Not Your Mother’s China – WIF Around the World

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Incredible Facts

About China

China is crazy-big. How crazy-big? Let’s just say if they were having a contest for ‘biggest, craziest nation on planet Earth’, the Middle Kingdom would not only win hands down, it would leave all the other countries scratching their heads and saying “whoa, get a load of that guy.”

There are 1.357 billion people living in China today, a whole billion more than there are living in the USA. The nation is big geographically, too; only Russia and Canada cover a larger land area. And you better believe all this bigness leads to craziness. Craziness so big and bigness so crazy that it’s impossible to fit it all into a single top ten list. But, by gum, we’re gonna try.

10. They Have a Dam So Big it Slowed the Earth’s Rotation

Forget the Eiffel Tower, the Forth Bridge or the Hoover Dam. The Three Gorges Dam is the only true engineering marvel on this planet deserving of the title ‘mind-blowing’. The largest dam yet built, it created a reservoir the size of the Kingdom of Bahrain. It holds back some 39.3 cubic kilometers of water. But the truly crazy part? The dam is so big that its construction slowed the rotation of the entire planet.

Time for a quick science lesson. There’s something called the moment of inertia, which basically describes how fast an object can rotate about its axis. If the object is wider, it can rotate less-quickly, which is why Olympic divers curl up into a tight little ball when doing those crazy flips. Raise a whole load of river water 175 meters into the air, and you’re gonna affect the moment of inertia for the entire planet. The end result? Earth itself slows down.

Now, we should point out that the effect is microscopic. As in, the Three Gorges Dam adds only 0.06 microseconds to the length of the day. But to look at it another way: holy cow, that dam is so big it adds a measurable amount to the length of each day!

9. 30 Million Chinese People Still Live in Caves (and enjoy it)

Imagine being so poor you were forced to move into a cave. It’d suck, right? Like, that’s the sort of thing that nobody has done outside of a warzone in centuries. Well, not quite. Even as you read this, there are currently 30 million people in China still living in caves (equivalent to the entire populations of Australia and New Zealand combined). The craziest part? Most of those 30 million freakin’ love their living arrangements.

The majority of China’s cave dwellers live in Shaanxi province, where the porous soil and limestone cliffs make for easy excavation. Most have been wired up to the mains, many have plumbing, many come with multiple rooms and a lawn, and some even have mod-cons like refrigerators and TV. More importantly, in a country where people still earn low wages, you can rent a big cave for about $30 a month. That’s if it’s not for free. Some families have been passing down ‘luxury’ caves for generations. And the majority of these caves are bigger, nicer, and quieter than Beijing’s apartments.

The LA Times even managed to interview city workers and Communist Party officials who wanted to retire to Shaanxi caves. We’re betting 90 percent of overcrowded New Yorkers would happily do the same, too.

8. Millions of Kids Have Names that Sound Like Hashtags

Remember last time tragedy struck, and you showed your solidarity by retweeting a hashtag? China’s parents laugh in the face of your low-level commitment to good causes. In the People’s Republic, citizens don’t merely use hashtags to show support on social media. They name their children after them.

In mid-2008, a huge earthquake shook the province of Sichuan, killing nearly 70,000 people. In the weeks after, the BBC’s China service reported a wave of new parents naming their children things like ‘Hope for Sichuan’. Noble as this is, it’s also pretty bizarre. Imagine meeting a couple with a kid called ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and you’ll get some idea of how kooky this trend is.

But then people are always naming their kids after slogans in China. Also in 2008, 4,104 babies were registered with the name ‘Olympics’, in honor of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The BBC found records of kids called everything from ‘Defend China’, to ‘Build the Nation’, to ‘Space Travel’, and ‘Civilization’. That last one, by the way, was so popular nearly 300,000 babies wound up with it. And you thought your name was uncool in junior high.

7. The Army has an Official Division of 10,000 Pigeons

In 2011, Chinese State media made a surprise announcement. No, not the unveiling of Beijing’s first stealth fighter (though well done for remembering that. We knew you were a clever sort of a guy). No, the announcement concerned the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) latest recruits. 10,000 of them had just been assigned to the Chengdu division. They’d been tasked with “special military missions” along the nation’s borders. Oh, and they were all pigeons.

