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Living Chinese Symbols homepage : Learning Chinese Language; Living Chinese Lifestyle Blog : November 2005

November 1, 2005 17:31 - Kindergartners to Fifth-graders Learning Chinese

New Program Brings Culture

Kindergartners to fifth-graders are learning Chinese at All Saints' Academy.

Chinese language and culture teacher Liming Maguire lectures third-graders at All Saints' Academy in Winter Haven. PIERRE DuCHARME/The Ledger

By Andrew Dunn
The Ledger

WINTER HAVEN -- Peek inside a classroom at All Saints' Academy or just listen at the door and you may find something surprising.

Children as young as kindergartners are speaking, and sometimes writing, Chinese.

The cross-cultural chitchat is all part of a new program All Saints' began this year. Every student in kindergarten through fifth grade is taking lessons in Mandarin Chinese. The school hopes to broaden the program to other grades later.

"What we're teaching is standard Chinese," said Liming Maguire, the school's Chinese teacher. "That's what you hear in the news."

Maguire, a Beijing native who's lived in the United States since 1986, said her biggest challenge this year is starting a program from scratch. She said American children don't have the cultural background to build upon that a Chinese child would.

"Here, it's like the children really have like a (blank) sheet on China," she said. "In that sense, it's hard because you really don't know where to start."

Maguire visited a third-grade classroom Friday. The students worked a bit on their alphabet. They then worked on scripted conversations. Third-grader Jarod Thomas, 8, said learning the language will be useful if he ever travels to China.

"If you go to China and you don't know how to speak it, then the Chinese won't understand what you're saying," he said.

Knowing Chinese will be important in the future, predicted Lauren Simeon, 9.

"It's going to be the most spoken language in the world," she said.

Jarod and Lauren said their favorite part of learning Chinese is writing it.

Maguire said the younger children don't even work with pen and paper. Instead, she teaches them through sight and sound. She also uses games to teach the language.

"Younger children pick it up a lot quicker than the older children," she said.

All Saints' has taught Spanish for several years, beginning with children as young as 3.

Carolyn Baldwin, assistant headmaster at All Saints' and head of the lower school, said it's important to start foreign languages at a young age.

"I think if they don't start learning languages at young ages, they lose the facility for learning many languages," Baldwin said.

The school got the idea to teach Chinese when a speaker at a Florida Council of Independent Schools meeting urged schools to help their students get a leg up by teaching the language. All Saints' took that advice to heart and decided to add such a program.

"I would hope that they learn a lot about the global world," Baldwin said. "I would hope that they learn a lot about the Chinese culture and that they learn the Chinese language. And I hope that the learn to appreciate differences in other people.


November 2, 2005 13:19 - Travel China Blog

This is a great travel blog on China I just discovered. It's called Traveling the Silicon Road. You should read it.

SHANGHAI ¨C Well, we¡¯re sitting in the Shanghai Hongqiao airport, waiting to board a flight to Xiamen.

The voyage along the Silicon Road is half over; two weeks down, two weeks to go. There is so much to write about in terms of this blog after traveling two weeks in China, I hardly know where to begin. I thought a few days' break over the weekend would be good ¨C a chance to ponder everything I¡¯ve absorbed since I¡¯ve been here.

But I¡¯m still not sure where to begin.

One important thing I¡¯ve realized the past few days in talking with people and conducting interviews is that I was coming close to making the same mistake that I think many Westerners make when they see a developed foreign country: they assume it¡¯s just like the West.

Shanghai especially encourages this mistaken line of thinking, given its history and its present role as a port city key to international trade. If there is a laowai-friendly city ("laowai" means Caucasian foreigner to those of you haven't been paying attention), it is Shanghai.

And I think I may have given some readers the idea that indeed China is just like America, only it's crowded and they talk funny and eat strange things like donkey and dog. It's true that China perhaps shares more similarities with the West than other Asian cultures ¨C it is more open to Western ideas and ways of doing things.

But this is a culture that is thousands of years old, and like any culture that history permeates it even today, even as modern Chinese culture is shaped by modern-day influences, such as its Communist government, economic growth ¨C and problems -- and the related overcrowding in its cities. It is a very different place culturally from the West.

A Problem to Address

Nowhere is the gap between the Chinese nouveau riche and poor evident than here in Shanghai. Yesterday I gave Tony the Interpreter the day off to go visit old college chums that he hasn¡¯t had a chance to see in two years. Of course this was the day that China¡¯s ATM network decided to give foreigners problems, forcing me to wander far and wide outside my hotel in search of an ATM that would work.

Not knowing where I was going, I just kind of wandered, keeping my eyes out for banks and ATMs. It's something I think every traveler should do in a foreign city ¨C maybe not the safest thing when alone, but you see the city in way that you won't from the back of a taxi or train. I quickly realized that while homeless and urban poverty are a problem in many cities in the U.S., it is on a much bigger scale here.

My stroll around the hotel last night only confirmed that opinion. Tony showed back up around 6 p.m., and wanted to go see The Bund at night. The Bund is one of the old colonial sections of Shanghai, where the European architecture is evident, but surrounded by gleaming new skyscrapers and office towers, all lit up spectacularly in the evening. Right on the Huangpu river, The Bund is a popular destination for both foreign and Chinese tourists ¨C and it¡¯s a good place to buy a ¡°Rolex¡± for about 100 yuan, or about $12.50.

So after playing tourist we returned to the hotel about 11 p.m. I decided I needed some fresh air ¨C too much wine with dinner, and too many thoughts swirling around inside my head, and the air in the hotel felt stuffy. Our hotel was right outside the central train station, in a cluster of business class hotels, so I walked around the block, circumnavigating the train station. There were many homeless people camped out in doorways, under awnings and roof overhangs ¨C any place that offered shelter. Local police walked among them with flashlights ¨C looking for what, exactly, I don¡¯t know ¨C but otherwise seemed to leave them alone.

