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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, January 17 Issue


These three articles caught my attention while compiling ZGBriefs this week.

An end to China's 'apartheid'? (East Asia Forum)

"Apartheid" may not be a word commonly used to describe China's social system, but the author of a piece in the East Asia Forum suggests that term may be more apt than we think. He specifically uses it to describe the hukou (household registration) system that classifies citizens according to whether they live in the city or countryside; urbanites or peasants.

I remember my first encounter with this classification during my first year of teaching in China (1984). My students were all middle school English teachers who worked in small cities around the province. One of my students made a point of telling me, however, that his wife was "a peasant." He was trying to make sure that I understood that he was a city dweller, but his wife wasn't; they were from separate classes, so to speak. I thought it odd at the time, but that's because I didn't know anything about the hukou system.

Dr. Jane Golley, of the Australian National University, shows how the system feeds inequality and looks at some of the steps that are being proposed and taken to reform this system:

Even though millions of rural citizens have made their way into Chinese cities in recent decades, hundreds of millions more are still unable to do so. As a result, rural Chinese currently earn on average around one third of their urban counterparts, with the vast percentage of the 185 million Chinese people living on under US$1.25 a day residing in rural areas. These disparities simply would not exist in an economy with perfect labour mobility since migrants would continue to head for urban centres as long as the wages there were higher. The hukou system prevents this equalising force and is therefore a major source of China's ruralurban income inequalities today.

China's top leaders are well aware of this fact and are deeply contemplating hukou reforms, as evidenced by a report released following a meeting on 1213 December of the Communist Party's 18th Central Committee, headed by President Xi Jinping. The report, which reaffirms China's commitment to an urbanisation strategy that will drive economic growth in the decade ahead, claims that the government will allow migrant workers who live permanently in cities to gain urban residency status 'in an orderly way'.

How deep and how wide these reforms are implemented is definitely something worth paying attention to.

As Parents Age, Asian-Americans Struggle to Obey a Cultural Code (The New York Times)

In our society, the visible Asian immigrants are most often young, hard-working members of society. What is less visible is the population of elderly Asian Americans. Perhaps they came as refugees from Southeast Asia in the 1970's; perhaps they joined their children who were studying or had found work here; perhaps they themselves are second or third generation immigrants. But, like the rest of us, they are aging, and this often brings with it some unique cultural challenges. Tanzina Vega writes about some of these cultural challenges:

In a country that is growing older and more diverse, elder care issues are playing out with particular resonance for many Asian-Americans. The suicide rate for Asian-American and Pacific Islander women over 75 is almost twice that of other women the same age. In 2012, 12.3 percent of Asian-Americans over 65 lived in poverty, compared with 9.1 percent of all Americans over 65. Nearly three-quarters of the 17.3 million Asians in the United States were born abroad, and they face the most vexing issues.

What complicates the situation is the cultural expectation that children are to take care of the parents:

This idea that the younger generation is culturally mandated to take care of their parents is deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture," Mr. Feng said. "Children are supposed to take care of older parents in need." But that tradition is being eroded, he said, by the increasing number of families that are geographically dispersed or in which both spouses have to work.

Retracing Mao Zedong's Long Marchby Motorcycle (The Atlantic)

I'm a sucker for a road trip, so I couldn't resist this article about a guy who drove the route of The Long March on a motorcycle. But it was more than just a joy ride; he was trying to determine the true legacy of the event:

For decades, the Long March has been a critical element of the Communist propaganda narrative, providing the Party with a veneer of ruggedness and frugality at a time when its top leaders have become a pampered elite.

This summer, in an attempt to better understand the Long March's evolving legacy in contemporary China, I retraced the entire route by motorcycle, traveling from Jiangxi province to Yan'an, the Shaanxi city that served as the Communist headquarters from 1936 to 1948.

What he finds is fading history:

As I rode my motorcycle across the countryside, stopping at every village, city, and site associated with the march, I found evidence of a myth in decline: new, cavernous Long March museums devoid of visitors; memorials crumbling from neglect, weeds sprouting from their bases; and, most strikingly, the complete disengagementeven disdainof China's youth.

So much for the effectiveness of China's recent push for "Red Tourism."

Image credit: Disappearing History, by wsquared photography, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio