The epidemic first stunned the Chinese economy at the beginning of the year; then, the authorities’ liquidity injections came to the rescue. The analysts scrutinize the real estate market, one of the barometers of economic health, to see the result over the year. The astronomical monetary easing in 2009 in response to the subprime crisis had propelled the Chinese economy for a few years by fuelling an influx of investment. This time, the best-equipped cities took advantage of it. Beijing, which in two years 2017-2019 had seen a fall in prices of more than 20%, recorded a rebound of 6.3% last year (as did Shanghai +6.3), and Shenzhen soared by 14.1%. The government created in 2005 a list of 70 cities to monitor the fluctuations in the largest ones. Forty-three show an increase, one stagnates, and 26 show a decrease. Shenzhen took the lead, while Mudanjiang, a city on the Russian border in Heilongjiang, recorded the largest decline, -10%.
Increases and decreases
Shenyang (Liaoning) is the only provincial capital in the Northeast to show an increase, +7.8%, while Harbin (Heilongjiang) lost 3% and Changchun (Jilin) 0.2%. Dalian, in the same province as Shenyang, gained 6.1%. The higher you go up in the North, the harder it is!
The large cities in the North “near” Beijing, like most of those in the Northeast, have not bounced back. Tianjin, Shijiazhuang (Hebei), Jinan (Shangdong), Taiyuan (Shanxi), and Hohhot (Inner Mongolia) drop. Chengdu, the Sichuan capital, is up 8.2%, while its large neighbor, Chongqing, is down 0.3%. Zhejiang, with Ningbo (+8.5%), Wuxi (+7.4%), and Hangzhou (+6.9%), is the province with the most cities in the largest increases; Wenzhou, also in Zhejiang, which is not in the top 15, gains more than 5%.
Note that the largest increase is in a city in one of the country’s southernmost parts, Shenzhen, while the largest decrease is in Mudanjiang in one of the northernmost cities. We can’t summarize China like this, but we have the trend.
Peak and fall
2017-2018 saw the last peak in real estate prices. All cities are far from having returned to the levels of that time. The most significant gap is in Langfang (in Hebei, 60 km from Beijing), which is still 46.9% below the peak in April 2017, Qingdao 22.8% (Shangdong), Tianjin 21.8%, Zhaoqing 19.3% (Guangdong), Shijiazhuang 18% (capital of Hebei), Beijing 15.8%. Another Hebei city, Baoding, is lagging, 13.8%.
The real estate sector can boost the economy while filling local government coffers, but the banking and financial systems’ deficiencies encourage massive indebtedness, which remains a significant risk. Since the housing reform in 1998, three waves of price hikes, 2004-2007, 2009-2010, 2016-mid 2018. The government has various levers to turn the market around or slow the rise in dynamic cities, purchase limits, credit regulations (debt ratio, down payment amount, and interest rates). It certainly has the power to contain the market down or up even if creativity to get around the laws still thrives!
Is it always easy to know precisely what is happening in the Chinese economy? You have to be careful with the official figures. The estimates of economists of influential organizations are based on these figures – you don’t contradict the number two, almost one, of the world economy. The Western media brushes over the subject and generally prefer to repeat the same speech over and over again about Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and human rights. The few Western-language media that deviate from the mainstream can be a refuge for those disappointed in social-communism who think they have found the last salvation of their ideology on Chinese soil. One looks at China with one’s own reading grid without seeing reality. Living in China does not guarantee objectivity, sometimes the opposite. One sometimes thinks according to one’s interests or ideology and efficiently manages to put a veil in front of one’s eyes. I know a little bit about what I’m talking about; I spent two decades there and met all kinds of sub/surrealists. The best solution is to be in touch with the ground, or rather the grounds. The economic geography is very varied, and the sectors have different, sometimes contrasting fortunes. As much as new technologies and the Internet have the wind in their sails, specific industries of the last century are struggling, as are particular sectors in distribution. To stand back, it is good to find observers who don’t just talk about trains arriving on time, have the freedom to say so, and have the knowledge, which is rare. Wang Jian is my best critical source to better approach the economy. He acknowledges that it is not easy to gauge one’s state of health. In one of his latest analyses, he takes an indicator on office rents and the vacancy rate (空置率), which reflects the state of businesses and demand, looks at the strong and weak points of the economy.