There was also the Shanghai version of ¡°ladies of the evening¡± out and about, risking harsh punishment under Chinese law. They consequently dress very discreetly, as ordinary people, and often pretend to hand out flyers to local restaurants or hotels to travelers, until a business prospect wanders by. Then the sales pitch changes; I quickly ascertained, and Tony later confirmed, that laowai businessmen, which are rich by Chinese standards and often traveling alone, are preferred customers.

It was quite a contrast to walking around The Bund and around the Shikumen Road area of Shanghai, where Tony and I had hung out earlier in the week. Back in 1920 the Communist Party held its second national meeting in the Shikumen Road neighborhood; today it is a trendy, upscale place of bars, clubs, shopping centers and bistros, many of them offering Western fare. Shikumen, incidentally, means ¡°new world¡± in English. Indeed.

My colleague from EB China, Alma Wang, described Shikumen Road in recommending it to me as ¡°crowded by a swarm of Shanghai bourgeois and also hippies.¡± Throw in a bunch of Western tourists and business types, and it describes the area perfectly.

As China embarks on its next five-year plan, with one of its stated goals being to narrow the gap between rich and poor, I can¡¯t help but think of Western history, and the many times the rise of a bourgeois class led to violent, bloody struggles between rich and the poor. You never hear it in the censored Chinese state media, and reports rarely make it into media outlets outside China, but this country has already had problems in recent years with economic-related riots.

I¡¯m growing rather fond of this country's people and their culture, though, (not their government, so you right-wing types, just relax) and I hope that it manages to keep history from repeating itself here. I think from now on, when I hear some chip exectuve rave about Shanghai, I won't be able to help but think about the people outside the Shanghai train station after dark ...

Traveling the Silicon Road

November 11, 2005 14:40 - Fewer Are Writing Chinese Characters in China

Calligraphic art faces predicament
By Zhu Linyong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-11-10 10:02

Chinese characters are reportedly becoming increasingly unfamiliar to today's Chinese population, especially the younger generation.

With the widespread use of computer-based pinyin, graphic design software and the messaging system on mobile phones, many Chinese are finding it hard to write the proper Chinese characters they began to learn in kindergarten.

The occasions for hand writing Chinese characters are becoming fewer and fewer. This is despite the fact that Chinese handwriting has, over the centuries, developed into an independent art form that enthralled feudal emperors, lords, intellectuals and average Chinese.

Many people are saying that Chinese characters and Chinese calligraphic art is in a life-or-death crisis.

In an academic seminar held last week at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, many Chinese experts and artists expressed their concerns about the future of the millennia-old Chinese characters and Chinese calligraphic art.

"About two decades ago, Chinese arts, including Chinese calligraphic art, enjoyed an unprecedented boom after China left behind the chaotic "cultural revolution" (1966-76) and entered a new era. But today, Chinese calligraphic art has encountered some new problems," said Shen Peng, chairman of the Chinese Calligraphers Association.

Shen urges professional Chinese calligraphers to try even harder "to find their own voices" for the continued prosperity of the art form in the new century.

He said that greater efforts, too, should be made to promote awareness and genuine love of Chinese characters and Chinese calligraphy among the general public, particularly among the younger generation.

Shen's view was echoed by many attending the two-day seminar on Chinese calligraphy.

As China gets more and more commercialized, people do not have the patience and mood needed to practise calligraphy or to delve deeper into the theoretical realm of the ancient art form.

Fading art form

Wu Zhenfeng, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Art Museum, said that many Chinese calligraphers today are not as knowledgeable in the arts as previous generations of calligraphers, for instance in classical Chinese literature.

Nor are they as diligent as older Chinese calligraphers, said Wu. Many contemporary Chinese calligraphers who are more interested in quick fame and money are busy churning out works for various exhibitions and putting their works in galleries and auctions.

It is true that the practical functions of calligraphy are decreasing and calligraphy is getting far away from the daily lives of ordinary people. However, "calligraphy, as a vital part of art education, should be strengthened rather than weakened in China's primary education and at the university level," said Li Yi, a researcher with the National Research Institute of Chinese Arts.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, compulsive calligraphy courses were popular among primary and even middle school students.

About 100 magazines and newspapers about Chinese calligraphic art mushroomed as millions of Chinese calligraphy enthusiasts across the nation took up the ink brushes as their ancestors did. They experienced the mysterious and philosophical interplay between brushes, ink, rice paper and classic Chinese literature.

But today, the number of calligraphic publications has dwindled sharply as fewer people care about the art form.

Calligraphy education has been maintained in some universities such as Beijing Capital Normal University, where a doctoral programme on Chinese calligraphy was opened in 1993. However most students are unable to make a living as professional calligraphers as older generations did about 20 years ago, said Ye Peigui, a Beijing-based art researcher and one of the first doctoral degree holders from the programme.

"Chinese calligraphic art is but a narrow topic among the few professional Chinese painters and calligraphers," said Chu Mo, a researcher and calligrapher from Jiangsu Province.

Even worse, "only a limited number of Chinese primary and high schools still keep the calligraphy course in a curriculum crowded with courses that are considered more useful, such as math and English, said Yang Ming, a Beijing-based calligrapher.

The lack of proper calligraphy education has led to the phenomenal growth of copycats among calligraphy learners and the rampant spread of fake calligraphic work on the art market, pointed out Zhang Rongqing from the Chinese Calligraphers Association.

Chen Lusheng, a researcher with the National Art Museum of China, said that Chinese calligraphy is the very essence of Chinese culture and philosophy.

"The question of the sustainability of Chinese calligraphy is actually the question of the sustainability of Chinese culture," he said.

He criticized the excessive use of Chinese calligraphy art as a resource in recent years by some "vanguard" Chinese artists. This practice caused misunderstanding and distorted perceptions among average viewers about Chinese calligraphy.

Wang Yuechuan, a professor with Peking University, said that in an era of modernization and globalisation, Chinese calligraphers should pay more attention to academic researches of the art form.

Educational and promotional efforts should be made with young Chinese and also with people all over the world, he said.

"Calligraphy is a unique cultural resource that China can export and contribute to the cultural diversity of today's world.

"In Japan and South Korea, promoting the healthy development of calligraphy has been viewed not only as an artistic matter but a State policy," he said. "We, as the cradle of the art form, should not be lagging behind."

