CULTURE White Lies: Blockbuster Censored
THE QUIET MAN
Why Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan is the most influential writer youâ€™ve never heard of
Volume No. 052 December 2012
ECONOMY Counting Cards: UnionPay vs. the World
SPECIAL REPORT Grave Digging: Mining the Wilderness
Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Directors: Liu Beixian, Zhou Jianming Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui 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: Lisa Gay Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.newschinamag.com Art Department Art Director: Wu Shangwen Art Editor/Designer: Zhang Dawei 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: Wang Chenbo Account Manager : Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Jing Xiaolin, Sun Yuting, Li Yang Washington Office: Wu Qingcai, De Yongjian Los Angeles Office: Zhang Wei San Francisco Office: Liu Dan Houston Office: Wang Huan 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 2012
Egalitarianism isn’t the only reason to close the income gap
n October 17, Premier Wen Jiabao said vices are factored into the equation. Burdensome indiin a State Council meeting that the gov- vidual taxation and heavily-subsidized State monopoernment would release an overall plan for lies create excessive profits through wasteful practices. “distribution of income” in the fourth quarter of 2012. Now, the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in This meant that eight years after Wen’s project to close China are becoming the targets of public resentment. China’s vast income gap was Calls for reform do not officially made policy, the govstem from a principle of Calls for reform do not ernment was finally acknowlegalitarianism or some Robin edging the need for concrete Hood mentality, but out of a stem from a principle of action. desire for equal opportunity egalitarianism or some China’s income gap, which for prosperity. While a certain Robin Hood mentality, but has in recent years been widlevel of income disparity in a out of a desire for equal ening far more rapidly than fair market is reasonsable, a opportunity for prosperity. gap created by distorted politiGDP has been growing, has become the problem seen as cal, economic and social instithe greatest medium- and tutions is unacceptable. long-term risk to social order. Faced with growing unrest, More troublingly, this income gap is known to be the the government previously adopted a doctrine of “indirect result of a prioritization of income distribution creasing incomes for low income earners, enlarging in favor of first: government officials, second: corpo- the middle class, and limiting the number of high rate interests (half of which represent State-owned en- income earners.” In 2006, the government abolished terprises), and finally: everyone else. agricultural tax, however this made barely a dent in a As a consequence, per capita GDP has crawled gap which continues to widen across both urban and along in comparison to the profits made by govern- rural areas. ment agencies, big businesses and those involved in The government must take a more fundamental apadministering both. Government revenue increased proach to address income disparity. by 25 percent in 2011, followed by the business secOn October 18, vice-premier Li Keqiang said that tor, which rose by 20 percent. Comparatively, nominal the government will conduct a policy of “structural tax disposable income of urban residents grew only by 8.4 cuts” in the future, the first time the Chinese governpercent, with that of rural residents up by 11.4 percent. ment has pledged to cut taxes. Pundits believe this inWhile income redistribution through the provision dicates that the top leadership seems to have reached of better and more comprehensive public services and consensus on the importance and urgency of the inan overhaul of the welfare system theoretically serves to come gap issue. However, cutting taxes is only effective when bridge the income gap, in fact the opposite effect has been observed. China’s hukou or household registration matched with the prudent investment of public system acts as an internal visa for all citizens, meaning funds in public services. Moreover, policies unfairly that rural-born Chinese living and working in cities are favoring the state sector should be scrapped, and denied access to many key services. Public servants are an olive branch extended to small- and mediumentitled to far more generous State pensions than those sized business owners, whose enterprises continue working in the private sector who constitute a majority to dominate China’s real economy in terms of both job creation and GDP growth. 80 percent of Chiof the population. Research conducted by economist Li Yining in se- na’s urban labor force work in these businesses, and lected areas shows that the income disparity ratio be- addressing their needs first is going to be the chaltween urban and rural residents increases to between lenge facing China’s next generation of economic 2.9:1 and 3.4:1 after access to welfare and public ser- planners.
Who is Mo Yan?
Photo by CFP
While the authorities and the State media have hailed his Nobel Prize win as a victory for China, everyone else is simply trying to figure out what to make of the quiet man of Chinese literature Editorial
01 Egalitarianism isn’t the only reason to close the income gap politics
Taiwan : Unexpected Visitor Administrative Approval : One Red Tape at a Time
14 Mo Yan : Gaomi Style/Prize Fighter/“Write More, Talk Less”
Golden Week : Holiday Blues Gu Chujun : A Convict’s Crusade
32 Resource Extraction : What’s Yours Is Mined
P26 NEWSCHINA I December 2012
P32 38 Nature Reserve : Protecting the Protected
58 White Deer Plain : Reduced, Redacted, Ruined?
42 Pan-Himalayan Flora : Plant Pursuit 45 Hu Jiwei : The Voice of the People interview
48 Yao Ming : Game Changer economy
51 Plastic Revolution : Card Sharks culture
Double Xposure : Delusion or Reality? Classical Music : Hot Tickets
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
61 Midnight in Peking : Blood and Stone 64 67
Tianjin : Colonial Expedition Flavor of the Month : A Slow, Comfortable Brew
04 MEDIA FOCUS 05 What They Say 06 NEWS BRIEF 08 Netizen Watch 53 China by numbers 66 real chinese 68 ESSAY 70 CULTURAL LISTINGS 72 Commentary
NewsChina Chinese Edition
Economy & Nation
September 24, 2012
September 27, 2012
Although China has attempted to prohibit parents from choosing their child’s school, over 70 percent are still attempting to pay for places in top institutions. Places at highly-regarded schools are in such high demand that parents enroll their children in extracurricular courses and activities even before kindergarten in order to secure them. Once enrolled, parents have to pay several thousand US dollars each year for a child“studying outside their residential district.”Experts warn that compulsory education in China has become a battlefield for those with power and money, the only solution being redistribution of educational resources across all regions and all sectors. However, such reform is as political as it is social, and is likely to encounter opposition from the very privileged political class that would have to implement it. Xinmin Weekly October 12, 2012
Gas Leak Pressured by the environmental damage of coal burning and rising crude oil prices, demand for natural gas in China is on the rise, with government estimates claiming that national consumption is growing by at least 10 percent each year. Analysts predict that China will face a shortfall of 75 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2015. At present, about 25 percent of China’s gas is imported, however prices remain unreasonably low, with some rich families and enterprises often misusing the resource. Experts have suggested adopting a flexible pricing system and encouraging private enterprises to join in, and that expanding and optimizing the national gas network could offset a future shortage.
Century Weekly October 8, 2012
Depressing Stats According to The Lancet, 26 million Chinese people are suffering from depression, a number which is expected to rise to 61 million in the next few years. Beijing’s top psychiatric institution, the Anding Hospital, has also revealed that 50-70 percent of their patients are being treated for depression or related illnesses. Medical professionals claim that Chinese patients generally view depression as a mental illness with no connection to personal circumstances, leading many sufferers to forgo medical treatment for other ailments and turn to a growing number of quack psychologists. The hospitals interviewed revealed that about 70 percent of suicides in China can be attributed to depression, and that around one in seven sufferers of depression will go on to kill themselves.
North Korea Looks West? Through a series of invitation-only business fairs underway since September, North Korea has been trying to attract foreign investors to the country’s abundant mineral wealth. Since Kim Jong-un took up his father’s mantle, he has proposed to “strengthen the country with economic construction,” with more apartments and entertainment facilities built in Pyongyang, more imported commodities available in stores, and a tentative extension of welcome to select foreign businesspeople. More surprisingly, the North Korean government has officially dispatched six economics professors to Canada to “study capitalism,” a move unimaginable under the Kim Jong-il regime. Although the Pyongyang government has denied that it will implement China-style reforms, media across the globe are now voicing expectations that Kim Jongun will unleash at least limited economic reform in order to pull North Korea out of crushing poverty.
Insight China September 24, 2012
Cheap and Cheerless Since January the Chinese government has begun construction of five million low-cost housing units, designed to support those otherwise unable to buy or rent their own home. However, at least half the prospective tenants complained that “low cost” has translated into “low quality” and poor design. Insiders attribute this backlash to the lackadaisical attitude among the officials in charge of the project, mainly due to its unprofitable nature. Other media reports exposed a nowwidespread practice of giving first pick of the new low-cost housing units to local officials, most of whom already receive subsidized housing, bypassing low-income families altogether. Calls are now growing for low-cost housing to be turned over to private realtors under government supervision. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
“Those who don’t understand farmers don’t understand China.” Illustration by Wu Shangwen
China’s Premier Wen Jiabao receives an FAO Agricola Medal, inscribed with his own quotation.
“We are much more sensitive to material comforts and money than to culture.” Hung Huang, CEO of China Interactive Media Group (CIMG) and publisher of the famous fashion magazine iLook, on materialism in the China’s innovative industries.
“What Chinese architects lack is not an understanding of Chinese culture, but confidence – they are reluctant to integrate Chinese history into their designs.” Architect Zhang Yonghe on the problems facing local talent.
“There is no place for any non-exam oriented education.” Qian Liqun, a professor at Peking University, saying
goodbye to the education world in the wake of a10-year failure in middle-school education after his retirement.
“80 percent of top officials disciplined in Guangdong are a law unto themselves. Acting like an autocrat is a dead end.” Wang Yang, Party Secretary of Guangdong Province, at a training course for Party members.
“Are you happy?” “Don’t ask me. I’m just a migrant worker.” A man from Qingxu County, Shanxi Province, in a voxpop on State broadcaster CCTV that triggered discussion about the misery at the bottom of the society.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
“Nostalgia is a form of therapy, conjuring up memories of a Utopian yesteryear to soothe the hurt caused by reality.” Popular literary critic Zhu Dake explaining Chinese people’s rosetinted view of the past.
“The heavens will not tolerate the disappearance of such an agricultural power. Without villages, how could we prove several thousand years of agrarian civilization?” Chen Zhihua, an architecture professor at Tsinghua University, on the rapid disappearance of China’s villages. Media have revealed that the number of villages in China has fallen to 2.7 million from 3.6 million ten years ago, and is decreasing at a rate of 80-100 per day.
“We are seeing a growing number of ‘sensitive words’ [online]. When people want to praise Chairman Mao, his name ‘Mao Zedong’ gets censored; when people want to praise the ‘one country two systems’ practiced in Hong Kong, ‘Hong Kong’ is censored. The growth rate of sensitive words has exceeded GDP growth.” Artist and critic Yue Luping mocking online censorship via his microblog.
China Issues Report on Judicial Reform China’s State Council issued its Report of China’s Judicial Reform on October 9, for the first time, explaining China’s judicial status and the achievements of judicial reform over recent decades. The 18,000-word report, China’s first ever white paper on judicial reform, has caused a stir nationwide by clearly naming independent judicial and procuratorial powers as the “fundamental goal” of China’s judicial reform. “An independent judiciary is guaranteed in China’s constitution, but due to obstacles in supporting systems such as finance and human resources, the judiciary, in the real world, is frequently subject to administrative interference,” Jiang Huiling, vice-director of the
Judicial Reform Office under the Supreme People’s Court, told NewsChina. “For example, if a local government is involved in a case, it has the right to state its case as a plaintiff, but such statements should be put into judicial process, rather than being proposed in private,” she added. According to Jiang, the government plans to enhance judicial independence by reforming related systems, such as standardizing judicial process and separating judicial finance from the budgets of local governments. As for procuratorial independence, the biggest highlight comes in Chapter 3, a section devoted to human rights, with a particular focus on reducing unjust, false and errone-
Sany Sues Obama
Hangzhou Hurt by Fireworks
Sany, China’s leading heavy industry company, caused worldwide concern at the end of September by taking Barack Obama to court. The case originated from a presidential order issued by Obama on September 28 which, on the grounds of “national security,” ordered a stop to the Butter Creek wind power project launched by Chinese-owned, US-based company Ralls, and its backer Sany Group. According to the Obama administration, the low ridge where the wind power project was located fell within the restricted area of a military base used for bombing practice. However, Sany argued their permit had been issued two years ago, and accused Obama of denying Ralls their ownership of property endowed by the US constitution. Chinese analysts believe Obama’s move is intended to hamper the development of Chinese enterprises, an accusation refuted by the US government. Given China’s shrinking domestic market, the order will heavily impact Sany’s long-term development. The case will go to trial on November 28.
ous cases by such measures as banning forced confession via torture, expanding the right of defense, facilitating a lawyer’s right to meet with a client, among others. Most of the measures were included in the latest revision of the criminal procedure law issued in March. The report also hammers home the “double caution” taken over the death penalty, revealing that China has seen a “gradual drop” in the number of death sentences since 2007, when the country introduced the practice of reviewing death sentences. According to Jiang Huiling, China will propose higher requirements on judicial reform at the Communist Party’s 18th Congress, scheduled to begin on November 8.
Over 100 audience members were injured by an explosion at the annual fireworks display held along the Grand Canal, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, in Hang-
zhou, Zhejiang Province. The accident happened at about 8 PM, October 14 when, instead of exploding in the air, the fireworks flew directly into the crowd and continued to flare for around 30 seconds, forcing the panicked audience to rush for the exit. The injured were immediately taken to hospital. Most suffered minor burns, according to an official statement. The government is yet to publish the cause of the accident, while media have attributed it to a malfunction in the lighting of the firework, and poor safety measures. As an event to celebrate the opening of the West Lake Expo, held annually since 1998, this year’s fireworks display has reportedly attracted over one million people, with a total of 150,000 fireworks lit.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
International Global average 48%
Chinese employees feel more pressure than workers in any other country, according to a recent survey by Regus, the world’s leading office solutions provider. Canvassing a total of 16,000 workers from all over the world, the survey found that 75 percent of Chinese respondents believed that they were under more pressure than last year, way above the global average of 48 percent. The survey has caused concern among Chinese media, which have raised the alarm over the growing number of stress-related suicides in the country.
UK 43% USA 47% France 42% Germany 58% India 51% China 75% Belgium 52% Netherlands 40% Brazil 41% South Africa 52%
Top four causes of stress
Your job 59%
Your finances 44%
Your customers 37% Your management 27% 0
“My stress levels have risen in the past year”
Mexico 43% 0
Source: From Distressed to De-stressed by Regus
Hong Kong Dollar Devalued
Exchange Rate between Hong Kong Dollar and Yuan
1.00 Since the Hong Kong dollar dropped to a value of under 0.8 Chinese yuan on October 18, a growing number of Hong 0.90 Kongers are flooding to the mainland in search of higher 0.80 interest rates. Banks in Shenzhen, the mainland city on the border 0.70 with Hong Kong, revealed that compared to last year, the 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 amount of money deposited by their Hong Kong clients, the majority of whom are elderly men, has seen growth of 15-20 percent. Analysts have attributed the devaluation to the rising exchange rate of the yuan against the US dollar which is pegged to the Hong Kong dollar. The devaluation of the Hong Kong dollar has also caused a new wave of mainland demand for cheaper Hong Kong goods, an issue known to upset Hong Kongers.
Chinese Navy Vessels Head for Diaoyu Seven Chinese naval vessels sailed to waters near the disputed Diaoyu Islands on October 16, Japanese media have confirmed. According to Japanese news agency FNN, it was the first time that Chinese warships had approached the islands, causing consternation in the Japanese government. Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto responded the same day that Japan had dispatched reconnaissance aircraft to better supervise China’s ships, and had also strengthened its intelligence gathering efforts. China’s Ministry of Defense confirmed the news to the media the next day, claiming that “it is legal and reasonable for the Chinese navy to cruise in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands” and cautioned Japan to refrain from “intentionally hyping” the move. Due to the growing number of Chinese surveillance and marine exploration vessels cruising near the Diaoyu Islands in October, Sino-Japanese ties are likely to remain at a freezing point for the time being, according to analysts. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Flags in Beijing flew at halfmast on October 17 to mourn the death of former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away two days earlier in a Beijing hospital at the age of 90. “The King-Father Sihanouk was a great friend of the Chinese people…China wishes to inherit and develop the traditional Sino-Cambodian friendship,” wrote China’s President Hu Jintao in a statement delivered on October 15. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Vice-President Xi Jinping and former president Jiang Zemin also expressed their condolences over Sihanouk’s death the same day. A familiar “international friend” in the eyes of many Chinese people, Sihanouk has maintained solid ties with the People’s Republic of China since the latter’s leadership lent him great support in the 1970s when Sihanouk flew to China following a coup by then Prime Minister Lon Nol. In 2004, Sihanouk passed the throne to his son, then remained in Beijing, where he received treatment for a number of ailments until his death
Photo Credits: International, Xinhua; Others, CFP
Cambodian workers with a portrait of Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, October 16, 2012
What’s Making China Angry ?
Poll the People Given the horrible traffic congestion over the National Day holiday after the government suspended expressway tolls, do you think it was a stupid policy?
Local officials in Zhengzhou rolled out the red carpet all the way to the center of a reservoir for deputy provincial governors invited to the completion ceremony.
What’s Embarassing China ?
The policy benefits the people, so the government should carry on. 977 (20%) Very stupid policy. 766 (16%) The highway should be toll-free for non-holidays, but charge on holidays. 3,057 (64%)
Most Circulated Post Retweeted: 88,087 times
A bronze statue of Princess Iron Fan, a character from the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West, has been groped so often by tourists that her breasts have been buffed to a glossy shine. Other female statues i China have been known to suffer similar harrassment.
What’s Shocking China ? A woman in Nanjing called the police, claiming to have been robbed at knifepoint by two men trying to steal the money she had just withdrawn from a bank. Upon investigation, the police discovered that the woman had actually cut her own throat, following disputes with her family that arose over her having spent more than 20,000 yuan (US$3,200) on lottery tickets.
The post featured a photo of a burning building and a fire truck belonging to a fire station in Lanzhou, Gansu Province:
Have you ever seen a fire truck on fire? Now you have.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Top Five Search Queries On
Over the week ending October 16 South Korean Coast Guard 169,546 A Chinese fisherman was shot dead with a rubber bullet by a South Korean coast guard officer November 16.
Civil Service Exams 109,200 More than 1.5 million registered for the annual entrance exam in late November, about 66 applicants per post.
Big Breasts and Wide Hips Statue 90,750 A photo of a statue of a man embracing a rather Rubenesque woman went viral after Mo Yan, who authored a novel by the same name, won the Nobel Prize.
Girls from Guangzhou and Beijing shaved their heads to protest sexism in the admissions departments of some universities.
School Teacher Naked Photo 76,794 A middle school teacher from Guangxi was dismissed after a picture of him and his naked lover was leaked online. Yongzhou Bus Accident 38,587 A bus carrying 50 students from a teacher training college fell off a 30-meter cliff in Yongzhou, Hunan Province, leaving 4 dead and 8 critically injured.
Part of the pictures used in this section are from the internet
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NOT? Subway Duelists
Top Blogger Profile Lian Yue, one of China’s best known columnists, is the pen name of Zhong Xiaoyong, a 42-year-old former teacher and procurator. Zhang has been dealing out relationship advice through his columns in various newspapers for more than 10 years. He was also one of the leaders in a protest against the construction a polluting chemical plant in Xiamen.
A 26-year-old Beijing man pushed his disabled mother’s wheelchair 3,400 kilometers along the highway for three months to her dream vacation destination of Xishuangbanna in southwest China’s Yunnan Province.
A 67-year-old retired local Red Cross worker and a 28-year-old teacher came to blows over a tussle for a seat on the Guangzhou subway. The younger man came off much worse.
Corrupt Father and Son Zhang Zhihuai and his son Zhang Dong, both officials from the local land regulation bureau in Suzhou, Anhui Province, were sentenced to a death with a two-year reprieve (essentially a life sentence) for corruption.
ing his bid for the top job thwarted by Ma Ying-jeou, leader of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) in 2008, Hsieh is by far the highest ranking DPP leader to visit the Chinese mainland. Consequently his visit made headlines on both sides of the Strait, although Hsieh has describe it as both “apolitical” and “unofficial.” Hsieh started his trip with a visit to ancestral graves on October 4 in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, coincidentally the closest mainland province to Taiwan, with some media describing his visit as a “goodwill gesture” designed to highlight historical ties between the mainland and Taiwan. “Politics should not be allowed to overshadow humanity, and one’s political stance cannot change one’s ancestry,” Hsieh told reporters, refuting critics in Taiwan who claimed that his visit “paid homage” to the mainland authorities. Hsieh then traveled to Beijing, visiting the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China’s top government think tank, meeting with Chen Yunlin, chairman of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), and Wang Yi, director of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office. On October 7, State Councilor Dai Bingguo also held an impromptu meeting with Hsieh which was not on the original schedule. This made Dai the most senior official to meet with Hsieh during his visit.
Unexpected Visitor The DPP, Taiwan’s main opposition party, still remains divided over its policy towards Beijing, particularly in the wake of a visit to the mainland by one of its leaders By Yu Xiaodong and Han Fudong
Photo by CFP
Hsieh Chang-ting (middle) and his wife visit his ancestral tombs on October 4, 2012
If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not engage the mainland, it may never rule Taiwan again,” proclaimed party leader Hsieh Chang-ting before embarking on a five-day trip to the Chinese mainland in early October.
