The Weekender, July 20, 2018
1) “How E-Commerce is Transforming Rural China” (New Yorker, 28 minutes, July 2018). You can also listen to the article if you’d like — there’s an embedded audio file there.
JD.com, or Jingdong, as the company is known in Chinese, is the third-largest tech company in the world in terms of revenue, behind only Amazon and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc. In the Western press, JD is often referred to as the Chinese Amazon, but unlike Amazon, which has all but saturated the American e-commerce market and therefore has to expand by moving into new sectors, such as entertainment, JD still has ample room to extend its customer base—thanks to places like [the rural areas of] Cenmang and Xinhuang. Although China has the most Internet users of any country and the largest e-commerce market in the world—more than twice the size of America’s—there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese whose lives have yet to migrate online. Analysts predict that China’s online retail market will double in size in the next two years, and that the growth will come disproportionately from third- and fourth-tier cities and from the country’s vast rural hinterland. At a time when the Chinese government has instituted monumental infrastructure programs to develop these regions, companies like JD are providing a market-driven counterpart, which is likely to do for China what the Sears, Roebuck catalogue did for America in the early twentieth century.
2) Keep on learning: The Mission Newsletter provides podcasts and stories that make smart people smarter. It’s packed with the best stories, trivia, quotes, podcasts, and inspiration to help you improve your life. Upgrade your health, wealth, and wisdom while also staying on top of all the latest trends and news that matters. Sign up here.
3) “The Jackie Robinson of Rodeo” (Texas Monthly, 33 minutes, July 2018). The subhead: “Five decades ago, Myrtis Dightman broke the color barrier in professional rodeo and became one of the best bull riders who ever lived. But his imprint on the sport was only just beginning.”
Pursuing a championship in the world’s most dangerous sport is a formidable task for any cowboy, but for a black cowboy in 1967 such an undertaking seemed, to most, downright impossible. Dightman refused to buy it. “A lot of folks thought rodeo was a white man’s game,” he said years later. “But those bulls don’t care if you’re white or black. You could be green, for all it matters. They just don’t want you on their backs.”
The bulls might have been color-blind, but certain stock contractors and judges were not. Signs posted outside rodeo arenas across the Jim Crow South announced their prejudice in big, bold letters: “No dogs, no Negroes, no Mexicans.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been enacted to snuff out this kind of explicit segregation, yet racism remained rampant. By the 1967 season Dightman had spent nearly a decade “riding the circuit” and had found ways to work around the system. He learned to hold his free hand farther away from his body than the other riders so a crooked judge wouldn’t be able to “foul him out.” He sometimes held on longer than the required eight seconds—just in case the timekeeper’s watch ran a little slow. And he wasn’t surprised when he somehow managed to draw the meanest bulls, the ones thought to be “unrideable,” over and over again.
4) The Now I Know Week in Review:
Monday: Full-Circle Wikipedia. How a Wikipedia prank ended up giving the best player in baseball a real nickname.
Tuesday: Why Hunters Wear Orange. Like, instead of purple.
Wednesday: The Crime Witness Who Missed the Point. It’s a very literaly title, there.
Thursday: Blue Ear: The one-time superhero with a very special, specific mission.
5) “Disposable America ” (The Atlantic, 14 minutes, June 2018). The subhead: “A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously. ”
Let’s start with Ray Kroc, who built the McDonald’s empire. For about 16 years, beginning in 1922, he sold cups for the Lily-Tulip Cup Corporation, rising to lead sales across the Midwest. “I don’t know what appealed to me so much about paper cups. Perhaps it was mostly because they were so innovative and upbeat,” Kroc recalled in his memoir, Grinding It Out. “But I sensed from the outset that paper cups were part of the way America was headed.”
At first, selling cups was a tough job. Straws were cheap—you could get 100 for nine cents in the 1930s—but cups were many times more expensive. And besides, people could just wash glasses. Why would they need a paper cup? But America was tilting toward speed and disposability. And throwaway products were the future (“innovative and upbeat”). Soda fountains and their fast-food descendants were continuing to grow, spurring more sales of cups and straws. In the end, Kroc called the years between 1927 and 1937 “a decade of destiny for the paper-cup industry.”
6) “The Fireworks King” (Washington Post, 15 minutes, June 2018). The subhead: “How one Chinese businessman became the largest supplier of pyrotechnics in the United States.”
Have a great weekend!