Category: On the Front Page

Is China Splitting From Europe Over Carbon Trading?


NANJING – On March 9th Climate Home, an online publication focused on the international politics of climate change, published an article titled “China floats split with EU over carbon trading”. Citing Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) vice president and National People’s Congress (NPC) member, Wang Yi, as their source, Climate Home published a number of quotations indicating that China might need to consider a carbon tax in addition to or even in place of the cap and trade program slated to officially launch nation-wide this year.

Wang, not to be mistaken for the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, is involved in a number of key sustainability and climate change organizations including a Vice Chairship of the International Organization for Standardization’s Climate Change Coordinating Committees (ISO CCCC). His comments cannot be directly interpreted as an official policy change, but they are nonetheless worthy of consideration. Is China preparing to “split” from the EU by abandoning its ETS program in favor of a tax mechanism?

Market based carbon controls come in two main forms: price mechanisms and quantity mechanisms. Price mechanisms, called Pigouvian taxes after the 20th century economist Arthur Pigou, aim to internalize the externalities of markets. For example, it is widely recognized that green house gases (GHGs) have an averse effect on the environment, yet GHG emissions are not included in the costs of the goods and services that produce them. A Pigouvian tax on GHG emissions would levy a tax against the producer that would add the cost of emissions into the cost of production. In this way, the tax is distributed between the producer and the consumer and the government decides how the tax revenue is best used.

Quantity based mechanisms, more commonly recognized as cap and trade programs fix the quanitiy of emissions permitted within a given system. Emittors must buy additional permits if they plan to exceed their allocated emissions from parties who have excess permits. In theory, because the emissions permits are scarce the externality price is internalized when emittors are forced to pay for emissions. The EU ETS set a cap on CO2 emissions for around 11,000 factories and power plants across thirty countries, the idea being that these companies would be able to buy and sell CO2 permits amongst each other—encouraging efficiency and maximizing the productivity of a unit of pollution. In 2013 and 2014 China formally began pilotting its own ETS in Beijing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shanghai and in the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong. According to the International Emissions Trading Agency, in 2014 the pilot programs covered 13.75 million tonnes of CO2 that was priced between 1.75 and 7 euros per ton.

Although the theory behind the EU ETS was solid, in practice results have been much more mixed. The European Commission’s Climate Action Emissions Trading System itself admits that there have been a surplus of trading emissions within the ETS since at least 2009—causing the mechanism to fail to trigger higher carbon prices through scarcity. In a 2011 publication The Carbon Trade Watch succinctly summed up ETS with the statement “the cap does not fit.” In spite of these weaknesses, China’s proposed ETS is modeled after the EU ETS.

The nationwide Chinese ETS, as evidenced in an official notice from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is to cover all firms in 8 industries and 15 sub agencies that consume more than 10,000 tons of coal equivalent annually. Companies were supposed to release compliance plans to the NDRC in 2016 in anticipation of the 2017 implemenation. The China ETS is seen as a primary example of international cooperation between Europe and China parties, something particularly valuable in a geopolitical arena of climate denial in the White House. Indications from the NDRC reflect that the Chinese ETS will begin this year. Sina News reported that Xie Zhenhua, the former vice-chairman of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission, announced on March 17th at the Annual Conference on Sustainable Green Transformation at the Paulson Institute that the National ETS would formally come into force this year.

So then what is going on? Why is there an article from March 17th announcing the commencement of the Chinese ETS while there is also an article from March 9th that China may be considering splitting from the EU ETS? Although there are a couple distinct possibilities, the most likely story is rather one of competition behind the scenes between different actors within the Chinese government and the political economy of carbon taxes and carbon markets.

Luckily I happen to live in the same building as a carbon market expert who was also at the Paulson Institute event on March 17th. Dr. Roger Raufer, SAIS Resident Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment, compared Wang Yi’s comment to a “trial balloon,” referring to the Chinese practice of testing ideas and policy goals through unofficial statements by state officials. From a policy prospective, many people in the government see an ETS and think of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which the Chinese utilized to great domestic benefit. An ETS gives the Chinese both something to sell to Europe and provides China with an opportunity to play a greater role on the international stage. A tax, on the other hand, is strictly domestic.

The opportunity cost of exclusively using a tax would be a greater international role and a connection to Europe—both things China would be loathe to forego. Dr. Raufer went on to describe how “there has been a battle going on since at least 2008” over whether China should use a carbon tax or a carbon market to reduce emissions, with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) preferring a tax and the NDRC preferring a market. Viewed as an isolated pair of events, Wang and Xie’s comments appear to be a strange contradiction, but Dr. Raufer agreed this fits with the pattern: “Historically what has been happening is that every time MOF comes out a carbon tax proposal, they get slapped down by the NDRC.” So why would the MOF prefer a tax and the NDRC an ETS? The simplest answer is that the agencies both stand to gain from holding the reigns and potential revenues from the respective carbon control mechanisms.

When asked if Dr. Raufer could see China moving away from the ETS and splitting from the EU, he responded, “First, this political battle has been going on for a long time. Secondly, I think you can say that China is more comfortable with the tax, and will employ it in some manner in the future, as it recently did, revising the pollution levy system into an environmental tax. It’s not a question of either or, there is room enough for both instruments in different sectors and at different scales. It could be that the tax creeps more and more into the areas in which the market is operating, particularly if they are having trouble implementing the market approach. I think China would be very reluctant to give up totally on the market because of the potential international opportunities.

Dr. Raufer’s interpretation of the situation is both convincing and somewhat verifiable. In 2016 Dr. Carla Freeman, the director of the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, and Bo Li, a research analyst at WRI, authored an article for ChinaFAQs showing that the MOF, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the Ministry of Transport (MOT), the NDRC and the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) all agree “that a tax of 10-20 renminbi per ton of carbon dioxide would have a very limited dampening impact on economic growth… and that that a tax on carbon at that level would generate billions of renminbi in revenue that could be distributed to promote energy conservation and emissions reductions.”

