Explosion in car ownership, oil consumption in China

Driving may have peaked in the United States but more Chinese own cars and are buying gas:

Over the past decade, the number of cars sold in China has jumped from 2 million a year to nearly 20 million. No surprise, then, that oil consumption soared from 250,000 barrels a day to 2.25 million barrels a day between 2003 and 2013, according to a new report from United States Energy Information Agency. As a result, since 2009, China has been forced to import half of its oil.

That hockey stick-like growth has, of course, exponentially worsened China’s catastrophic pollution and so the government’s latest 5-year plan calls for 500,000 electric and hybrid cars to be on the road by 2015, with 5 million by 2020. To hit those targets, China has invested billions of dollars to jump-start the country’s electric car industry. It’s also providing subsidies to get the motoring masses to go fossil-fuel free.

Buying a car isn’t just an isolated decision: it is linked to numerous areas in a society.

1. Gas consumption. This can help drive the oil industry, boost the import of gasoline, and affect the price.

2. Environmental effects. More cars means more smog.

3. An infrastructure of roads and other assorted services like gas stations and repair places.

4. Lifestyles that can be designed around the car. This includes more sprawl, fast food, and big box stores.

5. Perhaps a growing cultural emphasis on the independence and status related to owning a car.

All of this is quite a change.

Naperville expands global reach by welcoming Chinese Counsel General

Naperville is an unusual suburb for a variety of reasons including a recent visit from a Chinese Counsel General:

Mayor George Pradel on Tuesday named Chinese Consul General Zhao Weiping an honorary citizen.

“The city of Naperville … is proud to have many guests from all nations visit our community,” he said. “We welcome the people who come here to make their home in our city and we appreciate the opportunity to share our culture with you and learn all about your homeland. We extend our friendship to you as we experience a spirit of mutual understanding and respect.”

Weiping’s consular district spans nine Midwestern states, an area that is home to 300,000 Chinese nationals or Chinese Americans as well as about 50,000 Chinese students, according to the consulate. The consulate office in Chicago provides services ranging from visas to cultural exchanges…

“This award means friendship … between China and Naperville,” he said. “This award also means responsibility. Responsibility for me to work hard for this relationship. The city of Naperville is not only an important business hub in the great Chicago area, one of the most livable cities in the U.S., but also home to tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants.”

Naperville has worked recently to cultivate more international connections and business partnerships, including naming liaisons between the city and large groups of immigrants living in Naperville. The suburb has also named two sister cities in the last few decades:

Nitra, Slovakia chosen in 1993 for these reasons:

Although geographically distant, Nitra and Naperville share many similarities. Both communities:

  • Developed from an agricultural base and now support technical industries;
  • Have similar climates;
  • Enjoy a riverwalk and a nearby arboretum;
  • Place a high value on education and are college towns;
  • Benefit by the presence of service organizations, such as the YMCA and the Lions Club; and
  • Enthusiastically support athletics, the arts and family centered activities.

The goals of the Naperville-Nitra Sister Cities Program include:

  • Creating opportunities for cultural exploration;
  • Providing economic development and trade opportunities;
  • Opening a dialogue that addresses mutual issues including culture, technology, government, business, medicine, environment, and education.
  • Developing partnerships through which we can creatively learn, work, and solve problems together

Pátzcuaro, Mexico chosen in 2010 for these reasons:

Pátzcuaro was chosen as the city’s second Sister City from a list of candidate cities that were evaluated with a scoring system and placed on a readiness chart. Key drivers in the process were leadership, cultural and mutual understanding benefits, distance and ease of travel.

Pátzcuaro was chosen in part because of its similarities to Naperville, including its strong emphasis on primary, secondary and higher education, its honor of history and the arts, a strong and growing economy and ease of transportation. The purpose of the Sister Cities relationship is to encourage cultural exchange between the two communities and establish lasting educational and economic ties.

This hints at the globalization of American suburbs which includes: more immigrants moving directly to the suburbs when they arrive in the United States; multinational corporations locating headquarters and facilities in the suburbs; and the easier spread of information and knowledge between suburbs and all points of the globe. At the same time, how much will these relationships really transform Naperville? Can it become a cosmopolitan/world-aware suburbs 25 miles southwest of Chicago?

Sociologist: China to have the most Christians in the world by 2030

In another indicator of the shift of Christianity from the West, one sociologist predicts China will be home to the largest number of Christians by 2030:

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule…China’s Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

This could lead to a lot of change in China – and change in the United States where many Christians see China as a less-than-Christian country as well as consider their own country to be a (the?) leading Christian nation. Of course, there is some time before this prediction can be assessed and a lot could happen between now and then…

Wealthy Chinese seeking out McMansions

The Financial Times suggests there is one primary reason more Chinese homebuyers are choosing McMansions: they are status symbols. One note: the McMansions hinted at in this article sound opulent beyond the average American McMansion.

