Issuu on Google+

ECONOMY Hot Air Bubble: Is Overcapacity Really a Problem? HISTORY Singing Generals: China's Art Soldiers

What did we learn from the trial of Bo Xilai?


Volume No. 063 November 2013

SPECIAL REPORT Half the Sky: Feminism Past and Present


Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Director : Liu Beixian Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Yang Yi Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Alex Taggart Lead Writer: Yu Xiaodong Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Sun Zhe, Li Jia First Reader: Sean Silbert Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: Art Department Art Director: Wu Shangwen Art Editor/Designer: Zhang Dawei Marketing Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: Suite 1101, 15 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA Email: Toronto Office Director: Lai Hailong Address: 51 Halstead Drive, Markham, ON Canada L3R7Z4 Tel: 1-905-604-6150 Fax: 1-905-604-6170 Email: Marketing Director: Wang Chenbo Account Manager : Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Wang Yongzhi, Ruan Yulin, Li Yang Washington Office: Wu Qingcai, De Yongjian Los Angeles Office: Mao Jianjun San Francisco Office: Liu Dan Houston Office: Wang Huan London Office: Zhou Zhaojun Tokyo Office: Sun Ran Paris Office: Long Jianwu Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Huang Hongbin Moscow Office: Jia Jingfeng Manila Office: Zhang Ming Berlin Office: Huang Shuanghong Sydney Office: Zhu Daqiang Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Rule the Web through rule of law


n September 9, the Supreme People’s est legal authorities made some effort to limit the Court and the Supreme People’s Procu- scope of the new law’s application. For example, ratorate, China’s top two legal bodies, they stipulated that whistle-blowing via social mereleased a new statutory interpretation of the coun- dia does not constitute rumor-spreading, even if try’s criminal code. By making online “rumor and such reports were later proven to be unfounded. slander-mongering” a criminal offense, the govern- The interpretation also quantifies the punitive apment has attempted to extend its legal authority to plication of China’s criminal code in relation to irthe Web for the first time. responsible speech, stipulatThe development of the ing that if an online rumor Internet and social media in is viewed more than 5,000 Without a precise China has played a signifidefinition, law enforcement times, or was reposted more cant role in informing the than 500 times, the originaauthorities are effectively public – promoting freedom tor would be subject to a jail free to interpret what of speech, transparency of term of no more than three “rumor” means government and human years. rights. Despite this, the anoDespite these efforts, this nymity of the Internet has interpretation is far from led to concern in official circles over the fallout adequate in ensuring that the criminal code will caused by “irresponsible speech,” including rumor, not be abused and simply used as another method slander and spam, which have mushroomed as a to punish dissents. For example, as the number of result of both lax supervision and a general distrust Twitter equivalent Weibo users has already reached of information proffered by traditional media. hundreds of millions, the 5,000 views or 500 “reAs China is in a transitional period, the preva- tweets” would make a large number of netizens lence of rumors, combined with rising social ten- punishable by jail terms for posting so-called false sion, is now seen by the government as a tangible information. threat to law and order. Though the white paper also stipulates that netiBut to crack down on irresponsible speech on zens will not be punished if the “rumors” they post the Internet, the authorities must follow the rule are not intentionally fabricated, it still leaves wiggle of law. Firstly, there must be a clear definition on room for law enforcement authorities to select what constitutes rumor or slander. Without a pre- whom to punish, and to determine intent, leaving cise definition, law enforcement authorities are those detained largely defenseless. Other concepts effectively free to interpret what “rumor” means, such as “threatening social order and national inturning the law into yet another tool to punish terests” are also subject to interpretation, further political dissent. For example, in the crackdowns weakening the ability of those incriminated by the conducted by local police prior to the release of the new measures to prove their innocence. statutory interpretation, many government critics As the government has pledged to deliver a just were detained for creating or spreading rumors, legal system, it should refrain from employing its including several journalists and netizens who had vast power apparatus to suppress online freedom of merely questioned whether a reported incident had speech before it has established effective procedures actually happened. and mechanisms to ensure genuine rule of law. With the announcement of the statutory interTo lessen the impact of false information, the pretation, many of these detained activists have authorities should instead focus on promoting govbeen released. In its white paper, China’s two high- ernment transparency and accountability. 



Photo by CFP

How the Bo Xilai courtroom drama could be a watershed moment for Chinese justice. Or not.


Cover Story


01 Rule the Web through rule of law

10 Trial of Bo Xilai : Problem Solved?/Courtroom Drama

18 20 23 28

Rural e-commerce : Weaving a Fortune War Veterans : Forgotten Heroes Cultural Revolution Confessions : Too Little? Too Late? Rural Art Education : Village Ballet

special report

30 Gender Equality : Tradition on Trial/Lunatic Endeavor



P40 NEWSCHINA I November 2013









outside in

38 Arctic Shipping : In Cold Water

40 Industrial Overcapacity : Black Lists, Red Tape


44 Art Soldiers : The Show Must Go On

61 Yellow River : River of Constant Sorrow 64 67

Historic Qufu : CONFUCIUS SAYS… Welcome! Flavor of the Month : Local Concession


71 China Hardware Expo

visual report

48 New Model Army


72 Corruption has evolved, so should the means to fight it


52 Women’s Volleyball : Return of the Iron Hammer 56 Shen Na : Sheer Class 58 Arthouse Movies : Window of Opportunity

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

04 MEDIA FOCUS 05 What They Say 06 NEWS BRIEF 08 Netizen Watch 43 China by numbers 66 real chinese 68 ESSAY 70 CULTURAL LISTINGS


NewsChina Chinese Edition

Oriental Outlook

September 9, 2013

August 22, 2013

The“Big Vs”

Psychiatric Predicament

On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, verified users have a capitalized orange “V”attached to their profiles. Verified users with the largest numbers of followers – the number of whom, on Weibo, ranges from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions, are dubbed“Big Vs”by netizens. Weibo has profoundly changed China’s media environment by revolutionizing information exchange much as Twitter, which is blocked in China, has in the West. The Big Vs, often celebrities from all walks of life, have also created a potent and powerful“we-media”lobby. By the end of 2012, there were more than 80 Weibo accounts with fan bases exceeding more than 10 million followers. Over 3,600 accounts had a fan base of over a million followers. Meanwhile the total number of Weibo users has already exceeded 500 million. As information flows much more quickly through Weibo than through traditional media, and is also less encumbered by State censorship, Big Vs could be said to have more influence than the average Chinese newspaper. While the government has adopted a series of measures to strengthen Internet information supervision, especially in the social media, many also argue that a more open environment would be a better deterrent to false rumor-spreading than increased censorship, which leaves an information vacuum.

Caixin September 9, 2013

Tiger Hunting In only one week, five high-level officials from PetroChina, China’s biggest State-owned oil producer, were detained by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as part of its anti-corruption drive. Among these five officials, the highest-ranking, Jiang Jiemin, resigned in March from the post of chairman of the board of PetroChina and was appointed director and vice party chief of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission under the State Council. Jiang was the first member of the CPC’s Central Committee to be investigated for corruption after the 18th CPC National Congress held last November. Some are now calling him the first “tiger” on Xi Jinping’s hit list of corrupt “tigers and flies” at all levels of government.


China’s State organizations established for the treatment of psychiatric patients have the slogan “Do our best to house those who should be housed and treat those who should be treated.” As a result, psychiatric professionals have questioned why the number of psychiatrists and available beds in the country’s small number of mental hospitals has fallen far behind demand. Data indicate that over 100 million Chinese citizens suffer some form of mental illness, among which some 16 million could be classed as “severely mentally ill.” Despite these alarming data, there are only 15,000 trained psychiatrists practicing in China, and the country’s psychiatric care facilities have barely 20,000 beds between them. Traditional social prejudices, which lead to the labeling of those with mental illness as either dangerous or pitiful, do little to help the situation.

China Weekly August 19, 2013

Surveillance Nation In the past decade, surveillance cameras have appeared en masse throughout China’s public spaces. Earlier data from IMS Research, a US-based electronic product market research company, indicate that the number of surveillance cameras in China will increase by 20 percent every year from 2010 to 2014, double the international rate. Yet few regulations and almost no laws govern the installation and usage of this equipment, leading some to question what the government is actually doing with them. A few recent cases have exposed loopholes in the management of surveillance cameras, which included a heated dispute over an inexplicably missing surveillance video which should have recorded the accidental death of a young man fatally electrocuted on a Beijing subway platform.

Xinmin Weekly September 2, 2013

Heads in the Cloud Though development of cloud computing in China started later than in the West, a recent surge of interest in this area has seen nearly all the country’s major Internet companies joining in research and uptake of this new technology, including Alibaba, Tencent, Sina, Baidu and Sohu. Besides the typical domains such as online news, music, video sharing and gaming, cloud computing is now spilling over into more traditional sectors such as education and healthcare. Some have even claimed that cloud computing is the answer to the logistical nightmare of managing China’s 1.3 billion citizens. NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Illustration by Wu Shangwen

“To lose our property is to be stripped of our underwear. It is unpleasant and shameful.”

Entrepreneur Feng Lun on the risks taken by Chinese businesses struggling with a lack of financial regulation.

“I want to live to see Japan apologize to me.” Wan Aihua, the first Chinese “comfort woman” to sue the Japanese government following her imprisonment as a sex slave in a wartime military brothel. Wan asked her family to continue her legal battle before her death on September 4.

“Living in a rapidly changing China, even William Faulkner couldn’t make fiction more dramatic than reality.” Novelist Yu Hua on China’s breakneck social transformation.

“From officialdom to schools, from media to communities, no one has a feeling of the divine or a sense of mission. We have no soul beyond parody and vulgarity. Vulgarity is the biggest enemy of society.” Translator Lin Shaohua on the lack of spiritual fulfilment in China.

“Audiences are not my God, they are my friends. Do you dare to educate or amuse God? Does God even need entertainment?” Director Meng Jinghui on the relationship between art creators and art consumers.

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

“Nothing is so sure as death. Everyone is equal before cancer.” 52-year-old Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO of Innovation Works, confirming his recent lymphoma diagnosis in a microblog entry.

“I saw Shanghai judges trying to explain the term‘whoremaster,’then Li Shuangjiang and his wife tried to give the same title to their son to get him off his rape charge. Hilarious!” Microblog king Xue Manzi, whose remarks were made more poignant when he was detained on suspicion of soliciting prostitution days after they appeared on his feed.

“Whoknowswhetherwe’llbealivein40yearstime? Don’tthinksofarahead!” The land resources bureau of Langzhong, Sichuan Province, giving a controversial response to complaints over their 40-year-maximum land lease agreements.

“I never revise my scripts. I spent only 20 days in a spa finishing my most recent book. It is actually the greatest tragedy in Chinese literature that a writer like me could be a success.” Writer Kong Xiangzhao on China’s waning enthusiasm for literature.


Top Story

Chinese mainland investors invested a total of US$87.8 billion overseas in 2012, for the first time edging China into the world’s top three foreign investors, following the US and Japan. According to a recent communiqué on China’s net foreign direct investment (FDI) jointly issued by the country’s Ministry of Commerce, the National Bureau of Statistics and the State Administration

of Foreign Exchange, by the end of 2012, a total of 16,000 Chinese domestic investors had set up nearly 22,000 overseas companies in 179 countries and regions. The communiqué also revealed that China garnered around US$531.9 billion in FDI stock in 2012, placing it at number 13 globally, but that the country still lags far behind developed economies like the US, Britain, Germany, France and Japan.

China’s net FDI between 2008 and 2012

Net FDI Rockets

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

Rapid growth in spite of global recession: China’s FDI in 2012 grew by 17.6 percent on 2011, while global FDI dropped by 17 percent in the same period.

wholesale and retail, manufacturing, transportation and construction the top seven industries, attracting over US$491 billion of FDI, 92.4 percent of the total.

Boom in the US, withdrawal from Virgin and Cayman islands: China’s 2012 FDI in the US reached US$4.05 billion, a 123.5 percent rise increase on 2011, making the US China’s second-favorite investment destination for FDI after Hong Kong. Meanwhile, FDI in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands dropped by 72.5 percent to US$3.1 billion.

Huge investment in mergers: Chinese domestic investors launched 457 mergers in 2012, involving US$43.4 billion of investment.

Wide range of industries: China’s FDI stock portfolio in 2012 covered nearly all sections of the national economy, with rental and commercial service, finance, mining,

Large contribution to tax revenue in foreign countries: In 2012, Chinese investors paid US$22.2 billion in tax to countries where their overseas enterprises were located, and employed 709,000 foreign employees.

Wide distribution worldwide: 22,000 Chinese-invested enterprises covered 95.7 percent of Asia, 85.7 percent of Europe and 85 percent of Africa.

FDI stock of major economies in 2012

Major features of China’s 2012 FDI listed in the communiqué:


Xi Jinping Attends G20 Summit Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the eighth summit of the 20 major global economies (G20) in St Petersburg, Russia, from September 5 to 6. Appearing for the first time at the G20 summit, Xi was expected to relay China’s views on global economic recovery and financial reform, the two main themes of the summit. In an earlier interview, Xi pledged to play China’s role in promoting the sustainable growth of the world economy, and deepen cooperation among the summit members.


Vladimir Putin demonstrated Russia’s focus on China by meeting with Xi before other leaders, a meeting at which the two sides concluded an array of strategic cooperation agreements on military, energy and aviation issues. Syria was another hot topic in the summit. In a discussion with Barack Obama, Xi expressed China’s wish to convene a second Geneva Conference to prevent the use of violence, emphasizing that political means were the only correct way to settle the dispute. NEWSCHINA I November 2013


Yuan Active in Forex

Another “Tiger” Falls

The Bank for International Settlement (BIS) issued its report on global foreign exchange September 5, indicating that the yuan had exceeded the Swedish krona, the New Zealand dollar and the Hong Kong dollar to become the world’s ninth most actively traded currency. According to the report, which BIS issues every three years, the daily transaction value settled in Chinese yuan had risen to US$120 billion from US$34 billion three years ago, representing 2.2 percent of total global transactions.

By surveying 53 central banks and over 1,300 commercial banks and financial organs worldwide, BIS indicated that foreign exchange is increasingly concentrated in the world’s financial centers, with the US dollar retaining the top spot. Impacted by the European debt crisis, however, the euro saw a sharp drop in foreign exchange over the past three years, while the turnover of Japanese yen increased by 63 percent. BIS acknowledged China’s efforts to internationalize its currency, calling for more enterprises to acknowledge the rise of the yuan in foreign transactions.

Most Actively Traded Currencies as of April 2013

1 D: US

2 R: EU

3 Y: JP

4 P: GB

5 D: AU

9 Y: CN

Source: BIS


Chinese Restaurants Hit Rock Bottom The Chinese restaurant business is suffering its worst ever season since 2000 (except for 2003, the year of the SARS epidemic), warned the country’s Ministry of Commerce. According to official statistics, China’s catering industry in the first half of 2013 saw revenue growth of only 13.6 percent, a 3.3 percent drop compared to the same period in 2012, with high-end restaurants suffering a nearly 7 percent drop in revenue growth to only 12.9 percent, far from the expected 16 percent listed in the country’s 12th Five-year Plan. Spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce Yao Jian

has attributed the drop to the government’s tightened control on wastage in restaurants, especially at official banquets. Besides this, the soaring price of land, raw materials and labor, as well as increased taxes have also put restaurants under pressure. Media said that many high-end restaurants have been trying to survive through promotional efforts like group purchase deals and half-price menus, but with little success. Analysts have predicted a reshuffle in the catering industry, with low-end and mid-range restaurants gaining dominance in the market.

On September 3, the former transportation director of China’s former Ministry of Railways, Zhang Shuguang, was put under investigation in Beijing for allegedly accepting bribes worth 47.55 million yuan (US$7.6m). According to the court, Zhang’s corruption was concentrated in bidding for accessories and equipment used on China’s high-speed rail projects. A total of 13 enterprises, mostly private businesses, had made huge profits by monopolizing the supply of these items, with most products provided at unreasonably high markups. A confident subordinate of Liu Zhijun, the former railways minister who was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve (essentially life imprisonment) for bribery and abuse of power, Zhang, according to the media, played a major role in aiding Liu’s corruption, yet another example of “group corruption” in Chinese officialdom. At press time, the court has not yet judged. Media have reported that Zhang’s wife and daughter emigrated to the US several years ago, where they allegedly possess a luxury villa and large amounts of capital.


CPC Cleans Up Dead Regulations The Communist Party of China (CPC) plans to do away with a total of 767 Party documents and regulations issued between 1978 and June 2012. Based on the Party’s Resolution on Standardizing Documents and Party Regulations, the CPC abolished around 300 documents and revised another 42 that were judged as contradictory or incongruous with national laws and the Party’s constitution. This is the first time, according to Xinhua News Agency, that the CPC has launched a thorough cleanup of its documents and regulations. State media revealed that the move was backed by the Party’s two most recent regulations on designing and standardizing inner-Party documents, which are viewed as the beginning of the Party’s efforts to rectify its internal system. The CPC will initiate the second phase of its clean-up from October 2013 to December 2014, working on documents and regulations issued between 1949 and 1978. NEWSCHINA I November 2013


Photos by Xinhua


What’s Moving China ?

Boys from Zhengzhou 19th Middle School lined up to provide shade to their female classmates during compulsory military training this August.

What’s Shocking China ?

A Mrs Wu, from Kunming, Yunnan Province, received eight large bags of small change as compensation from a local restaurant whose staff injured her and her husband during an argument. It took one whole day for 18 bank workers to count up half of the coins after she decided to deposit the money.

Poll the People A man from Sichuan would not allow his daughter to accept an offer of a place at a local university, because he believed it wasn’t worth the time or money – he said she would be wiser to open her own store. What do you think? 35% 127 China’s higher education is of poor quality, and a second-class college is not worth attending. 23% 86 Parents should respect their children’s choices. 22% 82 Higher education is not the only way, finding a job is better than going to college. 19% 71 The father should not see higher education as investment. The purpose of attending college is not just to find a job, but to cultivate oneself.


Most Circulated Post Retweeted 201,055 times

What’s Amazing China ? A 60-year-old street sweeper surnamed Shi from Ma’anshan, Anhui Province helped to catch two thieves by thrusting her broom handle into the front wheel of their motorcycle while the two attempted to flee with a stolen bag. The thieves fell off the motorcycle, and one was apprehended by passersby.

What’s Making China Angry ? A passenger who tried to stop a child urinating on Line 11 of the Shanghai subway was beaten up by the boy’s father, mother and uncle early September. The boy’s parents were later detained by police.


A post by the People’s Daily encouraged citizens to be careful where they stick their gum: It takes a cleaner 15 minutes to scrape up a single piece of chewing gum dropped on the floor. Please promise not to drop gum anywhere but in the garbage. NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Top Five Search Queries On

over the week ending September 15 Xue Manzi 322,030 The Chinese-American venture capitalist and popular microblogger was detained by Beijing police on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes


HOT? WHO’S NOT? Gallant John

The man informed the parents of a prostitute when he found the girl was only 16 years old and had been tricked into moving to Fujian with another girl before being forced into prostitution. The girls were later rescued.

Kai-fu Lee 111,653 The former Google Great China CEO and renowned blogger was diagnosed with lymphoma in early September. Cui Yadong 106,666 The chief of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court and former police chief of Guizhou Province was accused of corruption by 70 of his former subordinates in Guizhou.

Xichang Police

Li Danyu 94,872 Bo Xilai’s ex-wife found herself in the limelight during his trial late August.

The police detained a man on the street on suspicion of being a drug addict, simply because he was skinny.

Urumqi Earthquake 62,865 No injuries or deaths were reported after the 5.1-magnitude quake August 30.

Top Blogger Profile Qian Gang Followers: 1,273,933 The 54-year-old used to be one of the most renowned journalists in China. Qian first became famous for his in-depth reports on the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, then from 1998 to 2001 served as deputy editor at the liberal Guangzhoubased newspaper Southern Weekend, before taking up the post of Director of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Some of the images used in this section are from the internet

Kind-hearted Windsurfer Ma Jiao, a windsurfer from Sichuan, abandoned a race to rescue a fellow competitor who had fallen into rough seas during the National Games in early September.

Disgruntled Rugby Players The Beijing women’s rugby team protested the referee by standing in a huddle on the pitch, and lost 71-0 to Shandong during the finals of the National Games.


cover story



NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by CFP

nt day

With its unprecedented publicity, salacious testimony and embrace of “trial by Tweet,” Bo Xilai’s court appearance certainly delivered on spectacle. But what, if anything, does it tell us about the future of due process in China?

NEWSCHINA I November 2013


cover story

Trial of Bo Xilai

Problem Solved? Former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s public trial sends mixed messages about the future of justice in China By Yu Xiaodong


fter 17 months in confinement, Bo Xilai, a former member of the powerful Politburo and Party chief of southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality finally stood trial on August 23 in a court in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province. One month later, Bo was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment.


Due to his vociferous denial of all charges, Bo was not granted leniency, according to the court ruling. Millions followed the sensational live transcript feeds through online news portals and Weibo – China’s Twitter. The very public trial of a highly controversial and ambitious high-ranking official provided a rare chance

for ordinary Chinese to scrutinize and attempt to decipher the inner workings of the country’s usually closed-door judicial process and search for signs of any change in the legal system. Bo was officially charged with taking bribes valued at US$3.4 million, including a luxury villa in France; embezzling US$820,000 NEWSCHINA I November 2013

spread over five days, but also afforded an unusual degree of publicity with the court releasing detailed, though incomplete, transcripts of the proceedings on its Weibo feed. Unlike Gu and Wang, who readily confessed to all charges in pre-scripted statements delivered at their sentencing hearings before being slapped with a death sentence with a two-year reprieve (usually commuted to life imprisonment) and 15 years in prison respectively, Bo proved a tougher customer. Speaking in his own defense, he rejected all the charges against him, challenging the prosecution’s case point by point and deftly crossexamining witnesses. A peek into one of China’s most powerful families soon turned into a salacious exposé of power struggles, love triangles and the decadent lifestyles of China’s shadowy political aristocracy. The Chinese public, unused to such a glamorous and visible dressing-down of a prominent Party member, were captivated.

Photo by Xinhua


Bo Xilai in court, August 26, 2013

of public funds; and abusing his power by dismissing Wang Lijun, former police chief of Chongqing, in an effort to cover up the murder of Neil Heywood, a British businessman and a family friend, by Gu Kailai, Bo’s estranged wife. Gu and Wang were convicted in late 2012. Wang’s attempt to defect to the United NEWSCHINA I November 2013

States at its consulate in nearby Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, in February 2012 triggered Bo’s eventual downfall. In contrast to the trials of Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun, both of which were hastily wrapped up within a single day and behind closed doors, with only the sentencing hearing made public, Bo’s trial was not only

According to the prosecution, with Bo’s blessing, Gu hatched a complicated plan with the support of two foreign nationals, including future murder victim Neil Heywood, to hide the Bo family’s ownership of a US$3m villa in France. Bo denied any knowledge of the villa, which the prosecution claimed was paid for by Xu Ming, a businessman. Bo called on the court to reject Gu’s testimony on the grounds that he had antagonized his wife after an extramarital affair which, he claimed, prompted Gu to take their son, Bo Guagua, to the United Kingdom to continue his education. He also added that his wife’s testimony was made under duress, and had been provided to the court in exchange for a more lenient sentence. To the allegation that he tried to cover up Neil Heywood’s murder, Bo alleged a conspiracy to slander his wife, masterminded by Wang Lijun. The most dramatic episode dur-


Security around the court was tight

Photo by IC

ing the trial saw Bo confront Wang, who alleged he had been personally “subjected to violence” at the hands of Bo following Heywood’s murder. Wang also alleged that his aides had been “disappearing.” Bo countered by claiming that Wang was “secretly in love” with his wife, and resorted to defection only when his relationship with the family broke down. The lurid details exposed during the trial, which was light on hard evidence and legal procedure, earned the unfolding drama a huge public audience. On the Internet, much of the discussion surrounding the trial was devoted to speculation as to the origins of “a large slab of meat from a very rare animal” mentioned in Gu’s testimony. According to Gu, the meat was brought back from Africa by her 25-year-old son after he returned from a US$130,000 vacation – a trip again paid for by businessman Xu Ming. She said Bo and her son had a dispute over how they should consume the meat – the son wanted to eat it raw, while the father wanted to cook it. While many simply lapped up seemingly irrelevant details such as this during their rare glimpse of how the other half lives, others attempted to analyze the trial for indication as to the future of rule of law in China – an area in which the government has pledged sweeping reform.

Photo by Xinhua

cover story


According to the State media, Bo’s trial, with its unusual level of publicity, indicated major progress in China’s justice system. “A milestone event in the China’s judicial history,” commented the Liaowang Newsweekly, a magazine published by the Stateowned Xinhua News Agency, “It is symbolic of progress made in its legal system, and the leadership’s determination to fight corruption.” Similar sentiments echoed throughout quite a number of State-owned media, and the timing of the trial – which coincides with


Journalists watch pre-recorded testimony from Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, August 23, 2013

a widespread and, again, highly publicized crackdown on corruption – was certainly apt. In recent months, 16 senior government and Party officials have been placed under investigation, with some, including four senior executives of State petroleum giant PetroChina and the former head of the powerful

Ministry of Railways, finding themselves out in the cold. While the State media were quick to call the trial a success, independent news sources and a range of other sources voiced suspicion of just how significant such a trial would prove in the drive to reform China’s legal sysNEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by IC Photo by CFP

News cameras in front of the courthouse

A villa in France allegedly owned by the Bo family

tem. Though the Bo trial can be interpreted as a rare manifestation of political will with regards to the rule of law, the fact is many pertinent legal details, such as Bo’s excessive and highly questionable persecution of local entrepreneurs during his tenure in Chongqing, were not among the charges levelled NEWSCHINA I November 2013

against him. Similarly, the often frivolous and gossipy testimony led many to conclude that this trial was groundbreaking only in its availability for public consumption. “If such charges are brought against Bo, he might well receive the death penalty,” commented He Weifang, a law professor from

Peking University, in a microblog commentary entitled “The Trial of Bo Xilai - Legal or Political?” “But at the same time, it would damage the legitimacy of the Party if these crimes are publicized,” He added. The public also remained broadly skeptical. Several online polls were conducted while the trial was still in session. According to the results of one poll allegedly conducted by portal, which was hastily taken down but has continued to be widely cited on China’s social media, 74 percent of 437,000 respondents endorsed the publicity granted to the trial. But when asked about the “significance” of the publicity, respondents seemed divided. About 40 percent gave positive or relatively positive comments, with 11 percent saying the trial marked “major progress in China’s legal system.” 12 percent felt that the trial “proves the possibility of putting power in a cage under the current system,” and 17 percent said that it had “brought a top leader down from their ivory tower.” A slightly higher proportion, or 44 percent of those surveyed, responded that they were “not sure” about the significance of the trial. The remaining 16 percent said that the trial provided “a lesson” for both the public and government officials. As the survey was later removed from, however, the final data remains in doubt. To a large extent, Bo’s trial, with its unexpected degree of publicity, is a part of the new Chinese leadership’s formula for boosting Party legitimacy. The new generation of leaders has promised to establish a more candid government, to fight against widespread corruption and to reform the legal system. As long as China’s huge income gap and legion of social problems persist, public dissatisfaction will remain strong. Unless this situation changes, the specter of Bo Xilai will continue to haunt his former colleagues in the Politburo.


cover story

Trial of Bo Xilai

Courtroom Drama Although the Bo Xilai trial was unquestionably politicized, the fact that Bo was allowed to mount any kind of public defense has found favor in legal circles

Photo by CFP

By Hua Xuan

Former police chief of Chongqing municipality Wang Lijun (seated, right) testifies


hanks to the unexpected decision to publicize proceedings during the corruption trial of disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai, Wang Xuguang, the presiding judge, became an overnight celebrity. A quick search on Baidu, China’s leading online search engine, yields more than 260,000 results about Wang. To a large extent, Wang’s overnight fame was thanks to dramatic exchanges between himself, the prosecution and defendant Bo, who vehemently refuted all the charges against him, including taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power.


Unlike most judges in high-level criminal


cases who typically adopt an aura of either silent authority or fire-spitting sanctimony, Wang appeared gracious and patient, never interrupting Bo unless the defendant was launching a personal attack on a witness. At some points, Wang even appeared to assist Bo by summarizing points made in his defense. Unlike many criminal defendants in China, Bo was allowed to both challenge the prosecution point by point and cross-examine witnesses, including his former deputy Wang Lijun, whose attempted defection to the US consulate in Chengdu in 2012 eventually led to Bo’s arrest. Although Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, whose testimony against her estranged husband was prerecorded, did not appear in court, her name

was never far from the prosecution’s lips. Gu was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by a court in Hefei last year for the murder of Neil Heywood, a British national and a family friend, allegedly out of fear he would endanger her son, Bo Guagua. Sordid details of the breakdown of the Bo’s marriage, and Gu’s relationship with Wang Lijun, occupied more of the court’s time than many of the actual charges against Bo Xilai. One of the many idiosyncrasies of China’s judicial system is that witnesses are not legally obliged to be present during court proceedings, and that pre-recorded testimony is not admissible even in criminal cases. Even the defendant appeared to be impressed. “The judges are impartial and professional, ensuring all the parties’ legal rights,” Bo is reported to have said in his final statement to the court on August 26.


However, given the sensitivity of Bo’s case and his closeness to China’s paramount leaders, many remain skeptical that all aspects of the trial were simply an elaborate show staged in order to boost the Party’s image. Nonetheless, domestic legal professionals see hope even in the smallest of details. “This doubtless marks major progress,” Chen Youxi, a well-known criminal lawyer and a vocal critic of criminal law procedures in China. According to Chen, the status quo in criminal cases is for judges to vigorously uphold the legal rights of the prosecution while ignoring those of the defense, effectively treating any NEWSCHINA I November 2013

verdict and delivered in language reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, led many to question the Party’s sincerity in guaranteeing Bo’s right to a defense, or more generally to promote legal reform. Indeed, such coverage makes the decision to allow Bo to mount a defense look like an attempt to discredit the notion of a fair hearing as being of value. Perhaps the media were hoping Bo was already enough of a pariah that the public would simply dismiss his defense as meaningless. According to Chen, the criminal lawyer, changing the attitude of the authorities and the general public toward defendants in crim-

Photo by CFP

attempt to mount a defense as simply a ploy to evade punishment. Some accuse the Chinese justice system of upholding a policy of “guilty until proven innocent” for the sake of political convenience. “It is typical for a judge to interrupt defendants and their lawyers, or simply shut them up,” said Chen. By contrast, he continued, affording Bo the right to defend himself allowed the court to cultivate an even-handed image. According to Liu Baoyu, a law professor from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Bo’s trial is a milestone for China’s judiciary and will have a long-term

Bo Xilai and his wife watch a basketball game in Beijing, April 2, 2001

impact on criminal law practice in China. “With the publicity that came with Bo’s trial, it would be hard for similar future trials to return to the opacity [of the past],” Liu told our reporter. Few have been as optimistic in their assessments of the Bo trial, especially when the State media has been so obviously slanted against the defendant in its coverage, particularly in its derogatory descriptions of his attempted defense. For example, after the first day of the trial on August 22, a commentary in the Guangming Daily, a Party newspaper, called Bo a “rogue,” and condemned Bo’s defense as “sophistry” and “last-ditch madness.” The newspaper’s vitriol, prior to the court’s final NEWSCHINA I November 2013

inal cases will take a long time. As the principle of presumption of innocence remains foreign in China, both the authorities and the public may struggle to see defendants as even potentially innocent until proven guilty. The recent Li Tianyi trial, which saw the 16-year-old son of a noted military singer accused of participating in the gang-rape of a young woman, saw public calls for the harshest punishment even before Li took the stand to protest his innocence. “Bo’s defense was widely interpreted as exceptionally eloquent, while, in fact, he was simply allowed to defend himself,” Chen said.


As the message sent by Bo’s trial remains

unclear and many questions remain to be answered, many have contented themselves with a meticulous examination of all facets of the trial in Jinan and its participants, in the hope that the choices made by the judiciary might give some clue as to its motivations. With a doctorate in civil and commercial law and research experience at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as a visiting scholar in 2003, the 48-year-old judge Wang Xuguang is a veteran of civil and commercial trials, but a newcomer to criminal cases. Some suggest that such inexperience was seen as an advantage, at least to Bo, as Wang would not be subject to the typical prejudices of China’s criminal judges. Some, however, felt the opposite about the choice of Wang as presiding judge. Chen Youxi, for example, argued that the selection of Wang simply followed precedent. In recent years, China’s authorities have delegated the trials of Politburo members to provinciallevel high courts rather than higher judicial authorities. Chen Xitong, for example, the former Party chief of Beijing, who was put on trial in 1998, and that of Chen Liangyu (no relation), former Party chief of Shanghai, in 2008, were both tried by junior judges in smaller local courts. This helped the authorities to play down the severity of their cases, and minimize fallout affecting other senior government figures. Another theory has it that the court in Jinan was because of its pioneering work in introducing the “online courtroom” to China, a model set up under Wang’s leadership. Launched in 2011, the online court in Jinan allows the public to file lawsuits and view relevant files online as well as to contact individual judges through the Internet. As Bo’s trial was designated its own live feed to social media sites, the Jinan court was the obvious choice for handling the technical requirements of such a proceeding. The court finally announced a guilty verdict against Bo on September 22 and sentenced him to life in prison. At NewsChina’s press time, it was unknown whether or not Bo planned to appeal. The final analysis of the Bo trial, and its implications for the country’s justice system as a whole, is still to come.



Rural e-commerce

Weaving a Fortune Online retail is changing Chinese rural life, but can the model go nationwide?

Photo by CFP

By Chen Jiying and Li Jia

A courier delivers an eclectic load of goods, Fuzhou, 2012

I make more money than many other rural women,” said An Guixiang, a 53-year-old villager in Wantou, Shandong Province. An, dressed in a stylish checkered shirt, is one of the village’s e-commerce mini-moguls. Her annual net profits of more than US$20,000 (triple the income of the average resident in Beijing) comes from her wholesale business, selling straw woven products to 191 retailers on Taobao and Tmall, online retail platforms operated by the world’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba, based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. The Internet has made handicrafts, a local tradition in Wantou, into an


industry with sales worth US$10 million per year. Before that, the market was very small, and unsold merchandise was often burned as household fuel. Now, nearly half of the village’s 1,617 households are engaged in this business, and products made in Wantou are exported around the world. By the end of 2012, Chinese rural residents in towns and villages were operating a total of 595,700 Taobao and Tmall outlets, according to a survey released in August by AliResearch, Alibaba’s research institute. Taking into account the 700,000 villages and 165 million rural Internet users throughout the country, the potential for e-commerce in rural China is enormous. NEWSCHINA I November 2013


“Want a better life? Get on Taobao,” or “No need to go searching east and west – getting on Taobao at home is best.” The white walls around Wantou are daubed with slogans aimed at rallying the village’s army of potential online merchants. More than 20 domestic courier companies, including China’s five largest, have offices in Wantou, and compete fiercely for supremacy. While many residents in Chinese villages only have access to the Postal Savings Bank, Wantou boasts a wide range of banking options. In 2005, 20-year-old villager Hu Wei opened Wantou’s first online store selling straw woven products. By 2008, it had made quite a splash on the market, leading many other villagers to follow suit – Hu personally tutored many of them on the finer points of operating an online store. “Our customers are white-collar workers. I give our products soul,” said Meng Lili, an online retailer in her 30s who owns the largest Taobao store in the village. Selling kitschy straw baskets, boxes, coasters and coffee tables covered with floral-patterned cloth, Meng hopes to please urbanite customers with products that are, as her store’s maxim goes: “heartwarming, and easy on the eyes.” In 2003, when Meng Lili met her husband and co-founder Jia Peixiao, a university graduate with a degree in computer science, was working as a security guard in a nearby city. In the early years of their marriage, the couple struggled to make ends meet. New clothes were a luxury: “I told myself that I didn’t need beautiful new clothes, because I’d gotten fat after giving birth to our baby,” Meng told NewsChina. In 2006, as Taobao was already in the process of revolutionizing China’s retail sector, Meng Lili and Jia Peixiao returned to Jia’s hometown to try their luck opening an online store. The gamble paid off – their business boomed, and in 2009, they graduated to Tmall, Alibaba’s platform for branded retailers. Now, Meng and Jia employ eight staff, all of them college graduates. They are confident that their sales will double this year to more than US$1 million. Lured by success stories, more and more young people have returned home to Wantou, carrying with them great expectations. Wantou is one of the country’s 14 “Taobao villages” named by the Alibaba Group. Total sales revenue across all 14 has hit US$800 million, and they have collectively created some 40,000 jobs. At the end of August, Alibaba unveiled a training program for rural residents who want to join the online gold rush. Technology-driven consumption, particularly that made possible by e-commerce, was recently identified by the central government as one of the most important growth engines for the country’s economy. Bain Capital estimated in its report at the end of August that China’s e-commerce sales figures could exceed those in the US this year. The Internet, said Professor Qiu Zeqi of Peking University, has helped push forward the modernization of rural areas and their residents, one of the biggest challenges China faces in its overall developNEWSCHINA I November 2013

ment program.

Troubles Ahead

But obstacles loom ahead. In many rural areas, infrastructure like roads and Internet access is still poor – a lack of logistical support forced Wang Xiaobang, a farmer in a village in Lüliang, Shanxi Province, to move to the provincial capital Taiyuan to expand his online retail business. A report by the State-owned People’s Daily in June found that in some places, the cost of delivery via China Post – in many places, the only shipping option – was higher than the value of the products being delivered. Wantou Village also has problems – a lack of highly skilled product designers, for example. Last year, Hu Wei, the village’s e-commerce pioneer, recruited a college graduate majoring in computer-aided design, only to see the young man quit two months later. “Even if I double the salary they could earn in [the provincial capital] Jinan, they would not be happy to stay in a small village like ours,” he said. Another problem is the lack of a next generation of laborers in Wantou’s handicraft industry. Although there are roughly 20,000 straw-weavers scattered across household-run workshops in the area, only a handful are highly skilled, and most are over 40 years old. For the average weaver, it takes one to two days to weave a pair of straw slippers, and becoming an expert weaver takes many years of practice. An entire day’s labor earns a weaver around US$16 – a single Taobao transaction can often be more profitable. Jia Peixiao, the security guard-turned-online retailer, is more worried about disorder in the market. As competition heats up, rival sellers tend to resort to dropping their prices for competition, dragging the market down with them. “Once prices sink too low to cover the costs, the only way to see profit is to reduce the quality,” he said. Jia’s idea of forming a guild to regulate the market by unifying prices and certifying good-quality brands has so far gained little support from other big sellers. Some are bent only on expanding their own market share in order to make more money, and others believe (correctly) that price fixing will exacerbate the problem. In addition, bigger sellers like Jia occasionally need more cash to meet the big orders they receive from time to time – Jia, like most small businessmen in China, hopes the government will find a solution to the problems he has getting his hands on hard cash. All of these issues – infrastructure, expertise, finance, market regulation – are common in all Taobao villages, and more severe in China’s central and western hinterland areas, where e-commerce is particularly helpful for farmers. According to the People’s Daily report, 30 percent of the vegetables produced in Guyuan, in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China’s northwest, are sold online. Local farmers and officials hope that more support from the government would help improve this vital service, and in turn facilitate its growth. “A government-sponsored e-commerce platform would be very helpful, and we would pay for its daily operation,” said Feng Zhanqian, a local farmer in Ningxia.



The Chinese government no longer denies social security to Nationalist army veterans who fought alongside the Chinese Communists in World War II. For many, recognition has come too late

War Veterans

Forgotten Heroes Photo by Wu Huang/IC

By Yu Xiaodong and Yang Di


Veteran pilot Wu Qiyao donates two of his medals to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, December 2012

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

I’m sorry – we’re late,” Sun Mian, founder of New Weekly magazine and a veterans’ rights activist, told the family of Cheng Guangtai, who fought in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the longest-running single conflict in World War II, for the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT). His former commanders retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the subsequent Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communists. Cheng passed away a week before Sun came to visit his home in a village in rural Henan Province on July 19 – Cheng did not live to see the arrival of his carers. In addition to delivering 6,000 yuan (US$981) in financial aid, Sun had planned to inform Cheng that the government had finally decided to grant financial support to him and his comrades-in-arms – a belated acknowledgment of their contribution to the nation. On July 4, days before the 76th anniversary of the outbreak of war with Japan on July 7, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs announced that it would extend the social security system to cover KMT veterans, granting them priority status in rest homes and providing assistance to those in need of special care. But for most of these veterans, the acknowledgment – 68 years after the defeat of Japan – came too late. Sun Mian told NewsChina that in many cases, by the time he and his team arrived at the home of a needy veteran, they would discover he had already died. As most of these veterans are now over 90 years old, with an average age of 93, the NEWSCHINA I November 2013

group is shrinking rapidly. According to Sun, many of those who remain are living in miserable conditions.

Unfair Treatment

“The unfair treatment of KMT veterans of the Anti-Japanese War living on the Chinese mainland is a heavy page in modern Chinese history,” wrote senior media commentator Feng Qingyang in a commentary circulated widely on the Internet. It is estimated that more than 3 million Chinese troops under the command of the KMT government lost their lives during the eight-year struggle against the Japanese invasion between 1937 and 1945. In 1946, only one year after Japan’s surrender, a fullyfledged civil war broke out in China, from which Mao Zedong’s Communists emerged victorious. After the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, KMT veterans of the war with Japan who were left behind the Chinese mainland were made a target of political persecution, and went from national heroes to “enemies of the people.” Many veterans, especially officers, were persecuted or even executed for their part in the subsequent civil war in China’s various political upheavals between the 1950s and 1970s. For those who survived, their efforts in the war were tainted by association with the KMT. For more than 30 years, they and their offspring suffered discrimination in many respects, including employment and education, and were marginalized throughout society.

Their plight is exemplified by the life of Wu Qiyao, a decorated fighter pilot in the KMT air force. Serving as a captain in the “Flying Tigers,” the popular name for the the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force led by Lieutenant Claire Chennault, Wu shot down five Japanese aircraft during the war and was awarded 17 medals. In December 1949, at the request of his father, a country squire in Fujian Province, Wu returned to the mainland from Taiwan, via Hong Kong. Despite initially receiving a warm welcome, Wu would soon find himself the target of political persecution. In 1951, his father was executed as a “counterrevolutionary,” and in 1954, Wu himself was thrown into prison, where he served 20 years until his release in 1974. “There was no explanation of why he was arrested or why he was released,” Wu Yuan, son of Wu Qiyao, told NewsChina in a 2010 interview. Unlike Communist war veterans who enjoy a variety of benefits and entitlements, KMT veterans were excluded from the social security system. Without a stable income, Wu, a former ace fighter pilot, had to make a living as a pedal-cab driver in Hangzhou for 20 years after his release. Wu’s story is similar to that of many KMT veterans. According to Sun Mian, living conditions for many veterans, shunned by society and often by their own families, are “worse than those of pigs and dogs,” in Sun Mian’s words. “It is ironic that while KMT veterans on


the mainland had no official recognition, compensation or any form of welfare, Japanese WWII veterans have been receiving generous compensation from the Japanese government, and their war dead are commemorated in the Yasukuni Shrine,” wrote Feng Qingyang. The unfair treatment of KMT veterans largely stemmed from the official interpretation of the role of the KMT and the Communists in the country’s struggle against Japanese ag- Sun Mian gression. Largely deriving its legitimacy from its role in the Anti-Japanese War, the Communist Party of China downplayed the KMT’s contribution for several decades. In school textbooks, the KMT was said to have offered “passive resistance against Japan, but active aggression against the Chinese Communists.” “[KMT veterans] are simply absent from war museums and history books on the mainland,” said Feng, the commentator.


