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Posts Tagged ‘china’

Map: Wikipedia.
Map showing the location of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Before the pandemic, I had a conversation with a friend in her 80s who was raised in the Sephardic Jewish tradition. Along with others in her age group she has gone online to try to preserve the Spanish-based language Ladino, which goes way back to 15th century, when there was a large Jewish community living in Spain.

This blog has often covered the topic of endangered languages and efforts to protect them. Sometimes the danger to a language results from the dying out of aging speakers. Sometimes the danger comes from government policy, as was the case for many years with America’s indigenous tribes.

Filip Noubel writes at Global Voices about the language of a Muslim community in China whose proponents are working to adapt it to online use.

“Languages need to adapt to the modern world to catch-up with new technology and concepts if they want to remain competitive, particularly among younger speakers. This is particularly true for Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in Western China that is under threat due to targeted discrimination conducted by Chinese authorities in the hope that Chinese may appear more attractive and technology-friendly among Uyghur youth.

“Uyghur linguists have long been aware of the fact that Uyghur, a Turkic language with an estimated 10 million speakers, written in the Arabic alphabet in China, and with a rich tradition of intricate poetry, philosophy and songs written in that language, needs to include elements of modern life to serve the needs of the younger generation, as well as of social media where more and more conversations are taking place.

“To have a rare insight into those efforts, Global Voices spoke to Elise Anderson, an expert on Uyghur language and music who spent years in Xinjiang, and now works as a Senior Program Officer with the Uyghur Human Rights Project. Anderson, who spent most of her time in Xinjiang from 2012 to 2016, was invited in January 2014 by an Uyghur linguist friend to join their WeChat group called ‘Tilchilar’ (Linguists) as she was herself studying the language in-depth as part of her doctoral research on Uyghur music and songs. Here is how she describes the group hosted on China’s most popular social media platform, WeChat:

” ‘The group had around 100 members at any given moment, most of whom were highly educated native speakers, including academics, translators, bureaucrats, and even a few officials from regional-level institutions. We discussed persistent “problems” in the language, including spelling, grammar, translation. Most often, our conversations centered on terminology and whether we could replace Chinese loanwords to preserve the “purity” (sapliq) of Uyghur. A group member might say, “I noticed teenagers are using [Mandarin word]. What could we say instead?” We would then cycle through possibilities: Was there a word to “resurrect” from pre-modern Uyghur? No? What about “borrowing” from other Turkic languages? No? What about ‘importing’ from a more distant language? And so on. In a few cases, we settled on terms, which more influential group members then attempted to lexicalize. But discussions of single words could last days and often went unresolved.’

“As Anderson explains, the group was also trading examples of bad translations, some of which were comical, but also raised an uncomfortable questions such as why would there be unedited translations in Uyghur in a territory inhabited by millions of native speakers of the language.

“For languages that do not have a dominating position in a country, or have a small number of speakers, their digital footprint is often an indicator of their chances for long-term survival. For Uyghur language, WeChat offered a unique opportunity with its voice messaging feature. As Anderson explains, the platform became so popular it was given an Uyghur name, ‘Ündidar,’ a portmanteau word made of the Turkic word ‘ün’ which means voice, and the Persian term ‘didar’ which refers to encounter. The poetic term was coined by the poet and intellectual Abduqadir Jalaliddin, who disappeared from his Ürümqi home in 2018 and is currently incarcerated. …

“Today the Uyghur diaspora living outside a Beijing-censored internet is probably the most active user of Uyghur language over social media. Microsoft has offered full operating systems in Uyghur since 2016, and most smartphones allow Uyghur on their keyboard. In February 2020, Google also added Uyghur on its free translation platform, expanding the space for Uyghur online. …

“According to Anderson: ‘The Uyghur web, most of which was hosted inside the borders of China, used to be a vibrant space, where popular message boards gave users space to discuss everything under the sun (or at least everything under the sun that made it through the censors). … Since 2016, authorities in the Uyghur region have managed to scrub that web nearly completely, such that today there are very few Uyghur-language sites left. …

” ‘The way to keep anything alive, including a language, is to create space for it to live and provide material support so it can thrive. The Uyghur language will survive if it is put it on equal footing with other languages, if it “counts” in professional and formal settings, if it has support as a language of literary and scientific production.’ “

More at Global Voices, here.

Photo: Thomas Peter/Reuters.
Workers walk along the fence of a fortification thought to be a Muslim detention center in Xinjiang, China, on September 4, 2018. Read more at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Photo: Raph_PH
Juliana Hatfield in concert, 2019.

Musicians and other artists who are not big names don’t get paid what they’re worth in the best of times, and a pandemic is not the best of times.

