Behemoth: A movie on the effects of rapid development

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The Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise of Inner Mongolia

Zhao Liang’s latest film, Behemoth provides a ring-side seat to the effects of rapid development, commerce, and pollution in this autonomous region of China.

Shot over two years across China’s Inner Mongolia, Zhao Liang’s latest film, Behemoth provides a ring-side seat (or perhaps a helicopter-shot suspended over the operating table) to bear silent witness to the effects of rapid development, excavation, extraction, commerce, and pollution on the planet.

The film lingers, often wordlessly, on images of violent destruction and pillage; the central metaphor here is the titular Behemoth, a devourer of mountains, “an enormous evil energy,” according to the director’s statement. A line of trucks and diggers become “the monster’s playthings;” tunnels and tubes and trolley-tracks slowly siphon away the very core of the earth, feeding its ceaseless hunger.

Yet rather than focus close-in on the maw of this insatiable beast, Zhao places his lens at a quiet and safe remove. The effect, however, is not to deliver security, but instead to emphasize scale, an even more distressing aspect of the devastation shown. One explosion may be terrifying, but a relentless series of detonations over thousands of acres becomes almost mundane, a banality of evil. The very vastness inures us to the horror of watching a valley turned into a wasteland, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. (Appropriately, when humans are shown in the film, their affect is a quiet, sad boredom, not fear or terror.)

The setting becomes the real focal point: this is a story of a primal and seemingly eternal landscape, charted ages ago by the film’s other literary inspiration: Dante’s Divine Comedy. Hell is seen in the inferno of molten iron and smoldering slag; Purgatory in the obscuring, ever-present gray construction dust; and even Paradise is found empty and abandoned in the bleak ghost city of Ordos, built to house over one-million people but never inhabited.

These disturbed landscapes represent the other side of the coin (or perhaps of the planet) of our global economic reality; for every manufacturing job “lost to China,” there is another pit mine, a slag heap, or a case of black lung in the name of modernization and progress.

Yet despite what these locations represent—a fallen status, neither classic nor modern, neither natural nor civilized—Zhao spies the beauty in the ruin. Like the photographs of Edward Burtynsky, (who also documents the environmental destruction wrought by China’s long march) each shot is perfectly composed, delicately balanced, and artfully framed. Similarly, the pacing establishes the proper mood and mindset: slow, thoughtful, meditative, without the rush to interpretation or judgment.

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(Courtesy Grasshopper Film)
Viewers familiar with Zhao’s previous films will recognize the director’s remarkable ability to focus on the unwatchable: in Petition (2009), he traces the slow, dangerous, and often brutal paths of the thousands of Chinese citizens who flock to the nation’s capital to file grievances against corrupt local actions: not pretty, but certainly real and important; his previous documentary film, Crime and Punishment (2007) features surprisingly similar scenes of bureaucratic cruelty along the Chinese border with North Korea. More recently, his most official film, Together (2010, funded by the Chinese Ministry of Health) illuminated the stories of HIV patients, a hidden suffering that many in the country would prefer to ignore.

A common theme emerges: where others would cut or turn away, Zhao’s camera lingers, staring long enough for our uncomfortable minds to move past fear and disgust, through fascination and prurience, to finally probe and reflect the all-too-human meaning of the violence and sorrow that we see; he is a master at cultivating unblinking empathy. In Behemoth, we see this master at the top of his game.

The result is an impressive film worthy of repeated viewings on a true large screen, which may be difficult given the limited release schedule. Fortunately, so haunting and poetic are Zhao’s images that once seen, they are likely to lodge deep in the psyche of the viewer, to be later excavated and re-examined in dreams.

Behemoth is screening at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts February 18th at 7 p.m. and February 19, 2 p.m. Future U.S. screenings can be viewed here.

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China’s losers [Diaosi]

Amid spreading prosperity, a generation of self-styled also-rans emerges

Man wearing suit on escalator

Apr 19th 2014 | SHANGHAI |

ZHU GUANG, a 25-year-old product tester, projects casual cool in his red Adidas jacket and canvas shoes. He sports the shadowy wisps of a moustache and goatee, as if he has the ambition to grow a beard but not the ability. On paper he is one of the millions of up-and-coming winners of the Chinese economy: a university graduate, the only child of factory workers in Shanghai, working for Lenovo, one of China’s leading computer-makers.