Critics of McMansions would often argue a similar process is at work in the United States: McMansion owners want to impress others with their large house. While the price is not so much of an issue (much smaller pieces of real estate in desirable locations can cost much more), the homes show off through an impressive/ostentatious front, plenty of interior space, nice furnishings, and lots of stuff. On the other hand, I suspect a good number of owners purchased such homes because they say they need the space or got a good deal or liked the amenities of the home and neighborhood.

I’m not sure these are mutually exclusive arguments. Homebuyers can want a suburban experience and want to do it in a home that broadcasts their success. After all, the suburban single-family home represents middle- or upper-class success as well as expressions of individualism.

How time zone boundaries can affect cultural practices

Time zones help keep social life across the world consistent but they can have different effects on social life within each time zone:

Now, Google engineer Stefano Maggiolo has visualized what this difference looks like around the world—how solar time lags behind or marches in front of the time on the clock. It’s a rare look at the rhythm of the day—measured and made uniform by technology—affects communities around the world…

Of course, the reasons for standardization are often as sociological as they are technological—and their effects wind up redounding beyond their intent. As Joshua Keating writes at Slate, Spain standardized on central European time during Franco’s reign. This, in turn, led to later schedules in Spain, and to the nation’s famously nocturnal suppers.

“At the time I’m writing, near the winter solstice, Madrid’s sunset is around 17:55, more than an hour later than the sunset in, for example, Naples, which is at a similar latitude,” writes Maggiolo.

It was Spain’s extreme offset that led to Maggiolo’s writing the story.

China, too, uses a single time zone across its territory, which works for the country’s more urban east but hurts the country’s rural west. India does the same—to, as it happens, the opposite effect. In India’s easternmost state, the summer sun can rise as early as 4:30 a.m.

Some historians argue that the invention of the clock and the subsequent development of clock time had a profound effect on civilization. But, tweaking time zones, whether countries want to have a single zone or want to be half an hour off or areas don’t want to switch for Daylight Savings Time (we experienced this in northwestern Indiana so half the year we were on eastern time, half on central time), can lead to some different outcomes and social patterns. In these instances, time can serve nationalistic (in the case of having a single time zone for one country) or economic (the northwest corner of Indiana is on central time and not eastern time like the rest of the state to maintain its ties to Chicago) purposes.

This makes me think that it would be pretty interesting to study people and communities right at the edges of these zones. If India and China have different single time zones, what happens at their border where there is a substantial 2.5 hour difference? Even consistently traversing a one hour time different in the U.S. within one metropolitan area could be interesting.

IKEA in China allowing all sorts of activities in addition to shopping

IKEA in China is allowing patrons to hang out:

Sociologist Sangyoub Park forwarded us a fascinating account of Ikea’s business model … for China. In the U.S., there are rather strict rules about what one can do in a retail store. Primarily, one is supposed to shop, shop the whole time, and leave once one’s done shopping. Special parts of the store might be designated for other activities, like eating or entertaining kids, but the main floors are activity-restricted.

Not in China. Ikea has become a popular place to hang out. People go there to read their morning newspaper, socialize with friends, snuggle with a loved one, or take a nap. Older adults have turned it into a haunt for singles looking for love. Some even see it as a great place for a wedding.

This stands in contrast to efforts in some McDonald’s in the United States to limit how long patrons can stay. But, this stance might be ingenious for more companies:

1. It may raise the image of the company. It is a cool place to be. Oh yeah, you can buy stuff there as well.

2. In areas that lack public spaces, these retail locations can serve an important function.

3. It may just lead to more sales. Unfortunately, stories like this often don’t include this information.

New documentary shows China’s Internet addiction camps

A new documentary goes inside Internet addiction facilities inside China:

In a documentary called Web Junkies, filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia go behind the doors at the Daxong Camp in Beijing – one of China’s first of many rehab correctional facilities.

The film captures the expressionless faces of the teens, males mostly, dressed in camo uniform attending the three-to-four month “treatment”, which involves military physical training, medication, therapy sessions and controlled diet in order to reconnect them with society.

The addicts, who mostly are brought in against their will by their parents, stay in barren and bleak cells at night, completely cut off from electronics. Except when they are wired up to machines so psychologists can observe their brain activity. Then, during the day, they sit like specimens in front of a panel of doctors in white coats as they try to reprogram their subject…

The documentary, which is being shown at the Sundance film festival, serves to highlight the psychological and physiological effects of the internet, but also calls into question whether parents are simply using this “disorder” to blame all manner of social issues and behavioural issues.

