Volume No. 039 November 2011
Brains-for-Hire: Graft Meets Genius SOCIETY
School for Seduction: Bagging a Billionaire CULTURE
Toon and Country: Industrializing Animation
RICHER POORER OR
Will a re-interpretation of Chinaâ€™s marriage laws protect husbands or disenfranchise wives?
9/23/11 5:01 PM
1/21/11 2:46 PM
2011 SOUTH-SOUTH AWARD CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY IN RECOGNITION TO
MR WINSTON CHUNG
CHAIRMAN WINSTON GLOBAL ENERGY, LTD.
Inventor and entrepreneur Winston Chung firmly believes that combatting pollution and climate change is essential. A businessman from China, a country that American media often accuse of “stealing” jobs, Mr Chung, founder of the Winston Global Energy company, brings a message of hope to American workers, that technology can bring productivity, a cleaner environment - and growing prosperity. He doesn’t just talk about these subjects - he acts on them, which is why he was the only honoree from Asia to win one of this year’s prestigious South-South Awards, in his case for Corporate Social Responsibility for his pioneering work in renewable energy to combat global warming and and for his philanthropic efforts to support many schools. However the award is, above all, for his dominating passion, which is the creation of zeroemission power sources for vehicles, which not only improves the air we breathe, but reduces the global warming whose consequent climate change threatens sea level rise endangering billions of NEWSCHINA I November 2011
people in islands and low-lying areas - and as recent hurricanes suggest, many more inland. Mr Chung is eminently qualified for such an accolade. His work in the development and manufacture of the lithium-ion and rare earth batteries show how an entrepreneur can do good by doing well. Born in Guangdong as Hing Ka Chung and beginning as a scientific researcher, he has dedicated the last fifteen years to implementing his research industrially. From his base in Shenzhen he has expanded his operations to a global scale and is of course interested in the potential for the American market, where government and industry alike are now committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the huge vehicle fleet. “My battery is unique in its ability to provide large quantities of stable power, over long periods of time, without deterioration of the quality or quantity of the power over the life of the battery, “ explains Chung. “No other battery in existence performs as well, nor can any other battery meet the need for power storage in the 21st century. It
is the only workable solution for power storage needed in mobile off-grid applications and stationary on-grid applications. It is a technology that has a growing global impact.” Not only has he pioneered power sources for low carbon electric vehicles, he has pioneered employment creating schemes for low employment areas, saving factories about to be closed, turning them around and expanding them. While some American companies export jobs to China, Mr Chung has gone against the current - by building export markets in the People’s Republic for companies he has acquired and rescued in the USA In a recent interview Mr Chung envisaged over a hundred thousand jobs being created in the development and manufacture of batteries that can power vehicles of all kinds, even boats. His expansive vision, beyond mere profit-taking shows the way for both Chinese and American businesses. Written by Lan Williams, author and journalist
1 9/23/11 6:00 PM
Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Directors: Liu Beixian, Zhou Jianming Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui
One Step to Narrow the Urban-Rural Divide
ccording to a report released by the Chinese al, the solution can only come from the central govAcademy of Social Sciences (CASS) on Au- ernment. Not only should resources be channeled gust 3, urban residents in China earn, on into developing rural societies, but the free moveaverage, 3.23 times more than their rural counter- ment of people and goods between China’s diverse parts. In central and western China, urban residents regions must be officially sanctioned. earn on average four times more than people living Land, the only major resource controlled by in the countryside, giving China one of the largest China’s rural residents, has long been monopourban-rural income gaps in the world. lized by local governments and powerful urban The income gap itself is nothing new, and has corporations. In order to reverse the current been a fact of life in China for millennia. However, trend of land snatching, land development rights in post-economic reform China, the breadth of this gap, and its increasing scale, is the result of institutional arrangements which can be traced back Land, the only major resource to the launch of the planned economy controlled by China’s rural residents, of the 1950s when China used the has long been monopolized by local household registration (hukou) system governments and powerful urban to declare citizens either urban or rural, corporations. and determine their economic status accordingly. The urban-rural barrier not only prevents rural residents from permanent settlement in the cities, but also diverts social should be returned to the hands of the land’s ofresources, including welfare, to urban residents. The ficial owners – the rural habitants. In some arresult is an imbalanced rural society with a colossal eas, rural residents have spontaneously started population supported by few resources. In today’s to develop their own real estate industries to sell China, where rapid urbanization has resulted in and transfer land despite the illegality of such achundreds of millions of migrant workers flooding tions, in order to protect their only assets from into its expanding cities, the hukou system has re- being appropriated by the powers that be. mained in place, with these workers denied social In recognizing rural residents’ land rights, the services granted to urban residents. government needs to also give them the right Some experts have attributed the large urban- to develop and transfer the land it supposedly rural income gap to the underdevelopment of has given to them. Moreover, such an opening China’s industries, arguing that once industrializa- of the land market will allow rural communition reaches a certain tipping point, as happened ties to expand and take the pressure off China’s in industrialized nations in the North America and overstretched and polarizing megacities. Smaller, Europe, it will automatically lead to a redistribution manageable population centers would not only of wealth. But, in reality, this gap has only increased narrow the urban-rural income gap, it might also as China’s economy has grown. give rural residents a greater sense of belonging, As the root cause of the income gap is institution- independence, and responsibility.
Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Yang Yi Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Alex Taggart Lead Writer: Yu Xiaodong Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Sun Zhe, Li Jia First Reader: Wesley Jacks Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: email@example.com www.newschinamag.com Art Department Art Director: Philip Jones Photo Director/Illustrator: Wu Shangwen Marketing Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: Suite 1101, 15 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Toronto Office Director: Lai Hailong Address: 51 Halstead Drive, Markham, ON Canada L3R7Z4 Tel: 1-905-604-6150 Fax: 1-905-604-6170 Email: email@example.com Marketing Director for China: Wang Chenbo Account Manager for China: Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager for China: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director for the US: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter for the US: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Jing Xiaolin, Wei Xi, Sun Yuting Washington Office: Wu Qingcai, De Yongjian Los Angeles Office: Zhang Wei San Francisco Office: Liu Dan London Office: Wei Qun Tokyo Office: Sun Ran Paris Office: Wu Weizhong Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Zhao Shengyu Moscow Office: Tian Bing Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:44 PM
Till Debt Us Do Part
Photo by CFP/Cover Illustration by Wu Shangwen
A re-interpretation of China’s marriage statute aiming to counteract materialism may have the opposite effect, as couples across China struggle to secure their individual property rights. Will the move halt China’s snowballing divorce rate, or merely add new pressures to the institution of marriage?
02 One Step to Narrow the Urban-Rural Divide 10 23
Official Spokesperson: Truth Will Out Criminal Procedure Amendment: Whose Law is it Anyway?
12 Marriage Law: Home Economics/A Friend in Deed
25 28 30
Marrying Rich: The Gold Digger Academy ConocoPhillips Spill: There Won’t be Blood
Academicians: Martyr or Maverick? / Boffins with Benefits / Dishonorable Honors
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
36 China-UK Relationship: Quiet Partners
38 40 44
Yuan Goes Global: Pink Power Land Reform: Feed the People, Starve the Market Minsheng Takeover: Battle for a Bank
Residential Museum: Art Camp Animation Industry: Everything but the Soul
54 Sports System: Wild Olympians
04 05 06 08 45 66 68 70 71 72
MEDIA FOCUS WHAT THEY SAY NEWS BRIEF NETIZEN WATCH CHINA BY NUMBERS REAL CHINESE ESSAY CULTURAL LISTINGS COMMERICAL LISTINGS COMMENTARY
58 Reviving Minqin County: Oasis on the Edge 60 Schooled Out 64 67
Anye Machin: Where Nature Listens Flavor of the Month: Dough-Faced
3 9/23/11 5:20 PM
China Economic Weekly
NewsChina Chinese Edition September 26, 2011
August 23, 2011
One More Child An Imminent Danger Between 1950 and 1980, China went through a painful process of breakneck industrialization, one feature of which was the construction of colossal dams, symbols of industrial might, across the nation, making Chinese rivers the most dammed on earth. Of the 870,000 dams currently in service, few have been constructed since the 1980s, and most have already exceeded their projected lifespan by up to a decade. The central government has initiated an extensive plan to “rescue” these aging dams, 40,000 of which have been named in imminent danger of breach in the next five years. The rescue can’t come soon enough for those living in the shadow of these vast projects. Xinmin Weekly August 31, 2011
Red Dramas in Vogue As per State mandate, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China this year has been marked with an explosion of historical TV dramas and revolutionary movies. Dubbed “red dramas,” the genre reaches back into the propaganda films of the 1950s, with the added modern glitz of major movie and music stars in leading roles to lure in the younger generation. While to outsiders these “new” red dramas seem as much like propaganda as anything produced in Mao’s China, some subtle changes, such as the “humanization” of the genre’s previous archetypes – most notably the KMT “bad guys,” has shown a certain blurring of “red lines,” edging these productions a little closer to historical accuracy.
Guangdong province has recently applied to the central government for permission to carry out a social experiment allowing parents in that province to have a second child. The news has rekindled debate over the future of the One Child Policy, which has remained in place for 30 years. The rise of China’s middle class, as well as the development of an aging society, has strengthened domestic advocacy for the right to have more than one child.
Southern People Weekly September 16, 2011
Fair Writer To generations born in China between the 1950s and the 1970s, Taiwanese actress Lin Qingxia was their very own Elizabeth Taylor. Discovered by talent scouts in the early 1970s after graduating from high school, Lin starred in more than 50 movies in one remarkable seven-year span, most of which were romantic tearjerkers. In later years, especially in the 1990s, she broke into the revived martial arts genre as well as dabbling in art cinema, adapting her acting style accordingly. She later retired from the film industry to get married and raise a family, but has recently returned to the public eye, not with a new motion picture, but rather a book of her collected essays about people, life and love taken from her works as a columnist in Taiwan.
Oriental Outlook September 13, 2011
Assessing the USA Blue Paper on the United States, an annual report into America’s national strength and its international status has been released for the first time by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). “How we assess America’s national strength and its future development will determine the way we communicate with her,” said Ni Feng, one of the paper’s editors. After the 2008 financial crisis, many in China started to believe that US supremacy was on the wane. However, this new book echoes sentiments frequently heard from China’s foreign policy experts, asserting that, when seen from multiple angles including its politics, history, economics and public support, the USA will remain top dog for the foreseeable future. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:45 PM
Illustration by Wu Shangwen
“Twenty years ago, Chinese people rushed overseas to escape poverty at home. Now they come back to make their fortunes while calling it patriotism. China is the world’s least principled nation, and thus the best place to strike it rich.” Writer Chen Xiwo on his microblog. “The absence of movies reflecting these changing times can be partly attributed to the censorship system. “ Director Feng Xiaogang at a Party summit convened to discuss reforming China’s State-controlled cultural sphere.
“Rumors are positive when they compel people to find the truth. If we stopped tolerating any and all rumors, nobody would dare to speak.” Wuhuan University professor Shen Yang defends what the government calls “rumormongering”microblogs.
“The most lucrative way for an economist to sell his soul is to speak for the government. It’s the shortcut to officialdom in China.” Respected economist Mao Yushi decries dishonesty in his profession.
“There’s no way a new policy will mean all microblogs disappear in 20 years. By then, a new medium will have come along. One year in Internet circles is equal to seven years in other industries.” Sina vice-CEO Chen Tong explains why he believes the microblog is free from political risk.
“In world history, it has been almost unheardof for hidden rules to trump official rules in every field, and for corruption to engulf every existing industry. But [in China], even the smallest modicum of power can be turned into profit.” Angel investor Xue Manzi on the obstacles to doing business in China, in an interview with Southern People Weekly.
“You Are on the Plateau was read by 10 of the 61 judges, but received 58 votes. Are they awarding the author’s work, or his credentials?” Chen Yongxin, editor-in-chief of literary periodical Harvest, in response to the winner of this year’s Mao Dun Literary Prize.
“I was tricked by the Libyan people. They could give professional performers a good run for their money.” Strategy research director of National Defense University Zhang Zhaozhong blames his failure to correctly predict the victory of the Libyan rebels on false claims of support for Gaddafi from Libyans he had spoken with.
“It’s a strange country in which condom advertising is forbidden, while mainstream TV networks run commercials for abortion clinics. Evidently, [in China], abortion is more palatable to the public than contraception.” Critic Wei Dei on his microblog. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
5 9/23/11 4:45 PM
Gutter Oil Seized Chinese police have launched a six month nationwide crackdown on the sale and purchase of “gutter oil” in a belated acknowledgement of widespread media reports into the filtering of carcinogenic waste oil from restaurant drains and its resale on the open market. The media campaign began in March when Shandong police investigated a local biotech company that had allegedly “refined” edible oil from kitchen waste. The investigation soon expanded into Zhejiang, Sichuan and Henan provinces, leading to the arrest of 32 people on suspicion of selling over 100 tons of gutter oil to restaurants. Confessions obtained by police have indicated that the oil was sold as “ricegerm” oil, or even re-labeled as a well-known brand to hoodwink consumers. Use of the reconstituted oil, which only receives minimal processing to remove food particles, has been linked to abdominal pain and diarrhea, with long-term believed to lead to developmental disabilities as well as intestinal and gastric cancer.
An underground plant processes gutter oil, Hefei, April 2011
The belated response of food safety authorities and police to this widespread scam has been criticized in the State media. The legal status of those handling the oil is also in dispute. Since it can be used in biofuels,Wang Weibiao, managing director of the Ministry of Public Security, explained that it does not constitute a crime to purchase raw gutter oil so long as it is not used in food, making prosecutions difficult to secure.
Those arrested in connection to the scandal have claimed that government policy, which outlaws the sale of biofuels at gas stations, is at fault. The police have reportedly called on the government to issue criteria for the classification of gutter oil, as well as supporting the production and retail of biodiesel as an alternative fuel, while keeping carcinogenic waste oil out of the nation’s food.
China Loses Tire Case The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced on September 5 that it does not violate WTO rules for the US to impose “protective duty” on imported Chinese tires, marking the end of a two-year conflict between China and the US. The case began in September 2009 when the Obama administration announced the introduction of an ad valorem duty on about 21 million imported Chinese tires in the following three years. The measure was designed to protect American tire makers from being squeezed out of the market by a flood of cheap Chinese tires, decried as pro-
Confessions obtained by police have indicated that the oil was sold as “ricegerm” oil, or even re-labeled as a wellknown brand to hoodwink consumers.
Poverty: A Human Rights Violation?
tectionism by Beijing, which lodged a formal complaint with the WTO. Chinese analysts are worried that China’s final defeat in the case will urge other countries to implement so called anti-dumping measures on Chinese imports. It is believed about 30 Chinese tire companies have had to reduce or halt production following the ruling, with about 100,000 workers facing redundancy.
On September 8, the China Society for Human Rights issued its first Development Report, China’s first ever blue paper discussing the state of human rights in the country. This blue paper, as editor-in-chief Li Junru claimed at the launch press conference, examines associated theory, practice and the outlook for human rights in China “from an academic perspective.” The main text contains few surprises, its rubric broadly in line with government priorities, and defines the violation of human rights accordingly. The text places special emphasis on poverty, claiming that natural disasters, disease, environmental pollution and the widening income gap is pushing Chinese citizens back below the poverty line. The book calls for a more stringent anti-poverty law, shifting focus away from GDP and towards general quality of life. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:45 PM
An overcrowded commercial ferry that capsized and sank in Shaoyang, central Hunan Province, leaving at least 12 people dead, has proven embarrassing for the local government. According to official sources, the boat, designed to carry a maximum of 14 people, collided with an underwater steel cable. The same sources claimed that 50 passengers were on board at the time of the sinking, though survivor testimony has disputed this number, with some claiming that as many as 90 people were crammed onto the deck. Most of the passengers were students from a nearby elementary school returning home for the mid-Autumn holiday. State media reports said the government had pledged 50,000 yuan (US$7,353) compensation for each affected family, while police have detained the owner of the boat. Three officials, including the vice-mayor of Shaoyang County, have been removed from their posts as a result of the disaster.
BYD Sheds 70% of Sales Team BYD, China’s largest new-energy car manufacturer, has come under fire after a whistleblower exposed plans to reduce its sales team from 2,700 to 800 employees. State media have confirmed the report, adding that BYD has fired its entire marketing department and is set to massively reduce sales personnel since a drop in sales began last year. Insiders also revealed that the layoffs are done by stealth – forcibly relocating staff members from white-collar jobs to the production line – an illegal way of sidestepping severance pay by forcing employees to resign once they are pushed into a low-paid, manual job. BYD’s new line of economical vehicles saw the company’s sales volume soar in its first two years by selling cost-effective cars, but blind expansion and rising domestic
competition has left the company reeling from substantial losses in 2011. According to the company’s mid-year report, BYD’s net profit has decreased by nearly 90 percent since last year, with its stock price dropping to HK$15.36 (US$1.97) from a high of HK$85.5 (US$10.96) in 2010.
Fujian’s Financial Crisis As a growing number of enterprises turn to private financing to fight against the central bank’s policy of shrinking loans to ease inflation, a mini financial collapse in Fujian province has shaken this nascent industry. Xu Huo, the richest financier in Anxi, Fujian Province, has reportedly fled to Southeast Asia, leaving behind debts of some 300 million yuan (US$44m), eviscerating the industry he supported. According to State media, Xu operated a local credit company for ten years, earning huge profits by borrowing low-interest sums from banks and individual investors before re-lending the same sums to small enterprises at four or five times the interest. Most of Xu’s creditors are local millionaires, with the Anxi Industrial and Commerce Bank the biggest victim of the scam after loaning 50 million yuan (US$7.4m) to Xu. Police have so far failed to locate the sum. Economists are now warning that China could face its own homegrown subprime lending crisis if these underground loan sharks cannot be reined in.
Chinese billionaire Huang Nübo turned heads worldwide after his announcement in early September that he would spend US$8.8 million purchasing land in Iceland. China’s 161th richest man, Huang said his real estate company Zhongkun Group plans to build a holiday resort catering to Chinese tourists. Iceland’s government expressed their support for the purchase, hoping the huge investment will ease the country’s severe financial crisis, but many have also worried that NEWSCHINA I November 2011
the purchase, which would put 0.3 percent of Iceland’s total land area in Huang’s hands, constitutes a risk to national security. Foreign media have also raised the prospect of the strategic involvement of the Chinese government in the deal, hoping to gain influence over Iceland’s biggest glacial river and a deepwater port. While Huang denies the allegations, claiming that the investment is purely a result of his company’s long-term business plan.
China’s Rich to ‘Purchase Iceland’
7 9/23/11 4:45 PM
What’s Making China Sad?
What’s Making China Angry? Li Tianyi, the 15-year-old son of a famous Chinese army major general, viciously attacked a couple following a traffic dispute. Li, a graduate of a US hockey academy, was driving an unregistered BMW without a drivers license when the couple’s Buick turned left without signaling, which irritated the teenager. Li and his friend viciously beat the couple while yelling “Who dares call the police?” at passersby. A public outcry led Li senior to appear at the hospital where his son’s victims were being treated for head injuries, along with two bodyguards who busied themselves dispersing journalists. Despite the couple agreeing not to pursue criminal charges, Li Tianyi has been sent to a juvenile correctional facility for a year.
Li and his friend viciously beat the couple while yelling “Who dares call the police?” at passersby.
What’s Shocking China? Wu Zhiming, a top official of Central China’s Jiangxi Province who was caught in bed with two mistresses, composed personal profiles of a grand total of 136 women along with samples of their pubic hair. In the diaries leaked online, Wu expressed resolve to bed 1,000 women in three “five-year plans”, one third of whom had to be “decent married women.”
Most Circulated Post on Sina-Weibo 111,962 times
An image of a young boy selling flowers was posted on Weibo by a blogger travelling in Kunming, Yunnan Province, after he spotted the boy grabbing the hands of passersby, yelling “I want to go home.” Child trafficking has become commonplace in southern China, and is a common topic of discussion among online activists. 8 P1-11_Nov_2011.indd 8
Three pupils from a school in Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province, attempted suicide on September 18 when they found a homework assignment impossible to complete. The three schoolboys held hands and jumped off a building after failing to complete the assignment even after skipping school in order to work on it. All three sustained serious injuries. The school principal called the incident “rare.”
Poll the People 19,386 respondents After a traffic camera caught a man resting his hand on his partner’s breast while driving in Mianyang, Sichuan Province and the resulting image was posted online by the traffic regulation department. Does this violate privacy?
Definitely yes, traffic video records should not be publicized 14,952 (75%) No, the man’s actions were indecent and he deserves to be shamed 1,203 (6%) Not really, the man was driving dangerously 3,591 (19%)
Source: www.weibo.com NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:46 PM
W ho ’s Ho t?
TOP BLOGGER PROFILE Godfather to the Disadvantaged With 1.06 million followers on Weibo, 49-year-old Yu Jianrong is one of the Chinese blogosphere’s most active and influential academics. A criminal lawyer turned rural studies researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Yu has, since 2004, embarked on a one-man-campaign to abolish China’s archaic petition system, adopted by local governments to harass would-be social activists. Countless petitioners appear at Yu’s door on a daily basis, seeking justice for their demolished houses, illegally imprisoned relatives or other government abuses. Yu has also launched a project on Weibo to rescue trafficked children and provide schoolbooks for rural youngsters.
The 3rd People’s Hospital of Shanghai “The Shaoyang Boys” Five teenagers who dove into a river to rescue female classmates after an overloaded ferry capsized in Shaoyang, Hunan.
The hospital left a patient under anesthesia in an operating theater during a fire. The patient, who was undergoing an amputation, died from smoke inhalation.