This official interpretation met with no challenge until the late 1990s, when the liberalization of the publishing industry in the mainland led to a large number of publications on the anti-Japanese war, many of which deviated from the official interpretation and provided a more objective perspective on the war. Meanwhile, the political landscape in Taiwan was changing, with the KMT becoming an important force counterbalancing the influence of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. This


Photo by Xuan Canxiong


resulted in closer ties between the mainland and the KMT. In a keynote speech on September 3, 2005, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945, former Chinese President Hu Jintao said that the KMT forces were responsible for major campaigns in frontline battlefields, while “the Communist-led forces engaged in guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines.” It was the first time a top mainland leader had officially acknowledged that KMT forces, in addition to Communist forces, had played a leading role in the conflict. In the meantime, a loosening of control over education, research and publication concerning this part of history, along with rising nationalist sentiment among younger generations of Chinese people, helped rekindle public interest in this section of history and those who had been involved. The fortunes of KMT war veterans gradually became an area of public inquiry, and many were ap-

palled by their wretched living conditions. Starting in 2005, several NGOs and networks were set up to offer aid to surviving KMT veterans of the war with Japan. One of the largest, “Bring Veterans Home,” founded by Sun Chunlong of Xinhua News Agency, identified 2,674 such veterans throughout the country. After providing assistance to KMT veterans for two years, Sun Mian, of New Weekly magazine, set up an initiative entitled “One-on-One Veteran’s Care” in 2013, and raised 13 million yuan (US$2.1m) for the purpose in just a month. Prior to the July 4 announcement from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, many local authorities had already begun extending their social security networks to cover KMT veterans. For example, in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, isolated or helpless KMT veterans were sent to local rest homes. When the story of the elite fighter pilot Wu Qiyao came to light in 2005, the local government provided Wu with a new apartment. Wu died in 2010. But Sun Mian told NewsChina that these local initiatives and volunteer programs are far from adequate payment of veterans’ dues. According to Sun, restoration of dignity is more important than material support. Sun said that once, after co-authoring a newspaper story about a veteran, he had posted the old man a copy. Overjoyed, the old man went around the village, showing the newspaper to everyone he met, proudly proclaiming: “I fought the Japanese.” “After arriving back home, exhausted from his tour around the village, the old man died,” Sun told NewsChina. “Living in disgrace and humiliation for more than 60 years is a tragic existence for an individual,” commented Feng Qingyang. In the eyes of many, in addition to the lowkey extension of social security to cover them, the government should offer the war veterans an official apology – a small step toward the long overdue recognition of their war efforts. “The country owes them medals,” said Sun.  NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Cultural Revolution Confessions

Too Little? Too Late? This summer, a number of former Red Guards made public apologies to people they had tortured and abused during the Cultural Revolution. Is China genuinely ready to begin its healing process? By Zhao Jie

NEWSCHINA I November 2013




NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by Li Zhensheng/CFP


n late August, Chen Xiaolu, a former Red Guard and the youngest son of China’s formal Grand Marshal Chen Yi, made an online statement claiming that as a student leader and chairman of the Beijing No 8 Middle School’s revolutionary committee, he was directly responsible for the persecution of the teachers and fellow students that took place during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). “Today I would like to offer my sincere apologies,” Chen wrote on August 21, adding he would also like to apologize personally to the teachers and fellow students who bore the brunt of persecution. In recent months, several former Red Guards have made personal public confessions for atrocities carried out during the Cultural Revolution, even offering apologies to their victims. The public response has been mixed. For example, Chen’s “princeling” background, Seven secretaries of the Heilongjiang Provincial Party Committee are “struggled against” in public, the second year of the Cultural Revolution, 1967 (his father Marshal Chen Yi was a communist war hero and served as China’s foreign minister from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s) saw some hail his act as the “courageous” result of “self-reflection.” olutionary evidence. In practice, this proved to be anything valuable, Others, however, have remarked that a handful of public apologies old or with a connection to history, including family trees and preis far from sufficient to begin the process of openly confronting one of revolutionary literature. The Red Guards publicly smashed antiques the most painful episodes in China’s recent past, a political movement and burned books in line with Mao’s declared objective to “smash the which destroyed countless lives and which was perpetrated by people Four Olds” (old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits). who, in many cases, went on to hold significant positions in society. Once this “evidence” was eradicated, public show trials often resulted in the torture and even murder of the accused. Among the first Images pariahs to fall were the parents of the first batch of Red Guards, as a The Red Guard movement was initiated in the first half of 1966. vital part of this new revolution was to abandon all family ties in favor After Chairman Mao produced a short piece of calligraphy or a “big of serving the Chairman. character poster” exhorting college students to fight authority, middle Chen Xiaolu claimed he released his statement in response to the school students in Beijing born into “red [working class or peasant] actions of a fellow student from the same middle school, Huang Jian, families,” began to rise “spontaneously” against the “capitalist roaders” who posted a number of photos showing Red Guards assaulting – in short, anyone who didn’t demonstrate utterly fanatical fealty to teachers in 1966 in the school’s alumni association blog on August Chairman Mao and even, on occasion, those that did. 18, the 47th anniversary of Chairman Mao’s formal reception of Red The name “Red Guard” was later extended to refer to all the young Guards in the Tian’anmen Square. people and, later, workers and farmers who joined this cause, which “In China’s history, too many people need to apologize [for what would unleash a reign of terror throughout China which, later, even they did during the Cultural Revolution],” ran Huang’s accompanyMao would condemn. ing blog post. “However, on this special occasion, let’s start with ourRed Guards “struggled against” their teachers, who they labeled selves. Let’s apologize to our teachers and say: I am sorry and am here “bourgeois intellectuals,” and searched people’s houses for counterrev- to offer my sincere apologies!”

60-year-old Zhang Hongbing (second from right) made public confession early this year for his misdeeds during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang’s tip-off led to his mother Fang Zhongmou’s (third from left) execution for her “counterrevolutionary” crimes

Zhang Hongbing’s family photo

During an interview with online portal Chengdu Search News, Huang Jian stated that the initial purpose of Chen’s remarks was to call to convene a formal occasion to allow formal apologies to be made directly to their persecuted middle school teachers, possibly at an alumni reunion already scheduled for October. However, in a disclaimer common in the complex narrative of China’s ongoing struggle to confront this bloody and terrifying period, Huang was quick to exonerate Chen of any physical involvement in the persecution. “Of course, Chen was not directly involved in any of the violent acts against the teachers,” he told the Chengdu Search News. “Just as I said in my blog entry, despite the fact that many students were not personally involved in these violent acts, we failed to stop them and thus became supporters of the Cultural Revolution. “We need to reflect upon history. Amid the chaos, attacks were first directed at the school leadership and then at the teachers. Many students took part in the assaults. [Chen Xiaolu] could not and dared not stop it,” Huang continued. He also expressed to the media that he was touched by Chen’s confession, as Chen has been so far the first among the offspring of the country’s founding figures to speak up on this issue since the end of the Cultural Revolution. This narrative – an admission of passive complicity coupled with a NEWSCHINA I November 2013

denial of active involvement – is typical of “apologies” for the violence of the Cultural Revolution. While millions of young Chinese became involved in the persecution, few have ever stepped forward to admit any part in the physical and psychological abuse of the victims. Many social scientists believe that China’s complex relationship with the scars of this period makes genuine catharsis difficult to attain. Zhang Hezhen, a 60-year-old retired teacher from Beijing, told NewsChina that violence enveloped his school in 1966, when he was a teenager, and lasted for five months. He recalled how “reactionary teachers and students” were targets of public assault and their homes were raided by Red Guards. “By then, most young students, including elementary school children, blindly threw themselves into the revolution,” he added. Zhang Ming, a professor from Renmin University, recalled that he, as a young child, would follow older students to shout slogans at the struggle sessions, during which teachers were verbally and physically abused. “In that particular year [1966], many good people did something wrong. Those whose parents became targets of the public abuse might choose to further expose and denounce their parents to show their loyalty to the revolution,’” Zhang continued. “Many ordinary people



had two lives. On the one hand, they were victims of the Cultural Revolution and, on the other, they were participants.” While China’s authorities and their official media have publicly acknowledged the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, there has been a concerted effort to consign this period to history rather than genuinely confront the massive and lasting impact it has had on the national psyche. Literature reflecting upon the Cultural Revolution, popularly known as “scar literature,” became a common genre in the years following its end. However, these works typically look at the catastrophe exclusively from the perspective of the victims. Virtually no writings approach the Cultural Revolution from the angle of the Red Guards, and even fewer attempt to explore their motivations. “I believe all people who went through the Cultural Revolution have been thinking and reflecting on it, but they are either reluctant to or dare not talk about it,” Chen Xiaolu told the South China Morning Post in late August: “I hope those who were victimized during that time will talk about their feelings, and those who hurt others will sincerely reflect on their misdeeds and apologize to their victims.”


The sudden flurry of public apologies began with Liu Boqin, who paid to print an advertisement in the June edition of the history journal Yanhuang Chunqiu apologizing to the people he had hurt during the Cultural Revolution. Aged 14 at the height of the violence in the summer of 1966, Liu, now 61 and a retired official in Jinan, Shandong Province, was a Red Guard at middle school. In his apology, Liu said he was a “young, ignorant and bad-tempered teenager” who was encouraged by others to participate in denouncing, humiliating and attacking his teachers, classmates and neighbors and their families. He listed all the names of people he remembered having hurt, Liu wrote “Upon reflection in my old age, I feel really regretful for my misdeeds. Even though what I did was done in the name of the Revolution, my personal wrongdoings cannot be forgiven, and my personal responsibility cannot be ignored. So I sincerely apologize to those I hurt.” In response to Liu’s confession, Zhu Dake, a professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, commented: “In a nation without a tradition of confession, this apology can be viewed as rare evidence of the awakening of humanity.” In the following months, several similar apologies were made by other former Red Guards, now in their fifties and sixties. After reading Liu’s apology, 64-year-old Song Jichao, a retired army officer in Handan, Hebei Province, paid to publish his own apology notice


in the Southern Weekly. Soon afterward, Wen Qingfu, from Hunan Province, Lu Jiashan from Shandong Province and Lei Yinglang from Fujian Province all published apology letters. Song Jichao was urged by Red Guards to expose and denounce his Chinese literature teacher Guo Kai. Song compliantly offered them three “sinful deeds” attributed to Guo, a list he now calls the “three poisoned arrows.” The Red Guards responded by almost tearing Guo’s ears off in a savage assault. In his apology, Song spoke of his constant sense of gnawing guilt, yet even during a visit to a severely ill, hospitalized Guo in 1984, he dared not confess to his involvement in his former teacher’s persecution. In the following decades, Song “My personal wrote a number of articles expresswrongdoings ing his remorse, with titles like cannot be “By My Teacher’s Sickbed” and A Lifetime of Remorse for Three forgiven, and Poisoned Arrows.” However, no my personal publisher would handle his work, and Guo Kai, the victim of Song’s responsibilchildhood actions, is long dead. ity cannot be “If my writings were published, ignored.” I wouldn’t have made this public apology. I just want everyone to know that I once perpetrated such despicable deeds,” Song remarked in an interview. “Even taking into account the general environment of the Cultural Revolution, I don’t think I should have done such a cruel thing.” Song’s apology letter ends: “For all those who have hurt others, let’s apologize and confess. Not just for the sake of our peace of mind, but for letting our offspring know the facts and face the history as it is.” “Apology is a catharsis, and also a reflection upon the Cultural Revolution,” he continues, admitting that he feels he has somewhat shed his psychological burden. Others have even received some response from those directly affected by their actions. After Wen Qingfu’s confession was published, he received an email from the son of Zhang Qiongying, a former colleague he had abused. “Mr Wen, you can now relieve yourself of your remorse,” ran the email. “[The Cultural Revolution] turned the whole world upside down. Some were involved, some were maltreated, some were instigated and some became heartless. We are now talking about this part of history again, not out of hatred, but out of reflection.”

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by IC

Chen Xiaolu

More Calls

In the view of Wang Keming, a Beijing-based cultural researcher and himself a former participant in the Cultural Revolution, personal apologies and individual reflection upon the past and “rounded off” with “collective confessions” offer an ideal way to ease the haunting legacy of the Cultural Revolution. In the past five years, Wang has made a list of 32 participants in the Cultural Revolution who have confessed to their actions, some of whom have submitted written accounts to a book titled We Confess. Ten refused to contribute, claiming they were fearful of “making trouble.” 61-year-old Wang Keming himself offers his own apology through an article addressed to Gu Zhiyou, a local village leader in Shaanxi Province, who he had beaten during the Cultural Revolution. According to Wang, compiling these accounts of violence is his form of

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

“atonement.” This April, he finished editing the book and began to seek a publisher. However, he was told that “it is not a good time for its publication.” “We are still a minority,” Wang Keming said to NewsChina, “the real apologies and reconciliation has yet to come.” Lao Gui, one of the 32 contributors, was later chastised by his family for submitting an article to We Confess. Liu Boqin also found himself under pressure from his family after issuing his apology in June. According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, Liu received an email from his son which said “Good advertisement! Now you are a celebrity!” Some former classmates were also bemused, sending Liu emails asking him to explain himself. Lu Xiaoya, another contributor to We Confess and a professor from Beijing Normal University, found another means to obtain catharsis – education. Using Lao She, a man hailed as one of the founding fathers of modern Chinese literature who later committed suicide after his relentless persecution by Red Guards, as an example, she helped her students stage the drama The Death of Lao She. In Lu’s view, Lao She will remain “forever dead” if people are unaware of the manner of his death. By sharing his story with the world, Lu hoped to awaken people to the hypocrisy and the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, encapsulated in one of its most famous and tragic victims.

Breaking the Silence

“Without confession, there is no reflection. A nation that forgets is bound to get caught up in another catastrophe,” said Professor Zhang Ming. In recent years, scholars have noticed a tendency to attempt to justify the Cultural Revolution, with some even calling it a “democratic” movement. Chen Xiaolu vehemently opposes this revisionist analysis of the Cultural Revolution, which some have equated to Holocaust denial. “Everybody has the right to look at the Cultural Revolution from their own perspective. But unconstitutional acts that trample on human rights should never be allowed to happen again,” said Chen, adding that he has been shocked into action by the ignorance of China’s younger generation regarding this period. Zhao Shilin, a professor from the School of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the Minzu University of China, said Chen’s apology has set a good example for others to follow, even encouraging “official retrospection” on the Cultural Revolution. Media commentator Shan Shibing said, “People need more courage to speak truths, and the nation needs to provide a better environment for such speech.”



Rural Art Education

An experimental arts-education program in rural China aims to bring a touch of the classical to impoverished children By Chen Wei in Hebei and Beijing


or China’s rural children, education in the arts typically goes no further than a requirement to recite the national anthem. But since earlier this year, the children of Duancun, a village in rural Hebei Province, have been filling their weekends with classes in painting, ballet, drama and music. This village of just over 4,000 people, located 160 kilometers south of Beijing, now has a thriving children’s choir and orchestra, under the instruction of elite artists and educators from the capital – volunteers in a privately-funded rural art education program. Funded by the Hefeng Art Fund, the program has been in progress since last year in Duancun, a town in Anxin County, Hebei Province.


Idealistic Experiment

Li Feng, venture capitalist and the fund’s founder, initiated the experimental program in Duancun, where his father was born, with the intention of using art education to enhance the self-confidence of rural children. A former curator and troupe manager, Li is a self-proclaimed art-lover and die-hard idealist – at the program’s inception, Li dreamed of training a Duancun children’s choir to compete with the world-renowned youth choirs of Europe. Along with his two elder brothers, Li donated a brand new elementary school to the town, which, upon completion, became the base for his art education project. Guan Yu, the 42-year-old head of the ballet department at the Beijing Dance Academy, did not hesi-

Photo by Li Qiang

Village Ballet tate to join the program when approached by Li in late February this year. Guan himself had long planned to volunteer at a ballet program in rural Yunnan after retirement. For the first cohort of 20 Duancun girls recruited into the ballet program, dance training began with a full instruction in the school’s dress code – shoelaces should be tied tightly, waistbands must never be visible, and only black hairpins were allowed in the studio. Painted nails were strictly prohibited. “Art education starts with good habits,” said Guan. He also invited the mothers and grandmothers of his pupils to join classes, to give them a two-hour lesson on tying the girls’ hair into a regulation bun. Like other volunteer teachers, Guan often NEWSCHINA I November 2013

The Orchestra

Another elite Chinese musician involved in the program is renowned trumpeter and Central Conservatory of Music professor Chen Guang. Chen, along with several other volunteers including his student Huang Weinan, a trombone major, were recruited to train Duancun’s 70-piece children’s orchestra. Budgetary constraints meant that the orchestra is lacking pricier instruments like the oboe, bassoon and timpani (each of which costs over US$1,600 in China) – luckily, these instruments tend to be too cumberNEWSCHINA I November 2013

some for elementary-schoolers to handle. When the instruments were first shown to local children, few could identify them – most referred to the trombone as “the horn.” Few Duancun boys or their parents were interested in “the horn,” preferring softersounding instruments like the flute, violin and piano.

children, in Duancun or elsewhere in China, receive even basic arts education. Due to a lack of demand, there are few extra-curricular arts classes offered in Duancun – in the county seat, a bus ride away, lessons in piano, dance and painting are offered for 30 or 40 yuan (US$4.9-6.5) per class, beyond the budget of most Duancun households.

Photo by Li Qiang

finds himself comparing rural children to their urban counterparts, and believes that while the former are almost always unfamiliar with the basics of music and dance, they tend to be more obedient and diligent. In the countryside, music lessons, if on the curriculum at all, are generally led by teachers of Chinese language or science, and tend to consist of the recital of song lyrics chalked on the blackboard. The volunteer art teachers come from Beijing on weekends, usually arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. Guan says proudly that the ballet students gather to practice on weekdays when the teachers are away, and none had ever forgotten to take off their shoes before entering the studio. Li has observed a change in the girls who attend the classes. “I’ve witnessed the girls becoming elegant and confident with their ballet training, and I see aspiration in their eyes,” he said. “Once I start dancing, I feel I am no longer a country girl but an elegant and beautiful dancer,” said sixth-grader Ma Xiaoqing, the class monitor. Ma, normally a very talkative girl, is quiet and focused when she dances. She will begin junior high this September, and is unsure if the heavy high-school workload will allow her enough time for ballet. Ma said that after half a year of ballet training, she often finds herself walking on tiptoes. “I really wish I were a first-year-grader now – I would have another six years of time, and I could dance through the whole of elementary school.”

A violinist and a flautist on their way to a music class, August 24, 2013

Huang Weinan, the trombonist, persuaded the boys by telling them that trombone was one of the most ancient instruments in the world – the “grandpa” of many other instruments. The tactic worked, and Huang managed to recruit six boys into his class, all of them stocky and thin-lipped – perfect trombonist material. The rural children in the orchestra proved to be no less hardworking than the countryside ballerinas. Every weekday afternoon from 4 to 6 PM, Duancun’s young trainee violinists gather to practice at the home of Wang Yun. Like her classmates, Wang spent most of her free time watching TV before starting to learn the violin. While arts training is popular in comparatively better-funded city schools, few rural

As with the majority of families in the village, Wang Yun’s father has left the village to find work, and returns home only for Chinese New Year. The mother looks after the two children, Wang Yun and her younger brother, while doing needlework at home – sewing a pillow earns her 0.4 yuan (6 cents), and a quilted jacket 9 yuan (US$1.5). Li Feng’s art education fund has a grand plan to open an art summer camp for country children and publish arts education video material for distribution in other parts of the country. But when it comes to his early aspirations of fostering a world-class choir in the countryside, Li has since adjusted his priorities. “As long as the kids’ singing is natural, and they enjoy it, that’s enough.”



Gender Equality

Tradition on Trial After Confucianism made the maintenance of inequality between the sexes fundamental to political philosophy in China for two millennia, it is unsurprising that even modern Chinese women struggle to recognize just how marginalized they have remained By Xie Ying


alf-naked, Ai Xiaoming stands defiant, her left hand resting on her hip and her right hand holding an open pair of scissors gesturing towards her bare breasts. Scrawled across them are two lines of Chinese calligraphy reading: “Open minded? Come to me, but leave Ye Haiyan alone.” Ai photographed herself in this unapologetically provocative pose as part of a campaign to support feminist activist Ye Haiyan, who has become a standard-bearer for the backlash against the abuse of underage girls by several Chinese headmasters or officials. As one of Ye’s peers, Ai told our reporter that she was so outraged by the recent spate of child sex scandals that she felt she had to do something drastic to call attention to the issue. A Chinese literature professor from Guangzhou’s Zhongshan Uni-


versity, Ai Xiaoming is already well-known as a passionate campaigner against domestic violence. In 2003, her Chinese-language adaptation of The Vagina Monologues became a sensation, kicking off a round of debate concerning gender equality. Adapted from American feminist Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning masterpiece of the name, The Vagina Monologues encourages women to appreciate their sexuality, and shed any shame about their bodies or desires. In April 2013, Song Fengsu, another professor of Zhongshan University who worked on Ai’s 2003 production re-staged The Vagina Monologues in a much grittier vein, focusing more squarely on domestic violence, abstinence and sexual harassment. Now, Chinese society seems to be opening up to at least the idea of openly discussing sex and sexuality as well as gender equality. HowNEWSCHINA I November 2013

ever, when it comes to specific issues, gender rights activists of both sexes find it a struggle to change ingrained social attitudes – particularly among men.

Virgin Complex

Although many simplistically associate taboos around sex with China’s assumed inherent conservatism, very few recognize the relationship between prudishness and gender politics in China. Sexologists and feminists have warned that a rising tide of sexual harassment cases is a direct result of both entrenched social gender inequality and general ignorance when it comes to appropriate sexual behavior. “If I were you, I would take my daughter somewhere secret and quietly cure her disease, rather than ask the government for compensation,” remarked a deputy mayor of Ruicang, Jiangxi Province, to the mother of a pupil who contracted a sexually transmitted infection after being coerced into sex by a teacher. While the deputy mayor’s insensitivity sparked a public backlash, it was shame that led this particular teacher’s victims – six young girls – to conceal his crimes. Unfortunately, these kind of cases are now being widely reported, and scarcely a week goes by without a child sex scandal breaking somewhere in China. In May 2013, an elementary school principal in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province, was exposed as having raped students on multiple occasions. According to media reports, the principal threatened his victims, declaring that they would remain “on the shelf for life” if they ever disclosed their experiences. Victims, their families and the perpetrators of sexual violence against women and minors more often than not initiate a cover-up in an attempt to save face, which inevitably leads to further crimes. Attaching huge importance to female virginity is by no means a uniquely Chinese phenomenon. However, few cultures were as rigid about the cult of virginity as in China. In the Song Dynasty (AD9601279), prevailing Confucian opinion held that if any part of a girl, including her hands and arms, had been touched by a male who wasn’t a blood relative prior to her marriage, she could not be considered a virgin. Traditional Chinese medicine even claimed that all females carry a “virgin mark” on their arm which immediately disappears after their first sexual experience – a patently groundless claim which nonetheless has retained believers until the present day. Restorative hymen surgery, an attempt to “re-flower” women, has boomed in recent years. Even today, when young men talk about the commonplace activity of premarital sex and the importance of having sexual experience prior to marriage, the tune suddenly changes when the same values are applied to women. An online survey conducted in 2010 by web portal showed that nearly 90 percent of males would prefer that their future partner or wife was a virgin. Misogynistic remarks such as “would you drink from a used glass?” are common on the discussion boards attached to such surveys.

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

“I know it is not fair to females, since they cannot judge a man’s chastity,” said Xu Chao, a 35-year-old man in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. “But I would still feel a bit upset if my future wife were not a virgin. [Chinese] men all hope to be their wives’ first and last sexual partners.” “It is not just a problem of retaining a hymen,” said Du Kai, a 23-year-old man in Xiamen, Fujian Province. “I believe a virgin will be more loyal to her husband than a non-virgin.” “As opposed to Western thought which values freedom, Confucianism values abstinence. In other words, Western thought encourages one to do whatever one likes responsibly. Confucianism tells people to look before they leap,” said Ding Juan, a female issues researcher from the All-China Women’s Federation. “The problem is we adopted double standards over chastity – historically, a [Chinese] man could keep several wives, but a woman could have only one man in all her life, even if she found herself widowed at a young age.” Wang Xingjuan, another female rights researcher who founded the renowned Beijing Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center, is more open-minded. She argues that a great many women now see sex before marriage as almost routine, ignoring the social pressure to remain “pure.” What worries Wang is that the mainstream society still advocates chastity, and the idealized image of the doting, dutiful wife is ubiquitous in advertising, film, TV and literature. One example cited is the praise afforded to women who leap to their death from buildings when being pursued by a rapist – the implication being that suicide is a preferable to submitting to sexual abuse. “It is disappointing that they do not tell people that life is more valuable than chastity,” Wang told our reporter. “You can resist or report a rape. Even if you ultimately fail, you should never have to buy your good name with your life.” While China’s constitution enshrined gender equality into law as early as in 1951, its ideals have never been properly enforced. Wang Xingjuan believes this is why it is difficult even for female victims of domestic violence to obtain justice, as both the police and the judiciary tend to turn a blind eye to so-called “family matters.” “[Chinese] women can be quite contradictory when protecting their rights - many try to prevent the police from arresting abusive husbands, since traditional culture requires obedience of the ‘virtuous’ wife, while having nothing to say on the subject of a violent husband,” said Fang Gang, a sex and gender professor from Beijing Forestry University.

Dependent Women

However, while domestic violence may not affect every woman in China, some claim that China’s increasing prosperity is leading women to surrender their hard-won position in Chinese society en masse and instead be relegated to their traditional role – property. Historically, the average Chinese woman did not work outside the



Photo by CFP

However, Wang Xingjuan argues that “an internalization of gender inequality” has intensified discrimination against women by women. Social pressure essentially forces women into domestic servitude without them even realizing it. “Women still attach themselves to men as they did in ancient times,” said Wang. “Why would so many women receive breast implants, use weight loss medication and undergo cosmetic surgery, if not just to cater to men?” “Matchmaking parties” for Wealthy men inspect female “candidates” at a matchmaking party held on a cruise ship, Wuhan, 2011 China’s super-rich, during which a bevy of attractive, accomplished girls parade before an eligible bachelor, with canhome, was expected to submit to an arranged marriage in her teens, didates filtered out according to body mass, IQ and cooking skills. and was kept out of education, commerce and politics by legal stat- One such party in Wuhan even demanded that candidates prove their ute. While these values were vigorously opposed by the revolutionary virginity. “[Marriage] is more like a business deal which exchanges cash for political movements of the 20th century, the heteronormative gender roles which cast the woman as homemaker and the man as provider beauty,” commented Professor Shang Zhongsheng from Wuhan never really disappeared, and, in recent years, seem to have become University. “Love, meanwhile, is abandoned. These parties degrade women by turning them into commodities for rich men.” even more entrenched. Yet, the alarmingly high sign-up numbers for these parties, with Reality show “contestant” Ma Nuo, despite later being revealed to be a plant reading a script, touched a nerve when she baldly declared: over 200,000 young women signing up within one year, indicate that “I would rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle” on a popular women are continuing to embrace this trend. “The core of gender dating show in 2010. More recently, a survey conducted by the All- equality is independence, but few women have realized this,” said China Women’s Federation in June showed that nearly 70 percent of Wang Xingjuan. female college graduates agreed that “to marry a good man is better than to find a good job.” Still a Man’s World Some men are even lashing out at what they see as a female double Wang Xingjuan told our reporter that she does not support militant standard – demanding equality while also demanding that their boy- feminism, or any movement which might entrench division between friends and husbands provide for them financially. “How ridiculous the sexes. “My ideal society would have men and women working that [some] girls clamor for gender equality while requiring men to and living in harmony without any discrimination,” she said. “Roles pay their bills,” said Li Xunji, a 25-year-old man from Heilongjiang would be defined by circumstances rather than the stereotype of “him Province, adding that he wouldn’t consider dating anyone who sees outdoors, her indoors.” home ownership as a deal-breaker in a relationship. “Why give up the Chairman Mao Zedong encouraged women to enter the workplace homes I paid for?” he continued. “It is like [women] wanting to sell and even the military, famously declaring that women “hold up half themselves in exchange for a house.” the sky.” Before the Communist Party of China (CPC) rose to power, This is what Ding Juan calls “a generalization of gender inequality,” many women held influential positions within its ranks, though rarely meaning that, in a society which locks men into stereotypical gen- did they compete with the Party’s paramount leaders. der roles alongside women, prejudice cuts both ways. “Both genders Once the political battle for China was won, however, the focus should have the right to determine the nature of their marriage, not on the liberation of women subtly shifted towards a more general, only the women,” she said. vague policy of equality which did little to challenge preexisting gen-


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by CFP

der roles. While women continued to work, they were also expected to bear and raise children, and, in the home at least, many continued to defer to their husbands and sons in all matters. In the workplace, while the presence of women was the norm, misogyny endured. A survey by the women’s commission under the democratic Jiu San Society in 2012 found that more than half of respondents believed that men were “more suited to technical and management jobs” while women made better “office clerks, secretaries and service staff.” In 2010, the China University of Political Science and Law published its survey of workplace discrimination, claiming that nearly 70 percent of Chinese companies and government departments discriminated against women, with employers believing that age, marital status and whether or not a woman had children would ultimately determine a woman’s success in her career. “It is not fair to place all the blame for money worship in marriage on women, since women don’t have a fair shot at a successful career,” said Shi Qing, a 33-year-old woman in Hangzhou who admits marrying into money. “Many women, for example, have to quit their jobs or abandon a chance of promotion when they have a baby. Given that their employment is not secure, why can we not turn to our husbands?” she continued. “Why can we not secure insurance in the eventuality that both [employer and husband] abandon us?” “It is a sign that women suffer more than men when so many women would rather give up their rights in exchange for material benefits,” said Ding Juan.


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

A man beats his wife in the street, Zhejiang Province, 2011

Photo by CFP

An attempt in 2012 by 22-year-old graduate Cao Ju from Shanxi Province to bring gender discrimination charges against a potential employer, shows just how difficult it is for the Chinese authorities even to acknowledge that discrimination exists in the workplace. According to Cao’s lawyer Huang Yizhi, China issued a promotion law in 2008 which forbids gender discrimination, but Cao was the first to attempt to cite this law in court. Even so, her claim was initially thrown out. In Huang’s experience, women “usually give up in the interests of money and time.” When Huang attempted to plead Cao’s case, the court responded by asking “Do we even have such a law?” Although Huang was able to convince the court to hear Cao’s case, no verdict has been forthcoming. “Why do you insist on appealing?” the court asked Cao when she appeared before them. Huang Weiwei, a Shenzhen lawyer said that in 2012, she sent 57 formal letters of complaint on behalf of clients, all of which were related to gender discrimination by a job-hunting website. According to her, only one third of the releveant department responded, and only one employer was fined for violating China’s gender discrimination law. “This is because China still has not yet explicitly defined what gender discrimination is in law,” said Ding Juan. “’Gender discrimination’ in China remains merely a moral, rather than a legal concept.”

Ai Xiaoming is a passionate advocate for women’s rights



Gender Equality

Lunatic Endeavor Feminism and the struggle for gender equality in China are slowly being pushed back to the fringes, as commercialism leads to a retrenchment of social values. We meet a few of the women who are trying to fight back By Liu Yanxun and Yuan Ye


Photo by CFP


hen the 1911 Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty, the excruciating tradition of foot binding that had endured for Chinese women for perhaps more than a thousand years was finally abolished, though it took several decades for the practice to be fully wiped out. This change in fashion, similar to the throwing off of the corset in Europe and America, soon led to an unprecedented avalanche of advances in the field of women’s rights. Women were given the right to receive a formal education and to engage in politics, though female politicians remained a rarity until the mid-20th century. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, a new wave of reforms inspired by the Soviet model saw women enter the workplace in record numbers, obtain the right to divorce their husbands, and gain access to birth control. A 2011 Newsweek survey placed China 23rd in a global list of the “best places to be a woman,” ahead of more economically developed Asian nations like Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Female students shave their heads in Guangzhou to protest gender discrimination in college entrance examinations, August 2012

However, a thousand years of rigidly misogynistic values and traditional practice in political, economic and social arenas survived the Chinese civil war to continue to affect the subconscious of both modern Chinese women and men. Discrimination in China is often unconscious, driven by deeply-rooted prejudices which can go back millennia, and thus often goes as unnoticed by its victims as by its perpetrators. In a commercialized society with opaque power structures, discrimination is often a part of life, and one kind often looks very much like another. Indeed, it is often difficult for a Chinese individual to determine whether they are even a victim of discrimination based on anything other than the top-down nature of the system. On the surface, relations between men and women in China appear to be and are widely described as fair and equal. Dig a little deeper, however, and a patriarchal hierarchy remains in politics, the workplace, the home, the schoolroom and even in the law. The liberation of a group of NEWSCHINA I November 2013

people, many of whom are unaware of their second-class social status, takes time and a lot of education. While nominal “women’s rights” could be bestowed by the authorities, attaining true gender equality requires far broader and deeper societal change starting with every Chinese individual, whether male or female. China’s early feminists were inspired to seek educational enlightenment much in the same way as their European and American peers, influencing society by advising policymakers or conducting research. In recent years, however, a new generation of post-Reform and Opening-up feminists and gender equality activists has decided to take to the streets and to the Internet to make their point. For them, change begins with establishing the state of current gender politics in China. People who march in the vanguard are likely to attract attention, and, particularly in conservative China, become the primary targets of criticism. To many outsiders, the actions and theories of many self-described feminists are incomprehensible and even dangerous. Many label feminist activists “lunatics.” But even debate over the motivations and beliefs of these extraordinary activists can engender a more constructive discussion – exactly how equal are the sexes in today’s China, and is feminism a solution to the problem of establishing gender equality?

Young Feminists

Xiong Jing’s shaven head is usually the first thing about her that attracts attention. Born in 1988, she speaks gently and politely, with a tendency to giggle. Few would recognize her as the figure who appeared in an iconic photograph from an online demonstration against domestic violence, in which she appeared stripped to the waist and daubed with scarlet hand-prints, her features contorted in a silent scream. Xiong organized both physical and online demonstrations in 2012 to draw attention to China’s estimated millions of victims of domestic abuse. She collected photos and signatures from supporters across the nation to launch an online awareness campaign which lasted for six months. In that time, Xiong gathered more than 5,000 images and signatures. Supporters hoped that the demonstration would change legislation on domestic violence. Xiong was born an only child in Jingmen, Hubei province. At home, she felt her father was a little chauvinistic and liked to control others. Growing up under the slogan “sons and daughters are equal,” Xiong claims that she did not encounter any discrimination before college. She just felt that sometimes boys had more real freedom in life than girls did. After studying feminism in college, Xiong realized discrimination against women in China was often hidden behind aspects of life which people took for granted, particularly in the home and in the world of work. “For example, people believe women are more suitable teachers. This is employment discrimination,” she told our reporter. “People also believe that it is normal for women to cook at home, but that only men can become excellent chefs.”

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Xiong enrolled in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, selecting feminism as her area of research. She said that she regularly asked herself, “What can I do for gender equality in China?” After graduation, she went back to the mainland and joined the Media Monitor for Women Network (MMWN), a feminist NGO. MMWN was established in 1996 to advocate gender equality in media institutions and champion women’s right of access to mass communication. The organization founded the website GenderWatch. cn and a feminist weekly magazine called Women’s Voice. More recently, MMWN has become highly active on social media. There are four full-time employees at MMWN, all of whom are college-educated women and three of whom were born in the late 1980s. One has a male partner, one has a female partner, and the other two are open about their lack of interest in either marriage or childbirth. They are, in fact, representative of a new generation of Chinese feminists: young, unmarried, and mostly well educated, these women talk openly about sex, are candid in their support for LGBT rights, and are passionate advocates of queer theory. They claim that there is no “absolute” man or woman but only a specific, living individual, with gender and sexuality constituting a broad spectrum. The reasons behind their feminist activism are rarely a response to discrimination, but rather a reaction to modern feminist theory. On February 14, 2012 (Valentine’s Day for most people but known as V-Day for many feminists), Xiong took part in an outdoor event organized by MMWN for the first time. In Beijing’s busiest tourist shopping street, Qianmen Street just south of Tian’anmen Square, she and two other females dressed in white wedding gowns dyed with red ink, as if stained by blood. They held white plates upon which were written slogans like “Love is no excuse for violence.” Their sudden appearance shocked passersby. Some people avoided walking near them, and many more expressed the kind of apprehension familiar to anyone who has attempted any form of public protest in China. However, many cell phone photos were also snapped and were circulating in the Chinese blogosphere before police arrived to move the three women on. Confident that her message had already gotten out, Xiong felt she had started the debate she had always wanted to have.


Following Xiong’s Beijing protest, another was taking place in the southern city of Guangzhou about a very different social issue. A group of twenty-something women gathered outside a public toilet near the city’s Yuexiu Park and held up a banner that read, “If you love her, do not let her wait” and “More convenience for women, more equality of the sexes.” The demonstrators stood at the entrance of the men’s toilet and asked every man that went in whether they could use the men’s toilet for three minutes. The line for the women’s toilet was too long.



Four female college students participate in a demonstration over lavatory access, Chengdu, March 2012

Photo by CFP

“On the outside, men and women have equal access to toilets, but due to physical differences between them, this superficial fairness is in fact unfair,” said student activist Zheng Churan, one of the event’s planners. In her sophomore year, Zheng began to hear about feminism and gender equality, and her curiosity led her to launch her own campaign. Zheng also has mixed feelings about the social status of Chinese women. On the one hand, she says, women seem to have outperformed men in many arenas. Zheng argues that, in relationships, women often maintain the upper hand in terms of decision making, are rarely tied to home and hearth and have attained a degree of sexual liberation. However, she feels women seem to have retreated from other sectors, and utterly given up their rights to equality in others. “Toilets are of course a minor problem. There are more important issues, such as employment, domestic violence and the right to selfdetermination,” she told our reporter. In 2010, the All-China Women’s Federation and the National Bureau of Statistics issued a joint report that showed that nearly 62 percent of Chinese men and nearly 55 percent of Chinese women believe that “men belong in public life and women belong in the home.” This constituted a respective 7.7 percent and 4.4 percent increase on data obtained in 2000. At the same time, the authorities admit that China’s male-female income gap is also widening. In cities, the average woman earns 67.3 percent of the average male salary, a number which drops to 56 percent in rural areas. This marks a 10.2 percent and 23 percent fall respectively in average female salaries since 1990. Of “high-level female talents,” i.e. China’s highest-earning women, listed in 2010, 81 percent had a college degree (7 percent more than their male counterparts), but 80.5 percent felt that high-level positions were “all occupied by men.” Zheng’s demonstration attracted significant media attention. The Guangzhou municipal government responded with a pledge to put a bill before the city’s people’s congress. The government proposed increasing the number of women’s toilets by 1.5 times, purportedly in response to the protest. However, when discussing the feminist movement in contemporary China, Professor Wang Zheng of the University of Michigan is not optimistic. “The younger generation is very active and creative. They are good at challenging gender discrimination, and they take full advantage of the Internet to spread feminist ideas,” said Wang. “But compared with the previous generation of feminists, they are somewhat marginalized.” When researching feminism in China in 2003, Wang interviewed ten comparatively well-known Chinese feminist activists. Aged 40 to 70, most of these women had access to resources in the Women’s Federation and scholastic circles within the political establishment. If they wanted to improve civil society, they could gain access to important people and institutions through their connections alone. Wang believes that the new generation of feminists in the market economy can

Photo by CFP


An example of anti-domestic violence performance art presented by a young woman, Shanghai, February 2013

no longer acquire these resources by themselves. Therefore, she argues, women in Chinese society are likely to revert to being marginalized and inconsequential when it comes to politics. She says that a particularly conspicuous phenomenon is the slow abandonment of legislative and political channels by feminist activists. The new generation, she argues, instead “puts on shows” that are more akin to “performance art” in order to get their message across. Such staged protests, in Wang’s view, “have great visual impact but very limited influence on decision making.” Five months after the Guangzhou municipal government promised to increase the number of women’s toilets, no action has been taken. Zheng Churan and her friends planned another event called “carrying a toilet to demonstrate.” Sixteen women each carried an oversized fake toilet and paraded in front of Guangzhou’s City Management Department. However, that event failed to draw as much attention as its predecessor. After a tedious, day-long sit-in, Zheng and her friends left unnoticed.

Feminism 1.0

The obstacles faced by these “new” feminists for acknowledgement NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by FOTOE

A 1976 cover of China Pictorial shows two female laborers

were very different to that experienced by their predecessors who fought gender discrimination during the early years of Reform and Opening-up. With little access to contemporary feminist theory, the feminists of the 1980s were heavily reliant on their own research and experiences, and struggled to place themselves within a narrative of global gender activism. Shen Rui, now a professor at the US Naval Academy, remembers that in her childhood in the 1960s and the 1970s, gender equality was in the newspapers, on the radio, and in textbooks. She believed that it was natural for men and women to be treated as equals. However, in her experience, such notional equality did not equate to equal pay for the same work or equal job opportunities. Women were encouraged to live and work like men, do heavy labor, and go on long marches, but received less rewards for doing so. Shen used to march 30 kilometers on foot during menstruation in order to prove that men and women were equal. “At that time every girl had a strong, solid goal: to be as outstanding as a man,” said Shen. Her first experience of obvious discrimination came at college. She began a sexual relationship with a male student, but broke up with him after discovering he was unfaithful to her. Both sets of parents NEWSCHINA I November 2013

responded by trying to talk her out of it, claiming that it was “normal” for boys to be unfaithful. “I was 23,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I had always been a good girl. I was scared to think that I was not a virgin anymore. But I forgave him.” This experience shook her belief in the creed of gender equality, but, afraid for her prospects, she went ahead and married her unfaithful boyfriend. One year later, she gave birth and became a stay-at-home mom as was expected. One day, her husband gave one of her Mao Zedong badges to a foreign student. Shen was upset by this, and confronted her husband, which earned her a public beating. Shen still carries a scar on her temple from the incident. In the spring of 1992, Shen met with British sinologist Harriet Evans, who came to China for research. Evans was a single, independent woman, but she had a son. Shen asked, “Why don’t you get married?” Evans answered, “Any man-woman relationship constitutes a power relationship, and any power relationship cannot be truly equal. I seek true equality, so I don’t marry.” That conversation led Shen to question the role of women in Chinese society – something she had barely considered, despite her own unhappiness. In 1994, Shen went to the United States to study. In her first semester, she expressly chose courses related to feminism, including classes in the Theories and History of Feminism and Critical Reading of Feminist Literature. When the head of the Women’s Studies Department asked Shen why she wanted to study feminism, she replied, “Because I am a good woman, a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, and a good sister. I want to figure out why I have become all these things. I want to understand women.” Most of the self-proclaimed feminists of Shen’s generation did not seek to rebel or to change the status quo – merely to understand it. They had grown up in a society that extolled Mao’s slogan that “women hold up half the sky,” and yet felt like second class citizens. Shen wanted to change herself. She tried to find confidence in her daily activities and express her opinions in conversation. Meanwhile, she had fought against discrimination and has no tolerance for misogyny. In 1998, she returned to China and had dinner with some acquaintances, among them a handful of famous poets. During the meal someone said, loudly, “Shen Rui is now a feminist!” Shen recalls that this killed all other conversation at the table. A man stood up and said, “Feminism, what feminism? Women will never have rights because they are always on the bottom.” In response, Shen quipped, “Always on the bottom? You must have a boring sex life.” While refusing to give up, Shen acknowledges that, as times have changed, it has become harder to feel relevant as a feminist in China. “Perhaps the most significant difference between feminists of my generation and those of the new generation is that we felt first and then looked for enlightenment. The younger generation has been enlightened before they have felt.”



Arctic Shipping

In Cold Water Never inclined to miss an opportunity, China’s shipping industry is taking advantage of the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Circle to find a cheaper route to Europe By Xu Fangqing


n early August, China commenced its first commercial voyage to Europe through the Arctic Circle, with a single container ship successfully passing through waters which only a decade ago would have remained virtually impossible to navigate for 12 months out of the year. Shipping to Europe, China’s biggest trade partner, via the Arctic instead of by way of the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, a distance of some 12,600 nautical miles (23,300 kilometers), could save Chinese shipping firms a fortune in fuel and tolls. In addition, the newly opened Arctic summer shipping lane is expected to bring new economic vitality to the decaying industrial base in China’s northeastern provinces, which are fast becoming the country’s rust belt. The Yongsheng, a 19,000-ton vessel owned by the State-owned COSCO shipping company, set sail on August 8 from the port of Dalian, Liaoning Province, and was expected to arrive in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 35 days, shearing 12 to 15 days off the time it would have taken the ship to travel via the Indian Ocean route.

Ice-free Age

The Yongsheng’s Arctic navigation came only a year after the icebreaking ship Snow Dragon explored the same route. The captain of the Snow Dragon, the first known Chinese ship to navigate the Northeast Passage, Wang Jianzhong served as an assistant navigator on the Yongsheng’s experimental voyage this year. Li Bingrui, an oceanographer with the Polar Research Institute of China who also served aboard the Snow Dragon during its Arctic voyage last year, said the Chinese cargo ship Yongsheng had picked a perfect time to navigate across the Arctic, because in late August and early September the Northeast Route is now almost ice free. According to Li, there are three major waterways in the Arctic Circle. The Northeast Passage begins in Scandinavia and runs all the way to the Far East via the waters of northern Siberia and the Bering Strait. The far-trickier Northwest Passage, which swallowed hundreds


of sail and steamships during the fruitless attempts to navigate it in the 19th and early 20th centuries, bridges the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the hazard-strewn seas off northern Canada and Alaska. The final route is known as the Central Route and lies straight across the North Pole, navigable only by air or sled. Even in this era of ice-free Arctic Ocean summers, of these three routes, the Northeast Passage remains the most navigable. The Snow Dragon paid several hundred thousand dollars to Russian maritime authorities, largely as mandatory fees for crossing parts of Russia’s exclusive economic zones and also for an escort in the form of a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker. Despite these additional costs, the voyage still worked out cheaper than the alternative. “One day shaved off the voyage means a great reduction in labor costs and a 27 ton saving on fuel,” said Li Jianxiong, COSCO’s board representative. The Northeast Passage has been a going concern in summer for at least five years, ever since two 10,000-ton German freighters traversed the route in summer without encountering difficulty. The 3,000-nautical-mile Arctic waterway off Russia’s northern coast, also known as the North Sea Route, is now navigable for about two months in summer due to the retreat of pack ice in the Arctic. Climate change is expected to increase this navigable window to four months or longer by 2020, boosting the commercial value of Arctic waterways. In summer, the Arctic ice sheet has retreated at an annual pace of 50,000 square kilometers each year between 1979 and 2000, an area about the size of Costa Rica. As global warming accelerated in the past decade, that figure rose to 220,000 square kilometers, an area of ice the size of Great Britain. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Arctic ice extent decreased to about 4.1 million square kilometers last August, or the lowest rate since monitoring began in the late 1980s. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that the whole Arctic Circle would be ice-free in summer by NEWSCHINA I November 2013

New York

Ca ma nal

Northwest Passage

a Pan Via

North America

Bering Strait

Akureyri Central Route Rotterdam

a Afric

Canals Arctic route

Northeast Passage

boost this increasingly impovthe end of the 21st century, erished area needs. but this year the accelerating The Russian Administration rate of global warming made of Arctic Waterways has given the the panel revise its estimate Shanghai green light to 372 ships seeking pasdownwards by half a century. Othsage through the Arctic Circle this year, er scientists have predicted this shift Via Suez Canal compared with 48 last year and single-digit will occur as early as 2030. numbers in both 2010 and 2009. Cargo shipIn preparation for an ice-free Arctic, Iceping via the Arctic is expected to top 15 million tons land, Norway and Russian are already beginning to by 2021. However, even with reduced sea ice, the Arctic climate resurvey the Northeast Passage to scout out potential locations for mains inhospitable even to modern shipping and highly-trained crews. port facilities. “A problem with the route is that replenishment and emergency aid is not easily provided in case of a maritime emergency, given the scarNorthern Lights Despite renewed interest in the Northeast Passage, this lane is un- city of port infrastructure and the sparsely populated territory along likely to become a major competitor for the Suez Canal in the fore- the route,” Li said. However, more navigation in Arctic waters alongside a rise in oil seeable future. The latter annually sees the passage of 17,000 ships with more than 1 billion tons of cargo, and lies at a crucial junction drilling is worrying environmentalists and the scientific community, between the lucrative Indian, Mediterranean and Atlantic trade hubs. afraid that an oil spill or fuel leak could sound a death knell for the However, as incidence of piracy has risen, particularly around the region’s already vulnerable ecosystem. Catastrophic climate change, Horn of Africa, some shipping concerns are looking to minimize already transforming the Arctic beyond recognition and threatening their risks by seeking alternative routes to Europe. For Chinese ships its once-abundant life, would be accelerated by an increased human in particular, as Beijing’s territorial spats with neighbors in the South presence. According to a report by the Wen Hui Bao newspaper, climate China Sea have hotted up, more cordial relations with Russia make the Northeast Passage increasingly attractive. Even official spokespeople change could make any such accident even more difficult to handle, are expressing hope that global warming will further devastate the with pack ice likely to contribute to an even greater spread in the event area’s sea ice in order to provide even more commercial opportunities. of a fuel leak, which could easily turn a minor incident into a disaster. “The imminent disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic has “As a larger-scope ice extent retreat is expected, Chinese ships would be able to navigate higher latitudes, farther away from Russian ter- enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change ritory, and thus evading paperwork and fees,” said Li Jianxiong of and the release of methane gas from off-shore waters,” said Peter Wadhams, a polar oceanographer at Cambridge University, who was COSCO. The increasing navigability of the Arctic is especially great news for quoted in the Guardian newspaper in late July. Along with carbon dioxide, methane is also a greenhouse gas, and China’s northeast. The country’s longtime heavy industrial base, China’s northeast has been in decline since the 1990s when large numbers a major contributor to climate change. The effects of climate change of State factories closed as the southern and eastern coasts became the resulting from methane released from Arctic ice could ultimately cost the world US$60 trillion, according to a paper co-authored by Wadnew focus of commercial investment. Revitalization of the northeast is currently a priority on the central hams and published in the science journal Nature. government’s economic agenda. As over 90 percent of China’s trade No matter how profitable the Northeast Passage sea lanes might is conducted by sea, a new shipping route to Europe could be the prove to be, they are unlikely to generate that kind of revenue.


NEWSCHINA I November 2013



Industrial Overcapacity

Black Lists, Red Tape Does overcapacity get a bad rap in China? Are the government’s continuous crackdowns on this opaque issue actually a symptom of the broader dichotomy of private versus public commerce? Photo by IC

By Li Jia

A Chinese worker stands on rolls of coiled steel rods at a processing plant in Huaibei, Anhui Province, July 30, 2013


ashions change fast. Sometimes so fast that ordinary consumers are struck with déjà vu as often as inspiration. Economics too has a cyclical feel to it. Over the past decade, China’s economy succumbed to a trend towards overcapacity in a vast range of industries, with output often exceeding demand by multiple percentage points. Although policymakers and analysts have done their best to derail the fad for prioritizing production targets over efficiency and marketization, China’s overcapacity problem has got worse as economic growth has slowed. On July 19, 2013, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China’s primary industrial agency, waged


another attack. Hundreds of enterprises operating at overcapacity were given 4 months to shut selected projects down permanently. The 19 industries hit included iron and steel, cement, electrolytic aluminum, coke, paper, lead batteries and, unusually, flavor enhancers. Most of these sectors had already been named and shamed for overcapacity problems since the government began to take the problem seriously in 2001. However, as MIIT minister Miao Wei acknowledged in a recent interview with the Economic Daily, newly installed capacity in these sectors has “far exceeded what has been eliminated” in over a decade of crackdowns. Miao added that more lists would follow, raising hopes that, unlike during previous crackdowns, the

name and shame strategy might actually pay off. However, others have called into question the government’s official perspective on overcapacity. Some have even questioned whether the government and State-owned enterprises, themselves the inadvertent architects of China’s overcapacity problem, are the best people to be assessing and attempting to rectify it.

Popsicles and Pig Iron

In the late 1990s, Chinese people, most of whom had grown up accepting scarcity and want as a part of life, suddenly discovered surpluses of almost everything. Particularly plentiful were the products of State manufacturing – first textiles, then iron, with other products to follow. The government respondNEWSCHINA I November 2013

ed with sporadic cutbacks, censuring industries operating at overcapacity and waiting until equilibrium returned before removing restrictions. However, China’s official protocols to determine the existence and extent of overcapacity have been somewhat ad hoc. Typically, investigators first try to establish the capacity utilization rate – the ratio of real output to installed capacity – a figure notoriously difficult to verify without multi-layered parallel investigations. In China’s case, analysts typically cite poorly sourced and defined “international standards” or “the US experience” to declare a utilization rate below 75 or 80 percent “unacceptable.” The second principle determining factor for overcapacity is summed up as “poor profit margins,” a nebulous term which means completely different things depending on the industry under investigation. Even the IMF, in a report published last year, claimed that the bulk of industries in China were operating at overcapacity, but provided no detailed data on how they reached this conclusion. The manifold flaws in reasoning are exemplified by the way the State has treated its iron and steel industry. In a recent interview with State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), Executive Deputy Secretarygeneral of the China Iron and Steel Association (Chinaisa) Li Xinchuang admitted that his industry’s utilization rate was currently well below the 75 percent red line. Li’s interviewer cited industrial data to prove that for some time in the first half of 2013, the profit made on one ton of iron was not enough even to buy a cheap popsicle. A few years ago, the profit on one ton of iron was enough to buy, according to the same interviewer, “a US$200 cell phone.” While China’s iron and steel industry has been blasted for its inefficiency for over a deNEWSCHINA I November 2013

cade, senior executives with Chinaisa, including Li himself, claim that there “was no such thing” as overcapacity in the sector between 2001 and 2011, when China’s iron and steel concerns were operating at an average 80 percent capacity. This was thanks largely to the central government’s massive expansion of infrastructure, particularly railroads, and a booming property market, which also allowed the cement, timber and glass industries to all enjoy similar prosperity. However, in an economy as fast-changing as China’s, the business cycle is very difficult to predict. Coal, for example, has been on the government’s overcapacity hit list for years, even during the coal rush of the early 2000s. This has led to a number of shortages, most recently in 2010 when local governments in some coal-rich areas restricted transportation to secure a local supply. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s most powerful macroeconomic planning agency, ultimately had to intervene to prevent an embarrassing shortfall in the national fuel supply. In 1999, the central government, worried about overcapacity in the power industry, declared a three-year moratorium on “big power projects” policy. In 2003 power shortages that had begun in 2001 led to rolling blackouts across the country, again, to the embarrassment of the central authorities.


From a broader perspective, the government’s persistent and prevailing aversion to excess capacity in China is confusing. The US Federal Reserve’s own monthly data on the industrial utilization rate shows that at most times since 2000 the industrial portion of the US economy has operated well below 80 percent of full capacity, even falling below 75 percent in sectors like chemicals, computers and transportation equipment.

Even when it comes to profit margins, overcapacity is often wrongly pilloried ahead of more important problems. China’s integration into the world economy has naturally led to squeezes in sectors which previously had little or no domestic competition. China is heavily reliant on imported iron ore, which has retained a consistently high price tag which has prevented manufacturers from cutting costs. China’s iron and steel products are also now subject to anti-dumping investigations and tariffs in the EU and the US, further depressing growth in the sector. Domestic coal prices, too, have been hit hard by falling international demand for coal in the wake of the shale gas revolution beginning in 2012, as well as the EU shift towards renewables. Domestic coal producers had to reduce their prices to compete with cheaper imports. As a result their returns could hardly cover their costs. Statistics released at the end of 2012 by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that China’s iron and steel making capacity utilization rate stood at 78 percent, one of the highest rates in the world, putting China ahead of the EU and Japan. Despite this, neither the EU nor Japan has ever launched countermeasures in response to industrial overcapacity, instead trusting the market to absorb excess and supplement shortage. Officials in these countries might well wonder why overcapacity is such a sensitive issue in a country with a growth rate like China’s. While the US also red-flagged overcapacity in some industries from the 1960s onwards, blaming the problem on rising overseas economies undercutting American manufacturing – first Germany, then Japan – little was made of the overcapacity problem outside of government committees. China’s somewhat overzealous persecution of industries at overcapacity has confused analysts and, seem-


Photo by IC


Piles of coal at the port of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, July 6, 2009

ingly, policymakers, in its severity.

Selective Targeting

Others have questioned why other sectors, many of them notorious for their overcapacity problems, have not made the list even as minor offenders have had their names dragged through the mud. Before China ascended to the WTO in 2001, countless surplus made-in-China consumer products, particularly apparel, shoes, refrigerators and TVs simply piled up in domestic warehouses, yet manufacturing barely faltered. While China had a decade in which to flood the international market with cutprice consumer products, these industries never saw capacity as a concern. Even as the world economy has contracted and demand for these goods has fallen even further, no apparel or electronics companies made the government’s overcapacity hit-list. Indeed, it is hard to find sectors that are not operating below capacity, and yet the State


seems concerned with only a handful of industries. Why? Perhaps it is to do with State interests. Nearly all the sectors on the Chinese government’s overcapacity blacklist are those in which investment decisions are subject to the approval of various central government agencies, in particular the NDRC. Agencies with approval power don’t want to lose this lucrative and influential status. Because a lot of capacity in China is installed without approval, enterprises, particularly small, private concerns tempted by favorable land and tax policies, were accused of conspiracy with GDP growth-hungry local governments. He Keng, vice chairman of the Finance and Economic Committee of the National People’s Congress, said in an interview with CCTV on August 6 that it is time to let the market, not the government, determine the direction of capital in China’s vast industrial network. While some continue to justify gov-

ernment meddling in China’s marketplace on the basis that the economy is still not fully developed, this mindset, according to Professor Lu Feng, Director of the China Macroeconomic Research Center at Peking University, is “based on the assumption that the government is smarter than the market, something which may not necessarily be true.” At a June forum sponsored by the NDRC, honorary chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce for Metallurgical Enterprises Zhao Xizi complained that the most serious surpluses in China’s iron and steel sector capacity were in the production of steel sheeting, the only product which can be produced in the massive blast furnaces mandated in all State steel plants by the NDRC. This is one isolated example of the State attempting to direct the market – and misjudging demand at a cost to both the government and enterprise. While academics like Lu agree that governments can and should use their considerable resources to take the lead in areas such as data collection, this data should only be used to inform and assist – not to govern and control – investment. Professor Lu’s research has proven that the sectors targeted in crackdowns on overcapacity are mostly areas in which SOEs compete directly with private concerns. In the iron and steel industry, for example, private manufacturers account for a full 50 percent of total output. Once a sector is labeled as at overcapacity by the government, private investors are normally the first to suffer. In 2002, Dai Guofang, an ambitious private investor in Jiangsu Province, launched an iron and steel project which continuously expanded with the full support and encouragement of the local government. Two years later, the project was suddenly defined as illegal by the central government. The local officials involved in the project were dismissed NEWSCHINA I November 2013


bynumbers th 29 China’s rank-

or penalized by the central government, and Dai was stripped of his assets and jailed for five years. With smaller projects easier to liquidate, SMEs and their non-Party personnel are easily pillaged or forcibly assimilated into SOEs in the name of environmental protection, employee safety or industrial restructuring. In short, the government can, when suitable, deploy a “crackdown on overcapacity” to swiftly appropriate huge volumes of private assets. Professor Lu is particularly opposed to overcapacity being equated with problems relating to environmental protection and health and safety. While overcapacity is a logistical issue and should be dealt with according to market principles, Lu argues, environmental protection and health and safety issues should be dealt with according to the law. This simplistic, scattershot approach to economic regulation only serves to exacerbate China’s already massive industrial inefficiencies, and is often little more than a smoke-screen for seizures of private assets by a rapacious and underperforming State sector. In 2008 and 2009, several provinces nationalized coal mines entirely at the expense of their former investors. In 2009, a profitable private steel maker in Shandong Province was forcibly sold to the loss-making State-owned Shandong Iron and Steel Group. Not only do such actions as these do nothing for the efficiency of the seized enterprises – indeed, they often make them less efficient – they undermine competition and often further exacerbate existing problems in the vast State sector. Analysts like Lu believe that only the efficiencies of marketization can eliminate the overcapacity problem as well as force the far more important reform of the inefficient State sector. However, for the government’s overcapacity watchdog, for now, it is business as usual.  NEWSCHINA I November 2013

ing (out of 148 economies) on the Global Competitiveness Index 2013-2014 released by the World Economic Forum.

China’s three best and worst indeces Macroeconomic environment


education Market efficiency Higher and training

Technological readiness

Market size

Best Worst


#10 #32

#61 #70 #85

Source: World Economic Forum

44 Consecutive months up to Au-

Year-on-year rise of China’s CPI, rent and food prices January - August, 2013

gust 2013 that have seen rents rise in Chinese urban housing, making rent, along with food, the fastest-growing contributor to the national CPI. Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China

6 5 4 3 2


The fall in China’s GDP in 2012, confirmed in September 2013. Annual GDP growth has consequently been revised down to 7.7% from 7.8%. GDP reduction


Funds raised overseas in 2012 by Chinese enterprises, securing a record US$43.4bn in overseas mergers and acquisitions. Source: Ministry of Commerce of China


China’s first officially published unemployment rate for the first half of 2013, which appeared in an article by Premier Li Keqiang in the Financial Times.

Primary industry: US$5m 0.1% Secondary Industry: US$2.6bn 42% Tertiary industry: US$3.6bn 57.90% Source: National Bureau of Statistics

Source: Financial Times



Art Soldiers

The Show Must Go On The lavish treatment and military honors afforded to China’s “art soldiers,” the song-and-dance wing of the military, are coming under attack from a skeptical public

Photo by Xinhua

By Xie Ying

Art soldiers in Guangzhou perform for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the PLA, 1977

has become a refuge for mainstream teen idols to bumble through compulsory military service without having to get their hands dirty. Art soldiers, according to the media, are exempted from training exercises, enjoy additional vacation time, and are often treated to lavish banquets and favors by their commanders. Across the sea in China, the controversy surrounding South Korea’s art soldiers also began to make headlines. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s thousands-strong art division dwarfs its South Korean equivalent. Even more importantly, a number of scandals have recently rocked its formerly tight ranks.

Wartime Cheerleaders


n an attempt to assuage growing public criticism, the National Security Ministry of South Korea finally announced it would disband its scandalplagued “art division” on July 18. The announcement came in the wake of media reports on expensive visits to beauty parlors by seven South Korean art soldiers, including the singing star Se7en. The country’s art division became controversial after it was revealed that superstar pop idol Rain had regularly slipped out of his barracks for trysts with his girlfriend during his national


service. In the eyes of many South Koreans, the “art units” affiliated with the country’s military, once a key force in maintaining national morale under the imminent threat of invasion from the communist North, have long ceased to be necessary. For many, South Korean morale is better served by the country’s legion of home-grown pop stars, many of which have been signed to major international labels and perform to soldout crowds across Asia and the world. Nowadays, South Korea’s art division

When the PLA was founded in 1927, modeled on the Soviet Red Army, it adopted many Soviet idiosyncrasies wholesale, one of which was its own song-and-dance troupe which, at the time, was seen as an essential propaganda tool for the Communist Party of China (CPC). In December 1929, the Red Army established an “art club” in each military company, organizing those with singing or dancing talent into human loudspeakers for Party doctrine. “Off the battlefield, the Red Army should focus on propaganda and education, leading the soldiers and the masses NEWSCHINA I November 2013

petition with a growing domestic movie industry, hit TV shows, a bevy of successful pop acts and the mass import, both legally and illegally, of international entertainment options ranging from Friends to Avatar. Today, younger people sneer at China’s art performers, singling out female officers in particular as “a group of pretty girls who have easy access to senior officials.” Even in the early days of the CPC, the Party’s top leaders, Mao Zedong in particular, were notorious for throwing dance parties to which the most attrac-


tive and accomplished PLA performers were invited. Some Chinese leaders married these performers, including Mao himself, whose fourth wife Jiang Qing was a former actress. Initially, these “revolutionary couples” had their images carefully exploited by propagandists to serve the needs of the Party, becoming a major theme of pro-military dramas. For example, The Times of Passion, a hit TV series tells the fictional story of an army Chief of Staff who falls in love with a performer.