At the online magazine Slate, William Ralston and Niko Seizov suggest that fans in large enough numbers can help musicians survive by making micropayments. The writers point to a model in China.

“Back in July, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek caught flak for saying it’s no longer enough for artists to record ‘once every three to four years’ — that they need to pump out more product if they want to make a living streaming their music on his platform. As the man cutting their modest checks, Ek would know.

“Streaming on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora accounted for 79.5 percent of the $8.8 billion total global revenue for recorded music last year. But … while these platforms generate mammoth revenues through advertising and subscriptions, they pay out negligible amounts per stream, and only a portion of this ends up in creators’ pockets. To make it even worse, Spotify has proposed a new feature that will enable artists and rights holders to boost specific tracks in the platform’s recommendation algorithms provided they agree to a lower royalty rate for those streams. It’s a race to a bottom we didn’t know existed.

“The shortcomings of the streaming payment model have long been blunted by a swelling live music industry: Streaming barely paid for most artists, the argument went, but at least it facilitated audience expansion so that musicians could better make a living on the road. The pandemic has killed that argument, at least for now — and now many artists must wonder where their next paycheck will come from. It has underlined a profound need to restructure, so that artists can depend on selling their art as well as their time. …

“An integral part of any solution may exist within China’s walled-off internet. On several streaming platforms under the umbrella of China’s Tencent Music … micropayments from fans help compensate artists where royalties fall short. …

“What’s interesting is that only around 30 percent of Tencent Music’s revenue comes from subscriptions, music downloads, and advertising revenue; the lion’s share comes through a commission on one-off payments given to artists by listeners, called micropayments. These can be straight-up donations, or given in exchange for virtual goods. …

“There’s no reason why Tencent Music’s model can’t be applied beyond China. We all inherently crave a deeper emotional bond with our favorite artists, and we will part with money for it. …

“The on-demand streaming model has ruptured the audience-artist relationship. There’s no longer a traditional exchange of X record for Y; instead, platforms like Spotify have become gatekeepers, and music has become more like a utility: unlimited supply for a monthly charge. We listen to curated playlists with the creators demoted to the background, their work consumed by a detached and disengaged audience. With its micropayment features, Tencent Music bridges this gap, and provides artists with a toolkit to foster and more importantly monetize deep fan loyalty.

“Skeptics might say that the Tencent model wouldn’t work in the west because there isn’t the same culture of tipping over the internet. … But western platforms like Anchor and Twitch have been successful in implementing micropayment features in podcasting and gaming, and the same could be true of music. There just has to be a convenient mechanism.

“Social media platforms like Facebook have capitalized on this dynamic … without rewarding artists for their efforts for their own contributions to these networks. Not only are the artists not rewarded, but they must invest in advertising to reach the followers they attracted to their page in the first place.

“The toolkit in the west is materializing. Bandcamp, the independent-focused online music store, has offered the ‘pay what you wish’ model for years. Artists set a minimum purchase price for goods, but leave you free to add more. And during the coronavirus crisis, major streaming platforms have started to tip-toe toward this model. Spotify, for one, has launched ‘Artist Fundraising Pick,’ which allows listeners to make donations via artists’ profiles … but it’s not enough. …

“On Patreon, on the other hand, around 4 million fans, or patrons, subscribe to their favorite creators in return for rewards like exclusive songs, physical merchandise, or private lessons. There are no micropayments per se, but the platform is monetizing the direct artist-audience channel, becoming a digital incarnation of a fan club. …

“One major barrier for Patreon is that it exists as an isolated ecosystem separate from where you actually go to listen to music. … It’s a lot to expect listeners to jump to another site, but Patreon does provide a foundation that could feasibly be integrated into a major streaming platform. …

“In the meantime, we must support artists in any way we can. … When you purchase a record, as opposed to streaming it, a larger amount of money ends up with the artist.” More at Slate, here.

Over at Will McMillan’s blog “A Musical Life on Planet Earth,” the cabaret artist/music teacher has been pondering the same issues. Read him here.

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Photo: Kevin McGill
A view of the Terracotta Army in the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. In normal times, several million people visit the Xi’an, Shaanxi province, site each year.

I save links about interesting happenings to share later on the blog, but when coronavirus hit, some of the happenings in my pipeline seemed out of date. Archaeological finds are different. Anytime’s a good time to read about the excavation of terracotta warriors in China.

As you may know, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China is a designated Unesco World Heritage site. The online Unesco description says (with prescience), “No doubt thousands of statues still remain to be unearthed at this archaeological site, which was not discovered until 1974. Qin (d. 210 B.C.), the first unifier of China, is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the centre of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

In January this year, Taylor Dafoe reported at Artnet that more statues had indeed been discovered. “The Terracotta Army,” he writes, “just got a little more formidable.

