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The “Wild West” of Banking in China: Andrew Collier on China’s Shadow Banking

Shadow banking is a halfway house between state and private economics – its “the Wild West of banking in China.”

Manya Koetse



In his upcoming book Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China, Andrew Collier dives into the growth of ‘shadow banking’ in China and the emergence of a new aspect of capitalism in the PRC – a halfway house between state and private economics that he calls “the Wild West of banking in China.” What’s on Weibo reports.

“If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and acts like a duck, then it is a duck (..) But what about an institution that looks like a bank and acts like a bank? Often it is not a bank — it is a shadow bank.” This is how the concept of ‘shadow banking’ is straightforwardly explained by Laura Kodres in What Is Shadow Banking? The term was first coined in 2007 by economist Paul McCulley at a financial conference.

What does the growth of the free shadow banking market mean in a country that stresses “socialism with Chinese characteristics”? Collier discussed the status quo of shadow banking during a special event at The Bookworm, Beijing, on March 28.

Andrew Collier (@acollier) is an expert in China’s macro economy and the practice of shadow banking. He is the former President of the Bank of China International USA and is a business-focused journalist for, amongst others, the South China Morning Post. His book Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China will come out in May 2017.

In simple terms, Andrew Collier explains shadow banking as “capital that is distributed outside the formal banking system” – which can be anything from small-scale lending shops to large-scale trust companies. That they are outside of the “formal” banking system usually means these channels lack a strong safety net and have a different (and lesser) regulatory oversight (Elliott et al 2015).

Although shadow banking only held a fraction of the Chinese economy in the early 2000s, its share in China’s current annual lending is more than substantial (nearly half of all China’s economy annual RMB 25 trillion / $4.1 trillion lending). Risky business? Yes. But since many companies do not have access to formal loans, the practice has become ubiquitous. Some reports also suggest it has an upside as it boosts economic growth by making financial services cheaper and more accessible.

On Sina Weibo, the topic of shadow banking (影子银行) has received a lot of attention lately, with some netizens expressing their worries about the phenomenon: “Shadow banking is becoming a chaos, there is an overflow of people lending money!”

Collier also reinforces this message at The Bookworm, where he shares his experiences with the ‘game’ of shadow banking in China; a messy business where one of the most important questions is: where does the money actually go?


“An enormous miniature park? I saw a lot of odd constructions everywhere – I looked around and I started to become very skeptical.”


Collier’s interest in China’s shadow banking started in the 2000s when he joined the Bank of China and went on many business trips within mainland China, during which he witnessed how huge amounts of money were being pumped into projects that were often dubious; sport stadiums that would only host one sports event in a year, or a miniature theme park spread over several acres of land.

“At the time it looked like a bit of a joke,” Collier says about his visit to the, ironically, enormous miniature theme park located in Sichuan province: “But it was not just this. Some investments might pay off in the end, but you would see a lot of odd constructions everywhere – and I looked around and I started to become very skeptical.”

Andrew Collier at the Bookworm, March 28.

His ample experience with China’s world of ‘alternative’ banking over the past decades fascinated him so much that he decided to dive into the topic, with the main focus on simply following the money – tracking where it is coming from and where is it going.

But the issue turned out to be not that simple, as many people did not even know what it was they were investing in (“Some kind of bridge somewhere,” one investor once responded to Collier.) Within a few years after Collier’s interest was ignited, the term ‘shadow banking’ first popped up.

“What actually is ‘shadow banking’?”, Collier wondered, and asked himself: “Is it a good or a bad thing for China?”

It turns out that a lot of the important data about shadow banking is simply not there. What ‘shadow banking’ actually means also strongly varies per country and system.

Collier stresses that what is now happening within China is not really the same as what happened at Wall Street in the 1990s, when there were huge amounts of retirement money in the financial system and banks took bad property loans and “put lipstick on a pig” in selling their mortgage products.

Despite all the lingering questions, one thing is crystal clear: shadow banking is big in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even if China’s leadership would not necessarily call it ‘capitalism’ (rather: “capitalism with Chinese characteristics”), Collier wonders if shadow banking is the tail that’s gonna wag the dog, with many things happening that might be dangerous for the Chinese economy.


“Few people actually know where the money goes and nobody cares. They’re taking a slice of something and have no idea what it means.”


So what is actually happening in China, if it is not the “putting lipstick on pigs” phenomenon of 1990s Wall Street? After China’s 2008/2009 economic stimulus, there has been a lot of money flowing through the system. But China’s ‘shadow banking’ was not necessarily a result of that, Collier argues, as it was going on ever since he first lived in China in the 1980s and saw how people were borrowing money from friends and relatives for grain and cotton – actually also a form of shadow banking.

Throughout the years, especially over the past decade, China has seen a huge growth of non-state lending from ‘mom and pop loans’ to huge state-owned bank trusts. It is a problem that mainly stems from a system that was not designed to handle so much cash and was under very limited control.

