Gutter Oil: Fuel Flavored SOCIETY
Volume No. 040 December 2011
Gay Wives: No Way Out
How are Chinese educators facing the facts of life?
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NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Directors: Liu Beixian, Zhou Jianming Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui
In Search of a “Cultural Rejuvenation”
n October 18, the Politburo released a profitable real estate developments. document that declared its aim to “deepThe result has been a worrying decline in public en the institutional reform in the cultural morality. Among individuals, material wealth has field to promote cultural development.” Although been enshrined as the only criterion for personal the details of the document are yet to be released, it is clear that the issue of cultural development has been placed It has become urgent to put cultural high on the agenda of China’s top-level development on the right track. leadership. With a history that goes back several millennia, China has made an undeniable contribution to the world in terms of culture and education. While the Chinese people take pride in these achievements, success, often leading to morally questionable beit has been a disappointment that cultural devel- haviour. This social malady contributes to a wide opment in recent years has been stagnant, if not in range of problems, such as repeated food safety regression. scandals and a lack of compassion for the marginOver the past 30 years, China has achieved mi- alized and those in need of help. Without cultural raculous economic growth and greatly raised the development, increased material wealth will not living standards of its population. However, this bring peace and prosperity, but only cause more rise in material wealth has not brought about peace social tension. It has become urgent to put cultural and order, but anxiety and confusion. One major development on the right track. reason is the sluggish development of the cultural In order to achieve this, the first thing the authorindustry; for too long, the government has focused ities must do is to drop restrictions on the cultural on economic growth and ignored the promotion industries, allowing Chinese people to engage freely of culture. Government departments that show an in creativity and communication. For too long, interest in promoting creativity usually do so for such restrictions have suffocated China’s creative economic reasons. More often, authorities choose workers, hindering cultural development. Only to outright disregard the promotion of cultural de- when the Chinese people can freely participate in velopment in order to chase after economic growth; cultural creativity will Chinese culture have a hope architecture of significant cultural and historical of achieving the “great rejuvenation” that the govvalue is often demolished to make way for highly ernment has called for.
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Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Yang Yi Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Alex Taggart Lead Writer: Yu Xiaodong Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Sun Zhe, Li Jia First Reader: Wesley Jacks 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: Philip Jones Photo Director/Illustrator: Wu Shangwen Marketing Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: Suite 1101, 15 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA Email: email@example.com Toronto Office Director: Lai Hailong 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 for China: Wang Chenbo Account Manager for China: Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager for China: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director for the US: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter for the US: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Jing Xiaolin, Wei Xi, Sun Yuting Washington Office: Wu Qingcai, De Yongjian Los Angeles Office: Zhang Wei San Francisco Office: Liu Dan London Office: Wei Qun Tokyo Office: Sun Ran Paris Office: Wu Weizhong Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Zhao Shengyu Moscow Office: Tian Bing Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902
NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by CFP/Cover Illustration by Wu Shangwen
Sex and the Schoolroom Chinese teachers, parents and legislators weigh in on a familiar debate - does the responsibility for sex education lie with the schools, and if so, at what age should children learn the facts of life?
02 In Search of a “Cultural Rejuvenation” 10 13
Xinhai Centennial: Revolutionary Reflection Family Planning: Better Than One?
SPECIAL REPORT 36 Gutter Oil: Sick Slick / Fuel, not Food
42 Chengdu: The Best Investment Destination in West China
16 Sex Education: Progress or Pornography?/Yet to Mature/Teaching Taboo
Reading in Transformation: Balancing the Books/Quick Lit Gay Wives Club: Deception and Discrimination FEATURE
33 Land Purchase in Iceland: Identity Crisis NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Private Power: When Wenzhou Sneezes Sub-prime Lending: The Chinese Credit Crunch
46 Myanmar and China: A Fragile Alliance 46 André Vltchek: “China Wants to be Loved.”
04 05 06 08 49 66 68 70 71 72
MEDIA FOCUS WHAT THEY SAY NEWS BRIEF NETIZEN WATCH CHINA BY NUMBERS REAL CHINESE ESSAY CULTURAL LISTINGS COMMERICAL LISTINGS COMMENTARY
54 Artist Ma Kelu: Paint and Suffering 60 Reduced to Rubble 64 67
Yunnan Adventure: Gorgeous Gorge Flavor of the Month: On the Waterfront
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Economy and Nation Weekly
NewsChina Chinese Edition October 26, 2011
September 21, 2011
Switching Schools Internet Monopolies The rapid development of Internet commerce in China has created what critics are now calling e-monopolies, the chief offenders being online retailer Taobao, search engine Baidu and online messenger QQ. Although these Internet giants are trying to soften their image by launching new platforms open to other designers or developers, analysts have warned these are cynical actions designed to expand their customer bases. However, a lack of regulation has prevented government intervention despite China’s strict anti-monopoly laws. State media have appealed for the government to crack down more heavily on such enterprises, which they accuse of stifling creativity in Chinese commerce. Oriental Outlook October 17, 2011
Too Many Managers Despite being seen as highly-paid elites, Chinese fund managers are frequently switching careers due to unbearable stress. Since the fledgling Chinese stock markets remain mired in wild speculation and backroom manipulation, Chinese stock holders typically require their fund managers to push for maximum returns in a short time. However, in the current economic climate, even an outstanding manager cannot rely on professionalism to guarantee success, with stock trading increasingly resembling Roulette. Analysts are now calling for reform of the stock trading industry in which fund managers could participate in pricing stocks as independent buyers rather than simply following the leads of sellers.
Dissatisfied with the “laissez-faire” style of the US education system, many traditional Chinese parents, having migrated to the US have returned their young children to China for their formal schooling, only to bring them back to the US when they reach middle school age due to the burden of “heavy, meaningless homework.” While some would prefer their children to have a Chinese-language learning environment, the strict, repetitive nature of Chinese teaching has proven a turn-off, with parents quick to re-immerse their children in the more individualized atmosphere of American schools. The phenomenon has raised further debate in China over the education system, with parents across the country unable to decide which developmental path they want their children to follow. Xinmin Weekly September 14, 2011
Oysters for Oil
Taiwanese environmental protection organizations have finally pressured the island’s government to cease construction of the controversial Guoguang petrochemical plant in the Dacheng wetlands, a 2000-hectare beach noted for its 300-year tradition of oyster cultivation. Although the project was expected to have an output equivalent to 2 percent of Taiwan’s annual GDP and create 250,000 jobs, opponents argued that the resulting pollution would damage local ecology and expose nearby residents to a heightened risk of cancer. However, as many new petrochemical projects are also being suspended, economists are speculating that the petrochemical industry, a major contributor to Taiwan’s GDP, is now in terminal decline. For Taiwanese NGOs, however, the bigger challenge is to find an alternative source of economic growth, with many pointing to tourism as a solution to declining prosperity along the island’s coastline. China Economic Weekly October 8, 2011
Bitter Cabbies A wave of strike action in response to rising gas prices and stagnant wages has crippled taxi services across China, with so-called “management fees” blamed as the root of drivers’ grievances. Since the Chinese government introduced regulations 20 years ago requiring that only registered taxi companies could get taxi operation licenses to control the growth of a private market, taxi drivers have been forced to rent or buy cars from companies which then charge them monthly management fees equivalent to half a driver’s total income. Critics suggest the government lift the ban and design another model to manage taxis, an essential component of China’s transport infrastructure, to prevent the further exploitation of drivers. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Illustration by Wu Shangwen
“If we jumped off a building and died, we wouldn’t have to do homework.” Three elementary school pupils were seriously injured after jumping from a two-story building in Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province, igniting debate over the immense pressure faced by Chinese students. “Soccer journalism is the most open domain in China. Reporters can curse the players, the coaches, and even the chairman of the Football Association. I once thought this might be a pilot program for the promotion of free speech, but now I’ve realized it’s the only outlet for Chinese people’s anger.” Liu Yuan, a popular columnist, explains why sports reporters are often among China’s most outspoken journalists.
“If you’re unhappy with the present, it’s ridiculous to say you want to return to the past. Wasn’t the past even tougher? If you’re unhappy with the way things are, then go and change the present, rather than going back to the past.” Liang Xiaosheng, a renowned Chinese writer, criticizes a growing trend for nostalgia during an interview with the International Herald Leader.
“Your son should learn a lesson from this: Don’t go to Beijing. This time you were lucky enough to find him, but what if you can’t next time?” Yang Qi, director of a local petition bureau in Luoyang, Henan Province, shares some hard truths with the father of Zhao Zhifei, a young man who was arrested and beaten by police after being mistaken for a petitioner while visiting Beijing.
“Women long for romantic encounters more than men do, but they lack the guts to go for them.” Le Jia, a male judge on If You Are The One, a popular TV matchmaking program, suggests that the desire for romance is a human instinct.
“We’ve been taught how to lie since primary school, and this has affected the quality of the Chinese people.” Zhang Weiying, an economics professor at Peking University, gives his opinion on Chinese education at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Liaoning Province this September.
“The people despise per capita statistics, because they obscure the income divide.” Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, speaks at a press conference during the second “China Statistics Open Day” in late September.
“Xinwen Lianbo [China’s nightly nationwide news broadcast] should be more than a constant re-run.” Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, calls for deep reform to the program’s strict format, which he claims features the same three news sections every day: how busy China’s leaders are, how happy Chinese people are, and how chaotic foreign countries are.
“Chinese historians are truly gifted at distorting the past.” Murong Xuecun, a popular online writer, claims that in Chinese history circles, those with enough power can re-write history to suit their needs. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Chinese Boat Crew Killed in Golden Triangle Two alleged commercial vessels carrying 13 Chinese sailors were hijacked by suspected drug smugglers on October 5 in the Thai stretch of the Mekong River, resulting in a massacre leaving 12 crewmen dead and one missing. Thai media revealed that witnesses had seen armed men crewing two unidentified yachts which passed through the area before the captain of one of the Chinese vessels sent an SOS call. Thai police reported that they intercepted and exchanged fire with the gunmen, killing one while the rest escaped. The bodies of the 12 Chinese crewmembers were later retrieved from the river, handcuffed and blindfolded, apparently executed. Two of the bodies had broken necks. According to the Royal Thai Army, over 500,000 blocks of crystal meth were found on the hijacked vessels. The precise nature of the Chinese crew’s business in the area as well as the identities of the hijackers remain under investigation. Thai authorities
Thai rescuers retrieve the bodies of Chinese crewmen from the Mekong River, October 11
have accused the Burmese Nor Kham drug cartel of hijacking the vessels for use in drug trafficking between Myanmar and Thailand. However, Myanmar’s State press bureau denied the Thai accusations, claiming that the Chinese crew were shot to death by Thai police, citing local witness testimony. Considering most vessels operating within Southeast Asia’s notorious Golden Triangle are registered in China, Chinese domestic media have been quick to call for government
The precise nature of the Chinese crew’s business in the area as well as the identities of the hijackers remain under investigation.
protection for cargo vessels making the dangerous Mekong run. However, the lack of concrete information has led the Chinese authorities to play down the incident while urging Thailand to bring the perpetrators to justice. Speculators have attributed the massacre variously to a drug deal gone wrong, a mistaken attack by Burmese separatist groups and even a shadowy conspiracy to destabilize regional relations, though there is scant evidence to suggest any political motivation.
Subway Smash in Shanghai
Chengdu and Chongqing Join Forces
271 commuters were injured when two subway trains on Line 10 of the Shanghai Metro were involved in a rear-end collision September 27. According to State media reports, the first train stopped moving following a complete failure of its automatic control system, before being rammed by the following train. Officials attributed the accident to signal failure, though transportation experts have cited human error as the most likely cause, as the Shanghai Metro’s failsafe system is designed to switch over to manual dispatch in case of breakdown. Unconfirmed reports of metro staff attempting to direct the trains via their cell phones have since emerged.
Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan, China’s most populous province, and Chongqing Municipality have recently announced a plan to boost their integration in economic planning and development. The two cities will coordinate to merge infrastructure, public services and environmental protection in a bid to build the region into western China’s foremost economic hub. The region plans to emulate the success stories of China’s Special Economic Zones along the country’s eastern seaboard. While preferential tax policies for foreign-funded companies are gradually being phased out in the east, companies that choose to locate in the economic zones of Chengdu and Chongqing are still offered corporate income tax exemptions for up to three years.
Casco, the signal systems supplier for the Shanghai Metro, already reeling from the fallout from the fatal Wenzhou bullet train collision on July 23 which officials said killed 40 people and injured 192, came under fire immediately after the accident. The incident has increased scrutiny on the rapid expansion of China’s transport network, which critics claim is being carried out with scant regard for public safety.
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Taobao in Trouble
Li Hao, a 34-year-old security guard working for a local technology supervision bureau in Luoyang, Henan Province, was found to have imprisoned six prostitutes in a basement for two years, acting as both captor and pimp. The case was exposed after one of the women escaped and reported Li. Police discovered that Li had dug a cave six meters deep under his home to house the women, forcing them to perform online erotic chat services, for which he took payment. The bodies of two women were also discovered in shallow graves, with the surviving women claiming that they had helped Li murder two “disobedient” sex workers. The survivors showed surprising loyalty to Li, even defending him to police investigators. The location of Li’s home, less than 100 meters from a local police station, and attempts to cover up the story, have led some
journalists to accuse local authorities of complicity in the case, and four local police officers have already been removed from their posts as a result of the ongoing investigation.
Cross-Border Credit Fraud Guangzhou police unmasked a huge cross-border criminal operation involving online and cell phone-based credit card fraud in early October. Based on a lead from an individual case involving a staged call from the victim’s “bank” which resulted in the theft of 150,000 yuan (US$23,500), police have traced a criminal gang headquartered on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan operating in 24 Chinese provinces as well as in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. Altogether 24 local criminal cells were busted during the crackdown, with 174 suspects arrested. The gang had acquired details of 2,000 personal bank accounts and PIN numbers via illegal phone hacking and online. In Guangdong Province alone, the gang had successfully stolen 120 million yuan (US$17.6m). Police told State media that the gang was equipped with professional knowledge of banking and telecommunications, using software to fake calls from banks and other financial institutions which would appear to have come from overseas, allowing them to avoid detection.
China Issues FDI Rules The People’s Bank of China and China’s Ministry of Commerce jointly issued a package of new rules on foreign direct investment (FDI) October 16, allowing foreigners to invest directly in the mainland with Chinese yuan acquired abroad. According to the new regulation, yuan earned legally abroad can include revenue from NEWSCHINA I December 2011
cross-border trading, stock transfers, capital reduction, asset withdrawal and liquidation, and from issuing yuan-backed stocks and bonds. The regulation requires prior approval for foreign yuan-based investment in real estate and outlaws foreign investment in any negotiable securities, financial derivatives and entrusted loans in the Chinese currency.
Analysts believe the new FDI rules mark a major step for China’s attempted internationalization of its currency, saying the rules will broaden the channels for yuan to flow back into China, lighten the burden of the growing foreign currency reserves and diminish the disproportionate influence of the US economy over the value of the yuan.
TOP STORY/XINHUA; TRANSPORT, BUSINESS, INTERNATIONAL/CFP; SOCIETY/IC
China’s largest online shopping website Taobao’s B2C platform Taobao Mall (Tmall) has met with strong protests from thousands of smallscale merchants after it announced a rate increase on October 10. According to the new rule, Tmall will increase membership fees for merchants from 6,000 yuan (US$945) to 30,000-60,000 yuan (US$4,750-9,450), and also raised the deposit amount for membership to at least 50,000 yuan (US$7,840). Complaining that the rate rise has priced them out of the market, smallscale merchants vented their anger by attacking larger competitors by bulkbuying products before demanding refunds or filing complaints to interrupt trading. Despite the protest, Jack Ma, Taobao’s president, expressed his support for the new rules, which, according to him, are designed to “improve service.” Tmall will refund part or all of the annual fee to the merchants based on the size of their businesses and quality appraisal. Experts have attributed the conflict to China’s lack of regulation of e-commerce, calling for government authorities and trade committees to draft a new set of rules.
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What’s Making China Angry? Staff at the Red Cross Hospital in Hefei, Anhui Province, refused to come to the aid of an elderly man who fell 20 meters away from the hospital’s main door on October 11. The man eventually died due to a lack of timely treatment. Passersby reported the emergency to the hospital, but staff did nothing. The party secretary of the hospital later explained that doctors were not supposed to leave their offices during work hours. The old man was taken by ambulance to another hospital half an hour after the accident, but it was too late. Records later revealed that the man was an inpatient of the Red Cross Hospital.
The party secretary of the hospital later explained that doctors were not supposed to leave their offices during work hours
What’s Making China Sad?
What’s Shocking China?
In Loudi, a town in central China’s Hunan Province, a one-year-old baby girl was found next to the maggot-infested corpse of her grandmother, who had died seven days previously. Her parents, who had migrated to the south for work, had left the girl in the custody of the 45-year-old woman. The girl, unconscious from starvation, was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection, and put into an ICU for 20 days. She was released from hospital on October 17, and her father promised never to leave her side again.
An unaccompanied two-year-old girl was run over by a van, whose driver fled the scene, in an alleyway in Foshan, Guangdong Province. Security camera footage revealed that before the girl was hit by another vehicle seven minutes later, 18 people passed without helping or calling for assistance. A female trash collector eventually came to the girl’s rescue after the second driver also sped off. Both drivers were later caught by police. However, the girl died in hospital October 21.
Most Circulated Post on Sina-Weibo 95,085 times “The weather’s getting cold, and once potatoes freeze, they’re done for. A year’s worth of hard work will be wasted. I’m begging for help.” Li Jiwen, a farmer in Inner Mongolia, used Weibo to advertise his potatoes, which he had been struggling to sell due to overproduction. Thanks to the power of the microblog, every one of his 700 tons of potatoes was sold within 24 hours.
Poll the People 3,587 respondents
If you were rich enough, would you emigrate?
Yes 2,903 (80%) No 367 (10%) Unsure 380 (10%)
Source: www.weibo.com NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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W ho ’s Ho t?
TOP BLOGGER PROFILE Godfather to the Disadvantaged A 44-year-old investigative reporter based in Shanghai with Caijing magazine, Yang became a Weibo celebrity while seeking justice for his wife, by writing on Sina Weibo that she had been framed by her former State employer and local legal authorities. His wife Mei Xiaoyang, a former garden designer with the Shanghai Institute of Landscape Architecture Design, was accused of accepting bribes and imprisoned for 70 days after moving to start her own business in 2010. Worried that more of its staff would join her company, the institute conspired with the local courts to fabricate her criminal charges. Yang defended his wife’s innocence with his investigative reporting expertise, using Weibo to publicize the evidence he had collected. By October 18, Yang had gained 145,900 followers, with many female fans declaring that every woman deserves a husband like Yang Haipeng.
Kunming City Management Luoyang Beggar An old beggar in Luoyang, Henan Province was seen using a ragged school textbook to teach a younger beggar.
A gang of 30 city management workers from Kunming, in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, beat a 17-year-old student to death before realizing they had attacked the wrong person.
Top Five Search Queries
over the seven days to October 18 Hand-Chopping Gate A senior high school student had his hands chopped off by the father of a schoolmate due over a dispute on the basketball court (97,739)
State Exam The national civil service entry exam (51,962)
Bhutan Royal Wedding The marriage of Jigme Wangchuck, the handsome 31-year-old king of Bhutan (38,571)
Gan Lulu A female model who shot to fame by posting nude photos online (35,062) Song Shanmu An English language school boss who was sentenced to four years in prison for raping a female employee (23,294)
NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Foreign Model Citizen A female American tourist jumped into the famous West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, to save a Chinese woman who had thrown herself into the water in a suspected suicide attempt.
Yunnan Province Official An official with Yunnan Province’s Department of Agriculture was caught illegally driving a government jeep while on vacation in Laos.
W ho ’s No t?
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POLITICS Xinhai Centennial
Revolutionary Reflection As ideological disputes came to the forefront during coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, credited with finally deposing China’s last imperial dynasty, the world got a glimpse of how the history of China’s republican revolution is being subtly re-interpreted By Yu Xiaodong
he Xinhai Revolution on October 10, 1911, which unseated the Emperor Puyi’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and established China’s first republic, is one of the most significant events in the history of modern China. But, for decades, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have claimed to be the rightful heir of the 1911 Revolution. Now, more than ever before, the ideological underpinnings of this long-standing debate are appearing in the open.
Sun Yat-sen, regarded as the revolution’s leader, has long been revered both in Beijing and Taiwan. While Sun is considered the founding father of the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan, he is officially endorsed as “a pioneer of China’s revolution” by the mainland authorities. Sun’s political philosophy, known as the
“It is politically incorrect to really go all out to celebrate October 10. Everything that occurred in the revolution happened on the mainland. A larger and larger percentage of Taiwanese have come to think, well, that’s not my history, it’s their history.” 10 Dec_01_15.indd 10
Three Principles of the People, most commonly translated as “nationalism, democracy and the livelihood of the people,” is believed to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” While Beijing has focused on nationalism and people’s livelihoods, pointing to the dramatic rise in living standards during the past 30 years of economic reform, the democracy card has remained with Taiwan. On October 9, a grand ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution was held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, attended by almost all senior Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin. In his nationally broadcast speech, the first ever made on the subject of the Xinhai Revolution by a top Chinese leader, President Hu described the Communist Party of China (CPC) as “the true heir of Sun’s cause.” Centering almost entirely on the mainland’s championing of nationalism, Hu mentioned China’s “great rejuvenation” a total of 23 times, and made repeated calls for the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. “Mr Sun once said that a unified China is the hope of all Chinese people,” said Hu. Across the Taiwan Strait in Taipei, the Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou called democracy the “true spirit” of the Xinhai Revolution, and called for the mainland to finally embrace it. The rhetoric and political one-upmanship is nothing new in the long and painful history of the cross-Strait split. But behind the pomp, both on the mainland and in Taiwan, some serious soul-searching has begun.
