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refers to a group of small islands to the northeast of Taiwan. (Diaoyu: to fish; Tai: terrace.)

For the past two months now, a heated issue has aroused extreme fury from the Chinese all over the world. It is a territorial dispute with Japan over the uninhabited island group - Diaoyutai. As early as the 16th century, Diaoyutai had already appeared in Chinese documents and had been regarded as part of Chinese territory. The Japanese, on the other hand, only claimed to "discover" the islets in the late 19th century, and named them the Senkakus. In 1971 the US government transferred the rights of administration over these islets to the Japanese, without, however, admitting that Japan has the sovereignty.

The importance of Diaoyutai is not in the desolate island itself. It is in the rumored rich oil reserves underneath, and the fishing rights over that area. And symbolically, to the Chinese, Diaoyutai is a clear thermometer of Japanese expansionist sentiment.

In July 1996, a group of Japanese rightists sailed to Diaoyutai to set up a lighthouse and placed a Japanese flag over the rocky hills. This action immediate touched off waves of furious protests against the Japanese from Chinese communities all over the world. Japanese flags were burned, memories of Japanese war crimes were refreshed, Japanese department stores in Hong Kong and Taipei were blockaded by angry demonstrators, and Japanese embassies in various countries were inundated with protest letters, phone calls, e-mails, and faxes from patriotic Chinese.

The culmination of this anger was the dispatch of the ship, "Protecting Diaoyutai" (Baodiao Hao), by Hong Kong Diaoyutai activists, on September 22. This is an entirely civilian movement, without any backing from the two Chinese governments (on the mainland and Taiwan), who have played dumb all this time. Originally, the activists planned to land on Diaoyutai, destroy the Japanese lighthouse, and take down the Japanese flag. By the 26th, the ship has arrived at the Diaoyutai area and encountered numerous helicopters and military vessels of the Japanese government to prevent the ship from getting near the main island. Ten Hong Kong activists, refusing to let the Japanese government foil their plan, jumped into the tumultuous sea with the intention to swim for a while to assert the Chinese sovereignty. However, tragedy happened. One of them was injured, and CHEN Yuxiang (David Chan) was drowned - this was the first casualty or the first martyr of the Sino-Japanese tension, 1996 edition.

For more information, check out these Web sites:

Diaoyu Island Special (A general introduction to the issue and related links)

Diaoyutai History Page (Complete history on the Diaoyu Islands)

Map of Diaoyutai (A map of Diaoyutai)

Diaoyutai Update (The latest update on the issue)

Diaoyutai Defense Coalition of Northern California (News articles in English and more links)


Living in high-rise apartments has gradually become a common experience for people in Beijing and Shanghai. To transport residents up and down these twenty some-story buildings, there are usually elevators. However, to reduce tear and wear, oftentimes only one of the two elevators is in operation, and an elevator conductor will do the button-pushing for you. In some buildings, the operating rules can be very complicated. For example, two elevators will run alternately each month, and one month only even-number floors will get service, and next month, the elevator will stop at odd-number stories. Residents have to remember the rules well to avoid waiting in vain.

The elevator conductors, divided into several shifts, work from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with a lunch break. During the off hours, the elevator service simply stops, and if a resident on the twenty-fourth floor happens to be arriving home late, then, sorry, please use the stairs. As a result, many high-rise residents schedule their life according to the time table of the elevator: no late night activities, don't try to go up and down during lunch time, and so forth.


One third of the sixty thousand taxis in Beijing are vans. They are called miandi. Mian stands for mianbao (bread). The connection lies in the shape of a van, which looks like a loaf of bread to the Chinese eyes. As for the di part, it came from Hong Kong, where the Cantonese-speaking people Cantonized the English word taxi into dishi. To hear the sound of this word, see the New Words section above.


China has transformed beyond recognition! - an observation shared by all returning visitors to mainland China. Since the opening-up policy that began in the early 1980s, economic development in mainland China has advanced at ferocious pace. Doing business, making money and improving one's life are now lauded; the old socialist's negative attitude toward money has all but disappeared. In movies from the 1950s, capitalists are always depicted as the bad guys - fat, sinister looking and all that. But now, numerous TV dramas portray merchants positively - hard working, creating job opportunities, helping the less fortunate and so on. This new image of the money-maker truthfully reveals what the Chinese nowadays aspire to be.

Language is most sensitive to and reflective of social changes. Here we provide a few examples of lexical changes to further illustrate this shift in contemporary Chinese societies.

XIA1 HAI3 (xia hai: to get into the sea). Traditionally, XIAHAI means "to give up a respectful profession and enter a disdained one" (such as actors, singers, businessmen). Nowadays, it seems more likely that the ocean refers to the sea of economic opportunities. So XIAHAI means to jump on the bandwagon of money makers.

No one really cares if an ordinary individual is going to xia hai to make money; but it creates great worries when writers, professors - i.e., intellectuals - also diving into the ocean of money. Before TV became a household item in the late 1980s, the major form of entertainment for mainland Chinese was reading. In those days, literature and its creators enjoyed unprecedented respect and attention from their enormous audience. But now, TV shows, movies, and Karaoke singing have taken away the once devoted followers of literature. Some writers, in view of the dwindling readership, have decided to set aside their creative duties and dived! The news about the famous writer ZHANG Xianliang becoming the head of a business adventure generated a lot of criticism on the mainland. To moralists, his action almost symbolized the crumbling of social conscience under the tantalizing call of materialism. What Zhang has truly offended was not just the socialist ideal, but the traditional Chinese belief that an intellectual should never mar his prestige by lowering himself to the rank of merchants - the blood-suckers of the society. (Zhang's most famous novel "The Other Half of Man is Woman" has been translated into English. Not a great work; however, it does reflect the mentality and experiences of his generation.)

