anniversary.html.

I especially enjoyed the display with mirrored walls and actively lit glass inside, and the display highlighting the acoustic insulation materials they produce. Booming loud inside, quiet outside.

Here are some photos from the event I attended:

By | 2018-02-06T16:56:01+00:00 January 14th, 2015|Categories: Business, Industry, Innovation, Photography, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off on St. Gobain Celebrates 350 Years of Innovation with a Temporary Pavilion on the Huangpu River in Shanghai

Gelato Update: Le Creme Milano at South Shaanxi Road Is Wonderful, But Beware the Rogue Store in Xintiandi

Dec. 2017 Update: Creme Milano’s website is down, and that means the company may be toast. For now, Ice Season may be the best way to find gelato, though it really isn’t up to Italian standards. Good ingredients and flavors, but not the right textures and the temperature is often too low as well. 

Original post follows:


Ever since my visit to Italy a year ago, I’ve been on a quest for good gelato, and have found a couple of fairly good brands here that draw upon Italian know-how.

Gelato was on my agenda following an intellectual property conference in Shanghai, the IP Business Congress Asia 2014, held Dec. 8-9. My wife and I took an IP lawyer from the States and his wife to dinner at the beautiful and delicious TMSK in Xintiandi. After dinner, the lawyer and I wanted to try some gelato, so we went west to Danshui Road to visit a Creme Milano gelato shop, a gelato chain in Shanghai where I’ve had some excellent gelato several times in the past.

When we entered the store, something seemed a little different. No, a lot different. The gelato bins, normally full and carefully groomed, looked sloppy and the trays were mostly empty. What remained looked rather like old relics. We did the best we could by finding a couple of flavors to order from the few surviving bins, but the flavor and texture was unimpressive and the servings were unusually small and stingy. What had happened? Were sales so poor in our cooler weather that the store had just given up and failed to keep up appearances? I was let down.

The next day, I had lunch with another friend and mentioned the bad gelato experience. He knew the people running the business or at least helping to run it. He said he would them give my feedback. He called later that day to tell me surprising news from the owner: the gelato store we had visited was a rogue shop that no longer was getting its product from the authentic source as they were supposed to. I don’t know if the product we had was leftover original gelato or some fake gelato or ice cream from another source. But it wasn’t what I was expecting and what I would find again at the mother store on South Shaanxi Road.

After I sent an email to the owner of a gelato brand in Shanghai about my disappointing experience in the rogue shop and their need to take action to protect their brand from being tarnished, the owner invited me to come to the mother store at 434 Shaanxi South Road in Shanghai’s beautiful French Concession area. We were warmly greeted by the store manager and marveled at the contrast between what we could see in front of us and what we had seen in the rogue shop.

Jeff in front of the mother store of Le Creme Milano

Jeff in front of the mother store of Le Creme Milano

The difference in taste was even more impressive. Gelato is not just another name for ice cream. There are large differences in method of preparation, the ingredients, and even the temperature it is served at. Gelato is more like a rich, very thick fluid rather than the fluffy solid of common ice cream. It takes skill and artistry to make it right, and what a delight it was to encounter real gelato once again. Ahhh!

Real gelato, fresh and delicious, at the South Shaanxi Road station, across from the Shanghai Culture Square.

Real gelato, fresh and delicious, at the South Shaanxi Road station, across from the Shanghai Culture Square.

We ordered some gelato after sampling several heavenly flavors. I ordered a small cup with a little pistachio flavor and a little blueberry yogurt. The small cup was packed to hold about as much as possible, nearly overflowing with goodness, unlike the miserly, well-below-the-rim portion I received in a cup of the same size at the rogue shop. Both flavors were unforgettable. To my dismay, though, after we received the gelato, the manager refused to take our payment. What kind treatment! It was my birthday, but they didn’t know that in giving me this perfect birthday gift on a little birthday adventure.

Experience real gelato at a real Le Creme Milano store in Shanghai. There may be one or more rogue shops out there selling inferior product, based on what I experienced and learned from the owner. How disappointing that there are stores (at least one) with the nameplate of Le Creme Milano that aren’t selling the real product. I hope the other Creme Milanos in town are legit.

A small cup with a generous portion of gelato at the mother store on South Shaanxi.

A small cup with a generous portion of gelato at the mother store on South Shaanxi.

