Chinese Bureaucracy 宦海风波...

April 21, 2009
Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says

BEIJING — “Ma,” a Chinese character for horse, is the 13th most common family name in China, shared by nearly 17 million people. That can cause no end of confusion when Mas get together, especially if those Mas also share the same given name, as many Chinese do.

Ma Cheng’s book-loving grandfather came up with an elegant solution to this common problem. Twenty-six years ago, when his granddaughter was born, he combed through his library of Chinese dictionaries and lighted upon a character pronounced “cheng.” Cheng, which means galloping steeds, looks just like the character for horse, except that it is condensed and written three times in a row.

The character is so rare that once people see it, Miss Ma said, they tend to remember both her and her name. That is one reason she likes it so much.

That is also why the government wants her to change it.

For Ma Cheng and millions of others, Chinese parents’ desire to give their children a spark of individuality is colliding head-on with the Chinese bureaucracy’s desire for order. Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one, complete with color photos and embedded microchips. The new cards are harder to forge and can be scanned at places like airports where security is a priority.

The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that Miss Ma and at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.

Moreover, the situation is about to get worse or, in the government’s view, better. Since at least 2003, China has been working on a standardized list of characters for people to use in everyday life, including when naming children.

One newspaper reported last week that the list would be issued later this year and would curb the use of obscure names. A government linguistics official told Xinhua, the state-run news agency, that the list would include more than 8,000 characters. Although that is far fewer than the database now supposedly includes, the official said it was more than enough “to convey any concept in any field.” About 3,500 characters are in everyday use.

Government officials suggest that names have gotten out of hand, with too many parents picking the most obscure characters they can find or even making up characters, like linguistic fashion accessories. But many Chinese couples take pride in searching the rich archives of classical Chinese to find a distinctive, pleasing name, partly to help their children stand out in a society with strikingly few surnames.

By some estimates, 100 surnames cover 85 percent of China’s citizens. Laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” is a colloquial term for the masses. By contrast, 70,000 surnames cover 90 percent of Americans.

The number of Chinese family names in use has tended to shrink as China’s population has grown, a winnowing of surnames that has occurred in many cultures over time.

At last count, China’s Wangs were leading with more than 92 million, followed by 91 million Lis and 86 million Zhangs. To refer to an unidentified person — the equivalent of “just anybody” in English — one Chinese saying can be loosely translated this way: “some Zhang, some Li.”

The potential for mix-ups is vast. There are nearly enough Chinese named Zhang Wei to populate the city of Pittsburgh. Nicknames are liberally bestowed in classrooms and workplaces to tell people apart. Confronting three students named Liu Fang, for example, one middle-school teacher nicknamed them Big, Little and Middle.

Wang Daliang, a linguistics scholar with the China Youth University for Political Science, said picking rare characters for given names only compounded the problem and inconvenienced everyone. “Using obscure names to avoid duplication of names or to be unique is not good,” he wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

“Now a lot of people are perplexed by their names,” he said. “The computer cannot even recognize them and people cannot read them. This has become an obstacle in communication.”

But Professor Zhou Youyong, dean of Southeast University’s law school, said the government should tread carefully in issuing any new regulation. “The right to name children is a basic right of citizens,” he said.

Miss Ma said that while her given name was unusual, bank employees, passport control clerks and ticket agents had always managed to deal with it, usually by writing it by hand. But when she tried to renew her identity card last August, she said, Beijing public security officials turned her down flat.

“Your name is so troublesome and problematic,” she recalled an official telling her. “Just change it.”

Miss Ma argues that the government’s technology should adapt, not her.

“There were no such regulations when I was born, so I should be entitled to keep my name for my whole life,” she said. If she changes her name to get an identity card, she noted, it will be wrong on all of her other documents, like her passport and university diploma.

Besides, she said, “I can’t think of another, better name.”

Using the time-honored Chinese method of backdoor connections, Miss Ma was able to get a temporary card in January. She must renew it every three months but considers that a small sacrifice for keeping her name.

Zhao C., a 23-year-old college student, gave up the fight for his. His father, a lawyer, chose the letter C from the English alphabet, saying it was simple, memorable and stood for China.

When he could not get a new identity card in 2006, Zhao C. sued. But security officials convinced him that it would cost millions of dollars to alter the database, his father said, so he dropped the suit in February.

His case might suggest that resistance against China’s powerful bureaucracy was futile. Still, the government’s plan to limit the use of characters has not gone all that smoothly.

The new rules were originally supposed to be issued by 2005. Now, 70 revisions later, they have yet to be put in place.