Collier explains shadow banking as an overflow of water that is trying to find new channels within the PRC, with capital flows going outside of the banking system – through land sales or by borrowing from private markets. Non-bank channels don’t only have lower requirements for capital and liquidity, they also do not have the same low limits on interest rates as formal banks.

In the 1998-2012 period, shadow banking had actually become so big that there was an 18 trillion RMB gap in local government revenues, of which shadow banking was a large part: “Basically it is an unsustainable financial system,” Collier says, with institutions scrambling to either lend the money or to receive it.

According to Collier, there are two main actors that play the main role in the shadow banking ‘game’; Trusts and Wealth Management Products (WMP). WMP are uninsured financial products that often have a high rate of interest. Trusts are basically “banks in disguise with hardly any regulatory oversight,” as Collier says.

“They are, in fact, regulated – but so lightly that western observers will call them shadow banks. They tend to have government (provincial) ownership, and have trillions of outstanding loans.”

Some years ago Collier met with a person from a renowned oil company, who said his job was “managing money.” Upon further talking, Collier realized this person was managing billions and was basically running his own bank; a new reality in present-day China.

A big problem that Collier repeats throughout his talk is that it is not just that important data is missing on shadow banking in China, or that few people actually know where the money goes, but that “nobody cares and everyone thinks it’s all fine; they’re taking a slice of something and have no idea what it means.”


“Socialism has become nothing more but a national ideology.”


Collier stresses that China’s shadow banking is all about different actors who are halfway in the middle: it is not about state versus private. In China, it is all about partly state-owned parties versus partly private actors.

The upcoming book and Collier’s Bookworm talk come at a time when China is cracking down on shadow banking.

The crackdown is part of the balance that is kept on shadow banking within China, as the central bank of the PRC does not want pressures to get out of control and attempts to minimize risks.

Experts tell Bloomberg that there is a possibility that the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will directly inject funds into smaller banks if cash shortage continues.

When Collier asks the audience at The Bookworm to raise their hand if they think the system is going to collapse within the coming 5 years, nobody raises their hand. Apparently, many people don’t worry too much about the negative effects of shadow banking on China’s financial system in the years to come.

On Weibo, many netizens are more skeptical, not just because of the risks involved in shadow banking, but also of what it means in China today.

One commenter says: “In fact, China is not socialist at all when it comes to economics. Right now, it is actually a capitalist country – socialism has become nothing more than a national ideology.”

– By Manya Koetse

Sources and further reading

Collier, Andrew. 2017. “Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China.” Palgrave Macmillan.

Elliott, Douglas, Arthur Kroeber and Yu Qiao. 2015. “Shadow Banking in China: a Primer.” Economic Studies, the Brookings Institution.

Kodres, Laura E. 2013. “What Is Shadow Banking?” International Monetary Fund (50/2): June [28.3.17].

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at


Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at, or follow on Twitter.


What Are Weibo’s “Super Topics”?

Explaining Weibo’s “Super Topics”




What are Weibo’s “Super Topics” (超级话题) and what makes them different from normal hashtags?

Over the past year, Weibo’s so-called “Super Topics” (超级话题) have become more popular on the social media platform as online spaces for people to connect and share information.

Weibo’s “super topic” function has been around since 2016. The function allows Weibo users to create and join interest-based content community pages that are online groups separated from the main Weibo space. One could perhaps compare these Weibo Super Groups to ‘mega-threads’ or ‘subreddits’ on Reddit.

These are the most important things to know about Weibo’s Super Topics:


#1 A Super Topic is Not the Same as a Hashtag

Similar to Twitter, hashtags make it possible for Weibo users to tag a topic they are addressing in their post so that their content pops up whenever other people search for that hashtag.

Different from Twitter, Weibo hashtags also have their own page where the hashtag is displayed on top, displaying how many people have viewed the hashtag, how many comments the hashtag is tagged in, and allowing users to share the hashtag page with others.

A Super Topic goes beyond the hashtag. It basically is a community account where all sort of information is shared and organized. People can ‘follow’ (关注) a Super Topic and can also ‘sign in’ (签到).

On the main page of every Super Topic page, the main subject or purpose of the super topic is briefly explained, and the number of views, followers, and posts are displayed.

A super topic-page can be created by any Weibo user and can have up to three major hosts, and ten sub-hosts. The main host(s) can decide which content will be featured as essential, they can place sticky notes, and post links to suggested topics.


#2 A Super Topic Is a Way to Organize Content

Super Topic pages allow hosts to organize relevant content in the way they want. Besides the comment area, the page consists of multiple tabs.

A tab right underneath the main featured information on the page, for example, shows the “sticky posts” (置顶帖) that the host(s) of the page have placed there, linking to relevant information or trending hashtag pages. Below the sticky notes, all the posts posted in the Super Topic community are displayed.