In late 2010 and early this year, officials from the mainland suggested a joint celebration of the Xinhai Revolution, an offer quietly refused by Taipei, concerned that any such event would smack of reunification. Even if Taiwan had accepted, October 10 is Taiwan’s national day, meaning Beijing would have likely come up with an extensive list of taboos, including mentioning “nationbuilding” and “Republic of China” in the context of Taiwan, reflective of its strict policies on how to refer to the island, which Beijing views as a breakaway province. While the joint celebration idea was quickly quashed, the Taiwan authorities changed the official slogan for the celebration from “a hundred years of nation building” to “a hundred years of splendor.” It is reported that educational authorities in Taiwan have urged local historians to shift their focus more toward “localization and historical transformation” of the ROC, and away from nationalism. Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang has made no secret of its desire for closer ties with the mainland, but these new developments seem to indicate a shift towards a more localized interpretation of the Xinhai legacy. “It is politically incorrect to really go all out to celebrate October 10. Everything that occurred in the revolution happened on the mainland. A larger and larger percentage of Taiwanese have come to think, well, that’s not my history, it’s their history. So the government is trying to keep it non-political by making it just a big party … without really touching on the essence of the event,” said Taiwanese author Lung Ying-tai in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by CFP
Government employees prepare the Great Hall of the People, Beijing for the ceremony celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, October 9
Revolution or Reform
By comparison, enthusiasm for the celebrations was stronger on the mainland, driven partly by government PR and also by genuine interest among the general public. Commemorative reports made headlines in major newspapers and magazines, and State television offered rolling coverage of the celebrations as well as lengthy TV series. The Year of Xinhai: China in Rock, written by Zhang Ming, a historian from Renmin University, made the year’s bestseller lists. Marketed as an “alternative” narrative of China’s first revolution, the book challenges almost every aspect of the official mainland history of the Xinhai Revolution, offering a wider range of perspectives than mainlanders have been previously exposed to. Zhang is just one of many so-called “reNEWSCHINA I December 2011
visionist” historians. In the past three years, more than 90 books devoted to the Xinhai Revolution have been published, and another 500 books have appeared covering the ROC era period from 1911 until the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Official histories on the mainland state that the Qing Dynasty was so corrupt and decayed in its later period that a violent revolution to overhaul the entire political system became inevitable. Earlier studies have therefore tended to gloss over the influence of the imperial court, instead focusing on Republican revolutionaries who, it is alleged, paved the way for the “true” revolutionaries of the Communist Party to rise to power. However, the new revisionist narrative questions the assumption that the Qing Dynasty was beyond
saving, with the focus shifted to the attempts at reform made from within the imperial household, as well as the complex political dynamics and interaction between different court factions. Lei Yi, a well-known historian from the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) was among the first mainland historians who question the official histories. In his book Farewell, Revolution published in the 1990s, Lei argued that the major reason behind the success of the Xinhai Revolution was less to do with revolutionary tactics and more to do with the ultimate failure of the ruling dynasty to effect meaningful reform, particularly the half-hearted efforts to create a genuine constitutional monarchy. According to Lei, these failed attempts encouraged the labyrinthine bureaucracy to side with the revolution-
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aries. He argues that if meaningful reform had been carried out, China would have made the transition to modernity far more smoothly, without the need for bloody civil wars and the partitioning of the country. Lei’s book, which has already been reprinted six times, has raised heated debate and discussion among historians and intellectuals alike which has only intensified since October 10. With revolutions sweeping through the Arab world, toppling one government after another, this potent debate seems more relevant in China than ever before, proving, as Lei Yi phrased it in an interview with overseas media, that “for the Chinese people, the Xinhai Revolution is not dead history, it still has a strong resonance with present-day realities.” “A key lesson of the revolution is that the country’s fate depends on whether the rulers make the right choices about advancing reforms,” he added. The government seems to have found itself in an awkward position in dealing with this alternative, but increasingly influential narrative. On one hand, it keeps a wary eye on any doubts voiced about the legitimacy of the Xinhai Revolution, from which the CPC itself has derived some of its own legitimacy. On the other hand, it seems to welcome the revisionists’ descriptions of the political chaos, bloody warfare and eventual
Photo by IC
Sun Yat-sen (left) and Yuan Shikai
Japanese invasion, which appears to discourage the notion of revolution as a valid method of dealing with grievances against a ruling regime. “The key is how to bring genuine democracy and prosperity to our motherland, rather than to create another revolution that would drag China into an endless cycle of violence,” commented an editorial in the nationalist State newspaper Global Times. Regardless of whether the Xinhai Revolution could have been avoided, the consensus
now is that China must continue to undertake meaningful political reform to achieve what Sun Yat-sen intended – “a free, democratic and prosperous China.” Until such a day dawns, in the view of historians such as Lei Yi, Sun’s revolution remains incomplete. “Commemoration is not just for retrospect,” commented the Southern Daily newspaper. “We must continue to develop Mr. Sun’s cause to build China into a modern country where people can enjoy a democratic and prosperous life.”
Xinhai Revolution: A Potted History The Xinhai Revolution is named after the official title of the year 1911 in the traditional Chinese agricultural calendar, still in widespread use at the time. It consisted of many failed revolts and uprisings, with its turning point the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911, when armed rebels took control of Wuchang, capital of Hubei Province, and declared “independence” from the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. Within one month, 17 provinces, mostly in southern China, had seceded from the Qing Empire, and a provisional coalition government and a national assembly were established in Nanjing. Sun Yat-sen, then the head of the Chinese Revolutionary League, was invited to return from exile abroad to serve as the coalition’s President. The Manchu court responded by dissolving the newly-established but muchresented cabinet consisted mostly of ethnic Manchu noblemen, appointing the ethnic Han general Yuan Shikai to head a new cabinet. Monopolizing political power in the capital Beijing and having de facto control over the imperial army, as well as the support of major industrial powers, Yuan embarked on a campaign against the South, inflicting several major defeats on revolutionary forces. Outnumbered and outgunned, Sun and his followers agreed to elect Yuan as the first President of the Republic of China if Yuan could secure the
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emperor’s abdication. On February 12, 1912, the last emperor Puyi formally abdicated, ending the Qing Dynasty and China’s imperial era. After assuming the presidency of the new Republic of China in Beijing, Yuan quickly turned against the revolutionaries. China soon slid into decades of political division and warlordism, including several attempts at an imperial restoration. After Sun Yat-sen died in 1924, his chief military strategist Chiang Kai-shek led the Nationalist Party (KMT) on a two-year-long northern expedition to unify the country to eliminate warlordism in 1926, in cooperation with the increasingly influential Communist Party of China, which had been established in 1921. In December 1928, the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) achieved nominal unification of China, but their frosty alliance with the Communists broke down in 1927, sparking a KMT purge of the Communists which escalated into civil war. After the invasion and occupation of Manchuria by Japan in 1931, the two parties forged another shaky defensive alliance in 1936, which preceded a fullscale Japanese invasion in 1937. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, a second civil war resulted in the Communist victory of 1949 and the KMT retreat to Taiwan. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Liu Tao
A busy birthing pool in a local hospital in Fuzhou, Fujian, August 2010
Better Than One?
After more than three decades of China’s One Child Policy, a pilot program to loosen restrictions is now under discussion. But will a change lead to a birth rate explosion, or worse, have no effect at all in slowing down the growth of an aging population? By Han Yong and Wang Qiusi
n July 10, Zhang Feng, director of Guangdong Province’s Family Planning Commission, told the media that Guangdong had applied to become the first province to implement a pilot program allowing couples to have two children if one spouse is an only child. In a country that rarely exposes its inner political workings, Zhang’s very public comments, which soon came under fire from central officials, were likely an attempt to pressure the central government to loosen up the “One Child NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Policy.” “The Guangdong government has kicked the ball into the court of the central government,” said Zheng Xinzhen, former director of the Institute of Population of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. “If the latter approves the proposal, the former gets its way. If not, the latter bears responsibility for the decision.” The pilot project in question, though not yet made public by central authorities, indicates a new round of attempts at mak-
ing the country’s One Child Policy more relaxed. Since its introduction in the 1980s, implementation of the One Child Policy has varied from province to province, as well as from rural to urban areas. Currently, families in rural China are usually allowed to have a second child if their firstborn is a girl, because of a strong preference for male offspring who can carry on the family line. In urban areas, a gradual relaxation of the One Child Policy in recent years has allowed couples both of whom are only children to have a sec-
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POLITICS ond child regardless of the gender of their firstborn.
Guangdong Province, known for its particularly strong traditional preference for male offspring, is one of the provinces where the One Child Policy has been enforced least rigorously. Since the 1980s, Guangdong has in practice been implementing a “two-child” policy, with punishments (usually fines) largely confined to couples who have a third child, or when the interval between their first and second child is less than four years. For this reason, Guangdong Province may currently have the smallest population of only children in China, a major advantage when applying for the pilot program. According to Professor Huang Runlong of Nanjing Normal University, if the new pilot program were to be implemented simultaneously in Guangdong and Jiangsu, a province with roughly the same population as Guangdong but that enforces the One Child Policy very strictly, additional births in Jiangsu would be eight times the number in Guangdong, due to its larger base of only children. Thus, Guangdong’s relatively liberal policy makes it a safer bet to prevent an unmanageable baby boom. But others have argued that Guangdong’s liberal track record makes it unsuitable for the pilot program, as further liberalization would be seen as unfair to other provinces where the One Child Policy has been strictly enforced. Currently, municipalities with low fertility rates such as Shanghai and populous provinces such as Jiangsu are among the contenders to be first to implement the pilot program. At present, however, even experts close to authorities are in the dark as to where, and when, the project will be first launched, if at all.
An official from the State Population and Family Planning Commission (SPFPC) told NewsChina on condition of anonymity that the pilot program should have already been launched, but had been held back by a variety of factors. Originally, a select group of provinces were to implement the pilot program this year, followed by a second group of other provinces within five years, before the program was made national policy. Accord-
ing to the official, the reason behind the delay lies in the inaccuracy of several vital sets of demographical statistics. The first figure in question is China’s current fertility rate. Peng Xizhe, vice-president of the Population Society of China, told NewsChina that the 2010 census showed that China’s total fertility rate (TFR) over the previous 10 years has been less than 1.5 children (per woman of child-bearing age over her lifetime). “The figure would make China’s fertility rate as low as that of some major Western countries such as France and the United Kingdom. If so, China’s family planning policy needs immediate and drastic liberalization.” However, few take this figure seriously. Its authenticity is highly doubtful due to a host of factors. It is commonplace, for example, for local census workers to falsify data due to lack of manpower. Other factors include massive demographic migration across the country and false reports by couples who have more children than the policy allows. Perhaps for this reason, clear birth rate statistics were not included with the release of the 2010 national census results; authorities chose to report an “adjusted” figure. For example, the 2000 census reported that the country’s fertility rate then stood at 1.22, a figure later “adjusted” to 1.8. Following the 2010 census, the authorities adopted an adjusted fertility rate of 1.65, still relatively low compared to the 2.1 rate considered necessary to maintain a country’s population. Another aspect crucial to the decision, the willingness of Chinese couples to have more children, also remains unclear. Decades of economic development have led to a shift in traditional values, meaning that modern Chinese couples are, on the whole, less enthusiastic about having more children. The question is whether or not this enthusiasm is low enough to prevent a sudden surge in birth rate were the relaxed policy to be implemented. In an attempt to obtain reliable data, small two-child pilot programs have been launched in a number of counties. One such project launched in 2000 in Wufeng County, Hunan Province showed that given the chance to have two children, 57.42 percent of all women of childbearing age had only one, about 2.5 times higher than the percentage
“The figure would make China’s fertility rate as low as that of some major Western countries such as France and the United Kingdom. If so, China’s family planning policy needs immediate and drastic liberalization.”
in 1986. In 2010, the fertility rate in Wufeng was as low as 1.09, appearing to indicate that further liberalization of the family planning policy would not result in an uncontrollable upward spike in birth rate. But many demography experts are concerned that such tiny pilot projects are not representative of the general demographic situation in China. Professor Zhai Zhenwu, vice-president of the Population Society of China, told NewsChina that their research shows that 52 to 56 percent of urban women indicate that they would like to have two children. Zhai estimates that given China’s current economic, educational and health conditions, China’s real birth rate should be 2.4, much higher than the adopted official figure. Therefore, wholesale reform to allow two children may indeed result in a sudden population increase.
Regardless of the doubtful reliability of these figures, it appears that the focus of China’s family planning policy has shifted from conNEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by IC
China’s One Child generation shoulders the expectations of both their parents and two sets of grandparents, as rising average ages in China outpace the birth rate
trolling the absolute size of the population to management of demographics, as the specters of gender imbalance and an aging population loom increasingly large. The 2010 census shows that the gender imbalance among newly born babies is widening, with 118.06 boys born for every 100 girls, 1.2 percent more than in 2000. In addition, the number of people aged 60 or above account for 8.87 percent of the total population, 2.93 percent more than 10 years before. Over the same period, the percentage of the population below age 14 has decreased by 6.29 percent from 22.89 to 16.60 percent. But for many experts, the new pilot program is unlikely to have much effect on these statistics. While the One Child Policy is no doubt the cause of the gender imbalance, the problem is largely confined to rural areas, where the preference for male offspring is much stronger. As the majority of childbearing-age couples who are only children NEWSCHINA I December 2011
themselves live in urban areas, the impact of proposed liberalization will largely be limited to urban areas, making it inadequate to address the overall gender imbalance. As to dealing with the aging population, it appears contradictory to try to minimize the population increase that would come with a more relaxed family planning policy while simultaneously combating the aging problem; if the imbalance is to be neutralized, a large increase in some key demographics is categorically necessary. Professor Yuan Xin from Nankai University, a commissioner with the SPFPC, argues that an aging population is inevitable, and China’s biggest problem is still the sheer size of its population. “Based on current calculations, the pilot project may cause the fertility rate to increase to 1.8, which will only reduce the ratio of elderly people by 1 percent in 50 years.” According to Yuan, the proportion of people over 60 in China will reach 34 percent
in 2050, by which time the overall population will be around 1.4 billion. Other experts argue that faced with a huge population or an aging population, China must choose the lesser of two evils. Professor Wang Guangzhou from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences argues that China should choose to prevent the latter: “We have experience in dealing with a huge population, but we have none in dealing with an aging population,” he told NewsChina. According to his own estimates, if a two-child policy is introduced, China’s population would, at worst, not exceed 1.5 billion. With incomplete and unreliable data across the board and dire consequences if any policy shift backfires, even choosing which provinces will carry out the pilot program is a delicate matter. According to Commissioner Yuan, the decision is out of the SPFPC’s hands, and now rests with the top leadership.
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For a long period of Chinese history, sex has remained a taboo both in the home and in the schoolroom. When the country launched a controversial family planning policy in the 1970s to control population growth, sex education was clinically equated with contraception. In the late 1990s, fear of an AIDS pandemic incorporated the dangers of venereal disease into the curriculum. However, the mechanics of sex and its emotional importance have remained off-limits to the countryâ€™s young people. Now, an elementary school primer on sexual biology has divided the Chinese public and drawn the government into an age-old debate â€“ how much do kids need to know about sex? 16 Dec_16_25_NEW.indd 16
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Illustration by Philip Jones NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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COVER STORY Sex Education
Progress or Pornography? A new sex education primer aimed at elementary school-age children has caused a storm of controversy in China, with some hailing it as progressive and others calling it “gratuitous and reckless” By Chen Wei and Wang Yifan
or decades, the majority of Chinese children who asked where babies come from were consistently told that children were either born through the cracks of stones or were simply “found” by their parents. Conservatism with regards to sex and sexuality meant there was little information available to counter these bizzare myths. Despite decades of national championing of science over superstition, these stories were not only tolerated but even unofficially adopted by schools as the best way to deflect childish questioning about sex and reproduction right up until the 1970s. Since the “Reform and Opening-up” policy was adopted in 1978, quickly followed by the controversial One Child Policy designed to slow the rapid birth rate, sex education has remained focused on contraception and sexual health. Few parents or educators dare to risk “normalizing” sex and sexuality with frank, open discussion of the biology, mechanics and emotional importance of sex.
As in many countries where even the mention of sex is taboo, Chinese children, especially teenagers, have to fall back on friends, literature, movies or the Internet for their sex education. The taboo surrounding sex and pornography means it is almost impossible for the authorities to determine how many young Chinese people have access to pornography through the Internet, but the viral popularity of Japanese porn stars and other anecdotal evidence would suggest that the “Great Firewall” of Internet supervision is failing to serve its primary stated purpose. Similarly, while it is clear that young people are more likely to enter into romantic relationships in school than ever before, just how many young Chinese people have had some sexual experience prior to adulthood remains
a discussion off-limits to all but the most daring sociologists. At the same time, Chinese parents, many of whom are less informed about the basic biology of sex than their own offspring, struggle to broach the topic even with each other. As has happened in many Western cultures, societal embarrassment about sex has thrust responsibility onto educational institutions. In 2008, the Ministry of Education included sex education in the national health and hygiene curriculum, clearly stipulating that sex education should be taught from elementary school through senior high. According to the curriculum breakdown, students in first and second grade of elementary school should learn “basic knowledge about puberty, health and physical growth,” including “knowledge that answers the question: ‘Where do I come from?’”
This August, State media revealed what it termed “explicit sexual description” in Footsteps of Growing Up, a sex education primer allegedly for students in Beijing’s Dingfuzhuang Elementary School. “Sperm are eager to come out of the testicles in father’s scrotum, and they look like small, energetic tadpoles…” ran the rather whimsical text. “In order to allow his naughty sperm to find mom’s ovum, father puts his penis into mom’s vagina and forcefully ejaculates his sperm,” it continued. The book uses cartoon-like illustrations of a naked couple to demonstrate the reproductive process. The media reports triggered a vehement public debate, with some criticizing it as “improper and vulgar,” and others viewing it as a sign of social progress. Hu Ping, a Beijing-based sex educator for children, doubted whether Footsteps of Growing Up was suitable for kids under the age of
10. In her opinion, “detailed pictures and text description” should not be presented to young children. “Just like we cannot teach elementary school students higher mathematics, we should not give our kids this kind of education because it goes counter to the laws of their cognitive development and sexual psychology.” In Hu’s book Growing Up and Sex, which was published seven years ago, she describes the sexual act with the ambiguous phrase: “The bodies of the father and the mother have mutual contact.” Hu Ping’s description of sex as “body contact,” however, has already drawn fire for being liable to cause confusion among young children. “This might lead children to ask‘If I touch someone’s hand, will I have a baby?’” Hu Zhen, a professor from Chengdu University and director of the Sichuan Province Youth Sex Education Office, told NewsChina. “Children at this age are still in the primary developmental stages and can hardly distinguish between sex organs and fingers and noses,” she continued. “Why shouldn’t such a simple question be explained directly? This only shows we adults are overcomplicated. ” Li Yinhe, a well-known Chinese sexologist and a vocal critic of sexual conservatism, argued publicly that Footsteps of Growing Up is “not premature or ahead of the times. Its publication instead simply indicates hardwon social progress.” “We have been overly abstinent for too long, and now the time for liberation is coming,” she added.
Some have taken issue with media “sensationalizing” a niche publication. “The book is not yet a textbook but a supplementary reader for selected schools,” Zhang Meimei, director of the Sex Education Department of Capital Normal University and contributor NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Zhen Hongge
to Footsteps of Growing Up, told NewsChina. The book is not a formal publication and cannot yet be distributed to children. Indeed, there are various similar books on children’s sex education used by different schools in various parts of the country. It took two years for Footsteps of Growing Up to be compiled on the basis of 500 teachers’ field research in 30 elementary and middle schools in Beijing, according to Zhang. The controversy surrounding the issue meant the book’s editors were meticulous about hitting the right tone to make it accessible to younger children, explaining some of the more whimsical elements of the text which reflect a more general “cutesy” teaching style adopted in elementary school teaching. For example, to answer the question of “where do I come from?” a teacher in Beijing’s Hepingli No.1 Elementary School thus describes sex to her students: “Little Sperm X lives inside father’s body together with his 300 million brothers… Little Ovum O is the only child in her mother’s body and is willing to make friends with little X and his NEWSCHINA I December 2011
brothers… but their journey to meet up with each other is long and arduous…” Following the introduction, the teacher then arranges a role-play, asking the boys to play sperm and one girl to play the ovum. After a short race, one boy emerges the “winner.” Zhang Meimei told our reporter that over 80 per cent of the content in Footsteps of Growing Up has been taught in Dingfuzhuang No. 2 Primary School, and that this school started its sex education course as early as 2001. According to the principal, the school is planning to extend sex education to more grades, and classes will also seek advice from parents or hold training courses to familiarize parents with the necessity for comprehensive sex education. Cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shenzhen are among the “early-bird” network of cities and municipalities that have introduced comprehensive sex education curricula. Since 2008, an annual symposium has been held to allow city educators to share ideas. However, there remain controversies even among the participating
“This kind of education goes counter to the laws of cognitive development and sexual psychology.”
experts. In teaching practice, some experts advocate the avoidance of certain words such as “intercourse,” “sex organ” or “ejaculation,” while others support their direct usage, arguing that further taboos will only lead to confusion in the classroom. Amid the excitement and noise surrounding Footsteps of Growing Up, Zhang Meimei, the sponsor of the book, said to NewsChina, “Sex education requires a quiet environment for scientific research and should be pushed forward slowly and steadily. Otherwise, it could backfire.”
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COVER STORY Shortage of Teachers
In China, sex studies and sexology have yet to be listed as an academic major at college level. As a result, China has a lack of professionals in this field. In elementary and high schools, sex education is typically handled by teachers with other specialties such as ethics or biology. Most are on temporary transfer from other departments, meaning there may be a tendency to gloss over or even avoid certain subjects entirely when discussing sex with students. According to Hu Zhen, sex education teachers need a wider range of knowledge than teachers in other subjects. “Professional sex education teachers should have knowledge not only of physiology, psychology, sociology, law and ethics, but also of literature, language and activity organization,” Hu told NewsChina. The personal values of sex education teachers are also important. One young teacher in her twenties told NewsChina, “Some older teachers tell their classes that premarital sex should be avoided at all costs. But I myself won’t say so to my students, as that doesn’t reflect the experience of my generation.” “In today’s China, the value system surrounding sex is still quite ambiguously defined and confusing. The teachers’ own attitudes toward sex will directly decide how they conduct sex education classes,” she added. Xu Zhenlei, from the China Sexology Association, who has voiced support for Footsteps of Growing Up, admitted that the “real effects” of sex education are hard to evaluate. In her view, this is the primary reason why the book has aroused so much controversy. Despite the ongoing debate, educators are continuing to attempt to make schools the pioneers of sex education. In late August, a new trial textbook called Boys and Girls started to be sold in bookstores in Shanghai. This year, Zhang Meimei will extend the program sponsored by her team to cover 48 schools in Beijing. In the second phase of the program’s trial teaching, sensitive terms such as “intercourse” and “homosexuality” will be included. However Zhang told our reporter that this second phase could take even longer to enter the mainstream than the first.