Freeman and Li further demonstrate the competition for authority when they point out that individuals affiliated with the MOF and MEP favor a tax under the authority of the environmental levy, while even researches affiliated with the NDRC ague that the simplest solution would be for the carbon tax, albeit one collected by the New Energy Administration (a body of the NDRC). Freeman and Li also show that industry is generally opposed to the idea of a tax instead of a trading market because a tax would stifle growth.

Baidu news searches for the Chinese phrases “China”, “Carbon Markets”, and “Abandon” don’t yield any relevant results about a split from the EU ETS and a turn to a carbon tax. One could blame this on censorship, but it isn’t the kind of news that is censored. Rather, searching Chinese sources demonstrates that Wang’s comments are more likely part of the plan for the future rather than an exclusive story on an imminent schism in a major international cooperation.

In an article published on September 9th, 2016 that states the national ETS has moved into a phase of final preparation before sprinting to deployment (the diction is particularly military). The National Business Daily, a Chinese financial and economic publication, writes that by 2020 when the ETS is more mature expansions can be made including a carbon tax that “relevant ministries are in the process of researching how to implement”. In this case, the suggested carbon tax wouldn’t be symptomatic of a schism, but instead by an addition to a developing framework.

Wang Yi’s comments may not be the tip of the iceberg that will sink the EU ETS’ hopes for integration with the Chinese market, but they reveal a fascinating behind the scenes competition for power among China’s ministries, and of the larger political economy forces behind mechanisms for controlling carbon.

Upheaval in Korea: The Opinions of Young Voters



Source: Reuters, Wikimedia Commons License

Last month, the South Korean National Assembly voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye after a political scandal sparked protests nationwide (for background, see Julia Wargo’s article here). President Park has since been impeached. We spoke to several young Koreans to find out how they were feeling about the current situation in their country. The overwhelming feeling from those we spoke to was anger and disappointment.

Joohee Kim, a senior at Seoul National University, describes her reaction as mixed between “surprised, angry, helpless, disappointed and ashamed.” Jeewon Sa, a junior at Korea University, describes a sense of hopelessness as the controversy is increasingly convoluted.

Korea has a long history of political corruption, but according to these young Koreans, President Park took the corruption to a new level.

Bora Yang, a university student in Busan, explains, “I feel it is certainly shameful. The situation resulted from the accumulation of Korea’s corruptions since Park Chunghee, the current president’s father. It’s regrettable that Koreans just did not pay attention to the corruption before, accepting the reality that corruption is everywhere and impossible to remove. But the situation now is really serious.”

She also mentions the role of chaebols, large Korean conglomerates, in covering up Park’s corruption. Gayeong Jeong, a Seoul native now working in Washington D.C., shares her disillusionment with Korean politics over the close ties between the government and large conglomerates. She claims, “Politics work for the rich, not for the citizens.”

Horyun Sung, a freshman at Seoul National University, shares his frustration with Park: “Many presidents in Korea have had pros and cons but President Park only has cons.” The anger with the Park administration has built up over the past three years she has been in office. Several of the Koreans with whom we spoke mention specifically the poorly handled Sewol Ferry disaster which resulted in the deaths of 304 people, mostly school children.

Youngmin Jang, a resident of Busan, shares why this specific controversy has sparked such outrage: “People think what President Park has done breaks the basis of our democratic system. People voted for her to represent the people’s opinion, not to benefit Choi Sunsil’s personal interests. It is so inappropriate.”

Nationwide Protests

The Park Geun-hye controversy has spurred political action across South Korea. At in November, as many as 2 million Koreans took the streets to protest the president.

The protests polarized the young Koreans with whom we spoke. Many supported and even participated in the protests. Joohee Kim describes the atmosphere of the protests: “it was quite fun actually… people were singing and shouting together. We were all holding candles and people were really nice and organized.”

Horyun Sung attended the protests in Seoul on three occasions. He explains the importance of the protests: “peace and order were the values that Koreans wanted to restore, and through the protest we wanted to demonstrate the right values in the right way… we believe that this way of shouting out our voice was meaningful and powerful. “

However, some criticize the protests for being insincere and sensationalized. Hojoong Kim is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has recently returned to his hometown of Seoul for work. He speaks out strongly against the protests. “Koreans have too much interest in politics.”

Before Park’s impeachment was confirmed, Hojoong Kim emphasized patience. “I am just waiting for all the constitutional procedures. We have constitution, congress, and a court of justice. Everything should be determined by those three. We cannot make decision by how the people feel.”

Hojoong Kim asserts, “The one million people protesting do not represent all 51 million Koreans.” He questions the sincerity of the protesters, sharing “it is weird to see middle school and high school students at the protests. How do they understand what is actually going on?”

Kim points out a history of hypocrisy in Korean protest culture. In 2008, massive protests broke out against importing US beef in response to fears of mad cow disease. However, Kim points out, “Seeing people now waiting for 3 hours to get a Shake Shack burger in Gangnam teaches me being emotional is a really bad thing.”

Despite these criticisms, some, like Joohee Kim, insist the protests pressured the National Assembly to respond. Jeewon Sa emphasizes other actions taken by her fellow Koreans. “After hearing the news [of Park’s impeachment], I felt really glad there was still hope the citizens could lead to making a big change. Not only did they go out to the streets and show their will, they called their districts’ congressmen and convinced their congressmen to cooperate in impeaching Park.”

Hope for the Future

Systemically, Koreans hope Park’s impeachment will result in more transparency in Korean politics. Jeewon Sa views lack of transparency is a core problem in the Korean political system, and hopes Park’s impeachment will catalyze change.

