Balancing Act: Decoding China's New Budget Law
Twilight Fears: Nursing Home Blaze
Touching the Sky: A New Look at Tibet
What do China's defense white papers tell us about its strategic direction? $4.99 www.newschinamag.com
Volume No. 084 August 2015
Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Director: Liu Beixian
One Belt, One Road could be China’s best soft power project
Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Ruan Yulin Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Brittney Wong Lead Writers: Yu Xiaodong, Li Jia Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Sun Zhe, Du Guodong First Reader: Sean Silbert Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.newschinamag.com Art Department Art Director: Wu Shangwen Art Editor/Designer: Zhang Dawei Publishing and Development Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: 820 2nd Ave, 3B-C, New York, NY 10017, USA Email: email@example.com Toronto Office Director: Xu Changan Address: 51 Halstead Drive, Markham, ON Canada L3R7Z4 Tel: 1-905-604-6150 Fax: 1-905-604-6170 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Marketing Director: Wang Chenbo Account Manager : Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Wang Yongzhi, Ruan Yulin, Deng Min Washington Office: Zhang Weiran, Diao Haiyang Los Angeles Office: Mao Jianjun San Francisco Office: Liu Dan Houston Office: Wang Huan London Office: Zhou Zhaojun Tokyo Office: Wang Jian Paris Office: Long Jianwu Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Zhao Shengyu Moscow Office: Huang Xiujun Manila Office: Zhang Ming Berlin Office: Huang Shuanghong Sydney Office: Zhu Daqiang Brussels Office: Shen Chen Astana Office: Wen Longjie Rio de Janeiro Office: Mo Chengxiong Johannesburg Office: Song Fangchan Jakarta Office: Gu Shihong Kathmandu Office: Fu Yongkang Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
he high profile “Belt and Road” initiative Secondly, China should seek more innovative (a reference to the land-based Silk Road and effective ways to project its soft power as it Economic Belt and the parallel Maritime seeks to play a greater global role. In past years, Silk Road) not only aims to promote China’s in- the Chinese government has launched various soft vestment in and economic ties power projects, such as its network with countries along the two of hundreds of Confucius instiAs China’s routes, but also serves as a strategy tutes, as well as the launch of variforeign policy to help China seek an expanded ous communication initiatives in role in global affairs. the world’s major capitals. Howadopts a more Since the initiative was first ever, given the inevitable associaglobal scope, mooted in 2013, China’s efforts at tions with propaganda inherent in the government promotion have focused primarily the response to such governmentshould make a on the fields of trade and finance. led initiatives, their ability to foster serious effort But the leadership should be aware greater understanding of China to promote and that in order to establish China as can be very limited. As Chinese an influential global economic tourists made more than 100 milencourage study player, the country needs to adopt lion overseas trips in 2014, the of the relevant a soft power approach to further current approach towards promotregions to cope its landmark global initiative. ing China’s soft power has become with its shift in Firstly, the government should obsolete, especially with the rise of diplomatic focus make efforts to strengthen and ensocial media. courage academic research coverInstead of taking a lead in culing the regions included in the Belt tural communication, the Chiand Road initiative. In the past, as nese government should change China’s diplomacy has focused on its approach to focus on nurturdeveloped countries, its international studies have ing and encouraging positive behavior among zeroed in on North America and Europe. By com- Chinese companies and individuals, who can parison, the major regions covered by the Belt and then be independent ambassadors for the culture Road initiative, such as Central Asia, the Middle as a whole. In the meantime, China should libEast and the broader Islamic world and, crucially, eralize its policies governing non-governmental Southeast Asia, have received far less attention in organizations to encourage the establishment academia, a field in which the Chinese government of a robust NGO sector. China’s experiences still plays an important role. abroad have shown that NGOs are far more efThe result is not only a lack of general pub- fective than government agencies in terms of soft lic knowledge of these regions, but also a lack of power projection, and yet such independent entiexpertise in dealing with their unique economic, ties continue to operate under constant pressure political and religious affairs on an academic level, from the government. an underlying weakness that will become a major Only through a commitment from China to impediment for the success of the Belt and Road foster a well-rounded and nuanced understanding initiative. of the political and cultural differences between As China’s foreign policy adopts a more global nations, and the projection of a positive image of scope, the government should make a serious effort China without resorting to propaganda, will the to promote and encourage study of the relevant world be in a position to truly embrace the Belt regions to cope with its shift in diplomatic focus. and Road initiative.
NewsChina attempts to read between the lines of China’s latest defense white paper to determine the direction of the world’s largest country’s militaries
01 One Belt, One Road could be China’s best soft power project 10 Environmental Assessment Racket: In Nature’s Name 13 Yu Jianrong: Beneath the Stage
16 Defense White Paper: Global Scope, Local Priorities/Reading the Signs
28 Data Leakage: Social Insecurity 30 Nursing Home Fire: An Inevitable Tragedy
P58 NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by CFP
P48 33 Genetic Modification: A Step Too Far?
58 Migrant Worker Poetry : The Mighty Pen
Online Diagnosis: Breaking Through Fiscal Reform: The Power of Law
42 Sino-Japanese Relations: Private Power 46 Nepal’s Tourism Recovery : After Shock culture
48 51 54
Hengdian Extras: A Dream Come True Jian Yi: Stories of Birth Roof of the World: The Third Pole
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
60 A Visit to a Ghost Town 64 Dynamic Dalian: Looking Forward, Thinking Back Commentary
72 Doesn’t Matter If You’re Black Or White 04 MEDIA FOCUS 05 What They Say 06 NEWS BRIEF 08 Netizen Watch 41 China by numbers 66 real chinese 67 Flavor of the Month 68 ESSAY 70 CULTURAL LISTINGS
NewsChina, Chinese Edition
Economy & Nation Weekly
June 15, 2015
May 15, 2015
Data from the Chinese Ministry of Education have shown that nearly 460,000 Chinese nationals left China to study overseas in 2014, and that this group’s average age has fallen over the years. Students, labeled as “China Made,” were “exported” to popular destinations, including the US, Europe, Canada and Australia, partly thanks to help from thousands of recruiting agencies across China. Most Chinese students can complete school applications by themselves, but many of them are also afraid that they may not be able to compete with those who have received professional assistance from such agencies. To attract business and improve placement stats, some agencies are assisting applicants to cheat on their applications, including concocting fraudulent GPA scores, phony statements and faking high school transcripts. If the current chaos of the agency market is not remedied, a vicious circle will likely form in which the bad players will eventually drive out the good ones. Xinmin Weekly May 29, 2015
Seeking Help According to 2009 statistics from the National Center for Mental Health, China is home to over 100 million people suffering from mental health issues, including 16 million who are severely ill. In Shanghai alone, one in every eight residents reportedly suffers from mental illness. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Shanghai Mental Health Center, China’s biggest psychiatric hospital. Xinmin Weekly reporters visited the hospital, that cares for over 700,000 patients annually, to learn about what’s going on in the mental health community. Hospital head Xu Yifeng said that over the years, Chinese popular opinion has painted mental hospitals as daunting places that most people should steer clear of – with these kinds of misconceptions becoming the main obstacle preventing the timely diagnosis and treatment of many patients. According to experts, studying the causes of mental illnesses will remain the most urgent challenge for psychiatrists.
Since the global economic crisis began in 2008, China’s steel industry has entered a recession. Although 823 million tons of crude steel were produced in 2014, the highest amount ever, only 740 million tons were consumed, declining for the first time in the past 30 years, according to the China Iron and Steel Association. From 2012 to 2014, most steel firms in China were operating in the red with a combined debt burden of 3.2 trillion yuan (US$515bn) in 2014. Analysts warn that a severe debt crisis is looming as the steel slump is likely to continue thanks to declining steel prices and overcapacity. The Chinese government has been trying to intervene financially to help steel producers actively adapt to the market and change their business model to foster new growth. Apart from this, scientific innovation, market-oriented reform and redesigned export strategy are proving increasingly important.
Oriental Outlook June 7, 2015
Water Concerns In August 2006, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) unveiled a plan to protect sources of drinking water in the country’s cities. New regulations require that cities with a single water source and a population of 200,000 or more construct backup water reserves sourced either from underground water, surface water or from water diversion projects. Nowadays, 79 percent of cities in China have built a total of 1,200 backup water reserves with a total daily supply capacity of 130 million liquid tons. Nevertheless, data from the MEP in 2007 has shown that 35 percent of backup water sources were below standard. Cities relying on rivers and lakes as backup water sources must also deal with worsening pollution, which, due to China’s rapid urbanization and industrialization, has made sourcing clean drinking water a major environmental concern. Caixin May 1, 2015
Local Debt Risk Statistics for the first quarter this year have shown that the pressure of China’s economic downturn has heightened, snowballing financial risks to the country’s economy. Mounting local government debts have become an increasingly crucial problem for the central government. China’s National Audit Office revealed that local governments at different levels possessed a total direct debt of over 20 trillion yuan (US$3.3tn) by the end of June 2013, in addition to nearly 10 trillion yuan (US$1.5tn) of non-recourse debt. Now the overall framework of local debt restructuring has been fixed but the details of the plan to categorize local debt have yet to be disclosed. It is estimated that local governments will face growing pressure when substantial proportions of new investments remain backed by loans, while old debts are paid with newly borrowed funds. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
“It is natural that celebrity couples break up, but many netizens view this as a major world event, and immediately split into different camps and fight. The intensity of their feelings is shocking.”
“It is a misunderstanding for mainlanders to think that the Kuomintang always seeks to reconcile with the Communist Party of China, while the Democratic Progressive Party always supports independence. Also, Taiwanese must clear the misconception that all of the‘pan-blues’want to betray the island, while only the‘pan-greens’truly love Taiwan.”
James Chu-yul Soong, chairman of Taiwan’s People First Party, appealing to Taiwanese and mainlanders to abandon absolutist concepts.
“With a short work period and just a few hundred yuan’s worth of fabric, this outfit was able to cause a worldwide sensation -- to me, that’s what fashion is.” Designer Hu Sheguang on a design which Chinese netizens mocked as a facsimile of the red and green flower-patterned, cotton-padded coats regularly worn in China’s rural northeast.
“Our faculty of speech may have already regressed to its lowest point since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.” Wang Xuming, director of the Language & Culture Press, suggesting standardized testing to evaluate students’ listening and speaking skills.
Illustration by Wu Shangwen
Li Xiaoliang, a journalist with China Youth Daily, on Chinese young people’s attitudes towards celebrity gossip.
“China will not bully weak and small countries, but it does not mean that those countries can make ceaseless, unreasonable trouble.” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressing government hopes that the Philippines will use negotiation to solve territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“Don’t be eager for instant success. I think it would be very dangerous if everyone wanted to become the next Bill Gates.” Han Qide, chairman of the China Association for Science and Technology, dumping cold water on graduates’ dreams of making their fortunes through startups.
“You can’t simply equate‘petitioning’with‘maintaining social stability,’nor can you regard petitioners as people attempting to destroy stability. This is against Chinese laws and regulations.” Zhang Enxi, deputy director of China’s State Bureau for Letters and Calls, on the relationship between civilian petitions and social stability.
“I found it even more expensive than learning to fly a plane.”
“If the mainstream media could guide the public to hold a fairer and wiser attitude toward homosexuality, it would greatly help China build a more harmonious society and increase respect for our country in regards to international human rights .” Li Yinhe, a sexologist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on the present media restrictions on public discussion of homosexuality. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Zhou Yun (alias),astudentinaprepcourseforthenationalexamination forgovernmentworkers,complaining aboutsky-hightuitioninaninterviewwith ModernGoldExpress,aZhejiang-based paperundertheofficialXinhuaNews Agency.
The Lady in China
Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson and general secretary of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), made an official visit to China from June 10 to 14 at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Aung San Suu Kyi, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner who was kept under house arrest for 20 years after winning Myanmar’s first democratic elections in 1990, has previously had no formal contact with the CPC. China has historically maintained a diplomatic policy of mostly dealing with only ruling parties, a practice extended to Myanmar’s former military junta, though relations have improved since democratic reforms began in 2011, and NLD representatives visited China in 2013. Given that a general election in Myanmar is imminent, with the NLD predicted to make major gains (though its leader is constitutionally prevented from running by a clause effectively tailor-made for Aung San Suu Kyi), the timing of the visit is seen as delicate. Some believe Aung San Suu Kyi hoped to win support for the NLD with her China visit, while the CPC aims to showcase its new willingness to speak to multiple sections of society – rather than just government leaders – in its international diplomacy. Its decision to arrange a meeting between the Burmese opposition politician and CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping was seen as particularly significant. “China wishes to bring more countries into its peaceful development strategy and the One Belt, One Road initiative... to keep in touch with others irrespective of ideology,” commented Phoenix TV anchor He Liangliang.
“There is some hostility towards China in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has great influence among the Burmese people, [and] will help lessen misunderstanding and ease this hostility,” Song Qingrun, an Asian issues researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the State news website china.com.cn. “Such non-government exchanges will surely promote Sino-Burmese relations, which is good for both China’s economy and border security,” he added. Alongside visiting Beijing and Shanghai, Aung San Suu Kyi stopped off in Yunnan Province, which borders northern Myanmar and has been the scene of several cross-border incidents due to overspill from clashes between the Burmese army and a long-running local insurgency. Artillery shells fired across the border from northern Myanmar have accidentally landed in Yunnan on two occasions in the last three months, reportedly killing four Chinese nationals and injuring another 14. Although Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to raise the issue of human rights during her visit sparked criticism in some Western media, Chinese analysts viewed her visit as pragmatic – her stop in Shanghai, China’s economic and financial capital, included meetings with business leaders. “Myanmar is trying to balance China’s fast development by cooperating more with the West, but that does not mean that it will alienate China, its biggest neighbor, and also its largest investor. Myanmar wishes to maximize its own benefit from the competition between large countries,” commented Song. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Fugitive Official on Trial in the US
China and South Korea Sign FTA
Yang Xiuzhu, a former Chinese official, recently appeared in a New York courtroom where she was charged with having settled in the US illegally. Yang, 68, is currently the top name on China’s socalled “Red Warrant” list of fugitive “economic criminals.” She served as deputy mayor of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, before moving abroad in 2003. According to China’s National Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Party’s top anti-corruption agency, while in office, Yang allegedly accepted around 250 million yuan (US$39.7) in bribes. Previously, Yang was questioned by Dutch police in 2005 while living in the Netherlands, and was ordered to leave the country in 2009, only managing
to remain by launching a series of legal appeals. On the eve of her extradition to China in May 2014, she allegedly used a fake passport to gain entry to the United States. The US court has yet to render its verdict, and a recent request for political asylum filed by Yang’s legal team will likely slow the process further. Given that the US has no extradition treaty with China, Yang’s ultimate fate remains uncertain.
Maritime Disaster in Yangtze River 442 people drowned in the Yangtze River after the Eastern Star, a Chinese passenger liner traveling from Nanjing to Chongqing, capsized and sank on June 1. According to the ship’s captain, who survived the sinking, the accident happened at around 9:30 PM when a freak tornado hit the vessel without warning. Despite a relief effort involving over 1,000 police divers and professional rescue personnel, only 12 people survived. Since other vessels in close proximity to the Eastern Star did not sink despite the stormy conditions, some have doubted the captain’s claims and criticized official media reports supporting his
version of events that were published before an official investigation into the disaster had been concluded. Some experts have openly questioned how a 10-year-old liner with a 2,200-ton displacement could be capsized so easily, even in high winds. At press time, the government investigation into the People’s Republic’s worst-ever maritime disaster had yet to publish its findings.
Zhou Yongkang Sentenced to Life Former Politburo Standing Committee member of the CPC Central Committee Zhou Yongkang was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 11, about six months after his arrest in December 2014. The middle court of Tianjin Municipality, where the low-key trial was held, found Zhou guilty on three charges: bribery, misuse of power and revealing State secrets. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, Zhou received around 130 million yuan (US$20m) in bribes from lower-level officials and the leaders of State-owned enterprises. Given that Zhou is the biggest “tiger” so far brought down by President Xi Jinping’s far-reaching crackdown on corruption, State media have highlighted the outcome, if not the process, of Zhou’s trial. The public, meanwhile, has argued that, given his notoriety, the former security czar deserved a harsher penalty. The court, however, claimed that the sentence was appropriate as Zhou had pleaded guilty and returned the bulk of his ill-gotten gains. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
On June 1, China’s commerce minister Gao Hucheng concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with his South Korean counterpart, ending three years of bilateral negotiations. According to media reports, the new agreement, which is scheduled to take effect before the end of 2015, covers 17 sectors, including commodities trading, e-commerce, competition policy, government purchase and environmental protection. By 2035, both countries have pledged to eliminate tariffs on around 90 percent of the imported products included in these categories, which represent 85-91 percent of bilateral import volume. The agreement also pledges to facilitate mutual financial investment. South Korean contractors, for example, will be exempted from China’s restrictions on foreign investment in the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Experts estimated that the agreement will help raise China’s GDP by 1-2 percent and South Korea’s by 2-3 percent. It is also expected to smooth negotiations on separate putative agreements between both countries and Japan.
Photos by Xinhua and IC
Saddening Four children of a rural family in Bijie, Guizhou Province, aged from five to 13, were reported to have committed suicide by drinking pesticide on June 9. Their parents, who are separated, had not been home in months, and local villagers alleged that neglect was the main cause behind the children’s deaths. The tragedy has led to further calls for more comprehensive government support for the growing number of “left behind” children of migrant workers.
As Chinese high school students busied themselves with the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam, Southern Metropolis Daily planted several undercover journalists to expose a “proxy exam taker” ring operating in Shanxi Province, where students from well-known universities sat the gaokao on behalf of local high schoolers. Netizens questioned how, despite reportedly watertight monitoring procedures, a group of fake students could enter exam rooms and take exams, while calls grew for an official investigation into the fraud.
Irritating Chinese photographer Wang Dong has come under fierce fire for photographing nude models in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Netizens accused Wang of “desecrating” a historic site, though he has argued that his actions didn’t disturb anyone. Officials from the Palace Museum, the official institution in charge of the Forbidden City, told media that they had reported the case to the police and submitted video surveillance footage as evidence.
Poll the People
The Beijing municipal government implemented China’s strictest-ever smoking ban on June 1, forbidding smoking in any enclosed public space, including bars, cafes and night clubs. However, netizens have questioned whether China’s “tobacco culture” might prove too resilient for the new measures. Do you think that Beijing’s smoking ban will prove effective? Yes, I think so. 27% (24,930) No, I don’t think so. 73% (67,930) Source: views.news.qq.com
Most Circulated Post Retweeted 260,869 times by June 12 Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University found itself under scrutiny after the airing of its latest promotional video To My Light – an alleged shot-for-shot remake of Tokyo University’s 2014 promotional film Explorer. The university argued that the new film was based on the true story of one of its graduates, only to find clips comparing the two videos were being circulated online. Under mounting pressure, the university president released an online statement apologizing for the film, while also pledging to investigate how the university approved production.
On June 1, the Eastern Star, a Chinese passenger liner traveling along the Yangtze River en route from Nanjing to Chongqing, capsized and sank after allegedly being hit by a freak tornado. 442 of the 454 persons aboard drowned, making this the worst maritime disaster in the history of the People’s Republic. The People’s Daily called upon netizens to mourn the victims. “Today is the seventh day since they left us [traditionally, official mourning begins seven days after a death]. Please retweet this post to mourn the dead. We also hope the government will make a thorough investigation into the accident to comfort the departed and their family members.” NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Top Five Search Queries On
HOT? WHO’S NOT?
over the week ending June 15 2015 Gaokao 846,576
The national college entrance exam was taken by more than 9 million students this year. Many candidates, especially in rural areas, see the test as their one chance to gain entry to one of China’s expanding cities.
Cartoon Blacklist 433,134
The Chinese Ministry of Culture has ordered the removal of 38 foreign animated films deemed “bloody, violent or pornographic” from Chinese video-sharing websites, a move that has led to a backlash from enthusiasts.
Are You Slim? 414,403
Average Salary in Beijing 357,732
Some 40 passersby in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, attempted to rescue an elderly garbage forager who was caught beneath the wheels of a bus on June 12. The woman’s rescuers lifted the vehicle and pulled the woman to safety, accompanying her to the hospital where her injuries were not found to be life-threatening.
Beijing’s local statistics bureau recently claimed that the average monthly salary in the capital had increased to 6,463 yuan (US$1,026), leading many to complain that this “pay rise” was only due to China’s widening income gap.
A South Korean visitor to Huizhou, Guangdong Province was found to be infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), triggering alarm and criticism of China’s quarantine procedures.
Top Blogger Profile Zhang Wei Followers: 3,172,305 by June 15 Zhang Wei, a 34-year-old Chinese author who publishes his work online under the pen name tangjia sanshao, made headlines after being ranked 65th in the recent Forbes China Celebrity List, a leap of 22 places since last year. A regular contributor to literary websites since 2004, Zhang earned his reputation with his fantasy fiction, and was enrolled into the official China Writers’ Association in 2011. Thanks to the publication of several bestsellers, Zhang topped the 2012 Richest Online Writers list released by the West China Metropolis Daily, a newspaper based in Sichuan Province, which reported that Zhang had earned combined royalties of 33 million yuan (US$5.2m). So far, Zhang has published 15 serial novels containing around 30 million words in total, many of which have been adapted into movies, animated films and online games. Zhang has also established an independent movie studio to adapt his own works, and now claims that the movie rights to his latest fantasy quadrilogy have already been bought by a Hollywood studio. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Some of the images used in this section are from the internet
A purported test to see if someone is “thin enough” recently went viral in China. According to advocates, if one can reach around one’s own waist from behind and touch one’s navel, then one has passed the test.
Garbage Dumps A local media outlet in Jiangsu Province recently revealed that four cargo vessels from Shanghai had dumped several thousand tons of chemical waste into a gully near a local river in the city of Wuxi. As this practice has reportedly been ongoing for months, netizens alleged it was an organized act, and heavily criticized the local government and its environmental protection department for neglecting their duties.
Graduation Epic A total of 4,500 graduates from Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei Province, posed for a huge group picture to celebrate their graduation, a feat that required the construction of a 45-meter-long iron bandstand. Media said that the picture will be 10 meters long once printed, with digital versions requiring five gigabytes of storage space.
Ancient Bridge Lost A 440-year-old stone bridge in Shanghai was chopped into eight parts and taken away by contractors working for real estate giant Vanke. The company argued that they only removed the bridge’s “facade” to protect it and would return it after construction, but the local government has already launched an investigation into alleged malpractice.
