Just learned that the New York Times has started a China blog called Sinosphere.  I am already enthralled.

The authors of the blog are listed as the following:

  • Jonathan Ansfield
  • David Barboza
  • Keith Bradsher
  • Chris Buckley
  • Andrew Jacobs
  • Ian Johnson
  • Dan Levin
  • Philip P. Pan
  • Jane Perlez
  • Austin Ramzy
  • Didi Kirsten Tatlow
  • Bettina Wassener
  • Edward Wong

I am well aware of many of these authors from the great journalism they have done for the New York Times and elsewhere.  This is an incredibly strong line-up for any blog and Sinosphere has come fast out of the gate, with four posts on its first day, including my favorite, entitled, Plastic Merges into China’s Farmland: Report, on how Chinese farmers’ long-time use of plastic on their fields is polluting the soil through leaching (ugh!).

I have already added Sinosphere to my blog reader and I urge all who are interested in China to do the same.

What do you get when you cross a bunch of big name old time serious China bloggers?  A new group China blog with a name (not the blog itself), Rectified.name (yes that’s it, no typo) that is already driving me nuts.  The bloggers are the following:

Jeremiah Jenne. Jeremiah has been writing the Jottings from the Granite Studio blog since 2006.  Jeremiah is a “PhD Candidate, teacher of history, resident of Beijing.” Way back in 2007, in Thinking China Bloggers And More, I had this to say about Jeremiah and his blog:

Jottings from the Granite Studio.  I love this blog. My lack of knowledge of pre-1910 Chinese history is exceeded only by my fascination with it. But since I have neither the time nor the attention span to read a books on it, I get a daily does of it from the Granite Studio instead. The Granite Studio is written by Jeremiah, now living in Beijing and working on a PhD in Chinese history. Fortunately, Jeremiah writes like a real human being, not an academic.

Dave Lyons: Dave used to write the Mutant Palm blog (née February, 2007), of which I had this to say:

Mutant Palm: Dave is also a frequent (and often brilliant) commenter on this blog.  Dave knows and understands China’s interior, and there are damn few who do.  His blog is very new, yet I was so confident of its quality that I put it on the blogroll the day I learned it was up. Dave notes that his moniker is actually davesgonechina, as in davesgonemad.

Will Moss: Will is the brains behind Imagethief, which has been on the net since 2004! Way back in 2007, I had this to say about Imagethief:

Imagethief by Will Moss. Will is a China blogging icon for good reason.  I am jealous of his writing abilities and his sense of humor and I never miss a post. Will is moving to Shanghai and I am looking forward to getting his comments on Shanghai. 

Brendan O’Kane: Brendan’s blog is Bokane.org and he has been writing about China since 2004.  As I said back in 2008, Brendan “is widely regarded as one of the brightest and best writers in the China blogosphere ”

YJ: Though YJ (a/k/a Yajun) has never had her own blog, she has done some great work as a reporter at Christian Science Monitor and as a guest blogger on Jottings from the Granite Studio.  Though Yajun’s blogging history does not run quite so deep as her co-writers, I too have raved about her:

Anyway, about a month ago, Jeremieh took a brief blog hiatus (I love using words like that) and gave his “lovely wife and co-conspirator Yajun” a guest posting slot (can you say Wally Pipp?). Her first post, entitled, “Diversity When? A Guest Post by Yajun,” was so well written and insightful, I immediately wrote Jeremieh requesting he pass on my compliments. Yajun is a Chinese national living in China.

Yajun just wrote yet another excellent post, this one entitled, “The Sino-Japanese Relationship: (apologies to Facebook) It’s Complicated.” It’s a must read.

With an all star cast like this, Rectified.name (I cannot help but every time think of the damn good TV show, Justified) is certain to be a winner and I urge you to put it on your reading list.

But I already have one giant complaint about it. It does not allow for comments. Come on!

