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The cost of gold

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What did all those medals cost China? Billions of dollars and the effort and sacrifice of countless young athletes, most of whom came nowhere near the Olympics, let alone a medal. There are an estimated 400k kids in specialized sports schools in China.

WSJ: …In the eight years to 2006, the latest set of full-year figures available, China’s spending on sports increased 149% to 9.2 billion yuan ($1.35 billion at today’s exchange rates), compared with a 36% increase to 7.1 billion yuan in natural-disaster relief. Adding to the budgetary pressure is the need to rebuild after this year’s Sichuan earthquake, which will be financed by a 5% reduction in all other government spending. On top of all that, China’s Olympic building spree has left the government with 31 new and refurbished stadiums that it now must maintain.

…Because of China’s population-control policies that allow most families only one child, they are increasingly reluctant to turn over their offspring to the state sports academies. Much of China’s athletic success has been built on vast numbers of athletes from peasant stock who were willing to chi ku — to “eat bitterness” — to grind through the state sports system and have a shot at success.

Despite such heavy spending, China didn’t make up very much ground in track and field. Liu Xiang’s 110m hurdles gold in Athens was described as “the heaviest” and “the one with the most gold content” of all of China’s medals. (Note, cf. Phelps, that they didn’t say this about a swimming medal. They have a pretty realistic idea of which sports are the most competitive 🙂 Liu’s failure to compete in Beijing due to injury may have been the single biggest Olympics story in the Chinese media.

On the other hand, Jamaica (population less than 3 million) had a great Olympics on the track: three golds and three world records for superman Bolt, and a medal sweep of the women’s 100m.

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Written by infoproc

August 23, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Posted in China, olympics, sports

The tidal wave from PRC

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Will China’s Beijing Olympics performance match their dominance of international science competitions? A reader sends the following information.

Yes, yes, I know — but are they creative? 😉

China took the gold medal in 2008 the 49th International Mathematical Olympiad (July 10th to 22nd, 2008 – Madrid, Spain) link

Russians came in 2nd by very small margin. USA came in 3rd with the help of Asian students such as Alex Zhai who got a perfect score of 42, along with other two students from China. (Big surprise is where have the Indian students gone? Maybe in the SpellingBees? 🙂

China also took the gold medal in the 39th International Physics Olympiad (2008) – Hanoi, Vietnam (28/07). All of its participants got Gold medals. Canada and US team members are also mostly Chinese. Taiwan is in second place. link

At 2008 the 40th Chemistry Olympiads held in Budapest, Hungary on July 21, 2008, all 4 Chinese students got gold medals, again China in 1st place.
link

Written by infoproc

August 6, 2008 at 1:46 am

Angry Youth: Chinese nationalism

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The New Yorker has a great piece on the resurgent nationalism of young Chinese intellectuals.

A couple of weeks later, I met Tang Jie at the gate of Fudan University, a top Chinese school, situated on a modern campus that radiates from a pair of thirty-story steel-and-glass towers that could pass for a corporate headquarters. He wore a crisp powder-blue oxford shirt, khakis, and black dress shoes. He had bright hazel eyes and rounded features—a baby face, everyone tells him—and a dusting of goatee and mustache on his chin and upper lip. He bounded over to welcome me as I stepped out of a cab, and he tried to pay my fare.

Tang spends most of his time working on his dissertation, which is on Western philosophy. He specializes in phenomenology; specifically, in the concept of “intersubjectivity,” as theorized by Edmund Husserl, the German philosopher who influenced Sartre, among others. In addition to Chinese, Tang reads English and German easily, but he speaks them infrequently, so at times he swerves, apologetically, among languages. He is working on his Latin and Ancient Greek. He is so self-effacing and soft-spoken that his voice may drop to a whisper. He laughs sparingly, as if he were conserving energy. For fun, he listens to classical Chinese music, though he also enjoys screwball comedies by the Hong Kong star Stephen Chow. He is proudly unhip. The screen name CTGZ is an adaptation of two obscure terms from classical poetry: changting and gongzi, which together translate as “the noble son of the pavilion.” Unlike some élite Chinese students, Tang has never joined the Communist Party, for fear that it would impugn his objectivity as a scholar.