Photo by IC
Environmental Assessment Racket
In Nature’s Name
Government officials have been caught profiting from composing fabricated environmental assessment reports, a practice that the Ministry of Environmental Protection has finally vowed to curb. NewsChina speaks to whistleblowers who claim that the problem goes far deeper than the government has so far admitted By Li Teng and Wang Yan
n late April, according to a statement from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), China Green Enterprise Ltd., an affiliate company founded in 1996 and engaged in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) industry, abruptly withdrew from the market. State media claimed that this was the start of MEP regulation of this controversial sector and a move to limit corruption among environmental officials. The MEP’s censure of China Green was a response to allegations of serious violations and corruption at the company which were highlighted by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s top anti-corruption agency, during an inspection in late 2014. Inspectors reportedly identified widespread professional negligence within the country’s environmental protection apparatus, pointing out that government-backed institutions dominate the EIA market, making it easy for them to trade favors between multiple related government departments.
Ever since Wang Zhiwei (pseudonym) obtained his EIA Engineer qualification certificate in 2014, he has received frequent phone calls from professional headhunters, asking if he wanted to “attach” himself to various EIA companies. In industry parlance, to guakao, or to “attach” oneself to a particular institute as its designated engineer, is a common phenomenon. According to regulations, qualified EIA institutes must be staffed by full-time engineers, but in reality, these rules are largely ignored. Most institutes simply obtain the nominal services of qualified engineers, some of whom may never set foot on the premises, in exchange for a set sum of money. Ji Chengjun (pseudonym), an EIA engineer from Guangdong Province, told NewsChina that employers typically need to pay an annual retainer of 50,000 yuan (US$8,060) to secure the services of an EIA engineer. The engineer receives payment for no tangible work, while the patron institution can save itself an additional 50,000 yuan NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Li Yuan (pseudonym), a full-time EIA engineer based in Zhejiang Province, revealed to NewsChina that there are other, even less visible ways for government agencies and EIA institutes to profit from their roles. According to him, EIA companies with no formal qualifications can conduct environmental assessments by “borrowing” the qualifications of other institutes – for a price. Insiders call this “institute attachment,” and the market for this form of fraud has boomed in recent years. Obtaining the signature and seal of a qualified EIA institute on a single report requires a company to pay a fee of 1,000 yuan (US$161). Unqualified institutes can issue these signatures and stamps in the name of their qualified equivalents. Long-term cooperation between qualified and unqualified institutes can require the latter to pay hundreds of thousands of yuan in fees to the former. Ningxia Ruibo Environment Consultative (NREC) Co. Ltd., one example of an unqualified company, has illegally issued EIA reports
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
for a total of 23 projects in the names of three different institutions. So far, the MEP’s only official response has been to issue a single demand that the company cease its illegal activities. According to Ji Chengjun, unqualified EIA companies often market themselves as agencies for qualified EIA institutes, conducting business in remote locations on their behalf. “This makes fraud hard to unearth,” Ji said.
Photo by IC
per year by not employing a full-time EIA engineer. Enterprises in China are required to have new projects assessed by a qualified EIA institute before seeking approval from their local environmental department. To facilitate this process, EIA institutes routinely seek out well-connected EIA engineers – ideally someone with an existing relationship with local environmental officials or even someone already employed by them – who can secure approval more quickly. On March 3, the MEP announced that disciplinary measures would be enacted against 63 EIA institutes and 22 individual engineers. Four institutes were deprived of their qualifications due to having only ever employed a single EIA engineer. According to current regulations, for an EIA report to be considered valid, the responsible institute must have enlisted the participation of a minimum of five qualified engineers. However, on searching the national database of registered EIA institutes, NewsChina identified 14 of a total of 1,159 EIA institutes that only retained one EIA engineer, while 16 did not employ a single one. Further investigation into these “abnormal” organizations revealed a hidden, intricate relationship between China’s EIA market and the government’s environmental protection apparatus. For example, 11 Chinese EIA institutes currently employ EIA engineers who are concurrently employed by local environmental protection departments. In the case of the 16 EIA institutes lacking any in-house EIA engineers, their legal representatives generally have similar links to local environmental protection departments. For example, Li Li, an EIA engineer with the Deyang Environmental Protection Science Institute in Sichuan Province, is also serving as deputy director of the Deyang Environmental Monitoring Station. By all accounts, the MEP itself has long been aware of these potential conflicts of interest. In 2014 alone, it de-listed 62 EIA engineers, 55 of whom were moonlighting while also employed as environmental protection officials.
Some 300 participants protest in Beijing, questioning the credentials of an engineer employed to approve a local high-speed rail project
Ji is personally aware of a qualified EIA institute based in Heilongjiang Province, in China’s distant northeast, which expanded its business into the southern coastal province of Guangdong by seeking cooperation with local “partners” willing to act as its unlawful agents. As a whistleblower, Ji has freely disclosed information about this and other similar situations to the MEP, but has received no direct response. “EIA is the starting point for environmental protection, but how on earth can its supervisory government bodies monitor [the sector] effectively?” Ji added.
For any enterprise, the main purpose of securing partnership with an EIA institute is to ultimately gain approval for a project from China’s environmental authorities. Since fees are paid to EIA institutes only upon approval of the relevant project, these institutes’ profits depend on the sheer number of approvals they issue, not the quality of their reports. Li Yuan told NewsChina that it is common practice for EIA institutes to “help” enterprises in this regard by finding and exploiting loopholes within the current system. Li himself was formerly placed in charge of writing an EIA report for a project producing cell phone casings, a process involving multiple chemicals that could potentially lead to water contamination. Li described how the scale of the project meant that it would be incompatible with local environmental regulations. To get around this, Li’s patron institute simply fabricated a completely fictitious, eco-friendly manufacturing process for the
purposes of its report. Another tactic is to simply rename a project in order to bypass local restrictions targeting certain industries. According to Ji Chengjun, some local environment bureaus are complicit in the fabrication of environmental assessment reports. According to Outlook Weekly, in one major corruption case that came to light in 2007, the Hangzhou Research Institute of Environmental Protection under the Hangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau offered a 30 percent kickback to officials responsible for approving EIA reports in 13 district-level environmental protection departments. The institute allegedly paid 7.4 million yuan (US$1.2m) in “commissions” in 2005 alone. Li Yuan acknowledged that despite regulations requiring EIA engineers to conduct field research, such diligence is rare. The bulk of data used in reports comes directly from the enterprises themselves, and EIA engineers rarely bother to authenticate it. “Sometimes, a single EIA report can be wrapped up within half a day,” said Li. During NewsChina’s investigation, a number of EIA engineers interviewed admitted that the main area in which environmental assessment reports fall victim to fabrication and fudging is public inquiry. While public participation and investigation are a required element of any environmental impact assessment according to official regulations, typically all materials originate with enterprises, with local communities kept in the dark. According to Peng Yingdeng, a senior EIA engineer with the Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection under the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, a fundamental reason behind corruption in the EIA industry is an almost total lack of public participation and transparency across the board. Although the MEP issued guidelines for the publication of EIA reports in 2013 which required all companies and related environmental protection authorities to publish the full text of both reports and approvals, in practice, many reports were either heavily edited before publication or simply remained inaccessible to the public. “No matter whether agencies are government-backed or not, the current EIA [process] has shifted [its focus] onto helping companies get their EIA report approved by the government,” Xie Xinyuan, a research fellow from the Beijing-based NGO Green Beagle, told the Global Times in late March. “EIA should be conducted by a third party comprised of EIA engineers, residents’ representatives and NGOs to ensure authenticity, and the relevant departments should organize public hearings once the report has been approved,” Xie added.
For some enterprises, however, bending or breaking nationally set rules is a necessary evil. Operators in key industries, textiles in particular, have acknowledged that technological limitations effectively mean their businesses can never comply with national waste management standards. NewsChina recently traveled to Shengze, Jiangsu Province, a place
famous for its prosperous textile industry. The town boasts a total of over 10,000 companies and some 2,500 textile factories, with over 60 percent of local residents employed in the industry. Xi Danli, professor at Donghua University’s Environmental Science and Engineering Institute in Shanghai, explained in a recent interview with NewsChina that most of China’s 40,000 printing and dyeing enterprises are smallscale businesses with around 200 employees. They lack the resources to invest in adequate waste water treatment procedures. The chairman of a Shengze textile company, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NewsChina that installing a complete waste water recycling system would cost his company more than 10 million yuan (US$1.6m), not accounting for ongoing follow-up assessments. “Because of technical limitations and the high costs of operating a recycling system, our production cannot meet tightened national [waste water] discharge standards,” he said, adding that “we had to fabricate our EIA report.” Indeed, in some cases, strict environmental standards have simply exacerbated pollution. For example, central government regulations prohibit the construction of hazardous waste treatment plants within 800 meters of rivers, and within 500 meters of residential areas. One district-level environmental bureau chief in Shanghai interviewed by NewsChina disclosed that limited land resources in his district means it is impossible to treat hazardous waste locally. Rather than relocate, however, enterprises simply dump their waste illegally or transport it to be dumped in other provinces. He also added that his local environmental bureau, despite being designated as the MEP’s sole local enforcement agency, faces too many obstacles in practice. He claimed that increasingly tightening standards and regulations in recent years have simply piled pressure on an already overburdened system, with environmental impact assessments becoming merely another bureaucratic formality rather than the first line of defense against unscrupulous enterprises. According to a report issued by the official Xinhua News Agency, a total of 159 agencies and 169 engineers in China have been disciplined over the past two years for violations that threatened environmental safety. Speaking in February, Chen Jining, China’s new Minister of Environmental Protection, stressed the need to curb corruption in the field of EIA. In an announcement released on March 23, the MEP demanded that all government-backed EIA institutes either “disassociate themselves” from local environmental protection authorities or pull out of the EIA market entirely by the end of 2016. Engineers employed by such institutes, the statement read, would have to resign if they wished to retain their EIA status. The MEP itself has vowed to disassociate itself from all eight of its affiliated EIA institutes before the end of 2015. China Green Enterprise Ltd. was the ministry’s first target. However, some environmentalists have expressed doubt as to whether simply forcing government-backed EIA agencies to disassociate themselves from the State will have any positive impact on what, by all accounts, appears to be a bureaucratic chain that is riddled with corruption, idiosyncrasies and special interests. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Beneath the Stage Government critic Yu Jianrong studies Chinaâ€™s most sensitive issues while managing to avoid drawing too much attention to himself By Liu Ziqian
Self-portrait NEWSCHINA I August 2015
aw lecturer Yu Jianrong regularly quarrels with his students. One recent clash was over China’s controversial petition system, which Yu believes requires immediate and far-reaching reform. “If China’s petition system were abolished, the courts’ workloads would be too excessive to handle,” the student remarked. “If the rule of law can not be fully established in China, you will likely be the next victim,” Yu replied, with typical wry assurance. While such exchanges are a common aspect of academic life, Yu’s students are unique, in that most of them are government officials working at different levels across the country. On the above occasion, it was a director of a lower-level People’s Court who disagreed with Yu. “I am always trying to argue with them even before a quarrel starts,” Yu told NewsChina. As the director of the Rural Development Institute with the the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Yu has given lectures to some of the largest gatherings of government officials in an academic setting in Chinese history. Understandably, his outspoken views have raised eyebrows.
More than 10 years ago, Yu became a household name both in academia and the media for his studies of rural reform and grassroots rights protection. In 2011, he became well known after launching the Baobeihuijia, or “Baby Back Home” project, on the social media platform Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent. Baobeihuijia was a nationwide initiative to help child beggars in China return home to their families. As head of the project, Yu, an outspoken and apparent champion of disadvantaged groups, became an overnight opinion leader, at least online. One afternoon in late April 2015, Yu arrived at the School of International Studies at Peking University to train 50 government officials from Zigong, Sichuan Province. The 53-year-old sported black-framed glasses and
a pair of grease-stained pants, with his hair left uncombed. This unkempt scholar had chosen to speak to his well-groomed audience about public protests, officially referred to as “mass incidents,” relating to forced demolition. In a strong Hunanese accent, Yu described a number of case studies, analyzing their causes and explaining what recent progress had been made in resolving such disputes. “Do not resort to force to pull down people’s homes. Otherwise, you will pay for it,” Yu remarked to NewsChina, repeating one of the many “pet phrases” he has deployed in classrooms over the years. Another line that is remembered by many of his former students is: “I hate two things; one is the forced demolitions carried out at night by thugs, and the other is the excessive drive to maintain social stability at the expense of the public’s right to know.” “I just want to remind [officials] that if the public’s rights are not protected, [they] will also suffer in the end.” When talking about the participants in “mass incidents,” Yu reminds officials to take measures to address the problems faced by second-generation migrant workers living in China’s cities. Yu believes that as these groups grow up in the city, with little sense of their families’ rural roots, many of them nurse a deeply held feeling of social inferiority, which is detrimental to social stability. Before every lecture, Yu has to make comprehensive preparations because he knows that, in his own words, he “will influence some officials.” He is also a firsthand witness to the changes in Chinese officialdom in recent years. For example, Yu told NewsChina that on one occasion, he was invited by a newly installed provincial chief of police to give a lecture to all the department officials in that province. In his lecture, Yu lambasted the excessive use of police force in China over the years, attributing the plight of overworked officers to “pressure from higher authorities.” After that, Yu received many letters from police officers thanking him for giving voice
to their difficulties. But for Yu, it was the provincial chief of police who was most deserving of their admiration. “He knew that I would not repeat a vacuous mantra, but still insisted on inviting me to give the lecture,” Yu said. “It indicated to me that some officials want to make a change.” After another lecture that Yu delivered to a group of officials in an unnamed city, Yu claims the mayor fished out a cell phone and ordered that all demolition work be immediately suspended. On a separate occasion, when speaking to judges from an intermediate court in a city in Shandong Province, a court head pledged to Yu that “no matter who asks us for a favor when passing judgment, as long as a suspect has violated the law, we will show no mercy.” Yu responded by asking, “You dare to sentence a county chief to jail, but what about a mayor?” “We will stick to the bottom line,” the official replied. Yu said the declaration itself marks significant progress, adding that not long ago, he criticized a higher-ranking official by name in a number of articles, only to be invited to give a lecture by that same official. “He pretended not to have read my article and I pretended not to have written it,” Yu told NewsChina.
Although Yu is a major advocate for the rule of law when in the classroom, he sometimes resorts to his own way of addressing problems, and in a number of cases he has taken matters into his own hands. In one example, he describes an elderly woman left homeless after her son and daughter passed away following the forced demolition of their home. This woman and her grandson came to Yu for help, and he posted an account of their story online. Only days later, the woman’s local police chief, who had previously attended a lecture by Yu, came to Beijing to assist with the negotiations. Yu hired a lawyer to negotiate on the woman’s behalf, NEWSCHINA I August 2015
and she ultimately received compensation of 990,000 yuan (US$160,000). “One must always be introspective,” Yu told NewsChina. “I was promoting the rule of law, but I solved that problem in an improper way. Sometimes I, too, am helpless. In order not to impact the long-term welfare of a child, I had to act.” Small talk in the classroom is Yu’s secret weapon, allowing him to forge a closer relationship with his students. He would talk about how he had gone from a child beggar with no hukou, China’s permanent residency permit, to a respected academic. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Yu’s father was persecuted and consequently Yu, living in a village in Hunan Province, had no legal identity between the ages of six and 14. This, he claims, has influenced his character and his way of doing things. Often overcome by deep feelings of sympathy for the sufferings of ordinary people, Yu regularly goes out of his way to help them. Yu generally earns around 10,000 yuan (US$1,612) per day for a lecture at a university in Beijing, while for outside speaking engagements he commands a fee of 30,000 yuan (US$4,800). Last year alone, Yu delivered more than 200 lectures across the country, allowing him to support his work entirely by lecturing. “I have a courtyard in eastern Beijing called The East Study. Everyone is welcome to pay me a visit,” Yu told the class that NewsChina attended. This offer, made after every lecture, is apparently no mere courtesy – visitors, most of them strangers, stream in and out of his home whenever he is present. In 2006, Yu leased a piece of land in Beijing’s Songzhuang area and built The East Study at a cost of 120,000 yuan (US$19,344). It has since become something of a magnet for petitioners, most of whom are victims of forced demolition. Yu tries to register and file all their documents, telling NewsChina that “I accumulate files in order to have first-hand information for the purposes of study.” Sometimes he even has to rent nearby apartments for petitioners with nowhere to live. He added NEWSCHINA I August 2015
a “cafeteria” to his home in September 2014 in order to offer his guests free meals, though it was later closed down by the authorities because of “safety concerns.” Yu’s success has made him the target of criticism, with some accusing him of hypocrisy – a critic of the government who earns a living by giving lectures to government officials. Yu responds to these critics simply. “Have you ever attended my lectures? It would not be too late for you to criticize after you attend one.” “A major reason that a growing number of government agencies are inviting me to give lectures is that I do not deliberately cater to their needs,” Yu told our reporter. “But [if I did], I wouldn’t be likely to win their respect and trust.” Nowadays, Yu’s lectures focus on four ma-
jor themes: the petition system, land reform, social development and social stability. His talks on maintaining social stability have become increasingly popular. Yu defines himself as a social scientist who studies politics, but he would not like to be a politician - he even claims to have turned down an invitation to join one of China’s official democratic parties, and to have refused government posts. Yu likes to describe himself as an observer “beneath the stage.” His role, he argues, is to help the “audience” to better understand the “opera,” including pointing out when the singers are off-key. “I am a researcher,” he said. “My guiding principles are: never treat myself as a celebrity, never harbor political ambitions and never have any secrets.”
LAND, AIR & SEA 16
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
hina’s defense white papers, compiled biannually by the Ministry of National Defense, offer a rare insight into the strategic thinking that drives the country’s military. This month, NewsChina examines the latest iteration of Beijing’s military and foreign policies, which demonstrate the country’s strongest commitment yet to establishing a truly global reach
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Defense White Paper
Global Scope, Local Priorities In its latest defense white paper, China envisions greater military capability and a global role for the PLA By Yu Xiaodong
n the past couple of decades, China’s defense policy has been a major focus for China watchers, given the country’s economic advancement and expanding military budget. The release of the latest defense white paper via the State Council Information Office, against the backdrop of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington over China’s massive land reclamation projects in the South
China Sea, has predictably triggered a round of intense debate over China’s military capability and its global strategic intentions. Using the official title “China’s Military Strategy,” the document is the ninth such white paper published since 1998, and the first to focus exclusively on military strategy, evidence of an ongoing evolution in Chinese military circles when it comes to strategic thinking, NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Press conference announcing the release of the latest defense white paper by the State Council Information Office, May 26, 2015
and providing observers with proof of profound changes in China’s foreign and defense policies.
For many analysts, the most notable highlight in the latest white paper has been the explicit confirmation that China will strive to increase its capability for power projection in all military domains. Regarding the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ground forces, the stated goal is to build “small, multi-functional and modular units” in order to shift “from theater defense to trans-theater mobility,” giving PLA ground troops the ability to carry out military operations in different regions. The PLA Air Force, according to the white paper, will shift “from territorial air defense to both defense and offense,” boosting its strike capability, air and missile defense systems, airborne operations, intelligence countermeasures, strategic projection and “comprehensive support.” The paper also identifies several “new domains” in the realm of national security, such as outer space and cyberspace, including vows that China will increase its capabilities in these areas. Comparatively, the most notable change of policy concerns the PLA Navy, which the paper says will gradually shift its focus from “offshore water defense” to the combination of “offshore water defense” with “open seas protection,” which some analysts have perceived as a hint at the eventual creation of a blue-water navy. “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned,” runs one line in the paper. Although the paper does not elaborate on the concept of “open seas protection,” and what that might entail in practice, it clearly demarcates a major strategic shift towards a more assertive maritime strategy.
