Saturday, 30 May 2015

Is China's MINISO Copying Japan's MUJI, UNIQLO and Daiso?

Over the past few years Japanese retailers such as UNIQLO and MUJI have conquered foreign markets, opening shops in cities such as Paris, Berlin or New York and becoming household names in several countries. But the success of their business model seems to have inspired people with dubious intentions.

As the website Daliulian recently showed, a new chain called MINISO, which claims to be a Japanese company selling ‘100% Japanese products’, seems to be nothing more than a knock-off of UNIQLO, MUJI and Daiso, copying their logos, names and even the layout of their stores.

The company’s webpage proudly announces – in terrible English – that “MINISO is a fast fashion designer brand of Japan. Headquartered in Tokyo Japan, Japanese young designer Miyake Jyunya is founder as well as the chief designer of MINISO, a pioneer in global 'Fashion & Casual Superior Products' field.

According to the company’s homepage, MINISO

advocates the philosophy of a simple, natural and quality life and a brand essence of "returning to nature and restoring product nature". She leads the trend of good products for a quality life in the fashion consumption market. It was introduced by a Chinese consortium in 2013 in Guangzhou and has since begun her expansion in China. Miniso always respect customers' needs. She is dedicated to providing customers with quality, creative and low price products. They are also simple, natural and fashionable with prices that are between 10-100 yuan.

Miyake Jyunya, the alleged founder of the brand, is described as the “initiator of global superior products consumption trend, contract designer of many international fashion & casual brands, and founder as well as the chief designer of MINISO, a fashion & casual general merchandise brand of Japan.

But who is Miyake Jyunya? Unfortunately, no reliable information about him is available on the internet. And where is the flagship store the company claims to have in Tokyo? No such shop can appears to exist. It is not surprising that the Hong Kong tabloid Apple Daily called MINISO a “dubious” company.

The website Daliulian revealed in detail why MINISO seems to be no more than a knock-off, a Chinese copy of famous Japanese stores.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

China's Anti-Dog Campaigns

In September 2014 Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China (PRC), reported that in the city of Baoshan, in south-western Yunnan, 4,900 dogs were killed and 100,000 were vaccinated during an anti-rabies campaign. The authorities blamed dogs for the spread of the disease, which had caused five human deaths. Despite the protests of animal activists and dog owners, an order was issued to regulate dog ownership and kill stray dogs. 

In 2009, as many as 37,000 dogs had been culled in Hanzhong, a city in Shaanxi Province, after a rabies outbreak. Over 5,000 people had been bitten by rabid dogs, causing 8 human deaths. The local authorities announced that they would hunt and kill both stray and household dogs. This measure was criticised by netizens, who called it an attempt to create mainland China's first 'dog-free county' (无狗县).

Anti-dog campaigns are not a new phenomenon in Communist China. In fact, the party’s mistrust of dogs and pets as vehicles of mortal diseases dates back to the early days of the regime.

From the Yan’an Years to the 'Five Pests' Campaign

During the Chinese Civil War (1946-1949) the journalist Roy Rowan travelled to the areas controlled by the Communists. He noted that “even hale and hearty canines were exterminated” because they were considered a delicacy and food was too precious to be wasted on pets (Roy Rowan: Chasing the Dragon. A Veteran Journalist's Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, 2004, p. 50). The aversion of the Communists towards dogs had also ideological reasons: they regarded pets as a 'bourgeois pastime', a vestige of the capitalist and feudal society (Brian Hare / Vanessa Woods: The Genius of Dogs, p. 259).

In 1940s China, the sanitary conditions under which the majority of the population lived were miserable. Animals were only one component of the dreadful urban landscape in which the destitute masses lived. “There were thousands of homeless dogs in Peking,” wrote Esther Cheo Ying about early 1950s Beijing. "They wandered the streets, lanes and garbage dumps in packs, fighting with each other and with the pigs for any food scraps and excrement" (Esther Cheo Ying: Black Country to Red China. One Girl's Story from War-torn England to Revolutionary China, 2009, p. 46). 

According to Ralph and Nancy Lapwood, two missionaries returned to Britain after the Communist takeover,

Outside the East Gate of Yenching [燕京, pinyin: Yanjing] lay Ch'eng-fu village ... Rubbish lay in its streets, odd corners and waste patches became public conveniences. Mangy dogs scrounged round the garbage dumps. A stream which ran between Ch'eng-fu and the university wall was a stinking open sewer, with broken-down banks. Whenever it rained the mud roads became ankle deep in sludge (quoted in: S.M. Hilier / Toney Jewell: Health Care and Traditional Medicine in China 1800-1982, p. 68).