Several of the folks we talked to criticized the distance Park maintained from the public. Most recently, as Bora Yang describes, President Park visited the site of a massive fire in Daegu, but refused to speak with the affected citizens. Hojoong Kim explains, “Korean people prefer a leader who comes out on TV to communicate with normal citizens, however President Park did not like media exposure.” He criticized how she would privately make decisions without informing the populace personally.

Youngmin Jang suggests that future administrations increase the transparency of the President’s movements to the public, specifically by releasing daily schedules like is done in the US. Hojoong Kim thinks, “This situation will improve transparency in all aspects of Korean politics, including politics and media.”

In addition to changes to the system, the controversy has changed the nature of political involvement of the populace.

Gayoung Jeong plans to be more critical of individual candidates in future elections. She relates, “I actually voted for Park in the past election, and I feel I was too naïve that I just chose the president by just looking at the party. I did not know much about President Park, but I knew that I wanted to vote for Saenuri Party.” Joohee Kim similarly hopes Park’s impeachment will change how Koreans vote, urging citizens to “think twice and evaluate whether the person is really qualified for the office.”

Although this turn of events made her disappointed in her government, Bora Yang hopes this controversy will lead Korea to become a more democratic nation. Joohee Kim shares that hope, saying, “People will now believe in the value of democracy more than ever.”


China’s New Domestic Violence Law: Progress or Posturing?


NANJING — Women’s rights advocates in China recently gained a victory in the long battle to support victims of domestic violence. China’s first-ever national law against domestic violence went into effect on March 1, 2016. Before March 1, there was little legal recourse for victims of domestic violence. In 2001, the 1980 Second Marriage Law was amended to officially ban domestic violence, called on local committees to intervene in abuse and legalized divorce on the grounds of domestic violence. However, the amendment left gaping holes, which the Domestic Violence Law strives to fill. The new law defines domestic violence as physical and psychological violence between family members, including beating, verbal abuse, and intimidation. It also includes several prominent changes.

First, it allows for victims to seek personal safety protection orders (essentially a restraining order), which could help victims quickly extract themselves from life-threatening situations. Second, it calls for more education on domestic violence through the media and schools, although it is unclear what form this education should take. Third, it calls for legal organizations to provide aid to victims, and for courts to wave litigation fees. This provision is especially important because physical and verbal abuse is often coupled with financial control. Victims may not have access to funds, so waving or heavily subsidizing legal fees could make it easier for victims to bring their case to the legal system. Lastly, it expands the definition of domestic violence to include people living together who are not related by blood or by law, which could help cohabitating couples and LGBTQ+ couples.

Domestic violence, particularly intimate partner violence, is a pressing issue in China with women suffering the brunt of abuse. Exactly how many women experience domestic violence is unknown, but the All-China Women’s Federation estimates that 1 in 4 married women are physically abused by their partner. Unfortunately, this figure is likely higher because it does not include other forms of abuse, namely verbal and sexual abuse, and because domestic abuse often goes unreported due to shame and fear of retaliation. In a 2013 study by the United Nations on violence against women in Asia, 51.5 percent of married men in the China sample reported ever committing physical or sexual violence, or both.

Source: SBS News Australia, Creative Commons

Despite the frequency of abuse, victims of domestic violence have precious few resources and it remains to be seen if the new law will have an effect in practice. For example, there are very few domestic violence shelters in China, even in the biggest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Shelters rarely stay open for long because so few women use them, though lack of usage is not due to lack of need. At some shelters, the police require women to register their stay and obtain an official permit, which is a lengthy process and makes it easier for their abusers to find them. At others, residency laws mean that women can only stay for a couple of days. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that women have to overcome the culture of silence around abuse.

Mediation is the preferred method for dealing with domestic violence. It is preferred both by a woman’s family and by police, who often tell her to try and resolve the issue instead of going through with filing for divorce or reporting the crime. In the United Nation’s 2013 study, 72 percent of the men in China who admitted to raping a woman or girl faced no legal consequences. Recent cases portray a situation in which women desperately seek help, only to be confronted with insurmountable barriers. In 2009, Dong Shan Shan was beaten to death by her husband. She had gone to the police on eight separate occasions to report domestic violence, and eight times she was turned away because the police were unwilling to get involved in what they saw as a domestic affair. In 2011, Kim Lee, an American married to famed Chinese language teacher Li Yang, was brutally beaten and turned away by the police because they were sure she could talk it out with her husband. Lee only successfully petitioned for divorce after posting pictures of her bloodied face on Weibo. In February of this year, Li Hongxi was recovering from an abortion in the hospital when her husband strangled her to death during an argument. When she had mentioned physical abuse to her mother and her county’s All-China Women’s Federation director, they both told her to work it out at home. Women are under massive pressure to keep their families together, even if it means enduring violence. Police and legal institutions pressure women to stay because domestic violence is seen as a private matter, unworthy of their time.

In the absence of legal support, organizations have tried to fill the gaps. The two predominant organizations are the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center, based in Beijing, and Beijing Zhongze Women’s Counseling and Legal Services. The Maple Counseling Center began as a domestic violence hotline in the late 1980s, and expanded their operations to include counseling. Zhongze Women’s Counseling and Legal Services opened in the 1990s after Beijing hosted the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. It provided legal services and counseling to women for a wide variety of issues from land rights to domestic violence. While anti-domestic violence organizations do exist, they toe a thin line with authorities. Zhongze Women’s Counseling and Legal Services, for example, was shut down by officials in February for undisclosed reasons. The tense situation between women’s rights organizations, and the dire situation of women facing violence, meant that the new Domestic Violence Law came at a critical moment.