Office rents fall over two years
Data on the three leading cities has just been released. In Beijing, office rents fell in the last quarter of 2020 for the eighth time in a row, i.e., for two years. The vacancy rate reached an all-time high of 19.4%. The production sector is virtually non-existent in the capital. The decline in rents mainly affects the service sector. As for Shanghai, prices are down for the ninth consecutive quarter with a higher rate at 21.85%. Shenzhen, with a ninth successive quarter also in decline, recorded a vacancy rate of 27.9%. The average selling price per square meter of office space was 47,900 yuan in the last quarter, a 9.1% year-on-year decrease. For renting, the square meter went from 232 in 2018 to 192 yuan in 2020. Shenzhen is the city of business creation and is a good barometer of the vitality of the economy. The developer sector is not doing better. Businesses are continually looking for financing, as the regulatory authorities fearing too dangerous debt ratios have further tightened borrowing limits.
Export is doing well, until when?
Besides this not very enthusiastic picture, the export sector has distinguished itself this year with an increase thanks mainly to two factors: 1. the replacement of production from other countries that could not produce, production has been transferred to China (see here ) 2. the transfer of production to China. The export of articles against the epidemic (including masks and gloves). These items will disappear once the epidemic is under control. The Chinese economy has prospered through exports and investment. Now that normalcy has returned, we will have to rely less on this sector. One term is essential now: home economics -宅经济, we stay at home, we work there, and we consume there. The phenomenon has benefited China’s digital economy, which is undoubtedly the most developed in the world. Is it enough?
Consumption, the weak link
Chinese consumption is still lagging. The weight of numbers masks the reality. The luxury sector indeed benefits from the thirst for the consumption of high-end items, but when we look at the averages, we are far from it. Disposable income figures 可配置收入 for 2019 speak for themselves; they still show the same disparities and inequalities that have existed for decades. Shanghai and Beijing lead the way with 69,442 and 67,756 yuan per person while the average is 30,733 – median income 28,228.
Only nine city provinces are above it. The Shanghainese’s disposable income is almost double that of a resident of Fujian （7e rang）, 69442-35616 and 3.5 times that of the three least provinces, Guizhou, Tibet, and Gansu. To look at the glass half full, one must add that disposable income has increased from 21,966 to 30,733 over 2015-2019.
Average disposable income from 2015 to 2019 and growth (green line) :
Of course, it is crucial to listen to the official discourse and see how the economy is described and, above all, how the future is envisioned. Besides, it is essential to seek enlightened and critical information to have a balanced view. Generally, in our Manichean world, one rejects the other. Some call the slightest criticism Chinese bashing. Such Chinese chroniclers as Wang Jian have been worried for years about Jack Ma’s fate amid political factions and sharks who want to appropriate his assets. On more than one occasion, the rumor has spread that he had taken refuge in the United States, especially since the announcement of his forced retirement from Alibaba in 2018. If a non-Chinese writer had published such information, what would have been said? In any case, not all signals are green for the Chinese economy. But the rigor with Chinese characteristics in the fight against the epidemic has been able to erase the initial fiasco, and China, despite its structural problems, is doing better than anyone else. Nevertheless, it must change its development model, become less dependent on exports, investment, and the printing press while generating a real middle class that can support the economy. The thorny issue of the distribution of wealth and its capture by a tiny minority makes China a country with significant inequalities that will undoubtedly have to be addressed.
The capital of Jiangsu, Nanjing, 300 km west of Shanghai, has a dynamic economy. Its GDP per capita has even taken the number one position in China. The Trigger Trend Research Bureau describes the strengths and weaknesses of this former capital of China.
