B; it’s more than a letter, much less than love

Couplets and rhymes circulate as text messages on Chinese cell phones and as scratched graffiti on walls. Although economic class and levels of education may separate texters from scratchers, nevertheless, the spirit of the message and the understanding of what it means to be human — especially and unfortunately about gender relations — is often the same.

The above poem reads:

God created virgins; men created women; women created babies; men give love to get cunt; women give cunts to give love.

Compare with earlier texts for a sense of how misogyny circulates in Shenzhen.

poor but honest farmers? that’s the buzz…



Country people raise their children on three sentences: 1. kid, your parents are useless, you’ll have to depend on yourself; 2. kid, to accomplish anything, first you have to be a good person, never do anything that would harm anyone else; 3. kid, let go and give it your best shot, in the worst case, if you come home there’ll still be food to eat.

City people harm their children with three sentences: 1. darling, all you have to do is study, daddy and mommy will take care of the rest; 2. darling, always remember you can’t loose out to anyone else; 3. I’m telling you, if you don’t sit down and study, when you grow up you grow up, you’ll have nothing to eat!

’nuff said.

if we are what we eat, what are we becoming?

养生 (yǎng shēng) or taking care of one’s health is a Shenzhen obsession. However, the difficulty of living a healthy life has given rise to cynical takes on the preventative measures of traditional Chinese medicine. A text message currently making the rounds, begs the question, “if we are what we eat, what are we becoming?:


How is Chinese resistance to one hundred toxins cultivated? Get up early, put on a fake namebrand sweatsuit, buy an oil stick fried in gutter oil, cut a tonyred salted egg, pour a glass of melamine milk, go to work. At lunch, have a serving of water-injected meat fried with over-fertilized chives, toxic pig’s blood, have a bowl of repackaged old rice, brew a pot perfumed tea leaves. Get off work, buy a prophylactic fish, carbamide bean sprouts, enhanced tomatoes, a bottle of methanol liquor, clenobuterol hydrochloride ham, and a sulfur steamed bun. After dinner, go to the kiosk, buy a counterfeit novel and DVD. At night, snuggle into a black hearted blanket, sleep…


80s nostalgia

More text message fun; this time 80s nostalgia

We miss the 80s, when medicine still cured illnesses; doctors took care of the sick and dying; people wore clothing for photographs; borrowed money was returned; you didn’t need a paternity test to know who the child’s father was; schools weren’t money making enterprises; being sick was respected; housing was allocated; idiots couldn’t be professors; the married didn’t take second wives; meat could be confidently eaten; rats were afraid of cats; and people had clean consciouses.

怀念1980年代, 那时候药是可以治病的;医生是救死扶伤的;照相是要穿衣服的;借钱是要还的;孩子他爹是不用做鉴定的;学校不是为赚钱的;有了病是看得起的;住房是分配的;白痴是不 能当 教授的;已婚者是不能找二奶的;肉是可以放心吃的;老鼠还是很怕猫的;人还是有良心的。

And sometimes I do wonder (with Rey Chow) if nostalgia is no more than dissatisfaction with the present, looking for an anchor (any anchor) in the past. . .

Life lessons

Chinese politics confound me because they seem complicated and redundant. Fortunately, text messages simplify the problem. Of interest is the way that “family” operates as a metaphor to explain and justify power relationships. Actual job descriptions follow translation:


Reading the newspaper, a little girl asked her mother, “What’s the Party Committee?”

Mom answered, “The Party Committee is your father, who doesn’t do anything all day but yell at people.”

The little girl had another question, “What’s government?”

Mom answered, “Government is your mother, who works all day and still gets yelled at by your father.” Continue reading

revenge of the grandparents

Grandparents do the work of raising the next generation. Here’s a joke making the rounds. Go granny go!

“Good morning. . . .
At present we are not at home but, please leave a message after the beep………

beeeeeppp …
If you are one of our children, press 1 and then select an option from 1 to 8:
If you need us to stay with the grandchildren, press 1
If you want to borrow the car, press 2
If you want us to wash your clothes and do the ironing, press 3
If you want the grandchildren to sleep here tonight, press 4
If you want us to pick up the grandchildren at school, press 5
If you want us to prepare a meal for Sunday or to have it delivered to your home,
press 6
If you want to come to eat here, press 7
If you need money, press 8
If you are going to invite us to dinner, or, taking us to the theater, start talking,
we are listening !!!!!!!!!!!”

why text messages?

As the Christmas decorations have been quickly swept away, Shenzhen has entered Chinese New Year mode. Rabbits are popping up everywhere and every type of text message from year in review to greetings are already circulating. On this blog, I have translated text messages because they provide insight into what my Chinese friends feel is worthwhile (funny, insightful, urgent) commentary on society. Indeed, text message culture (短信文化) has been an important factor in many recent social movements (2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009). Indeed, many speculated that the 2010 crackdown on text-porn was a not-so-subtle attempt to tighten censorship controls.

However, simply describing the effects of texting in Chinese cities overlooks an important question: why is texting so popular? Walk down a Shenzhen street and look into hair salons and dress shops, restaurants and convenience stores, any beautician, salesgirl, waiter, and clerk who is not serving a customer is reading or sending a text. On buses and the subway, in cars and yes, in classrooms and business meetings, movie theaters and restrooms, people are texting. Every Chinese New Year the country sets another world record for texts sent for a holiday.

I don’t understand the allure of texting. In part it’s generational; in high school, our thing were three-hour telephone calls. I still enjoy telephone conversations and really enjoy watching the antics of my nieces and nephews when we skype. In part, it’s skill; I do talk faster then I type in English or Chinese. But that’s not all of it. Chinese friends my age have readily adopted texting and regularly send me all sorts of messages. Indeed, setting up a date may involve a series of texts, rather than a phone call. And although part of the allure may be cost – it’s cheap cheap cheap to text – price doesn’t explain why many Chinese not only text, but also purchase services that allow them to text internationally. In other words, folks in Shenzhen are choosing to text more frequently and regularly than I would; indeed, they text in situations that I would either phone, or, frankly not bother. Indeed, in situations where I find texting intrusive, my friends cheerfully read and respond to a text.

And so here’s some cross-cultural speculation du jour: texting has enabled Chinese people to intensify a cultural preference to be in contact with people they care about and it is that moment of contact that is the true message. This desire to be together explains why it is socially necessary to apologize for not seeing a text message and responding immediately. Moreover, I suspect that text messages can grow into social movements precisely because they carry this underlying desire to be [stand] together. In this sense, text messages function as a constant assurance that a relationship is important. Chinese texters confirm this highly desired and desirable sense of solidarity by responding properly to a message. Sometimes that response is texting a smile, sometimes it is going to the restaurant, sometimes it is taking to the street to protest.

As with all speculation about how technology makes, unmakes, and restructures social relationships, the next question is how much quality time is necessary to keep the emotive message of texts resonant. What happens when relationships dissolve into nothing more than text messages? And how much text message-span really is enough to prompt some kind of counter apps? In the meantime, I’m reviewing lists of possible New Year’s messages to choose my contribution to the deluge.

新春佳节不送礼,发条短信祝福你,健康快乐常伴你,好运和你不分离,财神已经跟随你,财源滚滚进袋里,好处全都送给你!(I’m not sending a gift for Spring Festival, I’m sending a text to bless you. May you be healthy and happy. May luck stay with you. May the God of Wealth already accompany you and wealth roll into your pockets. May all good things be given to you!)