See the documentary’s website, including a clip from the film, here.

There are several interesting factors at work here:

1. Defining internet addiction itself.

2. Discussion of how to best treat Internet addiction.

3. How this treatment occurs in a country, China, that some Americans view as authoritarian.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for some people who know much more about this topic to see this documentary, read about what is going on in China to address Internet addiction, and then compare it to treatment options here in the United States.

In the movie Her, futuristic Los Angeles looks like Shanghai

In recently watching the movie Her, I was intrigued to see the futuristic Los Angeles. What exactly does it look like? Shanghai, as the film was filmed in LA and there. Here is what I noticed in the film:

1. There are a number of portrayals of Los Angeles. For example, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is featured in several scenes. One time the main character walks past the Hall and another scene takes places on an outside terrace with a lotus flower fountain on an upper level of the hall. Here is what the fountain looks like:


See an exterior shot of the building in an earlier post. This building fits well with a futuristic image with its metal panel exterior and unusual lines.

2. There are a number of shots of a city skyline, particularly from the main character’s apartment. However, this view usually has a lot more tall buildings than Los Angeles actually has. While Los Angeles has a downtown as well as an outcropping of taller buildings by Beverly Hills, there were clearly too many to be LA. At the same time, there were also shots featuring the One Wilshire building. So the film plays loose with the skyline shots but they are often Shanghai.

3. There are a number of scenes in public spaces, particularly nice plazas and walkways that connect large buildings. I haven’t explored all of LA but I know these are limited in the downtown so there seemed to be too many.

4. There is a scene early in the movie featuring a subway/train map in the background and while the base map is of Los Angeles, it clearly has too many mass transit routes to match today’s LA.

5. Others images of mass transit don’t look like LA including a bullet train and elevated mass transit lines.

6. Some of the shots from apartments or the tops of buildings show more boulevards than streets or highways.

7. Some of the outdoor scenes have street signs that look more Asian in design as well as more Asian pedestrians (though LA has a large Asian population).

Los Angeles was once viewed as the future of American cities: sprawling, encompassing a broad range of terrains from beaches to hills, and glamorous locations. However, American filmmakers may now be looking to rapidly growing Chinese cities for what the future holds.

“World’s largest building opens in China”

Check out the new biggest building in the world that recently opened in Chengdu, China:

Located in Chengdu (population 14 million), capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China, the New Century Global Center is the largest freestanding building in the world, Chinese officials say…

At 500 meters long, 400 meters wide and 100 meters high, the 1.7-million-square-meter mega-structure is capable of housing 20 Sydney Opera Houses and almost three times the size of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The Global Center, which opened June 28, is home to business offices, hotels, theaters, shopping malls, a faux Mediterranean village and family-themed attractions such as a water park called Paradise Island.

The New Century Global Center is located in an entirely new planned area of Chengdu called Tainfu New District.

The pictures give some indication of the size of this building but I suspect it is one of those things you have to walk around and in to truly understand its size. The volume of buildings is fairly abstract. Even making the comparisons that it could hold 20 Sydney Opera Houses or nearly 3 Pentagons isn’t easy to comprehend.

I wonder if this building opens up another angle on the tallest skyscraper battle in which several cities and countries are engaged. Why build up if you still have the room and ambition to construct sprawling buildings. Having this largest building may give Chengdu some prestige and a showy place to put their ambitions on the map.

“A staggering migration” of hundreds of millions to Chinese cities

A New York Times video highlights the large number of Chinese residents the government intends to resettle to cities in the new two decades. Three quick thoughts on the video:

1. Yes, the scale of urbanization in China is astounding. As the video notes, China’s urbanization rate has approached Western levels in a matter of decades while it took centuries in the West.

2. The video argues that the rapid urbanization in recent years was more natural while the planned urbanization in the next 15 years is more forced by the government. I think this is an odd choice of words: “natural” versus “forced.” This seems to borrow from a typical US/Western explanation that people are free to make choices between urban, suburban, and rural areas. It may feel this way for those with money but it obscures that there are plenty of social forces, such as economic opportunities or race/ethnicity, that “push” and “pull” people away from certain areas. “Forced” seems more correct for official government policy that will require people to move but as a sociologist, I would be very hesitant to suggest social process were inevitable or “natural” or that individuals are complete free agents who can live where they like.

3. The visual in the video is unique. I understand the purpose: to give people the sense of just how large this urban resettlement in China will be. And it is visually more interesting than a graph. At the same time, it is odd to put so many major metropolitan areas in a line. The cities are geographically disparate so why line them up?