But Mr Zhu considers himself a loser, not a winner. He earns 4,000 yuan ($650) a month after tax and says he feels like a faceless drone at work. He eats at the office canteen and goes home at night to a rented, 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) room in a shared flat, where he plays online games. He does not have a girlfriend or any prospect of finding one. “Lack of confidence”, he explains when asked why not. Like millions of others, he mockingly calls himself, in evocative modern street slang, a diaosi, the term for a loser that literally translates as “male pubic hair”. Figuratively it is a declaration of powerlessness in an economy where it is getting harder for the regular guy to succeed. Calling himself by this derisive nickname is a way of crying out, “like Gandhi”, says Mr Zhu, only partly in jest. “It is a quiet form of protest.”

Calling yourself a diaosi has also become a proud statement of solidarity with the masses against the perceived corruption of the wealthy. The word itself entered the language only recently, appealing to office grunts across the country, especially in the IT industry. A mostly male species, diaosi are often daydreamers with poor social skills and an obsession with online gaming. They are slightly different from Japan’s marriage-shunning “herbivore” young men in that fewer of them have chosen their station in life. Society has chosen it for them, especially with property prices climbing well beyond their reach. Several recent studies show that, while incomes across Chinese society continue to rise, social mobility has worsened. Yi Chen of Nanjing Audit University and Frank A. Cowell of the London School of Economics found that, since 2000, people at the bottom of society were more likely than in the 1990s to stay where they were. “China has become more rigid,” they conclude.

An online video sketch show, “Diaosi Man”, shown on Sohu.com, an internet portal, mercilessly mocks the tribe. Since its debut in 2012, the show’s episodes have been streamed more than 1.5 billion times. In one recent episode a man tries to impress his beautiful dinner date with how busy he is at his job. He then receives a phone call from work, apologetically takes his leave to go to the office and finally pops up again as a waiter when his date asks for the bill. In the same episode a frustrated new driver curses repeatedly at a Lamborghini in the next lane and screams, “Are you bullying me because I don’t know any traffic cops?” In the next scene he is in a neck brace and his nose is broken.

Mr Zhu says what makes him a diaosi is that he is the son of factory workers. He is not fu er dai—second-generation rich—or guan er dai—the son of powerful government officials (it does not escape a diaosi’s notice that those two categories often overlap). He and his diaosi colleagues feel that, with connections or cash, they might have attended a better university and found a better job.

With after-tax income of nearly $8,000 a year, Mr Zhu would look to many people in China comfortably on his way to the middle class. He is among the lower wage-earners at Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai, but even many higher earners call themselves diaosi, or refer to themselves as “IT labourers”. Though their salaries are above average even in Shanghai—which had China’s third-highest annual urban disposable income per person in 2012 at 40,000 yuan—the cost of appearing successful is stratospheric. A fancy flat and a cool car are well beyond their reach. They are wage slaves who cannot hope to be gao fu shuai—tall, rich and handsome—and marry a woman who is bai fu mei—fair-skinned, rich and beautiful.

This might seem quite normal for a rapidly developing economy. But Zhang Yi, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think-tank in Beijing, says this diaosi feeling of relative deprivation is a troubling consequence of China’s growing wealth gap. In an interview devoted to the subject for the website of Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong satellite network, Mr Zhang concluded that people at the bottom feel utterly alienated. They feel less hopeful than they did before of ever moving up in life, he said.

In spite of this, however, they do still represent a marketing opportunity. There are, after all, many more of them than there are millionaires, even though it can be difficult to define the target market. At Dianping, a website offering restaurant reviews and consumer deals, Schubert You targets very low-wage workers in smaller cities (earning about $150 to $450 a month) with coupons and group discounts. Mr You does not consider the IT workers of Shanghai and Beijing to be true diaosi.

