Way back in 2007, in a post entitled, Promising China Blog: Ben’s Blog Is Certainly “Cutting Edge,” we highlighted what was then 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.

I loved Ben’s blog back then because I loved Ben’s observations regarding the people with whom he worked and their industry.But Ben left China in August 2007 and eventually started pursuing a Ph.d in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.

But hear this everyone: Ben’s Ph.d research involves his “exploring in an ethnographic study of the urban Chinese hairstyling industry, in Fuzhou and Beijing.” In layman’s terms, this means that Ben will again be hanging out in Chinese barbershops and blogging about the same. Who says you can’t go home again? Not Ben Ross, and so it is with great pleasure that I re-list Ben’s Blog, now called Ben Ross’ Blog as a must read for those seeking to better understand China.

Every few days I make a point to go to the China section of AllTop News.  Not sure how to describe AllTop so I will simply crib its description straight from its site:

The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer.

We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. Then we display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Our topics run from  adoption to zoology with photographyfoodsciencereligioncelebritiesfashion,
gamingsportspoliticsautomobilesMacintosh, and hundreds of other subjects along the way.

You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web. We’ve subscribed to thousands of sources to provide “aggregation without aggravation.” To be clear, Alltop pages are starting points—they are not destinations per se. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance your online reading by displaying stories from sources that you’re already visiting plus helping you discover sources that you didn’t know existed.

Bottom line: It’s a great place to keep up on the zeitgeist of China and a great way to learn of any new and interesting China blogs.

Lo and behold I came across two today, both interesting, but neither exactly new: Engaging China Blog by Geoff Nairn and the China Economics Blog by Robert Elliott.

Engaging China Blog actually started the same year we did — way back in 2006 and we even did a blogpost announcing its addition to our blogroll:

Just added Engaging China Blog to our blogroll and we recommend our readers check it out.  Engaging China describes itself as follows:

EngagingChina aims to keep you informed about the new strategic opportunities in China’s  fast-growing economy — and warn of potential pitfalls.

There are plenty of other sites that write about China.  But in their enthusiasm to describe this fascinating country, readers risk not seeing the wood for the trees.

Our focus at EngagingChina is strategy, pure and simple.

And unlike other sites, we look across the range of fast-growth industries, rather than concentrating on just one.  That’s because the lessons to be learned from doing business in China are rarely sector-specific.To be sure, the challenges facing electronics companies are different from those facing investment banks or wind farms.  But there are also plenty of parallels. We want to encourage this cross-fertilization by drawing readers from different industries and backgrounds.

Geoff Nairn, the founder and managing editor of Engaging China, is a veteran business journalist and long-term contributor to the Financial Times.

I agree with Mr. Nairn’s views of China, but I disagree with his perceptions on the Chinese blogosphere.  All Roads Lead to ChinaChina Business ServicesChina Economic Review Blog, and Diligence China [now China Solved] all “look across the range of fast-growth industries, rather than concentrating on just one” and they do an excellent job of it.  ImageThief and Danwei, though to a large extent focused on media, are great blogs that also often look across the range of fast-growth industries.

Having said this, however, China being as vast as it is, and as quickly changing as it is, there is definitely room for another stellar China business blog, and Engaging China definitely fits that bill.

In e-mail correspondence with Mr. Nairn, I learned he is “a Brit” currently living in Spain.  He has been a journalist in various European countries for nearly 20 years.  For the past decade, he has been a regular contributor to the Financial Times (FT), “writing mostly on IT and telecoms, but also areas like  renewable energy, medical innovation and financial technology.”

Mr. Nairn first became interested in what he calls the “China story,” while writing a magazine article on Cable & Wireless back in 1987.  According to Mr. Nairn, C&W wanted to use Hong Kong as a springboard to the mainland and it had built a fibre optic network in the Shenzhen SEZ. “The idea that China would one day be a huge and attractive market for western tech companies then seemed far-fetched.  A decade on, I was writing about the  internet boom.  A  clutch of  China dotcoms listed on Nasdaq and the western world woke up to the advances that had been made in China’s economy.”