By | 2017-12-09T17:53:06+00:00 December 29th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off on Gelato Update: Le Creme Milano at South Shaanxi Road Is Wonderful, But Beware the Rogue Store in Xintiandi

Update on Tralin Paper (a.k.a. Tranlin Paper or Quanlin Paper): Financing Based on Chinese IP Now Creates Jobs in America

I previously reported a remarkable IP-backed financial deal in China, where Tralin Paper (Quanlin Paper in Chinese, though they use www.tralin.com for their website and are sometimes called Tranlin Paper) used their IP portfolio to back a loan for 8 billion RMB, around US$1.3 billion. Now news  from the office of Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia reveals what Tralin is doing with that money. See the June 18, 2014 news release for the Governor’s office. Tralin Paper, renaming themselves as Tranlin Paper for some reason, has just signed a deal with the State of Virginia, obtaining state support as Tralin/Tranlin/Quanlin invests $2 billion to create a new environmentally friendly paper mill and create over 2,000 US jobs. In a departure from the stereotypical view of Chinese companies stealing American jobs and IP, here is an innovative Chinese company that has created and protected their own IP, used innovative financial tools (and plenty of solid Chinese guanxi) to obtain massive financing based on that IP, and then brought their money and their technology to the US to create many jobs. At least some parts of this story are going to be repeated in many ways in days to come. The old paradigm of China lacking IP or lacking valuable IP is fading.

After the announcement at ChinaPaper.net, the first report on this story to the English-speaking world, as far as I know, was my original March 6, 2014 report at InnovationFatigue.com followed by an update here on the Shake Well blog that gave a translation of the Chinese story. It was picked up by Intellectual Asset Magazine and by World Trademark Review, but is still a generally unrecognized but important story.

Watch for China to surprise many pundits who decry its lack of IP and innovation. Many Western companies are going to be startled at the tsunami of innovation and IP that will come from the Middle Kingdom, which is rushing to become the epicenter of global innovation and IP value creation. China still has a long ways to go in overcoming its problems and strengthening innovation and IP, but the trends here are remarkable and should not be discounted. Meanwhile, we should welcome stories like Tranlin’s, and watch for many more to come. But for some US companies, this will mean even tougher competition that won’t be easily avoided with restrictive, protective tariffs or antidumping legislation.

By | 2017-12-05T06:31:52+00:00 July 8th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Industry, Innovation, Paper, Patent law|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Update on Tralin Paper (a.k.a. Tranlin Paper or Quanlin Paper): Financing Based on Chinese IP Now Creates Jobs in America

Shopping in China: Are the Prices in Department Stores Fixed or Negotiable?

One of the challenges of shopping in China is knowing when the marked prices are firm prices or just an inflated asking price subject to haggling. In grocery stores, the prices are generally the real prices and there is no sense trying to argue anything down. But in many other settings, the marked prices might be negotiable, meaning they could be way too high and you shouldn’t pay that much.

Sometimes a store will have fixed prices on one aisle, and negotiable (inflated) prices on the next. If there are friendly sales people servicing a particular set of products or section of a store, let that be a warning sign. Why does this store have five or six people anxious to help me buy blankets or vitamins, but no one in other sections of the store to help me buy batteries or copy paper? It may be because the people selling blankets or vitamins are on commission. They may not even be employees of the department store, but employees of a manufacturer. They are highly motivated to see you the product for as much as possible. This can happen in malls, department stores, and even grocery

One way to know if the prices are flexible is to simply ask if they can lower the price a little. “Keyi pianyi yidiar?” If they say something like, “Well, since you can speak a little Chinese, I’ll give you the friend discount of 10%,” then you know the price is flexible. If they pull out a calculator and type in the price to display it for you (this allows them to show you a price privately without revealing it to other customers within earshot), that’s a sure sign that the price is flexible, and a sign that what they are asking is way too high.

If they say, “No, I can’t lower the price,” say “OK” and walk away. It’s when you walk away that you see if they are serious or not. If you walk away and they say, “OK, OK, 10% off!” then you know the price can be lowered. If they say nothing, the price probably is firm.

Many electronics, appliances, bedware (blankets, linens, quilts, mattresses, etc.), and relatively high-margin items have prices that can be negotiated when shopping in China.