Top Five Search Queries over the seven days to August 18
Gutter Oil Cooking oil “recycled” from restaurant drains and resold (91,347)
Ningma Expressway Accident A bus hit a cement mixer on the Ningma express highway in East China’s Anhui Province, killing nine and injuring 27 (77,944)
Li Yang President of the iconic Crazy English training school, accused of violently abusing his American wife (74,593)
Inspiring Brother An “ugly” young man who posted a picture of himself with his attractive girlfriend, “giving hope” to China’s growing number of single men (69,408)
Beemer Town Shiji, an underdeveloped town which nevertheless has streets crammed with fancy cars in Jiangsu Province. Most of the town’s nouveau riche made their fortune through pyramid schemes and loan-sharking (66,115)
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
“Umbrella Girl” An unnamed girl was photographed sharing her umbrella with a crippled beggar during a rainstorm in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu, while bystanders sheltered under nearby eaves.
Nanjing Police In a botched attempt to rescue two hostages held by a suspected murderer, Nanjing armed police shot one hostage in the face before firing a second bullet which merely grazed the suspect’s neck. Both hostages survived, and the suspect was eventually caught alive.
W ho ’s No t?
9 9/23/11 4:46 PM
POLITICS Official Spokespeople
Truth Won’t Out
China’s government spokespeople are supposed to facilitate communication between the government and the public. However, with few allowed full command of the facts due to government restrictions, many find themselves the target of public anger By Li Jingrui, Wang Quanbao and Peng Xirui
n the aftermath of the deadly Wenzhou train collision accident on July 23, Wang Yongping, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Railways (MOR), was removed from his post on August 16. In announcing Wang’s removal, the MOR stressed that this was a routine change of personnel and that Wang had been transferred to an overseas post in Warsaw, Poland, as part of China’s involvement in a multilateral railroad organization of mainly former Eastern-bloc states. However, many believe that Wang’s dismissal was a result of his poor performance at a press conference immediately in the wake of the accident, when public anger over government stonewalling about the death toll and rescue effort was at its peak. Not only was Wang seen smiling during the press conference, but his answers were at best evasive and at worst outright lies. When asked why the railway authorities had buried smashed train cars while corpses remained inside of them, Wang said he’d been told this was to make way for rescue workers. When a journalist asked him point-blank whether he believed this explanation or not, Wang’s response of “Whether you believe it or not, I do,” was greeted with derision both from reporters and online. When asked why, after authorities had declared that all survivors had been accounted for, a little girl was found alive inside a smashed train car by local rescue workers who had defied orders to cease searching, Wang declared it “a miracle.” Soon, Wang was the main target of public fury.
While many welcomed Wang’s removal, State media have expressed concern that his departure may lead to a curtailment of the spokesperson system and, consequently, a regression in the government’s policy of in-
creased transparency. China’s current government spokesperson system was initiated in 2003 after the catastrophic failure of the Ministry of Public Health to cover up the spread of SARS in mainland China. In the aftermath of the crisis, the central government established a spokesperson at the Ministry of Public Health, approved to release information concerning the epidemic on a daily basis. Drawing on experiences during the SARS crisis, the central government introduced the spokesperson system across all ministries and central agencies in the following year as a means to promote transparency and better manage public anger. By the end of 2004, 75 spokespeople had been put in place in 69 ministries and agencies. However, there is evidence that many of these positions are merely symbolic. According to the Southern Metropolis newspaper, 19 government spokespeople have never spoken to the media since being appointed. “In my three years of covering legal affairs, I have never even seen the spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice,” one journalist who chose to remain anonymous told NewsChina. Those that do participate in press conferences are often singled out for criticism, even ridicule. Another journalist our reporter spoke to said that a spokesperson often functions as a buffer, rather than a conduit for information. “Sometimes, after a minister has already agreed to an interview, a spokesperson will obstruct it on the grounds of “propriety,” he said. Some spokespeople have even been known to contact journalists following a press conference to ask them to withhold information during the event. Such managing of information remains standard practice in China’s State-controlled media environment. Access to official press
conferences is often confined to a number of State-run media outlets. Even in more open press conferences attended by foreign media, spokespeople regularly refuse to take questions, and merely recite official statements already released in print. Journalists have nicknamed these press conferences “closed-door conferences” and “paper release conferences.” The outpouring of sympathy toward Wang Yongping, while confusing to the general public, has been reflected throughout China’s media. “Among all the spokespeople of central agencies, Wang was among the few who dared to speak. Instead of surrounding himself with security guards and taking to his heels after a press conference like most others do, Wang always tried to answer the media’s questions,” wrote Guo Xiangkai, a Beijingbased blogger and journalist. Guo, like many sympathetic reporters, attributed Wang’s inarticulate performance at the Wenzhou press conference to the constraints of his job, which not only limited his access to information but also his ability to speak freely. “It is tragic that the few spokespeople who dare to speak out are the ones who get punished,” Guo added. Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), regarded as one of China’s few active and outspoken spokespeople, told NewsChina that the Information Office of the State Council held a seminar on August 23 for all ministry-level spokespeople to “learn the lessons of recent news conferences” and to “offer suggestions for the improvement of the spokesperson system.” Huang, an advocate for giving government spokespeople greater freedom to communicate information, admits that spokespeople often become sacrificial lambs when a PR crisis hits the central government. Being a NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:46 PM
Photo by Zhao Jun
Wang Yongping waves to reporters as he leaves an official press conference following the deadly high-speed train accident, July 26, 2011
vice-ministerial level official, Huang said he felt no pressure from within the SAWS when speaking to the media. “However, in other agencies, spokespeople may be lower-ranking officials who are often denied access to important information,” he told our reporter. “The result is that the spokesperson can only speak superficially.” Professor Yu Guoming of Renmin University, who oversaw the training program for central-agency spokespeople a few years ago, shares Huang’s view that better-informed and empowered spokespeople would be of direct benefit both to the public and the government. Yu told NewsChina that the problem with the current system is there is no clear responsibility and evaluation system for spokespeople. “When spokespeople can conceal the truth with impunity but be disciplined for candor, of course they’ll speak less,” he said. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Professor Shi Anbin from Tsinghua University, who served in a similar role to Yu, believes that the practice of appointing officials, rather than hiring media professionals as spokespeople results in baffled responses to media questioning. “In the era of the microblog, the system lags behind the times,” Shi told NewsChina.
Truth over All
However, many believe that the real problems lie beyond the spokesperson system itself. “The spokesperson system is merely an accessory of the political system, and any reform will only scratch the surface,” said Hu Yong, associate professor of communications at Peking University. “In the final analysis, it is a matter of government transparency.” Hu’s view has even been echoed by the spokespeople themselves. “Government
transparency cannot be achieved by government spokespeople alone,” said Ni Shouming, former spokesman for the People’s Supreme Court. Hu believes that, at the end of the day, spokespeople are accountable to officials, not the public. With Wang Yongping constrained by the government’s attempts to cover up the extent of the Wenzhou disaster, he was reduced to blindly defending his superiors or claiming ignorance by the probing questions of journalists, many of whom were better informed about the scale of the disaster than Wang himself. “Regardless of how good one’s communication skills are or how well one can handle a public relations crisis, the guiding principle for any spokesperson should be loyalty to the truth,” said Professor Wang Junchao from Tsinghua University. “Without facts, any press conference will be a failure.”
9/23/11 4:46 PM
TILL DEB T US DO PAR T
12 P12-21_Nov_2011.indd 12
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:47 PM
Will a conv clarified parti enience, o marriage up w es? Is Chi r further statute n s mista ith the W aâ€™s appro disenfran pell the e re-in kes? New est, or sim ach to m chise the nd to ma the f terpreted sChina e ply repe arriage c most fin rriages o at uture xp a f a m of m arriage lores wh ting its ching ncially vu arria lnera ge in law mean at the ble Chin s f or a.
Photo by Zhao Kang/CFP
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
13 9/23/11 4:47 PM
t will corrupt Chinese people’s view on love and marriage, and lead to materialism,” warned the China Youth Daily newspaper, as the People’s Supreme Court released its new interpretation of China’s 31-yearold marriage law on August 12. Ironically, it is that very materialism that the change is intended to tackle. Effective immediately on August 13, the new interpretation aims to protect homeowners by specifying that real estate purchased by one party will be considered the sole property of that party, rather than common property, following a divorce.
HOME ECONO Changes to China’s marriage law aim to deal with increasing materialism among young Chinese. Will they be effective? By Yu Xiaodong
14 P12-21_Nov_2011.indd 14
Explaining the re-interpretation, Sun Jungong, spokesperson for the People’s Supreme Court, told the media that rather than a change in principle, it is an “adjustment” aimed at solving confusion in court rulings over divorce disputes. However, with skyrocketing real estate prices and divorce rates, this is no small tweak. Once stigmatized in Chinese society, divorce is now commonplace. In 2010, a total of 2.68 million divorces were recorded, twice the figure seen in 2003. The number of divorces per 1,000 people has risen from 0.4 in 1985 to 1.85 in 2009, more than a fourfold increase. The divorce rate in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai is even higher, with 35-38 divorces filed for every 100 marriages in the first quarter of 2011. It has long been held that that the increase in the divorce rate is a result of increased financial prosperity and a more liberal culture among the younger generation of Chinese, granting people much more personal freedom than before – a trend similar to that seen in Western countries in the 1960s. But sociologists argue that China’s is a unique social context – rising divorce statistics are part of a vicious circle perpetuated by materialism and real estate prices. Alongside rapid economic growth, China has seen a massive overhaul of its social values, with many traditional beliefs, including those concerning love and marriage, under serious pressure. As society sets its sights on economic progress, a decidedly businesslike attitude toward marriage has become prevalent. “I would rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle,” said Ma Nuo, a contestant on a popular TV dating show, to a penniless suitor. Ma’s harsh words have since become iconic, epitomizing the materialistic view of marriage common among young Chinese people. A survey of 21,694 singles in major cities conNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:47 PM
ducted by matchmaking website jiayuan.com released on Valentine’s Day this year revealed that 63 percent of women did not see any problem with the attitude of “material girls” like Ma, while 75 percent of men – breadwinners in the vast majority of Chinese marriages – were “disgusted” at the young woman’s views. Similarly, a popular view circulated on various online forums compares choosing a husband to choosing a stock, with men classified as either blue chip stock (successful), stock with potential (men likely to become successful), or “junk bonds” (worthless). If picking a man with potential seems like too much of a risk, finding a man who owns a house has increasingly become the benchmark for single females when scouting potential husbands. To a large extent, owning a house has become a prerequisite for finding a wife in China. In a survey conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation and matchmaking website baihe.com, 70.8 percent of female respondents said that they would only marry someone who owned a house. Less than 30 percent of women would be willing to enter a so-called “naked marriage,” a popular term for couples who get married despite not owning a house or a car. The prerequisite is so rigid that well-known real estate developer Ren Zhiqiang has jokingly blamed mothers-in-law for driving up real estate prices due to their unyielding requirement that their would-be sons-in-law own a house before marriage.
While economic tensions between couples are the root cause of the rising divorce rate, the situation is worsened by what some are calling a decline in moral values. In recent decades, as the country’s jarring economic transition has put money into the hands of ordinary Chinese, infidelity has also crept back into daily life, particularly among men. In fact, taking a mistress is now so common that two new terms ernai (“second wife”) and xiaosan (“little third”) have been added to the common Chinese lexicon. While “second wife” specifically refers to the mistresses of the wealthy who are usually provided with their own house and do not seek marriage, “little third” often refers to mistresses of ordinary people, who have the potential to replace the wife. Considering these circumstances, rising materialism is unquestionably linked to the divorce rate. Dou Wentao, a presenter on Hong Kong’s NEWSCHINA I November 2011
15 9/23/11 4:47 PM
Photo by Anxin/CFP
Left: “Buy a house from us, we give you a car. Having a house and a car is the way to go under the amended marriage law,” writes a real estate advertisement in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Right: A wife stops her husband’s car on the street, trying to settle a property dispute with him after their divorce in Chongqing on August 10, 2011
16 P12-21_Nov_2011.indd 16
Phoenix TV, has provided an economic allegory for materialistic marriages in China: “This kind of marriage is a deal where men exchange wealth and social status with women, in return for their looks and attractiveness. As women’s looks depreciate faster than men’s, men are required to compensate their depreciation with wealth upon divorce.” In his view, it is these differing rates of depreciation that cause problems between materialistic couples. In a Nankai University survey of 1,073 couples in 10 big cities married within the last three years, wealth, political power and professional achievement were ranked as the three most important factors when judging the “quality” of a marriage. In the same survey, 22.5 percent of husbands and 24.6 percent of wives said that in retrospect, they believed they had married the wrong person. “When wealth becomes a major criterion for success, both the successful and those striving to be successful become anxious, and this is a silent killer of marriages,” said Gu Xiaoming, a history professor of Shanghai’s Fudan University. While unmarried men live in anxiety, women who prefer wealthy men have their own worries about the increased likelihood that their powerful paramours will be unfaithful, and those men for their part may also be paranoid that women are out to get their money. According to the People’s Supreme Court, 1.16 million divorce suits were filed in 2010, a staggering rate of 3,190 per day, with many cou-
ples divorcing after less than three years of marriage. With the right to walk away with half of a man’s property, young women have been given a financial incentive to be materialistic, thus completing the vicious circle. It comes as no surprise that disputes over real estate have been on the rise.
The More Things Change
With the new guidelines, it appears that the courts intended to break the circle by removing real estate disputes from divorce proceedings. Now, many women are becoming concerned over the prospect of “naked divorces,” meaning losing all of their property following a separation. Despite its pragmatic intentions, there is concern that the change in the marriage law will bring nothing but new complications, causing singles to become more materialistic by encouraging them to think more shrewdly about property ownership prior to marriage. Under the influence of traditional Confucian values that discourage openly linking marital affairs with financial considerations, couples are usually unwilling to engage in frank discussion regarding ownership of property. The result is that traditionally, few couples establish any sort of prenuptial agreement prior to marriage. Following the release of the new interpretation, not only have local real estate authorities been overrun with home owners keen to add their spouse’s name to title deeds, it is reported NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:48 PM
In Quotes “It’s easier for a man to have an affair, and the costs of his disloyalty would be too small if the woman does not own half of his property. But women should not expect to rely on a man, and they’d better work hard for themselves.” Yang Ya, 25, female, securities lawyer in Shenzhen who owns her own apartment
Photo by Tanghao/CFP
“Personally, I support the new law as it will protect the property rights of both sides of the couple, but considering the current social environment, I’m afraid it might cause distrust between couples.”
that the number of prenuptial agreements signed by Chinese couples has been on the rise. However, some are concerned that this somewhat forceful encouragement may unsettle the married and lead divorce rates to increase further. In a survey of over 10,000 people conducted by Xinmin Weekly, over 60 percent of respondents said the new guidelines would likely upset the harmony between married couples, while 47 percent predicted it would lead to a higher divorce rate, and 23 percent said it would make people more reluctant to get married. Lin Peng, a 34-year-old Beijing-based art curator, recently split up with his girlfriend as his would-be mother-in-law asked him to list her daughter as co-owner of his house. For Lin, this proved a bridge too far, as he just divorced with his ex-wife last year after only one year of marriage. “It is pathetic that nowadays you have to consider the consequences of divorce prior to marriage,” Lin told NewsChina. Lin’s case suggests that by encouraging people to clarify the stake they have in their property prior to a marriage, the new guidelines may ironically end up promoting materialism within marriage, exactly contrary to its intension. For Gu Jun, a professor of sociology from Shanghai University, the People’s Supreme Court has gone too far. “Ideally, women would not marry for material gain, but rising materialism has its own social background. As an effort to regulate morality through legal measures, [this move] is doomed to fail,” Gu said. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Qu Yiyi, a 31-year-old single girl in Beijing who lives with her parents
“I once told a date that I would like my future husband to be able to face all difficulties in life like a man should. He immediately asked me how much I expected him to earn. He couldn’t believe I didn’t equate everything with money, which is pathetic. I still believe that what really matters is love.” Huan Huan, 30, female, marketing professional from Chongqing
“On my mother’s insistence, I didn’t marry my husband until eight years after we fell in love, when he finally agreed to sign a prenuptial agreement that the apartment purchased by his family would belong to me if we were to get divorced. I know it’s unfair, but marriage is not a fairy tale. Unlike marriage, which can go wrong, a house will always stand stable and reliable. It gives me a sense of security.” Lang Qing, 31, female, from Hangzhou
“Since my wife is ahead of me in almost every aspect, including family financial background, career and academic history, her mother strongly opposed our marriage, worrying that her only daughter would lead a poor life after marriage. The apartment may be my only way to show my sincerity.” Cao Liang, 31, husband of Lang Qing
“The new marriage law is a slap in the face of gold-diggers. Now, marrying a rich man does not mean they can take their husbands’ property – I think rich men will definitely sign over their property to their parents.” Li Miao, 26, male, single entrepreneur from Beijing
17 9/23/11 4:48 PM
COVER STORY Marriage Law
FRIEND IN DEED
A controversial change to China’s marriage law has raised concerns that it fails to protect women’s rights
Photo by CFP
By Yu Xiaodong
18 P12-21_Nov_2011.indd 18
Song Yahong, ex-wife of Du Shuanghua, Shandong Province’s richest man, talks to her divorce lawyer on July 21, 2011
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:48 PM
or several months, Nanjing resident Zhu Li has been waiting for a court ruling in her divorce from her unfaithful husband. She expected to receive half of their house’s value in the settlement. But everything changed when the People’s Supreme Court released a re-interpretation of China’s marriage law on August 12, a guideline for court rulings that became effective the following day. Specifying, among other things, that whoever paid for a couple’s house will own the property following a divorce, the change has raised concerns that its distinctly pro-male slant may lead to a reduced protection of women’s rights in an already male-dominated society.
Protecting the Parents
Among the various clauses in the new guideline, the least controversial may be the specification that a house paid for by one’s parents and registered entirely under his or her name should be considered an endowment to the offspring only, and should be treated as individual instead of common property upon divorce. “To divide a house parents buy for their children is often against their original intention, and could result in the loss of family property,” explained Sun Jungong, spokesperson for the People’s Supreme Court, adding that the court had canvassed more than 10,000 public opinions before making its decision. In a country where owning a house is often a prerequisite for marriage, skyrocketing real estate prices have forced many young Chinese, in most cases men, to turn to their parents for help. However, with an equally high divorce rate, many parents are concerned that their hardearned investment may disappear overnight. Ding Lixin, a 60-year-old mother from Qingdao, welcomes the change. She told NewsChina that she spent 1.2 million yuan (US$187,000), NEWSCHINA I November 2011
most of her savings, to buy a house for her 32-year-old son last year, hoping he would get married soon. “No good girl will want to marry him without a house,” Ding said. But she insisted her son sign an IOU for the value of the house. “I don’t expect my son to pay me back, but in case his future wife divorces him recklessly, we will still be able to keep the house for him. Nowadays, you never know what the younger generation will do with their marriage.” With the new interpretation, it seems parents like Ding will no longer have to worry about this problem.
While protecting the hard-earned retirement funds of seniors is understandable, the court’s change of position on the division of real estate purchased by the couple themselves within a marriage has proven to be highly contested. According to one clause in the new interpretation, following a divorce, real estate property paid for within marriage by one party only will be considered the personal property of that party. In cases where the other party has shared the mortgage, they will only be reimbursed their original payment along with proportional interest. It is widely interpreted that the clause is intended to fight materialism among young Chinese by minimizing the prospect of obtaining wealth through marriage and divorce. However, in a society that remains male-dominated, the change could be considered a move by an equally male-dominant court to protect men’s interests. “The change has no impact on my life, but I feel insulted as it assumes that all women marry for money,” Zhang Huanxin, a 35-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing. “It may prevent materialistic girls from obtaining wealth through marriage, but at the price of sacrificing the
We teach the girls how to greet their superiors at the dinner table, how to taste wine, and how to find the perfect place to sit in a coffee shop, so as to best highlight their beauty.” The Gold Digger Academy, page 25
19 9/23/11 4:48 PM
COVER STORY Number of Registered Marriages and Divorces in China (in Millions) 12 Marriage Divorce
0 ‘86 ‘87 ‘88 ‘89 ‘90 ‘91 ‘92 ‘93 ‘94 ‘95 ‘96 ‘97 ‘98 ‘99 ‘00 ‘01 ‘02 ‘03 ‘04 ‘05 ‘06 ‘07 ‘08 ‘09 ‘10
20 P12-21_Nov_2011.indd 20
rights of other innocent women.” Many legal practitioners are also concerned about the change. “The new interpretation appears to be fair, at least in a monetary sense, but the lack of a protection mechanism for the weak and those without fault in the overall marriage system means it serves the interests of those better off,” Zhou Weiwei, a lawyer specializing in marital affairs from the Beijing-based Juntai law firm told NewsChina. Zhou points out that in lawsuits involving domestic violence and infidelity, the courts often fail to support the claim of the victims, who are predominantly female, due to difficulties in collecting evidence in these cases. Most legal experts argue that factors such as the marriage’s duration and whether or not the couple has children should be taken into consideration. “The new interpretation is overly technical and calculating, ignoring many social factors involved in marriage,” Ma Yinan, vice-president of the Academy of Marriage and Family Law of
China told NewsChina. It seems that such concerns are well founded; on August 24, the first court ruling on a divorce case based on the new interpretation, which involved both domestic violence and infidelity, was metered out in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. Despite being granted the custody of their 2-yearold son, the wife only obtained 97,000 yuan (US$15,000), or about 9 percent of the value of their disputed assets, including half the cost of their family vehicle and the mortgage payments she had contributed to the house, which is listed under her ex-husband’s name. “The new guidelines sweep aside the last obstacle to men being unfaithful,” said Shu Ran, an outraged female writer and blogger, who argued that without the risk of a costly divorce, men are given the option of consequence-free infidelity. Conversely, the new re-interpretation has increased the cost of being unfaithful for women. According to a clause on paternity tests, the court will support the claim of any party who NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:49 PM
Number of Marriages and Divorces per 1,000 People in China and the US
q Property purchased by one party’s parents prior to marriage and registered solely under the name of that party should not be considered common property but the individual property of that party upon divorce.
q Property purchased by one party prior to marriage, with a downpayment paid by one party but mortgage payments paid by both parties should not be considered common property, but individual property of the party who paid the downpayment in the event of divorce. Meanwhile, that party must repay the share of the mortgage paid by the other party, and compensate him/her for the increase in its value proportional to the house’s value.
