There’s nobody there, who makes our breakfast

It is harder and harder to find a Chinese street kitchen or street vegetable market these days in Beijing.

I am just back from Beijing, where small businesses like street kitchens, vegetable markets, small barbershops and much more are being banned not only from the city center, but also from the outskirts. Beijingers have to get their breakfast at a canteen or a restaurant now instead of walking around the corner to get their breakfast from a street kitchen. They have to do their grocery shopping in supermarkets.

By banning small enterprises and their owners from the city the government planned, among other things, to decrease the number of cars on the streets. Well, the fact, now that more and more Beiingers have to drive to supermarkets, rather increases the number of cars in the streets that are anyway congested.

Today a rental bicycle can be picked up in many places by unlocking it with a card. The bicycle is then dropped at the destination simply by locking it. However, there are no more bicycle repair people at street corners and under the bridges in case you have a small problem with your rental bike. They have disappeared as well.

Not only small shop owners have been forced to close down their businesses and leave Beijing. Also unskilled labor living in cheap housings complexes have to leave their homes and go back to their home villages, if they can afford the travel cost. The houses are pulled down and new, better ones are built.


Why is this happening?

“In China, people are supposed to receive their government benefits, such as health care and social security, according to the city where their hukou or household registration, is recorded. Over past decades, the hukou system became slightly more flexible to encourage people to leave the land and take up jobs. But amid increasing traffic jams, limited water resources and notorious air pollution, Beijing has recently launched a series of campaigns to force migrant workers out of the city, including attempts to tear down neighborhood shops and markets where they work, and prevent their children from entering local schools.”

“Beijing officials have targeted a 15% cut in population of the downtown districts from 2014 levels within the next two years. That amounts to a reduction of about two million people, and authorities have also a plan to demolish 40m square metres of illegal housing.”

“City officials deny they are seeking to banish Beijing’s estimated 8 million migrant workers and claim their focus is saving lives by clamping down on illegal, unsafe and overcrowded buildings. Last week Beijing’s Communist party chief announced that ensuring safety and stability was now his biggest political task.”

“President Xi describes the evictions as part of  a broader bit to control Beijing’s 20 million-plus population and “beautify” its traffic-clogged streets. I like the vision they have: they want to turn Beijing into a less crowded, more green place,” Xi Lin, says, but I think the method is too harsh. Way too harsh.”

“In Banjieta village, on Beijing’s north-western fringe, scavengers comb through the ruins of another recently felled housing estate. They just want us to go home, says Wang Qin, a 46-year-old recycler from Henan province. These officials and Xi Jinping: they don’t want the poor living here.”



The Guardian:




A great book

„To live“ by Yu Hua may seem very Chinese on the surface, but on a deeper level one can detect basic universal traits of the human nature along the way. That is what I love about this book.

“To live” tells the story of Xu Fugui, son of a well-to-do Chinese landowner. Fugui goes thru the stages of his life first totally self-centered, only caring about his own interests, hurting everyone around him and just not caring. In the end he has learnt his lesson, and is satisfied leading the quiet life of a simple peasant.

As a young man, Fugui goes to town; womanizing, gambling, drinking and smoking opium. He marries a patient, kind-hearted woman and has two children. However, his family doesn’t mean anything to him as he travels his journey thru life.

Along the way Fugui loses his family property, works as a farm hand and a soldier. Thanks to the land reform after the revolution of 1949 Fugui gets some land and his family life goes smoothly for a few years. Then his village is made into a commune with all the advantages and disadvantages of such a social structure, corruption being a major disadvantage.

One after the other his family members die. Fugui is old and alone. He buys an old ox to save it from being butchered. “Oxen have feelings just like people do”, says Fuguo and the ox becomes his “family member” as they arrive in his home together.

“To live” is not only the life story of a single person. It also tells the story of a nation going thru huge social changes.

Reading this book, I often thought of what I learnt about myths and legends during my studies of social anthropology. They tell about human beings experimenting with different ways of structuring social life, trying to find out what works and what not. That’s what “To live” is actually about.

The story is told in a most humorous and entertaining way. At the same time it gives a lot of food for serious thought. The language is fluent and colorful. It is easy to imagine the scenes, feel the flow of emotions. This is a deeply humanist book.

Seminar Senioren Uni Luzern 2018

Die einheimischen Religionen Chinas
„Religion ist eine soziale Tatsache“ (Émile Durkheim)

Auch in einem sozialistischen Staat, wie die Volksrepublik China, deren Verfassung auf einer materialistischen Weltanschauung basiert, kann ein reges spirituelles Leben beobachtet werden.

Obwohl Religion nicht zur kommunistischen Staatsideologie passt, werden spirituelle Aktivitäten von der heutigen Regierung geduldet und unter strenger Kontrolle gar propagiert mit der folgenden Begründung: Alles, was dem sozialen Frieden dient ist gut für das Land. Die Praxis der einheimischen spirituellen Glaubenssysteme soll die nationale Identität der Bürger stärken.