Another major development of the paper is elaboration on China’s extant “active defense” policy. A strategic concept that can be traced back to the early days of the Communist Party in the 1930s, the concept of active defense has been mentioned in several previous defense white papers, but the term’s precise meaning has remained rather vague. This year’s paper, however, placed this concept in a prominent position by devoting an independent section to the government’s “strategic guideline of active defense,” boiling this concept down to “adherence to the unity of strategic defense and operational and tactical offense;
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arrive for a ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, USA, June 11, 2015
adherence to the principles of defense, self-defense and post-emptive strike; and adherence to the stance that ‘We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked,’” a reflection of China’s no-first-strike approach. In its official interpretation of the white paper, the official Xinhua News Agency particularly emphasized the significance of “attackcounterattack.” Referring to an ancient Chinese saying often attributed to Sun Tzu (Art of War, 2, iii), this metaphor, the meaning of which is somewhat lost in translation, emphasizes the “tit-for-tat” nature of China’s active defense policy. To a large extent, “tit-for-tat” has been an underlining rationale behind China’s recent assertive actions in its territorial disputes with neighboring countries in both the East and South China seas, where Beijing has long argued that its actions are responses to the provocation and encroachment of other countries. In the East China Sea, for example, China claims that Japan’s decision to nationalize the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in 2012 was an attempt to change the status quo by overturning an agreement reached in the 1970s to shelve the dispute. China’s response was to begin conducting regular patrols in the waters around the disputed islands. Also in 2012, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship blocked an attempt by a Filipino naval vessel to arrest Chinese fishermen operating
lasted for two decades, though on a much smaller scale. By emphasizing its “post-emptive” and “defensive” doctrines, China appears to be trying to refute the argument that it is abusing its power without actually having to compromise with its weaker neighbors. Chinese officials have reiterated this stance again and again in response to criticism over its recent construction activities in the South China Sea. “No country should expect China to swallow the bitter pill of our sovereignty, national security or development interests being compromised,” said Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Sun Jianguo (right) shakes hands with Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani during the 14th International China’s Joint Chiefs, in remarks later echoed by ForInstitute for Strategic Studies Shangri-la Dialog, or IISS, Asia Security Summit, Singapore, eign Minister Wang Yi. “China’s resolve for safeguardMay 30, 2015 ing its sovereignty over the islands and reefs in the South China Sea is as strong as rock,” Wang said in response to an alleged threat by the Pentagon to disin the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal (called Huangyan Island by patch military aircraft or vessels to within 12 nautical miles of the China), a disputed reef between China and the Philippines. Arguing disputed shoals. that Manila’s actions were an attempt to establish de facto administration over the shoal, China responded by effectively controlling access Global Scope to the shoal’s lagoon, though the land remains unoccupied. While the recent tension in the South China Sea has led many to Some Chinese strategists have gone so far as to argue that China focus on maritime policy, a more fundamental change reflected in the should develop its handling of its standoff in the Scarborough Shoal latest white paper, arguably deserving of closer attention, indicates by following what they call the “Huangyan Model,” pledging to re- that China is adopting an increasingly global scope when it comes to act disproportionately to any perceived incursion and thus raise the articulating its military strategy. stakes should another country provoke Beijing by challenging its In past years, as priority was given to economic growth, China’s maritime interests. defense policy served a supporting role, with its main task being to Although such an approach has never been officially sanctioned by safeguard domestic growth and ensure social stability. But in recent the Chinese government, it underpins some of China’s most signifi- years, China has started to adopt an increasingly global perspective. cant maritime activities in the region. For example, one of the major As in previous defense white papers, the 2015 paper starts with an arguments that China uses to support its massive land reclamation assessment of the “national security situation” facing China, a section and construction projects on disputed shoals in the South China Sea that has in the past served as a starting point for the formulation of is that it is a legitimate response to similar activities undertaken by overall domestic and foreign policy. other countries, specifically Vietnam and the Philippines, that have While reiterating that China faces “a generally favorable external
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
environment,” adding that China remains in “an important period of strategic opportunities for its development,” an assessment consistent with that of its predecessors, the 2015 paper subtly diverges in its description of China’s relations with the outside world. Instead of emphasizing the importance of “a favorable international environment” for securing China’s economic development, the paper indicates a more “reciprocal” approach to international relations. “China’s destiny is vitally interrelated with that of the world as a whole. A prosperous and stable world would provide China with opportunities, while China's peaceful development also offers an opportunity for the whole world,” the paper reads. In assessing primary security issues, the paper makes direct references to the US’s “balancing strategy,” Japan’s efforts to “dodge the post-war mechanism,” and “provocative actions” by “some of [China’s] offshore neighbors.” Simultaneously, the paper also identifies a variety of other threats to both world peace and China’s national interests: “power politics,” “neo-interventionism,” terrorism, and “ethnic, religious, border and territorial disputes.” With this newly embraced global scope, the paper concludes that China needs to uphold a “holistic” view of national security to “balance internal and external security, homeland and citizen security, traditional and non-traditional security, subsistence and development security, and China’s own security and the common security of the world.” Warning that the national security issues facing China “encompass far more subjects, extend over a greater range, and cover a longer time span than at any time in the country’s history,” the paper concludes that “in response to the new requirements coming from the country’s growing strategic interests, the armed forces will actively participate in both regional and international security cooperation and effectively secure China’s overseas interests.” For many analysts, the apparent shift in policy is not surprising at all, as it has long been expected that China’s military would assume a global role as its overseas interests grew. Since China conducted a historic evacuation of its citizens from Libya in 2011, such overseas rescue missions have become a “new normal” given China’s unprecedented overseas economic activity. More recently, China sent an enNEWSCHINA I August 2015
tire combat battalion to join the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, which analysts have equated with a desire to protect Beijing’s investments in this troubled region. China’s recent reception in June of Myanmar’s iconic democracy activist and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi also marks a landmark departure from China’s previous diplomatic policy, which eschewed engagement with foreign opposition parties and focused almost entirely on leader-to-leader interactions. It is estimated that China has engaged with opposition parties in more than 50 countries between 2013 and 2015, an unprecedented transformation of its diplomatic scope. The 2015 paper also envisions a robust strategic military partnership with the United States, Russia and other countries spanning Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific, through which, it argues, China will “strive to establish a new framework for security and cooperation conducive to peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.” A more global scope was evidenced by the recent trip made to the US in June by Fan Changlong, a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, during which Fan urged Washington to look beyond the South China Sea and to go to “higher ground and look further into the future by paying more attention to other, more important regional and international issues.” During Fan’s trip, both sides signed an agreement to strengthen ties and develop a more constructive military relationship, as well as an air-to-air shared code of conduct to reduce the risk of errors or mishaps when military aircraft from both sides are operating in close proximity. Now, it appears that tensions between the two countries have begun to ease three months ahead of a planned state visit to the US by Chinese President Xi Jinping. But as China has spelled out its ambition for a greater global role and a more active defense policy, as manifested in its latest defense white paper, whether such disagreements can be compartmentalized in light of their immense importance to the relative military superiority of each nation in what both sides see as a crucial sphere of influence, the South China Sea, will depend on an unprecedented diplomatic effort by all concerned parties.
cover story The Chinese navy on patrol in the Gulf of Aden
Defense White Paper
Reading the Signs Upon review, China’s eight previous defense white papers reveal two decades of important developments in military strategy. NewsChina analyzes the realities behind the rubric By Yu Xiaodong
hen China’s Ministry of National Defense published, via the State Council Information Office, its latest defense white paper on May 26, 2015, the international media were paying close attention, given rising tensions in the South China Sea between an increasingly assertive Beijing and a US now more determined than ever to maintain its dominance in the region. Beginning in 1998, the Ministry of National Defense has published these white papers biannually. They are documents which have
served to give the international community some idea of the direction of China’s military strategy. As articulations of Beijing’s assessment of its external environment and its intended response, the white papers not only attempt to assuage international concerns about transparency and to reduce the mistrust engendered by Beijing’s growing defense budget, but also act as a concrete manifestation of how China perceives conditions on the world stage, and how it intends to respond. By reviewing and comparing China’s eight previous defense white NEWSCHINA I August 2015
papers, NewsChina aims to provide a brief history of the evolution of China’s strategic thinking and the development of its official defense policy.
China’s first defense white paper was published in 1998. The decision to follow international practice and publicize defense policy marked the beginning of a gradual lifting of the veil of secrecy that had shrouded China’s military strategy for five decades. In accordance with late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s conclusion that major wars were very unlikely in the 1980s, the white paper highlighted that “peace and development” was the “underlying trend of our time,” a judgment which would be upheld, with adjustments, by all subsequent white papers. The 1998 white paper set out China’s basic defense policies in a single document for the first time, declaring its commitment not to seek hegemony, military expansion or interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, tenets which would serve as the official core of China’s general military strategy in the coming two decades. As China gradually integrated itself into the global economy in the 20 years after Deng Xiaoping commenced Reform and Opening-up in 1978, it also improved its relationship with the US. In 1997, both countries had announced the building of a “constructive strategic partnership.” Consequently, Beijing’s inaugural white paper was quite positive about China’s external security environment. The major security threat identified in the 1998 white paper is the Taiwan issue, at the time considered the top priority in China’s defense policy. While reaffirming that “the Chinese government seeks to achieve the reunification of the country by peaceful means,” the white paper explicitly stated that China will not commit itself exclusively to a diplomatic resolution to the Taiwan issue, an assertion widely interpreted as a threat to use force if Taiwan, which Beijing continues to view as a breakaway province, were to declare independence. 1998 also marked the first occasion upon which China had clarified its official policy on cross-straits relations in a government document devoted to national defense. Tensions in the Taiwan Strait ran high in 1996, as China had announced high-profile military exercises in response to the island’s first democratic election which had elected Lee Tung-hui, a pro-independence politician, as the island’s leader. While the situation ultimately de-escalated without incident, the issue of Taiwan’s status would remain the overwhelming priority of Chinese defense policy in the following years. As China announced a plan to reduce the number of military personnel by half a million in 1997, the white paper is today also considered evidence of grander military reforms designed to learn from the development of Western armed forces both in terms of technology
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Joint millitary training exercises between Chinese and US sailors near the base of China’s South Sea Fleet, April 24, 2015
and transparency, transitioning the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from a Soviet-style command structure designed around waging massive ground campaigns to a more specialized, modern strike force with a comprehensive range of capabilities.
2000: New Concepts
In contrast to the emphasis on “cooperation and development” in the 1998 document, the 2000 white paper raised concerns over the “serious security situation” faced by China, identifying American arms sales to Taiwan as part of Washington’s efforts to increase its military presence in Asia, and particularly highlighting the regional deployment of a US missile defense system. Naming the US a half dozen times, the 2000 white paper reflected the souring of China-US relations in the wake of the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War. Tensions across the Taiwan Strait were also running high after the Taiwanese leader Lee Tung-hui announced that Beijing and Taipei should engage in “state-to-state relations.” Consequently, the 2000 white paper devoted much of its content to the “Taiwan issue,” reiterating Beijing’s position that Taiwan’s independence would mean the end of peaceful relations across the strait. Despite such heightened language, however, the 2000 defense white paper by and large followed the same essential principles as its predecessor. By announcing a military budget of $14.6 billion, 5 percent of that reported by the US at the time, and declaring that China had completed its 1997 plan to reduce the size of its standing army by 500,000 personnel, Beijing was reiterating the “defensive” nature
of its defense policy, and reasserting that China’s fundamental interest lay in a peaceful international environment. The 2000 white paper also coined a new security concept of “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation,” which China would go on to advocate in various government documents and diplomatic statements in the coming years.
2002: ‘Five National Interests’
China’s first white paper published in the new millennium articulated, for the first time, “five national interests” as the fundamental basis of China’s overall defensive strategy. These interests were described as: defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, securing economic growth to increase the country’s overall strength, maintaining the socialist system, ensuring social stability and securing a peaceful international environment. Another major development in the 2002 defense white paper is that it devoted an independent chapter to introducing the composition of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – incorporating the army, navy, air force, the Second Artillery Force (SAF), the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force and the Chinese People’s Militia. Of particular note was the space devoted to describing the army, with the PLA for the first time publishing the number of its military aircraft and the country’s aircraft-pilot ratio, an unprecedented step towards greater transparency. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the US, the 2002 white paper also highlighted international cooperation in counterterrorism for the first time.
Released after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the fall of Baghdad, China’s 2004 defense white paper highlighted the need for changes to the military command structure, allocating an independent chapter to “reform in military affairs with Chinese characteristics.” In outlining its military reforms, the white paper unveiled a plan to further reduce the complement of active personnel in the PLA by 200,000 by 2005. Moreover, by pledging to “intensify the development of the Navy, Air Force and the SAF of the PLA,” China’s defense ministry was hinting at a change in strategy – focusing more on developing its air and seaborne capabilities and attaching less importance
to its formerly paramount ground forces. The 2004 white paper described a “favorable” security environment from China’s perspective, even identifying the first two decades of the 21st century as an “important period of strategic opportunities” in which China should strive to improve its “strategic capabilities” and to seek “comprehensive security” in terms of its political, economic, military and social spheres. These changes in tone are believed to be a reaction to the fallout from the US-led war on terror. On one hand, the show of US military supremacy during its invasion of Iraq prompted China to speed up the “informatization” of its military (allowing it to factor in the globalized nature of modern telecommunications and integrate advanced information technology into its strategic planning). On the other hand, as American forces became tied down in the Middle East and Afghanistan, China faced reduced strategic pressure from the US and was able to reap the rewards of its rapid economic development and, consequently, increase its influence in the Asia-Pacific region. The concept of a “period of strategic opportunities” would play an important role in determining the domestic and international defense policy priorities of the Chinese leadership in the following years.
2006: ‘Three Steps’
Growing out of the military reforms highlighted in the 2004 paper, the Ministry of National Defense’s 2006 defense white paper outlined “three steps” to achieve the goal of military reform. These were: the establishment of a “solid military foundation” by 2010, the achievement of “major progress” by 2020, and the completion of multi-faceted military modernization reform to allow the PLA to win a war “under informatization conditions” by 2049. For the first time, the 2006 white paper also revealed the total number of China’s active service personnel – 2.3 million. While publicizing ministers’ thoughts on the development of the PLA Ground Force, Navy, Air Force and the SAF, the 2006 white paper also provided information on border and coastal defense programs. After shifting its focus towards the navy, China announced that its maritime policy priority would be the “defense of offshore waters,” a priority which endures today. Moreover, the 2006 white paper also offered an elaboration on China’s long-standing no-first-use nuclear doctrine, by promising NEWSCHINA I August 2015
China’s and the US’s official defense budgets 800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0
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Annual growth in China’s defense budget 25
China’s and the US’s defense budgets as a percentage of each country’s GDP 5
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
China’s defense budget as a percentage of the US defense budget 25
China US (Values are in US$bn)
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1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
that China would not fire first “in any scenario,” and “unconditionally” pledging that China would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear armed countries and regions.
2008: ‘Active Defense’
When the Ministry of National Defense’s 2008 white paper was published, its more widespread use of an existing term – “active defense” – drew widespread attention. This military strategy includes four components: the ability to win local wars under informatization conditions, emphasis on prevention and deterrence of crises and wars, enhancement of China’s capability to counter various threats, and the establishment of a comprehensive logistical mechanism of military mobilization. The 2008 white paper indicated that China had adopted a more “active” approach in that it focused on preventing not only wars, but “crises,” a concept first mentioned in the ministry’s 2006 white paper. The 2008 white paper also further articulated China’s no-first-use nuclear doctrine, elaborating on how China would use its nuclear arsenal in three different operational scenarios (in wartime, indeterminate crisis and under nuclear attack). Reiterating its pledge not to fire first, the white paper specified that China’s nuclear deterrent, which is under the jurisdiction of the SAF, would enter a state of alert if threatened by a nuclear strike, with the SAF authorized to launch China’s ICBM array if the country should come under nuclear attack. Taiwan remained a prominent issue, but the Ministry of National Defense downgraded its alert level in the wake of the Kuomintang defeat of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s general election, an event which lessened tensions across the Strait. However, the 2008 white paper lists other “separatist forces,” such as the “East Turkestan independence” movement (in Xinjiang) and the “Tibetan independence” movement as threats to China, a response to increasingly violent unrest in both regions. The 2008 white paper also released data on China’s military expenditure in the past 30 years, an unprecedented move towards greater transparency, and confirmed that Beijing had, in 2007, begun reporting its annual military expenditure to the UN as well as giving the UN Register of Conventional Arms information on its imports and exports of military hardware.
One of the major policy adjustments made regarding several key security concerns in the 2010 white paper are changes to China’s framing of the Taiwan issue. Beijing offered its vision for the future of the cross-strait relationship, conducted through “consultation on an equal footing” with a view to eventually “reach a peace agreement,” a further step towards Beijing’s ultimate goal – political reunification. This showed a major change from its earlier position which advocated a “one country, two systems” solution like that previously applied to Hong Kong and Macau. Beijing has not mentioned this latter approach in its defense white papers since 2004. In 2010, Beijing also offered insight into its shifting perception of external threats and the growth of its own power. While still considering the international environment to be “favorable” to China’s development, the 2010 white paper warns that the situation is “undergoing profound and complex changes” as “contradictions continue to surface between developed and developing countries and between traditional and emerging powers.” The paper also acknowledges that “external suspicion about, interference with and countermeasures against China are on the increase,” based on which premise it argues that China is facing greater challenges in protecting its “maritime rights and interests.” However, the 2010 paper also indicated China’s confidence in handling this complex situation, stressing that “progress toward economic globalization and a multi-polar world is irreversible,” and concluding that China was still enjoying “a period of strategic opportunity.” Nevertheless, the paper showed desire to tweak the four stated defense goals first laid out in the 2002 white paper. Passages concerning defending national sovereignty and maintaining territorial integrity were enhanced to include safeguarding “national development interests.” Maintaining “social harmony and stability” remained a policy priority. The modernization of national defense and the armed forces was emphasized, as was “making use of the peaceful international environment for its own development which in return will contribute to world peace.” In accordance with the new tasks China’s military had set itself, the 2010 white paper highlights the growing international role of the PLA, and devotes a new section to Chinese participation in military NEWSCHINA I August 2015
operations other than war, including UN peacekeeping operations, and the PLA Navy’s involvement in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. Analysts believe that a transition to a more active defense policy with an increasingly global perspective came alongside China’s emergence as the world’s second largest economy in 2009.
2013: ‘New Ideas’
The Ministry for National Defense’s 2013 defense white paper distinguished itself from its predecessors as it was “a thematic white paper” which focused on “the diversified employment of China’s armed forces.” Such a departure from the comprehensive focus of previous papers led to confusion among analysts. For example, the absence of any mention of China’s no-first-use nuclear doctrine or its customary protests over US arms sales to Taiwan fueled speculation that major policy changes were underway in these key areas. However, as China’s military experts pointed out at the time, the 2013 white paper focuses mainly on the activities of the Chinese military, and adds little in terms of information on the country’s broader military policy. Despite this sudden shift in focus, however, the 2013 paper opens with the customary assessment of the international situation, an assessment of particular interest to military experts given the launch of the US “Pivot to Asia” policy the previous year. In the view of some analysts, the tone of the 2013 white paper is unexpectedly mild, making only oblique references to the US “adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy,” and remarking that “some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser [sic].” Pointing out increasing “hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism,” the 2013 white paper vows that China is willing “to build a strong national defense and powerful armed forces which are commensurate with China’s international standing” and will develop “new ideas for the strategies and tactics of people’s war.” These goals are reiterations of those announced during the 18th Party Congress held in November 2012, when President Xi Jinping assumed power. It is under Xi’s leadership that the PLA has begun to formulate a “maritime strategy” and adopt more proactive foreign and
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The Peace Mission – a 2014 military drill involving over 7,000 personnel from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countries China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – was held in Zhurihe, Inner Mongolia, China, August 29, 2014
defense policies. The 2013 paper also announced for the first time individual personnel numbers for the PLA Army (850,000), Navy (235,000) and Air Force (398,000). It also released information pertaining to all of China’s 18 total army groups, which Chinese analysts claim to be yet another milestone in terms of transparency. By reviewing China’s previous defense papers, it is clear that the Chinese government is increasingly confident in spelling out its defense policies and objectives with greater transparency. As China reemerged from economic and political isolation to become a modern global power, these white papers have also revealed a gradual shift from introspection towards a more outward-looking approach. Although the government's white papers are often criticized for falling short of expectations, they offer an important source for understanding China’s perception of external threats, and its strategic intentions when it comes to the ongoing development of its military and defensive capabilities.
A recent report indicates serious security vulnerabilities in the government’s social security data banks – who should plug the gaps? NewsChina investigates By Zhou Qunfeng
n April 22, Butian, one of China’s largest Internet leak detection websites and a product of IT security firm Qihoo360, released its most recent set of data on the safety of China’s social security database. According to the report, since April 2014, 46 loopholes were found in social security databases in 19 provinces, including Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Hebei, Sichuan and Jiangsu. 44 of these loopholes were classified “high-risk,” involving the social security data of a total of 52 million individual citizens, with information relating to more than 10 million people “still at risk” due to unrepaired loopholes. Facing a public outcry, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) quickly responded that “the general operation of China’s social security system is stable, and no leakage of the personal information of any Chinese citizen has been found.” Yet experts say that the existence of such fundamental loopholes is a serious threat to the safety of personal social security information. At the same time, the government’s inaction in the face of the threat and a lack of appropriate legislation is increasing the risk of massive data loss.
Deng Huan, an IT security expert at Butian, told NewsChina that the social security information currently at risk includes a large
volume of highly sensitive data, such as identity card numbers and salary details. Were this information to leak, it could be used to commit various forms of identity theft, including credit card fraud and the falsification of IDs. Though the MOHRSS remains outwardly confident about the security of its system, it has begun carrying out a large-scale emergency repair effort. Shortly after Butian released the data, NewsChina found some previously exposed loopholes had been repaired and others were in the process of being repaired. Many local human resources and social security departments are also urgently auditing their systems. An official from the Zhejiang provincial Human Resources and Social Security Department told NewsChina that the department had responded proactively to the revelation of security issues, and had found no cases of personal information leakage. “According to information we collected, only Jinhua City in Zhejiang saw an abnormality in its online [social security] system, which was duly repaired,” the official said. Meanwhile, similar departments in Shaanxi Province, Liaoning’s provincial capital Shenyang and Shandong Province’s Yantai City also told NewsChina they had repaired loopholes in their respective systems. Browsing Butian, NewsChina found that repair work is still being carried out on loopholes in Zhejiang’s Yongkang City, Shanxi
Province and Chongqing. Meanwhile, loopholes in the health insurance system in Shaanxi’s Tongchuan City and Jilin’s provincial capital Changchun – the latter involving data on 7.7 million people – remain unrepaired despite being discovered three months ago. Recent media reports say that 60 percent of the exposed loopholes have not yet been repaired. However, Li Zhongzhen, spokesperson for the MOHRSS, has responded that 40 percent of the loopholes exposed had already been noted and repaired. Deng Huan told NewsChina that Butian’s platform can only show vulnerable data, but cannot ascertain whether or not any specific social security data has been leaked. Deng also emphasized that “normal people won’t use these loopholes, but hackers may steal citizens’ personal information through these loopholes for illegal purposes.” Shortly after these loopholes were exposed, NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by IC
ployees with outdated knowledge. Zhang Weihong, general manager of the Zhejiang Province branch of Chinalabs, a famous cyberspace think tank, pointed out that the government’s information safety technology is vastly inferior to that in use in the private sector. With trade secrets stored in their internal IT systems, “many [private] enterprises spend large amounts of money on Internet security,” Zhang said. “Meanwhile, the limited [IT] expertise of many government employees, as well as improper staffing [practices], have led to security loopholes.” According to Meng Zhuo, manager of wooyun.org, an Internet loophole whistleblower platform, many government IT data breaches, such as the leakages of weak passwords, are actually very simple to repair. In his opinion, the fact that some loopholes remain vulnerable to attack for months is simply due to government inaction. A manager from Butian also told NewsChina that the company often receives no response after it alerts government departments to vulnerabilities in their own systems.
a Chongqing resident using the online handle Shen posted a story online claiming that on February 3, 2015, someone had applied for a social security card using a forged copy of Shen’s identity card, before using it to steal 2,000 yuan (US$322). Shen claimed he had reported this to the police, but the case had yet to be solved.
The MORHSS claims to have established an information safety monitoring system covering national, provincial and city levels, as well as entrusting the monitoring of realtime national Internet safety detection to a dedicated institution. However, many experts believe that the root of the problem lies in the failure of local governments to keep pace with the recent rapid development of Internet technology; many government websites are still maintained by traditional institutions or em-
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There have long been laws in China governing the protection of citizens’ personal information. China’s Criminal Law requires that the leaking or sale of personal information by government employees carries a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. However, legal experts point out that the regulations in the Criminal Law remain ambiguous. There are increasingly strong
calls for the promulgation of a Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL). As far back as 2003, the National People’s Congress – China’s top legislature – began drafting a PIPL. In recent years the government’s annual “Two Sessions” conferences have heard delegates’ proposals that the approval of a PIPL should be accelerated. However, no concrete results have emerged. “Presently in China, there are already more than 200 laws and regulations related to the protection of personal information. However, these laws and regulations aim mostly at protecting personal information from direct infringers – those who directly steal, illegally collect, utilize and trade the information,” Zhu Wei, researcher from the Research Center of Law of Communication, China University of Political Science and Law, told NewsChina. “Few of these laws and regulations touch upon the responsibility of the government as a keeper of citizens’ personal information.” Such legal loopholes have allowed the government to pass the buck when personal information leaks occur – many cases run out of steam if no direct infringement of the law is found. In 2012, the Standing Committee of the NPC released its “Decision to Strengthen Internet Information Protection,” a document regulating that “related departments should perform the duty of... maintaining information safety, and government employees have the duty to keep personal information secret.” “The Decision emphasizes the legal responsibility that government takes in the protection of personal information,” said Zhu Wei. “But it still avoids the question of liability if data breaches occur.” Pang Zhuting, chief strategy officer at Venustech, a leading provider of network security products in China, agreed that related laws and regulations should be clearer about assigning liability in the event of an information leak. He suggested job titles like “chief information safety officer” be created within the government’s social security departments and more investment be made into the construction of an information security system in order to catch up with the rapid development of technology.