Chinese Marriage Chinese Divorce US Marriage US Divorce
q The court should not support a husband’s claims for compensation when his wife unilaterally terminates a pregnancy .
Major Changes to China’s Marriage Law
‘87 ‘88 ‘89 ‘90 ‘91 ‘92 ‘93 ‘94 ‘95 ‘96 ‘97 ‘98 ‘99 ‘00 ‘01 ‘02 ‘03 ‘04 ‘05 ‘06 ‘07 ‘08 ‘09 ‘10 Source: The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (US), The Ministry of Civil Affairs (China)
requests a test even if the other party does not consent to it. It is estimated that out of all the paternity tests carried out in China, about 80 percent are requested by men. With only 20 percent of all tests exposing infidelity, it is argued that the clause may encourage more husbands to file for the tests, which may jeopardize marriages regardless of the results.
Development or Regression
Judicial officials and some legal experts argue that despite the possible side effects, the change is a step in the right direction, and that it encourages people to clarify the financial aspect of their marriage before the fact, which would lead to better protection of rights for both husbands and wives further down the road. “The negative impact can easily be prevented by adding the other party’s name to the property ownership certificate. The new change does not prohibit this, and it is routine in many countries,” said Professor Zhou Yanfu from Liaoning NEWSCHINA I November 2011
q If one party files for paternity testing and has provided relevant evidence to support his/her claim and the other party refuses to conduct the paternity test and fails to provide countering evidence, the court should support the claim of the party who files for the test.
University. “The new interpretation marks a social development by emphasizing the spirit of contract. By encouraging a couple to clarify their respective stakes and responsibilities in a marriage, it will help put the distorted value system toward marriage back on the right track,” said Deng Yingru, a well-known writer and publisher. However, for most, the new interpretation has diverted China’s marriage law from its original intention to promote stability within marriage and protect the common interests of a couple. “If marriage law cannot ensure that married couples share a vested interest, but treats the property of a husband and wife as their respective personal property for the duration of their marriage, it will make no difference whether a couple is married or not,” Qiu Feng, a wellknown media commentator told NewsChina. “Under this law, a marriage certificate will be no more than a piece of paper.”
The change to China’s marriage law only brings the country somewhat more in line, on paper at least, with developed countries that see the defense of individual property rights as a fundamental responsibility of the law.” Commentary, page 72
21 9/23/11 4:49 PM
POLITICS Criminal Procedure Amendment
Whose Law Is It Anyway? A new draft amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure Law has sparked questions over the possible extension of police power. The debate has centered on clauses apparently authorizing the use of wiretaps and secret detentions, with critics asking whose rights are most protected by China’s legal system By Yuan Ye
n August 30, theStanding Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) publicized the full text of their Draft Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law online for one month to solicit public opinion. In the first week alone, more than 40,000 suggestions and proposals were submitted by Internet users. Many have praised the draft amendment since it represents an unprecedented codification of Chinese law. Relatives of suspects, for example, have been given the right to refuse to testify in court for the first time in Chinese history. Forced confessions, usually obtained through torture, are also prohibited. Exclusionary rules which prohibit collecting evidence through illegal means have been introduced. In total, nearly 100 amendments to existing laws are contained in the draft, making it a revision of one-third of China’s Criminal Procedure Statute, the second major change made to law since it was enacted in 1979. In 1996, the first amendment clarified the law mainly in its applications to commerce. This second amendment focuses on due process and civil liberties, such as defendants’ rights. However, many argue it could also formally expand police power and effectively legalize controversial measures such as wiretapping and secret detentions. “‘Progress’ has the pace of an old woman walking with bound feet. Regression is like a sprinting adulterer,” commented lawyer Si Weijiang on his microblog. Si suggested that some legal consultants who participated in
the drafting of the amendment were misled, believing its purpose was to better protect human rights and rein in government power. While the 1996 amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure Statute reformed trial procedures, allowing defense lawyers to be involved in investigations into their clients and adopting the principle of “no punishment in doubtful cases,” the latest amendments seem to have been formulated in part to counteract these reforms by giving greater powers to the police. The amendment eventually turned out to be “a complete victory for the police,” claimed criminal lawyer Zhang Hongpei.
The current Criminal Procedure Law allows police to withhold information of a detention from a detainee’s family if they are unreachable, or if notifying them might hinder an investigation. Article 84 of the draft amendment reads: “Within 24 hours of detention, a suspect’s family shall be notified of the reasons and the place of custody, except in circumstances where there is no way of notifying them or such notification might hinder an investigation, or the person is suspected of serious crimes such as endangering State security, participating in terrorist activities et cetera.” While critics have attacked the vague use of language, with “et cetera” in theory giving police the power to extend the definition of “serious crimes” to whatever may be convenient, the two concrete exceptions to stan-
A Chinese court in session. The amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure Law has raised worries over a further expansion of police power
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:52 PM
Photo by CFP
dard procedure added to the draft have been the main source of controversy. “To single out these two exceptions is not intended to limit application of the law, but to emphasize these particular crimes,” commented Peking University law professor He Weifang in a recent interview with Caijing magazine. In practice, critics argue, the draft amendment gives the police the freedom to decide whether or not to notify a detainee’s family of their apprehension. By placing police power beyond judicial supervision, and failing to NEWSCHINA I November 2011
indicate procedure once the 24-hour window detailed in the statute elapses, the draft amendment offers little in the way of legal rights to suspects or their families. “Does it mean [detainees’ families] will be informed in months? Or years?” asked He Weifang. Many accused Article 84 of violating the principle enshrined in Chinese law which dictates that legal penalties may only be enacted when a case is proven. “It not only presumes guilt but even punishes a suspect’s family,” said He Weifang. “Notifying a sus-
pect’s family would, in some extreme situations, hinder an investigation. But compared to the injustice of secret detention and imprisonment, it is nothing.” He Weifang is among the most vocal critics of the draft amendment, which has also extended police powers in other crucial areas, giving them jurisdiction which in the West would only be applied to the judiciary. Article 47 of the draft extends the maximum limit of 12 hours detention without charge to 24 hours. Though it requires police
9/23/11 4:52 PM
to provide detainees with “adequate accommodation,” many believe it opens the door to abuse during interrogation. Certain controversial methods of detection have also been added into the draft. Related articles state that “in case of the need of investigation, and after going through strict examination and approval procedures, technical investigation can be used.” Critics believe this effectively legalizes the widespread, but unofficial, practice of wiretapping. Another clause states that “the head of a public security organ above county level can initiate a secret investigation,” again seemingly signing a widespread but unofficial practice into national law. “As a matter of fact, bugging, monitoring, the use of informants and even entrapment operations have already become common police practice at the local level,” ran an editorial in Guangzhou’s Southern Daily newspaper. “Such power should be caged and cuffed instead of being extended beyond the scope of law.” The draft amendment not only officially invests these powers in county-level police forces, but fails to detail any limitations to their application. Meanwhile, the draft amendment also authorizes the widespread practice of house arrests, and allows police to place all private residences under electronic surveillance, regardless of the legal status of their residents.
Photo by Ren Chenming/CFP
Ren Langsheng, vice-director of the NPC’s Legal Affairs Commission, reports on the draft amendment to a recent NPC plenary session
“Bugging, monitoring, the use of informants and even entrapment operations have already become common police practice at the local level.”
In the decades of change since the economic reforms of the 1980s, China’s breakneck development has often overridden social justice and the development of a civil society. Social tensions have been exacerbated by the unequal pace of development, with demonstrations and riots, referred to as “mass incidents” in government rubric, resulting in a budget that spends more on internal security than on defense or healthcare. The new draft amendment, while initially seen as an extension of the rights afforded to ordinary citizens by the 1996 amendment, instead appears to further constrain individual rights by vastly extending police powers. When the draft amendment was initially submitted to lawmakers for consideration in 2002, legal experts offered proposed clauses aimed at protecting citizens’ rights and limiting police power, with hundreds
of amendments formally submitted. “The legislative organs hoped to finish the amendment in one to two years,” remarked Li Guifang, vice director of the Criminal Law Committee of the All China Lawyer Association. According to Li, it is the scope of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which broadly applies to several departments with substantive powers, which makes it a more sensitive area than that covered by the country’s Criminal Law statute, and has resulted in a drawn-out process of revision. China’s legislative organs watered down more radical clauses while reinforcing extensions to police power. The resulting amendment consequently looks set to bolster State power at the expense of the individual. In 2007, Ke Liangdong, then director of the Legal Bureau of the Ministry of Public
Security, published an article criticizing the “tendency” demonstrated by previous proposals for leaning too much towards protecting the rights of suspects and defendants while “ignoring the rights of the victims and other parties involved in criminal cases.” His article also said “this tendency” put too much emphasis on “safeguarding lawyers’ rights” while “restraining and chipping away at the power of law enforcement agencies.” “A worrying tendency in the whole amendment,” said Professor He Weifang, “is that judicial review is often omitted from references to law enforcement.” He also pointed out that some of the articles in the new amendment conflict with the 1998 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, though the government has yet to ratify the covenant at national level. Public opinion on the amendment has been difficult to gauge, with both sides arguing that they enjoy popular support. A recent poll by ifeng.com, an influential news portal in China, showed that among nearly 160,000 respondents by mid-September, over 60 percent “don’t care” about the revision. Of the remaining respondents, 55 percent believed that “fighting crime” was the primary purpose of the Criminal Procedure Law, and only 21 percent of the respondents saw “protecting human rights” as a priority. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 5:10 PM
The Gold Digger Academy
Photo by CFP
As China continues to churn out wealthy bachelors, a Beijing-based school is teaching young Chinese women how to bag a billionaire By Liu Yanxun and Dong Chao
hirty years of economic expansion has left China with no shortage of 'rags to riches' stories. But while some among today's youth still dream of earning their fortune the old fashioned way, a tough job market and rising inflation mean that many look to shortcuts to get rich. For eligible young women, a popular method of moving up the social ladder is to marry a man of means. Luckily for these would-be society hostesses, China has plenty of marriageable bachelors. An annual report jointly issued by the Hurun Institute, the Chinese equivalent of Forbes, and marketing firm GroupM Knowledge Center, showed that China is now home to 960,000 people with personal assets in excess of 10 million yuan (US$1.6m), a nearly 10 percent increase on last year. For young women on the lookout for a rich husband, this is a broad playing field. Eager to give aspiring brides a leg up on NEWSCHINA I November 2011
the competition, schools have emerged that offer crash courses on how to bag, and keep, a billionaire. “Who would turn down the chance to marry a rich man?” asked Shao Tong, founder of one such school, the Beijing-based Deyu Academy of Femininity, in an interview with NewsChina. Spotting the increasing demand for expert knowledge on the pursuit of wealthy men, Shao, former director of VIP services at China’s largest online matchmaking website jiayuan.com, opened her school in May last year. At the Deyu Academy, instructors aim to create well-rounded bachelorettes. “We are no mere matchmaking service,” she explained. “If you were to introduce a rich man to a girl who hadn’t been properly prepared for the encounter, she would most likely fail to impress.” “What we offer are the ‘glass slippers’ to
facilitate their Cinderella story,” she added.
The Right Stuff
Courses at Shao’s school only last about 30 to 40 hours, but the package covers a wide range of subjects, from social etiquette to housework, to the art of beautifying oneself, and even includes a module on playing golf. “We focus on the small details, since rich people tend to judge a girl on the particulars,” Ding Zhenhua, the school’s marketing director, told NewsChina. “For example, we teach the girls how to greet their superiors at the dinner table, how to taste wine, and how to find the perfect place to sit in a coffee shop, so as to best highlight their beauty.” “We also impart knowledge about sex, such as how to avoid promiscuity,” she added. Although both Shao and Ding are keen to emphasize their school’s philosophy that
9/23/11 4:53 PM
SOCIETY beauty is only one aspect of attractiveness, it is undeniably a prerequisite for enrollment; Shao once refused admission to a girl with unsightly pimples on her face. “Plain-looking girls often lack self-esteem,” she said. Newcomers to Shao’s school fill in a 15page form that demands a wide range of personal details including height, weight and chest size, and must also take a further 15item test that examines physical and psychological features to a forensic degree of analysis. “We set VIP standards for prospective students. A piece of jade is worth polishing, but if you’re just a plain old rock, we have to say ‘no,’” Shao said.
With around 2,800 students registered for paid courses, and an enrollment rate of around 300-400 new students per month in the first half of this year, the business appears to be booming. This comes in spite of the hefty price tag – an insider told the media that the school charges around US$3,000 to $4,000 per course. Yao Yanan, a marketing director at China International Intellectech Corp., a large State-owned enterprise, told NewsChina that her company had invited Shao Tong to give lectures to their female employees the moment they saw the Deyu Academy’s advertisement. “We have a large number of young female employees and clients,” she said, “and every one of them deserves a good marriage.” While she may profess the subtleties of the relationship game to her students, Shao quickly learned that when marketing to today’s impatient Chinese consumer, bold is always best. Opening her school with the comparatively demure slogan “Learn to get along with successful people,” Shao found herself struggling to attract even a handful of students. But when a helpful customer suggested a more direct advertising strategy, Shao dumped her old maxim in favor of the rather unequivocal “Learn to marry a rich man.” After the change, business took off seemingly overnight.
Some may ask what exactly qualifies Shao to hold forth on the dating habits of rich men. While working with VIP clients at jiayuan. com, it was Shao’s job to figure out exactly which qualities pushed the right buttons
with China’s wealthy. “Experience has taught me that rich people are rather limited in their romantic options – on the one hand, men with money are often unwilling to marry anyone with an intimate knowledge of their family background; on the other hand, they rarely mix with women from other social strata. This presents a dilemma,” Shao said. According to Shao, a comprehensive education in man-hunting must acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all method to capturing a rich man. Rich people come in all shapes and sizes, and man-hunters must tailor their approach to their target. However, they typically fall into one of three categories: men who got rich overnight, men who were born into wealthy families and men who have made their fortune by starting their own business. “Different types of rich people have different standards for their partners,” she told NewsChina. “If a man has worked his fingers to the bone to earn his fortune, he will be wary of young women eager to get their hands on his money.” “The more successful he is, the pickier he will be when choosing a partner,” she added. “No rich man worth marrying would ever be stupid enough to be hooked by beauty or sex alone.” While it racks up new members by the hundreds, Shao’s school has come under fire from critics who claim that it degrades women by teaching them to latch onto powerful men, rather than making the effort to be independent. “They taught us how to get along with rich men under any circumstances, going as far as saying that we should not be upset if a man hooks up with his ex-girlfriend,” Fu Xiaolu, a young woman who attended one pilot course, told Southern Weekend. “I cannot accept the idea that women have to stoop to such means just to please men,” she said. She later dropped out. However, women like Fu may be a dying breed. When asked about her desire to succeed, another student at the Deyu Academy said, “I am pushy and hard-working. I strive to get the best out of any situation, good or bad. My goal is to make my life perfect.”
“A piece of jade is worth polishing, but if you’re just a plain old rock, we have to say ‘no.’”
In today’s China, the idea of rising up the social ladder through education and hard work is rapidly being surpassed by the noNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:53 PM
tion that it is more logical to exploit oneself in any way possible to get rich – perhaps the most well-known case being that of Ma Nuo, a TV dating show contestant notorious for saying that she “would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bike.” But while these “gold diggers” have been vilified in mass media, today’s college graduates are facing an overpopulated job market and rocketing house prices, and many are coming tacitly to accept that NEWSCHINA I November 2011
desperate times call for desperate measures. On an Internet forum called “Marrying a Rich Man,” women compare tips; becoming fluent in at least two foreign languages, learning to taste wine, and “accidentally” getting pregnant are all posited as shrewd strategies. For young women, especially those blessed with good looks, marriage is seen as an oasis in the depressing economic landscape, and marketed as a legitimate route to
Photo by cfp
Rich men judge a girl at a blind-date party in Wuhan, July 2, 2011
an ideal life. As a bestselling Chinese book entitled How to Marry a Millionaire claims, “Marrying a rich man is a positive undertaking that will eventually lead to paradise.” But while teaching young women to become millionaire magnets may be a smart business move, one has to question whether it is a step in the right direction for gender equality in China. The Cinderella stories may come to be outnumbered by cautionary tales.
9/23/11 4:53 PM
SOCIETY ConocoPhillips Spill
There Won’t be Blood The aftermath of the US company’s ecological disaster has been rife with concealment, lies and negligence on all sides, but will there be consequences? By Sun Zhe
or US oil giant ConocoPhillips, the way of doing business remains: when in China, do as the Chinese do. In the event of a spill, play down the severity; do not publicize it before it finds its own way onto the front pages a month later, and keep lying for as long as you can get away with it. The first spill occurred on June 4 at Platform B of China’s largest offshore oilfield, Penglai 19-3 in the Bohai bay area of China’s northeast. ConocoPhillips owns 49 percent of the field and is the main operator, with the other 51 percent belonging to China’s Stateowned Oil Giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). A second, more serious spill happened at another rig, platform C, in the same oilfield on June 17, while the previous disaster was still a well-kept secret. News of the spills was first leaked on June 22 by an anonymous insider who posted on Sina Weibo, Twitter’s all-powerful Chinese equivalent. A week later, the catastrophe began seizing headlines, by which time more than half of the livestock belonging to the area’s sea farmers had been poisoned by the spill.
On July 6 at ConocoPhillips’ first press conference about the incident, it claimed that it had reported the spill to CNOOC and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the nation’s marine watch dog, at the earliest opportunity. However, neither the SOA nor CNOOC had wanted to blow the whistle. The country’s government agencies and State-owned companies are typically reluctant to break bad news, especially around times of national celebration. The spills happened just shortly before July 1, the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party. ConocoPhillips itself was no more forthcoming. According to a report by Caixin Century magazine that cited a ConocoPhillips
employee, it is company policy to report spills to the government, rather than the public. In late August, in an effort to absolve itself of complicity in the cover-up, the SOA claimed that on June 17, following a major leakage during the second spill, it had required ConocoPhillips and CNOOC to notify the public and any entities or individuals that the oil might endanger. CNOOC obviously had a good reason not to do so. Chen Bi, vice president of the company, explained that CNOOC did not want to “mislead” the public by releasing news of the spill before they had identified the reason behind it, although others have suggested that CNOOC was more concerned about its share prices and resuming production as quickly as possible. By September 20, prices of CNOOC shares in both New York and Hong Kong had dropped to their lowest since the beginning of the year after production halted at the two accident-struck rigs on July 13, and operation of the whole oil field ceased entirely on September 4. The Penglai 19-3 oilfield, which began production in 1999, produced about 60,000 barrels a day, or about 8 percent for CNOOC’s total output. At ConocoPhillips’s second news conference August 24, George Storaker, CEO of its China branch, described the spills as “rare and unexpected accidents” during normal operation. It was later proven that Storaker’s plea did not hold water; the official investigation report released September 4 concluded that the spills were caused by operational faults and were entirely avoidable. The seafloor around the Penglai 19-3 oilfield is cracked and vulnerable, according to Wen Zhenhe, a marine geologist with the investigation team. While drilling for oil, water needs to be injected to raise the pressure in the oil deposit,
but considering the condition of the seafloor at Penglai 19-3, careless injection could prove disastrous, as was the case of the spills at platforms B and C. Beyond the inherent vulnerability of the seafloor, the structure of the oil deposits at platform B required extra prudence. The deposit was divided by numerous unstable faults requiring meticulous stratified injection into various oil layers, but ConocoPhillips’ injection caused excessive pressure in some layers, eventually breaking parts of the formation and causing leakage. Only 13 days later, injection at insufficient depth caused excessive pressure at Platform C leading to an even bigger spill.
Never Stop Lying
For some time, ConocoPhillips claimed that all leakages had been plugged and oil contamination had been cleaned up, but all these claims turned out to be false, and new leakages were soon detected by the SOA. Environmental groups have criticized ConocoPhillips for dragging its feet over the cleanup operation. On August 31, the deadline set by the SOA for ConocoPhillips to clean up the slicks and permanently plug the leaks, ConocoPhillips reported that the mission was finished. But their deception was exposed when oil was found burping from the seabed the following day. All of ConocoPhillips’s repair measures were found to be temporary measures. This time the SOA finally decided to get tough, and curtailed production in the whole oilfield. ConocoPhillips also withheld accurate data concerning the impact of the spill. The US company modestly admitted that oil had spread to an area of 200 square meters July 6; SOA satellites, on the other hand, detected 840 square kilometers of sea that had been contaminated. This forced ConocoPhillips to NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:53 PM
Photo by CFP
Seafood farmers catch nothing but dead and dying shrimp on September 1, Laoting, Hebei Province
admit that the oil spill had totaled 700 barrels, a figure that is still subject to doubt.