In drei Sitzungen wird die Entstehung und die soziale Rolle der folgenden spirituellen Systemen erläutert:

  1. Volksreligiöse Glaubenssysteme
  2. Der Daoismus
  3. Der Konfuzianismus (eine politische Theorie und Soziallehre, welche heute klar spirituelle Aspekte hat)

Forschungsresultate der Seminarleiterin werden in die Diskussion einfliessen.

Lektüre: Ausgewählte kurze Texte zum jeweiligen Thema werden den Seminarteilnehmern vor der jeweiligen Sitzung zur Verfügung gestellt.


Celebrating marriage

New trends from the West, old traditions from the home country

A little story about a wedding party photo session that I happened upon a few years ago in a middle class Beijing hotel:

I had left my room to go to my Chinese class as I saw a wedding party having pictures taken in front of the hotel. Nothing special about that. But when they saw me, the only “long nose with yellow hair” far and wide, the groom literally grabbed me and I was made to a “guest of honor” not really understanding what was happening with me.

The young couple were farmers from a little village not far from the capital. They and their families had been saving a long time to make this wedding party possible. Having it in a Beijing hotel was grand, having a “foreign guest” made it obviously even grander. Much of it was obviously about gaining face.

After so many pictures had been taken of the couple with me, parents and parents-in-law with me, all the other guests with me, and I had been given three bags of wedding candy I was finally able to excuse myself and go to my class.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my own camera nor smart phone ready so I have no pictures from this occation.


The following two stories are examples of two extreme ways of celebrating marriage in today’s China.

The first story is based on an article from the Guardian, April 2011. (

Chinese couple marry in ceremony inspired by British royal wedding

Royal wedding inspires couple to marry with ‘royal carriage’ theme surrounded by guards in furry hats and scarlet coats.



It was a wedding fit for a British princess, but by the increasingly elaborate standards of the Chinese elite it looked almost modest.

The parade involved 50 people, a dozen cars and two horses. It was led by four women wearing white dresses and floral wreaths on their heads carrying a square banner in red, white and blue with the couple’s names printed on it.

The couple waved regally from their horse-drawn carriage as they rode through the eastern city in a procession costing 50,000 yuan (£4,600). Lavish wedding celebrations are becoming increasingly popular in China and the industry is said to be growing by as much as 20% a year.

While the legal procedures are a bargain – it costs less than a pound to register a marriage – banquets can include hundreds of guests. A growing number of wealthy couples have added ceremonies, which can mix western or old-fashioned Chinese rituals with a dash of the unexpected – such as Mickey Mouse appearing to help with proceedings.

Wedding planner Hu Lu, who arranged the procession, said the “royal carriage” theme was increasingly popular and three more couples had already booked it for next month. “Every bride wants to be princess Snow White when they get married,” she said.

Another wedding held the same year, reportedly for the daughter of a coal mining boss in Shanxi province, was said to have cost 6m yuan. Photographs circulated on the internet showed a procession composed of Rolls-Royces, Ferraris, and Mercedes cars with several cameramen filming from Jeeps.


The second story is based on an article in the Taiwan Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Issue 20), Dec. 2013

Remodeling Confucian Wedding Rituals to Address China’s Youth Culture Today


In response to social and cultural problems two intellectuals in China have offered different versions of wedding rituals based on the Confucian Classics in order to restore ritual as a powerful tool for individual, family, social and national renewal.

Zhu Jieren 朱杰人, former director and current CEO of East China Normal University Press, planned a “modern version” of the wedding ceremony from Zhu Xi’s Family Rituals (朱子 家禮) for his son’s ceremony in Shanghai in 2009.

Zhang Xianglong 張祥龍, a philosophy professor at Peking University in Beijing, orchestrated a more antique Confucian wedding for his son in Beijing in 2010.

Both Zhu and Zhang aimed at giving new life to classical rites and leading participants to reconnect to traditional aesthetics and values. Zhu Jieren asserts that a wedding is an affair of the parents, the extended family, the society, and ultimately the whole country. In his view, weddings teach people that they have a responsibility, not only to their own parents, but also to the larger family, the entire society and to Nature.

Ultimately, Zhu Jieren does not only want to campaign against the “spiritual pollution” of “Western ills,” but he wants even more to reconnect younger generations with their ancestors and their society through hierarchical respect.

This is my favorite wedding picture (2012) . It shows my best Chinese friend Xiao Yan with her husband Lu surrounded by her family and their friends in her hometown about 400 km SW of Beijing.dsc_0467


The same couple enjoyed later a relaxed and uncomplicated wedding dinner party in a Beijing restaurant with working colleagues and friends including the above mentioned “yellow-haired long nose”.



Qi gong 气功

After a brake of quite a few years I joined a qi gong class again. The meditative slow movements that require the practitioner’s full concentration are good for my body and soul. In my hometown Bern more than 20 schools offer their courses in the Internet.