GDP per capita, first
After years of low profile, Nanjing has taken the lead in the growth of China’s major cities. In the first three quarters of this year, its GDP grew by 3.3% year-on-year. Only one other city exceeds 3% among the leading cities, Hangzhou, with 3.2%. In the first quarter, growth reached 1.6%; Nanjing is the only major city to post positive growth in this quarter. Thus, Jiangsu’s capital enters the club of the ten largest economic cities in the country at 9th place. By 2019, it had already become the number one in terms of GDP per capita among the 31 provincial capitals with 165,700 yuan (= $25,350). Beijing and Shanghai remain behind with 164,200 and 155,700. The other significant capitals Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, and Chengdu, reached 156,400, 152,500, 145,500, 137,900, and 103,400.
GDP per capita growth: X 10
In 2000, GDP per capita reached only 16,400 yuan, which was only 68% of Canton (23,900) and 81% of that of Hangzhou (20,100). In 2010, it was only 75% of Canton and 92% of that of Hangzhou. In 2019, however, it surpassed the last two, and although these two figures do not reflect the whole reality, they show the city’s rapid growth. In the previous two decades, its growth rate has been the fastest compared to Canton, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Suzhou. The graph below shows the multiples of GDP in 2019 for the five cities and Suzhou compared to 2000 and 2010 :
In 2019, Nanjing’s GDP was 13.74 times higher than in 2000, with a much higher multiple than the others. From 2010 to 2019, it is significantly higher than that of Guangzhou, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, but lower than that of Chengdu and Wuhan, which benefited from massive industrial transfers.
GDP per capita and population structure
GDP per capita is not a comprehensive measure of a city’s development level, mainly due to China’s cyclical characteristics, development, and construction. The numerator of GDP per capita is total GDP, and the denominator is the resident population of a city. The resident population includes the elderly, children, and other unemployed people. The GDP per capita level depends mostly on the proportion of the labor force in the resident population. Since most industry workers are migrant workers, there are considerable differences between the types of cities in terms of the share of the labor force in the resident population. Migrant workers often work alone. Cities with a high proportion of industry and a large number of migrant workers will have a much higher labor force share than other cities because the elderly, children, and other unemployed people are few, the denominator is low, so GDP per capita will be significantly higher than in other cities with roughly comparable levels of development. For this reason, Shenzhen and Suzhou have a higher GDP per capita than any municipality and provincial capital, even Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing. The ratio of primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors in Nanjing is 2.1/35.9/62.0. The manufacturing industry’s share is roughly comparable to that of other provincial capitals at similar levels of development. It does not have a massive number of workers, making it closer to other provincial capitals in GDP per capita.
How could Nanking take the lead?
Compared to Canton, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Hangzhou, the city had fewer assets in the past. Guangzhou, the regional center of South China, a natural transportation hub, a commercial hub, a benchmark for opening in the 1970s and 1980s, attracted leading foreign companies such as Procter & Gamble. Wuhan and Chengdu are the leaders in Central and Southwest China, respectively. Wuhan is Hubei’s capital, with a population of 60 million, and Chengdu of Sichuan, with 90 million. The two provinces have only one high-level city and a densely populated hinterland. Both towns have become winners by absorbing migrant workers and handling the industrial transfer. Hangzhou has many assets. Very active, it ranks fourth in the country for the number of companies. Zhejiang’s capital brings together traditional industries such as mechanical engineering and chemicals represented by Wanxiang, consumer brands such as Wahaha, Nongfu, and influential groups. Alibaba is the most famous.