"To dive or not to dive" is indeed troubling the Chinese intellectuals, who can be loosely defined as those with university degrees. The dilemma is vividly depicted in the novel Yi di jimao (Chicken Feathers Everywhere - chicken feathers refer to trivia) by LIU Zhenyun. The protagonist Little Lin is a college graduate assigned to a post of small clerk in a generic government bureau, where the atmosphere is for sure suffocating, both literally and figuratively. At the beginning, he is young, bouncy, and mutely rebellious, but gradually he is pressured by all the trivia of managing to get married, to get housing, to get promotion, and to get his daughter into a good kindergarten, etc. As expected, he simply looses all his edge and becomes just as slippery as his colleagues. The process of Little Lin's corruption would give chills even to Kafka. At the end of the novel, Little Lin begins to his friend selling roast ducks on the streets. He is embarrassed at first, but soon the extra income builds up his confidence and restores his pride.

When this novel was dramatized for TV in 1993 (?), the author/playwright changed the ending. Despite of the good money coming from selling fish, Little Lin is still debating within himself whether to stay on his government job or just go xiahai? This TV series is very well-made and has received nice feedback from viewers; however, it was soon banned by the Chinese government. Was it too negative and degenerating as the government claimed? Or was it simply too realistic and too close for everyone's comfort?

No matter what, for a million indecisive Little Lin, there will be a million, if not more, determined Little Lin eager to be part of the 90s version of the "Great Leap Forward." It is no longer surprising to find writers ganging up to produce popular TV dramas or movies. The crossing over from serious literature to pop media is not necessarily a bad move. The quality of soap operas in China has been improving and often surpasses productions in Taiwan and Hong Kong. With viewers having better programs to watch and writers regaining their lost audience, this going xiahai to popular culture is perhaps one of the better outcomes from the waves of economic change.

A final note on xiahai: This phrase connotes a certain degree of reluctance. A person is usually forced to xiahai to do something. For example, a decent woman, driven by poverty, becomes a taxi dancer - in this case xiahai is the perfect word to describe her emotional struggle over her action.

Another word relevant to the great economic change in China is XIAO1FEI4 (consumption). Originally, xiaofei is a formal economic terminology, now it has entered the public domain and has become an everyday jargon that shows up all over in newspapers and daily conversations. The secularization of this word is simply the result of people's need in referring to the very action of consumption, especially conspicuous consumption.

To social critics, extravagance has always been an eyesore. For them, excessive consumption is an abnormal product from the economic development, and is guilty of hedonism, consumerism, and the nouvelle riche mentality. Money corrupts. Well, to be fair, compared to the simple and frugal past, the phenomenon of consumption in China today is really shocking and requires explanation. Professor HUANG Zhijian once categorized these phenomena into eight types of consumption:

1. Chaoqian xiaofei: Advance consumption: referring to spending more than one's income.
2. Xuanyao xiaofei: Show-off consumption: referring to competing with others in money spending.
3. Yumei xiaofei: Ignorant consumption: meaning spending money on worshipping deities. According to Huang's calculation, the annual incense money (donations) spent by the pilgrims to Mt. Heng equals to the annual budget for the country's natural science foundation.
4. Baise xiaofei: White consumption: money used for funerals.
5. Huise xiaofei: Gray consumption: money wasted on bribery. In this respect, Huang estimates that each individual spends approximately RMB $118.00 every year.
6. Yanghuo xiaofei: Foreign goods consumption. Nowadays, other than air, water and fruit, according to Huang, everything else just has to be foreign-made.
7. Hongse xiaofei: Red consumption: expenditure for weddings. Weddings have become very elaborate for the mainland Chinese. It has to be on an auspicious day, in a nice hotel, with the bride in full bridal dress, and the groom in western suit. Before the wedding, the couple would go to a wedding photo studio to take artsy photos for memory's sake. This is an influence from Taiwan, where for a decade now a couple just have to take these soft-focus pictures before getting married and display an enlarged one at the wedding. And a professional makeup artist will transform any ordinary woman into a movie star on the day of her wedding.
8. Gualao xiaofei: Scraping-the-old-folks consumption: referring to young people demanding financial help from their parents.

The age of "tightening-up-one's-belt" has certainly past. However, if we look from an economic perspective, only with these da kuan (Chinese terms for big spender) around, the transformation of China toward a glittering and dazzling market economy will be possible.

In Taipei, a highly commercialized society, the word xiaofei (consumption) is employed in daily conversation in the most conceited (and bizarre) ways. For example, you enter a very fashionable hair salon, the receptionist would ask you, "What kind of consumption would you like to make today?" You reply, "What kinds of consumption do you offer?" The receptionist answers, "Hair wash, cut and perm." Similarly, shopping in a store is phrased as "doing consumption there", and not "buying." This conscious highlighting of the term "consumption" can be read as a way to justify spending a lot and charging a lot. All for the sake of economic growth - both service providers and service requesters would tell you - only through big or small consumption, the prosperity of our society is guaranteed. It seems everyone has taken Economy 101.