The Domestic Violence Law represents a victory for women’s rights advocates, but it remains to be seen whether the law will have any practical impact. There is no data on how many personal safety protection orders have been requested or granted, and the law does not clarify how schools and media should go about educating citizens about domestic violence. There is still no consensus on what the punishment for domestic violence should be, which leads to a wide variation in sentencing. The most glaring exception is that the Domestic Violence Law does not include sexual violence under its definition of domestic violence. There is not a single law regarding marital rape, and in effect, marital rape is not illegal. The new law is certainly a step in the right direction, but its vagueness and loopholes combined with the stigma surrounding domestic violence mean it is unlikely the law will have much immediate impact. Laws alone cannot fix societal issues, especially when they are difficult to enforce. The Domestic Violence Law gave hope to women’s rights activists and represented a turning point in government policy, but there is still much work to be done.

An Interview with John Pasden


John Pasden is the founder and head consultant of AllSet Learning in Shanghai, China. Over the years, John has led and worked for many successful Mandarin language acquisition outfits, such as being the international host of ChinesePod for many years and publishing Mandarin learning resources through his own consultancy and Mandarin Companion. John received his Master’s in applied linguistics from East China Normal University in 2008.

Can you provide an overview of your career path so far?

Sure… I should start by saying that my career was not really planned. I initially majored in microbiology at University of Florida, then switched to Japanese after studying a year in Japan. Despite getting fairly fluent in Japanese over my four-year college education, I basically jumped ship and went to China after graduating. I had studied three semesters of Chinese as an elective before going to China, so I already had a basic grasp of Mandarin. The plan was just to teach English in Hangzhou, learn Chinese, and basically have a good time exploring a very interesting, new culture. The problem was that China was just too exciting of a place (I arrived in 2000), and I was loving the challenge of really learning Chinese. I couldn’t stop! So, I ended up moving to Shanghai and doing my master’s degree in applied linguistics in an all-Chinese program at at East China Normal University. I started working at ChinesePod soon after that. I became the main academic guy and I stayed there for 7 years. I started my own learning consultancy, AllSet Learning, in 2010. We specialize in deep personalization of individualized study material, but have also created some of our own products, such as the Chinese Grammar Wiki. Leveraging AllSet Learning’s insights, I’ve also created the Mandarin Companion Chinese graded readers with another business partner.

Having lived in China for the past 15 years, have you witnessed any changes in Chinese society or work culture?

Definitely! When I first got here, the kids in Hangzhou were using “BP-ji” (beepers). I got my first cell phone in Hangzhou (a Nokia). I practiced my Chinese grammar by chatting with strangers on QQ (the ubiquitous IM choice at the time) and seeing how long I could go without being discovered as a foreigner. Since then, I’ve seen the rise of Kaixin Wang, Weibo, and now WeChat. Also, sometime around 2008, I had to start using a VPN basically all the time. This is probably one of the biggest in-your-face downsides to living in China.

OK, obviously, changes in Chinese society are not all about tech developments. I’ve been married to a Chinese lady since 2007 and now have two kids, so I have a bit more insight into Chinese families now. But, in some other ways, I’m a bit too close for a good macro view.

Two of the main developments I have witnessed in Shanghai are: (1) insane real estate price increases, which have a very real effect on young people trying to get married down and settle down, as well as on their parents, and (2) massive inflation, especially related to food. This is also tied to food safety issues. One very real change is it used to be when I visited the States from China, (especially from Hangzhou) I felt so poor. Everything seemed so expensive compared to what I was used to in China. But now, when I visit Florida from Shanghai, a lot of things actually seem cheap! Not everything, mind you… but to give a very simple example, Starbucks coffee, after converting the currency at the market rate, is literally cheaper to buy in the States. Automobiles (I mean new ones) are dirt cheap in the States compared to China. As you can imagine, these two economic changes have very real consequences within both Chinese society, and also on how the Chinese interact with the outside world.

How has your perception of China changed?

Well, I have to admit that the excitement of living in China has worn off a bit. I think that the chaos and energy of China is better-suited to a twenty-something single kid than a father of two pushing 40. On the other hand, I never could have pulled off starting my own company without having lived in China for a number of years. I never intended to become an entrepreneur, and since I’m fairly cautious by nature, it took me ten years to get there! But being an entrepreneur changes your outlook as well… China is not an easy place for small businesses to take off, although the Silicon Valley startup model is becoming more popular.

China is now less exotic than it was, for sure. Since I’ve got a family now, issues like air quality, food safety, and education are growing in importance. So even though China is changing fast, my own life priorities are changing too. I guess you could say that for me, the honeymoon is very much over. But China is still a great place to live and do business for the right people.

Have you encountered any notable challenges founding a company in China?

I’m guessing you mean related to the bureaucracy? Like do I have to hand over red envelopes of cash every month, or take government officials out for baijiu booze-fests? If that’s what you mean, then no. Things are pretty simple as a small business. The trick is to be clear on all the regulations, tax law, labor law, etc. Fortunately my wife has both a degree in Chinese law and an MBA. She helps me with legal and human resources issues, enabling me to focus on our company direction and products.

As a linguist and language consultant, given the growth of apps, online resources, and new pedagogical methodologies how do you see the future of Mandarin language acquisition?

Apps are over-hyped. They’re just a channel for learning, and to be honest, not much has been done with them yet. Skritter is the most impressive, combining “learn anywhere” with actually useful touch-based input. Apps like ChinesePod and HelloChinese (similar to Duolingo) are pretty cool, but they’re not revolutionary; they simply offer convenience by porting the learner experience to a mobile device.

The future of all learning is deep personalization, made possible by cloud-based linguistic analysis, combined with spaced repetition. You can see this happening already in all kinds of ways, but Chinese pedagogy is a little slow to catch on. AllSet Learning has contributed the Chinese Grammar Wiki to this movement, which allows grammar points to be studied and tracked in a modular way. There is still much work to be done, however.

What advice would you give to an expat deciding whether or not to work in China? To start a business in China?

Why China? You better have a good answer. “The Chinese market is big” is not an answer. I’ve lived in China for almost 16 years, and I don’t try to sell to the Chinese market. It’s really not easy.