The assets of Nanking Compared to these four cities, Nanking has no clear “label.” It is recognized as the “third city” of education, with very prestigious universities. They cover various fields such as arts, sciences, engineering, agriculture, and medicine; the completeness of its coverage of disciplines is strong. Jiangsu province is the first in the number of universities, see here. These institutions give the city great resources. At the junction of the Beijing-Shanghai and Beijing-Hangzhou railway lines and the Yangtze waterway, it is well-positioned for transportation. The capital is located almost at the northwestern top of the narrow Yangtze River Delta, which means that traffic from the Yangtze River Delta to the north and upriver must pass through this crucial node. The per capita consumption in 2019 was 72,100 yuan, much more than Wuhan (66,400) and Guangzhou (65,100), it ranks second among the top ten cities, and it is the only city in China with a per capita consumption of more than 70,000 yuan. Nanjing has emphasized scientific and technological innovation and on industry and services. From 2014 to 2016, industrial investments in major cities have generally decreased due to the changing pattern of economic growth. Nanjing has become the city with the highest value of the industrial investment in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces since 2018. The growth rate of industrial investment became positive again from 2017, with year-on-year growth of 8.9% and 10.2% in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In 2019, industrial investment increased to 178.376 billion yuan +10.2%, maintaining a lead over Suzhou (119.92 billion) and Wuxi (153.176 billion). Those in high-tech manufacturing climbed 48.2% over the previous year. During the year, industrial robots, complete electronic computer machines, integrated circuits, and optoelectronic devices recorded growth rates of 8.9%, 13.5%, 36.5%, and 26.3%, respectively, showing Nanjing’s sudden advance in high-end manufacturing. The distance to Shanghai (302 km) is a brake. Suzhou, 100 km away, benefits more from the industrial spin-offs of its large neighbor. Simultaneously, for the service sector, Nanking is too close; it has no choice but to develop a robust local economy. The number of listed companies in Nanjing – 118 – is higher than in Chengdu – 110, Chongqing – 66 – and Wuhan – 75, but lower than in Suzhou 156 – and Hangzhou – 209. Among the 500 largest market capitalizations (China, Hong Kong, and the United States), eight are from Nanjing, four from Chengdu, and six from Wuhan. The eight listed companies’ total value is 586 billion, compared to 284 billion for Chengdu and 239 billion for Wuhan. The 2020 Unicorn Ranking – unlisted companies worth more than one billion Chinese dollars – with eleven unicorns places it in 5th place in China, after Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Shenzhen.
High consumption, sustained industrial investment, and a relatively strong local economy are Nanjing’s competitive strengths among the provincial capitals, but what are the weaknesses?
Population growth lagging behind
It is easy to see that population growth has been slow not only in Nanjing but throughout Jiangsu Province. Apart from Suzhou and Wuxi, Nanjing, compared to comparable provincial capitals, lags in population growth. Between 2010 and 2019, it reaches 6.19% while Canton, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan, and Hefei show much higher figures, 20.51%, 18.3%, 19.07%, 14.58%, and 43.66%. Neighboring Hangzhou shows growth of 1.659 million inhabitants, more than three times that of Nanjing, 0.495, or 19.07% against 6.19%. From 2014 to 2019, the increase is less strong. It has decreased from 19.07% to 14.88% in Hangzhou, while it is almost halved in Nanjing, from 6.19% to 3.21%. Nanjing is the least populated and smallest provincial capital in the South.
The ceiling and the pursuers
Both Jiangsu Province and Nanjing City are facing the threat of “上有天花板、后有追兵, The ceiling above and the chasers behind.” This “ceiling” is due to Jiangsu’s lack of resources and weak national outreach, especially in the service sector. The attraction of talent is not up to the level of China’s vast cities. The “hunt” for pursuers is due to urbanization in the province and high labor costs. It is challenging to attract and retain workers. Regional competition remains strong ahead of Sichuan, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Anhui. Tianjin’s and Shandong’s once-brilliant economic performance has slowed in recent years in the face of such a phenomenon. Nanjing and Jiangsu must avoid such a trap.
Image and attractiveness
Another point lies in the inadequacies of the city’s image and marketing. It lacks a “presence” in recent years. Hangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, and even Changsha and Hefei have become very popular “cities” on social networks.
With its assets and strong local economy, the capital of Jiangsu is growing strongly. It must remain on its guard against being overtaken by its local competitors. The province’s advanced urbanization and relatively high labor costs make the city less attractive. Despite its strengths, it must strengthen its national influence and raise its attractiveness to avoid the slowdown of cities like Tianjin.
Character networks abound in Chinese. One can build cartography, for example, from 巳, in which an ancient graph represented a fetus. The interpretations of the first scripts vary according to the experts, but let us retain this architecture. For more details on the origin of the characters in the table below, you can consult the articles in the category 巳 and that of 子, the child.
The foreigner, or rather the Western world, has long been a source of fascination in China; a four-character expression describes this phénomène，崇洋媚外, chóngyáng mèiwài, blind admiration for the foreigner. With the song of the present time and the theme of the Great Renaissance 大复兴, the foreign rating is going down (see article). Nevertheless, in the population, the number one in the world (more for a long time think some) remains very observed. The United States is still the yardstick of success despite all the recent turmoil. Biden’s very likely accession to the White House (Trump has not yet exhausted all his avenues of appeal) highlights the future vice-president and potential president, Kamala Harris, whose father is of Jamaican origin and whose mother is Indian. Chinese articles ask the question: Why is the Indian community abroad more successful than the Chinese diaspora? A former Chinese consul had already raised the subject, see the article. The Tigger Trend Research Bureau is looking into the matter. It is interesting to see how a Chinese author considers this phenomenon, so I have summarized his text’s interesting parts.
So far, the United States has had two governors of Indian origin; Bobby Jindal was elected in Louisiana in 2008 and Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. These two states are not easy. Located in the South, they have been significantly marked by racism. Haley will later become the U.S. representative to the United Nations. South Carolina and Louisiana do not have a high concentration of Indians, so it takes a lot of skill to be elected governor. The federal-level had civil servants of Indian origin during the Obama years. The most important of these positions was Atul Gawande, an excellent surgeon, who became the president’s advisor on health policy. He played a crucial role in the creation of the health care bill during Obama’s term. The Trump administration promoted many Republicans of Indian origin, an ethnic group that gained unprecedented political power and status. Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh was born in India. On the list is Ajit Varadaraj Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Interestingly, the director of Trump’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, was responsible for repealing Obamacare and establishing a new health care policy. So it was the Indians who found the Obamacare bill, and it was the Indians who abolished it. The Indian media estimate that Biden should have twenty people in his administration in senior positions. Seema Nanda is the current leader of the Democratic Party. As for the community of Chinese origin, they are not numerous: for the most important, Elaine Lan Chao (from Taiwan) held the position of Secretary of Labor under Bush Jr., and the famous Locke was ambassador to Beijing under Obama. (The research bureau elude the presence of 余茂春, Miles Yu, human rights defender, who became Pompeo’s adviser. Sensitive subject!)
During the elections, Biden received the probable support of 65% of the Indian community. When we look elsewhere, we see Indian faces in the United States and Western countries. Former Irish Prime Minister Varadkar is half Indian, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is also of Indian origin. Britain has the largest number of senior civil servants of Indian origin. They hold three positions in Johnson’s cabinet: Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary of State for Home Affairs, and Secretary of State for Business and Energy Industries. British colonialism ruled India for more than three centuries. Who would have thought that one day it would be the Indians’ turn to rule Britain?
In the United States, the Chinese have money but no power. They don’t ask questions about the state’s affairs; the Indians have political ambitions and financial weight, the development dynamic is powerful. “We Chinese are known to work hard and get rich, but Indians work harder. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2014, the average annual household income of Indians is $91,195, ranking Indians first among all ethnic groups in the country, and Chinese second with $84,300. We Chinese are good at university exams, but Indians are better. Nearly 64 percent of Indians – adults – have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 55 percent of Chinese in the United States. The educational race in India is similar to that of the Chinese, where parents demand that their child be number one. Chinese and Indians have much in common: they seek to progress, they are not dependent on state welfare, and they study a lot, especially in practical subjects. Physicians are one of the highest-paid and most challenging professions, and one in ten physicians in the United States is Indian. Indian immigrants are even more impressive in the high-tech field, with one-third of Silicon Valley’s engineers coming from India.
The Chinese like to study and work hard just as much as the Indians, so why are they always outsiders? In middle-class American society, a college degree is essential, but it is not the only factor. The typical characteristics of the white Protestant elite in the United States are entrepreneurship, eloquence, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, excellent athletic ability, and the ability to handle all aspects of social relationships. We have probably all heard the phrases “Don’t play with those who don’t study well” or “Don’t go on vacation, stay home and do your homework” when we were kids. During adolescence, when they most need to play and contact their peers, Chinese students are bored. When they arrive at work, they don’t have the social skills required for work, and they can’t communicate with their clients and co-workers. Indian children are expected to study too, but their social life is not neglected. Indians in American companies have always been more proactive than Chinese, and Indians have been successful in industries other than Silicon Valley IT. Indraa Nooyi became CEO of Pepsi, Punit Renjen CEO of Deloitte, the Indo-Indian, and Ajaypal Singh Banga, CEO of Master Card International. These industries require a combination of skills, not just good grades in science. Chinese parents focus solely on teaching books, which is not conducive to children’s future development. The Chinese rarely get involved in politics. U.S. politicians do not reach the highest positions through exams. They take to the streets to solicit votes, gain the confidence of voters, find allies. These skills are not taught in textbooks. Add to this the Chinese tradition of being introverted, not showing their faces, and stifling their political participation behind closed doors. Indians have actively engaged in politics to fight for their own ethnic group’s rights and interests, which has been beneficial. The Chinese have immigrated to the United States since the end of the Qing Dynasty. The situation is still difficult, partly because there is no political support.
When the United States adjusted its racial policy, it was difficult for the Chinese to protect themselves. The Indians also took advantage of the situation to trip up the Chinese. Kamala Harris lobbied for S386 while in California in 2009, a bill dubbed the New Chinese Exclusion Act, which on its face is fair and provides for the distribution of green cards on a first-come, first-served basis. In practice, it favors Indians, who are the first ethnic group to apply for a Green Card. If nationality quotas were the rule, it would be much easier for the Chinese to obtain a Green Card. When the Sino-American conflict is escalating, it is unlikely that a person with Indian roots becoming vice president of the United States would be a blessing to the Chinese at home and abroad. Harris had openly criticized China on various occasions, attacking it on Hong Kong issues when she was a senator. If something happens to Biden and Harris takes over the presidency, there will be even less backsliding between China and the United States.
It would be suitable for China if there were more Chinese in the United States. During World War I, the United States was slow to declare war on Germany because of the large number of German and Italian immigrants in North America. At that time, the first largest ethnic group in the United States was white Anglo-Saxons, the second largest was Germans, and large villages in the Midwest were settled by Germans, with no signs or billboards in English, only German. Fearing that he would lose the German vote and provoke opposition from the German community, President Wilson did not immediately enter the war. In 1990, the U.S.’s Chinese-born population reached 1.6 million, then 2.4 million in 2000, and about 5 million in 2020. Statistics show that it is one of the fastest-growing ethnic minorities in the United States. Over time, as the percentage of Chinese Americans increases and voter turnout rises, Chinese Americans’ voices could be heard more often, which would affect U.S.-China relations. Today, Chinese Americans’ positions and preferences in the United States have never been more important to their home country, 母国.
Trigger Trend forgets to mention that the English proficiency of Indian students is a tool in integration. Perhaps it is difficult to recognize the benefits of colonization, which are not limited to the spread of globalization’s language? Is it the Chinese’s lack of political commitment in the United States that would explain the difference in success between the two communities? One may wonder why they do not get involved in this field. Let’s look at what’s happening in China. They don’t cultivate political commitment and struggle. We let the government “manage”! It would have been relevant to show the differences in the two countries’ political systems, influencing behavior, and destinies. But, the subjects are delicate to handle in China. The author develops another argument: an education that does not promote the culture of social life. It is undoubtedly necessary to also dig in this direction to understand the reasons. He recalls that in 2015, the appointment of Sunder Pichai, of Indian origin, to the position of CEO of Google had struck people’s minds. In China, people prefer to develop their own Google, Baidu, who was largely “inspired” by Google. To meditate!
