Cliche Research Techniques

It has literally become a joke that foreign correspondents or others writing about China base all of their observations on taxi drivers. In fact, sometimes it is even funny. From Sinocidal:

You’ve just arrived in your 5-Star room at the Shanghai Hilton and unpacked your fancy new Apple laptop. As you pull the top off the mini bottle of Hennessey XO, you finally turn to your instructions from the editor back home. 2000 words by Monday about the important issues facing China today. Easy.

You may well be isolated from the unwashed masses of China in your luxury Shanghai hotel room, but for God’s sake, you don’t want the brainless idiots who read your newspaper to know that. … So you might as well make use of the only Chinese person you ever come into contact with – the taxi driver – and pass off his opinions as your own.

Now, I do meet with real Chinese people, that doesn’t mean that every time that I ride in a taxi I turn off my research instincts. Earlier this week, my trusty morning Beijing News let me know something that I had missed: pork prices are going up. The following picture let me know that this was not just a minor story:

The headline on the story is:

Pork prices reach highest level ever

I noted this but did not pay it too much attention. As Jessica and I were heading over to share a lovely meal with a recently returned to Beijing friend (actually, he blogs too), our taxi driver was listening to his radio. Normally this is not too much of a problem. Although if I pay attention to the radio I can follow the news (less so drama or comedy programs), I also am able to tune it out. I catch that the news segment is starting, and the hosts begin with a discussion of pork and egg prices “exploding upwards.” At this moment, the taxi driver turns up the volume to hear the latest about the prices. Clearly, this news struck a cord.

Robert Bates provides numerous examples of the destabilizing power of food price inflation in the capital of a developing country. I am not predicting that this price increase is going to lead to the downfall of the regime, but it is important to note that food prices matter.

Even if it takes a taxi cab driver to remind me.

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