You can get lots of great work experience in China, and of course I believe that knowing Chinese will will be a huge boon to anyone’s career, but definitely think twice before opening a business here, and certainly don’t do it without living here for a while.

What’s next for you?

As I mentioned before, the future of all learning is deep personalization. That’s precisely what we’re working on at AllSet Learning, and we have lots of great projects underway, which will help all learners of Mandarin. The future is bright!

Clash of Civilizations at the Nanjing Museum


In October, I visited the Nanjing Museum with my HNC roommate. The rival glories of ancient Egyptian and Western Han civilizations were on display at the special exhibit, “Kings and Pharaohs: Treasures of Ancient Egypt and China’s Han Dynasty.” We found ourselves captivated, not only by spoils of bygone kingdoms, but also by the colorful surge of weekend sightseers eager to get as close as possible to the past.

As we entered the main hall, a mummy vied for attention with a Han era suit made of jade tiles meticulously sewn together with gold thread. Visitors milled between a wooden coffin with a delicate inlay of precious metals and an elaborately painted sarcophagus lid. The exhibit then branched off into two separate display spaces for each civilization, each broadly organized under headings such as “Life and Death,” “The Power of the State” and “Daily Life”.

While the exhibit purported to draw sweeping comparisons between the two civilizations’ expression of power in the physical realm and afterlife through the production of material wealth, we found some uneasy asymmetries. The decision of the curators to show objects from the Han dynasty, a period lasting from 206 BCE-220 CE, in contrast with a broadly defined “Egyptian civilization” lasting almost 3,000 years, represented by objects ranging from a Middle Kingdom era model of a clay house (2000 BCE) to Late Byzantine pottery (600 CE), gave us a distorted sense of time and geography.

Another source of confusion was the comparative structure of the exhibit. The curators may not have intended to explicitly hold both civilizations up for competition, but my Chinese roommate asked me several times which I preferred, Han or Egyptian, and I overheard other conversations among visitors of a similar tone — which artistic media were more demanding in their execution and elegant in their effect, lacquer or stone? Which jewelry was more timeless in its aesthetic appeal to contemporary tastes, jade or faience beads? Which civilization was less superstitious and more enlightened?

Judging from the swarm patterns of museum visitors, the clear winners of popular approval from both the Egyptian and Han displays were objects that held sentimental charm: a winsome cat mummy swaddled in basket-weave wrappings, and a silver belt buckle from a concubine’s funerary robe with the poignant inscription, “Never Forget Me”.

Photo: Kay Tang

As we jostled for space in front of the display cases, my roommate and I could not help but notice that we were often elbow-to-elbow with a group of young adults anachronistically adorned in embroidered floor-length robes. Towards the end of the exhibit, we found the courage to speak with them, and they answered our questions with shy enthusiasm. A young man in flowing robes of dark gold told us that his outfit was no costume, but his everyday style, and that he had a variety of robes for all occasions. He went on to explain that they were members of the Han Dress Society, and their purpose was to represent the Han ethnicity through period dress from that golden age of Chinese civilization. Museum visitors stopped to stare and snap pictures as we continued our conversation with the society members. A young woman with her hair pinned up in an elegant knot admitted their fashion sense had put them in the way of some negative attention, but she hoped their group would gain some popularity through exposure.

After thanking our new acquaintances, we exited the Han dynasty, took a stroll through the tea shops and apothecaries of the Streets of Republican Era Nanjing exhibit and headed back out into the present.


The SAIS Cherry Blossom Ball 2016

Prefered Photo
SAIS Students gather at the 2016 Cherry Blossom Ball at Arena Stage (Photo Courtesy: Kaveh Sardari, SAIS Student Government Association)


On March 26, SAIS D.C. students found their way over to Arena Stage to attend the Cherry Blossom Ball, an annual tradition at SAIS organized by the Student Government Association (SGA).

The SAIS DC event sees more than five hundred SAIS DC students converge on a venue for an event Jill Huang, SAIS SGA president 2015-2016, describes as “the signature annual event at SAIS” and “basically the school prom.”

The Cherry Blossom Ball is the culmination of many months of effort by the SGA, with weekly meetings over the course of months by SGA leaders. SGA President Huang, SGA Treasurer Lorena Americano Valente, and SGA Social Chair Joe Traw, along with Student Life director Khorey Baker, formed the core team. In describing this group’s goals with the Cherry Blossom Ball, Huang said “we just wanted people to have fun and have a great SAIS experience. I feel privileged to spend time with my awesome peers and professors and wanted to give back to the community.”

Arranging for the ball required organizing a number of different services, the most important of which was the venue. These contract negotiations began in November 2015 with the date of the ball being fixed in March. SGA chose Arena Stage, a theater in Southwest Washington, to host the ball, in part due to the existing relationship between Arena Stage and SAIS: the Arena Stage hosted last year’s Cherry Blossom Ball and will play host to the SAIS graduation reception as well.

Throughout the process of organizing the Cherry Blossom Ball, the issue of finances persisted. The SGA is responsible for organizing a number of events at SAIS, including the Mr. and Mrs. SAIS competition. SGA also serves as the primary source of funding for many student clubs – SGA provides the beer, wine, and pizza for club happy hours and also guarantees a minimum amount of funding if a club fails to raise enough money during a happy hour. Huang described the SGA as an organization intended to “enhance people’s experiences at SAIS” with a commitment to enjoyable programming.

While SAIS itself does provide support, SGA is heavily reliant on students to support their funding of student clubs or organized events. Events such as the Cherry Blossom Ball are expensive, with Cherry Blossom Ball 2016 yielding a loss despite the sales in tickets and drinks. The Observer obtained a preliminary revenue and cost calculation for the event, shown below. The shortfall is in addition to the other commitments SGA must make, namely in funding clubs and activities on campus.