Mr. Nairn sees China as “impossible for western businesses to ignore” and he aims his blog at helping them better understand it.

Mr. Nairn described EngagingChina to me as follows:

It is not an “insider’s view” on  doing business in China — that would be presumptuous, as I don’t live in China. Nor do I set out to exhaustively detail every  Chinese announcement made by Microsoft, each new store opened by Carrefour or every mobile phone model launched in China.   There are other sector-focused China sites that do that, but they are often light on analysis and sometimes one cannot see the wood for the trees.  EngagingChina’s focus is strategy, pure and simple.   To narrow it down, it covers a handful of sectors that are developing rapidly — IT and telecoms, China’s consumer boom, financial services, energy and the environment, and high-tech.

Engaging China has rapidly become one of my daily “must reads.”  It is both thoughtful and original and I urge all readers interested in China business to check it out.

The new EngagingChina looks as though it has not missed a beat as it still consists of short pithy China business update posts.  For example, its five most recent posts consist of the following:

Do check it out.

The China Economics Blog is another recently revived oldie but goodie.  Back in 2010, in a post entitled, China Blogs: That’s The way, Uh-Huh Uh-Huh, We Like It, Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh. Part V, we explained why that blog was on our blogroll:

China Economics Blog. This blog describes itself as a “place to find news, observations, statistics, information on undergraduate (BSc and BA economics) postgraduate (MSc economics) and academic analysis of important issues for China’s economy including economic growth, inequality, stock market, shares, exchange rates, the environment, foreign direct investment, WTO and much more” and that is exactly what it is. I read it for its usually spot on and clearly written China economic analysis.

I have every reason to believe the same will hold true of its latest incarnation.  Its three posts since its return consist of the following:

Do check it out.

And let us know what you think of them both.

Just went through some blog list housecleaning, deleting a number of blogs that have not posted for many months.  Our blogroll is now down to 33 recommended blogs, which is fine with me.

But it got me to thinking that it has been quite some time since I put to you, our loyal readers, what blogs we do not have on our blog list that should be on our blog list.  So please let us have it.  Are there any China blogs not on our blog list that you believe should be on our blog list?  Conversely, are there any blogs on our blog list that you believe do not belong.

Every so often I get emails from readers asking what I read on China beyond the blogs in our blogroll. This post on China regional blogs is going to be the first in what is likely to be an erratic series to answer that question. 

I define a China regional blog as a blog that focuses on one particular China region or city written by someone who lives in that particular region or city.  

Right now I have the following regional China blogs on my blog reader:

Shanghaiist is on our blogroll because though it does somewhat focus on Shanghai, it writes at least as many posts that go way beyond that. 

I strongly suspect I am missing some good ones. What other good China regional blogs are out there?

Since 2007, the Experience Not Logic blog was a vital China law blog. Then, in late 2009, it went silent as its founder and driving force, Will Lewis, embarked on his LLM in Tax from NYU School of Law, where he focused on international transactional tax. Now that Will has graduated he is back to blogging.

I was delighted to hear this and after securing written assurance from Will that he is back to stay, I immediately put his blog back on our blogroll. Will is extremely bright and thoughtful and his blog has always reflected that.

The more serious China law bloggers (and China bloggers), the better the discussion. I urge you to read Experience Not Logic.

I have had the blog iLook China on my blogroll for the last few months and I have to say that I only read its frequent postings maybe half the time.

It is often too intellectual, too historical, too tangential, and, most importantly, too pro-China for me. But it just occurred to me that I was not being fair in not listing it on our blogroll. It is a thoughtful blog with an oftentimes original take on China issues and my sometimes disagreeing with it is not a good reason not to have it on our blogroll.

Just to be clear, I am not listing it just because it has a different viewpoint; I am listing it because it is well-written and thoughtful. Just by way of an example, check out the post, “The Sky is Falling in China but only in China,” which discusses the unfairness of a Los Angeles Times story using one recent crash as evidence of how China’s airline safety is slipping. 

iLook China is written by Lloyd Lofthouse and its tag-line is “looking at China from an outsider’s point of view.”  Lofthouse describes his blog as follows:

For outsiders, there are many misconceptions about China, and the Western media often does not get it right (at least in the way they interpret why something happens the way it does in China). My goal is to create a place where people outside China may discover China’s history, country, culture and government and to understand better.