The total environmental damage of this spill could be even bigger than the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Zhao Zhangyuan, professor with Chinese Research Academy of Environment Sciences. According to Zhao’s calculations based on data released by the SOA, a conservative estimate of the spillage weighs in at 50,000 tons. In the Bohai bay, there is as much as 11 times the volume of spilled oil per unit of water than in the Gulf of Mexico, which is deeper, wider and more exposed to the high seas. For the foreseeable future, the Bohai bay will be haunted by the remains of the oil spill. As the inland sea has only one narrow opening to the high seas and takes roughly a century to renew its entire body of water, the oil will likely be circulating in the bay for decades to come. The destructive impact of the spill on NEWSCHINA I November 2011
the ecosystem and the seafood industry in the Bohai bay could be long-term, according to Zhao. Aquaculture farmers from Shandong, Hebei and Liaoning, three provinces bordering the bay, allege that oil from the leak has claimed more than half of their harvest of seafood. Not having been notified until more than a month after the spill, farmers missed their best chance to collect evidence. However, regardless of the evidence, it is highly unlikely that CNOOC would have been held responsible for the spills. In 2009, PetroChina, another State-owned Chinese oil giant, got away with an oil tanker explosion which spewed an estimated 60,000 tons of crude (an official number was never released) into Dalian Bay, 180 kilometers northeast of the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, killing almost all of the bay’s marine life. An agreement was reached between the local Dalian government and PetroChina – Dalian city would not claim for compensation,
and would handle the compensation claims of the aggrieved farmers, and in return, PetroChina promised increased investment. In the end, fishermen and sea farmers only received tiny amounts of compensation, and their petitions for a fair amount were quashed by the government. The punishment meted out to ConocoPhillips could be no more than a slap on the wrist, as China relies on ConocoPhillips’s technology to exploit its oil-rich deep waters in the East and South China Seas, said Armand Cao, an energy analyst with consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan, in a post on Sina Weibo. While ConocoPhillips’s clumsy handling of the oil spill may have seen its name dragged through the muck in the media on this occasion, the punishment it finally receives will be more revealing. If a foreign company is allowed to get away with such gross negligence simply because it has valuable technology, it will spell nothing but trouble for the safety of China’s seas.
9/23/11 4:54 PM
SPECIAL REPORT Academicians
Martyr or Maverick? Why would any academic turn down a high-profile, lucrative lifetime fellowship? NewsChina meets Rao Yi, an accomplished neuroscientist who renounced his candidacy for a prestigious full membership to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) By Yang Shiyang and Yuan Ye
ao Yi, 49, returned to China from the USA in 2007 and has since served as the ��������������������������������� Chair Professor������������������ of Peking Univer� sity as well as dean of the university’s School of Life Sciences. Largely unknown outside of academia prior to his return, Rao attracted widespread attention ��������������������������������� after publicly��������� renounc� �������� ing his�������������������������������������� candidacy for a prestigious ��������� full ���� mem� bership to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Rao made the simple announcement “my candidacy for the CAS academician was invalidated as of August 17,” on his personal blog. His post appeared on the same day that the CAS publicized its 2011 ��������������������� preliminary ���������������� can� didate list for new academicians, from which Rao was excluded. Rao’s perfunctory announcement, which fellow academics hinted smacked of “self���� ��������� -im� posed exile,” was, according to the professor himself “first written on March 5, 2011 and released on August 17.” Whether this is true or not, Rao seems to have never expected to win the CAS fellowship. In a later statement, Rao said that he ����������������������������� “���������������������������� didn’t want to ������������� entirely dis� credit the system,” adding that his gesture was aimed at�������������������������������� “������������������������������ ������������������������������� help�������������������������� ing����������������������� to correct the tenden� cy toward corruption in academic circles.” Despite the questions surrounding his announcement, both academics and so� cial commentators have seized upon Rao’s case as an indictment against China’s Statesponsored academic environment. Col� ���� lege campus forums became swamped with angry comments painting Rao as a victim of the struggle for academic independence in China. The CAS, meanwhile, remained tight-lipped on the issue, though a handful of insiders did attempt to defend the organi� zation as an independent body with no po� litical agenda. Rao’s case is the latest in a series of scandals surrounding the�������������������������� selection of CAS��������� academi�
cians in the last couple of years, bringing an issue confined to academia in other countries squarely onto the public radar. Rao’s victim status has cemented popular doubts over the role of special interests in the allocation of government-sponsored research funds.
When Rao Yi was first informed of his CAS candidacy earlier this year, he didn’t refuse the nomination. He now claims that, had his refusal come too early, his peers may have perceived it as a direct attack. He also told reporters he felt a sense of responsibility to the goodwill shown by his sponsors and col� leagues who had assisted in sending him to the US in 1985. After living and working in the USA for 22 years, Rao Yi gave up a chair at Northwestern University to return to China and take up the post as chair professor with a seat on the board of Peking University. His achievements overseas in the emerging field of neuroscienc� es made him a prominent figure, allowing his repatriation to be painted as a victory for Chinese academia by the State media. Together with biologist Shi Yigong, who also returned from the USA around the same time and was appointed dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Life Science���������� s, Rao be� came an inspirational figurehead for an aca� demic system crippled by an ongoing brain drain to the West. However, neither Rao nor Shi had foreseen the difficulties they would face adapting to the political constraints placed upon Chinese academics working domestically. Shi went on record to decry Rao’s removal from the CAS candidate list.��������������������������������� “We should put a����������������� scientist’s ��������������� ac� ademic talents and accomplishments before everything else to encourage scientific creativ� ity and originality,” Shi told NewsChina. “We
need to be tolerant of non-conformity, and give unique individuals breathing space.” In Shi’s opinion, Rao has made a massive contribution to the advancement of life sci� ences in China. “Rao Yi was the first Chinese life scientist to return to work full-time in China after holding a chair at Northwestern University,” Shi said. “As early as 1995, he was contributing to the establishment of the Institute of Neurosciences in Shanghai and the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing.” However, outside the laboratory, both Rao and Shi have been referred to as “strong characters,” a label often synonymous with “troublemakers.” With both having cut their teeth in the Western academic system, they were willing to fight against the continued politicization of science in China, publishing a scathing critique in the US periodical Science in September last year. “Government research funds in China have been growing at an annual rate of more than 20%, exceeding even the expectations of China’s most enthusiastic scientists. In theory, this could allow China to make truly outstanding progress in science and research, complementing the nation’s economic suc� cess,” read the article. “In reality, however, rampant problems in research funding— some attributable to the system and others cultural—are slowing down China’s potential pace of innovation,” it continued. The one-page article���������������������� , complete with������� an il� lustration of a wad of cash, was seen by many as a defiant challenge to the political patrons of the country’s scientific establishment and may have contributed to Rao’s removal from the CAS fellowship candidate list. Shi Yigong survived the elimination, however both have claimed that scientists returning to China af� ter study in the West are seen as outsiders by NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:54 PM
Photo by zhen hongge
“You will understand it’s not just me. This is the wholesale oppression of professors with overseas experience.”
the scientific establishment. “Take a look at the list and see who’s at the forefront and who is bringing up the rear,” Rao told NewsChina. “You will understand it’s not just me. This is the wholesale oppression of professors with overseas experience.” Since the selection process was officially opened, Rao had already heard that he wouldn’t be successful. He ������������������� claims that con� formity is required to ensure a candidate’s se� lection to the prestigious and well-paid post of academician. “They want you to be like them,” he told NewsChina. Some academicians have taken issue with Shi’s assessment of the reasons behind Rao Yi’s removal from the shortlist. CAS mem� ber Zhai Zhonghe, a 81-year-old cell biolo� gist, said it was difficult to determine a spe� cific reason, but added that Rao’s removal was “surely in accordance with academicians’ opinions.” Zhai went on to say that Rao’s criticism of China’s scientific system wasn’t balanced and subjective enough. “He has only been back in China for a short time and isn’t familiar with the situation. He should be more cautious NEWSCHINA I November 2011
with his criticism.” He Zuoma, a CAS member and theoreti� cal physicist, said one important criterion for the selection of academicians was the candi� date’s contribution to the development of sci� ence in China specifically. Despite asserting a solid friendship with Rao, he remarked that his friend’s relatively recent return to China might have been a deciding factor in his re� moval from the shortlist. The CAS admits new initiates every two years in the style of the former Soviet model, with a maximum of 60 new academicians approved each time. This year’s shortlist was issued April 30. After nearly four months of evaluation, the preliminary candidate list was settled on August 15. Still, supporters sec� onded Rao. “It was insulting that Rao was eliminated in the first round,” commented scientist and critic Fang Zhouzi, pointing out that Xiao Chuanguo, a scientist who
was publicly disgraced after being caught us� ing hired goons to beat him up following his harshly-worded criticism of Xiao’s academic credentials, had appeared on the shortlist. The CAS operates under a closed-door policy, with the selection process highly se� cretive. A spokesman for the organization’s Information Department told NewsChina that they were “only an administrative de� partment and felt it was not convenient to give an opinion.” Despite renouncing his candidacy, Rao has continued to defend the concept of academicians as a counterweight to China’s overwhelmingly powerful administrative branch, which puts Party cadres, rather than independent academics, in complete control. “The academician system creates ���������� an academ� ic authority,” he said. “Administrators might restrain themselves a little if these academic authorities were willing to speak out.”
9/23/11 4:54 PM
’ll take my revenge,” vowed clinical biologist Xiao Chuanguo in an open letter to the media after fellow academic Fang Zhouzi attacked the effectiveness of one of his claimed medical breakthroughs, calling him a “charlatan” and effectively discrediting him in the eyes of China’s scientific community. True to his word, Xiao hired three men to assault Fang Zhouzi near his home last year, injuring him. A well-known professor at the Wuhanbased Tongji Medical School of Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), Xiao Chuanguo told police “but for Fang, I would have become a CAS academician long ago.” Xiao was listed in 2005 as one of 145 preliminary candidates for full membership to the CAS, a lifelong honorary post. However, his name was dropped from the shortlist after the publication of Fang’s critique, with Xiao quickly falling from grace despite previously being hailed as having developed a miracle cure for incontinence among people affected by dementia. Xiao Chuanguo’s response to his critic, while extreme, is indicative of the value ascribed to CAS membership by China’s scientific community. “In the US, ‘academician’ is merely an honorific title, with few material benefits,” Yuh-Nung Jan, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told NewsChina. “In China, both the scientific community and laypeople attach too much importance to the title.” Modeled on the Soviet system of State patronage of scientists, the title of academician has become the Holy Grail of academia in China, the pathway to limitless funding, untouchable prestige and numerous side benefits. By losing his candidacy for CAS membership, Xiao was effectively shut out of this scientific Olympus.
Xiao Chuanguo’s conviction caused a media storm, mostly centered on the overenthusiastic lobbying of CAS and CAE academicians by educational institutions keen to secure their own resident geniuses in Xiao’s home city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province. According to HUST professor Chen Sizhong, his university has struggled to acquire more academicians on its faculty since 1991 when fellow professor Yang Shuzi became the
CAS selects 18 new Academic Committee members, May 23, 1957
Boffins with Benefits Full-time membership to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) or the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) means promotion, funding, government patronage and numerous other commercial benefits. NewsChina looks into the special interests that govern academia in China. By Liu Yanxun, Dong Chao and Xie Ying
school’s first professor to receive the honor. As the university’s only academician, Yang was reportedly so treasured by both his school and the local authorities that he was not even allowed to travel on airplanes. According to Chen, the local government warned the college that “If something happens to Yang, you’ll be left with zero academicians.” Professor Chen Sizhong told our reporter that HUST had “imported” 10 academicians by the end of 1999, putting the institution only slightly behind Peking, Tsinghua and
Zhejiang universities in terms of the number of academicians on its staff. He calls the belief that the more CAS academicians an institution has the better the institution is the “banyan effect.” “Academicians always stand highest in the field of their research just as a banyan tree stands alone and flourishes,” he told NewsChina. “Several banyan trees quickly turn plains into forest, as even their roots can sprout into trees.” Sure enough, as the number of CASNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:54 PM
Photo by CNS
accredited academicians on its staff grew, so did HUST’s research funding. By the end of 1999, the school saw their governmentallotted fund soar to nearly 160 million yuan (US$23.5m), way ahead of its rivals. The Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Power Department of the university, for example, initially survived on funds of 1 million yuan (US$147,000). After the addition of three academicians to its staff, this sum increased eightfold. Academicians also seem to attract postgraduate students - the university enrolled over 60 postgraduates in 1999, nearly 10 times the number prior to Yang Shuzi’s selection to CAS. “Young people may be quicker to absorb fresh ideas. But in terms of influence and appeal, they are definitely no match for the academician,” said Chen.
What’s in a Title?
All this may help explain why the higherlearning institutions throughout China are vying with each other to attract academicians to their campuses. Wuhan University of Science and Technology, for example, automatically allocates a research grant of 1 million yuan (US$147,000) to each incoming academician, plus a 200-square meter apartment and a 500,000 yuan (US$74,000) settlement allowance. The same offers are being made in other provinces, with certified academicians offered salaries and perks other academics can NEWSCHINA I November 2011
only dream of. Colleges and universities in less important cities do not want to be left behind in this race, either. In addition to offering apartment and settlement allowance, Xuzhou Normal University, a second-tier college in Jiangsu Province, for example, offers free staff cars and au pairs to incoming academicians, as well as offering to employ their family members. Even enterprises and local governments have joined in the scramble for geniuses. Ningbo, a major port city in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, once “imported” six academicians by initiating an “academicianchairman of the board” system, under which academicians were encouraged to set up laboratories and workshops in cooperation with local enterprises. “The labs and workshops operate like a business, with academicians holding stakes of 25 percent or higher and serving as the chairman of the board,” a director of a science and technology bureau in Ningbo, who chose to remain anonymous, told NewsChina. According to figures offered by Gan Yong, the vice-director of CAE, over 600 enterprises across the country have set up these laboratories, with many academicians moving swiftly between postings in search of the most lucrative stipend. A Ningbo daily newspaper described the jet-setting life of academician Cai Tiany-
ou. “He gets out of a silver business car in front of the hotel … He is in Ningbo to attend the meeting of the board of directors of his lab, making use of his one-day window. He will return to Beijing tomorrow and fly to Shenzhen for another meeting the day after.” Wang Fan, assistant to Ge Changcun, another academician who owns a lab in Ningbo, argued that while lab assistants strive to keep “their” academician updated with operations via daily communications over the phone, “over-involvement,” as revealed in an investigative report by the China Science Communication Institute, has led to some academicians being accused of essentially being brains-for-hire. The increasing involvement of academicians in “soft sell” advertizing, particularly in the food and drug industries, has also tarnished the reputations of several prominent CAS alumni.
Despite their godlike status, a string of recent scandals has led to public questioning of the integrity and even the scientific credentials of certain academicians. The wife of Duan Zhenhao, a CAS candidate working with the Earth Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, exposed two extramarital affairs funded by embezzled grant money. “As China’s top scientists, the CAS and CAE academicians have control over the better part of the country’s scientific resources, but have produced little fruit,” commented online critic Guo Songmin. “See how many years the national prize for scientific achievement has remained unclaimed.” According to State media, China ranked 13th worldwide in scientific competitiveness in 1998 before dropping to 29th in 2003. The China Youth Daily cited a 2006 survey of scientific research which claimed that nearly 65 percent of surveyed scientists believed the academic community was riddled with plagiarism and corruption. These problems have led many academics, not least those who have been snubbed by the CAS, to abandon the title of academician altogether. “It is time to pour cold water on this overblown title,” said Wang Pinxian, a CAS academician, at an academic round conference. “It should be an honorary academic title rather than a symbol of power and money.”
9/23/11 4:55 PM
SPECIAL REPORT Academicians
Dishonorable Honors The election process for academicians employed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), handing control directly to political powerbrokers rather than academics, prevents the development of a merit-based, open academic environment By Zhao Jie and Xie Ying
et’s just see how many academicians achieve more than me in the next 10 years,” declared neuroscientist Rao Yi, after announcing his withdrawal from the shortlist for membership to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In an article “Who Should be the Most Qualified for the Post of Academician in China,” Rao suggested that a high ratio of mediocre scientists are selected as CAS or CAE (Chinese Academy of Engineering) academicians, while some of the best and brightest are kept out. “It is the current academician system that leads to the unfair selection process,” Rao said. His opinion has struck a chord in the minds of many fellow academics and educational reformers. “This unfairness can be traced back to the establishment of the academician system,” Wang Zongyang, deputy director of the CAS Institute of the History of the Natural Sciences told NewsChina. “Many mediocre scientists, once named academicians, will then try to shut out genuinely excellent scientists out.”
According to Wang Zongyang, the system of elected academicians introduced by the Kuomintang government and endorsed by China’s academic community in 1948 was “genuinely fair and independent.” The election panel consisted of 41 judges sourced from top universities and research institutions who held key posts in the Central Institute of the Kuomintang and its sub-divisions. “Most of the judges were first-class scientists drawn from an assortment of fields, and the selection panel held the highest authority,” Wang said. “Although the then government sometimes tried to interfere in the election, their attempts were rejected by the
selection panel on the grounds that the only thing that counted was election policy.” China’s first academicians were named in an experimental election in 1947 following five elimination rounds which narrowed 510 candidates down to 81 accomplished scientists. “From the preliminary nominations to the final voting, the election policy was rigorously implemented,” Guo Jinhai, a CAS researcher, told NewsChina. “Every academician had to receive a four-fifths majority.” However, this system was soon abolished when the Communist Party replaced the Central Institute of Sciences with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1950, one year after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Modeled on the scientific infrastructure of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Academic Committee of the CAS was established. Although academic achievements still remained one of the criteria for nominating a committee member, the final list was entirely determined by the Party leadership of the CAS. “CAS was put under the State Council in the very beginning, which meant it was no longer an independent academic organ, but rather part of the government,” Wang told NewsChina. A major direct change was that the election of Academic Committee members was greatly simplified, with many stages omitted altogether. “During the first [CAS] election, the judges merely solicited opinions on candidates from their colleagues and the voting procedures were lax at best. The prestige of the election also suffered since some candidates became the Academic Committee members despite receiving few votes,” said Wang. “And all members in the field of social sciences were directly decided upon by the leaders.”
According to the Constitution of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Temporary) formulated in 1955, Academic Committee members were meant to play a “crucial, leading role in scientific research in their specific areas of expertise.” However, Wang told our reporter this was largely a meaningless requirement. “In the CAS structure, the Party leadership and relevant administrative departments have a bigger say than the Academic Committee, nullifying the academic responsibilities of its members,” explained Wang. “For example, Hua Luogeng, a leading mathematician, was the head of the Mathematics Institute of CAS in name only, with no final say even in academic affairs.” As with all branches of the new government, ideology was crucial in the selection of committee members. It was reported that eight of the 18 former academicians in humanities elected by the Central Institute were removed from the post of Academic Committee members due to their political backgrounds. Hu Xiansu, biologist and a former Central Institute academician, was also removed from his post on the Academic Committee because of his opposition to the soon-to-be-debunked theories of Soviet pseudo-scientist Trofim Lysenko. “All this stemmed from the Party’s inherent distrust of intellectuals, a distrust that also made them the primary targets of the Cultural Revolution,” said Wang. Today, political factors still weigh heavily in the election of CAS and CAE academicians, with a growing number of officials holding the title. For example, the CAE elected the former Minister of Railways one of its first five academicians in 2000. In the second election in 2003, 34 of the 54 candidates were high officials or entrepreneurs NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:55 PM
with engineering backgrounds, including the Minister of Labor and the Vice-Minister of Agriculture. A similar ratio has been seen in this year’s election result. “Since academician candidates are now nominated by higher administrative departments instead of by academics, many administrative departments will try every means to hype up their own nominee, with government officials holding all the aces,” ran a paper by CAS natural science researchers Zhang Lihua and Wang Yichao.
In 1993, the CAS academician system was officially established, though without the shake-up that had resulted from the dissolution of the Central Institute in 1949. All the existing Academic Committee members were automatically made academicians, with the Chinese Academy of Engineering established the following year, further increasing China’s stock of academicians. The CAE has pledged to elect 600 more academicians in its first seven years of existence, a growth rate of 540 percent. Yet, as the number of academicians has increased exponentially, China’s reputation NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Photo by cfp
“All this stemmed from the Party’s inherent distrust of intellectuals, a distrust that also made them the primary targets of the Cultural Revolution.”
as a base of scientific innovation and achievement has been taking a beating. The number of national-level prizewinners in science and technology in the 21st century stands at onethird of the number in the 1990s. According to the statistics compiled by Gu Haibing of Renmin University, each year, China registers one-fortieth the number of patents registered annually in the US, despite having one-third the number of accredited academicians. ‘Academician’ is not just a title. The position carries tremendous benefits, including lifelong welfare. Each academician will receive an annual government allowance of 100,000 yuan (US$14,700),” said Gu Haibing. “Who else enjoys such perks? Even the President has to retire one day. More and more people are trying to worm their way
into this privileged group, further exacerbating problems like bribery.” Other candidates have also publicly acknowledged the corruption which underpins the CAS election process. “Rumor says several million yuan is needed to be selected an academician. Though not commonly the case, this situation still exist in academic circles,” Zuo Tiechuan, a professor of Beijing Industrial University, told China Youth Daily. However, not everyone supports abolition of the academician system. In the same article, Qin Boyi, a CAE academician, remarked: “Many academicians aim to focus on academic research. It is the money-driven society that has overstated the importance of the title, a problem you can’t solve by simply abolishing the system.”