Left to right: Grade one students in Renbei Primary School learn about the inconveniences of pregnancy;
Yet to Mature
Lacking a solid foundation, sex education in China remains fragmentary and falls far short of comprehensiveness. How can a country so conflicted about sexual values move forward? By Wang Yan
in Wei, a professor from China’s Central Party School, still remembers a question her teenage daughter asked her three years ago: “Mom, our teacher told us in class that shaking hands, hugging or kissing can transmit AIDS. Is that true?” Her daughter was at the time a junior middle school student in Beijing’s Zhongguancun area, seen by many as the heartland of progressive education in China. Jin was astonished by her daughter’s question. She was even more shocked by the fact that a teacher in a prestigious middle school knew so little about AIDS transmission Jin Wei, like many educators in China, believes that sex education in China remains backward, despite the proclamations of academics like Pan Suiming, a wellknown sociologist from Renmin University
of China, who claims that the country has already fulfilled its own “sexual revolution.”
In the early 20th century, following a century of humiliation at the hands of more advanced foreign powers riding the wave of science, Chinese scholars, public figures and political reformers began to discuss sex education in the context of general modernization. Advocates for a comprehensive curriculum urged the teaching of what they termed “sexual imperatives,” such as monogamous marriage, and the eradication of “evil habits” such as masturbation, prostitution and homosexuality. “Free” (as opposed to arranged) marriage, eugenics and gender equality were also championed as progressive concepts. During this period, it was believed that NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Zhen Hongge and CNS
Students laugh in a sex education class; Teenagers from Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province watch a documentary on sexual psychology
the spread of sexual knowledge should start with the family, relying on sex education in schools to serve as a supplement. Two of the most vocal advocates for modern sex education were the scholar Zhang Jingsheng and writer Lu Xun, who had graduated from colleges in France and Japan, respectively. Settled in teaching jobs after they returned to China, both set about integrating sex education into the curriculum in their respective schools. But their efforts failed to bring about a national-level sex education curriculum. In her paper “Sex Education in Contemporary China,” Italian academic Alessandra Aresu describes sex education in China in the period between the 1920s and 1940s in this way: “The debate [on sex education channels and measures] remained largely in academic circles. Only in isolated incidences was sex education taught in schools.” After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Premier Zhou Enlai showed concern about the state of sex education in China, and is thus regarded as a chief advocate of sex education in the 1950s and 1960s. Zhou emphasized the need to spread sexual awareness among China’s youth, and advocated birth control. Zhou pointed out during a national medical conference that “schools should teach female students sexual hygiene before they have their first period, and boys before their first seminal emission.” Close to death in 1976, Zhou enlisted the NEWSCHINA I December 2011
help of Wu Jieping, a leading figure in the country’s medical circles and also a famous urologist in his own right, to continue the promotion of a national sex education policy. During the Cultural Revolution (19661976), sexuality became absolutely taboo and sexual relationships for anything other than procreation were equated with rightism. All concerted efforts to promote sex education were nullified, with even Zhou Enlai swept aside. In the early 1980s, as the country was just emerging from the ashes of the Cultural Revolution, population control and what would later become the One Child Policy meant that the country’s leaders could no longer avoid the topic of sex. As part of the efforts to find a long-term solution to overpopulation, the State Education Commission (predecessor to the Ministry of Education) introduced the Population Education Project. Under the project, courses on population education were introduced into many senior middle schools across the country, and special classes on “sexual hygiene” were also included. In 1982, a book translated and edited by Wu Jieping entitled Medical Science on Sex was published, a move now seen as the first official attempt to formulate a national policy on sex education. The same year, Beijing National Day Middle School launched a course on “puberty education,” one of the earliest attempts to formalize sex education in Chinese
During the Cultural Revolution sexuality became absolutely taboo and sexual relationships for anything other than procreation were equated with rightism.
schools. In 1988, the State Education Commission, Ministry of Health and State Family Planning Commission jointly issued a circular, requiring middle schools throughout the country to start “puberty education,” which became the State euphemism for sex education.
When AIDS appeared in China in the late 1980s, sex education gradually shifted its emphasis to the prevention of AIDS and other STDs. An official guideline in August 1990 listed young people as the group most in need of special education to prevent and control a potential AIDS pandemic. The number of people infected by HIV in China has been estimated as being
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COVER STORY as high as1.5 million. Statistics show that by 2009, the confirmed cases of AIDS infection had reached over 700,000. Globally, an average of over 6,000 young people become infected with HIV/AIDS every day, with adolescents between 15 and 24 years of age constituting half that number. The rate of Chinese adolescents infected with HIV/AIDS is also rising sharply, though the number of new infections nationally has begun to fall in other demographics. The cause for the majority of new infection cases has also shifted from mother-to-infant transmission to sexual transmission for the first time. Zhou Zunyou, director of the China National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention (CDC) thinks sex education is the most fundamental form of AIDS prevention. He insists that sex education should play a larger part in AIDS prevention from a social and ethical perspective, with the CDC handling treatment. Since 1990, the Ministry of Education has released documents time and again demanding that AIDS prevention education be offered in schools across the country. However, critics argue that AIDS prevention education has simply turned into free condom giveaways, with teachers avoiding the subject of how the disease is actually transmitted. Social campaigns on condom use have largely been successful, though many claim this is more to do with the national birth control policy than heightened AIDS awareness. Condom vending machines are available in most universities and instructions for proper condom use must be offered on campus by law. However, at the same time, teaching proper condom use has been treated as a catch-all solution to the problem of how to educate Chinese people, young and old, about sex, sexuality and STDs.
“Through sex, sperm and ovum meet in the woman’s oviduct and the ovum thus turns into a zygote.” This is a line quoted from the 1996 version of Health Education for Puberty published in Beijing for middle school use, the only passage in the book that mentions sex and reproduction. Even in composing this superficial description, called “scratching an itch from outside the boot” by critics, editor Yu Chengmo told NewsChina he spent hours agonizing over this simple sentence, for fear of overstepping social taboos.
Fifteen years have passed since the 1996 version of Health Education for Puberty was published but until now, sex education remains optional for schools. As a result, the majority choose to opt out. The government is little help, continuing to refer to sex education as “puberty education” in official rubric, according to Xu Zhenlei, chairman of the China Sexology Association. The latest regulation from the Education Ministry on sex education, issued in 2008, still refrained from using “sex education” directly in the title of the document, instead referring to it as “health education.” Xu, along with other critics of current policy, argues that China’s official stance on sex education has reduced educators to damage limitation – responding to crises after the event. “When AIDS becomes a problem, we gear sex education toward preventing AIDS. When premarital abortion becomes widespread, we introduce reproduction health education to stave off the trend. And so on,” she told NewsChina.
According to Joanna MacMillan’s Sex, Science and Morality in China, a survey conducted by the Chinese Sexology Association in 2000 revealed that of all young people in Shanghai who claimed to have received some form of sex education (only 35 percent of the city’s middle school students), 54 percent de-
scribed it as “boring and of no interest,” a clear indictment of contemporary Chinese sex education. However, in the last 10 years, educators have seen some, albeit limited, changes. Last year, Chengdu University launched a three-year sex education subsidiary major program, enrolling 30 students. The program is the second of its kind after one offered by Capital Normal University which made sex education a subsidiary major in 1996. This has allowed some experts in sex education to trickle down into China’s vast school system. On September 5, a class called “Where do I come from?” was held in Renbei Elementary School in Chengdu. “This is a prolonged journey… mom and dad grew up like us, and they met each other, fell in love, and got married. Then, dad put his sex organ into mom’s…” a female teacher recited to a classroom of captivated youngsters. She then described the process of ovum meeting sperm, and then the embryo taking shape and growing. When the picture of a newborn baby was displayed on the screen, the teacher walked closer to the students and said, “You are the child produced by the best of all the sperm, the healthiest and most competitive ones.” The course, which has run in Renbei Elementary School since 2003, has drawn positive responses from both students and parents. Each year, teachers send a letter to the students’ parents, informing them of the
Chairman Mao Zedong advocates a course on contraception in all middle schools Premier Zhou Enlai urges medical scientists to encourage the teaching of good “sexual hygiene” to young people Physiological Hygiene Guidelines, highlighting importance of adolescent health, late childbirth and birth control, is published The State Education Committee launches its Population Education curriculum in schools, focusing on managing the birth rate
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start-date of the course on sex education and inviting parents to participate. Parents can also choose whether their children will take part or not. It turns out that most parents welcome the course and some also join in with class activities. The content of the course changes for each age group. For lower grades, the course includes information on basic anatomy, learning about the sex organs and the facts of conception and birth. The psychology of sex is then gradually introduced. For students in higher grades, the course shifts its focus to the communication between genders. In 2005, this school published its own sexual health manual. Renbei has become a rare success story in an education system struggling with the problem of sexuality.
Photo by CFP
Fifteen years have passed since the 1996 version of Health Education for Puberty was published but until now, sex education remains optional for schools. As a result, the majority choose to opt out.
In a private kindergarten, a boy learns to identify sexual organs under the guidance of his teacher in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, August 29
Some argue that the will for greater access to sex education in China already exists, but that the number of qualified professionals in this emerging field is far too small to cope with demand from the State education system. Statistics from the Ministry of Education indicate that a total of 500,000 sex education professionals are needed for primary and middle schools in China. An Yunfeng, director of the China National Association
for Ethical Studies, once expressed, “Sexology should be based on a solid foundation consisting of four systems: sexual biology, sexual psychology, sexual ethics and sexual law. However, in reality, even sexology has yet to become an independent discipline, let alone the rest.” (Qian Wei and Alex Taggart also contributed reporting)
The State Education Committee, Ministry of Health and the State Family Planning Committee officially endorse family planning classes in middle schools
Population and Family Planning Law is issued, emphasizing the role of education in the national birth control policy
( Source: Institute of Child and Adolescent Health, Peking University )
NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Graphic by Wu Shangwen
The Ministry of Education Ministry issues a directive requiring primary and middle schools to teach HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention techniques
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COVER STORY Sex Education
As the teen abortion rate continues to rise, educators are calling for a sex education paradigm with Chinese characteristics drawing on “traditional values, virtues and esthetics.” But is this just another way to avoid directly addressing the issue of sex in education? By Wang Yan
Many academics have called for a change in values of China’s birth-control driven national sex education policy, arguing that the changing moral values of Chinese youngsters are not being catered for in school. Studies conducted among college students have found that the Internet has become most Chinese young
Photo by Shi Jianxue/CFP
n an ordinary mid-September day, in a private hospital in Beishatan neighborhood, northwestern Beijing, eight abortions were conducted in three hours. Seven out of the eight patients were young women around 20 years old, with the youngest one claiming to be 18. However, doctors remarked that every one of them looked far younger than they claimed to be. According to a medical staff member in this hospital, many young girls under the age of 18 have come to the hospital for abortions since early September. “Most of the underage girls come by themselves and then leave the hospital alone after the procedure.” Another staff member surnamed Zou affirmed the trend, “Usually, during the first two weeks of the new school semester, we see a 50 percent increase in the number of adolescent abortions performed in this hospital.” A receptionist at another private hospital in Beijing’s Haidian District told the Beijing Morning Post that after the summer vacation ends, the hospital sees a surge in demand for abortions. “According to our estimates, girls aged between 14 and 17 make up the majority of these cases.” Zhang Xiaoji, program director for the China Population Education Center’s “Green Apple Home” Project, explained to the media that according to their research, some 3 percent of high school students nationwide have had at least one sexual experience, a rate that allegedly rises to 30 or even 40 percent in certain schools.
Hangzhou city holds its first sex education expo, September 2006
people’s primary source of “sex education,” particularly for males. The central government’s reticence in dealing with the issue of sex and sexuality has previously been blamed for surges in new HIV/AIDS infections and is now bearing the brunt of criticism for the rising rate of teen abortions. The Ministry of Education (MOE), though having begun tentatively to introduce sex education programs in select schools, has not yet made sex education a compulsory course at national level. The official reason is that educational authorities are concerned that teaching contraception in schools is tantamount to encouraging students to engage in premarital sex. Li Yinhe, a prominent sexologist, once criticized the education authorities for these purported concerns. “The relevant government departments choose to adopt an ‘ostrich policy,’ taking for granted that anything goes, so long as they don’t see the consequences. This is the
reason why up till now, the [positive] effects of middle school sex education are negligible.” During the sexual revolution in the US and Europe in the 1960s, most governments adopted a “hands-off” attitude toward sex and sexuality. While some blame the relaxation of sexual morals for the high rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion and venereal disease currently recorded in the West, many researchers argue that these rates were always high, but legal and social restrictions prevented them from being reported. Starting from the 1970s, the US started to provide adolescents with teaching materials on contraception and prevention of venereal disease. This type of education was then purely health-oriented, having little to do with ethics or the emotional importance of healthy sexual relationships. Critics of US sex education point to this separation of health from psychological wellbeing as a reason for the ongoing probNEWSCHINA I December 2011
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lem of teen pregnancy. Yang Suping, from the Education Institute of Xinan University, Chongqing, wrote that according to statistics released by an American NGO, after receiving education on contraception, the possibility of 14-year-old girls becoming sexually active rose by 50 percent; another study showed 15 to 17 year old girls are “more likely” to engage in sexual activity following lessons on proper condom use. Rising teen pregnancy and abortion rates have polarized the debate on school sex education in the US. Led by Christian family groups and other faith organizations, one camp have pointed to “moral decay” as the root of the problem, with some US states adopting an abstinence-based curriculum encouraging young people to entirely avoid premarital sex. In the last decade or so, over one-third of public schools in the US added “abstinence education” into the school curriculum, advocating postponement of sexual activities and instructing the students on safe sex. Fueled by funding from Christian organizations, this trend continues despite a report sponsored by the US Department of Health revealing that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in curtailing the rate of teen pregnancy. Indeed, the US states where abstinence-only sex education programs are most prevalent have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world. Scientific research institutes such as the American Psychological Association, along with civil rights groups and educational activists have suggested that, rather than some great “moral collapse,” the excessively clinical content of the curriculum has separated love from sex in the minds of youngsters. These groups advocate a sex education curriculum that incorporates healthy sexual relationships, commitment and the psychology of sex into lessons dealing with contraception and sexual biology. The debate between these two increasingly entrenched camps rages on around the world.
“Sex education should include sexual ethics, either for primary or middle school students,” said Ye Bing, a holder of a doctorate degree in education from Suzhou University. He added that “exposure to the Internet,” books or TV programs has been the main driving force behind China’s own sexual revolution. In his view, schools need to provide systematic sex education that contextualizes mainstream NEWSCHINA I December 2011
dialogue on sex and offers life guidance for students. “Most sexual knowledge obtained from the media is not scientific, and school education is responsible for ensuring that the media has a positive influence on children.” Wang Ruotao, director of the China National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention (CDC) Ethics Committee, told our reporter that developing sexual awareness and experiencing sexual urges are biological phenomena which cannot be avoided. In the information age, young people can easily access explicit sexual images online. In his view, trying to ignore this phenomenon is unwise. Almost everyone seems to agree that more comprehensive sex education is needed – what they fail to agree on is when young people should start to learn about sex. Deng Yu, mother of three-year-old Paipai, was recently informed by her daughter’s kindergarten teacher that sex education would be arranged for the class. She was hesitant to allow her daughter to participate. “Paipai never asked me where she came from. If she ever does, I’ll tell her how I fell in love with her father. Right now, she won’t understand these stories of sperm and ova.” After reading a translation of a German pre-school primer on human reproduction, Paipai’s mother has decided that such knowledge is “unsuitable” for Chinese children. Han Siping, an official from the Hangzhou City Education Bureau, insists that sex education should start in the higher grades of elementary school, as is common practice in Europe. In Wang Ruotao’s opinion, elementary school students should be shielded from detailed explanations of sexual biology or graphic descriptions of sexual contact. “We shouldn’t be imposing these ideas before children begin to be aware of the differences between the sexes,” he told NewsChina.
In Wang Ruotao’s view, formal and detailed sex education should begin with the onset of puberty – at 12 years of age for girls and 13 years of age for boys, with younger students receiving basic physiological and anatomical instruction. Responsibility in both sex and relationships should also be a central theme of the curriculum. According to Wang, the teaching of proper condom use can wait at this stage, until senior middle school, when students are 15 to 18 years old, when teachers can also begin to
“Most sexual knowledge obtained from the media is not scientific, and school education is responsible for ensuring the media has a positive influence on children.”
contextualize sexual knowledge their students may have acquired outside the classroom. Wang told NewsChina that sound sex education helps improve a person’s overall quality as a human being, touching on ethics, morality, law, gender equality and human rights. Furthermore, he believes that sex education should meet the needs of rapid social and cultural development, such as cultivating the students’ neutral attitudes toward homosexuality, a phenomenon increasingly widely acknowledged by all but China’s authorities. Yang Suping indicates that “character education” is the key to sex education. Yang agrees with Thomas Lickona’s opinion in his book Sex, Character and the College Culture: The Neglected Issue in which he claims sex education based on character education is the only safe and responsible choice for young unmarried adolescents. Wang Ruotao believes China needs to develop sex education to suit China’s particular needs. “We are not blind to the experiences of Western nations in promoting sex education, but at the same time we should absorb positive elements from the sexual morality inherent in Chinese culture. For example, the traditional educational emphasis on mutual devotion and commitment to love and marriage, and one’s obligation to the family are still the essence of Chinese values,” said Wang. Xu Zhenlei, chairman of the China Sexology Association, thinks that “sexual shyness” is deep-rooted in the psyche of the average Chinese adult. In sex education, it is very important to preserve this sense of shyness which makes people cherish love, rather than making sex a purely biological act. (Qian Wei and Song Di also contributed reporting)
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SOCIETY Reading in Transformation
Balancing the Books As e-readers gain popularity at the expense of paper books in China, some are worried that reading habits are becoming increasingly casual, a break from somber Confucian ideals. Though purists are up in arms, could digital media be saving Chinese literature from extinction? By Chen Wei and Yuan Ye
he Chinese need to learn to read again,” declared Yu Shicun, a Beijing-based writer and scholar, in response to a survey that revealed only 5 percent of China’s population read on a regular basis. The eighth National Reading Survey, released this April, also showed that the average Chinese person read only 4.25 books in 2010. Unsurprisingly, the paper publishing industry is under serious threat. In the face of plummeting business, Shanghai Jifeng Books, a chain with a 15 year history, has closed four stores this year alone. In Beijing, the 12,900 square-foot Forest Song Bookstore, with its famous social science and literary theory collections, also went out of business in early July due to stagnant sales and rising rent. “The decline in sales of paper books has been going on for quite some time,” said Xiao Bao, a manager at Jifeng Books. “The rise of digital reading is bound to bring subversive changes to the whole industry.” Over the past fifteen years, China has seen a major shift in reading habits. Alongside continued economic development, Chinese people have shown a tendency toward reading for entertainment or light self-improvement, rather than for any grander academic or spiritual purpose. More recently, this national penchant for light reading has been fed by the digital age, with the Internet and electronic devices encouraging a preference for easilydigestible tidbits as opposed to long-form literature ill-suited to the confined spaces of computer screens, cell phones and ereaders. Citing China’s long literary history,
many academics are now decrying the increase in “casual reading” as a poor substitute for traditional or “real” reading, which emphasizes knowledge of the classics and a treatment of literature as the gateway to great learning. Urgent questions are being asked: Is reading under threat in China, and if so, can it be saved?
In April 2009, Professor Wang Yuguang of Peking University’s Information Management Department published a paper entitled Times We Have to Face, in which he described what he believed to be a dangerous trend in Chinese reading habits. Wang was especially worried about the decline of “real” reading in China, evidenced by the results of the fourth National Reading Survey, which showed a continuous drop in the reading of paper books, from 60.4 percent when the survey was first conducted in 1999, to 48.7 percent in 2005. Casual reading, many critics believe, is an inevitable consequence of today’s fast-paced consumer culture. They consequence of this, they argue, is that new digital media will encourage people to skim read, harm readers’ ability to think, and ultimately encourage an unwillingness to read literature of value, leading to the longterm decline of Chinese culture. In the not-too-distant past, China saw a flurry of interest in literary culture. Tao Dongfeng, a professor of literature from Capital Normal University in Beijing, remembers well the exciting literary scene of the 1980s. Freshly liberated from the suffocation of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Chinese public once
again took a fervent interest in reading. In the newly open political climate of the time, books on politics, history and literary theory were especially welcomed. On his bookcase, Tao still has rows of modern classics from the 1980s. To Tao’s dismay, however, rapid societal change has meant that modern generations of Chinese people are increasingly ambivalent towards the literature of Tao’s day; his 19-year-old daughter shows little interest in his dusty collections. She, like her schoolfriends, shuns long-winded paper books in favour of light-hearted fantasy or romance novels, downloaded instantly to her computer or cell phone. In despair over what he perceived as a growing apathy towards reading among the nation’s youth, Tao started a literary debating society at his university, where faculty and students would gather together to discuss the merits and shortcomings of the week’s assigned reading material. However, after only a few weeks, the society disbanded when the majority of its members found themselves unable to finish the required reading in time for the discussion. “The time it took for everyone to catch up became so long that even I lost interest,” said Tao.
Hope for Harmony
While literary purists bemoan the decline in traditional reading habits, digital reading continues to soar in popularity, with a thriving digital publishing industry developing in-step. Some have seen this as the death of “real” reading, others have argued that digital and paper books are not necessarily mutually antagonistic, and their coNEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Chen Zhongqiu/CFP
Students in a Hangzhou high school use tablet computers as a study aid, September 2011
“The rise of digital reading is bound to bring subversive changes to the whole industry.”