However, barring a few missions against Somali pirates and the occasional standoff in the South China Sea, China’s military has not seen active combat in decades. Meanwhile, Reform and Opening-up and the information era have broadened the entertainment options of Chinese people to previously unimaginable levels. The appeal of red songs and revolutionary operas, secure when those were the only options most people had, has rapidly faded in com-

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

He is rejected, but finally persuades the girl to marry him in order to “serve the revolution,” a denouement which led to a cascade of scorn from online critics. The controversy peaked in 2006 when Wang Shouye, a Chinese major general, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for embezzling over 160 million yuan (US$25.4m). According to the domestic media, Wang’s wrongdoing was reported by three of his mistresses, all of whom were art soldiers. In 2011, Bai Ling, a controversial Chinese-American actress working in

Photo by FOTOE

in the right proletarian direction,” read Mao Zedong’s thoughts on the subject. “This is what distinguishes the Red Army from all older armies.” Given that the CPC’s revolutionary activities were largely conducted in rural areas typified by a life of dull routine for both soldiers and farmers, the chance to see musical and dance performances meant these art divisions soon became wildly popular. “With ballads, operas, dances and music, we helped spread the Party’s ideas while cheering up the troops,” Ye Zhizhong, a former art soldier from Guangdong Province, recalled to a local paper. “Our arts were our weapons.” The PLA’s art soldiers played a major role in the Sino-Japanese War (19371945) and World War II, the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949) and the Korean War (1950-1953), where they were often deployed into combat zones to boost morale even as bombs were falling. In a 1951 document, the new communist government reiterated the importance of its military propaganda wing, asserting that “art performance is a vital part of modern national defense.” Today, China’s military art troupe system has developed into a three-plane structure which mirrors that of the rest of the military, with the uppermost divisions serving directly under the General Political Department of the PLA.

An art troupe performs for frontline troops during the Chinese Civil War

Hollywood, revealed to the Associated Press that she provided sexual services to high-ranking military officers during her three-year service in Tibet as an art soldier, which began when she was 14 years old. Despite China’s Foreign Ministry refusing to comment, and although no evidence was presented to support Bai Ling’s claim, the revelations became a sensation online again after South Korea disbanded its art division. “[Chinese] art soldiers have been


Li Shuangjiang performs in Beijing, 2013

demonized and even arbitrarily associated with the corruption of the military, which has, to a large extent, distorted their [real] image,” Han Xudong, a professor from the National Defense University of the PLA, remarked in the nationalist periodical Global Times. “A majority of art soldiers actually have no opportunities to meet senior officials. It is quite ridiculous that some are trying to smear the whole group by citing extreme examples,” an anonymous art soldier wrote on the website of the Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily.

Image Problem

China’s authorities are particularly cautious about the image of art soldiers, given their close connection to the military as a whole. According to a report in Culture and History magazine, Grand Marshal Peng Dehuai, who fought the US Army in the Korean War and served as China’s defense minister in the mid- to late 1950s, was a major critic of the continued penchant among top leaders for inviting young and attractive female performers to dance parties at Zhongnanhai, the central government compound in Beijing. According to inside sources, China’s art soldiers are actually obligated to complete the same three-month basic training as all new recruits, including


Photo by CFP

Photo by CFP


Song Zuying in concert in Beijing, 2011

formation drills, long-distance steeplechase and weapons training. “We are no different from combat soldiers,” claimed the anonymous art soldier. Combat troops might well disagree, but the PLA has gone to significant efforts to emphasize the combat prowess of its song-and-dance troupes. Regardless of their relative combatreadiness, however, one area in which art soldiers seem to have equality with their armed counterparts is their seeming immunity from prosecution even for the most severe crimes, at least in the eyes of the public. A national scandal implicating Li Tianyi, the son of China’s so-called “singer general” Li Shuangjiang, in the gang-rape of a young woman has led to one of the most sensational trials in Chinese history. The junior Li is now standing trial almost exactly one year after he was detained by police for attacking a man whose car had boxed in the then 15-year-old Li’s BMW. Li’s father’s name, which once called to mind his greatest 1970s hits such as Ode to Beijing and The Red Star Leads Me to Fight, now evokes howls of criticism for his spoiled son’s misdeeds. Another prominent art soldier, Pan Changjiang, was reportedly photographed driving a vehicle with military plates up to his private villa. More recently, military singer Han Hong,

who sang one of China’s Paralympic anthems, was spotted driving an unlicensed Ferrari while taking a cell phone call. In the age of social media, slip-ups like these serve to discredit entire institutions, and even China’s powerful military has failed to protect its talented but feckless protégés.

Privileged Class

When such figures are called to account, they rarely help their cases. For example, on his way to hospital to visit the victim attacked by his son, Li Shuangjiang responded to public criticism of his military escort by claiming: “I deserved an escort because of my position, and they were also sent to protect the injured from being disturbed by the media.” Although the PLA has never given actual military ranks to art soldiers, honorary titles in a graded 10-tier structure give the appearance of their holding rank, though they are officially referred to as “non-ranking officers,” or “army civilian officers.” However, according to the PLA’s temporary regulations on the art soldier system, “non-ranking” art officers enjoy equality with their military-ranked equivalents in terms of entitlements and welfare. For example, Li Shuangjiang, despite having never seen combat nor been given a command, enjoys NEWSCHINA I November 2013

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

based Oriental Daily News, which circulated widely on the mainland. Military insiders, too, have been scandalized by the red carpet treatment offered to those who are simply charged with keeping real troops entertained. “It is unfair that some art troupe members enjoy the special treatment otherwise afforded to a battalion commander, while an ordinary soldier couldn’t even become a platoon leader without years of hard work,” complained Major General Luo Yuan. Even Han Xudong, the national defense university professor who has defended the art soldier system, is calling for reforms to outlaw those members of military art troupes who cannot serve as “qualified soldiers.”

Which Way Now?

Yet, despite the controversy, military experts have rejected calls to scrap the system, a response which typifies t h e sensi-

Photo by CFP

the salary, housing options and special treatment of a PLA lieutenant general. “Folk song queen” Song Zuying was promoted to tier two in 2008, making her eligible for all the perks enjoyed by a serving major general. In 2001, the PLA revised parts of the uniform of non-ranking officers, adding a pine branch, a decoration previously limited to the epaulettes of combat generals, to the shoulders of art soldiers holding level-two status or above, leading many to mistakenly refer to the highest-level art officers “singing generals.” According to incomplete statistics by Chinese domestic media, China now has more than 30 such “nonranking generals” in the PLA. The honors and benefits afforded to the members of military art troupes have even lured in civilian performers. After shooting to fame, the 42-yearold singer Han Hong was recruited into the Art Troupe of the PLA Air Force in 2012 and was swiftly made vice-director, giving her a level-five post equivalent to a lieutenant colonel. More controversially, reality TV show star Ji Minjia who was absorbed into the PLA’s art troupe in 2008 was instantly granted a rank equivalent to a battalion commander. “It is really odd that art soldiers earn promotions more easily than combat soliders. Why are those shedding blood on the battleground inferior to those who just sing songs? Why are those sacrificing their lives inferior to those who just dance on a stage?” asked a commentary in the Hong Kong-

tivity surrounding any aspect of China’s military. “Military art performance still plays a big role in helping publicize government policies and enriching the lives of soldiers, especially those stationed in remote areas,” said Professor Han Xudong. “Besides, art soldiers are of value to national defense,” he continued. “We are still threatened by boundary conflicts with neighboring countries.” Chinese taxpayers, however, might prefer the millions spent on keeping these singing-and-dancing soldiers in comfort to be spent on actual defensive capabilities. Some argue that most of China’s famous art soldiers also pursue lucrative civilian singing careers, and few need any State support whatsoever. “The Chinese people now judge a professional according to their function. Thus the Chinese public judge art soldiers by the same criteria they would judge combat soldiers,” Gong Fangbin, another professor from the University of National Defense of the PLA, told NewsChina. According to Gong, the Chinese military has already cut its art troupes since Reform and Opening-up kicked off in the late 1970s. On August 26, the PLA issued a new regulation on the management of art soldiers, forbidding media or officials to refer to art soldiers of any tier as “generals” and tightening controls on art soldiers’ participation in commercial performances. However, the document did not mention any actual potential for reform. Although many other countries and regions like the US and Chinese Taiwan have tried to cut expenditures by outsourcing artistic or ceremonial aspects of the military, on the Chinese mainland, where the reputation of the Party and the military are two sides of the same coin, such steps are almost impossible for leaders to take.

Han Hong attends a CPPCC conference in Beijing, 2013


visual REPORT

New Mod


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

odel Army September 3 marks the 68th anniversary of Japan’s 1945 defeat in China. The anniversary was marked by the official opening of a memorial park at the peak of Songshan Mountain in southwest China’s Yunnan province, complete with 402 sculptures depicting soldiers from the Chinese Expeditionary Force, which helped defeat the Imperial Japanese Army. Thirteen surviving veterans attended the inauguration ceremony. On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the United States and the Soviet Red Army, and every year since 1953 the Chinese government has held commemorative ceremonies on September 3. Songshan Mountain is considered an important battlefield, as it was the first place retaken by Chinese forces during World War II. During the fighting, western parts of Yunnan, particularly Tengchong and Longling counties, were occupied by the Japanese army, which effectively cut off the YunnanBurma Road into China, blocking allied supply routes. In May 1944, 200,000 soldiers from the Chinese Expeditionary Force advanced on Songshan Mountain and other locations in Longling county. From June until September, more than 17,000 Chinese combatants defeated 3,000 Japanese occupiers, finally retaking the mountain at a cost of 7,675 Chinese lives, more than three times the losses suffered by the Japanese garrison. The sculpture park was inspired by the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, according to sculptor Li Chunhua. The replica army has 12 different divisions, including child soldiers, infantry and artillery. (PHOTO BY IC)

Sculptor Li Chunhua adds the finishing touches to one of his sculptures, September 1, 2013 NEWSCHINA I November 2013


visual REPORT

The daughter of General Duan Guojie weeps in front of her father’s sculpture, September 2, 2013

(Left to right) WWII veterans100-year-old Shui Qingshan, 88-year-old veteran Chen Baochen and 91-year-old Shao Yingren alongside their likenesses, September 1, 2013

The 402 sculptures, placed in tight ranks, were inspired by Xi’an’s ancient Terracotta Army, September 1, 2013


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

The 402 sculptures are part of a monument which cost US$3.3 million to complete, September 1, 2013

Sculpture of a child soldier, September 2, 2013

NEWSCHINA I November 2013



Women’s Volleyball

Return of the Iron Hammer

Chinese women’s volleyball legend Lang Ping has been made head coach of the ailing national team, and must now face down a powerful adversary: sports bureaucracy By Li Jia


or decades, Chinese sports fans have wondered why their national teams always seem to be good at “small ball” sports, like ping-pong and badminton, but struggle with “big balls,” like basketball and soccer. Women’s volleyball, however, has occasionally proven to be an exception – the national team captured titles at several world championships throughout the 1980s, and at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The team, who for a time held a special place in the hearts of millions of Chinese, floundered in the following years, and at


one point dropped out of the top three in the world. However, their fortunes began to pick up after the turn of the century, reaching their high point with a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, before sinking to bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and coming home empty-handed from London 2012. Now, hope has been rekindled by the arrival of a new head coach – an iconic figure who for many represents the glory of days gone by. On April 25, Lang Ping was made head coach of the national women’s volleyball

team. In China, the former ace spiker is a sporting icon in the league of Michael Jordan or David Beckham. Now, the public expects Lang to lead the women’s national team out of the doldrums and onto the podium at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the wake of the team’s disappointing performances at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, three coaches had lost their jobs. By contrast, Lang has proven herself to be an excellent coach since 1991, leading several teams, most of them foreign, to victory. Known as Jenny Lang Ping in the US, she coached the NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by Shen Ao / ic

Lang Ping instructs players during the Shenzhen leg of the 2013 China International Womens Volleyball Tournament in Guangdong Province, May 23, 2013

US team to victory over China at the Beijing Olympics.

“The Iron Hammer”

In China in the 1980s, watching international women’s volleyball on TV was a national ritual. “We were used to seeing championships won by our ping-pong players, so we were eager to see breakthroughs in any of the three ‘big ball’ sports [volleyball, basketball and soccer] because they were more thrilling and required more teamwork,‘’ said Ms Yang, a college lecturer in Beijing in her NEWSCHINA I November 2013

late 30s who can still remember the names of most of the female volleyball players of the time, including, of course, Lang Ping. Lang’s astounding vertical leap and unstoppable spike earned her the nickname the “Iron Hammer.” Lang began her volleyball career in Beijing in 1973 when she was 13 years old. In the five years between 1981 and 1986, she and her teammates claimed all five major world volleyball titles, including the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The most thrilling aspect of every game was the fierce competition and

rivalry between the ace spikers of the generation: Lang, and her American and Cuban counterparts Flo Hyman and Mireya Luis. In the 1980s, China was busy emerging from self-imposed isolation with Deng Xiaoping’s program of Reform and Openingup, instilling in the populace a feeling of hope tinged with the inferiority that came with increased exposure to developed countries. The victory of the women’s volleyball team immediately became a source of pride and inspiration. In 1981, when the team won its first world championship, many in China took to



Photo by xinhua

ter’s degree in sports management, gave birth to a daughter, and became a coach for clubs and universities. Later, she served as a volleyball coach in Italy, Japan and Turkey. In her five-year stay in Italy, her team won at least one national championship per year. Her overseas career culminated in her becoming the head coach of the US women’s national team in 2005, and leading them to an Olympic silver medal at Beijing 2008. Lang Ping holds the trophy after the Chinese women’s volleyball team wins Despite her long an international volleyball tournament, March 23, 1981 stay overseas, Lang has always had the full respect of the the streets to celebrate. The slogan: “Revive Chinese public - partly due to the fact that China by learning from the national women’s on several occasions she rushed back to help volleyball team” was ubiquitous. Lang Ping rescue the Chinese team. In 1990, she came became a leading light for Chinese sport, and back to act as captain of the struggling nathe whole team, and even TV volleyball an- tional women’s team for the world champinouncer Song Shixiong, bathed in the glow. onships. In 1995, she returned again, this All became national heroes. time as head coach of the national women’s “They were the symbol of our national team, before leaving in 1998 after suffering a unity at that time,” as Ms Yang said. series of heart attacks. On both occasions, she led low-seeded Chinese teams to runner-up. Success Continued Lang has also been a pioneer of reform Lang and most of her teammates retired in the country’s women’s volleyball system. after the 1986 season, signaling the end of In 2009, she became the first head coach of the golden age of the Chinese women’s vol- China’s first professional women’s volleyball leyball team. Lang Ping moved on with her team sponsored by the Guangzhou-based life. In 1987, she moved to the US with her property giant Evergrande. The team domihusband, where she proceeded with a mas- nated all the league, which at the time was


comprised mostly of provincial governmentsponsored teams. When the national team lost a game to Thailand in September 2012, a humiliating result for Chinese fans still mindful of past glory, the nation’s volleyball-watching population unanimously agreed that a new coach was needed. When it was finally confirmed that Lang was in the running, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Ten days after she took the helm, Lang’s squad beat the Thai team at an international tournament, and claimed the championship. In early September, they won 19 games out of 20 at the Volleyball World Grand Prix 2013 sponsored by the International Volleyball Federation. They lost the final to Brazil, possibly because Lang decided to use less experienced players, in no hurry to see her players run ragged by an obviously stronger Brazilian team. For any other coach, such a tactic would have been career suicide, but not a dissenting voice was raised – it was accepted that Lang had her eyes on a different prize – one somewhat further down the road. According to Hong Gang, a famous volleyball announcer with China Central Television (CCTV), the sensational turnaround Lang affected in her players was due to the fact that, in training or competition, her reputation and charisma compelled them to carry out her instructions to the letter – in Hong’s words, they “worship her as an idol.” Given Lang’s devotion and ability, her judgment is seen as infallible, even if it results in defeat. In a recent article for NewsChina’s Chinese-language edition, Hong concludes that Lang’s expertise and reputation are on course to make a tremendous difference.

No Savior

However, Lang’s contribution alone, however great, may not be enough to fix Chinese NEWSCHINA I November 2013

NEWSCHINA I November 2013


Photo byic

volleyball. A Chinese saying goes: “Even the smartest housewife cannot cook without rice.” For a coach, “rice” is talented players. Without them, noted an editorial in the State-run People’s Daily in 2011, slogans hailing a return to the spirit of the 1980s team sound empty. The reality, according to the People’s Daily article, is that in the Chinese women’s volleyball system, the height of a player is Lang Ping receives a warm welcome as she arrives in Wuhan, capital city of the Hubei Province in central China, for the Volleyball World Grand Prix 2013, August 12, 2013 prioritized over her aptitude. The result is that Chinese players remain physically weaker than their Eu- medal-rich sports like ping-pong and diving. with the potential to thrill audiences and ropean and US counterparts, and less agile As a result, many provinces have no volleyball potential sponsors are yet to be seen. Female than their Asian competitors. In Lang’s time, team. Only 15 provinces joined the women’s volleyball players continue to struggle on agility was the team’s trump card. Now, with volleyball competition at the national games humble pay. limited investment in athletes, good rice is in 2013, just under half of the number of The Evergrande club’s success is expected hard to find. provincial teams in the 1980s. to serve as an example for the league to folThe national games, China’s largest domesWhere volleyball teams do exist, local coach- low. Lang Ping has also repeatedly urged tic sports competition held once every four es are given insufficient time and are always progress with the reform – in an interview years, is the most important opportunity for under pressure for short-term gains, causing with State-owned news agency Xinhua in athletes to show off their competitive power training sessions to focus on flashy techniques 2011, she insisted that players be allowed to and forge a path into the Olympic team. rather than basic skills. This has proven fatal choose teams for themselves, including teams With Olympic gold medals being the best when it comes to top international competi- based overseas. Lang warned that if they don’t indicator of sports officials’ performance and tions that demand genuine finesse. have the opportunity to play in both domesmedalists earning plaudits for their local govIn recent years, there have been calls for tic and foreign professional leagues, Chinese ernments, the competition is something of a China’s volleyball setup to model itself on volleyball players will lag further and further priority for politicians. However, the man- professional European sports leagues, which behind their foreign counterparts. agement and training of a 12-member vol- are adept at attracting the strongest players She may have several decades of victory to leyball team costs a considerable amount of from around the world. A professional vol- her name and the unquestioning support of money, and given China’s overt “gold medal leyball league has been established in China, an entire nation of fans, but China’s sports strategy,” the single gold medal available for but teams are still controlled by local sports bureaucracy may prove too formidable of an volleyball is a poor investment compared to authorities, and highly competitive matches opponent even for Lang.

Poster art for Shen Na’s performance at Lincoln Center


Shen Na

Sheer Class Classical Chinese opera singer Shen Na’s Lincoln Center concert in late September brought a newly re-emergent art form into one of the West’s premier cultural venues By Wang Yan


n collaboration with Italian conductor Roberto Gianola and Italian tenor Gianluca Sciarpelletti, leading Chinese soprano Shen Na and other Chinese artists presented a spectacular world-level musical program to some 1,000 audience members in the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on September 25. Since the original opera Turandot was unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death, the last duet in this new adaptation, was completed


with a duet by a Chinese composer, and premiered at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing in 2008. “I believe that our American audience will be very impressed by this version,” Shen told reporters in early September.


The “Beauty of China, Show the World” concert, a coproduction NEWSCHINA I November 2013

between Shen, pianist Liu Shih Kun and violinist Lü Siqing, Shen featured four arias, including three from Puccini’s La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Shen also teamed up with tenor Gianluca to perform the patriotic Chinese-language song “I Love You, China.” Shen has been constantly traveling around the world performing and collaborating with internationally renowned orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of France, Russia’s Mullins Theater Symphony Orchestra, the Belgrade Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Macao Orchestra. In 2007, Shen wrapped up her US tour as the lead in the opera adaptation of the Hong Kong film Farewell My Concubine. Shen fondly remembers her first reactions from US audiences. “I knew that traditional Chinese operas telling Chinese stories attracted people with their cultural elements, particularly the exotic colors and gorgeous costumes.” “However,” she added, “[Chinese opera] is not world-level classical art, since its language is mostly incomprehensible for Westerners.” Shen’s Lincoln Center appearance was far less visually spectacular. Pared-down performances of beloved Italian favorites allowed Shen to reach out to lovers of classical opera on their own terms. “I prefer this chance to win people’s hearts through real art rather than attracting my audience with fancy costumes,” she told our reporter.

Lifetime Career

Shen Na began learning violin, dance and singing from the age of six. Decades of practice turned her into a superb performing artist with the rare ability to sing, dance and act with equal verve. In her own words, it is “hard work and practice since childhood” that has cultivated her talents as a soprano who has won dozens of international awards including second place at the 2005 Toulouse International Vocal Competition. She is currently a soprano at the Central Opera House of China, a member of the Association of Chinese Performers and a guest professor at the Music Department of the People’s Liberation Army Arts Academy. “On stage, opera singers are required to present their best performance to the audience, no matter their physical condition,” Shen Na told NewsChina. “To maintain a healthy body and mind, I need to get In 2010, Shen Na plays Xi sufficient sleep and food, and Shi, one of China’s so-called not indulge in drinking al“four legendary beauties”

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

cohol or smoking.” Shen has appeared on stage on several occasions while seriously ill. “The audience won’t care if you have a cold. What they are concerned about is your performance. That’s what makes opera such a respectful classical art form.” In Shen’s opinion, the number of Chinese opera singers is definitely increasing. Nevertheless, she claims that “the persistence of the younger generation in pursuit of artistic accomplishment might not be comparable to that of the old masters.” Shen calls former star soprano Zhou Xiaoyan a particular inspiration in this regard. “Madam Zhou Xiaoyan dedicated her whole life to opera singing and teaching - even when she was in her nineties selflessly sharing her knowledge,” Shen said, adding that the younger generation of Chinese opera singers lack this devotion to their craft. “I treasure this career and always expect to touch people’s hearts through my performances.”


