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Talking Points, Special December 25, 2011 Issue

This issue of the USC U.S.-China Institute newsletter takes a quick look at Christmas decorations around Beijing. It includes information about North American exhibitions and events focusing on China.
December 25, 2011

Talking Points

December 25, 2011 - January 7, 2012

calendar of events and exhibitions | read at the USCI website

Decorating for the holidays and to lure customers. Photos by C. Dube (2011).

-- Tree display outside a popular Beijing eatery, Jindingxuan 金鼎轩。
-- The sax seems to be Santa's favorite musical instrument. Lifesize Santas are part of this Qianmen display, but you see gyrating sax-playing Santas at housing sales offices and restaurants.
-- Santa poses with kids at The Place, a Beijing mall.
-- Workers at a small Beijing restaurant. Their winter uniform includes Minnesota Twins jackets.

Many Chinese churches are crowded this Christmas Sunday. But even non-Christian Chinese in many places are aware of the holiday, if not its religious meanings. Perhaps it’s not a big surprise to find giant Christmas trees in Beijing’s airport or to be greeted with a “Merry Christmas” animated greeting on an Air China domestic flight. After all, such services are heavily used by foreigners as well. But what is striking is the number of other places one finds Christmas decorations. 

Many shops have Santa Claus 圣诞老人 on their windows to welcome customers. Some restaurants have workers in Santa caps bringing customers steaming bowls of beef noodles. The Hunan Hotel is so close to the Beijing train station loudspeakers that you hear “The East is Red” every hour on the hour. The lobby is dominated by a painting of a giant stone bust of Mao Zedong and a marble wall featuring Mao’s 1949 remembrance in Beijing of Hunan. There’s a Christmas tree there as well, though, and Christmas melodies waft through the air.

On December 23, The Beijing Times 京华时报 home/life section featured articles on decorating for Christmas side by side with furniture ads featuring Christmas trees and price busting Santas. By Christmas Eve, though, stores were slashing prices on Christmas items.

Guests at a Chongqing hotel were greeted Christmas Eve by swaying elementary schoolchildren singing Christmas carols. A major Beijing mall has a palace with Santa on a sleigh and a faux-ice rink where Santa is one of the characters entertaining children. The Qianmen shopping district has saxophone playing Santas. But even a restaurant in Dazu, in the rural Southwest, has a pop-up Christmas scene, complete with reindeer, snow, and a white picket fence.

Even with all the decorations one finds around China, much more arrives by container at American ports. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that in the first nine months of 2011, the U.S. imported $983 million worth of Christmas tree ornaments.


Many of the gifts that Americans open today and throughout the year were produced in China. “Bringing back” American manufacturing is a priority identified by both President Barack Obama and his Republican challengers. It’s clear, however, that for many products, including high tech ones, relatively few good paying jobs would be generated by making the items in the United States. A study this year by scholars from UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and Syracuse University found that Apple collects 30% of the sales price of iPads (more if they are sold directly by Apple) and 58% of the sales price of the iPhone 4. The next biggest beneficiary of the products’ popularity are Korean firms which supply the memory chips and screens. They get 5-7% of the products’ retail prices. Only about 2% of the price of iPads and iPhones goes to pay for their assembly by Chinese workers.

Of course, Chinese policy makers understand this well and are investing heavily in education and research so as to be able to have Chinese firms become innovators, able to capture more of the cost of popular products. Our conference on the State of the Chinese economy included presentations on the challenges China confronts in doing this.

The Apple example highlights an important point about U.S.-China trade. An important component of China’s trade surplus wears American labels. Each iPad or iPhone imported into the United States adds $229 to $275 to the American trade deficit, even though only a tiny portion of that amount remains in China.

 Clockwise from upper left: The Do It Yourself page of Jinghua shibao, other pages offered directions for Santa cookies and more; Jimei furniture stores are having a holiday sale; A Dazu restaurant has a large "home for Christmas" display beside its front door; A supermarket slashes prices on Christmas stuff. Photos: C. Dube, 2011.


We’re mindful that it’s also been a busy week for Chinese diplomats. Hu Jintao and other top leaders visited North Korea’s Beijing embassy to offer their condolences at the death of Kim Jong-il. State television offered extensive coverage of North Korean memorial services and featured footage of Kim’s meetings with Chinese leaders. (Click here to see a presentation by USCI senior fellow Mike Chinoy on North Korea.) Xi Jinping 习近平, expected to be named China’s top leader at next year’s Communist Party Congress, travelled to Vietnam and Thailand. In Vietnam, Xi and his counterparts elected to avoid public statements on ongoing disputes over the rights in the South China Sea. Instead, they focused on expanding common ground including a Chinese loan of US$200 million to Vietnam to support projects in telecommunications and energy.