That’s right. China’s PLA has a 10,000-strong official division of birds whose only discernable skill is pooping on statues of famous people. All snark aside, the reasoning here is actually pretty sound. Beijing is way paranoid about a nuclear or cyber attack knocking out their communications systems. In the event this happens, the pigeons would be tasked with delivering messages at high speed between the country’s military installations, especially along the remote stretches of border where keeping in touch is hard enough as it is. There’s even some precedent for this. When Japan invaded in WWII, messenger pigeons were a vital part of China’s defensive effort.

6. On-the-Go Organ Harvesting and Executions

You don’t want to commit a capital crime in China. While plenty of countries still have the death penalty, none kill criminals with the speed, efficiency or sheer gusto of the People’s Republic. China executes more people each year than every other executing country combined, a number that’s even crazier when you realize it includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North freakin’ Korea. And this bloodlust has led to some bizarre and unsettling innovations, the most-unsettling of which has to be the ‘Death Bus’.

 First reported in 2009, China’s death buses are essentially mobile execution vans that travel from village to village snuffing out the lives of local prisoners. Even more morbidly, the buses have a surgeon on standby so the dead prisoner’s organs can be quickly harvested after they kick the bucket, and sold on for profit. The key word here is “quickly”. These vans can rock up in villages and knock off 2-3 criminals in a single morning. That’s death row efficiency even the state of Texas would balk at.

5. There’s Only One Time Zone (and it’s crazy)

Before we can do this entry justice, we need to reiterate again just how big China is. It’s roughly the same size as the US. It’s over twice as big as the entire European Union. It dwarfs Australia. Each of those comparative nations/unions has at least 3 time zones, and as many as five. China, on the other hand has only one: Beijing time. And it applies everywhere.

This means Chinese time tends to make sense in Beijing, and is completely mad elsewhere. In the far western province of Xinjiang, for example, the sun doesn’t rise until 10 a.m. in winter, and sets after midnight in summer. That might make sense in Norway or Siberia, but China is way south of either of those places. In effect, locals at the extreme western points of the country have to put up with a timescale that makes zero sense for their circumstances.

As an additional headache, various ethnic groups in China refuse to recognize Beijing time, seeing it as cultural imperialism on the part of the Han Chinese majority. So a doctor’s appointment made for 3 p.m. in Tibet or Xinjiang may mean 3 p.m. Beijing time, or 3 p.m. on illegal Tibetan or Uighur time, and you probably won’t know until you get there and find the place shut.

4. You Must Have Official Permission to be Reincarnated

Let’s say you’re religious and believe in reincarnation. Now, let’s say that you wind up shuffling off this earthly plane in China. What do you think happens next? According to the governing CCP, the answer should be ‘depends on if I filled in the correct forms or not’. Since 2007, Beijing has required citizens to get official permission before reincarnating.

The law, issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, states that anyone intending to return to this mortal coil must follow a strict set of procedures, including informing the Communist Party of who they intend to come back as. Those who fail to do so will… well, we’re not sure, to be honest. Powerful as the Chinese government is, it seems doubtful even they have the ability to stop transmigration of the soul from taking place.

Of course, the real reason China brought in this hilariously odd law is to scupper the Dali Lama’s plans to get reincarnated and keep campaigning for Tibetan autonomy. The Dali Lama responded by saying he’d simply choose to reincarnate outside Chinese-controlled territory.

3. Books are Sold by Weight

The key to selling a book in the west is its title or author. A slim classic novel or a mega-blockbuster by a famous writer will go for far more than a bigger book by a total unknown. Not so in China. Go shopping for books on the streets of Shanghai, and you’ll find yourself paying not according to how good or famous a book is, but according to how much it weighs.

In practical terms, this means a 1,000 page tome by a guy who writes in crayon and can’t string a sentence together is considered far more valuable than a short book like, say, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Mad as this sounds, it’s actually kind of useful for students. A short, glossy volume of common Spanish phrases, for example, will attract a mid-range price in the US. In China, you can have it for pocket change.

Before readers in China flood the comments section to point out our bone-headed ignorance, we should note that selling books by weight isn’t standard across the entire country. It’s mainly prevalent around Shanghai and the eastern provinces. But since this includes some of the biggest, busiest cities in the whole of China, we’re gonna go ahead and include it here.

