Jun
18

Researchers pinpoint nine symptoms for determining presence of condition

AFP
18 June 2010

For the first time, researchers have identified the symptoms linked to ‘male menopause’, which results from low testosterone production in ageing men.

Unlike female menopause – which affects all women, usually from the age of 40 onwards – male menopause affects only 2 per cent of elderly men and is often linked to poor general health and obesity.

Of nine symptoms associated with the condition, the three most important are decreased frequency of morning erection, decreased frequency of sexual thoughts (or sex drive) and erectile dysfunction, according to the latest research by the University of Manchester, Imperial College London, University College London and other European partners.

These symptoms together with low testosterone levels are required to establish a diagnosis of late-onset hypogonadism, or male menopause, the researchers said in a study published in yesterday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings should provide new guidance for physicians prescribing male testosterone therapy to ageing men with a dwindling sex drive, the researchers said.

Use of testosterone therapy has increased by 400 per cent in the United States since 1999, but not at all in other developed nations, they added.

Professor Ilpo Huhtaniemi of Imperial College London, who co-authored the study, said men who exhibit sexual dysfunction symptoms but have normal levels of testosterone can be reassured that something else is causing their problems and hormone treatment will not help.

For the study, researchers measured testosterone levels in 3,369 men aged between 40 and 79 from eight European centres, and asked for details about their sexual, physical and psychological health.

Other non-sexual, physical symptoms associated with male menopause include an inability to engage in vigorous activities such as running or lifting heavy objects, an inability to walk more than 1km, and an inability to bend, kneel or stoop.

Psychological symptoms include loss of energy, sadness and fatigue, although the three showed minimal links to low testosterone, researchers said.

The researchers concluded that a range of other symptoms are not linked with male menopause and could be ruled out. Among them are changes in sleep patterns, poor concentration, feelings of worthlessness, nervousness or anxiety, as well as difficulty getting up from a chair.

The study comes after other experts writing in the journal Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin said there was ‘no evidence’ male menopause existed at all.

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Jun
17

Minnie Chan
17 June 2010

When Li Hai jumped to his death from the fifth floor of his dormitory at Foxconn’s factory in Longhua, Shenzhen, last month, other young workers from Hunan were taking part in a strike at a Honda car parts factory in Foshan.

The two cases speak volumes about contrasting management styles – and worker attitudes – at Japanese-owned Honda and Taiwanese-owned Foxconn.

“Young migrant workers at both Honda and Foxconn have faced the same problems – being underpaid, poor working conditions and being stuck in dead-end jobs,” a 19-year-old intern at the Honda factory said. “But I never thought of resorting to such a stupid way [committing suicide] to solve problems.

“It’s not worth workers sacrificing their lives in exchange for a pay rise.”

The strike, which saw 1,800 workers demanding better pay walk off the job for more than two weeks, was led by two workers from Hunan, both in their twenties. The average age of the strikers was only 20. They went back to work on June 4 after Honda Auto Parts Manufacturing agreed to a 500 yuan (HK$570) pay rise.

Li, 19, who died on May 25, was the ninth Foxconn worker to leap to his death this year, and the third from Hunan. Another Foxconn worker died after jumping off a building at the Longhua complex the next night.

Workers at Honda Auto Parts said it was hard for them to imagine conditions at Foxconn, known for its rigid management style, rapid assembly line and long hours.

“Unlike Foxconn, neither our section heads nor the Japanese management ever swear at us,” a worker in the Honda Auto Parts foundry said. “We’re only criticised if we make serious mistakes. I’ve heard that workers at Foxconn are not allowed to talk at work and can be fined for making mistakes. That would never happen to us because Honda has no such punishment system.”

Four days after Li’s death, Foxconn announced pay rises averaging 20 per cent for half the workers at its Shenzhen factories. It followed that with promises of two more increases and said it would tone down its harsh management style.

The Honda Auto Parts intern, also from Hunan, is studying at a vocational school in Qingyuan, Guangdong. He was recruited last year and will become a regular, full-time worker next month after finishing his one-year internship. He said he was very excited when selected as an intern by Honda, Japan’s No2 carmaker, and had dreamed of becoming a mechanic and opening his own repair shop in four years.

But his co-workers told him he wouldn’t be able to fulfil those dreams by working for Honda.

“I found they are right,” he said. “As an intern, my basic salary is just 800 yuan. Honda doesn’t encourage too much overtime. My maximum monthly income is around 1,000 yuan if I work three days of overtime.

“I still needed to pay 4,000 yuan of school fees during my internship at Honda this year. And I have to spend several hundred yuan on food, clothes and other expenses as Honda just provides us with one meal each working day.”

But compared with workers at Foxconn, three of his colleagues, all 21 years old, said they felt lucky they were recruited by Honda.

“We were all outstanding classmates in our technical school because teachers only recommend good students to big companies like Honda or Foxconn,” the foundry worker said. “But at Honda, we enjoy more freedom than workers at Foxconn.”

While workers at Foxconn can struggle to name a roommate or worker in the same section, another of the Honda 21-year-olds said ties among the 100-odd co-workers in a department at the Foshan factory were very close, especially if they came from the same hometowns or technical schools.

