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China's pet economy is taking off, driven by the one-child generation born in the 1980s and 1990s. (Internet/SPH)

China’s pet industry booms as the post-90s generation seeks to fill a void

The pet economy is thriving in China, driven mostly by the one-child generation who crave an emotional connection and young job seekers taking up “animal communication” gigs during the pandemic. Analysts are optimistic about this sector, where middle class households are more than willing to spend more on the physical and emotional well-being of their furkids. Zaobao correspondent Wong Siew Fong speaks to pet owners and business owners to uncover more about this emerging industry.
Tourists are seen at an entrance of the Forbidden City amid snowfall, in Beijing, China, 7 November 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Professor Wang Gungwu’s Tang Prize 2021 lecture: China’s road from wen to shi

Professor Wang Gungwu, recipient of the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology, delivered a Tang Prize Laureate Lecture at Tang Prize 2021 on 20 November. In tracing China’s history from empire to nation, he relates in tandem his journey of becoming a historian, from being a Chinese overseas in his youth, then returning briefly to the motherland before starting a new life in a new country. “That seemed like the real meaning of my leaving China,” he says, “ requiring me to think as a huaqiao settling down as a citizen of a foreign country... But I did learn that I could leave China but China did not leave me.” Whether in his studies of the Five Dynasties period of the 10th century or Mao’s China and the struggle to find its future after throwing away its own past, he noted that wen (文)-texts supported central power and shaped the system’s collective memory, and were most useful as the shi (史) records of every dynasty. This nexus can perhaps help us understand how one Confucian past could serve to denigrate one set of leaders but provide greater legitimacy for another, and how the continuity of China’s history can be preserved in the future.
A two-year-old boy pointing a toy rifle at my son, wanting to play with him.

A Singaporean mother in China: The war games Chinese kids play

A Singaporean mum living in Beijing observes that the theme of war and violence is surprisingly pervasive in daily life. School kids know war-themed rhymes by heart and chant them in playgrounds as they play at war. Realistic-looking toy guns and ammunition dot corner shops and even the children’s section in bookshops has reading material on guns. Add to that the plethora of war-themed dramas on screens and it seems that the Chinese are taking the manly mantra to the extreme. Or is it an unconscious “making ready” for real war amid international tensions? Whichever the case, hopefully, the kids skipping off happily will never know war beyond their playground games.
People walk in a commercial street during the country's national "Golden Week" holiday in Beijing, China, on 2 October 2021. (Jade Gao/AFP)

Chinese economics professor: What to do when you have a stinky neighbour

A family stroll down a food alley has Chinese economist Li Jingkui teaching the Coase theorem while holding his breath and fleeing a luosifen stall and its pungent smells. If rights of stallholders are defined and transaction costs are low, then the optimal value of resources in society will be realised. That is, either the luosifen moves away under some compensation from his neighbour or it stays put and his neighbours cope with the negative externalities this presents.
Often in rural China, a couple would travel far to find work in cities, leaving their offspring behind with their grandparents as pictured here in rural Yunnan.

China’s rural elderly: The disappearing keepers of tradition

The rural elderly are the guardians of local traditions, says Hisham Youssef, an Egyptian-American architect based in Shanghai. On his travels to the Chinese countryside, he sees aged craftsmen labouring quietly, often with no one to pass their skills on to. Will precious culture and traditions disappear without a trace at this rate? How can this group’s life experiences be best harnessed and passed down and the youth attracted to stay or return to carry on family trades?
This picture shows messages posted on windows by quarantined guests at a hotel in Hong Kong on 26 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The best antidote for surviving the pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. There is hardly a stir in his Hong Kong home, but his mind whirs away as an ancient’s phrase here and a poet’s verse there gives meaning to the plight of the times. On this occasion, he muses about quack Covid remedies and a tipple salve recommended in jest. A new take on drowning one’s sorrows?
Students attend a flag-raising ceremony during the first day of the new semester in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on 1 September 2021. (STR/AFP)

Parents and teachers brace themselves for China's new school year under the 'double reduction' policy

Since September, primary and secondary schools across China have started to implement the “double reduction” policy. Among other measures, primary one and two students no longer have written homework or paper-based exams, while primary three to six students will have their written homework load significantly reduced. These measures are changing up the education ecosystem with students, parents, tutoring companies, teachers and schools all having to adjust. At the back of everyone’s minds is the thought that the rules have changed but competition has not gone away. What are some of their concerns and how will they cope?
A woman walks past a store of German fashion house Hugo Boss in Beijing, China, 27 March 2021. (Thomas Peter/File Photo/Reuters)

China's crackdown on pretty boys and temple temptresses: Why are Chinese women feeling targeted?

The Chinese authorities are not just clamping down on celebrities for their excesses or “unhealthy’ fandoms, but setting the ground rules for media portrayals of gender norms of appearance and behaviour. In particular, the "effeminate aesthetics" of male celebrities and female influencers marketing themselves in Chinese temples have come under attack. But why are Chinese women feeling targeted? Are these necessary actions to moderate the internet economy or just signs of an over-the-top paternalistic bent?
A couple hug as they look out at a night view through a fence at the Central Television Tower in Beijing, China, on 26 August 2021. (Jade Gao/AFP)

Rape accusations in China: When wives protect their errant husbands

The alleged rape case involving a former Alibaba manager kept netizens riveted as charges were dropped as quickly as arrests were made. Unlike the #MeToo movement in the West where many of the victims rally around each other to seek justice against their oppressors, in China, the female victims — those preyed upon and the wives of the alleged perpetrators — seem to be fighting each other in the aftermath of tragedies. Why aren’t the males involved manning up and owning up?