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Category archive: China

Saturday October 01 2016

The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:

Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’

When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.

Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.

India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.

Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.

If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many.  Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards.  Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.

Monday September 05 2016

And in other bridge news …

I earlier linked to a Dezeen report which reported:

The world’s tallest and longest glass bridge opens in China

But now comes this:

World’s tallest and longest glass bridge closes after just two weeks

The more appealing the bridge, the more of a muddle its opening is liable to be, so this is not a particularly terrible thing.  This bridge, for instance, has opening problems because many more people than they expected want to walk upon it:

Thousands flocked to the attraction when it opened on 20 August 2016, but less than two weeks later its popularity has led to its closure.

The bridge is designed to hold up to 800 people and receive up to 8,000 visitors in a day, however demand has far outstripped capacity.

“We’re overwhelmed by the volume of visitors,” a spokesperson from the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon’s marketing department told CNN.

The spokesperson said that 80,000 visitors had attempted to visit the bridge each day, leading to its closure for improvement works on 2 September 2016.

There are no reports of when the attraction will reopen.

Whenever.  There’s nothing as cheap as a hit.  Especially if your target demographic is: China.  And then, when the word gets around, which the above story will hugely help it to: The World.

Thursday August 25 2016



So far as I can tell, though, this is not a glass bridge, more a metal bridge with lots of windows in its floor, which I don’t think is the same thing.  But, it’s still a step in the right direction, towards the day when they build a bridge entirely out of glass.

Thursday July 21 2016



Most emails that arrive here at BMdotcom don’t grab me by the throat, but I liked this one, with its attached graphic as above.

I’ve often wondered how they do Chinese (?) writing with computers.  Now I am wondering some more.

My computer didn’t allow me to save this graphic in a different size, but my blogging software did.  Odd.

Thursday January 07 2016

City A.M. Is so excited that the headline writer, as of now, has decided that there is only one i in ambitious:


That headline is recycled here in case they correct it.  Thereby establishing that the (more) mainstream media behave just as I do, when it comes to correcting their mistakes.  Or else, alerting you to a permanently wrong headline, whichever.  And I’m guessing that even if they do correct the headline, they may feel obliged to keep the link spelling as it started out.

But more to the point, this ambtious plan refers to driverless flying cars, driverless flying cars that look like this:


When I first set eyes on that picture, my reaction was: That’s not a car, that’s a drone.  City A.M. agrees:

The futuristic, if slightly terrifying sounding vehicle, has been unveiled by Chinese tech company Ehang and manages to combine the top two trends predicted to dominate this year’s biggest tech show - drones and driverless cars - and claims to be the first Autonomous Aerial Vehicle in the world. Or, in other words, a driverless flying car.

Are you sceptical?  I am.  But City A.M. continues:

Ehang claims the 184 is already at the point of becoming a commercially selling vehicle, albeit with a £130,000-£200,000 price tag.  Belive it or not, it’s not just a concept - it’s already preparing for pre-orders and plans to ship to customers this year.

Well, I’m not sure that I do “belive” it, but I would be fascinated to be proved wrong.

Bizarre new forms of transport are definitely the Thing of the New Year, here at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.  I haven’t been especially looking for such things.  They have merely presented themselves to me.  But now, perhaps (although I promise nothing), I will start looking for such things.  Anyone come across any other crazy transport stuff lately?

LATER: I googled “ambtious”, and was informed of a horse called “Ambtious Dragon”.  So, some kind of Chinese neologism?  But it turned out that this was a headline misprint also.

Sunday December 27 2015

Here is another excerpt (pp. 217-219) from Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything, already plundered for this posting on Epicurus and Lucretius and for this posting on how genes follow culture:

Consider the reform of China’s economy that began under Dfen Xiapeng in 1978, leading to an economic flowering that raised half a billion people out of poverty. Plainly, Deng had a great impact on history and was in that sense a ‘Great Man’.  But if you examine closely what happened in China in 1978, it was a more evolutionary story than is usually assumed. It all began in the countryside, with the ‘privatisation’ of collective farms to allow individual ownership of land and of harvests.  But this change was not ordered from above by a reforming government.  It emerged from below. In the village of Xiaogang, a group of eighteen farmworkers who despaired at their dismal production under the collective system and their need to beg for food from other villages, gathered together secretly one evening to discuss what they could do.  Even to hold the meeting was a serious crime, let alone to breathe the scandalous ideas they came up with.