But when talking about their futures, the young men at Honda, who all requested anonymity because they feared reprisals from management, said they faced the same frustrations as Foxconn workers.

When they were studying, one hoped to buy a city apartment before getting married, one planned to run a transport fleet and one wanted to be a racing-car mechanic. They all say their days on the production lines at Honda have dashed those hopes.

“Nothing we learned at technical school has ever been put into practice at Honda. We are just doing simple, repetitive and boring jobs every day,” one said.

“For example, I learned how to command large machine tools at school, but I’ve never even touched a machine tool at the Honda factory because of the finer subdivision of labour in Japanese factories.”

Another complained that the many levels of management had hindered their development.

“There are five levels in our management system, while each level has 15 grades,” he said. “If I want to be promoted, I need to spend at least 15 years to become a section head, who just earns several hundred yuan more than a first-line worker each month.”

Independent labour rights activist Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen, said many Japanese firms like Honda had learned people-oriented management skills from American and European enterprises over the past two decades.

“But Taiwanese companies like Foxconn still implement the semi-militarised management they learned from Japan in the 1950s and 1960s,” Liu said. “Workers at Foxconn have lost their identities after being trained to obey management without question, but people working at Honda have maintained their passion and innovation under a more human working environment.”

Professor Chang Kai, director of the Institute of Labour Relations at Renmin University, who helped the Honda workers negotiate the pay deal with management that ended their strike, said it was irresponsible to criticise young workers at Foxconn as weak.
“When dealing with the same demand for better pay, young workers at Honda could be so rational and actively protect their human rights, while some of their Foxconn peers went to extremes just because of different management styles,” he said.

“Honda workers have kept their own culture but young people at Foxconn have been assimilated by their company.”

Chang said Foxconn’s low wages and excessive overtime demands should be blamed for the breakdown in interpersonal relations at its factories.

“Honda workers could be so active and clever because they have more time to think and cultivate connections after work, while Foxconn workers spend too much time at work,” he said.

Chang said strikes would continue until overseas investors like Honda learned to share their profits with their workers.

“Honda still makes a good profit, even after agreeing to a 34 per cent wage increase for its workers.”

Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said Asian entrepreneurs, including those from Japan and Taiwan, did not recognise the need to share the fruits of their success with workers.

“That’s why so many strikes have taken place in Taiwanese and Japanese factories on the mainland recently, because the basic salary of their workers is even less than that in state-owned Chinese enterprises.”

Jun
15

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Jun
14

Elite education can open doors, but hard workers can still get ahead

By Eve Tahmincioglu
14 June 2010

Many were surprised when news broke that student Adam Wheeler allegedly lied to get into Harvard. But it turns out that fibbing to make it into an Ivy League school is nothing new.

In 2008, Akash Maharaj was accused of lying to get into another Ivy League sister, Yale, and was eventually convicted of stealing scholarship money from the school.

An article about the swindle in the Yale Daily News, which included a host of admission fraud cases dating back to the 1970s, stated that Maharaj’s situation was “a startlingly common story: A student who, swept up in an admissions frenzy, resorts to bending the rules to secure a spot among the elite.”

Scores of students, often pushed by their parents, feel compelled to get into one of the Ivy League universities — including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania — no matter what it takes because many see it as a surefire path to success.

“The Ivy League can open doors for you, through alumni and for interviews,” said Sheila Curran, a career and organizational consultant. “But there is a lot of hype about the Ivy League that is simply not true.”

An Ivy League degree can give you a leg up — and possibly a bigger paycheck — but Curran said that most people can still get ahead with any degree from any school. It has more to do with your personal characteristics, she said, adding that “some people go to Harvard and don’t do well.”

Even so, it’s hard to deny the appeal of being branded an Ivy Leaguer.

Among the elite

Wheeler’s attorney, Steven Sussman, would not comment on his client’s reasons for wanting to attend Harvard. But he acknowledged that the pressure on young people to get into an Ivy League school “is absurd.” He pointed to the 2009 documentary “Nursery University” about New York City parents who are trying to get their kids on the Ivy League university track as early as preschool.

Wheeler, 23, has pleaded not guilty to a host of charges including larceny and identity fraud. His trial is set for Feb. 7, 2011.

Norman Pattis, a Connecticut attorney who represented two students who lied to get into Yale in the 1990s, said his clients were motivated by the societal notion that elite degrees will hook you up for life. “People are hungry for the cachet they think an Ivy League degree will give them,” he said.

Getting that status, however, is harder than ever. According to the Harvard Crimson, the school accepted a record-low 6.9 percent of applicants this year even though the number of applications actually went up 5 percent — topping 30,000 for the first time in the school’s history. Other Ivy League schools also reported increases in applications this year.

What’s the allure? Statistics show you’ll make more money. “The typical Ivy League bachelor’s graduate earns about 27 percent more early in their career, and about 47 percent more by the time he or she is about 40, than the typical bachelor’s graduate from all U.S. schools,” according to compensation website PayScale.com.

And some employers look specifically for Ivy Leaguers. It’s not unusual to see job postings on the major job boards that say: “Ivy League preferred.”