9/23/11 4:55 PM
INTERNATIONAL China-UK Relationship
Quiet Partners There’s a lot at stake in the low-profile partnership between China and Britain. We talk exclusively with London’s Ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood, about the future of Sino-British ties By Li Jia
ompared to China’s relations with the United States and some of its Asian neighbor countries, the relationship between China and the UK remains somewhat off the international radar. However, this does not mean that few important mutual interests are involved. According to the UK Government, commercial interest is “at the heart of” British foreign policy, and the Cameron cabinet has emphasized the importance of China as a source of huge demand. In an interview with NewsChina on September 1, Sebastian Wood, Britain’s Ambassador to China, talked about economic and political cooperation between Britain and China, as well as domestic problems in the UK. NewsChina: What economic issues top the UK’s agenda with regards to China? Sebastian Wood: The government in London is serious about elevating the relationship with China, and we will be putting 50 additional people into the government network here. The government budgets are very difficult at the moment, so they have to be coming out of other embassies and consulates in other parts of the world. Also, we have a plan to open a new consulate general in China. There are a lot of reasons why we want to elevate our relationship with China. One of them is that our economies fit together increasingly well. China is becoming more prosperous with a larger middle class. For British companies that are strong in services, strong in creativity, health, education and life sciences, there will be more demand in China. And Chinese companies want to invest in different places, not just the US Treasury. UK companies and the City of London are ready to help Chinese companies to internationalize. NewsChina: However, in 2010, we missed the goal of US$60 billion in bilateral trade. Given the declining British manufacturing sector and struggling Chinese exports, is it possible for bilateral trade to achieve the
target of US$100 billion by 2015? Wood: China is the UK’s only major export market that is growing. In 2010, our exports to China went up by 40 percent in sterling terms. This year so far, they are up by a further 24 percent. If we can maintain that kind of increase, I am confident we can achieve the 2015 target. Trade in the kinds of services that the UK excels at should also increase. And don’t underestimate UK manufacturing; in some sectors we are still very strong – in the automotive, aviation, and advanced engineering sectors, for example. In all those sectors there are plenty of British companies doing well here in the Chinese market. NewsChina: With the financial crisis making a comeback and banks being in trouble again, should China and the UK be less ambitious about their financial cooperation for the moment? Wood: No, I think we need to strengthen our financial cooperation. One area that is particularly important is our work together on the emergence of the yuan as a currency that is traded on the international market. As the yuan is used more and more internationally, quite a lot of Chinese currency is finding its way into London. Next week Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Chi-
nese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan will discuss this and I think they will express publicly our desire to work together to help the healthy development of the yuan offshore market in London. In part it’s related to investment. The two governments will sign an agreement which records our desire to work together to make it easier for the two countries to invest in each other’s infrastructure. NewsChina: How does the UK view China as an increasingly important international political player? Wood: The UK very much welcomes China’s growing participation in the very important international policy and political debates that the world faces. We can’t solve the world’s big challenges, like the global economy, climate change, and combating the spread of dangerous weapons technologies, without China. Our bilateral relationship is also about education, science, sport, culture, and all peopleto-people aspects. Many people from China NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:56 PM
Photo by British Embassy in Beijing
Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to China
will visit London and enjoy our Olympics. We will be holding a big festival called UK Now where many of our best organizations, opera, ballet, museums and theater companies will bring their best work here to China. NewsChina: But is the UK, as well as other Western countries, getting more concerned that it could be more difficult to cooperate with China on international political issues? Wood: I would not put it that way. In many international areas our cooperation is increasing. We are discussing with African countries and China together on how we can cooperate on development issues. We have a dialogue with China on international development policy. More widely we work together on international issues like piracy in the Horn of Africa – we work together in the UN Security Council on a whole range of issues. We can continue to deepen our cooperation on counter-proliferation, because the proliferaNEWSCHINA I November 2011
tion of dangerous weapons technologies remains a vital challenge for both of us. NewsChina: China is also concerned about the euro crisis. Will the UK help deal with the crisis? Wood: The eurozone’s economic health is very important to the UK. But the UK’s primary focus is on the UK economy. On the one hand we have some quite large cuts in government expenditure and on the other hand we have programs to reduce regulation and corporation tax. We want to have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20. By 2015 we will have the lowest corporation tax in the G7. NewsChina: People around the world were shocked at the recent riots in Britain. Is there any kind of consensus between the government and communities about the roots of the problem and the way to address it?
Wood: It is probably too early to draw firm conclusions. There will be some deep-seated reasons to do with a sense of social exclusion that applies to some specific groups of people in specific areas of some of our cities. They need to be addressed by active government policies reaching out to those groups of people. But there are also reasons of straightforward criminality. And after discussion, the government has now decided not to introduce new restrictions on social media in the UK. Freedom of expression is a fundamental way of doing business in the UK. NewsChina: Is it possible to address this “sense of social exclusion” under the current austerity policy? Wood: The thing to remember about the government’s austerity program is that those changes haven’t really taken effect yet. The protests are not politically connected with the austerity. The government is also committed to expanding educational opportunities, in particular more apprenticeships and more training of skills of vocational qualifications, not just university degrees.
9/23/11 4:56 PM
ECONOMY Yuan Goes Global
With the commitment of China’s leaders and interest from major international financial centers, the process of turning the Chinese yuan into a global currency is gathering pace. But, despite growing international faith in the yuan, is it backed by a sustainable economy?
By Li Jia
espite China’s status as the world’s number two economy, Beijing remains a minor player in international finance, even after successfully emerging from the global financial crisis in the black. Loss of confidence in the world economy’s former failsafe currencies, with both the US dollar and the euro dragged down by debt crises and recession in the US and Europe, China has seized the opportunity to rebrand the yuan as the conscientious investor’s currency of choice. More surprisingly, even China’s competitors seem to be welcoming the yuan into the international fold. Internationalization of the yuan was originally designed to mitigate the negative effects of volatile foreign exchange rates on China’s export-driven economy. China’s currency does not appear on the lists of candidate denominations for the foreign exchange reserves of international central banks, and commodities prices around the world are never listed in yuan. However, the continued fall of the dollar and the relative, though its critics claim artificial, stability of the yuan has turned what was a failsafe for exporters into a new era for international trade. At the end of August, China announced it would extend yuan-denominated trade settlement regulations to cover the entire country, allowing anyone to trade with international partners in yuan. In early September the City of London, Europe’s main financial hub, joined New York and Singapore in expressing interest in becoming an offshore hub for yuan-denominated trading. However, Chinese policymakers remain cautious about European and North American investors looking to the yuan as some kind of quick fix to the crisis of confidence in the dollar and the euro. Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China’s central bank, stressed in a recent conference in London that interna-
tionalization of the yuan will be “a gradual process and the result of market choice.” However, there is evidence to suggest that China’s internal politics will have a bigger influence on this process than the global marketplace.
“You can’t be recognized as a real economic power without an international currency.”
A currency needs extensive global circulation as a pricing and settlement tool in the international financial market before it is likely to become a genuine prospect for international investors. To strengthen the yuan’s weak global circulation, China launched a trial project in July 2009 in which eligible enterprises in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan were allowed to use yuan in trade settlements with ASEAN countries, as well as Hong Kong and Macao. In June 2010, the project was extended to 20 provinces and the trade zone extended to the rest of the world. As of January this year, yuan-denominated investment in overseas markets has been permitted. According to the central bank, the total value of trade settlement in yuan stood at 509 billion yuan (US$80bn) in the 18 month period between July 2009 and the end of 2010. This figure was dwarfed by more than 1 trillion yuan (US$1,565bn) of settlements in the first seven months of 2011. International banks such as Standard Chartered, JP Morgan and HSBC have joined Chinese banks in this yuan-denominated spending spree. In addition, China’s central bank has signed 841 billion yuan (US$132bn) of currency swaps with its counterparts in 12 countries and regions, including South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, Belarus and Singapore, adding more yuan holdings to the overseas market. Hong Kong, already an international financial center, has recently emerged as the
world’s foremost offshore yuan trading hub. In 2010, 36 billion yuan of bonds were issued in the Special Administrative Region, compared with 10 billion in 2007, the first year of operations for the yuan bond market. Issuance in the first eight months of this year has already smashed this record, led by key players including Chinese and foreign banks, China’s Ministry of Finance and the World Bank. In addition, the bulk of yuan-denominated trade settlement processing is provided by banks in Hong Kong.
However, exporters are not the main beneficiaries of the yuan trade settlement designed to protect them. The benefits of the settlment have so far been exploited much more effectively by Chinese importers. In the second quarter of 2011, despite the central bank claiming an “improved import-export balance in yuan denominated settlements,” import payments in yuan were still coming in three times higher than the total for exports. Such an imbalance is understandable, given the reluctance of businesses in China’s principal export markets of the US, Europe and Japan to accept payment in yuan. As a result, the flow of dollars into China has basically remained constant, while outflow has drastically declined. That, in turn, has further inflated China’s foreign exchange reserves, already the world’s largest, most of NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:46 PM
Photo by getty
A man walks past an advertisment for yuan bonds outside the HSBC Holdings building in Hong Kong, China, on Monday, Aug. 22, 2011
which are invested US T-bills, which has increased China’s exposure to the devaluation of the dollar and exacerbated domestic inflation. “The short-term losses are necessary to achieve the long-term strategic goal of an internationalized yuan,” Professor Sang Baichuan, dean of the International Economic Institute of the China University of International Business and Economics, told NewsChina. “You can’t be recognized as a real economic power without an international currency.” Sang added that he believes the increased supply of yuan on the overseas market will boost yuan-denominated export settlements in the future. An HSBC survey conducted in May seems to support this theory, indicating that global traders now favor the yuan over the British pound, placing the Chinese currency in third place after the dollar and the euro.
This does not mean the future is only bright NEWSCHINA I November 2011
for the yuan as an international currency. Sang told our reporter that China needs to control the inflow of speculative money, and relax capital control. Otherwise its economy will remain extremely vulnerable to speculative investment bubbles. The cautious attitude of the central bank toward the internationalization of the yuan, according to Sang, reflects China’s lack of confidence in existing financial regulation. Another problem is that the global financial crisis has further dampened China’s willingness to reform its financial system, allowing China to once again wall itself off from the world economy, believing such behavior will keep it safe. “Even without tight regulation, Chinese financial institutions have rarely been innovative,” said Sang. A strong economy is needed to form the backbone of a strong currency. Although many international traders remain optimistic about China’s economic future, there is evidence to suggest the honeymoon period is
over, with ever more voices questioning the sustainability of China’s growth model. “We do have problems which could fundamentally undermine economic gains,” warned Sang, before listing China’s property bubble, a lack of innovation and weak domestic consumption. In the past few months, international rating agencies have also warned of the risks inherent in China’s banking system, which is overburdened with local government debt. While the crisis in the US and Europe could provide an opportunity for an accelerated internationalization of its currency, China’s cautious attitude is borne of an economy which has yet to mature. Quick to reform its overseas trade policies, economic reform within China has slowed to a crawl since the heady days of the 1980s and 90s. Unless China can convince itself its economic growth is sustainable, it doesn’t matter how many Wall Street traders choose to price commodities in yuan.
9/23/11 3:47 PM
ECONOMY Land Reform
Feed the People, Starve the Market Efforts are being made to create China’s first open market allowing rural residents to buy and sell land. If implemented, it could spell the end of China’s decades-old State monopoly on land ownership By Li Jia and Wang Quanbao
he 29-floor twin towers of Sun Plaza in Shanghai are just two of the many glossy edifices on the skyline of China’s most prosperous metropolis. However, the land on which they stand, unlike the buildings’ remarkable architecture, is unique, as it was the first plot of land in China to be rented to a foreign company after 1949. The deal, struck in August 1988, was made possible only by a revision of China’s Constitution just five months before, which allowed the lease of State-owned land to private interests. Every square inch of land in China is managed under a system of so-called “dual public ownership.” The State owns all urban land, with land in the countryside divided among rural collectives. Both systems make it illegal for any individual or commercial organization to own land. Plots can, however, be leased to private interests via a land use grant, with any resulting profits split between such individuals and the State according to the lease agreement. The policy difference between urban and rural land use is one of the principal reasons for the vastly different town-country socioeconomic divide in modern China. While local governments and real estate developers have made a killing through the lease of urban land in China’s booming cities, a mountain of red tape prevents rural affairs committees and farmers from capitalizing on the land they technically own through sale or use as collateral for bank loans. With rural land use defined by the State, not by its nominal owners, farmland remains farmland until the government decides
otherwise. As a consequence of relative flexibility in the cities and ongoing restrictions in the countryside, the income gap between rural and urban residents has been widening ever more drastically since 2004. Critics and economists argue that minute tweaks to rural policy will not address the need for China’s rural residents to be able to increase their spending power, as, without them, China cannot hope to become a developed consumer society. However, allowing rural residents to tap their land equity is not on the agenda of urban real estate developers or municipal governments, who are already dependant on the requisition of China’s disappearing arable land reserves for new construction projects. With farmers given a stronger negotiating position, massive land acquisitions such as those used to build out-of-town industrial complexes will become both competitive and, some believe, prohibitively expensive. A solution, one which critics call the “have your cake and eat it solution,” has been proposed to both sides - maintaining enough farmland for food security, improving the well-being of rural residents, and providing more space for urbanization. In 2008, the central government decided to create an “integrated urban-rural land market” by making rural land commercially transferable and allowing its use for nonagricultural purposes. A project was initiated in May this year by the central government to identify the ownership and land-use rights of every plot of rural land in the country, with the deadline set for 2012. The boundaries of some con-
tracted land between households were not made clear when the land was contracted to them in the late 1970s and early 1980s and over the years some major changes have taken place as a result of marriages, deaths and land transfers. As stated by the government, “clear ownership is a precondition for an integrated land market.” However, economists and environmental groups see this plan as unsustainable. Chen Xiwen, director of the central government’s rural affairs office, has strongly opposed any move which could reduce grain production or deprive farmers of their land. With China having already sacrificed agricultural selfsufficiency for the breakneck expansion of its urban areas and industrial concerns, ongoing experiments with land reform could prove even more damaging now than they did three decades ago.
Normally it takes Mrs Luo three days to travel from her workplace in Beijing back to her mountainous hometown in Sichuan Province. She sublets her contracted land to other farmers, a common practice among rural Chinese eager to relocate to the cities; 33 years ago, however, she could have been arrested. Starting in 1978, farmers were named “land contractors.” The State no longer directly dictated what they could grow, and how they could increase their productivity. As a result, grain production boomed. Around the mid-1980s, farmers began to worry about how to find the market for surNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:47 PM
Photo by CFP
A farmer plants vegetables beside a partially-constructed housing development in Nanjing on March 17, 2011
plus output. Freedom in handling contracted land expanded with the passage of time. Subletting, exchange and transfer between farmers and using land-use rights as stockholdings in agricultural companies were all becoming common by the early 1990s, particularly in more developed areas such as the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas. These technically illegal practices were officially authorized by the Rural Land Contracting Law of 2003. However, one ironclad rule remained unchanged; rural land was for agriculture only. The subcontracting of land to private developers for anything other than agriculture remained outlawed, with harsh penalties in force for violators. The only legal way to bring rural land into the urban land market is to change official ownership. Rural collective ownership must be transferred to the State through the expropriation of rural land by local governments, who then transfer the land use rights NEWSCHINA I November 2011
to bidders. With rural collectives largely controlled by local governments, compensation for expropriated land is typically a pittance, and individual farmers are rarely allowed a seat at the negotiating table. As a result, the profits of land transfers are split between local governments and developers, while farmers are forcibly evicted from their property. “This is threatening to turn China’s land policy into a political problem,” warned Liu Shouying, a researcher from the State Council Development Research Center. Violence has sporadically broken out between rural communities and government officials. Since 2003, land disputes involving illegal appropriation and inadequate compensation have become the biggest threat to social stability in rural areas, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. At the end of 2010, Qian Yunhui, a village leader in Zhejiang, was struck and killed by
“I will not sell my land even if the policy allows me to do so. After all, we are still only contractors, not real owners. What if the policy changes one day?”
a truck in an incident the local court ruled was a traffic accident. However, the fact that Qian had been jailed several times for complaining about the meager compensation given to forcibly evicted former residents of his village led to claims he was murdered on the orders of the local government. Jiang Yaping, a Nieman Fellow at
9/23/11 3:47 PM
Harvard University, pointed out in 1996 as a leading rural affairs journalist with the State-run People’s Daily, “When farmers feel their land is out of their control under the existing system, they build new houses on arable land or even directly broker illicit deals with other land users.” Village leaders have been known to collude with real estate companies, opening arable land to housing developments or putting up the land as collateral for bank loans. The central government has failed to eliminate this grey market, largely due to a lack of will among the local governments that profit from such illicit dealings. In such a context, making rural land a real financial asset, viable for trade on the open market, seems an obvious reform. Experimental land markets were initiated in 2007 and 2008 in Chengdu and Chongqing in the agrarian southwest, with mixed results.
Photo by CFP
A rural house in Gansu Province, northwest China
Under China’s new Land Management Law, effective since 2005, construction on arable land can only begin when a new plot of arable land with the same area has been secured – similar to the replanting of timber forests. In practice, this “new” arable land is created by demolishing farmers’ homesteads, many of which stand empty after their owners depart for the cities. In Chongqing, for example, a rural homestead is at least 250 square meters in area, compared with the 80 square meters of average floor space in an urban apartment. In July 2010, the Chongqing government announced a plan to have 3 million rural residents resettled in the city within two years, their numbers reaching 10 million in 10 years, freeing up vast tracts of rural land for urban expansion. Arable land converted from existing rural housing area is certified with so-called “land tickets,” tradable on China’s two pilot land markets. In Chongqing, where the scheme launched in 2008, the highest price of a “land ticket” hit US$31,000 per mu (0.07 hectares). In Chengdu, prices soared to a peak of US$114, 240 per mu. According to a report by the China Business newspaper, land deals worth a total of US$1.6 billion had been completed in Chongqing alone by the end of June 2011. However, the Ministry of Land and Resources suddenly suspended trading
on Chengdu’s market at the end of 2010 without any official explanation, only half a month after its launch. The State media speculated that the growing asset bubble in the land market had inadvertently pushed urban house prices even higher, threatening to cause a localized financial crisis. However, others pointed the finger of blame at local officials involved in the land transactions. According to an article by agricultural professor Zheng Fengtian of the Renmin University of China, in some areas, farmers were being forced to move their families and livestock into urban-style apartments on the outskirts of cities, instantly destroying their livelihoods. In addition, he alleged, the distribution of revenue from “land ticket” trading is hugely weighted towards local governments and developers, with rural contractors receiving a tiny share. In one deal in Chengdu, for example, said Zheng, only 12 percent of the total revenue went to the village collective, with the remainder snapped up by officials and developers. Financial pundits such as economist Zhou Qiren remain positive about Chengdu’s experiment even after the suspension of trading, but a growing dissent among rural affairs officials such as Chen Xiwen strongly opposes the continuation of the scheme
on the grounds that it is a direct threat to China’s food security. “I will not sell my land even if the policy allows me to do so. After all, we are still only contractors, not real owners. What if the policy changes one day?” Mrs Luo told our reporter. Without internal consistency, the government risks creating yet another volatile commodities market, something few investors in China have a taste for. “What is being painted as a hot topic now has been practiced for years, although there is something really new and interesting in these pilot projects,” Mr. Jiang told NewsChina. “However, future reforms will not necessarily be modeled on Chengdu or Chongqing. So far there is no clear sign of what will be done.” While everyone seems to agree China’s current land policy is both inconsistent and unsustainable, so far a solution agreeable to all parties, a true “have your cake and eat it” solution, has yet to be suggested. With farmers increasingly reluctant to risk their last remaining possessions in further government experiments, and developers clamoring for greater and greater land resources, the central government finds itself sandwiched between the forces of town and country in a quandary of its own making. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:47 PM
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
43 9/23/11 3:48 PM
ECONOMY Minsheng Takeover
Battle for a Bank China’s fledgling financial industry has been unsettled to learn that a State insurer may seize control of the country’s only private bank. Could the move further restrict loans to small and mediumsized private enterprise? By Zhou Zhenghua
hina’s private Minsheng bank has two likely suitors, both of whom see a different belle at the ball. Cashsaturated State insurer China Life sees its chance for a personal banking license, while privately owned digital entertainment manufacturer Shi Yuzhu sees a potential bankroll. When China Minsheng Bank, the nation’s only private bank, was approved by the China Securities Regulatory Commission early September to issue 1.65 billion new shares, it lit a fire beneath an already white-hot struggle for a controlling stake between China Life and Shi Yuzhu. “If Minsheng has any further plans to raise capital, China Life will buy more,” said China Life vice-president Liu Jiade at the launch of the insurer’s half-yearly report on August 24. If China Life can increase its stake in Minsheng Bank by half of a percentage point, it will become the majority stakeholder. Shi Yuzhu’s response to the statement followed on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, soon after. “China Life, please stop coveting a majority stake in Minsheng Bank.” Shi, whose business varies from online games to the sleeping pill melatonin, also seems rather taken with Minsheng shares. In the first half of 2011, he bought shares in the bank a total of 41 times, with a combined value of 4 billion yuan (US$62.4m). By September 2, his holdings of 804 million shares, or 3.56 percent of the company, made him the fifth-largest stakeholder in the bank. Shi vowed that he would not sell a single Minsheng share in the next three years.