The DPP has long participated in politics
as if the Communist Party of China (CPC) were non-existent, and there has never been any form of official engagement between the two parties. Between 2000 and 2008, when the DPP governed Taiwan, cross-Straits relations were dominated by a mix of volatile hostility and apathy between the two sides. Having served as second-in-command in Chen Shui-bian’s government, before hav-
The reason behind the mainland’s rather enthusiastic reception to Hsieh’s visit may lies in Hsieh’s political stance, as observers both on the mainland and in Taiwan believe that he is less openly hostile toward Beijing than his predecessors. As early as 2000, Hsieh, then mayor of Kaohsiung, described the relationship between Kaohsiung and Xiamen, the mainland city across the Taiwan Straits, as “one country, two cities,” announcing plans to visit before being reined in by the then proindependence party leader Chen Shui-bian. In 2006, Hsieh raised the concept of “constitutional one China,” arguing that crossStraits relations can be interpreted according to “the Republic of China [Taiwan] Constitution.” By endorsing the Constitution of the NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Republic of China (ROC), Hsieh broke with DPP tradition. The party had previously rejected the legitimacy of the ROC, regarding it as an external regime imposed on Taiwan by the Kuomintang (KMT) government-inexile after their defeat in the Chinese Civil War. After the DPP was defeated in the general election in January this year, Hsieh blamed his party’s defeat on its mainland policy, which prompted calls for an adjustment. As Taiwan’s economy has become increasingly more dependent on the mainland market, which bought 26.8 percent of Taiwan’s exports in 2011, the DPP’s formerly intractable pro-independence stance, which forestalls any official dialogue with the equally intractable mainland authorities, has pushed voters towards the more moderate position of the KMT. According to Hsieh, the DPP should have a mainland policy that differentiates itself from and competes with that of the KMT while establishing official communications channels with the mainland. This principle is in line with Hsieh’s concept of a “constitution with different interpretations.” Although the specific meaning of this term is still subject to clarification, it seems to have struck a softer note than the anti-mainland rhetoric of previous DPP leaders. Similar to Hsieh’s earlier initiative of “constitutional one China,” the new policy legitimizes the ROC constitution, acknowledging Taiwan as part of China (i.e. not an independent nation), but not a constituent part of the People’s Republic of China (the mainland). This allows the DPP to differentiate policy from the mainland’s unchanged aim of eventual reunification under CPC leadership, as well as the KMT’s stance that recognizes the “1992 consensus” on Taiwan’s political status - generally summarized as an “agreement to disagree” - already signed between the KMT and the Beijing leadership. In fact, Hsieh’s realignment to this new position could prove a shrewd political move, as it sets out a concrete objective rather than the somewhat shaky maintenance of the status quo that characterizes the KMT’s mainland policy. Upon returning to Taiwan, Hsieh told Taiwanese media that he proposed to replace NEWSCHINA I December 2012
the “1992 consensus” with his initiative of “constitution with different interpretations.” He stressed that he had “defended Taiwan’s values and dignity” during his mainland trip, urging Beijing to give Taiwan more international space during his meeting with State Councilor Dai Bingguo. According to a source familiar with Hsieh’s meetings with mainland officials, those he met stopped short of negotiating over terminology. “The mainland’s strategy is to show hospitality. No one responded to Hsieh’s initiative,” said an anonymous mainland source. Given the delicacy of the issue, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang and former chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, two heavyweight DPP leaders and Hsieh’s rivals for the leadership nomination in the 2016 general election, have been equivocal and noncommittal when commenting on Hsieh’s mainland trip. While acknowledging Hsieh’s visit as “a positive step toward normalizing DPP’s relations with China,” Tsai declined to evaluate its relative “success.” “Only Hsieh himself knows the answer to that,” said Tsai, when asked if the visit had been fruitful. Despite going on record as saying that “Taiwan has opened its clenched fist to shake hands with China,” Su also chose not to endorse Hsieh’s mainland trip. Stressing that Hsieh was not on the mainland as a representative of the DPP, Su argued that his party should be “confident and patient” when approaching Beijing’s leaders. When questioned, both Tsai and Su said they had no plan to visit the mainland in the near future.
Hsieh is faced with a difficult task in terms of selling his initiative to both the DPP and to the Taiwanese electorate. While drawing moderate criticism from Wu Po-hsiung, chairman of the ruling KMT, who stressed the validity of the “1992 consensus,” Hsieh is also under fire from the hardcore pro-independence faction within the DPP. “The essence of the concept of ‘constitution with different interpretations’ is ‘One China,’ which the DPP cannot agree with,” commented former DPP legislator Lin Choshui, dubbed a “master theoretician on Taiwanese independence” by the media. Others
point out that Hsieh’s formula is not workable as the ROC constitution remains highly controversial in Taiwan. Taiwan Democracy Watch, an academic alliance on the island, warns that the DPP should neither strive to obtain recognition of its Chinese mainland policy from Beijing, nor bow to the “one China” principle in order simply to win a majority. Many in Taiwan are concerned that “Beijing certification” is taken as a guarantee of electoral success. Despite differing opinions over Hsieh’s proposed policy, DPP members and supporters have acknowledged his mainland visit as a positive step toward “reconciliation.” According to a survey conducted by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research, 57.8 percent of those polled agreed that visits by DPP leaders would promote cross-Straits peace and stability, while 23.1 percent disagreed. However, while most Taiwanese favor a peaceful engagement with the mainland, the island remains divided over its present and future political status. According to Professor Guo Weixue from the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the CASS, the pro-independence faction led by Su Tseng-chang remains the “most influential within the DPP.” While adjusting its mainland policy is considered a necessity in its bid for returning to power, the DPP has found itself in a dilemma – having to come up with a distinct mainland policy that the mainland might one day acknowledge (i.e. not pro-independence). However, in doing so, it runs the risk of alienating Taiwan’s pro-independence voter contingent, particularly in the party’s heartland in the south of the island, many of whom remain wary of the mainland’s growing economic might. In the last round of legislative elections, suspicious of Tsai’s stance towards the mainland, many pro-independence voters flocked to support the strongly pro-independence and virulently anti-Beijing Taiwan Solidarity Union, once a fringe party, which won nine percent of the vote, becoming the third largest party in Taiwan in the process. It seems that the changing political landscape in Taiwan means that the DPP has more than the feelings of the Beijing leadership to consider when negotiating the complexities of cross-Straits politics.
LESS IS MO 12
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Gaomi Style Writer Mo Yan draws heavily on his experiences in his hometown of Gaomi. Since his Nobel win, the domestic and international media has descended on this small community in an attempt to uncover the man behind the medal By Chen Tao in Shandong
The prize won’t make any difference to my personality or my style of writing,” Mo Yan told NewsChina on October 13, two days after he was informed by the Swedish Academy that he had won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. Mo has always maintained a low profile by nature rather than by design. Both before and after being named a Nobel laureate, he has been visibly uncomfortable under the media spotlight. “I just want to get away from the vibrant and noisy outside world,” he said. However, Mo, 57, has had to make adjustments to a lifelong habit – his country’s media expected no less. Only two hours after the prize was announced, he held a press conference in a hotel in his hometown of Gaomi, where he was showered with praise by fans and reporters. “When the secretary of the Swedish Academy called me 20 minutes prior to the announcement, I was surprised and scared. Then I began to ask myself ‘why me, out of all the good writers in the world?’ and ‘do I deserve the prize?’” he told the assembled press. “But, a few hours later, I regained my calm.” The Nobel Prize citation credited their decision to Mo’s “hallucinatory realism” which “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.” State-owned China Central Television called Mo Yan “the first writer with Chinese citizenship to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.” Mo is not, however, the first Chinese-born writer to win the prestigious award. That honor went to Gao Xingjian, the 2000 laureate, who holds French citizenship. However, this has not dampened enthusiasm for the Academy’s decision in Mo’s homeland.
“My hometown and my writing are closely linked with one anoth-
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Ping’an village on the outskirts of Gaomi county erupted into ecstasy on the night of the announcement. 100 red banners were hastily hung up in public spaces and “the fireworks lasted for two hours,” Guan Moxin, one of Mo Yan’s two older brothers, told NewsChina. Ping’an village, at least an earlier incarnation, provided the location for the 1987 Zhang Yimou film Red Sorghum, based on a novel by Mo Yan. The landscape, once a sea of waving sorghum, has changed – now ears of corn dry on the village’s network or bare concrete roads. Mo Yan’s father, now 90 years old, still lives in the old Guan family compound in Dongbei Township, though his son has long since departed for a city apartment.
Mo’s eldest sister, Guan Mofen, who can barely read or write, was one of the loudest voices of the celebration. “I was too happy to say anything, and I could not sleep all night,” she told NewsChina. Mo’s brother Guan Moxin showed our reporter around the family home, reminiscing about his childhood as well as the shooting of Red Sorghum. Guan proudly told us that director Zhang Yimou and stars Gong Li and Jiang Wen would eat pancakes and fried eggs at the house during the making of the film. In the eyes of his siblings, Mo Yan was a “smart and naughty” child. According to Yang Chengguo, Mo’s elementary school classmate, Mo Yan was at one point expelled from school for misbehavior. However, his eldest brother Guan Moxian claims he was responsible for Mo’s problems with the teachers. “I was studying at Shanghai’s Huadong Normal University in 1967 [during the Culture Revolution],” he told our reporter. “I came back home for the winter vacation in January that year, bringing with me a bunch of leaflets and other stuff instigating the young people to rebel against their teachers or school authorities. After reading them, he went straight to his own school to rebel.” Apparently Mo then tore up his school schedule and told his fellow students: “Our teachers are slave owners but we refuse to be their slaves.” The school leadership promptly expelled him, leaving him a so-called “involuntary drop-out” until the chaos of the Cultural Revolution subsided in 1976. Photo by Li Qiang
er,” he told our reporter. Mo was born Guan Moye in eastern China, in the town of Gaomi, Shandong, where most of his novels and short stories are set, including The Red Sorghum Clan, Transparent Radish, Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Frog - his most recent novel which addresses the country’s one-child family planning policy (See “Tackling Another Taboo,” NewsChina, January 2010). Mao Weijie, chairman of the Mo Yan Research Institute and director of the Mo Yan Museum of Literature, told NewsChina: “Without the influence of the native culture of his hometown, Mo Yan could never have created such works. Mo once said he was an ordinary novelist writing in a local dialect about local people.” Now, the frontage of the Mo Yan Research Institute is almost obscured by a red banner bearing the words: “Rooted in his native land, Mo Yan wins the Nobel Prize.” Mao Weijie’s opinion – that if “Mo had written about subjects other than those relating to his Mo Yan’s birthplace in Gaomi hometown, he would probably never have been able to win the prize,” is certainly being echoed throughout Gaomi. The county itself has made no secret of its support for its most famous son – establishing the research institute in 2006 and the literature museum in 2009, both on the Gaomi No. 1 Middle School campus. These spaces exhibit photographs of Mo Yan along with copies of his correspondence and first editions of his books. There are even rumors of a Mo-themed amusement park. Mo himself allegedly opposed the establishment of the museum. “He once said that he was a controversial writer in Chinese literary circles,” Mao Wenjie told our reporter. ”He was worried that the museum would make him all the more eye-catching and thus a bigger target for attack.” “However, we stayed put,” Mao added, “because we believed he was a prominent Chinese writer and the likely frontrunner for the Nobel Prize.”
While he may have run into problems with formal education, Mo Yan’s siblings maintain that as a child “he would devour any book he could lay his hands on.” Mo Yan later confirmed this picture of a rebellious bookworm. “I finished reading all the books available in my home village,” he told NewsChina. “I even leafed through the Chinese dictionary for lack of books to read.” While the female members of the family remain barely literate, the brothers were encouraged to develop a love of books, up to a point. “When we were young, we read at night by the oil lamp,” Guan Moxin told our reporter. “Every night, at around 10 o’clock, our mother would yell at us, ‘Stop reading! We’re running out of oil!’” After he dropped out of school, Mo Yan reluctantly took on heavy farm work. “He didn’t finish elementary school. Every time he passed his old school on his way to herd cattle, he felt jealous of the other students,” said Guan Moxian. Guan himself entered college before the Cultural Revolution, the only person from Dongbei Township to NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
do so at the time, amid much local fanfare. “When Mo Yan was young, my grandpa, father and I all encouraged him to study Chinese medicine. However, since he lacked education, it was hard for him to pursue this,” Guan Moxian told NewsChina. During a 2009 interview with NewsChina, Mo Yan mentioned the medical background of his grandfather and his aunt. The protagonist Aunty in his novel Frog was inspired by the life and career of his own aunt, who, as a local doctor, went from village October 12, media flocked into Mo Yan’s home in rural Shandong, interviewing family members to village performing government-mandated sterilizations in line with the One Child Policy. Despite its controver- the whole family very happy.” sial subject matter, Frog won the National Mao Dun Literature Prize That year, Mo Yan’ daughter was born in the family’s old mud-brick in 2011. When asked by NewsChina if Frog had been a major driv- house. Now, 30 years after the publication of Mo’s literary debut, the ing force behind his Nobel Prize nomination, Mo Yan said: “There is same old house, its walls reinforced with dried sorghum stalks, is hostno direct causal relationship, as Frog has not yet been translated into ing swarms of reporters and TV camera crews attempting to uncover English, or Swedish.” the story behind this unlikely local celebrity. In 1976, Mo Yan joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), beginning his career as a writer at the same time. In 1984, he was admit- Rural Attachment Mo Yan describes his works as being heavily influenced by the styles ted to the Literature Department of the PLA Arts Institute. “The first letter he wrote me was about his life in the army,” said of Gabriel García Márquez and William Faulkner. “To begin with, I tried to escape from the influence of these two Guan Moxian. “He would often share his writing with me. When he was writing Big Breasts and Wide Hips, he showed me every chapter writers,” he told NewsChina. “I was too young, and intentionally kept a deferential distance from the masters, holding them in awe. But when I after he finished writing it.” Correspondence from this period gives remarkable insight into the matured, I felt I could give it a try, and get closer to their styles.” “My creation is rooted in my native land and my personal experispeedy recognition of Mo Yan as a writer. “I wrote a novel this summer and by a sheer stroke of luck it soon got serialized in Lotus Pond ence. I also draw upon classical Chinese and western literary techmagazine,” he wrote to his brother in 1981. “It took me just half a day niques. All this combines to shape my style that is characterized by the to finish the whole piece. But my earlier, much more painstakingly commingling of truth and illusion, past and present,” he continued. Speaking at the October 13 press conference, Mo Yan tied his writwritten pieces have somehow never got published. I simply can’t see ing to his hometown: “For me, someone whose writing is deeply why.” One “earlier” piece he was referring to was his future bestseller Fall- rooted in my native place, the feeling of attachment to my hometown ing Rain on a Spring Night. From that time onward, Mo Yan (which is particularly strong. In my earlier works, the characters, the language and stories all came from here. So, I’m dependent on this land.” means ‘don’t speak’) became his pen name. “This rural content is by no means inexhaustible,” he continued. Guan Moxian wrote back to his brother: “I heard that you are soon to get a promotion in the army and you’ve published your first novel. “The writer thus needs to write continuously and be clearly aware of Besides, Qinlan [Mo Yan’s wife] is going to give birth to a baby soon the changes taking place in rural culture. Only in this way can he keep and you will be a father. These three pieces of good news have made coming up with new creations.”
cover story Mo Yan
Prize Fighter Elevated into the State-approved pantheon of great Chinese writers thanks to his Nobel Prize, will Mo Yan finally be able to stop looking over his shoulder?
Photo by CNS
By Wan Jiahuan
Mo Yan receives the Nobel Prize in Literature for his mixing of “folk tales, history and the contemporary”
obel laureate Mo Yan is a busy man. He has been swept up in a whirlwind of publicity which, while it has elevated his position, has also made him a target for detractors. Some critics claim he embodies the “institutionalization” of Chinese writers, and has devoted himself to pushing the Communist Party’s cultural agenda. Even before his win, he was already working as vice chairman of the government-sponsored Chinese Writers Association (CWA). His role this summer, along with 100 other CWA writers, writing out by hand the full text of Mao Zedong’s “Yan’an Talks on Art and Culture” in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Mao’s speeches, hasn’t helped this image. The central
theme of the Yan’an Talks was that writers and artists should “serve the people” under strict guidance from the Communist Party. Others, conversely, accuse him of vulgarity and literary excess – exposing China’s seedy, dirty side in order to appeal to a “foreign” Nobel jury who, presumably, single out trashy writing when awarding the world’s most prestigious literary accolade. Unlike Mo Yan’s critics in literary circles, these self-styled “patriots,” many of whom operate anonymously online, dislike Mo because he isn’t establishment enough. Mo himself has tried to stay above the fray. “I thank both those who supported me and those who criticized me,” he told our reporter. For a writer working NEWSCHINA I December 2012
under scrutiny from both the sophisticated systems of official censorship as well as online legions of wouldbe arbiters of culture, the road to success is always rocky.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Mo Yan in his youth
Photo by CFP
From left to right: Actress Gong Li, Mo Yan, actor Jiang Wen and director Zhang Yimou during the filming of Red Sorghum
Photo by CFP
In 1986, Red Sorghum Clan was published in The People’s Literature, one of the major State-owned literary magazines in China, when Mo was 31. It appealed strongly to cinematographer Zhang Yimou, who had won plaudits overseas in 1984 for his work on Chen Kaige’s The Yellow Earth though the film was banned in China. Zhang came to Beijing, where Mo was graduating from the People’s Liberation Army Arts Institute as a literature major, and offered to buy the rights to Mo’s novel. Set in wartime Gaomi, Mo Yan’s rural childhood home, Red Sorghum Clan tells the story of a local gang whose rough-and-ready members, after living in a haze of drunkenness and promiscuity, take it upon themselves to confront an invading platoon of Japanese soldiers. Mo Yan’s “war heroes” were markedly different from the stereotypical socialist realist protagonists of post-revolutionary Chinese literature. Lusty, unwashed and ignorant, they owed more to the bandit antiheroes of traditional Chinese classics such as The Water Margin than the idealized, handsome ideologues of much contemporary literature. The fact that Red Sorghum Clan had been published at all was a revelation in itself, a sign of the impact of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening-up agenda. Conservative critics blasted the novel for its “anti-tradition and anti-textbook” approach to history, which “turned the official histories upside down.” Ironically, these qualities, refreshing to a generation raised on Soviet-style propaganda, turned the book into a national bestseller. The possibility of a film version was seen as too good a chance to pass up. Mo Yan received an advance of 2,000 yuan (around US$241 at the time) and was hired as one of the screenwriters of Red Sorghum. He may not have been earning big money, but his faith in Zhang’s vision paid off when Red Sorghum won the Golden Bear Award at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival. Chinese audiences responded warmly when the film was released on the mainland, blown away by its unflinching and grimy portrayal of rural life in the 1930s and 40s and the honest, genuine performances of the actors. Stars Jiang Wen and Gong Li, along with di-
Photo by CFP
On October 11, Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, announces Mo Yan’s winning of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature
rector Zhang Yimou, became household names overnight, and the film is seen as a landmark in the rise of China’s “Fifth Generation” of filmmakers. Mo Yan’s
original novel was also brought to international attention following the release of the film when it was translated into English for the first time, earning Mo a reputation as one of China’s most respected authors. Red Sorghum Clan “pioneered a new narrative style,” according to Ye Kai, a senior editor of Harvest, one of China’s foremost literary publications. He told our reporter that Red Sorghum Clan was the novel that introduced him to Mo Yan, now a close friend. Ye divides his account of Mo’s 31 active years as a writer into three stages, each distinguished by one particularly groundbreaking work. After the success of Red Sorghum Clan, which won Mo Yan the fourth National Outstanding Novella Award, Mo continued to mature as a writer.
‘Trouble Is Coming’
In 1987, he published Happiness, the tragic story of a peasant boy who fails in his college entrance examination. Again, critics were abundant, singling out the “strikingly ugly” depiction of the boy’s mother for particular scorn. In 1988, Garlic Ballads, based on a true story, dealt with the sensitive problem of rural riots against government officials in Shandong. In 1989, Mo’s novel The Republic of Wine saw Mo’s first major foray into hallucinatory realism: officials in the imaginary province of Liquorland develop a taste for the flesh of children, and an inspector dispatched by the government to clean the place up eventually joins the feast before drowning in a latrine while drunk. “The Republic of Wine totally gripped me. Mo’s exploration and experimentation with language and style is on a par with any pioneering writer in the world,” Cao Yuanyong, deputy editor-in-chief at Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, told our reporter. Cao went on to publish many of Mo’s later works, including 2011’s Frog, a novel which won the 2011 Mao Dun Literary Prize, one of China’s top accolades. In 1995, according to Ye Kai, Mo hit another peak with Big Breasts and Wide Hips, an epic novel centering on the story of a mother, tragically orphaned during the Boxer Rebellion, and her son. Replete with explicit descriptions of breastfeeding and sexuality and praised overseas for its bold feminist themes, the narrative of Big Breasts and Wide Hips spans more than 40 years from World War II to the early years of Reform and Opening-up. Writing in the Washington Post
in 2004, Jonathan Yardley called the book “Dickens gone to China,” and “Mo Yan’s grab for the brass ring, i.e., the Nobel Prize for Literature.” Mo himself called the novel his magnum opus. Ye calls it “the masterpiece” of Mo’s “second phase” as well as “a seminal work of the Deng Xiaoping era.” At the end of 1995, Big Breasts and Wide Hips was serialized in Master, an influential literary magazine, and won the inaugural Master Literature Award. Mo received 100,000 yuan (US$12,100), a sum unprecedented in the history of modern Chinese literature. However, he said that even as he seemed to have it made, he sensed that “trouble was coming.” True enough, his detractors were soon out in force. The title of Big Breasts and Wide Hips was their first target, with some calling it “lewd” and “sensationalist.” Later, the attacks on both Mo Yan and his work became more vitriolic, with his writing called “anticommunist” and “sexually perverted.” Some older writers even attempted to formally report Mo’s “vicious writing” to the authorities, despite the fact that NEWSCHINA I December 2012
he was published by national presses. As a result, Mo found himself facing censure from the very organs of State which had promoted his writing. He was required to write a letter of self-criticism to his publishers, asking them to destroy his work. “If I were a coward, I would have long been scared to death by those ‘heroes,’” Mo wrote in a later essay. Isolated in China’s literary circles, Mo virtually disappeared from public life, only resurfacing to write the occasional TV screenplay. In 1998, Mo launched his comeback, publishing a series of novellas which, much to his relief, were wellreceived by critics. One remarked that “[Mo’s] language is much better honed and he handles his writing with ease.” In 2001, Sandalwood Death, a novel dealing with events at the turn of the century in Mo’s hometown of Gaomi was published, proving to be the work which led both fans and critics to coin the term “cruelty of language” in reference to Mo Yan’s output. In 2006, Fatigue Beyond Life and Death, a work of 490,000 NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
Photo by CFP
On October 11, photojournalists rush toward a display of Mo Yan’s works at the Frankfurt Book Fair after hearing the Nobel Prize announcement
Dedicated Mo Yan section in a bookstore in Wuhan, Hubei Province, October 21
Chinese characters, offered readers “a marriage of the romantic world and cruel reality.” Ye Kai dubbed the work the “masterpiece of Mo’s third phase,” though he claims “its essence still eludes literary critics.” In 2009, Frog was published. Based on the true story of Mo’s aunt, a doctor who carried out forced sterilizations on rural men and women to enforce the One Child Policy, the novel remains one of the few works published on the mainland that deal directly with the reality of this hugely controversial policy. Two years later, Frog received the Mao Dun Literary Prize.