The next challenge is knowing what the real price is. Sometimes you can only hope to shave off 20% or 30% from the price. Other times the asking price might be 10 times the real price (this is especially true of gifts like pearls or jade items). This is where knowledge is power. Chinese people ask each other what they pay for things all the time in order to learn real prices. Do your homework before you buy. But if you don’t have time, you can try several different shops and start very low, and seeing if they call you back after you walk out. Again, it’s only when you walk that you see if your offered price might actually be acceptable. You may have to walk away several times, raising your asking price each time, until you find a taker and realize that you’re close to the real price.

On the other hand, if you are not in a bind financially, don’t be too tight-fisted in China. Spending a little extra money for what you buy can mean a lot to the merchants. For a small extra amount that is still a fair price, you can bring a lot of cheer, and if you feel that a merchant is kind, helpful, and honest, giving him a “healthy price” can keep him or her happy to serve you and help you in the future. That’s my view, anyway.

By | 2016-10-24T05:57:55+00:00 June 14th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Consumers, Shopping|Comments Off on Shopping in China: Are the Prices in Department Stores Fixed or Negotiable?

Customer Service in China: China Telecom Busts Another Western Myth

I commonly hear Western businessmen stating that China doesn’t get innovation and customer service. I’ve discussed the myth of China’s lack of innovation on the Innovation Fatigue blog. Today I’ll share my experiences with China Telecom that convince me that the West has a few things to learn about the new world of customer service in China.

Some of the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced involved internet and cable TV service — in the United States. When we had technical problems, the hassles we faced when working with Time Warner in particular put real strains on my endurance. It took forever to reach someone, and then getting help to come fix a problem when that was needed was a real pain. Required advanced scheduling with no knowledge of when the people would show up. Coming to China, I expected things to be even worse. What a surprise that has been!

Two days ago I bought a new router for our home, worried that the signal strength of our old Apple Airport router was too low. But the new router, with instructions only in Chinese, wasn’t working right even after I thought I had done everything properly. I called China Telecom after 9 PM, reached an English speaking agent in about 2 minutes, and they said they would send someone out the next morning. I asked if they could make it around 6 PM when I would be back from work. They said OK, 6 PM or later. The next day at 6:05 PM, a friendly tech support man showed up. Big smile, very polite and kind. He understood exactly what I needed, went to the router, looked at the router page on my computer, clicked one area and immediately spotted an error in my set up. Within 2 minutes the problem was fixed. He then tested the connection, gave me his number in case I had any other trouble, smiled again, shook my hand, and was off. Then 5 minutes later, I got a call from China Telecom to ask how things went, if the problem was fixed, and if the service man had a good attitude and had given me his phone number, etc. Wow.

Rapid access to support, rapid scheduling of service, prompt arrival, quick resolution of trouble, and follow up. What a great lesson for American businesses. China Telecom is a large state-owned enterprise that represents mainstream Chinese business in this new era. China gets customer service. Sure, there are plenty of cases of bureaucracy in the way and lazy employees who don’t care, problems that abound in the West as well. But China Telecom’s fantastic customer service should be the gold standard that the West tries to copy and imitate, before it’s too late. Likewise, the burgeoning spirit of innovation and intellectual property support in China is something the West should learn from, though China has much to do in this area still. But don’t discount the competitiveness of China because you think they don’t get customer service or innovation. Time to start relearning what you think you knew about China, and relearning what you know and do about customer service.

By | 2016-10-24T05:58:00+00:00 April 22nd, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Industry, Internet|Tags: |Comments Off on Customer Service in China: China Telecom Busts Another Western Myth

Brave Dragons: About Chinese Basketball, But Maybe Also About Your Job in China

I just finished reading Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2012) by Jim Yardley, an entertaining Pulitzer Prize winner. While the topic might seem very narrow to some readers, it may be one of the best books on the market to prepare for life and work in China, if that’s of interest to you. Even if you aren’t coming to China, it can help you understand some of the cultural barriers between China and the U.S. in spite of its very specific focus. It’s about one Chinese basketball team and an American coach’s experience in coming from the NBA in the U.S. to a lesser known Chinese city, Taiyuan. But so much of what he experiences and the setbacks and surprises he faces remind me of what many foreigners face when they come here to work or live. Definitely a good read and an entertaining one.

