Why you should visit China more

I suggest two plans, each of which I have been able to implement in a partial way only:

1. Take the train around to random first, second, and third tier Chinese cities.  Many of them will have their own cuisines, or they will represent a nearby regional cuisine.  It’s like discovering the food of a new country.  Imagine if Shandong province were a separate country!  How compelled you would feel to visit it for the food, often considered China’s foundational cuisine, plus it uses the finest vinegars.  And yet, because it is part of “China” (Gavagai!), you feel you already know something about Chinese food and thus the need to sample it is not so pressing.  Redo your framing, and rush to some of the lesser visited parts of China.

By the way, you can stay in the second or third best hotel in most Chinese cities for only slightly more than $100 a night, and yet receive five star treatment and quality.

2. How many provinces does China actually have?  I don’t wish to litigate that dispute, but most of them have restaurants devoted to their regional dishes in Beijing.  These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent.  Furthermore they are scattered around town, so if you visit them all you will see many parts of Beijing.

A month in Beijing should allow you to visit them all, plus the air pollution really is better these days.

I should add that western China has by far the best raisins I have sampled in my life, most of all the big red raisins.  Until my trip to Xi’an, I had never actually tried a real raisin with the real raisin flavor.  Forget the Terra Cotta Warriors, discover what a raisin is!


1. Yes, the regional cuisine is great, but once you reach second and third tier cities, unless you read mandarin it's very difficult to know what you've ordered, and what you receive. Having spent much time there, I eventually found that I enjoyed most dishes with eggplant, so I learned to look for this 茄子, but the dish it came in always varied dramatically. It's mystery dining at it's best I guess.

"These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent."

So will you be deactivating this blog?

+100 ;)

Considering Cowen's first book is titled "Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding" (affiliate link to the left!) it's a mystery why so many commentors assume he's some frothing anti-government anarchocapitalist.

'I don’t wish to litigate that dispute'

Of course not - if you publicly declare Taiwan to be a province of China, the Taiwanese will take exception. If you declare Taiwan not to be a province of China, you are not likely not to be able to visit China in the future. So, being a good libertarian, it is easier to say nothing concrete, and thus continue to enjoy the advantages that accrue from simply not making a statement relating to whether Taiwan has the right to be considered its own nation, as compared to a province of a Communist Party ruled nation. Libertarians - always sticking up for their own freedom to travel, speak, etc., while not 'litigating' a question relating to the freedom of millions.

However, since we all know how the Chinese react to anyone advocating Tibetan independence (APT is pretty much defined by how the Chinese deal with those advocates in terms of computer attacks), that one gets a reasonable pass at a pragmatic level. The Chinese have a policy of zero tolerance for indpendence in place, where it is abundantly clear that even suggesting that Tibetans have any freedom apart from what the Communist Party grants them will be met with all the official disapproval and sanctions that the Chinese government has at its disposal. So a good libertarian, looking at the big picture of spreading the message of how freedom is of supreme importance in human affairs, could only travel to China in the future by keeping such opinions to themselves.

'plus the air pollution really is better these days'

A slightly more self aware economics commentator might - just might - draw a conclusion about the main cause of that air pollution, and what it means in terms of China's current economic state. For example, there is this information from a GMU econ professor -

'First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them. This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word. They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off. They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not. Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app. A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers. But they didn’t. What does that say about what one might call…”the monitoring end”…of this new deal?

Third, a lot of the relevant Chinese regulatory apparatus is at the local not federal level (in fact it should be more centrally done, even if not fully federalized in every case). There are plenty of current local laws against air pollution which are simply not enforced, often because of corruption, and often that pollution is emanating from locally well-connected, job-creating state-owned enterprises.


Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues. For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.' http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/11/when-will-china-reverse-its-carbon-emissions.html

Well, OK, that commentator seems to think that China will not be able to improve its air pollution problem, as of less than a year ago. Which just might make think that some other factor is causing the air to be cleaner.

if you publicly declare Taiwan to be a province of China, the Taiwanese will take exception.

Actually no one disputes that Taiwan is a province of China. At most Taiwan has a political party or two who would like it if Taiwan was not. But at the moment, both governments, and every country in the world, is agreed - Taiwan is a province of China.

It is just that most people think it is a province of the People's Republic of China and some other people think it is a province of the Republic of China. The Republic of China presently controlling the province of Taiwan and some small bits of Fujian (and perhaps Guangdong).

Don't feed the troll, correct the troll.