“More than 200 additional funerary sculptures have been uncovered near the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in Xi’an, the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province. The relics join the 8,000 already unearthed soldiers that constitute the Terracotta Army, created 2,200 years ago to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

“The discovery, first announced by the country’s state-run news agency, came during a decade-long excavation of the first of four pits at the mausoleum. … Archaeologists uncovered roughly 200 new warriors, 12 clay horses, and two chariots, as well as a number of bronze weapons, over the past 10 years.

“According to Shen Maosheng, the archeologist who led the dig, the new findings provide researchers with a clearer picture of how the ancient Chinese military operated. For instance, Maosheng notes that most of the newly uncovered figures are depicted either holding poles or bows — a clue that reveals the soldiers’ battlefield roles and responsibilities.

One of the world’s most treasured historical artifacts, the army was first discovered by a group of local farmers trying to dig a well roughly a mile east of Emperor Qin’s tomb in 1974. They stumbled upon a vault that held thousands of human-sized military figures, each unique in appearance, all lined up in battle formation. …

“Researchers believe it took 700,000 laborers as much as 30 to 40 years to complete the army and its tombs, and that there are still likely more vaults and warriors to be discovered.” More.

Have any readers visited the mausoleum? I was in China once, when my husband was working there, but for the 10-day visit, I stayed in Shanghai and environs. Xi’an would have been too far, and besides it was Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) at the time, and the whole country was on the road. If you have seen the terracotta warriors, I would love to know your personal reactions.

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Photo: Taobao / JD.com.
Livestreaming has brought some Chinese farmers badly needed customers during the pandemic.

I originally heard this reassuring tale at the radio show called The World, which is great about covering news from around the world, not just the US. If you’d like to listen to the broadcast, click here.

As Karen Hao reported at MIT Technology Review, some Chinese farmers hurting from the Covid-19 lockdown have been saved by technology.

“A few years after Li Jinxing graduated from college, he returned to his rural hometown to become a flower farmer. The days were long but the routine familiar: rise early and tend to the blossoms in the morning; trim and package those in bloom during the afternoon; deliver the parcels, delicately stacked in trucks, to customers by late evening.

“Where the flowers ended up, Li was never quite sure. From his fields in Yunnan province, China, he sold them to national distributors who sold them to flower shops who sold them to end consumers. … It all threatened to come to an end with covid-19.

“Li, 27, remembers the exact moment he heard about the viral outbreak: it was past midnight on January 20, 2020. The Chinese New Year was only five days away, and he had spent the day harvesting flowers in preparation for the expected holiday bump in sales. As he swiped through Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, he saw a fleeting mention of the disease. Li wasn’t sure what to think. Wuhan was nearly 1,200 miles away — the problem felt distant and intangible. …

“But as lockdown protocols swept through the country, panic began to set in. The logistics company that Li relied on had shut down for the holidays, and now the drivers were stuck at home. Without any way to carry out deliveries, Li watched as his flowers plummeted in price and still couldn’t be sold. In the end, tens of thousands of blossoms waiting in storage spoiled. …

“Then, on February 11, he received a message from an old friend, Ao Fenzhen, the COO of a flower distribution company. JD.com, one of China’s largest online retailers, was offering to help farmers use live-streaming to reach consumers, she said. It would involve broadcasting a few hours of content each day on its app, JD Live, to show off different products and answer questions from potential buyers. The company would provide access to its delivery networks — one of the few that had survived the lockdown — and take a small percentage of sales. Did Li want to join in? …

“Both JD.com and Alibaba-owned Taobao … helped farmers and merchants set up online stores with expedited approvals and showed them how to design the content of their broadcasts. They made their apps more intuitive and used their logistics networks to ship the products directly from farm to home. …

‘Most farmers didn’t know how to live-stream; even fewer understood e-commerce,’ says Zhang Guowei, the head of JD Live.

“But the pressure of the crisis — and the unique scale of China’s consumer base — provided the necessary catalyst. … Growers who had once sold 90% of their products offline have now flipped to selling 90% online. Live-streaming has not only helped the industry weather the crisis — it’s forged an entirely new way of business that is likely to continue long after the pandemic is over.

“Li’s friend Ao had been with her family for the holiday when news of covid arrived. … It was through an ad that she learned of JD.com’s live-streaming initiative. She didn’t have any experience with the medium, but she also didn’t know what else to do. She contacted the company and messaged Li. He was onboard.

“The first week of live-streaming was largely a blur. Ao set up an online store for consumers to make their purchases, and prepared scripts for one to two hours of content per day. Li then used JD Live to broadcast from his fields. He gave a tour of where the flowers grew, showcased their characteristics, and explained how to care for them. Li worked even longer hours than before … but when he sold 100 orders on the first day, he knew they were on to something.

“Through JD’s initiative, Ao and Li also connected with live-stream influencers who offered to help them promote the flowers for free. The pair provided the expertise, teaching the influencers the properties of the flowers and how to arrange them. Once, an influencer’s broadcast surpassed 1 million viewers.

“More orders came flooding in, and Li began to gain his own following. At one point, he remembers, he barely had enough farmhands to fulfill the sales. … By the end of the harvesting season, he had sold several hundred thousand flowers. His and Ao’s businesses had survived.”

More at MIT Technology Review, here.

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Art: Wei Man Kow

While many of us feel crushed under the weight of stories about Covid-19, cartoonists have been addressing the coronavirus in their own way, mostly trying to be helpful.

Jason Li writes at Hyperallergic, “No corner of the globe experiences the epidemic in quite the same way. … Cartoonists and illustrators have taken to the public squares of social media to express statements of solidarity, share experiences (and grievances), and laugh a little. [We’ve] collected our favorite works from around the world — taking care to include as many perspectives and geographies as we could, while still centering those in China, who remain most impacted by the virus. …

“[One] viral illustration by momo shows that Wuhan, ground zero of the epidemic, carries the support of everyone else in China. Wuhan is represented by a caricature of its famous food, hot dry noodle, while those cheering them on are drawn as foods from other regions of China.

“On a gentler note, the 3×3 comic [by] Wang XX is a fantastic encapsulation of the tenderness and care that people in China are feeling for one another during this calamitous period. In it, a seal, octopus, walrus and mouse help each other don their face masks and then hug it out. …

“[Another] comic about the shortages in Hong Kong by Ah To shows a person keeping toilet paper them in their safe along with their gold bars and surgical masks. …

“Many in and outside of China criticize its authorities for handling the crisis poorly and for muffling early warnings from medical experts. [A] mini-comic by A ee mi in Taiwan weaves a fantastical yet blunt critique of China’s healthcare system. In it, a coronavirus carrier is sent home without proper treatment, spreading the virus to their friends and community.

“While many airlines have suspended flights to China, the authorities in Hong Kong, which shares both land and sea borders with Mainland China, have staunchly refused to close off its borders. This has left its citizens incredibly anxious and angry. [Toballkidrawing] aptly depicts how the issue is viewed in Hong Kong — that the government is handing out a free pass for the virus to move in. …

“One genre of responses that’s been common across the globe is illustrated health advice. Some are comedic, some pithy, but the most popular are detailed and instructional. The above example by Wei Man Kow in Singapore was an unexpected hit and was subsequently translated into seven different languages by various strangers on the internet. (The artist has also made the instructional available for free download, including coloring book versions in Chinese and English.) Meanwhile, veteran cartoonist Sonny Liew (also in Singapore) teamed up with local doctors to put out [a] calming, animal-themed strip combating paranoia and disinformation.

“The breadth of these illustrated responses mirrors the myriad lived realities of the coronavirus. While none will argue that the virus is not a global epidemic or phenomenon, few agree on how serious the problem is, and people around the world are experiencing and interpreting its impact in vastly different ways. ”

Check out all these comics and more at Hyperallergic, here. If you have seen other good cartoons on this topic, please link to them in comments.

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Photo: Hanjun
Music director Long Yu with the Shanghai Symphony  This orchestra carried on straight through World War I and World War II. During the Cultural Revolution, they had to play folk songs and songs of revolution. But they played.

This past August the Shanghai Symphony came to Chicago. And thanks to coverage of the visit, I learned something new about a Chinese city I visited in 2007.

Howard Reich interviewed the symphony’s conductor at the Chicago Tribune. “When the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra makes its Chicago-area debut Aug. 16 at the Ravinia Festival, no one will be prouder of the occasion than its music director, Long Yu.

“For to him, the Shanghai ensemble will be more than just a visitor from the other side of the world – it will be bringing with it a legacy stretching back to 1879, when it was established under a previous name.

“ ‘This is the first orchestra not only in China, but in the Far East,’ says Yu, speaking by phone from Hong Kong. …

“In effect, adds Yu, this orchestra ‘introduced most of the classical music to China and to Asia.’ …

“ ‘There is something wrong about how the Western world – I don’t speak about the United States only – the Western world is taking for granted our culture,’ [Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti] said. ‘In China, where we performed in this big (arts) center – where they have theater, concert halls and drama – that is so modern and fantastic, they told me that they are building a new hall!’ …

“Few could have envisioned such an embrace of Western classical music when the Shanghai ensemble was founded. But equally remarkable is the fact that it has survived through so many political, social and cultural upheavals.

“ ‘You can see this orchestra for 140 years, you can find all the programs through the First (World) War, Second (World) War, Cultural Revolution and till today – they have not stopped playing concerts,’ says Yu.

‘Especially during the Cultural Revolution, they still played! They did function in the Cultural Revolution – Chinese folk songs, but they still played. …

“ ‘Today it sounds like a very crazy idea. But during the years of the Cultural Revolution in China, it was fashionable to punish people for learning too much Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. I graduated from high school (in 1970) having been trained as a pianist, but my studies were interrupted, and I was sent to the rice fields for four years of physical labor. The government felt they needed to purify my soul, and they believed physical labor was the best way.’

“Musicians who nurtured Western culture suffered severely. Yang Bingsun, the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China’s concertmaster, spent ‘nine years and four months in prison, my fingers constantly being injured because I was forced to work in cement,’ he told me in 1987. …

“What a difference a few decades make: In May, the First China International Music Competition launched in Beijing with an unprecedented first prize: $150,000 plus professional career management for three years (second and third prizes were $75,000 and $30,000). … Why have the Chinese put so much muscle behind classical music?

“ ‘To be placed on the international music map in a very serious way,’ Richard Rodzinski, the contest’s general director, told me earlier this year.

“Which helps explain why conductor Yu and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra are bringing their wares here. …

“For his Ravinia program, he’ll feature cellist Alisa Weilerstein in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Qigang Chen’s ‘Wu Xing (The Five Elements),’ a kind of East-meets-West program. But unlike some observers, Yu sees fewer distinctions between music-making in the two hemispheres.

“ ‘I don’t like to put Western music or Eastern music, Western culture or Eastern culture’ in categories, he says. ‘People ask me what is the difference between Chinese orchestras and Western orchestras? Basically, no difference. Eastern and Western orchestras do the same things, we teach every orchestra the same way, we rehearse the same way, we do the same programs.’ ”

More at the Chicago Tribune, here.

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A saxophone made in China.

I’ve always liked the sound of the saxophone, and when I listen to my favorite jazz station, WICN.org, I often try to identify which kind I’m hearing — alto, tenor … Identifying instrument sounds is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it.

Recently Javier C. Hernández published an unusual story about saxophones at the New York Times. It turns out the mellow instruments are quite popular in China, especially in the village that makes them.

“By day,” he reports, “the factory workers pound sheets of brass into cylinders and slather metal buttons with glue. By night, they take their creations to the street and begin to play.

“The soothing melodies flow through cornfields, street markets and public squares. They interweave with the shouts of street vendors hawking tofu and men playing mah-jongg.

“This is the music of Sidangkou, a northern Chinese village of 4,000, where one sound rules above all else: the saxophone. …

“The saxophone has never had a large following in China, in part because it was long associated with jazz, individuality and free expression. After the Communist revolution of 1949, officials denounced the instrument for producing the ‘decadent music of capitalists.’

“But here in this town, the saxophone is king.

“Sidangkou, which calls itself China’s ‘saxophone capital,’ produces about 10,000 saxophones per month at more than 70 factories, according to Chinese news media. ..

“Factories in the region now produce thousands of oboes, trumpets and tubas each year. Yet nothing seems to have captured the imagination of people here like the saxophone. …

“Assembly line workers began trying their hand at the instrument, mimicking famous players they saw on television. By the mid-2000s, saxophone fever had broken out.

“Fu Guangcheng came to Sidangkou in 1995 to work as a polisher on an assembly line. He quickly fell in love with the sound of the saxophone and started formal studies.

“ ‘It’s my career, it’s my life,’ said Mr. Fu, a factory worker. … ‘It’s a miracle that even rural people who are used to holding hoes in our hands can make Western instruments.’ …

“Many of the players are self-taught or follow along with online tutorials. … Some of the more advanced players in the village now use live-streaming apps to broadcast lessons online.”

As I was looking for photos, I discovered that Chinese depictions of Santa Claus nearly always show him playing a sax. Max Fisher of the Washington Post wondered why and discovered that no one knows. Maybe, one reader suggested, it’s because the saxophone is “cool and romantic”!

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Dinghua Yang/AFP/Getty Images
This pregnant Dinocephalosaurus, a long-necked marine reptile, didn’t lay eggs but instead gave birth to live young 245m years ago.

After uncovering new evidence, surprised scientists are revising a long-held understanding of the pre-dinosaur Dinocephalosaurus.