I’m sure that I will be making some Americans angry. Some may even feel I’m a traitor when I compare American culture to China and find America lacking. Since I was born in America and worked here for forty-five years before I retired from teaching in the public schools, American culture is the only one I can use in my comparisons.

Who is Lloyd Lofthouse? Well, he lives in the belly of a Chinese family, and he earned a BA in journalism after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. While working days as an English teacher at a high school in California, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub.

He now lives near San Francisco with his wife, with a second home in Shanghai, China. Lloyd has traveled to China often since his first trip in 1999. He has also spent a decade researching China, and his first two novels are about China.

Lloyd’s first novel, My Splendid Concubine earned honorable mentions in fiction from the 2008 London Book Festival, 2009 San Francisco Book festival and the 2009 Hollywood Book Festival. His second novel, Our Hart, won honorable mentions in fiction at the 2009 Nashville Book Festival, the 2009 London Book Festival the 2009 DIY Book Festival, and the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival

His short story, A Night at the Well of Purity, was named as a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. He also writes The Soulful Veteran, a Blog about the Vietnam War, combat and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was emailing with a fellow China blogger earlier today about intemperate comments on our respective blogs. I told this blogger that I actively enjoy deleting comments from those who have nothing to do but to attack me or others personally, but that, somewhat paradoxically, I love getting comments from serious people who completely disagree with me. I love getting those comments for many reasons. First off, it shows I am reaching those who disagree with me, which means I am doing more than just preaching to the choir. Second, I am more likely to learn something from those who disagree with me than from those who agree. Third, I believe our readers should see both sides of issues and appreciate seeing both sides of issues. I see my role as presenting my side of an issue and therefore it is up to others to present the other side. If I fail to publish comments from those presenting the other side, I am doing our readers a disservice, particularly if the opposing opinions are well-reasoned.  

Since you-all are big boys and girls capable of thinking for yourselves, I have added iLook China to our blogroll. I should have done it sooner. 

What do you think? 

I know I am really late to this party, but I did not get around to listening to this until tonight, and now that I have, I have to recommend it. The “it” is a podcast discussion, entitled, “Death of the China Blog,” between veteran bloggers Kaiser Kuo, Will Moss and Jeremy Goldkorn, in an always lively no-holds barred discussion/lamentation on the history of China blogging and its present.

Really great stuff by some really forthright and smart people and I recommend you go here and give it a listen.   

Update: Just saw that Sinosplice has a good post on this podcast as well, entitled, “China Blog Death and Relevance.

About four months ago, in Part I of this series, I promised we would go through our blogroll and justify and expound upon each blog, five by five. About a month ago, I did part IV of this series. This is the fifth of this slowly running series, where I explain, in alphabetical order, why it is that each blog managed to qualify for our blogroll under our admittedly “slippery, vague, and subjective criteria:”

Our blogroll basically consists of those China blogs we like and which we think our readers will like or should be reading. We tend to like blogs that are unique in their content, well written, or consistently helpful. If we really like a blog, it makes it on no matter what. The less we like the blog, the more we have to believe it can be helpful to our readers. If a blog has not posted for a couple of months, we start seriously consider removing it from the rolls. Three months and it is usually removed. We obviously focus on China related blogs and, within that, we generally focus on those blogs related to law or business.

So without further ado, the fifth five in our alphabetical list:

China Economic Review Editors Journal. Less of a blog now than it used to be (for instance, it no longer allows for comments), this Blog/Journal is a good weekly read of a key business issue facing either China or those who do business with China. China Economic Review is an excellent business/economics magazine (as evidenced by, among other things, their brilliance in using CLB’s own Steve Dickinson as its legal columnist) and its editors certainly know whereof they speak.

