China rediscovers the bicycle as oil prices soar while disaffected Japanese youths flirt with communism.
Not long ago, upwardly mobile Asians sneered at bicycles. The Chinese scrapped 235 million of them between 1995 and 2005. But what goes around comes around. What with rising fuel prices and environmental concerns, across Asia it looks as though electric bikes could be the car of the future.
Last year, production of e-bikes rose to 21 million, twice the figure for 2004. Most were made and bought in China where cars are out of reach for many and air-polluting scooters have been banned in 60 city centres.
Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer Giant is predicting a 20 per cent growth in the battery-powered bicycle market in China this year. Chinese companies are still buying cars on a massive scale but for many individuals, the love affair with the motor has already turned sour.
Wheel deal: bikes in Asia
- A basic electric bicycle retails in China for €190.
- Electric bicycles with lithium ion batteries can run for up to 120km on a single charge and cost €1,300.
- About 80 per cent of all pedal bikes produced worldwide are made in China.
- Thailand is becoming a bicycle-producing force. It produced twice as many bikes last year as the year before and exported 1.5 million to the EU.
- Cambodia has started making bikes too. Last year it made 431,000. In 2005 it made none.
In spite of predictions that it would happen in 2009, China has already outstripped the US and now has more people on the internet than any other country in the world (253 million as of June). And this is just the start. While many countries are close to universal internet access (South Korea, 94 per cent; Iceland, 83 per cent), so far only 19.1 per cent of Chinese households have access. Even so, China’s online shoppers managed to spend 16.2bn yuan (€1.5bn) during the first half of 2008.
Among the millions of Chinese students going to university this autumn, 57 will be starting classes at the new Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) on the university’s Shenzhen campus. STL is China’s first US-style law school and it aims to break new ground by teaching students to ask questions rather than learn by rote, as is usual in China.
“STL aspires to provide its students with the same kind of classroom experience that students obtain in the US,” says the school’s founding dean, Jeffrey Lehman. “Our focus is more on helping our students to develop lawyerly skills than on mastering a particular body of doctrinal knowledge.”
Booming demand in higher education in China – postgraduate enrolment was 1.2 million in 2007, up 400 per cent since 2000 – has also prompted numerous US universities, including Johns Hopkins and the University of Southern California, to open study centres in the country. Harvard University opened an office in Shanghai this summer, but so far has no plans to run courses in the country.
A tale of factory workers rising up against evil capitalist oppressors is enjoying a renaissance in Japan, 79 years after it was first published. “Kanikosen” – the Crab Canning Ship – written by Takiji Kobayashi, a communist tortured to death by the authorities aged 29, is suddenly selling in vast numbers. So far this year 467,000 copies have been printed. In previous years, around 5,000 were printed.
The tale of oppression has struck a chord with Japan’s disaffected youth. Life-long employment was the norm until recently, but now few young Japanese experience the security enjoyed by their parents.
At the same time, membership of the Japanese Communist Party has soared to 400,000, with 1,000 joining every month.
Ever wondered why so many fundamentalists emerge from Pakistan? Could be something to do with the fact that only 1 per cent of government expenditure goes on education (according to Unicef’s latest figures). Some 76 per cent of males and 82 per cent of females never make it to secondary school.