China Life responded to the challenge by purchasing 1.1 billion Minsheng shares during the same period to raise its holdings to 4.31 percent, only 0.7 percentage points shy of the majority stakeholder, agricultural conglomerate New Hope Group. Since 2006, after the China Insurance Regulatory Commission green-lit the country’s insurers to invest in commercial banking, China Life has bought into various banks, including China Construction Bank, China Merchants Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China, though it has yet to control a majority stake in any of them. During bidding for the Shenzhen Development Bank in 2009, formerly China’s sole majority foreign-owned banking house, China Life was defeated by its rival, Stateowned Ping An Insurance. The acquisition left Minsheng the only non-State-controlled bank in the country, with China Life ever more eager for a controlling stake to secure its place in China’s banking industry, which is still dominated by State capital. Minsheng Bank initially appeared to be easy prey for China Life, due to its relatively small size and relatively scattered stock ownership, with all top 10 shareholders owning less than 5 percent of the company. However, China Life currently has only one seat on Minsheng’s board of directors.
Li Daxiao, research director of Yingda Securities, said that Shi Yuzhu’s main reason to acquire a majority stake in Minsheng Bank was to acquire a banking license. Li said that Shi Yuzhu wanted to secure
“If Minsheng has any further plans to raise capital, China Life will buy more.”
future financing, as small- and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) in China, particularly in the private sector, often struggle to secure loans from State banks. According to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, less than one quarter of bank loans issued in 2010 went to SMEs, despite the fact that these enterprises constitute 60 percent of the country’s exporters and employ 80 percent of the working population. Domestic banks rarely have to deal with competition, and extending credit to large State-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government projects basically ensures their profitability. With easy profits far from guaranteed, and a minefield of bureaucracy obstructing smooth transactions, there is little incentive for State banks to lend to NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:48 PM
BYNUMBERS 43.1% of Chinese urban residents choose saving over spending in Q3, 2011.Preference for saving hit a 10-year high and views towards consumption recorded a 10-year low in Q2, 2009.
Deposits Investments Consumption
(Source: People’s Bank of China) 44.4% Q2, 2010
47% Q2, 2009
43.1% Q3, 2011
Photo by CFP
SMEs, according to Guo Tianyong, a banking industry researcher with the Central University of Finance and Economics. To ensure a controlling stake in a bank could be a good way to secure permanent financing for a private business. For instance, Liu Yonghao, deputy chairman of Minsheng Bank and president of Minsheng’s current majority stakeholder New Hope Group, a privately-owned producer of food, pig feed and fertilizer, has secured his company’s financial future thanks to his influence with Minsheng Bank. Enterprises are concerned that should China Life secure a controlling stake in the bank, they might force loans away from SMEs and the private sector and towards SOEs and the government. However, financial experts are seeking to reassure the market that China Life would be unlikely to jeopardize Minsheng’s future profitability by drastically altering its business model. “It is unreasonable to assert that a State-controlled bank is inherently bad for the market,” said Guo Tianyong. “Even State-owned banks are turning away from the SOE-focused lending model, which nowadays looks much less sustainable than it used to.” NEWSCHINA I November 2011
37.9% Q2, 2009
18% Q2, 2010
15.1% Q2, 2009
39.7% Q3, 2011
36.4% Q2, 2010
34.3% Increase in fiscal revenue of the Chinese government in August, the second largest rise this year, way ahead of national GDP growth and the average 21.3% increase in 2010. This pace is expected to push government revenue up to US$1.5 trillion in 2011. (Source: Ministry of Finance)
10% Average price increase of Chinese exports in the first eight months of 2011. The increase is 9.1 percentage points higher than in the same period of 2010. (Source: China Ministry of Commerce)
17.2% Q3, 2011
50 41.5% Feb
30 20 10
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug
EU-based companies operating in China who believe that government policy towards foreign businesses has become “more discriminatory” in the last two years. (Source: European Union Chamber of Commerce in China)
78% Percentage of China’s outstanding foreign debt denominated in US dollars as of the end of June 2011, an increase of 7.86 percentage points on last year. (Source: State Administration of Foreign Exchanges)
45 9/23/11 3:48 PM
CULTURE Residential Museum
Art Camp An art commune near Beijing grants six-month residencies to up-and-coming talent from home and abroad. NewsChina visits Shangyuan Art Museum to talk to the organizers and creators causing a stir in the art world By Yuan Ye
very April, a new brood of 30 people arrives to take up residence in a commune comprised of uniquely designed buildings surrounded by plain village houses in the shadow of the Yan mountain range, 25 miles north of central Beijing. Quiet, isolated but by no means unimposing, it plays host to some of China’s most promising artistic talent for the next six months. Chosen by a select council of some 20 members that includes artists, critics, writers, poets, journalists and the previous year’s residents, the group has been given the opportunity to live and work in the 210,000-squarefoot settlement, free of charge, until winter. Each of the artists is given a separate dormitory and a studio of some 1,000 square feet. They are young, financially unstable, and hungry for success. Consisting of exhibition halls, studios, dormitories, a library, a dining hall and a café, Shangyuan Art Museum has hosted a total of 117 artists from China and overseas over the last four years. Though facing financial pressure and hassle from the local government, the museum has drawn much attention for its mission to encourage individuality and independence in art, and has gradually become a mecca for artists in Beijing with an inclination towards the weird.
At three o’clock in the afternoon on September 11, 2011, a projector in the commune’s sculpture exhibition hall was playing movies on a large screen. The audience sat in studious silence as they watched a man slowly move a pair of wooden chop-
sticks toward the flame of a candle placed inside a coffee cup. As the sticks catch fire, he puts them in his mouth, extinguishing them. He then chops off their charred tips with an iron spoon, re-lights them, and repeats the process. In another film, the words “I want democracy” are spelled out in Chinese on a long wooden board. The characters are written in rice. Three black pigs appear, and eat the words grain by grain. The dozen-strong audience sat casually on the stairs and floor in front of the screen as each 15-minute film played out. Except for a handful of visitors, the audience was composed mainly of the directors of these short video works – the compound’s resident artists. Over three hours, 12 films were screened. Entitled “Existence Lasts 15 Minutes,” the screening was one of many exhibitions held by the residents at the museum. The event coincided with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and while few of the works featured themes related to the tragedy, the artists took the day as an opportunity to express themselves. “I wanted to show the process of Chinese culture clashing with Western culture,” said Ma Yujiang, the 23-year-old director and fire-eating protagonist of the burning chopsticks film. He explained that the chopsticks represented Chinese culture, while the coffee cup and the spoon represented the West. Gokcen Dilek, director of the pig film, is an international exchange artist currently studying at the University of Minnesota. Born in Istanbul, she now lives be-
Shangyuan Art Museum has hosted more than 100 artists over four years to support the independent art scene in China
tween Germany and Turkey. “I find there are many similarities between China and Turkey,” said Dilek. “Both are developing countries and both are facing many domestic conflicts and problems.” The inspiration for her short film came to her while living at Shangyuan. “It’s very simple, but it’s also a sad story for developing countries,” she said. These video works are only a small part of the artists’ life at the commune. They NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:51 PM
Courtesy of Shangyuan Art Museum
are painters, photographers, performance artists, sculptors, directors, musicians, dancers, poets and experimental artists. Huang Wenya, a photographer and performance artist, is preparing for his coming exhibition documenting the development of Beijing’s 798 Art District, one of the most renowned art zones in China, at the end of this year. Zhou Risheng, an experimental musician who specializes in noise and electronic sounds, pursues his NEWSCHINA I November 2011
work in the nearby mountains. During their six-month residency, hundreds of works will come forth from the minds and hands of these artists. In return, one or two will be donated to the museum’s collections, which are displayed in the museum’s exhibition halls, and further afield.
Finding a Home
Cheng Xiaobei, the museum’s curator, is
extremely familiar with all the museum’s works. Taking our reporter for a tour around the exhibition halls, she introduced several pieces to NewsChina. A sculpture of a petrified face was “a tribute to the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008,” she explained, before pointing out a painting that appeared to be a traditional Chinese ink-and-wash piece but was actually composed of images of modern construction materials. “It is a bit crude,” she said of
9/23/11 3:52 PM
An installation work from Paris-based Polish artist Ludwika Ogorzelec at the Shangyuan Art Museum, June 2011
the work by 23-year-old Ma Yujiang, “but you can sense great potential in this artist.” A glass maze built by an AmericanChinese artist stands on the roof of the main building. Walking into the maze, visitors are met with a series of common philosophical questions carved into the walls. Hundreds of meters of saran wrap was stretched between buildings as a place for vines and other climbing flowers to grow, an installation work by a French artist. “We seek the unusual,” said Cheng. “Only in unusualness and difference does art grow.” A professional poet and prolific photographer since the 1980s, Cheng is one of the museum’s founders. In 1997, she moved to Shangyuan village, not far from
where the museum would later be built. At that time, the village was home to a large number of artists, many of whom were poor and yet to become established. These painters, sculptors, critics and poets would often gather to communicate and exhibit their works, and eventually, with the low rental prices of the time, the group acknowledged its need for a fixed space. As one of the village’s most active artists, Cheng was entrusted to find the group a home. In 2000, the plan was initiated, and a group mainly composed of poets and sculptors signed a contract to build the art base. Gradually, more and more artists joined in with the project, and in 2003, after three years of preparation, a final
contract was signed between dozens of artists of all stripes, who also elected the site’s management committee. A dozen of China’s best architects were invited to lay down the blueprints. Over the following years, the committee went through a series of tough negotiations and disputes with villagers, construction companies and the local government, and even dealt with some dissent among their own ranks, before finally completing the project in 2007. That August, the committee selected the first 12 residential artists, who moved in two months later. When construction had finished, the museum began holding exhibitions and discussions of all kinds, sometimes focussed on one specific art form, sometimes NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:52 PM
Courtesy of Shangyuan Art Museum
Works from residential artists, clockwise from left: Pitch-Dark Bamboo by Ma Yujiang, collage composed with images of modern construction materials. Untitled, a pattern formed with dust from vehicle exhausts and Chinese silk by Ren Zhitian. Hummer Under the Starry Night by Pang Zhiqing
featuring a mix of many. “Traditionally, Chinese artists have always gathered to communicate with artists of different domains. In Beijing, however, those domains remain largely separate,” said Cheng. Bringing together artists from disparate areas and directions was one of the central tenets of the art museum’s founding philosophy.
“Artists, especially poets and experimental artists, are the poorest of all professionals. Yet, the quantity and quality of artists in a society can shape the quality of people’s life or, in the long-term, the mentality of a nation,” said Cheng Xiaobei, “and it’s worth helping them.” NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Despite the red-hot development of China’s art market over the past decade, Shangyuan Art Museum has deliberately kept its distance. Though facing financial difficulties, the museum’s collections are never to be sold; a few of the buildings are temporarily rented out to support the commune’s daily expenses. “We don’t follow trends,” said Cheng Xiaobei. “Artists need isolation.” “It is quiet here,” said artist Ma Yujiang. He said in the more commercialized art zones where galleries and studios were selling works, artists would often be affected by the commercial atmosphere, and consciously or unconsciously begin to follow the style that sells. “Here, the isolation helps you to produce more honest, pro-
found and meaningful works.” “Artists need to be true to themselves. They need a calm, sober environment in which to work,” said Cheng Xiaobei. “And art is about building a place where the soul can rest and be at peace.” Shangyuan Art Museum appears to be approaching that ideal, leading many in the Chinese art scene to dub the museum an “artist’s utopia” in Beijing, the country’s cultural and political capital. Yet, in the view of Daozi, a famous poet and current member of the museum’s committee, it is not so much a utopia as a “uniquepia.” However they choose to label it, Shangyuan’s artistically fertile soils are already yielding a promising crop of art and artists.
9/23/11 3:52 PM
Everything but the Soul Animated movies produced in China amounted to a total of 220,000 minutes in 2010, allowing China to surpass Japan as the world’s biggest producer of animation. However, imported animated films continue to outperform homegrown productions both critically and commercially. NewsChina looks for the root of the problem By Wang Yan
his summer, a succession of five domestically-produced animated “blockbusters” debuted in China amid much fanfare, in a slot traditionally monopolized by offerings from the US and Japan. China’s film industry and the Ministry of Culture predicted a new era of creativity for the domestic animation industry, anticipating both healthy box office returns and critical accolades. But each film bombed spectacularly at the box office, and the wounds of deserted multiplexes were further salted by almost universal contempt from critics, so once again the nation’s arbiters of entertainment were reduced to head-scratching about what they were doing wrong. Last year, the total length of all the animated feature films produced in China reached 220,000 minutes, allowing the country to replace Japan as the world’s number one producer of animation in terms of output. Favorable government policies coupled with State funding have led to an unprecedented expansion of the industrial side of animation, an expansion which has been accompanied, in the eyes of critics, with a plunge in the quality and originality of homegrown family films.
Boom of Busts
In 2004, the central government declared socalled “cultural production” a growth engine of the economy, placing special emphasis on developing animation. Ever since, a series of preferential policies have been approved by Beijing in an attempt to attract more investment to this emerging industry. Within seven years, over 56 national-level animation production bases were created across the nation, with the Ministry of Finance alotting 10 billion yuan (US$1.5bn) to support their development. It is reported that
one-horse towns like the mining settlement of Pingxiang in Shanxi Province have set their eyes on this government gold, and applied to construct their own animation factories. An insider told NewsChina that, if green-lit, the size of the Pingxiang base would be “unimaginable.” To further boost domestic production, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a policy in September 2006 that banned the airing of imported animation shows by national or local TV stations during the 5 PM-8 PM prime-time slot, offering up the space to domestically-produced offerings aimed at a captive audience of preschoolers, with big-hitters such as Japanese favorite Doraemon pushed to late-night and weekend daytime slots. This new policy contributed to the runaway success of the now-iconic Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf series made by the Creative Power Entertaining Company in Guangzhou. Initially a cheap Flash animation centered around familiar Tom and Jerry-style plotlines and broadcast on nearly 50 local channels throughout the country, the show is now a giant in the domestic arena, registering an audience share of 17.3 percent at its peak. “We did not anticipate the new policy, but it benefited us a lot,” admitted one of the show’s writers Huang Jiwei. Despite never having reached the dizzy heights of its broadcast heyday, Pleasant Goat has continued to turn a healthy profit through its ubiquitous merchandise, which extends beyond t-shirts and children’s stationery to include car seat covers, snack foods and jewelry. The long run of the series has also allowed it to bankroll a huge number of its production company’s other projects. The first movie version of Pleasant Goat, screened in 2009, gener-
ated a total box office taking of over 80 million yuan (US$12m), a massive return on its modest 2 million yuan (US$312,000) investment. The pattern of its success, a cheaply-produced formulaic series easily adapted for the big screen and for merchandise, has become a development model for most of China’s other animation studios. Pleasant Goat was followed by a glut of Flash animation productions, mostly driven by investor insistence that Flash was the genre that paid, with many ersatz versions of the franchise airing on local TV stations. “We can say that we’ve made the most money out of Flash,” said Yang Yingge, a senior animation designer. “Most of the animation produced in 2010 in China was done with Flash.” Placing the value of a product in its cheap production method, however, has not proven a workable business model. Pleasant Goat appealed to audiences with the childlike simplicity of its storylines and a core of distinctive characters. Its clumsy animation, more reminiscent of an Internet viral video than mainstream entertainment, was not its main draw. Furthermore, those hoping to ape its narrative style may fail to hit the jackpot. Even die-hard fans of Pleasant Goat have gradually lost interest in the series as, after over 500 episodes, all of which essentially revolve around a wolf couple’s attempts to catch and eat a flock of goats, most of the novelty has worn off. “The animation industry could be compared to a garden,” said Yang Yingge. “Products like Pleasant Goat are like small chrysanthemums. They’re pretty enough, but hardly the main feature.”
Since 2004, China’s central authorities and local governments have worked out policies NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:52 PM
to reward animated features and TV series believed to be original and creative. However, the criteria by which government subsidies are issued are geared towards quantity, rather than quality. In other words, the studio with the biggest output gets the most investment. The government of Changzhou, a third-tier city in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, for example, got a foot in the door early on, launching the Changzhou Animation Industry Base which had, by 2008, allocated 70,000 square meters of office space to house animation design companies. To attract creative talent, the base offered a list of favorable terms, including financial subsidies, rent exemptions or reductions, and NEWSCHINA I November 2011
The Chinese-made animated film Kuiba, which cost US$8.6m, made a mere US$550,000 at the box office
income tax breaks. By September 2005, 20 companies had relocated to Changzhou. â€œIt is the preferential policies that appeal to the animation companies the most,â€? said Chen Lei, manager of the Changzhou-based studio Kami Culture. The Changzhou government appropriated 150 million yuan (US$24m) in 2005,
followed by 200 million yuan (US$31.3m) in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively, which increased to 500 million yuan (US$78.3m) in 2009, for allocation to animation startups. The guarantee of reduced production costs soon drew a series of new companies to Changzhou. According to Jiang Xianguo, an official
9/23/11 3:52 PM
CULTURE from the Changzhou Animation Base, the longer an animated film is, the more government subsidies it will receive, with each additional minute allocated thousands of yuan. Critics of the subsidy claim this is the single largest contributing factor to the perceived decline in quality of animated films made in China since the new policies were introduced. For example, for a 2D animation broadcast by a provincial-level TV station, the production company received 800 yuan (US$125) per minute in subsidies. For a 3D feature film, the sum is increased to 1500 yuan (US$235) per minute. If the film is aired on China Central Television (CCTV), the principal State broadcaster, the subsidy will increase to around 2,000 yuan (US$312) per minute. An animation series broadcast on CCTV can earn as much as 2 million to 3.5 million yuan (US$312,000 to 550,000) simply through subsidies, often far more than the series might cost to make. This has led companies with no previous experience in animation or entertainment to attempt to break into this extremely lucrative business. Lin Chao, vice-dean of the Animation School of the Hangzhou’s China Academy of Fine Arts, disclosed to NewsChina that he once asked a local government representative why they wanted to set up their own animation studio. The man responded that a relative of his superior was in charge of allocating the local government’s animation production subsidies, implying a certain level of graft factoring into the expansion of the animation industry in China. As in the West, toy manufacturers also play a big role in China’s animation boom. Hasbro’s successful exploitation of the Transformers franchise became the ideal model for development of animated series in China, and beyond
The total box-office haul of the animation industry in China over the past decade is less than 25 percent of the global box office revenue of Kung Fu Panda, which stands at US$630 million. 52 P46-53_Nov_2011.indd 52
Left: The Cowboy’s Flute, an ink-and-wash animated film produced in the 1960s, has become symbolic of the short-lived golden age of artistic creativity in Chinese animation. Right: The Tibetan Dog, a SinoJapanese co-production also failed to make waves at the box office this summer
churning out countless Transformers rip-offs, Chinese toy manufacturers often dictate the style and content of animated series. Studios willing to work with toy manufacturers by tailor-making animated series to fit the design of their toys will find their new parent company willing to pay for TV slots and other prohibitive production costs. With the entire industry geared towards quick profit rather than critical or long-term commercial success, few Chinese-made animated films or TV series have made it beyond a limited release. Only two of the summer’s five so-called “blockbusters” enjoyed even a modicum of commercial success. Seer and Ice Age of Mole managed to earn box office receipts in the tens of millions of yuan, but both were still blown out of the water by imported movies. The total box-office haul of the animation industry in China over the past decade is still less than 25 percent of the global box office revenue of Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda, which stands at US$630 million. Cynical attempts to capitalize on the popularity of such international success stories, often by simply ripping off an entire plot or style of animation, rarely appeal to audiences. Many complain that one of the industry’s
biggest shortcomings is its failure to dinstinguish itself from the technologically and creatively superior Japanese and American animation studios. Kung Fu Panda’s expert handling of Chinese culture, beautifully adapting the kung fu genre alongside American anthropomorphic character design, horrified Chinese filmmakers and cultural officials alike – it seemed Americans were more capable of expressing Chinese culture than even the most adept homegrown talents.
This was not always the case. In 1955, the Shanghai Animation Film Studio experimented with incorporating traditional Chinese artistic elements into its productions. The Proud General (1957) was a big critical and commercial success. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the animation artists started to adopt traditional Chinese ink-and-wash painting techniques, with the 15-minute ink-and-wash animation film Little Tadpole’s Journey to Find Mom (1960) hailed as a creative breakthrough for the industry. In the 1950s and 60s, distinguished artists and painters such as Huang Yongyu, Tang Yun and Han Meilin were a common sight in China’s handful of animation studios, assisting NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 3:53 PM
Images from Xinhua
and training designers to produce authentically Chinese artwork. “This was a very good way to cultivate animators,” Yan Dingxian, former studio executive, told NewsChina. In 1988, during production of Between Water and Mountain, consultant artist Zhuo Hejun took up residence on set for the duration of the shoot. Even the Cultural Revolution failed to derail experimentation in animation. From the 1960s through the 1980s, a string of domestic hits such as Monkey King’s Havoc in Heaven, Nazha Makes Sea, Three Monks, Black Cat Sheriff, and Calabash Brothers all entered the canon of classic animated films. Some even went on to inspire some of Japan’s foremost animation studios, which at the time were still in their infancy. Then, in the 1990s, a new Chinese government policy completely cut State funding for the industry, and development was effectively halted. Many of the animators who trained as artists and collaborated on these classic hits are now in their 80s or 90s. “The younger generation today cannot match their predecessors in artistic attainment,” Qiao Fengtian, an animation PhD student from the China Media University, told our reporter. “In the past, one could be screenwriter, producer and deNEWSCHINA I November 2011
Measuring the Output
Spot the Difference
China-produced animated entertainment 2004 to 2010 (in minutes) 220,530
Some recent Chinese-made animated characters alongside earlier Japanese creations
171,816 131,042 101,900 82,300
Copycat: Cat Lala vs Chi’s Sweet Home
42,700 21,800 2004
Source: Stae Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT)
Face Off: Big Mouth Dudu vs Crayon Shin-chan
signer at the same time. Such talents are now rare.” There is concern that even the status quo cannot be maintained, with the vastly expanding animation industry dwarfing the number of trained animators available. Statistics show that in 2010, the total number of college
students majoring in animation was around 300,000, far short of the total needed to maintain China’s current output. Until artistic inspiration can overwhelm the get-rich-quick mentality of China’s ever-growing animation studios, Dreamworks, Disney and Ghibli can rest easy.
