Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the sixth in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 

Tianjin Contract

I recall an interesting chat I had with a cab driver in Beijing, almost immediately after saying hello he asked:

‘How much do you earn?’

‘Oh, right. Erm, well I’m a student so I don’t earn anything. I have a loan.’

‘How much is your loan?’

‘Well, I go to uni in London so it’s quite big.’

‘How much?’

‘In total, with school fees, its £14,000.’

‘OK. How much do you parents earn?’

‘Huh? I dunno, I’ve never really asked.’

‘How much do they roughly earn?’

You get the picture. Although this was a distinct experience, I was frequently asked about wages in China. I’ve been told that this is to do with the Deng reforms and how people are now obsessed with money.

We’re obsessed with money too, but China may offer a more intense expression, considering the speed of economic development over the past two decades.

This week, we’ve gathered some fantastic articles on consumption and wealth-distribution in China. Have a read and if you have any similar stories to the one above, share them!


中国一党制的正反观 – China’s one-party system in contrast

by Hong Huacao, 1st February 2014

In this piece, Hong Huacao goes back to basics. Sorry, Hong goes back to fundamentals. Fundamental Marxism, which isn’t basic.

Hong appreciates the one0party system but still sees contrast and inequality in Chinese society. 80 year olds rummaging in bins next to 20 year olds driving Lamborghinis.

For Hong, change requires keeping the single party system, but going back to more fundamental, not basic, Marxism.


中国人为何喜欢野蛮消费? – Why do Chinese people like ‘barbaric’ consumption?

by Sun Xiaoji, 5th January 2013

This piece appeals to me as it really puts consumerism in its place. In China, as well as Western countries, consumption is used to determine a person’s position in society.

Hence, the taxi driver asking me how much I earn. He was using money and how much I spend to see where I was in terms of social class. Admittedly, he wasn’t being very subtle about it.

With this in mind, as Sun says, consumption is ‘barbaric’ or at least uncivilized when it reverts back to tribal forms of relationships.


只是我们见不到 – It’s just that we can’t see them

by W, 25th November 2012

China’s development has happened so fast that you don’t have to look too far back to find a time devoid of McDonalds and KFCs.

This articles deals with that nostalgia and the ‘common knowledge’ of today, in a personal voice. For instance, everyone knows about Barbie dolls, Walmart and Carrefour, don’t they?


奢侈中国的隐秘逻辑 – The hidden logic of luxury in China

by Zhu Xuedong, 18th October 2013

Luxury in China often accompanies corruption. Mistresses or Porsche-shaped trails of breadcrumbs usually lead to stories of collusion and fraud.


Zhu talks about how the luxury of corrupted business people or officials infuriates the Chinese public. It’s the Gucci bag in the middle of the scheming which tips people over the edge.


非理性的奢侈,不公平的挥霍 – Irrational luxury, unfair squandering

by Shui Shang Nan, 20th March 2012

‘67,000 Yuan (£6,700) for a bottle of wine? Yeah, I’ll buy that.’

Obviously there is excessive consumption in the West, and China might just follow our example –  but I sometimes feel that luxury and poverty are on steroids in China.

Shui discusses the extent of Chinese luxury-spending, but bits of the translation are missing. Can you finish it off?





Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the fifth in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 
Nankai University


I’m a good student. I attend all my classes, get good grades and don’t go out too often. Yet in China I felt that that wasn’t enough.

Whilst living with my Chinese homestay family and meeting Chinese friends, the message I got was that in seeing friends, apart from maybe at sporting activities, you were a bad student.

Feeling stuck between two cultures, the experience was frustrating at times. I wanted to fit into two distinct university lives – and this was harder than it seemed.

This week we have pulled together some critical but also original articles on university life in China. Feel free to comment and tell us how your uni experience compared.


中美教育逻辑对比– Comparing the underlying models of education in China and the US

by Bai Weilin, 9th June 2013


This is a well-argued piece which confronts why Chinese people want to study in America so badly. American education allows for personal development and growth, where Chinese schooling does not.

But Bai Weilin isn’t just some Uncle Sam sycophant. The balance in this article is what really gives it weight. Does anyone agree that American education is about ‘finding talent’?


当代大学生如何可能 – How did our contemporary students come about? 

by Li Tengteng, 16th October 2013


More and more young people receiving university education is no doubt a sign of great social development. Yet, as Li Tengteng discusses, because of this, you can go to university and not be an intellectual.

In China, more so than in England perhaps, some simple logic applies to university study. That is, go to a good uni, by any means necessary, and you will be successful in life.

Where does this leave students? Li Tengteng talks about how so many young people study at university who aren’t necessarily suited to university. This ultimately distorts what education is about.


大学生为何后悔上大学 – Why do Chinese students regret entering University?

 by Xin Lijian, 29th June 2012


Rather worryingly, I am often told that your time at university is the best time of your life. So what, it’s all downhill from here?

That’s unfortunate, especially if you’re Chinese. A large proportion of students in China regret entering university and feel that they learn very little.

After entering uni, they believe that it’s all smooth sailing and success from then on. Unfortunately, it’s not like this and this is hard to take after a high-pressure high school life.


我为什么读博士 – Why am I writing a PhD?

by Jiang Zhidao, 13th February 2013


I like this piece because our academic environment is largely, as Jiang Zhidao says, ‘diluted’. People go to university for the sake of it.

Yet, despite this, there are those who still truly believe in what they’re studying; and that’s a relief!

Jiang Zhidao has chosen to do a PhD and here he outlines his reasons why. Chinese students aren’t all disheartened and dejected by university life, there’s passion there too.


我对高考的一点看法 – My views on the university entrance exam

by Li Yehang, 7th June 2008


One of the major pressures a Chinese teenager faces is that of the Gaokao, the university entrance exam which determines what universities he or she may go to.

Through many horror stories, the exam has become infamous. For example, I’ve heard of kids going on UV drips in order to study longer during revision time.

In this article, Li Yehang draws upon the really interesting Marxist idea of alienation. Unfortunately, some of the key parts haven’t been fully translated; are there any Marxist specialists out there who want to give it a shot?


Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the fourth in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 


Studying in China, I remember reading a chapter in our textbook about what the Chinese find attractive.  According to the book, it was pale skin.

Some students were outraged to be told that Chinese people didn’t find dark skin attractive. While Westerners often go to great lengths to tan, their Chinese counterparts were avoiding the sun as much as possible.

But what else do Chinese people find attractive? Why is it this way? How do they view sex and the sexual?

We’ve scoured the Marco Polo Project archives and pulled out some cracking articles to answer these questions.

Enjoy – and do let us know what you think.


中国式性感的行业标准 – Industry standards for “Chinese-sexy”

by Li Fang, 13th May 2012


China has a new concept of ‘sexiness’, it seems, courtesy of imported copies of UK lad’s mag FHM. Li Fang talks, rather crudely, about his taste in women.

The outright objectification of women is hard to ignore here. However, this article is darkly interesting.

Interesting, because it highlights how a single magazine can market and mould itself around another country’s taste.

Dark, because this ‘moulding’ involves pulling apart the female anatomy.


同床好友 Friends with benefits

by Shu Dong, 7th September 2012.


Friends with, or without, benefits?

There’s definitely a pressure – everywhere – for young people to sleep around. A boy and a girl can’t just talk, it seems. Some game needs to be played which revolves around sex.

Here is a Chinese girl not necessarily wanting to give into that pressure.

Arguably, this article could have been written by an American, English or Chinese person. The voice, the anxieties and the confusion are universal.

Apart from the use of QQ, can anyone see anything distinctly Chinese in this text?


少女援交与中国人的幸福 – Teenage girls’ ‘compensated dating’ and happiness in China

by Xu Ben, 26th October 2012


Xu Ben questions the happiness of underage prostitutes and Chinese men’s ‘second set of tits’.

We can’t really question the opportunities these girls are striving for. But is the alternate future they’re reaching towards realistic, or even real?


论中国人的处女情结 – Chinese people and virginity

by Li Yinhe, 10th September 2012 


Virginity is an important aspect of sexuality which is constantly being examined. Li Yinhe discusses how virginity as a custom is maintained in China today.

I’ll give you a clue: it involves hymen-repair surgery.


喜欢性的人可以是高尚的人吗? – Can a person who likes sex also be noble?

by Li Linhe, 3rd August 2012


This article is only partially translated. Will we ever know whether a person can like sex and also be noble?

Have a go at translating it yourself to reveal the answer.


Feel free to edit translations, translate or comment below. We love to hear your opinions and contributions!

Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the third in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 

up the stairs

‘China – I’ve heard it’s just like ‘1984’.’ No, that’s wrong. Very wrong.

Many westerners I’ve encountered believe that Chinese people have no freedom of expression whatsoever, especially on the internet.

If they do express themselves with a degree of independence on any topic at all, police will blast into their bedroom in the middle of the night and steal them away to a menacing ministry of some sort. ‘Yes officer, I’m coming. I just need to put my pants on.’

Simply by scrolling through various articles on the Marco Polo Project website, it’s obvious that such generalisations are not true. Censorship exists, topics are taboo, and serious police intimidations do happen. But original, innovative and critically reflective material is also published every day in China.