In 31 years, Mo has published some 80 short stories, 30 novellas and 11 novels. His fame and choice of subject matter have forced him to walk a fine line with an official apparatus wary of the power of literature. The textbook on modern Chinese literature used widely in Chinese colleges includes only a smattering of his output, despite his prominence in literary circles. In this primer, Big Breasts and Wide Hips is dismissively
described as “as one of the representative works in the 1990s, [that] follows the narrative frame of Red Sorghum Clan and has made no essential progress, neither ideologically nor artistically.” In contrast, publishing houses and readers have embraced Mo Yan’s readable and bankable creativity. His unique narrative style and “cruel” reflections on modern realities have won him a large following in China, a following which has translated into financial success for almost everything he has published. In 2006, Mo ranked among the top 20 of the Chinese Writer Rich List, with an estimated ten-year income of 3.45 million yuan (roughly US$550,000) in royalties. “His income may explode in 2013 to exceed 100 million yuan (US$15.9m),” said Wu Huaiyao, founder of the list, when asked about the possible impact of Mo’s Nobel win. “He might become the richest Chinese writer.” Mo’s success, unlike many of his contemporaries, is unlikely to stop at the border, with his works among the most-translated and most widely-read of any living Chinese author. “In international literary circles, Mo has long had a place of importance” Ye Kai told NewsChina, adding that his Nobel nomination had
been rumored for a number of years. While many Chinese writers, who struggle at home with the limitations imposed by official censorship as well as with linguistic and cultural disparities when attempting to gain recognition overseas, Mo has never lacked global attention. He has received a number of important international awards, including the French Laure Bataillin Foreign Literature Award for The Republic of Wine, Italy’s 30th International Nonino Prize and Japan’s 17th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize. All who meet Mo Yan describe him, sincerely, as “humble.” “As an editor, I find him to be straightforward and generous,” Ye Kai told NewsChina. “As a friend, I can easily poke fun at him. He never puts on airs.” “Mo Yan is never particular about personal gain. He doesn’t haggle over every ounce and always thinks of others,” said Mo’s publisher Cao Yuankai. Despite eschewing the spotlight, Mo often finds himself overstretched by commitments to lectures and personal appearances. “He’s very kind. Sometimes he refuses invitations. But if people beg him twice or more, he agrees to go,” said Cao. Mo calls himself “the least eloquent of Chinese writers.” However, he has his moments. In 2001, while delivering a speech at Suzhou University, Mo told his listeners: “I would very much like to come to Suzhou University to have fun, not to give a speech. However, if I don’t give a speech, [Dean] Wang Yao won’t reimburse my flight tickets...Therefore I have to speak.” “Ours is a time of resigning to our fate and making compromises. So I have to resign to my fate and make a compromise.” NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
International editions of Mo Yan’s works
“Write More, Talk Less” By Lars Moberg
Lars Moberg: What was your initial reaction when you received the phone call from Sweden? Mo Yan: They called me 20 minutes before the official announcement was made on TV. I was eating dumplings while holding my granddaughter in my arms. I was certainly surprised. There had been rumors on the Internet over the preceding few days that I was going to win. I thought it was just meaningless chatter, but when I found out it was true, it was a big surprise. Of course, I was very happy. Lars Moberg: Had you ever thought about this, or hoped it would happen? Mo Yan: I had. When Orhan Pamuk from Turkey won NEWSCHINA I December 2012
the Nobel Prize, I thought that “Oh, he’s relatively young, around the same age as me. Maybe I could win it too.” Lars Moberg: What does winning the prize mean? What is its value? Mo Yan: To me, it is certainly a milestone in my life as a writer. I think its value lies in its recognition of the literary worth of my works. Lars Moberg: Why did you come back to Shandong instead of waiting for the news in Beijing? Mo Yan: I have returned to Gaomi at this time every year for the past three years. The weather is nice here, and it is quiet.
Photo by CFP
Lars Moberg: Which non-Chinese authors have had the biggest influence on you? Mo Yan: I was heavily influenced by “hallucinatory realism.” Works from foreign writers like Gabriel García Márquez, William Faulkner, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, Tolstoy, Kawabata Yasunari and Kenzaburo Oe have all influenced me a lot.
Photo by CFP
Writer Mo Yan
On October 12, in a large bookstore in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, Mo Yan’s works fell into short supply after he won the Nobel Prize
Lars Moberg: As a writer, how would you describe yourself? Mo Yan: First of all, I think I’m a very honest-living writer. Secondly, I like to tell the truth in my work – I like to use my novels to speak the truth. I have a very childlike nature, which is why there are all kinds of fairytale colors in my works. Lars Moberg: Where does your material come from? Mo Yan: Some comes from my personal experience, some from stories I hear from other people, and from old folks. There are also stories that have happened to my relatives and neighbors. They come from all kinds of places. Lars Moberg: Do you like writing stories about nobodies? Mo Yan: The stories in my novels are basically all about
Lars Moberg: What are the differences between Márquez’s works and your own? Mo Yan: There are similarities, as well as differences. The similarity is that I borrowed his idea of limitless exaggeration of real life. I’ve also read a lot of classic Chinese novels that use the same technique. The difference is that I often appear in my own works as the writer, Mo Yan, living life alongside the fictional characters. That is to say, I, Mo Yan, directly enter my novels. Lars Moberg: Why did you choose the pen name “Mo Yan?” Mo Yan: My real name is Guan Moye, but when I was young, in the 1960s when Chinese society was in a very unusual state, a person could bring disaster on themselves and their family with a simple slip of the tongue. So my parents stressed to me that I should speak as little as possible, or even better, not at all, when I went out. When I grew up and started writing, I remembered what my parents had told me, and gave myself the pen name “Mo Yan” [meaning “don’t talk”] to remind myself to speak less and write more – to put what I wanted to say into words on paper. Lars Moberg: You live in a country that has seen all sorts of changes, like the Cultural Revolution. What have you learned from your life experience? Mo Yan: I was born in 1955. The past 50 or so years have been a time of great change in China. I’ve been through things like the infamous Cultural Revolution, and the famine of the early 1960s. The most profound idea I learned from these experiences is that a man must first be able to survive. To survive, he must first feed himself, and only then can he undertake other pursuits like culture and the arts. That is to say, the first priority of a society is to cater to the most basic needs of its people – provide them with food to eat and clothes to wear. That’s the foundation for everything else. In the process of trying to provide enough food and clothes, there have been all sorts of struggles. I learned that when people are competing for survival, their dark sides can come out. Their animalism NEWSCHINA I December 2012
can be released with great intensity. Lars Moberg: You have been criticized for being too close to the Chinese government. What’s your opinion of the criticism? Mo Yan: I think that in today’s society, especially in Chinese society, most people are living and working “within the system.” To absolutely break away from the establishment is very difficult. If you’re working in the system, you are restrained and managed by it. It’s not possible to be totally free. Also, since so many of today’s Chinese intellectuals see criticizing the the establishment as some kind of fashion, I’d rather stay calm and think, instead of joining in just for fun. I think that for a writer, the most important thing is to write. A writer’s political views and all their other opinions towards life and society should be delivered through his or her works, rather than being spoken out on the streets. This might be the reason they said I was too close to the government. Lars Moberg: So you aren’t close to the government? Mo Yan: I make my own judgments. No matter who I’m close to, I’m always close to my conscience. I praise the good and criticize the bad. If the government did something good, I’d praise them. If they did something wrong, I’d criticize them. On the other hand, if normal people do bad things, I’ll criticize them too. Therefore, I think I’m a writer who speaks based on facts. Lars Moberg: Many Nobel literature laureates have suffered extended writer’s block after receiving the prize. Are you worried about this? Mo Yan: I think I still have better work in me. I’ve put together the outlines of some stories before I received the Nobel, so all that remains now is to write them. I’m writing a play, and at least two other novels. Lars Moberg: Is there anything else you want to say? Mo Yan: I will express all of my most important opinions in December when I go to Sweden to give my acceptance speech. Lars Moberg: How will you spend the prize money? Mo Yan: I haven’t thought about the money, or how to spend it. Lars Moberg: Why not give it a thought now? Mo Yan: I will probably buy a house in Beijing to improve my living environment. The house I live in now is very small. Maybe the money could get me a bigger house in Beijing. (The interviewer is the China correspondent for SVT [Sveriges Television].) NEWSCHINA I December 2012
One Red Tape at a Time The State Council’s recent decision to selectively abolish mandatory central approval requirements for certain business activities has been called a major step toward greater economic liberalization. Those on the inside, however, claim the remaining barriers are the ones that really matter By Min Jie
mong all the complaints from the private sector about Chinese government “meddling,” the most common, yet often overlooked, concerns the huge number of “administrative approvals” required before a company can actually begin operations with full legal rights. In fact, the approvals required for certain business activities are so numerous that critics of Chinese bureaucracy claim that entrepreneurs need a governmentstamped license covering “everything other than farting.” A throwback to the planned economy era which began in the 1950s, China’s administrative approval system was originally designed to extend the reach of government into all economic and social activities. If a business wanted to install an air-conditioner in its office, a permit was required. While the embracement of Deng Xiaoping theory has led the government to loosen some of the more ludicrous restrictions, critics claim an excessive number of activities remain subject to central government approval, with the last count, in 2001, putting the total number at 3,603. Tens of thousands more are subject to approval at lower levels of government. The government itself, of course, does not need to seek approval for any of these.
Li Chunhong, director of the provincial Development and Reform Commission in Guangdong, the province’s top macroeconomic planning agency, once told media that he investigated six major local business projects, each of which took 310 days on average to complete the necessary paperwork to commence operations. According to Professor Yang Jianshun of Renmin University, on average, more than 125 permits, all with a stamp from a relevant government department, are required to legally open a business. While this might seem counterproductive in terms of securing revenue, it is important to note that this system, giving bureaucrats absolute power over businesses, has itself be-
Number of abolished and adjusted administrative approvals Proportion of abolished to adjusted administrative approvals
Source: State Council
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come highly profitable and a hotbed of corruption. For example, in 2008, a local township government in Henan Province required local farmers to obtain a “harvesting permit” and a “transportation permit” to harvest and sell the corn they were producing, charging them a fee of 500 yuan (US$80) per mu (0.16 acres). When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2002, a condition was the removal of this kind of administrative barrier to legitimate entrepreneurship, a commitment Beijing seems to remain determined to honor. On October 10, 2012, the State Council announced the removal of 171 administrative approval items and the downgrading of 117 more. The hurdles removed were related to a diverse range of business activities, from investment to social projects. While most agree this was a positive step, the list of now-defunct or downgraded permits and licenses makes for sobering reading as it shows just how insidious the administrative approval system has become. Among the items no longer subject to central agencies were a permit allowing an organization to hold an international education exhibition, another which would allow a private citizen to launch a business card printing company, a license for universities allowing them to establish and adjust their own graduate studies programs, a permit allowing publicly-traded company to buy their own stock and a license which cleared a magazine to publish a supplementary issue. Other than the above list, the State Council announcement also pledged that government “will retreat from all areas subject to market mechanisms where citizens, corporate and social entities can self-govern,” adding that “no administrative approvals shall be introduced in the fields which can be regulated and effectively supervised.” The State Council also claimed that 2,497 activities subject to administrative approval, 69.3 percent of the 2001 total, have now been abandoned. Many experts believe that this is not only an attempt to further liberalize the economy at a time of slowing growth, but also an indication of growing will to conduct more aggressive political reforms. The timing of the announcement seems to support this view, as it comes just weeks before the new central leadership is unveiled at the 18th Party Congress in November. “The new round of restructuring is a breakthrough in that it is no longer just a quantitative reduction,” Professor Wang Yukai, vice-director of the China Academy of Governance, told NewsChina. “Instead, it recognizes some basic and important principles which pave the way for an overhaul of the entire administrative approval system.” But many are cautious. Professor Ma Qingyu from the China National School of Administration warns that even though the central government’s push for reform is sincere, local governments, who ultimately have to enforce new regulations, are far less enthusiastic. Administrative approval fees are an important source of revenue for both central agencies and local governments.
Currently, it is estimated that more than 17,000 activities are still subject to administrative approval at the provincial and local govern-
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
ment level, meaning that a few hundred shaved off the top are unlikely to lead to an entrepreneurial revolution. For example, in Henan Province, vendors who sell steamed buns, an everyday staple for locals, are required to obtain more than seven administrative approvals beforehand, each subject to a fee. To push forward reform in the lower level governments, a pilot program was launched in Shunde, a district of Foshan city in Guangdong Province in February 2011. It is reported that 61.4 percent of the district’s 5,205 administrative approval items were either rescinded or passed down to grassroots government agencies, leading to a 44 percent increase in the number of new business registrations within three months. Then, in August, the State Council gave Guangdong, considered China’s pioneer province for political reform, the green light to take reform of the administrative approval system province-wide. As the first province to allow non-governmental organizations to register freely in 2011, the Guangdong government has decided to combine reform of the administrative approval system with its program of liberalization for social organizations. The provincial government has pledged gradually to retreat from fields where trade organizations can self-govern and set standards. However, Professor Ma remains cautious about the prospect of such reforms. According to Ma, while these changes may seem sweeping, they only extend to a select subset of business activities, with “those that really matter” still tightly controlled by relevant government agencies. The administrative approval system itself is a tool which allows the government to fence in its own monopolies against private competition. For example, prior to the recent reforms, for any private company’s products, even a component as small as a screw to be used in a train, administrative approval would have to be obtained from the Ministry of Railways (MOR). Predictably, an overwhelming percentage of MOR contracts are handed over to State-owned enterprises, with which the ministry has direct links. Any attempt to slash these barriers would likely fail even to reach a committee, regardless of the potential economic benefits. “For these agencies, it’s a matter of their very existence,” said Professor Ma. Even if some administrative barriers preventing private companies from engaging with State-owned enterprises were removed, the government itself is not subject to effective supervision, meaning that it is simple enough to establish new barriers, whether in the form of permits, quality control standards or mandatory annual inspections by government officials. According to Professor Ma, the difficulty in reforming the administrative approval system is an inevitable result of stagnation in the political arena. “As several rounds of institutional reforms claiming to streamline government functions resulted in nothing more than increasingly overstaffed and bloated government agencies, it is inevitable that [the bureaucrats] will continue to cling to power,” he said. “Eventually, it comes down to asking what the relationship between government, the market and society should be.”
Holiday Blues Chaos on the roads and overcrowded tourist sites have re-ignited debate over the management of China’s mandatory “Golden Week” vacation By Li Jia
atching a ride in a friend’s car, it took Burenbayr 11 hours, more than double his usual journey time, to get back from Beijing, where he works, to his hometown in Chifeng city, Inner Mongolia at the beginning of the October National Day holiday. Unable to get a sleeper berth on the return train, he had to suffer in a cramped seating cabin for 14 hours to get back to the capital in time for work. “It was terrible,” he told NewsChina, lamenting that the route had no high-speed trains like those that run between big cities. On balance, he was probably luckier than
the millions taking to the roads to move between big cities during the eight-day vacation period, longer than normal due to the concurrence of the National Day and MidAutumn Festival holidays. On the outskirts of cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, cars were lined up for at least twenty kilometers, with roads effectively becoming parking lots. Drivers and passengers were photographed playing sports, or even walking their dogs to while away the long hours. As in all situations, the masses took to Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, to vent their frustration. “We can even update our micro-
blogs while driving on the highway!” said one exasperated driver on his Weibo page. The story of a man surnamed Chen, widely reported in the media, drew particular attention. Chen was driving home to see his terminally ill father for the last time, but while immobilized in traffic between Shanghai and Nanjing, Chen received a call from his mother, breaking the news that his father had died. Anyone heading to any kind of tourist site was certain to find themselves in a holiday melee, with beautiful landscapes and festive spirits obstructed by record-breaking numNEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by Liang yan / CFP
A serious traffic jam at a toll gate along the Shanghai-Kunming highway, Sept 30, 2012
bers of vacationers. For example, on October 2, more than 180,000 tourists swarmed Beijing’s Forbidden City – triple the ancient palace’s capacity. At Mount Hua in Shaanxi Province, a Chinese couple were stabbed in a riot that erupted when it was found there were not enough shuttle buses to carry tourists down the mountain. Even animals suffered – several camels died of exhaustion in arid Dunhuang, Gansu Province, after working long hours carrying tourists. Traffic jams and crowded tourist sites are a problem all over the world. But in a country where hundreds of millions of people travel NEWSCHINA I December 2012
at the same time to the same few-dozen destinations every year, chaos is bound to ensue. Will Chinese people ever be able to enjoy a normal vacation, rather than a grueling, even violent one?
New Policy, Old Problem
Many attributed the traffic jams to the new policy of making all roads toll-free for passenger cars during public holidays, a move that undoubtedly encouraged drivers who would otherwise have chosen public transport or avoided the roads altogether. Had he set out earlier or taken the train, Mr
Chen may well have had the chance to say goodbye to his father. According to the Ministry of Transportation during this year’s October vacation, the number of passenger cars on the road was one and a half times more than in the same period in 2011, and accounted for 79 percent of traffic on China’s toll roads over the eight-day holiday. Those who defended the policy argued that the problem lay in poor implementation. For the first two days of the vacation, drivers still had to formally register at toll booths to get on and off highways. Only the payment element of the procedure was sus-
pended, leading to massive tailbacks as motorists queued for an essentially pointless admittance card. Indeed, the worst of the jams were alleviated as soon as tollgate procedures were simplified. After all, vacation-time migrations are nothing new in China. Poor catering and transportation services and the perennial bad behavior of tourists come in for criticism after every major public holiday. In 2000, the National Tourism Administration recognized that some tourists had had no choice but to sleep on the street. Burenbayr had to stand for the majority of his 14-hour train journey back home for Chinese New Year, part of the world’s largest single human migration. He usually refrains from drinking any liquids for several hours before boarding the train, in order to avoid using the bathroom. “The New Year journey is usually far worse,” he said. Experts continue to debate whether it makes more sense to maintain or drop the policy of making roads toll-free during vacation periods. The Shaanxi provincial government is considering placing restrictions on the number of tourists, and a new museum displaying exhibits from the Forbidden City has been planned, in order to ease pressure on one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. However, as long as such a huge population has the same non-negotiable vacation period, this familiar drama will continue to be played out, as it has for the past decade. It is time to rethink China’s mass holidays.
A record number of more than 40,000 tourists visited Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province on October 4, 2012
Photo by Zhang Xiaoli / CFP
Real Value of Golden Weeks
The “Golden Week” system, which mandated seven-day holidays for Chinese New Year, May Day and National Day, was officially implemented in 2000 as part of the strategy to “make tourism a new growth point for the economy,” according to a State Council document delineating the policy, designed to fire up a new economic engine following the Asian Financial Crisis. The holidays were as “golden” as their name suggested – about 21 percent of tourism revenue for the whole year of 2001 was generated during these three Golden Weeks. It increased to 24 percent in 2006, when one in every four Chinese people took a vacation during these periods. While the service industry struggled to NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by Pan Zhiwang / CFP
On October 3, 2012, the Badaling section of the Great Wall heaved with 81,000 tourists
Photo by Zhang Cunli / CFP
cope, the efficiency of Golden Weeks in terms of boosting consumption was called into question. Separate research papers from Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2006 both concluded that the Golden Week system had led to concentrated consumption over a fixed period of time every year, but did little to boost consumption as a whole. Based on this research and growing complaints about nightmarish traveling experiences during the Golden Weeks, a new policy was implemented in 2008 to scrap the May Day Golden Week and add a number of three-day holidays scattered throughout the year. This simply served to further concentrate tourist consumption. The number of tourists during the National Day holiday, the only remaining Golden Week generally used for tourism rather than returning home, has increased by an average of 23 percent per year since 2008, compared with 14 percent between 2001 and 2007. At the same time, gridlock on the roads and overcrowded tourist sites have also begun to plague travelers during the new, shorter holidays. It could have been worse, though – growing numbers of Chinese traveling abroad during public holidays have gone some way towards easing domestic pressure. It isn’t simply the case that Chinese people have the habit of holidaying at the same time, and the problem is not just the result of China being the most populous country in the world. Zhang Ying, an employee at an American-owned company in Beijing, went to Hong Kong in August for her paid vacation, and Burenbayr, who works at a Chinese State-owned enterprise, also plans to visit somewhere other than his hometown for his vacation next year. However, not many in China enjoy such privilege. In 2008, the State Council adopted a regulation encouraging employers to grant paid vacation. But surveys by China Youth Daily, Xiaokang magazine and various other media have shown that more than half of Chinese workers have never had a paid vacation. Normally, workers at foreign companies, Stateowned enterprises and large private firms have much more of a chance of taking a paid holiday than those in smaller private firms,
Some ten thousand visitors swarmed foreign samba dancers during a street performance in Liuzhou, Guangxi, Oct 1, 2012
which employ the majority of China’s workforce. “Asking for a paid vacation could make a bad impression, and even cost us our jobs,” said Zhang Ying, who worked for a small company a few years ago. Mandatory public holidays provide the best and often only chance for them to take days off with pay. Chinese employees who have served 10 years or more in their job are entitled to 21 paid days off per year, four days fewer than their counterparts in the US, the country dubbed the “No-Vacation Nation,” according to a CNN survey released on July 29. In addition, levels of consumption are al-
ways linked to income, and while Chinese people’s salaries have been rising rapidly for several years, the country’s tax rates have grown even faster. This means not only heavy taxes on ordinary workers, but on suppliers of goods and services, whose rising costs are converted into high prices. This is why more consideration should be given to making holidays more equal, logical and affordable for all, instead of creating indispensible “golden” periods for the economy. Chinese employees, some of the world’s most overworked, deserve a relaxing break.