This highlights the important role SGA plays in the SAIS community both as an organizer of events and as an enabler for the clubs students are active in. Now that the Cherry Blossom Ball has concluded without incident, Huang acknowledged that the majority of SGA’s work this year is over. She described her own status as “semi-retired” after passing the “final exam of being SGA president.”


SAIS Students Make the Consulting Case


The winning team celebrates after the end of the Deloitte Case Competition in November (Photo Courtesy: Karina Panyan)
The winning team celebrates after the end of the Deloitte Case Competition in November (Photo Courtesy: Karina Panyan)

WASHINGTON-On a cloudy, rainy November 3rd, forty-four SAIS students worked in teams to build a better school lunch. Their goal, assigned by consultants overseeing the task, was to advise the benefit corporation Revolution Foods on opportunities to expand social impact and profitability. At the end of thirty-six hours, the teams would turn in a completed slide deck. Five days afterwards, they would each prepare to pitch their ideas to improve Revolution Foods to a panel of judges from top consulting firms.

The Deloitte Case Competition arrived at SAIS on November 3rd, and was a collaborative effort between the consulting conglomerate the student-run SAIS Consulting Club, and SAIS Career Services. MA Candidate Kaitlin Lavinder, who serves as SAIS Consulting Club President, credited her club’s efforts, enthusiasm by alumni working at Deloitte, and the guidance of Career services during the process. “A former SAIS Consulting Club Board member worked with Deloitte to discuss case study logistics and to procure the Deloitte judge,” explained Lavinder. Afterwards, the firm and the career club began the planning stages of a larger-scale competition sponsored by Deloitte.

As students frantically worked to perfect the details, formatting, logical flow and visual organization of their information, they worked within a short time frame designed to mimick short turnaround times mimicking actual time constraints of entry-level consultants. On Friday, November 13th, the groups’ work culminated in short presentations of their case studies given to panels of judges, timed at just 15 minutes each.

Four teams then moved onto the second round, where they presented their case again, this time to a larger panel of Deloitte consultants. During the Final Round, judges gave challenging feedback, and were observant of every last detail of student presentations.  Runners up Christopher Crow, Katherine Wang, Jesse Barnett, and Yoni Katz suggested opportunities for Revolution Foods to expand operations from the K-12 school services to community college cafeteria services. The winning group, composed of Yoonie Sim, Fernando Ventura, Sid Ravishankar, Taylor Sloane, built up a case based on economies of scale, in which the firm would start with low-risk investments in the short term and broaden expansion efforts going forward. Their polished and streamlined case presentation, which was complemented by a slide deck of minimalist design, took home the grand prize, a set of gift cards to a sustainable restaurant.  First year students on the winning and runner-up teams were also awarded the opportunity of an interview for a Deloitte Summer Associate internship position.

Despite only two teams going home with gift card sets, all teams were able to receive the prize of presentation advice by the Deloitte Consultant judge panel, who shared their thoughts on what made a presentation particularly memorable. Common traits of the best presentations by students included clean, purposeful Powerpoint slides, a logical flow to a presentation, and the advice to shift the attention away from a questioner if they were  excessively focused on criticizing presenters.

“Getting involved with SAIS Consulting Club is a great way to network,” said Lavinder, who was pleased with competition results. She acknowledged the challenges that students of the MA program might face when competing with MBA program graduates for jobs in the field of consulting. However, SAIS students’ innovation and hard work were able to make its students shine, and create meaningful relationships with alumni and recruiting staff at Deloitte.

Gathering the SAIS Family Around the Table


SAIS Europe students gather on Friday, Nov. 27 to celebrate Thanksgiving. The students did the best they could to make traditional dishes with the ingredients available in Bologna. Various dishes gave the event an international flavor. (Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati)

BOLOGNA, Italy — As mentioned at the Thanksgiving dinner held Friday, Nov. 27 at SAIS Europe by honorary speaker Lee Sutton, Thanksgiving is all about tradition. According to Sutton, the social meaning of Thanksgiving is “about being thankful for friends and family, and being able to share good food, laughter and fun.” While the historical saga of the first Thanksgiving is remembered each year, the true holiday spirit is often embodied in the tradition of recreating passed-down recipes and celebrating with our loved ones.

For many at SAIS Europe, Thanksgiving 2015 broke tradition in several respects. Some SAISers had never celebrated Thanksgiving away from home. Recreating traditional Thanksgiving dishes proved difficult for volunteers as ingredients for favorite American dishes were hard to find in Bologna. And celebrating Thanksgiving on a Friday instead of Thursday was the most obvious break from the norm.

The event planning started in early November as SGA member Elisa Bettelli spearheaded a team of SAISers to plan cooking, decorations, musical entertainment, and the following day’s game of American football at Giardini Margherita. Located in the SAIS Europe auditorium on Nov. 27th, more than 20 full tables of students, faculty and staff gathered to share the Thanksgiving meal. Dinner was potluck-style cooked by student volunteers with Thanksgiving staples including 15 turkeys, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the always-popular apple pie. As each family celebrates Thanksgiving with different traditions, different dishes made appearances such as hummus and biryani, exemplifying the diversity of SAIS students from all around the globe and allowing students to share their favorite foods.

The evening began with speeches by Lee Sutton and Director Plummer, referencing the origins of Thanksgiving and the importance of spending this holiday with loved ones. In the background, the organizational committee displayed a slideshow of pictures taken throughout the semester of various student-organized activities such as hiking in the Dolomites of Northern Italy, the SAIS Halloween party, and other trips to nearby vista points like San Marino, Rimini, Florence and Venice.

When asked to describe his Thanksgiving traditions and impressions of the 2015 SAIS Thanksgiving, Gabriel Williams, a SAIS Europe student volunteer in charge of organizing the food at the event, said, “This will be the fourth year in a row I’ve spent [Thanksgiving] away from home, so for me Thanksgiving has become a time to be thankful for the great friends I’ve made in the past year, to remember the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Most of all, it’s a time when I think about how fortunate I am to have had people support me and help me get to where I am today. Overall, I think that the event was complete success. I was beyond impressed with the students, staff, and faculty who all pitched in to make the night great. I think we have a really tight-knit community and it definitely came through on Friday night.”

