Chinese Corner: China has a betel nut problem

Chinese Corner is Jiayun Feng’s weekly review of interesting nonfiction on the Chinese internet.

Chewing to death

You can never wake up the betel nut enthusiasts who pretend to be asleep
By 龚菁琦 Gōng Jīngqí
March 16, 2019

Betel nut, as innocuous as it seems, is in fact deadly. And this is not a new finding, because in a report released by the World Health Organization in 2003, the agency provided sufficient scientific evidence to raise awareness about the danger of chewing the nut, which can lead to various diseases such as oral cancer.

Despite its carcinogenic nature, betel nut, which gives consumers a buzz on par with six cups of coffee, has a massive market in China, where people casually pick up the habit of chewing it at a young age and gradually become reliant on it to stay energetic. In some areas, consuming the nuts is even considered a symbol of status, which blind millions of nut enthusiasts to the potential lethal costs.

It’s hard to change Chinese people’s perceptions of betel nut because compared to nicotine and alcohol, whose detrimental effects on human health have been extensively studied and reported, the danger of betel nut still hasn’t gained adequate media coverage. What makes things worse is that in places like Hunan Province, where chewing betel nut is deeply ingrained in its culture, local governments are inclined to leave the growth of the nut industry unchecked due to its economic contributions.

tao chongyuan

The tragic tale of Tao Chongyuan

Tao Chongyuan: The obscured and the impaired
By 葛佳男 Gě Jiānán
March 26, 2019

Roughly a year ago, Táo Chóngyuán 陶崇园, then a 25-year-old graduate chemistry student at Wuhan University of Technology, jumped to his death from a school building. In search for the cause of his suicide, Tao’s families and close friends discovered that he had long been a victim of emotional and physical abuse inflicted by his supervisor, Professor Wáng Pān 王攀. A deep dive into Tao’s fraught relationship with Wang later revealed that the instructor had a disturbing history of abusive behavior. In order to manipulate his students into toxic relationships with him, Wang utilized a combination of classic techniques, including constant verbal insults to make his victims feel worthless, occasional rewards for what he viewed as “good behavior,” and outright intimidation and retaliation.

Deeply saddened by Tao’s death and irritated by Wang’s long-term misconduct, Tao’s parents and sister filed a civil suit against the teacher last year, asking for 1.28 million yuan ($191,000) in compensation and a public apology from Wang. After rounds of negotiations, the two parties recently reached a settlement, with Wang agreeing to compensate Tao’s family 650,000 yuan ($97,000). But the apology he delivered, in Tao’s sister’s eyes, demonstrated no sincere remorse for his despicable actions, and Wang, despite being barred from mentoring students since the incident, remained at his teaching job without any form of punishment by the university.

In an attempt to seek justice for Tao, journalist Ge Jianan spent half a year talking to the deceased’s acquaintances at school and in his personal life. What she found is included in this heart-wrenching article, in which she writes:

“In those days, he was insecure, anxious, and lonely. I did my best to approach him and I wrote this story to commemorate him, as a victim who used to be around but unseen in most people’s eyes.”

Related reading:

陶崇园姐姐:只能这样算了啊,能怎么办,希望我们可以开始新生活 Tao Yuanchong’s sister: We left it at that. What else can we do? I hope we can start a new life.


Xiangsheng’s pivot to a new age of fandom

Conquering Deyun Club
By 仉泽翔 Zhǎng Zéxiáng
March 17, 2019

Like many other traditional Chinese performing arts, crosstalk, or xiàngshēng 相声, was once on the verge of obsolescence in an age where the main consumers of entertainment are young people. But in recent years, xiangsheng has come back in vogue, thanks to Deyun Club 德云社, which is arguably the most popular group of crosstalk artists in China. Led by Guō Dégāng 郭德纲, a prominent crosstalk performer with a sharp business acumen, Deyun Club has successfully adapted to the social media age, cultivating a legion of passionate young fans who idolize charismatic comedians like pop stars.

Driving school

Chinese driving instructors are probably the worst teachers on this planet

Teacher, I don’t want to learn how to drive anymore. Can you teach me how to curse?
By 何颜
March 18, 2019

Driving schools in China are full of abusive teachers, and it’s simply accepted by the general public without much critical attention. Because there are so many trainees hoping to obtain driving licenses and so few instructors available in the market, the disparity has turned driving schools into a world of unhealthy power dynamics, where aggressive, impatient, and bad-tempered teachers can behave like giant bullies, and students no choice but to tolerate the abuse because of Chinese law, which requires drivers to attend a driving school before taking a written test.

This week’s things that I read and liked:

  • 十二生肖里为什么没有猫 Why is the cat not in the Chinese zodiac
    “Simply put, the Chinese zodiac probably had its roots in a foreign culture, which didn’t include the cat as an animal sign in the first place.”
  • 中国流行乐,越来越“内向” Chinese pop music is becoming more and more “introverted”
  • 北京脏摊里的食品人类学 The anthropology of food in Beijing’s filthy street snacks
    “In Beijing, having expensive meals is not worth bragging about. What makes you a real foodie is eating food that has a story behind it.”
  • 上海拆迁简史 A brief history of house demolition in Shanghai
    “Shanghai’s demolition of old houses started in the 1990s and soon became a vital part of its rapid urbanization. There were myriad fascinating tales around that time. From 1991 to 2003, around 3 million people who used to live downtown were forced to move to the outskirts of the city.”
  • 当一个中年男人去看塔罗 When a middle-aged man goes to a Tarot card reading
    “In the past year, the number of her male clients saw a remarkable rise. Most of them came to her in seek of comfort. They are from 30 to 50 years old, more mature than people might think. They have steady jobs, usually in mid-level positions in companies. Some of them are CEOs or senior executives at startups. And the vast majority of their questions are about work and wealth.”