2. Censorship is Even-Crazier than You Think

Quick: what do time-travel, cleavage, The Big Bang Theory, South Korea, and ‘Western lifestyles’ all have in common? The answer is that China censors every single one of them (“they’re all awesome” is another acceptable answer, depending on your level of tolerance for the weekly antics of Sheldon Cooper). These are only a fraction of the innumerable things Beijing feels the need to block its citizens from ever encountering.

Some of the things China considers beyond the pale are crazy even by the standards of authoritarian regimes. Until April 2016, one of the nation’s top-rated programs was ‘Dad, Where are We Going?’, a travel show where fathers took their little tykes on trips around China’s historical landmarks. Then party functionaries suddenly banned ‘celebrity children’ and the show had to be canceled. Other recent bans have included shows featuring gay people, and shows that depict smoking, drinking, South Korea, ghosts, reincarnation, or “feudalism”. We’d guess there probably aren’t that many primetime shows about feudalism out there, but then again, what do we know?

We could go on. China has officially banned talking animals in movies, depictions of online dating when it involves army personnel, and anything starring Brad Pitt. At least they didn’t have to suffer through Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

1. One in Five Humans Alive Today are Chinese

If you need any proof that China is the planet’s future, this amazing statistic is it. It’s one thing to hear that China has a population of 1.357 billion people. It’s quite another to see it put down in such blunt terms. 20 percent of all human beings alive today are Chinese. By way of comparison, Americans account for less than 4.5 percent of the global population.

The only country that comes even remotely close to this mind-boggling figure is India. India has a population of 1.252 billion; still several million short of China, but at least within the same ballpark. After that, it’s a long, long drop to the US, in 3rd place, with a comparatively tiny population of 325.3 million. China’s Pearl River Delta urban conurbation alone has a population of around 42 million, more than the entirety of Poland, Canada, or Australia.

 It’s worth remembering that all this comes after decades of a crazy one child policy that saw the country’s birthrate plummet. If the CCP hadn’t dreamed up its oddball family-limiting plan, probably even India’s population figures wouldn’t be within touching distance. Believe it or not, crazy-big as China’s population is, it could be even crazy-bigger.

Not Your Mother’s China

WIF Around the World

An Independent Russian Investigation from WIF

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 Ways that Russians

are Misunderstood

Around the World

Today, Russia is arguably one of the most controversial countries on the planet. Much is said about them one way or the other (primarily due to Vladimir Putin), and very few countries have as many stereotypes (especially negative ones) floating around about them. While it’s understandable for many Westerners to be worried about Russian influence on their governments or people, it’s also important to be able to separate the Russian people and culture from their government, and to understand who the Russians really are — and not just what we know from crude and often demeaning stereotypes… or potential meddling in United States politics.

10. Russians Don’t Look At Governance The Same Way Many Westerners Do

Many Americans and other Western countries have trouble understanding Russians’ idea of government, because Westerners cannot imagine a life where they could have so little personal freedom. To Westerners, personal freedom — or at least the appearance of it — is practically a life or death matter. Now, Russians see things differently. It isn’t that they are naturally submissive or something, but the Russian people have never really had anything like the Democracy that many Western countries enjoy… and the Russian people go back a very long way.

When you haven’t ever had something in the first place, you’re hardly going to find yourself missing it greatly or fighting for it. For this reason, personal freedoms are a much lower priority for many Russians, and they don’t entirely understand why so many countries are worried about those issues. Particularly when they haven’t fixed other problems yet. This doesn’t mean there’s no one in Russia interested in Democracy, but by and large, you aren’t likely to find many willing to risk prison for something they’ve never even had to begin with.

9. Russians Look European, But Are Also Sort Of Asian

Perhaps one of the things that makes it so difficult for Westerners to deal with Russians is that they look so similar to many of us, despite thinking so drastically differently. This likely stems from their cultural origins. The larger portion of Russia is, geographically, essentially in Asia, but the more populated part is in what some call “European Russia” — a portion of Russia that’s still considered part of Eastern Europe. This is all quite confusing, and borders are all, of course, man-made to begin with, but the overall issue is that the Russian people hardly fit in any normal cultural box.

Even the ones from “European Russia” are still much farther East than most people who are considered to be from Europe, and this likely changes their thinking. They’re also part of a country that has much of its territory in the actual continent of Asia, which means many people from the European part will still have their culture influenced by the more Asian part. For this reason, some in Russia have said they felt they have a more unique identity, which is actually part Asian and part Eastern European.