Two prominent Chinese dissidents were sent back to prison this week. Sichuan’s Chen Wei 陈卫 was sentenced to nine years for “inciting subversion of state power.” Chen was first jailed after the 1989 pro-democracy protests. Chen was detained this spring when the government moved to block any protests that might have been inspired by the North African “jasmine revolutions.” Chen’s sentence was imposed following a two and a half hour trial in which Chen asserted that he’d only exercised his free speech rights. Several of Chen’s essays were presented as evidence. They included passages arguing that China needs a civil opposition in order to achieve true democracy. Earlier, Shaanxi’s Gao Zhisheng 高智晟, a human rights lawyer who has been secretly detained by police throughout a twenty-month probation (his second), was sent back to prison to serve out a three year sentence (first imposed in December 2006) for “inciting subversion of state power.” Among those Gao defended were Christian “house (unauthorized) church” members and members of Falungong, a banned religious group. Gao’s wife and children, claiming harassment by Chinese authorities, were smuggled out of China in 2009 and now live in the U.S. Gao’s brother was last able to see him in April 2010.

Most Chinese don't know who Chen or Gao are or much about the causes they championed. Many engage, however, in frank talk about a wide range of issues in  classrooms, cafés, and all over the net. The embrace of Christmas can partly be explained by having plenty of stuff to decorate with and loving a reason to buy and sell. But it also speaks to an openness that is remarkable compared to decades past. At the same time, the sentences doled out to Chen and Gao starkly demonstrate the Chinese party-state's  determination to squelch discussions of limiting its authority.


Thank you to all who have contributed to our efforts to inform public discussion of the importance and multifaceted nature of the U.S.-China relationship over the past year. We appreciate your participation in our events, your use of our web resources, your circulation of our newsletters and magazine articles, your feedback on these materials, and, of course, your financial help. It all makes a difference. We look forward to a busy 2012 and hope that you’ll continue to be a part of it. Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

Happy Holidays!

The USC U.S.-China Institute

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| California | North America | Exhibitions

USC - Upcoming

01/21/2012: U.S.–Taiwan–China Relations: Politics, Economics, Security
Davidson Conference Center, Embassy Room
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089
Cost: Free
This day-long conference will assess the results of the January 14 Taiwan elections and their potential impact on the triangular relationship. Panels will also focus on cross-strait economic relations and security issues.

01/26/2012: Premiere Screening of Assignment: China – The Nixon Trip
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Cost: Free, please RSVP.
Time: 4:00PM - 6:00PM
The USC U.S.-China Institute will screen the new segment of Assignment: China focusing on the historic visit to China by Richard Nixon. 


12/27/2011: Film: Touring China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Cost: Free to members; Free with paid admission; $8 general
Time: 1:30PM
The Bowers Museum presents a film on China.

12/31/2011: Film: The First Emperor of China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Cost: Free to members; Free with paid admission; $8 general
Time: 1:30PM
The Bowers Museum presents a film on China's history.



ends 12/18/2011: Dreams Deferred: Artists Respond to Immigration Reform
Chinese American Museum
425 N. Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Chinese American Museum (CAM) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument present Dreams Deferred: Artists Respond to Immigration Reform.

ends 12/31/2011: Tibetan Arms and Armor
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10028
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presents an exhibition of Tibetan arms and armor from the permanent collection.

ends 12/31/2011: Chapel of Fierce Protectors
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition of ferocious and fantastic deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

ends 12/31/2011: From the Sacred Realm: Paradises and Pure-lands
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition that introduces the Five Buddha Families under whom the vast Tibetan Buddhist pantheon is organized.

ends 12/31/2011: ABCs of Iconography: The Body, Speech and Mind of Buddhist Art
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition of sculptures that project an explicit body language of postures and gestures specific to peaceful and wrathful deities.

ends 12/31/2011: Perfect Imbalance, Exploring Chinese Aesthetics
Peabody Essex Museum
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Gallery, East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970-3783
Cost: Free for membres, Adults $15, Seniors $13, Students $11 Youth (16 and under) and Salem, Mass. residents admitted free
The Peabody Essex Museum presents an exhibition that features 30 objects that date from the Neolithic era to 2004 in a range of media including paintings, jade, textiles, porcelain and prints.

ends 12/31/2011: Xiaoze Xie: Amplified Moments, 1993-2008
University of Oregon
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 1430 Johnson Lane Eugene, Eugene, Oregon 97403
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon presents an exhibition featuring work by China's contemporary artist, Xiaoze Xie.

Our web calendar features many more current and upcoming events and exhibitions. It's always available at:


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