The Chinese nuclear tests, 1964–1996 (Physics Today)

. . .For starters, Stillman asked the professor, “Does the Chinese nuclear weapons program have a prompt burst reactor?” Such an experimental reactor, typically located in a remote area, can operate supercritically for a fraction of a second and thereby simulate the efflux of radiation and particles from a nuclear detonation. Yang’s answer: “Of course.”

Stillman pulled out a map of Sichuan Province. “Can you show me where it is?” He thought he already knew the answer, but much to his surprise, Yang pointed to a location off in the mountains, a considerable distance west of the known Chinese nuclear weapons facilities.

Stillman fired a third fastball, right over the plate: “Can you arrange an invitation for me to visit that facility?” “Certainly,” the professor responded. “Just send me a copy of your resumé and tell me what other nuclear weapons facilities in China you would like to visit.”

Thus began a most remarkable unveiling of the Chinese nuclear weapons program, a deliberate disclosure of its nuclear crown jewels to a central player in the American nuclear intelligence community. Chinese officials knew exactly who Stillman was. It is clear they chose to show him, firsthand, the achievements of their nuclear world. They wanted Stillman to take the information home, to tell the American government, the scientific community, and the citizenry at large all about China’s technical capabilities. Why would the Chinese government do that? Nuclear weapons design information is supposed to be a deep, dark secret.

For one thing, the Chinese probably sought deterrence. An American awareness of Chinese nuclear capabilities should lead to a more cautious American military posture around Taiwan and in the Pacific Ocean. Or perhaps it was an intelligence gimmick. Chinese scientists often displayed the inner workings of their technical devices to American visitors just to see how they would react. A raised eyebrow or a sudden scowl could confirm or discount a year’s work. Maybe Chinese nuclear technology was no longer top secret. With the coming of Deng Xiaoping’s regime around 1980, the proliferation of nuclear technology into the third world had become state policy. Perhaps it was time to let the Americans have a look. (more. . .)

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China’s eBay-MySpace

from the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

In China, the concept of guanxi ranks right up there with air, water, food, love, and tea as an essential of life. Air and water are becoming compromised in China, but not guanxi. In its simplest translation, guanxi means connections or relationships. The concept is really far more complex than that, easily the stuff of dissertations. I found one blogger’s struggle to define the social capital of guanxi appealing. He said the important qualities are whom you know; whom the people you want to know know; whom the people you already know know. Or something like that.

As it was only a matter of time before Chinese internet entrepreneurs would try to monetize guanxi, along comes Zhike.com. The site, which has attracted a flurry of attention in the Chinese press lately, is described as a kind of eBay for guanxi. The idea is to provide a virtual meeting place for people who have guanxi to sell or guanxi they want to buy. (more . . .)

Chinese Village Struggles to Save Dying Language (NYT)

An article in today’s Times about the dying out of the Manchu language:

Ms. Meng is one of 18 residents of this isolated village in northeastern China, all over 80 years old, who, according to Chinese linguists and historians, are the last native speakers of Manchu.

Descendants of seminomadic tribesmen who conquered China in the 17th century, they are the last living link to a language that for more than two and a half centuries was the official voice of the Qing dynasty, the final imperial house to rule from Beijing and one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has known.

With the passing of these villagers, Manchu will also die, experts say. All that will be left will be millions of documents and files — about 60 tons of Manchu-language documents are in the provincial archive in Harbin alone — along with inscriptions on monuments and important buildings in China, unintelligible to all but a handful of specialists.

“I think it is inevitable,” said Zhao Jinchun, an ethnic Manchu born in Sanjiazi who taught at the village primary school for more than two decades before becoming a government official in Qiqihar, a city about 30 miles to the south. “It is just a matter of time. The Manchu language will face the same fate as some other ethnic minority languages in China and be overwhelmed by the Chinese language and culture.”

Friends, Family and a Feast: A Hot Pot How-To (NPR)

NPR.org, February 21, 2007 · When the weather is dreary and cold, there’s nothing better than cooking something that heats up the house and fills it with fragrant aromas — unless it’s someone else doing the cooking.

That’s why the Chinese dish huoguo is perfect for winter entertaining. Even if you’re a neophyte Chinese cook, hot pot will be a cinch. One of its many beauties lies in its simplicity.

Also known as Chinese fondue – or by its literal translation, fire pot — huoguo is a colorful array of meats, seafood, vegetables, bean curd and noodles that each diner chooses from and dips in a communal pot of simmering liquid. It’s a convivial activity, enjoyed by friends and families drawn together by a delicious, healthful meal in which the cooking is spread among many.

In a China flush with fortune, many now want theirs told (CS Monitor)

By Peter Ford | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BEIJING – Forget duck; Peking has been overrun by pigs.

As the Chinese New Year approaches, heralding the auspicious Year of the Pig, porkers are everywhere. Fifteen-foot-high inflatable pigs beckon shoppers into electronics stores; fluffy pink pig snouts enliven winter ear-muffs; corkscrew tails and round piggy faces decorate Ikea kitchen aprons.

Wherever you look, happy hogs are rearing up on their hind trotters advertising this or that, or simply waving banners emblazoned with the new Chinese credo, for which the coming year is believed to be especially favorable: “Get Rich.”

Advertising and commercial pressures have swept superstitious consumers into a froth of excitement that reveals how much many Chinese today hope that traditional fortunetelling tools can enrich them as they pursue former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping’s famously un-Communist exhortation, “To get rich is glorious.” (more…)

Hunan Resources (NYT)

General Tso’s (or Zuo’s) chicken is the most famous Hunanese dish in the world. A delectable concoction of lightly battered chicken in a chili-laced sweet-sour sauce, it appears on restaurant menus across the globe, but especially in the Eastern United States, where it seems to have become the epitome of Hunanese cuisine. Despite its international reputation, however, the dish is virtually unknown in the Chinese province of Hunan itself. When I went to live there four years ago, I scoured restaurant menus for it in vain, and no one I met had ever heard of it. And as I deepened my understanding of Hunanese food, I began to realize that General Tso’s chicken was somewhat alien to the local palate because Hunanese people have little interest in dishes that combine sweet and savory tastes. So how on earth did this strange, foreign concoction come to be recognized abroad as the culinary classic of Hunan? (more…)