“We don’t limit ourselves to only Ivy Leaguers, but we certainly begin our search there,” said Dan Josebachvili, director of Urban Escapes, a Washington, D.C.-based outdoor excursion company. Of the company’s eight employees, five have Ivy League degrees, as do 80 percent of the firm’s interns. “So it’s safe to say that our roots run deep within the Ancient Eight,” he said.

The prestige factor

Many who make it to the top of their professions often have an Ivy League degree in hand. If Elena Kagan — President Barack Obama’s recent pick for Supreme Court justice — is confirmed, that will be an Ivy League blowout among the highest nine members.

The prestige of an elite degree is hard to deny. Bill Deresiewicz, a former Yale English professor and essayist, understands the practical reasons that would cause a parent to push a child to get into an Ivy League school because of the potential to excel in four areas — finance, consulting, law and medicine.

“The disadvantages are only disadvantages if you have a different kind of value system of what it means to be successful and what it means to be happy,” he said.

He’s concerned that the Ivy League track has become less egalitarian. “The public school system is broken,” he said, adding that wealthy parents are able to give their kids private tutoring and coaching. “That doesn’t give everyone a fair shot.”

“It’s not the case today that the best and brightest are going to Harvard and Yale,” Deresiewicz said.

Indeed, not all the nation’s power brokers are from Ivy League schools. In 2009, just 13 CEOs of Fortune 100 companies held an Ivy League undergraduate degree.

“Not having an Ivy League degree hasn’t held me back as I’ve always had a spirit for entrepreneurial ventures and a passion for hard work, and that comes from within,” said Stephen Wiehe, CEO of SciQuest, who has also worked for SAS and GE.

While experts said an Ivy League university is a smart call for many students, the education may not be right for everyone, especially those students who don’t know what they want or who seek a more nurturing environment — more likely found in a smaller, lesser-known institution.

The environment also may be too much of a pressure-cooker for some kids.

Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant and admissions strategist who helps kids get on the Ivy League track as early as freshman year in high school, had a teenage client who went to a top school but dropped out after only six months because of a mental breakdown.

“She was a straight ‘A’ student who did everything right, but I could tell she was under too much pressure,” he recalled. “I had advocated for a gap year, but her parents overruled it.”

Goodman charges between $7,000 and $40,000 to help prepare students to get into top schools by guiding them on how to choose extracurricular activities, academic classes — even what they should be doing during summer and winter breaks.

“A lot of people say they want the right school for them, but what they really mean is, ‘I want the right school as long as it’s Princeton,’ “ he said.

Attending an Ivy League university is not always the best choice, he added. “If a student is 100 percent sure they want to be a chef, then a culinary institution makes sense. If your objective is to be a general, then it makes sense to try and go to West Point, if you can.”

‘Instant credibility’

Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania, said his Ivy League degree has given him numerous networking opportunities. “I’ve been able to interact with the governor of Pennsylvania, people in Congress who are Penn alum,” he said. “I think the aura of an Ivy League education gives you instant credibility.”

However, that’s not always a good thing. “There’s a segment of Ivy Leaguers who are elitist and don’t see the structural inequalities that exist in our society,” he said. “Sometimes they are in a deep fog.”

At the end of the day, he said, “it’s not about the degree but what you’re bringing to the table. Do you have a moral imperative? Do you understand how to use yourself to serve others less fortunate in society?”

It’s not always a guaranteed job offer either, especially if you’re several years of out of school.

“An Ivy League degree is relevant only for the first job out of school,” said Bruce Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. There’s an assumption, he said, that an Ivy League educated candidate is smart and mature.

However, “if the graduate can’t do the work, they will be fired. A non-Ivy League graduate who is a hard worker and keeps their first job for two, three years, will be able to get their next job based on a track record of success.”

Hurwitz said he has interviewed grads from a host of top schools who were not hired. “Employers are looking for decision makers, decision implementers, and leaders. It does not matter where you go to school; what matters is whether or not you can deliver the goods.”

Jun
14

Choi Chi-yuk
14 June 2010

If people on the mainland are becoming increasingly angry over the arrogance of government and Communist Party cadres, there may be no better example than what happened on Friday night in Anhui.

A tourist bureau chief in the central province’s city of Maanshan was sacked after slapping a teenager who had grazed his car, resulting in a riot involving thousands of people, state media reported. But even after the city’s party secretary announced the sacking, the crowd was unhappy.

Wang Guoqing, head of the tourism bureau of Huashan district, got out of his car at about 6.30pm, smacked a middle school pupil and began quarrelling with him, apparently because the bicycle the student was pushing had bumped Wang’s car, causing slight damage to one of its rear-view mirrors, the Jinling Evening News, a newspaper in Nanjing in Jiangsu province, quoted witnesses as saying in its report yesterday.

“Do you know who I am? I’m one of the leading officials in this district,” the report quoted an unidentified witness as hearing Wang say.

The remark triggered immediate public outrage, which prompted scores of bystanders to lay siege to a police vehicle carrying Wang, demanding his apology.

The report also quoted a melon vendor who said more and more passers-by grew angrier when a woman got out of Wang’s car and told the boy: “I’m a cadre with a party organ, and I’m well aware which middle school you come from. You can be sure I’ll send someone to your school, and you’ll certainly be in great trouble.”