Qi gong has a long history in China. It was introduced to the West in the 1980’s when China opened up.

Qi gong (“work on life energy”) includes different kinds of breathing as well as more or less gentle and smooth stretching exercises and stationary postures. While doing the exercises one should be fully concentrated on the exercise, on being here and now. The slow and gentle movements of meditative, healing qi gong can be done also in advanced age and with restricted physical ability. This is the kind of qi gong I do.

Other styles of qi gong are more vigorous as parts of taiji 太極and gongfu功夫exercises. The different schools and styles may focus on different aspects of qi gong. However, they all share the aim of enhancing the well-being of the practitioner.

What happens during a qi gong practice? In the physical sense, muscle coordination and joints are activated and blood-circulation is intensified. One feels a kind of prickle in the hands and feet during the exercise. As for the mind, fully concentrating on the exercises and forgetting about everything else around you is a wonderfully refreshing experience.

There is no scientific data on the physical effects of qi gong. The perception remains subjective. After a training session my head feels refreshed and relaxed. As my muscles and joints have been worked on also my body feels good. That’s enough.

End of one-child policy

After more than 30 years of practicing the one-child policy that was to slow down the population growth, the Chinese government allows Chinese couples now to have two children. The one-child policy has always allowed for exceptions, e.g. for members of ethnic minorities and rural couples. Since 2015 all families can now have two children. As the birth rate is declining since 2018, families are even encouraged to have a second child.

Why the change of policy? The reasons have to do with the demographic development of the country. Who should care for the aging population and what about the fact that there are less and less people, who support a growing number of others, who do not generate an income? Not only are the numbers of aging people rising dramatically, but there is also a gender imbalance due to which millions of men are not able to find marriage partners.

“The UN estimates that by 2050 China will have about 440 million people over 60. The working-age population – those between 15 and 59 – fell by 3.71 million last year.” However, “experts said the relaxation of family planning rules is unlikely to have a lasting demographic impact, particularly in urban areas where couples are now reluctant to have two children because of the high cost. Just because the government says you can have another child, it doesn’t mean the people will immediately follow,” said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science.” (The Guardian 30. Oct.2015).

Many people are of the opinion that the state should stop controlling family planning altogether. As Stuart Gietel-Basten (BBC) puts it: “Even if people are allowed to have two children, what if they want to have three children or more? What if unmarried women want to have their own children? At the end of the day, it’s about women’s reproductive rights and freedoms.”

During my travels in China during the past 15 years I have often been told that the one-child policy has not really been practiced nor controlled consequently. For example, wealthy couples able to pay the extremely high penalty for having a second child have done that. Furthermore, due to fertility treatments, pregnancies with two or even more babies are acceptable. Couples have been allowed to keep both or all children even before the new regulations became effective.

As for preferring boys to girls, also here a trend shift seems to be taking place. Today young men move away from home as their work may require relocation. Daughters-in-law are no longer reliable care takers for the aging parents. Some people believe that daughters are more reliable that is daughters-in-law, in this respect. So baby girls are now more welcome than they were in earlier times when the only officially sanctioned child should preferably have been a boy.

Links for further reading:

The Guardian:



Smoking forbidden in outdoor public spaces in China as of June 1. 2015

smoking ban (2)


A cigarette in China may be solace from the drudgery of work. And it may be entry into a club of card-playing men and fuel for a night of drunken deal making as Nathan Vanderklippe puts it.

However, the new ban has been justified by concern about health issues. The goal of the smoking ban is to protect non-smokers against second-hand smoke and create a social environment that will put pressure on smokers to quit. It should also be another major step for China moving towards modernity.

Not only places like offices, shopping malls, restaurants, bars and airports should become smoke-free. Also many outdoor public places such as the areas outside kindergartens, schools and hospitals will be required to be smoke-free.

There are supervision hot-lines that people can call to report violations. Anyone breaking the law will be fined: Individuals must pay between 10 and 200 yuan (up to $32), businesses up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600). And anyone who breaks the law three times will find themselves named and shamed on a government website. Not a small thing in a culture, in which losing face is still a shame.

Katie Hunt, CNN reports: “Perhaps no one is happier than the World Health Organization, which worked closely with Beijing to write an anti-smoking law that stands to be among the most influential on earth. If it works, it will serve as the template for national Chinese rules and make Beijing an example for the entire Asian region.”

A comment from a smoker: “If you want to stop smoking, it would be better to shut down the tobacco companies – but that’s impossible, because tobacco is so profitable for government.” Full 7 per cent of China’s state revenues supposedly comes from tobacco.

Beijingers make jokes about the “clearly cleaner” air due to the ban. The air may not be generally cleaner because less people smoke outside, but it is certainly much cleaner in Beijing restaurants now than say even 5 years ago. According to my experience people not only smoke much less in restaurants, men also drink less hard liquor. The ambience is definitely getting more and more pleasant.

My sources: