Great Chinese Firewall From Beijing, China

eBay in China? The Global Leader in Auction-based Selling

U.S.-based eBay, which launched in 1995 during the earliest days of the first Internet boom, has become a world leader in e-commerce, thanks to its close-knit community of individual sellers. EBay currently conducts operations in 30 different countries (such as Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan) of which one is unfortunately not China. However, knowing how you just never know which way things will end up, I did my research on this auction giant to play with the thought of them actually landing to the Chinese market. Enjoy.

undefinedUnlike other e-commerce platforms, eBay is unique for its focus on the small, individual seller who may be selling anything from small collectible items to concert tickets. In fact, a commonly told story about eBay is that the site was started to sell items like small Pez candy dispensers and laser pointers.

Given this emphasis on the individual seller rather than well-recognized merchants, and on quirky, highly individualized products, eBay enforces strict quality guidelines on its site and makes seller ratings a key part of any transaction. The idea, of course, is that the best eBay sellers will also make the most money. Meanwhile, eBay can avoid the problems of seller disputes and unhappy buyers while collecting transaction fees and listing fees along the way.

Currently, eBay offers goods in a number of traditional categories that are found on any e-commerce platform, including fashion, electronics, collectibles & art, home & garden, sporting goods, and toys & hobbies. Once you click through to the category, it’s possible to filter through specific items, by buyer, price point or other variable.

The auction sale format on eBay, in which sellers indicate the lowest price they are willing to sell an item and then set a timeframe for people to bid on their goods, was highly unique when it appeared at the time. For that reason, economists have studied eBay for insights into the ways that different bidding mechanisms can attract the highest price for an item.

One other competitive advantage of eBay from its early days was its unique relationship with online payment service PayPal, which evolved into the currency of choice for eBay sellers. That relationship formally ended in July 2015, when eBay and PayPal became separate, independent companies. While there are no services within the Chinese mainland, I had a close look at what eBay in Japan had to offer. With an English language interface, it was easy to get to grips on the offerings and my observations were proven to be true up to great lengths.

Going forward, look for eBay to diversify both the items for sale on the site as well as the payment mechanisms for buying and selling. For example, the online auction format now includes the highly popular Buy It Now feature, which enables sellers to establish a price that they’d be willing to sell an item without the need to wait for an auction to end.

Another goal will be the continued international diversification of eBay, especially to the world’s most popular consumer markets. There have been missteps along the way, however. For example, an initial foray into China (2002-2007) turned out to be unsuccessful due to the rise of rival Chinese platform TaoBao. Now that many Asian markets are creating their own homegrown e-commerce champions, it will become harder for eBay to look for growth in Asia.

In many ways, though, the future growth of eBay is only constrained by the creativity of sellers and the seemingly unlimited supply of goods that can be traded for in the secondary market. Just about everyone has his or her favorite eBay story, recounting a unique item that amazingly sold on the site in a matter of hours or days.

Great Chinese Peking Opera at Classic Liyuan Theatre

Peking opera at Liyuan Theatre

One of the top Opera venues in Beijing, the Liyuan Theatre has showcased traditional Peking Opera for many years. Located in the Qianmen Hotel, south of Tiananmen Square, the theater offers a mesmerizing peek into this unique world of old Chinese Opera. The area itself is considered as the birthplace of Peking Opera.

undefinedThe styles used in the opera are based on monkey, Kung Fu, and dancing. The actors are acrobats as well as dancers and every move tends to be sensuous, effortless, and deliberate. The accompanying music is in perfect harmony with the gestures and hand movements of the actors which thus makes the actions more prominent. The elaborate costumes also provide character to the varied performances.

Each performance has 2 to 4 stories or repertoires. English subtitles and explanation of the songs can be seen on giant LED screens. More than 300,000 people visit the Liyuan Theatre every year to check out the wondrous Peking Opera, which begins at 7.30 every day.

The Liyuan Theatre

The Qianmen hotel was constructed in the mid-1950s and renovated in 2002. The theater has been hosting Peking Opera since 1999. The grand opera hall has a capacity of 1000 people. The design, decorations, and architecture of the opera hall is reminiscent of opera theaters in old Beijing.

Seating arrangements include table seating for 8 and regular seating. Simultaneous translation equipment for Japanese and English are also provided. Table seats come with tea and Beijing snacks, while refreshments can be bought by viewers in regular seats. There is also a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs, paintings, etc., or try on face masks or opera dresses. Viewers can check out the make-up process of the actors before the performance begins. Patrons can also visit the Chinese restaurant and indulge in the local delicacies, before or after the opera.

The Peking Opera

Over the years, the Peaking Opera at the Liyuan Theatre has been enjoyed by millions of viewers. It has been developed from varied dramatic forms, particularly 18th century local drama called ‘Huiban.’ The show is a unique integration of performance, music, aria, literature, and face-painting. The rules of the performance are stricter and hence the show is different from the usual regional Chinese plays. Different techniques of expression, such as use of specially painted opera masks to identify varied characteristics like age, temper, etc., and symbolic use of colors, help combine the real and the virtual and thus free the stage performance from all the restrictions of space and time.

The 4 repertoires or stories included in the Peking Opera are “The Crossroads”, a story about the exile of a government official retold in typical Kung Fu style without any singing or dialog; “Farewell my concubine”, a romantic-tragic story about the battle between 2 kings, treachery, and the suicide of the king’s concubine; “Drunken beauty”, which describes the beauty of ‘Yang’ who gets drunk after the emperor does not attend her banquet; and “Bird in cage”, which recounts the story of a mother and her son who get separated during war.

The Peking Opera at the Liyuan Theatre is a treasure-chest of Chinese tradition and culture. Do not miss it if you are in Beijing!

Why The Great Firewall of China was Created

Ever since the completion of its Great Wall, China has been known for its high standards of national protection. The Great Firewall is no different, it simply operates on a different subject at a higher level of security. The aforementioned name was coined in a 1997 article in the magazine Wired, the year in which China created its first internet legislation. China’s ruling Communist Party has had a history of censorship, and once the internet had become a relevant threat to the government, they cracked down on free speech and the spread of anti-government ideas over the web.

undefinedBecause of this, mainland China’s population has not had access to some of the websites that you and I may take for granted, such as Facebook or news sites such as Al Jazeera or the BBC. If you are curious if a certain site is blocked in China, you can check it here. The government of China has poured significant amounts of resources into removing all citizen dissent on the internet by blocking any Chinese-critical websites and making it much harder to be anonymous on the internet. Chinese regulations block certain search words such as “Tibetan independence” or “persecution” so that Chinese citizens will not develop any more anti-government sentiment. Their internet regulations grow in number and in strength every year as the Chinese government seeks a duplicate internet for its people that it can more easily control.

In January of this year, the government in China heightened security online, cracking down on VPNs and requiring U.S. web companies to submit themselves to intrusive inspections. The people of China who would like to bypass the strict set of online rules dislike them, and search for ways around them constantly, making the job of Chinese internet officials much more difficult. The average citizen, however, is not very concerned by the censorship because it is either all they have ever known, or it is of no consequence to them or their lifestyle. It is important to form an opinion on these matters, because one day internet censorship may be implemented in your country or region.

The ethics of the internet regulations are mainly subjective, and hinge on whether or not one believes that security is more important than liberty, or vice-versa. If you are reading this article on a website from somewhere in the world that provides a relatively uncensored internet, take a moment to think about the possibility of internet censorship in your region, and consider how it would affect your life. If you think that internet censorship is unethical or constricting, or if you think that it has its place in society and in a nation’s security, take action. It could be just next year that the Great Firewall comes to you.

There is some more outspoken opposition to the policies, however. Last September, Chinese citizens in Hong Kong protested the internet censorship laws for three days, created an international movement to support them and their protest. While the Chinese government used its censorship abilities to stop the flow of information about the protests out of the country, but news still managed to leak out of the country to the rest of the world. This movement also mobilized some other areas of China as well, briefly bringing the issue of internet censorship to the forefront of the Chinese people’s minds. This was a step forward for China, but more action will have to be taken for progress to be made in that region.

Another Great Wall Defying Show: Golden Mask Dynasty Beijing

Freedom is a natural state for all of us human beings, at least that is the underlying notion that I would hold on to while thinking about how to control the population. Only a government that takes this into account can be successful in manipulation and other techniques. Often enough, people don't realise that they are free even though it is right around the corner. My recent visit to the marvelous Golden Mask Dynasty in Beijing, really got me into thinking about the flip side of the coin.

undefinedThis show, which is shown daily at the OCT Theatre at 5:30PM. Which btw, is a performance that I would highly recommend to anyone. Especially if you are not that much into the acrobatics, this will surely satisfy even the toughest crowd. You might want to skip the Beijing Happy Valley, which can be fun too but not necessary at all. The highlight of the Beijing Nightlife is definitely the Golden Mask story which highlights a story of struggle, freedom and everything you could expect from an ancient Chinese tale. Which up to a degree is even a real story, at least I was really amazed by the skill and precision that was put into the whole act.

Anyway, what got me thinking is how at least for me personally.. watching the show and going deep in to the magical dynasty just made me feel free. When I left the theatre, I was filled with energy and power to do anything I wanted. This effect lasted for the whole day, making a hugely inspired time for writing and other inspirational work. Surely, if the Chinese government would know that their "firewall" is being passed by this awesome production, they would probably ban it. At least this was my first thought. But it's just not the whole issue, in fact, it is better to give people the feeling of freedom and enjoyinment.. because that is the moment that they wont complain and will be more subject to other rules and regulations that can restrict their lives. Such as the very Great Firewall of China which has become a symbol of control over the land.

When you look at the ordinary lives of the Chinese, they seem very relaxed and having fun going about their lives. Just like in the west, I don't think they are any less or more free than in the United States for example. Techniques are just the same, and while a performance such as this can be as amazing.. it does have it's flip side of the coin. Enjoy, but never loose the ability to be aware of what is really happening.

Lastly, all I can say is.. go and visit the Golden Mask Dynasty Show. Perhaps watch the Show Trailer beforehand. You will not regret it as it is an absolutely fantastic and thrilling show. Plus remember to book advanced discount tickets before you go!

Chinese Monster of Social Internet Services

Obviously a significantly large portion of the Chinese jump the wall to access internet services that would normally be blocked in mainland China. Yet probably the biggest thing still keeping most people from obtaining a VPN service or such, is that almost every major western social internet service has been copied. And if there is one thing about Chinese, is that they love to chat and socialise not just in real life but especially online. Replacements of Facebook, Twitter and other services have such huge user numers that once you see them you start to understand that this is the biggest thing keeping Chinese at bay. Not the firewall restrictions themselves, which doesn't sound that techy doesn't it.

undefinedFor example, "Youku" which is the most popular video hosting service in China and rival to YouTube boasts a whopping 500 million active users. That's half a billion users which is about the same as YouTube claims to have for each month. While statistics are not always that correct, it is obvious that we are talking about numbers that are hard to imagine without understanding the massive scale.

Interestingly enough, the Twitter equivalent known as "Weibo" in China has seen a decrease of internet users, with still is at an approximated 10 million users. The decline is reported to have been caused by the popularity of another chatting and social software "Wechat", which is nearing again the 500 million mark in 2014.

As I said, numbers are numbers and should not be taken in exact data. However there is just no denying that the Chinese market of social users has been well established, within their own borderline. Consequently keeping the Chinese population happy, enough at the least!

Greetings from China,
Riccardo Chiappa

Beyond Walls at Chaoyang Theatre Chinese Acrobatics

The internet is a constany battle in China and sometimes you just need ways to loosen up, and do something fun. Living Beijing is also sometimes hard on you, with all the polution and busy city life around you. That's why in contrast to the hard city-realities, the Chinese have been pretty inventive with ways to unwind. Many of which come in the form of performing arts, where one of our favorites is Chinese acrobatics. And that's exactly what we went out to do, just to get our minds of the buzz with our heads flicking like broken monitors at this stage of our geeky lives. When looking for an amazing acrobatic performance in Beijing, there is only one place that you need to know which is the Chaoyang Theatre "exquisite". A lot of fun not just for kids, but playful adults like us.

undefinedWatching the most amazing feats you can probably see anywhere is a privlidge of those living in the city. Obviously there are flocks of tourists coming from all over the world to see this. But for us, it's just a good walk away or a metro ride from downtown Beijing. Which is something that doesn't make the experience any less as the thrill just flows through your vains as you watch Chinese tradion taken to the level of perfectionism that is hard to describe in words. Indeed, whenever we get together with a bunch of first timers, it's Chaoyang Theatre that is high on our list of things to do. Besides eating and drinking, we just couldn't think of a better past time. Even though they have performances daily, with discount ticket booking that will knock your socks off.. it's better to go there a few times a year to keep it precious.

Nowadays, one of the biggest pleasures is just to see the faces of my friends light up when they first see the acrobatic show. This time, a good friend of mine from 'greatfire', was coming to say hi and I was just astonished that he had never been there. Being a Beijinger without this knowledge of how thrilling Chinese acrobatics can be is a shame. Which we soon corrected after knocking out a few pints at the beer street in Sanglitun.

This is a place where the great firewall wont tuch us and you can scream out loud pretty much without limits. Unlike our daily lives of battling with the internet, it's really a freedom-trip to a high place called crazy acrobatics. I guess those two words would describe the whole thing at it's best. With or with you, the show must go on. Visit the Chaoyang district and get of at the Huijalou station to get up and close with the Chaoyang acrobatics. I am telling you guys, theatre doesn't get better than this and it really helps you to forget about computers for a day or two. Now suffering the consequences of extreme fun, eating, drinking and the performing arts. And me and my buddy are not regretting one bit.