Opera, particularly classical opera, is only now beginning to earn a following in China. Thanks to the construction of the grandiose National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in central Beijing, China’s elite, at least, can access some of the most accomplished international productions of world-famous classical operas. By establishing its own orchestra and inviting world-renowned conductors and singers to perform, the NCPA holds regular opera performances drawing tens of thousands of fans. “More and more Chinese people are willing to buy tickets for classical opera performances, a very positive sign for its development,” said Shen Na. However, she admits that classical opera has a long way to go before it can compete with more popular forms of entertainment, as China lacks both exposure to classical Western art forms and the talent pool needed by such a meticulous performance art. “However, [China’s] domestic opera singers are lucky to be born in an era when China is experiencing unprecedented development in the arts,” Shen Na told our reporter. “There is a huge emerging market.” With the concert at Lincoln Center on September 25, Shen Na and her team hope to enhance China’s cultural achievements by showing US audiences just how far their native land has come. 



Arthouse Movies

Window of Opportunity China’s first arthouse movie promotion agency, founded by a group of movie critics and enthusiasts, is on a mission to raise the profile of arthouse movies among the Chinese public By Tang Lei In Nanjing


en minutes before the final showing of Memories Look at Me at the Lumière Pavilions cinema complex in downtown Nanjing, Wei Xidi received a call from a friend, a last-gasp attempt to buy two tickets. There were only four tickets left in the 40-seater screening room, each for the price of 40 yuan (US$6.3). This low-budget 2012 arthouse movie cost 1 million yuan (US$159,000) to make, and had been showing at Lumière for five weeks, the first two of which had completely sold out. Getting this “niche” film into the comparatively large Lumière Pavilions is just one victory in an ongoing arthouse film crusade for Rear Window Film (RWF), a project launched by movie critic Wei Xidi and a group of his friends.


Word of Mouth

Poster art of Fly with the Crane. The 2012 arthouse movie is a recent screening project of RWF

Memories Look at Me tells the story about a young woman’s trip back to her parents’ home in Nanjing. Every scene begins with a family dining, chatting and reminiscing about the past. The movie won Best Debut Feature Film at the 65th Locarno International Film Festival – acclaim that, while certainly a boost to RWF’s confidence, failed to pave the way for a screening in Chinese cinemas. “These movies are classified as arthouse movies, which are usually more independent and strongly stylistic. They are less commercial. This kind of low-budget movie has artistic and philosophical depth, and requires an open mind,” said Wei Xidi, movie critic and director of RWF. “There are people who NEWSCHINA I November 2013

only the local art set, but also the general public. Also, Wei had invited a large number of media and publishing industry types, whose approval soon translated into highly effective word-of-mouth promotion. “We were greatly inspired. Although the movie is very artistic and not so dramatic, ordinary people were touched by the movie’s language and a feeling of empathy with people who are far from home. This was beyond our expectations,” Wei said. “This kind of movie spreads slowly. It’s not like a commercial movie. Even advertising on buses won’t help. The only way this kind of movie gathers pace is through word of mouth.” In the first two weeks, Memories Look at Me was only screened at weekends. However, when these began to sell out, two extra screenings were added.

Breaking the Mainstream

A scene from the low-budget arthouse movie Memories Look at Me

like this kind of movie. However many have taken for granted that low-budget movies are only to be watched at home. Watching movies is a ritual conducted in darkness, and movies should go back to where they are supposed to be.” Wei Xidi has been active on online movie forums for years. In 1998, he founded one of China’s first arthouse movie online discussion groups. The group was named “Watching Movies Through the Rear Window,” a concept that later became the inspiration for the RWF project. This May, RWF reached an agreement with the producer of Memories Look at Me to take charge of the movie’s sales, promotion and screening. “There were no competitors when we were NEWSCHINA I November 2013

negotiating,” said Shuiguai, COO of RWF. “Most distribution companies prefer movies with greater commercial potential. Usually the producer of the movie would also share a certain proportion of the distribution cost. However, there was no budget for distribution from the producer of Memories Look at Me. There was little chance that other distributors would take on the movie.” Song Fang, director of Memories Look at Me, has lived in Nanjing since he was twelve. The dialogue in the movie was in Nanjing dialect, and Rear Window Film selected Nanjing for its first screening. At the first two screenings in Nanjing, Wei waited at the theater’s exit, conducting an adhoc opinion poll. To his surprise, he found that the film had succeeded in pulling in not

Arthouse movies, cheap to make and with the potential to collect international film festival accolades, are becoming an area of interest for private movie studios in China. However, since arthouse movies almost never make it onto the schedules at major cinemas, producers face difficulty generating enough revenue to cover their costs. “Negotiating with cinemas about screenings is like extracting a tiger’s tooth,” said Gao Da, administrative director for film screenings with RWF. Because of the low budget for promotion, even if a movie manages to be accepted by large cinemas, it will usually be pulled relatively quickly due to low audience numbers. When this happens, the rights to the movie are generally sold to TV channels or websites at prices that do not reflect the true market value of the product. Ultimately, the movie may never be released. “It is a pipedream for a movie with a budget of one to two million yuan to be listed on cinema schedules. High distribution costs are more than enough to keep them out in the cold,” said Shuiguai, COO of RWF. “It’s not that large cinemas don’t recognize the value of arthouse movies, it’s just that commercial movies work on a mechanism that is tailored to the market, similar to fast-moving consumer goods. It’s hard for arthouse mov-



ies to fit in.” Since the beginning of the cooperation between Lumière Pavilions in Nanjing and Wei’s team in 2011, there have been a number of youth movie director festivals that have seen arthouse movies screened in cinemas. Attendances were around 30-40 percent in the beginning, but when the directors themselves started attending screenings, these numbers went up 70-80 percent. Lumière Pavilions now shows more than ten arthouse movies a month, screening each three or four times. However, the weekend box office takings for these movies were little more than 9,000 yuan (US$1430) – far short of the usual weekend box office income of 70 to 80 thousand yuan (US$11,000 to 12,000) per film per day. While making schedules for arthouse movies, cinemas intentionally avoid peak times like school vacations and New Year holidays, usually screening in slot times that would otherwise be vacant. For example, the Lumière Pavilions’ Lüdi cinema in Nanjing shows 30-40 movies per day, across seven screens. However, only one or two of these slots are reserved for arthouse movies. “Arthouse movies are at the mercy of theater scheduling. It is the same everywhere. Cinemas can decide what to show and how many times, and what time a movie is played. But many cinemas are not interested in [screening arthouse films], because their ultimate purpose is to make money. In this respect, an unprofitable movie is no match for a blockbuster,” said Zhao Dandan, general manager of Nanjing Lumière Pavilions. “We show arthouse movies because the director of our company is interested in them. Lumière Pavilions in Beijing, Hangzhou, Xi’an and Chengdu all screen arthouse films. We hope that screening arthouse, rather than merely pursuing box-office revenue, can be a longterm strategy. If the ticket sales can balance management costs, then it’s fine.”


With low budgets, dearth of special ef-


Poster art for Don’t Expect Praises (above) and Song of Silence (below), both recently screened by RWF

fects and generally unknown casts, arthouse movies are usually slow to gain recognition in China, if they manage to at all. The RWF’s Screening Director Gao Da told NewsChina that it was impossible for art movies to be screened for more than three weeks. On May 13, RWF announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, that it would be cooperating with more cinemas in an effort to persuade them to open their schedules to arthouse movies. The announcement won support from many movie industry insiders. “This is not a project that can rake in revenue in the short term. But it is important. We invested in the project because we are interested in it,” said Wei Xidi, adding that arthouse movies generally appeal to a highbrow, niche market. In the past three months, RWF has distributed more than ten movies, usually using test screenings to generate a buzz. RWF does not ask for agency fees from the producer during distribution, and when the movie is released, about 55-60 percent of the profit is shared with the cinema. Then, after paying a special “fund tax,” the RWF shares the profit with the producer. Currently, RWF is still losing money on distribution. “Presently, we are promoting the arthouse movie project,” said Wei. “It is meaningless to think about profit, because box-office takings are too small. For now, the most important thing is to increase exposure and recognition for the movies, their directors and producers. This is also what producers are looking for.” During the weekend screenings, Wei Xidi and Gao Da usually sit in the cinema’s tearoom, greeting friends and chatting with them about movies. Presently, Rear Window is cooperating with 25 cinemas in 18 cities nationwide. “Our ‘opening page’ has exceeded our expectations. We need more resources, and we are trying to attract more people,” said Wei Xidi. “I want to give it a shot – it is easier than it looks. I just need to go to every city to negotiate, cinema by cinema, slot by slot.” NEWSCHINA I November 2013


Yellow River

River of Constant Sorrow Having suffered chronic flooding and high silt levels for decades, the increasingly calm Yellow River now faces new, manmade problems


ifty-year-old Kang Yintang, a villager in Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, spends his whole life beside the Yellow River, the second longest waterway in China. To Kang, the gorgeous yet unpredictable river has been noticeably tamer in recent decades than it was during his childhood. Meanwhile, the living environment and farming life for his family and neighbors have been in constant decline. “The mushrooming chemical and mining industries have consumed excessive water and increased pollution, causing constant crop death,” Kang told NewsChina in early September. “The corn in our field has become withered and blackened in the last two years. This year, we were forced to completely stop farming.” Now, to make ends meet, both Kang and his wife work at a local factory. Historically, the Yellow River has been known as China’s “mother river,” as its basin was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilizations and the most prosperous region in early Chinese history. However, frequent devastating floods and course changes caused by the continual elevation of the river bed have made it notoriously wild and problematic, often putting human lives under threat. The river has the highest silt content of any waterway in the world. Since 1960s, thanks to considerable efforts

including the strengthening of levees and the construction of dozens of large hydropower projects along the river, flooding has come under control. However, due to rapid, unrestrained economic development, the river’s unprecedentedly calm surface belies the new and worrying problems brought on by overexploitation.

Old Data

At 5,464 kilometers in length, the Yellow River contains only two percent of China’s water resources, yet provides water for 12 percent of China’s 1.3 billion population, irrigates 15 percent of its farmland and generates about 14 percent of its GDP. “The Yellow River lacks water resources, and the water supply currently drawn from the river is beyond its capacity,” said Chen Xiaojiang, director of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC) of the Ministry of Water Resources in March this year. The river runs through nine provinces and autonomous regions and empties into the Bohai Bay off the coast of east China’s Shandong Province. For a period in 1972, it failed for the first time to reach the sea, and flow interruptions have regularly been observed since 1987. The annual frequency of “dry days” reached a peak at 226 days for a 704-kilometer section of river in Shandong in 1997.

In 1998, the National Development and Reform Commission (formerly the State Development Planning Commission) and the Ministry of Water Resources issued annual water-use quotas and a distribution scheme for the river. These management policies determined total water withdrawals on the basis of hydrology, the need for sediment transport and other ecological factors, and established annual provincial water withdrawals including a seasonal distribution plan for greater withdrawal in the rainy season than in the dry season. With the authorization of the State Council, YRCC acts as the sole administrator for the allocation of the Yellow River water supply to the nine provinces and autonomous regions through which it flows. In March 1999, the Commission issued the first water withdrawal quota directive and started the water withdrawal control plan for the whole basin. This policy was extended from the main Yellow River to its tributaries in 2006. According to planning information provided to NewsChina by YRCC, the river's annual water resources that can be tapped is 58 billion cubic meters, and 37 billion cubic meters are allocated to the nine provinces and autonomous regions, with the remaining 21 billion earmarked to wash away silt in the river. The quota for each province and

NEWSCHINA I November 2013 garbage into the section of the Yellow River that runs through the city of Lanzhou, Gansu Province, June 2007 Heavy rainfall washes


Photo by CFP

By Wang Yan


Pollution along the Yellow River

River’s course Heavily polluted sections

autonomous region is based on their population, economic structure and water demand. A trade in water use rights between various sectors has sprung up in some provinces. Implementation of these policies has ensured uninterrupted flow of the river to the sea for 14 consecutive years since 2000 and improved the water resource and ecological health of the whole basin. Ecosystem integrity and biological diversity have improved greatly.

Shortage and Conflict

Despite the apparent achievements of the water allocation policies, overexploitation of water resources has made the Yellow River lose its momentum and a significant proportion of its water capacity. China's initiative to develop its western regions propelled the exploration of the untouched abundant energy and mineral resources along the upper and middle sections of the river, and demand for water to sustain these industries has kept increasing. According to YRCC, “most of the nine provinces have reached the ceilings of their respective water allocation quotas, thus water shortages are the major bottleneck for social sustainable development for the whole river basin.” Different stakeholders all want more water to ensure daily production – hydropower dams want water to generate electricity, the energy and mining industries want water to


maximize production, farmers want water for irrigation and cities need water for daily living. According to hydropower records, water levels in 2008 of the Yellow River were only 60 percent of normal. Even at such a critical juncture, in that year alone, 600 million cubic meters of water was diverted to Beijing, Hebei and Shandong Provinces to help with a drought and further to ensure adequate water supplies for the 2008 Olympics. An extra 70 million cubic meters was diverted to the city of Qingdao, where the sailing events were held. Furthermore, the Yellow River’s water shortage problems indeed exist at its very source on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau – the decline of water caused by global warming and the melting of Tibetan glaciers could make the situation worse. Wang Yongchen, founder of environmental NGO Green Earth Volunteer, has personally visited the source of the Yellow River in Qinghai. According to Wang, the river’s source has been constantly receding since 2009. “This year the source has receded to over 3.5 meters away from its original geographical landmark,” Wang, recently having returned from her fourth visit to the region in late August, told NewsChina. Cui Sheng, an environmentalist from Henan Province told NewsChina that desertification caused by permafrost destruction on

the Qinghai Plateau is spreading, a significant threat to the existence of a number of great rivers, including the Yellow River. More importantly, the outdated allocation plan, which was originally based on the provincial water consumption requirements of the late 1980s, is no longer applicable to contemporary economic conditions. For example, the status of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region as agriculture-focused regions meant that the plan set forth in 1999 focused on irrigation water consumption for these two regions. Nowadays, aside from agriculture, the two regions, which contain 800 kilometers of the Yellow River, are currently the two fastest developing regions in the high water-consuming coal-to-chemicals industry. Thus, for the past few years, the two provinces have had to resort to trading water use rights between the mining industry and agriculture in order to meet their needs. “The plan is outdated,” said Qi Pu, senior engineer from YRCC told NewsChina during a recent phone interview. “The conflicts of interests among different provinces are getting more severe, and it is difficult to resolve them at the moment.”


Over the past two decades, numerous fastdeveloping cities have emerged along the Yellow River, like Wuhai, a resourceful industrial city that developed fast in the middle section of the river. And like most rivers in China, the Yellow River suffers from the scourge of water pollution. In 2007, YRCC released a water quality survey that graded 33.8 percent of the river system at “level 5” (according to China’s “Environmental Quality Standards for Surface Water”, levels 4 and 5 are classified as having medium or heavy pollution), deeming it unfit for drinking, aquaculture, agriculture or industrial use. Zhang Qing from Water Resource Protection Bureau of YRCC told NewsChina that in 2006, the central authorities had begun to NEWSCHINA I November 2013

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by CFP

The riverbed of the Lanzhou section of the Yellow River suffers from drought, February 2012

Photo by IC

place more emphasis on pollution control, and that this, together with the water allocation project, had helped to improve the situation. Since 2009, the total length of the river with water quality level 4 and 5 has reduced to 29.4 percent. Despite the effects of pollution control measures, Zhang also admitted that it was difficult for YRCC to monitor individual enterprises and prevent them from releasing pollution into the river. “At present, for the whole drainage area, the two most polluted river sections are from Ningxia to Inner Mongolia where mining is concentrated, and the intersection of Shaanxi, Shanxi and Henan provinces, which is also an area rich in coal and energy resources,” said Zhang Qing. The most recently reported industrial water pollution issue along the Yellow River concerns a large petrochemical complex in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. The plant, owned by the State-owned Shenhua Group and initially scheduled to begin commercial production in late 2011, is part of a high-profile project to produce polyethylene and polypropylene from coal. Without obtaining the requisite permits to release waste water into the Yellow River from YRCC, the plant has been doing so for the past two years, causing sizeable financial losses for many local fishermen. Following an inspection in June, YRCC issued a notice to the company requiring it to stop operation and make arrangements for the treatment of its waste water. “We only have the right to manage enterprises that release waste water directly into the mainstream of the Yellow River,” said Zhang Qing, adding that even this limited power, granted by China’s Water Law, is rarely respected by enterprises. “People regard the monitoring of and punishment for river pollution as the responsibility of the environmental department.” Indeed, YRCC only acts as a water quality monitor, once individual pollution is spotted, it is authorized only to raise suggestions to local government or environment depart-

Tourists watch muddy water gushing out of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir on the Yellow River during a siltwashing operation in Luoyang, Henan Province, July 6, 2013

ments but has no executive right. The responsibility of monitoring individual waste water release lies with the department of water resources, while the environmental department deals with management of water pollution – a complicated bureaucratic situation that appears to have posed obstacles for water pollution control along the entire length of the river. On September 2, the Shenhua Baotou plant announced that the second phase of its project had launched. So far, there has been

no feedback from any sources on the results of the management of water polluted by the plant. According to China Business Journal, the plant might have diverted the release of its polluted water to a local water treatment plant in Baotou. “Similar cases have been identified, and our responsibility is to stop the enterprise from releasing pollution into the Yellow River ‘directly,’” said Zhang. “We are not responsible for its internal management of polluted water treatment.”


OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within China

Historic Qufu

CONFUCIUS SAYS… Welcome! His thought forms part of the backbone of Chinese philosophy, and, our writer discovers, paves the pathways of the Great Sage’s hometown


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Photo by IC

By Sean Silbert


f you want to understand China, you must understand Confucius. To be more specific, you must study his thought. Like Jesus, the man himself never wrote anything down. But Confucius’s ideas regarding the role of individuals and communities form one of the lynchpins of Chinese and East Asian society. Confucius, the Latinization of Kong Fuzi, or “Master Kong,” formulated a code of governance and daily life built on rites and relationships with benevolence at its core. A ruler must be kind to loyal subjects, just as a father must provide for a filial son. His theories on governance and power relations came to be the foundation stone of China as ‘Confucianism’ became the official state doctrine. After the re-dedication of the National Museum of China at Tian’anmen Square, a museum dedicated to showcasing a State-approved version of the history and culture of China just a stone’s throw from Mao’s famous portrait, a massive statue of Confucius stood for

a brief time in front of the entrance, before vanishing seemingly overnight. It seemed those in power had second thoughts about a staring contest between the inspiration behind imperial Chinese governance and the Great Helmsman. Indeed, modern China has had a rough relationship with the ideas of its most prominent thinker. But Confucian ideas still endure – you need only visit Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, to see people paying their respects. As the cult of the sage grew over the centuries, what had been a little walled town grew a little bit grander with the passing of each emperor, as every new leader tried to outdo his predecessor in obeisance to the Way of the Confucian Gentleman.

Photo by CFP

At Home

Confucius Forest, where the sage’s descendants are buried

GETTING THERE It’s remarkably easy to get to Qufu – just hop on the highspeed Beijing-Shanghai rail line. It takes two hours from Beijing or three from Shanghai, making Qufu a good weekend destination. It’s easily combined with other big attractions like climbing the historic Mount Tai an hour or so away, or moving further on to the beer-soaked beaches of nearby Qingdao. WHERE TO STAY Though a single day is enough to see the sights, a brand-new Shangri-La has brought luxury lodgings to Confucius’ backyard. If you’re traveling on a budget, the Qufu International Youth Hostel provides clean beds at a remarkably local spot close to all the scenic attractions, starting at 45 yuan (US$7) for a dorm bed.

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Now that the high-speed rail link from Beijing makes a stop in Qufu on the way to Shanghai, it’s easier than ever to stop by the Sage’s old stomping ground. Not far from here is Mount Ni, where he was allegedly born. An hour’s train ride away is precipitous Mount Tai, from whose summit he gazed out upon the ancient kingdom of Lu – and would later go into exile after irritating its ruler. Qufu itself is a series of gray streets and tourist shacks, barely enlivened by a sprinkling of five-star hotels. Happily, the treatment of Qufu as a site of pilgrimage rather than a tourist resort has kept much of its architectural history intact, including the magnificently arched gates and precipitous city walls. I walked into Confucius’ family mansion expecting a humble cottage befitting a frugal man of letters. Granted, the thinker was a loose contemporary of Socrates, but, if this sprawling mansion was anything to go by, he, or at least his descendents, had little taste for motheaten robes and drafty chambers. Confucius’ countless descendants (local taxi drivers often claim kinship) went on to rule the village from their vast estate, acting as feudal lords until the Sage’s 77th descendant in the line fled the anti-Confucian campaigns of Mao Zedong. What he left behind is probably among the best-preserved family piles in China, a complex of over 450 buildings that served as the epicenter of one of China’s most impressive familial landholdings. The mansion has been beautifully restored, right down to the canopied rosewood beds and lushly landscaped grounds. It is hard not to feel reverence for the great thinker as one wanders the halls, while at the same time it is difficult not to express a great deal of frustration with the roving megaphone-laden tour groups – an inescapable fea-



ture of any pilgrimage in modern China, where any association with a dead celebrity means big bucks. Stick to the rear quarters, too far for most bus-loving tourists to roam, and the gorgeous gardens, which are worth an afternoon’s visit in their own right.

derstand the records detailed on the thousands of stone steles dotted throughout the compound, each a cultural relic for the exquisite calligraphy alone.


