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Sages and Students: Shared Words

SHNU students taking their final essay exam. Front to back: Max, Chloe, Cici, Melody, Lily, Woody

SHNU students taking their final essay exam. Front to back on right: Max, Chloe, Cici, Melody, Lily, Woody                        In  left row: Holiday, Maevis

My Shanghai Normal University English writing class students shared both quotations that inspire them and their own words of wisdom during their final exam.   The selections reflect a bit about these lovely 20-year-old Chinese students and their values.

Zoe quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Teemo quoted Brioso, Brioso, “Hut! Two, three, four. Big targets are the best – there’s more to aim at.”

“God helps those who help themselves,” Black noted Benjamin Franklin’s quotation in his essay about his failing the college entrance exam the first time he tried (when all his friends passed). Black studied another whole year and tried again . . . and he is now a very good student at SHNU!   Black’s experience has taught him, “Everyone is the master of his or her fate . . . [and] Although the reality is cruel, we should keep our dreams and aspirations.”

Iverson in front, July behind

Right – front to back: Iverson, Jerry, Sarah, Grace,  Jenny & Zoe  Left – Roxanne, Mandy, Vicky, Candy, Seven, Claire

Woody quotes the Chinese proverb, “Where there is life, there is hope.”   She also says, “Your heart decides whether you are beautiful, not the face.” Her mom told her, “Failure is the mother of success.”

Iverson quoted Shakespeare, “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.”

Candy says, “I learn experiences from the school life. I get happiness from my family. The world I come from is easy and satisfying.” [University life for the students can be quite different from the anguish most Chinese students experience in trying to get into a college. And because Candy is female, she does not have the societal and family pressure to get the high-paying position necessary for the males]

Charlotte cited Albert Einstein, “Try not to become a man of success but rather, try to become a man of value.”

“Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul,” Seven noted this General Douglas MacArthur quotation.

Hilary quoted Confucius, “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

Maevis  wrote about who inspires her: “Because of Chris Paul, the great NBA basketball player, I’ve tried my best to learn English well since middle school. No matter spoken English or written English, I knew it’s a unique way for me to communicate with him . . . so I should learn English well. Therefore, I am very grateful for his spiritual encouragement although he doesn’t know me. In brief, the reason I could be admitted to SHNU was because of Chris Paul!”

Tom quoted John Ruskin, “Living without an aim is like sailing without a compass.”

“Goals determine what you are going to be,” said Roxanne quoting Julius Erving.

Henry quoted Scarlett, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Max shared, “All men’s gains are the fruit of venturing” – Herodotus, Greek historian

She also quoted Muhammad Ali,  “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Jackson, Frank, Tom, Henry, July, Dorophy, Peter, Black

Jackson, Frank, Tom, Henry, July, Dorophy, Peter, Black, & Troy

Frank noted, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted” – John Lennon.

In an essay, July shared something that might be considered negative about his family, which is rarely ever done in China – at least not in my experience of being a teacher for a few hundred Chinese university students. Unlike many of us Americans who seem eager to carry on about our dysfunctional families or how hard we have had to work on our own to be our great independent selves, Chinese students often express gratitude for their families and their feelings of responsibility toward their much loved parents. Even in his essay about his “Chinese Tiger Mom,” July in the end expresses gratitude.

July wrote, “When I was two, my mother decided I should play piano. My mother made me practice three hours every day . . . sometimes four or five hours. I didn’t like the black and white thing. I wanted to play games and be with my friends. . . . If I refused or didn’t play well, she would hit my hand.  So I was afraid of her and I hated her sometimes in my early life . . . My life from 2 to 14 was black. . . . Finally, music suddenly became my favorite thing. . . . I now can teach children and perform for money. I love piano, singing, and music. . . At last, I can’t say a [bad] word about my mother.”

As you may understand from this quick glimpse, I really enjoy teaching and learning from my SHNU students.  My contribution is a Chinese proverb, “He who has health, has hope.  And he who has hope, has everything.”

I’ll end this selection with words from Claire and Abraham Lincoln.   Claire advises, “If you exert yourself now, you will have fewer regrets later.” Claire too failed her first college entrance exam because she had “idled away precious time,” but she is now one of the best students. Claire learned, “The past can’t be changed, but it can be fixed.”  She quotes Abraham Lincoln: “I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards.”

Hope you are all moving forward.

Zaì jiàn, Renée

Supermarkets in China – Now

I’ve read that some people coming from Third World Countries are amazed by our U.S. supermarkets with their rows and rows of pet food, cereals, and all manner of consumable products.  Where can you find such aisles now?

P1030170 A full aisle of toothpastes, tooth brushes, and other dental aids.  Five years ago, we had a hard time finding dental floss in Lin’an, China.

P1030174                                                                       The Cereal Aisle

An Imported Products aisle

An Imported Products aisle

Packaged Food

Packaged Food


For your pets too.

For your pets too.

A wall of pet food.

A wall of pet food.

Some sections could be in a U.S. market:

Fresh lettuces

Fresh lettuces

Fresh breads

Fresh breads

Crisp fall apples!

Crisp fall apples!

Wines from Australia

Wines from Australia – and beyond

Budweiser - here an imported beer

Budweiser – here an imported beer

Local beer - under 50 cents a bottle

Local beer – under 50 cents U.S. a bottle

However, in some sections, we know we are in China.   Here’s Barry in the tea aisle.

Many choices of tea.

Many choices of tea.

More teas

More teas

The dried fish section.

The dried fish section.

Fresh fish

Fresh fish

The meats

The meats


The chickens



Prepared foods

Prepared foods

Prepared salads

Prepared salads

We recognized some “street food” in a prepared foods section.  Although we have never gotten sick by eating street food here, we figured it might be safer to buy in the supermarket than on the street.  So we picked out a few things.  Too late, Barry realized that one of the choices  – a pork stuffed wanton was – not cooked!  Yikes.  We’re back to the streets.

Many, many aisles of packaged foods

Many, many aisles of packaged foods

Packaged foods galore!

Packaged foods galore!

The abundant packaged foods and the ubiquitous fast-food restaurants are leading some Chinese to make unhealthy choices.

McDonald's in Shanghai

McDonald’s in Shanghai – and he’s smoking 😦

And just so you don’t think that China just seems ordinary like another U.S. city, I’ll add this.  A day when Barry and I had just been in the Shanghai Carrefour Supermarket and were walking back to our hotel, we passed a hutong, an old traditional neighborhood.  We saw a crowd of people huddled over something on the ground across the street.  I had to go look.  I hoped it wasn’t a dog.

Goat on the street

Fresh meat on the street

It was a goat being cut up!  The U.S. Department would not approve of a curb-side butcher.

However, we learned on the news that night that Muslims were celebrating Eid Al-Adha, “The Festival of the Sacrifice.”   A part of that tradition is to give charity; they are to sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat among family, friends, and the poor.  So what we had seen was an act of giving; the people from the hutong who received the meat must have been happy and grateful.

So when you come to China, you won’t be very surprised by their supermarkets.  However, you are likely to find surprises on the streets.

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée


In 2013, Do the Chinese Have Religious Freedom?

Shanghai church--seen from People's Park.

Shanghai church–seen from People’s Park.

Now China is mainly a secular country, and since many of its citizens work seven days a week, Sunday often seems like just another day.  However, many people do practice a religion in China.  How easy or wise that is depends on whom you ask.  The situation now is much different than in the past.

Before the Cultural Revolution, China had several religions and philosophies to guide ethical living: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism were the main practices.    Taoism sought inner peace and harmonious surroundings.  Buddhism with its temples and monks and rituals was a more conventional religion that arrived from India in the 1st century AD.  Confucianism involved a set of obligations to create a just and harmonious society.  Folk religions that contained elements of Buddhism and Taoism served local regions.  Catholic Jesuits arrived in the early 17th century; Protestant missionaries came in the early 19th century.  Islam came to China mainly from Central Asia.   The Communist government, however, has discouraged religious practices as being anti-socialist. Especially during the 1966-1977 Cultural Revolution, religious practitioners were prosecuted, temples and churches destroyed.   Since 1977, some temples have been reopened and citizens allowed to practice religions, but the Chinese government is still cautious especially if the religion involves foreigners.

Seen from our train between Xiamen and Shanghai, church in the countryside

Church in the countryside — seen from our train between Xiamen and Shanghai,

There is not agreement even on the numbers of Christians or other religious followers in China. The Chinese government says 100 million; religious groups estimate double that number.  I’ve read that soon there will be more Christians in China than in any other country.

On our first trip to China in 2003, my family visited American missionary friends teaching English at a university for minorities in Chengdu, in the west of China.  Our friends said the government didn’t care that they were missionaries since the Tibetan ethnic minorities were their focus.  However, being Christian in China can lead to problems.

Church in an up-scale planned community near Hangzhou, China

Church in an up-scale planned community near Hangzhou, China

What do some conservative Christians say? American Phil Sheldon, self-described as being active in conservative Christian politics since 1977, has a Chinese wife, and is living and working in Beijing.   Sheldon says, “Many of the bad things you have heard [about being a Christian in China] are generally true. Nevertheless, there are profoundly wonderful things happening as well. . . I walk through many nice indoor malls to avoid the weather and the smog. While there, I have seen and heard Christianity expressed in public. I have been in restaurants with Christian music playing. I was moved to tears the first time I heard a real Christmas carol proclaiming Jesus Christ is Lord in English, coming through the background music loud and clear. [Since the carol was in English, whoever chose the song may not have known what was being proclaimed].  I have seen people sitting out in public, witnessing over a dog-eared, well-marked Bible.”

Sheldon and his family attend the 800 member Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church in Beijing.  He says that he “first visited there on Easter Sunday 2012 out of curiosity. When I heard the pastor say, ‘All government should submit to the authority of Jesus Christ,’ I knew that I was called to attend that church.”  Sheldon doesn’t report that this church has been targeted or persecuted by the Chinese government.

From: <;

Church service in session--with singing

Christian church service in session–including singing

What does an on-line Christian newspaper say?  A recent article in Christianity Today notes that what some see as persecution, others see as having reasons for trouble with the Chinese government.  “Beijing, which had the highest number of persecution cases in 2012, reportedly has more than 3,000 house churches, yet the China Aid report mentions only two cases involving Beijing house churches for the entire year. . . . [However] certain triggers … prompt authorities in China to take action against Christian activities. These include directly opposing the Communist Party (especially in a public manner, which embarrasses government officials and is bound to provoke a response); engaging in political activity, openly championing human rights, or being identified with a group that does so; and having foreign involvement. With China’s rapid urbanization, property disputes are often another factor, with Christians being forced out of their churches (whether registered or unregistered) at the hands of greedy developers collaborating with corrupt local officials. A related factor is simply local abuse of power, especially in regions where there is a history of tension between Christians and officials, or in ethnic minority areas, where Christians may be seen as a threat by the dominant religious majority.