See you soon with more geeky stuff.

Riccardo Chiappa

Uh-o, The Congress is Here!

It's the so fun time of the year, when the great heads of the Chinese leadership get together and ponder about the future of the country. Known as the China's National People's Congress meeting, this year in 2015 has set out to eradicate corruption amongst many other important political issues.

undefinedWhile China ha set it's economic growth target to an all time low, at 7 per cent this year... it's great firewall defence has not seen any dicline in it's operations. Quite the opposite, at this time of the year the geeks who are watching over the internet in mainland China, are at their most alert. Any slip of information might cause an oversight of tremendous... hey, wait a minute.

It's like sometimes you think, that it's not just you but also those very congress people who don't know what they are trying to protect themselves from. Indeed, you could say that there is just fresh paranoia in the air. Well, we definitely need to loosen things up so that these meetings would be a little bit more relaxed. Don't you think.

It's going to be a week long fun of VPN blocking amongst other things.. so one can only expect a rocky ride for the internet life during this time. Hang on there buddy, China that is because these kinds of blocks are not always good for the 7% if you know what I mean.

Caring regards,

Riccardo Chiappa

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy year of the Goat/Sheep according to the Chinese calendar! It's been a thrilling ride for the past year, seeing how the internet has become so huge, yet at the same time more restricted than ever before. We saw banks being blocked because of a paranoid government trying to block mirror sites to services like BBC news. It's just an incredible situation that makes you ask one very important question..

undefinedIs the Chinese government in panic or just business as usual? I believe that the year 2015 will be crucial in teaching us the answer to this question that everyone is dying to know. Of course, you have to understand that the policies that China is very strict on.. have prevented the collapse of the Peoples Republic of China.

Something that would have happened without human intervention. The country would have grouped into smaller countries a long time ago, with it's rich diversity in culture and languages.. no wonder.

So while it is obvious that this is something that the government is blocking every day of the year. Is it really something that they fear for.. or are things going their natural path. It's going to be an exciting one... that I am so much looking forward to. I will keep you updated on the latest improvements of the Chinese Firewall so stick around folks.

Happy new year folks.

Riccardo Chiappa

Understanding China is Understanding the West

Without a doubt, China is not a country that is easily understood. Of course, those who think that they know what communism is claim that they understand the country. But of course, it is far more complex than that. Just like democracy is different in all the parts of the world, which is another well misunderstood concept. However, what makes China go top to the level of "misunderstanding", is the secrecy that is going behind the wall.

undefinedBut for those, who can speak the language and go into the underworld can start to learn a lot of things about the workings of the nation. It is much more than some communistic country, it's a political mess at times or a brilliantly orchestrated masterpiece of mind control. Something between the two is probably along the lines of a make shift truth.

Then again what's to be understood that democracy is pretty much the same in terms of secrecy, just that everyone seems to be ignoring the facts. Putting the light on the Chinese great firewall and other "questionable" policies in the country, helps democratic nations to divert unwanted attention from their unethical practises. So in some ways, China is no different from western countries and the similarities are becoming more and more as we go on. It's a weird thing to think about, but it's like we are shifting between the two.

The west becoming more like the east, and the east becoming the west. And how the great firewall of china works in all this, is absolutely crutial. Making the topic of this blog one of the biggest debates in the modern world that's to be well dominated by the Chinese.

Riccardo Chiappa

Getting US Movies & Stuff from iTunes

Being stranded off in another country such as China, one sometimes has the cravings for all kinds of US stuff. Thus wanting to download some favourite movies and TV shows from iTunes I bumped into a rather nasty wall. No, this actually had nothing to do with the great wall of China. But instead, an economic policy that restricts content being sold through the internet. Thus the trusty iTunes store stopped me saying that I could now download or buy, because I was not located in the United States of America, USA.

undefinedSeems I am not the only one and soon found a great blog post on how to purchase US iTunes content abroad. Works for any country, from UK, Canada, Australia, India, France, Germany, South American countries you name it. There was a few extra dollars involved, because you had to go around an ebay seller for buying US gift vouchers for the store. Anyway, it seems that this restriction is quite difficult to impose and going around it was easier than going around the Chinese firewall.

I would like to know how many people are doing this, but even if there are restrictions, I'm sure it won't hurt Apple who will only profit from this. Am I not right? So, America and the might of Macintosh has showed as again that it is not only the Great Chinese who can build great restrictions for internet users. Oh well, I am off to watching my US movies. Buhahah. Please note: Try any of this with your own risk. Bye!

Riccardo Chiappa

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