Interesting post by Nina Ying Sun on the PN China blog on the inherent difficulties in monitoring your China factory. The post is entitled Hands-on due diligence in China, and it starts out with the following quotes from an interview with Alexandra Haney, author of the book, The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage:

  • “More than half of factories in southern China are falsifying payroll documents!”
  • “Many even create Potemkin factories…. Around the corner is a ‘shadow factory’ that produces the same goods under much less wholesome conditions.”
  • “There is even a cottage industry of ‘falsification engineers’ in China–consultants who specialize in doctoring payroll records and coaching workers to create a fiction of compliance with a Western buyer’s code of conduct.”

The post then cites some of Ms. Harney’s suggestions for dealing with your China factory:

  • Acknowledge that understanding what’s happening in the company’s supply chain is not simply a matter of risk management or good corporate citizenship; it is a core business issue and a valuable competitive advantage.
  • Build frank, long-term partnerships with Chinese factories, rather than moving orders quickly from one plant to another.
  • Take a field trip at least once or twice a year.

Ms. Sun finds this bit of Ms. Harney’s advice particularly interesting:

Schedule a visit to one of your suppliers, but arrive quietly the night before your appointment, perhaps with a Chinese colleague. Instead of having dinner at the hotel restaurant, eat near your factory and spend time with the locals. Ask them: What’s the average monthly wage in this area? Are wages going up or down? What time do most people get off work? What is considered the best factory to work for, and why? Have there been any problems in any of the factories recently, fights or disagreements?
Ask motorcycle drivers that work near your supplier about the hours your factory keeps its lights on, and whether they see a lot of traffic between your supplier and others in the neighborhood.

Ms. Sun very adeptly notes a flaw in relying on the motorcyclist:

When you meet the factory manager the next day, ask him the same questions and compare his answers to what you learned the night before.

Sounds like some good advice from a real China expert. However, don’t assume the locals and motorcycle drivers — if there are any — really know the answers to your questions, even if they provide you with information. Be aware that Chinese Culture 101 dictates that, out of politeness, Chinese people won’t tell you no. If the motorcycle driver isn’t sure about the hours of the factory, he will probably give you an answer anyway, just to complete the conversation nicely.

Anyone who has ever asked for directions in China will know whereof Ms Sun speaks. Ms. Sun’s good advice is that “like any due diligence work, talk to multiple sources with different backgrounds and interests.”

I read and enjoyed the China Price and I have been meaning to review it for some time now. The Parent Party Girl Professional and Philosopher Collide Blog (perhaps better known as the PPGPPC Blog?), does a great job summarizing the book in her post, Armchair China:

Alexandra Harney does a good job of documenting the price for Chinese ascendance. In The China Price she offers tons of documented facts, personal stories of Chinese workers and factory managers, and knowledgeable commentary about the cultural context. She manages not to weigh in emotionally, although she does assign responsibility.

Chinese workers, most very young or with impoverished families to support, are killed and maimed due to horrible working conditions. Cancer villages and widow towns dot the Chinese landscape. Chinese pollution shows up on the West coast of the US. Chinese factory managers, whose hours are just as inhumane and whose pay is often just as low-or their personal funds are drained in their hope of staying afloat-use a numbers game and falsified documents to try to appear to be adhering to fair labor standards, because to adhere to fair labor standards would drive the factory out of business, and many officials charged with making sure fair labor and safety standards are in place turn a blind eye. Wal Mart’s inevitable and witless commentary is present as well.

Many Chinese workers and their families have turned to studying the law and combining forces to sue for benefits after injuries. The seeds of something better appear to be planted and sprouting, slowly. But according to Harney, we all pay The China Price.

The China Price does a really good job explaining what goes on in China’s factories and, in particular, the whole system that has been built up in China for avoiding monitoring by Westerners. Ms. Harney’s thesis is that in many cases, Western companies producing goods in China know that the prices they are paying make fair employment and decent environmental standards impossible. I recommend the book to anyone interested in how China has managed to achieve the China price and what the societal and environmental costs of that price has been. I also recommend it to anyone thinking of doing any manufacturing in China (or even doing business in China at all), be it on your own or through outsourcing.