Nursing Home Fire
An Inevitable Tragedy The blaze that claimed 38 lives in Lushan reflects inadequate care for the aging population By Fu Yao
The flames and heavy smoke at the Kangleyuan Nursing Home in Lushan County, Henan Province, May 25
Photo by cfp
u Xiaohong clearly remembered that it was 8:05 PM on May 25, 2015 when she arrived at the Kangleyuan Nursing Home, the biggest senior care home in Lushan County, Henan Province. En route, Tu was praying that her sister, one of the facility’s residents, was safe and sound. But when she arrived, her legs buckled at the sight of the blazing buildings and heavy smoke. When Tu arrived, the facility had been ablaze for half an hour. Tu was one of the first relatives on the scene – only one fire truck was there, with several firefighters attempting to bring the fire under control with high-pressure jets of water. Tu tried to rush into the facility to save her sister Tu Xinli, but was restrained from doing so. By around 11 PM, the fire was extinguished. Rescuers began to search through the charred remains of the nursing home’s bungalows for any survivors. Many of the residences were mere piles of smoldering rubble and warped steel bed frames. Altogether, the authorities said that 38 people, including Tu’s sister, lost their lives in the conflagration. Two more were seriously injured, and another two suffered minor injuries. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
It was nearly midnight when Li Yun arrived at the smoking ruin where, two months prior, she and her brothers had brought their NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
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mother, Liu Yufang, 69. Liu had lived alone after her husband passed away, but a cerebral infarction in 2014 left her bedridden, and her children, all of whom work outside their hometown, were unable to provide her with full-time care. Liu’s sons were preparing to accommodate their mother that winter at one of their own homes in Lushan, once they returned from their jobs as migrant workers. Family members told the media that Liu was only being housed in Kangleyuan as a temporary measure. Liu’s family were among several who came forward with complaints about the facility, accusing administrators of neglect. Lushan was one of Henan Province’s 31 listed “national poverty counties.” A growing number of local young people are choosing to seek better job opportunities outside county borders, with some villages reporting that three-fourths of their young people have landed urban jobs, leaving seniors alone at home. Official statistics published in 2000 showed that 8.4 percent of registered residents in Henan were working outside the province, a figure that shot to 20 percent in 2013. 47-year-old Tu Xinli had served as a quality control inspector at a military plant until 2006 when her work unit went bankrupt. She earned a living by working several part-time jobs to support her family, but, like Liu Yufang, was paralyzed by a cerebral infarction last year. Tu’s husband, He Jiping, still works as a train conductor, a job which keeps him away from home for most of the year. After his wife fell ill, he returned home to care for her, but ultimately returned to work after a few months. Their daughter works in the city of Pingdingshan, and their son is a high school student. He Jiping told reporters that, in the end, he had to send his wife to the nursing home “to ensure that she didn’t go hungry.” Lushan County is home to 900,000 residents but has only two nursing homes: the publicly-run Kangle Nursing Home built by the Lushan County Hospital, which suffers from a shortage of beds, and the private Kangleyuan facility. About 10 years ago, Lushan local Fan Huazhi built the private elderly care home after seeing the explosion in the number of “left behind” seniors in the local population. Kangleyuan has 200 beds, rental of which costs 1,500 yuan (US$242) to 2,000 yuan (US$322) per month including three meals a day. Li Yun told the media that the first time that she went to visit her mother at Kangleyuan, she found her unkempt and her sheets covered in grease stains. Liu Yufang shared a room with more than 10 other seniors, and there were only two duty nurses working alternate day and night shifts. During the two months at Kangleyuan, Liu exchanged few words with her daughter, but Li described her mother crying and asking to be taken home. He Jiping had a similar experience when visiting his wife. “Whenever I saw my wife, she was asking to go home with me. I had no choice because I needed to work and nobody could take care
A relative of a Kangleyuan resident prepares to take a survivor home after the deadly fire that claimed 38 lives
of her,” he told NewsChina. Li Yun said that the first day she visited her mother she was worried that the Kangleyuan’s steel-framed facility might be too hot in the summer, but after seeing the air conditioner in her mother’s room she felt relieved. In fact, the space between the steel panels of the prefabricated Kangleyuan bungalows was filled with insulating foam, making the structures highly flammable. These low-cost buildings, despite being fire traps, are widely used in cash-strapped Lushan. A local architect speaking on condition of anonymity told our reporter that the cost of building the kind of prefabricated houses used at the Kangleyuan facility is a little over 200 yuan (US$32) per square meter.
The Kangleyuan tragedy has called further attention to China’s severe deficiency when it comes to providing safe, quality senior care for its rapidly aging population. By the end of 2014, China had a total population of 212 million people over the age of 60, accounting for 15.5 percent of the national population. According to a report on aging published by the Social Sciences Academic Press in 2013, China’s elderly population will grow by 1 million annually until 2025 and is expected to be up to more than 400 million by the 2050s. In 2012, the population of “left-behind” elderly people in rural areas of China hit 50 million. Recent statistics from China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA) has shown that, as of the end of March 2015, China is home to 31,833 registered senior care centers with a combined total of 5.84 million beds – meaning an average of 27.5 beds for every thousand elderly
people. Although many families care for their elderly members in the home, China’s urbanization drive has spread households across the country, with fewer and fewer working people able to offer full-time in-home care to their elderly parents. In recent years, China’s civil affairs departments have unveiled a series of preferential policies to give a boost to the establishment of private senior care facilities. But, according to MoCA data released in January, 51 percent of private nursing centers in China have no budget surplus, while 40 percent are operating at a loss, seriously constricting these facilities’ ability to expand or improve their services. “If it were not supported by the county hospital, the Kangle Nursing Home would have closed its doors,” Xiao Bingyin, head of the public Kangle facility told our reporter. Despite being privately owned, the Kangleyuan facility was unable to expand to cope with demand, adding the cheap bungalows to its main building in 2012 in an attempt to accommodate additional residents. The facility had operated for 10 years before finally receiving a government license in 2010. In September 2013, Lushan County Development and Reform Department approved the expansion of the Kangleyuan facility by adding 20 brand-new buildings at a cost of of 39.7 million yuan (US$6.4m), including 30 million yuan (US$4.8m) in government funding. The project, however, was delayed indefinitely because the pledged funds failed to arrive. In the wake of the disaster, Yan Qingchun, vice-president of the China National Committee on Aging, told the media that, while the construction, facilities, operation and staffing of public senior care institutions are financed by the government, private institutions have to support themselves. “There is no way for private elderly care institutions to compete with public ones, and running a private institution has become increasingly difficult,” he said.
On the morning of May 26, Tu Xiaohong went to Kangleyuan, followed by the county hospital and finally the county funeral home in the hope of being able to see her sister’s body, to no avail. Thwarted, Tu, along with other victims’ relatives, went to the county justice bureau to seek answers. At around 11 AM, relatives received a call from the government telling them they would be placed at several hotels around the county, “accompanied” by local officials. At noon the same day, the provincial government held a press conference and announced that the fire had “destroyed” 51 beds, which had been occupied by 44 elderly people. Kangleyuan’s owner Fan Huazhi was detained, and four local officials were sacked, including the deputy Party chief of Lushan County. In the afternoon, family relatives submitted to blood testing to allow their DNA to be matched with the bodies of unidentified victims. On the morning of May 28, the test results revealed that Liu Yufang had survived the blaze, but that
Photo by CFP
A former Kangleyuan resident who survived the fire now lives in her daughter’s home
Tu Xinli had perished. Families who had lost a relative were offered 500,000 yuan (US$80,550) compensation by the local government, in exchange for a signed pledge not to make further claims, and to cremate the bodies within a few days. Guo Xiuhua, a lawyer from the Beijing-based DeHeng Law Firm told NewsChina that as an investigation into the blaze is still underway, deciding compensation and striking such deals before all the facts are disclosed could be a violation of judicial procedure. “The government has two aims – to cover the costs of victims’ families and to offer them some spiritual comfort. But whether this is compensation or simply ‘relief’ needs to be discussed,” she said. Initially, relatives of victims refused to sign the agreement, insisting on learning the causes behind the fire. Gradually, however, Tu Xiaohong told NewsChina, she found herself fighting an uphill battle. Tu’s family members initially demanded higher compensation due to the fact that their mother was considerably younger than most of the other victims. However, on May 29, after several rounds of fruitless negotiations, the family agreed to take the government’s offer. Tu Xinli was cremated the following day. Tu Xiaohong also has two daughters. She told NewsChina that when they grow up, she and her husband will also live in a nursing home. “I hope the government, after this tragedy, can spend more money on nursing homes to avoid such accidents from happening again when we are old,” she said. Some victims’ relatives told the media that they were planning to donate the compensation to charity. “We just hope that the money can be spent on more elderly people to help them enjoy their twilight years,” Tang Tieli, a victim’s relative, told Mirror Evening News. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
A Step Too Far?
A research paper involving genetically modified human embryos and published in a Chinese science journal has provoked an international backlash, though domestic coverage has been muted. NewsChina tries to find out why By Wang Yan
n April 18, 2015 when the Beijing-based, English-language science journal Protein & Cell published a Chinese research paper on genetic modificaton of human embryos – a paper previously rejected by the more prestigious international journals Nature and Science – the world of science reacted strongly to the ethics behind the project. Huang Junjiu, associate professor of cell biology at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, was lead author of the controversial article, which is titled “CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human tripronuclear zygotes.” According to the paper, research conducted by Huang and his team on abnormal fertilized human zygotes proved their theory of the “inefficiency and infidelity” of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated system (Cas), one of the leading genome modification tools currently used by cell biologists.
The research conducted by Huang’s team attempted to modify the gene responsible for beta-type thalassemia, also called Mediterranean anemia, a hereditary blood disorder particularly common in China’s southern provinces. The research team used CRISPR/ Cas9 enzymes (or “molecular scissors”) to
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target and remove specific DNA sequences in a genome, replacing them with artificially engineered nuclei. Since this technology has given scientists the ability to replace “faulty” genes, or specific DNA sequences responsible for genetic diseases and disorders, as well as to “erase and repair” genetic information, CRISPR/ Cas9, which is relatively simple to use and generally very efficient, has, since 2012, been widely adopted by global cell researchers working on developing both human and animal applications, with some institutions even attempting to modify animal embryos. In early 2014, the science journal Cell published an article by a group of Chinese researchers documenting a breakthrough in precise gene modification in monkeys using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The article claimed that use of this system was an efficient and reliable means to genetically modify animal cells. However, it was not until Huang and his team described applying this technology to the modification of human embryos that CRISPR/Cas9 began to dominate headlines worldwide. Huang’s team used discarded abnormal embryos, chosen because they contained tripronuclear (3PN) zygotes due to the ova being fertilized by two sperm and donated by a local fertility clinic. Their inves-
tigation showed that the CRISPR/Cas9 system had a low success rate when applied to these embryos, causing a surprising number of “off-target” mutations instead of cleanly removing and replacing the single genes responsible for the related blood disorder. Instead, Huang’s team observed multiple mutations in the subjects which could, were the embryos brought to term, have led to a number of further health problems. Rates of mutation were much higher than those observed in similar studies using mouse embryos or adult human cells, raising questions about the continued use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in cellular modification. “If you were to [subject] normal embryos [to this kind of testing], you’d need to be close to 100 percent [reliability],” Huang told Nature in late April. “That’s why we stopped. We still think [the technology] is too immature.” Huang went on to say that his research team wanted to show their data to the world so people would “know what really happened,” rather than simply speculate about the effectiveness of CRISPR/Cas9 to modify the human genome.
Despite the team’s deliberate choice of non-viable 3PN embryos obtained from
fertility clinics, which would never be able to grow into a living human, a choice made due to ethical concerns surrounding using healthy embryos, Huang’s research still polarized international opinion. According to Huang, his team’s paper was rejected by both Nature and Science “partly because of ethical objections.” Germline manipulation (the artificial modification of DNA) remains a controversial strand of genetics, and is currently illegal in some European countries (such as the UK, Germany and Italy) as well as certain US states. Even advocates for further research admit that modifying the DNA profile of viable embryos that might be brought to term could have unpredictable results for future generations. Even though germline manipulation technology is still in the very early stages of development, fears are growing that, once perfected, it could allow geneticists to “grow” so-called “designer humans” with enhanced desirable traits. Immediately after the publication of the paper, Edward Lanphier, president of Sangamo BioSciences in Richmond, California wrote an article in Nature calling for a moratorium on all research into human germline modification. “It underlines what we said before: We need to pause this research and make sure we have a broad-based discussion about which direction we’re going here,” he wrote. Shirley Hodgson, professor of Cancer Genetics at St George’s University of London, wrote on ResearchSEA, a scientific news portal: “I think that this is a significant departure from currently accepted research practice... In the past all the gene therapy research that has been approved by regulatory bodies has been somatic, not germline, because of the potentially unpredictable and heritable effects of germline research.” Professor Hodgson concluded that any proposal to conduct germline genetic ma-
Chinese scientists successfully applied the CRISPR/Cas9 process to modify the genes of monkeys, publishing the results in Cell magazine in January 2014
nipulation on human embryos should be very carefully considered by international regulatory bodies before being taken seriously as a legitimate field of research. Although criticism was widespread, the goals, if not the methodology, behind Huang’s research had some international supporters. Associate Professor Peter Illingworth, medical director at IVF Australia, commented on ResearchSEA that in his country it is standard practice to test embryos containing genetic material from known carriers of beta-type thalassemia. He admitted that actual modification of these embryos under the pretext of eliminating the disorder would be an enormous step forward, but only if the safety and reliability of such technology could be guaranteed. In response to claims that it refused publication of Huang’s paper on ethical grounds,
Science expressed in a printed response that its editorial board believes strongly that “the potential of genome editing must be viewed in terms of social mores and that the path forward must be developed through a consensus-building process.”
At press time, neither Huang Junjiu nor his only other named co-author, Zhou Canquan, responded to email or telephone requests for comment from our NewsChina reporter. The conclusion to the controversial paper claims that Huang’s study conformed to the “ethical standards of Helsinki Declaration and national legislation” and was approved by “the Medical Ethical Committee of the First Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University” where the embryos were obtained. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Huang also claimed that the patients who donated their 3PN zygotes for research had signed informed consent forms. According to The Paper, a Chinese news portal, a spokesperson for Sun Yat-sen University stated that debate concerning Huang’s paper was “a normal scientific debate” and the university would not comment on the issue. While overseas science circles continued this debate, however, China’s domestic media and scientific community have remained largely silent beyond a handful of reports. Some have speculated that this silence is in part due to a generally tolerant attitude towards all varieties of scientific research in atheist China, where research and experimentation on human embryos is not subject to as many restrictions as in the West. Chen Guoqiang, a professor of biology at Tsinghua University, told the South China Morning Post in late April that modification of human DNA is the key to curing many diseases, maintaining long-term health, retaining one’s youth and living longer. “[These things] will all be possible in the future and free many families from pain and suffering.” Zhao Shimin, a biologist with Fudan University in Shanghai, echoed Chen’s opinions and denied any “ethical problem” with Huang’s study. He added that “modification of human DNA is inevitable. The technology has been used on plants, on animals, and the next step will be humans.” Jiang Tao, senior engineer with the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told NewsChina in June that the “general direction” of Huang and his team’s research was “correct.” “Considering how modern pharmaceuticals have helped to prolong human lifespans, it is harder to leave the eradication of damaging, heritable genes to natural selection.” “Huang’s work aimed to get rid of harmful genes at a proper time, allowing couples NEWSCHINA I August 2015
carrying such diseases to have healthy babies. Thus, their work is absolutely moral in terms of its intent,” he added. In Jiang’s opinion, human development is no longer a process of natural evolution, due to the intervention of modern medicine. His conclusion is that harmful genes can only be eradicated through high-tech methods, including genetic modification of human beings. The key point, in his view, is to find the appropriate time when such modification is both technically and ethically viable. He added that while regulations in China prohibit human cloning, there is currently no legislation relating to the modification of discarded human embryos. “As a scientist specializing in research on early-stage embryos, it is natural for Huang to shoulder the responsibility of solving the problem of hereditary genetic disorders. I understand his position in this case, and his research is serious science rather than the ‘publicity stunt’ described in certain media,” said Jiang. “Huang’s team chose early-stage, abnormal, donated embryos that would never have had a chance to survive. I don’t see any ethical violation.” Since the first baby born through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in China was born in 1988, assisted reproductive technology (ART) has seen rapid development in the country, with an estimated 100,000 babies born through IVF in China alone, and some 5 million globally. During the IVF process, abnormal embryos, when detected, are often destroyed with the consent of the parents. According to Wu Dan, a doctor from the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Center of Beijing People’s Hospital, strict rules govern the handling of surplus and abnormal embryos created during IVF, with parents offered the choice to freeze them for future use, destroy them or donate them for medical research. To increase success rates, most IVF clinics transfer multiple embryos at a time dur-
ing treatment, a practice which inevitably leads to multiple fetuses and, consequently, terminations. It was not until 2003 when the Ministry of Health issued regulations on ART practices restricting the number for embryo transfers to no more than two for women under 35 years of age. Wu Dan told NewsChina that improvements in domestic IVF technology have now led most embryologists to recommend single embryo transfers, adding that most surplus embryos are donated for medical research with the consent of the parents. Commenting on Huang’s paper, Wu Dan expressed doubts as to whether his research was necessary. She told NewsChina that alternative techniques for embryo selection, notably pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, routinely applied during IVF treatment, are equally if not more effective than attempting to eliminate certain genetic conditions after the fact. “I just do not yet see the need to correct a genetic defect in this way,” said Wu. “I suppose Huang and his team’s ultimate goal is to increase the proportion of viable embryos through genetic modification.” Wu added that if the modification process led to unintentional genetic modifications, then those responsible would be straying into unethical territory. Despite the ongoing criticism, Nature recently reported that Huang’s team is continuing its work, and is now attempting to reduce the number of unintended mutations. However, the report claimed that Huang’s team is currently only experimenting on either adult human cells or animal embryos. In mid-May, in response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Huang’s research using human embryos, some scientific bodies, including the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, have launched initiatives to develop guidelines governing experimental modification of the human genome.
Photo by dong jiexu
China’s health regulator has tightened its grip on online diagnosis service to curb malpractice. Do the country’s online healthcare providers have what it takes to meet this challenge? By Yue Wei
Spring Rain CMO Liu Chengping
n early May 2015, Spring Rain, China’s leading online healthcare provider, unveiled an ambitious plan to launch 25 brickand-mortar clinics in five major cities across the country, promising to expand to 300 by the end of the calendar year. This is not the first time an online medical group has attempted to tap China’s offline market. In November 2014, DXY, one of the country’s largest online healthcare service providers, made public its initiatives to develop offline clinics after receiving a US$70 million investment from Chinese Internet titan Tencent. Nevertheless, DXY’s offline campaign has seen sluggish progress in its bid to achieve government approval.
Beset with difficulties, DXY CEO Zhang Jin remains optimistic regarding his strategy to develop offline clinics. During an interview with NewsChina, Zhang said that online consultation is important but the format makes it “hard to map out complete medical treatment for patients.” “If a patient has high blood sugar, for example, it is still necessary
for the patient to get their blood glucose tested after receiving online advice,” he said. “Doctors can’t really assist the patient until they see the test results.” Zhang explained that positive interaction between online and offline treatment programs is the right solution. He said that China’s private hospitals often have poor reputations and the average public hospital wouldn’t voluntarily cooperate with an online institution. Zhang has never attempted to cooperate with public hospitals because, in his words, “generally speaking, public hospitals have no lack of patients.” Founded in 2000, DXY began to consider opening offline clinics in 2012 when online healthcare service providers swamped the market and a growing number of online companies vowed to transform China’s traditional healthcare model with innovative Internet technology. The medical sector was one of the few industries that had not already been completely transformed by the Internet, so business opportunities abounded. Spring Rain CMO Liu Chengping told NewsChina that the company came into being along with this change in the market and the NEWSCHINA I August 2015
growing demands of consumers. Spring Rain currently has 58 million users. Liu says 70 percent of user issues can be resolved online; only 30 percent require a diagnosis from an offline clinic for diagnosis. Unlike DXY’s business model of building its own offline clinics, Spring Rain provides doctors and services while its partner hospitals provide equipment and facilities. Liu said he abandoned the idea of constructing clinics because it would take at least one or two years to open a clinic after navigating the complicated process of getting government approval, registering, selecting a location and renovating the interior. DXY’s Zhang Jin has been going through this lengthy procedure over the past six months. He told NewsChina that official accreditation involves getting approval from three governmental bodies: an environmental watchdog, the fire department and a health agency. Zhang said he was grateful that today’s approval process has been simplified, adding that some restrictive regulations have been eliminated. “Before, you couldn’t open a clinic if there was another one within 500 meters. Now this distance requirement is gone and it’s down to the owner whether a private clinic is profitable or not,” he said.
DXY’s first brick-and-mortar clinic is expected to open by September in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. After that, Zhang Jin said DXY will open more clinics in China’s first-tier cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. “DXY will not confine its service to first-tier cities; we’re targeting second- and third-tier cities as well. China’s first-tier cities are home to the country’s best medical resources including leading doctors and hospitals,” said Zhang. “China’s second- and third-tier cities have relatively inferior medical resources and services, so local residents’ strong healthcare demands will be a huge market for DXY.” Spring Rain is scheduled to open its first clinics in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Wuhan. “Clinics should be established where demand is high. Another consideration is that it is easier to find qualified doctors in a city with good medical resources,” Liu explained. Spring Rain has set up strict criteria for selecting doctors and partner hospitals. For example, the company chooses its offline clinic physicians from its pool of 100,000 doctors, only picking those who have a strong desire to work there and a license to practice in multiple locations. What’s more, the selected doctors must be head physicians from China’s top-tier hospitals. DXY, meanwhile, has opted to build its own general practice clinics. In order to coordinate its online and offline services and enhance work efficiency, the company also needs to create a massive information portal, according to Zhang.“Otherwise it’s barely different than traditional clinics,” he added. Zhang added that China currently has no complete general practice service system, and the moment a doctor starts working in a hospital, he/she enters a specialty and receives little further general prac-
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
tice training. DXY, Zhang said, will provide its own general practice classes to systematically train their general practitioners. Zhang hopes to bring China’s and even the world’s best medical resources to DXY’s offline clinics. The company’s informatization project, which will seamlessly integrate its online and offline resources, has already launched. “Some leading doctors in Beijing and Shanghai have signed contracts with us; theoretically, patients can already receive their consultations at DXY clinics,” Zhang said.