Lots of people consider Taiwan to be a separate country.

Recognition by governments is governed by fear of China or greed. Taiwan has good reason to fear the brutal, illegitimate regime in power so I can't blame them but the rest of the world has no such excuse.

The freedom of millions balances on the knife-edge of a throwaway line in a blog post.

Raisin related: I'm currently in Bangalore and the bananas they have here are the best I've ever had. This fact seems to be common knowledge among Indians.

And by "better", you mean more of it??? The PM 2.5 has been in the 300s the past few days. A few nearby areas in Northern and Western China hit 999 - yeah, that's right... the pollution was literally off the charts.

(For those who don't know, 100 is pretty bad and 200 starts to be the point where you can't see through it and your wyes just burn.)

He is talking about Beijing, which is currently about 167.

So am I. Because I live here in it!!

As a local, have you found a domestic liquor that approximates vodka? When I ask Chinese about that, they always want to recommend Maotai. What part of not bitter and harsh did they not understand?

If you want to get technical, baijiu (of which Maotai is a brand) is vodka, just made with sorghum instead of wheat or potatoes as in the west. It gives it a slightly distinctive flavor but there are better examples of it out there than the base-level Maotai. Beijing has a couple of bars devoted to serving baijiu these days, so those are worth a try if you're honestly curious.

I usually describe Chinese baijiu as rubbing alcohol with notes of kerosene.

I am not interested in baijiu per se, I am just wondering if there is a specific version that sucks less. Japan has Suntory whiskey, why no Chinese versions of potato based vodka, grape or other fruit based brandy?

I am currently traveling in China (Beijing, Hangzhou, and some large and small points in the interior), and have done so several times before, but noticing a few interesting tidbits, which I'll present at a high level, as slice-in-time observation samples:

* On a tour of a silk factory / museum, less than 1 in 45 of the domestic tourists bought anything of substance at the silk gift store. Normally Chinese love to buy stuff, in my experience, during these tourist trips and it is expected. But I watched busload after busload of tourists leave the very large facility either empty-handed or with a plastic banjo for the kid. Does this mean people are hunkering down?
* We all know that there are large tracts of unoccupied apt complexes, but what is interesting to note is that many of them are being held back from being listed on the market.
* Several communities of complete luxury houses sitting vacant next to older more rustic housing filled with people. I guess there is no worry about squatters as they are probably dealt with quickly.
* A Costa Coffee shop, located in a prime spot on West Lake in Hangzhou was closed permanently along with a nearby restaurant, both sitting empty. If you haven't been, there is more foot traffic around this lake than Disneyworld on Christmas, especially during Spring Festival, so it is curious to note that a replacement hadn't jumped in. Also to note there are several local Starbucks and they seemed to be doing okay. Starbucks has adapted their food assortment too to the local habits.
* More people drinking domestic whiskey in fancy restaurants. Either it has improved considerably, there is fervor for national products, or splurging for foreign bourbon or scotch is out of fashion.
* Several foreign (BMW mostly) makes of cars with tires way over due for a change or with a new one in front and old ones in back, even a newer Maserati with bald tires. I look at tires when others look at shoes. I did see three spanking new Teslas in one day trip though.
* In the small villages, there were bustling updates to grandmother’s house: a potential retirement hedge?
* Passive solar hot water is in the strong majority of single-family homes in non-urban areas (the others likely have no hot water). Having used a shower that utilized it, even during cloudy and rainy days I had plenty of hot water and the temp ranged between 60-75C.
* Electric scooters are more and more popular and at around 300 US, a bargain.
* Beijing’s air quality is much better.
* Taiwan’s Luxgen auto is gaining in popularity on the street.
* Jobs are plentiful if you are a young woman and signs posting openings specifically note that only young women need apply. They make about 2000 Yuan a year on average
* A young man I know when asked what car he drives, said “Golf… Das Auto!” Noting the German in the American marketing campaign.
* There were competing fake Apple Stores in a small town, one proclaiming that it was an “Authorised Dealer”. When I asked him about his wares and if they were fake, he freely admitted that he could sell fake ones, that work great apparently, but he had real ones from HK for about 1000 US. An interesting marketing strategy, admitting that you have fake ones to eliminate the cloud of mistrust by letting the buyer in on the secret. But the trick being that real ones from HK were likely fake too.

Xi Jinping's corruption crackdown has really hit the market for luxury goods in China hard.