Been looking for an excuse to mention what is shaping up to be an interesting new blog — China Bystander. The blog gives no indication of who is behind it, beyond describing it as “A curious glance from an old China hand as the country develops before our eyes.” The posts tend to be short and pithy, and quite original.

My excuse for mentioning it today is a very short post entitled, No Clean Hands. The entire post is the following:

Cans of hot dog chili sauce made by a U.S. food company, Castleberry’s Food, are suspected to be contaminated with the botulism bacteria. Here’s a report. No cleans hands, so to speak, anywhere, it seems.

As a worshipper of brevity (but admittedly, not one of its finest practitioners), I love it. This post does not in any way make light of China’s major problems with food safety, but it does put them in some perspective. The blog frequently deals at a high level with China economic issues that impact foreign companies doing business in China.

For those interested in learning more about this wholly domestic US food contamination and food poison cases in general, check out this post [link no longer exists] at the Food Poison blog (yes there is such a blog and it is a pretty good one at that), operated by the leading plaintiff’s food poisoning law firm in the country, Marler Clark, out of Seattle.

Every few weeks, I go to the FanFusuzi Blog to check out new photos and every time I go there I think about how much I like the photos and how this site is, in its own small way, recording a part of China’s history.

Good stuff.

Check it out.

Two new blogs out there, well worth a mention.

The first is called Responsible China [Link no longer exists] and it describes itself as follows:

You’re here because you’re interested in China, committed to corporate global citizenship, or concerned about the future of our environment–or all of the above, I hope. We live in an increasingly globalizing, inter-connected planet, where businesses, communities, technology and media impose equal consequences on our society’s environmental, economic, social and political well-being.

China, as a leading figure in the world economy, has a profound influence on the way we do business and the way we affect our natural environment.

As you begin reading Responsible China, I hope you find the knowledge, tools and relationships necessary to engage in the future of China’s development and contribute to its progress as a responsible economy and society.
This blog is not meant to be the ultimate source for CSR or environmental issues, nor does it make any claims to expertise or official commentary. However, it is a place where you can read up on recent news, reports, events and trends. The idea to host this blog originated out of a personal desire to learn more about “green” development in China, and it is slowly growing into something more comprehensive, user-friendly and informative.

This blog is written by Erica Schlaikjer, who describes herself (in the third person a la Donald Rumsfeld, or is it Dick Cheney?) as follows:

Erica graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, IL, where she double-majored in journalism and international studies. She was born in Fairfax, VA, and subsequently moved around the world as the daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer and aboriginal Taiwanese mother. She has lived in Guangzhou, China; Taipei, Taiwan; Beijing, China; Geneva, Switzerland; Hong Kong, S.A.R. and Germantown, MD, where she attended public high school.

She has held several magazine internships at local, national and international publications, including The Chicago Reporter, Crain’s Chicago Business and National Geographic. She is also one of the producers for Entrepreneur Magazine’s online radio show, The China Business Show, hosted by WS Radio.

In the fall of 2005, Erica traveled to Shanghai, China, where she interned at Shanghai Talk, an English-language city living magazine. She also pursued an independent research project, courtesy of the Medill-sponsored Eric Lund Global Research & Reporting Grant, focusing on China’s Internet youth culture. While working and living abroad, she traveled to Hangzhou, Suzhou, Beijing and Nanjing.

In February 2007, Erica was awarded with a foundational scholarship from the Overseas Press Club, and she hopes to pursue a career in international journalism.

This is her first blog.

I like how Erica’s blog mixes up stories on Corporate Social Responsibility and the environment in a serious way, but without taking herself too seriously. I do not like how her site kept seeming to want to crash my computer and I urge her to see what is up with that.

The other blog I would urge everyone to check out is the Korea Law Blog [link no longer exists], which though only a few days old, already has much in its favor, including the following:

1. It describes China Law Blog as a “must read.”

2. It has a catchy and accurate subtitle: “News and Views from a Young ‘Old Korea Hand.'”

3. It is written by Brendan Carr, who I have known for many years and I can unequivocally vouch for Brendan as an attorney who truly understands Korea and Korean law.