At a press conference in late April, the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), China’s health regulator, announced that medical diagnosis should not be carried out online — hospitals can provide online medical advice, but not treatment. The regulator’s spokesperson Song Shuli explained that the ban was unveiled to ensure medical quality because, otherwise, online services might be provided by unqualified personnel, unlike face-to-face diagnoses. She added that “both hospitals and doctors should be qualified for online treatment in a specific field” before that service is offered. Last August NHFPC held a conference for many of the Internet companies offering online medical services. Zhang Jin told NewsChina that the main topic of the meeting was the issue of regulating online medical service providers, and a consensus was made – online medical services are efficient but should only be provided by healthcare facilities. NHFPC also asked the companies about their opinions regarding the healthcare system. For doctors who work for either DXY or Spring Rain offline clinics, their main job is to provide patients with diagnosis and treatment. They’re prohibited from cashing in on selling medicine to patients at a time when surgical procedures and expensive pharmaceuticals are proving to be the biggest moneymakers in China’s healthcare industry. Both Zhang and Liu hope their respective clinics will become examples of a new business model. Zhu Hengpeng, director of the Center for Public Policy with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told NewsChina that offline clinics are necessary for China’s online healthcare companies. “The transformation of China’s healthcare service sector and improvement of the doctor-patient relationship both depend on the development of [offline] clinics,” he said. Professor Li Ling of Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research agrees. She told our reporter that the Internet is only a medium and seeing a doctor at a hospital is essential. But she also added that it’s too early to tell the precise impact these offline clinics will have on the healthcare industry. Zhu said the government approval process is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of online companies looking to go offline. These clinics will need to develop more fully, she added, to the point where they reach a level of influence that compels relevant government bodies to loosen their grip.
The Power of Law China’s ongoing process of fiscal reform aims to redefine relations between the government, the market and taxpayers. To achieve this, relations between legislative and administrative bodies have to be reformulated By Chai Wen and Li Jia
Once one has too many debts, one stops worrying about them.” This Chinese saying exhorts people not to worry about things that can’t be helped. In the past few years, this has been used by Chinese media to describe China’s heavily indebted local governments. The central government, however, clearly does not subscribe to this mantra. At a Tsinghua University forum on April 24, 2015, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei warned that in the next five to 10 years China has no more than a 50 percent chance of avoiding the so-called “middle-income trap,” referring to a lack of the dynamism needed
to transform a middle-income country into a truly developed one. His words immediately appeared in headlines and triggered considerable debate, including disputes about whether or not such a trap even exists. However, there is little controversy regarding the major risks Lou listed that, if not urgently addressed, could halt China’s growth. Partly because of the rapid increase in local governments’ debt since 2008, he noted, the country’s total debt burden reached 193 percent of current GDP, a rate higher than that recorded in the debt-ridden EU. The imprudence of China’s local governments is thought to be based on the wide-
spread and reasonable assumption that the central government has to come to the rescue with taxpayers’ money once local governments’ debts threaten the banking sector and, in turn, drag the whole economy into a financial crisis that could cause a global shockwave. However, if the central government condones this presumption, it would undoubtedly find itself stuck in another trap, the so-called “moral hazard” of incentivizing risk-taking because said risk-takers know their problems will ultimately become someone else’s burden. This is exactly why local governments borrowed more than they could repay in the first place. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by xinhua
Reshuffling the entire fiscal system has been placed high on the Party’s agenda for renewed reform. As in previous rounds, the latest reform plan involves redefining administrative responsibilities and the allocation of fiscal resources between and within different levels of government. Besides this, principles of how the government can collect and use public money will be reformulated. The project is supposed to be based on and at the same time facilitate the establishment of a full-fledged legal framework for the fiscal system. This is regarded as the most fundamental departure from the practices in place since the decades prior to the last round of fiscal reform in 1993, during which changes in fiscal policy were largely a closed-door game within the administrative system. Legislative efforts to establish fiscal laws have gathered steam recently – there is an expectation of more new legislation in this area. The reform is not about small, technical fixes, but about restructuring the legal framework concerning the relationships between the central and local governments, as well as between the cabinet, taxpayers and legislators. To achieve this policy shift, there are growing calls to set overriding principles for the legislation and implementation of fiscal laws, and combat the weak enforcement of existing principles.
Principles matter the most in the legislative process of establishing a code of fiscal law. The review of China’s Budget Law started in 2004, but was not completed until 2014. “The division on whether the purpose of the law is to ‘facilitate’ or ‘supervise’ the government’s use of public funds had been going on for 10 years,” said Yin Zhongqing, a member of the budget review office with the Financial and Economic Committee of National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislative body. The latter finally prevailed in its drafting of the new law, putting government spending under legislative scrutiny for the first time. The old Budget Law, effective since 1995, treated budget spending as a tool of macroeconomic policy to be wielded at
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
the discretion of economic planners. Changing this is now recognized as prudent for the law’s revision. In March 2015, the government also revised China’s Legislation Law, which dictates how laws come into being and which groups hold legislative power. Changes in the principles concerning tax collection, the main source of government revenue, were regarded by society and legislators as the most significant amendment. For the first time, it is stated clearly that only legislators, not the government as a whole, can decide whether and how a tax should be levied. A dramatic interruption to the ratification process illustrates the difficult struggle behind this revision. On March 8, legislators gathering in Beijing for the annual NPC session found that the rate of taxation was missing from the list of tax issues subject to legal review in the new draft of the Legislation Law, while it was included in the earlier list. This was strongly opposed by the public and by many legislators. Four days later, the rate was once again included in what became the new Legislation Law. Changes of principles on paper have led to practical changes on the ground. Local governments in China used to set up companies to borrow money, keeping these loans off the books. In this way, they not only circumvented the borrowing ban imposed by the old Budget Law, they also took advantage of weak oversight over public spending under the old law. Thanks to the new law, the Ministry of Finance announced a US$327 billion bond package that will be issued by local provincial governments by June 10. These funds will be used only to repay loans taken out prior to June 30, 2013, and those that will mature in 2015. The use of this money, and any new loans for any purpose, will be on the books and follow the transparency requirements enshrined in the new Budget Law. The legislation of laws on particular taxes, such as the property tax, will also be accelerated and conducted by the legislators of the NPC. Tax increases put in place on short notice, a common practice for years, were immediately questioned by media right before and after the Legislation Law was revised.
The Law of Laws
However, experts say more principles need to be defined. For example, should fees charged by local governments, like social insurance payments, be included in tax packages governed by laws? If so, should such fees be legally turned into taxes and brought to light, just as issuing bonds has revealed the hidden debts of local governments? Should the National Audit Office report to the legislative NPC instead of to China’s cabinet, the State Council, in order to guarantee the independence of auditors? What if an article of taxation law can be interpreted in different ways and, depending on which principle is followed, therefore lean in favor of either administrative agencies or taxpayers? All these questions have to be answered, as Xu Shanda, director of think tank SEEC Institute of Finance and Economics and former vice director of the State Administration of Taxation, told NewsChina. Although the new Budget Law puts all four sources of fiscal funding at the government’s disposal – taxes, non-tax fees, returns from State-owned assets and social insurance funds – under the scrutiny of legislators and the public, some components of these four categories are still missing. For example, the law does not cover local State-owned enterprises. Moreover, it is very common for non-governmental public institutions, such as schools and industrial associations, to rent out State-owned buildings to restaurants and companies and keep the resulting profits off the books. Any gains from the operation of these assets remain out of the reach of the new Budget Law. “The principles of dealing with all fiscal revenues and spending, and disposal of all State-owned assets and public debts, must be clarified,” Shanghai University of Finance and Economics professor Jiang Hong told NewsChina. Another issue underlying reform of the fiscal system is the restructuring of the hierarchy of power and obligations at all levels of government. This has been made the priority of China’s ongoing reform. As Finance Minister Lou Jiwei explained in his article in Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on De-
Photo by CFP
Professor Li Shuguang with China University of Political Science and Law
cember 1, 2014 , “who does what” changes frequently, increasing negotiation costs and impacting on the reliability of public services. Worse still, central and local governments often do the other’s job. For example, Lou said, affairs involving national interests and the free flow of public resources – such as river pollution, ocean management and food safety – are delegated to fragmented local jurisdictions, while the central government intervenes in services that local governments know how to manage much better, such as building water supplies, constructing decent sewage systems in rural areas or establishing public kindergartens. In 2013, budgetary spending at the central level accounted for 14.6 percent of the country’s total, compared with the 46 percent average seen in OECD countries. The result, he concluded, is holding back the development of a unified market, equal justice and universal public services.
The consensus is that the only thing that can underwrite these principles and resolve all issues relating to fiscal affairs is the law, and the division is only between whether there should be a single separate law for this purpose, or whether new principles should be integrated into relevant existing or upcoming laws. Mainstream opinion seems to lean toward the former. Legal scholars and government officials have gathered at recent forums to discuss the possibility of drafting a new Basic Fiscal or Fiscal Law. As Peking University’s professor Liu Jianwen wrote in his article in the January 28 edition of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences journal Chinese Social Sciences Today, all other laws on fiscal affairs will have to follow the principles of the new Basic Fiscal Law, which will define the relationship between the government, the legislature and taxpayers, thus guiding fiscal reform.
In the meantime, some basic principles that are already embedded in new laws have been watered down, impacting the authority of legislators. Transparency is at the heart of the new Budget Law. It is stated in the new law that budgets have to be open to the public within 20 days after they are approved by legislators. However, which items should be opened is not specified clearly enough. This makes it difficult for the public to track public funding, noted Professor Jiang Hong. For example, spending is roughly classified either by purpose (agriculture, healthcare and public security), or by accounting standards (salaries, the purchasing of goods and services and operation expenses for fixed assets). It is not definite which categories will be publicly accessible and which will not. This apparently could hamper the ability of fiscal policy to boost the economy. Since 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly urged to awaken China’s pool of “sleeping money,” or funds that have already been allocated for designated projects but
were left idle for years for various reasons. For example, a research team may have applied for more funds than it actually used, or money originally earmarked for an investment project ultimately couldn’t be used because market conditions had changed. Earlier this year, China’s National Audit Office announced that, in nine provinces and nine cities, 30 percent of funding for the fiscal year 2013 could no longer be used for its original purpose. However, without exposing more details of government budgets to the public, such wastage can still occur. Several campaigns have been launched over the years to find out how much sleeping money there is in China, and why it is being kept dormant. Budget review office member Yin Zhongqing stressed that local legislators should assess budget accounts, including the budgets of construction projects, not only in terms of legal compliance, but also in terms of efficiency. He also recognized that local legislators need more training on how to utilize the new Budget Law. In almost every NPC annual session in the past few years, legislators have repeatedly complained about elusive budget reports. While urging fiscal officials to disclose more details with simpler explanations, the public has also begun to ask why legislators seem not to have made an effort to acquire the skills necessary to do their jobs. Another lingering and more fundamental problem for legislators is that they have devolved too much power to administrators. For example, Professor Jiang Hong noted, any spending should be open to review by legislators, however, in practice, changes are often made without review. By striking their own duties, he claimed, legislators have not only undermined the core principle of transparency embedded in the law, but also their own authority. Lawmakers’ authority over their most important task – writing and enacting legislation – also needs to be strengthened. The administrative branch of government has long dominated the drafting and even definition NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Average monthly salary of the Chinese class of 2014 half a year after graduation (with a 92.1 percent employment rate). The 2014 national average salary for an urban employee was US$652 per month.
Surveying and mapping
Building services engineering
Administrative supervisor and sales manager
Jobs with highest monthly salary half a year after graduation, US$, 2014
Bank loan officer and broker
Majors with highest rate of employment half a year after graduation, %, 2014
Source: China National Bureau of Statistics / Mycos
The volume of yuan-denominated financial assets held by non-Chinese institutions and individuals by the end of April 2015.
The HSBC China Services Business Activity Index in May 2015, an eightmonth high; an index higher than 50 means business expansion.
Stocks US$105.3bn (14.6%) Outstanding bonds US$120.1bn (16.7%) Lending to Chinese entities US$142.8bn(19.8%) Deposit balance US$351.8bn (48.9%)
Source: People’s Bank of China 40
Source: HSBC / Markit
65.4% The share of China’s total fixed-asset investment represented by private, urban interests in the first five months of 2015, up from 64 percent at the end of 2014.
Industries with the highest rates of private investment growth
68.71 The weekly index of steel prices in China by June 12, 2015, a y-o-y decline of 26.8 percent and the result of a 12-week fall that began at the end of March.
IT and telecom equipment manufacturing
Power and heating supply
Water conservancy operations
Agriculture, forestry, husbandry and fishing
Health care and social work
of laws. The resolution on the rule of law passed in the Party’s October plenary session recognized that this imbalance has led to competition for power, as well as the neglect of some government agencies’ responsibilities, and vowed to change this. There are strong calls from academics and the public for the NPC or its standing committee to take responsibility for drafting the proposed Basic Fiscal Law and other laws on specific fiscal issues, such as tax legislation. China University of Political Science and Law professor Li Shuguang explained to NewsChina that, on one hand, administrative agencies still hold firsthand, real-time and crucial information, while legislators, who may lack professional experience in a particular area, may not even know what data they should be asking for. On the other hand, civil servants, mostly technical bureaucrats, do not have the training in legal issues and the reciprocal principle of rights and obligations that most legislators specialize in. Moreover, Li added, third-party think tanks and private information providers are still too weak to be of much help. The most realistic choice, Li believes, is to improve cooperation between legislative and administrative bodies. What legislators can (and must) do now to gain more heft, he stressed, is to keep pushing information disclosure. This is particularly important for application of the proposed Basic Fiscal Law and other related legislation, because, as Li puts it, “fiscal affairs are all about details.” For example, with regard to administrative spending, the NPC should work out a timetable on how much and what kind of information can be made available to the public, and explain why some information must remain undisclosed. Professor Li and other academics we spoke to agreed that listening to the public and experts also helps relieve the pressure on government agencies. The drafting, ratification and implementation of new laws will be a test for China’s massive fiscal reform package, however, this program can only be guided by the law.
Source: China Iron and Steel Association
Three members of a 3,000-strong Japanese delegation promoting tourism and cultural exchanges with China visit the Forbidden City, Beijing, May 23, 2015
Despite unabated political tension, cultural exchanges between China and Japan have increased in recent months. These ties are expected to help ease diplomatic strain By Li Jia and Liu Yutong
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by Xinhua
3,000-member Japanese delegation of tourism industry representatives, local officials and lawmakers traveled to seven Chinese cities and provinces from May 20–26, 2015, to both sightsee and promote Japanese tourism. According to statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists made more visits to Japan during the first four months of 2015 than South Koreans, formerly Japan’s largest source of overseas tourists. While encouraging international tourism is a direct way to develop China-Japan relations, an indirect element is also in play. Two days after the Japanese delegation returned home, the Japanese animated film Stand by Me Doraemon, a family movie featuring a robot cat who has been a popular cartoon character in China for decades, premiered on the Chinese mainland. It has been nearly three years since a Japanese movie has played on mainland screens, while 20-30 Western movies hit Chinese theaters every year. Observers of China-Japan relations are looking beyond the perspective of business interests or cultural ties, and at the strong political context of such exchanges. The Japanese delegation was proposed and led by Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the General Council of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s ruling party’s top decision-making body. He delivered a personal letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the May 23 ChinaJapan Friendship Exchange Meeting in Beijing, which also served as a reception held for the delegation. In a speech at the meeting, Xi stressed: “China-Japan friendship is rooted in the two countries’ citizens, and the future of China-Japan relations is held in the hands of the people of these two countries.” Since the two neighbors’ disputes over the Diaoyu islands (known as the Senkaku in Japan) have intensified since late 2010, and Japan’s official historic view of its World War II legacy has begun to shift right, formal bilateral meetings at the top level have occured only briefly on the sidelines of international events such as the G20 or APEC summits. The last bilateral state visit took place seven years ago, in 2008. So far there is no expectation for another. Worse still, Chinese and Japanese media polls have consistently shown that a majority of people from both countries hold unfavorable attitudes toward the other. Increasing nationalism on both sides has been making diplomatic efforts harder. In this context, when both countries’ political leaders are encouraging both business and personal exchanges, analysts can breathe a little easier.
even cherry blossoms. Relaxed visa policies and a weaker yen, resulting from Abe’s monetary policy, have also been thought to help boost visitor numbers. Visits by Japanese tourists to China, however, peaked in 2007. During a speech at Tsinghua University on May 22, Nikai expressed concerns over this decline. He hoped that tourism between the two countries would be like an effective two-way exchange. During the delegation’s trip, their local Chinese hosts promoted tourist attractions, such as traditional Chinese medical practices in Beijing, UNESCO World Heritage sites in Shanxi Province and winter resorts in China’s northeast. Cooperation to bolster tourism from other countries is also on the agenda. At their annual meeting in April, tourism ministers from China, Japan and South Korea agreed to jointly launch a “Visit East Asia” campaign in order to attract visitors from the rest of the world. Sato Chitose, a Japanese journalist who lived in China between 2010 and 2012 and now a lecturer in Chinese society at a college in Hokkaido, Japan, told NewsChina that Japan’s tourism boom led to higher employment for college graduates, which in turn increased positive attitudes toward China among ordinary Japanese for whom economic recovery is a priority. Considering the size of China’s population, she added, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan still has a lot of room to grow. According to the China Tourism Administration, visits between China and Japan were only half of those between China and South Korea in 2014. The film industry is also slowly drawing the countries closer together. Stand by Me Doraemon grossed US$40 million during its first four days of release in China, much higher than George Clooney vehicle Tomorrowland. Many Chinese movie theaters, not wanting to miss out on potential profits, immediately replaced showings of Tomorrowland with the Japanese film. Relevant industries in both China and Japan all benefited, from film producers to popcorn vendors. On June 5, 2015, the Japanese government announced a new ac-
There is big market potential for both sides to tap into the other’s tourism and cultural industries. Annual visits by Chinese tourists to Japan remain fewer than those made by Japanese tourists to China, but that number is rising quickly. According to Japan’s Kyodo News, Japan’s Ministry of Finance recently reported that in 2014, overseas tourists spent more money in Japan than Japanese tourists spent abroad, creating the country’s first tourism trade surplus in 55 years, with partial credit due to an influx of Chinese travelers. The affluent Chinese middle class also favor Japanese brands, ranging from heated toilet seats and electric rice cookers to medicine, paper napkins and
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by xinhua
The Fifth China-Japan Finance Dialog resumes in Beijing after a two-year hiatus due to a downturn in relations, June 6, 2015
tion plan to double the revenue earned from overseas tourists in 2014 by the year 2020. Since 2013, Abe has repeatedly called for greater effort to push the Cool Japan campaign, which was launched in 2002 to promote Japan’s cultural products around the world. In this effort China is regarded as a major market, and has yet to catch up with Japan in terms of international tourism and cultural attractions, but is stepping up its efforts. In early 2015, the China National Tourism Administration announced a three-year “toilet revolution” to address the biggest complaint from domestic and foreign tourists. In addition, various measures that facilitate the export of cultural products, such as TV shows, films, books and handicrafts, have been adopted since 2012. Several manga and animation festivals which have taken place or have been scheduled to be held in China this year have invited Japanese producers and celebrities to participate.
Business and Pleasure
If the purpose of promoting social bonds between China and Japan was just to boost business, the results may have fallen a way short of expectations. Since at least the late 1990s, Sino-Japanese relations could be summed up as “politically cold but economically warm.” Although Japan’s declining investment in China since 2011 and diminishing bilateral trade have been attributed to political tensions during this period, Chinese and Japanese trade officials and agencies have also cited other factors, including foreign exchange fluctuations, increasing market competition and China’s rising production costs. A good business partnership does not automatically translate into positive political attitudes. There is justified concern that if the political tension continues to build, it will substantially undermine long-term economic cooperation. Therefore, something that stretches beyond people’s wallets and into people’s hearts is valued much more by analysts in the recent efforts to lower diplomatic temperatures. Most Chinese Stand By Me Doraemon moviegoers were born in the late 1970s and 1980s, and they look back fondly at childhood memories of watching the Japanese cartoon after school. As adults, they went to movie theaters to celebrate their own nostalgia and enjoy International Children’s Day (June 1) with their kids. Their parents, meanwhile, reminisced as Komaki Kurihara, a Japanese movie star popular in China in the 1980s, who sang folk songs with a Japanese girl and a Chinese boy at the 2015 Children’s Day gala staged by China’s State broadcaster CCTV. Mr Wang has been a frequent visitor to Japan ever since he retired from his job as a librarian in Beijing a few years ago. He enjoys taking photos of scenery. Japan has impressed him with its cleanliness, the courtesy of its people toward tourists, and its well-preserved historic sites. Wang traveled alone a few times rather than in a tour group, though he does not speak any Japanese. “If I lost my way and used a map to ask Japanese passersby on the street, they always showed me the way in detail through gestures or even by noting down the directions,” he told NewsChina. The aim of Nikai’s recent delegation is not just to balance out the
Change of number of visits by tourists from the Chinese mainland (%) 100 80 60 40 20 0 -20 -40
Source: Japan National Tourism Organization
tourism trade. Delegation member Ms Suzuki, an owner of an onsen (hot spring) hotel in Mount Fuji’s Shizuoka Prefecture, told NewsChina that she was interested in Japan’s traditional cultural connection with China, and would tell her staff and friends about her observations of China in comparison with Japanese media reports. Nikai has organized four large delegations since 2000 to boost understanding between the two peoples. Exchanges targeting everyday citizens have indeed been made a part of bilateral diplomacy. In 2008, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed the robot cat Doraemon as an “anime ambassador.” Earlier this year, the China National Tourism Administration came up with the idea of “tourism diplomacy.” To achieve this, Chinese tourists may be blacklisted for misconduct, such as making trouble in airplanes or misusing toilets. Those traveling overseas will be scrutinized particularly closely. Such records may affect their future travel plans or even their credit rating. Exchanges of visits by private delegations, including students, tourists and people from all walks of life, have been sponsored several times since 1984, when 3,000 young Japanese came to China at the invitation of late Communist Party of China General Secretary Hu Yaobang. Before China and Japan established diplomatic ties in 1972, international ping pong tournaments hosted in both countries, as well as frequent visits by national teams, were an important channel for politicians on both sides to send gestures of goodwill. In 1971, with the great efforts of the Japan Table Tennis Association, China participated in the World Table Tennis Championships after missing the previous three. It was during this event in Nagoya, Japan, that an American player accidentally boarded a bus intended for Chinese players, which led to China inviting the US team to Beijing and NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by IC
Chinese tourists in Ginza, Tokyo
launched what is known as “ping-pong diplomacy.” Breaking the ice between China and the US immediately ignited the renewal of long stagnant official diplomatic ties between China and Japan.