8. Napoleon Made Them Incredibly Paranoid Long Ago; Now Others Think Them Aggressive

Americans Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812 well, and some even confuse as being in reference to the American War of 1812. However, at that same time in history, there was a war going on basically all over the world because of a little guy named Napoleon. This titchy fellow had been stirring up the nest all over the place, and had even pushed his way into Russia. Now, today many people look at this as a folly of Napoleon, and talk about how Hitler later repeated the same mistake: Attacking the hardy Russian people during the harsh winter.

However, the truth was that Napoleon came far closer, at least in the Russians’ minds, to completing a successful invasion than they were comfortable with. They were absolutely terrified, and never forgot it. Well over 100 years later, the term “Bonapartist” would still be a fairly common term in Russia. They feared the idea of a warrior general rising up and going on a rampage so much that they immortalized Napoleon’s name with a specific word for his little invasion attempt into their country. Many people today think the Russians are just aggressive, but this near-miss so long ago drove them to shore up their borders, and it’s primarily for this reason they’ve been so hostile to those closest to them since. The truth is that the Russians only won with scorched earth tactics and great losses. Napoleon scarred them forever.

7. Russian National Pride Goes Back A Long Way, But Has Clashed With French Culture

Some people don’t understand why Russians are willing to forego so much comfort for the good of their country, and many people like to claim it’s Soviet propaganda. But the Russian people have been behaving this way for some time now. Considering the country of Russia is really one of the oldest surviving countries and cultures in the world, it’s not surprising that they have a gigantic wellspring of national pride, whether the situation warrants it or not. They also have a history of dictatorships, which means they’re used to simply being proud of their country and letting others run it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Russians have always remained truly proud and obsessed with Slavic culture. A situation that still exists (to a smaller extent) today — but blew up shortly after the time of Napoleon — is the fight between the Slavophiles and the Francophiles. The Slavophiles wanted to keep Russia Slavic and focus on Slavic cultures, traditions, dress, and customs. However, enthralled and enraptured by the French, many young people were now dressing in French fashions, taking up their customs, and studying their culture and language. This has changed the Russian people even further over the years and, if anything, has made them even more incomprehensible to the rest of the world.

6. The Russian Concept of “Poshlost” Explains Why They Often Think Of Wealth Differently

These days you have people who like to make fun of people like the Kardashians, or joke about how they became famous for doing literally nothing at all. However, at the same time, many of those same people view being in a position like the Kardashians as something to aspire to. Now, despite misconceptions, the Kardashians still have a lot of work to do to maintain their empire of nothing. But many see their lifestyle as an aspiration because it’s perceived as a life where they can just chill and enjoy the finer things while not having to work or do… well, anything. In many ways this almost makes them the ultimate American dream, but Russians would find the whole thing ridiculous.

While there are some Russian billionaires today, and Russia has a lot of corruption, those who are at least in business or working are given a great deal of respect by the common person regardless of their ridiculous wealth. It’s only the playboys, who don’t really work or do anything, that get the true disrespect. In Russian literature, there’s a concept that many of the greats like Pushkin, or Lermontov, wrote about called “Poshlost.” Poshlost has been called untranslatable, but we will try our best to explain the concept: it’s used to refer to outer beauty, or empty wealth that is flaunted, while the individuals behind that wealth spend most of their time lounging, trying to look important, and contributing nothing of value to society at all. In a way, it was a backlash to the fashionable trappings of high society brought forth by the Francophile fad.

5. The Idea Of Struggle Is Entirely Embedded In The Russian Cultural Ethos

One of the things many people in America, in particular, understand least about the Russians is their willingness to accept a life without a lot of particular luxuries, and without a lot of options in general. This isn’t because the Russians are just masochistic and enjoy taking punishment, or are trying to prove some kind of specific point. Nor are the Russian people necessarily taking one for the team in order to advance the cause of the current government. The biggest reason most Russians are okay with things being that way is because, within in their ethos, the idea of struggle is deeply embedded.

In many ways, it may by their most important cultural value: Working hard and muddling through to get by is seen as extremely important. For a culture that’s often had to deal with poverty and want, even under their most benevolent leaders, this was something they had to learn as a people very early on. In many ways it has defined them, and explains why they are willing to accept what many in Western culture would consider unacceptable. They are simply far more accustomed to hardship, so they don’t act like everything is out of sorts when things get difficult.