Christian girls

Christian girls

Of the nearly 5,000 Christians reported by China Aid to have suffered persecution in 2012, more than two-thirds were involved in cases where one or more of the above triggers were present. These Christians were either engaged in activity which the government perceived as a threat, or they ran afoul of the economic or political interests of corrupt local leaders.  Examples of the former include Christian dissidents, human rights lawyers, and those who attempted to utilize public space for Christian activities (the most well-known being Shouwang church in Beijing, whose outdoor worship drew international attention and incurred the wrath of Beijing officials. . . .

China ranks 37th on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List, an index that ranks 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. This indicates that China is still one of the countries where Christians are oppressed because of their faith. However, less than 10 years ago China was in the top 10. Last year China ranked 21st. China was 13th in 2010.

By far the most persecution in China happens predominately in Muslim and Tibetan minorities [regions]. . .

Christians among the Han majority still experience limitations, especially compared to democratic countries. ‘Generally, we feel the government is on the right path,’  says one Chinese Christian. ‘Of course there is still room for improvement.'”

From: <;

Barry talking to kids after a church service near Hangzhou

Barry talking to kids after a church service near Hangzhou

What does the current Chinese government say?  The Chinese government has its point of view too.  According to a 2013 Reuters report by Ben Blanchard, China says it aims to banish superstition while promoting knowledge.

“Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said there had been an explosion of religious belief in China along with the nation’s economic boom, which he attributed to a desire for reassurance in an increasingly complex world. While religion could be a force for good in officially atheist China, it was important to ensure people were not mislead, he told the Study Times, a newspaper published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials. ‘For a ruling party which follows Marxism, we need to help people establish a correct world view and to scientifically deal with birth, ageing, sickness and death, as well as fortune and misfortune, via popularizing scientific knowledge,’ he said, in rare public comments on the government’s religious policy.

About half of China’s religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the other half Buddhists or Daoists, he said, admitting the real total number of believers was probably much higher than the official estimate of 100 million.

Wang did not address specific issues, such as what happens after the exiled spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama dies, testy relations with the Vatican or controls on Muslims in the restive Xinjiang region in the west.

Rights groups say that despite a constitutional guarantee of freedom of belief, the government exercises tight control, especially over Tibetans, Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and Christians, many of whom worship in underground churches.


Beijing also takes a hard line on what it calls “evil cults”, like banned spiritual group Falun Gong, who it accuses of spreading dangerous superstition.

Still, while religion was savagely repressed during the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, the government has taken a much more relaxed approach since embarking on landmark economic reforms some three decades ago.

The ruling Communist Party, which values stability above all else, has even tried to co-opt religion in recent years as a force for social harmony in a country where few believe in communism any more.

China had avoided the religious extremism which happened in some places with the collapse of the Soviet Union or the religious problems seen with immigrants in Europe and the United States, Wang added, something to be proud of.

Still, China could not rest on its laurels.

“Religion basically upholds peace, reconciliation and harmony … and can play its role in society,” Wang said.

“But due to various complex factors, religion can become a lure for unrest and antagonism. Looking at the state of religion in the world today, we must be very clear on this point.”

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

From: <>

Church in the countryside

Church in the countryside

A fourth-generation Chinese Christian, Brother “Chen,” who is the leader of a large network of house churches notes a bigger challenge to religions in modern China. “When asked about persecution of Christians in China, he refers to secularism, materialism, and money. ‘Money now dictates every aspect of life. Most Chinese, especially the youngsters, live to earn as much as they can, so they can have that nice apartment, and can get married and afford a family. They are so occupied with working there is hardly room for ministry anymore.'”

From: <;

What about religious holidays?

Shanghai church wedding

Shanghai church wedding

Since I was in China for Easter this spring, I wanted to see how it would be celebrated in a Shanghai church.  I found a Christian church just two metro stops from my guest house.  On the way to the Easter Sunday service, I met two foreign students on their way to the church; one from Haiti studies business communication and the other from Papua New Guinea studies petrol-chemical engineering.  Both had an intense year of studying Mandarin Chinese before beginning classes taught in Chinese in their majors!  Christianity is an important part of their lives.

churchservice student

Christian foreign students


Christian church–for the afternoon Easter services, attendees needed to have foreign passports.

About 600 people attended the Easter Sunday services conducted in English: the church was packed.  Any U.S. church would be proud of the turnout.  We were, however,  required to hold foreign passports to go to this service.   No one asked to see my passport perhaps because I don’t look Chinese.  The prayer books in the pews, however, were all in Chinese, and at other times of the day, services were offered for Chinese citizens.  So is this restriction on attending this particular service persecution or just a crowd control strategy?   I don’t know.


At the beginning of the service — for the first one-and-a-half hours-we stood and sang.  This group led us.

I love singing in a group, and  although I didn’t know any of the hymns, I could see the words projected on large screens at the front of the church, and we had enthusiastic song leaders.


We heard the Easter sermon by a Western minister

An official church choir group sang hymns such as Amazing Grace.


Church choir on Easter Sunday

Many at the service were obviously friends and attending the service seemed a common activity for them.   During the service, I heard nothing against the Chinese government.  However, after the service one attendee that I talked with said she was waiting for a sign from God to know whether she should go home to help her own country or to stay in China to save Chinese people for the Lord!


End of Easter service-a throng of foreigners head toward the door.

There weren’t police outside the door or any signs of harassment that I could see.  The one issue was the number of beggars, the most I’d seen anywhere in China at one time.  Before and after the service,  they waited just outside the church gate.   These were not able-bodied people: triple amputees in a country where there is limited medical support;  old sick people in a land where if you don’t have a child or the child has died or is in some way incapacitated, the old have little in the way of help; one guy looked like he had Hansen’s disease, which can now easily be arrested with medication (if you have money for it).  Hopefully, those participating in this Easter service opened their hearts to the suffering on the street before them.

What about other religions in China?  It’s not just Christians who have challenges attracting believers or feeling free to practice their beliefs in China, other religions face the government’s secular way to live as well.

Shanghai Temple--the gold bank building looms over the temple

Shanghai Jing’an Temple, the famous Buddhist temple of peace and tranquility. The  gold bank building looms over the temple.


Entrance to this temple costs 36 yuan (about $6.00 U.S.). The Jing’an Temple was first built in 247A.D.


All along the perimeter of the temple are expensive shops


Instead of going inside the temple, Barry and I and others were distracted by many products including these neck and head massage appliances-about $400 U.S. for the best ones–just outside the Jing’an Temple!

What do Barry and I think about religious freedom in China?  From what Barry and I have heard and seen (but we don’t speak Chinese and haven’t really been in the countryside), it’s okay to be a Christian or Buddhist.  In Shanghai, no one seems to care.  However, I wasn’t able to find a Quaker group in this city of 24 million people.  Also if we were criticizing  the government or pushing  our beliefs, we might have had another experience.

Some of my students have made reference in passing to God or Jesus or Buddha.  Some have worn crosses although a cross is just as likely to be a fashion statement as a symbol of belief.  Some Chinese students  have asked me about my religion, and I’ve heard about their  concern during the elections over religious factions in the U.S.

What I have noticed is a lack of respect for religious institutions:  such as the shops around the base of the Jing’an Temple, and other temples I’ve visited seem more like tourist stops than places of worship.


Playing jumping games at the base of the historic White Lotus Tower in Wuzhen, China

In Wuzhen, for instance, at the base of the White Lotus Tower, a structure that must have some significance besides being tall, a loud speaker boomed out music, and everyone was encouraged to play games.


This fanciful Disney-like statue was also at the base of the White Lotus Tower–cute , but I would have liked to know the history of the tower.

I knew the tower must have some religious significance or there would not have been so many distractions around it.

White Lotus

In the distance, the seven-story White Lotus Tower in Wuzhen

When I got home, I looked up the White Lotus Tower and found an article in Shanghai Today that noted, “Wuzhen used to have one Taoist Temple, two towers, nine temples and thirteen nunneries.”

I hadn’t seen any of these historically important religious sites were mentioned while we were in Wuzhen.


View of the Wuzhen canal from the White Lotus Tower

“The ‘one Taoist Temple’ refers to Xiuzhen Taoist Temple at Dongzha, and the White Lotus Tower is one of the ‘two towers’, . . . of the Buddhist cultural architectures in Wuzhen.”

From –

We’ve also been at temples where the trees were the focus of attention.  When I taught at ZAFU, Barry and I walked the rugged trails on nearby Tianmushan Mountain.  Before the Cultural Revolution, Tianmushan was the  site of numerous  Buddhist monasteries and hundreds of monks.


Huge, old ginkgo trees–maybe 1,000 years old– and misty air.

The focus is on nature. The trees have plaques with names and history.  For instance, one huge Japanese Cedar, named by an emperor during the Qing Dynasty, is called the “Giant Tree King.”


The graves of the monks–some of whom are likely to have been important religious leaders–are unmarked.

Today, only one monastery is in use.  Most people who come to Tianmushan Mountain are there to hike and to see some of the 2,000 plant species.

Tianmushan is an important Buddhist site.   Although Buddhism had come to China from India in the first  century, at Tianmushan monasteries, Japanese monks learned of  Pure Land Buddhism and introduced the practice (and tea drinking) to Japan.  You won’t learn that important fact if you visit Tianmushan and just rely on the official plaques for your information.


One Tianmushan monastery remains

Now foreigners come for retreats:  <;

So is there religious freedom in China today?  Like much of what Barry and I have seen in China, things are changing.   Actual religious persecution is going down.  Those most eager about organized religions are the evangelists.  Most Chinese, however, seem too busy studying, working, and worrying about their financial futures to be concerned about religion.  A spiritual life is  important too.    Until recently, religion and ethical thought have been important for thousands of years in China.  Now for those who are interested, that spiritual search and practice seems again to be a possibility  in China.  Perhaps the Chinese can seek not only material well being but also spiritual  strength.

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée

(Photos by me)

China News Flashes: Bird Flu, 2013 Sichuan Earthquake, and Newest Leaders

China not only faces the challenges involved with a huge population and an economy that is changing the lives of most of its people, but it also has recent health and disaster issues.   The “bird flu”, H7N9,  is one concern.   China Daily (4/16/13) noted that the  virus is not spread by people.  Shan Juan and Wang Qingyun note that Shanghai has the most reported cases – 24 – with 9 deaths, Zhejiang  reported 15 with 2 deaths, Beijing has 1 reported (Nation p. 3).

