Tea Leaf Nation
China, from Within: ‘Contempt’ for iPhones and Fear of an Animated Cat
A week of news the West missed from the world's largest country.
Every day, FP’s China team at the Tea Leaf Nation channel scours dozens of Chinese media outlets to find compelling stories unreported in Western mainstream press. This week, we bring you tales of death in the Philippines, contempt for the iPhone 6, post-retirement poverty, popular frustration with Russia, and one city’s sudden distaste for a popular Japanese animated cat.
That marks a rise from previous years, and China’s Foreign Ministry is demanding that the Philippines protect Chinese citizens visiting the country, according to a Sept. 23 report by liberal newspaper Beijing News. Most recently, on Sept. 13, a Chinese businessman was shot to death at a store in the Philippines’ Bulacan Province, just north of the capital Manila.
Relations between the two countries are already tense due to simmering maritime territorial disputes, and the number of Chinese tourists heading to the Philippines has dropped off sharply since this year’s kidnappings and other violence against Chinese nationals there.
On Sept. 24, state-run, nationalist Chinese outlet Global Times urged readers to stop buying and selling the iPhone 6 on the black market. According to the op-ed, people are smuggling the iPhone 6 into China by hiding it in boxes of coffee and tea, and even in one case, underwear; customs officials in Shenzhen, right across the border from Hong Kong, have already confiscated more than 1,800 such iPhones. Citing the long lines in front of U.S. Apple stores, and the headline-making disorder that has broken out among Chinese people trying to buy as many iPhones as possible for resale, the Times claims such behavior is "shaming" China.
The remedy? Purchasing Chinese smartphones. It so happens that China is increasingly touting the success of its own domestic smartphone industry: Chinese leaders present Chinese-made phones as gifts when visiting foreign countries, Chinese state media run reports contrasting the growing success of Chinese smartphones by makers such as Xiaomi and ZTE with Apple’s shrinking market share, and Shanghai’s municipal government has even issued a new regulation banning local officials from using foreign-made phones, citing security concerns.
A new study by Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, reported on Sept. 26 in state-run Economic Information, shows that many Chinese are ill-prepared for old age, with insufficient assets to support spending after retirement. Urban residents face a mandatory retirement age of 60 for men and as early as 50 for women. Even in rural areas, labor participation is low in China for workers older than 60, particularly women. Pension distribution is also highly unequal, with urban residents and those who have worked in government receiving far more their rural counterparts. But any suggestion of extending retirement age by the government is usually met with resentment and anger from the general public. The problem, in other words, is likely to get worse before it gets better.
"If we buy Russian gas, we’ll lose $25 billion," claims a widely read Sept. 26 blog post on Internet giant Sohu’s website. The post argues that while China has treated Russia like an "older brother and an old friend" ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has not reciprocated. In negotiations over a 30-year, $400 billion gas deal signed in May, Russia "continually raised the price" and asked for (and got) a $25 billion pre-payment.
Western sanctions towards Russia have brought China and Russia the closest they’ve been in decades, with the May deal, joint military exercises, and another possible gas deal on the horizon. Yet Chinese popular distrust towards Russia runs deep, and a warming of relations between the two countries still rests on a shaky foundation.
And finally: Chengdu is terrified of a blue, animated Japanese cat.
After a Doraemon exhibit opened at a local shopping center, three newspapers in the western Chinese city of Chengdu have accused the beloved Japanese cartoon character, a robotic blue cat (pictured above), of "diluting the pain of Chinese national historical memory" and functioning as a "strategy to export Japanese national and cultural values," thus leading Chinese to "forget" history.
Despite strong anti-Japanese sentiment at both the grassroots and official levels in China, the soft power of Japanese cultural and tech products remains strong there. But when relations between East Asia’s two great powers are especially tense, as they have been this year, Japanese imports, businesses, and cultural products can become targets of boycotts or even vandalism.
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a contributing writer at Foreign Policy, where she covers Chinese government influence in the United States. @BethanyAllenEbr