November 14, 2005 18:54 - Five mascots for 2008 Olympics

Beijing unveils five mascots for 2008 Olympics (Updated 01:07 a.m.)

By Charles Hutzler, BEIJING, AP

After years of fierce lobbying and months of secrecy, Beijing unveiled not one, but five mascots for the 2008 Olympics on Friday, opening a marketing blitz that is expected to reap record profits.

In a nationally televised gala at a Beijing sports arena to mark the 1,000-day countdown until the Games, a stolid Communist Party Politburo member introduced the mascots -- cartoon renditions of a panda, a carp, a Tibetan antelope, a swallow and the Olympic flame, each one the color of one of the Olympic rings.

"China is so lucky to have so many beautiful animals to represent the Olympic spirit," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in a statement read at the ceremony.

The animals were introduced as Bei Bei, Jing Jing, Huan Huan, Ying Ying and Ni Ni -- which, put together, translates to "Beijing welcomes you!"

Jackie Chan added a dash of star power, dancing with a stuffed mascot toy in each hand in the gala's finale.

The quintet is the largest number of mascots any Olympic Games has had since the practice started more than 30 years ago. The Salt Lake City and Sydney Games each had three.

A plethora of real and mythic creatures were among the candidates considered by Chinese leaders, Olympic officials and design specialists over the past year. Local governments mounted intensive lobbying campaigns to have their local favorites chosen. Among those that didn't make the cut were the dragon and a mischievous magical monkey out of Chinese folklore.

The choice, the subject of lively media speculation for months, has been a secret since it was finalized three months ago, sealed by confidentiality agreements and the habitual secrecy of the communist government.

At stake for China is one of the most marketable symbols in the Olympics -- a symbol that stands to generate significant revenues and public support for the Beijing Games, which will cost an estimated US$38 billion (euro32.5 billion).

Officials with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games have said they expect sales of licensed products, including those with the mascot, to exceed previous Games. Sales of such products have brought in about US$300 million (euro255 million) at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Host cities keep 10 percent to 15 percent of the royalties, helping to defray the costs of staging the Games.

To capitalize on the mascots' publicity, Beijing is launching an extensive marketing campaign. An animated film put together by Han Meilin, who headed the design team, was screened at Friday night's unveiling and is expected to be replayed on Chinese television in coming days.

On Saturday, postage stamps and more than 300 other licensed products of the mascot go on sale at 188 authorized venues across the country, from fluorescent pens for 8 yuan (U$1; 85 euro cents) to souvenirs made from precious metals selling for tens of thousands of yuan (thousands of dollars or euros).

Beyond the sales expectations, China tried to use the mascot-selection process to involve communities far from Beijing. The Tibetan antelope and the panda are native to poorer western provinces.

"The licensing program is an opportunity for public participation in the Olympic Games," Shao Shiwei, a Beijing Olympics spokesman, told a news conference after the gala.

While previous Games have drawn criticism for being overly commercial, IOC member Kevan Gosper defended the choice of five mascots as suitable for Beijing. His native Australia, a country with 20 million people, had three mascots for the Sydney Games.

"In a country of 1.3 billion people, surely five mascots is not too much," Gosper told reporters.

Not all were happy with the choices. A Tibetan lobbying group objected to the selection of the Tibetan antelope, saying its use masked Chinese development practices that endanger the animal and would bolster China's 55-year-old rule over Tibet.

"It is wrong to misuse this freedom loving animal of the Tibetan plateau to serve the propaganda purposes of the Chinese regime," Wangpo Tethong of the London-based International Tibet Support Network said in a statement.

November 14, 2005 19:05 - Learning Chinese: Next Big Thing?

CHICAGO, Nov. 12, 2005(Christian Science Monitor) This article was written by Amanda Paulson.

The fourth-graders at Chicago's McCormick Elementary School don't know Mandarin is supposed to be hard to learn.

For most, who speak Spanish at home, it's becoming their third language. They've been hearing and using Chinese words since kindergarten, and it's now second nature to give a hearty ni hao when strangers enter the classroom.

"It's really fun!" says Miranda Lucas, taking a break from a lesson that includes a Chinese interview with Jackie Chan. "I'm teaching my mom to speak Chinese."

The classroom scene at McCormick is unusual, but it may soon be a common fixture in American schools, where Chinese is rapidly becoming the hot new language. Government officials have long wanted more focus on security-useful languages like Chinese, and pressure from them ¡ª as well as from business leaders, politicians, and parents ¡ª has prompted a quick growth in the number of programs.

Chicago itself is home to the largest effort to include Chinese in U.S. public schools. The program here has grown to include 3,000 students in 20 schools, with more schools on a waiting list. Programs have also spread to places like Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and North Carolina.

Proponents see knowledge of the Chinese language and culture as a leg up in a global economy where China is growing in importance. "This is beginning to bubble up as, 'This is an interesting way to begin to engage with the world's next superpower,' " says Michael Levine, director of education at the Asia Society, which has started five new public high schools that offer Chinese. "Globalization has already changed the arrangements in terms of how children today are going to need to think about their careers.... The question is when, not whether, the schools are going to adjust."

The number of students learning Chinese is tiny compared with how many study Spanish or French. But one report shows that pre-collegiate enrollment nearly quadrupled between 1992 and 2002, from 6,000 to 24,000.

When the College Board polled schools last year about offering an Advanced Placement program for Chinese, it expected perhaps a few hundred to say they were interested. Instead, 2,400 high schools said they wanted to offer the class, which will be ready by next year.

"It was off the charts in terms of our expectation," says Tom Matts, director of the World Languages Initiative for the College Board's AP program.

Despite the demand, though, developing programs isn't easy. And the No. 1 obstacle, everyone agrees, is having enough teachers.

Finding teachers "is the challenge," says Scott McGinnis, an academic adviser for the Defense Language Institute's Washington office and a Chinese teacher for 15 years at the collegiate level. "Materials are easy in comparison. Or getting schools funded."

Just finding Chinese speakers isn't enough, Dr. McGinnis emphasizes, since often there is a large culture gap, or little knowledge of how to teach a language. Certification requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act makes it even tougher. He and Mr. Levine say what is needed is a mix of short-term solutions ¡ª like alternative certification and teacher exchanges with China ¡ª as well as long-term ones, such as developing certification programs at universities. Only two currently have such fully developed programs in place.

The language itself offers some challenges, too: Chinese is considered one of the most time-intensive languages to learn. For a typical person, it takes 63 weeks of 30-hours-a-week instruction to reach a working proficiency, says McGinnis ¡ª nearly three times the amount needed for a similar proficiency in Spanish or German.

Those arguing for more Chinese classes say learning the language is just part of a larger issue: the need for an expanded awareness of the world. "Language is a look in," says Levine. "One doesn't need to be proficient in Chinese languages in order to do business in China. But the exposure and the motivation to show that one understands and respects the Chinese culture is really half the battle won."

Indeed, business leaders are also starting to encourage more global curricula, particularly Chinese. "The more our young people know about cultural context in which they're operating, the better their competence as business leaders," says Charlie Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan think tank that is working on a report about the need for global studies and more diverse languages, including Chinese.

In Chicago, the trend extends beyond magnet schools or those with high numbers of Asian students. "The fact that my students are 98 percent low-income and 99 percent Latino, and they are succeeding at this, tells me everyone should have a shot at learning languages," says Virginia Rivera, principal at McCormick.

The program began six years ago and got a big boost when Mayor Richard Daley visited China. Languages are "greatly needed to compete in this world-is-flat society," says Mayor Daley. "We want to give our young people opportunities to advance ... and [Chinese] is a great opportunity to survive in today's economy."

November 15, 2005 13:36 - Great Article about Design in China

NOVEMBER 21, 2005

This is a great article about design in China from the latest issue of Business Week

China Design

How the mainland is becoming a global center for hot products

Sony had a problem in China: The company was seen by many young Chinese as Daddy's brand. So in August the company opened a design center in Shanghai. The three designers there quickly set about trying to understand the lives of young Chinese, giving 50 of them digital cameras and asking them to document their daily lives in photographs. By September the designers had tacked dozens of the pictures -- people in their bedrooms, hanging out with friends, playing basketball -- onto the wall and divided the group into seven categories, such as "Cheerful Next Generation" and "Try Hard for Life." Then the team set out to design a line of MP3 players that would appeal to the trendsetters in these groups. The devices, in muted colors with a smooth river-rock-like appearance, are scheduled to hit the market in China early next year. "If we understand [young Chinese], we can design better products for them," says Katsumi Yamatogi, the veteran Sony Corp. designer who heads the studio in Shanghai's trendy Xintiandi district.

There's a lot of that going on in China these days. As Chinese companies seek to build global brands and foreigners aim to boost sales in the mainland, they're transforming the country's design business. Chinese manufacturers realize they need better products if they want to break out of China and beef up their margins on sales abroad. And foreign companies such as Sony are starting to see that as Chinese consumers get more discriminating, they're no longer content with the tired, designed-somewhere-else models that many overseas-based marketers once sold in China.

This is powering a boom in design on the mainland. The best Chinese companies are building their design staffs or hiring outsiders to help them make more products of their own. Design is one of the most popular majors at Chinese universities today, and hundreds of design consulting firms have sprung up in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. "Large companies [in China] are saying: 'We can't catch up fast enough,"' says Craig M. Vogel, a professor of design at the University of Cincinnati who has worked as a consultant to several companies in China. Even young designers from abroad are flocking to Beijing and Shanghai to try their luck in the world's most dynamic consumer market.

That's a dramatic change from just a few years ago. Although China manufactures the bulk of the world's electronics, shoes, and much more, those products typically have been designed in Europe, the U.S., or Japan. When Chinese companies did make their own products, as often as not they copied designs from abroad. Today, in contrast, just about everyone in China seems to want to be the next Samsung. A decade ago the Korean conglomerate was a second-tier brand that made me-too consumer electronics. But after years of focusing on design, Samsung today earns more awards for design than even Sony or Apple Computer (), and it's one of the world's most valuable brands. "Design is the way companies improve their competitiveness," says Yu Zida, a vice-president who oversees design at appliance maker Haier Group Co.

As locals get better at design, multinationals are realizing that they need to develop products specifically for the Chinese. So Sony, Samsung, Motorola (), Nokia (), General Motors (), Volkswagen, and many others have opened design shops in China to research local tastes. Not so long ago, General Motors Corp. made few changes to models sold in the mainland, figuring that consumers buying their first cars wouldn't be too choosy. But as competition has picked up, the carmaker has built up its Chinese design team. The staff has nearly tripled -- to more than 80 people -- since 2002, and at the Shanghai Motor Show this year the group showed a concept sedan called the ALA, which looks something like a pagoda when viewed from the rear.

Most of the Chinese design staff's time, though, is spent tailoring vehicles developed elsewhere to the Chinese market. In one case, GM took a family minivan sold in the U.S. as the Chevrolet Venture and restyled it as a car for executives, calling it the Buick GL8. To boost its appeal to big shots who get driven around by chauffeurs, the designers gave the GL8 a tonier interior and a longer hood, with a more pronounced grille and headlamps. "The front face of the car becomes a big part of the design inspiration," says James Shyr, gm's chief designer in China. "One of the key requirements of an executive car is you have to see it from far away."

Some Chinese designers call that sort of ostentation "gold teeth design." It's a hit in China, where it's more important to appear rich than to have a fat bank account. That means companies both foreign and local often trot out products that sell well in China but might not have much resonance in other markets. Lenovo Group Ltd. (), for instance, has had fabulous success with a cell phone that holds a few drops of perfume, filling the room with sweet smells as the battery heats up. And Volkswagen designers in Shanghai have for the first time been permitted by the company's design bosses to use artificial wood in a car. While customers in Germany would turn up their noses at a car with fake wood -- even if "real wood" is just a veneer that's less than a millimeter thick -- Chinese car buyers want it because it makes their autos stand out. "Understatement in China is a no-no," says Stefan Fritschi, chief designer at VW's Shanghai operation. "You want to impress your neighbor."