A breeder, whose business has been affected by the H7N9 bird flu virus, walks his ducks along a road in Changzhou county, Shandong province, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

A breeder, whose business has been affected by the H7N9 bird flu virus, walks his ducks along a road in Changzhou county, Shandong province, April 24, 2013.

According to Ruethers, 4/26/13, this week, the World Health Organisation called the virus, known as H7N9, “one of the most lethal”, and said it is more easily transmitted than an earlier strain that has killed hundreds around the world since 2003.  Chinese scientists confirmed on Thursday that chickens had transmitted the flu to humans.  This week, a man in Taiwan, who had caught the flu while traveling in China, become the first case of the flu outside mainland China.

NY Times article says that U.S. health authorities have not advised against traveling in China. (

Some people here in Shanghai say they are worried about the bird virus.  However, this is a country of about 1,350,000,000 people, so I feel the odds of catching the disease are slim.  Besides, Barry, John, and I were in Chengdu for over a month in the spring 2003, during the previous “bird flu” epidemic.  As we were flying out of China, we first learned about SARs when a young French guy at the Chengdu airport gave face masks to Johnny and me.  We hadn’t known anything about that epidemic because China in 2003 hadn’t been open about the disease which contributed to its spread when sick people seeking help went home to their villages.

Although we do know about the “bird flu” now in 2013, Barry and I have seen no evidence of it where we are.  Some people are wearing face masks.  But unlike a month ago when many of my students and I had  colds, few are ill now.    A couple of my students have been sick, but they are not allowed to come to class until they have medical clearance.   WHO is involved and giving out statistics, so it seems the virus is being monitored.

Another issue in China right now is the  Sichuan earthquake that happened last Saturday.   Barry and I are over a 1000 miles (1600 kilometers) from the damage, and actually we were in Xiamen last Saturday, so we are safe.  But as of 4/25/13, China Daily reports that the death toll had risen to 196 with 11,470 wounded. About 22,000 injured or sick people have been treated.  Aftershocks and damaged buildings continue to be issues.  Today is set as an official day of mourning for the victims.  (

Shu Wei, his wife Yang Xiaoli and younger daughter mourn the family’s 5-year-old elder daughter who was killed in last Saturday’s earthquake in Lushan county, Sichuan province. CUI MENG / CHINA DAILY

Shu Wei, his wife Yang Xiaoli and younger daughter mourn the family’s 5-year-old elder daughter who was killed in last Saturday’s earthquake in Lushan county, Sichuan province. CUI MENG / CHINA DAILY

The Chinese government has responded  much more quickly to the earthquake  victims than for the 2008 earthquake in the same region, and we actually know about the “bird flu” now when we didn’t in 2003.

Although China has huge challenges,  most of the Chinese leaders are well educated and have experience in fields that should allow them to make informed decisions for their country.   Starting in November with the  Party’s 18th National Congress, many leaders have been appointed and elected to new positions.  Xi Jinping, for instance,  was elected general-secretary of the CPC Central Committee.

On the way to Moscow, Xi and Peng on their first overseas visit as xxxx

On the way to Moscow, Xi and Peng on their first overseas visit (from China Daily)

Xi has experienced the changes in Chinese politics first hand.  He is the second son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the founders of the Communist guerrilla movement in Shaanxi and former Vice-Premier. At the time, his father served as the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department and later Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress. When Xi was 10, his father was purged and sent to work in a factory in Luoyang, Henan. Xi was 15 when his father was jailed in 1968, during the Cultural Revolution. Then Xi went to work in Yanchuan County, Shaanxi, in 1969 in Mao Zedong’s “Down to the Countryside Movement.”  He later became the Party branch secretary of the production team.   In 1975, he began to study chemical engineering at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University.  He graduated and went on to earn his LLD.  Xi has held many government positions including –

-Governor of Fujian between 1999 and 2002.

-Governor and CPC party chief of the neighboring Zhejiang between 2002 and 2007.

– Party Secretary in Shanghai  in 2007.

– Promoted to the central leadership in October 2007, groomed to become Hu Jintao’s successor.

Xi is well prepared for top leadership.   According to Henry Kissinger in “The 2013 Time 100,” “Xi is convinced his generation’s hardships gave it the strength to face the challenges of adapting China to the consequences of its success. He has put forward a sweeping reform program designed to move millions to the cities, streamline bureaucracy, reorient the economy away from state-owned enterprises and fight corruption”

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping wavesRead more:

According to Wikipedia, Xi “is generally popular with foreign dignitaries, who are intrigued by his openness and pragmatism. Former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, when asked about Xi, said he felt he was ‘a thoughtful man who has gone through many trials and tribulations.’  Lee also commented: ‘I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons. A person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment. In other words, he is impressive.’  Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson described Xi as ‘the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line.’

Kerry an d Xi at a recent meeting

Kerry an d Xi at a recent meeting.  Photo:

“For decades, the United States has reserved the term “special relationship” for two countries, Britain and Israel, but Secretary of State John Kerry called for a new “special relationship” with China during his recent trip to Asia.”


My Chinese students also like Xi’s wife.  According to a CNN article, “Charm offensive: Peng Liyuan, China’s glamorous new First Lady,” Peng “holds a master’s degree in traditional ethnic music and now serves as the dean of the Art Academy of the People’s Liberation Army”  <;.

Xi and Peng Liyuan married in 1987.  They have a daughter who enrolled  in Harvard as a freshman in 2010.  The Chinese are very proud of their leader and his wife.

Famous contemporary Chinese folk singer and wife of Xi

Peng Liyuan, famous contemporary Chinese folk singer and wife of Xi

Some compare Peng to Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, strong, beautiful women.

Besides Xi, China has changed or reassigned many of its well-qualified leaders.  According to the China Daily, April 15, 2013, “Nearly 90 percent of the 62 provincial officials have post-graduate degrees, up from about 50 percent five years ago, People’s Daily reported.  Ten officials hold PhDs including Sun Zhengcai in Chongquing [the world’s biggest megacity with 32 million people]  . . .

Wang Yukai, a professor of administrative research at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said that officials with politics and economic majors are expected to better handle the problems in social management. ‘At the beginning of the reform and opening-up period (in 1978) officials with engineering and technological backgrounds were more likely to get promoted,’ he said. ‘But the number of leaders with political and economic backgrounds is becoming larger, which is to meet the demand of social management.’

Not all is as glowing as this information sounds.  According to an article in the  March 16-22, 2013 The Economist, of the delegates at the most recent National People’s Congress, 90 are among China’s 1,000 richest citizens.  Each is worth at least 1.8 billion yuan ($290 million U.S.).  Soft-drink maker Zong Qinghou, a delegate, is worth about $13 billion.  Many of the rest of the leaders “also enjoy life at the top end of the inequality curve.”  Although many of the leaders say they want to reduce inequality in China, their actions will show if they are more interested in preserving their vested interests (46)

The Chinese government and its people face many challenges.  We’ll be watching to see if China’s capable leaders make wise choices.

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée

2013 China Business Snapshots

Stores in Shanghai apartment complex

Stores in Shanghai apartment complex

View from our Shanghai guesthouse   window.  When it's really clear, I can counts 15 cranes!

View from our Shanghai guesthouse window. When it’s really clear, I can counts 15 cranes!

China is always amazing us with its contrasts and changes.  Here a few recent items we’ve noticed that you might find interesting too.

Shanghai pedestrian walkway

Shanghai pedestrian walkway

Shanghai apartment rents in a nice area one-and-a-half hours outside Shanghai center:  127 meters (1,367 sq. feet), 2 bedroom, 17,000 Yuan (U.S $2,737) per month.  A 217 meter (2,336 sq. feet), 4 bedrooms, 27,000 Yuan (U.S.  $4,347 ) per month.  Apartments in the same high-rise building sell for 5-10,000,000 Yuan ($800,000-$1,000,000 and more).  Contact Century 21 (152-6864-7692).

Beer garden and expensive Shanghai apartments

Beer garden and expensive Shanghai apartments

Most college graduates, we’ve been told, earn the equivalent of $200-$300 U.S. per month.  We don’t know who can afford these apartments, but obviously many do.

Western men who talk of travel, linguistic challenges, and kids!

Western men who talk of travel, linguistic challenges, and kids!

Chinese business continue to change:  According to the Feb/March 2013 issue of  SBR: Shanghai Business Review-

Now “McDonald’s 1,500 outlets in China are regular chain stores, the complete reverse of its other locations around the globe, of which 75% are franchises…The hamburger chain entered China in 1991 but failed in attempts at franchising” (18).

McDonald's in Shanghai

McDonald’s in Shanghai

However, McDonald’s has begun accepting franchise applications to open the chain stores in Sichuan Province and Chongqing (an emerging Megacity, perhaps the biggest city in the world—in area larger than the Czech Republic, in population – 32 million).  Chongqing is the economic center of the upper Yangtze River.

Chongqing--world's largest megacity!

Chongqing–world’s largest megacity! Photo from

Within the next 10 years, Baskin-Robbins, American global ice cream chain, to open 249 more ice cream shops in China (19).

Apple sold 2 million plus iPhone 5 in China in the first three days after it was officially released (20).

A busy Apple store on Shanghai's Nanjing Road

A busy Apple store on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road

US-based Starbucks recently started buying 20 times more of the  local Puer coffee  (the place name of its source in Yunnan Province) than it had previously been ordering.

One of the many Starbucks in Shanghai

One of the many Starbucks in Shanghai

What I’ve wanted to find is a good place to exercise, to do more than climb stairs and walk everywhere.  I’ve been looking for a gym and have wanted to join a yoga or Pilates class while I’m here in Shanghai; however, I can’t bring myself to pay the equivalent of  $15.00 or more a class that seems to be the going rate for yoga.  The Pilates fees are even worse: the only one I’ve found from a Google search costs $300 U.S dollars for five classes!  The website did mention the four stages of awakening  and apply them to skill at Pilates:  unconscious & incompetent; conscious & incompetent; conscious & competent; and unconscious & competent.  Funny!  Perhaps the classes cost so much so the teachers can have lots of time to read and work on their spirituality.  As for me, at least for now, you’ll find me climbing the six floors to our guesthouse room and using my Pilates DVD.

Health practitioners stretching in the Shanghai sun.

Health practitioners stretching in the Shanghai sun.

In my classes too, I am continually surprised.   My students will be studying abroad in the U.S. or UK, so I want them to be aware of cultural differences that are sometimes vast.  In one recent class, I took in letters to “Dear Abby,” a lesson I’ve tried at other schools,  to see if my students would handle the issues differently than she does.

In one letter to Abby, a 15-year-old boy says that his parents yell and scream at him all the time.  A group in my class suggested that the boy find out what he is doing that upsets his parents so much (and then not do those things).  My students, all economic majors, also suggested that financial stresses might be a cause of some of the tension, so the boy should get a part-time job and help contribute to the family.   In her answer, Abby said the boy should tell a counselor or another adult about his parents’ behavior.