But surveys show they believe they are. Last year Analysys International, a research company in Beijing, asked a broad cross-section of office workers if they saw themselves as diaosi. More than 90% of programmers and journalists and about 80% of food and service industry and marketing workers said they did. Those surveyed who least identified with being losers were civil servants, working for the government or the Communist Party.

From the print edition / Original source: The economist

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)

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The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) is the premier academic organization and comprehensive research center of the People’s Republic of China in the fields of philosophy and social sciences.

CASS was established in May 1977, replacing the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Hu Qiaomu was the first president accredited to CASS, and he was followed by Professor Ma Hong, Professor Hu Sheng, Professor Li Tieying and Professor Chen Kuiyuan. Professor Wang Weiguang is the current president.

CASS is now made up of 31 research institutes and 45 research centers, which carry out research activities covering nearly 300 sub-disciplines. At present, CASS has more than 4,200 staff members in total, of which more than 3,200 are professional researchers.

Conducting broad international academic exchange remains one of CASS’s guidelines, and this has gained pace in recent years. The quantity of scholars participating in academic exchanges has gone from dozens of people divided into 10 batches in 1979, to over 4,100 people divided into 1398 batches in 1995. In the meanwhile, CASS has established a constructive relationship with over 200 research organizations, academic communities, institutions of higher learning, foundations and related government departments, covering more than 80 countries and regions.

Overscaled Urbanization (Tim Franco Captures the Overscaled Urbanization of Chongqing)

© Tim Franco These days, many of China‘s largest urban areas are easily recognizable to people from all over the world, with the skylines of coastal mega-cities such as Shanghai andBeijing taking their place in the global consciousness. Far less known though is the inland city of Chongqing – another of China’s five top-tier “National Central Cities” – where in 2010 the Chinese government embarked on a plan to urbanize a further 10 million of the region’s rural population, with around 1,300 people now moving into the city every day.

Since his first visit to the city in 2009 photographer Tim Franco has been on a mission to document the rapid change in what he believes is “maybe the most widely unknown megacity in the world.” The result is Metamorpolis, a forthcoming photographic book by Franco with text by British journalist Richard Macauley, which documents the colossal scale of development juxtaposed against the people of Chongqing – many of whom still live an incongruous rural lifestyle among the concrete sprawl. Read on after the break for more images from the book and an interview with Franco about the experience of documenting one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

You are European, and based in Shanghai. What made you choose Chongqing for this project, instead of other Chinese cities?

Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and many of Chinese coastal cities are very famous world wide; everybody has seen them and knows about them. They are the ones which were developed first when the economy boomed in China. I really wanted to witness the fast urban development of the country but I felt that in Shanghai, I was a bit too late – all the famous images of the city have circulated worldwide.

That is why in 2009 I embarked on a small road trip to central China to visit some other secondary developing cities such as Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing. After a few days in Chongqing, I quickly understood it was the city I wanted to document. The most obvious reason is that this growing megalopolis is located right in between mountains and giant rivers, which give it a very unique scale. Most of the big cities in China are flat and extended but because of its unique geographical location, Chongqing is urbanizing through beautiful elements which gave the photos a very particular aesthetic. The second reason is that, being the latest province city to be created in China, and because of the different policies following the construction of the three gorges dam project, Chongqing was facing one of the fastest urbanization rates in the world. With almost two-thirds of Chongqing’s population still rural, the local government is trying to invert that trend and relocate a massive population of farmers into the city. I really felt that Chongqing was a representation of what was going on in the whole country, except in a rapid and city-scale simulation.

© Tim Franco

What was your impression as a European when you first experienced Chongqing?

My first week in Chongqing was thrilling! I felt like I was in Blade Runner, walking through dark alleys and getting lost in maze-like streets. Discovering different levels, taking elevators and cable cars to travel from one part of the city to the others. It looked to me like a chaotic and dark mix of Manhattan and Hong Kong. At that time, the local government was still chasing the giant mafia ring that controlled most of the city’s business for so many years: it felt like I was part of a movie! I couldn’t wait to go back there as soon as I left. It is kind of strange because the darkness and the mess of a city can be quite depressing and violent, but this also gives it a unique style and energy that made me want to photograph it even more.