One of the most important tabs within the Super Topic page is called “essential content” (精花), which only shows the content that is manually selected by the host(s). This is often where opinion pieces, articles, official news, or photos, etc. are collected and separated from all the other posts.

Another tab is the “Hall of Fame” (名人堂), which mainly functions as a reference page. It features links to the personal Weibo pages of the super topic page host(s), links to the Weibo pages of top contributors, and shows a list of the biggest fans of the Super Topic. Who the biggest fan of the page is, is decided by the number of consecutive days a person has “checked-in” on the page.


#3 Super Topics Are a Place for Fans to Gather

Although a Super Topic could basically be about anything, from cities to products or hobbies, Super Topics are often created for Chinese celebrities, video games, football clubs, or TV dramas.

Through Super Topic pages, a sense of community can be created. People can be ranked for being the most contributive or for checking in daily, and comment on each other’s posts, making it a home base for many fan clubs across China.

The host(s) can also help somebody’s page (e.g. a celebrity account) grow by proposing them to others within the group.

Super Groups are ranked on Weibo based on their popularity. This also gives fans more reason to stay active in the group, making their Super Topic top ranking within their specific category (TV drama, food, photography, sports, games, etc).

What makes the Super Topic group more ‘private’ than the common Weibo area, is that people posting within the Super Topic can decide whether or not they also want their comment shared on their own Weibo page or not. If they choose not to, their comments or posts will only be visible within the Super Topic community.


By Manya KoetseGabi Verberg, with contributions from Boyu Xiao

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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Why Trump Has Two Different Names in Chinese

Why does ‘Trump’ have multiple names in Chinese?

Manya Koetse



First published , updated version published March 7, 2019

It is confusing even for Chinese netizens and journalists: why does Donald Trump have multiple names in Chinese? And which is the right one to use? What’s on Weibo explains.

Donald Trump has two most commonly used different names in Chinese. In Mandarin*, they are Tèlǎngpǔ (特朗普) and Chuānpǔ (川普). Both names have been used by Chinese mainstream media and netizens for years.

*(Due to the scope of this article, we’ll just use the Mandarin pinyin here.)

In the Chinese translation of Donald Trump’s autobiography The Art of the Deal (1987), the ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ transliteration is used, whereas the translation of the George Ross book Trump-Style Negotiations (2008) uses ‘Chuānpǔ’ as the Chinese name for Trump.

Considering that Trump is making headlines every day, more people are wondering why Trump has two Chinese names, and which one is the correct name to use. There are even discussions about the topic on Chinese social media.


Why are foreign names translated?


Why are non-Chinese names actually translated into Chinese at all? With English and Chinese being such vastly different languages with entirely different phonetics and script, the majority of Chinese people will find it hard to pronounce a foreign name that is written in English.

Writing foreign names or terms in Chinese script has a long history and practical reasons which won’t be further elaborated on here. At present, aside from being standardized, it does not just help Chinese speakers to pronounce these words, it also makes it easier to remember them. Most Chinese names usually consist of two or three characters; the first character is the surname, and the last character(s) is the given name.

Translating a name to better adapt to the culture in which it is used does not only happen with English names in China; you often see the same happening with Chinese names in foreign countries.

In that case, the first character (surname) is moved to the back, and the given name changed into an English one. Alibaba’s Ma Yun, for example, has become globally known as ‘Jack Ma.’ Film star Zhao Wei is called ‘Vicky Zhao’, Tencent’s Ma Huateng is known as ‘Pony Ma,’ and the popular actress Lin Yun is called ‘Jelly Lin.’


The right way to translate a foreign name in Chinese


There are multiple ways to translate a foreign name to Chinese. Most commonly, a name is translated into Chinese characters that are phonetically similar to the original name, without necessarily being very meaningful. The transliteration of ‘Hillary’ (Clinton), for example, is ‘Xīlālǐ’ (希拉里). ‘Bush’ is translated as ‘Bùshí’ (布什).

Another option is to choose a name purely based on meaning rather than phonetics. One example is Elvis Presley, who is called ‘Cat King’ (Māo Wáng 猫王) in Chinese, which stays close to his nickname “The Hillbilly Cat.”

The best option when translating a foreign name into Chinese, however, is to make sure it stays close to its original pronunciation while also using elegant characters. In other words; it is nice when a name’s translation makes sense both phonetically and semantically. Marilyn Monroe’s last name in Chinese is Mènglù (梦露), for example, which sounds like ‘Monroe’ and has the characters for ‘Dream Dew’ – a perfect transliteration for such a dreamy actress.

Even when the characters used for a foreign name in Chinese are not necessarily intended to convey a certain meaning, it is important that they do not have any negative connotations. Nobody wants a character in their name associated with divorce, disease or death – it is believed to bring bad luck.

