Editor’s note: In this second installment, students wrote about bike share apps in China, China-US-Australia, popularity of Korean TV melodramas in China, and North Korean defectors in China. –Guobin Yang
Social Implications of Bike Share Apps in China
China is seeing a major social change in its attitude towards environmental issues. The bike-sharing economy in China, fueled by the start-up culture and venture capitalist investing community, is making big strides to tackle urban congestion and pollution. China’s transition toward a mobile-phone market is a reflection of its technological advancements that ultimately allow for more social functions and crossing social borders. In particular, the bike-sharing apps such as Mobike and Ofo are looking to make a huge social and economic impact with bicycles. At the most fundamental level, the operations of the app are relatively simple. Customers use the app to release a bike’s lock, and bikes can be left anywhere for customers to use. The app also shows where idle bikes are, and so people re-using bikes every day can help create a social impact in every city in terms of “recycling” transportation. The bike-sharing economy does more than benefit just the environment. In my opinion, the bike-sharing app revolution is a net positive for the country in terms of its social implications. Any sort of ride-sharing app allows for communication between people, and the important component to note is that it is more than just communication between people, but also communication across different social levels. These are the interactions that allow for sharing of ideas and culture across individuals from different social, economic, and political backgrounds. Granted, I doubt the wealthy would be participating in this bike-sharing economy since there are car-sharing apps that align better with how they want to be viewed by the public in terms of economic and social standing. The fact that there is a bike-sharing economy and a car-sharing economy might deepen the lines between the wealthy and the poor. However, I do believe that the simple exchange of words, thoughts, and ideas between individuals in the bike-sharing economy facilitates conversation and understanding of other individuals in similar economic and social situations
China is Obsessed with Korean Media
If you asked any TV viewer in China why they were still eating chicken despite the general fear of the avian flu in late 2013 and early 2014, he or she would almost definitely reply something along the lines of, “because Cheon Song-yi’s favorite snack is chimaek (chicken and beer)!” So who is Cheon Song-yi and why would she be able to spark a craze for chimaek in China? As it turns out, Cheon Song-yi is a main character of a Korean romantic melodrama called My Love from the Star.
My Love from the Star is just one example of Korean media capturing an excited audience in mainland China. Just last year, a television series called Descendants of the Sun captivated Chinese audiences, with a new episode gaining 2.3 billion Chinese views in just two days! Chinese social media users saturated discussion forums with conjectures and posts about the show; even many overseas Chinese were not spared. Chinese obsession with Korean media does not stop at just television; from K-pop music to film, this Korean wave, deemed as “Hallyu,” has successfully integrated itself into the fabric of modern Chinese society.
This obsession has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese government for several reasons. Possibly the biggest is economic; My Love from the Star produced around $500 million dollars in economic activity for South Korea, boosting various industries from tourism, to cosmetics and fashion. Even as general exports declined by eight percent, culture product exports increased by 13.2 percent, which helped create jobs in South Korea. Another reason is cultural; some analysts have noted that there is less pride in Chinese culture and more praise for other cultures in China. Perhaps for these reasons the Chinese government posted a warning to the Chinese citizenry warning about the dangers of consuming Korean media. However, with the way that the current trend is going, this Chinese obsession with Korean media is unlikely to fade overnight.
China and Australia
In his first foreign visit after the Lunar New Year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be visiting Australia in the next week. This comes soon after a not-so-pleasant phone conversation between President Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The conversation didn’t go very well, especially because America was supposed to take in a lot of refugees from Australia, which Trump has decided will no longer be happening (click here for more on their phone call, as well as a bunch of pictures of Trump talking on the phone and looking angry). These are interesting times for foreign relations; Australia and the U.S. have been strong allies, but with Trump’s administration, anything could happen. So China might be able to benefit from the U.S. backing out of the TPP, because Australia might be interested in an alternative, Beijing-backed trade deal.
Australia and China are already connected, having signed a free trade agreement in 2015. China is Australia’s biggest trade partner, and received lots of exports from Australia. China also invests a lot in Australian real estate. Their relations have been complicated by U.S.-China relations in the past. But it does seem like a natural step from China and Australia to work together now in the face of the U.S.’s changing foreign policies.
I think the relationship between China, Australia, and the U.S. is particularly interesting, because I will be studying abroad in Sydney next semester. It’s also clear how important China’s culture and communications are to both the U.S. and Australia; as I was looking through the course catalog for the University of Sydney’s Communications program, I noticed that there are three courses offered next semester alone that focus on Chinese communications (but no courses focusing on any other one country). I’m interested to see what happens at this meeting next week, and how the changing foreign policies affect the communications between these three countries in the near future, especially from an Australian perspective.
The Promise of Cheon-Ji
“No move! Come! You’re under arrest!”
A stubby man stormed in flashing his fancy card in my face. The card read “Yeon-Gil-Gong-an… public security.” He was the police, and we were apparently in trouble.
Things simultaneously became clearer yet dimmer with each step towards the rusty squad car. We, members of a group defending North Korean defectors’ rights, were squished into the vehicle. What was happening?
The officers asked why I was in China and if I met any North Koreans. When I denied helping defectors, they stopped interrogating me. The policeman who had shoved me into the car laughed as he made me promise I would contribute to society in the future. I nodded; that was exactly what I was doing here. He talked about Gangnam Style and said, “Look, you don’t have to be handsome to make money these days!” He cheerfully recommended that I see the beautiful Changbai Mountains. I said I would, and was freed. Everything felt like a dream.
I decided to lay out the facts. Fact 1: We came to China to learn more about the current situations of North Korean defectors. Fact 2: We were just investigated by the Chinese PSB. Fact 3: We have heard from the pastor who led this journey that the defectors that we have planned to meet within China were repatriated before we arrived. Fact 4: I was not going to stop continuing my venture to aid defectors in fulfilling their dreams.
The next day, we actually did go to the Changbai Mountains to see the Cheon-Ji, “Heaven Lake.” A fierce snowstorm froze my hair like cardboard. The hopelessness of the defectors I never met, along with anger, confusion, and guilt, thrashed me into the snow. Just when I thought everything was over, the blizzard lifted me and nudged my back. Gentle breezes stroked my cheeks and my eyes widened. In front of me was the promise of heaven. Serene clouds spread over the lake, soothing its frozen surface.
I could not breathe inside the blizzard. It was cold, violent, and too quiet. But its push gave me a new perspective. I should not stop here. Ice particles glued my lips together, but I ripped them apart and cried, “I’ll tell your story.” The wind carried my words and sank into the mountain. I was ready to make a louder promise.
I used to think my passion for defectors’ rights alone could easily bring defectors to South Korea. But that was not enough. I left my guilt in the Heaven Lake and brought back hope that I would create change with good heart and sincerity. I sit at my desk and start writing. I am not just thrilled by the thought of doing something meaningful. I learned my lesson the hard way.
I write to urge people to be aware of the heartfelt stories of the defectors; of their exposure to constant dangers of being arrested; and of the risks they take to escape their reality. My pen cuts through the silence.
I speak about my experiences. I begin with my fears—the tension, loss, and failure—but I always end with hope—the serenity, inner growth, and optimism for prospective situations. My voice spurs conversations. I recall my cry piercing the blizzard. I am enlightened by my voice’s latent power to influence the world. What needs to be heard must be heard, and so I speak up.