After 1949 the Communist state sought to change people’s attitudes towards sports and to improve the overall sanitary situation of the country. Various campaigns were launched to clean up the streets and get rid of animals that could spread dangerous diseases. Clean piped water was made available, dumps were removed and streets were cleaned. Students were encouraged to play sports, casting away the old Confucian contempt for physical activities (ibid., p. 69).

The Lapwoods witnessed first-hand the positive changes that the Communists brought about:

[A]s soon as the People's Army came to be quartered on [Chengfu] village soldiers began to sweep the streets and build proper latrines. Then with the new administration came more basic changes. A system of refuse collection was started and the people became proud of the new appearance of the village. Our cook, who lived there, told us proudly that the village had won a red silk banner for civic responsibility (ibid., p. 68).

Now that the Communist were masters of the country, their old anti-dog policies were adopted nation-wide as part of their attempt at improving public hygiene. By September 1949 dog owners had to register their pets and keep them indoors. In 1950 the culling of even registered dogs began. Some owners handed over their dogs voluntarily. Many others resisted. The police often broke into houses and took the pets away while the owners were absent (Frank Dikötter: The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, 2013, p. 150).

While some of the measures adopted by the new regime undoubtedly had positive effects, the mass campaigns soon escalated. In the early days of the People’s Republic, when ideology, class struggle, denunciations and the killing of thousands of ‘capitalists’ and ‘counterrevolutionaries’ were part of everyday life, even hygiene policies became yet another battlefield of Mao’s permanent revolution.

Bacteriological Warfare and the ‘Five Pests' Campaign

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Man Set Himself on Fire in Front of Taiwan's Presidential Office Building

On May 19 at 16:43 Taipei time a 50-year-old man surnamed Chen set himself on fire in front of Taiwan's Presidential Office Building

According to local reports, the man was walking on Chongqing South Road when he suddenly took out a knife. He was promptly reprimanded by a policeman on guard in front of the presidential office. Subsequently the man proceeded southwards in the direction of Ketagalan Boulevard. Then he stopped, took a lighter and set himself on fire. Reports suggest that he had poured petrol over his body beforehand. The police found an oil drum inside Jieshou Park opposite the presidential palace. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

China Opposes Japan's Bid to Add Meiji Industrial Sites to UNESCO World Heritage

Hashima is an islet of 6.3 hectares lying off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture. From afar, its buildings and high walls, designed to protect it from typhoons, make it look like a fortress, or rather like a battleship, hence its Japanese nickname 'Gunkanjima' (軍艦島), or 'Battleship Island'.

During the Meiji Era (1868-1912) Hashima played an important role in Japan's rapid industrialisation. Coal, the fuel of the first industrial revolution, was abundant in the region. In 1890 Hashima was bought by Mitsubishi, which set up coal-mining facilities. The company transformed the islet into a major industrial site and a pioneering residential area, a model for Japan's industrial and urban development.

Mitsubishi sank vertical shafts of about 200 metres, erected massive walls and carried out land reclamation projects in order to obtain new land for the construction of factories. Due to the demand for labour, workers began to flock to Hashima. The population grew steadily, and in 1916 Mitsubishi built a nine-storey reinforced concrete apartment block - the largest in Japan at the time. Many more residential buildings were constructed over the following decades.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Guomindang and the Victory of the Chinese Communist Party in the Eyes of K.M. Panikkar

In his book "In Two Chinas: Memoirs of a Diplomat", Kavalam Madhava Panikkar (1895 – 1963), an Indian intellectual, journalist, historian and ambassador, born in the Kingdom of Travancore, then part of the British Indian Empire, recounted his impressions of the transition between the Guomindang-led Republic of China (ROC) and the newly founded People's Republic of China (PRC). 

Shortly after India had obtained its independence from Britain, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed Panikkar as India's first ambassador to China (then ROC). During the following two years, Panikkar would experience the chaos and turmoil of the Chinese Civil War, which ended with the complete collapse of the Guomindang regime and its retreat to Taiwan. Panikkar remained in China until 1953. 