According to a Reuters story at the Guardian, “An extraordinary fossil unearthed in southwestern China shows a pregnant long-necked marine reptile that lived millions of years before the dinosaurs with its developing embryo, indicating the creature gave birth to live babies rather than laying eggs.

“Scientists said [in February that] the fossil of the unusual fish-eating reptile called Dinocephalosaurus, which lived about 245m years ago during the Triassic Period, changes the understanding of the evolution of vertebrate reproductive systems.

“Mammals and some reptiles including certain snakes and lizards are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.

“Dinocephalosaurus is the first member of a broad vertebrate group called archosauromorphs that includes birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs known to give birth this way, paleontologist Jun Liu of China’s Hefei University of Technology said. …

“ ‘I think you’d be amazed to see it, with its tiny head and long snaky neck,’ said University of Bristol paleontologist Mike Benton, who also participated in the research published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Its body plan was similar to plesiosaurs, long-necked marine reptiles akin to Scotland’s mythical Loch Ness Monster that thrived later during the dinosaur age, though they were not closely related.

“Not laying eggs provided advantages to Dinocephalosaurus, the researchers said. It indicated the creature was fully marine, not having to leave the ocean to lay eggs on land like sea turtles, exposing the eggs or hatchlings to land predators.” More here.

I admire scientists for continuously revisiting accepted wisdom when they find new data. The only complaint I have about the story concerns the Loch Ness Monster, an old friend of mine. Should one really call it mythical? Perhaps the data just haven’t floated to the surface yet.

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Wouldn’t it be strange if China, the smog capital of the world, started assuming leadership on environmental causes like global warming, clean air, and … sustainable fish farming.

The PRI radio show Living on Earth recently explained how China was tackling the latter challenge.

“Consumer demand in both the U.S. and China for safe and healthy farmed fish is shaping aquaculture practices in the world’s most populous country. And fish farmers are using traditional Chinese medicine as well as high-tech monitoring systems as they strive to keep their fish healthy and their farming practices transparent. Jocelyn Ford reports from the Hainan Province. …

“HAN HAN: With such a huge population in China, if we didn’t have aquaculture, if we totally relied on the wild fishery. I guess we would already running out of all these wild fish, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.

“FORD: That’s Han Han, the founder of the China Blue Sustainability Institute, China’s first non-governmental, environmental organization focused on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Today, aquaculture accounts for one of every two fish that land on the dinner table worldwide, and it’s growing faster than other sources of animal protein. China is the global aquaculture leader, and because of its expertise here, it wants to help other countries. …

“Aquaculture is expanding globally at about five percent a year, and that’s a plus for some of the Earth’s most pressing environmental issues. For example, compared to a pound of beef, a pound of fish has only about one-seventh of the carbon footprint. But large-scale aquaculture has created new problems. Naturally, farmed fish need to eat. And gone are the days when Chinese fish farms were all organic. Qi Genliu is a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

“QI: Traditionally we used grass to culture grass carp.

“FORD: That changed with the growth of the fish feed industry and the need to feed carnivorous marine fish [and keep them disease free with antibiotics]. …

“The founder and president of The Fishin’ Company, Manish Kumar, started coming to Hainan to build a coalition for a safer, more environmentally sound and sustainable tilapia industry [using traditional herbal medicine instead of antibiotics]. His company is sponsoring trainings, and offering financial incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is, others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense. …

“FORD: His ideas include increasing omega-3 levels in the tilapia, the fish oil that may help lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. To help reassure customers who are nervous about what their fish are eating, next year he’s planning a state of the art oversight system that involves cameras, QR codes, and consumer monitoring.

“KUMAR: We will now proceed to do something no one in the industry has done before. Put a camera system into the farm area. A customer buys a bag of fish. You have a QR code on the bag. Run your smartphone through our QR code on the bag, and you will have a chance to see the actual farm that raised this fish in your bag. And how it’s being raised.

“FORD: Customers can see the type of feed, and the plant where the feed was made, and the insomniacs can watch the fish grow 24/7. Manish Kumar says the extra cost will be negligible. As the largest supplier of tilapia, he expects to be able to take advantage of economies of scale.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can learn more about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to ensure the fish stay healthy.

Photo: Jocelyn Ford
Harvesting tilapia for export on an internationally certified farm in China.

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Sandra and I have been keeping an eye on a neighbor’s lotus all week, hoping to see it bloom. Today was the day. Above is what the lotus looked like at 7:30 a.m. Below is the lotus at 8 a.m., at the end of our walk.