One problem faced by domestic companies and foreigners alike is a lack of trained designers. Fritschi, for instance, asked that the names of his designers not be published lest they be poached by rivals. To some extent, that gap is starting to be filled. Since Hunan University opened China's first school of design in Changsha 23 years ago, the discipline has taken off. Beijing's Tsinghua University is opening a new 60,000-square-meter design building, and in Guangzhou the Academy of Fine Arts just moved to a new eight-story facility with enough space for 3,000 industrial design students -- five times its current capacity. Today, China has some 400 schools offering design classes that together graduate some 10,000 industrial designers annually, up from just 1,500 or so five years ago. "Design schools are popping up like bamboo shoots," marvels Yan Yang, chairman of Tsinghua's industrial design department.

Design is even seeping ever deeper into Chinese society. Beijing has introduced into the national curriculum a new course called Technology and Design in which students learn about the history of design and what constitutes good design. "Traditionally, Chinese people are very good at design," says He Renke, dean of Hunan University's design school, who helped develop the curriculum. "Now we need a renaissance."

Is design in China at the same level as in Japan or Korea? Not yet. The level of instruction can be spotty. While the schools are good at teaching the creation of pleasing forms and using computers to render new products, they need to give students more guidance in what is usable as well as pretty. "The difference between technical skills in China and the West isn't that great," says Liu Guangzhong, a professor at Tsinghua and an independent consultant. "The problem is in innovation."

The other issue: The best Chinese companies know design is crucial. But others still haven't learned the lesson that it's worth spending money on design to distinguish their products in the marketplace. "Manufacturers don't think about what makes good design," says Zhou Yi, president of S.point Design, a Shanghai consulting firm that has done work for Siemens (), Intel (), and many Chinese companies. "They really just focus on looks rather than functionality."

Then there's piracy. Just about any successful product in China quickly gets knocked off, which is a powerful disincentive to invest in design. GM, for instance, is suing Chery Automotive Co. for its QQ compact, a dead ringer for the Chevrolet Spark. And Motorola Inc. noticed copies of the A780, a PDA-phone combo its Beijing staff developed for the Chinese market, within eight months of the phone's debut. "I'm amazed at how efficient they are," says Kumo Chiu, who heads Motorola's Chinese design operations.

Still, the situation is improving fast. As Chinese companies face the same piracy problems as foreigners, Beijing appears to be more willing to crack down. Li Yiwen, a professor of design at Shenzhen University and an independent designer, came up with a basic Web camera design that has been branded and sold worldwide by the likes of Samsung, Yahoo ()!, and Lenovo. Shortly after the camera hit the market, a factory in Shenzhen started churning out knockoffs. So Li hired a lawyer to talk to the factory and eventually settled for a payment of $63,000. "I was pretty satisfied with that," says Li.

Other Chinese designers are succeeding in international competitions. A student from Hunan University last year earned the top prize in the biennial Nagoya Design Do! competition for young designers. The project was a milk carton that has the day's weather printed on top -- which gives milk drinkers useful information and spurs dairies to keep their milk fresh. A graduate of the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts studying in Germany was one of five finalists for the prestigious BraunPrize this year for a portable shelter that can be constructed quickly -- almost like a tent -- for a concert or sporting event.

The renaissance can be seen at the best Chinese companies, too. Lenovo has doubled its design team, to 80 people, since 2002. The computer maker -- which bought IBM's () PC Div. in May -- this year won an Industrial Design Excellence Award for its ET960 smart phone. Yao Yingjia, Lenovo's chief designer, has broken down much of the Confucian hierarchy that hobbles innovation at Chinese enterprises and employs many of the same management techniques used by industry leaders worldwide. Every year, Yao takes team members on a two-day retreat where they bond by building rafts from scrap materials and sailing them across a lake. And when designers are working on, say, a new cell phone or laptop, they take over a "war room" for the duration of the project. There, team members paste photos of competing products on the wall, brainstorm about the attributes of the device, carve clay mockups, and immerse themselves in the project for weeks or months. "Asian culture is very top-down," says Yao. "But if you give your people too much direction, you won't get any surprises, and as a manager I like to be surprised."

Some of the best surprises, Yao says, come when his designers combine traditional elements of Chinese culture with today's technology. In one instance, a designer charged with developing a speaker phone modeled his proposal after the traditional Chinese "hot pot," a serving dish that families place in the middle of the table and share. The phone, which looks like a red and black dish, includes a remote control that balances on its tip in the center of the "dish" and automatically rights itself when it gets pushed over, like a wobbly doll. "This is a great example of a product that combines culture, style, and function," says Yao.

The best Chinese companies also are showing a commitment to getting designs right if they don't work out the first time. Appliance maker Haier Group, for instance, discovered through its research that people in Saudi Arabia like extra-large washing machines to hold the bulky robes that are common there. So the company started shipping a machine with a wash tub that could hold 6-kg loads, but it didn't sell particularly well. Two years later the company increased the size of the tub to 9 kg. It sold a relatively disappointing 6,000 units. In February, Haier tried again, this time with the biggest tub it makes -- 12 kg. The product has been a hit, selling 10,000 machines since its launch.

That's emblematic of the kind of attention that Haier Group pays to design. The company has 120 industrial designers and 25 more people doing consumer research. Product managers for each model line are responsible for following trends in various countries. So besides the Saudi machine, there's a tiny one for rural China that costs just $38. One for India, where the power supply is iffy at best, can handle dramatic fluctuations in voltage and will pick up where it left off if the electricity goes out. A dishwasher for the U.S. market features the controls on the top surface of the door rather than on the front so you can choose the cycle you want by pulling open the door a bit and looking down at the machine from the top. "[American] consumers complained to me that it's not convenient to control the machine from the front," says Shen Weibin, the machine's designer. "I realized I could put the controls on top of the door."