Respecting one’s ancestors is critical to Confucians, and the most obvious place to show reverence is at their gravesides. The Confucius Temple’s attached cemetery is a twenty-minute walk from the other tourist sites, past yet another string of hawkers. Once you’re in – silence. Many thousands of descendants are buried here in tombs lined by cypress and pine, which feels like a vast forest. Scattered throughout the cemetery are many pavilions and temples calm and peaceful below the verdant canopy. The tombs, some little more than a mound marked by a worn hunk of rock, are scattered throughout the complex. I deviated from the set path into the overgrown paths, pushing aside thorny vines and weeds to glance at the graves of stately descendants from countless years ago. I move towards the center of the park to get a glance at the crypt of Confucius himself, now restored after its desecration by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Two stone guardians stand watch over his tomb at the end of a lengthy spirit way. It is remarkably airy, a clearing in the midst of a dense forest. The burial itself is nothing more than a modest grassy pile, marked only by a Ming dynasty stele. The graves of his son and grandson lie behind him in yet another gesture of filial respect, which accords the most reverence to the earliest ancestor. Some visitors seemed confused as to the appropriate rites – one man wavered over his incense, choosing to snap a grinning photograph in front of a mound of earth before making his formal offering. I simply tried to pay my respects internally, thinking on how one man could mean so much.

The walk to the Confucius Temple is lined with souvenir stalls offering all manner of Confucius-related junk imaginable: Not only printed copies of the Analects in multiple languages, but also traditional wood block print versions. There is Confucian cuisine in restaurants, whatever that is. If you’re feeling thirsty, you can order a bottle of Confucius liquor. And at the same time, the attitude of visitors within the temple is still one of awed devotion. Where the master’s former house once stood, a vast complex expanded and patronized by an unbroken line of royalty now stretches as far as the eye can see. For a pittance, visitors can buy bundles of incense to light at the feet of the Sage himself, his bearded face is barely visible beneath the imposing eaves of the Hall of Great Achievement. Beside him stand meditative effigies of his disciples, wringing their hands in devotion and mental effort. The three main halls are built on a symmetrical axis that forms a spine for the nine courtyards. Three ancestral temples and nine courtyards are roofed with golden tiles (usually only reserved for the emperor – but Confucius was posthumously granted the title of King). Spaces exist not only to sacrifice to show devotion for him, his family and ancestors, but also to other scholars and sages. Confucius’s teachings were a key component of the examinations used for centuries for entry into the civil service. Walking out, I gazed at the Apricot Pavilion, where lectures were given up until the fall of the Qing dynasty. Perhaps if I also hit the books more I could un-

A walk in the woods

real chinese


naocan fen Fanboy If you come to a big Chinese cinema to watch the recent movie hit Tiny Times by hot teen author Guo Jingming, your ears will likely be filled with the screams of Guo’s fans, dubbed naocan fen by critics, pouring their hearts out to the pretty faces on screen. With naocan meaning “idiotic” and fen a transliteration of the English “fan,” the term naocan fen usually describes a group of obsessed and cultish fans, whose opposition to any legitimate criticism of their chosen idol or genre veers towards the psychopathic. Guo Jingming, for example, whose featherlight Tiny Times series of novels have become national bestsellers, has used his legion of naocan fen to counter almost universal professional criticism of his novels and their movie tie-ins. Guo’s prose, which revels in descriptions of expensive consumer goods and elite life-


styles, has been broadly slammed in literary circles, but his devoted fans have fought back, with mixed results. “Well, if you are so superior to Guo, why not just write a novel or produce a movie as popular as his?” ran one particularly original argument. “You prove nothing but how jealous you are of Guo,” asserted another. “Don’t criticize Guo any more, or I will draw blood when I hit back,” read a particularly threatening diatribe. As impressive as the vitriol heaped on their idol’s imagined enemies, naocan fen take fawning to a whole new level when it comes to praise. They make daily privileges to online fan clubs, forums and blogs associated with their beloved stars. Any and all products and merchandise are voraciously consumed – they even enquire after the health of their chosen celebrity.



More alarmingly, some naocan fen go as far as to photograph themselves kowtowing to portraits of their idols, or even attempting suicide when the object of their affection gets married. According to the BBC documentary Secrets of the Superbrands, an Apple fanboy demonstrates a different electrical reaction in the brain when he sees an Apple product – a reaction almost identical to that of a religious zealot stirred by an act of worship. Media sources and educators are now voicing concerns that naocan fen might lose their own identities in their slavish fanhood. Some psychologists, however, believe that these seemingly dangerous acts of devotion, as has been seen with teen sensations from the Beatles to Bieber, is simply a natural phase of growing up. NEWSCHINA I November 2013

flavor of the month

Local Concession By Stephy Chung

NEWSCHINA I November 2013

soup, foodies agree it is done best in Shanghainese restaurants. Vinegar is popular in Shanghainese cuisine, and the healthy splash of this nostril-tingling condiment in our bowls gave the soup a pleasingly sour edge. The gloopy broth, thickened with cornstarch, has a bold flavor – a delicate balance of spicy and sour. In theory, the dish is easy to prepare, but all too often, at other more expensive locations, it is just a brown, vinegary slop. Cong you bing, or scallion pancakes are known locally as a junk food, due to their napkin-melting oiliness. This time around, however, the savory appetizer had just the right flaky consistency, with croissant-like layers spotted with fragrant chopped green onion. Avoid the “omelette” version – two scallion pancakes sandwiching a plain egg omelette. It’s simply overkill, and the soggy egg destroys the crisp crunch of the pancakes. The best part of a trip to Qian Qiu Shan Fang is the niangao, or sticky rice cake noodles. This home-style staple is one of the region’s most gratifying comfort foods. The flat, oval-shaped slices are stirfried with a range of homemade pickled and slightly sour vegetables, dried shitake mushrooms and finely-chopped pork. A hint of umamirich oyster sauce adds a slight sweetness to the dish, making it all the more addictive. Of course no trip to a traditional Shanghainese kitchen is complete without a round of juicy dumplings. A restaurant’s xiaolongbao are the ultimate taste-test. The delicate nuggets give way to an appetizing ball of minced pork and a mouthful of hot, soupy juices. While it’s not the best we’ve ever had, it certainly makes our top ten. And in these parts (and at these prices), you can’t really ask for much more than that. Photo by CFP


hanghai is China’s most international city. It’s a tangible hybrid of East meets West – futuristic skyscrapers pierce the clouds on one side of the Bund, in stark contrast to the quiet beauty of European relics which lounge on the waterfront just opposite. There are times when it’s easy to forget you’re in China, especially wandering through the city’s former French concession. Beautiful tree-lined roads, well-preserved Parisian-style colonial architecture and a bevy of charming little cafes combine to create a distinctly international feel. Amid all this, Chinese restaurants can seem something of an oddity. Everywhere, pubs serving fish ‘n’ chips, Italian piatti and free-flow champagne brunches compete for business. Fortunately, for those hit with a sudden hankering for local foods such as xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, there is the unassuming and neatly hidden Qian Qiu Shan Fang, a old locally-owned diner specializing in a medley of solidly Shanghainese favorites. I can see how this unassuming restaurant might be overlooked by Shanghai’s foreign residents. The vibe is not all that dissimilar to a budget hotel – no frills allowed. The walls and tables are bare, the color scheme neutral, and there’s no trendy music blaring from the entrance. Instead, you get a big two-page menu of famous dishes. We begin – as all trips to a Shanghainese restaurant should – with the suan la tang, or hot and sour soup. What the restaurant holds back in aesthetics it certainly pours into its appealing presentation. For a few dollars, we are given a mammoth, family-style portion. Julienned carrots and bamboo shoots, wood ear fungus, thin strips of bean curd and bright cilantro leaves swirl in the broth, creating a satisfying mix of chewy and crunchy textures. While several provinces lay claim to the origins of this renowned



The Sky’s No Limit By Will Philipps

Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui

In fifty years, the Middle Kingdom will be within touching distance of the heavens.

Wandering the streets of my adopted home Beijing, I often find myself imagining what the city will look like 50 years from now. Will we be encased in a pollution-beating bubble? Can the second ring road be transformed into a green belt of urban parkland? Or could the capital simply revert to the low-rise hutong courtyards of old, eschewing the need for modern construction?


Perhaps that last option is the least likely, as it’s evidently clear that China doesn't just want to catch up with the planet’s most modern metropolises – it wants to shoot so far ahead it will leave the rest of the world resembling a Neanderthal’s cave. There’s money to spend – maybe even flaunt – so urban planners are deciding that the bigger, the taller and the more outlandishly extravagant, the better. In the last year I’ve read about plans to build the world’s tallest building in Changsha, Hunan Province at 839 meters. (Originally slated at three months construction time – a blistering pace of over two floors per day.) Chengdu is now the host of the world’s biggest building – with its own artificial sun, naturally. And then I read reports of a “topping out” ceremony: the highest brick of the Shanghai Tower, which is still under construction, was put in place at 632 meters. It seems the answer to my musings is right in front of – or should that be above – my eyes. In 50 years, the Middle Kingdom will be within touching distance of the heavens. Even now, China is home to 60 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings, so fast-forward half a century and visions of vast forests of steel and glass casting shadows over every inch of Beijing tarmac will surely be a reality. So it was fitting, then, that this year should see a Vertical Marathon hosted in Beijing for the first time. This kind of marathon (in case you were wondering) is a race straight up the staircase of a skyscraper. Originating in the United States, they now take place at some of the world’s most recognizable buildings, such as the Empire State and Taipei 101. Sensing an opportunity to get intimate with these incredible feats of engineering (and add an extra dimension to my 2D wanderings), I signed up. Standing on the start line on race day – stair 1 of the China World Summit Wing’s 2,041 – I bantered with the news crews covering the

event, and contemplated the climb ahead. Was this seemingly light-hearted kind of sporting event (if it can be called that) indicative of our urban landscape’s upgrade? In fact, could this herald the start of a new kind of inner-city exercise? Will bad air and crowded streets put paid to my days of outdoor jogging as I find myself running laps of pollution-free shopping malls? Nineteen minutes later I had crossed the finish line on the summit, which was 84 floors up on the helipad. I tried my best to take in the incredible views while not keeling over from exhaustion. An experienced racer told me that 19 minutes was “quite a good time”. That’s “good” as in the exact opposite of “bad,” and – although he didn’t express it in quite so many words – “good” as in “for a first timer that’s so quick that with a bit of training you could be pro in no time”. Despite the accolades, halfway up I felt sufficient appreciation of the structure had been attained, and was ready to take the elevator for the remaining few floors. (On that note, if it takes 20 minutes to jog up 300 meters of stairs, I sincerely hope the elevators are powercutproof for the top floor inhabitants of the 800m Changsha Sky Tower.) Back to the “race” and after a brief pause to regain my composure, I dug deep to reach the top, spurred on by that inherent human desire to surmount any obstacle (and not wanting to be beaten by my friend, of course). When we’ve conquered mountains high and oceans deep, we have to look elsewhere for new endeavors – including our own sky-scraping creations, it would seem. Just like, I suppose, if you can build a skyscraper 100 stories high, why not build one 101 high? There must surely be a myriad of reasons why China needs to pace itself with this sudden explosion of development, yet I would have to hide my disappointment should this cityscape stop evolving. NEWSCHINA I November 2013

Authenticity in the Familiar By Lindsay Hebert

Illustration by Xiang Zhaohui

I twisted off the lid to examine the contents and as the steam filled my nose, I was reminded not of pond scum, but of Bigelow Mint.

It was my first week in China and the second time I had asked my Chinese roommate where to buy tea. For the second time, his answer was Carrefour. “Only foreigners go to tea shops,” he told me. “They will charge you too much money. Go to Carrefour.” The French supermarket chain would have been an acceptable answer in France or in any other European country - even in Latin America. But I was in China, the birthplace of tea and all its rituals. Tea had sparked voyages of discovery, wars and revolutions, and I was here, right where it all started. What I had envisioned was a journey down a narrow alley to a tiny hidden teashop. I’d walk through dusty curtains. An old man with a long gray beard would emerge amidst glass bottles of curious things. He’d read my fortune NEWSCHINA I November 2013

through the leaves and brew an ancient elixir. In some unexpected way, it would heal me. I was not about to settle for a harshly lit supermarket. The next week as I sat in Chinese class drinking a mug of Lipton and picturing how nicely my teashop might look tucked into the backdrop, our Chinese teacher interrupted, uncharacteristically, in English. “I don’t understand why foreigners want this,” she said. “The hutongs are old. Many things are broken. There is no heat in the winter. Only foreigners want to live in the hutongs.” I began to notice a disparity between expatriate ideas of authentic China and the actual lives of the Chinese people around me. Nowhere was this more evident than on Trip Advisor, which I consulted for a Peking duck restaurant. Li Qun was ranked 86th of 6,404 restaurants. “Authentic food, people, & place,” wrote Melissa from Missouri, adding, “(this is not a posh restaurant.).” “Very authentic place,” said another reviewer, who went on to say: “We don’t have a point of reference or comparison to other roast duck restaurants.” Most of my Chinese friends had never heard of Li Qun. “Dirty, not that good, overpriced,” said the only one who had. I wondered how Melissa and the other reviewers, undoubtedly on Trip Advisor because they were only short term visitors, could describe their experiences as authentic. Authenticity is not a word used to describe the many shopping malls sprouting up across the city, in which the ratio of locals to tourists is likely higher than in Trip Advisor-approved venues. And for every ancient chef carving a Peking duck, there are millions of Beijingers chatting on cell phones, singing karaoke and eating at McDonalds. So where did this cockeyed preoccupation with authenticity come from?

Were we as travelers paying the ultimate disservice, not only to the places we were visiting, but to ourselves? I had moved to China hoping to discover something new for myself, but how could I be an honest explorer if, despite what I saw around me, I remained fixated on what I expected to find? I posed this question to a Spanish journalist. “I don’t know what is authentic,” he told me. “But I love the food here. I’m, how do you say, a foodie.” When it came to tea, I had resigned myself to store-bought brands when, a month into my stay, I fell ill with bronchitis. One evening as I sat hacking on the couch, my friend Joy showed up with a plastic bottle of hot liquid, and insisted that I drink it. It looked like she had extracted a sample from the bottom of a pond. Inside, a big brown sponge bobbed amongst an assortment of weeds and wilted flowers. It was tea – her mother’s cold remedy. I twisted off the lid to examine the contents and as the steam filled my nose, I was reminded not of pond scum, but of Bigelow Mint. My first cup of tea was probably mint, made by my mother when I was home sick. I then thought of New York City, and the company I worked for after college. Teatime was the only part of the day our windowless office felt more like a refuge than a holding cell. I was then transported to India, where every step of my field research was punctuated by steel tumblers of sweet, milky chai. For me, tea has been the perfect travel companion – it brings a familiar ritual of home to places far away. And I realized that the authenticity I sought was not in the foreign or the exotic, but in the familiar. I imagine the thousands of Chinese sitting in McDonalds every day are doing much the same as the New Yorker trawling the depths of Brooklyn for the perfect lo mein – traveling all the way across the world by walking down the street.


Cultural listings Cinema

Han Han on the Silver Screen A Fortress, a long-anticipated movie adapted from the novel of the same name by China’s favorite rally-champion best-selling author-model and blogger Han Han, was released in mid-September. Published in 2006, the novel, reportedly Han’s favorite, tells the story of a college dropout and his two friends’ absurd and idle existence in a small town. For Sun Bohan, the movie’s relatively inexperienced director, taking charge of the first ever adaption of a Han Han novel is bringing fast recognition. Meanwhile, with Hong Kong actor Jaycee Chan, son of international kung-fu movie star Jackie Chan, taking the lead role and Zuoxiao Zuzhou, one of the Chinese mainland’s most famous rock musicians, producing the original soundtrack, A Fortress looks set to become China’s latest youth hit.



Folk Finally Arrives?


“Miss Dong,” a folk song composed and originally performed by singer-songwriter Song Dongye, became an overnight sensation when covered by a contestant on a popular reality talent show Happy Boys this summer. Over the past few months, the song has continued to gain popularity, catapulting Mr Song from relative obscurity straight into the spotlight. While sales of Song’s album have been healthy and his gig schedule has slowly filled out, the concept of folk music – a genre far less popular in China than it is in the West – has suddenly become a focus for the country’s culture reporting, and is a heated topic among music fans. Song has modestly claimed that “Miss Dong” is just a very ordinary song when compared to works by earlier folk singer-songwriters such as Zhang Weiwei and Wan Xiaoli.


Compiled By Li Yuxiao and Wang Wei


Artistic Interaction Across the Straits How differently do artists from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan respond to today’s global issues and universal concerns? “Contemporary Art Across the Taiwan Straits 2013,” held from August 26 to September 25 by the National Art Museum of China and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, tries to answer this question by presenting works from 36 contemporary mainland and Taiwanese artists. 18 artists are represented from each side. Also titled “Interactive Perspective,” the exhibition discusses ways of seeing of contemporary art across the straits, in order to present the action that contemporary art takes when confronted with a mix of reality, cultural tradition and global context. When selecting works, the curator focused on different responses or answers that artists across the straits give to similar subject matter, theme and medium. Thus, within this framework, the exhibition shows the interaction in art across the straits and sets the conversation in a comparable structure.

23 out of some 300 documentary photo stories composed Living, the recent photography book jointly presented by Chinese National Geographic and web portal Tencent’s news channel. Over the past three years, Living has gained much popularity as a photo story column on Tencent’s Covering many aspects of Chinese life and current affairs, these photos and their stories present readers with a cross section of modern Chinese society. With a sharp angle of observation, they impact on both the readers’ visual experience and emotions. NEWSCHINA I November 2013


China Hardware Expo By Stephy Chung


he 18th China Hardware Expo, held from September 26 to 28 in Yongkang, Zhejiang Province, is one the world’s top hardware expos, on a scale comparable to those in Las Vegas, Nevada and Cologne, Germany. Yongkang International Exhibition Center, the venue for this year’s expo, covers 176,000 square meters and contains 5,000 exhibition booths. Last year’s expo attracted 1,497 enterprises, including those from the US, Italy and Japan, and concluded with a turnover of 10.87 billion yuan (US$1.78bn). Roughly 294,000 personnel attended last year’s expo, and there were a total of 3,548 exhibition booths. Yongkang is China’s hardware capital. More than 10,000 hardware enterprises are clustered in the city, employing more than 300,000 workers. The expo, initiated in 1996, has been a barometer for China’s NEWSCHINA I November 2013

hardware industry. This year’s expo consists of 12 exhibition halls, showcasing auto parts, agricultural machinery and traditional hardware products manufactured in Yongkang. In 1997, the value of Yongkang’s annual hardware output was only around 10 billion yuan (US$1.6bn) – now, the hardware industry hub centered on Yongkang generates more than 100 billion yuan (US$16bn) worth of hardware per year, partially driven by the hardware expo. Exhibitions themselves are becoming a key industry for Yongkang. The city hosted a machinery exhibition in late March, a door exhibition in late May, an electric power tool and garden tool parts expo in July, an agriculture exhibition in November, and many others. A total of 18 exhibitions will be held this year in Yongkang.



Corruption has evolved, so should the means to fight it China’s anti-corruption efforts need to get ahead of their intended targets By Deng Yuwen


hen US authorities launched an investigation into JP Another characteristic of China’s contemporary corruption is the Morgan’s alleged hiring of the “princeling” of power- forging of alliances between Western financial bigwigs and China’s ful Chinese officials, the scandal exposed the rapid political elite. While Western investment banks can offer desirable evolution of China’s official corruption in the business arena, lead- expertise and access to foreign financial markets, China’s political ing to a widespread public outcry. elite can offer generous returns. AcWhile the relevant companies in cording to the Wall Street Journal, China rushed to mount a defense, hiring princelings is a widespread As curbing corruption has no formal investigation has been practice among Western banks in become increasingly difficult, launched on the Chinese side. This China, and has earned these instiprevention may be a more decision inevitably led to accusations tutions the right to conduct IPOs useful pursuit than cure that while the US authorities were for Chinese firms. willing to go after corrupt Chinese As interest transfer is conducted officials, China’s own anti-corrupthrough established rules and protion agencies were not. cedures, it has become harder and According to a report in the New York Times, JP Morgan hired harder for investigators to track and prove the existence of unlawful the son of Tang Xiaoning, chairman of State-controlled financial practices, both in China and abroad. For example, to prove a case conglomerate the China Everbright Group. Tang’s son Tang Sh- against JP Morgan, the US government would have to demonstrate uangning, along with Zhang Xixi, the daughter of now-disgraced the bank had “corrupt intent” in hiring princelings. China’s own Chinese railway official Zhang Shuguang, both were given promi- anti-corruption agencies are also hampered by the shifting sands of nent positions, it is alleged, on the strength of their fathers’ Chinese the State-controlled judiciary, which retains the right to veto any business contacts alone. case it chooses. Although the US investigation has yet to be concluded, there is China’s anti-corruption authorities have fallen behind, and must consensus that Chinese officialdom now has interests in business update their strategy. To supervise commercial deals between Stateacross the globe. While the Chinese government has stepped up owned enterprises and private companies, China should establish its anti-corruption efforts in recent years, corruption itself, experts independent audits and an effective withdrawal system. Central to allege, has become infinitely more complex and far-reaching than such changes would be the establishment of a database detailing at any other time in history. officials’ asset holdings and business connections – something that Compared to earlier “power for money” exchanges, corrupt of- independent analysts and the public have demanded for decades. ficials now establish and nurture more complicated networks in an As curbing corruption has become increasingly difficult, preveneffort to conceal their illegally-acquired wealth. As China’s economy tion may be a more useful pursuit than cure. In addition, solutions becomes more labyrinthine, so does corruption, and any investi- have to be political - limiting the power of individual officials, ingator must negotiate multiple layers of relationships, tracing them creasing the transparency of decision-making and making officials back over a long period of time. More often than not, by the time truly accountable. an investigation connects an individual with illegal wealth, either the individual, their assets, or both will have migrated out of reach. (The author is a senior media commentator.)


NEWSCHINA I November 2013

NEWSCHINA I November 2013



NEWSCHINA I November 2013

November 2013