The Chinese answer of being self reliant seems really admirable, but the reality is there’s not yet much mental health support in China. Learning to be self reliant is imperative here especially for the boys who have huge pressures to get the best grades, get in the best schools,  graduate from the best universities so they can earn a lot of money so they will be able to buy a house, get married, buy a car, support his parents, her parents, any grandparents, and provide the best for his one child.  According to the career counselor at my Shanghai university, only 20% of the 2013 graduates are likely to get jobs! The competition is fierce and the responsibilities especially for males are daunting. And in the Chinese culture, they aren’t to talk about their problems; it’s shameful for the family if anyone knows there are difficulties. Last week a student—a boy—jumped from the top of the university library and died – a tragedy.

However, learned helplessness and feelings of entitlement can be issues in the U.S.   Perhaps we could learn from each other!

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée

2013 Shanghai Literary Festival: Authors, Photojournalists, and More

View from the 6th floor Glamour Bar toward the Bund and the Huangpu River.

View from the 6th floor Glamour Bar toward the Bund and the Huangpu River.

I’m alone here in Shanghai.  Well, I’m not really alone since 24,000,000 other people live in this vibrant city, but Barry isn’t here yet.  So I was particularly pleased that my arrival on March 2, coincided with the annual Shanghai Literary Festival that features, from March 1-17 this year, 70 authors from 21  countries!  I love it; that’s where I’ve been.   Of course,  I didn’t see all the authors, but I’ll share my experience, and you too  are likely to add to your must-read list of books.

2013 Shanghai Literary Festival--a treasure of writers and ideas

2013 Shanghai Literary Festival–a treasure trove of writers and ideas

On Sunday, March 3, I attended my first session at the upscale   restaurant and Glamour Bar at #5 on the Bund to see Ryan Pyle, a photographer & T.V. producer, who traveled the border edges of China—18,000 km in 65 days—with his brother Colin on BMW F800G5 sports motorcycles!  For those who care about such things, BMW R800G5’s power is 63.5 kW (85.2 hp) @ 8,000 rpm.  These bikes took the extreme abuse, but the occasional need to get parts was an issue.

Ryan's and Colin's bikes looked something like this--only red.  Photo from

Ryan’s and Colin’ -BMW sports bikes– this model–only red. Photo from<;  

Before the Ryan and Colin started on their saga, they got off-road training at the BMW motorcycle factory in Germany.

Ryan shared photos and video clips and has written a book, The Middle Kingdom Ride, and produced a T.V. show as a result.

The G219 highway was the toughest stretch.  According to Wikipedia, at 1,296 miles (2,086 kilometers) in length, G219 runs along China’s southwestern border from Yecheng in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to Lhatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Started in 1951, the road passes through the disputed area of Aksai Chin, which is administered by the People’s Republic of China but also claimed by India. The road’s construction was one of the triggers for the 1962 Sino-Indian War (from: <;).

I don’t want to do such a trip by motorcycle, but it was fun for us  to see Ryan and his brother mired in mud and other such adventures.  His brother, Colin, had given up a good bank job and had never ridden a motorcycle before this feat–and he survived.  Colin even joined for Ryan’s following challenge: riding the border of India.  However, that experience was even worse, so Colin is back at a desk job.

One memorable detail from the Chinese border, Ryan said was when he was in  Ji’an, a middle-size Chinese city with all its high rises and lights and fierce traffic, he could see across the border into North Korea.  At night, Ryan could see no building lights, no smoke of  rising heat, no headlights of vehicles–just darkness in North Korea. 

Amazon gives The Middle Kingdom Ride 5 stars: <;

I’m interested in his India adventure too and will watch for its publication.

The next session I attended was for a poet from Texas; Shelly Bryant has lived in Shanghai and Singapore for 20 years! She plays with ideas and forms such as poems in three columns that read across or down or one that takes a word like “monster” and develops the poem from the synonyms. Very interesting—and good. Because the talk was held at 3pm on Wednesday, only 10 of us attended including three people from Shelly’s writing group and her Chinese translator, plus a newly retired Canadian who was a waste water engineer in Malaysia and the Philippines, a student from New Zealand who wants to connect me with her just arrived mother, and the girl’s Chinese friend. We had coffee/tea and desserts as we sat around a table with the sun pouring in the windows of this high-end restaurant on the Bund: delightful!

You can reach poet Shelly Bryant to get her books and translations at

Next, I saw A.D. Miller author of Snowdrops: “a chilling story of love and moral decay.”  Set in Moscow, it’s  about how an ordinary person, in this case an ex-pat (and some of them do things in foreign countries that they would never do at home), can easily slide into darkness.  The title refers to the all too common practice in Moscow of the Mafia dropping bodies into the winter snow; those bodies then don’t show up until spring as the snow melts.

A.D. talked about contradictions and the dark side of Moscow; he says corruption  in Russia and Ukraine is pervasive.  For the government there, “T.V. is the neuralgic point”; they don’t want the extent of the corruption known.  Now in the Russian state of  Georgia, however, people cannot bribe traffic police.  Miller thinks the long-term outlook for Russia and Ukraine is good.

Amazon gives four stars to Snowdrops, shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize and several other awards and noted as one of the best debut books of 2011: <>ie=UTF8&qid=1363839929&sr=8-1&keywords=A.D.+Miller&gt;

Miller was stationed in Moscow as the correspondent for The Economist.   

Another author, Michael Vatikiotis spoke on Indonesia and the Far East; he has lived in Asia for almost 30 years, much of that time as a journalist in Thailand and Hong Kong.   He has many insights into the changes of Asia; he witnessed the end   of the 1990’s, a time of clashes of values and  of traditions.

Vatikiotis talked about how it’s generally ignored that in 1965-1966 a million or million-and-a-half people were massacred in Indonesia because they were Communists or thought to be  Communist sympathizers.   Just published in February 2013, Vitikiotis’ newest novel, Painter of Lost Souls,  set in central Java, his favorite part of Indonesiaexplores the religious and political tensions that have resulted in modern Indonesian society where Communism is still illegal and now 90% of Indonesia’s businesses  (although only 10% of the population) are of Chinese ancestry and targets of violence.  These Indonesian Chinese are sending their children to schools in China so they will learn their “mother” tongue.  Several of the students I’ve met in my guesthouse are just such ethnic Chinese Indonesians.

Vitikiotis also talked about his transition from a journalist, when the magazine closed in 2004,  to a fiction writer.  He joined an on-line group Dim Sum, where people post short stories and members comment.  He  got encouragement to continue–and he has.

Michael Vatikiotis -   photo from

Michael Vatikiotis – photo from <;

Vatikiotis’ The Spice Garden  gets 4 1/2 stars from Amazon and is only $4.99 for the Kindle edition. <;

The next session featured author Tom Rachman.  His novel  The Imperfectionists spent 28 weeks on the NY Times best sellers list!   Rachman talked about his writing path and process.  He earned a Masters in Journalism at Columbia, but as he reached 30, he knew he wanted to be a fiction writer, not a journalist.  So he quit his job and moved to Paris.  He had enough money to write for a year.  What he produced was a bomb–not even his mother liked it.

But now, he says that year of writing was a valuable tool.  He learned that he wasn’t a naturally gifted writer, but that he could work, work, and revise, revise.  He says that 90% of what he does is revision.

Tom Rachman

Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists,  Amazon says, is “One of most acclaimed books of the year.  Tom Rachman’s debut novel follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters and editors of an English-language newspaper in Rome.”  Festival attendees commented on the novel’s tight construction and true-to-life characters.

To order, go to <;

Rahul Bhattacharaua was next.  He started his career as a cricket player, a journalist who followed cricket games, and then when Cricket, the magazine where he worked folded, he went to Guyana for a year–just because he had liked it when he had been there for cricket matches.  He wrote The Sly Company of People Who Care, a winner of the Hindu Literary Prize for Best Fiction in 2011 and other awards.

Rahul loves the music of the Guyana streets and the complex interaction of peoples whose ancestors arrived through forced immigration from China, India, and Africa.  Now the Guyanan population is 43.5% Indian, 30.2% African, 16% Portuguese, .o2% White, and .019 Chinese.  Catching all the flavor of the people he met and the pidgin languages there, Bhattacharaua wrote this book six months after he left Guyana.

A reviewer on Amazon says, The Sly Company of People Who Care is “a unique travel book of great originality, chock full of outlandish characters, trips to places the reader will not even have imagined, and risky adventures to the interior. Not a ‘novel’  by any definition that I have ever read, the resulting book offers new glimpses into a lesser known part of the world, vibrantly described by a narrator who is obviously a stand-in for the author” (from <;).

Bhattacharaua’s next book Mirror of Beauty will be out in June.

Then I saw one of the most interesting of the festival speakers, James Fallows, a writer for The Atlantic magazine since the late 1970’s. He’s lived in Asia many of those years and has great insights.  He contributes regularly to NPR, was a speech writer for Jimmy Carter,  has earned  many awards, and has written 10 books including Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from ChinaBreaking the News: How the Media undermine American Democracy; and Blind into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq. His newest  book is China Airborne.

Fallows covered four topics:  the stated topic: Can China Make It?”; plus The Current State of China in the World; the State of the U.S. ; and the Evolution of U.S. Views on China.

A quick Fallows’ summary:  compared to Japan,  many of the investments in China are open, not the head-to-head competition as in Japan, and  it’s much  easier to make Chinese friends than Japanese friends.  China is a gigantic, unknowable in many ways, conflicting country.  However, while China’s rise is notable, it is not reason for threat.

James Fallows

James Fallows

Fallows says to immerse yourself in China because it’s important and fun.  The economic relationship is more complimentary than you might think, and the biggest threat of China to the world is environmental.   Fallows says, “It is definitely worthwhile to work in China.”

As for the question, “Can China make it?” Fallows says that in the last 30 years, China has done something miraculous in bringing millions of people up.  But the move from the  Keynesian work of factories to that of creating their own areodynamic industry is a “marsh test.”  The path ahead will be harder the next 20-30 years.

China does not have the advanced liberal society that encourages creativity.  For instance, the Internet censorship makes being on-line much slower than necessary and is not a marker for the most talented people.  Fallows thinks the effect is bigger than you might think.  He says it’s a “Dick Cheney effect”–knock things down before a possible problem.  In addition, the Chinese universities are not considered world-class and are not attracting global students.  Chinese parents seek to send their children abroad.

Little is reported about China in the U.S. mainstream press.  China wasn’t really an issue in the U.S. presidential race.  Fallows said that even though Mitt included dealing with China in the first 20 things he would do, he didn’t mean it.