Professor Liu Jiangyong, a prominent scholar of China-Japan relations at Tsinghua University, said interpersonal exchanges played a “special” role both before and after China and Japan normalized diplomatic ties, according to the China News Service. He described everyday exchanges as the “foundation of improving China-Japan relations, and complementary to official exchanges. After all, all things are done by people.” Japanese lecturer Sato noted that the current scale of individual interaction was far from sufficient, and suggested, for example, that Japan improve communication with Chinese students living in Japan. “In China’s west, many people have never seen a Japanese person,” she added. In addition, China is much larger and has a more diverse population than Japan. “This could result in a misunderstanding among ordinary Japanese that most Chinese hate Japan, which in turn has reinforced negative attitudes among Japanese toward China,” she noted, stressing that all of this demonstrates the importance of communication between the two countries. Actually, even on social media, where dramatic language is used more frequently than in real life, opinions on an issue frequently shift as relevant information emerges. Violence against Japanese companies or products in 2012 was widely criticized on the Chinese Internet, and the perceived Japanese pursuit of self-discipline, elegance, orderly environments and the preservation of historic heritage are widely appreciated by Chinese netizens. At the same time, web users are hawk-
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ish when it comes to Japan’s expanding military and its emerging political right wing. In the meantime, Chinese and Japanese analysts and media are pragmatic when it comes to how far personal interactions can go to help thaw political tensions. Firstly, as Professor Liu pointed out, individual exchanges make only an incremental difference, and have little immediate impact. Secondly, few expect warmer interpersonal contact between Chinese and Japanese people to result in major changes in the stances of policymakers on key bilateral political issues. Both Chinese and Japanese media reported President Xi Jinping’s condemnation of war crimes committed by the Japanese military during its World War II occupation of much of China, warning that China will not tolerate “any attempt to distort or euphemize the history of Japanese militaristic aggression,” remarks made in Xi’s speech at the official reception for the Nikai delegation. At a May 20 debate in the Diet, Japan’s parliament, Abe refused to answer whether or not he accepted the Potsdam Declaration signed by the US, Great Britain and China in July 1945, which claimed Japan “embark[ed]on world conquest” and demanded “stern justice be meted out to all war criminals.” On June 1, he said Japan had “accepted” the document, which, he added, reflected the will of the Allied nations at that time. According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun news agency, Abe has expressed similar views in Diet discussions or interviews in the past few years, saying that accepting the document was just Japan’s way to end the war after it was devastated by atomic bombs, and the sentencing of war criminals at the Tokyo Trials was the prerogative of Allied nations. Abe’s recent remarks were made at Diet debates on the legislative package proposed by his cabinet to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to conduct overseas logistical missions in support of allies under attack, making the use of force permissible if certain conditions are met. This is a major change to existing laws, which restrict SDF operations to the country’s sovereign territory. The change has aroused concern in China, South Korea and Japan itself over whether it is “war legislation.” On this issue, even Nikai, whose China-friendly policy is widely recognized, would disappoint Beijing. At a Japanese House of Representatives session on June 4, all three appointed constitutional scholars, including the one invited by the ruling LDP, said that the package was against Japan’s constitution. On June 6, according to Kyodo News, Nikai responded in a televised interview that his party just picked an “inappropriate scholar” and those views were meant as nothing more than a reference for a decision that had already been taken by his party. Private exchanges, either with or without business interests, are only partially subject to fluctuations in the political sphere. This is why they can help when things go wrong politically, and also why they can only work effectively when the political will to apply them in a positive way is strong enough. This is illustrated by multiple high-level meetings that took place both immediately before and after Nikai’s delegation departed.
Nepal’s Tourism Recovery
Photo by Lu-Hai Liang
China’s role in building a new international airport and a “religious resort” could aid in Nepal’s recovery By Lu-Hai Liang
epal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Bordering China to the north and India to the south, the landlocked state is famous for its mountain scenery, with the Himalayas dominating the landscape. Climbers come to tackle the tallest mountain on earth, Mount Everest, and the largely Hindu and Buddhist population has led to the construction of many religious and cultural heritage sites. Even before the huge earthquake hit in the spring of 2015, Nepal was a nation heavily dependent on tourism to fuel its economy. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck on April 25 (which was followed by a magnitude 7.3 aftershock less than a month later) has had a devastating effect on Nepal’s tourism industry. When NewsChina visited in May, many buildings had been turned to rubble or else abandoned due to safety concerns. Many people were living in tents, and not a single tourist was seen at one of the country’s biggest attractions, Bhaktapur. This UNESCO World Heritage site, which was once part of the ancient Newar kingdom, is located about eight miles from the capital, Kathmandu. In the town’s historic center there were areas that were cordoned off and hotels with huge cracks splitting the
Rubble and tents next to the Royal Palace, Kathmandu
walls. This could be a big problem for the future sustainability of Nepal’s economy, which relies on tourism as well as foreign aid. In an interview with NewsChina, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Kripasur Sherpa said “Nepal is still alive,” and that people should make the country their next holiday destination. “It was a massive earthquake. We experienced huge damage and loss. Tourism was badly affected. But, for adventure tourism, 85 percent is still there,” said Sherpa. Ishwar Pokhrel, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal and a former Deputy Prime Minister, made an appeal to “our foreign friends” to visit the country, and, like Sherpa, repeated that only a minority of trekking trails had been affected. “If you want to help, visit Nepal,” he added. “The Himalayas are still standing.”
Before the earthquake, Nepal had seen an unprecedented increase in the number of tourists coming from China. In 2011, 46,360 Chinese tourists visited Nepal, according to a report by China’s tourism ministry. By 2013, this had almost doubled to 89,509. This wave of growth was reflected in
the “phenomenal” numbers of young people studying Mandarin in Nepal, according to Anil Shah, the CEO of a Nepalese bank. Growth in tourism numbers also came from other Asian countries, as well as from Europe and North America, although the increases were much less dramatic. Agriculture is a major contributor to Nepal’s economy, accounting for roughly a third of its GDP. Remittances from foreign workers is also a big earner. The services sector (which includes the tourism, restaurant, hotel, trade, construction and real estate industries) contributes just over half, 52.2 percent, to the nation’s US$19 billion economy. With high unemployment, political deadlock over much-needed reforms and development stymied by poor infrastructure, Nepal faced deep challenges. But it was the Himalayan nation’s aim to move itself from the category of “least developed country” to “developing country” by 2022.
Investment and Recovery
The town of Lumbini is about a 50-minute flight west of Kathmandu, served by a small airport catering to domestic flights. It’s located in the country’s southern valley plains (Nepal is split roughly into three regions: the lowland NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo by Lu-Hai Liang
Photo by Lu-Hai Liang
Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Kripasur Sherpa (left), Nepalese Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation; Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche (center), the Nepalese Buddhist lama who first conceived of the project; and Anil Shah, CEO of a Nepalese bank
plains, the foothills of the Himalayas and the Himalayan mountains themselves.) Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, as it is the historic birthplace of Buddha. When NewsChina visited in late May, it was very hot, with 40-degree temperatures that felt like a ripple from the heatwave that was engulfing parts of India at the time. Lumbini’s surrounding region is underdeveloped, with few tourist-friendly facilities such as cafes and restaurants. At the same time, the landscape is pristine and peaceful, dotted with the ruins of an ancient palace complex. A shrine marks the place in the Lumbini gardens where Buddha was allegedly born in 623 BC. It is near here that plans for Nepal’s second international airport are underway, a US$97million project partly funded by the Asian Development Bank. Building work is being done by China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group, who is expanding the domestic Gautam Buddha Airport, located about 12 miles east of Lumbini, into an international facility. The expansion will include a 3,000-meter runway large enough to accommodate Airbus 330s and Boeing 777s. The development will also include office buildings, a control tower, terminal faNEWSCHINA I August 2015
cilities, and other infrastructure, with plans to be operational in 2017. It is hoped that by 2030, 760,000 passengers will be passing through the new facility every year. The new airport will be located in Bhairahawa, a district close to the Indo-Nepalese border. Currently Tribhuvan International Airport is Nepal’s only international airport, located six miles from downtown Kathmandu. There have been calls for years for a second international airport to service the country’s growing number of foreign visitors, as well as for flight diversions from Kathmandu in case of poor weather. Some 500,000 visitors go to Lumbini every year, although many are day-trippers from India or Kathmandu. But there have been major increases recently. China has been the largest contributor, with a 40 percent rise in visitor numbers in 2014. Alongside the airport, there are plans to transform Lumbini into a tourism, spirituality and education hub, catering to pilgrims and visitors from Asia and beyond. Numerous monasteries are located at this Buddhist pilgrimage site, including a Chinese center whose head pledged “whatever support and help that might be needed” to a Buddhist lama who is planning to build a “peace
sanctuary” in the area called the Mahasiddha Sanctuary for Universal Peace. It will consist of a main hall honoring the birth of the Buddha, a museum, a print and digital library, a retreat center, conference facilities, and accommodation for monks and nuns. The sanctuary is hoped to be a pilgrimage site for “all peace lovers, regardless of their creed, color or religion,” according to Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, the Nepalese Buddhist lama who first conceived the project. The religious site is expected to be completed in three or four years. A fundraising drive is currently taking place, and the building, once complete, is expected to draw more visitors as well as residents to the area, helping to aid the country’s recovery and rejuvenate the local economy. With money and investment mainly coming from China, as well as plans for increased hotel construction and other tourist facilities, Lumbini might become a competitor to more established spiritual retreats in neighboring India. It’s estimated that every sixth tourist to Nepal creates one local job, and the new international airport, once operational, should hopefully improve the scope of the tourism industry in Nepal, upon which the country relies for its future recovery.
A Dream Come True
In his latest film, Hong Kong director and “social observer” Derek Yee edges closer to reality by casting no-name extras as themselves. The movie follows them as they pursue their acting dreams in Hengdian, otherwise known as “China’s Hollywood”
Derek Tung-Shing Yee
Photo by CT
By Wen Tianyi and Yuan Ye
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
0 years ago, when Derek Tung-Shing Yee first visited the town of Hengdian in Zhejiang Province, he didn’t have a good feeling about the place. It was a scorching summer day and the temperature was nearly 37 degrees. Actors weighted down with heavy historical costumes and rigged with wires were flying around movie sets. Jackie Chan, whom Yee had come to see, was among them. Hengdian reminded Yee of his time playing kung-fu swordsmen in the late 1970s as a young actor in Hong Kong. He was a rebellious youth obsessed with rock music at the time, so he found the old-fashioned shooting style and outdated narrative of kungfu movies very frustrating. He felt everything was ridiculous and meaningless. And Hengdian seemed to bring all of that back. The movie lot Hengdian World Studios began in 1996 with the construction of Guangzhou and Hong Kong street scenes for the film First Opium War, so when Yee arrived in 2005 the area had already gone through nearly 10 years of development as a movie and TV production base. More than a dozen large-scale sets had been built on the massive lot. After Jackie Chan finished shooting for the day, he drove Yee to one of these sites, a reconstructed Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC) imperial palace. Yet, Yee was even more disturbed by the inauthenticity of the building and its adornments. He couldn’t wait to leave town. Yet when Yee returned to the studio lot seven years later to discuss a project with director Hark Tsui, he felt something different. It was summer once again and Hengdian looked even busier than it had on Yee’s first visit. More sets and replicas of ancient buildings had sprouted up. Most impressive was the sheer number of people, mostly young hopefuls who had flooded into Hengdian from all over the country, armed with their
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
“Hengdian dream” to become stars, but were fated to remain full-time extras. Suddenly, Yee knew he wanted to tell this story. He sensed there must be plenty of conflicts and drama in this movie-making town. As a veteran director, screenwriter, producer and actor, Yee decided it was time to shoot a movie for all of the nameless-yet-ambitious young people filling Hengdian. And he named the movie I Am Somebody.
The Social Observer
Born in Hong Kong in 1957, Yee was destined to work in movies. His father was a movie producer and his mother was an actress. At one point, there were tens of people from his family working in Hong Kong’s film industry. Yee and his two half-brothers all became famous actors at a young age. However, Yee wasn’t as happy growing up in the studios as people might imagine. To him, glorious scenes on-screen were just illusions resulting from chaotic and noisy sets. As a child, his parents brought him along on set because they were too busy to take care of him themselves, so he got to know the stars. “Actors and actresses know little about real life,” Yee said. “When I was an actor, I didn’t know the price of instant noodles and Coca-Cola. I assume if you ask [famous Hong Kong actor] Andy Lau, he won’t know the price of cabbages and radishes, either.” Yet Yee was interested in real life. After taking a step back from acting to pursue directing in the mid-1980s, Yee wanted to shoot the story of “social workers aiding the mentally ill.” The Lunatics came out in 1986. His subsequent movies often contained realistic themes as well: Viva Erotica in 1996 lifted the lid on the Hong Kong pornography industry, One Nite in Mongkok in 2004 depicted the eponymous Hong Kong district’s gangsters and prostitutes, 2 Young in 2005 explored teenage pregnancy and Protégé in 2007 dove
into Hong Kong’s drug underworld. The movie was even used by Hong Kong’s narcotics squad as teaching material. He became known as Hong Kong movie industry’s “social observer.” Maintaining contact with real life has always been his biggest interest. He still resides in Kowloon, where he was born and raised. When not working, he drives his white Audi through the city’s older areas. He knows exactly which restaurants allow smoking and where he can find the most delicious barbecued pork rolls and pineapple buns.
Back to Reality
To Yee, Hengdian is a “surreal” place where he finds both the humblest realities and the most fascinating dreams. The most famous stars and production companies in China coexist with no-name extras who make about 50 yuan (US$8) a day while maintaining “great expectations.” No one knows the exact figure about how many extras the town of Hengdian has attracted, but by 2005 the town had produced nearly 10,000 movies and episodes of TV shows. In 2012 alone, Hengdian accommodated nearly 12 million tourists. Visitors swarm the movie lot’s palaces, streets and buildings of different dynasties and areas. Successful and aspiring actors alike work on sets representing different religions and nations. And “the extras come with dreams,” Yee told NewsChina. Yee decided he should start his filmmaking process from the most authentic place – reality. He and his team spent their first four months just collecting stories, which is resulted in more than 200 personal accounts and a transcript some one million Chinese characters long. “There is enough material for a 60-episode TV series,” said Yee. They picked out the most dramatic stories from the interviewees and asked the extras to
Yee on set
Various frames from I Am Somebody
play their own characters in their own stories. In other words, the movie would be a rare instance in which real people act out their own lives for the big screen. As Yee had more and more contact with these extras, his knowledge about their “dreams” expanded and deepened. “Many of these young people have received a poor education,” Yee told NewsChina. “Some of them told me they finished college, but it turned out they didn’t. Some of them didn’t even finish primary school.” In his view, many of these Hengdian extras’ pursuit of their dreams is mixed with a taste of “vanity” and “escapism.” Yet the reality of extras’ lives in Hengdian is usually far from what they had imagined it would be. They don’t have long-term contracts. Their payments are generally low, at most 100 yuan (US$17) a day. They hardly know what stability is. Before becoming extras, they had undertaken all sorts of jobs such as security guards, insurance salespeople, trainee practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, soldiers, and cooks. Because they lived in Hengdian during the filming, they sometimes couldn’t distringuish real life and acting. While shooting one scene in the movie, which included a quarrel, the over-eager extras turned it into an actual brawl. As the movie-making process progressed, Yee grew increasingly worried about how the film would change the extras’ lives. “What if some of them become successful in their future career because of this movie, while others return to their normal routine and remain extras?” Yee said. He worried that the movie would fabricate “too big of a dream” for some of them. After the movie wrapped up, Yee decided to keep a friendly relationship with only “a few” of these extras. He even refused one extra’s request to participate in the movie’s promotional events. “He has become too dependent on me,” Yee said. Still, to the extras playing in the movie, I Am Somebody is a thrilling opportunity. The movie is slated for release in July 2015 with the official promotional slogan “Somebody call me nobody, but I don’t think so.” Maybe these extras’ dreams will come true, at least temporarily. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Stories of Birth
An ambitious project that aims to record more than 1,000 hours of oral history about women’s experiences of childbirth has been launched this May. NewsChina talks to project initiator Jian Yi about what inspired him to embark on his grueling journey
n mid-2009, independent filmmaker Jian Yi established the IFChina Original Studio in Jinggangshan University in his hometown of Ji’an City, Jiangxi Province. A few years earlier, his narrative film Bamboo Shoots won the Bronze Zenith Award at the 31st Montreal World Film Festival. In 2010, Jian decided to compile an oral history archive focusing on experiences of childbirth related on-screen by his students’ mothers. Most of Jian’s students are young women from rural areas, where multiple, sequential births (in the hope of eventually conceiving a male child) remain commonplace. One girl learned that her grandmother was furious with her mother when the latter gave birth to her instead of a boy. The student describes how her grandmother attempted to beat her mother and intentionally drop her newborn granddaughter on her head. Jian Yi heard many similarly heartbreaking and incredible stories of rural births. “It was unbelievable,” he told NewsChina. “It planted a seed in my heart, and I wanted to have an opportunity to return to this topic and continue to compile oral testimony of these birth stories.” For the past two years, Jian Yi has remained
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
fully immersed in this one project. IFChina Original Studio, his nonprofit cultural NGO, has distributed digital video cameras, dictaphones and other necessary equipment to Ji’an locals, as well as running training programs for them, allowing his subjects to document their own lives and record their own oral histories. Li Yihong, Chief Story Officer of IFChina, told NewsChina that the organization had influenced many people, including himself, allowing them to discover a whole new perspective on existence and offer them new motivations. As part of Jian’s efforts, he launched chinamom.net, the project’s online archive, in midMay 2015, inviting interested men and women across the country to take the initiative and open up a personal dialog with their own mothers concerning the most intimate details of their births. Jian also intends to expand the project to incorporate various art forms relating to its central theme in 1,000 or more categories, which will be edited together into a feature-length documentary inspired by many of the stories that have emerged from these candid dialogs. In June, Jian Yi met with NewsChina in
Photo Courtesy of Jan Yi
By Wang Yan
Director and facilitator Jian Yi (right), with his family
Beijing to share some insights into this vast and exhaustive project. NewsChina: At what point during your
Mirrors are used to facilitate the shooting of each scene. Wang Qiong listens to her mother Yan Xiaoqing (second screenshot from left) who went through a total of eight pregnancies in a bid to have a son. Yan Xiaoqing aborted four unborn daughters
work in IFChina did the idea of a 1,000 hour film project come into being? Jian Yi: Since early childhood, I’ve loved to listen to stories. When I grew up, I chose to work as a journalist, then as a documentary filmmaker, for the sake of recording and telling stories. While working on an EU project on village governance in 2004, I met [director of 1990 documentary Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers] Wu Wenguang, one of the founding figures in Chinese independent documentary filmmaking. I partnered with Wu on a project to train farmers in documentary filmmaking techniques. This form of “participatory documentation,” recording ordinary people’s lives and experiences, aroused my interest. A few years later, I chose to return to my hometown and settle down there, establishing IFChina, concentrating on the art of collaborative community- and citizen-sourced projects. I launched the oral history class at Jinggangshan University in 2010 and, in the process, collected a lot of stories of my students’ births. In 2013, IFChina organized a conservation summer camp in Ji’an, handing video cameras to children and getting them to record the life stories of their favorite animals. All these experiences gradually formed my idea of letting individuals record the stories of their birth. In 2012, our students became [the project’s] first set of participants. NC: What was the thinking behind shooting a documentary about birth?
JY: I am interested in storytelling and sharing the interesting and thought-provoking stories of others. So, on a personal level, this project can give individuals, including me, an opportunity to relate their own personal birth stories. Participants can sit down with their own mothers and enjoy a rare and serious conversation about their personal histories and what happened at the start of their lives. These stories will enrich society with valuable material and positive energy. Viewers may draw inspiration, support or power from these stories, or start reflecting upon the society around them. For example, women who have experienced abortions or suffered from the One Child Policy may gain comfort, relief or sympathy through hearing about the similar experiences of others. The ripple effects could be enormous. Moreover, the final goal of the project is to develop it into an oral history database about birth. The database can present its viewers with various different angles to meet their respective needs. Ordinary people can see themselves in the similar experiences of others; anthropologists or sociologists can obtain case study material; public health researchers can see the development of China’s OBGYN industry; historians can enjoy a diversified oral history; Buddhists can see each story as an example of cause and effect. All in all, we hope different people can seek what they need in our story database. Personally I hope to establish our database in a university. Some educational institutions
have already contacted us expressing their willingness to host our project on their campuses. NC: Who can participate in the project and when do you expect it to be completed? JY: Our project formally launched on May 10, 2015. We welcome people from all walks of life, both inside and outside of China. There is no restriction on who can participate so long as children can communicate with their parents and present a recording of this conversation in an audiovisual format. Indeed, we plan to include many unconventional groups into our project including disabled people, sex workers, LGBT people and people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Apart from attracting self-motivated participants through our online platform, our next step is to spend over half a year following the route of the Chinese Communist Party’s Long March  , collecting local birth stories along the way. Most places on the route are remote rural areas, populated by minority ethnic groups with limited Internet access. On our website, we set a dynamic counter, indicating the real-time numbers of participants and their birthplaces. We expect to pass our goal of 1,000 [recorded] hours [of footage] by the middle of next year. So far we have collected 90 finished narratives, totaling over 15 hours. A feature-length documentary based on all NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Photo Courtesy of IFChina
the raw material collected would be a wellstructured, logical narrative, but might take a lot longer to complete. Despite the massive scale of the project, I am optimistic about what it can achieve. NC: How do you guarantee consistency? JY: The project is open to anyone who is interested. However, we encourage participants to follow the method of “mirror conversation.” Since each conversation between mother and child is shot by the child without the presence of a third person, it can be recorded as a face-to-face conversation with the mother holding a mirror in her hands reflecting the image of her child, [and interviewer], back at the camera. This “mirror technique” has the additional figurative meaning of both reflecting upon and seeing ourselves, our past and even our future more clearly. While using the mirror as a prop has been applauded, the idea simply came about as a natural solution that would allow both participants to see both sets of facial expressions. NC: How will your organization shoulder the large amount of work required to edit together thousands of hours of raw material? How can you guarantee it will be respectful to all participants? JY: We have four full-time employees in Ji’an and a couple of part timers who can help with editing. So far we can handle the workload but yes, we still need to expand our team NEWSCHINA I August 2015
once we finish compiling raw footage. Since no one person can watch a 1,000 hour long project, we plan to have it exhibited on a loop in museums or art galleries. The raw footage will be saved, indexed and made available for any audience members who are interested in knowing more about any particular person’s story. NC: Were you inspired by other, similar projects? JY: I haven’t yet seen another international documentary on this topic, but I did draw inspiration from films like the StoryCorps project which compiled recordings made of ordinary Americans in a booth at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Another source of inspiration was Life in a Day, a crowdsourced YouTube compilation of clips shot by ordinary users from around the world on a single day in 2010. We anticipate the forms and themes of our project to also potentially spread worldwide. NC: Do you have sufficient financial support? JY: No. We need some 1 to 2 million yuan (US$ 161,100 to 322,200) to fund the whole thing. So far we have only received meager support from the UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund). Due to domestic political restrictions, I cannot resort to overseas funding. We are considering commercial partnerships with certain enterprises and some film companies,
but we have to remain faithful to the nonprofit nature of the project. I am also thinking about seeking support from art museums to buy the 1,000-hour uncut version of the project as an art installation. Meanwhile, the feature-length, cut version could be broadcast on TV or shown at film festivals. The database, meanwhile, could be presented to Chinese universities as an openaccess source for oral history enthusiasts. The potential value of the project has been confirmed. The only challenge is how to stick to our original intentions while also securing financial support. In this, we’re just like any other independent filmmakers in China. NC: What is your main role? JY: Since setting up the project, I’ve become the chief planner. Our organization assists with the shooting of personal video conversations and provides equipment, if necessary, to participants. We do not intervene in the shooting itself. I myself started recording my own baby’s life since he was born last year – that footage will also be included in the 1,000-plus cut. Later I will concentrate my full attention on the two-hour documentary film. A charming aspect of making documentaries is that the plot cannot be preset. I will just follow the plan, meet and talk with more people with an open mind, and see what happens. As a Buddhist, after finishing the “stories of birth,” I plan to make documentaries about aging, illness and death.
The Third Pole
Unlike earlier Chinese films about Tibet that were strongly colored by propaganda, Roof of the World is viewed as a pioneering documentary that presents the region through the eyes of its people By Wu Ziru and Xie Ying
arrying a barrel, a Tibetan lama lumbers slowly through the desert. He passes a hill and approaches the camera, to the sound of soothing, solemn background music. This is a fragment of Roof of the World, a recent Chinese documentary about life on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, produced by State broadcaster CCTV in ultrahigh definition. The camera follows the lama as he joins others in making a sand mandala, a piece of Buddhist art created from millions of grains of colored sand meticulously arranged into an image. This was one of the first times this delicate religious practice has been allowed to be filmed – lamas from a local Buddhist college spent several months laying out the tiny particles until they illustrated an intricate world of Buddhist statuary. They did all of this work only to destroy it in the space of just a few minutes’ time, leaving the audience to wonder about its religious significance – some people believe the practice demonstrates the transience of existence, a concept which lies at the heart of Buddhism. “It would seem too planned if we filmed the mandala process alone. Yet when the mandala became a part of the life of the Buddhist students we were filming, it felt more natural,” said Zeng Hairuo, the documentary’s chief director. Unlike previous Chinese documentaries about Tibet that gave a Chinese school textbook account of the region’s land-
Stage phot, Coutesy of interviewees
Roof of the World
scapes, geography, life and religion, Roof of the World has touched audiences’ hearts through an array of lively stories centered around local people, a change which is believed to demonstrate a big breakthrough for this kind of Chinese documentary.
Dubbed the “Third Pole,” the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau is the world’s highest, with an average elevation of 4,000-5,000 meters. It’s an attractive subject for documentary producers from all over the world. However, due to Chinese government restrictions, it has the reputation of a “forbidden zone” that is hard to access. For a long time, China’s promotional materials portraying this mysterious place devoted themselves to showing how the local people were first liberated by the Communist Party of China and then, led by the Chinese government, engaged in construction and development. Audiences found this obvious propaganda bombastic and boring. Meanwhile, most independent producers are shut out of the region either due to the hostile local environment or due to the government’s ban – foreign producers from companies like the BBC and National Geographic, for example, are usually not even allowed to film nature shows in Tibet. So it was a rare opportunity for chief director Zeng Hairuo NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Stage Photo, Coutesy of Interviewees
A Tibetan lama shapes an intricate sand mandala
to create something completely new when he accepted the task. “We wished to present the plateau in an international way and have promoted the documentary globally,” Zeng told NewsChina. “The materials were too abundant to form a theme; [with] the religion, the culture, the environment, the ecology and the people, and you know, there were many ‘minefields’ we knew we’d better not touch,” he continued. “It was really much more difficult than making a documentary about fighting against the Japanese invasion [during World War II],” said Zeng, who has produced many award-winning documentaries about the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). After holding several large-scale seminars with a great many governmental and non-governmental experts, the production team finally defined the theme of the documentary as “humans and nature.” “We had to abandon the ideological way of filming. Even if we wanted to show how the government made contributions to this region, we should let the truth speak for itself [and] just film how local people lead their lives,” said Zeng. “As the Third Pole of the world, the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau has multiple geographic features, such as snowy mountains, prairies and rocky cliffs, leading the locals to live a distinct life [from those living in the central plains]. This is the basic tone of our documentary,” he added. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Based on three months of in-depth research and investigation into the plateau, Zeng’s team chose around 40 stories from more than 100 options, each of which focused on different people. Zeng told NewsChina that they chose those who would not feel shy about showing their daily lives in front of the camera. “We tried to make the scenery beautiful, but did not purposefully highlight it,” said Sun Shaoguang, the documentary’s director of photography who had previously stayed in Tibet for two years. “The real focus is the people living in such an environment.” The 40-plus stories were split into the documentary’s five episodes. The first focuses on how the Tibetan people interact with local animals – from the cute, groundhog-like pika to ferocious wolves, from domesticated sheep to wild blacknecked cranes. The others detail how the locals struggle in the harsh climate, utilize water resources, preserve traditional culture and arts, and stand by their religious beliefs. The narrative style struck a chord with viewers, with many flooding the Internet with their impressions of the documentary. For example, the audience experienced a sense of harmony between humans and animals when a Tibetan family fed meat from sheep killed by adult wolves to an abandoned wolf pup. The story of a Tibetan village using traditional carved blocks to print Buddhist sutras showed viewers a simple and
Stage phot, Coutesy of Interviewees
contemplative aspect of local lives. Also, they learned more about the Zen spirit from an old, recently widowed Tibetan man who bought a sheep, which had been ceremonially exempted from slaughter in line with Buddhist practice, to accompany him as a spiritual companion. These are just a few examples of the documentary’s many interwoven threads. On various online forums, the most frequently cited and circulated quote of the documentary is from a Tibetan woman who said that “only a kind heart is the best companion of the people. With a kind heart, nobody will feel confused or troubled.” “Most of the previous literary or artistic products about Tibet played up the mystery and romance of the place, leading people to find it remote and strange. However, when you truly assimilate into the region, you will find the local people amiable, just like your neighbors,” Zeng told NewsChina. “That is the real Tibet we wanted to film,” he added.
Despite assistance from various government departments, the production team was still caught in numerous difficult circumstances while shooting, thanks to the formidable natural conditions on the plateau. According to Zeng, his production team spent more than a year shooting and faced a few life-threatening situations. The experience that left the deepest impression was filming the residents in Pumoyum Co, the world’s highest village at about 5,100 meters above sea level, who were driving their sheep across a large, icy-bound lake. The migration happens at the coldest time of the year, and the air was so thin that
everyone felt like they were constantly carrying around a 4060 kilogram bag of rice. Because of the difficulty breathing, the photography team members were not as talkative as usual. Many members, including director Zeng, had to go to the nearest hospital for treatment for severe altitude sickness. But the final scene doesn’t reflect this danger: a panning shot instead shows several Tibetans leading flocks of sheep across the ice. The scene is shocking and solemn, set against the desolate surrounding environment. In order to capture the best shots, camera crew members began to embrace the natural local conditions – they dove into the icy lake to film underwater despite the thin air, rode mules up to the Medog mountain village to film how the local people make traditional stone pots, and even climbed up a cliff to shoot honey gatherers, only to be attacked by a swarm of bees. “We had about 60 cinematographers on the team and our cameras were running for over 200 days. All of us were under extreme pressure, both physically and psychologically,” said Zeng. “But we also quite enjoyed it.” Sun Shaoguang, the director of photography, agreed. “We experienced many exciting moments. When I think about the shoot, I no longer feel the suffering, but rather remember it as interesting and legendary,” he said. “Despite the hardships, I have to say that the experience of filming here was the most enjoyable of my life, since the local people were extremely tolerant toward our cameras – they just did what they would do under normal circumstances,” he added. During the shooting process, the local people of the plateau NEWSCHINA I August 2015
shared their pleasures and sorrows with the production team, making the crew members a part of their stories. The sixth and final episode of the documentary shows how the production team made the documentary and interacted with the locals.
Stage Photo, Coutesy of Interviewees
Due to limited funds and time, the production team has some regrets, the biggest of which, according to Zeng, was that they failed to capture shots of many animals that are closely related to Tibetan life, such as snow leopards and bears. Yet at the same time, they still believed that the documentary delivered. Since it was released nationwide in late March 2015, Roof of the World has attracted a growing audience – on Youku, China’s equivalent of YouTube, for example, the documentary was viewed over 12 million times just two days after it was uploaded, and CCTV4 saw its ratings rise by 100 percent since it broadcasted the documentary. Late last September, Roof of the World was made into a 90-minute movie that aired at Canada’s China Tibet Culture Week two months later. The audience, composed mostly of Westerners, packed the screening rooms, and many spoke highly of the documentary. This enthusiasm was also seen among Chinese audiences when the movie debuted at the 2015 Beijing International Film Festival in April. On douban. com, China’s most popular aggregator website for discussing
literature and the arts, the documentary scored a coveted 9.1 out of 10 and earned around 700 viewer comments, most of which were positive. “I was shocked by the stories in the documentary, which provided inspiration for my composition,” said singer and composer Xu Wei, who wrote and performed the documentary’s theme song. “The filming and editing are quite smooth and clean, and contain a large amount of information, just like music,” he added. There are of course some criticisms, though they’re not as strong as the waves of praise. One netizen, for example, commented on douban.com that the stories are too loose and not profound enough. Another one remarked that he still sensed a whiff of propaganda. Nevertheless, the documentary, according to the producer Yan Zhanling, is a success in “making a Chinese documentary in an international way” – the production team has reportedly signed agreements with several foreign channels for overseas release, including National Geographic. Zeng Hairuo told the media that he is planning to make a “second chapter” of Roof of the World, which will delve deeper into traditional Tibetan lifestyles. “I actually do not like it when people say that they want to travel there after watching the documentary,” he said in an interview with Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post. “My purpose is to show the audience how to maintain a pure relationship with the environment and the people around them, just as the Tibetans do.”
A Tibetan boy sends wishes to his girlfriend by throwing a shower of colorful papers printed with Buddhist sutras to the wind NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Migrant Worker Poetry
Worker poets rehearse for a poetry reading at Beijing’s Culture and Arts Museum of Migrant Laborers
here were construction workers, brewery workers, coal miners, garment workers and more. In total, 18 men and women gathered at Beijing’s Culture and Arts Museum of Migrant Laborers on February 2, 2015, to attend a special poetry reading. “For many years, I’ve drifted harder than a feather / From Daliang Mountain to Jiaxing, stuffing down jackets in the factory / When they called me “Duck Head,” I lost my Scripture to Return Home,” read poet Jike Ayou, standing in the spotlight. Jike is a member of the Yi ethnic group, and hails from Sichuan Province’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. He makes his living sewing duck down into outerwear. The Scripture to Return
Courtesy of the interviewees
The Mighty Pen Home that he refers to is a classic text of the Yi people. The listeners, like Jike, are both workers and poets, though most of the time they are seen only as workers. “In the past three decades, Chinese workers have been one of the main contributors to the ‘China miracle,’” said poetry critic and event organizer Qin Xiaoyu, referring to China’s rapid economic growth. “However in reality, they have long been marginalized and their voices barely heard.” Through poetry, these marginalized individuals are expressing their appeals and attitudes toward the modern era. According to Qin, among China’s 310 million migrant and industrial workers, it’s likely at least 10,000 of
A new poetry collection and documentary showcase how poetry gives a rare outlet to some of the migrant workers on the frontlines of the world’s factory By Chen Wei and Yuan Ye
them are “worker poets,” or artists who make up the frontline of production. Common themes in their compositions are factories, labor, spare parts, the assembly line, dormitories, homesickness, poverty, failure in love, hope and hopelessness, understanding the world as well as the difficulty of grasping its meaning. Qin describes this group of people “those whom we see only by their backs.” He collected their poems and compiled The Verse of Us: A Collection of Contemporary Worker Poems. Together with a documentary movie of the same theme and main title, the two works were released in June 2015. “They have feelings and soul. They have an appeal to our time. They have a thankful NEWSCHINA I August 2015
heart, and an angry one,” Qin summarized.
Jike Ayou worked at a down coat factory for three years, laying feathers into jackets, with his workspace a glass room of some three square meters filled with feathers and equipped with a padding machine. Although he wore static-free clothing and a screen cap and mask, Jike would still have down clinging to his whole head by the end of his shift. Thus, he was nicknamed “Duck Head” by his fellow workers. “Us and down feathers, how similar we are – down is padded into clothes square by square, we are shut into factories room by room,” said Jike. So he wrote the poem Dream of Down: “Coats on the assembly line / Are all tombs of down / Buried alive, with no epitaphs.” In 2007, Jike was studying costume design in a private college in Sichuan. Upon graduation, the school sent him to a textile factory in Zhejiang Province for an internship. Jike expected to work in the office, but instead he was assigned to the assembly line. Reality contrasted starkly with Jike’s expectations. He repeated simple movements almost endlessly. He needed to work the machines with caution at all times to avoid injury. He had to adhere to strict rules that pushed workers to work harder. “Going to the bathroom, changing a towel, drinking water, taking pills… these are being lazy: a fine of 10 yuan [US$1.60] / Working hours are from 7 in the morning to 10 in the evening / Listening to music, talking, stopping the machine, these slow us down: a fine of 20 yuan [US$3] / Fines fines fines… fines fines fines,” Jike wrote in one untitled poem. The assembly line is described like a nightmare in many workers’ poems. In Terracotta Soldiers by the Assembly Line, a poem by migrant worker Xu Lizhi, he writes: “Day and night, workers / Put on / Static-free clothes / Static-free caps / Static-free shoes / Static-free gloves / Static-free wrist straps / Ready to start / Waiting for orders / The bell rings / They all return to the Qin Dynasty.” Xu leapt to his death from a Foxconn building in Shenzhen last September. “The only sound in the factory is the roar of machines. The only differences between
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
workers are their spot on the line, their job number or birthplace. Their personalities and voices are removed by rigid numbers and rules and buried in machines and products. They become parts of the machine,” said Liu Lihua, a female poet. Liu started working in a Guangdong battery factory in 2013. There she repeated the same painstaking movements every day, but she also wrote poems. In 2014, she won the prize of “The Anzi Best 10 Worker Poets of 2014,” a prize funded by worker-turned-writer and entrepreneur Anzi. Simple and repetitive motions may wear down the body, but they can’t stop the imagination or hinder a free mind. Wu Feiyue, director of the documentary movie The Verse of Us, said that worker poets’ real-life selves are often sharply different than those in their poetry. “In the world of their poetry they are as free as a bird, but in reality they are usually reserved and quiet,” he said.
While planning the documentary, Wu hoped the film wouldn’t be too disheartening and would include more colorful aspects of the worker poets’ lives. However, he later found this optimistic concept simply didn’t match up with reality. Most of these worker poets, like many other migrant workers, came from rural areas. They were often born into poverty and many didn’t receive a high school education. They migrated to the cities to undertake the lowest and most back-breaking jobs. Due to a lack of legal knowledge and limited access to social resources, they often received unfair treatment but found few effective channels for relief. The female poet Liu Lihua was born into a fishing family. When she was little, her meals usually consisted of potatoes paired with sweet potatoes. When she was studying at a technical school some 15 years ago, she spent less than 50 yuan (about US$8 at the time) a month. She ate noodles almost exclusively, rarely being able to afford vegetables. She later moved to Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, where she became a dishwasher and earned 150 yuan (about US$24 at the time) a month. When she was hired as a nanny, she was shocked by the luxuries in her employer’s
house – tiled floors, a TV, a computer and a piano – the house was “like a palace” to her. When down factory worker poet Jike Ayou left his hometown of Liangshan to work in a brick factory in Shandong Province, he was shocked as well, but his shock was due to the working conditions and the suffering. The workers who operated the screening machine wore no protective clothing. The spray of clay practically turned them into clay statues, with only their eyes left visible. Teenage workers operated the brick-laying machine. Accidents often happened. Jike witnessed a father driving a tractor while carrying his daughter in one hand; he lost control of the vehicle. Working mothers laid their unattended babies on the ground but drivers couldn’t see these infants. “I realized I should write down the suffering I see. I should record in poetry the youth and life deprived from us, to leave a historical record of the blood and tears we shed for the cities’ construction,” Jike said. Yet writing poetry does not change the workers’ living conditions. Liu Lihua’s first remuneration for a poem was 10 yuan (US$1.60). This amount later increased, but it was still meager, just some 30 to 40 yuan (US$5–6). When she felt down, she complained about her poems: “What is the use of writing these things! They give me some comfort, but they can’t stop any suffering in the world.” “One needs to be very strong at heart to be a [worker] poet,” documentary director Wu Feiyue said. He told NewsChina that, in most cases, these poets receive little respect or concern. But, “only in poetry, I feel the dignity of being human,” said Jike Ayou. He’s been publishing poems since 2012, yet he still works in a textile factory, trudging through 15hour workdays for a daily salary of 150 yuan (US$24). Jike Ayou’s life has changed because of his poetry, albeit slightly. After he published more of his poems and did more interviews, he was recruited by his town’s local writers’ association. Before meeting a local government leader, he spent 10 yuan (US$1.60) and bought a cheap suit at a street stall to dress up a little. He has had experience being kept out of commercial buildings in the past.
A Visit to a
To stimulate local economies, a significant number of large infrastructure projects have been initiated across China in the past decade. As the economy cools, some newly built towns and apartment buildings, are failing to attract residents. Chenggong, once a rural town on the outskirts of Kunming, Yunnan Province, launched its own modern construction project in 2003. At present, more than 100,000 new apartments remain vacant. Blocks of empty high-rises have replaced villages, with few proving appealing to potential homebuyers. With just a limited number of local villagers now living in these apartments, the town remains largely deserted after failed attempts by the authorities to attract new residents.
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Chenggong is a ghost town, the legacy of the largess of former city officials NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
1. Zhou Feng, committee secretary of Chenggong, recently expressed that patience is needed – perhaps two decades or even a hundred years – before a new city of millions will occupy this newly built space 2. The Kunming city government made the sudden decision to construct the new town of Chenggong in 2003 3. Chenggong resident Mr Feng rolls his own cigarettes 4. Although she now lives in a new apartment, Mrs Feng still retains her traditional farming tools and the family shrine. Twice every month, her family makes offerings to their ancestors 5. Mr Feng’s family now lives in a duplex with sufficient space, but they are not accustomed to the emptiness of their community 6. Mr Wang, a local, visits the ruins of the old town once in a while to search for valuables with which to decorate his new, empty apartment. On this occasion, he finds an old radio in a deserted temple 7. Without public street lighting, Mr Wang has to walk home in darkness
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within China
The outrageous coastal The Castle Hotel
A kid imitates a statue in Xinghai Square, June 2014
Representative of the dynamism and potential of contemporary Chinese cities, Dalian allows the visitor to explore past, present and future By Taylor McNaboe
Dalianâ€™s main public beach, August 2012
Photo by CFP
Looking Forward, Thinking Back A mounted police officer on duty in Xinghai Square
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
anging off the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula and just a hop, skip and a jump across the water from Beijing, Dalian shows no modesty when exhibiting itself as an upand-coming coastal metropolis. The city tastefully molds different elements into its landscape, creating a vivacious atmosphere fusing a colonial past with modern innovation, expansive parks and urban crush: all perfect ingredients for an enriching visit.
Dalian’s history, albeit very short by Chinese standards, compensates for its brevity with multiple twists, most notably its founding (by the Russian Empire) and its subsequent occupation by the Japanese. For better or worse, there remains a visible colonial legacy for today’s visitor to explore. A must-see destination is Russian Street, a single avenue that transports you back to a kitschy version of Imperial Russian Dalian, when the city marked the southernmost extremity of the Trans-Siberian Railway. For just a moment, the atmosphere will speak for itself. The Eastern European architecture, complete with an onion-spired Eastern Orthodox church, and the Chinese-style market stalls selling Russian souvenirs beneath signs in Cyrillic and Chinese characters, all give a sense of what the city looked like at the turn of the century. A warning to chocolate lovers: If you are feeling peckish when you arrive, you will not be able to resist the free samples of rich Russian confections. Another place to view Dalian’s unique past is the autonomous district of Lüshun, formerly known as Port Arthur, a short, inexpensive bus ride from Dalian’s city center. A strategic military port that saw plenty of action during Russia’s ill-fated first war with Japan, Lüshun is now host to a bevy of military museums and monuments marking imperial-era milestones. The Sino-Soviet Friendship Monument, gifted to Dalian in 1955 when the city was handed over to China, is a dignified and intriguing testament to the halcyon days before the Sino-Soviet split. The Japan-Russia Prison Site, meanwhile, offers grisly accounts of how the Russo-Japanese war, which was particularly brutal even by 20th century standards, affected the area. Often deserted, Lüshun is a great place to contemplate China’s journey while also getting up close and personal with some seriously impressive military ordinance. While visiting Lüshun, it is also worth taking a stroll around the town center, where cherry trees (a legacy of the Japanese) line the streets, their pink blossoms a glorious invitation to the springtime tourist. Local neighborhoods constructed in simple red brick with European esthetic principles give today’s Lüshun a tranquil character at odds with its tumultuous past.