This exciting development sent me to the Tennyson poem about Odysseus landing on the island of lotus eaters. I don’t think I had ever read the whole thing. Here are excerpts.

A land where all things always seem’d the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make. …

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

I’d say that’s an early example of an altered state.

According to wikipedia, however, our lotus is Nelumbo nucifera, whereas the one that hooked the Greek mariners was probably Ziziphus lotus, which doesn’t look nearly as pretty.

Sandra was interested in the showerhead-like seed pod. If you get close, you can see a blue-ish seed peeking out of every hole.

And what amazing seeds they are! As the invaluable wikipedia reveals, “An individual lotus can live for over a thousand years and has the rare ability to revive into activity after stasis. In 1994, a seed from a sacred lotus [in Northeastern China], dated at roughly 1,300 years old ± 270 years, was successfully germinated.”

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This story from the NY Times is about a matrilineal society near Lugu Lake in Yunnan Province, China.  Amy Qin writes that the area’s beauty and the colorful female-centric traditions are a tourist draw, but once again, a culture and a language are threatened.

“A young man clad in a white shirt, black pants and red belt suddenly scrambled up the side of a log house and slid feet first into a second-story latticed window.

” ‘This is how Mosuo men would climb into the “flower room” of the women,’ Ke Mu explained to visitors as the triumphant swain stuck his head out the window of the flower room, or private bedroom, and waved his hat.

“It was morning in the lakeside village of Luoshui here in southwestern China. On a narrow side street, dusty from hotel construction nearby, a group of young workers, including Ms. Ke, 18, was preparing for another day of cultural pageantry at the Mosuo Folk Museum. …

“A fascination with such traditions has led to a booming tourism industry in this once-isolated region. …

“Visitors can watch residents perform traditional dances in colorful costumes and can take boat rides on the lake as young Mosuo men serenade them with love songs in Naru, the Mosuo language.

“All around the village are signs that read, ‘Welcome to the Kingdom of Daughters.’

“Lively as its traditions seem, however, the Mosuo community is facing a crisis. As its interaction with the wider society increases, residents and outside experts fear that the group’s unique cultural practices are facing a grave threat.

“Experts say that the population of Mosuo in the Lugu Lake region, estimated to be about 40,000, is decreasing as more young people marry outside the group or move to larger cities for work. And without a written language, Mosuo culture is particularly vulnerable to disappearing.” Read about some curious customs here.

Photo: Adam Dean for The New York Times
Mosuo women in traditional outfits danced for Han Chinese tourists at a show in Luoshui. 

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I have another unusual library story — this time from China. It’s about a small village that built a magnificent library, drawing admiring visitors and boosting the local economy.

Jane Perlez writes at the New York Times, “The tiny village of Jiaojiehe suffers from being close to the nation’s capital. The young flee easily to the big city, leaving the elderly behind, lonely and poor.

“In today’s China, villages like this often try to engineer a sense of well-being by opening a new medical clinic, say, or by upgrading the water supply.

“But Li Xiaodong, an award-winning architect who fuses traditional Chinese ideas of design with Western themes, had a different idea for Jiaojiehe. He was captivated by the potential he saw in the village’s most abundant natural resource, the branches of its thousands of trees, which the locals harvest for fuel.

“So he built a library — with a twist. At its base, it is a steel and glass box in the vein of a Philip Johnson open-plan creation from the 1950s, but its exterior walls and roof are clad with fruit-tree twigs.

“The spindly sticks are arranged in vertical rows, and their uneven shapes allow natural light to filter into the library’s reading room, while keeping the building cool in the summer and cozy in the winter. They also act as a kind of camouflage, making the library’s rectangular edges barely noticeable in the landscape as visitors approach the village on a narrow, twisting road. …

“The library has a presence on social media, and many of the visitors on the weekend are university students or young professionals. They wander around the village, snap photos of themselves and order the local delicacy, stewed chicken with chestnuts, at one of the restaurants.

“And some of them actually read. Sun Liyang, 27, an automotive journalist, said a friend in Beijing had donated some books after hearing about the library online, and he decided to come for a look. ‘I am sitting here reading “The Adventures of Tintin,” ‘ he said. ‘It’s taking me back to my childhood.’

“Wang Fuying, 57, who used to grow crops in the area, is now the librarian, even though she can barely read. ‘All the library visitors are from the city,’ she said. ‘We have up to 200 visitors a day over the weekend. They come for fun, take a look, take some pictures and take a walk.’