To the question, “Is America going to hell?” Fallows says that every stage of our country’s development there have been two thoughts: 1) We’re great, and 2)We’re falling a part.  But he sees our university system as strong and immigration reform should happen soon.  Plus everyone else’s problems are worse than ours.  The tax rates and health care can be worked out.

However, the U.S. government has a losing ability to reform; it’s too rigid.  The institutions of self-government are a problem because they can’t police themselves and evolve.  Fallows says, however, the governance of the U.S. problem is “more interesting than horrible.”

In China, the environmental pollution is a big problem and the government is trying, but really China in a lot of ways is still a poor country.   The reason international flights into the Pudong Airport near Shanghai are always a half hour late is because the Chinese military is in control of the airspace.  They make the planes take circuitous routes.  He said it’s like flying between Washington D.C. and N.Y. City but having to go by way of St. Louis.

If the Chinese government follows the Dick Cheney role of quashing potential problems before they could happen,  China and the U.S. will lose.  A China of Dick Cheneys will be a factory power but not a creative power.  Fallows sees China as making uneven progress and that most U.S. politicians are not worried about China.

China Airborne by James Fallows

China Airborne:  The Test of  China’s Future by James Fallows – photo from Amazon

China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future, the paperback is on sale now for only $9.61.  Go to <;

Chinese born Da Chen was the next speaker:  “From Fujian to Wall Street to Random House: Journey of a Chinese American.”  At 9,  he saw his neighbors string up his landowning father by his thumbs.   His father survived, but Da Chen knew he wanted to get out of China.  In 1985, at the age of 23, Da came America.

Da Chen - he remembers the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Da Chen – he remembers the Chinese Cultural Revolution

A memorist, Da Chen wants to share what people still suffer.  He says “Life is srtonger than anything coming our way.”

When he first came to the U.S. to go to school, Da had his flute, which he played for us,  and the equivalent of $30.00, the limit the Chinese government at the time would allow to be taken out.   A customer, a lawyer, at the Chinese restaurant where he worked in Nebraska encouraged Da to go to law school.  Da applied and was accepted to  Columbia University School of Law.  On Da’s last day of work in the restaurant, the lawyer left a $40 tip, which was enough  to pay for half of his airfare to the East Coast.  Da says America is full of good people.   After graduating,  Da worked many years for Rothschilds, a Wall Street investment banking firm.

So she would know the past, Da began writing stories for his American born daughter.  He now  writes full time.

Although China allowed  Da Chen to come into the country to be at the literary festival, his books were stopped at customs.

Amazon gives four stars to Colors of the Mountain.  Da’s most recent book is My Last Empress.    Go to – <;

“Migration Nation” was the next panel.  The focal question was how has immigration impacted these authors and their work?

Migration panel

“Migration Nation” panel: Moderator Tash Aw, Xu Xi, Andrew Lam, & HM Naqvi

Andrew Lam, journalist, NPR contributor, and author

Andrew Lam, journalist, NPR contributor, and author

At 11, Andrew Lam fled Vietnam with his family.  Lam says that the Vietnamese are not an immigrant people.   The Vietnamese word for “country” is water+field=rice field.  Migration for him meant the English language, which changed him.  Learning English gave him the way to be in the world.   At home, he was required to speak Vietnamese, which does not have pronouns.  When he spoke to or about his father,  he needed to say, “Father,” not the equalizer “you” or “he” of English.

Amazon says about Lam’s newest book, “The thirteen stories in Birds of Paradise Lost shimmer with humor and pathos as they chronicle the anguish and joy and bravery of America’s newest Americans, the troubled lives of those who fled Vietnam and remade themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. . . Birds of Paradise Lost is an emotional tour de force, intricately rendering the false starts and revelations in the struggle for integration, and in so doing, the human heart.”  From <;

Lam says that now Vietnam is a different country to explore.  He has no emotional ties to the new Vietnam.

For Xu Xi, Hong Kong is part of her.  Although she couldn’t wait to leave and has had property in upstate N.Y. and in New Zealand, Hong Kong is her home.

Xi reading from her cell phone--a real Hong Kong woman!

Xu Xi reading one of her science fiction pieces from her cell phone–a real Hong Kong woman!

Amazon describes Xu Xi’s novel Habit of a Foreign Sky: “Somewhere between Hong Kong and New York, life does an abrupt shift for Gail Szeto, when her mother, her last family member, is killed in an accident. For Gail, a mixed-race, single mother who had buried her young son less than two years prior, all she has left is a hard-won career at a global investment bank. Life rapidly goes into free fall for this woman with a complicated past, who was once so sure of her direction in life, who can now see no clear future path. Shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize, this novel offers a an international cast of characters in New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai.”  The book gets five stars from Amazon.  Go to  <;

In contrast HM Naqvi’s ancestors did migrate, staying no more than 300 years anywhere, and he has been on the move too.

HM N - now from Karachi

HM Naqvi – now from Karachi

Of his Homeboy,  about three young Pakistani men in New York City, Publishers Weekly notes,  “Naqvi’s fast-paced plot, foul-mouthed erudition and pitch-perfect dialogue make for a stellar debut.”

Amazon gives Homeboy, 4 1/2 stars.

Go to <;

Next, Charlotte Wood’s topic was “How Does Creativity Work?” A novel writer from Sydney, Wood is doing a Ph.D. with her focus on creativity.  She wants to explore where writers get their ideas.  The psychology of creativity has been researched for 50 years.

She got the feeling once at the end of writing her novel Animal People of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “flow” a deep and glorious feeling of ease, unquestioning flow, an elevated state.    However, you can’t make flow happen and you can’t wait.  Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs;  the rest of us show up and work.”  There is no writer’s block, but writer’s laziness; the work ethic is important.  “Visions come to prepared spirits.”  Wood says she doesn’t leave her writing room each day until she has written 1,000 words.  It’s also important for her to show up at the same time each day.

Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood novelist from Australia

Wood notes that many creative people start writing early in the day, so the pathway from sleep is smooth since the subconscious has been working during the night.  She says that every artist must dig and bring what he/she finds into the light.  Getting to the heart is the challenge.  If it’s easy, it’s probably not deep.  Also you need to love your characters even the ones others will hate because you need to understand them.  Wood has very flawed ordinary people as characters because they are interesting and bring conflict and drama to the story.  Wood says writing is about investigating those parts of yourself.  She often starts with a technical challenge such as in her Animal People, the story takes place in one day.

From the Allen and Dunwin homepage, “I read Charlotte Wood’s novel Animal People twice. I think it’s one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realized why this is. I don’t want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it.”

For Wood’s books, go to <;.

Adventurer and photojournalist Nick Danziger’s topic “Beyond Forbidden Frontiers” gave an overview of 25 years of documenting in photos and film of the world’s most dispossessed.   He’s photographed victims of war, mainly women and children like the ones in Sierra Leone who  although pleading for death instead had both hands cut off by the marauding militia, of unarmed Iranian refugees  fleeing war shot by Turkish soldiers, and orphaned children abandoned in a Kabul mental institution where the patients are chained to the floor.

In 1984 without visas, Danziger followed the ancient trade route by walking and local transport from Turkey to China.  He set off with 800 pounds (about $1,000 U.S.), which lasted him 16 months.  He passed tens of thousands of  Afghans fleeing the Soviets.  It took him six weeks to reach Pakistan.  He crossed over a Chinese border not open since 1948 and spent eight months in remote areas of China with the Muslim Uighurs.

Nic has been to much of the world--especially to its trouble spots.

Nick has been to much of the world–especially to its troubled spots.

In 1984, Nic walked into Iraq

In 1984, Nick walked through Iran

Because he couldn't read Pashta xxx, Nic thought the sign above the head of the mula counseling the woman was an anti-American slogan.  The sign actually was just directions to where to buy gas.

Because he couldn’t read Pashto, Nick thought the sign above the head of the mullah counseling the woman was an anti-American slogan. The sign actually was just directions to where to buy gas.

With a mula.  Irani/Iraqi xx thought Nic was a Pakastani trader..

With a mullah.  In China, people often thought  Danziger was a Persian trader.

Nic adopted two Afghani girls, orphans who had been put --because there was no other place for them--in a mental institution where patients were chained to the floor.

Danziger has adopted two orphaned Afghan girls and a boy.

Of war, Danziger says 90% of the casualties are civilians.  Afghanistan now has 15 centers for prosthetic devices.  In 1996, the Taliban were at first welcomed, but now women and girls are not allowed to get medical attention.  The men would rather allow a woman to die in childbirth than to be seen by a man.   One hundred twenty-five children crowd into one classroom; chalk is rationed.

In India, a father has to decide whether he should use his money to eat and so be able to take his HIV antidote and survive to care for his children or to feed his children that day. In Sierra Leone, 260 amputees live together.  Danziger has documented these tragedies and more.  But now, he says, there is no money for photojournalists.   He has a website, but most people don’t want to know.

As for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the people don’t want Westerners there, but all the women he’s met in Kabul and in the countryside say they feel deep gratitude for Western protection.   They are afraid what will happen when the Westerners leave.

Nick Danziger - adventurer and photojournalist

Nick Danziger – adventurer and photojournalist- photo from <;

To see more of Nick Danziger’s photos and buy his books, go to his homepage: <;.

The next session featured Qiu Xiaolong and Howard French: “Disappearing Shanghai.”    In 2004, Howard French was studying Chinese eight hours a day and would walk around with his camera to recover.  Much of his career a foreign correspondent,  he headed The New York Times‘ Shanghai bureau.  French had read Qiu Xiaolong’s When Red is Black and loved it.  When French saw the Qiu Xiaolong was speaking at the Shanghai Literary Festival, he came to the session, and the two have become good friends.  

Qiu is author of eight award-winning Inspector Chen detective novels set in Shanghai.  The latest  is The Enigma of China.  Qiu grew up in a corner of the Shanghai French Concession.  French’s photos reminded Qiu of his old way of life.   They formed a collaboration that resulted in Disappearing Shanghai, with photos by French and poems by Qiu.

Xiaolong and Howard:  collaborators and friends

Xiaolong and Howard: collaborators and friends

In looking at the photos, Qiu wrote from his life, from his heart.   Qiu and French talked about their wonderful collaboration.  French told about the importance of their friendship and the resulting growth in his work and his own development.

Some people wonder why French doesn’t photograph the architecture, why he is showing the “bad” side of living  in Shanghai.  But French said his was an exploration of a particular way of life, “an intimacy, a promiscuity  of close contact and fluid exchange and tasting validation.”  Those close relationships of helping each other, sharing meals, and growing up surrounded by caring adults are disappearing.  To meet someone now, you need to schedule a week in advance to meet at a good restaurant.  But Qiu  doesn’t stay in his old Shanghai apartment now: no private restroom.

