China: Where American Christmas tree lights go to die. And be recycled.

A few years ago I was walking through a Chinese scrap yard when I came across a small pile of Christmas tree lights. There weren’t many there, but the encounter stuck in my mind. How on Earth did those lights move to China? And why? Like many writers, I keep a mental file of questions that I’d like to answer if and when I find the time … but never get around to answering.

Well, as it happens, this fall I found myself traveling with somebody who – one afternoon – revealed to me that there was much more to that small pile of Christmas tree lights that I’d originally assumed. That conversation became a phone call that, in mid-November, sent me to Shijiao, a small town in Guangdong Province that, by estimation, qualifies as the Christmas Tree Light Recycling Capitol of the World. On an annual basis the town’s recyclers import, and recycle, at last 20 million lb of the lights.

Part of my visit – not all of it – is outlined in a dispatch that’s just gone up at the Atlantic’s site, “The Chinese Town That Turns Your Old Christmas Tree Lights Into Slippers.” The text is accompanied by video that I took inside of one such factory (a first for me). If you’ve never been inside of a Chinese scrap recycling plant, well, this is a good place to start.

In other news: long-time readers may recall that this blog has a long, two-year tradition formally known as 141 Shanghai Christmas Trees. It was my intention to do a third edition of the series in 2011. But, alas, other commitments – such as chasing down Christmas tree recycling plants – has gotten in the way of doing that. Maybe next year.

Sexed-up Nanjing Massacre doesn’t turn on Chinese film fans.

How do you eroticize a massacre?

That’s the topic of my column at Bloomberg View this week. In it, I take a look at some of the Chinese reactions to Zhang Yimou’s new epic set against the 1937 Nanjing Massacre – and the sexed-up marketing designed to sell it. Consider, as just one example, one of the film posters below, featuring Batman Christian Bale in the role of fake priest, and the headless woman as a kind-hearted Nanjing prostitute. And that’s the just the mild stuff. More on Zhang Yimou’s tastelessness at Bloomberg View.

How low will (the) Chinese (government allow) real estate prices go?

A few weeks ago I was in Foshan, a thriving city on the edge of Guangzhou, and I happened to ask one of my hosts about the cost of the apartment buildings going up all around the city. He gave me a number, which struck me as high, and then he told me that the price was off by 30% over the course of the last two months. That encounter, and more, can be found in my column this week at Bloomberg World View, running over the weekend.

Related, further listening can be found in an excellent episode of the Sinica podcast featuring David Pierson of the Los Angeles Times and Daniel Kroeber of Dragonomics. And it’s definitely worth reading Pierson’s widely circulated piece on the return of the China bears, here.

In Beijing, you just can’t chat about things “Top Secret.”

This morning we receive the surprising news (as related in the New York Times) that the producers of “Top Secret,” a play about the Pentagon Papers and press freedom, could go ahead with a performance in Beijing last night, but that they could not, unfortunately, hold a discussion of the play afterwards, for fear of “unforeseen consequences spreading beyond the theater.”

This is a pity.

Last Friday night I was one of the discussants of the play after its penultimate Shanghai performance (the others were the play’s co-author Geoffrey Cowan, David Barboza of the New York Times, and a Chinese colleague). From the stage, I looked out upon a 75% Chinese audience that was intensely interested in both the play, and the issues that it touched. The discussion was thoughtful – indeed, far more thoughtful than the oft-wild discussions on the same issues which occur on Sina Weibo and other Chinese microblogs – and engaging. I know, time permitting, we could’ve gone much longer.

Later, after the play, one of the individuals connected with the production mentioned that he had been surprised that the play could get a permit to perform in Beijing. Several Chinese familiar with the local media landscape corrected him. “Actually, Beijing is much easier. They have more performing arts and are more open-minded. The real worry was Shanghai, which is much more conservative. MUCH MORE conservative.”

Alas, it seems that some low-level Beijing official has decided, on his own volition, to disprove that otherwise self-evident (if you spend any time in these places) point. So hat’s off to whomever in Shanghai didn’t mind that we discussed “Top Secret” after the show. And shame on the Beijing yahoo who didn’t feel that the audience at Peking University could handle the same. You, dear sir, are playing into a dangerous game of stereotypes, ie the Shanghai-ren always suspected they were more sophisticated than those northern bumpkins.

In any case, if you’re in Beijing tonight, or tomorrow night, you really ought to go see the play. It’s a ripping good story, and a rollicking good time, and if you like a little American history mixed into your evening, well, there you go. Performance and ticket information, here. For tickets, call YANG Huiyuan at 15011301416. See it.