“There are a few flaws. To preserve the wood floor, patrons must remove their shoes at the front door, but in the summer when there are many visitors, the reading room becomes smelly from all the socks, Ms. Wang said. …

“Mr. Li’s projects in other parts of China where he has built small structures in rural areas — including a school built high over a creek — have won many prizes. But few honors seem to have pleased him more than last year’s Moriyama R.A.I.C. International Prize, named for the Canadian-Japanese architect Raymond Moriyama. …

“On a recent weekend, Mr. Moriyama, 85, was one of the visitors to the library. He liked what he saw. ‘I was so happy this particular project won,’ he said. ‘It was all about picking one that represents service to the people. The sense of humanity of the library is so great.’

“The older architect patted Mr. Li on the back. ‘You did good,’ he said. ‘I was not on the jury, and quite often, I disagree with the jury. But in this case, I believe it was 150 percent right.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times
Li Xiaodong, a prize-winning architect, was inspired by the branches of local fruit trees, which he used to cover the Liyuan library’s roof and exterior walls.

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Suzanne’s friend Sara Van Note is heading off to Central America to research a story, but before leaving, she filed this report on a wasp that is being used to fight the emerald ash borer.

“A swampy forest in the floodplain of  the Merrimack River is one of the first places in New Hampshire where the dreaded emerald ash borer was discovered. These days, Molly Heuss of the New Hampshire Division of Forestry and Lands knows just how to find the tree-munching beetles lurking in green and black ash. …

“In recent years, the emerald ash borer has chewed its way through tens of millions of ashes across 24 states and two Canadian provinces, and counting.”

So scientists have decided to use a parasitic wasp to combat the menace.

“The parasites are descendants of wasps brought to the US from China, where the borer is also from. And they are very tiny. ‘About the size of a pin,’ says entomologist Juli Gould, of the US Department of Agriculture in Massachusetts. …

“The borers themselves were discovered in North America in 2002. They probably got here by stowing away in shipping crates. Scientists here knew nothing about them at the time, so Gould says they began working with colleagues in China to find a way to control the bugs.” More here.

Using the parasitic wasp is a last-ditch effort, and other scientists worry that the wasp could end up doing other things that are less desirable. That’s always a possibility, as Erik pointed out the other day when I showed him an article in the Providence Journal about a local effort to beat back a winter moth infestation. The article said that the parasitic fly Cyzenis albicans dines only on winter moths, so no worries. But Erik was skeptical. The best laid plans of mice and men …

Photo: John Cameron
Mountain Ash in New Hampshire

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Here’s an interesting start-up by a couple of entrepreneurs who love to eat. The two women decided to build a business around helping travelers find truly authentic cooking.

According to Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence’s website, “Traveling Spoon believes in creating meaningful travel. We are passionate about food, and believe that by connecting people with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world we can help facilitate meaningful travel experiences for travelers and hosts worldwide.

“To help you experience local cuisine while traveling, Traveling Spoon offers in-home meals with our hosts. In addition, we also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. All of our hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.

“Traveling Spoon currently offers home dining experiences in over 35 cities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, and more countries are coming soon!” More here.

I have no doubt that Traveling Spoon is also boosting international understanding. What a good way to use an MBA! Business school is not all about becoming an investment banker, as Suzanne and Erik would tell you.

Photo: Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon founders Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence met at the Haas School of Business.

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I had just cut out this story for the blog, when a colleague from northern China stopped by my office. He said it was the fifth time he had come upstairs to see if he could find another friend who was getting laid off. He wanted to give her a hug. I said, “Hug? Look at this.”

Didi Kirsten Tatlow, who writes dispatches from China for the NY Times, had just filled me in on a change among my friend’s former countrymen: “Of all the changes to sweep China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 — stock markets, private cars, fashion — one thing seemed not to have changed: No hugging. Chinese were physically reserved. That’s changing now.

“Recently, it seems like everyone is hugging. Friends are hugging. Family members are hugging. In hugging between Chinese and non-Chinese, it was non-Chinese who once foisted physical affection on the Chinese. Today it may be a Chinese initiating contact. The tables are turning. …

“Teachers are joining in. In Nanjing, the Liuhe District Experimental Elementary School began a class in emotional intelligence last fall, concerned that children lacked it and would thus be held back in the world, the newspaper Modern Express reported.

“The third graders’ homework: Hug your parents tonight. Sixty schools in the district now have emotional intelligence classes, the newspaper said.”

My co-worker’s first reaction to the news clipping was, “They are always trying to copy Americans.” But then he got a funny look on his face.

“Actually, the last time I went home, my uncle hugged me. I was really surprised. He’s my father’s generation. We were always taught to show more respect for older people.”

I’m happy to see hugs are catching on with nontraditional huggers. As they say of chicken soup, “It wouldn’t hurt.”

(A thank you to John’s family for all the hugs this morning!)

Photo:  Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

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