After the turkey and pies were finished, SAISers shifted from the auditorium to Giulio’s Bar where the Music Club held a live performance, playing the classics, including some of the best hits by The Strokes and The Killers. The SAIS Europe band featured Pelayo González Escalada Mena on the bass guitar, Andrea Arricale on the electric guitar – both of whom switched between lead vocals — and Ali Can Uzun on the drums. Adding to the Thanksgiving surprises was an impromptu performance by SAIS Europe Director Michael Plummer on the drums. The music played, professors and other faculty danced, and students sung along. After the band finished their set, the partying continued back in the auditorium where students cleared the dinner tables to make room for dancing with students DJing from the in-room computer.

International Dinner Brings Cultural Flavor to Washington Campus


Photo Courtesy: Shareen Shafi
Photo Courtesy: Shareen Shafi

WASHINGTON — A platter of freshly julienned tomatoes, carrots and papaya were scooped into a mortar and pestle, handful by handful. Along with other toppings and a few dollops of fish sauce, the vegetables were meticulously ground into a colorful, sweet salad known as som tam. The Thai Club’s som tam and other home-cooked fares, which included pad thai and chicken panang curry, were loaded up into small plates and swapped for tickets at the 2015 SAIS International Dinner. Over the course of an evening, SAIS’s cultural clubs donned Chinese qipao, South Asian salwar, and Japanese happi jackets to celebrate international cultures and food.

Card tables set up throughout the cafeteria were decorated with bright posters, banners and small trinkets from various countries. The SAIS Observer spoke with a few representatives busily preparing to serve international dinner guests, and asked about the dishes they had brought.

“With Thai salad, you get the flavor from the vegetables,” explained MA candidate and Thai club member Itt Thirarath, who stood by to snap photos of the SAIS Thai club’s well-staffed table. “You don’t really use much sauce. You add fish sauce, but not a lot.” Thirarath’s Thai club teammates continued to fix up batches of som tam all the while.

Nearby, Farzona Mukhitidinova, an exchange student from the National University of Singapore, served up plates of beef plov and sambusas. Both dishes were variations of pilaf and samosas. Mukhitidinova explained that her team selected these dishes because they were eaten weekly in Central Asian households. “We usually cook it on Thursday, which is a very important day in our culture.” She gestured to the sambusas she had baked for International Dinner, which traditionally had beef or pumpkin-based fillings. In addition to the two dishes, the Tajikistan table also set out almonds, yogurt and salted apricots as snacks for curious customers.

Ultimately, the Thai Club impressed the panel of judges presiding over the annual International Dinner prize, taking home the distinction for “Best Taste” out of 15 participating clubs. The Tajikistan table’s pilaf and sambusa received an honorable mention, as did a table of Indian street food cooked by the Chai Club. Other cuisines served included dishes from China, Korea, Russia, Japan and many other nations from SAIS’s diverse student body.

As students filed into Kenney-Herter Auditorium after selecting their dinner appetizers and entrees of choice, SAIS student performers dazzled the audience with song, dance, and even a Tai Chi demonstration.

Experiencing the Paris Attacks

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati


I had just finished midterm exams and was excited to finally have a break from the chaotic stress bubble commonly known as graduate school. I went home to frantically pack my bags for an exciting weekend trip to Paris. Being fortunate enough to study abroad in Italy, I had been eager to visit my first home-away-from-home for a while.

I moved to Paris when I was 17 years old and ready to experience the world outside of my childhood home, laced with a small white picket fences, in the town of Oakville, Canada. After a couple of years studying and working there, the city had gained a spot in a special corner of my heart. It was my city of “firsts” and kick-started my (somewhat) adult life. Everything from buying my own groceries, to paying rent, to making new friends, to finding my way around, and even falling in love. It was the city that I will always hold a bias toward, regardless of how cliché it may seem, because it was “mine.” So, after I moved around to various corners of the world for four years, only to end back in Europe, I needed to go back and visit this special home.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

I flew out of Bologna on Thursday, Nov. 12 on the prestigious airline dedicated to debt-wrangled students, RyanAir. After a few security checks, bus rides, and metro surfs, I was in Port Maillot and headed off to meet with my old friends at the local Ismaili Temple. We had a wonderful night catching up and made plans to enjoy the weekend together. I sent off a few text messages and posted an obligatory Facebook status of returning to “my” city. I was not expecting anything particularly spectacular for this trip. I just wanted to wander around the Murais, eat copious amounts of chocolate filled crêpes, and laugh over my butchered French accent.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

Friday evening, after climbing up to Sacre Coeur, wandering around the holiday displays at Lafayette Galleries, and eating my weight in Indian food, I met up with some old friends at Happy Day’s Diner. This diner was a classy way for Parisians to get a taste of America, with fresh milkshakes and ground beef burgers. As we laughed over old times and caught up on our fleeting lives, my friend Afshan got a text message from Alaïa, our French friend, “Where are you guys? What are you guys doing?” Assuming that she was inquiring about our plans for the evening and wanted to join us, we told her that we were having dinner in the 10th Arrondissement with hopes of later going out to enjoy the rowdy fun of Rue Oberkampf. She unexpectedly replied saying, “Did you hear about the shootings? Be careful!” The phone died promptly after reading this message and we quickly relayed the information to the rest of our friends at the table. Everyone simultaneously pulled out their cellphones and began Googling furiously. At first, there was a sense of composed annoyance. One friend said “Oh my gosh, someone shot eleven people at a restaurant, that’s ridiculous!” At this point, I was appalled but wrongly stayed calm.