As I've mentioned previously, my best friends' son will be spending this summer in China. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has always had an intense interest in China and the Far East. He attends an elite private school where he is rising senior in high school. Most of the students are day students, with a few nonresidents who reside in the small dorm that is attached. In the past, the boarding students were mostly from Europe, but not any more: today, they are Chinese. As a scholar, I can understand why Cowen would be interested in China, for it is a laboratory for observing economic theory in the real world. Indeed, the contrast between the west and China couldn't be more stark, as we have relied almost exclusively on monetary stimulus while China is implementing fiscal stimulus on an unprecedented scale. We can already observe the consequences of reliance on monetary stimulus, and soon we will be able to observe the consequences of reliance on a combination of monetary stimulus and an unprecedented level of fiscal stimulus. I am skeptical that we will actually learn anything from China's experience, because if that experience is positive, China will be viewed more as a threat than as a laboratory for us to learn.

Cowen is the scholar, not I.

Make sure the kid enjoys it. My year as a college student in China was one of the best of my life. Fascinating just to step out of the door, great social life, interesting people, engaging studies but not high pressure, plenty of free time, so many opportunities for adventurous travel. Mind you that was in pre-internet days and before the cities became choked with cars.

I'd like to suggest a third strategy - not anywhere near as good as either of your two, but far cheaper. That is to regularly visit the blog Isidor's Fugue http://www.isidorsfugue.com/ whose proprietor is regularly going to provincial cities in China and posting about what he sees, with photos.

The raisins are so good because the vines are irrigated with the tears of freedom-loving ethnic minorities.

I worry about you, Tyler. When the focus of you're travels is centered primarily around feeding your maw, well, it seems a little unsavory.

Coming from a guy who only recently stopped reminding everyone of his sexual predilections, whether we want to hear it or not. Something something glass houses, something stones.

Glass houses, naked teen girlfriends ?

I wouldn't put it past him.

That's the fake Ray Lopez, as TC knows from the email. The real Ray Lopez would not 'you're' for 'your' nor insult master Cowen in such a patent way.

As for raisins, TC probably has never tasted a Corinthian currant (white grape used exclusively to make white currants), a real raisin.

Nice Quine reference!

Maybe not completely appropriate, but nice all the same!

Have you visited Yunnan yet? It's my favorite food region, though I will disclaim that I grew up there and haven't visited very many other places. Many of its best dishes are seasonal; I don't know how well the mushrooms/herbs, rice cakes, etc. make it up north.

Motel 167 was good too for 30$ a night. Somehow the Chinese manage to make things roomy despite having all those people.

Did you try the canteloupe?

Xinjiang canteloupes are the best I've ever tried.

"month in Beijing"

How many people have a month of vacation to go to Beijing? [Actually to spend a month you need 5 weeks of vacation to include travel.]

The joys of being a tenured professor.

I wager that less than one half of 1% of Americans have ever visited China. The percentage who have visited more than once is microscopic.

Spending money to prop up a brutal one party state is morally dubious in any event.

For someone who argues as an economist that a $7 minimum wage is bad for the worker, but earns a wage that affords traveling around China for a month, we have a stark contrast between the life he prescribes for others and the life he negotiates in his real world. Perhaps he assumes everyone reading this blog earns millions per year, not the minimum wage he thinks is too generous for most workers.

All low-skill workers should get tenure and be paid in the six-figures.

This line of reasoning is ludicrous.

"brutal one party state" lol California, Ohio, and Illinois are definitely one party states. Bankruptcy ensured.

"I wager that less than one half of 1% of Americans have ever visited China. The percentage who have visited more than once is microscopic"

If you look up the data, you'll see just over 2 million tourist arrivals in China in 2014 from the USA. Works out to 0.65% of the U.S. pop, in just that one year.

FWIW total worldwide tourist arrivals to China have been running in excess of 100 million per year for more than a decade.

You should get out more!

This is completely accurate.

My favorite Chinese factoid is that China cultivates more mushrooms than the rest of the world combined. Mushroom cultivation is also incredibly regional and you can often find mushroom dishes that are only served in one valley.

Last time you were telling us to visit Bolivia. Most people do not have employers or contacts at foundations who will pay for their vacations. Also, they prefer to spend their down time some place where they speak the language and do not have to contend with open sewers.

They're not the target audience.

The problem with eating in China, which I have, is the high chance of consuming unsafe ingredients -- melamine to extend dairy products, etc. I had a rice dish once and it started moving. Some of the rice kernels were bugs. I thought maybe they were supposed to be there, but found out now upon checking.

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