4. Brendan is a frequent contributor to the always interesting Korean blog, The Marmot’s Hole.

Check them out and let me know what you think.

The July 9 issue of the National Law Journal has an article entitled, “Law blogs can be a successful strategy for job seekers” [link no longer exists] with CLB’s own Travis Hodgkins pictured and the focus.

Well, okay, he’s not really with CLB, but he is with Harris Bricken (the law firm behind CLB) and he has done a post on here, so let’s not get too technical. The point of the article is that law student blogging can lead to big things:

Second-year law student Travis Hodgkins didn’t land his summer associate position through top-notch grades, a position on law review or through the traditional on-campus interviewing process.

He landed his dream job by blogging.

Hodgkins, who will begin his third year at University of California Hastings College of the Law, is spending this summer working in Shanghai, China, for Seattle-based international law firm Harris Bricken, a job he was offered after name partner Dan Harris messaged him on his law blog, www.transnationallawblog.com, which focuses on events in international law.

“The reality is we never would have hired Travis if not for his blog,” said Harris.

For many law students, keeping up a professional blog has become another way to make employment connections. It enables an employer to see students’ writing ability and knowledge about a particular subject and, more importantly, it shows that the student is motivated, innovative and takes initiative, Hodgkins said.

“A blog is like a huge billboard sign that is saying to the entire blogosphere, ‘I’m a law student that has studied these areas of law and I need a job,'” he said.

I am then quoted regarding the subjects on which law students should blog:

Which is why it is important that if a student wants to attract employers, the substance of the blog should be about a particular area of the law, rather than just a personal journal, said Harris.

“It matters hugely what the person writes about,” he said. “Travis’ blog contributed in the sense that those who write on China law felt they needed to stop by the site every day to make sure they weren’t missing anything.”

Though it is true we would never have hired Travis without his blog, the reality is that his blog merely brought him to our attention and his interest in becoming a China lawyer. Before hiring him we met up with him in person. But it is really quite interesting how blogging is transferring the legal landscape.

For those interested in reading more on legal blogging, I highly recommend Real Lawyers Have Blogs, written by my friend and fellow Seattleite, Kevin O’Keefe. Oh, and Travis’s blog, with a great new post on one of my favorite subjects, Paris Hilton, can be found here.

This is the third in my occasional series of promising China blogs.

One of our China lawyers told me today about a brand new China blog yesterday, very different from the rest. It’s called China Q&A [link no longer exists] and what it does is pose questions on China and wait for answers in the comments. It’s aptly subtitled, “We have the Questions, Do You have the Answers?” Because it has been up for only two days, it has yet to provide any answers, but I love the questions and would like to see this site make it as it might prove quite valuable to increasing China knowledge and understanding. For it to make it though, it needs readers to start answering the questions.

So far the following questions have been asked, and, though I think I know some of the answers, I am not confident enough to comment on the record.

  1. “There was an Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman . . . .”  In China, who is the Irishman?
  2. “Lassie, Pluto or the Littlest Hobo?” It’s pretty well known that dog is considered a delicacy in many parts of China and even though an increasing number of Chinese are keeping dogs as pets the eating of dog meat shows no sign of falling by the wayside. What breeds of dog are most popular for human consumption? (border collie anyone?)How is it most commonly served? (dog on toast?)What does it taste like? (chicken?)Are there any supposed health benefits? (lets face it, almost everything you eat in China is supposed to be good for your health.)?”
  3. How many languages? ” Well of course there are the big ones – Mandarin and Cantonese – but just how many languages are spoken/written in China (including Taiwan) and how many speakers of each language are there?

Those interested in China (and even those interested in doing business in China) should check it out.

This is the second of an occasional series highlighting promising new blogs.

Today’s choice is a blog called Ben’s Blog: A Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom. Ben’s China blog came online earlier this year and I have been enjoying it ever since. It is certainly distinctive. To say the least. It is also one of the best China blogs out there right now.