French’s photos were taken over many years.  He developed relationships with many of the people.

“Are the people happy their neighborhoods are gone, and they have moved to modern housing?”  The answer to that question is complex.  Often on short notice (like two weeks) , residents must leave the homes and friends they have had all their lives.  They are moved from central Shanghai to the outskirts of the city.   French says in his observation, for those people 50+ , it is a very hard move.  In fact, he thinks that the mortality rate is extremely high for those people since the old neighborhood residents are scattered to various areas.  They lose their homes, their friends, their way of life.  But for those under 50, they are ready and eager to move and to get the compensation money.   It’s not just the structure of the neighborhood that changes, it’s the change in relationships of going from where you share everything to “material improvement.”  In the modern places, everyone “shuts their door”; you don’t know your neighbors.  As humans,  French sees, we are gaining material wealth but losing human connections.  The modern world doesn’t have the concern as in Bhutan for the National Happiness Index.  Not long ago, everyone in China would say as greeting, “Have you eaten?” and then invite everyone in for a meal.  The language is even changing, “Come with us–next week.”

Qiu read his poem: “Dance of People Square,” inspired by a French photo.

French who teaches journalism and photography at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism  was asked how he got such intimate photos.   He said he had to learn: look for a potential group,  then waste time, be bored until they are no longer alert to your presence.  He’s good at wasting time and taking pictures of things he doesn’t want until he becomes a part of the background.  It takes six or seven hours of taking photos to get three or four good photos,  and he returns to the same places all the time.  Have good shoes and be prepared to wait.   He says it’s not the equipment or gear, good photographs require time and space.  Get close–three or four feet away–anticipate and then shoot: just do it.

He says it’s not hard to romanticize these old neighborhoods.  However, it comes to toilets vs. relationships.  The short warning time keeps people from organizing protests.  But the move creates deep depression  especially among the older residents.

French’s new work is photographing Chinese who have moved  to Sub-Sahara Africa.  About one million Chinese have gone there permanently.    Others have written about this change as though China is taking Africa from the West or  as this is a win-win situation for China.  But French wants to take another point of view and include voices of Africans and Chinese involved.  French has lived both places and speaks Chinese.  Watch for this new book.

French is worried about the more and more materialistic way of living.  He thinks that maybe Churchill said, “We shape our environment and our environment shapes us.”  French noted that any city benefits from variety.  When it becomes all high rises,  it’s not good.

Disappearing Shanghai by Howard French and Qiu L       photo from Amazon

Disappearing Shanghai by Howard French and Qiu Liaolong – photo from Amazon

This book gets five stars on Amazon.  Go to: <;

Qiu, who earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Washington University, is also a translator, critic, and academic.  Look for the newest of Qiu’s much-loved Mr. Chen series:  The Enigma of China.  Go to <;

Festival attendees

Festival attendees

sLF- for people who like books, art, and ideas.

SLF- for people who like books, art, and ideas.

Jeet - heroin addict for 20 years with moderator HM Naqvi

Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis and a heroin addict for 20 years –with moderator HM Naqvi 

The next session featured Jeet Thayil and his novel Narcopolis, about the 1970’s opium world of Bombay.

Thayil began by entertaining us with performance poetry from his book English:  “How To Be a Toad–… a Leaf…a Horse…a Crow…and a Bandicoot, (a huge Bombay rat impossible to kill).

About Thayil’s novel,  Narcopolis,  HM noted that it’s full of opposites: the epigram is a verse from the Koran and the “infernal holy braid” of  Muslim, Hindu, and Christian religions are a big part as well as the third gender and opiated sleep.  

The book includes much violence.  But if you have lived in Bombay, Thayil says, you have to develop a way to handle the horror and violence.   Jeet grew up in Hong Kong, Bombay, and New York.   He sees that in Shanghai “money is the river that flows through  the city, and you must learn to swim.”  He went to Bombay in 1978 for college.  During his first week, he was introduced to opium.    But opium was stopped in 1982 and most users replaced it with heroin (and most who did died in four or five years).  Jeet said he could do nothing during those years because his focus was on getting money and sourcing the heroin.

He knows heroin can be stopped, but too many people make money from it.  In Bangalore,  after the son of a police chief died of an overdose, overnight heroin sales shut down.   The Taliban stopped poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, but in the last five years, its cultivation has grown exponentially.

Jeet started writing about 10 years after he cleaned up.    But it took him 20+ attempts at quitting and rehabilitation (two quite different efforts he says).  Finally, with the help of a methadone program in New York, he’s been successful.  Now he feels he must write 300 words a day or he’s worthless.

A person in the audience asked, “How much do you think there is profound experience to opiates?”  Jeet noted, “Morphine, opium, or heroin gives you a sense of when you were in your mother’s womb, an enveloping sense of love, of needing nothing.  It kills pains and annihilates the sense of time.  There is no question of happiness.”  But while he was on it, he couldn’t share is insights.

He says it takes five years to recreate endorphins, so when he quit opiates,  he was miserable for five years.  Jeet’s poetry has been influence by opium; it slows everything down.  Using rhythm and  meter slows time.  It messes with your ideas of linear time.

In Narcopolis, Dimple, the eunuch, is the moral center of the book.  She shows that it is possible to be surrounded by squalor and horror and still be open to joy and beauty.

To have a view of life in India you may never see, go to <;

Is Capitalism Dead?

Is Capitalism Broken?  On the left, John Authers  and Gideon Rachman debated that Capitalism is alive. Moderator David Piling in center. On the right, Henny  Sender & Jesper Koll  argued that it is broken.

The 2013 Shanghai Literary Festival  ended with a debate among Financial Times journalists: “Is Capitalism Broken?”

Evidence that Capitalism is broken argued by Jasper Koll and Henny Sender include:

– 60% of the recent growth in the U.S. is of massive government intervention.

– There’s an illusion of growth, not sustainable, not self- correcting growth.

-They asked, “If young Americans need 2/3 of their lifetime income to save Capitalism, who benefits?

– In Alabama at the Hyundai parts plant, they had to throw out the written manuals for the machines  and replace them with ones using pictures because so many of the employees could not read.   Such an example shows how the U.S. infrastructure of public schools has been undermined.

– Only 9% of  students from the bottom 20% income are in U.S.  universities–not a democracy.  Even the old formula: go to school and you’ll get a good job is not working for many.

–Capitalism should be about opportunity.

–Capitalism as it is now working does not hold people accountable.   In fact, those who seem to  benefit got us into trouble in the first place.

–Before 2008, the difference in pay between the CEO and a worker was 230%; now the difference is 258%.

–28 million are unemployed in the U.S. and we have a record prison population.

–Capitalism should be about the opportunity to win — and lose–wealth.  The loss isn’t being allowed.  City Bank has been bailed out three times.

–In China now 10% of the people have 86.7% of all assets

-In U.S., from 2000-2007, the top 1% got 65% of the gains, but from 2009-2012, the top 1% got 93% of all gains!

Their conclusion is that Capitalism is broken.

Reasons given by John Authers and Guideon Rachman for why Capitalism is not broken include:

– Capitalism needs to be judged by results, and it does create wealth.

-The question of inequality is a red herring; Capitalism shouldn’t be judged by equality.

– Capitalism is the opportunity to gain wealth:   Since 1980, the GDP has tripled; the GDP in emerging markets has quadrupled.  This year the emerging markets will surpass the developed countries.

– But change is a slow and painful process with children bearing debt, but Capitalism is cyclical and will survive.  It’s moving in the right direction.

– Capitalism is prone to boom and bust, but it’s superior to all the other  models.

– The 2008-2012 period involved crashes, but reforms are coming out of it, and Capitalism will emerge with new strength.

Moderator David Piling summed up the view that Capitalism is not broken by saying, “The fields are full of rice and the rivers are full of pigs.”

And then the vote:

The vote -  Capitalism is not dead.

The vote – at least for this group,  Capitalism is not broken.

The vote at the end was that Capitalism is not broken, but neither the four panelists, the moderator, nor the audience brought up any real question of is Capitalism basically moral or is it sustainable with its use of resources, and  what about Global Warming …. this was pointed out by my 38-year-old seat mate, a German guy from Homburg who lived in Berlin for several years but has now been in Shanghai teaching German.  He told me about a documentary he saw recently about Lake Victoria in Tanzania that now has only one kind of fish.  After it was accidentally introduced, the non-native fish has killed all the other kinds of fish. The lake has been bought up by companies that catch the fish, flash freeze them, and send them out on Russian transport planes. The people who live around the lake are not allowed to fish; they are starving and only get the offal to pick through.

Last Monday, I told my students, who are all economics majors, the fish story and then about the “Is Capitalism Broken?” debate and how no one brought up the environment, Global Warming, sustainability, the growing inequalities around the world, or what a mess things are in for many people. Then I had them debate: “Does it matter how you make money?” In the first class, four of the 24 students argued it didn’t really matter. In the second class, only one said it didn’t matter–“because you could steal from the rich and give the money to the poor.” But almost all of them brought up the need to assess the long-term consequences like the pollution in Beijing–and the pigs in the river (which one person saw as an opportunity to create a waste management business). Overall, their reactions give me hope for Capitalism.

Besides the ideas and the books another reason to attend the Shanghai Literary Festival is to meet others.  I met many people including a woman from Romania has lived in Shanghai for  eight years. She is a textile designer who first worked here for Victoria Secrets and now Walmart.  Another woman is a hotel designer.

Shanghai Literary Festival

Shanghai Literary Festival

Lots of writers and even more readers attended.  Students interested in drama, wives from Germany, U.K.,  India, . . . coming to Shanghai with their businessmen husbands, a  psychologist from India, a German from Berlin teaching German, English teachers, factory managers, embassy personnel, and travelers of all sorts; the festival draws many interesting people.

Shanghai Literary Festival attendees.

Shanghai Literary Festival attendees.

The festival is a chance to meet old friends and new.

The festival is a chance to meet old friends and new.

And, I hope to be back in Shanghai next year at this time for the 2014 Shanghai Literary Festival.  I hope you will come too.  In the meantime, we have lots of books to read.

You can see the official biographies of all the writers who presented at the Shanghai Literary Festival by going to  <;

I’m looking forward to  the 2014 Shanghai Literary Festival and hope to see you’re there.  Right now,  I’m off to read a good book.

Zài Jiàn, Renée

-photos not attributed are by me.


Shànghǎi Heroes–Are we our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers?

Jewish children rounded up for the Chelmno extermination camp

A book and a recent visit to a Shànghǎi  museum have changed the way I see the Holocaust.  I’ve also been reminded about the necessity for each of us to do what can be done.