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existence gives a wider range of choice to suit the varying needs of readers. A reading survey jointly conducted in July 2011 by NewsChina and Sina, a major Chinese Internet portal, indicated that among 5,089 participants, over 60 percent “read both paper books and digital books,” with the numbers of participants who exclusively read paper books or digital books each sitting at a relatively low 15 percent, suggesting that the rise of digital media may in fact have a positive effect on the numbers of people reading paper books. Indeed, China’s paper book reading statistics are finally beginning to show signs of life. The fifth National Reading Survey in 2008 reported that after a decade of decline, the number of Chinese people reading paper books had seen a 0.1 percent increase on the previous year, which was followed by a further 0.5 percent rise in
2009. In 2010, it hit the milestone figure of 50.1 percent. Meanwhile, the numbers of people reading newspapers and magazines have seen similar leaps. Most encouragingly, the overall reading rate, including both digital and print publications, clocked in at an impressive 77.1 percent this year. Digital reading may be the very savior that the Chinese print industry, and perhaps its literary world at large, is in need of. Tao Dongfeng said that it may be wiser to embrace modernization than to push the distinction between “casual” and “real” reading and debate the relative benefits of paper and computer screens. Professor Wang Yuguang agreed: “It’s dangerous if a nation doesn’t read, but it’s like a pyramid; the more people who read, the more will take reading seriously. As long as people are reading, it can only be a good thing.”
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SOCIETY Reading in Transformation
As e-books gain popularity in China, digital literature providers face an appealing challenge: how best to exploit the nation’s rekindled love of reading? By Yang Zhenglian and Yuan Ye
hough she works with thousands of books every day, Yu Jing hardly ever has time to read any of them. The 35-yearold general manger of Chineseall.com, one of the largest distributors of digital publications in China, only ever reads on her mobile phone during her morning and afternoon commute to kill time during the boring half-an-hour trip. On business trips, she uses her e-reader, and sometimes her iPad, for reading. Yu Jing is not alone. According to the eighth National Reading Survey released this April, 32.8 percent of regular readers in China between 18 and 70 in 2010 preferred digital to print media, nearly a 33 percent increase on the previous year. More than 80 percent of these readers stated they would give up buying the print version of what they had read on digital devices. Digital reading in China is done mainly on PCs, cellphones and e-readers, with cellphone reading now reigning supreme. Figures from the China Book Business Report, a weekly industry periodical, indicated a threefold increase in the use of cellphones for digital reading, from 10.7 percent in 2009 to 34.8 percent in 2010. While the public turns to this cheap, simple book format in droves, companies like Chineseall.com are remaining cautiously optimistic about the future.
Quality in Need
Despite the new wave of digital media, a lack of high-quality content has aroused concerns within the industry. “High quality cellphone content is seriously scarce, and it is difficult for those producing it to stand out in the market,” said Hao Zhensheng, president of the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, at the fourth Chinese Digital Publishing Exposition held in early July. Digital publishers’ output is largely defined by technology, Chineseall.com’s Yu Jing pointed
out: “Technology determines the platform. The platform determines what kind of users we have. And the users determine the content.” The majority of those reading on their cell phones are young people with low incomes and modest educational backgrounds. A report released in June by Iimedia Research, an independent consulting institution specializing in the mobile Internet, indicated that 72.4 percent of people who read on their cellphone were aged between 15 and 25, with 35.1 percent having only a high school-level education. The eighth National Reading Survey indicated that more than 80 percent of cell phone readers had a monthly income of less than 3,000 yuan (US$470). The industry’s output is heavily skewed towards the specific demands of this demographic. “Because the majority of the readership is very young, about 83.3 percent of our mobile content is made up of novels. Books on economics, management and life skills take up only 11.1 percent,” said Zhang Yi, chairman of the board of Iimedia Research. While they hardly make a dent in the paper book market, novels centering on romance, urban life and kung fu make up three quarters of all the novels available on the digital market, with fantasy and thrillers not far behind. Much of this commercial content is churned out in large quantities by online writers, with the emphasis placed firmly on quantity over quality. “Mostly, people read on their commute to work, during their lunch break, or before bed,” said Yu Jing. “Long, complex reading material is not necessarily suitable for these situations.” Yet Chineseall.com has grand designs for the industry’s future. Founded in 2000, it has acquired digital copyrights from some 300 publishers, 1,000 established writers and more than 20,000 online writers, and is able to produce 70,000 to 10,000 digital books each year. Mobile operators are also catching up with this
trend – China Mobile, the biggest cellular operator in China, has started co-operation with more than 120 publishing houses and content providers, and has assembled 210,000 e-books ready for release.
Waiting for Growth
Due largely to the technological edge of Amazon’s Kindle, dedicated e-book devices have gained increasing popularity among China’s e-readership. According to the eighth National Reading Survey, the percentage of Chinese using e-book readers in the age group between 18 and 70 jumped from 1.3 percent in 2009 to 3.9 percent in 2010, though the figure paled in comparison with the number of people reading on cellphones. Sadly, Kindle’s Chinese counterparts have not enjoyed similar prosperity. After a period of initial success with its own e-reader in 2008, Chinese digital reading and writing technology company Hanvon saw its sales nosedive by 50 percent in the first quarter of 2011, and sustained a loss of 46 million yuan (US$7.2 million) due in large part to the advent of tablet computers, particularly Apple’s all-conquering iPad. “The development of hardware is also very NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Zhao Bing/CFP
important. Currently, most devices fail to offer a user-friendly reading experience,” said Hao Sijia, executive general manager of Founder Apabi Technology, a leading digital publishing technology and service provider in China. Even the iPad, which can perform similar e-reading functions to Amazon’s Kindle, is only used as an e-reader by about 20 percent of its total users in China. Hao believed that if e-reader developers could make their devices more similar to real paper books by making them foldable and less tiring on the eyes, people might be more willing to embrace digital reading. Still, many in the industry believe that it is simply a matter of time before electronic content dominates the entire market for the delivery of literature. Yu Jing is quietly confident about the future; she said that while numbers remain modest, people have certainly begun reading more complex, long-form content on digital devices lately, and the industry needs to be patient. “People who demand this material still don’t necessarily know much about e-reading. Also it may take a few years for the younger, more tech-savvy generation to shift their reading habits towards more serious content. After NEWSCHINA I December 2011
a few years in the world of work, they may feel the urge to expand their knowledge and improve themselves,” she said. While demand may not be a problem, the market faces various other challenges. Piracy, for one, causes deep concern. “Of course, the piracy problem also exists in the paper book market, but in the digital publishing sector, it is much more of a threat,” said Hao Sijia. “Generally, publishers are reluctant to enter digital publishing.” The reluctance can be seen in the lag between the publication time of a paper title and its corresponding e-book, which can be anything from a few months to a year. Hao told our reporter that only 20 to 30 percent of the paper books published after January 1, 2011 in China have had digital versions released. Anti-piracy law and its implementation need to catch up with the technological leaps being made in the industry, said Hao Zhensheng, president of the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication. “The existing laws are clearly lagging behind the pace of digital publishing. Revisions and improvement of these laws are greatly needed. At the same time, copyright licensing
Photo by Wu Dangcai/CFP
Above, a reader checks the stacks at a second-hand book market in Beijing, September 9, 2011; Below, a local newspaper in Wuhan launches its electronic edition in November 2006
needs to be better regulated, so as to provide a basic protection of the interests of both the copyright owners and publishers.” While the digital reading industry still has one or two practical glitches to work out, the pace of technological innovation remains one step ahead of the consumer, and looks poised to exploit the huge potential on the horizon. With distributors lining up to give consumers exactly what they want in whatever format they demand, China’s digital bookworms may find themselves spoiled for choice before long.
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SOCIETY Gay Wives Club
Deception and Discrimination The social necessity of marriage has left millions of Chinese women trapped in unfulfilling relationships with closeted gay men. In recent years, more and more of China’s “gay wives” are coming out, and this formerly private problem is now entering public debate By Chen Wei
ne month after her wedding, Xiao Yao caught sight of an intimate text message from a stranger on her husband’s phone addressing him as shagua - “fool,” a term of endearment typically used between Chinese lovers. Xiao eventually plucked up the courage to call the number, expecting to confront the woman who was distracting her husband and causing the breakdown of her marriage. Her blood ran cold when a hoarse male voice answered the phone. After her discovery, Xiao began to analyze her relationship, solving many previous mysteries. She had fallen in love with her husband after a chance meeting at a bus stop, and instantly decided he was her Mr Right. Caring, considerate and gentlemanly, he seemed the epitome of the ideal husband. His resistance to be physically intimate, which culminated in an unconsummated wedding night, was put down to shyness and an overly strong sense of decency. When he came home late, it was surely because he was working overtime. However, her husband’s behavior changed dramatically once he and Xiao were married. The caring and considerate boyfriend became a sullen and abusive husband. Xiao told NewsChina that he experienced violent mood swings – one minute he would be joking with her, the next pounding her face with his fist. Abuse would be followed by hysterical laughter, tears and begging for forgiveness. After one particularly horrific beating, Xiao wrote in her diary: “I closed my eyes and felt the world die around me.” After making that fateful call and discovering her husband’s secret life, Xiao started searching desperately online for information about tongqi - “gay wives.” For months she sifted through insensitive comic anecdotes about such women, until she finally stum-
bled across a gay wife blog circle with its own support group operated through the online instant messenger service QQ. Soon afterward, she divorced her husband.
Return of the Ex-gay-wife
After her divorce, Xiao’s friends suggested she never look back. For half a year she distanced herself from the gay wives who had given her the courage to separate from her abusive husband, but soon found herself drifting back in touch. “I see myself in these women,” Xiao told our reporter. “To help them feels like helping my former self.” Xiao now administers several major gay wife chat groups, runs a hotline and operates the Gay Wife Home website www.tongqijiayuan.com, which she built herself. On the website’s homepage, she writes: “If it hadn’t been for my own experience, I would never have imagined that such a hidden group existed. This website is meant to help more women who have lived my story.” A busy civil servant in Xi’an, capital city of west China’s Shaanxi Province, Xiao Yao only has free time at night, and is the hotline’s only operator, manning the phone from 6 PM to 10 PM. Membership to her chat circle ballooned from 25 when Xiao joined to 750, though, if statistical estimates are to be believed, she may one day need a far bigger server. Conservative estimates from researcher Zhang Beichuan, a professor with Qingdao University, Shandong Province and a pioneering researcher in the field of queer studies, state that China is home to a minimum 10 million gay wives. Zhang’s interest in this phenomenon began when a woman who had recently discovered her husband was gay approached him
for advice. Since then, he has met countless gay wives, all with unique circumstances – some newly married, some pregnant, and some already grandmothers. According to Zhang, many have mixed feelings about their marriages, something which is also reflected in the gay wife blogosphere. While news of a divorce is always applauded by the community, especially in the case of spousal abuse, one chat group administered by Xiao encourages gay wives to try to understand their husbands, and, if possible, rescue their marriages. Some gay wives go to great lengths to maintain good relations with their husbands. One chat group member known only as Maomao has adopted a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy toward her spouse’s affairs with other men. “Why should I know? It will only make me sad,” she wrote in one post explaining this decision. Such fatalism is common among gay wives, many of whom even blame themselves for their circumstances and attempt to ignore their husbands’ affairs. Four or five female volunteers, none of whom is a gay wife, are recruited to moderate each chat group of 200 members to provide “neutral” insight and balance the negative tone of many discussions with positive encouragement and support. Some even try to remonstrate with gay wives who, like Maomao, attempt to justify or overlook their husbands’ sexual orientation. Some volunteers believe this behavior is a manifestation of something like Stockholm syndrome. Volunteer moderator Lin Yike told our reporter that “[Maomao] has stopped seeing herself as a victim and is instead supporting, rather than merely attempting to understand, her husband’s lifestyle.” Lin believes that Maomao needs to learn to let her husband take partial blame for her unhappiness. “After all, he trapped her in a sham marriage,” she said. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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“[Maomao] has stopped seeing herself as a victim and is instead supporting, rather than merely attempting to understand, her husband’s lifestyle.”
Illustration by Wu Shangwen
However, rather than apportioning blame, the priority of Gay Wife Home is to support gay wives and allow them to minimize their own suffering. Many ultimately manage to resolve their problems, whether through divorce or merely by establishing an understanding with their husbands. Last October, even Xiao Yao herself managed to reconcile with her ex-husband. When they met to tie up some financial loose ends, she found he was once again the considerate man at that bus stop. He even insisted on walking her to her bus, both parting, in tears, as friends.
Hard to Help
Though the small number of subscribers to Gay Wife Home suggests that few gay wives are even willing to reach out to others for support, the handful who have come out publicly are shedding light on a world which had only previously existed behind locked doors. At the end of 2008, Professor Zhang Beichuan invited two gay wives to speak at an AIDS summit. The first cried all the way through her 20-minute speech, while the other turned her back to the audience while speaking to protect her identity. Zhang told NewsChina that many gay wives feel a deep NEWSCHINA I December 2011
sense of shame about their marriages, and most have been victims of domestic violence, neglect and infidelity. In March 2010, the Pink Space Sexuality Research Center held China’s first gay wife summit. The biggest stir was created when a gay husband appeared at the event with his wife, and found himself a reluctant hate figure, as gay wives cross-examined him about his sexual orientation and his marriage. The man revealed that he had attempted suicide on two occasions to end his desperation,
largely because his wife, who believed homosexuality to be a disease, refused to divorce him and instead nagged him to see a doctor. Together, attendees of the meeting took an HIV test, and then visited a gay bar, something many had been curious about but few had ever tried to enter, to “see the other side of their husbands.” After the visit, the summit’s solitary gay husband managed to convince his wife to agree to a divorce. It also resulted in the first joint declaration, signed by all attendees, which pledged to “aban-
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SOCIETY don self-pity and help gay wives who dare not stand up for themselves.” The meeting also produced the slogan now most closely associated with China’s gay wives – “Let me be the last gay wife.” After the meeting, director of Pink Space He Xiaopei established additional hotlines for gay wives, with eight volunteers stepping in to establish hotlines in their own cities. It was only after they had printed business cards they realized there was nowhere other than the summit they could hand them out – they joked that so far, nobody had thought to build a gay wife bar. The idea of handing the cards out in gay bars was quickly abandoned – reasoning that few husbands would be keen to out themselves to their wives. Even if the hotline numbers somehow reach a gay wife, typically possible only over the Internet, it takes great courage to make that first call. One woman told NewsChina that she had agonized over making the call for months before she eventually picked up the phone “because making that call would mean admitting my husband was gay.” Xiao Yao told our reporter that while many gay wives talk to their volunteers for hours, some even refusing to hang up after their telephone receivers overheated, “nobody made a second call.” Hotline volunteers believe this is because most gay wives simply want to tell someone about their predicament but have already made their minds up about how to deal with it.
While gay people generally suffer less stigma in China than in other Asian countries, the power of marriage as the primary social institution makes life for gay people difficult, if not impossible. In rural areas, if a man is not married by 30, rumors begin to circulate. Even in China’s increasingly cosmopolitan cities, gay men invariably marry to protect both their family’s reputation and in order to conform to the expectations of their parents. According to Zhang Beichuan, both gay wives and gay husbands both agree that the solution to their problems would be a change in cultural attitudes towards alternative sexualities. “If gay rights were protected in law, and people could be educated to respect other people’s sexual orientation, we could expect an immense decline in the number of gay wives,” he told NewsChina.
An advertisement for a gay support hotline in Shanghai. While gay rights remain off China’s political agenda, gay men in China are enjoying greater freedoms thanks to shifting social attitudes. However, “gay wives,” when acknowledged at all, remain a subject of pity and even ridicule
These are some pretty big “ifs,” in the view of Li Yinhe, for decades China’s foremost sex researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences, who has even petitioned the central government to legalize gay marriage, to little effect. The Chinese government remains tight-lipped on the subject of homosexuality, pursuing a strict policy of non-acknowledgement. While this has allowed gay people to remain largely unmolested by official institutions, it prevents gay rights from being acknowledged in Chinese law. The inevitable crossover between sex and sexuality has also meant that Xiao Yao’s blog and website have previously been closed down for publishing “lurid content,” though both were later reopened after she appealed. However, some posts continue to be censored due to their “sensitivity.” Despite such minor clashes with the authorities, similar to those experienced by China’s online gay forums, Li Yinhe believes that the main obstacle to greater tolerance of alternative sexualities in China is a cultural one. On her blog, Li remarks that an “obsession with marriage and reproduction” has forced untold numbers of gay men and women into heterosexual marriages. Experts like Li argue that the vast majority of Chinese people consider someone who remains unmarried at 30 to be “abnormal,” while a son or daughter
who fails to have children is “unfilial.” On the rare occasions that homosexuality is mentioned in the public sphere, violently opposing viewpoints are regularly expressed by the public. Posts on Xiao Yao’s website regularly elicit vicious responses from homophobic Internet users. However, Gay Wife Home volunteer Lin Yike believes that social discrimination against gay people is not an excuse to cheat a woman into a loveless marriage. “Social pressure is most usually blamed for the gay wife issue, but nobody puts a woman in your bed,” she said. Lin believes that the importance of parenthood alone is justification enough for some gay men to seek a sham marriage with a woman, an issue that won’t disappear even with a change in cultural values. As a result, she has compiled a handbook for girls instructing them in ways to “spot a gay suitor.” Zhang Beichuan argues that the gay wife issue has to be debated with as much care as one should exercise when selecting a spouse. Because those gay wives who are victims of abuse are being victimized by a discriminated social group, the equation of domestic violence with homosexuality could result in even greater discrimination against gay people. “It is also not justifiable to undermine gay rights by supporting gay wives,” he said. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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FEATURE Land Purchase in Iceland
A Chinese businessman’s bid for a large tract of land in Iceland is being treated with suspicion by the Western media. Despite having been welcomed by the Icelandic government, the controversy surrounding Huang Nubo’s political background highlights the unexpected difficulties faced by China’s officialsturned-entrepreneurs By Li Jia NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by CFP
ho is Huang Nubo? Businessman, mountaineer and all-round eccentric, he ranks 126th on Forbes’ 2011 list of the world’s richest Chinese people, and 46th on their “Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy” list, alongside celebrities like Yao Ming and Jackie Chan. He is also one of the few people to have stood at the peaks of all seven continents, including Mount Everest, as well as the North and South Poles. Often preferring to go by the name “the poet Luo Ying,” Huang is certainly not your average Chinese businessman. Despite his wealth and fame, however, he was barely known outside of China until the recent controversy over his plans to buy 0.3 percent of Iceland for US$200 million. Western media have been keen to raise security issues, suggesting that the deal may be aimed at helping China gain a foothold on the North Sea Route, a valuable asset should the Arctic ice shelf continue to melt as a result of global warming. The speculation is based mainly on Huang’s political background; he worked for the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Ministry of
Construction for more than 10 years before founding his own company in 1996.
There have been three routes to getting rich in China over the past 30 years, according to China Comment, a magazine sponsored by the Publicity Department, Huang’s former employer. The first is to start from scratch, the second is to manage a State-owned enterprise, and the third and easiest way is to be born into a family with a strong political background. Huang is a combination of the three. The youngest son of a senior military official, he could have enjoyed a significant headstart in life, but his father was arrested and committed suicide when Huang was only three years old. His mother died 10 years later. As with many Chinese families of the time, the poverty and humiliation of his early years are still clear in his memory. Like nearly every young Chinese person in the 1960s and 1970s, he was sent to the countryside to work as a peasant in 1973. He changed his given name to Nubo, meaning “angry waves,” dreaming of fighting for a bet-
ter existence. Change came in 1976 when he was admitted to Peking University in the very first intake of college students after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Since then, life has been good to Huang. But after 10 years assessing aspiring civil servants in the Publicity Department’s personnel office, he knew he didn’t want to “mimic their lives by retiring as a government official,” he told NewsChina. In 1990, he joined the China Mayor’s Association, affiliated with the Ministry of Construction, but was disappointed to find a turgid environment similar to his previous job. But he was designated to launch a consultancy company, giving him his first taste of running a business, albeit an unsuccessful one. In 1996, he renounced all official entitlement and refashioned his company into a private business called Zhong Kun. “I had no idea of what the business world was all about”, he admitted. His warehouse was often full of tea, dolls, and other things that no one seemed to want. But Huang was saved by the marketoriented housing reform of the late 1990s; he gambled on the property market boom, won, NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Zhongkun investment group
“These days you don’t have as much chance of climbing the ladder as we did.”
Left, Huang Nubo outlines his Iceland land deal at a press conference in Beijing, September 2, 2011; Above, Huang Nubo visits a landowner to discuss his planned purchase, August 2011
and has ridden this major success ever since. Now, his company has huge projects in Beijing and tourism facilities in other cities. “I have deep gratitude for China’s policies of Reform and Opening-up,” he said. “These days you don’t have as much chance of climbing the ladder as we did,” he added. His story is not unique among his generation of entrepreneurs. Between the 1980s and 2000, many officials made the jump to private enterprise. But diligence and intelligence notwithstanding, private enterprises have always had to build connections with political power, often by questionable methods such as bribery. Huang has admitted that his company was not without transgressions of this kind during its early days. In his book Brutal Growth, Feng Lun, another property mogul, described how private enterprises were forced to turn to such means in the absence of a well-developed legal framework. “Now, we should stop sinning, and seek redemption for what we have done,” Huang told NewsChina.
“That is not a bad word,” laughed Huang, when he was told that a newspaper had described him as an “ambitious man.” Over the past few years, he has made a great effort to expand his business into overseas markets. So far, his only successful overseas expansion has been in the US, where some of his developNEWSCHINA I December 2011
ment projects are already underway. Elsewhere though, he has met with less enthusiasm. According to Huang, local trade unions in Hokkaido, Japan declared that Chinese were not welcome to invest. The opposition party in Kyrgyzstan and even the Russian Ministry of Defence have also raised their respective concerns over potential strategic interests at stake in business deals with China. But Huang never expected that problem in Iceland; he said he was actually invited to invest there. He became mildly famous in Iceland after sponsoring a China-Iceland poetry foundation last year. An Icelandic architect told Ragnar Baldursson, Icelandic ministerial counsellor in Beijing and an old Peking University classmate of Huang’s, that a tract of land had been available for some time, and that he hoped Huang would consider it. The deal was struck in August this year. “[The land] is beautiful and cheap,” he said. He claimed he had always been fascinated with wilderness, out of personal taste as much as commercial interest. “Places like this are perfect tourist attractions.” With four commercial flights loaded with tourists going from the US to Iceland every day, he hopes the project will be the first step towards business outreach into northern Europe. He was warmly received by the sellers, the mayor, ministers of economics and foreign affairs and the president, and he doesn’t remem-
ber being asked any pointed questions about his background. A poll showed that 59 percent of Icelanders were supportive of the deal, while 23 percent said they had no opinion, and only 18 percent opposing it. Everything was running smoothly, until the Financial Times raised the question of China’s strategic interest. Huang does not think he himself is the target. “It’s all because it is a Chinese investment,” he said. In fact, Iceland has repeatedly expressed its willingness to co-operate with China on developing the North Sea Route. While Huang’s Icelandic partners have stressed the advantage of the potential port 60 to 100 kilometers from his planned resort, he denies that he took this into consideration when deciding to buy the tract of land. Huawei, the world’s second largest supplier of telecoms equipment, failed in all its attempts at buying out American companies because its founder, Ren Zhengfei, had served in the Chinese army in the 1970s. Some US congressmen took this as evidence of the close ties between Ren’s company and the Chinese military. “Ren is in the telecoms industry, which is somewhat sensitive. I can’t understand how a tourism project can be linked to strategic interests”, Huang said. Currently, Huang is still awaiting the approval of the Chinese and Icelandic governments. “My case is a good thing for Chinese private enterprises. Firstly, they have learned that there are many opportunities overseas. Secondly, it has given me the chance to tell the rest of the world who we are and what we think”, he said. He is absolutely confident that private companies would be much more successful than SOEs in overseas ventures. At a time of economic downturn overseas, it may be a good time for Chinese private businesspeople to make favorable deals in foreign countries. But with political history standing in the way, the question is whether or not the rest of the world is willing to break the ice with China’s entrepreneurs.
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Photo by CFP
The exposure of a vast nationwide network reselling used cooking oil to unwitting consumers is a further blow to China’s already-reeling food standards authorities By Liu Ziqian and He Jiangyong in Ninghai, Zhejiang 36 Dec_36_41.indd 36
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louds of flies buzz in the rank air. A 1.5m-diameter vat hidden among a small copse is bubbling with thick brownish liquid, giving off an unbearable stench. Around the pot are piles of assorted rotting kitchen waste. A number of iron barrels caked with rancid grease stand side by side, awaiting their unpleasant cargo. Just another day at Ninghai, Zhejiang’s largest “gutter oil” processing plant. That is, until the police arrive. “The site was more disgusting than a murder scene. I’d rather be in a cesspit,” police officer Zhou Guoliang told NewsChina, revealing that the discovery of this large processing operation was the smoking gun they’d been waiting for. Local police could now go about busting a ring of criminals who were extracting used edible oil from sewers and restaurant fryers, filtering out visible contaminants and reselling it on the open market. Though viable for industrial use, gutter oil contains huge quantities of toxic contaminants which have been linked to abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term ingestion of gutter oil has also been alleged to cause developmental disabilities as well as intestinal and gastric cancers. The Chinese first became aware of gutNEWSCHINA I December 2011
“[The buyers] told me they definitely wouldn’t use the oil in food, but I have no way to track them down and check if they were telling the truth.”
ter oil in 2000 when a vendor was caught selling edible oil extracted from restaurant garbage disposals. A string of similar cases were later uncovered by investigative journalists. National media and the authorities claimed these were “isolated incidents” involving small underground workshops. However, the Zhejiang case blew attempts to cover up the scale of China’s gutter oil industry out of the water. Acting on local reports of “smelly pots” concealed in forests, police in Zhejiang, Shandong and Henan provinces jointly smashed a network engaged in gutter oil processing and retail across 14 provinces.
The owners of the Ninghai rendering vat, a married couple, confessed to purchasing kitchen waste from local restaurants and “refining” it by simply skimming oil residue off the surface. “We suspected that the oil might be for some dubious purpose, but we could not
confirm that it was resold to restaurants,” said Feng Weifeng, the head of the investigation team. He told our reporters that both the couple and the buyers of their “refined” oil asserted that the oil was sold to chemical plants, not restaurants. It was the confession of another suspect, oil vendor Huang Changshui, that broke the case. He told police his buyer had tested the acidity of his product, which indicated that the oil was intended for later human consumption, as PH testing of industrial oil is not necessary. Further investigation led police to Gelin Company, a biodiesel manufacturer registered in Pingyin County, Jinan, capital of Shandong Province. Covering an area of 10,000 square meters, the factory compound was heavily guarded and equipped with security cameras on all sides. One night in June, policemen waiting outside the factory saw a tanker truck drive into the compound, and five hours later, a second suspicious tanker drove out of the gate. They also spotted another truck loaded with white clay, which is typically used to absorb visible contaminants and “bleach” gutter oil. The police soon arrested Liu Liguo, the company owner, and another eight
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suspects, with 694 tons of gutter oil seized. According to Liu’s confession, his company could sell 400-500 tons of gutter oil per month, rising to 700-800 tons at peak times. Like the suspects previously detained in Zhejiang, Liu denied any knowledge of where his gutter oil was resold. “[The buyers] told me they definitely wouldn’t use the oil in food, but I have no way to track them down and check if they were telling the truth,” Liu told police. Yet, 10 days after Gelin Company was closed down, the police seized over 100 crates of gutter oil relabeled as well-known edible oil brands, plus another 30 more tons in bulk storage, from an open market in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. Yuan Yi, the salesperson apprehended at the scene, told police that it is an open secret within the “industry” that gutter oil is generally sold as “ricegerm” oil. “Currently, oil at this price level is almost all ‘ricegerm oil,’” she said. “Gutter oil is also extensively sold blended with pure edible oil.” “We are not the only seller on the mar-
ket,” Yuan continued. “Every day, four or five tankers will park in front of the market, and anyone can buy their oil. Nobody asks to see food safety certificates. It is impossible for us to distinguish bad oil.”
Hard to Tell
Despite having eight years of experience working in restaurants, Li Wei, a chef in Beijing, told NewsChina that the only means for the restaurant to judge the quality of the oil it buys is the price tag. Take the soybean oil widely used in Beijing’s busy restaurants. In bulk, generic soybean oil is typically 10 percent cheaper than branded oil. A 200-seat restaurant uses some 17.5 kilos of oil per day, costing around 5,000 yuan (US$735) per month, while those specializing in spicy Sichuan cuisine will spend at least double that. It is no surprise that Li Wei, now head chef at a Chongqing-style hotpot restaurant, admitted that he sometimes would try to get cheaper oil sold in bulk, most of which, according to him, is mixed with other lowcost oils such as palm or cotton oil, or even
in rare cases blended with gutter oil. Although gutter oil in its raw form is translucent, has an unpleasant smell, and is similar in color to Coca-Cola, it is hard to distinguish from pure edible bean oil after it has been bleached and had its pH neutralized by the addition of chemical alkalis. Containing a high amount of animal fat, gutter oil generally has a higher freezing point than ordinary oil. Li often tests the freezing point of the oil he buys to identify gutter oil, but this method does not work if the oil is mixed with pure oil. An alternative is to detect a residual odor, but few chefs have a sense of smell refined enough to detect a difference between refined gutter oil and fresh soybean oil. “Restaurants caught using gutter oil are generally exposed by customers,” Li Wei told NewsChina. “I have never heard of the authorities detecting the use of gutter oil in restaurants.” An anonymous inspector from a local food security bureau in Shanghai told NewsChina that they use litmus paper to
Gutter Oil – From table to table
Kitchen waste is dredged from sewers Kitchen waste disposed of
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Purchased by restaurants and street food stalls
Visible contaminants are removed
Gelin company purchases gutter oil at 5,500-6,000 yuan (US$810-882) a ton Resale
Wholesale on open Advanced processing market Sold as “ricegerm” or “cotton seed” oil at 8,100-8,300 yuan/ton (US$1,190-1,220), about 2,000 yuan (US$294) cheaper than ordinary edible oil
Licensed as biodiesel To the untrained eye, the carcinogenic oil appears pure due to the use of hydrolysis, distillation and separation in reprocessing
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“It is impossible for us to distinguish bad oil.”
determine the pH of edible oils. However, gutter oil processors typically add caustic soda to the oil to neutralize the pH, making it indistinguishable from pure edible oil without more advanced testing. Police revealed that only two out of 10 samples of gutter oil seized in the Henan and Shandong sweeps failed to come up to national standards of purity. However, when tested according to Beijing’s more rigorous municipal food safety standards, which employ four categories of indicators and indexes to identify gutter oil, seven samples were shown to be contaminated. China issued its first management regulation on kitchen waste in 2000, which forbade processors to sell waste oil for human consumption. But the regulation failed to specify the punishment for violators, making it little more than a scrap of paper. In July 2010, two months before the 2000 regulation was annulled, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a new regulation on kitchen waste, hoping to tackle the gutter oil problem at its source, through methods such as requiring waste collectors to have State licenses, only to find the “edible” gutter oil still flooding the marketplace. This latest regulation demands that an inspection system be set up jointly by the departments of commerce and industry, quality supervision, food security, health and public security. However, the media believes this will only allow the authoriNEWSCHINA I December 2011
Photo by CFP
A worker dredges oil from a sewer, Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, March 22
ties to defer responsibility and will fail to tackle the root of the problem. “Various supervision departments frequent my restaurant every month to carry out testing,” Wang Na, an owner of a private restaurant in Beijing, told NewsChina. “Only once have they checked for gutter oil. They asked me if I used it, I said
no, they checked the brand of oil I used, and that was the extent of their ‘testing.’” “We only have certificate givers, but no real supervisors,” Liu Liguo, the owner of Gelin Company, said. “[Adulterated] oil should only be used industrially. If my actions are immoral, then so are the actions of the supervisory authorities.”
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SPECIAL REPORT Gutter Oil
Fuel, not Food Gutter oil intended for reprocessing into industrial biofuels is finding its way onto China’s dinner tables. Could government restrictions on biofuels be to blame? By Li Yuan and Jiang Wanjun
ich in carcinogens, gutter oil, according to Wang Jinfu, a clean energy professor at Tsinghua University, will never meet the quality standards of edible oil despite extensive filtering and purification. Waste cooking oil is invaluable to the chemical industry, where it can be turned into biofuels. However, rather than capitalizing on a potentially limitless source of clean energy, criminals are simply selling waste oil back to consumers for use in their kitchens. Why can’t China find a better use for its gutter oil? The Japanese government, for example, purchases gutter oil at a price higher than that offered by private companies, and reprocesses it into biofuels to power the nation’s garbage trucks. The US, Britain and New Zealand have all launched recycling initiatives which purchase waste oil from the food industry and use it to produce biodiesel, chemicals or organic fertilizer. Even Brazil, a developing country, powers recycling trucks with reprocessed cooking oil. Even more astonishingly, in June this year, SkyNRG, a company affiliated to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced a new kitchen waste processing technology capable of turning one ton of gutter oil into 0.95 tons of “bio-jet fuel.” Despite a price tag three times higher than ordinary aircraft fuel, KLM has already begun to use a 50-50 mixture of bioand fossil fuels in the company’s commercial jets. “The best solution to the gutter oil problem is to turn it into biodiesel, a clean fuel which can replace regular diesel,” Lu Xinuo, technical director of Beijing Qingyanlihua Petro & Chemistry Co., Ltd, told NewsChina. “With low sulfide emissions and 98 percent biodegradability, a rate double that of ordinary fuel, it is environmentally sound.” According to Lu Xinuo’s calculation, about 15 percent of the edible oil consumed in Chi-
na is salvageable as waste oil. Given that the population consumes 21-23 million tons of edible oil each year, at least 3 million tons of it will end up as gutter oil. However, “only one-third of China’s gutter oil eventually is turned into clean energy,” Lu said. “Apart from what is used in the chemical industry or is processed into animal feed, about 1-1.5 million tons of gutter oil finds its way onto people’s dinner tables each year.” So why can’t crude-thirsty China tap this potential source of clean energy, and protect consumers from carcinogenic cooking oil in the process?
Hard to Collect
For Lu Xinuo, the primary obstacle to the development of biodiesel in China lies in the difficulty the country’s few biodiesel businesses encounter when trying to collect and purchase gutter oil. The country has not yet introduced unified nation-wide criteria for the qualification of waste oil collectors, resulting in a very limited number of companies. “Licensed enterprises only collect 20 percent of the total waste oil at most, with the rest collected by unlicensed individual collectors riding worn-out motor tricycles loaded with grease-caked oil drums,” said Lu. “We are caught in a dilemma,” he continued. “I have no clear idea if we are violating the law when we directly buy waste oil from unlicensed collectors. If we only buy it from licensed collectors, we cannot afford the price. They purchase waste oil from unlicensed collectors for 4,000 yuan (US$588) per ton and then resell it to us at 5,500 yuan (US$735).’” Zheng Dewen, manager of a biotechnology company based in Qingdao, Shandong Province, told NewsChina that illegal edible oil processing companies will pay 5,200 yuan (US$765) for a ton of waste oil, while his
“Apart from what is used in the chemical industry or is processed into animal feed, about 1-1.5 million tons of gutter oil finds its way onto people’s dinner tables each year.”
company can only afford to pay 4,200 yuan (US$618) per ton. In Beijing, illegal edible oil processors are even more competitive, offering to pay 6,000-7,000 (US$940-1,100) yuan per ton, way beyond the price range of the city’s handful of licensed processing companies. Another obstacle to profitable biofuel processing is sales tax, said Lu. This tax is not levied on gutter oil collection and sales, only on refineries. “If a biodiesel producer purchases a ton of gutter oil for 5,500 yuan (US$735), it has to pay 17 percent sales tax on the transaction,” explained Lu. “Adding this to the cost of processing, we pay 7,000 yuan (US$1,029) for every ton of biodiesel we produce, and can sell our product for a maximum of 7,500 yuan (US$1,100), a very narrow profit margin.” “With gutter oil diverted to more profitable enterprises, biodiesel producers have to use the lowest-quality waste oils, requiring more complex refining procedures,” Wang Jinfu told our reporters. “Gutter oil of better quality has a much higher fuel yield, but biodiesel producers can’t afford it.”
Gelin Company, caught processing and selling NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by CFP
Zhao Huichuan, head of a licensed oil processing company in Hebei, complains about his failure to collect sufficient gutter oil due to high prices
gutter oil as edible oil, started out as a biodiesel refinery. “I did not know much about gutter oil until I opened my biodiesel business,” said Liu Liguo, the company’s owner. He told our reporters that the company had made huge profits in its first two years of operation, but with the price of biodiesel declining and market demand shrinking, his company then teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. “Who could I sell my biodiesel to, if even the big players CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation) and Sinopec (China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) refused to buy?” asked Liu. China did not publish trading standards for biodiesel until 2007. However, without specifying a standard blending ratio of biodiesel to ordinary diesel for the optimum mix, the 2007 standards made it impossible for biodiesel to be traded on the open market. It was not until last year that the government issued a new standard allowing the open trading of biofuels in China. Despite the move, Lu Xinuo remained NEWSCHINA I December 2011
pessimistic. “The government does not state in the document that CNPC and Sinopec have to consume biodiesel,” he told our reporter. “As a result, they’re failing to provide biodiesel businesses with regular and reliable sales channels. This is bound to cause sharp fluctuations in sales. In the face of rising costs, biodiesel businesses only see market uncertainties ahead.” Although the prices of the raw materials for making biodiesel, including gutter oil, have gone up by nearly 50 percent in a few years, the price of biodiesel is still artificially held at 5,100 yuan (US$799) per ton by government statutes on fuel pricing, forcing many biodiesel producers to suspend operations or switch to more profitable industries. Unlike countries such as the US and South Korea where the government requires that 2 percent of biodiesel be mixed with ordinary diesel, China has so far neither established preferential policies to support its use, nor instructed State-owned enterprises to utilize or, in the case of the country’s gasoline giants,
sell biofuels to consumers. According to media reports, China produced about 300,000 tons of biodiesel in 2007, only one-eighth of US output in the same year. “Most biodiesel producers in China are of small scale with an annual output of less than 50,000 tons, using waste oil as raw material. The quality of their products varies widely and the price is held hostage by many factors, particularly the immaturity of the industry in China,” head of the Guangzhou branch of the Energy Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences Wu Chuangzhi told NewsChina. Yet, Yue Xin, a car-fuel emissions researcher at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, sees a future for Chinese-made biodiesel. “Many Chinese biodiesel products have been exported to Europe, proving that they meet stringent European standards,” he argued. “The problem is not that the Chinese citizens don’t want to use biodiesel, but that they have nowhere to get it.”
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Chengdu: The Best Investment Destination in
s a center of science, trade, finance and communication in West China, Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province, is designated as a national high-tech industrial zone and bonded area, providing a conducive environment to more than 200 of the world’s top 500 corporations. Due to its unique geographical position, the city not only connects south and central China, but also serves as a hub for Central, South and Southeast Asia. This gives Chengdu a huge market and substantial trade turnover. After years of development, Chengdu has strength in 11 industries, including the electronics, automotive, aviation, renewable energy and new materials industries. The automotive industry represented by FAW-Volkswagen, FAW-Toyota and Geely-Volvo, the information industry represented by Intel, Dell and Foxconn, the aviation industry and the new materials industry have all grown to considerable scale and established integral industrial systems. Chengdu is equipped with a convenient three-dimensional transport network, its Shuangliu International Airport being one of China’s six top aviation hubs. The airport has an annual passenger volume of over 25 million and works with 15 international airlines. The city has constructed a fast logistics channel linking developed areas at home and abroad. With a large concentration of colleges and research centers, Chengdu enjoys abundant human resources, providing 150 thousand college graduates and over 10 thousand technical workers to enterprises every year, at an average 30% less cost compared with coastal cities. The city’s government is making every effort to enhance its administrative environment. Advancing support services and shortening the approval period for proj-
Clockwise from above: Chengdu Shangliu International Airport; Tianfu Flyover Bridge; Intel Chengdu Company; Asia’s largest urban wetland park – Shuangliu New City Park; Chengdu Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone
ects, for instance, have contributed to a more efficient system. In April, the State Council officially approved the proposal to build the Chengdu-Chongqing economic zone. The Council clearly set the goal of establishing this zone as an important economic center in western China, a modern industry base, a test zone for increased economic openness and an example for the integration of urban and rural development. Meanwhile, the New Tianfu Zone has been included in the national development strategy. Efforts will be made to
build this area into an internationalized industrial center dominating the modern manufacturing industry and the high-end service industry. In 2010, the city capitalized US$6.41 billion of foreign investment, up by 43.2 percent on the last year; approved 294 foreign-invested projects, an increase of 37.4 percent, and welcomed another 12 top 500 enterprises including the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Nippon Steel, Electricité de France and MetLife. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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on in West China
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ECONOMY Private Finance
When Wenzhou Sneezes
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent crisis-aversion mission to Wenzhou was a clear sign that the city’s economy was in deep trouble. With China’s most legendary private finance market faltering, could it spell the end for Chinese entrepreneurship? By Li Jia
he banks and the Chamber of Commerce have expressed their support for my return”, said Hu Fulin, owner of Zhejiang Center Group, China’s largest manufacturer of eyeglasses, in an interview with the Wenzhou Daily on October 10. Twenty days earlier, Hu had absconded to the US, causing fears of an imminent collapse of his business. Like many other Wenzhou companies, Zhejiang Center Group has recently come under massive financial pressure, causing many to question the core value of the city’s progressive economic model. Hu may now have returned to the helm, but he still faces a complete overhaul of his business, and for many, the case has confirmed suspicions that China’s private credit crunch has spread to large enterprises. Recent headlines in Chinese and foreign media concerning Wenzhou, a mountainous city in China’s rich coastal Zhejiang Province, have echoed this sense of doom. Hailed for decades as the cradle of private Chinese entrepreneurship, Wenzhou’s influence on the domestic market has made it a barometer of economic reform. But since September, reports of heavily indebted local businesspeople fleeing the country or even committing suicide have triggered panic over a feared meltdown in the city’s intricate system of private financing. Debt-related legal disputes and even criminal cases have erupted. The local court warned that a host of cases involving private lending had been filed between March and May this year. In Lucheng district, where private lending is particularly active, 158 verdicts could not be implemented because debtors had either disappeared or were insolvent. Local media reported a case where the
daughter of Gao Zhisheng, a local manufacturer of engine springs, had been taken hostage by his largest creditor. She was saved only after her father offered to be taken hostage in her place. At the end of September, the local government announced a campaign to “crack down on the criminal use of force in demanding debt repayment.” The danger has been noted by China’s top decision makers. On October 4, Premier Wen Jiabao made a trip to Wenzhou to investigate the seriousness of the situation. He ordered the local government to restore public confidence “by any means necessary.” On October 12, in a bid to prevent the spread of the crisis, the State Council announced a package of policies including tax breaks and easier access to loans from State banks for small enterprises nationwide. Border checks have been stepped up in Zhejiang to prevent any more businesspeople from fleeing abroad to escape their bad debts. Ye Tan, a well-known finance commentator, even warned recently that “the decline of the Wenzhou economy, if it happens, could be a harbinger of the decline of China’s market economy.” Private Problems Private financing, which has been blamed for the current crisis, has underwritten Wenzhou’s economic take-off and boom since the country commenced economic reforms in 1978. Without the natural endowment of fertile land or other resources, Wenzhou was a poor, rural area. Yearly savings per capita were less than US$1. It was private lending that made grassroots entrepreneurship and expansion possible. Although most Wenzhou enterprises are
An unpaid seller takes up residence in the deserted office of Zhejiang Center Group on September 26
“The decline of the Wenzhou economy, if it happens, could be a harbinger of the decline of China’s market economy.”
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Photo by cfp
small-scale producers of light goods such as clothing, they exercise influence not only locally, but nationally and even globally. 99.5 percent of Wenzhou companies are privately owned, and they account for 86 percent of local tax revenue and 94 percent of local jobs. While the majority of international trade in China is carried out by foreign companies, in Wenzhou, it is private companies that have formed the backbone of the imports and exports with other countries of the world. NearNEWSCHINA I December 2011
ly 20 percent of Wenzhou’s total population, more than 1.7 million people, have founded companies. Since the mid 1980s, this has been hailed as the “Wenzhou model”. The role of banks in this success story has been minimal. Incapable of providing the requisite collateral or guarantees required by banks, small and medium-sized enterprises in China have traditionally had little or no access to bank loans. As a result, Wenzhou’s rise has been concurrent with a proliferation
of local private financing institutions such as guarantee companies, pawnshops and loan sharks. Given these circumstances, the central government’s tightening monetary policy that targeted bank loans starting in late 2010 should not have hit small enterprises. In practice, however, the tight supply of money restricted access to bank loans for large enterprises, driving them toward the private credit market. As a result, the interest rates of
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ECONOMY private finance companies have been pushed higher by the increasing demand. A report by the Wenzhou branch of China’s central bank shows that the current interest rate of the private lending market stands at a historical high, fueling the risk of default.
However, Wenzhou’s problems do not begin and end with credit woes. Wenzhou has also proven to be vulnerable to the wider economic downturn. As Zhou Dewen, chairman of the Wenzhou Small and Mediumsized Enterprise Development Association said, the credit crunch was the “last straw that has pushed small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to collapse.” The top three problems, according to a joint survey by Peking University and Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group, are increases in the costs of labor and raw materials, and the appreciation of the yuan. Increases in these three elements are an “irreversible trend,” warned Zhou. In addition, some company managers found
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themselves in debt due to poor management or gambling. Of course, none of these problems is unique to Wenzhou; all three have plagued China’s small and medium sized enterprises since the global financial crisis sent the world economy into a tailspin three years ago. However, they have served to highlight a lack of effective financing in the city, with the current crisis seemingly exposing hidden weaknesses in the Wenzhou model itself. The chaos on Wall Street since 2008 has proven that any clever game of finance can most certainly backfire. While Wenzhou companies have become increasingly aggressive on the asset market, their positive effect on the real economy has been lackluster. Cash-rich from the success of their SMEs, Wenzhou businesspeople have pursued quick, speculative returns with forays into real estate in 2001, coal in 2002, cotton in 2003, mineral resources in 2006 and oil in 2007, before turning their attention to private equity investment.
With the money supply tightened, these avid prospectors are keen to turn a profit from a capital-thirsty market. While bank lending decreased sharply, the central bank’s Wenzhou branch recorded 110 billion yuan (US$17bn) of private lending in the first half of 2011, compared with 80 billion yuan (US$12.5bn) in the first half of 2010. Local enterprises in the industrial sector are the largest providers of credit. This sudden eagerness to lend has not only caused today’s chaos, but also discouraged entrepreneurship in the real economy; only a small part of the total borrowed money was spent on industrial operation. For some listed companies, loan sharking can often generate more cash flow than their main business. But as has been shown, the asset market is risky. Due to the central government’s current policies aimed at cooling the housing market, investment in property is no longer such an attractive prospect. According to Wenzhou media, Mr Gao, the spring maker, got into trouble partly because his investment in
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mines went sour. In the mean time, many enterprises are serious about improving their growth model. At the end of 2008 when the promotion of alternative energy became national strategy and the monetary policy was relaxed, Hu Fulin’s eyeglasses company made huge investments in the renewable energy tech market. But before the investment had made sufficient returns, monetary policy changed and his financing costs soared, showing that abrupt changes in monetary policy have also played a part in enterprise’s failure to adapt. Voices calling for more support, rather than restriction, of the private lending market have never been so loud. Mao Yushi, a wellknown economist, has argued that private enterprises are very good borrowers as they put their own money, businesses and even family at risk if they default. He stressed that only the private credit market can help small enterprises when they need money immediately to survive. He even questioned the law which defines the practice of lending at a certain interest rate as illegal usury: “This regulation… is groundless and should be annulled immediately,” he said in a recent article in NewsChina’s Chinese edition. Zhou Dewen has long been calling for incentives to drive private investment in a direction that will benefit the real economy, rather than towards speculative financial games. Last May, the central government announced a 36-article package of policies to encourage private investment in markets monopolized by State companies, such as infrastructure, utilities, finance and even arms technology. However, implementation has been disappointingly poor. On his trip to Wenzhou, Premier Wen recognized that private companies still encounter glass ceilings in these key sectors. In a market with such insurmountable barriers, private companies remain incredibly vulnerable. A week after the State Council’s October 12 policy to support small enterprise, the media carried reports about privately-owned gas stations around the country facing fuel shortages. But Sinopec, one of the three State-owned oil monopolies, declared that it was not their responsibility to guarantee fuel supply for private gas stations. The central government is rushing to review the NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Photo by cfp
Police in Zhejiang stop a debtor’s suicide attempt on the roof of a building, August 28, 2011
implementation guidelines of the 36-article policy, but there is little reason to suggest that any real change will result. What happened in Wenzhou has not only already had repercussions beyond the area, but encapsulates China’s current dilemma. Over the last three years, China has been applauded for its resolute efficiency in the face
of the global financial crisis, with policies of assertive State intervention appearing to carry the country through the storm unscathed. However, with its private economy undermined, it faces a backlash. Now, as always, how it treats its private economy will have far-reaching effects on its core competitiveness and future reform trajectory.
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ECONOMY Sub-prime Lending
The Chinese Credit Crunch
China’s local government debts, while colossal, are at least under scrutiny from national regulators. The massive, shady trade in over-the-counter credit, however, may pose a more serious risk to the country’s financial and social stability By Li Jia
hile the US subprime crisis resulted from mortgages issued to insolvent individuals, the Chinese subprime credit has been created by banks loaning to financially unstable local governments,” said Cheng Siwei, president of the International Finance Forum, a discussion platform for financial leaders, on September 16 at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Liaoning Province. The three international credit rating agencies, Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, have all issued stark warnings on China’s banking system. Fitch even threatened to downgrade China’s sovereign credit rating if the asset quality of Chinese banks worsened in the next 12 to 24 months. There is, however, an even bigger threat to China’s financial stability than the build-up of bad bank loans. Only half of the loans in China show up on banks’ balance sheets, which then come under the scrutiny of regulatory authorities. The other more dangerous half are provided through banks’ off-sheet operations, or else by loan sharking companies or individuals with idle money. All this has combined to create a storm of so-called “shadow banking.” In an exclusive interview with NewsChina in October, Mr Geoffrey Choi, the Banking and Capital Markets Leader for Ernst & Young in Greater China, talked about the massive social and financial risks China faces from shadow banking, and how foreign banks can grab a bargain by buying Chinese. NewsChina: The US financial crisis in 2008 was blamed on “shadow banking.” Will China’s shadow banking, which is growing exponentially, trigger a Chinese subprime credit crisis? Geoffrey Choi: I believe shadow banking is creating an even more severe problem than the problem of local government debt in China. Nobody knows how big this black hole is. Based on data from the central bank, credit
from shadow banking reached 3.6 trillion yuan (US$563bn), or 46 percent of the total, in the first half of 2011. But no accurate figure is available so far due to a lack of a standardized statistical approach. Regulators are not as confident in their understanding of the scale of shadow banking as they are on the local government debt problem. Worse still, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) has little surveillance power over banks’ off-balance sheet operations. What they can do is to ask the banks not to give loans to projects that have no clearly defined purposes, as borrowers of those loans could become sub-lenders to reap higher interest rates, rather than investing in the projects. Massive capital subject to weak oversight carries not only financial risks, but also risks of social instability. A huge number of Chinese individuals have invested in wealth management tools recommended by banks. Although those products are off-balance sheet by nature, the banks cannot expect investors to take all the losses. A big lesson can be learned from the case of mini-bonds, a type of derivative sold by the US investment giant Lehman Brothers through Hong Kong banks. Under the pressure of protests and petitions of the investors falling victim to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Hong Kong government stepped in to mediate a solution under which the Hong Kong banks had to shoulder some of the losses. That shows that a financial problem can evolve into a social problem and banks are not immune from losses from their off-balance sheet business. NewsChina: Outside banks, loan sharking is a problem. Why is the practice so popular? Choi: Under the current tightening monetary policy, private companies have no choice but to turn to usury loans for help, whose interest rate can be as high as 50 percent. At the same time, high inflation is reducing the value of bank deposits. As a result, small private companies thirsty for capital and non-banking entities
with access to idle money, companies providing guarantees or small loan services, for example, fit in readily. But how could the borrowers survive such predatory interest rates? The recent reports of borrowers disappearing or committing suicide do not come as a surprise. In fact, there is widespread expectation among shadow bankers that the government will eventually have to bail them out when the problem escalates to the point where it threatens financial and social stability. This belief in itself proves the risk of social problems, making shadow banking all the more dangerous. NewsChina: Many experts are calling for a more market-based interest rate pricing reform to solve the shadow banking problem. What do you think? Choi: That reform is one of the goals of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). It will certainly create more competition between the banks, but will that solve the shadow banking problem? I doubt it. We need to look at the issue from a more long-term perspective. China has always pledged to further boost its domestic consumption. But the existing social security and health care systems give people more incentive to save than consume. The huge amount of idle money sloshes around and finally finds its way into the shadow banking domain. So the key question is how to give people the confidence to spend money. The solution to shadow banking must come through social policy. NewsChina: Given all the warnings from international ratings agencies and senior Chinese political figures, is China’s banking sector on the threshold of systematic risks? Choi: There is currently no solid evidence to support that view. Some countries have suffered from systematic risks because they ignored early signs of the crisis. But the CBRC is paying very close attention to local government loans. More accurate information has been made available NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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“Nobody knows how big this black hole is.”
over the past few months due to the introduction of more inclusive statistics standards; the latest figures released by the Chinese banks in their half-year reports are much higher than before. The CBRC has made it clear that no new loans are allowed to cover old ones. As long as China’s economy does not slow down drastically, systematic risk is not a likely scenario. However, the banks stressed their high cash flow coverage, which is estimated revenue to be generated by local infrastructure projects built with loans. The CBRC should check how accurate their forecast is – in the coming months when those loans mature, the situation may not be as rosy as the banks are depicting. Also, some of the repayments are financed by local governments’ fiscal revenue, which is largely backed by the volatile land transfer market, and the risk of default is much higher at the county and municipal levels than provincial. If slower-than-expected economic growth and heavy reliance on land transactions occurs in too many places, then there is systematic risk. NewsChina: Has the debt crisis in Europe and the US undermined cooperation between Chinese banks and their foreign counterparts? Choi: It is true that we are no longer seeing the surge of foreign banks acquiring stakes in Chinese banks that we saw a few years ago. But many foreign banks remain positive about investing in the Chinese banks with good asset quality and corporate governance. Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia, for example, declared in early September its deal worth US$722 million with the Bank of Guangzhou. Ernst and Young are helping some Chinese urban commercial banks secure foreign investors. Some Western banks are still doing well despite the financial crisis. Many in Canada, Germany and Australia are strong enough to get a foothold in China. Now is a good time for them to do so. Many Chinese banks register as low as around 1 percent price-to-book value ratio, indicating the huge potential for revaluation. It is a real bargain to get on board now. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Increase in China’s exports to other BRICS countries in April, far outstripping growth in exports to the US in the same period.
Export growth rates 71%, Apr
To BRICS To US
(General Administration of Customs of China) -10
China reJun duced its holdings of 1154.7 US T-bills by Jan US$36.5bn in August, its biggest reduc1144.9 tion so far this 1137.0 Mar year. China Aug Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug remains the largest foreign holder of T-bills, though Japan and Switzerland have both increased their holdings in recent months. (US Treasury Department/ Federal Reserve Board)
2nd Chinese buyers are now the second largest overseas group of investors in the US housing market in the 12 months ending March 2011, beaten only by Canada and ahead of Mexico, the UK and India.
(National Bureau of Statistics)
(US National Association of Realtors)
China’s economic growth fell to 9.1% in Q3, with growth in the CPI falling to 6.1% in September after hitting a record high in the summer months.
7%, UK 7%, India
The amount owed to State banks by toll road companies in 12 provinces including Beijing and Shanghai. Total revenue from road tolls in those provinces hit US$16bn in 2010. (Beijing News)
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INTERNATIONAL Myanmar and China
A Fragile Alliance The suspension of a major Chinese dam project in Myanmar reflects delicate but substantial changes in the bilateral relationship By Yu Xiaodong
was in shock when I heard about this from the media,” Lu Qizhou, general manager of the State-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) told NewsChina, referring to a statement from Myanmar’s government in late September that it was to suspend the Myitsone dam project, a CPI-led initiative. “So far, we haven’t heard anything directly from Myanmar,” Lu added. As the first dam to span the Irrawaddy River, the largest river in Myanmar, the Myitsone project has long battled domestic opposition to its construction. With 90 percent of the electricity generated by the dam expected to supply China, locals have argued that the project is unfairly weighted towards the country’s massive neighbor, with the people of Myanmar shouldering the environmental cost.
China continues to claim that the project is mutually beneficial. “The project will not only greatly increase Myanmar’s flood control capacity and upgrade its power industry, but will also add US$54 billion in government revenue through taxation, free power supply and dividends over 50 years,” Lu told NewsChina, “After 50 years, ownership of the dam, which is worth billions of US dollars and has an operational lifespan of over 100 years, will be handed over to the Myanmar government free of charge.” While investment has come exclusively from China, it is reported that Myanmar will own a 25 percent share in the finished hydropower plant. However, with Chinese businesses rapidly spreading through Myanmar in recent years, Chinese companies are often blamed for deforestation and the exploitation of Myanmar’s rich natural resources. “Myanmar can benefit enormously from Chinese trade and investment, but there is bound to be a backlash if Chinese projects are undertaken with zero transparency and little concern for their impact on local communi-
ties,” Thant Myint-U, author of Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, was quoted as saying in a BBC report. The opposition to the Myitsone dam project is largely due to its huge impact on the environment, with 1.4 percent of the entire river basin expected to be underwater by 2019 if construction finishes on schedule. In 2009, the CPI organized a team of 80 experts to investigate the potential environmental impact of the project, though not required by Myanmar law. After five months of research, the team compiled a 945-page report, which the CPI has refused to publish. It is reported that the experts’ conclusions were relatively pessimistic, warning that the dam may be vulnerable to powerful earthquakes, in addition to causing pollution and jeopardizing regional biodiversity.
Alongside these suspicions, which have existed for years, there are some important political considerations behind the Myanmar government’s decision. In February, Myanmar’s military junta held national elections to form a civilian government. However, the election was boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition, leading Western governments to declare the results illegitimate. Additionally, the new government includes several former military officers, chief among them the new President Thein Sein, in its highest ranks, adding to suspicions that it is simply a puppet regime of the country’s powerful military. In an effort to convince critics at home and abroad that it is serious about reform, the civilian government has sought to distance itself from the military. In the past months, it has loosened restrictions on the media and started to draft laws on economic liberalization, as well as holding regular meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the dam is a prestige project for the junta as China its major benefactor, the decision to
suspend the project, which is opposed by many including Suu Kyi, is bold, but not entirely out of the blue. When announcing the decision, Myanmar President Thein Sein stressed that the government is one “elected by the people, which upholds the aspirations and wishes of the people,” and therefore “should be responsible in solving the problems that worry the public.” Only two weeks after the decision on October 13, Thein Sein, along with 13 ministeriallevel officials, visited India, which is now vying with China for a preferential relationship with Myanmar. Many observers saw the visit as an attempt by the Myanmar government to reduce its economic and political dependence on its erstwhile ally China. During the visit, India promised to complete the construction of the US$120 million Sittewe deep-water port by 2013, which will allow cargo vessels from India’s landlocked Mizoram state to navigate the Kaladan River to Myanmar and Southeast Asia. It is expected that bilateral trade between Myanmar and India will increase to US$3 billion by 2015. Major Indian energy companies including ONGC Vedesh, GAIL and Eassar also expressed their interest to increase their investment in Myanmar. “It is obvious that Myanmar does not want to put all its eggs in one basket,” commented Zhao Shilong, vice editor-in-chief of the Guangzhoubased Time Weekly newspaper. “It is likely that other Chinese projects, such as the oil pipeline currently under construction [carrying natural gas and oil from the Bay of Bengal to southern China] may be the next to encounter problems.” China currently stands as Myanmar’s biggest trade partner and source of foreign investment. In 2010, the trade volume between China and Myanmar was US$4.4 billion, with China’s direct investment in Myanmar at US$12.3 billion. In the first quarter of this year, a US$3.2 billion increase in investment was recorded. Perhaps with that in mind, President Thein NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Sein appeared keen not to anger China when announcing the suspension of the dam project, adding that the government would negotiate terms with China “without affecting the friendly bilateral relations between the two countries.’’ Similarly, China’s reaction has been relatively mild, either as a result of being caught by surprise, or else in the hope that the project will be restarted at a later date. “The dam is a joint venture between China and Myanmar which has been approved by both parties after serious research,” read a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The two sides should hold friendly talks over matters related to the project.”
During his official visit to attend the opening of the China-ASEAN Exposition from October 21 to 26, Myanmar Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo told Chinese President Hu Jintao that Myanmar would work closely with China to “seek solutions to defend mutual interests.” The two parties will certainly have a lot to
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work with. According to Lu Qizhou, many infrastructure projects related to the dam, including roads, power, and telecommunications have already been completed, with a variety of other projects currently underway. It is estimated that China has spent more than US$2 billion on the project since construction began in 2009. The two countries also need to discuss the fate of other major Chinese-led dam projects, some of which were designed as auxiliary projects to the Myitsone dam. “Dropping the project altogether will have serious legal consequences,” warned Lu. To add to complications, in a US$4.7 billion interest-free loan agreement with China signed earlier this year, Myanmar borrowed against its share in the hydropower station, intending to repay the loan mainly with expected earnings from the project. If the dam is entirely dropped, the loan agreement may be terminated too. Myanmar’s decision has thrown a curveball in China’s direction, and will perhaps prove costly for both sides. While bilateral relations remain amicable, the suspension of the My-
itsone project shows that even billion-dollar initiatives are not shielded from a political sea change. With international investment playing an integral role in China’s long-term development strategy, experiences in Myanmar perhaps point to a need for a more cautious approach in the future.
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orn in the former Soviet Union in 1963, André Vltchek, now a naturalized US citizen and journalist, writer, photographer and filmmaker, is a longtime leftwing polemicist campaigning against “a world governed by market fundamentalism.” He regularly contributes to radical journal ZNet, writes for publications including Newsweek, Asia Times, Japan Focus and China Daily, and has published several books of fiction and nonfiction, some of which have received endorsements from Noam Chomsky. In the past he has spoken out in favor of the political systems of Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, and is a vocal critic of what he perceives as “Western neocolonialism” in the Asia-Pacific region. When Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, Vltchek published a harsh piece titled The West Perfecting Its Techniques to Hurt China, calling the prize “a direct attempt to harm the largest nonWestern economy and socio-political system in the world.” Such sentiment was echoed strongly by self-styled “patriotic” groups in China as well as by the Chinese government, all of which poured scorn on the Nobel Peace Prize committee, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even going so far as to suggest Liu Xiaobo’s nomination could affect China’s diplomatic relations with Norway. NewsChina: What inspired you to write The West Perfecting Its Techniques to Hurt China? Last year I was driving all over China with one of my best friends – Yuan Sheng. Yuan is a brilliant concert pianist; we’ve known each other for many years. He told me about how much he suffered from anti-Chinese propaganda when he was studying in New York, how much he was hurt. We discussed the topic for many hours and I shared my experiences with him – I explained how the West controls the world not only through brutal invasions, intimidation and economics, but also through propaganda. The idea that the press in Western countries is “free” is truly laughable.
“China Wants to be Loved.” In a recent email interview with NewsChina, leftwing polemicist André Vltchek talks patriotism, propaganda and why Communism can save the world By Yuan Ye
NewsChina: Have you ever lived or worked in China? Could you describe to us your impression of China and Chinese people? I never lived in China but I have visited it on many occasions. China fascinates me. I
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think Chinese people are very warm and caring. They are also very inquisitive, talented and hardworking – qualities essential for any nation that wants to build an educated and socially-oriented society. I live and work in Japan and Indonesia, and Asia has become my home; I have no desire to go back to New York and definitely not to Europe. I would actually love to live in Beijing, at least for some time. But I don’t speak the language, unfortunately. It is quite embarrassing, considering that I am quarter Chinese by blood. NewsChina: You said that the Chinese experiment is based on solidarity but there are many conflicts. What’s your view on these conflicts and their possible consequences? I support the China which is trying build itself upon solidarity and social justice. I want to believe that solidarity and social justice are essential to Chinese society, no matter how complex and winding is the road to that goal. This is a very important moment in world history. If China stays its socialist course, our entire planet will benefit. We will have pluralism and the developing world will finally have a mighty friend and protector. If China joins the ranks of nations governed by market-fundamentalism, the world will have no alternatives anymore. And that would be the end: humanity can strive only when intellectual, ideological and economical pluralism is present, not when there is one and only one dogma and your country will be bombed to ashes if you elect a government that decides to go its own way.