An official this week batted away questions, saying publicity might delay the rules even longer.

Huang Yuanxi contributed research.


Friday February 20, 2009: NongKai-->Bangkok

I'm sitting in my hotel room in NongKai, Thailand as write this, yes, hotel room. I had not planned this but I think I had better start from the beginning. Please excuse me as i eat my peanut butter toast... yum. Yes mom, thanks to the Scandinavian Bakery in Vientiane, Laos it is finally whole wheat!!

OK this morning, Friday February 20, 2009, I got a very early start. I had woken up multiple times, probably due to my excitement about crossing the Lao-Thai border today, and finally got out of my dorm bed at Mixay guest house (35kip at night) at 6:15am and left the building (after they slowly checked my room for stolen/broken/missing items) at 6:45. Danielle (Aussie I have been traveling with for the past 3 days) was not yet up so left without her. The first "International Bus" Vientiane-NongKai leaves Talat Sao (central) Bus Station in Vientiane at 7:30am, which is located maybe 1km from my guest house, so I figured I would walk until I came across a tuktuk that would give me a reasonable price or just walk the whole way. I only had, maybe, 50,000k on me and I knew I needed 15,000k ($1.79usd) for the bus so I needed to find one that would take me for the right price. Many of the tuktuks in the "tourist" area of Vientiane have a printed list of prices they pull out. The prices are hugely inflated and I won't pay 60,000kip to get to a place that is so close and should only cost 10,000-15,000kip. After a little while, I found a tuktuk to take me the rest of the way for 15,000k and we headed off.

When I arrived at the bus station, I've been here 3 times before, I went to the counter pulled out the money and my passport and proceeded to buy my ticket. They also charged an additional 2,000k for "Thai immigration" although how my paying the state run Lao Bus System for Thai immigration makes sense, I'm not sure. As a side note you can also buy your ticket in Thai baht for 55b ($1.62usd). I paid for it in Kip because once you leave Laos any money you have left over is as good as monopoly money and cannot really be exchanged any other place. (Although it can be exchange within Laos, as I did exchange 400,000k into Thai baht yesterday).

After that I walked to the benches ad put my bags down so I could rearrange my documents and money in my money belt (which I never thought I would use but has been invaluable to my peace of mind). While I was doing this an older Lao man turned to me and started talking. Supposedly he lives in Philadelphia... not sure if he does or not but he just kept rattling on. I finally excused myself to go buy some water and grabbed my bags and ran. I really did need to buy water but I also wanted to sit someplace quite and relax. After buying the water (2,000k) I met a man from Sweden (one of many in Laos, I have found) and started to talk with him. We were both headed to Thailand on the same bus. Then, the old man from before came over and started talking to me again... finally he went away. By then it was time to board the bus. They did a funny thing and reassigned seats and stapled this new seat number on to our bags as they tossed them into the undercarriage. I noticed latter that they never checked to see if we had the corresponding scrap of paper when we grabbed our bags so I' not sure what point this served.

We made it through Lao customs/immigration quickly. I was a little worried since I had seen the Swedish man's Los visa. Unlike mine, which is a page in my passport filled with like 5 stamps, his was similar to any other visa (big embossed sticker). Obviously they just do it a little differently on the China-Lao border since it did not seem to be a problem.

Then we headed off to Thai immigration by crossing the "Friendship Bridge" which was built over the Mekong River by the Australian Government just a few years ago as part of an aid package. As of November 2008 US citizens can only receive 15 day entries when crossing into Thailand by land. However, if you arrive my air you still receive the requisite 30 days. No matter what it is free and I received just one quick stamp and was admitted into Thailand. I was also given a departure card and told by the Swedish man not to loose it or I might miss my departing flight trying to get a new one. I'll certainly make sure to hold onto it! The Swedish man was also nice enough to talk to another passenger and found out that he was also headed to the train station, about 2km from the bus station, and let me know.

Once we reached NongKai, Thailand and disembarked the bus I found this gentleman, Richard, an Aussie and together we hopped on a tuktuk to the train station (cheaper this way). Turns out he speaks Thai!!! Once at the train station he did all the talking and found out there were still 4 2nd class sleeper beds available. There are 2 night trains from NongKai to Bangkok every day (18:25 and 19:25) so they are very busy to have both almost fully booked. We were VERY lucky! I bought one right away, as did he, for 488b. In Laos they were selling these tickets through agencies for at least 750b, what a rip off. This was the reason I left on the first daily International Bus for if I had come any later I am certain there would have been only 2nd class seats or 3rd class hard seats (shared wooden benches, icky!). Anyway, the Aussie had just come down from Luang Prabang on the 9+ hour night bus and wanted a place to rest. He asked me what my plans were and invited me to get a room too. He talked to the tuktuk driver (same one) and the tuktuk took us to one of the cheap (but still nice) establishments. The owner of this hotel was nice and after the Aussie (still don't know his name) told him we only wanted rooms for the day, dropped the price from 300b to 200b. My room is big and has a bathroom and patio.