The first, brave man to speak was Yen Jingchang, who suggested that each family should own what it grew, and that they should divide the collective’s land among the families.  On a precious scrap of paper he wrote down a contract that they all signed.  He rolled it up and concealed it inside a bamboo tube in the rafters of the house.  The families went to work on the land, starting before the official’s whistle blew each morning and ending long after the day’s work was supposed to finish.  Incentivised by the knowledge that they could profit from their work, in the first year they grew more food than the land had produced in the previous five years combined.

The local party chief soon grew suspicious of all this work and this bountiful harvest, and sent for Yen, who faced imprisonment or worse. But during the interrogation the regional party chief intervened to save Yen, and recommended that the Xiaogang experiment be copied elsewhere.  This was the proposal that eventually reached Deng Xiaoping’s desk.  He chose not to stand in the way, that was all.  But it was not until 1982 that the party officially recognised that family farms could be allowed - by which time they were everywhere.  Farming was rapidly transformed by the incentives of private ownership; industry soon followed.  A less pragmatically Marxist version of Deng might have delayed the reform, but surely one day it would have come. 

Friday August 14 2015

Here (thank you Instapundit) are twelve photos of the destruction that just hit the Chinese city of Tianjin.

This one (number 9) is among the most vivid:


What (I think) makes this such a remarkable image is that, by showing how totally the cars have all been wrecked, the nature of what hit them is, as it were, permanently recorded, the way it might not have been registered by mere empty ground.  And because they are cars rather than buildings, each one a regular and very small distance from the ground, every ruined car is clearly visible, the way wrecked buildings might not have been.  It’s as if each car is a fire-sensitive cell, like digital cameras have inside them for nailing down light.

Fireball.  Nothing else could have done that.

However much the government of China and its various offshoots and local manifestations might have wanted to keep this amazing event under wraps, modern media, including digital photography, still and video, meant that they had no chance.

Sunday April 19 2015

I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:


What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves.  Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here.  But at first, the English weren’t buying.  I mean, “magic”?  Could be anything or nothing.  Hypnosis?  Pills?  Herbalism?  Magic mud of some sort?  Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.

But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.

Friday November 28 2014

The biggest cat news right now is that a tiger is causing an international incident, between Russia and China:

Chinese media claims the feline in question is Ustin, one of five electronically-tagged Siberian tigers released by Russian authorities in May and June 2014.

The big cat has since wandered into northeastern China where, national news agency Xinhua reports, he entered a farm, killing fifteen goats over two nights and leaving another three missing.

Xinhua claims Ustin was among the first group of tigers released in May by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia denies this claim, suggesting that he was released in June, by Russian conservationists.

Apart from that, the only decent cat story is about a place in America that smells of cat piss.  They don’t yet know why.  They may never know.

Sunday July 27 2014

I just heard someone say in an American TV sitcom (I love American TV sitcoms) that they’re not going to answer the phone without knowing who it is, “like it’s 1994”.

I still do this, with my old 1994 style phone, which I greatly prefer to mobiles, because when I am out and about, I don’t have to answer it, and because phones connected to your house with wire cannot be lost, and because I know exactly where it is when it rings, and because that ring never changes.

Quite often, when I do answer, it’s a junk phone call, offering to extricate me from a financial error that I personally have not made by urging me to commit another financial error, and as soon as I realise it’s junk, I put the phone down.  Does this constitute some sort of “success” for the junk phoning enterprise?  Look, they answered!  Because obviously they knew who we were, this not being 1994, and yet still they picked up the phone!  Hey, we’re getting through!

Much of life these days seems to consist of doing many futile things, but contriving for these things the appearance of non-futility.  These days?  I suspect all days that have ever been, with humans involved, and no doubt many other species also, both before and now during the human epoch.  Only the futile things and the means of contriving a non-futile appearance for them change from time to time.

I don’t mind junk phone calls.  If they were more frequent, they would annoy me.  As it is, if there is a pause in incoming phone calls lasting a few hours, it is soothing to be informed, even if only by a robot actor voice spouting nonsense, that my phone is still working.  The pause was because nobody wanted to talk to me.

