News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Sink or swim in modern China

Sink or swim in modern China

Chris Hogg heads to the small Chinese village of Zhushanxia, 200km from Shanghai, to see how lives have been shaped by the economy under communist rule, the recession and the country’s economic recovery.

A farmer sells vegetables at a wholesale market on March 22, 2005 in Hefei of Anhui Province, China

China’s economic roller-coaster has divided communities and villages into those who have sunk financially, and those who managed to swim

Huang Jiao Ling lives at the end of a long dusty road.

Mobile phone numbers are daubed all over the walls of her home and those of her neighbours.

It is like a strange kind of mathematical graffiti, but the numbers are, in fact, advertisements for people offering goods and services.

In modern China, it seems everyone has something to sell.

Huang Jiao Ling, too, is an entrepreneur. She is in her 50s, but she looks younger.

In her front garden, where others might have planted vegetables, she has built a small workshop.

Inside, the walls are unfinished and the floor uneven, but there is just about enough room for a work-bench and a handful of basic machine tools.

Churning out widgets

On the floor are cardboard boxes filled with piles of tiny metal widgets.

They are simple to make – her husband sits at the bench turning them out rapidly by hand.

Fruit seller in China

Many Chinese run their own small businesses in order to get ahead

A few feet away, his bicycle-taxi is parked just inside the front door of the house.

The machine work is a lot less tiring than pedalling passengers around, but he still keeps the bike.

It is useful, he says, to supplement their income in leaner times.

The Huangs sell the boxes of widgets to the factory where Huang Jiao Ling has a full-time job.

For a while this year they had to shut the workshop as demand dropped, but now the machines are humming again.

They have two children, because if you live in the country and your first child is a girl, you are allowed to have another one.

The girls go to very good schools, the best Huang Jiao Ling can afford.

She spends more than half her income on school fees.

“We have to think of their future,” she tells me.

“It’s a Chinese tradition. Parents always think of their children, and when the parents get old, their children will look after them. It’s the same for every generation.”

Yu Feng Guo is Huang Jiao Ling’s brother-in-law.

She is doing well for herself in China’s new modern market economy, but he has been left behind.

He used to work in a state-owned brick factory.

Different lifestyles

When the economic reforms began 30 years ago he watched as some of his co-workers left their jobs to start up their own small businesses, many of them selling prawns or fish by the side of the road.

He decided to do what he thought was the right thing, what the communist party would expect of a loyal worker in a state-owned enterprise – he stayed.

Eventually, the brick factory went bust and he was out of a job.

Rice paddy field

Agriculture provides an income for many rural Chinese

Now, dressed in a shabby khaki jacket, he works as a security guard in an open-air food market.

Those early entrepreneurs who had left his factory to try their luck in the fledgling market economy are now much richer than him and to his family this seems unfair.

“Thirty years ago everyone in the village was poor,” his son tells me.

“Now the difference in lifestyle between the rich and the poor in our village is huge.”

There is an implicit bargain in modern Chinese society between the leaders and the led.

Beijing tells its people “we will give you opportunities” – to earn more, to enjoy a better standard of living than your parents did.

But you, in return, will behave yourself.

Back on track

In Zhushanxia village quite a few cars can be seen bumping along past the fields, something you would not have seen 30 years ago.

If you have got used to having more, whether it’s a car, or a bigger house, or a more expensive school for your child, you have more to lose when times get tough.

That is why it is so important for the government to get the economy back on track.

When it first faltered, when factories started laying off workers, there was a risk that they would start to feel the government was no longer keeping to its side of the deal, so why should they?

So in Beijing, of course, there will be relief that a recovery appears to be under way.

But the next challenge for the government will be to do more to try to ensure that everyone shares the benefits.

Huang Jiao Ling is happy her workshop is busy again, but still nervous about the future.

So she, like most other Chinese, is saving as much of her income as she can.

Her brother-in-law Yu Feng Guo, has no idea how he will be able to save enough to secure a state pension on his meagre wages from his unstable job.

He and others like him will be looking to their leaders for reassurance that they will be cared for as they approach old age.

But that will costly and complicated. Fixing the economy may prove to have been the easy part.

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July 31, 2008

Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

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Surveys: Many people are now watching TV online

As much as 20 percent of all TV viewing in the US now happens online, says a survey released this week by Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), supporting other recent research which also indicates that the Internet is fast turning into the top choice for many.

For the first time this year, a significant part of the online audience for primetime TV episodes is not watching some portion of the show on TV, according to IMMI’s new survey results. Recent launches of sites like Hulu, offering full episodes of programs, is surely bolstering the trend.