Cartoon dragon drawn by Marina Wiedemann, André Vltchek’s mother NEWSCHINA I December 2011
NewsChina: You talked about the West as a whole in your article. Could you be more specific about the concept of the West? What and who it refers to? Noam Chomsky correctly calls US neo-colonialism “a branch on the European colonial tree.” Philosophy is the same in Europe and the US: the world is inferior to Europe and North America, plus a few other countries like Australia and New Zealand. There are also nations like Japan that were accepted by South African apartheid as “honorary whites,” and they are now part of the club of global ruling elites. The West is the group of nations that were, for centuries, dominating. If you look at the world map from the beginning of the 20th
Vltchek’s Views: On Nobel Peace Prize laureates: “Idols had been erected and analyzing them in depth was discouraged. Solzhenitsyn, former feudal lord the Dalai Lama and now the new one: Liu Xiaobo. On China’s role in the Third World: “The more positively China gets involved in Africa, the more it has to face sarcasm and attacks of Western media outlets that pervert all attempts to create an alternative world where solidarity and internationalism stand above pragmatic interests.” On English: “Equipped with the ‘world language,’limitless funds and absolute access to, and control over, the media, Western propaganda planners are managing to twist facts and manipulate global public opinion.” On the term “human rights:” “It is [a term] stained by invasions, interferences with internal affairs, by military coups and consequent killing, torture and rape.” On the West’s attitude to China: “Its purpose is to isolate China, provoke it and finally break it, preferably internally.” On China’s internal problems: “Despite some errors, the Chinese experiment is based on solidarity. A great majority of its citizens are supporting it and that is in essence proof of [its] democratic core. That’s how the majority of Chinese people see it and that’s all that matters.” On Western double standards: “It seems that citizens in Europe and North America can tolerate injustice in any other country on earth, but would scream blue murder [if such injustice] were directed against them.” Source: The West Perfecting Its Techniques to Hurt China
century, everything becomes clear and obvious. Freedom, liberty and democracy – all are myths used to justify countless invasions, Monroe Doctrines, coups and the physical liquidation of hundreds of millions of people belonging to “lesser nations” and “inferior races.” Dutch invaders, for instance, called Indonesian people “cattle,” while Winston Churchill openly described people out-
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NewsChina: You talk about “Western propaganda.” As a veteran journalist, could you give us some concrete example of such “propaganda” and the “control” over the media? Have you ever been forced to write anything against your will? There are hardly any free media left in the West. Reporters have been reduced to corporate employees. They are told or they instinctively know what they are supposed to say or write. It is definitely much more “perfect” and effective control than what they used to have in Eastern Bloc countries. Being owned by corporations and business interests, it is logical that media outlets will not be attacking their owners or the systems – political and economic – that those owners represent. Do I have to go any further? It is so obvious. I have countless examples, of course, but I can’t give you names because I would be sued for defamation. This is another weapon of mass destruction against the integrity of intellectuals in the West – you tell the truth and they will employ their corporate lawyers to run you to the ground, not because the lawyer could prove you are lying but because the lawyers are great professionals in the service of the elites and you have no chance against them. I was writing a big article for an influential magazine in the US, about China and Taiwan and what has been called checkbook diplomacy in Oceania. In Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, China had been doing some incredible things: building schools, stadiums, roads, and government buildings. Then the West encouraged Taiwan to offer huge piles of cash in exchange for diplomatic recognition. Many corrupt little nations complied, or more precisely, their governments did. Then
Photo courtesy of André Vltchek
side the white realm as “inferior” and wrote that he saw no reason to apologize to them. When I write about the West, I mean the group of countries on the European continent and North America that, for some reason, believe that they ought to be exempt from international law and not be judged by the same standards as the rest of the world. In a way, it is some sort of fundamentalist elitist cult, gloomy and dangerous, as it continuously liquidates all aspirations natural to human beings, like those for a better, just and compassionate society.
André Vltchek in Beijing, 2010
China would break diplomatic relations and the only victims would be poor people living on those islands. It was a clear-cut case, very simple; even the EU and the US do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. On top of that, I knew the governments of several island nations and their members told the whole story: “Taiwan was not forced by the West, but it was ‘encouraged.’” I refused to budge and criticize both sides. My piece was openly critical of Taiwan. The magazine never published my story – they just paid generously for the “kill.” NewsChina: What’s your view of Chinese diplomacy? Chinese diplomacy is good but probably too timid. China wants to be loved. It is not simply because the main goal of Western foreign policy and media is to discredit China – to convince the world that China is as greedy and brutal as the West. It is all a power game and lies are being employed, but China is too modest and it very rarely reacts to these insults. I believe that China should defend itself, simply because it created its very successful model which ought to inspire many nations all over the world. If people in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America swallow Western propaganda about China, they will miss out on a great many things that China has invented and perfected, things they could implement in their own countries. NewsChina: In your article, you also seemed quite pro-Communist. As you
were born in the Soviet Union, do you think Russia should go back to the Communist era? Communism to me is the determined fight against imperialism and colonialism, and it is also striving for social justice. I think that a “mixed economy” is fine, as long as what a country is aiming at is good housing for all, free education and free medical care. The last two should be the norm. As we speak, Chilean students are fighting on the streets of Santiago for free schooling. The fact that we even speak about this is absurd: people were demanding these things for centuries; they were fighting and dying for them. And some 40 years ago there were no disputes that health, education, public transportation should be either free or heavily subsidized. Only when the world had been kidnapped by market-maniacs did we have to defend old ideas that were, once again, discredited by propaganda. Economics are important for any society, but the economy is just a tool that should serve a nation and its people. If this makes me a Communist, then so be it. Russian people never left Communism, or at least not by their own free will. Boris Yeltsin, the pro-Western demagogue and alcoholic, after hitting single digits in the polls and being impeached by Parliament, sent tanks into the streets, killing thousands of people. He also bombed the House full of lawmakers who were democratically elected. Of course the West fully supported that move. That’s how the marketregime survived in Russia – against the will of the people. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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CULTURE Artist Ma Kelu
Paint and Suffering
Commemorated in a retrospective exhibition of his life’s work, painter Ma Kelu talks about his inspiring life story, and how it shaped him as a painter By Yuan Ye
ccompanied by a melancholy guitar, a man’s voice began to sing: “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” It was the start of a short documentary for artist Ma Kelu, played at the opening of a retrospective of Ma’s paintings over forty years at the Yuan Art Museum and Permanence Gallery in Beijing this September. The film had almost no dialogue or narration, with Ma’s own singing voice the only sound. Slow and calm, the film exuded a quiet strength and passion, and was acknowledged with thunderous applause at the end. Some of the audience were in tears. “Ma Kelu and I share some similar life experiences,” said famous painter and critic Chen Danqing at the opening. “We both grew up in the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] and were sent to the countryside to do manual labor. We taught ourselves to paint. Later, we went abroad, both living in New York before returning to China,” he continued. “Ma has always kept away from the mainstream and has never compromised, whether at home or abroad. He has persisted in his own art and ideals. In my heart, he is a hero.” To Ma, such a life seemed only natural. From his early post-impressionist explorations, to later minimalism, abstract expressionism, experiments in classical Chinese style and recent abstract works in bright colors, Ma has explored a wide range of styles and concepts while ignoring the vogues of the booming Chinese art market. “Painting is the most significant part of my existence,” he said. Neither self-symbolization nor farfetched political interpretation has ever appeared in his work, but he had always sought to assert independence, since starting to paint in direct opposition to the government-sponsored socialist-realist art movement during the Cultural Revolution. “It’s only natural,” he repeated several times during his interview with NewsChina. “Natu-
rally,” he fell in love with painting. “Naturally,” he gathered with a group of self-taught artists to paint non-realistic paintings under the tough socio-political pressure of the 1970s, and just as “naturally,” they later went their separate ways. It was only when Ma sat down to write a memoir a few decades later that “tears streamed down his face” as he recalled those around him at that time. Having been dealt a variety of blows over the years, Ma has learned to take everything in his stride. “Can you think of anything truly important or urgent in life?” he asked. “There’s nothing, right?” He has lived a freewheeling life in China and abroad for three decades. Still, seeing the launch of his retrospective exhibition with more than 150 works showcased for two months, he felt a certain contentment. “For an artist, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. The exhibition matters to Ma. Meanwhile, to the audience and art critics, looking at the paintings on display offers a chance to learn about the changing spirit of the times through one man’s independent endeavour in art.
Ma Kelu at an exhibition of his abstract works, Beijing, September 2009
Hope and Escape
When the mother of a classmate asked the 7– year-old Ma what we wanted to be when he grew up, he uttered without a second thought: “a painter.” After fifty years, he still remembers it well. Born in Shanghai in 1954, he moved to Beijing with his father, then a businessman, at a very young age. With a rare talent and dreams of becoming a painter, Ma could not have expected the chaos that lay ahead. The memory of being denounced as part of a “bad element” family, a fatal curse during the Cultural Revolution, is a bitter one for Ma. His house was raided by zealous revolutionaries when he was in fifth grade. Ma never received formal painting classes and wasn’t even able to afford drawing materials. Fortunately, his family
supported him, saving every penny to buy him tools and paint. “The social atmosphere was very depressing. Discrimination was everywhere. Painting brought me so much joy,” he remembered. When he entered middle school, after the Cultural Revolution had just started, he gradually learned about oil painting, attracted by its threedimensional form and rich colors. Sadly, books, especially those related to the “capitalist lifestyle” to which Western art obviously belonged, were systematically destroyed. Sources were scarce. School education was still trying to persuade Ma that he was living in an honest, kindhearted and glorious society. Meanwhile, Ma NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Photo by Yang Chao
saw twisted and vicious behavior all around, as people became swept up in the ideology of the time. “The contrast between reality and what we learned taught me to think for myself,” said Ma. Painting brought him comfort, offered him the opportunity to express himself, and allowed him an escape from reality. Between 1970 and 1972, Ma was sent to the countryside to do manual labor along with many of his peers. Besides being forced to toil in the fields, he often had to walk two miles to paint, so as to avoid the suspicious eyes in his village. In the wilderness, landscapes became a major theme of his painting. Returning to Beijing, he gradually became NEWSCHINA I December 2011
close with a group of other self-taught young painters. These painters, like Ma, were tired of the dominance of socialist-realist art. They often gathered together in parks or the suburbs to paint landscapes. In order to avoid been noticed and to make their tools more portable, they modified small tool boxes into all-in-one painting kits. As a result, most of their paintings were small, normally about 60 square inches each. Along with these painters, especially thanks to one whose family worked at the Ministry of Culture, Ma gained access to precious surviving cultural items, which sometimes even included the latest works from the West that were almost impossible to find elsewhere. They got hold of
books on literature, philosophy and other social sciences, and listened to early rock music including the Beatles and Bob Dylan, igniting Ma’s lifelong love for rock ‘n’ roll. Their group, in the words of member Zheng Ziyan, was exciting for its “sense of collective guilt.” “There is no single word that can represent us,” said Zhao Wenliang, one of the leading artists of the group. Thus, the ‘No Name Group’ was born in the spring of 1979, when Liu Xun, then chairperson of the Beijing Artists Association, asked the painters for an exhibition, which drew 60,000 people in 22 days. However, members of the No Name Group didn’t continue their collective efforts.
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CULTURE Having served as a force for enlightenment, they soon parted ways. Their works, obviously not recognized by the orthodox art scene, were dismissed by later art groups who advocated modernism and post-modernism. As a result, they were ignored by the influx of Western art capital into China over the following decades. As a group, they were nearly forgotten by China’s art scene until some two decades later, when Gao Luming, an art critic, rediscovered their history. A touring exhibition was held in 2007. With the social atmosphere relaxing at the end of the Cultural Revolution, the No Name Group no longer needed to stand together in resistance against the gloom of society. Ma had began to deliberately distance himself from his fellow painters. “We had stayed together for a long time and everyone had grown up. If we stayed close, the mutual influence would dilute our individual personalities,” Ma said. It was a time of fierce change. The whole country, including Ma, seemed to be pondering the direc-
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Courtesy of Ma Kelu
tion of society and their own lives. Gradually, with the influence of more modern works, his style became more abstract. The Drum and Bell Towers in Beijing had become frequent themes in his work, which had begun
to display more vague and distorted characteristics. In 1982, he began selling works for the first time, and two years later, he resigned from his day-job. “I wasn’t really thinking too much about tomorrow,” he said. Painting was all he
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cared about. In 1987, Ma began a half-year journeying around China. In 1988, he got an opportunity to go to Europe, and traveled there for 10 months before finally arriving in New York. “I was influenced by the literature of the beat generation,” he said. Such a life suited him well. He observed the world and took in as many original art works as he could. Though finding it all a little hard to swallow, he learned much through the trip. After settling in New York, he began a new period of exploration. While living in Brooklyn, a place that Ma became very fond of, he often felt perplexed in the multicultural environment. He was keen on abstract painting, but was unwilling to become one of the many international abstract painters. “You can’t help asking yourself who you are, where you are from and where you are heading,” he said. While he began to be influenced by traditional Chinese ink-and-wash painting, he had no desire to become a traditional Chinese painter. Creating a new style, he borrowed images from some of his favorite ancient Chinese painters such as Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Dong Yuan (934-962), creating a series of large-scale landscape paintings, glazed over with a thick layer of wax to create an ethereal, distorted effect. “It was not an attempt to blend the east and the west,” he emphasized. “I very much dislike that style.” Ma said he was creating something new. These paintings took him years to finish, and he was happy with them. At the same time, he continued to paint the street scene of Brooklyn, for the enjoyment of “pure painting.” However, fate was to deal him a cruel blow. He moved back to China in 2006 to provide a better living environment for his estranged son, a young artist and musician who was suffering from depression. Yet, in 2007, only two weeks after Ma’s father had passed away, his son committed suicide. “It still haunts me,” said Ma. Sitting quietly in his studio in suburban Beijing, he played his son’s self-produced album of electronic music to our reporter. In recent years, his paintings have begun to incorporate abstract strokes in bright colors. “It’s a healing process,” he said. “These works are fierce; they helped me to move on. And these colors are also my son’s favorite colors.” Ma is a survivor. “Life itself is an incident, perplexing, uncertain and helpless,” he said. “Facing it is the only option.” NEWSCHINA I December 2011
The Evolution of Ma Kelu
1. Ice Rink (1972) 2. Drum Tower Avenue (1981) 3. Lotus Scrolls (1997 - 2000) 4. Sunset over Williamsburg (2000) 5. Down Town Train (2008) 6. Sacrifice of the Spring (2009)
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ReducedtoRubble Topping the world rankings in scale and number of new projects, in any one year China maintains over 2 billion square meters of construction sites, accounting for 40% of the world’s total cement, iron and steel production. But while new buildings seem to spring up overnight, many last only a few years; demolition work, often under the guise of “improvement” or “renovation,” is common. Reduced to piles of rubble, many buildings suffer an untimely demise, shrouded in clouds of dust and smog.
Shenyang Wulihe Stadium Demolished: February 12, 2007 Lifespan: 18 years Reason: Named as the host city for the 2008 Olympic football matches, the Shenyang city government replaced the whole stadium with a new one
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Hubin Building No 3, Zhejiang University Demolished: January 6, 2007 Lifespan: 13 years Reason: The university sold the land to a commercial real estate project
Wenzhou Zhongyin Plaza Demolished: May 18, 2004 Lifespan: 6 years Reason: Did not meet construction standards after completion
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Shanghai Yan’an East Road Viaduct Demolished: February 13, 2008 Lifespan: 11 years Reason: Demolished due to an urban renovation project, despite estimated lifespan of 100 years
Shenyang Summer Palace Demolished: February 20, 2009 Lifespan: 15 years Reason: To be replaced by a real estate project
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Qingdao Hotel Demolished: October 15, 2006 Lifespan: 20 years Reason: Building’s internal architectureunsuitable for use as a hotel
Liaoning Science and Technology Museum Demolished: April 28, 2011 Lifespan: 23 years Reason: The museum will be replaced with a “culture square” by 2013 NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Wuhan Waitan Garden Community Demolished: March 30, 2002 Lifespan: 4 years Reason: Violation of national flood control regulations
Chongqing Yongchuan Conference and Exhibition Center Demolished: August 20, 2005 Lifespan: 5 years Reason: To be replaced by a five-star hotel
Qingdao Railroad Plaza Demolished: January 7, 2007 Lifespan: 16 years Reason: Expansion of Qingdao Railroad Station
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OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within china
Gorgeous Gorge One of the deepest canyons in the world and still filled with legends, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the most exhilarating and beautiful hikes in China
Photos by Philip Jones/Map Illustration by Wu Shangwen
ďƒŞBy Philip Jones
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Left to right: Waterfalls across the path provide a treacherous but exhilarating edge to the hike; the narrowest section of the gorge, over which legend has it the tiger leapt, is just 25 meters wide
pending too long in cities in China can easily cause you to forget the astounding scenery that is on offer, albeit often a long journey away. Tiger Leaping Gorge is still famous and appealing enough to attract tour groups doing three weeks in China, as they tour from Beijing to Xi’an, and end up in China’s southwest. Our journey began with an overnight train from Kunming, Yunnan Province’s capital, followed by a bumpy three-hour bus ride to the town of Qiaotou at the southern end of the gorge. Although there are two routes around the gorge, the high and the low, the latter is simply a main road and, while certainly useful for a quick return to Qiaotou, it lacks any of the esthetic joys and satisfying challenges of the high road. The first of such challenges was actually finding the road. According to Jane’s Guesthouse in Qiaotou, we needed to walk about 300 meters, then look for a path up the mountain. It was a path we’d have easily missed - it was overgrown and looked like it headed nowhere. Four local women pointed to us to continue along the main path, while a man gestured for us to follow him up the overgrown trail. As the women giggled and continued on their way, the man urged ever more ferociously, eventually winning us over. Having hacked through the bushes for a short while, we emerged at the first of many arrows indicating the way, and so began the two-hour uphill hike to the high road, which included several locals offering us horses, and the first sight of the rolling brown river as it begins its entrance to the gorge. The Naxi Guesthouse is the first major stop along the way, perfectly positioned in time for a NEWSCHINA I December 2011
lunch stop. It is worth taking the time to stop and rest because from here, you hit the “28 Bends,” a notorious part of the climb where the path inclines steeply and in tight corkscrew turns. Against the advice of my companion, I began counting them, which almost immediately descended into questioning “whether a half-turn counts as a bend,” before giving up and making a rough estimate based on how out of breath I was. After what I considered to be “about ten but could easily be fifteen,” we arrived at a small shack selling refreshments, some of which were illegal and boasted effects I’d have thought would be quite unhelpful while hiking a steep mountain. Stopping to buy a couple of refreshing sour green tangerines, I asked how many bends we had done already, and received the disheartening answer that the 28 Bends would start “about a ten minute walk away.” I bought a Red Bull to cheer myself up, and soldiered on.
As we finally began the 28 Bends, the light rain began to get heavier and the foreboding of one of our guidebooks rang in our ears. Conflicting information is often a frustration to the gorge-hiker, particularly where times to get from one guesthouse to the next are concerned, but one guidebook had gone so far as to say that the hike was categorically impossible during the rainy season from July to September. While we experienced nothing heavier than a light shower, I would suggest that hiking in heavy rain is not impossible, but would likely be a thoroughly miserable experience. Aside from the odd patch of mud, we managed to clamber to the top unscathed.
The 28 Bends end at a high point of the trek, both literally and figuratively. From here, the path begins to wind slowly back down, but before heading along it, you can edge out onto a rocky precipice with a sheer drop and gaze straight up the middle of the gorge. A watchful attendant is on hand to charge eight yuan (US$1.25) per camera if you want him to take a photograph. Having regularly trekked in high places, I’d never suffered anything close to vertigo before, but the feeling of total exposure I felt clambering out onto the viewing rock, buffeted only by the lightest of breezes, made my legs go weak. From here, it is only an hour or so more of gentle hiking to the Tea-Horse Guest House, a popular spot for many to call it a night and enjoy the wonderful views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the gorge’s eastern side. However, determined hikers can push on an extra hour or so to the Halfway Hostel before it gets dark. Just before arrival at the Tea-Horse however, there is one more obstacle to overcome; the path reaches a waterfall flowing down a narrow ravine that travelers must cross. There are two options: a bridge made of five narrow logs with a bit of give in the middle and a considerable drop to the water below, or picking one’s way across wet rocks on a ledge underneath the waterfall itself. We took the bridge option but not without considerable deliberation over its sturdiness. When morning rolls around, the fortunate may see the sunrise over the eastern mountains at around 8am, though it is more likely that you will just see the clouds get steadily lighter as you eat a quick breakfast and continue the
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From Yunnan’s capital Kunming, it is possible to take a night-train or a flight to Lijiang. From there, there are several buses a day to Qiaotou for roughly 30 yuan, the last leaving at around 10:30 AM. It is also possible to hire a driver to take you there for around 200-300 yuan, depending on how good your haggling skills are.
Accommodation Jane’s Guesthouse is just inside the national park of Tiger Leaping Gorge at Qiaotou and offers food, rooms and good hiking advice. They also offer bag storage, or a porter service
to take your baggage to another hostel in the area.
Practicalities Sturdy footwear is essential as the hiking terrain is difficult. Don’t forget to take something waterproof, and brace yourself for some difficult patches along the way. Tiger Leaping Gorge is not for the faint-hearted, and those who would prefer to take in the scenery with less physical exertion (though even more awareness of the sheer drops) can hire horses from local guides. During the rainy season months of June-September, landslides are a risk. Consult your accommodation before hiking if in doubt.
journey. While buying refreshments at the Halfway, the owner warned us that the heavy rainfall overnight had made the rocks on the path more slippery than usual, and urged us to be careful. For an hour or so, this was not an issue as the path, though thin and a little slippery, was buffered by a gentle slope and a lot of foliage. But soon we were turning into another jut into the mountains on our side, and suddenly the path was no more than a meter or so wide and the drop to the right was sheer and very apparent. Meanwhile, up ahead towered the highest peaks of the Haba Snow Mountain (on the gorge’s western side) with a waterfall cascading down and across the path we would soon need to cross. I felt my legs go wobbly again and I looked forlornly at the lightweight footwear I had chosen to hike in. Now is probably the time to admit that years of hiking in China had made me complacent as many “treks” are paved with stone steps that are pretty easy to deal with and so, in the interests of traveling light around the
Photo by Philip Jones
Middle Tiger Leaping Stone resembles a tiger’s head in profile, its jaws lapping up rushing river water
rest of Yunnan Province, I’d left my sturdy walking boots at home. Gingerly hugging the mountain face so as to maintain as much distance as possible from the edge, we made our way to the waterfall, feeling the spray and a jangle of nerves. Deciding my shoes were not rugged enough to deal with bounding across slippery rocks, I adopted a shuffle-and-paddle approach, and accepted that wet feet were inevitable. My companion, smug that his choice of footwear was now vindicated, took it at far more of a canter behind me, only to let out a startled yelp when the last rock he hopped onto wobbled alarmingly. We encountered two more waterfalls trickling across the path as we continued but neither felt as intimidating now that we had conquered the first. With one last appreciation of a good vantage point of the gorge’s stunning scenery, the path meanders gently down to the junction with the low road and Tina’s Guesthouse – another well positioned spot for resting and refueling.
From here, a steep path descends from the low road to the riverbank, again with viewing platforms each of which carries a small toll. From the first you can see “Middle Tiger Leaping Stone,” a rock that represents the side profile of a tiger’s head, as if drinking from the rushing river. The second platform views the two ledges that come closest to each other, about 25 meters apart, over which the legendary tiger leapt in order to evade capture by a hunter and give the gorge its name. Rather than going back up the way we came, we took an alternative path, cutting directly through a slice into the gorge itself, before heading back up to the Walnut Guesthouse, also on the low road. Those with another free day can continue to Daju, which offers connections to Shangri-la (Zhongdian), Lijiang or Dali, but not directly back to Qiaotou which is where we’d ditched our bags. So we hired a vehicle to take us back, exhausted and dirty but exhilarated at some of the finest yet most nerve-wracking scenery I’ve ever hiked along.
fu nü Fantasy fag hag A combination of the characters for “rotten” and “woman,” this pejorative term indicates a woman’s hopeless addiction to a certain vice, and in Japanese is the counterpart of otaku, which has come to mean a young male shut-in addicted to computer games, anime and manga. A transliteration of the Japanese word fujoshi, a funü is typically a young girl with a penchant for anime and comics involving romances between men, a genre termed yaoi in Japanese and danmei in Chinese, though now extended to include any woman who fantasizes about gay male relationships. Danmei literally means“indulging in beauty,”but is only used in reference to Japanese shonen’ai, or “boys’ love (BL)” anime and comics aimed at female readers. Despite being popular in Japan for decades, this niche literary genre has recently entered China’s developing youth subculture, offering a gender-bending twist on traditional romances which has proved popular with Chinese girls. In the 1990s, danmei comics and novellas flowed across the Sea of Japan into China, much to the chagrin of the central authorities, who accused yaoi of “seducing underage youths into becoming homosexuals” due to its “pornographic” content. Stores discovered to be selling print editions of popular yaoi were closed down, but the arrival of the Internet soon derailed attempts to stem the
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tide, and soon youngsters had easy access to this exotic fantasy world. Funü are typically urban residents of the 1980s and 90s generations. Funü bloggers and writers of slash fiction often create elaborate fantasies involving well-known actors and pop stars as well as personal acquaintances, regardless of the known sexual orientation of the participants. The genre itself is hailed both in Japan and, increasingly, in China for the literary flair of its, predominantly female, authors. Minami Ozaki’s debut Zetsuai 1989, seen as the seminal work in the yaoi canon, has inspired Chinese authors such as Tian Lai Zhi Yuan, Feng Nong and An Ye Liu Guang to add to the danmei genre, as well as combining diverse cultural elements into fantastical narratives. One of the most-clicked Chinese danmei stories, The Right Wing of Angels, describes a love affair between the archangel Michael and Lucifer, also drawing on Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation and pagan magical rites. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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flavor of the month
On the Waterfront By Stephy Chung
NEWSCHINA I December 2011
Photo by Stephy Chung
verfished waters and marine ecosystems verging near-collapse mean most of Hong Kong’s fisheries are now banned from local waters. Though seafood prices have risen in recent years due to a dependence on imports, demand has yet to fall. Sloshing through the 5 AM fish markets in Aberdeen, Hong Kong’s famous harbor, and watching old women meticulously flip over even the tiniest minnow for close inspection, is proof that Hong Kong takes its seafood very seriously. Cantonese-style prep work is never compromised, from minimalist steamed whole fish to curried cuttlefish ball kebabs. Seeking adventure outside the concrete jungle, a friend and I ferried out to Hong Kong’s outlying Lamma Island during one of the gloomier days of the tropical rainy season. After a choppy 25-minute boat ride, we arrived at Sok Kwu Wan, an inlet on the island’s east side. Lamma is one of Hong Kong’s fish farming zones and we were greeted by the sight of a few dozen small green and pink fishing boats, quietly bobbing up and down in the pier’s waters. Near dusk, one fisherman was still dredging the water with a long pole, making small fish jump a foot up in the air and fall chaotically into his net. Lamma Island is the Anglicized transliteration of the Cantonese word naam, meaning “south,” and the Cantonese vowel sound “a,” the local approximation of “y,” a reference to the island’s Y shape. Archeological digs date Lamma’s earliest settlements as far back as the Neolithic and early Bronze ages. A picturesque walk on its well-marked trails winds through dilapidated hamlets, tranquil beaches, precipitous caves, and leafy jungle. Hiking on the carfree island can work up a mighty appetite, and, happily, the teetering shorefront restaurants that line Sok Kwu Wan promise full stomachs. We chose to eat at the Lamma Seafood Restaurant; though unimaginatively named, the charm of its eighty-year-old host Chan was enough to lure us in. Unlike the relentless pleas of other restaurants to sit, he just stood cool in front of the bubbling fish tanks and buckets piled high with rubber-bound crabs, flashing us a toothless grin, one that stretched wide into a frown, and in a deep, tobacco-heavy
voice simply asked, “Do you want fish?” Bearing a striking resemblance to a grouper, and sounding just as I would imagine a grouper to sound if it spoke, we followed his hunched back as he trawled through the tables and sat us outdoors with a view of the sea. The no-frills white plastic lawn chairs, cheap orange tablecloths, tiki lights and the salty sea breeze, was perfect for an evening meal. Chan grew up in Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island, but unlike many others from his village, he did not work in the fishing industry. Instead, he traveled back and forth between Hong Kong and the mainland, schlepping fabrics for his clothing business. When that went under, he began working as a waiter on Lamma Island and has been at the same restaurant for over fifteen years. When asked why he was still working past retirement, he echoed a very Hong Kong sentiment, “Work is better than no work,” he said. “For us old people, having something to do is better so that our minds stay sharp.” He pointed out a few dishes on the laminated menu; prawns with garlic, steamed jumbo scallops, fried grouper with tomato sauce, and we dutifully ordered them all, and several others including the chef’s recommendation: “clams baked in aluminum foil.” Cantonese food is known for its fresh sea-
sonings and light use of oil. It feels much healthier than cuisines from other regions of China since its approach is to allow the flavors of main ingredients to come through rather than overwhelming them with spices and oil. This was exquisitely demonstrated through the prawn and scallop dishes. The prawns were stir-fried with roasted minced garlic, chopped red pepper, and garnished with scallions. The shell, heads and tails were kept on, and when peeled, I found the meat to be extra tender and moist. The dish was beautifully matched by a lightly fried rice with pungent shrimp paste. The scallops were steamed on the half-shell and topped with rice vermicelli noodles and heaps of minced garlic. The dish went down a treat, with a garlicky kick that is soon punctuated with warm, creamy, chewy goodness. The baked clams that followed were served beautifully, as promised, in aluminum foil. Chan cut two slits revealing the colorful dish, garnished with chopped red and green peppers, onions, and cilantro. He gave the dish a splash of rice wine and then flambéed the clams in front of us. When the blaze died down, we dug our chopsticks into the dish, pulling out delicious shellfish coated in what Chan enigmatically described as “special sauce.” One taste, however, dispelled the mystique. Someone had been to Worcestershire.
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ou’ve hurt me. You know, I’ve already folded three, four hundred paper stars for you? My friend tried to introduce me to some guy but I refused. Will you be my boyfriend? I cannot just be your normal friend anymore. Either accept me or I will leave.” This was the first time I had ever hurt a girl, and I was not quite ready to take responsibility. The Chinese seem to place great emphasis on grand gestures and confessions. To many girls, you are not officially in a relationship until you make the ultimate confession and ask her formally, “I like you. Will you be my girlfriend?” Irrespective of whether you’ve loved each other for years or had no prior contact, the pure act of confessing, the grand, sweeping scale of expressing your concealed feelings, is the only way to consolidate a relationship. To an American this idea might appear inimical; talk is cheap, actions are real. When you pay attention to a girl, when you ask for her phone number, when you take her out to dinner; this is how Americans say “I like you.” Conversely, when someone only calls when they are drunk, when they mostly seek physical contact, when they haven’t introduced you to the rest of their friends, these actions are also intended as clear signals. To most Westerners there is no need to
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be so painstakingly clear cut about such things. There are no brazen under the stars, confessions. Even the use of the word ‘confess’ seemed antiquated and melodramatic when I first heard my Chinese friends use it to describe how their relationships began. “We were just friends, but one day he confessed himself to me. After that we were boyfriend and girlfriend.” What is it about the act of confessing that allows some Chinese to mentally enter a relationship, at times without any significant action or contact? Culturally rooted misunderstandings often result in one party expecting much more than the other party is willing to give. This inevitably leads to heartbreak. When I say I like a girl, it typically signifies physical attraction, and maybe a budding emotional attachment. It rarely means “I love you.” In China, “liking” is not so casual. It is a big deal. When you say “like” in China, you’d better either mean it, or be ready to live with the consequences of your words. There is a Chinese phrase, luanshuo, literally “chaos talk,” which means to make irresponsible remarks. To a foreigner this can be quite a dangerous and sensitive issue as we are not always aware what kind of “talk” is irresponsible. Americans talk about a lot of things. We can be sarcastic, we can lie, and we can feign sincerity. We put on many different faces to many different people depending on the social situation and the way we want to present ourselves. Most of us are groomed from an early age to filter out and decipher pretense. We sometimes take it for granted that others can do the same. In China, this isn’t so. There is very little sarcasm in the average Chinese conversation. There is seldom subtext or misunderstanding. Chinese is blunt and to the point. Perhaps this is why the candid and direct “I like you” confession is that much more important to a Chinese relationship. As Americans we grow up organically
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By Michael Thai
learning how to luanshuo through childish jokes and quips in the schoolyard. We are masters of saying one thing and meaning another and are consequently hypersensitive to insincerity. Perhaps this is why Americans value action over words. Conversely, perhaps, this is why Chinese place as much emphasis on words as on action. Most Chinese say what is in their hearts and stick to it. If you don’t, you are a bad person or a liar. When I told my friend that I liked her, perhaps a part of me knew that my words would eventually hurt her. When a person half-heartedly chooses to endear themselves to someone, they also choose to hurt them. If you cannot continue to live up to the expectations you create, you will ultimately end up letting someone down. Perhaps I am partially to blame for making irresponsible remarks and being insensitive. Regardless of my actual relationship with this girl, my words eventually defined me. Feelings, emotions, actions, they were all just dust waiting to be caught in a beautiful slew of passionate platitudes. In America, what we say is just filler in anticipation for what we will do. In China, what you do is largely pretext for what you will, one day, confess. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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Ride Of Your Life
nlike in the West, where a dearth of official holidays forces tourists to take their vacations at their, well, leisure, most Chinese cram their vacations together into two “Golden Week” holidays. Following National Day on October 1, seemingly the entire country packs their bags for fun in the sun, overloading tourist traps nationwide. Beijing takes the worst of it. The serpentine sections of the Great Wall at Badaling were almost overflowing with people, and the once-impenetrable walls of the Forbidden City were stormed by hundreds of thousands of tourists in a single day. The hope of seven full days of relaxation and adventure, work free, was only made more tempting by the prospect of escaping the onslaught of the tour group hordes, urged on by their loudspeaker-wielding guides. The obstacle, though, was hopping onto a train ahead of 24.3 million people as they attempt to draw blood in order to climb aboard before you. I already had my dream destination in mind – lush Hunan Province, a world away from the concrete canyons and equally grey skylines of Beijing. So did everyone else, it seemed. Two trains leave daily from Beijing West station, once the largest rail transfer point in Asia, to the next transfer point down south. During any other week of the year, these trains would have any number of open hard sleeper beds available, an easy passage for the day-long excursion from north to south. Before I even arrived at the station, a line had
There is an uncomfortable irony of watching livestock freely grazing on the plains while you are consciously comparing your own surroundings to a cattle truck. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
already formed outside of the tiny ticket office down bustling Andingmen Inner Street. I arrived ten days in advance, and yet my first attempt to acquire tickets was still an abject failure: every open space was filled within thirty minutes of the painfully early 9 AM opening time. Day two’s perseverance was rewarded in the form of two tickets, hard seat, a 22-hour journey. My travel partner was apoplectic. Hard seat is no joyride with the Griswolds. Third class is the ultimate in no-frills traveling, with only about a square foot of moderately cushioned fabric to smooth the ride. Yet this was our only option – we even made a frantic attempt to upgrade to the (seemingly deluxe at this point) six-to-a-slot bunks in the cars ahead of us by scurrying back and forth between Car 2 and Car 14 and Car 10 and Car 2, after which an incongruous, smartlydressed conductor only reinforced our fears that the train was very, very full. We brought pillows – that was a good start. Our ride, though not as oppressively stuffed as expected, still accommodated a few standing passengers, the type who seemingly carry their domestic environs in a red-and-orange striped plastic sack. There was a smell of disinfectant permeating the environment that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s spent an extended time in a hospital, though it seemed that the only real cleaning was done by a numb-to-the-world attendant assigned to clean up the constantly replenished piles of used tissues and spat-out sunflower seed shells blocking the aisle. There is an uncomfortable irony of watching livestock freely grazing on the plains while you are consciously comparing your own surroundings to a cattle truck. The car forces you to acknowledge its presence. Vendors travel through the aisles selling food when you’re not hungry, or toys that you don’t have the room to play with. As night set in halfway through our journey, the lights stubbornly stayed on, turning our inability to adopt any position other than slouch into a rather unwanted way to stay awake.
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By Sean Silbert
Without a steady form of entertainment, and with our view outside the window darkening after the early part of the October afternoon, we found ourselves with nothing else than “the conversation.” Two white boys traveling steerage are sure to attract attention, but we couldn’t really break free of the stockquestions politely asked of every foreigner able to converse with them. “What country are you from? How many years have you been in China?” My interest in this formality waned to the point where I suddenly found I had grown up in Iceland, and my occupation was anything from a taxi driver to a graduate student in economic theory, depending on the interrogator. Yet “the conversation” kept us going through the trip. An older man across from our park bench table eventually conversed with us on an extended basis. He revealed himself to be a retired artist, proudly presenting the license issued to him by the appropriate State agency. The mountain peaks of our final destination, inscrutable thanks to the darkness outside of the train, soon appeared to us in black and white through his pen trailed across a napkin. Our seats became more than a rude jolt out of the tourist bubble; they were our way of breaking into a view of China formerly hidden from us. Regardless, we still held out for sleepers on the way back.
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CULTURAL LISTINGS Exhibition
Grand Designs Can “Made in China” become “Designed in China?” Beijing Design Week (BJDW) 2011 searched for the answer. Held from September 26 to October 3, the BJDW, in conjunction with Tsinghua University’s “First Beijing International Design Triennial,” aimed to bring the cream of the world’s designers together in Beijing, to help strengthen China’s creative power. A total of more than 800 top international designers gathered for the event, with over 130 activities taking place over seven days. However, some complained that too little exposure was given to local designers. In recent years, China has suffered from a lack of a distinct Chinese design esthetic, making the government eager to improve the structure of the country’s nascent design industry. Cinema
Cult to Pop
Folk Rockers Come of Age
Lee’s Adventure, a popular animated short film produced by young director Li Yang in 2009, was recently re-produced as a live-action feature film, and has been in theaters since early October. Telling the story of a lovesick young man who suffers from a fictional “time dilation” disease, and tries to get back with his ex-girlfriend by traveling back in time through a computer game, the original 20-minute Internet animation became a cult hit with its fast pace, surreal humor and dark, scintillating style. But while the 90-minute feature adaption retained some of Li’s original plot, the movie was largely revised in order to appeal to the mass market. Many disapproved of the revision, arguing that it sacrificed much of the film’s original edge. Book
Cutting-Edge Drama Archive By Meng Jinghui
When the book Pioneering Drama Archive was published in 2000, it became China’s go-to reference guide on independent stage plays, adored by drama fanatics, young directors and potential theatergoers alike. 11 years later, its compiler, famous experimental theater and film director Meng Jinghui, has released a new archive of avant-garde dramas staged in China over the past decade, Cutting-Edge Drama Archive. Meng argues that the progressiveness reflected in the works has come about due to a relaxation of political pressure, the growing influence of money, and a sense of loss in an increasingly individualist society.
After two EPs and one album, Low Wormwood (Chinese name Di Ku’ai), a folk rock band founded in 1999 in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China’s Gansu Province, recently released their latest LP Lanzhou Lanzhou. The city of Lanzhou is famous for its bold attitude, and true to form, the album combines earnest folk influences with the creative power of rock ‘n’ roll, and a resolutely northwest-Chinese flavor. Critics are beginning to agree that Low Wormwood may have been underestimated. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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MRL. 萌 Presents Autumn Culinary Wonders
Yuhu Resort Yuhu Resort in Suzhou features 72 guestrooms nestled amongst the beautiful Yuhu Lake plantation near the historic Qionglong Mountain, a national AAAA-rated tourist attraction. The resort blends old-world charm with touches of modern luxury; the Yushan Restaurant and View Lake Bar compliment the retreat. Yuhu Resort offers a peaceful countryside escape, yet is close to the rich cultural attractions of nearby Suzhou. Suzhou Qionglong Mountain Scenery Precinct, one of the city’s most famous sights, is located to the west. At an altitude of 341.7 meters at its summit, Ruo Mao Peak is the highest of these mountains on the east bank of Taihu Lake, another of the city’s most beautiful spots. Spanning 7.5 km, the mountain crosses the three towns of Guangfu, Cangshu and Xukou, and boasts a woodland area of over 20,000 acres. Transportation to and from the mountain is very convenient; it is easily reached by road, and several bus routes provide extra convenience.
Organically prepared salads for your daily nutrition and energy, including sardine, grilled tiger prawns and quail pate, and scallops and avocado, and Prime Angus T-bone steak, grilled boar’s neck chops and grilled veal tenderloin, are superbly prepared with distinctive and exclusive French essence by the head chef, to wake up your taste buds. Reservation Hotline: 010-8588-2668 Address: 1/F Building Number 6, Fortune Plaza, 7 Dongsanhuan Middle Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Change Your Life with the German Knigge Academy in China The German Knigge Akademie is named after the originator of western etiquette – “Knigge”. With the approval of the German government, the academy teaches courses in etiquette, and also trains and certifies etiquette instructors in-house. In early 2011, the Knigge Etiquette Academy opened their first overseas branch in Beijing, China. Knigge Academy has a wealth of etiquette training
programs, including corporate, government, and instructor certification training, as well as membership to the Knigge Club, which includes high-level management, foreign affairs and international business etiquette, as well as wine tasting courses. The Knigge Etiquette Academy has come to China to offer you the chance to learn authentic Western etiquette culture here in China.
SingCham Mid-Autumn Festival Party at Ascott Raffles City Beijing On September 10, Ascott Raffles City Beijing, together with the Singaporean Chamber of Commerce, held a Mid-Autumn Festival party for Singaporeans in China. Guests exercised their creative sides by decorating “make your own” Chinese lanterns, before taking part in a treasure hunt. After a talk on the culture, history and customs of the festival, a representative of Ascott Raffles delivered a warm Mid-Autumn salutation. Meanwhile, younger guests were treated to a showing of the movie Shrek. Unfortunately, the rain prevented the party from moving out to the patio to look at the full moon, but nonetheless, a wonderful night was had by all. NEWSCHINA I December 2011
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There’s No Such Thing as a “Win-win War” Punishing China, while politically helpful, will not reverse America’s fortunes
By Yu Miaojie
n early October the US Senate passed a trade bill to pressure Chi- American Eagle’s love of outsourcing - many Chinese goods enjoy a na to appreciate its currency, adding yet more heat to deteriorat- stranglehold on the American market simply because they’re cheaper ing trade relations with its biggest creditor. It is not the first time than equivalents of an equal quality from smaller countries. that Capitol Hill has labeled China a currency manipulator responProcessing trade, in which Chinese manufacturers buy raw materisible for cripplling US exports and stalling US job growth. We’ve als or components from other countries for processing or assembly heard this song many times, and this latest Senate bill is no more than before exporting the finished products to industrialized nations, acan additional verse. Tensions have been stoked by snowballing public counts for more than 50 percent of China’s export revenue. In 2010 discontent against sluggish economic growth which has culminated in the “occupation” of Wall Street by disgruntled members of the public. If this bill passes into law, it will force the American A trade war looks more likely than ever, something the Department of Commerce to impose high import tariffs on Chinese products to add the value to goods that, rest of the world would prefer to avoid lawmakers believe, the yuan should already be adding. A trade war looks more likely than ever, something the rest of the world would prefer to avoid. The reason is simple. The Chinese economy relies on offshore markets. Its trade volume accounts for two thirds of its GDP, compared China’s entire US$180 billion trade surplus came almost exclusively to one fourth in the US. Once high import tariffs are imposed, many from processing trade, despite the narrow profit margins. For every Chinese exporters will shut down, almost guaranteeing social unrest. US$209 spent on a new iPod Touch, US$200 is created outside of There is no reason to expect that China will take this lying down. the Chinese assembly lines, leaving them a total profit of US$9 per The yuan has already appreciated by more than 20 percent since product. July 2005. One of my studies finds that a 10 percent appreciation The answer to US trade woes is not to reduce imports from China, in the value of the yuan would reduce Chinese exports to the US but to increase exports. Jobs will not be created in the US by shutby 16 percent. Put another way, the recent 20 percent appreciation ting down developing economies – only US firms can create US has reduced the US trade deficit with China by 32 percent. Hardly jobs. More US imports would also benefit China, taking the heat small potatoes. off Beijing’s US$3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves by reducing Whether appreciation of the yuan can help the US job market is a a massive and unsustainable trade surplus and reducing inflation. In far less clear-cut question. True, a stronger yuan means less Chinese a trade war, nobody wins, but the US can turn this situation to its imports to the US. However, the US still has to import the bulk of advantage by revitalizing the manufacturing sector that made the US its labor-intensive products such as textiles from someplace else – In- the world’s number one economy. Only that kind of affirmative acdonesia, Vietnam or Malaysia. A more expensive yuan will simply tion will keep it there. change the nationality of sweatshop laborers, not revitalize America’s job market. Americans still aren’t making their own clothes. HowevThe author is an associate professor with the China Center for er, American consumers currently pay a premium for Nike, Gap and Economic Research (CCER) of Peking University
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