It was 9:30 p.m., so we decided it was best to cancel our plans to go out and just head home after dinner. Within the next 15 minutes, the situation escalated more than we could have ever anticipated. We read reports of up to 18 deaths from gunfire in the 11th and 12th Arrondissements, which was much too close to our location. We frantically paid the bill and went outside to decide our routes homeward. Then we heard a loud thud. It startled us momentarily as we stood on the sidewalk in our already frazzled state, but we dismissed it as the sound from a large garbage truck or a distant strike of thunder.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

As a dozen police vehicles raced past us moments later, we knew it was time to get out. We created a group chat to keep in touch and headed toward the train, metro, and taxi stands. A few of our friends who were living outside the city center were greeted with a pleasant surprise when their taxi driver decided to turn off the meter and not charge them to get home. The rest of us headed toward the train station. We stood in silence on the platform waiting for the RER B and listened anxiously to the muffled announcements over the intercom. It’s a truly chilling moment when you ride a crowded train and can only hear the sound of your heart beating in your ears. Cloaked in the finest clothes and fixed upon the chicest shoes, each Parisian stood silently poised with a face painted with fear.

We rushed out of the metro along with a crowd of desperate faces; desperate to get home, desperate to contact loved ones, desperate to understand what the hell was going on. As we arrived back at Afshan’s dormitory, the security guard rushed us inside and told us to not leave for the rest of the evening. He worriedly mentioned hearing the sound of a machine gun and gestured dramatically to ensure that we understood his quivering French. As my phone reconnected to WiFi, I received a flurry of worried messages and missed calls from my loved ones. My heart was warmed by the fact that my friends and family took the time to check in on me, but then I became scared. Was it really serious enough for my grandma to call? Why is a boy whom I haven’t spoken to for ten years so concerned about my safety? Why do I have 14 missed called from my mother? And then, we turned on the news.

In the time that it took us to pay the restaurant bill, take the train home, and message the group chat mentioning we were safe, more that 40 more people had been killed in what I had originally assumed to be an isolated violent incident. As awful as it may sound, I was not “scared for my life” when I heard about the initial shooting at the restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge. There have been more than 900 mass shootings in the United States, many of which followed a similar MO of a “violent gunman shooting at innocent civilians without concern.” With the recent bombardment of this reckless gun use in the media, I did not expect this situation to be anything more. However, as I dove into various news articles, listened to a French news reporter on the radio, and simultaneously answered worried phone calls with a composed voice, I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong. My stomach was in my throat, and my heart fell into the hollow space where my stomach used to be. I realized that I had just been in the middle of one of Europe’s most horrific terrorist attacks.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

I read more articles to stay informed and had my eyes glued to the computer screen whenever there was a “breaking news” update, but it did not help. I was sure to contact friends to ensure that they were also safe and talked to my parents for comfort, but it did not help. I tried drinking a hot cup of tea and eating a regrettably large bag of chips, but it did not help. Nothing helped the fact that a group of heartless jerks decided that it would be a good idea to create havoc, solicit fear, and kill hundreds of innocent people in the city that I decided to escape to for a vacation. In the city that I once called my home. That’s all I could make of the event as I laid in bed attempting (and miserably failing) to fall asleep — heartlessness.

I am a student at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Relations; I know global chaos like the back of my hand. I understand the meaning of terrorism and war. I know the result of anarchy and genocide, but I only understood it all from one perspective. I knew this chaotic world as an academic with an ambition to make a difference, not as a scared girl running home at the shock of realizing that the garbage truck thudding was really a bomb exploding.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around the extent that these monsters went to in order to instill global fear — and they succeeded. After a hostage situation without survivors, suicide bombers attempting to initiate human stampedes, and horrendous shootings of innocent people, I have to say that I had lost a lot of faith. I lost faith in my profession of “Conflict Management” or “Risk Analysis.” I lost faith in global tolerance and cooperation. I lost faith in humanity.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati

However, the next day, that very humanity found a way to slowly rebuild my faith. We were afraid to go outside for a while, but after our stomachs started grumbling, we heard positive news from friends, and we felt some sense of safety, since the state of emergency had been lifted. We decided to leave the apartment. Paris was a ghost town. I couldn’t even believe that I could hear leaves falling to the ground and sirens in the distance, rather than the sound of dogs barking and Parisian children chattering. After getting a bite to eat with my old friend from school, we decided to visit the sites of the incidents from the night before. We took the metro to the République Station, a place I remembered as my mother’s favorite spot to have brunch whenever she was in town.

As we walked toward the center of the square past rows of armed guards, I could see hundreds of people standing around the monumental fountain. I’m not sure if I was more surprised by the fact that so many people had shown up to give their condolences, or that I could still hear the sound of leaves falling to the ground. I was surrounded by people, but could probably hear my bobby pin drop if a gust of wind blew my hair the wrong way. Tears began to roll down my face as I saw children lighting candles under a large sign reading “J’être humain.” Regardless of all the agony that the people were feeling, the fear that was looming in the air, and the pain that shook the world the night before, everyone was determined to stand together.

So we did. We all stood together. Locals and foreigners alike stood together while lighting candles, dropping roses, and sharing hugs throughout the day. I can’t say I’m not angered about what happened, not to me, but to my home and to humanity. The attacks that occurred not only destroyed lives, families, and a city, but also a large part of humanity that we all trust to be “good” to us. Knowing that any of us could have been having dinner at that restaurant or might have attended that concert the night of Nov. 13 in Paris still sends shivers down my spine. However, I am now at peace. After seeing the memorials in Paris, experiencing firsthand the strength that people retained, and witnessing the global uprising against such terror, I am now at peace with what had happened.

I am confident that humanity is good and that terror has no place in it. I am confident that our humanity will do everything that it possibly can to maintain the good and rid this beautiful world of such undeserving terror.

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati
Photo Courtesy: Fatima Nanavati