Another thing is that it is considered helpful for foreign names in Chinese is to maintain a ‘foreign flavor’ to it, to make it clear that the name is actually a transliteration. To give an example raised in this Nikkei article: President Reagan’s name is generally translated as Lǐgēn 里根 in Chinese – the characters being somewhat uncommon for a Chinese name.

The same name could also be written with the characters 李根, very common for a Chinese name, but then it would be difficult to know whether a media report is talking about Reagan the President or just a local Chinese person by the same name. Transliterations of foreign names, therefore, are often easily recognizable as foreign names on purpose.


Trump, Tèlǎngpǔ, and Chuānpǔ


In the case of Trump, his Chinese names are mainly chosen for phonetic reasons, with different sources using different characters. Part of the challenge in deciding the right Chinese translation for his name, is the fact that Chinese does not have consonant cluster ‘tr’ as one sound.

The Chinese-language Nikkei newspaper dedicated an op-ed written by Chinese scholar Ke Long (柯隆) to the matter, who argues that although it may all seem trivial, it is actually quite confusing and unpractical for president Trump to have more than one name in Chinese.

The Chinese media in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most overseas Chinese-language media, refer to Trump as ‘Chuānpǔ’ (川普).* According to the World Journal, the biggest Chinese-language newspaper in the US, it is the only proper way to translate this name, yet most Chinese state media and Chinese-language UK media (such as BBC) all use ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’

* (The Chinese version of The New York Times 纽约时报中文版 is an exception, as ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 is generally also used in this publication.)

Author Ke Long explains that Chinese translations of foreign names try to stay as close as possible to the pronunciation of a name in its original language. This is why the name of the city ‘Paris’ is pronounced ‘Bālí’ (巴黎) in Mandarin Chinese, staying close to the French pronunciation, and ‘Amsterdam’ being ‘Āmǔsītèdān’ (阿姆斯特丹), which follows the city’s Dutch pronunciation.

If the British would pronounce ‘Trump’ as ‘te-lan-pu,’ then it would thus perhaps be more understandable why media such as the BBC would write Tèlǎngpǔ. But they don’t pronounce it like that, Ke Long argues, saying that the use of ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ thus does not make sense, and is actually closer to the Japanese way of writing Trump’s name (‘トランプ’: to-ra-n-pu).

More so, the author writes, it does not make sense for Chinese media to take over the British transliteration of the Trump name. Considering Trump is American, Chinese media should follow the translations made by American media. He also notes that if it would be about the Prime Minister of Britain, the Chinese transliteration should follow the one used by the media in the UK.

Although the Nikkei author seems to advocate for a singular use of ‘Chuānpǔ’ by all media, no Chinese media are necessarily ‘wrong’ in their transliteration of the name Trump. The ‘Tèlǎngpǔ’ 特朗普 translation follows the example of outlets such as the BBC, while Chuānpǔ 川普 follows that of other media.

Some Chinese bloggers argue that Chuānpǔ 川普 is the best way to write Trump’s name, because the first character, that actually means ‘river,’ is commonly used in Chinese, making the name sound more ‘natural’ and easy to pronounce than ‘Tèlǎngpǔ.’ Moreover, they argue that the Mandarin ‘chuan’ sound is more appropriate to convey the pronunciation of ‘tr’ than the ‘te-lang’ way.

In the end, the reason why Trump has two names most commonly used in Chinese is just a matter of media, with various mainstream outlets adopting different names since Trump first made headlines, and without there being any clear consensus on which Chinese name to use across all these different Chinese-language media platforms around the world.


Chuángpù and Chuángpò?


On Chinese social media, President Trump even has more than two names. There are also netizens referring to him as 床鋪, 闯破 or 床破 (Chuángpù/Chuángpò); these are all transliterations that contain strange or negative characters, making the name unrefined and harsh-sounding on purpose to make the name ‘Trump’ look and sound bad.

Although there have been online discussions on the right transliteration for the name Trump, it is unlikely that there will be one official Chinese name for the US President in the near future. Xinhua News, China’s official state-run press agency, has consistently been using Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普 for years, and will probably continue to use it.

Many netizens simply use both versions of his name in one post to avoid confusion, and some news reports have even started using both names in its headlines (image below).

Despite the somewhat confusing situation at hand, there are also those who do not seem to mind at all. “Who cares if it is Tèlǎngpǔ or Chuānpǔ anyway?” one netizen says: “In this day and age, we all know who it is we are talking about.”

– By Manya Koetse
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This article first appeared in 2017 and has been republished with various corrections:
– The first version did not properly convey the argument made by author Ke Long in his Nikkei piece, which is more clearly laid out in this version.
– This version has added some extra information coming from sources after 2017.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact ©2014-2018


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