For some shows, online viewing is higher than DVR playback. Yet the IMMI researchers also contend that only about one-third of American households own DVRs, whereas about 82 percent of them have Internet access.

About 29 percent of “traditional live TV viewers” use a DVR frequently, in contrast to just 22 percent of online TV viewers.

Around 50 percent of all online viewing was characterized by IMMI’s respondents as “TV replacement,” whereas 31 percent of the time, it was described as “catch-up viewing,” and 18 percent of the time as “fill-in viewing.”

Online TV as a “TV replacement” is certainly nothing new. As previously reported in BetaNews, in a study conducted by Burst during the recent Hollywood writer’s strike, almost half of those surveyed were spending more time than usual online, in order to avoid repeat programming on TV.

Although that particular study didn’t ask the TV defectors how they spent their time online, it’s probably a good bet that a lot of them were viewing videos.

Europe seems to be much further ahead of the US in watching TV online, according to a survey by Motorola. Even back in mid-2007, when that survey was published, 45 percent of respondents across the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy claimed to be watching at least some TV online, with France taking the lead at 59 percent.

Given the choice, why do some people prefer watching TV online? Another recent survey — this one conducted by Simmons, a unit of Esperian — showed that viewers are 25 percent “more engaged” when watching TV online.

Released last December, the Simmons study defined “engagement” according to six characteristics that respondents identify with media: “personal time-out,” “social interaction,” “inspirational,” “trustworthy,” “life-enhancing,” and ad receptivity.

Although that could be, maybe people just find it interesting to get up off the couch, ditch the remote, and flip around between various Web sites – some showing TV programs, and others offering music, downloadable software, social networking, news, gaming, e-mail, search engines, and an endless array of other stuff.

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft posts videos of users who liked Vista after thinking it was new OS

Microsoft has posted actual videos from its “Mojave Experiment,” an effort to dispel negative stereotypes about Vista by making Windows users think they were running a newer operating system that was actually Vista.

While not referring to Mojave by name, Microsoft first talked about the project publicly during a meeting with financial analysts last week, when Bill Veghte, a senior VP, mentioned an experiment done by Microsoft among PC users who “have a negative perception relative to” Vista.

“They’re not using it, but they are predisposed to think about it in a negative way,” according to Veghte, who heads up Microsoft’s Online Services & Windows Business Group.

Veghte said the subjects in the experiment consisted of a focus group chosen through a phone survey based on random dialing. He then rolled video showing how users who’d voiced anti-Vista leanings in the survey — but were then duped into thinking they were looking at a new OS codenamed Mojave — liked what they saw, even though they were actually viewing Vista.

In practically the same breath, Veghte mentioned another survey done by Microsoft, this one conducted among existing Vista users. “We have 89 percent satisfied or very satisfied, and 83 percent of those customers would recommend it to friends, family, et cetera. That is a very good result when you compare and contrast the satisfaction levels on other products,” he contended at the meeting.

When early reports about Mojave emerged online late last week, BetaNews contacted Microsoft to find out more about the two surveys discussed at the analyst meeting, and whether their relationship — if any — to one another.

As it turns out, Mojave and Microsoft’s “Vista satisfaction” survey are not related — not directly, anyway.

“The source of the [Vista satisfaction] survey was Penn Schoen and Berland Associates, which is a different company than Microsoft is working with on Mojave,” a Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews today.

Mojave, on the other hand, was aimed at getting a better understanding of “the reactions of customers to Windows Vista, when they were not aware that they were using Windows Vista,” she said.

“The people we tested were were a collection of Mac, Linux, and Windows users who have not made the switch yet to Windows Vista,” BetaNews was told. “We look forward to showing them on July 29.”

BetaNews asked Microsoft whether the Mojave videos will be released in Microsoft ads. “We intend to use these videos as part of some upcoming Windows Vista marketing treatments. You can expect to continue to see ongoing product marketing efforts around Windows that communicates its value to our customers,” the spokesperson maintained.

Early Monday evening, prior to the posting of the anticipated Mojave videos, a teaser site established over the past few days spilled a few other details about Mojave.

The Mojave Experiment took place over “three days in San Francisco, July, 2008,” according to postings on the site.

“Subjects get a live 10-minute demo of “‘the next Microsoft operating system – codenamed Mojave – but it’s actually Windows Vista,” the teaser site proclaimed.

More than 120 computer users viewed the “Mojave” demo, presented on an HP Pavilion DV 2000 with 2GB of RAM.

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