9/23/11 3:53 PM
SPORTS Sports System
Wild Olympians China’s new generation of elite athletes are more willing to fight for the right to their own commercial income By Sun Zhe
hen Sun Yang found his image on the bottle of a three-yuan (US$0.45) beverage, the Olympic swimmer chose to break his silence, just after breaking the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle world record at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai this July. At the end of August on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter where Sun has 760,000 followers, the 20-year-old world champion voiced his resentment at the national swimming team’s management, which had sold his image to a sponsor behind his back. Earlier, team officials coaxed him to Beijing from his training camp in Hangzhou, on the pretence that he would be met by top government leaders, which Sun later found to be a lie. The event turned out to be a contract-inking ceremony with the beverage producer, where he was met only by soft drink bottles featuring his own image, according to his post on Weibo. To his great frustration, Sun had previously been banned by the team management from signing any commercial contracts with sponsors on his own, on the grounds that too many commercial commitments would distract him from his training in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. The Beijing trip arranged by the team, however, had cost him two days of training, or 30 kilometers in the pool. Without a nod from the team’s management, Sun could not even talk to the media. (They may now regret not having also banned him from microblogging websites.) “I just want to fight for the right not to be treated like a fool,” said Sun in his Weibo post. While the management would struggle
to justify the Beijing ruse, they hold fast to their assertion that Sun holds no claim over the use of his own image. “The athletes’ intangible assets belong to the State,” said Shang Xiutang, deputy director of the national swimming team, as quoted by the Xinhua news agency in response to Sun Yang’s outburst. “The training of athletes is funded by the State, so they have a responsibility to repay the country when they become successful, and the team alone knows what is best for them,” Shang said. While participating in State-funded sports teams at the provincial level or below, all athletes must sign a contract to transfer their image rights to their team. Despite a lack of any official regulations, many of the national teams, including the swimming team, take it for granted that they have the same power over the images of the athletes under their supervision. China’s national sports system, consisting of government bureaus, academies and teams at various levels and with mountainous resources at its disposal, oversees the training of about 370,000 juniors and more than 46,000 full-time athletes in State-funded sports teams at the provincial level and above. Atop this pyramid are the national teams, whose goal is to snatch as many medals as possible at international sports events. Shang’s tone is not unfamiliar among the country’s sports officials, who tend to be of the opinion that State-trained athletes owe themselves, body and soul, to the country.
Last year, a deputy director of the General Administration of Sport, China’s highest sports authority, criticized Zhou Yang, a
“The training of athletes is funded by the State, so they have a responsibility to repay the country when they become successful, and the team alone knows what is best for them.”
20-year-old female speed skater, for thanking her parents first before expressing gratitude to the country after she won gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, mere verbal gratitude is by no means sufficient to repay the country’s benevolence, and athletes are regularly used as moneymaking tools for the national teams, as Sun Yang’s ordeal shows. It is loathsome that the national swimming team should try to make money by exploiting Sun Yang’s fame, said Yan Qiang, a sports commentator, in an article for NewsChina. In 2001, the country’s sports administration laid down the rule that athletes had to hand over half of their commercial income (mostly derived from advertising deals) to their respective national teams and sports federations. Tian Liang, a former diving star, was kicked out of the national diving team and forced to retire after he challenged the system and refused to hand over the required percentage of his commercial income. In reality, few athletes ever see even their half of their commercial income – national team management personnel, who, acNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:20 PM
Photo by IC
Sun Yang in the pool at the 14th FINA World Championships, July 30, Shanghai
cording to Yan, lack business experience, forbid their athletes from hiring their own agent, instead assigning the team itself as the athlete’s sole representation. As a result, athletes get whatever the team chooses to give them from their advertising earnings. “Sun Yang is obliged to do commercial advertising when the national team needs him to, since he is trained by the country,” said Shang, the swimming team official. According to Yan, the official had deliberately confused the terms “the country” and “the national team.” “Sun’s training is funded by the taxpayer, so why should the team be allowed to use him as a money spinner?” Asked Yan. “They are repaying the country with their sports endeavours, so they do not owe themselves to the country.” Those who want to be independent from the system must pay dearly for the privilege. Years ago, when basketball player Yao Ming wanted to employ his own team of agents, he had to pay a sizable NEWSCHINA I November 2011
ransom to the sports authority. While his wish was granted, the country still shared a thick slice of his commercial income, and he still had to acquiesce to the summons of the national team. The rigid system was fiercely criticized for Yao’s premature retirement. His wornout ankle was widely attributed to endless shuttles between national team games and the tightly scheduled NBA season.
Younger and Bolder
Sun Yang’s blowup is not the first time that a young State-trained athlete has resisted the system’s iron grip. In April, the country’s national junior basketball team sent a plea to the Chinese Basketball Association, begging them to replace their coach who over the past three years had routinely beaten and verbally abused team members. The coach was dismissed, but later clawed his post back after promising to mend his ways. The new generation of athletes have
more courage to speak up when they feel their forbearance is stretched to the utmost by the over-strict regime. In July, national speed skater and Olympic gold medalist Wang Meng came to blows with her team’s manager when a minor argument turned ugly – an act of quick-snap rebellion inconceivable among previous generations of elite Chinese athletes. Wang quit the national team, though she later resumed training after the team’s coach was transferred to another post. The national sports training system should be more flexible in dealing with the younger generation, the majority of whom were born into China’s much-maligned 1990s generation, since they are more liberal-minded and less willing to obey orders than their predecessors, said Yan Qiang, the sports commentator. “The system should upgrade its managerial skills and learn to respect individual values,” Yan said. “Otherwise they should expect more outbursts in the future.”
9/23/11 4:21 PM
riving in summertime along the well-paved roads of Minqin County in China’s northwestern province of Gansu, the fields of verdant vegetables and golden sunflowers along the roadside don’t seem to fit with the words “wasteland” and “desertification.” However, beyond this artificial green belt, vast tracts of barren land and desert can be seen. The stark reality is, the area remains one of the notorious dust bowls that bring sandstorms to much of northern China every spring. Minqin, once a lush oasis of 16,000 square kilometers nourished by the Shiyang River, is now 94 percent sandy wasteland, and the lamentably small percentage of arable land remains threatened by the encroaching sands. In December 2007, the State Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Water Resources jointly launched their ‘Project on the Environmental Improvement of the Shiyang River,’ involving a total of over 4.7 billion yuan (US$723m) in government investment. The first phase of the plan was to stop the depletion of the underground water table by 2010, and the second was to restore the whole region’s ecological system and revitalize the northern lake area with wetlands.
Reviving Minqin County
Oasis on the Edge A 4-billion-yuan government-sponsored water resource management project was launched in 2007 to rejuvenate Minqin, a county threatened by encroaching desert in the northwestern province of Gansu. Four years later, as the project draws to a close, doubts arise over whether or not the money has been spent wisely By Wang Yan
Empty ‘Lake Area’
“Minqin, home to 300,000 people, is where I have lived my entire life. It is a narrow stretch of oasis being threatened by the spread of the Badan Jaran and Tengger deserts, two natural deserts that are slowly joining one another in the middle of the oasis,” said Chai Erhong, 46, a local middle school geography teacher and environmentalist. Chai, born in the northeast of Minqin in 1967, has spent the last 20 years carrying out field research into desertification and water depletion along the Shiyang River valley. He has concluded that evaporation and over-extraction of underground water are the two biggest threats to his home county. Climate data show that annual precipitation in Minqin is 110 millimeters while the annual evaporation is as high as 2,500 millimeters, meaning roughly 24 times more water is lost than is gained each year. In the early 1980s, people started moving away from the lake area, either voluntarily relocating to other parts of the province or
heading to greener pastures in neighboring Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Huanghui, a village in the county, used to have a population of 1,300. In less than two decades, however, its population has dropped to less than 400. Since 2007, the government has been encouraging the remaining households in the village to relocate to Caiqi, a village newly constructed under a governmentsponsored relocation project 180 kilometers upriver to the southwest. In places, the desert is eating into the oa-
sis at a rate of 8 to 10 meters a year. Experts have estimated that more than 100 square kilometers (39 sq miles) of Minqin’s farmland became desert between 2002 and 2006. According to official statistics, over the past 15 years, 40,000 Minqin residents have fled from the advancing desert.
In July 2001, a detailed report on Minqin’s alarming ecological crisis found its way onto the desk of Premier Wen Jiabao. The preNEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 6:13 PM
“Salinization and alkalinization of soil are the most dangerous consequences of the water being exposed to the dry weather and baking sun here in Minqin.”
Photo by CFP
Reservoirs and Channels
mier gave the instruction, “We must never allow Minqin to become a second Lop Nur.” Lop Nur was a lake of about 10,000 square kilometers (3861 sq miles) in the Tarim Basin of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Its water level began dropping in the early 1900s, before disappearing completely once and for all by 1970 after irrigation works and reservoirs were constructed on the middle reaches of the Tarim River. Since 2001, Wen has reiterated over a NEWSCHINA I November 2011
dozen times at national-level conferences the need to control Minqin’s desertification. In 2007 and 2008, the premier made personal visits to Minqin and urged the local government to take action to curb desertification and rebuild the local ecosystem. Over the past decade, an alliance of scientists, environmentalists and local enthusiasts has emerged in an effort to save Minqin from being forever lost to the encroaching sands. Their undertaking soon caught the attention of the world’s media.
In the late 1950s, the government began building the Hongyashan Reservoir roughly 30 kilometers south of Minqin on the Shiyang River, and in the following decades, local residents dug more than 10,000 wells to irrigate the farm land, which gradually led to the drying up of the lake. The peasants extracted so much water that the underground water table dropped steeply, causing the extinction of almost all flora on the oasis. In parts of the county, wells were dug as deep as 300 meters to reach drinkable water. Winds blew the fine topsoil away, leaving behind only grit. “The lake completely dried up around 1969, and now the whole lake area is a stretch of desert with withered weeds and empty shells. It looks like a big graveyard,” Ma Junhe, a 29-year-old local environmental activist, told our reporter. According to official Minqin government statistics, in the 1950s, the annual flow of the Shiyang River amounted to 541 million cubic meters, which fell to less than 200 million in the 1990s and further dwindled to 61 million in 2005. The strangled water flow was partially due to the dozens of reservoirs built on the upstream branches of the Shiyang River, the largest of which was at Hongyashan. In 2004 and again in 2005, the Hongyashan Reservoir experienced intermittent emptiness due to excessive water use upstream, but thanks to financial support from the central government and diversion of water from other reservoirs and the Yellow River, measures provided for in the 2007 project, the reservoir was revived to some extent, and now has a steady flow of 90 million cubic meters yearly. For the residents of the increasingly arid county, the restora-
9/23/11 6:14 PM
tion of the Hongyashan Reservoir has, for the time being, provided a lifeline. One part of the project that has seen a disproportionately large amount of the total funding is the refurbishment of 4,000 kilometers of farm irrigation channels throughout the county, an initiative intended to reduce water loss through seepage. The government has spent the better part of the project’s funding on coating the existing water channels, which are filled with water from the reservoir only a few days per year, with cement. While the project has included measures welcomed by farmers, it has also been forced to take more hard-line measures in an effort to tackle problems closer to the desertification’s root cause – the excessive extraction of underground water, the majority of which is carried out for agriculture. Inevitably,
Photos by CFP / Wang Yan (top right)
Clockwise from top left: Adding layers of dry grass to control the movement of sand; Concrete channels and dying plants; Sandstorm in Minqin in April, 2011; Locals plant saxauls, a desert shrub, to stabilize sand dunes
cutbacks in extraction have meant cutbacks in farming; 54,000 acres of farmland have been lost with the closure of over 2,000 wells in the area. To rehabilitate the environment in the much more fragile areas inside the county, large numbers of people are being relocated. A total of 83 households from Huanghui village have been moved into the brick houses of Caiqi. The flat four-lane asphalt road running through the small village looks conspicuously different from the narrow dirt tracks in nearby villages. According to the villagers, this road is specially paved for high-ranking officials’ inspections. Apparently, as the first migration village in the county, villagers have become used to official visits. “We miss our old village, even though the new houses here look better,” said villager Wang Yongfu to our reporter.
Since Caiqi is further upstream, they can now enjoy a better supply of water. Yet our reporter noticed salt crystals beginning to appear around the bases of walls of houses – early warning signs of desertification. Even these new safe houses are susceptible to the ravages of the rapidly expanding deserts.
This year, thanks to the government’s measures and sufficient rainfall during the summer months, Hongyashan Reservoir has kept its capacity at around 33 million cubic meters. On a mid-July day, our reporter stood by the reservoir under the scorching sun, marveling at its sheer size. With birds wading and fishing in the somewhat rejuvenated wetland nearby, it could easily be believed that Minqin had been saved from the brink of complete dehydration. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:21 PM
However, when the reporter accompanied Chai Erhong on a walk 10 kilometers downstream, Chai spotted something that most wouldn’t – traces of salt and alkali deposits on the surface of soil by the lakeside, a clear-cut sign of water loss from evaporation. Chai pointed them out to the reporter and explained: “Salinization and alkalinization of soil are the most dangerous consequences of the water being exposed to the dry weather and baking sun here in Minqin.”
While it may appear that the dry days are over, Chai Erhong is adamant that the Hongyashan Reservoir is far from safe. According to Chai, the 20 square kilometer reservoir will lose 50 million cubic meters of water by evaporation every year, over half of the annual water flow into the reservoir, and that’s even before factoring in similar water loss in all the reservoirs upstream. While the newly paved irrigation channels will certainly help prevent seepage, they
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
“We miss our old village, even though the new houses here look better.”
will also accelerate evaporation, and with 4,000 kilometers of waterways exposed to the sun, the effects could be devastating. Chai repeated his opinion on many occasions: “The water cannot be exposed, otherwise it will disappear under the baking sun.” For him, the only way to stop evaporation is to hide the water underground. “The irrigation channels work well for local farmers, but the idea of storing water and releasing it at specific times won’t solve the problem of desertification in the long run,” Chai argues. “The key is to return the water to the desert underground, so as to lift the water table to a proper height, revive desert
plants and thus stabilize the shifting sands.” The building of reservoirs and the ongoing coating project are not, in the eyes of Mr. Chai, a wise use of the project’s funds: “We should be investigating the various technologies Arab countries use to conserve water while developing their agriculture, but the local government places more emphasis on facelift projects than improving technology.” Chai’s opinion is echoed by Ma Junhe, the local activist, who disclosed on his blog that the Hongyashan Reservoir construction project in 1958 was approved without any scientific appraisal. “The construction of the reservoir was controversial even back then. The human-controlled usage of water resources on the one hand ensures agricultural production, but on the other hand, it reduces the water flow to the downstream region, thus causing the depletion of subterranean water and the death of plant life,” wrote Ma. “A pessimistic prediction would be that Minqin will disappear within two decades.”
59 9/23/11 4:22 PM
As always, September 1 saw the beginning of a new school year for all Chinese middle and primary school students. This year, however, some 14,000 children in Beijing have not been allowed to go back to their schools. This was due to a sudden decision by the Beijing local government to shut down all migrant schools in the city in August. Some schools even faced forced demolition. The Beijing authorities justified the closures on grounds of safety. Though some schools are long-established, they remain unlicensed and lack regulation. The government promised that all displaced children would be helped into new schools. The official total number of possible relocations stands at 14,500 students, yet some children have encountered problems due to their parents’ lack of the required documentation. Others of those who are qualified have to go to school over 5 kilometers away from their homes. A survey conducted by a local NGO revealed that among 50 migrant households in Dongba township, only three children were successfully transferred to public schools.
60 P54-63_Nov_2011.indd 60
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:22 PM
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
61 9/23/11 4:22 PM
A child leaves a school marked for demolition by the government, August 16. The slogan on the wall reads: “Hope without limits, selfstrengthening without rest.”
62 P54-63_Nov_2011.indd 62
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:22 PM
Clockwise from top left: An elementary school student is reluctant to leave his soon-to-be-closed schoolhouse; A father protests his ineligibility for documentation that would allow his child to enroll in school; A mother walks her child to her newly-assigned school; A child stands by the ruins of the New Hope Elementary School, which principally catered to migrant children; Two children peep through the gate of their former school; A migrant child outside of the gate to the New Hope Elementary School
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
63 9/23/11 4:22 PM
OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within china
Where Nature Listens On the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in China’s mountainous west, travelers are treated to glimpses of Mother Nature at her most awe-inspiring. NewsChina travels to Anye Machin, a mountain sacred to the Tibetan people, for a closer look at the Buddhist way of life By Wang Yan
his was the sixth time I had set foot on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in the far-flung northwestern part of China. Everything was already familiar to me: the vast grassland stretching as far as the eye can see, the limpid sky and the bright sunlight, cattle grazing quietly on the moist green pastures, the local people in traditional Tibetan robes either busy doing household chores or chanting mantras, accompanied by swooping vultures, scampering pikas, and lazy marmots. Mount Anye Machin, known to the local Amdo Tibetans as “Grandpa Snow,” is located in Golog Prefecture, in the southeastern part of Qinghai Province. Anye Machin and Mount Nypanpo Yutse are twin sacred mountains in the eyes of the locals. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Buddhists make pilgrimages to the holy mountains. Since my first encounter with the ‘grandpa’ one July day five years ago, I have often sat on the vast, luscious grassland jeweled with purple flowers, some 100 kilometers away from the mountain, yearning for the chance to make my own pilgrimage. On a sunny afternoon in July 2011, I finally set off from Dawu, the seat of Maqen County, on my journey toward Anye Machin. Accompanying my group
were two Tibetan monks, 19-year-old Awang and 31-year-old Dannie, both from Long’en Monastery in Gade County, and a local Tibetan boy, Tsering Samdhup.
Life on the plateau is rarely characterized by precision when dealing with worldly matters, and accordingly, we began our journey without a detailed itinerary, and in vehicles chosen at random. I drew the short straw and got a 16-year-old Volkswagen Santana that could scarce be described as in shape. On the winding, bumpy dirt track to the mountain, the car lumbered along at an incredibly slow pace. Thankfully, the spectacular view was sufficient distraction from my sluggish conveyance, with tents, yaks, colorful sutra streamers and gurgling streams dotted across the landscape. After driving for a while, we stopped by the roadside where a spring was gushing out from some red rocks. I tried the natural bubbling water, and was told that the locals believe it can cure stomach deceases. Our convoy drove on through showers of rain and hail before reaching an open valley at around 7:30 PM, where we decided to make camp. The crimson light of the setting sun lingered over the western
A tent weathers a hailstorm in the foothills of the sacred mountain Anye Machin
mountain ranges, and the rain had left surrounding mountain tops completely white. The next day, we got up early and continued our journey. For the first two hours, we found ourselves in a gorgeous valley with a turquoise river to the left and cliffs festooned with hardy alpine flora to the right. We passed Xueshan, the closest settlement to Anye Machin, and after another hour’s perilous uphill drag in our sluggish Santana, we crawled out of a bend and brought the sacred mountain into glorious full view; Anye Machin was beckoning to us. The instant I caught sight of the sacred NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:24 PM
Photo by Wang Yan/Map Illustration by Wu Shangwen
mountain, tears welled up in my eyes.
The closer we got to the mountain, the higher we climbed. The summit of Anye Machin is 6,282 meters (20,610 ft) above sea level, and weather conditions are unpredictable; sunshine can be replaced by a terrifying storm in a matter of minutes. Ominously, a mild bout of hail welcomed our arrival at our base camp. We parked our cars by a tent and the hostess invited us in for some tea and food. The lonely tent topped by a colorful flag, NEWSCHINA I November 2011
against the backdrop of the sacred mountain, gave me a sense of solitude. We began our march toward the top at 1 PM. After the hailstorm had passed, the sky returned to clear blue. Thin ice on the mountainside began to melt under the rising temperature, and the trickles of water that crisscrossed our path were fast becoming hazardous streams. Fearing a mudslide, we picked up the pace.
An hour of dicey climbing brought us to the glacier, where we would hold a small
Tibetan Buddhist ceremony, burning tributes to the heavens and to the souls of the deceased. Our offering was relatively humble â€“ just a small bunch of cypress branches, some dry flour, and four bottles of
9/23/11 4:24 PM
Long-distance buses to Dawu depart daily from Xining at 8 AM and 5 PM. The eight-hour bus ride costs around 100 yuan (US$15), and the bus climbs over the gorgeous Yellow River valley. From Dawu, you must hire a car and driver to take you to the foot of Anye Machin, which will cost around 800 yuan (US$125). Hardcore pilgrims may wish to attempt the entire round-trip on foot, but just make sure you have seven days to spare.
Where to Stay: In Dawu, hotels and family-run inns are
readily available, with nightly prices ranging from 30 yuan (US$4.5) per person to around 120 yuan (US$18). The nearest town to Anye Machin is Xueshan, where you can find cheap hotels. Alternatively, you can camp at the foot of the mountain.