Despite being overshadowed by other, more ancient resort towns, Dalian generously rewards visitors with its relatively green, mountainous urban sprawl dotted with idyllic parks that rise and fall between glittering high-rises. The country’s characteristic smog, meanwhile, is largely absent thanks to the robust breezes off the East China Sea and
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GETTING THERE As one of the main financial and transport centers in the former Manchuria, Dalian is well and truly knitted into the national rail network. Trains depart daily to the provincial capital Shenyang as well as to Beijing, Harbin and Changchun, with high-speed rail now a default option. A major port with regular ferries to Yantai in Shandong province, Tianjin and even South Korea can facilitate your onward journey. The newly built Zhoushuizi International Airport is located just 10 kilometers from the city center and is already one of the northeast’s busiest airports, with regular flights to destinations throughout China as well as in Mongolia, Russia, Japan and South Korea. WHERE TO STAY Dalian accommodates travelers on any budget. For students or backpackers, you can do no better than Dalian Buzz Light Year Youth Hostel, located just opposite Xinghai Park (perfect for late-night karaoke). The staff and relaxed ambience make this an old favorite with the budget crowd. On the other hand, if you want to splurge, many five-star hotels offer massive discounts year-round, and the outrageously glamorous The Castle Hotel, located just off Binhai Road, is the last word in luxury, if not everyone’s idea of refined taste.
Siberia. There are a plethora of parks to visit in Dalian, one of my favorites being Xinghai Park, where a seaside buzz surrounds a cluster of food stalls (try the grilled squid) and hosts an enthusiastic army of line dancers, especially at dusk. For those who come with kids, or who want to release their inner child, a small amusement park on the eastern end of the beach is visible from afar thanks to its picturesque Ferris wheel. Nearby Xinghai Square is also worth a look, though a lot less fun. Despite being marketed as “the largest public square in Asia,” this dizzyingly sized space is actually a colossal memorial to Dalian’s centennial. Its centerpiece is a long slab of metal engraved with footprints, apparently imprints from actual Dalian residents, that lead right to the roiling edge of the sea. At the end, two children are rendered in bronze, facing forward and with hands outstretched, perhaps reaching for Dalian’s future. Dalian’s Binhai Road is home to a larger, greener space that can eat up the better part of a day. Winding along the city’s southeast cliffs, the Binhai Trail begins at the Dalian Forest Zoo and stretches all the way to Xinghai Park. Signs along the way encourage you to keep hiking with information about the health benefits of strenuous exercise. A local friend informed me that the Binhai Trail is known as one of the city’s more romantic walks, and lovers walking hand-in-hand are a common sight. One landmark along the route is The Castle Hotel, a vast, sandstone-colored edifice that towers over the walkway, built to the kind of preposterous, lavish scale more often seen in the Gulf states. Another sight to keep an eye out for is a massive statue of Guanyin placed far out at sea and only visible on a clear day.
azure glass towers that now dominate Dalian’s skyline, visitors can stand at the center and slowly rotate for a jaw-dropping 360-degree panorama. Top off your adventure by diving into the boutiques of nearby Xi’an Street, famous for both local specialties and Western brand names, and a popular hangout for rangy, leggy members of the city’s considerable Russian enclave. Dalian presents itself as attractive and multidimensional, harnessing its past while also launching itself full throttle into the future. While it may not figure on many itineraries yet, there are few places in China where the excitement and hopefulness of a nation growing into itself are as palpable. Photo by Taylor McNaboe
For climbers who crave some greenery with their vantage points, one of the city’s best views, especially at night, is the hill directly north of the Dalian University of Technology’s main campus. At the end of a 15-minute walk to the top, the city spreads beneath you like a gleaming carpet of neon and concrete, while the lush parkland is a peaceful and breezy retreat from the urban chaos below. As for Dalian’s city center, it is a paradise of shopping malls and public spaces, especially Zhongshan Square, where the The Sino-Soviet Friendship Monument city’s urban planning takes center stage. Although little more than a roundabout, this green eye at the heart of the city is the hub for the spokes of a gigantic urban wheel, with key boulevards splayed in all directions. By providing a close-up view of the real chinese
As a counter to what many view as growing materialism in society, qinghuai, literally meaning “emotion” or “sentiment” but often used to describe purportedly “pure” or spiritually refined feelings, has become a popular term. It is not, however, new. Since ancient times, those given to expressing their qinghuai have been lauded for rising above the common herd. For example, aiguo (patriotic) qinghuai was often a common descriptor of the motivations of national heroes. The Warring States poet Qu Yuan is an oft-cited exemplar – he jumped into a river to commit suicide when his state fell to invaders after his reform proposals were rejected. China’s traditional Dragon Boat Festival commemorates Qu Yuan’s act.
A more modern example might be Hsueshen Tsien, the 20th-century aerospace scientist. After being investigated by the FBI for his suspected communist sympathies, Tsien left a prestigious career in America and returned to the newly founded People’s Republic, becoming the founding father of China’s missile program. He has since been hailed by the Party as a national hero. In September 2014, when Luo Yonghao, a well-known Chinese blogger, switched to the smartphone business, claiming he sought to improve lives by making cheaper, better handsets, his resulting invention was dubbed the “qinghuai phone,” bringing this ancient term into the modern vernacular. Since then, the purchase or use of an ob-
ject for nostalgic reasons, or out of a sense of appreciation for its inventor or designer, has been called “qinghuai.” The popularity among collectors of discontinued lines of toys and computer games, for example, leads some to claim that these enthusiasts are overcome with “qinghuai” for a lost era. In April 2015, Gu Shaoqiang, a middle school teacher in Henan Province, caused an online stir by suddenly quitting her job. She left a message for her boss, saying that “the world is so big” and she “wants to see it.” Many netizens honored her for reaching a new level of “qinghuai,” although most admitted that few Chinese people would have the courage to so dramatically throw caution to the wind. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
flavor of the month
It’s Not White Wine By Sean Silbert
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
full range of the spirit’s personality. Baijiu has been around in some form since the nascent days of the Chinese civilization, only adopting its current aspect after trade introduced new distillation methods sometime between 960 and 1368 AD. Since then, the cheap, flavorful alcohol spread across the country, with each province adding its own particular twist. Those who pop open a bottle expecting the crisp, vodka-lite undertones of Korean soju or Japanese sake will surely find heavy-hitting baijiu hard on the palate. (Don’t forget, however, both of those spirits took a long time to take off abroad). But, like a swampy, peaty whiskey, the convoluted notes of baijiu are meant to be unraveled – and for some, the effort pays off. Here’s a quick primer: Baijiu varieties are designated not by flavor, but by aroma. Newcomers might appreciate the floral touches of “rice-fragranced” baijiu, or the smooth, triple-distilled “light aroma” variety, which is made from a mixture of rice and sorghum
Photo by Xinhua
ere’s how the most popular spirit in the world is often served. First, picture a Chinese banquet, the round table piled high with sumptuous meats and greens. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lively wedding or a business deal; the important thing is that off to the center there is a stout bottle of baijiu (pronounced byjyoh) in the center of each table. The drink is not savored or mulled over ice – instead, the clear, incredibly potent spirit is served in an endless and rapid series of toasts. It’s rude to drink alone, but it’s equally impolite to refuse a drink – it’s common that when the check comes everyone is so sloshed that hardly anyone would remember how it tasted. Even so, many foreigners have described the taste as rancid. When Nixon came to China, he was served top-shelf baijiu brand Moutai at his welcome banquet; CBS reporter Dan Rather described it as “liquid razor blades.” I can’t deny it: Try some of the cheaper varieties and the flavor is akin to eating rotting fruit out of a dumpster. It may be the thread that ties together just about every social affair in China, but it’s not pleasant. For these reasons, and probably more, baijiu doesn’t have the best reputation among outsiders. The common mistranslation on menus describing it as “white wine” certainly doesn’t help. Food writers are divided – while Chinese gastronomy is lauded the world over, its admittedly powerful spirits hardly have the same reputation. My experiences with baijiu aren’t so different. As a student studying Mandarin in Beijing I would commonly start my Friday night with a snub-nosed bottle of ergoutou, the city’s hometown brew. It was a fantastically cheap way to get drunk, though we enjoyed the derisive jokes and moans about its putrid taste almost as much. Only years later did I realize that, similar to vodka that comes in a plastic jug, only drinking the cheap stuff limits me from the
distilled in ceramic vats to keep its edge mild. Then there are the strong, fragrant types of baijiu, rich with spicy, fruity wallop and a robust aftertaste. Some of the more famous brands, such as Moutai, which aficionados claim has the aroma of toasted chestnut, belong in this category, as do a legion of more obscure brand names. Even harder to stomach might be the incredibly complex “saucy aroma” baijiu varietals, named for their bouquet’s purported similarity to the umami tang of soy sauce. These two varieties of baijiu, being the most complex, are the most highly prized, but there are more interesting concoctions infused with anything from damask rose petals to pork fat that the novelty seeker can attempt to tame. How this spirit is made is curious in its own right: Baijiu is the only spirit that is fermented twice. A mixture of grains is first stored in a ceramic jar or even buried in the raw earth before being sieved and then distilled in multiple small batches, only to be returned underground to age for at least a year. The key is qu, a pressed block of grains and native yeasts stored in a fermentation pit; each distillery keeps its qu recipe closely guarded as it imbues the finished product with the distinctive flavor of the local terroir. The plus side for an adventurous drinker is that the government’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign has taken its toll on the baijiu-manufacturing companies, bringing premium prices down to below US$100 for even the most prized vintages. At the same time, China’s economic ascendance has brought with it a new appreciation for its much-maligned spirits, most evident in bars like Capital Spirits in Beijing and Peking Tavern in Los Angeles, both of which offer up baijiu cocktails. There are even a small number of distilleries in the West that have begun to make their own – the day might come when you pair some baijiu with your takeout. But it’s unlikely to be soon.
Feminist China By Anitra Williams
Women often have a hard time being taken seriously as anything other than a babymaking pair of breasts
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
I’m from the West, a place where the inequality between men and women is acknowledged, joked about and tolerated to varying degrees. There’s a problem, but there are people who are trying to fix it. “In China,” on the other hand, as more than one Chinese friend has told me, “men and women are completely equal.” The problem doesn’t exist at all, apparently. Sure, Mao Zedong once said that women hold up half the sky. And sure, in theory, there are no laws against women doing the same jobs as men. But in practice, throughout the years that I’ve lived in China, I’ve seen too much inequality to take all this women-and-men-areequal talk seriously. In this society guided by Confucianism, everyone, man or woman, has a role that they are expected to fulfill. In my experience, though, it seems that the roles given to women are much more restrictive than the roles given to men. Women often have a hard time being taken seriously as anything other than a baby-making pair of breasts with a pretty face. Women should be charming and docile, not ambitious and successful. That’s why, when my friend Danni told me about this woman Wang Xiao, I was intrigued. In her description, I clearly remember that she used her most enthusiastic tone of voice, and the words “my idol.” She explained that Wang Xiao was the editor-in-chief of China’s Cosmopolitan, the author of several self-help books for women and the brains behind a line of notebooks designed to help women organize their lives so they can realize their full potential. “I’ve read her books,” Danni gushed, “and they really inspired me to take control of my life.” The idea of all of this appealed to me. In a world where women have to work that much harder than men to rid themselves of the roles that society has carved out for them, perhaps we women should be encouraging each other to start doing it for ourselves. To start standing on own two feet. Ringing our own bells. That
sort of thing. So, when Danni invited me to Wang Xiao’s conference for women, I agreed to go along. People came from all over the country to attend. I looked around the room and saw a sea of ambitious young women waiting eagerly to learn how to break through the barriers that society has erected for them and be who they wanted to be. At least, this was what I wanted to see. As it happened, that’s not what I was looking at at all. When Wang Xiao took the stage to teach us how to take control of our lives, she told us a
story about the day she found out that she was at risk for stomach cancer. She related that she had worried herself sick about it until she realized that she had no control over whether or not she got cancer, so there was no point worrying about it. “You have to identify the things you have control over,” she said, “and change your lives by controlling those things.” Sound advice, I thought. Then, another inspiring woman came up on stage to tell her story. When she first decided to take control of her life, she had sat down and thought about what she wanted, and decided that she wanted love. So she got married and tried to have a baby, but she had a difficult pregnancy because she had a tumor in her womb. The doctors encouraged her to have an abortion, but she was determined to have a child, so she defied the odds and delivered a healthy baby boy. Very brave and inspiring, I thought. Then, the advice started to get less sound, and the stories started to get less inspiring. The woman went on to talk about how unhappy she became when she gained some postpartum weight, and so she organized her life to make time for running. She completed her training program and lost 10 pounds! The whole room applauded this achievement. Four more women went onstage and spoke, and each of them told a story about how they had organized their lives in a way that allowed them to become a more perfect version of what society wanted them to be. Thinner. More charming. More beautiful. I felt like I’d been tricked out of my fairytale of sisters doing it for themselves. I hung my head. The final blow came in the form of the gift bags that we were given as we left. They contained three types of face cream, the newest line of Always sanitary pads and a voucher for a free bra. And thus, all my naïve preconceptions of what this event was about evaporated. Maybe one day women can aspire to be more than just a baby-making pair of breasts with a pretty face. But that day is not today. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Toilet Trouble By Brittney Wong
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
It took half an hour and a lot of unintelligible expletives, but he finally withdrew the cause of the problem – a pair of glasses
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
I was writing an email when I smelled it. I recognized it instantly. I leapt from bed and rushed to the bathroom even before pressing “Send,” yanked open the door and looked down in dismay. Oh no, not again. Living in Beijing’s hutongs, the narrow alleyways flanked by traditional courtyard homes with a history that spans centuries, you get used to a lot of smells.The appetizing aroma of fresh vegetables frying in oil that drifts out of a nearby window. The soapy clean scent of my neighbor’s orange street-cleaner uniform hanging to dry in the courtyard. The rot of garbage wafting from our hutong’s grimy blue trash bins marked “Beautify the environment.” And I loved it. I loved every bit of hutong life, the local jiaozi joint’s delicious dumplings, the quirky neighbors, the dog, Little White, who lazed outside the courtyard door all day. It helped that I didn’t have to deal with any of the problems my other hutong-dwelling friends complained about. My landlady was very smart – she knew about the hutong hype among expats who hunger for a more authentic Beijing experience, so she transformed a few dilapidated hutong apartments into Western-style accommodations. While my friends shivered through the frigid winters in homes that predate government-provided central heating, I went barefoot on heated floors. While my neighbors trudged to shared squat toilets every time nature called, I walked five feet to my en suite bathroom. Even its appearance is modernized – my landlady covered the cold concrete with white, furnished it with IKEA staples and even installed faux brick walls, probably to emulate the loft apartments in the Chinese favorite, Friends. But a few months in, one infamous hutong trait started to rear its smelly head – poor plumbing. The toilet wouldn’t drain, and when the landlady came by with the plumber, she blamed me for the clog, claiming I’d committed the Chinese plumbing crime of flushing toilet paper. Despite my declarations of innocence, she made
me fork up the plumber’s fee. It stank. Then, a few months later, the toilet stubbornly refused to flush once again. It gurgled in protest every time I tried. I reluctantly called the plumber, but the toilet’s obstinance had clearly intensified with age because a simple drainsnaking wouldn’t pacify it. The plumber, a goodnatured barrel of a man with the strongest Shandong accent I’d ever heard, had to uproot the entire toilet and bring in heavy-duty excavation equipment, the kind that looks like someone should say “Don’t try this at home, kids,” before turning it on. It left a trail of brown gunk when he rolled it into the house. After 10 minutes of labor, he said ominously: “Something’s down
there.” It took half an hour and a lot of unintelligible expletives, but he finally withdrew the cause of the problem – a pair of glasses, intact except for one missing temple. We both chuckled in astonishment, “How did that get in there?” He left, and although my landlady said his fee once again inexplicably fell under my purview, she never asked for the money. I thought my plumbing issues were finally over. He got the glasses, he cleared the pipes, he vanquished the problem. Yet about a year later there I was, typing out an email on my bed, not a care in the world, when I smelled it. That heavy, damp, fetid stink of feces. It wasn’t coming from the toilet. It was coming from the shower drain, which was burping up sewage water and the many substances that tend to accompany that particular liquid. I frantically dialed the plumber’s number and he hurried over. Learning my lesson from last time, I had already laid out swathes of plastic sheets to protect the floor. He quickly started to remove the toilet again and said, “I know the problem. There’s still something down there. I don’t think I got it all last time.” The smell filled my nostrils and made me gag. After an hour of the machine wheezing and the plumber wiping sweat from his brow, he said, “I’ve got it!” He slowly pulled out a large canvas bag that was mottled with brown and twisted tightly enough that it could barely fit in the narrow pipe. It was clearly a remnant from the construction workers who had affixed the faux brick and painted the white walls and installed the heated floors, left behind like a surgical tool accidentally sewn into a body. A lone glasses temple popped up with it. We first gaped and then guffawed at the true cause of our collective plumbing nightmare. He rolled his contraption out of the house and I rolled up the plastic sheets behind him. At the door, I told him I’d reach out to the landlady about payment, and he just laughed. She still hasn’t mentioned it to me. And the toilet has flushed ever since.
Cultural listings Cinema
Social Observations Through ‘12 Citizens’ Formerly a stage drama director, Xu Ang’s cinematic debut retains the flavor of the theatrical art form. 12 Citizens, Xu’s Chinese remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic 12 Angry Men, was released on the Chinese market in May 2015. In the film, 12 parents, coping with a university task to help their children in law school finish an assignment, gather to play the role of “people’s assessor” and discuss and pass judgment on a murder allegedly committed by a rich youth. The parents come from all walks of life and include a real estate developer, a taxi driver, a local Beijinger, a security guard from Henan Province and an insurance salesperson. They construct a vivid cross-section of today’s Chinese society. Through the discussion of the case, many of today’s social issues and conflicts are exposed to the audience. Xu’s comedy experience helped make the dialog-driven movie more accessible and the excellent performances of actors who are used to the stage have won many favorable reviews from critics.
Psychedelic Underground Sound One of the pioneering bands behind the recent revival of experimental and psychedelic music in China’s underground scene, Chui Wan released its eponymous second album in May 2015. Formed in 2010, the band’s introverted esthetic tendency is embodied in a mixture of post-punk tones, occasional extended delay and reverb, distorted effects, noise wave and strong rhythm. The new album preserved most of the characteristics from the band’s debut album White Night, which was released three years ago, but with a richer and more complicated arrangement. Established as one of the best avant-garde bands in Beijing, Chui Wan has also toured Europe and the US in past years, winning some international acclaim.
Collapse of the Qin By Li Kaiyuan
Coming Back at Once In just one week, Ai Weiwei, probably the most renowned and controversial artist in China, held three solo exhibitions in different venues in Beijing. The first, titled “Ai Weiwei” and held on June 6, 2015, in two art spaces in the 798 art district, showcases an intact Ming Dynasty ancestral temple. The second, named “AB Type” and held two days later, shows hundreds of blades of iron grass in a yellow environment. The last exhibition, titled “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger,” consists of installations made of ancient wood, crystal and porcelain. For certain reasons, Ai Weiwei hasn’t left China since 2011 and has held no exhibitions in the country since then. These three new exhibitions held at almost the same time have aroused a lot of concern in China’s art circle. Many believe they are more than exhibitions from Ai Weiwei – they’re a manifesto.
History often gives people false impressions. The short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) ended the feudal rule of the Zhou Dynasty and established the first empire in China’s history, but soon collapsed due to uprisings and rebellion. For a long time, the mainstream theories ascribed to the Qin’s collapse say it fell because of its despotic rule. However, historian Li Kaiyuan points out that is the same system that made Qin the strongest state in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), albeit a seemingly harsh ruler of its subsequent empire. Based on solid research and historical materials discovered in the past 50 years, Li’s latest book, Collapse of the Qin, provides readers a different explanation of the rise and fall of the Qin Dynasty, the conflicts following its collapse and their influence on ensuing Chinese history. NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
Doesn’t Matter If You’re Black Or White Improving service quality, not shoring up a pointless monopoly, is the way to save China’s official taxicabs By Du Jingqiang
ot long after the inspiring news that the city of Yiwu was tion to many of the problems plaguing China’s taxi services. The to abolish its quota-based taxi regulation system even as theoretical grounds for the current system of quota-based regulaShanghai incorporated taxi-hailing app Didi Taxi into tion, therefore, are gone, and so there is no reason to maintain its transportation system, the inevitable the government monopoly – that is, backlash began. unless you’re one of the companies that We need to be clear on Just when the odds seemed in favor of benefit from it. one thing – an official China’s cities deregulating the taxi marWe need to ensure the quality of urtaxi license bears no ket and fully legalizing Internet-based ban taxi services, but we don’t need a car-sharing services like Uber and its government monopoly to do what the relation to a driver’s local competitors, traffic enforcement market is capable of doing much better. ability to provide a units in several major cities began anIf the license is the only thing that disdecent level of service other round of detaining “unlicensed” tinguishes a “black car,” which is how drivers using ride-sharing apps. This deunofficial private cars employed as taxis velopment has again blurred the lines of are referred to in China, from a “white a formerly brightening picture of reform car,” then it really doesn’t matter to a in China’s government-controlled taxi customer or a driver if they go black or market, proving that the ghost of the white. planned economy lingers on in the minds of some officials. When we try to comprehend the politics of the street fight Taxi regulation dates all the way back to 17th century Britain, between traditional taxi services and new app-based services, we when Charles I allowed 50 horse-drawn cabs to provide trans- need to be clear on one thing – an official taxi license bears no port services to the population of London. As this market devel- relation to a driver’s ability to provide a decent level of service. oped, with horse-drawn cabs replaced by motorized transport, What matters is whether the service is black or white. The main regulation of the price, volume and service quality of the world’s puzzle the government needs to solve is how to assure quality – it taxicab fleets remained solid up until the emergence of mobile is not only price that is driving customers away from licensed Internet. cabs and towards Uber vehicles. Now, due to information asymmetry and the unique market To achieve this means establishing clear service standards; strict position occupied by taxicabs, the Chinese government attempt- enforcement of laws and regulations and the punishment of vioed to ensure safety, trade fairness, and accountability with the lators; as well as rigorous training for drivers. It absolutely does creation of a quota-based license system. For a while, it worked, not mean, however, strong-arm enforcement of regulations that but at a price – the emergence of a de facto government mo- are simply designed to safeguard the government’s current monopoly over what is technically a private transport network. nopoly on taxi services. The introduction of car-hailing apps like Didi and Uber, which record detailed information of customer identities, jour- The author is an economist with the Comprehensive Transportation Reneys taken and transactions made, looked like the perfect solu- search Institute of the China Center for Urban Development.
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015
NEWSCHINA I August 2015