A Convict’s Crusade While most convicted white-collar criminals in China try to keep a low profile, recently-released former tycoon Gu Chujun has embarked on a highly public campaign to clear his name By Xie Ying
earing a white dunce cap bearing the slogan “this humble man is absolutely innocent,” Gu Chujun posed for press photographers in Beijing on September 14, five days after having been released from prison seven years into a recently reduced ten-year sentence. “It is time to expose the truth… This [press] conference shows my firm determination… to prove that I am clean,” Gu told assembled reporters. A well-known venture capitalist, Gu Chujun topped the Hurun (China’s Forbes equivalent) Capital Control Index in 2005 by purchasing several home appliance and automobile firms in rapid succession. In late 2005, however, he found himself and his refrigeration equipment manufacturing firm, Greencool-Kelon, under investigation for business irregularities. Two years later, Gu was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraud, incomplete disclosure of financial records and misappropriation of funds. “I was framed by corrupt officials who tried to acquire my company at no personal cost,” Gu claimed at his September 14 press conference. In a self-published 27-page “document
of complaint,” Gu named several senior officials, including the then vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission Fan Fuchun, then director of the China Securities Regulatory Commission Guangdong Branch Liu Xingqiang, Deputy Governor of Shunde, Guangdong Chen Yunxian, and then public security minister assistant Zheng Shaodong – the latter having already been sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on separate charges of corruption. “I am innocent. I will fight these corrupt officials for the rest of my life. This is a life-ordeath struggle,” Gu emphasized.
Gu’s business empire began with Greencool, a firm engaged in producing a freonfree cooling agent of Gu’s own design. Sales were boosted by a nationwide drive to manufacture more environmentally friendly consumer goods, and Greencool was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2000. One year later, Gu acquired Kelon Group, a leading home appliance manufacturer, for 340 million yuan (US$54 million). Gu’s bid for Kelon was allegedly fully supported by
authorities in the company’s hometown of Shunde, Guangdong. That same year, Gu Chujun was listed by Forbes as the world’s 20th world’s richest person, with an estimated personal fortune of one billion yuan (US$160m). Following his acquisition of Kelon, Gu made a number of other ambitious purchases, mainly targeting State-owned enterprises teetering on bankruptcy. In 2003 alone, Gu purchased three listed manufacturing companies. In January 2004, Gu purchased a further two European companies engaged in automobile design and auto parts production, bringing them under the Greencool banner and making his company one of the world’s most formidable manufacturing concerns. These acquisitions also made Gu one of the most influential private individuals operating in two key manufacturing sectors in China – automobiles and home appliances. Industry watchers and business leaders soon began to question Gu’s whirlwind rise to power. Hong Kong-based economist Larry Lang emerged as a leading critic of Gu after publishing a series of blog entries focusing on the privatization of China’s State-owned enNEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
Gu Chunjun poses before the media wearing a dunce cap proclaiming his innocence, September 14
terprises. Lang openly accused Gu of “seizing State assets” through dubious negotiations with failing State companies, offering generous kickbacks to local governments, agreeing to pay a higher rate of tax and to pay off a company’s existing debts in exchange for a rock-bottom purchase price. “In these four purchases, Gu actually only spent 900 million yuan (US$143m) on 13.6 billion yuan (US$2.2bn) worth of assets,” Lang alleged on his blog. Breaking with the tradition among China’s private entrepreneurs who typically prefer to stonewall their critics, Gu Chujun chose to hit back against Lang and others, claiming that he “was rescuing dying enterprises.” It was an increasingly fiery exchange of words between Gu and Lang that caught the attention of China’s securities regulator. In May 2005, four provincial securities regulatory commissions in different localities, led by the Guangdong Provincial Securities Regulatory Commission, launched a joint investigation into Gu’s business empire. Half a year later, Gu was in court, charged with violating securities regulations. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Throughout his jail time, Gu has denied the charges he was convicted upon, claiming he was set up. “The State Council suggested withdrawing the charges against me in April 2006, since they thought they were ‘filed with malicious intent’ and were ‘groundless,’” he claimed at the September 14 press conference. Gu’s source for this information is an anonymous blogger who goes by the name Wu Fengdu. Wu’s blog claimed that the State Council held a meeting in June 2004, during which representatives from the Guangdong government admitted that they could find no evidence that Gu had misappropriated funds from Kelon, and declared they would support an appeal to overturn his sentence and have him released on bail in the interim. However, after Kelon’s assets were transferred to Hisense, a State-owned home appliance manufacturer, Gu remained in jail. “Gu lost his last trump card by signing the transfer papers before securing his release,” claimed Wu on their blog. “[Shunde Party Secretary] Chen Yunxian once threatened me, saying that if I did not
give him free shares in Kelon, he would have me arrested,” Gu told reporters. “I did not believe he had the power to do it until I was detained by the police [in 2005].” However, Gu’s accusations as detailed in his 27-page document, while scandalous, are based largely on circumstantial evidence, a fact seized on by the authorities, who have denied any wrongdoing. “We welcome public supervision, but such supervision must be based on facts and laws,” read a response by the China Securities Regulatory Commission on its official website, which included a copy of the original investigation report. State media have also ridiculed Gu and his claims, alleging that he suffered from a “persecution complex.” “Gu was walking a fine line by taking advantage of loopholes in China’s relevant laws and regulations,” ran a scathing 2008 editorial in Southern Weekend concerning the case. “His detention just showed that the government is planning to clarify these rules.” Neither the officials Gu has accused of corruption nor any other relevant government departments have responded to his allegations, and are unlikely to do so. State media who covered his press conference underscored their coverage with refutations of Gu’s claims from pundits and journalists. Gu has resorted to Wu Fengdu’s unattributed blog to confirm that he was framed by corrupt officials. “My imperative now is to check with the Supreme Procuratorate on whether or not the State Council rejected the charges against me,” he said. “Given China’s growing awareness of the law, I believe I can get the evidence I need.” Once a robust, healthy individual, Gu has emerged from prison gray-haired and sick. Suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease, he allegedly has to take six different daily medications. According to Chinese law, this level of infirmity is sufficient to grant a prisoner medical parole, though this privilege was denied to Gu. “I had to bear whatever was forced on me in prison, since I knew I could not lay the truth bare until I was out,” Gu told NewsChina, adding that once his assets are unfrozen he intends to return to business. “I have no choice. This is my last chance and I have to seize it,” he said.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
URS IS MINED The continuous influx of mining operations into Chinaâ€™s wild west and north are destroying the natural landscape, polluting the air, poisoning the water and marginalizing locals By Wang Yan Photos By LuGuang
A tranquil prairie disturbed by the encroachment of industial coal trucks NEWSCHINA I December 2012
he vast expanse of Chinaâ€™s landlocked western and northern regions are sparsely populated, and remain virtually untouched when compared to the boomtowns and megacities of the industrialized east and south. On these far-flung prairies and desert wastelands, horses, sheep, cows, camel and yaks have always tended to outnumber humans. To try and keep these wildernesses pristine, numerous nature reserves and wildlife protection zones have been established over the past few decades. However, the unrelenting march of resource-hungry economic development always seems to find its way into these supposedly sacred spaces. Developers come from all over the country, scavenging mineral re-
sources including coal, gold, copper and rare earths. The Hulunbuir Prairie, one of the countryâ€™s most breathtaking grasslands, is pockmarked with open quarries and massive infrastructure construction projects. Livestock die due to air pollution caused by excessive mining. Since the late 1990s, small-scale, privately-owned coal mines have been on a constant increase. In one particular region on the prairie, over one thousand disused quarries remain unfilled, leaving gaping wounds in the ground. It is estimated that Hulunbuir Prairie sits on up to 63 billion tons of coal reserves, a bounty that large-scale operations like the Shenhua and Dongming open coal mines, with their respective 300 million and 4 million-ton annual production capacities, are steadily extracting.
Holin Gol, on the northern tip of the Horqin Grassland, has become an industrial city based on the mining, power and chemical industries. Due to severe pollution, real herds are scarce - the local government has erected sheep statues instead
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Ujimqin Grassland in the east of Xilin Gol, the fourth largest grassland in the world, has become pockmarked with open coal mining pits in recent years. Herds move along dirt tracks formed by passing trucks
Underneath Ordos, a city in the southwest of Inner Mongolia, lie at least 149.6 billion tons of untapped coal, accounting for one sixth of the country’s total coal reserves. Around 70 percent of the city’s urban area sits above coal mines. Water is extracted for mining purposes, causing frequent droughts. In a region where the formerly nomadic population lived in poverty until a few years ago when resource exploration began, financial compensation granted to those who lost their grazing land to mining activity has done little to improve livelihoods. Some were wise enough to move elsewhere to avoid the devastating environmental effects of development, yet many remained, and continue to live cheek-byjowl with the mines. Only the desert winds can clear the air, and on still days, locals are shrouded in airborne dust caused by unregulated round-the-clock mining activity. Those who leave, or plan to, do so NEWSCHINA I December 2012
hesitantly, unsure if they will ever be able to return. In a new research paper by the Chinese Academy of Sciences titled Coal-Power Development and Water Resources published this year, the author demonstrates that mining and construction of thermal power facilities has accelerated the destruction of a fragile ecosystem of prairies, forests and wetlands. “Open cast mines cause loss of arable land, land degradation, and even desertification,” states the report. Unrestricted mining activity is causing irreversible damage to the environment and natural habitats for people and animals in many parts of the country. Although the central government has issued various regulations and tried to establish conservation areas, local governments, propelled by their zest for the short-term gains of economic development, still encourage vested interests to prospect for mineral resources, and extract whatever they find.
As industrial and mining projects sweep away nature reserves, environmentalists are trying their best to see China enshrine protection of the country’s last vanishing wildernesses in law By Wang Yan
n the far west of Xinjiang, covering some 78,000 square kilometers, the Lop Nur wild camel reserve was created in 2000 to protect 500 of an estimated 800 or 900 of the world’s last remaining wild camels. The area is also home to endangered wildlife such as the Tibetan wild ass, the Argali sheep, the goitred gazelle, wolves, foxes and the elusive snow leopard. It is also home to some of China’s biggest mining concerns. In early September, Lop Nur rangers embarked on a routine patrol of their jurisdiction, only to discover armies of prospectors, none of whom should have been operating within the reserve, hard at work.
The Lop Nur reserve is divided into three parts. The 13,100-squarekilometer “core area” and surrounding 16,400-square-kilometer buffer zone are technically off-limits to tourism and industrial development, while the remaining 48,500-square-kilometer “experimental region” is open to development, including mining. So far, over 20 mines operate in this experimentation region. Cixi iron mine in Hami is one of them. Located on the edge of the experimental area bordering on the buffer zone, the iron mine is 100 kilometers away from Yamansu, its nearest town. On this arid plain, miners endure harsh living and working conditions. “Water and food have to be transported from Yamansu, and there are neither stores nor any kind of entertainment facilities. Even electricity is generated by the mine itself,” Zhang Chao, a Lop Nur engi-
neer, told our reporter. “During the daytime, it’s hard to find shelter from the sun or from sandstorms,” said Lu Dailong, owner of the Cixi mine, adding that the poor quality of his mine’s iron ore made the operation barely worth his time. “The average price of iron ore is 600 yuan (US$ 96) per ton, yet our low-grade ore only sells for 300 yuan (US$ 48) per ton,” he told NewsChina. “We can barely pay our operational costs and worker salaries, so we have to keep the mine operating around the clock. ” While operations such as Lu’s mine bring little benefit to the area even in terms of economic development, they stick to the experimental zone, obeying rules restricting industrial activity in a protected nature reserve. However, other operations have been less scrupulous. In the reserve’s core protection area, vast mining operations including the Yunihe iron mine and the Yanshui Spring goldmine have scarred the landscape. In the buffer zone, also technically off-limits, are the Hongshijing goldmine, Baishitan manganese mine and the Daqingshan mining zone. “These large-scale mines obtained their mining licenses prior to the establishment of the reserve,” a local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told our reporter. “Since 2009, Xinjiang stopped issuing mining permits within the core protection area. But there are still many private companies with prospecting permits.” “These mines have had a catastrophic impact on an already fragile ecosystem. But we can do little about the situation,” he added. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by Du Bingxun
The wild Bactrian camel, which roams Xinjiang and parts of Mongolia, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
According to Shen Lexing, manager of the Yanshui Spring goldmine, his claim produces around 3 grams of gold from one ton of ore. Scaled excavation can produce around 2 kilograms of gold per day, giving his mine an annual output value of 100 million yuan (US$63 million). “However, net profit is pretty low, since the cost of labor is high in this far-flung region. Electricity and water account for more than 70 percent of our total costs,” he told NewsChina. “Since we are now largely in the prospecting phase, we don’t know if we can obtain mining permits in the future. So far we have no other choice but to continue prospecting until we find high-grade ore.”
In as early as 1997, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region set up its regional-level wild animal reserve in Lop Nur, and had its licenses extended in 2000. In 2003, Lop Nur was upgraded to a national-level nature reserve. However, the management bureau of the Wild Camel Reserve of Lop Nur was not formed until October 2009. There are only 15 full-time employees responsible for managing and patrolling 78,000 square kilometers of prairie. Before 2009, it was the Xinjiang Regional Land and Resources Bureau that was responsible for issuing mining permits. With the tightening up of environmental protection rules since 2009, any company applying for a mining permit needs to pass an environmental impact assessment before being approved. However, the local hunger for inNEWSCHINA I December 2012
vestment often leads officials to overlook or play down the potential environmental impact of large-scale mining operations, making this requirement largely worthless. In late 2007, the State Council issued a white paper promoting the economic and social development of “economically backward” Xinjiang, emphasizing the importance of prospecting and mining. In 2008, the Ministry of Land and Resources signed an agreement with the Xinjiang regional government on a joint initiative for resource prospecting. Together, central and local governments invested 4 billion yuan (US$637m) between 2008 and 2015, as well as soliciting 6 billion yuan (US$956m) from the private sector, all of it aimed at massively expanding mining in the region – home to some of China’s last pristine wildernesses, and some of the region’s rarest wildlife. “This policy of promoting mining and prospecting in Xinjiang is not in line with China’s regulations on nature reserves,” said the Lop Nur management official. “As Xinjiang is listed as a strategic natural resource reserve for China, the Lop Nur region is also facing a conflicted situation, torn between environmental protection and resource exploration.” “We are caught in a dilemma between development and protection,” said Zhang Yu, bureau chief of the Lop Nur reserve. “On the one hand, we cannot afford the high cost of patrolling such a large reserve. On the other, our efforts at preventing exploration and prospecting may earn us the resentment of the local government.”
A similar dilemma is faced by Ruoqiang County government. According to Li Xiaojin, bureau chief of the Ruoqiang County Land and Resources Bureau, the county’s nature reserve area counts for half its total area. “Now there are over 10 mining companies operating inside this protected area, despite the fact that most of them don’t have permits,” said Li. “We need development and we have no other choice. We know environmental protection is necessary, but the problem is how we should deal with those companies that have invested huge money in mineral prospecting.”
In recent years, large coal reserves have been found at the heart of the Lop Nur reserve. These include Sha’er Lake and Danan Lake coal reserves. In 2005 and 2008 respectively, authorities in Xinjiang tried twice to lobby the State Council to readjust the borders of the nature reserve to allow mines to open in these areas, however, both attempts
Lop Nur Wild Camel Reserve
received no official response. In March this year, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) dispatched a team to the Lop Nur reserve to conduct field research. This team, according to engineer Zhang Chao, concluded that “the experimentatal zone is to be excluded from the general reserve region.” In his view, this shrinkage will benefit conservationists.
“As a matter of fact, the delineated reserve area is unnecessarily large,” he told our reporter. On August 31, the State Council finally approved the readjustment application submitted by the Wild Camel Reserve. Despite this, the MEP has yet to release a detailed adjustment plan, however it appears that territory will be handed over piecemeal to mining concerns. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by Li Guang
An open cast mine in Hami, within the Lop Nur wild camel reserve
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protection area as “an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.” Protected areas form the core of conservation efforts around the world. Over the past four decades there has been a tenfold increase in the number of protected areas listed by the UN. Areas under protection have likewise expanded, from 2.4 million square kilometers in 1962 to over 20 million square kilometers in 2004. Roughly 12 percent of the world’s total land resources are now defined as protected, however much of this area remains a playground for commercial interests. While on paper China boasts 7,000 protected areas nationwide, more than 15 percent of the country’s total sovereign territory, in reality these nature reserves are typically the first to be sold off when profit beckons. A joint report by the EPM and Nanjing Normal University in 2010 found over 40 of 303 national-level nature reserves had been reduced in size, in contravention of central government regulations, to make way for illegal construction projects.
Lack of a Law
With no extant conservation law in China, environmental protection initiatives continue to fail. Environmentalists and even government-appointed conservation officials have little clout in Beijing NEWSCHINA I December 2012
when faced with the powerful interests in control of mining utilities, construction and tourism. So far, the only official regulation enacted at the national level is a virtually non-binding and almost completely unenforceable Regulation on Nature Reserves, enacted in 1994, which is already viewed as archaic by conservationists. Since early 2012, the legislative draft of a Natural Heritage Conservation Act has been debated by environmentalists and researchers. This November, according to Xie Yan, associate researcher with the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Act is expected to be presented to the National People’s Congress (NPC) for further discussion. Xie fears that even if the draft is passed, it will further damage China’s already chaotic system of environmental protection. Xie told NewsChina that of roughly 7,000 protected areas across China, merely 600 would be provided with explicit legal protection by the act, with the rest being effectively abandoned. She is also concerned that the vague language of the act effectively leaves management of such areas at the discretion of local governments – usually the most rapacious of developers. In April this year, Xie set up an organization called the Conservation Law Research Team and, in mid-September, they presented an open letter bearing some 260 signatures, including all seven CAS academicians and all the NPC deputies working in the field of environmental protection, calling for significant improvements to the draft and a speedier resolution to the problem of China’s nonexistent environmental protection law. “In my view, almost all nature reserves in China except the Wanglang Nature Reserve in the southwestern Sichuan Province are poorly managed,” Xie told our reporter. “Despite there being a management department for each protected area, they lack sufficient financial support from the government. Furthermore, the powers of management and supervision should be separated, otherwise the focus will be shifted towards tourism development and away from protection.” Xie believes it is the ambiguous role of the management departments which allows them to funnel money into developing tourist resorts and infrastructure projects in supposedly protected areas, permanently destroying entire ecosystems while claiming to protect them. Xie’s team are currently writing up the findings of a nationwide survey of management departments, which they hope will force the government to finally act in the interests of China’s dwindling number of unspoiled nature reserves. “What we need is a law that effectively covers the full swath of nature conservation, rather than a one that only clarifies non-essential areas,” she said. “Hopefully, we can change the legislative draft of the Natural Heritage Conservation Act to be submitted to the NPC during its annual session next year,” Xie continued. “Hopefully, a genuinely effective conservation law will come into being and into force in the near future.” (Li Guang also contributed reporting)
s European pioneers such as Captain Cook, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin scavenged the globe for exotic plant species, collecting hundreds of thousands of specimens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Himalayas remained shrouded in mystery, impenetrable to the outside world. It was not until the late 1840s that British botanist J D Hooker began his threeyear Himalayan expedition, becoming the first European to catalog plant life in the region. Despite the testing geographical locations and the authorities’ policy of seclusion that forbade westerners from entering Tibet, over the following century travelers from Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, the US, Austria and Sweden frequently attempted to visit and compile plant collections either as botanists, travelers, missionaries or military officers. In China, however, plant taxonomy was only introduced in the early 1900s, and Chinese-conducted plant study and collection in Tibet started no earlier than the 1920s.