What was my general impression of New China? I had spent over two years in Peking in close contact with the leaders of the Central People's Government. I had also lived in Nanking when the Kuomintang regime was still powerful and had witnessed its tragic disintegration and final downfall. I had passed a tiresome period of five months, without any recognized official position, but with freedom to observe the growth of a new society. It was a profoundly interesting experience, full of drama, to witness alike the end of an epoch and the beginning of another, the tragic end of the hopes of a great movement, with the inevitable concomitants of national chaos, personal tragedies, sordid betrayals and confusion all round, and the enthusiastic beginning of a new period, hailed as the dawn of a great era, with new ambitions, great hopes and a widespread sense of optimism.

Three impressions of New China stand out clearly in my mind. One is its undoubted aspect as the culminating event of Asian resurgence. In the controversy aroused by the communist character of its revolution, people, more especially in Europe, have been inclined to overlook this basic fact. This resurgence began with the Kuomintang, and in its early and liberal days it represented the great forward movement of Asian peoples in the intermediate period between the two wars. It was not merely the corruption and the political and military weakness of the Kuomintang regime and its utter dependence on America that had deprived "nationalist" China of its position in the vanguard of Asian awakening, but also the fact that it had ceased to represent the new spirit of Asia. The communist leaders, not because of their communism but because they had a greater appreciation of the change that had come over the Asian mind, showed from the beginning a profound realization of the problems of Asia in relation to the West and to America and were therefore more in sympathy with their neighbours.

Secondly, the new Government in China appeared to me the fulfilment of a hundred years of evolution -- the movement towards a strong central government which the great mandarins of the later Manchu period had themselves initiated. The Kuomintang had carried the movement forward to some extent; had established a Government whose authority extended over a large area of China. External circumstances, the intervention of Japan, the attitude of the great powers, the alliance of the Chinese capitalist classes who had also come to wield great political authority with the capitalists of the West, and the strength of the local war lords in outlying areas had prevented its consummation. With the establishment of the communist régime, there came into existence in China for the first time in history a strong unified central government having authority over the entire area of the old Celestial Empire, from the borders of Siberia to Indo China and from the Pacific to the Pamirs. In the old imperial times, under the Hans, the Tangs, the Yuans, the Mings, and the Manchus, no doubt the Empire had been united under a central authority, but the character of that authority, dependent on the mystique of a Son of Heaven with a divine mandate exercising his control through great viceroys, was different from the all pervasiveness of the Central People's Government with the whole paraphernalia of rail and air communications, telegraph and wireless and, above all, a powerful national army and an indoctrinated and disciplined party spread all over the country. This centralization may or may not be a good thing, but it is a fact of supreme importance as it has converted what was an inchoate mass into a united nation, capable of organizing and bringing into use the immense resources of China. By this process China had become in fact, what it had always claimed to be, a Great Power ...  China had become a Great Power and was insisting on being recognized as such

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Life as a Westerner in Taiwan and Hong Kong

When I came to Hong Kong for the first time back in 2012 I had already lived in Taipei for about half a year. One of the first things that struck me was that people in Hong Kong seemed to have a different attitude towards foreigners than Taiwanese (generally speaking, of course). Even in Taipei, the largest and most international city of the island-state, I always felt as if I were an exotic creature. People talked to me because they were 'curious', or because they wanted to practice their English, or because they regarded me as a guest that they should treat with a politeness reserved for people from faraway lands.  

In Hong Kong, on the contrary, most people seemed to be indifferent to me. They didn't look at me when I took the metro, when I went to public toilets, libraries or restaurants, as it was the case in Taiwan. Obviously, I wasn't a local either in Taiwan or Hong Kong. But in the latter I felt more comfortable. I did not stand out. I was not perceived as an 'alien'. I could just blend with the anonymous crowd. My friends and acquaintances, too, seemed to treat me with more ease. I was neither a superstar nor an attraction, I wasn't a guest that should be impressed through particular gestures of kindness. I was just a person like anyone else.

One of the things that might be troublesome or, according to each one's perspective, enjoyable, in Taiwan, is the fact that some people are not familiar with Western culture, or that they treat foreigners either with exaggerated interest and politeness, or, in some cases, with resentment. I often heard Taiwanese say, "We are nice to foreigners", or "Taiwan is a paradise for foreigners"; I often saw Taiwanese using foreigners as status symbols; on the other hand, I also met Taiwanese who told me, "We are too nice to foreigners", "We are not nice to each other but we are very nice to foreigners". Of course, these two groups do not represent all Taiwanese, but they are examples of certain behaviours I have observed.

But why is it that Hongkongers and Taiwanese seem to have such a different attitude towards foreigners?