You’ve already been documenting Chongqing’s urban expansion for five years. Have you noticed any changes in how the city is expanding?

The changes I have witnessed in Chonqqing are tremendous! I have seen entire districts disappearing in the center of the city. Some of the houses destroyed were witnesses to the Kuomintang era when Chongqing was the capital of China. I have seen farmlands on the North side of the city being taken over by concrete roads and housing complexes, with farmers continuing to plant vegetables between highways or on the side of construction sites.

I basically witnessed the entire center of the city growing into highrise glass towers, and luxury shops appearing like mushrooms on the main pedestrian street. In 2009, I was struggling to find good coffee in the morning – now I can have one on the 58th floor of the Westin Hotel overlooking the city, shop at H&M and get my new iPhone in the fancy Apple store that just opened. It’s almost unbelievable.

But it is also sad to see how the city is struggling with its originality, trying to copy other famous cities in the world, with a replica of Hong Kong IFC, a fake Zaha Hadid, or the new star project being build at the tip of the peninsula influenced by the Marina Bay Sands building in Singapore.

Do you think the people of Chongqing are adapting well to the city’s dramatic changes?

This is a tough question and according to who you ask in the city, you may get many different answers. As a Westerner walking in the city you are very quickly shocked by the amount of traditional architecture and old buildings being destroyed, almost like erasing signs of the past. But when talking to the people who lived in very poor conditions in some of those buildings with little access to electricity or basic heating, you understand why they are welcoming the transition to high rise building.

As ugly as they may look, they offer them a new level of comfort and a feeling of modernity. A feeling of becoming part of Chinese growth and not being left behind. But part of the population, especially people coming from the rural areas, are often struggling with the pace of urbanization. Often, the older generations don’t even know how to read or write. They find themselves moved to the city only knowing how to grow vegetables, so they start to find whatever land is available downtown to do the only thing they know how to do.

To be very honest I am very impressed by how the people in China learn to adapt. It seems whatever happens and whatever the difficulty, they always find a way to adapt, create small business and communities. Even though the city is growing at an incredible speed, every part of the city seems active.

© Tim Franco

One of the most striking things about your photographs is how you are able to simultaneously capture human-scale elements in the foreground with the huge buildings looming behind. Is there a particular camera setup you use for this or is it all about finding the right place to take a photo?

I am glad you brought this up, because it was exactly what I tried to do in this project! I used to shoot a lot of urban landscapes prior to this project and I only found my photos interesting when I added a human element to them, to give them scale and to see how the space was actually being used. This process was important for me in documenting Chongqing. I really wanted to show how the city was growing out of proportion and to give a very visual idea of how enormous these constructions and buildings are.

I don’t think there is a particular set up. I am using an old medium-format film camera, and I always try to spot the places with the city and the construction in the background and people in the foreground. This also allows me to be to invisible to the people I photographed so their action and behavior could be more natural in the photo. In general, I don’t like to force myself upon the people I photograph, so I either take a step back and photograph them in their environment or if I come closer, I engage them first in a conversation and explain to them what I am doing before taking a portrait.

© Tim Franco

Do you have a favorite place in Chongqing to search for photo opportunities?

I am not sure if I have a favorite place. The cable car running through the city (the one you can see on some of the photos and in particular on the video) is quite incredible because it takes you through the different layers of the city – actually, it used to do that, now half of those layers have been destroyed! In general, I am very attracted to every kind of place that gives you a sense of the scale of the city, with the rivers, the building, the mountains and the people.

How do you search out new places in the city that could be interesting?

These days, I rely on a network of people who are living in the city, both locals and foreign people that tell me about new places they discover. Often I also just find a place on the map I have never been to and take a taxi or a motorbike ride there. There is a good chance that on the way, I might find a new incredible place like a giant hole in the ground, some farmland in the middle of a construction site, or another architectural curiosity. For a while, I had a cheap motorbike which I purchased for about $200 USD and drove around the city and beyond. I sold it later for a little less.