Plant Pursuit Working in cooperation with countries around the world, Chinese botanists are undertaking the most extensive survey of Himalayan flora in history
However, things are about to change. In mid-2010, Chinese botanists launched a monumental project: the compilation of the Flora of Pan-Himalayas (FLPH), an epic undertaking that has drawn massive international attention in botanical circles. “This project can give a general overview of the distribution and biodiversity of plants in the Himalayan region, and contribute to the development of other scientific studies in the field of biology, medicinal research and climate change,” said Hong Deyuan, an academician from the Institute of Botany with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the launch ceremony for the project. The Pan-Himalayan region (the Himalayas and their adjacent regions) forms a natural geographic unit, from the Wakhan Corridor and the northeastern Hindu Kush eastwards to the Hengduan Mountains, via Karakorum and the Himalayas themselves. This region covers a total area of 1.56 million square kilometers, including the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, northern Myanmar, and southwest China. “Different from our previous work, such as Flora of China, this book covers one of the largest and most distinctive geographical areas in the world,” FLPH’s editor-in-chief Hong Deyuan told NewsChina in mid-October. Based on previous research in this region, it is estimated that there are a total of about 20,000 native and naturalized vascular plant species, of which 13,000 grow within China’s borders, accounting for 43 percent of China’s total number of plant species. According to Hong, existing books on the plants in the Pan-Himalayas include Flora of British India compiled in the 1880s by J D Hooker, Flora of Bhutan completed in the 1980s by British botanists, along with the Chinese publications Flora of Tibet in the 1980s and Vascular Plants in the Hengduan Mountains in 1994. “In the past century, many new species have been discovered and our neighboring countries including India and Nepal are now conducting new compilations, so it is necessary for us to add up-to-date information into Photo by Wang Qiang
By Wang Yan
Salix ovatomicrophyll living on Galongla Mountain at around 4,500 meters above sea level, has the smallest leaves in the Salix family
Photo by He Li
Professor Hong Deyuan in Bomi
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
our series of books of FLPH,” Hong told our reporter. FLPH will be published in English, both in print and online. For Chinese plant taxonomists, this is the largest project since the compilation of Flora of China, and botanists from other countries in the Pan-Himalayan region (Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) will collaborate in the project. Botanical gardens and herbaria in the UK, USA and Japan, which have important collections from the Himalayas, have shown a keen interest, and will also be involved. The compendium is expected to be completed by 2020, and will comprise 50 volumes.
until the late 1950s that work began on the Chinese edition of Flora of China. By 2004, the project was complete, recording about 31,000 species, or one-eighth of the world’s total, compared to only about 20,000 in the US and Canada combined. In 1989, the English version of Flora of China was launched through the cooperation between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Missouri Botanical Garden. According to Hong Deyuan, the last volume of the revised English version of Flora of China is to be published in early 2013. “This project could not be fulfilled without the major support provided by
Botanical studies began in China in the early 20th century, relatively late compared to Europe’s history of specimen collection and plant taxonomy stretching back more than three centuries. Historically, there were three major plant collection periods in the Tibetan region. The first was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by westerners in Tibet, northern Yunnan and western Sichuan, with most specimens now in western herbaria with only a limited number remaining in China. The second phase was carried out in the 1930s and 40s by domestic modern botanists who collected some 100,000 specimens. The third phase was in the 1970s to 1980s, when the largest ever scientific survey of the Qinghai-Tibetan region was conducted, and a total of 200,000 specimens were collected. “In the past, places like Motuo and Bomi on the southern slopes of the Himalayas were so hard to reach that no plant specimens were ever collected there,” said Wang Qiang, 30, a PhD student in charge of compiling examples of the lamiaceae family, told our reporter. “So, a major emphasis of our research is to visit such remote places and collect as many valuable specimens as possible.” Since 2010, Wang Qiang has visited the Himalayan region three times, covering western and southeastern Tibet. “So far I’ve collected thousands of specimens, and next year my major responsibilities include visiting herbaria in Berlin, Paris, and Britain, and doing field research in Pakistan, Nepal and hopefully India.” “Botanists in various countries have been very supportive of this project, and there is an office reserved for us at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Britain. Personnel from Pakistan, Myanmar, India and Nepal have also visited us to discuss potential collaboration,” said Wang. He Li, a PhD student in plant taxonomy from Beijing Forestry University and writer of the genus Salix (willow) for the FLPH said that his work is based on previous books on the flora in the region. “There are a total of over 240 species in the genus Salix in the panHimalayas, and some types of specimen in our herbaria are incomplete. For example, female and male specimens are not both included, so my expedition would fill in those gaps and add more descriptions to the existing material,” He told our reporter. “Also, new species are being discovered in the process.”
As taxonomy developed in China, Chinese botanists began to compile their own plant collections from the 1920s onwards. It was not NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by Shang Ce
Into the Wild
He Li poses beside an example of Salix myrtillacea in Jiulong County, Sichuan Province
grants from the US National Science Foundation(NSF) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).” Weak financial and logistical support in scientific circles in the 1970s and early 1980s halted China’s progress in the field of basic science, including plant taxonomy. It is only in the last decade that the situation has begun to improve, allowing China’s natural science foundations to properly finance scientific projects. Nowadays, it is possible for a single science project to obtain tens of millions of yuan from various foundations.
Salix annulifera and Salix crenata surround a lake on Galongla Mountain, Motuo
“We have gathered enough experience through previous international cooperation, and now with full funding support from our country’s own foundations, we have the courage and capacity to be the backbone of the compilation work for FLPH,” Hong told NewsChina. Our reporter learned from an inside source that funding allocation for research and cataloging of each species is 2,000 yuan (US$320), an adequate sum to conduct the necessary work. As a senior botanist, 76-year-old Hong Deyuan is personally in charge of the compilation of the family campanulaceae. In his opinion, there was a gap in the pedigree of Chinese botanists during the Cultural Revolution (19661976), followed by another crisis from the 1990s to the early 2000s, when “With sufficient Chinese botanists in plant taxonomy national support, suffered a lack of State support. Now, we have the the most experienced Chinese bota- potential to foster nists are in their old age, with a generaa new generation tion gap severely impairing scientific study. “Many researchers left their jobs of qualified and shifted their focus to other fields botanists.” during the 1990s,” said Hong. “It’s only in recent years that China has seen a boom among young plant taxonomy students who really love botany and field research.” According to Hong, there are currently more than 40 middle-aged experienced botanists in China in the field of taxonomy, and the current number of students in this field is likely in the hundreds.
Overcome the Gap
Despite the boom, problems still exist. He Li told NewsChina that the biggest difficulty he and other young botanists are facing in the compilation of FLPH is the lack of records and documentation. “I could not find the original documents or material gathered by the older generation of botanists when compiling Flora of China,” he said.
Photo by He Li
Photo by He Li
Large leaf of Salix magnifica collected in Wolong, Sichuan
“For example, the botanists who majored in the field of genus Salix have passed away, and left no successors. I have not had any teachers to guide me.” Another large obstacle, according to Hong, is the inflexibility of the use of research funding. “The funds issued by our science and technology agency have given us numerous limitations. For example, we cannot pay foreign researchers who help us in this project in their respective countries. I have been granted US funds more than five times while doing personal research in China and other countries, and I am completely free to handle the money.” In Hong’s view, this lack of openness to fostering scientific progress on a global level is a critical impediment to China’s international cooperation in the botanic field. “All in all, this project is a rare opportunity for young plant taxonomy students,” Hong told our reporter. “With sufficient national support, we have the potential to foster a new generation of qualified botanists.” Since 2011, He Li has traveled tens of thousands of kilometers in the Himalayan region to carry out specimen collection and plant research. This summer, he spent three and a half months in the wilderness, hiking over five hundred kilometers and visiting the most remote areas of western Sichuan, northwestern Yunnan and southeastern Tibet. During his expeditions, he would spend days climbing 4,700-meter mountains to collect a single Salix specimen. “For some species that are hard to spot, I would ask the help of locals, showing pictures to local rangers,” He told NewsChina. “Through frequent interactions with locals, I can make my research more efficient and complete.” For He Li, the project has allowed him to expand his professional knowledge, and sharpen his skills in field research. “With the 3,000 specimens I have collected during the past two years, I can proceed on the next step, doing lab experiments on those plants soon,” He told our reporter. “The first draft of my part of the book will hopefully come out by 2014.” With improving support for young enthusiasts, and a monumental project in the works, Chinese botany may soon be in bloom. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
The Voice of the People For some, he was a liberal extremist. For others, he was a pioneer, fighting for freedom of the press. As he saw himself, he was just a newsman, doing what he thought was best By Xie Ying and Xu Qingquan
u Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), died of a heart attack on September 16 in Beijing at the age of 96. Since starting his first newspaper in 1936, Hu was a lifelong journalist. For nearly 80 years, he had advocated a “pro-people” stance amid politcal pressure to “strengthen the Party spirit” in official newspapers. Although his name had somewhat faded from the political landscape since the 1990s, the words of his bold speeches still have the power to command respect, even after his death.
Just a Journalist
“Just call me ‘Old Hu, the newspaperman,’” Hu Jiwei often told people who called him by his official title. “Journalism always suited me best, because I was an avid reader of books in my youth, and because my weak constitution wasn’t fit for the battlefield,” he once explained in an interview with NewsChina. Born in September 1916 in Sichuan Province, Hu grew up in a family with a strong revolutionary pedigree. Hu’s great uncle Hu Sumin, for example, participated in the 1911 Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. His uncle Hu Liangfu, who also fought in the 1911 Revolution, was honored as a martyr after being killed by Qing forces. Today, a monument to Hu Liangfu still stands in his home-
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
town. Influenced by his revolutionary family, Hu Jiwei found faith in Sun Yat-sen’s “Three People’s Principles” (nationalism, democracy, the people’s livelihood) in his early youth, and majored in political economy at Sichuan University, hoping to use his knowledge to find a new path for China. Hu’s first encounter with journalism was in 1936, one year before the break-out of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), when China’s very survival was at stake. Hu got to know several underground communist activists, and helped them launch a weekly magazine to promote resistance against the Japanese. At the end of 1937, the first year of the war, Hu joined the CPC and, with a group of others, launched Xingmang (Starlight) newspaper, devoted to spreading the ideas of saving the nation from destruction. Generally written in short paragraphs with simple wording, Xingmang soon gained popularity among ordinary people, young students in particular, but its cavalier attitude towards exposing scandals within the ruling Kuomintang earned the group some powerful enemies. According to media reports, Xingmang was closed down by the Kuomintang authorities more than 10 times during its existence. However, Hu never gave up – during this period, his concept of speaking for the people gradually took shape, an idea which was to manifest itself prominently in the years to come.
The People and the Party
When Hu later came to the CPC headquarters in Yan’an in 1939, he brought his populist ideas with him. He established Border Area Masses newspaper (later renamed The Masses), giving a voice to China’s grassroots. At the same time, Hu advocated the “the Party spirit” embodied as he saw it by the Party newspapers. “At the time, the CPC was working for the founding of a new country for the people, in which the work of the Party would be based on the people’s interests. So, being the voice of the people actually corresponded with being the voice of the Party,” he explained. In 1952, three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, he was appointed deputy editor-inchief of the People’s Daily, the CPC’s main media outlet. In Hu’s eyes, the People’s Daily at the time was simply an imitation of Pravda, the Communist Party mouthpiece in the former Soviet Union, with a largely identical writing style and even similar page layouts. The only thing that he approved of was that Pravda had a column set aside for criticizing Party leaders and officials. In 1956, taking advantage of a top-level The Party newspaper call for the masses to “offer suggestions should be equipped and opinions to the Party,” Hu and his boss Deng Tuo, editor-in-chief of the Peowith an independent ple’s Daily, made significant modifications brain, and ears to the newspaper, trying to make it a more to hear what the vivid publication, and bringing it closer to people have to say… its readers. A new column was introduced that is the way to – “Essays and Comments” – aiming to make the people the accommodate diversified voices, only to be attacked by Mao Zedong who harshly real masters of the criticized Deng Tuo’s “management style.” country. Deng Tuo had published a series of critical commentaries which had displeased Mao Zedong, who remarked that Deng Tuo, as the Party paper’s boss, had taken Mao’s solicitation of opinion too literally, without understanding his real intentions, according to a history program by news portal ifeng.com. “I was present at the meeting in which Mao spoke with the top editors of the paper. At the meeting, I proposed that a member of the CPC Central Committee, who was given to independent thinking, be put in charge of the newspaper,” Hu recalled to NewsChina. “I thought this person could help the paper better serve the people. How naive I was, looking back. Actu-
ally the real problem of the Party paper is how to strike a ‘balance’ between the Party and the people,” he added.
Hu’s re-think of the relationship between the Party and the people, according to his wife Di Sha, was in the period between the 1950s and 1970s during which violent anti-Rightist campaigns (1957-1958) and the catastrophic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) were launched. Many Party leaders and some of Hu’s colleagues wound up in jail. And Hu himself, who had tried every means possible to improve the country and the Party, was also imprisoned on charges of being a “capitalist roader.” “Hu believes that if a Party newspaper can retain its independent thinking, it can avoid making the same mistakes as the Party did. He believes the Party paper can, should and must do so,” wrote Di Sha in an article celebrating Hu’s 90th birthday. “When the Party makes mistakes, the Party spirit is inconsistent with the interests of the people. The only way to reconcile the two is to make sure that the interests of the people remain the top priority.” When Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang returned to power in the late 1970s, after the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976 following Mao’s death that year, Hu Jiwei continued to advocate his liberal ideas as editorin-chief of the People’s Daily. Perhaps the paper’s boldest move was when Hu Jiwei, guided by Hu Yaobang, oversaw the publication of two articles aimed at clearing away the influence of the leftist mentality, and ending the cult of personality surrounding Mao Zedong. “It was tough to get articles like those published in the People’s Daily,” Hu recalled. During Hu’s tenure as People’s Daily editor-in-chief, the paper’s circulation reportedly hit three million copies as a result of its critical reporting, some of which even targeted top leaders. For example, the paper criticized then vice-premier Chen Yonggui, who had “helicoptered” his way to the vice-premiership from the post of Party secretary of a tiny rural production brigade in the Mao years. The People’s Daily accused Chen of excessive rural construction, resulting in his removal. A better known case was the newspaper’s reporting of a maritime disaster in 1979 in which an offshore oil drilling platform collapsed and sank into the sea, killing 72 people. The People’s Daily sent reporters to investigate the accident and criticized the relevant officials for dereliction of duty. In the wake of the report, the minister for oil was NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Hu meets with farmers in Fengyang County, Anhui Province, 1982
dismissed from his post, and the vice-premier in charge of the oil industry was disciplined. “At that time, people were glad to pay money for the newspaper. Farmers would follow what the paper told them, and would fight for their own interests,” wrote Ding Hong, a popular critic, in his eulogy for Hu. “In Hu’s time, the People’s Daily witnessed the most splendid phase in its history by sticking to the pro-people principle,” he added.
“The Party spirit and the pro-people principle do not conflict with each other…the Party newspaper should be equipped with an independent brain, and ears to hear what the people have to say…that is the way to make the people the real masters of the country,” Hu said at a journalism forum in 1979. Though approved by Hu Yaobang, his ideas were opposed by Hu Qiaomu, a top-level leader, then in charge of managing the Party’s public image. The debate between the two lasted a decade (1979-1989), with the latter vehemently advocating that the Party spirit and the pro-people principle were “one and the same.” Hu Jiwei resigned from the People’s Daily in 1983, with rumors circulating that he was actually removed from his post. As a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Hu then shifted his focus to promoting legislation on press freedom. “I felt boxed in when talking about the Party spirit and the people-first principle within the scope of the Party paper…Actually the Party paper system should be reformed…the highest objective of any journalist is to run a paper which wholeheartedly serves the people,” he told NewsChina. This belief explains why since the 1980s, Hu had NEWSCHINA I December 2012
been calling to lift the ban on private newspapers, and to put an end to censorship. According to Hu, in the absence of freedom of the press, a provision clearly guaranteed in the Constitution, the paper would be nothing but a tool of the Party. Hu and his team began drafting the press law in 1983, and finally submitted their third draft to the NPC Standing Committee at the end of 1988 for final approval. However, Hu Jiwei was removed from all of his posts in 1989 after the Tian’anmen incident that year, and discussion of the press law, of course, was dropped.
Hu was noted not only for his pioneering ideas but also for his sharp, critical speeches. In the 1930s, Hu directed his acerbic tongue directly at the Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek for his “lukewarm attitude” towards fighting the Japanese, and his persecution of the CPC. Now, facing increasingly fierce conflict between the interests of the people and the authorities, manifest in a widening income gap and worsening corruption, Hu, in his old age, had turned his fire on the Party. Hu had published in Chinese Hong Kong and overseas a series of papers and books, strongly calling to “rehabilitate” Hu Yaobang, who, stepping down as Party general secretary at the end of 1986, vehemently supported democratic reform. Hu’s pointed speeches have provoked a negative reaction from some in China, who claimed that Hu had turned into an “extreme rightist” blindly insisting on “radical liberalism and democracy.” Hu Jiwei never responded directly to this criticism, but wrote in his biography: “I must keep speaking till my death…I will say anything I believe is beneficial to the country and the people.”
Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets center, talks to NewsChina about life after the NBA By Tang Lei
Yao Ming at a summer basketball camp run by his foundation
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
ao Ming could be the only businessman in China who does not need a business card. “I believe most people know what I do for a living,” he told NewsChina. Not many retired Chinese athletes venture into the world of business. The majority of the country’s elite former sportsmen and women, including Olympic gold medalists, are employed by the State as coaches or sports officials, with the exception of a select few who end up in the entertainment industry. Yao is now a basketball team boss, a private equity investor, and has even launched his own brand of wine. Over the past year, following his retirement from the NBA, Yao has had to juggle roles as an ambassador for wildlife protection group WildAid, a freshman economics major and the face of various brands. In late August, freshly suntanned from a 10-day stay in Africa where he starred in an anti-poaching documentary for WildAid, Yao arrived in Sichuan to attend a basketball summer camp, funded by the Yao Ming Foundation. The foundation had dispatched basketball volunteers to 47 elementary schools in remote rural areas to coach disadvantaged countryside children. Before making the long journey to the camp in Sichuan, few of them, like most children in rural China, had ever been to anything like a summer camp. Among Yao’s myriad commitments, the summer camp was his top priority, but when declining invitations to various events, his most frequently used excuse is “I’ve got class.” Yao just finished his freshman year at Shanghai Jiaotong University as an economics major, passing every one of his exams, even the grueling math test. Making preparations for the new China Basketball Association (CBA) season, Yao’s team, the Shanghai Sharks, signed a former NBA bench player along with another, lesser-known international player. In contrast to some of the Sharks’ competitors, who have been known to blow huge amounts of money to import big names like Tracy McGrady and Stephon Marbury, Yao only spent pocket change. Among Chinese soccer and basketball teams, outlandish spending on high-profile international stars and game-winning bonuses are commonplace. But Yao has no intention to follow suit. Cost control and professionalism are the guidelines on which he runs his team. Yao does not like the idea of quick success, said his agent Zhang Mingji, who manages the Sharks for him, in an interview with NewsChina. “People keep asking us what position we’re targeting in the CBA league. One thing is for sure – Yao Ming doesn’t care very much about the rankings,” said Zhang. The Sharks finished sixth out of 17 in the CBA league last season, but their financial outlay was one of the lowest – something not far from a Chinese Moneyball story. Yao Ming is among the least wealthy among the CBA bosses, many of whom are real estate tycoons, but no investor understands basketball like he does. Yao told NewsChina he was playing a slow game, investing his patience and professionalism, rather than throwing money around.
Photo by CFP
NewsChina: You’ve managed a smooth transition from basketball to business and philanthropy. Was all of this planned before your retirement? Yao: I had the last year of my NBA career to think about what to do after retirement, while my injury was keeping me off the court.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NewsChina: Was there anybody giving you advice, or did you just know what you wanted to do? Yao: I listened to advice from all kinds of people, especially from Team Yao [his team of agents]. But I made the decisions for myself. NewsChina: You’ve employed a professional team to run your charity fund and
basketball team. Are you mostly focusing on your school studies? Yao: I study very hard – I need to rack my brains to get school work done. However, unlike my classmates who spend most of their time on campus, I can only spend half my time on lectures and homework - I have to use the rest of it to work on my businesses. NewsChina: When other businessmen come to you for deals, are they more interested in you or your projects? Yao: In the beginning, they usually take a certain interest in me. But they soon become even more interested in our projects. I’m the bait, and I don’t mind being that. I’m looking forward to more people joining us.
Yao: I’ve only been studying economics for a short time. Most investors in other teams had been running businesses in other fields before they began investing in basketball, so I guess they are well aware of these things. The question is whether an investor is pursuing shortterm or long-term benefits. Maybe I can make this the topic of my undergrad thesis in my senior year. NewsChina: Some people make investments in basketball or soccer teams out of consideration of profit, and some do so because they believe basketball or soccer is a good advertising tool. You’ve said you want to build a team that can thrive for a century. Tell us about this. Yao: I believe all of these businessmen invest in sports teams because they are interested in these sports. Professional sports are still a new thing in China, so everyone is still learning. Nobody is immune from making mistakes, but it’s important that we correct them.