Tang had invited some friends to join us for lunch, at Fat Brothers Sichuan Restaurant, and afterward we all climbed the stairs to his room. He lives alone in a sixth-floor walkup, a studio of less than seventy-five square feet, which could be mistaken for a library storage room occupied by a fastidious squatter. Books cover every surface, and great mounds list from the shelves above his desk. His collections encompass, more or less, the span of human thought: Plato leans against Lao-tzu, Wittgenstein, Bacon, Fustel de Coulanges, Heidegger, the Koran. When Tang wanted to widen his bed by a few inches, he laid plywood across the frame and propped up the edges with piles of books. Eventually, volumes overflowed the room, and they now stand outside his front door in a wall of cardboard boxes.

Tang slumped into his desk chair. We talked for a while, and I asked if he had any idea that his video would be so popular. He smiled. “It appears I have expressed a common feeling, a shared view,” he said.

Next to him sat Liu Chengguang, a cheerful, broad-faced Ph.D. student in political science who recently translated into Chinese a lecture on the subject of “Manliness” by the conservative Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield. Sprawled on the bed, wearing a gray sweatshirt, was Xiong Wenchi, who earned a Ph.D. in political science before taking a teaching job last year. And to Tang’s left sat Zeng Kewei, a lean and stylish banker, who picked up a master’s degree in Western philosophy before going into finance. Like Tang, each of his friends was in his twenties, was the first in his family to go to college, and had been drawn to the study of Western thought.

“China was backward throughout its modern history, so we were always seeking the reasons for why the West grew strong,” Liu said. “We learned from the West. All of us who are educated have this dream: Grow strong by learning from the West.”

Tang and his friends were so gracious, so thankful that I’d come to listen to them, that I began to wonder if China’s anger of last spring should be viewed as an aberration. They implored me not to make that mistake.

“We’ve been studying Western history for so long, we understand it well,” Zeng said. “We think our love for China, our support for the government and the benefits of this country, is not a spontaneous reaction. It has developed after giving the matter much thought.”

In fact, their view of China’s direction, if not their vitriol, is consistent with the Chinese mainstream. Almost nine out of ten Chinese approve of the way things are going in the country—the highest share of any of the twenty-four countries surveyed this spring by the Pew Research Center. (In the United States, by comparison, just two out of ten voiced approval.) As for the more assertive strain of patriotism, scholars point to a Chinese petition against Japan’s membership in the U.N. Security Council. At last count, it had attracted more than forty million signatures, roughly the population of Spain. …

When people began rioting in Lhasa in March, Tang followed the news closely. As usual, he was receiving his information from American and European news sites, in addition to China’s official media. Like others his age, he has no hesitation about tunnelling under the government firewall, a vast infrastructure of digital filters and human censors which blocks politically objectionable content from reaching computers in China. Younger Chinese friends of mine regard the firewall as they would an officious lifeguard at a swimming pool—an occasional, largely irrelevant, intrusion.

To get around it, Tang detours through a proxy server—a digital way station overseas that connects a user with a blocked Web site. He watches television exclusively online, because he doesn’t have a TV in his room. Tang also receives foreign news clips from Chinese students abroad. (According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Chinese students in the United States—some sixty-seven thousand—has grown by nearly two-thirds in the past decade.) He’s baffled that foreigners might imagine that people of his generation are somehow unwise to the distortions of censorship.

“Because we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed,” he said. “We are always eager to get other information from different channels.” Then he added, “But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed.”

Also, see this Times profile of 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, and this discussion of the Chinese drive for medal dominance. Note, despite a population base of 1.3 billion, a Soviet-style sports system with a budget of billions of dollars, and an acute hunger for success, I predict that the Chinese will be surpassed by Jamaica (3M people with rudimentary training facilities) on the track.

