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August 22, 2015

a16z on Wechat's China mobile first

Known in Chinese as Weixin (微信) -- "micro letter" -- WeChat is first and foremost a messaging app for sending text, voice, and photos to friends and family. It was launched just 4 years ago by Chinese investment holding company Tencent, one of the largest internet companies in the world. As of earlier this year, WeChat had 549 million monthly active users (MAUs) among over one billion registered users, almost all of them in Asia. To put that in context: That's only 150M MAUs fewer than Facebook Messenger, almost 3x the MAUs of Japan's Line, and 10x the MAUs of Korea's Kakao.

May 18, 2015

Straw buyers are real buyers

gents with the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, who questioned whether these small export companies were violating federal law by usingstraw buyers -- people paid small sums to buy cars -- to conceal that the vehicles were being bought by people who had no intention of keeping them and were using cash from other people to make the acquisitions. Federal authorities have argued that using straw buyers is a deceptive practice that potentially deprives American consumers of a chance to buy the luxury cars and limits the ability of automakers to keep tight control over sales to domestic dealers and to foreign countries.

But the Justice Department recently advised its prosecutors to be more judicious in pursuing civil forfeiture actions -- and even criminal cases -- against car export companies and their owners.

"Over the past year, we have been engaged in a comprehensive review of the asset forfeiture program, including straw-buyer luxury export cases and other aspects of the program," said Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, in an emailed statement. "As a result of this ongoing review, the department is encouraging prosecutors to pursue civil and criminal sanctions for straw-buyer fraud cases that lead to other criminal violations, such as tax fraud, identity theft fraud and the submission of false export documents."

September 7, 2014

China's Campaign to Turn Working Women into Wifeys

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China's Totally Misguided Campaign to Turn Working Women into Wifeys

Why China's leaders would want to push a generation of professional women back into the home at a time when Japan and South Korea are desperately trying to leverage the economic potential of women workers. At the World Economic Forum in January, for example, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe noted that increasing women's labor participation could boost Japan's GDP by as much as 16 percent. Other studies suggest that restricting job opportunities for women costs Asia $46 billion a year.

The answer, argues sociologist Leta Hong Fincher, lies in the Chinese government's determination to maintain social order at all costs, a subject she explores in her forthcoming book, Leftover Women. The book's title refers to a pejorative term, sheng nu, used by the government to describe unmarried women in their mid- to late-20s. Fincher argues that the "leftover women" campaign -- comprised of media propaganda, mass matchmaking events, and bogus studies about the debilitating effects of singledom -- are one piece of a larger state effort to control women, and society, through economic and cultural means.

April 3, 2013

The face of pollution


Beijing: The World Health Organization has standards that judge an air-quality score above 500 to be more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air deemed safe. https://twitter.com/BeijingAir">twitter: @BeijingAir

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Chinese officials prefer to publicly release air pollution measurements that give only levels of PM 10, although foreign health and environmental experts say PM 2.5 can be deadlier and more important to track.

There has been a growing outcry among Chinese for municipal governments to release fuller air quality data, in part because of the United States Embassy Twitter feed. As a result, Beijing began announcing PM 2.5 numbers last January. Major Chinese cities have had the equipment to track those levels, but had refused for a long time to release the data.

The existence of the embassy's machine and the @BeijingAir Twitter feed have been a diplomatic sore point for Chinese officials. In July 2009, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Wang Shu'ai, told American diplomats to halt the Twitter feed, saying that the data "is not only confusing but also insulting," according to a State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Mr. Wang said the embassy's data could lead to "social consequences."

March 16, 2013

Love Hunters 2


The day Mr. Big signed, Ms. Yang took a flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, where she would kick-start the campaign. During her 20-day search there, she had recurring nightmares. "I always feel unsettled during a campaign," she said, "but this time, the stress was crazy."

Her team of 10 love hunters scoured university campuses and shopping malls for three weeks, trying to meet a daily quota of 20 high-quality women, or two per person. Ms. Yang offered a bonus, about $16, for every candidate above the quota and set a personal goal of finding 10 "Class A" women a day herself.

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Ms. Yang wasn't just haunted by a fear of letting the ideal candidate -- and the bonus -- slip out of her grasp. The office leak had also made her worry about security. One more false step and Mr. Big would bolt.

One afternoon in Chengdu, after slurping down a bowl of beef noodles at Master Kong's Chef's Table, Ms. Yang noticed a young woman sweeping past her into the restaurant, chatting on a cellphone. Long black hair hid most of the woman's face, but there was something captivating about her laugh and easy gait.

"She seemed open, warm, happy," Ms. Yang said. After a moment of indecision, Ms. Yang followed her inside, apologized for the intrusion and switched on her charm. Linking arms with the woman -- one of her patented moves -- Ms. Yang came away with her phone number, photograph and a few pertinent details: she was 24, a graduate student and a near-ringer for the TV hostess Zhou Tao.

Continue reading "Love Hunters 2" »

March 1, 2013

Love Hunters 1


Ms. Yang Jing, 28, is one of China's premier love hunters, a new breed of matchmaker that has proliferated in the country's economic boom. The company she works for, Diamond Love and Marriage, caters to China's nouveaux riches: men, and occasionally women, willing to pay tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outsource the search for their ideal spouse.

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In Joy City, Ms. Yang gave instructions to her eight-scout team, one of six squads the company was deploying in three cities for one Shanghai millionaire. This client had provided a list of requirements for his future wife, including her age (22 to 26), skin color ("white as porcelain") and sexual history (yes, a virgin).

"These millionaires are very picky, you know?" Ms. Yang said. "Nobody can ever be perfect enough." Still, the potential reward for Ms. Yang is huge: The love hunter who finds the client's eventual choice will receive a bonus of more than $30,000, around five times the average annual salary in this line of work.

In one case, Ms. Yu's migrant son reluctantly agreed to allow his aging mother to make the search for his future wife her all-consuming mission. In the other, Ms. Yang's richest client at Diamond Love deployed dozens of love hunters to find the most exquisite fair-skinned beauty in the land, even as he fretted about being conned by a bai jin nu, or gold digger.

Mr. Big, as I'll call him -- he insisted that Diamond Love not reveal his name -- is a member of China's fuyidai, the "first-generation rich" who have leapt from poverty to extreme wealth in a single bound, often jettisoning their first wives in the process. Diamond Love's clientele also includes many fuerdai, or "second-generation-rich," men and women in their 20s and 30s whose search is often bankrolled by wealthy parents keen on exerting control over their marital choices as well as the family inheritance.

But fuyidai like Mr. Big are accustomed to being the boss and can be the most uncompromising clients.

Mr. Big had an excruciatingly specific requirement for his second wife. The ideal woman, he said, would look like a younger replica of Zhou Tao, a famous Chinese television host: slim with pure white skin, slightly pointed chin, perfect teeth, double eyelids and long silken hair. To ensure her good character and fortune, he insisted that her wuguan -- a feng shui-like reading of the sense organs on the face -- show perfect harmony.

"When clients start out, all they want is beauty -- how tall, how white, how thin," Ms. Yang said. "Sometimes the person they're looking for doesn't exist in nature. Even if we find her, these clients often have no idea whether that would make their hearts feel settled. It's our job to try to move them from fantasy toward reality."

Continue reading "Love Hunters 1" »