Photo by CFP
Photo by CFP
NewsChina: In today’s CBA, the amount of investment in a team can greatly affect its performance on the court. But you have less capital than most investors in the league – how do you cope? Yao: Yes, that’s true. I wouldn’t say that most of the investors have NewsChina: The NBA has strict regulations to ensure a level playing even half a clue about professional sports. What I can say for certain field for all teams. Do you think the CBA should have similar rules? is that they need to think twice Yao: Right now, we have a dualabout throwing away their track system [in which sports are money. Professional sports apdictated by government policies pear to be a bottomless money as well as market mechanisms]. pit, but should there be a limit The national system overseen on spending? And does it follow by the General Administration that the more money is thrown of Sport has been turning out a at it, the more performance is great number of Olympic gold boosted? medalists, but has failed to enThings I’m learning in my ecohance the performance of the nomics course can be applied country’s national basketball here – like the law of diminishand soccer teams. ing returns. It usually makes At the same time, there also the headlines when an internaexist professional leagues, to tional sports star is brought over which a fair market and comwith a record-breaking salary by Yao stars in an anti-poaching documentary for WildAid petition process are vital. But a Chinese team, but this is acthe professional leagues have to tually a process of diminishing make way for the national sysreturns. tem in many cases, and rules of Nowadays, teams appear to be the market are often broken or competing to see who can spend ignored by sports administrathe most money. I think rules tors. need to be introduced so that money can be spent more effiNewsChina: People are exciently on cultivating the marpecting that you can do a lot ket and enhancing the league’s to help improve the situation, professionalism. The fact that as you did on the basketball players make more money does court. not necessarily mean the league Yao: The national sports system will do better. has a long history, so it has the inertia to lumber along. You NewsChina: Have you discannot expect a train to stop cussed this with the bosses of Yao attends a session of the Shanghai People’s Political Consultative on a dime. It will take great paConference other teams? tience to improve it.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Card Sharks A recent WTO ruling has demanded that China open its yuan-denominated credit and debit card market to foreign competitors. However, the country’s only domestic service provider, China UnionPay, may be planning a counter-attack By Li Jia and Zhang Hengzhi
Breakdown of the US$13.2tn in bank card transactions on the Chinese mainland in Q2 2012
60% Cash deposit: US$2.2tn 17% Cash withdrawal: US$2.3tn 17% Transfer: US$7.9tn 60%
hinese consumers are being built up as the potential saviors of a global economy still in decline. Even how they pay their bills matters. Having been effectively locked out of China’s yuan-toting consumer boom since 2002, American credit card companies are now attempting to lead the charge, finally gaining on China’s sole domestic competitor, China UnionPay. On July 16, a World Trade Organization settlement panel report ruled in favor of the US on key issues regarding Chinese access to the electronic payment service (EPS) market. The WTO panel accepted the US definition, which classifies EPS as transactions using payment cards (mainly credit and debit cards) and travelers checks as an area where China has made a concrete, though conditional, commitment to allow access to foreign companies. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Payment: US$0.8tn 6% Source: People’s Bank of China
The WTO ruling declared that China’s current restrictions on foreign card issuers (banks), terminal equipment (POS, ATM, etc.), acquiring institutions (banks acquiring payment card transactions) are “inconsistent” with China’s “stated commitments.” As more than US$1 trillion in credit or debit transactions is electronically processed in China each year, “the US stands to gain 6,000 jobs related to EPS,” according to the US Trade Representative Office (USTR) statement after the WTO report was published. The WTO ruling is a direct challenge to China’s existing card scheme, China
UnionPay. The USTR’s victory at the WTO has now paved the way for greater market access in China for US giants Visa and MasterCard. These companies do not issue cards, but deal with card transactions. Although China’s Ministry of Commerce expressed “reservations” towards the ruling in an official statement, it did not appeal, indicating a begrudging acceptance. The WTO panel declared to accept the report on August 31 and urged China to take measures on conformity. Its effective monopoly now under threat, China UnionPay will now have to rely on more than government backing to retain market dominance.
economy Quick Uptake
Photo bY James McCauley/Harrods via Getty Image
By 1993, all of China’s Big Five Stateowned banks had issued MasterCard or Visa-branded cards, facilitated foreign currency-denominated transactions and promoted plastic over cash. Chinese banks also issued yuan-denominated cards, leaving the country’s wealthier consumers with myriad options in their wallets, all of which were
London’s Harrods department store is one of many rolling out the red carpet to Chinese credit card holders
restricted to certain types of transaction. Merchants had to install various POS for Great Wall, Phoenix or Dragon cards, and cardholders wanting to withdraw cash from an ATM would have to scour entire districts for the ATM that matched their card. China UnionPay, which made all yuandenominated bank cards inter-operational, was finally established in 2002. Without a domestic alternative, global market leader Visa became mentor to Chi-
na UnionPay, loaning various experts to the company’s Shanghai headquarters. Yuan-and-foreign currency dual-transaction cards mushroomed in China, with UnionPay handling yuan and leaving foreign currency to Visa, MasterCard and other foreign players including Japan’s JCB. This period of largely unrestricted growth and cooperation is widely seen as a golden age. Inevitably, both sides launched attempts to encroach on the other’s turf. Throughout this period, UnionPay, boosted by aggressive spending by Chinese abroad, has strengthened its foothold in the overseas market, formerly the exclusive playground of its foreign competitors. Currently, merchants and banks in 130 countries and regions, thirsty for Chinese consumers, accept UnionPay cards as a payment method. Joining hands with their local counterparts and banks on the overseas markets, UnionPay cards are issued in a growing number of countries, reflecting China’s expanding financial clout. In South Korea, for example, 2.8 million cards bearing the UnionPay logo are currently in circulation. Under a partnership with LINK, the dominant British ATM operator, UnionPay card holders can withdraw sterling at most UK ATMs. Recently, tens of thousands of retailers in the US, France, Singapore, Australia and other countries have begun to offer discounts and free gifts to customers who choose to pay for goods with UnionPay. Many high-end boutiques in Europe and North America have installed separate terminals just for processing UnionPay transactions, offering their big-spending Chinese customers the option of Chinese yuan card payments for their foreign currency transactions. Visa, though having had its business boosted by “increased numbers of Chinese traveling abroad and growing numbers of foreign visitors traveling to China,” according to its 2011 annual report, has been kept out of the yuan-denominated market by Chinese government restrictions. However, this is the marketplace, the fastest-growing and potentially largest on earth, and Visa has been eyeing it for years. In 2010, however, the company was toppled from its position as world leader by UnionPay in terms of the number
of cards in circulation, although Visa has retained a significant edge in terms of transaction value, according to the London-based Retail Banking Research (RBR). This fast rise is more attributable to UnionPay’s virtual monopoly over yuan-denominated transactions than the company’s business practices. Chinese shoppers abroad find it far cheaper to use their UnionPay cards, which allow them to bypass Visa or MasterCard charges of one to two percent of the transaction amount. Flush with success, UnionPay began lobbying Chinese regulators to prohibit the issuance of any non-UnionPay branded credit or debit cards by banks in China. Since 2011, a new UnionPay card standard which is incompatible with either Visa or MasterCard has been installed in both POS and ATMs in China, with both companies powerless to intervene. Being on the receiving end of such antimarket finagling evidently jars with corporations like Visa and MasterCard, despite the fact that these companies themselves are frequently accused of skewing the markets in their favor. In July, the same month that saw the publication of the WTO ruling against China, Visa, MasterCard and other major financial institutions had to agree to pay out billions of dollars in anti-trust settlements with European and US retailers who had sued over high interchange fees.
The WTO ruling, while a major slap on the wrist for Chinese financial regulators, did not endorse US government claims that China UnionPay has an “across-the-board monopoly” on yuan-backed EPS in China. The panel did, however, acknowledge that China’s policy “modifies the conditions of competition in favor of CUP” by requiring that all parties involved in card transactions in China join the UnionPay network, with all yuan-denominated payment cards required by regulators to carry the UnionPay logo. All terminal equipment and acquiring institutions must also be UnionPay-compatible, while there is no official requirement to accept Visa or MasterCard. In effect, this has bestowed quasi-administrative powers upon UnionPay. Without domestic competitors, the company can effectively determine card issuance requireNEWSCHINA I December 2012
ments along with trading standards for the Chinese market. This position has also allowed UnionPay, along with major banks, to unilaterally determine transaction fees, leading to protests from retailers, recently caterers, who have complained that such fees are unfairly high. Meanwhile, foreign banks can only have yuan-denominated credit or debit cards issued through a Chinese partner, meaning they also have to deal directly with UnionPay. Recently, Citibank, the world’s foremost card issuer, became the first international bank to launch its own-branded yuan-denominated Chinese credit card. The flipside of the new cards bear the UnionPay logo. The recent WTO ruling means that China’s EPS card payment market will have to be liberalized. However, with no time limit set by the WTO, such liberalization is likely to be tortuous, given the special interests involved. In August, RBR predicted that Chinese regulators would likely attempt to slow the opening-up process, simultaneously launching a “competitor” to UnionPay, splitting the market and further hurting foreign companies’ chances of making significant inroads if and when the Chinese market is made accessible. Some have argued against the WTO ruling infringes on China’s national security, claiming that foreign-issued bank cards could potentially deliver the details of user transactions into the hands of the issuer’s host government. Professor Guo Tianyong, director of the banking research center at the Central University of Finance and Economics, has urged a cautious opening of the market to foreign firms based on this theory. Other analysts have rejected such concerns as scaremongering, arguing that card issuers have access to far less sensitive information than, say, banks. The switch from paper to plastic played a key role in the consumer revolution in Europe and the US. However, this revolution was carried out with a rigorous application of market principles and was supported by non-discriminatory regulation. Unless China’s biggest banks, and UnionPay in particular, can play by global rules, Chinese consumers may yet find themselves out in the cold. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Overview of China’s GDP (Q1-Q3, y-o-y increase)
The third-quarter growth rate of the Chinese economy, an uninterrupted seven-quarter decline. The overall growth rate for the first three quarters of 2012 is 7.7%. Source: National Bureau of Statistics
Fixed assets investment: 18.8% Retail: 11.6% Foreign trade: 6.2% CPI: 2.8% 0
China’s net foreign financial assets as of June 31, 2012. Gross foreign financial assets reached US$4.9tn and gross liabilities stood at US$3.1tn.
Interest subsidies on imports of hi-tech equipment, machine parts and energy since 2008, boosting domestic imports totaling US$111.3bn. Source: Ministry of Finance
Structure of foreign financial liabilities
31% 60% 9%
Inbound FDI: US$1.9tn, 60% Portfolio investment: US$301bn, 9% Other: US$993bn, 31%
Source: Ministry of Finance of China / China Securities Regulatory Commission
Source: State Administration of Foreign Exchange
14th The ranking of the usage of Chinese yuan worldwide in September 2012, up from 20th in January as a result of a 15.6% increase in use between July and August. The average for all major currencies decreased by 0.9%. Source: Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication
Main operating revenue ratio for the 67 Chinese companies listed both on the mainland and overseas markets against China’s GDP in 2011. Their total revenue was US$1.9tn.
Ranking and market share in 2012 0.6 14th
0.4 0.3 0.2
Delusion or Reality? Movie director Li Yu, in her new work Double Xposure, has attempted to use the theme of paranoid delusion as a vehicle for her social message, allowing her to escape major censorship for the first time in her career. By Wu Ziru
No matter how my works are marketed or in tone. The final third of the movie segues into a hyped, I always portray contemporary times, psychoanalytical exploration of Song Qi’s relationship love and trauma,” said Li Yu, one of China’s with her father, and his life story, which involves murmost famous female movie directors. der, poverty and social upheaval in Xinjiang. Her latest work Double Xposure, starring celebrated “People who lived through that time would imactress Fan Bingbing, was released at the end of Sepmediately recognize such scenes and sense what the tember. The thriller got domestic critics fired up over movie is driving at,” Fang Li, producer of the movie, its suspenseful use of plot elements like violence and told our reporter. In his opinion, a sudden commeradultery, with China’s conservative critical establishcial whirlwind caused the Chinese to lose faith and ment arguing that such subject matter was “out-ofconviction, with consequences that have lingered Double Xposure theatrical poster sync” with Li’s “high-brow artistic style.” until today. Fang calls this Li’s “great finishing touch,” One of the country’s dark horse directors, 39-yearsignifying the uncertainty of happiness and, simulold Li Yu has directed only five features so far, but has already become taneously, the uncertainties faced by Chinese society. Li herself claims her China’s most prominent female auteur despite having almost no market message is: “everything is beautiful, but everything is uncertain.” presence in her home country. In 2010, her coming-of-age drama Buddha “You will increasingly feel strongly that the movie is nobody else’s but Mountain, also starring Fan Bingbing, secured Li the award for Best Artistic [mine] as it draws closer to the end,” said Li. Contribution at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival. Fan, Li’s favorite leading lady, was herself often criticized for being exces- Reality sively selective when it came to accepting roles, until she was named Best In many ways, Double Xposure is typical Li Yu fare – centering on a comActress at the same festival. Li and Fan first collaborated on the 2007 film plex and extremely dramatic plot disconnected from reality. However, Li Lost in Beijing, which dealt graphically with themes of sexual exploitation, has always tried to capture the essence of human nature through her outand remains banned on the Chinese mainland despite receiving widespread landish plots and characters. critical acclaim for its unflinching approach to a major social issue. Indeed, Her 2001 feature film Fish and Elephant tells a story of a lesbian couple Li has been at odds with the authorities since her debut. Her critically- whose life is turned upside down when a pushy parent attempts to set one acclaimed directorial debut Fish and Elephant, perhaps the first mainland of them up with a husband. In Lost in Beijing, a masseuse and window film to deal with the topic of lesbianism, has only been screened once on washer become caught in a web of prostitution, rape, child trafficking and the mainland – at an LGBT film festival which was swiftly shut down by blackmail. In her latest work, the paranoid young woman is caught in a the authorities. similarly Coen-esque tangle of murder and delusion. Double Xposure tells the story of Song Qi (Fan), a young woman suffer“In reality, how many people actually have these experiences?” asks Li. ing from paranoid delusion who imagines killing one of her friends and “However, these movies share common attitudes towards love and the sense a policeman. Most of the movie is shot as a typical, high-octane thriller of insecurity in society.” until the protagonist is reunited with her boyfriend (William Feng), and Li’s commitment to depicting the seedier side of life in China has set the mood suddenly shifts. her at constant odds with the authorities, who favor rose-tinted, optimisAs the title theme, composed by Howie.B with lyrics by superstar writer tic depictions of modern Chinese life. Though Lost in Beijing retained its and blogger Han Han, begins to play, a mirage appears on the horizon, original title in the English edition, censors forced Li Yu to rename the film piercing the gloom that pervades every scene that has gone before. The Apple for the mainland. The movie went through five rounds of cuts and camera then shifts focus to the boyfriend’s bewildered face, and it appears revisions at the hands of censors before being passed, 20 minutes shorter that critics were equally confused as to the significance of the sudden shift than its original length. Two months after its release in 2007, the film was
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
banned, with producer Fang Li also prohibited from participating in the movie business for two years. Li’s follow-up to Lost in Beijing, Buddha Mountain, despite achieving considerable commercial success, was nevertheless hacked to pieces by government censors, emerging with a narrative emphasis that dramatically changed its subtext. “I’ve become so nervous that I jump at the words ‘shortened version,’” said Li Yu, who is not shy about voicing her distaste for the heavy-handed censorship imposed by the authorities. Double Xposure has somehow managed to sail through the censorship process with only minor revisions. Only one word - shabi (“silly c**t”), a common expletive in China - was replaced with the watered-down shagua (“fool”). Li told journalists she was actually a little surprised that the violent death of the policeman character in a car crash escaped the censors. According to Li, in government-approved Chinese movies, policemen only die for some noble cause – saving others’ lives, or stopping criminals, for example. Her depiction seemed to jar with the government’s agenda. To producer Fang Li, however, there is no mystery. The movie’s use of dramatic “illusions” was the key which allowed Fan’s movie to pass through the “gates.” In other words, by making it look as if a police official could die violently and pointlessly only in a fantasy world, the censors let it pass. Fang believes that the judicious use of delusion to frame murders and adultery, themes appealing to Chinese audiences tired of cheery, saccharine romantic comedies and patriotic propaganda vehicles, in a fantasy world context allowed Li to tell the story she wanted to without having to fear being censured by the authorities.
Significance vs. Sensation
However, it would be flippant to dismiss Li’s latest offering as simply an attempt to circumvent the censorship system. Known for her unapologetically artistic style, Li Yu visibly attempted to break new ground in Double Xposure, perhaps indicating a move towards commercialism. Adopting more sensational elements such as suspense and murder to appeal to younger audiences, internationally renowned musicians and cinematographers were also drafted in. Han Han’s theme song lyrics also added to the movie’s popular appeal. Traveling extensively to find ideal shooting sites, Li’s team employed multiple units, including aerial and underwater crews,
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
Actresses Fan Bingbing (right) and Huo Siyan (left) in an underwater still from Double Xposure
rare in Chinese art films. Li Yu and Fan Bingbing also traveled nationwide to promote the film. Critics have leapt upon this change of tactics as an attempt to embrace commercialism – in other words, “sell out,” an accusation leveled at many of China’s successful auteurs. However, Li is reluctant to define her new work as purely commercial, claiming that she prefers the definition “a commercial work in a personal style.” Possibly due to her background in the notorious minefield (in China) of documentary filmmaking in the 1990s, Li’s “personal style,” as she emphasized several times during our interview, is “to present social reality.” Other critics have called Li’s experiment “immature” – with a first half that is too commercial for her fan base, and a second half too abstract for mainstream audiences. However, producer Li Fang merely shrugs that, with Chinese movies continuing to underperform in competition with Hollywood, “the first two-thirds is aimed at getting younger audiences into the cinema.” Apparently, it’s working. Less than two weeks after its release, Double Xposure, made 10 million yuan (US$1.6m), had earned box office receipts of 90 million yuan (US$14.3m), exceeding Buddha Mountain’s total 2007 haul of 70 million yuan (US$11.1m). For a film director in China, becoming bankable can be a doubleedged sword. On the one hand, profitability can make the authorities more lenient, but on the other it can lead to a slide towards commercialism. Nevertheless, claims that Li is moving away from her edginess seem premature. “There are so many dramatic stories in real life. It would be a great pity if I ignored them,” she told our reporter. In this endeavor Li remains at odds with the authorities. There are various subjects that Li wants to explore but has been unable to. Take Jiang Qing, Madame Mao, who, with her ill-fated “Gang of Four” made a bid for power in the mid-1970s. Li Yu has been collecting related material for a long time, but there is little taste at the top of the Chinese leadership for a film that could well re-open the wounds of the Cultural Revolution. Portrayals of Chairman Mao, in particular, are subject to their own subset of regulations under the Chinese censorship apparatus. “My audiences are those who are always awake,” said Li. “Or those who think themselves numb, but would be galvanized into life or could even burst into tears if you stuck them with a needle.” Censors who are hoping for a reduction in workload courtesy of Li Yu might need to think again.
Enticed by elegant new venues, the worldâ€™s top symphony orchestras are finding enthusiastic young audiences in China â€“ among those who can afford the price of admission By Rong Xiaoqing and Sun Zhe
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
n elegantly appointed grand theater is now a must-have for any up-and-coming Chinese city. The government’s commitment to establishing classical music as a mainstay of the national cultural calendar has turned China into Asia’s number two destination for touring western orchestras, second only to Japan. Local governments are eager to draw large audiences to newly-built performance venues, a product of stimulus spending, without having to grapple with itinerant censorship issues which have stifled access to the Chinese market for both theater companies and some mainstream pop artists. Classical music, like landscape painting, is seen as safe territory by the authorities, and consequently China’s doors have been thrown wide open to top international talent. “China is now an important market for western classical music,” said Brent Assink, executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, on the eve of his orchestra’s second visit to China since their debut in 2006. In that year, only about 10 foreign symphony orchestras visited China on their concert tours of Asia. Over Christmas week 2011, by contrast, more than 40 played to sold-out venues across the country. “We feel that the market is increasingly crowded, so that we need to schedule carefully so as not to clash with another major western orchestra in the same city,” Assink continued. “But frequent visits by performance groups could cultivate local interest and secure bigger audiences.”
“Unlike the US, a big percentage of our audiences in China are kids and youngsters. We see them as the future market for classical music,” said Craig Hamilton, vice president of the Philadelphia Orchestra. According to data from orchestras and venues, the average age of a classical music concertgoer in the US is 50, in contrast to 30 in the 1960s. In China, however, a different picture is emerging. “Millions of kids in China are learning to play the piano or violin, and their parents want to give them as much exposure to western classical music as possible,” said Ma Qin, a critic with Gramophone magazine. Mastery of an instrument gives youngsters valuable points, literally, when securing admission to good high schools, and even gives them an edge when choosing a college, or even a spouse. Foreign orchestras are thus finding China’s allure hard to resist. Attendance at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performances in the US, according to Craig Hamilton, is usually 85 to 90 percent. They sold out every date of their 10-day visit to China beginning May 28, 2012, as well as securing generous funding from Chinese sponsors, making the tour the most profitable in the orchestra’s history. “Usually we only hope that sponsorship will allow us to make ends meet,” Hamilton told our reporter, though he declined to give a precise figure when asked about the total profits of the China tour. The Philadelphia Orchestra, like many other premium Western orchestras, has suffered from the economic recession and a perceived decline in the appeal of classical music to young Americans. These factors are what Hamilton believes made the Philadelphia Orchestra the first premium orchestra in the US to file for bankruptcy protection. According to a Bloomberg report, box office earnings kept 48 percent of American symphony orchestras afloat in 1987. By 2005, this proportion had declined to 37 percent, leaving an unprecedented number dependent on wealthy donors and commercial sponsorship. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the most familiar foreign orchestras to Chinese music lovers and their directors are determined to further increase their mainland presence by expanding the scope of their regular tours. “Not many people know that we were the first US orchestra to come to China after 1949, but they will remember us as the first US orchestra to visit their city,” Hamilton told NewsChina.
“Great Cultural Leap Forward”
Once upon a time, western performance groups were severely limited in the range and capabilities of venues in the People’s Republic. In recent years, however, even outside giant metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, first-class concert halls and opera houses are being constructed. In many second-tier cities such as Suzhou, Wuhan and Qingdao, venues on par with anywhere in Europe or North America are gearing up to welcome the world’s best orchestras. Shandong province alone will finish another three grand theaters by 2013 in the cities of Jinan, Dezhou, and Linyi, part of what Chinese commentators have rather dubiously dubbed a “great cultural leap forward.” The government’s 2008 stimulus package, designed to offset the negative impact of the global financial crisis, has been a major contributor to theater construction across China. After the National Centre for the Performing Arts (popularly referred to as “the Egg”) adjoining Tian’anmen Square was inaugurated in late 2007, it became the model for countless imitations up and down the country, most of them built with generous government financing. According to a report by Oriental Outlook, a news magazine, governments of more than 30 cities have each invested more than 100 million yuan (US$15.9m) in the building of so-called “grand theaters,” with a total investment value topping 10 billion yuan (US$1.59bn). Once the venues were constructed, however, local governments had to search long and hard for performers to fill them. The theaters, meanwhile, burned through public money with maintenance and staffing costs, even as they stood empty. Western orchestras came to the rescue, able to guarantee large audiences and justify steep ticket prices. This increased frequency of tours by foreign orchestras has also led to a more sophisticated audience. Only two or three years ago, any foreign orchestra hailing from a well-known classical music center such as Vienna, Berlin or New York, or even just an orchestra calling itself a philharmonic, could guarantee a standing-room-only crowd at a performance in China. First-tier cities have now moved on, demanding only the very biggest names in classical music, but B and C-list orchestras remain hot property in the provinces. “In the old days in China, attending a concert was like going to a party. People would get together and have a casual chat with the music performed in the background,” said Wray Armstrong, international programming adviser for the Tianjin Grand Theatre. “Nowadays, people have a greater understanding of classical music and have more respect for etiquette.” Good taste still comes at a price, however, given that ticket prices at China’s brand-new venues can cost the average worker a month’s salary, making a classical concert an affordable evening out for China’s elites, but beyond the resources of the vast majority. While the market for classical music in China is unquestionably growing, the world’s greatest renditions of works by Orff, Mozart and Tchaikovsky have a long way to go before they become accessible to the mainstream.
wenty years after the publication of the original epic novel, White Deer Plain finally hit the silver screen this September. While the release was a box-office hit and was applauded by cinemagoers, it left a sour taste in the mouth of fans of the original novel. Considered by China’s cultural authorities as politically sensitive and sexually explicit, the government has kept a beady eye fixed on the novel’s film adaption since the idea was first mooted. Frequent negotiations between the movie’s producers and the relevant government departments not only resulted in a string of delays, but also created gaping discrepancies between various versions of the movie. For many, the fate of the big-screen adaption, as well as the original novel, is a case study in how censorship prevents Chinese artists from achieving.