It is adventurous to have peremptory judgments on certain characters’ origin as the shadowy areas remain over the first centuries of their history. The multiple graphs, several hundred very different for some character, like the horse, are confusing. Besides, periods of political instability led to instability in writing.
The first graphs from the fourteenth century before the Christian era
The disappearance of the bone script’s intellectual horizon during more than twenty centuries and its progressive rediscovery since 1899 do not yet allow us to have a clear and sure vision of the origin of all Chinese characters. Also, recent discoveries of archaeological sites on the Chinese territory bring more knowledge, but they suggest that many keys are not yet up to date. It should thus impose caution on a good part of the scripts in our possession. In addition, each diviner who interpreted fractures on bones or shells could have his writing style, and the same character presents different spellings at the same time.
The Warring States
The most confusing period for Chinese characters is a very turbulent era in history, The Warring States. From the 5th century BC BC to -221 BC, the territory was divided into rival kingdoms waging war against each other, and each had its own system of writing. 李学勤 Li Xueqin in “战国题铭概述, Overview of the Inscriptions of the Fighting Kingdoms” distinguishes five dominant writing systems of five kingdoms, Qi 齊, Yan 燕, Jin 晉, Chu, 楚, and Qin秦 (from left to right in the table below).
On the second line, we can see the writing of mǎ 马/馬, horse, in the five territories and on the last zhōng, 中, center, middle. Most of them have significant differences. Note that the script in the last column, the State of Qin’s script, is closer to the current characters, the traditional 馬 and 中.
Qin increased its influence over the centuries and annexed all its rivals to found the Chinese Empire in -221 BC. Subsequently, the first emperor of China, Qinshihuang, instructed his minister Li Si to put in order the characters by unifying the writing, at least a part, nearly 3,000 characters (The other part of the characters remained unclear for a few decades). He took as a model the writings of the State of Qin for 馬 and 中 and many others.
兴/興(traditional) is a character we learn very early. 兴 is found in 高兴, gāo xìng, happy, pleased. One can be quickly distraught because 兴 is in words related to construction, development, prosperity. Where do these meanings come from? Knowledge of its origin allows us to understand its ramifications and to better remember all these future associations.
The first scripts evoked four hands on each side of a brick mould. Four hands together make bricks to build a house.
The first sense was to make bricks. By extension, at the time, three senses came: building, prosperous and happy. All three are in germ in these graphs: building with bricks; building refers to a certain prosperity, the four hands working together evoke enthusiasm. They have left traces in the associations of character.
One can compose three categories per theme; a small sample:
To progress effectively in vocabulary and acquire a very good level, understanding and assimilation of the network of characters makes learning more effective. Without emphasis, I would say that this is crucial. We can go much faster. In addition, this graphic below could be completed with at least thirty additional words.
A small mention for 复兴. fù xīng, which is the term used to talk about the rebirth of the Chinese nation, 复 means again. There is even talk of a great renaissance 大复兴. The traditional character 興 has kept a structure close to the ancient spellings while the simplified 兴 has moved away.
兴/興 has two pronunciations, in the first and fourth tones. The modern meanings have remained in the same semantic field: 兴/興 xīng, to rise, to begin, to blossom 兴/興 xìng, joyful, inspiration, interest
An additional example that shows how knowledge of the origin of a character can help to understand all its uses in the language. 兴 is combined with nearly fifty other characters.
Drinking is a real culture in China. Great poets have celebrated drunkenness, such as Li Bai, who lived in the Tang era in the 8th century. In his poem “On Drinking Alone by Moonlight” he invites the moon: ” Rather than to drink alone, I’ll make bold to ask the moon.”
At the time, in some areas of the North, to close profitable deals, alcohol helps (see article here). Alcohol also poses many difficulties. Shenzhen, which is often a pioneer, has enacted a specific law on alcohol prohibition for teenagers. The alcoholic drink has become the number one risk factor for death among young people. The research bureau Trigger Trend takes stock of the situation.