4. The Origins Of Their Language, And Its Structure, Give Them A Unique Perspective

The Russian language, and most Slavic languages, use the Cyrillic Alphabet; however, the origin of their written language is rather strange. The people of the region had mostly used spoken-word and wrote little down when two Catholic missionaries named Cyril and Methodius traveled to the region. These two decided to help create an alphabet and written-word system for the language spoken by the people of the region, and something similar is in use today in most Slavic Countries. Now, this gives them a rather unique language structure and perspective.

The language itself was formed entirely by natives of the region, but the written form was made up mostly by outsiders who didn’t entirely understand their thinking. This has created a language system where the written word (and, as they’ve evolved together, sometimes even the spoken word) are hard to articulate the way the writer would want. Many writers like Pushkin took the written form of Russian to its limit to extract as much wordplay as possible, but they could only go so far, despite their genius.

3. Russians Are Generally Thought Of As A Drunk Country – But There Is A Lot More To It

One of the most famous stereotypes about the Russians is that they are huge drunks, and may even be bigger drunks than the Irish. People talk about teens using mouthwash, hand sanitizer, and other awful things, but in any country with poverty and bored children, things like that aren’t uncommon. And while people like to act like the average Russian just pounds alcohol like there’s no tomorrow, even among the heavy drinkers there are customs to drinking, and it’s only when you ignore them and actually do start pounding for no reason (which is relatively rare) that you have a real problem.

In Russia, drinking is a big social thing, but it is accompanied by lots of little bits of food, toasting to friends, and good conversation and camaraderie in general. Russians like to toast to things while drinking so they have a reason to imbibe, and it’s custom to eat a bit of food after each shot or drink — both for your health, and to avoid a hangover later. Many Russians will simply not drink if they don’t at least have a little bit of bread so they can have a little bite with each drink.

2. Internet Pirates Are Often Russian, But Due To Poverty – Not Inherent Cultural Dishonesty

The Pirate Bay, and other popular torrent sites, have always had a huge amount of torrents coming from Russian hackers. Many who pirate a lot are all too familiar with their written “Russian Accent” and have noticed that many torrent-ed movies have Russian subtitles. Now, some people have noticed this and come to the conclusion that Russians are inherently dishonest or thieves, but this is not really the case.

For starters, an incredible amount of Westerners use torrent sites — even middle class Westerners — so it’s a little bit hypocritical to brand Russians as thieves. However, more to the point, many common Russian folk feel compelled to do these things because they are desperately poor, and simply cannot afford the content otherwise. In many cases it may not even be available for legitimate purchase within their country, so they have to resort to piracy in order to get past government censorship. Russians aren’t generally a bunch of horrible cyber thieves; well, at least not any more-so than most other modern countries and people. Also, while Russians aren’t more dishonest, necessarily, they are better educated than many countries when it comes to IT.

1. The Russian People Usually Know Full Well When They Are Being Fed Propaganda

A lot of folks think that the Russian people are easily fooled, and that Ol’ Putin completely has the wool over their eyes. They believe that Putin’s propaganda machine has managed to get people under his spell, and that they are basically putty in his hands. However, the situation — and the Russian people by extension — are a lot more complex and complicated than that. The Russian people are well aware of the concept of propaganda, and have a word called “Pravda” (which some of you may be familiar with) due to the ironically named Soviet Propaganda paper of the same name.

Now for those who aren’t aware, Pravda means “truth,” but it can also mean a lot more (or less) than that. Some know that Pravda was used sarcastically as a phrase to subtly disagree with Soviet propaganda, but most Westerners don’t know how long this phrase has been in use, or how many things it can mean (and it can mean dozens of things). After all, Russians may not have as many words as some languages, so they often use the same word to mean many things.

Pravda can mean actual truth, but it can also mean that you know you aren’t being told the truth, and are very slightly sarcastically saying “Oh yes, of course I believe that,” when you both know it’s a lie. And this is the funny thing about the Russian propaganda machine: It often knows it isn’t really fooling anyone, and the people often know they aren’t being fooled, but everyone pretends the propaganda is working anyway in order to avoid any kind of confrontation with the government.


An Independent Russian Investigation

from WIF