Authored by writer Chen Zhongshi, born in 1942 in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, White Deer Plain was first published in 1992. The story is set in the eponymous White Deer village during the dying years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last of China’s imperial houses. There, the two most prominent clans – the Bai (“white”) and Lu (“deer”) families – live in peace, following the traditional Confucian code of clan culture. But their relationship soon takes a sharp turn, as the village is caught up in the shockwaves of political and social upheaval rippling outward from the 1911 revolution that toppled the monarchy. After surviving warlordism and the Japanese occupation of the 1920s and 30s, the village is then caught in a tug-of-war in the late 1930s and the 1940s between communist and nationalist forces. The members of the two families join different factions, inevitably leading to tragic and devastating retribution. The novel was a smash hit in 1992, requiring several reprints. By 2011, it was estimated that it had sold around two million copies, and it now enjoys steady annual sales of 50,000-100,000, excluding the estimated two million pirated copies sold in the same period, making it one of the most popular of
White Deer Plain
Reduced, Reda The fate of one of China’s best epic novels and its movie adaption reveals how censorship is stunting the output of the country’s artists By Yu Xiaodong Villagers celebrate the victory of the Communist Party, a scene deleted in the mainland cut of the movie, along with an entire section dealing with the Chinese Civil War
the past three decades. In addition to its popularity, the novel was also a critical success. “Successfully portraying intertwining struggles between people in different clans and classes for personal gain, which cover more than half a century, the novel presents the reader with a secret history of Chinese society,” commented Li Zhaohong, a writer from the Xi’an Institute of Arts and Sciences, in a review entitled “White Deer Plain, a Comprehensive Interpretation of China’s Modern History.” In early 2010, Zhongshan (Bell Mountain, in English), a literary magazine, called the novel China’s best in 30 years. “With its vivid description of complicated political struggles and their impact on ordinary people, and bloody clashes between different clans against
the background of a national crisis, as well as the inner struggle of the individuals torn between lust and moral good in the context of the collapse of traditional rural ethic values, the novel revives a history of drastic change,” said Hong Zhigang, a professor of Chinese literature at Jinan University, who serves as one of the 12 judges on the panel that compiles a well-known list of top Chinese novels. The popularity of the novel is partly attributed to its unorthodox depiction of the struggle between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), which is considered more realistic than the official interpretation that class struggle was the sole factor driving history, dividing people into revolutionary and counter-revolutionary camps and demarcating everything and evNEWSCHINA I December 2012
eryone as either good or evil. While some championed the novel as “neutral” and “rebellious,” Chen has explicitly rejected such a reading. “As a writer of historical novels…what I try to do is just to portray that part of history truthfully, and history is never neutral. In this case, the truth is that the Communist Party triumphed over the corrupt Nationalist Party,” said Chen in a recent interview with NewsChina. According to Chen, the Party’s interpretation of history and literature has been hijacked by what he calls ultra-leftists within the Party, who have pushed it so far that it has fallen out of touch with reality. Perhaps for this reason, the country’s censors appear to be caught in a dilemma when dealing with the book. For several years after its publication, the novel was passed over for the country’s major literature prizes. Then in 1997, it was nominated for the Mao Dun Literature Prize, arguably the most official and prestigious award for literature on the Chinese mainland, sponsored by the State-approved Chinese Writers Association (CWA). As political consideration pulls significant weight in the literary circle in China, it is reported that the judging panel had a heated debate over the novel’s political correctness, or lack thereof. With the support of a few prestigious literature critics, Chen’s supporters eventually got the upper hand. But still, Chen was allegedly asked to delete several sexually explicit paragraphs in order to win the prize, a request to which he reportedly acquiesced, cutting 3,000 words from his work.
Photo by CFP
Director Wang Quan’an
Author Chen Zhongshi
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
After winning the Mao Dun prize, it seems that the novel obtained government endorsement, given the official background of the CWA. In 2002, the Ministry of Education included the novel in its official “must-read” book list for college students, and Chen himself was later made vice-president of the CWA. However, the battle over the book’s political subtext was far from over. Ever since the publication of White Deer Plain, it has aroused interest of Chinese movie makers. For example, in 1993, wellknown native Shaanxi director Wu Tianming
Photo by CFP
Photo by CFP
vowed that before his career author, claimed that the movie was over, he would come up “conveyed the core spirit of the with a screen adaptation of the novel.” novel. However, the Bureau of In early 2012, a special Film Administration (BFA) 160-minute cut of the movie was swift to issue a ban on any was sent to contend for the In a scene from the movie, the head of the Bai clan leads villagers in a movie adaption of White Deer Golden Bear at the Berlin Inprayer for rain Plain. Due to the massive influternational Film Festival. It reence of visual media, films and ceived mixed reactions, though TV are traditionally subjected it secured the Silver Bear for to far stricter censorship than best cinematography. Accordprint media. ing to Wang, the version was According to Chen, the authe result of a compromise bethorities adopted a “print media tween the production team and only” policy toward the novel. the BFA after several rounds of “Even for print media, the negotiation and bargaining. guideline was that there should When the domestic version be no critique of the book, neiwas released six months later, ther praise nor criticism,” Chen it appeared to be a complete once told the media. re-cut. Critics complained that As the novel was adapted the climactic final scenes had into a stage play, a radio play, been cut, resulting in a confusand a local traditional opera ing ending which ruined the In another scene, youth rebel Hei Wa and armed tenant farmers march in the following years, the ban movie. against local landlords seemed to be gradually loosWhile complaining that he ening. In 2004, Xi’an Film and his colleagues had to visit Group, after purchasing the film rights from ly sensitive movie with an uncertain future. the BFA dozens of times for negotiations Chen, finally obtained a permit to shoot Ironically, under the close watch of the about the release of the movie, Wang said the movie, with Wang Quan’an as director. film authorities, the movie gained support that he was no longer angry at the system. Wang’s earlier work Tuya’s Marriage won the from the Shaanxi provincial Party committee, “As a director of a historical movie, you Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlin Internation- which saw a high-profile movie as a good op- have to acknowledge that you yourself live in al Film Festival, making him one of China’s portunity to promote the culture and image of a period of history that is full of constraints,” most renowned directors. the province. This year, the Party committee’s Wang Quan’an told NewsChina. “Personally, However, while the project itself was given publicity office even made the shooting one I have tried my best.” the green light, obtaining official approval of its two key promotional projects. With poAccording to Wang, China continues to for the movie’s screenplay was another mat- litical support from the provincial authorities, live in the period portrayed in White Deer ter entirely. Screenplays written by Lu Wei, investment came thick and fast. Plain. “Writer Chen Zhongshi once said screenwriter of Farewell, My Concubine In order to shoot the movie, Wang and that the novel is a history of tragedies,” said (Golden Globe best foreign language film, his team purchased an entire village in Inner Wang. “Well, the biggest tragedy of China 1993) and To Live (Grand Jury Prize in Mongolia and built it into a production base. is that the country has lost its way, as social Cannes, and Golden Globe, 1994) were ve- It is estimated that the movie cost roughly ethical codes have been repeatedly violated. toed by the BFA at least four times. 120 million yuan (US$19m), a big-budget Eventually, everything old is destroyed, but In desperation, Wang, the director, wrote film by Chinese standards. we haven’t found the answer.” another script himself. Dropping the bloody To a large extent, the tug-of-war surroundstruggle between the communists and the Different Versions ing Chen’s novel and its movie adaption may In August 2011, Wang released an unoffi- be reflective of real-life anxiety over China’s Kuomintang and taking out several tragic characters in the movie, it was finally ap- cial 220-minute “director’s cut” of the movie, path, and its “correct interpretation.” proved by the BFA. But then, the film crew and showed it to a small audience of selected “Up till now, China is still struggling to encountered financial difficulties, as few in- critics and artists. The movie drew acclaim find the right answer regarding its path,” said vestors would risk their money on a political- from the elite. Even Chen Zhongshi, the director Wang Quan’an.
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Midnight in Peking
Blood and Stone On a frigid morning in January 1937, the mutilated body of a young white woman, was discovered at the foot of a Peking city watchtower. A new book by sinologist Paul French has drawn on contemporary source material to solve this 75-year-old murder By Jack Smith
t is remarkable how much of Armor Factory Alley, a short walk from the chaos of Beijing’s main railroad station and one of Beijing’s oldest hutong alleyways, remains intact. While entire neighborhoods within the former Tartar Wall have been bulldozed to make way for ugly hotels and Orwellian government buildings, this treelined street has survived the overthrow of dynasties, arsenal explosions, the rampaging Boxers and the subsequent sack of Peking by vengeful foreign soldiers. It has even withstood the inexorable march of “development.” This unassuming street was my first stop in an attempt to retrace the final movements of Pamela Werner, a 19-year-old girl whose sensational murder rocked the Imperial City in 1937, just as the Japanese war machine was rumbling into life. Her partially-dismembered body was discovered by an old man out walking his songbirds at the foot of the Tartar Wall on January 8, 1937. A new book by author Paul French solves this mystery too late to bring her purported killer to justice, but before the remaining Peking locations Pamela knew in life have surrendered to the wrecking ball. Paul French describes the grisly murder of one young white woman in NEWSCHINA I December 2012
1937 as Stalin’s proverbial “tragedy,” a starting pistol signifying the end of Old China, and the bloody birth of the New. He came across the Pamela Werner case in a footnote to a “rather dry” biography of journalist, political firebrand and bon viveur Edgar Snow, who, along with his wife Helen, lived just along from the Werners in an elegant courtyard at the opposite end of Armor Factory Alley. Discovering that Pamela’s death was linked to a foreign “sex cult,” Paul French found that after a night’s sleep, “Pamela was front and center in my mind…she’s stayed lodged in my brain ever since.” Pamela herself comes to vibrant life in French’s narrative. A fascinating personification of the change and conservatism which were duking it out in Peking, she was the adopted daughter of curmudgeonly old China hand and former British consul E.T.C. Werner and his beautiful society bride Gladys Nina, who herself died young. Pamela lived in limbo between the Chinese and foreign Peking, her bicycle transporting her from hearty noodle lunches on Soochow Hutong to bread-and-butter tiffins in the palm-fronded elegance of the Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits. She spoke Chinese and English fluently, and
was at home in both cultures, a blessing which could be a curse as she struggled to fit into the “goldfish bowl” of expatriate life, particularly her snotty schools. By French’s assessment, Pamela preferred a wilder existence, a desire no doubt enhanced by the self-imposed social isolation of her scholarly father. In fact, her last words, spoken in parting with her ice-skating society chums, would take on an eerie resonance merely hours later. “I’ve been alone my whole life.”
To know Pamela was to know Old Peking, and so, armed with French’s book and accompanying audio tour, I set about retracing Pamela’s final steps for myself, to see what remained of her city with my own eyes. In Armor Factory Alley, French’s voice in my ears added color to the grimy surroundings. While modern businesses, a hideous neon hotel and reeking public toilets have eroded its luster, a little imagination can bring this thoroughfare back to vibrant, roughshod life. Pamela made her final departure from her beloved home around 3pm on January 7, 1937, just after requesting a meal of meatballs and rice - also a favorite of mine. I followed her memory west, also by bicycle, towards the former Legation Quarter. Many of the connecting streets have since vanished, and I was forced to cut across the Beijing Railway Station plaza, teeming with migrant workers groaning beneath enormous crates and suitcases, the sea of black hair occasionally salted with the blonde or brown mop of a bemusedlooking foreigner. In Pamela’s day, trains arrived instead at the stunning old Railway Station at Chien’men, with their first sight the Imperial City and Chien’men’s main thoroughfare which accommodated camels, trams and pedestrians with equal enthusiasm. The camels and trams may be gone, but this raucous atmosphere would have been something Pamela had to contend with whenever she made the train journey between home in Peking and school in nearby Tientsin. Since the Japanese ploughed through the Tartar Wall in the 30s and the Communists finished the job of ripping down Peking’s ancient fortifications in the 50s, Pamela’s last fateful journey has become a nail-biting slalom through inattentive pedestrians and lunatic drivers. Hustle and bustle would have been something Pamela would also have navigated on her bicycle, but I bet she wasn’t almost mown down by a wayward ambulance a block from the beautifully-appointed Grand Hotel des Wagons-Lits, its site now occupied by an ugly high-rise. Though its majesty is hard to visualize today, this chic hotel, popular with Peking’s foreign community, was where Pamela enjoyed tiffin with a schoolfriend, and also collected an invitation to a clandestine party scheduled later that evening to coincide with Russian New Year – an invitation which sealed her fate. Once my pulse returned to normal from my own brush with death, I turned my handlebars north towards Pamela’s next destination, the
former French Legation. Suddenly the streets fell (comparatively) quiet, and narrowed considerably. Colonial-era buildings, including one of the Quarter’s former department stores and the old French post office, now a Sichuanese restaurant, replaced more familiar Sino-Soviet and modern architecture. The ambience may have relaxed, but I was becoming tense. As I pedaled beneath the trees, I felt an uneasy twinge in my gut. I was following Pamela to her death. On that fateful night, as far as her father knew, Pamela was going ice skating with friends, and then coming home for their customary dinner together. In reality, she had other plans – the invitation collected in secret at the Wagons-Lits requested her presence at an exclusive party at the apartment of a well-to-do American, and she fully intended to attend. Her host’s own plans for Pamela’s evening, however, were horrifically different.
My audio tour guided me past the gate of the French Legation, where a uniformed guard shot me a frosty glare. On January 7, 1937, Pamela had spent a few happy hours ice skating at the Legation’s new rink, an area now occupied by the Beijing Public Security Bureau, just one of the colonial buildings claimed by the victorious Communist Party for its own exclusive use in 1949. As I progressed past the apartment, where Pamela’s killer, at least according to French, resided and where she attended the first and last cocktail party of her short life, and then the well-barred gates of the imposing Church of St Michael just one block along from the French Legation, I was struck by an intriguing parallel between the Beijing I knew and Pamela’s Peking. Now, as then, most locals never saw the inside of the Legation Quarter’s stunning buildings. Uniformed guards have stood at entrance gates in this area for three hundred years – and while the uniforms have changed dramatically, the message hasn’t – no invitation, no admittance. Pamela wouldn’t even have needed to flash an ID to enter the French Legation for skating or to attend evensong at St Michael’s, but for this modern-day expatriate, as for Pamela’s Chinese contemporaries, access was absolutely denied. I was now on course to hit the scene of the crime - Chuanban [then Chuanpan] Hutong, the pickled, vice-ridden heart of the Badlands, populated by what French calls the “driftwood” of old Peking – penniless working girls and their pimps, intimidating Korean brothel madams, muscle-bound Shantung bouncers and even an enigmatic White Russian hermaphrodite impresario. Chuanpan Hutong, in French’s words, was a “street [Pamela] should never have been on.” Surely, I thought, for a free spirit like Pamela, that would have been its primary charm. On January 8, 1937, three foreign men escorted Pamela through the gates of Number 28, now a dumpling restaurant, but then one of the Badlands’ seediest ask-noquestions houses of ill repute. The central courtyard of number 28, divided up and covered with corrugated iron, seemingly remains in NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by George Ding
Pamela Werner, a few days before her death
place. I had little appetite, and so busied myself in mentally rebuilding the old brick partitions, draped with colored fabrics and sprinkled with fish-skin lanterns illuminating the pasty flesh of the working girls. At midnight on January 7, 1937, Pamela’s expensive platinumand-diamond watch, bought with her beloved mother’s inheritance, stopped ticking just after midnight. Pamela was bludgeoned to death while resisting what French describes as a sex party turned gang rape, and then bled out on the frigid tiles of a ground floor bathroom. Her killers then removed her body, after which the brothel madam shut up shop, dispersed her girls and skipped town, disappearing into the mayhem of Japanese-occupied east China. Had I thought the owner of the dumpling restaurant now occupying this former crime scene would have welcomed an association with prostitution and murder, I’d have spoken up. I kept silent, and paid my bill without a word before departing.
Photo by George Ding
Photo by George Ding
The Fox Tower today
The former French Legation, now occupied by the government NEWSCHINA I December 2012
One final hair-raising highway trundle later, I stood roughly where Pamela’s lifeless body was dumped by her international trio of killers and, according to the sequence of events in Midnight in Peking, dressed out like a deer at the feet of the deserted Fox Tower, known officially then, as now, as the Xibianmen Corner Tower, which still stands guard over the last remaining stretch of the Tartar Wall encircling Pamela’s Peking, untouched by the Soviet city planners Mao drafted in to gut the Imperial City. The Badlands, Chuanpan Hutong included, were also cleared out by the Communists in the 50s, political commissars forcibly “rehabilitating” prostitutes, executing and imprisoning pimps and pushers, and ultimately claiming a final victory over vice. I rose above the clamor of rush hour traffic to surmount the deserted Fox Tower and gaze across the southeast corner of Beijing, across the remnants of Pamela’s world – where she had grown up, lived and died in a fervent struggle between competing, conflicting universes of tea houses and tea dances. One of the lasting charms of Midnight in Peking is that Pamela Werner retains as much mystique as is expunged in the telling of her story. French’s narrative explores in minute detail Pamela’s death, the investigation and attempted cover-up, the continued but ultimately fruitless attempts by her grieving father to bring her killers to justice. Yet somehow so much of Pamela the woman remains unknowable – alone in life, she is more so in death. From my vantage point, I tried to see Peking through Pamela’s stonegray eyes. So many landmarks are long gone, and yet the key locations from her life, and death, remain. Had Pamela lived, and struggled to the top of the Fox Tower today, well into her nineties, she would have still recognized the city she grew up in, and marveled at its transformation in the intervening years. As things are, her body now lies buried somewhere beneath the East Second Ring Road, along with so much of the city she lived in, and loved.
OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within China
Colonial Expedition A lot can happen in a year, especially in a Chinese port city. Twelve months after leaving, a former Tianjin resident returns to see how much has changed, and what this former European colony has to offer the culture vulture
Photos by CFP
By Will Philipps
atellite cities are not supposed to make good tourist destinations. And in China, where urban planners have been liberal with their wrecking balls in recent years, you wouldn’t expect these kinds of places to offer much in the way of charm or culture. Tianjin, the port city for its neighbour Beijing, may seem like such a place. But having spent a year living and working there, I can safely say it’s worthy of a much higher standing. Tianjin’s impressive array of colonial architecture gives its streets a uniquely quaint appearance, creating a stark contrast with the
ever-evolving skyline that looms overhead. It’s now one of the fastest growing cities in China, and huge investment has led to a meteoric modernization in recent years. Existing for most of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties as a coastal trading hub for nearby Beijing, it was only when Western powers moved into China in the 19th century that Tianjin developed into a major industrial city. The granting of eight concession zones to the major trading powers of the time (Britain, USA, Italy, Austria-Hungary, France, Russia, Japan and Germany) signaled an influx of foreign industry, and the construction of lav-
ish villas, banks, schools and even prisons to house the arriving traders. Returning to this city, nicknamed “the Shanghai of the North,” I wanted to explore its bloodlines a little further, and see what kind of a city-break Tianjin had to offer. Although still a far cry from the sophistication of Shanghai, it currently boasts China’s highest GDP per capita, and numerous multinational companies are setting up office in a specially designated economic development zone. Maybe its nickname is a sign of a bright future for this supposedly laid-back city? Arriving at Tianjin Station on the bullet train from Beijing – so quick and easy you NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Getting there Tianjin has its own international airport with daily flights to a host of Chinese cities, as well as other destinations in Asia. If you’re traveling from further afield, you can fly into Beijing airport, where a bus service will have you in downtown Tianjin in two hours. Most visitors will no doubt arrive on the high-speed train – by far the easiest way to get to Tianjin – a mere 30-minute ride from Beijing South Station, at a cost of 55 yuan (US$9). Getting Around Tianjin city center is quite compact, and most of it can be seen on foot in 2 or 3 days. Taxis are a dime a dozen, and fares are relatively inexpensive. Finding an English-speaking driver will be much harder though. The recently updated Tianjin Metro means that you can get to most of the city’s destinations for as little as 2 or 3 yuan (32 to 48 US cents). Where to Stay Tianjin has a wealth of hotels on offer, although budget travelers might find hostels harder to come by. Consider staying somewhere central – anywhere around Nanjing Lu will be close to tourist attractions and good restaurants, and will have the best transport links.
barely have time to realize that traveling in China can be a painless experience – I didn’t have to go far to witness one of the city’s new developments: two immaculate new subway lines – making a grand total of four. Previously, arriving at the subway-less train station would mean a mad dash to the taxi stand, where the wait for a cab could often take longer than the 110-kilometer intercity train journey. But now, with the option of a sparkling, spotless new subway line, I felt like a child discovering a secret passageway in his own house. My excitement quickly turned to familiar frustration though, as the rows of new ticket NEWSCHINA I December 2012
machines were all out of order. Back to queuing at the booth then, although now a considerably shorter wait than the dreaded taxi line. Deciding to avoid the popular Italian-style town (this old concession has suffered so much “restoration” that you might find more authentic looking replicas in Legoland), I crossed the snaking Hai River to Jiefang Bei Lu. This quiet street used to bisect the British Quarter and is lined with rows of imposing old banks. Walking along here, you really begin to appreciate the aesthetic that these edifices lend Tianjin. The nearby Astor Hotel made for a suit-
ably refined pit stop. Founded in 1863, this grandiose establishment was China’s first international hotel – notable guests have included Herbert Hoover, Premier Zhou Enlai, and Pu Yi, China’s last emperor. Even if your budget doesn’t allow a stay in one of its lavish rooms, you can channel your inner aristocrat by stopping for a very English cup of Earl Grey in their opulent atrium. The sun had set by the time I arrived, however, so I opted for the old-world favourite, a gin and tonic, in the hotel’s stately O’Hara Bar. Wu Da Dao was next on the list of imperial sights. This wonderfully tranquil and tree-
lined cluster of colonial villas is best enjoyed on foot, but the buildings number into the thousands, so consider renting bikes. Seeking the most antiquated experience possible, however, I opted for the horse-drawn cart. Find these at Minyuan Stadium in the heart of Wu Da Dao on Chongqing Lu. While the English signage here is either a slight mistranslation or just a jolly brag – “Outlandish Tourist Area” – the huge array of European styles does make for an eclectic, if sometimes jarring, collection. If you’re in the area, try the family-run Sha Guo Li Restaurant on Jiujiang Lu for some authentic Tianjn fare. Be warned though – it gets busy, no English is spoken, and when I turned up without a reservation I was kindly told I’d be waiting for an hour. Luckily two spaces were quickly freed up for me and my companion, although they turned out to be in a cramped room with a lone table, alongside three other pairs of diners. It wasn’t long before huge quantities of food were brought in, and there was much speculation about which group of diners had chosen best. Their famous home-style pork rib was the unanimous winner – lucky, then, that everyone had ordered it. Leaving Wu Da Dao I spotted the impressive St Joseph’s Church. Built in 1913 by French missionaries, it sits solemnly at the end of Binjiang Dao, Tianjin’s heaving and glimmering main shopping parade. It’s still
an active Catholic Church, but now the image of it being enveloped on all sides by Starbucks, Nike and countless other high street deities reveals China’s altogether warmer embrace of another kind of cultural import from the West. Tianjin is not just one big Euro-fest though; a fascinating melee of Chinese culture can be found at the buzzing Antique Market on Shenyang Dao. The Shi Family Mansion, a charming Qing period house and gardens, made for a more serene exploration of Tianjin’s history. Ancient Culture Street – a name that conjures up images of winding hutong alleyways and picturesque courtyards – is popular with tourists, but fails to deliver on both its promises. Neither ancient (it’s a predictable collection of reconstructions) nor cultural (rows of shops selling the same tacky souvenirs), it’s not worth the visit. As I left the city on the high-speed train, the view of the faceless, grey urban sprawl dissolving into countryside in mere seconds did little to set Tianjin’s cityscape apart from other Chinese cities. But just a weekend there was enough remind me that at its core, Tianjin is a city unlike any other in China. Come to glimpse the relics of foreign imperialism, but don’t be fooled by their symbolism of dominance: Tianjin is striding forward at a pace that other cities can only dream of.
pai zhuan Strongly Oppose If you post something on a Chinese bulletin board, especially comments on the latest public scandal, you may find your thread inundated with comments attempting to “paizhuan” your sentiments. With pai meaning “hit” and zhuan meaning “brick,” paizhuan literally means getting hit with a brick. The term is now a popular one among both those who troll bulletin boards and microblogs, as well as their detractors. The concept of paizhuan can be traced back almost 10 centuries to the Yong’an emperor of the Northern Wei Dynasty (528-530). According to legend, locals in Chang’an (near modern-day Xi’an, Shaanxi Province) would hold a brick when kowtowing to a new
official, only to throw the same brick at him when he was fired or demoted. In ancient texts this custom is referred to as “huai zhuan,” “holding a brick,” and the term was later applied to those seen as fickle in their loyalties. According to the New Chinese Words Dictionary published by Shanghai Dictionary Publishing House, the term paizhuan itself originated with the word banzhuan, a red brick typically used when building sturdy northern homes. Online, the pattern generally is that a single netizen opens a thread, and then more and more will add to it, eventually “building a house” of comments, with the thread’s originator the “homeowner.” Thus, when someone wants to thwart the
building of a home, they use their “brick” to brain the would-be landlord. Sometimes, this opposition leads to the formation of two factions of angry netizens – one for, and one against, with both sides lobbing virtual bricks at one another. The term is even moving offline, with those who are opposed to a government action or policy described as “paizhuan-ing” the organs of state, or even individual officials. Although, given its ominous overtones, “paizhuan” is rarely used to self-describe online opposition, it has already entered the complex lexicon used for expressing dissatisfaction with an array of social and political issues. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
flavor of the month
A Slow, Comfortable Brew By Stephy Chung
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Photo by CFP
mirably! Having begun life as a home brewing experiment, the Slow Boat Brewery has gone on to build a steady reputation among those in Beijing who love their suds, with several of its more popular drafts already appearing on restaurant menus in the capital. With a newly opened taproom, the Slow Boat’s reputation stands to grow yet further, though given its location, it’s likely to take a while. Rather than take the easy option and open a bar in one of the city’s hipper locales, owners Chandler Jurinka and Daniel Herbert have chosen the more adventurous Qianmen shopping district, just south of Tian’an’men Square, an area where an attempt at urban renewal gutted a historic residential area and replaced it with a kitschy Charlie Chan strip mall. The Slow Boat itself is, happily, set away from the main drag amid charming alleys in blissful peace and quiet. According to the owners, one of their neighbors is a former Shaolin monk who offers “kung fu massage” for a dollar a time. However, I didn’t come for the massage. China is now the largest beer market in the world, with domestic consumption estimated to have grown by 29 percent since 2006, with the Chinese quaffing 50 billion liters, twice as much as Americans, last year. Indeed, beer is proving a more popular tipple than the erstwhile “in” beverages - red wine and liquor – both of which markets have begun to stagnate. Entrepreneur Jurinka felt the time was right for China to embrace craft brewing. While he admits that some of Slow Boat’s more bitter ales are bold for the local market, still hooked on medium-strength lagers, he’d rather offer something niche. “For us, the reference to Slow Boat symbolizes something foreign, brought from America to China,” he told me. “We’re two Americans, bringing our product, our ingredients. And it’s special – it’s handmade, and you’re drinking it just a couple of days after it leaves the brewery.” It’s that freshness – without the preservatives and additives found in many imported and local draft beers - that Jurinka is especially proud of. “It’s all natural, all unfiltered, and you can drink a lot and not feel bad the next day.” In China, that’s an overstated benefit – raging food and drink scandals leave even the carefree warily eyeing bottled beers for fear of
adulteration. Many a Beijing hangover is as likely to be blamed on cheap, chemically-enhanced beer as on overindulgence. The Slow Boat’s actual brewing facility is in Changping, a suburban district north of Beijing. Situated at the foot of mountains, the water quality is far superior to the undrinkable alternative downtown which has been pumped miles from neighboring provinces through an antiquated piping system. To ensure a distinct flavor, hops are imported from the States. Herbert, Slow Boat’s master brewer and a self-styled “Hop Head” blogs that the Simcoe hop, acquired from the Pacific Northwest, lends a piney flavor that reminds him of damp Oregon forests. The hop is used in the brewery’s seasonal, single-hop Flying Whale India Pale Ale. A pint of the stuff is a beer lover’s dream. The brew is deeply hoppy, has a great bite, tastes a little chocolaty and has a creamy mouthfeel that glugs smoothly and is the perfect antidote to the autumn chill. 30-year old Yin Hai, a member of a Beijing-based homebrew club saunters in right before closing time. Without much prompting, he too chooses the Flying Whale over the other two IPAs on tap – Captain’s Pale Ale and Mango Monkey Fist IPA. I’m starting to suspect that the cute, wide-eyed cartoon whale emblem is the secret of this brew’s success. Yin describes the beer as delicious, with plenty of depth, and enthusiastically downs a pint before ordering a second. While impressed and praising Slow Boat’s obvious love for craft beers, Yin opines that the brewery has a hard sell on their hands. “The majority of Chinese will never accept this, it’s too bitter. They’re not accustomed to bitterness in beers. Many Chinese don’t even know what IPA is.” Chinese beers are typically light pilsners, with a very low alcohol content, consumed more like soda than firewater. To appeal to a wider range of preferences, Slow Boat offers mainstays like the Dogwatch 1600, a citrusy wheat brew, and the Man-O-War Porter, a light-to-medium bodied dark ale made with roasted malt. A coffee porter, infused with fresh grounds, is also in the works. But hoppy beers could catch on, as evidenced by Slow Boat’s fifty-something neighbor, who regularly meanders in, orders a couple of pints of pale ale and waxes nostalgic. Photo by CFP
he slow boats to China may be long gone, but Beijing’s new slew of microbreweries compensate ad-
Dancers in the Dark The blackness ahead was near total as we left the flickering lights of one last glowing hamlet behind and set off with our tents and backpacks in the general direction of what we’d been told were the outlying hills. Our instructions were simple: walk until we hear the distant thud of music. Then follow our ears. Further details would have been redundant anyway, given our inability to discern much beyond the next rock beneath our feet. No one had thought to bring a flashlight. Sure enough, the eerie quiet soon gave way to the half-heard pulse of a sound system, its location hard to pinpoint through the overlapping echoes reverberating between the surrounding peaks. During the onward march through the inky blackness, I recalled my days hunting free parties in the wilds of England’s Home Counties, but my reverie was cut short by the approaching roar of a motorcycle engine. The blinding headlights meandered up the path, and two fresh-faced bao’an security guards soon materialized. My companion and I exchanged quizzical glances – could our number be up before we’d even arrived? Grinning inanely, they motioned for us to follow them up a side track that veered off the main path and directly into the wilderness. The game was still afoot. Hauling the gear up the slope, our muttered curses soon gave way to belly-deep chuckling as we caught sight of lasers crisscrossing the night sky above us. I stifled the urge to hum an annoyingly catchy Black Eyed Peas tune. We were close, but still no nearer to fathoming why we had been made to travel so far. Cresting the final rise, our mirth developed into full-blown maniacal laughter as the party unfurled on the slopes above us. We had arrived, and the tunes were much better than the Black Eyed Peas. The night progressed much as events of this nature are wont to do: music was played,
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By David Green
It emerged that we had spent the night in the ruins of an abandoned mountaintop village.
a copious quantity of drink was consumed and meandering walks were taken in the mistaken belief that fairies or dwarves might be frolicking in the surrounding darkness. Yet it was only with the break of dawn that the motives of the party’s organizers truly became clear. The sun rose into a cloudless sky and the air snapped with a crystal tension as the first rays began the work of dispelling the early chill. The vista was magnificent; the hills of rural Hebei, obscured during the night, surrounded us unbroken for miles, and a glistening river ran through the hardy vegetation that pocked their slopes. It emerged that we had spent the night in the ruins of an abandoned mountaintop village. As the morning progressed, villagers from the homes we had left the previous evening dropped by to make sure everything was in order, pausing for extended periods to stare at the bizarre assemblage of foreigners and Chinese who had made the four-hour trip from Beijing. The surreal nature of the experience was heightened by a cackling peasant, whom we greeted in mutual disbelief as he
rode his donkey along the road below. After the dust had settled and the partygoers were safely ensconced within the return bus to Beijing, I could not help but marvel at the enterprise that must have gone into making the party happen. How, first of all, had the organizers even found the venue? What diplomatic nous had been required to negotiate terms with the local village chief? And by what means had the generator that powered the whole affair made its way to the top of the mountain? This was to be only the first of many such parties I would attend in the countryside around Beijing, over the course of which I discovered details of the effort required to pull the events off. The truth is that the venues are sourced via the use of satellite maps, tip-offs from locals and knowledgeable friends, and an obscene amount of time driving around in the quest for the perfect spot. Locals are almost invariably happy to host an influx of hedonistic party people for the weekend, as we provide income and, more importantly, are likely to pass on directions to the beautiful places we visit to our friends. As for the generator, I’m still baffled as to how they managed to transport it: deep within a national park area with no road access, across numerous streams (some of which required good balance to traverse even emptyhanded) to its resting place beneath a large rock overhang that did wonders for projecting its relentless juddering across the sprawl of our impromptu Hooverville. Perhaps it’s best if some secrets are never revealed, but I will remain forever grateful to the organizers for providing me with some of my happiest memories of Beijing. As the sun came up in Hebei, one of them came to sit behind beside me and share a beer. “Now do you understand why we did the party here?” he asked, as the sun slowly undrew the curtain on the vast clarity of the mountains around us. Yes, I thought, I rather think I do. NEWSCHINA I December 2012
What do Chinese People Want? These days everyone is wrestling with this question. With global markets in freefall, elections in America, a leadership transition in China and territorial scuffles with Japan, the stakes seem especially high this year. Figuring out what China wants, or, more precisely, what the Chinese want, can help companies sell smartphones, help nations balance trade deficits and help neighbors avoid escalating conflicts. I myself – as a Chinese person schooled abroad - find it hard to decipher the complex whims of the Chinese consumer. I imagine it must be an even tougher nut to crack for multinational companies, political observers, or artists and writers who are struggling to produce precisely the right product for a vast, and infinitely diverse, market. Looking for answers in the media, Western or Chinese, just muddies the waters. Nowadays, I get most of my local news from reading Weibo – China’s Twitter equivalent. It’s the fastest, and most haphazardly censored, way to get information in such a rigorouslycontrolled media environment. But the daily barrage of sordid tales detailing the injustices inflicted upon the good, hardworking masses at the hands of unscrupulous companies or the rich and powerful elites serves only to depress, rarely to enlighten. This year, I decided that the best way to find out what Chinese people want in an age of seemingly morally-bankrupt materialism is simply to ask them. So, I took to the road, visiting as many small cities, towns, and villages as I could in an attempt to break out of my natural comfort zone and to meet with the poor as well as the wealthy. What did I find out? For a start, never take a train with a four-digit train number and tickets that go for 39 yuan. (If you do, expect ludicrous overcrowding, no AC and squat toilets). Another insight? Prepare snack packs when planning to stay in a city that even McDonald’s hasn’t discovered. One more thing, if there are no “foreign” NEWSCHINA I December 2012
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By Qi Zhai
“I wish I could do what you do.”
hotels in town (i.e. three stars or more), expect to end up in a “business hotel” where Wi-Fi is emphatically not an option but a mini-bar selection of birth control choices is. Despite the discomforts of domestic travel, I was happy with what I found. What Chinese people want is not that different from what Americans, Europeans, and people around the world want. While there are those who will disagree, people want freedoms, both small and big. A group of twentysomethings told me, “We want to decide what to do with our hard-earned money. We want to buy cars without having to wait [License plates for private car owners are distributed variously by lottery and auction in several major cities].” More than one Weibo friend has complained that they don’t want their tweets “harmonized” overnight (i.e. deleted by Web censors). People want safety and security, not just
at border crossings but in the home and in the workplace. Nobody wants to live in fear of unemployment, illness, disability or crippling debt. Where some Western observers see a “real estate bubble,” I see a “private welfare plan.” With abysmal real interest rates, a nascent social security system, and few investment options, owning an apartment is the Chinese person’s best shot at security. However, over 90 percent of urban Chinese are now priced way, way out of the housing market, while millions of luxurious condos sit empty in the rapacious hands of speculators. Chinese people, despite frequent Western assertions to the contrary, want to connect with the world outside. This is tough, especially for those who have little chance of securing a visa to travel abroad (poor, rural citizens, or anyone who can’t produce the onerous paperwork demanded) or without the necessary language skills to experience much more than a chaperoned coach trip around the great shopping malls in Europe and America as marketed by Chinese tour operators. Perhaps buying designer handbags at exorbitant prices is just an easier way to relate to the rest of the world. Chinese people want to know that they can make global consumer choices, and delight in making them. Above all, people want self-actualization, many without even being able to put a word to it. This is the strongest sentiment I felt through my travels and conversations. In a system that still rigidly separates people by their birthplace through an antiquated system of household registration, and that doesn’t generate enough fulfilling jobs for young graduates, never mind those without a college diploma, what people told me most often was, “I wish I could do what you do.” The most memorable meeting I had was a chat with a country girl who worked as a masseuse at a seedy hotel. I asked her what her dream job was. “I’d like to work in an office, like girls I see on TV. I don’t know what exactly they do, but it must be interesting.”
Cultural listings Cinema
Mystery Love and desire may be no strangers to the silver screen in China, but when they blossom via a bizarre car accident, audiences tend to sit up and take notice. Independent director Lou Ye’s latest venture, and the only mainland Chinese movie shortlisted for the 65th Cannes Film Festival, is Mystery, a story of a tugof-war between a wife and mistress for the affections of their lover, which take on a new aspect after the car accident. Gloomy skies, dimly-lit rooms, a cable car suspended in midair, abandoned buildings, blood, tattoos - Lou Ye is known as a master of lurid detail. After over five months in censorship quarantine, the movie’s Cannes nomination led to an official change of heart, and Mystery opened nationwide October 19.
The Voice of China Ends on a Bum Note
Wang Shi Speaks
The first episode of The Voice of China, China’s hottest singing competition program and one of the many global franchises of Dutch sensation The Voice of Holland, was broadcast nationwide on October 1, with Liang Bo, a 21-year-old from northern China the ultimate victor. With some of China’s top singing stars invited to select, rather than merely evaluate, an array of young pretenders, The Voice of China topped ratings from August. Predictably, controversy and conflict followed in the wake of the show’s runaway success, with critics slamming the organizers for charging exorbitant sums for tickets to the eventual victors’ concerts, leading to accusations that the entire series is simply a cynical attempt to milk money from viewers.
20th Century Pioneers From October 19 to November 25, the Yanhuang Museum of Art in Beijing will greet visitors with a retrospective of twentieth century painter Lü Sibai, one of the founding fathers of modern Chinese painting. Born in the twilight of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Lü was advised by renowned ink-and-wash master Xu Beihong to study painting in France. Lü went on to be heavily influenced by Cézanne and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who helped inform his elegant, plain, simple and poetic style. Arcadian landscapes of his homeland, which span the Chinese Civil War and plunge deep into the Communist era, focus on the natural and provide a soothing window onto many lost vistas.
He is the former head of China Vanke, China’s leading real estate company. He was the ninth person in history to reach the summit of Mount Qomolangma (Everest). He has walked to both the South and North poles. A collection of quotations collected over three years, Wang Shi Speaks, published by Zhejiang University Publishing House in August, is an unusual mix of biography and self-help, with readers searching through many cryptic pronouncements in an attempt to discover Wang’s secrets to his success. Wang’s preface to the book declares “a purely firsthand record, directly telling the readers my puzzles, contradictions, worries and feelings.” NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
China’s investment-driven growth model is a dead end China should endure the short-term impact of economic slowdown in order to secure long-term prosperity By Liang Xiaomin
n response to worldwide economic troubles and a slowing economy in China, the Chinese government’s economic policy this year has centered on ensuring stable growth. However, with stagnating demand at home and abroad, the only option is to boost investment. It is estimated that 13 provinces have launched investment projects, amounting to 12.8 trillion yuan ($US2.05tn). The effect of these projects is clear – China’s growth rate in the third quarter was 7.4 percent, leaving the central government confident that it would achieve its target of an annual growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2012. Ensuring a stable growth rate is certainly beneficial in terms of securing employment and social stability. However, an addiction to using investment to boost the economy will harm society in the long run. Large-scale investment has long been the driving force behind China’ economic rise, accounting for about 50 percent of growth over the past three decades. Such a growth model was an obvious choice as China transitioned from an agricultural to an industrialized country. But without transforming and upgrading the economy, investment-driven growth, which is accompanied by high pollution and low salary levels, will eventually exhaust itself, leading to stagnation, if not recession. Aside from the current global economic climate, the decline in China’s growth rate is a major cause of this. Investment can be categorized into two types, that concerning infrastructure and real estate properties, and that in corporate development. The scale of the former is constrained by land resources and social demand. After decades of land appropriation, investment in infrastructure and real estate development has been on the decline. For that reason, the majority of investment projects announced by local governments are in corporate development, which will increase industrial output and supply of commodities. However, domestic consumption in China has remained at a comparatively low level, at 35 percent of GDP. Even combined with
government expenditure, the total percentage is only slightly more than 50 percent. Therefore, increased investment in industrial development will most likely lead to excessive output. As a matter of fact, excess output has already become a problem in some major industries. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the output of China’s iron and steel industry reached 660 million tons in 2009, 40 percent more than the annual demand (470 million tons). But this year, two major iron and steel investment projects were announced in Guangdong and Guangxi. In the solar power industry, China’s current output is about twice the global demand. But among newly released investment projects, solar energy is still on the list. Other industries with excessive output include the cement, coal, chemical, polysilicon, wind power equipment, and automobile industries. China should learn from the history of other countries about the consequences of excessive investment. In the 1920s, the American government also adopted a policy of increasing investment. Within ten years, the automobile industry has expanded by 255 percent, with an increase of 75 percent in the iron and steel industry. With inadequate demand, industrial expansion became a major reason for the Great Depression in the 1930s. With the current decline of the growth rate, the Chinese government should refrain from trying to repeat its earlier success by increasing investment to boost growth rate. Instead, it should have the courage to deal with the short-term impact of an economic slowdown, and focus on boosting consumption. Only when the government stops pouring capital into State-owned enterprises in times of difficulty will these enterprises embark on a path of innovation and improvement, securing China’s long-term prosperity. (The author is a business professor from Tsinghua University. ) NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NEWSCHINA I December 2012
NEWSCHINA I December 2012