© Tim Franco

What do you think the future holds for Chongqing?

It is going to be interesting to look at the future of Chongqing. It is certainly becoming one of the biggest cities in China, and it’s facing a very big challenge in urbanizing a very large rural population. A lot of of other cities are looking at Chongqing to see how those urbanizing policies will work for the economic and social future of the city. For me personally, even if part of the process ends with the book being finalized, I will still continue to document the city as it grows.

Original Source

Writing style. Qualitative evaluation of research proposals. Part 2

Following the index provided in the previous post for a qualitative evaluation of the research proposals performed by the students of the subject Research methods from Faculty of Management and EconomicsGdansk University of Technology (Poland); the current post will focus the point related to writing style.

Four requirements of a good writing emerge from the difference between the two cases you can see below. First of all read carefully both cases and try to find the differences.

CASE 1

Luxury international is defined as “a beyond people’s survival and development needs of the range, with unique, rare, exotic features such as consumer goods, also known as non-necessities. Define in economics. Luxury is the ratio between the highest value and quality products. From another point of view, the luxury is an intangible value and tangible value of the ratio between the highest products. Consumption of luxury goods is an advance consumer behavior. The luxury the word itself has no derogatory. China is one of the largest marketing in the global luxury goods consumption. In 2010, Chinese consumers bought $ 10.7 billion of luxury goods, accounting for a quarter of the global consumer products market.

CASE 2

China is one of the largest marketing in the global luxury goods consumption. In 2010, Chinese consumers bought $ 10.7 billion of luxury goods, accounting for a quarter of the global consumer products market.

For this reason, the study of luxury goods demands has become more popular in China. Some authors suggest that the demand is higher because the GDP has grown considerably over last years. On the contrary, other authors suggest that what has really increased is the social inequality. In other words, the rich people are more and more rich and the poor ones more and more poor.

First of all, what is exactly a luxury good? It may be defined in three different ways:

Luxury product may be defined in three different ways:

1. In terms of personal need: luxury goods are also known as non-necessities and people demand for being unique, exotic or having a especial characteristic.

2. In economic terms: is a good for which demand increases more than proportionally as income rises, and is a contrast to a “necessity good“. Luxury goods are often synonymous with superior goods.

2. In socioeconomic terms: luxury goods have a superior status due to their design, quality, durability or performance that is remarkably superior to the comparable substitutes.

_____________________________

What makes the second case more understandable is:

  1. Shorter sentences. One of the most common handicaps of an undergraduate research proposal is the length of the sentences. Whenever you use a very long sentences, composed by two, three or four sentences connected with no dot (.) or comma (,) but using such links as “which”, “that”, “therefore”, the complexity may make the sentence non understandable. On the contrary, if you construct several sentences, with a basic structure: subject (the research) + verb (aims) + Object (Luxury goods consumers behavior´s study) and supporting yourself with dots and commas the reader will be very grateful.
  2. Shorter paragraphs. Related with the previous one, a too long paragraph may turn out to make too complex the content. You must administrate the number of paragraphs in a way that each one provides a different argument.
  3. Using of connectors. Despite every paragraph must have their own argument, the truth is that all of them must be somehow connected. To do so we can also support our writing by mean connectors such as “for this reason”, “apart from”, “assuming this idea”, “first of all”, “secondly”, “finally”, etc. I will make the writing more understandable and easy for the reader.
  4. Using of list. Whenever you are enumerating a number of items, provide a list of them separately. It will give your writing more “oxygen” and let the reader visualize clearer the main points.
  5. Removal of too complex vocabulary. Try to avoid too complex words. Many people, especially undergraduate, tend to think that using very sophisticated words is a synonymous of major understanding. Far from reality, if you overuse this kind of words you will just make your writing pedantic and ununderstandable.
  6. Use of further explanations. But let´s be honest, sometimes we cannot avoid the use of complex words, simply because we really need them to explain what we want to explain. In this case, do not hesitate to use further explanations, i.e. explaining the same with different words. You construct a subsequent sentence starting by “in other words”, “in other terms”.