Even small companies are starting to understand the benefits of good design. Guangzhou exporter Soleil China Ltd. has been selling toys for pets since 1994. By 2000 more than 200 factories in China were making pet toys. So that year Soleil hired a packaging designer to give its goods an edge, and soon added a product designer. "We immediately saw better results when we started designing our own products," says Kate Feng, Soleil's general manager. Today she has four people creating toys and a half-dozen others helping make molds and control quality at factories. From their small corner of Feng's Guangzhou headquarters -- a jumble of pink leashes, squeezable rubber steaks, and plastic doggy Santas for Fido's stocking -- Soleil's designers come up with at least five new products a month. Each can be sold at margins of 10%, vs. 2% to 4% for items designed by foreign customers but made by Soleil.

Since Soleil's wares regularly show up on the shelves of U.S. chains such as Target (), Wal-Mart (), and PetSmart (), its success raises the question: Will the Chinese start doing design work that once would have been done in the West? That idea has designers from London to Los Angeles abuzz, fearing that their jobs could migrate to less-expensive shops in China or India.

In some instances that's happening already. Taipei-based Nova Design opened a Shanghai branch in 2002. Now it employs 130 people, even as the head office has shrunk to about 50 people from 70 a few years back. Designers in China earn about $350 a month to start -- less than half what their counterparts in Taiwan make. While other Taiwanese and Hong Kong outfits have struggled to get high-quality design out of Chinese staffers, Nova and others are plowing ahead in hopes of grabbing a piece of the growing mainland design business. To give their designers a boost in that race, both Hong Kong and Taiwan are pouring millions into design education and training. "This is a huge market," says Wen-long Chen, president of Nova, which has designed everything from cell phones and blenders to motorcycles and buses for Chinese manufacturers.

Will U.S. companies follow Nova's example and employ low-cost Chinese designers to create products for the American market? GM's James Shyr calls his designers "foot soldiers" who understand Chinese culture and therefore can help the auto maker sell more cars in China. But Shyr doesn't expect his foot soldiers to start helping their Detroit colleagues with the styling of cars made for U.S. drivers anytime soon. Designers in Detroit "know exactly what's going on in Springfield, and we don't," says Shyr.

Still, the Japanese and Koreans figured out what's going on in Springfield, and their designs eventually succeeded worldwide. Many Chinese designers have already started working overseas. Once these people have spent a few years in Milan, Tokyo, or New York honing their skills, some will doubtless return to China to help the mainland reach the next level. It may be many years before the design skills of Chinese companies equal those of a Samsung. But as China develops, plenty of mainland companies will surely be trying.

By David Rocks

November 16, 2005 21:42 - Schools see a demand for Chinese

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - You could write a fair history of late 20th-century America just by tracking the languages high school students learned in school.

At the height of the Cold War, Russian was hot, spasibo very much.

Japanese boomed in the late 1980s, when it seemed the rising sun would eclipse America's economy. And by the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, Arabic was getting more attention than ever.

But say "ni hao" - "hello," that is - to the newest language to push its way to the forefront: Chinese.

Spurred by China's increasing role in the global economy - and efforts by the Chinese and American governments - high schools across America are offering an Asian alternative to the traditional Spanish and French.

The programs teach the Mandarin dialect of the language.

"I wanted a language where I had no frame of reference, something totally different," said Brent Rubin, a senior at North Texas' private Greenhill School, which has a 10-year-old Chinese program. The number of students taking Chinese at Greenhill has tripled in the last four years - a growth rate that pushed the school to hire a second full-time teacher last month.

"We're at a historical juncture where lots of people are setting China up in an adversarial role," Greenhill teacher Warren Frerichs said. "I think some people are starting to think that Chinese could be part of their future success in life. There's this sense that the world is flat."

Concrete national statistics are hard to come by, but all that are available say Chinese is pointing in the same direction: up.

In 2000, when the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages did its last national survey, it found only about 5,000 American high-school students were taking Chinese. But two years later, a survey by the Chinese Language Teachers Association found 22,000. 'Strong trend'

Marty Abbott, the foreign language council's director of education, said she estimates the total is between 30,000 and 50,000 today, based on the number of inquiries her group receives from schools anxious to start programs.

"It's a very strong trend," she said. "There is a general realization around the country that you are going to have to interact in this global village we live in. And China is obviously a growing part of that."

A new Advanced Placement course in Chinese will debut next fall. When the College Board surveyed high schools several years ago to gauge interest in such a course, 2,400 schools said they were interested in offering it.

Chinese is still no threat to Spanish, the dominant foreign language nationwide. The 2000 language council's survey found Spanish accounted for nearly 70 percent of all foreign-language instruction in America, far outpacing French (18.3 percent), German (4.8 percent), Latin (2.7 percent) and Italian (1.2 percent). The top non-Western language was Japanese, with just 0.8 percent.

Chinese is much harder for English speakers than the major European languages. The most obvious difficulty is the complex system of Chinese characters, the multistroke glyphs that look incomprehensible to the untrained.

But perhaps even tougher are the four tones of Mandarin - high, rising, falling-rising and falling - that give seemingly similar words completely different meanings. The word "da," depending on the tone, can mean "to answer," "to hit," "to hang over something" or just "big."

"Learning characters is just memorization," said Greenhill junior TeQin Windham. "Tones are hard."

In one recent class, Frerichs had his Chinese I students reading what looked like a baby's nonsense syllables off a dry-erase board: "Ba ba. Ma ma. Ge ge. Jie jie. Di di. Mei mei."

"Remember the tones!" Frerichs urged his students, since in each pairing the first syllable had a different tone than the second. (The words mean father, mother, older brother, older sister, younger brother and younger sister.)

Language programs are often boosted by foreign governments eager to spread their native tongues. The German government has traditionally been anxious to grow the boundaries of linguistic Deutschland and has funded exchange programs for German teachers. Japanese foundations gave millions to support American language efforts at that nation's economic peak.

Beijing has followed the pattern. The Chinese government is paying half of the $1.3 million cost of developing the new AP Chinese course.

The American government is getting involved, too. U.S. officials have been stung by their inability to find enough Arabic speakers to do the translation and diplomatic work required to manage the war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq. As of 2004, the American Foreign Service employed only 27 diplomats worldwide who can speak Arabic at the level necessary for complex work.

In September, citing national defense interests, the Pentagon awarded a $700,000 grant to the school system of Portland, Ore., to double the size of its Mandarin immersion program. The program starts in elementary school and extends through to a college Chinese program at the University of Oregon. More grants are coming.

"Chinese is a language of the future in the states," said Betty Bourgeois, principal at Ursuline Academy, where the first seven-student class began meeting in August. "It's going to be a language of commerce and of culture."

Offering Chinese is not without obstacles. Finding qualified teachers can be difficult. Many native Chinese speakers lack the English or teaching skills necessary to connect in the classroom. Those who do can often make more money in business or by teaching at universities.

Public schools must worry about certification requirements dictated by state and federal rules. Texas, for example, offers certification tests for Spanish, French, German, Latin, Braille and American Sign Language - but not Chinese. That means teachers must seek certification in some other subject to fully meet state requirements.

And in many schools there are political battles to be fought. Teachers of traditional languages sometimes don't welcome new languages that battle for the same students.

"The French and Spanish teachers who already have a stronghold, they feel threatened," said Antonia Folarin Schleicher, executive director of the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages. "They are scared that, if they allow Chinese or Yoruba or Arabic, they'll lose students and maybe lose their jobs."

Frerichs said it's hard to be an island of Asian studies in the West-centered curricula of most schools. If the history and literature classes focus on Europe, students will gravitate to the languages that match.

"With French or Spanish, the rest of the curriculum reinforces the importance of the language," he said. "We don't have that with Chinese."

To close that gap, Frerichs teaches side classes on Asian literature in translation, Asian history and even tai chi.

It seems to be working. Greenhill's Chinese enrollment has gone from 24 students four years ago to 76 today. Students' reasons for enrolling are as varied as Chinese characters.

"It's kind of like art with all the characters," said seventh-grader Oliver Patten. "I probably know 40 or 50 words. It's a lot of fun."

His older brother Charles is more pragmatic. "It looks very good on a transcript," the Greenhill freshman said.

November 19, 2005 22:16 - Chinese yuppies caught up in the glitter of luxury

LOUIS Vuitton bags, Cartier watches, Dior perfume and Dunhill suits ¡ª the world's top luxury brands are drawing flocks of fans among Chinese in their 20s and 30s.

More and more young Chinese have become big-spending consumers. A recent survey of young urbanites on the Chinese mainland found that two-thirds are willing to "seize every opportunity to enjoy life," including buying high-end consumer goods.

The trend is drawing the attention of sociologists.

With a monthly salary of 5,000 yuan (US$616) Miss Yu, a 25-year-old journalist in Shanghai, usually drops in boutiques carrying prestigious brands from Europe and the United States every month to check out the new arrivals. Sometimes she buys with only a quick glance at the price tag.

"I think a bag worth 10,000 yuan is more suitable for me than 100 bags priced at 100 yuan each," Yu said.

Her fashion collection includes names such as Chanel, Gucci, Burberry and Prada, and she is far from unique, according to Radha Chadha, who's writing a book on China's Yus.

Chada, a board member of a Shanghai-based consulting firm, classified China's big-spending consumers into three groups.

The first are those who are very well-to-do. They buy luxury goods to show off their wealth and status, Chada said.

The second group is made up of white-collar workers, especially company managers, who buy luxury goods to show their taste for elegance. The third are mainly "cool" young people around age 25 who buy luxury goods on credit.

"Among China's luxury goods enthusiasts, only a limited number are really rich," said Yang Qingshan, secretary-general of the China Brand Strategy Association.

A survey of Internet users from Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces found that 56.7 percent of the respondents have saved up to buy luxury goods.

Among them, Tony Wang, a senior executive at a Shanghai advertising company, has put himself on a new diet ¡ª only fruit and coffee at lunch ¡ª though he earns more than 20,000 yuan a month. He's not trying to lose weight; he's saving up to add to his collection of luxury goods, which is valued at more than 30,000 yuan.

Wang reflects the typical image of a senior white-collar worker, according to Professor Du Junfei of Nanjing University.

Du worries, however, about the pressures to buy.

"Luxury goods purchases account for 4 percent of a consumer's assets globally. But in China, the proportion is as much as 40 percent," Du said.

Yu Hai, a sociologist at Shanghai's Fudan University, has a related worry: "The possibility exists for luxury goods to be distorted as a worldly pleasure without spiritual significance."

Published on ShanghaiDaily.com (http://www.shanghaidaily.com/)
http://www.shanghaidaily.com/art/2005/11/18/215376/Chinese yuppies caught up in the glitter of luxury.htm

November 27, 2005 18:38 - Learn Chinese -- It's Easier Than You Think!

Do you know you can learn Chinese in a relatively short time? I'm talking weeks not months and years.

Imagine conversing fluently in Mandarin with a native Chinese speaker. Isn't that what you've always wanted?

I'm going to let you know what it takes to learn Chinese fast. It's simple actually...Read More

November 27, 2005 22:34 - The push is on to learn Chinese

WASHINGTON - Second grader Jaynie Carter doesn't know it, but she is part of a hot new education trend.

Jaynie listened as her teacher, BiBi Kearney, listed what her pupils should be thankful for this Thanksgiving - family, teachers, country, school.

But the words Jaynie recited were jiating, loashi, guojia and xuexiao.

Jaynie was learning Chinese at Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna in a program started this year in the first and second grades and slated to expand every year until she graduates from high school fluent in the language.

"Gan en jie kuai le," the children in her class chanted. Happy Thanksgiving.

Just as Russian was the hot language in the 1960s and Japanese in the 1980s, now many schools are answering the demands of students and parents - and the federal government - to offer Chinese.

The drive reflects China's emergence as the world's rising economic power.

While Chinese gains popularity across the country, it has not yet caught on in Prince William County area schools.

At C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Chinese has been offered as an elective in the Center for International Studies and Languages program for the past four years.

But so far not enough students have signed up to hold a class, said Karen Garon, Hylton's foreign languages department head.

"We would love to have a class here, but so far there has not been sufficient interest expressed by the key players, the students," Garon said.

Each year fewer than five students have signed up for the class, and so class has not been held to date, she said.

Other languages, such as Italian and Russian, are still the more popular choices for electives there, she said.

Chinese is so new in American public schools and the numbers are changing so quickly that no one knows how many schools are teaching it.

"I get a call almost every week about a school adding Chinese to the curriculum," said Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

"We did a survey (of high schools) in 2000 and Chinese was not a blip on the radar screen," he said. "Now we estimate somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 kids are taking Chinese in high school, middle school and even some elementary schools."

The College Board, the company that produces Advanced Placement tests for high school students, surveyed 14,000 high schools this year and asked if they wanted AP tests in Japanese, Italian, Russian and Chinese. Less than 100 wanted Russian, fewer than 200 Japanese, and Italian clocked in at 240.

But 2,400 public schools said they wanted Chinese.

"None of us could believe it," said Tom Matts, director of the College Board's World Languages Initiative. A spot check of many of the high school Web sites found that they didn't even offer Chinese, much less have students capable of taking the advanced tests.

"What it tells us is there is an incredibly growing interest in the study of Chinese," he said. "Are there going to be 2,400 schools that offer it in 2006? No. But by 2010 I bet there are."

Certified teachers are at a premium.

"All of the qualified teachers are already teaching," said Yu-lan Lin of the Chinese Language Association of Secondary/Elementary Schools.

Public schools in areas with large Chinese-American populations may be able to certify teachers who now work in weekend "heritage schools" that teach language and culture to children of immigrants.

But large parts of the country have few qualified Chinese teachers.

After 10 U.S. state education officials visited Beijing in June, the Chinese government created a program to send bilingual Chinese teachers to the United States and to help fund the College Board's AP Chinese test.

Six states, as well as some school districts, arranged for Chinese teachers this school year. Connecticut is leading the way with five.

The Chinese government provides pocket money for the teachers and airfare to the United States, said Mary Ann Hansen, world languages consultant for the Connecticut Department of Education. The school districts provide room, board and local transportation.

"Parents and kids invited the teachers to weekends in New York, ski trips, Thanksgiving dinners, and holidays," Hansen said. "It became a community effort."

In Congress, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., introduced a bill to authorize $1.3 billion over five years to encourage Chinese language training in American schools.

"The rise of China comes with a whole set of challenges," Lieberman said. "But the ability to talk to and understand each other should not be among them."

Seeing a critical need for Chinese-language experts in the government, the Defense Department launched its own program.

This year 20 kindergartners in Portland, Ore., began learning Chinese through a partnership the department created with the University of Portland and Portland city schools. Federal support for those students' Chinese training will continue through college.

"Our expectation is they will come to work for the government with far more knowledge about China, an ability to speak the language and understand its nuances and not do dumb things because we don't understand the culture."

At Wolftrap Elementary, teacher BiBi Kearney, a native Chinese who taught in the Fairfax County school system for 15 years before the Chinese-language program started, now teaches the students Chinese for two 30-minute sessions a week.

This week, she presented each of her students with a card with the student's name written boldly in Chinese characters.

"Oh, thank you," said one boy, holding his card carefully. "That's the most wonderful thing you ever gave me."

Media General News Service
Saturday, November 26, 2005

November 28, 2005 19:38 - Children's Book about China a Hit with American Families

As China grows, and more and more American families want their children to learn Chinese and understand Chinese culture, ¡°A Musical Journey: From the Great Wall of China to the Water Towns of Jiangnan¡± by Liow Kah Joon, an American Bookseller's Association Autumn 2004 Book Sense Children's Pick, continues to generate enthusiastic response from parents and teachers.

(PRWEB) November 28, 2005 -- As China's position in the world rises, and growing numbers of American parents want their children to learn Mandarin and understand Chinese culture, ¡°A Musical Journey: From the Great Wall of China to the Water Towns of Jiangnan¡± a children's book about China by Liow Kah Joon, continues to generate enthusiastic response from parents and teachers since its publication one year ago.

¡°A Musical Journey¡± is a children's book which allows kids to understand the diverse land and people of China through words, illustrations and music.

¡°This book has great colorful pictures for kids and is written in such a way that kids will find it interesting. It's hard to cram so many years of Chinese history into a short children's book but the author has done a good job of hitting the interesting high points. The accompanying CD has some wonderful original compositions.¡± notes Kristian Ball, a reader from Richmond VA, USA.

¡°I started working on A Musical Journey two years ago with a team made up of a music composer, an artist, a designer, a researcher and an editor. Our goal is to produce a unique and high quality children's book about China and market it internationally. I think we've achieved that with A Musical Journey.¡±

Publisher's Weekly, the premier book industry publication, has noted the North American success of ¡°A Musical Journey¡±, and reports in the October 2005 issue:

"With fun facts about China's multicultural land, people and way of life presented in an enjoyable and educational experience ¨C through vibrant illustrations and an accompanying CD offering twelve musical selections representing each of the highlighted regions in the book ¨C this title is a resounding success for co-owner and publisher Liow Kah Joon.¡±

Kah Joon's next book ¡°Shaolin: Legends of Zen and Kung Fu¡± will be launched in three months time. With Shaolin, Kah Joon has taken the 1,500-year-old traditions of Shaolin Kung Fu and re-created them for American kids who enjoy Jackie Chan movies. This book includes an original 3D-animated kung fu story on DVD.

¡°A Musical Journey¡± by Liow Kah Joon. 10.7 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches. Hardcover, 32 pages, illustrated throughout, incl. music CD, Age 8+. ISBN 09733492-1-2. USD24.95. Published in Canada by SilkRoad Networks Inc.

Liow Kah Joon's children's books allow kids all over the world to experience Asian stories in entertaining ways. His website about Chinese symbols and characters is a handy guide to learning Chinese and Chinese culture. You can get more information about his children's books and sign up for his free ezine at http://www.living-chinese-symbols.com/amusicaljourney.html.
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