Other Attractions: In Golog Prefecture where Anye Machin is located, another place you shouldn’t miss is Mount Nypanpo Yutse, which has been developed into a National Park accommodating diverse rare animal species. A clockwise hike around the lake at the foot of the mountain is highly recommended.
wine. I prayed it would be sufficient to ensure our safe onward journey. We laid the elements on a piece of flat stone and the monk, Awang, lit the cypress branches. As the fire took hold, he told us to look up; dumbstruck, we saw a halo appear around the sun right over our heads. Nature had responded. Our silent amazement soon thawed to fervent evangelical joy; jumping on the glacier’s icy surface, we threw lungta, a kind of prayer paper, into the air, shouting the Tibetan phrase “lha jia lo,” “seeing God.” Tsering Samdhup’s voice carried the furthest by far, his gleeful cries echoing far into the distance. The residents of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are possessed of a profound humility; they accept their own insignificance in the awesome alpine ecosystem, and thus
maintain an intimate harmony with their surroundings that has existed for centuries. Outsiders might dismiss locals as poorly educated, at least in the academic sense, but they are tireless in their studied efforts to maintain a careful balance between man and nature—the legacy of their ancestors. Compared to spoiled city-dwellers, with our carbon-copy materialism, these highlanders can be proud of a symbiosis with nature that this reluctant urbanite can only dream of. Beautiful and sacred as it is, Anye Machin, like all China’s revered peaks, faces destruction on a daily basis. Precious resources have in recent years attracted hungry prospectors from all over the country, who tear apart mountain slopes and destroy the habitats of indigenous wildlife in
Photo by Wang Yan
Tsering Samdhup jumps on the glacier, throwing Lungta into the air
their quest for herbal medicines or mineral resources. Many mountains on the plateau, including Anye Machin, are being scarred. While Tibetans often warn that the sacred mountain will sooner or later exact revenge on these plunderers, it may be more fruitful in the short term if humankind were to come to Grandpa Snow’s defense.
kengdie Swindle Originally an obscure term rooted in the thick dialect of Changzhi city in Shanxi province, kengdie was first popularized by a local dub of a Japanese cartoon into the dialect. Literally meaning “to cheat dad,” the term was initially employed to describe the embarrassing behavior of the offspring of public figures. With several high-profile cases of thuggish behaviour among the children of public officials, in particular the notorious “My dad is Li Gang” hit-and-run case in late 2010, the term quickly went viral. As with many buzzwords, its meaning has subtly changed over time, and has now become an umbrella term for
66 P64-72_Nov_2011.indd 66
any scam or swindle. Shoddy pirate goods, false advertizing and insincere service can all be described as kengdie, and while State censors have fought to keep the term out of the official media, it has become a common sight on the Chinese blogosphere, gaining particular popularity with online gamers. Its negative form, bu kengdie has even been adopted by enterprises hoping to convince customers of their integrity by advertizing goods and services as “not a swindle.” NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:24 PM
flavor of the month
Dough-Faced By Stephy Chung
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Photo by CFP
t’s not unusual in China to be told that you’ve gained weight, or lost it. Such blunt remarks are liable to surprise even the most thick-skinned foreigner, yet neither comment is intended to insult. So it may be, but no one likes to be told they’re fat. Perhaps it was this that had led me to unconsciously avoid baozi – the capital’s near ubiquitous steamed filled buns, preferring instead a more healthy summer diet of fresh vegetables, steamed fish and seasonal fruit. That was until the leaves began to fall and the temperatures dropped, leaving me cold and in want of something warm and comforting. Salad just doesn’t cut it in winter. Enter Mrs Wang. For several months I have passed Mrs Wang’s unassuming baozi joint without giving it so much as a second glance. This is despite the fact that my roommate can regularly be found there, hunched over a small table, chatting in broken Chinese over the respective merits of the various flavors of soy sauce (there’s more than one, apparently). All that changed last week, when, from nowhere I found myself irresistibly drawn to the pleasant aroma of steaming baozi wafting through the rainy streets outside my apartment. With time on my hands, I decided to take the unusual step of stopping by. Unaccustomed to the variety of fillings on offer, I requested a popular vegetarian variety filled with finely chopped green vegetables and egg. Like all of the baozi available from Mrs Wang’s kitchen, mine were cooked to order. Not only does she chop and marinate the fillings herself, but she also personally kneads and rolls out the fluffy baozi “skins,” before forming the buns and cooking them over hot coals in hand-spun wooden steamer baskets. Baozi, so the legends tell, date back over 1,800 years to the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD). Military tactician Zhuge Liang (181-234 AD), during an incursion into southern China, became stranded deep behind enemy lines after a deadly disease decimated his forces. With time running out and the enemy fast approaching, Zhuge shaped
a human head from the group’s remaining rations of flour, pork and beef, and offered it as a sacrifice to the gods of healing before splitting it among the ranks of hungry men. They were miraculously healed, and the gallant general went on to win the day. So a legend was born, and, particularly in northern China, it has endured with a vengeance. With baozi a staple part of the northern diet, especially at breakfast, few locals are aware of their favorite bun’s strange creation myth. Not so Mrs Wang. After my initial visit, I stopped by again, only this time I wasn’t feeling so good. Commenting that I looked off-color (another typical Chinese observation), Mrs Wang instructed me to eat a steaming fresh plate of spicy tofu baozi. True to her word, it worked. The soft outer shell was neither too chewy nor oversweetened, while the filling was the perfect combination of savory marinated tofu and tangy Sichuan-style hot pepper sauce. Within minutes, I was back on form. As the self-appointed baozi capital of China, Beijing offers a dizzying variety of fillings and styles, with new-fangled gimmicky fillings such as roast duck and cheeseburger
found in eateries across town. However, for the locals and myself, it is the simplest varieties that provide the biggest draw. Mrs Wang, who has been rolling and steaming baozi for over 20 years, explained how few customers ever venture any further than the traditional pork and pepper varieties. When asked why, she suggested that for most customers, baozi are about nostalgia, not gastronomy. A reminder of simpler, childhood days, the unchanging, ever-present warmth and comfort is only augmented by the bargain price. A plate of 6 simple pork buns at Mrs Wang’s restaurant sells for just 6 yuan (less than US$1), while more expensive varieties, such as pork and leek and beef and carrot cost no more than 8-10 yuan (US$1.25) a plate. With prices so low, and availability so high, the humble steamed bun is as much a part of Beijing culinary life as its world famous roast duck. Why then, did it take me so long to appreciate it? The answer according to Mrs Wang is simple: “People today are so obsessed with looking for new things, that they fail to notice what’s right in front of them,” which I suppose is another way of saying that summer salad is overpriced.
9/23/11 4:25 PM
Bigger and Boulder
s I have recently observed from the foot of my local climbing wall in Beijing, rock climbing truly is a sport for everyone. Above the safety of the sweatdrenched mat, pro climbers of every body shape regularly perform a suspended homage to Swan Lake. Gliding gracefully from handhold to handhold, they occasionally pause for reflection in mid-air, rocking gently as if in a breeze while supporting their entire bodyweight solely with the strength of one hand. Watching them perform is an exercise in self-delusion, as it is easy to gather the impression that what they are doing is simple. But while they do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the professionals of this sport are united in being either uncommonly flexible, extraordinarily strong, or both. Standing spread-eagled 30 feet above the ground with my cheek flush against the wall, like a schoolboy assiduously avoiding the embarrassment of his first kiss with a dancing partner, brought the invisible necessity of being able to stay cool under pressure into sharp focus for yours truly. It is hard to express the feeling of panic that shakes your body as you strive to ward off the fatigue which threatens to take command of your limbs. You cling desperately to a poorly-chosen handhold while scrabbling blindly with your free hand for better purchase. Your mind, sensibly enough, deceives you into believing you will die if you fall, deliberately blocking the harness and crash
It is the fear of imminent death that spurs us on to accomplish great physical feats – it’s not like there’s much of an alternative to success. 68 P64-72_Nov_2011.indd 68
mat from your short-term memory. It is the fear of imminent death that spurs us on to accomplish great physical feats – it’s not like there’s much of an alternative to success. Your climbing partner is equally useful in this respect, always on hand to shout advice or encouragement while reminding you of the precariousness of your situation. I tend to reply to these well-meant overtures with equally well-meant expletives, not least because my partner is often Chinese, and attempting technical English-Mandarin translation while teetering on the brink of a messy death is sadly beyond my padawan skills. Developing the ability to interpret my partner’s prompts is of pressing concern, because the wall in Beijing is blessed in being home to a stable of professional climbers. These formidable ladies and gentlemen turn up every day and amuse themselves by setting their partners impossible routes involving acrobatic contortions, using long sticks or laser pointers as a guide. Yet their presence also serves as a source of inspiration and example. Rather than collapsing in a heap of laughter, the sheer pain of watching my lame attempts to figure out a move will prompt the pros to drop what they are doing, rush over and demonstrate how it should be done. However, there is no definitive way to complete a climbing route, much less set one. Faced with a bare rock face, proper climbers must plan their route based on their understanding of their own capabilities, allowing scope for little and large pairings to test each other’s mettle by pitting degrees of strength against skill. This was amply demonstrated when a close friend recently accompanied me to the wall. He was out of shape, had even less experience than I did, but retained the outstanding virtue of being nearly seven feet tall. It was a painful experience watching him traverse routes I had struggled with for ages, utilizing his giant reach to pluck holds from the ether, amid the shaking of heads and muttering from the crowd of instructors below. I’ve yet
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By David Green
to figure out how to counter this natural advantage, but I eagerly await the day I’m good enough to set a route solely with the aim of bamboozling him. Much of the pleasure I derive from climbing is in the accomplishment of small personal successes. Completing a route or solving a puzzle on the boulder wall kindles a warm glow of happiness it is hard to come by in other sports or everyday life. The intensity of focus needed while climbing is similar to that of martial arts, while the feeling of relaxation and achievement on completing a route bestows the blissful relief one might associate with surfacing after a particularly rewarding scuba dive. Yet the precise combination of strength, technique, willpower, creativity and courage required to complete climbing challenges is in my experience unparalleled. As a beginner, it is evidently foolhardy to aspire to the heights scaled by the professionals, and I have been somewhat disingenuous in suggesting that I would attempt to do so. I have one overriding objective, and that is to swap the relative comfort of the indoor wall for an actual outdoor rock face. The challenge comes in achieving this level of skill before the onset of winter, when the rocks will turn to ice and crystalize into an entirely new set of problems I have not the faintest idea how to solve. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:25 PM
Pity the Educator
n the blissful summer before junior year in high school, my parents forced me to take an SAT preparation course in the basement of a brown-brick building named The Lyceum. Despite the name, it was not a place of higher learning. The teacher, a lumbering middle-aged woman, resembled Aristotle about as much as I resembled Alexander the Great. She stood in the front of a makeshift classroom that looked like it doubled for AA meetings and read from an open Princeton Review prep book. She taught us how to divine, through the process of elimination, the correct answer to reading comprehension problems even if we hadn’t understood the passage. She reminded us of things learned and forgotten, like scalene triangles and the transitive property. If you had told me, ten years ago in that depressing classroom, that one day I’d be in her shoes, I would have laughed and gone back to sleeping. But life has its own sense of humor. Nowadays, as an English teacher in China, I see my fifteen-year-old self every week. English, as any Chinese student can recite for you, is an international language and an important tool for anyone who wants to study abroad, pass a job interview, work in a foreign company, or do business with foreigners. However, not every student who walks into an English classroom has those goals. Sometimes the goal is set by their parents: “I have decided you are studying abroad so
Sometimes, when I see that fifteen-year-old in my class, I silently apologize to all my teachers—every substitute, every guest speaker—even my gym teachers. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
I am buying you English lessons.” Sometimes it’s set by the school: “You need to take this course so we don’t lose our accreditation.” Sometimes the company: “Why are we sending you on business trips when you can’t understand anything?” Generally, very generally, students like this don’t improve simply because their heart’s not in it. It sounds like self-help mumbo-jumbo but motivation, especially self-motivation, is a key factor for success. These students also have nothing to lose. It’s not their own money so they have no financial incentive; it’s not their own choice so they have no personal incentive. I speak from experience, of course. That SAT course didn’t help me at all. I took the test and got the same score as I had on a practice test the year before. What finally made a difference in my SAT score (my stereotypically Chinese parents made me take it again) were two books. They weren’t vocabulary books or test prep books or anything like that—they were just two novels that I fell in love with. I read them hungrily—between classes, during classes, on the bus—and, because I wanted to understand them so badly, I wrote down every word I didn’t know and looked it up in the dictionary. The next time I took the test, my score jumped 70 points. When I tell this story, students always ask desperately, “What were the books?” But what saved me weren’t the books themselves or the words in them—it was my desire to learn. The books had somehow managed to ignite that desire. Today, I try to find that passion within each student and tease it out. It’s easier said than done. Chinese students are treated like machines in school, tasked to remember and regurgitate. They are told not to question, not to disagree. They (or their parents) choose a school and a major based on what score they think they can get on the college entrance exam before even setting foot on campus. When they find they’re not happy, it’s hard to switch.
Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui
By George Ding
A lot of what I do as a teacher is deprogramming. I try to show students that it’s okay to ask questions and it’s okay to not know; that learning is more than memorizing what’s in the book; that some questions—the most important questions— don’t have a correct answer. I want to help my students, but some of them don’t want to be helped, just like I didn’t. Over the years I’ve realized that some students don’t want to learn English—they resent having to learn another language to compete in this world—and the best thing I can do for them is help them not to hate the process. Sometimes, when I see that fifteen-yearold in my class, I silently apologize to all my teachers—every substitute, every guest speaker—even my gym teachers. I apologize for sleeping, for rolling my eyes, for passing notes and snickering at their lame jokes. If I could, I’d like to thank them for their patience and generosity and tell them that I now know it’s not easy being a teacher. I’d like them to know that I grew out of it; that I, through fate or amazing fortune, became a curious, passionate, and conscientious member of society. To all of my teachers, I just want to say one thing: you succeeded.
9/23/11 4:25 PM
CULTURAL LISTINGS Art
Beijing Bienniale Titled Super-Organism, the biennale of the Art Museum of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFAM) took place from September 20 to October 30 2011. Aiming to approach contemporary art from an academic angle, the bienniale was split into four themed sections – Super-Machine, Super-Urbanity, Super-Body and Bio-Politics. With 33 Chinese artists and 13 overseas artists’ work represented, these pieces saught to explore the relations between art, human beings and contemporary life. Academic forums augmented the exhibitions, an attempt to open a public dialog on contemporary art, which remains very much a niche field in China.
Composer Turned Auteur My Kingdom, a story about the Borgia-esque infighting, love affairs and acts of revenge between two feuding families that both specialize in playing martial roles in Chinese opera, was screened in China early September. Director Gao Xiaosong, who worked eight years on bringing his brainchild to the screen, missed the premiere, as he was in jail as a result of a DUI conviction in May. As one of China’s foremost composers of so-called “campus folk and pop” in the 1990s, Gao’s lifelong dream, even when he was a leading light of China’s college music scene, was always to be a director. His debut, the art film Rainbow, was released to mixed reviews in 2005. My Kingdom, featuring some of China’s hottest screen stars, has had a similarly lukewarm reception from critics, earning plaudits mainly from the fan clubs of its leading actors.
Record of Zhu Rongji’s Talks
An Eccentric Protest?
By Zhu Rongji
“No verbalism. Only truth.” Speaking at a launch event at Tsinghua University, Zhu Rongji thus described this hotly-anticipated collection of the speeches and writings of the former Chinese premier and one of the country’s top economic planners of the late 1990s. September sales were strong, understandably given Zhu’s status as the most outspoken and, some say, radical of the founding fathers of China’s economic miracle. The four-volume book, Record of Zhu Rongji’s Talks, includes over 300 articles, speech transcripts, talks, letters and cables from 1991 to 2003, when he served as China’s vice-premier and then premier. “I personally selected 1.2 million Chinese characters out of a total 15 million,” said Zhu. “And I leave their honesty and quality to your judgment.”
Zuoxiao Zuzhou seems never to sing in tune. However, with the cacophonous and experimental nature of China’s alternative music scene, which is gaining in strength thanks to the rapid expansion of live performances, especially rock festivals, this is no barrier to success. Trip to Temple Fair II, a sequel to an early album he published 12 years ago, has been warmly received by his large fan base, which includes both teenagers and middle-aged ex-rockers. Featuring Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s trademark surrealist vocals and a mixture of rock and experimental melodies, the niche audience of this underground artist has even allowed him to address strongly controversial social issues, something utterly outlawed in China’s mainstream music scene. One of the album’s tracks was even written and performed by a father who believed his 53-year-old son was murdered by government thugs due to his petitioning over land rights.
Photo by ???
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:25 PM
Ascott Accelerates Expansion in China with Two More Properties in Chengdu and Beijing On track to achieve 12,000 apartment units in China by 2015 The Ascott Limited has clinched contracts to manage two more properties in Chengdu and Beijing. The 181-unit Ascott Financial City Chengdu, the first premier Ascott-branded property in Chengdu, is slated to open in 2014. The 187-unit Somerset Wangjing Beijing, which is the first international brand of serviced residence in Beijing’s thriving Wangjing business area, is scheduled to open in 2013. With the latest additions, Ascott has further strengthened its leadership position as the largest international serviced residence owner-operator in China and is on track to achieve 12,000 apartment units in the country
by 2015. Somerset Wangjing Beijing is strategically located in the bustling Wangjing business area within the Chaoyang District. Positioned as Beijing’s second central business district, Wangjing is home to the China headquarters of many multinational companies including Daimler, Siemens and Caterpillar. Many Grade A office towers and commercial buildings will be developed to attract more corporations to set up offices in Wangjing. As the first international brand of serviced residence in Wangjing, Somerset Wangjing Beijing will enjoy first mover advantage in attracting expatriates and project teams who work in the area.
Wine Tasting Beginner Class at Knigge Akademie Price: 498 yuan (including a bottle of fine red wine, 398 yuan three days in advance Qualified teacher: Chief Representative of Knigge Akademie These Germanlanguage classes are designed to meet the requirements of beginners, with lectures and wine tastings helping you master a theoretical and practical knowledge of wine. Learn to determine the differences between red and white, the role of temperature, wine history and complete a masterclass in storage, selection, opening and serving. Chinese translation available. NEWSCHINA I November 2011
Hiding at the north-west corner of the famed Millennium Residences and Fortune Heights Beijing, MRL is a secluded contemporary French bistro that consistently performs culinary magic. A great location, breathtaking cookery, reasonable prices and attentive service; MRL is a private corner awaiting your presence. Select your appetizer from an extensive list including grilled tiger prawns and quail pâté or a scallop and avocado salad, followed by one of our popular
entreés including New Zealand lamb chops or grilled neck of wild boar. Also on the menu are more locally-inspired favorites such as nasi goreng, homemade Chinese dumplings and braised pork ribs with sour beans and noodles. Reservation Hotline: 010-8588-2668 Address: 1/F Building Number 6, Fortune Plaza, 7 Dongsanhuan Middle Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Beauté Hair Salon Founded in 1985 by Jessie Von, French brand Bubble Beauté Hair Salon redefines the concept of hair styling to create a beautiful salon environment with charm and personality. Choose Bubble Beauté for a romantic journey. Address: Room 3008, 3.3 Mall, Sanlitun, Beijing Tel: (86-10) 5136-5233
71 9/23/11 4:25 PM
Stable Marriages Cannot be Created in Divorce Court Critics of the controversial new interpretation of China’s marriage law seem to think that marriages come together and dissolve based on legal procedure. This is not the case By Zhou Dawei
ith the recently released new interpretation of Chinese is often insignificant in amount and poorly enforced. In rural armarriage law raising hackles across China, many are eas, women often lose the right to own and inherit farmland upon looking to the West for a more equitable solution. Op- divorce. If the new interpretation of the marriage law becomes statponents of the new reinterpretation may be disappointed to find ute, many women in China could find themselves homeless. that it is actually in accordance with legal practice in many Western countries. For example, in the US, where protection of personal property is a founding principle of the legal system, property obtained prior Beyond learning from the developed world in protecting to marriage or endowed and inherited during a marriage is considered personal property. This same prinpersonal property rights, China also needs to learn to ciple will be upheld in China’s revised marriage law. provide judical relief to the weak and those without From this perspective, the change to China’s marfault. riage law only brings the country somewhat more in line, on paper at least, with developed countries that see the defense of individual property rights as a fundamental responsibility of the law. However, these same developed In seeking to establish a modern legal system, China’s judicial countries have also established mechanisms to protect women’s officials cannot simply ignore the complexity of marital issues. The rights in a marriage. Husbands are expected to pay means-tested non-financial contributions of wives to a marriage, such as childmaintenance to their ex-wives following a divorce until they find care, managing a home and supporting a husband, should be taken employment or a new husband, a sum which increases dramati- into consideration. Beyond learning from the developed world in cally if there are children involved. In the US, legal procedure and protecting personal property rights, China also needs to learn to the ubiquitous pre-nup has made it very expensive to divorce, with provide judicial relief to the weak and those without fault. The ulsome accusing the system of encouraging “indolence.” Currently, timate goal of a marriage law should be to ensure balance and fairseveral states are considering amendments to their marriage stat- ness, something China’s current marriage law has failed to deliver. utes to make maintenance payments a short-term arrangement for That being said, it is also unrealistic to expect stable marriage to divorced couples, rather than a long-term crutch for the less finan- somehow be created in court, as critics of the new interpretation’s cially secure partner. focus on divorce seem to suggest. Marriage and family law can only While some may accuse American women of being “overpro- address marriages and divorces. Marriage attorneys can only act as tected,” Chinese women are certainly not. In the male-dominant mediators in, and not the arbiters of, marital bliss. Chinese society, many women lack financial independence. Although Chinese husbands are often required to pay maintenance, Zhou Dawei is a law professor of law at the these payments are often limited to their children’s welfare, which Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
9/23/11 4:26 PM
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
1 9/23/11 5:16 PM
NEWSCHINA I November 2011
1 9/23/11 5:15 PM