To further celebrate the Marco Polo Festival of Digital Literature, we have gathered some fascinating pieces on internet pluralism and online expression.

Enjoy and in the future, don’t take Orwellian comparisons at face value.


Media power, media pluralism, and media governance – 媒体权力,媒体多元主义与媒体治理圆桌会议

by Zhang Tianpan, 3rd April 2014

Zhang Tianpan, who will be appearing at the Marco Polo Dig-Lit festival, seems to be big on social action and drive.

Previously, we’ve seen how he empathised with the Shamate, the hipster sub-culture on the rise in China. Now he’s talking about how the use of ‘opinion writing’ on the internet needs to change.

Incessant ramblings on Weibo and other social media sites need to stop, more action is needed too. You need to talk the talk, walk the walk; have a bark and a bite to really change things.


Who will set linguistic norms on the internet? – 网络语言由谁立规范

by Guo Weiqing, 7th May 2012


Often, internet censorship, along with Tiananmen and the Cultural Revolution, are favorite China-related conversation topics in the West. All of which contribute to the shallow ‘1984’ stereotype certain westerners have of the Chinese intellectual environment.

This piece gives a nuance to the way we think about China’s censorship.

It isn’t all removing the names of controversial politicians and anything to do with Tibet; some Chinese censors are also striving towards a linguistic standard which the internet in some ways hinders.

The cyber world must be a linguistic-nightmare for officials, people are constantly using slang, dialectical phrases, traditional and simplified Chinese.


20 years on, how the internet has reshaped modern China – 二十年,互联网重构现代中国

by Zhang Tianpan, 2nd May 2014


Zhang Tianpan strikes again! Only this time, he’s gone all post-modernist on us!

How has the internet changed our lives? Zhang focuses on the sociology of our circumstances where we learn less from the old and more from the young.

Has anyone seen the Spike Jonze movie ‘Her’? I think this movie captures the ‘light’ culture Zhang talks about perfectly. Nothing is solid, it’s all based on thin air.


Online literature is dead, let’s start burning the paper – 网络文学已死,有事烧纸

by Wei Yingjie, 9th July 2013


The death of online literature seems to be a common theme amongst Chinese writers. In a previous post, I spoke about the dynamics in the Wang Xinyu and Jianhan Qiushui pieces.

Wei Yingjie, on the other hand, reminisces on a past where internet literature truly flourished. The turn of the millennium, where the internet was a literary land of milk and honey.

Perhaps, to take on Jianhan’s view, online literature simply needs to adapt to a new form in order to revive itself?


What does internet pluralism amount to? – 网络价值多元主义能否成气候?

by Muran, 25th July 2014


Muran commonly writes about the effect of the internet and social media in China, you may have spotted the articles on Weibo being ‘a good thing’ or questioning whether it’s a ‘populist paradise’.

This article is no exception and Muran does not fail to pose an equally magnificent question: ‘what does internet pluralism amount to?’

So what does it amount to? If you could be so kind and help translate this article, we will find out in due course.


Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece on Chinese social media and online expression is the second in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 


Originally, I had generic, and ultimately conflicted views of Weibo.

I thought: censorship – it’s a tumble-weed-filled space, empty of opinion. But then I also thought about ease of access and expressive possibilities – and weibo became a fertile land for public debate and discussion.

After spending some time reading and talking about Weibo, I realised how ridiculous my original thinking was.

Yes, there’s people voicing their opinions but this only goes so far, since censorship will occasionally block words like ‘tank’ and ‘one night stand’.  Equally, posts aren’t all philosophising; there’re videos of cats and masses of advertising also.

To celebrate the Marco Polo Festival of Digital Literature, we’ve gathered some fantastic articles on Weibo and Chinese writing online.

Feel free to comment and give us your opinions on China’s biggest social media website.


Weibo is a good thing – 微博是一个好东西

by Muran, 22nd July 2013


Despite critics of micro-blogging, Muran argues that Weibo contributes to freedom of expression in China, and its format suits the Chinese way of thinking. In particular, it offers people the opportunity to vent their frustration.

This article may help explain why Weibo is seen as a platform for debate.

Where public lose out on citizen participation in other areas, social media offers a place to share and discuss their opinions, at least on certain topics. Do you agree?



What do we talk about when we talk about social media – 当我们讨论自媒体的时候,我们在讨论什么?

by Liu Xinzheng, April-May 2014


In this series of articles, Liu Xinzheng puts Weibo and other forms of ‘self-media’ into context. They highlight the various developments of social media in China, discussing the social and economic impact.

Weibo provides an immediacy which Chinese netizens have never experienced before. It is now possible to talk on a public platform, and receive an instant response.