Ben has an undergraduate degree in anthropology and, among other things, he is an ethnographer for Pacific Ethnography.  Ben describes himself and the purpose of his blog, as follows:

My name is Benjamin Ross and I am an American originally from Kansas City. I finished college in 2003 and came to China the following year. My reasons for coming to China were that I wanted to experience a lifestyle completely different from my cushy life in the “burbs.” I wanted to be shocked and isolated. I also wanted to learn a foreign language and actually have the chance to use it. For this reason, I did not want to go to a major city like Beijing or Shanghai. Rather, I found a job in Fuqing, a small town located in Fujian province in Southeastern China. For a year and a half I worked there as a University English teacher, until I moved to Fuzhou (the provincial capital in Summer of 2005. My current gig is doing ethnographic research for Pacific Ethnography.

I am also an amateur writer and photographer. Unless otherwise noted, all of the photography on this site was done by me. While in China I have also worked as an interpreter, TV extra, regular game-show contestant, and token white guy. Interesting (and often humorous) things happen in China all the time, so this blog is where I try to keep people up to date of what’s going on in my little corner of the Middle Kingdom.

What makes Ben’s blog unique, however, is Ben’s recent foray into hair cutting (hence the incredibly witty title of this post).  Ben is working as a trainee at a local barbershop for less than $100 a month so as to get a better feel for China’s working class.

I will let Ben explain:

As an American living in China, I have spent the last three years of my life enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of a country which is far wealthier than the one in which I reside. I travel around town by taxi. I drink at expensive bars. I eat sushi. I take trips across the country, and when my apartment is dirty, I call a maid to clean it up. My life is not that different from the other several hundred Westerners who call Fuzhou home. We all come to China for the “China experience,” but we still live our lives with the advantages of being Westerners. But what is it like to be one of the 6 million Chinese residents of Fuzhou, especially those of the working class? For us China is fun and relaxing. It’s a place we come to expand our horizons, to learn a culture, to spend our copious free time studying Tai Chi and Chinese cooking or picking up girls at the bar. But for Fuzhou’s working class, there is no such fun and relaxation, no time for hobbies and no money for Tsingtaos at the pub. Work is a way of life and a means for survival.

Tomorrow I will begin a one-month stint as a ?? (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.

What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month? How will this put into perspective my life in China as a foreigner, or my life in America as an American? How does the other half (or in this case 99.9%) live, and how do the respond to a foreigner trying to do the same? I hope to find the answers to these questions, and hopefully have a little fun doing it. I will be keeping my blog updated daily for the next month, so check back regularly for updates, and wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

Now obviously one month in one barbershop is not going to tell us what it is like to be a member of China’s working class, but it will (and has) certainly given us glimpses of that. Fascinating stuff, and I urge everyone to check out Ben’s Blog.

The other day I was tagged as one of five thinking blogs by the Silicon Hutong blog, which required me to tag five more thinking blogs, which I did in this post, entitled, Thinking China Bloggers And More. My tag included Peking Duck and Jottings from the Granite Studio, and they in turn (as I knew they would) have gone off and done a great job in tagging their own five. The China blogs (they tagged a few none China blogs) they have tagged are so good I cannot resist listing them here. I will start with Peking Duck’s list, to which my own comments are added in italics:

1. EastSouthWestNorth. Roland can infuriate me and he can delight me. But I go there first thing every day because his site always makes me think. He often makes me think about how poorly certain issues in China are being covered by the mass media. He often sheds light on “the other side of the story” that somehow didn’t make it into the Western edition. Whether you love him or hate him or feel ambivalent, Roland is definitely a thinking blogger, and many of us probably spend more time thinking about his blog, for better or worse, over any other. This is on our blogroll and I too go there every day. My only justification for not putting this in my five is that much of what is done here is translating from the Chinese press and pulling highlighting great posts from other blogs, and it also focuses much more on politics than on doing business in China. This may very well be the most important and influential English language China blog out there and it has been on our blogroll since day one. 