Before hitting the hay we walked along the river and grabbed an amazing lunch of fried chicken on rice with a spicy sauce and celentro. Did I say it was AMAZING!!!? But, most importantly I was able to find an ATM very easily and, for the first time in 1 ½ weeks, withdraw money!!! I now have about 3,500 baht (about $100usd). Then I headed back to the hotel, turned the AC on and the passed out on the bed for like 5 house.

Around 5pm I'll head to the Train Station and then on to Bangkok. I should arrive in Bangkok around 6:30am and I guess I'll eat breakfast and then go in search of the hotel Dad booked!


Kraft Reformulates Oreo, Scores in China

MAY 1, 2008
Unlike its iconic American counterpart, the Oreo sold in China is frequently long, thin, four-layered and coated in chocolate. But both kinds of cookies have one important thing in common: They are now best sellers.

The Oreo has long been the top-selling cookie in the U.S. market. But Kraft Foods Inc. had to reinvent the Oreo to make it sell well in the world's most populous nation. While Chinese Oreo sales represent a tiny fraction of Kraft's $37.2 billion in annual revenue, the cookie's journey in China exemplifies the kind of entrepreneurial transformation that Chief Executive Irene Rosenfeld is trying to spread throughout the food giant.

After lackluster sales in the world's most populous country, Kraft Foods Inc. gives its iconic cookie a makeover. See how Kraft is tailoring Oreo cookies to Chinese consumers. WSJ's Julie Jargon reports.

Kraft, the world's second largest food company by revenue, reported a 13% drop in first-quarter net income Wednesday because of high commodity costs and increased spending on product research and marketing. Its international business, which now represents 40% of Kraft's revenue thanks to the company's recent acquisition of Groupe Danone's biscuits business, was a bright spot in the quarter, aided by the weak dollar. Kraft's profit in the European Union rose 48%, excluding special charges, and its profit in developing markets rose 57%.

To try to increase growth at the company, Ms. Rosenfeld has been putting more power in the hands of Kraft's various business units around the globe, telling employees that decisions about Kraft products shouldn't all be made by people at the Northfield, Ill., headquarters.

To take advantage of the European preference for dark chocolate, Kraft is introducing dark chocolate in Germany under its Milka brand. Research in Russia showed that consumers there like premium instant coffee, so Kraft is positioning its Carte Noire freeze-dried coffee as upscale by placing it at film festivals, fashion shows and operas. And in the Philippines, where iced tea is popular, Kraft last year launched iced-tea-flavored Tang. Ms. Rosenfeld has also been encouraging marketers to "reframe" product categories, no longer thinking, for example, that an Oreo has to be a round sandwich cookie.

Oreos were first introduced in 1912 in the U.S., but it wasn't until 1996 that Kraft introduced Oreos to Chinese consumers. Nine years later, a makeover began. Shawn Warren, a 37-year-old Kraft veteran who had spent many years marketing the company's cookies and crackers around the world, arrived in Asia in 2005 and noticed that Oreo's China sales had been flat for the previous five years.

Back then, Kraft was selling the U.S. version of Oreos in China. Albert Einstein's definition of insanity -- doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results -- "characterized what we were doing," says Mr. Warren, vice president of marketing for Kraft Foods International.

The Chinese weren't big cookie eaters. The market for biscuits in fiscal 2007 was just $1.3 billion, compared with $3.5 billion in the U.S. at food retailers excluding Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Mr. Warren assigned his team to a lengthy research project that yielded some interesting findings. For one thing, Kraft learned that traditional Oreos were too sweet for Chinese tastes. Also, the packages of 14 Oreos priced at 72 cents were too expensive.

The company developed 20 prototypes of reduced-sugar Oreos and tested them with Chinese consumers before arriving at a formula that tasted right. Kraft also introduced packages containing fewer Oreos for just 29 cents.
Some Chinese consumers still find the Oreos too sweet. One 30-year-old consumer who was shopping for groceries in the eastern part of Beijing recently, said that he likes the cookie but that "many of my friends think I am a bit weird to stick to Oreo cookies, as most of them think it too sweet to be accepted."

Mr. Warren also noticed China's growing thirst for milk, which Kraft wasn't fully exploiting. In fact, increased milk demand in China and other developing markets -- as well as tighter supplies resulting from recent droughts in milk-producing countries and a reduction of subsidies for European dairy farmers -- has pushed up milk prices around the world. That has put pressure on food manufacturers like Kraft, whose biggest business is cheese, but it has also created opportunity.
In China, Kraft began a grassroots marketing campaign to educate Chinese consumers about the American tradition of pairing milk with cookies. The company created an Oreo apprentice program at 30 Chinese universities that drew 6,000 student applications.

Three hundred of the applicants were trained to become Oreo brand ambassadors. Some of the students rode around Beijing on bicycles outfitted with wheel covers resembling Oreos and handed out cookies to more than 300,000 consumers. Others held Oreo-themed basketball games to reinforce the idea of dunking cookies in milk. Television commercials showed kids twisting apart Oreo cookies, licking the cream center and dipping the chocolate cookie halves into glasses of milk.

Ms. Rosenfeld calls the bicycle campaign "a stroke of genius that only could have come from local managers. The more opportunity our local managers have to deal with local conditions will be a source of competitive advantage for us."

Still, Kraft realized it needed to do more than just tweak its recipe to capture a bigger share of the Chinese biscuit market. China's cookie-wafer segment was growing faster than traditional biscuit-like cookies, and Kraft was trailing rival Nestlé SA, the world's largest food company by revenue, which had introduced chocolate-covered wafers there in 1998.

So in China in 2006 Kraft remade the Oreo itself, introducing for the first time an Oreo that looked almost nothing like the original. The new Chinese Oreo consisted of four layers of crispy wafer filled with vanilla and chocolate cream, coated in chocolate. Kraft developed a proprietary handling process to ensure that the chocolate product could be shipped across the country, withstanding the cold climate in the north and the hot, humid weather in the south, yet still be ready to melt in the mouth.

Tailoring Western brands to Eastern tastes isn't a new idea, but it has proved more difficult for some companies than others. When Campbell Soup Co. tried to enter China in the early 1990s, it sold the same ready-to-eat soups found in American grocery stores and they flopped. Now, Campbell is trying to crack the Chinese soup market again with flavorful broths it hopes will fit with the Chinese tradition of making soup from scratch.

Yum Brands Inc. has had success in China with its KFC fried-chicken chain by offering menu items familiar to Chinese consumers, such as congee, or rice porridge, and the Dragon Twister, a sandwich wrap filled with chicken, Peking duck sauce, cucumbers and scallions. Some of Nestlé's snack wafers in China come in such flavors as sesame and red bean.

Kraft's Oreo efforts have paid off. In 2006, Oreo wafer sticks became the best-selling biscuit in China, outpacing HaoChiDian, a biscuit brand made by the Chinese company Dali. The new Oreos are also outselling traditional round Oreos in China, and Kraft has begun selling the wafers elsewhere in Asia, as well as in Australia and Canada. Kraft has also introduced wafer rolls, a tube-shaped wafer lined with cream, in China. The hollow cookie can be used as a straw through which to drink milk.

Over the past two years, Kraft has doubled its Oreo revenue in China, and with the help of those sales, that revenue topped $1 billion world-wide for the first time last year.

—Sue Feng contributed to this article
Write to Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page B1


来临春节The Coming of Spring Festival...

View from my Stairwell
Originally uploaded by Alexandra Lord
Out with the old in with the new. This is how the Chinese begin to celebrate 春节Spring Festival/过年 Chinese New Year. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom, new electronics are bought, and the old is put to the side, (or as the case may be, in the stairwell for others to dispose of). Here, in my humble abode, I have done none of this cleaning! Instead, in recognition of this holiday, I am taking it easy. I scoured the entire apartment when I first moved in and therefore cannot bear the thought of doing it again so soon. However, if a Chinese friend of mine were to ask if I am participating in this traditional ritual I would of course reply in the affirmative!


Saying Goodbye to and Era

McKinley headed home today but not before one final blow out. We have an action packed night, hitting some of her favorite Chengdu spots. When morning arrived we had a leisurely brunch at Pete's, our local TexMex hangout, filled with breakfast tacos, cinnamon buns, and laughter. Then, just before she had to rush to the airport we sent her off in style with dinner at our favorite little restaurant. We'll miss her but I know that once we are all back in Seattle we'll see each other!


地震 Earthquake!!!

It even made my Christmas tree sway! So crazy!