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Skype is working in Chengdu, Sichuan Province

Of course all eyes have been on China these past few days, and I’ve thought in particular of a colleague in Chengdu, who works at the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Sichuan. His English name is Ben, and we occasionally chat by Skype, and I’ve long wanted to publish something about the work he does.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw his green icon glowing on Skype this morning, but there he was, in his office, working. He says that the road is “broken,” and there are transport delays, but otherwise seems unperturbed. Thinking back to the days when I lived in London, during the heaviest of IRA bombings, I realize how much news reports are geared to provoking emotion, rather than providing significant information in context–and how different the experience and perceptions of people who are actually living the event are. And I’m just plain relieved to hear that Ben is okay!

By the way, I met Ben in late 2004 in Rome. I was then just thinking about publishing on China, which made me alert to the group of Chinese staying in the hotel, and he wanted to practise his English. We got into conversation in the hotel lobby. His group was there to meet with Italian companies about import/export trade, while I was attending a conference of history documentary makers.

By the way, here are a couple ways to donate to the relief efforts: Red Cross Society of China and MissionFish. Whoops. I just looked more closely at MissionFish, and it seems to have quite a number of Christian charities on its list–not straight disaster relief. (What was I thinking? “Mission” and “fish”? But I got the link from the Skype profile of a Chinese person.) I’m especially reluctant to recommend this after having heard, first person, that fundamentalist U.S. Christian churches have been sending high school and college students on “tours” to China as part of missionary efforts. I was told about this by a distant cousin who was thinking of going.

It’s hard to believe, but there is nothing on the International Red Cross site at the moment, midday on Thursday 15 May, about donating to Chinese earthquake relief. Since wire payments even within the U.S. cost $50, and cause considerable confusion. I’m not interested in asking about making a wire donation payment to a Chinese bank! How easy it is, by contrast, to donate to presidential candidates, who spend their money on buttons and banners and vast amounts of television advertising.

Added 19 May: The National Committee on U.S-China Relations has set up a webpage with links to a variety of organizations helping in the disaster area. Here’s where to go to get various options and make a donation to help victims of the 12 May Sichuan earthquake:

One thought on “Skype is working in Chengdu, Sichuan Province

  1. Dear Karen,

    The points you make in this post are right on the money. First, you’re right about how the events in Sichuan have been covered in the news. It seems like much of the coverage has been concerned with the numbers of “dead” and angry parents’ reactions towards the government. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of reports putting the tragedy into context, or trying to conceptualize 65,000. It makes it unfortunately easy to be detached from reality when one is reading the reports on the New York Times or BBC website.

    I’m not sure about the donations. I did check the UNICEF site:, which allows people to write checks or donate to the Bank of China, much like the Red Cross, I’m guessing. But people can donate to Sichuan earthquake relief through the British Red Cross here:, and I think that won’t require a wire transfer. Of course, being in China makes donating a lot easier.

    As to your point about Christian groups on “tour”… I have to say I am all too familiar with these groups. They’re not just from the States, however. I have met a few dozen Canadians here as well. And right now, there are at least three missionary groups in Baoding alone that are here for “cultural exchanges,” “tours,” or “teaching.” A group from a Baptist college in Kansas was sent to teach English at a university in town and have been giving “Bible Literature” classes. I attended one of these classes out of curiosity, and I was very surprised when it started with a prayer. The missionaries I’ve spoken with are not entirely forthcoming about the reasons they are here, presumably because they are afraid of expulsion or worse. As a former Christian myself, I don’t mind them talking about their beliefs, but I am disgusted by the attitude that seems to prevail among the missionaries I have met. The majority do their work with minimal cultural sensitivity and their methods seem underhanded, clumsy, and pompous.

    Good luck with the upcoming months!


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