The death of online literature – 网络文学之死

by Wang Xinyu, 7th December 2012


This article isn’t about Weibo but it shows how Weibo impacted online literature and readers.

The internet is a medium, not a substitute for printed texts. Yet part of adapting to this medium is using a new form of writing more suited to the internet.

Everything needs to be short and snappy. Remind you of anything? *cough – see this article – cough*

Long paragraphs are seen as walls of text on a computer screen and so internet novels have to adjust to suit this – but how much complexity can you express in just a few short sentences?


The death and birth of online literature – 网络文学的死与生

by Jianhan Qiushui, 26th November 2013


Controversy: this is a reaction to Wang Xinyu’s piece above – with which Jianhan Qiushui largely disagrees. Internet literature isn’t just dying!

Writing online does require forms to adapt yet the internet is an overlapping mass of information. New styles of literature will be produced where others aren’t suited.

Simply distinguishing between print and online isn’t enough as there is so much written material there.



Is Weibo a populist paradise? – 微博是民粹主义的天堂吗?

by Muran, 6th August 2014


Muran comes back again, posing the lovely little question ‘Is Weibo a populist paradise?’ However, this hasn’t been translated yet.

I want to hear what Muran has to say, can you help?





This is the first post in our new ‘Reading thread‘ series. Reading thread bring together pieces on a similar topic from the Marco Polo Project catalogue, inviting you on a guided journey through Chinese writing, and offering an insider’s, original view of contemporary China. You might also be interested in our weekly Digest, presenting the latest pieces published and translated on Marco Polo Project.

in the arcade

China’s urbanisation is creating an unexpected by-product: aspirational hipsters. Yet these emerging trendy youths, the Shamate, look very different to their skinny-jeaned western counterparts.

The Shamate work at Foxconn, the world’s largest electronic parts manufacturer. Western hipsters work in coffee shops.

The Shamate blow-dry their hair in reaction to migrating across a country the size of Europe. Western hipsters buy a fixie bike because finding a job is hard.

We’ve found some fantastic articles on how China is dealing with these non-mainstream migratory youths. Leave your comments at the bottom: if you listen to music we-won’t-have-heard-of-yet or love Instagram, tell us why.


“杀马特”:文化贫困产物 – “ShaMaTe”, a product of cultural poverty

by Zhang Tianpan, 11th March 2013


Who are the Shamate, and where do they come from?

In this piece, Zhang Tianpan discusses the snobbish way in which Shamate are talked about in society and compares them against another intriguing sub-culture, the ‘fresh young things’.

Perhaps this is China’s version of mods and rockers; goths and punks; trendies and indies?


你们能指责80后吗? – Can you accuse the post-eighties generation?

by Xi Mu, 11th October 2012.


Some people describe the post-eighties young people as China’s ‘beat generation’. They enjoy a reformed country but don’t care about politics. Lifestyle and consumption matters more to them than democracy.

These youths are seen as ignorant, but is that really fair? Why do you think the Shamate spend their time blow-drying their hair yet aren’t so politically involved?

The Shamate are possibly part of a stream of migrants who cannot think of politics, their priority is assimilating into their new urban homes.


中国式大迁徙:何处安放我们的故乡– Great migration China-style: where is our hometown?  

by Zhang Tianpan, 17th February 2014


In this sad piece, Zhang Tianpan takes a completely different tone. Not only are the Shamate stuck between the cities and countryside, but the very idea of a hometown is equally strained.

This article highlights how China’s incessant skyscraper building puts the country’s rural areas on the spot. China’s traditions are really being tested.

Migrants are blurring the lines between urban and rural. Are Chinese cities experiencing an identity crisis? Zhang Tianpan provides food for thought.


有一种空虚叫做农村 – There is a void called the countryside

by Zhang Zejia, 18th December 2012


Where are these Shamate coming from, I hear you ask? Look no further, as Zhang Zejia describes his impressions on a visit home.

Living in towns populated by children and grandparents as parents search for work in faraway cities, it’s no wonder why these youths want to leave home.

What stands out for me in this article is how impoverished these rural people are. Surrounded by huge skyscrapers, branded stores and restaurants, I feel I didn’t fully experience this poverty whilst living in Beijing.



In the following articles, Wang Xiaoping and Duyuan Jushi both react to the Shamate text posted by Zhang Tianpan above. The translations are unfinished, why don’t you keep this discussion going and translate the articles yourselves?


山河破碎风飘絮,身世浮沉雨打萍 – Reflecting on the “ShaMaTe” aesthetics

by Wang Xiaoping, 13th March 2013 

一个“杀马特”的独白 – A monologue on “ShaMaTe”

by Duyuan Jushi, 14th March 2013


This post was written by Francis Beechinor, from London University School of Asian and African Studies.