As the crowd continued to grow – estimates said 3,000 to 4,000 – some youngsters began hurling bricks or melons from vendors’ stalls towards Wang’s car and the police vehicles.

At about 10.30pm, nearly four hours after the incident began, Zheng Weiwen, the city’s Communist Party secretary, arrived at the scene and promised to have the dispute settled soon. “If the case is not properly dealt with, please come and hold me, Zheng Weiwen, accountable for it.”

But the crowd would not disperse. At about 11.30pm, Zheng stood on a police vehicle and announced through a loudspeaker that Wang would be fired, but the crowd refused to move. About 10 minutes later, more than 100 riot police, with steel helmets and shields, were sent to rescue the besieged police vehicle, the report said.

The public grew angrier. Some started throwing water bottles at the police.

Finally, it took tear gas canisters fired around midnight to disperse the crowd, the report said.

Yuan Deqin, a district propaganda department spokeswoman, told the paper the Maanshan municipal party committee had met after midnight on Saturday and decided to sack Wang from his post.

Jun
13

Beijing and Taipei celebrate the extraordinary wartime odyssey that saved 19,600 crates of China’s art treasures, seeding magnificent museums in both cities

Mark O’Neill
13 June 2010

In the middle of one night in 1933, the doors of the National Palace Museum (NPM) in Beijing opened – large trucks laden with art treasures moved slowly along the deserted streets, escorted by soldiers with guns at the ready, and reached the city’s railway station.

There they were loaded onto railway carriages; soldiers with machine guns were stationed at the four corners of each carriage. Before the sun rose and the people of the city awoke to their morning labours, the train had left the city, bound for Nanjing.

So began the extraordinary odyssey of 19,600 crates of China’s national treasures, across the northern plains and the Yangtze River and over mountains and rivers to Sichuan province in the southwest, where they were stored for the duration of the Pacific war, to save them from the Japanese military.

After the war, most were returned to Beijing. Some went to Nanjing, and Chiang Kai-shek took 3,284 crates of what he considered the most important pieces to Taiwan, where he built a new NPM on a mountain north of Taipei.

From June 3 to 18, representatives from the two museums are retracing part of this odyssey, travelling 10,000 kilometres from Nanjing and through four provinces and eight cities before finishing in Sichuan. Organised by the Beijing NPM, the event marks the 85th anniversary of its foundation.

It is a joint celebration of how, in the most difficult circumstances, China succeeded in preserving its cultural treasures from the threat of organised looting and destruction like what Nazi Germany inflicted on the territories it conquered in the second world war. They moved thousands of crates at a time the country was losing the war to Japanese forces, who were better equipped and had air superiority and could bomb them at any moment. The areas of southwestern China where the treasures were taken had no railways and poor roads, making their transport slow and hazardous.

This month’s tour also has a political subtext – Beijing wants to stress the common heritage of the two museums and persuade the one in Taipei to lend its pieces to the mainland – something it refuses to do.

The move of the items from Beijing was a major decision. After their occupation of Manchuria in September 1931, the Japanese army moved into north China, entering Shanhaiguan in January 1934. The museum director ordered that major pieces be stored in crates for evacuation at any time.

“After intense debate, the decision was made to move the pieces south,” said Wu Huan, a painter in Beijing and grandson of Wu Ying, an official in the NPM. “Some proposed moving them to Shanghai, others to Xian. Some opposed the transfer and made speeches in front of the gates. The newspapers reported the story and the issue was hotly debated all over Beijing.”

Fung Ming-chu, deputy director of the NPM in Taipei, said that the transfer was top secret. “The cabinet supported the decision of the museum’s management committee to move the main pieces, after the Japanese army approached Beijing. Some people opposed it, including many Beijing people who felt that the government was deserting them.”

Wu Ying was asked by his superiors to take charge of moving the first shipment. “Initially he was against it, saying that these were the treasures of the nation, the responsibility was too heavy and the problems too many,” Wu Huan said. “He proposed waiting for a while.”

Museum director Yi Peiji twice visited Wu in person and appealed to his sense of patriotic duty; so he agreed.

“The train consisted of steel carriages,” Wu Ying wrote in his diary. “At each stop, government officials welcomed the train, with soldiers on horseback and in vehicles on either side of the track. The train travelled at night.”

In the Xuzhou region, 1,000 bandits were waiting to attack the train; they were driven away by government forces the night before it arrived. “On the fourth day, we arrived at Nanjing and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. We could all take a rest,” he wrote.

But the debate among the Kuomintang leaders over where the pieces should be stored had not ended, with some advocating Xian and Luoyang and arguing that it would be a national shame if they were kept in a foreign concession in Shanghai.

While this debate raged, Wu Ying waited anxiously in Nanjing railway station, protected by 500 soldiers, aware of how insecure the crowded location was. Finally, after a delay of two weeks, Soong Tzu-wen ruled in favour of Shanghai. After a journey of three days, they arrived in the vaults of a Catholic church in the city’s French concession. Wu could breathe again and returned to Beijing.

In December 1936, the government completed a branch of the NPM in Nanjing, its capital, and the objects in Shanghai were moved to a new vault inside a Taoist monastery in the city. In the summer of 1937, after the Japanese occupied Shanghai and were moving on Nanjing, the government ordered the collection moved to Sichuan over water, via three routes. It was relocating the capital to Chongqing.

The first group, of 80 crates, went via Wuhan, Changsha, Guiyang and Anshun before arriving in Baxian. The second, of 9,331 crates, travelled by Hankou, Yichang, Chongqing and Yibin before arriving in Anguxiang and Loshan. The third group, of 7,287 crates, travelled via railway to Xuzhou and Chengdu to Emei.

The items were stored in temples, caves, tunnels, private homes and other safe places in Sichuan and the neighbouring province of Guizhou.

During the war, the main task of the NPM officials was to protect and preserve the collection; they still managed to send 100 bronzes, jades, paintings and tapestries to an exhibition of Chinese art in Moscow and Leningrad. Their enemies were the hot and humid climate, robbers and Japanese air raids.

Between February 1938 and August 1943, the Japanese air force dropped 280,000 bombs on Chongqing, mainly in civilian areas, killing and wounding 200,000 people. The air defences were so weak that, during those 5 1/2 years, they shot down only 171 of the 12,000 attacking planes. These raids meant that the art treasures should not be kept in the urban areas that were targeted.

When Japan surrendered in August 1945, all the treasures that were relocated were shipped back to Nanjing. When it became clear they would lose the civil war, the Nationalists took the best pieces from the collection and shipped them to Taiwan. The rest were shipped back to Beijing, except for 2,221 crates that remain in storage at the Chaotian palace in Nanjing, while the Nanjing and Beijing city governments argue over their ownership.

In Taiwan, the pieces were stored in a vault in Wufeng, Taichung county, an inventory was made and comprehensive cataloguing done. In 1957, an exhibition office was open to the public. Chiang Kai-shek planned this as a temporary solution, until he could recapture the mainland.

By the 1960s, he realised that this would not happen and decided to build a permanent museum in Taipei. He selected a site on a mountain in a northern suburb. The museum opened in 1965 and is named after Sun Yat-sen.

“The main credit for setting up the NPM in Beijing must go to Sun,” Fung said in Taipei. “He supported the expulsion of former emperor Pu Yi from the palace and said it must be turned into a museum, saying that the assets belonged not to one family but all the Chinese people. Sun had lived abroad and seen what had been done in Britain and France.

“Those involved with the museum have a sense of mission. They identify themselves with the treasures and protected them with their lives. We have such elderly people in Taiwan who came with the treasures from the mainland. When they left they did not say goodbye to their mothers, because the transfer was a military secret. They were unable to return until the 1980s; they did not imagine it would be so long,” she said.

The last emperor, Pu Yi, was allowed to remain in the Forbidden City even after the revolution of 1911 that overthrew him. Unlike Britain, France and Russia, China let its monarch live after its revolution and even to go on living in his palace.

Pu Yi and his imperial court remained in the northern half of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, and were promised an annual subsidy of four million silver dollars by the new government. He was restored to the throne in 1917, and male residents of Beijing bought false pigtails in preparation for a new dynasty. But opposition in China was so intense that he remained on the throne for only 12 days – and the streets of the capital were covered with discarded pigtails.

He was finally expelled on November 5, 1924, together with his 470 eunuchs and 100 lady servants, because the government feared he might stage another coup. They wanted to stop the theft of precious objects from the palace by him and his followers.

So it was that, at the initiative of Sun and others, the Forbidden City became one of the world’s finest art museums.

Jun
13

13 June 2010

Liu Weidong, a 24-year-old apprentice lawyer in Nanjing, felt embarrassingly rejected by 24 well-dressed single women in a popular, yet controversial matchmaking reality show.

“I had sincerely hoped to find a nice girlfriend on the stage, but I did not expect those girls to be so ‘money-worshiping’ and blunt,” Liu told Xinhua Saturday, recalling his experience of taking part in the show “If You Are the One” about two months ago.

The prime-time show, aired on Jiangsu Satellite TV three nights a week, features a jury of 24 single women questioning male hopefuls, watching their introductory videos and pressing light buttons to decide whether the men are, in fact, eligible bachelors and can remain on stage.

Liu was dismissed by all the female contestants in the show. He has an above-average monthly income of 5,000 yuan (about 732 U.S.dollars), as he said, lives in a rented house and takes the bus to work on weekdays.

“Now I feel so much pressure because I can’t afford a house or a car. But how could those girls find true love if they only care about money?” Liu said.

Like Liu, tens of thousands of single men and women across the country have applied to participate in a string of popular matchmaking programs in recent months, hoping to find dates or otherwise seek fame.

Programs including “Take Me Out” and “Run For Love” air on leading TV channels. Often filled with unmerciful sarcasm and heated arguments, these shows have attracted millions of viewers and sky rocketed on rating charts since January.

However, some female contestants’ blatant materialism has sparked widespread criticism about money worship among the country’s younger generation.

Ma Nuo, a 22-year-old model from Beijing, has been under fire after she told a jobless man who tried to woo her on stage that she “would rather cry in a BMW (than smile on a bike).”

Another female contestant even claimed that everyone, except for her boyfriend, had to pay 200,000 yuan (29,270 U.S. dollars) in exchange for holding her hand one time.

“Plain money worship and constant visual impact in these programs reflect the social blundering trend,” said Gu Jun, a sociology professor from Shanghai-based Fudan University.

And musical producer Jiang Xiaoyu has bitterly denounced money-worship contestants on the programs. The advocacy of money worship and materialism on TV would bring pressure to vulnerable groups in society, Jiang warned.

Some experts place the blame on television stations, accusing them of ignoring social morality for the sake of higher ratings.

“These programs are full of publicity stunts. Money worship, selfishness and pleasure-seeking among young people are magnified over and over again, challenging our traditional values,” said Wei Jianmei, associate professor in journalism and communications from Hunan Normal University.

Liu Weidong also told Xinhua that his friends had been asked by program planners to reveal something about him that could stir up on-spot debates and spark audience attention.

Liu’s friends then said in a video broadcast played during the show that Liu was fond of plump women, an unexpected embarrassment for Liu who saw several slim female contestants immediately push their light buttons.

“I am not what they said in the show. It’s like I made a deal with the TV station. The show gave me a chance to make a public appearance and I had to make some compromise in return,” Liu said.

In the wake of the public outcry over the vulgar behaviour on matchmaking programs, China’s media watchdog, State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), issued an angry response this week with a notice strictly regulating these programs.

“Incorrect social and love values such as money worship should not be presented in the shows. Humiliation, verbal and physical attacks and sex-implied vulgar contents should not be allowed,” the notice said.

It also demanded that contestants must use authentic identities and undergo strict screening procedures before participating in matchmaking programs.

As for a group of rich men and overseas returnees showing up on matchmaking programs, the notice suggested program planners invite more people from all walks of life, rather than fill screens with actors, actresses and wealthy people.

TV stations in Jiangsu, Hunan and Zhejiang, which produce the most popular matchmaking programs, have all declared they would abide by SARFT’s notice and pledged to stick to the rules.

Matchmaking programs have been aired for more than ten years in China, where males between ages 20 and 45 are expected to outnumber females by 30 million by the year 2020.

According to an online survey conducted by ifeng.com, a popular news portal, more than half of the respondents said they would continue watching matchmaking programs.

Liu told Xinhua that he still hoped to find a kind-hearted girlfriend, as did other male contestants he had made friends with during the program.

“I am a traditional person and I hope my future wife can pursue other valuable things together with me besides money,” Liu said.

Jun
12

Shirley Yam
12 June 2010

To be or not to be …

The market has been wondering whether China will go ahead with the flotation of its last unlisted state-owned commercial bank – Agricultural Bank of China (ABC).

From a business perspective, the question is more than valid.

Investors are concerned with the deterioration in credit quality among mainland banks. The numbers from ABC, which compare badly with those of its peers, offer little comfort.

Meanwhile, its rivals will be offering billions of shares later this year. These would not hurt much during a bull market, but the United States and Hong Kong stock markets have lost more than 10 per cent from this year’s peaks, and the clouds over Europe remain thick and dark. On top of this, the month-long World Cup has just started.

The logical answer is for ABC to wait for a better opening. Unfortunately, that is not the right answer. This is because the business perspective is rarely the rule when it comes to share sales of state-owned enterprises.

I am not saying this based on any inside knowledge; the record speaks for itself. In the past decade, state-owned enterprises have bowed to hostile market conditions without putting up a fight.

In October 1997, the Asian financial crisis had just begun when the country launched the first offering of its phone operator, China Mobile, aiming to raise US$4.2 billion.

In 1999, the market had yet to recover from the crisis and oil prices had plummeted to US$21 a barrel, yet the country kicked off the US$2.5 billion sale of its first oil producer, CNOOC. The response was poor. The deal was withdrawn. It returned 18 months later at less than half of the target size.

In 2002, the internet bubble had burst and telecommunication firms were going down one by one when the country’s second-largest fixed-line operator, China Telecommunications Corp, went ahead with its US$3.2 billion listing. Response was poor. The deal was withdrawn. Three weeks later, it came back at half of the target size.

Any banker will tell you that a relaunch is bad marketing. So why choose such a strategy?

Well, unlike private enterprises, each and every detail of the listing of a state-owned enterprise is decided by the government instead of management, be it the call to list or not, the structure, the timing and the floor pricing.

It is a process that involves more than 20 steps, going through the State Council and a handful of ministries. Each step is about political manoeuvring and compromise.

Once the plan is out, it is difficult to change. In the case of CNOOC’s first offering, Wei Liucheng, the then chairman who was on a roadshow in New York, had to file a late-night report to the State Council to get permission to suspend the offering. Any change results in the re-opening of a political fight. CNOOC could not launch its offering until early 2001, after its two big rivals had completed their share sales, sucking hundreds of billions of dollars away from the market.

Any delay reflects poorly on the management’s ability. Wei, a tested businessman and politician, has told the press how he cried over the decision to call off the deal and ever since has refused to enter the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where the call was made.

Any delay will also jeopardise much needed reforms within a corporation. While private enterprises go public for the money, central SOEs have their eye on something more important – the impetus of internal reform and being shielded from unnecessary government intervention.

“It requires more political courage to delay an offer without making an attempt to brave it out against a hostile market,” said a veteran investment banker. After all, it’s much easier to cope with a bad market.

All these political considerations have come into play in the case of ABC. Its listing has never received a consensus at the top. There have been heated debates on whether the bank would better serve the country’s agricultural reform as an efficient listed entity or an obedient non-listed one.

The timing of its offering is no less a political compromise. Its three rivals – Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and China Construction Bank – have announced plans to raise a total of HK$250 billion this year to strengthen their balance sheets. They have been holding back on their equity issues to make way for the ABC offer.

Should ABC decide to pass, there is no doubt that it will be pushed to the end of the queue, and an offering next year will be no less challenging. By then, investors are likely to be loaded with mainland bank shares, interest rates are likely to go up and loans will be turning bad.

With the highest cost-to-income ratio and bad-debt ratio among the country’s top four banks, ABC needs the listing to implement reforms and for the capital impetus to survive the coming winter.

Mind you, its chairman Xiang Junbo, a war hero, is only 53 years old. He is relatively young in Beijing’s corridors of power. It’s hard to imagine how this fighter on the battlefield will let a delay in listing hinder his political career.

Unless there is a major meltdown in the domestic and international stock markets, he is sure to brave the strong winds before coming up against bearish investors.

In the meantime, you may keep hearing that this or that ministry is pressing for the offer to be delayed.

Because when it comes to such disclaimers, mainland bureaucrats are masters.

Jun
12

City Harvest founder now accused of plagiarism

He allegedly used copied material in his books and website

By Ted Chen
12 June 2010

Pastor Kong used material from Leadership Bible, written by three Americans. His last website entry notes a lack of care in crediting ‘any source of inspiration’.

Two American authors of a Christian study book have accused City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee of plagiarising their work in his books and website.

Mr. Kong, 46, had been updating his website daily with an inspirational passage which he called the ‘Daily Devotion’, before being called up by the police last Monday to help with investigations into alleged misuse of funds within the church.

A Singaporean blogger spotted that some of the passages in the website were similar to the work of the Americans.

He then sent an e-mail to alert two of the book’s three authors, Professor Sid Buzzell and Dr Kenneth Boa.

Both men told The Straits Times that Mr. Kong had not asked them for permission to use their materials.

However, they would not be pursuing the matter further, as long as he stopped copying without crediting, they said.

‘In the spirit of our book’s notes (which talk about being merciful), we prefer to let the matter go rather than create issues for Mr. Kong,’ said Prof Buzzell, a dean of the school of theology at Colorado Christian University.

‘If he continues to copy the material, we can take it from there.’

Should the plagiarism persist, Prof Buzzell would contact him and ‘threaten him with exposure to his church’, and also ‘seek advice from others who are more legally sophisticated about such things’.

On Mr. Kong’s website, in his last entry in Daily Devotion last Monday, there was a note which said: ‘We could have been more careful to credit any source of inspiration used.’

It added: ‘There was never any intention to give readers the impression that the entire contents were written by me.’

Mr. Kong, who was among 17 people called up by police for investigations, could not be reached for comment. Queries sent to the church since Thursday also went unanswered.

In 2005, Mr. Kong’s daily posts were compiled into two books, volumes one and two of Renewing Your Spiritual Energy In 90 Days. The two books also did not credit the use of outside sources or texts, and claimed copyright belonged solely to him.

The book that Mr. Kong lifted materials from, Leadership Bible, was published 10 years ago and was written by three Americans. It comprises lessons for 52 weeks, using biblical interpretations to train and educate future church leaders.

The third author of the book, Christian writer Bill Perkins, 61, was made aware of the situation only this week by The Straits Times. He said: ‘Plagiarism is wrong, regardless of the motive… It misleads the reader into thinking something about the author that is not true.’

The three authors would still have been in the dark, if not for a Singaporean blogger who gave his name as Tee Kay Hetch.

Mr. Tee first highlighted the plagiarism on his blog, entitled Cheat Grace, on March12. Over nearly three months, he documented similarities between Mr. Kong’s postings and parts of Leadership Bible. In some instances, entire passages of about 400 words had been copied.

Apart from Leadership Bible, the blog also highlighted other works that may have been copied, including content by well-known Christian authors Derek Prince and Neil Anderson.

Mr. Tee stopped posting on his blog on Tuesday, citing threats and possible account hacking as his reasons.

While borrowing the work of other pastors is common in sermons, preachers will often credit their sources, said a cell group leader from another church.

Mr. Robin Thor, 35, managing director of Attributes Publishing, which printed Mr. Kong’s books in 2005, said the uproar was due to a ‘lack of citation’.

The City Harvest Church member added that, at the time of publication, both himself and Mr. Kong were aware that certain portions of the content were not original.

So far, no legal action has been taken against the publishing company, said Mr. Thor. Attributes has ‘made amendments to our soft copy to include the citation’.

While Attributes no longer sells the books online, both volumes are still on sale at major Christian bookstores. Prices range from $15 to $18.90. No more print runs for the books are currently scheduled, but no recall has been made either of books still on the shelves.

Numbers for books in circulation and sales were not available.

City Harvest member Amanda Ng, 25, said: ‘It’s not right to plagiarise… but we always take references from everywhere when studying the Bible.’

Mr. Kong should apologise, the teacher added, and stop selling his books.

Jun
12

There are good network marketing companies and bad network marketing companies. Unfortunately, many people join the bad ones.

By Bruce Seah
12 June 2010

Thousands have been misled, given false hopes and promises by rogue marketers who promised them the moon and left them in the mud. The purpose of writing this article is to warn the public about the predators out there who will appear again and again as long as there are people who are looking for a quick way to create riches in the shortest time.

Thousands have lost their life savings because of these scam artists, who are out to cheat others with their get-rich-quick schemes. People are typically promised a very high rate on return on investment, which financial institutions are not able to give. These investment programmes and seminars promise easy ways to create wealth.

Many people think that network marketing or multi-level marketing is one of the get-rich-quick schemes. This is a legitimate business with over 50 years of history and it is highly recommended by many successful entrepreneurs such as Robert Kiyosaki, Robert Allen and Mark Victor Hansen. But the industry has suffered from bad publicity because some companies that offer get-rich-quick schemes and money games disguised themselves as network marketing companies.

There are good network marketing companies and bad network marketing companies. Unfortunately, many people join the bad ones.

There are two critical factors for success in network marketing: choosing the right company and doing the right things.

Those who didn’t make money from network marketing companies or found the business requires too much effort, flocked to investment seminars on such subjects as forex, options, stocks and shares, which promised easy money from investment coaching and wealth-creation systems. These too, have a high failure rate.

Then came the next wave: Internet marketing, which promised easy ways to make money online at a click of a mouse.

In their seminars, Internet marketers flash their six-figure earnings on the stage and sell the idea to the audience that they too started from scratch and the people in the audience can do it too.

The truth is that Internet marketing is very tough. Over 98 per cent of those who try it don’t make money because of two critical factors: they get stuck in the technical aspects of it and they don’t get proper coaching and guidance.

Thousands in Singapore have invested their hard-earned savings in the hope that these so-called ‘Internet marketing gurus’ were true to their word and will deliver what they promised. But the word soon got around that it wasn’t so: most people were not able to earn a decent part-time income from the Internet.

So who ended up making the bulk of the money? The promoters and organisers who raked in as much as 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the seminar fees and packages bought by the participants. These self-proclaimed millionaires added hundreds of thousands of dollars into their pockets while their students didn’t even make enough to recover their seminar fees.

In many instances, people who have been bitten but are now twice shy avoid seminars that used to cost thousands of dollars but are now offered to them for free. These free seminars usually have back-end selling, where at the end of their talk, speakers offer other seminars which cost thousands of dollars. Some of these speakers use hard-selling techniques and give irresistible offers that cause people to buy on impulse – which they later regret.

If you feel that you have been misled or that there were gross misrepresentations, you can make a report to Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) or if you think it is a cheating case, you can make a police report. But prevention is better than cure, so do your due diligence and ask around first before committing to any programme.

Usually, speakers will use sales tactics, such as the fear of loss, to make you decide on the spot to sign up, so you can enjoy discounts and bonuses.

But it is only wise to get a second opinion from people with experience in attending a particular seminar on whether they found it useful.

Here is a common modus operandi of some money-game companies: They will make sure that they will pay out handsomely in the first year to those who join, so that these ‘investors’ will become evangelists and spread the word about how much money they made through the programme. So, in the second year, the company will typically enjoy exponential growth and rake in the money. But in the third year, the management will close the company, most likely due to investigations by the authorities. But by then, the directors would have made their money.

Usually, the directors of these companies plan for their exit from the very first day of operations and put in place loopholes to avoid getting into legal trouble. Therefore, always check on the integrity and track record of the directors involved in any of these ventures.

Here are 10 simple questions to ask:

1. What is the percentage of success?

2. Does the company offer good support and follow-up sessions to ensure success?

3. Since the speakers are so confident, is there a money-back guarantee?

4. Are the speakers themselves qualified? Do they have integrity and a good track record and reputation in the market?

5. Does the home-based business offered to you involve ‘front loading’ – that is, schemes where you are encouraged to order products up front that you are not able to consume or sell in a few months, so that the leaders promoting it earn high commissions?

6. Is the company at least 10 years old? The hard fact is that out of every 100 companies, only four make it to the 10th year. Your chances are much better if you work with an established company.

7. Are the products being offered by the company over-priced? Are they competitive compared with those of other companies?

8. Do the products come with a money-back guarantee?

9. Is the compensation plan offered by the company simple, generous and easy to understand?

10. Does the management of the company comprise people of integrity?

In short: Look before you leap!

The writer is a veteran network marketer with 16 years of experience and has written three books on network marketing: ‘Break Free! – There Is A Better Way To Earn A Living’, ‘Why Network Marketing?’ and ‘How To Be Successful In Network Marketing’. For a free ebook on ‘Why Not Do A Why-Not-Do Business?’ go to: http://www.BruceSeah.com