China Economics Blog. This blog describes itself as a “place to find news, observations, statistics, information on undergraduate (BSc and BA economics) postgraduate (MSc economics) and academic analysis of important issues for China’s economy including economic growth, inequality, stock market, shares, exchange rates, the environment, foreign direct investment, WTO and much more” and that is exactly what it is. I read it for its usually spot on and clearly written China economic analysis.

China Environmental Law [No longer exists]. This blog is written by Charlie McElwee, “an international energy & environmental lawyer based in Shanghai.” Charlie accurately describes his blog as a “discussion of China’s environmental and energy laws, regulations, and policies” and it is the first place I turn when I want to know more about the big environmental issues confronting China.

China Esquire. This blog is adroitly written by Thomas Chow, a San Francisco based lawyer with TechSoup Global. This blog describes itself as covering “Chinese law, business, and non-profits” and that is exactly what it does, with more of a policy bent than ours.

China Geeks. China Geeks describes itself as follows:

ChinaGeeks is a website about China. We post articles, original essays, translations, news, and relevant links to further the English-language discourse on China. Topics covered include (but are not limited to) history, current events, politics, literature, culture, and philosophy. We take pride in our writing standards-everything you find here will be well-written and worth your time (we hope!)

We’re also striving to create a community here; a community that embraces the many people throughout the world who (1) speak English and (2) are interested in China. Please join us, and leave us a comment or even join our team of contributors!

Accurate enough, but I see China Geeks more than anything else as a very important source for English language translations of news percolating in the Chinese press but missed by the English language mainstream media.

More to come….

What do you think?

Two good new China blogs out there by two already pretty well known China hands.

Paul Midler has started a blog called The China Game. Paul has been involved with China manufacturing for more than 15 years and many of his posts focus on China manufacturing. Paul has an MBA from Wharton Business School and he speaks Mandarin. More importantly, his B.A. comes from my alma mater, Grinnell College. He currently heads up a China product outsourcing.

Paul’s blog is already shaping up as an insightful and original blog on China and I recommend checking it out. Read his post, “The New Bugaboo: Low Prices,” for a good distillation of his views on China product quality issues. I just have to love a blog that not only quotes one of the best lines ever from David Bowie’s, “Space Oddity,” to describe China’s space program, but revises it as follows:

This is Ground Control to Major Zhang
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.

Paul Denlinger is the brains behind the new blog, China Vortex. Paul heads up the company, China Business Strategy whose mission is to bring “market success to companies striving to penetrate and achieve ongoing profitability in the China market.” Paul both speaks and reads Chinese. I have known Paul for a long time and I noticed on his LinkedIn Profile that I recommended him back in 2004 by saying “Paul knows China. It’s that simple.” It’s also true today.

Paul is very knowledgeable about China’s technology businesses and he does not pull punches. He has done a number of excellent (and somewhat controversial) posts on how China’s internet cafes are pretty worthless as marketing opportunities: “Digging Deeper About China’s Internet Usage,” “Biz Opportunities, Rolling Up and Franchising China’s Internet Cafes,” and “Shitholes and Firetraps, Part 2.”
Two Pauls.

Two really good new China blogs. Both relevant for foreign companies doing business in China or looking to do so. Check them out.

Probably the most famous commenter in the Chinese blogosphere just started his own blog. It appears to be called China, eat my lamb kebab! [link no longer exists] and it is by non other than nanheyangrouchuan (nh for short). I will let him explain the rationale and the anticipated methodology behind his blog:

Many have suggested I start a blog. I really have no use for one but what the heck, I’ll put this up and see what happens. I can promise that there will be no deleting of comments regardless of their nature. But if what you say attracts the attention of law enforcement, it’s all on you.

As much as nh drives us all crazy with his relentlessly downbeat and one-sidedly negative assessments of China, I for one will be checking out the blog fairly regularly because nh is an amazing source for China info and he does sometimes even get it right on what it takes for doing business in China.

NH — a tepid welcome to the China blogosphere. Oh, and am I the only one who does not understand the reference to lamb kebab?