Because I’ve read books, seen movies, been to Anne Frank’s house, went to Horton Watkins–a public high school where 96% of the students were Jewish, had a Jewish stepmother, and married a Jewish man,  I  felt I knew about the Holocaust.   I blamed only the Nazis and Germans.

However, a young adult novel, The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak helped me understand how the German people allowed the Holocaust to happen–not only to Jews, but also to Communists, gypsies, and others.   I recommend you read the book too.

Then the Ohel Moshe Synagogue/Jewish Refugee Museum  in Shànghǎi has also had a big impact on my perception of the Holocaust. 

When almost no place in the world would take Jewish refugees during WWII, over 20,000 people were given safe haven in Shànghǎi.

Intersection in front of museum

One of the Jewish refugees in Shànghǎi explained:

“We were alive, and we kids could play with each other among us or with the Chinese kids.  The amazing thing I can’t forget is that though the people of Hongkou [pronounced “hong koh”– a district of Shànghǎi] were even suffering more than us, they still showed a lot of sympathy for us.  I think that is the most amazing thing in my life.  How can somebody who is worse off than I am, still feel sorry for me and be kind to me[?]  That’s the reason why my childhood’s heart will always remain in Shànghǎi . . I will forever be full of gratitude for …  China and my gratitude will remain for future generations.  Being kind and good to people in need is a victory for the human race” [my emphasis].

Where was help from other countries?  According to the Holocaust Musuem website:

“Between 1933 and 1941, the Nazis aimed to make Germany ‘judenrein’ (cleansed of Jews) by making life so difficult for them that they would be forced to leave the country. By 1938, about 150,000 German Jews, one in four, had already fled the country. After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, however, an additional 185,000 Jews were brought under Nazi rule. Many Jews were unable to find countries willing to take them in.

Many German and Austrian Jews tried to go to the United States but could not obtain the visas needed to enter. Even though news of the violent pogroms of November 1938 was widely reported, Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs set up to assist the needy.

Congress had set up immigration quotas in 1924 that limited the number of immigrants and discriminated against groups considered racially and ethnically undesirable. These quotas remained in place even after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to mounting political pressure, called for an international conference to address the refugee problem.

In the summer of 1938, delegates from thirty-two countries met at the French resort of Evian. Roosevelt chose not to send a high-level official, such as the secretary of state, to Evian; instead, Myron C. Taylor, a businessman and close friend of Roosevelt’s, represented the US at the conference. During the nine-day meeting, delegate after delegate rose to express sympathy for the refugees. But most countries, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees.

Responding to Evian, the German government was able to state with great pleasure how “astounding” it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when “the opportunity [was] offer[ed].”

Even efforts by some Americans to rescue children failed: the Wagner-Rogers bill, an effort to admit 20,000 endangered Jewish refugee children, was not supported by the Senate in 1939 and 1940. Widespread racial prejudices among Americans–including antisemitic attitudes held by the US State Department officials–played a part in the failure to admit more refugees.”  …With the exception of the tiny Dominican Republic, no country [wa]s willing to accept more refugees.” (

Barry, me, Danny, and Ruth in front of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue/ Jewish Refugee Museum menorah  

The most damning information about the complacency and complicity for the Holocaust comes from Wikipedia [I know this is not the best source, but here it is]:

“Hitler responded to the news of the conference by saying essentially that if the other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them leave.

[Hitler wrote]’I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews-Wikipedia note], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.’  [3 ]

With both the United States and Britain refusing to take in substantial numbers of Jews, the conference was ultimately seen as a failure by Jews and their sympathizers. Most of the countries at the conference followed suit, the result being that the Jews had no escape and were ultimately subject to what was known as Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. The conference was seen by some as “an exercise in Anglo-American collaborative hypocrisy.”[3]–^ a b Ronnie S. Landau (2006). The Nazi Holocaust. I.B.Tauris. pp. 137–140. ISBN 978-1-84511-201-1. Retrieved 24 March 2011.

In a July 1979 article in Time magazine, U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, explained:

“At stake at Evian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world. If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved.[my emphasis]. As one American observer wrote, ‘It is heartbreaking to think of the …desperate human beings … waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian … it is a test of civilization.'”[12]

OMG–it’s simplistic to blame only Hitler and the Nazis for the Holocaust!

So how could I not know?  On one level, I did know.  I’d read about the S.S. St. Louis with its 937 German Jewish passengers seeking asylum and how it had to return to Europe; over a quarter of  its passengers were killed by the Nazis.  I knew there were U.S. quotas for immigration.  But I assumed those facts were aberrations.  I want to be proud of the U.S. and see it as a generous, wise country.  Also, my basic personality is to see the best—and if I can’t do anything personally to make a difference, ignore the rest.  My outlook is supported by the fact that I’m white, and although I was raised in a lower-middle class family, I never worried about eating or being able to go to school.     My experience is that if I smile and greet people, they will respond in positive ways to me.  It’s reassuring to have this basically Pollyanna point of view.

However, Ms. Eleanor, my son’s 8th grade teacher, says about the U.S. that “With great light comes great darkness.”  We have much freedom to make choices—good and bad.  People who cannot take good care of their children have them anyway.  Without too much trouble, people can choose to drink (and drive), use crystal meth, shoot up heroin, join gangs, eat junk food, spend much of their lives playing video games . …

Many of us don’t want to see the dark side of the U.S. especially if we feel there is nothing we can do or have any power to change.  When I taught history at Wells High School in Chicago, some of my 9th graders were shocked to learn that we had dropped atom bombs on Japan.  So I can understand how some Americans believe that if minority people in ghettos just work hard, they will be successful.  But tell that to a young black male on the South side of Chicago, which has escalating murders and many hundreds of  gang members warring over turf. The best job from their angle must look like drug pushing.

We  must see the suffering—and know something to do about it.  To see what those in the U.S. and other countries did not do during WWII,  it took me learning what the people of Shànghǎi did for Jewish refugees.

However, even with this insight, there isn’t much I can do about the Holocaust now except know as much of the truth as possible.  There isn’t much I can do about Assad and what he is now doing to his own people in Syria (except give money to relief organizations) since I’m not going to go to Syria and kill anyone.

So how can we avoid despair over the state of the world and the anguish we see when we look?  For me, the answer is –

  1. Look for the light of God within each person.  It is there.
  2. Work to become the best you can be.  Develop your potential.  Find your passions.  Work on improving your skills.  If you love glass blowing, become the best glass blower possible and keep improving.  There’s a need for everyone’s talent.
  3. Take care of your body; it’s the only one you are likely to get.  Live long enough actually to learn something and to contribute to the world.  Exercise, eat healthy food; educate yourself about healthy life styles and nutrition.
  4. Share your talents and your assets. In theU.S.,   most of us are blessed with opportunities and safety.  Use those opportunities well.
  5. Share. I can try to do something for my neighbor in Maui who is constantly screaming at her kids; she does not see them as valuable treasures in her life.  It’s likely she was never treated as a treasure either.   I can befriend the family.  And I can use what I’m trained for and be the best possible teacher for my students.  I can write, send letters to politicians, send checks to Free the Slaves, World Wildlife Fund, East Maui Animal Refugee, . . .   I can look around me and see how I can help.  I can volunteer for voter registration and work on the campaign of an excellent candidate.
  6.  I can keep my eyes open and do what I can.  The people of Shànghǎi did that—we can too.

Looking at what the Shànghǎise did can be a model for us today.  Other sources confirm the generosity of the Shànghǎise.  Travel China Guide reports that  between 1937 and 1941 in great contrast to the reaction of other countries, Shànghǎi  received 25,000 Jewish refugees and became the only metropolis in the world which did not refuse Jews…. “Ohel Moshe Synagogue” became a synonym for “rescue” and “refuge.” []

The invading Japanese also insisted the Jewish refugees in China be sent along with a Jewish community that had been established in Harbin in the north of China to the Hongkou section of Shànghǎi.  Conditions were terrible– with 10 to a room, gross sanitation, disease, and little food. Hongkou quickly became a ghetto.  But the local Shanghaiese did not leave.  They did not isolate the Jewish refugees. 


Inside the synagogue, Lulu, our friendly, knowledgeable  guide, with our Israeli friends Ruth and Danny

Door to the museum

“Tomorrow we would be starting a new life in a strange city in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language, climate, and people, where we would be safe and free”

Street near the synagogue

Entrance to the Ohel Moshe Synagogue

Inside the synagogue

History of the synagogue

From the synagogue courtyard

Important dates of the Jewish oppression

From the 2nd floor

Of the 32 participating countries at the Evian Conference in July 1938, only the tiny Dominican Republic agreed to take Jewish refugees

Menorah with message from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

Photo of Jewish refugees who found safety in Shànghǎi

With help from the Shànghǎi Jewish community and American Jewish charities, the refugees did get help.  They soon had schools, newspapers, and small businesses.  The local Chinese accepted the Jewish refugees and helped them.  Hongkou residents became their brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers.

Danny and our wonderful guide, Lulu

Why did the Jewish refugees go to Shànghǎi?  A Jewish community had already established itself  in Shànghǎi for about a 100 years before WWII.

According to “A Walk through Shanghai’s Hongkou Jewish Quarter” by  Sara Nauman in Guide:  “In the 1840s, Iraqi Jews who’d made fortunes in India increased them in Shanghai and laid a foundation that catapulted the sleepy Huangpu River town to the forefront of trade. In the beginning of the twentieth century Russian Jews fled anti-semitism, founding new working-class communities in Harbin and further south in Shanghai. Finally, between 1937 and 1941, . . . more Jews found sanctuary in China than in any other country in the world. . . . [my emphasis].  While not imprisoned, over 20,000 men, women and children were thrust into an already over-crowded neighborhood and blocked from leaving without proper papers. What had once been called “Little Vienna” for its thriving community became known as the Jewish Ghetto” (

Today high-end tourists stay on the Bund at the Peace Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel founded by Sir Victor Sassoon of Iraqi Jewish descent.  Sassoon and other important Jewish residents were instrumental in opening  Shànghǎi to those Europeans fleeing Nazis.

The Peace Hotel – founded by Sir Victor Sassoon.  He worked tirelessly in getting a safe-haven for the fleeing European Jews .  Today, it is still a beautiful hotel–where you can hear great American jazz.

The apartment in the Hongkou ghetto where former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Carter, Michael Blumenthal, lived during WWII as one of the rescued Shànghǎi refugees

Another now famous person rescued is artist Peter Max.

Peter Max with a drawing of his Chinese nanny   

Max credits his Chinese nanny for his early love of drawing.

Ruth gave me this link to a recent article:

Apartments near the Ohel Moshe Synagogue where the refugees found safety

Hongkou apartments today

A game of pool on the street in Hongkou district

Laundry on the electric wires – Hongkou district

Hongkou people today

As children, did these people in the park near the synagogue play with Jewish refugee children?