And this: Orville Schell, writing in the New York Review of Books, China: Humiliation & the Olympics.

Written by infoproc

August 2, 2008 at 4:30 am

Posted in China, globalization

Beijing ballers

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[I’m delayed at EUG waiting for my flight to SFO. Thank god for wifi…]

Check out this awesome video about a Nike 3 on 3 basketball tournament held in the Forbidden City, called Bejing Young Masters.

Written by infoproc

July 11, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Back and jetlagged!

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Sorry for the lack of posts — I am digging out after returning from Paris.

Here are some sports links I found of interest 🙂

Ulitmate fighting on CBS tonight — first time on a national broadcast network! Kimbo Slice, one of the headliners, rose to fame thanks to YouTube video of his street fights. Although he has fan appeal, he’s far from a top level fighter at this stage of his development.

US military embraces ultimate fighting! See here, here and slides.

Profile of China’s surprisingly successful rowing program. (video, slideshow.) They’ve recycled tall athletes from track and field and other sports into rowing. I’ve always thought the talent pool in rowing was relatively thin, and China’s success partially supports this viewpoint.

Some projections have the Chinese olympic team edging out team USA in the overall medal count in Beijing.

Written by infoproc

May 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Nuclear weapons sites in China’s earthquake zone

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I was wondering about this. Interesting detail from the Times on China’s nuclear weapons sites in the earthquake zone. So far so good; let’s hope the dams are OK as well.

Related: China Builds the Bomb, a history of China’s early atomic weapons program. See page 44 for profiles of two of the leading scientists, including Peng Huanwu, a quantum field theorist and student of Max Born.

NYTimes: China’s main centers for designing, making and storing nuclear arms lie in the shattered earthquake zone, leading Western experts to look for signs of any damage that might allow radioactivity to escape.

A senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue, said the United States was using spy satellites and other means to try to monitor the sprawling nuclear plants. “There appear to be no immediate concerns,” the official said.

Nonetheless, “it’s potentially a serious issue,” Hans M. Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, said in an interview. “Radioactive materials could be released if there’s damage.”

China began building the plants in the 1960s, calculating that their remote locations would make them less vulnerable to enemy attack.

China’s main complex for making nuclear warhead fuel, codenamed Plant 821, is beside a river in a hilly, forested part of the earthquake zone. It is some 15 miles northwest of Guangyuan in Sichuan Province. The vast site holds China’s largest production reactor and factories that mine its spent fuel for plutonium — the main ingredient for modern nuclear arms.

Jeffrey G. Lewis, an arms control specialist at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Washington, said the military buildings that make up Plant 821 were probably unusually strong compared with civilian structures.

“I’d rather have been in the reactor building than a grade school” on Monday when the quake struck, he said. The site’s various plants “were built as military facilities, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if, by and large, they came through pretty well,” he added. …

“From what I know, they’re a really brilliant people and I think they do things the right way,” said Danny B. Stillman, a former director of intelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an expert on the Chinese nuclear program because of extensive travels in the 1990s to its secretive sites and bases.

Closer to the epicenter of the quake that struck Monday is Mianyang, a science city whose outskirts house the primary laboratory for the design of Chinese nuclear arms. It is considered the Chinese equal to Los Alamos. Known as the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, it too, Mr. Stillman said, houses a reactor, though a smaller one meant for research.

In China, the academy leads in the research, development and testing of nuclear weapons and has centers throughout Sichuan Province.

…North of the city, for example, is a plant that shapes plutonium into the compact spheres that ignite nuclear weapons.

Nuclear experts said that closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, in rugged hills a two-hour drive west of Mianyang, China runs a highly secretive center that houses a prompt-burst reactor. It mimics the rush of speeding subatomic particles that an exploding atom bomb spews out in its first microseconds.