A new, clearer law
On October 29, Shenzhen passed the first law in China, prohibiting alcohol sale to minors from January 1, 2021. Pineapple beer and cocktails are no exception. Fines of 30,000 yuan will be imposed on the reckless.
This is not the first legal attempt in this direction. Already ten years ago, the revised “Law on the Protection of Minors” and “Measures on the Circulation of Alcoholic Beverages” were proposed: operators of alcoholic beverages must not sell alcoholic products to minors. However, as the enforcement responsibilities were not clear, the corresponding sanctions are not severe and are rarely applied.
The most significant risk factor for adolescents in deaths
Alcohol consumption has become the biggest risk factor in teenage deaths in China. Behind the alcohol ban, there are death statistics. The current Chinese laws and regulations do not specify the legal age for buying alcohol, not the legal drinking age. In other words, you are not allowed to purchase alcohol before the age of 18, which does not mean that you are not allowed to drink it. Data from the 2015 China Adolescent Burden of Disease study show that alcohol consumption has become the leading risk factor for death among Chinese adolescents aged 10 to 19, with almost 10% of adolescent deaths related to alcohol consumption. A total of 5,957 teenage deaths were alcohol-related in 2015, which is more than the total number of deaths from the second to the tenth risk factor, accounting for 9.4% of all deaths. Of these, 4,805 alcohol-related deaths occurred among boys or 11% of male deaths, and 1,153 deaths occurred among girls or 5.8% of female deaths. Also, adolescents are growing and developing, and their brain development reaches its second critical period. Alcohol consumption is likely to interfere with brain development and affect cognitive function later in life. Many studies have shown that alcohol is no less dangerous than smoking.
Number of teenagers deaths with the ten most important risk factors in 2015 :
The alcohol culture of minors
However, the phenomenon of alcohol consumption among teenagers in China is not encouraging. According to a survey, 51.2% of Chinese teenagers aged 12 and over have already drunk alcohol, and 58.9% of teenagers aged 15 to 17, with boys being significantly more at risk than girls. Of these teenagers, 28% started drinking before the age of 10, with a tendency to drink earlier and earlier. According to the study, 69.1% of the young people agreed that “the state should prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors,” and only 64.1% of the boys agreed. The behavior of their elders influences young people during meals and large banquets. Drinking has become a kind of culture. The fear of appearing rude and being ostracized from the group is the primary concern of adolescents. Simultaneously, relatively few take the initiative to drink to express themselves and expand their network. Research has shown that 61.9% of adolescents regularly drank at parties with friends or classmates, while only 18% drank periodically alone. According to research and analyses, parents’ alcohol consumption has an impact on the alcohol consumption of children. Still, parents’ attitude towards their children’s alcohol consumption is even more critical than that of the parents themselves. Children whose parents do not object to alcohol consumption are twice as likely to drink, and students whose parents approve of their drinking are ten times more likely to drink than those whose parents explicitly forbid it. According to statistics, 28.6% of students were advised to drink by their families during the Chinese New Year vacation. In general, boys are more at risk, but it is interesting to note that the data shows that mothers are more likely to persuade girls to drink than boys. A recent CDC research paper showed that after three months of outreach and education of more than 6,000 parents in Chengdu, Guangzhou and Harbin on the “No Drinking for Minors” campaign, parents’ knowledge and attitudes toward alcohol improved some extent, and mothers’ drinking rates decreased. Still, fathers’ drinking behavior did not change. It is clear that the reason fathers drink is not a lack of knowledge about the health hazards of drinking, but rather appears to be the belief that drinking is a “social skill” that children, especially boys, should acquire to help them develop resources and social power later in life and that it is more beneficial than the physical hazards of drinking. Thus, whether the advice comes from fathers or mothers for their daughters seems to point to the unbearable status quo that often, to advance in society, it is necessary to drink a little, and even girls had better be good at it.