When answering junk phone calls, I pause any music that may be playing.  I do not mind this.  There is a part of my brain (yours too?) where you remember the musical phrase you were listening to when you last paused the music, and when you unpause it you carry on listening just as you would have done normally.  I even suspect that pausing deepens my response to particular pieces of music, by fixing particular moments of them in my brain more firmly than might have happened otherwise.

Since I am now rambling like the really old person that I am rapidly becoming, let me ramble some more.  In connection with none of the above, here are the wheels of a big mobile crane that I photoed in Victoria Street a while back.  Click on it to get the crane:


I like cranes.  That one is, I think, the Spierings SK599-AT5.  I love how you can find out about things like this, these days.  And this time it really is these days, rather than all days. 

Here is a link to a toy version of this crane.  Do contractors use toys like this to plan their jobs, I wonder?  As well as just to decorate their offices or amuse their spoilt children?

It is now late morning on Sunday.  Are sermons like this, when the priest is getting old, but is too well liked for anyone to want to sack him?  With a blog you can ramble anyway, because nobody can sack you.

Monday April 21 2014



Follow the link above, and you’ll read the headline “China build the World’s Longest Bridge - Jiaozhou Bay Bridge”.  But bridges like this, across huge chunks of sea and with hugely long approaches over that sea, are fairly common now, even if this particular one happens to be the biggest in this genre, for the moment.  The photo has it right.  The bridge is just another bridge, and is rightly stuck away in the distance.  The motorway junction is in the foreground, and quite right too.  Is there, anywhere else on the planet, a motorway junction resembling this one, all at sea?

Ordinary bridge, astonishing approach.  Reminds me of this.

Monday March 24 2014



But for where?  Would you believe, Iraq?  No?


Built in China, apparently.

Thursday January 09 2014

Incoming from Michael J (where would this blog be without incomings from Michael J?):


More here.

Monday November 04 2013

London already has many interesting bridges, but might be about to get another:


That’s the bridge now being proposed by Thomas Heatherwick, he of roly-poly bridge (see also my recent take on that bridge), Olympic cauldron, and new London bus fame.

Changsha on the other hand, a place I had never heard of until today, and going only by the picture below, has rather little by way of visual excitement, or will have until they build this bridge, as it appears they definitely intend to:


Architect John van de Water says the form is also intended to reference traditional Chinese crafts. “It refers to a Chinese knot that comes from an ancient decorative Chinese folk art,” he explained.

Ingratiating bullshit being a core architectural skill.

Not that this makes it a bad bridge.  On the contrary, it looks like a lot of fun, that will cheer the place up no end.

And I agree with Heatherwick, and with his celebrity booster Joanna Lumley, that the exact part of the Thames (the north end would be at Temple tube station) where they have put their proposed bridge could indeed do with some further livening up.

See also, an earlier posting here about another cool footbridge, in Hull, also featured on Dezeen, which I continue to enjoy daily, despite a lot of what is shown there being, I think, boring tat.

Friday August 16 2013

I have, very belatedly, made Roof clutter a new category, and now face lots of backtracking to do justice to that innovation.  So far you only get a few entries if you click on that.  But it’s a start.

And, as a devotee of roof clutter, I can’t ignore this:

A Chinese man who built a rock-covered roof-top villa on top of a high-rise building has told the BBC he will comply with an order to demolish it.

The villa, surrounded by fake rocks but real trees and bushes, sits on top of a 26-storey building in Beijing.

State-run China Daily says it was built without the proper permissions.

Ooh dear.  Can’t do anything without the proper permissions.

Here’s what it looks like.  Let us celebrate it while it lasts, and never allow it to be forgotten:


I am actually a tiny bit angry with this Chinese man, because I fear that by drawing attention to the top of his particular building, he may have provoked control freak bureaucrats everywhere to take an interest in the tops of buildings, with a view to putting a stop to All That Sort of Thing, which until now they have largely neglected to do.  The Golden Age of Roof Clutter is not about to end immediately.  But might this perhaps be the beginning of its end?

A good video view of this Chinese man’s castle in the air can be seen at Shanghaist, here.  Also at Shanghaist, a picture of another posh house on a tower roof, rather more discreetly done.

And as an addition (one of the joys of blogging is that you google your subject and find more great stuff) feast your eyes on this:


Presumably, for that, they did get the necessary permissions.  It has that look about it, doesn’t it?

I now learn that the Daily Mail got there first.  They also supplied the top picture above, which they featured in this report.