North in an even more rugged and inaccessible region, nuclear experts said, China maintains a hidden complex of large tunnels in the side of a mountain where it stores nuclear arms.

“It’s very close to the epicenter,” said one specialist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, to the best of his knowledge, the exact location of the secret complex had never been publicly disclosed.

Dr. Stillman, the former intelligence chief at Los Alamos, said he had immense regard for the Chinese weapons scientists and assumed that many of their nuclear plants had been built to ride out the pounding of an earthquake or other disasters, natural or man-made.

“All the Chinese I met in the program were really brilliant,” he said. “So I think they do it the right way. I hope.”

Written by infoproc

May 16, 2008 at 2:59 am

Posted in China, nuclear weapons

Nuclear weapons sites in China’s earthquake zone

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I was wondering about this. Interesting detail from the Times on China’s nuclear weapons sites in the earthquake zone. So far so good; let’s hope the dams are OK as well.

Related: China Builds the Bomb, a history of China’s early atomic weapons program. See page 44 for profiles of two of the leading scientists, including Peng Huanwu, a quantum field theorist and student of Max Born.

NYTimes: China’s main centers for designing, making and storing nuclear arms lie in the shattered earthquake zone, leading Western experts to look for signs of any damage that might allow radioactivity to escape.

A senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue, said the United States was using spy satellites and other means to try to monitor the sprawling nuclear plants. “There appear to be no immediate concerns,” the official said.

Nonetheless, “it’s potentially a serious issue,” Hans M. Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, said in an interview. “Radioactive materials could be released if there’s damage.”

China began building the plants in the 1960s, calculating that their remote locations would make them less vulnerable to enemy attack.

China’s main complex for making nuclear warhead fuel, codenamed Plant 821, is beside a river in a hilly, forested part of the earthquake zone. It is some 15 miles northwest of Guangyuan in Sichuan Province. The vast site holds China’s largest production reactor and factories that mine its spent fuel for plutonium — the main ingredient for modern nuclear arms.

Jeffrey G. Lewis, an arms control specialist at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Washington, said the military buildings that make up Plant 821 were probably unusually strong compared with civilian structures.

“I’d rather have been in the reactor building than a grade school” on Monday when the quake struck, he said. The site’s various plants “were built as military facilities, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if, by and large, they came through pretty well,” he added. …

“From what I know, they’re a really brilliant people and I think they do things the right way,” said Danny B. Stillman, a former director of intelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory and an expert on the Chinese nuclear program because of extensive travels in the 1990s to its secretive sites and bases.

Closer to the epicenter of the quake that struck Monday is Mianyang, a science city whose outskirts house the primary laboratory for the design of Chinese nuclear arms. It is considered the Chinese equal to Los Alamos. Known as the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, it too, Mr. Stillman said, houses a reactor, though a smaller one meant for research.

In China, the academy leads in the research, development and testing of nuclear weapons and has centers throughout Sichuan Province.

…North of the city, for example, is a plant that shapes plutonium into the compact spheres that ignite nuclear weapons.

Nuclear experts said that closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, in rugged hills a two-hour drive west of Mianyang, China runs a highly secretive center that houses a prompt-burst reactor. It mimics the rush of speeding subatomic particles that an exploding atom bomb spews out in its first microseconds.

North in an even more rugged and inaccessible region, nuclear experts said, China maintains a hidden complex of large tunnels in the side of a mountain where it stores nuclear arms.

“It’s very close to the epicenter,” said one specialist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, to the best of his knowledge, the exact location of the secret complex had never been publicly disclosed.

Dr. Stillman, the former intelligence chief at Los Alamos, said he had immense regard for the Chinese weapons scientists and assumed that many of their nuclear plants had been built to ride out the pounding of an earthquake or other disasters, natural or man-made.

“All the Chinese I met in the program were really brilliant,” he said. “So I think they do it the right way. I hope.”

Written by infoproc

May 16, 2008 at 2:59 am

Posted in China, nuclear weapons