Kids in the park near the synagogue

Although the Ohel Moshe Synagogue is not in use now except as a museum, a small but active Jewish community is in Shànghǎi today.  Go to for more information.

Another link tells about the settlement of Jews in Shanghai:

Taking clothes from the electric wires

The area still looks grey and poor, but the Shànghǎiese  here showed love and compassion to Jewish refugees when others just looked away

Of course, Hitler and the Nazis are to blame for the Holocaust, but if everyone had been like the Shànghǎiese who opened their hearts and lives to the fleeing refugees, the Holocaust would not have claimed the lives of six million Jewish people.

For me, it’s much easier to see what friends, family members, neighbors, politicians, countries . . . should have done or should be doing than what it is to see what I could be doing.  For most of us who are affluent enough in money and time to be able to read blogs, it’s pretty easy to write a check to a favorite charity.  However, whether it’s Hitler and the Nazis, who killed 6,000,000 Jews and other civilians, or today, with Assad and his army, who have killed an estimated 17,000 of their own people or gang members in Chicago killing each other and bystanders, or neighbors who are neglecting their children, evil and suffering of all sorts are in the world.

Those of us who are white, with jobs, and American or from other affluent countries are often sheltered from seeing the anguish of others. But the Shanghaiese in Hongkou during WWII showed  through their actions that were not convenient, popular, nor without personal consequences a real way to make a difference in the lives of others.  They truly are good examples for us of being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Look around; do what you can do.  Much help is needed.  Let’s be like the Chinese who welcomed the Jewish refugees.  What each of us does (or doesn’t do) matters.

from – Fallston Animal Rescue Movement

Do something; help someone.  Be a mench, a truly good person.

Zài Jiàn, Renée

Pets in China

You may have heard that the Chinese eat dogs, which has been true for some and a reason I’m vegetarian and don’t visit the meat sections of markets,  but the animals we’ve seen, especially the dogs in Shànghǎi, are very pampered.

We’ve seen many dogs in outfits, but this is the first one that has colorful fur!

China is full of  surprises

Well-fed Dalmatian

Some dogs’  feet seldom touch the ground

Sometimes the dogs and their owners don’t seem to match

The dogs we saw in China all had pedigrees

Fluffy dogs of all types are now very popular in China

Lucky Dog – groomers, veterinarians, and pet shops are popular businesses in China

Dog at a “dog park”

We found this dog park near the entrance of a big Shànghǎi high-rise shopping center

As happens in all dog parks, people and dogs socialize

Shih Tzu’s are very popular–and cute

Many dogs are carried

Some are siblings

People socialize with the dogs too

Everyone mingles

Her kids

Pet me

Some dogs need more control than others.

Dogs keep company with owners

Some are used as guard dogs:

She loves her dog

Happy dog and happy owner

Not all pets are dogs.


Turtles for sale

Bunnies for sale

Well-cared-for animals are in the parks.

Well-fed ducks

Geese and ducks are in the parks

They are well-fed and free (in some parks)

A proud owner showing off his pet bird in a Chinese park

The caged birds get to enjoy the fresh air as their owners spend time in Chinese public parks

Packing up their birds after a morning in the park

Of course, cats are popular too.  But the most unusual pet, and one that is a great idea for   any city in the world, is jelly fish!  I don’t mean the deadly ones that Will Smith used so effectively in the movie Seven Pounds, but non-stinging ones.  Jane, one of my Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University students, worked last year for a Shanghai company that provides four non-poisonous jelly fish, a tank, lights, and food for about $100.   If you’ve ever gotten to see pulsating jelly fish, you will know how beautiful and hypnotizing they can be.  Perfect pets for high rise apartment buildings and busy people, jelly fish are absolutely quiet and take little care.   So the Chinese have many kinds of pets.

A rising middle class means well-cared-for (and spoiled) pets in China 🙂 .

Zài Jiàn, Renée

Běijīng, We Have a Problem: Smoking in China

One of our favorite Shanghai restaurants has “no smoking” signs, but some people still smoke there

Dad started smoking when he was three years old.  A family story is that at 10 and already smoking,  Dad’s  big brother, Burl,  got his little brother to smoke too.   People in the U.S. then didn’t know the hazards of smoking.

Dad might still be with us if he hadn’t smoked

At 65, Dad died a painful death of brain and lung cancer.  Uncle Burl died of liver cancer.  Both causes were tobacco related.

Today in China about 1 million people a year die of smoking related causes, but according to “The Heavy Smoke over China” by Alex Hoegberg in the May 2012 That’s Zhejiang only one in four  Chinese people recognizes that smoking is bad for their health–and the health of those around them!

My Chinese students have told me that tobacco is good because of all the jobs it provides.  The only non-Chinese tobacco company allowed to sell cigarettes in China is Phillip Morris, so thousands of Chinese are involved in the growing, producing, and selling tobacco.

People smoke everywhere on the streets of Shanghai

Many look like they enjoy the smoking–but they are likely to have very painful deaths.

It’s the men we see smoking.  Chinese girls usually hide their smoking habits.

Dying for a cigarette?

China is the biggest producer and consumer of  tobacco–350 million Chinese smoke.  Three million more Chinese start smoking each year.  According to Xin, Dingding (2009-12-11) in  “Smoke-free list extends to healthcare facilities” China Daily, 60% of the Chinese doctors smoke!

Although the Chinese government banned smoking in public places starting last May, it is a rule that is not enforced.    Gifting cigarettes is a part of the culture.  At the wedding we  attended last summer, cigarettes were forced on all of us.  Giving cigarettes is seen as  a sign of friendship and respect.

Lining up to buy cartoons of cigarettes at the Shangahi airport duty-free shop

Tell everyone–

Please stop smoking

Since 1988, the World Health Assembly celebrates May 31  as “World No-Tobacco Day.”   The 2012 theme is – tobacco industry interference: (

The  World Health Organization notes that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of all deaths (

Although the Chinese government is making great strides in increasing health care to its citizens, tobacco regulation isn’t enforced.  Perhaps because the Chinese government receives one of its largest tax revenues from the tobacco industry, which produces 42% of the world’s cigarettes, those no-smoking laws are ignored.

The tobacco industry is a huge.  It continues to  kill loved people all over the world.

China needs to tell its people.

And even in the U.S. and countries that know the dangers of smoking, people smoke.  A recent study in Wisconsin notes that while the percentage of adults smoking has held at 20% for years, it is now moving up.

In recognition of world-wide annual “No Tobacco Day”–May 31 — remind everyone you know–stop smoking–for themselves and those who love them.

Dad didn’t live long enough to meet Barry’s and my son.  That loss is sad for all of us.

Please stop smoking.

Aloha and zaì jiàn,  Renée

Flat Stanley in Shànghǎi, Zhèjiāng Province, China

Great-nephew Bryce sent us Flat Stanley.  He is a character, from the book of the same name, who makes the most of  an unfortunate accident that flattened him but allows him to travel easily.  Flat Stanley came with Barry and me to Shànghǎi and a few other places in Zhèjiāng Province this spring.   While St. Louis, where Bryce and Stanley are from, has about 320,000 people,  Shànghǎi has over 21 million people!   Can you imagine how many people that is?  Shànghǎi is one of the  biggest and most vibrant cities in China today.

National flag of the People’s Republic of China

Shànghǎi  is crowded, but fun.

Shànghǎi has a clean, efficient, and cheap public transportation system.

Going up the Metro stairs and escalators

Flat Stanley on the Metro platform

Because so many people live in Shànghǎi, the Metro is crowded even at 10:30p.m.

Usually the people are nice and polite.

Shànghǎi people are known for being kind.  During WWII, Shànghǎi was one of the few places in the world that accepted Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi terror.

Many people live and work in Shànghǎi

Although many people have cars, bikes and motorcycles are very practical and popular in Shànghǎi.

Flat Stanley checking out a ride

In a line that extends into the next block, kids walk down the street.

Notice the bicycles.  China has a great public bicycle system in the large cities where it is very practical to ride bikes.

Flat Stanley made friends everywhere he went.

Flat Stanley with new friends in China

Some places look very familiar in Shànghǎi.

Flat Stanley at McDonald’s in Shànghǎi

You can find Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, and many popular fast-food restaurants in Shànghǎi

Kentucky Fried Chicken too

Of course, you can find wonderful Chinese food everywhere.

You would also enjoy Shànghǎi  public parks for skating, practicing martial arts, flying kites, playing basketball, walking dogs,  dancing, and more.

Flat Stanley with dancers at a Shanghai public park

Chinese kids have fun in city parks

Flat Stanley at a Shanghai public park playground

Of course, people take their dogs to the park, and some take their pet birds to hang their cages in the trees; then the birds can enjoy the fresh air.

Camilla, a friend’s daughter, admiring a pet bird in a Shànghǎi
 park near our apartment

In some parks, people can go fishing

Shànghǎi is known for its museums, music, and many things to do.  Because China has a 5,000 year-old history, the Shànghǎi Museum is particularly interesting with its ancient collections.

This Zun wine vessel with dragon handles is from 770-early 7th century B.C.!

If you like history or art, come to the Shànghǎi Museum.

Flat Stanley also saw many temples and tombs in China

Another place visitors must see is the Bund, the wide walkway along the Huangpu River.   People stroll to watch other people and to see both the old European style buildings of the city’s Wall Street and across the river the futuristic buildings of Pŭdōng.  Stanley, of course, went to the Bund many times.

Inside one of the fabulous hotels on the Pŭdōng
 side of the Huangpu River

Bikes and skyscrapers in the Pŭdōng
 area of  Shànghǎi

Pŭdōng from the BundThe Bund at night

Flat Stanley with Aunt Renee on the Shanghai Normal University campus.  Coming to China to learn Mandarin here is a good idea.

Flat Stanley also visited Hángzhōu, a city Marco Polo (in the 13th century) said was the most beautiful city in the world.  It is still beautiful.

Today Hángzhōu  is a city of six million.  Many, including Flat Stanley, visit to see the beautiful West Lake.

Spring tulips at West Lake in Hángzhōu

West Lake fountain at night

Although many people live in China, you can always find quiet spots too.  In the spring, flowers are everywhere.

Cherry blossoms

Flat Stanley with spring flowers in Shanghai

Tea and coffee shops are very popular in China. Flat Stanley is enjoying a drink with Uncle Barry.

You would like Chinese kids

Flat Stanley on the China Eastern Airlines flight from Shànghǎi
 on the way back toward St. Louis

We hope you, like Flat Stanley, will come to visit Shànghǎi and Zhèjiāng Province.  You are sure to find much to see and do.

Aloha and zaì jiàn, Aunt Renée

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