NBA coach Bob Weiss does a remarkable job of adapting to changes that would make many people give up in exasperation. For example, he was hired to be the coach of the Taiyuan team, but that changed when the owner suddenly made a Chinese man the acting coach to ensure that the team would run through constant fruitless drills to work the team to death rather than working on the skills and play development they really needed. He rolled with the punches and didn’t let pride get in the way. It helped that he really loved China and wanted to stay here, as it has helped for many foreigners here in related circumstances.

People coming to China for jobs often find out that the glorious position they were offered wasn’t quite as described, or that the benefits promised were withdrawn without notice, or that the work environment is almost the opposite of what they expected. In some cases, even the very job they accepted isn’t actually there. You need to come here expecting disappointment and setbacks, but determined to find a path through the craziness to make something precious and fulfilling out of your experience. Contracts here don’t carry the same meaning as they do in some parts of the world. There is much more emphasis on flexibility and renegotiating things when they prove to be difficult for one side (i.e., the other side). Important issues that you negotiated during your interviews might be eventually forgotten. Understand that and always ask yourself what you will do if an understanding doesn’t turn out the way you thought it was supposed to. Over-communicate,get anything important in writing or be prepared to abandon it, and be prepared to abandon it in any case.

While management in China can be quite good, in many businesses there are some huge differences in style that will surprise Westerners. The unfortunate management style of Boss Wang, the team owner, is  important to observe, but will probably  never encounter the extremes portrayed in the book. He tended to yell at his players for everything, sometimes an hour or more of yelling at them, constantly demeaning and harassing them for mistakes, and emphasizing excessive work rather than smart preparation. But the sudden last minute changes in plans and strategy that he would call from the top can be something you’ll see more often here than you might have seen before. Sometimes it works, but see for yourself in the book.

I recommend reading this book and contemplating how you might deal with related situations in your own journey in Asia or anywhere with new culture and rapidly changing rules.

For sensitive ears, there is some profanity as some of the players are quoted.

By | 2014-04-04T04:12:18+00:00 April 4th, 2014|Categories: Books, Business, China|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Brave Dragons: About Chinese Basketball, But Maybe Also About Your Job in China

Great Chinglish in a Dramatic Video from a Machinery Company That Teaches Much About Chinese Culture

Great Chinglish in an impressive video from Peixin Machinery Corporation in China

Great Chinglish in an impressive video from Peixin Machinery Corporation in China

“It inherits the wisdom of Minnan Merchants. It assembles numerous elites.” Spoken in perfect English with a dramatic deep voice, these words begin an impressive and instructive video prepared as an advertisement for Peixin Machinery Company and their advanced systems for the paper industry. The link is a secure TinyUrl.com shortcut to www.peixin.com/?mod=video_show&id=17 (used to provide an https connection, required by my site configuration, when peixin.com itself does not support that). There is so much that may be puzzling to native English speakers when they watch this video, and so much that teaches unintended lessons about Chinese business culture. I feel that the video and its Chinese equivalent could be a valuable addition to any course studying Chinese and especially business Chinese or business culture in China.

Some of the scenes selected for the video also teach a lot about culture in China. You can see the intense deference to authority in several sections, for example. Quite interesting. But it’s the English that I enjoy most.

“Big waves wash the sand, but we still go ahead bravely with the pulse of the times.” That’s one of many intriguing statements that are important in Chinese speeches and ads, but seem really strange to Western ears. The Chinese version of the video has been translated well, I think, as far as direct translations go, but it’s the whole mindset and nature of the content that needs to be retranslated and reworked for this to be an effective video for native English speakers. For example, starting off with a boastful link to Minnan merchants is just crazy–even Americans who have been living in China for years are not likely to appreciate the old lore of Fujian Province merchants known as the Minnan merchants. One of many moments that makes this fun video a great example of the very large cultural gaps that sometimes look like language gaps between the East and the West.

No offense intended to Peixin. Their video is better than most and has been done much better than most. The equipment also looks pretty good, but I don’t know one way or the other.

By | 2017-12-04T07:40:11+00:00 April 3rd, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Chinglish, Industry, Paper, Products|Tags: |Comments Off on Great Chinglish in a Dramatic Video from a Machinery Company That Teaches Much About Chinese Culture