ZGBriefs - The Week’s Top Picks, September 11 Issue

Soft power, subways, and cell phones – our favorite stories of this week.

What hinders the rise of Chinese culture? (The China Story)

As China continues to be a rising star on the world stage economically and politically, some Chinese are wondering when and how Chinese culture will have a commensurate level of influence in the world.

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and China's robust economy that year, despite the global financial crisis, made many Chinese citizens immensely proud of their country. They felt that China had regained the admiration of the world and resumed its rightful place as a global superpower. But such feelings are often undercut by worries about the growing imbalance between China's international economic might and the perceived insignificance of Chinese culture on the world stage.

Professor Zheng Yongnian 郑永年, the mainland-born Director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore and a well-known political commentator on China, is one among many ethnic Chinese scholars (in and outside China) who have worried in print about China's relative lack of global cultural influence. In 2008, Zheng published an article titled 'What has hindered the rise of China's cultural soft power' 是 什么阻碍了中国文化软力量的崛起 in which he argued that excessive government control, leading to a massive cultural bureaucracy, was to blame for stymieing creativity in the People's Republic.

Riding Beijing's subway end to end: 88km of queues and crushes on a 20p ticket (September 10, 2014, The Guardian)

The Guardian's Tania Branigan goes underground in Beijing for a tour of the subway, with lots of photos and an interesting look back at the history of the system.

Beijing's metro system has already grown bigger than the London Underground – and by 2020 it will more than double in size again. Tania Branigan takes its longest journey to see how the city is coping with such staggering growth

Travelling Beijing's subway end to end, from the south-western dormitory suburb of Suzhuang to north-east Fengbo, where cranes loom over half-constructed blocks, takes five changes and almost three hours – but very little cash. The longest direct journey one can take on the subway here must also be one of the world's best public transport bargains: 88km – a highly auspicious number in China – for just 2 yuan (roughly 20 pence).

In the weekday morning rush, accountants, shop assistants and researchers stare wearily at phones and jostle for space. There are fidgeting children with weary parents, labourers on their first ever subway ride, and several large eels, curled into an empty oil bottle en route to their carrier's dinner table. It is late summer and the carriages are crammed, but air conditioning keeps it cool, blowing wafts of recently applied deodorant across the crowd.

Be sure to peruse the photos and video clips.

Worth a Kidney? New iPhones Get Mixed Reception in China (September 10, 2014, China Real Time)

Since this is Worldwide iPhone Mania Week, how could we not pick a story about the reaction to Apple's new iPhone among the Chinese.

Kidney references were legion on Wednesday, pointing to another potential stumbling block for the new iPhones in China: price. There are no prices listed on Apple's mainland China website yet, but the company's Hong Kong website lists the 16GB iPhone 6 at HK$5,588 ($721) and the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus at HK$6,388. That's more expensive than the comparable Samsung Galaxy S5, which typically sells for less than 4,000 yuan ($652) in China, and the iPhone-esque Mi 4 produced by China's Xiaomi, which goes for around 2,000 yuan.

"Here are three reasons I won't be buying the iPhone 6," read one popular post on Weibo, with a photo attached that repeated the Chinese character for "too poor" three times.

Other users complained that China was not on the list of countries that would receive initial shipments of the new devices.

The kidney references are to a story several years ago about of a boy who sold his kidney to purchase an iPhone.


Photo by Remko Tamis, via Flickr