2. Danwei. Since its inception, this has been “headquarters” for media junkies like me who are fascinated with China. When it was basically a one-man show run by Jeremy Goldkorn it was great; as others joined him, like resident genius Joel Martinson, it became even greater, and there is something there every day for everyone to think about. As with Roland, I don’t always share the viewpoints espoused on Danwei, but I respect them and look forward to studying them every day. Jeremy Goldkorn is a class act and this is a top of the line blog.  My only justification for not listing it in my top five was that there was no need; everybody already knows and respects this blog and I wanted to give “airtime” to some lesser known thinkers. It has been on our blogroll since day one. 

3. Granite Studio. Jeremiah’s brilliant musings, accompanied by a vast and panoramic knowledge of Chinese history, put Granite Studio in a class all by itself. I can’t believe how lucky I am that he’s willing to share some of the brilliance here, especially at a time when I’m unavailable.  Hey, I already listed this blog.

4. Positive Solutions. [link no longer exists] A blog after my own heart, Charlie combines deeply personal musings with sharp political observations and a dose of humor that can only be matched by the great Imagethief (who’s going to show up on just about everybody’s list). Charlie makes me think and he makes me laugh and he makes me angry (at China Daily, not at him). He’s on a par with that great humorous blogger who used to live in Hong Kong, who always brought a smile to my face. (Go there now to see what I mean – he’s still doing it.).  All true. This is an excellent blog and it is on our blogroll. 

5. Bokane. This blog has gone without an update for so many weeks I may have to drop it from my blogroll. (Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call.) But when Brendan is inspired to post, it’s always first-rate – from the heart, often funny and always beautifully written. And it’s profound, too. Read this intoxicating post and tell me if it doesn’t fill you with thoughts and with images, and maybe even tears. I read it many weeks ago and still think about it. Not many blogs wield that sort of power. All true. Bokane is a great blog, but there have been no posts on it since early February and it averages only around two posts a month.  It is not on our blogroll only because it posts so infrequently.   

Jottings from the Granite Studio’s list is equally impressive, and again my own comments are in italics.

1) The 88s. [link no longer exists] One of the first China blogs I ever read. When I first came across his classic “Inlaws” post, I was hooked and his blog has never failed to disappoint. He is ridiculously well-read, a great writer, and a wicked sense of humor to boot. One of the finest in the China blogosphere.  The 88s blog is sometimes brilliant, but I do sometimes resent how he sometimes seems to delight in treating Americans as idiots and he also seems to especially dislike American businesspeople and China lawyers. Nonetheless, it is an excellent blog on China and it has been on our blogroll for as long as I can remember.

2) The Opposite End of China. With so many blogs based in China’s eastern cities, it’s refreshing to get the Xinjiang perspective. TOEC gives you that plus great photography and video from China’s western regions. A must-read for anyone interested in China “beyond the pass.”  This blog is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in Xinjang.  It is on nearly every China blog’s blogroll, including ours, and for good reason. 

3) China Redux. [link no longer exists] A new blog by Ben Landy. Fascinating and informative analysis on political and IR issues. A blog to watch.  Absolutely.  This is a very new China blog, filling the political and international relations space very incisively.  I previously blogged on it in a post a few months ago, called China’s Unmentionables. I generally wait at least a couple of months to list new blogs on our blogroll to make sure they are actually here to stay and I just added China Redux. 

5) Mutant Palm. A newer blog by a longtime fixture in the China blogosphere. Dave (gonetoChina) is a regular commenter here and a contributor over at The Peking Duck. His new site continues his habit of making the commonplace seem strange and the weird seem quite normal. Brilliant stuff.  Dave is also a frequent (and often brilliant) commenter on this blog. Dave knows and understands China’s interior, and there are damn few who do. His blog is very new, yet I was so confident of its quality that I put it on the blogroll the day I learned it was up.  Dave notes that his moniker is actually davesgonechina, as in davesgonemad.

I find it quite amazing how many excellent China blogs there are out there, including some that have yet to be mentioned. I again urge comments on the blogs mentioned and, more importantly, blogs not mentioned that should have been.